Learn Something new

Each day I learn something new. If I didn’t then I feel like I have not accomplished by daily goal. Today is like all of the others but learning something new is not meaning that it is new to you but could be a reminder of what forgotten.

Student learning is not just about reading books, taking notes, memorizing facts that may not have any meaning after the semester ends, etc. It is also about learning life skills, reinforcing those that have been forgotten or lost. Sometimes I equate it to losing weight…it never ends. I fight excess weight and try to lose. Then I forget that the stuff that tastes good is not actually good for me…like bread, cookies, and dark chocolate. However after eating what is good for me…fruit, vegetables, and lean meats…I crave for those comfort foods. Student learning is like that….you know you need to read, reflect, and practice but you are lured to do something else like video games, read a novel (not assigned for class), or watch a movie.

So today for my something new concept, I learned that I can accomplish what I set out as long as I chunk it into smaller pieces with small goals. When a goal is reached, a reward is applied. (Ok…so maybe I knew this all along but it had escaped my mind). So smaller is better…maybe not in clothes size but in work chunk size. Students need to learn to chunk their work into smaller bite size pieces so they can allow for those other moments like playing with children or friends can be enjoyed fully and without regret.

Yes, today is a great day to learn something new…even if it is old.

Last piece of advise…remember to smile! (It keeps everyone else guessing to really what you are up to!)

Posted in Student Success - My Thoughts

Student Success – What is this

There are many different articles regarding student success. There are those who want to measure it and see that everyone gets that chance to succeed. There are copious amounts of data that higher education has on file but do they really know what this means?

Student success may mean graduating within 1 1/2 times the normal amount of time to complete a degree. For a community college, this means 3 years. For a 4 year school, this means 6 years. But what does this mean to the student who has achieved success?

There are a couple of steps that are required for a student to succeed…

First: An opportunity to attend classes to learn and grow. This is accomplished easily by attending classes at an educational institution. This could be a community college or a 4 year school — or a trade school — whatever meets your needs. Opportunities to attend classes are still improving with financial aid, grants and scholarships. (Yes, these still do exist!) So look for those classes that interest you and provide you the pathway towards a certificate.

Second (and possibly the biggest stumbling block): The internal desire to learn. As an instructor in different institutions, I have found that many students who do not succeed fail because they do not have the continued desire to succeed. They have their doubts…heck I had them when I tried to complete my masters degree — 3 times. I finally succeeded because I found a topic that truly interested me and got me excited to read the next chapter or attend the next class session. It wasn’t easy but I was internally motivated to succeed. The previous times were interrupted because I was distracted by other sources — newly married, new job/home location, and children being born. I do not regret delaying my advanced degrees because I focused on what I believed was the best thing for me and my family. Does that mean I was not successful student? NO! It meant that I put a delay on my goals until a better time.

The internal desire to learn never left. In between the various attempts to get my advanced degree, I achieved various certifications in different technological areas. These helped keep me focused on what was to come while enjoying what I knew was the right thing to do at the moment…family. It also provided me situations where I grew better as a network administrator, system administrator, website designer, engineer, and instructor.

So what is student success? It is the opportunity and the ability to achieve a goal even when you least expect it. It is the chance to do something that you never thought you could. It is that feeling that you have done something great and can show others what it is all about.

As a final thought, this article started out as an exposé on student success but became  my reflections on my own student success. Now if there was only a way in which it can be captured and measured so higher education institutions could use this data to predict how likely a student would complete the goal of a degree/certificate would be totally awesome.

Posted in Student Success - My Thoughts

Quotable Quotes for Student Success

Recently, I was wondering around the Internet looking for ideas on student engagement. I was looking for something inspirational that I might use when working with higher educational educators and administrators. There are so many sites and statements that repeat themselves, I became slightly discouraged. Then I came upon the following quote that really summed up what I was missing.

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete. Buckminster Fuller from SoundOut.org

Quote from Buckminster Fuller (SoundOut.org)

When I read this quote, I realized that what I was finding was just that…everyone speaking the same words with the same outcome. To help students be successful in school, there needs to be interventions, opportunities for growth, yet still get them to study, learn, and apply what they are learning (even when they don’t understand why!)

