3 Takeaways from “What Connected Educators Do Differently”

9781138832008
By Todd Whitaker, Jeffrey Zoul, Jimmy Casas

How do you stay current, relevant and up-to-date with the increasing number of initiatives and technologies in education? What Connected Educators do Differently has answers for educators looking to start and cultivate a  professional (or personal) learning network (PLN) to stay current and connected. Following are key takeaways from the book and from two other resources that go beyond the basics of starting a PLN.

Connected Educator Defined: “Being a connected educator is not a formal title…we define connected educators simply as ones who are activity and constantly seeking new opportunities and resources to grow as professionals” (Whitaker, Zoul, Casas, 2015, page xxiii)

Practical, concise and geared to the novice, the book provides advice and examples on how to start and build a personal network using digital tools. It  focuses mostly on using Twitter and is specific to K-12, but the principles are sound and Twitter is a good starting point for learning how to connect and build a network. Within the eight chapters, each labeled as ‘Key Connector’ is a strategy outlining key principles along with examples from each author’s experience. The stories make it an engaging read. At the end of each chapter is an action plan — “Follow 5, Find 5, Take 5”.  There are suggestions of whom to follow on Twitter,  (Follow 5), a list of resources and how-to strategies for building a network  (Find 5), and suggested action steps (Take 5).

Two of the best chapters are chapter 6, “Relationships, Relationships, Relationships” and chapter 8 “Know When to Unplug”. In chapter 6 authors emphasize the value of face-to-face interactions and the strength of in-person connections. In chapter 8 the importance of disconnecting from technology is stressed. The latter is of great value; disconnecting from the screen is not emphasized enough in instructional resources on building digital networks or managing digital information. Developing a PLN can become all-consuming. The reminder is not misplaced.

Three Takeaways
There are three takeaways: 1) from the book, 2) from Jane Hart’s “The Future of Work and Learning 1: The Professional Ecosystem”, and 3) from a journal article Scholars in an increasingly open and digital world: How do education professors and students use Twitter (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2015).

1. Unique Mindset Required
Expanding one’s professional network, building a PLN or professional ecosystem is a commitment and a choice. It isn’t driven by company or school-initiated professional development, but is driven from within—where individuals seek out learning opportunities and resources online or in-person. It’s  a mindset where learning is pulled, gathered and curated based upon a person’s own learning needs and interests, which means each PLN is unique. Along with Mindset is motivation; developing a PLN or professional ecosystem needs both. Not surprisingly, authors emphasize that not all educators are, or will become connected educators.

2. It’s about Relationships
Developing and growing professionally and personally involves connecting and interacting with content—digital and physical, as well as with real people. The online platforms such as Twitter, Facebook or Slack that are used to ‘connect’ educators are the tools, the vehicles that bring us together. Granted, communicating online does require a unique set of skills to build and develop personal relationships, but the personal connection is still central to growing professionally. Jane Hart’s suggests that within a Professional Ecosystem there is a “personal performance support system” and “personal career coach”: people who are central to one’s personal and professional growth.

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Example of Professional Ecosystem by Jane Hart, “The Future of World and Learning 1”

3. It Takes Time
One of the barriers to becoming a Connected Educator or developing a Personal Ecosystem is time. Authors Whitaker, Zoul and Casas offer a solution, “we must make time” (emphasis added) (pg 9). They acknowledge that most teachers and instructors are swamped, doing more with less. Yet their response is that in order to keep pace with constant change in technology and a society with access to an abundance of information, making time to connect and be connected is essential. And time is often personal time, outside of work hours. Though as all the resources stress, it takes consistent and concerted effort to develop a PLN but it’s worth it. I can vouch for this from my experience.

Conclusion
I recommend What Connected Educators do Differently for people who are thinking about becoming connected, want to build a learning network but don’t know where to start. For those who already have a PLN and want to expand it, I suggest exploring Jane Hart’s site Learning in the Modern Social Workplace. Hart is a model of a connected professional and you’ll be sure to find some inspiration and ideas.

