Category Archives: Education

Key Takeaways from the Harvard Business School Publishing Seminar on Participant Centered Learning

In addition to my day job of helping run online learning programs at NYU-SCPS, I also am an adjunct faculty member in our division of Leadership and Human Capital Management. All of our courses use case studies to teach students how to analyze business problems.  Though I've been a victim of the case study method in graduate school, I have not taught business school case studies until about a year ago.  I have used mini-cases, and lots of scenarios, but the teaching the multi-layered case study still new to me. 

Still, I start with the notion that teaching that puts students at the center of learning is an idea I always strive to put into practice in my classes.  The Participant Centered Learning, Art and Craft of Discussion Leadership session allowed me to see how the experts conduct the in class session and prepare for it.  In the spirit of PCL, we also got to try it out.  

Photo Mar 17, 1 59 15 PM

My takeaways:

  • Preparing the process of how the discussion will unfold is as important as preparing the content. Generally, when preparing my classes, I spend more time thinking about the process than the actual content.  Our instructors view content and process as individual blades on a pair of scissors, both essential to cutting.
  • The technology was almost invisible, and instructors were adept at using it to aid our discussion.  "When used correctly, the "boards" (in this case, the most beautiful black boards I've ever seen) become like an extra instructor in the class.  In a future post, I'm going to write about how we might achieve a similar effect in an online class
  • Students bring gifts to class, but you have to be prepared to accept them.  A gift could come in the form of a question, or a mis-understanding, or an argument.  It's the instructors role to decide whether or not to accept the gift, and then direct the discussion.
  • Stick to getting through 1 big idea in an hour, but break the discussion down into smaller "blocks."  Different instructors will spend different amounts of time on different parts of a case.
  • Assess class participation *immediately* after class.  At HBS, every case based class typically has 100 students.  Still, instructors assign a grade, and usually a code to what a student's contribution was during a particular class.  
  • End class with a question about the discussion so that the conversation continues after class.

Powered chalk boards and museum quality art on the walls aside, the part of which I am most envious? That each class has 8 to 10 sections per semester, with a section leader for each. Those instructors work together to craft the discussion questions and develop a teaching plan, and then debrief to see how it worked.  That approach of co-design and development seems like a great way to develop novel approaches to a case.

I would highly recommend these workshops for anyone teaching case studies.  

Inspired Conversations on Teaching Practice at Educon 2.4

Though innovation was the theme of this year's Educon conference in Philly, for me the conference is about inspiration. Educon is a conference hosted at the Science Leadership Academy , produced for educators by educators–ranging from primary school teachers to university faculty. I sought and gained new perspectives on teaching and learning in today's hyper-connected, always-on, digital world. Why should higher education folks be interested in K-12? As Jeffery McClurken explained in his Educon summary on the Chronicle, our educational missions overlap.

The axioms of this student-centered conference provide the intellectual framework for the recap of the free flowing conversations that follow:

  • Our schools must be inquiry-driven, thoughtful and empowering for all members
  • Our schools must be about co-creating – together with our students – the 21st Century Citizen
  • Technology must serve pedagogy, not the other way around
  • Technology must enable students to research, create, communicate and collaborate
  • Learning can – and must – be networked

As the Director of Distance Learning at NYU, I'm always interesting in new experiments in online learning. I've watched with great interest about the experiments at Stanford and MIT. Though I'd read about these courses I hadn't spoken to anyone who had taken one–until Friday, when I ran into Jeff Elkner, a colleague from past Educons past . His take? He learned quite a bit from the course–the materials were of a high quality, but the format may be too self directed to be useful for everyone. Chris Walsh, the Director of Innovation for the non-profit New Tech Network , peppered Julie Cunningham, Chris Fancher, and I with questions–from what a second dream career might be, to how to invent the ideal, free-to-student school. These interactions reminded me about why I come to Educon–though the sessions are amazing, the conversations between the sessions are just as inspiring and informative.

Paul Alison, founder of the YouthVoices project walked us though a writing activity where we read and commented on student work. These students are learning to write in public and get an authentic understanding of how to connect with an audience. The theme of learning in public –which Alec Courous and Dean Shareski discussed. We discussed his experiment on how he wound up with a global youth band of guitar tutors –and how making oneself vulnerable as an educator makes you a better educator. The idea is that teachers are modeling how to be learners for students in a world where the tools we use to learn are always changing.

