Week 8- The Helpfulness of the “Learningweb Revolution”

On the whole, Waks’s project seems too extreme and lacks enough solid grounding in the realities and political contexts of our times.  As such, it would be hard to see how anyone could take it seriously as a model for transforming existing schools.  Nevertheless, several of the perspectives and some of the history and research in Education 2.0 have informed my thinking and professional judgments about how schooling and education in the 21st Century ought to be done.

The Helpfulness of Waks’s Vision of the “learningweb revolution”

One way Waks’s vision has influenced my thinking is his presentation of the scope and magnitude of the social, cultural, and economic sea changes washing across the planet as a result of digital, wireless, and network technologies.  Not that I wasn’t aware of these changes prior to reading Waks.  But the way he compares our times to similar upheavals in society when the shift from agriculture to industry occurred lends perspective to our current moment.  Yet, by highlighting just how different the industrial era is from the digital era, Waks brings into stark relief the tensions and crises the transition is causing across society in our present circumstances.  He also does an effective job of addressing what must change if educators are to adapt the profession to the new world in which we already live and serve the children of a networked, digital age who are completely disaffected from industrial schooling.

Despite some of Waks’s proposals being to “out there” to be taken seriously, he presents glimmers of hope for those of us who are eager to usher in the changes we know are necessary for digitally mediated education.  After all, “paradigm shifts do not take place in a vacuum.  Horace Mann’s ‘common school’ revolution didn’t happen ‘of itself’; it was a direct response by economic and political elites to the social and economic changes ushered in by the automated production in New England factories after 1820”  (Waks, p. 196).  The history of past shifts in education let us know that the shifts are not only possible, but do happen when the political and economic conditions are right.  Today, the economic conditions are ripe for this change.  We just have to be prepared for when the political winds shift.  When they do, many of Waks’s ideas will make for a helpful menu of educational options even if his entire project is ultimately deemed infeasible.

Another way his ideas about the learningweb revolution could be beneficial is for educators who are interested in starting a new school.  For the purposes of such a project, Education 2.0 could be a useful blueprint or menu from which to design a 21st century school for the kinds of learning Waks envisions for the future.  Indeed, the schools Waks’s envisions  seems a suitable space for the “connectivisit” methods to be tested.  As George Siemens defines it,

“Connectivism is the integration of principles explored by chaos, network, and complexity and self-organization theories. Learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements – not entirely under the control of the individual.  Learning (defined as actionable knowledge) can reside outside of ourselves (within an organization or a database), is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing. Connectivism is driven by the understanding that decisions are based on rapidly altering foundations. New information is continually being acquired. The ability to draw distinctions between important and unimportant information is vital. The ability to recognize when new information alters the landscape based on decisions made yesterday is also critical.”

Sometimes described as a “new” educational philosophy for the digital age, connectivism describes what I imagine Waks’s open learning centers would be if one actually existed.  However, even for a startup school, all of Waks’s version of Education 2.0 are not.  Still, it does provide a bunch of paradigm-busting educators many choices for how to plan a school that provides a 21st Century education with the tools of the age central to its mission.

Colleagues and Friends (and Schools) That Are/Not Doing IT

Only one of my schools is willing to  include some online professional learning.

While I may not be in a position to implement much within school contexts, I am taking my opportunities where I can grab them.  Currently, one of my schools has agreed to conduct as much of our PD online as possible via Google Classroom.  This is as much about making an opportunity out of a crisis moment given the current Illinois budget fiasco.  But it is also about directly demonstrating to teachers that self-paced, mastery-oriented, just-in-time learning, provided through digital, networked, situated contexts can be powerful paths to learning.  Of course, a parallel goal is for teachers to transfer the same methods through which they learn to their students.  (Indeed, few moments in my PD sessions are as exciting to me as when I hear a teacher say, “This is so cool!  I need to try [insert digitally mediated learning activity here] with my kids.  They would love this!”)   I’m certain there will be bumps and pushback.  But we have to do something to start the ball rolling.  Not to mention how great it feels putting into practice some of the things I’ve learned as a result of my studies at NLU.  It’s also a great feeling working with a school courageous enough to take this plunge!

