Archive for the 'Learning Styles' Category

Technology is Magic. Stop Thinking in 19th & 20th Century Metaphors Already! #edcmooc

Our relative view of the magic

Arthur C. Clarke’s third law states that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Don’t you think someone born 300 years ago would think this is magic?

Screen shot 2013-02-05 at 10.18.32 PM

How about someone alive 30 years ago (including myself). Wouldn’t I think this is magic?

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For nerdy little me… it’s this dream come true:

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When I watched the films from this week’s resources: A Day Made of Glass & Productivity Vision of the Future, Clarke’s law repeated in my mind. Glass becomes a tool that people use to access information, view entertainment & learn. The other thing that struck me was how incredibly antiseptic & affluent both views of the future were.

As we are fixed in our time and reality, technology that is unfamiliar may seem like magic to us, but because we live in times where things are changing rapidly and imagining the future and it’s technology is a normal part of our culture. Thinking about my relative understanding of technology as magic got me to think about my own education and understanding of how things have developed even in my lifetime. I decided to create a timeline of my own education and compare it to the development of technology in that time. It’s in rainbow colors because I was a child of the 80’s.

My Digital Timeline

Click to view in full size

So just by looking at this timeline that spans over forty years, claims made that technology pundits that technology is developing and advancing at a more rapid speed. The ways and tools that we can use to learn and whom we can learn with has expanded even in my lifetime.

Will Technology Replace Teachers?

Many science fiction depictions of both utopia & dystopia paint a view of the future in which humans have been replaced by technology. Similarly, I’ve seen this question come out of several discussions in the #edcmooc class: Will technology make the teacher obsolete? As is evidenced in numerous forum posts, tweets from students in this class. The act of making order out of the chaos of a learning experience with so many people and so many learning tools has required guidance, the human kind. If not from a facilitator, from the other students. We still need teachers and guides. Every learner is different and how the learn best is unique. Can we assume that technology will devise a mechanism, automaton or script functions like a combination Yoda & “Electric Grandmother.”

I think what’s more likely, is that learners are learning how to adapt to use the tools and technology for learning to their best advantage. We learn to use tools online that help us filter and use content. Here are a few tools, some of which were new to me before I took this course. But here’s the thing… no tool is perfect. Again, it’s all about diving in and finding out what works for you.

Twitter Feed → Tweetchat, TweetDeck, Paper.li

Content Curation (Bookmarks) → Scoop.it, Storify, PearlTrees – pearl trees provides a visual map of what you’re curating or sites your saving online.

Blogs → Quadblogging (to connect and reach your audience) edutopia article on

Stop Using the Classroom Metaphor to Describe the Online Learning Experience!

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I know that metaphors are powerful in explaining and introducing the strange and foreign to the natives. But is it just me or am I the only one who’s tired of hearing this metaphor used to describe online learning. Perhaps my irritation and other’s indicate the obsolete nature of the metaphor. This bothers me just as much as my last boss insisting on using the logo below to indicate a phone contact for an audience of 20 somethings:

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Here’s why we’re not in a classroom anymore:

  1. You might be sitting at a desk but not looking out a window wishing that the teacher would stop droning on and on
  2. You don’t have to have your attention fixed only on the teacher. In fact the other students can provide just as much information and knowledge as the teacher
  3. You’re not learning from a text book that has gum stuck to the cover or doodles from the previous owner anymore; texts and media are available online

I could go on…. but most importantly, when you’re learning online you expect to be able to share, re-mix, create content. Like these kids:

When Learner Goals and User Design Meet

I finally had the opportunity this past week to focus on preparing this presentation for Slideshare. A co-worker and I  presented this at TCC (Technology, Colleges, and Community) this Spring 2011. By the way, TCC is one of the best examples I’ve found of a truly well-run virtual conference, and it’s worth much more than the very inexpensive price of admission.

Of all the projects, I’ve worked on in the past year, I really enjoyed working on the Education Award resource the most. It was the labor & efforts of a great team of truly creative people who helped put it together. Also, it’s a good example of how good content can be developed around learning objectives while meeting user needs and user-centric design principles. This was one of the first projects where I was able to use “Paper Prototyping” to help validate the appropriateness of a web design for both user-friendliness and solid information architecture design.

I’m hoping to be able to record a mp3 recording to apply to the Slideshare soon, but in the meantime, you can view the slide notes and a rough script of this presentation in Slideshare in the “Speaker Notes” tab.

