Sunday, October 26, 2008

Learning as we go...

Much of this week's reading focused on the results of surveys and research regarding unfolding trends in the use and preferences of use of IT by students - in both their academic and personal lives.  
The results of these studies indicate that students seem to want to delineate between the use of IM and other typically personal tools, and internet searches, video games, and simulations when accessing IT for academic purposes.  However, this must not be thought to be the expression of all, nor can it be considered the final say, or even a definitive trend.  Further, professors will need to be mindful of the individual needs of their students, considering those on the leading edge as well as those on the trailing edge of technology awareness, comfort, and use.  
Expecting students from all backgrounds to be equally prepared to jump in at the same level of readiness and participation seems akin to expecting English Language Learners to perform at the level of proficient or advanced on spring standards tests before they have mastered the English language.  Without exposure, support, and the time necessary to master the basics, it would be an unreasonable expectation.
Professors need to help in the process of discernment about what is and is not cutting edge - and even essential - in the realm of technology.  Many tools initially thought helpful, key, and important, are quickly relegated to the non-essential.  We have witnessed this as SAKAI, a year one necessity for cohort five, was replaced by moodle overnight.  Will moodle soon be found obsolete?
One of the most interesting facets of the research outlined in this week's readings revealed that respondents seem to want (and need) a balance between the use of technology and the ability to interface with their colleagues and professors.  While most of those surveyed appreciate using IT in their academic and personal lives, nearly 60% indicated their preference for a moderate amount in their courses.  This is supported by comments regarding the importance of "face time" in student retention and sense of inclusion and integration in the learning environment.  In small measure this is evidenced in the students on my campus that seek human interaction from adults in both academic and human interchanges.  

Monday, October 20, 2008

Paper never refused ink...

This week's readings brought to mind a phrase made familiar to me by my grandmother and mom throughout my childhood... paper never refused ink.  In teaching me to be an analytical thinker, they reminded me to examine what I read and hear, questioning its validity and integrity along the way.  Their lessons have taught me well; anything can be said or written, regardless of its accuracy.  We have seen this throughout our coursework in this program, as we marvel at the many ways that the same data may be manipulated to tell different versions of the truth.  
The articles assigned this week bring this notion to light in another arena.  As net generation students utilize the many facets of online access, they are often without pause to consider the integrity of the information they have gleaned, thus leaving themselves open to using inaccurate, possibly unchecked resources in their own research.  Further, they may be susceptible to unethical use of resources - albeit unintentionally - because they have not been adequately instructed on the appropriate use and citing of online material.  
Currently, standardization of such ethical practices does not exist.  As educational leaders, the responsibility of creating such standards and guiding our students both in their understanding and adherence of these guidelines rests upon our shoulders.  
Much like the two intelligent women in my own family guided me, it is up to us to direct the net generation toward online use and access that will benefit and protect them.  We shudder to think what might be when individuals trust what they read and see on the internet, knowing that their very safety may hang in the balance.  We watch as reputations are sullied by someone else's interjection of "facts" that change the impressions left on blogs, MySpace, and other personal accounts.  
It is necessary for us to instruct our students regarding the nuances of online access in order to encourage their critical thinking skills and ethics.  It is also essential that we guide them regarding matters related to their safety.  
The words of my mom and grandmother ring loudly as we can consider the experience of Joe the Plumber this past week...   

Monday, October 13, 2008

What's on the Horizon...

