educational technology

You're Going to Need a Hard Hat to Live There
Creative Commons License photo credit: Rob Shenk

Today I sat on the train between two burly construction workers. Steel-toed boots, well-worn overalls, hard hats and big lunch kits. They both had newspapers, and the stereotypical assumption might be the sports section. Not true. One was reading the business pages, and the other was working on a crossword puzzle.

What’s significant about this story? In our classrooms, we are helping our learners to discover their own learning styles and preferences. But we run the risk of then teaching to that style, rather than helping them to discover their whole mind. I hope these two young men had teachers who recognized that. Certainly as I watched them engaged in learning this morning using their linguistic rather than bodily-kinesthetic intelligence I had to believe it was true.


Like many others, I’m intrigued by the picture that Wordle creates from my writing, my interests, and my research. This is my delicious Wordle:

delicious wordle

When you look at it, you learn something about me. When I look at it, I am reminded of issues I have researched, works I have read, and threads that I want to further pursue. My personal learning journey, chronicled by Wordle.

Creative Commons License photo credit: brendio

I was following a Twitter conversation recently between @tomwhyte1 and @injenuity about learning theory construction. I expect it had been spawned from CCK08.

Tom asked the question “If the basic core of a learning theory requires other learning theories to have happened or exist, is it an actual learning theory or tool?” I was about to enter the conversation when I realized I couldn’t explain what a learning theory was. This week I’m reading Psychology of Learning for Instruction by Driscoll and have an answer to both questions. To paraphrase, a theory is a hypotheses that has been validated through data collection. More formally, Driscoll describes a learning theory as “a set of constructs linking observed changes in performance with what is thought to bring about those changes” (p.9).

A theory isn’t a theory though until some sort of proving has occurred. Which leads to Tom‘s question. Driscoll has a perspective on that as well: “any new theory must reinterpret all the previous findings as well as account for the anomalous ones that prompted its invention in the first place” (p.7). So Tom, I think the answer is It depends. If it meets the definition of a learning theory, that is seeks to explain a phenomenom, then not only is it a theory but it must build upon or refute past theories. If it doesn’t meet the definition of a learning theory, then perhaps it is describing a single construct (in this case perhaps node).

I’m going to like this book.

Driscoll, M. P. (2005). Psychology of Learning for Instruction (Third Edition ed.). Boston: Peason Education Inc.

I’ve just been through the first weekend class of ERES800, the required educational research class for my Masters. The professor is great, trying to help us use the class to scaffold our way to our thesis, project or capstone course. But it was very different than courses to date, and I would like to figure out why.

The first difference was obvious. It is a face-to-face class, the first so far in my program. Thirteen students together with a professor in desks that we juggled around as we did small group work. We started last night with an icebreaker exercise, then completed three hours work. Today we worked from 9 til 4.

The second difference is the composition of the class. The course is required of all M.Ed. students, so we are from a mixture of programs. That makes our approach to this class different. Some are able to use it to scaffold, others are checking it off as something they have to do.

Finally, our interests and our research areas are different. In some cases there is little to no understanding about 21st century learning models and the role that technology plays in enabling personalized learning.

So what does it mean and does it matter?

Diversity is good. If we take all our classes with colleagues of similar interest and knowledge, will we be stretched? Will we create an understanding of the current situation in our schools? Of what supports are needed for change? Instead we may define readiness for change inappropriately.

Face to face? A big challenge for me is that I need to be in Saskatoon – a 7-hour drive from my home. Online is more convenient. However, today the small group work was about challenging each others’ research questions (in a good way, for improvement) and analyzing academic papers for reporting out. That would have been a difficult exercise online. So much so, that it would need to have been re-designed.

What I most discovered is that face to face is less personal. The classwork, timing, and instruction were determined for us. You couldn’t spend longer on a particular concept, you couldn’t post a thought for feedback – this was not about personalized learning. I came face to face (pun intended) with the challenge of the classroom teacher in pushing the required curriculum. There I sat, bored with the concepts I understood (thank you backchannel for saving me) and frustrated with the concepts I didn’t. Ouch.

In the end, I learned as much today about instructional design and personalized learning as I did about research methodology. That makes it a good day. For something completely different.

Oklahoma Blogger
Originally uploaded by
Wes Fryer

A key learning this year has been about blogging. I had started a diary when I began my Master’s work, but was initially reluctant to share it with the world. This course – EC&I831 – required that we blog about our journey.

And as we have meandered into the edublogosphere with our writing, there has been cultural, technical, and organizational learning happening.

  • Cultural
    There is an etiquette afoot in this community. It’s not a hidden-rule community, just one of ethics and respect. Part of the respect is to comment on others’ writing with two purposes in mind. First to engage others in conversation. And second to extend your own and others’ thinking and understanding.
  • Technical
    There have been several learnings on this front. Learning some basic html tagging has helped greatly in preparing posts. I turned off the visual editor (which created havoc in my postings if I switched between the two) and often write tags from scratch. My latest learning came via a Google Groups call to our class and Angie responded with a great link describing the difference between a tag and a category. FromThe Edublogger came:

    Categories are like chapters of a book; they provide a general overview of the topics you blog about. Whereas tags are more like the index at the back of the book and explode the topic into a million bits.

