Lesson in Explicitness or Lack Thereof

head slapEver developed one of those killer assignments that you know would be dynamite … and then you review the graduate student submissions and wonder – How could they have missed that!?!?

Yep!  It happened to me this week.  It happened ironically during a synthesis assignment on attention, memory and thinking, and it pointed out to me (again) how critical being explicit is in online learning (or any learning).

Let me provide some context.

For the past four weeks, my EDU 6323 class on Technology as a Medium for Learning has been reading the chapters on attention, memory and thinking in Michelle Miller’s Minds Online: Teaching Effectively With Technology.  I had previously blogged about her chapters last year – see my posts on Attention, Memory, and Thinking.  These chapters provided background as we explored digital tools for tagging, aggregating, social networking, and collaborating.

During those same four weeks, the students began using a group page in Diigo, purposefully curating resources around the topics of attention, memory and thinking.  They collectively shared over ninety articles, both from scholarly sources as well as mainstream media.  See below for some examples.

The assignment this week:

Over the past weeks, we have explored a number of Web 2.0 technologies (and we have a few to go).

EDU6323coursemap .

We have also been reading Miller’s book Minds Online. Chapters 4-6 focus on key cognitive attributes of attention, memory and thinking.  Also, we have been collectively gathering web resources on these topics in our Diigo Group page.

During this week, you will submit a 2-5 page double-spaced paper, synthesizing the lessons you take from these chapters and resources, and discussing specific ways some of the technologies we have discussed could be used to improve your teaching and student learning.  You will bring highlights of your thinking into this week’s discussion to share with your classmates.  The focus this week is on “collaboration” – so let’s learn from each other!

I thought it self-evident that the “collectively gathered web resources” in Diigo would inform their papers.  But that was not explicitedly stated in the assignment nor the rubric.

One student did, weaving in to his analysis three different articles that other classmates had saved in Diigo.  Four others used one or two of their own resources that they had added to the Diigo group page, but none from their classmates.  Half of the class had Miller’s book as their only resource, with no mention of the curated resources.

I place the “blame” (if that is the right word) squarely on my shoulders.  I did not make my expectations explicit and I did not provide enough scaffolding.  For the past three weeks, I have reminded students to pay attention to Miller’s chapters, as they would be using them as a lens for their upcoming paper.  In doing so, I focused their attention strictly on the book…and failed to highlight the importance of the other sources they were dutifully collecting.

In general, the papers were fine.  They summarized Miller’s key points and then discussed possible applications to their own teaching situations.  I just assumed that they would connect the dots between (1) the activity of gathering resources on attention, memory, and thinking and (2) the paper they were writing on applying the lessons to their own teaching situation.  That connection was crystal clear to me … but alluded 93% of my class.

My fault!

This is my first time teaching EDU 6323.  Next time, I will spend more time connecting the dots – and making explicit my expectations.

And just to share some of the good work the class did curating resources, here is a sampling:

I would welcome any suggestions you might have on making lessons more explicit.  Maybe I watch too much NCIS – but a head slap is what I feel I need right now!

headslap2

{Graphics: Chris Sabo, Watwood EDU6323 Course Graphic, Patricia Goldbach}

Overcoming Old.Edu

My wife and I have been on the road this week down in the Richmond VA area.  We found a house in Chesterfield, and will be retiring there this spring.

Old SchoolDriving back to Boston yesterday, I had smooth jazz playing on Pandora in the car, and one of the songs that played was “Old.Edu (Old School)” by Euge Groove.  A clever title, but it also fit my thinking about this week in EDU 6323.

The topic this week was Re-Wiring the Web using RSS.  The web experience for users has morphed in the last decade. Initially, the web was simply a destination for users, a place one “surfed” content others created. At that time, there was no effective way to determine when content on a site had been modified or updated.

rssReally Simple Syndication (RSS) fundamentally changed this.  RSS feeds enabled news headlines, blog posts, audio and video files to be automatically updated and easily accessed through RSS readers or “aggregators” like Feedly, Netvibes, Protopage, and iTunes.  One could now control the web!  Rather than having to go out to favorite websites to see if there were updates, content was now served up or “pushed” to individual users through subscriptions that they customized.  When one could now gather dynamically updated web content, the notion of what it meant to access information radically changed.  During this week, my students explored setting up and customizing RSS aggregation tools, considering how they might leverage RSS technology to support personal and student learning.

One of the things I found interesting this week in my students’ reflections was that 90% said that they had never heard of RSS.  Yet, many admitted that they had noticed the orange RSS icon on webpages, but never felt compelled to check out what it was.  I found this most interesting.  We live in a rich media environment which is social, open, and participatory … but that presupposes that one will engage.  I have not bought in to the concept of “digital natives versus digital immigrants”, but Prensky’s idea of “digital wisdom” seems more on the mark now.   As the 2014 Huffington Post article by Jeff DeGraff noted:

“Don’t let the word “digital” fool you in all this talk about how difficult it is for digital natives and digital immigrants to communicate. The truth is that this generational gap between the so-called digital natives (the generation of people born during or after the rise of digital technologies) and the digital immigrants (people born before the advent of digital technology) doesn’t actually have to do with technology. The real issue is that the two worldviews that they represent are so different.”

So what I may be seeing in my students’ reflections is a different worldview from mine – one that may be more “old school.”

