technology and teaching
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Jump-Start Your Online Classroom: Mastering Five Challenges in Five Days
Date Reviewed: April 2, 2018
As a twenty-plus year veteran professor in a face-to-face classroom environment, I know to expect adjustments due to technological advances. These adjustments typically include learning to use new technologies and including them in your established and comfortable pedagogical practices. These adjustments are additions to your teaching norm. Now, with entire programs being converted to online interface, the norm shifts continually. With shifting norms in mind, I chose to review this book and actually apply its approach while converting one of my own classes to online delivery.
The brevity of Jump-Start Your Online Classroom should not be underestimated. Based on practical application of the content and concepts, its organization contains helpful hints on various aspects of successfully constructing a learner-centered, virtual classroom experience. The organization of the book is its greatest strength. Its five-day approach is based on five challenges: (1) Making the transition to online teaching, (2) Building online spaces for learning, (3) Preparing students for online learning, (4) Managing and facilitating the online classroom, and (5) Assessing learner outcomes.
One to three chapters are devoted to each of the five tasks and guide in confronting, conquering, and mastering each challenge. Embedded in the chapters are the almost clairvoyant voices of novice online instructors as well as online learners. Additionally, each chapter includes highlighted “Points to Remember” and ends with a section “For Reflection.” This reflection portion, if done in depth, makes the five-consecutive-day plan less realistic. The reflections may include assignments such as developing a communication or time management plan, an assessment of technology tools, or a careful consideration of your own teaching philosophy or pedagogical approach.
The fourth challenge, on classroom management, was especially helpful, as it contemplates interpersonal interaction and community building with people that may never meet. The section on teaching presence was especially helpful and thought-provoking. The authors use the analogy of the working parts of a car. For example, teaching presence is described as the “transmission component that allows us to set the pace, sequence, and activities that support and encourage students to work with materials and build their understanding of the content,” and also as the “timing belt that helps us manage learners, the dialogue, and the conditions for learning” (78). I understood those analogous functions even though I could not pick out either of those parts on an actual car! Challenge four also looks at dealing with group work and disgruntled students. The perspective of the novice online instructor underscored the importance of modeling the behavior that is required of the students.
Although this book is marketed toward the novice online instructor, its approach, organization, and content make it a foundational tool that could have long-term value in troubleshooting and future course design.
Using Technology to Gather, Store and Report Evidence of Learning
Date Reviewed: March 26, 2015
In this short synopsis, Using Technology to Gather, Store, and Report Evidence of Learning from NIACE’s Digital Learning Guides series, Terry Loane presents an overview of the current prevailing technological methods for collecting and reporting evidence of learning. Largely, the guide is sufficient and serves as a solid reference for non-technical educators; it demonstrates the best methods for individual circumstances by providing ten vignettes of real-life situations. Loane’s opening theme of “a revolution whose time has come” (4) flows fluidly through the seven chapters, comparing and contrasting old ways with the new.
Loane explains both the need and value of utilizing common elements of modern technology like mobile devices, online tools, and e-portfolios, in order to efficiently and effectively collect and present the fruit of one’s learning. He notes that the days of simply having to state that a qualification was met are gone; now the learner can present learned skills using easy and effective methods like mp3 recordings, YouTube videos, and blogging (55). The majority of the book covers the various forms of evidence gathering, technological means for data collection, and options for long-term cataloguing and presentation of one’s learning. The methods covered do offer a satisfactory representation of current options; however, as Loane notes, “the world has indeed moved on in just five years” (23). With rapid technological shifts, we must be open to adjusting our methods. Even since this book was published in early 2014, technology has moved more toward video, the one method Loane warns readers includes a range of issues involving lighting, intrusiveness, file sizes, and non-standardized codecs (28-29). As these obstacles are fast being worked out, and becoming more standardized, this guide may have a short shelf life and be in need of a second edition in the near future.
What I found most intriguing was Loane’s futuristic idea – and possible current direction in the use of technology in preserving evidence of learning – of developing an “Online Record of Learning, Experience, and Achievement” (5) that will “rehumanize learning” by showing that learning is more than marks on paper (56, 57). The development of an online clearinghouse of sorts for learners and assessors to store and share evidence of learning is one that could greatly benefit the educational community as a whole. Loane rightly demonstrates that even technology that learners and assessors use everyday (like smart phones and tablets) has all the tools necessary to easily present learning and to create such a system, offering the ability to take certifications and evidence of learning along as one moves from institution to institution and job to job.
I recommend this guide as a suitable reference tool for the non-technical educator, learner, or assessor seeking to move from old paper-and-pen methods to contemporary digital options. As Loane demonstrates, the benefits of embracing technology in learning far outweigh the hindrance of changing former traditional methods.
