Enhancing Learning

Capturing Learning Moments Digitally

Wherever there has been a black board, a white board, or a flip chart, there have been messages left in desperation warning those next in a classroom not to touch what was written or drawn or diagrammed on the particular surface provided. For those coming into the room to teach, it can be both annoying and frustrating.

How can alternative surfaces be found? Who would know if I erased it? This is impolite and not at all collegial! Whatever the actual words expressed, the feelings are legitimate particularly when faced with your own group of students with whom you have to work for the next 50 minutes or so and for whom your best diagrams or notes must be provided.

Therefore, the idea of capturing learning moments is not new. Teachers have always been aware that if something must be written or graphically represented in order that students understand, then it is of the utmost importance that it remain intact so that every thought, every idea or connecting point can be captured and that an effective continuation of the work already done can take place. Teachers have also always realized how wonderful it would be if that one moment of brilliance or that one experience with students during which everyone was engaged and students reached a new level of understanding could be captured and demonstrated again in the future for other, perhaps struggling students.

The Digital Tools
While the need for capturing learning moments is not new for teachers, some of the new digital tools for capturing remain unfamiliar--if not in knowledge, then in application. Teachers remain aloof and distant from some of the digital tools available that can capture and distribute learning moments more efficiently than ever before.

Interactive Whiteboards
These boards have been around for quite some time, and we now have several "variations on the theme," so to speak. Most of the boards offer similar functionally and provide opportunities for brainstorming with students and capturing concept maps, dialog sessions, and conversations about topics, ideas, graphics, etc. Interactive boards also provide an opportunity to collaborate on the development of various content themes or ideas and promote student involvement. While many classrooms now have interactive boards, the use in instruction often remains two-dimensional and teacher-driven, rather than collaborative and student-driven. Most faculty like the idea that PowerPoint screens can now be progressed by the touch of the board and that various graphics can be projected and discussed more effectively in class. Some teachers also enjoy writing on the interactive boards but remain distant from the full capturing and distribution capability of the technology. Now, with multi-sensory or multi-touch screens, more can be achieved in screen manipulation and dimensions. While some distance educators use these boards as an online teaching tool in video conferencing, for example, as the flow of instruction still remains mostly teacher-driven, the full implications of the interactivity are not maximized. Again, the technology itself will not increase interactivity or student engagement, only the actual applied use of the technology in the teaching and learning process, together with intentional instructional design can accomplish those outcomes.

To maximize the potential of the technology in the learning process, capturing student comments, evolving ideas, and collaborative thinking, then distributing that to the whole group and archiving it online for future use with the same group or future groups of students means that thinking is not confined to one learning space or group. Thinking becomes both critical and dynamic and is owned by more than one person. Students feel more empowered in the process and their ideas become valued. When students' ideas are valued, then they are more likely to stay active in the learning process.

Tip: Moving Faculty Beyond Central Control
In moving faculty past the PPT projection-only scenarios, encourage faculty to locate one slide in the presentation that generates the most discussion in class. Provide faculty with a preparation sheet that provides opportunity for them to outline the discussion points and how they tie into the learning outcome. Then the faculty member should meet with a technical support or instructional design support person to practice drawing the outline on the designated slide. Then capture and e-mail back to instructor's own e-mail. Once this has been practiced several times, the instructor will feel more comfortable using the same feature in front of a class of students.

If you use white boards to capture discussion, think about other "captures" it could accomplish for you; e.g. concept maps, project designs, production designs.

Note: The more students become "producers" of knowledge, the more they will realize the value of what they are learning and see the application to their own real life contexts, thus supporting transformative learning outcomes in the process (Mezirow, 1997).

Wikis and Blogs
These online tools provide direct access to publishing opportunities for students, both collaboratively and cooperatively. That is, students can actually contribute to a document or content resources via a Wiki, and the results of their work are immediately visible. Cooperatively, students can work within a learning community using a blog. That is, blogs can be used not only as an individual journaling tool, but within the "blog ring" of the whole class, a group within the class, or beyond the class. I have written already on how using blogs in instruction can encourage engagement with students and how the kinds of statements produced can demonstrate learning achieved (Reynard, Campus Technology, 2005).

