Something I tweeted earlier this week…but it keeps circling around in my head:

Harold noted in “the uncertain future of training” that training courses are artifacts of the past…when resources (and information) was scarce and connections were few.  Training courses efficiently collected people together to deliver the training…but that training always looked backwards to “how things were done.”   Shampoo, rinse, repeat…

As Harold noted:

“…Training looks at how people currently do work and then gets others to replicate this. These are described as competencies, made up of certain, skills, knowledge, and attitudes. The assumption was that what works today will work tomorrow. The training department assumed the status quo…”

Yet, we do not live in a status quo world…as Tom Friedman noted in his book, Thank You For Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations, it is a world driven by the acceleration of connectivity and cognitive technology.  Tomorrow will not look like today.

Harold provided a graphic that he has used several times…but it nicely captures this shift:

Work learning shift

So in thinking about training, Harold noted that “the notion of best practices still permeates the business of training. By looking at what is currently being done well we can replicate this and pass it on through training. Best practices, and even good practices, assume a state of order.”

In reading this, I thought of a presentation Tom Peters did in Atlanta over a dozen years  ago…that still resonates with me.  Around slide 282 (out of over 400) in his tenth chapter of The Works Powerpoint, he showed:

Future Mark

Don’t Benchmark…Future mark!  Peters goes on a few slides later to suggest:

  • “Benchmarking Rule #1: “Best practices” are to be learned from, NOT mimicked/treated as law. “Best practices” must ALWAYS be adapted to local conditions!
  • Benchmarking Rule #2: When pursuing “best practices,” DON’T benchmark. FUTUREMARK. Tomorrow’s stars are already out there. Find ’em!
  • Benchmarking Rule #3: DON’T benchmark. OTHERMARK. E.g., a tech company  can adopt “WOW” service practice from, say, a local restaurant or car dealer.
  • Benchmarking Rule #4: Make benchmarking EVERYONE’s biz. Everyone collect best “everyday life” practices. Share WEEKLY.”

A dozen years ago…yet Peters was already seeing what Jarche and Friedman now see.  Couple Peters’ four rules with social media, and you actually have a vehicle that makes “futuremarking” possible.

Soooo…as you put together your summer faculty development bootcamps and institutes, is the focus on best practices or futuremarks?

{Graphic: Jarche.com, Tom Peters}


The Networked Age

The mind naturally looks for connections and patterns when involved in multiple tasks, and as I am currently teaching both EDU 6323 – Technology as a Medium for Learning – for Northeastern University and ILD 831 – Technology and Leadership – for Creighton University, there are common points.  One of those is the idea that networks are changing everything.

In ILD 831 this week, I introduce a quote from a 2014 Gartner News Analysis on successful digital businesses:

“…Digital business is not just about expanding the use of technology. Digital business leaders must think about technology in a fundamentally different way than in the past…”

Friedman in The World Is Flat suggested that work has become global – no matter the size of your company – and the shift of competition has moved from down the street to the opposite side of the globe.  Weinberger in Too Big To Know continued this concept of expertise within the cloud rather than within an organization.

Westerman, Bonnett, and McAfee in Leading Digital (2014) noted that the web has allowed previous paradoxes to become exploitable:


In the past, standardizing limited empowerment.  Controlling impacted innovation.  The desire to orchestrate action suggested “leashing” rather than unleashing employees.  As the web became increasingly open, social and participatory, Husband’s Wirearchy concept becomes possible, breaking these old paradoxes.

This sounds pretty rosy, but there are dark sides to this changing nature.  Ford in Rise of the Robots suggested that automation will increasingly eliminate both blue collar and white collar jobs, with no alternative work being created as happened in the past.  If all occupations continue to streamline due to technological advances, we may reach a point where there are no jobs for our college graduates or displaced workers – and no paid citizens to buy goods and services.  One of the readings this week has Bill Gates discussing the dangers of artificial intelligence.  And Harold Jarche posted in Medium that “The job was the way we redistributed wealth” but that will soon come to an end.

All of this suggests that the nature of work is changing – in good ways and potentially not so good ways.  Networks (both to people and to things) are a part of this change.  The same could be said about the world of education.

In EDU 6323 this week, after 9 weeks of exploring digital tools, I asked students to explore the concept of a Personal Learning Network.  One of the readings by Kay Oddone used Alec Couros‘s now classic illustration:


One of my students noted in discussions that after seeing this image, the whole course suddenly made sense!

