About Me

Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are I am all about. I hope through this blog to both guide others and travel myself across disciplines, borders, theories, languages, and cultures in order to create connections to knowledge around the world. I teach at the University level in the areas of Business, Language, Communication, and Technology.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Is there (should there be) a difference between workplace learning and "academic" learning?

I am beginning to find out the divide that some people have created between "workplace" learning and "academic" learning. As someone who has helped develop and deliver workplace training and taught for a number of years in business and communication education, I just don't see the disconnect.

Granted, I come from a different perspective than many business faculty and from many in the "training" field. Working on my Ph.d. in Education, I find I am fighting (although not alone) the "trainers" who feel that adult education in the workplace is "different" than teaching at the university level. The main differences I have seen have been in expected assessments (which are becoming increasingly dictated by business recruiters), motivation, and price. However, even in the motivation area, I have plenty of students that really want to be in college and many that don't just as I have had participants in a workplace seminar who only wanted to get out of work or did not want to be in training because they had more important things to do along with those that really wanted to learn what I was teaching them so they could do their job better.

So, what are the similarities?

  1. Relevant content for the student
  2. Student choice
  3. Time for reflection (multiple workshops over a long period of time for the workplace; in class time for students to reflect)
  4. Theory and practice (in other words, a good explanation as to WHY students or trainees should do things differently)
  5. Good classroom management skills and many activities to practice
  6. Feedback
  7. Developing a safe environment to make mistakes and learn from them
  8. Something tangible to take away (a paper, a project, a report, an outline, a check list) that demonstrates what you learned
I was shocked at the line drawn in the Working/Learning Carnival. It was obvious that "academics" were perceived to have nothing to contribute to the "real world". However, I think there needs to be more collaboration between workplace and academic learning specialists especially as there is a greater call to align college graduate standards to business needs. Schools need to start working with the learning specialists in companies to identify what skills are needed and what is working in training, just as learning specialists need to look at what skills are being developed in the "academic" world. Both groups might be surprised to learn what was attempted and what has really worked.

Depth of learning, communication, and "connecting"

One of my students mentioned that his aunt, a "thirty-something" pointed out that her nieces and nephews spent more time on the computer making superficial connections on facebook than going out and making "real" connections face to face.

I have found that students prefer to discuss problems in class over the internet, as they don't have to face a professor face to face. I wonder why. I feel it is a fear of that connection or is it a fear of negative feelings? Students are bombarded with images where bad things happen, and the person walks away having brushed it off. I wonder if we are programming our children not to feel, as this is what it "should" be? But then in class, we get into a discussion of facebook, and within my class, there is a divide between those that can't live without it and those that want nothing to do with it.

I feel that perhaps we are dealing with a number of issues here:

  1. In our culture, people are not expected to be sad for long periods of time (as with the co-worker whose boss commented 6 months after the death of her teenage sister, "it's been 6 months. You should be over that now."). As a result, the internet has become a vehicle for "closet sadness" or anger or any negative feelings. In fact, the anonymity the internet gives us, allows these emotions to go to the extreme.
  2. Our culture is "short-term": short-term results, short-term relationships, short-term learning. As a result, there is a lack of depth and reflection in much that we do. I am not sure how to change this as I don't see our culture changing. However, tools such as blogs might be one step.
  3. We live in a culture of cutting down instead of building up. This is something that I see beginning to change. While the political races still "cut down", I find many times that it is in response to an out side force (usually a sound-bite from the press). However, I find that the new online media and access to full speeches has made it possible to see how many people have a common vision which is different than our current society. I have seen a move towards convergence (think of what is happening in New Orleans now, when nothing seemed to happen for the first 2 years after the flooding and wind damage).
So as the eternal optimist, I have hope with the new technologies and a new generation of students that our society will change for the positive. I hope that there will be deeper thinking, understanding, connectedness, sense of community, etc... that perhaps looks different than after WWII, but is still as strong in terms of hope and opportunity.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Bad Course on Instructional Design : eLearning Technology

Bad Course on Instructional Design : eLearning Technology

Upon reviewing the sources and questions posed, I realized that I had probably not addressed the correct question that Tony had originally posed. However, this second post made me think. These are some of my pet peeves with e-learning instructional design:

