Thursday, August 21, 2014

Praise Students for Effort, Not for Participation

Dr. Mark L. Taylor came to our campus to teach our faculty and staff about generational differences, and teaching to generation NeXt. Our current generation on campuses all around the United States has been characterized in many different ways, from Digital Natives, to Generation Y, to Generation Me to Generation neXt. Dr. Taylor discussed traditionals, boomers, generation X, and then, of course, Generation neXt. 

One key idea that I found interesting in all of this is the level of selfishness among generations. Whereas traditionals (who experienced the depression and world war 2) were characterized by sacrifice and duty, generation neXt is characterized by entitlement and narcissism. We have certainly moved toward increased entitlement on a large scale, and experts indicate that with modern parenting techniques, this entitlement among generations is likely to continue. 

A personal experience with my own kids relates quite well. My daughter played on a 5 year old soccer team where we lived in Georgia. During the season, her team won a few games, and lost quite a few. In Georgia there was the expectation that all soccer players at this level receive a trophy at the end of the season. Not just the winning team, not the hard workers, but ALL players got a trophy at the end of the season. I am also ashamed to say that the next year when I was the soccer coach, I collected money from parents, bought trophies, and distributed them to our 6 year olds after a mediocre season. I learned that this approach is not uncommon among this generation. Through this experience, kids learn that they get a reward not for effort, but just for showing up. 

The bottom line for a college professor like myself, is that my students from generation neXt (and yours, if you teach) will expect a reward or praise for just showing up to class, or just handing in an assignment. I have seen this phenomenon in my classes before and frankly, I'm not willing to lavishly praise my students for just showing up. I don't think this is the answer. Instead, I am much more interested in changing the expectations for my students. Overall, I think praise in our society must focus back toward effort and quality of work, not on participation or talent. So think twice before you offer too much praise to your kids/students! 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Social Media is the Weapon? - Lessons from Columbine

Last week at Northern State University where I work, Darrell Scott came to present about Rachel's Challenge. His daughter, Rachel Scott was the first person killed in 1999 at Columbine High School when two boys opened fire on her as she ate lunch outside. Darrell's speech to congress later that year was not about the need for gun control, which was a surprise to many. His speech was about the need for kindness and compassion. 

Rachel was one of those people who deliberately reached out to those who were different from her, new to school, lonely, or picked on. Darrell remembers his daughters legacy by encouraging others to share the type of kindness and compassion that Rachel shared. This is the only way that violence in schools can really be stopped. Rachel's challenge is to create a positive culture change in schools with kindness and compassion. Studies have shown that this program, when taught in schools, has been quite successful in helping improve faculty-student relationships and reduce negative behaviors such as bullying, and alcohol and drug use. 

Of course, I am interested in how things relate to educational technology as I work to prepare my own students to deal with technology issues in the classroom. I don't know everything about what happens online between middle and high school students, but there are a few things I do know. I know that social media sites have been used as a weapon to belittle, make fun of, and hurt those who are different. I know that youth (and immature adults) say things online that they would never say in person. I know that I lose a lot of faith in humanity every time I read the comments on YouTube videos. However, I also know that social media can be used for very positive, kind, and compassionate communication, and also for high-quality learning. 

Online, people often feel like they are more anonymous, and can say and do what they want without the same consequences as a face to face interaction. But this is not true, there are real consequences. Just as Darrell Scott advocated kindness and compassion instead of gun control, I think we need to specifically advocate kindness and compassion online, not the wholesale blocking of specific social media websites. Social media sites have great potential to support learning, so let's keep the sites open, but teach our students to use kindness and compassion. It just might save somebody's life! 

Perhaps you have some experience teaching students to use kindness in social media, how have you taught this in your class? 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

I Didn't use iBooks Author to Create my Interactive Digital Textbook

After months of hard work, blood, sweat and tears (well, not all of those), I have finally submitted a new interactive digital textbook for publication. I didn't use the popular iBooks Author by Apple to create this digital textbook.

Right now you are thinking, "but wait, iBooks Author is made by Apple, and Apple is cool, right?" Apple is cool, but Apple is not multiplatform, and this makes all the difference in my world. My textbook is on educational technology, and when it is ready, I intend for it to be read by my own university students (and students at other universities) on any device. I want all of the interactive elements to function on a Windows laptop, Android-based mobile device, Apple computer, Linux desktop, and yes, an iPad. How many of these devices would work with a textbook developed using iBooks Author? Only the iPad (and no, not the Apple computer).

When I started out writing my textbook, I looked into many different platforms for publishing an interactive digital textbook. I looked into iBooks Author, but I realized that anything I created with iBooks Author would only work on the iPad. It was simply not going to work for me to ask all of my students to buy iPads when some had Android tablets, Windows computers, Apple computers, etc. already. Ethically, I couldn't justify requiring students to buy a certain type of device in order to succeed in class.

So I looked a bit deeper into the options for publishing interactive digital textbooks and found only a few alternatives that were truly multiplatform and interactive, one of which was Inkling Habitat. Habitat offers a multiplatform experience so that students on Android, Windows, Mac, Linux, iPad, and whatever else can access and interact with my digital textbook. When my textbook comes out, it will be available on whatever device through Habitat.

