Transition to Digital Media In and Out of the Classroom (Part 1)

Digital learning and research...

When I first started teaching about 12-15 years ago, I spent a lot of time working through each textbook, transferring key points to overheads and then lecturing from that material.  From time to time I would photo copy an interesting article I had read in a magazine or newspaper and bring that into the classroom as well to supplement learning, help students make connections and give the information we were covering some context.  Still, I was the primary source of information and the textbook was there to support student learning and back me up as a source of that information.

About 5  years later I begin to utilize power points more so than any overheads for my lectures as more and more computers and projectors started showing up in the classrooms for instructors to use.   Transferring my overheads to power points was tedious but necessary.  I was still the primary source of information and the textbook was there in support of what we were covering in the classroom.  Although I knew students really were not learning “more” or “better” from power points, this is what they were beginning to expect.  Our LMS was bulky and painful, but I started to see more uses for it now that things were moving in that digital direction.  I still however would copy interesting articles for them and bring them into the classroom on paper.  The difference being now I was finding more “interesting articles” via the web which was really beginning to proliferate with the amount and type of information available.  This was probably circa 2005.  A century in data and information ago!

Around that time, something strange began to happen.  It was subtle but it was there, in the classroom, in the hallways, even in my office!  Because of the proliferation of information available at the fingertips of my students online, I was becoming a secondary source of information, not the primary one.  This is when more and more laptops began to show up in the classroom and students were beginning to take notes on their own laptops (or surf the web, I really couldn’t tell the difference).  More social media sites began to take hold and Google became a household word.  When I had a question, instead of going to a textbook or research article, I would “Google” it myself so I knew exactly what the students were doing when they had questions too.  I knew times were changing when discussing a concept one day in class, I had just reiterated a particular concept and a student raised their hand and said, “I just Googled it and this website says ‘this’.”  Yes, times were changing.

 

The Instructor as a Student (of Entrepreneurship) (Part 2)

Mentoring Matters

After all of the language learning, then came the mentoring.  Our company has some really great mentors who have all been incredibly helpful and insightful.  We have actually been very fortunate.  At first this was great.  We were getting lots of helpful ideas and suggestions, but nothing too specific.    However, the longer the mentoring went on, the more frustrated I became.  Not because they were not doing their jobs, but because I just wanted someone to tell me exactly what to do to be successful at this, being an entrepreneur.  How exactly do we pitch this in 5-7 words?  Don’t give me potentialities, give me something I can pitch; exactly, word for word.  You are the expert; tell me what to say!

As I was reflecting on this the other day, my frustration, I thought…”Hmmm, this sounds very familiar, except I usually hear it from students in a different context”.   What I generally hear from them is “Tell us exactly what we need to study for the test” or “tell me which chapters should I focus on for the paper,  spoon feed me”!  I just kind of laugh and say, “Why anything we have covered in the class is a possibility.  You need to make the connections between the how and the why of what we have been discussing. Show me you know what you are talking about, and don’t ramble hoping to stumble across what you think I am looking for in your responses.   Learning is a process.  It’s different for everyone.  Don’t focus on the answers; focus on asking the right questions”.

My epiphany: this entrepreneurship stuff is no different.  I am learning this as a process and no one can give me “the answer”.  I have to discover it myself.   Or we have to discover it for ourselves, as a team.   This is exactly what I say to my students, repeatedly.  And thus, the instructor becomes a student.  Value the process, value the process, value the process.   Sigh.

 

The Instructor As a Student (of entrepreneurship) (Part 1)

Chalkboard Quotation

So about 2 years ago I had this really brilliant idea.  I knew the moment it popped into my head that it was a really good one; perhaps my best to date and I needed to act on it.  I ruminated for a couple of months and solidified it a bit before contacting a former colleague of mine to dialogue (academic language) about it or pitch it (entrepreneur language) and see if he was interested in working on the idea together.  He was, and so it began.

We both come from the higher education space.  Mine is more curriculum and instruction oriented and he from a course infrastructure, learning management system background.   Neither of us really had any real business or entrepreneur experience.  So for both of us, this was really stepping out of our comfort zone. My strengths are academic, not entrepreneurial.  Need me to research a topic and write a paper on it or teach it?  I can do that.  Want me to say the same thing 5 different ways? That’s just standard academic speech.  Want me to ponder on something, for years and still not have a conclusion?   Another one of my strengths!

Want me to tell you what our company does in 5-7 words?  I can tell you what we do in 5 different ways.  I can write a dissertation on it.  I can research and tell you why it’s a great idea. Take away: Academia revolves around theoretical constructs and complex ideas. Entrepreneurship/business revolves around application and clarity.  There is little room for dialogue or discourse in business, no vibrant discussions or the use of language like locution or pontification.   It was pretty obvious we needed help.

