RSS and other things on my mind…

Originally, I was going to blog about my thoughts about RSS feeds. I was going to write about how I set up My GoogleReader and how I have started to unsubscribe from my various email newsletters (none of which I seem to be able to keep up with anyway). I was going to talk about how the initial excitement and motivation after signing up for a new email newsletter typically wears off pretty quickly. And about how I am left with an email account full of too many unread emails. I was also going to elaborate on how I usually end up reverting back to accessing webpages the old-fashioned way – through my bookmarks toolbar….

But instead I am going to reflect on my learning experience in this course so far. This week, to be honest, I feel a little bit out of the loop. After frantically working on several other deadlines, I came home last night, sat down it my papasan chair, and browsed to our Learning Portal to catch up on the newest blog posts about RSS feeds. I was surprised to see that the two most popular posts where not on RSS but on student learning, engagement, and motivation in general.  I read 2centsblogger’s post who referenced Laura’s Blog. I read Laura’s post right after. My first reaction was something along the line of “Wait… What happened? What did I miss?” I did take this opportunity to reflect on my own learning experience and on what I have been taking out of this course so far.

Grad 602 has introduced me to several interesting technologies, which I have found to be useful for my own learning and for potential integration into the classroom. While some of them are only “nice-to-know-ofs” (e.g., Twitter – sorry!), others are absolutely great (e.g., GoogleReader, Diigo). Getting my hands dirty with each of them allows me to make a sophisticated, informed decision about whether they will be of any use now, later, or ever. Although I appreciate the collaborative nature of the course, I don’t see it as a necessary element to maximize my learning, as others appear to do. Commenting on each other’s blogs, tweeting each other, etc. can definitely be fun and interesting. I like to read and react to comments related to my posts. But I don’t mind if nobody reads/comments on them. For me it is all about the exposure to new forms of technology and about experimenting with them in a safe learning environment. The interactive, collaborative piece to it is secondary (although not unimportant!) to me. Is that selfish? Maybe.

Now, back to my initial blog idea: RSS is such a convenient way of aggregating, customizing, and rerouting information. I feel as enthusiastic about RSS as I do about Diigo (see last week’s post). Definitely a useful, time-saving, and an efficient way of staying up-to-date. My email account will thank me.


Just tagging along…

While I am still not entirely convinced of the usefulness of blogging and networked communication (e.g., Twitter), “social bookmarking” hit the nail right on the head for me.

My current use of bookmarking consists of crowding my browser toolbar with all kinds of links to websites I find interesting and/or use frequently. Clearly, the application is just the tip of the iceberg of bookmarking, which I learned during last week’s class discussion. However, I think that for many academics and students this is the only type of bookmarking there is and that they are aware of (also discussed by Jon Udell).

Jon Udell discusses the four major uses of social bookmarking, which I can relate to my own daily academic life as a graduate student (at least partially)- in particular, using Diigo as a tool to answer questions with URLs and to use Diigo as a database.

  • Answering a question with an URL.

Copy-pasting URLs into an email to share relevant sources with colleagues, professors, and students is common practice in my world. If a question or a topic emerges, I often find myself “googling” websites, which I have come across at some point to then share it via email. I sometimes (actually pretty often) have a difficult time finding these sources again and waste my time searching for information I have located before but not properly documented (so frustrating!). Diigo is a great way of compiling websites, blogs, and other online sources related to a particular topic.

  • Diigo as a database.

This is the most compelling argument for me to start using Diigo. It reminds me of RefWorks, which I started to use in 2011 to organize and keep track of relevant references for research articles. What started out as a way to facilitate and automate citing and creating bibliographies, I have started to use RefWorks as a general database. However, I found that, especially for online sources, this software is not the right tool to use. Unless I want to cite a particular blog, website, or other online source, RefWorks is rather unsuitable. Diigo seems to be a nice complement to traditional citation management systems.

Is there a way to combine those two? If you come across anything that may answer my question, please send me an email with links to relevant sources… Oh wait… I know a better way: Create a shared Diigo list. 🙂

Web 140.0

I set up my first Twitter account today. The world in 140 characters. I am now one of 18 million micro-bloggers ready to dive into the “new” way of communicating, networking, and knowledge sharing. Now, how can Twitter POSSIBLY be incorporated into an educational setting? Well, this week’s in-class discussion and readings assignments provided some intriguing reasons and astonishing examples (e.g., The Twitter Experiment).

