The Trends at the NJEDge Conference 2018

There are so many posts I have the past few weeks about trend for education and technology, but one way of seeing what trends may emerge this year is by looking at the tracks, presentations and keynote speakers at EdTech conferences. 

logoI'll be moderating a track next week at NJEdge.Net's Annual Conference: NJEdgeCon2018 "DIGITAL LEADERSHIP & ENTERPRISE TRANSFORMATION" January 11 & 12, 2018 in New Jersey.  My track is, naturally, Education and Technology which has presentations on best practices, innovations and the effectiveness associated with current LMS and online learning tools, effective infrastructure, resources, sustainability models and integrated assessment tools.

But if you look at the other tracks offered, you can see that INFORMATION Technology outweighs instructional technology here. Other tracks at the conference are Big Data & Analytics, Networking & Data Security, Customer Support & Service Excellence,  Aligning Business & Technology Strategies. and Transformation Products & Services.

Amber Mac (as in MacArthur) will talk about adaptation and the accelerating pace of corporate culture in the digital economy.

I have followed her career for a decade from her early tech TV and podcast venture to her current consulting business. She helps companies adapt to, anticipate, and capitalize on lightning-quick changes—from leadership to social media to the Internet of Things, from marketing to customer service to digital parenting and beyond. It’s not about innovation, she says; it’s about adaptation.

When it comes to teachers and technologies, the battle cry of Virginia Tech professor John Boyer is embrace, not replace. In his talk, he presents his view that the best teachers will embrace technologies that help them better communicate with students, but do not fear because those technologies will never replace human to human interaction. But blending the best communicators with the best technology has to offer will produce some amazing and unpredictable opportunities!


Wayne Brown, CEO and Founder of Center for Higher Ed CIO Studies (CHECS), will talk in his session on longitudinal higher education CIO research and the importance of technology leaders aligning technology innovations and initiatives with the needs of the higher education institution. His two-part survey methodology enables him to compare and contrast multiple perspectives about higher education technology leaders. The results provide essential information regarding the experiences and background an individual should possess to serve as a higher education CIO. In collaboration with NJEdge, Wayne will collect data from NJEdge higher education CIOs and will compare the national results with those of the NJ CIOs.

Timothy Renick (a man of many titles: Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Success, Vice Provost, and Professor of Religious Studies at Georgia State University) is talking about "Using Data and Analytics to Eliminate Achievement Gaps."  The student-centered and analytics-informed programs at GSU has raised graduation rates by 22% and closed all achievement gaps based on race, ethnicity, and income-level. It now awards more bachelor’s degrees to African Americans than any other college or university in the nation. Through a discussion of innovations ranging from chatbots and predictive analytics to meta-majors and completion grants, the session covers lessons learned from Georgia State’s transformation and outlines several practical and low-cost steps that campuses can take to improve outcomes for underserved students.

Greg Davies' topic is "The Power of Mobile Communications Strategies and Predictive Analytics for Student Success and Workforce Development." The technology that has been used to transform, to both good and bad ends, most other major industries can connect the valuable resources available on campus to the students who need them most with minimal human resources. Technology has been used to personalize the digital experience in such industries as banking, retail, information and media, and others by reaching consumers via mobile technology. Higher Education has, in some cases, been slow to adapt innovative and transformative technology. Yet, its power to transform the student engagement and success experience has been proven. With the help of thought leaders in industry and education, Greg discusses how the industry can help achieve the goal of ubiquity in the use of innovative student success technologies and predictive data analytics to enable unprecedented levels of student success and, as a consequence, workforce development.

Making Critical Thinking Critical

The news is full of specious reasoning, logical fallacies and cognitive biases. In other words, there is a lack of critical thinking. Most colleges and some high schools offer courses in critical thinking. If those terms are unfamiliar, you probably haven't taught (or taken) a class in critical thinking.