Future Think for Educators

[Youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ILQrUrEWe8]

Great film that helps us envision education and learning in transition. Some things educators, policy makers, parents, teacher, curriculum developers should all be getting excited about…

  • Cloud Computing - In many cases you don’t need to have software installed on your computers.  Content development tools such as Google Docs and many others make it possible to create and share documents, materials, etc. on the web. Students can track changes, add notes or comments and truly author pieces together.
  • Mobile Devices – Mobile devices and smart phones are definitely here to stay. Yesterday I realized that I only use my laptop if I’m working on something complex or lengthy. All other materials for reading or immediate access are funneled through my mobile. Educators can search out or even design learning enhanced by or using Mobile Devices – Why not create or develop learning activities where students can enhance their learning by connecting to materials and resources while they’re learning, or on a field trip? In a previous post I shared a number of different possible learning applications for cellphones. Several are quite ingenious and fun. You can view a detailed mind map of the lecture notes from the presentation where I got those ideas.
  • Leveraging Social Networking and Media Sharing Tools – Students and educators can learn from social networks that have pods or communities built around the topics they are interested in.  I found this great community on Learning Physics Online. You could even find or start communities on Ning or other similar networking site. Students (and or their teachers) can create videos, film projects, and presentations to put up on ‘safe’ sharing sites such as TeacherTube or YouTube. Check out this group of student’s retelling of the Boxer Rebellion. Love how they cleverly used recognizable styles and characterizations from Hong Kong  & martial arts cinema. I shared this some time ago, but I never get tired of watching it.
  • Alternatives to Written Papers – While I still think this skill is absolutely necessary to have. I don’t think the essay is the only way to test someone’s knowledge and grasp of content anymore. Students can put together podcasts. Writing the content and putting together the interview questions for the podcast as well as engaging in the discussion and interviews can help reinforce the content they are learning. Sometimes writing a script for a film, story boarding, and coordinating the filming is way more labor intensive than writing a term paper. Plus you’re actually using far more skills that can transfer to real jobs and life (… outlining, drafting, planning, writing, coordination, directing, … ummmm project management. I actually heard somewhere that film school is the new MBA :))
  • Ethics & Security Education for Parents and Students – yes the web can be a scary place, but so is the street. If we train students  (and parents) to be aware of the dangers and learn guidelines for avoiding them then that’s half the battle. It would also be in our best interests if we teach the younger generation appropriate netiquette.

More resources:

Okay… so now I understand what Twitter is all about

Image originally from the Morguefile. Click to view the original

Image originally from the Morguefile. Click to view the original

I’ll admit the idea of telling people what you were doing at any given moment did not appeal to the side of me that adores my privacy. Also, being involved in conversations with others that absobed so much chatter didn’t spark the curiosity of that extremely methodical part of me.

Yet the side of me that has come to appreciate “Stream of Consciousness” really gets it.

But after first joining Twitter I can see what people like about it.

A few tricks I learned quickly to reduce the noise factor on twitter:

  • The more followers/followees you have the faster the pace of the conversation. It’s good to search for conversations using “key words.” You can also save the chat
  • You can easily save tweets you like by clicking the “Star” or favorites option.
  • Just accept that you’re not going to get every piece of information being shared. Twitter is pretty ephemeral and it embodies that life of ephemerality characteristic of some aspects of “Internet life.”
  • Make comments even ones that appear to have no point every now and then.
  • If you’re sharing something cool include the link (be forewarned… if the link is too long you may not be able to share it. Hopefully, web developers out there whose pages require long urls are noting this. Or the twitter people might be able to develop a feature that allows you to associate links to text so you don’t go over the 140 character limit).
  • Addressing someone directly requires including their Twitter ID (ie. @nlkilkenny) in your tweet or post.
  • If you must, you can search through the archive of a saved search. Depending on the volume of a conversation you may be searching for sometime till you get to the beginning.

I’ve actually learned a lot this weekend on Twitter. Sorry to go off on a tangent, but I get this way when I learn a good deal of new and fascinating stuff.  I saved a search for Arduino technologies because I’ve very interested in learning how to make clothing and knitwear use electronic features using the Arduino Lilypad.

Arduino Lilypad
Arduino Lilypad

Can you imagine having a purse that’s hooked up to your cellphone so that it blinks a certain way when different people call? I’d also like to make some kind of garment (even just wristbands) for my brother that plays different sounds. He’s a musician that tries to bring traditional and non-traditional sounds and instruments together: OO-Ray.  I was searching through Make.com’s site and found some very fascinating applications with Arduino tech including this Fabric Synthesizer. What a wonderful way to showcase ingeniuity and creativity.

Art and textiles meet electronics and music

Art and textiles meet electronics and music

Schools, Please Don’t Kill Our Creativity

At a workshop I attended yesterday, Barry Dahl mentioned this unforgettable lecture by Ken Robinson at the TED conference. In his incredibly adroit and humorous talk, Robinson maintains that schools today thrash the creativity out of kids. I would argue that the final death knell takes place once they enter today’s corporate work world.

In another inspiring lecture, Tim Brown, the CEO of IDEO champions the importance of play in productivity of design and innovation.

