Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What are 21st Century Digital Learners Like?

What are 21st Century Digital Learners Like?
In a recent discussion with a group of teachers we were describing what students who are 21st century digital learners are like. Descriptions were offered including multi-taskers, shallow, scattered, spoiled, and a few others. Surprisingly, many of them were quite negative. Only after recognizing the cynicism of our discussion did we consider some of the positive influences digital media have had on contemporary learning.
I must admit, I tend to be more negative when considering how digital media has changed the way students learn. Upon further investigation, a few positive characteristics have come to my attention. Today’s digital students often, not only are willing to try new things, but love and embrace change. They are often filled with curiosity. Students also readily want to contribute what they discover. I have, on numerous occasions, had students come to me and say, “Hey, have you seen that You Tube clip on….” or, “There’s this really cool website you’ve got to see!”
Students also seem to have a great potential for investing a tremendous amount of time and effort in order to produce quality work when using new media. They take pride in what they can accomplish and, with the many great tools that are out there, the ability to do some very impressive work is growing.
I don’t know if it because I am so analytical that I always seem to find something wrong with the influences of digital media in education or perhaps I am just a “glass-half-empty” kind of person. We as humans tend to naturally resist change. As Dr. David Hawlins said, "It is a foible as human beings to stoutly defend an established position despite overwhelming evidence against it." I still am cautious about fully embracing al aspects of digital media in education but I am slowly coming around to admitting that it isn’t all bad. I’m a little slow on some matters.

Monday, August 23, 2010

My Boys Video

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Saturday, August 21, 2010

My Reflections on Assessment

On the subject of assessment, there are educators who are passionate on either end of the spectrum with many in between, holding a more balanced view. There are those who are against all forms of assessment, arguing that it stifles the spirit of learning or see assessment as coercive and those who strongly believe that assessment plays a vital role in growth, development, and learning for all students. It seems to me that at the root of this debate is a question of student motivation. What motivates or de-motivates students to learn? One must also ask if that motivation is lasting and valuable toward life-long learning (i.e. intrinsic or extrinsic motivation).

Those who argue that assessment kills the joy of learning for students could have the opposite argument levelled against them. Some students thrive on competition and achieving high grades. Admittedly, this tends to be more extrinsic in nature but is it entirely useless toward the learning process? Some are motivated by clear goals and markers of progress and would flounder without clear feedback and assessment. They may truly love learning and use the assessment markers and feedback as a tool that helps them in their passion for learning. Evidence supports the idea that mastery is one of three pillars of motivation (see Assessment as a means to achieving mastery can therefore be a strong motivator for some. For example, one type of learning is achieving some skill. Consider the process of learning how to play golf. The enthusiastic new golfer may want to improve his driving swing and practice at the driving range. There are distance markers which allow golfers to do immediate self-assessment. One would have to question how effectively a golfer could improve his swing if those markers were not present. In fact it might be argued that learning without any form of assessment (formative or summative) would be like practicing on the driving range in the dark (without glow-in-the-dark balls).

None of us, typically, likes to have pointed out areas where we are not doing well or missing some objective unless we are highly motivated and determined to overcome certain weaknesses or inabilities in order to achieve some learning goal. (Even then, we probably don’t enjoy it even though we may welcome it.) We all probably can think of a time when we invited and were thankful for some form of constructive criticism in order to improve on some skill or develop a better understanding around a particular matter. It is one of the reasons we put our ideas out into forums to have others respond and give their feedback. If we are passionate about learning then we will truly encourage assessment by others.

Are we to believe that none of our students share the same maturity to welcome such feedback? I believe we discredit our students by assuming assessment only has a negative effect on their motivation to learn. Different people are motivated differently. Some will be motivated by assessment while others will feel coerced and judged. Either we need to consider all personality types and find a balanced approach that works well for all or individualize our assessment approach to accommodate each student if we are to truly resolve this issue. Are these possible in the current educational system we work in? Not likely. How can we change the system in order to do one or both of these? That is the challenge.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Response to: The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brains by Nicholas Carr

Response to: The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brains
by Nicholas Carr

My personal experience causes me to agree with Carr. I have, and still do, experience the shattering of focus with the many distractions the online approach to learning offers. Although there are benefits (such as the convenience of having immediate links) it seems to me that the time required learning the same material with the same depth and focus in the old linear fashion is far less. I often have found myself running off on tangents while online. I wonder how many others, like I, have assumed that a document on the web with a variety of images and links makes it more interesting and effective for learning to the reader. Have we merely been sold on the product as being good for us just like the early soft drinks (e.g. Coke and Pepsi) were sold as health drinks? Maybe they really are just sweeter and fizzier than other drinks with very little health benefits. Maybe they even have some health risks. Whenever a study draws conclusions about the virtues of the internet and its benefits to individuals and society, I wonder who the sponsors are that funded the study.

