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.
Q: What learning outcomes from the program of study in your Problem Statement assignment could be addressed by integrating digital technologies, and are there any examples on UNSW Selecting Technologies website that could meet those needs?
The website of the University of New South Wales in Australia includes a worthy section on Teaching and Learning including matrices on selecting technological tools to match learning outcomes. The page on Selecting Technologies includes a table that matches learning outcomes, rationales and activities. I completed the very useful exercise of identifying outcomes for the program restructuring I will be doing by situating it within the UNSW matrix (below). This is a wonderfully useful and relevant matrix; so great, in fact, that I have contacted UNSW to ask what the basis for the outcomes is.
Learning outcomes for my proposed program restructure as per UNSW matrix:
“Teaching in the 21st century” is a thing. Teaching in the 20th century is not a thing, nor is teaching in the 19th century, unless it is in contrast to 21st century teaching. I am aware of this because I entered both terms into Google and a university library search bars and nothing came up (except for a scholarly article on the feminization of teaching in Brazil in the 19th century, which may warrant a peak). Technological advances have made 21st century teaching a thing and has led to the connectivism paradigm.
My Catholic school experience in the 70s and 80s was definitely informed by an objectivist perspective. By the time I was studying art education in the late 1980s, we were studying Piaget and Vygotsky’s views on constructivism. The art classroom was the perfect place to encourage students to construct their own learning, and to grow rather than progress. Student-created work, group projects, and critiques were the norm, with a side of slide presentations, lectures and testing. And, while my science, math, and history peers taught subjects more prone to the transmissive instruction model of my childhood, my generation of teachers had moved beyond being sages on the stage(s) and were starting to engage learning in more progressive ways. We called ourselves guides on the side.
Objectivist: An objectivist educator believes there is one true and correct reality which can be known to humans by using the objective methods of science. Generally referred to as transmissive instruction, where knowledge is transmitted from teachers to learners.
Constructivist: A constructivist educator believes knowledge is not independent of the learner, it is constructed. Knowledge can be constructed in by individual learners reorganizing their experiences and cognitive structures, or by communities of practice through social interaction.
Connectivist: Connectivism is a learning theory that explains how Internet technologies have created new opportunities for people to learn and share information across the www and among themselves. A connectivist teacher guides students to information and answers key questions as needed in order to support students learning and sharing on their own.
The 21st Century Teacher
Fast forwarding to the 21st century, learning can happen any time, anywhere, on any topic, and with any learning style. Technology is integrated into learning and connectivism emerges. In his chapter on pedagogical differences between media, Bates (2015) identifies five media: text, audio, video, computing, social media. His identification of differences between the media is worth the creation of a chart to keep for posterity’s sake:
Is there anything missing from the types of technologies that Bates discusses? With the speed of technological change, I imagine an article such as this would need to be revisited fairly frequently for tools updating, but his categories are strong. I do wonder whether the inclusion of a mobile learning category might be appropriate, as it seems to be moving towards a unique experience (m-learning) with opportunities for constant interaction, bite-sized learning, and geo-location sensitive learning. He does a great job differentiating between the five media when there are so many overlaps between them. Learning does not happen through the use of any single media, or through any one domain. It can’t really be attributed to any one aspect of a learning environment: it happens in the cracks between these places, and the best thing that teachers can do is to provide opportunities for students to construct learning, through the deliberate choice of media. I feel like Bates is on it. He includes a scale that places media on a teacher control – learner control scale as broken down along objectivist, constructivist, and connectivist lines (see above).
Deliberation in choosing media is a point Bates makes as well as the folks in COFA Online (2011). According to them, issues to consider before choosing a technology for online teaching are:
- Pedagogy before technology (fit for purpose)
- Benefits of starting with something simple
- Importance of providing technical support to students
All Fun and Games?
Technology is fun and engaging. Knowing its pedagogical purpose, however, is critical when integrating it into a teaching environment. As the folks in COFA Online (2011) argue, knowing why you are going to use a technology is key to its introduction. 21st century teaching offers unique challenges and rewards thanks in part to the contribution of educational technologies. Teachers are so much more than sages on stage(s) or guides on the side. Reflecting back on a post by classmate Jim Hounslow (2016) in an earlier course about the many sides of the teacher in a connectivist environment, I illustrated the multi-faceted role of the 21st century teacher:
[Jim’s original sources were Master Artist, Seely Brown, (2006); Network Administrator, Fisher, (n.d.); Concierge, Bonk, (2007); and Curator, Siemens, (2007).]
Rahimi, A, Ebrahimi, N.A., Contemporary Online Language Education Journal, 2011, 1, 89-103. Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/4696067/Constructivist_vs._objectivist_learning_environments
Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, 2(1), 3-10
Bates, A. (2015). Teaching in a digital age: Guidelines for designing teaching and learning, Ch. 7
COFA Online (2011), Learning to teach online: Considerations when choosing technology for teaching.
Adult Learners. Non-traditional students pursuing post-secondary study or training, but who do not meet the definition of a “traditional” college student.
Social Media (SM). A range of online tools and web based applications that enable online social interaction and the creation and sharing of user generated content. SM enables people to connect and/or collaborate through computer-facilitated communication and creation.
Best Educational Use
Once learning management systems (LMS) were introduced in the post-secondary environment, instructors began to introduce online collaborative SM tools. SM applications can be optimally used to support learning by promoting online interaction and communication. They provide:
- free or low cost profile space,
- facilities for uploading content such as hyperlinks, videos, photos, etc.
- messaging options, and
- the ability to make connections with peers and enhance collaborative opportunities.
SM applications are best used to support learning by engaging students in informal learning opportunities.
Learning Outcomes Supported
1. New technologies can foster communication, engagement and self-direction in learners.
2. The development of media and information literacy skills are necessary outcomes with the utilization of SM for educational purposes.
Positive Aspects. One of the strongest advantages of incorporating SM applications in the learning environment is the opportunity they provide to support student learning. They enable students to:
- Communicate with learners they may not otherwise be able to;
- Share ideas and develop a large repository of information created by a group of students;
- Communicate directly and immediately with peers;
- Engage in informal learning by posting or answering questions or soliciting help;
- Develop critical and reflexive thinking skills and media and information literacy skills;
- Provide and receive peer feedback;
- Maintain relationships with larger groups of peers online than in a face-to-face setting.
Negative Effects. While SM applications do provide new opportunities, they can also create challenges for many learners. Challenges in an adult learning context include:
- The transition to a digital classroom may be difficult for non-natives of technology; adult learners may not be technologically savvy enough to use these sites;
- Community-building on SM sites may extend beyond the instructor’s control and push the limits of quality and credibility;
- SM applications can be time consuming and produce compulsive tendencies to check in and respond;
- If time-consuming, SM applications reduce learning/teaching efficiencies.
Adult Learners and Their Use of Social Networking Sites ,Yuanqiong (Kathy) Wang and Jessica Arfaa (2013). Towson University, Dept. of Computer & Information Sciences, Towson, MD 21252.
Vilhelmina Vaičiūnienė and Viktorija Mažeikienė (2012) Social Media in Adult Education: Insights Gained from Grundtvig Learning Partnership Project “Institutional Strategies Targeting the Uptake of Social Networking in Adult Education (ISTUS)”, Technologijos Social Technologies 2012, , 2(2), p. 473–482.