Maryellen Weimer noted in her post this week, “Why Are We So Slow to Change the Way We Teach?“, that many aspects of teaching are slow to change.  She suggested that this is due in part to change being harder than we think, that teachers tend to underestimate the complexity of changing teaching, and that many make change harder by going it alone.  My students seem to mirror this.  Several noted that they were glad the class was forcing them to examine something they would not do on their own.  It was interesting that several were immediately implementing aspects of RSS into their classes, where as several others thought it was a good idea and would try it out “sometime.”  I hope that they do!  Those experimenting with Feedly and Protopage seemed excited!

One student raised an interesting question.  He noted:

“…Individuals are only likely to pull in feeds of immediate relevance or concern, potentially blocking out important sources and perspectives in favor of just using what is fed to their aggregator. Additionally, pulling in too much information from news sites or other locations that frequently post new content may lead to information overload, creating the very clutter RSS is intended to avoid.”

Does rewiring the web keep us from seeing alternative viewpoints?  Michele Martin suggested this in her blog post “Understanding Homophily on the Web.” She noted:

“…My point here is that if we are getting a lot of information from and engaging in dialogues with other bloggers (as many of us are), it’s easy for us to forget who is NOT part of the conversations. We end up operating in siloes without even knowing it…”

Wrapped around our discussions this week was Michelle Miller’s fourth chapter from Minds Online about attention.  Miller noted that it is easy to derail attention. Yet, attention can easily be shifted. As Miller noted:

“…The inattentional blindness effect illustrates a broader truth about human perception and attention, that looking and seeing are two different things – and that we are remarkably prone to missing stimuli when our attention is directed elsewhere.”

While capacity cannot be expanded, it can be altered by practice. Actions that become automatic free up the brain to process other information. Attention is highly intertwined with visual processing, which is another facet of online course design that matters. The book explores change blindness, in which changes to the screen are not picked up readily. Most people think they perceive more change than they really do.

Working memory is an area of significant variation among individuals. Attention directs what goes in to working memory, so again, understanding attention is important to creating a learning environment. Miller suggested several strategies regarding attention and online learning.

  • Ask students to respond – Chunk material into short segments and have students do something (answer a question, click on a hotspot, etc).
  • Take advantage of automaticity – Use auto-grading features of LMS’s to provide practice opportunities and feedback, with incentives for completion.
  • Assess Cognitive Load – Positively impact cognitive load through design features. Poor instructions or requiring new features without practice can negatively increase cognitive load.
  • Discourage Divided Attention – The web is full of distractions, but simply informing students that they should pay attention actually increases attention.

A hotspot for my students this week regarding attention suggested that teachers should educate students about multitasking, make materials as seamless as possible, minimize extraneous attention drains, and keep them engaged through compelling activities.

My students and I grappled with how to actually apply this to the classroom.  It has become apparent to some that their own inattentional blindness affects how they are teaching their students, who in turn move forward lacking digital skills to effectively use the web.  Breaking the cycle of “Old School” is hard!

A third transformation is now taking place in a networked world, where the emphasis has shifted from first pulling, then pushing, to now curating and sharing information.  We will explore curation in four weeks, but next week, the focus will be on using Facebook and other social media as learning spaces.

And here is the song that got me thinking in the first place:

Of course, not everything O-L-D Dot E-D-U is bad…but we should be careful not to be too old school!

{Graphics: Duncan Hull, Rodney Calafati}

First Week in EDU6323

It has been awhile since I blogged…but as I move into retirement from faculty development and spend more time teaching adjunct, my blog offers a place to reflect on my online teaching.

I am currently teaching a graduate course for Northeastern University – Technology as a Medium for Learning (EDU6323).  I was asked to completely redesign this course to add more learning science to the course flow.  As the course objectives aligned with a course Jeff Nugent developed several years ago, I took the basic flow from Jeff’s course, but added Michelle Miller’s book as the course textbook, so that we would examine the various digital technologies through the cognitive lens of Attention, Memory, Thinking and Multimedia.

EDU6323coursemap

To start the course off, the students read Mike Wesch‘s From Knowledgable to Knowledge-able, The Next Generation Digital Learning Environment, and an interview by Mary Grush on moving from course management to course networking, all within the context of learning in a networked environment.  They also viewed the Networked Society video:

The students are tweeting to hashtag #EDU6323 weekly, as well as analyzing the readings and discussing their insights in our Blackboard discussion board.  My students span the country.

6323maptweet

Some are in K-12 as teachers or coaches, some are in community colleges, and some are in higher education administration or educational technology. Yet it was interesting how these readings and video in some ways overwhelmed my students.  While living in it, they had not reflected before on the pace and magnitude of change occurring in learning environments.  Some questioned who was ahead in dealing with this change – higher education or K-12?  There was some discussion on the potential gap that can exist between haves and have-nots, but also a recognition that in some ways, developing countries now have access to learning – leading to the question as to whether it is the middle that is being squeezed.

What is gratifying is that my students appear focused on student learning, not tools and technology.  There was discussion as to whether more or less technology in the classroom was the answer, but they kept coming back to the affordances technology “could” give for learning.  One student summarized:

“E-learning empowers the individual by putting information in the hands of everyone, not just the elite.  It affords everyone, even those in the remotest of regions and in the most un-institutional places, the invaluable advantage of learning, of being both the holder and creator of knowledge.”

