Harvard University recently hosted its annual Program on Teaching and Learning with Technology forum. The program is sponsored by the Harvard University Provost's Office and the Harvard Academic Computing Committee and is designed to bring together faculty and staff who support instruction so that they might share ideas, insights, and emerging thinking in technology and pedagogy. There were some great speakers as well as a panel discussion with current students -- here's a recap.
The goals of the program are to:
• share information resulting in better teaching and learning for Harvard;
• offer new approaches to teaching and learning with technology;
• promote effective uses of technology for teaching;
• and encourage experimentation and collaboration.
- Paul Bergen, Director of iCommons, Office of the University CIO
- Professor Chris Dede, Timothy E. Wirth Professor in Learning Technologies in the Technology, Innovation, and Education program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education: "Emerging Interactive Media: Implications for Teaching and Research"
- Professor John G. Palfrey, Henry N. Ess III Professor of Law and Vice Dean, Library and Information Resources, Harvard Law School (Professor Palfrey's blog): "The Digital Population"
- Panel Discussion: "SAGET: Student Advisory Group on Educational Technology" --
Katie Vale, FAS Director of the Academic Technology Group, Faculty of Arts and Sciences (moderator)
Paul Bergen, Director of iCommons, Office of the University CIO
Paul gave a brief history of the program (this was the 10th annual forum) -- it continues to be one of primary means of info-sharing within the very decentralized Harvard ecosystem. The focus of today's program is on students - the generation born after 1980, the "digital natives".
He also reviewed two other important Harvard initiatives: the Presidential Instructional Technology Fellows (PITF) Program, and the Library and Museum Instructional Technology Fellows Pilot Program.
Current areas of focus include:
- personalizing the online learning environment
- continuing to integrate the use of video in teaching and learning
- library/museum/IT collaboration
- mobile computing
"Emerging Interactive Media: Implications for Teaching and Research"
Professor Chris Dede, Timothy E. Wirth Professor in Learning Technologies in the Technology, Innovation, and Education program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education
Professor Dede started by describing the rich digital life that current students enjoy and employ outside the classroom (all info instantly available, distance and time do not matter, multi-tasking is the norm, machines have "intelligence", powerful tools for creative work are taken for granted, multimedia interactive entertainment is omnipresent, change is constant and rapid, etc). All this presents a huge challenge for the classroom to compete with this world.
He showed a Microsoft video that details a number of technologies showcased in a "day in the life" format (go to this site then select "your digital life"). Professor Dede said that he gets excited when he sees technologies like these because he likes to consider how these technologies can be used in education. He thought the video showcased two fundamental innovations: Web 2.0, and immersive interfaces.
Web 2.0 is perceived as second-generation of web-based communities and hosted services such as social networking sites, wikis, and folksonomies which aim to facilitate creativity, collaboration and sharing between users. Professor Dede showed some categories that his classes have developed to try and detail the progression of these technologies. They often start by "sharing" (social bookmarking, photo/video sharing, social networking, fanfiction), then move to "thinking" (blogs, podcasts, online discussion forums), and finally to "co-creating" (wikis/collaborative file creation, mashups, collaborative social change communities).
Professor Dede focused on social bookmarking as an example, and in particular focused on the Edtags program developed by Harvard Graduate School of Education doctoral student Adam Seldow (see early blog entry I wrote on social bookmarking for library science based on a discussion with Adam). He discussed how users apply their own conceptual frameworks and folksonomies migrate into terminology and knowledge structures based on their ability to add tags to content in the way that Edtags enables.
There are implications for research here as well -- communal bookmarking allows geographically distributed research groups to share and find information, including non-archival and unpublished materials (papers, YouTube videos, etc).
But Web 2.0 also poses challenges. It's easy to use Web 2.0 tools badly and hard to use them well. What is worth knowing in a world where you can look things up in 15 seconds? How do we make space for addressing these challenges? Dede argues that to do this, publishers and educational institutions (including Harvard) need to jettison a great deal of current content/pedagogy that is irrelevant in today's world for today's learners using today's tools.
