Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Wireless Distractions

There has been a lot of discussion in a group that I belong to about all the distractions in the classroom now thanks to wireless technologies - cell phones, iPods, laptops, etc. Some think it's a big deal that their learners "aren't paying attention to them", others, like me not so much.

Most of my students are, supposedly, as Mark Prensky calls them, "digital natives". There has been a lot written on these digital generation and their ability to multi task, that their brains are wired differently to receive multiple information sources simultaneously unlike us "digital immigrants" with our analog minds that move at the speed of clay tablets and papyrus and quill. I have discovered however, that very few of them can actually handle more than one digital input at a time, and are easily distracted from task.

There is a reason for this - they are, in fact, NOT true digital natives - those are still in the K-12 system and they are represented by children like the young son of a friend of mine who taught himself to play the piano by watching a video from You Tube. This glaringly obvious glimpse into reality was made clear to be my a very wise new friend from Second Life, John2 Kepler (his avatar's name - I will let him introduce his "real" self if he chooses) who possesses great insight into the minds of our learners today. My current students are not digital natives, but they have all of the digital tools. For many of them this creates a great deal of angst. Try asking them to use chat or a wiki as a learning tool - many don't know what you are talking about. There is a lot more to being a digital native than surfing the Web, IMing friends, and listening to MP3s all at the same time.

And as for the original thought...are all of the digital distractions in our classrooms a bad thing? Why aren't our learners paying attention to us? Is it bad faculty or bad learners? Should I as a faculty member be upset if my learners aren't paying attention to my brilliance?

Let's see - the answers are - 1. No, not necessarily unless they distract those learners who do want to learn; 2. Some are paying attention and some are not, but ultimately they are responsible for their own learning, so it is THEIR choice; 3. I don't think it's bad learners or bad faculty, but perhaps both parties need to adapt to the new digital age; 4. I refer you back to No. 2 - adult learning is the responsibility of the adult learners - if they choose not to learn, that is their right. It's my job to provide them with a learning environment (with their input) that will engage them and allow for, most, but not all, to be successful as learners. So, no, I should not be upset if learners don't pay attention. Does that mean that I am not upset when that happens? Well, that's another story...

Monday, January 22, 2007

Blog Your Learning

A very wise friend of mine has coined the phrase "blog your learning". Now, I had to think on that for a minute. Blog your learning? What does that mean? Well then I had one of those "AHA!!" moments that strike once in a while and provide instant clarity for me.

Blog your learning - it seems so clear now. As we learn, we tend to share our learning with others. Now that I'm doing most of my learning online these days whether exploring the use of Web 2.0 technologies, immersing myself in virtual worlds like Second Life, reading other people's blog, wikis, RSS aggregators, or simple Web pages (remember when a simple Web page was cool?), the best way for me, it seems, to share my learning is in a blog.

So my plan is to do just that dear reader - I will share what I learn with you through this blog. With any luck you will get almost as much from reading it as I get from writing it...

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Portfolio Learning in a MUVE

NSCC Is a portfolio College. That means that all learners develop a portfolio as a requirement for graduation from their programme and that we foster an environment of portfolio learning. I firmly believe in portfolio learning as it really does allow for learners to "get" what they have learned by forcing them to explore their motivations for learning and discover the learning they have actually done. For many it eases them away from the achievement of grades (the K-12 measure of success) to the achievement of learning (the adult education measure of success in my mind).

Many learners find it very difficult to develop their portfolios and as a faculty member I am constantly trying to help learners with their portfolios. I have just discovered (in a great AHA!! moment) a way in which portfolio development and portfolio learning can be made easy. The answer is to live your portfolio and the way to do that is to move to a MUVE (Multi-User Virtual Environment).

In my case that MUVE is Second Life (www.secondlife.com). Last night I was in world and IMing with a good friend and colleague and we got to talking about all of the great learning opportunities offered in Second Life - and comments made during our conversation provided instant clarity:

"when you think about it, all your learning is on display,
even if you're just an avatar
what you know is visible
the ultimate portfolio - you create it by being
it's so true - so easy to create a portfolio in here - all you have to do is log on and live"

Very cool - all you have to do is log on and live - what a moment of clarity for me - get learners to create living portfolios in a virtual world that they can share with the real world! This is in fact, what we are trying to do in the real world capture what we are living (and learning), but we get bogged down by paper and Web sites, and code, and finding the time to update things, and ... In a MUVE it all happens simultaneously.

Now - how do I convince learners and others that I'm on to something? Hmmm...

Who Owns an Idea?

I've been thinking a lot lately about this question - who owns an idea? It's becoming increasingly important for me as I use more and more Web technologies in my teaching practice. This means I'm blogging, posting to wikis, using aggregators, creating Web sites and using other tools and technologies to make resources available to my learners (and pretty much anyone else who can work a browser). These resources all originated from an idea (usually someone else's).