Still, the above school is far from the norm.  Looking around the CPS schools with which I work, there is much Education 2.0 gets completely right in terms of students’ schooling and learning experiences today.  Reading Waks on the heals of other scholars like boyd (It’s Complicated) and Ito (Hanging Out, Messing Around and Geeking Out), it hurts my teacher soul to walk into CPS high schools and see what kids contend with.  Day after day they travel from classroom to classroom doing work that has little to no connection to their lives.  The work is driven by performance oriented educators and policy makers much higher up the hierarchical org chart where all that matters, really, is high test scores, graduation rates, and college acceptance rates.  Worse, most teachers provide few paths that might connect students’ interests to the content they seem to believe is so vital for them to know. When it comes to the educational methods imposed on them, each day students walk into the school and become time travelers for 8 hours a day, warping backwards to the 19th and early 20th centuries.  Tragically, most of their teachers view students on phones as some kind of threat.  Technology — when it is used  — is the gravy on top, not the meat and potatoes of learning.   In light of these conditions, is it that hard to understand students’ apathy towards their own learning?  I only wish I worked with more schools and colleagues where implementing the new paradigm (though not necessarily Waks’s full vision) was happening as a matter of mission.

My Personal Assist

Even though I don’t know of a school or colleagues that are “working toward implementing this new paradigm”, I would pay real money to get a position in just such a school and begin the long, hard, complex work of leveraging students’ digital lives, tapping their interests, experiences, and expectations in order to transform teacher practice and redesigning curriculum.  I would create professional learning opportunities where teachers “must consider how the content and mature organization of knowledge grow out of the practical demands of social life, and how that content is used, tested, and modified in its actual use” (Waks, p. 197).   I would work towards a mastery oriented environment (Waks, p. 206) where play and error take their rightful places as the essential elements of learning that they are.  And the medium and playground for such work — for students and teachers alike — would include and require the networked technologies and personal devices that are a part of everyone’s lives and central to such kinds of 21st Century learning. 


Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism:A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning. Retrieved June 8, 2017, from http://www.itdl.org/journal/jan_05/article01.htm

Waks, L. J. (2016). Education 2.0: The learningweb revolution and the transformation of the school. New York, NY: Routledge.

Week 1-Connectivism & ISTE Standards

Here’s to the start of the summer term and a new class, TIE 542 – Digital Tools for Teaching, Learning and Assessment!  While there is no formal requirement to keep a blog for the class, I’ve found the practice quite useful in clarifying and solidifying my thinking in previous classes.  So I will continue the practice and link back to it from the class discussion boards.  Here we go!

Technology Use in My School & District

As a consultant working with a handful of CPS high schools, I witness several different kinds of

Graphic credit: Clix

technology use at different levels. As a district, I believe CPS would like to be “technology forward”.  This can be seen in their adoption of Google Apps for Education and installing wireless networks in nearly all schools. But there are obstacles — some of which are out of their hands, such as limited monetary resources for hardware, software, and professional development. Then there are those that are self-inflicted — such as deactivating all GAFE sharing functions with anyone outside the cps.edu domain.

Yet there are disparities at the school level. Some schools, such as the magnets and the selective enrollment campuses, have far more technology on-site with more teachers more willing to use it. Neighborhood schools have far fewer resources.

Finally, I’d say the greatest incongruity lies at the teacher level, which is where the rubber meets the road no matter the school. At this level I’ve seen the SAMR gamut run from teachers who only use overhead projectors and confiscate students’ cellphones to those who use Google Docs for student collaboration to those who require students use multiple apps on their phones to participate in a plethora of class activities in a given period.  Still, I’d say that in the schools I visit, more students do not use technology in meaningful, relevant ways than do.  Sadly.

School or District’s Adoption of Technology Standards

For the past four years my work is mainly with administrators and instructional leadership teams so it’s difficult for me to say the extent to which CPS teachers hew to a set of standard specifically for technology.  However, I have heard teachers and ILT members talk about the technology strands embedded in the Common Core.  And strangely enough — especially given how we obsess over standards — when I ask the administrators and curriculum leaders with whom I work what technology standards teachers use to structure their curriculum, they look at me in puzzlement and ask me what I mean.