  1. lack of student control and choice: I know many times it is out of the control of instructional designer what clients want you to do, but can't we include some choice?
  2. poor writing: run-on sentences, poor punctuation, too wordy, no flow. I have fallen asleep having to read material in an online course. I also begin to loose interest if it is poorly written. Why would I want to spend my time trying to decipher what the author wants me to learn? I have enough practice with that reading my students' papers!
  3. No imagination or "fun". It is nice to have a "surprise" every once in a while to keep you on your toes. There needs to be some way to engage the learner. Why not have an interesting story? or a game?
  4. Lame tests: I had to take a test as part of the recertification process as a researcher. The tests at the end of the "units" were unbelievably simple or much too complex. I missed questions because some multiple choice questions would have only answer one question, followed by pick all that apply. Most of the time I missed the "pick all that apply" directions because they weren't highlighted at the top of the question! Some units (there different authors for different units) on the other hand were actually interesting in taking the test as they used cases. As the training was context based, this was much more appropriate.
  5. Make the units short: Just two words: INFORMATION OVERLOAD!
What are your pet peeves?

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Are we becoming afraid to take chances?

I get the overwhelming feeling from my students, colleagues, and administrators that these new technologies are too ambiguous and almost frightening in the potential for change. I am having more and more students e-mailing me and asking for more defined descriptions and examples of what I am looking for in a paper or project.

While on the one hand, I applaud the fact that they are asking (at least they don't feel intimidated by making sure they are on the right track), I also am scared that we are creating a generation of learners (and that society is already there) that is afraid to think outside of the box. In the last decade the number of new patents on new products (as opposed to modifications of existing products) has decreased. Is this the result of being afraid to take chances and think outside of the box? While I see technology and its use becoming more and more innovative, I don't see a reciprocal change in our curriculum, learning, or society. Will this mean that only a small group will be the change makers? Can we make people more comfortable in extending their horizons in all environments? How, if the assessment will be RIGHT or WRONG?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

What we can learn from Linkedin

I found it interesting looking at the analysis section of my connections in LinkedIn, that those members 2-3 degrees from my primary links tended to be from Switzerland and Holland. What was interesting was that none of my primary links were from this country, yet I had lived as an exchange student in both of these countries (Holland in High School and Switzerland in College). It made me wonder how important these experiences during out formative years affect our thinking patterns and beliefs.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Web 2.0 and community building

I still ponder what goes on within the virtual world that is different than the face to face world. The other day I thought that we should be looking at the use of 2.0 tools in conjunction with community building. Vicki Davis's blog triggered this thought with her discussion of building a "blogging" audience and the interaction of the blog.

One of the key factors in community building is trust. Ruth Brown's study on community building brings in many of the factors that I think are important in the use of Web 2.0 tools. I have found, for example, that as my students get to know each other better, they are more apt to use the wiki and edit each other's works. Community comferment, in the form of comments and answers to comments, is a turning point, I think, to developing a blog. Dr. Brown found many causal conditions in the development of distance learning communities that I think could be applied to the success or failure of Web 2.0 tools.

So what are the attributes of "community" within Web 2.0 communities? And what types of communities are created? How can group dynamic theory help us to improve learning in these communities?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Group communication and the wiki

For three semesters now, I have used the wiki as a vital piece of my courses. As I teach both educational technology courses and communication courses, this seems relevant. However, I feel that we are just beginning to understand the importance of using a wiki in terms of knowledge building.

These are some of the questions I am pondering and hoping to answer in the next year or so:

What is really happening in the process of creating a wiki? How is this the same or different than other computer supported writing technologies?

How can we use the transparency of the wiki to help us determine how the group affects the writing process and knowledge building that goes on? Can we develop a way to "capture" the learning that happens when writing as a group?

It seems that wikis begin to take on a dynamic life of their own. When I look at the "product" my students create, it does not necessarily show any learning. Yet, when I ask them to describe their learning (give a presentation on discrete content areas that the blog was supposed to aid in their learning) they seem have a deeper level of learning than more traditional methods (lecture, in-classroom activities, discussion of readings). How does this happen?

What skills and learning styles are best suited for a wiki (both what the students should have before they can use a wiki and what skills can be developed on a wiki)? This is the one area that I do feel I am being to find answers to. First and foremost, wiki users need to have good group communication skills (understanding the group process and roles, group leadership/followship skills, group problem solving and decision making skills, and group writing skills--which is different than individual writing skills). Contrary to popular beliefs, I don't think a wiki will help individual writing skills (at least I have not observed it), nor does good writing skills mean you will be successful in writing on the wiki. Secondly, wiki users need to be able to make connections to ideas. My hypothesis is that spatial thinkers (e.g. those able to write good hyper text) will find the wiki much easier to use than linear thinkers. Expanding this idea, certain cultures might find wiki use more intuitive (generally not Germanic or Anglo cultures which tend to be more linear and individualistic). Finally, clear cut guidelines and learning scaffolding in the use of wikis will be needed for novices, but these are skills that most businesses are looking for, so the wiki would be a good vehicle in developing these skills. Specifically: critical thinking skills, networking and connection of ideas and data, team work, and self regulated work.

