Posts tagged: Social Learning

Social vs Religious Observation (Cross Posted from

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By , December 23, 2010 7:46 pm

This afternoon, CBC Edmonton played a story about a Muslim family from Egypt who are going to be celebrating their first Christmas here in Edmonton. One segment of the story explores what other people think about the family celebrating Christmas, wondering if they are converts or aren’t “really Muslim”. The father mentions that what they are celebrating is the social element of the holiday, not the religious element.

This is exactly what many “something”-Canadian families do. They adopt the social aspects of the predominant culture’s celebrations, while incorporating their own elements. In my home, we don’t celebrate the Christian elements of Christmas (though, if invited, I’d like to see what Mass is like for the various denominations that my friends belong to is/are like), but gladly sing the songs and I will encourage my daughter to sing them all. After all, singing the songs of another group can only help increase understanding and acceptance of others. This is of course reciprocated by my friends who participate in events like Diwalli.

So when I see things like this happening in the UK, one really has to wonder – is it really the duty of good people of any group to attack the celebrations of another? How schoolyardish or medieval is that? And it isn’t only that group, there are plenty of groups that believe that the way they believe the world to be is the only way to be. This is something that as to change (though it likely won’t).

So even though I have worked for the last ten years or so to improve education through integrating technology to improve teaching through improving communication, part of me is thinking we are missing something. I think what we have missed is sharing the songs and stories of our various backgrounds. Starting as young as possible and associating those songs and stories with positive interactions. In this way, perhaps we can increase the understanding needed within our society and create an inclusive, pluralistic world that might be ready to use technology to gather and share the songs and stories of people further away. With that in mind, I leave you with this song from The Irrelevant Show.

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.

Collaboration vs Destination

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By , October 27, 2009 9:24 am

Dan Pontefract makes an interesting point in his post about the standalone LMS being dead:

But … to change the culture, you also need to drive an organization to believe that training does not only happen in an event (ILT and eLearning) and thus, by keeping the standalone LMS alive and kicking, you exacerbate the issue.Employees need to constantly connect, they need to constantly share, and they need to learn from one another. This cannot happen solely in an ILT class and it surely does not happen in an eLearning module.

Set up your ‘Facebook for the organization’ by embedding an LMS (or LMS like features) into your enterprise-wide collaboration platform. Coaches, mentors, online buddies need to coexist within the wiki’s, blogs, discussion forums, webcam meetings, online presence, etc. which needs to coexist within the list of formal classroom and eLearning offerings which needs to coexist with your documents, knowledge management, videos, podcasts, which needs to coexist with the profiles, skills, and recent activity-feed happenings of all employees.

Making learning something “special”, rather than something natural and transparent is at the heart of many issues instructors and “the academy” seems to be dealing with. People can spot (and hence avoid) “learning” activities from across the institution. Making learning occur as part of the normal process of interacting with people and data should be a model we try to roll out for learners in and past their teens.

The real power of the social network learning idea is that the learning objects and objectives are all tied to the situation that the learner finds themselves in. This doesn’t mean that one doesn’t need to think about including some manner of structure or “guide on the side” to ensure that interactions don’t start feeding on poor data and interactions. But when good materials go in, you’ll more than likely have good material come out on the other side.

More thoughts on the Info Pyramid

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By , July 21, 2009 8:44 am

Stephen Downes noticed my post among others yesterday with regards to the info pyramid. He commented that there was “still no learning” even though I offered an alternative. In my defense, I am of the mind that one can learn from just about anything, but more to the point, the consumption of information at home is likely more akin to informal learning. This pyramid is certainly going to be different for different people at different life stages and interests. Some people won’t watch any news, but will be big into participatory media. Others will only be into games and movies.

Regardless of how you take in your media, there is a good chance that there is some form of learning going on – even though these opportunities will be missed with the more passive forms if reflection is ignored. For the other forms that have some manner of interaction and or reflection on one’s actions, there is certainly learning going on.

