In my EC&I 832 class, I’ve been asked to reflect on the ways in which ” …schools could implement computer-supported learning in ways that authentically transform teaching and learning.” So I did a little bit of general searching around the internet to see what other folks might have had to say about what they believed to be “authentically transforming practices.”

I found a really interesting website really that has some neat things to say on the subject, and sparked some ideas of my own as I was reading through the information there. Click here to access the webpage I found.

I really like the schematic diagrams they have throughout the site. Everything is interconnected, from learner needs to purposes, policies and practices. The role of the school administration is to support the learner’s needs and facilitate the interaction of the various elements. A critical thing to remember is that Instructors ARE learners just as much as the students are. Whatever the supports the school would be willing and able to provide to the student body should also be available to support their instructors, in my opinion. I strongly believe in the power and possibilities of mentoring, particularly when it comes to technological integration practices. Group learning is ideal for technological enhancement of instructional practices. Schools could support the professional development of their teachers by allowing for TIME and to facilitate the interaction of teachers with one another.

I know for myself, I learn better when I’m able to bounce ideas off of other professionals, if I’m able to compare practices with someone else, to brainstorm ideas and so on. It’s infinitely harder to think of the things one could or should do on one’s own.

What I also really love about this website I’ve found is that the principles of constructivism are prevalent throughout the school’s stated policies on learning, teaching and technological instruction. That aligns well with my own beliefs about learning too. I believe we do construct meaning and that this construction is a socially mediated event, that it builds upon prior learning and only continues when we are pushed to the outer limits of our comfort zones and knowledge.

Reflection is another key element to authentic transformation of practices. If we don’t take the time to think about what we are doing and the reasons for it, then we risk losing sight of our purpose and we risk losing future opportunities for growth. Everything we ask our students to do, to absorb, take in, reflect and iterate what is important about what they are learning, are all things we as professionals need to do ourselves with regard to our teaching. Schools can assist their professionals by paying for professional development opportunities, by giving teachers leave time to experiment with and reflect upon the various educational technologies they are implementing or trying to implement in their classrooms. Instructors should have a chance to showcase what they are learning and experimenting with to others too. There are many things schools can do that will support the learning and instructional practices of the instructors.

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In reflecting these past weeks on what I believe as an instructor and educator, I’ve come to the conclusion that I pick my educational theories and philosophies the same way I pick my music preferences and I’m quite eclectic in my approach when it comes to both!  I enjoy a range of music from classical all the way to some heavy metal bands and Top 40 hip hop, and I’ve found that as I’ve been introduced to more educational theories and practices (mostly through the master’s degree program) the more I can see the value in various bits and pieces of different theories.

For example.. in my field of work as an adult educator, I strongly believe in adult education principles, ones based on the work done by Malcolm Knowles and his theory of Andragogy. I believe that adults come into a classroom with a wealth of knowledge and previous experiences and that those experiences are extremely important to acknowledge and to envelop into the teachings of the classroom. Adult learners are self-directed (or have the potential to be anyway.. sometimes it takes a little bit of prodding and practice to get them there 😀 ) and they need what they are learning to be relevant to their daily lives.

I also believe that people learn best when they can make connections themselves, when they engage with material to find out their own answers to questions they form themselves. This is a central tenet of constructivism too, where the instructor plays the role of a facilitator, rather than a know-all font of knowledge.

I further believe that Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs plays a fundamental role in the education of adults and that if a lower level need on the pyramid is in jeopardy, then anything that is occurring in the classroom gets ignored until that lower level need is satisfied. I see this repeatedly in adult education classes. If there are financial or security issues or even an unmet nutritional need that isn’t being met, then any higher order thinking skills get shelved until that situation is addressed.

There are other learning theories I see at work everyday in educational contexts. I see still the prevalence of behaviourist principles strongly at work in the way schools are organized and run. Student effort and behaviour is judged quantitatively through the use of grades and the tracking of attendance numbers and students are either rewarded for their efforts or punished for their failures. I don’t necessarily agree that this is the BEST way to do things, but it’s the system that I’m consigned to work in and at the end of the day, there needs to be accountability for everyone. The world at some level operates on behaviouristic pathways too. If I don’t get up out of bed in the morning and do my best at work each day, then I could have the aversive consequence of being jobless and thus unable to provide myself or my family with the necessities we need. I love my job a LOT and I get a lot of intrinsic satisfaction in doing the work I do, but I might be tempted to sleep in a heck of a lot more than I do if I didn’t have that threat of punishment looming over me.

As far as how I see learning theories at work in educational technology, I see particular value in constructivism and social learning theories. Learners learn best when they construct their own connections between what they already know and new information they are learning. I also believe that people are inherently social creatures and we need to connect.. to find one another and learn from one another. I see rants all the time about how technology is eroding the connections that people make with one another, that humanity is at risk for losing the “authentic” connections between people because of the proliferation of technologies. I disagree 100% with this belief. I think technology can expand our borders, provoke and stimulate our modes thinking and increase our understanding of others and thus, ourselves.

Technology aids collaboration. Technology aids in forging connections with others. There is NO DOUBT about that at all. As an example of what I mean, for us at the college I work for, Google Docs have made organizing a complex network of online students at the college far simpler than it ever would have been without that collaborative tool. There are 13 of us who have access and editing rights to the enrollment forms for the online students. Just imagine trying to keep track of 140+ online students across 5 different campuses and figure out who is to do what with the enrollments through an email system or without some sort of electronic collaboration aid! I have no idea how we did this in the past, to be totally honest with you. This is the first year we have utilized Google Docs this way and I simply cannot fathom trying to do without this tool now.

Hmm… this is a long post and I’ve addressed a lot of issues in it. I perhaps should have parceled this out into smaller chunks, I’m not sure. I hope it was coherent to the rest of you as you read it. I found my thoughts rambling a bit with this one.. bouncing from topic to topic, seeing and sensing connections within my own thoughts. I just hope I was able to articulate these in a (somewhat) intelligible manner for others to read!

Web Connections - image by Fir2002 found at Wikimedia Commons