Should Online Classes Be Fun?

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

There’s fun as comic relief, then there’s fun as passion.

The first is temporary and a diversion. In the classroom, it’s the seventh-inning stretch in a long lecture. The piano stairs (see the video below) falls into this category, a diversion from the dreary commute from one point to another in a big city. The jokes in an otherwise long and boring speech, too, are diversionary, sugar coating for a bland or bitter pill. The assumption is that the speaker has a captive audience that requires some form of relief.

The fun that makes the most sense for education is passion. Think of our personal interests, joys, hobbies. These aren’t haha funny. They’re aha fun. And the interesting thing is, we don’t need comic relief in these pursuits because they’re inherently engaging, absorbing. We lose ourselves in them. In a word, this type of fun is what Dewey calls “educative.”

When we have passion for something, we have an insatiable hunger for all there is to know about it. My son, growing up, wasn’t the best student, but I never worried because I knew he was bright. Even in grade school, he knew all the NBA teams and players and was an expert on MJ and the Bulls and, later, Kobe and his Lakers.

Driven by passion, he absorbed tons of information like a sponge via TV, newspapers, and magazines. He didn’t need a teacher. And this is the beauty of fun when it’s a passion. We become our own best teachers. We teach ourselves, or more accurately, we learn on our own.

We also become active participants, and my son played organized ball from elementary through high school. The fact that he spent much of his varsity years on the bench didn’t dampen his passion. Today, he still enjoys watching games and playing ball with his friends.

Think of your own passions. Golf? Travel? Cooking? Gardening? Reading?

Independent learning doesn’t mean we don’t seek out experts. We do, but on our own terms. We might read books on it, attend lectures or conferences, subscribe to periodicals. But we don’t need a teacher or a guide to tell us how to enjoy our passion. We already do, and decisions about what or how are part of the joy that we reserve for ourselves.

aha-haha

How to transfer this p-fun into the classroom? That’s the biggy.

Conventional wisdom says to use pull rather than push strategies, and this means using individual or group interest as a starting point. The common term for this is student-centered practices. The idea is to get students to personally buy into the objectives and lessons, to own them. This way, they’re learning primarily for their own sake and only partially for the teacher or the grade. The motivation is mostly intrinsic.

When motivation is located within the student, learning becomes largely self-directed and fun. In a word, passionate.

In composition, the variables we can manipulate are our assignments — readings, discussions, and paper topics. We need to come up with assignments that allow students to personally connect or engage with the class work, so they’re no longer doing a class assignment but a personal project.

In my English 200 (College Composition II) lessons, I’ve tried to set up a personal connection between topic and self to generate passion. For students who buy in, the results are terrific. For example, here’s a paper from earlier in the semester: “Broken Into Beautiful – Ishinomaki.”

These students were engaged in the learning activities that led up to their final paper. I read this as fun of the aha variety. They’ve made a connection with the objectives and class work and produced a paper that is personally passionate. Now, I have to figure out how to work the same kind of magic with students who don’t buy in and just go through the motions and churn out works with little or no passion. One strategy is our course publication that I use to feature exemplary student works such as the two mentioned above. These works are part of the course content that all students are required to read.
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Note: This article was prompted by a forum assignment in an in-service workshop I’m taking at Kapi’olani Community College, which is part of the University of Hawaii System. The completely online course, Teaching Online Prep Program (TOPP): Spring 2017, is being taught by Helen Torigoe and Marisa Yamada, instructional designers in the Center for Excellence in Learning, Teaching and Technology (CELTT). The “Piano Stairs” YouTube video was embedded in their lesson plan.

What’s Wrong with MOOCs: One-Size-Fits-All Syndrome

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

The Malaysian government is taking steps to “make 30 per cent of higher education courses available as massive open online courses (or MOOCs) by 2020” (Financial Review, 2 Oct. 2016). The MOOCs are free, but there’s a fee for assessments that grant credit for courses taken at other universities. From 64 courses in 2015, the number has grown to 300 this year.

The down side, as I see it, is that they’re relying on a single MOOC management system (MMS) — in this case, OpenLearning, which is based in Sydney. This shoehorning of course design and development into a proprietary box is a clear sign that the Malaysian administrators don’t have a clue about MOOCs.

