As many of you who know me are aware, I’m heading into my dissertation phase….so guess what? No more writing. Not for a while anyway. I’ll be writing for the next 18-24 months – so between work and teaching and my doctorate, I need to concentrate heavily on that piece of paper! I hope you’re all with me…sorry if you were a regular reader. But priorities are priorities See you in a couple of years!
August 10, 2009
July 13, 2009
Pick a number between 01 and 09. Got it? Multiply the number you chose by 9. (You may need a pencil or calculator for this…) You should now have a two digit number. Add these two numbers together. Subtract 5. Take this last number and correlate it to a letter of the alphabet. (1=A, 2=B, etc). Think of a country that begins that letter. Now think about the 2nd letter of the country’s name. Think of an animal that begins with that letter. Got one?
You now have a problem. There are no elephants in Denmark! (Impressive, eh?) So, approximately 94% of you came up with that answer. The rest of you probably had an ostrich in the Dominican Republic, but it’s a crap shoot at that point.
Do you think that attention getter is creative? I do. Audiences like it – if you can get them to participate. The payoff is when they realize you “read their minds” and they try to deconstruct it. But regardless of the math behind the trick, it’s a pretty creative way to get people invested in you as a speaker.
Creativity is a passion of mine. I am a big believer that we do not teach, nor do we encourage creativity in our classrooms. (Tell me you’ve watched Sir Ken Robison’s talk at TED on this subject: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iG9CE55wbtY) Yet, what talents do we read about in newspapers, magazines, and journals that are said to differentiate successful businesses, inventions, or even countries? Innovation is often touted as what makes one business successful while another one fails. Inspired design is often how inventions are described. The United States likes to talk about our resourcefulness, imagination, and out of the box thinking that helps us stay ahead of other countries with regard to science, defense, and technology. But if creativity is so revered, and if innovation is what will change our future, why don’t we build an infrastructure of creative thought for our students?
I used to believe that educators were creative. I thought you had to be innovative to find ways to inspire and motivate while teaching foundational principles. But after 15 years in and around educators at all levels, I’m not convinced of that anymore. Don’t get me wrong, there are some tremendously imaginative people out there teaching and assessing our students. But, the percentage of creative people in education is probably the same as the percentages in industry, business, and the military. (I’d guess that percentage is around 5%.)
Don’t get me wrong. I think everyone has the propensity for creativity. Or at least a majority. But without those skills and attributes being nurtured by someone along the way, most people just do as their told and that creative inclination dissipates. Think about it – you are in 2nd grade and you’re asked to draw a picture of a farm. You grab your crayons and a big piece of butcher paper and start to work. A purple sun here, a blue barn there, a flying tractor that can transform into various vehicles – all in all a pretty imaginative farm! But then your teacher comes over and asks what you’ve done. They explain that our sun is yellow and that a typical barn is red. “Why?” you ask. No answer is given. It should be red because it should be red apparently. And of course tractors don’t fly. That’s just silly.
The end. Game over. Your attempt at something fun, cool, interesting, and creative was squashed and you soon understand that in order to succeed, you need to do things the conventional way. You need to follow the pack to show that you have learned.
Obviously, this is a super simplified example and I mean no offense to 2nd grade teachers. This could have been any level with any project. And therein lies the problem.
Think about what I call the triangle of teaching and learning. You have two foundation points – the outcome and the assessment. Then you have the tip of the triangle – the learning asset. (I am growing tired of the bastardization of words like “learning object” which now mean so many multiple things to different people, we can’t have an effective conversation anymore.) But let’s talk about each point.
The outcome: this is a constant. It should not change unless it becomes out dated. An outcome of students demonstrating writing skills or reading skills comes to mind. (Of course, the level of specificity is an important conversation – but one for another day.)
The assessment: this may change from term to term, class to class, or group to group, but essentially this stays the same for one instance of teaching. In other words, you should assess all students in the same way to promote fairness. (Ex: Don’t use a test for one student and a paper for another student.)
The learning asset: this is where teaching creatively can come into play! How you get your students to the outcome can (read: should) vary within the same class / term and beyond! The learning asset may be a lecture, a widget, an exercise, a powerpoint presentation, a video, etc. (Creativity should be modeled!)
