The MOOCs Explorer

When Not to Use Technology: 15 Things That Should Stay Simple In Education

An Article By Saga Briggs

Most of us know better than to use technology for technology’s sake. The Shiny New Tech Syndrome is taking the world by storm, and with the added pressure of finding new ways to improve educational outcomes, we try our best not to be tempted. But there are some things–certain methods, activities, and tools–we still assume can be enhanced with a little computational flair, when really, if we stopped to question ourselves, we’d find them best delivered the old-fashioned way.

The benefits of integrating technology into learning are extremely well-supported, and range from increased motivation to enhanced cognition. Experts and non-experts alike have seen blended learning enhance students’ communication skills, digital fluency, engagement, independence, critical thinking, and comprehension in general. You’ll find extensive scientific support for blended learning with a simple Google search.

One study, conducted at Canterbury Christ Church University in the UK, provides an example of this kind of support. Over a two-year period, researchers collected over 300 student opinions on blended learning based on its use in audio lecures, seminars, discussion boards, and wikis. Students found the blended learning approach very flexible and, in many cases, preferable to traditional face-to-face instruction.

They cited flexibility and support, motivation and idea-sharing, interaction and explanation of ideas, communication and teamwork, and project leadership skills as benefits.

In another study, researchers at the University of Colorado-Boulder measured the impact of multimedia technology on project-based learning. In completing the projects, which were built around real-world problems, some students used a variety of technological tools, including video cameras, digital editing, and Web authoring tools. Students who used the tools were found to be more collaborative and vocal within their project groups. They also scored higher on communication and audience awareness, presentation and design, and content comprehension. Teachers, meanwhile, found themselves more likely to serve as a facilitator or coach, rather than a lecturer, when their students used the technology.

There are countless studies confirming the educational benefits of technology in learning, and they represent student bodies across the world in a variety of disciplines. But what happens when technology is mis-used in education?

Learning From Computers vs Learning With Technology

If we’re going to integrate technology into education successfully, we need to understand the difference between learning “from computers” and learning “with technology.” When students learn “from computers,” the computers essentially serve as information delivery systems. In this capacity, technology simply presents a student with basic knowledge. Learning “with technology,” by contrast, means using technology as a tool that can be applied to a variety of goals in the learning process. The point is, educational technology has advanced far beyond what can easily be measured by standardised tests, and if we do not take advantage of this fact, then we are doing our students a disservice.

But there are barriers to adopting this kind of attitude. Typical issues include conservative teaching practices, lack of teacher training, not enough instructional preparation time, and inadequate access to educational software and hardware in general.

A study surveyed 60 Australian teachers and found that, even when teachers had technical skills, they were reluctant to implement technology into their lessons. Teachers were not convinced of the benefits of computers in education, and supported very limited roles of technology in learning.

Much of this appears to lead back to the “learning from” versus “learning with” distinction.

In a survey 2,170 U.S. school teachers, two groups of teachers emerged. The first group believed that computers are “tools that students use in collecting, analysing, and presenting information,” while the second group believed computers are “teaching machines that can be used to present information, give immediate reinforcement, and track student progress.” The beliefs and instructional practices of a further 4,083 middle and high schools teachers were examined, with the finding that teachers who viewed computers as tools rather than teaching machines were more likely to use technology in their lessons.

The sooner we all realise how valuable technology can be as learning tool, the sooner we will see a positive return on our investment.

“Technology must be used for a practical purpose,” says Ben McNeely, a student at North Carolina State University. “That is, taking the fundamentals and technology learned over a semester and applying it to a final project, where creativity and uniqueness is required and rewarded.”

Using technology for practical purpose, and not for the sake of using technology, must be the clear objective. Mastering the functions of the latest apps and gadgets is not an educational achievement in and of itself. What matters is not how many tools a student knows to operate, but how well she uses them to enhance her understanding of the world.

When Not to Use Technology

  1. When it creates harmful shortcuts.

Some math teachers ban calculators, thinking students will use them to solve basic problems they should be able to solve on their own. Some English teachers don’t allow Spell Check. Edtech presents us with a similar challenge: If we give every student an iPad from the age of 5, will they ever learn to use an actual library? Will they develop healthy imaginations? Exercise all five senses on a regular basis? This is something to watch out for.