Update: After two days, one of my principals connected me to the school’s computer science teacher.  She in turn sent me the standards she uses in class — the ISTE Standards and the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) [Interim] CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards.  Still, I wonder why admin and curriculum leaders don’t know what standards are being used even if they don’t know them in detail.  I guess I’ve just experienced connectivism in a real world application!

Learning Theories

When I took LSE 500 this winter, I was re-acquainted with “the big 3”: behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructionism. It had been a long time since pondering these theories and I have to say, I missed them.  I remember my undergrad professors being amazed at how interested I was in these theories.  As one said to me, “Doug, this is the stuff most teaching candidates suffer through to get to the good stuff!”  But as a global thinker I was fascinated by the theory and still am.  As a practitioner, though, I also need to be pragmatic. So I use the elements of theory that work on the ground and let the rest be interesting abstractions for the pondering. Still, back in January, it was great to dive in again with so many more years of experience to see again why and how the practical works as it does. While I find behaviorist and cognitivist theory interesting, I am a constructivist in both my teaching of adolescents and adults. I find I respond far better to constructivist methods as a learner as well. 

For more, watch Carol Dweck on Teaching Channel

Connectivism

Siemens was an interesting read. I would agree that there are elements that make sense for the digital world in which we live.  Being able to work collaboratively, recognize and access networks to augment individual or group knowhow is a useful human, social analog to the digital/mobile/social media parallel.  Indeed, we do live in a time when knowing when and where to access information can be more important, more useful than having a panoply of content and skill sets stored in one’s brain.  In a sense, I can see connectivism as a container for the  4 C’s.  However, in suggesting that “knowing” in the digital age is a simple matter of accessing information, connectivism (or at least Siemens’s paper) sidesteps the role of understanding.  Knowing is not synonymous with accessing information which is how the term is being used — at least in this paper.   Possessing information does little good without some cognitive processing about what to do with it, which, whether done individually or with a group, still must occur within the individual on some level.  Perhaps this is what Siemens means when he talks about one’s ability to perceive connections?  

I would agree, too, that there are some kinds of knowledge that can be offloaded.  Knowing state capitals, for instance.  However, just because some knowledge or tasks can be offloaded does not mean they should be.  For instance, there are benefits to learning one’s multiplication tables or how to write in cursive that go beyond the mere tasks at hand.

Conclusion

In their paper, “Connectivism as a Digital Age Learning Theory”, Duke, Harper, and Johnston state, “If a person with limited core knowledge accesses Internet information beyond his or her ability to understand, then that knowledge is useless. In other words a structured study using the existing learning theories is required in order to acquire the core knowledge for a specific field.  While the theory presented by George Siemens and Stephen Downes is important and valid, it is a tool to be used in the learning process for instruction or curriculum rather than a standalone learning theory.”  This captures my thinking about connectivism, at least as I’m thinking about it now based on this week’s reading.  I look forward to learning more about it as the weeks go on.

 

Week 5: Collaboration and Ed Tech Research 

jp-DIVIDE-2-jumbo
I have held this image of Alejandro Zamora in my mind’s eye since reading this NY Times article in 2012. Credit Drew Kelly for The New York Times

Five years ago, I read an article in The New York Times, “Wasting Time is New Divide in Digital Era”.  It had such an impact on me professionally that I refer to it even today.  The more I reflect on it, the more I believe it was one of the catalysts that ultimately put me on the path to this master’s program.  It raised an important issue five years ago.  But reading it today it seems a bit of a broad brush.  The research paints a more detailed, nuanced picture of teens’ online activities.  Still, the article surfaces yet one more inequity faced by students from low-income communities and those of us who serve them.  It draws attention to two concerns I have as an educator:  How our most vulnerable students make use of information and communication technology (ICT) and the discrepancy between how many educators use ICT in their professional practice compared to their personal lives and how the latter impacts the former.  It is these interests that influenced my reading choices this week.

…And what a selection of readings they were.  The sources Nicole pointed us to are such an embarrassment of riches, I wish we had longer to pour over the research before having to blog about them.  Needless to say, this week has been a bookmarks a-go-go.  Eventually, though, I narrowed down my choices to:

The elements that stand out to me are the extent to which the dynamics described in the Times article still hold true today, five years on.  The other is the extent to which the differences persist between how teachers use ICT in their personal lives and in their classrooms.

