July 2010

I love Prezi.  But as you can see by this particular sample, I have a LOT to learn.  This amazing Prezi helps teachers identify how to use this software in their classroom…


I think this is a public Prezi, meaning everyone has access to it.  But if you don’t, you may have to create an account.  It’s worth it.


Today Hillary gave us all a bio-dot to put on our hand, as a measurement of our emotions (or body temperature).  Having poor circulation and very low blood pressure, mine remained black.  Bemused, I stuck my bio-dot on Mindy, my trusty laptop.  It stayed black.  Guess we are both dead…

But then it struck me.  A computer really IS dead.  It has no emotions, and certainly no facial gestures to indicate those emotions.

So how well does it substitute for a living, breathing, emotive human teacher?

This was brought into sharp focus by the video, “Faces” with John Cleese.  The ability to express ourselves through our faces and gestures is critical in human communication.  How effective is it to substitute that for a laptop and an Internet connection?

Am I going down the wrong career path? There was only one way to find out.

Research.  The last two days have introduced me to the idea of qualitative and quantitative research.  But even before that, a problem or issue needs to be identified.  Then, as Leonard Bickman and Debra Rog (2009) outline, questions need to be identified and then further refined and revised.  So perhaps the question could be regarding the effect of a lack of emotive communication in distance learning.  This would undoubtedly be a quantitative research study, but is it even worth doing?  I need to do some more digging into what comprises a solid research question…

This afternoon brought with it a discussion of cognitive theory.  It’s a topic of interest to me for several reasons.  First and foremost, I find the development of the brain fascinating because I have a toddler.  I keenly read what I can on the stages of development, and have learned much of Piaget’s theories.  (I will admit I’ve tested the conservation of mass on my son, checking to see if he understands that two glasses of different shapes hold the same amout of liquid.  He doesn’t. He’s two.)  Secondly, I believe that cognitive theory can really impact teaching and learning.  The latest research seems to suggest that brain development continues on well into the teenage years, and knowing that should mean educators adjust their practise to best suit their students at their current level of development.

Which leads me to my next area of interest – teenage literacy.  (Wow…Bill was right – sometimes asking questions leads you to ask further questions…am I on to my area of focus for a project or thesis?)  I find it amazing that there are students in high school that can only read at a low functioning level.  How did that happen?  And more importantly, can anything be done?  Are there cognitive theories that could work?  Judith today spoke of various ways of “chunking” information for students, such as helping poor spellers.  Could a similar approach work in dealing with students struggling to read?  Are there technologies out there to assist these learners?  I have certainly used software programs like Read and Write Gold in the past – how effective are they?

And here’s another question – how is technology altering the brain?  There seems to be an increasing amount of discussion on how our brains are being rewired by the many technologies were use every day.  I always find it interesting to hear teachers or non-teacher discuss how students just don’t seem to be as bright as they used to be.  For me, I think our changing world has made these students different.  Not brighter, not less so – but different.  And for us to tap into their potential, we may – no, we MUST – look at different ways of teaching.   I think cognitive theory has a large role to play in all of this – providing the science needed to validate some of our questions and observations…

Wow.  If I had a quarter for every question I posed, I’d be driving a much nicer car…

Today began our foray into the world of research.  Academic research, that is.  In my own career, I research continuously.  Is there a better lesson plan out there somewhere?  What new technology could imbue this old lesson with new life?  Has someone else noticed that predominantly women seem to be attending sessions on interactive whiteboards? Just how many calories are in a Vanilla Latte from Starbucks?

Today began my look at academic research.  As Bill suggested, we need to “acculturate” ourselves to the literature of academia.  And it seems clear that this Masters program will give us all the skills needed to investigate and critique research.

What caught my attention in the lecture today was the idea of deductive versus inductive reasoning. Deductive starts with a theory; inductive starts with the data.  In my mind, it seems infinitely easier to be more deductive than inductive.  But it made me think of the question I raised at the start of this post.  At the Smart C3 Conference I attended a few months ago, it was glaringly obvious that more women were in attendance.  Perhaps that’s the data.  From that, I came up with the theory that the interactive nature of a SmartBoard – the ability to “touch” the equipment – appeals much more to women than men.  And like that, I had used inductive reasoning…

The concept of academic research, and the corresponding academic journals holds a lot of promise for me.  It’s a chance to delve deeper into some of the ideas and theories that have been residing in my brain for some time.  And, its a way to take my learning to a deeper, more academic level.  Certainly, I read education blogs.  Dozens of them every day, in fact.  But what I have been missing is that research aspect.  What I need to do now is to read more educational journals and look at the research with a much more critical eye…

So my first big assignment for my Royal Roads program is to look at my tacit assumptions about learning.  This should be easy – after all, I’ve been a high school teacher for 13 years.  But how reflective have I been in those years?

The ability to relect on one’s own ideas and theories is tantamount to being a professional.  But it wasn’t until quite recently that I began to take stock of my assumptions, and question them.  The introduction of technology to the education world has allowed me to look at new ways to teaching.  And to do that, it required an inventory of the old ways of teaching.

I’ve learned a lot.  One of the biggest epiphanies was that students need to be engaged critically in the curriculum.  I will admit that I was far more “sage on the stage” in my previous years.  Open wide, students!  Here comes the spoon full of information for you to swallow and regurgitate! The past two years I’ve been doing a lot or reading on critical thinking, and have participated in several conferences hosted by the Critical Thinking Consortium.  It has truly revolutionized the way I teach.

