Thursday, June 13, 2013

Getting Started with iPads: A Cheat Sheet for Teachers & Students


Some Standard Apps & What You Can Do with Them.

  • Safari: Browse the web.
  • iBooks: Read pdf’s.
  • iTunes U: Download free educational content, including audio, video & courses.
  • FaceTime: Video chat with other iOS device owners.
  • Maps: Explore the world’s geography.
  • Camera:
    • Take photos, email & share them.
    • Shoot videos & uploads to Youtube, etc.
  • There is no native voice recorder app on the iPad, but several free options can be downloaded from the App Store.

Some Useful Apps Which May Cost Money ($) or May Not.

  • Blackboard Mobile Learn: use Blackboard resources, discuss, blog & comment.
  • office/productivity
    • Pages($): Word processing.
    • Numbers($): Spreadsheets.
    • Keynote($): Presentation software (like Powerpoint).
  • Notability($): handwritten note-taking.
  • Goodreader($): reading and annotating pdf’s; draws from Google Drive, Dropbox.
  • Edit the video you’ve captured on the device:
    • iMovie($)
    • Filmic Pro($)
    • Pinnacle Studio($)
  • Dropbox: Upload files to the cloud or download them to the iPad.
  • Evernote: Save web pages for editing & sharing.

Sample Assignments & Activities

  • Using Safari, students search the web for relevant topics then share the results orally with the group.
    • Students may capture the page to Evernote for later editing, sharing & discussion.
  • Using the Maps application, students explore the relevant geography, pursuing a specific question and sharing the results.
    • E.g., “Can I visit the Arche de Triomphe, the Louvre and the Tour Eiffel within the same morning?”
  • Students use the Camera app to interview experts or native speakers.
    • They record video, then show it in class or upload it to Youtube and post a link in a Blackboard discussion or blog.
      • Youtube videos can be set to “Share by link” so they won’t be found by others.
  • Students respond to Blackboard Discussion topics or post to Blackboard Blogs using Blackboard Mobile Learn.
  • Using Keynote, students develop and deliver presentations.
    • Be sure the instructor has an adapter so the student’s device can be connected to the projector/display.

Of Interest

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Teaching as a Helping Alliance: An Analogy

The Start and Finish Line of the "Inishowen 100" Scenic Drive

I wrote earlier about how we frame learning in higher ed.

  • Is it a question of the teacher ladling out knowledge into the students’ heads, like soup into bowls? Is the teacher not accountable when the students fail to learn? Is the point of teaching to separate the sheep from the goats?
  • Or is teaching a kind of helping? Can we not help students to learn better––and thereby to know themselves (and vice-versa)?

Let us say, for the sake of argument, that teaching is a kind of helping, and that the latter framework is preferable to the former––in conceptual, moral and practical terms.

What then? How do we do it? Aren’t there a few hundred theories and methods of teaching and learning out there? Are some more suited than others to our shift in frames?

Here an analogy is helpful.

For a long time, those who have studied psychotherapy and counseling have recognized that whatever differences amongst schools and techniques, much of the effectiveness of psychotherapeutic helping comes down to what are called “common factors”––elements common to all forms of psychotherapy, counseling, intervention, and psychoanalysis.

Of course, teaching is not therapy: students are not sick, and teachers are not healers. But if teaching is a form of helping, then the analogy with therapy can form a useful comparison.

Each scholar analyzing these “common factors” takes a different approach, but a few elements crop up again and again.

  1. Alliance. The therapist and client are able to form an alliance based on the client’s belief that the therapist is a caring, genuine person who is able to help. (This includes cultural beliefs that the therapist is a qualified professional, that hallowed medical procedures are efficacious, etc.)
  2. Goals. Together, the therapist and client are able to agree upon worthy goals. Without goals, it’s difficult to take any steps, and without agreement, there is no meaningful alliance.
  3. Tasks. Together, the therapist and the client find do-able tasks which the client undertakes.
    • Failure can be just as meaningful as success. The goal is not perfection or 100% success but rather: finding out what is possible and making progress.
    • Choosing which tasks requires some theory and method of treatment, but there must be tasks, and so whatever the variety, the common factor is the task, not the type.
  4. Feedback and Progress. The client is able to measure progress by clear indicators.

These factors suggest some underlying hypothesis about why people get therapy. One such hypothesis is demoralization.

  • The client suffers from low morale. He has lost hope. He doesn’t have the confidence that he can master the problems the faces.
  • He may need information or new skills. The skills may require training––hence something akin to teaching.
  • The demoralization hypothesis resembles Bandura’s work on self-efficacy, though Frank’s work seems to have somewhat preceded Bandura’s.

In this framework, therapy is a kind of remoralization.

  • The client feels he is getting help. There is a therapist or counselor, who has no other agenda but to help and support, and who seems genuine in her interactions. The client is no longer alone. There is support and partnership.
  • From not knowing what to do, where to go, from being overwhelmed, the client is able to form a goal––with help. Life is amorphous and chaotic. If you can’t identify any goals or buy into them, you will likely become demoralized and immobilized.
  • Immediate tasks give focus. If you are able to master or even attempt a single concrete task, you will get a better sense of self-efficacy, of your own ability to get things done, to move forward. (Some studies show that a small percentage of patients improve before their first therapeutic visit. The simple act of making an appointment gives some people a greater sense of self-efficacy.)
  • When you see that you are making progress, when you have benchmarks of change and growth, you can become persuaded that you can master at least some of your problems. It may be slow. It may only be with help and support. But you can get a better sense of the kind of support, goals and information you need to give yourself.