One of the benefits of consulting is that I’ve experienced more ways of “doing school” than I ever could have imagined I would in my career.  And much of what these reports describe hew to what I have experienced first hand.  That is, not surprisingly, “[t]eachers of the lowest income students experience the impact of digital tools in the learning environment differently than teachers whose students are from more affluent households” (“How Teachers Are Using Technology…”).  Specifically, this means “low income students…[are] ‘behind the curve’ when it comes to effectively using digital tools in the learning process…, teachers of students living in low income households say their school’s use of internet filters has a major impact on their teaching…and…, teachers of lower income students say their school’s rules about classroom cell phone use by students have a major impact on their teaching” (“How Teachers Are Using Technology…”).  Meanwhile, teachers of students who come from higher socio-economic households do not face the same obstacles to teaching and learning.  In fact, respondents to the the “How Teachers Are Using Technology…” survey report they are likely to face the same conditions stated above only half as often as their counterparts in low-income districts.

What I find so frustrating here is what the conditions described in the survey indicate about adult mindsets and the policies that result from those mindsets.  Both mindsets and policies are grounded in negative assumptions about low-income students and positive assumptions about affluent students.  Namely, that poor (read also black and brown) students don’t know how to use their devices and online services responsibly; therefore they’re not allowed in class and access to the internet must be heavily firewalled.  For children of affluent schools, the converse is assumed.  They can be trusted to use their devices properly and not surf verboten sites, thus they are granted access.  The result is a self-perpetuating cycle that reinforces these inequities when it comes to digital learning.

The Common Sense report, “Connection and Control…”, debunks these negative assumptions about poor black and brown kids.  It is based on 11 case studies of African-American and Latino teens and their parents from households qualifying for free and reduced lunch.  The study complicates the often monolithic block into which all American “youth” are often lumped.  The authors note that mediating factors such as time spent with media, socio-economic differences, the types of devices and media available to low-income youth all influence how they use devices and media and thus the type of user a young person is.  Categories of users include “Light Users”, “Heavy Viewers”, “Gamers and Computer Users”, “Video Gamers only”, “Readers”, and “Social Networkers”.    The authors also nuance the often-cited nine hours average amount of screen time US teens accrue, noting differences by age, income, and race.  According to the study, “Tweens (8- to 12-year-olds) use an average of about six hours’ (5:55) worth of entertainment media daily. Teens from lower-income families spend more time with media than those from higher-income families (10:35 vs. 7:50 of total media use). African-American teens use an average of 11:10 worth of media a day compared with 8:51 among Latinos and 8:27 among whites.”

While the report provides a detailed analysis which offers useful insights into the different ways low-income teens and their families interact with their devices, media, and each other, one set of dynamics is particularly striking.  First, low-income youth, with more access to mobile devices than desk- or laptops, use their devices for what I will call positive “coping” or “survival” applications.  Children who live in high crime neighborhoods use social media to break the isolation imposed by their circumstances to maintain connections with family and friends who live at a distance from them.  They will also use their devices to create distance in close living quarters and when going outside is precluded by neighborhood violence.  As one student articulated a common finding, “[Using media is] fun and it’s definitely a way to keep calm and peaceful [emphasis added] when you don’t feel like doing anything else.”

When it comes to informal learning, teens use their devices and apps as problem-solving tools. In fact, problem-solving is a kind of use we would expect from a sophisticated, tech-literate, 21st century user.  For instance, students with long commutes to school will use transit apps to shorten their travel times.  Others will use YouTube as a sort of tutorial service for just-in-time learning according to their interests — personal grooming, learning new dance moves, and gaming hacks, to name a few.  And among Social Media users, platforms such as Instagram and SnapChat become spaces to try out new personas — a normal stage of development for tweens and teens (“Connection and Control…”).  This contradicts rather poignantly the characterization in the Times article of online behaviors as “time wasting” among low-income teens.