My first step was completing an incubator program.  I graduated from the Founder Institute Seattle program in June 2012.  I must say, those were a tough 16 weeks.    The language barriers alone were difficult to overcome.  Pitch decks/slide decks /investor decks = power point presentations.  Executive summary = abstract?  CTO’s?  Proforma = spreadsheet.  Java?  Ruby on Rails?    Convertible Notes?  Pinging?  Target Markets?  Market Caps?  Go To Market (Strategies)? Verticals? Branding?  Whew, it was a lot to absorb.

Part 2 (TBD)

Social Learning Pros & Cons: An Instructor’s Perspective

social-Learning-net

Social learning is just one learning tool that can be employed to promote learning in any classroom.  We typically think of social learning as peer to peer (P2P) and it is dependent on several factors to be successful:

1)   The base level of knowledge or experience a learner brings to the discussion

2)   A positive, open learning environment

3)   Facilitation of discussion

 

I have employed the idea of social learning in both F2F classrooms and of course online classrooms which depend on this mechanism.  Here are some of the pros of social learning:

1)   Different perspectives (although as the instructor, I tend to lean towards my own, there are other valid points that need to be acknowledged)

2)   Critical thinking (especially if students are asked not only to contribute an opinion, but an informed one)

There are some cons as well:

1)   Discussion quality is limited to the engagement, preparation and knowledge base of the students contributing (if the information is too new, students likely lack context)

2)   True facilitation of these discussions.  These discussions can go sideways really quickly if not guided correctly.

 

Now let me expand on this idea of facilitation.  What it really means for the instructor is letting go of controlling the conversations.  For instructors (well for me anyway), this is not always easy.  Instructors need to loosen the reins enough that students can then explore the topics, not be “informed” about them by the “expert”.  However, the conversations still need to be guided and students prompted to think more deeply about their perspectives; challenged not to defend their position, but to be uncomfortable not being certain of the answer.  This is a great way for students to learn how to critically evaluate the information and learn how to respect other thoughts and ideas.  This also does require a knowledgeable and talented facilitator to guide that process.

Another potential problem arises when students are not adequately prepared or are just not engaged in the material.  One way I have found to get students to contribute that often won’t in a classroom setting is to take the conversation offline; out of the virtual classroom if online or take it online if in a F2F environment.   I tend to do this using digital content I have vetted that helps them connect the idea of what we are discussing to the real world.  This is helpful for 2 reasons:

1)   It gives the students who are not really prepared or engaged a chance to connect with something that can promote both of those.

2)   It helps bring context to their conversation.

I wanted my students to be able to connect with their peers, not just in their current class, but peers across the world studying similar ideas and constructs.  That is social learning and we created this mechanism on TheHubEdu.   I have been using this for these “offline” or “virtual hallway” conversations with much success in my current classes.  True social learning is bigger than your classroom and it involves sharing ideas, thoughts and content.   The conversations are just the beginning.

Introduction

I am an avid sports fan as well as a passionate educator/edupreneur. I played sports all of my life and today remain very active. It seems to me there are 2 professions in the US that almost everyone thinks they know how to do better than the individuals actually doing those jobs: coaches and teachers.

No matter the sport, or the level, someone is always criticizing the coach and their decisions. People think because they have played a sport or are passionate fans, they can make the best decisions on behalf of their preferred team. Now granted, most have never actually “coached” anything but still, they seem to always be second guessing the coaches decisions, especially if the outcome is not the desired one. I am not saying coaches always make the best calls, sometimes they make bad decisions, but don’t we all? And who is to say if they had made a different decision, the outcome would have turned out differently? Maybe, maybe not.

Education appears to be going through the same kind of constant criticism. Again, most of the individuals criticizing the education system don’t know anything about what it takes to be an “educator”. They have never actually stepped foot into a classroom as an educator, but because they likely went to school and hopefully learned something, they think they know best how to educate. And it is a constant barrage of negativity regarding the education system. It’s the teachers, they can’t teach. No wait, it’s the teachers unions hindering our children’s ability to learn. No, wait, it’s funding. No, it’s class size. No, it’s teacher preparation programs. No, the parents should be able to charter their own schools, you know, because they are the education experts. No, there should be waivers for those that want to go to private schools.

No, the real problem is lack of clarity. Where do we get clarity? How about from the actual educators? I am a university professor, with over 12 years of teaching experience. My mother, sister, aunt and partner are all public educators. Yet our voices are never heard. When I ask why, my sister replies: “teachers are too exhausted to fight back”. Having been around educators all of my life, I believe this is true. I have been complaining about this for years, so finally, I am going to fight back. I am going to talk about the educator’s perspective; my perspective as someone who is passionate about learning, who wants my students to be actively engaged, who wants them to be able to critically think and evaluate information and as someone who sees problems with the education system but can approach it from the inside, instead of from a perspective external to the system. I might not always be right, but I am willing to learn, listen and reflect upon other perspectives, and that is what it means to be educated.