When the dust settles and the smoke clears after an event as significant as EDUCAUSE, it's important to pause and reflect. Sometimes you come away from an event like this and want to change the way you do everything; other times, you leave feeling validated - that what you're doing is right on track. Whether you're an instructor who came looking for new ideas or an IT professional who came in search of solutions to a problem, the fact is, nearly every attendee shares one commonality: we all learned something. Here are a few lessons I learned (or was impressed by) at EDUCAUSE.
1) When it comes to social networks, your behavior online should mirror your behavior in the real world. A person's social network shouldn't be compartmentalized: as if there's one personality reserved for face-to-face relationships and a different one to present when online. The Internet is just an extension of the real world, and it's up to parents and teachers to model that concept to children - and it starts in the pre K-12 years. By the time a student enters college, those patterns of social behavior are pretty much set. Therefore, never post a tweet that you'll later regret. Protect your reputation at all costs, and be yourself regardless of the environment, online or otherwise.
2) Virtual worlds serve a purpose in education and can be useful for meeting some educational objectives, especially in higher ed. Before EDUCAUSE, I dismissed virtual worlds as a waste of time, inhabited by creepy, 40-something males still living in their mothers' basements; however, that view began to erode this week.
Creative instructors are leveraging the virtual world Second Life to provide students with new and interesting learning opportunities. For example, students are interacting with giant corporations, such as IBM, in a virtual environment. Why do this in a virtual world when there are real people you can interact with in the real world already? Because In the real world, students don't have this kind of high-level access to big businesses.
In an interview for EdTech magazine at EDUCAUSE, Tanya Joosten, a learning technology consultant at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, said, "It's not like you can knock on IBM's door and say, 'Hi, I'm a student working on a class project. How are you using virtual worlds in your business?'" But in Second Life, you can do just that. I liken it to a sandbox. You can make mistakes in there, learn from those mistakes and make adjustments; when it's time to have that "real" interview with that "real" person, your chances of success are higher because, theoretically, you've had some time to polish your skills in a virtual world, where the stakes are not as high. Therefore, virtual worlds provide experiences for students that could never happen in a traditional, brick-and-mortar learning environment."
3) One day, the infrastructure of learning institutions will be intelligent by design. In a recent interview, David Warlick, from The Landmark Project, suggested that in the 21st century classroom, "The walls will be smart."
When I first heard him say that, I didn't know what he meant, and I confess, I still don't know exactly what that will look like; but this week at EDUCAUSE, I began to catch a glimpse of that vision in an exclusive interview with Cameron Evans, Microsoft's national and chief technology officer for U.S. education. Evans spoke of futuristic classrooms, built to be uniquely aware - buildings and infrastructures where cameras recognize each student, the university pushing and syncing relevant information to students' wireless devices. He imagines walls that double as learning surfaces upon which students and instructors can share content and interact with one another in new and collaborative ways.
Then I demoed the Microsoft Kinect on the show floor at EDUCAUSE and learned about its advanced voice, gesture and facial recognition software. Could this technology be part of Microsoft's vision? With cameras and facial recognition software, would a teacher even have to take attendance? Furthermore, if the "room" was uniquely aware of a given student's presence, couldn't the institution push important information to that student's smartphone that is tailored to meet his or her specific needs?
Maybe you found inspiration at EDUCAUSE; perhaps you solved that nagging problem; or maybe you found an answer to a question you didn't even know you had. This week, take some time to reflect, as I have, and share what you learned with your colleagues; don't keep it to yourself. Share what you learn, either in a blog post, e-mail, or at least a tweet. When you do, you become a participant in the great conversation that is EdTech.
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