However, the second dynamic I was struck by is a significant difference between low-income teens and their middle- to upper-middle-class peers.  Low income students rarely use their devices to create digital content.  “On any given day, American teens spend 3% of their time on computers, tablets, and smartphones creating content” which the “Connection and Control…” report defines as “writing or creating digital art or music”.  However, low-income teens spend the majority of their time consuming media and online services compared to their wealthier peers.  And whereas middle- and upper-middle-class teens have resources to create digital content at home, when their low-income peers do have the opportunity, it is usually available at school or an after-school program where the devices and applications are accessible to them.

The study notes one exception, which I interpret as a function (and limitation) of the devices low-income students have the most access too.  Low-income teens do “show evidence of creative practices in the digital world, taking photos and altering them with different filters and stickers before putting them on Instagram or pulling images from the internet, often manipulating them, to create their lock and home screens” (“Connection and Control…”).  Here I feel I need to acknowledge a personal bias:  I generally find “mashup art” just shy of plagiarism.  Admittedly, my views on mashups are evolving as I come across more complex examples and recognize it as a kind of expression digital technology makes particularly easy to create and the internet makes very easy to distribute.  Still, I find it a low bar creatively.  Nevertheless, it’s clear that the ability to create content is strongly influenced by access to the tools of creation.  Household income and school budgets are key determiners of such access.

Given the length of this post so far covering only one of my two stated areas of interest, I’ve decided to spare readers some time.  I’ve created a short video compressing a few of my take-aways on teachers’ personal and professional use of ICT.  Enjoy!

 

 

Week 4: Communication and PLN’s

Update:  Six weeks on from this post and Twitter chats have become a go-to component of my PLN.  I’ve attended four other chats in the intervening weeks with another scheduled for today.  I’m finding that when I’m in need of a particular kind of research or just in a curious mood I turn to a scheduled chat or skim related hashtags of past chats.  Some chats are definitely operating at higher levels in terms of depth of thought, extent of conversation, or ideas and resources shared.  However, I’m singularly impressed by the one characteristic common to all of them so far — how welcoming, friendly, and generous the participants are.   Too, I had no idea how many chat groups are out there — not just in education, of which there are dozens.  I’ve even found a couple chats for my husband who works in the hospitality industry and is always looking for new ideas.  He is a Luddite.  But after a couple hours of his peering from the corner of his eye from the other side of the sofa as I chat, I figured I’d see what I could find for him.  When I sent him the links, his response was, “…I’d like to know more….”  Next stop is getting him his own Twitter account!

The New Addiction

I’m officially hooked on Twitter chats.  While I knew these were “a thing”, I was never clear on how exactly to access them.  And I certainly never thought they were as organized as having an official chat list.  Admittedly, I found them rather intimidating to start.  However, our reading from the PLP Network was spot on with “how to”.  A particularly good recommendation is to use TweetDeck — a platform I’ve used in the past for my multiple handles*, but discovered its ultimate usefulness in this chat context.

Using TweetDeck for Twitter chats; Source: Screen cap, D. van Dyke

 

3 Different Experiences

In all, I participated in three chats.  Coincidentally, they provided three different kinds of experiences.  I’m trying not to rate them on a qualitative scale; however, I did find one a more enjoyable, and thus a more worthwhile, experience.  But “enjoyable” and “worthwhile” are according to what works for me in terms of my learning style and learning habits.

Starting with the chat I found most challenging, Digital Citizen Chat (#digcit), was the most rambling and freeform.  Chronologically, it was my second chat which followed a highly organized first experience last week.  So the differences were immediately noticeable.  Right from the start, there were a number of participants who seemed to be looking forward to the chat.

Yet about 15 minutes past the designated start time, there was this exchange between Professor Passafume and Hope Frazier.

From what I could tell, no moderator ever showed up.  So people posted randomly.  While I’m not sure the number of conversation threads were different from other chats, it all seemed vague and scattershot with very little focus.  In all, I didn’t find it a terribly helpful chat given there were more opinions being solicited and shared than useful practices and resources.

