Favorite Quote of the Week

“Technology alone can make us neither free nor self-directed. The key lies with the individual, not the institution.” – Ken Carroll

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Week 15 -- Networks of Personalized Learning

This week’s topic, I think, is an appropriate ending to this semester.  In light of all we’ve learned in relation to web 2.0 tools available for learning, it’s fitting at the end to discuss personalized and self directed learning.  All of us have resources at easy access to facilitate our learning on a variety of topics.  And, the instruction we can receive is not only surface level.   Real, hands-on, learning can take place with the click of a button.  And, all learning styles are catered to.  A close friend of mine turns to YouTube when she needs to learn something fast (cooking, sewing, etc.).  I know others who turn to Google quite frequently when they have trouble with a software application.  This week’s tidbit articles remind me that even a new language can be learned without leaving the comfort of a home. 
With all the tools available, it’s no wonder that people everywhere are exploring options for learning on their own, in their own style, at their own pace.  After listening to Ken Carroll speak, I realize that we must consider whether or not we are ready for that level of independence in learning.  I think it certainly depends on the individual.  Ken said, “Technology alone can make us neither free nor self-directed.  The key lies with the individual, not the institution.”  I agree that no amount of technology can make a person want to learn on his own.  Also, I believe that left completely to ourselves, we may not learn the right things.  Proper direction and guidance is always necessary.  But, internal motivation to learn certainly has an outlet in this information age.
As I look to the future, I am excited about the possibilities that lie ahead.  Because I am a home schooling mom, I am forever looking for opportunities to enrich my family’s educational pursuits.  When my daughter expresses an interest in learning French, I am happy to know that there are good resources available.  When I know that music instruction is important, but also realize that I am not qualified to teach it, I am thankful that I can turn to the Internet for help.  There really are no limits to what can be accomplished. 
The web 2.0 has certainly opened doors in ways that were not possible before.  As a final tribute to what I have learned in this class, I share my YouTube video creation with you:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ts45BkAnqTs
It is a summary of what I’ve learned and a glimpse into the home school.  Much of what I have discovered here will be applied, in the short term, to the context of my own home school.  Beyond that, time will only tell.  But, I go forward with more confidence in what can be accomplished. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Week 14 -- Podcasting, Webcasting, and Coursecasting

As with every other week in this class, I learned something new this week.  I thought I knew what a podcast was, but as a result of reading a good article this week, I discovered that it was more involved than I realized.  More than just an audio recording, a podcast must have some “behind-the-scenes” capabilities.  The real value in a podcast is the fact that subscribers can get regular, automatic updates to a podcast series.  This article gives a good visual depiction of how a podcast is made:  http://www.educause.edu/sites/default/files/2007/07/CMU_Podcasting_Jun07.pdf
One educational use of the podcast is to record and distribute classroom lectures.  While most students use these recorded lectures as a means of reviewing material, some instructors hesitate to distribute podcasted lectures for fear that students may start to skip the live class altogether, and instead rely on the podcast to “attend” class. 
Since becoming an online student nearly three years ago, I think I would be more inclined to prefer a podcast version of a lecture rather than sit through a lengthy class session in order to listen to a live lecture.  If I knew that I could get the same material from a recording, I would do that in a heartbeat.  The flexibility to listen at a time when it is convenient for me, along with the ability to fast forward and rewind as necessary, would lead me to prefer this method.  If, however, the instructor would give me a good reason to attend the live class session, I would go.
The reluctance of some instructors to use podcasts has me thinking once again about the need for significance in teaching/learning.  Rather than simply making face to face class lectures a requirement for students, how about if instructors made the face to face sessions actually worthwhile?   If a lecture needs to happen in a class with a large student population, and if the lecture is simply used to distribute content, then it seems to me that a podcast is a better option.  However, if there is an element of interactivity and engagement within the class session that a student can’t get from a recorded version, then students will figure out on their own that it is to their benefit to attend the live session. 
Maybe one great advantage of web 2.0 tools is that instructors, because of the availability of a variety of delivery methods, must think through their reasoning for using each method.  If instructors still want students to attend live class sessions, they might now be forced to present students with a good reason for doing so.  The live session, used in connection with a podcasted lecture, can be a powerful learning method.  Why not deliver content with the podcast, thus saving time for the class session to be used for other, more interactive components of the class?  Let’s think through the most effective use of each tool we use – as we do this, students who want to learn will respond with enthusiasm because we have chosen our methods wisely. 
Deal, Ashley (2007, June). Podcasting. A Teaching With Technology White Paper. Educause. Retrieved on June 25, 2010, from http://connect.educause.edu/files/CMU_Podcasting_Jun07.pdf

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Week 13 -- Educational Blogging

