The impact of tech on how instructors teach and how students learn

April 3, 2018

Use of tech cover.jpgI am thrilled to share a new book chapter that’s just been published. The chapter is, “The impact of technology on how instructors teach and how students learn”. It part of, The Use of Technology in Teaching and Learning, edited by Richard Harnish, K. Robert Bridges, David N. Sattler, Margaret L. Signorella and Michael Munson. It is published by the Society for the Teaching of Psychology. (I know, I know, I’m not a psychologist, but the topic fits with one of my areas of interest.)

In this chapter I talk about how technology is impacting educators in terms of their pedagogical knowledge and classroom practice, as well as how tech impacts how students learn.

One of the best things about this book is that is freely available online! You can download your own copy from: https://teachpsych.org/ebooks/useoftech

In fact, the publishers have an entire collection of free books that anyone can download on topics ranging from academic advising to research on teaching, among others. Check them out here: https://teachpsych.org/ebooks/index.php

On a personal note, I have to say that I really appreciate contributing to works that are Open Access, so readers from anywhere can download, read and enjoy. There’s much to be said for this kind of publishing model and as a writer and a scholar, being able to share my work in this way is energizing.

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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the Werklund School of Education or the University of Calgary.


Starting the School Year with Beginner’s Mind

September 2, 2017

celloA couple of months ago I took on the role of Interim Associate Dean, Teaching and Learning, for a six-month term. It has been an exciting time, with lots to learn and many new people to meet. I have been eager, but have learned already that some days there is a fine line between eagerness and exhaustion.

I have taken time to connect with leaders and administrators who have more experience in similar positions, to have coffee and ask for advice on how to succeed in the role. Without exception, their advice has included having a way to release stress and focus on something besides work.

This weekend I took their advice to heart, and in doing so, brought a decades-old dream come to life. When I was a child, like many of my classmates, I had the option to take music lessons. I immediately knew which instrument I wanted to study: the cello. My mother’s response was, “No, it’s too big and you’re too clumsy. I can’t afford to replace it if you break it. You can play the violin.”

So, for the next three or four years, I played the violin. I didn’t really like it. The neighbours didn’t appreciate it. The family cat certainly didn’t enjoy it. I puttered along for a few years, until my violin teacher discovered that, unlike my classmates, I had never learned how to read music. I learned by watching and listening. I learned to turn the pages of the music when everyone else did, but I had no idea what the notes on the page actually meant. In other words, I faked it. And I got away with it. To a point. I played well enough, learned mostly be ear and by watching others, but I never really excelled. After about four years, we started getting into symphony music and I crumbled. I just couldn’t keep up. When my teacher discovered my lack of literacy skills when it came to reading music and scolded me, I felt so embarrassed and ashamed that I gave up entirely. I handed in my violin and never took music lessons again.

Until now. Almost forty years later, I have returned to that childhood dream of learning to play the cello. This weekend, I rented a cello and signed myself up for regular weekly lessons. I have taken the cello out of its case to try it and see if any of the skills I had as a mediocre childhood violinist would transfer. As far as I can see, the answer is: hardly at all. I feel comfortable with the instrument, but it does not feel natural. I have tried bowing the strings a bit and it sounds bad. Interestingly, it does not sound as horrendous as I expected, but perhaps that is because I have memories of the high-pitched e-string on the violin. The deeper notes of the cello somehow seem less offensive.

I have decided to start my school year with Beginner’s Mind. This is a Zen concept which “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

Beginners must also be patient with themselves as they learn and to accept where they are, while they strive to build mastery.

I will endeavour to practice my work as a new administrator and my learning as a novice student of music with a Beginner’s Mind. After over two decades as a teacher, it is easy for me to fall into the pattern of thinking and acting like an expert with my students. By putting myself in the position of being a novice learner, I will be reminded of what it is like not to know; to be excited one moment and frustrated the next; to be disciplined enough to practice even after a long day; to breathe and to learn to relax in order to learn better.

This time, I will not fake it. I will be humble enough to tell my teacher that I do not know how to read music and I will try, little by little, to learn in earnest, rather than merely cope. I will admit when I do not know something, rather than try to mask my lack of knowledge in order to fit in.

My goal for this academic year is to relish in the delights and drawbacks of being a beginner, and allow that mindset to help me become a better teacher. And yes, this time I intend to actually learn how to read music, too.

Related post: 7 tips for teachers to survive the school year http://wp.me/pNAh3-gz

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This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


Designing Synchronous Online Interactions and Discussions

May 17, 2016

IDEAS 2016: Designing for InnovationA few weeks ago I co-presented a session at the University of Calgary’s IDEAS 2016 conference. This year the theme was “Designing for Innovation”. My colleagues, Barb Brown and Meadow Schroeder and I presented on how to effectively design synchronous sessions for e-learning.

