Thursday, January 30, 2014

Virual Education Assessment: Part II

As I perused some of the Google+ groups, I came across some interesting conversations that seemed to suggest that because of the evolving nature of the Internet, why do we really need teachers at all? The suggestion that the quality of self-education from information on the Internet has reached such a level that all the necessary skills and knowledge needed could be acquired without dealing with teachers. It is just a matter of getting higher learning institutions such as universities and colleges to accept the acquired skills and knowledge as meeting their requirements for admission. To get politicians to fall in line, all we have to do is to threaten them with voting collectively against them at election time. A few individuals suggested that with this new found autonomy, "life-long learning" could be finally realized rather than just being a phrase trotted out by learning institutions to impress tax payers and government officials. Keep in mind that as absurd as this may sound, there are families around the world who have performed "home-schooling" with their students all their lives and most importantly, upon testing, some institutions have admitted home-schooled students as fully meeting their requirements.

This should be a wake-up call for all teachers. If you don't re-define your role as educators to meet the new demands of a new environment, they will be re-defined for you. You need to see yourselves as not masters of all knowledge but masters at using all the tools for education that are presently available and are in development in the online world. Too often we discover niche tools that we think are flashy but we don't really take the time to objectively evaluate them. It seems that blogs that get the most hits are ones who have taken the time to sift through thousands of ideas, YouTube videos...etc. But that is not innovation unless you are intimately involved in the creation of the tool. You need to be on the front lines of innovation in your profession.
What this means in terms of assessment is that we need to be innovators so that our methods of assessment fit seamlessly with the environment of online education. I don't believe that teachers are becoming obsolete but I do think that we have a lot of growing up to do. Let's face it assessment theory was never one of a educators favourite pastimes. Now, out of necessity we need to lead the way because teaching is our calling. Would you allow someone who learned heart operations through watching YouTube videos operate on your loved ones?
So, what type of innovations can we come up with regards to assessment that would be effective and yet different from what's been done. This is why teachers being involved in Google+ groups and communities is a good first step. There needs to be an evolution in what we call best practices and once and for all we need to break the bonds of the old industrial model of education.

Perhaps I am a little too verbose. it would be great if you could make your ideas known through the comments to this blog. We need to communicate with each other. The clock is ticking.......

