Week 10: Universal Design for Learning

This past week I read the article, “Universal Design for Learning,” by Dave L. Edyburn. I was already familiar with the concept of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), however, the article was helpful in that it really clarified exactly what UDL is and how it is helpful. The principles of UDL were developed by David Rose and Anne Meyer at the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST). The concept of UDL revolves around brain development, learning, and digital media and its purpose is to help educators understand the diversity of their students and apply different technologies to facilitate the learning of all students. While the dominant theme in education has been changing the individual students so that they could better learn the material, UDL proposes that the curricula must be changed to accommodate each student.

Originally the focus of UDL was on accommodating students with disabilities by altering the methods and materials to meet their specific needs. For example, to accommodate hearing impaired students, teachers would include subtitles in any videos that played. To accommodate students that have difficulty seeing, teachers would provide reading material with larger text or braille options if a student is blind. This approach recognizes that disabled children cannot help their condition and so should not be expected to change in order to learn what is required of them. Instead the educators are required to change their approach to teaching and provide more flexibility.

Now it is recognized that the principles of UDL can be beneficial to all students regardless of whether they have a disability as all students are individuals that have different learning needs. In fact, according to CAST, neuroscience reveals that differences among individuals and the skills, needs and interests they have are as varied and unique as DNA or fingerprints. With that idea in mind it is important that educators recognize the three different brain networks and how they affect learning.

The recognition network focuses on the “what” of learning. Gathering facts, categorizing what we see, hear, and read, and identifying letters, words, or an author’s style are all tasks that take place in the recognition network. According to the principles of UDL, it is important to provide multiple means of representation to aid the recognition network in acquiring information and knowledge. For example, some students might prefer to learn by seeing whereas other students might prefer to learn by hearing or by a combination of the two. So teachers should present information and content in different ways to better reach all students.

The strategic network focuses on the “how” of learning. It is concerned with planning and performing tasks, and the organization and expression of ideas. For example, writing an essay and solving math problems are both strategic tasks that have varying approaches. With the strategic network in mind it is important to provide multiple means of action and expression so that students have different ways to express what they know.

The affective network focuses on the “why” of learning. It is concerned mainly with how learners get engaged and stay motivated. Teachers need to find ways to challenge and excite students to keep them interested in what they are supposed to learn. To do so it is important to provided multiple means of engagement to reach all students.

Here is a diagram from http://www.cast.org that illustrates the three different networks and their locations in the brain.

Learning designers should promote and encourage the implementation of UDL if they are not already doing so because of how beneficial it can be to students. In many cases the principles of UDL are overlooked and students are all required to learn in the same way. However, it isn’t difficult for teachers to start redesigning their curricula in a way that provides students with multiple means of representation, multiple means of action and expression, and multiple means of engagement. It just takes time and some creativity. A simple step that can be taken is to have both visual and audio options as well as a combination of the two available for students to learn material. Interactive digital media that allow students to navigate through material in a nonlinear fashion is also helpful in that students can choose how they explore material. Also, teachers can give students more options in how they perform tasks and complete assignments. These are just a few quick ideas, however there are a lot of ideas at http://www.cast.org that are worth examining.

UDL really is all about creating an individualized learning experience for each student. The old style of teaching all students in the same way is outdated and recognized as being ineffective. Even though implementing the principles of UDL requires educators to take time to change their curriculum, it is a worthwhile change because in the end more students will be reached and more learning will take place.

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Week 9: Motivation in the Workplace

I have a whole new perspective on motivation after reading Patricia L. Hardre’s article, ” Beyond Two Decades of Motivation: A Review of the Research and Practice in Instructional Design and Human Performance Technology” and watching Dan Pink’s TED talk on motivation. I had always assumed that performance in the workplace could be improved through the use of rewards and punishments, which was true last century but not in the 21st century according to Dan Pinks. Pinks explains that extrinsic motivators only work for mechanical tasks that do not require a lot of creativity. He explains that incentives actually dull thinking and block creativity because they narrow our focus and concentrate the mind on a narrow range of solutions. Patricia Hardre also points out in her article that intrinsic motivation is more effective than extrinsic motivation.

