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.

Captivate Your Audience!

December 17, 2009

Hello Everyone!

I thought I’d do a brief post on the wonders of Captivate software by Adobe. It’s not a freebie, I’m afraid, (though they do offer a free trial period) but it’s a really terrific program for demonstrating how to do different computer-based things to an audience and it is especially suited for my purposes, when there are a lot of technicalities that need to be communicated to my online distance learners.

I have had Captivate installed for some time on my computer and I have used it before, but haven’t really UTILIZED it up until now in a really meaningful way. I put together this demonstration tutorial to show my students how to use an online graphing tool and then how to save the image of their graph, convert it to a JPEG and then insert it into a document that they would then submit to me for marks.

I tried a million ways from Sunday to upload this into YouTube and then realized that I can’t load a .swf file successfully onto YouTube so I tried about a billion and one different .swf to video conversion tools and struggled to find one that preserved the audio and everything else I needed for it. I finally did!! I went to Swf to Flv Converter and downloaded the freebie version of the software. There is a watermark on the video, but it’s not a big deal and I think I might one day buy the licensed version should I see the long term need for it.  Sigh.. so many technicalities and so few technically minded brains in my head! Anyway… I hope you enjoy the video and can see potential for using Captivate (or another similar software tool) for your own classroom needs.

Happy Holidays!

PS. As I view the show here the picture is fuzzy because it has been shrunk to fit the YouTube window. So it’s not ideal, but it’s better than nothing I guess! It is a lot clearer if you actually go to YouTube and watch the video there full screen.

Hey Everyone!

It’s not even a week since the last class in EC&I 831 and I’m already applying the things I’ve learned to my practice as an ABE instructor. A sure-fire sign indeed that Alec is doing something right!

As some of you may know, I teach exclusively online classes for an ABE program and one of the classes I’m teaching is Psychology 30. During the course, I have learners reflect on a number of controversial issues with more than one side to them. Traditionally I’ve had those learners complete the assignment in a journal response, one that only I would see and mark. I had always wanted to change the format of these assignments into something more collaborative and now that I’ve taken this class, I’ve also taken the plunge into having my learners participate in an online Forum discussion surrounding the various given issues. I teach completely asynchronously so all of my learners tend to be at different points in their program so I was concerned about achieving a continuity of discussion given that situation. I still don’t know for sure how it will all work out, but I’m winging it anyway and I’m sure I’ll learn and adjust things as I need to along the way!

I did think it a prudent idea to write up a set of expectations, both for the learners and for me, to refer to in order to help establish the expected norms. Here is what I composed and posted on the course site as a guide for learners to follow when participating in the online classroom Forums:

Forum Discussion Guidelines

In Units 2, 3 & 4 of this course, you will be involved in discussions with other people taking this course about different issues surrounding human development. Some of the people who have posted in these discussions may have finished the course by the time you get here and so any comments you make on the posts they have created may not be responded to by the original writer. Please do not get discouraged by this. I’ll be monitoring the discussions as well and offering alternative points of view to consider too.

There are two expectations with regard to these Forum discussions. You are expected to give your view on a given situation, making sure you are backing up that view with solid, well stated evidence from the course or outside reputable sources. This is where the bulk of your grade for the Forum discussions posts will come from.

In addition to composing your original post, you are also expected to read the work of other students enrolled in this class and to comment on their posts in a constructive, thoughtful and always respectful manner.

General Guidelines for Commenting on Posts:

  1. Tone of Voice: This is an academic class and not a casual goofing off sort of discussion or chat group you can find on the Internet. While humour is always appreciated, please keep it appropriate to a classroom context.
  2. Write in full sentences: While this isn’t an English class, the bulk of the communication you will do in this course is based on writing, so it is important for you to practice well developed writing skills. Any errors in grammar and sentence structure tend to erode overall meaning and this is something we want to avoid.
  3. Comment in a constructive, positive manner: Abuse of any other person in this class, either past or present will be dealt with severely. Respect the opinions and thoughts of other classmates at all times please.

I realize most of these guidelines are likely unnecessary for me to iterate here as everyone here is an adult, however I’d rather err on the side of caution and just be crystal clear as to what the expectations are.

