I actually remember watching a series of MACOS films in 7th grade social studies. Over the course of several class periods our teacher provided both context as well as some critical troubling of the approach. Before we ever watched a film, she framed not only how we should view these films, but how we should not view them. I remember her drawing specific attention to our place as Americans and how that identity and the position it affords colors how we see things. I remember recognizing that she was speaking to us in a way that she hadn’t before. And to my recollection, that no other teacher had either. There was something in her manner and tone of voice. She was expecting something of us that we didn’t fully understand, but it was clear she felt it was important to say these things to us and that we try to get to where she was asking us to go. It felt a bit dangerous which made it both exciting and important that we get it right.
When we began watching the films, I remember sitting in our darkened classroom watching the films, jotting notes, and occasionally glancing at the classroom door to see if the principal was going to walk in and catch us learning something taboo. It’s interesting. I haven’t thought about this in decades. But in a very real way, she was providing a kind of critical theory scaffold to a bunch of 12 year olds at a time when developmentally we would be just on the cusp of being able to grasp anything as abstract as critical theory. Looking back now from my vantage point as a career educator and doctoral student, I have to give her major points for trying with 7th graders!
For the linguistically curious, “lagniappe” or “la gniappe” is Cajun French roughly meaning “a little something extra”, “a small, inexpensive gift”, “bonus”. In the market, it often took the form of a merchant adding a few extra items to an order at no charge to make the customer feel special. Ultimately, it may have come from American Spanish, la ñapa, meaning “gift” or “a little more”.)
Alors, voilà des lagniappes enseignants pour faire vous plaisir!
Lagniappe (cajun)—Le mot du jour—Forum Babel. (n.d.). Retrieved January 28, 2022, from http://projetbabel.org/forum/viewtopic.php?t=2817
Practice-Based Inquiry (PBI) is a school visit process that provides interested constituencies insight into how teaching and learning happen at a school. PBI is based on the English tradition of school inspection, by which all UK schools receiving public funds are inspected every four years. The principles of PBI were also the process by which the State of Rhode Island conducted the “state-wide, school accountability system designed to support the implementation of the Board of Regents’ strategic agenda” from 1997 until 2009 (SALT Blueprint). The process came to Chicago for the first time in 1998 through the Chicago Schools Alliance at Business and Professional People for the Public Interest (BPI). ACT Charter School requested PBI visits as a part of their charter renewals during its years of operation . Since that time, the Network for College Success (NCS) at the University of Chicago has become a PBI center, sponsoring visits as a way for its member CPS high schools to better understand learning and teaching at the school. After a visit, NCS, rather than asserting control over the school, instead offers assistance (Wilson, 1996) towards its improvement plans based on the resulting PBI report. (If you are familiar with PBI, jump to implications for connected learning and equity.)
Each 5-day PBI visit follows a rigorous protocol that lays out how the visit is conducted. Protocol guidelines determine:
The size and composition of the visit team
The conduct of team members while in the school
Focus questions that guide and limit the scope of the team’s inquiry
The nature of the evidence the team collects
The structure of the team’s written report
The process for how the report is written
Tests for each conclusion in the report
Tests of the report itself
Each team in purposefully composed for the school requesting the visit and requires a complex balancing of criteria. The protocol sets requirements regarding the number of administrators, special education teachers, grade-level and subject area teachers. Further, at least 50% of the team must be practicing teachers. On top of these requirement, NCS seeks to balance teams in regard to gender and race to match that of the student population of the visited school. Finally, each team is composed of educators currently working in or with CPS schools. After each visit, that team is disbanded. Thus, each visit is conducted with a completely new, unique team, thereby making it impossible to develop a “professionalized corps of inspectors”. While assembling a team primarily from working, school-based educators arguably makes for the most daunting logistic of any visit, nearly all team members who experience a PBI visit report that it is one of, if not the most, powerful professional learning experiences they have had.
The Focus Questions
Three nested questions provide the focus for each visit: 1) How well do students at [school name] learn? 2) How well do teachers at [school name] teach for learning? 3) How well does the administration at [school name] support teaching and learning? The nested structure of the questions with student learning at the center of the inquiry anticipates related conclusions in teaching and support. While these questions seem generic, that is, in fact, what gives the visit process and resulting report their credibility. Teams do not go into schools with rubrics and checklists. In such a context, the use of such tools are far too random and subjective and thus suggest that if teams don’t find what is on the rubric or checklist that the school must not be “good” or “effective”. Instead, team members observe the school through the frames of these questions and collect the evidence that provides answers, applying their professional judgement to that evidence to determine whether and how well students learn, teachers teach, and administrators support teaching and learning.