I think it’s time for me to join Twitter.  I’m not sure why, but I have yet to participate in this social networking site.  I joined Facebook about 2 years ago.  I was kind of behind-the-times when I did that too.  Honestly, I think I just didn’t want more stuff to do.  Maybe I feel the same way about Twitter.  Won’t it just be one more thing to keep track of? 
After this week’s readings, though, I think choosing to not join Twitter, or the overall blogging world, might not be an option anymore.  Just like so many things, it just might be a part of being “digitally literate.”  The weblog, such as this one I am keeping this semester, is a means of sharing personal ideas and personal interests.  Beyond that, blogs are fast becoming a means of distributing information.  Stephen Downes says, Through the interlocked network of weblogs, information can spread like wildfire” (2003).  What one person shares on a blog, another person picks up on and shares some with others.  Twitter works the same way, only much more concise.  With just a few words, a person can send out a “tweet” and the thought is in fast distribution. 
What caught my attention most this week, especially about Twitter, is that it is a tool for learning.  Twitter, or any microblogging tool, can provide a venue for expression and further discussion in the midst of a large group of people attending the same conference.  In the past, individuals at an event may not have had much direct influence on the content.  Now, though, there are tools available for near-constant interaction.  Maybe Twitter is not an option. 
Aside from the educational uses of microblogging, I am also considering the use of weblogs for educational purposes.  In this era of texting and tweeting, I wonder if we are all getting rather lazy in our written expressions.  Spelling often takes a backseat to the need for short and quick text messages.  Maybe requiring students to keep a blog would be a way to encourage more reflective written expression.  I have a feeling that my own children would enjoy having their own blogs – somehow this seems much better than writing on paper with a pen.  I might have to explore that more.  I informally surveyed a group of high school students I teach at our local home school co-op.  Some of them seemed rather intimidated with the thought of keeping their own blog.  I was surprised.  But, it’s something to keep in mind.  Blogging might not be for everyone. 
Regardless of how I use the blogging tools, it does seem that they are a reality in our world.  The reality of blogging demands that I give it some attention.  There, I did it….I just joined Twitter.  Now, what do I do??  That might take some time for me to figure out J.
Downes, Stephen (2003, May). More than Personal: The Impact of Weblogs (includes comprehensive listing of Blogging software, tools, and resources). http://www.downes.ca/post/31449

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Week 12 -- Mobile, Wireless, and Ubiquitous Learning

When I was younger, I remember begging my parents for a phone in my room.  I was a typical teenager (and pre-teen) who loved to talk on the phone and couldn’t imagine anything better than being allowed to do so in the privacy of my own room.  My parents finally gave in.  After that, I began begging for my own private phone line!  Never did get that, though.
I now have a near-thirteen year old who is begging for a cell phone.  I, honestly, haven’t given her request much serious consideration.  What in the world would she need with a cell phone?  She’s not old enough to drive.  She’s not usually out on her own for any length of time.  My perspective has been…there is no practical reason to give her a cell phone.  And, surely it’s not wise (or safe) for my young teenager to have a cell phone….is it?
The articles I read this week, along with the class discussion, may have me singing a different tune – but, I haven’t shared that with my daughter yet.  I’m still not sure I’m ready to take the plunge on the cell phone for her, but I will say that I have learned that cell phones (or mobile devices) are used for much more than just talking on the phone.  In fact, among younger users, it is probably used least for phone conversation (Smith, 2010). 
Mobile learning – this is a concept I thought I understood, but now realize I didn’t fully know what it was about.  Previously, when I thought of mobile learning, I thought of the flexibility it must provide – learning wherever and whenever you want to.  Learning that you take with you! 
But, I learned that mobile learning is about much more than flexibility.  Mobile devices allow for intentional learning to take place within authentic environments.  Think about the student in nurse’s training.  What if his/her instructor provided links or materials, accessible through a mobile device, that can be utilized while participating in on-the-job training. 
The little cell phone – that mobile device – is useful for much more than talking on the phone.  My, oh my, teenagers these days are much more creative than I was.  My daughter will probably be using her cell phone to write the novel she dreams of publishing!  I can’t think of a better way to spend a few spare minutes waiting for her rehearsal time to begin at the drama club meeting. 

