Category: Teaching

Twitter or Novelty and Engagement (nee encouraging communication)?

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By , November 16, 2010 2:51 pm

The Chronicle, Fast Company and many others have picked up on this article – The effect of Twitter on college student engagement and grades (Junco R., Heiberger G., Loken E. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2729.2010.00387.x). What struck me wasn’t how many other outlets ignored the fact that it wasn’t actually “Twitter” perse, but rather engagement and novelty that may have created the result. Twitter was merely the vehicle that allowed that to happen. I would think that much of the same results could in all manner of Student Response Systems. From The Chronicle:

“One of the hallmarks of any good college education is to have students engaged, because engagement is crucial in developing critical-thinking skills and increased maturity, as well as promoting overall retention,” said Reynol Junco, an associate professor of academic development and counseling at Lock Haven University, and one of the study’s authors. He suggested that Twitter may be able to improve grades because it incorporates a feature into academic study that many students already use in their everyday lives—the “status update” that’s a part of Facebook. He said this familiarity may make students more comfortable in both continuing class discussions outside the classroom, and responding to class material. At the peak of the experiment, occurring three weeks before the end of the semester, the 70 students produced 612 tweets within a single week.”

Thankfully I’m not alone in thinking that it’s not the tool, but I don’t think entirely the students and the way that they choose to use the tool as Danielle Webb suggests in Macleans.

Whether a student uses a tool like Twitter or not can be indicative of a number of things. But it is not, by itself, indicative of a student’s intelligence, nor is it by itself capable of boosting any single student’s GPA. The possession of a hammer does not make a person a better carpenter, but simply offers them more opportunities.

I would hate to see the effects of a study like this on an impressionable young student, struggling with their course load, thinking that the answer to all of their academic problems lies in a Twitter account. Sure, in some cases, Twitter can bring a new, dynamic and sometimes valuable contribution to class life, but it’s completely naïve to think that the simple addition of this social networking tool to a classroom will turn Cs to As.

It is very much also a requirement that the instructors are part of the equation as well, creating an environment where the tool can be used to as great a range as possible. From the abstract:

This study provides experimental evidence that Twitter can be used as an educational tool to help engage students and to mobilize faculty into a more active and participatory role.

It’s nice to see this sort of research being done.

Only informed opinions matter?

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By , September 1, 2010 2:42 pm

Over the Hedge
According to RJ and Verne, that seems to be the case. It also seems to be the case that anyone can have an informed opinion. I guess it really only matters where one sets the bar. Beyond the comedy of the strip above, it suggests that the ages old debate that happens in Education faculties the world over on “secret” or “alternative” curricula, is still out there.

Almost anyone can be informed about any given set of topics, but who is it that allows those topics to be worthy of study? Can it be said that the childish distractions that existed in the early ’80s are not worthy of being studied today? I’d say not, because those children who were distracted are now the ones who are doing the studying. Those children saw something in their world, learned about it and then systematized it to a point where they could share, or teach it, to others. So Verne’s lament may not really be appropriate as teachers could be anywhere, as long as there is a topic to observe.

Anyway, a few deep thoughts for this first day back to school, or first day of school period.

Deconstruct to find the story

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By , December 22, 2009 3:56 pm

A colleague in one of the courses that I support sent this (Clark IE, Romero-Caldero ́ n R, Olson JM, Jaworski L, Lopatto D, et al. (2009) ‘‘Deconstructing’’ Scientific Research: A Practical and Scalable Pedagogical Tool to Provide Evidence-Based Science Instruction. PLoS Biol 7(12): e1000264. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000264) out to a group of us today. Not being from an Education journal, it doesn’t have the usual references, but it does take an interesting approach to teaching high level concepts to introductory level students:

During the deconstruction phase, the students identify hypotheses from the seminar, explore the experimental approaches used, and actively analyze the data — a collective exercise that deconstructs a complex research seminar into manageable portions. As concepts and techniques are introduced to them, stripped of jargon, the students begin to see the logic of the research. In the process, they follow the story of the seminar and experience discovery moments as the implications of each experiment become clear.

The part that hooked me of course was the “story of the seminar”. The “chunking” is something that should be familiar to most Ed people, but chunk->story angle seems to be novel, at least to me as is the removal of jargon.

