Creative Commons

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Thursday, 29 August 2013

Letting go of tapping on the textbook...

My semester started two weeks ago for three sections for me and I have embraced two of the ideas that I thought could be of immediate impact in the classroom:

1) Giving a Facebook account and Twitter account as contact options to counter the lonely office hours I've had.  So far no bites, but it is still early days.  I haven't been so bold as to make it mandatory - it is still new to me as well, so I'm still working on a sales pitch.

2) Giving out videos of topic material first and directing the readings to focus on the highlights.  This is also new as the official line has always been "you are responsible for the material in the textbook."  When I draw a line between the "will this be on the final?" question and teaching what is worth learning, would I really ask a question on a final if I thought its sole purpose was to be trivia?

As I tinker further, I will jot down my thoughts - I have noticed the classes have gone a lot faster since embracing this mindset...

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Creativity and the structures we follow

One of my favourite TEDtalks is from Sir Ken Robinson, who discusses how schools kill creativity.  This has been a favourite since he mixes humour with the reality that with the wrong environment, schools can drain children of the creative instincts.  While this focus on school children, I couldn't help but connect this with the material that we are learning.

Two ideas he conveyed that hit home for me is that we are preparing our children for a world we cannot currently grasp and the idea that if we are not prepared to be wrong, we will never come up with anything original.  The common thread I drew between those points is that if do not teach students to learn and be adaptive, their knowledge will be rooted in whatever book at whatever point in time they happened to read it.  I can identify with that, as that is how I learned to learn through some of the courses I took; learn the material well enough to pass the test and get a degree.

In fairness, this was not every class - I can recall a leadership class I was very fond of.  Instead of focussing on reciting the human resource theories of the day, we were asked to consider the theories as they related to the leadership style of George Patton.  The interesting piece was that we watched the movie as opposed to reviewing history books and had to focus on specific points, such as General Patton slapping someone he thought a coward.  I cannot recall anything from my statistics class that semester, but I can recall a vivid discussion on Theory X versus Theory Y managers.

This then leads me to consider how to use classroom time most valuably - I have had the reflection that I need to focus more on the application of the knowledge I wish to impart on my students, as opposed to recapping a chapter.  While I despair at the idea of rewriting all my lesson plans, I get excited about the prospect of having my class recalled with the same fondness that I hold for my favourites from my education.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Food for thought about the use of technology as a helping hand

In this article, Cindy Matthews, an educator in Waterloo, Ontario, raises a few points I found interesting.  The article revolves around the elementary and secondary schools, but as I am acutely aware, the students finishing grade 11 in 2013 will be in my classroom in September 2014.  I do not anticipate any material change in outlook from a 16 year old to an 18 year old, save for the removal of the safety net of public school.  So what piqued my interest in this article?

When reading the Teaching Naked book, I became very aware that I am a "textbook teaching" kind of instructor, which doesn't necessarily bring the point of the material home.  When considering the technology available, particularly apps, podcasts, and videos, I wondered if I am lowering the engagement level in my classroom.  To paraphrase Ms. Walker, lack of engagement isn't because there is something wrong with the students, it's because the material isn't being presented in an engaging way.

The other thought I had when reading this is the parallel Ms. Walker draws when comparing students with technology to students requiring wheelchairs.  While a bit dramatic, I considered the amount my own children learned about the periodic elements from a game on the iPhone versus sitting down with a chemistry book.  With the level of computer access provided by the college to my students in addition to their own PC's and smartphones, I would agree that there is no compelling reason why I would consider not making use of the available technology.

To quote directly: "Let’s not permit fear of change to limit the potential of our students but rather let’s embrace what modern technology can do to motivate students to do what they are there to do:  learn."

Matthews, C. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Thursday, 8 August 2013

And so the 3240 adventure begins!

As I continue on my path towards the Provincial Instructor Diploma Program certification, I am now participating in PIDP 3240: Media Enhanced Learning.  This blog is to keep track of my progress and insights I have while working through the course.  Part of progress is, as the name suggests, to pull me - kicking and screaming at times - into the current world of social media.

My background is fundamentally the same since entering the program, although the milestones are constantly being updated.  My initial foray into teaching was with online courses through Royal Roads University, where I had to become comfortable with Moodle (which continues to be an extremely valuable resource to me).  When I began teaching face-to-face fulltime at the beginning of 2012, my mission was to just get through the class with the amount of sweating, stuttering, and panic minimized.  After a year and a half, I have a solid grasp of the material I am teaching - admittedly not always the case - and am looking to make my classes a bastion of engagement.

Which brings me to 3240.  I am active Facebook user, have a Twitter account which I use in a pinch, and have a blog.  So it makes me wonder: why do I find a course on this so intimidating?!  It could be that aside from the blog, I haven't used these tools in a non-personal situation.  This is where I feel I'm missing a tremendous opportunity - if my students are avid Facebook users, am I trying to fight the tides by not embracing this as a valid communication method?  Where I find this all very interesting is that my next wave of courses start next week, providing me with a good testing ground for my ideas.  I will put a link through to the pages when I have them built and can then dissect and analyze how things are going.

