Category Archives: online learning

RL? SL? Isn’t It All L?

One of the themes that came out of last week’s online course discussion about Web 2.0 was a sense that if you had an active online life, you didn’t have such an active offline life. Some students indicated that they didn’t spend much time online as they did other things and had other hobbies. They are the kinds of comments that I am already familiar with from others who seem to feel like there is a stark dividing line between the online and offline worlds and also seem to feel a little sorry sometimes for those of us who are online a lot.

I find that to be an artificial division, probably because I am online a lot and I don’t like the idea of being judged for that choice. I assure folks that I also have quite an active offline life that includes singing in a choir and playing in a recorder ensemble, making crafts, cooking, exercising, and reading lots and lots of analog books. And, in almost all cases, the online world informs those offline hobbies. Just last night, I looked on the web for a recording of a Medieval French song that I will be singing with the group to help me with both my pronunciation and rhythm. I belong to a Ning for recorder players that includes members from all over the world. The pattern for the baby sweater I’m crocheting came from the Web and I’ll be sending it to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation whose real life need was advertised on the Web. The digital books I listen to when I exercise come from a variety of sources online and are often chosen based on the recommendations of other readers. I share and discuss my digital and analog reading with both a face to face book group and several at LibraryThing. And Monday evening last I met with a group of educators in Second Life–at the Jamestown Fort meeting house on VSTE Island–to hear from author Elisa Carbone about her real life writing.

My conclusion: My offline life would simply not be as rich without my online life. They complement each other and are inextricably woven together into one life. Perhaps I should feel sorry for those who haven’t found that connection. Or perhaps we can recognize that we all have different ways of living, both online and off, and just leave it at that.

A Different Kind of Tea Party

One of the reasons I love to teach is because I love to learn. During my ed tech class last week, one of my students introduced me to Alice, the programming language, and also talked about Storytelling Alice, the programming language geared towards middle schoolers, particularly girls. I had only a vague knowledge of Alice and none at all of Storytelling Alice. I had hoped to spend some time with both this week, but my own programming got in the way. I also stumbled because Storytelling Alice doesn’t have a Macintosh version. Using it would mean dragging out the Windows machine. But, I ended up doing that anyway since I loaned it to a student so it is up to date and ready to go. So, maybe this weekend…

Meanwhile, in one of those serendipitous events, I got an email today highlighting webinars being sponsored by Georgia Tech that focus on Alice. I was going to email the link to my students but thought there might be a wider audience. Here’s the link to the Tea Party website and the link to the webinar schedule.

Teaching, teaching, teaching

I am teaching three courses this semester. Two are face to face and one is online. I’ve taught the undergraduate face to face course for more than five years. It’s the typical “tech” class that pre-service teachers have always had to take. When I took it some 22 years ago, I learned about using film projectors and got a brief introduction to computers through one class period devoted to logo. Even then, I was hooked, and my final project was created on my Tandy 1000 using a free database program to develop a gradebook.

Fast forward nearly a quarter of a century (how DID I get this old??), and the course covers everything from Inspiration to Google Earth to Quest Atlantis. In more recent semesters, I’ve designed the course around the concept of TPACK–Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge–to help students see the relationship of technology to the other areas of their learning. I like the course and enjoy spending time with 20-somethings who are excited about becoming teachers. I haven’t met with this year’s group yet. Monday is our first class. The section I teach focuses on elementary education and this semester I have several men in the course, which is unusual.

The two other courses–both graduate and both focusing on educational technology–are new to me. One is online and one is face to face. I developed the syllabus for the latter. The former has already been developed and I am working as a facilitator. But, the real difference I’ve discovered is how quickly I can bond with the students. I met with my face to face class last night, and I already love it. I knew some of the participants prior to the class so we settled in pretty well. And for the few I didn’t know, I already feel like I have a sense of how we will work together.

Even though the online course started a day earlier, I still don’t have much of a sense of the students. A few of them have posted to the discussion forums, but none have posted their pictures yet nor completed the audio assignment. So, I have no idea what they look or sound like! I’ve got names and email addresses and that’s it. I’ve been checking in several times a day to see what’s happening and am disappointed when there are no new posts for me to review. It is going to be a slow process and I am eager for Monday morning to come so I’ll at least know what they look like, well that is if they actually post pictures of themselves. The course creator gave them the option of posting any picture and I thought about changing that but didn’t want to immediately go in and start rearranging. So, I’m hoping most of them choose to post their own pictures rather than Marge Simpson or a sports team logo. That tells me something about them, certainly, but doesn’t help me really visualize them.

It promises to be an interesting semester! My face to face grad course participants will be keeping blogs and I’ll be posting more here as well to keep up with them.

