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Status Identifiers October 25, 2007

Posted by Michael McVey in Online Tools, Students, Unintended Consequences.
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SL2   Yesterday, in my 330 class, a comment was made about how computer mediated communication removed status identifiers. Interestingly, I have found that within Second Life there are knowledge base identifiers such as virtual clothing, accessories, and personal spaces that are indicative of an enhanced set of skills. I wonder how off putting those are to students new to the SL learning environment. Also, I have heard from one colleague whose AV is quite formally attired in order to differentiate himself from students in his class. He figured there needed to be a barrier of some sort. A research thread?

Pizza Pie Charts July 12, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Online Tools, Students.
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pizza   I gave a training session in the use of Excel this morning to seven Administrative Assistants. We had a top notch person in last week training them on Access and they raved so much about her I was getting a little worried that I would not be able to satisfy this crew.

Perhaps my worried were misplaced. Each participant had her own laptop and I followed a script of my own design as we walked through about eighteen short activities. This was project based learning in miniature. By the time we had finished the three hours they were adept at making charts and graphs, linking files, creating simple formulas, and had even created a pivot table.

The feedback I received was that they still did not quite understand pivot tables but since they did not have a great need to know how to use them they could overlook that deficiency. One of the fun activities was getting everyone to pony up loose change up to five dollars each that we could put together toward a pizza.

We then used a formula to total the amount of money, calculate sales tax, and figure change. We then created a “pizza pie” graph that showed us all what percentage of the pizza we needed to slice for ourselves based on how much we threw in. One feature that seemed to arouse a lot of unexpected excitement was my side demonstration of how to color in the piece of their pie chart with a photo of a pizza.

There is something about the sound people make when they are following along and solve a problem for themselves or finally see how to link a cell in one spreadsheet with a table in another. Like a light being turned on or the ice breaking off the lake. I am convinced that you cannot take the love of teaching out of the teacher.

Zenith classes April 25, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Students.
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senith   My students are churning out overdue work for me faster tan I thought possible. Who says students today do not know how to calculate in their heads. When the total points possible is 586, my students had it worked out to the decimal what they needed to get an A or a B. They did not bother working out any lower grades because, gosh darn it, they were going for the gold.

They will do fine. I recall my wonderful ninth grade homeroom teacher, who was also my math teacher, commenting years after I left her class, that my year was just the best she had had in ages. They come in cycles, she calculated, of seven years. My class was on the zenith of the cycle.

Over my years of teaching, I have experienced those zenith classes; I am still friends with some of those students. I have also experiences a few of the nadir classes. This year I had my zenith class. They were charming, polite, supportive, enthusiastic, and energetic. I am looking forward to seeing they all graduate in a few years and become teachers.

One young person, in response to an assignment that was relatively straightforward, found a series of lesson plans that looked identical but she pointed out one major difference between them that she thought would be a gold mine for new teachers: timings. The math lessons she found had timings for how to go about running the class. One lesson, for example, gave a suggestion of ten minutes of independent work before the teacher should check for answers on the first questions. This is something that comes quite naturally for experienced teachers. So much so that we forget that timing is something one learns through experience. Of course, the danger is in having too descriptive a lesson plan when a prescriptive one is called for.

Finally, to wrap up, the Dean took possession of my review of online instruction but wanted to have a better idea of what the exact response rate was. It turns out we hit 76 percent responses. Many scholars consider such a rate good for many research studies. However, this was supposed to be a command performance, a review of the college and its use of online instructional tools. I suppose I could have made thirty telephone calls to get one hundred percent, but I wonder if my colleagues would consider a perfect response rate questionable. There is always next year to find out.

Computer-less teachers April 23, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in General Comment, Students.
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teachers   A few weeks ago, I shared the following quotation with my students, “Technology will never replace teachers; but teachers who use technology will replace those who do not.” I posted it to let my students ponder the implications. For the most part, I stayed disengaged from the quotation itself and just absorbed my students’ reaction to it. They seemed to support the concept if I counted the number of “Right ons!” correctly. This evening, I read the first negative response to the quotation, and this from a respected leader in the field of educational technology.