So why is intrinsic motivation better than extrinsic motivation? Pinks explains that the solution to getting higher performance on tasks in the 21st century requires a whole new approach built around intrinsic motivation which depends on autonomy, mastery and purpose. Autonomy is the urge to direct our own lives. Mastery is the desire to get better and better at something that matters. Purpose is the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves. According to Pinks, these three elements, autonomy, purpose and mastery, are the building blocks of an entirely new operating system for businesses in America.

One example Pinks provides of this approach in action include 20% time at Google where engineers are allowed to spend 20% of their time on anything they want. Another example is ROWE which stands for Results Only Work Environment. In this case people do not have schedules and meetings are optional. A final example is Wikipedia which is based on intrinsic motivation because no one is paid anything to contribute and Encarta which was based on extrinsic motivation. In each case there have been positive results, especially for Wikipedia. So if companies want to motivate employees to do better and be more creative they need to focus on intrinsic motivation, not extrinsic motivation.

Reading about motivation has made we think about what motivates me to do the things I do. I feel motivated when I enjoy what I do first and foremost. If I don’t take pleasure out of what I am doing no amount of money or any other reward will be able to motivate me because I am still miserable inside when doing it. I also am more motivated when I know what I am doing will benefit me in same way either immediately or at a future time. Having more control over  what kind of work I do, when I do the work, and where I do the work also works to motivate me to work harder and achieve more. Over the years I have been placed into many situations in school or work where I do not enjoy the tasks that are required of me. If I couldn’t find a way to get out of the situation without suffering negative consequences I would find myself giving less than 100% of my effort. Often I would feel as if my time was being wasted and would lose focus on the task at hand. Based on my own experiences I agree with Hadres and Pinks that intrinsic motivation is much more powerful than extrinsic motivation especially where creativity is involved.

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Is Google Making Us Stupid?

In response to the article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” by Nicholas Carr our class held an online debate using voice threads. I was placed on the team that argued that no, Google is not making us stupid. Prior to the debate I didn’t really have an opinion one way or another nor have I really thought at length about it. I grew up using the Internet and honestly don’t know what I would do without it. Not that I don’t like to read books and articles in print. When reading I actually prefer not to read on the screen. However, I almost completely rely on the Internet to find information because it’s just faster and easier and frees up more time for other things in my life. I could not imagine doing my thesis research without being able to access the various electronic databases online and sometimes find myself wondering how people managed to do their research before the Internet was invented.

For the debate I helped in several ways. I volunteered to synthesize the research our team had conducted and to put the first voice thread together for our team. Unfortunately, that week I got sick with a bad sinus infection which made it challenging to accomplish much of anything. However, fellow teammates Katie Hatch and Kayleigh Williams came to my rescue and helped a great deal in putting the voice thread together. Katie and I spent one day synthesizing the research everyone had providing on our team’s Google doc. We also looked for any additional information that we felt would be relevant and helpful for our argument. The next day we met again to organize the information into a presentation. I designed all of the PowerPoint slides that we used in the voice thread and was originally going to record the comments. However, since becoming sick my voice was in no shape to leave audio recordings and fortunately for me Kayleigh took on the task. For the second half of the debate we let the other half of our team take the reigns so that we all had a chance to contribute equally.

After reviewing both sides of the argument I am confident that Google is not making us stupid. Yes, it is changing how we think, but that is no different that when writing was invented or the printing press. To me, the Internet is just a part of evolution. It cannot be stopped and to resist would be detrimental. It’s like natural selection. As a species we are adapting to the change in our culture, and while those that resist won’t become extinct they will lag behind as the adopters excel in the new environment.

