Does Technology Add Any Value…

As a computer scientist, I see technology added into classrooms with great intention but poor execution. I hear boasting of how a technology is so great when it is simply a repackage of an existing technology – maybe a few tweaks, but still nothing phenomenally new. Even more so is when the differences and advances are overlooked. Can you really say the “smart phone” is so superior when your grading metric is whether or not it can make phone calls? What about the portability? What about the added information it can provide to your life in the contexts for which you are participating, such as the GPS and mapping functions to navigate a new city or the recipe app while you are cooking? This is what happens when we add in technology without the strategy or the integration into the curriculum.

I recently read an article by Katrina Schwartz ( that helped frame my frustrations with technology integration, and it gave me some new areas to emphasize beyond strategy and integration. the one I will focus on for this blog is the use of technology.

Schwartz describes the use of technology with a handful of questions:

  • Is the technology a means, not an end?
  • Does the technology add value so that students can do their work in better or different ways from what was possible before technology?
  • Are digital technologies used meaningfully for learning tasks?

What I would be inclined to add to this list is how natural or transparent is the integration of the technology when considering barriers to using it? If a teacher struggles to play a DVD (or VHS tape!) on a multimedia station, it creates a stumble in the student learning process, which places the focus on the process rather than the learning objectives. This is when you would have to question how integral the technology is with the discipline if the person teaching it is unable to navigate the technology smoothly or successfully.

A final question I would add to the evaluation of technology is if there is a clear understanding of why the technology was chosen for integration into the curriculum. Can you really say the technology is needed or is it really a preference? Can you really describe the technology with better descriptions than “it’s more dynamic” or “this is the way kids do it these days”?

What we should be focusing on is sharing our decision process by emphasizing the benefits for how the technology is helping us achieve our discipline specific or learning objective goals. Without this, it ends up looking contrived and unrealistic to needing to embracing the technology in the future.

In the end, we need to be masters of the tools we use within our community of practice. So let’s learn ways to share that with our students rather than showing them how awkward it can be when you can’t work with the current technology.

The Tides Are Coming…

Private colleges and universities have been increasingly bombarded over the last several years to prove and substantiate their role in higher education. There has been a significant amount of pressure brought forward by the Department of Education to show private institutions are not simply taking advantage of the public by means of inadequate academic preparation as well as the procedures in place to promote and cultivate student retention. Within this space, the tides are coming and will hit the public institutions next…

It is with much disbelief and denial by administration and faculty that public institutions will be required to get serious about why students leave the institution, let alone why they are leaving individual classes. Typical attrition and “gatekeeper classes” will be targeted for justification beyond accepting the “it’s difficult material” kind of answers. I would dare to say R1 institutions will have a special battle in reconstructing how research will be integrated into the academic strategy. But the underlying question is how do we prepare for this academic holocaust?

I bring this up in light of contemporary pedagogy strategies and the role the smaller culture of GEDI’s will have in the rebirth of academia. How many new dimensions will there need to be in an academic portfolio when including how one addresses student retention issues? How many more skills will faculty need to address the demands of the public for having affordable education with visible and accountable quality standards? Many of us know what we should be doing, but how will this play out when we have to prove it?

Student Centered Learning and Non-Traditional Students

I read a recent article titled “How Student Centered Is Your Classroom” by Rebecca Alber on Edutopia (Link). A part that resonated with me was the list of questions Alber posed.

  • In what ways do students feel respected, feel valued, and feel part of the whole group?
  • In what ways do students have ownership of the classroom? Do they ever make decisions about resources, environment, or use of time? When? How often?
  • Do they have ownership in their learning? Do they have choices and options for projects, assignments, and partners for group work?
  • When are students comfortable with expressing who they are and their thoughts and ideas? When are they not?
  • When do you inquire about the needs of your students? How often do you do this? How often do you check for group understanding and adjust the instruction accordingly?
  • How are desks arranged? Are students facing each other? Do they have multiple opportunities each week to share with fellow classmates, and to share with a variety of classmates?
  • As the instructor, what is my “air time” each class session? How much direct instruction is there? How might I change some of that directing teaching to facilitating?

