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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Flat Stanley Goes Digital (and Loses his Way?)

I just caught up with Flat Stanley. Apparently, back in August he jumped online and has been reborn on a website created by a company called Flatter World (press release). There's also an iPhone app for the game. Or is it an activity? Or a learning experience?

I ran into Flat Stanley as a young reader of the book of the same name and later as an educator. I read about how Stanley was used in geography class. My understanding, back then, was that a class drew and cut out its own Flat Stanley and sent him, typically with a parent on a  business trip, to a distant location. There, the parent would share stories and pictures of Stanley's adventure. Stanley might come home, or if possible join someone new for another adventure, which was documented and shared with the class. Students would map where Stanley travelled and learn about those places. It was all very quaint and low tech. That educational implementation is still happening as documented by a local paper here in Massachusetts.

Looking over the new offering, I find the quaintness replaced by avatars and Facebook feeds and all the wonders of social media. And, of course, Stanley can now travel electronically, so he need not board a plane or suffer the indignity of being stuffed in an envelope for the mailman.

Sadly, though, the new site has little alignment with geography. The project is geared toward literacy via students corresponding with one another. The vision is that the new "pen pals" already have a friend in common (Stanley) and so writing is more natural and meaningful than distant random pen pals might be. Literacy is a great goal, don't get me wrong. I'm just disappointed Stanley has lost tie to geography in this new Web iteration.

But, I'm hopeful. With all the great Web resources about the "old paper and stamps" version of the activity (like this one at Social Studies for Kids), I'm hopeful teachers won't jump to the "new one" so fast. And, in time, maybe today's savvy geography educators will re-infuse geography into Stanley's new digital life.

via Edutopia

Monday, November 28, 2011

Observations on Young People and Wayfinding

To Hill and Back

Over the holiday weekend I attended one of my favorite local races. It's a four mile trail race including a long, rocky, exposed hill. The event is called "To Hill and Back." This was probably my fourth attempt and I was happy to finish in the middle of the pack (64/139, results).

In past years the race director (RD) introduced the course just before the start. I recall announcements explaining that after a short section on the paved road, we'd head into the woods where it would quickly turn to single track. Single track refers to a thin trail where it's very hard (or impossible) to pass. The RD suggested  that we try to "seed ourselves," that is arrange ourselves, so the fast folks would be first to the single track and not be trapped behind the slower runners. In past years it worked very well and I carefully hung back so as to not get in the way of those who run the trails like deer. The other information I recall from past races related to the volunteers on the trail pointing the way at every turn and survey tape on trees and survey flags on the ground marking the way.

This year the RD only mentioned the volunteers in her briefing. I chatted with a few folks new to the event who asked me key questions: Where is the hill in the four miles? Is there single track? I was happy to share my knowledge. At the start, several runners new to the race assured one another there was no single track. I was not sure whether to correct them or not.

What interested me most about the event was a pair of young people who ran. I want to share my observations (some second hand) about them and their navigation of the trail.


I found myself behind Mom, who was wearing an iPod, and Son, about nine or ten. Mom, from the start, tried to slow down Son. It did not work. Once into the woods, Son came to a screeching halt on the trail to wait for Mom. She informed him he could not do that with other runners behind him. He continued to weave unpredictably through the long snake of runners. Mom would call out to coach him fairly regularly. She did not take off her iPod's earbuds.

I decided it was a good time to model good trail etiquette for Son and others. I let the folks behind me know that if they wanted to pass to just let me know. They didn't let me know, but they did pass me, sometimes on my left, sometimes on my right. Once I was in a position to do so, I modeled what I hoped to see. I called out "passing on your left" and passed two runners. I thought, "now Son, and maybe Mom, have seen and heard how it's done."

I confess I was ecstatic to see Mom helping Son take off his track pants alongside the trail within the first 3/4 of a mile. It was quite warm; I'd started in shorts, a rarity for me this late in the season. While tugging on his pant legs, Mom chastised him about wasting time. I never saw them again.

