Blimage Challenge: The Rock Arch

Bending

A new blogging challenge has emerged called blimage – a “blog image” challenge: You must use an image sent to you and “incorporate it into your blog, and write a post about learning based on it…Then pass an image of your choice on to someone else so they can do their own #blimage challenge.” Read about the original idea here.

I challenged my colleague Enoch Hale with an image of a hand holding chalk that was about to write on a blank blackboard…and he responded with this wonderful post.  Now I get to try it with the image above that he sent me and others via Twitter.

What a great image!  My wife and I just returned from a week spent on the Carolina coast, so seeing the ocean in the background really resonated with me.  But in the spirit of #blimage, let me concentrate on the rocks in the foreground.

The first obvious point for me is “balance.”  We know from the learning sciences that students (and faculty) are not only intellectual beings, but social and emotional ones as well.  In How Learning Works, Susan Ambrose states that students’ level of development interacts with the social, emotional and intellectual climate of the course to impact learning.  As one who teaches online, I strive to build relationships with my students, to understand better their unique social, emotional, and intellectual drives.  I also work to balance the passion I bring to the course with realistic and practice-based applications that student can take away from the course.

Keeping with principles from Susan Ambrose’s book, the image also suggests to me a knowledge organization.  As faculty, we work with students to help them make connections between topics and see the “big picture”.  Focusing only on the top rock…or the yellow one…misses the conceptual knowledge one can take away from the whole.

Connections also raises the methodology of connectivism as a learning process.  Learning is an active, social process that involves change in knowledge, beliefs and behaviors, done not “to” students…but done by students. The online environment supports a learning-centered approach, providing a vehicle by which interested scholars can exchange and refine ideas via discussions and/or reports. That is the premise upon which my courses are constructed, and it aligns with the evolving digital world.  A constructivist and connectivist approach can be used to guide participants on a journey of discovery, sharing of learning, and building of community. Constructivism suggests that learners create knowledge as they attempt to understand their experiences. Connectivism looks at how individual knowledge is shared in a social environment. Learning, especially learning in a fully online “course” in the digital information age can look very different from learning face-to-face in earlier days. George Siemens suggested that connectivism is relevant to online learning.

The starting point of connectivism is the individual. Personal knowledge is comprised of a network, which feeds into organizations and institutions, which in turn feed back into the network, and then continue to provide learning to individual. This cycle of knowledge development (personal to network to organization) allows learners to remain current in their field through the connections they have formed (Siemens, 2004).

Finally, the image brought to mind Garr Reynold’s book Presentation Zen – as he has similar stacked rocks on his cover.  Garr quotes Leonardo DaVinci:

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.

A lot to pull from one image – but at its core: Balance, Connections, and Simplicity.

Thanks, Enoch, for the challenge.  I’ll have another image shooting your way tomorrow!

{Graphic: Mary Roy}

Connecting Some Dots

shallows…or maybe not connecting some dots…  Thinking about two blog posts this morning how they weave into thoughts about online teaching and learning.

The first was by Debbie Morrison – “What the Internet is Doing to Our Education Culture: Book Review of The Shallows“.  Debbie reviewed the book by Nicholas CarrThe Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.  She finds that Carr does not make a compelling argument that the internet makes our thinking more shallow, but she does find that the book suggests that we in education have turned to the internet for “efficiencies.”  Debbie stated:

“…the theme of efficiency as it relates to the Internet extends to our education culture—institution leaders, politicians and administrators seeking efficiency in practices and methods (automated grading, online courses with great numbers of students, etc.) Efficiency is not a ‘bad’ outcome to strive for, yet the idea of efficiency in education is frequently referenced in terms of increasing or maintaining education outcomes, with fewer resources…”

Now let me juxtaposition this with the other blog I read, from Gardner Campbell (…and in full disclosure, Gardner is my Vice Provost for Learning Innovation…and we in the CTE work for him).