Please contact your instructors for further explanation of expectations should you require any clarification of the points discussed in this document. Thank you!!

**********************************************************************************************************************

I hope this will be useful for my learners as they work their way through the course. If you have any suggestions that I could include to improve upon what I have here, I’d be delighted to hear them 🙂 Thanks and talk to you again soon!

Hello Everyone!

It’s hard for me to believe that today is the last day of the EC&I 831 course. Well. At least it is for the credit portion anyway. I do plan to drop in on future classes with Alec when he teaches this class again in the future (and please do so, Alec. This course is far too valuable not to repeat it for others, and as I say, I will certainly benefit by coming back and attending sessions from time to time). So much has happened in the last 3 or so months and so much has been learned and it’s difficult to try to explain the paradigm shifts and the new ways of thinking and broadened perspective I’ve gained. I’ll do my best anyway 🙂

My initial expectations/hopes:

When I began this course in September I was really only looking for a credit. I am nearing the end of my degree now and the road to completion has been long and convoluted for me, with some personal twists and turns (such as an ugly divorce that is taking far to long to finish) that have thrown some roadblocks in my way.  So truly, when I chose EC&I 831 I did so because it was an online class that I could do while remaining at home with my daughter. I was thrilled to see it was Alec who was instructing. I’d had the pleasure of meeting Alec a couple of times at Tlt summit conferences so that was another bonus. As far as what I expected to learn, I wasn’t entirely sure, though I had attended Alec’s session on open and social media tools at the Tlt summit and now that I reflect on this course and that presentation session, there were many overlaps.

What I learned:

There are many many things I have learned this semester. One of the most valuable lessons I think I’ll take away from this class is that I will never learn it all. And that is OK. One image that stuck with me is this one:

The idea that technology is  a coursing river and that we are standing on it’s banks watching the rushing water rage past. I have my cup in my hand and I dip it in when I am ready, drinking my fill and then turning away when I’ve had enough. I’ve learned I don’t need to dive headlong into the rapids and drown. I can satisfy my thirst and my technological needs one cup at a time. This idea is  a very valuable thing for me to take in and absorb really. I’ve always been one of those overachieving types who always puts a ton of pressure on herself to be the best, to do as much as I can no matter what it is I’m doing and while that sort of attitude isn’t necessarily terrible to have, it can and does sometimes result in an undue amount of stress. I will learn more if I relax and allow myself to absorb things at my own pace. I have felt during this course that I’ve been allowed and encouraged to do that. It’s an attitude I consciously try to encourage for my learners as well. I’m fortunate as an instructor in that my students set their own pace in the online courses they take with me.

There are all sorts of other things I have learned and there are things I will continue to develop for the future. I’ll summarize them here in this list:

  • Blogging: I’d heard of blogging prior to this course but I never really understood what it was all about or how it could be valuable for me as a professional habit and practice. I’m a very introspective reflective sort of person so blogging really is a wonderful way to formalize and solidify my thoughts. I fully intend to keep on blogging long after this course is done. I do blog on another site as well, but it’s more of an entertainment forum than an educative one, though I have learned lots there as well, just in a different context. It’s far less formal than something like this blog. I have also incorporated Forums and postings for my Psychology students to respond to in their courses, even though all of the students work asynchronously from one another. I’m hoping that just seeing what others thoughts are on different issues will spark thoughts of their own, even if the students are at different places on their learning paths.
  • Wikis: I created my Adult Basic Education Integration Wiki as my final cumulative project for this class and it’s not done. But what wiki ever is? I will continue to add things to it, polish things already added and encourage others to join and contribute. I’ve learned to do many different things in wikis and I’m just starting to see their potential as a means to share student work and celebrate learning successes. That is a direction I’d like to head into for the future too. I’d love to create a wiki to use with my online students as a part of their learning, to have them contribute to it and post their projects and so on. It’s a goal I’ll work toward down the road here.
  • Various online tools: There were so many different online tools for enhancing student work, for enriching my classroom as well as establishing my own personal and professional network, it’s hard to list them all here. I have a page on my wiki though that does a bit of that and I’ve linked it here. There are so many tools out there and so much to play with and explore. I’ve just started really. The ones I love the most are the Xtranormal video creation, YouTube and Wordle.

