New Year – Good-Bye!

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I wanted to spend one year blogging about experiences and lessons learned while working with faculty and their technology needs. My year is up. While I did not meet my “goals” for the number of blog postings, I have enough to give me something to review in the future. That was my aim: to document what was happening at a particular point in time and later reflect how far we (faculty) have come. It is interesting to look back and reread some of the posts. It sort of feels like yesterday; and then again, not really. Change took place.

One thing I will say is that the kinds of questions and problems that come my way are not the same as the ones from a year ago. Today the questions are about pedagogy instead of “how do I use…?” That has been an amazing transformation. Makes me happy.

Lastly, I am grateful for the comments. Thank you all for that.

I will keep FacultyLearn “public” for another month or so. Then FacultyLearn will become private. I do not plan to continue blogging this year, though I may resurrect it at some later time.

Meaningful Criticism

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For the past year I have read and heard more criticisms, and felt more resistance, from students and instructors about technology in higher ed than the past 3 years. But not in a bad way. The sort of criticism I am witnessing is based on user experience. It is one thing to criticize what we don’t know because of fear or instinct or, for some, the fact we are natural complainers. Grumbling over MOOCs, for example, from those who never enrolled in a MOOC. I never have – and never will – understand that sort of uninformed criticism.

Yet, it seems to me that after testing, piloting, and trying new approaches faculty (and students) are reflective about the fact that technology doesn’t work in all cases. We are better at articulating what it is we like, and what we don’t. When our faculty and students say they want human contact and face-to-face classes, they are talking from experience. More than once I have been told that to physically touch, see, and hear the arts, humans, and the world, is important.

I just want to point out that this is a HUGE step forward for our little campus.

Even with the criticism (meaningful or otherwise) I continue to find magic. I feel inspired when I hear and read from instructors how technology connects them to their students, their research, and each other. How it expands our capabilities. How we create in ways impossible before. How technology made is easier to “teach” because big questions could be grappled over in face-to-face classes while students could study and prepare online outside of class.

Faculty don’t often recognize that technology has become so pervasive. And sometimes they do! This is what is so different about this year. The ability to sort out when technology is a necessary part of the teaching and learning equation. (Note: In the future, such a statement will be silly. Teaching and learning will use technology and we won’t think of it as some distinctive “new” or “different” thing.)

Of course, there are still many frustrations using technology in teaching. And with more users experimenting, we have more failures. Lost course content, social media privacy permissions set incorrectly, and all kinds of other fits and starts.

But in the end we are learning this is a “normal” part of our digital lives. Faculty are developing the methods, practice and resources needed to learn, relearn and adjust their pedagogy to meet learning objectives.

It’s been a good year, criticism and all.

Explain Yourself

6 Nov

This semester I am back in the classroom. I learn a great deal from students about their relationships with faculty. It helps me better support faculty when it comes to technology.

Last week during one of our conversations we got off on a tangent about the LMS. Students didn’t understand why faculty don’t use the online gradebook. I explained the various reasons I often hear from faculty. But the one “truth” is that our LMS does not have a stand-alone gradebook. Thus, faculty have to “create” assignments which are then “read” by the gradebook. It is a two-step process. It is not terribly intuitive and it takes some time. Too much time for some faculty.

The response from the students? “Why don’t they just tell us that?”

Good question, indeed. Of course students have no idea what it takes to make our LMS gradebook operate. I knew that. What I didn’t know is that faculty aren’t telling students.

My own experience in the classroom tells me over and over again that talking to your students and telling them your level of expertise does not label you a luddite (well, it COULD but you have to push through that!) but it does make you human. Faculty don’t have to dwell on the fact they can’t make the LMS work in front of their students. I know it can be embarrassing to confess our limitations. However, we live in a world that requires collaborative efforts on many fronts. That means not everyone has the same strengths, so we partner with others. Admitting your technology limitations (which can simply be “I don’t know the LMS yet and the gradebook is complicated. But I promise to have regular updates on your grade available to you”) can alert students that we all have strengths and weaknesses. Not to mention having this conversation would address students (mis)perceptions about a faculty member’s technological abilities and teaching philosophies that turn up on those pesky course evals.

The learning that goes on in the classroom should be practiced “together”…neither student nor faculty member is expert in everything. Find out together where the strengths and weaknesses are by talking about it. And if you are a faculty member that doesn’t use the gradebook on pure principle that students should be able to calculate their own grades, then tell them that. (But know that many of your students will not understand you. They have been using electronic gradebooks all through K12. It does not compute in their brains that you don’t use one.)

I used the LMS gradebook in this story but other academic technologies could appply. The point is ‘fess up and explain yourself. And, of course, seek out your local instructional technologist.

Try, try, try

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My last blog post suggested that faculty sometimes ask the wrong question; that is, they focus on a technology rather than pedagogy.

And an earlier blog post suggested a “bell curve” trend regarding the number of faculty now wanting assistance with technology.

There is a new trend: faculty do not search out answers before seeking assistance. It is my (bad) assumption they do, so I don’t always offer up the most basic solution. In many cases, a Google search will do.

This is a learning moment for me: While I risk faculty feeling like I am talking down to them by asking basic questions or offering simple solutions (i.e., Did you Google or look to Wikipedia? Did you go to the product website and look at the tutorial videos?), I am finding that I spend more time than necessary answering questions about various technologies because all that is desired is simple, basic information about a product.

I do not expect faculty to be experts in all things technology. They are already experts in their fields. However, all of us should TRY to answer our own questions.

This isn’t a gripe. Faculty, too, need to have basic digital literacies. How can they expect it of their students if they are not modeling it? And what are these basic literacies all faculty should have? What are the best approaches to getting faculty in the habit of attempting to answer their own questions?

Lest anyone (such as faculty reading this post) misinterpret what I am saying, let me be clear that I still want to help those that struggle and feel lost in this digital world. But I also want to find a way to encourage a wee bit of self-reliance among faculty. Not because I don’t have time to help. Rather, I am concerned that faculty are not modeling good digital behaviors to their students. We use spell-check and expect the same of our students. We KNOW when students don’t use this simple tool. We are also aware of the pros and cons of using such a tool because of our own expertise with it. Why not model Google, for example, in the same way?

My message is “try”…and try again. Practice. You will get good at it. Just like you got good at email.

Wrong Question

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“I want to use (insert tool) in my class. Can you show me how?”

Not my favorite question. Not because I don’t enjoy showing faculty how to use technology for their teaching. I do.

But it is the wrong question.

I usually follow by asking “What is it you want your students to do? What’s the assignment? What’s the pedagogical reason for using this tool? What’s the learning goal you are trying to achieve?”

Sometimes the response is silence.

Don’t get me wrong…I love fusing technology in my pedagogy. And I can think of lots of ways to enhance, even improve, many assignments with technology. Yet it is important the faculty focus on learning goals and objectives, not technology. When questions come to me that focus on technology without thinking through the learning goals, we have a problem. Faculty must focus on learning goals or the activity/assignment will likely be a failure.

And it is hard, I know. We get wrapped up in the details of classroom management: dues dates, lecture notes, seemingly uninterested students, grading…and, of course, technology.

Life in the classroom is far more enjoyable when focusing on the learning goals. Everything else falls into place. It takes real effort to focus on learning goals and doesn’t always come easy.

We want our students to ask the right questions and think critically about what they are saying. As teachers, we, too, need to remember to ask good questions.

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