Wednesday, May 28, 2008

NISOD 2008 - Sculpting And Spanning Spaces - The Learning-Centred Community College Course

This session was presented by Claudine Lowry, Dean of Organizational Learning and Craig Collins, Principal of the Lunenburg Campus of the Nova Scotia Community College. (NSCC) I am an academic chair at NSCC and attended this session to provide support to my colleagues and to see what other attendees thought about our amazing faculty and staff development programme - the Community College Education Diploma Programme (CCEDP).

This session focussed on one of the ten courses that learners in the CCEDP (all new faculty and professional support staff at NSCC must take CCEDP to get regular status) - The Learning-Centred Community College. This course introduces learners to what it means to be learning-centred and to work in a learning-centred college.

The session was conducted very informally as a talking circle, one of the actual tools and techniques used in the course - it was a very cool way to present the course after having sat in on so many formal presentations that revolved around the screen at the front. It was interesting to hear the questions being asked by the audience - it made me realize just how blessed we are at NSCC to have such an amazing learning opportunity that CCEDP is. I'm so glad that I chose to sit in on this session - sometime you have to leave home to realize just how good you have it...

NISOD 2008 - Humor And Multimedia as Teaching Tools For The Net Generation...

This session was presented by Dr. Ronald Berk, professor Emeritus at John Hopkins University. A statistician by trade, Ron has published several books on using humour to teach, including "Professors Are From Mars, Students Are From Snickers".

In this informative, entertaining, funny, and transformative presentation, Dr. Berk presented an approach to using humour and multimedia to reach our current millennial students. he began by talking about the parts of the act of teaching;
  • Content (the what)
  • Pedagogy (the how)
Further breaking pedagogy down:
  • Learner-Centered Teaching (over 1000+ articles 119 studies)
  • Technology - online, offline, inline, and outtaline
We looked at the characteristics of the Net Gen digital native learners, the fact that they are visually oriented, that there is a need to address multiple intelligences and learning styles, and that the use of humour can go along way to reaching students. Include humour in your tests, take a "commercial break" when things are lagging and eyes are glazing over, use humour, demonstrations and even role plays to introduce complex or confusing topics, and connect with your learners.

His entire presentation was full of sound clips, vidoes and other cultural references that the audience and his students would get - an amazing use of technology and tools to use humour to break down barriers, present difficult topics and most importantly reach millennial learners with language and symbols that the understand.

One of his key pieces of advice (and there were many) was this - if you want to identify what is in your students' world - ASK them, conduct a survey - great, simple advice. as he put it "We are working together in the room".

Perhaps his best quote of the presentation, and one that encapsulates something that I have believed for a long time is this:

"PowerPoint by itself is a bunch of dead words on a screen"

Add sound, video, interactivity - bring life to your PowerPoint - great stuff.

there is no doubt that this approach to teaching, which I believe works is time consuming - the depth and richness of Dr. Berk's presentation must have taken hours to prepare. I think that the end result was well worth it though - a jam-packed room full of engaged learners.

This was an amazing presentation, perhaps the highlight of NISOD 2008 for me so far - best way that I can sum it up is to say that I wish I had been one of Ron Berk's students and I am so glad that for a very short two hours I was...

NISOD 2008 - KConversation With Amado's Friends...eynote -

This keynote was a moderated conversation with Larry Gatlin, the 2008 winner of the Amado Pena, Jr, Journey of Excellence Award and Dr. Don Cameron, president of Guildford Technical Community College, home of the Larry Gatlin School of Entertainment Technology.

Larry Gatlin is many things, an entertainer, a songwriter, a business man, but most of all he is a teacher. His memory and recall are amazing, attributed to teachers that he had. He spoke of the how important teachers have been in his life, telling stories of several of them with great affection, how his family was blessed with several teachers, and how important education has been to him (when was the last time you have heard a country star quote Chaucer from memory?).

Dr. Cameron then spoke about the Larry Gatlin School of Entertainment Technology, how it was conceived up to today where it has moved into a brand new facility.

Larry Gatlin then lead what was basically a short master class in songwriting, walking through his process of writing a song - a very natural, learning and teaching moment. He is a teacher, a supporter of education and an entertainer - what a great way to start the day...

