Learning with Learning Theories

Learning theories.

flickr photo shared by Chris P Jobling under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

Did you just shudder or groan? Are you wracking your brain to try to figure out what exactly I’m talking about? Don’t worry. That’s okay. If you want a quick primer (or just an overwhelming visual), you can check out this concept map. In most cases, the number of learning theories discussed in education circles are much more select. Behaviourism, Cognitivism, Constructivism, maybe Connectivism. These are the bigger ones these days although I wouldn’t say they cover everything.

When reading about these theories, I have an immediate intellectual aversion to Behaviourism. I rebel against the idea that we should condition learners, that we should treat them like lab rats, giving them treats to get to the end of the maze, that we can program them with the appropriate knowledge (which implies that we – teachers, instructional designers, facilitators – have all required knowledge). And yet. The part of me that lived through that, that sees how effective it can be sometimes, still thinks that way sometimes. In some ways, gameification feels like an offshoot of this and that’s probably one reason I don’t necessarily buy into it. Too often it is viewed as a way to reward students for doing exactly what we want them to do (trust me, this is how badges, achievements, points, etc are used in video games – this is how Blizzard convinces gamers to keep paying $15+ a month). Sure, when I was a kid and was dealing with precisely this in the education system, I just assumed that was the right way to do it.

I am also not a fan of Cognitivism. I don’t think there is a transfer process that is, almost solely, one way. I don’t think knowledge is a discrete thing out there, I don’t really believe in immutable TRUTH, and I only believe in FACT in limited situations. So I am not waiting for someone to help me acquire the appropriate structures to memorize and absorb knowledge. Again, I have experienced this sort of education but I wasn’t exactly a fan of it. I wanted to think, to have ideas inspired by what I learned. I didn’t want to be programmed because I sometimes disagreed, I sometimes questioned and thought differently. I fully admit that this was, however, how I taught the first time I taught. I hadn’t had nearly enough discussions about the mechanics of teaching, the theories of teaching, at that point. I was doing things last minute, scrambling to hold down a full-time job, teach a course for the first time, and plan my wedding. Not conducive to good teaching, let me tell you.

Constructivism made sense to me immediately the first time a coworker started describing it (before I started taking education classes). It seemed obvious. I’ve since realized that this is because my background is one of bricollage. My previous discipline assumed that I would take knowledge and reform it, put it together, use it in different ways, and have an impact on that knowledge. My instructors learned from the students. Memorization was only a tiny part of things but how I used it, did something innovative with it, that was what mattered. For your consideration, I present the grading system description for 90-100% from the University of Regina Undergraduate Calendar:

An outstanding performance with very strong evidence of:

  • an insightful and comprehensive grasp of the subject matter;
  • a clear ability to make sound and original critical evaluation of
    the material given;
  • outstanding capacity for original creative and/or logical thought;
  • an excellent ability to organize, to analyze, to synthesize, to
    integrate ideas, and to express thoughts both in speech and in

Making “original critical evaluation” and “original creative and/or logical thought” and having an ability to “synthesize” and “integrate ideas” all, to me, mean that I must construct knowledge. It sounds rather Constructivist to me.

Encountering Social Constructivism makes sense to me also; the idea that there is an interactive element, that we do not make knowledge in a vacuum but that we work together, we think together. I am often inspired by coworkers, by friends, to think differently. I hear something and it sparks a thought, or through discussion we agree to a different way of thinking. There is a lot of learning that happens when people learn together, in different ways than if they learn separately.

Connectivism is something that makes sense but I am still struggling to incorporate it into my own way of thinking about teaching. I strongly agree with the need to make connections, with knowledge, with other people. Again, some of this echoes my previous experiences with learning which revolved around connecting apparently disparate disciplines and thoughts and creating something new. I blended literary theory, gender theory, historiography, sociology, to analyze something and create my own approach.

Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality. While there is a right answer now, it may be wrong tomorrow due to alterations in the information climate affecting the decision.
George Siemens

That quote makes so much sense. Our world is changing (or in some cases our knowledge of the world) and we need to acknowledge that and be responsive. A printed textbook could easily be obsolete by the time it is printed. I also very much believe that our ability to connect to others and make knowledge together, make knowledge public and allow it to change and shift, is important.

flickr photo shared by Cast a Line under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

So I’m some hybrid of Constructivism and Connectivism which is still changing and adapting (as it should if I am a Connectivist).

Attribution Is Lovely

give and take road sign by geralt on pixabay.com. CC0 Public Domain
give and take road sign by geralt on pixabay.com. CC0 Public Domain

I don’t know if you have ever encountered CogDog but he’s pretty awesome. He was a guest speaker in EC&I 831 which I took a couple years ago and he also does some wonderful things on the net. One of them is his attribution tool for Flickr. He recently wrote a post about attribution (especially about images) that resonated with me: In Which I Resign from a Brief Stint as an Attribution Cop.

Working as an Instructional Designer for online courses, I spend a fair bit of time hunting images and putting them in courses. I also am one of the more zealous in terms of adding attribution. I have encouraged my colleagues to add visible notes to courses which include purchased images to note that the images are purchased from a specific site unless otherwise identified. Creative Commons images always get as much attribution as I can offer, either through CogDog’s tool or through things like the attribution helper on Wikimedia Commons which creates the whole code or text for you based on original copyright/attribution information.

I’m sure you’re thinking that this is all fine and dandy for me. I get paid to do this. While not a requirement, it’s encouraged at my job and I have the technical expertise to make sure all the code is pretty when I do it. True. But none of that is why I do it.

Like CogDog, I am very interested in attribution because someone else made that work and they deserve the credit for it. When I go to an art gallery, I expect to be told the name of the work and the name of the artist. When I look at art sites online, same thing. When I reference academic work, I’m expected to give proper credit rather than plagiarizing. So why wouldn’t I apply the same principles to photos and images found online?

This comes partially from my connections to art. I started out in visual arts and I have since married an artist. I know that stuff is hard work. I know it involves blood, sweat, tears, and probably a lot of anxiety and caffeine.

I’ve given the speech to students about why not to plagiarize and it usually focuses on the fact that if they put in all the hard work to make something, they would like that to be recognized, correct? This isn’t just about ideas. Artists, photographers, creative types, they all should be treated to that same respect. There have been enough ways artists have been treated disrespectfully (see all offers of exposure instead of payment, free internships, low value on handcrafted items, and the “do what you love” slogan which is often used to tell artists why they should slog on for practically nothing solely because they are able to do what they love). So whether that artist is me, a random stranger around the world, a conference attendee, or a photographer who really does see their work as art, they deserve to be named when I use they work they have so kindly provided, free of charge, to anyone in the world to use.

So when you’re adding images to whatever you are doing, try to remember that someone made that and give them credit.

Thinking about privilege

Privilege has been on my mind more and more lately. For one thing, a new colleague has a background in that area and it comes up in conversations. For another, there have been a lot of issues in the past year that highlight the issue. Ferguson, Emma Watson’s speech inaugurating the UN He for She campaign, GamerGate. The most recent was a controversy/discussion begun by a blog comment about privilege and white male nerds (comment 171). I found it through the Chronicle and was able to read a few surrounding articles pretty quickly. I didn’t learn of it until it had already brought Scott Aaronson to a new place in his thinking.

I read Laurie Penny’s response and it resonated. It definitely resonated. I was a (white) nerdy female teen and I was bullied. Including by one (white) nerdy male teen. Because how else do you prove you are not at the bottom of the hierarchy? Join in the bullying of someone else who is obviously more disliked than you.

