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Web two-point-oh

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I’m now learning more about web 2.0 technologies, which seem to me distinguished from web 1.0 in the following ways:

  • User-friendly and universal. Everybody from grandchildren to grandparents can use web 2.0 with its user-friendly WYSIWYG interfaces to self-publish and make their voice heard, and this is surely one of the greatest changes in the sharing and use of information this century, that anybody – everybody! – can create and share their own story and own view of the world. I rather love that, I think it’s just an absolutely incredible thing when you think about it..
  • Dynamic. Create what you want and then change it tomorrow, work with others on a website and add pages where you want, shift elements around with just a click, and incorporate high-impact elements such as multimedia, streaming live footage, graphics, and embedded interactive tools.
  • Community. I’ve met some of my best friends in the world on forums, and these are people I never, ever would have had the opportunity or venue to have met in real life. Web 2.0 tools such as forums and message boards have created infinite communities with as many varied themes and interests as there are stars in the sky! From the original simple Messenger internet messaging application and online chat rooms to modern video conferencing tools, Skype, Blackboard Collaborate, and other virtual meeting rooms, web 2.0 has made the world a very small place indeed, but our communities have become boundless.

There are now myriad web 2.0 tools available now, often for free and with the option to purchase what extra functionality you desire, and I expect there are more being invented and released everyday. I have no hope of course of even coming close to learning much about them all in the space of one course – it’s probably worthy of an entire degree alone!  – but I’m going to go through and learn the fundamental points of difference of the main categories of these, share my thoughts on the use and suitability of them as educational tools, and also list a few examples for each.

There are some that I do really want to learn about in more depth, and these of course are those for which I see genuine and gainful benefit from implementing in my teaching (and, possibly, learning too). Off the top of my head I know I have real use for wiki, blog, forum, and online quiz technologies, so I am looking forward to spending more time on these and investigating just how useful they will be for me. For example, I’ve been keen on the idea of conceptests that was raised in the Seven Principles readings of last term, and so learning more about quiz and flashcard applications and tools will be essential for adding these skills to my repertoire.

I think overall that it is very easy to become utterly overwhelmed by the sheer depth and breadth of web 2.0 technologies out there, and there is risk of trying a little bit of everything here and there but inadvertantly using things just for the sake of it. We need to remember that when using these tools there is an inevitable period of adjustment for both us as educators and for the students who also use the tools, as well as ongoing increase in cognitive load every time they use the tool. Students and academics alike each have varying levels of technological savvy, so at the end of the day it’s essential to keep in mind that whatever we choose to use we also force upon our students, and the last thing anyone needs is to be endlessly sending or fielding support-related questions and requests!

In considering the use of web 2.0 in our teaching I expect I’m going to find that less is absolutely more, and that finding maybe two or three tools that really have great functionality, usability, and provide authentic learning opportunities would be absolute gold. I’m very open-minded about the tools I’ll be meeting, but just for fun I’m going to make a prediction about what these select few for me might be:

  1. Wiki: For class collaboration, file sharing, discussions this is likely to become indispensable.
  2. Quiz: I don’t know what’s out there yet, but as mentioned I love the idea of these and see real use for them. I’m very interested to find out what I think once I do get to learn about and try them – will I still be sold on the idea?
  3. Blog: A no-brainer really, but for now I expect blogs to remain a more personal publishing tool for myself rather than an outright teaching tool. By which I mean I’d use it to discuss paramedical / tertiary teaching stuffz, which may or may not include student input (would be awesome if they did!), but perhaps not explicitly for course facilitation. So far I adore the blog for reflective learning, professional representation, and sharing of information with colleagues / co-students.

Lecturing: First do no harm?

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Lecturing by Socrates, 440BC

Lecturing in the 1780's

Lecturing in the 1880's

Lecturing in the 1980's

Reading Kearsley’s Learning Engagement Theory this week reminded me a good deal of our readings on the Seven Principles last term, in particular the emphasis on social learning through collaboration and group work (I summarised some of those readings back here). Most relevant to Kearsley’s work from the 7P readings was this paper discussing the challenges and benefits of online collaborative environments, including the problem-based learning and group work activities so relevant to teaching paramedicine. One thing that very much stuck with me from that reading was the authors’ commentary on class results following interactive versus didactic lessons, where they found that “..even the best lectures achieve student gains that are at the low end of student gains in interactive engagement classes“, a statement which very much echoes my own experiences as a student.

On that note we were asked to consider our own learning experiences this week, specifically which of these we found to be the most and least valuable. For me, teaching others is by far the richest learning experience, for as the saying goes ‘to teach is to learn twice’, and when teaching others you always need to learn just a *little* bit more so that you’re one step ahead of that student (yup, there’s always one!) who lobs the inevitable curly question at you! Lectures, then reading, were the methods with least student retention of material, and by viewing the learning pyramid it is clear that of the various methods of teaching the best learning is obtained from those which engage more of the senses, and demand more back of students in manipulation and use of the material to be learnt. For me this underlines once again the need to really focus students with every lesson we conduct – whether these are on-campus or on-line classes – and to be creative in fostering active engagement with and deep learning of the material.

It also leaves me pondering the place of the lecture in our teaching repertoires, and whether or not it still belongs in modern tertiary education. Compared with the other ways in which we might engage students in learning, is it the best use we could make of the limited contact time we have with our student cohorts? Five percent retention, and even then only from those students that are awake AND not otherwise engaged in Facebook / texting / work for other courses?! Well perhaps it does still have a place, albeit not in its traditional guise, that of the venerable lecture hall where students squint down upon their lecturer from the lofty heights of their pews. Whilst lectures originated from the simple need of ancient teachers to speak to and instruct many pupils at once, modern technology has provided teachers with far more reach than simply that of how far their voice will carry; podcasts, audio and visual lecture recordings, and other forms of digital presentations may still be lecturing in a sense, but the convenience of ‘anywhere, anytime’ learning I feel does at least outweigh the limitations of this otherwise unidimensional form of teaching.

