Remote Learning Is Not Necessarily Online Learning

remote learnersThe COVID-19 pandemic forced schools and corporate trainers to move their content online. Teaching and training went remote. But are remote and online learning the same thing? I see the terms used almost interchangeably.

Remote teaching, training, or learning has been done before there was an Internet to get online. Correspondence models and instructional TV/video predate the Internet. Today, we are using Skype and Zoom lectures, apps and tools but remote learning is still considered different from online learning.

I have taken classes and done training remotely that don't have many of the elements of a classroom experience. Things like reading assignments and writing assignments, assessments, collaboration on work, or full discussion boards are not used. For example, I have watched a series of history lectures that were mostly one-way experiences. I watched and although there was an opportunity to ask questions in chat or a Q&A time if you were watching live, this is not online learning.

Online learning should be more robust. It resembles more of what we consider to be "education" and would include interactive modules, assessments based on real-world scenarios, discussion forums designed to discuss and solve problems, synchronous learning sessions that involve discussions and problem-solving. There may still be live or recorded lectures, but that is not the only component.

Remote learning certainly has a place, especially in corporate and training situations. This can be pre-recorded content that can be used as needed, has a shelf life, and can be viewed again by users if necessary. Training on using software is a good example of content that works as remote learning. "But it's all online," you might say, "Why isn't it online learning?" Well, it is and it isn't.

Educators have long been trying to elevate engagement in online learning. It is not training. It requires a teacher or facilitator. Some elements are synchronous. Progress is monitored.

I hedged on my title for this post - "Remote Learning Is Not Necessarily Online Learning" - because fortunately, some training uses the elements that we consider to be integral to online learning. And, unfortunately, some online learning seems to be more like just remote training. And training and education have both been experimenting with hybrid models where learners and instructors can be in the same classroom working together but be extending the classroom online.

Remote learning is not inferior to online learning. It has its place in the broader "learning" experience. Remote learners sitting on their couch at home with a laptop may look the same as students taking an online course, but what is being provided to them, what they are expected to do with that content and what is the final expectations for that learning should be different. Putting a label on learning platforms is tricky, but it is important to know the differences.

 

Reimagining Work After the Pandemic

home office toyParody home office toy for kids watching their parents working from home - see actual toy below

 

As we move towards the winter of 2020, the pandemic is still the most dominant factor affecting work and school in America. In March of this year, the rise of COVID-19 cases forced a reimagining of work and school. I'll leave school for future posts and focus here on work. 

I could have used the title "Reimagining Work" as a title on a post in any of the 14 years that I have been writing here because we are always reimagining work and the workplace. But 2020 has also been the year of social and cultural uprisings throughout the world, a record number of hurricanes, catastrophic fires in California, dire warning about climate change, and an increasingly divided American political system. 

I saw a panel on this topic focused on reimagining the office and work-life after COVID-19. I think it's too early to say what the results will be, but it is clear that some things have been forced to change. The question is how many of those things will remain or will we return to some of what we were doing in 2019? 

Before the pandemic, it would have been safe to say that having offices were critical to productivity and creating a company culture. Estimates I found vary on how much work has moved out of offices. In April, I found that it was estimated that about 62 percent of employed Americans were working from home. Work from home was already a trend before 2020 but the number was closer to 25 percent. Prior to the pandemic, just 3.4 percent of Americans worked from home, but at the peak of the shutdown, an Upwork report in partnership with MIT found that nearly half of the U.S. workforce was working remotely

Will there still be competition for prime office space in major urban centers? Will companies be maintaining but downsizing their workspaces?

around the world, and many focused on solutions that were seen to promote collaboration. Densification, open-office designs, hoteling, and co-working were the battle cries. a couple of years ago. During the pandemic, many people have been surprised by how quickly and effectively technologies for videoconferencing and other forms of digital collaboration were adopted. For many, the results have been better than imagined.

According to McKinsey research, 80 percent of people questioned report that they enjoy working from home and 41 percent say that they are more productive than they had been before.

As I said, this reimagining was happening before the pandemic. In the 2017 book, Reimagining Work, the focus is on the business leader working in what the author calls a "new on-demand economy" positing that "traditional management strategies are becoming obsolete."

That obsolescence is driven from the bottom up. A skilled workforce wants much greater flexibility and more control over their work. That is not something major corporations really ever considered offering in the last century.

That flexibility began in this century with many startups and smaller companies. It's easier to turn around a small boat than it is to turn a large ship.  Some of those smaller companies - Uber, Lyft, Handy, Airbnb, Task Rabbit - have become big and the flexibility was built into their culture. Changes have already happened more broadly in the way companies recruit, develop, and train talent. As the book says, growth for a company is more than just expansion. It also means maturation, adaptation, and evolution. 

During the pandemic, employees were freed from commuting and work travel. That has given them more personal time and greater flexibility in balancing the work-life balance that has been part of attracting new employees for the past twenty years.

For employers, this shift means they can access new pools of talent without considerations of the location while saving on their real-estate costs.

I have had several jobs that were done virtually with only a few visits to the actual company offices. One of my sons started a new job during the COVID-19 summer and he has never been to the company offices. He did his interviews by videoconferencing and has met his co-workers only online and on phone calls.

