Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The most important reason to understand online teaching and learning is...

... because they exist.

As our lives become more and more technologically integrated it becomes vital to understand how people consume, use, and generate information. That is, what do we learn in this increasingly digital age, and how do we learn it.

How many times has this happened: you are out with friends and you will be involved in a conversation where some details are missing. For example, when a particular event started, or what years a TV show aired, or the name of an actor in a movie, or the title of a sing or book, or how to convert from cups to gallons, or whatever. After a few minutes of banter and deciding that you do not know the answer to the question, someone says, "if only there was a way that we could figure that out". At which point several people take out their phones, retreat into the internet for a few minutes, and emerge with some facts that address the question. 

This is the most obvious (and maybe most prevalent) kind of online learning. The sort where facts can be found relatively quickly. I'm not sure how much teaching is happening in the above scenario. The question I wonder about is whether this fact acquisition is the only type of learning that can happen in online environment. A search engine is much better than a human at coming up with facts. But, a computer is not very good at synthesizing information or asking good questions. It is not even very good at so-called adaptive instruction. (Technically, the program/website/app is not reacting at all. It is only following an algorithm designed by a human.)

My questions are: How does a human teacher use technology to enhance learning? How does a teacher use digital technologies to move beyond fact acquisition and procedural knowledge?


  1. Ah Michael. That question. Facts vs. education. Are we actually learning? Or are we looking up facts to answer questions, never to be reflected upon, seen, or used again? Personally I have an opinion - but this course will be about discourse and discovery. I'm not a sage :) You mention Twitter, and I wonder, do you have a rich PLN (personal learning network?) Hopefully by the time this course is over you'll have some ideas that will help you connect with your students in meaningful ways. I will be the first to agree that teaching qualitative subjects online is easier to figure out, but I do wonder if the adaptive learning folks haven't done quantitative instructors a disservice by making online learning and adaptive learning for those subjects almost synonymous. By the way, I'm making an assumption that you teach a quantitative subject by your reference to adaptive learning in its context. I will look for your intro in the "introduce yourself" section to see if I'm right :) Thanks for your post, and for being a part of the class. I look forward to working with you!

  2. Michael, your word "exist" brings to mind those that want to dismiss the role of integrating the technology in the classroom. I marvel that the idea of just banning technology resources is seen as a way to control and ensure learning.

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  4. Michael, imagine if you had given us the same scenario but instead, your story ended like this: "At which point several people took out encyclopedias, retreated into the books for a few minutes, and emerged with some facts that addressed the question." Would you call that learning?

    I guess people would have different opinions on that fact, but I would argue, "No." To me, learning is not about gathering information, it is about processing information, comparing it, judging it, placing a value on it, finding a use for it, reflecting on its context, projecting it into the future, etc. Great teachers create opportunities for students to take "facts" and do something with them.... and that's where the learning happens. In my opinion, the platform is just a platform... the mind still needs to carry the real weight of the experience.