Not to be obvious, but don’t all of these things have some relevance to teaching?

  • What if the teacher were a partner, a helper? An authentic person whom the student genuinely believed was there to help the student succeed? Not an obstacle, a gatekeeper, someone trying to force students to fail so they will go seek other majors.
  • What if the teacher helped orient you to a goal? Helped you to find your own goal? Formed a partnership with you to achieve something meaningful to you? Not someone who holds obscure standards for occult goals, who’s trying to trip the student up to prove who’s in charge. Not someone who throws down a gauntlet and leaves, offers no support or hope, only a Rubik’s cube the student has no help of solving.
  • Doesn’t a good teacher provide tasks which enable success? “If you can do this, you will be better prepared to take the next step towards your goal.” This is very different than “If you fail this quiz, you have no hope of passing this course.” That’s quite a different message. It may be a difference in emphasis, but surely it matters.
  • Shouldn’t good teaching involve helping students see and understand their progress? Shouldn’t good teaching give meaningful and timely feedback, so students can make changes and adjustments? Doesn’t the feeling of progress improve the student’s sense of self-efficacy, of “yes, I can do this.” This is quite different than the grade that appears with no comments, or comments more obscure than the original assignment.

Now ask yourself: How often did you experience this kind of helping relationship in your education? Chances are, where the education felt good and was excellent, you did in fact feel these things.

But then consider also the times a teacher did something to demoralize and discourage you, failed to help you understand what you were supposed to do, gave you inscrutible feedback on your work. Perhaps it drove you to work harder. Or perhaps it made you up & leave, decide you were no good, that you didn’t have what it took. And did that help your education?

And here’s the even tougher part: if you are a teacher, ask yourself Are you doing this in your teaching?

In short: Are you helping your students to succeed? Or are setting up a series of obstacles to force them to fail? And are you then giving them the message that failing is their responsibility alone?

Of course, a teacher is not a shrink. Nor a nursemaid. Nor a babysitter.

But surely at least a part of the teacher’s job should be: coaching, leading, guiding, encouraging, helping. How to learn should not be off the table. And a sense of authenticity is surely preferable to a stiff mask of obscure authority which sets us apart and tells the student “you will never be in my shoes.”

Unless we think that helping others and helping others to learn is beneath us.

In which case, it’s higher ed itself that needs the shrink.

–Edward R. O’Neill

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

What If Teaching Were a Kind of Helping?

Teaching scouts about HIV/AIDS 01

I fear that in higher education, we often have the wrong framework around teaching. Three frames in particular seems ineffective.

  1. The Radial Model. The professor is the sun, and the students are flowers, soaking up the sun-professor’s knowledge ray’s.
    • This isn’t just a metaphor: it’s a structure. The professor is the hub, and each student is at the end of one spoke. The professor speaks to all students, and each student carries on a dialogue only with the professor. (No “passing notes” in class!)
  2. The Cognitive Frame. Learning is amassing knowledge. It’s all about information and the brain. The head matters more than the heart or the guts. Learners pile in information, and then, as an afterthought, solve problems, invent new solutions & new problems.
  3. The Moral Frame. Since the professor delivers information, it’s the student’s responsibility to learn it. The professor bears no responsibility for how the students learn, nor whether. The student’s performance reflects entirely on his character: his brainpower, his stick-to-it-iveness, his ability to work hard.
  4. The Winnowing Frame. The professor separates the wheat from the chaff, the good from the bad.
    • Pre-major courses winnow majors from non-majors, those who have the goods from those who don’t.
    • Major courses separate those who can continue on to grad school from those who should not.

These models fit together to make the professor a person who stands and delivers information, which the students soak up, write down, and spit back. It’s fine if students fail or perform poorly, because it’s all part of the professor’s job: separating the mini-me’s from the not-our-kind-dears.

There are other ways to think about teaching. Three seem richly needed. They are moral frames, but they are humanistic and skill-based.

A. Teaching is a kind of helping. No matter what the subject matter, the teacher is a kind of coach who helps students improve their skills at learning.

  • While the professor may be a subject-matter expert, most of her students are not going to become similar experts. When only a small percent of undergraduates are going to become professionals in a discipline, there’s little excuse for treating all students as if they are future professionals.
    • (Indeed, the main thing a student learns from most courses is: how to immerse yourself quickly in a speciality, talk the talk, and walk away with something of value.)

B. Learning is a skill: you can get better at it. Studies bear this out: teaching study skills makes a difference. General executive skills, such as time-management, form a crucial part of learning. It’s only shameful to help students succeed if you think your authority arises from your ability to cause others to fail.

  • If we help students get better at learning, then they will not only learn about our discipline, they’ll be better at learning what comes next.
  • Something new is always coming next because innovation is central in our economy. To teach a fixed body of facts and rules is basically to mire students in the past: it also makes students dependent upon an expert, when we should be helping them to think for themselves.

C. ‘Know thyself’ is still a good directive for undergraduates (not to mention grad students). What are your strengths? Where are your weaknesses? How can you overcome your weaknesses and build on your strengths?

  • Answering these questions involves not just finding out where you are on the curve; it involves self-knowledge.
  • Self-knowledge, self-awareness, the ability to introspect and observe oneself: these are core humanist values. Helping prepare students for the future, including the job market, depends crucially upon values the humanities have long held dear.

Moving away from the first set of frames and putting into place the second will not be easy. But if we care about our students as self-directing human beings who need to master their own potential, then the challenges are worth it.

–Edward R. O’Neill