Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Educause Learning Initiative Conference Day 3

On Monday, I walked into the very first talk to find a ballroom full of round tables encircled by chairs rather than the typical lecture format of chairs linearly set up throughout the room. I could have my laptop open, typing notes (making these posts easier to write) during sessions set up like this, but the real purpose of this format was, as we [the conference attendees] were told, was to promote dialog and continue discussing the ideas presented during the talk even after the official talk ended. “New Learning” forms were also scattered throughout tables for participants to write down new insights they may have had during the seminar. I’m really curious to find out what people said on these cards. As convener for two sessions at ELI, I encouraged people to fill these out. Convening (I didn’t fully know what it entailed until I arrived at ELI) gave me the opportunity to get to know some speakers and their areas of research/interest a little better, dig a little deeper into topics that interested me, and play a role besides Newbie Student at the conference.

The ELI 2007 conference has come to an end, but I’m being sent back to Fairfax armed with tons of information and new insights in learning and technology. Time and time again, social networking sites (particularly Facebook) were addressed and scrutinized as to how (and if) these in any way could be used in an educational setting. More statistics: 55% of online teens have created a personal profile online, but they’re not leaving everything open to the world: 66% limit access to their profiles, according to Tracy Mitrano of Cornell University (you can read her entire study here), and 48% visit social networking sites daily/more often. If (she seemed excited about this possibility) schools could adopt a model similar to Facebook, she believed it truly could be used to enhance students’ learning. It’s obviously popular with the kids. What do you think?

So to tie these postings together with my experience at ELI 2007, I’m using a method of evaluation (reflection) which was the focus of a session (Dialogical Reflection in the Digital Age) which I convened today. No, I’m not being “graded” on this post, but it really is helping to synthesize everything I just learned over the past 3 days with my previous knowledge of instructional technology concepts. Erick Marmolejo and Jim Phillips’ research revealed reflection as a catalyst to learning, but presented the many challenges with reflection. Their findings echoed a lot of the techniques I’m encountering in my graduate program. I’m required to create, maintain, and evaluate my own e-portfolio as well as evaluate the portfolios of my peers twice per semester based on a rubric given by my professor. In another class, the students are divided up into groups and, using BlackBoard, my group provides feedback to a partner group after they make a presentation (and vice versa). I’m also required to keep this blog of reflections on my Immersion experience. I think it’s very valuable and I’m looking forward to reflecting more this semester and reading the entire thing, say, a year later. The session turned into a discussion for the last 20 minutes or so, and it was interesting to hear how students, both graduate and undergraduate enrolled in different academic programs, were evaluated at other universities (and their attitudes toward evaluation). Jim emphasized the rubric idea, as well as calibration of your observers -- ensuring your students can accurately evaluate statements. For example, this would include giving the students poor work and ensuring their comments line up with this, as well as ensuring the evaluators are abiding by the given rubric. Hm. I like that idea. But what about graduate students -- is this necessary for them, or should educators assume that by graduate school we're capable of making an accurate evaluation?

Lastly, I’m going to post the titles of books that I wrote down during the conference -- books that will go on my “To Read” list (despite the fact that I probably won’t get a chance to look at them until after graduation!):

How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School (National Research Council (U. S.) Committee on Learning Research and Educational Practice, National Research Council (Corporate Author), John Bransford (Editor), Ann L. Brown (Editor), Rodney R. Cocking (Editor)

The New Division of Labor: How Computers Are Creating the Next Job Market (Frank Levy, Richard Murmane)

Reflection in the Writing Classroom (Kathleen Yancey)

Thanks for reading!

Educause Learning Initiative Conference Day 2

So I intended for my blogging over the past few days to be as real-time as possible, but it looks like that hasn’t happened. Still, I will divide my postings by days to make it easier for you (and me!) to keep track of the sessions I attended. Lucky me, I arrived at the Atlanta airport 2 hours early, so I hope the following gives you ample opportunity to reflect on my experiences at the Educause Learning Initiative Conference.

In “Emerging Educational Technologies and Neomillennial Learning Styles,” Chris Dede (formerly of GMU!) mentioned Tom Friedman’s “The World is Flat” and put a new spin on one of Tom’s ideas. (By the way, I met Tom and heard him speak in Richmond a few years ago – he is fantastic!). Chris told his daughter to “study hard, because someone in India wants your job.” I remember only a few years ago we were worrying about programming and telemarketing jobs being shipped away. But the day is here when it’s more than just those jobs...I suppose almost any job can be shipped away, but the higher ed/IT field really appeals to me because so much of it is interactive and hands on, and the projects I am/will work on will always be changing.

Chris focused on several emerging “next generation” interfaces for distributed learning, such as MUVE’s (Multi User Virtual Environments) whose title characters were avatars (virtual representations of ourselves), and MMOG’s (Massively Multiplayer Online Games). However, these environments which were once a figment of someone’s imagination are here NOW and are almost ubiquitously being used by this new net generation of young learners. Problem is: the content of these games is basically garbage! The challenge: how can we use these tools in education to facilitate learning? One way that’s already in practice is the River City Project (which you can read about), and research indicates that children who typically received D’s and F’s performed as well as students earning A’s and B’s in this type of learning environment.

I also learned of Second Life, which I would best define as a large-scale educational virtual world, for the first time at Educause. It was fascinating, and appeared to be engaging and expandable. I wonder how long it will be before we see Second Life in college classrooms all across America/the world? Part of the issues with it, at least today, were bandwidth (it’s pretty hard to efficiently run Second Life on a wireless network, which is often much slower than a wired one), and the fact that some college freshmen using Second Life are under 18 (but learners must be over 18 to interact with “characters” from other worlds/outside of their university’s sphere), which could impede learning and restrict them from being on an even playing (er, learning) field from the rest of the age 18+ members of the class. One of the neatest things about Second Life, I think, was the possibility to “fly” to another world and interact with students, professors, whomever from other worlds, learn from them, and add them as “friends” to serve as an archive of future connections – almost like a real-time MySpace with educational value.

