For me, this year is the year of all that is Mobile. I capitalize the word Mobile to show I am talking about more than a device or even a city in Alabama, but a not so subtle way that we live and learn. The campus where I work is set on a beautiful acreage of land overlooking the Pacific ocean that is bathed in a wireless signal that is managed in the cloud. Students and teachers can be anywhere in this environment doing the work of the day without the restraints of an office or cubicle or classroom. It turns out that there are actually still some wires in a wireless network, but for the user, it is all mobile. There certainly are challenges in living in such a connected world, but today I choose to look at how to take advantage of this type of mobile rich environment - to get the keys to the car.
The first step is to recognize that mobile devices and Mobility in general, carry with them an inherent social nature. Left unguided, we use these devices for entertainment and communication. The mobile enabled user is also most likely going mobile in some public setting where there are many potential distractions or … points of inspiration. I am sitting in the open floor of the college library with it's quiet buzz of somewhat hushed conversations, sighs (it is a college a few weeks before finals) and the clatter of laptop keys. To be mobile is to be untethered but also less isolated.
So the keys to the car involve the strategy that is planned for technology integration. It used to be a fair question about whether we should bother with allowing mobile computing in the learning environment but now the learning environment is not a place with four walls. The place where students learn is essentially everywhere and (this is a good thing) that is where we all are in some degree of mobile connectivity. To be strategic in a learning environment, means to find ways to say yes to the use of mobile phones, tablets and laptops that are as connected to students as the clothes they wear. There is currently a wide array of apps and software that will allow for instant audience response to class questions (polleverywhere.com, letsgeddit.com), platforms for multiple layers of discussion (Twitter, Glassboard) and augmented reality apps (Aurasma, Junaio) that add a virtual layer to the physical world that students encounter.
As we find ways to include the technology of the day in education, we are in a position to help students (and ourselves) learn to be good digital citizens. Having the keys to the car involves some responsibility and mobile technology integration is no different. We need to prepare students to learn and think critically in this digitally charged world they will live and work in once they graduate. So knowing when to turn off the car or the technology is as important as knowing how to start and use these tools. Going Mobile is sort of redundant in that we have already gone there. Now the question is what do we do now? When we traveled in the UK a couple of years ago, we got off the plane from in Glasgow, Scotland and went right to the rental car window where they checked us in. After a few minutes of the standard paperwork shuffle, they handed us the keys to the car … with no direction or advice. I stopped, turned around and exclaimed … "don't you need to advise us in some way? We have never driven in the UK!" The clerk looked at us and smiled and said, "Stay left." We figured it out and so will we in education. Technologists and luddites together figuring out how to drive in this new learning ecology that, while needing to be tempered or questioned at times, will radically change how we live and learn.
This year I have been diving in the deep waters of technology and learning theory to make some sense of how previously opposing forces, technology and the classroom, can now work together. I have often quoted Clay Shirky from his book, "Here Comes Everybody" where he basically says that technology innovation and application doesn't get exciting until it is very common place. Once technology tools have lost their shine and have kicked around our backpacks and brief cases, all forms of uses begin to appear. There really is an app for just about everything under the sun and still new ones continue to appear. Some reflect that this is not necessarily all good, but for better or worse, we are a highly connected society with expectations that our internet connection is fast, wireless and everywhere. This brings us to the classroom - that place that really has held onto keeping the distractions of the world out so that students could concentrate. But now the great wide ocean of information comes crashing into K-12 and higher ed classrooms leaving teachers looking for the lifeboat. Some schools employ wonderful academic technology staffs that help educators sort through the never ending stream of latest and greatest learning tools and apps. Many others have no support and must fend for themselves. For those, their success of tech integration depends on their personal understanding and use of social media tools and audio visual applications. It can certainly be a full time job just to add this to an already full load of lesson planning.