So the question is raised, do the benefits of being connected and networked outweigh the costs of distractions to our learning? I believe this will depend on the various personalities involved. Although studies generally agree that multitasking is less effective for almost everyone than focused learning, it may be the case that the really good multitaskers are better off with the distractions because of the benefits their networks offer them. Horrible multitaskers like me should perhaps, proceed with caution. Or perhaps learning now merely requires a new and greater discipline of remaining focused despite the distractions. Or do those distractions (the many shallow stimuli and interruptions) erode our ability to remain focused? Are the incidents of ADD increasing due to the effects of increased stimuli at early ages (e.g. New Study Claims Addiction to the Internet Causes ADHD and Depression in Teens)?

Nevertheless, despite the distractions, I press on to embrace the technologies of today lest I be left behind in ignorance and isolation (the great technology angst). I have started new personal blogs and have even (say it isn’t so!) returned to Twitter to see what I’ve missed lately. There were (ok I’ll admit it) some very interesting links offered which I was glad I looked up. One in particular (a video based on a Daniel Pink lecture related to Motivation)I found very interesting. Check it out: . While you’re at it, check this out (very important for educators to read) "Hey Teachers, This is How I Learn" . So, do you feel a little distracted yet?

Did I mention that I get distracted and end up on tangents easily?

Although my cynicism is probably showing through a little, I am truly convinced that the time-consuming nature of online, distracted learning does have its benefits and I am being more deliberate about following and contributing in various blogs. Hopefully some of these will develop into more meaningful and insightful discussions. I’ll let you know later whether it was worth it or not.

Friday, May 28, 2010

My Thoughts on Connectivism – Learning Through Networks

It seems to me that learning is either establishing a memory bank of concepts or skills either through exposure or practice. It is becoming familiar with what works and doesn’t work through experience. I believe that many learning theories (e.g. Behaviourism, Cognitivism, Constructivism, and Connectivism), cannot stand alone but each has a certain aspect of learning that it focuses on. If we were to see learning as fundamentally a product of knowing where to access information through networks and people with the necessary skills and qualifications, then where would those skilled “experts” be? We would all rely on “experts” out there yet none of us would be the “experts.” Often these theories can be oversimplified. I’ve heard some say, “if we can get it on the internet, then why bother learning it?” However, my thoughts are: Would you want a neurosurgeon surfing the web to find a good You-tube on how to remove a brain tumour while operating on you?

There are certainly benefits to learning in a network. Networks open up a variety of possible resources previously not known to the learner. It also allows for rapid feedback and a means for quality control checks on our own ideas and thoughts. Using the analogy of the neural network, the combined information is far greater than the individual pieces. One can process the information in light of the contributions from other parts of the network, each possessing their own unique characteristics. It also provides a constant check for us to remain current as we receive updates from our networks from a range of cultural perspectives. A network continues to evolve and remain current whereas what we have learned in the past becomes obsolete quickly as knowledge changes more and more rapidly.

At present, my network consists of:
- Internet tools: Blogs, wikis and other websites
- Other educators
- Other students (LTT)
- My students
- Research experts
- Libraries (Online or other)
- Popular media (TV, books, etc.)
- Family and Friends who are good at thinking through ideas and giving feedback.

I use these to varying degrees. The use of blogs and wikis is particularly new for me.

To know something is to be confident in its accuracy or reliability or to have the skill to effectively accomplish some task. I believe knowledge is different than information. Information resides in a network while knowledge must reside in a person or people. Information can be processed, revised, refined, and modified to better suit the context it is being used in when residing in a network. It is the sum of various perspectives and has the quality achieved by the scrutiny of many.

In traditional teaching, it is expected that students learn in very isolated conditions where they demonstrate that what they produce is entirely their own work. Networking involves much more collaboration and sharing of thoughts, ideas and products. Collectivism encourages a variety of resources including people to obtain the desired information and product. In order to allow this kind of learning to occur, one must loosen the expectations and definitions of what is considered a student’s “own work.” This raises a number of questions around how we can know that learning has truly occurred. Has the student merely made the right connections to obtain the necessary products? Is this really learning or just good networking? How does plagiarism fit into the concept of networking? The lines can become much less clear as to who the author of a work is when there are many “contributors.” What degree of referencing and crediting should be expected?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Apathy or Helplessless?

A recent set of surveys I conducted with students in three classes (grade 9-11) indicated that every student believed that changing their study habits would increase their success in their courses. Yet the findings for their actual deliberate efforts to modify study habits were far less encouraging. Why? After just two units, students indicated changes in specific attitudes and study habits, where previously, they believed that these habits were irrelevant to their success. Could it be that students don’t take enough time to think about what works or doesn’t work for them? Perhaps they are merely scrambling to keep up and are never given the opportunity to consider why they succeed or fail.