Archive for March, 2008

Resistance to Change and Teachers – “I just can’t learn technology because it’s too hard.”

I read a quote today:

“Can anyone else think of an employment sector other than K-12 and postsecondary education where employees have the right to refuse to use technology? For example, a grocery store checker doesn’t get to say ‘No thanks, I don’t think I’ll use a register.’ A stockbroker doesn’t get to say, ‘No thanks, I don’t think I’ll use a computer.’ An architect doesn’t get to say, ‘No thanks , I don’t think I’ll use AutoCAD.’ But in education, we plead and implore and incentivize but we never seem to require. In many industries, knowledge of relevant technologies is a necessary prerequisite for either getting or keeping one’s job. Sometimes the organization provides training; sometimes the employee is expected to get it on her own. Either way the expectation is that use of relevant technologies is a core condition of employment. Why aren’t our school organizations expecting more of their employees?…”

-from Dangerously Irrelevant – “Right of Refusal”

I taught in a classroom setting nearly 10 years ago. In one of my first full time positions, there was a huge battle over computers. A few teachers wanted computers in their classrooms. The rest wanted them to remain safely in the computer lab. This larger contingency was, of course, led by the union representatives. It never failed to amaze me that in almost every school I taught at, the worst (bar-none bottom and ditto loving) teachers were always union representatives. I should hope that by now the ranks of the technology resistant within schools is dwindling. Is it still this bad? Or is it getting better.

I’ve heard many arguments from teachers who resist technology, namely they don’t have the time to learn it because they have their handful with classroom management. Though I can attest that I had less problems with classroom management when I was teaching computer lab. My kids wanted to be there to create their interactive presentations and webpages, and I made if very clear to them that if they were doing ‘something outside of what was expected and appropriate’ they would have to return to writing their assignments in the traditional format and do so in the study hall classroom. Oh yeah, no one was allowed to enter the lab without their written and proofread drafts. I never saw so many written drafts completed in so quick a time, and I had very little issue with discipline in this class. I think also, having higher expectations of my kids and their behavior and work might have had something to do with this.

The changes and teacher adoption of technology is happening. On the net I see many excited and enthusiastic educators who are hungry to learn more. I think the resistors will eventually discover that they must adopt change or leave.

Using WetPaint to Create A Course Wiki

I recently developed a wiki for a course that’s being tested right now, and I have to tell you… I’m quite amazed at the possibilities of using wikis for collaborative learning. After developing the course objectives, the SME and I decided to use the wiki as an essential part of the students’ learning experience. The wiki would be available as a companion collaboration area and a sort of explorative playground for the students. As one of the course foci was on teaching using Web 2.0 tools, we wanted to help immerse students in the actual experience of working and collaborating with others online using a wiki.

We decided to use WetPaint as our wiki tool, because of the easy to use WYSIWYG (you know I have to spell this out in my head everytime I type it – arconymitis) features and the fact that it’s so easy to embed video.

Here were some of the applications and activities we included in the wiki:

  • A profile page - where students could share a picture, a few facts about themselves, favorite links (and possibly videos or other media). The idea is to help build community among the particpants and instructor
  • A collaborative link section – that includes the major concepts in the course. As the students did their own research on the web on topics of their choice they would continually add and share the links to (articles, documentation, media, forums, etc.) with their peers
  • A fun video sharing page – I included this because I wanted to introduce students to the idea of sharing video content… and the notion that sharing content online doesn’t just mean text, html pages, or print content
  • An image collage activity - the goal of this activity was to collect images that describe both Boomer and Net Generations. The students work with each other collectively to post their images to the wetpaint collage
  • Assorted graded activities where students collaborated on content
  • Use of the forum threads to discuss content

I took a few approaches to designing the wiki structure and layout of the pages for maxium student participation. Nothing stinks more, than when you build a learning application and no one uses it.

  • Keep everything as simple as possible – don’t put to many things on a page
  • Post instructions – (or links to FAQ)s if you even suspect that people will not understand how to do or use something (.i.e. use “Context Sensitive Help” whenever you can)
  • Model wiki behavior – Always provide examples and suggestions of contributions
  • Lay Easter eggs – in multiple places. I actually started planting interesting links and content in different places. Keep putting new things in different areas to keep the wiki live and growing
  • Make activities fun and light hearted – when necessary. Human beings (even stodgy adults) learn through play

The course seems to be going well. Students are contributing to the wiki so far, and I don’t think anyone has had any troubles with understanding how to use WetPaint (because it’s a fairly well designed tool). If you haven’t checked out WetPaint I seriously suggest that you take a look at it as a tool for collaborative learning.

