Change is happening NOW – Are we Ready?

You may not be wrong in assuming that learning management systems will be like floppy drives in a couple of years. They are soon going to replaced by something more dynamic, something more SMART.

It was my very first time at the WCET conference this year in Denver. I was not only pleasantly surprised by the unexpected snow flurries, but also by the rich quality of presentations I got to attend. Here’s a brief recap and reflection on my experience.

The overarching thought that I brought back is that higher education is moving beyond the era of traditional online courses and learning management systems. This evolution is taking place on multiple fronts and changing the enterprise of higher education both pedagogically and architecturally. A few examples:

  1. Adaptive Learning: A pedagogical approach to creating a personalized learning experience for students that employs a sophisticated, data-driven, and in some cases, nonlinear approach to instruction and remediation, adjusting to a learner’s interactions and demonstrated performance level, and subsequently anticipating what types of content and resources learners need at a specific point in time to make progress.
  2. Virtual Reality: Technology that plunges viewers into a simulated 3-D environment and lets them explore their surroundings as if they were really there.
  3. Rethinking Spaces: The nature of work today is inherently team-based and collaborative, often virtual, and geographically distant. Companies are seeking creative, collaborative employees who have an exploratory mindset. Colleges and universities around the country are responding by creating flexible, multimodal, and collaborative learning environments.

The big question is – Are we ready?

“Disruptive Innovation” has been a buzzword in higher education for about two years now. After attending the WCET conference, I am beginning to see the changes and strategic models that institutions are incorporating into their fabric to be at the front-end of the evolutionary spectrum.

Being a technology junky, one of my favorite moments at the conference was the Google Cardboard demonstration of Virtual Reality. Robbie Melton’s keynote talk with her Internet of Things (IoT) was the most inspiring. Looking at the craziest innovations, wearable technologies, augmented and virtual reality and its applications in healthcare, military, space programs, and of course, your daily lives was truly fascinating. As I ponder, why leave education outside this box that we are calling the Internet of Things? Let’s get SMART – Life is good!

Watch the Keynote presentation by Robbie Melton


Four Tips for Introducing a New Learning Technology to Your Class

One concern that comes with introducing new learning technologies to students is how that change will impact course evaluations.  No matter how good the technology may be for achieving your course objectives or fostering lifelong learning, it is easy to turn students against the innovation if they are not convinced that it will help them gain skills that will be important to them later.  I have found that there are four things you can do to make the introduction of new technology go smoothly.

Align the tool with course objectives: Only introduce a technology into your classroom when you are certain that it better helps your students achieve the course objectives, not because others are using the tool.  I have found that taking some class time to explain how the technology meets the course objectives is a powerful way to introduce it.

Plan ahead: Familiarizing yourself with the tool before the semester begins is time well spent. You may consider doing this during the less busy summer months where it can be pilot tested.  Students are more confident about using a tool when they see that you can use it with facility.

Emphasize the skills the tool helps develop: Students do not always understand how a technology you are using will help them to develop skills they want to obtain.  Presenting this information to them in a convincing way can mitigate students’ resistance to the tool.  For example, you may underscore the ways that using Calibrated Peer Review develops written communication skills, analytical skills, and evaluation skills–all skills employers are currently seeking in the college students they hire.

Spend some time on training:  Students in your courses are learning both the content that you teach and the skills necessary to be successful in your course (and in life).  In our quest to convey as much content as possible to our students, skills such as how to write in a discipline or how to use a new technology for learning can be overlooked.  Students trying to learn both content and skills at the same time can become overwhelmed and learn less about both.  It is important to spend class time training students to use essential technologies so that they can better focus on your course content in the presence of the tools you need them to use.  Also, refresh students memories or re-train when necessary.

In conclusion, following these four suggestions may contribute to effectively introducing a new tool or technology in one’s classroom in order to improve student engagement and learning.

Helping your students engage with course content

Q: “How can I do better in this class?”

We’ve all had to find our way through the answer to this question from our students. New research on student engagement in larger classes is starting to provide some evidence-based answers to this question.

A: “Take notes throughout the presentation of content and be sure to note any time that you are confused or get lost.”

Perry Samson (2015) reported that students with poorer GPAs take a lower volume of notes and often fail to note when they are confused when compared to students with higher GPAs. Attendance and even answering questions during content presentation were not as indicative of good test grades as volume of notes and indicating confusion.

I’m sure that the pact answer above will not be satisfactory to students without sufficient contextualization to your courses, but it is the seed of the behaviors that mark active participation with content as it is being presented. You can find more detail in the short and well illustrated Educause Article “Promoting Engagement in Larger Classes”.