Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The tech'd teacher

Can we become so reliant on technology that we don't even realize the impact it has in our working environment? I had to laugh at myself as I came in to the office this morning. I went through my regular routine, turn on the desktop, turn on the printer, hang up the suit jacket, check voice mail on the office phone, then turn on the iPad to explore the task list/calendar for the day. I saw that I have a meeting scheduled to discuss collaboration with two folks (one in California and one in Europe), which meant Skype. Since my institution does not allow Skype on the desktops, I had to bust out my laptop, then I had to pull out the webcam and headset. I walked away to meet with a student. When I returned, I laughed out loud. Then I had to take a picture (with my Blackberry, of course) and share it with readers who are probably staring at similar work environments these days:
My first thought was how hysterical this image is.  I had to chuckle at the tech-laden desk. My second thought was concern, surely these are not all necessary items? Have I become over-tech'd? Can I not function without all of these tools?

Then I shrugged it off, I had all of the tools I needed to accomplish the day's goals. Why should I worry? I can teach "naked" (without any technology) or with tech enhancements. I let it go and sat down to work when a colleague came in and said, "I'll never understand all that computer stuff you use!" Though this colleague is an excellent instructor, she does not often integrate any technology into her course. This isn't a problem, necessarily, but she discussed feeling "behind" and concerned about reaching her students. She asked me to help her "update" her classes. We set up an appointment to explore her options over coffee for simple ideas to broaden her availability and enhance assignments. I realized that my concern of being technology-heavy in my classes and her concerns of not using anything other than her phone and an email may be confusing for students. We're all on one campus with a wide array of experiences and comfort levels with technology--and though I was thinking from a faculty perspective, I began to wonder about the students who find one teacher who Tweets, chats, Skypes, IMs, and prefers digital communication and another who checks email once a week. It may be frustrating for students to try and negotiate communication with such varied approaches on campus.

Many campuses are experiencing a technology gap, not just between newer faculty members and those who have been in higher education for years, but also between students and faculty. Some of our students are ready for new instructional communication opportunities and classroom projects embracing technology and others simply are not. What a challenge for higher education -- particularly as the landscape of technology innovation geared at higher education continues to grow so rapidly. From capturing lectures to mashups, faculty and students with access to new tools could find disgruntled students and colleagues around them.

There is a great article about this technology "gap" in the Chronicle this week, which noted the benefits of being "part geek" when it comes to technology in higher education. There are many excellent resources exploring this important issue (see below for a *few* inroads into this area of research).

The additional side of this interesting topic is the assumption that all students are somehow tech-savvy. This also emerged from my conversation today where I had to, rather sheepishly, admit that I did not have an email address until I went to college and that I was "old school" regarding technology until mid-way through my Master's degree when I realized the benefits for instructional communication and taught myself and sought every seminar and workshop I could. In the end, we've all got to get a little "geeked up" to continue moving forward with many exciting innovations in higher education and to stay current with students and the job market they face. In my opinion, the trick is to balance the innovations with the pedagogy and purposeful intent to enhance the work we do as educators (and to avoid getting overly captivated by the glistening new technology that is continually available without first considering what it brings to the educational environment).

Additional reads in random order:

Schneckenberg, D. (2009). Understanding the real barriers to technology-enhanced innovation in higher education. Educational Research, 51(4), 411-424.

Hannon, J., & Bretag, T. (2010). Negotiating contested discourses of learning technologies in higher education. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 13(1), 106-120.

Renes, S., & Strange, A. (2011). Using technology to enhance higher education. Innovative Higher Education, 36(3), 203-213.

Saeed, N., Yun, Y., & Sinnappan, S. (2009). Emerging web technologies in higher education: A case of incorporating blogs, podcasts and social bookmarks in a web programming course based on students' learning styles and technology preferences. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 12(4), 98-109.

Schreyer-Bennethum, L., & Albright, L. (2011). Evaluating the incorporation of technology and application projects in the higher education mathematics classroom. International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science & Technology, 42(1), 53-63.

Photo of desk by Lora Helvie-Mason, Clipart created by Lora Helvie-Mason using Picnik
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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Teaching journal

As I near the end of the sometimes overwhelming, but always exciting summer session, I find it helpful to reflect on what works. For me, a tool that has always worked very well in my journey as an educator is journaling. Keeping what I call a "teaching journal" allows me to track my notes, successes, problems, and ideas for future semesters. In the past four years, the summer session became a time to play with the ideas in the teaching journal and explore new ways to teach familiar concepts or content the students found challenging. I often go back and explore my journals (even from different classes) just to get new, fresh ideas on topics I teach every semester or as a reminder to consider the difficulty students had with certain content. There are now several "staple" activities that I always use and which have permanently etched themselves into the landscape of my classes. Little things that are easily forgotten from one semester to the next are also a part of the journal (such as having students divide into groups by drawing colored paperclips and sorting by color...a little thing that makes group work slightly more engaging from the start...especially if you pick zebra print or other patterned paperclips).

