Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Ideas for Interaction

The level of interactivity has a major impact on the quality of learning in distance education courses. (Muirhead, 2001). Research studies on interactivity show that students have a real need to make connections with other students and with their instructors.

There are three main types of interaction that can occur in a distance learning course.
  • Learner-to-Content Interaction - students examining the course content and participating in class activities.
  • Learner-to-Learner Interaction - can take place between two students or between several students.
  • Learner-to-Instructor Interaction - reinforce student understanding of course materials and provide the student with feedback.

Do you need ideas for interaction? The following resources may spark some ideas for adding interactive activities to your course.

Examples of Interaction with instructor, peers, content

Online Teaching Activity Index

Interactive Activities Activity Samplers

Collaboration and Groups

TWU Tips - Socratic Questioning Techniques to Prompt Interaction on the Discussion Board

Using Planned Interactions

Muirhead, Brent 2001: Practical Strategies for Teaching Computer-Mediated Classes, in: Educational Technology & Society 4(2) 2001.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Social Learning and Technology

This week I have been reading an article by John Seely Brown from 1999 in which he discusses his idea of "learning ecologies". (Read the article here: Learning, Working & Playing in the Digital Age.) Learning ecologies are defined by him as "an open, complex, adaptive system comprising elements that are dynamic and independent" (Growing Up Digital 2002).

In reading this somwhat old paper, I have been struck by ideas he presents that relate closely to several different topics that I have been reading and researching on lately: the systemic or connective ways that education takes place, Web 3.0 and how our uses for information sharing will change in the future, the idea of a short attention span actually being connected with putting together new ideas on-the-fly rather than retaining information being input by others. Here are some quotes from the paper and how I see them as being connected to these ideas:

"Many of us tend to think that kids who are multi-processing can't be concentrating. This may not be true. Notice that the attention span of most top managers range somewhere between 30 seconds to five minutes, which seems to be about the right span for most kids that I know. And then think about the fast context switching that all of us really do but don't want to admit, because most of us seldom spend more than five minutes concentrating on any one topic, at least during the daytime. . . I believe that the real literacy of tomorrow will have more to do with being able to be your own private, personal reference librarian, one that knows how to navigate through the incredible, confusing, complex information spaces and feel comfortable and located in doing that. So navigation will be a new form of literacy if not the main form of literacy for the 21st century."

The idea of navigating through a wide range of information in a comfortable manner seems to have a lot to do with the current talk of Web 3.0 and what it will mean. Current ideas range from a semantic web (one that thinks intuitively and is able to determine the information needed by the user as well as weeding out information that does not apply) to simply a more highly personalized information experience in which the user determines not only the sources and topics, but also the technology used to access the information (not just computers anymore, but also other mobile devices, 3-D worlds, etc.). To read a fairly recent update on the idea of Web 3.0, see this article: 2008-2009 Web Trends - Web 3.0.

"Bricolage, a concept originally studied by Levi Strauss many years ago, relates to the concrete. It has to do with the ability to find something—an object, tool, piece of code, document—and to use it in a new way and in a new context."

Merriam-Webster defines "bricolage" as "construction (as of a sculpture or a structure of ideas) achieved by using whatever comes to hand". This concept is very close to what I have been doing while reading this article - finding new ideas within a text I'm reading, but combining them with other ideas that have been in my head over the course of the week. In addition, I think that bricolage relates to the short attention span we have discussed. Many times I find myself distracted during reading or listening because I have come upon a new connection to other knowledge and ideas - for me it's a kind of connecting and creating on-the-fly.

"The catch, however, is that if you are going to become a successful bricoleur of the 21st century, a bricoleur of the virtual rather than of the physical, than as you borrow things you have to be able to decide whether or not to believe or trust those things."

Here again we have the utilization of something on-the-fly, this time of information literacy techniques. However, in addition to the traditional information literacy techniques we have been discussing and teaching for a few years now, we have an additional way of judging and assessing information and tools, which is addressed in the next quote.

"But how do we make judgments? Do you do that socially in terms of recommendations of others you might trust? Do you do that cognitively based on rational argumentation? Do you do it based on the inherent warrants of the institution that might have sponsored it? What's the mixture of ways and warrants that you end up using to decide and act? . . . More generally, today's kids tend to get on the Web and link, lurk and watch how other people are doing things and then try something themselves . . . Learning becomes as much social as cognitive, as much concrete as abstract, and becomes intertwined with judgment and exploration. As such, the Web becomes not only an informational and social resource but it could also become a learning medium where understandings are socially constructed and shared."