Given that I have several students in health care education, there was some push-back on Mike’s article.  These students teach in programs that lead to students taking national certification exams, so “teaching to the test” is a bit of the norm.  We had some good discussion in both Twitter and Blackboard around assessment of learning.  As one student noted:

“With all of the personalization and every aspect being chosen for the learner (ie review questions, etc), how does this bolster dedication, motivation, perseverance, and most of all organizational skills?”

Some questioned whether the concept of “learning management systems” is an outdated concept.  We will dig deeper into this in a few weeks.  There was comfort in the structure that LMS‘s provide, but recognition that they also limited both teaching and learning.  Some noted that this comfort has more to do with teachers than students, and that fear of change may keep teachers from experimenting.

It was nice to see the concept of “free” surface in the first week.  There are many free apps and softwares available for teaching and learning – but there are “costs” associated with the selection of these free apps, particularly when it comes to time for teachers to tinker and play.

Please join us at the Twitter hashtag #EDU6323 in the coming ten weeks as we explore digital technologies for learning.  Next week, my students will be exploring educational blogs and trying to answer the two questions – Should students blog? and Should teachers blog?

How would you answer that question?

 

Direct Instruction and Learning Science

icon-e-learningKristi Bronkey had a nice article in Faculty Focus yesterday entitled “Re-Thinking Direct Instruction in Online Learning.” She noted that while direct instruction had a bad reputation associated with passive learning, it did not have to reflect passivity. She suggested a model framed around the notions of “I Do, We Do, and You Do.”

  • I Do – Direct instruction by faculty using screencasts
  • We Do – Faculty guided student processes with frequent feedback
  • You Do – Students working together in authentic group processes

Kristi noted:

“Direct Instruction should be an ongoing exchange between professor and students. With effort, creativity, and the intentional use of the I Do, We Do, You Do structure, we can present new information in engaging ways, provide guided feedback as students strive to draw meaning from their new learning, and allow students the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues before independently reflecting on their own learning.”

How Learning WorksI was struck by the parallels between Kristi’s article and the research Susan Ambrose and her colleagues published (2010) in How Learning Works: Seven Researched-Based Principles for Smart Teaching.

Kristi noted that for “I Do”, faculty could use short screencasts to help students make connections between the reading assignments and bigger picture aspects of the topic being discussed. She noted that this allowed students to “hear our thought processes.” This aligns nicely with the Knowledge Organization principle:

“How students organize knowledge influences how they learn and apply what they know.”

Students do not have the rich knowledge structure and associated connections of facts that faculty experts draw on when conceptualizing a topic. Articulating these connections can aid student learning.

Faculty screencasts can also help guide the students in both procedural knowledge and the knowledge of how to employ them – steps towards mastery. Developing a concise screencast can help faculty push past their own “expert blind spot” by clearly identifying skills needed and steps for applying these skills.  This aligns with another principle noted by Ambrose:

“To develop mastery, students must acquire component skills, practice integrating them, and know when to apply them.”

Facts can be dry…but rarely come across as dry when a passionate expert discusses them. Screencasts can provide avenues in which this passion of the faculty becomes evident, and that links to student motivation for learning. As Ambrose noted:

“Students’ motivation determines, directs, and sustains what they do to learn.”

Two more principles can surface in the We Do area of learning processes. Students come to our courses with a wealth of knowledge already, and helping students surface that prior knowledge influences how they filter and process what they are learning. If they lack sufficient prior knowledge, learning can be negatively impacted. The facilitative nature of We Do can help engage prior knowledge.

“Students’ prior knowledge can help or hinder learning.”

Kristi’s article also discusses the use of frequent feedback. Ambrose noted that learning is best fostered when students engage in practice that is directly linked to learning outcomes, set at an appropriate level of challenge, and is linked to specific and explicit feedback.  As Kristi noted, feedback does not simply have to summative – it can be used formatively during learning processes to guide students to higher levels of achievement.

Goal-directed practice coupled with targeted feedback enhances the quality of students’ learning.”

In the final section of Kristi’s post, she discusses the independent nature of You Do in online learning, but advocates for a mix of group activities and independent metacognitive reflection.  Tackling the potential for isolation addresses another principle noted by Ambrose:

“Students’ current level of development interacts with the social, emotional, and intellectual climate of the course to impact learning.”

The reflection on their own contribution to the progress of learning also aligns with the final principle noted by Ambrose:

“To become self-directed learners, students must learn to monitor and adjust their approaches to learning.”

learning_graphicI like Kristi’s call to action for online professors.  We would not want passivity in our students, and we should not allow our delivery to be passive.  Incorporating the concepts of I Do / We Do / You Do as a mindful approach to course design can not only help keep students engaged, but also better incorporate aspects of learning science that we know from research lead to more effective learning.

{Graphics: EuroMedia, Jossey-Bass, John Hopkins University}

Attention, Cognition, and Online Learning

Twitter-AttentionLast week, I began discussing Michelle Miller’s new book, Minds Online: Teaching Effectively With Technology.  In my post, “Cognitively Optimized Online Course,” I reviewed the first three chapters on online learning, how it works, and the psychology of computing.  In this post, I look at the fourth chapter, on attention.

Sooo … has the cute picture of the little dog grabbed your attention?

And in doing so, have I sidetracked our exploration of attention?