An image of the “Community Links Page” – students share information on their research and finding on different topics

wetpaint.gif

Does Everything Microsoft Touches Turn to Suck?

I can name a few things that come to mind….the “Ipod Killer,” attempts at Voice recognition software, their MSN web, Vista….

I know they have a few good things (at least from appearance) like the “Surface” project. Though I have never actually interacted the with device, so I can’t give a personal assessment of the tool.

This whole takeover of Yahoo by Microsoft worries and annoys me. Maybe it’s because MS is just again throwing their muscle around rather than focusing on creating new and innovative tools that people will like. Maybe I just don’t like the idea of large, looming bodies of companies that swallow up smaller businesses and then pass them through like refuse. Didn’t these Microsoft executives read the “NEW RULES” for running a corporation? I suppose you could just say that this is ‘normal’ behavior for a large predatory company and we should just write off these actions as expected. But as a consumer, I just want to make sure the products that I have available to me are “usable” from my perspective as a user, not a software engineer’s idea of ‘usable.’

Maybe it’s because I’ve worked in a very dysfunctional corporate environment similar to Microsoft’s, and I’m just assuming that most large corporations operate the same way (with very little imagination and too much politics). The are so fat and lard ridden that they have no choice but to throw their weight around like a corpulent bully, who must rely on manipulative and predatory tactics to maintain his position.

I also know that large companies use their patent attorneys to search out new and innovative processes developed by smaller companies. These patent attorneys work around the clock to develop broad patents so that once they find instances of small businesses and individuals actually developing something that works, they claim the right to the patent. Evil, huh?

I realize that History shows that Microsoft has given us products in the past that have pushed computing forward. Also, so many companies and people have become dependent on their software and tools. They’re big so they have better resources for offering technical support* Gee, I’m starting to sound like that bit in the film Life of Brian where the group of Judean Peoples front (or Peoples’s Front of Judea) asks…. “What have the Romans done for us?!” I just take issue with the way Microsoft does business, and before anyone points out that their behavior as a company is natural for their size and position, it seems that their way of doing business doesn’t meet everyone’s (the end users) needs. Therefore it’s in all of our interests to have other companies large and small who can fill these niches for us.

But when it comes to this recent takeover, I really can’t see them improving tools like the photo sharing tool Flickr. Also, having had a great deal of experience using Microsoft tools like MS Project and Sharepoint. I really don’t get the feeling that Microsoft really has a cultural appreciation of usability. Maybe Microsoft also suffers from the innovation drain, or their execution of new products just stinks. I could be wrong, but my intuition tells me that companies who are innovative and dynamic usually draw the right types of people who can think, create and implement dynamically. Maybe the combination of the doldrum suburban location and the restrictive politics and culture hurts some companies who can’t draw ideal teams of innovators and star project developers, I don’t know.

*Though one might argue with a well designed product you need less support.

What have the Romans done for us?

[Youtube=http://youtube.com/watch?v=IaE3EaQte78]

Amazing: “In My Language”

This made me think a great deal.  This is probably one of the best explanations or accounts of autism I’ve seen, and it’s told from an autistic individual’s point of view. Can you imagine… would this persons story and view of the world be communicated as easily without video-sharing (YouTube) and Web tech? Also, the video comments and feedback is just as though-provoking.
[Youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JnylM1hI2jc]

Math-a-blogging

linearpattern.jpg

So, I sort of lied. I have been blogging in another life. As part of a Math course I recently developed, I set up my own blog to explore many of the concepts in the Algebra course. It’s called Maththinker. Initially I set up the blog as an example for students of my course. Many of the course activities are designed around the blog as the goal is to teach teachers the importance of getting students to express their mathematical thinking in writing. Writing out the thought process of math helps reinforce the learning and also helps students develop a solid understanding of what they are learning. Blogs naturally present a great tool for achieving this.

