Monday, March 30, 2009

Should you use Social Networking Tools?

In looking at my thesis research I wanted to really look at Social Networking and what were the quantifiable benefits of the tool. I was given the opportunity to work with a distance education class, which I think is perfect for the SNS community building we want to see, but I had to look a bit deeper. What in essence is the point of education? Of taking classes? What are the outcomes that we try so desperately to quantify with projects and tests? And could I look at that without examining projects and tests :)

I felt that discussion boards were the key to not only online learning, but also this creation of community. That without discussions and interactions, you may as well be a correspondence course. The more I read, the more I came to value how important peer-to-peer interactions were, and how SNS can support these so well. I felt that interviews and surveys could give me a good idea of how students felt about using a SNS, but I really wanted to look at their discussion data and see what story it told.

So I came across the work of Gunawardena, Lowe, & Anderson, (1997), (see list of references) which looks at phases of knowledge construction (IAM) in a discussion board forum. So much of what I found was, "I agree" or "You are so right," and if I looked at that as an "interaction it would count, but it really wasn't substantial. It didn't mean anything. With the IAM coding scheme I was able to really see when discussions were fruitful and meaningful. Now the initial drawback to this is that there wasn't a large difference between SNS and traditional courses, except once.

You see Week 8 was an anomaly, but not just because of the phase variation, but also because it was the ONLY discussion started by a student. Authentic discourse occurred, because students bought into the issue. Then I realized what they key to using a SNS is - it is student-centered and they can have control over their learning.

As instructors we can't teach the same way with new tools. In order to take advantage of SNS usefulness, we need to shift our thinking about what a discussion board is and what it should be. We also have to shift our students expectations of what a discussion board is and how it can be used in a online class.

Just because you use a technology doesn't mean you are utilizing it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ada Lovelace Day

Today, March 24th is Ada Lovelace Day. Born in 1815, she was one of the world's first programmers, and wrote programs for Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine. Programming until fairly recently was seen as secretarial work and was done mainly by women, it wasn't until the 70s, that a shift occurred and male programmers dominated the field. In honor of Ada Lovelace day many of us have pledged to blog about women in technology.

I am very fortunate to work at a university with so many examples. But I believe there is one person that stands out to me, Dr. Sally Berenson, a former professor at the College of Education who is now at UNCG. Her Girls on Track program, invited middle school girls to come to campus to learn about math, science, and technology. It was her belief (and mine to) that girls lose interest in science & math and are not encouraged to pursue. Her research on women in math and mathematics education is quite extraordinary, and provides an insight into the gender gap that exists in STEM fields. In fact, her GoT program became a longitudinal study looking at the effects of middle school intervention on college major. She has 15 years of data to work with, I think most of us dream about a fun study that provides such rich data, and can change lives.

Beyond that she has been an inspiration to me as someone that has found that balance between work and home life. As someone with a new family, it has been people like Sally that have inspired and encouraged me to find my own balance and to pursue the career I want. Her example has given me hope that I can achieve some modicum of what she has accomplished and not sacrifice my family in the process.

In short, I would like to be her when I grow up.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


It's funny, when I think of "defense" I have connotations of basketball drills, and running, and chants from the crowd. But this week I went through a different kind of defense, and academic one. It has been a long time coming, and I'm still not quite there, but it has been quite an experience.

I first started grad school in 1999, right after my undergrad, but we moved soon after and my life took another path for awhile. When I moved back to Raleigh, the opportunity to work at NC State came up. It was a perfect fit (I like to think for both of us), and I really started to not only see, but value what a graduate degree could be for me. I began taking classes again in the Fall of 2004 and it has taken me 5 years to complete my Masters! (I had no idea it was that long - I had to look it up). Now, primarily what added to this duration was my desire to do a thesis. I work with so many researchers, I really wanted to understand what they were talking about (my vocabulary has improved exponentially here) as well as take the steps to maybe, someday, be a professor myself.

My initial plan was to do research in the eye-tracking lab I managed. I wanted to look at the over-use of animations, words, clip art etc. in PowerPoint design. I really wanted to build on Richard Mayer's work and apply it to teachers. However, when the time came, I had switched jobs and discovered Presentation Zen - what would my study add? So, call me crazy, and many people did, I wrote an entirely differet proposal about Social networking using Ning.

Luckily, my committee was willing (espcialy since nothing had really be put in writing about it), to let me change and really supported me. I have to admit, although it was hard, it was the best decision I could have made. It allowed me to pursue something I was extensively interested in. I am also fortunate to work at a place that values my education (its good to know the College of Ed stand behind that :) and were willing to work with me on what I need to do to accomplish my goal. Not many employers would feel the same. The support of my family and friends as been exponential. When they say it takes a village to raise a child, I believe it takes a city to support a graduate degree. And now I'm hoping to give a bit more time back to the community, both on and offline, that have supportd me for so long.

So thank you all, my next few posts will be all about my COMPLETED research!

Friday, March 13, 2009

My first SITE Conference

Last week I attended my first all "research conference" SITE in Charleston, SC. Now one of my favorite things to do is present - its one of the things I'm actually good at, but I was SOOOO nervous about SITE. See, I live this weird world of limbo at my university. I work with professors all day long, but I am not "one of them." I'm support staff, and I'm perfectly happy with that designation. However, I'm also in graduate school (trying to officially qualify for my job - don't worry I was hired mid-way through my grad program and promised to stay in school so it "counts") and that makes things like this a bit weird and scary and therefore makes me nervous.

This was the first time I have presented on my research and as I'm working on my thesis - I just find so many holes (committee, please disregard that sentence for my defense on Monday). I was worried everyone would see my big gaping flaws and shoot me down in front of everyone.

Luckily, my session was sparsely attended (I was in that other building that no one could ever find), but those there were very nice and provided some great feedback. I got a chance to do a few bits of networking with others interested in my topic and felt like I was really headed in the right direction with my ideas and research. In fact, someone had done a very similar study with students in Facebook vs. mine in Ning and we reached the same conclusion.

If I pass on Monday - I'll write more about that :) But in the meantime, here is my PP. It doesn't make too much sense without my voice over - hope to add that soon.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Getting back to writing

Wordle: My Google Reader Shared Items Feed

So I have been working on my thesis in all my spare time & haven't devoted as much to my blog as I should. I have however been keeping up with my Google Reader & thought I'd make a wordle of my shared items to take stock of the blogosphere. I'm not surprised that Moodle, Technology & Learning are high frequency words. But I'm glad that so much of the Wordle content is made of learning or sharing words rather than a focus on technology.

I worry that so much of my training is tool specific - even if I don't intend it to be that way. I struggle with teaching enough about the tool that it can be used but worry I don't use enough pedagogy for effective use. My "students" come from such diverse backgrounds including subject areas and grade level that I have a hard time reaching them all.

But in the end - that's just an excuse for why I don't see technology integration in every classroom at my school. And I just need to work on new ways. Maybe its setting a foundation with tool training and moving on to more integration. Or maybe its having their fellow teachers showcase how they use a tool. I seem to try a different technique every semester and wonder what I should hold on to.

At least I have the freedom to try new things when the old ones don't work out....