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?!?