Adaptive Learning: Emerging Technologies in Teaching and Training

In exploring topics for an EdTech assignment to examine an emerging or future technology and its potential applications in teaching and training, Group 2 selected a technology that has evolved from the dream of a 1950s psychologist into a leading contender for the most important ‘disruptor’ in education of the future. Adaptive Learning – an educational method that uses computers and hand held devices to orchestrate resources according to the unique needs of each learner – is explored, demonstrated, and analyzed in the following presentation by examining its origins, evolution, current landscape, and future trends.

A number of technologies were utilized to discuss, conceive, build and present the presentation, which served to deepen the learning experience of the participants.

To view the full project, visit our Adaptive Learning Team Project Website.

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Pulling it off with a Hail Mary pass

Something’s not right. Stand by.

I am a big fan of mediated face-to-face communication platforms such as Google Hangout and Skype. They have transformed the nature and frequency of communication between families and friends who find themselves separated for long or short periods of time.

As educational technology tools, these platforms provide opportunities for online learners to get together for video chat and voice calls from computers, tablets and mobile devices via the Internet. Users can create conference calls, exchange files and images, send instant messages, and exchange files free of charge. This is very convenient – and in some cases necessary – for fully online learners. I remain unconvinced that an idea can be fully threshed out without live dialogue, and these platforms certainly make brainstorming easy to do.

The Wonder of Tech did a nice little comparison of video calling services using helpful comparators:

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In spite of all of the potential of communications platforms, sometimes the most important feature is technology’s Achilles heelGoogle HangoutReliability. The Internet still isn’t perfect. For students using the platforms (businesses may be better able to optimize the conditions) many variables can affect a successful hangout including individual’s technical proficiency, internet speed, and plain old dumb luck. In one week our modest group of 5 experienced a major audio feedback loop that forced us off one of the platforms and onto the other; assorted video and audio issues; and a session where one participant was lost in in the realm between reality and cyberspace and was unable to log on. That said, in 10 years we’ll no doubt be telling our grandchildren about the ‘dial up’ Skype we had to use back in the old days….

Building Community with Technology

As part of an EdTech assignment, we were required to illustrate how technology could be used to enhance a program. I selected a fictional intensive  program for leaders, that has been deemed by past participants as low tech and a bit dated. Through an analysis of similar programs and a review of various tools, I concluded that an optimal learning environment would be a ‘community of practice’ – one in which participants had access to experts and perceived themselves to be members of the community in which the experts practice.  Technology could support the cultivation of a community of practice by:

  • Building a community that connects learners prior to, during, and after the learning experience;
  • Creating an environment where it is safe to share and discuss real-life leadership challenges in a confidential manner; and
  • Enabling more active learning that is guided by facilitator expertise. Participant feedback indicates the need for a model that builds upon the wealth of skills and experience of participants and course leaders before, during, and after the intensive experience.

Tools

No one tool meets all three goals. In combination, however, three were found to largely address them. Twitter would be most useful for the intensive experience and to encourage information sharing post-program; WordPress would enable facilitators and participants to jointly build a community of learning that begins prior to the program and continues beyond; and a Learning Management System could provide a secure online solution to sharing confidential information.

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Intersecting Monologues

This week I realized  with some trepidation that there were 487 discussion board posts I had not read after just six weeks of an educational technology class and worse, I had all but given up on participating in this important component of this course. Wondering if anyone else was feeling as over (or under?) whelmed by the discussion boards, I started a new thread in the ‘open’ area of the boards. I learned I am not alone in feeling alienated by the volume of responses.

A Community of Inquiry model, as discussed by Garrison et al in 2000, suggests that the social presence is one of a triad of elements (along with cognitive presence and teaching presence), integral to learning in an online course. The nature of online discussion allows all learners an equal opportunity to participate in and create collective knowledge by sharing and elaborating ideas. It enables collaborative knowledge-building processes where each student becomes reflective, thinks critically, and understands concepts better than if they were studying alone. It is amazing that through the use of Twitter, for example, we can communicate directly with people from all over the world, can collect a variety of resources, and have experts at our fingertips.

dogs-on-ghSo why do our discussion boards seem to be comprised of ‘intersecting monologues’ that lack discourse and connection between participants and ideas?  And does this have a negative impact on the educational experience? In this case, the facilitator stepped in and recommended that we shift our focus to talking about reactions to the unit contents explored in each forum thread rather than reiterating the readings to encourage connection and interaction. I appreciate his willingness to ‘changing pace in an online course…to capitalize on what’s working, and tweak what isn’t.’