Likes from #educoach chat; Source: screen cap, D. van Dyke

The middle-of-the-road experience was the Instructional Coaching Chat (#educoach).  More organized and attended by experienced coaches, #educoach had two moderators and a set of nine questions at the ready.  While the other chats seemed to be attended by several self-identifying pre-service and novice teachers, I felt more in the company of my experiential peers in #educoach.  Unfortunately, there is either an error on the Education Chats schedule or there was some other kind of snafu.  When I showed up 10 minutes ahead of the scheduled start time — 9pm Central — it had clearly been underway for 50 minutes.  I didn’t feel comfortable crashing in with ten minutes on the clock, so I scrolled and lurked through the conversations and liked the tweets that had thoughts and resources I found useful for my work.  One such resource was a meta-analysis shared by @region13coaches at the very end of the chat.  It was a nice button on the conversation for how the work of instructional coaches has a measurable impact on teacher practice and student outcomes.  I read it and immediately emailed it to the principals of the schools I work with — as research support and encouragement for our work.

Finally, the chat I found to be the most enjoyable experience was, oddly enough, my first.  Last week I decided to preview the Twitter chat experience in anticipation of this week’s assignment.  I didn’t want to troll this one, so I decided to boldly identify myself as the nube I am.  I tend to get anxious with online interactions among strangers.  So participating in this new way among fellow professionals felt risky because I knew there likely were all kinds of rules of etiquette of which I was completely unaware.  But I could not have been more warmly welcomed.  I

My first Twitter chat: Warmly welcomed to #hseduchat; Source: Screen cap, D. vanDyke

wouldn’t say my contributions to the conversation were high-level or even on topic.  They were more about meeting and greeting and getting my feet wet with this new professional learning experience.  Luckily, though, the folks over at #hseduchat were accepting and supportive of my lack of chat experience and encouraged my contributions.  Their behaviors made it more likely that I’d participate in other chat in the future.

This chat was very well-organized, the moderator having sent out the questions in advance, reviewed them all again when the chat started, and gave instructions for how to format responses.  She then released the questions at regular intervals.  In this way the moderator kept tabs on the conversation and kept it rolling.  All these elements fit with my own needs as learner.  It really was the perfect chat for my first attempt.

Final Thoughts

The assignments this week made for highly enjoyable learning (more on the Resident/Visitor map to come).  While I’m not new to Twitter, chats are a revelation.  In my experience Twitter has been a much more positive, uplifting, useful platform than, say, Facebook.  Still, as a professional resource, it always seemed a bit random, even when I used hashtags to track down resources.  But having entire lists of chat schedules, the ideas and suggestions from Nicole’s narrated Prezis, and some chat experiences under my belt, Twitter finally feels like an actual arrow in my professional and ICT quiver.  My exploration now will turn to those chats that are moderated and organized for those times when I’m on the hunt for useable material — actual ideas and resources.  Though I can see hanging out in a chat with no clear facilitator where participants ask and answer random questions, for those times that I’m looking simply to network or have collegial conversation.

It’s become increasingly clear to me that informal learning is an extremely potent type of learning.  Twitter chats hit so many of those buttons — self-directed, just in time, anytime/anywhere, tailorable to a learner’s needs of the moment, learner choice, working with a sense of relaxed and stress-free flow in the learning moment.  I can see how Twitter chats can be a powerful tool for a particular kind of teacher support and professional learning.  With such tools and access, this really is an exciting time to be an educator!

*: I have one professional Twitter account: @commonelements.  I also have two personal Twitter accounts: @oberon60657 for general, personal tweeting.  My husband and I enjoy cruising and try to do at least one sailing a year — despite the outrageous behaviors of many passengers.  I finally couldn’t take that behavior anymore and as an outlet started a separate handle just to tweet out the ridiculous things people say while shipboard.  If you want a laugh, follow me on @some1saidreally.

Entry #7: Digital Contexts

Play in the Digital Context

informal_learningWhen I think about my own learning in digital contexts, the common theme in all three contexts is my need to “play” with the technology at hand.  I find that in every instance, at some point, I wind up exploring a new software tool or interface while a “more knowledgeable other” continues with a lecture.  Truth be told, I think my “playing” is even more efficient as in almost every case, I find that by the time I’ve tuned back into the MKO, I’ve figured out a task or workflow far ahead of its discrete instruction in the lesson.  If I don’t have the opportunity to work in this way or apply the technology to a specific need of mine, I then become super antsy.  I’m as bad as a teenager, cracking jokes with neighbors, passing notes, and leaving the session for bio breaks.  On more than one occasion, my principal would tell me who I could and could not sit next to so I “didn’t cause trouble” during the session.  And she was often included on the “not to” list!

