Choosing technology: considerating openness

Some time ago, Drs Tony Bates and Gary Poole developed a framework for technology use and selection called SECTIONS.  They described it in their book: Effective Teaching With Technology in Higher Education: Foundations for Success (2003)

We were looking for a resource to use to support faculty in making good decisions around technology use. We liked the SECTIONS model, but (in our view) a couple of things were missing:

  • a consideration of whether or not the technology supports an open approach (to content or participation)
  • a way for faculty to indicate the level of importance that they place on each of the considerations (for example, if the tool/approach does not support collaboration, is that a make or break issue?)

We also thought that we needed to refine the considerations in such a way that they would apply to a specific learning context, class or even learning activity – more at the level of an instructor’s concern than an administrator.

This is what we came up with as a draft.  We are starting to pilot its use through our Centre for Teaching and Academic Growth (which we are about to join forces with to become the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology).

At any rate, have a look, feel free to use and send us your comments/feedback and critiques.

Assessing Technology: Using the SECTIONS model (view and download the pdf)

Learners and PLE’s

I’ve been reflecting on a panel I facilitated last week at the 2009 Canadian eLearning Conference.  Three UBC learners (Andre, Angeli and Zack) talked about their concepts of PLE – what they think is important and what they think about the relationship between learning, university and their own personal goals and explorations.

Here are some of the themes that they touched on:

  • students are inherently practical and grades are key motivators for action.  We’ve structured the education system this way, it’s not their fault.
  • PLEs will primarily include tools and approaches that support getting better grades. Tools like Quizlet, Facebook for study groups, google docs and wikis for shared work, blogs for personal reflection, IM and (sometimes) Twitter for networking with peers, etc. Not much room/time  for creative explorations with online tools, resources and social spaces unless it is part of a degree requirement.
  • disconnect between personal learning goals, choice of tools and selection of approaches. Learning goals are set by the instructor and those are the ones that students pay attention to. Connection with the personal and reflection on learning process happens with support – usually in the context of a “work” project or an instructor’s approach to teaching.
  • personal learning environments are not synonymous with technology – books, creative materials, etc. are just as important as part of a person’s personal learning environment.

So, how do we meaningfully support the learners in the activities that surround the  development of their personal learning environments:  reflection, identification of their own learning goals, consideration of the “fit” between their goals and twhat is required for their chosen field of study?  Educational reform, one interaction at a time? Lots to consider here…

Here are the slides (on Slideshare) that provided some context to our panel discussion:

Twittering and Twondering

It all started with a good laugh after looking at Super-Josh’s comic video “Twouble With Twitters”, posted on Dean Giustini’s blog. I am an occassional twitterer, so I could laugh at myself – thanks, Dean.  Then, on a more serious note, I followed a trail that Brian put me on to – first to Cole Camplese’s post where he laments what sounds like a less than warm reception by a bunch of academics to his ideas about Twitter and the social web in general – then to the Wired Campus article and discussion – fascinating stuff, yet again highlighting the differences in perception about what makes a good learning environment.

Couldn’t resist a little Wordle fun as I was thinking about the differences that came across in some of the comments. I decided to pull some words from the comments that seemed to indicate fear or open hostility towards Twitter-like tools in the classroom alongside others that indicated appreciation.  Here’s what they looked like:

Just found this article: A semantic approach to visualizing online conversations by Judith Donath . Provides some interesting theoretical background to the use of visualization tools to map online conversation.

Will using Facebook, IM, Skype, etc. make me a better teacher?

Probably not. Though your choice of tools should probably be related to the kind of communication network you want/need to establish with your learners. For some this will be as simple as e-mail or online discussion forum in WebCT/Vista. For others, it may involve a range of instant messaging for office hours, Wimba for online tutorials, maybe even Facebook if all learners in the class are there already. Whether or not any of these strategies is effective is, to a large degree, dependent on how committed both you and your learners are to making it work.

