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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?

Potential for Abuse April 5, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Online Tools, Unintended Consequences.
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absurdum   When a student came into my office today I had to tell her that I heard her speaking on our latest podcast (http://coeitf.blogspot.com). She raved about the speaker and how she shared such interesting research on assessing English Language Learners, but she stopped short when it sunk in that she could be heard speaking on the podcast. Her voice was incidental to the talk. The student was speaking about a program on behalf of the absent Emeritus Professor Yetta Goodman. She identified herself on the tape by name. Her cause for concern was that she did not even know someone was making a recording.

Many students use digital voice recorders to tape lectures with the unspoken, in most cases, understanding that the lectures supplemented note taking. This ethical equation changes when the student teacher relationship broadens outside the classroom. Recently a student recorded a teacher surreptitiously and submitted the recording to a radio talk show host to feed an online rant. In another situation, university students were encouraged to tape their professors in order to make the case that they were too far left of center.

From an educational perspective, there is a relationship between the student and the teacher. The teacher may sometimes say things that seem radical in order to stir debate. The problem is that taken out of context and heard without the visual cues or context of the classroom someone can render the words into something offensive or ridiculous. In rhetorical terms, the term for the technique is reductio ad absurdum, cutting up an argument or statement so small as to make it appear ridiculous and indefensible.

The concerns over taping are valid, but the potential for broadening the reach of the speakers’ words is powerful.  We will work on the process of getting release forms into the hands of speakers before they speak or immediately afterward. It is the least we should do.

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.

Skewed in School February 17, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Students, Unintended Consequences.
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skewed   Last night we attended the orientation for parents of students new to Middle School. The talks were more for the edification of the parents and designed to inspire the grade five students and their parents with performances by the school band, the chorale ensemble, and the Odyssey of the Mind.

At the beginning of the evening, none of us was ready to see our kids move into the big building, but after shuffling though the halls on a nine-minute schedule through four core classes, the prospects excited some of the parents. My wife signed up for the Washington trip in the summer right away saying, “There is no option; she will be going.? I spoke with some of the other parents who all had misgivings about the size of the school, the size of the kids, the hormones, the rules, the sheer fact that their kids were moving on to the next step.

My daughter wanted to see the computer lab. For her, that was the real test. The lab was empty and dark that night, but we will make a trip to see it some day while class is on. I will make sure of it.

I was delighted to hear one teacher encourage us to write him e-mails. He said he answers about four a day from parents. I guess that is good. If I could get my e-mail down to 40 an hour, I would be ecstatic. Ah, but I am showing off. Communication is what e-mail is all about. Yesterday, our Public Relations office asked us to recommend a professor who steadfastly refuses to use computers in teaching. A local reporter wanted to finish an article on technology in higher education with an opposing view of some sort. Oddly, I have been having this very conversation with colleagues.

Some of us are beginning to wonder if we are developing a skewed view of the real nature of technology in teaching. If we only socialize and interact with like-minded thinkers about technology and users of technology, then we may be missing the big picture. The question still stands. Why are teachers not using the tools in their classrooms?

Is it ethical to pressure them to use the tools? If a teacher can teach just as effectively without the tools, would we be interfering too much with academic freedoms? If a teacher was not effective and refused to use the tools, would we be remiss in not offering training and support. Finally, what of the teacher who uses the tools in the class, but is still an inefficient and lackluster teacher? I do not hear about that teacher with conversations with my colleagues.

Each question carries with it some suppositions and presumptions that I think I will unpack tomorrow.

GPS Fun January 22, 2006

Posted by Michael McVey in Lifelong Learning, Unintended Consequences.
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gps   Geocaching is a popular activity for many people. Some involve their whole families. In a nutshell, geocaching makes use of a tool, a GPS locator, to help you to find an object placed somewhere in the world by another geocacher. Often it is a bucket or a box that is largely invisible to a casual viewer, perhaps out in the middle of an empty field, so it will be generally undisturbed. The box is to contain trinkets you can exchange with trinkets of your own to prove you found it. It also often contains a log book so you can date when you found it. The log book is essential for people trying to accumulate as many geocashes as they can.

Sounds fun if you have a Global Positioning Device, which I do not, but sometimes things can go awry. Last week, Scot Tintsman of Boise, Idaho, was returning to fill his dark green bucket with geocache trinkets when he encountered a police barricade. You can read the rest of the story in the Sunday papers today (and here). Bridge maintenance crews found the bucket and called it into police as a suspicious object. When Scot tried to explain that the object was his he almost got himself shot when he took out his MP3 player in an attempt to turn it off. Police thought he was about to detonate what might have been a bomb.

All is well now and the police in Boise got to teach a lesson about how one should not play games at, in, or near critical infrastructures like bridges, government buildings, or nuclear power plants. This information should not have been news to the many thousands of regular geocachers around the world. Their web site, Geocaching, specifically warns their members about safety.

For those unfamiliar with the devices, they are enormously helpful tools and have been in light aircraft, for example for almost two decades. I would have benefited from having one with me the week I was abandoned in Northern Ontario when the plane that was supposed to pick me up went missing. The pilot was fine. He had a bad alternator, a good radio, and a map so he just walked out of the bush to the highway. My work partner and I had no radio or map besides the small scales ones needed for our work as tree counters. A GPS device might have gotten us out of the forest a little faster.

I wonder if they will even before inexpensive enough to change the face of orienteering, a great sport where you have to run long distances to locate key points in a forest using topological maps and a compass. “Okay, class, you have your ten location points pre-entered into your GPS device, you and your partners have one hour to find as many as you can, and return to the base. Have fun.?