Aaron Smith (2010, July 7). Mobile Access 2010. Pew Internet & American Life Project. http://www.pewinternet.org/~/media//Files/Reports/2010/PIP_Mobile_Access_2010.pdf

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Week 11 – Alternate Reality Learning: Massive Gaming, Virtual Reality, and Simulations

I will admit it – I am not a “gamer.”  In fact, I am probably more inclined to think that those who do “game” are often wasting time.  What value could possibly come from spending hours in front of a screen playing a game?  This week’s topic has caused me to challenge that assumption.  I wouldn’t say that I’m entirely “sold” on the idea of gaming, but I’m certainly more open to it than I was before. 
First of all, for those who like to game (lots and lots of boys do), then it might be a very good idea to use their natural interest in games in order to teach them something.  I have two sons who love video games.  One, in particular, would spend all day playing video games if I would allow it.  I have found various educational computer games for him to play and he really likes that.  It has been a great way for him to develop some math and reading skills.  All of my children – daughters included – often respond very well to a new game to play on the computer.  It’s like they don’t even realize that they’re learning – it’s just fun.  This type of gaming has been more “acceptable” to me as their teacher.
But, what about taking it a step further – what about the use of virtual worlds like Second Life and others?  This is an area of which I am much less familiar.  While I’m not ready to create a space in Second Life, I am very intrigued by what “worlds” like this can offer.  Mostly, I have learned this week that virtual worlds and simulations can serve as wonderful training tools when a real world scenario is needed.  Students can participate in near-authentic environments, solving problems and applying what they have learned (and for learning completely new things). 
I have also reflected on the idea of how gaming is now becoming more of a social rather than a solitary activity.    Because of this, collaboration can occur in a virtual, simulated environment.  Within the context of a game, students can work together with others to solve problems, etc.  I can see how this could be an effective teaching tool. 
With all of that being said, I think there are still dangers.  Bonk and Dennen write, “…the social support, challenge, feedback, and sense of identity that players receive online in MMOG often provides psychological fulfillment that they may not be receiving in real life.”  To me, this can be a danger.  When gamers start replacing the real world with their virtual world, a dangerous line has been crossed.  When virtual worlds are preferred over the real world because of the fulfillment one receives in a virtual environment, then what was once a tool for learning and positive social interactivity becomes a hindrance to personal well-being.
The bottom line for me is that games can be an effective tool for learning.  However, I am still cautious about the potential negative effects.  For this reason, it’s important to be intentional about their use within an educational environment.  Games should not “rule” the classroom.  Kept in proper balance, they offer much potential. 

Bonk, C. J., & Dennen, V. P. (2005). Massive multiplayer online gaming: A research framework for military education and training. (Technical Report # 2005-1). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Defense (DUSD/R): Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) Initiative. Retrieved on June 25, 2010, from http://mypage.iu.edu/~cjbonk/GameReport_Bonk_final.pdf
Korzeniowski, Paul (2007, March 27). Educational video games: Coming to a classroom near you? TechNewsWorld. Retrieved on June 25, 2010, from http://www.technewsworld.com/story/56516.html

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Week 10 -- Interactive and Collaborative Learning

At this point in the semester, I am feeling excited about the many tools available for educators today.  This week, we have focused on some tools for collaboration.  Some of the resources I have discovered this week include:
http://www.watchknow.org/ -- a portal of videos for educators and students to use and create
http://nwf.org/ -- a site for the National Wildlife Federation, where students can even post their own wildlife observation data

Some other resources I have learned about throughout the entire semester are:
http://www.khanacademy.org/ -- a great resource of free teaching on a variety of subjects
http://www.freerice.com/ -- fun supplemental site for a variety of subjects
http://www.merlot.org/merlot/index.htm -- online teaching and learning materials
http://cnx.org/ -- Rice University’s Connexions
http://www.coudal.com/moom/ (Museum of online museums)

The list could go on and on… I feel excitement, sure – but also a bit of intimidation.  How is it possible for me to make sense of the many resources available? I could spend all of my time just looking at resources, which would leave no room for me to ever use them!  It reminds me of the way I felt after attending my first home school convention – seeing the exhibit hall, with all of the vendors and resources, almost made me leave it all behind.  There is just too much to choose from! 
What is important, though, is not how many resources are available, but choosing the most appropriate ones to use in a given situation.  Maybe it would be best for me to start with a few recommendations from my peers (like I’ve been given in this class), use those for awhile, identify other areas of need, then start looking for more resources to fill those gaps.  I’m sure I will not know about every resource, but if I identify some helpful ones, then I have gained something.
This all gets me thinking about how I might be able to serve the home school community in the area of technology.  Is there a resource I could develop that could gather a bunch of resources together, categorize them into topics/areas, and then give ideas for how a home school parent could best use the resource?  Surely I’m not the only parent out there who feels overwhelmed by choice.  A “starting place” resource would be great!  Maybe for my final project….we’ll see…

Jennifer Demeski (2010, August). Web 2.0: 3 for 3. Ed Tech Experts Choose Top Tools
Which web 2.0 tools are best suited for enabling collaboration in teaching and learning? A trio of ed tech experts offer up their top three choices apiece, 07/28/10, THE Journal, 37(7), pp. 32-37. Available: http://thejournal.com/articles/2010/08/01/3-for-3.aspx

