Higher Education in the United States continues to be based on 11th century monastic models where there are keepers of knowledge whose role is to pass down information through lectures. This model, however, does not meet the needs of 21st century learners who live in a knowledge-based society with a reliance on distributed teamwork and innovation. Education must meet the challenges of the current times and capitalize on the opportunities provided by innovative new technologies—doing “uncommon thinking for the common good” (Oblinger, 2009). According to the New Media Consortium (2005), 21st century literacy is defined as the following.
…the set of abilities and skills where aural, visual, and digital literacy overlap. These include the ability to understand the power of images and sounds, to recognize and use that power, to manipulate and transform digital media, to distribute them pervasively, and to easily adapt them to new forms” (p. 2).
In my courses, I emphasize the importance of new media skills in addition to the critical ability to write in academic English. However, in order to do this, I must be able to represent concepts with technology, use technology to aid a learner in overcoming misconceptions, show how technology can be used to build on students’ prior knowledge, and recognize how technology can be used with sound pedagogical and andragogical practices. For this reason, I subscribe to the TPACK model where technological knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, and content knowledge intersect (see Conceptual Framework below). However, I surround this model with a background of believing in the importance of a participatory culture where I learn with my students. I also believe in the importance of caring for my students and creating a climate of mutual respect. Finally, I acknowledge that learning occurs within a sociocultural context, where learning is influenced by the society and culture we live in.
Below, my beliefs about teaching are aligned with general ideas that can be employed in all classes along with specific activities and technologies utilized in my IT 546 course.IT 546 Flowchart
In IT 546: Instructional Technology and Education, students create a website or an online course as the culmination of their project where they have investigated an issue, problem, or topic of interest that is personally and authentically relevant to them. Over the course of the quarter, students use technology to investigate and present the results of their project, thereby attaining technology skills and understanding more about new literacies in an embedded context.
Using a Google Doc, students collaboratively brainstorm a problem, issue, or topic of interest, as seen in the image below.
Ideas begin to take shape as various people add, change, or modify the original entries and groups naturally emerge. At this point, I utilize the scheduling tool in Canvas, our learning management system, to set up online conferences, using Conferences or Google Hangouts, in order to help students focus their projects and develop reasonable goals for completing this investigation in the 10-week quarter.
Next, students are asked to develop survey items in order to gather data to inform their project. As this is a graduate class, it is expected that students have at least some knowledge of how to construct survey items; however, feedback is provided on all surveys before they are administered. Students create their surveys using a tool of their choice. Suggested tools are Google Forms or Survey Monkey. (See Google Form example.)
While students are gathering data, they continue to research their topic and organize their references using a citation management tool. In 2013, the students used Zotero as their research tool. Zotero allows students to collect PDFs, images, audio, video files, and snapshots of webpages into a personal library. It also downloads relevant metadata, if available, which allows students to generate citations quickly. Of course, no citation tool is perfect and the citations are only as good as the data in them. Thus, students must know how to format citations correctly. Each student is responsible for gathering a variety of materials related to their topic and then share their library, complete with files, with their partner(s). This way, students share the labor of generating a literature review. See example.
Regardless of the tool used for the survey, students must be able to export their results to a spreadsheet. The benefit of Google Forms is that the results populate directly into a Google Spreadsheet. Students may choose to analyze their results in Google Spreadsheets or export the results to Excel, Numbers, or another program used for analysis, such as SPSS. At this point, we spend a day in class working with spreadsheets. While many students do not have knowledge of how to utilize spreadsheets, almost always there is an expert in the class. Thus, in class students often contribute to the hands-on demonstration of how to use spreadsheets. While it is not expected that students will become adept at using spreadsheets, they do gain a general understanding of how to format and modify spreadsheets as well as how to perform simple calculations, such as averages, and to create charts. All students are required to create charts of their data that will then be part of an infographic.
While infographics may be a current trend, visual literacy is critical. As Stokes (2002) indicates, “Proficiency with words and numbers is insufficient and must be supplemented with additional basic skills as new and emerging technologies permeate activities of daily living (p. 11). Moreover, traditional, formal education has focused largely on orderly, verbal-mathematical tasks. This focus places those who prefer to process visually at a disadvantage. By teaching students to be able to interpret and understand information presented visually as well as to produce messages visually allows students to develop the skills required for understanding and contributing to graphical interfaces frequently used today, such as websites and apps. While this is not a class in design nor do I portend to be an expert in visual literacy, we do read about new literacies and discuss information that visuals portray. Students then return to their projects, and using PowerPoint templates for Infographics and image editing tools, like Pixlr, or online tools, such as easel.ly or Canva, students create an infographic that conveys background about their project and displays the results from their surveys. See infographic example.
