Starting the learning experience

As I’ve attended classes and presentations and conferences over the years, I’ve come to realize how poorly many learning experiences begin. Typically a learning experience starts with a brief welcome to those who are present and then jumps right into the first lecture or demonstration. Clearly no thought is given to how to set the tone for the event. Perhaps even more frustrating is the idea that the learning experience can’t start until everyone arrives physically in the same place. I’ve reflected on how much more valuable face to face learning experiences could be if we would put some thought into preparing our learners for the experience before they come together in person. Today I saw an approach to starting a learning experience that DID take these factors into consideration. To launch the Learning 2006 conference, Elliot Masie created a video-based orientation segment to prepare the learners for participation in the conference. Take a minute to look at this orientation and think about how much more effective a learning experience can be by taking the time to preparing learners ahead of time.

UltraMoblie PCs changing the way we learn

UMPCThere is no doubt that laptops computers have changed the way we think about learning.

Gaming in Education

I have recently become very interested in the idea of gaming in education.

John Seely Brown on Serious Play

This week I had the opportunity to hear John Seely Brown speak at the University of Utah. He began by calling our attention to a chilling statistic:

Last year china and asia graduated 500,000 engineers. The US graduated 90,000, but 40,000 of them returned home to Asia.

He then provided some suggestions for how we should go about addressing the challenges of learning today.

  • We should rethink how today’s digital students learn
  • We should tap into the natural curiosities and passions of students
  • We should leverage peer-based learning communities
  • We should leverage the open resources of the net to re-conceive schooling and learning for and in the digital age

Brown concluded his discussion by cautioning that we are spending so much time addressing why “johnny can’t read” that we forgetting to address why “johnny can’t innovate”.

> More information on John Seely Brown

Reaching Latino students

Today I had the opportunity to listen to Ignacio Garcia, professor at BYU. He spoke on the missing pieces of the educational experience for Latino students. The most important missing piece, in Garcia’s opinion, is “the intellectual piece”. As an example, he told a story about a time when he was serving as an advisor for a university Latino club. Garcia was received a call from a student who was organizing a campus multicultural week and wanted the Latino club to participate. Garcia’s answer was, “Yes, but won’t sing, we won’t dance and we won’t feed anybody.” The student never called back.

If we limited the US culture to square dancing and country music and told Anglo students that was their culture, it would embarrass them, said Garcia. The same thing happens with Latino students when we reduce their culture to Mariachis and burritos. Inspiring Latino students to do something with their life, requires something intellectual to motivate them. “Inspiration ought to come from beyond forming another Mariachi group in another school. . . We want [the Latino] community to be collectively responsible for themselves, but they have to be armed to do it.”

Gov. Olene Walker on Education

The keynote speaker at the Utah Council of Deans of Education was Governor Olene Walker. The following are some notes about the major points of her message.

Embracing Culturally Diverse Students
Governor Walker expressed her concern with the brightest and gifted students, but suggested that the focus of our efforts be on the “at-risk” students. “…If we don’t find a way to help the at-risk students master the basic skills,” said Walker, “we will have major social issues in the future.” She encouraged everyone to start looking at ethnically diverse students as an asset, not as a burden or as a problem (as we often do). Walker encouraged us to look for the best from every culture. An example from her culture was the importance placed on parents reading to their children every night.

Walker concluded her discussion of culturally diverse students by emphasizing the importance of having diverse educational leaders. Nationally there are very few culturally diverse administrators, and almost none in Utah. “An example of that, look at this body,” said Walker referring to the group Utah’s Deans and Superintendents, “how many minorities do you have sitting here?” There were very few, if any.

Tuition Tax Credit
When it comes to the idea of a tuition tax credit, “I’ve never seen a model that works,” said Governor Walker. She stated that you cannot make the assumption that you can fund someone on others. You also cannot make an assumption that the business sector is going to be building schools that the common person can afford. “I’ve always been a strong believer in public schools. It’s what has made America great.”

Taking Action
As she ended, Walker encouraged educators to become more involved in the political discussions that effect education. She said that higher educators have “got to be at the table more” when it comes to the legislative process. When it comes to issues such as the tuition tax credit, “If you are not at the table on that, you will have to live with the results. All of you better be at the table on that issue.”

Walker admitted that she didn’t know all of the answers to dealing with the huge influx of children expected in the Utah public schools in the next 10 years. However, she said that we have got to find a way to make them feel that by going to school every day they can succeed. If they feel like they are going to fail, we are going to loose them. “If I went to work everyday with the idea that I was going to fail, I’d call in sick.”

Using Webcams in the Classroom

About a year and a half ago, I became frustrated by the number of teachers that I had observed that had made no effort to connect their students with experts outside of their own classrooms. I began looking for ways to “break down the walls” of traditional classrooms through new technology. One of the ways that I found was through the use of webcams, which allowed experts to be connected with students inexpensively, and without having to travel. My first test was connecting a class that I was teaching at BYU at the time (IP&T 286) to an educational technology professor on the other side of campus. Next, I set up a virtual violin lesson. After two very successful “trial runs” I contacted my good friend Baldomero Lago, a Spanish education professor at BYU, with the project. He and I began testing the idea with some high schools in Utah. Technical snafus set us back a bit (mostly due to the strict proxy settings in the public schools). Baldmonero stuck with it though, and was finally able to get it to work. Using his connections in Spain, he was able to set up a project where students from Murray High School worked in teams with students from a High School in Galicia, Spain. There is an article on the project in the Salt Lake Tribune. What Baldomero has done is one of the best examples of technology integration I have ever seen. He and I are currently working on a paper discussing the benefits of using social connectivity technology in foreign language classrooms – stay posted!

Why I hated school

Most people who go into education do so because of some great teacher who inspired them, and in so doing made them want to do the same for others. I ended up in education because, after 12 years of hating just about every minute of it, I finally said “I can do better than this!” Now, as I try to find ways to make the educational experience better for others, I look at why I had such a negative experience. I think it comes down to the fact that certain characteristics, necessary for learning, were missing from my education.
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Job Aids vs. Instruction

Job aids fall into three categories; job aids for procedures, job aids for informing, and job aids for coaching.

When is it better to use a job aid instead of instruction? I began making a list of when I would use one over the other, but then I found some suggestions on a San Diego State University professor’s site that I liked better than mine! So here is his list of suggestions. His site has some other great resources on job aids too.

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Can learning be delivered through media?

Back in the day when Netscape was new and gigabyte was an unfamiliar word, I took a job at the University of Rhode Island to pilot a tool to improve teaching: technology. One of the instructors that I worked with, hoping to teach gravity equations in a more tangible way, captured video of himself throwing eggs off the tallest building on campus. By pulling out still images of the fall and using the windows on the building as fixed distances, he was able to show the increase in distance per second caused by the force of gravity on the egg. This was accompanied by a graphic display of the equations and the music “Free Falling” by Tom Petty.
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