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

NISOD 2008 - Integrating Ethics Into Your IT Courses

This session was presented by Dr. Peter Meggison of Massasoit Community College. The presentation was on his experience delivering a one credit (five week) course in compute ethics.

He recommends three possible ways to deliver ethics to IT students:
  1. A full course in computer ethics (3 credits, one semester)
  2. A short course (1 credit, five weeks - his method)
  3. Integrated into a computer applications course with an ethics component
Ethics falls into the area of "soft skills" which are in many ways more in demand by employers than technical skills (which they can provide themselves). This is also very true of employers in Halifax, so interesting to see that employers have the same concerns in the Boston area.

Dr. Meggison provide a series of resources that he uses in his course including his process of ethical decision making:
  1. get the facts
  2. identify all of the stakeholders
  3. consider the consequences of the decision
  4. weigh various guidelines and principles
  5. develop and evaluate options
  6. review decisions
  7. evaluate the results of the decision
This is very much a critical thinking course.

I believe that there is a definite need to include ethics education in all of the programmes we offer. It was good to see one instructor's approach to delivering this important subject area...

NISOD 2008 - e-Portfolio + Reflective Writing = Enhnced Student Learning

This session was on a combination project between the Colorado department of Labor (e-Colorado), a writing instructor and an IT instructor, both from Pikes Peak Community College.

e-Colorado is a shared resources for workforce development and the instructors from Pikes peak used it as a repository for student portfolios - tying together reflective writing pieces with course work, the advantage was greater exposure of students to employers and students writing reflective pieces on their work, getting a better understanding of who they are and what they have done.

It was interesting to see how another institution, combined with a workforce development initiative used portfolio. I really liked the idea of having a site like e-Colorado to display student portfolios to industry. At my college we are much further developed in the use and integration of portfolio into our learning, but we do not have a "portal" for e-Portfolios like e-Colorado - I think it is something that we need to explore...

NISOD 2008 - Welcome To College! Don't Let the Door Hit You On The Way Out...

This session was presented by Vincent Tinto and Arleen Arnsparger, project manager MetLife Foundation Initiative on Student Success, along with two students from Austin Community College. The session was conducted as a panel discussion with the students being asked questions about their college experience, specifically their experiences as new students. What a great hing to do - actually have learners at an education conference. I had the opportunity to talk to Dr. Tinto later in the day and I thanked him ofr including learners in the session. we need to inlude learners more in opportunities like this.

The research behind this session comes from a couple of sources - CCSSE - the community college survey of student engagement and SENSE - the survey of entering student engagement. The focus of this panel discussion was starting right - a first look at engaging entering students. These initiatives were launched to determine why 50% of students leaving college were leaving before completing one semester.

Dr. Tinto used a metaphor approach to ask questions of the students - a process that he has used extensively with focus groups of students, faculty student services folks, and presidents. His advice on running a focus group was:
  • serve food
  • ask questions
  • 6-8 participants
Here are the two questions that were asked of the students using the metaphor approach:
  1. The process of enrolling in college was like...
  2. My first two weeks of classes were like...
and the students completed those statements. Some of the advice that they had for us (and other students) included:
  • make skills courses credit courses more students will take them
  • communicate what you need
  • take advantage of advisors/counsellors
  • talk to people
The interesting thing listening to the students is that both became successful when they took responsibility for their own college experience - they were engaged in the process.

So what needs to be done to help learners get engaged in their learning and at their institution? The learner experience of new students must be improved:
  • be available and accessible
  • advise, be open and honest
  • care about students
  • embedded advising - advisors go to class
This session was an amazing opportunity to hear about engagement and retention from the very people we are trying to engage and retain - learners! It was interesting to hear two students from Texas describe experiences that I know are happening at my college. We all need to get better at this critical piece of getting learners into college in the right programmes and then giving them the tool and resources that will keep them there.

It was also very cool watching Dr. Tinto interact with the students and the audience of educators. I learned a lot observing someone who is a master of their domain...

NISOD 2008 - A Learning-Centered Ph.D For Community College Leaders

This session, conducted by two community college presidents who are both faculty mentors in Walden University's Community College Leadership program, highlighted the program and what it has to offer to learners.

