New Tutorials for Multi-user Virtual Environments

Over the next eight weeks three new tutorials will be developed  to help educators and training instructors use Multi-user virtual environments to present online instruction.  If you are interested in helping with this project, then it would be appreciated if you would take this short survey

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Successful Project Management comes out of the Pocket

At sometime in your life you will be involved in a project, it may be at home or through your work.   You will either experience great success, mediocre success or even failure with a project.  When you start the project your intention will always be to have great success, I have never known anyone who intentionally began a project with the idea of how to go about having the project fail.  However, we have all either been involved in a project or observed a project that failed to be successful.  What does it take to  make a project successful every time? Project Management, or more importantly having someone who takes the position of being the Project Manager.   It has been said that without a manager  “…. who understands how everyone’s piece must fit precisely together, in the right order to produce the final product, the orchestra (or team) is not going  to  perform well,  and the results will be poor.” (Garton &  McCullough, 2004).

In this post I will be using an example of a technology infused project that I was involved in during my high school teaching years in the 1990′s.   This  project began when I received an invitation through an Environmental Science organization that was attempting to unite students from the United States with students from Russia.  The project involved  the students discussing  their ideas about the condition of the environment in their area.  They would also discuss  what might be some possible actions that they could take to help improve the environment or raise awareness about the condition of the environment.  This was particularly interesting because it was 7 years after the Chernobyl Nuclear Reactor incident in 1986 and the students were from around that area.   Another part of this program involved the incorporation of a videoconference through the use of a cable connection that the organization was to arrange.  This was definitely considered a high tech adventure because computers were not as common place as they are today and every student did not have emails, not to mention cell phones and text messaging.  In fact, two computers were shared by the science department.

The school that I was working at had just completed a renovation and update and now had a television in each classroom that was connected to  the media center.   The primary use of this system was  to send out the morning announcements and enable educational programs and the news  to be seen by  classrooms.   Because of this capability, I was allowed to have  my students  participate in the project.  According to the organization, the teacher would need to have access to a computer for the entire year and it would be their responsibility to purchase one for the class.  Curriculum would be provided and a list of students with their teacher from Russia would be connected to us as we went through this curriculum together.  Students were expected to write to each other to introduce themselves and use the mail service.  The culmination of the project would be a simultaneous broadcasting between the schools.   The following image shows a MindMap of the organization of this project.

MindMap 1

In this map you can see how management was primarily placed on the teachers.  Because of the lack of project management involving the organization that initiated the project and other key team members,  the project was not  very successful.   More specifically, due to the inability to procure the computer and television time before the end of the school  year prohibited the culminating event from occurring.   Other difficulties involved  scheduling that did not account for the amount of time it took for the mail system to get letters back and forth to students.  In the next MindMap you will see how I reorganized the structure of the project.

MindMap 2

By using this type of organization, the project would result in a better understanding of what was needed  and indicates a better division of responsibilities that would allow for a more successful project.  Notice that scheduling  and training of teachers would be directly part of the sponsoring organization duty along with the arrangement of the broadcast time.  The project was also expanded to include the school administration to provide  funding an support for the project.

Finally, in order for any project to be successful you must have someone to take on the role of the Project manager.   A Project manager can see the whole picture,  has the ability to adjust schedules, and can assign tasks that might become necessary as a project progresses.  They can communicate with each team member to ensure that they are on task and able to provide deliverables on time, as well as, resolve any conflict or misunderstandings by a team member.   They can  control the project’s   financial end.  No project can be successful if it is not capable of having adequate funding to put it into action.  So in the overall picture, project management is critical to the success of a project and having one person as a Project manager is  a step in the right direction.

References:

Garton, C, & McCulloch, E. (2004). Fundamentals of technology project management. Lewisville, TX: MC Press Online, LP.

