Skip to content

Collaborative Keynote on Collaboration: E-Learning 2.0 Conference

July 8, 2012

Just a quick note: the Brunel Business School has just released their edited videos of our collaborative keynote.  As our presentation was in 2 parts, so are the two videos.

The first one was set (at Maggie McPherson’s request) at 5am for me here in Canada and 10am in England ….  but I was on the lake….  again!

The second, is where the students from the UOIT EDUC5103G course (Online technology and Education) contributed so much (see the previous post) and many were present in our usual virtual classroom – Thanks to all the students for your contributions!!



E-Learning 2.0 Conference

June 7, 2012

Our EDUC5103 class participated in the E-learning 2.0 Conference hosted by Brunel Business School, part of Brunel University located in West London, United Kingdom. This was part of Dr Maggie McPherson’s keynote – and it was a good opportunity for the group to introduce their ideas on new pedagogies. Below are the links to each team’s blogs and videoclip on the following general theme: If the lecture was pedagogy to the book, what would be pedagogy to mobile technology?


Blog: Flipping the Classroom
Ruth Skillen
Thom Macdonald
Matthew Grabinsky
Gareth OBrien
Kevin Dougherty
Blog: Dynamagogy?
Michael Martin
Asifa Aamir
Jaclyn Calder
Linda Burkholder
Peter Callaghan
Erica Sanders
Blog: Students at the Centre
Elizabeth Browning
Jennifer Levine
Stephanie Chislett
Andrew Cohen
Amy Blizzard
Blog: The Blogging Adventures of The S.S. BRC!
Safia Dakri
Sasha Goel
Candida Silveira
Roshni Patel
Bavina Kobeer
Blog: New Approaches to Learning
Charles Berger
Victoria Thompson
Colin Ng
Shem Sewchand
Andrea Vasilopoulos

MOOCs, Digital literacy for teachers, BYOD and kids in school without breakfast

May 11, 2012

Such are some of the themes raised by the group of students in the #educ5103 Online technology in education course this week. So how do we translate this?
Lets look at the first pair of ideas: MOOCs represent one of the most interesting innovations when it comes to thinking in terms of online learning, but it seems to contrast with a recognition that there remains a large proportion of “teachers” that both still fear the online world and, probably more importantly, still cannot rethink or accept that their traditional role is no longer relevant. It needs to change, and it goes way beyond digital literacy. It is about a redefinition of the goal of teaching, as well as a re-engineering of the social relationship between novices and experts, not teachers and learners. It is not sufficient to have one teacher to many students, we are moving in a more logical paradigm of a single novice seeking and consulting many experts in one subject area….. And that become possible online. These experts are also novices in other domains and therefore seek experts, that might have been their previous novices. A live social learning network… The way these students are tweeting (after class if you please!) might be an indication of that network? Try that in a classroom!
And now for the second pair: Bring Your Own Device vs no breakfast. How can anyone comment on this. Of course we need to take care of the basics for these kids. But maybe the BYOD can be an opportunity to share and to help the rest of the community to take notice, to be aware, and maybe to participate in redressing some of these social misses…. Let’s face it, our collective survival depends on it. So yes to BYOD, but let’s use it to build some social awareness and to foster sharing.
But we still have hungry kids……

Technology in Education: So what’s different?

October 2, 2011

Research in education in general, is too often preoccupied with details that border on the barely significant.  We get excited about the slightest evidence of a change in motivation or engagement, or self-efficacy, etc. In the past thirty years, we have seen a multiplication of research publications in the field. Articles abound about these new findings about details.  The reason is simple and well known: as academics, we all have to publish or perish and so, we do studies with the honorable intent to make a real contribution to the science of education. Unfortunately, in spite of this accrued intellectual activity and productivity, we tend to see little real progress in the fundamental thinking about education, let alone it’s practices.  As far as within the education system, it has had a tendency to replicate itself with most of the changes occurring at an administrative level, while basically maintaining a status quo in the classroom. We do not really question the “raison d’être” of our education systems; we simply accept that it is, somehow, to help the next generation take their place in the society or the economy of the 21st century. But we do this by using ideas and logic of the past century.  Maybe this new century, and the change in thinking it will bring about, should be examined……  This is not to say that this research and all these projects are not of some interest, but we should ask:  have these findings actually changed the way education operates?  Are we looking, or at least trying to look ahead? We still have classrooms full of kids grouped by age and under the control of a single teacher being taught a single isolated subject with the odd sprinkling of interdisciplinary activity often called “projects”.  What about learning how to learn? for life!!  There needs to be a change in thinking about education, a REAL change.