I have used computers my entire life and began using the Internet when I was 10 or 11. While it has changed the way I think and perform certain functions, I still like to become absorbed in a good book which is something that Carr says he is no longer able to do. Yes, I do get sidetracked easily if I’m reading something that doesn’t interest me. However, if I am interested in what I am reading I find no problem concentrating.

A point that the opposing team made that I find problematic is that the Internet promotes multitasking and multitasking is making us stupid. Multitasking might cause inefficiencies in terms of time spent performing each task, or it might cause a downgrade in quality, but I do not feel that it is making us stupid. The main issue I have with this argument is that multitasking is a choice. We each have the choice to focus on doing multiple things at one time or doing a single thing at a time. If I know I have to do something that requires my full concentration and deep thinking then I only do that one thing. If I have multiple tasks to perform that do not require a lot of deep thinking or concentration then multitasking is not an issue for me. To say that multitasking is making us stupid is to say that alcohol makes everyone an alcoholic which is obviously not true. Alcohol will always be available whether or not we choose to drink it, and we all have the choice to choose how much we will drink or if we will drink at all. People need to be accountable for their actions and they should not place the blame on the Internet if multitasking did not work out in their favor. Instead they have only themselves to blame.

I am excited to see what the future holds for the Internet. I feel that the positive aspects greatly outweigh any negative aspects at this point in time. I hope that is the case for the future as well. At any rate I see no point in trying to resist the Internet and the changes it brings about as I consider it just another step in the evolution of mankind. As a species we haven’t managed to wipe ourselves out yet and I have a feeling that we will continue to adapt successfully to whatever changes come our way. However, I am glad that there are skeptics out their voicing their opinions because every angle should be scrutinized to ensure that we remain on the right track.

 

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Week 8: Multimodal Learning Through Media

We remember…

  • 10% of what we read
  • 20% of what we hear
  • 30% of what we see
  • 50% of what we see and hear
  • 70% of what we say
  • 90% of what we say and do

= MYTH

I was surprised when the article “Multimodal Learning Through Media: What the Research Says” started out by saying that the above statistics were false and not backed by research. I had heard those statistics in at least half a dozen of my undergraduate classes and had just always assumed that they were true because it came from the lips of my instructors. The statistics were cited by many sources as coming from Edgar Dale’s Cone of Learning which turns out to be a myth. It turns out that Edgar Dale did come up with a cone-shaped diagram, however, it doesn’t include any percentages and instead was described by Dale as a a “visual metaphor” depicting types of learning form the concrete to the abstract. So instead of relating the shape of the cone to retention, Dale related the shape to the degree of abstraction of each type of learning. It’s interesting how one person’s theory can morph into myth over time.

Now that my previous beliefs have been shattered I am forced to rethink how multimodal education can benefit learners. The article states that optimal learning depends on the content, context, and the learner. Furthermore the design of lessons must adapt to the “expertise and prior knowledge of the learner, the complexity of the content, and interests of the learner.” Therefore, instead of depending on a set formula for success such as the mythical Cone of Learning, educators need to adapt lessons to individual students, contents and contexts.

It is also important to take into account how the brain works and the physiological limitations to learning. There are three types of memory that work together to process and retain information: sensory, working and long-term. The sensory memory processes any aspect of the world that we sense. These sensory memories are stored briefly in the long-term memory as episodic knowledge unless we pay close attention to these sensations in which case they are placed in the working memory.

Working memory is where thinking takes place and includes our short-term memory. It is important to remember that our short-term memory is limited in how much it can contain at any one time. According to the article, it is limited to approximately four objects that are visual/spatial in nature and approximately seven objects that are verbal in nature. Trying to overfill the short-term memory results in cognitive overload which should be avoided. I experience cognitive overload when I attempt to multitask a lot of the time. For example if I try to read a book with a TV on in the background I find that I quickly forget what I have read and have no idea what I just listened to on the TV. The fact that the working memory can only store a very limited amount of information at a time is a good reason to avoid multitasking altogether.

