Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Web 2.0 and Diverse Learners

How does web 2.0 address the needs of diverse learners? I asked my PLN on Plurk:

From Ed Tech Learning Reflections

Our class discussion started with the following voice thread. Feel free to add your own comments.

For some of our classmates, it was the first time to participate in a collaborative environment outside of Blackboard. Others were more familiar with web 2.0, but learned about a new tool. But, I think we all agreed that the tools we discussed have value for learning. They are not without disadvantages. Not all students have access to using these tools. Some students are not willing to do what is necessary to gain access (come early or stay late at school, walk to the public library, etc.) But, as one teacher put it, "my students somehow find access to look at MySpace and Facebook." So, maybe if we engage our students in the same way, they will also find a way to access the Internet for homework!

I truly believe that web 2.0 tools can help teachers differentiate learning in so many ways that we are not able to do without the tools. I challenge teachers of all levels to allow your students to use these tools to demonstrate their knowledge. A written solution to a math problem or an essay are not the only ways we can do this anymore.

Readings and resources:

Monday, November 10, 2008

Internet Censorship


Net censorship spreads worldwide
Mark Ward, BBC News
Mr Pain said the world's dictators have not remained powerless in the face of the explosion of online content. By contrast, many have been "efficient and inventive" in using the net to spy on citizens and censor debate.
However, noted the report, governments have woken up to the fact that the people they regard as dissidents are active online. Many are now moving to censor blogs and the last year has seen many committed bloggers jailed for what they said in their online journal.
Experts: Internet filtering and censorship rife
Mike Steere, CNN
She said governments could use purpose-built filtering technology, censor Web sites, filter search results -- with the assistance of multinational corporations, and block applications and circumvention tools -- to stop online applications like Facebook, YouTube or Voice Over IPs that enable social networking.
Most democracies, and particularly those of the U.S. and India, had unrestricted Internet, though more than 40 countries were known to filter content, he said.

And it's not just governments involved in filtering. Search engine Google has been heavily criticized for working with the Chinese government to block searches for material about Taiwan, Tibet, democracy and other sensitive issues on its Chinese portal.
How the Mind of a Censor Works: The Psychology of Censorship
Sara Fine
Whether on the Right of the Left, censors share a complex psychological profile.

Behind each attempt to remove a book or video, or block an Internet connection is the magic wand beliefe: if the item is eliminated, the thought is gone.

After our class discussion on Internet censorship, I realized that I have been taking my Internet access for granted. I usually assume that I can find whatever I am looking for, good or bad. I have the freedom to read what I want to read. Not everyone has this same freedom. Many countries ban areas of the Internet. Some ban just pornography. Some ban sites critical of the government. Turkmenistan does not allow its citizens to have the Internet at home, restricting them to Internet cafes only. In Burma, screen shots are taken every five minutes in Internet cafes. Do countries have the right to do this? I don't think I'm the person to say yes or no, but I do know that I am happy to live in a country that allows me to find what I want to find on the Internet. Long live freedom.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Women, Minorities and STEM

Why are women and Hispanic minorities underrepresented in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields? This was the topic of our class a few weeks ago and it is a great question.

In 2003, 18% of physics PhDs were awarded to women. While those numbers are growing, the number of women obtaining PhDs in engineering and physics lags behind other sciences. I mention physics and engineering specifically, because I was a physics major as an undergraduate student. I did not continue on to the graduate level in math or science despite my ability and encouragement from professors. I never felt discriminated against because I was a women. I was given every opportunity that my fellow students were given. Why didn't I continue? I have my reasons I guess: I didn't want to work in a cubicle, I wanted to travel, I wanted to work more closely with people, I wanted to make a direct difference in people's lives. But, looking back, I could have done all of those things as a physics PhD. Was there something more unconscious that prevented me from going to graduate school in physics or math? I didn't give up on science and math completely. I became a physics teacher and taught physics and math until recently. I'm proud that I was a science-loving, female role model for both male and female high school students. But I still wonder why I didn't continue on in physics - a subject I love to learn.