Going Places without Leaving Home

It is very hard to find the time to learn about the natural environment through field oriented classes.   I see the use of the online instructional module as a way of gaining the same knowledge and practical experience as if you were in the field.   These self contained learning modules can take you to places that you may not have the time or money to physically visit yourself.   They can also provide you with the ability to practice a concept or skill and receive immediate personalized feedback on the results.  Furthermore,  it can also provide tailored instruction.   According to Clark and Mayer (2008), “e-Learning is the only technology-based delivery vehicle that can make ongoing dynamic adjustments to the instructional path based on learners’ responses.”   More importantly, it can allow you  to collaborate with individuals from around the world,  something that few conventional classrooms can provide. So, why are these instructional modules an effective method of teaching? In the next few paragraphs I am going to provide you with some reasons and show you some examples from an instructional module that I have created for learning about the Wetlands.
It was my intention through the development of this module to present the learner with some basic understanding of the different kinds, locations, importance,and structure of a wetland. The first consideration was how to present the material. I used the Segmenting Principle of breaking down the material into smaller pieces. In the contents of the module you can see where there are two main bodies of information, one on Wetland Characteristics and the other on Wetland Delineation. It has been shown that students that are presented with a lot of unfamiliar terms and concepts, need to have time to consolidate the information and that can lead to overload. They just do not have the cognitive space to process all the information. This can be circumvented by breaking the subject into smaller pieces.

Segmented principle

Another way of being an effective learning tool, is by being able to present information through graphics and the written word.   When graphics and words are put within close proximity it enables a learner to easily connect written information with a visual and devote limited cognitive resources to understanding that material.    In the image below a visual has been associated with the definition of each category allowing the learner to assimilate it easily.

Multimedia Principle. In this image graphics and words were used to express the concept of Hydroperiods.

One of the most valuable ability of the online instructional module is the ability of the learner to have control over the learning.   Depending on the development of the module the learner could have control over the sequence of their learning by picking which lessons to do first.   They can also have control over the

Contiguity Principle

pace at which they learn, being able to navigate through the use of buttons and spending as much time as they would like in order to learn the material.   In this image you can see the navigational buttons placed to enable the learner to pick the direction in which they wish to proceed.

Learner Control

They can also have control over learning support by having links to other individuals, resources and relevant practice exercises that will help the learner understand the concept being presented.

Through studies done by Debowski, Wood and Bandura (2001), learners were assigned to conduct practice searches on five topics.   Those that received not just feedback, but explanatory feedback were more satisfied with their learning, did better searches, and were more confident in their learning. “Taken together, there is strong evidence for increased learning efficiency,better learning, and higher learner satisfaction from environments that provide explanatory feedback during practice.” (Clark,R. & Mayer, R., 2008)

Explanatory Feedback and Practice In this image you can see the question and the explanatory feedback that the learner received from their answer choice.

As part of the learning module,  a section is included that allows learners to review information that was covered by the material and to practice using their learning by applying it to an example.  Practice of using information that is being presented will help learners to retrieve prior knowledge and connect them with visuals and instructional words.    Through this process learning can be optimized by online instructional modules.   The use of practice that focuses on specific skills, as seen in this question where the student is asked to review that data collected and make a determination based on the new knowledge that they learned during the module.

These are just a few examples of the way that online instruction can be extremely effective in providing education. Most importantly a learner has the opportunity to utilize their cognitive abilities under controlled conditions that are suitable for learning instead of when exposed to a less than perfect learning environment.   It is extraordinary how much a learner can know about the natural environment from online instructional experiences that can be put into place when they are physically present at a location.

References:
Clark, R, & Mayer, R. (2008). e-learning and the science of instruction:proven guidelines for consumers and   designers of multimedia learning. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer. (p 23, 241)

Can a PowerPoint presentation help Learning?

I must admit that I am guilty of putting together PowerPoint presentations without a great deal of thought of if  what I am putting on those slides encourages learning.   Am I concerned with the cognitive processes that people must go through to learn the material I am presenting? Am I thinking about how my graphics are being used on the slide to assist in the presentation of effective instruction?  I may have given it a passing thought in the past but I have been awakened to my responsibility.
According to Clark and Mayer (2008),  three important cognitive processes in the model of  learning from a multimedia presentation, where multimedia means words and images or audio, involve selecting words and images,  organizing words and images,  and integrating information.  Therefore, successful learning occurs if a learner engages in processing the information from words, visuals and sounds then organizing it into a meaningful structure and finally integrating it into what they already know in order to convert it into new knowledge or skills.   Because a good presentation should try to help the learner accomplish this process,  it is extremely important for the person designing a presentation to consider and use  practices that will help to ensure that this is taking place.

Example of limiting text.

One such practice is related to the amount of information that a person can handle at one time.   Slides should take into consideration the “Seven plus or minus two”  expression.  A slide that puts too much text on a slide presents a novel to be read.   The presentation designer should never put more than seven items on a slide and should use brief bullet points.  The  image to the right  is an example of a  slide with limited text presented as bullet points.