My prompt for this week’s discussions noted that my colleague, Jeff Nugent, Academic Technology Director at Colgate University, once told me that the first reaction when faculty and staff are introduced to new technology is “rejection”, followed by “curiosity”, “exploration”, and potentially in the end, “adoption.” One way to more rapidly move from rejection to adoption is through trusted relationships. I asked the students, based on readings of Minds Online, as well as the collection of readings this past term and this week, to discuss their personal take on a “personal – learning – network”? Is this already a concept they use? If not, can teachers help students develop one without developing one themselves?

All responded positively to both creating a PLN and in using it in their teaching.  One noted that “Your PLN is a commitment.”  Several equated our class use of Twitter and the hashtag #edu6323 as the beginning piece of a PLN, noting that they had made connections in Twitter … and started following people … that they would not have otherwise.  One noted the frustration with the pace of decision making in education, and how a PLN provided a more flexible and nimble process for learning about change.  Another noted how Twitter had exposed her to others who had the same self-doubts she did.

“…Sometimes you don’t need to take specific action to improve as an educator; sometimes, you just need to know others have similar experiences. I am sure we have all had days that made us doubt our competency, and a strong PLN can combat that, increasing our fortitude.”

I loved this discussion statement by another student:

“I do not feel that we can help students develop a PLN without developing one ourselves mostly because as we monitor them, subscribe to them to make sure they are doing as instructed, create wikis, blogs, curriculum documents, etc….we have become (if only temporarily) part of their PLN defined by Oddone (2015)  as “a community of like-minded individuals who might never meet in person, but which challenge, push, share, teach and support each other”. We might begin our journey by having the typical teacher network but ideally we will work into being that networked teacher (supported by our global network) designing courses like Miller that can “put it all together”, can present ideas and opportunities for assignments, assessments, encourage peer to peer interaction and collaboration all while promoting deep meaningful processing and learning.”

And finally, this wonderful statement:

“…Jeff Nugent could not have described my own experience anymore accurately than had he known me personally going into this course.  I contemplated very deeply if this was a course I would enjoy or even be successful in.  It’s not that I have an aberation to technology, not really, it’s just that generally it frightened me I suppose, causing me to reject it as extra & confusing, nonessential fluff. I even approached one of my colleagues who is very tech savvy and got him to promise he would be a lifeline for me should I sink (which I was most certain I would). But the first assignment was indeed enlightening and sparked a curiosity, just as Nugent predicts…I think learning to develop my own learning network can help me assist my students in creating their own. I’m not going to say that I felt like the sole resource that my students should rely on for knowledge, but I can say that I was a bit against random use of sources such as Google. I felt that students would disengage in class and stop listening with the plan to go home and learn it at home from my Bb resources and Google.  So it annoyed me a bit..My philosophy was “I’m the one that makes the test, therefore, I’m the one you should get clarification from.” And I suppose that still applies to some minor degree, but I have completely changed my teaching philosophy and welcome the collaboration of knowledge that students can bring to the classroom.  I can’t search, analyze, and utilize every available source, but together, we can all contribute something and learn from each other and make each other stronger, including the old dog in me.”

It is nice to see these teachers fundamentally rethinking their teaching based on networked learning.  Now I need to go check out the blogs from ILD 831 to see thoughts about networked leaders!

{Graphics: Westerman et al, Alec Couros, }


Integrating EdTech into Lessons

This week in EDU6323 – Technology as a Medium for Learning – the students submitted revamped lesson plans that incorporated some aspects of the course into their planned teaching.  The focus of the week was formative assessment, so as expected, polling and practice quizzes factored heavily.  One student mentioned the interleaving principle raised in Michelle Miller’s book, Minds Online, and noted that she was shifting from a one-time timed quiz to one with no time limits and multiple tries.


After polling, the most used digital tools were screencasts, Diigo, Google Docs, Facebook groups, and blogging.  Group work was evident, with some using wikis or class websites populated with student-generated content. Several also incorporated tablets into their lessons, and our health science faculty made good use of simulations.  There were also some unique applications, such as Pinterest, Learni.st, FlowVella, Slack, and backchannel chat.

There were some interesting themes mentioned by the students as they discussed their rationale for using edtech.  Engagement was mentioned frequently, as was deeper memory.  One student noted (in a screencast submission) that she had not really gotten the learning science aspect when she took How People Learn previously, but that the combination of Minds Online and our discovery process helped her “get it” now.

