Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Online and Distance Learning: What We Should be Thinking About in Education

The wave of the future?  I'm not sure.  What is certain is the democratization of knowledge in the google era.  That's a good thing.  Below is a link to one look at a possible future.

Link to NYTimes Article on Massively Open Online Courses

I don't have a well-formed opinion of online courses today, and in a broader perspective of the role of technology in the math classroom.  It's okay for us to not know answers today as a profession, while at the same time it is NOT okay for us to ignore technological advances.

I would say that math classes today mostly look like they did decades ago.  Some of the differences are fashion, color textbooks, and demography.   That could have been said about brick-and-mortor bookstores just when Amazon, et al were getting started.

Another thing that is for sure is an increasingly rapid change in technology and its usefulness across society and in particular education.  Perhaps ironically for the scientific community the transition away from lecture will not be due to the data collected by education researchers.  Rather the changes might be the fact that we have to confront competing against the "best lecturer in the world in my profession."  Imagine the most dynamic, thoughtful, and articulate person in your field.  Then that person gets recorded by Hollywood caliber videographers giving the same lectures as you would.  At that point, then what does your class offer that can't be obtained for free or more conveniently?

I'm not sounding an alarm bell here or trying to stir up fear.  The point is that knowledge transfer is one generation of technological advance (or perhaps less) away from becoming trivial.  Add in improved interaction via video chat, and a few other features and then the experience of the classroom can be essentially recreated.

Coaching team sports, for example, doesn't seem threatened in the same way by technological advances.  This perhaps hints at what educators at the college level need to embrace.  What is it that we provide as an experience that cannot be learned from books or a set of online videos/classes?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

IBL Self Check

Measuring yourself against your personal best is one of the best ways to evaluate yourself.  This is done in sports in particular, where the goal is to improve on one's best time or score.  IBL instructors can do this too!

How can we get better as instructors?  Focusing on the skills and practice of teaching is the way forward.  This list of self-assessment questions are meant as a guide or start. It is not definitive.  Ultimately your ability to improve rests upon being able to see what your students are doing and what you are doing that affects students.   If you can identify areas where you can improve, even if you are successful in that area, it gives you clear direction where you can exert your energy as a teacher.

Classroom Context and Teacher Moves:
  1. Are student presenting/sharing ideas in class regularly? Can this be done more often in a way that benefits students?
  2. What percent of time is devote to student-centered activities?
  3. Are students deeply engaged in the tasks you have given them?  Can your problems/tasks be improved?
  4. How many times per class period are you being supportive by giving encouragement, positive feedback, coaching, adjusting tasks to meet the needs of your students?
  5. Can you give more positive feedback?
  6. Can you improve the problems/tasks given to students?  Are the problems too procedural in nature? Are there good concept questions?  Are the problems too difficult?
Nature of student interaction:
  1. How satisfied are you of students' solutions?
  2. Do your students view you or a book as the mathematical authority? That is, do they frequently require an external (to them) authority to validate answers?
  3. Are students able to understand and explain other students' solutions or strategies?
  4. Are students mimmicking a book or model (i.e. "google search solution/proof") or are they generating solutions/proofs "from the ground up"?
  5. Are a wide range of students regularly participating in class through presentations, questions, discussions?
  6. Are there quiet students in class who do no participate very much?  If yes, then how many?
  7. Are there any dominant personalities?  Are such personalities hindering the learning of some of the others sometimes?
  8. What is the stress/anxiety level of your class on a scale from 1 to 10?
Keep it simple.  Here are some basic tools in a class that you have direct control over:
  • Problems and tasks
  • Questions/directions you say
  • Basic strategies employed: groups, pairs, think-pair-share, class discussions
An example of how you can improve is if you identify that only 4 students answer your questions in class.  Then instead of asking "What is the answer to...?"  You can say, "Work on this, and I'll call on a person/group at random..."  Then you can get more students involved.

If every term you make a few meaningful improvements, then in a few years you can be brilliant!