Learning comes in many ways, book learning, lecture learning, research learning, we even call life experience a form of learning, but one thing most of us share is that we are visual learners. The notion of “one picture is worth a thousand words” can really apply in our classrooms. We can see this on the faces of our students if we apply using visuals in conjunction with our lectures. Perhaps this was engrained in all of us at a very early age when the first books that were introduced to us were picture books. We know the our brain is more active when we view pictures which in turn stimulates more thinking about what we are learning especially if it’s used with an auditory stimulus such as the human voice. The student today grew up in a visual, digital, technical era. Television has advanced in high definition with screens the width of two inches with sound that surpass some of best home sound systems. Most students today weren’t around when TV was in black and white and many don’t remember when you had to bring your film in to have it developed to have pictures made up. If we are always looking for ways to enhance teaching we need to embrace bringing into our classrooms the tools that our students feel comfortable with and can relate to. Using photosharing in the classroom can be one of those tools. It’s important our students learn how to express themselves and express the ideas of others with competent writing skills, but perhaps encouraging students to express themselves though media presentations in addition to their writing could enhance not only the presentation, but perhaps promote additional enthusiasm and creativity from our students. As an example, I teach psychology courses and one of the subjects I teach is Developmental Psychology. As part of our class projects, students need to present their own Life Story in terms of their own stages of development. When I first started giving this assignment out, the papers I received, although many of them very good, didn’t seem to have the intimacy of the writer, they lacked the person behind the story, I then began assigning the same paper, but encouraged students to use pictures, videos, any kind of visuals they choose to help them tell there stories and they needed to do so in front of the class as a oral presentation. That semester I discovered more things about my students then ever before and other students learn more about their fellow students as well. The presentations were creative, entertaining, sometimes humorous, but above a student’s honest portrayal of themselves and even a sense of pride in themselves telling their story. Picturesharing is common today. We document daily activities and moments with our cell phones and then send them off to friends and relatives. It has become another way of communicating and networking. It would seem that if teaching could be enhanced with the use of utilizing more pictures or any other kind of visuals in the classroom in conjunction with our lectures, assignments, student’s projects, etc, then learning would be enhanced as well. So the challenge for us who are teachers is to start thinking out of the box in how we deliver our lectures, assign our assignments and to think more visually about the subjects we teach.
In Steve Haragadon’s blog entry about building effective social networks, he makes a point about “a network must fulfill some compelling need”. This made me think about what are the needs of my students and how can those needs be delivered and met? We teach what we feel is important for our students to learn and present information which usually reflects our own personal style of teaching, but are we fulfilling the needs of our students? How would we know and then devise a network which students would find effective in meeting their education goals? Before any thought goes into building an effective social network it would seem necessary to understand who your audience and participants are going to be. There should to be a period of assessing the needs of our classes and our students.’ What are their goals, strengths as well as weaknesses? Identifying the levels of understanding should be met prior to developing your class site to help ensure the needs are being addressed. If our students acknowledge these themselves, it would help ensure participation and collaboration. Perhaps some ways of getting our students to help identify what would be helpful in the developing a class network site is to simply ask what they would find useful. What are the goals of the class and how those can goals be incorporated in the curriculum. Take a class poll, have students vote on the content in their site and even have student help design the site if possible. If this site is going to be used by the students, then it would seem logical to have the students invest in presentation and content. Perhaps part of the curriculum in all of our class should include the development of class sites designed and approved by each class having a common goal of identifying the content as the course progresses. This could fulfill an effective network between students and establish collaborative learning. We know that students learn best when they are actively involved in the process. Research has shown us that students working together as a group retain information longer and are more satisfied with their classes. Using social networks within classrooms can create informal learning groups where information could be passed from student to student applying what they have learned and sharing this with others.
Finding ways of communicating with each other was and still is a natural activity we humans have, but as with everything else that changes in time, the methods of communicating have become sign of the times. Back in 2003, two young visionaries, Tom Anderson and Chris DeWolfe created My Space, which became an overnight success, mainly with individuals under the age of 20. MySpace allowed it’s users to show off their personality by allowing postings of pictures, music, writings and even clips of either favorite videos or videos made by the users himself. It was if we had a glimpse of a teenager’s bedroom where the walls are plastered with the same media found on their site. In the first year MySpace had over 27 million users with a 400 percent growth the first year. A new era in Social Networking was born and so was how we began to look at that once simplistic idea of communicating. Since MySpace surfaced, others have followed, Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, to mention a few and the countless Blogs that also reach millions in the digital community of conveying information and ideas that in ways that seemed almost impossible 10 years ago. Although the internet has been around for some time, the way of having almost instant social networking is relatively new. As sometimes in personal relationships, people sometimes fall in and out of grace and so it is with sites that gain more popularity than others. Since Facebook arrived in 2006, and it slowly surpassed MySpace and now claims to be the biggest social network in the world. The comparison by marketers states that MySpace is where people go to express themselves, while Facebook is where people are going for two-dimensional conversations. If this is true, could this mean that we still yearn for conversation, dialog with others, good old communication? Perhaps we have the need to feel we are connecting to others and not feel the need to display ourselves like a billboards trying to sell ourselves. If this is true, the evolution of social networking can benefit us all. Feeling more connected to others satisfies our need to not feel isolated and alone. Facebook’s members not only include the MySpace members that once held the majority in social networking, but now includes the over 30 age group are using Facebook as a way of not only communicating with “friends” but finding it a useful tool in connecting with family members, sharing photos, videos, and just checking in with currents events in each others lives. Some say it is almost addicting, making jokes that wasting ones time on such sites could be problematic. But the reality is that this may reflect a need that somehow is being met in the digital world. The need to feel connected to another person, the need to not feel alone and isolated. We hear of senior citizens who create their own communities on sites like Facebook and share their lives with others, both past and present and feel less alone and more connected. I tend to use that old clique “if it makes you feel good, do it”. Just as nature always finds a way in creating a balance for itself, so shall we. When it comes to finding ways to feel more connected to others, we will use what tools we have and utilize them the best way we can. Yes there are risks, losing the ability to have real face to face interactions with others, sitting in front of computers all day and not interacting with the outside world, but let’s not lose sight of our own credibility and the basic needs we all have. This is a tool and like my father use to say, “if you use a tool correctly, you can always get the job done correctly”. Yes, I’m one of those members of Facebook who use to say I would not want to invest my time in such an activity, but I must admit, the social networking not only with family members, but people who I have not met face to face, has allowed me to share my ideas, thoughts and even feelings about various topics with others that have similar interests in my social network. OK I said it, “my social network”. What’s next, perhaps “my global network?”
