TEL2 – Technology Supported Research Techniques

Technology can play a very important role in education. I’ve discussed this on numerous occasions but wanted to take the time to offer an overview of common technological tools, that can assist in different learning processes. We’ve come a long way from the long and hard manual labour that used to be “doing research”. Going to the library and spending hours on end looking for the right sources, making photo copies, annotating them, making notes/reminders to keep our line of thoughts together. Writing, creating was a very laborious job, and still is! However, we now have a lot of tools that could help us make things simpler, easier to do.

In this assignment I’m asked to talk about research, however, I think it’s applicable in a wider educational context.

In what ways can technology support research?

Technology can take care of a lot of the different steps needed in doing research. The phrase “There’s an app for that” certainly is true! There are a lot of applications, websites,… tools in general available to us that can lighten the workload. The trick is to find them off course. That’s why we as teachers should let our students come into contact with different tools. That’s the only way they can figure out which ones to use for themselves and which not.

All the aspects of research can be done with technology, today. Aggregating information, processing it, creating new content and sharing it with others.

In what ways can the analysis of learning and teaching be enhanced via technology?

Learning analytics are a much discussed subject these days. We have all these tools, but are they worthwhile? Are they resulting in the desired effect, or not? Learning analytics offer ways to keep track of what students do and how well they perform. Some systems even adjust the learning path while the student is working on coursework. The Khan Academy is one of the best examples of this. This site, based upon the flipped-classroom principle, only lets students advance to the next level when they are proficient in the current material. Some learning management systems keep track of how students are doing too. Many mobile apps, give feedback on the pursuits of the students, sending this information instantly to the teachers tablet so he/she can adjust where needed.

Analysis of learning is the next step in mobile/digital education, I think. We’ll see more of these monitoring software embedded in student apps, sending information back to the teacher for him/her to analyze and act upon. This could enable a real personal learning.

How can learning and teaching be improved and what part can technology play in this?

I think education in general still doesn’t take advantage of the technology at hand. We are hesitating to much, instead we should be enabled to change the curriculum and offer more project-based assignments over longer periods of time, in order to let students really research a topic. Really let them dig deep in the matter. Todays technology offers so much potential, however, technology should always remain a means and never the goal itself.

Technology has the potential to motivate the students intrinsically. They want to work with technology. And the potential they offer is limitless. In my own experience, I feel the need to do more with technology. I dream of going on field trips where students “record” key aspects with their cellphone and immediately share them online. They could work together on assignments where they present their findings in new, more interactive ways. They could create e-portfolio’s instead of making exams. And so much more.

I find that in this endeavor, as a teacher, I need to break free of the books I use and the imposed curriculum. A more open curriculum and a well of content instead of different chapters in a book, would be  a great start. I feel that the machine that is education, is so hard to maneuver towards change.

What specific technologies exist and how can we use them?

I’d like to suggest a few possibilities according to the 4-stage connectivist model suggested by Stephen Downes:

Aggregate

Since we live in an information abundant society, we are constantly being bombarded with it every day. Selecting relevant information for your context is key! However, simply coming into contact casually, is something I’ve noticed is very enlightening. I’ve used an RSS-aggregator for a long time now. I receive about a 1000 new messages a day! Off course this is a quantity that would consume most of the day to work through, therefore I don’t! I simply click through the different titles and only give those that are of interest to me a little more attention. If they prove to tickle my fancy I read them thoroughly. A lot of these new articles are going straight to the bin, however, I have read the title or have seen a particular image from the post. This selection process in itself lets me remember a lot of the things I don’t actually read. So, just skimming proves to be enlightening.