Focus on Teaching: Using Video for High-Impact Instruction
Date Reviewed: March 26, 2015
Whether you are a teacher, administrator, or coach seeking to improve your own or other’s instructional skills, Jim Knight’s book provides a useful step-by-step guide for doing so through the use of video. With easy-to-follow checklists and examples, the author explains the rationale for each decision in the process and offers options for working within various physical, spatial, and logistical constraints.
While more extensive background to other professional development practices for teachers are cited throughout, this manual stands on its own in terms of the physical and social steps necessary for teachers, administrators, and coaches to work together in using video effectively to improve instruction. After laying out the reasons video-recording of instruction can be so effective, Knight methodically and precisely sets forth systematic plans necessary for a coach or teacher to get started. From an individual improvement focus, he then moves to show how teams of teachers can work together and how administrators can facilitate similar processes.
Knight constantly focuses on the importance of creating a psychologically safe environment for the use of video. He defines autonomy and accountability and explains how these concepts can work together instead of representing opposite ends of the instructional responsibility spectrum. While always in the forefront of an instructor’s mind when working with students, the same principles of agreement about values, measurable and attainable goals, timely feedback, and constructive communication remain vital in the context of professional development and effective learning environments.
Chapter 6 begins with a principal expressing his angst over “teacher evaluations,” a task he views as necessary but onerous. The author suggests that the use of video can parallel assessment strategies utilized by a college dean. Again, the author’s systematic presentation of the details involved in using video for high impact instructional learning makes the process feasible.
The main criticism of the book may be that its methodical approach becomes slightly tedious and repetitive. By chapter 5 the reader feels they have already reviewed the general content four times with slightly different applications depending upon the theme of each chapter. While some new and beneficial information pertinent to the context of the chapter is shared, some educators will find the conceptual redundancy wearisome.
Insofar as the book is easy-to-read and a valuable step-by-step guide to using current technology to facilitate better individual instruction and collegial discussion of teaching, it could be valuable for teachers of theology and religion at the post-secondary level, even though the book seems geared for the K-12 audience. The (reproducible) resources provided in the book are valuable for teaching and could be used by instructors at any educational level.
Leading the e-Learning Transformation of Higher Education: Meeting the Challenges of Technology and Distance Education
Date Reviewed: February 12, 2015
This book stretches a reader’s view of online learning. The contribution made by these twelve chapters, written individually and jointly, does not come in the form of new theories of learning or innovative models for administering educational institutions in a digital era. Rather, they stretch the reader’s view beyond a few courses to address a complete institutional whole. Rarely does the tone become boosterish, despite the word “transformation” in the title. The writers have done the hard work of leading distance education into the mainstream of the institutions they serve. They map the work they have done and the work that still needs to be done. The resulting map is detailed, complex, and extensive. Reading the chapters should scare away anyone who thinks online education is a quick fix for any of the issues confronting higher education. The depth of work chronicled removes naivety.
The seven writers have worked at large institutions, such as Penn State. At first glance teachers and administrators at seminaries with sixty to two hundred students might be inclined to bypass the narratives and guidance offered. That would be a mistake. Schools both large and small need to make policy and procedural decisions, secure technical support, provide pedagogical support for learners and teachers, deploy student services, market programs, and so forth. The list is long. It is as long as the to-do list of any residential program. The business office, the library, campus pastor, the registrar – all of these and more – require attention. What is assumed and hence nearly invisible in residential programs becomes visible and needs to be deliberately addressed in distance education. Once the proximity of teacher and learner in time and/or distance is no longer a given the entire institution is rearranged. Reconceptualization needs to occur institutionally. Despite the difference in scale, the obligations to learners are very similar.
Where there is a significant difference between the experience of the writers and many readers of this journal is the background of the writers prior to the experiences that are at the center of these chapters; they worked in distance education prior to the web. They worked in programs employing audio and video satellite connections or distributing tapes and CDs to individual distance learners. Spatial and temporal distance between teachers and learners was not unimaginable and the challenges of design and support had been faced. They had already worked in a world not exclusively shaped by residential models. In this respect, the move to online learning was not as abrupt or disorienting, but the change was nevertheless extensive and required continual new learning. The web brought distance learning from the margin to the mainstream of their institutions. In the past, residential students did not need to worry about satellite linkages, but now they do bring their computers into the classroom and social media connects their lives. Temporal and spatial barriers may not be entirely overcome but they clearly are not what they were prior to the mid-1990s. These writers have come to grips with the changes; they have lived them.