Monday, January 27, 2014

Virtual Education: A Question of Online Assessment: Part I

One of the most obvious questions and perhaps a dilemma is how do we assess the achievement of the online learner. A first inclination might be to say that we assess the online learner the same way as we would in a brick and mortar school. However, there are two caveats here:
  1. Assessment must stem from a guiding vision for where the learning of students should take them. If we say simplistically that it should enable them to get gainful employment in the every day world then what we are really talking about is training. This is best accomplished through institutions such as colleges whose mission is that very purpose. If we say that assessment, such as assessment for learning is to give students feedback so that they improve their learning skills which enables them to reach higher levels of learning and thus provides them more choices and more control over the direction that their life takes, them we are speaking of something much grander in scale and it is something that not only benefits the student but benefits the society which they will live their future in. The malaise that many global societies find themselves in is the fact that many people in many countries are born into debt and their children also see no hope and only debt ridden future for themselves. So, what is a solution for this? How can we break this cycle of despair that seems to be so pervasive, especially in the countries comprising the EU? Part of the answer lies in the education of our children. We need to stop treating children as widgets on an assembly line who undergo numerous quality control measures to see who measures up and who needs to be discarded to the lower levels of our societies. This negative approach to education serves only one purpose that being to create workers and consumers. This is the industrial model of education at its worst. This model needs to be replaced with one that sees students as real people and not just student numbers. It needs to be replaced with a model that fosters innovation, cherishes student creativity and sees the students as people who believe that they can change the future and that their efforts are valued in using their skills for the common good of all people in their particular society. Is assessment important in a new model with such a vision? Absolutely! The problem has never been about doing assessment of the achievement of students. The problem has been and continues to be what our motives for doing the assessment are? For example, one of the more heated debates in education has been the use of standardized testing. In the United States, educators are well aware of the NCLB (No Child Left Behind) philosophy that the Department of Education has pushed on the education system. Although the visible motive seems like a noble one, is it really the true motive for the policy? In a country such as Canada, many educational initiatives are politically motivated with such motives as improving the election prospects of a governing party, breaking teacher federations' power over educators and even to determine how resources will be distributed thus creating have and have not schools. The other questions concerning standardized tests are: (a) Who has access to the data from the tests, (b) Who interprets the results, and (c) how will the results be used? Our motives for assessment impact all of our decisions in regards to it. It is naive to believe that objectivity, as the testing establishment would have you believe, has any part in this.
  2. The second caveat in regards to assessment is that in an online environment,assessment must change to take into account the type of environment  that assessment is done in. Very often, some very probing and valid questions are leveled at the online education system. For example: (a) If the student is in an online course, how can you be sure that the unit quiz in the course that he or she is enrolled in is being done by that student and not by his or her mother, father, older genius brother or sister?, (b) How can you be sure that the student who takes the final exam didn't purchase the final exam questions from another student? and (c) How can you be sure that the position paper being submitted for assessment of learning was not the efforts of someone else? The nature of these questions imply a disturbing perspective which is moral in nature. Moral relativism has created this scenario that suggests that there is no standard set  of "rights" and "wrongs" in dealing with others. This has led to moral confusion in which you can meet a student who sees absolutely nothing wrong is copying something word for word from the internet and then asking for it to be assessed. They will even defend their decision as a right since we must respect their moral perspective on this and not punishing them for acting according to their conviction. Sounds absurd doesn't it? Yet this is the environment we have created in many societies and our politicians, our leaders set these examples daily.
Okay, what are some ideas that an educator can use to counter these attitudes in an online education environment? These are just some ideas and are not perfect by far but have worked:
  1. With respect to the design of a unit quiz, always aim for the higher cognitive skills for assessment. It is not what you know that is important but rather how you use what you know to interpret or analyze a scenario. Many people dislike the use of multiple choice quizzes and often refer to them as "multiple guess" but that says more about the inadequacy of the quiz designer than it does of the idea of using multiple choice questions. In using the Internet, there is a multitude of videos, pictures, animations, simulations...etc. that can be used as a basis for questions dealing with analysis, interpretation, synthesis..etc. The important point is to challenge the student to effectively demonstrate that they understand what they have learned.
  2. Always make the quizzes timed events and only one chance to complete. Have a process in place if a student wishes to appeal.
  3. No student should get the same quiz. The use of question databanks that will randomize the creation of quizzes eliminates the problem of one student obtaining the questions from a student who has already completed the unit quiz.
  4. Compare quiz results in the various categories with previous student work. Unusual discrepancies should lead to the decision to gather further information from the student to determine whether or not the results are valid.
More later.....

Monday, January 20, 2014

Virtual Education Students: Breaking Bad Habits and Stimulating New Habits:Part II

If we come back to the question of what we expect of students in an online education environment we find that it is intimately connected to the question of what we expect of ourselves as educators in an online environment.

The student needs to know that his or her instructor is going to provide lessons that will bring out their best effort and quality work. It starts by being very clear on the quality of the work you expect from the student and to give the student examples of what good quality looks like in an online environment. One of the best methods used in brick and mortar schools has been the use of exemplars that have been carefully chosen as to reflect different levels of performance. The problem arises when this is not done on a consistent basis or the choices made are confusing. The nature of assignments given in various subject matter in brick and mortar schools provides for a variety opportunities to develop and disseminate exemplars. So, what does this look like in an online education system where both staff and students work not from textbooks but instead have access to the resources on the world wide web? It depends on the educator and his or her ability to create lessons that incorporate the use of YouTube videos, multimedia presentations, real time guest speakers, virtual field trips, collaborative group work using groups made up of students from all parts of the globe gathered together to debate an issue or work on real time problems. It depends on the educator to define a high international standard agreed upon by the international community with the understanding that effective global citizenship is a goal that leads to a healthy global future. It depends on the educator designing lessons that high light the higher cognitive skills of analysis, synthesis, evaluation.