Because Habitat has worked well for me, I am presenting a workshop at this year's AECT International convention on how to create your own interactive digital textbook and I already have a good number of people enrolled. I am looking forward to the experience! Check out Habitat at And get ready for the first ever multiplatform interactive digital textbook on Educational Technology for Teachers, coming soon!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Task-centered Learning Differs from Problem-Based Learning

A recent publication by Joel Gardner and myself talks about how task-centered learning (TCL) differs from problem-based learning (PBL). When this article was submitted to Educational Technology, the editor asked if the distinction between TCL and PBL was just one of those simple academic discussions that has little effect on practice. I wrote him back that the contrary was true and shared a few experiences where people have discussed PBL, but what they were really discussing was TCL. This was the reason for the article. Some ideas and theories in instructional and educational technology really are the same thing, discussed in different ways from different people, but in academic discussions, I believe that we benefit from defining clearly what we'
re talking about.

One experience I had occurred at the AECT International convention. I attended a presentation on PBL in which the presenter had implemented a PBL experience for one semester which had all of the hallmarks of PBL, most significantly, the PBL experience provided minimal guidance and coaching for students. The result was a failed class, student scores did not improve significantly. "But," said the presenter, "we implemented some changes the next semester, and saw markedly improved student scores." The second semester was a great success. The presenter still called the second semester approach PBL, but I think it was mislabeled.

As I sat in this session I noticed that the changes that were made to improve the second semester scores were the same types of practices advocated in a TCL approach, not a PBL one. These included the instructional guidance and coaching that are so much a part of the TCL and First Principles of Instruction models for learning. So I guess that is the reason for the article. I believe that this distinction should be important for anyone in instructional or educational technology.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Web Design is About Communication

This spring, I created a new course on web design. As part of the process, I consulted with two experts who work regularly with web design. As a professor and course designer I highly recommend this practice. I sent a major assignment via email to both experts and got some very interesting feedback. First off, the experts suggested that I (and almost anyone who designs courses on web design) was going about things the wrong way.

The original assignment had well defined requirements in which students were required to create a website for a fictitious client according to specific requirements. But the experts suggested that there is rarely a time when a client knows what he or she wants and can explain that to you. A lot of the web design process involves communicating with the client to find out what he or she needs and negotiating with the client to determine what is wanted and what can reasonably be done within the project timeline.  The experts suggested that in addition to the technical skills of being able to create a web site, I should require students to learn communication skills to help them negotiate with clients.

Any web design class can teach about HTML and CSS, but a high-quality class helps students practice the skills they need to be able to communicate and negotiate with clients to provide a quality web design.

Learn more about E-Learning at Northern State University

Friday, May 11, 2012

Free Alternatives to Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator

I hear a lot about Adobe products lately. As I look at the job market for my students at Northern State University, many job descriptions in the E-Learning field list familiarity with Adobe Products as requirements or qualifications for the position. However the individuals that write these descriptions are usually not familiar with free and open-source software (FOSS) alternatives to these programs that can do 80-90% of what the Adobe products do. In some cases, such as Adobe Flash and captivate, it is hard to find a good free/open-source alternative, but in the case of photoshop and illustrator, there are some great programs out there that are absolutely free and very functional that I have used with great success:

Adobe Photoshop alternatives

GIMP has been around for years, yet there seems to be relatively little knowledge of its existence among E-Learning professionals. GIMP is the ultimate photoshop alternative, offering fine-grained photo enhancement, retouching, cropping etc. features.

Google Picasa -
Picasa is a great photo organizer/editor similar to iPhoto (but free and open source). It doesn't have all of the bells and whistles of GIMP but it does offer quick and easy photo enhancement, retouching and cropping and the most recent version offers new image filters for fun photo effects.

Adobe illustrator alternative

Inkscape -
Inkscape is an excellent vector graphics editing software package. It is my go-to application to help me design and edit graphics for E-Learning projects.  I recently used inkscape to create some icons for a touch screen project and it worked very well:

These FOSS applications don't have all of the bells and whistles that the Adobe versions have, but in the end it doesn't matter what tools you used to create your e-learning project, as long as it is effective!

Learn more about E-Learning at Northern State University

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Minimal Guidance is Relative

I recently read an interesting article entitled Why Minimal Guidance during Instruction Does Not Work that brought up a whole new world of thoughts about constructivism into my mind. The article uses three main arguments to explain how constructivist approaches to learning have not worked including Sweller's cognitive load theory, theories about long term and short term memory, and differences between experts and novices.

The first thought that I had with regard to this article is how do they define “work,” or whether a certain activity is working or not. It is made clear that this is when learned items are stored in long term memory. But aren't there many other ideas in the field of whether something works or not based on other criteria? For instance, instead of just storing something in long term memory, shouldn't we be able to perform in some greater capacity than we were able to before an activity. What if motivation to learn is a specific problem, then shouldn't this be used as a criteria for what works in an activity? And what of problem-solving ability, is this not very useful in our information age?

The authors also blanket all types of subjects and learners into one great whole when they say that guided instruction works better than minimal guidance. The only distinction that is made is between novices and experts. I see a more comprehensive continuum between novices and experts and at some point, I think we are better off giving minimal guidance as learners become more experienced.

Also, one of the main tenets of the article is the idea that so many constructivist activitys are done with too little guidance and that adding guidance is admitting that constructivism is inadequate. I don't think this is the case. Based on my experience working with some constructivists, the authors' view of constructivism is very different from what actually happens. In fact most would agree that giving no guidance is ineffective for promoting learning on either side of the spectrum. It seems to me that the difference is that constructivists want to give enough guidance to help the learner along, but not so much that they stifle the creativity and problem-solving ability of the learner.

Lastly, the authors mention that giving learners complete and correct information is the best method for learning to occur. A constructivist may say “whose information are they being given?” In other words, constructivism may challenge the notion that there is one correct version of the information irrespective of the situation or knower of the information.


Kirschner, P. A., Sweller, J., & Clark, R. E. (2006). Why Minimal Guidance during Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching. Educational Psychologist, 41(2), 75.