Saturday, September 7, 2013

Power over Technology Concedes Nothing without a Demand

"Technology empowers the user and takes power from those who want to be in charge."     —Lisa Nielsen of The Innovative Educator (blog and Facebook Group).

The above quote is from a Facebook conversation earlier today about BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) a.k.a. BYOT (...Technology) in the conventional classroom. We also had a couple of nice tangents about how the concept may apply to educators in different settings.

Overall, Lisa's quote makes a point I want to help my students understand—that it doesn't have to be the session leader's way or the highway, with technology just reinforcing existing hierarchies. I think a look at how "adults" act in BYOD situations may help inform our decisions about how to work with students. In other words, it may not be that hard to figure out.

In faculty meetings, it's important for the "people in charge" not to waste meeting time doing stuff that makes attendees want to go to their computers or mobile devices. Then a supervisor or chair doesn't have to "play teacher," looking askance at faculty who are indeed checking mail, chatting, texting, or doing class prep instead of hanging on every word of an esteemed presenter. Even with a worthwhile agenda, poor use of technology in a roomful of people talking about innovation seems to put everyone at cross purposes.

My bestest PLN-space so far
One reason that "conventional educators" are connecting with PLNs (Personal Learning Networks) on Google+, Facebook, and Twitter is because we can't seem to sustain the same quality of conversations locally—except with a few colleagues in informal settings. In larger gatherings such as department or college meetings, it only takes a couple of naysayers to shut you down when you suggest that better use of technology or a bit of common sense might improve meeting procedures. They pick up the scent of a challenge to Parkinson's Law of Triviality and will generally not put up with it for long.

Something related applies to learners in the classroom, of course, and that is where today's BYOD conversation began. Some of us are finally catching on: Don't waste time doing stuff (or putting out info, or testing on discrete factoids) that the students can Google for themselves. One DOES have to spend time on context, and the importance of knowing what to Google, and why it matters to know this. That's a harder conversation to have, and you (okay, I) may lose some very traditional students who want to be spoon-fed and then to regurgitate at mid-term or final in the time-honored fashion. (Rather than just settle for some attrition, I know I must come back to this elsewhere. Suggestions welcome!)

I am not yet sure how to address another aspect of the larger #edtech question: How not to go all colonialist or missionary on your learners, and "help" people in ways that are "for their own good" without respecting their input. Here you go, have some appropriate technology! Except that we can be mindful and listen carefully for what help learners may actually want/need. I am going down this road with my classes now, albeit slowly. I'm not sure what I'd do in a more locked-down K12 district telling me through official policy what tech to use or not use in my classroom.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

[This is cross-posted from a Google+ comment in the Community called Google Apps for Education] I used G+ Communities for two of my undergrad classes last semester. Different courses, one face-to-face and one online. I am just activating new ones for fall, similar situation. I did not have a single Community for the whole class because I did not have a good reason for making students join in. But I did have a Circle for the whole class so I could share with everyone in a single post. Here are a few points that might be of interest. Feedback or suggestions from anyone here will be welcome!


  • I set up all student Communities as Private, not Public. This was to create the sense of a "safe" space. Only a few students had stated concerns. The institution doesn't know or care, to my knowledge. This semester I am doing the same setup.
  • I encouraged but did not require students to use Circles. I think the G+ experience is much richer if you do Circles, but I am not sure you can force that level of participation on someone else.
  • I make sure students know they can set up their own Communities for class or for anything else. This is not obvious to everyone who joins G+. (In other words, don't assume.)
  • There were about 10 students per Community. This was "management" on my part. Smaller means you need more Communities. Also, with only 4 or 5 people (reasonable for face-to-face) you can still have a "dead" online space with no conversation or interaction. BTW only a couple of Communities seemed to have organic/spontaneous conversation. The rest waited for the instructor (or TA). So I will change several things this fall.
  • On that note, my participants are students in General Education courses (required, not elective, not usually in the student's major). Some are very interested in the subject matter and some are not. I don't want to stereotype further, but I do want to allow multiple ways to participate in the class. G+ is only one way.
  • As to the Google Apps side, one class did very well sharing Docs within the Communities—some real collaboration here and there. The other class treated the space more like a conventional discussion board. I think this was more in the nature of my assignments for each class and I will be more mindful of that. The point is to allow lower-case "c" community to happen, not to duplicate an old LMS or forum.
  • This fall, I have included a registration survey to look for people who might be more active and who might get "promoted" to moderator. I will put one or two (who are willing) in each student Community. (Survey tip is from +Jeannie Crowley.)
  • This fall, I will use Categories more frequently and (hopefully) better aligned with my course topics. This was an afterthought in the Spring, poor planning. I think this will give a better sense of organization inside the Communities.
  • This fall, I will share my class Circle with all the students early and discuss my #PLN openly with them. This was an oversight! In my defense, I didn't expect anyone to really get into the Circle thing or network-building. However, more students are being gently pushed into LinkedIn for some reason, so the current crop are thinking about networks beyond Facebook.