What is critical thinking? There are many definitions. I have found in talking to teachers and to students that everyone seems to believe that they are using critical thinking. I suspect that most of them are not teaching or using it, or at least not as well or as consciously as they might.

For me, critical thinking is a very conscious use of certain techniques and processes. Do we use critical thinking when we make a major purchase like a car or home? You would certainly hope so, but many purchases are made, large and small, with some thought but no real critical thinking. Not all thinking is critical thinking. I would argue that most thinking is not critical thinking.

I doubt that you would get any argument in saying that one of the most desirable characteristics of school graduates is that they can think critically. Employers always list it in the top section of skills they want in new employees. But teaching critical thinking is not something that teachers are explicitly trained to do. It is just assumed that it occurs naturally in doing academic work.

Can you read and not be a critical reader? Absolutely. And there are times - vacation and leisure reading - when that is fine. I teach film and communications and there are ways to be a critical viewer, but even I don't really use all the tools when I'm just watching a sitcom on my couch.

Our curriculum often does not demand critical thinking. It often focuses on the recall of the "pedagogical content knowledge" because that is the basis for much assessment.

The next six months I will be developing a critical thinking course using OER, so I am back into my critical thinking mode. I have taught undergraduate critical thinking courses and I think they should be a requirement at that level and also in elementary, middle and high school.

I like this article that says that one problem is that "critical thinking is the Cheshire Cat of educational curricula – it is hinted at in all disciplines but appears fully formed in none. As soon as you push to see it in focus, it slips away. If you ask curriculum designers exactly how critical thinking skills are developed, the answers are often vague and unhelpful for those wanting to teach it. This is partly because of a lack of clarity about the term itself and because there are some who believe that critical thinking cannot be taught in isolation, that it can only be developed in a discipline context – after all, you have think critically about something."



AACU Critical Thinking VALUE Rubric (below) click for full pdf  

rubric


Gaming STEM in Humanities Courses

I did a presentation last month titled "Gaming STEM in Humanities Courses" at the NJEDge Faculty Best Practices Showcase

I talked about using serious games, primarily the Web Adventures series developed by Rice University, as a way to increase students’ science knowledge and to inspire science-related careers. I was interested in “gaming” these STEM programs for teaching humanities courses.

I used the Web Adventures in several courses, but I particularly liked using it in an undergraduate critical thinking course. Take a look at the slides from the presentation.





 


Is There Really a World Education Day Conference?

empty roomI am seeing an increasing number of fraud meeting and conference announcements being distributed by e-mails and posts, and articles with warnings about them.

Why would someone create a phony event? Apparently, the scam is to get academics to pay registration fees, often with the added phishing bait of offering you a speaking slot.

Adam Ruben is one academic who almost fell for a scam conference and reported it online.  He writes:

"It was a proud moment for me as a scientist. A few years ago, on a random Tuesday morning, I opened my laptop and found an email inviting me to speak at an international scientific conference in Dalian, China.
“Wow!” I thought. “Someone has heard about my work! I’ve never been to China! This will be a life-changing, career-benefiting experience!”
I was so excited that I showed my colleague at the next desk. “Look!” I said. “I’ve been invited to speak in China!”
Without saying anything, she quickly searched her own email. The result was a whole “Deleted Files” folder full of invitations for her to speak at international conferences.
“These are like junk mail,” she explained. “I get these every day. I think a lot of scientists do.”

I received the same email (from "Miranda") recently. It said it was a follow-up, but it was the first email I received.
It announced that the World Education Day-2017 (WED-2017), with a theme of “Inheritance, Innovation, Development, and Philanthropy” would be held during September 27-29, 2017 in Dalian, China.

It wasn't just an event flyer, it asked me to be "the chair/speaker for Block 1: Educational Leadership Forums: Higher Education." 

They must really respect my breadth of knowledge because Miranda said that if the suggested thematic session is not my "current focused core" then I could just "look through the whole sessions and transfer another one that fit your interest." 

So, is this a real conference?