I don't think total isolation from the office and co-workers is ideal, and there has been speculation about the effect these shifts will ultimately have on "office culture" - morale, company loyalty, camaraderie and other difficult to assess elements.

Almost everyone is looking to return to some reopening and return to whatever the new normal turns out to be. Though President Trump had predicted it would be "by Easter" or "when it gets warmer," no one really knows when we will return. Before a vaccine is available, the office experience of January 2020 will not return. those few offices (and schools) that have reopened require masks and have redesigned workspaces to ensure physical distancing. Companies are restricting movement to avoid typically congested areas (like elevators, break rooms, dining areas, conference rooms). The classic "hanging out at the water cooler" of the 20th century may be gone forever.

But we know that there is value in the social capital that comes from those informal conversations, meetings, and social engagements, not only with co-workers but with clients.

That panel I referenced asked questions that we don't have answers to at this time. Will corporate cultures and communities erode over time without physical interaction? Will planned and unplanned moments of collaboration become impaired? Will there be less mentorship and talent development? Has working from home succeeded only because it is viewed as temporary, not permanent?

Important questions. No answers yet.

 

MORE 

Another webinar on "Reimagining Work in the Pandemic and Beyond" from Harvard Business 

A report on "Reimagining work in the era of COVID-19"




* I used a parody home office toy as an illustration above but Fisher-Price does actually offer such a toy - but no crying baby or wine included.

Checklist for That Video Conference

video conf screenIt seems almost all of us have been involved in more video conferences the past five months because of the pandemic. Offices and classrooms are closed and a lot of paid work is being done. The learning and workspaces have definitely moved online for many of us. But there are also teleconferences with friends and family that are purely social. I have used Zoom, Google Meet, Webex, Slack and Microsoft Teams for formal presentations, courses, social calls and team meetings.

We are also seeing newscasters and celebrities broadcasting from home with surprisingly varied results and quality. I am no longer surprised to see a well-known person who has the resources and motivation to look good on screen look really bad. There are some basic video tech tips that everyone should follow, but before I get to those I want to list some non-tech items that fall under the heading of being prepared.

  1. Prep your desktop. Do you need notes or a way to take notes? If you use papers or another device make sure they are off-camera and won't block the camera or your microphone.
  2. If you're using a phone or tablet, put it horizontally so that you get a full video frame. Have you ever watched a movie or TV show that was in a vertical format? Of course not - think movie screens.
  3. Hang a "Do not disturb" sign on your office door or at least warn people that you're going to be on air and to give you some privacy. Mute other phones nearby. I've been on several calls where someone's other phone rings or the cell phone rings while they're on their laptop.
  4. How you dress depends on the formality of the conference but avoid pinstripes and checks, which can create distracting moiré patterns on camera, and try not to wear bright white or deep black clothing, because many webcams have automatic exposure settings and will adjust to the brightness or darkness of those colors. 
  5. When you position your camera, try to have it at your eye-level. You might be able to adjust the chair you use for that. You should be sitting straight up not slouched back on a couch. Low and high angles are unflattering. Leave those for horror films. Pros and semi-pros use a tripod to hold their camera or phone and you can get those relatively inexpensively, but there are also less expensive tablet and phone stands.
  6. On the more tech side of preparedness, I would say lighting is at the top of the list. Bad lighting can ruin a video. Most people don't have a studio lighting kit to work with or knowledge of three-point lighting schemes, so here are simple things to do. Do have the main light source behind the camera and pointed at you. That's true when using a sunny window or any kind of lamp. Do not have the light behind you or you might be a silhouette. A single bright light on one side of you might make for a dramatic photograph but not a good video. The light, like the camera, is best at eye level because higher or lower create unflattering shadows on your eyes, nose and chin. Again, leave that to the horror films. I sometimes use a sheet of white poster board to bounce the light on my face for a softer look. You might also point a bright lamp at a plain wall or ceiling to get softer light. If you have a smaller desk lamp around that you can point in different directions (such as a gooseneck one), that can work pretty well. If there are shadows on your face and you're using natural sunlight as your main source you can add the artificial light source to fill in the shadows. If you wear eyeglasses, try to avoid glare and reflections on them. You may have to adjust the angle of the light.
  7. It's a video meeting but being heard clearly is actually more important most of the time. There are people who connect by phone without video sometimes so all that have is your audio. Being in a quiet room. Try to avoid echo which shows up in empty rooms, halls and bathrooms (Yes, I know you sound great singing in the shower but...) Many people just use the microphone built into their laptop, phone or tablet which can be fine if you're close enough to it. If being close enough means you end up with a giant closeup of your face on the video then the microphone is an issue. Many people buy a special headset of higher-quality but also try out the earbuds that came with your phone (the optional wireless ones are great)
  8. Position yourself a distance from the camera that gives viewers a head and shoulders shot. Further back is better than too close. (Do consider that microphone though) When talking, look at the camera rather than at the screen of that iPad or laptop so that there is eye contact.
  9. People get concerned about the background in their video and may choose a location based on that rather than on the more important lighting considerations. Zoom and other apps actually allow you to put in a fake background. Newscasters might use a fake studio set and friends might put themselves on a beach or on the Moon. I'm not a fan of that and sometimes doing that causes odd halo effects that are very distracting. My suggestion is to avoid extremes. A blank white wall is not flattering but either is a busy background of shelves filled with clutter. I know that many academics and writers like to use bookshelves as their setting. 
  10. You should practice with the setup and application you are using. All of the applications have websites with help on how to test your video (such as this one from Zoom). You should be aware of what tools are available and how to use them well before you go on air. Too many people don't know very basic things such as how to mute/unmute, change their ID on the screen, ask a question, use the chat function, etc. Practice may not make perfect but it certainly will make better. There are also many videos on YouTube with tips about the tech side of things and for specific applications. Some application help videos are even specific to certain users. The two screenshots shown here are from a Zoom training video that is for educators. Educators will want to use some of the more advanced tools in the apps, such as screen sharing, breakout rooms, whiteboards, etc. 
  11. Finally, you want to look your best whether this is a job interview or saying hello to your granddaughter. The pros use makeup so that they look good under the bright lights, but for most of us, your ordinary makeup, groomed hair and a video-safe shirt or blouse is enough. If there is some shine on your face from the lighting a simple wipe with a soft cloth might be enough.