As we discussed in class, we all seemed to come back to one issue: lack of good role models. I think people do what they are comfortable doing. What they are comfortable doing sometimes depends on what they see people around them doing. Maybe Hispanic minorities and women don't pursue STEM careers because they don't see others like them there? Maybe I didn't try to obtain a PhD in physics because no one in my family is an academic? Maybe the math and science homework problems we solve in school typically appeal to certain students, so that women and Hispanic minorities are turned away? I'd like to share the following section from "The Secrets to Increasing Females in Technology":
The Value of Technology
The Extraordinary Women Engineers Project, a coalition
of engineering organizations, academic institutions,
corporations, and individuals, asked why high school girls
with the academic preparation to major in engineering
found tbe profession so unappealing. Among the several
interesting results uncovered by a study of this segment
by WGBH Research, was the preference for working in an
area that "makes a difference.." Any technology teacher can
discuss how everything from our planet's ability to sustain
its population to the ubiquity of mobile phones is thanks to
technology. However, the value of technology is not common
knowledge, nor is it frequently reflected in the exercises in the
classroom or in after-school programs. Have your students
solved the problem of a "bomb dropping from a plane" or
a "CARE package dropping from a plane"? Am I building
a robot that will fight with the other team's robot, or is my
team collaborating with another team to build a single robot
that will help the elderly continue to live in their own homes?
The technology and science is the same, but the girls will
find the benefits of the end product something compelling
to address the collaboration with other teams rather than
attempting to make competition more enjoyable. One ITEA
member described how he transformed a project to design
a BMX park into a project where the students could choose
to design a BMX park, a skateboarding park, a zoo, or a city
park. Although all students had comparable experiences in
design, innovation, and applying their knowledge, the boys
almost exclusively chose the BMX park and skateboarding
park while the girls almost exclusively selected the zoo
and city park. His experience not only showed the gender
differences, but also showed how a creative solution can be
effective without being more costly or involving significantly
more effort.
When does this change. When will we have enough role models that value this kind of differentiation in the science and math classroom? Will we finally reach a point where we have enough role models to ensure more equal representation in STEM fields? What is your view?


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Nomadic Learner

We attended class last week at the local Panera to simulate being nomadic learners. We ate, enjoyed wi-fi, and learned. Although, I will say that we didn't really have to simulate nomadic learning. Most of us do it all the time. We learn anywhere, anytime.

With the proliferation of mobile devices, learning anywhere, anytime is becoming easier. But, Bryan Alexander (see article link below) says there is another reason that fuels anywhere, anytime learning.
But mobile machines become personally intimate; they are held close to the body—in a purse, on the lap, in a pocket, on the floor next to the user. Their screens are easily hidden from prying eyes. Emotional investments increase, even with shared devices. Michele Forman, the 2001 National Teacher of the Year in the United States, notes that her high school students became very attached to their wireless laptops. They significantly increased their personal writing and composition. Such machines become prosthetics for information, memory, and creativity.
Perhaps the growth of mobile devices, public wi-fi spots, and technology use in schools is blurring the line between what people have traditionally thought of as learning and what learning really is. My response to that is - it's about time! If I see (or hear) one more movie clip, commercial, or song lyric that depicts learning as students in rows with teacher pointing finger, I think I will scream! While I know that still exists, I think learning gets a bad rap from modern media. As we discovered in our class last week, learning is so much more. Students have these devices, so let's teach them to learn with them. One of my goals as a teacher is to inspire life-long learning. I think that job is now easier with the help of mobile devices and widespread wi-fi access.

Here are some of my recent examples of learning anywhere, anytime:
  • I learned a lot about the economy by listening to podcasts in my car this week.
  • I read blog posts and newspaper articles on my iPod touch while in a waiting room with wi-fi access.
  • I looked at resources posted by friends in Facebook while sitting in my grad class at a break.
How have you taken advantage of learning anywhere, anytime this week?

Recommended reading:
Going Nomadic: Mobile Learning in Higher Education, by Bryan Alexander
Breaking the Barriers of Time and Space: More Effective Teaching Using e-Pedagogy, by Peshe Kuriloff
Lectures on the Go, by Brock Read

Monday, October 13, 2008

Impact of Instructional Technology on Developing Countries

In the first of six articles included in the International Review's "The Impact of Instructional Technology Culture on Developing Countries," authors Moghaddam and Lebedeva share their preference for the term low-income societies instead of developing countries, since "all societies are developing in some form, " even the United States. The term low-income societies still acknowledges income differences in the world. The authors share that four billion of seven billion people live on less than two dollars a day.
The main educational challenge still faced by most of the world is to provide their young the rudimentary resources, such as a pencil and a paper pad, for elementary verbal and mathematical literacy.
As someone working with technology, I feel I sometimes lose sight of the fact that many people cannot even fathom my concerns over trying to get faculty to use a tablet PC or the e-clickers. They are saving their money to buy a piece of paper and then ironing the ink out of that paper to get more use from it.