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Week 9 -- YouTube, TeacherTube, and the Future of Shared Online Video

A vision of students today --
I have seen this video before, and came across it again today.  I thought I would share it here because it relates to the issue of significance in teaching/learning.  The week 9 topic of the instructional use of video has caused me to reflect on significance a lot.  I also read an article by Michael Wesch that challenged me to consider the lack of significance in many of our traditional approaches to education today. 
The use of video in the classroom…this idea has been around for quite awhile.  I watched plenty of videos when I was in school (elementary and high school).  Sometimes we got to watch movies as a reward for other work; sometimes we watched videos to learn class content; sometimes we watched videos just to be doing something.  As a teacher myself, I have often used videos when teaching. 
Sometimes I have used videos to fill in content gaps; sometimes I have used videos to grab students’ attention; sometimes, I admit, I have looked for a video that would take the place of lesson planning for a day.  Videos can be a powerful tool, but, just like everything else, they can be used in ways that do not contribute to significance. 
I was recently talking to my cousin, who is eagerly approaching his college graduation.  He has been a student for a long time and is now finishing up by taking a full load of 19 credit hours.  He talked to me about feeling frustrated, sitting in class listening to a professor read from a powerpoint presentation.  Why, he wondered, can’t the professor send the powerpoint to students via email, making it available for them to watch on their own time?  What is the purpose of attending a class session anyway?  He was intrigued and very interested by online learning opportunities that might allow him some flexibility. 
Then, I read a short article by Dian Shauffhauser, who shared about the use of streaming video for class lectures.  Some instructors are offering these to students as an alternative to attending class lectures.  Students seem to respond very positively to this.  Why, I wondered, is this not available to more students?  As an online student of three years now, I don’t know if I would have the patience to sit in a traditional classroom anymore. 
All of this led me to consider that instructors (of which I am one) need to evaluate the goals of each educational endeavor and choose the tools that best meet those goals.  If students can get necessary course content from sources other than a class lecture, what is the purpose of still having class lectures?  If students do come to class, what will happen there that will be significant?  If nothing significant, then it seems to me that we are wasting everyone’s time.  What needs to happen within the walls of a traditional classroom (or within the parameters of an online environment) in order to make it a significant, relevant event?  If I use a video, what is my rationale for doing so?  What can be accomplished with a video that cannot be accomplished any other way?
Learning … this is the goal of education.  Videos can be a powerful tool to assist our learning.  But, let’s not use them simply because they are available.  I, for one, hope to take advantage of some resources I learned about this week that can assist me in my home schooling efforts.  But, I still need to consider my goals and how a particular video can help in accomplishing those.  This is the constant tension…one that empowers me to strive for meaningful learning.  Significance is critical.  In the midst of so many useful tools, the ultimate goal remains the same…..LEARNING!
Michael Wesch, Anti-Teaching: Confronting the Crisis of Significance."  Education Canada 48(2):4-7. Jan 2008.  http://www.scribd.com/doc/6358393/AntiTeaching-Confronting-the-Crisis-of-Significance

Dian Schaffhauser (2010, September 15). College Students on Streaming Video: Get Me Outta Class! Campus Technology. http://campustechnology.com/articles/2010/09/15/college-students-on-streaming-video-get-me-outta-class.aspx

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Week 8 -- Wikis, Wikipedia, Wikibooks, and Collaborative Writing

When I was little, I really never thought that I could create something.   This may sound strange to some people…as I get older, I’m learning that there are people who actually like to invent and create.  I don’t think I’m one of them.  I don’t think much about inventing something new; I take what’s already available and assume that it’s sufficient for what I need.  As I write this, I realize that this is a pretty sad outlook, huh?
My own children have caused me to reflect on this.  Not only are each of them very creative, they also assume that they can do just about anything they want to do.  My oldest daughter has researched various publishing companies and has been asking from a very young age to send a book to a publisher…just like that, like it must be simple process!  One of my children was convinced that she was going to buy an old building and make it into a bookstore.  Most of my children have asked to start their own businesses, have created various things in this pursuit, and assume that whatever they make can be sold for a lot of money.  I don’t know what has inspired them in this way…maybe all children have these thoughts.  Maybe I did at one time too.  What is different, though, is that now creativity has a larger outlet. 
Our study during week 8 was on collaborative sharing through wikis.  My first thought when reading this information is that my children are growing up in an era in which it is very possible for them to contribute to something big.  They can post their writings to a blog, they can email real authors of real books, they can express their own creativity through various websites.  They can be a part of a collaborative wiki project.  This was not possible when I was younger. 
Over the years (I’ve been a mom now for almost thirteen years), I have struggled with how to encourage my children when they come to me with grand ideas.  Because it is not in my nature to embark on something completely new on my own, I hesitate when my children have their own, new ideas.  My first inclination is to redirect them to other, safer, easier pursuits.  But, I’ve begun to think a bit differently.  Now I realize that they are fortunate to be living at a time when it is easier than ever to share work with others and to create something that might be used by many other people. 
The Web 2.0 has opened doors for most everyone to make an impact.  No longer is it only the elite who become authors, movie producers, musicians, inventors, and scientists.  It is everyone.  I’m excited to have some tools by which to encourage my children in their creative pursuits.    And, who knows, maybe I’ll explore some ideas of my own someday too!

