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Thoughts on Teaching in a Pandemic – The Students – 05/18/2020

My last post was a general reflection on my teaching during a pandemic. It was on my own experience and how it affected me. Today, I want to talk about how my students responded to the changes that came this semester.

  • As I noted in my last post, the online students’ experience didn’t change a huge amount, but really the experiences of both the online and hybrid students did change.
    • The majority of students expressed a feeling of overwhelm and anxiety to me with the switch. For a lot of the hybrid students, they were taking hybrid because they did not want an online class, but they said that since the class did not change significantly that it was not a major issue.
    • For my classes, the fact that we lost a week and had to make things up pushed assignments closer together.
    • As well, while I do think students often take Spring Break to do some catch up in their classes in a normal semester, we extended the Spring Break by a week this year. This 2-week Spring Break was very unproductive for them because of how the world was overturned. Not only that, but it also took longer for them to get back into working on classes at the level they had previously.
      • So, even though I moved some assignments to extra credit rather than required and moved the exam to a take-home, there still was a feeling that they were doing more than usual in my class each week.
    • However, while many said they were working more for my class, almost all who were in multiple classes said that their workloads for school had gone up even more for other classes. I heard many say that the result of changing online out of face-to-face classes was that the expectations and workload seemed to go up dramatically. I have no insight beyond that, as few said why that changed happened and I did not want to pry into what other faculty were doing, but the universal feeling was that classes that were face-to-face that went online got both more demanding and more difficult to complete.
        • Here is what one student said: “I got really behind this last unit, having more than one online class (since they all got put online) has been really hard to keep up with all the work. And effectively giving each class time in your day is very challenging, So with that being said, I did not participate in this discussion forum. I hope no one else is in the same boat and struggling to stay a float with all their classes being online! I miss face-to-face classes so much. A lot of my classes are 10 times the work online. Finish Strong!”
    • A majority of students reported difficulties in prioritizing school work.
      • For some it was because they were now working more because they are essential workers or now had time off to add hours to their jobs.
        • As one online student put it: “I personally have 2 classes online including this one, but besides having these classes I have been working almost every day including weekends now because I have more responsibility for my projects. the quarantine didn’t stop the company I am working for because of the nature of what we do. However, I have been feeling like I am not productive enough and so I started to do some online courses, reading new books and also I started to do the extra credit assignment. So far I have tried to keep a daily schedule to keep up.”
      • For others, the loss of jobs meant that they now had financial strains that impacted their ability to do their work for classes.
        • I did not keep track of everyone who reported this, but I had a number of students tell me that either they had lost work or that people in their families had lost work.
    • What I heard the most, however, was that the isolation was quite intense for the younger students who were now stuck at home with their families, especially those who relied on leaving the house to get work done because of chaotic home environments.
      • For those who are older and have kids, they had the same experience that I have had – namely that I am now educating my kids and/or trying to keep them focused and entertained. We are now at home all the time, fixing way more meals at home, and having to run all sorts of educational and Zoom sessions for my kids. Those with kids noted that the shift to having kids at home and having to educate/monitor them was a primary distraction to getting real work done.
      • As one online student put it: “Hello! I hope everyone has been staying safe and healthy as we are coming to the end of the semester! Summer is almost here and thankfully this week most states are gradually opening back up again so hello sun! These past few weeks have been crazy at home though I haven’t been working from there…So while having a family at home while I was working a bit more than usual school seems like a lot as all of my classes are coming to an end. This class has been great I have been working hard in this unit 5 I am actually almost done with it!!! I think the most stressful part about this class at the moment is the Final paper only because all of my other classes have a final paper due the week too. Anyways I hope everyone is doing great any comments about unit 5 or the paper please leave I’m interested to know where others are at the moment in the course.”

Those are just some of my thoughts about how the students have reacted to the situation in my own experience. For those of you who are teaching or for those taking classes, what was your experience?


Thoughts on Teaching in a Pandemic – 05/14/2020

We have come to the end of our semester of craziness. The breaking of COVID-19 and the push to abrupt remote teaching at Spring Break made this a semester like no other. I was luckily more able to make the transition than many, as 3/5 of my sections were already online. The other two sections were my hybrid sections, and those are already about 2/3 online in the way that I teach them. Thus, for me, the personal transition was not as hard as it was for many.

There were still some challenges, for sure.

