Social Network Learning: Supporting Theory and Framework

Pull up a chair. Here is my paper for EdTech 505:

Social Network Learning: Supporting Theory and Framework

While it’s not reading for the faint of heart, it is for those interested in supporting their use of social network learning with learning theory. It certainly contributed to my personal growth and connectivist learning. Enjoy!

An Evaluation of Evaluation

appleIn the spirit of reflection and at the completion of yet another intense course experience, I find that I learned far more than I ever intended. While I can’t say I was giddy at the thought of taking EdTech 505 Evaluation for Educational Technologists, I did recognize that my learning curve would be huge. It was. I entered with not even a working definition of program evaluation and now have the skills to conduct one.

I began the course by creating a Gretel-at-a-glance word cloud explaining who I am and what I hope to gain from the course. My formal experience with program evaluation was nonexistent. My objectives for this course were to learn evaluation techniques that could help me evaluate some of the big picture programs in a school. I feel like I at least have the tools and background I need to begin.

Many of the course assignments were exercises found in the course textbook so I didn’t find the need post them on this learning log. One of the downsides of this course is that it is not really designed to increase my digital footprint.

Program evaluation “enables accountability” (Boulmetis & Dutwin, 2011, p. 38). I enjoyed reading about the various vantage points and considerations that make evaluations meaningful. Everyone, especially in today’s economy, wants to know “what did we get for our money [or time, or effort]? Did it work? Did it do what we hoped it would?” Those are fair and important questions. I appreciate the detailed explanations, both in the module and in the text, of programs, inputs, process, outputs, and outcomes.

Our final project was to conduct a small-scale but real program evaluation. The Explore Nepal program is an extensive school-wide program designed to help students reach out to the Nepali community and gain a deeper connection to their host country. I chose go evaluate the Grade 6 Explore Nepal week-long trip to a local Tibetan monastery to see whether the program objectives laid out for the trip were accomplished. The five objectives include: learning about Nepali culture through community interaction, environmental awareness, service learning, challenging physical activities, and team building. It was a major effort and here is a link to a generic copy of my final report:

Summative Evaluation: Grade 6 Explore Nepal Program

Summative Evaluation: Grade 6 Explore Nepal Program on Google Docs
Summative Evaluation Flipbook

One fun aspect of this course was the option on nearly every assignment to turn in an alternate submission format using some sort of tech tool. Some people created slideshows, videos, infographics, collaborative corkboards, flip magazines, and mind maps. It was fun to see the creativity and it sure was nice to have this option to shake things up. I wish every teacher would do that and allow students to complete an assignment while building their online presence, developing creativity, and taking ownership of their learning.

While I didn’t love everything about this course and would have liked more focus on education and technology, I certainly learned a lot that will serve me well, even if I don’t become a professional evaluator. What a ride it has been!

Other coursework:
Evaluation Design Format
Gap Analysis
Program Cycle
Goal-Based Method, Design, and Type
Top 3 Sites on Data Analysis
Review of Chapters 1-9 in course text
Request for Proposal (fictional)

References:
Boulmetis, J., & Dutwin, P. (2011). The ABCs of evaluation: Timeless techniques for     program and project Managers (3rd ed.). Jossey-Bass.