An example of synchronicity at play was my colleague Enoch Hale’s post this week – Teaching and My Journey with Technology.  I appreciate Enoch tipping his hat to me regarding his blogging, but I find his thinking out loud refreshing!  His post eloquently explains how to put the thinking goals first, then figure out the technology.  The majority of my students get that…and the diversity of tools exhibited in their submissions illustrated that there is not one cookie cutter approach to integrating technology into learning.

As a side conversation in Twitter this week, I shared Alfie Kohn‘s article “The Overselling of Ed Tech” with my class.  I saw this article linked from someone in my Personal Learning Network, and thought it worth sharing.  But then I saw Jennifer Borgioli Binnis’s post, “The Problem with Kohn,” and thought her points were spot on, and so also shared her post with my class.  AS Jennifer noted in her post:

“…On March 12, Kohn released a post his wrote on educational technology. It was then published on Valerie Strauss’ space on The Washington Post website. From there, it was picked up by several education newsletters and Twitter accounts with thousands of followers. His own tweets linking to his article were re-tweeted at least 100 times and those who tweeted a link to his article were likewise RTed. In other words, lots of eyeballs saw Alfie Kohn’s thoughts on ed tech.

Kohn, a non-expert on technology in schools was treated as an expert in technology in schools. The reason this matters is because of a woman named Audrey Watters…”

social-media-conversationsHer point is well taken.  I feel guilty that one of the lessons in EDU6323 that we discussed earlier in the semester was determining validity on the web, and yet I was guilty of quickly retweeting to my class an article I had simply scanned.  Kohn does make some interesting points about the edtech bandwagon, but I was also troubled that his “blog post” did not allow commenting.  As Jennifer noted, there was nothing in Kohn’s piece that Audrey Watters had not been saying for years.  I follow Audrey in Twitter and my blog RSS, and concur that she is one of edtech’s influencers.  So my retrospection is on my own digital habit of scanning links from my PLN (that has male and female, North American as well as Asian, European, and Australian connections).  Much of what I learn about edtech comes from my PLN, but do biases show in how I use it?

A good week in EDU6323.  In this coming week, the students will be reflecting on what “Personal Learning Network” means to them.  I continue to wrap my head around it, so it should generate some interesting discussion!

{Graphic: Melanie Taylor, Benjamin Mayfield}


Curating Curation

I noticed this tweet last night from Laura Gogia:

Curating curation is what my class at Northeastern University spent this past week doing in EDU6323!

My point for the week was that one of the major issues we as educators (and society) have today is that we have access to too much information. This can be overwhelming and time consuming.  But as Clay Shirky has pointed out, the issue is not really information overload but filter failure.  And curation is a form of filtering.  In recent years content curation and media sharing tools have become increasingly popular.  I wanted to give my students some experience using a media sharing tool, and as part of the process, to learn about a major influencer in the field of educational technology.  Their activity this week:

  • Choose a curation tool (Storify, Learnist, Scoopit, Pinterest, or Pearltree).  We had already been using Diigo for the past four weeks, so this was an opportunity to try something different.
  • Next, choose one of the people I listed and do a little research to find some websites, articles, videos, and/or blogs, etc., that helps demonstrate how these people have influenced educational technology.  Their options:
  • Curate some information using the tool you selected. Just include 5-6 pieces of information that explains their role in educational technology.
  • Share a link of your curation in the Weekly Discussion, adding in your thoughts about what you learned about the influencer, as well as the tool you chose to use.

Out of 14 graduate students, someone used each of the five tools suggested, though Pinterest was the most popular.  Of the nine influences suggested, seven were selected by someone, with Arne Duncan being the most popular.  The curations were shared and viewed by all, and the most common comment was about ease of use.  Several noted that they were sharing their tools with their colleagues.

Several students noted that student activities associated with building and sharing curations ties in with Miller’s Minds Online book and her chapters on Attention, Memory and Thinking.  As one student noted:

“…First of all, I think curation can greatly help learners improve memory. Take Learnist for example, when you work on a particular topic, Learnist … seemed like a search engine, but it differed from Google or Bing. There was a brief description of a topic, followed by links, YouTube videos, and short accounts of what the link would entail. Through different resources, and repetition, it could be very helpful for learners to stay focused and improve their memory on the topic they work on. Also, they are great tools to incorporate multimedia effectively. From pictures to videos, from visuals to audios, they can engage learners to make choices about moving within the material in meaningful ways and give students more control of the outcomes.”

