You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘learning’ tag.

These are my notes from the Wednesday, October 29th EDUCAUSE 2008 session, “The 2008 Campus Computing Survey,” presented by Casey Green, Founding Director, The Campus Computing Project.

Although I know I can just purchase and read the report, I go to this session every year because I respect the Campus Computing Project and I love hearing things from the horse’s mouth. Casey opened the session by admonishing those in the audience who had not responded to the survey this year, telling them that they were, “skating on other people’s data.” Apparently, the N was down a bit. You can review the executive summary online.

At the end of the session, Casey listed some defining issues and one really stuck with me. He asked why, after all these years and given that new faculty are not the digital Luddites of yesteryear, do they not do more with technology? Why is it still such a struggle? I love this question. It should be on the survey! If you ask IT professionals, you might get responses such as,”Faculty are afraid, slow, lazy…[insert nasty personality characteristic here].” If you ask faculty, they will tell you, “We don’t have the time, support, tools, classrooms…[insert nasty environmental characteristic here].” This tendency to over attribute the behavior of others to their disposition and our own behavior to our situation is called the actor-observer bias and it’s a common mistake. So what’s the unbiased truth? I don’t know for certain, but the answer is certainly knowable. Here are some random ideas:

  • Each year, ECAR conducts a survey of students and their experiences with IT. I think it would be great if a similar faculty survey could be conducted annually. Given that the actor-observer bias will skew faculty self-report toward situational explanations, we can’t rely on survey data alone. Multiple methods will need to be used, including unobtrusive and indirect measures.
  • If you look at the 2008 ECAR student survey data, 44% of student respondents indicated that “Most” or “Almost All” of their instructors used IT effectively in their classes. Unfortunately, the same question was not asked last year. However, when asked to rate their agreement with a similar statement in 2007, “Overall, instructors use IT well in my courses,” 58% of students agreed or strongly agreed. What’s going on here? Are faculty becoming less proficient? Are students expecting more? These sorts of questions provide valuable insight into instructional practices. I think the ECAR student survey should ask more focused questions about the effectiveness of faculty use of specific academic tools (e.g., within a course management system).
  • Casey lamented in his presentation that we know how many schools are using course management systems, but we don’t know what they are doing with them. Are faculty simply posting their syllabi or is breadth and depth of use increasing? Is anyone measuring this well (e.g., either directly or by mining CMS data)? If so or if you are interested in developing something together, please contact me (kgraetz@winona.edu)!

Ken

Advertisements

These are my notes from the Wednesday, October 29th EDUCAUSE 2008 session, “The Global Classroom: Integrated Approaches to Sustainable Development Practice,” presented by Rob Garfield, Educational Technologist, Columbia University.

Columbia’s Center for New Media Teaching and Learning helped develop a 14-week, Masters-level, online course called, “Integrated Approaches to Sustainable Development Practice.” Rob took us through the extensive instructional design and infrastructure development/selection process that allowed them to deliver the course in 13 countries. The course went through several iterations, each building on the one before it. It was interesting to see the evolution of the course as designers, instructors, and students coped with the challenges of global delivery. They used Adobe Connect with great success. They also developed a shared content repository and a local group project with shared outcomes. The degree to which the final model emphasized collaboration was impressive.

Unlike many other program and course development efforts, there was never any doubt pedagogically why this program had to be online. It struck me that the main reason this was successful was because the need for a global program on sustainable development was so great that designers, teachers, and students were willing to fight through the technical progression from “shovel-ware” (i.e., online video lectures) to a unique, active, and collaborative learning experience. In this sense, the designers were employing a learner-centered process to essentially catch up technically with teachers and learners who were motivated to make something happen immediately.

I think this is an ideal situation. All too often, we are the ones saying, “Look, we are providing you with this expensive technology and we need you to use it. Can you help us?” I much prefer a model where faculty and students come to us and ask, “Look, we have this great opportunity and we want to take a whack at it. Can you help us?” At WSU, the eLearning Department is involved in good examples of both. Our interinstitutional work with Biology on a Clinical Lab Science online program is a great example of the latter. The general pressure being applied to increase laptop use in class as a way of justifying our laptop program is an example of the former.

I guess it will always be thus, but I do think success is much more likely when faculty and students are driving and we just clear the road, fix the car, and give directions.

Ken

These are my notes from the Wednesday, October 29th EDUCAUSE 2008 lunch discussion, “Learning Space Design,” hosted by Richard Holeton, Associate Director, Academic Computing; Head of Student Computing, Stanford University and Phillip D. Long, Prof. of Innovation & Visiting Research Scientist, MIT.

These lunch meetings of constituency groups were a great idea. As much as I like eating lunch with friends and taking a break from sessions, this was a great opportunity to meet new friends and continue processing in an informal setting. There were about 100 people in the room. Ironically, the room was way too small and there was no technology, but we made the most of it.