Zoom session

Learning, Working and Podcasting Spaces

microphone
Image by Daniel Friesenecker from Pixabay

I recently changed one of my categories here, "Learning Spaces," to "Learning & Working Spaces" because I'm seeing greater overlap in those two places. We know learning has always been occurring outside of traditional spaces, such as classrooms, but it is more formalized now than ever before.

Spring 2020 certainly moved a lot of learning online from pandemic necessity. But other learning spaces have emerged in recent decades.

Co-working spaces are formal places for people needing office space but not wanting an office full-time. WeWork is one of the better-known commercial spaces. Colleges are opening virtual campuses, micro-campuses, but informal work and learning is happening in Panera Bread stores, Starbucks, and many local cafes and coffee shops.

I saw recently that Staples stores have been giving some of its retail space over to podcast recording booths. They partnered with Spreaker for recording spaces in six Staples stores in the Boston area. These booths are part of a new Staples Connect model, in which the retail stores offer coworking and community event spaces. The soundproof Staples Connect Podcast Studios are being developed in partnership with iHeartRadio. They provide professional equipment (RODECaster Pro control board, RODE microphones and SHURE headphones) and space for up to four people.

I don't know if most people would consider podcasts as a learning space but a lot of informal and some formal learning is happening through podcasts. 

When I started podcasting at NJIT back in 2006, our initial audience was prospective students and we were clearly doing marketing. But that potential audience quickly grew when we saw that downloads were coming from a more general audience that was interested in research from the university.

In 2007, NJIT became part of the original sixteen colleges to launch Apple's iTunes U. That's when we started thinking about podcasts as a learning space. (The term "coursecasting" was briefly being used by some schools.) 

Apple has changed how it offers podcasts but iTunes U still exists and as they state "iTunes U provides everything an instructor needs to bring the classroom together on iPad—build lessons with apps and your own materials, collect and grade assignments, start class discussions or talk with students to answer questions and provide feedback."

bookMy virtual friend, Kristen Meinzer, recently published So You Want to Start a Podcast, a very comprehensive how-to guide to getting started. There's a lot more to starting a podcast than buying a good microphone and installing some software. Though those things are necessary, having great equipment is hardly at the top of the list of reasons why podcasts succeed.

Kristen knows podcasting having been a commentator, producer, and former director of nonfiction programming for Slate’s sister company, Panoply. She has also hosted several successful podcasts, reaching millions of listeners and continue to create shows.

Is she an educator? Not in the formal sense of a teacher or professor, but you can certainly learn from the programs - and be entertained, which is a combination that some educators have not mastered. 

I would include podcasting as a learning and working space that should be considered by individuals, businesses and schools.

 

 

Wikis in a Pandemic

wiki code

The code behind the Wikipedia article on the history of wikis

The first wiki was created in 1995 by Oregon programmer Ward Cunningham who named it after the "Wiki-Wiki" (meaning "quick") shuttle buses at the Honolulu Airport. They were meant to be web sites on which anyone could post material without knowing programming languages or HTML.

The most famous wiki is still Wikipedia which officially began with its first edit in January 2001, two days after the domain was registered by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger. This fact comes from, of course, an article on Wikipedia about the history of Wikipedia

Wikipedia didn't get huge numbers of visitors immediately and it certainly didn't gain acceptance in academia for at least a decade. (Some might argue that it still isn't accepted by faculty for student use, especially when it is used in a copy/paste manner - but that's a different topic.)

I've been writing about wikis on and off since this blog started and a search on here shows 100+ mentions of "wiki" with about a third of those being actual posts about wikis. Most of that writing was in the first 15 years of this century, but I have seen some reemergence in wiki use among educators lately.

Back in 2005, I started getting into using wikis. Tim Kellers and I made one in order to teach about the use of wikis - particularly the use of open-source wiki software. It was what some would call a metawiki - a wiki about wikis.

