Using Technology to Foster Authentic Learning

In the Communications for Professionals course, a professional, collaborative online environment is created to challenge students to  tap into their existing  knowledge and experiences, and incorporate newly learned skills when presenting themselves in a professional venue. It is intended to build self-confidence and professionalism into their communications.
This activity is designed to encourage participatory learning. The course instructor is charged with channeling the students interests and aptitudes into a more professional focus. By molding online and collaborative abilities and interests into academic pursuits, an authentic learning environment is created. While focusing on discipline-specific learning goals, the instructor scaffolds the learners through a series of activities that increase in complexity, thus shepherding the development of higher-order thinking skills.

Scaffolding activities: A series of role-play introductions to specific work environments, where each work environment is introduced by a first -and report from current employees and business owners (via video).

Collaborative social environment: A course blog was created specifically for the course, while also being open to the academic community. By placing the students in a collaborative social environment like a blog and scaffolding the activities, the students can role-play authentic learning activities.

It’s Easier to Learn What You Already Know: Using Facebook in Class Discussions

Social media poses an interesting challenge to online educators.  As educators, it is imperative that we understand the potential uses and implications of including social media in our pedagogy, but oftentimes, our own students know more than we do about what’s out there, what’s working, how, and why. Our task, then, has become two-fold: Harness the positive and collaborative aspects of social media in online learning while still effectively teaching and preparing our students for life outside the virtual classroom.

In Dr. John Beckham’s section of the Diversity in the Workplace course, we are piloting the use of Facebook in student discussions. Using their course email, students are asked to “friend” other students taking the course. Providing a live stream in the course via Facebook (below) allows students to communicate with each other while also seamlessly participating in class discussions. Their discussion posts are also sent to their Facebook wall, which effectively acts as an electronic portfolio of their discussion posts.

A Screenshot of the Facebook Live Stream Box

Integrating the Facebook live stream with course discussion offers several unexpected advantages. Because of its popularity, most students are familiar with the Facebook interface. Students can readily and easily harness the powerful interactivity of the Facebook platform and effortlessly create a virtual e-portfolio of their own discussion participation throughout the course. Another benefit is the mobile accessibility of Facebook accounts, which make it easy for students to access their own profile, and thus, the activity taking place in the course discussions, via their cell phones and/or other mobile devices.

Click Less, Discuss More!

One simple rule to follow when working on the web is that if we can increase the ease of access to something, we can automatically increase its use. Building on this idea, we can make the learning environment even easier for our students to participate in and succeed.

In the course Communications, Technology, and Convergence, we embed a webpage directly within a discussion page. Originally, the design of the activity required the students to open another browser window or tab, download a pdf reader, and toggle between pages to participate. All of this took away time and interfered with the students’ ability to seamlessly progress through the activity.

By embedding the page within a discussion webpage, students can refer to the paper instantly without leaving the activity. This allows the students to focus wholly on the content of the article, and how it relates to the questions proposed in their discussion section. And, with one click, they can print and/or view the paper in full screen mode.

Ready, Set, Go! Next Gen Learning Goes Mobile

T-Mobile HTC G2 (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)In response to the growing use of mobile technology, CDL has several projects underway that focus on increasing mobile accessibility to our online courses. Discovering Math Across Generations, a course in which math partners work together on learning activities, utilizes available mobile math applications and podcasts to increase convenience and flexibility of course content delivery. In addition, revised activities will incorporate use of popular mobile devices, such as iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad and Androids.

Our new course, American Popular Music of the 20th Century (first offered this fall), will feature integrated mobile technology applications that allow students to access course content and participate in online discussions while on the go. The ability to instantly upload audio, video and images to the course will expand students’ learning environment and allow them to connect with their classmates from almost anywhere!

e-Reader (AP Media)Other projects include exploring the potential benefits of e-readers, such as the Amazon Kindle, in literature studies. In particular, students could take advantage of pre-1923 titles, thousands of which are available in digital format from Project Gutenberg, Open Library and others.

But we understand mobile technology’s practical and logistical value as well, and consistently strive to make our adult students’ lives a little more manageable. Currently, those enrolled in GPS and the New Geography are able to access their course schedule via smart phone, to keep up with assignments and due dates.

The Mobile Learning Task Force, a collaborative committee with members from the CDL faculty, Curriculum & Instructional Group and the Office of Academic Technology. The committee will participate in a panel discussion at the 2011 Empire State All-College Conference (March 23-25) and the CDL Conference (April 29-30). Stay tuned!

CDL Creates Mobile Learning Task Force

SmartphonesIn 2010, the Center for Distance Learning (CDL) Mobile Learning Task Force was formed as a collaborative effort between the Curriculum and Design Team, CDL faculty and the Office of Academic Technologies. The purpose of this group is to explore how mobile technology can aid learning opportunities and provide CDL students with additional technology tools to create meaningful learning experiences.