What I would like to learn professionally

Answer to the Big Question in the Learning Circuit Blog
Well, I'm not sure how I inspired this question. However, I will try to narrow down all things I am interested in doing better (it helps that I am writing my dissertation, so I have been doing a lot of reading, thinking, and discussing in many contexts).

First: As I commented on Kristy Tucker's Blog,

I would like to learn more of how to design to get learners to focus on the areas they need for learning. In other words, when they come to a home page, giving them enough options for them to get started, yet not so many options they are overwhelmed nor so few that they loose interest. I find this balance very difficult.
To do this, I need to learn more about "design" principles (not instructional design but visual rhetoric, some additional programming principles--especially mash-ups and placement of embedded objects, and html in order to modify some of the "programs" I have to work with).

Second: I have been using a wiki in my class for a year now, and I find that there is more than meets the eye going on in the use of the wiki. I want to try to figure out the best way to use the wiki (see my post on this blog), how to develop it as part of an instructional design (my students have told me the one we are currently using is just too bland to hold their interest), and how to capture the learning that is taking place beyond the finished product.

Third: I would like to have a better understanding of what my students (both undergrads and graduates) will be experiencing in the workforce when they leave my classroom. Most importantly, what are businesses expectations for the new generation of workers? Related to this is how to bridge the gap between school and business, to better inform businesses of the potential goldmine they have in new employees (many underestimate new graduates skills because they are still evaluating them based on old standards--for example, the ability to communicate and work polychronically, the ability to adapt technologies for their own needs--not necessarily using the technology the way it was designed to work, but the way it is most useful for an individual, the ability to network and find information within a network, the ability to think spatially). At the same time, many of the new "best" students have achieved academic success by being good at test taking, only doing what they are told to do based on a definitive time frame, and following processes without deviation having been educated under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) philosophy of education (at least in the US). Those students that were more creative or "outside of the box" were less successful in the test based system of NCLB.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

A new way of thinking

I had a discussion with a colleague yesterday about the new way of thinking that new technologies require. I have always been very good at making connections (some might say they really weren't connections except in my own mind) between ideas. Using the tree/forest metaphor, I have always been a person to look at the forest, try to see the patterns, go to the trees, identify the features, and then go back to the forest to put the trees in context. In the past, as this metaphor implies, you are either a holistic or a detail person. However, there are many of us who connect the dots to look at details within the whole, going back and forth between detail and whole.

I have written previously about spatial thinking. I think the forest for the trees is a linear thinking concept. Visualization and looking at ideas in connection with other ideas is more spatial. I find, for example, that George Sieman's posts in elearnspace are very spatial, which might be why he is such an advocate for connectivism. On the other hand, I find Tony Karrer's blog, eLearning Technology, as very linear. What is important is that both are excellent blogs, just two different thought processes. Isn't it important that we begin to accept both ways of thinking? And what is the implication for our language and culture? Are we becoming a more polycronic culture because of the technology we use? Shouldn't cultures be allowed to evolve? This might not happen if we don't allow for new communication patterns, recognition of new ways to think, and acceptance of old methods within their own context.

How to assess learning in different contexts

One problem that I see in the transition from school to the workplace is the question of assessment. My students complain when they don't agree with my grading, asking "how they lost points." How does this translate into the workplace? How often have we had performance reviews that we might not agree with? How much negotiation then goes into the final review? How does this translate into "action"? What is the accountability of the managers (rather than the individual). I think you won't be seeing a comparable move towards manager accountability that you now see in schools (it now has infiltrated universities so now professors are accountable for student learning rather than the "adult" students). So what will that mean for the transition to the workplace?

Already, we begin to see businesses complaining that new graduates do not take initiative, do not have critical thinking skills, and have a poor work ethic. However, teachers and schools are not entirely to blame for this. The curriculum is developed with many stakeholders in mind (including those business leaders demanding more accountability). Even within corporate training, the model of discreet testing (pre-test, post-test) is being used to measure the effectiveness of a program. Hasn't the corporate world learned in using surveys for marketing research that it is not what a person puts on a piece of paper but what their behavior is? Coca-cola learned that in the 1980's. They use the same complex models when analyzing training outcomes.