However,  a presentation that uses nothing but slides showing short bullet points of information becomes monotonous and the learner may drift away without becoming engaged in learning .  Cognitive theory and research has led to the recommendation that graphics and words be used together in a presentation.  Graphics can mean static images or dynamic graphics,  and words may be either written or spoken.  There are six possible functions that graphics can perform when added to a slide.   A graphic can be decorative,  representational, organizational, relational, transformational and interpretive.   Decorative graphics are added for aesthetic appeal or for humor and do not add to the learning process.

Example of a representational graphic.

Representational graphics illustrate the appearance of an object and organizational graphics show qualitative relationships among content.  Relational graphics summarize quantitative relationships, transformational illustrate changes in time or over space and interpretive graphics help  make an intangible phenomena visible or concrete.    There are  five different types of content: facts, concepts, process, procedure and principle.  In developing slides that deal with the different types of content, a designer must consider how the use of graphics can aide in the delivery of a particular content.  For example, if a slide is being used to show a process it may use a graphic that illustrates the appearance of  equipment or objects in the process.  In this way the function of the graphic is  representational.

It is best to limit the use of graphics that are decorative and use graphics that are relevant to the instructional purpose.   The use of graphics that show relationships, transform procedures

Example of Interpretive graphic.

into a skill or new knowledge,  or help to interpret intangible phenomena to help make them concrete are indicative of higher order learning skills and should be used more frequently.

Here are a few more practices that will help you to make sure that you PowerPoint presentation is helping learners to construct new knowledge or learn new skills.   A designer should make sure that the slides are uncluttered.   They should use arrows to help communicate the message in a clear manner and  definitely avoid any visual element that is not necessary to communicate the information.    Finally, make sure that the presentation  includes  sources either with a graphic or at the end of your presentation.   Citation of sources always gives the information credibility and limits challenges from those that are learning.

I know that, in the future, I will be using these best practices to improve my design of  PowerPoint presentations.  This will allow me to not only make presentations that are engaging, but will enable the learner to process, organize and integrate the information.   It will be at this time that I will know that a PowerPoint presentation is helping learning to occur.

References:

Clark, R, & Mayer, R. (2008). e-learning and the science of instruction. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

Groundwire: You are Connected (2011).  PowerPoint Best Practices.  Retrieved from http://groundwire.org/resources/articles/powerpoint-best-practices.

The Pocket Scientist has a new Pocket

According to the wordnetweb the definition of pocket is ” a small pouch inside a garment for carrying small articles.” I find this to be a good analogy for this Learning platform that is being created for this website. The garment is the original WordPress website that was set up. In this garment are many pockets, the blog page, the front page, and now the Learning Management system. Each of these pockets carry numerous “small articles”.

Although I am just beginning to place articles into the depths of these pockets, I am  looking forward to what others that visit the Pocket Scientist might discover when they explore the various Pocket articles. In the new Moodle program I have been able to set up a course, including a wiki and  some fundamental information. I am still learning how to set it up so that I might offer both free courses and courses which will be available for a nominal fee. There are so many choices for course topics I am having a hard time settling down on what to place in the pocket first.

I would also like to add a section for podcasts and vodcasts, a discussion forum and a more customizedtheme. I have started looking into the Moodle site for additional plugins that might make my site more unique. Through this research I began looking at other Learning Management Systems just to see how Moodle fit into the current information. A good resource is the LMS Fieldguide found at www.astd.org/NR/rdonlyres/…3B91…/LMS_fieldguide_20091.pdf.

I have been using a Learning Management System called Switched on Schoolhouse.  This program was produced by Alpha Omega Publications and is a comprehensive Bible based curriculum that offers computer based learning for grades 3-12.  The program uses 3-D animation, videos and other forms of multimedia.  The students that I have do very well with the program and I find it extremely easy to use.

So what do I do next. First, I need to establish my login settings, my desire is to have a Front page open to anyone, but in order to see the courses you will need to login by establishing an account. I would like to use that to be able to develop an email base from which to send out notification of new course material as it comes available. All the courses will be stand alone and so will not need to have a prerequisite course.

The future purpose of the Moodle  site will be to provide science courses for three specific groups of students.  The first set of courses will be for  homeschool parents to use to enrich their children’s existing science requirements.  The second group would be   students that would like to increase their knowledge in  the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  The last group of  I would like to offer courses to would be to those lifelong learners that are interested in furthering their knowledge on specific science related topics.