Learning in the Family – Mom Reigns

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By , January 26, 2009 9:51 am

I came across a new report funded by BECTA and commissioned by Intuitive Media Research Services. It has some interesting findings, top of which is that kids are turning to Mom at home for tech help (nothing wrong with that). Here are some of the key findings:

  • 92% of children said they used a computer or laptop at home
  • 65% used a handheld device such as a Sony Playstation Portable (PSP), Apple iPod or Nintendo DS and the same number used a games console such as the Sony Playstation 2 or 3, the Nintendo Wii or the XBox. Overall 58% used mobile phones.
  • “Almost all girls (94%) said they used a computer or laptop compared with only (88%) of the boys. Girls are also more likely to watch TV (76% girls; 68% boys) have mobile phones (64% girls; 50% boys) and hand held devices (68% girls; 61% boys). Boys are a little more likely to have games consoles (69% boys; 62% girls).
  • Most children (91%) used a computer or laptop to access the internet at home, with a minority using other devices. 20% of children used their mobile phones to get online, 17% used their games console and 15% used a hand held gaming device.
  • Accessing the internet via the games console was twice as high among boys than girls (23% boys; 12% girls).
  • Overall children spend most of their Internet time for socializing, play and their own research rather than for formal learning and homework. On a typical school day, nearly six in ten go online as soon as they come home from school (58%). Slightly fewer children use the internet after their evening meal (56%).
  • On aggregate children spent 79 minutes on the Internet and 48 minutes on computer games – a total of 127 minutes on their computers, compared with only 68 minutes watching television.
  • Most children were supervised by their mothers (44%), followed by father (35%) and siblings (25%).
  • Nearly half the children use the internet in a  communal family space (49%), but one third  use it in their own bedrooms (30%).  Of those who used the Internet in the privacy of their own bedrooms, 53% were boys and 47% were girls.
  • Most of the children (55%) who had the Internet at home said they did get help from their families. 43%, including more boys and older children, claim nobody helped them. Mothers are more likely to help than fathers. Of those who were helped by parents, 53% were helped by Mum and 47% by Dad.
  • 59% of Mums got help from their children compared with 41% of Dads. Overall mothers were more likely than fathers to engage with their children when they used the Internet.
  • Three quarters of children (77%) asked their parents for help using the internet for homework while
    only 42% asked parents for help with fun activities. Parents who do help become closely involved with their children’s internet use. 83% of parents who helped, checked what their children did  online. 75% explained things and 72% answered children’s questions. 61% talked to the child about what he or she was doing and 59% praised or encouraged the child when using the internet. 52% checked their children’s computer history.
  • Unfortunately, children report, a large minority of parents get irritated with their children for staying on the internet for too long or for asking questions or asking for help. Just over a third of children (36%) said that parents get annoyed with them for asking questions or asking for help.
  • Overall, mothers are more likely than fathers to engage with their children using new technologies especially when it comes to formal learning or research. Fathers are more engaged with solving technical problems and fun activities.  Mums were twice as popular as  helpers with 50% of children choosing Mum to help, versus 22%  choosing dad. The mothers were the mostly experienced and capable computer and Internet users. Half the 12 families in the telephone interview sample reported that the mother used the computer and the Internet most.
    The mother and the child were equally likely to be the computer and Internet expert in the family, ahead of the fathers and siblings.
  • In all the families interviewed, the parents restricted the child’s Internet access – half of them through direct supervision and a quarter each by restricting the sites children visit or by using site-blocking software. Three quarters
    of the mothers said they knew mostly everything that their children did on the Internet.
  • The majority of children who wanted improvement said they would like their parents to have more time to help (84%). About half (52%) said it would help if parents knew more about computers or the Internet.

I’ve italicized and bolded the interesting parts of the key findings, and it seems to me that it may reflect more on the pace of life and the typical family composition in the UK. I wonder if they have more single parent homes in the study, compared to dual parent/Extended family homes. It also seems that girls have more communication related technologies and boys have more game related technologies.


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By , January 19, 2009 3:49 pm

This question came up over the last week that I’ve been working on a poster for an upcoming symposium – how you ever convince students to follow their prof on Twitter or any of the other microblogging services? My answer to this was a non committal – I don’t know, first we have to convince the prof to get onboard first. The followup? How do we do that? Easy…

Do you want to find out who won the Nobel Prize first? How about what some NASA project is up to? What about the LHC? Not interested in following faceless (or multi faced) groups, How about just searching for what you are interested in and see what people are saying about it?

Once the instructor is using the tool for their own purposes, they will find ways to encourage their students to get onboard. They may post interesting articles, they may re-tweet interesting observations from colleagues, or they may just offer “office tweets”… imagine, office hours dealing with most problems 140 characters at a time.

Microblogging is like any new tool that comes along, there isn’t a one size fits all solution.

If there are Post Sec instructors out there reading this, please post in the comments how you’ve tried to integrate Twitter or other microblogging services and to what success?

