Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Engineering Education & Teacher Preparation

The entire Intro to Teaching with Technology Tools course has been a great experience allowing teachers and administrators to help understand better use of technology in the classroom. In my opinion all teachers should have preparation in 21st century skills. Working in an institution of higher education, I would argue that this preparation is needed for professors as well. Outside of the School of Education, the value that is placed on "teaching" or encouraging student learning is lacking. In fact, when articulating my graduate school plans to my engineering department director, the response was "Once you know the content the teaching is insignificant? Why does that degree interest you?" It is not a surprise that this came from one of the most disliked professors in the school, but the comment speaks numbers to the perception of education preparation.

Through my experiences in this class it is clear that the needs of this generation of students are immense to be successful in the 21st century. As these academic and training needs increase, it requires educators to rethink learning environments, how education is being delivered, how it can be made personalized, and the resources that are available to encourage self learners.

Here is a very interesting talk I came across from the University Of Virginia:


One of the concerns that he expresses is the fear that the US will not be able to compete with nations like India and China because the engineering curriculum is preparing students for jobs 20 and 30 years ago as opposed to developing the skills students need in an industry that changes yearly. This is the type of vision and guidance that has to be established by top administrators within these schools to ensure that students are getting the skills they need to compete in industry. Mechanisms have be established within each engineering department to make sure there is a balance in fundamental and industrial concepts.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Technology to Support Learning

This week's reading by Shrum and Levin helped me to outline some of the technology tools that are available to encourage student learning. More specifically to my interest area, they outline some tools/skills that would be extremely helpful out of the classroom. These tools provide 21st century skills by extending access to content and information that usually happens in-person. But before discussing the tools, the authors discuss the skill of authenticating internet sources. Not all of the information out there is valid. Similar to teaching students the validity of primary documentation and credible hard copy sources, conversations also need to reflect the online sources which they are using more than anything. It is now the job of educators to stress the characteristics of authentic online sites and the tools they can rely on to grasp (and test) classroom concepts.

The first tool that authors mention that have out of class application are interactive websites. The schools for engineering traditionally involve lecture style learning and lack of hands on application until late in the undergraduate experience. These sites provide the opportunity for students to experience the concepts they are learning without the needs for labs or pricey technology. One example I have used in my experience is PhET interactive simulations developed by the University of Colorado at Boulder:

Students in my classes have used the simulations offered by PhET to test designs, validate solved programs, or just test out concepts before the upcoming class. Regardless of the intended use, this additional representation has been useful in establishing deeper understanding and the application of course materials.

The next technology tool provides an additional option to tutors and office hours for concept understanding. Online Mentors and experts are accessible on a variety of sites to provide support to concepts that are not clearly articulated on the sites. For example, the Rutgers library provides access to librarians for research support via instant messenger:

Rutgers has developed this function to cater to the research needs of students and even provides email access to manage inquiries when a live person is not available. Tools like this support students by providing access to experts/educators that are skilled at articulating topics using technology.

I constantly seek the tools that gain the interest of students in the engineering. The problem I see often is students having difficulty visualizing what the jobs and careers look like for the people in industry. Shrum and Levin discuss Virtual Site Tours, and I think this would be an excellent addition to engineering disciplines to introduce students to what engineering positions and structures look like. These tours often take place in person, but some offer online tours to reach a broader audience. Even if companies are unable to participate, using videos of capstone and seniors design projects will come in handy to give these concepts real life application.

All these tools would be great if students entered the university experienced with technology tools. But the reality is that a digital divide exist even on the collegiate level. The students that have an easier time are those that had access to technology tools and exposure to engineering prior to being in independent environments. Many of the students I work with currently come from low income, first generation backgrounds in hopes of being trailblazers in their families by pursuing the engineering field. Without the appropriate technology access and training they will not have the 21st century skills necessary to be successful after graduation. This is where student support structures for engineering programs will be most effective in the 21st century…

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Privacy, Permissions, Protection?!?

I thought some great points were brought up in the Will Richardson interview regarding the digital world our students live in. Blocking students from the tools they use daily to learn and stay connected is not beneficial to their learning experiences. I would not go as far as to call it abuse, but we can place more emphasis on the tools students are comfortable with and the ways they can be used to make them passionate learners. Using tools like wikis, blogs, Facebook, animoto, etc. definitely give teachers an edge to personalize students learning experiences. We cannot effectively teach every student all the material they need, but we can give them the fundamental tools and provide them with the digital resources to take control of their learning.

The fear when working with technology is the privacy, permissions, and protection of the student. Students must be protected from unwanted attention, and many of the readings this week offer advice to deter that attention by the using control settings, passwords, and viewing options. Then there is this idea of "transparency" and providing access to as much academic content as possible to allow students to learn from these digital environments. If you ask me, as long as these technology tools don't ask students to disclose any personal information I do not see the harm in giving them free reign to explore academic content.

Is it more beneficial for teachers and students communicate on social networks (Twitter and Facebook)? Or is it best to provide online resources that remove the educator? I see a huge benefit in having access to educators through social networks. Teachers can serve as guidance and conversation moderators to ensure students are getting the right content, discussing their difficulties, and can then use that information to make the classroom experience more valuable. There are also great tools that can come in handy when appropriate. For example, below was an interview posted in 2009 regarding the top learning applications on Facebook.

Two programs that are of particular interest to STEM majors are Math Formulas and HeyMath. These tools make technology, math, and innovation much easier to communicate via social networks. Using these mathematical communication tools discussions, projects, and support can be offered online to make out of class learning easier. This also allows students to articulate their mathematical thoughts just as simply as their English or history concepts. Is wonder if something similar exists for blogs?!?


Friday, February 18, 2011

Thoughts on Blogging

First let me apologize for the late post.  I was under the impression that the only assignment we had was the post on Thinkfinity.  A few words of wisdom, "pay attention to the deadlines tab".  

This is my first time blogging but I think it's a very interesting tool. It really gives you to opportunity to express yourself within an open forum in a very simple way. Students today are on Facebook and Twitter more than ever, attempting to have their ideas reach a larger network and this is another tool to accomplish just that. It makes this tool appealing and provides an avenue for articulating ideas to peers.

My difficulty with blogging comes from the type of interactions plan to have with students. While blogging seems great and user friendly for expressing ideas, I didn't see how this can be expanded to all out of class environments for students in college (my research area). The article by Nardi et. al (2004) helped me think of some ideas. Authors describe 5 main motivations for blogging (1) documenting one's life; (2) providing commentary and opinions; (3) expressing deeply felt emotions; (4) articulating ideas through writing; and (5) forming and maintaining community forums." (pg. 43) One of the learning environments that struck me when reading this was apprenticeship roles (ie. Internships and cooperative learning positions). One of the difficulties experienced by the departments in the School of Engineering is tracking the relevance of these positions and understanding what the students are learning. How great would it be to require students to keep a weekly blog on their learning experiences and the relationships between industry and their engineering discipline?

I also thought about the use of blogs to encourage students who are in retention/intervention programs to keep weekly blogs that help guide their required sessions with academic counselors. By consistently articulating their experiences, difficulties, and successes I believe support services can do a better job of providing the help that students require. Does this sound a little farfetched? Can we place that much responsibility on a counselor to manage? I can't answer that questions, but I have a strong feeling that by asking students to track their experiences they can begin to self access their needs as well.

Last point, I promise. The incorporation of formulas and equation tool options would also help make blogs more applicable to the STEM fields. If this is an outlet for articulating ideas, maybe the same can be done in the STEM fields by encourage innovation on some type of blog application.