I've been researching various PhD and EdD programmes and learning options for several months now, with an aim to staring an EdD sometime in 2009. I attended this session to get detailed information on Walden's programme and I was not disappointed.

Walden takes a scholar/practitioner orientation in its programme - a combination of online and residency (a total of 20 days of residency), built on the Learning College principles. The key learning opportunity in the Walden programme are the Knowledge Area Modules or KAMS. Five KAMS are completed as part of the programme along with course work and a dissertation. the cool thing about the KAMs is that they are areas of research and learning that you want to do - a customized learner and learning-centered approach.

Walden offers a 25% discount to candidates in the CCL PhD programme - $3037.00 per quarter with a typical completion time of 3-4 years. Still expensive, but nice to get the break.

An informative session that has kept Walden firmly on my list of potential PhD/EdD programmes. The research continues...

NISOD 2008 - What Does It take To Become A Successful Chair?

This presentation was done by Dr. Jim Hammons of the University of Arkansas. Dr. Hammons is the "godfather' of what has now become the Chair Academy, and has many years of research and practice dealing with chairs.

I've been an academic chair for about nine months now and was interested in attending this session to see if I was on track and if there were any tips and hints that would make me more effective in my job. The presentation started with a definition of what a successful academic chair is:

"A successful chair is one who has the ability to take an ill-defined job that none of your colleagues would consider taking and perform it at a level acceptable to your faculty and your boss with no orientation or training and without being given the time, information, or other institutional support necessary to do so" - Hammons 1991

While this definition received much laughter, there is a certain grain of truth to it in that the chair's job is busy and in many cases looking in both directions - teaching and learning with faculty and administratively "up" with the larger College perspective. My own experience is that I have had the support of faculty, administration and my institution in doing my job, and i was very fortunate in that I was mentored for several months by my predecessor - an invaluable experience and one that I would recommend as the norm for anyone entering a chair's position.

I am a non-teaching chair and this presentation was focussed on the US college model where most chairs are still in the classroom. I think being a non-teaching chair, and having come from the ranks of faculty, is a distinct advantage. I understand the issues faculty face and I have the time to deal with them (well some days I do... :-)). The biggest thing about being a chair, and one that was emphasized during this presentation is that a chair has such a wise variety of roles that you cannot be expert in them all. There is a need for development opportunities for chairs.

Dr Hammons included a couple of instruments in his presentation handout, one dealing with institutional support factors influencing chairperson performance, and the other one a self-testing instrument for chairs on how do you rate your skills? He suggested that the second one be filled out by a chair and also be their faculty - I think that this is a great idea and will try it with my faculty.

What I got from this presentation is that chairs no matter where they are are very busy people. Most importantly I got some perspective on my own position as an academic chair - I like our system of non-teaching chairs and the broad scope of work that we do. I am an administrator, but I am also a leader and I must remember that as I do my job. There is a need for formal training for chairs, to help all of us be as good as we can be at our principal task - supporting learner success...

NISOD 2008 - Keynote - Access Without Support Is Not Opportunity...

The Monday morning keynote address was given by Dr. Vincent Tinto, Distinguished Professor, Syracuse University. Dr. Tinto is a leading researcher and authority on learner retention in College. To demonstrate his influence on community colleges, Dr. Walter Bumphus who introduced Dr. Tinto asked those in the audience who had read or used an if Dr. Tinto's work to stand up. Dr. Tinto received a standing ovation form the audience, well over 1000 strong.

Learner engagement and retention is an area of concern and research for me and it was great to finally get to hear Dr. Tinto speak after having read so much of his work.

The theme of his address was that Access without support is not opportunity. Simply getting learners into college isn't enough - they have to stay there and succeed. In the US access to college and university education is greater today than it has ever been, but at the same time stratification by income limits where and how people attend post-secondary education (PSE). Low income enrollment was over 60% a few years ago and is currently less than 45% - low income has become the decider of college attendance, not academic ability. At the elite colleges there is less income diversity than racial diversity. College completion rates are lower amongst low income learners - in 1995 60% of high income learners earned a BA withing six years, only 25% of low income learners earned a BA in the same amount of time.