Favorite class sessions:

While there were SO many wonderful presentations and I did learn an immense amount about technology and how to best implement social learning activities into my day-to-day practices, there are a few that stick out in my mind as being especially memorable. They include:

  • New media literacies & Internet Blocking: This was by far the best post of my blog, I felt. I had struggled for a long time to frame and articulate what my beliefs were surrounding the thorny issue of how much trust and accountability we expect of our students to self- monitor and filter content for themselves. I don’t think they SHOULD do it by themselves, of course, but this presentation sparked a lot of thought and introspection and when it was coupled with Bud the Teacher’s blog post, this topic ended up being my favorite to explore.
  • Blogging: Sue Water’s presentation on blogging was great! I sort of wish it had happened a bit earlier in the course though, so that I would have incorporated some of her fabulous tips and hints right from the get-go. But.. sometimes jumping right into that river and seeing how things go is OK too, from time to time, especially since we had Alec on the shore with the life preserver handy!
  • Digital Story Telling: I loved this session a lot. Alan Levine’s wiki where it details 50+ ways to tell a story is one of my favorite wikis and I have it linked on my wiki too. There has been an evolution of storytelling. We’ve graduated from oral traditions, to written and now we are shifting once again into digital and visual ways of communicating. It is exciting and at times overwhelming, but it is vastly interesting too! I thoroughly enjoyed this session and there is fodder for future explorations for the next several years on this wiki, easily!!

Things I still find challenging:

There are several things I still find I’m struggling with. I don’t really like Twitter all that much, despite the fun I see others having on it and the valuable things that get shared with it. I understand the concept and can see the potential of it just fine. I’m just not sure it’s for me really. I used to always have an updated status on Facebook too, but now I don’t bother with even that. I’m never on Facebook unless my daughter sends me a message. I’m not too worried about not participating in this particular aspect of online interaction and networking, however. I know how to use these tools and I will use them when/if it becomes necessary for me to do so.

I haven’t become as proficient at using Delicious yet. I have used it and I have some bookmarks saved there but I don’t have nearly enough though. I think I’ve just gotten in the habit of making my own folders and whatnot and using that instead under My Favorites. I can definitely see that Delicious is an excellent tool but it’s one that feels clumsy to me yet. That will change with time and increasing my usage of the service, of course.

As I expressed earlier in this post, the road of learning in this course has been a twisting turning one, always with fresh surprises along the way and a simply magnificent view of the learning to come. Thank you all so much for being such incredible travel mates and guides on this incredible journey. The very very very best thing about this entire class has been the connections made with you all and the learning we have all shared together. Thanks again!

PS. All of the images used here were taken from Wikimedia Commons and are public domain files 🙂

This past week has been a killer. Not in a literal sense, though, thank goodness! My partner and I hit the road all last week to deliver workshops and distribute a curriculum integration guide we had co-authored a couple of years ago to ABE instructors throughout the province. The workshops went really well over all and the feedback was pretty positive. I had managed to cobble together enough of my final project wiki to feel comfortable in showing it to the workshop participants and for many of them, the wiki was the highlight of the workshop and they indicated this on the evaluation form at the end of it.

So I’m jazzed to keep on adding to it now and make it even more impressive! There is a lot of work to be done on it yet, though I’ve been steadfastly adding things and shaping it in ways that I hope make sense, not only to me, but to anyone else who views it as well. I’ve extended invitations to everyone I met over the last week (over 100 ABE instructors in Saskatchewan) to join the wiki and become contributors to it. We’ll see how that goes.. so far only one person has requested membership.

During the course of the workshops we did a lot of integrated planning with the attendees and Joanne and I plan on adding these unit plans and ideas to the wiki itself, to be able to share these with other instructors too. There is about a year’s worth of work to do, (alright.. that’s a bit of an hyperbolic statement) but we’ll keep plugging away at it, bit by bit. It’s something Jo and I are doing on our own time because we feel it’s important. ABE instructors in the province don’t generally utilize Web 2.0 tools to their advantage and I’m trying in this small way to bridge the gap for some of them, at least in this one aspect of their professional practice.