I’d be interested to see how many tertiary courses still offer on-campus lectures, compared with how many have moved from the lecture hall to providing purely digital lectures in either audio or audio-visual / multimedia formats. Given the poor performance in student engagement and material retention of lectures in the traditional sense, they just don’t seem a high-yield, value-added way to spend academics’ or students’ valuable time.

“I lecture only when I’m convinced it will do more good than harm.”                                              ~ Wilbert McKeachie

Lecturing today! If I'd desaturated the entire photo, what difference would remain from the others?

References.

Kearsley, D., & Schneiderman, B. (1998). Engagement theory: A framework for technology-based teaching and learning. Educational Technology, 38(5), 20-23.

Smith, K., Sheppard, S., Johnson, D., & Johnson, R. (2005). Pedagogies of engagement: class-room-based practices. Journal of Engineering Education,  94(1), 87-101. Retrieved from http://www.ce.umn.edu/~smith/docs/Smith-Pedagogies_of_Engagement.pdf

Evidence-based change yourself

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It’s interesting doing this quality improvement plan for our assignment. Much of the reflection, self-analysis, and critical evaluation I have conducted already whilst progressing through this course – I recall commenting at one point on the value of reflection via this blog. For teaching academics the opportunity to do this formally would normally occur on a regular basis, at least yearly but more likely at the end of each semester, and upon consideration of feedback from various sources, not the least student review both during and after each course. As I am not currently in a formal teaching position I don’t have a great deal of this perhaps most valuable feedback source yet, but I did request feedback from those attending the learning session I conducted and of course received critique from my peer reviewing me. Still, much of my information does arise from only me and my self-reflection, and as expected in this early stage of moving towards a formal teaching position my list of things I need to learn and improve is vastly greater than my list of things I already do well! I’m really looking forward to the time when I am working as a teacher and will have the ability to conduct these quality improvement changes based upon the feedback I have received – ‘closing the loop’ – and then observe the effects of these changes, hear how they are received, and improve further upon my service delivery.

In the meantime it’s good to know at least that doing the GCTE as I am is absolutely the best way I can address that currently whilst located in the outback and working on-road, but I am working on other tasks too as part of my self-improvement plan. My self-review has found that whilst I’m doing all the right things to improve pedagogical aspects of my abilities as an educator I must not forget the practical side – I still need to gain more experience in conducting teaching sessions, especially in a lecture format, as much of my experience to date has been as more tutorial-type sessions. Addressing this will include organising more formally my regular teaching & training sessions, opening these up to local nursing staff, and becoming involved in the nurse education sessions conducted at the local hospital here. I am also chasing up being able to get away to conduct set sessions again for the hospital-based stations that my own station supports, though as always this is dependent upon operational constraints, boring things such as rosters and staff availability.

Overall, whilst working on road and not in a teaching position I will need to continually and proactively push to create these opportunities for myself, as they won’t occur naturally in the course of my work to the extent that I need them to. Therefore every little change I make, every session I conduct, and each nugget of feedback I receive will be of value to me, especially combined with my own ‘debrief’ and self-review of my performance after every one.

Evaluation, reflection, and scholarship of teaching & learning

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The last couple weeks have focused upon evaluation and on the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL), which tie into each other as ‘quality control’ and improvement aspects of education at several levels. This includes evaluation of performance as a teacher, of the course content, and of overall curriculum, as well as (or perhaps especially) the methods used to facilitate these teachings. Evaluation is present in many forms and can be provided by or solicited from various stakeholders, including not only the obvious ones – students and line managers, our customers and employers – but also from peer review by colleagues, by external accreditation bodies, and from those industries for which we are preparing qualified graduates.

Whilst going through all this it’s been interesting to note that much of what I’ve read in both the course readings, information online, and in my textbooks has made the point that feedback and evaluation may be taken as a negative and stressful event, rather than as a positive means for reflection and professional development. Evaluation, by students, faculty, and self, are essential parts of teaching that should be embraced as a positive part of reflective practice, not gone through the motions of as a ‘token’ effort, or shied away from as a threat. It is easy to see however how one may become defensive and nervous at the thought of such quantification of performance, and I have certainly seen this in even the most exceptionally skilled and experienced Paramedics come clinical audits, CSO visits, and recertification; I have no doubt too that when my time comes to undergo student and formal appraisals of my performance as a teacher and facilitator there will certainly be some nerves! Unfortunately though falling into negative thought patterns means missing out on one of the best opportunities for self-development and improvement there are, and as with many difficult tasks I think the key is in the attitude with which the situation is approached. Phil Race has a great chapter on this topic in his Lecturer’s Toolkit, in which he discusses and provides practical advice on evaluation and formal appraisal, including how it is best undertaken, how to seek student feedback, and how to deal with concerns and both negative and positive feedback. To me the overall best way to prepare for such events is to not make it an ‘event’ as such at all; rather, consider it a regular factor in your teaching and an ongoing process of reflective practice.

