Archive for November, 2012

What they want

Sunday, November 25th, 2012

An interesting study in Canada called Speak Out suggests that students want more than just access to technology in their classrooms.

High school students in this recent study reported that they want teachers who provide more time to help them, smaller class sizes, more learning outside the classroom, hands-on experiments, and work at their own pace.

Photograph by: Ted Jacob, Calgary Herald

We might do well to include a much broader set of factors beyond the tools and applications when we examine the impact of technological interventions in our teaching (or when we consider a major expenditure). Our stakeholders certainly need many things to improve their learning.

Applications that help orchestrate and coordinate that complex interaction called teaching might become the most important new tool in the classroom.

Memrise Chinese Challenge

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

I took the Guardian newspaper’s Chinese Challenge last week. Using a blend of timed training, a variety of mnemonic devices, badges, and different formative tests, the challenge was to be able to master 85 Mandarin characters most likely found on a Chinese restaurant menu.

I found myself rushing through the series of ten lessons and was delighted to see how computer based training can certainly do the trick when it comes to gentle and judgment-free reinforcement. I made a few stupid mistakes in the early rounds and tried to game the system a bit. For example, if the first word being tested was “green” as in green vegetables, I just scanned down the list for the symbol for “green” and, bingo, got the right answer. As my points totaled up, I could just feel those powerful brain chemicals surging through my head.

The teaching tool, created by Memrise, uses a series of graphic designs to remind you of where you are in the process. After you initially learn the material, you can review it after 24 hours and will be reminded with an email. After that, you may “water” your learning as if you water a plant to ensure that it has “taken root.”

What was even more interesting to me was that students can create their own free lessons or you can choose from a large array of short courses. Next up for me, the first 500 essential Mandarin characters. You’re never too old to learn a new language.

The Trend to Online Education

Saturday, November 17th, 2012

When I was teaching an undergraduate technology course at The University of Arizona ten years ago, I recall students were upset in the fall semester that they had to retrieve their syllabus from my web page. The next semester a sea change had occurred and colleagues were reporting that students were upset if their syllabus was NOT available online.

Now this apparent sea change, Melbourne University in Australia has announced the number of enrollments on its online courses is now higher than the amount of people signing up to campus-based education.

The online announcement was breathless but, just to clarify, the university means their free online courses run through Coursera. Often thousands of people begin these free courses then find they lose interest and enthusiasm and many do not complete.

Created by M. McVey with PowerPoint

I am not at all surprised at the uptick in registrations and factor in basic human curiosity and the draw of getting something free. I started a Coursera course last summer to figure out how essays would be graded (more on that in a later post). Companies running these MOOCs are working very hard to roll them out and develop a name for themselves (and, granted, trying to provide a high quality educational experience) but we are in early days yet. The data on the numbers of completions and a better profile of who their students are and what their intentions are in taking the courses will help to tell the full story of their success. In addition, once 12,053 eager and curious students take your macro-economics offering, how many will sign up to take it again?

On the horizon, will there be a movement for Higher Education to begin accepting these online certificates as valid credits?

Alone Together

Friday, November 16th, 2012

As the Blackberry begins to fade, we will begin to forget phrases such as ‘crackberry’ and the meaning of RIM will become a trivia question. Many Blackberry users will recall with bittersweet fondness that blinking red light. Was it just a notification of a message coming in, or was it more? Was it your device reminding you that you were wanted and needed?

Sherry Turkle’s “Alone Together”

That is the question posed in Sherry Turkle’s book Alone Together. Her argument is that in this constant, always-on world, we can still feel alone, but now we feel alone together.  You might enjoy listening to a Fresh Air interview with the author.

Of course, the result of this culture of distraction is not confined to one device. Dr. Turkle draws attention to the competition children are feeling as they try to gain the attention of their parents who are attending to their cell phones, iPads, Kindles, and other devices. She offers some concrete suggestions for parents and teachers on how to deal with this distracting influence. Give it a listen and give it some thought.

MOOCs and Assessments of Prior Learning

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

With the rise of MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) offered by many large universities, and now some smaller ones, an interesting discussion has been revived.

Many students bring to their higher education careers some excellent life/work experiences that, some might argue, universities have largely ignored. To begin down the higher education path they must traverse what must seem like a gauntlet of courses with redundant information and skills in order to get to more challenging topics upstream. In order to fit into a particular program, students must prove they have already mastered a set of requisite skills, sometimes quite refined skills, through requirements of their day job. They need to prove that they are not neophytes.

With over 40 million people in the US who started a post-secondary program but never completed, the theory is that adult students are more likely to earn a degree (or credential) if they receive credit for prior learning.

Online education will play a significant role

Some states, seeing enormous benefits, are taking an interest in competency-based learning, which places strong emphasis on taking account of prior learning experience. Last August, in Tennessee, a commission argued that universities should value the diversity of their students.  This diversity includes the unique experiences, interests, and intellectual pursuits that lead to the acquisition of knowledge that may be at the college level.

The trick is to figure out how to define prior learning and then assess it. My colleague from The University of Arizona, Gary Rhoades, suggested, “it cheapens a college education, cheats the student and society, and prioritizes stamping students as certified over providing them with a quality education.”

For that very reason, I think we need to keep control of the assessment piece. This area of interest will grow (and should grow) in Michigan as more soldiers serving overseas return to the work force and as more of our present work force seeks retraining through higher education. This retraining will make online education more important than ever, but our new goals should include figuring out what skills can transfer into our programs.

The discussion in higher education is now turning to the idea that students could earn credits at the beginning of their new academic career through an assessment of their prior learning. That is where MOOCs appear. These courses, open to anyone, might be the way for individuals to prove that they have mastered some of those underpinning skills.