Restructuring is needed to solve the problem:
  • Supplemental Instruction
    • Promoting success within the classroom - many low income learners only have time on campus to be in the classroom and cannot use the other facilities
    • Must meet student needs in the classroom
    • Academic supports connected to a class
    • Alingment of support activities of the class
    • One class at a time - this is how most low income learners complete their education - we need to be aware of that - it is their reality
  • Basic Skills Learning Communities
    • Students enroll in connected classes together
    • Course content is aligned
    • Academic supports are linked
    • Learning communities improve performance and retention
    • Teaching in context - Content Course - Skills Course linked"We learn better together"
Dr. Tinto spoke about SPECC - Strengthening Pre-Collegiate Education in Community Colleges, a Carnegie Foundation initiative loking at 11 California community colleges rethinking basic skills training. SPECC is looking at basic math and language skills - developmental skills needed for PSE success. There is a need to change the experience of at risk learners , and this goes beyond simply starting a retention program - the whole college experience needs to be changed.

The attainment of two and four year degrees needs to be improved - it's more than just access - access without support is not opportunity. We must support our learners - I think in general at my college we are doing a good job, but there is still room for improvement.

I found Dr. Tinto's address quite compelling - I sit on my campus retention committee and it is more than simply having a retention plan - we need to determine why we are losing learners early in their college careers - is it lack of preparation, lack of or the wrong skill sets, motivation, something else or a combination of these and other factors? Researchers like Dr. Tinto not only give us lots to think about, they point the way to improving how we deal with our learners and help enhance their college experiences. Today's college learners are the operators of tomorrow's national infrastructures - we must be better at helping them succeed at college...

Monday, May 26, 2008

NISOD 2008 - Keynote - "America's Community Colleges: The Nation's Best Defence

This keynote address was given by Dr. Ronald Williams, Vice President of the College Board. Much of his address was based on a College Board report " Winning the Skills Race and Strengthening America's Middle Class: an Action Agenda for Community Colleges".

Community Colleges in the US currently enroll 46% of all undergraduate students and community colleges are much more diverse than universities. It was pointed out by Dr. Williams that the US lags behind most developed nations in most educational measures and that it is community colleges that are preparing the current and next generations of the people that will run the national infrastructure.

There are four threats to the community college:
  • Rising costs
  • Mismatch between demand and resources
  • A culture that has emphasized access more than success
  • The challenge of monitoring outcomes
We are looking at very similar issues in Canada and it was somewhat reassuring to realize that institutions in the US are dealing with many of the same issues.

A thought provoking address that I am sure gave US-based faculty and staff lots to think of. If you get a chance, take a look at the report - it has lots of relevance for colleges outside of the USA as well...

NISOD 2008 - Factors Affecting Student Performance and How to Influence Them...

This pre-conference workshop was delivered by Dr. Jim Hammons, professor in the Higher Education Leadership Program at the University of Arkansas.

This was a very good workshop - Dr. Hammons has many years (over 40 by his count) of experience and presented in a very inclusive and participative manner - a great example of how to get your information across by engaging the audience in the process.

Two things were looked at:
  • Factors that influence student performance
  • Ways to influence them
Here, in raw form, are the factors that influence student performance:
  • A = Ability (what a student can do)
  • M = Motivation (a student's ability to use ability)
  • O = Opportunity (the chance to perform (and learn if they did so correctly))
  • C = Classroom Culture (the way things are), Classroom Climate (how students feel about it)
  • O = Organization (the organizational unit where instruction occurs)
  • C = Organizational Culture (the way things are), Organizational Climate (how faculty feel about it)
  • E = Environment (factors outside of the classroom that affect student performance inside the classroom)
The whole model together is described as C5AMEO2 - a way of looking at the factors affecting student performance. I found it a simple and clear way of identifying the factors that create the learning environment that your learners find themselves in, and then it allows you to figure out how to support learners (and yourself) deal with these factors. The bulk of the workshop was the discussions on how to influence these factors and support learners.

One of the influencers that was discussed was student success courses, a new concept for me, but one that many in the audience were familiar with. Effectively student success courses provide the knowledge and skills that learners need to succeed (or at least start on as level a playing filed as possible) at college. We have something similar that we call "College 101", but these student success course are much more formal, mandatory at some institutions, and in my mind a great idea that all learners should take at the beginning of their college career.

Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATS) and the use of counsellors were also consistently mentioned as influencers that have an impact on student assessment - CATS inside the classroom, counselling outside the classroom. I firmly believe that learning IS a team sport and counsellors, student success processes, learning centres, in class assesment, and other resources are all part of the modern learning "team".

I believe that the factor with the greatest potential impact on student assessment and performance, and the one that we sometimes tend to overlook as educators is E, the environment that learners exist in. Fortunately, Dr. Hammons spent a significant amount of time discussing this factor and drove home its importance to everyone. From my own experience, the learner's environment, their "life" is what is going to impact the most on their learning experiences - knowing this, it is so critical to get to know your learners, to realize that they are people and to be proactive in supporting them.

Simple things like open computer labs for students who cannot afford their own computer, financial services and advice, counselling, proper academic advising and other tools that engage you in the learner's educational journey will allow you to assist learners to manage their environment and increase their opportunity for success.

This was a great workshop. If you get an opportunity to sit in on a presentation by Dr. Hammons, do so. He says he doesn't travel much anymore, but if you can convince him to travel to your institution or conference, do it, it will be a great experience for all...

NISOD 2008 - Fundamentals of Good Assessment - Student Learning Outcomes

Today I attended two NISOD 2008 pre-conference workshops. This first one, Fundamentals of Good Assessment - Student Learning Outcomes was presented by Dr. Cathrael (Kate) Kazin of ETS (Educational Testing Service).

She presented an "evidence" and "task" approach to assessing Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs), defined as the "accumulated knowledge, skills, and attitudes that students develop during a course of study". They can assessed at the class, programme, or institutional level (although for the purposes of this presentation, I felt that Dr. Kazin kept her examples to the programme level). SLOs reflect a shift of focus from, " What am I teaching?" to "What are students learning?" I found this learning-centred approach very familiar and relevant to me as it allowed me to participate in the rest of the presentation based on how we approach learning-centredness at NSCC.

SLOs need to be measurable to be meaningful, and in order for there to be proof that they have been achieved there must be evidence. This evidence is gathered through the careful design of tasks, questions, tests, that will show whether or not that a learners has met a SLO. The two main "tasks" that were presented in this workshop were:
  • Multiple Choice Questions
  • Constructed Responses
Dr. Kazin uses the term "constructed response" to identify any questions or tasks that help learners construct their response. Learners should not have to guess at what a suitable answer to the question is.

The next section of this workshop focussed on Multiple-Choice Questions (MCQs) - what they are good at, how to best construct them, and when to use them. MCQs are good at:
  • Breadth
  • Facts
  • Some higher-order thinking skills
  • Easy to understand results
  • Increased reliability
  • Objective scoring
  • Efficient scoring
One of the other good uses of MCQs brought up be several members of the audience was the preparation of learners for the writing of certification or licensing exams, many of which are exclusively based on MCQs - a whole different debate - do you want a mechanic who gets 100% on the MCQ test or one who can actually fix your brakes? Hmmm...

Some time was spent on analyzing the anatomy of a MCQ:
  • Stem
  • Distracter(s)
  • Options
  • Key
I will admit to a personal bias against MCQs and MCQ tests. I really believe that the true measure of learning is in its application - show me what you can do - how have you assimilated the learning, made it your own and then applied it in the completion of one or more related tasks or activities - it's about competencies. Having said that, this workshop did point out to me that properly developed there is a place for the maligned (by me) MCQ. That is a valuable take away for me. The key is to ensure that MCQs are properly developed and used - several tricks of the MCQ trade were revealed:
  • Focus on the stem
    • avoid undirected stems
    • always direct test-takers to the matter at hand
    • after reading the MCQ, test-takers should be able to answer the question without looking at the options
    • avoid too much info in the stem
    • strive for concise stems
  • Focus on the options
    • avoid overlap
    • make the options parallel
    • put options in the most logical order possible (an interesting point - I've always tended to mix up the order of the options. Hmmm...)
    • avoid "All of the Above" and "None of the Above" options (Yes!!)
    • capture common misconceptions in distracters - make sure they are wrong and avoid trickiness
  • Avoid inadvertant clues
    • clues to correct answer with a MCQ or within the test
    • grammatical clues
While I am not sure that I am a total convert to MCQs, I did get a lot out of this workshop - MCQs do have a place in learning as an assessment tool, but like any tool they must be properly designed, developed, and deployed...

