Archive for December, 2007

… or something like that. Try for yourself.


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What did I learn in 2007?


Learning Circuit’s Big Question for December was “What did you learn about learning in 2007?” Year-end is a natural time for reflection but I had to give this question some heavy thinking. So much of what I’ve learned has already seeped into the back of my brain and isn’t easy to define. It’s a hodge podge but here goes …

Sometimes the best thing is get out of the way. I learned that people can learn perfectly ok when you give them goals & leave them alone. Last January, I tried something different when we upgraded our discussion software. Instead of automatically scheduling a training session for online faculty to go over the new features, I decided to try my own Hole in the Wall experiment. Without telling people how, I asked them to log on to the new software, make a post, reply to a post & upload a photo. Then I waited to see what happened. Everyone logged on. Everyone figured out how the new software worked. Nobody emailed or phoned for help. Once the conversation started, people were doing everything from telling each other how to create polls to sharing martini recipes. One person even suggested that we leave the discussion board active so that the conversation could continue throughout the term. What did I learn from the experiment? People learn a lot when you give them a challenge, establish a community so that people can share and get help from one another, and then just let folks figure out the path for themselves. I’m glad that one worked.

Simple tools can give big results. I learned that something as simple as Twitter can be a profound way to support conversations. Twitter is like standing at the water cooler and eavesdropping on the buzz of conversation around you … except the water cooler is the world. I’ve made a new friend through Twitter. I’ve picked up lots of great tips & pointers. Twitter has been one of the great finds for me this year.

Blogging helps me work smarter. I learned that blog posts are so reusable! I can’t tell you how many times I cut & pasted from one of my blog posts to an email or a project I was working on. Some people say that blogging takes time. For me it saves time. It gives me a ready-made repository to pilfer for other projects.

Making all the decisions for learners doesn’t make sense. Many online courses impose a lot of control on learners. However, I noticed this year that control comes at a cost. Control tends to increase the cognitive load on learners so there’s more of a need to simplify the course design. Control also means the instructions have to be crystal clear because I find learners are more prone to frustration in highly controlled courses. It’s a bit of a vicious circle, isn’t it. The more control we exert, the more we need to exert. When we hold back and let learners make choices, they tend to learn more deeply and in ways that we don’t expect. Highly controlled courses are also painful to teach. I sometimes hear faculty complain about teaching online when really they’re just teaching a poorly designed course. Adding choice and designing to allow learners to make more decisions often results in a better experience for faculty as well as learners.

People learn a lot from seeing other people’s work. I learned that people learn a lot when they see examples of finished work. Sometimes this can be the most important part of a course. I noticed this when I was lucky enough to attend a class given by a good friend and great teacher. He gave learners a challenge and then gave them an example to work from. It was interesting to watch the computer screens in the room. Most of the learners in the class divided their screen, putting the example on one side of the screen and their own work on the other. After the class I began to realize how much of my own learning comes from looking at the examples of others. Do you find the same thing?

It’s all about people. I learned that the most important thing in teaching is people. This notion comes from a good friend of mine who told me that he teaches “people first, program second”. That’s not a new thing to me but I think I appreciated it more this year than I did before. If you get to know your learners well, so much of the other stuff just falls into place.

The important things I learned didn’t come from a curriculum. Looking over my list, I realize that I learn best by doing, reflecting on the experience and talking about it with other people. My important learning is informal learning.

Sometimes things work in unexpected ways but you only find out if you keep exploring. Here’s a bit of a wonky one. I’m very visual, so I like approaches that help me visualize my work. This fall, I tried using the 8 Learning Events Model to simplify the course design process (pdf), but with mixed results. I learned that it isn’t such a great help when designing a course but it works great in helping you identify the weak spots in a course that’s being redesigned — especially if you color-code each of the activities in the course. (I warned you that this one was wonky.) If you’d like to try this for yourself, feel free to use this pdf as a guide. If you end up with a lot of activities coded with red circles, you probably have a content-heavy course and may need to brainstorm some alternative teaching approaches that are more active & less passive.

Some things I’m still struggling with …

The more I teach, the less I know. Furthermore, the more I teach online, the less satisfied I am with teaching face-to-face. It doesn’t feel as effective to me. What’s up with that? Does anyone else feel the same way? I’m getting the sense that teaching isn’t what I think it is.