This problem of overreliance on an MMS is endemic in the vast majority of universities that are tiptoeing into MOOCs. It’s the same mindset that tosses all online courses into a single LMS. If this one-size-fits-all approach were applied to F2F courses, professors would be outraged by this brazen violation of academic freedom.

The web is an infinite frontier with limitless resources for creating a wide range of MOOCs. In contrast, boxed platforms being hawked by non- and for-profits such as Coursera, edX, and OpenLearning don’t even begin to scratch the surface of possibilities. Jumping whole hog into one of them is to automatically accept an MMS’s limited views of what a MOOC can be.  Continue reading

NZ Education Minister Proposes Reform to Launch Schools Into the 21st Century

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

It was just a matter of time, and it’s now finally happening. The online revolution is breaching the walls of K-12 schools. New Zealand Education Minister Hekia Parata is behind an Education Amendment Bill, introduced in Parliament this week, that will make it possible for “school-aged children…to do all their learning online.”1

“The fact of the matter is,” says Parata, “young people now operate in a world where technology and being connected is a norm for them. We want to make sure our legislation going forward provides for those options.” She adds, “Because this is the 21st century we want to make sure New Zealand kids are digitally fluent and they can take advantage of technology.”

Parata and Sewell

Hekia Parata, New Zealand Education Minister, and Karen Sewell, Te Kura board of trustees chair.

Karen Sewell, Te Kura board of trustees chair, strongly supports the amendment. She says, “Students could choose to learn online or face-to-face, or a mix of both, and have access to a much broader range of subjects regardless of the size and type of school they’re attending.”

Needless to say, many in the traditional school establishment are alarmed and up in arms. Angela Roberts, Post-Primary Teachers’ Association (PPTA) president, says, “There are two wildly incorrect assumptions that underpin this idea. One is that online learning can substitute for face-to-face, and the other is that a more competitive market in education is going to lead to better results. Both of these fly in the face of all the evidence.”

The outcome of this bill is yet to be decided, but I’ll be watching its progress closely. At this point in time, whether it passes or not is not as significant as the fact that the process of online reform has begun at the national level in a noteworthy school system.

Vigorous opposition from the status quo is to be expected, but the world is changing rapidly and traditional classroom-based models are becoming increasingly difficult to justify for a school-age population that’s been immersed in technology from birth.

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1 All quotes in this post are from Jo Moir’s “Government Education Reform Focuses on School-aged Children Learning from Home,” Stuff, 23 Aug. 2016.

A Successful Public Health MOOC: Interview with Dr. Satesh Bidaisee

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

One Health, One Medicine: An Ecosystem Approach was a five-week public health MOOC offered by Dr. Satesh Bidaisee1 at St. George’s University, Grenada, in summer 2016. The course attracted 582 students from all over the world and was especially popular with students from the Caribbean, United States, and even Sub-Saharan Africa and Europe.

Among the 582 who enrolled, participants, or “students who took at least one graded activity in the course,” numbered 98, which is 17% of the total enrolled. Of the 98 participants, 52 completed the course. Completion is defined as achieving “at least a 50% in the course, which required them to get full participation and quiz credit and at least one additional exercise (case or presentation).”

Calculated in this way, the completion rate among participants was 53%, four times the rate in previous years. Of the 50 students who completed the survey, 98% rated their overall experience in the course as good or excellent. To the question “Would you be interested in pursuing a degree from St. Goerge’s University?”, 82% answered yes. Of this number, 30% preferred online courses, 16% preferred on-campus classes, and the remaining 36% had no preference either way.

Dr. Satesh Bidaisee, St. George's University, Grenada.

Dr. Satesh Bidaisee, St. George’s University, Grenada.

ETC: How would you explain the high rate of completion for your MOOC?
Bidaisee: The key factors were: (1) A user-friendly online course management system, SGUx, which is built on the EdX platform. (2) Accessible course team. (3) Interactions with students through live seminars, live office hours, discussion blogs, Twitter communication. (3) Case study reviews, peer-review evaluation of student-produced seminars. (4) Focused course topic and content on One Health, One Medicine.  Continue reading

Jason Ohler’s ‘4Four Big Ideas for the Future: Understanding Our Innovative Selves’

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

Jason Ohler, who wrote “Whither Writing Instruction in the 21st Century?” for ETC five years ago, released a new book last month, 4Four Big Ideas for the Future: Understanding Our Innovative Selves.

