Diary of an eLearner

ICT Competencies in International Higher Education

I have just finished reading a paper written by Z. Zayapragassarazan and Dr. E. Ramagenesh titled ICT Competencies of Higher Education Teachers in Puducherry Region. Puducherry (which means ‘New Town’) can be found on the south-east coast of India, formally part of French India. Some refer to it now as the “The French Riviera of the East.” The goal of the study was to uncover the level of comfort instructors at the Higher Education level have with instructional technology. India has been greatly improving its education system over the last decade, and some site it as the number one reason behind it’s economic growth and financial success. This paper examines how instructors feel about educational technology in Puducherry.

Information and Communications Technology (ICT) is simply another way to say Information Technology (IT). For the use of this post, I will use ICT, just because it’s the synonym chosen by the authors. Just as in the western world, Indian instructors at the college and university levels are being forced to adapt their teaching styles to the modern day. Schools in India are trying to catch-up with western schools, and with this comes a great push and investment in instructional technology. But having these resources and tools is only half the step, with it must come proper ICT support, such as in the form of online and face-to-face training. Are Indian instructors and professors receiving adequate ICT training, well that’s the driving goal behind this study.

The study focused on the following three factors:

  1. The extent and frequency of the faculty’s use of computer software and applications for the process of both teaching and learning
  2. The faculty’s major concerns regarding using technology in the classroom
  3. Preferences of technology training methods for professional development

A total of 130 teachers were approached, but only 105 finally agreed to participant in the study. They were asked to complete a short 5 table questionnaire, consisting of a simple 5 point Likert scale, where 1 represented “not competent” and 5 represented “very competent.” It’s important to note that the numbers provided below represent the mean score. Some of the more interesting observations I noticed when going through the data include:

 

  • Transparencies and internet (WWW) use in class scored highest (3.25 and 2.91) according to the computer competency statistics while database software and specialized programs scored the lowest (1.14 and 1.05)
  • Transparencies, e-mail and internet scored the highest for frequency of use (4.43, 3.95 and 3.80), while web design scored the lowest (1.09)
  • The two greatest areas of concern for faculty are the lack of technical support (80%) and the lack of proper equipment and software (75.5%)
  • The area of lowest concern for faculty was the fear that students will not learn this way (19.1%)
  • Preferred choice of technical training was that of a instructor-led workshop (58.5%), with second and third going to 1-on-1 support and peer training (12.7% and 14.9%)

When reflecting on these findings, three key points come to mind:

  1. Instructional designers must provide different forms of training
  2. Academic success does not guarantee tech mastery
  3. Students will be better than you at tech – embrace it!

Table 5 in the study shows the analysis of the preferred choice of training for the faculty. The participants were given a list of training, and asked to sort them by preference. The results were:

  1. Workshop (58.5%)
  2. Peer (12.7%)
  3. One to One (14.9%)
  4. Manual (13.9%)

The clear winner was the workshop format. Surprised, well I’m not. You can create a fancy website and fill it with interactive training modules, even have educational games, but people still want to learn in small groups. When I’m designing training, I make sure to tackle it from different angles, such as creating a PDF manual, a interactive Power Point and finally through workshops or one-on-one support. There are many different ways to learn, and we all have our preferences. Don’t expect your preferred way to be the preferred way for others. Multiple forms of training means more work, so take this into account during the initial planning stages, or else you risk running out of time during the production stage.

Every now and again I need a reminder that even though someone may have successfully navigated through the academic system, even reaching as high as earning a doctorate degree, it doesn’t guarantee that they have mastered technology. This report is another reminder of that. Under table 4, Main Concerns of Faculty Members in Using Technology, just under half of the participants (41.8%) cited that they often have difficulties in using technology. An astonishing 58.1% reported that they do not know how to use the internet. Never assume that a person doesn’t need technical training just because someone is academically successful. This form of stereotyping just places an added expectation on the person, and might make them fearful or too shy to ask for help.