Unfortunately, technology begins by serving the elite of any society regardless of income status. This is where the article gets interesting. Rather than focusing on the differences between high and low income societies, the authors focus on the differences between the elite and non-elite in all societies. The authors argue that there is a fundamental difference between how the elite and non-elite look at the world. Even in the poorest countries, there is a small number of people with Internet access and access to technology. These elite are more likely to be influenced by western thought by traveling, attending university in the west, and by exposure the western thoughts via the Internet. The non-elite are more likely to be uneducated, illiterate, and live in rural areas without access to technology.

This makes me think about how technology is impacting other countries and it seems like it is impacting different people in different ways. Unfortunately, the article does not give any solutions for how to empower the non-elites to gain access to technology and use it for their purposes and not just to spread western thought.

This brings me to another thought I had while reading these articles. Perhaps my view that everyone should have access to technology to learn and work is short-sighted. Authors Leh and Kennedy, in their article "Instructional and Information Technology in Papua New Guinea," made me realize that it is not just about access to the Internet. It is also about literacy and relevance. Let's face it, bringing Internet access to a small rural village won't help anyone if they don't know how to read and interpret the information. And even if they could, is it relevant to their lives? Instead of trying to spread what we think is useful technology, we need to ask others, "what do you need help doing?" Then, technology can be used to help with the problems that are relevant to them. So, maybe the solution is not Internet access, but instead, a piece of hardware that helps fishermen do their jobs more efficiently. This is something I'd like to keep in mind while helping faculty use technology in their classes. Instead of presenting technology as something they should use, I need to encourage them to see a problem they have that could be solved by using technology.

But, I still wonder. What is the most appropriate way to share technological advance with non-elites? Is it appropriate to assume that what is useful for me is useful for others? Should we pressure non-elites to gain exposure to technology because we know the good it can do? Or should we accept when others are not interested. I have not fully formed my thoughts on this topic.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Ethics and Diverse Cultures

In my very short study of ethics and ethical codes in the field of instructional technology (or any field for that matter), there always seem to be more questions and fewer answers. In fact, the authors of "Reflecting on Ethics, Ethical Codes, and Relevance in an International Instructional Technology Community," Bradshaw, Keller and Chen write a whole paragraph of unanswered questions on page 13. Here is an excerpt:
Is it possible to identify, construct, or specify beyond vague generalities, a definition of ethics that would be universally credible and appropriate? Can a hypothetical universal ethical code be equally relevant in diverse contexts? Were one to be constructed, would the fact that it is interpreted by individuals socialized in different contexts of reality and truth, render it less relevant or even irrelevant in some contexts?
It is sometimes difficult for my logical, physics-math brain to accept that a discussion about ethics does not result in an answer that can be scientifically tested. Don't misunderstand me. I don't think science always leads to one right answer, contrary to how most students in K-12 learn science. But, science can be tested and contested and better answers can be found. Things are different when trying to agree on answers to questions about ethics.

I'm not sure that it is possible to develop a code of ethics for any field of study that all parties can agree on. As the article states, the more diverse the group of people, the more difficult it becomes to agree on a code of ethics that is applicable to everyone. But, does this mean we should give up? NO. I believe the discussion is more important than the answers. As our workplaces and schools become flatter, we are forced into a global society. Even though our discussion about ethics becomes difficult, we stand to gain a global awareness and sensitivity that we may not have had before by continuing the discussion with the diverse people we encounter.

As we deal with diverse cultures and writing codes of ethics, the article gives two frameworks within which we could work. Ethical universalism is what I call the I'm-right-you're-wrong framework. I view myself as above you, so I attempt to teach you my right ways. The second framework is cultural relativism. With this framework, "they do not come to teach or to transmit or to give anything, but rather to learn, with the people, about the people's world," (Freire, as cited in this article). I love this quote. If we all made a pact to learn from each other, we may not agree on a universal code of ethics, but I bet the discussion would be worthwhile.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Can E-Learning Strategies Help Us in Face to Face Classrooms? (part 3)

Communication and interaction are important
A teacher working for Virtual High School states that teaching online has helped her in her face to face classes. She is better at clarifying instructions and connecting with students and families, both of which require a more conscious effort when working online. In an online class, students do not have the benefit of tone of voice and teachers do not have the benefit of confused looks to know when to try a new approach. Online teachers must rely on clear and articulate instructions and building an environment of trust so students know they can contact their teacher when needed. Constant interaction between teacher and student is important.