Tip: Overcoming Obstacles
Faculty usually do not embrace blogs or Wikis immediately because they do not understand exactly what is going on with these tools. Who sees this? How does it work? Will it mean more work for me? Can I edit my posts? These, among other questions, often prevent faculty from moving forward. Once faculty realize that blogs and Wikis can be secured to their student group only, they are more inclined to embrace the technology. Additionally, faculty should be provided with tips on how to evaluate student comments and how to prompt students throughout a course to participate (Reynard, 2005).

Additionally faculty are sometimes horrified at the idea of student contribution to course content. This requires an adjustment in ideology. That is, if faculty believe they are the sole contributors to knowledge and course content, they will have a more difficult time seeing the benefit of these tools. Viewing teaching and learning as a collaborative and constructive process is central to using digital tools more effectively. This view, however, is not the conventional view of faculty as "experts." While this is not simply a matter of training, ideology can be adjusted through experience which is why it is crucial to have faculty create their own blogs and wikis and use them before incorporating them into a course of study with students.

Tablets
Tablet PCs have moved the level of interactivity and student contribution much farther ahead of the interactive whiteboards. Here, students can actively modify content, contribute to the knowledgebase of the class, and help tutor others students. Wireless units also increase flexibility in classroom setup (layout), and this technology also means that data projectors are not needed.

Tip: Getting Faculty Involved
There is much anxiety with wireless technology as far as faculty are concerned. If students are working on laptops, the assumption made by many faculty is that the students are not learning. Rather, understanding the value of multi-taking should be integrated into the class delivery design. Providing laptops to take notes and to give input necessarily means that students are multitasking. This is a valuable skill. If teachers "need" eye contact 100 percent of the class time, then additional skills cannot be developed. Teachers must incorporate more of the changes into the instructional design and use of technology in class rather than attempt to force students into their own mold of learning.

Again, collaboration can be maximized through the use of tablets by providing "open screens" for students within which they can modify content, produce new content, and work with others to create new parameters.

The Reasons for Capture
In addition to the capabilities of the technology, teachers should be more aware of the benefits to the learning process that these digital tools offer.

1. To Connect Reasoning Logically
Computer programs are mathematically based and, therefore, support logic in most obvious ways. We search specific content and are necessarily linked to logical connections to that content through hyperlinks and navigational designs. As an educator myself, I have found that even at the highest levels of learning, logical reasoning can escape many learners. That is, ways of sequencing thought, constructing arguments, and debating points are not skills that many learners acquire in their educational journey. While this is fundamentally a teaching issue, new technology can support that level of skill development well. New technology can provide many contexts within which students are asked to think logically, connect with the thoughts of others, and produce new thinking based on discussion and dialogue. New technology provides environments in which that level of construction can be visibly represented for all participants and can, therefore, make students more aware of gaps in their own logic and thinking. Therefore, using Internet technology to only distribute content or provide easy access to quizzes and tests is missing the point. New technology can enrich the learning experience and provide and capture thought processes like never before. This is something faculty must realize and integrate into the learning process.

2. To Represent Discussion Graphically or Textually
As already stated, representing thought progression visibly is a powerful way to demonstrate to students how they think, how others think, and how they can work together to enrich the thinking process. Threaded discussions are fairly common now in course delivery platforms; however, they can be misused or underused. To award students points and grades for merely offering or negating another's comment is under-using the opportunity. Students should be tutored in the difference between conversation and academic discussion or dialogue. Ideas are what should be exchanged, built upon, and reproduced for ongoing use (Scardamelia, M. 2002). Mere conversation remains passive and does not actively involve an academic process of thought.

