Learning Theories – Module 4

November 15, 2010

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I have great flexibility in my course design.  I’ve been taking advantage of that by incorporating aspects educational learning theories during my current teaching semester.  When it comes to teaching about computers and technology, I know a lot.  I’ve been working in the computer technology field since the 1970s and have witnessed firsthand the digital revolution.  That being said, I’m modest enough to know that there are plenty of things I don’t know.  I’m always open to suggestions and willing to try new things in my classroom.  I like putting good ideas into practice and I’ve been doing that for the past few months.  The more I do it, the more I realize that there isn’t one theory that works in all situations.  My goal to be aware of learning theories, apply them, evaluate what works, make changes and re-evaluate.  I see this as a process of continuous improvement.  The right approach is a mix of my teaching style, the student aptitude and the material itself.

The readings and activities for module 4 were about connectivism and emerging theories.  These have a common theme of student-centered learning environments.  Connectivism shows how the three broad learning theories of behaviorism, cognitivism and constructivism move into the digital age (Siemens).  In connectivism, the learner has more control over the experience, gets information from multiple nodes of information sources and needs the ability to see connections between these nodes (Siemens).  But is this a new learning theory or one that just ties together the big three (Kop & Hill)?  Connectivism puts the learner at the center where they direct their own learning and create knowledge by engaging in networks (Kop & Hill).

My classroom has become a laboratory for me to experiment with learning theories.  I’m trying new things on a small scale by incorporating new activities into my existing curriculum.  This week, I designed a jigsaw learning activity to bring in elements of connectivism.  I re-wrote an assignment previously given as individual homework and made it a jigsaw team activity.  The assignment is for my Web Design class where students are to build a 3-page web site from general specifications.

For my re-design, I split the class into four teams of three people.  The specifications were changed to encourage connections to multiple learning resources.  Two of the four teams were given more detailed written project specifications and specific team member assignments.  I wanted to see how that would make a difference.  It did.  Both of these teams completed the project faster than the other two teams.  The work for all four teams was good; I didn’t see a significant difference in the quality of the final product.

My purpose in creating two sets of specifications was to see how group dynamics affect people working together on a jigsaw activity.  In my experiment, the teams given specific tasks within the assignment did the job faster.  The other teams took more time figuring out what each member of the team was going to do.  That is not necessarily bad; it just took a little longer.  I draw a parallel to our EdTech Jigsaw discussion forum for module 4.  As individuals, my Jigsaw team members each posted a key chapter point.  One group member took the imitative and tied our thoughts together in a summary.  On the due date, no one had stepped up to create a final summary and submit it for the group.  So I did it.  We really didn’t have much of a discussion between ourselves of our roles in the process. It wasn’t defined for us; we had to figure it out for ourselves.  And we eventually did.

In my classroom experiment, two teams took longer because they first negotiated individual roles.  I don’t know if this created a better learning environment for them or not.  I’d like to repeat my activity and come up with a way of measuring the learning.  I’m curious to see if a more or less directed jigsaw activity enhances learning.

References:

Kop, R., & Hill, A. 2008. Connectivism: Learning theory of the future or vestige of the past? The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 9(3). Retrieved from http://www.irrodl.org/index.ph…w/523/1137

Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A theory for the digital age. Retrieved from http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm

Jigsaw

– Instructional Strategies Online
http://olc.spsd.sk.ca/DE/PD/instr/strats/jigsaw/

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Learning Theories – Module 3

October 26, 2010

I’m fortunate to work within a university department that gives me great autonomy over course development and curriculum.  I have the authority and control make any adjustments to my lesson plans. As I read more about learning theories, I keep thinking of how to best apply these theories and have already made changes to some of my courses.  For this blog entry, I’m going to review the 3 learning theories we covered in this module and then give examples of how I will apply them in my classroom.  In module 3, we covered Sociocultural Theory (Constructionism), Student-Centered Learning Environment and Community of Practice.  Here is a brief overview of each one:

The core belief of constructionism is that there is no absolute interpretation of knowledge, that everyone constructs their own view based on their own beliefs and experiences.  Knowledge is subjective and personal (Schunk).  Student-Centered Learning is based in constructionism.  Learners are given more control to create and manage their learning.  They may work in teams for problem solving and create meaning by interacting with other students and gaining multiple perspectives (Land & Hannafin). Community of practice and practice fields both have students working together collaboratively.  One distinction between the two is that community of practice students share history and a connection.  In practice fields, student collaboration is temporary and more task driven.