He also warns of the epistemological differences that this world entails: "Web 2.0 'knowledge' is constructed by negotiating a consensus articulation across various points of view, so how do we help students understand the differences between fact, opinions, and values -- and appreciate the interrelationships among them that go beyond accuracy to create 'meaning'?" Students need to understand these different epistemologies -- classic "top down' vs. social "bottom up". Dede cites sources for more information on this: Henry Jenkin's framework for new media literacies, Don Leu's characteristics of new literacies, etc.
Dede then moved on to discuss immersive learning as a next generation interface. These include "world to the desktop", Multi-User Virtual Environments (MUVEs), ubiquitous computing and augmented reality -- what he calls "Alice in Wonderland" environments. He also discussed massively multi-player online games (MMOG) -- how research shows that they offer identity formation and experiential learning, but that sadly the content usually does not live up to anything worthy of education. Dede and his students develop game-like simulations to try and map the power of the interface to content that is worthy of education -- for this he showcased his River City project (middle school science inquiry curriculum that started about 10 years ago). He focused on how environments like River City allow for situated learning in a way that traditional lectures could never employ.
Alternatively, the "augmented reality" approach is also very intriguing for the entertainment and education industries. These include "overlay devices" -- wireless mobile devices that allow entertainment and learning to occur anywhere. Dede and his colleagues have been exploring this via the Handheld Augmented Reality Project (HARP). The Department of Education is one of the sponsors and the goal was to increase scores on teh MCAS standardized tests. Math questions on the test involved ratios, and English questions involved Greek and Latin roots - how do you make that content engaging to students? The HARP program involves students using handheld devices to track down aliens that were hatched on earth during the Roman times and speak a conglomeration of English, Latin, and Greek -- the students love it and find it obviously more engaging than learning this material in the classroom. (View the introductory video.)
The largest challenge for faculty will not be technical according to Dede -- it will be learning a new pedagogy and unlearning the pedagogy of assimilation -- "teaching by telling and learning by listening".
Professor Palfrey is the co-author (with Urs Gasser) of Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives (Amazon entry, book's website, O'Reilly review). The book is an initiative of the Digital Natives project, an interdisciplinary collaboration of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University and the Research Center for Information Law at the University of St. Gallen. According to the website, "the aim of the Digital Natives project is to understand and support young people as they grow up in a digital age. Within the project, we make use of a variety of methods to investigate a range of themes pertaining to youth and their use of technologies. Our outputs range from academic publications to hands-on legal, educational, and technological interventions."
He discussed some of the research behind the book and also some of the learning collected from the Digital Natives project. He outlined some of the assumptions and behaviors associated with digital natives: their assumption that the digital version of any piece of content is the primary version, or that all information is social and shareable, etc. This gives rise to new behaviors and modes of exploration like couch-surfing.
Problems and issues associated with this include:
- Safety/security ("stranger danger", bullying, hacking)
- Privacy (identify theft, digital record, unintended audiences/contributions, replicability)
- Intellectual property (copyright privacy, remix issues)
- Credibility (misinformation, cheating, hidden influencers)
- Information overload (are we giving young people the skills they need to filter?)
Professor Palfrey is careful to note where he and the initiative feel some of the dangers are very real while others are real yet exaggerated and/or not supported by evidence.
He concluded by discussing some of the opportunities afforded by and to these learners, including:
- Creativity (information creation)
- Media literacy
- Social production (knowledge creation)
- Semiotic democracy (participatory culture)
He concluded with a video on "digital dossiers" (from the Digital Natives site) as an example of the new opportunities and considerations facing educators and students in this new era.
