Thursday, April 24, 2014

Developing New Online Pedagogies: The Time Portal-Introduction


In dealing with the online environment and education, we are faced with the challenging questions:

  1. Do the pedagogies that we employ in the brick and mortar school work well in the online education environment?
  2. If we simply transfer our pedagogies to the online education environment, are we making full use of the resources that the "web" has to offer for design of courses?
  3. Do we achieve the desired "thoughtful engagement" from students in what is taught over the long term?
Before we can even begin to approach these questions, we need to make sure that when we are talking about pedagogy that we are all talking about the same thing. Phylise H. Banner in her blog post entitled: "The Pedagogy of Learning Design: A Translation of Pedagogies" defines what we are talking about and list some essential elements. In the realm of education, the word pedagogy is used when talking about this designed approach to instruction and the alignment of learning elements such as objectives, content, activities, and assessments. She suggested that we need to focus on three key elements in effective e-learning: social presence, teaching presence, and cognitive presence.

Social presence focuses on creating a welcoming setting that is open and inviting so that our learners will want to engage with each other, the facilitator, and the learning content. Social presence is fostered by activities, methods, or approaches put in place to break the ice, build trust, and facilitate interaction with those around you.
  Teaching presence focuses on three major functions that we take on as training and learning professionals: design, facilitation, and direction of the learning experience. We build teaching presence by designing learning events that guide participants through learning materials, reinforce key concepts, foster critical thinking skills, provide opportunities for formative feedback and support, and evaluate progress throughout the learning experience.

  Cognitive Presence focuses on critical thinking skills. We want our learners to be active learners – to be actively integrating key concepts into their own worlds, exploring related resources, and adding new ideas and new knowledge. Cognitive presence is, in essence, the scaffolding of learning  as we move from the initial stages of knowledge and comprehension toward the critical learning stages of application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.  

 In looking at the possibility of developing new online pedagogies, I will suggest to you that the mere transference of the pedagogies that we have been accustomed to in the brick and mortar school to the online education environment is not enough. We have rich resources for online course design on the web. New pedagogies are needed to ensure lasting thoughtful engagement in online education courses. We need to grow new pedagogies that better reflect a new environment.

Credit: CLUC

Over the next few posts, I would like to describe to you how we can create a new pedagogy that is in synch with an environment that is different from the brick and mortar school environment. In doing so, I will use as an example an online course on World History which is a topic I am quite familiar with.

The first element of pedagogy I would like to look at is the transformation of online collaborative discussion. Online collaborative discussion as it exists in many e-learning organizations suffers from the following problems:
  • It is hard to get students to gather for an online discussion at the same time because they are at different stages in the course offering
  • Online collaborative discussion areas are not effectively moderated by the teacher 
  • Discussion parameters are not clearly defined or explained to students. The topics chosen are not engaging.
  • Students are not held accountable for their participation in any relevant fashion
  • Online collaborative discussion are not flexible enough to allow for creative thinking
You can probably add more to the list. The problems experienced in such groups mirror the problems with collaborative discussion in the brick and mortar school environment. Some of this is due to the fact that this type of activity has been simply transferred without much thought or modification into an online environment.

Some of Phylice's ideas on the translation of pedagogies can be found at the following address:

Next post: The Time Portal--Approach to Collaborative Online Discussion


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A New Pedagogy: Best Practices in An Online Environment?

You have heard the old saying that we shouldn't re-create the wheel if at all possible. It is this mindset that  has caused some teachers to try to transfer "best practices" from the brick and mortar school to an online environment. The rationale is that they always worked well in our brick and mortar school so why shouldn't they work in the online environment?
However, this type of mindset is very restrictive when it comes to what could be accomplished making use of the technologies that make the Internet the vibrant and sometimes dangerous place it can be. It makes the false assumption that there is no substantial difference between the regular classroom environment and the online environment.
What is needed is a very real attempt to examine how we can transform our pedagogy to create a enriched educational experience for students that recognizes that the connected environment that they have grown up with has very real potential for education.