Using a wiki for your classroom can add many benefits, not only for students, but for the instructor as well. The one thing that we strive for in any classroom experience is participation from our students. This is usually a difficult task in any F2F classroom, but proves more challenging in teaching an online class. Usually students simply respond to the assignments posted, and tend not to invest in much more, but using a class wiki can open up more possibilities in creating online collaboration among your students. Students could have the opportunity to share their notes with the class which allows a better understanding of the material, but also gives the instructor a glimpse if in fact the students are understanding the material. Another advantage is students can begin collaborating with each other and allowing a more cohesive class. They could form groups that could organize ideas for group projects and use the wiki as the central base of putting their information for their projects in a cohesive final paper.
Wiki’s could also be a rich resource for your class creating it own vocabulary list, study guides and list of links to the internet that would serve as additional resources for the students. Class presentations could even be posted on the class wiki allowing each student to share their information and their own resources, rather that online students simply presenting the instructor with his paper and not having the opportunity to share his thoughts and ideas with the rest of the class.
Using the wiki to serve as updating class housekeeping information would be easy as well. Class calendars, posting assignments or any changes in assignments would be an easy way of every student to always being aware of time lines and expectations when assignments were due. This in itself could eliminate those students who seem to always forget or claim they thought assignment was due the week after it was actually due. There shouldn’t be any more need for the instructors for those “reminders” that we always feel the need to give our students. The list could go on and on, depending on the class needs and how creative one could be in utilizing the wiki.
A word about some of the possible obstacles that some may have using a wiki, for this will challenge some of us in letting go of the ownership we take with our classes. We may feel fearful of student’s lack of participation as well as possible disruption and even sabotage of the material presented in the wiki. These are very real possibilities, but if the students can see for themselves the advantages of using such a tool, I believe a sense of pride and ownership with follow. So perhaps the biggest challenge is not only going to be for us as educators to promote and encourage our students to use the wiki, but for us to look at how we will teach the class as well as reeducate ourselves in how we may need to present our classes as well.
In reviewing 2 different models of instruction, I chose the ARCS Model of Motivational Design (Keller) and Gagnes’s Conditions of Learning Theory. I seemed to gravitate to the ARCS model upon quickly reviewing the other models for this assignment. I like the simplicity of its presentation, but really appreciated its foundation of promoting an increase in the student’s motivation. This model focuses on getting the learners attention by: Attention: which includes active participation, variability, humor, incongruity, specific examples and inquiry. Relevance: which include experience, present worth, future usefulness, needs matching, modeling and choice. Confidence: provide objectives, allow for success growth in learners, feedback, and learner control. Satisfaction: learning to be rewarding, insuring skills are useful to learner, providing feedback and reinforcement, and no over-rewarding easy tasks. This model provides the intrinsic kind of motivation that not only sustains learning, but can make the learner feel and celebrate the joys of his or hers accomplishments. The notion of motivation in learning reminds us of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs where he talks about humans needs and how those needs influence human behavior. If you examine his theory you realize that the goal in learning could be related in fulfilling any unsatisfied needs, and the ARCS model seems to have to capability to allow a direction of personal learning though motivation. The Gagne’s Model of Learning on the other hand gives us a model based on acquiring skills which may occur at different levels, such as verbal information, intellectual skills, cognitive strategies, motor skills and attitudes, each type requiring different types of instruction. Gagne’s model includes a nine step process call the events of instruction. This model appears more of a training program for learning information that needs to be shared among a group of individuals striving to achieve a common goal. I have never really been a big fan of a behavioral model of learning and this model seems to more of an intellectual mental processing model rather than an easier applied model for learning. As far as designing a mode of learning in my classroom, I don’t think you can affectively do this without having some opportunity in having a better understanding of what kind of students you have so you can begin to plot your strategy in teaching your class. Again, I seem to favor the ARCS model so I would want to start to identify ways of motivating and stimulating their motivation. I usually break my students up in small groups early in the course and present discussions that allow them to express their feelings and ideas which gives me the opportunity in adjusting my presentation to help meet the characteristics of the class. Also, inquiry is not only important between student and instructor, but also between student and student. In the ARCS model, the most important aspect of this model is keeping the learner’s attention and as in many questions that involve motivation and learning, what if a student lacks motivation and shows no desire to learn, how much of that responsibility should we as instructors assume and what should our strategy be then? Stay tuned more to come.