  1. When it undermines deep learning.

Experts have found that educational technology is most powerful when used as a tool for problem solving, conceptual development, and critical thinking. But if integrated inappropriately, it can backfire in a way that undermines all three skills. Be sure you are using technology to enhance the way students think, not just the way they memorise facts.

  1. When it undermines basic learning.

Technology may in fact be quite intuitive for today’s younger generations, but it shouldn’t replace the basic skills our society values. Take the calculator example again, for instance. Even in our technologically advanced age, it’s not socially acceptable to have to whip our your iPhone to calculate a time zone difference of, say, five hours. We still need those basic skills.

  1. When it decreases interaction.

At its best, technology is an incredible social tool, connecting people around the world. But it can also reduce the chances of interaction and the learning experiences that come with it. When you can look up the right answer on Google, you don’t get to benefit from hearing a friend suggest the wrong answer, or hearing a teacher discuss why it’s the wrong answer. Humans should learn from one another, not just from computers.

  1. When it reduces the chance of failure.

This is a big one. Mistakes create learning experiences. Without a struggle, we oftentimes end up with shallow learning and false confidence. Don’t use technology to create perfect students.

  1. When the appeal is purely aesthetic.

Don’t fall into the trap of the Shiny New Tech Syndrome. Just remember: If it looks better, it doesn’t necessarily promise more effective learning, and it doesn’t necessarily align with your curriculum goals.

  1. When it contributes to information overload.

Part of technology’s educational appeal is that it allows students to learn more, faster. But it’s worth stopping to ask ourselves whether or not this is true. Information overload will always limit learning, no matter how much information we are exposed to and how many tools we have to process it. Do not assume your students will be able to take longer tests just because they are encountering a greater volume of information.

  1. When you don’t have the time to integrate it.

If you’re not going to integrate it correctly and fully, don’t integrate it at all. Believe it or not, the way you implement technology into your lessons is just as important as the decision to do so.

  1. When it doesn’t support connecting and sharing.

Don’t have your students blog if you’re not going to let them publish what they write. If they can’t share it, it’s not blogging–it’s learning to type.

  1. When it doesn’t teach students about technology.

I remember playing Number Munchers in primary school. It was a stimulating relief from worksheet-style multiplication tables, but it didn’t teach me a thing about computers. There’s so much to learn nowadays in the form of coding, design tools, and advanced gamification–why wouldn’t you kill two birds with one stone?

  1. When students have already mastered the task.

Multi-modal learning is undoubtedly one of the strongest types of learning, but avoid scenarios in which you’re not adding anything to the experience by incorporating technology. Does your French class really need to be studying the vocab they’ve already learned with virtual flashcards? Sounds like a waste of time to me.

  1. When it hampers communication.

Don’t get me wrong–studies have shown that technology seriously enhances communication. Anonymous discussion boards do wonders for shy students. What I’m getting at is the fact that

  1. When it limits self-expression.

Sounds impossible considering all the creative possibilities technology affords, right? Well, think again. Some of the world’s best writers, artists, scientists, and thinkers produce their finest work with the simplest tools. Don’t let technological inspiration replace real world inspiration.

  1. When it can’t illustrate a concept.

Sometimes it’s just more effective to illustrate a concept using the raw materials around you. Plus, environment is important: students remember where they learned something, which helps them remember the thing itself. A computer screen is not a memorable environment.

  1. When technology isn’t relevant.

What! Technology not relevant? How can it be possible? It’s very possible. Don’t make your students present projects using Power Point if they can illustrate their topic more creatively (and accurately) with a mini-field trip on school grounds, or a scientific experiment, or an old-fashioned Sharpie sketch. Let them use whatever method of presentation is most effective, and save the technology lesson for when it counts.

“The fact is that education has already been automated,” says Temple University educator Jordan Shapiro. “Tests, quizzes, textbooks, and Powerpoints are all products of a technological way of knowing the world. They are all ways of objectifying knowledge. My enthusiasm for edtech stems from a hope that it will teach us to handle technological ways of knowing more efficiently and interactively, using gadgets and devices.

However, this is only an advantage if it means that teachers can get back to what they do best: educating instead of disseminating and assessing.”

