Archive for November, 2009

Jane Ostrander: Scenario-based Learning and Social Media

Monday, November 30th, 2009

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First off, we hope you and your family had a happy and safe Thanksgiving!

A couple weeks back, we talked to Gordon Snyder about using social media in the classroom. This week we’re hearing another perspective from Jane Ostrander, Director of the Experimental Learning Center at De Anza College in Cupertino, Calif.

Jane is writing her dissertation about the reasons why people choose to participate in online knowledge sharing. It boils down to a cost/benefit analysis: “The potential participant must see some value in participating that outweighs whatever costs s/he anticipates will occur as a result of that participation.”

Once an online community is established, it’s vital to make sure participants have a stake in the conversation. Jane cites research showing that “a sense of either personal ownership or stewardship of the information enhanced sharing.”

Jane and her team are putting these insights to work in an online community on the educational site Tapped In. They’re using the site to explore new ways to disseminate instructional materials and lesson plans, and to develop online “wizards” to provide advice to community college instructors. Jane has also used YouTube as a way to get materials out to a wide audience without spending a lot of money – “always a concern with budget-impaired community college faculty,” she notes.

As for other social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, Ostrander thinks it’s important not to confuse tools with learning. She hopes that her fellow teachers remember the lesson from the advent of the personal computer. “Buying and networking a bunch of computers and parking them in the back of the classroom did not automatically enhance teaching and learning in that classroom,” she notes.

“Social network tools provide educators with a means to connect with and inform students, but that’s not the same thing as facilitating learning,” she says. “The interaction between teacher, student, content and environment – including the available tools – is what makes learning happen in the classroom.”

In other words, it’s not the technology but what teachers are able to do with it that makes a difference for students. That’s why she’s staying actively involved in her Tapped In community. “Essentially, our project team is driving the bus at this point, though hopefully not forever, whereas social media tools just deliver the bus and a set of keys and say, ‘Go for it; make of it what you will.’”

ATETV Episode 10: Back to Fundamentals

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

We’ve been talking a lot about big ideas in ATE on this blog: women in science and tech, social media as an educational tool, and the coming green economy. This week we’re turning to focus on two very practical and important parts of the educational experience: the math and science classes high school students need to be taking to get into ATE programs, and the internships that will help them land jobs after they complete their degrees.

But first, we profile student Matthew Kusza, who is studying environmental technology at Cape Cod Community College. Like many of our previous student profiles, Matthew turned to ATE to help him change careers. “I have four kids, and keeping busy with that and school and working to pay the bills,” he told us. “Most of the classes are at night, so that’s very supportive in terms of a work environment.”

Next we head out west to Southwestern College in San Diego, which has had fantastic success placing students in internships — and placing interns in jobs after school. “We still to this day have a hundred percent hiring rate with the industry of any intern that has completed a ten-week internship with an industry host,” explains Nouna Bakhiet, director of the school’s biotechnology program. By consulting with industry when designing their program, Southwestern is guaranteeing that students are graduating with the skills companies want and need.

Finally, we get back to basics and discuss the importance of basic math and science skills for ATE students. It’s not just that taking those classes in high school will better prepare students for ATE programs; it’s also essential for landing a job afterwards. “In our world, it’s of utmost importance that they have science and math because without that, they don’t have the technical expertise that we require,” explains Jill Heiden of South Carolina-based ESAB Welding and Cutting Products.

Math, science and internships: three fundamental building blocks of a strong ATE program and a successful career and in science and technology.

ATETV Episode 9: Women in Science

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

This week we have two stories about bringing more women into science and engineering — and one of them involves some pretty cool lasers!

First, we visit with female students and educators at Florence-Darlington Technical College in South Carolina. Many of the ATE students here are male, but administrators are making progress attracting more women. “If you can present education in a way that taps into those natural abilities of females, then they can excel in ways they never thought they could excel,” says Elaine Craft, Director of South Carolina Advanced Technological Education Center of Excellence (SC ATE) and an ATETV advisor.