Panel discussion: "SAGET: Student Advisory Group on Educational Technology"
- Katie Vale, FAS Director of the Academic Technology Group, Faculty of Arts and Sciences (moderator)
- David Kosslyn, Computer Science, '11
- Andrew Moshirnia, L1, Harvard Law School
- Jillian Orr, Ed.M., '09, Harvard Graduate School of Education
- Bethany Walters, Mechanical Engineering, '09
Ms. Vale began by explaining some context around FAS and technology. The Student Advisory Group on Educational Technology (SAGET) consists of undergrads and grads with a wide range of technical expertise and interest. Looking ahead to the future of incoming students, the group is also concerned with the younger generation. One source for this is Project Tomorrow, which interviews students with a goal toward preparing them for today's changing world. These K-12 students feel strongly that:
- they can learn (research, collaborate, communicate) anywhere
- they should be able to find anything they need online
- they can make or contribute things that others will appreciate
So within Harvard's Faculty of Arts & Sciences (FAS - the main "college" at Harvard), the focus is on "learn anywhere @ FAS". This includes:
- mobile devices
- ubiquitous wireless coverage
- camera phones
- smart pens (see Livescribe -- as you write, camera on pen tracks where you are and MP3 recorder grabs audio -- can then take the pen and tap anywhere on your notes and it will play back that point in the lecture to you.)
Another focus is making online resources available, so FAS is focusing on "iSites" (class web pages), library resources (research guides, Google Books, new Hollis Library tag clouds), and faculty resources/channels (email, IM, Second Life, Twitter).
On the creative/contribution front the school is exploring videos for homework (multimedia labs), Wiki exercises for math and government, experiential learning (LabView, qualitative research podcasts), and sharing/teaming (blogs, Facebook, IM, MMORP gaming).
The forum then opened up to a panel discussion involving some current students.
Bethany Walters thought the main goals for technology could be categorized as "encouraging interaction" and "acquiring information". She also thought that the technologies needed to honor temporal and fiscal constraints as metrics -- they needed to save time and not cost anything/much. Gmail's "Gchat" was given as an example -- already there, easy to use, free.
Andrew Moshirnia focused on constraints -- what he cannot use inside the classroom, so how pedagogy is retarding technology. Outside the classroom he maintains a Wiki for personal use, etc, but within the classroom he is discouraged from using his laptop (except for exams). Some professors have even requested that students do not email them. He thought specifically that the "smart pen" technology mentioned above would not be allowed in many classrooms. Katie Vale also referenced "continuous partial attention" (vs. multi-tasking) as a real factor here.
Jillian Orr mentioned Concept Mapping, a concept introduced to her by Harvard Graduate School of Education's David Kahle (see Tufts Universiity Visual Understanding Environment for more info). She also mentioned We Feel Fine, a website that scans the web and captures "i feel" moments. You can then do searches on feelings based on certain populations, etc. She thought this was a great example of aggregation that could then be leveraged by students. She also felt that iPhone Apps are a huge influence on today's students. In general, technology is creating experiences and yet many people are still using it just for delivery.
David Kosslyn and a friend decided to work on a project trying to create a closed-network Facebook-type environment in order to tackle a big issue at schools -- finding the right people to do problem sets, collaborate on projects, etc. He considered peer networking to be the biggest issue and hoped the college would focus on this. Katie Vale did mention that the school had developed a Facebook app called H-Link to link classmates, but interestingly the students have stated that they like keeping their social and academic spaces separate. Students understood social networking could be a "time suck", and also some volunteered that they are "lazy" regarding installing new applications, etc.
When asked where students find out about emerging technologies, the students said "from students". When asked about their thoughts on the library, Andrew thought that scanning/sending articles was a huge feature ("magic"). He would love to see libraries offer an RSS-style update where a student could be notified every time a new resource was added on a certain topic. Jillian works in the library and often hears from students that after completing a paper they often stumble across a book that "would have been perfect". So that's a problem to tackle (Katie Vale mentioned that the Hollis tag cloud referenced above is one example for how to address this). Jillian also thought that more collaboration spaces within the library might help this and others agreed (and Vale noted that a collaboration space is being planned for the Lamont library).
When asked if online class resources (videtaped lectures, etc) contribute to reduced attendance, the students agreed that it probably does reduce attendance. David thought that many students waited until just before the exam to truly review/synthesize the material if it is available online. However he thought that the resources were great. Bethany felt it did not thwart her attendance at all and did find the online resources helpful, and that ultimately it is the student's responsibility and attendance was a personal choice.