The main reason these resonated with me is they expose a set of values, which are ones that guide my development strategies. The main question I have is how prepared are students for actually embracing this kind of learning strategy? There are numerous times I see the proverbial light bulb turn on and it’s blaring bright, but I also see the ones who struggle, even to the point of giving up. It’s a joke at times to ask, “will this be on the test?” because it points out how much a student can discount the importance of the learning process, but I feel there are other motivators related to non-traditional students.

Horn defines a non-traditional student as (1996, Link):

  • Delays enrollment (does not enter postsecondary education in the same calendar year that he or she finished high school);
  • Attends part time for at least part of the academic year
  • Works full time (35 hours or more per week) while enrolled
  • Is considered financially independent for purposes of determining eligibility for financial aid
  • Has dependents other than a spouse (usually children, but sometimes others)
  • Is a single parent (either not married or married but separated and has dependents); or
  • Does not have a high school diploma (completed high school with a GED or other high school completion certificate or did not finish high school).

All of these create stressors and most of which impose an impact on time. One of them I know from personal experience relates to the delayed enrollment and the sense of being behind. It created an urgency for me that fed into the need to make sure what I was getting what I needed from each class, even if I ended up completing almost twice the number of required units when I completed my bachelors degree. I see this same sense of urgency and time management in students when using a student centered active learning approach. I also hear concerns about active learning being less structured as well as doubt about their ability to be successful when they aren’t simply being told what needs to be done and how to do it. Literature clearly shows active learning is perceived as messy, but in what ways does this further become an issue for non-traditional students? This is why I question how well we can promote active learning if we don’t make it systemic to our academic culture. Having a single class doing active learning could further drive non-traditional students away rather than embracing them.


In-active Learning – Bringing Back the Classics to Understand the Modern

There are so many fields of study where certain themes get recycled from generation to generation. There is a lot of repackaging of old ideas into new buzz words. What I’m doing here is revisiting a classic in order to give us insight into current issues.

The excerpt below is set of links related to a workshop facilitated by Dr. Richard Lavoie called F.A.T. City Workshop. The acronym F.A.T. stands for frustration, anxiety, and tension. The context for which this is presented relates to learning disabilities, but in a later re-visitation with Dr. Lavoie reveals numerous people coming to him from a very diverse set of fields saying his presentation connected with them. For me, this connection was with the area of course design.

  1. Chapter 1: Introduction
  2. Chapter 2: Experiencing Frustration, Anxiety, and Tension
  3. Chapter 3: Processing
  4. Chapter 4: Risk Taking
  5. Chapter 5: Visual Perception
  6. Chapter 6: Reading Comprehension
  7. Chapter 7: Effect of Perception on Behavior
  8. Chapter 8: Visual Motor Coordination
  9. Chapter 9: Oral Expression
  10. Chapter 10: Reading and Decoding
  11. Chapter 11: Auditory and Visual Capabilities
  12. Chapter 12: Fairness
  13. Chapter 13: Commentary

When considering course design, we must explore the shortcomings of learning dynamics. All too often we tend to point the finger at the student rather than at ourselves or our creations. I always start with the originating statement: In what ways would I need to enhance my students’ experiences if they were intentionally unprepared for what I need them to do (based on the learning outcomes and objectives)? The first two things that come out to me is learning resources and high degree of communication. Reaching back to Dr. Lavoie’s workshop, we tend to fight ourselves when considering how someone could not put together the dots you’ve laid out for them. The obvious answer is they aren’t paying attention or they just weren’t ready to take on the class. We don’t want to admit that we have so much insight into the constructs of the course design that we are filling in the gaps left out.

I encourage everyone to watch as much of the video and get a good sense of what students may feel like when working through a course design that inadvertently leaves them out of being able to learn. In the end, we may only disable our learners, even if we are trying to engage them.

Online Learning as an Abstraction to F2F Learning – What Gets Lost?