I see merits in each learning theory and have begun to apply these practices in the courses I teach.  My challenge is to choose elements from these theories that best match my students and course work.  Below are two examples of how I have or will apply these three learning theories within my courses.

Course: Resume Writing Workshop
I detailed a new workshop lesson plan for a previous assignment in this class.  The existing lesson plan was based on constructivism. Class interaction was mostly between the student and me, the teacher.  The new lesson plan builds on the existing one by adding social constructivist learning theory.  The new activities include modeling, observation/discussion and student role-play. The complete plan lesson can be viewed at: Lesson Plan

I had the opportunity to conduct the resume workshop last Friday (10/22/2010).  The students responded very well to the role play exercise.  I did the first role play by showing them both good and bad examples.  We then discussed the activity and they worked on teams to complete their own.  Course feedback was very positive.

Course: Microsoft Office Certification
I’m planning to incorporate all three of these learning theories when I start a new session in January.  This will give me time to create new class exercises.  My idea is to tie all class projects around a theme.  The theme being a small business enterprise.  As adult education teacher, almost all of my students have some degree of work/business experience.  My expectation is that they will construct more meaning by personalizing the theme.  The students will work in teams with each team being a simulated small business.  Each team becomes a practice field by collaborating on the projects together.  Having multiple teams in the class will create a sense of competition and additional motivation to do a good job.  Adding ideas from student-centered learning, the teams will be given a broad definition of the projects for each Office program.  It will be up to them to fill in the blanks.  By making the projects more real-life based, they will construct a deeper understanding of the material.  In addition, these projects will be designed to show how the Office suite of products work together.

Specific project examples will include:

  • Using Word to write product descriptions, product marketing flyers, sales invoices and customer form letters
  • Creating Excel spreadsheets to keep track of products, customers and sales
  • Creating a mail merge by combining form letters (Word) with a customer list (Excel)
  • Creating a PowerPoint sales pitch of the company products
  • Creating a PowerPoint sales result presentation with charts created from Excel

References: 

Sociocultural Theory Required Reading:
Schunk, D. H. (2008). Constructivist theory. In Learning theories: An educational perspective (5th ed). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson

Student-Centered Learning Environment Required Reading:
Theoretical Foundations of Learning Environments textbook Chapter 1: Student-Centered Learning Environments (Land & Hannafin)

Community of Practice Required Reading: Chapter 2:
From Practice Fields to Communities of Practice (Barab & Duffy)

Learning Theories

October 5, 2010

As I read through the material for this module I kept thinking of how the learning theories apply in my classroom. I come to believe that each one has a place. I’m going to put my discussion here in context with the Microsoft Office 2007 class I teach and tie learning theories to that instruction.

Starting with behaviorism having its roots in reflexive stimulus-response experiments and basic operant conditioning. For complex learning and problem solving, smaller chainlike skills become connected with other chains. Complexity continually incorporates smaller chains as the learner engages in more practice and receives feedback. (Burton, Moore, & Magliaro). When I teach my students how to do something in Word, it is a series of steps. My teaching is very step-by-step with explanations. For my students, learning is demonstrated by repeating these steps. But have they understood what they are doing and why? That is the essential question I ask myself as they learn.

For example, I can show them how to change the page orientation in Excel. The steps are:

1) click the “Page Layout” tab

2) navigate to the “Page Setup” section

3) click “Orientation”

4) choose “Portrait” or “Landscape”

It’s an easy example to illustrate step-by-step instruction. The question then becomes “if a student can follow these steps, have they learned?”. The behaviorist answer would be yes. But I am looking for a deeper understanding. I will ask the class “why would you print in landscape vs. portrait?”. I often get silence as they think about the benefits of one print format over the other. I will then explain that Excel has a default orientation of portrait resulting in worksheets that often span more than one page. Switching to landscape can enable you information to print on one page. Hopefully this leads to a deeper understanding.

