Thursday, December 17, 2009
The feedback from the students in my class echo the trends and comments of the technology experts at other colleges and universities. One student who took the time to provide written feedback said, "I liked the classroom setup and being able to sit in little circles with our team every day. It helped open up conversation." For teams working together, this seems a good thing.
But in order for the CLC to work well, we have to limit the number of students in a particular course and, ideally, create more CLCs to maximize the availability of the technology and the collaboration. We've not been able to get approval for limiting class sizes, however, so the CLC will cease to exist in its present form. The technology will remain, but the collaborative configuration won't.
So, was the experiment a failure? Not when you consider the perspective of Oliver Wendal Holmes, Jr., when he said "Man's mind stretched to a new idea never goes back to its original dimensions." Taking a risk and trying something new may turn out far differently than we intended; it's in the risking and the trying that we discover growth, new possibilities, and change. I've learned things this semester that will make me a better teacher next semester. And, hopefully, we have 30 students who will be vocal about their preferences and who may, someday, be in a position to shape change for others.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
This is how I've responded for most of the semester when asked "so, how's that strategy class going?" And it's true. It's not that we've played; in fact, we've worked very hard. What's been fun, though, is watching the phenomenal things students can do.
Recently, all of the instructors using the Collaborative Learning Classroom were asked for feedback on the room. Part of what I wrote:
The thought of returning to a regular classroom feels like punishment, after using the CLC; even without the technology, the room configuration is much more conducive to non-lecture types of learning/teaching. But the technology provides learning opportunities that complement the configuration, such as having students find (real time) answers to questions they pose, pursue related avenues of inquiry, or find what’s happened since the publication date of the article or text. Ideally, students would be able to bring their laptops and/or smart phones to class, where they become part of the curriculum, rather than part of the power struggle.
I've been able to get to know these students far better than I've been able to manage when teaching in a traditional classroom; maybe that says more about me than about the classroom. But I can't remember when I've enjoyed the learning experience more. And the quality of the work done by these students is nothing short of awesome.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
The execution of a successful business strategy involves technology and business process that are beneficially and mutually reinforcing. In an ideal world, the adoption of a new technology includes process improvements, so that companies don't automate poor or ineffective processes, as new technology does not necessarily improve an old process. In the predictable mid-semester slump, the excitement of the collaborative learning classroom does little to alter the time-tested strategy used by all students: Take it one day, one exam, one project, one assignment at a time, knowing that some things will not receive the attention they deserve.
And this, too, is a transferable business skill, as sometimes all you can do is juggle your way through the crunch time.
Friday, October 9, 2009
And while the details of what changes vary, the patterns don't shift much. We grow, we age, we learn the lessons of our ancestors, we strive, we push against the limits of what we know. Perhaps that's the essence of education.
This week we focused on business plans. Reading, analyzing, and writing. The general consensus was that it's hard, that the devil is in the details, and that, ultimately, it comes down to making a profit.
And our grades on the exam? On par, both historically for the course and presently relative to the other Honors section.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
On a micro-level, the presence and use of laptops and cell phones in class is equally risky. Though I was taught that people tend to rise to the level of our expectations for them, I've found the belief to be both a truth and a trap. In this course, social networking--and, by extension, the associated technology--is potentially an enabler and a distraction. The students are generally quite respectful, though, giving attention to peer presentations and to my occasional formal "lectures."
But it takes everything in me not to walk around and check...are they on Facebook? Email? Twittering? (Doubly painful, that possibility.) What keeps me from checking with any regularity is the knowledge that faculty meetings and business meetings provide the same temptation to professionals who are expected to manage their own behavior. Perhaps this, too, is one of the learning experiences...for me, as well as for the class.
Monday, September 21, 2009
I asked every student to write five multiple choice exam questions (for a practice exam) using Bloom's revised taxonomy, with a focus on application, analysis, evaluation, and creation questions. They found it hard to do. We had a lively discussion about the difference between the learning they say is happening in the course and the use of multiple choice exam grades to assess learning. The first exam is later this week and the unintended consequence is a temporary loss of focus on the learning.