In neighboring North Carolina, Central Carolina Community College is attracting female students by offering them a free education. “All females can go to school for free: free tuition, free books,” explains CCCC’s Gary Beasley. “You can’t beat that.” We profile Katie Renshaw, a student in CCCC’s lasers and photonics program where she gets to work with some amazing equipment, including a laser powerful enough to burn a block of wood!

This week, we also meet Kevin Ross, who is studying HVAC at Benjamin Franklin Technical Institute in Boston. Kevin had been out of school for 20 years before he was laid off. Now he’s studying to become a licensed HVAC technician. His story highlights the crucial role that technician education programs play in helping workers update their skills to adapt to the demands of a changing economy.

Gordon Snyder: Bringing Social Media to ATE and Education

Monday, November 16th, 2009


One of the most innovative sessions at last month’s ATE Conference in Washington, D.C., was the discussion titled “Online Impact – Tapping Twitter, Facebook and Other Tools.” The moderator of that panel, Gordon F. Snyder, Jr. shared with us more information about how educators can bring social media into the classroom.

Gordon is the Director of the National Center for Information and Communications Technologies at Springfield Technical Community College in Massachusetts. (He’s also an ATETV advisor.) He also practices what he preaches on his blog and in his Twitter feed.  Gordon told us that, when it comes to social media, students are far ahead of their teachers. “The role of social networking in education will be huge in five years,” he says. “A lot of us older faculty don’t understand it, so we don’t use it.”

Another problem is that many schools block access to social media and disallow mobile devices in the classroom. “I think it’s being done to conserve bandwidth,” he says. “As younger digital natives move into faculty positions, this will change and the use will become mainstream.”

Gordon pointed us to marketing pro Rohit Bhargava’s Five Stages of Twitter Acceptance as a possible way forward for educational uses of social media. “I think you experience these five stages with any social media application,” Gordon says. “The first step is always trying something out, with subsequent steps being about learning how to use it.”

For Gordon, Twitter has changed the way that he interacts online. “A year ago I would read something and then write a blog about it – maybe 500 or 600 words. Today I read something and tweet it with a short description and a link to the original piece.”

He’s also seen some innovative uses of Twitter in classes and presentations, including the Twitter “backchannel”: a live stream of tweets from the audience, projected on a screen behind the presenter. “Backchannels can be very interesting, allowing attendees to maintain conversations while listening to the speaker,” he says. “It also gives attendees the opportunity to question the presenter in real time without interrupting the presentation.”

Gordon is also a big fan of YouTube, calling it “a wonderful classroom resource.” “You’ll find excellent content in most science, math, engineering and technology subjects there. You’ll also find the ATETV videos there!”

Gordon’s advice for educators looking to incorporate social media into the classroom is to separate the personal and the professional – but not to worry too much if their students blend the two a bit. “Students tend to be more personal and also a little more informal. This can be good but can also quickly lead to all kinds of problems if things get out of control. Most students are pretty good about knowing where the line is and not crossing over it.”

When it comes to social media in the classroom, there’s a lot that educators can learn from their students. The trick is learning how to listen.

ATETV Episode 8: Underwater Robots, HVAC, and Online Learning

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

ATETV episode 8 is up, and this week we’re looking at how community colleges are using online courses to better meet the varied schedules and learning styles of their students. Check out our separate blog post on the subject, where we get into some of the details with Dr. Matthew Olson, Director of Online Learning at Middlesex Community College.

We also feature two very different ATE success stories. First, we go poolside at the MATE International ROV Competition, where teams of students design, build and operate underwater robots. Jill Zande, who helps organize the annual event, says that the learning is as much about teamwork as it is technical skills. “They’re challenged to apply what they’re learning in the classroom to the real world,” she tells us.

We also profile Hayden Mark, who is studying HVAC at Benjamin Franklin Technical Institute in Boston. Originally from Grenada, Hayden came to Boston three years ago. He’s studying HVAC — Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning — to provide a better life for his three (soon to be four) children. Completing his coursework will knock 2000 hours off his required apprenticeship, which means Hayden will be able to be working in his chosen field even faster.