I’m still trying to catch up from previous classes. I haven’t had time to experiment yet with one of the tools that Scott Leslie and Brian Lamb had suggested during the November 17th class, though I have read all of my classmates’ blog posts about their impressions of the class and I’m relieved to find out I’m not the only one who felt they were “left in the dust” a bit by the presentation. I hope to have time to experiment with the tools they suggested and to try again to listen to the Elluminate recorded session. I did manage to catch up and listen to Stephen Downes session on LOLcats and I’m quite familiar with LOLcats myself. I love the Icanhascheezeburger website! The Icanhashotdog site is pretty cool too! My favorite LOLcat Math image is this one:

I think I could easily remix this one and trade out the word “algeblah” for something more techie related and it wouldn’t lose any of it’s funny-ness! Or aptness, for that matter! Ah well.. I’ll keep on plugging along here, learning what I can absorb, making bookmarks at those pages where things seem confusing to give them another look in the hopes the pieces fall into place for me then. Catch you all tomorrow in class!

Hello everyone. I’m writing this post because a former student of mine has requested that I join a FaceBook group to help locate her missing 38 year old brother-in-law and I thought in addition to joining the group, I’d also do my best to spread the word via the social network I’m struggling to create.

Click HERE to link to the Facebook site to read the latest news regarding David Bailey. His last known location was Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

Please, if you have a moment, pass this blog post or the FaceBook link along to all of your contacts too. I know if I was in the horrible position of having a loved one missing, I’d want someone to do the same for me. Thanks in advance.

This week’s class session discussing the social media literacies of contemporary learners and instructors as well as the pros/cons of internet blocking has me thinking in a number of different directions all at once. On one side we have the issue of instructors wanting to use social media in ways that benefit their learner’s learning and teach them to be discerning consumers and purveyors of media. There are a number of skills and competencies learners need to polish and acquire to be able to do this successfully. In response to Alec’s reflective question for the week: ” What are the new media literacies, and how should teachers and/or schools address these?” I’d have to say that teachers need to help their learners to:

  • Discern and discriminate: I believe this needs to occur in two fundamental ways.

Firstly, learners need practice in evaluating the value/authenticity of web based content (is the information reliable? How do we know?) as we all know that anyone can publish anything on the web at any time and not a word of it needs to be truthful. The web is rife with examples of false information, much of it intended to be satirical or entertaining. It’s a mistake for teachers to believe their learners automatically can tell the difference from reliable information based on substantive fact from opinion driven inaccurate information that may bear little resemblance to reality.

Secondly, learners also need practice in determining time and place-appropriate activities. For example, it may not be appropriate to watch streaming videos of friends doing some sort of embarrassing or dangerous stunt on YouTube during class time. Though it certainly could be appropriate if one was participating in a safety class of some sort. Appropriateness is often determined by the contextual situation at the time. It also might not be a bad idea to encourage students to establish a “professional” digital image/reputation for school/work based networking and perhaps maintain a separate one for social contacts. I personally have only one FaceBook account, one YouTube account, etc. and I don’t have a separate identity for school/work/home because I enjoy the overlap and there is nothing I have posted on any of these sites that people from different contexts of my life couldn’t see. (General rule of thumb for me:  If my daughters shouldn’t read it, I shouldn’t write it and post it, but that’s just my take on the issue.)

  • Appropriate and Attribute: I believe learners need to become proficient at viewing published content, seeing it with their own perspective and world view and be able to take it, mold it into something new and fresh and yet be able to attribute the original idea to the original creator. That takes a skill set that takes time and patience to encourage and require of learners. It can seem a daunting and frustrating task when one receives paper after paper filled with “appropriated” content and not a word of attribution from learners. (Whenever I have an essay due for class, I emphasize over and over the necessity of proper citation of sources, and provide many “how to” lessons and yet there seems to always be a couple of learners every semester who hand in something someone else wrote and published on the web with no citations. I’m sure this isn’t an unfamiliar phenomenon for instructors around the world!)