Wikis were part of the Web 2.0 movement. when we started to think about the Internet as a place where we could build and contribute our own content rather than just read and consume.

In 2005, we were mixing wikis in with the somewhat sexier 2.0 tools like podcasting, blogging, and the photo and video sharing sites that were popping up. Then came social media and everything changed again.

That metawiki that Tim and I made 15 years ago no longer exists since neither of us is still at NJIT where it was hosted. It served its purpose which was to demonstrate to others how wikis are built, grow, get damaged and heal. It looked a lot like Wikipedia because we used the same software - Mediawiki - that was used to build Wikipedia. [Note: The wonderful archive.org did crawl our pages and you can see an archived version of our Wiki35 there.]

Brother Tim and I were doing workshops on blogs, podcasts and wikis which were three things we were sure were going to change corporations and education. Blogs and podcasts are still powerful and still growing. Wikis? Not so much.  

People often described wikis as "collaborative web sites" and they were being used for things like project management, knowledge sharing and proposal writing. The benefits of this collaborative approach include reducing daily phone calls, e-mails and meeting time as well as encouraging collaboration. The Internet research firm, the Gartner Group, predicted in 2006 that Wikis would become mainstream collaboration tools in at least 50% of companies by 2009.

Midway between that prediction, I wrote in 2007 that by my calculation technology generally moves into the world of education in dog years because it seems to take about 7 years for widespread acceptance and usage. This is in comparison to the world outside education, especially if the business world.

It's not that you can (or should) use the application of new technologies in the commercial world as a gauge for what we should be doing in education, but schools certainly lag behind industry and home users in adopting and adapting technology.  

By 2015, I was writing more about the disappearance of wikis and the devolution of Web 2.0.  My own use of wikis as tools in my teaching was also winding down.

I had been using Wikispaces with students as a collaborative tool. I assigned students to work in a class wiki and also had students create their own wikis using that software. But Wikispaces started to shut down and was gone by 2018. Now you can only read about it on Wikipedia.

It has been five years since that post and I don't think I have written anything significant in the interim about wikis. Some people are still using wikis and Wikipedia is in the top ten most visited websites on the Web, but I don't see people building wikis for education (and perhaps not in corporations either).

Blogs like WordPress and DIY website services overtook wikis as free or low-cost ways to put content online in pretty packages, though few of those are collaborative in the sense of wiki collaboration.

I no longer work on any wikis other than editing Wikipedia and I don't think Tim does either. But just recently, amidst all the scrambling to get courses online due to the COVID-19 virus pandemic, I saw a few examples of wikis in education that make me think that we haven't completely hit the DELETE key on wikis.

One example is at coursehero.com with a Comparative Anatomy and Physiology course in which Dr. Glené Mynhardt has students create a wiki page on one specific animal phylum. In an article about the course, Explore More in a Survey Course with a Build-a-Wiki Project, Mynhardt explains how she uses Moodle which allows for page creation using easy cut-and-paste and drag-and-drop commands.

One missing wiki element in Moodle is that it does not allow public access which is key to the original intent of wikis. Mynhardt says “Students can view each other’s wikis, but I can’t share them with colleagues or [the public], and the students can’t share them outside the course,” so educators who want to make the work public may want to use other web page–building options. It's not Mediawiki but using these wiki tools that are in a learning management system like Blackboard or that tool in Moodle or in collaborative software such as Sharepoint or simply creating a content page in Canvas and allowing students to edit the page is a way to bring the collaborative wiki experience to students. And in this time of students sheltering at home and working online more than ever, collaboration is an important element of learning.

Leveling Up Your Learning

Steve Hargadon wrote at the start of this academic year about what he is calling the "Game of School" which is at least partially about the idea that many of us did not see ourselves when we left high school or college as "good learners."

He created what he calls his 4 levels of learning. He's not the first to describe levels of learning. Bloom's Taxonomy may be the most common one but a search will turn up six-level models and five levels and other models. The number isn't so important and certainly, there isn't one answer. What is important is to look at how a model approaches learning.

Hargadon has a four-level model.

levels of learning
Hargadon's 4 levels of learning

The model starts with schooling is where most of us begin our learning. Of course, you learned a lot of things at home and in the world in those pre-school days too, but school is our entry to formal learning.

Hargadon's portray of school is grim: "Schools teach conformance and obedience, getting work done--doing what, when, and how you are told to. Schools are a system of rules, schedules, bells, attendance ratings, and constant testing."

If someones asks you what your education has been, you are most likely to name some schools. Hargadon differentiates this kind of "education" in school from his third level which he calls education.

This schooling level is an industrial model that allows the stratification of the students - some will lead and others will follow. This 19th-century public schooling is a governance strategy and education policy in the United States is largely directed by politicians. Hargadon says that we should note that "a school of fish all turn and swim in a synchronized fashion.. if you get schooled on the basketball court, that means that someone has taught you a lesson, usually in a shaming way."

Level two is training which is learning specific to a career or vocational training. This learning is often self-motivated as a way to move between social and financial classes. 