I watch what has happened with GamerGate and I can see some of the worst expression of what Aaronson himself expressed well and with genuine empathy and pain. Pete Warden expressed some of it also. Privilege is not just about a single axis of identity. I identify as a whole lot of things as most people do. I recognize that as a woman, I am going to be at a disadvantage in a lot of ways. As white, middle class, highly educated, nominally Christian, heterosexual, cis-gendered, I’m pretty darn privileged. So one single axis that isn’t privileged. Well, as a teen there was also nerdy/geeky. Not really a disadvantage anymore.

So why are there so many people (males especially) trying to defend themselves against the past or against the fact that they used to be bullied for who they were, used to be at a disadvantage? Because it is darn hard to see that one’s life has changed, especially when it used to be a big struggle, used to be a “really awful thing” to have someone discover who you really are. That doesn’t negate the fact that the situation has changed. Many of these people have positions of authority. No one is telling them their voices don’t count. Actually, they are busy telling women that their voices don’t count. Again, when you need to feel better and you experienced bullying, you may repeat the cycle by doing it to someone else. Except now it is even easier. Now you can tell the entire world someone’s address and recommend they send nasty things to that person. Like rape threats. Because it isn’t real if you type it. Of course not.

What scares me just as much is the fact that feminism has been facing a huge backlash lately. More and more blog posts and videos and articles come out with famous people being asked if they are feminists and some of them saying no for a variety of reasons. It bothers me that feminism is still a bad or scary term or has even become more so. I have met some of the people who contributed to that and most of them I found unpleasant.

To be clear, for me feminism is about recognizing inequality and wanting to rectify it, especially in cases where society has historically said that there isn’t a problem, there is no inequality, or that inequality is right. Sexism, racism, homophobia, all of those are fought by the kind of feminism that I believe in. Feminism is for men because the current treatment of women also means that our treatment of men is harmful. I want the freedom to be human first. I want the same freedom for the men in my life. I want to be told I have more in common with a human man than with a female dog. Because it is true. I want to fight the patriarchy, and also colonialism, orientalism, racism. I want to change the norm. I want to live in a world that sees different colours but doesn’t value one more than the others. For me, feminism is about everyone.

Yes, many of the problems vocalized by first world feminists feel like first world problems. Oh no, you get 30% less pay than your male colleagues. Well, at least you aren’t having your genitals mutilated. At least you can go to school.

Yes, all this is true. There are awful things happening and there are a lot of women who have it worse than I do. There are a lot of people in general who have it worse than I do. That is actually the point. Feminism is about the ability to recognize when someone is being treated badly because of their sex or gender (or race or sexual orientation, religion, appearance, ability, etc). If you can’t recognize that making a rape joke is inappropriate, that it is hurtful, then can you be sure you are recognizing ways you and those around you harm others? I am talking about the unintentional things, the ones that are systemic that you never notice. Those little things add up easily and lead to some pretty awful things like rape seeming like a great YouTube video or doxxing someone because they said something you don’t agree with being an acceptable reaction.

That includes a lot of the ways women buy into the patriarchal system too. I have caught myself using phrases that imply my husband’s behaviour is less than manly. Really? He is a man and thus any behaviour he exhibits is manly. But that isn’t what society tells us. I struggle to remember to compliment little girls on something other than being cute or pretty. In so many ways I have been socialized and I struggle with it.

If we want to change the world, we need to start with how we treat other people. We need to start with recognizing when we, by default, are considered normal or better and thinking about who that then excludes. So yes. If someone is trans-gendered, hispanic, poor, gay, that person is going to be struggling on those various identities. They have it harder than I do. I get that my life is easy. What that means, however, is that I need to recognize why and how my life is pretty darn easy. That means I need to recognize my privilege. I’m not bad or evil just because I lucked out and happene to be born into the life I have. And if I have it easy, then I should be recognizing that other people don’t. That my privilege is what makes it easy. That others struggle. I need to give them an opportunity to have a voice. I need to speak out when they can’t. I need to find ways to make this world more respectful and thoughtful.

And I happen to be in academia so I have the privilege to do that.

How do we teach?