I also had my students watch Mike Wesch‘s Anthropological Introduction to YouTube. 

The statistics blew many away.  One noted that she had not realized that YouTube was only 10 years old.  One of the more insightful tweets was this one from David:

A huge take-away for many students was the community aspect of YouTube.  The tie-in between community and networked learning really jumped out at them.

So…a good week curating curation.  Next week, my students are revamping a lesson to demonstrate how they might incorporate some of the concepts we have explored over the past nine weeks.  I am looking forward to seeing their creativity!

Viewing Digital Tools through Leadership

Collection of ToolsThis week in my Creighton University course, ILD831 – Technology and Leadership, my students are exploring digital tools.  They started by reviewing Jane Hart’s list of Top Tools for Learning and selecting different tools for each to research.  In our Netvibes page this week, they will be posting:

  • Brief background on their selected tool
  • How might it be used for their leadership situation (education, healthcare, business, non-profit, etc.)?
  • What are downsides to using it?

They are also starting to read David Weinberger‘s Too Big To Know, and it will be interesting to see what aspects of their reading align with their tool research.

Viewing tools through the lens of leadership aligns with Westerman, Bonnet, and McAfee’s 2014 book, Leading Digital: Turning Technology into Business Transformation.  In this book, the authors discuss the concept of Digital Mastery.  In their viewpoint, digital masters excel in two dimensions.  The first is digital capabilities -the “what” of technology.  Technology is not an end to itself, but rather a means to get closer to customers, empower employees, or improve processes.  The second dimension is leadership capabilities – the “how” of leading change.  Interestingly, the authors suggest that this requires strong top-down leadership, with strong governance and coordination.  The authors suggest that these two dimensions can be mapped as such:

4 Levels of Digital Mastery

I like how Westerman’s book gives equal weight to both digital capability and leadership capability.  I am not sure I totally buy the idea that this means top-down leadership.  I think that there is a difference between “strong” and “top-down”.  I like how Harold Jarche describes it in his post this week “What is Connected Leadership“.

“Connected leadership is not given from above, as there is no top in a network. To know the work culture, connected leaders marinate in it. This cannot be done while trying to control the culture. Organizational and network resilience is strengthened when leaders let go of control. Connected leaders use compassion, empathy, and trust to influence networked people. Transparency eliminates the need for most traditional management control mechanisms.”

I agree with Westerman and his colleagues that leaders in this digital age view technology as a way to change the way they do business, whether that business is commercial, education, healthcare, or government.  Strong leadership can still provide the vision for their organization, but as Jarche noted, also use compassion, empathy, and trust to influence the direction their entity is heading…and the culture of the organization.

So I am looking forward to the ideas my students surface this week!

{Graphics: Lachian Donald, Capgemini}



Wirearchy as Leadership Concept

Over the last several years, I have taught Technology and Leadership in Creighton University‘s interdisciplinary doctorate program. This program brings students with backgrounds in business, education, healthcare and non-profits together to explore issues in an interdisciplinary way. My premise in designing the course is that leaders today operate in an unprecedented environment. In the past, information was related to power – those with information had the power, and the further up the organization hierarchy one was, the more information (and power) one had. In the past decade – due almost entirely due to the rapid global adoption of the internet, organizational power dymanics have shifted to an environment in which every employee (student, patient, client) has access through web devices to all the knowledge of the world. For background, I had my students explore multiple works, including Tom Friedman‘s The World is Flat, Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody, David Weinberger‘s Too Big to Know, Harold Jarche‘s Personal Knowledge Management blog, and Jon Husband‘s Wirearchy blog, among others. Husband’s concept of a wirearchy was particularly relevant.

Husband defined “wirearchy” as a:

“dynamic flow of power and authority, based on information, trust, credibility, and a focus on results, enabled by interconnected technology and people.”

Hugh MacLeod illustrated the basic concept of wirearchy as follows:


Interestingly (on several levels), one of my students recently questioned the efficacy of the wirearchy model, given that it does not appear in Wikipedia!

(…new tag line – if it is not in Wikipedia. it must not be true…)

Given that the concept continues to resonate with me … and given the fact that I have admonished my students and colleagues for years that if you find a fault in Wikipedia – FIX IT! … I worked with Jon Husband to add a draft entry to Wikipedia. Please “peer-review” my initial draft … and make it better.