Gardner has a thought-provoking post in “Understanding and Learning Outcomes.”  He discusses the historical shift from a teaching paradigm to a learning paradigm, and then adds:

“…Yet something is deeply amiss, in my view. As we seek to perfect the language and institutionalization of a culture of “learning outcomes,” it seems we are necessarily moving toward a strictly behaviorist paradigm of learning, away from what Jerome Bruner refers to as the “cognitive turn” in learning theory and ever more deliberately toward a stimulus-response paradigm of learning. This behaviorist turn can be very sophisticated and refined. The behaviors specified, measured, and tracked can be cognitively demanding “smart human tricks.” There can even be qualitatively measured learning outcomes, though it appears these are less frequent than quantitative metrics, for reasons I think are obvious. Yet these are still behaviors, specified with a set of what I can only describe as jawohl! statements, all rewarding the bon eleves and marching toward compliance and away from more elusive and disruptive concepts like curiosity or wonder…”

Gardner noted that no matter the taxonomy used, they all suggest that learning outcomes should use specific language and should clearly indicate expectations of student performance (…and I would add – “measurable” expectations of student performance).  Gardner pushed my thinking by asking how we get from
“students will…” to a valuing of our “students’ will”.

will

Gardner goes into further detail about learning objectives and how a focus on rigid taxonomies assumes a linear approach to learning, avoiding concepts such as “understanding” and “appreciation”…concepts at the core of what makes us human.  He asks “…does a learning paradigm that avoids “understanding” and “appreciation” reduce symbolic behavior to indexicality alone?”

I would add…does it devalue learning in favor of efficiency?

Gardner links to Chapter 6 in the 1974 Jerome Bruner book Towards a Theory of Instruction, in which Bruner discusses the “will to learn.”  In this digital age, this could be expanded to:

  • the will to create
  • the will to remix
  • the will to connect
  • the will to share

The question for me is how we provide open experiences for our students to co-construct knowledge (and wisdom) with us?  Is our teaching and learning “do to…” or “do with…”?

Thoughts?

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My Next Summer Reading Plans

A delivery from Barnes and Noble is like Christmas in July.  As much as I like digital, there is something comforting about holding a book.  Here are the next four books I plan to read this summer:

books.

Looking forward to jumping in!

And by the way, they are sitting on one of my favorite chairs, designed by a student in the Interior Design program at Gwinnett Technical College many years ago.  It, like these books, reminds me that we can go anywhere our imagination will take us.

chair

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What Walls Need Tearing Down?

labels

Michael Bugeja’s opinion piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Reduce the Technology, Rescue Your Job,” struck a nerve today.  He started by noting that for “most of this decade, professors embraced the pedagogy of engagement, wooing students via technology and ignoring the costs because traditional methods, from textbooks to lectures, purportedly bored students who multitasked in the wireless classroom.”  He then noted the massive cuts occurring across higher education, and suggested that these “facts alone merit an immediate technological and curricular assessment, or else hundreds more professors and staff members could lose their jobs in the coming weeks and months. You may lose your job.”

Bugeja raised the valid point that too often technology decisions are made without factoring in true costs, but he then suggests that teaching centers (like the one at which I work) are part of the problem for pushing the use of technology for teaching and learning.  His final paragraph reads:

  • “I challenge anyone objecting to these arguments to look in the eye of secretaries, janitors, adjuncts, advisers, and professors of eliminated programs and say that avatars, clickers, social networks, and tweets—and the pedagogies, IT expenses, and teaching centers supporting them—are more important than feeding their families. To believe we can afford both indicates how incapable many of us are of making the difficult choices that the times require.”

It would be easy to dismiss this article if I did not think that his way of thinking was not reflective of many in mainstream faculty.  I have seen a number of faculty in higher education, as well as teachers in K-12, who see technology as an evil.  In many ways, they want to wall off their classes from the outside world.

That image of a wall is particularly relevant today, the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.  President Reagan has always been one of my favorites, and one cannot think of him without hearing his exhortation:

“Mr. Gorbachev…tear down this wall!”

That is the line most remember, but I like his comments later in the same speech, in which he stated “this wall will fall. For it cannot withstand faith; it cannot withstand truth. The wall cannot withstand freedom.”