  • My three online sections were still somewhat impacted, as the extended Spring Break moved their assignments back a week and that pushed closer together a lot of the assignments for the last part of the class. It also grouped together my grading more and made it to where I did not have as much time to get comments back to students on their thesis and outline so they could work with them on the final paper.
  • As I noted above, the hybrid classes were already about 2/3 online. It was, however, one of the most important components, the face-to-face discussions, that got dropped. To make up for that, I substituted online discussions each week and a weekly optional Zoom session. These went reasonably well. I don’t think it went nearly as well as if we had been in class, but it was at least acceptable. The big thing that I noted was that I did not have nearly as much time to devote to participating with them, as the pushing together of assignments that I noted with the online class happened here as well. I was grading more, and because of that, I was doing less other things in the class. There is another reason as well, that I will put in the third note here.
  • The thing I spent an unusual amount of time on is the helping of others in the department and keeping up with both the changes and trends in higher education broadly and with COVID-19 in specific. My energy level and attention level were drained by both of these, and that also contributed to me not interacting as much in discussions with my students. I still did all of my Zoom sessions, held my online office hours, and answered student questions in a timely manner. I would even say that I got things graded faster than I would normally at the end of the semester. But I definitely participated less in discussion forums, both with my online and hybrid students. In fact, in grading them in the last couple of days, I see that I missed a number of places that I might have responded, either with information or with prompting questions to get them to go further.

Working on all of this from home was also a challenge, of course. While working from home did take out many expenses in time and gas for travel, sitting at the office, and eating meals/snacks there, there were also costs to being at home. I have four kids, two in college, one in high school, and one in elementary school. Everybody was home (and still are) since the start of Spring Break. The three older kids have had their work to do, but they are relatively self-sufficient with their work. We are, however, full-time teaching our 7-year-old. Her Montessori school has been sending home packets to complete, and they are keeping us busy.

Being at home all the time is not a big problem for my own work load, since so much of it was online already. But it still was quite different from the norm. How has everyone else’s experience been? For those of you who teach, what was the impact on your teaching?

I will be back for a couple of more of these as I reflect on the semester and start preparing for the next one, whatever it might bring.

Thoughts on Education – 4/29/2012 – Technology in the classroom – iPads and more

I have been saving up quite a few articles over my inactive time the last month or so, and today I want to turn to a couple that address technology in the classroom.  Technology is often presented as the cure-all for education, and I will admit as much guilt as far as this goes as anyone else.  I am always out looking for the new piece of technology (although often I can’t afford it), and I will often then sit down and think about how I could use it in the classroom.  Unfortunately, a lot of what I would like to do with technology, namely engage the students more directly, would be difficult without all of the students having the same access to the same technology.  This can be fixed through things like classroom sets of technology instruments, but that is an inelegant solution at best.

We have done several of those things at my community college in the past and present.  A couple of years ago, we acquired a couple of sets of clickers, when that was seen as the latest tool for attracting student interest.  We also had a push for getting online classes to think about using Second Life for a short period of time.  Both of those technologies seemed limited and untried at the time, and I never found any interest in adopting them.  Neither went far at the college, although I do think we have a couple of people still using clickers, and we do teach some of our gaming in Second Life.  The question of the day on this topic is, of course, iPads.  They are the latest thing, and I am part of a faculty workgroup that has gotten iPads as a test piece for our own educational use as well as overseeing the deployment and use of classroom sets of iPads.  The question will be if this is another short-spike-of-interest device or if it has a long shelf life in education.

The latter option is reflected in this article, titled “How the iPad is Changing Education.”  Although the article is more speculative than directly tied to evidence (probably because of the short time these devices have been really available), the article does point to some increase in learning and success among students using iPads.  Of more interest is this point:  “In the meantime, the devices make a great tool for self-directed, independent learning. There’s no shortage of one-off educational apps on any given subject, from American History to advanced biology.”  Of course, this requires engaged students, and use outside of a classroom set (or time set aside in class to use the iPads for this purpose).  Still, that is certainly what I have found as I have looked around for possible apps for use in the classroom myself.  I can find dozens of whiteboard and projection apps, but the actual learning apps for the classroom are scarce.  However, from teaching American history, I can certainly vouch for the number of American history apps out there, most of them informative and of very uneven quality.  Few have much in the way of classroom application, although I have found a few.  So, the iPad, as it stands right now is much more an information-retreival device than an active-use device in the classroom.  As the article notes at the end, the real strength of the iPad for classroom use comes in the ability to make your own books and access iTunes U.  As those areas develop more, there might be some possible in-class uses for them, but they still remain mostly passive presenters of information.  I’ll be curious when the first truly in-class, adaptive, learning app comes along.  Has anyone found one yet?

As this article notes, the issue is also not just what you can access through a device like the iPad, but also how the iPad is used.  If it is used, as I noted above, as a substitute textbook, then that’s all it is.  The students will ignore it just as they ignore the current textbooks today.  This is my greatest fear of our adoption, that we will not find enough content out there and not have enough time ourselves to develop new, and the iPads will end as just a fancy way to access content, leaving it relatively unnecessary.  It will then be a neat trick, and not much more.  This article comes back to the whiteboard idea again.  We will have a new academic building where our iPads are going to key into Apple TVs in the room and hopefully be able to interact with smart boards.  I might get more use out of the iPad as a teaching tool, and whiteboarding might be a good way to get students working with each other.  We shall see.

