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.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Am I being too picky?

My son is doing a review poster for his college level history course. In it, he has to take major events in American history and explain what the event was and why it happened.

Now, I have no complaints about his critical thinking skills. But he wrote the following:

New Netherlands stretched from the Delaware River Vally (Delaware was owned by the sweetish but later owned by the Dutch).

Both my husband and I thought that he should rewrite this, but my daughter and he did not see that there was even a problem.

What do you think? Do you think I'm being too picky? (just to warn you, if you do think I am, I DON'T).

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Defining expertise: more questions than answers

In a recent conversation (via blog) with Sahana Chattopadhyay,
the question of expertise came up. Sahana said:

I also believe that when we gain sufficient command over a subject, it is because we are passionate about it, have actively sought all information related to it...This kind of "passion" cannot be taught. Each person has to go through the pain and pleasure of learning to arrive at that stage. While we can impart information, we cannot make anyone an expert."

This got me thinking about the whole idea of expertise, something that I am now working on for my dissertation. Sahana later says:

You've set me thinking again...and the more I think, I feel that someone who is passionate about a subject will NEVER think/feel they are experts. They will always want to know more, will know that there is no defined end to "knowing"...there will never be a point when anyone can know it all...then, what do we mean by expertise?

This leads me to two questions that I currently am working on:

How do people define "expertise"?
How do people "use" expertise?

I still am in the preliminary stages of analyzing this question for a group collaborative writing project. However, Sahana's comment reminded me of the question I often struggle with in foreign language, when is someone "fluent"? Just as Sahana pointed out in her comment about people who are passionate about a topic never feeling satisfied that they know enough about the topic, a person who does not grow up speaking a foreign language or who learned the language through "informal means" (in other words, through their parents not at school) often feel they are not "fluent" enough.

While I can read French as well as I can English, I can converse in French and Spanish, even thinking in those languages and dreaming in them when I was immersed in the culture, I still wonder what it would be like to be "native like" and not make mistakes when I speak the language. Ironically, my colleagues used to have me proofread their Spanish (they were native speakers) because I would catch their grammatical mistakes. Yet, I have trouble telling people that I am "fluent" in French and Spanish. I am shy to post comments on the Spanish or French blogs that I read for fear that I will sound like a complete idiot.

I think the same is true for any topic that we are interested in that we did not grow up with. For example, I would say I was an expert skier (although do to a severe skiing accident 20 years ago, I can no longer do physically). I started when I was 7 years old, and was an excellent skier. My husband learned when he was in his late teens. Neither of us think of him as an "expert" (although he has never had a serious injury as I have).

So, now I wonder about the nature of expertise and what makes an "expert". Is passion necessary to be an expert? Who defines expertise: the person who is the expert or those that need the expertise? What happens when there is a difference between a person's perception of their expertise and those that are in need of the expertise? This could be that the person who is the "expert" may not conceive of themselves as an expert or those who may conceive of themselves as an "expert" may not have the expertise the others are looking for (so in the outsiders minds that person really is not an "expert"). Who defines expertise? Who defines expert? What are the parameters of expertise and expert and how are they defined? Does someone have to be an expert to teach? Is it necessary to have a passion for the subject to be an expert? What is the relationship between the designation of "expert" and "knowing how to do something"?

Are there differences in learning at different educational levels?

I have addressed this issue in the past in which I find many people at different educational levels (primary, secondary, higher ed, adult/training) differentiate the learning at different levels. What I always find interesting is that K-12 teachers discount me because of my limited experience in formal primary and secondary schools (although I have extensive experience in informal learning at these levels) and training professionals discount much of what I say as not being relevant for the workplace (despite the fact I my first 5 years of teaching was at the corporate level).

Recently, I commented on another blog in which many of the blog basically discounted what I had to say because they labeled me an "educator" rather than a "trainer". One person commented that because I used "student" instead of trainee, that I really was speaking from the traditional "education" sector (as if this were different than corporate training). This has been bothering me for a while and I finally tried to reflect on what the differences might be.

In my experience (informal education at the k-12, formal education in higher ed, and formal and informal education at the organizational level) basic learning concepts are the same. I try to be student centered, while at the same time maintaining a "teaching presence" and being aware of the technology, social and cognitive presence of the content and learning environment (Garrison and Anderson, 2003). I feel Garrison and Anderson's model is universal in today's learning, regardless of mode of delivery, content, or level of education (even though the model was developed for elearning).