{Graphic: GapingVoid}



Minds Online – A Wrap

minds_online2Over the past two weeks, I have been reviewing Michelle Miller‘s new book Minds Online: Teaching Effectively with Technology.  This post looks at the last two chapters, on motivation and on putting it all together.

Michelle noted that motivational challenges are one of the main differences between online and on campus teaching.  “Motivation,” as Michelle noted, comes for the same Latin root as the word “to move” – mechanisms that put you in motion.  The study of motivation is closely aligned with the study of emotion.  What we (and our students) are motivated to do … or not do … flow from what we feel and what we believe.  She noted that all of us in education (and I would say leadership as well) are professional motivators.

Many of us are pretty good as motivating people when we gather together.  The challenge is inspiring people in a virtual environment.

Michelle discussed the framework of self-determination theory, contrasting intrinsic and extrinsic motivations.  This suggests that people are motivated by the need for three basic things:

  • Competence,
  • Relatedness, and
  • Autonomy

When students are cut off from any of these three, motivation suffers.

Michelle noted multiple studies that have found that academic self-efficacy is a good predictor of academic success.  Providing videos of “average” students who succeeded boosted self-efficacy, as did presenting grades in informational rather than controlling ways.  Wording course materials in ways that suggest autonomy, such as “you might…” or “we suggest…”, as well as tying course materials to student long-term goals, increase motivation.

fixed2An interesting section discussed motivation issues associated with a “fixed” mindset versus a “growth” mindset .  If students have a fixed mindset, they carry a belief that intelligence is basically unchangeable, whereas those with a growth mindset believe that intelligence is not set in stone.  Online instructors can sometimes unwittingly foster a mindset by the feedback they provide.  Positive comments about intelligence, such as “you are smart” or “you are a math whiz!” actually feed a fixed mindset.  Michelle suggests that praise should be focused on the process: working hard, choosing good strategies, etc.

Motivation is a high stakes endeavor in online teaching, so Michelle suggested that during the first week, we steer the focus towards the “why” of a course and away from the “what” – why study this topic, why this topic might change you as a student, why this topic is important to your future … rather than what is required, what you have to complete, what the grading policies are.  The “what’s” are important and need to be covered … but they need to be covered after the “why’s” have been covered … and better yet, after the students have engaged with the whys.

Michelle closed the motivation chapter with four strategies she has used:

  • Early and Often Assessments
  • Bridging, Scaffolding, and Hooks
  • Rubrics
  • Peer TA’s

In the final chapter, Michelle provides tips for “putting it together” in ways that lead to a “cognitively optimized” online course.  Her goal is to design “active management of motivation” into the course design.  She has a series of key questions to guide this process.  For each question, she provided the cognitive principles behind the question as well as tools and techniques that address the question.


1.  Learning Objectives – What We Want Students To Know

  • How will the course ensure that students gain the right kind of thinking skills?
  • How will the course ensure that students transfer what they have learned?
  • Are there any skills that students need to be able to carry out automatically if they are to succeed in the discipline?

2.  Learning Activities – How We Want Students to Spend Their Study Time

  • How will you keep your students focused as they do the learning activity?
  • How will you minimize extraneous cognitive load while students are doing the activity?
  • How will learning activities maximize spaced study?
  • How will learning activities use emotions to promote learning?
  • How will learning activities promote deep processing?
  • How will you build on existing knowledge as you introduce new concepts?

3.  Assessments – How Student Learning Will Be Measured

  • How will assessments take advantage of the testing effect?
  • How will assessments function to motivate, not demotivate students?

4.  Peer-To-Peer Interaction – How Students Will Learn From One Another

  • How will you maximize the amount and quality of online discussion?
  • How will the online peer interactions reinforce thinking skills associated with the course learning objectives?

5.  Grades and Other Incentives – How to Get Students Moving in the Right Direction

  • How will you structure the class to discourage procastination?
  • How will you balance grades with other incentives?

Michelle closed this chapter with a detailed sample syllabus for her Introduction to Psychology course, with sidebars providing links to specific sections covered earlier in the book.

I found this to be a very readable and useful book.  There are many aspects that could be implemented immediately into one’s online teaching.  For me, it connected some dots between teaching practices that I knew were effective and the learning science behind why these practices work.

I highly recommend adding his book to your personal library!

