So, the final panel I went to at linuxfest outlined some practices for teaching linux administration as a distance course. What I appreciated about this panel leader is that, instead of saying this course was going to be about distance education, he stated that it would be specifically oriented towards his experience teaching linux administration via a distance course. Ironically, this panel ended up being more about the methodology of distance education in general, and less about teaching a specific course.
What I gleaned from this presenter was that when teaching a distance course, it helps if A: students are highly motivated, B: you create your OWN teaching setup and style (He bought a lot of his own equipment, including a generic tablet, webcams, various open source software tools, and even called his students via phone and mailed them packages), and C: You are personable and do your best to connect with the students at a human level. The biggest problem he ran into was students failing to show up to his weekly ‘class sessions’ which consisted of google hangouts.
The presenter from the first panel, the guy who had worked as a network admin and now taught Cisco certs, told him he had a good way to work around it: Make the class sessions worth credit, with the earlier class sessions worth extra credit, so early adopters would be rewarded, and that extra credit tapering off at the end. Apparently his class sessions were usually pretty busy.
This panel was great as it ended up being a more open discussion of best practices for distance learning, with the presenter often saying, “That’s a really good idea. I should do that.” It was dynamic, and the tension between techie and teacher was completely erased. Good way to end the convention.
The biggest lesson I learned from attending the education panels at Linuxfest is that there is a right and wrong way to go about addressing educational technology. I went to two panels where the people leading it were not educators, and two where they were IT people turned teachers. In the former, the complete lack of relevance to education was painfully apparent and alienated the teachers in the audience, but in the latter, the mastery of both fields created an authentic dialogue about what works and what doesn’t with educational technology.
What this ultimately tells me is that there is a big void for people who speak education and IT. Hopefully more districts will see this and look into hiring these translators soon, especially when looking at distance and hybrid programs, as going into it without someone who can effectively combine pedagogical practices with IT is likely to end badly.
I’ve finally got a chance to sit down and connect!
So, I’ve attended three panels thus far, and one bitchin’ after party. I’ve got another panel on distance ed in a bit, but until then, here’s some brief coverage of the panels. When I get home and get a chance to decompress, I’ll post my notes on each panel and more in depth coverage.
Supporting Classrooms 101: This was taught by a Network Admin turned Cisco certification instructor. He was very knowledgable in supporting a great variety of college and k12 environments using LMSes and other tools. His bottom line was that the main focus of any academic tech support should be the people. One of the really interesting points he made was that it’s all about the best functionality. He’s fine with schools using Microsoft in Washington, because they give schools a great deal on Microsoft software. At the same time, he uses the open source LMS Moodle for his own courses, because it’s functional and generally awesome, although it doesn’t scale well due to the support needs.
Open Source in Schools: The group following this was a group of freegeek people who wanted to find ways to increase open source usage in schools. They weren’t teachers, and seemed a little confused on where to start. The leader of the previous discussion helped them out a bit, and the decision came to be that a good place to start with open source software in schools is homeschool, STEM teachers, and resource centers. It all comes down to useful functionality- most teachers and students don’t care about the open source model, they just want something that works well.
One of the most telling parts of this panel was when a teacher who had sat in on both panels spoke up and said, “I have no idea what you are talking about.”
Customizing Linux for the Classroom: This panel really highlighted the disconnect that seems to occur between the open source community and educators that I witnessed multiple times at this con- Open source geeks that think teachers are going to be impressed by a stream of technobabble, and teachers wondering how this has anything to do with their classroom. This presenter was a SUSE developer who outlined some of his projects that did seem useful for some classes, possibly, but the way he presented them spoke to a system administrator’s interest set, which seemed to frustrate the 50% of the class who were teachers. What really made me want to walk out was when one of the teachers asked, “Does this offer support for smart boards?” “Smart boards? What’s that?” as he proceeded to google smart boards. Also, he only mentioned Moodle once. As probably the best open source LMS out there, that probably belongs at the core of a class on customizing linux in classrooms.
At this point it became so completely clear that he was very disconnected to the reality of classrooms, and was teaching a class called Customizing Linux for the Classroom, made me feel like I had wasted a great amount of time, but it had reinforced a good message: There needs to be greater communication between people who understand the realities of the classroom and IT support people. That was embodied by the Supporting Classrooms 101 presenter, as he knew his stuff. However, people like that seem few and far between, which bodes very poorly for effective tech implementations.
I guess the bottom line is, if you want to offer any sort of tech solution for educators, (or anyone, for that matter), it’s best to speak to their interests, not the specific details of the technology. Most people just want a product that works well for a good price. When open source offers that, it gets adopted.
Oh, and the after party was incredible. There was a Tesla Coil show, and free beer provided by Wiseass brewing. Delicious stuff.
Now I’m off to the panel on Distance Education, then a long drive back home.
As mentioned earlier, I’ll be doing some coverage of the educational panels at linuxfest. A few more interesting ones have been posted, so here are the ones I will be covering- I’ll likely be attending quite a few more, and if they’re interesting, I’ll post about them as well,.
Customizing linux for the classroom- Looking at various linux tools in the classroom.
Teaching Linux System Administration as a Distance Class - This one goes into the best practices for distance education, so that should be fairly illuminating.
Supporting Classrooms 101 - This one goes into providing tech support for educational settings. From what I’ve heard, most school districts are woefully understaffed when it comes to their IT departments, so this should be interesting.
There are some other ones that should be pretty interesting as well.
Off to the fest!
So, I just finished work on the final section of my thesis, which has proven to be probably the most difficult, as it involves synthesizing what the research actually means. The problem is, unlike most literature review type theses, the research on online and hybrid education is all over the place. So, I had to synthesize a lot of data, extrapolate environmental variables based on reported demographics, and read between a lot of lines. The biggest problem is that a lot of this research is quantitative, focusing on an esoteric value determined from some psychological battery, while ignoring the holistic view. What’s going on in the classroom? Are people bored? Does the instructor know how to use the LMS? Are the students tech savvy?
I read two articles, one that studied veterinary students, the other studying computer science students. The veterinary students did poorly with the online materials, whereas the CS undergrads ate it up. Big surprise, no? Well, the research didn’t really look at simple factors such as major. And while that makes a lot of sense, as it is difficult to generalize between a graduate course in veterinary science and CS 236, but it’s definitely an area of interest.
There’s so much learning to be done on how to do blended instruction right. It’s a really exciting field, but at the same time I think that by trying to find out how to do it right I’m looking for the philosopher’s stone. It’s all contextual.
But then again, there’s no way to do friendship right, but look at how well facebook is doing. It’s not getting it right exactly, but it’s expanding the borders in interesting ways. I think we’re going to be seeing a similar event occurring in education, soon.
In the mean time, I’ve had more caffeine today than I should. My thought patterns are disassociating, which means it’s time to log off now.
Just the same as traditional courses, online courses need good teachers to make sure students do the best in the class itself. Here are seven signs, including how engaging they are with students, that the teacher you have, online, is a great one. Thoughts?
So, of the 7 signs, six are general traits of good teachers- Staying involved with the class, building good rapport with the students, etc. The final one, being tech savvy, I think is the most important to pay attention to, as the teacher’s digital literacy and technical aptitude plays a huge part in dealing with logistical issues and leveraging a diverse amount of online materials to augment the learning experience. The rest of these traits are common sense.