You might guess that level 3, education, might be higher education but in this model that would still be schooling. Rather, this level probably doesn't occur in a school setting but when there are one-to-one relationships and mentors that help a learner move to a higher level and to see something differently than before.

Though this model seems to move in a linear fashion from school (K-20) to training (on the job) to education (work mentors), I would argue that his "education" can occur at any age/stage of life. I would certainly hope that you received some of this level of education when you were in school or in training, though it's not the way those ways of learning are typically structured.

Self-directed learning is level 4 and certainly the goal of the 3 other levels. The goal of a teacher is to get students to a level where they no longer require a teacher and can manage their own learning goals and processes. Intentionally or not, we are all lifelong learners. 

This is an interesting model for discussion, but I would say it is already in place. It's an observation of how learning seems to occur ideally. Obviously, things are not ideal at all levels now (in his criticism, "schooling" is the weakest level) but working at all the levels would be a worthwhile path.

Slack on Campus

I'm calling this post "Slack on Campus" - not to be confused with slackers on campus. Slack is a cloud-based team collaboration software package of tools and online services (Slack Technologies).

It began as an internal tool for the company Tiny Speck while they were developing an online video game called Glitch. I have used it nominally with two non-educational organizations. I did not find the software intuitive or particularly engaging for collaboration. My use was limited, partially because other users did not participate enough to make it a truly collaborative workspace.

I also wasn't a fan of the name Slack which doesn't suggest productivity. According to the company, "Slack" is an acronym for "Searchable Log of All Conversations and Knowledge."

It is a freemium product which means that as a "free/premium" product or service (pricing strategy) it is provided free of charge, but money (premium) is charged for additional features, services, or virtual (online) or physical (offline) goods

I think of Slack as business software and I don't think of it as something for education. The first thing I've discovered that might change my mind is a project happening at Arizona State University where they are using "Slack as a Digital Campus."

"ASU is using the Slack Enterprise Grid as the communication hub for students, faculty and the staff. Via app integration (Zoom, Google Drive, Dropbox, Polls, etc.), Slack provides direct access to resources for student success; student services, tutoring, advising, professor office hours, social outreach, group projects, research, libraries, and more. The goal is to improve and enhance the learning experience by giving educators and students a deeper sense of connection to the ASU community and an easier path to accessing support. The embedded deck summarizes the intended Slack transformation journey for students, faculty, and staff across ASU and can be shared with anyone."

At ASU, Slack is taking the place of things that were once on different web pages but also were collected at some schools in learning management systems (LMS). ASU is the first university to adopt Slack for the whole enterprise.

The ASU website says that: "Slack is the equivalent of ASU’s digital campus - a collaboration hub that enables real-time communications and connections in a searchable platform for real-time messaging, content sharing, learning, and more."

I have read some of the same research that ASU seems to have based their project on. Students, in particular, are far less reliant on email to communicate. Some schools have reported issues with students not reading their campus email which is often used to send important information about courses, billing, and financial aid. Email is still used by many faculty for course communication, even in online courses that use an LMS. 

Another argument for using enterprise collaborative tools is an old one: It's what they will find after graduation in the workplace.

 

ASU document
                  Click here for the full document

ASU made Slack available University-wide in the spring 2019 semester and have been promoting it as a way to foster deeper communities of practice and leadership, enabling discussions and activities by team or subject matter.

Any form of collaboration that allows peers in different areas but with shared academic focuses, projects, passions, and expertise to work together is a good thing. If using Slack or other software works to break down silos, I'm all for it.

Slack is not without critics. One criticism is certainly a fear that has been expressed by schools before: storing user data exclusively on cloud servers which is under Slack's control, not the school's control or shared control and storage. Another issue is their privacy policy which allows the workspace admins to access all public and private channels without consent from any parties using the app.

Kindergarten Comes to America

In 1873, the St. Louis, Missouri, school board authorized the first public kindergarten in the United States. We take the idea of kindergarten and pre-school education for granted today, but the concept was not only foreign but radical then.

Friedrich Froebel had developed what he called a “kindergarten” (garden of children) in Germany in which teachers acted as the “gardeners.” Teachers would provide the environment and the resources to nourish the minds of the children and stand back and let them grow.

I consider this an early effort in learning space design. The classrooms were bright and colorful with "stations" around the room for different activities. Some schools also provided easy access to outdoor play areas. The classroom had kid-sized tables and benches - an idea that seems so logical but had not been used earlier. 

Of course, the kindergarten concept included more than just the physical space, but the learning space was considered a far more important part of the learning process than it was in the other grades.

In the U.S., Susan Blow was the driving force behind the kindergarten movement. She visited Germany after the American Civil War and was impressed by Froebel’s kindergartens. The idea that children were learning language, math, and science concepts through play was a radical idea.

When she returned home, she made a study of the kindergarten concept. She wrote that “If we can make children love intellectual effort, we shall prolong habits of study beyond school years.” Her father was able to get the St. Louis school superintendent to open an experimental kindergarten. He agreed and sent Susan Blow to New York to study for a year.