Richard and Phil asked us to discuss topics that had been placed on our tables and then report out. I was seated at the Planning and Management table with some great folks from a range of institutions from around the world. Most of us were directors or administrators charged with facilitating learning space decision making and supporting faculty. Here are some things that stuck with me:

  • We all had tales of disconnects among executive visioning, facilities planning, and pedagogy. We agreed that this has led to the continued use of inferior teaching methods. In some cases, faculty, departments, and colleges are changing pedagogy and vacating existing facilities in favor of group-friendly spaces, informal settings, and virtual environments. One person described large lecture halls at her institution as now empty except for the occasional campus event. Both of these outcomes are undesirable and reflect the urgent need for a more enlightened approach to facilities planning.
  • I asked whether anyone knew of a school that had this planning-pedagogy connection right. Rio Salado College was offered as an example, which surprised me a bit given its strength as an online provider. Clearly, online and virtual spaces must be considered in this discussion right alongside brick-and-mortar spaces. Perhaps online institutions that are not as bogged down by the old politics of physical space can spend more time and energy focusing on the actual needs of teachers and learners.
  • There were mixed reports about classroom technology standardization. Most agreed that it was difficult to implement in their current organizations. Some were decentralized and others simply had difficulty getting consensus on what standards to use.
  • We talked a bit about creating experimental spaces for faculty where good tools and practices could be developed, refined, and rolled out to campus. WSU is building such a space in its new faculty-staff development center. I spoke with Derek Bruff from Vanderbilt who is also developing experimental spaces. I was a bit surprised that others at the table thought their institutions would not support such an idea. How can we know what to adopt if we don’t try it first? How can we expect faculty to change their approach if we don’t provide them with safe ways to explore? The best ideas for using learning spaces are not going to come from us; they will continue to come from students and faculty.

Ken

These are my notes from the Wednesday, October 29th EDUCAUSE 2008 session, “Creating Applications for Converged Devices Like the iPhone: Start with a Vision,” presented by Hab Adkins, Manager of Programming and Support, and James Langford, Director of Web Integration and Programming, Abilene Christian University.

As an iPhone user and mobile computing fanatic, I wanted to hear how the ACU iPhone/iTouch deployment was going. This was a fantastic presentation, one of the more exciting of the conference for me. James started by saying that their ACU Mobile initiative was driven by academics, not simply the “coolness factor” of the iPhone. The development work prior to the fall 2008 launch could not utilize the SDK just released by Apple, so the developers used Apple dashcode to create web apps. When asked if they would use the SDK to migrate to native apps, Hab said they were looking into it and that some of the apps might benefit.

They reviewed a number of their applications:

  • Student profiles, including photo submission. Instructors see class rosters with photos and can launch a game that helps them learn students’ names, matching names with faces. They developed anĀ  attendance tool using student photos and class rosters. Instructors see a graphic summary of attendance information at-a-glance and can identify at-risk students quickly.
  • Personalized Google Calendar feed and information about campus events. They have also established a Google Calendar for every course.
  • Point-to-point campus directions. A student developed the algorithm for finding the shortest distance, a great example of involving students in development.
  • Connection to Xythos that allows students to access personal and course-related files and deposit files into Xythos folders.
  • NANO (no advanced notice) polling tools. This was brilliant. We used one of the tools during the presentation. Polling results for multiple choice questions with one-word response options can be displayed as a tag cloud, where the size of the word indicates the number of times it was selected.
  • All services are also available via laptop/desktop from the ACU portal.

My main take away from this session was, if you want to know how to do this right, talk to ACU. Their vision was solid and aligned with campus strategic goals, their development work was inspired, and they accomplished a great deal in a short time.

After the session, I thought about the following:

  • Those of us with laptop mandates know that the portable media player, data storage, communication, and web functions provided by the iPhone are nothing new. However, we have struggled for years to integrate laptops into classrooms ill-suited for their use. We wrestle with weight, power, and other issues that discourage laptop mobility. Is the iPhone a device that competes with a laptop or are we reaching a point where both devices serve different, but symbiotic, academic functions?
  • ACU’s NANO tools illustrate the potential of the iPhone to engage students in class and the value of the iPhone as a media player is obvious. However, the benefits of the Xythos connection and accessing full-page content not intended for a handheld are not as clear. Apple designed the iPhone to provide access to full web pages and other documents, not mobile versions of them. Users then zoom in on the areas of the page they want to review. I think the jury is still out on whether this is a better user experience than accessing “moblized” verions of the same content.
  • I think ACU’s student profile, face-to-name game, and class attendance apps are absolutely fantastic and just scratch the surface of what’s possible in terms of using iPhone-like devices to improve student-faculty interactions both in and out of the classroom. If I am sitting in the cafeteria and I see a former student at the next table whose name I don’t recall, wouldn’t it be great if I could look that up on my iPhone and greet the student by name? Those are the things that students appreciate and remember.

Ken

These are my notes from the Wednesday, October 29th EDUCAUSE 2008 session, “Teaching and Learning in Two New Smart Classrooms: Research Findings on the Pedagogical Implications of Space Design,” presented by Ann Hill Duin, Associate Vice President & Associate CIO, Linda Jorn, Digital Media Center Director, and Aimee Whiteside, Research and Evaluation Consultant, Digital Media Center, all from the University of Minnesota.

