OK – we were gone for a while. But we’re back!
This time around, we’re focusing on small group interactions and collective problem solving, to wit: some notes from our first Digital Learning and Pedagogy working group meeting.
Past, Present, Future
I had asked the group to organize our thoughts about digital learning at Austin College loosely around chronology: what has already happened, what is happening now, and what do you anticipate happening in the future.
Past – What issues have you run into?
To start us off, Julia Shahid noted that she’d had some problems with Classroom Salon’s recent shift from a completely free model to a tiered pricing or “freemium” model; John Richardson had similar issues with software updates to Explain Everything (both have talked about these tools in their Mellon grant project proposals and updates elsewhere on the site).
This issue of software updates “breaking” pedagogical workflows is certainly not new(s), but it continues to impact how effective and efficient we can be in employing digital networked tools for our students’ learning. We discussed the way this creates student “dependencies” on one workflow that then makes it harder to extricate oneself from should an update require reworking procedures for access and/or use.
We also discussed Turnitin.com, which Randi Tanglen indicated has a solid feedback tool built into it, but of course requires some level of buy-in to the entire system in order to be truly useful. This led us to wonder whether the process of building better feedback is one we could begin to take on, researching and testing what’s out there now and to what extent such tools could be useful in the small liberal arts context in which we work.
Present – What are you working on now?
The discussion then turned to opportunities and issues happening right now for the group. We discussed two projects in active development: timelines in Chinese history courses, and rich media production for oral history projects.
Larissa Pitts described how she has been working on ways to incorporate timeline software into her Chinese courses in order to help her students sort through their ideas. The visual arrangement of a timeline is helpful in this regard, but when handwritten or printed in a word processor document, can be limited by factors unrelated to the course (such as artistic and/or design skill limitations, or the lack of easy incorporation of visual media like images and maps). So a digital solution can make those issues much less onerous and consequently help students get to the good stuff – the learning – more effectively.
Felix Harcourt also talked about multiple versions of an oral history project in which he has students participate. Currently, the project is text only, but we talked about ways he might incorporate more rich media sources – images, audio recordings, video – as a means to help students develop more complex interpretations of their research.
Future – What opportunities and issues do you anticipate?
Toward the end of the meeting, we shifted again to longer-term questions. I offered the typology used in the Horizon Report – sorting problems into “solvable,” “difficult,” and “wicked” categories according to our ability to understand and/or solve them – and we discussed a few problems relevant to us at Austin College.
One issue that came up right away is wanting to try to identify what skills entering freshmen are bringing with them from high school. This impacts a number of facets of digital learning and pedagogy, including some we had already discussed like “student dependencies” on existing tools. If Texas schools are primarily built around the Google-verse (hint: they are), then perhaps our dependency on Microsoft tools just makes our collective job harder, as we spent large amounts of time helping them retool. The group felt this problem was solvable.
This discussion of tools the college has committed to quickly turned our attention to Moodle and the question, should we be committing our resources there? This question has come up in the past, both in conversations we’ve had on other occasions, and through the two faculty surveys on digital pedagogy conducted in 2012 and 2017. The group felt this problem was more difficult: we can see that Moodle is troubling for many users, faculty and students alike, but we also seem to need or want some form of learning management system (LMS), so perhaps Moodle is best worst option.
We ended our discussion with a question that is surely difficult if not wicked: What do we want our technologies at Austin College to do (be?) for our students? What functions ought it to serve, and in what ways might it help them to learn more deeply and effectively? We did not develop any answers, but we did commit to coming back to this question at future meetings to try to begin addressing it.
In the course of our discussion, one kind of tool did come up that I told the group I would get back to them on, and that is “text expanders.” These are tools that
The next working group meeting will be on October 16th at 1130 am, again in WCC 245.