2 down, 485 unread messages to go…..

References

Garrison, Anderson, & Archer (2000), Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education

Choosing Tech Tools to Support Learning

I did an analysis to see if the introduction of technology could improve a face-to-face intensive program. The program incorporates an active learning approach designed to take full advantage of the wealth of skills and experience that participants and facilitators bring to the program. It is currently offered in a very low tech environment.

Audience segment: Participants are professional leaders, highly educated, and (generally) non digital natives with ready access to technology. A review indicated the program could better engage and promote learning for this audience in three ways:

  1. Create a community that connects learners prior to, during, and after the learning experience;
  2. Enable more active learning that is guided by facilitator expertise; and
  3. Provide an environment where it is safe to share and discuss real-life professional challenges in a confidential manner.

Using Bates’ SECTIONS model, three tools were analyzed for their potential to address these improvements: Twitter, WordPress, and a Learning Management System (LMS).

1.  Community Building

All three tools could contribute to the development of ‘community’ before, during, and/or after the intensive offering:

twitter-logoTwitter – An excellent tool for student collaboration, networking, making course announcements, announcing program changes, research, networking through hashtag chats, and sharing information. Ideal choice for in-person group collaboration, research, and sharing of information during case study exercises, and for sharing information post-program. Relatively user-friendly for a non digital audience, with very transferrable skills. Seems best suited for supporting learning during the program and networking after.

wordpress-logoWordPress –   With the ability to created a resource hub, invite members, hold discussions, post announcements, and post media, this tool would enable a one-stop shop. Facilitators and participants could begin creating an online space can get to know one another prior to the face-to-face program and subsequently share videos, links, agendas, notifications, and resources. Discussions could also take place prior to, during, and after the program, and the site could remain ‘live’ for as long as participants were interested in contributing to it. WordPress can be password protected, which could provide a level of security, but confidential content could not be shared. The benefit of ‘open content’ this tool provides is not a consideration for this audience. Relatively user-friendly for a non digital audience, with very transferrable skills. Ideal for all but confidential sharing of personal information or materials.

Cms AbbreviationLMS – This is not a very user-friendly tool for any audience. In fact, two of the most common complaints from the digital native perspective (traditional undergraduate students) is the poor design of the user interface and the lack of flexibility within the environment. In fact, many instructors move outside of the LMS to enhance the learning experience through the use of blogs, virtual meeting spaces, etc. If participants will not take the time to familiarize themselves with the tool, or even worse, become frustrated with it, facilitating communication and building community will not happen. And finally, the learning management system’s unique characteristics will likely not result in much value as senior administrators are unlikely to use it in the future.

» Best option: WordPress blog with limitations (no sharing of confidential information).

2.  Facilitator Guidance

Facilitators play a huge role in guiding participants to resources, assist with problem-solving, and act as mediators during group work. The schedule of an intensive program, however, is jam packed with presentations, speakers, and related events, so there is limited time for one-on-one or group facilitation. Technology could assist tremendously in helping facilitators respond during live group sessions and by answering questions that could be centrally posed in a forum for discussion.

   twitter-logoTwitter – By creating a relevant hashtag, participants could be connected to facilitators and fellow students whenever needed. Facilitators could answer questions, conduct surveys, provide and share resources either live or at the end of a session, host a TwitterChat and act as resources if they are not in the same space as groups conducting work. Relatively user-friendly for a non digital audience, the tool could also inform participants on new ways to gather research.

 wordpress-logoWordPress – With its strength as a resource hub, WordPress could be used to make announcements, gather and post resources, and host discussions. However, Twitter is nimbler for instant communications and resource sharing and accessible according to hashtags. Relatively user-friendly for a non digital audience, with very transferrable skills.

Cms AbbreviationLMS – Facilitators could post materials prior to the program commencement, open and encourage discussion groups, and respond to group questions. The LMS, however, does not lend itself to the immediacy of social media and requires a higher level of technical savvy to comfortably navigate through.