However, without the new building, I have been struggling to figure out how to use this new technology in the classroom.  That’s why this title caught my attention – “Five Ways to Bring High-Tech Ideas into Low-Tech Classrooms”  These ideas are interesting enough to detail a bit here:

  • Put the Facebook page on paper – Start up something that the students can use as a reading log or something like that.  Basically, it’s a way to create a live blog of material going on in the classroom and outside.  The students can see each other’s blogs and like them.  Status updates, posting of pictures, linking, etc. can all take place.  This is the most promising use of the iPad in the classroom that I have come across, as a platform to extend what is going on outside of class into the classroom as well.
  • Build a classroom search engine – less interesting to me because I tried this before.  I started using wikis to create a classroom definition bank starting about 4 years ago.  I never was able to use it with any real success, but it might be useful someday for something like this.
  • Tweet to Learn – OK.  I don’t use Twitter.  I probably should, but I don’t.  Why should I?  You tell me how it could be useful in a classroom situation.
  • Encourage students to “chat” – an in-class chatroom is something I’ve been toying with for a while.  Maybe this coming semester, as part of my broader changes.
  • Talk the Text Talk – OK.  No.  Not going to do this, especially not in college

Anyway, I thought those ideas were interesting enough as part of what we could all be doing more of.  I’m also getting a bit more desperate about how I’m going to use the iPads in the classroom.  The college has spent quite a bit of money to get me one and have several classroom sets.  I’m just afraid I don’t know what to do with them, and so I’m trying to think about it more and more.

As a side note, I start the final grading push for the semester tomorrow, so I may not be very regular here for a while.  We close on our house this Friday as well, so that will also bring a whole new set of obligations.

Thoughts on Education – 3/9/2012 – Using technology in the classroom

I’m going to try and get back to some of the education issues that have been coming through my Evernote lately.  I’ve got quite a backlog over the last couple of weeks while I have been grading, so I should have plenty to write about over the next week or so.  Today, I want to concentrate in on the general category of technology in the classroom, as I have been accumulating quite a bit on that recently.  Of course, the recent Apple announcements and developments are relevant to this as well.

I’m going to start here, with a general article about what teachers think in general about the use of technology.  As the article itself says, the results are not particularly surprising, but I will put up the general infographic here, as it illustrates what I think is not too far off from what I see, especially among the younger faculty.

I hope that you can click on that to make it bigger, but the basic message here is that the majority of teachers surveyed thought that technology in the classroom would help both the learning of the students and their engagement with the material.  In fact, the two questions that refer back to the older “technology,” namely textbooks, got the lowest Agree responses and the highest Disagree responses.  Again, I don’t think there is anything surprising at all about this, but I wanted to start here.

In a similar vein is this article from The Washington Post, which discusses how textbooks are failing to engage our students and help them learn.  He notes that textbooks are not effective at engaging students because that is not what sells textbooks.  We don’t choose a textbook (me included) because I think it is going to be some sort of magical panacea to solve all of the problems for my students.  Instead, at least in history, we look at them primarily in terms of coverage.  Which textbook covers the material we want to cover is more important than which textbook students will like.  In fact, I have often found that if you talk to a group of instructors about choosing textbooks, the textbook that is most likely to be appealing to students is often dismissed out of hand as not being what works for us as instructors.  So, there is a fundamental disconnect there.  My feeling about this is echoed in the article as well, where one teacher is quoted as saying, “Even when adoption committees include content specialists, these people typically evaluate the accuracy of the content, rather than whether the instructional strategies are effective.”  In fact, the author quotes another educational administrator, who noted, “The educational community was quick to respond to the (legitimate) criticism of textbooks but quicker still to adopt their horrific replacements: excessive use of lecture, worksheets, movies, poster making, and pointless group work.”  We are flailing around as far as I can see.  I feel like that myself, where I am just trying so many different things all the time without ever knowing what I’m doing.  That’s why I’m doing this, so that instead of trying new things at random, I am trying to plan things out.  Anyway, there’s a lot more to this article, and I do recommend it as very interesting reading when we think about how the old technology options are failing us.

And, when I read this article from the Chronicle, I saw myself and how I use technology a lot of times.  Unfortunately, I don’t mean that in a good way.  As it says, in online courses, especially at the community college level, “the professors are relying on static course materials that aren’t likely to motivate students or encourage them to interact with each other.”  While I get a lot of compliments from students about the way my course is organized, I know that I use few real tools, and I certainly do not effectively encourage interaction in my classes.  The article goes on to talk about a study where the results came from.  That study concluded:  “It found that most professors relied on text-based assignments and materials. In the instances when professors did decide to use interactive tools like online video, many of those technologies were not connected to learning objectives, the study found.”  I certainly would say mine fits this completely.  My course, is completely text-based.  There is little to no video or interaction in my own materials.  I have adopted some from McGraw-Hill that I use in conjunction with my textbook, but that is actually in a completely separate classroom from my own in Moodle.  While the article does note that technology is again not a panacea to solve all of these problems, I think that in the online environment, a failure to be innovative in technology will cause the students to treat the course as a chore to get through.  Of course, I may just be thinking some fairy-tale thoughts here that a student could really feel completely engaged by an online course, but I think I could do better.