Bryant, S. L., Forte, A., & Bruckman, A. (2005). Becoming Wikipedian: Transformation of participation in a collaborative online encyclopedia. In M. Pendergast, K. Schmidt, G. Mark, and M. Acherman (Eds.); Proceedings of the 2005 International ACM SIGGROUP Conference on Supporting Group Work, GROUP 2005, Sanibel Island, FL, November 6-9, pp. 1-10. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Week 7 -- Connectivism, Social Knowledge, and Participatory Learning

Honestly, this week has been an interesting one for me philosophically.  I may as well start by saying that I have some philosophical disagreements with George Siemens, a prime proponent of Connectivism.  Siemens was a featured guest speaker for our class meeting this week, I read several of his articles in preparation for our online discussion forum, and I also watched a couple of videos where he shared his views.
On the surface, I agree that we learn as we connect with other people.  And, we are able to “connect” now more than ever.  The acquisition of knowledge, in many respects, has never been easier.  So, this is not what bothers me about Seimens’ view.  What I have issue with is the notion that we are “creating” knowledge as we connect with others and collaborate, share ideas, etc.  Catherine McLoughlin and Mark JW Lee, in their discussion about Connectivism, say, “Students are no longer passive consumers but active producers of knowledge” (emphasis mine) (2008).
The way I see it, knowledge is knowledge.  Truth and information is out there…maybe I don’t know something yet, and maybe I need to connect with other people before I discover it, but to say that I will “produce” or create my own knowledge goes against some of my foundational beliefs.  I have a similar philosophical disagreement with Constructivism as well.  I feel that it’s important to at least state my disagreement, but I don’t want that to be the focus of my blog post.  So, I’ll move onto how I might be able to incorporate Connectivist methodology.
First, for my own children, I can see how Connectivist methodology can be of benefit.  Internet resources for collaboration and social networking allow us to take advantage of the opinions and knowledge of other people.  Even in our local setting, outside of the Internet, we are able to collaborate and share ideas.  Encouraging children to value and seek out learning with others cannot be a bad thing.  The videos I found online that show the practical side of Connectivist methodology were helpful to me in gathering practical ideas. 
As I’ve alluded to in previous weeks, I think that I would be doing my children a disservice to not allow them to access the multiple resources available to them on the Internet.  In fact, I am becoming more and more convinced that this is not a luxury; Internet access is a necessity.  However, this access cannot be completely open, without limits.  While my children are young, I must monitor the online resources they are accessing.  Also, while they are younger, I need to be vigilant to equip them with the critical thinking skills they will need to self-monitor later on. 
Some practical ideas that I would like to implement in my home school: 
·         blog for learning and sharing purposes
·         encourage my children to email authors and publishers of the books they read
·         utilize document sharing tools for collaboration (within and even outside of our family)
Connectivism….I’m not sure that I agree with the underlying philosophies regarding the nature of knowledge and learning , but I can still glean practical ideas to enhance teaching and learning.  I have certainly learned something this week and am very thankful for the connections I am developing with others who teach me so many things!
Catherine McLoughlin & Mark Lee (2008, June/July). Future learning landscapes: Transforming pedagogy through social software. Innovate. 4(5). http://www.innovateonline.info/pdf/vol4_issue5/Future_Learning_Landscapes-__Transforming_Pedagogy_through_Social_Software.pdf

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Week 6 – Open Educational Resources and Open Course Ware

