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The third type of digital divide and why mobile devices should remain on

 

Much has been written about the digital divide. And we are now seeing research and publications focused on the “second-level digital divide” as mobile devices become increasingly ubiquitous. Now we’re talking about the structural inequities among not just who has digital access, but rather, the kinds of access and digital access skills.

 

In addition, the pervasiveness of mobile computing means that North American post-secondary classrooms are increasingly a site for a third kind of digital divide: between instructors struggling to wrest students’ attention away from their mobile devices, and students as tied to said devices as day traders to the Nasdaq. Maybe it doesn’t have to be one or the other: mobile computing can add value to any classroom.

 

 

Here are seven ways to leverage mobile capacity from the very first class.

 

1. Ice Breaker: App Show and Tell

People love apps (estimates for 2013 range from somewhere between 54 – 86 billion downloads). Ask students to stand up, mingle around, and query someone they haven’t met “What’s your favourite app and why?” What are the most popular apps represented in your class? What does this say about commonalities and differences?

2. Course Playlist

Playlists are the contemporary equivalent of mixtapes. What song(s) symbolize the themes of this course? Put together a collaborative playlist. Play a song at the beginning and end of every class.

3. In-ClassTwitterchat

Individual reflective activities are regarded as productive and constructive. Why not take 10 minutes and move the conversation into the social-digital realm? #yourcoursename

 

4. Open-search-engine pre-test

Mobile devices are banished from final exams – rightly so. Yet the skill of locating credible information efficiently is essential in any profession. Invite students to preview a modified final exam at the beginning of the course using their mobile devices to access information (they can work in pairs if not everyone has an Internet-enabled search engine on their phone). Extra points for the instructor if the pre-test is designed more for critical understanding/analysis than fact-memorization. Optimally, students will directly experience why attending class is a value-add over just reading the text.

 

5. Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Collectively develop an innovative idea based on the course content, or identify a community project or cause, and work with them to secure funding. Try to fund development using crowd-sourced micro finance (such as Kickstarter).

 

6. Social Justice

Identify a cause and create an online petition. Or locate, critique, endorse petitions. Reflect on the challenge of consensus building, ethics, values, decision-making.

 

7. Collaborative Learning Assessment

Invite students to collaboratively co-create the final exam throughout the course using a mobile test-maker application.

 

 

All of the above strategies are aimed at addressing classroom engagement and leveraging the reality that students will bring and access their mobile devices, whether sanctioned or not. But most important, these strategies can address the skills gaps identified in the concept of second-level digital divide. And do so in the spirit of new and emerging teaching and learning frameworks:

Paragogy and heutagogy.

(Also on Slideshare)

 

 

 

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Disruptive innovations aren’t easy for established institutions

Online learning has been around for over two decades now. Yet institutions – secondary and post-secondary – continue to struggle with its integration and applications. I am still hearing lots of questioning and debate about the suitability and effectiveness of online delivery. What does the research say?

Learning outcomes have been shown to be modestly better for online versus classroom-based courses (Means et al. 2010)

Learning activities can be equally effective across online and face-to-face conditions (Neuhauser, 2002)

Online courses across a variety of theoretical and practical topic areas have been offered successfully (Tallent-Runnels et al. 2006).

Course development (whether face-to-face, mixed mode or online) is resource-intensive. Here is a radical rethink of higher education from a systems perspective, from a provocative 2003 article by Carol Twigg (decribed as a Rock Star in higher education technology and innovation) for Educause:

American higher education remains what Bill Massy and Bob Zemsky have called a “handicraft” industry in which the vast majority of courses are developed and delivered as “one-offs” by individual professors… Currently in higher education, both on campus and online, we individualize faculty practice (that is, we allow individual faculty members great latitude in course development and delivery) and standardize the student learning experience (that is, we treat all students in a course as if their learning needs, interests, and abilities were the same). Instead, we need to do just the opposite.

Full disclosure: I have taught a graduate clinical course focused on addiction treatment for over 10 years. Don’t get me wrong, I love classroom teaching. But feedback I get from students has consistently reinforced three things:

1. There are as many ways of teaching online as there are face-to-face. Just like there can be good and bad classroom courses (and instructors), same goes for online.

2. Online courses can be experienced as equally or more rigorous than their in-class counterparts, in that online students report having to critique, reflect and formulate their ideas more deeply in order to contribute to class discussion and dialogue.

3. Online learning is accessible to students in a way that classroom teaching can’t accomplish.

In any case, the debate may well be moot: Instructional videos on YouTube – for everything from how to change a tire or rig a sailboat, to advanced chemistry – constitute what might well be the world’s biggest and most vibrant online apprenticeship training. Khan Academy (“our mission: to provide a world-class education for anyone, anywhere”) materials are used by teachers worldwide in their classrooms. (Because the online version teaches it better?) Students today have grown up in a world where the Internet has always existed. Digital communication, networking and collaboration are like talking (or breathing).