Over the weekend, it was necessary that I travel out of town.  On the plane, while reading the Horizon Reports, I noticed that the gentleman next to me was apparently carrying on the same student oriented activities - reading and highlighting - throughout the journey.  When he closed his book, I noted the title, "Teach Yourself TCP/IP".  I smiled.  Later I noticed that the airline magazine for October was dedicated to technology, with a variety of articles providing information related to innovations geared to connecting people and simplifying their work and personal lives.  While initially it struck me that this was an interesting coincidence, as the weekend progressed and I continued to read from the reports, it struck me that this is not a coincidence nor is it a trend... It is the way of the world. 
I read the reports in chronological order.  Beginning in 2005, which sounds like recent history, I am amazed to see how much has changed and progressed in these few short years.  Technology that was then looked at in terms of trends for the future are, in many cases, commonplace for a wide variety of people today; the 2008 report indicates that trends projected to take longer have already taken hold.  And I, a relative non-tech individual, am amazed that, as I read, I found that there are many ways that I am already engaging in some fairly forward thinking technologies in my work and personal life.  
Through the JDP we are engaged in an extended learning opportunity that has allowed several among us to participate in a doctoral program who might not otherwise have been able to so at this time... the Polycom system has made it possible.  Woven into that program are many other expectations to engage in various activities including (formerly) SAKAI, moodle, wikis, and bolgspots.  Initially these expectations feel a bit out of my comfort zone.  However, the guidance has been, for the most part, patient and encouraging, and I have risen to the challenge.  In reading the Horizon Reports, I am reminded of the importance of moving forward in my own knowledge of the technologies that are connecting this world.  As an educational leader, I recognize and understand the need for innovation and leadership in connecting my students and staff in greater, more meaningful ways.  It is my responsibility to lead that charge.
For much of the weekend, while reading the Horizon documents, I found myself feeling out of touch with the many advancements in technology that were described.  I wondered about the need for so many technologies and their impact on the human connection.  The reports tout the ways that technology informs and unites us, but I felt skeptical.  
Then, I received an e mail alert on my cell phone.  A major challenge at work had been resolved.  I was now free to enjoy the remainder of my weekend.          

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Constructivist Learning in the Age of Accountability

Constructivism makes sense.  In the article from EdWeb, the analogy of learning to ride a bike vs. reading a book about riding bikes is the perfect illustration of this...  Learning is active, not passive; learners of all ages need to be engaged for their brains to connect and engage with the concepts.  If we know this about ourselves, surely we recognize that it is counter-intuitive to suggest it would not be true of the students we serve.
Quiet classrooms where diligent students are completing projects that check for understanding following a structured lesson have long been thought to be evidence that an effective instructional model is in place.  The emphasis on classroom control is key in this scenario; student behaviors are linear, predictable, and monitored by a sequence of activities that repeat itself throughout the day (K-12) and term (post-secondary).  In a standards-driven world, this structure may feel necessary because it tempers student behaviors, allows for systematic dissemination of information, and implies that a system of accountability is in place.  Effort is followed by production and the accuracy and value of the product can easily be measured.
Constructive learning is active and engaging by definition.  Within this model, students are building their own knowledge and understanding.  Students that are asking questions, testing hypotheses, and challenging boundaries are learning by doing.  As they dig progressively deeper to gain understanding and uncover solutions, their energy is everywhere.  This classroom is not quiet... Nor should it be!
Can constructivism and an accountability-driven machine coexist?  Indeed, there is a delicate balance.  But it lies with us to be counter weights in the midst of the broader community that looks to test scores as the sole measure of success.  Those among us that feel handcuffed by the expectations of an accountability system that quiets classrooms and the learning that should take place in them need to strive for ways to rise above these perceived restrictions.  
It can be done.  In this class while there are not "standards" in the traditional way that we think of them, there are specific benchmarks that we are being given opportunities to achieve.  Building this blog is among them.  For me, the supportive, encouraging attitude coupled with just enough information to inspire me to begin encouraged me to take the risk.  By digging in and attempting it - taking the plunge in safe territory - I learned more than if I had simply read about it.  
There are challenges and risks of providing constructive opportunities for learning.  But anything having is worth working for.  Educators may feel that they have lost control when the noise level rises and learning takes its own shape as it is built.  They may even feel threatened by students that have learned more than they themselves know.  The energized, electric, active atmosphere is worth taking a step out on a ledge for.  It is felt acutely when students say, "I get it" in their recognition of real life applications and confidence in their competence.