(Inspired by recent events…)

Numerous faculty have made the transition from face-to-face classes to the online world. Some have explored the science of education in order to better understand the dynamics for which they will need to address in the alternative environment, but sadly, most have not. Unfortunately, there are way too many who do not see the shortcomings and it is the student who will ultimately suffer when trying to survive the course enough to pass.

For many years I’ve been watching the trends with online courses and later into MOOCS, and there are some prominent issues to be addressed by the masses that have already been explored by the researchers. One of the most significant is the delivery of the lesson, which is most obvious with the MOOCS. All too often, it is simply a video recording of a professor’s chalk-and-talk. This style of learning has long since been identified as a “learn by osmosis” kind of learning where you simply memorize what’s been put in front of you, much like you would reading a book and repeating what you read. At least with a book, one can utilize strategies to interact with the resource, such as putting summary notes in the margin or even posing position statements in response to the paragraphs. With a video, you do not have that opportunity, and one less opportunity you have is you are unable to interrupt the speaker to ask a question. So if we were to place these types of learning on a continuum, we would find that we are highly disadvantaged when we are presented with a chalk-and-talk video lecture as opposed to the other formats available.

A question that will arise at this point is what can we do as an alternative? Imagine having a book with no table of contents, no chapters, and no real paragraph structure. It would be pretty much a rambling. That is the condition our chalk-and-talk video lectures are in today and very much a staple in the MOOC community. In contrast, imagine a highly architected video from The History Channel. It has a predictable storyline (similar to a table of contents), transitions from one topic to the next, and even using the 3 T’s of public speaking (Tell them what you will tell them – preface, Tell them – presentation material, Tell them what you told them – summary). This is a very similar difference with more interactive classrooms where teachers interact with the students to further understand material rather than simply lecturing in hopes the information will be caught.

When we consider working in an online environment, we must be able to fill in the gaps before the gaps appear. We must use reflectivity to inform our design in order address potential assumptions and biases so we do not inadvertently leave students behind. Teachers do not want to hear it’s confusing or you missed something since “other students got it.” But even so, this is a prime indicator of a design problem and one that in all too many cases gets the cold shoulder.

Roots of Active Learning

I’ve been doing some research through the library on the roots of active learning. An interesting theme I’ve seen in the earlier years is the connection to disadvantaged learners. An article dated in the year 1913 talked about looking at farmers and farmers’ wives to bring what they do into the classroom to better prepare the students for the future. This of course makes sense when we consider the movement toward the mission of the land grant institutions. Taking it further in time, there is a stronger connection and theme in the 1970’s to diversity when it comes to active learning. This again makes sense considering the ethnic diversity issues of the 1960’s and the work of Martin Luther King Jr. It is also interesting to me that both of these groups were more predominantly hands-on workers and also took well to hands-on learning.

One of the articles that stood out to me is a 1971 report of an international seminar on educational technology emphasizing the difference between “learning” and “being taught” (Centre for Educational Research and Innovation). Considering the backgrounds of both the farmers and the minorities of the 1960’s, both were disadvantaged in their education on “how to learn” rather than being taught.

In no way would I say active learning is the “right way” to learn compared to other traditional methods, but at the same time, it makes me wonder more about how someone is able to learn despite the multi-modality brought by active learning.



Browne, H. S. (1913). An experimental rural school at Winthrop college, Rock Hill, S.C. (Harvard University Library).

Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (1971). Educational technology; the design and implementation of learning systems. Paris, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Career Information for Graduate Students

I was reading an article ( and the focus was on the need for better career tracking between academics and industry at the graduate level. This is interesting to me because of my own experiences with computer science. In many cases, what you learn in academics are not skills you will use when you get to industry. What the article specifically speaks to is how graduate students are unaware of the career options once they complete their graduate degree. Although it may seem a bit tangent to my experience, both speak to the disconnection between academics and industry, one related to topics and the other related to where you can use the topics (in addition to where you can use that level of the topic). This is another breaking point I see in academia because at some point people and industry may push for more apprenticeships from industry if the academic deliverable is not there (as determined by industry). This has historically been around by the noted response from industry saying the graduated student does not have any experience and therefore is not qualified enough. So to me, the question is how much longer can academics and industry continue to write their own stories before the relationship breaks?