The Office of Academic Technology (OAT) is being developed at my institution (Westmont College) to partner with faculty to find productive and strategic ways to leverage technologies that students are already using (Twitter, mobile phones and iPads, Google Hangouts) to support course pedagogy. I am using action research to document the experience of students and faculty in tech pilot projects that explore the various ways that technology can enhance the learning experience. The classroom used to be where students came to find and use computers and projectors, but now so much more, it is the students who are bringing the technology to the classroom. Yes, it can be disruptive for the social media tools of the day to enter the classroom, but when combined with a teaching strategy, these personal technologies carry with them the possibility to connect student's formal and informal learning environments. Homework that used to be an activity students did mostly isolated from their teachers or peers can now be a much more connected activity allowing for more of a learner's community to be a part of their knowledge building. Reports and essays still need to be written and produced but now can include video narrative, audio files, descriptive photographs and links to other sources of information. It is not a new concept that our learning occurs in all parts of our lives, not just the classroom but it is now more than ever enabled by technologies we encounter every day. Augmented reality apps and tools like Aurasma and Junaio that can add layers of information and depth of experience to field trips and every day tasks are just beginning to move beyond a curiosity. Academic technology is also an area of growth and discovery as we begin to have a greater understanding of not just the tech tools of the day, but of how educators need to strategize how to help their students become effective and productive digital citizens. Partnering with innovative teachers and even cautious educators is the work of todays IT department. In higher education, the charge to integrate technology is fueled by a desire to address the escalating cost of a college education along with a need to better prepare graduates to be the critical thinkers and dreamers that our society will value more and more as what was once cutting edge technology is now the new norm. The new and the shiny academic or social tools are not necessarily the best application for learning in and of themselves, but we can no longer afford to set aside and turn off all of the devices. And, I would say that it is not our task to keep away the distractions, but rather to educate tomorrow's leaders how to work within the internet connected, computer directed world in which they live. Academic technology is not your parents' homework and will never again involve only a solitary learner, but is new enough to us all that it will require a greater working together and community. It is interesting that the technology so many thought would divide us and depersonalize our interactions is also a force that brings us together.
This week I am looking into some of the different presentation options that are available for educators to get your ideas on the big screen without wires or adapters. Of course there are always SOME wires and set up for even the simplest use, but for these three tools, it is pretty basic. Apple TV, Keynote Remote and PowerPoint Remote are the tools we will take for a quick test drive. Almost like a choreographed dance, a teacher in front of the classroom relies on timing to present their material in an effective way. Too often the tech tools we recommend and support don't get fully tested and the "dance" or presentation can suffer. As good as these virtually wireless solutions are, it is always a great idea to test these out in front of a friendly audience like your family dog or cat. At least they won't be lost in a Facebook loop if you get off track from a tech glitch. And really what family pet doesn't like a good Keynote presentation?
First we take on the little black box from Apple - the Apple TV. At $99 this is a powerful tool not only connect your laptop, iPad or iPhone to a projector or TV but also enables a wide array of video providers and allows for sending your music "through the air" to play in your classroom where ever you are in the room. A couple of connection basics are that you will need an HDMI cable to connect the unit to your TV or projector. If you do not have an HDMI connection, there is a cool VGA adapter box you can get to bring your analog system into the digital world. The Apple TV connects via your wireless network so you just need to make sure that whatever device you are using is on the same wireless network as your little Apple TV unit. I admit that using the little Apple remote to choose navigate around the menus and enter letters and numbers for passwords and setting is a bit like an old school video game, but the good news is that generally this is a one time set up. Once you are all configured, your device should show a connection choice icon to allow you to switch to present on the display you want. This is a good way to connect in the "cloud" and project whatever is on your device. The resolution does leave you with few choices, so if you are just looking to go untethered for a keynote or powerpoint, the next two tools may be a better fit for what you are doing.
Keynote presenter is a free app in the app store (sorry non Mac users - not sure if there is an Android or other version of this) that allows you to control your keynote presentation, along with notes, from the wireless comfort of your personal device. When setting up this App, you will get a connection code that you enter into the Preferences - Remote section of Keynote and you are set to go. This app works great for iPhones and iPads to allow you to move around the room to assist and explain while providing a display appropriate resolution as your laptop is actually connected to the display. The alternative to this app is the Powerpoint version, PowerPoint Remote. This app functions is pretty much the same way as the Keynote app, but requires you to download a server app to your laptop that allows you to connect. This is just one more step and is only a one time thing you must do. When you have connected once, your devices will remember these preferences making the next connection that much easier. Both of these web tools will allow you to get away from the static lectern stance and into the "trenches" with your class. The benefits of this approach enable a more personal connection with your students and maybe a little more of a view into what are they really using their laptops for. When you are walking around the class to engage them in your learning dance, they will be certainly less inclined to let their devices stray into the distracting social media haze. Dancing in the cloud may take awhile to get used to, but has the potential to engage your class in the dance with you instead of it being more one sided. If your dancing skills are anything like mine, the more people on the dance floor the better and … the more we involve and connect students to the context of the information we are presenting, the more opportunities for them to make it their own.