Online Learning

In terms of the online context, here’s the thing:  I find videos boring to just sit and watch.  Bo-ring. I’d rather listen to them like a podcast while I do other things like cook dinner or cleaning or driving.  And let’s face it.  It’s not like there’s much video adds to most presentations since the presenter just reads something off a slide on the screen anyway.  Even TED Talks.  I love them.  But more often than not, one can get by by simply listening.  So in online and some blended/face-to-face contexts, extensive use of video is no good for this learner.  What is more powerful for me is when we participants can share our screens with the virtual class along with the MKO.  Now we have some skin in the game.  My heart rate is is up.  I need to explain, narrate, take questions, manipulate apps or docs on the screen.  I’m far more active and am thus working to build my understanding as a result.

If you’ll indulge a slight side trip for a larger point here.  We’ve all experienced that feel-good bump when we get a notification that someone liked an Instagram picture or replied to a tweet or left a comment on a Facebook post. That’s because these platforms are designed, as Nir Eyal explains in Hooked: How to Build Habit Forming Products, to keep us coming back by using four key elements: a trigger, an action, and unpredictable or variable reward, and investment.  Additionally, neuroeconomist, Paul Zak, has conducted experiments and MRI tests on subjects using Twitter and Facebook.  He discovered that the brain releases oxytocin during interactions on these platforms.  Oxytocin is the feel-good chemical released during nursing that causes mother-child bonding, or other life events that we feel good doing — falling in love, eating, making money, etc.  He also found that when we receive a “Like” the reward center of our brains, the nucleus accumbens, is activated.  As a result, our brains receive a hit of every teacher’s and student’s favorite neurotransmitter, dopamine, which provides feelings of satisfaction, allows us to identify successes, and take actions toward more successes.  In fact, researchers have found that interactions on the internet can provide more of a dopamine kick than eating chocolate or having sex.  With that in mind, I’m pretty stunned to find that in just one term in a formal online learning environment, I respond to interactions on the D2L platform in the same way that I respond to my favorite (and even my least favorite) social media platforms.  I receive texts alerting me to new discussion threads, or updated grades, or IM’s from fellow students (trigger).  I logon and look for the red notification bubble in the upper right toolbar and click on them (action).  I wonder, what’s going to be there?  Who commented?  What is my new grade?  Is there going to be helpful feedback? (unpredictable and variable rewards).  I obviously care about the work since I applied for and was accepted to the Learning Sciences program and I’m eager to learn new things (investment).  I can interact in multiple and meaningful ways with materials I can share with like-minded individuals who keep in regular touch with each other.  And since it’s all for my education, I can do all of this without feeling guilty about the time I’m spending because it’s not wasted.  Many (more) very tangible benefits result (compared to other social media interactions).   

I also find it far more engaging to be able to see all the fellow participants in online contexts.  Our Zoom sessions for this class are a perfect example.  Even though they’re considered optional, I feel like I have attended a traditional class.  We see each other, talk to each other, ask questions, see each others’ reactions, react to each others’ reactions, share screens, take notes.  It’s utterly engaging.  I believe too that this one course aspect — the weekly Zoom sessions — goes a long way toward creating a virtual learning community out of a mere virtual learning environment.

Watch a bit of an ah-ha I had about D2L interactions:

Flipped Classrooms

flippedgraphic

 

Sadly, I have exactly zero experience with flipped classrooms either as a teacher or a student.  I’d love to experience them in both rolls.  As a teacher, I imagine the flip would provide far more enticing homework experiences for our Gen D learners.

 

Changing My Instructional Practices
SAMR

Flipping, BYOD, application of SAMR to most, if not all, of my lessons, and redesigning my lessons to include far more informal learning and play parameters would be the most significant changes I’d make to my instruction going forward.  A classroom characterized by students regularly creating their own learning goals in consultation with myself, discovery-based and just-in-time learning for students, more project-based learning that is digitally mediated to foster the 4C’s would all be my ICT ideal.  My digitally mediated utopia.