Archive for the ‘Reflection’ Category

EDTECH 513: Coherence Analysis

The Coherence Principle, at its most basic level, is the principle that lessons should consist of simple and relevant learning material without the addition of any material that doesn’t support the instructional goal.  This seems to be obvious from the outside looking in, but in practice… many instructors and designers fall prey to the allure of additional images and video which can distract or overwhelm the learner resulting in lower rates of retention.   Effective use of the Coherence Principal means being concise and direct without extraneous audio, graphics, or text.

I have been through many continuing education courses in my professional career many of which fail to adhere to the Coherence Principle.  Recently I was attending an online course which consisted of previously recorded material and there were violations of all three major principals.  Slides were busy with too much in the way of both text an imagery to the point of distraction.  This seems to frequently be the case as continuing education courses along with many professional development courses contain good material on relevant subjects, but never seem to have been constructed with much thought to design or how exactly the learner will be engaged in the materials.  I would say that some excellent examples of adherence to the Coherence Principal were brought about in EDTECH 506: Graphic Design for Learning in which it was emphasized repeatedly that less is more and that simple and clear materials were ideal.

Coherence does seem to tie together nicely with other principles that we have covered.  All of which put a strong emphasis on organization, placement of materials, sequence, repetition, and simplicity.  While these principals have their differences, I would argue that the general and overarching themes are very much in the same vein in their emphasis of maintaining a sharp focus on the material and avoiding filler and distraction to enhance the students ability to process and engage in the material they are being presented.

The relationship between the Coherence Principle and fundamental psychological theories are rooted in the basic statement that extraneous materials are more likely to distract students and detract from the learning process.  This makes sense to me, personally, as both a learner and from an instructional design perspective.  Adding flashy images, sounds, or text to information that will not hold students interest is definitely not going to cause students to suddenly spend more time with or increase the likelihood that they will grasp the material.  If anything its probably more likely to distract the students from the small amount of time that they would have engaged with the material to begin with.  To enhance learning and engagement on the lesson material content should be clean, concise, and as easy to process as possible.  As was pointed out by Lehman, Schraw, McCruddden, and Hartley’s study in 2007, adding seductive details harms learning by distracting learners from the important information (Clark and Mayer, 2008)

Personally, I believe that there is substantial value in the Coherence Principle and would liken it to the early days of web design/development which coincided with the development of WYSIWYG platforms like FrontPage(r).  Rather than focusing on good design and the clear/concise presentation of information, people in droves put together websites that were illegible, unreadable, and down right painful to use because they were so filled with “eye candy” that had been inserted because the user was trying to show off all the amazing things they could do.  Many instructors fall into the same trap by taking the focus off the lesson itself and adding content to the presentation that doesn’t belong because it doesn’t serve to increase or enhance the material for the student.  There are enough distractions that we have to counteract when it comes to learner focus, adding distraction directly into the presentation is exactly the wrong thing to do when trying to create meaningful learning materials.  I think that time spent adding fluff is much better spent re-thinking content and making revisions to enhance the material to make it more engaging and digestible for those who are going to encounter it for the first time.  That is what the Coherence Principle is all about.

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EDTECH 522 – Course Reflection

Online learning is such a fantastic resource for education, and more particularly for adult education.  Of course, adult education can mean a variety of different things, but in the context of this post I am referring to continuing education and professional development.  By the time one reaches “adulthood” there are so many demands and constraints on your time, usually from the to be expected sources like family, work, and everything that fills in the spaces between.  The ability of an adult with a family and a full-time job to take time out of their day to sit in a classroom for an extended period hasn’t been realistic for quite some time, the difference is that now there is an extremely viable, interactive, flexible means available to accomplish those educational tasks without having to drive across town or take time off from work.  Online education and adult learners are a match made in heaven!

With my focus on professional training and continuing education for business professionals, the aspect of this course that I found the most engaging was the 5th module on Planning, Designing, and Facilitating Online Instruction.  While I had created  online training materials previous to this course, it was enlightening to have an opportunity to develop a course from within a system like Moodle.  Previously, training material I had created were built within web content or distributed straight to video screencast or YouTube.  While I had extensive experience using Blackboard and Moodle as a student, this was my first foray into the administration or instructor component and I was intrigued!  I was extremely impressed with the ability to sequester information and break modules and lesson specific information up into “bite sized” components that could then be made available as needed to students.  This was far superior to managing content on a simple website or forum script.  The downside with these LMS systems, as I see it, are that they have terrible collaboration and communication modules built into them.  Most notably their forum scripts.  After a decade of online community management there honestly a half dozen forum scripts (both free and paid) that offer a far superior user experience.

