Friday, September 21, 2007

Collaborative professional development - flu simulations

A case-study in continuing professional development

Tools for networked collaboration and learning develop at mind-spinning rates. As much as one might want to stay on top of all the new opportunities, programmers and system developers produce too many new ways of working. The only reasonable response that I have found is to share the responsibilities among people with common interests. Designers and analysts at the Center for Teaching Learning and Technology (CTLT) use this approach. I both benefitted and contributed to the informal cooperative learning effort.

Throughout my professional life, I have found simulations to be valuable tools for learning and research. So, that is one of the areas where I explore and share with colleagues. Several years ago, I found StarLogo and NetLogo, two variants of the Logo language, that facilitate the exploration of a wide range of phenomena using an approach called agent-based modelling. My colleague, Nils Peterson wanted to anticipate the adoption rates for the new WSU portal he and others were developing. I fired up an epidemic model in NetLogo and modified it to predict how dissemination of the new technology might develop. Theron Desrosier, another designer at CTLT, saw that work, appreciated the learning he derived from the experience, and filed the idea in his long-term memory (with few details other than an association with me).

Fast forward to this week. I have been studying the National Educational Technology Standards for Students and Teachers (NETS-S, NETS-T) as part of my preparation in developing a course to help elementary teachers facilitate learning using appropriate technologies. I may need to brush up on this topic because the new standards encourage teachers to use simulations to support learning. Yesterday, Theron indicated that he too wanted to brush up on his understanding of simulations for learning. He commented on my blog post: Institutional commitment to learning via real problems:

Do you remember the name of the tool you used to play with ant movements, evolutionary change, and tragedy of the commons. I am looking for something students can use to investigate the spread of flu.

Thanks, T

He wants to help students engage with the Flu project, an institution-wide effort to integrate learning through common reading and disciplinary extensions.

I could have responded to his question by firing off and email message with the words "starlogo" and "netlogo" and a suggestion to use one or both in a Google search. That might have met his immediate need. However, I chose to respond by writing this contribution to the examples of real cooperative learning because I think it has value beyond my serving as an extension of Theron's wetware.

Notes: I first wrote this post as a real example of informal collaborative learning for our department's new exploration of a wiki as a collaborative learning and work environment. I shared the link to the wiki page with Theron in a comment on my original post in this blog. Fortunately, I tested the link from a second machine because it reminded me that in the exploration we agreed that it be private as members of the department initially learn about wikis. Since I prefer working publicly, I copied the protected post and pasted it here with relatively little effort.

In reflecting on the voice, I see that I wrote it as if it were a blog post (personal) rather than as a disembodied wiki contribution. Maybe it really belongs here rather than in the UNE Teachers wiki. I'll have to pay more attention to the differences.

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