Lastly, we should not fear working with someone that is technologically stronger than we are, instead we should embrace it. Nearly half of the participants (43.6%) believe that their students are more adept with technology, and cited this as a reason not to use tech in the classroom. When I started to play guitar, I insisted on playing with people who were more skillful and had more playing experience than I had. It motivated me to practice harder, and it pushed me to excel. This is the attitude we need to develop within our organizations. If you are always the best or smartest person in your group, then you’ll just get lazy and not grow. That’s a loosing formula. Embrace the notion that there are people that know more than you do, and seek them out. Work with them, and by doing so you’ll be gaining irreplaceable skills.

2 Great Ways To Get Your Feet Wet With Moodle

One of the key components to my position as Coordinator of Instructional Technology at LSC is to create training material for the proper use of Moodle. In case you don’t already know, Moodle is an open-source learning platform, or in layman’s terms a free LMS. Many colleges and universities that don’t want to pay in order to access the larger LMSs, such as Blackboard or Canvas, are turning to Moodle as a cost-effective solution.

Now, creating online training or running face-to-face seminars isn’t the problem. There are lots of great resources already out on the Web, and after playing with Moodle for a little time, it’s easy to get the hang of things. But that’s where the biggest problem lies: getting the faculty members to actually start using the software on their own. It can make you feel like trying to get a squirrel to come and take a nut from you. You can’t come in too loud or exciting or else you risk just scaring them away. Well there are two great ways to introduce Moodle to faculty, and both ways allow them to do it on their pace. I like to consider these two resources “training wheels” for Moodle.

1. Moodle Sandbox (http://demo.moodle.net)

The name is pretty self-explanatory. Moodle sandbox is a site where users can play with the LMS, and really get to see what it can do. Sandbox is an empty site that providers you with a Moodle shell in which you can explore the software. There is absolutely no worry that anyone will ever see what you’re doing, since every hour the site is refreshed and it starts all over again from scratch. It’s a blank Moodle canvas! Just head over to the site and enter the username and password, and begin exploring Moodle. Just remember that your Moodle layout will change depending on what username you use to log in. So if you will plan on using Moodle to teach a class, then use teacher, and if you want to see what the layout will look like to your students, then use student.

Username: teacher/admin/manager/student

Password: sandbox

2. Mount Orange School (http://school.demo.moodle.net/)

Moodle Sandbox is a great way to ease a person into trying the LMS for the first time, but it’s still a very basic glimp at what the tool really offers. Once that the faculty member feels a little more comfortable with Moodle, I would then recommend to them this second resource, which is called Mount Orange School. This is a great way to show them what a “real”, up-and-running Moodle course should look like. Like sandbox, it allows you to view Moodle from the perspective of both a student and a teacher. Just like Sandbox, the site is reset every hour. So any changes you might make to it will not be permanent.

I put the word real in quotation marks because all the data and information that was used to create the site is all made-up. So none of the student’s names, grades or conversations are real, but that doesn’t matter because it’s only meant to be a model of what a Moodle course should look like. Think of it as an Ikea model room…but for Moodle!

GWU Summer 2014 Semester Recap

This past summer was full of big life-changing moments for me, and on many different levels. The first and most exciting was the birth of my second daughter, Nadia. Now I’m the proud father of two great girls! The second was the start of my new position at Lyndon State College. I’m currently working as the Coordinator of Instructional Technology. I already touched on these two topics in a previous post I titled Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes, which I published this past July 28th, so I won’t rehash those topics. Instead, I want to talk about my final semester in the ETL program at George Washington University. This past summer semester I took my final two courses, which were EDUC 6421: Critical Issues in Distance Education & EDUC 6426: Computer Interface Design for Learning. Following the successful completion of those two remaining classes, I wrote the final comprehensive exam, which is meant to test your overall understanding and competency in the field of educational technology and instructional design. I can only think of one word to describe it, and that’s Intense! My only advice for all my fellow ETLers is to make sure to plan ahead and give yourself ample time to review all the material that you covered throughout the degree. I know it sounds like an impossible task, but I assure you that it’s not. I know how tough all my fellow classmates work, so really the information has already been properly absorbed. Just don’t forget to go in confident about your eLearning skills, and make sure to show them what you know!

