Friday, April 23, 2010

Week 5: Similarities & Differences, Generating & Testing Hypotheses and Homework & Practice

I can think of a time when I asked intermediate-level sailing students to identify the similarities and differences between the single sail (cat-rigged) and boats with a main and a jib sail (sloop-rigged). The students had already achieved proficiency with boats but were now embarking into more advanced sailing theory where they would take turns acting as skipper and crew of a sloop. I asked the students to identify what was similar on the sloop or different from the smaller cat-rigged boats. The students compared and contrasted the boats, identified new components and hypothesized about their relationship to the boat. I followed-up with 5 minutes of sailing theory and then we set sail. Similarities and differences, in this case, was an effective strategy to help students restructure knowledge, make new connections and experience new insights for upcoming on-water instruction.

Out on Lake Mendota I decided to employ a different strategy: generating and testing hypotheses. I asked the students to think about how they might optimize the trim of both sails to maximize boat speed. The students were asked to speculate as a group, tell we what they were going to try and why, and then see what happened when they made adjustments to the rigging. Running the same course to eliminate as many variables as possible, I acted as the timekeeper and recorded how long it took to cover 200 yards. I presented the times for each run and the students discussed and thought of new things to try to increase the boat speed. By asking students to generate and test hypotheses I engaged students in complex mental processes where they applied and incorporated new facts and knowledge to further their understanding of the content (advanced sailing theory).

Stepping away from the fun of teaching sailing and back into the workplace, I can think of a time that I assigned homework and practice and not a single student did it! How I had failed so miserably to motivate my students? The whole point of assigning homework and practice was to give the students a chance to review and apply course material. Sure some of it was drill and practice, but I wanted employees to immerse themselves in the work and gain greater proficiency with the content. Well, the problem was two-fold: I had given 3 hours of homework with only one day in between for them to complete the assignments and their supervisors had 'other plans' for the employees' time.

I met with the team supervisors and we discussed what might be a good compromise that would work for everyone. I agreed to break the homework into two 90 minute chunks with 3 days between assignment due dates. The supervisors, in turn, vowed to block-out two 2 hour segments on the employees' calendars for work on assignments. In hindsight, this new approach was a major improvement as it made the homework more effective by being broken into halves and thereby giving employees a chance to reflect and deepen their understanding of the content. Also, collaborating with the team supervisors gave me the opportunity to express how homework and practice was a critical strategy to help their subordinates gain proficiency with company products.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

CEDO 525 - Week 4: Clay Shirky & Be Kind Rewind

The blog post title may make you wonder, 'What does the movie Be Kind Rewind have to do with Clay Shirky?' I watched two Internet videos where Clay Shirky discussed collaboration and impact of social media. In the first video Shirky describes how institutions are created to achieve a purpose. Institutions incur costs for hiring, bringing together workers into a building, phone lines, and give rise to a professional class within their walls. The institutions create and provide content but they do so under their guidelines and with high costs which may or may not be passed along to the consumers.

As Shirky points-out, institutions tend to be exclusive and they control the content passed from their professionals out to the consumers (amateurs). In today's world where thousands of amateur videos, pictures and blogs are posted every hour to The Internet the institutions have now lost exclusive control of their domains. Newsprint journalists compete with and often read posts from well-known bloggers and professional photographers share their world with amateurs uploading pictures via FaceBook and Flickr. During last year's protests in Iran, CNN relied on FaceBook and other social media sites to get first-hand reporting from, you guessed it, amateurs.

Hollywood, home of the $100M cookie-cutter movies and control of movie distribution, is seeing amateur movie-makers post product to The Internet that customers want to watch. In the movie 'Be Kind Rewind', a video rental store accidentally has all of its video tapes erased. Characters played by Mos Def and Jack Black, using a VHS camera, re-create the movies and rent them out to the local neighborhood. The local patrons ask for a movie and our protagonists make it in a matter of a few hours. As they become more successful, the patrons are recruited and then volunteer to star or act as extras in each movie. Since the movies are made locally and have the neighborhood residents they take on even greater significance. The people and the places in the movie are authentic - and, yes, made by amateurs!

Spoiler Alert! Hollywood catches wind that their movies are being infringed upon and shut down the video rental store and destroy all of their amateur re-makes. Initially disheartened, the neighborhood and patrons pull together to make their own movie which will be by them and for them. Sounds democratic - by the people for the people. Ultimately, these amateurs created a low-cost product in a cooperative effort with the community that they all enjoyed and were proud of. End Spoiler Alert!

Getting back to Clay Shirky, he stresses that The Internet and its associated applications is another revolutionary wave much like the printing press or telephony. It is rocking the world of the institutions and their control over domains and we are entering a period of chaos. Shirky reassures his audience that although it will be chaotic and unpredictable, we can accept it and do the best we can today to understand where things might be tomorrow. I have focused on the media and motion picture industries but this has implications for other specialized groups. Just think about all of the online education offerings for college and advanced degrees - and there are more and more every day. How will learning institutions such as the University of Wisconsin adapt to meet competition from schools with lower barriers to entry?

In Shirky's last video he cites Internet censorship by China and the great lengths they go to filter and insulate outside news from their people. Moments after a recent earthquake in China, its citizens were posting images and firsthand accounts within the Chinese 'intranet' and later openly posted dissatisfaction with their government's handling of the crisis. China had locked-out news from the outside world but they had not figured on its own citizenry and the power of social networking within their 'intranet'. In keeping with their institutionalized tradition, China shutdown access to social networking sites that could not be readily filtered and censored.

How will education respond to the new wave? Many University of Wisconsin professors record classroom lectures - or fellow students record and pass along to their classmates. Will the Universities and colleges continue to demand that most learning needs to be done face-to-face or will they begin to offer a blended approach? In today's economy where many workers will hold 10-15 jobs in a lifetime, rapid re-tooling via online learning is a great way to meet the changing needs of the workplace. The demand is present and educational institutions need to embrace and help shape quality learning experiences to come in the 21st Century. Educational institutions can draw on strategies from the past and see how they might apply to the brave new world of online education.