Mobile technologies are a familiar part of our daily lives. The technology allows us to talk to other people at any time from wherever we may be. We can take photographs and share them with our friends, family or the wider world with the touch of a button. Furthermore, smartphones permit easy internet and multimedia access and are quickly moving toward widespread videoconferencing. Many see the smartphone replacing the computer for many online tasks. Opportunities for social networking abound. The implications for online education are many.

The members of the Mobile Learning Task Force are as follows: from Curriculum and Instruction Design: Audeliz Matias (Chair), Lisa Snyder and David Wolf; Faculty representatives: Sheila Aird, Bidhan Chandra, Betty Lawrence, Nicola Martinez; Academic Technologies Representative: Jeremy Stone; CDL Systems Project Manager Brian Levin also serves as a member, and Hope Adams serves as liaison to the Graduate Studies’ Mobile Learning Committee.

Virtual Field Trips Offer Inspiration and Expertise

 

National Geographic- Jim Richardson; Ansel Adams; Box Set Gallery - Chris Enos

One popular art course, The Photographic Vision, employs virtual field trips to enhance the student experience. Primarily an overview of photography, its history and the many genres it encompasses, this course also teaches hands-on techniques. The field trips are designed to expose students to a wealth of historical, educational and artistic knowledge directly related to each module’s topic. A visit to the American Museum of Photography provides a history of the discipline, as well as unique exhibitions and research resources. The websites of individual photographers and galleries offer high-quality, contextualized images and lessons in presentation. These in turn assist students as they complete their own photographic assignments for group critiques.

Throughout the course, students take full advantage of experts working in diverse photographic specialities such as journalism, portraiture and documentation.  At the National Geographic Magazine site, students find professional advice on specific topics such as “Taking Photos in the Rain” or “Shooting with Available Light” in addition to the vast archive of the magazine’s renown images.

During an exploration of nature photography, students visit the website of master Ansel Adams. In a culminating module on fine art photography, inspirational examples include the modern color work of Chris Enos as well as the dreamy, black and white images of Dianne Duenzl, both of Box Set Gallery.

Virtual field trips offer countless pedagogical benefits, the results of which are often evident in lively online discussions grounded in shared experience.

Social Bookmarking Meets Academic Research

A moderated “Think Tank” is created for students to collaborate and support one another as they plan, research and formulate a research project while taking the Nursing Research course at CDL.  Students work collaboratively in Diigo to create a shared online reference repository, and  their final research projects are “showcased” in a student gallery and peer-reviewed. It is hoped that students will feel some ownership for their peer’s projects when they have collaborated in the “think tank” and worked together in the shared reference assignment.

Technology Made Easy: Teaching Tools for Instructors

For instructors to maintain a presence and foster a mentoring relationship in their courses, they don’t want to spend the majority of their time trying to learn a new technology. Because the online environment is in a constant state of flux, it might seem like there is always something new to learn about – and that requires an investment of time, which is in short supply for most of us these days.  Our new courses at CDL include Instructor Notes, informational materials written specifically for instructors to allow ease with the new teaching tools and resources. Providing this instructional material to instructors may seem redundant at first, but it allows our teachers to spend more time focusing on their students, and less time troubleshooting new technology.

The use of the Mapblog in courses offers a unique example. Because the Mapblog tool has been upgraded over time, it now includes that many more features  and can therefore be daunting to new, or even seasoned instructors who are not consistently working with the tool.  To address this issue, now included with the upgrade to the new mapblogs, CDL has released interactive instructional material for instructors that quickly review the pedagogical principles of the mapblog, offers tips for grading, and provides instructions for getting started.

The Power of Words: Using Wordle in Online Discussions

The Global Workplace: Its Impact on Employers, Workers, and Their Organizations

The Global Workplace course examines recent global trends, especially the transformative effects of information technology and the increasing importance of service work on the economy.

Students participate in several class discussions to establish an informed position on some of the issues of the global workplace. Using posts from every discussion, the course instructor creates an image using Wordle, a free wordcloud generator, and posts the link to the wordcloud for students to see each week.

Before the end of each learning module, students are able to visualize those thoughts, ideas, concepts and themes generated through their discussion participation. The word collages therefore become evocative of the most pressing and controversial issues in the global economy today.

Get Glogging! Go on, Poster Yourself!

Students in the Play, Fantasy and Reality course use Glogster to keep a 15-week reflective journal.  In week 15, the final week of the course, they re-read their Glog Journal and create a second Glog to describe their “play” throughout their life.  Glogging is a new way to create posters on the web – it’s fun, and free for students.  

Glogging allows the expression of opinions, feelings and ideas in a way that isn’t possible with the use of mere words. Students can add background images and themes, graphical representations, photos, titles, audio, links and videos.  After a Glog is created, students publish and share theirs with classmates.