With our discussion of OER this week, I can’t help but think that we need to prepare for a new “look” of education, especially in the arena of universities and higher education.  The college that my children attend will most likely be completely different than the college I attended.  Will it be necessary for my children to attend a brick and mortar school to earn a postsecondary education?  Will their tuition costs be higher or lower?  Will they spend just as much on textbooks as I did (nearly 20 years ago)?  Or, will they no longer be using printed textbooks and exclusive materials? 
I would like to address two issues related to OER…
First, OER is opening doors to new ways of learning that must be accommodated by our modern institutions of learning.  The reality is that people can learn without the help of a formal institution.  And, the reality is that people are learning independently all the time.   Why, then, do we so heavily rely on a degree from a formal institution to give credence to a person’s abilities, knowledge, and learning?  What does a formal degree really mean these days, anyway?
I am intrigued by Peer2Peer University, University of the People, and Western Governor’s University – universities which are bridging the gap between what people can learn openly and (more) freely and how such learning is credentialed.  This only makes sense to me.  We must start recognizing other ways of learning as valid.  We must start expecting students to be able to provide evidence of learning beyond a college diploma.  How about electronic portfolios that demonstrate a particular skill set?
Second, the need for critical thinking and quality assurance cannot be ignored in this age of “open” education.  Yes, there are many resources out there.  It can be argued that one could piece together the makings of a degree from combining instruction from a variety of sources.  However, to just leave everything wide open, as if every open resource is equally valuable, is foolishness.  We must put both personal and institutional policies in place that protect us from an overload of poor materials by which to learn.  People should be able to access materials from an established, credible source, with the understanding that certain quality standards have been upheld.  Students also must develop critical thinking skills so that they can independently evaluate all open educational resources. 

Anya Kamenetz (2009, September 1). How Web-Savvy Edupunks Are Transforming American Higher Education. Fast Company. http://www.fastcompany.com/node/1325728/print


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Week 5 -- The Movement Toward Free and Open Source Software

The thing that stood out to me most this week was our class meeting with invited guest, Julie Young, from the Florida Virtual Schools.  I was intrigued by what she has developed for the state of Florida.
As a side note, I was at first reminded of how much influence one person can have.  Julie Young is a great thinker and innovator, one who is not afraid to step out and do something new.  The Florida Virtual School had to start as a vision of someone.  Just like all other inventions and innovations….they start as an idea.  My mind, once again, turns to my own children, the students of my classroom.  Am I encouraging them to create, to innovate?  Do we study people in history that changed the world and do my children see them as real people?  Do my children see themselves as a world changer? 
I am also fascinated and excited with the possibilities that schools such as this bring to the home school community and also to those within public or private educational settings who may have circumstances that make it difficult for them to attend a face to face class.  We now live in a world where educational alternatives are becoming the norm rather than the exception.  No longer do we educate every student exactly the same way.  We don’t have to!  There are options available that make it feasible for us to individualize instruction.
We are certainly navigating new waters, but the waters are becoming less rough.  More innovations, brought about by up and coming innovators, will spur us on even further.  Now, I wonder if I have any ideas in my own head that might be worth exploring a bit more?? 
Hilton, J. L. (2005). In praise of sharing. EDUCAUSE Review, 40(3), 72-73. Also available at: http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ERM05310.pdf

Friday, February 11, 2011

Week 4 -- Blended Learning

The topic of study this past week was “Blended Learning.”  As I listened to Dr. Bonk’s lecture on blended vs. online learning, I realized that I actually teach a “blended” class right now as part of a home school co-op that my family is involved with.  So, it has been interesting for me this week to consider the positives and negatives of a blended learning environment, realizing that I have a good opportunity to see this instructional delivery format in action.
I teach a World Religions class for home schooled high school students who are part of the Wildcat Creek Home Educators Cooperative in Lafayette, IN.  The class meets face to face two times per month, September through April.  Because of the low number of face to face class sessions, part of my strategy when designing the course was to encourage participation beyond the face to face meetings.  My solution was to form an online class discussion forum that would allow class members to have ongoing interactions about class topics. 
This online component, I have learned, qualifies the course for “blended” status.  So, the question now is…does the blended environment enhance the instructional quality of the class?  For this particular class, I would say that it does, and it certainly has the potential for greater benefit.   Because the class only meets face to face 16 times over the course of a year, the online element allows the class to have more interaction than would otherwise be possible.  It also helps the students (and the teacher) to remember the class content between sessions, which allows us all to have more productive face to face meetings.  The online forum provides some accountability that would not be there otherwise.
I do have to acknowledge that the online discussion forum has posed a challenge to a few students because they have limited internet access.  In some cases, this is due to parents not allowing internet access and, for others, it is due to poor internet service in their area.  Regardless of the reason, these kinds of limitations have made it impossible for me to “require” that students post to the discussion forum.  I encourage them to do so and try to monitor postings and give feedback, but I cannot make the online element a requirement.  I have also run into some minor technical problems with the NING site we use for the forum, but these have been quickly resolved.  Ultimately, I would like to find a more effective tool to use for this particular class, but for now it’s serving the purpose I intend. 
Most students are familiar with various chat tools, blogging tools, etc., but I have found that it has worked best when I have given them specific guidelines for posting to our online forum.  I set a deadline for making an initial post and also for responding to the postings of others.  As a class, we have discussed some “rules” for making posts, such as being respectful and using words wisely.  In the future, I think it would help for me to also set some “minimum word number” parameters for their postings.  This would encourage them to think more deeply when replying to the posts of their classmates. 
So…blended learning environments…my experience teaching this World Religions class has shown me that blended options have the potential to enhance instructional quality.  However, I still must keep in mind that technology is only a tool.   The use of technology must be considered in light of the overall objectives of instruction.  I have learned that internet technology offers options for teaching that were not present even just a few years ago, and I plan to continue to take advantage of those options when it is appropriate.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Week 3 -- The Transformation of Reading with Digital Devices

