Inquiry through Blended Learning

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Location: Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Monday, March 30, 2009

Hodges University, Florida - Faculty Development Day

Eric, Alex and I just finished a wonderful week in Florida together. The reason for the trip was that Hodges University in Fort Meyer's had invited me to facilitate their annual Faculty Development Day. Hodges is a non-profit university with a mature student population involved in undergraduate and graduate degree programs. The average class size is approximately 15 students with a "seasoned" group of faculty instructors (all on continuing contracts - no tenure - similar to the Royal Roads University system).

In the morning, I ran my Designing for a Blended Community of Inquiry workshop and in the afternoon, the Roles of a Successful Blended/Online Instructor session. I was VERY impressed with how well both sessions were received. All the faculty participants were active and collaborative participants in the small and large group discussions. One of the librarians, Susan Smith, even blogged both of my sessions.

Beyond, the Faculty Development Day - Eric, Alex and I had a BLAST in Florida (complete pictures). We began our trip in Orlando by picking up our Ford Mustang rental mobile. Our first stop was the Regal Sun Resort in Disney World. We used the resort as a launching pad to explore nearby SeaWorld. We arrived at the park bright and early so that Eric could have a ride on the Kraken Roller Coaster. Unfortunately, our next ride was the Journey to Atlantis (a water log ride) and we spent the rest of the day "soaked". After trying out all the rides we watched the Shamu Believe Show, the Pet's Ahoy Show, the Neptune Circus Show, the Dolphin Show and the Sea Lion and Walrus Show. The boys even had their pictures taken with one of the Anheuser-Busch Clydesdale horse.

Wednesday March 25th was a special day - Alex's 13th birthday. For your birthday, Disney provides you with free admission to their theme parks and Alex had mapped out a VERY full day. We began the day at EPCOT centre with rides on the GM Test Track, Mission Space, Space World and Soaring. Even met up with Randy Garrison and his daughter Sabrine for lunch at the French Pavilion. Then it was onto Animal Kingdom to see the animals and try out the Dinosaur ride (unfortunately, they had run out of FastPasses for the new Everest Express Roller Coaster Ride). Next it was off to Hollywood Studios to watch the Extreme Vehicle and Indiana Jones Stunt Shows. We finished the day at the Magic Kingdom where we tried out the Indy Race Cars, the Pirates of the Caribbean, the Big Thunder Roller Coaster and Space Mountain (our first and last big line of the day). The evening was completed with a wonderful fireworks display over the Magic Kingdom and a special Birthday dinner at the T-Rex Restaurant in Downtown Disney - what a day!!

We spent the rest of our trip relaxing on beaches in the Fort Meyers area (I'm still learning that even a little sun can burn pasty white skin)

Friday, March 13, 2009

Distributed Learning Symposium - Calgary, Alberta

I had the privilege of being part of keynote panel for the 2009 Distributed Learning Symposium in Calgary, Alberta. The other panel members were George Siemens and Alec Couros. The topic of our keynote was on Personalization, Social Networks, Innovation and Ingenuity. We each had five minutes to speak on the topic and then we responded to questions from the audience via a show of hands and the use of Twitter. From my perspective, it was an interactive experience that was well received by the audience.

A couple of other sessions of interest to me were by Amy Park and Jason Ohler. Amy is a former student of my EDUC3325: Computers in Education course and she is currently teaching at the Calgary Science School. Her session was entitled Engaging “Screenagers” in Academic Rigor. She demonstrated how she engages her junior high students in inquiry-based learning through the construction of video documentaries. Amy also discussed how this process helps students gain 21st Century Skills as outlined by the Metiri Group and how she creates a collaborative learning culture through assessment (extensive use of self, peer, instructor and parent feedback).

Jason was the evening keynote speaker and his session was entitled Beyond Essays: New kids, New Media and New Literacies. He began his session by explaining that teacher's are "door openers" for students. He then discussed how computers are "screasels" (screen + easel). Jason provided an overview to a series of digital literacy action guidelines:
  1. Shift from text-centrism to new media collage
  2. Value writing more than ever (visually differentiated text – VDT)
  3. Adopt art as 4 th , next R
  4. Follow DAOW of literacy (Digital Art Oral Written – Digital Storytelling)
  5. Attitude is the aptitude (“can do” attitude)
  6. Practice private and social literacy
  7. Develop literacy about digital tools
  8. Fluency, not just literacy
  9. Harness both report and story . . . embrace story! (teaching is storytelling)
He went on to provide the following advice for teachers:
  1. Leave clicks, tricks to kids with time
  2. Deputize: guide on side not technician magician
  3. Create learning communities
  4. Provide quality, wisdom
  5. Provide meaningful assessment, feedback
Jason has done a lot of work with children in the area of digital storytelling and he emphasizes that a story core has three key parts
  1. Problem (tension)
  2. Solution (resolution)
  3. Transformation (emergence, rebalancing)
And, that the media development process for a digital story often has 8 steps:
  1. Plan, map, pitch storyboard story
  2. Write 1-2 pages
  3. Speak/record
  4. Add/reserve title page
  5. Add pics
  6. Add citations
  7. Add music
  8. Add transitions