For those wanting a quick fix, want to know how to get started on Twitter, this brief synopsis from the journal article on Twitter offers this pithy advice: “(a) tweet often, (b) follow many other users, (c) self-identify as a professor if accurate, and (d) continue using Twitter over an extended period. Whether one views this advice as gaming the system or legitimate participation in the community may depend on one’s own assumptions” (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2016).

References

You can follow Online Learning Insights on Twitter @OnlineLearningI

Need-to-Know-News: Takeaways for Online Educators from LinkedIn’s Students App, Georgia Tech’s MOOC Master’s Degree 3 years Later & Open Textbook ‘Teaching in a Digital Age’

This ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series features noteworthy stories that speak of need-to-know developments within higher education and K-12 that have the potential to influence, challenge and/or transform traditional education as we know it.

unnamed1. Takeaways from Career Planning App
College students are digitally connected and social media savvy. LinkedIn is also savvy, they’re capitalizing on this cultural phenomenon among college students with a newly launched app that helps graduating seniors with their career search—now, there’s an app for that. The LinkedIn Students app provides job search checklists, job postings, salary info, profiles of companies that hire from student’s school and profiles of alumni. A key feature—the app sends recommendations daily to the student’s phone.

Screen Shot 2016-05-06 at 1.51.05 PMLinkedIn’s app looks and feels much like other social media apps popular among the college-age demographic, such as Tinder; students can browse through LinkedIn info on their phones with an easy swipe. The marketing is strategic. LinkedIn highlights the app’s relevance, how it fits into students’ lives—conveniently:

You can chip away at your job search checklist in any of your in-between moments – walking between classes, waiting in line at the coffee shop or taking a study break. What initially felt like an insurmountable undertaking will morph into a manageable daily to-do list and, before you know it, you’ll no longer be asking “How do I find a job that’s a fit for me?,” but “Which of these jobs is the best fit for me?” — LinkedIn Official Blog, April 18, 2016

Insight: LinkedIn’s app is smart. It’s thoughtfully designed, meeting a need common to its target group—the career search process for busy, often overwhelmed college seniors. There are takeaways the education sector might consider and apply to online learning programs where retention and engagement is frequently a challenge. LinkedIn designed the app so it’s appealing, meets a need, and meets its users where they are→on their mobile device. Core principles could be applied by education institutions who by analyzing their student populations, can leverage technology and customize delivery of education components to meet the needs of their students. Instructors might also take advantage of existing technology to communicate with students, meeting them on their devices using apps such as ‘Celly’, communication via group text messages, collaborative bookmarking and annotation platforms (e.g. Diigo), or digital  bulletin boards (e.g. Padlet)—all which can be tailored to a group or class.

2. Three years Later: Georgia Tech’s Master’s Degree MOOC
Readers may remember the launch of Georgia Tech’s radical and concerning to many, Online Master of Science in Computer Science (OMS CS) program in 2013. It was first of its kind—a master’s program from a prestigious university using the MOOC format (large classes, fully online) at a total cost to students for less than $7,000. Three years later Georgia Tech has graduated it’s first class last year, twenty in total, with another handful this year.

The program has fallen far short of its projected numbers, though Georgia Tech leaders are optimistic, calling it a success. Initially the goal of the program was to have 10,000 students by the third year, a number required to cover costs and generate a profit. The program’s business model was built on the program’s scalability.

“We will start another program,” Georgia Tech President G. P. Peterson said during a recent interview with Inside Higher Ed. “We’re very pleased with the success of the program, and we’re looking to expand it into other areas”. — Georgia Tech’s Next Steps, Inside Higher Ed

Insight: Georgia Tech (GT) is a pioneer. While others took a wait-and-see approach, Georgia Tech chose to lead.  Education institutions can benefit from GT’s initiative if they examine GT’s program in light of advancing their own education programming. The profile of students, enrollment numbers, the cost of course development and technology used by GT can provide helpful insights. Analyzing other institutions digital education initiatives can inform decisions, help create effective and customized strategies that address our digital culture and student demand.