About The Author

Saga BriggsSaga has built her writing and editing career at Tin House Books (Portland, OR), Night Owls Press (San Francisco), and Dancing Moon Press (Newport, OR). Along the way, writing education and education reform have become two of her primary interests.

Saga has taught and tutored writing at the elementary, secondary, and post-secondary levels, and has researched and written extensively about cognitive models of writing pedagogy. She earned a B.A. in Creative Writing from Oberlin College and lives in Portland, OR.

You can find her on Google+ or @sagamilena.

This featured article is originally published by the author on informED and is reproduced here with the express permission of the author. I would like to express my gratitude to both, Saga and informED for allowing me to share this wonderfully insightful article on Rajiv’s Motivation Zone.


#EDCMOOC ROCKS! – Sunset Observer #38, by Whitney Farmer – Un Pop Culture

#EDCMOOC ROCKS! – Sunset Observer #38, by Whitney Farmer – Un Pop Culture | @MDWorld

Edinburgh_blog@farmer_whitney (Twitter/FLICKR) or farmerwhitney (Instagram) and Facebook

#edcmooc #edcmooc3 #iLoveGypsies

Note: The University of Edinburgh’s MOOC “Digital Cultures and E-Learning” begins on Sunday night, midnight GMT. The course is FREE and open to ALL. To register or for more information, go to:

Once upon a time last week, a man told me that – if I break his heart – he will write a blog.

Drop the bone…back away…

He also told me, “U talk 2 much.”


When we were young and were ‘crushing’, we would dial the phone number of the radio station 13KYNO-Fresno and ask the DJ John Wallace to play a song dedication. Then we would drag the phone by its 16 foot cord into the closet off of the living room and wait for the Beloved to call.

Now we click through a YouTube hyperlink on Messenger or Viber, or click ‘like’ on an electronic image of a bouquet of flowers. Hearts pound when a smartphone gives the distinct alerts letting it be known that a text is being read by the Beloved at THAT EXACT MOMENT, and when the Beloved responds with a consenting emoji.

It is clear that living happily ever after now is more likely to happen with mastery of the use of social media platforms.

It also gets a boost if there is fluency in the languages of digital culture, if spoken as a native born into that village where everyone drives a Prius but forgets to bathe. It is a world wherein LOL has broken hearts because senders mistakenly assume it means “Lots of Love” and write “I can’t wait to see you…LOL”.

This is a world wherein mommies must learn from their children, rather than texting them “WTF!” when informed about a great grade in Chemistry and assuming that they just told a child “Why That’s Fantastic!”

When I first spent time in the Gypsy camp in Royan and then in Le Gua, I noticed that the Bright Young Things all had smartphones. Those who would be designated as illiterate in an academic setting were able to navigate better than me as they would log on to the wifi at McDonalds. They would hold Le Big Mac in one hand while notifying friends what were the coordinates of their encampment where they could be found for the next two weeks. Pop culture news would be downloaded while selfies emulating the good life would be uploaded. In a population that lacks access to formal education, literacy and other critical skill sets are acquired as a consequence of being a teenager. The push into education instead becomes a pull into learning as this next generation tries to understand the world beyond the sunflower fields where they are encamped.

Last year, I took a crash course from the University of Edinburgh called “E-Learning and Digital Cultures”, affectionately as #edcmooc.  For me, I felt like Helen Keller when she suddenly knew that ‘water’ was symbolized by the shapes that Annie Sullivan formed into her hand. I was one of 21,000, but I was grateful to contribute my data point to the Milky Way sample of a cluster. I was there for the purest reasons: I sought knowledge, and I didn’t want to look stupid anymore when I talked with teenagers.

This year, the #edcmooc team asked if I could be one of their Community Teaching Assistants for the class that goes live online on Sunday, sometime Greenwich Mean Time. I gave them the obvious answer: “THANK YOU, JESUS!”

Now my goal is to try and help others learn what #edcmooc taught me. Maybe I will be able to help be a part of establishing school without walls within the global Gypsy/Sinti/Traveler/Roma community…or education in areas oppressed by terror organizations like ISIL or Boko Haram which invariably have declared war on education and target groups when students gather together to learn…or help launch a startup for digital delivery of curriculae to support homeschool efforts worldwide…

Or perhaps, if successful, at the end of it all I will understand what in the world this particular guy is trying to tell me…

Quote of the Blog, from Sage Frances: “The rich get richer until the poor get educated…”  courtesy of Ezra Herbert at the Verizon Store in Huntington Beach, California, U.S.A., who helped me when I dropped my smartphone in the toilet.