 How is the educator able to accomplish all of this? The educator has to be very comfortable with coordinating and selecting concepts and ideas from a variety of disciplines, using a variety of methods and then bringing this all to focus on the essential concepts and conclusions you want the student to come away with. One indication of the effectiveness of what you have done is if the student experiences what I call the "WOW" effect. That means that they want to ask more questions about what they have learned, they want to debate points that have been made, they want to know where on the Internet they need to go to explore what they have learned even further. This is "thoughtful engagement" by the student and it is something that every online educator needs to foster in their teaching online. Educators need the combination of their own experience and understanding of students and their own ingenuity in creating challenging, demanding, surprising, inspiring lessons that will say to the student that what we are doing in the online environment is not "more of the same" that unfortunately they may have been exposed to in the brick and mortar school systems.
The good habits for students in an online environment can only be fully realized if the educator takes a good look at his or her own bad online habits and transforms them into something that their students can emulate.

Next....what about assessment in the online environment?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Virtual Education Students: Breaking Bad Habits and Stimulating New Habits:Part I

A good question that should be asked in virtual education is what are our expectations of students in this new environment and what counter-productive online habits need to be broken?
If you suggest that they are the same bad habits that exist in the brick and mortar school, then you are not using your imagination and are being a little naive.
Having taught as an active online educator for a number of years, I have learned that the Internet environment has bred a whole new myriad of bad habits that are germane to this environment.

One of the most difficult for students to break is the temptation to plagiarize. I know that you will say that the problem exists in the brick and mortar school but the online environment gives this habit a whole new dimension. In the lives of our students who I will remind you have never known a day when they were not connected to the Internet, there is a culture that suggests that everything that is put on the Internet should be free to use. This has been further fostered by vigorous attempts to resist the ability of governments to regulate the Internet. Ethical hackers and black hat hackers are united in this resistance against government regulation. For our students, the concept of intellectual property and ownership on the Internet is a foreign concept. The downloading of everything from music to games to videos without paying a royalty for use to the author has been going on for years. This is the background that our students come from. So, the obvious question is how do you counter this temptation in an online education system?
I have been fortunate to be involved with one of the better virtual schools in North America, if not the best. The problem of plagiarism was encountered in the early life of the school. First and most important a school has to acknowledge that plagiarism is unacceptable for any student and has to be willing to consistently enforce a policy on plagiarism. Obviously, students need to be informed right at the time of registration what plagiarism is, why it is not acceptable and how the school will deal with plagiarism. This must be made clear to the student and the student needs to sign off on the policy. The policy that the aforementioned school used is that they defined two types of plagiarism: (1) Negligent Plagiarism is where the student plagiarized as a result of laziness or carelessness. A procedure for the teacher was laid out that described what to do instances of this type of plagiarism which was based on the number of instances, (2) Deliberate Plagiarism is where the student knew what he or she was doing and went to pains to hide or cover their tracks. This was of course dealt with more harshly with an final result of a student be de-registered, loss of their tuition fee and the instance being recorded on their official academic record.
To make sure that a student understands what is expected of them, a way to get this across is to set up a tutorial that a student must take before gaining access to their course and on completion of the tutorial, they must pass a quiz to test their understanding which they must pass before gaining access to their course. Also, there would be a line for their digital signature acknowledging the taking of the tutorial and the results. This would then be stored so that teachers would have access to it in the school who see a need to review it. This method was similar to what the virtual school did that i was involved in. I do know that some educators used the "Turnit In" service as one method of checking the integrity of student work.

A second problem has more to do with the nature of lesson design than it has to do with the students. In an online environment, you can't design lessons that ask a student to relate information only. This type of lesson is self-defeating if it ends at that point. Students must become involved in "thoughtful engagement" with the subject matter. They must see that this work is more than just cutting and pasting information off the Internet. If that does not happen then another bad habit emerges which is the overuse of Wikipedia in assignments. With the rich resources of the Internet available to students, we want them to seek out primary resources that allow students to sample the thoughts and arguments of leading people in the topics being accessed. As a teacher this presents a host of teaching opportunities such as teaching students how to evaluate websites in terms of either good and relevant or bad and a waste of their time.