As we think about the future of technology in the classroom, there are a lot of directions it could go.  I’ve been exploring some of those in this blog as I have gone on here.  I am trying to keep current on what’s going on out there, and trying to see what ideas might work for me.  This article from Mind/Shift talks about the future of technology in the classroom.  The article considers the near, medium, and long term forecast for technology.  In the near term they consider mobile apps and tablet computing as the center piece of where we are going.  We certainly are thinking about that at my community college.  The faculty work group that I’m on has been given iPads to explore and the task of finding apps that can be used in the classroom to enhance learning.  As well, we will be buying classroom sets of iPads to use.  So, nothing new there based on what I have seen.  The mid term is going to be gamification and the use of data to influence education.  I have also been exploring gamification in this blog, so I guess I’m right on top of that topic as well.  As to the use of data, if the big assessment push we all seem to be on is any indication, I think we’re already on this path.  I don’t know how far it will go, but it is certainly a trend that we are involved in.  The longer term is going to include gesture-based computing and increasingly ubiquitous connections to everything.  I certainly agree that those are both technologies that could come into play.  What is interesting about the article though is that the so-called future of technology in education includes little that I’m not already engaged with.  I guess that means that instead of looking to these things to come out in the future, I need to figure out how to use them now and just get on with it.

So, where am I going with this.  Still thinking, but moving along.  I want to incorporate technology, and I want relevant change.  I don’t want change for the sake of change, as I feel like that is what I have been doing for quite a while here.  I think that more is needed, which is why I keep working on this blog.  I need real change that comes with solid thought and evidence behind it.  It will still be an experiment, of course, but I would like it to be an experiment that is directed in a productive manner.  So, I shall keep thinking and planning.  It’s hard to do more in the middle of the semester.  Let me know what you think?  Those of you who teach, what are you thinking of doing?  Are you looking to change something?  Those of you who do not teach, what would you like to see?

Thoughts on Education – 2/12/2012 – Is Technology the Solution?

I haven’t had much time to sit down and think about education since Thursday.  It’s funny how the weekends slip away from you.  I do have a big backlog of articles after having not done them on either Thursday or Friday, so I’m going to stick with more reviews today.  I haven’t quite figured out what’s a good mix here, more of my own stuff or more article reviews.  Of course, even in the article reviews, I am including a lot of my own thoughts as well.  Right now, I’m doing article reviews when I get 4-5 articles I want to look at.  However, I do look at so many places for information through the week, that it is honestly quite hard not to have that many articles to examine.

Using Technology to Learn More Efficiently

OK, so to start, just ignore the large Jessica Simpson lookalike on the page there, as distracting as her stare is there.  I was interested in the article from the title, which is what gets me to save most of them for review later.  So, often as I’m sitting down here to write about them, I am reading them for the first time as well.  Sometimes they are so irrelevant or don’t do what I want that I simply don’t do anything with them at all, such as this one today.  This one almost got a delete as well, but the concept is at least interesting, even if it links up to an older style of learning that I don’t want to encourage in my own classroom — flash cards.  The article profiles a company that is digitizing flash cards and remaking them to encourage better retention and more honest use of flash cards.  The more compelling idea is the creation of a schedule and the push for accountability to the students to complete their work.  As the article notes, this is really an attempt to reduce the unproductive cramming before an exam and open up a broader studying schedule.  However, the ultimate limitation here is the students.  They are the ones who have to make the decision not to cram at the last minute, and I have a feeling that the students who would do this with this program would be the same ones who would be least likely to put off all of their learning to the last minute anyway.  Still, I’m all for accountability, especially if it could be integrated with that idea from yesterday on using Google Docs to gauge student progress.  So, maybe as a tool that an instructor could put together and release to the student, this could work.

The Gamified Classroom (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)

“Today, students are expected to pay attention and learn in an environment that is completely foreign to them. In their personal time they are active participants with the information they consume; whether it be video games or working on their Facebook profile, students spend their free time contributing to, and feeling engaged by, a larger system. Yet in the classroom setting, the majority of teachers will still expect students to sit there and listen attentively, occasionally answering a question after quietly raising their hand. Is it any wonder that students don’t feel engaged by their classwork?”

