Thursday, May 10, 2007

Why hasn't educational technology made teaching more efficient?

The advent of the Internet was supposed to make the work of teaching and learning more efficient. If you read what many of us wrote over the past ten years you will find continuous reference to the idea that computers and the Internet would transform education into a much more efficient process. Few people who have built course websites and been involved with various course management systems (e.g., Web CT, Blackboard, etc.) would say that their work has gotten more efficient.

There have been important efforts to create teaching resource warehouses to store teaching materials-- the most extensive is Merlot which seeks to store a wide range of teaching materials.

Despite some significant strides in this area I think we are still only at the beginning and I think that we have several things wrong with our basic elearning educational model.

Here are my major criticisms of our efforts so far:

1. We haven't gotten the unit of production right. Yochai Benkler states, "The number of people who can, in principle, participate in a project is therefore inversely related to the size of the smallest scale contribution necessary to produce a usable module" (The Wealth of Networks, Chapter 4, 2006, p. 101). I would suggest that whole courses, whole lectures, etc. are too big to include very many participants. Also, materials of this magnitude serve as useful resources if you are teaching similar material, but they are rarely designed in such a way that another teacher can easily incorporate the material into their own teaching/course, etc. This lowers the actual usage of such materials.

2. We haven't opened the doors to full participation in our business of teaching and learning. Few teachers are prepared to let our students help write the curriculum and few of us are willing to invite people outside of education into the work of teaching and learning. Most of us are not willing to trust that anyone but other credentialed experts can contribute meaningfully to teaching and learning in our classrooms.

3. We haven't gotten the basic unit of learning right. We continue to try to teaching online in the same ways that we teach F2F or we try to adapt previous teaching tools to the web (for example, books). Mostly this stuff doesn't work very well. I would suggest that the basic unit of learning is questions and answers. The basic learning exchange is a student asking a question and a teaching giving an answer or a teacher asking a question or being given a problem and asking a student to solve it.

4. We haven't really created learning objects. There has been much talk about developing learning objects and repositories like Merlot make a point of suggesting that they are collecting learning objects, but they are really teaching objects. In other words, they are resources for teachers to use to help students learn, they are not resources that a student can engage with independently to learn something. Both types of materials are needed, but we need to call them by the right names and make this distinction.

5. We haven't really utilized computers, the Internet and web to create really interactive learning situations. There are some interesting new ideas about using games, virtual worlds and the like to create some interactive learning environments, but the level of technical expertise needed to develop these types of resources is very high. Rather than continue to develop another course management system we need an interactive platform to develop learning experiences that can be used by a wide range of educators.

Participatory Education in Universities

"Blogs represent a powerful tool for engaging in these larger public conversations....We make a mistake, though, if we understand such efforts purely in terms of distance learning or community outreach, as if all expertise resides within universities and needs simply to be transmitted to the world. Rather we should see these efforts as opportunities for us to learn from other sectors equally committed to mapping and mastering the current media change" (Chronicle of Higher Education, Feb. 16, 2007, p. b9-b10)
This quote is how Henry Jenkins describes the evolution of the ways in which universities should begin thinking about how to engage the world in a more participatory fashion.

He goes on to say, "
The modern university should work not by defining fields of study but by removing obstacles so that knowledge can circulate and be reconfigured in new ways."

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Students and the use of technology for learning

Here is a good example of the fact that how students use computers may have no connection to their learning. In this New York Times article, they report that some schools who provided laptops to all their students are abandoning this practice because there is no connection between the computers and learning. Seeing No Progress, Some Schools Drop Laptops

Now one important caution about this article is asking what else happens in classrooms and schools that has nothing to do with learning. And what we missing about schools that does have a connection to learning, but we often overlook it? For example, there is emerging evidence that extra curricula activities improve learning outcomes for students. (See the research by
Dr. Christy Lleras at the University of Illinois We don't know exactly how this works, but these findings should make us more thoughtful about how learning occurs and what happens in schools outside of the classroom that may be important to learning.

Communicating with Today's Undergraduates

I remain skeptical about the various talk about "digital natives" and other terms to use about today's young people. I know that they use various forms of technology to communicate, but I am not sure they use technology to "learn" or at least they don't use it in the ways that I think about learning.

Nevertheless, I am sure that they are using technology to find out information about which colleges to attend and what programs are being offered by various schools. In short, I suspect that most students narrow down their choices of potential schools based on what they learn from the web. But how does this connect with their choice of a major? For example, the well-known majors are probably introduced by a variety of people, but for students interested in psychology and sociology, how would be they find "human development" or "family studies" or "community development?" I don't know and I don't think anyone else knows other than to say that they either know someone or they accidental stumble across this information.

All this leads me to think about how those of us in more invisible majors connect with high school students and how this might be done through technology.