Sir Kenneth Robinson offered a quote that describes one of the barriers that stands in our way. This quote was not originally credited belonging to him but it is one he used that is useful here. He said that when it comes to education and its transformation, there are three types of educators:

First, there are the immovable. They are the individuals who have become quite comfortable with the adage that they live by which is:" we have always done it this way, why do we need to change now?" These are the individuals who are quick to dismiss any new approach as unworkable and they are quick to list a litany of failed educational initiatives which both government and local education administration has burdened them with. To be just in our assessment of this mindset, there is a degree of truth to what they say. The problem is that their point of view is not one that tries to discern those initiatives that which are in fact flawed from those that have merit. They are also the types that quite frankly bore our students to death because they are blind and deaf to what students are trying to tell them about their pedagogy.

Secondly, there are those who move. They are the educators that are willing to try new initiatives and add to their pedagogy repertoire but do not really have the time to go deeper to take a new initiative and innovate. They will still cling to the "best practices" whether they are valid or not because of expediency and fear of rocking the boat in their environment. They sincerely care for the learning of their students and devote endless hours to making sure that they deliver an effective education to their students. The problem for them is tied to how professional development dealing with new initiatives is delivered to them. Too many of them walk away from PD sessions feeling that what they have been introduced to them is simply adding more work to their load which they are already having trouble staying ahead of. The fault for this lies with those who deliver PD to staffs. They need to effectively demonstrate how what they are presenting will enable a educator to work smarter rather than longer.

Thirdly, there are the educators who are movers. They are normally the first adapters of new initiatives. They tend to be willing to take risks and experiment with their course material with the goal of creating a better learning experience for their students. One thing they tend to abhor is bureaucracy and are not very good at filling out forms in triplicate or doing endless reports on things tangentially related to what they want to accomplish with their students.

So,  when pedagogy is practiced from these mindsets, you can see why it is difficult to consider what pedagogy should look like in an online education system.

When you consider different practices that are used in the brick and mortar school, the question that needs to be asked is do these practices constitute or encourage transformational teaching? Does the fact that you use a Smartboard to teach using a Socratic method instruction alone make you a level 3 type of educator indicated above? Is our teaching one that encourages students to have a mindset towards the future that says that they can be innovators that can transform society, that their contributions to that transformation starts during their education stage in life and will be valued now instead of when they get out of school and establish themselves in some position of employment?

Next a comparison between practices used in the present brick and mortar school systems and potential practices that are radically different for the online environment...

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Transformational Education and the Engine of Business

The convergence of different technologies, as I stated last post, will cause seismic shifts in many areas of our lives. In business, as an example, the culture of business which has followed the same vision and model for the conducting of business over the last century will find itself out of synch with the rapid changes on all fronts of our culture. The needs of employees and clients will be re-shaped or transformed from what was standard procedure in the past. The education of employees or training as business likes to look at it, will no longer be able to depend upon the tech departments to satisfy the needs on the part of employees to re-educate, integrate and re-focus. The culture of innovation that is developing will demand that online education and the increased use of interactive simulations tied to effectiveness be embedded in the work life of the employees. There will be a greater encouragement to innovate and follow accepted new ideas to their completion. Too many great innovative business ideas that come out of once a month or year sessions end up on the shelf to gather dust. The generation of new investors in business will come to the business expecting a return on their investment that fits with a new culture of innovation. Intellectual capital will be the primary focus in the reshaping of business and in new business start ups. These new business entrepreneurs will be people who have never known a time from the day that they were born that they were not connected to the web. They will be the new digital natives. The efficacy of this point of view has appeared already on the scene. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter founders Jack Dorsey, Evan Williams, Biz Stone and Noah Glass are just a few high profile examples of the new digital native entrepreneurs that have transformed social media. Of course, we must not forget the founders of Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. They know what many businesses don't realize that being that converging technologies are leading to transformational changes.

Now, what of education? Education use to have two main philosophies in regards to its purpose in the world. One purpose suggested that it was the goal of education to reflect society. This means that in the shaping of education, structure, goals and decisions were to be faithful to that philosophy. This also meant that education was not a driving force in society but was in fact driven by the main force that did drive society, that being Industry. Education was shaped to serve the goals of industry.
The second philosophy was that education should be an agent of change in society. Education should be a driving force in determining the direction that society would go. This was naturally considered to be a radical philosophy and did not fit the industrial model or serve its needs.