Michelle’s chapter begins with an exploration of the Stroop Effect, and how easy it is to derail attention.

StroopThe link above takes you to a simple task of speaking two sets of words, with the caveat that you speak the color, not the printed word.  It took me about 50% longer to complete Set #2 over Set #1, because my mind kept focusing on the mismatch between the printed word and the color.  Michelle noted that you cannot separate cognition from the mechanisms we use to allocate our cognitive resources…so paying attention to paying attention is important in online course design.

Yet, attention can easily be shifted.  The message ding on our phone pulls us away from the computer screen.  Images in our lessons that do not align with the task impact our attention.

We also have limitations, including inattentional blindness when we focus.  It goes back 8 years ago, but I used the video below as an example of inattentional blindness during a job interview.

As Michelle noted:

“The inattentional blindness effect illustrates a broader truth about human perception and attention, that looking and seeing are two different things – and that we are remarkably prone to missing stimuli when our attention is directed elsewhere.”

… as “The Invisible Gorilla” showed.

While capacity cannot be expanded, it can be altered by practice. Actions that become automatic free up the brain to process other information.  Michelle is quick to note that practice does not mean we can actually multitask…we just think that we can.

Attention is highly intertwined with visual processing, which is another facet of online course design that matters.  She describes change blindness, in which changes to the screen are not picked up readily.  Most people think they perceive more change than they really do.

 Working memory is an area of significant variation among individuals.  Michelle noted that attention directs what goes in to working memory, so again, understanding attention is important to creating a learning environment.

minds_online2Michelle suggested several strategies regarding attention and online learning.

  • Ask students to respond
    • Chunk material into short segments and have students do something (answer a question, click on a hotspot, etc)
  • Take advantage of automaticity
    • Use auto-grading features of LMS’s to provide practice opportunities and feedback, with incentives for completion
  • Assess Cognitive Load
    • You really can do little to impact the cognitive demands of the topic or the individual, but you can impact cognitive load by design features.  Poor instructions or requiring new features without practice can negatively increase cognitive load.
  • Discourage Divided Attention
    • The web is full of distractions, but simply informing students that they should pay attention actually increases attention.

The chapter on attention suggests that educating students about multitasking, making materials as seamless as possible, minimizing extraneous attention drains, and keeping them engaged through compelling activities – these will help with learning in online classes.

From attention, Michelle moves to memory – my next post.

{Graphic: Social Caffeine }

 

Cognitively Optimized Online Course

active-learning-stratsMonday, I attended a regional conference hosted by the Harvard University Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning on active learning.  It was a good day of conversation with colleagues from some 35 institutions in the area.  I met Jim Lang of Assumption College, and he pointed out that “active learning” is a potential active learning problem for faculty in general.  Totally agree.

During the morning, we worked as small groups to identify both barriers to adoption and solutions:

Some barriers:

  • Faculty personal identity as “one who lectures”
  • Loss of control
  • Fear that experimentation will impact student evaluations
  • Classroom spaces not conducive to active learning
  • Lack of faculty knowledge as to active learning techniques

Some solutions:

  • Creating culture of active learning
  • Sharing of practices … and sharing evidence of efficacy
  • Spotlights on faculty doing it
  • Discipline journals including SoTL in addition to discipline research
  • Convene faculty development around shared problems
    • Start with small teaching activities
  • Understand the difference between “starting” versus “sustaining” active learning

minds_online2Yet, my best take-away from the conference came when Jim mentioned a new book he was reading on the train that morning:  Michelle Miller’s (2014) Minds Online: Teaching Effectively With Technology.  I immediately went online and ordered my own copy, which arrived last night.  The book starts with the cognitive principles that could be applied to improved learning through technology, focusing on attention, memory and thinking.  It then provides practical applications of these principles to provide a “cognitively optimized, fully online course.”  That intrigued me!  Sixty-five pages in, I am excited enough to post this preliminary reaction.

Michelle noted in the preface that this book “…explains how principles of human cognition can inform the effective use of technology in college teaching”, noting:

  • “Technology enables frequent, low-stakes testing, an activity that powerfully promotes memory for material
  • Technology encourages better spacing of study over the time course of the class and helps prevent cramming.
  • Technology facilitates presentation of material in ways that take advantage of learners’ existing knowledge about a topic.
  • Technology facilitates presentation of material via multiple sensory modalities, which, if done in the right ways, can promote comprehension and memory.
  • Technology offers new methods for capturing and holding students’ attention, which is a necessary precursor for memory.
  • Technology supports frequent, varied practice that is a necessary precursor to the development of expertise.
  • Technology offers new avenues to connect students socially and fire them up emotionally.
  • Technology allows us to borrow from the techniques of gaming to promote practice, engagement, and motivation.” (p. xii)

She noted that technology does not promote learning by its mere presence … learning requires focused attention, effortful practice, and motivation (concepts that align with Susan Ambrose’s (2012) How Learning Works).

Michelle’s first chapter deals with whether online learning is here to stay.  She suggests factors such as economics, student demand, calls for measurable evidence of learning, new technologies and a drive to innovate as reasons why technology in higher education is now a given … and that we should invest in using it well.  She then looks at whether learning online works (noting that just by asking the question, we are holding technologically aided teaching to a higher standard than classroom teaching).  She charts out principles for optimal college teaching excerpted from four “best practice frameworks:

These best practices do suggest that online learning works…and some of what makes it work is active learning.