Now bring in Computers In The Classroom!

Another one for the books is the concept of integrating computers in the classroom!!  Heaven forbid that we should challenge the classroom concept!!

In the past thirty years, what has technology changed in our educational thinking or practice? Well, let’s see: now the chalkboard is being replaced by an interactive whiteboard, and the books by e-readers.  The question that remains is simply: how do these technologies challenge the traditions of teaching and learning?  Let’s face it, they don’t.  They were specifically designed to support the tradition, not challenge it, and without that challenge to the traditions, education cannot move forward.  Thomas L. Russell has stated it so simply: “No significant difference” – if we integrate technology in the classroom without changing anything else…  we achieve nothing, except spend tons of money and make good pictures for the local newspapers!

Technology is a representation of the social group that uses it.  What do the school administrators use? What do the teachers use? What do the students and children use?  If we get specific around the idea of digital technologies, then we could posit that the ideas that can challenge the traditions of education are probably best represented by the digital technologies used outside of education.  Actually, if they are banned within education, they are probably the ones with the highest potential to foster a change in thinking about education!  Technology in the classroom, brought in by the teachers, principals and parents has not changed the educational paradigm, but maybe technology brought in by the kids could?

And instead of putting the technology in the classroom, what about putting the classroom in the technology?  If we consider the classroom as a means to an end, a tool to support a process, why not consider some technologies as useful to fulfill the same functions as the classroom by also solving some of the problems and limitations of the classroom? Or better yet, why not have a critical look at the concept of the classroom and only extract the functions that actually support the learning process and not the administrative structure.  This is when ideas like online learning and MOOCS (Massive Online Open Courses) for example, can become interesting challenges to the old concepts – but only if we are ready to approach this with an open mind.  This openness is necessary to allow the free movement of information and ideas between all participants in the educational or learning exchange.  In such a learning exchange, the fixed traditional roles disappear and are replaced by a dynamic acceptance of momentary responsibilities that are entirely dependent on the activity collectively agreed upon as a support for … learning.  The online context can allow for this, particularly with the emergence of social medial and powerful mobile devices.

I would suggest that this needs to be explored and studied far more than it is at present, not just as an interesting addition to the classroom but as a clear challenge to outdated thinking and as a means to critically examine all aspects of the educational act.

PBL: Thoughts on the “Role” Effect

July 9, 2011

I was asked recently to speak about the effect of personal perspective on how a problem is approached by the learner in a PBL approach. To begin with, the concept “problem” (P) can be described as being equivalent to the difference between a current situation (Sc) and a desired situation (Sd) or goal, and this difference becomes a difficulty as it is multiplied by the number and size of the obstacles (O) that stand between these.

Given this initial definition I have also added that this difference and the related obstacles would be much easier to overcome if one has the appropriate knowledge (k) and the resources (r). Let’s face it; what may be a major problem for some will be a mere inconvenience for others – if they have the means to throw at it. This would then imply that as stated above, “problem” (P) may first be equivalent to the obstacles (O) between a current situation (Sc) and a desired situation (Sd) or goal, but it is also inversely proportional to the amount of relevant and useful knowledge (k) and resources (r) that are readily available. The more knowledge one has about a situation and the best solutions, and the more resources are readily available, the lesser the problem!

