Inquiry through Blended Learning

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Location: Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Week Four - Winter 2008 Semester

Well, I’ve noticed that I’ve already missed week 2 and 3 of the semester – so I’ll try and create a more informative posting for week 4 :(

This was an interesting week as I was in San Antonio, Texas for the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative Annual Conference (ELI) while I also trying to keep up with my EDUC3325: The Role of Technology in Education and my EDER679.20 Blended Learning courses.

The week began with a long flight from Calgary to Denver and then another onto San Antonio. I must admit that I was a bit nervous that the journey would not even begin as it was -30C with a wind chill of about -44C when we left Calgary. The flight was delayed for almost 30 minutes as they had to de-ice the fuel line and the toilets on the plane.

Wow, what a wonderful treat to arrive in San Antonio to 22C weather. I must admit that I didn’t know much about the city before I arrived and I’m not sure I learned much more during my stay. I do know that San Antonio is the 3rd largest city in Texas (after Houston and Dallas) and from my perspective it appears that they have invested a lot of money into their downtown core – in the hope of becoming a major conference centre in the United States. A number of hotels, restaurants and a central convention centre have recently been built along the San Antonio River. They call this area the “Riverwalk” and it slightly reminds me of the canal system in Venice.

In terms of historical significance, San Antonio is the site of the “Alamo”. The Alamo was originally named the Mision San Antoio de Valero in 1724 and served as a Spanish mission for about seventy years. In the early 1800’s the Spanish military stationed a cavalry unit at the mission and referred to it as the Alamo (the Spanish word for cottonwood). San Antonio and the Alamo played a crucial role in the Texas Revolution (battle between Mexico and the United States over the land territory that would eventually become known as Texas). In December 1835, Texian and Tejano volunteers forced Mexican troops in San Antonio to surrender. These volunteers then occupied the Alamo – where they held out for 13 days against the larger forces of the Mexican army. Texans remember the Alamo as a heroic struggle against overwhelming odds – a place where men mad the ultimate sacrifice for freedom (to die rather than surrender).

Anyways, onto the highlights of ELI conference. I’ve posted my complete set of notes to my personal web site and EDUCAUSE has set up a site where you can download podcasts, PowerPoint presentations blog postings from many of the sessions.

We arrived late in the afternoon – so I was only able to attend the final session of the day on Monday. This session was facilitated by George Siemens who was a student in several of my graduate courses at Royal Roads University. George is now the Associate Director of the Learning Technologies Centre at the University of Manitoba and has really evolved his connectivism learning theory. His theory suggests that knowledge is a function of being connected and that we make sense of our world based on our own connections through our own networks. He has even developed his own five stage taxonomy for connectivism

1. awareness and receptivity

2. connection forming (ahah moment)

3. contribution and involvement

4. pattern recognition & meaning making

5. praxis (self reflect on how & why you create your networks – forming a network that will serve you beyond formal education)

Tuesday was a VERY full day for me – as I attended a number of sessions, co-facilitated a session with Randy on blended learning and I connected with two of my education courses via the Elluminate Live! system. The first session was by Tom Reeves of the University of Georgia. Tom has a tremendous amount of experience with instructional technology and program evaluation and I had heard him speak previously at the University of Alberta. His talk was on Technology and the Conative Learning Domain in Undergraduate Education. I must admit that I had never heard of the conative learning domain and he described it as one’s will, desire, level of effort, drive, striving, mental energy, focus, self-determination and intention to succeed. Tom believes that the Millennial generation is self indulgent and narcissistic and that through their sense of entitlement that they have lost the “will to succeed”. He argues that the conative domain can be achieved in undergraduate courses through authentic learning design & assessment – which involved the constructive alignment of higher order objectives, assessment and objectives in a course. Learning tasks shift from academic (textbook) to authentic (ill-structured). He and his Authentic Learning Team have a web site that demonstrates how to put these strategies into practice.

Fortunately, I made a last minute decision to attend Michael Wesch’s session on Human Futures for Technology and Education. This is the guy who, along with his first year cultural anthropology course created the YouTube video, Vision of Students Today. This video illustrates the crisis of significance in higher education – students’ are increasingly finding that their learning in post-secondary classes is not relevant. His believes about learning are very similar to those of George Siemen’s. He suggests that learning is about creating significant connections and there are two types of meaningful connections:

1. Semantic – word, concept, idea – what it is and how it relates to other concepts – semantic web (e.g. love)

2. Personal – find your own identity – how you relate to others

Michael argues that these two types of connections are inseparable and interdependent. In essence, students learn what they care about from people they care about. His recommendation for creating significance in a course is to find a grand narrative that has relevance and context for learning in a particular course. This narrative should be full of ill-defined problems, which created opportunities for student self-directed inquiry, leverages all members of the class (collective intelligence) and appropriate media environments. His suggestion for a grand narrative is the metaphor of Spaceship Earth. What are the serious issues that we face as a “planet” and how do we go about collectively solving these problems?

In his first year cultural anthropology course of 200 he actually gets the students to identify what they believe to be the key problems and then using the jigsaw method (developing distributed expertise) he gets students teams to come up with ideas to solve these problems.

Wow, looking back on my notes – I now realize that I actually did not attend that many conference sessions L On the final morning of the conference I sat in on George Siemens and Cyprian Lomas’ session on data visualization. The key being to make sense of an abundance of data by displaying it visually so one can begin to recognize patterns. George emphasized how information aggregation tools are growing (e.g. Google Custom Search feature) but that information manipulation tools are still in their infancy. They then want onto demonstrate the following tools.

1. Dollar Street by Hans Rosling which contrasts scenarios visually – allowing one to explain complex situations through story telling with the aid of visual patterns for illustrations.

2. Twittervision – to find out where twitter feeds are coming from in the World

3. TouchGraph Facebook Browser – to map your community of friends (which potentially might be a community of practice)

4. Many Eyes – an interesting tool from IBM that can map out themes and relationships within a block of text (e.g. essay, transcript) that is pasted into Many Eyes

5. Xobni – InBox spelled backwards – email organization and search tool, which unfortunately it appears to be just restricted to Microsoft Outlook at the moment

6. Qunitura - related search tool

7. WorldMapper – displays maps of global trends

8. Jing – a screenshot program

Some final comments from the audience about the session included:

  • An idea has semantic value – based on how it relates to other ideas
  • Predictive capacity of data-visualization – have students first predict trends and then graph them and see results – using these tools
  • Data mining – torture the data until it confesses (Chuck Dzuiban from University of Central Florida)

Unfortunately, I had to coordinate one final Elluminate Live! session with my EDUC3325 students so I only got to see the beginning of the LITRE: Investigating the Effectiveness of Technology in Improving Student Learning session. It does appear though that they have developed some interesting sets of questions about student learning with technology.

Sigh, long flight home as we had to go through Denver and as usual there was a 2 hour delay but at least the weather was warmer (-20C) in Calgary than when we left :)

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Winter 2008 - Week One

After a restful and relaxing family Christmas holiday in California it feels great to be starting the winter 2008 semester. I have 2 sections of the EDUC3325: Role of Technology in Education course at Mount Royal College and a campus based section of the EDER679.20 Blended Learning course at the University of Calgary.

The EDUC3325 course sections began this week and I was very impressed with the students' interest and motivation about sharing their previous "teaching with technology" experiences during their volunteer school placements last semester. Sigh, I'm still finding that the online discussion board in the Blackboard learning management system is very difficult to use so I've moved our discussions in Facebook. This allows both sections to participate in the same discussions as well as alumni from this course who are now at other higher education institutions or teaching in the K to 12 system.