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-ND ) flickr photo shared by funkandjazz

Today I read a post that argued students like lectures, even the so-called “digital natives.” I even read some of the comments. I found myself feeling uncomfortable with the post, wanting to discuss with the author and many of the commentors although I felt pretty clearly that I did not want to engage there. Instead, I needed some space to think through my issues and concerns.

I begin with the understanding that this is a blog post, not a research article. This is someone presenting an opinion, based on somewhat informal surveying of the author’s students. I don’t expect a lot of reference to research since the title was not about how students learn best. The post is about what students like.

That was actually one of my issues. The students, many of whom are supposedly in Education, reported disliking having teaching methods they were currently learning for use in their own practice turned against them in the classroom. Oh? You say that you dislike being forced to learn in these ways but you are also learning that these ways are effective and good to use with the students who you will be teaching? Hmm. That should be raising flags. Those students should be questioning things. They should be asking why they are expected to teach in ways they themselves dislike learning. Or they should be asking why they dislike learning that way so much if it is actually considered good practice. I’m currently a grad student in Education and I see a lack of connection between what students are learning and how they are learning. I constantly want to get meta. I want to ask about the curriculum design of a course on curriculum design. I want to talk about pedagogy and question it when someone says they are doing something for pedagogical reasons. I think we should practice what we preach, both in our teaching and our learning.

But leaving aside my own frustrations, relying on what students like to determine teaching methods can be rather dangerous. The real question is whether they are learning the things they need to learn. Do our students need to learn how to work in groups or collaborative environments? Do they need to be taught cooperative measures, do they need to know how to cope with committees? If they do, then leaving out group work because it is difficult doesn’t function. It is the instructor’s responsibility to find ways to facilitate the students learning the skills. Maybe class time needs to be devoted to group work if most students are commuter students. Maybe there needs to be facilitation of online, asynchronous discussion if that works better. Maybe there should be discussion of ways technology can ease the communication process.

Maybe we should take responsibility for learning rather than teaching.

I wholeheartedly agree that I expect to learn things from the instructor. I very much expect that. I don’t necessarily require them lecturing at me to achieve that, however. Sometimes it works great. Sometimes I should be applying the knowledge and asking questions. Sometimes I can start with having done the reading, being prepared, and sorting out my confusion with the expert present. Maybe they know more than I can find in the textbook or want to help me balance my approach or my knowledge. Or, as one moves from very intro level to more knowledge, maybe the instructor needs to pose questions and facilitate discussion, encourage peer instruction, add the benefit of their experience that goes beyond the basics.

We need to keep in mind that many of our students are accustomed to being told what to learn, told what to know, told how to know it. Some have experienced other ways of learning but many would very much like to sit and be told what matters.

I am experiencing learning in a totally new field and, more and more, I appreciate the fantastic instructors I have had. I appreciate those who encouraged me to think, to participate, to engage. I appreciate those who shared their knowledge and experience without expecting me to be passively absorbing. I even appreciate the group work I have done, as much as I have hated it. I learned some great skills along the way. Most of all, I learned.

The classroom is not about how you teach. It is about how you encourage your students to learn and what you contribute to that.

Another pet peeve, of course, was the assumption that clickers themselves have anything to do with other ways to teach, or that clickers cannot require thought. A clicker is just a tool. As is a cell phone. If used well, with significant thought, asking some questions that can be responded to with an answer of a, b, c, d can lead to learning. It isn’t learning in and of itself. Designing the questions asked or the activities that frame those questions are where thought leads to learning. Derek Bruff did a lot of work on clickers and I learned a lot about probing questions from his work, however those questions are applied. It takes work on the part of the instructor, though.

It all comes back to work and effort. For student and instructor. So if your lectures are working, if you are engaging your students in critical thinking, helping them learn, great. But if you are holding up student preference as a reason to keep doing it without questioning why… I’ll just find another course to take.

Back to learning as the leaves fall

My summer was a quiet one in terms of writing, mostly because it was absorbed with moving into a new house (and emptying the old one) and then catching up on all the work that had to be done before the start of the Fall semester. Oh yes, and applying for a new job (which I got!).

