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

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/