These days, I am back in Tucson and it is around 100F here; however, thanks to monsoon, heat becomes more tolerable, if not humid, though.
Of course, after a considerable length of time of not being able to post on my blog, I will not be allocating all of my post to weather and my summer holiday back in Turkey; instead, I would like to introduce a very tech-friendly journal supported by the University Libraries at the University of Arizona. I thought it would be a good idea to briefly mention this new journal since I know there are a lot of students and researchers at every level out there who wish to publish their research and spread their word.
Issues and Trends in Educational Technology is a peer-reviewed open access journal that covers the theory, design, development and assessment of educational technology. It is supported by the University Libraries and uses the Open Journal Systems platform.
Issues and Trends in Educational Technology(ITET) covers design, development, use and assessment of educational technology in innovative ways, and features articles about research and theory as well as book, serious game and article reviews. The journal takes full advantage of its nature as an online publication, and authors are encouraged to submit material that would be unsuited for traditional print publication, such as video, high-resolution color images, software, and interactive data visualizations.
What I like most about this journal and what makes it more tech-friendly in addition to the things above is the fact that ITET publishes articles as they are ready, twice a year. That means there is no need to wait for a specific day for the journal to come out in print or to be published online, which makes it really flexible.
One of the missions of ITET is to provide access to exemplary graduate student work. We highly encourage submission of distinguished student papers (course projects, papers written as part of a graduate coursework, grants, etc.). Graduate student work is presented in a separate section of the journal, with a distinct and clearly-articulated review process.
Then, if you are a student or a researcher who is looking for a peer-reviewed journal that covers design, development, use and assessment of educational technology in innovative ways, and features articles about research and theory as well as book, serious game and article reviews, I am sure ITET must be the right place for you. You can still visit ITET’s website or write to the editors for further information.
Thank you for reading this post.
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For the first time in my academic life, I am taking a fully-online course in this spring semester, and I should state that it is so good so far with all the projects with strict deadlines, meticulous organization/ design and also online conferences using Blackboard. At this point prior to my actual post, I firstly want to shortly mention a simple award system applied by our instructor, Christopher Johnson. As an instructor who used Moodle and similar OLE tools, I know that it is really open to lots of goofs and little mistakes related to deadlines, days, or else. Dr. Johnson, at the beginning of this course, informed us that he would give extra credits provided that we spot some goofs anywhere possible. At that point, I thought this is really effective since (1) students might read everything in detail to spot some mistakes and (2) enjoy extra credits while learning about this course in detail. This is really effective considering the fact that participants of online course might not be as motivated as students in face-to-face classrooms to keep track of everything.
In fact, there are so many other things I (will) have about these courses here and below is my response to a task to introduce a source of insightful talks and briefly reflect on them. As a keen supporter of Ken Robinson, I would happily like to share this assignment, some other videos and my response as well. All the videos are really awesome and they are striking in the sense that they provoke real thought and give a very radical perspective to the self about today’s education system. I hope you will enjoy watching them and reading my response. Thank you for reading
Steps to Completion
The following videos spark ideas and make me think. Watch the videos and then post an answer to the question below in the On Creativity discussion forum. The videos above come from the TED talks. If you are not familiar with the TED talks, I highly recommend them.
Simple question, but I am looking for depth in your answer. I expect something beyond “I liked the videos.”
Let us know what ideas, thoughts, or feelings each talk sparked for you. Do you agree or disagree with everyone or agree with some but not others. How do their ideas play out in your own teaching experience. While there are no wrong answers, they should demonstrate that you have watched and thought about what was said.
Finally, which of the videos impacted you the most – either positively or negatively?
The second part of this assignment is also fairly simple, but again I am looking for depth of thought.
Based on ideas from the videos or your other research, think about an existing instructional activity. How might you modify the activity to allow students to learn how to be creative and/or express creativity. I am looking for a brief couple of paragraphs. The first should discuss the existing activity and the next how you would change it. I am not looking for a formal lesson plan, just a discussion.
Also, if you are in K-12 [with the emphasis on standardized testing] or teaching a class bound where the instructional activity is pre-programed for you, I know that changing the actual activity may be difficult. However, I believe we can, and must, increase the chances that students learn how to be creative. So don’t limit yourself.
After watching the video, write a short reflection on what you will do to keep your self creative and innovative.