Educon Philly 2012


Jonathan D. Becker , Meredith Stewart , and Bud Hunt asked us what teacher research is. Every session had it's own content, but also modeled different instructional approaches. This session had a guest co-presenter, bud the teacher, joining us from Colorado. At approximately 50 participants, when we all went to collaboratively edit a google doc, we managed to break it–but that spirit of experimentation, collaboration and a willingness to fail and learn is a model in itself.

How Many Folks Can Edit?


I have had the privilege of helping co-design the online section of a Critical Thinking and Writing Course for NYU AD's Summer Academy The lead instructor, Lisa Springer and I led a conversation about the approaches we are using to teach these students online. Will Richardson joined the conversation and asked provoking questions about our approach. He wondered if the learning experience would be more compelling if the students wrote in public. Other participants suggested letting students pick their own texts. We're thinking on how we might introduce these ideas. Paul Alison offered that our students would find an audience for their writing on YouthVoices. The perception was universal that there's an audience for what our kids have to say.

Kristen Swanson, a newly minted PhD from Widener, lead a 5 minute presentation how to make better online courses –she echoed the kinds of themes that we stress in our faculty development program–an instructor being present, offering lots of feedback, and seeking out course guests. Though I've come across Carol Dweck's research on mindset, Liz Davis' 5 minute presentation made me want to revisit it. 

Were you at Educon?  What conversation most inspired you?  Have you made any changes to your teaching practice as a result?  I tinkered with providing video feedback in discussion forums instead of text to reinforce my presence in the classroom.  

I'm grateful for an inspiring, idea filled weekend.

Emerging Learning Design 2011: A Selective Recap

I attended the Emerging Learning Design 2011 Conference yesterday at Montclair State University. Here's a recap of key themes and ideas.  

Pedagogy First

Intellagirl kicked off the conference by reminding us that pedagogy comes first, technology second, and gave us a framework for assessing technologies for use in education. She urged us to tinker with new tools and understand what the creators of those tools had in mind from a design perspective and then see how those goals map to our own educational objectives.Smith-Robbins Dissertation Defense Slides

 See slide 27 here, to learn more.

Thinking of Teaching Online?  Another Take.
I wanted to hear how other folks are talking to new faculty about teaching online, so I attended Suzanne McCotter's Beginning Pedagogy for Teaching Online.  McCotter is the Associate Professor, Counseling and Educational Leadership at Montclair State University.  She said that students are ready to learn online teaching, and know how to interact.  I think a more accurate statement might be that some students are ready to learn online, but in general, I'm skeptical that generation is really an issue.  Mark Bullen sums this up well here:    Still, the idea that online teachers need to foster a sense of safety and community resonated.  I liked how she puts students in her asynchronous class in small discussion groups and then appoints a leader and someone to summarize the discussion for the larger class.  I am thinking I may give this approach a try for the research process and methodology course I'm teaching this summer.  

Mobile Transforms Teaching?
I was somewhat fearful of attending Apple's sponsored presentation on Mobile Pedagogy in today's classroom by Jon Landis, but it turned out to be one of the day's most interesting sessions.  He notes that mobile devices with high speed connections will soon outnumber desktop devices and that approximately 63 percent of college students have smart phones.  He chafes at the notion that smart phones aren't allowed in K-12 environments and are merely tolerated in higher education.  He then goes onto argue that technology is changing, or should change how we teach.  He contends current educational models, whether in k-12 or higher ed, are predicated on information scarcity.  Information is not scarce, it's abundant and therefore the educators role changes from being an information expert to a concept shepherd.  (This idea echoed Intellagirl's idea that as educators we model the practices of master learners.) His pitch goes something like this:

Content should be consumed by students outside of class.  Classes should be experiential.  When more materials are available to students and classes focus on doing and discussing instead of content dissemination that attendance goes up.  