Navigating the course materials in EDTECH 522 has inspired me to spend time moving forward to both enhance my web design skills and to spend quite a bit of time exploring both Moodle and Blackboard for future use in online course development.  I would like to develop a sandbox course that fully utilizes the feature set of a LMS to further explore it’s capabilities for a professional development course.  As someone who enjoys exploration, tinkering, and trial & error, this would afford me the opportunity to continue to refine my understanding of these two LMS systems and at the end of the process I would be left with a course that could be made available for further evaluation of both the course content as well as the organization and flow of the modules that would make up the course.

Online Instruction for Adult Learners has been an extremely rewarding course and I expect that I will find many opportunities in the months and years to come to put the tools and skills gained through the work of this past semester to good use!

EDTECH 543 – Course Reflection

When compared to older, more established educational tools, social media is still in its infancy.  Despite this fact, the scope and power of social media and how it can enhance student interaction and engagement of new material simply can not be ignored.  As more of our interaction with others shifts into an online space, the rate (if not the quality) of communication increases a thousand fold.  While sitting in a lecture ten years ago, a student would have been limited to the course text and perhaps their immediate neighbors for additional information or insight on a given topic.  Now through the advance of technology (both hardware and software) and the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Wiki’s, etc. students can access information and individuals on a global scale with a few strategic swipes on their phone or tablet device… all while sitting in class.

Of course, what is more social than sharing?  Collaborating with others on projects and assignments in many ways is so much easier than it ever has been.  Gone are the days when groups would be condemned to extended hours huddled in a library, coffee shop, or similar establishment during a mutually agreed upon day and time that the majority of the group had time to occupy the same space together.  Video and online streaming chat services available free of charge through Google Drive, Skype, Google Hangout’s, when combined with elaborate content sharing enable individuals to work together with more flexibility by removing the long standing requirement of occupying the same physical space in order to collaborate on work in progress.  Now two, three, five, ten people can all have the same document open and be discussing, editing, contributing, and flushing out details in tandem from half a dozen different geographic locations around the globe.  All someone needs to access these wonderful tools is an Internet connection (preferably broadband) and a web browser!  It really is amazing to me how far and how fast the digital space has expanded the reach of teaching and learning.

With a background and general love for most things related to technology, I frequently had at least a passing knowledge of most of the tools that we put to use in EDTECH 543 Social Networking.  What this course introduced me to, through course work and interaction with my fellow classmates, was a much deeper understanding of how to put these tools to work in an educational setting.  How to collaborate on Diigo to share project resources found across the vastness of the Interwebs, combining project submission and distribution through Twitter #hashtags that link back to a blog or Facebook post.  As with most things in life, we truly seem to be limited mostly by our imagination and drive to accomplish that which we set out to.  While it seems terribly cliche to say so, frequently all that is required to take a commonly used, pedestrian tool and convert that into a powerful educational tools is a touch of creative thinking… generally outside the box!

EDTECH 522 Final Project Reflection

This module was a perfect culminating activity for this course. While I have had several opportunities to create modules and course components, this was the first opportunity that I had to delve into a Moodle sandbox and work to put the framework in place to support the module that I was creating. This, being new, introduced a number of issues that either I wasn’t expecting, or wasn’t quite prepared for the amount of hunting and sidetracking that would be involved to resolve them.

I found the gathering, organization, and preparation of course material came together, almost as if it were second nature. This was extremely comforting! Sitting down to nurture an idea that soon became an outline that in short order became the material for a complete lesson without having to ponder the “how” of it made me feel like an Education Technologist / Online Instructor! Having chosen a topic that pertains to educating agents in their business development lent itself nicely and offered a jump start on material that could actually be deployed in a real world training session in my office… with a little more development.

Diving into Moodle’s “back end” was by far the biggest challenge!  Having never explored the administrator or instructor controls there was a fair amount of trial and error involved as I fumbled my way through the first operations of building the presentation components. With a basic understanding of at least the simple functions, I began playing with the visual themes in search of something that was more fitting for my course. Thankfully, I have a fairly extensive background with technology and more than a decade of online community forum management. While online forums have little to do with Moodle or Blackboard, they do feature a user accessed “front end” that handles the user interaction and a separate administration “back end” used to create, organize, and customize the site and user experience. Having this experience to draw upon did help navigate some of the features within Moodle.

One aspect of LMS that I have always been extremely disapointed with has been the community or forum components bundled within Blackboard and Moodle. These are a far cry from the forum scripts that I have been using for many years and are areas that I have always seen as a major drawback to online interaction with online courses.