Cognitivism adds the internal working of our brains into the mix. It explains the learning process in the context of working memory, long term memory and inherent limitations they impose. By definition, learning is the creation of long term memory (Kirschner). As I relate this to my classroom I have to be conscience of the pace of my lessons to avoid cognitive overload. Silence (no questions) from my students generally means they are processing. I sometimes interrupt silence as understanding. They have no questions and are waiting for more. This leads me to go a little fast. I have to slow my pace, take more frequent breaks and allow them to process the information.

Constructivism states that learners create understand based on their own created view of reality. People fit new information into existing knowledge to create meaning (Jonassen). Going back to my page orientation example, someone will always call it “horizontal” vs. “vertical”. They understand the meaning in their own construct. For me, that’s fine. They have made the connection and understanding.

I see all of these learning theories working together in my classroom. Let me give another Excel example. Formulas are the essence of Excel and there are hundreds of built-in functions to make it easier. I spend time explaining in great detail how to use the insert-function dialog box. We will do basic functions such as “sum” and “average”. And my students can do those on their own. They repeat my steps. This is behaviorism. I then give them a challenge problem that requires the “standard deviation” function. Many of them don’t know what a standard deviation is, but they get it right. They have constructed the methodology of using the insert-function dialog box. They have learned to use the dialog box for a new function on their own. The lesson goal is learning the dialog box, not the definition of standard deviation. They meet that goal.

The question in my mind is always “do they understand?”. I often wonder why some students “get it” and some don’t. Keeping these learning theories in my mind will help me adjust my teaching style. My goal is for every student of mine to “get it”.

Personal Learning Theory

September 13, 2010

I’m fortunate that all the courses I teach are in a University PC lab.  All of my students sit at individual computer workstations connected to the internet and University intranet.  As a continuing educational teacher, the majority of my students are older adults.  Part of my job is to get them to better understand how to use the technology sitting in front of them.

I’m constantly looking for ways to use technology and improve the level of understanding in my classroom.  There are two new technologies I started to use this year that have been great aids to my students.  They are computer simulation and computer videos.  I’m using these tools in my Microsoft Office Specialist Certification review class.  In addition to actually learning the material, an overall class goal is for the students to pass at least one of the certification exams.  The exams themselves are PC based (here is a link with more information: http://www.microsoft.com/learning/en/us/certification/mos.aspx).

I made a number of “how to” videos available to the students using the University intranet.  These provide step-by-step instructions on how to perform specific tasks within an Office product.  They like the ability to control video playback when working a specific office task. The video is their personal guide.

In addition, I recently installed an exam simulator.  Since the exams are timed, it helps them practice answering exam questions and budgeting their time.

The goal of these technologies is to boost their learning and confidence.  Many of my students are new to PCs.  They may have used them for basic internet activity, but lack a real understanding of what a PC is all about.  And many of them have not taken a test in decades and are a bit scared of the whole idea of test taking.  I relate to and calm their fears by offering personal reflections of my testing experience.  It really isn’t that bad.

My expectation is that I will see a higher percentage of students passing the exams.  Let’s see how it goes this semester.

Post # 12- Course Reflection

May 4, 2010

I’ve always thought the internet was a good educational resource. After taking this course, I’ve learned the internet is a great educational resource. I have also learned many ways to use it in the classroom. I kept track of all the online sites where I created accounts and used them for the first time. It is an impressive list reflecting a broad set of the online tools available to educators. Tools that I will and already have incorporated into my classroom.

  • WordPress
  • Dipity
  • Diigo
  • Slideshare
  • VoiceThread
  • YouTube
  • Flickr
  • ImageChef
  • Myebook
  • Screencast
  • Pageflakes

My background is in computers and technology going back to being a programmer in the old IBM mainframe days. I’ve worked with PCs since their inception and I know a lot about computers and the internet. Working in education was a mid-life career change for me and I enjoy teaching. I quickly found that it is a difficult profession. Not difficult in the sense of preparation and presentation, but difficult in getting your students to really learn. I found that some students struggled and were lost and some were high achieving and bored. I think teachers tend to teach the middle. Learning to apply technology in the classroom will help me with students at both ends of the spectrum. What makes this course special is that I’ve learned techniques that will make me a better teacher. I’ve learned ways to customize my teaching for each student. And to help the students figure out what technology works best for them.