This fall has me tackling two big opportunities to learn. The first is in taking on a full Instructional Designer role halftime while retaining my Assistant Instructional Designer job halftime. I am my own assistant. Well, sort of. We are also hiring someone to fill the other half of my assistant position. Previously I worked on new courses only when my help was requested for specific tasks but I am now learning the rest of the process of developing and designing an online course. I have had my first development meeting and it was the perfect one to start with as the instructor is enthusiastic, very focused on active learning, and happy to try new things. I’m excited about the course although the material is outside my area of expertise.

Regardless, I will be learning a large amount as I figure out the best way to negotiate through this process. Luckily all the instructors I am working with have previously taught online and some of them have extensive experience developing online courses. I will be able to learn a lot from them even as I provide my own suggestions, hopefully allowing them to learn from me as well.

The other side of my learning is actually a little more daunting. I am taking Introduction to Education Research (ED 800). It is the first face-to-face course in my MEd and the instructor, Marc Spooner, has been making it a good experience. Admittedly, I am not a fan of the textbook. Actually, my response to the first chapter was a desire to rip it out and shred it. Being trained in the humanities, I have a pretty major aversion to the desire to legitimate research through association with science. I have never felt the need to call my work science or to be more “scientific” to prove that what I do is valid. I believe in multiple ways of knowing and understanding. Moreover, I believe that our current view of Science as trustworthy, unbiased, and full of truth is highly problematic. So a chapter in our text on social research that includes a rather large section discussing science and scientific research is unlikely to excite me.

That is doubly so when the author discusses the problems with relying upon experts, then proceeds to expound as an expert, also implying that while the books in a book store are full of opinions (oh my!), scientific research is not. My post-modernist, feminist, post-colonial, post-structuralist, critical self rose up and started a rant. My husband, a couple coworkers, and one fellow student all got various versions of it. My instructor will likely receive some discussion of it also when I write a journal on our first readings. Thankfully, after our last class, I know that he and I share at least some of our theoretical location.

Although research is a dear friend of mine, making some of the information so far feel like old news to me, many of the students in the course are very new to research. This still worries me. At the same time, it does illustrate that not all faculties treat their students as future researchers. To be honest, I think we may do a disservice to students when we limit their education to that of a future researcher. Knowing how to research and understanding academic research is important (anyone could benefit from that if only to learn how to be skeptical of what they read or hear relating to statistics, expert opinions, research, or even the process of publication), but the majority of students will never become academic researchers.

I am still adjusting to a graduate degree being the point at which you learn about the wonderful world of journals, however.

All this is to say that this fall I will have a whole lot to think about.

I think I’m over papers…

It’s a funny thing to think about. I switched my major in my first year as an undergraduate because I realized I enjoyed writing papers and was good at it (as opposed to being a Visual Arts major which burned me out in 4 months). So much of my academic career has been about writing papers. I’m good at it and, to some extent, I enjoy it.

I think I’m over it, though, when it comes to teaching. Yes, I still feel that students need to know how to write. I also think that knowing how to research is important. For some students, I think that learning to write research papers will be highly important. Those students, however, are the ones who will move on in academia or are in fields where they will be required to write such items (yes, all English majors should know how to write in a variety of genres, essays being one of them).

My biggest frustration is the idea of writing a paper that only one or two other people will read. That is not the intent of academic papers. Actually, that is the opposite of what academics hope to have happen with their papers. We are teaching students to write for an audience of one and yet that is not the goal when we ourselves publish papers. I want to share. I want to know what others are working on. If I feel this way, then it seems likely that my students might also feel that way.

I find myself wanting to pull together a variety of materials. In researching for a current paper, I have already had to exclude white papers and blog posts because they are not peer reviewed. I just saw a tweet that would be an excellent demonstration and yet that is also not an appropriate source. This seems at total odds with my actual practice. It seems at odds with the practice of other academics. Why am I being forced into more traditional expectations when it no longer matches the reality of academic writing? Yes, we have a presentation (which I will share) which our class will see and we also have to share our annotated bibliography. Our paper, however, is for an audience of one or two.

