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

GLCA launching a Consortial Center for Teaching and Learning

The Great Lakes Colleges Association GLCAlogo is launching an innovative take on a center for pedagogy, funded by the Teagle Foundation. It’ll be consortial: a community of faculty and staff with demonstrated commitment to improving teaching and learning across all of GLCA’s colleges. It will rely pretty heavily on the Web and web conferencing, along with in-person events.

This is great news for us, as OWU doesn’t currently have such a center–we have a modest Teaching & Learning website–and we lost our Faculty Development Coordinator–and that was only half of her title/role on campus–several years ago.

I’m excited because sometimes I feel like this, quoted from the grant proposal:

Too often effective teaching is regarded as less important than research and publication, even in our liberal arts colleges; affiliation with a consortial teaching and learning center will help to empower advocates for teaching on each campus who are often not regarded as “prophets in their own land.”

I wouldn’t call myself a prophet, but I’ve certainly felt the frustration expressed by colleagues in similar positions at other institutions that providing training and support for faculty is worse than herding cats.

What will revolutionize education?

A colleague at Beloit College recently shared this impressive video: [This Will Revolutionize Education] The idea that technology will revolutionize education is an old myth that keeps getting new life with new tech. It’s an age old truth that education is a social experience that’s been affirmed in many ways. …and then I introduce SAMR.

A colleague at Beloit College recently shared this impressive video:

The idea that technology will revolutionize education is an old myth that keeps getting new life with new tech. It’s an age old truth that education is a social experience that’s been affirmed in my seminary Ethics classes, where I learned the primordial nature of relationship and how it precedes the development of self… (See, I can wax philosophical in a heartbeat!)

There was lively discussion of this debate–whether or not technology will revolutionize education–in the notes on the video’s YouTube page, on our edu-ISIS listserv, where another colleague, from Gettysburg College, shared his experience learning to play guitar:

When I took up guitar I taught myself via a variety of tutorial sites such as JustinGuitar, and I was able to go from complete novice to reasonable amateur. But I don’t go to them much anymore- instead I’m working with a human teacher because I’ve hit the limit of what I can learn that way. The interplay between him and I during a lesson is not going to be able to be replicated by software anytime soon- he can tell when I’m relaxed, when I’m tense or frustrated, when I’m trying to avoid doing something the hard (but correct) way and so on. I don’t expect a computer to be able to read me like that in my lifetime

Which was the perfect opening for me to mention SAMR, a model for teachers, instructional techs and IDs to evaluate how they’re incorporating technology into instructional practice.  (Click the image to watch a Common Sense Media intro video.)

 

The SAMR Model
Image the creation of Dr. Ruben Puentedura, Ph.D. http://www.hippasus.com/rrpweblog/

Examples:

  • Substitution, such as a word processor being used instead of a typewriter.
  • Augmentation, such as the word processor’s spell-check feature or automatically formatted citations.
  • Modification, such as emailing electronic files instead of turning in printed papers.
  • Redefinition, such as posting writing assignments to the web for students at a partner institution in another country to critique, or having students submit their papers with an audio recording of their thoughts on why they composed it the way they did, or contributing suggestions to a crowd-sourced website to solve a community problem, or etc. You get the picture.

What I like about this model is that it describes innovation in education by focusing on tasks rather than tools, and educational tasks are commonly included in syllabuses, also known as assignments. They’re teachers’ bread & butter.

It’s truly about the education, which is a social enterprise, best practiced in community, as it always has been. Technology is simply tools that can be used to support it.

ID

I’ve been thinking lately about my role on campus, or my official role, what it should be, what it could be. These thoughts often revolve around language and labels and titles. For example, what’s the difference between an Instructional Technologist and an Instructional Designer? Recollections of past conversations come to mind, like the time the new Academic Dean came to meet me and asked, “So you’re the instructional designer on campus?” I replied with enthusiasm, “That’s the kind of work I’d like to do more of.” Another memory is of a casual conversation I had with a colleague at Capital U. Her department had just created a new ID position; I expressed interest in it. She asked if I was certain–the role involved many hours working closely with faculty to effectively use online tools and, basically, redesign their courses. Yeah, I’m excited by the thought of creating engaging learning environments/exercises and facilitating that “Aha!” moment.ZoeiGifts2014

To me, it seems the difference is somewhat subtle with some overlap–a venn diagram of sorts. (Or like the difference between the two pieces of artwork my daughter did, above.) “Instructional Technologist” and my background, btw, is more about tech support, while “Instructional Designer” is more about educational consultation, crafting educational experiences. Technical training fits in there nicely with both. I had the title “Help Desk Manager and Technical Trainer” when I first started at OWU and, when I took the newly created position of OWU’s first Instructional Technologist, the second part of the title was dropped but the duties continued. I don’t have a problem with that, as technical training supports both technical support and instructional design. It just doesn’t directly get at the heart of educational course design.

My well-worn professional sense is that instructional design (ID) by an instructional technologist or anyone else in higher ed is largely about faculty development. It’s not on the front lines of teaching, but it aims to equip and empower instructors to be the best that they can be. It also aims to do the same for students, and it goes about that by making the best use of tools to accomplish excellence in teaching and learning. As the previous Academic Dean once told me, encouraging me to be a part of Teaching Circle and other faculty forums, faculty don’t always know what tools are available to them, let alone how to use them. Getting them to understand the value of good instructional design is a large part of the work, at least initially.

As more colleges like ours experiment with online offerings and embrace technology as a distinguishing feature of what they offer incoming students, the value of good instructional design will become more evident. Certainly if administrators wish to do any data analysis on learning outcomes institution-wide, they’ll need learning and teaching processes that can produce such data. Most of all, faculty who wish to excel at teaching and make a positive difference in the academic and adult life of their students should be interested in instructional design, as the professors who attend Teaching Circle are.

Lastly, these thoughts of “Designer” versus “Technologist” play on my own sense of professional identity. Am I a technocrat, as an international colleague oft referred to me? Or am I a designer of instruction, one who happens to be familiar and highly-skilled with several good instructional tools? I just learned about POD, the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education, a professional association. Knowledge of this network has me intrigued; the focus is not on technology. It’s on teaching and learning. It sounds like it would be a good affiliation for me to do more faculty development, regardless of my official title.

Thoughts about flipped learning are evolving

Robert Talbert has this nice article in the Chronicle, describing how his thinking on flipped learning has changed over time:

Three evolving thoughts about flipped learning

His three points, (in his own words, my rearranging:)

  1. Pre-class activity is for generating questions, rather than mastering content-oriented instructional objectives.
  2. Accountability doesn’t have to look like a quiz.
  3. In-class instruction should focus on two things: Answering questions, and engaging students in high-level tasks – and lecture can play an important role in both.

Number two, in which he introduced me to the idea of androgogy (as opposed to pedagogy) looks a lot like internal motivation. “treating students as responsible adults rather than as children who need constant supervision and rule-setting.” They’ve got to come out of their shells sometime. A colleague pointed out that accountability doesn’t look like a quiz in the world outside the ivory tower.

I like that faculty trying this, are adapting, reflecting on what they did, how it worked, and tweaking it for the next iteration. Then their teaching gets better, their students are more engaged, and everyone learns more.

 

6 Transformational Questions on Innovative EdTech

eSchoolNews.com has a nice article, with 6 questions to determine if you’re technology rich, yet innovation poor. The questions are deeply thought-provoking and may stimulate institutional soul-searching. While the article goes into detailed explanation, the questions are copied here:

  1. Did the assignment build capacity for critical thinking on the web?
  2. Did the assignment develop new lines of inquiry?
  3. Are there opportunities for students to make their thinking visible?
  4. Are there opportunities to broaden the perspective of the conversation with authentic audiences from around the world?
  5. Is there an opportunity for students to create a contribution (purposeful work)?
  6. Does the assignment demo “best in the world” examples of content and skill?

I feel that they really get to the priority of education over technology. How is our use of technology improving our teaching and making a better learning experience for our students?

earthlandbulb

It reminds me of the book we’re reading for Teaching Circle, to discuss among the faculty and academic support staff–21st Century Skills: Learning for Life in Our Times.

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 for Week 4

This week’s topic is blended content and assignments, another good reading. I liked the emphasis on integrating the online and face-to-face components of the course to make one, seamless experience for the students. There was a helpful discussion of learning activities with and without technology. I’d say the many apps and sites and services under the heading of Technique (How) only scratched the surface of what’s out there. In fact, Fargo.io, an outliner site/service, was mentioned on NPR on Monday.