3. To Enhance Student Empowerment
When ideas are valued, students are empowered in the process. We can all remember teachers who made us feel inadequate, and we can also remember teachers who made us feel valued in the learning process. The latter occurred when our ideas were valued and integrated into the learning process. We also felt empowered when those ideas were assigned a good grade. Often teachers only assign good grades to ideas that they have transmitted to students, expecting the same returned; this diminishes the learning process. While establishing legitimate parameters for academic discussion (which requires teacher expertise and knowledge), students should be provided many opportunities to contribute to their own learning, the learning of the whole group, and the learning of others outside the class group. Publication of ideas through Internet pages, collaborative projects and papers, and the sharing of ideas all provide students with a sense of empowerment in the learning process.

4. To Promote Production of Learning
Learning outcomes for any course of study should demonstrate direct application to the real world in relevance and use. Through good project planning and holistic assessment design, teachers provide students with opportunities to see first-hand how what they have learned applies to real life, employment and ongoing learning. Creating a culture of production can support that process immensely. That is, creating a learning environment for students, using new technology tools, within which students can produce their own work and see it connect to the real world is critical to encouraging students to take ownership of their learning and becoming excited that as they continue to learn, their production will increase.

The Importance of Planning Distribution
New instructional design necessarily involves attention to the distribution of learning. While we have become quite familiar over the last decade that the Internet can deliver content to students in a course of study, we now need to understand that the content of a course can evolve and grow when students are involved in the process and that collective knowledge can and should be distributed on a regular basis. Distribution now means capturing learning moments and distributing those to students with the group and outside the group on a regular basis. Cell phones can distribute class announcements and changes in schedule, but they can also distribute new ideas, collate project results, and promote ongoing learning opportunities, such as additional tutorials, working groups, assignment "pods," and discussion groups. Pod casts can distribute content in a multi-media object and collaborative screen shots can help to distribute the ownership of the thought process and promote ongoing contributions to the task or projects.

In addition to the importance of the production of learning that is possible now using digital tools, the distribution of those captured learning moments is vital. That is, without realizing the capability of mobility that teachers now have, the benefits of mobility will not be achieved. This I refer to as "mobile pedagogy." Understanding that learning is not confined to the moment in which it was captured means that learning becomes fully accessible, dynamic, and constructive.

While there are very real challenges in emerging teaching methods and uses of new technology in instruction, the capabilities are endless in both capturing and distributing learning beyond conventional confines. Smart Technologies, in a Campus Technology article, "Appealing to the Millennial Learner" wrote:

"In interacting with millennial learners, today's educators face formidable challenges in grabbing and retaining student attention. For better or worse, students are accustomed to large amounts of visual stimulation and to being offered a smorgasbord of ways to absorb information. That includes recorded voice and video capabilities in the classroom. And interactive technologies that let them participate in their own learning experiences." (2007)

My sense is that while there may be an obvious desire from students to receive information differently, the implications for a better learning experience must be what educators consciously plan into instruction. While discussion is ongoing in best practices in the field, an intense injustice is done when new methods are not attempted and new technology is used to merely reinforce conventional ideas about how teaching and learning is to happen. Instructors who keep on learning are very effective teachers; my sense is that the ongoing learning which must be done should involve the capturing and distribution of learning as much as content expertise and course design.

References
Mezirow, Jack (1997). "Transformative Learning: Theory to Practice." In Transformative Learning in Action: Insights from Practice. Hew Directions for Adult and Continuing Education. No 74, edited by P. Cranton, pp. 5-12. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, Summer 1997.

Reynard, Ruth (2005) Blogs in Higher Education: personal voice as part of learning." Campus Technology 2005. Online at http://www.campustechnology.com/

Scardamelia, M. (2002). Collective cognitive responsibility for the advancement of knowledge. In B. Smith (Ed.) Liberal Education in a Knowledge Society (pp.67-98). Chicago, Open Court.

"Smart Campuses: Appealing to the Millennial Learner." Campus Technology, Nov. 2007

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