HOW a teacher, instructor, or trainer makes their presence known and the amount of support a student or trainee might need in learning IS dependent on the level of knowledge the student/trainee already possesses about the topic/content, their motivation in learning, the amount of time they have to learn something, how they will be assessed in their learning, and their expectations for instruction.

For example, my daughter goes to a school that is based on experiential and cooperative learning methods. Most of the students who go to the school come from traditional educational environments. It takes the students about half a year to become familiar with these methods. By sophomore year, they need less direct teacher instruction, and thus less teacher presence. However, newer teachers have difficulty balancing student need with teacher instruction. It takes a new sophomore or junior level instructor about half a year before they become comfortable allowing students to come to them. This, in fact is no different than a trainer understanding when to direct trainees and when to react to their questions.

Suddenly, as I began to work through this difficulty I had with different levels of education thinking that they are different in their approach to teaching, I realized that the 21st century needs a new model that will follow through all levels of education. I saw a model on a blog this year (I can't remember whose or where it was...let me know if you have the post so I can bookmark it!) that was a grid of formal and informal learning and on the other axis, the level of complexity of the content. The intersection resulted in different categories of learning objects. I could see this adapted so that there were different categories of syllabi or curricula based on the level of formality of the learning and the complexity of the content.

All of this points to me the need to train teachers and trainers in the art of developing a flexible curriculum and syllabus. My point in the comment in which the trainers did not like what I posted was that sometimes there needs to be a more rigid structure for training (i.e. to comply with professional laws, such as CPA's, healthcare providers, or lawyers) and other times there can be more flexibility. However, there should always be structure. Just like an open amphitheater can deliver the same service as a music hall or arena (a venue for concerts for example), to do so there has to be some structure (seating area, performance area, acoustics). But definitely it's structure is much more open and less formal than the other two venues, so some concerts will have different "feeling" in an amphitheater than in a small concert hall or a large arena . Likewise, the "feeling" of learning will differ with different learning structures.

Resource: Garrison, D., & Anderson, T. (2003) . E-learning in the 21st Century. London: RoutledgeFarmer

Friday, January 15, 2010

Teaching students in crisis

I realized today that next week I will probably have some students who are dealing with crisis due to the earthquake in Haiti. At both colleges I teach at there are large numbers of students with ties in Haiti. The one university draws a large number of children of immigrants and immigrants studying in the US under scholarships. The other university, being a Catholic university, has many 2nd generation Americans from Haiti.

Fortunately, I have had experience working with students in crisis (see my post about 9/11). Every semester I get at least one or two who are having to deal with a real crisis outside of their life (often terminal illness in their family). I am always surprised when my students thank me for my understanding of their situation. It seems that some professors don't understand the importance of support to a student who is undergoing crisis and the importance of maintaining structure for these students.

So here is what I have learned when teaching students in crisis:

  • Students need to be heard. Asking what is going on and just listening is a good start. It is not necessary to offer advice or even probe further than a student is willing to tell. But listening and letting the student know that you understand this a significant influence on their life at that point is important.
  • Come up with a game plan. Negotiate due dates, outline communication expectations, and bring in others (counselors, administrators, other instructors) if you both agree to it. Hold the student to this game plan, but be flexible to renegotiate if the need arises. Sometimes, also, it is necessary to bring in adminitrators to come up with options. I have had 2 different semesters where students have broken their jaws in a speech presentation class. They were in different parts of the semester and I had to work with administrators to determine what options I could offer the student.
  • Check in with the student. Sometimes when their life is in turmoil, it is important to take the inititive so the student is reminded they have parts of their life that they can focus on. This also gives them some structure to hold on to when their life seems like it is in crisis.
  • Don't expect them to "bounce back." I remember a colleague whose teenage sister was killed in a car accident. Six months after the accident, she was sent to Mexico City. While there, she was in the last major earth quake to hit the city. When she asked for a leave of absence, partly because of the stress of the earth quake, but mostly because the earth quake brought back the stress of her sister's death, our boss told her that it was time she got over her sister's death. This did nothing to help her post tramatic stress which was later diagnosed. It was not just her sister's death, but the combination of the death and then being part of the earth quake within such a short period of time.

