Innovative Teaching or Innovative Learning

innovateI am preparing a keynote presentation innovation for a faculty at a community college. The campus recently opened a small innovation center with the hope of getting students and faculty to consider new ways of teaching and learning.

In doing some research on this area, I immediately was struck with the split I saw between topics about innovative teaching and innovative learning, as if they were different things. That made me pause. Are they different, the same or inextricably linked?

My talk - "Creating a Culture of Innovation" - will look at how society drives innovation in higher education through the challenges it presents to educators. Increasing demands to lower costs, improving completion rates, competition from alternative credentialing, and the possibility in my home state of New Jersey and other states for free two years of college will all dramatically force shifts in classroom demographics and approaches to teaching and learning.

Innovation requires innovators. In higher education, they can be faculty or administrators who promote pedagogical approaches, such as adaptive and active learning. The innovation of adaptive learning is not so much that adjustments are made to the learning process based on feedback from the learners. Good teachers have been during that forever. The innovation comes from the ways that technologies have been aiding that monitoring of feedback and automating some of the adaptive paths.

Innovation can emerge from philosophical shifts, such as moving to the use of Open Educational Resources.

Innovation can also come from the learning spaces and new technologies made available to teachers and students.

You can find many different approaches to innovation in education, and some of them have come from outside education. One that is out there is agile teaching. Agility is a topic that has been a concern and approach in the business tech world.   

I continue to see examples about the changing world of work that concerns innovation and have many educators considering how they might prepare students better for what they will encounter after graduation. This does not mean job training or vocational skills. It more often is concerned with the learning process, methods of evaluating learning and seeing student applying their learning to new situations. 

For those things, you might be using blended/hybrid courses whose structure is such that theory is always put into practice. Courses using makerspaces and other active learning environments address some of these concerns more than traditional lecture courses.

But I have been hearing about the departure from lecture-style, sage-on-the-stage courses for two decades, and yet I know many courses still follow that model.

In earlier posts here, I have written about innovation or innovators in education or the ideas about the disruptors that make an innovative university, I have said that companies tend to innovate faster than their customers’ lives change. For example, they create newer and more powerful phones that have features customers have not asked for. Apple believes it knows what you want before you know you want it. 

But I don't think that model works in education. Our students are often ahead of us with not only technology, but sometimes with innovative ways of learning. Are they ahead of many of their teachers in using their smartphones as computers and portals to information, and apps as tools? Yes.

Making More Makers



I suppose I was a "do-it-yourselfer" and a "maker" in some ways long before those terms took on new meanings. But the Maker Movement is a subculture that is a lot less "sub-" than it was a few years ago.

Back in the 1970s, when the big computers became available as personal computers (PC), it started a subculture of DIY types who were building their own computers and writing their own software. The maker movement definitely has roots in that and the hacker (in the good guy, white hat, sense of the word) movement.

In 2005, Dale Dougherty launched Make magazine to serve a community that was growing and the following year they launched Maker Faire.

Though makerspaces have varying names attached to them, they attract those DIYers who want to build something rather than just buy it. While hacker culture which is focused on software rather than the physical objects,both groups share an interest in building new creations as well as hacking at existing ones and making them something new.

A makerspace in a school setting may have a more obvious educational purposes and intentions, but all of these spaces foster an informal way of using and learning practical skills and applying them to design. 

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Two events that I am involved in this month use the maker approach to informal learning.

 

New Jersey Makers Day runs two days this year - March 18 and 19 - so that it can be marked both in schools (on Friday) and have a school audience in community spaces such as libraries on Saturday. There are many activities planned across that state in schools, libraries and other makerspaces. Last year, there were over 15,000 individual attendees at 150 participating sites, including libraries, museums, schools, commercial makerspaces, and AC Moore stores that were spread across all 21 counties of New Jersey. There is probably something similar going on where you live.

As this movement grows, companies and makers selling their creations has become a commercial segment that is also growing. This includes big companies that sell hardware like 3D printers and supplies to the individual selling custom items on a much smaller scale. Both are "shaping the future of our economy."



The NJEDge.Net Faculty Best Practices Showcase on March 23, 2016 at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, NJ is focusing on STEAM - that's STEM with the needed addition of the Arts, including language arts and the digital humanities.

I am doing one of the presentations along with Emily Witkowski (Maplewood Public Library) and Danielle Mirliss (Seton Hall University) titled "The Maker Movement Connects STEAM Across New Jersey." The maker movement really fits well with the STEAM (and STEM) approach to learning. 



Maker Movement Infographic



 


The Maker Movement Connects STEM and STEAM

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                      Photo: Dave Jenson - We're working on it!, CC BY-SA 2.0

Maker culture has been growing, but it contains a number of subcultures. For me, maker culture now includes hackerspaces, fab(rication) labs and other spaces that encourage a DIY (do-it-yourself) approach to innovation.

These spaces are found around the world and some probably existed prior to the use of the makerspace label. Like-minded people use these spaces to share ideas, tools, and skills.

Some hackerspaces and makerspaces are found at universities with a technical orientation, such as MIT and Carnegie Mellon. But I have found that many of these spaces are quite closed spaces that are available to only students in particular programs or majors and perhaps not to the entire university community or the wider surrounding community.

So, spaces have also emerged in K-12 schools, public libraries and in the community.

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The NJEDge.Net Faculty Best Practices Showcase is an excellent venue to showcase your work, work-in-progress or posters to the New Jersey Higher Ed and K-12 communities. This month I will be part of a presentation along with Emily Witkowski (Maplewood Public Library) and Danielle Mirliss (Seton Hall University) titled "The Maker Movement Connects STEAM Across New Jersey."  STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) gets plenty of attention these days, but this particular conference is focused on teaching innovations in STEAM - that's STEM with the needed addition of the Arts, including language arts and the digital humanities, and drawing on design principles and encouraging creative solutions.

