Embracing and Promoting Active Learning

This article from a colleague up in Oberlin was shared with our campus today, and I felt it was worth sharing here too.

Preparing the Environment for Active Learning, by Steven Volk, Professor of History and Director, Center for Teaching, Innovation, and Excellence

I feel like so much of what I do as the Instructional Technologist on campus is to promote active learning. That is ultimate goal of educational technology, but accomplishing it starts well before and goes well beyond deciding which tools to use. The question is what can educators do to best engage the attention, curiosity, intrigue, and passion of our students. The answer involves a lot more than tools, just lecturing, or predominately doing any single teaching practice. To best engage students, provide them plenty of opportunities to encounter course content in as many ways as possible. Technology enables us to reach and engage them in various ways at many times and places.The smiling 2016 Lakota Spring Break Mission Team, OWU

Learning about education from liqueur

This commercial from UK company, Arthur Bell & Sons Ltd, is making the rounds among educators. It was shown at a keynote during last week’s CLAC conference. As Carissa Peck points out in her blog post, there are many things to take away from this ad. Enjoy!

When I showed it to my family–who all liked it–I pointed out that if you cut the last 5 seconds or so from the clip, you wouldn’t know it had anything to do with alcohol.

UPDATE: the video has been made Private.

Creative collaboration spaces at my alma mater

The Methodist Theological School in Ohio has embraced educational technology. Using Sakai, all of their courses are now hybrid, offering some amount of content and interaction online. Plus, several of their teaching spaces are now rigged for collaboration. Here are pics from Gault Hall Room 150. When I was a student there (2007 grad) this classroom was simply rows of two-seater desks for students and a smart podium for the instructor, (and the podium then, with its Extron control system, was notoriously flaky.)

It’s obvious they’re going for guide on the side, facilitator pedagogy, rather than sage on the stage, lecturer style, and it’s nice to see. Many of my classes when I was a student there were discussion-based, and we did plenty of group projects.

BlendKit reading response, week 3

This week’s topic is blended assessments of learning. I was able to read it early, for a change, as I’m working the primary election polls today.

I appreciate the emphasis on transfer: “The most crucial step needed in each unit of instruction is the preparation for students’ transfer of learning to new contexts.” This was a Teaching Circle topic earlier this semester and we read a wonderful tale of a teacher’s struggles with her cadaver dog and her class, with lots of examples of transfer. This is often when the satisfying “Aha!” moments happen.

While traditional multiple choice exams are probably most common, there are many other options, formal and informal. Here’s advice any instructional technologist likes to hear: “Any tool that can be afforded the student should be considered to improve learning.” At the same time, one must exercise caution. Students must have full support, and the Reader provides lots of guidance.

ransomtech
image attribution flickr users ransomtech and vanguardvision

It’s interesting that commercial tools for remote proctoring are now available. I’d be curios to see some of them, but I can’t imagine a case for their use at a small, residential college like OWU.

When creating assessments, it’s important to account for all levels of learning, such as described I’m Bloom’s Taxonomy. The Reader claims that “Authentic assessment–assessing student abilities to apply knowledge, skills, and attitudes to real world problems–is not only possible in an online environment; it is getting more popular.” I agree. Many LMS offer statistics on student engagement, how much time they spend in the online environment and specifically where.

There is ample evidence that students who use self-testing do better on graded exams and other assignments. The more they engage with the course and course materials the better they will grasp it and transfer it. You can even allow students to generate their own questions and use some of them on an actual exam.

Reading and discussion reflections – BlendKit 2014 week 2

There was a nice discussion in one of the course forums on spontaneity in blended learning. Participants shared their challenges with allowing for or creating spontaneous interactions online. Stephanie Payzant suggested discussion forums as a place where this can happen asynchronously, as long as our processes and procedures are flexible. Someone else suggested projects where students must share information. Instructor modeling is key. And then another participant asked if “introducing spontaneity” wasn’t an oxymoron.

