Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Using BackChannels in Lectures

What? You want students to chat online while I am lecturing? How can they do that? They won't be paying attention to me and then they won't learn everything that there is to know about the topic upon which I am lecturing!!!!! 

This is the problem with technology. You think that it is something that solves everything when it actually just creates more problems and distractions for students.

Have you ever been involved in a back channel while listening to a lecturer? A back channel is a teacher-sanctioned chat room that enables students to discuss what is happening in class.  This provides an opportunity for them to share ideas and even develop new ones with the flood of information being provided by the presenter.

We teach a class entitled Educational Technology and Design. It is the Technology Intro course that virtually every teacher education student must take. Our team is an exceptional group of educators who are always exploring new ideas about how to use technology to support learning in new and effective methods.

A couple of years ago we introduced Back Channeling.  It was an idea that Robin Galloway championed to provide an online conversation option for students.  We use CoverItLive and we typically have 1 or 2 professors moderating it to ensure that things are on-track as the presentation progresses.

I should mention that we are not passive about back channeling with the 120 students in our lectures. Not only do we urge our students to bring their laptops (about 95% of them own laptops) AND we provide 20 netbooks for students to use. Some of them were using their smart phones to get online. While there are typically some problems with everyone connecting with the wifi, we had about 60 students linked into the back channel today.

Our back channeling has been successful throughout the years. There are some sessions that have had exceptionally good interaction while some that have been quite wanting. Today's back channel was quite successful.  I was lecturing about Web 2.0 and Digital Natives/Millennials

One of the most important things that I was trying to achieve was to create a learning environment that was "different" than what our students had previously experienced in a lecture hall.  We began with asking them all to "pull out your phones."  This shocked many of them but I wanted them to use their phones as clickers to provide feedback using Poll Everywhere.  It worked quite well.

I also made a big thing about using the back channel. We used it for interaction and you will find some interesting responses throughout the discussion by clicking on the image to the right.

The students were tweeting as well to share what they were learning and experiencing. Check out what they included using the #unietd hashtag.

Based upon what the students were saying, this was a game-changing experience for many of them.  We hope that they will take this experience and use it to "think different" about their teaching and learning experiences in other classrooms.

What do you think?  What do you do to give your students a voice?

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Creating a Culture of Innovation

(CC) Hampton Roads Partnership
What does it take to make innovation part of the culture?  Can innovation thrive in a school?  Can we create a culture that rewards innovation in our students?  What about the teachers - can they be rewarded for innovation?

Steve Tobak recently wrote an article for CBS News entitled How to Create a Culture of Innovation. In this article he listed 5 ways to nurture innovation.  Here is a quote from the article:

Identify them. First, you need to have a process for identifying these young up-and-coming stars. Train your line managers and recruiters on what to look for, and make that an integral part of the management and organizational review process so a short list of names is visible at all management levels. That's the first step.
Listen to them. If you actually have a dialog with these folks, you'll learn that they usually have tremendous distaste for the status quo and standard procedures. They probably think the usual rules don't apply to them. They'll want to work long hours, but where and when they want. They'll have a long list of things that "waste their time," like boring group meetings, having to report their every move, and company events. They'll want freedom from what they consider to be arbitrary constraints. It's important to listen, because they need to feel "heard."
Mentor them. Just because you listened, doesn't mean you give in. Be flexible if you can, but don't go too far. You see, they need discipline to realize their potential, but they need to be shown how it will benefit them and the company in the long run. You can't just say, "This is for your own good" and expect them to comply. They're higher maintenance than that. You've got to show them the big picture, the great things the company intends to accomplish, and connect them to those big goals by giving them as much responsibility as they can handle.
Bet on them. This is really where the rubber meets the road. People who are entrepreneurial and innovative by nature need to take risks, and to do that inside a corporate environment means management has to take risks by betting on them. That doesn't mean betting the farm without any "adult supervision" or management oversight, but if you can live with a little less communication on what's going on day to day and keep upper management off their backs, all the better.
Maintain balance. For this kind of culture to work, you can't have unbridled flexibility and hands-off management. You've got to have balance. Imagine a company as a human body. The brain manages everything and organs and cells are specialized to perform unique functions. Everything works in harmony but the endocrine system -- hormones -- keeps everything regulated and in balance. Otherwise, the system would fail. As the metaphor goes, you've got to monitor and regulate the health of the organization so things don't spiral out of control before you're even aware that anything's wrong. To accomplish that, keep a razor-like focus on what's critical and stay flexible on what isn't. 

 How does this fit into the classroom? What educational strategies encompass these ideas?

21st Century Skills
It appears to me that this is exactly what we are talking about when we discuss 21st Century Skills.  We talk about student-centric learning environments. This doesn't mean that the students "run the place."  It means that the students are placed in situations where they are responsible for making things happen. They are posed problems and they need to find the information and develop the skills to solve those problems.  In essence, we are building entrepreneurs who learn to identify and solve problems.

The same thing holds true with teacher and administrators.  Vicki Davis calls this sort of educator a Teacherpreneur.  Vicki was the only one I had ever heard use the term but upon Googling the term, I found that Kristoffer Kohl talks about them and Barnett Berry talks taks about it in his book, Teaching 2030 and their 4-minute video.

So what do you think?  How can we/should we/do we create a culture of innovation for our students, teachers and administrators?  Does your school have a system in place that will support this work?

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