Blended Learning Symposium - Helsinki, Finland

Wow, what an amazing experience!! I was very privileged to spend a week in Finland , courtesy of the University of Helsinki . I was invited to present a keynote session entitled Designing for Blended Communities of Inquiry and my workshop on Passion, Curiousity-Driven Learning and Web 2.0: What's the Connection? for the University's 3rd Annual Blended Learning Symposium.

A few interesting facts about the country of Finland. First, it's sandwiched between Sweden and Russia, which have both had a "heavy" influence on the history of the country. Probably, the first inhabitants were the Sami (Arctic aboriginal people probably distantly related to the Inuit). It sounds like the first Europeans arrived from Eastern Europe (around Hungary). The country was ruled by Swedish Kings for an extended period of time and in 1550 Helsinki was founded by the King of Sweden to compete with Tallinn in Estonia for Baltic Sea Trade. Russia conquered Finland in 1809 and a monumental Empire-style city plan was constructed for Helsinki to showcase the power of Russia and the Tsar. The design architect for many of the buildings was Carl Engel, the same guy who designed many of the major buildings and monuments in St. Petersberg became the first European country to grant women full political rights in 1905 and in 1917 they became independent from the Soviet Union in 1917. The country elected it's first female president, Tarja Halonen, in 2000 and she was re-elected for a second term in 2006. Presently, 86% of the women between the ages of 25 to 55 work outside of the home.

With the current global economic recession Finland is facing pressure to reform some of its socialist traditions. For example, there is discussion about extending the age of retirement from 63 to 65. Education is a key focus for Finland and currently all post-secondary students receive free tuition and an allowance to attend higher education institutions. There is growing pressure though for students to complete their studies in a shorter time period (43% of Finns aged 20 to 29 are studying versus an OECD average of 25%) and for students to take more applied rather than liberal arts degrees.

A couple of conference sessions that stood out for me were Kristiina Kumpulainen's keynote session on learning and the impact of technology and Helena Forssman's talk on Linking Innovation and Learning. Kristiina is the Director of the Cross-disciplinary Initiative for Collaborative Efforts of Research on Learning (CICERO) and she is using Wenger's community of practice framework to guide much of her work. Helena's husband is a senior manager with Nokia so she travels the world. Currently, she is based in Athens, Greece where she help coordinate Virtual Student Innovation Competitions.

I was overwhelmed by the hospitality of the conference organizers and participants and I even learned a few Finnish words:

  • Kiitos - thank you
  • Tervetuloa – welcome
  • Sulautuva opetus – blended learning

Mina and Susannah took time on the weekend to show me the sites of Helsinki and Eeva and Laurii invited me to their home in neighbouring Espoo to enjoy an afternoon of cross-country skiing on the sea ice. I made sure to take lots of pictures of my Finland adventure and I'm hoping that I can stay connected to this educational technology community through my participation in The International Virtual Benchmarking Project.

Calgary City Teacher's Convention - February 2009

It was a real treat to be able to present a session on Passion, Curiousity-Driven Learning and Web 2.0: What's the Connection? for the Calgary City Teacher's Convention in February, 2009. I learned how easy it is to take bus #18 from Mount Royal College to the Telus Centre and I also learned about the barriers K to 12 teachers encounter when attempting to have their students utilize Web 2.0 tools.

I had a full-house and 75 minutes for the session (I had originally planned for 45 minutes). This provided lots of time for the participants to work in groups on learning activities and issues for my 8 categories of Web 2.0 tools (i.e. social bookmarking, blogs, wikis, social networking tools, synchronous communication tools, media sharing applications, mashups and virtual worlds). I've now got a pretty good handout for this session and I've created a wiki using SHex to post new resources and ideas that are discussed by the participants.

Many in the audience did not have "first hand" experience with these tools - so from my perspective the debrief about the group work was very valuable. Not sure if many of these teachers will actually get to use these tools as there are LOTS of Freedom of Informaiton and Privacy (FOIP) and technical issues associated with teaching in a K to 12 school :)