about better teachers or better learners

Earlier this week George Siemens tweeted:

Naturally, this spawned all sorts of conversation by scholars across various disciplines. This led a colleague to ask my thoughts about this, with the following 4-question framing:

  • Is a question like this helpful in education?
  • What does it mean to be a better teacher?
  • How does one help students become better learners?
  • Would this question get answered differently depending on where it is asked?

So, I’ve been thinking…

Is a question like this helpful in education?

I think the question can be helpful if it is a jumping off point to recognize and acknowledge that some of the things we have been doing in schooling may not be helping either teachers or learners. Teachers struggle to engage learners with course content, materials, and with their fellow learners. Further, many school environments are poorly equipped to meet the changing demands of learners or the needs for ongoing professional development for many teachers. So teachers need to become better teachers, but to do that their environments need to first be better.

This question can also be helpful in probing learners responsibility to their learning. So much of adult learning theory emphasizes the importance of self-drive and how important it is to motivation for learners to be invested in their learning. I think that in earlier developmental learning stages we- school/society/parents/communities- can help learners better appreciate the importance of they investing in and caring about their own learning. Schooling and learning continue to be experienced by early learners as something they “have” to do. This positioning as a “have to,” and the ways that schooling presents the learning opportunities, sometimes strips learning of factors that make the experiences motivating to learners.

What does it mean to be a better teacher?

Teachers have an impossible job. They not only need to know about subject matter, teaching, and everything they learned in their preparation, they also need to keep current and even ahead of changes in teaching thought and the contexts of their learners. All of this is just so they can be a good teacher, in order for them to be better…What would that even be?

One way I do think it means to be a better teacher is to really think about your teaching practice beyond and separate from your learning experience. Many teachers teach how they were taught, and many didn’t always have great models. In higher education, we know that prior to their first faculty appointment many instructors have not had much teaching experience. So what it means to be a good teacher and then become better, in higher ed, is an even bigger ask. I think that the current contexts of learning with the integration of various technologies, and emerging thought about learning in technology rich environments means that teachers have to share in the learning experience with students and open themselves up to learning about being teachers and how to do their work in these new contexts. I think this would help make for better teachers.

How does one help students become better learners?

Under-girding this entire conversation is the idea that learning environments become better. I think that in order to help students become become better learners, schooling needs to be better at listening to learners, recognizing their interests, and become better at making connections between course content and learner contexts. This is only a first step. To help students become better learners, we- society- need to encourage the idea that so much learning happens beyond school environments and formal contexts. Students have access to so many tools and so much information- all the time- that to relegate when learning happens to the limited contexts of school and formal spaces really does a disservice to learners ability get more and make more out of learning opportunities.

When I got my first smart phone, the idea of internet on my phone seemed like an entertainment extravagance. Getting a phone with internet changed how I watched television and made me a more informed viewer. Now as I watched my favorite shows, I could fact check historical events and persons referenced. Learning became a part of my entertainment experience because I had the tools and also the self-drive to learn and become more informed within my context. As an educator and an adult, one might argue that I am predisposed to learning outside of formal environments. I would also argue that my previous learning environments have encouraged me to learn whenever I am, and whatever I am doing. Becoming a better learner, in my opinion, is recognizing that learning needs to happen everywhere and everywhere is a learning environment.

Would this question get answered differently depending on where it is asked?

To this I want to say no, and yes. I believe all of these things hold true across contexts and my responses hold up where ever. The thing I would add is about the latter part of Siemens’ query- which would I prioritize. In certain contexts, helping students become better learners when their learning environments and teachers are not prepared or equipped to manage and support these learners would be counterproductive. For example, in many African societies, helping students become better learners- to take ownership over their learning, be self-driven, and extend learning beyond formal settings- would be ill-fitting to their environments that are steeped in traditions of direct instruction and rote demonstration of information retention. In these environments I think it would be most beneficial to teach teachers to be better teachers. Teachers in these environments need to learn to extend their influence by releasing some of their control. Teaching is not or cannot continue to be about making students memorize and reproduce. Rather, teachers need to be able think about their learners and the contexts in which the learners live. Teachers need to think about the world their learners live in and prepare them for coming changes. Teaching in the ways they were taught will not be a great help to learners.

