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...

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