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Date Reviewed: April 15, 2020
Emerging Self-Directed Learning Strategies in the Digital Age (2018) edited by Frank Giuseffi is one of the volumes among the Advances in Educational Technologies and Instructional Design Book Series. In the preface, Giuseffi acknowledges that self-directed learning (SDL) is not a new concept. Yet, twenty-first century technology continues to transform the platforms of SDL. His desire is to highlight the importance of self-directed learning in today’s teaching-learning environment. With each chapter written by a different scholar (or group of scholars), the reader is exposed to a number of strategies useful among multiple teaching-learning platforms to foster self-directed learning with the desired outcome of promoting student success and greater teacher–student engagement.
The text is organized into eight chapters, with each chapter addressing a specific SDL platform or process. Included among the topics: online learning, an android-based mobile application for students to monitor their performance via grade point average, Massive Open Online Courses and their applicability to technical and vocational education and training in developing countries, non-mandatory employee training, the necessity of self-motivation among doctoral students to complete their dissertation (built upon Malcolm Knowles’s andragogical assumptions), cultural influences on self-directed language learning, the relationship between metacognition and knowledge transfer along with critical thinking and SDL, and teachers’ use of digitally based SDL strategies to employ essential questions to nurture the students’ critical thinking skills. While the editor’s goal may have been to provide a wide range of scenarios for the engagement of self-directed learning, chapter 4, addressing employee training and the organization’s responsibility for offering the training, seemed out of place. Job training is not germane to the discussion of SDL in the academic setting or specific teaching-learning platform or process.
All eight chapters in the text are well researched, referencing pertinent studies and pedagogical principles. Two of the chapters share specific research conducted on the phenomenon addressed. Chapter 5 (“The Intersection of Andragogy and Dissertation Writing”) outlines the mixed methods study conducted by a doctoral student exploring the dissertation completion process. Dissertation chairs and doctoral students in the dissertation-writing phase will find this chapter insightful. Chapter 8 (“Transformational Shifts of Pedagogy Through Professional Development, Essential Questions, and Self-Directed Learning”) describes a year-long case study of professional development among teachers and their use of digital technology in designing essential questions targeting critical thinking among students. Though the emphasis of the research was on the subjects of math and reading, the reader will gain information on how to use questions to help develop critical thinking skills among students.
The layout of the book lends itself to use as a reference guide. Each chapter begins with an abstract succinctly stating the purpose of the chapter and relevance to SDL. The chapters end with a concluding paragraph reiterating the thesis and main tenets shared. Finally, you will find a list of pertinent references for further study. Our goal as educators is to help our students become self-directed learners. This text will broaden your understanding of how to use today’s technology to help in this quest.
Teaching Machines: Learning from the Intersection of Education and Technology
Date Reviewed: December 1, 2015
I decided to read Bill Ferster’s Teaching Machines: Learning from the Intersection of Education and Technology the summer that I offered my first online class. Ferster’s book, while by no means a “how to,” gave me much to consider as I entered this brave new world of online education. Ferster’s book is a history of the various ways that technology has been employed in teaching. The dream that Ferster points out has always been “Fordist” in nature, a mass production dream which attempts to replace the classroom teacher with some sort of machine substitute that can deliver educational objectives with the same outcomes as a human with greater efficiency and less cost. The path, Ferster shows, has been littered with failure, not only because the goal is problematic but also because the endeavor is mired in capitalism and governmental economies. Educational technologies have been too expensive for schools and failures at making a profit.
However for those (like myself) engaged in using some form of educational technology, what is most striking about Ferster’s history is how the same problems have repeatedly vexed those applying technology to education. First and foremost is the problem of scale. How does one go significantly beyond some thirty students? Humans seem to learn by making mistakes. Figuring out where a mistake occurs and how to correct it is a complicated process that is not easily amenable to technological intervention; there are simply too many variables. Second, educational technology seems most appropriate for a rather narrow range of educational subjects: remedial math, spelling, and grammar are particularly benefited. But higher-level learning tasks like understanding a poem, writing a research paper, or engaging in art criticism (to name but a few) are outside the purview of what technology can really accomplish. Third, there has been no real change in education that technology has created; new platforms should create new ways of educating and not merely replicate the old ways in a different media. But thus far most technological solutions simply automate delivery of content in one form or another. The fact that much educational technology has no theoretical backing is related to this; there has been no clear advance in educational theory that technology can realize and often no educational theory at all has been considered in various programs and technologies. What is striking is that Ferster shows this is not just a problem with today’s online education or cloud computing; rather from the earliest attempts to apply mechanical technology to education the same issues have arisen.
What Ferster’s readable history shows, at some fundamental level, is a need to rethink the real capabilities of educational technology. Ferster is somewhat sanguine about the ability of big data and artificial intelligence to address some of the more technical roadblocks that have stymied educational technology. That said, the larger problem, which the book seems to only skirt, is that the utopian dreams of replacing the teacher with a technological facsimile significantly misunderstands the role the instructor plays in the learning process. There is at some level a connection between the instructor and the student that promotes learning, accountability, and responsibility -- which cannot be replicated by technology now and may never be. Ferster’s contribution here is to make us think about these issues in a long historical view that highlights the real problems and promises of educational technology.