Personal Growth and Connectivism

My students would find it no surprise to see yet another word cloud in this reflection. I love word clouds! They are such a creative, versatile tool that can be used for fun, nonsense, and also as a writing tool like summarizing key concepts. This Tagxedo word cloud may not look like much, but let me assure you it represents hours (DAYS!), sweat, and tears. It also represents a newly grown knowledge within me, which is really what it’s about in the first place.  Specifically, this is a visual representation of my 2852-word synthesis paper draft for EdTech 504. I’ll spare you the math: that’s 8 dense, heavy, scholarly pages, not including 2.5 pages of peer-reviewed references. I don’t think I’ve ever written a paper that includes so-far 21 references. Wow.  It’s not called a synthesis paper for nothing. To synthesize is to combine, sort through, fuse, and otherwise make sense of a lot of information. I have read dozens of scholarly journals, articles, blog posts (which aren’t peer re-viewed but provide interesting context), and eBooks. I’ve scoured the APA Style Guide and become good friends again with Zotero. This is not light reading, by the way, about tools and apps. This is heavy stuff that includes words I knew little about before starting this course, words like constructivism, connectivism, taxonomy, and epistemology.  Yet, 2852 words later, I have a much better handle on the information. In fact, what was so utterly confusing and aggravating when I was in the thick of it, actually makes sense. I think I get it, at least as it pertains to my focus. Here’s the plain English: More and more teachers are using VLE social network learning sites such as  Edmodo, Schoology, Moodle, Blackboard, and Canvas. These sites provide a controlled environment where teachers and students interact, post and submit homework, give and receive feedback from their peers, and link to course resources and information. Social network learning, which by the way is distinctly different pedagogically than social networking, is like a walled-garen that helps students learn critical skills while in a safe and controlled environment. Most of us know and love social media and it is an integral part of our lives. How, then, can this desire to be connected, to be part of something greater than ourselves, translate into the classroom? Should we really require that our students completely “disconnect” when they come to school from their real lives and the tools that are integral to their very existence?  This paper supports the use of intentional, planned, purposeful social learning networks to engage students in the classroom. It attempts to “define social network learning and its theoretical connectivism foundations, and provides learning strategies that apply such pedagogy in the classroom.” Basically, it is the “why” of using social network learning strategies. I mainly look at social network learning through connectivist principles, and explore practical applications such as Virtual Learning Environments, Learning Communities, and Project-Based Learning. I explore traditional learning theories and emerging learning theories (the connectivism: theory or framework? debate) and use these to argue the critical need of using social networks in the classroom. I have long been a believer in helping students make connections, of giving them a larger audience, of equipping them with the rules of online social behavior while we have them in our reach. Now I have a basis for this belief, and I’ve emerged with an even greater commitment. Since technology has “reorganized how we live, how we communicate, and how we learn” (Siemens, 2004), shouldn’t we, as educators, be willing to help our students make some sense of it all? I believe we should.  Connectivism, at its heart, holds that rather than transferring, making, or building knowledge, connectivism is more like “growing or developing ourselves and our society in certain (connected) ways” (Downes, 2007, para. 6). As my word cloud flower proves, new knowledge has certainly grown within me. References:  Downes, S. (2007, February 3). What connectivism is. Half an Hour. Blog. Retrieved from 		http://halfanhour.blogspot.com/2007/02/what-connectivism-is.html  Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A theory for the digital age. Retrieved from 				http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htmMy students would find it no surprise to see yet another word cloud in my reflection. I love word clouds! They are such a creative, versatile tool that can be used for fun, nonsense, and also as a writing tool like summarizing key concepts. This Tagxedo word cloud may not look like much, but let me assure you it represents hours (DAYS!), sweat, and tears. It also represents a newly grown knowledge within me, which is really what it’s about in the first place.

Specifically, this is a visual representation of my 2852-word synthesis paper draft for EdTech 504. I’ll spare you the math: that’s 8 dense, heavy, scholarly pages, not including 2.5 pages of peer-reviewed references. I don’t think I’ve ever written a paper that includes so-far 21 references. Wow.

It’s not called a synthesis paper for nothing. To synthesize is to combine, sort through, fuse, and otherwise make sense of a lot of information. I have read dozens of scholarly journals, articles, blog posts (which aren’t peer re-viewed but provide interesting context), and eBooks. I’ve scoured the APA Style Guide and become good friends again with Zotero.

This is not light reading, by the way. It is heavy stuff that includes words I knew little about before starting this course, words like constructivism, connectivism, taxonomy, and epistemology.

Yet, 2852 words later, I have a much better handle on it all. In fact, what was so utterly confusing and aggravating when I was in the thick of it, actually makes sense. I think I get it, at least as it pertains to my limited focus. Here’s the plain English:

More and more teachers are using Virtual Learning Environments (VLE) social network learning sites such as  Edmodo, Schoology, Moodle, Blackboard, and Canvas. These sites provide a controlled environment where teachers and students interact, post and submit homework, give and receive feedback from their peers, and link to course resources and information. Social network learning, which by the way is distinctly different pedagogically than social networking, is like a walled-garen that helps students learn critical skills while in a safe and controlled environment.