It may be possible, but not too likely that you know someone who does not own or use a mobile phone. Even my 80 year old mom and my 86 year old mother in law have cell phones they use when they travel. Initially these devices were all about allowing us to become untethered from the land line or phone booth and communicate as we moved around our world. More often now, it is the world that is moving closer to us as we stand still.
The last few years have seen an explosion of mobile technology use. The first billion owners of these devices were users with the financial means to purchase a mobile device in countries that provide broad support and infrastructures. The second billion users, it has been suggested, will be the less affluent of our global community. For these countries and communities, the adoption of wireless internet and omnipresent mobile devices has the potential to be revolutionary (Jon Evans 2012).
Beginning in July of 2012, I began research into the impacts of mobile media technologies on education and learning (Going Mobile: The Impact of Mobile Media Technologies on Academic Collaboration Beyond the Walls of the Classroom). As this project progresses, Google Hangouts continues to be one key communication tool allowing me to be physically in one place while connecting to multiple peers in a variety of places. One discussion group last year included one person in Colorado, one person in New York and one person in the Arab Emirates Abu Dhabi. The connection quality does of course depend on the speed and bandwidth of the internet connection at each location, but for the most part has a very good experience.
The Google Hangout connection requires just a few steps to set up and is found in the You+ section of any Gmail or Google Mail account. Different than the Skype experience that is mainly a one to one connection for the free account, Google Hangouts is a free web app that allows up to ten synchronous connections (up to 15 if you connect with a .edu email). Screen sharing, document sharing, real time chat and many other features make this a simple and robust communication tool that helps expand our definition of the places we are grounded in. During a Google Hangout session, we experience a multiplicity of place as we are able to share and relate to the experiences of others who are physically somewhere else.
Aside from the technical aspects of this type of connection, there is the personal communication habits we are used to that have to be adjusted to in this environment. A class discussion that was held in Hangouts this semester was comprised of a professor and three students in a classroom along with up to six participants connecting from their homes or their local Starbucks. The first few weeks were spent in getting used to this mix of local and virtual connections. They experimented with different seating arrangements for the local students to make them less of the focus and more of a virtual circle of students for their discussions. While most do use their laptop to connect, I have used my iPhone and iPad at different times depending on where I was to connect to this group. The benefits of seeing the body language of their fellow students and the allowance for more to participate than might have otherwise been excluded due to time limitations of traveling to the classroom, was found to outweigh any initial awkwardness of relating to a group of talking heads.
Cell phone use in business and in our personal lives has allowed us a greater freedom in where and when we connect with our world of information and contacts. It has also afforded us the opportunity to have a greater connection to our global community from our homes. In education and higher education in particular, we have been cautious to embrace very much mobile technology in part because of the fear of the distractions that social media can bring to a classroom. As we grow to understand how to be strategic and leverage these mobile devices for academic technology uses we will, I believe, find a greater ability to enable students to connect their daily lives outside the classroom, with their experiences inside the classroom and … their classroom learning experience, with their daily lives. Mobile communication tools like Google Hangouts help educators guide students to strategically connect to a world of information and experiences. That does not replace physically going or embracing other places but hopefully can be a spark that lights a fire of interest in expanding a student's horizons. Going Mobile when you are standing still is a dynamic that brings a world of resources to us. What we do with this information has always been up to us. Whether on the move or standing still, the barriers to connection between each other and the world of information are smaller than ever before. A Google Hangout may not be the same as sitting together with friends and sharing a pizza (at least not until smell is added to this tool :) but it is one sweet way to bring together individuals regardless of time or space to explore the possibilities of this increasingly digital world.