Considering I come from an academic background, I used to live and breathe papers, and I have been whining lately about having to write such short papers, one would think I would hold fast to the idea of producing papers.

Nope. Not anymore.

It just does not make sense. I can have students write in other ways. I can have them present research in other ways. I can let them use other sources and connect with learning in ways that make sense to them. I do not have to be the gatekeeper if I teach them well. Some may choose to write papers but I do not need to force that on them.

Here begins a new era of my pedagogy. I choose to be social. I choose to be constructivist. I choose to embrace change and let technology actually impact my teaching rather than replicating conventional means (Laurillard, p. 15). I also want to consider my students, many of whom will have little use for writing papers.

Laurillard, Diana. (2009). The pedagogical challenges to collaborative technologies. Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, 4, 5-20. DOI 10.1007/s11412-008-9056-2

A Paper with Any Other Grade…

Grade cutoffs

Grade cutoffs by whateverwinnie CC-BY-SA

I just got wrapped up in grades again. As much as I have promised myself I will care less about what grade I receive this time I go through grad school, I found myself feeling a little worked up about receiving a 4/5 instead of 4.5/5 or 4.25/5. My rational brain knows perfectly well that .5 means nothing. The teacher in me knows it is really arbitrary and will have a very tiny impact overall. I’m doing incredibly well in this course, am not seeking scholarships, and am sure I will come out with a good enough average to pursue a PhD if I do decide at some point I want to return to that.

This is ridiculous. I should not be worrying about a number. I should know better.

And yet, I am still caught up in it.

In taking some time to think about it, I realized that my issue is really about feedback. A grade as a silly arbitrary number or letter means very little. I normally look, see it, then dig in to see what comments I received. I am much more interested in what someone else thinks after reading my work. I want meaty, valuable feedback. I want to know what I could do better. I want to know what thoughts I had that are good, what else I could think about. I want the equivalent of a conversation.

When I don’t get that, I’ll fixate on a grade because it is all the feedback I have.

Why this grade instead of that one? It isn’t so much that the grade matters, it is that I feel left in the dark as to what that person is thinking. I am a driven learner and after spending so long as a student, I always want to do better. I want my instructors to have high expectations because if they don’t, I will comfortably settle into doing what, for me, is mediocre work. For my own sake, I am starting to realize that I want to be judged on my merits.

As someone who has spent years grading work, I know that isn’t how it works. At least not really. I know I am compared to my colleagues. I know I am compared to expectations for my level of work. My problem is that doing so may or may not push me and I want to be challenged. Our current education system isn’t built for that since we want to sort and rank students, this one is better than that one, this one is not as accomplished as that.

This experience really reinforces my commitment to feedback. Even if the number is based on a comparison to others, feedback gives the opportunity to explain, contextualize, to push and drive our students. Those students who is still struggling could use guidance on how to tackle material, ways to think about it, new concepts. Some need help in polishing their writing and benefit from suggestions in that direction. Some of us need intellectual challenge. I know I am doing well and I am fairly confident in my abilities. I do, however, rely on instructors to help me see things I miss, to keep me from becoming over-confident, to help me take the next step.

So yes. I got a little obsessed with a grade. I am thankful for all those instructors who have given me valuable feedback, for those who made the time to have high expectations and assume I wanted to know what they thought. I am committed to always providing that to my own students although I am going to need to work on how to make that relevant to them.

But please, for the love of all that is wonderful, don’t reduce me or my work to a number.

Once upon a class…

Alan Levine joined EC&I 831 on Tuesday to chat with us about storytelling. True confession, I love stories. I grew up with bedtime stories and an impressive library. I would tell never-ending stories to my toys. Eventually I turned my hand to writing. Not well. But I kept coming back to telling stories. In fact, I did some studies of historiography – the study of the writing of history – the last time I was working on a masters degree.