It was this leader’s perspective that the quotation was fundamentally flawed. He found his evidence in the many teachers he had over the years who engaged their classes without even a piece of chalk. We have all had teachers like that at one time or another but there might be another 99 percent of the teachers who cannot hold their classes so spellbound without some sort of support. They might need an image they have found to open a mind. They might need to play a recording of a poem to share its rhythm and beat better than they ever could. They might need to share a music video, a television commercial, or a news story to prompt a discussion more concisely that they could with words alone. They might need to reference a web site to reinforce and elaborated on something said in class.

The more I think about it, those teachers who tell stories and hold their classes spellbound might not hold every student so well. Those teachers are lucky if they can assess how well their students understood the concepts. I suppose their classes are small enough and their questions to them perfectly formed and answered by all. Those teaches are lucky because they could bring a life of experiences and insights to the class and boil them into brilliant and insightful stories and were not stuck with a lackluster curriculum or set of standards into which they had trouble breathing life. Those fabulous teachers were obviously able to create assignments for students perfectly tailored to the cognitive needs of every brain in the class. I am all in favor of giving computer-less teachers a chance to cast a spell and good luck to them.  

My point about educational technology is that those of us unable to hold a class spellbound two hundred days a year can gain a fighting chance of keeping a student in school by using these tools to engage, empower, and occasionally entertain.

Blurring boundaries April 20, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Students.
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center   Nancy Willard, the Director of The Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use, wrote to a list upon which I lurk about a topic that has been tickling the edge of my consciousness recently. She referred to an article in Time about what college professors are saying about incoming students. According to the article, social boundaries between professor and student are eroding.

I am not convinced that students should not try to breach some of these boundaries. I have met many students who have benefited from being able to reach out to me and to my colleagues when they need academic assistance. I have found that sharing my own frustrations and thinking about issues has helped students to gain a better understanding of what it means to be a scholar, what it means to be a teacher, and what it means to juggle parenting with life in the academe.

I have also found that students do not spend much time asking me simple and mundane questions about day-to-day life at university for the simple reason that I have no time to answer such questions. Students regularly ask me about the best place to take computers for repair or to purchase software, but I expect such questions in my position. My answers are one of two or three that I give out almost daily. I do not have time to socialize and my students, for the most part, understand that.

Therefore, when Ms. Willard asks if we “are we raising a new generation of youth who are addicted to multitasking, which is interfering with their ability to focus and thereby to learn anything in depth,” I respond that students are learning differently. Rather than stay within the boundaries of a certain subject, students are pulling in references from art, cinema, music, architecture, nuclear science, and ethics to support arguments that might be a little ragged around the edges, but which are brighter, rely on broader readings, and resonate with relevant cultural influences.

Ms. Willard plays devil’s advocate, presumably, when she asks, “Are we raising a new generation to demonstrate absolutely no respect in their electronic writings for those in positions they really ought to respect, not to mention peers?” She might be wise to note that it is always the professor’s prerogative to stick to her guns and to explain clearly the source of a poor grade. I had this exchange just yesterday. A student demanded of her adjunct professor that her grade be changed to a grade of A. The adjunct, a doctoral student, reminded that student that she had made several explanations for how to improve the submitted paper but the student chose to ignore the suggestions. The grade stood and the student did everything short of heavy sighing and foot stamping to insist that she receive a grade of A. What manners might be missing will soon be learned if the professor is clear about expectations and gives clear feedback.

It is also wise to remember that we still give 90 percent of our attention to the 10 percent of students who demand it. Look around and you will see that manners still exist, despite the Internet.

Loose Change April 4, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Information, Students.
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change   After seven years of using Course Management Systems at The University of Arizona, I have tried four of them. We began with Blackboard, which at the time offered free course creation and hosting until they began to get popular. Then we moved to WebCT, the first full feature CMS that tied into our student database system. The learning curve was steep but manageable. I then modified a course for a CMS called UCompass out of Florida and piloted that for a summer. They were very eager to please and to get out business. I liked their user interface but, alas, the university chose not to go with them.