Bugeja’s comments to reduce technology in order to save jobs ignores the realities of a changing world…much as the Berlin Wall did.  Technology in and of itself is not evil, and technology integrated into education is opening minds, not closing them.  The participatory web and open access to information has created freedoms that never existed in the past.  Those freedoms directly and positively impact learning.  As Derek Bruff noted in a comment to Bugeja’s piece:

“…point out that Bugeja has focused here on the cost of instructional technology, but not on the benefits to student learning. There’s plenty of research that shows that student learning is positively affected by instructional methods that involve more active student engagement before, during, and after class. Technologies that support or facilitate such instructional methods are certainly worth exploring, if our goal is student learning. When conducting a cost-benefit analysis, it’s only appropriate to spend as much time thinking through the benefits as it is thinking through the costs.”

“…if our goal is student learning…”  Well said, Derek!  If one shifts the microscope from technology to student learning, one might find many traditional classrooms in trouble!  President Reagan made his speech in 1987, and during that same period, Chickering and Gamson developed a seminal work on teaching and learning, their Seven Principles of Good Practice in Undergraduate Instruction.  They synthesized fifty years of research on teaching to develop these principles:

Good practice in undergraduate education:
1. Encourages contact between students and faculty
2. Develops reciprocity and cooperation among students.
3. Encourages active learning.
4. Gives prompt feedback.
5. Emphasizes time on task.
6. Communicates high expectations.
7. Respects diverse talents and ways of learning.

Rather than cast technology as an evil, I would suggest that technology is a powerful tool that encourages contact between students and faculty, provides avenues for reciprocity and cooperation among students, creates new venues for active learning, enables more timely and prompt feedback, and gives new opportunities to keep students on task.  High expectations can now be communicated in multiple ways across social media that students are using, and these diverse and multiple paths respect the talents and new ways our students are learning.

We certainly need to be fiscally prudent with taxpayer and tuition-funded monies, but now is not the time to build walls and isolate our students from a 24/7 wired world.  Instead, we need to actively help our students create the learning networks that they will need to thrive in the 21st Century.

So to Mr. Bugeja and others who agree with him, I say “Tear down this wall!”

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Faculty Development in An Open World

open_bonk

I just finished reading Curtis J. Bonk’s new book, The World is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I will tell you that Wiley, the publisher, emailed me after I reviewed Dan Willingham’s book in a previous post and asked if they could send me Bonk’s book for possible review (with no strings attached).

I said yes and the next week received a copy of this book at no charge.

With that said, this book has resonated with me and I found Bonk’s approach interesting.

In many ways, Bonk is as much a fan boy of Thomas Friedman’s The World Is Flat as I am.  Just as Friedman had ten flatterners, Bonk has ten openers:

Ten Openers: (WE-ALL-LEARN)

  1. Web Searching in the World of e-Books
  2. E-Learning and Blended Learning
  3. Availability of Open Source and Free Software
  4. Leveraged Resources and OpenCourseWare
  5. Learning Object Repositories and Portals
  6. Learner Participation in Open Information Communities
  7. Electronic Collaboration
  8. Alternate Reality Learning
  9. Real-Time Mobility and Portability
  10. Networks of Personalized Learning

WE-ALL-LEARN provides a framework for his book and the premise that anyone can now learn anything from anyone at anytime.  Bonk  spun out chapters on each opener, illustrating each concept with stories, a bit of research and statistics, and implications for education in the future.  Working in the field, I recognized some of the people he named, but I also learned new pioneers.  Bonk continually reinforces that these openers ought to be changing education as we know it, as our world is quite different from our parent’s world.

In Bonk’s view, these openers need to viewed through three overarching trends.  First, the pipes are getting bigger allowing access to tools and infrastructure.  Second, more and more pages of content is becoming available as free and open content. Third, a participatory learning culture is evolving around social media.

One of the things I found fascinating was my own reaction to the book.  I buy the basic theme that openness ultimately improves education, and I consider myself someone who is part of a participatory learning culture.  I was pleased that Bonk provided a companion website with hyperlinked references and other resources.  But my first inclination was to begin following Curt Bonk’s Twitter account…and I could not find one for him!  Other than his blog, I did not see Bonk participating to the same degree that he discusses in his book.  I have never met him and may be way off target, but I was somewhat surprised that I could not immediately connect with him the way I did with some of the people he mentioned in his book like Stephen Downes, Vicki Davis, Clay Shirky or Dave Weinberger.