A third problem involves something that students already know how to do, that being making connections. Students already make connections through social media such as Face Book, Twitter,...etc. with people of their own age. The question is how do you harness this skill for educational purposes that will advance their learning? There are experts who have expertise in a variety of fields who are willing to volunteer some of their time to help a student advance their education. A teacher can also set up learning experiences within a course that has the student come together with students in other parts of the world to work on a project with an expert as one of the mentors. Making relevant connections is important in assessment for learning when it comes to an online education environment.

More later.....

Monday, January 13, 2014

Exploring Human Biology in a Virtual Education Environment

I would like to take you back to when you were taking high school Biology. I am sure that many of you can recall the amazing things that were possible when the Internet and its tools were brought to bare on tasks in Biology. The ability to do realistic dissections digitally of animals without using the real thing and to learn the biological functions as you did blew us a way and we considered teachers who used such methods as on the leading edge of their subject. You can probably think of other instances in which the Internet was used to help students experience the wonders of the subject matter. Well, it is time to step back from the edge because it is no longer the leading edge because as the Internet has advanced in what it has to offer so must virtual education experiences. What I am going to describe to you sounds like science fiction but just remember when the digital dissections hit the scene, this too was considered science fiction and not likely to lead anywhere. Consider the possibilities of creating virtual worlds to engross students in the world of Biology. Here are just some ideas:
The subject is Biology:
  • The subtopic of study is the human body's immune system.
  • The virtual world created involves the following scenario. You are an immunologist. You have been called upon to help analyze and eradicate an unknown pathogen which has all the potential to cause a world wide pandemic if not stopped in time.
  • You must enlist the help of a number of other scientists who will be part of a multidisciplinary team that must work together to achieve the proposed goal in time. The other roles will involve scientists skilled in: Recombinant DNA, Virology and Nanotechnology.
  • Before you enter the virtual world which is composed of a research laboratory, each scientist must introduce themselves through a YouTube video and then take on an avatar which you will use to interact with the other scientists.
  • Each scientist must keep a daily scientific journal in which he or she records their efforts in coming to terms with the proposed goal.
  • Upon entering a most advanced lab, you find that there are designated areas where each scientists have equipment germane to their field to conduct experiments. A door leads to a common discussion area where the scientists can discuss their daily challenges and where they can do collaboration.
  • Each of you have access to a well known scientist in your field who takes the shape of an avatar. The purpose of this scientist is to act as a mentor for your chosen field. He/she is also someone you can bounce ideas off of.
  • The mentor avatars are as follows but this list could involve other scientists that the teacher is familiar with. For Virology a suggested mentor would be Dr. J. Michael Bishop; for Recombinant DNA, two suggested mentors would be Dr. Carol O. Tacket or Dr. H.S. Mason and for the science of Nanotechnology are Dr. K. Eric Drexler or Dr. Sumio Lijima. These names are not written in stone as other names well known in their fields could be substituted.
  • Once the pathogen's characteristics are identified, each of the scientists must make a proposal based upon their area of expertise on how to eradicate it. The two main potential sources for the solutions may come from the sciences of Recombinant DNA and Nanotechnology.
  • Again as before this team of students will have a time limit to complete their simulation. 
  • The final task is for them to create a multimedia presentation on their methods and solutions. Real scientists from the different fields who volunteer their time would be invited to give input into the scientific merit of what is presented. Now,before we bring up the idea that young people are not capable of making scientific breakthroughs, I would like to share with you the simple fact that a student that I had taught a number of years ago came up with a breakthrough in the treatment of Malaria that literally cuts the costs of treating populations in half. She did this before she had finished her first year of University training. Again. the secret is to ignite the passion for learning in a student and then stand back but be available when called upon.
  • Assessment would take the form of the evaluation of the daily journal, effective collaboration and the input of the teacher and the scientists on the student presentation.
If you are wondering what role the teacher would play in all of this, he or she would be the event coordinator. He or she could also alter and troubleshoot the variables in the simulation. He or she would have the ability to introduce a conflict variable into the simulation that requires the students to solve a problem through collaboration under stress. Again, if you think that this is too far into the future to prove itself out, just remember that we now have a 3D printer that does things that we would have thought was impossible 6 months ago.