Professional development is key
Virtual High School has a major professional development component because they understand that online learning is a "new perspective on the notion of teaching and learning," (Dorste and Dorste, p. 57). In order for teachers to be successful, they need to understand the technology used and also the pedagogical strategies that work for online learning. The same is true in the face to face classroom. If we want teachers to adopt the strategies that work for learning, we must support them to do so.

This concludes my reflection about how e-learning can help us in face to face classrooms. Can you think of other things that online learning is teaching us about how to increase learning in face to face classrooms?

Monday, September 8, 2008

Can E-Learning Strategies Help Us in Face to Face Classrooms? (part 2)

From lecturer to facilitator
Online learning changes the role of a teacher. If the online class is designed properly, the teacher becomes a guide on the side instead of a sage on the stage. We know already that this is how a face to face classroom should be too, but lecturing still seems all too prevalent. Again, in a face to face classroom, we can have the best of both worlds. There are times when the best way to convey a piece of content is with a short lecture, but it doesn't have to be the main teaching strategy. Ironically, by looking at the design of online courses, we can gain many ideas for how to make the face to face classroom more interactive.

Do what you can't do without the technology
I listened to a NECC 2008 session by David Thornburg posted as a podcast by Wesley Fryer at Moving at the Speed of Creativity this week. When teachers are first given technology to use, they tend to use it to do things they normally do without the technology like word processing. We need to do more as teachers. We need to use technology to do things that we could not do if we didn't have it. Droste and Droste say that each year at Virtual High School "6,000 students have gotten to know other students and teachers from around the globe, exchanging knowledge, ideas, and perspectives in ways that can't happen in a traditional classroom," (p. 57). A teacher in Ohio said that online learning should "not only supplement, but transcend their normal high school experience," (p. 62). Our challenge as face to face classroom teachers is to use technology to do things with students that we could not do otherwise. We need to transcend their normal classroom experience and give them much more. But, we also must remember that learning is about learning, not about technology. "The technology will face into the background as a catalyst to a learning revolution," (Maeroff, p. 70). Technology is "nothing more than the world's fastest school buses," (Droste and Droste, p. 59).

Can E-Learning Strategies Help Us in Face to Face Classrooms? (part 1)

Continuing on the cultural impact of technology theme, this week's readings centered around online learning and how technology has impacted how, when, and where we can learn.
Independent School Magazine, Summer 2004
E-Learning: Lessons from Higher Education, by Gene I. Maeroff
A Virtual Reality: The Growing World of Online Learning, by Bruce and Augusta Droste

Surfing in Dublin Airport
Originally uploaded by Irish Typepad

Both articles give advice to schools about why to offer online learning. (Do not do it for the profit, but instead to offer alternative ways to deliver learning.) Both articles address the question, "Does online learning offer a better way to learn?" Mearoff suggests that this question implies that "being equal is not enough," (p. 69). Droste and Droste cite data from their Virtual High School that their online students show a higher level of achievement. In fact, most research that has been done comparing online learning with face to face learning has concluded with no significant statisitical difference. If all else is equal, why not offer more ways to access learning. Both articles cite terrific examples of online learning, such as online courses for high school age children of migrant workers so they can participate as they move around, allowing students to sign up for courses that small schools can't offer so the school can keep its accreditation, allowing students who are ill to continue to participate in class, offering high level science courses that student would not be able to access otherwise, etc.

But what I came back to again and again as I read both articles was this question: can e-learning teach us anything we can use in the traditional face to face classroom? My answer is a definitive yes. Over the next few days, I will post some of these e-learning strategies here.

Put responsibility on the learner
First, online learning puts more responsibility for learning on the learner. Online learning places "the destiny of students in their own hands," (Maeroff, p. 68). Online students must be disciplined to check and interact with new content on their own time. It is up to them to know when things are due. There is no teacher at the front of the room reminding them every day when to do what. The author does admit that an irresponsible learner may have a problem with this. But, in a face to face class, you can have the best of both worlds. We can place more responsibility on our learners, but still be in a situation where we can intervene if needed.