EDUC 6421: Critical Issues in Distance Education is a course designed around the major concepts affecting the field of distance education. Most ETL graduates will find themselves in a position where they will be dealing with distance education to some degree, be it an eLearning support specialist, a instructional technologist or even a school librarian. Distance education has proven to be a major player in the educational landscape, and as educational technologist, it’s our role to properly understand the current issues affecting it’s practitioners. Besides weekly articles and journals provided by the professor, the required textbook was Teaching and Learning at a Distance: Foundations of Distance Education (5th Edition), written by Michael Simonson, Sharon E. Smaldino, Michael Albright and Susan Zvacek. The book is a great resource for anyone interested in exploring the topic of distance education. It’s divided into three section:

  1. Part 1 – Covers the theory behind the distance education movement
  2. Part 2 – Addresses the practical skills needed to function in the distance education environment
  3. Part 3 – Focuses on managerial issues that often arise when running a distance education class/program

EDUC 6426: Computer Interface Design for Learning is focused around the concept of Human-Computer Interaction or HCI. For anyone new to the idea of HCI, I highly recommend that you watch this short introductory video:

For those of you that already know a little bit about HCI, but are looking to learn more, then I really recommend taking the time to listen to the next video, which is a lecture by Björn Hartmann at UC Berkley:

EDUC 6426 was a great way to explore the exciting and very important topic of HCI. Up until this point in my studies, I had felt rather comfortable with the theory behind ID and I had already been able to start managing and creating some eLearning projects that were actually being used by several different institutes of higher learning, such as the University of Maryland and Williams College. But nobody wants a “theory guy” designing their software or training, it’s the same as nobody wants a programmer designing their OS. Well, this class provided the balance and helped remind me that there are many different aspects behind ID, including a simple to understand interface. One creative way to do this was through the use of the book The Design of Everyday Things, by Don Norman, who has years of experience consulting companies to design human-centered products and services. I thought that this was an interesting way to teach us the importance of designing for the user. Take it away from the tech world, and put it in the real-world. I highly recommend the book as a fun summer-read for all you instructional designers.

The major text for the course was Designing the User Interface: Strategies for Effective Human-Computer Interaction (5th Edition), by Ben Shneiderman, Catherine Plaisant, Maxine Cohen and Steven Jacobs. Like the textbook for the above mentioned course, this one is a must-read for anyone looking to expand their knowledge of HCI. Lots of theory is given but also practical tips for designing a computer interface on desktop platforms, mobile devices or on the Web. The book will ensure that your interface will be easily accessible to all users, be it young, old or disabled.

Well that’s it, my final semester reflection for my studies at GW. I hope these semester recaps have helped all you current and prospective ETL students. I can’t say enough good things about this program. If you have any interest in learning about educational technology, eLearning development or instructional design, then you must consider apply to this program. I want to give a big thanks to all my professors at GW, mainly Dr. Natalie Milman, Dr. Ryan Watkins and Dr. Bill Robie. Without your guidance I wouldn’t be launching into this exciting career, thank you!

Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions concerning the ETL program, or what it’s like being an online grad student. I’d be glad to help!

Top 3 Science Apps You Must Use This Year

So it’s already September 5th, and we’re all beginning to get back into the rhythm of classes once again. Since STEM was such a hot topic last year, and most if not all educational reformists were discussing the state of science and technology in our school systems, I thought it would be a good time to start promoting some very valuable tools that you can incorporate into your lectures. It never hurts to start the year on a good foot! Here are my top three science apps and the reasons why I think you should be using them with your students:

1. Celestia

If by any chance you have a young daughter at home, you’re first thought about this app might be princess celestia. (It might just be a sign that I’ve seen far too many My Little Pony episodes.) The Celestia that I’m referring to is a real-time, 3D visualization of space app. It’s available for both the Windows and Mac operating systems. A large group of worldwide volunteers are constantly feeding new data into the Celestia system, making sure that the information presented is as up-to-date as possible. I love how easily it brings to life the actual orbital movements of the planets. A must have for visual learners.