Most of us know and love social media, and it is an integral part of our lives. How, then, can this desire to be connected, to be part of something greater than ourselves, translate into the classroom? Should we really require that our students completely “disconnect” when they come to school from their real lives and the tools that are integral to their very existence?

My paper supports the use of intentional, planned, purposeful social learning networks to engage students in the classroom. It attempts to “define social network learning and its theoretical connectivist foundations, and provides learning strategies to apply such pedagogy in the classroom.” Basically, it is the why of using social network learning strategies.

I look at social network learning through connectivist principles, and explore practical applications such as Virtual Learning Environments, Learning Communities, and Project-Based Learning. I explore traditional learning theories and emerging learning theories (theory or framework debate) and use these to argue the critical need of using social networks in the classroom.

I have long been a believer in helping students make connections, of giving them a larger audience, of equipping them with the skills that govern online social behavior while we still have them in our reach. Now I have a basis for this belief, and I’ve emerged with an even greater commitment. Since technology has “reorganized how we live, how we communicate, and how we learn” (Siemens, 2004), shouldn’t we, as educators, be willing to help our students make some sense of it all? Use it? Benefit from it?

I believe we should.

Connectivism, at its heart, holds that rather than transferring, making, or building knowledge, it is more like “growing or developing ourselves and our society in certain (connected) ways” (Downes, 2007, para. 6).

As my word cloud flower proves, new knowledge has certainly grown within me.

References:

Downes, S. (2007, February 3). What connectivism is. Half an Hour. Blog. Retrieved from    http://halfanhour.blogspot.com/2007/02/what-connectivism-is.html

Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A theory for the digital age. Retrieved from                 http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm

Connectivism: An attempted explantion

I find connectivism a most fascinating emerging theory, which is why I chose awhile back to design this Periodic Table of Connectivism for EdTech 543 Social Network Learning that incidentally was picked up and shared on various networks. I am intrigued by the debate on whether connectivism should be considered a modern-day theory or a mere framework for learning. Both sides have strong arguments, but regardless of its status, it “continues to play an important role in the development and emergence of new pedagogies” (Kop & Hill, 2008) and will become increasingly important in learning environments. Connectivism is based on constructivist principles that state learning is not acquired or gained; rather, it is distributed across a network of connections, built, and grown (Downes, 2007).

If this is indeed true, and if it is true that “technology has reorganized how we live, how we communicate, and how we learn” (Siemens, 2004), then connectivist principles should be embraced in schools rather than feared.

This year at our school teachers are discovering virtual learning environments (VLEs) such as Edmodo and Schoology. While we use Google Apps heavily, many teachers are finding that they really like the collaborative communication that VLEs provide. Students comment and give feedback, ask questions, and otherwise engage with the content and each other. This sort of connected learning is a fundamental principle of connectivism. I certainly want to include a more connectivist approach in everything I do. For example, I’m about to have the younger grades create their first eBook and then share and comment on each other’s. I anticipate that they will really like this activity because they will learn something new from a classmate and be able to comment on it.

Just because a learning theory or framework is complicated doesn’t mean teachers can’t incorporate some basic principles in their pedagogy.  While I have yet to really get a handle on connectivism, I do intend to have my students continue to reach out to each other and grow their learning.

References:

Downes, S. (2007, February 3). What connectivism is [Web log post]. Half an Hour. Retrieved from http://halfanhour.blogspot.com/2007/02/what-connectivism-is.html

Kop, R., & Hill, A. (2008). Connectivism: Learning theory of the future or vestige of the past? The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 9(3). Retrieved from http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/523

Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age. elearnspace. Retrieved from http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm

Theory-supported Social Networking: A Reflection

An annotated bibliography makes a standard APA reference list look like a walk in the park. In case you, like me until this week’s EdTech504 assignment, have never had the privilege of creating such a resource, let me help you. An annotated bibliography is a blend: part paper, part reference list, part taxonomy. In this case it includes 7-10 resources on a topic of interest relating to educational technology theory. Such topic should be (as our module instructs) “broad enough to allow full exploration of the topic but narrow enough to be a thorough analysis.”