So I was thrilled with the content and miffed a bit by the author!  Weird reaction!

I also found that increasingly with books like this one, I read it with a laptop nearby, so that I can quickly go look at something new and immediately start the learning process for myself.  I had never seen Dancing Matt before, so really enjoyed viewing his Youtube video while reading that section of the book.  This bouncing between the web and the written word is a new but interesting process…and it suggests that in many ways, this should have been an e-book as opposed to a print book.

His final opener has to do with personalized learning…something we reflect on often in faculty development.  Bonk stated that we should be striving to move from where we see personalized learning as the ideal to a culture where personalized learning is the accepted norm.  With the pipes, pages, and participatory culture, anyone can establish their own learning path on any topic, whether it be improved teaching, learning a new language, or finally programming the VCR (…just kidding).  The implications for faculty development are huge!

Bonk has fifteen predictions at the end.  I will leave it to you to check them out, but I liked that he is questioning the status quo.  With the availability of all the world’s knowledge in our pockets/cellphones, the typical four-year college process no longer makes sense to Bonk.  He suggests that formalized education will expand rather than contract.  But informal learning with global partners will play an equal role to the formalized higher education model.  Learning will be authentic from passionate teachers…but those “teachers” may no longer be credentialed.  Bonk also served up a dozen issues that will have to be solved for openness to succeed.

I work with faculty daily on best ways to incorporate the internet into their teaching practices.  In the past three years since I came to VCU, the access to learning on the web has exploded.  Bonk’s book is pushing me to reconceptualize how I should facilitate faculty development in an open world.  I recommend the book to you and would be interesting in your thoughts on the evolution/revolution of faculty development in these exciting times!

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Why Don’t Students Like School?

willingham2

I just finished reading Dan Willingham’s (2009) book, Why Don’t Students Like School?: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom. It is an excellent book full of practical suggestions to improve teaching, both online and in the classroom.

Dan Willingham is currently Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia.  His research focuses on the brain basis of learning and memory and the application of cognitive psychology to education. He writes the “Ask the Cognitive Scientist” column for American Educator magazine.

In this book, Willingham asks the question many of us have asked.  After all, students are born as naturally curious creatures, so why are they turned off by education, even when they are paying to attend?  Why can they remember the most trivial detail from a TV show or the words to a popular song, but not remember the answers on our tests?  Willingham submits nine principles that he states explain this disconnect.  Through these nine principles, he first attempts to explain how the minds of students work and then relate how to use that knowledge to improve teaching.

Principle 1: People are naturally curious, but we are not naturally good thinkers; unless the cognitive conditions are right, we will avoid thinking.

1_BrainRulesWillingham states that our minds are not especially well-suited for thinking; thinking is slow, effortful and uncertain.  So rather than thinking in most situations, we revert to relying on our memories – following courses of action we have taken previously.  Paradoxically though, people tend to find successful thinking pleasurable – we like to solve problems, provided they are not too tough.  John Medina (2008), in his book Brain Rules, stated that we are all powerful and natural explorers, and Willingham would agree.  For problems to be solved, he suggests that the thinker needs adequate information from the environment, sufficient room in working memory, and the required facts and processes stored in long-term memory.  In translating this to our classrooms, he suggests that we stage our instruction so that students have relevant problems to solve, respecting in the process their cognitive limits.  Varying how these problems are presented to students and changing the pace can keep us from losing the attention of our students.

Principle 2: Factual knowledge must precede skill.

Willingham states that there is no doubt that memorizing lists of dry facts is boring, but it is equally true that trying to teach students to analyze or synthesize in the absence of factual knowledge is problematic.  These skills require extensive factual knowledge.  He quoted Einstein, who said “Imagination is more important than knowledge”…and then spends the chapter refuting Einstein.  From his cognitive perspective, knowledge is more important in that it is the prerequisite for imagination.  For Willingham, this implies that in every course reading is fundamental.  We should ensure that a knowledge base is in place before requiring critical thinking.  This does not mean that boring presentations are okay.  One of Medina’s Brain Rules: We don’t pay attention to boring things.  Willingham suggests that one solution is look for some of that knowledge base outside of class – meaningful and pointed assignments using TV and internet videos can provoke learning.