More later......

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Passion for Teaching

I would like to postpone the post on exploring human biology in virtual education because I was asked a question that I found both disturbing and intriguing. The question is this:

"Isn't true that because you teach online you can't demonstrate any passion for what you teach because you don't see the students face to face and they don't see you?"

My answer to this is emphatically no! It is not true. This type of question I consider to be on the same level as the often used clichee by non-teachers that: "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach." My response to this clichee ,that is used mindlessly when there is some disruption in the education world, is: Those who do are able to do because educators in their lives equipped them, encouraged them and yes even inspired them to see the potential that they had and cared enough  to devote a good portion of their lives to help young people realize their dreams. Another thought to keep in mind is if teaching is as mundane a profession as the clichee indicates then why is it that when a military coup occurs in a third world country, teachers are the first group to be targeted for either imprisonment or execution? It is not because of teacher unions. It is because educated people who have a passion for teaching also have a passion for teaching people how to think for themselves. Notice that the wording of that last statement is precise. It does not mean that we violate the integrity of what we do by teaching students or influencing them on what to think. This is where it becomes indoctrination and not teaching. This has been true since the time of Socrates.
Just because a teacher teaches online does not mean that they lose their passion for teaching. Having a passion for teaching means you are driven to provide an excellent and enriching experience for the students involved. As an educator you are driven to find new ways to convey the passion that you have for what you teach using what the online environment has to offer. The combination of your passion for what you teach and knowing the type of life a student lives at the point in their life that they are at makes for a very powerful combination for effective teaching. Your passion also drives you to constantly to rise on the learning curve when it comes to how you communicate and what new innovations exist that might strengthen your teaching skills.
A teacher who has a passion for what they teach and knows his or her students convey their passion in such a way that their students see that passion and it becomes contagious for them. They recognize that their teacher cares about what he or she teaches and it motivates them to become engaged. It is important for the teacher to be fully cognizant of the life environment that the student is living in regards to his or her pressures.
Having stated the above, sometimes teachers have a specific dilemma forced upon them by the ruling powers. I will phrase it with a question: "Does it profit students educationally to force a teacher to teach a subject which they have no passion for , no educational background in and most likely flounder in? The passion a teacher has for what they teach is personal and it is something that they have developed through professional development and academic preparation.
One of the edicts of the industrial model of education is: a teacher is a teacher and should be able to teach any subject irregardless of desire or passion. This edict still exists in the minds of ministry of education decision makers.
For the online teacher who has a passion for what they teach, the virtual education resources of the world are at their fingertips and teaching to inspire their students to love learning and to learn how to think effectively starts by tearing down their insecurities and by challenging them to aspire to a greater purpose than themselves.

Now, on to the exploring human biology in a virtual education environment.....

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Re-Shaping Online Education:The Evolving Role of Online Educators: Part III

With respect to my last post, you may have noticed a little white square near the beginning. Well, just as we have advanced technologically, Murphy(as in Murphy's Law), has also entered the digital age. The graphic that disappeared was a sketch of a student facing his teacher, proclaiming these words of wisdom:

" If A Single Teacher Can't Teach Us All Subjects, Then..... How Could You Expect A Single Student To Learn All Subjects??

Having clarified that I would like to describe to you how a virtual courtroom might work in the teaching of Law online. To describe this to you, I first would like to give you a little preamble.
In designing online courses that are going to be part of an LMS, it is important to make sure that the LMS can do what it says it can do. A number of years ago I designed a virtual court room trusting that the means to make it work existed as the LMS designers said it did. My design description of how this virtual world court room should work took a great deal of my time. When I submitted it for activation within the Law course that I had written, I was told that the means to make it all work didn't work. Therefore, what I am about to describe to you is untested but even if one of you can see the possibilities of what could be, then it is worth it.

