Be You: Informal Videos by Teachers and Reflective Journals by Students

This is the second post for EDTC 6104. I recommend reading my first post to get an idea where I came from as I explore digital learning environments.

This week I was exposed to a number of new scholars in the education and technology sphere. Below I share summaries from this week’s readings and comment on what I found to be most intriguing. Furthermore, I share two resources related to my current exploration for the second week of EDTC 6104. The first expands on Kop’s research on instructor use of video and the second sets the stage for my action plan (stay tuned because on Sunday I reveal a significant shift!). Also, as you will note in this post, I decided to post this on blog–open!–opposed to staying in the closed wall of Google Docs. Peer pressure (thanks, Annie, Becky, and Marsha), but also Kop’s reading convinced me. I’ve never been a fan of blogs as I tend to be a private person (unless we are at the pub drinking a beer), but I felt the need to engage in a new way and add “reflective practice” to my workflow. Here goes nothing!

Technology as Culture and a Web of Supporters for Students and Teachers

Seymour Papert (1987) discusses the inadequacies of a technocentric approach when implementing computers into the educational environment. Instead, Papert argues for a robust computer criticism approach. Papert’s foundation is based on human development, for example, he writes:

The context for human development is always a culture, never an isolated technology. In the presence of computers, cultures might change and with them people’s ways of learning and thinking. But if you want to understand (or influence) the change, you have to center your attention on the culture–not on the computer (p. 23).

Papert shifts the attention from the technology tool itself to the overarching context–or culture–surrounding the implementation of said technology. We take a step away from focusing all our attention on technology tools, and instead take a holistic approach to the context. Papert provides a helpful example for how he understands technology. He writes, “Does wood produce good houses? If I built a house out of wood and it fell down, would this show that wood does not produce good houses?” (p. 24). He goes on to answer the question writing that there is much more to a house than the lumber used. It requires the involvement of many skilled people implementing “design” and specific “aesthetics” to create a well made house. In other words, we must understand technology as much more than a technological item itself. Technology involves people and culture. Papert, discussing the Logo program, flushes out his point further, “The children encounter Logo in a particular way, in a particular relationship to other people, teachers, peer mentors, and friends. They don’t encounter a thing, they encounter a culture” (p. 27).

I am not exactly sure how I feel about Papert’s article, but–if I understand correctly–I do appreciate his more holistic approach to technology implementing cultural factors. In addition, his reminders regarding how different people approach technology differently is crucial.

Rita Kop (2010) presents research about students using interactive and collaborative web 2.0 tools for their learning while being directed to take ownership. Kop’s research is driven around the concept that the space can be “adapted to become a place where the learner can feel confident and feel confident to learn autonomously” (p. 270). To that end, Kop explores the specific relationships and capabilities of a learning technologist, tutor, and student model. One strategy that was revolutionary for me to read about is how they approach the use of blogs as “reflective journals” (p. 270). I am a pretty reluctant blog writer which is combative with the requirement of this M.Ed. program which requires me to produce weekly or bi-weekly blog posts. Whereas I approach the blog much like submitting a final paper for grading or publishing, Kop argues that the blog affords the writer an ongoing reflective journal, opens up possibilities and encourages students to think of writing as a process where they invite others to participate via comments. Kop quotes Ferdig & Trammell who write, “Students are blogging about topics that are important to them. Students direct their own learning while receiving input and feedback from others” (2004).

There are two key takeaways from Kop that are helpful as I continue to think through my action plan. First, Kop’s research reinforces the need for tutors to take an active role in helping students feel engaged, understand the tools, and have a personal connection (p. 279). Kop concludes her article reiterating that relationships are vital, “This research has shown that communication and interaction with other learners and with tutors is at the heart of a quality online learning experience” (p. 280). Second, Kop recommends a tight integration and interactive community made up of an “empowered tutor” who guides the course and helps students learn, an “engaged student” who not only recognizes that the online digital classroom includes conversations and content resources across the internet but also strives to collaborate and communicate fully with classmates, and “the negotiating learning technologist” who is embedded in the process from the beginning to comprehend the technology needs and support learning through the proper implementation (p. 280). Success requires a dynamic flexible team that consists of teacher (tutor), student, and learning technologist, who work together each contributing their own perspective: it is all about relationships!