I have already incorporated a number of technologies from this course into my classroom. And this demonstrates mastery of the AECT standards for design, development, utilization, management and evaluation. Examples include the use of video training, online tutorials, simulators, Screencast and Slideshare presentations. I’ve received positive feedback from my students on using these tools in the classroom. Especially with my slower learners. They seem to really like the video training. Controlling the playhead gives them control over the lesson and they work at a pace that is best for them.

Post # 11 – How Technology Can Level the Playing Field Resource

April 25, 2010

In this week’s blog, I’m going to advocate the use of technology to promote learning with students with special needs. Since my teaching experience is with adults, I’m going to focus on the elderly population. They are often a forgotten group. But people seek to learn at all phases of their lives. In my classroom, I often have students ages 60+. I’ve found that many of them have special needs that are often the byproduct of the normal aging process. Generally, they would be considered “impairments” and only a “disability” when they limited a person from performing an activity. (Roblyer). But using technology to addressing them is similar to the special needs of our young people. I’m going to list two impairments that I have encountered and suggest ways to create a more inclusive classroom. Note that I teach computer classes in a classroom equipped with desktop workstations at every seat.

1) Limited hand/finger movement and coordination
This impairment makes it difficult to work a standard computer mouse. Doing things that most of us take for granted, such as point-and-click, become difficult. The result is that the student makes mistakes and falls behind during the lesson. As a teacher, I have to go back over things they missed and conduct my class at a slower pace. This impacts all students in the classroom.

Recommended solution for an inclusive classroom:
Make available alternatives to the standard mouse. Trackballs and joysticks have shown to improve computer operation with people having limited hand use. It remains in one position, can be operated with fingertips and with the arm at rest (Kelly).

2) Visual impairment
This impairment makes it difficult to see both the computer image projected at the front of the room and the computer screen at the individual workstation. I have students that are constantly switching between their two sets of glasses – their distance and reading glasses. I have also noticed that they sit very close to their monitor when viewing their screen. This slows my teaching pace and affects all students in the classroom.

Recommended solution for an inclusive classroom:
Furnish a few workstations with large, high resolution dual monitors. One monitor is for the individual workstation and the other displays from the teacher workstation. Give the student the ability to adjust the screen resolution of both. Those with glasses will only need them for up close vision and not distance. They will also have a larger screen and the ability to customize their view.

References:

Roblyer, M. D. Integrating Educational Technology into Teaching (4th Edition)Web Link

Kelly, Thomas, Ergonomic Computer Accessories Include Joysticks, Hands-Free Devices,
Suite101.com – Computer Accessories, 2008, Article

Thibodeau, Patrick, Dual-monitor users passionate about benefits of having more than one,
ComputerWorld, 2007, Article

Post # 10 – Integrating Arts Across the Curriculum

April 18, 2010

Integrating the arts across the curriculum is a way to add visual excitement and energy to instruction.  Technology and the arts have been connected throughout history.  Technology has provided the tools for artistic and musical expression (Roblyer).  This is true today as digital media becomes a dominant form of expression.

 Using pictures to tell a story or learn about a subject is a good way to keep students engaged. We’ve hear the expression “A picture is worth 1,000 words”.  That concept comes alive online at a creative contest community on the web called Worth100.com.  It’s a social media site where anyone can enter, vote and comment on images created by others.  It is also an example of different types of technologies coming together. 

Music has been used for generations to teach children (Sharp).  Try reciting the ABCs to yourself without reciting that song we all learned long ago.  Music was used then and now to help us remember. It’s a great memory aid.  With today’s technology, we can create and edit music on our PCs with a wide variety of editing programs.  Audacity being one of the most popular free products for editing, mixing and creating music.