Not only did I find, read, summarize, and cite such resources from peer-reviewed sources, I wrote a short paragraph on each one. Lest you think that is simple, let me explain. This paragraph is much more than a summary or abstract of the article. It is a critical analysis of its purpose, a comparison to other works in the field, an explanation of how it fits into my taxonomy, and requires my personal conclusions and observations.

In short, the annotated bibliography is no small feat, as you may surmise from its title Selected Research on Supporting Theory and Frameworks for Social Networking: An Annotated Bibliography.

In plain English, I chose to dive into the framework and theory that supports using social networking in education. I knew social networking is fun and engaging for students. Schools use sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Edmodo, and Schoology to help students collaborate and connect. What I didn’t have a handle on before now is the research supporting such practice. Eight long resources later, along with several other course resources, I now do.

Social Networking is much more than a fun way to socialize. The Internet, though not initially designed as such, has become a social experience focused more on relationships than information or content (Lankshear, 2000). Depending on how well it is integrated into course design, social networking can engage learners and foster better retention (Jonassen, 1991).

I have seen this as I’ve assisted in my school’s 9th Grade Understanding Computers course. The teacher chose to use Edmodo as a learning management system and I am impressed at how well the students have embraced this format. The students always know what is coming, what is due, where they stand, and have all course materials easily at their fingertips. Comments and feedback are integrated throughout and they have responded well to the social nature of this course. According to Boitshwarelo (2011), the versatility of the online environment is an excellent medium to explore the growth and facilitation of key concepts of the connectivism theory. Social networking is supported by select learning principles from other learning theories such as behaviorism, where the learner is reactive rather than active in creating knowledge. Anyone who has sat back and caught up on current events or sporting event outcomes by reading their Facebook news feed can relate to this idea.

I think time will tell how social networking will impact long-term education and achievement, but there are some exciting possibilities that teachers can use now help engage their students in learning.

References:
Boitshwarelo, B. (2011). Proposing an integrated research framework for connectivism: Utilising Theoretical Synergies. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 12(3), 161–179.

Jonassen, D. (1991). Objectivism versus constructivism: Do we need a new philosophical
paradigm? Educational Technology Research and Development, 39(3), 5-14.

Lankshear, C. (2000). Information, knowledge and learning: Some issues facing epistemology and education in a digital age. Journal Of Philosophy Of Education, 34(1), 17.

Behind the scenes of NETS•S K-5 Curriculum Integration Curation: A Reflection

Link to Learnist Board

Curating is hard work. To come up with this list of 25 acceptable resources involved a lot of filtering, sifting, and otherwise weeding out. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.

That somebody is me – and lots of educational technology professionals like me who take pride in their work. We do the hard stuff so you don’t have to. The end result is a resource I feel is substantial, helpful, and contributes to the greater good of knowledge.

Last week in EdTech 543 I co-created a curation checklist of what 15 things to ask when creating such a collection of resources. This week I used that criteria to curate a collection on a topic of my choice. I opted to try the new Learnist platform, which has been compared to a Pinterest for education. So far it’s in beta and is invite-only. Sign up requires a Facebook account, and they claim to search my online presence to see if I’m someone they want. I must have passed because I received an invite in three days. This site could be a wonderful professional development tool and it will be interesting to see how it plays out. I can even mark certain things I’ve read as “learned.”

I chose to create a board that collects best practices and resources for NETS•S curricular alignment, integration, and assessment for K-5 Elementary Schools. I am tasked with developing a NETS•S-aligned curriculum for my PK-12 school, which is a rather daunting task. I needed to scour the Internet to get an idea of what other schools and teachers are doing and glean the most helpful resources. I certainly have a much better handle on things than when I started.