And on a related note, I'm aghast to learn that a prep school library in New England is going "bookless." Lest I be accused of leanings in that direction, let me write for the record that I think all students should read. Books. Nothing replaces the feel of a well-loved book in my hand. I can't imagine curling up on a rainy day with an electronic device. Shakespeare and Dante should be read on paper...and not the paper in my printer. Though I don't require a textbook for this course, I bring four textbooks with me, make them available during class, and encourage the students to use them as resources. And they do.
And when we get through this first exam and back to the learning, we'll be talking about books. Specifically, what is the one book each of them would want to have available were they on a mission-critical strategic project. It's all about the learning and the reading...and I don't know how to accomplish one without the other.
Friday, September 11, 2009
My general approach to questions is to be as honest and transparent as possible, so I explained my thought process for designing the project the way I had. I braced for the expected refutation (why it was more work than necessary, for example) and was momentarily stunned to hear the follow-up question: "Why has it taken so long to figure out that this is the way we prefer to learn?"
If ambivalence is the simultaneous experience of both positive and negative feelings, my reaction would qualify. It's thrilling to hear at least one student say she feels heard and challenged in this way. It's disheartening to hear how unusual this seems to her.
Every professor I know genuinely wants to reach his or her students and devotes considerable time and energy to teaching. We seem to need more dialog between ourselves and our students, as we really do have the same goals, I think, of engaged, motivated, and well educated students.
Monday, August 31, 2009
"One reason that the pedagogy of students teaching themselves never caught on as the mainstream approach – although it has been advocated by many, certainly since Dewey and probably since Socrates – is that the available tools for learners to use just were not good enough....Today’s technology offers students all kinds of new, highly effective tools they can use to learn on their own – from the Internet with almost all the information, to search and research tools to sort out what is true and relevant, to analysis tools to help make sense of it, to creation tools to present one’s findings in a variety of media, to social tools to network and collaborate with people around the world. And while the teacher can and should be a guide, most of these tools are best used by students, not teachers."
We're contributing as we are able, from the instructor's experience (sprinkled with curiosity) to the students' enthusiasm and willingness to explore. What an adventure...and there's an entire semester to go.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
The Collaborative Classroom is ready and what a difference! The new tools are reasonably straightforward, so students should be able to engage in learning that extends as far as the technology. Teams, collaboration, and problem-solving (real time...during the class) designed to replicate as closely as possible the work for which we are preparing our students. It forces me to think about how to structure assignments to provide enough guidance to make sure we meet course objectives, without getting in the way of our very bright students.
A Capstone course--one intended to take content from multiple courses and synthesize a cohesive framework for understanding how businesses use strategy and planning--is an opportunity for students to produce a portfolio of work that reflects well upon them and upon their education. Student feedback will help determine whether we accomplish that goal.
Monday, August 17, 2009
Our University is fortunate to have a Teaching and Faculty Support Center, sponsors of the annual Teaching Retreat designed to "facilitate and assist faculty with pedagogical issues." The 2009 retreat was the first week in August and provided me with ample (and timely) opportunity to review my course plans and syllabus for improvement opportunities, of which there were many.
Tomorrow is the first day of training on the new tech tools installed in the Collaborative Learning Classroom (the official name). I am, once again, reminded how our students feel when asked to walk into a new semester, new course, new instructor, new expectations--and it's not an altogether pleasant feeling.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Well, today's students, mostly. They not only prefer to read and write in shorter bursts (think text messages and tweets), they also want to be able to find the absolute latest information available. I've been surprised--pleasantly and on more than one occasion--how quickly students can and do investigate a casual reference I've made to some topic...often before the end of the day and quite frequently before the end of that class period.
Kansas State University's Digital Ethnography Project conducted a survey of 200 students and found:
- They complete 49% of the readings assigned to them.
- They buy textbooks that are never opened.
- The reading ratio of books to web pages is 8:2300.
The other way we've contributed to the downfall of the textbook is by taking steps to minimize student cost. In this particular course, we worked with the publisher to develop a custom text of only the required chapters, supplemented by relevant articles. The unintended consequence is a black-and-white version of the text, which significantly decreases the visual appeal. In fact, I use the original textbook simply because it's more enjoyable to read.