Finally, all of these are highly dependant on the personal perspective of the one facing the problem. For example, in the case of a train accident involving a chemical spill, many people will arrive on the scene very quickly. Although they will likely all recognise an extremely serious problem, they will all see a different one. The paramedics will see the human casualties as lives to be saved and people to be treated. The firemen, will quickly assess the situation and the risk of fire or explosion, and will react accordingly. The chemical emergency response team will see the liquids spreading and will work with the environmental protection group to first contain the damage, and then to prevent further spreading while preparing for the urgent cleanup. And this list of individuals goes on.  Although each will bring his or her expertise to bear on the overall solution, what is important to realise here is that each individual at the same scene, will see a different problem, or at the very least, the same problem but from very different perspectives. These perspectives are determined by the roles (R) each one plays in the scenario, and these roles are determined by training and experience.  Thus the obstacles, the situation, the knowledge and resources each brings to the problem, are all entirely dependant on the Role (R) of the individual trying to solve the problem.

Although this is absolutely not intended as a formal representation of the concept it is intended as a means to illustrate the principal elements involved in the notion of Problem.
Bringing this back to PBL or problem-based-learning, the implication is that it is not sufficient to present a complex, ill-defined problem to students for the approach to be successful. The tutor needs also to clearly identify and discuss the role the learners are to take. This was easy to do in PBL implementation in medical schools, as the assumption is simply that all the problems are approached from the perspective of the medical doctor. A similar assumption is made in PBL implementation in engineering programs. Where it gets complicated, is in schools, in the K-12 system, where the learners have not yet adopted a specific overall “Role”. One has to be artificially given by the teacher or tutor, and this then implies that the knowledge and experience of that “Role” has to be aggregated and organised by the learner – and this is in itself a first critical learning opportunity not to be overlooked. From that perspective, the learner also has to assess the “Problem” and select the obstacles to be overcome. The potential discussions around these two points offer some of the most powerful opportunities for the learner to bring in and be confronted with new elements of information and then to test these against their own individual, personal cognitive structures and prior knowledge. In a Piagetian sense, this fosters “assimilation’ and “accommodation” – or learning!

A thought on the e-teaching/learning relationship

July 1, 2011

While reading a number of texts on e-learning, an idea keeps coming back every once in a while: “learning is greatly enhanced when it is anchored in authentic and meaningful activities”.  This kind of statement is usually then followed by a long list of references to support the claim.  Don’t get me wrong, I greatly respect many of the authors usually listed.

The problem with the statement is simply that it is positioned from a traditional teaching perspective, and a teaching perspective that “was” based in memorisation but that this can be “enhanced” by some activity.  Realizing that memorisation is insufficient and does not necessarily bring understanding also entails that simply reading or hearing about something will not be as good as actively doing something “authentic”.  If, on the other hand, we consider learning to be a process of accommodation and assimilation, it is a process that occurs within the cognition of the learning being as it interacts with perceptions of the external world, or the “authentic”.

If we insist on looking at it from the teaching perspective, then let’s examine the facilitation of the linking between the perceived component and the assimilation/accommodation process. This is the role of “analogy”: the highlighting of the similarities between the “new” perceptual experience and the “known” past experience in memory. Then follows the analysis of the differences between the two to accommodate the new and the known so they will still “fit” together.  On their own, “facts” in memory get you nowhere if they are not connected in a well-organised cognitive structure. It is in the ontological connections that the potential for reuse resides. Without these connections, these memory bits merely occupy space and will fade rapidly as they will not be repurposed.

Here is where the teacher-learner interaction can help: by prompting this highlighting of the similarities and analysis of differences, not by simply stating “facts”…  The interaction between learners can also generate different opportunities to call upon a greater number of possible analogies.  This would also suggest that any teaching agent should also be, first and foremost, a learning agent.

How does this work in e-learning or online learning, or mobile learning?

