E-intensive environments promote connectivism and are popular-Are they for everyone?

What type of learning environment works best for students?  This is a difficult question to answer since each student is unique and learning theories are so diverse.  A knowledgeable educator should incorporate different learning theories into his/her classroom at different points in the activity based on the lesson objectives and the students in the class.   E-intensive learning has become popular with the craze over the Internet.  As the potential of the Web expands, it is being used more as a communications medium rather than a mere content provider. (Educational Broadcasting Corporation, 2004).

With the growth of the Internet, many educational institutions worldwide are using it to offer distance education courses (University of Texas, 1997; Pagram & McMahon, 1997).  The growth in e-learning courses can also be attributed to the cost savings to universities of running a ‘virtual campus’.  Also, it is significantly cheaper to produce materials electronically than in printed form.   Thus, the Web is being seen as an effective and inexpensive means of delivering courses-an alternative to traditional face-to-face modes of education.  However, it is important that financial directives do not override educational goals (Educational Broadcasting Corporation, 2004).

E-intensive learning can be extremely beneficial for students who are self-directed and aware of their skill level and knowledge deficiencies.  Such deficiencies need to be exposed to obtain the most from e-intensive learning, so student-teacher communication needs to be more deliberate and frequent.  Nevertheless, I have learned that students from different cultures, especially Asian cultures, don’t always share their learning struggles with their instructors.  These students may be fearful of being publicly scrutinized if required to write their feelings and beliefs in publicly accessible blogs.  Hence, when using e-intensive learning, instructors may need to modify digital activities to accommodate these cultural differences.  If students are not aware that e-intensive courses can be less social, require strong computer skills and a willingness to guide oneself through lessons without daily reinforcement and instructions from the teacher, then this type of learning environment may not be as beneficial for the individual.  Therefore, educators need to ensure that students are aware of the course requirements before using e-intensive learning techniques.

E-intensive learning satisfies connectivism where students’ education occurs mostly outside of the classroom in informal settings.  This type of education is unanticipated and unpredictable, but it isn’t random.  Through this arbitrary learning, understanding and knowledge is obtained (Siemens, 2009).  This does not imply that students will naturally learn just because they are connected to other students or educators.  Therefore, Selwyn (2010) argues that there needs to be a more structured and scientific approach to using technology in classrooms.  Teachers need to implement digital technologies carefully so that it fits content found within the framework of programs of study.  This is one way to ensure a consistent and integrated approach to lesson planning with the end result of creating instruction that is personal, complex, participatory, and dynamic in nature (Chatti, Jarke & Specht, 2010).

E-intensive learning offers educators benefits as well since online peer assessment can help educators meet their marking responsibilities.  In addition, it is fast and reliable.  Student also profit from completing assessment forms online since it encourages student independence and the development of higher cognitive skills (Bouzidi & Jaillet, 2009).  Bouzidi showed that peer evaluation is equivalent to the teachers when the course is more predictable such as mathematics.  However, I am not certain that teachers in areas outside of mathematics can reach these same conclusions.  I do value peer and self-assessment and often use both to determine formative and summative assessments-especially for group work and presentations.  It also provides immediate feedback for the students since teacher evaluations usually requires more time and are strategic in encouraging participation in group projects.

Nevertheless, in my experiences, adult students can be resistant to peers grading their assignments, so teacher evaluations should compose of the majority of final assessments.  I usually have student complete a self and a peer assessment, which encompasses about 10% of evaluation; whereas, teach appraisal makes up approximately 90% of the final assessment.

Even though e-intensive environments can be advantageous for many students and teachers, some individuals prefer the social aspects of traditional classrooms, and they need the daily contact with their teachers and other students.  Personally, I enjoy the in-class experience, so I was disappointed in my first online experience.  If my online classes weren’t structured with Elluminate sessions, I would not find the collaboration as fulfilling as traditional classrooms, for it is difficult to simulate the just-in-time interactions that face-to-face classrooms offer.

As the Internet changes in the future with increasing bandwidth and processing power, more interactive activities including video conferencing and real time visual manipulation of data is possible.  These improvements will greatly benefit on-line educational environments and enhance interactive authentic learning leading to further usage of e-intensive classrooms  (Educational Broadcasting Corporation, 2004).