Susan offered to direct the kindergarten for free if the school board would provide her with classroom space and a teacher.  She ended up being the director for eleven years, at her own expense. She retired in 1884 when the St. Louis schools had 9,000 kindergartners. She died in 1916 at which point the success of the kindergarten experiment had led it to be introduced in more than 400 American cities.

kindergarten
   The colorful "chaos" of a kindergarten and preschool classroom - Image via Flickr

Welcome to the Microcampus

workspace

A college "campus" is a rather general term these days. I'm working on designing courses for a "virtual campus" which is an extension of the idea of a campus without borders that emerged with online learning. There are small schools that may lack a robust campus library, student union, or residence halls, but what if the campus has no classrooms? Is it a campus?

I recall reading about students studying at a remote institution but they were "hosted" by a local learning center. Stephen Downes wrote about a Triad Model where the triad was composed of the student, the instructor, and the facilitator. The facilitator helped bridge the distance between instructor and student. Ideally, this online learning situation would include a community online but also offline (on site) with peers and instructors. I saw this idea re-emerge with MOOCs where students used a distant course but met at a site for that community support.

Neither of these models of learning really gained widespread use in any fully robust form that I am aware of. There is a newer version using the term "micro-campus"

A micro-campus will offer support and coaching. If offers access to tools, from high quality printers, even a 3D printer or others that students can't afford. It can provide meeting space and project rooms. In a non-academic setting, this sounds like co-working spaces

An article on The Chronicle (subscription required, unfortunately) talks about the University of Phoenix, the University of Washington, and the Georgia Institute of Technology using experimental, storefront-sized “micro-campuses.” I'm sure they looked at places like WeWork for ideas, also some not very academic setting such as Amazon’s brick-and-mortar stores. The college micro-campuses might be located at the ground-level space of an apartment building. They are meant to be where students are located and in the community.

The examples of University of Washington’s Othello Commons in Seattle is 2300 square-feet at the base of an eight-story apartment building, A “Foundations of Databases” course meets there one night a week to help local residents develop basic IT skills.

Georgia Tech's distributed-campus "atrium” in midtown Atlanta (near the main campus) was still a work in progress when the article was written but feels very Amazon, including an app to interact with the space.

Are these true "learning spaces" or extension sites, satellite campuses or is the micro-campus really a new kind of space?

Transitions Are Difficult

transitionIf you read the annual Bill and Melinda Gates letter, it includes 9 trends it considers surprising. One that affects educators is the idea that "Textbooks are becoming obsolete." By that, they mean that digital content that is customized and personalized learning can better support students than a traditional textbook. 

The promise here is text online connected to engaging video along with perhaps a game that reinforces the concepts. Your learning is assessed and the software moves you forward appropriately or perhaps sends you back for more review. of the content you seem to have missed. 

We have been told that this kind of learning transition was going to happen - and it has happened,several times. We were told that the printed book would be replaced by ebooks. Some were replaced; most were not.

There has been a lot of talk about replacing the lecture with short video lectures that don't "lecture." That is somewhat the case in online courses, but the lecture in the classroom is still running strong.  

Even bigger than textbooks and lecture is the idea that online learning would replace classroom learning. Add to that the idea that MOOCs would replace online courses and even make degrees obsolete. Hasn't happened yet.

Transitions are difficult. Maintaining the status quo is so much easier. 

Maybe if I was still around in 2050, I would find that learning happens without printed books, without lectures, without classrooms and without degrees. But I doubt it.

Jumping Through the Dissertation Hoop

jumping through hoops
"Jumping through hoops at Arabian Nights" by Experience Kissimmee, Florida is licensed under CC BY 2.0 CC BY 2.0

Ah, the dissertation. That mammoth writing task that a student needs to complete in order to get that terminal degree. ("Terminal" - interesting term to use)

If you work in higher education, then you have stories to tell about people trying to jump through that academic hoop. I have lots of tales of friends and colleagues who struggled to write, finish and make it through their defense. (Isn't "defense" an interesting word to use for that part of the process?)

One friend of mine was being pushed to extend his writing for an additional semester because his supervising professor needed him to justify not teaching an additional class. The professor actually told him that. When he reacted negatively, the prof replied that "We had to jump through these hoops to get our doctorate, so now we get to make you jump."  Wow. It's the academic equivalent of fraternity hazing.

I could also write a post on "NOT Writing the Dissertation" since that was my own experience. I enrolled in a Ed.D program in "pedagogy" but lost interest when I was required to take courses on topics such as "school law." I continued to take classes - just not the right ones. Since at that time I was teaching in a public school, when I had amassed 32 credits beyond my MA degree, I "advanced" on the salary guide. Not as far as if I had the Ed.D, but pretty close.

So, I was close to being ABD (All But Dissertation) but really closer to being ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder).

Through my LLC with my wife, we have done editing for academic writing, including some dissertations. When I saw an article by Leonard Cassuto in The Chronicle of Higher Education about the "Value of Dissertation-Writing Groups," it was a good reminder that although we seem to value the solitary work of writing a dissertation, it is - and should be - more of a collaborative writing task.

