e-Learning in the classroom and the workplace

Last week I attended a meeting at my workplace (a university) to assist with organizing a conference on blended learning.  The committee consisted of a few staff members with general interest/knowledge of BL, members of our IT team, some faculty, and one senior admin.  Some of the faculty members that were in attendance were newer to the profession, while others have been teaching for many years.  Although all faculty members had an interest in BL in some form, it was interesting to see the varied opinions, questions, and range of concerns and misconceptions.  What is BL and what is considered BL?  Have I been using BL techniques in my teaching already and not known it?  How is this going to change my job?  If we bring this here, what does that mean for me and my support staff?  How do I begin to incorporate BL into my classroom, and get my colleagues on board as well?

I couldn’t help but think of the Starkey (2010) article that explored the connectivism framework.  When I first read the article, I interpreted it as applying to faculty and students in the classroom since that’s how it was written.  Now the teacher is no longer only the content expert, but is facilitating the learning experience for his/her students.  They are the ones that make connections, encourage students to explore, all while using new technologies to enhance the learning experience (Starkey, 2010).   Beginner or experienced, they were the ones that needed to rethink pedagogy in order to meaningfully incorporate technology in the classroom to enhance the learning environment for students.  But who was making the connections for faculty?  Who was going to take on the task of showing them what was available to them, how they could use it, and why it would benefit their students?

As I looked around the room, I realized that was us!  Connectivism applied in this situation as well.  We were facilitating a learning experience for those that would attend the conference.  Because of our education, experiences, and background, the integration of technology into the university seemed like it should be easy.  But as we explored possible concerns and misconceptions, we realized how the connections will need to be demonstrated for some.  It was up to us to design the content and delivery of the conference in a way that best showcased the benefits of blended learning.  As Starkey (2010) notes, “[a] central idea in the learning theory of connectivism is the continual expansion of knowledge as new and novel connections open new interpretations and understandings to create new knowledge which contrasts with constructivism where the focus is on individual learners constructing meaning” p. 234.  That is the goal of the conference – to create connections, open minds to new ideas and understandings of a topic that some may not know much about or that have opinions that may be unwarranted.  Connectivism applies to faculty and students in the classroom, but also in a PD environment where faculty may themselves be the students.

Starkey, L. (2010). Teachers’ pedagogical reasoning and action in the digital age. Teachers & Teaching, 16(2), 233-244.

Distributed Learning – Post 1 – Fashionably Educated

I was inspired this week by the Rotherham and Willingham (2009) article as well as the quote that Sam began her post with.  Rotherham and Willingham maintain that “[i]t’s exciting to believe that we live in times that are so revolutionary that they demand new and different abilities. But in fact, the skills students need in the 21st century are not new” (p. 16).  The skills we require and demand of our students now are no different than those required and demanded in the past, they are just acquired in a different way.  And Sam quoted von Humboldt who developed the German model of the university in the early 1800s as saying that the university teacher is not a teacher in the same sense as at other levels, but is available to help guide and support his students in their learning.  The student-centered approach is what started it all hundreds of years ago.  “It would seem that what is old is new again!” (Pearson, 2013).

We want the same things out of our students as we always have.  But the way our instructors teach those students is different at different levels and has changed from a student-centered approach to a teacher-centered approach somehow/somewhere along the way.  Recently there has been another shift moving back towards the student-centered approach again, perhaps coinciding with the increase in technology used in the classroom.

Those ideas got me thinking… Is education like fashion?  We think we’re coming up with new ideas when really we’re just re-inventing the past.  Bell bottoms and neon tops are like self-directed learning and critical thinking:  If we let some time pass and bring them back with a slight twist, people will think we’re revolutionizing the industry.

I remember when I was in highschool, my Mom chuckled as I begged her to take me to the city to go shopping for bell bottoms.  “Those things came back?!?” she said.  If only she had saved her clothing from highschool!  But the bell bottoms of the 70’s weren’t cool like the ones of the 90’s.  Hers were made of brown corduroy while mine were of the highly fashionable light washed denim.  “Sooo, not the same!”

So what is it about education that we think we’re revolutionizing?  Does adding a technological or online element to our classrooms suddenly make self-directed learning more appealing?  Are our students better critical-thinkers and problem-solvers because we have them discuss their ideas in an online discussion board rather than during face-to-face in class time?  We’re not changing what we expect from education, we’re merely changing the fabric of teaching from the outdated corduroy of the teacher-centered approach of information dissemination to the oh-so-hip-and-cool student-centered approach.

 

Pearson, Sam. July 7, 2013. Blog Post. “Blog Post #1 – Distributed Learning Summer 2013”.  http://samanthapearsonelearning.ucalgaryblogs.ca/

Rotherham, A. J., & Willingham, D. (2009). 21st Century Skills: The Challenges Ahead. Educational Leadership, 67(1), 16-21.