There are many more competencies that could be addressed and I think a lot of them could be slotted and categorized under the broad ones I have mentioned above. I think that schools and instructors need to become minimally proficient at these skills themselves first, before they can be reliably counted upon to instruct learners in how to do this. Though,  for a great many of the skills that learners will need to acquire to become media savvy creators and re-mixers of media, I think the learners have an expertise advantage over a large number of instructors out there. I’m sure that’s pretty intimidating for many instructors to consider, the idea that learners have more media skills than they do in some respects. It’s not at all threatening to me as an instructor though. I love to learn from my students because then the instructional pattern in the classroom becomes something engaging for everyone concerned. It becomes more transactional and reciprocative in nature and I love to be more of a facilitator than a “font of knowledge” for my learners.

This all leads me (eventually) to the topic of Internet Blocking. I despise the current trend I’ve observed in many K-12 schools to ban wholesale any and all social media sites from school-based computers. YouTube blocks in particular bother me immensely. I use YouTube video clips in ALL of my online courses that I design and teach and when I have learners unable to access these instructional and educational resources, it becomes frustrating for both me and the learner involved.

I have to wonder what it is we are really saying to young people when we blanket forbid things and don’t expect them to filter appropriate content for themselves. For me, the message is something like this: “You aren’t to be trusted; we know what’s best for you better than you do; the Web is a collection of smut and dangerous content.” Maybe this is a bit exaggerated, but it’s close and it’s not a message I want to endorse, either as an instructor or as a parent, frankly. I believe we are doing our learners a tremendous disservice to plunge our heads into the Internet sands here and just “ignore” social media tools that COULD possibly be abused and misused by anyone. Where is the education in such a stance? To me that speaks more to fear than to anything else. (Plus anything forbidden automatically becomes more desirable and attractive, doesn’t it?)

I absolutely LOVE the link Alec posted on the EC &I 831 wiki, the one leading to Bud the Teacher’s blog. His response to teachers requesting Internet blocks is bang on. I plan to pass this along to others as he has encapsulated so many of my beliefs and thoughts on the issue of internet blocking in a clear, non-confrontational and eloquent way.

The bottom line for me is that my job is to educate learners in the best ways I can. I believe that by helping learners become more discriminating and better able to judge the value and accuracy of information, to be able to attribute it properly, to be able to take information and reshape in ways that are meaningful for them and how to share that vision with the rest of the world, then I am doing my job. If I teach fear and loathing by blocking off the flow of information and media, then I absolutely cannot teach and encourage appropriate internalization of control.

I’ve been doing a lot of browsing around on the Internet since the last Tuesday session, taking a look at various open courses offered at various institutions, such as the MIT open courses compilation that Jon Mott linked our EC&I 831 class to during the last Elluminate session. (Howzat for embedding links…;) ?) While I have found some useful materials, and I think it’s just incredible that prestigious institutions such as MIT are opening up their courses and allowing free and open access to them, there are a few reservations I have about the practice of doing it myself in my job with Parkland.

One thing I noticed is that there were some things I could use, but there are many things I won’t be able to use, simply because the level of the material is so far beyond where my students are. Also, I don’t know if this is the typical sort of online instructional experience or not, but I find trying to use something someone else has developed has some big limitations for me.  What seems to be missing for me is the rationale for the instructional choices one person makes over another and if my instructional philosophies are at odds with someone else’s then odds are I’m going to find their materials of limited use to me.

As an example, the college I work for has “traded” developed courses with another college in an attempt to try not to re-invent the wheel and to develop more efficiently. This has only been partially successful as we’ve generally found that the courses we received in return for the course we gave required an extensive overhaul to be usable for us. (I’ve see the other college’s use of the course I developed and very little of my course was altered in any way on their site.)

There is another concern with regard to the college I work for and ABE in general. Parkland charges their ABE students a nominal registration fee to take the class and we have also opened up our courses to be offered to school divisions throughout the province so that they have an option for distance classes for their students. The demise of the correspondence school has left a gap and we are doing our best to fill it. Those schools get billed for each course that their high school students take with us and that money gets funneled back into ABE, where it is really needed to keep providing programming for a needy sector of the public. To make these courses open and free of charge will end up stopping course development and reducing vital services for adult learners.

So while philosphically I wholeheartedly agree with the principles behind open education and I believe that knowledge should be freely available, the realities of budget crunches and shrinking economies plays a definite role in whether or not opening up courses is feasible for many institutions. MIT may be in a far better fiscal position than many smaller organizations and campuses, such as Parkland, which has limited resources, and not just financial ones, but personnel, staff, etc.