References:

Ellis, Ryann, K. (2009). Field Guide to Learning Management Systems.
     Learning Circuits. American Society for Training and Development.
     Retrieved from http://www.astd.org/NR/rdonlyres/12ECDB99-3B91-403E
     -9B15-7E597444645D/23395/LMS_fieldguide_20091.pd
Learn,Anytime,Anywhere.(2010)[Image] Google images. Retrieved from www.Australia.edu.

Cloudbusting: Was it Science?

Many times we encounter science in our life in unexpected ways.  I encountered the term “cloudbusting” through listening to one of my favorite singers, Kate Bush.  After viewing the video, I was intrigued to find out exactly what cloudbusting was and if it was a really science or just a hoax.  I encourage you to watch the video first.

This video is based on a book ” A Book of Dreams” written by Peter Reich about his father in 1973.  Peter, portrayed by Kate Bush,  and  Wilhelm Reich, played by Donald Sutherland,  tells the story of the  use of a Cloudbuster and Reich’s ultimate arrest.

Wilhelm Reich was an Austrian-American psychiatrist and psychoanalyst. He was know for his radical techniques of using a form of  cosmic energy he named “orgonon”.  He used this energy first in his treatment of his patients.  However, it was the creation of the instrument, called a cloudbuster and the use of the cloudbuster to alter or augment weather that led to the ultimate arrest and imprisonment until his death in 1957.

A cloudbuster (left) is a device which consists of a series of metal tubes that can manipulate streams of orgone to produce rain.  The theory behind how cloudbusting works is based on the principle that orgone flows from a greater concentration to an area of lesser concentration.  When the pipes were grounded in water the cloudbuster would have greater orgone than in the clouds. Therefore, when pointed at the clouds the orgone would flow to the clouds and create rain.  Weather is created and affected by many different influences and is often likened to the Butterfly effect, where a flap of a butterflies wings can eventually lead to a hurricane. Unlike that analogy, cloudbusting is controlled,  not through a series of chaotic influences but through the influence of the cloudbuster operator’s mind (Montalk, Tom, 2004).

In 1942, Reich purchased 160 acres in Rangley, Maine and built a Student Laboratory.  Shortly thereafter he built the Orgone Energy Observatory which included additional laboratory facilities, Reich’s library and study and outdoor observation decks to study atmospheric orgone energy phenomena.  The scientific community was taking notice of his work.  Then in 1947 an article was written against his work and a charge was made by the Food and Drug Administration about his use of  orgone in his patient treatments.  What ensued next was a ten year long investigation by the FDA to discredit Reich in the field of medicine.  Reich then turned to other uses for his newly found source of energy.  Primarily the use of the cloudbuster to create rain. A famous story happened in Maine during a severe drought that had placed the blueberry crops in danger of being a total loss. The farmers paid Reich to use his cloudbuster. The weather department had predicted that there would be no rain for the next few days and Within a ten hours of Reich start to his “cloudbusting” a light rain fell.  The crops were saved and Reich was given credit for a two inch rainfall.

The final ending to Wilhelm Reich came after a student moved a truckload of equipment and books  against a court order.  The ensuing trial ended in both Reich and his student being incarcerated for a two-year sentence.  Reich died of heart failure eight months after his sentencing (Wilhelm Reich Museum, 2006).

Now that you have had a chance to watch this short film and to read this article, click here to take survey.  Many times  throughout history the people who arrived at some our most accepted scientific theories and laws,  were portrayed as insane and their ideas dismissed.  You can  decide what characterizes something that it is considered “scientific” and what is not by keeping an open mind and constantly testing ideas that come your way.

References:

Bush, Kate(2010, September 14). Cloudbustin [video file].  Retrieved from
     http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRHA9W-zExQ.
Montalk, Tom. (2004). Cloudbusting Resources. Montalk.net. July 20, 2004.
     Retrieved from http://montalk.net/science/73/cloudbusting-resources
Wilhelm Reich Museum. (2006). Biography. Rangeley, Maine. December
     2006.  Retrieved from http://www.wilhelmreichmuseum.org
     /biography.html#bio
Wilhelm Reich Museum image collection. Image retrieved from
     http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/9/93
    /WilhelmReichcloudbuster2.jpg.