In Chapter 3, she tackles some of the prevailing myths about the psychology of computing:

  • Use of the web “rewires” the brain
  • Students today are “digital natives”
  • Social networking destroys real-life social relationships

RewireYourBrain

While there are grains of truth, she provides some interesting analysis of the realities behind these myths and what that might mean for teaching.

So … I am through the first three chapters and stoked!  I will continue this as I move further through the book, and I will continue to find connections with the active learning session I attended this week.

If you are looking for a good book that applies the learning sciences to online teaching, I would recommend this book.

(…and thanks again to Jim Lang for the suggestion…)

{Graphics: Kenny, Barnes and Noble, Vogler}

 

 

 

A New Center and A New Seven

How Learning WorksI am excited to be headed to Boston next month to join the Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning Through Research at Northeastern University.  CATLR, led by Cigdem  Talgar, was formed by Senior Vice Provost Susan Ambrose, lead author of How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching.  Each member of CATLR works with faculty to explore ways to enhance learning that are firmly grounded in the learning sciences.  I am definitely joining a quality team … and “team” is relevant, as this appears to be a highly collaborative group.

I cannot wait!

During the interview process, several members brought up the white paper that Jeff Nugent, Bud Deihl and I co-wrote back in 2009:  Building from Content to Community: [Re]Thinking the Transition to Online Teaching and Learning.  In the white paper, we wanted to state unequivocally that teaching online involved much more than simply posting content online.  I still think that is true, even given the rise in MOOCs over the past five years.  To make our case, we noted the amazing growth of open content (i.e., the content was already posted online).  We then noted:

“In reviewing the literature, many suggest that the while the content and the learning outcomes are the same, the manner in which that content is delivered and the interactions with students are quite different. Ko and Rosen (2008) suggest that developing an online course starts at the same place where one develops a face-to-face course. One sets the goals for the course, describes the specific learning objectives, defines the tasks necessary to meet those objectives, and then creates applicable assignments around these tasks. The fundamentals are the same, the technique is very different. So in many ways, the design of an online course mirrors the design of a face-to-face course. Both have clear learning objectives. Assessment of learning is critical in both. Yet the fundamental practices for delivering the instruction and facilitating learner interaction are quite different.”

To illustrate these differences, we used a series of vignettes based on Chickering and Gamson’s Seven Principles for Good Practice for Undergraduate Education.   Chickering and Gamson synthesized fifty years of research and developed the following seven principles that they viewed as core to effective teaching:

7 Principles

  1. Good Practice Encourages Student-Faculty Contact
  2. Good Practice Encourages Cooperation among Students
  3. Good Practice Encourages Active Learning
  4. Good Practice Gives Prompt Feedback
  5. Good Practice Emphasizes Time on Task
  6. Good Practice Communicates High Expectations
  7. Good Practice Respects Diverse Talents and Ways of Learning

Many others have coupled the Seven Principles with online teaching, such as in Chickering and Ehrmann’s Technology as Lever article or the recent Faculty Focus article by Dreon.  As I move to CATLR, I have been thinking differently.  I have been reflecting on recasting our white paper using the seven research-based principles described in Susan Ambrose’s book:

  1. Students’ prior knowledge can help or hinder learning.
  2. How students organize knowledge influences how they learn and apply what they know.
  3. Students’ motivation determines, directs, and sustains what they do to learn.
  4. To develop mastery, students must acquire component skills, practice integrating them, and know when to apply what they have learned.
  5. Goal-directed practice coupled with targeted feedback enhances the quality of students’ learning.
  6. Students’ current level of development interacts with the social, emotional, and intellectual climate of the course to impact learning.
  7. To become self-directed learners, students must learn to monitor and adjust their approaches to learning.

In many ways, these are “Seven Principles Two Point Oh”.  🙂  The Chickering and Gamson Seven focused on good teaching.  The Ambrose Seven focus on good learning – a neat shift.

Prior Knowledge

The online environment offers the opportunity to tailor learning based on what each student brings to the course.  If prior knowledge is activated, sufficient, appropriate, and accurate (not always givens), then learning can be enhanced.  To do this, some form of assessment is needed to gauge and surface prior knowledge as part of the online learning process.

Knowledge Organization

This principle recognizes that novices and experts approach learning in different ways.  If one approaches online learning from a constructivist and connectivist view, then strategies should be applied that help students collaboratively build connections with the concepts they are learning, teaming experts and novices.  Online concept mapping exercises are a neat way to move this forward.

Motivation

Ambrose discusses the interconnections between a supportive environment, student efficacy, and the value of a learning goal – and these align with the earlier Seven Principle on High Expectations.   Passion for the subject and surfacing the relevance of the learning go a long way to increasing student motivation.  Empowering students to connect learning to their own passions and relevant interests applies here as well.

Mastery / Goal-Directed Practice with Feedback

In his book, The Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell suggests the “10,000-Hour Rule” – that greatness requires the investment of time and practice.  In a normal semester online course, one does not have thousands of hours, but the concept of practice to develop skills is important.  I coupled two of Ambrose’s principles here, because they are aligned.  Goal-directed feedback coupled with timely formative and summative feedback helps mastery.  It also might suggest connections between courses so that mastery grows over time across programs.