Reflective practice means constantly undergoing self evaluation and proactively eliciting feedback with the aim of improving performance in all areas. This includes assessing & reassessing not only the quality of your teaching, but also the suitability of your teaching style and the methods used for the ever-changing student cohort and industry demands (there are many reasons why feedback may not be entirely 5-star, and not all of these imply that the teacher is at fault!). This feedback provides vital identification of areas for improvement to be acted upon; once changes have been made, the effects will be measured during the ongoing regular reassessment, effectively making the classroom an ongoing pedagogical experiment. Such information is also invaluable for constructing professional development plans which not only give direction to but also demonstrate how one has worked to improve weaker areas and built upon identified strengths, thereby contributing not only to better practice but also to the academic’s personal career portfolio.

Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) is an extension of the aforementioned processes and activities, and is especially interesting to me as it is more vital to my discipline than for most. To me SoTL is being actively engaged in discerning the most effective methods of teaching within one’s teaching context, and, most essentially, also sharing this information with the institution and also with the wider community of tertiary teaching. This means connecting and networking with other tertiary educators in various ways to gain and share knowledge and skills, such as by publication of journal articles, blogs, and contribution to collaborative websites, and by attendance of courses, conferences, and workshops. It seems the answer to dealing with evaluation and the need for continual professional self-improvement is to engage in reflective practice and SoTL. The evaluation process cannot help but be positive as it becomes part of the teacher’s public efforts to improve their class facilitation and student achievement of course outcomes, and the whole endeavour transparently supports core organisational objectives of producing high quality graduates. In the end it promotes the discipline itself as a whole by researching and contributing to knowledge on how best to create new professionals that will contribute to and eventually themselves further the profession. For my discipline in particular I think SoTL will is absolutely essential as paramedicine is a very new field in tertiary education, and there is still much to be determined in terms of the most efficacious ways to produce high quality paramedic graduates.

As discussed the main process in evaluation and reflective practice is to discern from evaluation and feedback which areas of teaching or facilitation need to be addressed, then devising an improvement, implementing it, and reassessing results during ongoing self-assessment and reflection. Within SoTL these processes are undertaken as a project (the six main facets of which are those common to most kinds of research project management), which may then be formally reported upon and disseminated to add to the pool of knowledge on teaching in that particular discipline. Projects are often created in response to an identified need – for example, the research project I mentioned a while back that I am developing is in response to an identified need and a lack of current data regarding paramedic education – but they may also arise from reading others’ projects and deciding to implement such changes to improve one’s own teaching. Being involved in SoTL either directly by undertaking own projects, or by reading about and connecting with others to provide feedback on their work and contributions, are all activities that I feel are well worth pursuing, as even if evaluation and feedback show that one’s own teaching is going very well there is always more to learn, and being involved within a connected network of academics to share ideas and innovation is beneficial not only to the teacher and the students, but eventually to all stakeholders concerned.

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An interesting article by David Glance at The Conversation, discussing a new form of educational technology that provides teachers (well, anyone!) with the ability to produce and distribute their own interactive, multimedia ebooks. The growing availability of electronic textbooks is I feel simply brilliant, and these will undoubtedly become increasingly present in all levels of education for practical portability and ecological sense – and this coming from a bonafide bibliophile who loves nothing more than a stonking great textbook, yet is over the moon with the ability to tote around seventy-odd Kindle version textbooks upon her iPad! To me the incorporation of multimedia into these makes great sense and will elevate such resources above being simply electronic versions of the traditional hardbound tomes. I am curious as to whether the system will allow the author to designate restrictions to purchasers to limit distribution within a class, for example – if so it could be a neat way to produce a study guide or any lesson material.

However whilst it sounds very interesting and is a great concept, and I support any advance which provides greater power in self-publishing to the masses, I too feel the restriction to the Apple platform to be a major drawback in the context of educational material, especially in terms of the forced endorsement of one particular company’s products. It will be interesting to watch how it all pans out.. perhaps the widely available Kindle versions of textbooks will develop multimedia capabilities (one can already create their own Kindle ebooks), or another non-Apple utility will arise with similar functionality for the general public. In the meantime I can’t deny it’s interesting to consider the ability to author a multimedia ebook myself and to self-publish so easily, and will almost certainly have a play.. it’s reminiscent in a way of the ability for anyone to create apps for various systems such as iPhone and Android and to sell these online.


Teaching with tech: could iBooks Author spark an education revolution?

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The days of bulky textbooks could soon be behind us. [Apple]

Late last week, Apple announced the launch of a new piece of software, iBooks Author, and a new version of its eBook reader, iBooks 2. It’s a development that promises to accelerate the move to interactive eBooks, by radically simplifying their development.

iBooks Author does to eBooks what Apple’s GarageBand does to producing music – it makes the development of an interactive eBook as simple as dropping in a presentation or document. Videos, audio and other interactive elements can also be included, and the software automatically positions these elements, adjusting text and layout.

Once produced, eBooks can be distributed through Apple’s iBooks store – after going through the Apple review process – for download onto iPads, iPhones and the iPod Touch.

iBooks 2, Apple’s new eBook reader, has been updated to support the new textbook format and has launched in the US with a sample of beautifully crafted high school textbooks covering science and maths.

A catalyst for change?

It’s an ironic feature of new technology – the social and cultural change that new tech brings is so unequal. Nowhere is this more clearly highlighted than in education.

Kids, living permanently connected and socially mediated lives, are transported into the dark ages the moment they step into a classroom. Although there are examples of excellence and progress, there are many classrooms in which teaching and learning practices have remained unchanged for hundreds of years.

In the early 1980s, MIT Professor Seymour Papert believed personal computers would bring about radical changes in schools, both in the way students learned and how educators taught.

Using computers, Papert thought, students would be able to move at their own pace, learning, experimenting and testing themselves. Teachers would become facilitators and guides, and not the source of the content.

It’s now 30 years later and progress has been slow. Teaching has barely scratched the surface of the potential integration of computers (especially mobile devices) into the classroom.

