Monthly Archives: May 2013

Learning Philosophy: Week 3

My learning philosophy consists of all of my experiences as a student and undergraduate.  I also find that it is shaped by the type of learning style that I personally have.  Unfortunately for my students, that happens to be auditory learning. I learn best, and feel that learning occurs, when the teacher is driving the instruction in the classroom.  I thought it was interesting that at the beginning of the interview in New Culture of Learning, they discussed how difficult it is for teachers to let go of their classrooms.  Having the student’s take control makes me cringe!  However, I’ve learned that we have to do a better of teaching them HOW to take control.

One of the most important things we can teach our students these days is to question where their information is coming from.  In a world where Google provides thousands of answers in a split second, learning can only occur with factual information when students are aware of what information is reliable and what is not.  By testing these inquiry skills, we can tell that learning takes place.  With 21st century learners, we must teach them how to get information before they can begin to use the correct information.

Teachers, especially in traditional classrooms, must learn to evolve with the learning process.  In 2025, we will need to facilitators. (I know, I know, that world is cliché too!) But it’s true. By continually changing learning modalities, engaging students as twenty-first century learners, and using a variety of methods and mediums to communicate with students, we will attempt to set the stage for a dynamic and engaging classroom. One full of participatory learning, where students are the creators but the teachers have taught them the best ways of sharing knowledge, piecing through poor information, and using each other as resources to make them better learners.  Here we will see learning occur not when a student can reiterate all of the information that has been drilled into their head, but when they can create based on their knowledge.

Learning in 2025 will truly occur when you don’t just hand the student a computer with a program and asked them to create.  It will occur when students are seeking their own forms of knowledge and choosing the correct modes of doing so. Learning will be seen when students ask each other for help before seeking the teacher, because in a 21st century world, this is what happens more often than not.  I love the idea of bringing the audience to light as students comment on text as they read. Diigo is a tool that I will start using in my online course!

Like it was said in the Davidson and Goldberg article, learning philosophies for teachers and institutions must change with the ever adapting world of knowledge.  I’m trying to change my learning philosophy but it’s not any easy task.  I’ve gone from using IT tools that are somewhat under my control to creation tools, such as Wikispaces, Glogster, Google Docs and BlackBoard Collaboration, to allow students more freedom to share and collaborate on their own, at their leisure.  Now, more than ever, learning is “lifelong.”  We have access to instant information all of the time.  We must change our modalities to teach our students the ways to access good information and use it collaboratively to their advantage; then, we have become successful teachers with students who are truly “learning.”


Guest Blog

Greetings! It’s a pleasure to “visit” your class. I enjoyed this class very much last summer and am certain you will find it very informative.

jmmMy name is Joan Mruk and I am in the graduate program for Learning, Design and Technology. I have been working in education for the past 17 years as a technology teacher and integrator. Currently I work at Mount Saint Mary Academy in Watchung NJ, an independent all-girl high school, teaching courses in Web Design, Digital Media, Computer Science Principles (preliminary course for the new AP course) and Introduction to Information Management (a tech skills and research type course). I also collaborate with the faculty to incorporate technology into their curriculum.

Our school is in the 6th year of our 1-1 laptop program. All students and faculty have a school issued device (currently a Fujitsu Tablet PC, but this summer we are getting Lenova Yoga’s with Windows 8). Our faculty has become quite tech savvy. The tools that are commonly used in our school include: Moodle, Google docs, One Note, Movie Maker, Audacity, and (of course) Microsoft Office. Information gathering (note taking, research though the web and library resources) and organization are the most common uses of technology. Assignments are primarily created and handed in electronically. However, many teachers make use of  other tools to enhance lessons.

The faculty has a great deal of latitude in exploring the uses of technology. Whether it is something they discovered through a workshop or user group or something that caught their eye in my monthly tech tip email, I will usually help them to get familiar with how the tool works and setup for their class. Often I will co teach a lesson where I help the students get started using the tool.  If there are problems with using the tool, I will follow up with the teacher, or provide support to the students. During, but mostly towards the end, of the project, I will talk wit the students to get feedback about the tool: How was it to use? Did it help you (to understand the concept, find/organize/present the information, collaborate with your classmates, etc). So, I gather informal feedback on the impact of the tool on the lesson from both the students and teachers. Teachers will also gather this type of feedback, in addition to other methods. Several teachers use Socrative to poll students, while others build components into their rubrics. Sometimes, when it is the first time a teacher is using a tech tool in a lesson, s/he will discuss with me the differences between the results in the tech infused lesson vs the non-tech lesson, and we will try to explore any disappointing results (is it the tool, the difference in students).

