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.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

New technology demands for the 21st century classroom

Let me begin by defining the 21st century classroom. It is not the stagnent classroom of my childhood or university. Rather it crosses grades, generations, locations, and cultures. And yet, walk into any classroom today and it will physically look like the classroom my father sat in over 70 years ago.

Education today is life long, formal and informal, and dynamic. Likewise, educational technology is constantly changing from one tool to another based on teaching goals and needs, access to tools, government privacy policy, societal norms both in terms of social norms and acceptance of technology, and infrastructure.

Over the last year I have seen a movement from a computer based technology environment to mobile technology. In fact, I predicted this as one of the major trends in education last year. My students use their cell phones now in new ways not even thought of 2 years ago. With that in mind, I forsee the following technologies being used in the classroom within the next two years:

1) mobile technology. This may take a few forms: ipads, e-readers, cell phones, pda's, and mini-lap tops. The implication for teaching is that students will have access to the internet whether a teacher wants them to or not. I suggest that teachers focus on the use of the internet with the understanding that it is here to stay.

2) Interactive aps. As mobile technology allows for more interactivity including the ability to scan, gps's, and internet access the interacts with software. The implications are that there can be greater individualized learning plans and pin pointed learning. It also creates the opportunity for greater levels of cheating, academic dishonesty, and learning outside of the established curriculum. This could also be a nightmare for teachers who would be expected to provide a greater level of individualized learning plans requiring a constant retooling of their skills. In terms of the educational system, administrators will need to be able to provide their faculty with the resources to upgrade their skills, parents training to understand the tools their children are using in schools, and students with responsibilities and expectations for the use of technology.

3) E-readers. I heard a report on the news yesterday that the youth of today are much more likely to use an ereader than the older generations. In fact, Fisher Price now has an ereader for tottlers. The implication for the classroom (and publishers) is that there will be more choice in sources, using chapters from multiple resources. These resources will need to include multi-media sources including videos, audio, and interactive reading. Students will be able to highlight, download highlighted sections, and reformulate them to create new meaning. This is going to require a deeper level of learning and interactivity with the written and spoken word. Focus will be on organization rather than content per se. And teachers will not be able to rely on a text to meet an individual student's need. This means teachers and instructors will need to understand how to design learning, above and beyond a cookbook style of design.

4) Multi-media. Music, video, animation, and games are all part of the new generation. Not only will teachers and instructors need to know how to integrate these into their teaching, they will need to learn how to use these modialities in their evaluation of student learning. This is probably the biggest stretch for k-12 teachers, where the "test" or "exam" is the preferred mode of evaluation and assessment. However, higher ed and professional education will need to start developing new formats and means of assessing learning using these new modialities.

We need to start preparing educators for the 21st century changes in education. At the university level, there needs to be a new way of preparing and developing professors. Content knowledge is no longer sufficient. Of course, my biggest concern is that universities will have a check list approach to hiring, excluding those of an advanced age (like myself) who would be perceived as not having understanding or knowledge of the 21st technology learning tools.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The discussion about US education

Recently, there has been a national discussion of education in the US within our media. NBC and the Oprah Winfrey Show both had programs about education in the last two weeks. The final verdict: tenure is the reason our schools are failing and the responsibility of education is in the teachers' hands alone (they must be accountable for failing schools).

I look at part of this as a result of the charter school movement and a movement to break up teachers unions to bring down costs of education. After watching programs on NBC and the Oprah Winfrey school, I think it is important that misinformation that was spouted by such experts as Bill Gates and Mayor Bloomberg (both businessmen first) need to be addressed.

1) Tenure is NOT automatically given to teachers, as both of these men contended on TV. First, tenure requirements vary from state to state and even school district to school district. In New York State, a board of education needs to grant tenure to a teacher. Some school districts won't look at tenure until someone has worked for 4 years. Others will grant tenure after a year. Many of us know of teachers that have not been granted tenure, sometimes even for just political reasons. The purpose of the tenure system is to ensure academic integrity. I find it ironic that Oprah's program discussed with horror the difficulty of firing a teacher who was incompetent (who was eventually fired once she went through a set out process, but that took about a year) while about 10 years ago she had a program about a teacher who was forced to change a failing grade to students who had blatantly plagiarized. The threat of being fired because someone in power has his or her own agenda means that a teacher could be forced to teach something that might be scientifically unbased. This happened to teachers who refused to teach a curriculum they believed was religiously based rather than scientifically based. Because of tenure, these teachers had the ability to keep their jobs and fight a small group of powerful people in their community.

