A high school junior sits in a classroom with 35 peers listening to the teacher explain the history of post World War I Germany and the dramatic changes that were seen amongst the people, the country’s boundary lines, the relationships with neighboring countries and more using lecture, a power point, a few graphs, maps, and more lecture. The teacher has a whiteboard with some notes, is using an overhead projector and relies on information from the textbook to present the topic of the day. The student attempts to take notes and follow along in the book, but ends up scribbling, day dreaming, writing a letter to her friend, takes a nap when the lights go out and then writes down the assigned reading for homework just before the bell rings. This is a typical high school classroom of which there is not a lot of student engagement. Unfortunately for the teacher and the student today’s learners are not the same from 1990 that want to sit in a classroom and listen to a lecture. Students today are 21st Century learners and they want to be engaged, to collaborate with other, to have choices and authentic learning experiences. According to the Learning Styles Chart (Rose, 1987) I am a combination of a Visual and a Kinesthetic & Tactile learner because I prefer things like talking while walking, I use gestures when I talk, I like to read descriptive stories and I prefer to follow directions, yet I like to put together puzzles, play word games and learn by experiencing. For me, sitting in a classroom, no matter if it was high school, undergrad or even a graduate class, I am a hands-on learner. I like the opportunity to learn in my time and at my pace.
Riener and Willingham (2010) acknowledge that learners are different from each other, having different abilities, background knowledge and interests that are all important and need to be taken into account when fostering learning in a classroom. An example would be that just because a student is a visual learner we shouldn’t just show a video while an auditory learner shouldn’t just have a podcast, but as educators “we should realize that the value of the video or audio will be determined by how it suits the content that we are asking students to learn and the background knowledge, interests, and abilities that they bring to it” (Riener and Willingham, 2010, p. 35). When creating a course or lesson we shouldn’t just add technology, like adding in an audio or video file, linking a website, or posting an assignment on a SMARTBoard just to add technology, but we should ask ourselves “what will students learn from these activities and what are the goals or objectives behind adding these activities to our classrooms?” Understanding the students’ learning styles is only a small piece that we need to consider when planning out our classes, taking into consideration what tools will make it an engaging, valuable learning experience is just as important.
Some of my best learning experiences happen when I am at conferences where I can talk to others in similar fields, backgrounds, and seeking similar information. These conferences often have short, one-hour, sessions or even a quick three-hour workshop that includes engaging hands-on technology based activities to explore. These types of learning experiences allow me to “jump right in and try it” (Rose, 1987). A few years ago during a workshop I observed another instructor sharing the website Wikispaces.com ®. After 45-minutes of observing, I went home and quickly began playing on my computer with the new website. After a few hours I became an advocate for using Wikispaces.com ® in education. I now manage over 18 websites that promote various topics including using Web 2.0, iPads & iPods, SMARTBoards and other forms of technology in the K-12 classroom. Presenting on Wikispaces, Web 2.0 Tools and iPads have become some of the most popular sessions presented by Marian University at state and national conferences in 2010 and 2011. What helped me learn was by experience, by playing, collaborating, and not having a fear of the technology and what it can do to enhance education. Every year the Marian University Educational Technology team goes to the Florida Educational Technology Conference (FETC). What makes learning exciting at FETC is the opportunity to talk with others, seeing what they found that worked well with their students, and then trying out those very tools on my own. It is through collaboration, and the high engagement factor that students can gain a more meaningful learning experience in any classroom environment.
Learning by discovery is an important piece of any learning environment, be it face-to-face, hybrid or online. It is my role as the instructor to help the students to engage in discovery as well as making that learning a collaborative effort. By providing discussion questions that encourage learners to discover and then share with their peers they are able to collaborate and learn from each other, engaging them in the learning process. Draves (2007) calls this the “learner-to-learner” (L2L) activity when “students learn from other students instead of always relying on the instructor” (p. 183). At FETC the entire concept of learning, sharing and collaborating came from the L2L idea. Through collaborative efforts of our team of instructors, the online discussions and sharing through Twitter ®, Facebook ®, and Edmodo ® the conversations and learning expanded.
Two additional pieces that are important to learning and making a course meaningful are the concepts of motivation and choice. In most situations we as educators get to choose what courses we want to complete as we work towards license renewal, staff development, attending conferences or workshops. Choice as part of a course can help make the learning more meaningful to the students. In my EDT 794 Online Teaching Practicum course I allow the students a choice between a research paper and a multi-media project. Some students are more adept at writing while others prefer to demonstrate their learning via a project. The other piece, motivation, is just as important. The student needs to be motivated and feel the support and motivation of the instructor. Maeroff (2003) stated, “research in traditional classroom shows that – to the extent that students choose to perform a task as opposed to having to do it – they are apt to be more motivated” (p. 101). Allowing students the opportunity to choose their time, their means, their space as well as giving them the tools to discover, collaborate and learn from each other increases their motivation to learn.
Blending together the understanding that students learn differently because of their experiences and backgrounds while providing an environment that encourages collaboration, natural communication with others in a safe, fun, and choice based environment can help create a successful course. Moallem (2007) states “in learning environments where social interaction, collaboration and problem solving are highly emphasized, it is likely that students’ perception of their positive learning experience influence their motivation and willingness to adjust their preferred learning styles” (p. 238). So how do educators create these engaging, motivating, collaborative learning environments? Should we throw in a few SMARTBoard lessons, show off an app from the iPad, listen to a podcast or send our kids to the computer lab for 20-minutes? Sure, if you’re going to follow that 5-second technology up with an activity that is meaningful. Don’t just add technology to say that you did it, add technology because you want to enhance your lessons, motivate and engage your students, promote discovery, and give them a choice to the path of learning. I hope that if you are able to attend SLATE 2011 you are able to have an experience like I did at FETC. I hope you find the sessions to be engaging, the speakers to be motivating and the collaboration to continue long beyond the days you spend at SLATE. I hope you take away two or three technology tools that you can add to your repertoire and begin implementing them in your classroom on a daily basis, not just once or twice a month. I hope you turn your classroom into a 21st Century learning environment. See you at SLATE!
Broadbent, B. (2002). ABCs of e-learning: Reaping the benefits and avoiding the pitfalls. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass / Pfeiffer.
Draves, W. A. (Ed). (2007). Advanced teaching online. River Falls, WI: LERN Books.
Kozub, R. M. (2010). An ANOVA Analysis of the relationships between business students’ learning styles and effectiveness of web based instruction. American Journal of Business Education, 3(3), 89-98.
Maeroff, G. I. (2003). A classroom of one: How online learning is changing our schools and colleges. New York: NY, Palgrave MacMillian.
Moallem, M. (2007). Accommodating individual differences in the design of online learning environments: A comparative study. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 40(2), 217-245.
Palloff, R. M. & Pratt, K. (2001). Lessons from the cyberspace classroom: The realities of online teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Riener, C., & Willingham, D. (2010). The Myth of Learning Styles. Change, 42(5), 32-35.
Rose, C. (1987). Accelerated Learning. Learning Styles. http://www.chaminade.org/inspire/learnstl.htm