Quick Informal Videos to Boost Student-to-Teacher Relationships

One more thing that Kop (2010) discussed was the use of quick informal videos posted by the tutor for the students to watch. Kop’s research explores the use of videos created by the tutors  to cover course material and provide general feedback and reflections on how the students are progressing through the course. The research revealed that video use was positive. “Videos of this nature, made on the spur of the moment, were very much appreciated by students, who said the immediacy that the videos created made them feel they were part of a group of people they felt close to” (p. 278). The tutors were “willing to show themselves as real human beings, rather than as distantly removed tutors” (p. 278). This authentic approach created the opportunity for increased student-to-teacher relationships.

Intrigued I decided to learn more about the potential and possible positive impact on student to teacher relationships. Borup et al. (2012) researched three different instructors uses of  video with their students and the outcome of that practice. Two used VoiceThread and one used YouTube. The research revealed a positive impact on “cohesion with the instructor” even though each instructor used the video differently. One used it to comment on the end of VoiceThread slides, another used it to provide course updates every week via YouTube, and the other used VoiceThread more extensively by posting responses to student questions in addition to course session information (p. 198). Borup et al. summarizes the findings stating, “Fifteen students felt the video communication helped them develop a sense of familiarity and closeness with their instructor” whereas five students had negative examples (pp. 199-200). One student reflected on the experience, “That’s nice because I have been in a lot of classes where the professor wouldn’t even know my name, which is sometimes fine, sometimes frustrating” and another student stated that the instructor “was very connected to the online students. I never felt not connected. I felt like our class was watching his videos and being there focusing one-on-one with the teacher” (p. 199). Borup et al. concluded with commentary on the success and impact of video communication:

Interviews showed that video communication had a substantial impact on establishing the instructors’ social presence. A large majority of students indicated feeling like they were talking to their instructor when they made video comments and that viewing the instructors’ video communication helped them perceive the teacher as a real person. Some students also indicated that their interaction with their instructor was similar to that of face-to-face instruction. In addition, the majority of students stated that video communication helped them to develop an emotional connection with their instructor and to know that they could rely on him for help. Some students also said that the fidelity of the video contained a type of visual self-disclosure that helped them to get to know their instructor.

This research further bolsters Kop’s argument, providing strong support for the use of informal and immediate video in online learning environments. When we start to think about the capabilities of the devices that live in our pockets which are equipped with cameras and microphones partnered with the endless online services that host videos online, it seems like a no-brainer to encourage teachers to use videos in their online courses. It is very important to note, however, I am not advocating or talking about screencasts (e.g., videos of narrated PowerPoint slides). It doesn’t take much work and videos need not be professional. It is most telling, as noted by Borup et al., that some students felt as if the course was a face-to-face encounter because of the videos (p. 199). That is powerful! Establishing immediate, relevant, and informal videos to increase the online social presence of teachers in online or blended courses if the first step. Next, we must determine what the the most beneficial attributes and types of videos that instructors should use. Furthermore, it would be interesting to research the benefits of a professional–studio quality–video compared to a quick video filmed and posted using an iPhone, for example.

DETA Research Center

The second resource is the work that Tanya Joosten is doing at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Awarded a grant, Joosten and her team created DETA (Distance Education and Technological Advancement Research Center). My colleague shared this resource with me as something to consider for a class we are teaching. In their own words the center exists to “advance evidence-based practice in online education and guide the adoption of technologies for teaching and learning.” The center will invite academic institutions to apply for a grant to conduct research on effective online learning. The “DETA Center will identify and evaluate effective course and institutional practices in online learning (including competency-based education) for underrepresented individuals (i.e., economically disadvantaged, adult learners, disabled) through rigorous research.”

References

Borup, J., West, R. E., & Graham, C. R. (2012). Improving online social presence through asynchronous video. Emotions in Online Learning Environments, 15(3), 195–203. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.iheduc.2011.11.001

Ferdig, R. & Trammell, K. (2004, February). Content delivery in the “blogosphere.”

Technological Horizons in Education Journal (pp. 1–7). Retrieved January 2005, from www.thejournal.com

Kop, R. (2010). Using Social Media to Create a Place that Supports Communication. In G. Veletsianos (Ed.), Emerging Technologies in Distance Education (pp. 269–283). AU Press. Retrieved from http://www.aupress.ca/index.php/books/120177

Papert, S. (1987). Information Technology and Education: Computer Criticism vs. Technocentric Thinking. Educational Researcher, 16(1), 22–30. http://doi.org/10.3102/0013189X016001022

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