Fast Kid

Up at the front of the entire race, I was told, was pack of about five men. Two of them are in my running club and one explained how the race played out from his perspective. My friends were third and fifth respectively in the standings, sandwiching a 13-year-old who took fourth. The young man had run with them from the start and at times got ahead of them. When he was leading and came to an intersection, he'd stop short waiting for guidance on which way to go. The other runners would call out "left" or "right" from behind based on their knowledge of the course or seeing the survey tape. Then the kid would get going again.


Pondering these young people trying to navigate the trails got me thinking. If Mom knew Son was new to trail racing, why did she not prep him about the rules? And, if she expected to coach him on the trail (which I fully support), why did she wear headphones that limited her ability to hear his questions and perhaps the key information other runners shared? Did Son not observe that most runners were "staying in line" and not weaving in and out? Could he not decipher this was how we behave on the trail?

Clearly the teenager is a great runner. Why then did he not have the trail navigation skills he needed? Had he not seen survey tape used to mark a trail? Even if he had not (and as I noted the race director did not mention it) could he not have seen and deciphered its meaning in the early miles? Had someone (a coach, fellow runner, parent...) not spent some time teaching him some of these skills?


Seeing young people in these situations without the basic geographic skills to navigate our world saddens and frustrates me. As much as we hang our heads when students can't find countries on maps or recoil about another story of a driver following GPS directions too literally (such as into a lake or tree),  I think we need to worry more about simply navigating ourselves, under our own power, in our natural and manmade world. Spatial literacy may well begin in the woods.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Infographic: The Flipped Classroom

Last week I gave the opening remarks at the NEARC Educators Day event. All I did was ask a lot of questions. The first one was: "What is the flipped classroom?" The first answer I received was frankly wrong. Some of the educators at that event had not run into the hubbub about the Khan Academy and other flipped efforts.

So, for those educators and other others who are still a bit shaky on the idea, I offer this easy to follow infographic from Knewton. I feel strongly the flipped classroom concept is interesting and valuable and worth considering but agree it is not THE solution to all education challenges we currently face.

I am very interested in how this idea is/could be used in geography/GIS education.

Flipped Classroom
Created by Knewton and Column Five Media

Monday, November 21, 2011

Teaching Yourself GIS vs. Being "Led"

I learned about a URISA-hosted seminar titled "Maps in the Cloud" held last week (Nov 17). The details on the $20 session are:
Bring your WI-FI enabled laptop to participate in a hands on workshop showing you how to create intelligent web maps without having any GIS software installed on your computer. Esri technical staff will lead participants through a series of exercises that utilize the latest capabilities of ArcGIS.Com.
I found a very experienced GIS person who attended. He posted the map he made on his blog.

@Geotrek's Picture from Event
I don't have any issue with the fee. What I wonder is how many GIS professionals would prefer to be "led" through this new technology versus those who'd prefer to "teach themselves." I had a sneaking suspicion this workshop would be well-attended and a tweet from @Geotrek confirmed it was.

I was confident in that hunch in part based on a totally unscientific poll I took at NEURISA in October. I suggested that Google Fusion Tables are a key technology GIS professionals will need to know going into 2012. When I asked how many of the 100 people in the room had "played with" this free technology about seven people raised their hands. Perhaps if I asked about ArcGIS.com I'd have gotten a slightly more hands, but I didn't ask.

I suggested in a Directions Media podcast that "teaching yourself" is an important skill for a successful GIS career. I was thinking specifically of being able to master new technologies or ideas without a long, expensive course or any course at all. I suspect that even novice GIS users could teach themselves the basics of ArcGIS.com. Esri has worked hard to make the interface simple and there's a big push for ArcGIS.com use in the classroom. Further, a custom-skinned version is the heart of the U.S. government's new geoplatform.gov. Why then would GIS professionals need to have their "hands held" through a workshop?

