For some time I have been wanting to incorporate aboriginal ways of learning and knowing in to my teaching practice. This semester I will be teaching Physics 047 & Chemistry 047 (Grade 11 equivalent). I haven’t been fully satisfied with the atmosphere of the classes, many sit alone and we really only incorporate a very liner thinking processes. VIU is very fortunate that it is on Snuneymuxw Territory.
Liesel Knaack, at the Centre for Innovation and Excellence in Learning, offered to help me in my journey to expand my ways of teaching. To that end she connected me with Sharon Hobenshield, Director of Aboriginal Education. Sharon called together an Indigenization circle for science class learning which comprised of an Elder, Faculty and Students who wanted to share and support me.
It was truly an amazing experience that touched my soul. Everyone was so supportive. The students told me what worked for them and what they appreciated. The Elder reminded me that this was only one step on a student’s journey, that they come from somewhere and go somewhere. They was so much information and support.
I created an initial mind-map from what I took out of the experience. Initially, on my first day of class, I plan to acknowledge the territory that I work on and have the students sitting in a circle, where they can make eye contact and connect (no voices from behind). I will also get students to introduce themselves, starting on the right so they can learn about each other.
Charlene Stewart (a colleague & OLTD cohort member) attended with me. We were also fortunate enough to see two other instructors Mary O’Neill (@maryjoneill) and Avi Luxenburg (@aluxenburg) and several other OLTD students. It was wonderful to meet so many people that I had only connected with online. It definitely felt like meeting with old friends.
The keynote speaker Dave Cormier (@davecormier) spoke to us of Rhizomatic learning. Learning like Rhizome plants, does not come from nothing but is rather part of a large, complex, underground root system that is the sum of our being. It is a new way to look at the idea that student are not empty vessels but have experience & knowledge and are linked to a wide community. Curriculum is not the content of the course but is other people and your connection to them. My favourite Quotes: Learning for uncertainty in the age of abundance & Divergent thinking is much more important than convergent thinking.
My theme for the conference was community building. So I attended a fabulous lecture by Avi and another by Avi and Mary on building community. For all the details, check out this site: https://sites.google.com/site/aluxenburg/. Some key thoughts (in images):
Jo Axe & Samantha Wood from Royal Roads presented all about tools for student engagement. They shared this wonderful resource with a list of terrific digital tools: http://set.royalroads.ca/technology-tools (really, check it out).
The presentation that Charlene and I did went fabulously well. I am very proud of us that we presented at a conference FOR THE FIRST TIME. Our topic was Mind Mapping – Harnessing the power of student collaboration (link below)
OLTD 508 examines mobile learning and gaming. One video that was recommended that we watch was Jim Gee‘s (2013) “Principles on Gaming”. In this video he states 13 learning principles that good games incorporate to ‘hook’ you in to learning the game (and any content it contains). A longer list of the principles, with a description of each, can be found in this article from Phi Kappa Phi Forum: GoodVideoGamesLearning. Three of the principles particularly resonated with me.
The first is ‘sandboxes’ or safe risk taking. I teach science. One challenge of science labs is students must perform experiments in a particular way, in a set amount of time. There is no ‘play’. Students cannot experiment with the chemicals and equipment in the lab as much as they or I would like as this can be potentially very dangerous. There is usually very strict time limits as lab space is in-demand. Labs are designed to be completed in a given time leaving no room for play. In a game, if students fail they can try again, as many times as are needed or desired. This permits experimentation and risk taking (such as putting sodium in water – something very carefully control in real life). Many games, like Minecraft, have a sandbox mode, a safe place to play. While a space may feel dangerous (zombie attack!) it is safe.
Another aspect of good game design, that education would do well to emulate, is the way information and words are used. In a game information tends to be given ‘just in time’ (when it is needed, it is given) or ‘on-demand’ (when it is asked for. In schools, information tends to be given in large chunks. I know that I am guilty of that. Too many words overwhelm and students tend to ignore most of them (which frustrates the educator as we are left saying ‘the information is on the page, have you read it yet?’). Poor game design tends to either not give enough information (SimCityEDU: pollution challenge is one), even on-demand, or can overwhelm with information. As an educator, I experienced the former this week in evaluating games, it helped me to appreciate how students must feel when it happens in class. I kept thinking the information MUST be somewhere, but I couldn’t find it – definitely left me feeling frustrated.
This leads me to another aspect of good game design which looks at complexity. In a game, there are usually levels. You are not expected to learn about everything all at once. Initially a game starts off quite simply. Complexity & difficulty is added as mastery and understanding is achieved. Problems and challenges must be well-ordered so gamers (or students) start off on the correct path. Earlier problem build to achieving success in more difficult problems. There are breadcrumbs through the maze.
One emerging or disruptive innovation in education right now is Virtual Labs. I just completed a seminar on Virtual Labs and wanted to capture my thoughts here.