All three videos are really thought provoking and also striking in the sense that, in our current education system, we seem to be so much focused on standardizing our learners with all those tests and information load that we ignore the need for divergent thinking or being ‘childish’. In the first video, Ken Robinson, who is actually a person of admiration in terms of his radical ideas and talks, emphasized the extraordinary capacities of children that are squandered through education. I totally agree with him at that point and the proof toward this is the talk by Adora Svitak who very competently expresses what adults can learn from kids and very well justifies why the former should try harder and admit to the fact that kids will be smarter and more able so that progress happens in our world. Back to the first video by Robinson, it is also striking to note that we do not grow into creativity but grow out of it or educate out of it. One best support for this fact is another video, about which I published a post on my personal blog. This video tells that the current education system was created in 19th century to serve to industrialization and manpower of various sectors. Therefore, the students at every phase of education seems to be batched like 2012, 2013 graduates with certain capabilities and knowledge which have been highly standardized, and out of which creativity has been mostly trimmed. Ken Robinson in another talk mentions how such an important talent as ‘divergent thinking’ which is a little different from creativity dies through ages and the biggest factor for this is how we have been standardized through education. Even ADHD, which is regarded as a problem of not being able concentrate well, might be one of the possible consequences of such an education system where learners are forced to concentrate on the blackboard while they have some many other attractive things around. In this respect, integrating what they might enjoy or benefit more into our lessons could be an effective step toward attracting our students, but it might be a sort of reform activity which is in fact, as Robinson tells us in his other video, not desirable since it is aimed to improve a broken model.
There are some more striking facts mentioned and emphasized in these videos, but I am just going to list a few more of them within the limitations of this writing. Ken Robinson tells us the students who started school in the year of 2006 will be retiring in 2065. While it is even difficult to project what might happen in a 5-year period, it is ridiculous to expect our schools established a few hundred years ago to empower learners with the knowledge and skills that will help them create and innovate things of the far future. In this respect, although the examples might sound exceptional, a few of the biggest innovators in our age such as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates or else do not have really bright educational or academic background. Reading Job’s biography, I know that he had a personality similar to the kid depiction of Adora Svitak who tells us that we kids aren’t hampered as much when it comes to thinking about reasons why not to do things and kids can be full of inspiring aspirations and hopeful thinking.
From all these sentences, it should not be understood that we need to eradicate all academic institutions and seize the day. What I aim to emphasize in light of all these inspiring videos is that we need to give enough thought to the big picture of education and reflect much on what we are already doing with the power in our hands as educators or simply adults. We should not be struggling to standardize them through tests and other stuff. For this situation, the Finnish case can give some ideas to reflect more. Through this Finnish case link, you can access to 3 more videos showing a BBC report on the success of Finland in education. In fact, there is no need to be pessimistic; I am sure and I know there are also creativity, innovation, divergent thinking, art, literature, real-life things going on in our classes around the world. As Robinson states, KIPP is a good example for this. What we should do might be to think, which we need a lot in teaching in this technologic era. As far as I have seen on TED’s website, there are so many reviews under Robinson’s videos saying that how one could be optimistic while teachers are really low-paid and so many other problems exist. On the other hand, I believe that there are so many other success stories like a teacher in Turkey who spent most of his salary to establish a divergent classroom environment to promote quality education. One might think it is ‘childish’, but, as stated by Adora Svitak, ‘the traits the word childish addresses are seen so often in adults that we should abolish this age-discriminatory word when it comes to criticizing behavior associated with irresponsibility and irrational thinking’ and ‘who is to say that certain types of irrational thinking aren’t exactly what the world needs?’
There are so many activities out there or in textbooks and learning materials that could actually be done in a different way so that they are more constructive, reflective, cooperative, authentic, goal-directed, and so more meaningful. For example, in an existing activity about ‘travel’ in of the textbooks I used for my language classes, students are expected to choose one of a total of 4 options of text giving information about different holiday resorts. Afterwards, students are expected to come up with some reasons why they have chosen that specific place and suggest it to their friends by using ‘modal’ verbs. Regarding this activity it does not seem that meaningful since it is not first of all authentic, giving some set of options that may not appeal to students. It has a bit of being cooperative, but students are not expected to work in groups at first, and later they may not listen to each other while their friends are stating their reasons. What’s more, it is not that reflective at all since there is only a total of 4 options with some set budgets and so. Finally, there is not a successful and effective integration of various learning styles and tools appealing to different senses and individual differences.
In order to make this activity more meaningful and even foster creativity, I think it could be done in the form of a webquest which guides students to use unlimited sources on the Internet, reflect on advantages and disadvantages of all of them, reach authentic information on the web just like other people do in real-life situations, collaborate with their groups and create some kind of presentations using a variety of multimedia tools. The webquest I am proposing to use can be accessed through this link: http://www.u.arizona.edu/~mpolat/webquest/wqindex.html
First, students are introduced to the task and visit different real ‘travel’ websites to come up with an itinerary by reflecting on different options of their choice. Later on they are expected to present it in front of their friends and try to sell this package by also enriching it with multimedia tools like videos. By re-designing the activity in this way, students would learn and practice the same grammar forms and travel-related vocabulary items, but totally in a different way which provides students with more freedom, authenticity, reflection, action, meaning and creativity. In order to achieve this in my classrooms, what I do is to put myself into my students’ shoes and think how they could learn the things they are supposed to do in a real-life situation and more fun way.