This, again, goes back to the issues I’ve talked about in several other posts, especially the last one.  If we are talking about student engagement, then I think we are failing with the lecture model, especially to the most current generation of students, which is who this article series concerns.  I just have to look out at my own classes on lecture days to see the problems, with maybe 1/3 paying active attention, 1/3 paying occasional attention, and 1/3 completely disengaged from the material.  Of course, is gamification the answer?  Of course not.  But can we learn something from this educational trend?  Very likely.  Perhaps it can bring in greater engagement and even foster creativity rather than rote learning.

The role of technology can both help and hinder learning.  The article refers to a number of ways that technology can help engagement, through having the students involved in project based learning and higher levels of engagement, using both apps and clickers.  What is interesting is what the author sees as one way that technology is reducing that engagement as well, the smartboard.  I’ve not seen that criticism before, as the smartboard is often held up as one of the prime ways to engage students.  “Unfortunately, our classroom is often filled with technology that only exists to better enable old styles of teaching, the biggest culprit being the smartboard. Though it has a veneer of interactivity, smartboards serve only as a conduit for lecture based learning. They sit in front of an entire classroom and allow a teacher to present un-differentiated material to the entire group. Even their “interactive” capabilities serve only the student called upon to represent the class at the board.”  I have been suspicious of smartboards as a save-all, but I had never really been able to figure out why I didn’t like them.  I find this argument compelling.  From my own point of view, they seem to just be a new version of the chalk board, offering nothing more than you can find with the method.

“In schools, our students should be using technology to collaborate together on projects, present their ideas to their peers, research information quickly, or to hone the countless other skills that they will need in the 21st century workplace–regardless of the hardware they will be using in the future. If we’re just using tech to teach them the same old lessons. . . we’re wasting its potential. Students are already using these skills when they blog, post a video to YouTube, or edit a wiki about their favorite video game. They already have these skills; we have to show them how to use them productively and not just for entertainment. This is where Gamification comes in. Games are an important piece of the puzzle–they are how we get students interested in using these tools in the classroom environment.”  I agree.  Ha!  What I always tell my students not to do, present a big quotation and say they agree, but I guess I’ll hold myself to a lower standard than them.  Still, I think this is an insightful look at the problems with just throwing technology at the problem.  You can’t just hand teachers technology and expect them to transform everything.  Technology is not the solution, although effective teaching with effective technology could be part of the solution.

The last two Parts of the series deal with how this might take place in practice.  I’m not going to go through all of that here, as the information is diverse and hard to summarize.  So, check it out if you’re interested.  I think what is most interesting is the push for self-pacing and self-motivation for students.  Tying completion to rewards beyond simple grades and pushing the students to do more.  This is an interesting idea, but I do wonder if our students are ready for this.  That is always the problem with these articles, that they project these things into an ideal world where students are not motivated because we aren’t motivating them.  Yet, the real problem is often much more complex.  Our students are as varied as can be, and the reasons for motivation or lack of motivation are varied in the same way.  How do you motivate students who are working two jobs, taking care of kids, sick, taking care of sick family members, in school only because their parents think they should, in school only because they think the should, and so forth.  In other words, when students aren’t required to be there, such as at college, how does this push differ?  Something to think about.

The loss of solitude in schools

And, I’ll close for today with an opposite view.  Here, the author is warning against the push for project-centered education, one where we emphasize interaction and group work over individual absorption of material.  She makes the case that education is inherently a solitary process, where we engage with and absorb difficult material until we learn it.  As she says, the emphasis on group work and interaction produces students that “become dependent on small-group activity and intolerant of extended presentations, quiet work, or whole-class discussions.”  In other words, they forget how to learn on their own.

She also notes that the push away from the “sage on the stage” can be just as damaging for students.  “Students need their sages; they need teachers who actually teach, and they need something to take in. A teacher who knows the subject and presents it well can give students something to carry in their minds.”  I have never done much with small group work, so I can’t say one way or another how this works.  I have generally done either lecture or discussions.  I don’t know how to evaluate small group work, and so I have not done it.  Perhaps this is short-sighted of me, but I just don’t know how to give a grade for group work that is not just on the end project.  In other words, how do you hold everyone accountable?  I know, from talking with my wife and remembering my own experiences, that group work is inherently unequal and very frustrating for those who want to do a good job, as they generally end up doing most of it.  I don’t want to put students in that position, and have never been much for this idea.  I could be convinced otherwise, but I am skeptical on the idea of small group work.  I know that many of the changes I’m looking at making involve small group work, but I just don’t know what to do with it.

Anyway, enough for today.  Please let me know what you think or if you have any responses to the ideas I’m presenting, as I don’t want to be working in a vacuum on this.

Thoughts on Education – 2/4/12

I haven’t had a lot of time to sit and think about education.  Not because I’ve been doing other important things but because I have exactly not been doing other important things.  I tend to try and take some time off when I get the chance during the week, and the last 24 hours or so was that.  The time off will vanish as I get closer to my first big set of assignments due in about a week and a half, but right now, there’s time to take a break in the week every once in a while.  So, I’m blogging now with regard to the articles that I have saved up over the last couple of days.