We have had some new tech tools this year. Thanks to a grant, we have a 1 year subscription to Gizmos, a web based tool for simulating math and science concepts. By all accounts the faculty are quite happy with this and use it effectively. Overall the students like the tool, although it seems those that grasp the concepts readily are bored by using Gizmos.

We also had several new ventures in our World Language dept.  Our Italian teacher connected with a teacher in Italy to have their classes communicate with each other. The students were to practice their language while sharing cultural information. I had been playing with Edmodo, as I had read so much about it. Turns out it was the ideal tool for this project. The students took to it immediately, as it was so “Facebook”-like. They were very engaged, communicating with the students in Italy even during their spring break. It was ideal because the teachers could moderate and control the environment, and the students privacy was protected. An important lesson here for me was the value of experimenting with tools. When you are familiar with their abilities and uses, it is easier to provide a timely suggestion for a teacher.

Glogster has also taken a foothold in our school. This allows the students to create an interactive “poster” of information, incorporating video, hyperlinks, images and text. Over the past two years our science teachers have used it quite a bit and pleased with the student’s work. For the most part, the students like it, although some say they would prefer to do the “old fashioned” paper poster boards. Our world language department is also starting to use it and I am working with other departments to use it in place of posters or traditional print projects. We had a rough start in one class this year. The teacher started the project by having me teach the students to use Glogster, then asked them to do their research and build the Glog. The teacher was frustrated with the results as she felt the students spent too much time with Glogster, and not enough time researching. I suggested that next time the students do their research first, collecting their sources and making notes, and then build their Glog. I find that helping the teachers to sequence when to introduce the tool in the lesson is very important.

We also eliminated a tool from our collection this year. We have had a subscription to VoiceThread for two years, and during that time I have done projects and workshops with the students and faculty with it. And despite all that, it just did not take off. The students found it cumbersome, and the faculty did not seem to find the collaborative features useful.

On the other hand, collaboration with Google docs has become quite common in our school. This summer our tech department is introducing Office 365 with the hope that in a year we will eliminate Google docs and work on that platform. It will be interesting to see how faculty and students adapt and embrace this change.

Those are some of the highlights. We have many other things going on including the use of Apps on mobile devices, Twitter and Skype, not to mention our digital offerings from the library. I could go on and on! But hopefully this has given you some insight to some of the highs and lows of technology use at our school.


Week 3: Changing Roles of Learner and Teacher

By definition, learning is to ‘gain or acquire knowledge’, or ‘to commit to memory’. In my middle-school-teacher opinion however, I know that my students are learning when they conduct an experiment, game, or activity in order to collaboratively recognize facts or make their own realizations. Learning often takes place through discovery, exploration, and even play in these student-directed lessons. In regards to the teacher’s participation becoming more focused on creating and shaping new learning environments, Douglas Thomas says, “You get to see students learn, discover, explore, play, and develop, which is the primary reason I think that most of us got into the job of teaching.” Although the teacher oftentimes guides the students and facilitates the learning by setting up the experiments, games, and activities to appropriately induce learning, it is always student-centered. This truly is a more rewarded, although very difficult, role that teachers must begin to practice in order for learning to take place.

As a Mathematics teacher, it is important that I recognize the many indicators of learning. I know my students have learned a concept when they are able to share their knowledge & skills with others, or when they make real-world connections between the content in our classroom and their personal lives.

In the future, I see my role as a facilitator in the classroom changing somewhat. Currently, I spend about half of my classroom time directly teaching whole or small-group lessons. The other half is spent in guided learning activities, collaborative group work, and researching Math concepts. I believe that as information continues to grow more easily accessible and understandable for middle school students, more classroom time will be spent with students directing their own learning and using the information/resources available through Web 2.0 tools. Students will be able to more actively engage with academic content and share back-and-forth with students not only in their classroom, but well beyond the walls of the school.



Learning Philosophy: Participating in MEANINGFUL experiences

Learning occurs when a student participates in MEANINGFUL experiences. I have had the opportunity to see first-hand how young children learn, and to be a part of the process. my kindergarten classroom is an environment where my students gain experiences that are hands-on and MEANINGFUL to them. Through careful planning centered around the curriculum, I am able to create experiences and learning centers that help students use creativity and problem-solving skills.

The question then becomes: “How do you make experiences MEANINGFUL to students?”