In their 2009 article “Horton Hears a Tweet”, the authors Dunlap and Lowenthal (D&L) highlighted how Twitter can be used to meet the 7 principles of good practice, which we discussed last week (see my previous blog post for reference). The authors emphasize that social-networking tools, such as Twitter, allow them “to establish natural, free-flowing, just-in-time contact with students, and them with us.” In my view, this quote directly refers to principle #4 (i.e., giving prompt feedback), principle #1 (i.e., encourage student-faculty contact), and principle #2 (i.e., encouraging active learning). In addition, Junco, Heibergert, and Loken (2010) provide research-based evidence that the use of Twitter has a positive effect on student engagement and grades. 

I also liked D&L’s discussion about the additional benefits of using Twitter. First, Twitter offers students the opportunity to engage with professionals. In my opinion, it is important to allow students to learn how to engage in relevant community of practice by connecting to other professionals in their field of study, research, and/or work. That is, introducing Twitter into the classroom allows students to practice how to engage with professionals (i.e., their fellow students, their instructors) in a safe environment with some room for trial-and-error, as handling Twitter “professionally” does require some knowledge about certain “tweeting” rules (e.g., appropriate use of hashtags). Moreover, Twitter forces the user to write in a concise and appropriate manner. In my opinion, this is one of the most convincing benefits of Twitter in an educational setting. The ability to summarize, highlight and emphasize effectively is absolutely crucial in a world full of readily-available abundant information. The limit of 140 characters per tweet forces the user to clearly articulate his or her thoughts, make effective use of words, information, links, references, and connections. In fact, as a notorious rambler I often find myself in situations, in which I ask myself: How can I get my point across in as few sentences as possible? From now on, I might simply ask myself: How can I get my point across in 140 characters?




Is 7 the magic number…?

The seven principles of good practice in undergraduate education are a helpful starting point to think about how to encourage learning among student and how to technology can be used to the learning process. To refresh our memories, here they are again:

  1. Encourages contact between students and faculty,
  2. Develops reciprocity and cooperation among students,
  3. Encourages active learning,
  4. Gives prompt feedback,
  5. Emphasizes time on task,
  6. Communicates high expectations, and
  7. Respects diverse talents and ways of learning.

One quote in the 7-principles handout stood out for me: “These principles seem like good common sense, and they are — because many teachers and students have experienced them and because research supports them.” Hmm, the research supporting piece caught my immediate attention, and I decided to make this week’s post about finding some convincing evidence…

Starting point – Google. One of the first search results was rather interesting and somewhat confusing. Instead of finding the 7 principles of good practice in undergraduate education by Chickering and Ehrmann, I found a reference to this book: “How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching.” by Susan Ambrose and colleagues. Although they stem from different sources, the principles highlighted by Ambrose and colleagues are similar to the ones developed by Chickering and Ehrmann.

  1. Students’ prior knowledge can help or hinder learning.
  2. How students organize knowledge influences how they learn and apply what they know.
  3. Student’s motivation determines, directs, and sustains what they do to learn.
  4. To develop mastery, students must acquire component skills, practice integrating them, and know when to apply what they have learned.
  5. Goal-directed practice coupled with targeted feedback enhances the quality of students’ learning.
  6. Students’ current level of development interacts with the social, emotional, and intellectual climate of the course to impact learning.
  7. To become self-directed learners, students must learn to monitor and adjust their approaches to learning.

(The list is taken from a blog by Changing Higher Education) The blog author Lloyd Armstrong makes an interesting point. Many academics don’t know what research says about how to improve learning – including me. Some teaching practices  may seem intuitive, including the 7 principles of good practice in undergraduate education. But, how do we know they really work? The book by Ambrose and colleagues provides research evidence for each of their 7 principles on how and in which teaching environments they have shown to improve learning.

While I am continuing my search for research evidence on the 7 principles of good practice in undergraduate education, I find this reference:

Unfortunately, VCU doesn’t seem to have a subscription to this journal… Does anyone have this reference? Either way, I am going to utilize the VCU interlibrary loan service and will follow up on my post to report how convincing the research findings on the seven principles are.
To be continued…