EC&I 832: Reflecting on the article “The Song Remains the Same”

January 18, 2010

It’s the start of a new class (or in my case this semester, two new classes) and thus a new set of reflective posts will be forthcoming in the next few months to this site. Just as housekeeping information, I’ll use the title as well as tags and categories to differentiate between the different reflective pieces written for each course.

This past week in EC&I 832, we read an article :

The Song Remains the Same: Looking Back to the Future of Educational Technology
Punya Mishra, Matthew J Koehler, Kristen Kereluik. TechTrends. Washington: Sep/Oct 2009. Vol. 53, Iss. 5; p. 48 (6 pages).

The reflective question posed for this article is:

What do you think needs to happen in your context that would allow educators to “forge a new path that does not merely retrace the past” (p.48)?

Answering this question requires that I first give you an idea of what my particular instructional context is 🙂

I work as an adult educator, one whose day to day activities consists of utilizing educational technologies in the delivery of content to adult learners. I design and deliver online courses for Adult Basic Education students throughout the province of Saskatchewan and beyond. I even have a student who is living and working in France this year who is taking a couple of online courses with the college I work for. The courses are delivered completely asynchronously and each student progresses through their work at their own pacing (with lots of encouragement from me, of course). The online delivery of adult basic education courses started 6 years ago when I was first hired by the college. Our initial foray into utilizing distance educational technologies was using email to send and receive student work for an Information Processing class. We’d meet a couple of times a week online using Elluminate, a web-based conferencing tool. All of the students I had in the class were at a location remote from me (they were in Yorkton and I was in Esterhazy) and the class would occur at a set time each day of the week. The students also had a tutor in the room to assist them for at least part of the week, as the technological skills of the students were quite low at the time (a couple of students had never used email and one of them was confused when keyboarding, not understanding that there was such a thing as a spacebar he should use to stop all of his words from running together into one big jumble).

Things have progressed quite rapidly since those early days for the college and now we are able to deliver a full Adult 12 certificate online. Our courses use Moodle, an open-source content management system that is quite user friendly, both for the students as well as the instructors, and as I said earlier, all of the courses now run asynchronously. The introduction of Moodle as a way to organize and house the content was a pivotal turning point for us and we’ve never looked back. There are many ways of delivering online courses and there are challenges inherent in each of those ways.

The authors of this article have pinpointed the crucial issue when it comes to thinking about and utilizing educational technologies. They write:  “Teachers with flexibility of thought, a tolerance for ambiguity, and willingness to experiment can combine traits that perfectly design and tailor their own educational content, pedagogical, and technological environments” (pg. 52).

I agree with that statement 100%. No matter the methods chosen to instruct and help others learn with, there will be inherent challenges and obstacles to overcome. The biggest challenge I see for education in terms of being able to address these challenges and obstacles is to provide instructors with the TIME and the supports they need to become confident and proficient experimenters with technology. I don’t feel that a lot of instructors feel safe enough to DO a lot of exploration, really. It took a lot of trial and error and experimentation with different learning and instructional technologies for my college to progress to where it is today in terms of online learning. It’s sort of like being on a circular track, though. There was a beginning but there isn’t really an end in sight. Things keep on changing, new technologies are introduced, and programs that were effective once have been updated and so the instructional materials created need to change as well. (I never ever purchase a textbook for in-class use that doesn’t come with electronic supports anymore as an example.) I personally like the cyclical nature of it all. I find I am rejuvenated and excited by the developments which are emerging.

I find that spreading that enthusiasm to others to be challenging sometimes, however. Many of my colleagues in the college I work for have been working in their positions for 20 years or more and while most of them are tolerant of the changes in educational technology, not a lot of them have embraced the changes.

I have read in some of my fellow student’s blogs that they feel there needs to be a certain accountability for instructors to keep up with the changes that are happening so rapidly around them. I agree, but I think too that it’s not fair to just throw a computer at them and say “Here! Develop something innovative and challenging and exciting for your students.” I believe they need someone to be a mentor and a guide, to be encouraged to take some risks and further, to be given time to do it all in. Teachers are under pressure so much of the time, it’s scarcely a wonder that many of them feel resentful and threatened about the technological developments that come along.

I’m lucky. I’ve been on an evolutionary journey, one that is still continuing as I expand my zone of comfort and as I add things into my toolbox, using new programs and experimenting with various instructional materials and methods. The thing that makes my situation different from so many others though, is that I’ve been given time and support to do this. The quality of what I’ve done is something I’m proud of and enthused about. In an ideal world, this same set of lucky circumstances would be the norm for all teachers out there.

Another thought I had had while reading the article pertained to the following section of it. The authors write:

“We wonder how far current teacher preparation programs are telling pre-service teachers what an educational technology is rather than empowering them to experiment and create their own. A new focus needs to take root, one characterized by creativity and flexibility of thought and experimentation by educators with their own educational technology designed to meet specific, immediate needs. If technology is truly to be beneficial to education, the power and potential of educational technology must be acknowledged to reside within educators and not within objects. We must foster in future educators new skills designed to harness the potential of our “unbounded” world.” (pg. 52)

Again I would completely concur with this statement. As far as the question they ask goes, I can only write about my personal experiences. I was trained as an elementary teacher with a specialization in educational technology for my undergraduate degree. We were exposed to many different educational technologies and I found that we were encouraged to do a lot of experimentation and play with different tools to see what potentials we could unearth and harness for our purposes. I created my very first online course in that final specialization year using a content management system very similar to Blackboard. This educational training I had occurred 10 years ago, which, when you consider how rapidly technological advances occur today, is quite remarkable. The same pedagogical concerns that were an issue for me back then are still concerns for me today. I would hope that the current generation of instructors working toward their undergraduate degrees today experience the same level of encouragement and support that I did 10 years ago and that the opportunities for the creation of educationally enriched media has increased as well.

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3 Responses to “EC&I 832: Reflecting on the article “The Song Remains the Same””

  1. Anonymous said

    I am a moodler too! We will have to swap stories -tips and tricks before the term is up. I agree with have a mentor and guide thru a technological journey! I had a co-worker – learning along side that we could ‘play’. It is so hard to learn in isolation. If I recall, you had a fair bit of knowledge in Second Life. I may have a question or two about that since I am so green.

  2. Michelle VG said

    Oops! My post is up above.

    • Michelle Clarke said

      Hi Michelle! I’d be very pleased to swap pointers with you as well as to assist with any Second Life questions you might have. I’ve been a resident of Second life for almost 2 years now and I simply love it! I haven’t really delved into how Second life can be used as an educational platform yet.. I use Second life as more of a relaxation and socialization outlet instead. I think I may end up doing my major project for this class on how Second life can be utilized in educational ways, however! See you soon! ^.^

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