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Adjusting the focus April 22, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Online Tools.
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focusToday I was supposed to take my family to Kitt Peak to do some stargazing. A group of Boy Scouts bumped us because somebody in the system overbooked. Okay, that was the full extent of my vent except to mention that the Earth is passing through a comet debris trail and we were expecting to see about ten meteors an hour.

What is more important to this ongoing discussion of educational technology is that we were going to see some well-known constellations tonight. What is interesting about constellations, also known as asterisms, is that although they look two dimensional, they are actually many light years apart. If you were to move closer to the asterism, it would appear to shift and distort. What you see and how you make sense of the pattern depends on your perspective. That is a basic construct.

This afternoon, after a walk under some trees, I noticed something wriggling on my shirt. It was a bug of some sort. Unfortunately, it was too small for me to see with my glasses off and too blurry for me to see with them on. My perspective was not working properly to allow me to get a good understanding of what I was seeing.

I have often suggested to my colleagues that educational technology adds an extension to your instructional reach. It is a tool to compensate for any weaknesses. If your vision is blurry, you will wear glasses. Glasses are a great tool. If you cannot reach something, you invest in a ladder. Ladders are great tools. If you want to spread paint on a wall, you get a paint roller or a brush. These tools can help you bring your vision to fruition.

Stars and bugs, ladders and paint rollers, perspectives and tools, all these are colliding together in my professional life. It has been my role and my honor to try to bring the new vision of using technology to assist teachers in the goals of their instruction. When the perspective is absent, my job is to try to inspire, spread contagion, and help my colleagues to draw their own conclusions about the use of technology in their fields of research and teaching.

On Friday, I finally finished my review of Online Instruction. I will save the detailed conclusions to tomorrow, but what I found was an opening. Each department appears to have a unique fingerprint, of sorts, in the manner in which they use online tools. One department uses, to exclusion of every other tool discussion lists and an online readings system from the university library called e-reserves. One department is almost in an identical pattern of use with the exception of a few outliers where one professor has taken on the challenge of using a course management system for a semester. Another department used a robust array of tools in gradually decreasing numbers. For example, 40 courses may use one tool, while 20 courses use two tools, and ten courses use 3 tools, and so on. This department has the potential to lead the way and to inspire colleagues in the college with what they are doing. This department can absorb the impact of a new tool by relying on peers for advice in how to implement it. They can also inspire each other to push the limits of the tools a little.

It appears that perspective is everything. If your department is communicating well, you will likely rely on one set of tools since that is the frame of reference in which you work and the environment to which you were hired.

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