Monday, 12 November 2012

My web conference reflections

In reflecting on the web conference experience with my learning partner Kelly McCormack, it was a very useful activity in reinforcing my understanding of OER.  My research leaned towards broader topics such as conceptual frameworks and student outcomes with less regard for important legal matters such as Creative Commons.  Kelly’s research was also high level, but effectively integrated the legal angle.  Of particular interest was a provincial debate regarding the British Columbia government’s development of open textbooks between Professor Todd Pettigrew from Cape Breton University and BCCampus, a publicly funded organization whose role is to support higher education. 
After this discussion, I narrowed the focus of main research to exclude topics such as hardware and the strides made between publishers and online content distributors, both of which could be very lengthy discussion papers in their own right.  Instead I focused on the quality control implications of OER, how it can support in-class activities, and on the impact it has on the teacher-student dynamic. 
Kelly’s discussion brought up concerns around the legitimacy of the information and who owned it; I then began researching the accuracy and verifiability of information on Wikipedia and who the overseers were.  This subtle shift provided me with one of the moments I had been looking for: verifying a site consisting of contributions from motivated, interested parties could be neutral, current, and thorough.  The criticisms of the open textbook that Kelly discussed were consistent with the criticisms I have heard of Wikipedia, which I never took the time to disprove.  The biggest takeaways for me were that sites such as Wikipedia now have several academic studies proving they should be treated as legitimate sources of information and that free or low-cost websites do not necessarily correspond with an absence of quality content. 

The trends and how to address them

I currently specialize in teaching accounting to a variety of business students in both face-to-face and online settings. The demographics range from recent high school graduates to those considering midlife career change to international students with English as a second language.  Workplace experience is also diverse as the students' ages: my youngest student is 18 and my oldest is mid-60’s.  The common thread is that workplace opportunities in business are limited for those without an education.  The challenge comes in defining what role I wish to play and the role that I wish technology to play in helping them get the education they strive for.
I can anticipate electronic hardware such as laptops and tablets playing a larger role.  As the ease of note taking and navigating electronic textbooks becomes easier, there may be a preference for electronic editions.  Additional factors include the reduced cost and weight associated with electronic editions.  Similarly, the cost of new laptops and tablets continues to decrease, removing a significant barrier to adoption. 
To embrace this trend, I have made exclusive use of textbooks with online enhancements.  The benefits have been twofold: full access to every question has been made to each student who may require further examples of how to approach specific topics and from an administrative standpoint, it has allowed me to choose certain questions to test for comprehension without the burden of marking 120 assignments.  The immediate feedback given to the students has also been recognized as very helpful, as indicated by end of class evaluations.  It is important to note that all online editions are not created equal and that while they are helpful as a study tool, in-class engagement is still required, particularly when tackling difficult topics that require the human touch.  There is no computer program that can bring back a discouraged student as effectively as a human.
The other trend that has been discussed as part of OER, but not emphasized in the same manner as Wikipedia, is the use of social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and blogs.  I will need to do more research into effectively fencing Facebook due to privacy and accessibility concerns – I would need to restrict access to those enrolled in the course and also not need to manage it constantly.  With Twitter, my concern is account and content management – having 120 students tweet about a basic concept might lead to a rash of “me too” comments, which doesn’t necessarily move the discussion forward.
            What I do believe is achievable is making use of a blog that could solicit comments on a current event and tie it back to the theory of the class.  This could theoretically achieve the spontaneity of a Facebook discussion, yet be relatable back to the core course material.  With security protocols, it is possible to limit the participants to those whose input I am looking to assess.  I believe in thinking this through, I may be having an “a-ha” moment…

How OER can impact the role of the adult educator

            The impact that OER have on the learning process is that the availability of material is vastly improved through repositories.  Quality concerns regarding the information and safeguards on sites such Wikipedia seem to have been largely resolved.  For example, in Time’s June 2, 2012 Edition, writer Dan Fletcher referenced a study which fact-checked Wikipedia’s level of accuracy on cancer against textbooks and compared its results with those of the National Cancer Institute’s Physician Data Query, a professional database that is professionally developed and peer-tested.  Interestingly, Wikipedia’s level of accuracy was virtually the same.  Similarly, in the February 16, 2012 edition of The Atlantic, Rebecca Rosen makes a very compelling point:
“We hold this massive experiment in collaborative knowledge to a standard that is higher than any other source. We don't want Wikipedia to be just as accurate as the Encyclopedia Britannica: We want it to have 55 times as many entries, present contentious debates fairly, and reflect brand new scholarly research, all while being edited and overseen primarily by volunteers.”
            The end result is that the instructor is not necessarily confined to using textbooks where material may become dated quickly or is presented in a confusing way.  As an example, when teaching finance classes, there are websites such as investopedia or YouTube that will present several different approaches to understanding a complex theory. These can either take the form of a video or definitions with examples; and most have a comments section to communicate the usefulness of the information.
            The use of OER is also presents ways to engage technologically savvy students.  This will require a degree of open-mindedness from teachers when assessing submitted work, particularly when accepting the idea that hand-written assignments or face-to-face presentations are not necessarily the only methods for assessing student comprehension. For example, the availability of camera phones may eliminate the need for presentations to be held in person, but rather posted on YouTube.  Potential challenges may be the education of teachers to ensure they are versed in how to use different software packages and redevelopment of marking rubrics.  However, as electronic editions and sharing sites such as Blackboard become more commonplace, this may be a completely natural progression.
            The largest impact this would have on a constructivist like me is further moving the teacher into the role of being a guide and not the sole provider of information.  There is significant freedom of choice when looking at information alternatives, from both the student and teacher perspectives.  Encouraging the use of OER could elicit suggestions from students about effective sites they have used when researching different topics and tying these back into a cohesive course site.  This will require structure and discipline, as courses tend to have significant breadth with varying degrees of depth on each topic.  Caution will also be required as there are copyright and privacy issues that have to be followed.