I was recently part of a group that created a presentation on the topic of Adaptive Learning as an emerging or future educational technology. We are all ed tech nerds or nerds-in-training and were excited about the possibility of exploring a technology that evolved from 1950s psychology to one of the most important disruptors in education of the future – Adaptive Learning. The fine result of our work, and a link to the technologies used to create our presentation is outlined can be found on our project blog or YouTube.
With its roots in artificial intelligence and potential to influence future educational paradigms, the topic of Adaptive Learning held much appeal for a group of nerds. As individuals and as a group we committed long hours over four weeks to creating a compelling, 10-minute presentation. It was a challenge, though, and it wasn’t until the last couple of days – the last quarter so to speak – that a long, desperate pass pulled it all together. It was a testament to hard work and commitment, but for the Type A in me, at least, it was a bit nerve-wracking.
The experience underlies the importance of careful planning for productive group work across three provinces in a digital environment. Takeaways for the next project:
1.Choose and utilize tools wisely
It took a while to figure out how to best optimize the tools we selected, but once mastered, they became invaluable resources for our group. Four tools that proved very helpful to us were:
A free file storage and synchronization service that allows users to store files in the cloud, synchronize files across devices, and share files, Google Drive enables collaboration online within any of the Google apps. With collaborative projects, members can create and update documents at the same time, making the application an ideal platform for groups to plan, review, and edit content collectively. Files in Drive are private until individuals decide to share them by inviting others to view, comment and edit any file or folder they choose.
Google Drive was used throughout the process to:
How do I love thee, Trello? Let me count the ways we used its simple, visual display board to manage our project:
Skype was used on a weekly basis to:
Twitter was an invaluable tool for those of us wanting to keep up on the project throughout the day while only having access to mobile devices. Twitter’s Direct Messaging offered us the opportunity to communicate and share information throughout the working day with private messaging.
2. Assign Roles
Having a diversity of skills and ideas within our group ultimately improved the final product. However, how we divided up the tasks left us scrambling a bit at the end.
One way to structure group functioning and optimize individual strengths is to assign roles to each member of the group. These roles can be assigned based on individual strengths or, in a workplace, rotated to increase each individual’s understanding of the roles and of themselves as team members. In our case, once the topic was determined, the roles may have been researcher, writer, presentation developer, and web master.
Another way to structure the group is to divide all aspects of the project amongst the membership. This is the approach we took: each member completed one section of the presentation from concept to finished product, including script. The presentation was then compiled by one member and narrated by another. Throughout the duration of the project a couple of members took the role of leader/facilitator and monitor by default.
In spite of all of the hard work put in by all, by the time we reached the last week of the project, we had created a disjointed, but comely coat of many colours. We pulled it together with a Hail Mary pass, but I think we might have benefitted from assigning roles based on individual strengths.
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:
- Create a community that connects learners prior to, during, and after the learning experience;
- Enable more active learning that is guided by facilitator expertise; and
- 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 – 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 – 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.
LMS – 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 – 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 – 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.
LMS – 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 – 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 – 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.
LMS – 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).
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).
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/
I participated in my first TweetChat and actually really enjoyed it. I also collected a couple of interesting resources and followers. All in all, a worthwhile hour in the life of me. What a great way to get like-minded individuals or professionals together to discuss and share resources.
TweetChats are an organized conversation around specific topics that are facilitated using Twitter. They typically feature guest presenters who pose, or answer questions that participants post to Twitter. A standard TweetChat uses a Q1 and A1 format to differentiate different questions. During the chat, the moderator or guest presenter posts a question (i.e., Q1), and participants post their responses (i.e., A1). Participants search for the relevant hashtag (#), read the questions and other participants’ responses, and contribute responses, links to resources, or related information. Participants also pick up new followers during TweetChats, and find people of interest to follow.
There are a number of popular TweetChats that focus on education and educational technology, and by mere chance, I happily landed in tonight’s #Edtechchat’s TweetChat. I knew the topic of screen time was not a consideration in my area of focus (higher educational professionals) but I found it a great opportunity to learn about the issues surrounding technology and children.
#Rethinking Screen Time
I am continuously amazed by how much technology has changed since my sons were young (they are only 19 and 21). A trip to the grocery store when they were toddlers was a thrill all around, from the ‘coloury place’ (produce) to the endless rows of bread to the ‘shivery place’ (refrigerated aisles) to the apex of the visit: the bakery section that offered free cookies to tots. Today I see babies with iPads in the Superstore and I wonder how different they will be from my own kids who themselves are digital natives. Beginning at around age 6 and until they were around 12, they, and most of their friends, had a total of one-hour per day of screen time.
I happened into a thread about recommendations on limits and uses of technology for young children, and it was an interesting and helpful conversation. I also picked up a link to the Office of Educational Technology’s (U.S.) Guiding Principles for Use of Technology with Early Learners. All in all, a very interesting experience!
Pinterest is one of those sites that fills up my newsfeeds and has never really piqued my interest (not interested in collecting wedding dress images or kids’ party ideas). I created a Pinterest page a couple of years ago to access something a friend had posted on Facebook (I think), but had never ‘pinned’ a thing until I had to create an ‘Educational Technologies’ board as a class requirement.
So I added some graphics/illustrations to my Educational Technologies board. I find thoughtful, well-designed illustrations can really help me understand an issue or demographic or process. I have several EAB (American higher education research and consulting organization) charts hanging in my office that I consult on a regular basis to clarify such things as technological differences between various demographic audiences. A good illustration can do more to enlighten me than just about any other resource. Now that I have ‘pinned’ all of these interesting posts, I just have to find the time to review them.
Unlike most social media sites, the content stays alive on Pinterest and can be re-shared over and over again. Facebook and Twitter, in content can be buried under posts in just a few minutes. Postings can be ‘pinned’ and ‘re-pinned’ to infinity and beyond. It also appears to be growing, which would create a growing audience to share and possibly collaborate with.
I think the number of resources available for Preschool- 12 teachers must be quite staggering.
Pinterest posts that go through my newsfeeds seem to reflect people’s interests and hobbies rather than more professional or scholarly pursuits. And, it appears to a marketer’s paradise (not that there’s anything wrong with this; it just doesn’t appear to be an environment that would encourage academic content and interaction).
I read a great article that suggests we have entered Education 3.0 – an era of resource abundance characterized by changes in the way we learn. According to C.J. Bonk, over the past 10 years, learning has changed in at least 30 different ways. Among these, learning is increasingly collaborative, global, modifiable, mobile, open, online, instantaneous, and personal. These 30 learning and technology-related changes reflect three distinct mega-trends:
1.) learner engagement,
2.) the pervasive access to learning, and
3.) the customization and personalization of learning.
Different media can promote different outcomes and help students to learn in different ways. Selecting the right medium for the job, or utilizing the unique features of different media’ or ‘affordances’ requires an understanding of its best uses. Bates identifies three characteristics that influence the usefulness of an educational technology (209): Broadcast and Communicative Media; Synchronous or Asynchronous Technologies; and Media Richness. I would like to build a framework for best practices based on the following summary of Bates’ characteristics as I have illustrated above.
Reference: Bates (2015), Teaching in a digital age: Guidelines for designing teaching and learning (Chapter 6: Understanding Technology in Education).