I know my students and I will get through this. My heart goes out not only to the people of Haiti, but also their friends and relatives who now must wait. I understand what it feels like. Not knowing is almost worse than getting the bad news. Trying to keep your hopes up, yet feeling that sense of dread is a horrible feeling.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Is blogging changing?

This was going to be a different post. I was going to look at the blogs that I follow and the different ways that I follow them. However, as I began to review (and purge the links as I usually do on an annual basis) the blogs I read, I realized that blogging has really changed this year.

In fact, I still have a core group of blogs that I read on a regular basis. But their style, patterns of posting, and even the way they link to other posts, blogs, and readers has (for the most part) changed drastically.

I see blog posts now following one of three trends:

  • Blogs are more informative, reflective, and formal. Michael Hanley's posts have always fit this format. But I noticed this year that Tony Karrer's eLearning Technology become less spontanious and pondering. As a result, blogs appear to be more of a learning tool or marketing tool for an organization. It also seems to be replacing more traditional publishing venues to get research or articles out in a more timely manner. Taking a page from Andy Coverdale and Gina Minks, I have begun to blog my own dissertation research process and results.
  • I am feeling that I am coming into the middle of a conversation (or the end of a conversation) that was started somewhere else (such as twitter or facebook). It appears that blogging is the reflective or summary of those conversations. Karyn Romeis still has a very conversational style, but she will refer to other conversations she has had on facebook. Harold Jarche will refer to others at aggregated blog sites where he is collaborating with colleagues. As a result, I don't feel that there is as much "conversation" on blogs as there used to be. In addition, I have noticed that Michael, Harold, Karyn, and Tony all have easy access to Twitter on their sites. Ken Allan has moved into a different rhelm this year: 2nd life. His posts often include graphics taken from 2nd Life. In fact, some blogs that I have been reading for the last couple of years either took hyatises or have not had posts in months.
  • One thing I have noticed is a decrease in the number of comments. I'm not sure if this is because the conversation has moved to other venues or if the authors are not responding as much. It seems, though, that blogging is still being used to start conversation, but not necessarily on the blogs. There are other technologies being used for the "community". I am always surprised that there are not more comments on Nancy White's Full Circle Associates' blog or Jon Husband's Wirearchy. After all, these blogs are about community and network building!
So what do you think blogging will end up looking like in the next year? Are bloggers that don't tweet at a disadvantage? Is blogging even passe at this point?

By the way, since I listed most of the other blogs that I read on a regular basis, I think I should include the others that are on my igoogle or reader:

Visual's speak: Chrisine Martell writes a nice "creativity" blog
Lucacept: Jenny Luca is a librarian in an Austrian school
Growing Changing Learning Creating: Tom Haskins' blog reminds me of mine...it's all over the place but always thought provoking.
Digital Perspectives: I just love Kathreen's photo blog. But she's been a bit quiet at the end of this year! I hope she starts up again because her photos always make me feel good.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Should feedback be anonymous?

Imagine this evaluation for a student:

John is one of the laziest students I have ever had. He sat in the back of the class and slept through most of my presentations. When I called on him, he simply answered, "I don't know." Not only is he lazy, but he's stupid.

Compare this to one of the comments I received on my teacher evaluation.

The instructor did not know anything about the topic. When I asked her a question in class, she wasn't able to answer it so I could understand it.

In both cases, the feedback is not really useful. In the first case, an instructor would be slammed if they wrote this type of comment on a student report card, if they were even asked for feedback on the student (it does not happen at the university level). In both cases, it would be important to have more information on both the writer and the person being evaluated. What is their relationship? How long have they known each other? How well was the student doing in the class? This would at least give some context.

More importantly, however, is that the person receiving the feedback would be able to critique the feedback and determine if it was justified or not.

Who is responsible for learning?

As you can probably tell, I received student feedback for my fall courses this semester. In addition to this feedback, which I like to evaluate and help direct me in preparing for my current courses, I also received direction at the one school on what our syllabus should include. These included such items as:
  • school vision and learning goals,
  • university vision and learning goals
  • attendance policies
  • policies for making up tests
  • policies for late assignments
  • accommodations for students with disabilities
  • teaching methods
  • classroom atmosphere
  • work load expectations
  • academic integrity
  • grading policies
  • Cell phone use
And this is only a partial list! I started to think, who's responsibility is it to learn? Shouldn't the student be accountable for knowing school wide policies and shouldn't the administration make sure students know things such as school mission, accommodations for students with disabilities, academic integrity, and workload expectations? My syllabus is currently 9 pages long. Last semester, when a student complained that something I asked them to do was not in the syllabus, I went straight to it and showed them the assignment. However, could I really fault her for not seeing it on pg. 5 of an 8 page syllabus?