Over the weekend of NEARC, when I posed this question, a GIS professional explained that perhaps users of "real GIS" aka desktop GIS, think ArcGIS.com is just "a toy." (I've heard the same said about Google Fusion Tables...) The respondent went on to suggest current Esri users do not think ArcGIS.com is applicable to their "work."

When I pondered why professionals will in fact attend this event, I decided they don't need the hand holding, but they prefer the handholding. That raises the question of "Why?" I can think of two main reasons. First off, working GIS professionals may not not have the luxury of paid time to explore such things. Times are tight and they have to spend 100% (or more) of their time doing their current jobs. Setting aside a dedicated morning to focus on a topic, off-site, may be the best way to tackle professional development. Second, working professionals may not have the interest in, nor the experience to, teach themselves. It may not be "interesting enough" to do on their own time, nor easy enough to find the many resources online to teach them the same content as is covered in the session cited above. I'm confident content of various kinds (video, blogs, etc.) exist to do just that.

In short, I fear we have a situation where many professionals expect a formal course for new technologies and products in their field. Why? Because that's how they've learned such things in the past! There's always been a "class" - either at school, or online, from an educator or from a vendor. That doesn't sound right in the 2010s.

I don't want to put down formal education (it's served me well both as a students and as an instructor) nor Esri's commitment to edumarketing (which is key to its past, current and future success) but I do want to advocate for more exploration of self-teaching. It offers much more than a new skill; it builds confidence and as I suggested in the podcast, it also builds the type of employee an employer wants to hire.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Blackboard Goes Mobile ... with Many Questions

Last week I attended a session hosted by Blackboard, the learning management system company, at Babson College. It was titled Blackboard Higher Education Mobile Summit and there were schools represented from all over New England. Who from the schools attended? Mostly IT, web development, marketing, recruitment and development staff. I was the only educator there.

The goal of the day seemed to be two-fold: to get the attendees thinking about their mobile strategy (I think nearly 100% of the schools attending use the software in some fashion) and to help Blackboard figure how to better serve the schools.

Some parts of the day reminded me of talking about GIS software. Just like in discussion of enterprise GIS, the attendees could not keep all the pieces straight. What was Blackboard Connect? eLearn? What was free or for fee? I was lost since the only Blackboard software I ever used was Angel, which the company acquired a few years ago. I longed for a product map!

Another analogy to enterprise GIS was Blackboard's own suggestion that a mobile implementation needs a champion. Further, it needs buy-in from several departments and a pilot program and a plan to capture the low hanging fruit... it sounded just like GIS! That makes sense since mobile is really just another layer of an enterprise strategy.

There was significant confusion related to exactly what "content" was going mobile. Reps from Babson spoke about the school's rollout on mobile and had to explain more than once the plan to put its (1) public facing website type content in an app with (2) access into the learning management system as separate offering. The former had much of the content of a school website aimed mostly at admissions type questions. The latter allows registered students who logged in to do school work  (upload papers, participate in discussions, etc.). I was interested to learn it was the softest of soft rollouts, yet some several hundred students found, downloaded and tried the apps.

The question I brought to the event (and have held in my head for some time) is this: What kind of school work (not checking to see if class is cancelled) can a student do on a mobile device? Is it different on a tablet vs. a phone? How would I as a distance learning instructor formulate classes so students could "do work" on their phones? I gained no insight into those questions during the sessions because none of the schools were really at that point yet. Few had really engaged their faculty in thinking about the topic. Most of the schools were developing a mobile strategy, but it seemed actual learning was not part of it... yet. I guess that explains why I was the only educator in attendance.

My thought experiment is simple: How could I best formulate classes in say a GIS masters program to take advantage of the 30 minutes a professional might have on the train with his or her phone? Would they realistically read? Watch videos? Contribute to discussions via text or voice? Diagram the workflow for a GIS analysis? How could I make at least parts of the course "mobile phone friendly" to take advantage of that time in travel (or in a doctors office, etc.)?