Print3. Open Textbook – “Teaching in a Digital Age”
Tony Bates’ most recent book “Teaching in a Digital Age: Guidelines for designing teaching and learning” is published under the Open Ed textbook project; it’s free to download in a variety of formats and can be read online. Bates completed the book this April.  I’ve read only two chapters to date, but don’t hesitate in recommending it highly, not only because of Bates expertise in the sector, but because of the books’ comprehensiveness, the breakdown of topics, the ease of navigation, the clean and streamlined interface, the writing tone and style. It’s approachable and accessible. Each subsection concludes with an activity, which usually includes questions to consider and prompts for further research.

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Table of Contents, “Teaching in a Digital Age”. A.W. (Tony) Bates

Reading the book on my web browser I found several unexpected benefits. The format of open fosters an interactive experience; it allows for sharing on Social Media platforms (Twitter and Facebook), the ability to comment and interact with other readers, and to annotate individually or within groups using the hypothes.is platform. This could be the future for text books.

Facebook for MOOCs: A Bridge for Student Learning

Facebook-Groups-e1291281035929I’ve long believed that Facebook is one of the most effective platforms for student discussion and collaboration within Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and other online course formats. Facebook is a virtual meeting place that encourages authentic interaction, sharing and collaboration. I’ve found that closed Facebook groups, created for a specific course, generate more discussion, exchanges and sharing among a greater number of students than any forum within a MOOC platform.

A recent study, The Role of Social Media in MOOCs presented at the annual ACM Conference on Learning at Scale, validates Facebook’s effectiveness for student engagement. Researchers conducted a study using three MOOCs on Coursera’s platform comparing students use of Facebook groups to discussion forums within the Coursera site (Zheng et al. 2016). They found that students were more engaged in Facebook groups than within the MOOC discussion forums (see figure 1 below), and engaged for longer periods on the Facebook site, even after the course ended. Students also admitted they preferred interacting on social media due to its immediacy—the quicker response times to questions and posts, as well as the less chaotic environment. Quite compelling is the fact that students stated Facebook gave them a “sense of community” (pg. 423).

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“The Role of Social Media In MOOCs: How to Use Social Media to Enhance Retention”.  Proceeding of the Third (2016) ACM Conference on Learning @ Scale, pages 419-428.

Why is this so? I suggest two reasons. First, because Facebook is the most used social networking site globally, for a variety of reasons—its low barrier to participation, and ease of use (Pew Research, 2014). Given the numbers of people who use Facebook across nations, more students are familiar with Facebook than any other tool or feature within the MOOC platform, so it’s no wonder they are more likely and willing to engage with their peers. Below are some telling comments from students of the study that indicate why Facebook preferred over the MOOC platform.

“Sometimes, I actually want to reply or make some updates
on Coursera, but when I think I need to login on my
computer, I postponed doing it and then I forgot to do it later.”
“I frequently forget my password or account name. I know this is stupid, but it happens frequently not just on me but on many of my friends!”

Second,  Facebook creates a sense of community. Learners are able to establish a sense of presence, they have a sense of being there and being together. Students can see who they are interacting with—a real person. Facebook is transparent, unlike MOOC platforms where students can sign up and create any user name not linked to their identify and post in forums anonymously.  Interaction within MOOC platforms feels like one is communicating in a vacuum.  This transparency fosters a sense of presence and trust, aligning with the Community of Inquiry (CoI) model. The CoI model is a theoretical framework that outlines a process for creating deep and meaningful online learning experiences. It’s based on three interdependent dimensions of presence–social, cognitive and teaching presence (Garrison Anderson & Archer, 2000).

Social presence is the ability of participants to identify within a community, in order to communicate in a trusted environment, where learners can develop personal relationships by projecting their individual personalities (Rourke et al., 2001). With its transparency, ease of use, and low barriers to participation, Facebook embodies this concept of social presence, enables students to engage socially leading to dialogue and collaboration.

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Community of Inquiry Model, Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000)

How It Works
Facebook groups can be created by the instructor or institution administrators as a closed group where students request to join. Though in MOOCs, students often take the initiative and create a group for course participants, opening up the group well before the course begins. Frequently participants will create smaller groups for those interested in specific course-related topic areas; they find one another via the interaction and dialogue. For further info see Group Basics on Facebook.