There are many reasons for this. Lack of funding, training and infrastructure play a large part, along with a fear of change and the potential scrutiny and criticism this change may spark off.

It is possible, though, that we are at a point where this might all change.

[Apple]

The platform is right

One of the impediments to integrating computers into the classroom has been purely practical – in many schools, there was literally nowhere to put them. Even with notebooks, issues such as power and storage were enough to limit their use.

Tablets such as the iPad are an ideal platform because of their weight, size, battery life and versatility. Importantly, a tablet also doesn’t form a physical barrier between student and teacher in the same way that a desktop or even notebook computer can.

The iPad’s versatility is starting to be recognised, with roughly 1.5 million iPads now used in educational establishments. Some universities and schools have even started issuing students with iPads.

The content is coming

The second significant roadblock in the way of using computers in education has been the lack of content. More specifically, there has been a lack of electronic versions of textbooks that are tailored to a learning curriculum.

Traditional publishers have not rushed into the eBook market, with Forrester Research estimating that eBooks make up only 2.8% of the US$8 billion textbook market in the US. Reasons for this include:

  • the fear of sabotaging profits on print versions of the texts
  • the cost of eBook production, and
  • the fragmentation of publishing formats and platforms.

(Interestingly, eBook sales in general exceeded print book sales on Amazon for the first time last year.)

Of course, publishers have now learned the inevitability of an electronic future for textbooks. The fear of not being part of this will drive the move from print.

iBooks Author makes it easier than ever before to create your own eBook. [Apple]

The release of iBooks Author (a free application for Mac) opens up the production of educational material to anyone. It’s not so much the ability to author the books simply – although this is significant – but the ability to distribute, and potentially get paid for, such works. As with its apps, Apple has created an ecosystem with critical mass that makes it worth the effort of producing books in this way.

Of course it’s not just books that are important for content. Apple has for some time been delivering educational video and audio content through iTunes U. This education-specific section of iTunes has seen 600 million downloads of educational video, audio and study material since it started in 2007. Stanford University and the Open University top the list of universities providing material, each with more than 30 million downloads.

Last week, Apple also announced the availability of a dedicated iTunes U app. This app joins 200,000 educational apps in the iTunes App Store.

Is Apple the future of education?

Every announcement from Apple seems to bring out the sceptics.

There is resentment at the revenue cut that Apple takes when products are sold through their sales network. With iBooks Author, the License Agreement prohibits the use of eBooks produced in this way to be distributed anywhere other than through the iBooks store, where Apple takes 30% of the revenue. (This limitation doesn’t seem to exist for content given away for free.)

What the critics haven’t mentioned is that most textbook authors receive little financial return for their efforts from publishers. In most cases textbooks are written out of dedication or for academic recognition, with the financial returns rarely covering the time invested in the writing.

BarbaraLN

Further criticisms have been levelled at Apple for creating a closed environment that forces people to use Apple products to access their content. This is in contrast to Amazon, Google and others that provide software that allows users to access their media purchases on any platform. Sites such as the Khan Academy provide high quality instructional videos for free and there is a wealth of free educational websites available on the internet.

Finally, critics argue that in American schools at least, the money for iPads would be better spent on recruiting and training teachers. Their argument is that there’s little evidence to show iPads contribute to improved learning outcomes.

But a report released last week about a pilot study found students using an algebra application on an iPad (instead of a printed textbook) performed 20% better in California Standard Tests.

What next?

For anyone involved in education – whether a teacher, administrator, parent or student – the ability to produce and distribute educational material represents an exciting and pivotal moment. All of the necessary stars have aligned to spur the move to digital educational material.

Of course we haven’t yet seen how Amazon, Google, Microsoft and others will respond to this, but the net result is sure to be positive for learners and teachers everwhere.

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.

The evolving role of the academic

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Our readings over the last couple of weeks have been concerned with the strategic academic, shifting focus from the topic of teaching and how we teach, to look more towards the overall business of being a tertiary education teacher and all that this involves. The role of the academic is complex and cannot be characterised or even analysed easily, as each staff member’s role may differ in many ways from the next, and there is inherent subjectivity in any assay of these duties. The Center for Educational Development and Assessment (CEDA) folk in Florida have developed the concept of the meta-professional to describe those skills and attributes required of academics in their daily duties that are apart from the teacher’s base profession; for example, a mathematics professor does not only teach mathematics and conduct research in the field, but the role will also include such duties as curriculum development, administrative and course management tasks, budgetary and financial responsibilities, and human resource and team management. These periphery tasks can consume a great deal of the academic’s time that might otherwise be spent on more purely educational duties, and require competencies such as accounting skills that are entirely outside of one’s base profession (well, unless you are said math genius, perhaps.. I myself am no mathemagician and such responsibilities may require new skill acquisition!).

Some of these peripheral responsibilities are becoming especially complex, demanding expertise that goes increasingly beyond a functional grasp of tools – a case in point being development and overall management of online courses. The growing virtual campus of online tertiary education is changing the face of tertiary education, though the distinction between ‘learning’ and ‘e-learning’ is becoming increasingly blurred both for external and for on-campus courses as nearly all units contain some electronic delivery component.  The transition from traditional to virtual teaching methods ask of a teacher more than simply familiarisation with software, but also knowledge of learning theories such as cognitive load, and skills in instructional design that are required to produce quality instruction in this new environment. In their 63 model, Segrave, Holt and Farmer (2005) note six professional capacities implicit in effective online instruction which must be developed for academics to be not only conversant but fully competent in development of high quality education on electronic platforms. They propose that these practical skills are best developed and supported by six strategic measures for academic professional development (APD), which heavily stress the importance of shared knowledge and skills between academics to promote institution-wide implementation. The institutional goal for APD relevant to effective online teaching reads like the brief for the GCTE course, and indeed the fourth point of the Strategic APD Initiative field recommends formal courses in higher education such as the GCTE as an initiative for development of staff skills. Courses alone however are not enough, as institutions must generate a supportive environment that actively encourages and stimulates improvements and initiative in effective online teaching. Sharing again is a big factor of this, and both formal and informal presentations and discussions on e-learning success stories, vignettes, and case studies are repeatedly recommended.