The Digital Media Center assessed the effectiveness of two Active Learning Classrooms at the University of Minnesota. The rooms accommodate 117 and 45 students and include:

  • Large, circular tables
  • Multiple, 3-person, shared, switchable displays at each table (each table can accommodate 9 students)
  • The ability for instructors to display any shared student display on a front screen and push content to student displays
  • Other collaborative accouterments (e.g., glass whiteboards)

Research questions related to faculty attitudes and expectations, student perceptions, teaching and learning strategies, and the impact of the physical features of the room. Multiple methods were used to gather the data, including instructor interviews, student and instructor surveys, student focus groups, and over 30 classroom observations.

Attitudes and perceptions of both students and instructors were uniformly positive and teaching in the room changed student-faculty and student-student relationships (e.g., more contact, more familiarity, greater level of comfort). Instructors reported that the environment supported their transition to a facilitator role and their willingness to redesign their courses around collaborative learning and teamwork. Challenges included training instructors to use the capabilities of the room “on the fly” and human factors issues (e.g., pillars obstructing lines of sight). None of the challenges were major obstacles and neither students nor instructors wanted to return to a traditional classroom at the end of the term.

My favorite finding came from the student open-ended responses. Students indicated that they felt more appreciated and engaged when meeting in the active learning classrooms. This relates to a psychological variable that we rarely measure directly: place attachment. As a former student and faculty member, I know how demoralizing it can be to walk into a large lecture hall where it is immediately apparent that the top priority in designing the space was not teaching or learning, but money. I think it benefits institutions when students and instructors feel attached to learning spaces. Unfortunately, we actively discourage the personalization and customization that would lead to stronger attachment when designing and assigning classrooms. Our focus on standardization and other practices that are blind to the preferred pedagogy of specific instructors, departments, and colleges turn classrooms into all-purpose conference rooms and faculty and students into visitors.

We were reminded in the general session this morning that complexity can be managed using good models and methods. Room planning and assignment are complex processes, but aligning them more closely with pedagogical needs and goals is certainly not an impossible task. What seems to be missing is an appreciation on the part of facilities planners and campus administrators of the value this might add in terms of not only improved learning outcomes, but stronger place attachment. The exciting work by the University of Minnesota is a great example of how departments charged with managing learning spaces might begin to help the institution gain this understanding and change their ways.

Ken

These are my notes from the Wednesday, October 29th EDUCAUSE 2008 general session with V.S. Ramachandran, Professor and Director of the Center for Brain and Cognition from UC San Diego, on The Unique Human Brain: Clues from Neurology.” This session worked for me and was a pleasantly surprising choice by the conference planning committee. Normally, you get a keynote speaker who is one of the following:

  • A celebrity who can tell a good story and make the audience laugh
  • A technologist who can give a good history lesson and make the audience proud
  • A politician who can sound the alarm and make the audience anxious

Ramachandran did none of these things, although he did have some funny bits (e.g., “How can Bush believe in intelligent design when he is a walking contradiction of the theory?”). Instead, he spent a good 45 minutes describing several of his research programs in cognitive neuroscience. This was a brilliant professor delivering a solid lecture that would have been right at home in an undergraduate psychology course.

The content was relevant in a subtle, but powerful way. If you consider the number of neurons in the brain, the number of connections those neurons make with one another, and the fact that each connection can be one of several types (e.g., exitatory, inhibitory), the number of possible brain states may exceed the number of particles in the known universe. How would you use a model of this complex system to explain prosopagnosia or face blindness, where the afflicted can’t recognize other people, even family members, by looking at their faces, yet have no difficulty recognizing their voices? How would you explain why amputees feel cramps or movement in their “phantom” limbs? Long story short, Ramachandran and his colleagues have made great progress in answering these questions using the scientific method, reliable measurement tools, and a good working model of the human brain. They have developed elegant explanations and have tested their hypotheses. Armed with those findings, they have devised practical solutions (e.g., therapies for amputees that can help relieve phantom limb pain). Basically, they have been good researchers.

Are we good researchers? I think we are good engineers, but we could improve as researchers by:

  • Using theoretical models. We tend to apply the “whatever works” principle without identifying the formal models or theories that can explain our results. We often use the term “model” not in the theoretical sense, but to describe techniques or solutions, many of which we discovered either by accident or guided by personal expectations about what should work (i.e., naive theories).
  • Better understanding the principles of measurement. Our understanding of measurement and research methods needs improvement. This will lead to better measurement tools and better tests of our formal theories. Anyone can create a questionnaire, but is it a valid and reliable indicator of the variable of interest? How do you know?

I also appreciated the fact that Professor Ramachandran delivered a traditional lecture, albeit with PowerPoint slides, to a very large classroom of IT professionals and he did not pull any punches. He used words like “sagittal” and “gyrus.” As I looked around the room I recognized the classic “Crap! I didn’t read the chapter.” and “Is this going to be on the test?” looks on some faces. On others, I saw the, “Is he kidding me with this? What does this have to do with anything?” look. We could all benefit from auditing some classes on our campuses taught by master teachers. Ramachandran reminded us who’s in charge and why faculty deserve our respect.

Ken