Now, I've always been a "sharer", giving resources and other materials I've created to learners and fellow faculty - I post all of my exercises, projects, assignments, and handouts to an internal repository that any faculty member can get to and I encourage people to use them if they work for them. I have a background in curriculum development, so I am used to many people using my work products, and while I have pride in my work, I do not have a great deal of "pride of authorship" meaning that I am not particularly attached to the work I create and if it's of use to you - go for it and use it (although I would appreciate attribution where required :-)).

I got thinking about this issue for two reasons - I've been listening in on a education list where this has become a hot topic - with the ever increasing use of the Web in education and the with the attitude of many that what is on the Web is "free", many people are not sharing in order to keep ownership of their materials. This results in a loss of really good resources and learning opportunities. The second reason came this week while I was attending a college workshop discussing among other things, the sharing of work to increase the body of knowledge of the college as a whole. A point was raised that a staff or faculty member's desire to retain their intellectual property rights might conflict with this sharing environment.

I guess the question for me is who owns an idea - is it the original thinker or is it the larger community that debates the idea, forms it, and benefits from it? Hmmm...

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Hum? Oh It's 15 C? - Never Mind

Well, here it is January and we are basking in double digit temperatures. That's not all that unusual for January except that they are positive double digit temperatures, not negative ones. The grass is green, buds are budding and there isn't a lick of snow, sleet, freezing rain, or slush to be seen anywhere. It's quite a remarkable thing - and whether (weather? :-)) it's caused by El Nino, or global warming, or both - it is somewhat disconcerting, for you see I AM Canadian (apologies to Molson Breweries).

As a Canadian, it is my biological, or at least psychological imperative to complain about the weather at least once an hour (more frequently when wet, cold, and miserable which is how I am supposed to be in January!!!), so this unseasonably warm weather has got me all kefuffled.

How am I supposed to complain about spring-like days and dry feet? I mean this is almost unconstitutional - moaning about the weather is our national pastime, right up there with being sure that THIS is the year the Leafs will win the Stanley Cup (sorry Dad - not this year). Instead I'm thinking of getting my golf clubs out of Winter storage and hitting the links - it's almost cruel.

So what to complain about... Hmmm - I know - the weather is too good - it's not supposed to be nice, we need snow, (no we don't), it's not Canada without snow (why not?), so let it snow, let it snow, let it snow. Then all will be well with the world and I can get back to moaning and complaining like it's my given right as a Canadian to do.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

What Happens When It's Over?

What do we do with our online courses and e-learning experiences once they are over? Many institutions take them down (as we do here at NSCC), and the learners move on to their next opportunity. To me this is a missed learning opportunity. What if previous learners or graduates want to get some of the materials they created, or have something to add to the current serial of the course?

Of course this is exactly what a lot of our learners do in "brick" courses as well. The course is over, they can put the textbook on the shelf (or sell it), and not worry about all of that course material that was accumulated over the duration of the course. Our current mentality is "cool, the course is over - time to put it to bed and move on...".

I figure that if I believe in life-long learning (and I do), then I need to provide a "life-long" learning environment. We often bring back grads to talk to current learners, and this would be another way to do that - get their experiences into the learning mix.

Right now that happens by e-mail (if at all), not the best way to do things. I'm starting to play with wikis as a way of "persisting" a course, and allowing former learners and grads to continue to contribute to the learning environment if they want to.

I have also received some excellent advice from SLED, the Second Life Educator's mailing list - https://lists.secondlife.com/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/educators . Chris Hambly (Audio Zenith in Second Life - check out audiocourses.com) uses the following tools to help persist courses after they are over:

Podcasts (yes including getting ex students interviewed)
Forums (dedicated alumni sections)
Yearly AC bash!
Instant messengers
Even text messages recently.

(Thanks for the great ideas Chris).

I plan on exploring some or all of these tools to broaden the learning experiences in my courses and to try and encourage graduates to continue to support their own learning and the learning of those that follow them. I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Happy New Year

The beginning of a new year is always full of optimism, looking forward to the possibilities. That's how I feel about 2007 - it's full of possibilities. I think that 2007 will see all sorts of new and interesting things in my life and my teaching practice - an increased use of Web 2.0 technologies, social networking tools, wikis, virtual environments, and tools not yet thought of or seen. Learners will have the resources and tools to really take charge of their own learning and be able to customize their learning experiences and environments. It is going to be very cool.

I can't wait to see where the adventure will take us. Happy New Year`everyone!

Check out some of these Web 2.0 tools:

Google Apps

These are just a few of the many Web-based tools that are going to revolutionize the way we find, share, and use information.