Conclusion
The study’s findings have tremendous implications for online educators and institutions. If students in online learning environments are more likely to engage with class peers on social platforms, like Facebook, it’s well worth our time to examine further how we can thoughtfully integrate social media to engage students and deepen their learning experience.

References

What Does a Growth Mindset Have to Do with Learning?

mindset.001We can learn to be smart is the premise of Mindset The New Psychology of Success: How we Can Learn to Fulfill our Potential by Carol Dweck (2006). Dweck debunks the idea that intelligence is fixed, is predetermined by our gene pool. Instead, Dweck suggests individuals with a ‘growth mindset’ develop intelligence and abilities over time. In her book Dweck defines growth mindset as a state when individuals view personal qualities such as intelligence, abilities and talents as malleable. This contrasts those with a ‘fixed mindset’ who see  qualities like intelligence as innate or inherited. People with a growth mindset according to Dweck, challenge themselves; they aren’t afraid of making mistakes, are known to go-for-it. People with fixed mindsets on the other hand are afraid of making mistakes, afraid of moving out of their comfort zones. Fixed mindset people Dweck describes as preoccupied with outcomes, the final grade or successful work project for instance, over the process and experience.

To support her philosophy Dweck quotes Robert Sternberg, psychologist and professor of human development at Cornell University who states that a key factor in whether people achieve expertise “is not some fixed prior ability, but purposeful engagement” (pg. 5).

How Growth Mindset Applies to Learning
Dweck outlines several applications of the growth mindset to education. One she emphasizes is that educators need to act as role models. This contrasts with typical roles where people who are put in an expert role, educators for example, often feel they need to have all of the answers. This can limit their growth and student learning. Instructors need to model behaviours that include showing students you don’t have all of the answers, and that pursuit of knowledge, failure and even confusion, is part of the learning process.

Screen-Shot-2015-11-27-at-11.37.21Applications for Learning:

  • Learners can be taught a growth mindset. Dweck developed a program that teaches students growth mindset principles—intelligence is not fixed, students are in charge of their learning, need to stretch in order to get smarter. Students taught a growth mindset performed better academically.
  • Telling students they are smart, intelligent and giving constant praise can lead to a fear making mistakes, fear of failure and a fixed mindset.
  • Learning experiences need to be challenging—difficult. The concept that learning needs to be difficult is reinforced in Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. The premise of chapter 4 in Make it Stick, “Embrace Difficulties” suggests learning is deeper and more durable when it requires considerable effort (Brown, Roediger & McDaniel, 2014, p. 73). See video featuring Carol Dweck on Struggle where she discusses the importance of challenge in learning.

Tips for Educators to Support a Growth Mindset

  • Encourage students to be comfortable with setbacks and confusion.
  • Don’t praise talent, praise process. Dweck’s research revealed that praising talent leads to fixed mindsets. Praising process includes acknowledging, resilience, effort, collaboration, and the experience.
  • Be comfortable with confusion, for your students and yourself, and not finding the answer right away.

Closing Thoughts
Approaching learning with a growth mindset frees learners to expand, grow and engage fully in the process without the constraints of IQ or SAT scores.  Following a growth mindset as Dweck describes, requires a conscious effort, a mindset, a skill set. Yet  it’s a perspective that educators can model and foster by their own actions, by making learning difficult, acknowledging and allowing for failure, and emphasizing the process of learning, not the outcome. Which mindset do you have?

Further Reading

References

  • Dweck, Carol S. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Random House, 2006. Print.
  • Roediger, Henry L., Mark A. McDaniel, and Peter C. Brown. Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. N.p.: Harvard UP, 2014. Print.

Image credit: Growth Mindset, bigchange.org

Pew Research Reveals Three Barriers to Lifelong Learning

overcoming-barriers-to-technology-assisted-reviewPew Research Center’s recent report, “Lifelong Learning and Technology” gives insight into how Americans perceive and engage in lifelong learning (Horrigan, 2016). It’s a worthy read. It contains valuable data and insights for stakeholders involved in education planning and decision-making. Yet I’ve identified three themes I consider most instructive and compelling; three significant barriers that the education sector as a whole needs to acknowledge and address in order to improve and move online education programs forward.