But that doesn’t often make the students happy.  “Can’t you just tell us the answer?” They whine.  My grade 12 academic class reported to me this past semester that the best class I taught was on the Cold War.  I brimmed with pride.  Then I realized that I had been so short on time that I had basically given them a worksheet and helped them fill in the answers. I spoonfed.  And they loved it.

I was disheartened, but not discouraged.  I wear my critical thinking badge with pride.  I recently read a blog posting from Michael Wesch, who argued that teachers should not be doing most of the work in the classroom, and I agree completely.

So on to my assignment.  I think I can use this blog to help frame some ideas that I have for the assignment.  I could write them down on paper, but like most people, I can type much faster…

One of the assigned readings for our pre-residency was the aformentioned title.  Dutifully, I dug in…

What caught my attention immediately is the sheer number of online courses available.  That leads to two questions – one, who creates these courses?  And second, who takes these courses?

This article focuses on the latter question, and outlines what key components lead to a successful online student.  The article suggests – accurately – that not all students are cut out for online learning; the external and internal pressures are certainly different than more traditional forms of education.  Attrition rates are certainly higher.  I found this statistic very interesting; I am a teacher in an inner city high school, and many students who fail courses in the regular stream are encouraged to retake them online.  In fact, I have been given an opportunity to run the “e-learning centre”, where these students will be given computer access during the regular school schedule to complete these online courses.  But if attrition rates are higher in online courses, will these students accomplish what they set out to do?

The answer seems to lie in what type of student they are, as well as several other external factors.  The first factor was technical factor.  Certainly access to a computer is important, but skills in using the computer are also invaluable.  And to expect that students have the skills to successfully navigate an online course is often dangerously naive.  I have learned this firsthand by offering a course through Desire2Learn (D2L) – students had difficulty submitting assignments, or even finding the assignments in the first place.

The second factor related to a student’s environment – was their workspace conducive to learning? Were family members supportive of their efforts? Did the student actually have regular time to commit to the course?  A lot of students in my experience chose an online course in the hopes of “fast-tracking” their way to completion, not realizing that an online course actually requires more time.  But the advantage of being able to chose when to work on the course is obvious, and is clearly a reason why online learning appeals to adult students.

Personal characteristics was the third factor – do wallflowers fare better in online courses, or are they for the more gregarious? One would think that those fearful of interaction with others would choose an online course, yet such courses require often more interaction than a traditional class, where a shy student could sit at the back and hope for anonymity. Motivation and self-discipline are also a definite requirement, and here is where many students in high school fall short.  If they lack the discipline to hand in assignments and complete the required reading for a traditional class, they are oft to repeat their lacklustre behaviour in an online setting…

The fourth factor was learning characteristics.  Clearly, the ability to read and write at an above average level is a key component for a course that requires, well, reading and writing. Other studies cited by the author indicated that successful online students tended to think more abstractly, and preferred the ability to self-pace.

So clearly, not all students are designed for online learning.  I found the article to be clear and concise, and certainly made me think about the online learning that I see on a daily basis in my work.  What I crave now is an article that discusses the content of these courses – yes, there are some students who are more likely to be successful, but surely there must be some courses or templates that are more likely to be successful also.  The article does mention that there are three types of online courses, but left me looking for further information.  Luckily, I seem to be in a program which will help me find the answers!

So to my colleagues, I ask – have you had successes with online courses?  Failures?  Which format or platform have you been using?

I was reading the blogging assignment description, and came across a section that talked about self-reflection using four lenses – autobiographical, from the eyes of our students, from the eyes of our colleagues, and from literature.

Hmm.  This gave me pause.  I wondered how often I used these lenses in assessing and reflecting on my own practise.  I earnestly try to be learner-centered, and spend countless hours trying to devise ways in which my students can work on uncover key concepts while developing a solid skill set.  What I don’t want is for them to passively open their mouths as the information is crammed in on a spoon I am firmly holding.

And I know I use literature to reflect on my teaching.  Recently, I’ve been drawn to the work of Michael Wesch from Kansas State University, who discusses the need to move from “knowlegable to knowledge-able”; that our new media environment focuses much more on the ability to find, sort, analyze, share, discuss and critique, rather than the traditional know, memorize and recall.  And on the work of Esther Wojcicki, the Chair of the Board of Directors for Creative Commons – she writes that technology can indeed help students master the production of knowledge, but it must be done with due diligence and guidance.

But autobiographical?  That’s a new one for me.  My experience as a learner was certainly of the traditional know, memorize and recall variety.  I firmly believe that much of my academic success can be explained by my excellent memory.  It helped in high school, and it certainly enabled me to get a B.A. in History.  Sure, there were times when I was constructivist in my academic life – my honours thesis in history is an example – but for the most part, I sat back while the “sage on the stage” did all the work.

And colleagues?  In a high school setting, it seems colleagues are the most help when they are buying the next round on a Friday afternoon.  I find it a real shame that we consider ourselves professionals as teachers, yet do so little to act like professionals – attending conferences, taking courses, and discussing key issues within a pedagogical framework.  I think the job is so demanding, that survival mode kicks in.  So my burning question is – can technology be the panacea?

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