If we are successful at teaching teachers to become better teachers, they can create learning experiences that can help students become better learners.

about tools

I am always in need of a place to house online learning tools. I also need practice on writings stuff. Just writing stuff. So in this space I am combining these efforts and creating a tool post where I’ll link tools…(it’s really so they don’t stay an open browser tab)

OBS Studio– Open Broadcaster Software. Free and open source software for video recording and live streaming. Here is an example from Alec Couros on using it with Zoom.

about being special

                                                        (photo credit: aarif_foto)

Recently a colleague was voicing some frustrations. He works in an environment where most people he works with are some sort of expert. He finds himself frustrated when folks he works with don’t know things that he considers to be “basic”.

So I asked him if he thinks he is special.

“No. Do you think you’re special?”

I told him I believe there is no one more special than I am. My specialness is something I get to share with other people. If I don’t believe I am special, I wouldn’t really expect anyone else to think I am either.

I reminded him that no one he works with knows the things that he knows, or knows them the way he knows them. He has access to certain knowledge and understanding of things that his other colleagues do not.

Working in academic environments with academics who are more regularly recognized for what they know, we sometimes forget that our knowledge, and how we apply it, is special.  We are special.

Realizing one’s specialness is a problem of becoming. Once you realize that you are special, you can become anything.

I told my friend, be special.

about online shared spaces


When I was in high school we had a snack bar and a lounge called the fishbowl. These were public spaces but generally understood to be student lounges or congregating areas. There were also spaces right outside of the teacher’s offices, the “outer offices”. Students might be found in these spaces waiting to meet or get help from teachers. These weren’t exactly the teacher offices, but they also weren’t classrooms. So between hallways and stairwells, the outer offices, the snack bar, the fishbowl, etc. there were many spaces within the learning environment where teachers and students interacted, and each of those interactions potentially impacted the learning experience.

Now with technologies impacting the formal and informal ways and spaces where students learn, I’ve been thinking a lot about connected learning and how connected learning looked for me as a student in the late 90’s through my undergraduate years. Many of the things in my real world that grounded classroom learnings made their way into conversation with peers and teachers, and many times these conversations happened outside of formal learning spaces, but within the informal spaces inside of the learning environment.

Connected learning is espoused to help learners create and have more authentic experiences because learners are able to weave and interconnect their real worlds with classroom materials etc. I wonder, though, where do students and teachers interact informally, and maybe even accidentally, online? If there aren’t many spaces, or any spaces, where students and instructors interact online in natural and authentic ways…as they might do in the hallway, in school lounges, in outer offices, or across the campus quad, where do those connections the students are making in online spaces connecting to the online spaces teachers visit and reside?

about the Green Schools Conference & Expo

IMG_9570For the past several years my colleagues and I have been working with secondary environmental science teachers on developing curriculum materials which integrate learning technologies and inquiry-based learning models in science education.

I was very proud this past week to accompany a pair of these teachers to the national Green Schools Conference & Expo to showcase how their learners use mobile and digital technologies to investigate and report on environmental issues in their communities.

Cheers Gents, I am very proud of the work we’ve been doing together!

about being a Visiting Scholar

MTUposter 1I was invited this past week by the Department of Cognitive and Learning Sciences and the Center for Teaching and Learning at Michigan Technological University to offer a series of lectures, workshops, and forums on the use of social media in learning experiences and on academic presences in online spaces.

I gave a talk to the  Applied Cognitive Science and Human Factors Forum about Taking Presence Online. Juxtaposing the notions of Native-Immigrant with  Visitor-Resident I invited the participants to consider different ways they are resident online, how they participate in those spaces, and how they might identify and honour different types of engagement in online spaces.

I offered a workshop for faculty and graduate assistant instructors on Social Media use in Learning Experiences in which I showcased my integration of tools like  Flipgrid, Vidku, and Blogger to engage learners in rich immersive learning by reflecting, reacting, and responding to content within their respective learning and living contexts.

It was also an incredible honour to be the featured speaker during the Visiting Women & Minority Lecturer/Scholar Series Luncheon. I advocate a shifting of the discussion towards a Visitor – Resident paradigm of thinking about  the ways we reside and participate online. Online spaces afford us the opportunity to participate and engage in ways meaningful to our various roles. Networked Scholarship broadly describes the activities of scholars within online networks. Connected Learning offers a perspective for linking online networks and ways of knowing to construct meaning.  In my talk I offer a bridging of these frameworks as a way to embed learners within authentic and emerging contexts.

This experience was a tremendous privileged and I thank my colleagues Josh and Emily for facilitating this opportunity to share my work.