Archive for the ‘Inquiry-based learning’ Category


[This is a first post of a several-post series, which will document my own process and reflections of teaching a face-to-face course, for the first time in several years. I will be attempting to re-engineer my course delivery to make use of learner-centered tools, many considered included in the world of Web 2.0. It will be an interesting experiment, one I hope will benefit my students.]

I’m an adjunct faculty member at Metropolitan State University where I teach Operations Management part-time. It’s a good way for me to practice implementing new teaching and learning practices and attempt to model walking my talk, of using constructivist learning methods, where the student is actively engaged with his or her own learning. This is a departure from the “transmission model” of teaching, long practiced at many colleges and universities, where the learner is a passive recipient of information (i.e., the lecture).

The Challenge

I’ve been teaching my course (Operations Management) at Metro State for about 9 years, but am facing an interesting dilemma going into fall term in just two weeks’ time. This will be my first face-to-face course in 5 years. While many faculty are daunted by the process of putting their courses online, I’m panick-stricken at the prospects of teaching back in the classroom – in REAL time. I find this quite ironic, and have asked myself why. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

1. My Pop Culture Examples Have Sadly Aged and I Don’t Know What Funny is to 20+

It goes without saying that as I get older, the students get younger. Teaching online helps to buffer some of the generation gap. (I graduated college in 1973, you do the math.) In teaching face-to-face, I need a ready supply of business examples that relate to my students’ experiences. The last time I faced students eyeball to eyeball, Game Boy and Play Station were the big products on the market. Furthermore when I got to the quality control part of the curriculum, I always referred to the car reservation bit in Seinfeld (anyone can take a reservation, but it’s the holding of the car that’s most important). The last time I did so (before the existence of YouTube), I may as well have been from Mars. I’m afraid my pop culture examples aren’t funny to anyone except my peers. While I don’t believe I have to entertain my students, I do believe in an appropriate amount of interspersed humor during a long night of class. The kids I helped raise are all grown now so I’ve lost access to my personal pop culture observatory.

2.  My Active Learning Methods Need a Makeover

When I first started teaching I used what I thought was an active learning model; small lecture, lots of paired and group activities including case analysis, presentations, debate, etc. Each week I taught the most important nuggets, and each week they worked in groups, talking, then reporting out to the whole class. The short lecture piece is fine, and having them work together is fine; but this “reporting out” thing is just way too passive and old-world . Enter Web 2.0 where students create and publish content – and I have plans to have students use them, right in class.

3. I Have to Get Relevant in My Class Segments

I’m comfortable teaching online, and I’m confident that I’ve done well to engage the learner in the online course. First, I upped the ante by designing a course site and course acitivites that went beyond flat text on a page and beyond what correspondence courses could accomplish. Then I attempted to meet the standards of my own quality rubric for an online course (developed in conjunction with Barbara Keinath). I redesigned my syllabus and course activities to more closely approximate Chickering and Gamson’s Seven Principles for Good (Teaching) Practice, and to meet various learning styles. And finally I redesigned all of my initial course materials replacing clunky HTML Word docs with more interactive flash elements using lodeStar as my authoring tool. All of my modules had a consistent look, feel, and progression, were ADA-compliant, and contained a variety of interactive exercises.

But this term I’m not teaching an online course. What, oh what do I do with my students for 3-1/2 hours each week for 15 weeks to remain relevant with them? I keep hearing apprehensive faculty refute the notion of pandering to their attention deficit tendencies. I don’t buy this; they have plenty of attention for what they value. To say they have attention deficit to learning the way we prefer to teach is rather ego-centric of us baby boomers, no? I have to get a handle on how their learning minds are wired, and tap into that; that’s the secret of effective teaching these days. Or better said, the secret of effective learning.

It would be very sad if I hadn’t thought this through with only two weeks remaining before the first night of class. Yes, I’ve got plenty of ideas, but this post is long enough.

Stay tuned for the next installment of my personal journey into the world of connecting to the net gen learner.


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I live in the Twin Cities and I started this blog just weeks after the Minneapolis I-35W bridge collapse. So it seemed only fitting to me to post something about how technology was deployed urgently and creatively, right during the peak of the crisis. The main communication problem that night was with the cellular network coming to its knees within 30 minutes of the collapse. Those keeping their eyes on technological solutions immediately wanted to unclog the network so it could be used for first responders.

From some very brief Internet research, it appears that the use of municipal Wi-fi networks for emergencies and disasters had been discussed and scenario-planned but had not really gone prime time, until this. Here’s what happened that night.

A recently but partially completed Wi-fi network in Minneapolis was opened up the night of the disaster so anyone could use it. Stats showed the number of concurrent users grew quickly to 6,000. Besides immensely helping communications by moving traffic off the cell network, the opening of the wireless network allowed movement of large GIS mapping files right to the recovery site and supported webcams for rescue workers.

The man who co-founded US Internet, the municipal Wi-fi network for Minneapolis, Joe Caldwell, tried to use his cell phone to contact city officials within minutes of learning about the disaster, but to no avail. But he had a solution; US Internet could open the Wi-fi network and people with Wi-fi enabled laptops or other devices could send instant messages, video, photos and email. And those with Wi-fi enabled phones could make voice calls. And so it happened.

GIS software was used to help the responders set up staging areas for families and the media as well as to identify where to put debris. It was also used to identify secure areas for the President and Secret Service when they arrived a few days later.

So what does community media and technology infrastructure have to do with teaching and learning? The skills needed for many future jobs have very much to do with knowing how to use spatial and virtual technologies. When faculty teach courses that utilize imaging and 3D modeling solutions, GIS mapping software, or interactive virtual environments, they are firstly teaching students how to use those technologies for later employment. But they are also in the process fostering inquiry and problem-based learning , scaffolded learning, and constructivism, allowing for very rich learning experiences.

I am proud to be a part of a system of colleges and universities where creative faculty are thinking up new ways to use these technologies in everything from automation and motion control to emergency preparedness and law enforcement. I’ve come across outstanding innovation occurring throughout our system of campuses and look forward to seeing what other ideas emerge.

 (Sources: Computerworld, Aug 2007, Government Computer News, Sept 8, 2007)

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