Resources:

Bouzidi, L., & Jaillet, A.  (2009).  Can Online Peer Assessment be Trusted? Educational Technology & Society, 12(4), 257-268.

Chatti, M.A., Jarke, M., & Specht, M.  (2010).  The 3P Learning Model.  Educational Technology & Society, 13(4), 74-85.   

Educational Broadcasting Corporation (2004).  Constructivism as a Paradigm for Teaching and Learning.  Retrieved from: http://thirteen.org/edonline/concept2class/constructivism/index.html

Pagram, J. & McMahon, M. (1997).  WeB-CD:  An Interactive Learning Experience for Distance Education Students Studying Interactive Multimedia. Poster presented at ICCE97-International Conference on Computers in Education, Kuching, Malaysia, 2-6 December 1997.

Selwyn, N.  (2010).  Looking beyond learning:  Notes towards the critical study of educational technology, Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 26(1), 65-73.

Siemens, G.  (2009).  Chaos, and emergence.  Retrieved from http://docs.google.com/View?docid=anw8wkk6fjc_15cfmrctf8

University of Texas (1997).  World Lecture Hall.  University of Waterloo (1996).  Introducing WebTest for the Web.  Retrieved from http://fpg.uwaterloo.ca/WEBTEST/</

EDER 679.11-Blog #1: Designing Authentic Learning using Adult Learning Theory

Teaching adult learners at Bredin has greatly impacted my teaching style.  After transitioning from teaching high school to adult learners, I realized that I needed to approach my lesson planning differently because adult learners demand real world connections to the activities completed in class.  I researched adult learning theory to understand how to design more authentic learning activities.

I discovered that adult learning theory is a collection of theories and attributes such as humanism, personal responsibility orientation, behaviourism, neo-behaviourism, critical perspectives, and constructivism (Ross, 2002).  In addition to these learning theories, andragogy, self-directed learning and transformational learning have all contributed greatly to the growing knowledge base of adult learning theory.  For example, Knowles, argued to be the founding father of adult learning theory, states that andragogy “the art and science of helping adults learn” (Knowles, 1980 p. 43) is made up of five assumptions including self-concept, experience, readiness, orientation, and motivation (Knowles, 1950).  Furthermore, Knowles believed that “…Adults should acquire a mature understanding of themselves, their needs, motivations, interests, capabilities and goals…” (Knowles, 1950 p. 9-10).  Consequently, highlighting the importance of the self-concept assumption in andragogy and self-directed learning.

Adult learning theory is also based on constructivist philosophy (Abrami & Barrett, 2005; Chang, 2001; Klenowski et al., 2006; Meeus, Questier, & Derks, 2006; Strudler & Wetzel, 2005).  Klenowski et al. (2006, p. 278) give a definition of constructivism that is useful for those thinking of implementing authentic learning activities into adult classrooms: “knowledge is constructed through activities such as participatory learning, open-ended questioning, discussion and investigation.  Facilitation helps learners construct their own schema for internalizing information and organizing it so that it becomes their own”.

Therefore, to achieve my goals of designing more authentic, real-world projects in my workskills classroom at Bredin, I needed to first assess my students’ abilities and interests.  The understanding that adult learners are motivated to participate in class activities when they feel that the activities benefit them motivated me to learn more about my students.  I spent time getting to know them-encouraging them to share experiences about past learning failures and successes.  The time spent building connections was worthwhile since most adult learners want to feel that their needs are being met in the classroom. I devised open-ended questionnaires asking students what they wanted to learn in the course, what their goals were, and what career decisions they had made for themselves.  These questions sparked great discussions about making choices and setting goals that led to further investigation into how to make realistic, achievable goals in general.  I designed activities that allowed students to develop self-efficacy in areas of interest, and guided students to give constructive feedback when completing self and peer assessments.

Another theory that has greatly contributed to adult learning theory is transformational learning; the expansion of consciousness through self-discovery activities.  Merriam and Caffarella (1999) point to three key factors that influence transformational learning:  experience, critical reflection and development.  Therefore, I realized that I needed to allow learners to use their prior knowledge and experiences to design their own projects.  I would create the guidelines for the project and give learners direction along the way, but students would need to have a large amount of control over the final project.