Principle 3: Memory is the residue of thought.

Humans cannot store everything that happens in memory.  So the brain selectively stores memories.  And if one has to think about something carefully, the brain reasons that it might have to think about it again in the future, so it is a memory that should be stored.  Medina stated this in two of his rules – Repeat to Remember and Remember to Repeat.  Willingham provides some interesting research on memory.  The lesson appears to be that material to be learned must spend some time in working memory (they think about it), but equally important, students need to think about the meaning of the material.  It does you little good to use a clever video as an attention getter if at the end of class, the students remember the video but not the material covered.

Principle 4:  We understand new things in the context of things we already know, and most of what we know is concrete.

We want students to be able to apply our lessons in new contexts, but the challenge is that the mind does not like abstractions.  The mind prefers the concrete.  Cognitive research therefore suggests that understanding abstractions is really remembering in disguise.   If students are given lots of examples of a concept, the chances improve that they will then see how to apply a concept to new situations.  Many of us have experienced the students who parrot our words back to us…but appear to not really understand.  They exhibit shallow knowledge of the material.  Students with deep knowledge tend to understand not just the parts but the whole.  Therefore, it helps students to not only provide examples but to also ask them to compare the similarities and differences between examples.  Deep knowledge should be your goal, but Willingham also argues that we should be realistic about just how deep our students can get in our short time with them.  At best, we are launching them on a voyage of discovery.

Principle 5: It is virtually impossible to become proficient at a mental task without extended practice.

In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell (2008) stated that what Tiger Woods, Mozart, and Bill Gates had in common was ten thousand hours of practice.  Willingham agrees that practice is crucial – it helps one gain competence, helps one improve, helps protect against forgetting, and helps in transfer to new situations.

Principle 6:  Cognition early in training is fundamentally different from cognition late in training.

Willingham notes that experts did not start out thinking as experts; they thought as novices.  From his point of view, students are ready to comprehend but not ready to create knowledge.  We should therefore not necessarily place students in positions where they are expected to create new knowledge (unless our reason is to have them take the journey, not create the destination).

Principle 7:  Students are more alike than different in how they think and learn.

There will probably be some push-back on this principle, but Willingham basically states that there really are not different learning styles.  He argues that what we consider as styles are really differences in cognitive abilities.  From his point of view, there is little substantive research that demonstrates the existence of multiple intelligences.  So rather than focusing on differences in students, he suggests focusing on differences in content.  Delivering the same content in multiple ways creates multiple examples and provides change, which adds interest.  Medina might agree with Willingham.  He suggested in Brain Rules that instructors should stimulate more of the senses – and that vision trumps all other senses.

Principle 8:  People do differ in intelligence, but intelligence can be changed through sustained hard work.

Alvin Toffler (1970) in Future Shock noted that the illiterate of the twenty-first century would not be those who could not read and write, but rather those that could not learn, unlearn, and relearn.  Willingham suggests that intelligence is not a fixed trait, but rather a malleable one that can be impacted through hard work.  Labeling students as dumb or slow becomes self-fulfilling.  He suggests rather that we focus on and praise effort and process, not ability.  If we treat failure as a natural part of the learning process and encourage hard work, we create a more positive learning environment.

Principle 9: Teaching, like any complex cognitive skill, must be practiced to be improved.

2_iBrainThe previous eight principles apply equally to use as teachers.  We therefore need to practice, reflect on our processes, and seek feedback to improve.

Willingham concludes by noting that cognitive science can help us improve education, but it is not the whole story.  Classes are not just cognitive spaces but also emotional, social, and even motivational spaces.  Small and Vorgan (2008) in their book iBrain suggested that due to a generation immersed in digital media, a new digital divide is developing where younger students are comfortable online but lack social skills, whereas their older teachers are social but need to hone their technical skills.  Willingham would suggest that understanding cognition can help balance these conflicting concerns in the classroom.

His final thought bears repeating:  “Education makes better minds, and knowledge of the mind can make better education.”