One afternoon, the director of the Learning Technology Center called all the college CMS coordinators, me included, into a luncheon meeting. It turned out WebCT was too successful for this university. It was taking, according to the director, more than 24 hours to back up the WebCT courses so we would have to go with a different Course Management System entirely. Several of us sat in stunned silence thinking of the huge re-training exercise we would have to engage in to make the change.

We eventually saw the light, sucked it up, dealt with it, soldiered on, and generally put up with the change. I do not mind change. I once planned an entire summer to teach a Grade Ten English Literature course and was told, on the second day of school, numbers of students had shifted and I was to teach Grade Twelve English instead. That was not change; that was abuse. Since it did not kill me it must have made me stronger. It grayed my hair too, but that is another story. In the College, we managed. Several professors new to Course Management Systems put their courses on line for the first time and they picked up the structure of the new system, Desire2Learn, quite quickly.

Today I was part of a meeting with the D2L coordinators for the university. We had the opportunity to share our feelings and experiences about D2L with them in an attempt to make it better. In addition to the great features of the courses, including one feature, the checklist, which I am apparently the only one using, there were some other concerns we all wanted to express. I won’t list them all here but I did mention the 300 pound (136 Kilogram) gorilla in the room was the fact that they changed the CMS on us once before. Will they do it again? It takes a long time to get a faculty up to speed and there is a lot of frustration with change, especially if we do not have any input or warning that they might thrust it upon us.

I left the meeting convinced that the Learning Technologies Center would give adequate warning of any precipitous changes, but on the other hand, change might be what keeps us vibrant and creative.

Science Fair 2006 March 24, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Lifelong Learning, Students.
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winners   Last night, the Tucson Convention Center hosted the grand awards ceremony for the citywide science fair competition.  The evening’s guests were students from kindergarten through fifth grade.  My daughter and her two friends decided to strategize this year and produced a team project.  Their thinking was that, as a team, they would have less competition and a greater chance for an award.

Their strategy paid off in the form of a third-place ribbon for each of them.  Of course, the down side of the team’s strategy is that individuals would not be eligible to attend the International Science Fair as observers as part of the discovery channel program.  The girls were willing to take this chance.

Their project consisted of an analysis of different insulating materials on the internal temperature of a hot box, which they created.  They monitored the temperatures on the inside of the box with electronic thermometer.  Just for fun, they placed a mouse pad made of neoprene in place of the other materials they were using for installation, and discovered that neoprene possessed tremendous insulating factors.

I believe that if the girls had analyzed the qualities of neoprene, perhaps under a microscope, or researched the properties of neoprene on the Internet, they may have placed even higher in the rankings.  As it was, they were quite excited to place at all and proudly walked across the stage last night.  They remain firmly convinced that any one of them could someday grow up to be an engineer or scientist of some note.

On the drive home from the ceremony, we were already planning the project for next year.

The Nature of our Teaching March 16, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Online Tools, Students, Unintended Consequences.
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students2   Perhaps student networking is the aspect of new technology that teachers and stodgy old professors like myself need to tap into. We need to watch what students do with the technology, listen to what they say about the technology, find out what makes their hearts beat a little faster about the technology, and use it to our advantage.

I met a girl two or three years ago walking out of the Department of Music. She had one of those newfangled (at the time) iPods and I was so intrigued by it I stopped her and asked her a few questions. She simply gushed with exuberance about how it could store so many songs and how she could bring her music with her and that it had literally changed her life and the way she worked.

It is important for the researchers in educational technology to examine that enthusiasm and pick it apart to determine what aspects of it are most relevant or what aspects of it could be used best to transform education. Was it the mobility? Was it the personalization of the tool? Was it the freedom from sitting in front of a set of speakers? Could the same excitement be transferred to listening to lectures by professors?

I have listened to exactly one lecture from a professor in my educational career. It was a lecture that summarized everything that could possibly appear on a comprehensive examination for my doctoral studies. I desperately needed to understand every aspect of that tape. I listened to it perhaps 10 times until I was certain that I understood every aspect. I was motivated to listen to that tape. I am not so certain I would have listened to lectures from my other professors unless I was motivated to do so perhaps by an examination or because of the nature of the concept that was being explained or simply because it was fun.