The other presentation of note was from Assumption College, a small liberal arts school in Worcester. That school aimed to increase student retention in its Honors College by giving students iPads. These devices were in addition to anything the student might have brought to school. The devices were required for use for specific interview projects but otherwise could be used as the students wished. Detailed surveys kept track of how students used the devices (for reading, writing, entertainment, etc.) and it seems there is a correlation of ownership with retention. I found this an interesting experiment since it seemed like "tossing some tech" into a program to see what would happen. I'm curious to see what could happen with more thoughtful course/project development.

The good news seems to be that educators and instructional designers have some time to ponder the questions of course design and mobile "friendliness" since at least the schools in attendance are in the early stages of defining their mobile strategies.

Ian McBride from Middlebury also has a review of the event.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

NEARC Educators Day 2011: A Day of Questions

This year marked the fourth GIS Educators Day in the northeast. As usual, it was held the Sunday before the New England Arc Users (NEARC) Group Conference. This year we met at the Saratoga Springs, NY Hilton.

Kicking Off

I heard we had 55 educators registered, with a nice mix of K-12, community college and university representatives. I even saw a 4-H student and a 4-H leader in their now well-known blue polo shirts. I had the privilege of giving the opening remarks where I basically pondered a series of questions but provided no answers (pdf of my presentation slides)! I asked:
  • How might the flipped classroom be applied to geography/GIS eduction?
  • How can we teach geographic intuition so GPS-following 17-year olds don't crash their cars into trees?
  • What are the options for students not spending money on geography/GIS textbooks?
  • How should organizations like the federal government, National Geographic and Oracle best spend their dollars on geography/GIS education?
  • How might we apply gamification to geography/GIS education?
I had a great time and was pleased with the energy in the room. I was also pleased to note that about half of the attendees confirmed they had "Spoken Up for Geography." I was very disappointed that only about five knew of Mission Explore, perhaps the best Geography Awareness Week activity set ever produced (Kudos to the folks behind it: The Workshop from the UK).

Morning Sessions

Panel on "Indispensable Geospatial Professionals"
The opening panel I attended had a great title: "Educating Indispensable Geospatial Professionals for the 21st Century." The three person panel focused on different methods to create those professionals. Lara Bryant, Keene State College, described her course which serves both GIS majors and education majors. Eaach student's final project is a GIS lesson for a real client (a teacher/school). 

Tora Johnson, University of Maine at Machias explained how the number of traditional geography/GIS/cartography majors is way down at her school, but participation in the school's certificate and associate programs is way up. The certificate/associate programs are serving "incumbent" populations, people who already have jobs (typically older people). The most important asset her students take into the GIS working world is problem solving. She actually teaches it in her class (and did a paper on it at the AAG). When her students find themselves in a typical Maine GIS job, that is, as the only tech person in a rural setting, they are tapped to, and apparently can, solve all kinds of problems. 

Tao Tang, Buffalo State College summarized some of his students final projects which typically relate to their current employment and are essentially service learning. 

The list of things that can make a student "indispensable" in the workforce that I jotted down during the discussion include:
  • problem solving skills
  • service learning/internships
  • a portfolio (for example a GIS lesson produced as a pre-service teacher)
  • networking 
  • basic GIS skills
  • ability to teach oneself
I felt that these ideas matched up well to those I identified on a recent article/podcast on the topic. The one skill that employers in Maine need that is not yet met by GIS students, per Tora Johnson: data management, data processing and data stewardship. I suspect the demand for such skills reaches far beyond Maine.

John Van Hoesen, Green Mountain College
I moderated a session that began with many questions from John Van Hoesen, Green Mountain College. He asked, "Does FOSS GIS Offer More Opportunities for Developing Strong Foundational GIS Skills?" He also pondered if the goals of a course or the acquisition of specific skills was driving the teaching and learning of GIS. He was quick to point out that there was no need to toss out ArcInfo, but wanted to explore how teaching was different with FOSS. He based his exploration on The GIS 20: Essential Skills book and highlighted the differences in practicing those skills in ArcGIS and open source packages.