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A Nice Touch

We wrap up our Center for Teaching Excellence annual Teaching and Learning with Technology Institute tomorrow, and it has been a wonderful week of discovery for ourselves and our 18 participants.  It is always fun to immerse yourself with colleagues in explorations of teaching practices built around the web and networked learning.  From delicious to digital storytelling to RSS to Slideshare and Jing, we have heard a lot of excitement and brainstorming on practical applications.  One of my high points was being a part of a panel discussion on blogging with three of my colleagues.  Laura McLay blogged about it here.

Check out the Twitter hashtag of “#tlwt09” to gain some appreciation for the week!

As energizing as this week has been, it has been equally fun to reflect on how far I have come in the past year.  I just went back and looked at my blog posts from one year ago.  I had forgotten that just one year ago we both changed our office locations and I bought my scooter!  More importantly, I have had the opportunity to continue learning and growing with my colleagues Jeff Nugent and Bud Deihl.  The three of us spent from December to May brainstorming and then publishing the White Paper on online teaching and learning.  We also totally revamped this Institute, such that the current year focused on networked learning hardly resembles the previous more tool-oriented institute.

As an example, this afternoon was focused on “Casting the Net”.  In a three hour period, we took our participants on an exploration of first podcasting, then screencasting, and finally webcasting.  Our focus was on using these techniques to communicate and connect with students and colleagues.  While each is useful for disseminating material to students, we also demonstrated how each could be equally useful as student-generated material.  As one participant noted in Twitter, she sort of liked the concept of shifting from grading 30 five-page papers to grading 30 five-minute videos!

I illustrated how Jon Becker had put together an impromptu webcast with colleagues nationwide and our students, then Twittered a link for the web meeting, which allowed others outside our walled garden of Blackboard to join the conversation.

As something tangible to take back from their week with us, at the end of the day we gave each participant an iPod Touch.  It was totally unexpected and you could feel the boost in energy and excitement (and goosebumps) from the crowd as we began to hand them out.  We feel confident that this is a group that will make good use in this investment in technology!  This institute has really been an opening commitment to building a relationship that is going to evolve and grow over the coming years!

As I said, it was a nice Touch!  🙂

{Photo Credit: Apple}

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The Only Thing to Fear

I was in an interesting exchange today across multiple levels of the web on which I would like to reflect further.

It started when my friend Eduardo Peirano tweeted a link to me and two others about an article in the May 29th edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education.  In “I’ll Never Do It Again,” Elayne Clift laid out her reasons for never teaching online again.  Her five reasons included:

  1. “Virtual community” is the ultimate oxymoron.
  2. The lack of immediacy in communication is maddening.
  3. The quality of education is compromised in online learning.
  4. Show the money (more work for the same pay)
  5. Online teaching can be very punishing (requires more time)

She wrapped up her comments with:

“Weary and obsessed, I began to feel that, despite my best efforts, I was not up to the task, not in control, not meeting my own standards. On top of that, I suspected my students didn’t like me very much. That hurt. I began to break out in rashes and suffer sleepless nights.

That’s when I knew that I would not do it again and would chalk it up to experience — even if that decision meant hanging up my chalk altogether. Try to talk me down. Tell me I didn’t give it enough time. Call me old-fashioned and out-of-date. Just don’t call me to teach online.

I’ll leave that to (younger?) teachers who like living in a virtual world of virtual students with virtual goals, capacities, and ideas. Me? I’ll stick to the virtues of live human interaction — in the classroom and elsewhere — in a world rapidly becoming, as some of my students might say, “totally unreal!”

Eduardo knew that this 59-year-old (younger?) faculty would rise to the bait!  He had started a discussion forum around this article in his Ning site for Higher Education – College 2.0.  In his post, he noted:

“Aren’t online teachers complicating themselves. At the face to face classes there is nothing similar to forum discussions. So the discussions between the students should be very important for their grade!! They should be allowed to help each other and the teacher’s role is to point them to good resources and to support and facilitate the discussions and learning. If the homework is a collaborative paper each student should be responsible to contribute with some paragraphs (Michael Wesch: A Cultural Anthropologist Looks at Digital Technolog…) or presentation.”