Three Barriers
1) Limited Access: online education has not, up to this point, democratized education—adult learners with limited education do not engage, for various reasons, in learning aided by technology, 2) Lack of familiarity with online learning options persists among all adult learning groups; for instance only 14% are “very familiar” with even the concept of distance learning, and MOOCs—only 5% are “very familiar”, and 3)  Learning gap: there’s a significant gap between how some adults view learning in general and their actual lifelong learning behaviours—the majority of Americans (87%) believe learning new things is “very important” yet only 73% of adults consider themselves lifelong learners.

1. Online Education Fails to Democratize
We’ve long heard how digital education platforms such as Coursera and edX will democratize education by overcoming barriers associated with higher education by lowering costs and reaching populations with limited education. Yet Pew’s findings suggest otherwise. It reveals that these same groups, those with low levels of education and household income, are less likely to engage in any form of online learning. One finding is particularly telling—less than half of respondents with a high school education or less have used the internet for personal (43%) or job-related learning (49%) (Horrigan, pg. 7). This suggests that education providers need to determine how to leverage and implement technology as a learning tool to serve the groups that need education most.

2. Limited Awareness of Digital Platforms for Learning
Quite surprising is the fact that the majority of adult learners are not familiar with digital learning options. While most readers of this blog are likely (very) familiar with MOOCs and for-credit online courses, it’s startling to consider that most adults, even those with higher education levels are not (see screenshot below for details). This phenomenon has implications for educators and institutions; the most pressing is the need to inform the general population about digital learning options. Going further, there’s also a need to educate adults how to learn effectively in a digital world. Accomplishing this will require a strategic and concerted effort by education institutions involving a multi-pronged approach, utilizing multiple communication channels to promote learning options. Other alternatives may require forming partnerships with unrelated institutions as Khan Academy did with Bank of America for their Better Money Habits® program. There is much work to be done.

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Lifelong Learning and Technology, John Horrigan. Pew Research Center (section 5).

3. The Learning Gap
According to the report Americans value learning greatly. It indicates that 87% of adults state that it’s “very important that people make an effort to learn new things about their jobs”. Yet the same survey finds that 73% of adults agree that “I think of myself as a lifelong learner” applies “very well”. The numbers suggest there’s a segment of the population who view learning as very important, yet they don’t engage in lifelong learning activities for their own personal or professional growth. Why? It’s worth further examination. There is an opportunity to reach a group of adults who value learning greatly but don’t engage for whatever reason. The report does identify factors that play a role in lifelong learning activities, e.g. household income, education attainment, etc (section 2). One avenue to consider is the role educators could play in closing the gap.  Possibly by instilling skills and modeling behaviors associated with lifelong learning in elementary and/or high school, granted the logistics of ‘how’ is a barrier in itself.

There is no easy solution to closing the gap, and it is closely linked barriers one and two.  Yet this gap deserves special consideration—further discussion among educators involved in all levels of education. How can we as educators encourage and develop skills and behaviors in students, young and old where learning is self-directed and lifelong—where students forge their own learning path based upon their, interests needs, and passions?

Closing
The Pew Report yields important and helpful insights that can drive meaningful dialogue about education: professional, elementary and higher education. Also the role of technology in education, it’s reach, and shortcomings. The report hopefully will serve as a catalyst for action, action by education institutions and individuals to advance and improve institutions and platforms reach and impact, to build and grow engaged communities of lifelong learners.

 

Can “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products” Help Make Learning a Habit?

Habit: noun: a usual way of behaving : something that a person does often in a regular and repeated way — Merriam-Webster

Hooked-hardcover“Hooked” is about how to build habit-forming products…habit-forming digital products that is. I included “Hooked” on my must-read list to see if any of the principles discussed might apply to education—Learning Management Systems (LMSs) for instance or other ed-tech applications. Given our culture’s fixation with mobile devices, surely there might be some lessons to make digital education applications more compelling. Can educators create platforms or applications that ‘hook’ students into learning, where learning behaviors become a habit? If so, how? Hooked provides some answers—see below.