The topic of teachers and social media was recently explored on CBC’s radio show Spark in an interview with danah boyd, of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, and Marc Fisher, of the Washington Post. The blog discussion was lively and fascinating following the interview and I’d encourage you to spend some time on the site:

Here’s an excerpt from one of the blogger participants:

I am a lecturer at a university in BC. I allow my students reasonable access: I do use email (obsessively) and virtual classroom technology, and promise my students that I will respond “in a timely manner” (my time, not theirs). I encourage Facebook, Moodle, and Google study groups and chat/IM – so that students who often live more than an hour away from each other in our area can use technology to help make their lives a little easier.

Does this make me more effective than the instructor who oversees f2f study groups, who offers specific office hours, who volunteers time in the Writing Centre and makes sure her students come for extra help?

Of course it doesn’t. The one thing research in pedagogy has shown time and time again is that any technique works for most students as long as the teacher is committed to it.

Sharon Taylor, March 5th, 2008 – Posted on CBC’s Spark blog.

And what do students think makes for a good instructor? Recently, some of the students involved in the LEAP project, asked their peers to share their thoughts on teaching and learning via U.Stream from the Ike Barber Learning Centre. If you’d like to review the archived video clips, they are available here:

Here are a few highlights:

It would be good if they (profs) would give us an opportunity to do our own research/ academic reviews. Trevor, 4th year student

I like it when profs emphasize discussion, interactivity – not just reviewing notes. I can do that on my own. Teena, 2nd year student

I know that I’m really learning something when I choose to think about it outside of class – not just what I have to remember for a paper or mid term.

Profs may have taught the same thing over and over, but I haven’t learned the same thing over and over. Cadence, 2nd year student

Most profs don’t use technology enough… to bring people together in a closer environment.

Luke, 2nd year

I really like it when my profs put presentations and course materials online. It helps me follow along with class work …

Interactive study guides and online quizzes (not for grades) but for self tests is a great thing.

Facebook is a good way (for me) to connect with classmates and organize meetings, study groups…as opposed to all the junk you could do on that site.

Alec, 2nd year

In an ideal world, learning would be more collaborative and interactive…

One of my profs really encourages interaction and discussion our entire hour lecture. In another class, my prof lectures the whole time, we don’t really have any choices, which makes it boring – totally unlike the other class.

Kevin, 3rd year

The bottom line? Learners recognize good instructors. They are the ones who make the subject matter come to life in a meaningful way, who use classroom time wisely and who want to know what learners’ think. They have high expectations and provide the guidance necessary for students to really learn – not only about the subject matter, but about themselves as learners and citizens. It has very little to do with technology. It has to do with a deep commitment to learning and the willingness to try and fail in an attempt to improve. After all, learning transcends the boundaries of the individual course or instructor but you can make an impact on what your learners will take with them. What do you want that to be?

Facebook, Fear and Frustration

The latest Facebook incident, reported recently in the Toronto Star, involves an online study group, a charge of academic misconduct and university policies that seem outdated and open to misinterpretation. It seems a classic representation of the clash of two cultures being played out in higher ed these days: the open, collaborative, network culture vs. the closed, competitive, individual culture.

The consequences for this student seem dire and the effect on others – disheartening. After all, it was a study group – doing what study groups have done for generations – except this time they did it online, exposed in a way they likely didn’t consider and now are paying for. And what about policy interpretation? Did the instructor make students aware of the policy on plagiarism as it relates to study groups? Policies related to plagiarism and collaboration are murky at best, not only at Ryerson but here at UBC (and I suspect other institutions as well. (Ryerson; UBC ).

For me, this example brings up a larger question about learning. What is it about learning that we really value? Is it about the individual passing of tests and competing with others to be the best? Is it about finding ways to collaborate with others in order to see problems from different perspectives and work towards solving them in a way that is perhaps beyond the flexibility and adaptation that one person can demonstrate? And what do we know about learning that might help us to re-shape some of our policies to reflect changing values? The editors of How People Learn: Brain, Mind Experience and School tell us that time on task is not enough to ensure that learners will choose effective learning strategies. In fact, learners need time and frequent feedback in order to “monitor their learning and actively evaluate their strategies and their current levels of understanding.” In my own experience, study groups (in whatever form) have provided this support.

There’s alot to think about here. I look forward to the outcome of this one.