The three of us are all award-winning educators, and each has her own approach to how we design and deliver real-time sessions via Adobe Connect in our classes. We offered ideas and tips on what we do and how we do it. Our paper has been included in the conference proceedings, which have just been released. Here’s a link to our paper:

Brown, B., Schroeder, M., & Eaton, S.E. (2016, May). Designing Synchronous Online Interactions and Discussions. In M. Takeuchi, A.P. Preciado Babb, & J. Lock. IDEAS 2016: Designing for Innovation Selected Proceedings. Paper presented at IDEAS 2016: Designing for Innovation, Calgary, Canada (pg 51-60). Calgary, Canada: Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary. Available from: http://hdl.handle.net/1880/51209

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This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


10 Tips for Succeeding in Virtual Teams

March 27, 2014

Almost all of the online courses I teach involve group work of some kind. Some groups thrive in their virtual teams and others fail miserably. After observing what works and what does not, here are ten tips to those who are new to online collaborative projects:

  1. Give one another the benefit of the doubt.
  2. Be kind to each other. Point out one another’s strengths.
  3. Refrain from commenting on each other’s weaknesses.
  4. When in doubt, assume good intentions. Tone is very difficult to “hear” in online communications. If you find yourself miffed or offended, take a step back. Are you sure that you are not making an assumption about the other person’s intention? Then ask yourself, “Is this really the hill I want to die on?” Forgiveness is important in virtual teams.
  5. Focus on supporting each other through the process.  No one gets left behind and if there’s an assigned leader, that person doesn’t forge too far ahead. Instead, keep the group together and moving forward.It’s a journey and your job is to make it up the mountain together.
  6. Be flexible with one another. Scheduling can be especially challenging in an online context. Change up the meeting times to accommodate people from different time zones. Don’t expect the same person to always get up at 2:00 a.m. for a meeting.
  7. Ask what you can do to help or what others need most from you. Don’t assume that your virtual team mates know your strengths.
  8. Avoid writing frustrations down and sharing them. If you need to work out issues, find a way to talk about it (e.g. Skype or phone).
  9. Sometimes you are right and sometimes you are wrong. It’s not about being right or wrong. It’s about working together.
  10. Everyone is responsible for making back-ups of the work along the way. If one person’s system crashes, they get a virus or their laptop is stolen, the other members of the team all have copies of the back-ups. Using online storage such as Dropbox or Google drive is a great idea, but it’s not the only idea. Back everything up.

Working in virtual teams can be challenging, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it. With a bit of patience, common sense and a good sense of humour, you’ll be surprised how much you can achieve in a virtual team.

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


“Math Wrath”: Are parents pushing for a return to tradition?

January 13, 2014

Recently, Canada’s national newspaper, the Globe and Mail, published, “Math wrath: Parents and teachers demanding a return to basic skills.” The article talks about a movement by some Canadian educators and parents to put greater emphasis on developing concrete math skills such as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division and less focus on discovery and creative strategies.

I find myself fascinated by this debate. I have long wondered about “creative strategies” in education. At the very beginning of my teaching career I took the Gregorc learning styles test. I came out perfectly balanced between all four quadrants: concrete, abstract, random and sequential. Apparently, that’s not particularly common. What it means though is that I can see and appreciate a variety of different learning styles.

Over the past 20 years or so (about the length of my teaching career), I have noted a distinct shift away from concrete sequential learning. Order, logic, learning to follow directions and getting facts seem to have diminished in value, while experimentation, risk taking, using intuition, problem-solving, learning to work in teams and focusing on this issues at hand all seem to fit with the creative learning strategies that have become popular in recent decades.

There has been a notable shift away from valuing sequential learning, structure, learning to follow precise directions and memorizing. In decades past, educational structures and systems may have favoured the concrete sequential learner. Today’s educational systems favour a more random or exploratory approach.

The debate has become almost vicious in some educational circles. Those who favor teaching methods that are concrete and sequential have been poo-poo’ed or dismissed by colleagues who insist vehemently on the random nouveau. I have known colleagues who have been quietly yet unapologetically exited from their teaching jobs because they continue to insist that their students follow directions, do activities in a particular order or memorize.

I worry a bit about the defiant horror expressed by some educational experts and parents at the idea of memorizing. While I agree that rote learning may not employ the highest levels of our cognition, memorization has its place. Learning to say, “Please” and “Thank you” are largely memorized behaviours. Learning to stop at a red light and drive on a green light is also a memorized response. Memorizing how to do CPR could save someone’s life.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I believe that we need to go back to the days of corporal punishment for an incorrect answer based on memorization. What has always puzzled me though, is how quickly methodological fashions change in education. When a new way of learning or teaching is introduced, old ways seem to be immediately, unequivocally and vehemently dismissed. Really good teachers whose background are more traditional than fashionable are thrown out along with their teaching methods.

Do we need to take a step back and look at models that integrate and value a variety of approaches? Would it be wise to hesitate… just a little bit… before we denounce traditional methods as being heinous and abhorrent, with only newer and more fashionable ones as being worthy?

I wonder if the obsessive focus on creativity, exploration and problem-solving might be doing some harm that we can not yet predict? Perhaps a small dose of memorization, learning to follow specific directions and learning systematically might be helpful?

Personally, I give both children and adults more credit than some educators or policy makers who insist on a singular approach to learning, regardless of whether it is systematic memorization or exploratory problem-solving. Being the utterly complex and capable creatures humans are, surely we can cope with both memorization and developing creativity simultaneously?

It’s the drastic swings of the policy pendulum that should worry us. The unflinching insistence that exploratory methods are the only legitimate or credible ways of learning should make us nervous. Polarized and uncompromising opinions on the singular “best” way to learn should be considered suspect.

There is almost always more than one “right” way to learn.

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Update – January 2018 – This blog has had over 1.8 million views thanks to readers like you. If you enjoyed this post, please “like” it or share it on social media. Thanks!

Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.


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