The virtual court room was to be made up of three rooms connected by three doors. The first room could be called the student preparation lobby. In this room the following things would happen:
  • Students would take on specific roles. For example, students who were just starting into the course and had not yet reached the unit on Criminal Law, could be assigned one of four roles with the accompanying avatars. They could be a member of the jury, they could be a witness to the alleged crime, they could be the alleged victim of the crime(assuming that the crime was not fatal for the victim) or they could be a news reporter for the court. All potential members of the jury would be required to create a YouTube video introducing themselves and create a summary bio that would be accessible to the Defence Attorney, Prosecutor and the Judge. Students who were already involved in the unit on Criminal Law would take the roles of the Defence Attorney, Second Chair, Prosecutor & Second Chair. The Judge would be played by a real judge willing to offer his or her time to take part in this learning experience.
  • In this preparation room would also be the physical evidence. The Attorneys would have access to examining the physical evidence and also any forensic evidence that is made available. Using 3d graphics and motion, the evidence could be examined from a number of perspectives. The role of the attorneys would involve in coming up with an explanation and interpretation of the evidence as they see it supporting their case. The Attorneys would have the ability to call up an Attorney avatar, visible only to themselves, to seek procedural advice.
  • Time in the preparation room would have a limit. At a designated time the door to the court room where the trial is to take place becomes accessible to the participants. Following proper court room procedure, the trial would begin when the trial judge enters the court room.
  • At the end of the trial, the third door leading to the jury discussion room becomes accessible to jury members only. Here is where the jury will have the ability to call up the physical and forensic evidence, have testimony of witnesses played back, which could be in the form of accessing a You Tube video of the testimony.
  • The teacher's role in this is to select the cases for trial, and to moderate proceedings in the preparation room and in the jury room.
  • The trial judge, at the end of the trial, would present his or her views to the participants on the strengths and weaknesses of how the trial was conducted. This is assessment for learning for the students. In the assessment of learning for the students, it would be helpful to take input from the trial judge.
There are a number of potential variations that you could make but the bottom line should be that this should be perceived by the students as a real event and that the decisions that they made during the trial had consequences affecting the outcome. As with the other virtual world I described in the last post, it is necessary that students know that there is a time limit on the event.
Due to the asynchronous nature of the virtual education world, students entering the course would have to have a marquee announcement that on a specific day they must take part in this event.
All I have given you are the broad strokes of this idea on virtual court rooms.

Next.....Exploration of Human Biology in a virtual world.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Re-Shaping Online Education: The Evolving Role of Online Educators: Part II

In the last post I suggested that a more effective and innovative approach was needed for the design of virtual curriculum that would meet the needs of all students. I also suggested that students had an important question to ask us as educators:

Although some may dismiss the above question as a point of humour, it does pose an interesting question that we should consider in designing new online curriculum. In the next three posts, including this one, I am going to describe to you some specific ideas requiring that you have an open mind to consider the potential of what I am suggesting to enhance the virtual education experience for our students.
The first topic in World History, specifically the Napoleonic War. Normally in past teaching on this topic , educators have relied upon textbooks, diary accounts, battle records, videos, full length movies such as "Master and Commander" and to some degree collaborative work and debate. How would the teaching of this topic using an online environment change? Consider this: a student registered in World History online follows the online curriculum until he is faced with these set of circumstances:
  • Embedded within the curriculum is the entrance to a virtual world set in the temporal context of the Napoleonic War. Before he enters this world, he must assume a historical character and take on that character's avatar. The teacher takes on the role of an event moderator whose main role is to manipulate the variables that have an impact on this virtual world. For example, the teacher would make sure that the virtual world of the Napoleonic war would be faithfully maintained according to the facts governing the time period. In other words, a character could not use something such as a machine gun in battles since they didn't exist in that time period. The teacher could also set the scenarios where the student, in character, is forced to make decisions that will have an impact on the outcomes of the event.
  • Besides taking on the role of a character, the student is responsible for keeping a digital diary in which he or she must record daily(meaning within the time sequence being played out in this immersive environment) the decisions that he or she has made and the effects that he or she see occurring as a result of his or her decisions. Also the student would be asked at certain times to make predictions as to sequence of cause and effects that will play out in the future as it unfolds within the event.
  • The student can call up an avatar who represents the character Sun Tzu who could be asked advice based upon his famous book: "The Art of War". This avatar would not interact with the virtual environment and could only be seen by the student. This avatar could only be accessed within a decision making sequence but prior to a decision being made in a critical situation.
  • The virtual world event would have a time limit for the student to complete the event. If the student goes over this time limit then he or she is immediately exited from the event and evaluation based upon what was completed in the digital diary. This would eliminate the "gamer" tendency that some have of playing on without regard to time. Whether or not a student could do a "retry" would be up to the teacher in charge of the simulation.
  • Upon completion of the event, students would compare their digital observations with the decisions and consequences actually made during that historical time period. This becomes a jumping off point for further teaching. The historical concept of "Cause and Effect" takes on a much deeper understanding in the mind of the student and also teaches him or her how far reaching decisions that are made in critical situations can be.
These ideas stem partly from the idea that we learn a great deal from gaming theory that can be used in an educational environment. Consider the video game series, "The Assassin's Creed" and how this series has taken on a more historical context. Some of the ideas we can draw from such a game are:
  1. Such games can be used to promote "thoughtful engagement" for students when used within a virtual education setting.
  2. Research into the use of such virtual world simulations stress the importance of flow within the simulation in order to enhance thoughtful engagement.
One of the changes that would be needed in order to make such a scenario work is to include another group of professionals into the curriculum design team, that being, the game designing community.