The “I want to be a teacher but I don’t want to research” comment…

I find it sad how frequently I hear how somebody wants to teach but they don’t want to do research. So I propose to you a similar statement about medical doctors: “I want to ‘practice’ medicine but I don’t want to research.” What if your medical doctor were to never collect data on whether their work was successful or not? Would you want to be their patient when all they are doing is the ‘same old method’ or the ‘trendy method’? Do you not have diverse and individual needs? Similarly if you are a teacher, would you not want to make sure your teaching is successful? How do you know your test or assignment is appropriate? Is it simply because it looks good to you, the expert? I could see someone finally being able to give up on research if they have the final solution with no need for any other modification, but teaching involves people and society is ever changing. The needs of today are not the needs of 20 or 50 years ago and therefore will not be the needs of tomorrow either. In the end, we should be doing our job with ‘intention’ in mind. We intentionally construct a test using a great deal of methodology to depict the strategy of success for our students. Things don’t just fall into place, so we have to figure them out. Even in the classroom, we can’t expect the same input to have the same output.

A Random Thought On Degree Advocacy

Sometimes I have random thoughts and this time it was on the idea of how many people with doctorate degrees advocate for others to get a degree but will not themselves participate in the same process ever again. To me, it’s like tasting some food, spitting it out and saying how horrible it is but then saying, “here, try it!” Are we experiencing things for the sake of saying we survived it? This could be a new reality TV show, although it would not be a very captivating one. Why would someone say they enjoyed the experience but not be willing to go through the experience again? As another analogy, it’s like an obese cop who says they were once able to do the obstacle course but obviously can’t do it anymore. Should this person be prescribing tomorrow’s standards? Maybe this is one of the reasons so many professors are out of touch with their students…

To me, I could not see myself not being in school. Even once I finish a doctorate degree, I will still take classes purely to entertain interests – and some of those interests are beyond photography and music but instead in physics and history, the classes you really don’t need if you already have a terminal degree. So as you move along in your career, look to incorporate the answer to why you are so excited about your field of study into what you do. Make sure your classes and research groups are having the same fun you are, or at least find out what makes it fun for them. I’m not talking about entertaining them. I’m simply talking about sharing your passion for the field and looking to see how many others share in that passion.

Senior citizens continue to bear burden of student loans

Recent blog posts have talked about the value of college and how it pays off long term. This article ( talks about times when it isn’t paying off and is noticeable when you have seniors who are still paying off student loans. One of the situations the article mentions is when a person goes back to school later in life to update their skills to be more competitive in the market. Although this is not the same has having student loan debt for 40+ years (from your 20’s to your 60’s), it does speak to the quality of education in terms of life long value and availability of education.

An issue I feel strongly about is the positioning of academics in society. Right now, we do not live in a society where we have a “right to learn.” Only the privileged few will get that chance. Some may initially argue, but consider this: What if I enjoy photography and I want to study it further, but it is not something I want to do as a career? Some will say how the information is still out there and how I could join clubs, but would you ever suggest that to someone as an alternative to traditional academics? Would you suggest this to someone who wants to become a medical doctor? Wouldn’t it be nice if the average person knew enough to save your life (like CPR and AED) rather than saying, “I’m sorry I’m just a computer person.” Some may argue that it can be explored during your undergraduate electives, but I would have to warn you how there are caps on how much you can explore your personal interests. For example, Virginia has a state code punishing those who go beyond the degree requirements and is known as the 125% rule ( Keep in mind that community colleges really don’t fit the bill either. First and foremost, you are very limited on the variety of classes you can take and they are considered to be entry level classes. So in the end, you won’t be able to get to the higher ranks.

As a tax payer, I have invested in the public school systems, and as a society, we will benefit. As an individual, I still have to pay the price because the information is held hostage behind the high tuitions and competitive enrollment. With many of the universities opening their classrooms to the Internet, I see hope in breaking this historic model, so now what we need to do is find new ways to recognize learning in the marketplace.