However, it’s the assessment that we’re talking about here. While you don’t want to change requirements for assessment on a student by student basis, what about trying this. Give your students the option to demonstrate understanding and application in their own way?! If your assessment gives the freedom for students to explore their own creative ideas in terms of submission – and as long as the objectives for the assignment are met – imagine the culture of creativity AND assessment you would be creating!
For example, most instructors ask for a paper on bigger, complex items. Why not ask for a presentation? This may be a paper, but it might also be a video. Students could use Zentation to combine a video with a powerpoint. They might even create a model on Excel or using another software that demonstrates the objectives creatively.
What about asking students from the start what ways they would like to promote themselves in terms of your outcomes and objectives? Creating a democratic classroom in addition to a creative assessment culture is also powerful! Students get to take more and more ownership of their learning and you get more and more ideas for future teaching modules!
Why not start assessing students through gaming devices? Games are powerful teaching and learning tools – and the assessment combines formative and summative effectively. There are a number of games already created online or in books, but you can certainly make your own (demonstrating your own creativity!).
There are ways to promote creativity. There are things we should do to suggest to students that innovation, invention, and inspiration are both valued as well as something we can develop! Think of the ramifications for our businesses, our culture, or our country around this powerful concept. While we believe ourselves to be decent problem solvers, this may lead to a whole new generation of problem finders (which is typically considered much harder…). Assessing creativity can happen. It can make learning more engaging. It can lead to stronger connections between content and application. It can happen. Good luck and good teaching.
Want to know more about creativity? Want to inspire your team to think outside of the box? Contact Jeff at email@example.com for more information!
October 6, 2008
Back by popular demand, it’s my top 10 favorite websites right now. I’m in a pretty cool position as I travel around the country talking about online education with online teachers and administrators. And during my time, I get to see how people use the Internet in various ways. Some of the sites out there are quite amazing actually. Let’s see if I can share some of them with you! So, in no particular order:
Woman From The Inside Out - I spoke with an elementary school Art teacher recently. She’s a good friend of mine from my doctoral program. I was commenting to her that I don’t have the first clue how to draw, sketch, paint, etc. In fact, I told her that I just could never learn art! She replied with something I’d never heard. She said, “Art isn’t about learning to draw – it’s about learning to look. Art is about perspective, not lines on paper. Your teachers should have shown you how to look at the world and then at the paper…” This website might teach a budding artist perspective (which they say can’t be done online…).
Great home page – If you are looking for a handy website as well as an innovative website, look no further. AllMyFaves is ideal as a homepage because it lists about 100 of the top visited websites around. From banking to travel to maps to social networking, this site has the big guns. But my favorite line on the page is at the top. The “Weekly Faves” lists 5-7 sites you have never heard of before. Stay in the know with cool stuff each week – or check the archives and look at the year’s coolest websites. Great idea!
The Planet - This highly interactive website shows some fascinating statistics, facts, and figures about the Earth.
American Rhetoric – You had to know I would have at least one communication website. This is one of the biggest sites to house videos, transcripts, and audio files of speeches – both political and movie based. It’s a WONDERFUL site for students too!
Interactice Microscope – Can’t teach science online? Then you aren’t really trying. This amazing tool can show animal, plant, and other real slides in an interactive form. The only difference between this microscope and the real deal is not needing to squint to see this one.
My favorite Eye simulator - I know this has been on my fave’s list for 3 years now, but it’s just so amazing! Think of 2 important things. 1) it would take months in a clinic to see all of these illnesses and eye problems. 2) you can never harm this patient with a poor diagnosis!
Discover Babylon – How do you cram months (possibly years) of learning into a few weeks? Easy…games. This fantastic collaboration between the Federation of American Scientists and Sony Playstation is nothing short of spectacular. And, can you say curriculum integration? How about history, anthropology, money, sociology, politics, geography, and more!
New Math Video – So, 1/4 of YouTube should be on this list. Of course, in 2007 YouTube had as much data as the entire Internet did in 2006, so that list would be a bit more than 10! So, here is proof that education can be fun and that YouTube has educational stuff galore. And it’s about math of all things…as a liberal arts guy, that’s impressive to me!