2. Solve the Outbreak

Solve the Outbreak is a free iPad app created by the folks at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s a perfect way to introduce the topic of the ebola outbreak that is currently occurring in West Africa. The students will be prompted to research three different epidemics. They will have access to background information, specific data on the region in question and other forms of clues. The student takes the role of a medical professional and must decide on the best possible solution for stopping the spread of the epidemic. Here is some actual gameplay footage from the app:

3. Mahjong Chem

This last suggestion is aimed at all those chemistry teachers whose students are having trouble memorizing or just understanding the periodic table of elements. Mahjong Chem, available for both the iPad and iPhone, combines the periodic table with the game of Mahjong. We can thank the Chemistry Department at Stetson University for this great learning game. Students will learn how to match elemental names to symbols, how to name polyatomic ions, how to assign the correct oxidation numbers and learn electronic configurations. If your students finish their class work early, make sure they take out their phones and play this great game.

If you have any science apps that you think are great, please let me know by posting it in the comments box below!

Lost & the Secret to Exciting Teaching Through Cliffhangers

My wife and I have recently started watching Lost, which first aired in 2004 and lasted for 6 seasons. Thanks to the wonders of Netflix, we’re able to enjoy this great show that had passed us by on its original run. This post has nothing to do with some of the deep questions that the show brings up, even though I’m really tempted to do a post on the philosophical aspect of the show. This post is on the important use of cliffhangers in teaching. On a side note, any teacher looking to introduce some philosophy into their lessons should consider watching the show. Also, you should definitely check out the book Philosophy For Beginners by Richard Osborne. It’s done in a comic book style, and covers all the major philosophers, from the Presocratics to the Existentialists. What I want to talk about is the way the show is structured, and how that recipe can be applied to your lesson plans.

In case you haven’t seen Lost, the premise of the show surrounds a group of people whose plane has crashed on an exotic island. It is soon apparent to them that this is no ordinary island, but one filled with mysteries and a large black smoke monster. Yeah, I know, so cool! The writing of the show is the real star. It’s written in a way that ensures the viewer comes back for more, and that’s the idea I want to focus on. Every episode ends on a cliffhanger, and of course every season ends on a major cliffhanger. It’s one of those shows that’s difficult or impossible to just watch one episode at a time because you are left needing to know what happens next. This formula produces not just entertaining television, but it can also be used to produce entertaining and engaging lessons.

What I’m advising may not work for every subject, I’ll admit it, but I think that with the right adjustments it can be used to promote student motivation. I’ve taught many different subjects, from English to world religions and even to an introductory psychology course, but my initial teacher training was in history. Like many of you, I was drawn to my teachable subject because I had excellent teachers in that subject when I was a student. All my favourite history teachers approached their classes as a long story, and it struck a chord with me. I took that into all my very own history classes. I built a cliffhanger into the end of every lesson, and a hook into the following lesson that would remind my students of the story and where we left off. This technique not only ignites my students’ passion for history, but it brings the historical people and their stories alive. The worst history teachers are those that approach it as taking a tour of a museum – students don’t want to visit history behind glass barriers, they want to live it for themselves.

Let’s look at a specific example that you can use in your classroom. Pretend that you are teaching your students about Napoleon Bonaparte, and you have just reached the part of the story where he has been forced to abdicate and go into exile on the island of Elba. Now that sounds like it would make a great cliffhanger, so I would build it into the end of one of the lessons. Some of you younger teachers might be concerned about time management, but I assure you that it’s a skill that every teacher can develop through practice. Just make sure that you are coming to class with an excellent bag of bonus material, just in case your lesson runs short and you don’t want to start the following lesson early. An easy solution is to have a wealth of video and audio clips ready. With tools like Google Drive, it’s become very easy to save all this material to one location.

Now back to Napoleon! Ok, so I would aim to end the lesson with Napoleon’s  exile to Elba. But I wouldn’t just leave it there. I would throw it back to my students,  and ask them “What would you do if you were Napoleon?” If they are having a  hard time placing themselves in the situation, then give them options such as  “Would you accept your fate and live out the rest of your days on that Italian island?” or “Would you secretly try to gather your forces in an attempt to retake power and control of France?” Make them realize that these historic figures were real people like us, and they had to decide what to do in the given situation. Many of them will have very interesting ideas and they’ll want to know what the real Napoleon did, but don’t answer them! Leave them on a cliffhanger. Over time your students will grow to love this exciting cliffhangers, and they’ll be looking forward to the next class in order to see what happens next!

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