Monday, June 7, 2010

Technology Supported Learning

For a couple years now I have been struggling with teaching about using technology. We are a bit stuck on teaching with technology means that one has to use it in the classroom. That is not so.

As I started to develop a certificate program in Teaching with Technology I stumbled upon a website that called it Technology Supported Learning. Duh. Am I behind on the curve. They coined it and even had the same challenges I had with trying to quantify it in easy terms. Technology is about learning, not just teaching.

This is what they wrote as they progressed towards a learning model rather than a teaching model.

The name change to Technology Supported Learning & Retention (TSLR) from Technology Enhanced Instruction (TEI) better reflects the focus on student learning rather than faculty teaching - an important distinction. The Technology Enhanced Instruction (TEI) was the name of the original project groundwork done in 2003. However, as the basis for curriculum for 2008 and beyond, a more student-centered title is appropriate. It isn't about us (faculty and course designers), it is about all of us (students and instructors as learners). Interestingly, little needed to be changed beyond the title, as the students' learning was the primary focus of the course materials.

So, from now on, lets look at technology not just in the classroom but a way to promote many forms of learning that students can use on their own to increase their learning. For example, if you have students that need to use audio or video to help them grasp concepts, you don't want to take time in the class to play a video. However, if you have identified resources that students can use as an alternative to lecture or textbook, students can access these on their own. Your part is to make them aware of resources that provide accurate information. Or, you can make Second Life or other social network available to them so that they may have more contact with you and with their fellow students.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

college gospel

The education gospel is that if you go to college you will get a good job. (Good translates to high paying.) But more studies are questioning the economic impact of a college education.

And, it is true. The economic impact is not always there. Some of our lowest paying jobs require the highest degrees (capital investment), like social work, teaching, marine biologist, or marketing.

As a result of the education gospel we have more students in college than ever before. We also have more students flocking to college under-prepared academically, under-advised for financial aid, and under-mentored to maneuver the system, firmly carrying the burning bush of the education gospel.

So what do we do? Stop open enrollment colleges? No. We cannot punish a student who, for whatever reason she is under-prepared, to not have a second chance by attending college. Many of these students described are very surprised that they are under-prepared. It is just as much a shock to them to be sitting in a college classroom staring incoherently at a professor who is equally in shock. Deer in the headlights all the way around.

There are many ways in which this economic impact can be adjusted; not all easy actions to accomplish. But there is one that can do it pretty quickly. Monitor and mentor students about the amount they should borrow.

These easy to get loans have allowed colleges to continually raise costs. Lending agencies are very generous with government backed loans. But this free and easy lending falsely convinces students they can take out money that will pay for college and lead them directly to a high paying job. Didn't the bank and college affirm that they believed it was a safe financial risk for a liberal arts major to borrow $60,000?

So, encourage students to be poor now to be rich later. Low or no loans on graduation makes even low paying professions an economic benefit. And, lets not too quickly blame college for a degree losing its positive economic impact for students.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

And here comes Alex!

We wonder about what students walk away with from college biology courses that they can apply to the real world. Not enough is my opinion. And, while I am stating my opinion, students don't always come out critical thinkers by the teaching methods that are commonly used. (My apologies and congratulations to those using innovative and unique teaching methods.)

Science courses are often burdened with too much textbook. Look at general biology for non-science majors. Students pay $125 to purchase a watered down textbook that is almost identical as the one they had in high school. If they took A.P. it may have been the same textbook. Although in high school they get more pretty pictures of DNA floating around like a star ship.

Lets look at what are the Student Learning Objectives from most college biology courses.

As an example, I put in Student Learning Objectives in Google to get a random sample of what students are expected to learn and exhibit in a typical biology course. As expected, the main objectives are littered with words on critical thinking, real world application, analytical skills, connections between scientists and lay people. Why are the littered? Because those are the most important qualities students can leave with.

I am not too sure how memorizing the stages of the Kreb cycle would be more appropriate to teach critical thinking skills.

Alex will be the name of the first hurricane that might charge up the Gulf of Mexico. It might play havoc with moving the oil spill/blob towards the Florida coast and clear down to the Keys. This is a teaching moment.

If any good can come out of this oil spill, using it as a case study is the perfect way to teach students about biology.

For example a simple question like "How is the oil on top of the water killing organisms underneath? Students would have to look at the ways the oil is affecting the water, how chemicals are getting into the organisms, how it affects the cells, and what happens in the environment that changes the ecosystem.

So lets see what the students will learn:

properties of water
properties of oil
cell structure
bio diversity
I could probably link it to every subject in the $125.00 biology textbook.

More than that, this used as a case study teaches students how science is applied to the real world.