Next posting will consider the subject of Law and give some ideas on the possibility of a Virtual Courtroom in which real judges and lawyers interact with students.................

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Re-Shaping Online Education: The Evolving Role of Online Educators:Part I

Greetings and Happy New Year-
As we enter a new year, we need to recognize that the only constant in this world is change and the acceptance of this highlights perhaps what may be considered some alarming questions. For example, as change happens at an exponential rate, on many levels and in many disciplines, what can we use as a measuring stick or standard in judging what is "good and useful" change and what is change that we should guard against at all costs? How are the roles of online educators evolving in reaction to the changes take place? As confusing as this may seem, perhaps, we should look to history and the past to ask an important question. This question is a question that in societies whose mantra is individualism, is an absurd question. The ruling political elites have all but thrown this question into the political garbage can. The question is: "What change is to the benefit of the "common good" of all people that it will affect? The simple truth is that in societies where individualism is highly prized, "me" is more important than "us". This type of societal philosophy reverberates through all aspects of daily life. For example, have you ever wondered why vehicle hit and runs are increasing in our "civilized" societies? The rationale in such cases simply is that it is more important that I not get caught because I have had too much to drink, I am driving with a suspended licence or I don't have automobile insurance than it is important for me to to stay and care for the person I struck with my car.
Now you might say, wait a minute, what does any of this have to do with teaching online? This sounds like someone moralizing about something that has nothing to do with teaching. Well, in reality it does because an underlying assumption in considering change that is beneficial to the common good is that our vision for online education is a vision that utilizes change for the common good of all students regardless of socio-economic background, age, physical and mental functioning...etc. We can not and should not guarantee that all students will excel to the same level. This is part of the egalitarian myth and has been responsible for much of the political manipulation of education in many societies. The other assumption is that those formulating the vision are willing to be revolutionary and counter-cultural is guiding online education with a focus on the common good of those who are to be "life-long"learners. This means going against the flow of society.
Coming back to the role of the online teacher, it is worth while to point out that the educator has evolved from the socratic lecturer, the fountain of all knowledge to someone who sees his/her role as a mentor who draws upon many others in many disciplines to help deliver an education experience to students that is relevant, challenging , enriching and even confrontational. Just as a conductor of a symphony orchestra co-ordinates and directs the talents of a wide variety of people with one particular vision in mind, the evolution of the online educator should be to conducting their education efforts with the vision of a Magnus Opus in education. This requires that some teachers who are too comfortable in the "park position" should either get into gear and collaborate for the common good and advancement of online education or for the good of all students, get out of the way.
In the next segment, an important question from the digital natives of our societies, the students....