One of the neatest learning tools I discovered from Joel Smith and Candace Thile’s session was the Carnegie Mellon’s Online Learning Initiative. Last semester I found and bookmarked (but haven’t yet fully explored) some virtual, free, online classes, but the OLI seemed to take this concept a step farther. Students could see and complete the course material for free (non-credit) or take the courses – entirely online, without an instructor – for credit through a participating institution. Someone beat me to asking the question of OLI’s 508 compliance, and the speaker laughed and said that they failed miserably (though all of the material does have underlying text). But, she pointed out, how do you describe a bunch of microbes and their movement to a blind user and salvage the interactivity of the lessons? It echoed some of the challenges my Immersion team has been facing while developing our Underground Coal Mine Supervisor Online Training System (except they probably aren’t developing the OLI modules in the crippling Workforce Connections LCMS). We want to keep the lessons as engaging and interactive as possible, but the challenge is: how do we best do this while keeping everything 508 compliant and easy for future designers to update?

Another interesting point the OLI session raised was that having a sort of “cognitive tutor” – a computerized learning environment whose design based on cognitive principles that function a lot like a human tutor – greatly increased students’ understanding of the material. The cognitive tutor would provide immediate feedback, and be there to give the student another math problem, for example, on the spot, for additional practice until the student displayed mastery of the concept. (Where was this cognitive tutor when I was taking multivariable calculus?) And perhaps the most important hurdle that must be overcome is the question of “Will I recognize this concept in a novel problem solving situation? Will I be able to apply what I’ve learned in the real world?” Bingo: the hurdle, (in my opinion) faced by students of all types of instruction. If, after taking a course, a student can’t walk out of the classroom (or away from the computer) and answer the question, or even distinguish the problem at hand, what has he or she learned, and how efficient was that learning, anyway?

I mentioned to a few people I’d met at the conference that one of the neatest things was experiencing firsthand how the theoretical knowledge I’d been gathering in my graduate classes was routinely used in everyday speech by experts in the field. The speakers touched on topics such as distributed cognition, scaffolding in teaching, communities of practice, cognitive dissonance, situated learning, and other concepts that I thought while learning about them “Hm, I wonder if I will ever really use these concepts in practice.” (Note to self: the answer is YES.) Now I REALLY see the value and correlation of a master’s degree to success in (and even enjoyment of) the Instructional Technology field. I greatly appreciated my semester of knowledge as a tool to understanding what was being freely tossed around in discussions throughout the conference.

The speakers of the OLI seminar touched on the topics of learning theories. One of the speakers said: "Learning theories are like toothbrushes. Everyone has one, but no one wants to use anyone else's." As students, learning technologists, instructors, or whomever, we can’t be afraid to integrate others’ insights and theories within our work – we will be missing out on a gold mine of valuable tools to enhance our understanding of how students learn.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Educause Learning Initiative Conference Day 1

This is going to be a short post, since it’s about bedtime (9:30) and also because I can’t access the internet in my room. All conference guests are supposed to have free internet access in their rooms, but this is the third hotel room they’ve put me in (the first room I arrived at had someone’s stuff – clothes, food, power cords) in it, and the second smelled like smoke despite my request for a non-smoking room, and I was also unable to get on the network there)…and I decided that the view on the 14th floor is pretty amazing. The phone/wake-up call system also isn’t working. Hmm…

Just a few hours into the conference and already I’m learning and networking – it’s been great thus far! It’s been fascinating to talk to people in the instructional technology field and find out how they got there – no two have the same, or similar, stories. I ran into Lisa Andion (Instructional Support Manager at George Mason University) in the elevator – despite the fact that we are at the same institution, I only had to look at her nametag to figure out who she was. Julie Evans, who spoke at the very first session “K-12 Students Speak Up About Technology and Learning: Are We Listening?”, presented some very fascinating statistics to the audience (she later said she was going to be in northern VA Thursday of this week surveying a high school through her New Learning Project). She revealed some things which were pretty shocking (or at least insightful):
*80% of kids between 6th and 12th grade have a cell phone
*65% of kids between kindergarten and 12th grade are gaming, girls just as much as boys
*35% of kids between 6th and 12th grade are interested in taking an online class
*9% of high school kids have a BlackBerry or smartphone

(It’s beyond me why a high school kid would ever need a BlackBerry - when I had mine, it was delightful to silence it after the workday was over.)

She also brought up the subject of online social networking (which, I had several interesting discussions today about the fact that No, I do not think that Facebook or MySpace will ever have academic value) and mentioned that 20% of 3rd through 5th graders have online “friends” they have never met.


What ever happened to Barbies and trips to the neighborhood playground?

Kidding aside, I know that technology’s integration with the children’s world is only going to increase, and I really do see this positively affecting the digital revolution.

I could talk lots more about this session, but there are two more sessions I need to talk about. More on those to come tomorrow.

Also, I discovered that all of the sessions will be podcast(ed?), so since humans don’t yet have the capability to simultaneously appear in and take in material from more than one location, I can listen to what I’m missing on the plane ride back. Cool.

On a side note, I navigated to to begin blogging about ELI, and was a bit startled to receive the option of "sign in to use blogger: but first, where do you blog? New blogger: using your Google account..." It's great (and quite convenient) that the different online technologies I use are being integrated, but is everything online that requires an account sign-up being google-fied? Yes, it is possible for great tech ideas to come out of somewhere besides Google. But then Google just buys them up. Hmm, maybe that is how I can make my millions…