The book has a high degree of integration; the writers have worked together in several settings, the most prominent being the Sloan Consortium (Sloan-C, now named the Online Learning Consortium). The book is divided into three parts and works with the “Five Pillars of Quality Online Education” developed by the consortium. In four chapters, Part One addresses the first pillar: “access, which relates to the role of online distance education in an institution’s fundamental mission and institutional strategy” (xii). Gary Miller, who is one of the authors for three chapters in this section, repeatedly offers wise counsel and sounds cautionary notes. The following typifies his contributions: “[M]ission is mission critical. No institution that has online learning as a significant part of its current or emerging strategy will be successful if the mission of the institution does not clearly recognize it. Too often the online program strategy is not driven by mission” (35). Miller’s individually authored chapter (“Leading Change in the Mainstream: A Strategic Approach”) is an exemplary model for clear-headed thinking in these highly disruptive times. The past institutional culture has to be understood and respected, not in a perfunctory manner, but as an asset for engaging the unavoidable changes occurring in the environment in which that culture now exists. External forces cannot be scolded away but neither should the future of our institutions merely capitulate to them; rather, they need to be understood and deliberated within our inherited institutional cultures in order to faithfully and effectively serve the stakeholders to which faculty are responsible. The learners are at the center of those responsibilities.
Part Two, in five chapters, addresses “enduring operational excellence.” It is not written in the tone of a how-to manual. None of the five authors use their own institutional experience as a template for others. Learning effectiveness, faculty satisfaction, and student satisfaction are the pillars addressed. Reading these pages, one is impressed by how these leaders have worked within an emerging field; stability is not assumed or sought. There is a clear recognition of the fluidity of the present context, but at the same time there is an emphasis on understanding the current institutional contexts and working institutionally. Leading is not understood in heroically individual terms.
Part Three addresses cost effectiveness and institutional commitment. The goal is to sustain the innovation. Perhaps some readers will be surprised to find a chapter on leading beyond the institution. However, the authors view participation in professional organizations as a constitutive dimension of institutional sustainability. Institutions develop local leadership by supporting faculty and administrative participation in broad networks. Networks generate flexibility for addressing specific actions within an institution’s responsibility to its mission and stakeholders. In fact, this entire book is marked by sharing experiences and expertise to enhance effectiveness; it is decidedly not proprietary in tone or content. The closing chapter is a roundtable discussion responding to over a dozen questions that take up the future of online education. The writers stress an “actionable” future. Here, and throughout the book, these leaders dream with their feet on the ground.
Coupling pragmatic effort with openness to emergent possibilities, the writers have provided a reflective narrative that should inform the work of boards, faculty, administrators, staff, and other stakeholders. Online learning is not merely an add-on; it signals a shift in institutional culture. This book underscores the extent of the cultural shift while being grounded in the day-to-day realities of institutional work.
Using e-Books and e-Readers for Adult Learning: With a Focus on Adult Literacy
Date Reviewed: February 6, 2015
The role of e-books in higher education continues to evolve. E-book sales rise steadily, as publishers and libraries explore the use of e-books in academia. Students and faculty, however, are often reluctant to embrace e-books for academic purposes. College and seminary educators seeking to discern the value of e-books and their role in higher education need guidance and insight. Unfortunately, Using e-Books and e-Readers for Adult Learning does not contribute significantly to that discussion.
Written by an e-learning specialist and an educational program manager at Staffordshire University, the book articulates its purpose clearly: “to provide a guide on what different e-reading devices and e-books can offer the learner for the advancement of their learning, and to outline some of the issues and challenges that come with using them in the adult classroom” (1). These issues, however, are overshadowed by a considerable amount of how-to material that detracts from the more substantive discussion.
The first three chapters address various aspects of e-book technology (for example, e-readers, digital rights management, and accessibility issues). Such introduction to the broad e-book landscape could prove useful, but these pages are dominated by tables, screen-shots, and technical minutiae (like screen orientation and battery life). Where the authors provide tips for classroom integration, these are subordinate to technical details. Anyone already familiar with e-books is likely to skim past this elementary material and overlook the tips. The next two chapters consider research on e-books in teaching, summarizing published studies and the authors’ own action research. This material is interesting, but would benefit from more synthesis and analysis of findings across the studies. The final chapters and conclusion discuss implementing e-book programs, offer tips for classroom use, and look toward the future of e-books in teaching and learning. (While directed toward adult literacy and diverse learning needs, some of these insights might transfer well to teaching theology and religion.) These chapters address the work’s stated goals and broach interesting theoretical considerations, but unfortunately this is the slimmest section of the book. The volume concludes with a glossary, web-resources, and an appendix detailing software and hardware aspects of different e-readers. Sadly, as is often the case when discussing technology, the material is already obsolete.
Gay and Richardson are clearly knowledgeable regarding the value of e-books for adult literacy, but Using e-Books and e-Readers for Adult Learning is dominated by elementary technical matters. The book would benefit from attention to the substantive issues, by offering a thorough synthesis of research, spending more time discussing how e-books can serve different learners, and relegating technical how-to information to appendices. This does not mean the work should be awash in educational theory, but more attention to “so what?” questions would have been welcome. To some degree, the title suggests what the content does not deliver. This work serves as a detailed introduction to e-books for adult literacy teachers and programs, but its elementary character dilutes its value and restricts its potential for other settings.