The first session of this fall’s Educational Technology Planning course met last night after losing a week to Irene. The course is an elective in the Educational Planning, Policy and Leadership program at the School of Education and is made up of a students in masters and doctoral programs in K-12 and higher education administration. The goal is to look at technology decisions through the lens of the leaders who will be responsible for selecting and managing large-scale education technology projects–chief information officers or chief technology officers. It’s a difficult course, since it requires students to integrate a considerable amount of technical information into a personal vision of how information technologies might impact education in the near to intermediate future.
The course is generally built around an authentic learning project for an outside client. This year presented an unusual opportunity since William and Mary is undergoing its first review of general education requirements since the invention of the World Wide Web. Michael Lewis, one of the co-chairs of the Curriculum Review Committee, is a mathematician/computer scientist who has been involved with a number of IT initiatives in the past, and we had talked about the possibility of the class looking at the role of “intellectual technologies” in general education. Obviously, I think that computers and communications technology have transformed society in ways that pose a whole host of technical, pedagogical, ethical, social and economic questions that need to be addressed much differently than we would have addressed them in 1990. For me the broad question might be framed this way:
How much does a citizen need to know about information (educational, intellectual) technology to be considered well-educated in the 21st century?
The project that I suggested to the class was writing a carefully developed white paper where we offer some perspectives, ideas, and thoughts about that question. We have 16 students in the class, 12 weeks of class time, and an incredibly broad range of backgrounds and experiences. Michael came and met with the class to provide an overview of the committee’s work to date and provided some history on general education at WM, and left us to determine if this was the project that we wanted to take on.
The discussion was spirited, but I’m not sure if it was effective or not. My fear is that I really didn’t allow the group the freedom to decide if these was the project that wanted to work on or not. I had put a fair amount of effort into developing a structure that I thought would allow us to get organized relatively quickly, but that structure didn’t seem to work for a fair number of folks in the class. The biggest concern didn’t appear to me to be the importance or substance of the project, but rather if there was enough time to complete it. (At least that’s what I heard.) My own sense was that it was a tight deadline, but we had the time and the tools to make a real contribution to the discussion at the College if we put our minds to it.
We decided–or maybe they acquiesced to my expectation–to give it a week working within the format that I had proposed and see where it goes. We’ll see where it goes.
I suspect that over the next 10 weeks or so I’ll be writing quite a bit about the course I’m teaching this semester, so let me provide a little bit of background. The class is an elective graduate class in the Educational Policy, Planning and Leadership program at William and Mary. The title is Adult and Continuing Education Practice and Policy, and it’s framed around principles of andragogy, defined as the art of teaching adults, rather than around pedagogy, the science of teaching children.
That’s the broad framework. There’s significant discussion within the AE community about the degree to which adult learning is substantively different than other kinds of learning. I side with those who think that adult learning is qualitatively different–a learning activity with 20 folks over 35 is much different than a learning experience of 20 eighteen year olds. Neither is better–they are just different.
Malcolm Knowles, who popularized the notion (theory/framework) of andragogy, identified a core group of characteristics that differentiate adult learners. (His conception changed over the years in various versions of his writing, but the essence is captured in these four principles.)
- Being an adult–in most western societies–is defined as being responsible for directing your own life, and often, those of others. Adults learn best when then they have control of what they learn and how they learn it.
- Adults bring rich experience to their learning and that experience can be a powerful resource for learning. (Not always, though. Sometimes experience makes new learning more difficult without significant unlearning.)
- Most adult learning is embedded in “real life” rather than abstracted in the way schools usually organize learning.
- Much (not all) adult learning is problem-centered and interested in immediate application of knowledge. Some adults participate in learning activities because they enjoy the social interaction with other learners. Others enjoy the learning for its own sake.
From those assumptions, we draw three principles to start the planning process. (Many more will emerge as we learn together.)
- The organization of the course has to provide ways for learners to be significantly involved in the planning and evaluation of the course activities.
- Experience (including mistakes) provides the basis for learning activities. Learning activities will be richer and more effective if they are tied to direct and previous experience.
- Adults are most interested in learning that have immediate relevance to their job or personal life. Learning is real life–it is not preparing for real life.
In this course this plays out in a set of procedures and processes. Some of them include:
- We don’t develop the overall syllabus until after we have had a chance to get to know each other. Through conversation, structured activities and some preliminary class exercises we get a sense of the goals, aspirations and experience that each participant brings to the group.
- The “course content” is highly individualized and grows out of the genuine needs and interests of the learners. We manage that through the use of an individualized learning contract which specifies the grade to be earned, the expectations for earning that grade, the learning objectives that will be completed, a rough time line, and an evaluation plan.
- Learning contracts are developed by the individual learner in collaboration with the course facilitator and other members of the learning group. Because learning in real life is messy and unpredictable, contracts are subject to ongoing negotiation.
- Blocks of time during class meetings can be scheduled by any class participant to address a topic of interest or to get some assistance with their learning projects. (This is an experiment in this class.)
- Each learner will also work on refining a process of reflecting on his/her learning project that incorporates some combination of a learning diary, reflective journal of some sort, some method of critical reflection and whatever other components might be required.
Because the actual learning activities are so highly individualized, this reflection piece is what binds us together as a learning community, as opposed to group of graduate students working on independent study projects. There are four reflection questions that we’ll look at from a variety of perspectives over the entire duration of the course.
- What have I learned today, this semester, this week?
- How did I learn it?
- How might I learn it differently, maybe even better, in the future?
- How might I help someone else build on my learning?
We’re at the point in the course where we know each other a little bit, and most folks have defined their learning projects. The next step is to try to pull what we’ve learned so far into the construction of the syllabus.
We have at least three members of our current adult education class who are experimenting with blogs as part of their learning logs. The care and feeding of a blog can teach many things. Some of those things are inspirational; others are more practical.
As the center of your digital identity, your web site can give you of a fighting chance in creating a web presence that helps you accomplish your professional goals. Your blog can provide a forum for narrating you work and help attract a community to inspire, challenge and expand your thinking. It also can provide a way to save you some keystrokes.
As Jon Udell has pointed out, saving keystrokes can be very important, particularly if Scott Hansleman is right in his assessment:
There are a finite number of keystrokes left in your hands before you die. Next time someone emails you, ask yourself “Is emailing this person back the best use of my remaining keystrokes?”
If you can communicate with more people with fewer keystrokes before you die–that’s a good thing. I had the opportunity for the last few days to put the principle of conservation of keystrokes into practice, using another blog that I post to occasionally. Earlier this week, William and Mary got hit with a particularly nasty phishing attack and a group of faculty accounts were compromised. The resulting flood of spam resulted in William and Mary’s outgoing mail being blocked by most large ISP’s, including Blackberry. Every time someone sent email to Blackberry, the mail bounced. Every time the mail bounced, I got email asking what was going on with Blackberry.
Rather than answer each one those emails individually, I made a quick post to the SoE blog, then I could direct email to that link rather than respond individually. Using a blog entry works well in this case because I want to provide a little bit of the back story and show how important it is for all of us in the community to be involved if we want to protect our precious Internet.
Here’s a challenge for you to those of us in the EPPL 714 class. Can you find a way–high tech or low tech–to invest 1 hour in learning something that will save you 5 hours over the next month? Can you share it with 10 of your friends so that they can save some time, too? If an hour is too much, can you find a way to invest 10 minutes in something that will save you an hour? ( Want a hint of a place to look? If you use Microsoft Word, explore using named styles.)