Thinking about what some of this high level research might sound like, I can only assume that the biggest wall that the students would come up against is the language that is used and the need to be able to deal with the presentation as a complete package with this incomplete vocabulary. Portioning the wall into more manageable chunks is a technique that may seem logical, but removing the language barrier is something that may not have been so obvious. Science, as with any other discipline is very protective of it’s language and rightfully so, but stripping the jargon is something that lowers the entry barrier quite quickly without overly impacting the proper vocabulary.

Purdue and the Back Channel

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By , November 4, 2009 10:21 am

While it is only experimental, Purdue is starting to test how to make use of the “back channel” in a lecture in the form of an application called “Hotseat“. The students seem to like it.

“Hotseat is turning out to be a nice innovation. I’m seeing students interact more with the course and ask relevant questions,” Chakravarty [Professor and department head of Purdue’s Department of Consumer Sciences and Retailing] says. “The tool allows us to engage students using media they are already familiar with.” …

“The students say pretty much whatever they want,” Chakravarty says. “But this is a valuable tool for enhancing learning. The students are engaged in the discussions and, for the most part, they are asking relevant questions.”

It certainly is going to be interesting to see if this extends beyond the pilot to other courses at Purdue and beyond the single institution. I have some hope for this as many conferences are embracing the back channel, so instructors/profs/researchers are getting used to the idea of back channel from their peers, the challenge will be to see if the same can be said about questions and comments from students.

My Common Craft

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By , October 22, 2009 2:13 pm

I’ve been struggling with ways to do some videos for a range of technical and dry topics for a while and after quite a bit of suggestion, I’ve got the people I’m working with to look at Common Craft as an exemplar. Surprisingly the videos are technically easy to make, but post production is of course where one pays the piper. This 30 second spot took about 2h to do from start to finish, in multiple versions and with a couple of sets redone. These videos are certainly fun, and if well planned can get quite a bit done and I would assume that they can also be rather timeless without having to worry about hair or clothing.

Bloom’s hourglass

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By , October 8, 2009 1:56 pm

Blooms taxonomy - the hourglassSam Wineburg & Jack Schneider make an interesting case for inverting Bloom’s Taxonomy in their Education Week article. They show quite handily how being able to analyze before doing anything else in a history class might be the way to see if students really understand the material. And it would seem that they are indeed correct, to a point. I would suggest that the question that was asked in the history example is one that could only be asked of students who had already reached the top of the classic pyramid.

The worksheets that the teachers classically start units off with are useful for (there are also updated “digital” versions), if nothing else, the development of a vocabulary about “X”. That vocabulary can then be understood, applied, analyzed, synthesized and finally evaluated within a restricted field. Once questions are asked that cross these individual fields, the pyramid must be flipped in order to tease the information apart and get to the facts of the case. This way we know that the students know what we think they should as they are able to return to the “facts” that they were presented originally.

We might indeed be better off describing the concept as a torus (hat tip to D’Arcy) that goes around feeding itself, but that conversation could go on forever… so we won’t start it 😉

JSB – Learning in the Digital Age

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By , September 15, 2009 8:26 am

Teaching the ‘net generation – Brown looks at how pedagogy has moved (or has it?) from knowledge transfer to social models of learning that encourage and indeed rely on the participation and even play on the part of the students and move the instructor from the role of the ultimate authority to one of “content area master”. It is an hour long, but certainly worth the time to at least skim.

Online is better than F2F, hybrid learning needs to pick up the pace

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By , August 20, 2009 8:41 am

according to Philip R. Regier, the Dean of Arizona State University’s Online and Extended Campus program:

“The technology will be used to create learning communities among students in new ways,” … “People are correct when they say online education will take things out the classroom. But they are wrong, I think, when they assume it will make learning an independent, personal activity. Learning has to occur in a community.”

It is very heart warming to see that there is an appreciation of the value of community in learning and coming from the NYT (assuming that the name of a paper lends any weight to words), suggests that even if people get enthralled by the continued promise of online education, the need for a balanced mix of environments has also been identified. Online does some things very well – namely pacing, and individualization, but face to face also has its strengths in problem solving and application. This hybrid mix not likely to get any headline space in the “papers” but it is another point made by the report by SRI.

