Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Open Content Creates New Opportunities

Here's an interesting article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about free online courses that are open to the world.

I especially like the reference to how higher education could be changing so that universities become certification centers where students go to take a test to certify what they know instead of universities having the primary role of "delivering" knowledge. Students would independently choose what to study from a wide array of open content available from many different sources.

This kind of education and professional development makes eportfolios even more important to have and maintain. Keeping track of what you've studied and which certificates you hold could get to be quite a task over a lifetime. If you are interested in getting started with creating your own eportfolio, check out the instruction module I have posted at

Thursday, June 16, 2011

How will Online Course Content Differ from Inkling?

I just read an article at about a new company that is turning print textbooks into electronic multimedia experiences.

We've seen this coming for some time now, but, since the release of the iPad, the pace of development has increased. Publishers are beginning to envision the next generation of "textbooks" and they are nothing like the hard copy print versions we are all so used to. They are dynamic multimedia works that can be updated almost instantly (unlike their hard copy cousins). Instead of just reading the content, students interact with it, exploring and absorbing as they go. I don't know about you, but this is what I've been waiting for since I first discovered digital multimedia way back in the 1980s!

I remember working with a meteorology professor in the early 1990s. We asked him what his ideal teaching environment would be. He said a live, interactive 3D (holographic) model of the Earth (outer space view) with the current weather conditions displayed in real time, where he could poke his finger at any given place to instantly see the current weather conditions and data. Then, to be able to change some aspect of the current conditions to illustrate various concepts. He was envisioning a truly ideal teaching environment where the instructor creates the teachable moments instead of just reading about them and then waiting for them to happen in "real life." We weren't there in the 90s and I don't think we are there yet, but we are certainly getting a lot closer. What he described was about as far from static hard copy print textbook as you can get!

Is this new, highly interactive environment the next version of the online course as well? Will we still need to develop content or will we just select the parts of the "textbook" that we want to use? Will the instructor become even more of a guide and mentor, leaving the lion's share of delivery of content to the computer and content development to the publishers?

What an exciting time to be an educator!

Authentic Problem-based Learning May Be Easier than You Think

The back page of the May 2011 issue of Campus Technology has an interview with Michael Wesch. The last question the CT reporter asked is, "What can institutions do to teach 21st century skills?" Part of Michael's answer was, "The worst thing we could do at the moment is to make the technology yet another assignment for students to complete, to get their grade and move on. We have to help them see the technology as essential to learning, collaborating, and accomplishing their real goals."

Unfortunately, I think many times students take courses where they have to complete a digital media project of some sort and, rather than seeing the project as a way to build the 21st century communication skills that they will need for their professional careers, the really do see the projects as just something to complete for a grade.

Perhaps what is missing in these assignments -- the reason students see them as just course projects and not as opportunities to build critical 21st century communication skills -- is an authentic context.

So, how do you frame problem-/project-based assignments so that they are seen in an authentic context? How do you pull students in to the learning process so that they see the benefit of learning to use digital media to communicate complex ideas? Might it be easier than we think? Might it be as simple as just giving them an authentic audience for their final product?

When students complete a project for "the instructor" to evaluate, they really are just completing the project for a grade. If they were to complete a project that would not only be evaluated by the instructor, but would ultimately be viewed (and informally evaluated just by virtue of being available) by other professionals in the field, doesn't that automatically change the context?

What if education students posted their lesson plans so they were available to everyone with Internet access? (An added bonus would be a counter attached to each post so they could see if others were finding and using their materials.)

What if science students blogged publicly about their research projects and the results they observed?

What if students knew that their instructor was going to invite other professionals in the field to review their projects? Or, what if students could themselves invite other professionals in the field to review and provide feedback on their projects?

Providing an authentic audience opens up a whole new world to students, validating and adding a new dimension to their work. Even something as simple as giving them access to post their work on a public-facing YouTube channel can provide the necessary access to authentic audiences that would change the whole context of the assignment (for an example of student reactions to posting their projects on YouTube see

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

5 Necessary Pieces for Incorporating Technology in Instruction

This is an interesting article about training future teachers to incorporate technology into their classrooms:

At Juniata College I helped with an instructional technology course for future teachers. It was one of the most popular courses on campus, even for non-education majors. Students coming back from their student teaching experience would talk about how they helped their sponsoring teacher learn new instructional technologies that they themselves had learned to use in the "Ed Tech" course.

For the past couple of days I've been pondering how to help teachers learn about and become competent with new technologies and have come to the conclusion that several pieces need to be in place:

1. There has to be a need for the technology. Technology, whether it's hardware or software, is learned best when it's learned in context and used immediately in response to an immediate need.

2. The technology has to be readily available. If it's a shared piece of equipment that has to be scheduled and reserved, it's not going to be incorporated into instruction effectively. The technologies that are incorporated effectively are the ones that are available for use immediately when the need presents itself.

3. The technology and the use of the technology for instruction has to be supported. If something breaks or isn't working as expected, there need to be resources available in a timely manner to replace or repair the technology. Resources also need to be readily available to help teachers learn to use hardware and software as well as to share experiences and information about using the hardware and software. Expecting teachers to use their own resources to purchase and support a technology they want to use in their classroom is haphazard, unrealistic, and not sustainable.

4. The technology has to be kept up to date. New versions need to be readily available. Users have to learn to not just expect change, but to embrace it. Always having to beg for a newer version or upgrade is demoralizing, discouraging, and frustrating. It sends a clear message that making effective use of technology for instruction is not a priority and is not valued.

5. There needs to be a clearly defined process for teachers to follow to bring technology into their classrooms. This process needs to have the support of administration as well as resources for moving through each step. Advocating for and facilitating the acquisition of technology for use in instruction has to be someone's full-time job.

The final line in the article is: "Technology's moving awfully rapidly, and to just stand still is to be moving backwards pretty rapidly."