Cassuto says, "The glorification of solitary labor permeates the imaginary ideal of scholarship in the humanities and humanistic social sciences. Your dissertation is your own work of expertise, your own plot in the great intellectual firmament. And you write it by yourself. Here’s the trouble: It just ain’t so."

The dissertation is supposed to be part of the process of making a student into a scholar and getting research out into the world. Scholarly and academic writing outside of dissertations is especially collaborative. As the article says: "Academic writing done by those who already have the doctorate is very collaborative, as is obvious if you look at all those acknowledgements in scholarly books. There are other academics, librarians, archivists, proofreaders, but also — and crucially — the people who have been reading drafts all along, making suggestions, editing, shaping. The person whose name is on the spine does the largest part of the work, but others share in the labor."

It seems to me that working with graduate students who are doing writing (dissertation or otherwise), you should certainly address the collaborative element. One way to do that is to have a dissertation group. The students we worked with on dissertations all had formed a group on their own with classmates, mostly ones who were on a similar path. That is a part of the process that should be formalized, encouraged and - perhaps most importantly - accepted by academia. 

Return to the One-Room School

one-room class
I don't know that anyone wants to literally return to the one-room schools of the past. This one is from 1940 in rural Kentucky, USA. But the concept may have present day applications.

According to Wikipedia, one-room schools were once commonplace throughout rural portions of various countries, including Prussia, Norway, Sweden, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Spain.

In these rural and small town schools (some of which literally used someone's house), all of the students met in a single room. A single teacher taught academic basics to different aged children at different levels of elementary-age boys and girls.

I imagine that younger kids were hearing some of the older kids' lessons and older kids could get some remedial lessons when the younger kids were being taught. I think that could be an interesting model of learning. I also think it would be a challenging teaching assignment. It's a topic I delve into a bit deeper on my other blog.

Any debate about whether to group students by age or ability is hardly a new one. Terms like "performance-based" "ability grouping," "competency-based education" and "age-based instruction" pop up in lots of article, papers and dissertations. Classes and schools have been created around these ideas. And they still are being created - perhaps for different reasons than those that brought the one-room schools of the past into existence.

What is a school without grade levels? I read about a number of contemporary schools, including a district in North Dakota, that felt a drive to teach competencies meant eliminating age-based classrooms.

Back in 2016, I read an article in The Atlantic that asked "What If Schools Abolished Grade Levels?" Their panel concluded that sorting kids by age or ability creates problems.

What are some reasons to consider this approach to education?

In traditional classrooms, the learning is likely to be too fast or too slow for a good percentage of the students.

Rather than using "seat time" (students progressing through school based on the amount of time they sit in a chair), base promotion onward on mastery of competencies and skills.”

Allowing students to learn at their own pace, including progressing more quickly through content they truly understand.

Those sound good. Are there any potential problems with this approach?

Grouping by ability rather than age could increase social interruptions. Having taught middle school and high school, I would tell you that there are some big differences between a sixth grader (typically 11 years old) and an eighth grader (at 13). Even more dramatic would be a class with two very good math students that are 12 and 16 years old. I actually saw that happen several times when middle school students were allowed to go to the high school (or even local college) for advanced classes. I know it works on television for Doogie Howser and Young Sheldon, but maybe not so smoothly in real life. Maturity, socialization and self-esteem are all considerations. 

Scheduling and assigning courses for each student becomes more complicated. 

But even if you question the pedagogy of this approach, what about the andragogy? When we train adult employees or our returning adult undergraduates and graduate students, how do we group? Do we put the 45 year-old woman working on her MBA separate from the 26 year old? Of course, we do not. Through some screening or admission processes, we often put learners in groups based on ability. For example, an employee is brand new to the software so she will go in level one training whether she is 22 or 55 years old.

The old one-room schools were primarily for the lower elementary grade levels, and they very much were products of economics, supply and demand, and necessity. Perhaps, new one-room schools would also work better at those levels rather than at the high school level. We already see some of this arrangement informally or just be accident in higher education and we certainly see it in training situations. This might be the time to reexamine the formal use of ability grouping at different ages and in different situations.

How We Work

wework
WeWork space or studying in the campus cafe? Maybe it is both.   Photo: Wikimedia

I have been in WeWork spaces in New York City and Washington, D.C. because I knew people who were using these coworking spaces. I didn't have any conversations about education there. It was all about work.

But the WeWork people have been having conversations about education. They acquired Flatiron School (a coding bootcamp) and MissionU, which was a one-year college alternative. They formed a partnership with 2U, which is an online program management company.

MissionU has been shut down by WeWork, and they plan to start a network of K-12 schools called WeGrow. I imagine that all these parts will be used together. For example, 2U students can use WeWork’s office space as study spaces.

This is not traditional schooling and Michael Horn, writing in Forbes, thinks that it points to the future of online learning in higher education.

He says that the future is "in bricks, not just clicks." He means that he views traditional colleges as going through a hybrid phase. In this current phase, they are using online learning to sustain their current business model. Students don't save money or time. But they could.

One way Horn thinks online learning might be able to improve would be to give it a physical component. Yes, this is a blended-learning option. Well, that is hardly a new idea. Proponents of blended (or hybrid) learning have always promoted the format's ability to allow online students to connect with other students in-person to create community and a learning network. Where it is that "we learn" is changing, as are our ideas about what a learning space looks like. That space looks less like a "classroom" every year.