The long-term memory unlike the short-term memory is  capable of storing an unlimited amount of information over a lifetime. There are two types of long-term memories: episodic and semantic. Episodic memories come from sensory input and are involuntary. Although I can’t really remember any episodic memories since they are processed subconsciously some examples that I have personally experienced would include the sights and sounds I experience as I’m walking the dogs or walking through the halls on my way to class. Semantic memories come from the working memory and result from thinking that has taken place. Some examples of semantic memories include the thinking that takes place when I’m reading an article, writing a paper or listening to an instructor explain something.

I do think that a greater proportion of young childrens’ learning is probably episodic since everything is so new to them. When we experience something for the first time we tend to focus more on what we are experiencing and learning because it is new and exciting. It seems like as we grow older and have more experiences we pay less attention to what goes on around us because they are experiences that are familiar to us.

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Week 9: Interactivity

Last week in LRND 6700 I read a series of articles about interactivity and the need for change in education. To begin with there are different types of interactions. In educational contexts people interact with each other synchronously in classroom settings or asynchronously through the use of computer technology. In all situations these interactions can take place between two individuals or a single individual and a computer or between a group of people of any size either face to face or online. The types of interactions that take place also vary depending on the situation.

A point that really stood out to be in the article “Interaction” from elearnspace.org was that the act of interaction and the goal of interaction are two different things. An interaction is just an exchange of information whereas the goal of interaction is to lead one to reflection. Different types of interactions take place all the time, but it is the process of reflecting that elevates some interactions above others. For example, when I am reading an articles online I am interacting with the computer by navigating to that article and scrolling through it. I am also interacting with the article itself through the act of reading the words. However I haven’t reached the goal of the interaction until I reflect on and synthesize what I have read, either through taking notes, writing an essay or blog post, or discussing the article with another person. Through reflection and evaluation the information is transferred into short-term memory where is quickly gets replaced by new information since we are only capable of retaining a limited amount of information at once in our short-term memories.

“Engage Me or Enrage Me” by Marc Prensky points out that the way we have traditionally education children is no longer working and needs to be updated. Today’s children have grown up surrounded by digital technology and are no longer engaged by lectures and linear textbooks. Today’s generation of students need to interact with information and ideas in a way that they feel comfortable and in a way that motivates them. Since they are comfortable using digital technology educators should embrace e-learning tools and social media rather than prohibit it as is often the case. If students aren’t motivated then we can’t expect them to willingly reflect on and evaluate their interactions and thus store information in their long-term memories. It is no surprise that there hasn’t been an improvement in test scores nationwide as the traditional (and most of the time current) approach is all wrong. I agree with the argument that there is not an ADD problem with children today. Educators are just taking the wrong approach and emphasizing the wrong types of interactions.

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Weeks 7 & 8: Researching Stephen Downes

Throughout weeks 7 and 8 of LRND 6700 Kayleigh Williams and I researched the work of future theorist Stephen Downes and created a presentation using Animoto. When I found out that we would have the option of using either Glogster or Animoto to create our presentations I was excited because I have been using Animoto for the past year to create slideshows for my wedding photography. Since I was already familiar with the program and had a pro account it made the assignment fairly easy to complete. However, it was a little challenging to figure out how to present our research in short segments so that it could be timed to music. Basically we just broke down the information so that we were displaying a single point for each slide so that viewers would have enough time to read each slide and comprehend what they were reading. Our presentation can be viewed at the following address: http://animoto.com/play/RxNVpt111oMJA4q7e6Imqg.

I will say that deciding what to include in the presentation was our largest challenge because Stephen Downes is a prolific writer. We decided to stick solely to the information provided on his website (http://www.downes.ca/) to make our lives a little easier. There had to be over a thousand articles and presentations on his website which was overwhelming to sort through. Needless to say we did not have time to go through everything.