{Graphics: Harvard Press, Live and Learn, Invisible Bread}


Thinking Better (and Visually)

Cover image of MINDS ONLINEI am continuing to explore Michelle Miller‘s new book Minds Online: Teaching Effectively with Technology.  This post looks at her examination of the third broad area of cognition – Thinking – as well as the effective use of multimedia in online courses.

Michelle defined “thinking” as:

“…using logic to reason based on the available information, analyzing a problem and developing solutions that are both feasible and effective, and applying creativity in order to come up with new and nonobvious approaches.”

She noted that effective thinking is something that sets experts apart from novices…and it is a skill that can be built with practice.  Cognitive scientists have broken thinking down into the discrete areas of formal reasoning, decision making, and problem solving.  Formal reasoning is hard … and our brains tend to take shortcuts when faced with reasoning problems.  Her take-home lesson for online (as well as traditional) learning is that:

“Nearly everyone – A-student or not, math whiz or not – experiences occasional failures of reasoning, oftentimes stemming from an aversion to quantitative reasoning but also because fully abstract logic eludes most of us.  And people are particularly prone to being sidetracked by memorable details, substituting those for more systematic, mathematical thinking.”

One area that I found fascinating is the research on creativity.  Michelle noted that students who are given explicit step-by-step instructions tend to produce less creative work products compared to those who were given less-structured directions.  In many of my online classes, I have used fairly open-ended question prompts – which sometimes leads students to suggest that “I am not teaching them.”  Yet, intuitively, I have seen students provide very creative responses when I do not box them in with my own expectations.

Michelle noted that experts solve problems better – not because they are smarter but because they can draw on a richer base of stored and connected knowledge.  She suggested that for online teachers, providing practice opportunities is important, but equally important is providing scaffolding in the form of knowledge organizations and conceptual interrelationships.  This can help move students from the novice stage to a more expert-like stage of reasoning.

Michelle suggested that in designing online learning opportunities, one integrate metacognitive activities with learning activities.  These can include:

  • Emphasizing how knowledge is organized,
  • Going for depth rather than breadth,
  • Emphasizing underlying principles and conceptual structure,
  • Providing practice in recognizing the kinds of critical-thinking problems that are typical in your field,
  • Providing frequent and low-stakes formative quizzing,
  • Telling students why wrong answers are wrong, and
  • Having students reflect on the process of learning as well as what they are learning.

Michelle suggested the following strategies for online teaching and learning:

  • Assign students to practice the thinking skills you want,
  • Set up varied, realistic scenarios for reasoning, such as Problem-Based Learning or case studies
  • Use Analogies as Teaching Tools
  • Use discussion to build thinking skills

I like this last strategy.  My online courses heavily use discourse for instruction, and “discussions” – whether in discussion boards, wiki discussions, or blog posts (my favorite) – allow students to construct arguments, debate issues, analyze underlying aspects of problems, and reflect on their own learning.  This of course suggests that we as online teachers put some “thinking” into the questions we use as prompts in our courses.

Multimedia image by GeoffreyChapter 7 dealt with incorporating multimedia effectively into online learning.  Multimedia – a mix of text, audio, images, video, and animations – can engage students … but it can also distract students and impede the learning process.  Each modality of media affects learning in its own particular way.

Michelle discusses the time honored learning styles of VAK (Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic), noting that “VAK may go down as one of the greatest psychological myths of all time.”  The cognitive research suggests that we all have ALL styles and that there really is not one that dominates.  She noted that people tend to not know what their “true” style is and have poor skills as self-assessing.  Assuming one style can lead students to disengage if presented with an alternative style, negatively impact learning.

That said, the “multimedia principle” holds that adding pictures to text produces enhanced learning … but it is not that simple.  Images can be seductive, decorative, or instructive.  Seductive images are visually engaging but unrelated to the material.  Decorative images may not be as engaging, but again are unrelated to the learning.  Images can help with learning, but they need to provide a substantive connection to the learning.

Michelle also discusses accessibility issues, providing useful tips for making online material more accessible.  Something I had never thought through before (and routinely am guilty of) is to avoid using color to convey meaning in text, as colorblind students might not pick up on the visual cues.

The take away for online teaching is that pictures, audio and video can enhance learning, but the multimedia needs to align with the learning, not (1) overload or (2) distract.  Thinking inclusively, one should augment any multimedia with alternative options.

One post to go … the final two chapters are on motivating online students and “putting it all together”.