‘The Hook’ Model
Author Nir Eyal, entrepreneur and product designer describes the book’s topic as “behavioral design”.  Behavioral design when applied to product development incorporates concepts of user experience, behavioral economics and neuroscience. Nir describes it as the intersection of psychology, technology, and business. His recipe for creating habit-forming products begins with ‘The Hook’ model.

the_hook
Nir Eyal’s “Hook” model encompasses four elements that products need to become habit-forming. Yet it’s not a guarantee for success, “new products can’t just be better, they must be nine times better” (pg 17).

Trigger
A trigger, either internal or external, leads to a behavior—it’s the spark that prompts action. Habit-forming products start by alerting users with external triggers such as an email, a website link, or an app icon on a smart phone, with the aim of prompting repeat engagement until a habit is formed. The trigger also tells the user of what to do next—to act.

Action
The action needs to be seamless; the user should be able to act with ease —without barriers. Action according to Nir, relies not only on ease of use but on principles of human behavior. It’s based on the premise that the user seeks one of three things: 1) pleasure in order to avoid pain, 2) hope to avoid fear, or 3) social acceptance to avoid rejection. Jack Dorsey founder of Twitter builds on this premise with his platform which is designed to solve a problem (communication, knowledge building), while addressing desires and emotions of its users (social acceptance via ‘likes’, retweets, etc.) (pg 39).

Variable Reward
What distinguishes the Hook model from the traditional feedback loop (embodied by the familiar model B.F. Skinner’s model where rewards are used to support behavior change through  positive reinforcement) is the variability of the reward which creates a desire for feedback, motivating the user to seek it out. Traditional feedback loops are predictable; they don’t create desire according to Nir. Yet when there’s uncertainty to the reward or  variability to the type of reward—the user’s interest is piqued  Think of the variability of the reward structure with slot machines; they’re unpredictable. In an education context, Nir describes how Codeacademy uses variable rewards with symbols that benchmark students progress along with variable feedback that uses rewards to fulfill the student’s desire for acceptance and validation (pg. 89).

Investment
The investment occurs when the user puts something into the product or service such as time, data, effort, social capital or money (pg. 7). The more users invest in the product or service, the more they value it—supporting the idea that labor leads to love. This investment concept is applicable to education—online courses for example where students contribute to course content (investment of time), complete course work (more time) and engage with peers (even more time).

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Image (above) of a screenshot from the YouVersion app which follows the four elements of the Hook model. The screen shot shows how rewards are built into the app, with the feature of ‘likes’ used by the community.

Case Study: The Hook Model in Action
After reading the case study of the Bible app, YouVersion in “Hooked” I could see the application of the Hook model, its relevance to learning contexts. The app provides a selection of bible study programs users can choose from based upon their needs. The app sends reminders and encouraging messages when readings or homework is due. When a message is avoided or missed, a red icon appears over the app, another cue. If more than two readings are missed,  users receive a supportive message suggesting they consider a different (less challenging) plan. There’s also a virtual community, where encouragement from its members is another source of ‘triggers’. Rewards come in several forms. When  a reading assignment is done for instance, the user gets a message “Day Complete” with a check mark on the app’s calendar. YouVersion is a success story. It’s the #1 downloaded Bible app with over 200,000,000 downloads.

How the Hook Model Can be Applied to Learning
What if learning did become a habit, where students check into their online class daily, share relevant content with classmates or engage in group assignments willingly? The case study of Youversion is instructive, suggesting that the model concepts are applicable to learning scenarios, specifically to learning platforms and applications. Learning applications created thoughtfully and purposefully can support behavior changes that result in seamless learning, with few barriers and built-in rewards that provide variety and freshness that also leverage the learning community.  Yet creating learning that follows the Hook model requires a different mindset, and commitment to create compelling learning with integrity and care that protects students, content and the process of learning.

Resources