Blended interactions were the topic, and a lot of the reading and online discussion centered on the role of the educator in a networked world. When learning is decentralized, no longer one size fits all, and students are working within their own personal learning environment (PLE–an environment where people, tools, communities, and resources interact loosely, enabling an individual to learn in a world of fragmented and distributed information, rather than well organized and coherent,) what is the role of the teacher? The reading described four new roles for the educator:

  1. Master – one who observes the activities of students and draws their attention to innovative approaches.
  2. Network administrator – assists learners in forming connections and creating learning networks.
  3. Concierge – provides soft guidance and shows students things they didn’t know were available or possible.
  4. Curator – the expert learner creates spaces in which knowledge can be created, explored, and connected.

The catchy designation, “Guide on the side” comes to mind (as opposed to “sage on the stage”.) This is helpful for faculty to re-envision their role in the classroom and a course. Once we can imagine it, we can start taking steps toward making it a reality. Having multiple models also makes coming out of a comfort zone more palatable. I’d say for truly effective, dynamic learner-centered pedagogy the teacher must be something of all four. I’m familiar with that role-juggling or hat-switching in my job as the Educational Technologist on campus: I do technical training in workshop settings where I’m somewhat of a sage but also a driver, ensuring that everyone is following along and no one is being left behind. I do one-on-one sessions where I’m more of a coach or personal trainer. I consult in various ways where I’m concierge, offering options faculty weren’t aware of. I publish a lot of content online, here on my blog, on the Self Help Site, or in the new EdTech LibGuide; in this manner I’m more of a curator. When I visit faculty in Teaching Circle or other, similar settings, again I’m more of a concierge, offering what they need when they need it. And I’m literally a system administrator for our LMS, WordPress server, and more.

And then there was a nice exploration of student involvement with several tips to promote it. I like the advice that is the section heading: Construct assignments that encourage expression. …kind of like this one for #Blendkit2014

I actually got into the Week 2 Webinar–last week’s had maxed out before I got there! Here is what I look like while I’m attending:

This is why I don't do video calls at my desk.
This is why I don’t do video calls at my desk.

Khan Academy now offers a course (for coaches) on Blended Learning

An interesting development. From the introductory video, “The Case for Blended Learning“:

“…this course, which is essentially a Blended Learning 101 with an important caveat: we’re interested in high quality blended learning. We’re not interested in just layering technology on top of existing systems or pushing computers into the classroom. We’re interested in folks who are redesigning the structures and core concepts of how school works to make education more engaging for students, a more effective process, and increasing students’ ownership of the learning process.”
~ Michael Horn, Exec. Dir. Clayton Christensen Institute and Brian Greenberg, CEO Silicon Schools Fund, facilitators of the course

While their focus appears to be on K-12, the fact that they’re focusing on high quality pedagogy is relevant for higher ed. As primary schools improve their teaching and learning through blended learning, students will come to expect it more and more from their higher education institutions, and those that offer blended learning and do it well will differentiate themselves from other institutions that still look like remnants from the 19th century.

Did I mention that I like the emphasis on high quality blended learning?

One other note: there’s more and more information, research, and resources being released on blended learning every day. I’m glad I’m taking the timely BlendKit 2014 course with a cohort of my ISIS colleagues.

NowComment for turning documents into conversations

It seems every other day I learn of some online tool or system that can be used to improve education, and many of them are free. Today I learned of NowComment and got to try BlueJeans.

NowComment

NowComment I haven’t tried yet, but it was recommended by a colleague. With it you can upload files or use public docs and create discussion forums on them. You can also sort comments, skim summaries, create assignments, hide comments, reply privately, and much more. Accounts on NowComment are offered for free.

BlueJeans web conferencing

I actually got to try BlueJeans web conferencing. It was easy to set up and get started. While in the webinar it had the feel of a Google Hangout–smooth and distraction-free. I checked their website for pricing info, didn’t find any, so I assume it’s expensive.