Social, Emotional, and Intellectual Climate

Every online class that I have taught has a unique personality.  As the faculty teaching, I have a lot to do with the tone set for a class.  The same is true for anyone teaching.  Our role is be proactive about climate.  Our students need safe places to try and safely fail, and then try and succeed.  We need to ensure that no students feel marginalized.  For me, this is a huge reason that my own social presence as the faculty member is so necessary in an online class.

Self-Directed Learners

Self-directed learners think about their own thinking.  Ambrose describes a metacognitive process in which students assess tasks, evaluate their own strengths and weaknesses, plan their approaches, monitor their performance, and adjust as necessary.  One of the best examples of faculty developing his students is in the blog journal of my colleague, Enoch Hale.  In “Visualizing Our Intellectual Journey,” Enoch describes his efforts “…to track their intellectual journeys in clear, explicit and visual ways: then, now and into the future.”

So, I am excited to be moving to Boston and joining a high energy team!  And I am excited to explore learning through a new set of lens provided by Susan’s book!

 

New Courses and New Play Things

Thought VectorsInteresting days here on the fourth floor of the Academic Learning Commons at VCU.  Today was the roll out of our institution’s first MOOC – Thought Vectors in Concept Space.  CogDog (Alan Levine) and Tom Woodward have been creating magic side by side for the past week – developing a single platform in which six professors, their students, and the world can interact and build learning networks – within a class, within VCU, and within the world wide web.  For an informative “behind the scenes” look at what it took to make this happen, see Alan’s blog post – “Under the Hood of ThoughtVectors.Net.”

On Twitter, people lined up to emulate Douglas Engelbart’s pose.

The Pose.

This course is open to the world … and in talking to some of the faculty teaching it, they truly desire the world to come in and interact with their students.  Check it out.

Today is also the first day of my summer course – ADLT 640 – The Theory and Practice of eLearning Integration into Adult Environments (and no, I did not make the course name up…just living with it).  In keeping with the “thought vectors” firing around our floor, and in keeping with the practice Jeff Nugent and I have done for the past two years, I am also running my course on the open web, rather than using Blackboard.  The website is http://rampages.us/adlt640/. My students will also be blogging weekly, so check out their links in the Learning Journals tab in about a week.

eLearning is nearly as old as the web itself, but as with any innovation, there have been both early adopters and skeptics. As publishing and managing content on the web has become easier, and as providing online training and courses has become increasingly more popular, interest in providing elearning is high in government, the corporate sector, and education. A common (mis)perspective is that moving instruction online is primarily about designing and sequencing the content. This is wrong.  Rich content is already out there.  Changes on the web in the last decade – toward a more open, social and interconnected space – have necessitated the rethinking of what it means to teach and learn online.  eLearning is not about content…it is about connecting people – as our new MOOC stresses.  New theories are emerging regarding teaching and learning online. We will explore these theories (with a focus on connectivism) and the new practice of eLearning in my course.

This course explores the theory and practice of integrating eLearning into adult learning environments and addresses the many factors that need to be considered in the design and delivery of eLearning.  eLearning offers a great deal of promise to both adult educators and learners, yet eLearning must be implemented appropriately; its use integrated into well established and well-researched pedagogical practices in order to be effective.

ADLT-640 will (hopefully) provide learners with a theoretical foundation and rationale for the successful integration of eLearning into formal and informal adult learning environments. This course begins with an overview of educational theory and social constructivist teaching philosophy before addressing the fundamental issues instructional designers should consider when designing, providing, and assessing eLearning.  This foundation coupled with the practical issues associated with eLearning will set the stage for exploring digital media in ADLT-641, which is taught by Jeff.

My course is a hybrid one, with us meeting face-to-face the first two weeks to explore the theories, then going totally online for a month to apply the theories, and then reconvening face-to-face for the final two weeks to analyze what we do and look at emerging trends.  It is a fast 8 weeks!

3D Lion WeightAs if a MOOC and my own course were not enough, Jeff and I met with Benard Means today to set up our own 3D printer.  Benard and his students have been doing some amazing work digitizing artifacts they recover from the Jamestown / Williamsburg area.  We have a new MakerBot Replicator 5 which Benard helped us set up, and we immediately … and by immediately I mean over the next 45 minutes … printed out a replica of a Jamestown brass lion counterweight.  3D printing and instant gratification are not co-equal terms…but it fascinating to try.  Having a 3D Maker Space on our floor might open up new learning opportunities for faculty and students.

Over the afternoon, Jeff and I played with downloading scanned files from Thingiverse.  Shown below are some practice prints we are doing with Minecraft gear.

3D Printing

{Graphics: Tom Woodward, Alan Levine, Britt Watwood}

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Evangelizing Teaching

As we approach the end of Spring semester in GRAD-602, our students are beginning to submit their reflections on the book they read for the course.  They had a choice of five books:

books

It is interesting to see these books through the reflections of upcoming PhD’s and post-docs.  They are just starting the transition from expert student to novice teacher…and the future is both exciting and uncertain.  They have been grappling with their own identity as a teacher through our course.

Our identity as teachers continues to surface in my thoughts…given the interesting times in which we live.  In the last month, as Enoch Hale and I explored his 30-Day Challenge, we surfaced some radical ideas about teaching and learning.  In many ways, we aligned with what Tony Bates noted:

“Teaching in higher education is about to go through as major a revolution as one can imagine.”