Applying my group’s checklist criteria, here’s my self-evaluation:

  1. Does the content come from a reliable and trustworthy source? [Some do, some are unclear, but for my purposes I felt it was important to include lots of ideas, even if they are from a source I’m not familiar with.]
  2. Is the content I provide concise and targeted, meaning it is easier to sort through than just doing a Google search? [Yes, it certainly took a lot of digging]
  3. Is the title catchy, meaning did I name it something that will get my audience’s attention? [Yes, if someone is looking for help with this specific topic]
  4. Do the images and videos contained within support the message being delivered? [Yes. I purposely included screenshots that supported the message rather than the default images Learnist gleaned from the sites]
  5. Are resources cited and given full and proper credit? [Yes, they are linked to directly within Learnist]
  6. Are goals and objectives clear? Have I articulated why I am teaching the content? [Yes, the Learnist board description outlines my purpose]
  7. Do I make the content interesting and engage my audience. Does my audience participate in conversations? [Yes, I have made comments on each resource including what I liked and why I included it. Comments and sharing are enabled.]
  8. Do I make the content easy to understand and to learn? Do they know how to apply what they have learned? [Yes, though the topic is a bit dense, users can quickly see from my descriptions if it is worth it to visit a particular resource.]
  9. Does the content create deeper thinking and help the audience to take ownership of their learning? [Hard to say. Given the content, anyone searching for help on this specific topic should find something they can use.]
  10. Do I continue to research and develop so I can share only the most current and the best information? [Yes and no. I felt it was important to include a few older resources in order to provide specific perspective.]
  11. Is the content relevant and timely? [Yes]
  12. Is the content original and of high-quality? [Yes, every resource included provides substantial content]
  13. Are a variety of media represented to explain the topic at hand (video, articles, photos, blogs, infographics, presentations, journals, etc.)? [Not enough. Due to the topic, there are limited resources available. I did include a Prezi, several PDFs, blog entries, and websites.]
  14. Does the resource contribute value to the overall learning goal or strategy? [Yes. This is a good place to start for all things NETS•S in K-5]
  15. Do I expand, comment, explain, interpret, contextualize, critique, or otherwise make the resource understandable for my intended audience? [Yes. I felt it was important to annotate each resource in order to save my reader time.]

So, while curation is a lot of work, the end result is one that has really helped me and hopefully will help others out there as well.

Twitter Power


“Educators really can’t afford to NOT be on Twitter.  Our educational landscape is changing very rapidly.  Our students are using this technology every day, and as educators we must continually be growing and finding new ways to learn and to reach our students.  Is Twitter perfect?  By no means.  But used correctly, Twitter can really become a catalyst in transforming your classroom, your school, and your teaching.”
~ Texas Principal

Having discovered Twitter only recently, I’m a few years behind the curve (6.5, actually).  Of course I’ve heard of the tool: who hasn’t? But I’m a recent convert to truly seeing it in action and feeling its power. I’ll draw from my years as a self-proclaimed “Mac Missionary” to paint a comparison.

Several conversations with friends, co-workers, and neighbors start with them asking me, “I need a new computer. I don’t really want a Mac, but can you tell me again why you like them so much?” Seeds are planted. Before long that friend has bought a brand-new MacBook Pro, iPad, iMac, or iPhone. I wait for what I know is bound to follow: the phone calls, emails, or silent exclamations of “Why did I wait so long?” “Do you know this can do…?” “Can you believe this…? and “I will never go back.” They discover something that has greatly enriched their digital life and shout praises to the choir: me. It’s OK, really. I love this stuff.

Back to Twitter. If you have a front row choir seat on this technology, then I give you permission to doze off now. Perhaps no one will notice. Do the rest of you know what a powerful tool Twitter is? Can be? Should be? I am really enjoying my learning curve.

This week’s assignment for EdTech 543 was to follow at least five new hashtags, organize them using a Twitter client (I chose Tweetdeck), and post at least three new ideas or resources I gained in the process. I wish all of my homework were as much fun!

After viewing The 2012 A-Z List Of Educational Twitter Hashtags and a bit of exploration, I chose to follow (at least for now) these hashtags: #edchat, #edtech, #futureofed, #edutopia, #mlearning, #edapp, and #slide2learn. I’m also following several EdTech professionals and groups. We’ll see which ones prove most valuable.