I'd summarize his findings as indicating the skills were "easier" and "quicker" to learn and do in ArcGIS. In one case, creating a general reference map, it took him four times as long to make it in QGIS (with which he is very familiar) than in ArcInfo. In part, I'd suggest, based on his discussion, that's because ArcInfo "does more" for you. For example, it assumes the next dataset you add is in the same projection as the last one. QGIS does not. Which leads to the question: Does convenience imply higher quality maps? Higher quality learning? Like me, he didn't have specific answers, but I think these are important questions. (If you missed Kurt Menke's article in Directions Magazine on teaching with open source, it also sheds light on teaching with open source GIS.)

In the same session, Wendy Stout, NASA Virginia Space Grant told the success story of teaching teachers about GIS via hands-on workshops. Educator awareness about GIS was definitely raised and several new courses and programs are launching across the state. The real question (and it's too soon to know the answer) is how these efforts will fare in five or ten years.

In the final session before lunch, Sharron Macklin, Williams College argued that introducing "spatial literacy" in a gentle fashion to her liberal arts college faculty is far more likely to succeed that trying to teach scary "GIS." She's developed a matrix of short to longer lesson visions for bringing that spatial literacy to the different disciplines. The sessions range from five minutes (locate areas of interest on a Web map) to hours (more in depth work with desktop GIS doing analysis).  

Afternoon Sessions

Glenn Hazelton, Northeastern University, offered a panel titled "Teaching GIS: It's More than Buttonology." The panelists (Jeffrey Dunn, U Conn Northeastern University, me, Keith Ratner, Salem State) struggled to find a path that acknowledged that some "recipe following" was required in the early GIS courses, while independent thinking and problem solving was also required. We came to no conclusion, but there was a strong sentiment that educators want students leaving GIS classes or graduating with GIS degrees, to know more than how to push buttons.
I organized a panel that aimed to show how three educators teach. Instead of talking about how we teach, the vision was to actually do a mini-lesson for the attendees. I kicked off with one of my favorite lessons on user interface design. After a very quick rundown of the principles, the attendees helped critique three different Web maps in the context of those principles. I was very pleased how well they did with only a three-minute introduction! (pdf of my slides) Alex Chaucer, Skidmore College, focused on broad ideas of finding ways to teach. Among his suggestions: taking students outside, using virtual tours or photographs to explore the landscape while indoors, and changing the mode (group work, lecture, hands-on, etc.) Jon Caris, Smith College walked the attendees through what could be a very stressful, but rewarding lesson. First groups use pen, paper, maps, acetates and a list of requirements to determine where to look for ancient artifacts. Then after some sweating and pain, they work through the analysis using mostly pre-built models in ArcGIS. Smith does not have "GIS courses" but instead tries to inject GIS into its existing courses. Caris might visit a class for a two hours and this is the type of activity he might do. I found it very appealing because it used different modes (groups, hands on, computer), was very interactive, was very focused on the problem solving process, and was less focused on pushing buttons. 

The last session of the day for me included discussion of the Cooperative Extension program and how educators in Connecticut are using Web Maps for student engagement. The name Shane Brandt, NH Extension, is a well-known in New England and I was pleased to hear from him about his mandate to serve the people of the state with geotechnology. Who takes advantage of that offer? Policemen, teachers, farmers, businessmen... To serve them (and sometimes to serve those from other states, like Massachusetts) he (NH page) and his colleagues in Rhode Island and Connecticut (national page) teach courses and share all kinds of materials. The Connecticut team addressed Google Earth, Fusion Tables and ArcGIS Online along with more focused apps (such as Historypin) that help engage students.  