As an online instructor, I do find it difficult to motivate students to embrace what they are learning. However, one little trick that I am endorsing and have applied in my own courses is the actual question…”What surprised you the most about this course?”  This question has been the most interesting for me to read and is asked at the end of the course.

I teach a fundamental computer course that deals with all things computers and technology. Many students think that it will be about the applications they are very familiar but their comments to the question shows that they are challenged and surprised. The number of students who admit that they believed that they knew the material before yet this course opened their eyes to a larger world is close to over 80%. I believe that this course is an opportunity for them to embrace that they may not know everything and that a “boring” course can provide information that is relevant to them. Yes, there are topics that are very difficult and they become that have “no meaning” to their future career

This engaging question allows students to evaluate their own impression of the course as well as what they learned. They evaluate their own ability to learn and to apply what may not be a direct impact on their future but will increase their awareness of what all happens within and around computers.

Making students be responsible for their own learning (even when they don’t realize it) can be a powerful tool towards student engagement and retention. I know that this isn’t new, but perhaps this can help another instructor engage their own students in a more meaningful way.

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Posted in Teaching Strategies

Mind Mapping is not dead

There are many times when we forget some old friends. That happened to me recently as I was looking through my notes of things that I have not accomplished. Mind Mapping is one of those old friends that has a very useful impact but can be easily forgotten when life is too busy.

It is easy to forget the useful tools that can bring meaning to a very chaotic work environment. As I get closer to a change in my career, I realize that I need to find some order to a disordered environment. Using mind mapping as a brain dump/trust for ideas is helping me keep my eyes focused on the goal rather than getting muddled down with the minute details of work.

Mind Mapping is not just for kids and education. It can be used for so many other things like planning and strategizing, problem solving, collecting and structuring information, decision making, and presentations. Yes, mind mapping can be useful for brainstorming, note taking, memorizing, and collaboration, too! It is easy and can be accomplished anywhere…both by hand and electronically. I do admit that the electronic version is easier to read and doesn’t get lost as easily as a hand written one but the convenience of a hand written mind map is powerful and useful as well.

If you are looking for a good mind mapping tool online, search for the phrase on your favorite search engine. I like MindMeister for its ease and built in training modules. However there are many others that are now available and more coming in the future. I challenge anyone reading this post to try it. Take a difficult problem and mind map it…or take a recent trip and mind map it. Who knows…you might find yourself smiling at what you create.

Posted in Teaching Strategies

Teaching Online…One limitation that I have learned (and relearned over time)

As I continue to teach online, I have to remind myself that each semester is a different group of students who have different needs and expectations. What works one semester may not work the next. It is this reminder that I write this session.

Meeting each student’s needs can be difficult and trying at times. Perhaps the way I teach is not meeting their needs because they need more than I am willing to give. It is at moments like this that I am reminded of raising children. There are times when children need to be taught each step because they do not have the experiences to determine what the next step will be. However, as they mature and become more aware of their surroundings, they develop a strategy in which to succeed in their endeavors. Students are the same way. There are times when they need to be provided each step. Then as they develop strategies to uncover the necessary steps towards a goal, they become stronger learners. The problem I face is the ability to identify where in the learning process are they. I assume that in the beginning students do not have the requisite experiences to succeed in my courses since they have never had me as an instructor before. However, I assume (which can be very dangerous, I know!) that they have developed the strategies to be successful with my assignments and expectations.

Teaching online has the added component of not being able to “hear” the student’s voices in a timely fashion. The written text can have so many different meanings depending on how the words are phrased. The same phrase can have so many different means. For example, the phrase “The day is cold” can be interpreted in different ways. If each word has the same emphases, then one may assume that it is just a simple statement of fact. If however the speaker emphasizes the word day this might mean that this could be something in the future or the day is the answer. If the speaker emphasizes the word cold, then this could be an indication that they are cold and need warmth to feel better or are answering an argument about how the day is really all about. Emphasizing the verb is can bring another interpretation. Without the added bonus of voice inflection on the sentence, the true meaning may be lost.

