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.

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Video Games and Education

Via the Associated Press on September 16, 2008, it appears to be a matter of when, not if video games become incorporated into the school environment:

Ninety-seven percent of young respondents play video games. That’s 99 percent of boys and 94 percent of girls, with little difference in the percentages among various racial and ethnic groups and incomes.

… And they don’t just play by themselves. Nearly two-thirds play video games to socialize face-to-face with friends and family, while just over a quarter said they play with Internet friends.

“It shows that gamers are social people,” says Amanda Lenhart, a senior researcher at Pew who led the report on the survey. “They communicate just as much. They spend time face-to-face, just as much as other kids. They e-mail and text.”

It does seem that this upcoming generation is communicating loud and clear about their needs as learners.  It appears that there is a strong desire for learning to be interactive and fun, as well as a social activity.  This appears to be a huge opportunity for educators, especially in how a well-designed game can tailor a learning experience to the individual needs of a learner and allow them to progress to a new “level” at their own pace.  A video game format also seems well-suited to identify areas where a student is having difficulty, and would allow an educator to have immediate access to this information.

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Integrating Technology with Adult Learning Theory

Near the top of a google search for “adult learning theory and education,” I found the article “Andragogy and Technology: Integrating Adult Learning Theory as We Teach with Technology” by Dolores Fidishun, Ed.D., Penn State Great Valley School of Graduate Professional Studies, presented at the 2000 Mid-South Instructional Technology Conference, Middle Tennessee State University.

The article begins with this idea:

The principles of adult learning theory can be used in the design of technology-based instruction to make it more effective.

I share this sentiment and one of the reasons that I have developed this blog is to learn more about adult learning theories and how these ideas can be applied to the development of online educational resources.

Based on the application of adult learning theories, Dr. Fidishun offers several suggestions for the design of an effective online educational resource, including these specific design ideas:

One way to help students see the value of the lessons is to ask the student, either online or in an initial face-to-face meeting, to do some reflection on what they expect to learn, how they might use it in the future or how it will help them to meet their goals.

It becomes extremely important for those who are designing technology-based adult learning to use all of the capabilities of the technology including branching, the ability to skip sections a student already understands, and multiple forms of presentation of material which can assist people with various learning styles.

The instructor must find ways to move [dependent] learners into self-direction by giving them short, directed, concrete online tasks that provide the most “learning for the experience” to make these adults see the relevancy of online learning.

The design of technology-based instruction must include opportunities for learners to use their knowledge and experience. Case studies, reflective activities, group projects that call upon the expertise of group members and lab experiments are examples of the type of learning activities which will facilitate the use of learners’ already acquired expertise.

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The evolution of the classroom

From the New York Times on August 16, 2008:

The educational bottom line, it seems, is that while computer technology has matured and become more affordable, the most significant development has been a deeper understanding of how to use the technology.

“Unless you change how you teach and how kids work, new technology is not really going to make a difference,” said Bob Pearlman, a former teacher who is the director of strategic planning for the New Technology Foundation, a nonprofit organization.

The needs of students have already shifted due to the development of web-based technology. The recognition of this rapid evolution seems to be a common theme in the news lately.

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Web Tools for Educators

Several lists of web tools have been created and then revised over time by Rick Lillie, an accounting professor at California State University. He also has a blog that has a lot more information about web-based tools that can be used in an academic environment, and what looks like a new WordPress blog.

Web Tools on the August 8, 2008 list include:

  1. TokBox is a free Web 2.0 video messaging service. TokBox enables me to record up to a 15 minute video message. TokBox gives me a URL link that I can include in an email message. TokBox also provides code with which to embed a Flash player in a website or web page. TokBox includes a unique feature that enables video-conferencing with up to six people. My students use this feature when working together on a project.

  2. VoiceThread is a Web 2.0 hosted service that takes slide-type presentations to a whole new level. It is easy to create presentations with either audio or video support tracks. VoiceThread makes it possible to record “live annotations” while recording a presentation. The end result is a streaming presentation that greatly improves instructor presence. VoiceThread creates a warmer teaching-learning experience.

  3. Google Docs is a Web 2.0 technology tool that enables collaboration. A great feature is the ability to save a document in a variety of formats including Adobe Acrobat’s .pdf format. It’s free and can be used with other Web 2.0 tools to empower the collaboration process.

The lists can be seen here.

What is the Internet?

According to the Pew Research Center in 2002, the Internet is a textbook, reference library, tutor, study shortcut, study group, guidance counselor, locker, backpack and notebook.

The students employ five different metaphors to explain how they use the Internet for school: The Internet as virtual textbook and reference library, as virtual tutor and study shortcut, as virtual study group, as virtual guidance counselor, and the Internet as virtual locker, backpack, and notebook.

In the videos “The Machine is Us/ing us” and “Information R/evolution” as well as “A Vision of Students Today,” Dr. Michael Wesch from Kansas State University describes the Internet as a revolution in how we think about education, communication, participation, community, identity and culture.

On June 23, 2008, Dr. Wesch presented “An Anthropological Introduction to YouTube” at the Library of Congress. The video is close to an hour long, and it discusses several dimensions of society that are transforming with the Internet.

In the video, Dr. Wesch refers to the book Bowling Alone (about the collapse and revival of the American community) and begins his presentation by talking about Kevin Kelly, (who is currently writing a book online about the developing internet).

I went online to find the August, 2005 article “We Are the Web” by Kevin Kelly, which briefly appears in “The Machine is Us/ing us” video by Dr. Wesch. I found several points that illustrate compelling ideas about the nature of the Internet.

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Maybe the schools are the problem

From the BBC on August 15, 2008:

Professor Greenfield has spent a lifetime researching the physiology of the brain, and now thinks that there could be a link between the attention span of children and the growing use of computers.

In an interview for Radio 4’s iPM she said: “The last 10 years have seen a three-fold increase in the prescription of the drug Ritalin, a drug used for Attention Deficit Disorder. One asks why?

“Why suddenly is there greater demand for a drug for attentional problems?” she asked. “This might, and I stress might, be something to do with the increased exposure of young children to unsupervised and lengthy hours in front of a screen.”

Baroness Greenfield wondered if the cause was growing computer use.

“Could it be, and this is just a suggestion which I think we should look into, could it be if a small child is sitting in front of a screen pressing buttons and getting reactions quickly for many hours, they get used to and their brains get used to rapid responses?” she said.

If children do not have stories read to them and have little practice of concentrating for long periods this could effect how they handle the sedate pace of school life, said Baroness Greenfield.

Or maybe they are the solution…

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