I wonder if now that professors are able to put their lectures on podcasts and distribute them electronically, will that change the nature of the lecture? Will professors be less prone to ramble? Will professors be more exact? Will professors speak more quickly? Will professors engage in larger concepts? Will these be the lectures that are absolutely essential? There have been so many classes I have taken were the professors’ lectures were largely irrelevant. Will the fact that students can review a lecture until they understand the concepts change the nature of higher education? How will this change the learning styles of our students? If a student can take a class in the comfort of their office or bedroom and listen to 15 hours of lectures on a podcasts and read the readings and write the writings, within the period of two or three weeks instead of the requisite 15 weeks, what would that do to the nature of the University?

These are questions we have to ask.

Path to the Students March 15, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Online Tools, Students.
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students1   I sometimes wonder if my colleagues and I who work on a daily basis with educational technology are really at the cutting edge or, as some of my colleagues like to say, at the bleeding edge. Sometimes I wonder if we are just picking up some of the more useful trash that has fallen off the large research and development corporation’s trucks and seeing if we can apply at to the classroom.

I wonder, also, what aspects of technology will really inspire student learning and ignite lifelong interests in subjects and careers long after school ends. Today I looked at a photograph from NASA, that showed a frame from a fly through of a Martian Valley. The database, the sheer number of numbers, required to create such a fly through was enormous. The amount of time it took to create such a fly through was similarly enormous. But once a student has flown through this Martian Valley, what will they walk away from the experience with? Will they understand Mars any more? I am not so sure that that is the case.

When my students open Google earth, they don’t fly through valleys of places they’ve never visited, although with the right guide explaining things along the way they may find it very interesting. My students are more interested in seeing their house. They want to see where their friends live. They want to see where their school is. They want to see where their stores are. They want to see the route they took to get to
Disneyland. They want to see their network.

When text messaging and instant messaging started to make an appearance in schools, students were not using that tool to write to their teachers. They were using the tool to write to each other. They were using the tool to enhance and extend their network beyond the classroom.

Experienced teachers used this knowledge of their students’ needs to build a pathway to the subject matter for them. The best teachers found ways to make Romeo and Juliet come alive. The best teachers made the circulatory system come alive by connecting the experience of a student almost blacking out with the function of the heart. The best teachers made sure the students were not simply regurgitating facts or learning formulas but instead were mastering skills that would help them on the street, in their network, in the stores, and business situations, and in their lives.

Math Confidence March 13, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Lifelong Learning, Students.
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Mathematics   Congratulations to Linda Griffin who is now living in Oregon and today became the newest holder of a doctorate in Educational Leadership. Today was the day of her dissertation defense and I was honored to sit on her team. Her dissertation was based on work that she did while she was a teacher in the Catalina Foothills School District and dealt primarily with what is known as the confidence gap that students sometimes experience in certain difficult subject matters.In Linda’s case, the subject was mathematics and technology for girls in the eighth grade. At the heart of her dissertation was the idea that sometimes, during middle school, girls lose confidence in their skills at doing mathematics. This confidence gap occurs even though the girls are not showing a lack of subject competence.

Linda was the able to analyze the influence and impact of a program designed to bolster the confidence of girls taking mathematics and learning how to program computers. Although the results of this particular study with this particular population in this particular program were not statistically significant, there was enough potential in the methodology to warrant further study.

As the dissertation team members posed questions of Linda, it slowly dawned on me that students who are well trained in the basics of mathematics and for whom basic arithmetic is almost automatic would have much greater confidence and a greater sense of self-efficacy than students who lacked automaticity of their basic skills.

Even more important than this, I watch my own daughter who dreams of being an engineer and wants to work on spacecraft or in the field of astronomy and I worry that the broad board of confidence she treads upon today will become increasingly narrower as she progresses through school. I want so much for her not to fall off and lose interest in math, or worse, come to believe that she cannot do mathematics.

I believe that as a parent I can do more than simply stand on the sidelines and wait to catch her if she falls.