This emphasis on sharing, use of exemplars, and workshopping directly addresses what I feel to be the main barrier to implementation of effective online instruction, namely the challenges academics face in progressing from traditional methods of teaching to working within the online environment. This requires more than just information delivery by creating electronic versions of handouts and lecture notes, but the creation of a virtual classroom, including means for collaboration, communication, and the development of an online community. For academics balancing an already full plate of work responsibilities the need for development of a new suite of skills may be daunting enough, not to mention the challenge of developing the perfect course that aligns with teaching objectives, learning theories and such factors as cognitive load, and which makes best use of each piece of software or web 2.0 tool as appropriate. There are inevitably issues too in the logistics of such matters – who creates the online course, perhaps an instructional design specialist in conjunction with the lecturer, and (quite importantly!) is there added recompense reflecting the increased workload?!

On the other side of the matter, barriers to effective online education exist on the students’ side, too, though in my mind to a lesser degree. Much of the issues are those present for contact courses too – conflicts in time management, the pressures of balancing academic study with home and working life, adjustment to learning and all that that entails. Due to the nature of e-learning the biggest barrier for students would of course be the technologies themselves. A higher proportion of online learners are mature students compared with campus students, and this group may be less confident and comfortable using the virtual classroom. For some the need to access information online may vastly increase their extranous cognitive load, though this effect may decrease as the learner gains familiarity, and may also be countered by support in form of software instruction, and also by simply converting information to printed material where possible. A further consideration is that many faculty members may have done their own studies many years hence and have not studied themselves under these new conditions, and are therefore not completely familiar with the nature of some problems facing today’s student, or the impact that online learning and the ubiquitous presence of communication devices have upon education and university life in general.

It is interesting to me that the biggest perceived ‘loss’ to students undertaking online learning also presents the greatest opportunity for gain. Students in wholly online courses have physical contact with neither the lecturer nor their peer group of fellow students, and so lack the social learning and interaction that their campus fellows enjoy. However I feel that it is this aspect of online learning that offers the greatest potential benefit to students! In the 63 model paper the authors describe the Deakin University Strategic Plan that every undergraduate student will undertake at least one unit wholly online, and present the following challenge to their academics: This wholly online experience must develop student attributes in ways that would not be possible through other types of learning environments supported by classroom teaching. This initiative requires curriculum designers to not simply repurpose courses for online delivery, but actively seek a way in which the facilitation of such courses will foster development of skills in a novel way unattainable in the classroom. The obvious question is what are these skills that cannot be attained within the classroom? (And the next obvious question beyond that is what have students been missing out on thus far until the development of online learning?!)

The answer I think relates to what makes online learning different to classroom learning. There is potential for virtual worlds, computer aided simulation, video teaching of skills, and plenty other high-powered trickery to suit various learning objectives, even of abstract material, but I think the greatest benefits to students lie in taking the more everyday teaching tasks online: lectures, discussions, weekly summaries, collaborative tasks. I have spoken before of the vast opportunity for social interaction online, and of how under-utilised this seems. Video lectures have the impression of being one-on-one communication, and can provide enormous transactional presence for the student, even greater perhaps than is felt when sitting amidst one hundred other students within a lecture hall. Whilst this seems contrary to expectations, the availability of web 2.0 tools such as video lectures, live interactive presentations and discussions, social sharing tools such as blogs, twitter and wikis, and the use of podcasts, mean the lecturer can reach every single student far more directly than the traditional lecture hall settings. Such delivery methods are also incredibly convenient for students and permit replaying and pausing for note taking and revision of difficult concepts, as well as ‘mobile learning’, such as whilst commuting. There are also no distractions from other students as in a classroom, and the reach is much better for students with hearing difficulties.

What might provide the big point of difference course designers are looking for in attribute development however is in students learning how to collaborate effectively online, how to parcipate in and contribute to an online community, and in developing greater ownership of their own learning. Online courses require students to take greater responsibility for their own learning, to personalise their learning experience, and to become actively engaged in determining their progress through the course. Instead of passively attending classes at set schedules the students must self-manage their own time, prompting reflective learning and self-assessment of their progress through the course. Online courses may be more or less content based depending upon context, but as the student is already online for access of course material they are already perfectly situated to further seek their own information according to needs. This can then be shared in forums, wikis, online social media such as blogs and twitter.  Such collaboration may be developed through problem based learning and group work, and the many ways to foster community often require only minimal input and moderation from the teacher. Online collaboration is increasingly present in daily operations of many industries as well as within education, and students are able to become au fait with such technologies sooner, and confident in their use. These will inevitably become more prevalent in tertiary education as teaching modalities blur, and good command of these is essential for successful performance.

Overall the transition from classroom and traditional teaching methods to online and e-learning is currenly the main phase of change within the academic environment, and whilst the role of the academic may be seen to be dragged along with these changes and forced to evolve as modalities of teaching are evolving, it’s also in the power of the academic to drive a lot of these changes in a positive direction too. By designing e-learning environments to align with learning outcomes and to best suit their particular teaching context there are exciting opportunities for development of highly instructional and experiential learning environments for students. I do agree that collaboration and sharing of tips between teachers will play a major part in overcoming the main barriers to establishing good online learning systems, and think too that as the use of these becomes more mainstream the barriers for both teachers and students in their effective use will increasingly diminish.