  • Search: “to Google something” is a wide-spread term, today, and it certainly has its value! Where would we be without a basic search engine? However, Google Scholar is quite interesting as well! It’s only since the TELIC-course that I’m using this, but a lot of high value content is to be found here. Especially with the link to the Sheffield Library. This way you can get access to content exclusively for members of the university.
  • Social media: FacebookTwitterGoogle+LikedIn,… are all great ways of networking. Coming into contact with interesting people is a very important part of the information aggregating process. There is a lot information I use, that originates to one of these networks. These “traditional” social networks can be expanded with the help of other social tools like YouTubeVimeo (video), but also Slideshare (presentations, texts) and many others.
  • RSS-aggregators: Google ReaderFlipboard and many others enable you to collect new data from different sites, without the trouble of manually going through them. Zite is a special case in this selection, since it offers you new information about certain subject, letting you discover new information.
  • Sources in general: Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, can deliver perfectly useful information for any normal citizen. Podcasts are a favorite of mine too. These free recordings about numerous subjects enable you to listen to information when and where I want. Mendeley is a reference manager, but also lets you read, annotate and organize pdf’s. You can even collaborate with others. A lot of academic papers are available in this suite, making it a very desired source of information.

Remix

Finding ways to manage all this information is crucial! There are a lot of tools out there that let you collect and share sources. Keeping a sort of logbook is great, only with technology, these write themselves.

  • Social bookmarking: DeliciousDiigoPinterest to name a few, let you collect bookmarks, tag them and share them with whomever you want. A great way to keep your sources around, everywhere and let others enjoy them too.
  • Note-taking: Taking notes is essential in research, during a conference, meeting or just while you’re working out an idea. Evernote is a note-taking app that lets you do just that, and much more. Creating notebooks and even stacks of notebooks about a common subject, lets you work out a digital filing cabinet. It’ll hold pdf’s, images,… and even lets you annotate them. This app enables true paperless living. Mindmeister is a mind-mapping tool, also handy for taking notes but in a more visually coherent way.
  • File managing in the cloud: DropboxGoogle DriveSkydrive,… These tools are your online hard disk. Holding folders and sharing them with others. You can have all your important files with you wherever you go.

Repurpose

When working your way through all this information, you probably make connections between different parts. Working these out can be done in many different ways. Technology lets you create on-the-go.

  • Online office suites: Google DriveSkydrive and others offer an online office suite. You can create documents, spreadsheets and presentations in your browser. No need to buy the software, just log in and create.
  • Offline office suites: Not all tools need to be online! MS OfficeiWorkOpenOffice,… there is a lot software out there that enable you to do just about anything.
  • Mobile: A lot of apps have a mobile version, so you can create even with your smartphone or tablet, instead of your computer.

Feed Forward

Sharing is probably the most important part of technology, these days. We share about everything. Social networking sites let you share whatever you want,

  • Social networks: FacebookTwitterGoogle+LikedIn,… are not only there for information gathering, you can be part of the conversation too.
  • Social media: SlideshareYouTubeAudiobooInstagram and many others let you share the content you created.
  • Social bookmarking, note-taking apps: As discussed above, these tools also let you share your gathered content.
  • Blogs: WordPressBloggerTumblr,…Creating new information often comes in the form of text. Millions of bloggers are using their website to communicate ideas and opinions about everything. This is probably the easiest way to share your knowledge.

Evaluation and Testing

Not part of Downes’ 4-stage model, but necessary for education. How can we assess students work? Does technology offer possibilities here as well? Off course there are ways to formally assess students through test-like apps, Socrative for instance is a student response system that could be used for this purpose, several LMSs are equipped with testing options. However, I think it is useful to look for alternative ways of assessment as well. e-Portfolio’s, blogs, presentations,… are all good ways of assessing students work, but in a more global way. Instead of checking the students intelligence on a certain moment, these ways offer a more comprehensive approach to students knowledge. The creating aspect is far more crucial than the reproduction of facts (cfr. Bloom). These ways of assessment also enable and encourage peer-evaluation, making students part of that (important) process of learning too – co-designing evaluation.

All of these apps have educational benefits. They can all be integrated in some way into the classroom and can make life a lot easier for both students and teachers.

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