Extending my ISSOTL thoughts

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By , October 20, 2008 2:51 pm

Am I ever glad I copied this before I posted:

Emerging from ISSOTL, I had some time on the train, so I took advantage of one of the apps that I just downloaded – Viigo – to read some of my feeds while I was waiting/riding. A few articles caught my attention and so this morning while I was going through Reader (hmm… it seems that all my brain dumps start this way) when I saw them again, I was sure to take action – a little bit of scaffolding in action there – seeing headlines twice seems to be useful in being able to identify the signal from the noise as opposed to a careful once through reading.

Anyway, so the first article was the new PEW survey on networked families, the second was an article that looked at how mobile phone users use their phones, the third was from EduTopia about collaboration and the last was from Science Daily on the idea of “TheirSpace” that came out earlier this year article that looked at a study on social networks. So how are all of these linked in my mind?

The PEW article suggests that even though the ubiquitous connectivity that is affored by broadband and ubergadgets would keep family members (I’m assuming that these are in middle/upper middle SES homes) locked into their own worlds, be that pleasure or work, families are still able to be “together while apart in the same room”.

Despite fears that many Americans are isolated from family members, because of  separate agendas and immersive personal internet and cell phones, most families are together at night.  Their heavy home internet use suggests that many households are hubs of personal communication networks, as people log on individually to email, IM, post on social networking sites and chat. They are both together with their families and connecting outward to friends and relatives elsewhere. They are neither isolated individuals nor Dick and Jane’s traditional family. Rather, their households are active sites of the interplay of individual activity and family togetherness.

The second article looks at activities users partake in when on the phone (in the US) and the top three uses are messaging, mobile internet and email. This seems to suggest that it is indeed possible for families to remain “together while apart” as PEW suggests. So if we extend the idea of the family into the classroom, it would go to suggest that people or students/instructors are willing and able to use network connected devices to maintain their connections outside of the home and perhaps the classroom – assuming that the individual enjoys either or both.

Edutopia looks at collaboration and how collaboration/social learning comtinues to show results:

  • Students learn more deeply when they can apply classroom-gathered knowledge to real-world problems, and when they take part in projects that require sustained engagement and collaboration.
  • Active-learning practices have a more significant impact on student performance than any other variable, including student background and prior achievement.
  • Students are most successful when they are taught how to learn as well as what to learn.

In my head, this connects not only to the first two articles about connectivity, but also to the ideas that I took away from ISSOTL that students need to be encouraged to look inside themselves to find truth and knowledge. By extending the classroom beyond its usual walls, students are able to interact with content, or observe concepts in the “world” while away from the expert, encouraging them to ask their own questions and form their own knowledge. If we are able to take first article that people do indeed use networked devices to connect and collaborate when together in groups of similar disposition (families, classrooms, clubs etc).

But before someone inside the academy spots the thread of social networks through the first few resources, Science Daily brings forward this warning:

But the survey also found that 41 per cent of students were against being contacted directly by tutors via Facebook. A report on the preliminary findings warns that the university will need to tread carefully if it wants to use Facebook to communicate with students for administrative or teaching and learning purposes.

The researchers say: “The survey data illustrate that Facebook is part of the ‘social glue’ that helps students settle into university life, that keeps the student body together as a community and which aids in communication (especially about social events) between the student body. However, care must be taken not to over privilege Facebook: it is clearly only one aspect of student’s social networking practices and clearly face-to-face relationships and interactions remain significant.

So how does this all stitch together as an extention of ISSOTL? Well, it seems to suggest that as different as we seem to think the millenials are, for some things, they really are not all that different. Face to face time is important, collaboration is important, being involved in their learning is important.  This is all great for creating some manner of rationalization as why not to “go heavy” into technology integration, but if the family and clubs (interest and otherwise) are any indication, technology is being used already in a near seemless way to extend and enhance face time, collaboration and involvement – so why is that not happening in the classroom? Is it that, as some claim, instructors just don’t want to use technology? That the academy wants to remain “basic and accessible/pure”? Or is it just an inability to assess being able to get the job done in more than one way? What is it that is holding the classroom back?

NYT – Libraries, Games and Reading

By , October 7, 2008 2:31 pm

The NYT has an interesting article that brushes the two sides of the “games can increase reading/literacy” idea that many authors like James Paul Gee advocate.

