Sunday, May 30, 2010

Walking the Talk

"Thinking is now distributed across minds, tools and media, groups of people, and space and time." --Chris Dede in "Web 2.0: Helping Reinvent Education"

Yesterday I re-read the Dede journal article entitled "Enabling Distributed Learning Communities Via Emerging Technologies" Part One and Part Two. I read it more carefully this time and soon realized that the characteristics that describe a distributed learning community also describe our class: diversity of expertise, advancing collective knowledge and skills, learning how to learn, and sharing what is learned.

I don't know why I didn't realize before that Dr. Z isn't simply teaching an online course, he's shepherding us into a distributed learning community.

This course is fascinating, challenging, and very different from any course I've ever taken, and not just because it's an on-line course. Dr. Z's teaching strategies guide us in the direction we need to go but then we are encouraged to roam and discover and synthesize and contribute. Our classroom is the whole virtual world, not a room with four walls and a textbook with a finite number of pages and a multiple-choice quiz at the end of the chapter. It's exhilarating and exhausting.

As the Dede article describes, a learning community "is a radical departure from the traditional view of schooling, with its emphasis on individual knowledge and performance..." That explains why this course is taking us out of our comfort zones, as Bill, Cathy and Gabe have described---Dr. Z is trying to get us to "unlearn the beliefs, values, assumptions and cultures underlying schools' standard operating practices." He's nudging us away from "passive assimilation of information to active construction of knowledge." He's serving as a facilitator and interpreter, commissioning us to mine "knowledge sources embedded in real-world settings."

He's "walking the talk" so that we can do the same.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Plan B

No matter how advanced our computers are, how fast our Internet connections are or how much we use and understand today's technology, an act of God can still trump it all.

This past Tuesday evening our group met on-line again to continue work on our domain element presentation. The clouds outside were dark, the air was still, and spotty storms were predicted for this area. Sure enough, during our meeting there was lightning nearby, the power went out and I was abruptly disconnected from the meeting. Although the electricity came back on almost immediately, our Internet service did not. I felt helpless and a little fearful---the last time this happened it took 4 days before our Internet service was restored. Thankfully, this time we were back online by midday on Wednesday.

These two incidents, however, make me wonder about the wisdom of relying solely on the Internet for information, communication, document storage, running applications, etc. The trend toward cloud computing means that more resources and services are being moved online. What happens if access to that cloud is taken away for a significant amount of time, either by an act of God or through human error or terror?

Anyone who teaches with technology knows that they should always have a Plan B. If our households, schools, and institutions increasingly rely on the Internet, what should be our Plan B?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The opposite experience

This past Thurday evening the three of us assigned to the copyright/ethics key element in the Media Planning and Production course met online to plan our presentation. We used Adobe Connect and it worked beautifully---the opposite of my earlier experience. We were able to see each other via webcams and used the chat feature, the shared whiteboard and shared application features for our brainstorming session. The audio was very clear, like a 3-way telephone call.

This technology allowed us to hold a very productive meeting and get to know each other a little bit more while never leaving our own homes. Without this technology, we would have had to set up a face-to-face meeting or a conference call or resort to an asynchronous method of communication such as e-mail or discussion board. What a great resource!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Musings about the class videoconference on May 17

This past Monday night our Emerging Technologies class met via Adobe Connect for the purpose of getting to know each other a little bit more, to discuss the readings, and to experience firsthand a virtual classroom complete with audio and video.

I had tested my computer ahead of time and expected the session to go smoothly but it turned out to be an exercise in frustration. The audio was extremely choppy and sometimes the sequence of the conversation was even mixed up---I would hear a classmate answer a question before I heard the professor ask it. Often it seemed that people were talking at the same time, making the conversation unintelligible.

I was in a hotel room connected wirelessly to the Internet and suspect that there was not enough bandwidth available. So I'll give Adobe Connect the benefit of the doubt and hope that the next session will go more smoothly.

I've used Elluminate's virtual classroom and have found the moderator's ability to selectively turn on/off participants' microphones is very useful. In a large group, having a moderator, aka "traffic cop," is a necessity.

In spite of this rocky start, I have no doubt that this type of technology will become even more mainstream as high-speed Internet service becomes part of each home's utilities alongside electricity, sewer, water and gas.