April 2010 Archives

Today Cole passed along a link to Georgetown's Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship (CNDLS) group. I had never heard of CNDLS before, but after taking a look at their website it represents a great model for how teaching centers can embrace the changes to pedagogy technology may bring with a very research-centered approach.  I particularly liked the website, both from its visual appeal as well as the organization of information.  For instance, the project portfolio section.  This provides guests with a great snapshot of all the projects associated with CNDLS, and links to go deeper into specific project cases that might be of interest. 

One initiative I particularly like is "Teaching to the whole person".  This initiative sounds very similar to what we aim for here in the Schreyer Institute, but the final bullet caught me by surprise, "addressing the affective and emotional dimensions of student learning".  Unfortunately the CNDLS website doesn't unpack that statement or provide much more detail or meaning to this. How would you unpack it? 

Augmented Reality and Learning

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A colleague from ETS just sent me a link to a fantastic YouTube video demonstrating the power of Augmented Reality applications for learning.  This type of application could really open doors for online learning, large course experiments and so many other contexts that some consider challenging to incorporate experiential learning elements.  

FERPA vs. Facebook: Observations on student privacy

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A recent posting by a friend on Facebook examining Facebook's changing privacy policy from 2005 - present got me thinking about students and the various ways they are impacted, directly and indirectly, around privacy.

On the one hand, as university employees and people who work with student data, we must adhere to FERPA guidelines.  From Penn State's own FERPA FAQ:

"If you're a student, it's important for you to understand your rights under FERPA. If you're a parent, you'll need to understand how the law changes once your student enters a post-secondary institution. If you're an employee of Penn State with access to student education records, you're obligated to comply with FERPA and to protect those records according to the law."
What are education records you might ask?
  • Grades
  • Class lists
  • Student course schedules
  • Disciplinary records
  • Student financial records
  • Payroll records for employees who are employed as a direct result of their status as students
So this makes sense, right? As someone with access to massive amounts of student data, I certainly respect and adhere to the FERPA guidelines.

Moving on to Facebook, I find students really don't seem think about privacy.  When I taught IST 110, one of the first things my TA and I would do is go out and look for every single student on Facebook as well as run their name through Google. What we found, particularly on Facebook, is 70-80% of my students had publicly-open profiles.  This led to some very entertaining slide shows, where I would begin by pointing out cases of people losing jobs, wives, husbands, or even careers by what they post online, in the public.  Then I moved into images and quotes from my students that have publicly-open profiles. 

Some students played along, some students were embarrassed and some were irritated with me.  "How could Bart do this to me?!?!?!"   Easy, you have an open profile, ANYONE can do this to you. 

One of my course objectives dealt with building privacy awareness and helping my students identify and deal with privacy concerns. By the end of my 2-week social network module and the Facebook activity, nearly ALL of my students had private profiles, many choosing to create FB lists to manage who sees what information.  Objective achieved.

My question is this: How can we raise privacy awareness at the university level with undergraduate students?  Many seem oblivious to privacy concerns, choosing to post material on FB dealing with their own grades, classmates performance, disciplinary actions, and finally things that could cost them an internship or job opportunity.  Many students proclaim "That's not FAIR!", and to an extent I agree!  Unfortunately even if we agree the practice of employers withholding opportunities is unfair, it's reality. Just take a glimpse at all the social networking search services employers are using, like Spokeo.

Wikispaces utilization by instructors

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I spent some time this morning cutting up more wikispaces data, this time focusing on instructor (see some student data here).  This dataset is somewhat difficult to make sense of for a lot of reasons.  Many instructors teach at multiples campuses (had to deal with some duplicates). The biggest instructor demographic using wikispaces are graduate students...but the data doesn't discern course use vs. collaborative (or other) types of use.  Some data points:
  • Fall 2009 saw n=295 individuals with an 'instructor' classification in the data warehouse use wikispaces.
  • Of these instructors (n=295), 5 performed 100+ (this is not restricted to Fall 2009, this is lifetime edits).  Two of these 5 individuals have faculty appointments, but do not actively teach courses.
  • Of these instructors (n=295), 64 made AT LEAST one edit, 22 made 10+ edits.
  • Of these instructors (n=295), 261 originate from University Park.  The remainder are distributed somewhat evenly among remaining campuses.
  • Breakdown of users by academic appointment:

Wikispaces users by academic appointment type

You can see nearly 50% of the users are 1/2 time graduate assistants.  This makes things foggy, we can't be certain their use is related to teaching and learning.  The next slice represents 'instructor', followed by 'research associate',then by 'assistant professor'. 