Other Sessions

There were a whole set of sessions I could not attend since three full tracks were running simultaneously. A room was set aside for hands-on workshops throughout the day. Esri's Charlie Fitzpatrick was busy in there introducing educational opportunities with browser-based solutions like ArcGIS Online and presentation tools like ArcGIS Explorer. There were also workshops on ArcGIS Desktop and LiDAR aimed at educators. There was a well-plugged presentation on Aligning Your Geospatial Curriculum with the GTCM presented by the GeoTech Center.


I certainly left the event with more questions than answers, but I think that reflects the state of GIS and geography education. All of the educators in attendance, and their administrators back home, need to ponder how to best serve their students, their local community and their local businesses/employers. It's a good time to ask a lot of questions.

Special thanks to Lyn Malone, World View and Alex Chaucer, Skidmore College for making this outstanding event come together.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Geography Awareness Week has a Twin

International Education Week is set for Monday through Saturday, Nov. 14-19. If you check the calendar you will find that week is also Geography Awareness Week (GAW). I've been following and participating in GAW since its inception in 1987. This is the first I've heard of International Education Week, now in its 11th year. What is it?
A joint initiative of the U.S. departments of State and Education, the week promotes programs that not only prepare Americans for a global environment, but also attract future leaders from abroad to study, learn and exchange experiences in the United States.
I guess that might be read as a week to help propagandize the rest of the world with U.S.-centric thinking, but I prefer to focus on the "prepare [people] for a global environment" part since that to me includes quite a bit of spatial literacy, the ability to tease out spatial patterns and connections at local and global scales.

Western Michigan University has a week of activities including a Geography Bowl (which I hope is also connected to Geography Awareness Week).

I wonder why neither Education or State seem to get behind GAW or geographic education in its broader form? I can't speak to the Dept. of Education, but I know that State uses a lot of geography and geographers. All those former secretaries of state signed the recent Association of American Geographers' resolution!

GAW, if you are not aware, is now sponsored by The Geo-Literacy Coalition formed by National Geographic, USGIF, CH2M-HILL and Esri. That's not quite the same as the two federal government departments, now is it?

- Western Michigan University News

Monday, November 7, 2011

The End of the Interactive White Board?

Heather Wolpert-Gawron writing at TweenTeacher describes interactive white boards (also known as smart boards, after the first successful ones, Smart Boards, from Smart Technologies) as the laserdiscs of education. In short, she feels that are a fad that's soon to fade specifically because they promote the "sage on the stage" (aka lecture) form of teaching and learning. My understanding is she's thinking of them in the context of teaching traditional middle school subjects - English, math, science, etc. She argues they are used simply as computer projectors and rarely take advantage of the interactivity.

But what about smart board use in GIS education? I remember the first time I saw one used in GIS. It was in the early 1990s and I was doing a presentation with an Esri partner for a big state GIS education contract. We did our demonstrations on an interactive white board and illustrated how students might "come up to the board" and "push" the buttons. Back then, I recall being very impressed with the technology.

Now, however, as I look back on my experiences as a student learning GIS in training courses, I remember the "big screen" (a projection screen) as a crutch. I'd use it to "follow along" when I could not figure out what to type or which buttons to push. I wonder how many instructors are brave enough to do such training without sharing their screens with the class via projection or smart board? I wonder how many try to use their teaching skills to help students (the whole class, a small group, or an individual) to think through the logic of the task to encourage the students to find their own way to a solution? My experience as a student "following along" is like following a recipe ("cookbook"), and is sometimes referred to as "bottonology." Learning GIS without that crutch is far more akin to real problem solving involving both the logic of GIS analysis and the logic of the software interface.

I suspect it's easy for the smart board to become a crutch. When I taught online I used a similar type of crutch: Jing. It allowed me to make little videos of my screen, with my own narration, and share them with students. I'd use them to walk a student through a tricky workflow or interface. In reality, I stole some problem solving opportunities from them. On the other hand, I used that same technology, Jing, to have my students create their own presentations that were shared with and discussed by the whole class. (A favorite limitation of the free version of Jing: a five minute limit for the videos!)