The surge of eBooks and eReaders is another reminder of the kind of impact new technologies can make on the way we learn.  This week’s readings and discussion forum posts have taught me a lot about the potential impact of the eReader surge on the world of education.  I do not have much experience with an actual eReader, but I have had access to several digital resources for the classes I have taken over the past two years.  Two of my children received eReaders for Christmas this year, so I’m becoming a bit more familiar with them.
As I consider the way reading a book is changing, I compare it to the way my writing methods have changed over the years.  When I was first in college nearly twenty years ago, I initially wrote all of my papers out with a pen on paper.  I would then type the final copy on an electric typewriter, which I thought was much advanced beyond the standard typewriter my mother was used to.  Now, I can’t imagine writing any paper without my computer, using all of the editing tools that are so easily accessible. 
Word processing software for computers has transformed my writing process.  I now edit by copying/pasting text, highlighting sections that need to be changed, and considerable brainstorming and rearranging of my initial thoughts and scribbles.  In my opinion, this new way of writing is much more efficient than the pen and paper process I used before.  While this is true, I have not given up my pen and paper altogether.  I still like to take notes on paper, write personal notes to friends and family, and keep a written journal.  I use digital tools when it is most efficient for the task at hand, but continue to use traditional tools when that is preferred as well. 
I imagine that in the years to come, I will become more and more comfortable with reading a digital book.  While it seems a bit strange to me now, I am sure there will be increased efficiency in some respects.  Digital textbooks make the most sense to me.  It is quite feasible to imagine students of all ages carrying around an ipad or a Kindle to access their school reading materials.  Software that enables highlighting and note taking make these devices even more popular to the modern student.  As Jennifer Wortham points out, eReaders have the potential to make reading much more of a “social” activity as applications are developed that allow the sharing of books and personal reading reflections with friends (2010). 
With that being said, I believe that “old fashioned” printed books will not become obsolete.  There’s just something about curling up with a traditional book that cannot be replaced.  The most special books in my library will continue to be in a paper format.  Regardless of the format, reading is important.  I hope my own children will take advantage of emerging technologies that may make reading more fun and/or efficient.  As they have shown me so far, though, since having personal eReaders, they’re not ready to give up their love of a printed book.  Again, some things never change!
David Pogue (2010, November 4). The Trouble with E-Readers. Scientific American. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-trouble-with-e-readers
Jenna Wortham (2010, November 11). Social Books Hopes to Make E-Reading Communal, New York Times.http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/11/11/social-books-hopes-to-make-e-reading-communal/

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Week 2 -- A New Understanding of Literacy

Barbara Jones-Kavalier and Suzanne Flannigan say, “Literacy, in any form, advances a person’s ability to effectively and creatively use and communicate information” (2006).  Does “literacy” now include more than just proficiency in reading and writing?  Is digital literacy just as critical a skill to develop in our day and age?  Will people who lack computer, internet, social networking, texting, and mobile communication skills fall behind in our society?  If so, what are the implications for education? 
My attention turns once again to my own children who are growing up in a digital era.  I consider what skills they must have in order to be truly “literate.”  This is something I have not thought of before – how much recent technological advances are changing the way we, as a society, communicate.  In regards to social networking, questions arise as to how communicating via Facebook, Twitter, texting, email, etc. will change the way in which we relate to other people.  Will those who choose not to use these tools for interaction be hindered in their ability to communicate effectively?  Will those who choose not to allow internet usage in their homes deny themselves and their children access to a critical tool for gathering and sharing information?  Does the lack of digital literacy mean someone is “illiterate?” 
Sometimes technology gets overwhelming, and sometimes we are frightened by the uncertainties and apparent dangers that come with them.  I don’t think, though, that fear and intimidation are reasons to leave it all behind.  When we view technologies as tools, our perspective turns from the potential danger to the potential benefit.  People who use advancing technologies and who also have a core set of critical thinking skills and a strong moral foundation can do great things!  
Rather than run from technology, I think we need to prepare people to use it appropriately.  As Karl Auerbach says, “We need to teach ourselves how to be good users of that tool.”  (Anderson and Rainie 2010).  After reading this week’s articles, I have a new understanding of what it means to be literate in the 21st century.  However, as I said in last week’s post, my understanding of what it means to be human has not changed.  As with anything else, humans can use technology for good or bad.  Certainly, students need to be taught digital literacy skills.  Now more than ever, though, students need to be grounded in critical thinking skills and strong moral character so that they might use technology in a good way. 
With all of that being said, it’s important to reiterate that literacy also involves traditional reading and writing skills.  We don’t only live in a world of technology.  So, while we seem to be running forward with technology at a fast pace, let’s not forget to teach our students how read and write.  Those necessary skills of literacy will not become extinct in the midst of an ever changing world. 
Janna Anderson and Lee Rainie (2010, July 2). The Future of Social Relations. Pew Internet & American Life Project. http://www.pewinternet.org/~/media//Files/Reports/2010/PIP_Future_of_Internet_%202010_social_relations.pdf