Picture of Edinburgh, forwarded during class last year by Dr. Hamish Macleod of the University of Edinburgh to the #edcmooc community via Twitter.

For the archive of my previous Un Pop Culture blogs, click here:


The failure of Udacity: lessons on quality for future MOOCs

The below article is republished from The Conversation, and is reproduced without any edits.

The Conversation


The failure of Udacity: lessons on quality for future MOOCs

By Jason Lodge, Griffith University

The promise was simple, but the idea couldn’t have been bigger.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) would make courses from Harvard and MIT available free to anyone with an internet connection. The world’s poor would finally have access to the same education as American ivy league students, while traditional fee paying higher education would go the way of relics like CDs and sailing ships.

Massive open online education provider Udacity was one of those promising such change. In the past, Udacity’s founder Sebastian Thrun claimed MOOCs would spell the end of the conventional higher education model and transform access to knowledge.

Despite the big promises, retention rates in Udacity courses have been abysmal and those that did make it through were already those with bachelor degrees. Now Udacity has decided to charge money for their certified courses, leaving behind their claims of free quality higher education for all.

As leading technology-enhanced learning expert George Siemens described it:

[Thrun] promised us a bright future of open learning. He delivered to us something along the lines of a 1990s corporate e-learning program.

Even Thrun himself has now admitted that Udacity is “a lousy product”.

So where did it all go wrong for Thrun and Udacity? And why, when it comes to online education, did we ignore education experts, and listen to Silicon Valley instead?

A cheaper, faster education

Ultimately, the outcome of higher learning cannot be made cheaper and faster any more than you can expect to improve physical fitness if you cut corners at the gym.

While there are myriad products and services claiming a fast, cheap route to fitness, nothing is as effective as time and/or intensity pumping iron or going on the treadmill.

Similarly, if students don’t put in the right kind of work, with the right guidance and expend sufficient cognitive effort, they will not see results.

The fundamental understanding of quality online learning in higher education was mostly lost or ignored in the MOOC hype. Unlike the invention of online music stores or the steam-powered ship, the journey is just as important as the destination when it comes to learning. The ultimate aim of higher (as opposed to vocational) education is to transform student thinking and ways of being.

Getting there faster and cheaper short-changes everyone.

If we cannot give graduates the solid critical and creative thinking skills they need, they will be ill-equipped to deal with the immensely complex economic, social and environmental problems we face in the coming decades.

Where was the research?

An extensive history of research in education and the learning sciences tells us about the best ways of learning and teaching. Yet the voices of the thousands of eminent scholars in these fields have been largely drowned out.

Instead economists and innovation gurus like Harvard’s Clayton Christensen and technology advocates like Thrun have dominated the online education headlines.

Despite the enthusiasm of MOOC advocates, the quality of the learning experience in many (but by no means all) MOOCs is dubious. Watching videos of lectures and answering multiple-choice questions is hardly cutting edge pedagogy. But despite this, these kinds of MOOCs have been allowed to flourish with great fanfare.

The reason we have found ourselves here is partly due to the paradigm shift that seems to be occurring in education. There is growing tension between the science of learning and the art of teaching.

While practice-based and theoretical understanding of teaching have thrived and become the dominant paradigms in educational research, the learning sciences, such as psychological science, are increasingly encroaching on the classroom after being virtually absent for decades.

When medicine went through a similar paradigm shift, we saw merchants selling snake oil. Now in this new education shift, we’re seeing such dubious innovations as “brain training”.

The uncertainty around the best form of evidence for educational innovation is allowing pre-packaged solutions to education problems to prosper with little evidence to support their effectiveness.

Lessons for Udacity

The key to providing quality higher education in the digital age lies somewhere in between the technology devotees, educational researchers, teachers, developers and learning scientists.

Sound, evidence-based innovation is not to be found in the provocations of the likes of Thrun or Christensen alone. The business model does not operate in isolation from the quality of the service.