In addition to the blogs, the course will help students practice developing their own electronic visuals for teaching using simple graphics in PowerPoint. I truly believe that developing visuals or even drawing out concepts helps reinforce learning just as writing does. Even though the students of this course are producing something that they can use in their classrooms, they are also using that visual-spatial muscle to think out problems and concepts. The illustrations also allow the students to enhance their reflections and descriptions of concepts in their blogs.

In addition, to encouraging math writing, the course also focusing on helping teachers develop their own ‘real life’ applications and examples of math concepts and stories. Students share their examples including their own illustrations or diagrams in their blogs. They are encouraged to respond and provide feedback on each other’s work in the blog comments.

slideshowimageforweb.jpg

Here’s a screenshot from a quick slide show I developed that demonstrated the effect of changing variables in a quadratic equation. I used an applet available in the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives to create the graphs quickly and painlessly.

Working on this course also gave me the opportunity to re-learn some of my ‘rusty’ math. Imagine, I now remember what to do with a quadratic equation. In general, I feel like I’ve developed a greater appreciation of math and it’s applications.


Learning Online? Are we evolving?

At Eduardo’s urging, I am making my return back into blogging life in Design for Learning. It’s been a while because I’ve been terribly busy learning from both successes and failures in some my current and recent endeavors. Right now we’re evaluating two learning management systems and executing a usability test and pilot on both. The whole process has forced me to rethink and reconsider the effect of online technology on learning behavior.

George Siemens asks the question “How are learning theories impacted when knowledge is no longer acquired in the linear manner?” Learning online illustrates how learning is not linear: when we start learning about a subject online we often start with a search. The search may lead us down to many paths, so our journey is not linear. Online learning environments enhanced with features such as video sharing, social networks, mash-ups, podcasts, blogs and wikis offer a more engaging opportunities for learning and constructing projects for learning, but how do we evolve past our industrial factory influenced model of learning where learning is teacher-centric and control focused. How do we move into a more constructivist model where learning is peer and student centric and teachers work more as guides and mentors to learning rather than lecturers and test administrators? I have many questions, and I fear that the won’t be answered if we aren’t careful about changing our way of thinking about education and make that ‘paradigm shift.’ (ugh… to quote the 90’s biz-speak).

  • Do we have to re-evaluate our process for grading and testing? Should we attach points to everything to make people accountable for doing them or do we need to grade based on finished projects that require students to review all materials and practice using learning activities?
  • How will we motivate students (by punishing them with failing grades)?
  • Who is poised to be successful in this new environment? Those who follow rules by the letter or those who think for themselves and can think fast/creatively?
  • How do we encourage everyone to flourish in this environment?
  • How do we make the transition to this type of learning environment easier on instructors and teachers? Do we need to carefully think out our change management process beginning with a strong vision of what we want our learning environment to be like? Do we need to set a mission with solid goals for achieving this vision?

I knew that moving to a different LMS would be difficult, but I almost that in making this shift we are altering our direction in how we approach online/distance learning. These changes will greatly impact everyone involved, administrators, designers, teachers, and students. In order to help people move as smoothly as possible into the change we need to address a plan for change for each of these groups. Training can be involved, but, as I’ve learned from the past, it shouldn’t be the panacea for implementing change. All parties need to be aware of the change and how it will impact them. Also, if the change requires and affective shift or change in attitude or viewpoint, this must be managed effectively as well, but open discussion and clear communication of goals and requirements of all involved.

It’s not going to be easy, but still it’s a great opportunity for learning.

On another note… in the same article I linked to above, Siemens poses a number of questions that have really made me think. These questions address many of the challenges in adopting online learning that I’ve felt or seen so far:

  • How are learning theories impacted when knowledge is no longer acquired in the linear manner?
  • What adjustments need to made with learning theories when technology performs many of the cognitive operations previously performed by learners (information storage and retrieval).
  • How can we continue to stay current in a rapidly evolving information ecology?
  • How do learning theories address moments where performance is needed in the absence of complete understanding?
  • What is the impact of networks and complexity theories on learning?
  • What is the impact of chaos as a complex pattern recognition process on learning?
  • With increased recognition of interconnections in differing fields of knowledge, how are systems and ecology theories perceived in light of learning tasks?

If I have the time I want to take most of these questions into consideration in this blog. These questions would be great for an online forum discussion amongst online educators. I think in answering the questions the point is not to end up with a concrete solution but to flesh out or brainstorm possibilities at first.


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