I have been doing research on how mobile devices can connect our formal and informal leaning environments (Going Mobile). I am interested in web tools and apps that enable students and teachers to find strategic ways to say "yes" to technology that help connect students' lives to their learning. A relatively new web tool is Geddit (letsgeddit.com) that puts a different spin on classroom analytics. A teacher creates a class in this tool, invites the students who join from any web enabled device and a new channel for academic collaboration is open. Students respond to a teacher's post about the a topic by selecting their level of understanding on a graph. The app name appears to be a play on the possible question posed by a teacher … "do you get it?". This web tool is free to use and set up and allows users to connect on any internet connected device or browser. Set up for teachers is with a simple web interface that will generate a link to send to students or allows them to be added within the dashboard. The simplicity of this tool is it's niche. It is less a challenge to more elaborate ARS (Audience Response) systems like iClicker and Turning Point and more just a basic way to gauge students' familiarity with a topic before moving on. The response that Geddit creates groups students by level of understanding allowing the user to quickly see who needs more help. This web tool also appears to be an effective way for educators to be strategic about how their students integrate personal mobile media technologies in the learning environment. The Geddit web site has a good intro video as well as documentation about the creation and design of this tool and the staff has been very responsive to my questions about this product. Tools like this that do one thing well as opposed to software/hardware bundles that try to do too many things can be an effective real time help for aiding classroom discussion. In a time when assessment and analytics often create a mountain of data and paperwork, Geddit offers a simple, straightforward solution to bring insight into the academic and cognitive progress of students and classes. Check it out at letsgeddit.com
The list of colleges, universities and private entities that offer MOOCs continues to grow, partly driven by the economics of scale. Large universities like Yale, UCLA, Stanford, UC Berkeley and UC Irvine have been joined by smaller institutions in putting a small percentage of their academic content online. A current list of MOOCs offered worldwide shows hundreds of these learning opportunities that are free and accessible to anyone with an internet connection. A listing of MOOC providers includes a section for K-12 MOOCs and a current Twitter feed showing educator and student thoughts on this topic. Top MOOC providers/platforms Coursera, Udacity and Edx offer different versions of support for organizations planning to offer a massive open online course. One key difference between these is how they define the term "open". This blog post give a good overview of what each company offers and compares their platforms.
With the backdrop of rising tuition costs, MOOCs have become a practical response to those questioning the economics of a college education. In his article for The Chronicle for Higher Education, MOOCs and Economic Reality, author and professor Clay Shirkey adds some perspective on the financial impact of MOOCs. "This isn't because massive online classes are the future tout court, or because scale is the only way to bring cost and value into acceptable balance--- neither is true---but because they are the first practical alternative to college classes as a way of learning complex things cheaply. As with other inventions that produced an inferior product at a much lower price, from the printing press to the steam-driven loom to Wikipedia, what happens now is largely in the hands of the people experimenting with these new tools, rather than defending themselves from them." The Wikipedia explanation of the financial and institutional cost of preparing and implementing a massive online course highlights the effort and cost involved in taking on this new educational model.
The emergence of MOOC offerings by a growing number of schools is a convergence of the economics of our day and our computer directed, internet connected lives. These online courses are more likely a first step in the transforming of our educational model, rather than a replacement for traditional face to face learning. As we learn more about this new method of course delivery, we can embrace the opportunity for dialogue. To grasp the potential impact on student learning it is important to understand the factors driving MOOCs and what the proposed outcomes are. The article, "Who Is Driving the Online Locomotive" takes a look at some of these factors. MOOCs may not be a completely new way for students to learn, nor a direct challenge to traditional learning models, but they do signify a change in how current and future students (and their parents) view access to education. Our response to this change will guide our institutions to MOOCs and beyond.
In higher education these days, everyone wants to talk about the MOOCs. In a very short amount of time this acronym has charged into our academic reality, disrupting our ideas about learning and teaching. With the cost of a college education escalating, this new spin on the online course proposes to increase learners' access to college material. More focused on being a forum for collaboration and learning than a path to a degree, MOOCs greatest benefit might be in opening the academic doors to more students in a wider range of geographic and financial situations. While it really is a small percent of colleges and universities that are offering these courses, you can't miss the buzz that they have created.
Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs have their beginnings in the work of George Siemens and Stephen Downes who created an online course using their theories of connectiviism. This early online course allowed an open ended amount of students to enroll for free from anywhere they had an internet connection. The unique feature that inspired what we now call MOOCs was the open format that allowed students to contribute to the knowledge building.
MOOCs are still being refined and have had a very wide mix of success and failure. On the one hand they offer exposure to academic course material to a wide audience but have yet to really prove that they can compete with regard to learning outcomes. A good primer to the MOOC experience is "What is a Massive Open Online Course Anyway" by Juliana Marques and Robert McGuire. They define a MOOC as an educational resource resembling a class, that has assessment mechanisms and an endpoint, that is all online, that is free to use without admissions criteria and that involves hundreds of students or more.