    You can choose one or the other or both.

  • Organizational
    Little did we know when we started entering the Edublogosphere that there would be so many great posts to read that would influence our thinking. Alec introduced us to feed readers at the first opportunity, and while I scoffed initially, thinking iGoogle was all the organization I needed, I have come to fully appreciate my feed reader. Whether it’s Google Reader, Bloglines, FeedDemon, or another of your choice, a reader is critical to your ability to manage the flow of great reading.

What a gift to be able to use technology to connect with others that may share the same passion but do not always agree. From dissonance comes understanding and growth. This is the gift of the edublogosphere.

Another frontier in my journey to Web 2.0. My name is Bip Wylie. For those of you who know me as rdrunner, there is some relationship between the two names. A virtual latte if you figure it out.

Thanks to Jeff Kurka, getting in started in SL was relatively painless. Jeff… er Kirk and I are in the same grad class and his class project is to create support for newbies in Moodle (which he will eventually port to Sloodle). Getting an account and downloading the software all went without a hitch.

From there it was a bumpy start. My laptop runs Vista and I wasn’t able to get past the login screen. I did a bit of trouble-shooting – system requirements, re-installed s/w – then gave up and moved over to my T&T (tried and trusty) Mac. It worked and I was in!

Twitter next came to my rescue (thanks, Jen!) and I soon had new clothes and safe landmarks to visit. Jeff Kurka found me and teleported me to the ECMM building.

Slugger Sosa dropped by briefly to bid a welcome. Jeff then took me on a tour of the building and showed me a few quick tips to control movement. He’ll be giving us a tour at our class on Wednesday – so probably the key tip he taught me was Alt/Click on the person you need to follow and your camera will follow them. Hopefully this will help me keep up with him as tour guide. We tested voice which freed my hands to move my avatar – much easier for the newbie in me.

It was fun to explore Teaching Island 6 and see the other universities that are there. With espresso in hand I flew from building to building, sat and watched slideshows, and explored various objects. It was pretty quiet there – much like most campuses on a Saturday morning!

Interior - ECMM Building in SL
I spent some time in our meeting room. Next I’d like to load a slide show on our monitor. I played a bit with it. If I’ve messed it up, my apologies to Jeff and Slugger.

I’m really looking forward to our first SL session this week!

Last night I was tweeting from my new iPod Touch and unsuccessfully typed Twitted (did you know the “d” is near the “r”?). My sister-in-law was being shown this new device, and I wanted to also show her the power of the Twittersphere. Thanks to all who answered my hello despite the misspellings. Within seconds I had responses from points near and far. I have observed others receive more meaningful information, and I have provided some myself, to this powerful network of educators online.

So the readings this week about using Twitter to create community hit home for me. This quote in particular from The Chronicle of Higher Education described my personal experience:

Mr. Parry’s first instinct was that Twittering would encourage students to speak in sound bites and self-obsess. But now he calls it “the single thing that changed the classroom dynamics more than anything I’ve ever done teaching. … The immediacy of the messages helped the students feel more like a community, Mr. Parry says. “It really broke down that barrier between inside the classroom walls and outside the classroom walls.”

Our grad classroom already exists online. I remember Rob Wall indicating that part of his role in the class was to help create social capital amongst a diverse, geographically distributed group of graduate students. And while we have built some social capital through our twice-weekly online sessions (thanks Rob), I would say I feel a more direct connect with those who also participate on Twitter. My anecdotal observation is that the informal chatter that Twitter supports (more so than a backchannel in class) is better at relationship-building.

Another thread I followed in Twitter was on this similar topic – is Twitter appropriate for all student levels? The consensus I observed from @courosa and @schwier was perhaps not for under-graduate but certainly for graduate students. Dave Parry suggests we need to use the tools students are using to make learning relevant, but he does suggest that there is still a line over which an instructor should not cross. I expect that the younger the students are, the more clearly the line must be drawn.

But because these are open networking sites, what is to stop younger students from joining a teacher’s network? While we would expect that they wouldn’t stay long – in many cases sheer boredom would set in – just as they don’t want the adults participating in their Facebook spaces for reasons of “it’s my space”, there are conversations on Twitter that are not meant for the students. Twitter is not designed in the same way as Facebook. Sure you can block followers. But you can’t group followers in the same ways. It is designed as a more open community. I agree with @courosa and @schwier – what may work with older students and adult learners is not something I would introduce for K-12 learners.

Perhaps Twitter is best left in the hands of the educators where learning is concerned.

[March 4, 2008: I’ve continued this thread on Technology for Learning. Please join me there.]