“The Admiring Ignorant”

I liked this blog post a lot regarding the tempering of optimism that initially comes from teaching as you realize how difficult it is to retain that feeling that you are going to change the world.  William was warned by a professor of his in grad school that each year “the students seemed lazier, the job of teaching them harder. And much less rewarding.”  He, like so many of us thought that we could make that difference and be different as well, but then, he was confronted with the reality of the situation, captured well in this paragraph:

“The pedagogue in me gently corrects students’ misconceptions. The educated person in me shakes his head and laughs at such fundamental misunderstandings. But sometimes, the part of me who has to grade the papers — the part of me who is conscious of the 14-hour workdays, the amount of effort I’m putting into this job of educating these students — wonders ‘Is this really what I ought to be doing with my life? Is it possible to really make a difference in these lives?'”  I would imagine that any of us in teaching has come across that many, many times.  We get astounded at the ways that students can mess something up, at the base ignorance that is out there.  We share the funny stories with each other, and we shake our heads.  I do it all the time, it seems.  And, as we say, it seems to get worse year by year.

Again to return to the post here, he says, “‘I had so much respect for my own professors,’ I tell myself. ‘Yet these students seem to be mocking my efforts.'”  But then he actually goes back and remembers what he did in classes, skipping, not paying attention, scraping by at the last minute on papers, not really studying for tests, etc. and thinks that maybe we just see it differently because we are in the position of authority and that it was just a situation of us forgetting or willfully ignoring what our fellow students (and us) were really like back then.  I think I was good, but I can remember slacking off and doing things I shouldn’t do in class.  It’s just that those things are obvious in a different way now, with technology, etc.  Back then, if you doodled on your page or something like that, it wasn’t as obvious you were doing things you shouldn’t be doing.  Now, we see a laptop or cell phone and we automatically assume that they are not paying attention.

So, what am I trying to say about the article?  I’m not exactly sure.  I liked reading it and could easily identify with it.  Does it help explain anything?  I don’t know.  I always try to avoid saying the students get worse every year because I fundamentally don’t think that’s true.  In the historical sense, I think that the real issue is that we always have that glow looking back through rose-colored glasses that things were better in the past (even if only last semester!) than they are now, and we willingly forget what things were like when we were in their seats.

I think, also, that we are too willing to blame technology for the problems today.  The methods of slacking and not paying attention and not doing work have changed, but I’m not sure that the amount of those things have changed all that much.  I think that’s the point of the post more than anything else, and I have to say that I agree.  I invite technology in my classroom, with the full expectation that students will use it and abuse it.  I do this because I also think that it can enhance the classroom, although I’m still working on ways to ensure that it does more of the latter than the former.  I just think that outright bans on technology are wrong-headed and punishing in ways that may not be intentional or expected.  My wire, for example, has been using her laptop in class to record her teachers’ lectures so that she can listen to them later.  And she really does listen to them later.  Yet, she has a teacher now that keeps her from doing that by banning technology.  So, here’s a student who not only is going to listen and take notes but will even go back and listen several times more to the material, and she can’t at this point.  Just a single example, but I think blanket bans end up hurting as much as they help.  (And, cue stepping off of the soapbox . . .)


Difference Engine:  Let the Games Begin 

Interactive Textbooks.  OK.  I want to see one.  Where can I find a true interactive textbook?  One designed for college students, whether in my subject area or not?  This is the big promise of iBooks and all of the stuff Apple is doing.  Now I want to see it.  Do I lack patience in this, yes!  I want change and I want it now!

Here’s what The Economist says about it:  “Done properly, interactive textbooks offer not only video tutorials, more personalised instruction, just-in-time hints and homework help, but also instant access to assessment tools, teaching resources and the ability to network socially with students elsewhere. Using tools for highlighting and annotating virtual flash-cards, students can select information within the text and store it for later revision. Searching public databases, direct from within the textbook, is also possible. At school, students can sync with their teachers’ computers, to hand in their quiz results and homework for marking.”  Of course, the question is, will it be “done properly?”  And, if you provide those options, will students use them?  That’s the big question that always comes up with new technology.

So, again, I want an interactive textbook now.  I want one set up for college history.  I’ll run a class test on it tomorrow.  Let’s get this moving, as I think it has a lot of potential, but if we just screw around, that potential will be lost.

By the way, since it is mentioned in this article (and just about everywhere else), has anyone tried using the Khan Academy?  With college students?


What Higher Education Can Learn from Video Games

I like the idea here, but the article is a bit shallow on ideas.  I like the idea of “gamification,” one of those ideas floating around now of including games in the learning process to make students more engaged.  This is probably because I like playing games so much myself.  I like the idea of using something that a lot of people already enjoy doing, playing games, and harnessing that energy to a learning environment.  How this could be done for a more ethereal subject realm like the humanities and social sciences is not all that obvious, and how you would assess learning in a gaming environment is even less obvious, but I am intrigued by the idea.