Where are the great teaching tools going to come from next? How are we ever going to get away from those big, kludgey, ugly learning management systems, and what will come next?

Have a great 2008.

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Learning gives back

Elliott & Cathy Masie are blogging from Mali about their experiences being part of a project that will donate over 2 million mosquito nets to protect people against malaria. Elliott is posting some beautiful little snippets including interviews with people in the area.  I especially like the short video taken while he was conducting a train-the-trainer on how to craft a “sticky” message so that people will spread the message about the clinics.

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teensI glanced at the latest statistics on teens & social media released yesterday from Pew Internet and noticed an interesting distinction. Girls are more likely than boys to create and share content online. They’re more likely to blog and more likely to share photos. Boys do dominate in one category, however. They’re more likely to share video. I wonder if that means that girls are more likely to engage in online courses where they’re encouraged to share content. Does anyone know?

(Photo, Teens, by Victoriano Izquierdo Ramirez)

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There are a couple of items I came across today about bending with the world rather than against it.

First, according to the Edublog Awards, Karl Fisch wrote the most influential edublog post of the year by asking, Is it ok to be a technologically-illiterate teacher? I have to admit, Karl’s words are direct and sometimes sharp, but we need to challenge ourselves & our colleagues to keep learning. It’s not acceptable anymore to take pride in ignorance.

The second are the words of Garrison Keillor. If you think Keillor is a folksy traditionalist, you’d be mistaken. From an interview with Keillor on Rocketbook this past week …

On using email & chat for work

“It is so much more efficient and decent and civilized than the old system of sitting around a long table in meetings in which boring bullying people dominate. It’s a huge advance.” (Here! here!)

On Wikipedia

“Wikipedia, although its authority was questioned early on, is now the backbone of any writer’s research.”

See for yourself.

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students 2.0Launching on December 10th, Students 2.0 is spearheaded by Clay Burell (self-confessed hater of “schooliness” and lover of learning) and a number of student edubloggers from around the globe. From the Students 2.0 site …

“For decades, students have been put in classrooms, sat down at desks, and told how to learn and what to learn. For a time when students were expected to become widgets for the vast machine of industry, this model of education was highly effective. However, we are now entering a new age: an age where thinking is more important than knowing, where the thought trumps the fact … Everywhere, we see changes: in how business operates, in how people interact and success is accomplished. That is, we see changes everywhere besides the closed bars of education. The system continues to “stay the course” upon a falling ship. Yet, the widgets within the machine are no longer content to grind away.”

This should be an interesting project to watch.

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Tangler … a very Web 2.0-y discussion forum

A Very Short List … a daily mailing list about pop culture (proof positive that the good ol’ mailing list is still alive & kickin’)

Dopplr … a place to share travel plans & connect with others

Icon Buffet … a trading site for icons

Spock … search organized around people

How about you? What’s new in your web world?

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In my hometown of Fredericton, NB, the public transit system uses Google Maps to help you map out your bus route. How cool is that?

google map for Fredericton Transit

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This week, MIT launched a project called Highlights for High Schools, an extension of their Open CourseWare Initiative, a project that opens access to all its course resources online. (Imagine if your college or university put all its course outlines, handouts, tests, etc. online for free for anyone to use. That’s what MIT does.)

This week MIT extended those resources to high school students & teachers — over 2,600 video and audio clips, animations, lecture notes and assignments taken from MIT courses. There’s some neat stuff here, especially in the “Hands on Learning” section. In fact, I’m considering how some of these resources might be adapted to improve our online courses. Check it out.

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graham attwell

“The whole experience of developing and implementing elearning has been profoundly bad. What we’ve essentially tried to do is to replicate physical forms of learning so we try to take the classroom, the textbook and the teacher and replicate them all in software … If you ask me a different question, what’s the future of using technology for learning, then I think it’s absolutely fantastic. We’re beginning to see the possibilities through social networking and multi-user virtual environments, things like Facebook. That’s the real potential for exchanging ideas and building knowledge. It doesn’t look much like the elearning we’re used to.”

~ Graham Attwell on the future of elearning

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