Like what you see? Have a question or an ATE success story of your own? Comment on our blog or start a conversation in our Forum! See you next week!

Online Distance Learning: A Q&A with Dr. Matthew Olson

Monday, November 9th, 2009


We’ve discussed a lot of the advantages of community college education on this blog, from the practical, hands-on approach for learning to the smaller class sizes and affordability compared to four-year programs. But one factor we haven’t touched on yet is the convenience that community colleges afford students who are working full-time but still want to further their educations. In fact, The New York Times reported recently that much of the current community college boom is going on in classes held at odd hours — in some cases, in the middle of the night.

Another way that community colleges are catering to students schedules is by offering more classes online. In this week’s episode we discuss that trend with Matthew Olson, Director of the Middlesex Interactive Online Learning Network at Middlesex Community College.

We asked Dr. Olson some follow-up questions about online distance learning, and he was kind enough to elaborate for us.

The American Association of Community Colleges says that community colleges’ enrollment rates are booming in almost every state. To what do you attribute that, and how is online distance learning contributing to that?

It is clear that the increased enrollment rate in community colleges can be attributed to the current state of the economy. People are coming to community colleges — and all of higher education, really — in order to increase their employability in this highly competitive job market. At a community college, people can quickly gain up-to-date technical skills, and they can also get the certifications and academic degrees they might need to keep their existing jobs or move into better ones.

Online distance learning is giving people increased access to education and allowing them to take courses from times and places of their choosing and to complete programs more quickly. According to the Sloan-C report, Staying the Course: Online Education in the United States, the enrollment rate for online courses far outpaces the rest of higher education.

How is Middlesex bringing ATE learning to students? What tools are valuable to learning: Blackboard, social media, blended learning? Is there an ideal setting for distance learning?

I don’t believe there is one ideal setting for online distance learning. Effective teaching and learning can be done many ways, depending on the subject being taught, the style of the instructor and the needs of the students.

Of course, all courses rely on a Learning Management System (LMS) such as Blackboard, but new tools including social media sites like Ning and Groupsite are adding another dimension to the online learning environment. Among other things, social media can provide a forum for informal connections and peer support.

Also, many schools, including my own, are getting involved with virtual worlds such as Second Life. These 3D, interactive, virtual environments allow students a way to experience each others’ physical presence and participate in new forms of collaboration. Virtual worlds also allow students to interact with online simulations, and with people from all over the world. One of our faculty members, psychology professor Don Margulis, has posted a short YouTube video about why it is so important to use virtual worlds to engage the new kinds of learners we are now seeing.

You also mentioned blended learning. From my perspective, the future involves bringing together all the best that the specific technologies have to offer and combining them with what we know works well face-to-face. Today, online distance learning is certainly meeting an access need for our students, but future learning environments are going to need to blend virtual interaction with face-to-face contact, much the same way that many businesses do.

How do you primarily interact with the students with distance learning courses?

As I said, there are a variety of tools that can be used in online learning, but the central feature of these courses is the Learning Management System (LMS). The LMS — in our case Blackboard — provides a place on the Web for students to see course materials, including lecture notes, with embedded videos and links to other Web content.

The LMS also features a discussion board for students to post responses to questions or to critique each others’ work. People can post messages at different times of the day from different places but still communicate and collaborate with each other.

Some people think it will be an isolating experience to take an online course, when in fact, just the opposite is true. Online students must interact with each other and with the instructor on a regular basis. The learning is highly collaborative. In addition to the discussion board, students often have online access to shared whiteboards, real-time chat, and sometimes voice and videoconferencing. Students can all submit assignments and get grades and feedback through the LMS, so it is in fact a very rich experience for students and professors.

Are you encountering new types of students who can learn online and take classes on their own schedule?