It would appear that despite their exceptional expertise in their disciplines, few of the loudest voices touting MOOCs are qualified or experienced in learning theory or educational technology. This includes Thrun and Christensen, who have no formal qualifications in education or the learning sciences.

A quest to innovate higher education resting solely on reducing time and cost dismisses the required cognitive effort and support needed to transform students’ fundamental thinking patterns. To develop the knowledge and skills to function effectively as a professional or scientist requires quality guidance, time and genuine effort.

Attempting to disrupt higher education in a way that undermines any of these factors is to devalue what it means to have a “higher” education.

There are good reasons why quality higher education costs as much as it does; a lesson that Udacity seems to be learning only now.

Jason Lodge does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.

25 Ways to Institute Passion-Based Learning in the Classroom

An Article By Saga Briggs

“When students are motivated to learn, they naturally acquire the skills they need to get the work done.” Sir Ken Robinson

Common sense tells us that students are more likely to learn if they are motivated by and engaged with the curriculum or project at hand. Now, hard science is telling us the same thing.

When students are passionately engaged in their learning – when they are mesmerized by their learning environment or activities – there are myriad responses in their brains making connections and building schema that simply would not occur without that passion or emotion.

Much of what we ask kids to memorize has little emotional charge to it. Emotions can significantly alter the creation and recall of memories. People are better at remembering information that is emotionally charged rather than information that is neutral or flat.

But aside from influencing emotion, passionate engagement can empower students to feel in control of their own learning. Whether you are talking about passion, inspiring passion, cultivating passion, or thinking passionately about your own interests, you can be the one to revolutionize learning.

On that note, here are a few ways to incite passion in your own students:

  1. Share your own passions with your students. Passion is contagious. You aren’t likely to ignite the excitement of learning in your students if you aren’t excited yourself. Take time to share what makes you passionate about a specific topic.
  2. Indulge in your own passions when you are outside of the classroom. Whatever your personal hobby is outside the classroom – whether it’s yoga, cooking, music, or gardening – be sure to make time for it. The energy you put into something you love outside the classroom will find its way into to your lessons.
  3. Let students share their passions. It is important to let students pursue their own passions individually, but it is equally important to let them share their passions with others. Especially in the absence of feedback or judgment, the act of sharing something personally fulfilling enhances your excitement for it and motivates you to share it further.
  4. Introduce students to resources that help them exercise their passions. If a student seems especially interested in art, ask her to see you after class and present her with a list of resources – books, gallery websites, virtual lessons, etc – that she might explore in her free time at home.
  5. Help students find others who share the same passion. It is one thing to share your passion with a marginally interested classmate, but it is something entirely different – and enormously powerful – to share it with someone who reciprocates that passion. Not only does it confirm that your passion is valued; it confirms that you, as a person, are valued. This is an especially useful tactic in a middle school setting, where, for students, fitting in can be an even higher priority than learning.
  6. Connect students’ passions to real-world scenarios. While students are preparing for their class-wide robotics competition, show them videos of engineering projects from universities and institutes across the world. Emphasize the real-life significance of machines that are built to help people, whether in life-threatening medical situations or in the kitchen at home.
  7. Divorce practicality from the picture. While highlighting the practical value of a student’s passion can be all it takes to keep that student interested for the long haul, sometimes it is best to let the passion flourish within the student organically, without much outside influence. Use your best judgment to decide what sort of support each student needs and when.
  8. Trust that hard work follows naturally from passion. Students can certainly get distracted and carried away by their passions, and at times it is entirely appropriate to redirect them to the lesson at hand, but have faith that, as Sir Ken Robinson said, “When students are motivated to learn, they naturally acquire the skills they need to get the work done.”
  9. Value all passions equally. Try not to let any bias creep into the picture when it comes to student passions. Though you may harbor a secret fondness for the student who pores over Shakespeare during your 7th grade reading period, encourage the student who brings a fly-fishing guide to class as well.
  10. Let students take control. When students believe they are in control of their own learning, they value it twice as much as they would otherwise. Allow twenty minutes for students to design their own school schedules – complete with periods devoted to video games and basketball, if they want – and see what interests you can identify and incorporate into your lessons.
  11. Learn how to recognize passion in momentary obsessions. Some students may seem interested in anything and everything, flitting from one topic to another, one day to the next. While interest in something is certainly better than interest in nothing at all, see what patterns you can recognize over time. Are your student’s interests all visual in nature? Is she simply trying to be different, reaching for the opposite of whatever topic is of current interest to the rest of the class? Chances are there’s a constant to her inconsistency.
  12. Get to know a student’s passions through his parents and friends. Some students have trouble opening up and revealing their passions in class. See what you can learn from parents, friends, and former teachers about a student’s personal interests. (Check out our guide to working with parents here.)
  13. Surround your students with passionate people. Call in guest speakers and show your class videos of people doing what they love. Even if a student isn’t particularly interested in the topic, he will appreciate the enthusiasm and see that it’s okay to express it openly.
  14. Allow for students’ passions to develop and change. When your star math student decides to take advanced French instead of participate in the Math Bowl Competition, support her through and through. Express your faith in her value as a person, not just as a talented mathematician.
  15. Help connect students to a new subject through an existing passion. Be proactive when it comes to student interests. This may mean taking the time to talk to your math student’s art teacher when that student proceeds to doodle all period long in algebra, rather than announcing that art has no place in the math room. See what you can do to use your students’ individual passions to get your own subject across to them.
  16. Show students how learning about seemingly unrelated topics can help them learn more about their passion. The power of interdisciplinary learning should not be underestimated. The best way to help reinforce a student’s passion is to show her that it can be applied to and enriched by multiple subjects. Not only will this help her confirm the significance of her passion; it will prove to her that previously unfamiliar and uninteresting subjects actually do have value.
  17. Set aside time to let passions flourish. When strict adherence to time tables makes it virtually impossible to set aside time for anything extra, it’s understandable that passions often go unrecognized in the classroom. Just remember what’s truly most important to you when it comes to the individual student, and stick by that.
  18. Help students create something with their passions. A passion unpracticed is better than no passion at all, but a passion that yields results makes a student feel confident, accomplished, and smart.
  19. Weave standards into passion-based learning. One way to cover all your responsibilities as an educator is to incorporate assessment standards into passion-based learning, or vice versa. This tactic deserves an entire article to itself, but suffice it to say that it can be done.
  20. Become comfortable with the word “passion”. Be prepared to talk about passion openly with students, parents, and other teachers. Be ready to define it, defend its place in the classroom, and help others throw all negative connotations of self-serving, reckless abandon out the window!
  21. Let yourself be inspired by other impassioned educators. Watch TED Talks, speak with other educators about passion’s place in the classroom, join an online forum to discuss techniques and share stories.
  22. Understand what passion means for students of different age levels. Younger students require less direction when it comes to passion, since they can’t be expected to have the maturity of focus that older students have. For younger students, aim wide; for older students, aim deep.
  23. Understand what passion means for students with different backgrounds. While some students may have no trouble understanding what passion is, others may feel uncomfortable with the concept. Recognize that some students may have been raised by passionate parents and others may have been discouraged to do much self-reflecting.
  24. Understand where passions come from. For some students, passion may be a way to hide from negative events at home or at school. For others, it may be a way to connect with a friend or to please a parent. Wherever the interest comes from, understanding its origins will help you to direct its growth.
  25. Connect passions with intelligence, not talent. When a student creates an outstanding watercolor painting for the annual art show, don’t just make him feel talented; make him feel smart. Say, “You have a keen eye for detail” or, “You really know how to paint!” This makes the student feel that the skill is in his control, something he earned because of his intelligence, not because of some God-given talent. It is a confidence he will take with him into other subjects as well.

About The Author

saga briggs picSaga has built her writing and editing career at Tin House Books (Portland, OR), Night Owls Press (San Francisco), and Dancing Moon Press (Newport, OR). Along the way, writing education and education reform have become two of her primary interests.

Saga has taught and tutored writing at the elementary, secondary, and post-secondary levels, and has researched and written extensively about cognitive models of writing pedagogy. She earned a B.A. in Creative Writing from Oberlin College and lives in Portland, OR.

You can find her on Google+ or @sagamilena.


This featured article is originally published by the author on informED and is reproduced here with the express permission of Open Colleges / informED and the author. I would like to express my gratitude to both, Saga and informED for allowing me to share this wonderfully insightful article on Rajiv’s Motivation Zone.


%d bloggers like this: