Friday, March 11, 2011

Teachers, Technology and Education

Higher education poses a challenge when it comes to the integration of technology in the classroom.  Pre-technology, and even the Internet, colleagues could visit a classroom and see what was going on.  Not to say this happened often, but it was an option.  As course content and management moves online, a lot of this access is going away.

One of the downfalls of course management systems is that is goes against the openess of the Internet.  The classroom is now locked behind passwords and firewalls.   I remember posting my syllabus and all class related materials on the Internet  . . . It not only gave my students access, but opened the class up to the world. To this day, I still get correspondences from faculty and students from far and wide who had an interest in the material.  Now, nearly ten years later, I don't hear much from my colleagues, except for Facebook or what I share in online collaboration tools like scribd or slideshare.

What I do know is that technology used in the classroom should be preceded by inspiration and aspiration, not imitation. Good idea precedes good technology. Though imitation is still better than nothing at all. To invoke Gandhi’s maxim, "First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win."   So imitation is slightly better than ridicule.

I don’t think the ‘fight’ happens until technology training becomes less ‘suggestive’ and more ‘prescriptive’. When institutions begPublish Postin to set minimal guidelines for technology use. In some ways, universal design for learning standards and the accompanying online recommendations have created a de facto standard. Additionally, emerging online certification bodies and organizations such as Quality Matters, ISTE and AACE have aided in the process.  

But getting back to mimicry… in most cases, its harmless. However with technology, I’ve seen a few bitter consequences:

1. Monochrome Technology: Listless presentations, bulletized lists… on every slide, lack of multimedia, basically using the computer like its 1999. Taking the creativity out of learning turns students into human highlighters. The challenge of wrestling with ideas or debating with others is gone. This, even as the Economic Policy Institute investigates the phenomena of grade inflation in Lessons—Doubling of A’s at Harvard: Grade Inflation or Brains?

2. Technology for Convenience: Having heard other professors hold class online, slap up a discussion board and a few powerpoints and we have an online class too! I don’t think this is doing much to change the fact that students aren’t studying to begin with. (read Boston Globe article)

3. Non-participative technology: Collaboration is one of the most important 21st century skills. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most difficult to mimic. Therefore it often gets left behind. In the most recent National Survey for Student Engagement (given to 31,000 students and 12,000 faculty), they report:

Students and faculty most often use these technologies for:
• Postings of announcements, assignments, or course readings
• Online lecture notes/slides
• Posting grades

Students and faculty least often use them for:
• Videoconferencing or Internet phone chat
• Video games, simulations, or virtual worlds
• Blogs

Technologies which push content to students are favored (used in greater numbers) over those which have greater interactivity.

4. One way Technologies: Continuous feedback between student and instructor is key to online learning. A quick Google search provides plenty of references. The March issue of the Journal of Online Learning and Teaching has a few articles on this connection. Providing feedback online, whether leaving comments on electronically submitted assignments, using journals to maintain a dialogue with students, or maintaining a blog to keep a line of communication with students. 

In their book, "Blended Learning in Higher Education" the authors, Vaughan and Garrison discuss the Communities of Inquiry model. They discuss the importance of social presence in online learning, one way technologies don’t promote social learning.  

Community of Inquiry Framework, from Blended Learning in Higher Education.
This is a tough one as most people teach the way they were taught, and unless you're a prodigy, computers probably weren't a big part of that process.  

A recent NYT article speaks to the missing 'third dimension' in online courses.  It's not going to happen overnight.  The challenge is difficult, but as educators, we have no choice.  It's highly unlikely students are going to start using computers less, just because we did.  I know change can take time, exactly the entity that is in short supply.

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