I posted a reply on the College 2.0 forum, but I was fairly certain that Elayne Clift or folks that agreed with her would never see it there.  So I posted the same comments in a Chronicle Forum for article discussion (as well as linking this comment out on Twitter).  Jon Becker was more eloquent in 140 characters but summed up my feelings pretty well:

My more lengthy comment was:

Elayne Clift certainly had issues with teaching online, but it appeared to me that she attempted this course without changing any of her practices, and teaching online is fundamentally different than teaching face-to-face.  I am as old-dog as Clift, but I also have been teaching online for 14 years at a variety of institutions, and see things a little different than she does.

A “virtual community” is only an oxymoron if the faculty does not instill a sense of community through her or his own social presence in the class.  Using social media and collaborative activities, a community can not only form but be very strong.  Social networking tools can lead to a rich communication not only within just the course but with discipline experts worldwide.  We recently held a webconference with our class and guest speakers, and we also opened it up to the world through Twitter.  Others in the field from around the country joined the webconference and began interacting with our students in the chat box.  You could not duplicate that in a physical classroom.

As to lack of quality, that is more an indictment on the institution and the faculty than on online learning.  In my most recent class that I co-taught with another, several students used the term “life-altering” to express their appreciation for the quality of learning they found in our class.

The comments about money and time suggest to me again that Clift attempted to be the single expert on the stage rather than co-opting her students into the learning process.  I find the time distributed nature of online learning works well for me, but much of my focus is on helping students learn how to learn and teach each other.

I was lead author of a white paper published by our Center for Teaching Excellence on online teaching> http://bit.ly/11DBMx. It focuses on the practice of teaching online, and may offer an alternative view to the one espoused by Clift.  Please add to the conversation – we would be interested in your thoughts.

Danger Students Working Online

That was near 1pm today.  Another person had started a similar forum called “Teaching Online.”  By dinner time, these two comments had been read over three hundred and two-fifty times respectively, and a lengthy exchange was developing in the forum.  What I found fascinating was that our comments evoked such strong reaction from two faculty who had never taught online. I respect more the comments from those who had taught online.  My Twitter network is biased towards technology but was much more aligned with my own comments.

In several Chronicle comments, there was a note of fear that the “good old days” were gone and that because of online learning, higher education was going to hell in a handbasket.  “Beatitude” noted “I hope to God this isn’t the future for all of higher education…”

“Beatitude” raised a number of interesting points.  He or she noted that online courses were fine in the summer as long as they did not take resources away from [real] courses in the academic year.  (My interpretation).  There was a bit of fear about potential loss of jobs due to outsourcing.  And a note that many students currently taking online courses live on campus and take these courses from their dorms.

All true.

Yet, there is no real discussion about “learning” or academic success.  My simplistic view is that online is simply a mode of delivery, as are large lectures, small classrooms, and even tele-delivery to remote satellite settings.  We do not burn down large lecture halls because significant numbers of students fail those classes.  We instead look at best means of delivery given the context of large lecture halls.  Online should be no different.  Castigating online as something to fear for the future seems narrow-sighted.

Recent polls suggest almost 100% of entering students already own a laptop.  Given wireless connectivity, there really is no course anymore in which some online learning does not occur.  Our students are using Google and Wikipedia, either in class or outside it (not to mention Facebook!).  The question is not whether students are online or not but rather whether we faculty are guiding their online lives towards learning that matters.

Lisa Lane had a more positive note in her posting in College 2.0 on this matter:

“Faculty who’ve been teaching online awhile have a responsibility to share their experiences, tips and tricks with those just starting out. Mechanisms need to be in place for them to do that, whether it’s professional development programs, training seminars, or social interaction (online or in person). I could, and have, provided many, many solutions to the overload so many new online instructors experience trying to make their online class as much like their on-site classes as possible. There are indeed ways to design the experience to be easier and better for all.”

I agree with Lisa (and I think our White Paper was an attempt to do just the type of sharing she suggests).

Eduardo hit my hot button today (or more correctly, Elayne did).  What are your thoughts?  Have we not reached the point where the debate over the efficacy of online learning is past and where we should instead be focusing on the new practices needed to make online learning the success many of us have already seen it to be?  As always, I would be interested in your comments and reaction.

{Photo Remixed from Gill Wildman}

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CTE White Paper on Online Teaching and Learning

The delivery of courses online is nearly as old as the web itself, but as with any innovation, some faculty members have been early adopters while others have watched the development with both interest and skepticism. As publishing and managing content on the web has become easier, and as the delivery of online courses has become increasingly more popular, more faculty members have begun exploring ways to offer their courses online.