I’m not sure that they are so much new types of students as students who have preferences to learn in new ways. Many of our students have jobs and family responsibilities, but that has always been true at community colleges. Online distance learning has just met a need for these folks that was already present. That is probably why community colleges are providing the majority of online instruction in higher education today.

And while undoubtedly one of the factors that brings students to online courses is that they can work on their own schedule, this does not mean that they don’t have due dates. The highly collaborative nature of the online learning environment requires students to have their work done on a set schedule. These are not independent, self-paced courses.

So students often come to online courses for the access, but I think in many cases they stay for the learning. Lots of people who take online courses find they learn well when they can take their time and focus on writing the answers to discussion questions or when they can make personal connections and apply course material to real world contexts.

Do you have a success story or a situation where you saw a student take a course through online learning which he or she wouldn’t have been able to attend on a regular schedule?

I can think of many such stories. In one case, a student had to move to England before completing her degree and was able to finish by taking courses online from London! Similarly, another student moved to California and was able to complete her degree online.

Each semester we have many cases of students who are deployed from the local Air Force base and continue their courses in Afghanistan or Iraq. We offer a number of complete degree programs online, but I think that most students would still prefer to combine online distance learning with face-to-face instruction.

The Coming Green Economy: A Q&A with ATE Conference Keynote Speaker Debra Rowe

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

One of the highlights of the recent ATE Conference was keynote speaker Debra Rowe’s presentation Education for a Green and Sustainable Future. Professor Rowe did a great job explaining the new jobs the green economy is going to create, why we need them, and how ATE programs can adapt to meet the coming demand.


Photo Credit:  MCPA

For 29 years, Professor Rowe has taught energy management and renewable energy at Oakland Community College.  She is also the president of U.S. Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development, which coordinates sustainability initiatives among business, education and government.  Among many other projects, the partnership helps educators communicate their work in green tech to the general public. Read her full bio.

We asked Dr. Rowe to elaborate on some of the ideas in her speech.

ATETV: What changes in the green tech industry during the last 5-10 years are the most exciting for you? What additional ones do you feel are on the horizon?

Debra Rowe: The recognition that there are business opportunities that will simultaneously create healthier ecosystems and economies; the awareness that our economy is presently modified to support fossil fuel use — it is so easy to hook up to a dirty coal fired power plant, but if you want solar on your house, you have to pay the whole price up front. New policies can fix that, thereby increasing clean and domestic renewable energies that will create new jobs, less pollution, and more health as well.

ATETV: How do students from Oakland Community College, and other colleges benefit from the new “green economy?”

DR: We can infuse this green and sustainability understanding into all of our degrees and certificates, and engage students in solutions that will both benefit them personally and benefit society as well.

ATETV: How has this economy changed existing career options?

DR: There are over 100 new green job classifications, and many existing careers need an infusion of green and sustainability knowledge and actions. It has expanded career options and requirements to know green and sustainability principles for many jobs.

ATETV: Why is the demand for technical graduates so high with degrees in green tech?

DR: It is high in some areas and not in other areas, but it will continue to grow. It is high because we are finally getting rid of misinformation and bad local, state and federal policies that were in the way of a green economy.

ATETV: One of the most notable references from your speech was the term “arm chair pontificator” and your call to “educate to action.” For ATETV followers that were not able to hear you in DC, what does this mean?

DR: In higher ed, we have been emphasizing critical thinking. This can produce graduates who can analyze a situation but don’t have the skills and attitudes to go into the real world and make effective change. I call these people armchair pontificators, because they go on and on about what is wrong with the world but then don’t take action. We need to teach and give students chances to practice how to be effective change agents.

ATETV: What is your related advice for them?

DR: Change the curricula to work on real-world problem solving for sustainability, teach all students about our sustainability challenges, and give them multiple opportunities to learn change-agent skills and engage in solutions by incorporating this into courses in all disciplines. Many colleges are already moving in this direction.

For more information on the new categories of green jobs, check out this PowerPoint presentation by Carolyn Teich of the American Association of Community Colleges.