INSIDE HIGHER ED April 26, 2010 Daily Update

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Interesting article: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/04/26/aacrao

Retention, From Beginning to End

In thinking about retention as discussed in the article referenced here as well as the alcohol issue going on at Penn State, I have to ask, even if it is politically incorrect: "Why do we not expect our students to be adults?" Why are we attempting to babysit them so much? Going to college is a luxury that one works to achieve. I am not saying that retention is something that we should ignore, or helping students understand the hazards of dangerous drinking is not our responsibility; support structures are essential to being a socially responsible entity. However, in the scope of resources available and given the expectations for students to navigate their independence and the workplace successfully, at some point they are going to have to learn to cope with failure, make sense out of high uncertainty, and go for challenges that take their "all" to achieve. To protect people from failure, from dealing with high uncertainty, and to not give them very challenging challenges is to keep them from developing to their fullest potential, IMHO.

So, what do you think would be a better use of extra money, if such were available: to (1) increase support structures for drinking, sex, retention, and student academic assistance [e.g., time management programs and studying skills sessions, etc.?], (2) to lower tuition costs?, (3) offer more fun recreation and leisure options?, or (4) other, or some combination of the former? 

What would you do?

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As I continue to prepare thoughts on classroom management to share with a group of faculty, Neill sent around a video from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee regarding a disruptive student.  This case is extreme.  The student threatened another student and (arguably) threatened the instructor.  Eventually the police were called, the student was subdued and removed from the room.  This incident led to public demonstrations and matriculated throughout  UW Milwaukee and other campuses around the country. 

(NOTE: be advised, the student in this video does use some profanities)

No instructor wants to find herself in this situation. But if you do, would you handle this differently?  What about the student that actually made this recording? That brings up a whole other concern that, regardless of your class size, your course could become something of a public artifact (with students recording various aspects of you and others in your course, without your knowledge or consent, and posting them online).

The Undergraduate Education Technology Ecosystem @ PSU: Wikispaces

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With a big project just wrapping up, I'm starting to explore how students here at PSU leverage our wide variety of technology platforms.  Luckily, Penn State has a wide variety of in-house platforms we leverage for undergraduate education.  The first platform I'm exploring is Wikispaces from Emerging Technologies (thanks to the folks at ET for the data!). 

The data below represents a very quick pass at the numbers.  I started by looking at all the students who used Wikispaces in Fall 2009 and made AT LEAST one edit to a page (n = 1095).

  • 52.4% are classified as adult learners.  This needs further exploration because the wikispaces entire data set (n = 3414) seems to show a great deal of institutional use of the space vs. student use.  My initial guess is that a lot of these students classified as adult learners are also PSU employees, and their use of wikispaces might be work related vs. education related.
  • 25.6 average number of edits per user.  This number doesn't mean much until you break it down further.  Of the 1095 students, 420 students (38.3%) made only 1 edit and 783 students (71.5%) made less than 10 edits. Students with 10 or more edits made an average of 166.3 edits in Fall 2009.  I would consider this a potential dividing line for regular users vs. power users of wikispaces.
  • The College of IST represented the largest userbase at 201 unique users, followed by Liberal Arts (186), Engineering (92), Capital College (92), and the College of Education (75).  Two things jump out at me: IST is one of the smallest Colleges on campus but has the highest number of users. Not surprising given the context.  Capital College (Harrisburg) coming in at the number 4 spot is very interesting and merits deeper exploration.
  • In terms of Campus utilization, UP had 715 unique users, followed by World Campus (171), Harrisburg (97), New Kensington (41) and Altoona (11).
  • The gender split is nearly even, with  males representing 57.9% and females 42.1% of users.
  • The average GPA of users is 3.23 and average credits is 59.45.
Obviously much more exploration is necessary, but I thought I'd put these numbers up for people to get a snapshot of Wikispaces utilization by undergraduate students in Fall 2009. 

Classroom management and generational differences

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I was recently asked to give a short presentation on class management.  One thing our client mentioned:

"There also seems to be the situation in which students expect to be entertained and are more demanding of faculty."
This got me thinking about another topic that we discuss a lot here in the Institute: generational differences.  We talk both about generational differences among senior and junior faculty, as well as generational differences between students and faculty.  Relating to the quote above, I wonder how much of this might come from generational differences?

I hear people refer to the current generation of undergraduates as the Net generation, millennials, or digital natives.  Many claims have been made of this generation, including their high proficiency with technology (Leung 2004), craving of interactivity (Prensky 2000) and ability to multi-task (Junco and Mastrodicasa 2007).  As someone who has taught large general education courses aimed at freshman with a focus on technology, I can safely say that proficiency with technology is a very questionable assumption.  Comfort with technology might be a better way to put it, as students certainly aren't afraid of technology.  But that doesn't mean they necessarily know more about how to use technology than folks in other generations (outside of IM'ing and social sites like Facebook).