Virtual labs create opportunity to:
Play – it is safe to mix, try, combine online in a way that it is not possible for students to do in real life (as explosions can be very bad). Curiosity can be satisfied safely virtually
Practice – students can review what they need to do in a lab through an online lab. This gives them confidence in their abilities. A procedure, especially those requiring expensive or rare chemicals, can be repeated many-time virtually so students feel prepared to do it in person.
Participate – not all students have access to a lab or lab materials. Virtual labs can allow these students to have a lab when previously they may not have. Also, in the case of very expensive lab equipment, students can book time in a physical lab for the experiment to be conducted. The experiment is performed and the results are reported back in real time.
Virtual Labs also have some challenges:
Replacement – some cash strapped schools may see virtual labs as a way to replace costly laboratories. Virtual labs serve a different purpose than physical labs. If possible, the experience of hands-on learning should be remain. Mixing two chemicals together and feeling an exothermic reaction is different than mixing two chemicals online and seeing a thermometer change temperatures.
Access – most virtual labs require reliable broadband. In many parts of the province this can be difficult. While virtual labs can permit many students to experiment and participate without requiring a physical lab, without reliable internet, participation is still difficult.
In my teaching practice I do have some virtual labs. The reason that my colleague, Charlene Stewart, and I started to have some virtual labs (about half) in our blended Biology is limited class time. As our lab only permits 12 students and our classes are double that, we would have to use two days a week for all our students to participate, severely limiting our face-to-face class time.
One challenge we had in implementing virtual labs was prep time. It takes quite a long time to fully prepare labs so they are suitable for the grade/students. There are a lot of great sites with prepared virtual labs (https://sites.google.com/site/virtuallabessential/) but they still need to found, tried & altered. Last semester when we were implementing the shift to half the labs being virtual, we were lucky if the labs were ready to go more than three days before the students attempted them. Having dedicated development time would really have removed much anxiety around implementation.
The results so far? There have been a few ‘hiccups’ but overall I am glad that we have changed from just physical labs to half & half. Students seem to learn from them, perhaps because they can take as long as they need to do them and can work when they feel like it, not when they are told to. Having only virtual labs would not permit the skills development that students need. By using both virtual and physical labs, students get the best of both worlds. They get the benefits of virtual labs while are still are in the physical lab enough that they can practice the lab skills that they need to continue on in Sciences.
When I first started working at VIU, there were signs on the door of every classroom asking students to turn off their cell phone. People discussed ways to get students to keep the phones put away or turned off (on vibrate IF there was a pressing reason). I, following the culture, asked students to keep their phones and laptops out of the classroom. Only students with special permission were able to use their laptops. About a year or so later, I started to question this concept. I realized that I did not know everything about a topic and students can ask challenging questions that I may not know the answer to. I began to remove the ‘no cell phones’ signs from the doors. I began to ask students to find out and look up information that they did not know. I am only one source of information for students.
They need to be able to make sense of a world where information can come to them from many different places. It is part of my job to help them to build their own personal learning network. By allowing technology in the class, I am helping them to “make sense of, and manage, the incessant waves generated by an increasing sea of information” (Siemens& Tittenberger, 2009, pg. 10).
When other instructors ask about cell phones and computers in the classroom I tell them that I am o.k.with it! Sure, I get Candy Crush sometimes, but in all fairness, those students would probably not be paying attention to me anyways. I need to help students learn how to focus “while undergoing a deluge of distractions” (Siemens & Tittenberger, 2009, pg. 28). If too many are distracted, I need to asses what I am doing, or perhaps call awareness to it. With technology students themselves can find out more details about the topic. Usually they share the information with the class, enriching the learning environment.
It has been a slow, silent, very personal initiative to encourage technology in our building. It is still a work in progress. The signs are almost entirely gone. I have shared my beliefs with many colleagues. While a number do not agree with me, it feels like I am gradually getting somewhere.
Siemens, G. & Tittenberger, P. (2009). Handbook of Emerging Technologies for Learning
Anytime you are interested in using an online tool with your students it is important to analyze it fully. I have created a simple word table to analyze cloud tools in an education setting. This form is not designed to state whether or not a tool should be used as that depends on many factors such as:
The policies in your district or educational setting
The age of your student
The goal of the assignment
The logistics of the class
Thus this analysis form should help you to make a quick decision as to whether or not you wish to pursue using the cloud tool
I have assessed 7 different cloud tools of a variety of types using this chart. Overall I found the table to work well, especially for the type of student that I teach. I teach in adult education so my typical student is between 20 and 60 with low computer skills. My on-line classes are run asynchronously with both collaborative and individual components. Here is the Cloud Tool Analysis – 7 tools.
While analyzing the tools, I identified my ‘top three’ tools for both students and instructors. I currently an only using one of these tools in my class (Coggle) and one tool personally (Symbaloo). I chose to analyze one of my personal and professional cloud tools in order to assess my cloud tool analysis form. I was quite pleased with what I discovered about Easel.ly which is why I choose to use it to create my ‘top three’ infographic. I am planning to use TEDEd next semester as I was extremely impressed by what I discovered. As I only try to use one new cloud tool at a time, Remind will be tried next year.