This is, of course, no longer a hand-written journal. It, like everything else in my life, has morphed into an electronic version of ideas and thoughts that can now travel easily and be shared with a click of a button. I learned more about collaborating with others in higher education during a free webinar about Adobe's amazing Educational Exchange. If you haven't explored this great resource, consider checking it out. The entire site is a collaborative wonderland for those in all areas of education. My interest in pedagogy and classroom communication, fostered through my first teaching journal many years ago, led me to explore this feature and I have found several exciting new activities that may work well in my courses. Perhaps most importantly, after exploring the site I felt that little burst of energy that comes with sharing ideas with others who do what you do. This is really important at my institution, where I am the only person in my discipline. With Education Exchange, you can share a resource with others or search through resources educators have posted. I spent a shameful amount of time when I *should* have been grading this morning scrolling through "all higher ed" resources. I cannot wait to further use this interesting site--it is a giant, collaborative teaching journal, what's not to like?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

That post-conference feeling

Conferences are an important part of my faculty life. As the only faculty member in my discipline and as a junior faculty member, I rely on conferences for networking opportunities, for new and engaging ideas, and for professional growth in both pedagogy and research lines. This past week I was fortunate to travel with three colleagues to present about our institutional Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) at a conference. I blogged earlier in the week about the excitement of a new conference and the great rejuvenation that takes place when surrounded by brilliant minds interested in similar concepts. I learned about a lot of topics (some new and some very familiar) that I hope to discuss in more detail in future posts, including:

  • Google tools: GoogleSearch, GoogleSites, GoogleMaps, and using Google in assignments (more than my current use of GoogleDocs). You name it, Google is somehow a part of it.
  • Vialogues - A discussion tool to examine videos and have a web basted, interactive discussion through annotated playback. 
  • Toolwire - A great hands-on program that can be a classroom lab to encourage experiential learning in online courses.
  • Echo 360 - A kind of enhanced lecture capture program that incorporates the mission of blended learning. 
  • YouseeU - Provides the opportunity to securely share videos from a distance, useful in online and on-ground courses.
  • VoiceThread - A forum to create a collaborative slide show that can house images and documents while others provide comments.
  • Adobe Connect - Webinar solution that can be used in learning to improve response rates and participation.
  • Lecture Tools - Offers a way to increase student participation in the classroom using their mobile devices and a foundation of active learning.
  • GoingOn - Enhances online learning through student engagement, faculty involvement, and social interaction.
  • BlackBoard Collaborate - Provides interactive learning experiences with virtual classrooms and meeting spaces. 
I am very excited about everything I learned at the conference, but especially about the items above. There are other emotions that come along with conference travel, speaking engagements, and using your brain during long days while constantly encountering new information and new people. Those emotions can be overwhelming. Yes, the Educational Technology for Online Learning conference in San Jose, CA this past week was wonderful! [See ET4OL information under "Lora's Links" above]. Even though it was wonderful, I return to a huge pile of demanding documents, seemingly endless student needs, and numerous meeting requests that can lead to feeling drained and overwhelmed.

The downside of conference travel happens when you turn to the desk and realize that the productivity you tried to have in your hotel room with spotty wireless service and after a 12- or 14-hour day of "conferencing" simply wasn't enough to stay on top of the many tasks. In fact, it feels as if you LOST time (though it was time well used) and have to scramble to meet deadlines and various duties. I face that task after a very rewarding couple of days in the conference world and find there is some frustration to returning to those waiting tasks. I have all of these new ideas---but don't have time to immediately investigate or use them!

There will be time, however, and it will somehow all work out. A faculty member's life is full of this balancing act and so juggling new, exciting ideas with current research, deadlines, class, and meetings should not be a new concept. In light of the fact that this post-conference feeling is comprised of equal parts of exhaustion and exhilaration, I look forward to exploring the new tools and ideas more fully.
Image of juggler used with free use rights.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

That rejuvenating faculty vibe

There are some things about faculty life that really get me excited. They seem to hum with excitement, exude a powerful vibe, rejuvenate a tired mind. Conferences, such as Educational Technology for Online Learning (ET4OL) by the Sloan Consortium, are those events that can fire all of my mental pistons and somehow, despite a heavy summer load and demanding courses, fill me with renewed eagerness for teaching and collaboration.

View from my hotel: San Jose, CA
Today I arrived in beautiful San Jose as a presenter and attendee at ET4OL. I have spent a lot of time reading and re-reading the program as there are so many things that I want to attend--I will have to find a way to clone myself and attend multiple sessions! One of the best things about ET4OL is the way that the pre-conference talk (via Twitter and great discussion boards) already has enhanced collaboration while providing me with new ideas and thoughts about my course design, delivery, and devices...and the conference is not yet officially underway.

Though conference travel can be an expensive and unexpected side of faculty life, the rewards are not often exalted enough. New ideas and new energy = priceless part of faculty life, a part that I am quite thankful to explore in the upcoming days.

More information? Check out #ET4OL2011 on Twitter or examine the program here.
View my presentation prezi here.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The iPad2 learning curve

After a long weekend with my new gadget, the iPad2, given to me for use by my institution as part of our Quality Enhancement Plan, I have a few basic comments to share.