{Graphics: Harvard Press, Geoffrey}




Applying Memory Research to Online Teaching

minds_online2The last two posts have dealt with Michelle Miller’s new book Minds Online: Teaching Effectively with Technology.  This post continues with an examination of Chapter 5 on Memory.

Michelle starts this chapter by noting that “…memory is central to the cognitive side of teaching and learning.”  This brought to mind the review my colleagues and I did a year ago of Randy Garrison’s 2011 Second Edition of E-Learning in the Twenty-First Century, as noted in my post “Cogitating on Cognitive Learning.”

In that earlier post, I discussed a 2009 article by Karen Swan, Randy Garrison, and Jennifer Richardson – “A Constructivist Approach to Online Learning: The Community of Inquiry Framework.”  In this article, Swan and team lay out a table with the three presences, categories within each, and indicators.

CoI Categories

CoI categories and indicators; (Garrison & Anderson, 2003) – from Swan et al (2009)

Swan noted that much of the literature to date had focused on the role played by each presence rather than a holistic look at the interplay of all three together.  She noted that not only does the influences shift between them, but they also shift over time within a course and beyond a course.  The “learning” might kick in two to three courses later as continued integration and resolution occur.

This earlier discussion aligns with Michelle’s chapter on memory … and by “memory.” she means more than memorization, though memorization plays a part.

“It’s fashionable among educators to disparage “mere memorization” as opposed to the sophisticated reasoning skills we hope to foster, but this is a false dichotomy.  Focusing on memory doesn’t need to detract from higher-order thought processes.  You can’t make solid arguments, invent new applications, or apply critical thinking without a foundation of information in memory.”

Michelle’s key point is that technology opens up new opportunities for learning that never existed in face-to-face classrooms.  Technology allows one to build activities that capitalize on multiple interrelated sensory cues (video, audio, image, text, query, etc.), deeper-level processing, metacognition, and opportunities to engage the emotions.  Rather than simply providing content for passive intake, online classes afford the opportunity for students to understand why they need to learn something, along with the content to learn.

In applying memory research, Michelle discusses knowledge organization – a key difference between experts and novices.  Experts see patterns and how concepts are linked, including how they are linked to prior knowledge.  Michelle also ties in research on testing effects and spacing effects.  Testing as a tool for learning (as opposed to summative assessment) is not intuitive to students, so again, they need to understand why frequent testing is beneficial.  Spacing the activities and assessments helps build the neural networks for long-term retention…and mitigates against cramming.

Enoch Hale has been journaling his teaching in his Fall UNIV 200 course – and provides some great examples of applied memory research.  Through the vehicle of video games, he has his students writing about concepts that are relevant to them, and he routinely has them engage in metacognitive activities to think about their thinking.  As he noted in his latest post:

As I reflect on this class and my work, I still cannot escape what has become a mantra of mine: “There is an extent to which thought not applied is useless.” — for better or worse. If we can’t see it, we can’t evaluate it, and we can’t avoid, correct or use it deeply. I started blogging by challenging myself to a 30 Question Challenge. My organizing idea and goal was to pose 30 totally out of the box questions that I would blog about. It was a game that had meaning for me.

  • It was relevant to my context as a teacher and a faculty development coach.

  • It was challenging, but I could figure out how to have emerging success.

  • It forced me to identify and question my assumptions.

  • It forced me to examine things from different lenses and perspectives.

  • I called upon background knowledge and schemas to make connections.

  • I had to reframe my misunderstandings, knowledge inaccuracies and expectations.

  • I had to take action and produce something.

  • I had to check my thinking; assess it for quality.

  • I had to reach out to others (resource identification and use).

  • I wanted to contribute to others involved.

  • I had broader goals beyond myself.

  • I failed, regrouped and tried again writing multiple drafts at times.

  • I made a commitment to learn, explore, fail, succeed, and share.

Check out the work Enoch is doing – very cool!

How Learning WorksMichelle suggested five strategies for designing online learning experiences:

  • Include frequent tests and test-like activities
  • Structure for spaced study
  • Involve emotions (carefully)
  • Steer students into deeper learning
  • Base new knowledge on old knowledge

These five strategies align with Susan Ambrose’s How Learning Works principles of Prior Knowledge, Knowledge Organization, Motivation, Goal-Directed Practice and Feedback, and Development of Course Climate.

Lots of good examples in this chapter!  The next chapter is on “thinking” … looking forward to it!