I have found that when I am tired, I write one way. When I am refreshed or excited, I write in another way. I need to learn to keep my “tone” on an even keel and try to always be positive in what I am writing. It seems that when I write when I am tired, students are more confused. Ah…the written word…it can be harmful. However, I do like writing new announcements each semester because the students are different and so am I. I am older (and hopefully wiser) for the experience.

Posted in Online Learning

Food for thought….Teaching out of the Box

Today’s teaching is moving quickly towards integrating students learning into the training environment. This makes total sense as we tend to learn better by doing. Lectures are out…discussions are in. But are we doing it in such a way that we allow for failure to occur. How many times do we teach when only the right answer is allowed and not the full critical skill element is encouraged? Have you ever heard about the students who answer questions with weird phrases like: Question: To change centimeters to meters what do you do? Answer: Take centi out. or Q: Where was the Declaration of Independence signed? A: At the bottom of the page.

Although these answers were not what the teacher was looking for, these answer demonstrate a direction in which the mind can look at a question from many different angles. This is where applications like Padlet and Inoit come into play. Brainstorming is not necessarily taught in school to allow students to participate in the process and learn that no idea is totally worthless…it just might be misdirected. Teaching history does not need to be just facts and timelines, but an opportunity to discuss culture, geography, weather, and many other things as they are part of the process within the historical event. If one of those elements had changed, how might history have been affected?

The next time you teach, why not try using an application that engages discussion and thinking?

Just food for thought…

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Posted in BYOD, Online Learning, Teaching Strategies

Online Teaching Tools for Teaching Languages

Recently I came across a website that intrigued me as well as re-affirmed some of my own thoughts. The Yale Center for Language Study has developed a wonderful resource for online teaching for Language instructors. This site contains many different tools that augment learning as well as provide evidence of student learning and success.

This site describes many free applications that I use myself. For example, for audio recording and editing, Audacity has been around for years but does require installation. It can provide many options for manipulating a voice recording. I have also used Voki, an avatar that handles a 60 second audio message. Voki lets me create my alter-ego image that contains my 60 second audio message. This is a great way in which to get students to record their message in a short burst and teach them to get to their point quickly and efficiently. However, I did just learn about Vocaroo, another free online voice recording application. This site lets you create your voice recording, share it via a social media link or embed a URL for the audio file. You can also create a QR code to insert into a document or poster.  One drawback — you cannot edit the file within Vocaroo.

For collaborative working and writing tools, you can’t beat GoogleDocs. This set of applications for creating, sharing, and collaborating documents, spreadsheets, presentations, forms, etc. is easy especially if you are in a school that uses GMAIL as their email system.

VoiceThread is great to make a change from the presentation format of PowerPoint  presentations. What I like about VoiceThread is the ability to make comments either via text, voice, audio file or video. This allows students to show their knowledge in the best manner that they are most comfortable. Sadly, the free version is limited to five VoiceThreads, which cannot be deleted once they are created. As an alternative to VoiceThread, Prezi comes to mind. This alternative presentation tool provides users to create zooming and multi-media rich presentations. With the many different tutorials embedded into the program and the number of different templates available, there is a very short learning curve to use the tool effectively and efficiently.

For video conferencing, Skype has always been the standard and standby for online conferencing. I still keep my Skype account open and available for some of my other online instructors so they can reach me when they need me. However lately, I have found one other video conferencing application that I absolutely love — Zoom. Zoom allows up to 25 people to conference at the same time with screen sharing capabilities. Switching between the Speaker Mode and the Gallery mode, I always know who is talking and who is “falling asleep.”  Unfortunately, the free version allows for only a 40 minute conversation where the pro version allows for unlimited time.

These are just some of the things that I have found over the last few days but I want to give a special thanks to the Yale Center for Language Study for reminding what some of the oldies but goodies applications we have available for educators.

Posted in Online Learning