Concept maps and visual organizers are another great set of tools for teachers to better represent abstract science and math topics.  The more abstract a topic, the more we need to use visual ways to teach the information. 

References:

Roblyer, M. D. Integrating Educational Technology into Teaching (4th Edition)http://wps.prenhall.com/chet_roblyer_integrate_4/38/9796/2507811.cw/index.html

Sharp, Vicki F. Computer Education for Teachers (6th Edition)

Inspiration Software Inc. Visual Learning Connections

Post # 9 – Technology in Social Studies

April 11, 2010

Many students may think of social studies, history and geography as “boring” subjects.  I have heard that expressed many times from my own children.  These subjects to not inherently have the “coolness” factor.  That is where technology becomes a great equalizer.  It allows us as educators to make these subjects engaging and fun to learn.  Roblyer identifies nine strategies to enhance social studies.  We have used many of them already in this course.  Examples include simulators, virtual field trips and graphic representations.  Interactive timelines are a great way to learn about history.  They are engaging, interactive and give the student control over the information being presented.  The control and interactivity gives technology a relative advantage in presenting social study material.

The subject of history is personal for me.  I do not teach history but always enjoyed the subject.  I am a technology teacher at the college level.  However, I do web design work for small businesses.  One of my clients is the Leigh Valley Historical Society.  I support the web site for their historical museum located in Allentown, Pennsylvania.  Last year, we began to create online exhibits from major themed exhibits.  I created their online World War II exhibit and was asked to create something interactive for students.  I created an interactive matching game using pictures from the exhibit.  Here is the link: 

Matching Game: http://www.lchs.museum/ww2/matching.htm 

This has become one of the most popular pages within the museum web site as tracked by our hosting company.  Clearly, when material is presented in an engaging way, students respond favorably.  It’s what they want and we have the web traffic statistics to show it. 

References: 

Roblyer, M. D. Integrating Educational Technology into Teaching (4th Edition)http://wps.prenhall.com/chet_roblyer_integrate_4/38/9796/2507811.cw/index.html

Sharp, Vicki F. Computer Education for Teachers (6th Edition)

Lehigh County Historical Society
http://www.lchs.museum/

Post #8: Integrating Language Arts into My Curriculum

March 21, 2010


The reading material for this week is geared towards K-12 education.  I am one of the few students, if any, in our class that teaches older adults in the 25-55 age group.  At first I was struggling with how the topic relates to them.  But it does.  English literacy is universal in our society.  Everyone can benefit from improving their English literacy.  The majority of my students are recently unemployed and they come to me for job training.  In addition to the computer technology courses I teach, I lead a Resume Writing and Job Interviewing workshop.  My blog theme this week is the value of good writing and presentations skills for job placement.

The internet is a valuable asset to those that are job seeking.  Not only are there an abundance of job listing sites, there are many places to get help for writing a variety of business documents.  Many of the online job placements web sites are examples of database reference tools that give students easy access to writing help (Roblyer).  Tutorials with examples of resumes, cover letters, thank you letters and more can be found online.  One of the best is the Purdue University Online Writing Lab (Purdue OWL).  What makes this site especially valuable are the basic English grammar tips. It even includes Flash movies and Podcasts.

Microsoft Word is the dominant resume format. Learn to build your resume using Word templates along with other good information at the Microsoft Career Center (Microsoft Office).  Writing good English may get you to the interview.  Being able to speak clearly, use proper English, organize your thoughts and present yourself in an educated professional manner is equally important.  Going beyond the written word, online help is available for personal interviewing (resume-help.org).

References:

Roblyer, M. D. Integrating Educational Technology into Teaching (4th Edition)
http://wps.prenhall.com/chet_roblyer_integrate_4/38/9796/2507811.cw/index.html

The Online Writing Lab (OWL) at Purdue University
http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/

Microsoft Office Help for Job Seekers
http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/help/FX103504051033.aspx

Resume-Help.org – Career advancement information and interview tips
http://www.resume-help.org/

Post #7: Integrating the Internet into the Curriculum (Audio Blog)

March 15, 2010

Here is a link to me audio comments:
http://voicethread.com/share/967970/