To me, this is the most interesting reason for it:  “Compared to traditional, lecture approaches learning where students sit passively either in a classroom or training boardroom to learn the workplace procedures by memory without any real-life interaction; game-based learning lets individuals learn the facts by testing (via practice and failure) until we commit it, not only memory, but also understand the howís and whys of our success in a real-life situation.”


5 Foundational Principles for Course Design

Two very interesting ideas out of this one, ironically enough, neither of them is at the center of the article.

First comes from the first paragraph, which grabbed me immediately.  “The big secret amongst many of us who work in online learning is that we are not all that wild about online courses. Sure, we think online courses can be great, and can fill an important need, but what really gets us excited is learning.”  Undoubtedly true.  I did not get started teaching online because I thought it would solve all of the world’s problems or bring a real new and different way to my teaching.  I did it because that’s what was required of my job.  I think I’m pretty decent at teaching online, but I will be the first to admit that there’s a lot I don’t know at all about it.  I always feel like my online courses are experimental, and I am never very satisfied with them.  Of course, I feel that about my regular courses as well, so that’s not a very good comparison.

I then found the end of the article to raise an interesting point along this very line.  The article goes through how you put some principles together as you try to create a new online course.  It advocates 5 principles, as stated in the title of the article.  They’re nothing spectacular and woefully under-explained in the article, but I found the final paragraph to raise an interesting point that I have talked with others about:  “To my knowledge, this sort of detailed course proposal and course delivery review and support methodology is not standard in most of our on-ground classes. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could somehow diffuse these resources and methods throughout our curriculum?”  Yes, exactly.  We think all the time about online classes, and we have a whole evaluation setup for them at my community college.  Yet nobody evaluates the content and presentation of our face-to-face classes in the same way.  We see much more scrutiny in online courses, and the question raised about why is one that doesn’t get asked often enough.


Anyway, I think that’s good for today.  I’ll see what crosses my computer in the next day or so to see if I have more articles to talk about or if I will move on to another subject tomorrow.



Thoughts on Education, 2/1/2012 – Digital Learning Day

So, Happy Digital Learning Day everyone.  OK, so I had no idea it was that day either, but that’s what I found out as I started moving through the educational news that I read every morning.  I guess it’s appropriate that I’m working on this project at this time then.  I certainly envision any changes that I make to my class to include a significant digital element.  In fact, I would like to go ahead and include more of it in my class now, although I am not sure how at this point.  Thus, part of what I am doing is trying to figure out how to use all of these new tools out there and how to use the various ideas that I am trying to accumulate.  I want to make something new and relevant, and I think that digital technology has to be at the center of it.

What is unfortunate about all of it is how hard it is to find good digital tools for higher education.  If I was teaching K-12, there appear to be a lot of apps out there for use, although I, admittedly, have not evaluated them to see if there is real quality or just quantity.  For higher ed, there’s a lot of stuff out there for organization, note-taking, and whiteboarding (did I just make up that word?).  There’s not much that seems of actual use in a classroom outside of access to resources.  in that category, there’s a ton of stuff out there.  Simply get the Smithsonian, PBS, TED, or many other apps out there, and you have a ton of free content at your fingertips.  If you’re not using Flipbook on an iPad, you are missing out on one of the most spectacular apps that I have ever come across.  So, if I want content, I can get it, but that still puts the creation of assignments and linkages on me.  I know that’s part of my job, but I kind of expected there to be some actual premade content out there for higher ed, and there just isn’t very much.  There are things to show, but not much set up to do.  I was talking with my Dean about this, and he suggested that it is because there’s more money in K-12 ed than in higher ed, and that when there is money in higher ed, it goes to research, not to teaching.  Certainly, in teaching at a community college, I’m really at the low end of the totem pole for these types of things, but I just imagine what could be out there.

I guess if I was ever to consider a different career, I would love to go into the educational technology field.  I’ve considered getting a second Masters in Instructional Design or something like that, but this lack of content seems to be a huge hole in the educational ecosystem.  I don’t know if there’s any money to be made in it, but I’m just waiting around for someone to make it at this point.