These are just my thoughts on Open Education and I’m still forming my thoughts.. they tend to evolve over time and as I read more and learn more, I’m fine tuning them too. Please feel free to continue the discussion and comment on anything I wrote here. 🙂

A Science Digital Story

October 29, 2009

Ok.. I know this post was supposed to happen well over a week ago, but chicken pox got in the way of my best laid plans and it didn’t happen. But that’s OK because I stumbled across a couple of amazing digital stories.. stories that are science-based. I don’t know if anyone else has seen these before, but I never have. I’ve never ever seen anything like this before. I strongly recommend you take the 7 minutes and 46 seconds it will take to enjoy these clips! Make sure you turn up the audio too.. it’s really quite remarkable.

I personally plan to link these videos to the science  course I teach online for my students. I hope you and they will enjoy them as much as I did.

Carl Sagan – A Glorious Dawn:

Carl Sagan – We Are All Connected


Gaming for Grades

October 24, 2009

When I think about education and gaming and the arguments that surround the blending of the two, I immediately picture this:
Pendulum 30 DegreesOn the one hand we have the far right.. the conservatives of education whose job it can seem some days to make learning as dry and as uninteresting as humanly possible. These are the people whose knee-jerk reaction to games in the classroom is extreme, based on fear and reactionism and little on actual evidence. (Here is a link to some essays on the Impacts of Gaming.) On the other side of the pendulum swing there are the revolutionaries, the ones who challenge the long-held beliefs and stereotypes surrounding educational practices. They are usually classified as the “radicals” and advocate for an overthrow of the old system in its entirety in favour of what is novel and entertaining.

Now whether or not the picture I have just painted is in fact one based on reality is certainly subject to debate, and certainly has been debated by minds far brighter than mine. It’s just an image that leaps to my mind though when the words “gaming” and “classrooms” are brought together in the same sentence.

I personally am more of a centrist. I believe there can exist a happy medium where students can learn in holistic valuable ways, ways that are innovative, fun, challenging, and yes, involve gaming platforms. I am also in agreement with Sylvia Martinez when she cautions that a label of “educational software” needs to be avoided, or at the least, heavily evaluated by instructors before buying in to the hype surrounding games and educational goals.  The “Nintendo-izatoin” of education is not enough.

I personally spend a lot of my free time immersed in a virtual world and while the majority of my activities center around rest and relaxation, there is no doubt I’m learning a ton along the way as well. Of specific interest to me is the virtual world of Second Life and I have an avatar I created in May of 2008. I spend a large chunk of my online SL time involved in a role playing game. I have created a character that interacts with other characters in a given time and in a specific setting and we collaboratively enact out scenes together. The use of heavily descriptive language is necessary to portray actions that one performs and I’m what is known as a para-Rper, which simply means my preferred style of writing is to compose a paragraph of text in the Local Chat window that does a number of things… it indicates my avatar’s physical demeanor, her facial expression, what things she says to others and in some cases, what thoughts might be in her mind. It is exactly like writing a story only I’m not the only author. I am one of many. Anyone within 20m of me can “hear” me (read the chat that appears in the Local Chat text box) and anyone can respond, or jump in at any time.

There is no doubt in my mind that my language and writing skills have improved over the past year. I have developed a rich character, complete with an evolving background and I’ve freed my imagination in ways I never believed were possible before. I don’t watch TV anymore (not that I did a lot of that before I became a Second Life resident) because I find TV to be too  passive. I think passivity has a lot to do with why students in classrooms find so many of the educational games out there to be boring and un-motivating. Any learning I’ve experienced has happened as a by-product of the fun and engagement and challenge I was experiencing at the time in Second Life. I believe the same sort of principles have to hold true for our students as well, if we are to utilize games to their full potential in the classroom, to reap the very best benefits from them for our learners.

I did a bit of poking around to find out what sorts of educational things were available on Second Life and there are a huge number of in-world islands/areas dedicated to educational institutions and programs. I haven’t had a chance to check them all out yet (there are simply too many for me to have enough time to investigate them all) but there is something for nearly everyone. Here is a link to the Second Life in Education wiki people might be interested in seeing.