Here on the fourth floor of the Academic Learning Commons at VCU, we spend a lot of time discussing both the evolutionary and the revolutionary changes for teaching and learning in higher education.  Our evolutionary ideas probably might make some faculty uncomfortable…and our revolutionary ideas might cause sweat to break out.  At the end of the day, though, I come back to the foundation – what does it mean to “teach”?

Jen Ross, Christine Sinclair, Jeremy Knox, Sian Bayne and Hamish Macleod – my professors in the Coursera MOOC E-Learning and Digital Cultures – explored this question in an article this month in the MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching: “Teacher Experiences and Academic Identity: The Missing Components of MOOC Pedagogy.”  They note that the literature on open courses has focused so far on students or the technology, but has been silent on the “matter of the teacher.”  They note that teacher identity is influenced by discipline, the institution and personal contexts:

“…The lecturer will both feel and project a teaching identity through negotiation of disciplinary, institutional, theoretical, professional, and personal stances. Diminishing or mischaracterizing the teacher role could result in a lack of appropriate attention to the ways in which complex negotiations of people, space, objects, and discourse constitute any educational setting, including MOOCs.”

In other words, it is complex!

Focusing on teaching has been central to what I think we have done for the past 7 years at the Center for Teaching Excellence…but I am not sure we have ever “evangelized” teaching.  I started considering that this morning when I read “The Art of Evangelism” by Guy Kawasaki.  Guy noted that years ago at Apple, his job title was “software evangelist,” and then went on to discuss his involvement with a new design company called Canva (which does look pretty cool by the way!).  What I found interesting, however, was his explanation of how to evangelize a product, which I quote in part below:

  1. Make it great. It’s very hard to evangelize crap. It’s much easier to evangelize great stuff. …Great stuff embodies five qualities:
    • Deep.
    • Intelligent.
    • Complete.
    • Empowering.
    • Elegant.
  2. Position it as a “cause.” A product or service, no matter how great, is a collection of parts or snippets of code. A “cause,” by contrast, changes lives.
  3. Love the cause. “Evangelist” isn’t a job title. It’s a way of life.
  4. Localize the pitch. Don’t describe your product using lofty, flowery terms …People don’t buy “revolutions.” They buy “aspirins” to fix the pain or “vitamins” to supplement their lives, so localize the pitch and keep it simple.
  5. Look for agnostics, ignore atheists. It is very hard to convert someone to a new religion when he worships another god. The hardest person to convert to Macintosh was someone who worshipped MS-DOS. The easiest person was someone who never used a personal computer before. If a person doesn’t “get” your product or service after fifteen minutes, cut your losses and move on.
  6. Let people test drive the cause. Evangelists believe that their potential customers are smart. Therefore, they don’t bludgeon them with ads and promotions. Instead they provide ways for people to “test drive” their products and then decide for themselves. Evangelists believe that their products are good—so good that they’re not afraid of enabling people to try before they buy.
  7. Learn to give a demo. “Evangelist who cannot give a great demo” is an oxymoron.
  8. Provide a safe, easy first step. The path to adopting a cause should have a slippery slope, so remove all the barriers.
  9. Ignore titles and pedigrees. Elitism is the enemy of evangelism. If you want to succeed as an evangelist, ignore people’s titles and pedigrees, accept people as they are, and treat everyone with respect and kindness.
  10. Never lie. Lying is morally and ethically wrong. It also takes more energy because when you lie, it’s necessary to keep track of what you said. If you always tell the truth, then there’s nothing to keep track of.
  11. Remember your friends. Be nice to people on the way up because you’ll see them again on the way down.

Guy explained the difference between an evangelist and a salesperson:

“A salesperson has his or her own best interests at heart: commission, making quota, closing the deal. An evangelist has the other person’s best interests at heart: “Try this because it will help you.””

As I reflect on our graduate students and the world of teaching into which they soon will go…I hope that part of their identity involves evangelism.  I hope that they create great teaching and learning opportunities.  I hope that they see their teaching as “a cause”…and love that cause.  I hope that they remember that they are in the business of changing lives, not delivering content.

I hope they teach “Try this because it will help you…”

Peanuts Evangelist

Thoughts?

{Graphic – Charles Schulz}

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Connected Learning

connected learning COVER With a hat-tip to Jeff Nugent for bringing this new ebook to my attention, I have just finished reading Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom, edited by Antero Garcia.  This book is a collection of narratives from primarily K-12 teachers within the National Writing Project, openly sharing their views of “what education can look like.”  The many authors go to some lengths to note that this book is not meant to be “best practices”…but rather “working examples” that model practices within specific contexts of learning.

It was interesting that this book starts with the premise that “best practice” is a misnomer.  In our GRAD-602 class, our students typically raise their desires for “less theory and more practical”…and when given a choice of five books to read about “teaching”, the majority chose Ken Bain’s What the Best College Teachers Do.  They want “the best practices”!

Antero states up front:

“…Typically, publications about or for teachers highlight “best practices.” The buzzword-driven form of highlighting a superior approach, to me, ignores the cultural contexts in which teacher practices are developed. The best practice for my classroom is going to be different both from a classroom anywhere else and from my classroom a year down the road. Context drives practice. As such, this is not a how-to guide for connected learning or a collection of lesson plans. The pages that follow are, instead, meant to spur dialogue about how classroom practice can change and inspire educators to seek new pedagogical pathways forward…”

This idea of context really resonated with me!  It applies equally to teachers and students, and in this book, the authors suggest that every teacher become a “designer-in-context”, engaging students as they help co-design the course.  A very constructionist (and connectivist) approach!

