Sunday, February 26, 2012

Reflections on Learning

Reflecting on a terrific trip - photo by Tischann 2011
As a professional educator, learning theories have been a topic of conversation and professional development classes throughout my career.  However, this much exposure to the topic only added to my level of development throughout this course.  So much of the K-12 educational world is consumed with learning styles.  I found it surprising to realize that I too had confused learning styles and methods for learning theories.  Through the structured readings and chronological discovery of learning theory developments, I gained an understanding of how human learning develops over time from behavioral and cognitive means into social and adult learning.
Reflecting Pool - Denver Botanical Gardens
photo by Tischann 2010 (modified using Photosketch iPad app)
While technology has an immediate engagement factor when first adopted in the classroom, engagement in the technology does not always equal learning.  Today’s students are constantly bombarded with digital media and without careful designing of the classroom content, classroom environment (both physical and virtual) and the scaffolding of skills and learning methods, technology easily becomes a toy instead of a tool.  When this happens a valuable opportunity to connect the learner to meaning is lost.  As teachers adopt new technologies, the focus must always be on the learning outcomes and then matching the best instructional practices to those goals.  Sometimes the best methods negate the use of technology entirely.  Pursuing the use of technology for technology’s sake, or for engagement alone is a dangerous habit that performs a disservice to our students.    
This course and the valuable discussions posted by my fellow scholars has helped me as I begin to step into the role of an Instructional Designer with blended learning.  During the last three weeks of the course, my title and role changed at my office and a very large instructional design project has been given to me to author and implement.  As I read the materials in those weeks and watched the media provided, I gained a single view of the content.  However, as I read how others viewed the ideas and conversations evolved, the material became immediately applicable to the challenge I currently face.  The concepts on motivating learners, matching learning methods to content, and connecting with learners to meet their needs will assist me greatly moving forward.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Project Planning - Whiteboards are My Friend

It may be coincidence, but my career as an Instructional Designer, has taken an amazing turn since beginning my Master's of Instructional Design and Technology in October 2011.  My title changed to Instructional Designer in July 2011, which became my motivation to find a Master's program that would give me the knowledge and skills to meet the new challenges coming my way.  As I begin my third class at Walden University, my role at work has evolved to make me the Blended Learning Instructional Designer.  Much work, planning, and proof of skill has gone into this change - although I still have trouble believing that I'm where I hoped to be a year ago.  Now, however, comes the exciting challenge of making a big shift in a large district.  The directive has been made that all High School teachers will be implementing a Blended Learning model (a combination of synchronous and asynchronous learning) using the Blackboard learning management system.  The plan will roll out over the next 3-4 years and I am working to analyze, design, develop, implement and evaluate the program.  But how do you wrap your mind around a large and important initiative?  The success of my plan will be directly related to the success of my career, no pressure...  I have turned to one of my favorite planning tools, the whiteboard.  In my office building we have many professional development rooms and they all have walls covered with white boards.  I'll continue to post progress of the planning of this initiative.  But, does anyone have tools that they like to use for instructional designing?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Fitting the Pieces

Throughout the course I am taking with Walden University on Learning Theories, I have gained a deeper understanding of how human learning is conducted and the importance of the application of this knowledge.  In the first week of the course, I identified my learning mainly through behaviorism versus cognitivism and constructivism.  At that point, we had not explored some of the later learning theories and I therefore did not consider them in my writings and reflection.  Since working through more learning theories, including social learning, connectivism, and adult learning, I understand my learning preferences and can discuss them within the context of instructional design.  It is clear to me that at times I have and continue to embody all of these theories depending on the learning goal and the learning environment. 

Educreations - this is the picture I took with my phone.
My learning preferences tend towards social learning influences, mainly due to the credible sources I have found in my family and peers.  That influence extends into connectivism, where I seek and connect networks for information and knowledge about technology trends and education.  An effective and well-versed instructional designer must be able to understand and apply learning theory to craft content and online environments.  Without these tools in a designer’s repertoire, the designer will force participants through learning objectives and practicing learning methods, which will not produce the best results.

Technology is a lifeline for my learning and understanding of new material.  When I am working to learn a new Web 2.0 tool, or organizing my calendar I use technology.  Although I am an older member of the “digital natives” category, my work with Instructional Technology has put me firmly into the “plugged-in” demographic.  Whether through my iPhone, ipad, or laptop, I have constant connection to emails, text messages, news, information, and a social learning network.  Last week, as I worked with a teacher at her school building in her online classroom, I came across an issue I could not resolve.  My first step to solving the issue was to make a Google search.  This turned up information, but nothing that solved the issue at hand.  I then texted a co-worker with the question.  He in turn, was able to log into the teacher’s class and realized that the issue was that her role in the class did not give her the ability to perform the task she desired.  A few minutes later, the issue was resolved.  During that same session, she introduced me to a new iPad application and website that allows the user to create a whiteboard recording.  This is a terrific tool that I wanted to remember to try out later.  In order to remind myself about the program, I took a picture of the website with my phone and created a quick reminder to test the program out later.  

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Digital Tools Facilitate Learning through Connections

Through the use of the Internet and the vast store of knowledge it holds, finding information has changed greatly during my lifetime.  What had once been knowledge that was unavailable or unknown within a person’s sphere of influence has now become commonly known, or simple to find.  I learn best by testing out and “fiddling” with new programs about which I must learn.  When I run into an issue or cannot discover how to accomplish a task, my first choice is to turn to Google search to see if others have posted solutions to the issue.  In the past week, this very scenario occurred and in both instances a quick Internet search provided usable results.  Rapid solutions allow me to resolve issues and move onto matters requiring more creative thinking. 
Ted, an art friend whose pins I follow on Pinterest.

Google search is a simple way to discover solutions, however, there are several digital tools, which foster learning networks and create a unique learning environment.  I have gained much from the way others have used Pinterest to store ideas and organize images they find on the web.  As an artist and creative spirit, this ability to store visual images and see what others share provides inspiration at my fingertips.  Pearltrees, has a similar function although one is able to quickly see connections others have made as it links the learning and discovery quickly into a dynamic learning web.  And a final digital tool which I find invaluable in learning is texting others to ask quick questions or send pictures and video to analyze and resolve learning issues. 

Through the use of a vast storehouse of knowledge and the connected nature of learning through digital tools, the theory of connectivism has grown into a common term in learning circles.  While behaviorism focuses on observable actions and constructivism blends prior knowledge, the ability to connect or “plug-in” to the socially dynamic knowledge found on the Internet has created a new kind of learner and problem solver. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Connectivism - Personal Learning Network

Created using PearlTrees as a way to demonstrate my personal learning network.
click here to view the map interactively.