Wolpert-Gawron goes further than just saying the smart board is doomed. She points to its replacement: the smartphone/tablet. That solution puts a device in each student's hands, helping to democratize and hopefully engage everyone. And, perhaps there'd be no projection system to follow... and that in turn might mean more "doing" and less "watching" or "following along."

The greatest value of the smart board or the smartphone/tablet (or any technology really) is to create engaging lessons. I'd suggest such lesson often have no or almost no "teacher at the board or in front of PowerPoint." That's the hard work of teaching GIS or any subject. It's far more than simply displaying cookbook GIS training segments on a smart board or putting the textbook and its multiple choice quizzes onto an iPad.

I'm not sure we need to toss out smart boards or necessarily embrace smartphones or tablets. Instead, we need to rethink their use beyond the "sage on the stage." Said another way, it's not the technology that's good or bad, it's how we use it to teach.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Fired for NOT Lecturing?

Steven Maranville had been teaching at Utah Valley University. He taught business. He didn't lecture. He asked questions and insisted on group work. He was not offered tenure. He left the school. He is suing.
In Maranville’s case, students did not see the value of his approach, the court records suggest. "Some students were quite vocal in their demands that he change his teaching style, which style had already been observed and approved by his peer faculty and administrative superiors,” according to the lawsuit. Students did not want to work in teams and did not want Maranville to ask questions. “They wanted him to lecture.” They also complained, according to the suit, that he did not know how to teach because he is blind.
I'm disappointed but not surprised. This cohort of students did not want to be engaged, or prepare for real world work by tackling group projects, or interact with those differently abled. I wonder why they came to college? Clearly they did not want to interact with the faculty or each other. Perhaps they would have preferred an on-line program (though of course that might also involve questions and interactions).

The non-offer of tenure, it's alleged, had some basis in poor student reviews of the instructor. And, those poor reviews seem to have to do with teaching style. Is it possible an interactive and question-based form (an interpretation of the Socratic method) could get an instructor effectively fired?

I wonder if this situation is simply the intersection of so many changes in teaching and learning and timing. Is it possible these students are new to the Socratic method and group work? Is it possible they were trained in grade school and high school and other college courses to be passive learners? Is it possible they see a college degree as a card to a better job, but do not see the value in the skills learned?

I fear this will not be the last of these types of lawsuits as teacher, learners and institutions re-invent education.

Inside Higher Ed 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Credential for Online Teaching?

Experts suggest an online teaching credential will appear in the next ten years, reinforcing the idea that there are specific skills required for online instruction. Others maintain that a good teacher is good in any environment and no credential is required. I can see both sides. I was however dismayed to find many of the curricula I've reviewed for on-line education or instructional design programs boil down to technology training, not pedagogical enrichment.

My sense is that the best teaching is done by instructors who make the content their own. These instructors don't depend on a single textbook or another instructor's syllabus or activities or technologies. Instead, they gather the tools and techniques that work for them in their environment. I honestly believe that teaching online opens as many doors with its plethora of tech tools as it closes by separating teacher and students.

When I joined the Penn State faculty to teach in the on-line MGIS program I was invited to join a two week course for new on--line instructors. It was the first online course I'd ever taken and highlighted the key differences between in-classroom and online learning. I found it very helpful. With that introduction, I was off to write my first class! Thankfully, I was paired with two different instructional designers during my time in that program. Those individuals (hat tip to Beth and Khurso) helped me find the appropriate technology to do what I wanted to do in my courses. In retrospect, one of the most valuable things I learned from them was that I had to "teach the way I teach," just online. Their job might in part be described as "enabling me to do so."

Based on my experience, the best way to learn to teach online is to teach online. But I'd add, the first few courses should be taught with a "partner in crime" (PIC) who can help you navigate the challenges. (That sounds like what a first year classroom teacher should have, too, doesn't it?) That PIC might be a more experienced instructor, an instructional designer or someone else who understands what's possible online. I really don't want to see great teachers wasting time on another credential when they could and should be teaching.

- Denver Post