So why, twenty years on, aren’t there more online offerings in colleges and universities (especially among those in the top tier)? I think the hesitation comes from a deep place in our collective psyche as educators. We want to believe that our physical presence at the front of the class is a key contributor to meaning-making and learning for our students. From an instructivist theoretical frame, this makes sense. Thing is, the education field has widely adopted constructivist models of teaching and learning, at odds with a “sage on the stage” approach.

Online learning in higher education represents a paradigm shift and a disruptive innovation. Big time.

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Here’s what the ultimate teaching challenge might look like…and in the future it may be the rule rather than the exception

A new book, Motivational Interviewing in Groups (Wagner and Ingersoll) outlines motivational approaches and strategies in group facilitation. While the book’s emphasis is on clinical practice, the principles and applications are also relevant to education settings.

The book’s authors present a table illustrating different types of group format, structure, composition, size, length and admission arranged along a continuum of difficulty (for facilitators) from easier to harder:

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This looks different for educational groups, but the essentials still apply. Here is my modification of Wagner and Ingersoll’s framework calibrated for teaching and learning:

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In other words:

Elective courses are easier to teach than mandatory courses. Students generally take electives out of interest, as opposed to being forced to take mandatory courses. Teaching students content that someone else thinks they ought to know is tougher than content in which they’re already interested.

Instructor-led courses presuppose a “script” (i.e. lesson plan), versus collaborative or student-led curricula. Paragogical approaches posit peer-to-peer learning and individual autonomy, and demand a proportionately higher level of finesse and facilitation.

Classes where students share more similarities than differences can be easier to work with than heterogeneous class compositions. For example, students who differ widely in age, ability or pre-existing knowledge and skills present more of a challenge in ensuring that all learning needs are met, and establishing an inclusive, cohesive and positive community of learning. Of course diversity, including culture, sex, gender and lived experience, enriches everyone’s learning exponentially – but demands artful facilitation on our part.

Student engagement and interactivity are more straightforward in classes of 25 or less. As class size increases so does the challenge of promoting opportunities for practice and integration of knowledge and skills.

It’s easier to keep peoples’ interest and attention for a single class of 2 or 3 hours than it is for a whole day or for multiple days. The latter demands both a varied menu of instructional strategies as well as formidable stamina (on the part of the instructor and the students).

Strict and highly competitive admission criteria can yield the “cream of the crop” of high-achieving and highly motivated learners. On the other hand, classes where admission is unrestricted means addressing the needs of the best and the brightest alongside those with academic struggles and other challenges.

Like any framework, this conceptualization tends to oversimplify and blur the many complexities and nuances of artful classroom teaching. Real life is always messier than the manual (if there even is a manual). But in general, teaching a mandatory class using a student-led curriculum, among a highly diverse cohort of 100 students or more, over a multi-day course that is freely open to all could well represent the ultimate teaching challenge.

We haven’t added the layer of classroom-based versus online teaching and learning, but does this scenario represent what may well be future of higher education…MOOC 2.0?

 

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What (and who) inspired me in 2012?

As the calendar clicks over to 2013, it’s an opportune time to reflect on some of the inspiring tools and ideas that have engaged me over the past year – and will continue to have traction in the coming year.

Here is a reverse-ordered list with lots of links to explore. Happy New Year!

10. Playlists: Every course (or presentation) needs a good soundtrack. Songza is an auto-playlist-maker recommended by Mary Nisi on NPR’s technology blog

9. Infographics: We can all do a better job at presenting complex ideas visually and elegantly. Here is a List.ly List of infographics tools

8. Presentation Zen: (Re)imagining visual communication – Garr Reynolds has been a big influencer on my own presentation style and content

7. Personal Learning Networks (PLNs): The whole really is greater than the sum of its parts

6. Gaming: Networked learning and simulation can benefit from the principles of successful, immersive and authentic hi-fidelity game environments – and this is progressing in medical simulation in Canada and worldwide.

5. Virality: What is the “replicability factor” intrinsic to certain memes? How can we infuse knowledge products with that same DNA? Check out some emerging research by Berger and Milkman (2012) What Makes Online Content Viral? and Stanford now offers an online course on viral marketing

4. Another MOOC MOOC by Hybrid Pedagogy: Because information wants to be free

3. Motivational Interviewing: A clinical approach that maps equally well to teaching and learning

2. Y Combinator: A model with applications for curricular innovation, education research and student engagement?

1. Social Inclusion: Anyone can learn if they have the tools – like the instrumental support pioneered by the World Braille Foundation: Braille = Equality… Why? Because literacy is the key to opportunity, economic security and freedom. Yet in many countries 95 per cent of blind children don’t even attend school due to lack of skilled teachers and limited access to Braille materials.

This international foundation is dedicated to promoting literacy, independence and empowerment to blind persons, with past and current projects in Kenya, Swaziland, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, Liberia and Lesotho. I make a donation every year. Plus, full disclosure, the WBF was started 10 years ago by my dad, Euclid Herie, and my #1 inspiration!

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