There are two reasons for this level of detail in a syllabus:

  1. As opposed to when I started teaching in college (and was one of the few to have a syllabus of more than 1 page, some teachers not even having a syllabus), the syllabus IS a contract (isn't even considered LIKE a contract) which can be used in a court of law.
  2. New federal laws and guidelines passed in 2008 (NCLB for higher ed) requires that students be given this information. Rather than the administration spending time and money doing this in orientations (many times not required or students may be unable to attend), they incorporate it into the classroom. While this ensures a student will be informed of their rights, it also puts legal responsibility on the instructor, and gives the instructor even more administrative work to do (so why aren't instructors paid twice the salaries of top administrators?).

Student learning outcomes

This can have very disturbing outcomes for how we are preparing students for the workplace and student work ethics. As students are given detailed instructions on how to learn, and expect only to be assessed on those "standards", they will not stretch beyond what is given them. Why should they?

Likewise, assessing the "softer" skills will be more difficult and could result in a law suit. This means that all creativity will be knocked out of the students. Expect to see creativity in the workplace from those WITHOUT education. The entrepreneurs of tomorrow will probably be the drop-outs of today because the educational system has not supported the expansion of ideas.

Interestingly enough, I see our society becoming more like those of eastern Europe during communist rule. While working in Hungary, I found that the most successful workers were those that were used to doing what they were told to do, always deferring to the person above them (as they would get the blame). The entrepreneurs in Hungary were those that had been unsuccessful in school and the civil service.

Anonymity in evaluations

This brings me back to the question in my title. In the former system, universities implemented student questionnaires to get a feeling for how students perceived their learning. As most courses were not standardized, one measure for effectiveness was student satisfaction. However, if a student did not feel that evaluation was "objective" and their grade might be affected by giving frank feedback, most schools made these evaluations anonymous. Of course, back when these were first implemented, students were not used to giving teachers feedback. Instructors were still perceived as "gods" and students were reluctant to give critical feedback.

Additionally, most of the evaluations were hand written (as were assignments). A good teacher could still determine who wrote what, if they were engaged with their students. I often was able to contextualize the comments based on who the student was who wrote it. Because I received the comments long after grades were due, even if I was unprofessional enough, I couldn't change the student's grade. I received some valuable feedback through these evaluations, especially if I was able to figure out who the student was. In some cases, I was also able to disregard the comments, knowing that a certain student would never like my teaching style.

Now we come to the age of computerized evaluations. First, this means that students self-select if they will fill out the questionnaire. When it was given in the class (the teacher leaving the classroom, but college staff administering the evaluation), more students were apt to participate, even if they were indifferent. With the evaluations being online, the indifferent student will be less likely to take the time out to fill it out. Second, there is no context anymore with the evaluations. I am given a summary of the results and a summary of the comments. So did the student hate everything about my class or just the fact that they had to take the class (they would have hated it regardless of the teacher--typical for public speaking classes). These disembodied comments make it difficult for me to determine what I could have done better. Finally, these evaluations are now used to justify the hiring or retention of faculty member, the "effectiveness" of a college, and even strategic planning.

However, my students have never felt intimidated to express their displeasure in my class. I often hear complaints about how my assignments are "subjective" (I think the word they are really looking for is complex), they have too much work to do (even though I have had to outline my work expectations at the beginning of the course, and this does not change), and how other classmates aren't as smart, hardworking, etc... So why should they worry about putting their name to a course evaluation? Especially if the instructor will not see the evaluation until after final grades have been given?

So back to my opening comment. What would happen if students were not given individual grades for each course, but were asked to evaluate (anonymously) each student on skills such as critical thinking, class preparedness, content mastery, communication skills, ability to express themselves in text, technology, etc... Each semester, these evaluations would be aggregated for a grade, and comments would be summarized. At the end of four years, these evaluations would be sent to the school to review and decide if the student qualified for a degree. In addition, these aggregated scores would be sent to all potential employers. What kind of uproar do you believe would result? Wouldn't students want to know who graded them how and why? Why is this different for instructors?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Some predictions for the new decade

Last year, I commented on a number of blogs that I thought the future of elearning would be in mobile technology. In fact, Michael Hanley had a good post evaluating some of the new mobile elearning apps last year.