Constructive Response (CR) questions are good at:
  • Depth
  • Higher-order thinking skills
  • Assessment of performance
  • Capturing the thought process
  • Often less time to construct a test (but more time to score it)
Some examples of constructed response questions:
  • Short answer
  • Essay
  • Performance
These are the types of questions that I tend to place more value in personally - I feel that they are a truer test of learning in that they require some sort of synthesis on the part of the learners.

A quick CR checklist:
  • Define the task completely and specifically
  • Give explicit directions regarding length, grading guidelines, and time to complete
  • Develop and use appropriate scoring guide (rubric)
I don't like the idea of explicitly giving a length to a CR question - I find that many learners write their answers to the length, not the content. My answer when I am asked "How long does it have to be?" has always been "Long enough to answer the question". I personally believe that once learners get used to the idea that length does not matter that they focus more on actually answering the question

The next section of the workshop dealt with the creation and use of rubrics (something I have used for several years and really believe in). The two styles of rubrics looked at were holistic and analytic rubrics. there are pros and cons to both - personally I prefer the analytic style of rubric ( success factors, levels of assessment, tangible scoring). Holistic rubrics, in my opinion, tend to be more qualitative in nature and therefore more open to interpretation and discussion by learners and others (and we all know that a learner morphs into Clarence Darrow when discussing grades with faculty...).

The last section of the workshop dealt with puling things together - both before and after SLOs are put into a syllabus or on a Web site.
  • Be sure it can be assessed
  • Give learners opportunities to learn and practice it
  • Commit to fewer and do them well
  • Talk to learners about its importance
  • Make it explicit when you explain assignments
  • Assess it well in exams
  • share results with colleagues - take a research approach
ETS has developed a report "A Culture of Evidence" that describes an evidence-centred approach to assessing SLOs.

This was a very useful workshop - it showed me that MCQs do have a place in my assessment toolkit and it reinforced my opinion that CR style questions, tasks, and assignments are still my preferred assessment tools - for me assessment is about what you can do, not just what you know...

Sunday, May 25, 2008

NISOD 2008 - The Shopping Begins...

Well, we have all successfully arrived in Austin Texas for NISOD 2008. It was an uneventful 12 hour travel day (why does it always seem to take 12 hours to fly anywhere? Hmmm...). After checking in to our various hotels (we have strategically surrounded the Austin Convention Center - there is no escape), the shopping genes kicked in and we were off to San Marcos Texas and the outlet mall. Hundreds of stores, thousands of people, it's a real cultural experience. Everything from half-price Armani suits (still $1,000.00), to alligator shoes ($2,000.00) to $10.00 sunglasses, just about every store imaginable was there.

In fact there are so many stores, the crew is headed back to San Marcos later today to start in on the other outlet mall across the road.

We also discovered, thanks to our veteran attendees at NISOD the magic of the Whole Foods Market - what an amazing place - you name it, they had it all fresh and priced well. We could sure use one of those home (just in case there are any budding Nova Scotia entrepreneurs reading this and looking for an opportunity).

So today it's more shopping, returning the rental car and getting ready for the conference which kicks off in ernest bright and early tomorrow morning...

Saturday, May 24, 2008

NISOD 2008 - The Adventure Begins...

I'm sitting here in the Maple Leaf Lounge at Pearson International Airport in Toronto, on my way to NISOD 2008 in Austin Texas. NISOD is the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development and this year marks their 230th conference. I'm heading down with several colleagues from NSCC, and my primary focus is going to be on learner engagement, online learning, and academic chair development (what with me being an academic chair and all). Apparently there may also be a sid trip to the outlet malls in San Marcos and I will be heading fro the Austin Apple Store at the Barton Creek Mall.

I'll be blogging daily about the sessions I attend, and the sights and sounds of Austin, so stay tuned...

(NISOD logo from NISOD Web site)

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Who I Am Makes A Difference...

All I am going to say is watch this video and then pass it on...


A Real World Use of Virtual Worlds...

Loyalist College is one of the first colleges in Canada to have an active learning presence in Second Life. Several other Canadian colleges including my own, the Nova Scotia Community College now have presences in Second Life, but the forerunner was Loyalist.

