Toe Dipping in Technology

Dipping Toes

As many of you know, Jeff Nugent and I teach a graduate course in the Preparing Future Faculty program called GRAD-602: Teaching, Learning and Technology.  Our 24 PhD candidates and post-docs spend the first 6 weeks exploring different potential technologies, such as blogs, Twitter, Diigo, and other networked applications.  Most of them are familiar with Facebook but had not used other social media.  We are attempting to familiarize them with the notion that today’s web is social, connected, and participatory.  So they are dipping their collective toes.  We are having them blog weekly and are aggregating their posts with NetvibesThe course feed is here.

We are seeing some excellent writing in their first posts, but few have caught on to commenting so far.  That will come with time.  We are also seeing some interesting push-back on the use of technology in teaching and learning.  One student posted today:

“…When this class started I was slightly apprehensive about the idea of creating a blog, but I could see the usefulness of it and I resolved to at least give it a good try. This Twitter thing though…I have to say I have several negative feelings about Twitter and I’ve been against creating one and just kind of hoping the Twitter craze would pass by sooner rather than later.”

 Another asked:

“…how can a teacher measure his or her student’s engagement when the latter resorts to technology? Does technology facilitate to live by seven golden Principles of improving Undergraduate Education? The answer is both Yes and No.”

And a third blogs:

“Doesn’t showing up for class and being prepared to share your ideas and knowledge still count for something? While technology opens education to many in various parts of the world, one of the things that both articles mention is that education is social and collaborative. We still need to discipline ourselves to come together and share ideas face-to-face. There is something innately human in this, and while it can be improved with technology-based material prepared for a variety of people, you cannot take this away without changing the essence of what it means to be human. We learn by doing, but we also learn, especially as youngsters, by following examples. Technology in isolation, maybe even in majority, sets a poor example.”

Okay….I am cherry picking some comments, and the class as a whole is not setting up an “Occupy 602” camp.  But with only 100 minutes a week together face-to-face, I find it fascinating that the conversation is not only continuing between classes in the blogosphere, but surfacing ideas that have not come out face-to-face.

It would be neat and helpful if our colleagues around the world checked out some of these student blogs and joined in the conversations.  These student are still attempting to frame social media in their past frames of reference, and the global networked learning that COULD occur is so much broader than that.

So come on in, the waters fine!

{Photo Credit: Ben W}

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The Socially Networked Student

kistI am currently reading Bill Kist’s new book, The Socially Networked Classroom. While written for all levels of education from elementary through postsecondary, he focuses on the use of social media in classes from middle school and above.  As I continue to work with K-12 teachers in my graduate course, this book addresses many of the concerns that my target audience has regarding the use of social media in schools.  This use of social media is equally relevant in higher education, and ties in nicely with the work we are doing here in the Center for Teaching Excellence.

There are several things I like about this book.  The chapter organization grabbed me right off the bat.  Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge fanboy of coffee in general and Starbucks in particular.  I have been “wired” long before I learned about computers and the internet!  So when I noticed that Bill  had organized his chapters into Short, Tall, Grande, and Venti, I was hooked!  Interestingly, Bill notes that the coffee you get from Starbucks is the same whether you order a short or a venti – the only difference is the amount of coffee you receive.  He suggests that teaching with social media is similar – you can use a little or a lot, but the use of social media makes sense in today’s new media age.  That leads to the second thing I like about this book – he gives real examples of teachers and faculty who are walking the walk – using social media in practical ways to enhance learning in their classes.

As I was starting this book, I received a tweet pointing me to a Youtube video from a young 7th grader.  In this video, she gives a tour of her personal learning environment (PLE). This project was conducted as part of dissertation research implementing the use of networked learning and construction of personal learning environments in a 7th grade life science class, and it is quickly evident that this student has a teacher who walks that walk.  It is short, but worth the watch:

I would suspect that this is far from the typical 7th grader out there…but would you not love to have this student in your college class in five years?  She not only seamlessly uses various social media to research and learn, but she works in a meta way to display how she is learning.  I love that she sought out different scientists to validate her research on her blog and when one did not answer right away, she found another.  Are you ready for this student now?  Will you be ready in five years?  She and her peers are coming.

Of course, who knows what a socially networked classroom will look like in five years.  Some of the processes our young student is using above did not exist five years ago.  It is a rapidly evolving environment.  I liked what Derek Wenmoth suggested in a recent post, “Toward the Networked School…“.  As the use of social media becomes more integrated in daily life, the distinction between what is done face-to-face and what is done online blurs and merges.  Faculty worldwide are exploring the use of a networked class, as this example using wikis, blogs and social networks from Helsinki illustrates.  Howard Rheingold‘s Social Media Classroom as well as George Siemens‘ and Stephen DownesMassively Open Online Course on Connectivism are other relevant examples.  No one model will necessarily emerge, but like Bill’s Starbuck’s analogy, there will be varying amounts of social media in most courses in the future.

socialgraphHaving taught online for over a dozen years, I am used to connecting with my students outside “class” time, as the concept of class time is rather meaningless in an asynchronous environment.  Our higher education students are increasingly arriving in our classes equipped with skills they have developed through high school that involve socially mediated communication 24/7 (albeit for entertainment and socialization, not learning per se).  As faculty, we are increasingly looking to social media to connect with colleagues down the hall and worldwide for our own development.   The concept of a personal learning environment in which we are aware of and transparent in the metacognition of our own learning is as relevant for faculty as it is for the young lady above.

Bill asks towards the end of his book whether social networking will be used to free students or more tightly limit their freedoms.  I would suggest that these skills at connecting enhance rather than diminish the role of teachers and faculty.  The socially networked student above has taken control of her own learning, but it does not appear that this has pushed her away from her teacher.  In many ways, it appears that they have formed a closer bond.  It validates my own view of social media.  I look forward to having more and more of these socially networked students in my classes…and working with teachers and faculty to help them make those same connections.

{Graphic by socialmantic}

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