However, today, in creating a new culture of innovation coupled with the perfect storm of converging technologies, transformational education is coming into its own. The second education philosophy will not be just a radical option but instead an essential for living in transformational times. Every aspect of pedagogy is under the microscope and being examined for relevancy within the context of these new realities. Business, instead of being an adversary of education, will be in effect an engine driving this transformational education but in this case education will provide the direction on where our society should take us. Why? The fact is that business has a stake in this that will either allow them develop new innovations or fail as a business unable to cope with the seismic shifts that converging technologies are bringing.

Next, examining in more detail potential changes in pedagogy in order to produce transformational teaching....

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Convergence of Technologies: The Perfect Storm for Online Education-Part II

Sometimes it is wise to step back from our everyday lives, seek a quiet place and reflect on how much we all desire that our world would be so much better. Education as a transformational force for a new generation could lead to improvements in many facets of our lives globally if we take the time and the risk involved in letting go of those things in education that tend to hold us back from seeing the need for a new vision in education. The realities of the impact of converging technologies are real and will turn some ideas of education on their heads. With respect to the design of courses for an online experience the idea is to not react to the converging technologies in a convulsive manner but to instead to take advantage of what these technologies bring to making the education experience relevant to the context we live in, challenging and above all inspiring. It is through inspiration that innovation can lead to great things.
In order to accomplish this renewal, we need to be vitally aware of what the context of the present world is because designing online courses demands this awareness. The following two YouTube videos bring out some of the ideas that we need to be aware of:

This video has been updated a number of times and more frequently since 2010 because it is recognized by the authors that the converging of technologies is accelerating. The following video is dated but they have got it right in that a new vision of online education will have a transformational effect on the way that courses are designed and delivered.
So, this brings us to where should we go with this? There are a number of startling conclusions that we can come to: (1) There will be some courses that will no longer be taught because the skills that they attempt to teach will no longer be necessary because they will be done by computer AI. Therefore, in our societies some occupations/professions will no longer be done. Even in professions such as medicine, surgeries may be partially accomplished as a result of the converging of nanotechnology and robotics by robots. The one caveat here is that the role of surgeons will be transformed to meet the new reality. (2) Pedagogy must change in order to synch with a new vision for education. The industrial model and the pedagogy that came from it will be discarded.The best practices in education will be transformed and will become very fluid in order to synch with converging technologies. We don't have a crystal ball or can we predict the future but all the signs of the perfect storm in online education are there. The real question is whether or not you are ready for the ride? More later....

The Convergence of Technologies-The Perfect Storm for Online Education??- Part I

As we often see in the media, many different technologies are advancing and developing at an increased rate. What we might not grasp is that these technologies are not developing in isolated linear streams but in fact are converging where advancements in one technology will converge and intersect with changes in another technology to enhance and enrich the other. The effects of this rapid convergence of technologies might be considered the "perfect storm" in a post information age. It is not my intent to describe how this convergence will affect all aspects of our lives but instead, narrow my focus to online education alone.

Gold Zoom

Online education depends upon the technologies of computer development, artificial intelligence, LMS (Learning Management Systems), Asynchronous and Synchronous transmission, Cyber-Security just to name a few. How online education deals with the seismic waves produced by this convergence depends first and foremost on the vision of where we want online education to take us. If we look at this from the point of view of the trainer of employees, there is a question that needs to be answered. With the vision that we have, are we training students for employment in occupations that will cease to exist in the future that the students will live in? Is the vision that we subscribe to in online education flexible enough to adjust to the convergence of technologies or does it need to be discarded. I would submit to you that the industrial model of education and its vision for online education will not be able to adapt because in itself it reflects a world context that is not in synch with the changing realities that students are facing. It is my position that we need to work towards a vision that sees cultural innovation as a way to adjust, integrate and adapt to the convergence of technologies.
For example, the advancement of computer design is not only being affected by advances in chip technology and computer architecture. The technologies dealing with artificial technology and nanotechnology are having an impact on computer advancement. Cyber security advancements recognize that the use of passwords needs to be replaced by something that is highly individualized and secure. The rise of cyber attacks on corporate, military and civilian institutions is on the rise which very clearly demonstrates how vulnerable we are when it comes to the loss of personal and financial data. This displays the weaknesses and also the potential danger of relying on the present system just because it kept us safe in the past. So, what are the potential solutions to this problem?

