501: Reflections on Learning

May 7, 2010 Justin Miscellaneous

For those who don’t know, I enrolled in the Masters of Educational Technology program at Boise State last January. The program is all online, and I first heard about it from a recent alumnus in my Twitter network. If you’re looking for a good ed tech grad school, I highly recommend it. Yes, I know my experience is limited to only one semester right now, but I can honestly say it’s already been a great experience.

I felt like I was getting stuck in a learning rut. For no particular reason other than being occupied with work, I’ve become a little distanced from Twitter, which used to be my #1 source of professional learning. Now, I’m glad I forced myself to start learning in an academic environment again. I needed it.

The last online course I’d taken was back in 2001, when I was an undergrad. I remember how clumsy and detached the experience was. The professor just assigned readings then posted quizzes online. If you needed help, your only option was to try emailing the teacher, and hope he responded within a week or two. If there was a class forum, it was barely used. Online courses only had the bare minimum. That was pretty much my experience.

Skip ahead 9 years. When I started my two classes for this semester, the first thing my professors did was make everyone discuss and get to know each other in the online class forums. Every week there was a new topic to talk about in the forums with the fellow learners. I even had the opportunity to lead some discussions in my Instructional Design class (I shared the “Never Lecture in Class Again” video and had a lively discussion about how using podcasting for teaching would affect the instructional design process).

Also, and maybe it’s just because now I’ve finally settled on a career working in the Technical Services Department for my school district, but everything I’ve been learning has been highly relevant. Being an IT (information technology) professional, I almost enrolled in an IT program instead of ed tech, but that would’ve been a mistake. A HUGE mistake. Nothing I would have learned would have been as relevant or as helpful to my career as what I’m learning now.

I soon realized that I’d picked the best possible online degree program that would guarantee the online courses would be phenomenal. After all, part of educational technology is realizing the best practices for using technology to address students’ unique learning needs. The instructors in the Ed Tech department are content experts in the very thing they’re doing. They know the best practices, because they’re teaching the best practices, and they’re going to use them when they teach.

In just one class — Intro to Ed Tech — I’ve learned about some important tech trends and how to identify them, a great academic research and indexing tool (Zotero), how to write a technology use plan, professional development models, a good rubric for evaluating a school or district’s technology, why technology is important in education, and a lot more. I got to learn from a motivating, vibrant professor who never hesitated to assist the students or host impromptu webinars to provide additional instruction whenever we needed help.

And in my other class — Instructional Design — holy crap! Who knew there was so much involved? If you’d asked me what instructional design was just a few months ago, I probably would’ve replied it had to do with building better PowerPoints. I have to admit, I struggled with this class. I don’t know if it had to do with not coming from a teaching background, but it was 100% new to me (I had to look up Bloom’s Taxonomy just to see what the heck it was!). There was a lot of material that was a little hard to grasp — types of learning, learning strategies, task analyses, learning theories. When I finally got around to actually writing an instructional design document, I found myself referring back to old chapters in the textbook — a lot more than I wish I had to — to review the stuff I had learned but never really clicked. It just didn’t register in my brain until I actually had to use it. There’s a huge difference between learning the definitions associated with instructional design, and actually understanding them well enough to use. I plan on doing a lot more instructional design in my career, so I expect to be referring to my notes often.

I’m looking forward to my two summer semester classes: Internet for Educators, and Theoretical Foundations of Educational Technology. BRING IT ON!!!!!


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