He closed by making an ethical case for introducing innovations in education.  Landis slipped a disc 20 years ago.  A surgeon repaired it but it required a 3 inch incision and a 3 day stay in the hospital.  Some 10 years later (facts are placeholders to retell the anecdote), same surgery, 1 day in the hospital and a 1 inch incision.  A friend had the same surgery (coincidentally, so did I) just this year. 1/2 inch incision and it did not require an overnight stay.  The same doctor performed all three surgeries. If that doctor used the same tools or techniques, he would be sued for malpractice.  Why are educators allowed to use the same methods?  He argued that it's unethical to stick with the same methods.  He urged participants to pick a single thing in their teaching that's not working and see if there's a way it could be improved.  

Let's Augment Reality

NYU's Craig Kapp presented on augmented reality.  He demonstrated how symbols could be embedded in textbooks to augment and update them.  If that sounds abstract, imagine a children's book where holding the pages up could produce a 3d image on screen that kids could then interact with through the computer's web cam.  Zooburst is an augmented reality authoring environment that lets people create their and share their own books.  He also demonstrated how to use QR codes to conduct real time simple surveys in class. When you see a QR code, you see a link to the virtual world. 
In sum, we're carrying around tremendous computing power that gives us new ways of seeing, connecting and learning.  More about Craig's work on his blog.

This year's presenters were invited.  The call for presentations is scheduled for September of 2011.  I'd like us to be there to talk about online learning.  

First Reflections on Educon 2.2

Educon 2.2 is something of an un-conference.  Instead of presentations, facilitators lead conversations. The conference is hosted at the Science Leadership Academy,
a public charter school in Philadelphia, led by Chris Lehmann.  Over
500 educators from primary and secondary schools, a handful of school
administrators and higher education professionals attended.  Largely,
this group self-selects.  Many pay their own way, all give up a weekend
to be there.  It's one of the best educational gatherings that I've had
a chance to participate in.   

My head is still spinning, but
I'm going to highlight three areas:  1) the overall participatory
environment at SLA and the conference  2) Jeff Han on Multi-touch
interaction experiments and finally, 3) a conversation that I
facilitated about online teaching and learning.  

1) Students
managed all of the logistics from tech support, to checking bags to
helping people find sessions.  They also joined sessions and shared
their experiences.  That students were central to the conference
permeated all of the sessions and made the experience authentic in a
way that few conferences are. Chris Lehmann spoke about how he and his
colleagues create this community on a session he facilitated about
leadership.  I'm a bit in awe of Chris–it's great to hear about it AND
see it in action at SLA.

2) Jeff Han presented Pixel Perfect, a spin off of his "multi-touch interaction research." 

More on Jeff and his work here: 
Jeff was eager to hear from us about how we could imagine the data
visualization tool used in education.  It's worth looking at the videos
of Jeff showing how the touch screen works–but it feels like something
out of a movie, where instead of interacting through a keyboard we
manipulate data with our hands.  At a glance, one might think, oh, it's
an interactive whiteboard–but it's much, much more than that.   Many
people can be on the board at the same time, it's as sensitive as an
iPad's touch screen and it's wicked fast.  Jeff argues that we have
plenty of processing power, but that we're not making enough advances
from the interface side.  He also envisions a day when the technology
is as cheap and ubiquitous as wall paper. From an educational use
perspective, we imagined ideas for collaborative writing projects,
virtual dissections and geographic analysis, but somehow I wished that
we picked a few specific curricular contexts and started with
educational goals.  Nevertheless, it was an amazing conversation.

3) I facilitated a conversation on online teaching and learning best practices
I was struck by the deep and broad interest in online learning as a
means of both student engagement and continued professional development
for educators.  Barbara Treacy, the Director of EdTech Leaders Online
a capacity building program for K-12 organizations, among other
educators, joined in the conversation, along with other teachers who
are designing educational experiences.  Barbara posted their checklist for educators designing their own online courses  as well as basic tips for online facilitation.    Sean Musselman posted a podcast summarizing the session

I am still processing the event, but I am glad that I was able to have conversations with educators about our open Educational Technologist  opportunity, want to check out the mind map that David Warlick posted 
would like to thank all of my peers at Educon for making it such a
wonderful event, to Chris Lehmann, and the teachers, students and
parents at SLA and of course, Kristen Sosulski and the NYU-SCPS for
giving me something to talk about.