And yet, in all of that, it never occurred to me to think of my papers, presentations, or teaching as stories I am telling.

"329 Balloons" by mortimer? from Flickr,  BYNCSA
Who knew balloons were a concern for children?
Photo Credit: mortimer? via Compfight cc

The demonstration of that, for me, really came through a quick improv with Alan, Jason Grayson, Ryan Josephson using Pecha Flickr (which Alan created!). Alan started us off with the beginning of a story. Sure, if it had been a planned presentation, it could easily have felt like a standard presentation but, in this case, we were working blind and coming up with it on the fly, with the intention of fitting into what one another was saying. It started to feel like a story.

Pixar's Rules of Storytelling
Photo Credit: Profound Whatever via Compfight cc

When we present material, we can make it interesting to our audience. We can structure it as a story, not solely with beginning, middle and end, but use tension. Use resolution. We can present things in a way that will engage our audience. Even if we have a required structure, we can still make it interesting.

Thsi actually makes me think of a webinar I attended about gamification with Katrin Becker. She talked about using language from games and using quests. What do quests do, at least in good games? Help players move through the story! If the “story” is the course, then quests help the students progress from their level at the beginning to their level at the end, helping them acquire the skills they need but also moving them through the narrative.

I’ll have to think more about this. As someone who plays games, especially ones with interesting stories, this makes sense to me. As someone who enjoys reading and writing stories, I feel connected to it on a visceral level. We humans make stories out of separate events all the time. Why not do it with something like a course that should feel like a story?

So what about you? How do you connect to storytelling?

Learning in a Different Direction

We were talking about the learning we are doing in EC&I 831 during our most recent class. Thinking about it, this experience has been very different from my previous grad classes. That doesn’t sound too surprising considering that it is my first course in my MEd, a complete shift in direction. That makes sense, right?

The shift might not be totally expected though. I have always spent a lot of time learning content, new theories and concepts, researching and synthesizing and analyzing. This course, though, is often treading fairly familiar territory content-wise for me. I worked for a while as an e-Learning Coordinator, researching technologies, running workshops for people at the university about teaching and technologies, working with instructors to figure out what would work for them. Now I work as an assistant instructional designer so I spend a lot of time talking about how things work, providing instructions, troubleshooting, playing with technology, suggesting options. I can do some light coding and occasionally get called on for tech support (today I helped my supervisor get her work email and calendars set up on her phone and got a laptop showing on a screen).

Some days I feel a little like this (but I’m okay with that)
cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by Jenn Vargas

I’m still learning very useful things this semester, though, even if some of the content and a lot of the technologies feel comfortable. My experiences in this class are a lot about different ways of approaching the same technology, ways to explain it or think about it or use it. I have been in higher education for a long time and am pretty familiar with teaching in that field thanks to some fabulous teachers I know. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve certainly learned about some new sites and apps I didn’t know about and I’m stretching some of my skills, but that’s not the most valuable part to me. What I’ve been experiencing this semester is really the perfect example of why I chose EC&I (Educational Curriculum and Instruction) as my major: I’m seeing how those in K-12 systems are using technologies and how they are teaching today.

For me this is a big deal. While the stereotypical first year student is coming from high school, I haven’t spent a lot of time talking to teachers in primary or secondary schools to talk about how they are teaching and what these future students will expect, how they want to learn, how they are prepared, or not, for what university can hold. No wonder these students often find university to be a big shock!

So this semester I am building my network with people who teach younger students than I am used to teaching. I am learning what difficulties they encounter, what challenges they and their students face, but also what ideas and innovations they are trying. At the same time I am thinking about how I explain things, how I engage both with the instructors I work with and the students who are in the classes I work on. Admittedly I keep my engagement with the students fairly minimal for my own protection (I can be working with 20 courses a semester and I just can’t keep up with students AND instructors), so I suppose I should say I am thinking about how students engage with the material.