Saturday, May 31, 2014

Smart Pedagogy III: Time Portal-Journey to the Other Side

As I am sure that you are aware, the creation of one immersive scene that is faithful to an actual historical place and time requires that the scene be a detailed replica of what actually existed. The fact that the scene is immersive, 3D and can be interacted with gives you an idea of the level of complexity required. It is for that reason that we can't automatically jump into creating a complete world as exists in Second Life but must start with a single scene that will teach us the strengths and weaknesses of what we have created.

Credit: Cooldesign
In the example from world history, specifically, the Manhattan Project, the scene that could be created is the Los Alamos lab of Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, circa 1942, located in New Mexico, U.S.A. Other characters present could be Enrico Fermi, General Leslie Groves, Albert Einstein. The educator takes on the role of Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer and is the person who directs the simulation. The educator introduces variables into the drama at different points as the students must solve real world tasks that were germane to the project. Types of variables could be like the following:

  1. General Leslie Groves, who directs the whole Manhattan Project, gives a news update that the Nazis have accelerated their time table for the development of the atomic bomb, which means that in order to beat the Nazis to the goal, the Los Alamos lab team will have x number of simulation time units that they have to come up with solutions, reduced.
  2. A funding cut has been introduced by the government which means the team must propose an alternate innovative solution to the current task that is cost efficient.
  3. A moral issue has arisen dealing with the high percentage of loss of life that will occur in civilian populations as a result of them completing their work. Team members are called to present well evidenced arguments for both sides of the issue through collaborative discussion. They will then be required to take a position. They will have to present their arguments to Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer(the educator) and be prepared to defend their position vigorously under intense questioning.
  4. General Leslie Groves  announces an news update that reveals that a highly secret project in which Nazi nuclear scientists are to be kidnapped and brought back to the U.S. has somehow been leaked to the international media. The "Alsos Mission", as it has been called is resulting in angry responses from some nations. The team needs to come up with an alternate plan to slow down the Nazi atomic bomb program.
The type of learning objectives involved in such an simulation involve such skill developments as:
  • creating effective arguments, researching verifiable evidence, evaluation of evidence with a focus on identifying bias, propaganda and simply opinion.
  • collaborative team work through discussion with focus on coming up with solutions that are innovative and apply to real world issues germane to the time period.
  • ability to take a position, defend it, anticipate counter-arguments and produce defences and effective communication of the position under the pressure of time and changing conditions.

The Oculus Rift is a virtual reality headset that enables its user to be immersed in a 3D world. Due to the fact that this technology is new and more than likely will become more streamlined and will synch with such virtual reality authoring programs such as Unity 3D or Unreal Technology, it is possible in the near future that this headset could be used in conjunction with the time portal simulations in virtual education courses. Students will be able to use it as easily as they use a mouse.
This is only the beginning of a new adventure in which the roles of student and educator will shift with a view on the future in a new culture of innovation.

There is still a very important question that needs to be answered if the amazing changes in education are to take place for the betterment of student learning and ultimately all of our societies. The question deals with change management. Are we ready to describe how we can make this work?
This will be the focus of my next post..........

Monday, May 26, 2014

Smart Pedagogy II: Time Portal and Oculus Rift

Smart Pedagogy means innovating with respect to the elements that must align with a pedagogy shaped by 21st century needs. Pedagogy is not a static entity but is something that is changing because of what we are discovering through multidisciplinary research about how students learn and from a new vision of education that reflects a new culture of innovation.

The focus for this post is how we can take online collaborative discussion and design it in such a way that it is challenging, inspiring, real, and focused on arriving at solutions to real world problems. However, in order to  be effective, the end result must not be left to being just academic exercise but must also have an outlet so that the students receive real world recognition for the solutions that they have come up with. This means that they must have a real world outlet so that their solutions are published and open to examination.

One of the challenges to real and relevant online discussion has been the claim that the asynchronous nature of the Internet creates a problem for involving students across the globe in a specific online collaborative discussion. In other words, it is all about time and time zones!