Currently they are using Second Life to assist learners with Canadian border security and clearance processes. Here is a video of their simulation:

This is a great use of Second Life (or any other virtual world for that matter) to simulate learning environments and work places where the actual real-world environment is not available for learning. This is the power of virtual worlds - simulation, non-destructive testing (and destructive testing too), life-size modelling (very effective with molecules and single-cell organisms that can be "walked through", and other learning tools and resources that are not feasible in the real world. This kind of mix of real-world and virtual world learning will, I believe, become a large part of what we will need to do as adult educators in order to engage our learners - it's a great use of technologyto support learning and meets learners where they are - "Generation XBox".

Many thanks to Ken Hudson (Kenny Hubble in Second Life) for continuing to push the envelope of learning in Second Life. Check out Kenny Hubble's Media Ecology site as well- some great stuff on virtual worlds, media and culture.

If you are in world check out the Loyalist College island (and NSCC's too!) - they have a very interesting student lounge - the Shark Tank...

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Learning Technologies - The Cart Or The Horse?...

One of the projects that I am involved with at the College is a committee dealing with Learning Technologies, trying to determine just how we are going to implement and support learning technologies at the College and the faculty and staff that use them.

First off, what exactly is a learning technology? In my mind it is any tool or technology that supports or enhances a learning opportunity - a pencil and paper may be the perfect learning technologies - relatively simple to use, doesn't require a lot of training and support, or a lot of other resources.

Unfortunately in many cases "learning technologies" has become code for "let's do it with computers!". Now in all fairness, I am one of those people - I live and breathe bleeding edge technology and all things IT related - I've embraced Web 2.0 tools and technologies and firmly believe that online, distance, and blended learning are some of the key ways to deliver learning now and in the future. All demand a certain level of computer literacy. What it does not mean though is that everyone has to be out here on the edge (or ledge :-)) with me.

The most important thing to remember, and here is where the cart and horse analogy comes in, is that whatever technology gets used in a learning environment, the technology is only a tool that supports the learning and makes it easier for learners to learn. The learning technology can assist in the delivery of content, aid in assessment and evaluation, allow learners to access learning when, where, and how they want to and generally support and frame a learning environment whether that environment be brick, click, or a combination of the two.

So what are the implications for us as adult educators? First we have to determine what learning technologies to employ - they have to support the learners and their environment and not overwhelm them in having to learn how to use technology instead of focussing on the learning. Learning must be about meeting the learning outcomes, not spending a lot of time learning a tool or technology. Most learning environments are finite in nature and there is only so much time available for learning - don't spend anymore time than is necessary with learning technologies.

There are two ways to ensure that learning technologies support and not overwhelm learning - the first one is to know all your learners well, and use the "lowest common denominator" learning technologies to support the learning - the disadvantage of this is that this lowest common denominator technology will be different for every learner, and will engage some learners and unfortunately disengage many others.

The better way and the one that I have used successfully, is to let the learners themselves select the learning technologies that work for them, for their learning and their environment. This way learners are comfortable with the technologies they use and can concentrate on learning.

So there it is - learning technologies are tools used to support and augment learning, and who better to choose what technologies and tools get used to support learning than the learners themselves? Hmmm...

(Photo - "Lapices" - Juanjoseixas)

"You Aren't Dumb - You Just Haven't Learned Yet"...

To paraphrase Art Linkletter, teens say the darndest things. I ride the bus to and from work (gave up my car four years ago - that's a whole other story...) and the other day coming home from the College there were two teenage girls of indeterminate age (13-17 or so) behind me carrying on an animated and loud conversation. Other than the fact that they mostly used words that would make a sailor blush, at one point in their conversation one said to the other "you aren't dumb, you just haven't learned yet" - WOW! What an amazing thing to say - talk about your AHA! moments.

As adult educators we deal all the time with earners who bring all sorts of challenges and baggage to their learning environments. One of those challenges is a feeling that they can't learn - someone, somewhere, at some time called them dumb or told them they couldn't learn - that's never true - anyone can learn if given the chance and support - and what a way to tell them - "you aren't dumb, you just haven't learned yet". What a lesson to carry into our learning environments and when dealing with our learners.

Thank you girls, and speaking of learning, about that language...