Much of this book flowed from an earlier study by Mizuko Ito and others: Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design.  This study defined “connected learning” as:

“…socially embedded, interest-driven, and oriented toward educational, economic, or political opportunity. Connected learning is realized when a young person pursues a personal interest or passion with the support of friends and caring adults, and is in turn able to link this learning and interest to academic achievement, career possibilities, or civic engagement.”

The authors frame their approach as one that breaks through an educational process that is “constrained, silenced, and stifled” – moving instead to one that emboldens teachers while meeting the individual needs of students.  Rather than suggesting “how” one might approach teaching, it provides a series of “whys” – a purposeful approach to sparking creativity.

There are six chapters in the book, each with some underlying foundation followed by three cases.

  • Interest-Driven Learning
  • Peer-Supported Learning
  • Academically Oriented Teaching
  • Production-Centered Classrooms
  • Openly Networked
  • Shared Purpose

Nicole Mirra discussed interest-driven learning.   Her premise is that students will gain more knowledge and higher order skills when the learning originates from issues or activities that innately captivate them.  This “power and possibilities of tapping into students’ passions” reminded me of the premise of our freshmen experience here at VCU, in which students develop their writing and research prowess through self-directed exploration.  Mediated through technology as a shared activity, interest-driven learning occurs at multiple, mutually constitutive levels – personal, interpersonal, and institutional.  Interest-driven learning can serve as a gateway to the other opportunities below.

Cindy O’Donnell-Allen then looked at peer-supported learning, sharing this infographic.

connectedlearning

Cindy built from a premise that knowledge does not reside with the individual, but is socially constructed.  Her view of 21st Century learning involves the 3 C’s – collaboration, creativity, and communication.  She also notes that simply putting students together in groups does not naturally lead to collaboration.  It requires the mindful guidance of the teacher, intervening as required.  One factor she noted that increased success rates was to have students reflect on their collaboration.  She also suggested that teachers:

  • Pose the right questions and teach students to do the same.
  • Create inclusive environment to facilitate peer-supported learning.
  • Use new media to amplify and push out learning.
  • Make it about the kids, not the standardized tests.

Antero Garcia explored academically oriented teaching.  He noted the disconnect between forms of learning in traditional classes and the social and cultural contexts of today’s students.  Academically prepared youth should be able to “shape-shift” their skill sets to meet an evolving world.  A word he uses is “authentic” – reframe the learning to make it authentic and relevant to our new media students.

Clifford Lee provided examples of production-centered classrooms.  He quoted Ito’s report to suggest that production-centered classrooms facilitate the use of “[d]igital tools [to] provide opportunities for producing and creating a wide variety of media, knowledge, and cultural content in experimental and active ways.”  I loved that the word “tinker” showed up throughout this chapter…though he does note the need to keep it relevant – ensure that students see meaning and purpose behind what they create.  A good example to go with the cases show in this chapter would be David McLeod‘s Project710 class.

My Twitter hero @budtheteacher – also known as Bud Hunt – explained the concept of “openly networked”…finding value in the wealth of open resources he was both consuming and creating via sharing online.  Learning in this environment is cross-institutional, has multiple points of entry and outreach, and has interactions both in and out of school.  Regarding “open,” he noted that “[t]houghtful teachers choose intentionally what, when, and how they share what they are curious about and what demands their students’ attention.”  To do this, teachers need to be purposefully transparent, while practicing “productive eavesdropping” on the posts of others.

Finally, Danielle Filipiak discusses shared purpose.  She suggested that students “…thrive when surrounded by people who support them in pursuing their own interests and passions, which may be very different from what districts, states, or teachers impose.”  Student engagement with the wider web-based community expands their audience and knowledge base, setting up purposeful encounters that can foster civic engagement.

Antero ends by noting that the practices suggested in this book can involve risk.  They break the old rules.  He also suggests those rules need breaking, stating:

“…I remember distinctly thinking “those students are doing it wrong.” … I didn’t understand that I was naturally ascribing my own rules of use on a cultural practice that was not my own…As such “doing it wrong” is culturally constructed and important to remember when we think about how we will roll out sustained connected learning support for teachers nationally and globally.”

In the afterword, Christina Cantrill of the National Writing Project, noted that her website and “…this book start from the argument that, in an increasingly interconnected and networked world, digital is how we write, share, collaborate, publish, and participate today and in the future.”  She goes on to note:

“…This is why, as Antero Garcia tells us, there are more than “best practices” here. There are important practices and effective-in-their-context practices, as well as “there is a kernel of truth here, but maybe we will approach it differently next time” practices. These are active practices, practices that require opportunities to test, to tinker, to innovate, and to dynamically assess and reiterate…

…No longer is the teacher the only conveyor, the library the only holder, or the museum the only curator of knowledge. Instead the ability to convey, to hold, and to curate now is in the hands of many. This also is why the social and participatory framework of connected learning positions all learners, students, and teachers alike not only as consumers, but as makers.”

This is a book worth reading.  The authors hope to spur dialogue about what is possible in teaching…as do I.  I would value hearing your thoughts about connected learning and the contexts in which we find ourselves teaching today.

 

 

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