It has been my opinion for awhile that we will need to depend upon the advancements in biotechnology and specifically, biometric security. We have been able to see new technologies designed for secure access develop. Such innovation as using finger prints to access systems, use of facial recognition to access systems, Iris access...etc have been going through growing pains. The concept behind them is the right idea. We need technology that uses unique biological identifiers that can't be spoofed or replicated in order to have security while working online. For example, such biometric identifiers could be used to authenticate that the person logging on to the virtual education interface is the person that they claim to be based on their biometric identifiers. It could also be used to authenticate that the person doing a test is the person that is suppose to be doing the test. Biometrics could also be used for tracking a person during a test to make sure that if the person is not allowed to use certain areas of the Internet during the test, that their integrity is encouraged and maintained.
With respect to the devices required to accomplish, I am party to such an innovation as part of the developer conference for the company. The item I am referring to is called a NYMI. It is a bracelet that a wearer will use that uses the individual EKG of the person to communicate with smart devices. When they take the device off, they can't access their devices. Having someone else put the device on will not give them access to that person's smart devices or data because the bracelet is based on the first person's EKG. There are other biological identifiers that are unique to the individual that might also be used. Right now the NYMI is in the beta stage of development.

Next... How course development will be affected by the convergence of AI and virtual world simulation.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Strategic design in Online Education: Skill Streams in Courses--Page #2

Referring to the previous rough diagram, the following points need to be made to clarify the headings in the diagram:

  1. Vision of Online Education:  From our vision of what online education should be will come the context by which all decisions regarding course objectives, teaching methodology and the design of engaging educational experiences will derive. All of the design should refer back to the guiding vision for online education. As a result of following process, more innovations might lead to a refining of the original vision. If the vision is to create a culture of innovation then this should be reflected in the design of the course.
  2. Course Learning Objectives:  From the vision should come the definitive course objectives. If the course is to focus more on process skills than information accumulation skills then the objectives should be designed to do just that.
  3. Identify and Prioritize Skills Streams: In this category it is extremely important not only to identify the skills that will be emphasized throughout the course but also the interconnectedness of these skills must be shown. As a simple example suppose a learning objective is to enable students to take and defend effectively a position on a real world problem in a collaborative simulation. What skills are necessary for a student to possess so that in the end they can effectively demonstrate mastery of the objective? Surely you can not speak of the production of an argument if a student does not know and can demonstrate the difference between a fact and an opinion! Is this a real world skill that is relevant to a student's life? Consider how often in the real world and especially in the online environment, that a theory is repeated as if it is fact instead of something based upon an educated guess. How do students determine what websites contain valid information and which are either distorted or completely wrong? This is why teaching students how to think is more important than having them repeat information they have found without critical evaluation. In the online environment they will be confronted by people who want to teach them what to think and will use all of the multimedia of the Internet to shape what they think. Whether a student addresses skill stream #1, 2 or 3 will depend where they are in their understanding of the skills that are being addressed.
  4. Skill Streams # 1, 2, 3: The skills streams represent a hierarchy of skills that are connected by priority as described in the previous step. Students stream into the skill stream that they still need to acquire.This is determined by the educator online for each student in an appropriate interrogation format. The goal is to see whether or not a student can demonstrate mastery of the skill. The design of the interrogation should produce measurable results. In the diagram, only three skills streams are indicated. This can be changed but must be done with care.
  5. Collaborative Reinforcement and Mastery of Skills: At the end of the previous step, students will move into the skill stream that they have been identified as being at. This new step involves a collaboration between all three groups. Students are advised that in the next step, labelled the logic pit their understandings will be put to the test in an intense session in which the instructor will be the questioner. Students in the skill stream #3 will have the responsibility of collaborating with students in skill stream #2 to teach them what is needed to understand the skill that they have mastered. Additionally, students in skill stream #2 will have responsibility of teaching students in skill stream #1 what is need to understand the skill that they have mastered. At the end of their session, students in skill stream #3 will have the responsibility of teaching students identified as skill stream #1 the skill that they have mastered. Students are informed that at the end of this collaborative session, they will proceed into the "Logic Pit" which is a timed collaborative intense session where there understandings will be put to the test by their instructor.
  6. The Logic Pit Challenge: The logic pit is where students demonstrate their skills by being challenged by the instructor. The reasoning behind this is two fold. First, I have found that when it comes to asking students to defend statements that they make in a discussion of an issue, educators raised on the child centred learning philosophy had the tendency to allow students to opt out from defending statements so that they will not be embarrassed in front of their peers. They then start to depend on this opt out strategy which means that they never have to re-examine their thinking and delve into the issue in more depth. Secondly, one of the great failings of school systems is that they do not mentor students effectively on logical reasoning and how to build and deliver a sound enough argument to the point where they can make an effective stand on an issue and are able to defend what they believe using verifiable evidence. I found that when I first introduced the concept of the "logic pit" to students, there was a great deal of trepidation on their part. However, after they became use to it, I found that they looked forward to taking a stand in the logic pit to present a strategic case and were self-motivated to prepare for it. This occurred across student skill levels. After the instructor has put them to the test in a timed intense session, they move on to the online simulation.
  7. Online Simulation (all skills in play): The online simulation can take many forms. The purpose is to test students' ability to apply their learned skills in a novel situation and test their ability to collaborate as a team. The collaboration concept is not new to students because they often collaborate in online gaming scenarios. The simulation could take the form of a debate where they are divided into two teams and must defend a point of view that they do not necessarily hold. This tests their ability to predict counter-arguments to their position and defend against them. The simulation could be an online court room presided over by a real world court justice, where they may play the role of a prosecutor, defence attorney or a member of the jury, witnesses, suspects...etc. The instructor can during this simulation introduce confounding variables that will force students to be innovative. For example, it may be stated that a prime prosecution witness has died of a heart attack during the trail proceedings. The instructor is no longer the "sage on the stage" in terms of his or her role but instead is the moderator and conditions changer for the simulation. The ideal form of the simulation would be to have a virtual immersive world that the students enter, taking on the role of a particular avatar personality, and then are faced with critical decisions during the play that could have and does have an impact on the direction the simulation takes. The simulation needs to be a timed event.
  8. Assessment of Simulation Performance: This stage is the debriefing stage in which input about the simulation is collected from the participants, the moderator and any real world expert participants. In this stage both strengths and weakness in regards to students' command of the skills that have been in play are assessed. From the information gathered, a second simulation is cast in which the variables that represented weaknesses on the part of the student are emphasized.
  9. Online Simulation #2:  Students enter the second simulation which could be a variation of the last run simulation. The idea behind this is similar to when students engage in online gaming and their turn ends because of mistakes made. They get a second chance to try again. The difference is that in doing the second simulation, the educator has changed the variables. Innovative students in collaboration will devise and think strategically with the purpose of beating the simulation and achieving the group goal.
  10. Collaborative Online Real World Project: In this final assessment of student skills, students are given a challenge in which a real world issue involving a set of problems is put before them. They are encouraged to come up with a innovative solution to the described issue. They are then to access an online community dealing with the issue and be open to comments concerning their solution from the members of the community. How well they respond with their own arguments and defences becomes part of their assessment. The moderator of the community is asked for her or his input on the discussion and is also asked whether or not the students' work could be highlighted in the community for a period of time.
 This process is far from perfect. However, if it stimulates discussion in the online education community it is a beginning towards building a culture of innovation.

The convergence of technologies are on the horizon, are you ready as an online educator for a seismic shift that will force you to re-invent your pedagogy? Converging technologies and the impact on virtual education will be the subject of my next post...........