Reference.

Segrave, S., Holt, D. & Farmer, J. (2005). The power of the 6three model for enhancing academic teachers’ capacities for effective online teaching and learning: Benefits, initiatives and future directions. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 21(1), 118-135. http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet21/segrave.html

The ECG Dance!

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Throughout this course I’m absorbing and learning a huge amount of (to me) brand new information on teaching practice and theory, but in addition to taking all this in I’m then passing it through a filter to extract from it that which is most useful and practically applicable for teaching paramedics. I’m especially on the look out for teaching tricks and practical activities to improve my actual practice of teaching, as this is what it all boils down to in the end; all the theories and models may be eventually reduced to one common theme, an understanding of how humans learn and of the best way to teach certain subjects and certain student cohorts.

One of the most major points that struck me from the Seven Principles readings was the enormous impact of motivation and engagement in student performance and retention. Engaging students with interesting teaching utilising a variety of methods suited to each learning outcome; keeping it relevant to their goals, experiences, and real-life situations; and stimulating collaboration with group discussions, quizzes, and activities are just some of many myriad ways educators may raise interest and participation in students. The subject may be the most important one the students will take in their degree program, but if it is not engaging, or taught in a manner appropriate to the situation and environment, then the teachings will be lost in the gap between the podium and the lecture hall chairs, or evaporate into the aether between the university server and the students’ routers!

You can see then why this video is so fantastic! The lecturer is the late Dr John Grammer of Texas. Dr Grammer, cardiologist of the first US heart transplant, was innovative not only in his practice of medicine but also in his teaching of it. He taught cardiology with humour and passion, forgoing the usual dry lectures of his day to breathe life into the subject. I love to use this video clip as an interlude in 12 lead ECG lessons, and every single time I do I still become as enthralled as those who view it for the very first time!

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I still have a couple of readings to go, as each has given so much food for thought I’ve spent longer than expected chewing upon and digesting them! From our first three readings, just need to do a brain dump on some takeaway points and follow-on questions still resonating within..

The Seven Principles in action, improving student involvement

  • The Seven Principles are a more holistic way of approaching student education that take into account not just the traditional goal of getting across vast quantities of information, nor solely the traditional measure of academic performance, but also the other aspects of academic study and life that impact so heavily upon enjoyment, performance, and future success.
  • Really enjoyed the discussion on dealing with confident vs. non-confident student cohorts. Have used some techniques myself as CSO dealing with Paramedics nervous at CSO visits and found it really rewarding to bring them out of their shells, dispel their nerves and shields, and to become actively involved in the learning. Very interesting to read of methods of dealing with such issues in tertiary setting.
  • Shocked to read of such high apathy levels in undergrad students, but I expect this is the most major way in which postgrad students would differ – motivation, a clear purpose of attendance, less extraneous load in adjustment to uni study & uni life.
    • I think much of the principles would apply to postgrad students however, when specifically applied to the context of the field. Some, such as the benefits of PBL, would apply even further due to the advanced understandings already present within the students’ minds.
  • The importance of feedback.. as someone still awaiting returned assignments from last semester, I well understand the need for timely, appropriate, constructive feedback!!
  • One excellent and easy way for a university to increase student attendance and fun on campus! CQU, please, can we?

Conceptests

  • Conceptests, and their suitability for paramedic / health / medical science education. Love the idea of the nationwide bank of conceptests, promoting collaboration between educators and institutions, reducing variances in course provision between these, making teaching easier and more effective.
  • Directly addressing the apathy that is plagueing undergraduate students. I love how involved and energised the students reportedly became on conceptest days, reflecting the high yield of the sessions and the great motivating factor of student interaction with eachother and with educators. Doubling of attendance rates, that’s one heck of a statistic!
  • I think doing these once a week to round off the week’s learning objectives would be really valuable. It would encourage attendance of every class, motivate students on the last day of the week when they would usually be fatigued and looking forward to weekend fun, and also identify any gaps in learning for students to redress over the weekend. (Between said fun, of course!)
  • Noted: Improving instructional methods is the easiest, cheapest, fastest and most effective way to enliven an academic program.
  • Need to find some specific articles on using conceptests in medical studies for further reading more specific to my field, and would love to find some examples. I think they’d be fun to create!

Cooperative and collaborative learning, problem-based learning

  • The extraordinary correlation between cooperative / collaborative teaching, PBL, and improvements in all aspects of pedagogies of engagement! Wowsers. Excellent news, considering the strong relevance to and application in paramedic education.
  • Second to that, the implications this has on the already formidable case against shovelware, especially for distance ed students – shovelware absolutely violates all of the principles of this, as well as several of the Seven Principles!
  • Does it require uncoverage? I like this way of looking at it, a means of choosing what material is best suited to these techniques. Not just for problems, not just for complex material, but for an exploration. Nice.
  • These methods gain such amazing results that the article states the results of the best lecture sessions approach only the worst cooperative results, yet in my own experiences are not widely used in distance education, despite appropriate software. That’s.. annoying. To say the least..
  • There is commentary that they are the most work to implement in the classrom, to create, to supervise – I wonder if this is more or less the case for distance education because of the availability of software and less requirement for tutors of multiple small groups? Would certainly be easier for one tutor to oversee the lot and their progress once a week.
  • Another factor may simply be friction, conservation of momentum, the effort required to change direction and style of teaching despite promised benefits. There is opportunity for me to learn teaching by these methods from the start, and so avoid this issue.
  • In my training experience, the cooperative sessions involving all Officers or having them work in teams are not only the most fun, the least scary, the most rewarding, but they also strongly reflect our working style. This is mostly for scenario based exercises and group discussions of theory, case management exercises, and clinical vignettes, but these methods will form a much more minor part of tertiary education, especially in first year courses. I need to learn more about implementation of these sessions in the university environment, and nut out their application in my field for both theory and clinical management type exercises.
  • Lecturing: First do no harm. (!)