I believe the first step is to get to know your students very well, create relationships with them, and relate learning to their “real-life”. It is important to connect learning to life outside of the classroom. It is important to be able to answer the question “Why are we learning this”? My school has just adopted a new reading program called Lead 21. There is a component of Lead 21 that has proven to be extremely successful this year among my students for many reasons. This component is called “inquiry”. At the end of each unit, we participate in an “inquiry project”. The reason why this project is so successful is because the students themselves create the questions and the project (with teacher support and guidance to extend learning). For example, during a unit titled “Life All Around”, my students created puppet shows in small groups that answered the question, “What plants and animals are around us?” Students brainstormed ideas, made their puppets, rehearsed, and performed their puppet show to summarize what we had learned in the unit. Using Web 2.0 these inquiry projects can be enhanced even more and can reach a farther audience.

Since these projects are so open-ended and allow for freedom and creativity, it is challenging for students. A quote from Davidson & Goldberg The Classroom or the World Wide Web? stood out to me when I was thinking about the inquiry process:
“Challenges are not simply individually faced frustrations, Promethean mountains to climb alone, but mutually shared, to be redefined, solved, resolved, or worked around-together”.
I have found that students are more motivated and successful when they are interested in what they are learning. When they create their own learning opportunities, they are MEANINGFUL, and students are held accountable for them. Students not only “dive deeper” into the subject matter, but they learn how to work effectively in a group setting and how to be a contributing group member. These are skills that they will need to use their entire lives.

This year I have seen how allowing for the shift in roles (student-created inquiry projects) helps to shape a new learning environment. In this environment, I have seen what Douglas Thomas has described.. “You get to see students learn, discover, explore, play, and develop, which is the primary reason I think that most of us got into the job of teaching.”


Thoughts from the readings for this week

Many of the big topics from the readings gave me much to think about this week as I am attending the SUNY Conference on Instruction and Technology.  Today, we had the pleasure of listening to an amazing keynote address by Dr. Bryan Alexander.  The address should be posted soon at .  Dr. Alexander also maintains a blog at  As I was watching Dr. Alexander’s presentation, one of the take home ideas is that educational games appear to be the next big thing, if they aren’t already.  I found this interesting considering the importance placed on play to engage students and stimulate the imagination in the Jenkins interview from this week’s reading.  Since so many kids today play video games, it seems only logical that using games to engage learning would have huge payoffs.  My 3rd grade daughter hates working on her spelling words, but we use a fun website ( to play games about the words until she has mastered them.  She looks forward to this, while the old-fashioned method of writing them ten times doesn’t excite her at all.

In the reading by Davidson and Goldberg, I had an issue with the statement on page 13 about current college students having no memory of life before the internet.  At a community college, I have had students in age range from 17 to 60 in the same class.  This has come up at the conference I have been attending as well, since those at four year institutions describe how in tune their students are with emerging technologies.  I struggle with requiring technology use, even simple things like email, because of the diversity of my student population.  In that sense, I try to incorporate emerging technologies in an optional way until I feel that the students who were non-users have gained the confidence and skills that they need.  I also can’t assume that all students have smartphones and/or tablets, which makes the use of those to encourage interaction more difficult.  One suggestion that was made during a session I attended was to have those who don’t have a mobile device share with someone else.  If students work as teams in this way, there is usually enough devices so everyone can participate.

In the Davidson and Goldberg reading, on p. 32, the description of the importance of “connectivities and interactivities made possible by digitally enabled social networking” was especially significant to me.  Over the years, I have seen a change from students in a competition mode to them being in more of a collaborative mode.  Perhaps I was selfish, but if I prepared notes from a class, I wouldn’t share them with other students.  Now, I see students sharing notes, flashcards, pictures, and videos with each other.  So in that way, it seems that social media has encouraged students to share resources with each other, just as they are constantly sharing their thoughts, interests, and pictures with each other.

Learning Philosophy 1.0…Not Memorization!

As a community college educator with many first semester students, I am trying to prepare my students for the college experience, for their academic program in the health sciences field, and for potential future transfer to a larger four-year institution.  Therefore, I am not only trying to teach content in my subject area, but also trying to teach my students the skills they will need to succeed in college.  That covers a little on my teaching philosophy, but what about learning?

Learning for me is shown when a student can take the basic information that is presented to them and comprehend it at a deeper level.  This can be shown by being able to discuss and apply the material to a particular situation.  For instance, in teaching anatomy, students are expected to be able to identify anatomical structures from a model.  This is usually a fairly easy task for most students but doesn’t really show learning if the student is unable to recognize that same structure presented in a slightly different way during a future class.  Many students have become accustomed to memorization to succeed in their prior educational experience, but if they can’t apply that information later in the course, they didn’t really learn it.  Since my courses are designed as a two semester sequence that builds on prior information, memorization is not going to be adequate to succeed.

