Thursday, May 31, 2007

Technology & young adults

I have just come off a couple of energising weeks of teaching apprentices plus several good teaching sessions with my full time students this week. At the end of each teaching day, I catalogued my informal findings about the use of technology amongst apprentices (these ones were in their third & last block course) and full time students.
An example is that all the apprentices had heard of Skype and several have used it but none have it available at home (only 30% had ready access to computers at home).

A couple of days ago, George Siemens posted his thoughts on using Facebook for enhancing student learning, who writes:-
"As educators, we are often drawn to tools and spaces that have a high level of activity. If everyone has a mobile phone, we explore ways to teach with the phone. Or a large percentage of our student population has a Facebook account, we start looking for ways to use Facebook for teaching. I'm not sure our learners always agree with our urge to use their tools of communication for our goals of teaching and learning. It's a challenging line to walk - to what degree do we try and educate in the spaces in which our learners exist...or to what degree do we want our learners to come to our space (school, LMS)? Libraries and Facebook: "More librarians, however, felt that Facebook should serve as a space exclusively for students and that librarians, professors, administrators, police, and other uninvited folks should keep out." "

Plus I also attended a lunch time seminar given by one of our CPIT staff, Dr Micheal Edmonds, on why students choose to study chemistry. He surveyed year 13 school students and year 1 University of Canterbury students. Over 300 students returned the survey. One of the things he looked into was how students ‘studied’ chemistry. The use of the internet & DVDs was one category. Less than 50% of the first year university students used these digital resources to study chemistry.

All of which concurs with my informal surveys. Student / apprentices use technology (especially mobile phones) a great deal. However, technology use is focused on their leisure and social activities. Students with mp3 players use it to listen to music, NOT to podcasts of their lectures. They will use their PCs to play games, download music etc. but NOT to surf the internet for the latest trends in chocolate design.

So how can we change things? Educators need to first become familiar with the technology in order to see the possibilities. Then, they need to model the use of the technology. For instance, I had a laptop with internet access in the bakery on the day the apprentices were working on their chocolate ‘show pieces’. I showed them several sites with good photos & articles on chocolate work & examples of chocolate showpieces. The showpieces produced varied (as usual) in standards but the apprentices did get the message about layout & the need to be very clean in their displays. Also, several confirmed that they would look at the resources again in their leisure time. If I had provided the links & asked the apprentices to look at them the day before the class, the number who would actually do it would be small. The ones who would make the effort would be the ones with a passion, a burning desire to learn / improve / be better then the other.

I see that the key for me is to inculcate passion so that students become self-directed. Then everything, including the use if technology to further enhance one’s own professional development becomes easy. As a tutor, I then just need to provide the ideas and resources, the rest is done by the individual. The hard work is in igniting the passion!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Issues in mLearning & Zooming in on learning in the digital age

Another bit of ‘Easter holiday reading’ from the University of Nottingham. It’s a report of a workshop by the Kaleidoscope Network of Excellence Mobile Learning Initiative. The report collates ideas thoughts and discussions and is a good resource cum update of the current developments in the mlearning area.

I found reading through the report a good refresher plus a good anchor for reflection on the pros and cons of mlearning. I especially found the statement that ‘mobile learning applications are best viewed as mediating tools in the learning process’ to be very much where I had based my mlearning project.

Also good to see so many practitioners involved in feeding back their thoughts and perceptions. In the long run, educators still have to be the ones to lead the use of mobile technologies in learning. Our students are extremely competent users of technology for their own, usually leisure and social objectives. Some of them may baulk at educators capturing their social networking tool to use for class based exercises. However, feedback from my own students indicates that they are often curious to try out new things as well. Also anything that helps them learn more effectively in a more efficient and convenient way appeals to their way of living. I think that our role is to use their phones as a conduit for helping students to learn but that we also need to be careful how we use the phone.

I also had a read through a NZ Council of Educational Research report that studied the young NZ ‘digital age’ learner. The report is the first one of a series that will be looking into learning in the digital age. One of the findings that I have found to ring through is that digital literacy in young people spans a wide range. Some of us early ‘digital immigrants’ may actually be more digitally literate that the generation Y digital native. Just because a young person is born into a world surrounded by digital technology, does not mean that they are conversant with the whole spectrum of digital technology use. However, on the whole, young people are more comfortable with digital technology, they are not afraid to fiddle and experiment with a new piece of equipment. Therefore, before beginning on sorting out a ‘learning scafffolding’ / personal homepage / portal / dashboard project for the school, I will need to do a survey of the students to find out their depth and breathe of interaction with current digital technology.