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…

Don’t Talk to Strangers! Blogging insecurities…

Blogging. Sharing knowledge. Expressing yourself – and the world is watching, reading, and listening along. That just blows my mind. But it also scares the hell out of me…

I think, what scares me is the notion of the global and total presence of yourself. It is like leaving the cozy, familiar nest of anonymity to enter the unknown, scary world (wide web) of bloggers. My initial reaction to blogging That is definitely not for me. Totally out of my comfort zoneI can almost hear my parents say “Do not to talk to strangers!” Their warning made sense to me back then and it still does. Now, although clearly well intended, my parents may have partially contributed to my blogging insecurities. Because one thing is clear: Blogging surely encompasses engaging, communicating, and interacting with strangers.

Last week’s class discussion about blogging, however, made me think of blogging as a little bit more than just interacting with strangers. It is a tool to organize my thoughts, develop opinions, outline ideas and – first and foremost – practice formulating these thoughts, opinions, and ideas. This is easier said than “blogged”. Another parental advice comes to mind…. “Use Your Words!” Do I put more time and effort into expressing my thoughts, opinions, and ideas when nobody reads them or when everyone could read them? I would say the latter.

Mind-blowing. And scary.

Keeping up with technology…. Not always easy…

This week’s articles were an interesting excursion into the world of open courses and the role of new technologies in higher education. Honestly, the concept of open courses was new to me up until last week’s GRAD 602 introductory session. Open courses offer a new way of breaking out of traditional boundaries of higher education, allowing knowledge to be disseminated and learned in a new, innovative way by promoting “collaboration, responsibility, and a commitment to seeing that we can accomplish our goals together.” (p. 32) As a student, I have little experience with online or open courses, and I do have to admit that I tend to be somewhat skeptical when it comes to online learning. Although I like the idea of “unbundling” information and knowledge, I do think that learning requires a certain amount of in-class, instructor-guided teaching, which may not be conveyed as effectively in online settings. This, of course, also depends on the teaching content and the student population. The traditional classroom is an environment, in which certain norms, expectations, and rules exist about how to communicate with other students or with the instructor. The “virtual” classroom, however, is a somewhat new territory. That is, rules, norms, and expectations about how the learning process is supposed to unfold is not yet clear – at least not to me. Cormier and Siemens, for example, talk about open curricula and how important it is for learners “to contribute to the formation of the curricula through conversations, discussions, and interactions.” (p. 36). However, do we really know how to converse, discuss, and interact on an online platform? Sure, most of us have social media accounts. But, that does not necessarily mean that we are efficient online-learners and communicators. Does it?

I like Cormier & Siemens’ discussion about the new role of educators, including “amplifying, curating, wayfinding, aggregating, filtering, modeling, and staying present.” (p. 36) In my opinion, in an online environment, the teacher is a moderator and facilitator rather than a disseminator of information in the more traditional sense. The article on “New Media Technologies and the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning” is a nice complement to Cormier and Siemens discussion, as it emphasizes the balancing act of combining traditional, institutionalized learning tools, such multiple-choice exams, with new learning needs and technological improvements. Clearly, there is no best way of managing and developing a prosperous learning environment, as it is contingent upon the students’ needs, their engagement and unique contributions, and the general type of content.

Overall, it is an exciting and challenging time to be a teacher in higher education. More than ever before, it is important to be aware of our roles as educators, take advantage of new technologies in a way it makes sense, and avoid the ones that do not. I see a clear shift toward student-centered learning – away from the teacher-as-entertainer concept of education. That is a good thing. Because in the end, we are all students thriving to learn.