This is still related to the PBL and cooperative teaching, but something further my mind’s begun turning over – if they are overall more labour intensive for the lecturer to facilitate, what about creating a bank of PBL resources for paramedic education in this manner?

  • This would ease the lecturer’s workload in creating these by providing examples, inspiration, and worked lessons for adaptation to his or her teaching environment and lesson needs.
  • There are still relatively few programs nationwide, and as the academic place of paramedical studies is still being established it may be easier to establish and achieve some sort of foundational consensus of guidelines on than for an already extensively established field, such as math. This would be additionally true given that most paramedic educators would also have a network throughout their own ‘home’ ambulance service.
  • The database could be contributed to not just by university educators, but also the many skilled and experienced vocational educators, such as Clinical Support Officers, who have plenty of experience in setting up scenarios and would be well placed to make the educational leap to designing PBL classes along provided guidelines. Submitted classes could be categorised anyway as designed for or arising from tertiary / vocational education.
  • This would of course work for conceptests, too.
  • Establishing a network of educators in the field can only be good! (Surely?!) A forum attached to the website would sure be interesting, too. Educators could share experiences, teaching tips, discuss..

Okay, bedtime. I’ve so much more to discuss, but feel at least I can sleep now!

Mid-term break

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Education is learning what you didn’t even know you didn’t know.
Daniel J. Boorstin

Halfway through the term now, and a timely kind of time for a midway ponder on my progress. It’s been a large shock to the system, gaining an education on education, as I’ve never studied in this field before and all my tertiary education to date has been mostly clinical. Therefore the shock to my cognitive system is not only one of learning in a new territory and all that goes with it, but also a complete change crunch of gears in shifting to a social science after mostly medical & health science.

During the first three weeks especially I experienced something of a whirlwind within the space between my ears; the usual doldrums now a maelstrom of new definitions, learning theories, dozens of readings, and the odd ‘gogy all swirling around like confetti in a willy-willy. Thankfully the air has since then cleared, some order and organisation has been applied to the new information, and I am pleased to report that not all the content has been lost on the wind – I’ve actually learnt some stuffz already! How do I know this? Because, to quote Dorothy’s Scarecrow, I can think of things I never thunk before! I find myself critically reading the course matter and readings stuff now, actively reading and making predictions and seeing where it fits in with what I already know, and it’s a wonderful feeling to have even this one small foothold, this wee marker of progress across new ground.

This is especially so as I felt it took me a long time to get going in this course, to gain traction, as evidenced by my late submission of assignment one. For that annotated bibliography I chose readings more relevant to the entire course content rather than one specific area as I’m so new to the topic, and whilst I’d expected the expanded scope would also make it easier to find suitable material, I found it hard to be selective and to discern the most appropriate texts from so many results. Consequently I searched for far longer and read a great deal more material than I even included in the end product, but I don’t think that’s all bad. At least the searching has shown me something of what’s out there (especially as I played around so much with keywords, again due to uncertainty), and something too of the relationships between various topics. I found a few great articles that will be suitable reading for the remaining courses of the GCTE program, especially the next one, and some of these led me onwards to more suitable material. The best part of all this is that it’s set me up well for the second assignment, the generation of a teaching philosophy statement. A good deal of my readings were around learning theories (oh and one somewhat epic reading on learning styles; not quite the same thing and hooley-dooley did all that amplify my intracranial tornado!) and also specifically paramedic tertiary education, as a result I have a bit of a foundation sorted out already to work on regarding my statement.

One of my readings was on reflective teaching and another on reflective learning, and this is what I’ve been considering a bit today – reflecting on my reflective learning, in particular that done via this blog. Although I don’t post everyday, or every time I study something for the course, I think about it whenever I’m learning something, and put a little bit aside in my mind to include in my round-up blog posts. I’ve found already that it aids in the critical thinking I do around the readings by stimulating deeper thinking and analysis of my learning as I do it, so it’s already become valuable as a little extra prompting to review both what I’ve learnt and what I’ve yet to learn. Perhaps this habit I’m generating of thinking more deeply around things is how I got onto devising a parameducation research proposal today from scratch.

It arose from a throwaway comment by a colleague over a morning coffee, the kind of conversation you have whilst still in that semi-conscious fugue that plagues me daily until at least my fifth or sixth brew – hence the name, hypocaffeinic, right? My reticular activating stystem doesn’t always, well, activate.. Anyway, my buddy remarked that another mutual friend was now assigned a Paramedic student on the uni program, and reported her comments on this experience; and despite said morning fog something was latently active, as I instantly began generating so many questions and thoughts that I even had to put down my coffee cup to write them down! Ye gods, and all before eleven! So I spent a couple of hours brainstorming this – thank you, Research in Paramedic Practice last term – and it’s really exciting that this could become a project on the side of my paramedic and education studies, combining both and with potential to be useful for both the Service and for tertiary institutions training our future Paramedics. I really want to get involved with research in the future, and feel that it’s essential for progression of paramedic profession that more and more research is conducted within our field to improve evidence-based practice, to raise our professional standing and promote academic studies and further research, and – most of all – to simply do a better job. I have pondered possible research topics before but these have been clinical, so this would be a great opportunity to combine my paramedic experience with my current studies, as well as my wish to contribute to research in the field. And it was fun! It was fun, motivating, and energising to work on the research design, to use what I’d learnt last term and am learning now, and I got a good amount done on the initial explorative surface stages. It was well over two hours before I had my next coffee!