Through adult learning theory, I determined what I needed to include in my project design, but I still wasn’t sure how to assess whether my activities were authentic.  I needed a better understanding of what authentic implied.  The article Five Standards of Authentic Instruction by Newmann and Wehlage (April 1993) defines authentic achievement when “…students construct meaning and produce knowledge, students use disciplined inquiry to construct meaning, and students aim their work toward production of discourse, products and performances that have value or meaning beyond success in school” (Newmann & Wehlage, 1993 p. 8).  I determined that my classroom projects met these standards since students created valuable end products through the construction of meaning and the production of knowledge.  However, I questioned whether my daily lessons met the standards for instruction outlined in the Newmann & Wehlage article.  Also, I wanted to make sure that my daily activities guided students to rewarding end products.  I worried that using constructivist teaching methods might derail students along the way.

According to Newmann & Wehlage (1993), even activities that are designed to put students in more control and respect students’ voices can be implemented in ways that do not produce authentic achievement.  To guard against poor implementation, educators should follow the five standards specified in the article.  The five standards include:  higher-order thinking; depth of knowledge; connectedness to the world beyond the classroom; substantive conversation; and social support for student achievement (Newmann & Wehlage, 1993).  Higher-order thinking skills require students to manipulate information and ideas in ways that transform meaning through problem solving.  Furthermore, depth of knowledge requires that students develop more than a trivial understanding of important concepts.  Educators should be aware that covering large quantities of fragmented information results in a thin or a superficial depth of knowledge.  A greater depth of knowledge is produced when fewer topics are covered in systematic and connected ways (Newmann & Wehlage, 1993).  The remaining standards are self explanatory, but are important to not neglect.

After reading the Newmann & Wehlage article, I realized that I needed to cover less material in my classes, but make sure that the information covered was connected and extended to real-world applications.  I also need to give students more time to converse or reflect on their learning processes, as well as on specific topics to encourage higher-order thinking skills such as making distinctions, applying ideas, formulating generalizations, raising questions rather than just asking students to report facts, definitions or procedures (Newmann & Wehlage, 1993).  Implementing these changes in my lesson designs and teaching practices has improved my quality of teaching.  I now realize that these measures should be implemented in all areas of teaching-not just in adult education.  If educators in elementary schools, junior highs and high schools followed the five standards of authentic instruction, learners would exceed expectations and educators would be adhering to good teaching practices.

References:

Abrami, P. C., & Barrett, H. (2005). Directions for research and development on  electronic portfolios. Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology, 31(3), online version.

Chang, C. (2001). Construction and evaluation of a web-based learning portfolio system: An electronic assessment tool. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 38(2), 144-155.

Klenowski, V., Askew, S., & Carnell, E. (2006). Portfolios for learning, assessment and     professional development in higher education. Assessment and Evaluation in   Higher Education, 31(3), 267-286.

Knowles, M.S. (1950).  Informal Adult Education, Chicago:  Association Press, p. 9-10.

Knowles, M.S. (1980).  The modern practice of adult education:  From pedagogy to andragogy. (2nd ed.)  New York:  Cambridge Books.

Meeus, W., Questier, F., & Derks, T.  (2006).  Open source e-portfolio:  Development And implementation of an institution-wide electronic portfolio platform for students.  Educational Media International, 43(2), 133-145. DOI: 10.1080/09523980600641148.

Merriam, S.B. & Caffarella, R.S. (1999).  Learning in adulthood. (2nd ed.). San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass.

Newmann, F. M. & Wehlage, G. G.  (1993).  Five Standards of Authentic Instruction.  Educational Leadership, 50(7), 8-12.  Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/apr93/vol50/num07/Five-Standards-of-Authentic-Instruction.aspx

Ross, O.T. (2002).  Self-directed learning in adulthood:  a literature review.  Retrieved on April 28, 2006, from ERIC database.  Morehead State University.

Strudler, N., & Wetzel, K.  (2005).  The diffusion of electronic portfolios in teacher education:  Issues of initiation and practice.  Journal of Research on Technology in Education. 37(4), 411-433.  Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.