2) Charter schools vary from state to state. I am actually a supporter of charter schools, as long as they must follow the same rules as the public schools and they offer something different to a population that cannot be met in a traditional public school. There is research that some states have a very effective charter school system that has improved the overall state education system (Wisconsin and Oregon). However, I do not believe that ANY company should be profiting from the government (charter schools should be non-for-profit). Also, charter schools should not have a religious or political agenda (they need to follow the same rules as a traditional public school). On Oprah, charter schools were touted as THE cure for education. However, I see this as throwing out the baby with the bath water. There are some good schools and some bad. We need a variety of models that will fit different communities, cultures, resources, and values.

3) The fact is that a smaller class size will result in more effective learning. Likewise, students who do not live in poverty and/or have literate parents do better in school. The current No Child Left Behind "accountability" focus on standardized testing in which a teacher is responsible if a child does not pass a test is an inaccurate measure of effectiveness.

In a report by Al Roker on Elementary Schools, the school that was highlighted had the average class increase from 20 students per class a decade ago to 32 students per class today. I know of a kindergarten teacher (1st year of school in New York State) who is expected to teach 25 5-6 year olds (usually with no previous education such as pre-school or even at home help from parents) how to read by the end of this school year. All without help in the classroom. Last year she was successful as she only had 16 students.

We need to look at student improvement from their starting point to their ending point (rather than measuring them against students from more privileged backgrounds). We need to put resources into the needs of the school based on their community, not a standard formula. And we need to find new ways (besides testing) to measure student performance.

4) We are not China, Switzerland, Japan, or South Africa. What works in their countries might work here in the US, but perhaps not. We need to develop an educational system that works with our communities, culture, and values. To do this, we need to move away from the industrial military complex attitude towards education that we are developing workers. When I went to school, schools were developing citizens that could make informed decisions. However, even as a student that began to change and we were told that education was to prepare us for a job of the future. This streamlining was used in France up until the 60's at which time Europe began to see that education was more than creating workers.

The current focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) has wiped out what made the US successful: creativity. A colleague of mine from Hong Kong was disappointed in her University Program in the US because there was no creativity allowed. My daughter's school, which was designed with STEM in mind, ended up being more important as a school that allows students with creative minds to succeed in STEM courses. A project based curriculum based on group work develops communication, problem solving, and creative skills for students that normally would have difficulty in learning math and science. What is interesting is that students that were especially gifted in math and science, in fact left the school or had the hardest time to adapt to this style of learning.

The fact is the US is loosing its place in the world because of lack of innovation. Innovation comes from creativity, not fitting a static mold set out by standards.

5) Finally, education is a joint process between the administrators, teachers, students, community, and parents. All are equally important and responsible. Until we use a model of community education building rather than competitive education, we will not have an effective educational system in the US.

I applaud the media for at least discussing education in the US. I just wish they would present a more informed and balanced discussion. The fact is that in some places, the educational system is working. In others, people are working hard to improve the process (but with mixed results) and in still other places the system has broken down. The biggest mistake we could make is to fix that which is working well, not giving those working on change the time and resources to succeed, and trying the same old policies in those areas where those policies have not worked and probably will never work.

Monday, September 20, 2010

New Collaborative Virtual Spaces: Sending a forwarding address

Over the last few years, I have collaborated with a number of people that I either have never met face to face or who live too far away to meet on a regular basis face to face. I moved from listservs to discussion boards to blogs and now to facebook. What I have noticed is an initial period in which I participate as a spectator (i.e. a member of the listserv receiving updates but not posting), then I move on as an active member. I then begin to build a trusting relationship in which I feel there are good conversations and a safe area to disagree and resolve intellectual disagreements.

My experience fits fairly closely with online community research (See Ruth Brown's research, for example). However, after a while, a new technology will come online and members of the community (not all) will begin to emigrate to the new format, leaving the one community to help develop and become part of a new community. As this happens, however, suddenly, a virtual colleague is now missing with no forwarding address.

I often wonder, where are they? Where did everyone go? How do I contact them again and stay in touch? what makes things even more difficult is that different members will gravitate to different technologies (and thus different communities). It is impossible to stay in touch with all new technologies, so we choose those technologies that meet our needs at that time.