How learning takes place really depends on the student and their learning preferences.  I try to allow the students to determine the way that works the best for them.  This includes online quizzes, flashcards, videos, reading the textbook, meeting with me for discussion, study groups, online games, and laboratory simulations.  So many of the tasks that help students learn involve experimentation, interaction, and collaboration.  I have many students who have formed their own online learning groups via email and social media sites to share notes and learning strategies that they have discovered.  Instead of a competition between each other, they work together to help and encourage each other in their learning.

As an educator, I do need to assess the students at regular intervals to see if learning has taken place.  I love the moments in class where a confused look on someone’s face turns into an excited look of comprehension.  But those looks can’t always be recorded, so there does need to be evidence that learning has taken place.  For tests and quizzes, I try to use a mixture of both basic knowledge questions and some more difficult application and synthesis questions.  I also repeat basic physiological concepts over and over, so that if they can apply material from a previous section to the current section, they can determine how the new scenario will work.  For instance, a common physiological mechanism is negative feedback, in which the body sends signals to return something such as a hormone or body temperature back to its normal level.  This is a concept that is described in the first week of class, but is continually brought up for many situations as the two semester course progresses.    If the student can understand that concept early on, they can then continually apply it to new physiological processes.  In class discussions and tests, this type of application indicates that learning has occurred.  In addition, when a student brings up a particular real life disease and can recognize how the information just presented shows how the disease occurs, it indicates true learning, instead of memorization, has taken place.  Many of my students will soon be in clinical situations where they need to work on plans for patient care, so the more I can encourage higher order thinking, the more they will truly learn and be better prepared for their future academic and professional careers.

Melissa's wordle

Learning Philosophy

My philosophy on learning has changed and mutated over the last couple of years, as have the opportunities and resources that have become available. To this point, I think it is important for us as teachers to remain agile in our thought processes and agile in our methods.
Our job as educators both changes rapidly every year and stays the same. At the core level we will always want students to learn something new, experience something new and learn to love to learn. Encouraging exploration and play will unlock the human potential and will help us make sense of this ever changing world. While I believe that students need to form their own knowledge through relating personal experiences it is their peers and teachers that should be there to push them and challenge them to reach new heights.
Technology is all around us and so much of it can be used for educational purposes, yet we do our students a grave disservice by teaching them in classrooms built a century ago. We need to start looking at technology not only as a tool to engage our students now but as a critical tool they will use in the future.
One could differentiate between learners and teachers by the level of passion they have for the subject and their ability to inspire others to find their own passion. Each student learns differently and instead of always trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, as we have done for so long with our “one size fits all” educational system, we should be celebrating these differences and use them as a chance to learn new ways of teaching.  Remaining agile will be the only way we can keep relevant.


Friendly Reminder – Week 3


Welcome to Week 3! Here’s what we’ve got coming up for this week.

  • Reading: Jenkins, Changing Roles; Davidson & Goldberg, Future of Learning Institutions
  • Blog post (see Lessons>Week 3 in Angel for suggested questions or topics to consider
  • Blog comments: comment on at least two other students’ posts
  • Learning Philosophy 1.0 (with Wordle)

We may also have a special-guest blogger this week, Joan Mruk, who will talk a little bit about some of her experiences in working with educational technologies. As always, let me know if you have any questions.

Some Thoughts on Week 2

In this first round of discussions about the readings, I saw several of you raise a number of interesting points and questions.

Shelby explains that she sees some parallels between the Brown essay and a book she recently read by James Surowecki called The Wisdom of Crowds. In the context of our discussion, she points to the potential for the internet to enable large-scale collaborations that before Web 2.0 were much more difficult.

Among the various concepts described by Brown, Melissa points to the concept of bricolage as one that has some of the most resonance with her because of the way in which it appears to coincide with what she sees some of her biology students do who … who design their own lecture outlines, study guides, and Facebook pages and share these with other students. In another part of her post, she describes a transition from resisting cellphone use in the classroom to welcoming it as she observed students use it to support their own learning needs in creative, unexpected ways – e.g., Some students make videos of themselves pointing out parts of anatomical models that they can watch again and again until they have the material mastered.

Due in part to the rapid proliferation of tools and information, Hannah urges teachers to see themselves also as learners, which can widen the opportunities for student input in the teaching and learning processes. Although it pushes against tradition, teachers don’t need to see themselves as the one with all the answers; students bring a rich array of experiences and skills to the classroom and these can be channeled into exciting new possibilities. We can see many examples of this through sites like Edutopia.