What we did learn was that Stephen Downes studied epistemology and the philosophy of science at the University of Calgary and completed his PhD at the University of Alberta. He then worked as an instructor at various colleges as well as a senior researcher for the National Research Council of Canada. He specializes in the fields of online learning, new media, pedagogy and philosophy. After the Internet became commercialized in the 1990s he started to focus in e-learning and with the help of George Siemens developed the first massive open online course (MOOC) in 2008.

In one of his presentations Downes defined a MOOC as a forum for dialogue and reflection on topics and experiences. It is a place where people can discuss topics with international experts in the field and train and update ourselves in trends worldwide. MOOC’s are based on the connectivist theories that learning and cognition happen in a network. He believes that as the world in changing, education and the way we learn is also changing and the MOOC is his response to those changes. Within a MOOC the connections between people are more important that the content itself. MOOC’s are made possible by various e-learning 2.0 tools and various forms of social media. I think this picture is hilarious and does a good job describing the anatomy of a MOOC.

I think that MOOC’s are a great way to connect people on a global level that might never have come into contact before. I am interested to see how the concept catches on and the impact it will have on education in the future.

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Week 7: Our Memories Make Us Intelligent

I love reading On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins because he writes about the human brain and how we think in a way that makes sense even though I have almost no background knowledge on the topic. His analogies are really helpful and he doesn’t use a lot of technical jargon, which keeps it simple and easy to understand. In chapters 4 and 5, Hawkins discusses the memory-prediction framework. Basically, the neocortex stores sequences of patterns, which are our memories. The brain is then able to retrieve these patterns even if it only has a small portion of any given pattern as an input. Furthermore, these patterns are stored in an invariant form allowing the brain to apply memories of past events to new situations even if they are not identical to one another.

I think that these concepts can absolutely be applied to creating more effective courses at any level: primary, secondary, and postsecondary. When creating courses, instructional designers should keep in mind that we learn by building onto what we already know from past experiences. It makes sense then to design courses that build on students’ knowledge from previous courses. Of course this is already done at every level of education. For example, you can’t learn calculus without first learning algebra and precalculus. However,  students do not always develop the necessary patterns of memories to move on to more complicated subjects and they are thrown into situations where they are not always able to retrieve the knowledge they need to effectively learn more difficult subjects. This could be because they did not pay attention the first time or they struggled with an area and was not given the help they needed to develop the knowledge base to move on to more difficult subjects. Without memories to draw from, it is that much more difficult to learn new things. For example, in high school I was pretty good at math – I didn’t really like it, but if I paid attention and studied I did well. That is until I got to pre-calculus. I was assigned to an instructor that was near retirement and didn’t want to bother teaching. We were told on a regular basis to teach each other concepts that were new and foreign to us. In his class cheating was implicitly encouraged because he only assigned us homework that we had access to the answers to in the back of the book and we graded all of our own assignments. Furthermore, he knew everyone was cheating but did not care because it was less work for him.

When we moved on to calculus the next year we were so far behind the other students who had a different pre-calculus teacher that we had to put in twice the amount of work to pass the class. We had to relearn certain subjects like trigonometry, which was frustrating to the students that did have a solid foundation already. I can honestly say that I passed both classes, but I don’t remember anything that I learned. I spent a full year taking a calculus class and I could not tell you a single thing about calculus because I don’t even remember what we did. It’s crazy to think that you can spend so much time studying something and do well but not retain anything.

To avoid situations like the one I found myself in it is important that instructors design courses in a way that students are able to grasp important concepts and store important memories so that they can be retrieved later. I think it is even more important that each student is looked at as an individual with individual needs. Instructors should provided individualized education to make sure that each student learns the material and develops strong memories of what they learn so that it is easy to retrieve these memories later. Instead, so many instructors focus on teaching subjects at a single pace and if some students don’t understand they just get a low grade and no additional help. Those students are then left to fend for themselves as they move on to more difficult courses. Learning should be personalized and students should be able to learn at their own pace so that they store the necessary sequences of patterns to draw on as they progress academically.

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