Jason developed a disease called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis from which he never expected to recover. It slowly and literally took his breath away. At the 11th hour, he received a double lung transplant.

“Rather miraculous,” he says. “A year later I have a new site, newsletter and book and feel great, back working full tilt, as inspired as ever.”

4Four Ohler2

For more information, link to his Amazon site and his personal website.

When he was huddled around an oxygen machine 24/7, he thought a lot. This book reflects what is important to him about life, learning and technology. Read some of the reviews for his book.

From the Amazon ad: “Dr. Jason Ohler has been telling stories about the future that are rooted in the realities of the past during the entire thirty five years he has been involved in the world of high technology and innovative education. He is a professor emeritus, distinguished president’s professor of educational technology and virtual learning who has won numerous awards for his work. He is author of many books, articles and online resources, and is a speaker, humorist, teacher, media psychologist, cyber researcher and grandpa. He is also a lifelong digital humanist who is well known for the passion, insight and humor that he brings to his presentations, projects and publications.”

 

80 Percent of K-12 Schools Now Using Digital Content

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

A study by ASCD and Overdrive, Inc.,1 is being released today (1 April 2016). Digital Content Goes to School: Trends in K–12 Classroom E-Learning is available for download here. Here are some of the highlights:

1. More than 80 percent of K-12 schools and districts are now using some form of digital content — including eBooks, audiobooks and digital textbooks — in the classroom.

2. Of the 80 percent of respondents who report using digital content in their schools or districts, four out of 10 are using it as part of their curriculum.

3. Devices used for digital content: laptops (75 percent), tablets (62 percent), personal computers (49 percent), and smartphones (17 percent).

4. Contributors to this growth include recognized benefits such as the ability to deliver individualized instruction, allowing students to practice independently, and greater student attention/engagement.

5. As digital content continues to transform the classroom, the concept of a personalized, individualized model of schooling becomes more feasible, according to the report.

6. “Devices bring more knowledge to students’ fingertips than the teacher can give, so the traditional lecture model is no longer applicable. We want content that will engage students and the ability to introduce flipped classrooms with content that students can access at any time, at any place” (Kahle Charles, executive director of curriculum, St. Vrain Valley Schools, Longmont, Colorado).

7. The two issues cited most often were equity concerns about lack of Internet access at home and the fear of teachers not wanting to go digital, including teachers not comfortable or effective with digital learning.

8. Across the board, teachers most desire English/Language Arts (ELA) content in digital format (74 percent), followed by science (62 percent), math (61 percent) and social studies (56 percent).

9. Survey respondents report that digital content currently occupies about one-third of the instructional materials budget and the use of digital content continues to grow.

10. This report is based on a survey of more than 2,000 administrators at the school or district level in the U.S.

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1 Overdrive, Inc., is a provider of eBook and audiobook platforms for schools.

Irritating Software Upgrades and the Spirit of ‘Gaman’

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

With technology, experimentation and improvement go hand-in-hand, so we expect to pay a price. In some cases, such as drugs and cars, the cost can be horrendous. In others, such as software applications and operating systems, the cost isn’t as dramatic, but it can be irritating.

The most irritating in my current experience involves WordPress.com. The problem is they’re making changes piecemeal, and after many months, they’re still not done. In the interim, we, the users, are on our own. This means we’re forced to switch between the old and the new interfaces to complete tasks that were once simple and routine. The result is confusion and dozens of additional time-gobbling, mind-boggling steps.

For example, in the new composing interface, I can no longer insert links in text mode. I have to switch back to visual mode to do so. Compounding the problem is that WordPress sometimes seems to hang frozen for a while before switching between the two modes. A similar problem involves categories. In the old interface, I can no longer set categories. To do so, I have to switch to the new.

Very annoying is the photo insertion process. Photos posted via the new interface are no longer clickable for enlarged views. To make them clickable, I need to re-enter the same post via the old. And this is where irritation climbs to a whole new level. There’s no clear or simple way to switch back to the old.  Continue reading