The keynote speaker at the Showcase is Georgette Yakman, founding researcher and creator of ST?@M. The acronym, in this context, represents how the subject areas relate to each other: Science & Technology, interpreted through Engineering & the Arts, all based in Mathematical elements. The A stands for a broad spectrum of the arts going beyond aesthetics to include the liberal arts, folding in Language Arts, Social Studies, Physical Arts, Fine Arts & Music and the ways each shape developments in STEM fields.

The Rhode Island School of Design is a good example of having a STEM to STEAM program and maintains an interactive map that shows global STEAM initiatives. John Maeda, (2008 to 2013 president of Rhode Island School of Design) has been a leader in bringing the initiative to the political forums of educational policy. 

Our Showcase presentation presents three aspects of the maker movement: in classrooms, in libraries and the community, and in higher education. We are part of the NJ Maker Consortium which brings together educators and librarians in K-12 and Higher Ed. The consortium looks to provide local support, networking, and training for individuals working to establish or grow makerspace programs on their schools or library branches.

In 2016, the second annual New Jersey Makers Day has expanded to a two-day event, March 18 and 19. This celebration of maker culture occurs in locations across NJ and connects all-ages at libraries, schools, businesses, and independent makerspaces that support making, tinkering, crafting, manufacturing, and STEM-based learning. 


Connecting to Learning in Your Unretirement Years



In preparing for my talk this month on "The Disconnected," I came across the organization Encore.org that has a Higher Education Initiative which is looking at the impact of an aging population on higher education. Those that I am calling "The Disconnected" are not disconnected in a detached or disengaged sense, but are instead disconnecting from traditional modes and sources of information and learning.

I also found a podcast that is called Unretirement and one episode talked with a woman, Sandra, who felt the need to get out of the house and start doing something to help deal with her unhappiness. She signed up for a quilt making class. It lit up a passion in her. At age 58, she’s gone back to "school" to move into a new career and is getting certified to become a professional quilting instructor. That may not sound like a typical "major" or even a viable unretirement career choice, but...

Quilting in America market is worth $3.76 billion annually” according to a trade survey trying to get at the size of the quilting economy. Sandra is not going to her local college to learn. She is not interested in credits or a degree. Quiltworx is the company from which she is getting her certification. The podcast covered why she decided to get this certification and how her family helped her figure whether the certificate was worth the cost. She has a business plan, and expects her certificate will pay off in 18 months. 

The "Baby Boomers" are just one age segment of those I am finding to be part of "The Disconnected." The largest age group is much younger and includes the traditional potential students for undergraduate and graduate programs. And even younger people are being born into and growing up in a society where the disconnects will be so common that they will probably not be seen as disconnects. 

Here is one example of that disconnect. I came of age in the 1960s and viewed television as a wireless (via antenna) service that was free if you owned a set and supported by advertising. If you grew up in the 1980s, you saw television as a service that came to your home via a cable service that you paid for (even paying for the formerly free networks that had advertising support) and could add additional premium services if you wanted them. You learned to supplement and control that content (starting to call it video rather than TV) using a VCR and videotapes and later DVDs and then a DVR. A child of today is likely to be using multiple networks via multiple devices and may be growing up in a household that has already cut the cord to those 1980s services and devices and hard media formats. 

So, grandparents and their grandchildren may find some connectiveness in being disconnected in their media consumption and even in how they both are learning and preparing for a working life.



Here are some resources about how older adults are connecting to learning and unretirement using both traditional schools and alternatives.

Improving Education and Training for Older Workers a survey from the AARP Public Policy Institute.

Certificates: Gateway to Gainful Employment and College Degrees from Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University

How many students graduate outside the normal age?” an international study by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development

The Plus 50 Initiative at community colleges for learners age 50+ and a Lumina Foundation report on Plus 50

A state by state rundown of education opportunities for seniors
 

Over 50 and Back in College, Preparing for a New Career

The 40-Year-Old Graduates

4 Ways Older Students Can Avoid Student Debt

How to Make the Most of Longer Lives

Craft Artists, Income, and the U.S. Economy


Getting Started With Arduino


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Dave Cormier did a nice post about getting his kids (7 & 9) playing and learning with an Arduino starter kit for Christmas. (Kits run about $100-150 but you can buy an Arduino board for about $20 if you're already working with maker electronics and coding.) If you are an adult, kid, parent or teacher, this first (with more to come?) post is a nice intro into this popular maker tool.

One very basic thing he discovered is that you do need to understand code. You don't need a lot of experience with it, but if you have never looked at code (even HTML web page code), it will seem a bit confusing at first.  

Arduino uses a simplified version of C++ and most people will be able to figure out by context clues (Ah, like reading!) some of what the code is doing.

He also learned right away that "arduino" is also software that you need to download and put on your computer.

As you start to write you "sketch" (code) in order to upload it to your Arduino hardware via a USB cable, you discover that there are lots of sketches available online and with the arduino software itself to get you started. But you will need to learn new stuff.

He shows a simple example of some code with notes (shown above). This code tells the Arduino to send power to pin 13 and then to turn pin 13 on and off at 3 second intervals.

If your Arduino board has an LED bulb in pin 13, it will light up according to those commands.

But he also had to learn that the LED needed to plug into the ground that is right next to it and hat the long leg of the LED is the ‘+’ and it goes in pin 13 and the short leg of the LED is the ‘-‘ and goes in the ground. 

Okay, that's not exactly amazing output, but Dave and his kids are a ways off from building a robotic obstacle-avoiding car (like the one in the video below) which requires more parts, some building and more coding - but it is doable.

You can read Dave's first post on his blog and follow his learning. Let's see where the Cormiers go with this.