Sunday, January 3, 2016

Heresy! The End of Late Penalties

A dillar, a dollar...

Tom Schimmer makes a powerful argument against late penalties on grades in this 2011 blog post.  And no, you won't get a flood of assignments at the end of the marking period if you do it.  Dare I try it?  I may this semester, and I'll report back to you.  Stay tuned, readers!

Friday, May 1, 2015

Adult Learners Self-Concept and Self-Direction: Helping Adults Become Independent Learners

 Fiddishun, deals specifically with the attributes of adult learners and technology.  She points out, "It is also important that self-directedness not be confused with self-motivation[Italics mine]. Although a student may be motivated to take a course, they may not be self-directed enough to feel comfortable choosing instructional modules in an online course or creating their own structured environment to learn in a web-based course." (Fiddishun, pp. 4-5)
Some adults, for various reasons, may need a little help in their self-concept.
Fiddishun goes on to suggest how instructors can help the adults who may need encouragement learning to learn:  "Encouraging self-directedness may also take the form of additional instructor contact in the beginning stages of the class or could be facilitated by having students do technology-based modules within a traditional class before they move to a complete course based in technology."  I think we've all seen this in either our teaching or classes where some adults may not be comfortable with technology or research and may need encouragement to catch up on certain skills, or to be more intrepid learners.

Above is the powerpoint slide of Giuliana L. and Monica V., some classmates who expand upon the ideas surrounding self-concept as it pertains to adult learners.  As we get more and more into Knowles's attributes, I can't help thinking that in some ways he is talking about an ideal.  Toward the end of his career Knowles acknowledged that the differences between child and adult learners are not as hard and fast as he had originally thought, and I think self-concept is a good illustration of this.

  For example, if we think of confidence, there are always a few children in any group who have precocious amounts of confidence and independence; and it is not unusual to find adults who lack confidence, cannot accept criticism or feel hurt by it, or who are not self-starters.  While some of this may be personality traits, I think experiences in school and in the family of origin have a lot to do with the range of self-concepts we see in both children and adults.

I have to admit I am a little preoccupied with psychological barriers to learning, including the effects of chronic stress, after my experience teaching youth and young adults ages 14-23 in North Camden in 2013-2014.  Conditions there - both the life circumstances and the educational experiences of the youth and young adults -  were so extreme that I sometimes find myself wondering if I really saw some of the things I did.  In any case, the self-concept of these young people played a very important role in how easily they were able to complete their training, and even whether they could complete it at all.

Would Kids Learn Like Adults if They Weren't in School? Self-Concept, Orientation, and Andragogy (Attribute 2)

According to influential theorist of adult learning Malcolm Knowles, in childhood people's orientation is toward subject-based learning, wheres adults are oriented toward  problem-based learning that seeks a specific, immediate goal.  He also says that their self-concept is different:  children are dependent learners, more easily led to study this or that subject at the behest of adults in their lives, whereas adults are self-directed.  While this is not the case for every child or every adult (adults can be quite dependent in certain learning situations, and some children can be quite driven and self-directed), it is important for instructors to take adults' independent self-conception into account.

However, I wonder if children's supposed attribute of a dependent, subject-driven orientation toward learning is structural - that is, could it be due more to the imposition of compulsory classroom-based schooling than to any natural tendency of children?   After all, what choice do most children have?  What kind of learners would they be if they had more freedom to learn in an organic way?  We've all seen kids on the weekends and in the summer, running around teaching themselves to play games, ride a bike, make things. 

Adults' inquisitiveness and problem-based learning might be more a function of their relative freedom and choice about learning.  Perhaps children do not have the opportunity to pick and choose their learning so much, and that's why they appear to be subject-oriented.

This is precisely the argument that the unschooling movement makes (Unschooling is a term coined by educator John Holt, who published books and the influential periodical Growing Without Schooling.  The point to societies in which children learn informally by imitating adults or by helping them as they go about their activities; children also had considerable free time to explore the world around them, and were given considerable responsibility.  This learning pattern was common in the pre-industrial world, including in the United States until schooling became mandatory in most places in the nineteenth century. 

Unschooling is a branch of the homeschooling movement that eschews classroom-like setups in the home in favor of more organic models of learning.  As many unschoolers would tell you, "We are just living our lives."  While adults provide guidance, children have a lot of say in how and what they will learn and whether or not they are successful.  Under these conditions, unschooled child learners look a lot like the self-directed, problem-oriented adult learners described by Knowles.  

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Adult Learners: Practical Orientation (Attribute 5)

Schoolchildren are "subject oriented," and do not expect to be able to apply all they learn immediately, at least in traditional schools.  But adults, on the other hand, want their learning to be relevant, practical, immediately applicable, and problem-centered.