» Best option: Optimally, Twitter, with WordPress site containing an embedded version of the tool.

3.   Confidential Environment

Guaranteeing that confidential information is kept within the confines of the program is one of the most important considerations for this audience. While it may not appear to be a true pedagogical factor, if participants are unwilling to contribute because of confidentiality concerns, the foundational assumption of the program will be compromised. Therefore, any tech tool used to share confidential information must be highly secure.

twitter-logo Twitter – As a microblogging site, Twitter’s main advantage is to provide users with the ability to openly share information. While there is an option for private messaging amongst users, confidentiality, even with messaging, cannot be guaranteed. It would provide a high level of transferrable skills to an industry whose practitioners widely utilize the tool. Relatively user-friendly for a non digital audience, with very transferrable skills (many in higher education use Twitter).

wordpress-logoWordPress – Even with a password, WordPress is not a secure environment. Much information can be shared, but not all that is critical to learning can be. It would provide a high level of transferrable skills to an audience whose practices are moving more and more towards this tool. Relatively user-friendly for a non digital audience, with very transferrable skills.

Cms AbbreviationLMS –  A university LMS provides the highest level of information security in all of the tools that that I analyzed. However, it is also the least user-friendly, and far less nimble than WordPress.

» Best option: LMS, because of the high level of security it provides, virtually assures  a confidential environment.*

*The security benefit is likely outweighed by the challenges for use by this audience segment (account creation and access, learning to navigate a system that few will use again, few likely transferrable skills).

Conclusion

No one tool meets all three identified weaknesses in the current program. However, in combination, they could largely address two of the three revision needs. Twitter would be most useful for the face-to-face experience and to encourage information sharing post-program; WordPress would enable facilitators and participants to jointly build a community of learning that begins prior to the programs continues beyond; and an LMS could provide a secure online solution to sharing confidential information (although its challenges may outweigh the benefits).

References:

Bates, A.W. (2015). Teaching in a digital age: Guidelines for designing teaching and learning. Vancouver, BC:  Tony Bates Associates Ltd. Retrieved from https://opentextbc.ca/teachinginadigitalage/

(Not so) Duolingo

As part of EDTC 0560 course requirements, I downloaded the Duolingo App for Apple on my iPhone and decided to brush up on my French. Here’s a bit of a review based on my first week with the app.
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Duolingo (/ˌdjuːoʊˈlɪŋɡoʊ/ DEW-oh-LING-goh) is a free language-learning platform that includes a language-learning website and app, as well as a digital language proficiency assessment exam. Duolingo offers all its language courses free of charge (Wikipedia).

Design
Duolingo is a well-designed, engaging  app designed for modern consumers. The little owl mascot is appealing, too. It is much more visually interesting than the Gaelic program I used on my laptop six or seven years ago (free language programs have been around for a while, though mobile apps are more recent).

Gamification
It’s a game, and I keep hearing about the potential of gamification in education. I’m not sure a student would get ‘lives’ in real world learning, but there is something about a game that makes it appealing to learners, so why not? On the other hand, I hope it means more than the box-ticking structure and awarding of xp that Duolingo presents. There has to be a more effective way to use gaming to teach a new language. For instance, I find watching a subtitled movie an interesting exercise in language acquisition….by the end I honestly believe I am translating in my head!

Effectiveness (for Test Takers)
Duolingo wants to be taken seriously as a language training application. A number of independent studies have been done around the effectiveness of the application around effectiveness, reliability, and the linking of the program to IELTS and scores, and Duolingo posts research findings and reports on its blog.

Effectiveness (in the Real World)
I have not made it very far up the lesson chain, but it’s starting to feel like deja vu all over again vis-a-vis rote repetition of unrealistic, non-conversational language. Elementary school all over again! The program phrases things differently than fluent language speakers do (formal vs conversational?). I keep thinking of a Francophone school friend who would shake her head in French class when asked if she could translate a phrase. There’s a reason 10 years of French classes didn’t result in my ability to speak French. There’s got to be a better way to acquire language in a useful way.

Adult Learning
I think the program would work well with young learners who do not require context and explanation in the way adults do. Why’d I get that wrong? What is the grammatical context?  Explain! At this point, I’m not quite prepared to say: “I for one, welcome our new robot language teaching overlords.”