VSTE Webinar: Quest Atlantis

Mark Your Calendars: The VSTE Webinar for January will be held Thursday, January 28, at 7:30 PM. We’ll be taking advantage of Learn Central‘s free Elluminate access. Mary Ellen Davis and Linda Carpenter from Virginia Beach will be reprising their excellent VSTE presentation about this online virtual problem solving tool for students. Come join us for an inspiring, interactive meeting. Here’s the URL for the announcement: You can register to let us know how many to expect but you can also just stop by.

This webinar is sponsored by the Education and Programs Committee of the VSTE Board of Directors.

It’s Really An Environmental Problem, Isn’t It?

As I read Will Richardson’s response to Jay Mathews’ Washington Post articles related to 21st century skills, I had a lightbulb moment (compact flourescent, of course).  Here’s the quote that flipped the switch for me in terms of some of the cognitive dissonance I’ve been experiencing lately:

But this new potential to learn easily and deeply in environments that are not bounded by physical space or scheduled time constraints requires us as educators to take a hard look at how we are helping our students realize the potentials of those opportunities.

Will isn’t talking about student skills or literacy; he is talking about school infrastructure, both the bricks and mortar and clocks infrastructure and the curricular infrastructure.  It’s not as sexy as thinking about kids, but it is becoming the 800-pound gorilla in the room.  We just can’t take advantage of the kind of social networking possibilities that Will envisions within the current environment.   It’s something that Tim Stahmer writes about a lot, how silly it is that for all our connectedness and new understandings about learning, we continue to believe that kids only learn from 8 to 3 in the fall, winter and spring months, they all learn at the same pace and generally in the same way, and everything that’s important to learn can be tested through a multiple-choice test.  It’s also something that Tim suggested recently is nigh upon impossible to change.

If there is a more challenging educational paradigm than the organization of school, I don’t know what it is.  The physical/temporal structure seems to be part of the fabric of America and thus restructuring the school schedule seems to be the most resistant of reforms. There are glimmers of changes on the horizon, mostly wrapped around distance learning which, not surprising to this sometimes cynic, are being implemented to save money rather than in the much loftier interest of helping students engage with the community through social media tools.  They seem to tend to be online versions of face-to-face classrooms, primarily interested in delivering content related to the state standards. So while the format makes it easier to access education, it does not allow for the kind of passion-based, networked learning that Will is really envisioning.

For that to occur, there is a more pressing issue to deal with. High stakes, standardized testing is fast becoming as entrenched as the school schedule in the infrastructure of our national educational system, and I’m convinced it is the biggest problem we face in making any significant changes to curriculum and pedagogy in the schools.  In my state, teaching is all about clearly defined state-provided content.  Certainly there are some process standards but there is defined “essential knowledge,” mostly factual that will form the core of the test so teachers feel responsible for making sure students see all of it before the test in May.  Everyone single teacher I’ve talked to recently has said something to the effect that they know they aren’t supposed to teach to the test, but they also know that someone is going to talk with them if their scores go down to any significant degree and they certainly have to clearly identify which standard they are addressing every single day.  They get very little personal learning time, and they definitely don’t get an experimental year to try out new things.

I can’t help wondering what would happen if we just took a hiatus from the tests.  One year in the life of a classroom teacher and her students without the bubble sheet looming on the horizon.  Teachers would still teach the same subject (we won’t get too radical here), but they wouldn’t have to worry about covering every detail and could allow individual student interest to drive the learning.  So, without that accountability, would teachers everywhere just kick off their shoes and show movies the whole year?  I really don’t think so.  Instead, I think that given the opportunity, they would rediscover their own passion for the content that would lead them to an openness to new technologies and pedagogies that would support student engagement.

Since this is an imaginary scenario, I’ll also add that all teachers would have ongoing  job embedded professional development, technical and pedagogical support and adequate access to technological resources including the web, in short, if we  treated them like professionals.  Will got it right when he described teachers as “suffocating in paper, policies and processes that prevent them from exploring the potential of online networked learning spaces.”

To conclude, here’s the original quote from Will:

But this new potential to learn easily and deeply in environments that are not bounded by physical space or scheduled time constraints requires us as educators to take a hard look at how we are helping our students realize the potentials of those opportunities.

He doesn’t define educators, but I immediately thought of a subset of the citizenry engaged in educational pursuits.  I would suggest this call needs to be extended to the community as a whole.  Infrastructure issues, whether physical, temporal, or curricular, are often not controlled by educators.  Instead, they originated with policymakers and legislators who are influenced by the opinions of many people, not just educators, and often make decisions for budgetary or political, rather than instructional, reasons.

It may be that we are living in an age of incommensurate paradigms. You simply can’t implement the kind of education Will describes within the confines of the prevailing paradigm.  Tinkering won’t do it this time.  Blaming teachers won’t do it either.  This is more than just adding some stuff to the curriculum called 21st century skills but a chance to really think about what Neil Postman called the “end” of education.  Everybody seems to want to have a national dialog: here’s a good starting point for the one about education.