Marie echoes Hannah’s emphasis, however, she notes that this changing landscape also presents challenges for students – e.g., Shifting the idea of how people learn, especially students, is a hard task to accomplish in a nation that already has their philosophy set. She points out that a complicating factor in trying to create this more collaborative, project-based environment is high-stakes testing which seems to be designed for put more emphasis on individual modes and models of learning. With this in mind, she would like to see schools adopt greater openness in recognizing the different forms or types of learning that can occur in a learning environment compatible with the needs of an information-age economy – e.g., We would need to be okay viewing a classroom as a working, non-structured area where students are talking, researching, doing different projects, etc.

From another angle, Justin notes that while he prefers a learning approach that favors a guide on the side, he nevertheless concedes that it can be easier said than done. He further explains that a more facilitative approach encourages the student to take greater sense of ownership and direction in their learning, because the instructor is prompting the student through questions and authentic problem-solving scenarios rather than spelling everything out for them through didactic lectures.

Good work folks 🙂 I look forward to reading more!

Learning 2.0?

As we start digging into the course content this week, I am most struck by how more people have more access to learning materials than they ever had in the past.  Perhaps through Web 2.0 technologies, we can move even closer to true universal education for all.  Ideally, open courses and the ever-expanding Internet could be the missing link for creating learning opportunities in communities everywhere.

According to Brown and Adler, learning occurs whenever learners interact with electronic materials inside or outside traditional classroom settings, especially through activities that involve a social aspect.  “The emphasis on social learning stands in sharp contrast to the traditional Cartesian view of knowledge and learning—a view that has largely dominated the way education has been structured for over one hundred years” (Brown & Adler, 2008).  Without a doubt, social learning can be beneficial for some learners , but by focusing on learning within group situations, I feel like the authors, as well as many other learning theorists, are forgetting that some learners do not react well to such group pressures for many different reasons.  Are we forgetting that some subjects or materials might best be learned by some learners through individually focused instruction or through more traditional direct instruction models?

During my undergraduate years from 2000-2004, I grew very tired of always hearing “Facilitator of Learning” over and over again from my professors.  It was so obviously their favorite bit of educational jargon and integral to their program’s philosophy.  We were told that we should move away from thinking of ourselves as lecturers, as distributors of knowledge, and instead think of ways to encourage our students to figure things out for themselves.  I think that can be an incredibly useful and vital concept in learning, especially when considering how uninspiring and dull it is to be stuck in an educational rut, but I think we sometimes lean too much on group work with or without technology in an effort to be cutting edge.  I’ve used Wiki sites for both individual assignments and group projects, and it is certainly an interesting process, tracking any changes and adding content while knowing that my process is open to the scrutiny of my other group members or even the class as a whole.  “In this open environment, both the content and the process by which it is created are equally visible, thereby enabling a new kind of critical reading—almost a new form of literacy—that invites the reader to join in the consideration of what information is reliable and/or important” (Brown & Adler, 2008).  I think it is important to think critically about all aspects of information gathering, preparing and sharing.  Even so, I question the idea that everyone’s opinion on any given topic is valid.  There is a certain amount of self-policing involved in larger online communities where the cream rises to the top fairly quickly, but what about in smaller environments like required classes?  If we are going to be basing learning around what the students think is important, class may be more fun for them, but are they learning everything that they need to know?

One thing that everyone definitely needs to know is summed up in the following quote:

“What I want to suggest, though, is that the new literacy, the one beyond just text and image, is one of information navigation. I believe that the real literacy of tomorrow will have more to do with being able to be your own private, personal reference librarian, one that knows how to navigate through the incredible, confusing, complex information spaces and feel comfortable and located in doing that.  So navigation will be a new form of literacy if not the main form of literacy for the 21st century” (Brown, 1999).

In short, everyone needs to be able to consider information critically and independently, and an emphasis on this new literacy would have profound effects on learning environments.  By shifting away from the traditional misconception of librarianship as information gatekeeping, we can build a society of lifelong learners who are fully capable of interacting with information in their chosen learning environments in new and interesting ways.  These ideas can be found manifest in libraries that have added Information Commons to their library footprint.  The reference librarians are there to offer any assistance necessary, but the learner/patron is at the center of the space, not the reference desk.  It is much more learner focused, and patrons can use the libraries on their own terms.

The readings this week make me think about the many ways we all learn, and I wonder how much our individual learning styles have impacted our teaching styles as well.  It is always important to think outside our own likes or dislikes and not get bogged down in one mode of teaching.  I think I have a lot more to consider about how to connect social learning through technology with my own learning preferences.