Ultimately, students construct a website or an online course to display the results of their investigation. While they could create a presentation using PowerPoint or other presentation software, creating a website allows them to gain additional technology skills. Also, students utilize web creation tools, such as Weebly, Google Sites, or Wix, that allow for multiple authors so that all members of the group have the opportunity to learn the skills. See example of a final portfolio.
Many of the technologies I use in blended courses are listed in the graphic above depicting my theoretical beliefs, however I will elaborate on a few of the strategies. While the IT 546 project comprises the majority of the assignments, students are also required to complete weekly readings and engage in a variety of other activities.
During the first class of the quarter, we utilize Socrative in order for me to take a general census of the students’ access to technology and comfort and skill level with technology. Given the results of this survey, I can scaffold my instruction accordingly, providing more support to those with less knowledge and challenging those who have a greater skill level.
The first assignment asks students to create a video to introduce themselves. Students are asked to present their introduction creatively and not simply give a timeline of their lives. Certainly, these restrictions increase the cognitive load of students because not only do they have to be creative, but also they have to learn the technology to create the movie. The assignment provides a variety of examples and also encourages students to follow a format of an “I am from” poem if they need inspiration for their introductory movie. The idea is that the movies will give students fuel to inquire about their colleagues’ lives and begin to establish a community of learners. In class, we take time to briefly explore Windows MovieMaker and Apple’s iMovie as well as discuss issues around copyright, Creative Commons, and Fair Use. However, students may utilize whatever program or app they have available to them for creating their videos. See example video. Once the videos are created, students compress them, upload them to a hosting service (YouTube or Vimeo), and provide a link on the discussion board in our course site. Students are then required to view their peers’ videos and comment on them through the discussion board.
Students also conduct weekly readings on topics like 21st Century Learning, Visual Literacy, Open Education, Technology and Social Justice, among others. The students then reflect on the readings in a variety of ways. At times, students connect through Conferences or Google Hangouts to discuss the readings in small groups. Other times, students participate in a traditional discussion board. On weeks where students have a heavy load between readings and their projects, a jigsaw approach might be used in order for students to hear about a topic, but not be required to expend as much time on their reading. Still other weeks, students are given autonomy as to how they would like to respond to readings, if we are meeting online. Students might be given an opportunity to participate in a traditional discussion board or represent their knowledge by creating an image.
Because the students come to class with such a diverse array of cultural capital, I also ask them to provide an artifact once throughout the quarter to be used for discussion. This artifact could be a traditional article, a TED talk, or a technology that might be beneficial to the other students in class. Again, the idea of this is to create a community of learners where everyone contributes to the learning environment, and as the instructor I learn alongside my students.
I strongly believe in providing timely feedback with explicit comments on what students did well and why and/or what students could improve on and how. My feedback may come in the form of track changes and comments in a word-processed document. Many times, however, I believe students need to hear my voice to understand how to improve on something. In those situations, I utilize Jing or Camtasia Relay and record a screencast that captures my voice and what I am doing on the computer screen. Other times, I will simply use the text feature SpeedGrader (an element of Canvas, our LMS) to provide feedback. Since switching to Canvas, I have found that students engage in conversation about their feedback because of the ease in doing so. I truly appreciate these conversations about their work. Finally, aside from welcoming student questions and comments when we meet in person, I frequently will log on to Skype or another video conferencing tool in order to answer questions or demonstrate how to complete a task. Students are frequently appreciative of the feedback provided, as in the following quoted emails from students:
We are all busy and therefore I seek to maximize my time as an instructor as well as my students’ time. One of my “rules” is that when dealing with a technology problem, I ask students not to spend more than 15 minutes solving it. At that point, I ask them to send me an email or post a question to our “Water Cooler” discussion page where another classmate may have the solution. While students who enjoy problem solving may not abide by this “rule,” at least it helps students know that I value their time and do not want them becoming frustrated when often there may be an easy solution. See student comments.
Teaching in a hybrid environment requires flexible teaching and attention to the tools utilized. Because teaching in a hybrid environment relies, in part, on technological inventions, which change rapidly, my pedagogy and andragogy must be adaptive. In these rapid changes, however, my teaching stays fresh and, perhaps at times, a bit “different.” After all, I did grow up with Apple’s marketing campaign to “think different” and through teaching in a hybrid environment, this is exactly what I strive to do.
Stokes, S. (2002). Visual literacy in teaching and learning: a literature perspective. Electronic Journal for the Integration of Technology in Education, 1(1), 10-19. Retrieved from http://ejite.isu.edu/Volume1No1/pdfs/stokes.pdf
The New Media Consortium (2005). A global imperative. The report of the 21st century literacy summit. Retrieved from http://www.nmc.org/pdf/Global_Imperative.pdf.
Oblinger, D. (2009). Making uncommon common. EDUCAUSE Review, 44 (1). Retrieved from http://www.educause.edu/ero/article/making-uncommon-common