It is hard to tell. They have a website. If you do a search, it comes up at the top of the results.  It lists speakers with impressive credentials. Does that make it any more real or legitimate?

The site is worldeduday.org (no hotlink from me - why give them more traffic).

Even if the conference is actually going to happen, you have to question the way they solicit speakers. Call for proposals? Skip that - call for acceptances.

Coding as a (second) Language

languages



There is global interest in teaching programming in schools. Initiatives that come from outside education, like Code.org, which is backed by Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, are trying to get more students learning a second (or third) language, but it's not one that is spoken. But I also see a backlash of those who say that writing code is a terrible way for humans to instruct computers and that newer technology may render programming languages "about as useful as Latin."

I support some middle ground. Teaching some coding as part of regular language study in English and world language classes.

This week I am giving a presentation at the NJEDge.Net Faculty Best Practices Showcase that I titled "Code as a (second) Language." It's not about becoming a programmer. Learning about code, like learning about grammar, is about understanding how a system of communication works below the surface.

There are several "computer science, meets humanities" programs. One is at Stanford University, which offers a new major there called CS+X  which is a middle ground between computer science and any of 14 disciplines in the humanities, including history, art, and classics. 

What are the cognitive advantages to learning a second language? Learning any system of signs, symbols and rules used to communicate improves thinking by challenging the brain to: recognize & negotiate meaning, work within structures and rules, and master different language patterns.

As a longtime language teacher - and shorter term coder - I know that code-switching (and that is the term) occurs when a speaker alternates between two or more languages, or language varieties, in the context of a single conversation. That can be done between English and French, but also between English and Java. 

Whether you are working in a traditional language class or a programming class, memorizing rules and learning new vocabulary strengthens overall memory. Multilingual people are better at remembering lists or sequences. Language study & coding forces a focus on knowing important information & excluding extraneous information. We have all heard and read beautiful” and elegant language, such as in a Shakespeare play or great poem, but programmers and mathematicians also talk about beautiful and elegant code and equations.

logoThe conference this week is about STEAM -- STEM plus the arts, including language arts.

Engineering and other STEM subjects are appealing to students in part because they often include hands-on, real-world applications. Many students also feel that these majors lead to better job prospects. Of course, learning to think like an engineer could be useful no matter what students decide to pursue. An increasing number of high schools offer introduction to engineering courses that are project-based, an inquiry-centered. 

There is a Code as a Second Language National Initiative that brings tech professionals and software engineers into schools to introduce students to coding in classes, but also in after-school sessions and events like coding jams. 

This is all great, but my interest here is bring the coding found in STEM courses into languages classes. 

How is a programming language comparable to a spoken language?

My idea is not without precedents. Natural language processing looks at syntax, semantics and models of language analysis, interpretation & generation. Human language technology continues to grow. On a large scale, products like Google and other search tools and Apple's Siri and speech drive commercial uses. The field of computational linguistics is one that grew out of early machine translation efforts and generated mechanized linguistic theories.

There are many programming languages we might use, depending on the grade level and applications. Although JAVA is the most popular programming language, and the AP computer science exam uses a Java subset, it is more than many students will have time to learn. There are coding options that I have written about here for using simpler languages (such as SCRATCH) and tools to aid in writing programs

Although Java might not be the coolest language to use these days, you can do many things with it - including tapping into the current interest by young people for Minecraft. Using mods for Minecraft makes Java more beginner-friendly.  

Language teachers can work with STEM teachers, especially in K-12 schools, to show students the connections between concepts like syntax and help bridge student knowledge of the two fields and also understand commonalties in communications.





The 2016 NJEDge.Net Faculty Best Practices Showcase is a venue to showcase faculty work, work-in-progress or posters to the New Jersey Higher Ed and K-12 communities. Registration and Information on the presentations at NJEDge.net/activities/facultyshowcase/2016/

View the "Coding as a (second) Language" slides via Slideshare by Kenneth Ronkowitz