The article looks at examples such as Haarsma’s Rings of Orbis that requires players to use knowledge gleaned from the books to be able to advance in the game and other books that have virtual worlds “attached” to them based on message boards and/or MMORGP systems. While some of the reading here may be “incidental”, some of it might very well be directed by the student to garner more information. It is the reading encouraged by the games that the libraries are interested in, to the point that they are hosting game tournaments.

The reading that gamers do in instructional manuals, strategy guides or message boards, though often cryptic and more technical than narrative, might serve as a “gateway drug for literacy,” said Constance Steinkuehler, an assistant professor in the school of education also at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

For the past year, Ms. Steinkuehler has been testing this hypothesis with a group of teenage boys who play World of Warcraft.

For my two cents, I think the libraries are on the right track with holding game tournaments and using games as a gateway to other reading. But I think it does something else, it shows that reading can indeed be a “hip, social” activity, an idea that seems to be stomped out in K-12 quite effectively. In grade school, reading is something that you do on your own and as quietly as possible. Getting kids together in a library will likely help change that idea (and help increase the number of users at the same time) as they see that reading may in fact be a social activity.

So while the students might be playing a “simple” game like DDR, they likely don’t need to read much, but a keen librarian might have some workout books handy to help students “train” to play better. There are other variants of dance games that have classical dances as well, there again, a keen librarian might have resources regarding those other dances available.

Games like Civilivation might seem more straight forward in terms of finding resources, but they may not be – after all, just because you choose to play the Indians does not mean you’ll end up as Ghandi, you  might end up as Churchill. Librarians might want to have guides to the game as well as biographies of the leaders in the game available. Together with teachers, they can create a lessons or unit around ideas that are explored in the game. This certainly is not something that is going to be easy as the complexity of the game increases, so does the range of resources that may need to be brought in. Games like Civ would be hard enough – just imagine Spore…

It seems to me that stories like this point to the fact that education has to change from the “stuffy” model that “produced” students cleanly and effectively to a model where things are louder, more engaged and certainly messier. And as a closing thought, maybe the old school method reflected a world where one person could have known everything – so that is what “we” tried to “machine” together, whereas the “new” model is actually a return to the days that acknowledged individual expertise and the engagement with knowledge and learning that preceeded the industrial revolution.

Taking Science to the field and finding out how big the fish really is

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By , September 10, 2008 10:15 am

I know that we are not breaking any new ground going on a field trip – even though they get to be rare at the post secondary level. I also know that the U of A is not the first school to have an integrated first year science program (though we have the most wide ranging), so this is not a trip that is concerned about global firsts or changes, but rather local ones.

Science 100 is an attempt to change the way that Science is taught at the U of A and not only in the one class, but hopefully the staff working this class will take what they learn and adapt to other classes that they might teach. So eventually the ideas that start in this class diffuse.

But what about the fish? Well, we have all heard the fish stories that have the fish at least 25% larger than it actually was. The analogue in the classroom is the instructor being able to say anything that s/he wants to with (in the past) little chance of being called out on it. But as people may or may not have started to see, this is not the case anymore. Cheaper, faster and easier access to network resources are creating an environment that help students figure out what the truth behind the instructors statements may be, assuming they know enough to understand the evidence that they are collecting.

This may be a non issue for some instructors because they don’t or won’t care. But what about those people who do care – how would you create a course that could take advantage of having so many connected minds in the classroom?

While the exact details would vary by course, I would think that the course in question would have at least a one of the following features:

  • think about how the students can collaborate, at any time, with any device – think about Flickr, Youtube, Twitter, Plurk or other social services
  • encourage the back channel and understand that many people learn as part of a group – students can text questions in class to TAs (thank goodness for free incoming txts)
  • think about how your course will exist beyond the end of term to make use of the work of successive classes
  • make the course “Google friendly” to encourage students to ask questions and get some of their own full or partial answers

Science 100 has picked up on some of these points, but not all of them. Hopefully in a few years we’ll have it taking advatage of the entire list and I’ll have a new list to work through.

Educational benefits of Social Networking

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By , June 25, 2008 8:59 am

Following up on the last post, I found a BECTA funded study that looks at the benefits of social networking tools. The report notes that SNs can be used by students to create ePortfolios, collaborate and learn about the ways and means surrounding the protection of personal information. Instructors can make use (though I think cautiously) to organize informal or formal groups and reflect and/or document milestones.

The study also noted that students learn more about learning these tools from their peers than from adults. Also along the same lines as students learning from each other, the report also notes that SNs can help instructors improve their digital literacy as well – teaching each other about the tools that their students use.

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