That leaves the concepts of interactivity and multi-tasking.  Some researchers suggest multi-tasking is a human impossibility, that our mind truly can't focus on two distinct tasks at once.  Rather, we simply toggle between tasks very quickly.  The interactivity piece might be part of the answer for our client that thinks faculty need to entertain the students.  I'm not so sure 'entertain' is the right word...I would suggest engage.  With the proliferation of connectedness we all experience, in part to technology, we rarely find ourselves in monotonous, boring situations that we can't find something to help occupy the time.  Long car ride or commute?  All you need is a cell phone to start texting or emailing friends and co-workers.  Stuck in a dry, dull presentation by a faculty member?  Connecting to your peers to discuss other topics is only a thumb-press away. 

I'm curious to see how some of our ideas will be received by the faculty asking about class management.  I don't believe we have to entertain our students, but we certainly can try to do better engaging them.    

Gaining perspective

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I recently worked on a report for the University Advising Council (UAC), examining students who performed poorly and dropped into a classification called "non degree, conditional" students.  Basically like academic probation.  If a student performs poorly and accrues what we call deficiency points, at a certain threshold he or she is moved out of a selected major and into this category. Then, the student has ~40 credits to try and pull out of the academic hole, and re-admit to a degree program.

Of the cohort we examined over a 4-semester period, over half of the students appeared to drop out once they were removed from a selected major and classified as non degree, conditional students.  At a place like Penn State, with 70,000+ undergraduates around the state, the number of students that fall into this category is relatively small (less than 1% of the population). 

What impressed me about the University Advising Council is their passion about these students.  The advising council really stresses treating each student as an individual, and we don't want to see individuals fail.  I'm happy to continue supporting this group, and working with the data to help us better understand the circumstances that leads to students falling into this category and what types of interventions we can devise to help students avoid this, or help pull them out of this classification.

Grade Inflation

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The Collegian recently ran a story on grade inflation at PSU, interviewing several students, administrators and instructors on the topic.  As an instructor, this is something I've struggled with in the past.  Some of my colleagues follow a very balanced approach to grading, making sure they have a nice bell curve of As, Bs, Cs, and Ds in their course sections.  I always found this odd, but it appears that it's not uncommon.  An instructor quoted in the article was put on probation by his department for giving too many As and Bs.  The instructor states:

"There's a tremendous amount of pressure placed on the adjuncts and lecturers and instructors as to what their class's acceptable average GPA shall be,...It's undisclosed, unwritten, extremely subjective and totally discretionary on the part of the hierarchy."

Senate Policy 47-20 deals with course grades and reads they should be allocated "on the basis of the instructor's judgment."

My degree in instructional technology and design really taught me the value of designing good rubrics, that I in turn use for all graded items in my course.  When students undertake one of my assignments, I tell them to grade it themselves before turning it in based on the rubric.  If they cover all rubric items in detail, they should do fine.  I also tend to spend a lot of time out of the classroom, helping students with technology assignments or chatting with students on IM several hours before an assignment is due and they are in a panic.  In the end, many of my students end up with As or Bs, with the occasional Cs and very rare Ds or Fs. 

So my question is this: is this grade inflation or is this good teaching?

Dr. Pangborn, VP of Undergraduate Education, sums it up best:

"It's the quality of the education, not the grade point average so much. that matters in the end"

Talking During the Test

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I just read: http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2010/04/02/deans
InsideHigherEd's article called:

Talking During the Test -- April 2, 2010, By Tom Deans & Jamie Frueh

It fits quite nicely with the Social Learning thread we have been discussing, and it shows how learning interactions can take place through multiple ways of exposing students to information, experience, and relationships.

Continuing Thoughts on Social Learning & Context

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I just read Bart's post and that triggered me to look around the 'net for more info on the notions of Social v. Cartesian Learning. Aside from locating several well-cited academic articles, I gravitated toward Phil LeNir's (2009) blog - http://www.coachingourselves.com/en/blogs/article-phil-lenir-social-learning-and-management-development. [What does doing this, in itself, say? We teach our Millennials to discriminate substantiated findings from opinions and yet, here I am choosing the latter!]. Anyway, it was accessible, quick, easy to read and, well, perhaps that helps me make a point: may I interpret my decision to not use peer-reviewed academic articles as forgoing "Cartesian-esque" learning compared to relying on a blog or opinion piece (which is more "Social" or conversational per se)? LeNir would disagree, as he says:

"...just reading [LeNir's blog] could be called a Cartesian Learning event.... However if you have a discussion with some colleagues, making sense of the concepts in this article and figuring out how they might help solve a current challenge, ...this becomes Social Learning."

