Wednesday, January 19, 2011

eLearning – do we know what the heck we are doing? Are we in a rut?

Trent Batson, executive director of The Association for Authentic, Experiential and Evidence-Based Learning, has just published a thought provoking article in Campus Technology (dated 19 Jan 2011). As a practitioner in the field of eLearning I read Trent’s article with great interest. Many of the points he touched upon really rang true to me. For example, he writes: “The shift in education is away from learning autonomously to learning collaboratively.” This statement applies broadly to education and I feel it is important to highlight this concept in an eLearning and distance education context. When I am a member of a Course Development Team that develops web-enabled courses, too often I slip into the rut of placing the academic content first in my priority list while placing student-to-student collaborating and interaction as a much lower priority. Why do I do this? I think there are several reasons:

  1. It’s easier (and faster) to put together content then it is to put together meaningful student-to-student collaboration experiences. Content is easily sourced with the maturation of the Internet and professors do not have unlimited amounts of time to devote to course development activities.

  2. Most professors have more experience putting together content than designing meaningful student-to-student collaboration experiences. Professors are content experts and many lack the specialized training in educational design.

  3. Some members of academic departments still believe that content is king! The perception exists that allocating some student energy towards collaboration only decreases the amount of time they have to spend learning the content and that this is a non-desirable effect. Some of these same people believe that teaching and learning is exclusively about lectures and textbooks. Some of those same professors build assessment schemes that test only a student's ability to regurgitate content. In the end what does the degree mean? That the student is good at memorizing? Does the workplace need the majority of staff to be good at memorizing?

  4. There is some student push-back to collaboration and interaction especially at a distance. Many provide the all too familiar complaints such as “it’s too hard”, “I hate group work”, etc. Well – being a productive person in the workplace REQUIRES interaction and group work with other staff (some of which are not geographically co-located). So despite being perceived as “difficult or hard”, collaboration is a required skill to master early in all disciplines.

Reading articles, like Trent’s, help situate and realign myself better in the big picture of education. Have a look his article and let us know if any points ring true to you. Leave a comment below

Monday, January 10, 2011

Should I buy books about technology in education? Answer: NO!

This post is not intended to offend Barnes & Noble or any other book seller. I received a great question over the weekend asking if I could “help finding a good book about technology in post secondary education” and I had to take a couple of days to think about it. I have some fantastic books on the shelf about Instructional Design but I have very few about Educational Technology. Why? Well, I think it is difficult to find a one-stop resource book that describes the best practices in using technology in post-secondary education. There are a few factors that come into play that make this challenging:

  • Technology is an enabler, not a driver when it comes to sound instructional design and course delivery. So the front end design analysis must be done to identify the objectives that you want to accomplish in your course. Once the objectives are clearly articulated then the best pedagogical tool and strategies can be selected to meet the specific objective. So you see the selection of pedagogical tools/strategies (including technological tools) comes second – not first. So it’s challenging to write a book with a chapter called ‘Virtual Worlds’ because in my view that’s putting technological tools first!

  • Pedagogical/technological tools and strategies can be used in the classroom and out of the classroom, and the same tool and strategy may not produce the same results under those two different conditions. Approaches need to be customized according to the setting and also according to the types of students involved.

  • Technological tools and strategies change faster than print. So the large majority of information and knowledge about this topic is not found in books – it’s found on the Internet in Personal Learning Networks (PLNs).

So the permutations provided by combining the three points above together contribute to why a good comprehensive book on the subject is difficult to find. If you are a teacher, where does that leave you? How are you supposed to learn about how to select pedagogical tools to meet the needs of you course and your students? Do you just give up?

No you don’t give up silly. You work smarter and you make a commitment to go and learn about what’s out there, and more importantly, you find out how it's being used effectively and in what contexts. Here are some strategies that you can personally adopt:
  1. Examine your PLN and make sure it is working well for you. The goal of the PLN is to provide you with a support system of like-minded people asking like-minded questions and together you can act as a large professional development resource for each other. Invest time to perfect your PLN - the return on the investment will be measurable. If you need more info about PLNs, I’ve written about them before.

  2. There’s an implication in point 1 above: that you do not have to re-invent the wheel. Just use someone else’s wheel IF it meets the needs of the course and the needs of the students. So the challenge is in sharing ideas with your PLN. There are some very effective ‘tricks’ for sharring ideas on the Internet. For example, Twitter has this thing called hashtags which allow users to tag their postings using keywords. For example, the hashtag “#edtech” is a key word that you can imagine might be useful to follow to learn about the topic of educational technology. Well, you can follow it directly using your favourite twitter client (like Tweetdeck for example), or you can follow it indirectly by using a hashtag aggregating service like This service can display a selection of Twitter postings from the last 24 hours having any specific hashtag and as a bonus the postings are presented in a nice tabloid newspaper style. Check out the newspaper for the hashtag #edtech. This link refreshes with all new content filtered off the Twitter stream every 24 hours. Other hashtags like #elearning, #education, #teaching may also be interesting to look at regularly.

  3. Points 1 and 2 above are great but there is a critical piece missing: you need to give back. Start telling the world (i.e. your PLN) about your successes and your failures in your teaching. By taking the time to articulate your experiences you will be amazed at what benefits can come to you directly. In my view, being reflective of your practice as a teacher is a requirements for growth in your proficiency. So write a blog, contribute to a wiki, post to twitter or update your status on Facebook. It doesn’t matter how you do it – it just matters that you DO it.

If you have any other strategies for learning about best practices in educational technology, feel free to share them by clicking the comment link below.