To learn more, check out my and Karrie Augustine's Screencast about Adult Learning Attribute #5, "Orientation," which synthesizes our own and our classmate's work on this attribute.  We enjoyed creating it and hope that you learn from our tour of the class's attribute maps.

An Infographic provides information about Knowles's theory in graphic form.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Explore Web 2.0 Tools - a Handy Annotated List and Some Boffo Resources


You snooze, you lose.

I came across the wonderful metasite Cool Tools for Schools the other day, and pasted it into my Notes app, thinking I would post it to my class discussion board later.  But by the time I got around to it, others had scooped me.  Procrastination 1, Anne 0. 

I had to look pretty hard for another site that would be as useful.  I don't know if I quite succeeded, but I did find some great links:

First, a Wikibook on Web 2.0 and Emerging Learning Technologies  .  It qualifies as a metasite because of its many categorized links, and because it links to other sites that have great Web 2.0 tools.

In the course of this search I stumbled across additional resources too awesome not to share.  The European Union's MobiVET project makes available a .pdf document, "Web 2.0 Technologies and Their Applications in Online Training and Tutoring" (May, 2013).  This document gives a concise yet comprehensive intro to E-learning with tons of info on Web 2.0,  its history, strengths, and uses.  The report yields a bonanza of useful links for course design, free learning  management systems, resources, and yes, Web 2.0 tools.  Particularly helpful is its Section 3,  "Web 2.0 in E- and M-learning," on Web 2.0 tools,  it describes and suggests uses for an array of Web 2.0 tools, categorized by function.

Here are some more great tools sites:  Web Applications Index has an easy logo-based interface and a sidebar with tool categories to explore.  You can also follow them on Twitter or contribute to this useful site by suggesting an app.

Less comprehensive, but still useful, is the Watertown, Massachusetts' school district's list of Web 2.0 resources for faculty.

An awesome short list of Web 2.0 tools has been put together for the Watertown, MA public schools:
Web 2.0 Tools

I'm so proud I did not use the word "curate" once in this blog post.  Just can't do it, out of respect for my curator friends from my days spent at a major museum.  Making a list, however useful, is not the same as what those fine, extremely knowledgeable and well-trained folks do with the world's precious art heritage.

Motivation and Learning (Adult Learner Attribute 6)

The sixth of Malcolm Knowles's attributes of adult learners is motivation.  Adults, he says, may respond to external enticements like higher salary, but the strongest and most lasting motivations are internal.   I looked at this web page on intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation, but I started arguing with it a little, thinking, hey, I'm reading this because I'm genuinely (intrinsically) interested in motivation - reading about it for me is its own reward.  But I'm also reading this for a class so I can fulfill the requirements and get a good grade (extrinsic reward).  If my motivation is mixed, what does that mean for my learning?
Not only is intrinsic motivation more powerful, but adding external rewards to a task for which someone is already intrinsically motivated may actually decrease motivation.  I hardly know what to make of this.  Could I be harming the learning of some students by offering rewards to everyone, hoping it will motivate the daydreamers, the behind-the-purse texters, the window-gazers, the nappers, the gamers, the feckless, the clueless?

The solution, say the authors, is to make the learning environment itself more intrinsically motivating:  offer "challenge, curiosity, control, cooperation and competition, and recognition."   As it happens, point out the authors, all these are things we associate with fun.

So wait:  making learning fun makes people more motivated and thus better learners?  I am all over that puppy!

But the surprises keep coming:  the very same reward may help or hurt motivation:
"The functional significance, or salience, of the event dictates whether intrinsic motivation is facilitated or diminished. For example, an athlete may perceive receiving an external reward (e.g., money, trophy) as a positive indicator of her sport competence (informational), whereas another athlete may perceive the same reward as coercion to keep her involved in the activity (controlling). Thus, the aspect of the event that is perceived as salient will determine level of autonomy and perceived competence experienced, and ultimately affect intrinsic motivation for that activity."
(Horn, 2008)
In other words, how the individual perceives the reward may make it intrinsically motivating or extrinsically de-motivating. 

If rewards weren't thorny enough, even praise can be a two-edged sword.  You may have heard the maxim, "Praise the work, not the worker."  At one time I had resisted this idea - it seemed harsh and ungenerous.  But I finally understood it apropos of motivation when I read this:
 "There is also evidence that verbal praise (one form of reward) should be used carefully. When children are successful, it may be best to praise their effort ("You worked so hard!") rather than their ability ("You're so smart!"), because when children believe that success depends on effort, they are more likely to persist in the future if they fail. The goal of praise should be to produce feelings of competence and confidence that success is possible with good efforts."  (Breckler, Olson, & Wiggins, 2006)
 This surely applies to adults as well as children.   If you want to encourage persistence and lasting learning, create a fun environment that make learning intrinsically rewarding.  As in so many things, heavy-handed manipulation can backfire, while a light touch and sensitivity to the needs and characteristics of learners can only help.