So, what will replace the text? A combination of classic articles (such as Michael Porter's "What is Strategy?"), videos used in the current course, student-driven research (within broad guidelines), and a requirement that students be able to understand and explain what they find. And I am knee-deep in the nuts and bolts of the details required to guide this process toward the learning objectives for the course.
Monday, July 27, 2009
I've had this same discussion with a trusted colleague or two over lunch and I'm pleased that students want to participate in the dialog. Grading is one of the hardest parts of teaching, at least for me, especially when seeking a balance between individual excellence and the ability to collaborate.
And now the topic I intended for today: The Textbook Decision. I've opted not to use one for the fall semester. I've learned more than a few things from my students, including the fact that they generally don't read their textbooks and resent having to pay for something they don't use. It's a bit circular. Next post, I'll explain what I mean and why I've chosen to forgo requiring a textbook.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
For the next 3-4 weeks, the focus will be revamping existing course plans and completing the new ones. The course is designed to be 50% lecture (the revamping) and 50% business simulation (the part we will be replacing with new content). When I've taught the course, I've made the lecture portion as interactive as possible; the limiting factors were the room configuration and the lack of computers, so this seems less daunting. The business simulation portion does not have a readily available equivalent and seriously daunts.
For now, the plan is to use Blackboard (which is already widely used here) for grading and administering exams. The rest is Google, with docs, reader, blogger, and bookmarks as starting points.
Monday, July 13, 2009
I've not been an early adopter of any technology. Late to cell phones and computers, I do not use the full functionality of any technology; I use only what seems effective or efficient...or what I'm required (by someone else, of course) to use. Were I to be completely honest, I'd admit that the Learning Lab technology is more than a little intimidating. Using technology well is impressive; using it poorly (especially in the presence of Digital Natives) does not inspire confidence in either the user or the observer(s). I can learn the technology; in fact, I'll be provided the "opportunity" within the next two weeks. And it will remind me how it feels to be a novice. So why would I do this?
It's easy to teach students who love to read, who love to write, who love learning for the sake of learning...the ones we all want to be and the ones we all want to teach. But even when we find those near-perfect students, few of us have the luxury of esoteric discourse ranging from neural networks to computer networks, with a sidebar about The New York Times book review of Jonah Lehrer's Proust was a Neuroscientist (which I thoroughly enjoyed, by the way). I teach undergraduate business students at a state-funded university, students who are being recruited and hired for a wide range of abilities. I don't get to choose which ones I teach, I have very little time with them, and I need to reach them as quickly and as effectively as possible. Will the technology help? Teaching well matters enough for me to take the risk. And the willingness to learn--which is what we expect of our students-- does seem to require some willingness to risk.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
On Friday, I saw the first steps to create a classroom where students will have a physical space and the technology tools to allow them to work in groups during class, using technology to research, collaborate, write, and learn. The first step is reconfiguring the tables, creating spaces that define working groups. The next steps will be replacing the existing chairs with swivel chairs (so that every part of the classroom becomes a potential focal point for learning) and installing the new technology tools (details in a subsequent post). When completed, we'll have a beta lab-classroom combination that allows students and instructors to develop, review, and/or edit learning content in real time. The serendipitous collaboration of the technology group (led by the intrepid Sandy) and the curriculum committee (who requested a pilot course) are illustrative of how luck favors the prepared.
Friday, July 10, 2009
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
But the more I've explored the possibilities, the more enthusiastic I've become. There are so many ways to incorporate collaboration, problem-solving, research (not the way we did it when I was in school...card catalogues), and technology—more to offer than time to offer it. And I’m intrigued by the opportunities to bring business knowledge and experience to our students via online collaboration with people in various businesses across the country…or the world.
So, part of the learning-teaching component (for me) is experiencing the power of online collaboration, problem-solving and research. Since a web log (blog) is one component of the pilot course, I'll be using this blog to chronicle how I started this journey, where it takes me, the milestones (and missteps), and, eventually, feedback from the 30+ students who'll be joining me in August.
Input from my teaching peers is welcome. I'll continue to need assistance from the instructional design and technology groups (both of whom are awesome, by the way). I would appreciate some old-fashioned keep-me-honest input from colleagues who are doing the work (in various settings) for which we are preparing students. We're all learning; we're all teaching.