So, taking my crystal ball, what do I see the trends being in elearning, technology, and higher ed/training in general? These are based on my observations in the classroom, my own children's technology habits and what is happening in their classrooms, and my own research.

  1. Mobile technology (including ebooks, smart phones, and smartbooks) will continue to grown and make learning mobile. In the US, if the transportation plans come to fruition, commuters will spend commuting time learning. This might already be happening in other parts of the world.
  2. If wifi and 3g technologies are expanded enough, learners will be able to access learning tools anywhere. As a result, learning will take place outside of traditional classrooms, with less face to face time in the classroom and more individualized learning plans. However, the classroom will continue to be the location for assessment. This means there will be a shift for educators from being the source of learning to being the assessor of learning. Universities will still be the source of research (at least in the US) but the location of the research will expand as there is more incentive to work with businesses in developing research that is economically viable.
  3. In the US (and I think other countries as well), there will be a push for universal standards at the University level to be maintained through technology based assessment tools. The current K-12 standards based education has developed a student that requires structure for learning and assessment. (Disclaimer: I don't think this will be good for education, but I feel the pressure in my own teaching these days).
  4. There will be a shift from learning about various tools to learning how to use different classifications of tools to acheive results. There will also be demand to find new apps and tools through a central location. An apps search engine will probably come into popularity at some point in the next few years. For example, need to find a note taking software that can be used on a Mac for academic purposes? Go to the Apps search engine and input the parameters.
  5. Video will become more important, especially subtitled video. Why subtitled? Because users can access the images and read the information without others in a room knowing they are accessing the internet/video. This currently happens with texting. Being able to have an instant subtitled video or attaching comments to the video means that the image can be shared privately in public spaces.
  6. Learning, business, customer service, and societal values will be customized. Businesses and educators will need to offer options that allow choice by users. (See my earlier post).
So what are your predictions for the New Decade? Write a post and link it to this post or put the location in the comment section. I can't wait to see what others have come up with. To get it started, I'm going to tag 5 people, who I hope will tag 5 others.

Ken Allen (He already made his predictions and inspired this post)
Michael Hanley
Paul Cornies
Anita Hamilton
Andy Cloverdale

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Public vs. private learning

I currently am setting up my courses (three different ones) for next semester. As I do so, I need to determine the best tools for my students. One issue that has come up repeatedly each semester is how to maintain privacy laws (Family Education Privacy Act), but allow access to learning in a public manner.

FERPA laws require that I have tools that students are either guaranteed anonymity when they use the tool (school based secure tools) or are given the choice of how much information they reveal about themselves, including the option of not participating in a "public" forum. This leads to a number of restrictions when deciding on which tools to use and how to use them.

Last semester I used Ning. In many ways, this is a great tool for public discussions. Even the private emails and the use of the approval function for video uploads allowed for a certain amount of privacy. However, I still did not trust Ning's privacy controls enough to upload grades or receive individual assignments. As a result, this semester I decided to use Blackboard's grading and assignment features. In designing the new course, however, I remembered why I don't like Blackboard. The assignment and grade features are very time consuming and cumbersome to set up. As I've mentioned before, I miss the ease of Prometheus, which was bought by WebCT, but whose features seemed to be discarded.

I have yet to find an easy syllabus program that fit the ease of Prometheus's. I could set up a course in a day, using the Prometheus template. I know it will take about 2-3 days per course to set up the courses on Blackboard. In addition, I want to still use the Ning and a Wiki for the interschool projects I am designing for two of the three courses I'm teaching.

All of these have made be wonder about the importance of having both public and private learning spaces. I use Private learning spaces to help motivate my students to take chances, fail, and learn from their mistakes. I use public learning spaces to help students feel a sense of responsibility for their own and others learning, help create synergy in learning, and create a sense of community in learning (rather than learning being something that is done in isolation).

So what are the differences in private and public learning spaces? How can we work with administrators to create both? How do we balance security issues with sharing of knowledge and community building?