Within minutes I have dozens of new tools, resources, and ideas at my fingertips. My wheels are turning!

I have been asked to lead a professional development discussion next week on Personal Learning Networks. I will also be giving a beginner and intermediate training on SMART Boards. I have so many new resources at my fingertips I barely know where to begin.

Here are a few great things I’ll immediately draw from:

I’m the first to admit that it’s a big and overwhelming digital world out there. It can drain our time and resources if we let it. The flip side, fortunately, is that it can also save time and increase our resources.

I doubt I’ll use Twitter much on a personal level, but already it has greatly enriched me professionally. Twitter’s own site states, “Whether you tweet 100 times a day or never, you still have access to the voices and information surrounding all that interests you. You can contribute, or just listen in and retrieve up-to-the-second information.” Wherever we may fall on the spectrum, we ought to be on it somewhere.

I’ve learned again this week that until we as individuals or as educators have a reason to use a new tool or technology it will not have an impact. The relative advantage of any such technology needs to be assessed. We need to look at what things are already part of our everyday lives and see if there is a way to apply them educationally in a classroom setting. We can’t afford not to.

P.S. Watch how this college professor uses Twitter brilliantly:

Instructional Design Final Project

Wow.

When I started EdTech 503 I really had no idea what was in store. I do now. While I feel somewhat overwhelmed with all I have learned I also feel empowered. I certainly need and want to learn more.

My project for this course was to design three-hour instruction to help 8th and 9th grade students learn to use Google Docs presentations. It is geared for English Literature students who need to do a class presentation on a poet. They will not only gain content area knowledge but learn valuable 21st Century digital skills that they can apply in various real-world scenarios. It’s been fun but daunting.

Here is my 35-page project. There are many supporting documents linked throughout. It has been a grueling process but certainly a learning one.

Instructor’s Guide and ARCS Table

Piece by piece, my instructional design project is coming together. This week I have thought through what the actual instruction will look like. What materials will the instructor use? How will the lessons be organized? How will the instructor motivate the students? I enjoyed this assignment because it was less theoretical and more practical. There are two different models we used and I post them both here. Each image links to Google Docs:

RSS Feeds for Education


Gretel’s Shared Items on Google Reader

This is a link to a few educational technology RSS feeds I subscribe to and have shared publicly.

This week in EdTech 501, I explored RSS feeds in depth. This is a new tool for me, one I have not utilized much. If used effectively, Google Reader can save a lost of wasted time online by bringing the things I’m interested in to me, rather than me having to search for them. I included this reflection on our class forum, which I’ve copied below:

I was thrilled to dive in to RSS feeds for this assignment. I’ve been vaguely familiar with the term, and have subscribed to a few feeds in Google Reader, but I’ve never realized what a time-saving tool RSS can be. For so many reasons, I find myself wanting to use Google Reader more efficiently to minimize wasted time online. Teachers and students alike can benefit from using RSS feeds effectively.Teachers can use RSS feeds in a number of ways to make their classroom more efficient, and at the same time help their students gain some valuable time-management skills. Teachers can subscribe to their favorite blogs, journals, technology updates, news feeds, and any other curriculum material that will enhance the learning environment in their classroom. They can suggest curriculum-related sites for their students to subscribe to. Teachers can collaboratively make their own material available for others.Students can also benefit from RSS, such as subscribing to updates from the class blog, research forums, interest groups, clubs, and extracurricular activity pages. On a personal level, they can subscribe to friends’ blogs, receive news and sports updates, and keep abreast of anything of interest to them. Sharing feeds publicly could also be a good research activity for students on a given topic. If shown how to use Google Reader efficiently, students may find it to be a powerful tool.

Perhaps the biggest advantage of RSS, and why it is a tool worth mastering, is that it saves time. Rather than spending time surfing the Internet, wondering what’s new, hoping to stumble across pertinent information, teachers and students can have relevant information delivered directly to them through their feed reader. It is like having a personal assistant out there scouring the best of the web and delivering it right to your door.

Sounds good to me…