All these videos I have watched for this task have been an eye-opener for me and this last one is no exception. At first, I was amazed by the bank example which implies that we continue to do our mistakes without paying enough attention to reason, logic, and meaningfulness. We know that there are problems and they are going to exist in the future as well, but it does not seem that we do our best to prevent these problems. There are reasons for this. One of the first reasons might be the fact that even educators today take their professions as others by forgetting the fact that we deal with human beings, little humans that will replace us in the future and take over what we are assigned to do today. Then, being an educator is a job in which we need to be well aware of the fact that ownership and dedication are really important things. For instance, instead of complaining about the weaknesses of an activity that we will do in class, and thinking about our salary in our bank accounts, we need to spend the whole night, if possible, to redesign that specific activity so that it could be more meaningful and engaging for our students. Especially, in language learning, tasks which are not meaningful, which do not reflect real-life situations, or which do not foster creativity exist a lot in textbooks and everywhere. These tasks are really superficial, call for rote-memorization, are mechanic and etc. Instead of taking all these and using them as they are, I personally, for the sake of creativity, put myself into my students’ shoes as best as I can; think about what they might like, enjoy and how they learn things. Then, I try to redesign activities and a whole class accordingly as much as I can of course because there are sometimes so much for a teacher to do that one needs to manage time carefully. Therefore, I have this idea that changing something really tiny, creating one single activity that really fosters creative and meaningful learning, and that could give me an idea about what I could do to appeal my students might be sometimes more than enough since this change we have to do is not an overnight thing. However, we should always be aware of this need and the fact that we need to compensate for the mistakes and, as Geoffrey Canada says, failures that have been existing for a considerable length of time.
I was planning this post toward the end of the Fall semester when I was dealing with lots of papers and assignments in a very hectic way, but I have just created some time to write this post and give information about the program I am studying at. In my following blog posts, I also would like to give information about the university and the city as well. This is my first blog post in 2014, and I hope I might write quite more often to update about me, life in the States, and educational technology especially in language learning. Alright then, here is my reflections about my previous semester and SLAT from my perspective.
SLAT, Second Language Acquisition and Teaching, is one of a few interdisciplinary PhD programs at the University of Arizona. First of all, I do not know any other better decisions than the one to create a program in the field of language acquisition and teaching, which includes a total of 17 departments around the whole university. In fact, it is a program which does not belong to any faculty, but it is supported by many faculties. Before coming to Tucson, Arizona and starting this program, I frankly did not have much idea about this program in spite of all the comprehensive information provided on the SLAT website –handbooks, course lists, descriptions and etc. In other words, I can say that I discovered that had not known enough by the time I arrived in town and started figuring about it. In order to make it easy to follow, I am just going to list the things I discovered which might give my readers to have at least an idea about especially if they are interested in seeking a PhD degree in a related field. These are just some of things I have personally experienced and discovered so far:
1. When I read these lines on SLAT website ‘The SLAT doctoral program is an interdisciplinary program with 79 faculty members located in 17 collaborating departments.’, they were just some promotional words and sentences for me. However, while making up my mind about the courses I could take at the beginning of semester, I noticed that I could take tens of courses depending on interest and aims. Of course, there are core courses that you have to take, too, but even for those courses there are a lot of alternatives. For example, I took a ‘qualitative research’ course from Higher Education department, and at first I thought that what is going to be taught would be irrelevant to my study topics, but the course gave me a really good perspective about planning higher education programs and showed me a bigger picture of university education. To my surprise, I also discovered that though they might be from different departments, most instructors and even students know SLAT program very well. In this course, I had the chance to practice qualitative research methods directly related to my study topic and introduced what I was studying to others from different departments.
2. As the area of SLAT is relatively huge, it has also successfully been divided into different areas which you can study based on your interests and future aims. Mainly, there are areas such as Pedagogy, Use, Analysis, and Processes which could be supported by various minor programs like Educational technology or any justifiable ones. It should not be understood that the areas are clearly separated and you have to forget the others when you choose one. In contrast, it is a fact that all these areas are related and you can shape your study in an integrative way as well.
3. So far, I have mentioned several facts and information most of which could be found on various sites or reference booklets; however, you need to be part of SLAT program to be able to see how all SLATsters are united with various social and academic events. For example, during the fall semester, we had the chance to gather through various events such as Welcome party, SLAT buddy party, Halloween party, Thanksgiving day and US SLATsters welcoming international students and etc. Not to mention how everybody is incredibly welcoming, friendly, and helpful when you need to ask, learn or request something. Last but not least, SLAT is hosting SLAT Roundtable 2014 event which is an academic seminar supported by plenary speakers and participants from not only UofA but other national colleges. All these organizations are done by students who come together, brainstorm, make decisions during SLATSA meetings. All in all, rather than just a PhD program in which everybody is taking courses toward their degrees and studies, SLAT is a platform where everybody including instructors, administrators, and students support each other for a better end.
I hope I have illustrated a bit of a bigger picture of my experience so far. I have mentioned a lot about SLAT program and this has been enough for a blog post, I think, since I do not want to bore you. At my earliest convenience and whenever I can find time, I would like to write about University of Arizona from an international Fulbrighter’s perspective in the States, and also about the city of which most of my citizens or people living in other countries might not have an idea.
Thank you for your time reading and sharing your ideas!