Barbara R. Jones-Kavalier and Suzanne L. Flannigan (2006). Connecting the Digital Dots: Literacy of the 21st Century. Educause Quarterly, 29(2), Retrieved on June 24, 2010, from http://www.educause.edu/apps/eq/eqm06/eqm0621.asp

Monday, January 17, 2011

Week 1 -- Mind Boggling Changes on the Horizon

My mind is spinning, my thoughts are reeling, my heart is racing, my adrenaline is pumping….I’ve been reading about the Web 2.0.  I’ve been learning about a myriad of technological advancements that are changing the world I live in.  My own experience with technology tells me that things are changing very quickly.  I fear I may not be able to keep up and I feel exhausted as I consider what it might take for me to stay ahead of the game. 
So, I stop for a moment to gain some perspective…
Emerging technologies are amazing, but they don’t change the core of what it means to be human.  Much is changing, but there are also many things that are the same.  Sorting through the implications of what might be changing and what must remain the same is the challenge. 
One example – Facebook.  Human beings are relational.  Years ago, relational needs were met by people who were, for the most part, geographically connected.  Biological families remained in the same area and strong family ties and communications were built.  It doesn’t surprise me that as people began to relocate and became more mobile that something like Facebook has emerged.  Facebook has opened a door for continued relationship even when people are separated by distance.  The core of what it means to be a relational being has not changed, but the means of expressing and building that relationship has changed. 
As technology continues to emerge at a fast pace, I want to be certain that I am not a slave to it.  Rather, I want to view technology as a tool to further my goals and vision.   To say it another way, I don’t want to use new technology simply to be “flashy” or “cool.”  Instead, I want to use it in a purposeful way.  I also don’t want to be afraid of the new simply because I’m not familiar with it.  Sometimes it might be best to stick with the traditional, sometimes not.  Much depends on what my ultimate goals are. 
Because I am a home schooling mom, my perspective is informed by the educational aims and goals I have for my own children.  As the world changes drastically, I consider how to prepare them for it. 
Technology changes rapidly.  For this reason, I think it’s more important to build confident learners than it is to build tech savvy students.  It is impossible to teach anyone the ins and outs of every technological tool.  Instead, I want my children to know how to learn new technology and how to find answers to the questions they have. 
In this changing world, I also want my children to be critical thinkers.  When such a vast amount of information is available, students today must know how to sort through what is valuable and what is not.  I want to develop thinkers, not just consumers. 
Finally, as the world of education changes in response to emerging technologies, I must consider how the very definition of what it means to be educated is changing.  One author asks, “Will the ability to synthesize information become the primary goal of education?”  (Oblinger 2008). Certainly, new and different skills need to be mastered by today’s student. 
Even so, I still hold to some traditional goals.  I want my children to build character, develop a strong moral foundation, and master the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic.  Some things don’t change. 
So, as I move into a new and open world, I find comfort in those things that remain the same.  Technology is changing quickly and I’m excited to be learning about the Web 2.0 this semester.  I also realize that treading new waters doesn’t mean that all of the old is gone.  This semester, I hope to glean what is good from new and emerging technologies, reflect on what must remain from the traditional, and mesh them together for meaningful education.  I think I have gained some perspective! 
Jaron Lanier (2010, September 16). Does the Digital Classroom Enfeeble the Mind? NY Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/19/magazine/19fob-essay-t.html?src=me&ref=magazine 

Oblinger, D. G. (2008). Growing up with Google: What it means to education. Becta: Emerging technologies for learning, 3, 10-29. Retrieved on June 24, 2010, from http://partners.becta.org.uk/upload-dir/downloads/page_documents/research/emerging_technologies08_chapter1.pdf