If you follow me on twitter, you are probably very well aware of my rough ride in my summer class. So, my final paper has been handed in, and I have been mulling over what I can take away from this experience. This may turn into more than one post, but I think it’s important.
We all know that things are changing fast as far as education is concerned. All of a sudden, instructors have access to all sorts of tools. In this class alone, we were required to use the following instructional tools:
- Online readings
- A book (yes a normal book – I am listing ALL of the tools)
- Screenhunter (I used Snagit)
- We had to create a website (I used vi)
- My group used meebo to meet (Blackboard is not so great with synchronous communications)
- My group used slideshare
That is a lot of tools! That should be great right? In theory, educators now have lots of inexpensive tools that can be used to make their students’ learning experiences more meaningful.
The “more meaningful” bit is where it gets tricky. In order for instruction using these technical tools to be meaningful, strong design must go into the instruction. Without this design, students will be frustrated and refuse to use the tools, and this arsenal of new tools we have available to apply to instruction will become useless.
I am at an advantage here; I work in a group that creates technical training for our customers, partners, and internal personnel. I know what has to go into planning reusable technical labs that allow students to use all their cognitive powers to concentrate on lesson objectives (and not on learning yet another tool).
This is a critical point: it places an unfair cognitive burden on students when you expect them to learn new technical tools at the same time they are learning new lesson materials. You must either make the technology invisible, or teach them how to use the technology.
Here are things that need to be thought about when designing a class using these technical tools:
- Just because it was easy for you to pick up one of these new Learning 2.0 tools doesn’t mean that it will be as easy for your students.
You must provide instruction for the tools for those students who need them.
- Will it run on all Operating Systems?
If you have a PC, will this new software run on a Mac?
- Does the software have minimum requirements?
Will it run on all versions of Windows? Mac? All the flavors of Linux?
Does it require Microsoft Office products, or can it run on OpenOffice?
Do you need a certain amount of memory? You should really let your students know about this before the class starts, so they have a chance to tune up their computer.
- Are there clear instructions available on how to access/install/use the software?
If not, you need to write these instructions before the class runs.
Don’t expect the learners will just figure it out, especially if this is not a class on how to access/install/use this software.
- Are there security considerations to using the software?
As much as I like Diigo, it’s not something I could design into my courses because of confidentiality agreements.
- Be available during the assignment window to help with technical questions.
If you are going to require students to use these tools, plan on being very available during the assignment periods. If assignments are due on Thursday nights, you will probably get lots of questions Thursday afternoon. (You could probably address this need with a wiki).
- Do not burden the technical students in the class with being the technical mentors.
Your techie students probably won’t mind helping, but they did not take the class to sharpen their skills. If they are helping other students learn the technology, they are being robbed of learning time. That’s not really fair.
- Be sure to keep the technical documentation up-to-date
Again, a wiki may come in very handy here.
In short, the stuff I learned in this class was not on the syllabus. It occurred to me I am probably the worst student possible for this class. I hope this post didn’t come across as too negative.
So what do you think? Am I completely off-base? Did I leave any good planning advice out of my list?