This is a new way of assessing information and tools that has emerged within the online climate of discussion and connection. Just over the past couple years I have seen several articles addressing those students that lurk rather than participate, so we have actually seen this in action. It appears to me that this is a demonstration of the value of connectivism in today's society for aiding in judgement based upon purpose and real-life usage. However, those seeking outside input feel more free to do this on their own agenda and to make connections only with those individuals or information sources that they deem to be relevant to their search. And, then interact with these resources only to the extent that they feel they need additional input. With younger learners we often see this last aspect as a shortfall for them - they often don't know what they need to know, so they fall short of acquiring needed information. However, with older, or more experienced learners, this may not be the case.

" . . . whenever a tech rep gets stuck he calls in another tech rep and then, standing around the problematic machine, they start to weave a story, a story that starts to explain some of the particular symptoms of the machine. And then some fragment of the initial story reminds them of something else which suggests a few more measurements to make which in turn produces some more data that reminds them of another fragment of a story, and so on. Troubleshooting for these guys is really just weaving together a narrative, a narrative that eventually explains all the symptoms and test data of this machine. And when they have made sense of all the data, the narrative is finished and the machine is diagnosed."

Storytelling as a method for teaching has gained quite a bit of academic influence over the past couple years. This relation of how one group of tech service personnel solve problems shows the utilization of traditional anthropological methods in relation to technology - the same thing we've been doing for thousands of years to problem solve - but the important part is that it still involves community input. Sharing of personal experience in relation to a common problem helps to create not only solutions, but to construct additional knowledge that can then be shared and built upon again. This is classic constructivism in action.

So, what do all these ideas mean for the future of online learning? My new ideas from these readings makes me think that our future learning might well be arranged differently, more like George Siemens discusses in his Learning Development Cycle. Learning objectives will be more loosely defined in order to allow learners to work in areas of specific interest, or where their knowledge falls short of the expected outcomes. Learning assets of various design will be offered for users to pick and choose the ones that best fit their individual needs. And, sharing of ideas and knowledge will become more of a focal point of the educational experience, rather than lectures and expert knowledge input. Lastly, learning spaces will be adaptive to different user needs, whether it be simply an individual pursuit of lifelong education, or a requirement for a career choice, the same learning space will be able to accommodate users with a variety of different needs and goals. For an idea of how this kind of learning space might look, check out the upcoming Connectivism and Connective Knowledge Online Course.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Copyright and the Online Class

We've been talking about copyright and the online class this week. I have always been very interested in copyright and while I worked as a librarian I ended up reading quite a bit on it. In researching for current information and articles, I came across a study done by two faculty members in teacher education who regularly teach the topic of copyright. Using a pre-course survey, these instructors found that many future educators were less than clear on the topic, which led these faculty members to reevaluate and modify their instruction. Read their article here: Repackaging for the 21st Century: Teaching Copyright and Computer Ethics in Teacher Education Courses

One of my favorite authors on the subject is Siva Vaidhyanathan. He has written two books on the topic: Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How it Threatens Creativity and The Anarchist in the Library: How the Clash between Freedom and Control is Hacking the Real World and Crashing the System . The first book discusses the history of copyright (which I found to be extremely interesting reading, especially regarding traditional blues and the music industry) and the second book focuses more on the Internet and things that would most likely be covered by the DMCA.

Two excellent resources I found for determining if your intentions constitute fair use are:

And, you can always consult your local librarian for help with copyright questions. It can be confusing at times for all of us, so don't be afraid to ask for help!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Pedagogy 2.0

While most of us recognize that there are now many new Web 2.0 technologies out there that can be used in online learning, it is often difficult to decide exactly how these can be incorporated effectively and pedagogically into an academic setting. In reality, most instructors are tied to a certain level of content, learning objectives, and context that cannot simply be thrown out in favor of utilizing something more "fun" or "hip". The challenge then becomes: how can we incorporate these tools that we know could be effective in a way that supports the academic goals of instruction?

In this month's issue of Innovate: Journal of Online Education Catherine McLoughlin and Mark J.W. Lee discuss their ideas for incorporating some of these new technologies with currently accepted pedagogies of constructivism and connectivism. In their article, Future Learning Landscapes: Transforming Pedagogy through Social Software they outline ideas for a Pedagogy 2.0, which still contains the familiar areas of content, curriculum, communication, process, resources, scaffolds, and learner tasks, but allows for modification of the way that each of these is approached and delivered, offering more flexibility and opportunities for utilizing social software to enable learners to collaborate and learn from each other more effectively. Included are examples of how other universities and colleges are putting some of these ideas into practice, something that is always extremely helpful for those of us who need help getting ideas.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Save the date - Texas Blackboard Users Group Conference

Texas Blackboard Users Group
"Bright Ideas for Blackboard Users"

October 17 & 18, 2008 (Pre-conference on October 16)
Crowne Plaza Downtown
Houston, TX

Now accepting presentation proposals!!!
T-Bug website -