The PDGA website – Please tell me you don’t stay inside reading blogs and Googling stuff all day. Remember that great big, fun world out there? Try enjoying it from time to time. Get some sun. Have some fun. Disc golf is a GREAT way to do all of that for almost no money! Get 1-2 discs (~$10) and go play 18 “holes” at a park near you. This website tells how to play and also has a directory of courses around the country.
eCollege Blog – So I have to give a shout out to my team. The best thing (to me) about eCollege is that we hire faculty members and teachers to train, instruct, and consult on all things education + technology. This is the team I currently direct and the diversity, innovation, and sound pedagogical elements will come through in our blog we release every Wednesday.
Remember, this is just 10 sites. Do you realize there are more than 160 million sites today? Hopefully you have become quite adept at searching through them. If not, here’s a little query for you teachers: Type in your subject matter + applet OR your subject matter + simulation OR your subject matter + game. You are bound to find some great stuff you can use every day to enhance learning for your students…
Want to see some great websites in action? Need to see how today’s generation uses the web to live, learn, and play? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information!
August 4, 2008
Accessing Technology: I had the opportunity to speak with a “think tank” guy this week. He’s out “there” (wherever that may be) going to conferences, examining new online tools, listening to podcasts of innovators and creators, etc. We spent several hours talking about where education and technology have crossed, are combined, and will intersect in the future. It was a pretty good time!
But this future thinker informed me of a longitudinal study from England where “they” (I hate having no referent, don’t you?) surveyed students to see how they access eLearning. While many vendors were disappointed by the findings, this turned out to be a study that could filed under the category “duh” by anyone who knows a teenager. Students access educational elements using…well, just about everything possible. They use cell phones, computers, and PDA’s. They use social networking sites, LMS sites, email, instant messenger, and on and on.
The problem? No two students seem to access digital content the same way. It seems dependent on dozens of variables. Finances, micro-culture, disposition, learning style preference, and availability are just a few of the reasons students choose one method over another as they access digital content and information. Again, I’m not sure why this surprised people (think of how YOU access digital content…I’m guessing it’s even different than your spouse, kids, roommates, etc.) although I do see why it concerned vendors. When students choose not to use one modality, it makes it hard to sell a solution around that modality!
So just like learning styles that people have, digital content modalities are varied and extensive. We know that people learn in different / unique ways, right? Visual, audio, kinesthetic, verbal, active, sequential, reflective, sensing, global, intuitive, based on personality type, based on cognitive function, and many more learning style types exist! Do these learning preferences correlate to digital modality preference? Makes sense to me…hmmm, maybe a doctoral study is in there somewhere?
But the key takeaway for me here is around the idea of digital content or eLearning. See, learning takes place for almost every human being, almost every day. And at this point in our technological evolution, digital learning takes place for most people too. Dozens of future thinkers are salivating at the potential to use cell phone technology to teach, train, and otherwise educate peoples who until recently had been almost unreachable. Just about everyone these days uses technology to create meaning, to access information, or to share ideas. This is true in all educational settings. Formal (school or training), informal (professional development or continuing education), and non-formal (watching tv or talking with your co-worker) are all types of learning. And technology can (and should) play a role in all of them.
So what does this mean for you? Diversity is king! Creating content, learning objects, digital assets, trainings, curriculum, etc., needs to be done using a broad brush-stroke. Students (of all ages) need varied modalities just like they need varied teaching and learning options. Keep in mind that when we talk about students of all ages, we are talking about more than Gen X or Gen Y! We are also talking about the Boomers and the Busters.
EVERYONE has preferences. For some that digital content needs to be printed off onto that stuff…you know the material…what’s it called? Oh yeah, paper. A pretty tried and true medium for a couple thousand years is a great solution for specific people and in specific contexts. Other people will find much more value in wiki material or by shortening it to Twitter length. For some, a web page, bookmarked by the company is a great way to ingest information while some people would rather see a Camtasia tutorial.
Look, trainers, teachers, and marketers really need to know two things: how people learn and how people might access technology. Of course, this intersects with the best delivery method(s) for any learning asset. There are times that a paper-based flyer is all it is going to take! But, there are other times that training should be multi-modal to speak to different individuals appropriately. To ignore this is to purposely block access from various people who don’t contextualize the world as you do. And if we’re all life-long learners, shouldn’t everyone strive to make both learning and access as easy as possible?
Want to hear more about how to meet different learners with different technology needs? Contact email@example.com for more information!