I think that there needs to be a protocol for disbanding a community and/or migrating it to a new technology. In the snailmail, we have a forwarding address. It might be good if we began to use the same mechanisms as we leave communities. Perhaps someone will develop a directory in which the most commonly accessed addresses are listed for an individual. I currently do this by googling people's names. However, if there was an interactive directory that you could use to identify where people are posting and where you are most apt to contact them, it would be helpful to follow your community through cyberspace.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Dissertation: Analysis of the Impact of the Environment on the Group

In order to understand the interaction between the distributed group, individual group members, and the organization and its departments within this study, it is important to understand the various working environments and perceived power structures.

There were numerous environments that an individual might have to work with as a member of the project under study. In addition, there were multiple layers of authority and vested interests (share-holders) that influenced individual members and the group itself at any given time.

From an ethnomethological stand point, this group influenced and was influenced by the complex environment that a distributed group creates. Distributed groups create multi-layered power structures, multiple cultures which workers need to traverse, and intricate social relationships, both internal and external to the group. These complexities are both created through the new power structures, work processes, and cultures that are established when bringing together group members from various departments and locations. However, distributed groups also create complexity for the departments and organizations where they are located as group members try to align goals, work processes, priorities, and even the image of the group and departments where they work. As a result, a distributed group may be working within a much more dynamic environment than that of a single department within a common location.

In looking at this group, some conclusions about the impact of this more complex environment on the group could be drawn:

• There were differing interpretations of perceived authority within the group, the departments, the project, and the organization especially when there was no clear authority structure imposed on the group.

• According to the group, there was very little perceived cultural change within departments and the professions that group members identified with. However, the group’s culture appeared to fluctuate to align with the perceived power structure’s culture. Some group members were able to adapt; but for others, they either left the organization or tried to change the culture within the perceived power structure to meet their own comfort level. This was dependent upon their perception of their own empowerment and importance within the group, their department, and the training and home organizations.

• The greater percentage of the group member’s time that was dedicated to the project, the greater perception that they had a vested interest in the project and its outcome. This also lead to those with a vested interest feeling more entitled to contribute to the project, which then lead to them having a greater role with in the group’s power structure. In other words, those that did not have additional duties outside of the project, believed that they should have the greatest influence on the project direction and decisions.

• The complexity of the environment made it difficult for group members and the management team to determine who exactly was part of the group (intragroup identification) and what an individual member’s role was within the group. Related to the previous point, those with the greater percentage of time dedicated to the project were closely identified with the Healthcare Counseling group. However, other factors such as acceptance by the group members, recognition by the management team and departmental power structure, and perceived expertise within an area the group and individual members identified as important also had an impact on whether others within the group recognized someone as a member or not. Those that individual members recognized as being part of the group, were included in project work processes and communications. Although, not everyone recognized by individual members was recognized by the group as a whole as being part of the group.

• The power structures, both internal and external to the group, were dynamic and not static. As a result, there was continuous realignment of goals, work processes, perceptions and expectations to maintain balance both within and outside the group. This sometimes required changes in the group culture, channels of communication, project formats and tools, and management (power) structures.

• The writing projects were both informed by and influenced communication, work processes group identity and member roles, and project goals and standards. The formats, physical layout, and virtual tools created both physical and psychological boundaries within which the group functioned. At times, these boundaries had to be renegotiated, either intragroup or between external power structures (stakeholders, departments, management). There were four strategies that were used: 1) accept a boundary (process, expectations, format, standard, etc…) as it was imposed on the group without any changes or comment, 2) adopt a process or format from one of the departments as is or making minimal changes to align with the group’s beliefs and processes, 3) maintain multiple processes or formats as long as they could be compatible with boundaries imposed externally, modifying those that were outside of the imposed boundaries, or 4) create new formats and processes from scratch to fit within the boundaries imposed externally. The strategy used depended on time constraints, the degree of perceived difference outside of the group, the level of ownership both to the project and the work task/product, the support (or lack) by the group members and/or power structure, the affect on personal, professional, or departmental image, and level of personal investment to certain aspects of the project.

• Related to this was the consistent tension between work processes established at the various levels of the power structures within the work environment. These tensions were often resolved either by 1) collaboration, 2) compromise, 3) subversion, or 4) withdrawal from the organization or project.