543 Personal Learning Environment Reflection

Creating the Personal Learning Environment was an interesting task to undertake. Firstly, it provided an excellent opportunity to utilize a recently discovered tool (Spicynodes) to map out the various into some semblance of order. As I was working on this project, I discovered that every time I opened the map to make an adjustment I thought of another node that should be added. There really is no shortage of learning environments to satisfy all possible interests thanks to the Internet. One of the limitations that I discovered within Spicynodes that I found particularly frustrating was an inability to control the nodes and their behavior directly. If I were to undertake this assignment again I might select another platform in order to exercise a little more control over the layout and formatting.

As this is the second part of a two part assignment, I found that I diverged fairly dramatically from my classmates in how we approached this task. One of my frequent work environment/networks is LinkedIn due to its extensive user base and smaller, targeted sub-groups in which you can discuss, interact, and learn from professionals from around the world in similar industries. Because I found such an extensive list of sub-networks within the LinkeIn platform covering a variety of business, personal, and education interests it seemed logical to focus and explore that avenue more fully. Based on what I have seen so far, none of my classmates took this approach; instead focusing on a variety of individual, external networks.

In an effort to more fully flush out my PLE I did expand to include other resources and networks that I use on an almost daily basis. It was not surprising that there was a fairly extensive list of sites and services that I found across many of my classmates projects as well as my own. Many of the major sites including Facebook, Google+, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Flickr were common themes throughout. These networks offer so much information that it’s not surprising that they are popular places to turn for information.  After spending a considerable amount of time lurking, reading posts and content from others without engaging, this assignment provided an outstanding jumping off point to get significantly more active and engaged in one fell swoop.

522 Module 3 Reflection – Online Learning Tools & Web 2.0

Online learning tools is a broad, fascinating and rapidly evolving topic that requires a fair bit of dedication to simply keep up with. The alternative may be a mere passing interest in Web 2.0 and the tools they make available for integration and use in online learning. Unfortunately, that leads to nothing short of a lifetime of playing catch-up. Personally, I find this to be a fascinating course of study; one that I’ve been following, more like obsessed with actually, long before beginning my EDTECH journey. The benefits to online learning as a system and resource seems quite obvious as not only does it break down physical and geographic barriers, but it also provides for some amazing and interactive learning experiences that benefits student comprehension.

There are so many benefits to online learning tools that it is hard to know where to begin. Collaboration however is one aspect that immediately springs to mind and several cloud tools have collaboration down pat. Both BOX and Google Drive, for example, provide users with a single document which can be edited simultaneously by multiple individuals. One of the obvious benefits of this approach is that it eliminates the possibility of having documents exchanged via email and the confusion surrounding who may have the most current version. Communicating while collaboration is also important and entirely possible on these platforms as well. Being able to communicate, while editing, with people who may be hundreds or thousands of miles apart geographically is simply astounding.

Communication is something that online learning tools frequently have in spades; from forums to email and various messaging applications the bring people together using typed text or even real time video chatting. I find that many tools that are dedicated to this end perform at a much higher level than those that try to be a jack of all trades. A prime example being the message boards contained within LMS like Moodle or Blackboard. These are vastly inferior to dedicated message boards like IPB or vBulletin. Email and instant message can transmit ideas around the globe in a heart beat, further shrinking the distance between us and allowing a much more enriching learning experience which can be shared with learners outside our specific geography.

Aside from being a powerhouse when it comes to communication, the Internet offers a wealth of sources of information from various sources from news outlets, educational institutions, wiki’s, blogs, forums, online magazine publications, and not to mention a wealth of professional and amateur images to illustrate anything under the sun. Of course, due to the mindnumbing size and expanse of the Internet, targeted search has become imperative. The Internet is, after all, only as useful as your ability to find what it is that you’re looking for!

543 Module 4 Wk1: Assessing Effective Content Curation

This assignment centered around working as a collaborative group to prepare fifteen (or more) criteria to use in the evaluation of curated content. I was vaguely aware of curation prior to this assignment, but had never given much thought to the process, how much it is needed with the constant addition of new information, and how every day tools serve to provide this service to the general public on a daily basis. It never occurred to me that web services like Twitter or Pinterest could be used in this capacity!

Creating the assessment criteria as a group was helpful as it enabled us to each head out in search of criteria that we thought were critical and then come back together and combine our results and discuss, modify, or remove items that didn’t fit the bill. I think that this completed list will indeed prove to be a useful tool in the evaluation of curated content in the next module.