The Internet can make you “smarter” if you learn how to use it

update: The BBC reports on October 14, 2008:

Areas activated by reading a book in the brain of an experienced web user:

Brain activity in an experienced internet user when carrying out simple reading task

Web use stimulates much more activity in the same brain:

Brain activity in an experienced internet user when searching the web

Brain activity in web newcomers: similar for reading and internet use:

Brain activity in a personal not used to using the web while reading

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“Adult learning theory” in the Kindergarten classroom

From the New York Times on October 8, 2008:

The IBPYP model is based on inquiry, participation in the process of learning, and exploration. It is learner-driven, not-teacher dominated. Teachers act as facilitators in the learning process and children’s questions and interests are at the center of the classroom.

… In the current national climate of testing, we have to make time for creative expression. It is urgent. Children need some constructive form of release.

… Children express their creativity and intelligence in a variety of ways. By allowing students to safely explore beyond their typical boundaries, we are encouraging them to express themselves in unique ways in a positive, safe, non-judgmental environment. Performance and open-ended inquiry help us move beyond traditional models of education. The arts, performance, and inquiry are small steps we take to help our students regain ownership of their learning.

I have not been comfortable making a significant distinction between adults and children when looking at the needs of learners for the purpose of developing an idea of what an online component of a classroom could look like.

I have tended to think of learners in a spectrum, and have found that the factor of a learner’s chronological age has not been particularly useful as a way to make distinctions between learners.  From a developmental standpoint, I know that it is a factor due to the physiological processes that happen as we age.  However, it has seemed clear that some children demonstrate adult learning needs, and some adults have learning needs that resemble the needs associated with children.

In this article, we have principles that I have come to associate with adult education now being applied to children in kindergarten.  Children are being encouraged to be self-directed learners.  The idea that children cannot “own” their education is being challenged.

In our classrooms, inquiry comes alive through performance. This week in our kindergarten we are starting a unit called “We are Peacemakers.” In this unit, the children learn about sharing, cooperation, conflict resolution, expressing feelings, and building community. We start the unit by asking the children what they know about peace and being a peacemaker. We then use their questions and interests to guide the inquiry process.

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dynamic collaboration and thoughtful citizenship

From the New York Times on October 11, 2008, with emphasis added:

The same chatting software that, when mismanaged, give us fits in our classrooms, enables us to collaborate in dynamic ways. Students now continue fiery classroom debates when they get home from school. They now walk each other through difficult readings of “The Odyssey” and “Hamlet” and return to class with stronger understandings. Our projects are regularly published — which leads to comments and ongoing conversations with the outside world.

As important as it is for students to expand their sense of community and learn to collaborate — it is more crucial that they learn how to sift thoughtfully through increasing amounts of information. The Internet presents a unique challenge to scholarship — many of the questions that once required extensive research can now be answered with 10-minute visits to Google. The issue now is distinguishing between rich resources and the online collection of surface facts, misinformation, and inexcusable lies that masquerade as the truth. It will be hard for our students to be thoughtful citizens without this ability to discern the useful from the irrelevant.

The practice of education is undergoing a rapid transformation due to web technology.  It appears that the Internet is finding its way into classrooms because it effectively facilitates the goals of education and it is relevant to the real lives of students.

Using the Internet to enhance the learning experience

In research I have been conducting today, I am finding support for the idea that the Internet and web technology can enhance the overall learning experience for students.

From Donnelly, R. (2004). Online Learning in Teacher Education: Enhanced with a Problem-based Learning Approach. AACE Journal. 12 (2), pp. 236-247. Norfolk, VA: AACE.  [pdf] :

Computer mediated communication including web pages, e-mail and web-based discussion boards have been reported by students using them as assisting in increasing satisfaction with their studies, decreasing feelings of isolation and providing better support for their learning processes (Geelan & Taylor, 2001). (241, pdf at 6)

[…] The role of technology in learning is to provide a flexible learning environment that supports student learning rather than the transmission of ideas for passive use in a highly deterministic educational regime. It is this constructivist approach to teaching and learning which is the critical feature of all successful learning environments. (244, pdf at 9)

From Kwan, R., Chan, C., & Lui, A. (2004). Reaching an ITopia in distance learning—A case study. AACE Journal, 12(2), 171-187. [pdf] :

… the Internet is really useful for presenting the multimedia elements as well as providing the capacity to hyperlink to other useful sites to assist student learning. […]

As a matter of fact, students with experience in Learning Space or WebCT tended to ask why all courses were not on them. (179, pdf at 9)

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A definition of “adult education”

In The Profession and Practice of Adult Education (2007), Sharan Merriam and Ralph Brockett broadly define “adult education” as “virtually any activity for adults designed to bring about learning” (8). More specifically, they define adult education as:

activities intentionally designed for the purpose of bringing about learning among those whose age, social roles, or self-perception define them as adults (8).

As to the difference between adult education and adult learning, Merriam and Brockett define adult learning as “a cognitive process internal to the learner,” and can include “unplanned” and “incidental” learning experiences (5-6).  This is different than “adult education,” which is a systematic, organized and planned activity, designed with an intent to facilitate learning (6).

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Internet learning communities

I have been looking at studies and reports related to community colleges and have been really surprised by some of the information that I have found.

For example, in Building a Culture of Evidence for Community College Success: Early Progress in the Achieving the Dream Initiative [pdfBy: Thomas Brock, Davis Jenkins, Todd Ellwein, Jennifer Miller, Susan Gooden, Kasey Martin, Casey MacGregor & Michael Pih — May 2007. New York: MDRC and the Community College Research Center, in the community colleges that were studied, it is reported (at 18, pdf at 44) that:

On average, slightly more than one in ten students at these colleges earned a certificate or an associate’s degree after three years.

In Using Longitudinal Data to Increase Community College Student Success: A Guide to Measuring Milestone and Momentum Point Attainment By: D. Timothy Leinbach & Davis Jenkins — January 2008. CCRC Research Tools No. 2. New York: Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University, a study for the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC) found (pdf at 8):

… for students who enrolled exclusively in college-level classes. … Slightly more than one-fourth (10,423 of 41,339) of all college-level students achieved any milestone within five years.

But wait, there’s hope:

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The virtues of online learning

From the introduction to “Students’ evaluations of the use of e-learning in a collaborative project between two South African universities,” by Poul Rohleder, Vivienne Bozalek, Ronelle Carolissen, Brenda Leibowitz and Leslie Swartz, The International Journal of Higher Education and Educational Planning, 20 August 2007:

Amongst the claims and acclaims made about the virtues of e-learning, Johns (2003, p. 431) ascertains that they can be divided into five categories:

1. Material is made more accessible to learners who can log on at any time which suits them.

2. Web-based material offers the opportunity for learners to explore those areas of the work they find difficult to understand, spending as much time as they wish to with these materials.

3. Web-based material can provide bridges between theory and the world of practice through, for example, organisational sites of social service practice on the web.

4. Web-based learning offers more opportunities for active learning, where students would engage with materials rather than passively receiving knowledge from lecturers.

5. This type of learning offers opportunities for learning activities such as problem-solving and information-gathering skills, and, from a pedagogical perspective, being conducive to ‘‘deep learning’’ rather than ‘‘surface learning’’.1

And that’s not all:

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