Credit: twobee
Part of the problem in the past has been we have neglected to lay the foundation for online collaborative discussion to take place within an online environment. One way to solve this problem within any particular LMS is to have a module designed that students reach before entering the course proper where they have to create a personal introduction with YouTube as a possible vehicle and share it with other students who are present as well. Laying the foundation of real online collaborative discussion means that the students need to get to know each other. This introduction of a social aspect is something that students are quite familiar with as a result of their past involvement with such social media sites as Face Book and Twitter to name a couple. In this instance you are taking two modern communication innovations and using them to further the goals of student learning. Within this module is where students may be introduced to the idea that they are going to become involved in online collaborative discussion during the time of the course.

Now turning to the problem of the asynchronous nature of online collaboration, here are some suggestions:
  1. Since in the past posting I used online World History as the example, I will continue to use it in these suggestions. When students do their personal introductions, ask them to put in the GMT or time zone that they are in so that other students get an idea as to time difference. Most students of geography understand the basic fact that the world has 24 time zones.
  2. Next, include an utility that is built into the course that is in fact a Time Zone Calculator. This means that when students are about to get involved in a online collaborative discussion, they can insert the time zone that their collaborators are in and have it produce the time difference in hours compared to the hosting site.
  3. Based on the hosting time zone, suggest that on the particular date that students are told by their instructor the discussion will take place, that the start time be noon. So, what this means is that if the limit is a difference of 12 hrs, it will try to include a majority of students registered in the course. Some might be up late at night but for many who are involved in online gaming which they have no problem with, it shouldn't be a problem to use this time for something more important, their education!
  4. The online collaborative discussion is much more than just a text debate. It is presented as a time portal in which students enter in the role of the historical events main characters into an immersive virtual scene where they must make decisions and defend their decisions based on the outcomes that they see.
Next, what they find on the other side and how Oculus Rift may play a pivotal role in what happens.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Smart Pedagogy for the 21st Century --Part I

 Smart pedagogy means using techniques that irresistibly engage the heart and mind of the student. Engaging the heart means that the motivation to persevere in the online course comes from a growing intrinsic motivation that overwhelms previous doubts that students may have harboured about the course. Engaging the mind means that the learning experiences challenge the student to apply the skills they are learning to  real world problems which are presented to them in a unique way. These real world problems are ones that they have never thought about or confronted before. The problems are presented in such a manner as to intrigue the student and they are able to receive immediate feedback on how their decisions affect the outcome for the problems that they are tasked with. Smart pedagogy fosters transformational teaching because the vision dictates that we teach students with the attitude of them and us being change agents in the world.

Credit: CLUC

In the last post I gave you an example of how one technique in online education could be transformed into a more engaging experience that would give a higher yield in sustained, deeper learning for the student. The simple truth here is that collaborative online discussion in an e-learning environment needs to be improved because it is a great vehicle for testing the critical thinking skills of students as they apply to real world problems. We need to shift from learning experiences that seem to be germane only to the course specific to learning experiences that develop the necessary skill sets students need in order to be productive in the world that they are living in now and in the future. The potential application of serious gaming principles to online education learning experiences should not be underestimated.

I would like to emphasize that the purpose of such procedures are not to add to the work load of teachers but instead are to enable them to work smarter with a new mindset that suggests that what they and their students are working towards is transformational in terms of the societies they live in. The rising tide of a culture of innovation will impact all of our societies and education will be the driving force with the generations that it mentors.

More later..........

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Developing New Online Pedagogies- The Time Portal and Transformational Teaching

In  the last post, time was taken to discuss pedagogy and the elements that align with it to describe the pedagogy. As was to be expected there was a diversity of opinion about whether the nature of our pedagogy needs to change. In this post, I would like to describe to you conceptually an activity that could be used to promote thoughtful engagement on the part of students in online collaborative discussion. To understand the concept to be described it is important to recognize that it originates from the following understandings:

Credit: CLUC
  1. This vision of education sees education as a necessary change agent for the future health of our societies. It is based on the idea that in the post-information age, there is developing a new culture of innovation. Comparatively speaking the vision of education based on the industrial model of education which served its purpose in its time frame no longer fits with the present or the future. The vision of the past defined the purpose of education which was to reflect all the attributes of the present society. The goal of education of students was to produce an efficient work force and good consumers of the output of business.
  2. The new vision for education in an advancing technological world is that education is to be an agent of change and in educating students, the habits of the mind that are required change the role of the student so that he or she are creators of new knowledge and skill sets that support a growing development of a culture of innovation. They are to become valued partners in learning who are guided by educators who act as facilitators and activators of student learning. Through the use of real world problems and issues and the use of experiential learning within a virtual environment, students and educators foster the growth of a culture innovation.
  3. According to Michael Fullan in his book Stratosphere(2012), the integration of technology and pedagogy for the purpose of maximizing learning must meet four criteria:
  •  It must be irresistibly engaging. This has been a problem for our students for some time in that the educational experiences that we are providing them with are having the opposite of our intended effect. Students are disengaging from their learning in a growing percentage as they advance through the different grades. The other factor that influences this is the attitude of their teachers which says to them that they too are bored with what they are doing and in fact disconnected. Much of this is the result of a model of education that uses negative extrinsic motivators such as intense teacher assessment and grades to obtain results. What is really needed are designed learning experiences where students develop intrinsic motivation to pursue their learning path.
  • It must be elegantly efficient. This means that the technology used in service of pedagogy should be easy to use and intuitive for the users. It needs to work well when called upon. 
  • It needs to be technologically ubiquitous. The technology needs to be available 24/7.
  • It needs to be steeped in real-life problem solving. Students need to feel that their learning has value and application to real world issues and problems and is not just an in-class exercise that has no connection to the "real" world.
The concept that I am about to describe is an attempt to address the first criterion, that being, it must be irresistibly engaging.

Credit: CLUC

CourseWorld History
Goal:  To make collaborative online discussion more effective and  irresistibly engaging for the students
Innovations Used: Gaming principles, virtual reality environment, teacher as primary character and represented as a historical character using an avatar. Students take on the roles of other historical characters and enter the historical virtual reality scene as avatars.
Rationale for Approach: One of the most engaging classroom activities when done effectively is to have students role play a historical scene in which they get to portray a specific character. However, even when done well within the brick and mortar classroom, there are still constraints that prevent it from being as enriching as it could be. Things such as outside interference or disruptions found in the typical school day can destroy the flow for what is to be accomplished. Using technology, we can eliminate such barriers. Within our technological scene students can be presented with the unique real problems faced by the characters that need to be resolved, they can become involved in the thought processes that are unique to the particular event and as a group they can collaborate to find a real solution. Within this context innovation and inspiration can be allowed to flow into the decision making and students can see the result of the decisions they have made. Such an activity can stimulate what is called "flow" where time for the student seems to stand still.
Suggested Integration: Since an online world history course is usually divided up into units, I  would suggest that activities such as this which I will call "Time Portals" be inserted with one in each unit. I also suggest that these rich VR historical scenes have a time clock so that the time in the simulation is visible to the participants.
Potential Scenes:(1) The Manhattan Project, (2) Battle of Thermopylae and other such scenes from different periods of history.
Role of the Teacher: The teacher takes on the role of the primary character in each project and appears to the students as an avatar representing the main character. His or her goals are to present the problem that needs to be solved and direct the students to explore the virtual reality scene that they are immersed in. For example, in regards to the Manhattan Project, the scene could be a detailed laboratory where they collaborate with each other. The teacher also introduces changes in the variables during the simulation that encourages students to take into account the new event in their problem solving. The nature of such an event could be a breaking news bulletin concerning what progress or breakthroughs Nazi scientists have made. Such events are intended to get students to a deeper level of using critical thinking skills. The event announced could be a funding cutback to the program. The final solution that the students come up with in solving the problem must enable them to see the consequences of their solution played out in real time. With the Battle of Thermopylae it might take the form of the students leaving the camp meeting to a hill overlooking the battlefield where they see their solution played out. The educator is to engage the students in an intense discussion in which they are reminded that the time frame must be met. All the potential excuses that students might come up with for lack of progress are to be challenged so that they become more and more effective as a collaborative group.

The concept I have described above is not fully detailed but the purpose for presenting it is to encourage you to think of the possibilities of harnessing technology as a servant to solid pedagogy within the context of an online learning environment. We can take online collaborative discussion and make it exciting, inspiring, and engaging so that when students have finished such an activity they can confess that they achieved a deeper level of learning and they will want more of such designed activities as part of their personalized learning path.

Next entry will detail more about the type of transformational teaching that is required in the changing world of online teaching...