Hybrid learning needs to pick up the pace in order to justify the resources that it consumes.

This seems to be an interesting observation as completely online courses are often just copies of face to face courses or are using tools that make the instructor more comfortable or capable. Hybrid courses on the other hand require materials and instructors who are capable not online in the online sphere, but face to face as well. These are likely rare individuals to be sure, but perhaps not as rare as one would think, and if an institution can’t find the qualities that the want on one individual, there is nothing stopping a course from being presented in a hybrid manner, with one instructor online and the other face to face. When you can find these qualities in one person or in a team, the report suggests that it is in fact the ideal method, something that brings a smile to Don Tapscott for sure.

For some additional fuel on this fire, I present Sir Ken, in his TED/Reddit Q&A answers a question on online/distance ed:


What are your thoughts on the future of distance learning, and have you seen any signs of a breakthrough that will replace the status quo, while delivering interactive, powerful, social and visually simulating learning?


It’s not very good. There’s been a tendency in universities to try and cash in on the interest in web-based learning. A lot of them have been dumping programs online: lecture notes, videos of talks, and so on. They’re of variable quality. Some of them are great, and some aren’t. …
Just dumping stuff online isn’t the answer to it. But there’s a massive thirst for ideas, for this sort of content, as illustrated by the mushrooming of social networking and user-generated content. …

As with what I was saying before about video games: I think there’s a massive potential that we haven’t yet fully tapped into. Most schools don’t really have contact with stuff. People who are at the leading edge of thinking about it are coming in with great ideas and possibilities, but the penetration of this stuff into education is still pretty limited. But I’m sure it’s the way we have to go in the future. And for a very good reason. Because we now have the ability to put the best thinking, materials, pedagogy, resources in front of everybody. This should be seen by schools as a massive opportunity to — not to replace what they do, not to replace their own teachers and curriculum, but to enrich and enhance it. And the really good schools know that that’s the way to go. And there are some great schools that are doing it. High Tech High is an interesting one in the U.S.

Young teachers, no technology… ’cause that isn’t content.

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By , August 4, 2009 3:34 pm

Over lunch today, two of my friends who are both young teachers (one in Edmonton and one in Calgary) and I met for lunch. The conversation came around to teaching different courses and both said that they wouldn’t take their kids into the computer labs, or even teach using the computers until well into the year/term.  Why? Well for a number of reasons, the first ones being that the kids don’t need to be taught keyboarding, they don’t really need to learn about how to use the “computer” in general. What they need is to learn how to deal with the information that they get from the computer. They need to learn how to print legibly and not rely entirely on spell check for everything. They don’t need time in front of the screen,  too many teachers think that because the kids are staring at the screen that they are doing something productive. That, as many of us know, isn’t the case. These teachers also don’t make these online/computer related assignments that rigorous as they believe that it is hard for the kids… or more likely that they would not have ability to assess what their students create.

So it seems that the obstacle to technology integration isn’t necessarily an age thing, it could also be that so many others have done it wrong and overlooked other basics that those teachers who would/could integrate would rather spend their time getting the basics done right.

The end of traditonal exams in sight

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By , July 13, 2009 9:11 am

Well at least according to Simon Lebus, chief executive of Cambridge Assessment talking to The Gaurdian. It’s nice to see someone in a big think tank like that saying this, but the time line that he is talking about is 10-15 years! While that seems like a long time sitting here, that is about the time it will take for the current generation of young teachers who are used to doing things online to get into lower and middle admin positions and for those who are now in low/mid admin to get into the higher positions to make these changes. It is also likely the time it will take for a significant number of tech (nee screen based)/online assessment savy/friendly teachers/instructors to return to teaching young teachers and start generating completely “digital resident” teachers to go into the schools. Importantly, 10-15 years is also likely the timeline where parents who are wanting/pushing/comfortable with this type of assessment will have children in educational contexts that would have had the “archaic 3h exam” but might have screen based exams.

Of course we were supposed to have flying cars and all sorts of other technologies by now. But I hope this prediction comes true and does so further afield than in just the UK.

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