In thinking about Digital Learning (caps intentional on this day), I have done some reading, and I’ll include a few of the interesting things I’ve looked at here:

MindShift is one of those programs I found through FlipBook.  I like their discussion of education and technology and read it daily.  Again, if you’re interested in the topic, check them out.  Anyway, I like this article, as it evaluates the role that technology can play in the classroom.  I’m going to have to think on it more deeply at another time.  I like the first three points as some basic starting ideas on technology

  1. Don’t trap technology in a room.  This is very true, as the computer lab is something that many of us (like me) have no access to, and so if I want to use technology, trapping it in a single room makes it useless unless you are one of the lucky ones to be able to schedule in that room.
  2. Technology is worthless without professional development.  Completely agree.  We don’t get any of this provided to us, and I remain so busy between my teaching life and home life that I don’t get a lot of opportunities to go out and participate in professional development either.  I’d love it to be a more real part of my actual job, and I really am going to have to figure out how to make time for it, as it is never going to be just given to me.
  3. Mobile technology stretches a long way.  Use the resources that you have.  A good number of people are carrying around high-powered computers in their pocket.  Give the students some reason to use them beyond texting.

Beyond that, I need to follow up on some of the links in the article, and I have it saved in Evernote (another great free app) to do just that later.

Another thing I read every day is Inside Higher Ed.  They have a number of educational technology resources, and this one celebrates Digital Learning Day as well.  Interesting links off of the page mostly, although I like seeing the discussion generally in this blog.

Through the Inside Higher Ed site, I also found this resource.  I will check out the video later (my internet connection at home is not cooperating for streaming video from my living room right now, and I don’t feel like moving to the bedroom for a stronger signal).  But the broader site of Teachers Teaching Teachers sounds promising and worth checking out more.

Anyway, that’s a few links for today.  I have some on gaming in the classroom that I’ll save for sometime in the next couple of days, so hang on for that.

Thoughts on Education, 1/30/2012

Continuing to think about education, using articles I have saved in Evernote.

“Tips and success stories for effective mobile learning”

Mostly focused on K-12.  It talks about “bring your own device” schools, much like the Weatherford ISD is trying.  I’m curious how that will go.  The question, of course, is what do you do with the students who do not have a device?  That’s as far as I got though, as the second and third pages of the article require you to log in to read them.  It was not particularly relevant, and so I didn’t think it worth logging into a random site I’d never heard of.

Click to access mobile_star.pdf

“Education‘s Guide to Mobile Devices: Everything You Need to Know About Mobile Tech and Your Schools”

OK, so I registered for this one.  It is much more interesting, even though it is, again K-12 focused.  I just wanted to note a couple of things here.  I fully agree with the following:  “To make the most of mobile technology, teachers must have proper training, and schools must go through a change management process, says Greaves.  Technology-rich schools whose principals ―have formal training in change management far outperform the technology schools where [principals] don‘t have this formal training,‖ he says.  ―At a lot of schools, they just provide the technology and think that, by itself, will carry the day.  But if you don‘t actually give [educators] the training of what to do with it, nothing changes.‖  A change management leader looks at the students within a class and evaluates to what extent they are working on a fully personalized basis. ―If 30 kids in class are all doing the same thing,that‘s a clear sign that you haven‘t changed anything,‖ Greaves adds.”  I totally agree, and I find that to be the hugely limiting thing for me with adopting new methods of teaching and integration of technology.  I always feel that I am doing it all on my own.  I feel that I am way out in front of where most people are, and I often feel lost in trying to decide what to do.  I also feel limited in resources, although being part of the QEP this year has helped in that regard.  Still, I feel like I’m wandering in the wilderness and could use a lot of help to develop the random ideas wandering through my head.

There is also an interesting resource there called PD360, which is, unfortunately aimed at K-12 only.  There is no option to sign up as a college instructor, but it is apparently hundreds of hours of professional development online.  Maybe I should check out Starlink, if that’s anything like it.

“Shifting the Classroom, One Step at a Time”

OK, so this one has me pegged from the first paragraph:  “Teachers who are interested in shifting their classrooms often don’t know where to start. It can be overwhelming, frightening, and even discouraging, especially when no one else around you seems to think the system is broken.”  I feel like that all the time.  So, of course, I’m going to read this closely.

The whole post is interesting, and I need to explore it in more detail.  There are three links to talks here that I need to watch at some point when I can have some time at a desk with headphones rather than sitting in the living room with my computer as I am doing now.  That’s always the thing, creation is hard.  Doing something new is hard.  I want to dive in and recreate very soon.  Do I have the time/resources for this?

I highly recommend this as a starting point to rethinking the classroom!
“What’s So Great About Schools in Finland?”
I like these things:
  • All administrators have worked as teachers
  • They don’t focus on tests
  • Teaching is a revered profession
  • They trust teachers
An interesting, short piece.  It talks about turning the classroom into a learning experience for everyone, including the teacher.  Unfortunately, it is focused on a small liberal-arts college model, which makes it hard when you have many more students to deal with.  Still, an interesting idea that would be nice to integrate.
“Blogs vs. Term Papers”
OK, so I really want some feedback here!  What do people think about the blog idea?  I’m thinking of reconstructing the classroom.  This would be a total reconstruction, ditching papers for weekly blog posts and a requirement to respond to other blogs in the class.  Would that be a good idea?  Would that be crazy?  Let me know!