Your Personal Learning Network, Environment and Operating System

networkI didn't get to attend a workshop on personal learning networks (PLNs) led by Helen Blunden in Ghent, Belgium at Learning Tech Day. I would have loved to travel to Belgium, but thankfully, someone who did attend posted about it. (I keep reading that blogging is dead. I disagree. And the post I found and I am passing along is some evidence of blog usefulness.)

When I first heard about a Personal Learning Network, I thought "Well, most of us already have a PLN." What I was thinking of was the informal network of people and sites that we use to do our work. Keyword: informal. 

I discovered that PLNs were more formalized. The authors define a PLN as "a trusted network of current and former colleagues or other people that are valuable to you as a professional or in other areas of your life," and Rajagopal, Verjans, and Sloep (2012) refer to it as “the network of people a self-directed learner connects with for the specific purpose of supporting their learning”

I'm editing a dissertation about "Knowledge Broker Teachers" (KBTs). They are those teachers that other teachers go to for help because of their extensive knowledge. The subjects in the dissertation are technology KBTs, but in any type of knowledge work this tends to be more cross-disciplinary. A network that involves people with different skills working together is a good way to add novelty to problem solving.

Not all PLNs are professional. People naturally create them around common interests or practices, to exchange ideas, and give or receive support to others. Blunden is interested in the professional variety. 

PLN plan

Her workshop explored "elements of your personal profile; build trust online; building reputation and credibility; curating learning and experiences; reflecting and sharing your work and projects; working out loud, and then also learning how to use social tools and media for the purposes of building trust, sharing your expertise and building a personal learning community."

Back in 2007, I was noticing that people were talking about Facebook as a PLE (Personal Learning Environment) which was another term that emerged for me about the same time as PLN. Facebook did not become a true Personal Learning Environment though people seemed to think that after MySpace it might be such a thing. 

I was reading in the "Jargon Watch" section of Wired magazine and came across the term "Social Operating System" (SOS) which they defined as "a social network site like Facebook or MySpace that seamlessly integrates activities, including entertainment and shopping, to become a platform for online living."

You can put the PLE and the PLN (and the SOS) under the heading Personalized Learning

In 2013, I was changing jobs and started get more serious about trying to build a more formal network and wrote about creating your own PLN. I did that, but within a larger professional organization. Now, that PLN has formally disbanded because the larger organization decided to no longer support it after a reorganization.

I still maintain many of the personal connections I made in that PLN, but it is again informal. How has the network changed for me? It is weaker. We meet - online and in person - a lot less than we used to connect. Formal is better.

Innovative Teaching or Innovative Learning

innovateI am preparing a keynote presentation innovation for a faculty at a community college. The campus recently opened a small innovation center with the hope of getting students and faculty to consider new ways of teaching and learning.

In doing some research on this area, I immediately was struck with the split I saw between topics about innovative teaching and innovative learning, as if they were different things. That made me pause. Are they different, the same or inextricably linked?

My talk - "Creating a Culture of Innovation" - will look at how society drives innovation in higher education through the challenges it presents to educators. Increasing demands to lower costs, improving completion rates, competition from alternative credentialing, and the possibility in my home state of New Jersey and other states for free two years of college will all dramatically force shifts in classroom demographics and approaches to teaching and learning.

Innovation requires innovators. In higher education, they can be faculty or administrators who promote pedagogical approaches, such as adaptive and active learning. The innovation of adaptive learning is not so much that adjustments are made to the learning process based on feedback from the learners. Good teachers have been during that forever. The innovation comes from the ways that technologies have been aiding that monitoring of feedback and automating some of the adaptive paths.

Innovation can emerge from philosophical shifts, such as moving to the use of Open Educational Resources.

Innovation can also come from the learning spaces and new technologies made available to teachers and students.

You can find many different approaches to innovation in education, and some of them have come from outside education. One that is out there is agile teaching. Agility is a topic that has been a concern and approach in the business tech world.   

I continue to see examples about the changing world of work that concerns innovation and have many educators considering how they might prepare students better for what they will encounter after graduation. This does not mean job training or vocational skills. It more often is concerned with the learning process, methods of evaluating learning and seeing student applying their learning to new situations. 

For those things, you might be using blended/hybrid courses whose structure is such that theory is always put into practice. Courses using makerspaces and other active learning environments address some of these concerns more than traditional lecture courses.

But I have been hearing about the departure from lecture-style, sage-on-the-stage courses for two decades, and yet I know many courses still follow that model.

In earlier posts here, I have written about innovation or innovators in education or the ideas about the disruptors that make an innovative university, I have said that companies tend to innovate faster than their customers’ lives change. For example, they create newer and more powerful phones that have features customers have not asked for. Apple believes it knows what you want before you know you want it. 

But I don't think that model works in education. Our students are often ahead of us with not only technology, but sometimes with innovative ways of learning. Are they ahead of many of their teachers in using their smartphones as computers and portals to information, and apps as tools? Yes.