There is a common perspective that moving a course online is primarily about designing and sequencing course content. While content is important, we also believe that recent changes on the web – toward a more social and interconnected space – have necessitated the rethinking of what it means to make the transition to online teaching and learning. The unprecedented access to information coupled with the ability by anyone to publish online are disrupting how one teaches and learns, raising questions in the minds of faculty as to whether their own practices should change.

Jeff Nugent, Bud Deihl, and I at the Virginia Commonwealth University Center for Teaching Excellence where I work have authored a white paper, Building from Content to Community: [Re]Thinking the Transition to Online Teaching and Learning, that is intended to serve as a resource for faculty who are teaching online or are considering making a transition. We hope this paper serves as the starting point for conversation, and invite you to share your ideas by leaving a comment at our CTE blog or here.

We look forward to hearing your thoughts!

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Personal Reflections

End of the semester, and a good time for reflection.

For their final assignment, we asked our graduate class that Jon Becker and I taught on Educational Technology and School Leadership to reflect on their 15-week journey. Their reflections are captured in the Wordle above. We had twenty-five K-12 teachers who immersed themselves in the Web 2.0 stream for a semester and examined applications to their teaching and to school leadership. The reflections indicated that they thoroughly enjoyed the journey.

The Wordle points out some obvious observations – everyone focused on technology and their students. Many discussed the immediate application of web tools to their teaching in their own classrooms.

I was struck, however, by some of the personal observations that did not emerge in this Wordle. One student noted that she had just been selected as Teacher of the Year for her school, which she attributed to her engagement in our class and her excited reapplication of her learning from our class into her own school. Another student stated that she had originally wanted to move out of the classroom and into administration because she felt burned out in the classroom. Our class had so re-energized her that she now saw that she could have a greater impact on children and learning by remaining in the classroom and helping her digital kids grow. Several students used the same term in their individual reflections – “life-altering”.

While I am both proud and humbled by the impact this course had on many of our students, I suspect much of the impact was similar to the impact I saw in myself this past year. The more I network and connect, the more it impacts me on a personal level. Our students began to see this too. Many reflected that “professional development” had taken on personal aspects that they had never considered before.  It was a paradigm shift to move from professional development as something you attend to professional development as something for which you take personal responsibility.

This provides interesting context as we get ready for our week-long institute with seventeen faculty on teaching and learning with technology.  Trent Batson lamented yesterday that “life on campus goes on as normal. Faculty members are still expected to publish in traditional journals, still expected to meet their classes in rooms equipped with chalkboards and designed for lectures, and still expected by their students to tell them what they should know so they can write it on paper during a test.” Our hope in the institute is to break that cycle – help faculty see – at a personal level – the impact that the web now has on teaching and learning.  Jeff Nugent suggested one way to prepare for this week was for each of us facilitating it to return and update our own notion of our personal learning network. So here is what I came up with:

(Link to full size image)

My PLE contains traditional methods of information gathering like journals, listservs, and even morning coffee sessions. But I am also mindful of and tapped in to numerous web applications, where I hear the conversations taking place worldwide on topics of interest to me. Some of those conversations pop up in Delicious, some through my Google Reader, many from Twitter or Facebook. When I go seeking information, I tend to look in Delicious or Wikipedia, but I also still Google things, though I am increasingly looking to Twiiter as a search engine.

While I tried to collate items in neat areas of “collect, communicate, collaborate, and create/share,” the truth is that the interconnections are numerous and blurry.  Twitter is all of the above.  Our class wiki was all of the above.  Delicious many times is all of the above.

The key for me is that the web now weaves itself into all aspects of my work life at a deeply personal level.  In keeping with the interactive nature of the web, it is no longer enough to passively receive information.  Personal learning includes actively connecting and communicating with my network across multiple paths.

It seems that the “buzz” about PLEs and PLNs has died down recently, yet I found it illuminating personally to relook at my own concept of my own learning environment and network.  I suspect that it will continue to evolve.  What do you think?  What resonates with you?  What seems off base?

I would be interested in your thoughts.

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