In other, synchronicitous news, there was an article in Science Magazine reporting that lectures aren’t just boring–they’re ineffective. Active learning trumps passive learning any day. The more the brain is engaged in the process the better it learns.BlendKit Course Badge

And it was good timing that I also attended a Blackboard webinar on badges today. Lots of ways to make learning more engaging and active and rewarding! I’ve actually earned 12 badges so far in this MOOC, and one of them is displayed above. Badges may now be awarded in Blackboard too, and our OWU Blackboard is currently getting an upgrade to Service Pack 14 (all the way from SP 6!) Come fall, I’ll be doing a lot more to promote the use of Blackboard features to make courses more blended and more engaging.

 

 

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.

Reflections on BlendKit2014 week 2

A comment in the webinar on Monday: “At its heart, Blended learning is about diversity: diversity in learning styles, diversity in time, etc.” I like that, and feel that more instructors need to honor diversity in their teaching.

Our topic for this second week is blended interactions. How do/will we interact with our students in face-to-face versus online encounters? Discussions can take place in both modalities, online may be asynchronous in discussion forums or synchronous in chat rooms. F2F should reinforce/compliment online interactions and vice-versa.

Another comment in the webinar, in response to faculty balking at blended learning, calling it a fad: “They have to experience it to be convinced.” I sure hope not. The fact is that blended learning has been around for over 10 years and has been well documented. And as the saying goes, experience is the best teacher but only a fool learns from no other.

Avoiding ‘a course and a half’ or adding additional work for the students when incorporating online interactions was discussed. The importance of keeping it simple was stressed.

One piece of feedback on the technology used for the course, and this is feedback specifically on Adobe Connect: the interface is cluttered and clunky, especially compared to the much simpler interface of tools such as Skype, Google Hangouts or BlueJeans.

Webinar

Lastly–for now–the importance of balance has been a recurring theme, balance between f2f & online, as well as balance between structure and flexibility. I think it’s great that blended learning mirrors life. In life, in general, you have to find balance in lots of different ways. Blended learning is not overly analytical, not too emergent, not too this or too much that. And that brings us back to diversity. 🙂

BlendKit Course: Chapter 1 Reflection

BlendKitlogo

So the first week’s reading in the BlendKit course is on Understanding Blended Learning. It starts with defining the term, which is simply a mix (blend) of online learning and face-to-face learning. How much of one versus the other may vary from course to course and depends on various factors, including the level of the students/course, the subject matter, and the geographical spread of the students. While exclusively online learning offers modest benefits over exclusively face-to-face learning, Blended learning has proven advantages over both. The two approaches complement each other well when done well.

How to do blended learning well is a good deal of the reading. The planning process must begin with learning goals. I’ve always said that education must lead technology, not the other way around. It may be useful to consider ways to present and engage with a topic on a continuum from online at one end to face-to-face on the other. One should also consider synchronous–whether online or in-person–and asynchronous activities.

There were two approaches outlined, one illustrating blended learning as a controlled process and the other as an emergent process. While the former included a helpful list of key ingredients, the latter was described as “making patterns from clouds.” I think, even if you use the first option, you’ll still need to be an agile teacher when the rubber meets the road. Both offered structure, very helpful when teaching in multiple venues/media.

Then there were two case studies, one featuring a nice grid of different considerations for each type of learning:

  • Online Instruction
  • Facilitated Online Instruction
  • Blended Instruction, and
  • Studio-based Instruction

All of this was helpful in understanding blended learning in greater detail. The course is geared toward people planning or preparing to actually offer blended learning courses. I hope I get to share this knowledge I’m gaining with the faculty here. Perhaps a Teaching Circle or faculty lunch seminar presentation. It would also be nice to actually consult and advise on blended course design.

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.

Recent Developments

I’d like to start with a quote:

“a) teaching by telling does not work for most students, b) students who are part of an interactive community are more likely to be successful, and c) knowledge is personal; students enjoy themselves more and develop greater ownership over the material when they are given an opportunity to construct their own understanding.”

~ from the POGIL website. (Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning)

pogil_logo_print

I’m serving on the local OWU steering committee for the recent Mellon grant on digital scholarship, and it’s exciting. We’ve got some great projects firming up.

The OWU Radio Station is getting set to launch under new management and in a new space this semester. I’m working on the CPU now.

And, if all goes well, I’ll launch our own EdTech at OWU and Beyond LibGuide as well. This will be a central hub for educating faculty on developments in instructional technology.

Stay tuned.