For many institutions, the MOOC raises more questions than answers. Can this actually be a way to address the sky rocketing cost of a college education? Will this prove to be an effective way to bring a leveling to the academic "playing field" by including students who, because of financial or geographical hindrances were unable to attend a college or university? Will this movement attempt to replace face to face, synchronous learning? An interesting look at how we view this upstart educational path is, "Why We Fear MOOCs" by Mary Manjikian. She proposes that a benefit of the MOOC is that it is confronting us to have more discussion about how we teach and learn and … what type of knowledge and skill set we want our students to acquire as a result of their academic career. The MOOC may not be a replacement for traditional modes of teaching and learning but it brings with it an opportunity for us to broaden the discussions about how we engage and prepare 21st century learners to be the critical thinkers and creative individuals that our society and the workplace value.
This past year I engaged in and completed a Masters degree in Learning Technologies from Pepperdine University. Of the many books I read and articles that I poured over, "The Book of Learning and Forgetting by Frank Smith was one of the most revolutionary reads. In this book, Frank Smith highlights the differences between two theories of learning One, based on a model that focuses on knowledge acquisition being assessable and one that focuses on the shared learning experience. The Official theory of learning has memorization, hard work and testing, as it's main framework. The Classic theory of learning has discovery, collaboration and knowledge sharing as its basis. In Smith's view, we learn from the company we keep and that all learning is social activity. For learning to happen effortlessly, the student must feel that he or she belongs to a club or group where the learning is taking place. This societal factor in learning is supported and enhanced by the use of Web 2.0 tools.
The Official theory of learning that is employed by most school systems, he writes, places too much emphasis on the solitary learning of the individual (Smith 1998). As you read this, you no doubt recognize the difference between these two paths of learning. We all have grown up cramming for tests only to forget much of the information we "memorized" a short time later. Contrast this learning with the more every day experience of working together with others to solve a problem. Things we learn in this way are seem to stick with us and connect to other knowledge that we have gathered. A middle school student attending an LA area school that focused on the Classic theory of learning commented, "At my other school, it was like we were being taught with water that just rolled off of us, but here it's like you are teaching with glue. Everything we learn sticks with us." The ripples from this drop in the education pond can already be seen as more and more technology becomes part of our daily lives. It is not so much that the technology tools are impactful, it is in how we use them to help students connect what they learn to their daily lives and their daily lives to what they learn. The Book of Learning and Forgetting is a must read for any educator hoping to encourage the dreamer in 21st century students.
One of the articles in my literature review from my Masters program research this year uses the term "Multiplicity of Place" to describe the effect that mobile devices are beginning to have on our communication and collaboration. It is like the term "Vu Ja De" describing a place we have never been before. Prior to the global adoption of mobile technology, you had to really work to be in two places at one time. Online was very much separated from Offline in that it took a commitment of time to dial into AOL and wait for you dial up modem to connect. I do in some ways miss that noise the modem made when connecting. It was a sign that something cool was about to begin. But now we connect with such ease. Many apps and websites have settings to "keep me always connected". This vu ja de feeling that we are offline and online at the same time is subtly changing the way we think, learn and relate. How many times have you experienced this scenario in the past week? You are talking to someone in person and your cell phone rings. You politely tell whoever you were just talking with, to give you just a second to answer the call. You answer the call and while you are dealing with whatever the caller needs you for, your phone buzzes alerting you to a text message. In that moment, your mine is in more than one place. This can be distracting and some would say an enabling of ADD like symptoms. Much of what changes in our lives when new technology is introduced is subtle and goes unnoticed. The changes that really change how we live happen gradually. We all notice when the iPhone 5 is released and when you get one of these devices, you clearly notice but the affect on how we relate is usually under the radar for most of us. When our devices connect to the internet faster, they become increasingly ubiquitous and we notice them less and less as we rely on these "tools" more and more. As Clay Shirky states in his book, "Here Comes Everybody". "Communications tools don't get socially interesting until they get technologically boring. The invention of a tool doesn't create change. It has to have been around long enough that most of society is using it. It's when a technology becomes normal, then ubiquitous, and finally so pervasive as to be invisible, that the really profound changes happen, and for young people today, our new social tools have passed normal and are heading to ubiquitous, and invisible is coming." (Shirky pg. 105). We are at that point in our society where our mobility in communication can be both disruptive and productive at the same time. The effect of multiplicity of place is that we are becoming a society of multi taskers and jugglers of data and relationships. I think that this concept of being in multiple places at one time can be harnessed to propel innovation rather than allow it to be a distraction and annoyance. If we can be in more than one place at at time, then maybe time travel is not that far off.