As digital technology offers us the opportunity to interact with the “outside world” in a modified and sometimes enhanced manner, the possibilities are also modified – but the role of “analogy” remains.   This means that learning online is a process where the learner, is using the technology to:

  1. Facilitate or enhance the communications between learning agents: Social media, and the “Social Web” combined with the mobile generation of connectedness makes it possible to enhance these communications from anywhere anytime – therefore changing the concept of where and when as well as the who you ask or speak to about anything.
  2. Facilitate or enhance the access to parts of the “external” world: we can access documents in any form from anywhere – the concepts of “information access” are being completely rewritten with the idea of a “Semantic web”.  You no longer have to go looking for information, “it” can come to you, in a constant stream of highly targeted, multimedia documents, specifically selected and tailored for your individual or personal needs and wants.
  3. Facilitate or enhance the creation of “analogies”: the process of highlighting of the similarities and analysis of differences between the new and the known is now the subject of developments of an entire class of technological developments around the concept of “augmented reality” on mobile devices.  The potential for these kinds of technologies, is just being explored as learning tools, as these actually allow the real-time linking between access to live, recognisable objects, people and surroundings, and additional information, either automatically computed and generated or pulled from cloud-based databases.  The known and the new.

I would therefore reword the initial statement: “learning is (almost) impossible in the absence of interaction with an external world – with or without digital technology”.

Information overload in video chat classroom

June 17, 2011

Well it happened again: one student’s insightful remark gives new perspective.  This week, during class, or I should say virtual class, the back channels were buzzing.

This is a grad course with ten students, all logging in to my virtual class through a desktop or laptop videoconferencing system from different parts of the province.  In that system (Adobe Connect), we all see and hear each other and there is also a text chat window where everyone and anyone types comments or questions.  In addition, we also run a Twitter hashtag conversation on the side.  Although the main conversation occurs in the audio/video channel, the two text-based channels are also very busy.  Some students use these to ask questions or to add comments without interrupting the live discussion while others use these text chats for parallel discussions – sometimes on topic, sometimes on peripheral subjects, and also often as a social sharing space for humour or semi-private exchanges.  Whatever the purpose, the text chats are an active backchannel that the professor can see, has to pay attention to, and even has to participate in.

Back to the student’s insightful remark, or was it more of a question: “Is this more of a distraction than an enhancement to the course?”  As we all thought about it and discussed this, an interesting set of elements emerged as having impact on the course as a whole.

1- Needed Focus:  It was agreed that simply to follow all the discussions does require an incredible amount of focus and discipline just to keep track of it all and not to lose track of your own train of thought.  For the professor, it is compounded as you try to “manage” your course.  So maybe it is sometimes a distraction, in that it can interfere with one’s thinking.

2- Added Voice: On the plus side, it gives the students the opportunity, as stated earlier, to put thoughts down immediately without interrupting the conversation directly.  These short written comments and questions remain visible to all and act both as a working memory of thoughts and as a queue for the group to move from one part of the topic to another.

3- Access to collective intelligence: Another interesting phenomenon was identified in that when a question remains unanswered, or a term needs precision, or a quick fact would be helpful, instead of the students waiting for me to dig and answer, they all quickly do web searches and one of them will immediately post a link to the chat- instant answer, and it came from the students and all can go to see for themselves!  You will also often see two or three other links appear…

4- Link to outside community: I created a Twitter hashtag for the course and so the students even use this to post some comments about certain topics they find particularly interesting but the difference here seems to be that these are what they direct to not only the other students in class, but to their friends and colleagues outside of class, either other students or co-workers.  Then interestingly, these “outsiders” also sometimes add comments to the class hashtag.  To me it brings the whole class more in touch with the outside world.

So is it a distraction?  Maybe. But I think for the moment, that these backchannels, by the sheer fact that they occupy more of the consciousness of everyone in class, they help focus attention.  In a traditional lecture hall, at best students will generally pay some attention to the lecture, but their minds will be all over what they did last night or the upcoming weekend.  They will likely be chatting, texting, e-mailing or doing something else totally unrelated to the topic.  The use of these back channels in the manner we do here, at least seems to capture that attention and focus it on the actual subject being discussed.  But maybe that does create a situation of information overload…. or distractions…

One thing is for sure, these, for the moment, are just impressions and a good literature review should yield some interesting bits – if not, then this could be a good research topic… One more!!

… And this is another clear demonstration to me of how different online learning is to classroom lecturing…..  or can be.