  • First, this is an incredibly useful tool for educators at all levels. The iPad2 can easily foster increased student-faculty interaction and add layers of learning and understanding to our course content. This includes the seemingly endless "apps" that can be used for just about any topic or discipline in the world. 
    • I have educational apps for my public speaking course including content, how-to guides and videos, demonstrations, and even a speech timer. 
    • I have our Learning Management System (LMS) mobile version installed for free and make great use of it already.
    • My Personal Learning Network (PLN) is already enhanced. 
  • Second, there are some areas that might prove unsettling for the new user. 
    • As someone who has never owned an "i"-anything, the apps and iTunes process can be a bit daunting to a new user. I didn't want to put in my personal credit card information for an institutional device and struggled with the "ownership" of apps if the device is given to another professor or reclaimed by ITC. Overall, this was MINOR, but it is worth noting for others who might be in the same situation. Of course, I don't like the need to purchase apps and searched for "free" versions of whatever I needed/desired, so this can be overcome. 
    • Some disciplines seem to require costlier apps, so be aware and consider a general search before embarking. 
    • Touch screens. UGH. I am not a huge fan of touch screens, but the keyboard is something that you can easily get used to, however, it is also easy to have typos. I encourage the new user to read, re-read, and then "send/submit" their work.
  • Third, it can help organize your personal and professional life.
    • I am uber-organized, but it has been on a paper calendar (which I love). I tried the calendar feature and imported my Google Task List. I put away the hard-copy paper calendar less than three minutes later. 
    • No more sticky notes...yes indeed, 'there's an app for that.' The notepad is a convenient place to store everything I was scribbling down and putting as sticky notes on my paper calendar. 
    • Increased focus. The little red dot noting a task is not yet accomplished sure snaps your mind back in place as you plod through your day. Making the electronic check mark is (unexpectedly) JUST as rewarding as crossing the item off of my day planner list. 
  • Unintended and unforeseen benefits:
    • As a non-skating official for Roller Derby (and lover of the sport), I was pleased to see there are programs and apps for our sport. This was exciting. 
    • As an avid practitioner of yoga, the apps for practicing yoga while on the go/traveling will be put to great use. 
    • Health and news items are available for free and easily keep one up to date during a busy work day. 
    • Increased productivity: I can easily multi-task and work with students -- responding faster and more fully since I can easily hop into the LMS, answer the emails, or respond to the IM. 
  • Unintended and unforeseen drawbacks:
    • It will take up more time than you think...so set boundaries and learn to use the work-side of your iPad (or other tablet) effectively when at work. 
    • Wireless connection has been spotty on our campus. Though my laptop connects, the iPad is slower and more particular about connecting--but once connected it is FAST. That means that the 3G network may be put to use more than the wireless which could cost the institution (or the individual).
    • The screen is not as easy to read as my e-reader (Nook). It does have a glare, so be aware of this when working with bright lights or in the sunlight. 
    • "Flash" doesn't work well with Safari on the iPad2...non-flash content works fine.
    • The apps you want may have a price. Do your homework and explore what is required and what is just desired. I suggest asking others. I hope to receive a lot more feedback about the perfect apps for higher education.
Overall, I really like the iPad2. It is functional, fast, and fairly easy to pick up (even for the non-"i"-product folks like myself). I am eager to share my weekend of exploration with others in our Quality Enhancement Plan tomorrow and show them some of the opportunities students will have with apps and study aides.

I look forward to learning more and encourage readers to share their pros/cons, their tips, tricks, and favorite apps for the college classroom. 

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Monday, July 4, 2011

Gadget-girl returns!

A few months ago, our institutional QEP brought us to the interesting decision to explore the use of iPads to improve e-learning. As the professor of one of the courses noted for study (three core -curriculum courses were selected), I was in line to potentially receive an iPad. I am a true gadget girl, as I noted many months ago when exploring travel and gadgets. However, I am also self-taught in this technology. Though I love it, I wasn't born with it and it isn't always intuitive for me. In short, there are things I have to work hard at and, at times, technology can be one of them. But I do love and respect what it can bring to my classes and students, so I do work hard. The iPad seemed like a natural next step--but not on this professor's salary. So I waited, read, and studied those writing about iPads in education. I grew impatient and jealous. And then my day came! Friday, after a week of heavy deadlines and student needs, I got the call. As if I were being called up to the majors, I felt my heart soar. I rushed to ITC and saw my beautiful new gadget, the iPad2. My concerns melted. It was so amazing! Now, I'm a BlackBerry girl and not a fan of touch screens, but the device is very effective. After just three days, I have navigated my BlackBoard courses through the iPad and found it not only saves time, but it increases the responsiveness. Sure, there are a lot of other great things about it (importing my google task list is just one of them), but it is mine for the educational impact it will have on my students and so far it looks like this gadget girl will have a lot of new tools, techniques, and options to explore for the next few weeks. Be prepared...there will be some gushing. Educators, please share your uses, apps, stories, frustrations, and suggestions!