OK, so first, I need to really grasp the meanings behind these constructs -  Cartesian v. Social v. Other types of learning.

Define "Cartesian Learning" [this is a new word to me; which makes me somewhat skeptical in that rehashing old constructs with new-age terms, in my opinion, doesn't make the old construct better or more relevant]:

Cartesian represents the traditional - the formal transfer of information - or as Phil LeNir's blog (2009) says: "A Cartesian view assumes that 'knowledge is a kind of substance and that pedagogy concerns the best way to transfer this substance from teachers to students.' Many classroom & e-learning programs are based on a Cartesian view of learning; nuggets of information, sometimes called learning objects, are transferred to learners who then become better at doing whatever it is they need to do."

And, per Phil LeNir (2009): "Social Learning, on the other hand, is 'based on the premise that our understanding of content is socially constructed through conversations about that content and through grounded interactions, especially with others, around problems or actions.'"

LeNir contrasts Cartesian Learning and Social Learning with Informal Learning - "the acquisition of skills, knowledge, and values from daily experience and people around us." To me, this use of the term Informal Learning may be learning from observation, it may represent constructivism, learning by doing, etc. This makes me think of Paiget's work and beliefs.

So, what we have here is a story about different ways, or "how", folks learn:
     * either by reading or being lectured to (Cartesian, right?),
     * or by talking directly with others about a problem or issue at hand (not just idle chat or "shooting the bull", right?),
     * or learning by just watching how others do things, doing them yourself maybe for the first time without prior guidance or formal instruction, or by reflecting in the moment, right?

OK, so either way, we must determine that if the new knowledge we receive:
     * fits with what we want to know, or need to know,
     * matches the situation or can be related to our minds and contexts at hand (via metaphor, analogy, etc.; that the new information can be assimilated into the learner's cognitive schema or "brain tree" or mental framework or map of relationships a they are understood as of today),
     * and does not threaten our existing framework or way of thinking so that it can be accommodated easily by the brain and registers as meaningful right now, that is, immediately, then...

...we have learned! No, we may not have learned... We may have gleaned an insight, but did it change us?

We may not have learned, because we didn't really change. So whether the process of learning is Cartesian or Social, or Informal or whatever, is not as important as the amount of change that has resulted from the new knowledge, in my opinion.

So, just because we think we may have learned something, doesn't mean we learned something significant that makes a real difference to us or to others whom we influence. It doesn't mean that now other people's actions and lives that are affected by our choices (which are based on learning) will be different.

What is the amount of change as a result of what we learned?

If Social Learning, or pedagogically driven "active learning strategies," or Informal Learning, or whatever learning medium is present results in change, then we have something. 

To me, real learning is the amount of change that occurs in one's way of thinking, in one's set of lenses from which to see the world, or in one's extent of understanding and making sense of life, humanity, morality, etc.

If what was learned stretched the learner, made him or her reconsider prior beliefs and caused reflection about attitudes held, behaviors assumed, and/or ways in which information is synthesized, categorized, related, etc. and the stretch was a lot (that is, we can measure how significant the change or the magnitude of the change is), then whether this change happened via Social, Cartesian, or Informal or other ways is not the main consideration. What happened, the change, is what defines learning, to me.

So, is Cartesian Learning bad? I don't think so - not if it results in positive change; change that enables a person to evolve or grow up to a higher level, that is, to develop in a way that helps them to better their being, to be more productive, to think more clearly, and to choose actions that create a just, compassionate, peaceful, creative, intriguing, prudent yet productive planet where respect for the diversity of humans, non-humans, flora, and even natural resources exists.

Did I change? Yes, a little. I read a blog, I learned some new terms for old constructs, I thought about my values, and I repeated a lot of what I already knew here. But I also realized that Cartesian, Social and Informal are terms for how we may be exposed to new information and thoughts. And such exposure is not an either/or debate (that is, good v. bad, per se), but that these terms may be best understood as interactions: Cartesian, Social, Informal, and Other combinations result in outcomes.

What that information to which we are exposed is, exactly, that we are exposed to; what those thoughts are; whether they are new ideas or ones pulled out of memory; and the context to which that information or those thoughts apply; the motivation I have to think about them only within that context or transfer them to other contexts, now and/or in the future; all this is what frames how much change I gained from what just happened. And change that stays with me, in my opinion, equals real learning.

The challenge for teachers is to identify what "real learning" they want to make happen, and not only make it happen, but demonstrate with evidence that it happened. That is, that they created the change they set out to create in people.

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