It is always a challenge for me to place responsibility on the learner, even though I know the benefits for learning. It usually comes down to lack of time. What are your strategies for placing more responsibility on students and still meeting your curriculum deadlines? Please share.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Cultural Impact of Computer Technology

In The Cultural Impact of Computer Technology, Sheldon Ayers discusses two technology revolutions, the industrial revolution and the information revolution. The industrial revolution was characterized by more efficient manufacturing, which led to a demand for better infrastructure for transportation of goods, which led to a "spirit of innovation" in road engineering, which led to a decreased travel time between London and Birmingham from 2 days to 19 hours, which led to "reduced rural dullness".

I can't help but see some parallels between this and the information revolution we are currently experiencing. Our increased need for multimedia and sharing of large files has created a demand for better infrastructure. As our infrastructure improves, our "spirit of innovation" is kicking in and we are finding better and more interesting things we can do with our increased bandwidth. And lastly, I live in a rural area, and I think I have experienced a reduction in dullness. :)

Originally uploaded by shapeshift
But what does all of this have to do with learning? The author notes that our progress will require us to rethink many things including how we learn. Recently, my cousin was lamenting the fact that she has to buy her freshman daughter an expensive graphing calculator. Being the math and science teacher that I am, I reassured her that yes, it is expensive, but is an important tool for learning math. Another cousin interjected, "Why? We never had those." This is a valid question to which I didn't have a ready response. It is difficult sometimes to see the benefits that technology brings. What I wanted to explain to my cousin is that a graphing calculator is like a better road. Except, not only can it decrease the learning time between points A and B, it provides a deeper understanding of a new concept.

I experienced another example of rethinking how we learn this past week. Ginger L. of the Turning Point Learning Center in Kanses invited me via Skype to her classroom of 5th and 6th graders. As we talked about sextants and how they are used, questions arose. When students did not have a convincing answer to a question, Ginger sent them to their computers to research. My cousin might say, "We didn't have macbooks. Why do they need those?" Well, we had to memorize information or rely on our one textbook. Considering that we forget 90 percent of what we learn in class within 30 days (Brain Rules, p. 100), what's the point in memorizing. And, our one textbook was limited in the information it could give us. The Internet, however, is a vast resource that can deliver a lot of good information if used effectively. If Ginger's students do happen to forget 90 percent of what they learned last week (which I doubt!), I bet they will remember how to research and get it back.

Along with the information revolution, I think we are experiencing a learning revolution. We must rethink how and why we are doing what we are doing in the classroom. We must evaluate the new tools technology is giving us and use them to increase ours and our students' learning.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Class Introduction

I have to admit that I approached the start of a new semester with trepidation this week. After my year of part-time work and full-time grad school last year, I have gotten used to a more flexible schedule. Now work is full-time, and I still want to fit in two classes. I need my classes to grab my interest so I actually want to do the work and forget that it is homework I'm doing.

Voila! Instructional Technology for Diverse Cultures. The title alone interests me. But, then I went to class and discovered that we, the students, will have an input into the curriculum. Is there any better way to ensure the interest of your graduate students? Our main project is to teach our topic of choice. As my classmates introduced themselves, I was inspired by the varied backgrounds, but similar passion for learning that we all have. I am excited about the discussions we will have thinking about how instructional technologies affect diverse learners.

Let the learning begin!

About Me

I blog here about learning, technology, traveling, photography and anything else that catches my interest. This blog started out as my reflection journal for a graduate class titled, "Instructional Technology for Diverse Cultures", and it was my first attempt at blogging. I am still working on finding my blogging voice.

I am an instructional technology specialist for a community college in Illinois. I help teachers design and develop their online classes as well as design and deliver technology training. In my former life, I was a high school teacher who thought (and still thinks) that ALL students can learn physics and math.

As an educational technology graduate student, I am interested in finding a successful model for professional development for teachers. I believe that a successful professional development program must include the creation of a community of learners through connecting online with social networking tools. I love teaching, learning, physics, math, technology, photography, my piano and traveling. And, I believe that a good education system can help solve many of the world's problems.

I welcome your feedback. Thank you for reading!