Tim Brown Teaches Adults How to Play at a Lecture

Tim Brown Teaches Adults How to Play at a Lecture

How can we, as educators promote creativity and play in our classrooms, while teaching important knowledge and skills? I feel that developing curriculum driven by “student created content” is key to developing the creative minds that will build our future. I don’t know about you, but as an old doddering woman, I would rather live in a world built by the next designer of earth shaking technologies and innovative policies that help promote progress and not in a world populated by people who are fettered by rules that squelch creativity and productivity.

“It’s in the making of things that kids actually do their learning”

(Exerpt below is from an article I wrote for our company blog.)

Creating content in schools extends past the traditional class-report or diorama making. I found this wonderful example of the King Middle School in Portland, Maine. I believe that this school is really putting the approaches to 21st Literacy Education in a Action. The video provides examples of how the school integrates subjects like science, English, math with technology education.


Click the photo to view the video. Note the video will open and play automatically in another browser window.

The kids participate in truly constructivist activities, by developing videos, artwork, and collaborating on the development of music and music scores. All of these activities and projects require formal knowledge in writing, math, science, research and history that used to be taught to students via textbooks in an isolated context. Here are a few quotes from the short film that really captured my attention:

“We don’t use textbooks, per se… we do a lot of research in class.”

“The approach is to bring out the best in every student.”

“It’s in the making of things, that kids do their learning.”

The school also partners with businesses like a local printing press to develop products. The students work together as teams to develop items such as books for the press. These students also have the opportunity to work with professionals like the professional documentary maker who help them improve the quality of their videos. They get real-life experience and are encouraged to stretch and deliver quality projects. They are not coddled or isolated from doing ‘real work’ because they are not ready to do it on a ‘professional level.’

As I finished watching the video, I realized that many teachers might have issues with the fact that some students contributed 7 pages of work to a final project while some contributed only three paragraphs. I like the attitude that these teachers at King have that “Everyone does what they can.” Plus everyone should contribute to the project using the skills and talents that they have. Perhaps a student who needs help with math but has kinesthetic talents can choreograph a dance, and teach the other students how to perform the dance to be included in a final project. A student who lags in writing but has design skills might lead the team that develops the costumes or set. Both students are exercising their communication and leadership skills in helping other get their tasks done. Students who are better at writing can help coach these students when they have to do the written component for the project.

I think the comment that sums up the value and power of this approach to education was made by the kids of King Middle School themselves, “No one feels stupid here anymore.”

Why wasn’t I born twenty years later? I would have loved to go to school in a place like this. Seeing examples like this really makes me excited about the work we do here at PLS because I believe that in what we do we strive to make learning experiences effective and powerful.

Work expectations/behaviors of the ideal virtual employee

  • Image from the Morguefile
    Image from the Morguefile
  • Are you a self-starter, a life-long learner?
  • Do you find yourself researching and looking up answers to questions on your own?
  • Can you effectively connect and communicate via e-mail, chat and phone?
  • Do you have exceptional written communication skills?
  • Can you work with out tons of positive reinforcement or those ‘pats on the back?’
  • Can you set your own reasonable timetables for getting your work done and then meet them consistently?

If you’ve answered yes to all or most of these questions, you’d probably make an ideal virtual employee.

When I tell people I work from home 100%, I usually get one of two responses.

“That’s great! You get to work in your pajamas!”

or…

“Work must be a cakewalk for you.”

Of course, I try to explain to them that it’s not that simple. It still astounds me that people have those preconceptions that working from home means 1.) You get to do what you want and 2.)You don’t have to do much work. In my own experience, neither of these two notions is true of working from home.

To be honest, after the first six months of working from home I seriously questioned whether or not I was the right person for this job. There were things I horribly missed: making connections with workmates when you work in an office. Informal coffee break talks, lunches, impromptu meetings at the whiteboard to explain or get some validation on a concept.

Working from home and working alone, I found myself having regular conversations with my dogs. At least they were happy because they now had a human being in the house with them twenty-four-seven.  In the end, I found that I needed to join extracurricular social groups outside of work or make sure I pencilled in lunches with former coworkers and current friends into my schedule.

More, I don’t really get to “do only what I want” when I work from home.  I realized early on, that I had to set my own project schedule and milestone deadlines and meet them. With virtual employment gone are the days when the boss sits in an elevated place where they can see what all their employees are doing. The virtual boss needs to trust his or her employees to get the job done, and reciprocally, the virtual employee needs to constantly deliver the products and services that make his group and company successful.

Setting these self goals for success is not the only challenge I face as a virtual employee. As my work now takes place in my home environment, I have to discipline myself to separate both of these worlds. I set boundaries. Work takes place in the room that is my ‘office.’ I stop work at exactly 5:00. I must set up  rituals and practices that enforce the law of separation of work and home life… otherwise I face the danger of work enveloping it all.

Working from home 100% of the time is not the simple cake walk some people make it to be. And oh, I haven’t noted the challenge that those of us face who work from home with other family members including children at home.

Math-a-blogging

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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.

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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.



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