So I’m starting the second half of the term tomorrow feeling good. Aside from inventing a research idea I got a lot else done today too, and it was probably my best study day this term. I finished a book on study skills I’ve been reading – that’s my personal project this term, learning to learn more efficiently and effectively – and made a bunch of notes on how I can apply this in my practice, making plans to implement this week. I read more on the seven principles papers, making notes and looking at how it applies to paramedic education along the way; I found a couple of interesting documents around med ed and the seven principles to add to my readings on that, and will hopefully blog on it all tomorrow if I finish readings early, or Tuesday after a bit more digestion. Overall, I’m really loving this course. I want to move into tertiary ed and I want to be a good educator, researcher, mentor, and leader, and feel as though I’m heading in the right direction. It’s a good feeling!

Emerging Technologies in Distance Education

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I was very fortunate yesterday to be able to attend (and not get called out during!) a webinar conducted by Dr Stella Porto of UMUC Atlanta, which was on the topic of emerging technologies in social media. During the session Stella discussed the benefits of social and collaborative software and web 2.0 tools, and the impact these have on education. The timing was brilliant really given what I’ve been reading about lately – one of my readings last week was on just this subject, though written five years ago, so it was excellent to hear contemporary thoughts on the matter by someone so experienced.

What I took from the lecture mostly was that there is now a heck of a lot of technologies out there, yet each fits a different profile of usefulness in the context of education and has its own role to play, and educators need to understand these and where the technology may or may not fit within the context of their field and practice. This can be gauged by considering the nature of the tool itself, with Stella discussing the seven elements of social software and how each will have different strengths and weaknesses dependant upon their configuration of these elements. For example, Twitter is strong on building presence, with supporting elements in developing relationships, identity, and conversation – the latter can be a bit stilted in only 140 characters or less! – and has little strength at all in terms of groups, sharing and reputation. Wiki sites however would be much stronger for groups, relationships, and sharing; with the ability to grant membership and authorship to specific people for participation on group projects, these are well suited to collaborative learning activities, and I have experienced this as a student myself.

Stella has used the below image from this site to illustrate the seven elements concept; I must humbly submit at this point that I do strongly feel that sharing is also very much a supporting aspect of Twitter, if not another main focus, as the sharing of information, news, and links can be phenomenal, and I have made a good many professional contacts and some fabulous website finds that way!

Building Blocks of Social Software. Dark green = main focus; light green = supporting element.

Of the various technologies available, including blogs, social bookmarking, and the rest, I feel Wiki to offer the greatest potential for educational use due to its versatility and ease of use. With a Wiki, users can create pages, upload and share files, have threaded conversations and establish communities, making it potentially a kind of one-stop-shop. Whilst the main issue of online open-access pages such as Wikis is moderation, in the context of educational use the access can be limited to class members, or even to group members within a class, and so shouldn’t incur the issues that so plague Wikipedia. Pages can be created with version functionality, so that should some undesired changes occur it is simply a matter of ‘rolling back’ to replace that which has be altered. These online collaborations have the added benefit of being very inclusive. Whilst online learning can be isolating, as I discussed in my previous post, I feel that skillful use of group participation online has the potential to transcend the usual interpersonal issues that may cause division in ‘real life’ classes. Online there is reduced impact of race, gender, socio-economic status, shyness, disabilities, and other issues that can impede in-class participation. This may lessen situations of uneven contribution by students, and possibly adding an online collaborative component to an on-campus class could serve to stimulate interaction more, ‘break the ice’ so to speak and get people working together outside of their usual groups and within a different scope.

Used in conjunction with other social networking and media tools, such as audio podcasts, I feel the integration of these tools into teaching can help widen the scope of practice of the teacher and increase their reach. Even if the context of the class does not suit (or need) any specific e-learning tool, having a professional blog and perhaps Twitter account also can still be used to raise your professional profile and to engage students and colleagues further, such as to share information relevant to your field, discuss research you are engaged in or reading on, or just to comment on the week’s learning tasks of your group. These need not be War & Peace type efforts – and certainly not so long as my own hypertrophied blog postings! – but can stimulate discussion within post comments and between tweets and help create a little community of learning without vast inputs of effort. Really there is so much amazing technology out there now it seems a shame not to make more use of it!


Whilst I’m here: In the comments of yesterday’s webinar, somebody – I’m sorry, I forget whom – posted a link to this edited book which I’d like to share, Emerging Technologies in Distance Education, which is available as paperback, e-book, and also under Creative Commons. Edited by George Valetsianos it is exactly relevant to the topic on the whole, with contributions from authors worldwide. The editor’s summary of the book:

A one-stop knowledge resource, Emerging Technologies in Distance Education showcases the international work of research scholars and innovative distance education practitioners, who use emerging interactive technologies for teaching and learning at a distance. This widely anticipated book harnesses the dispersed knowledge of international experts who highlight pedagogical, organizational, cultural, social, and economic factors that influence the adoption and integration of emerging technologies in distance education. Emerging Technologies in Distance Education provides expert advice on how educators can launch effective and engaging distance education initiatives, in response to technological advancements, changing mindsets, and economic and organizational pressures. The volume goes beyond the hype surrounding Web 2.0 technologies and highlights the important issues that researchers and educators need to consider to enhance educational practice.

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