5 Days in the School
Team members spend their first day (Monday) shadowing a student through their full schedule to get the students’ perspective and experience being a learner at the school. Throughout the day team members observe their students’ learning in each class, talk with them as well as other students they encounter. Everything they observe throughout the day must focus on evidence of student learning and to draw on their professional judgement to determine whether and what their student learned that day. On the second day (Tuesday) team members fan out to observe every teacher in the building and collect evidence to answer how well teachers teach. In addition to observations, team members converse with teachers during their preps or lunch periods to get the teachers’ perspectives about what it is like teaching at the school as well as their thoughts about their students and administrative support for teaching. The team spends the third day (Wednesday) meeting various school constituencies. By meeting with the principal, the assistant principals, counsellors, parents, students, LSC members, community partners, security, lunch staff, the team determines how well the school supports teaching and learning. Each meeting lasts at least an hour. As a result of the Wednesday meetings, team members begin to see connections between and among the evidence they collected during their first two days in the school. The first half of the fourth day (Thursday) is for conducting “special inquiries”. By this time, team members have a high level of certainty about what they want to say in the report. So the time in the school is about collecting the final evidence and determine whether it strongly affirms or challenges the existing evidence and the conclusions they believe are the most important for the school to hear about learning, teaching, and support. All inquires and evidence collection must be completed before noon on Thursday, after which the team is sequestered in the team room for the remainder of the visit to deliberate and write the PBI report.
When the first draft of the report is completed by the end of the day on Friday, the team has spent a significant amount of time in the school. On average, a PBI team is convened at a school approximately 60 hours. A team of 12 will spend nearly 125 person hours directly observing the classrooms at a given school with a goal of visiting every teacher’s classroom at least once. Teams average around 60 person hours in one-on-one or small group conversations with a school’s students, faculty, administrators, parents, and staff. They will also spend several hours observing school meetings if school and team schedules allow it. Teams convene meetings that total around 25 to 30 hours to ask questions of students, teachers, the leadership team, the principal, and senior school administrators. In addition to the time they spend interacting with the school, a full visit team meets privately in the team room for anywhere from 30-40 hours spanning the five days of the visit. During most of this time, teams are in intense discussions to thoroughly consider the evidence they have collected and to build the conclusions, commendations and recommendations presented in the report.
After each day’s evidence collection, team members return to the team room and review their notes from the day. Every team member shares the evidence they collected to answer the focus question for that day. They share what they believe is the most important information first. They finish by asking a question about the school they think they need to attend to during the next day based on what the present day’s evidence seems to suggest is important to learn. Finally, the team spends some time considering what they heard in the debriefing of the day, what patterns they heard, and common themes. These questions and common themes are captured in team notes and drive the inquiry forward.
Professional Judgement, Deliberated Consensus, & Dynamic Evidence
Several elements about the PBI protocol make it a compelling process, not to mention unusual, in this age of data-driven decision-making. What is unique is the emphasis placed on the roles of professional judgement, deliberated consensus and the dynamic nature of evidence. A PBI visit is different from the kinds of “data dives” so many schools do these days. The differences are primarily a result of the process the team follows and the evidence it collects, both of which take a significant amount of time relative to spending a couple of hours in a faculty meeting looking primarily at charts, graphs, and numbers and trying to divine from them any specifics about learning and teaching.
During the 3.5 days the team is in the school collecting evidence, each team member draws on their professional judgement to determine which pieces of evidence are the most important for the team to hear in light of the previously collected evidence and team discussions about it. They consider if and how that evidence answers the questions raised from what was shared the day before. Each day, the questions team members ask and the themes they identify in the shared evidence pushes the team farther and provides direction for the next day’s observations. While the team is open to all evidence they encounter, what they have collected also suggest the kinds of evidence they look for as they move forward.
By about the third day of the visit, the team starts to identify themes they believe are the most important for the school to hear. These themes become candidates for conclusions in the report. Thus, what the team believes is the most important findings for the school to hear evolves over time: The evidence they collect each day and the questions that fuel further inquiry are informed by their professional judgements — both individual and corporate — which in turn are informed by each day’s deliberations. The evidence becomes dynamic as the team deliberates about the meaning of the evidence they find. What the team believes is the most important conclusions to write about learning, teaching, and support on Monday are usually not the same by Thursday.
The PBI Report
Each PBI visit results in a report that is written by and tested for full team consensus. The report is the collective voice of the team. Each report includes the following sections:
Profile of the School
Portrait of the School at the Time of the Visit
Findings on Student Learning
Findings on Teaching for Learning
Findings on School Support for Learning and Teaching
Of these sections, each visit team writes the Profile, Portrait, Findings, and Final Advice. The Profile is drafted by the team chair before the visit begins. It included the history of the school and its community, drawn from the chair’s own research, public documents, and formal interviews with the school principal. It is shared with the principal for any factual corrections. The team also has an opportunity to make any revisions they feel are necessary. The Portrait, while one of the first parts of the report is one of the last parts written after most of the conclusion writing is complete. It serves as an overview, or a snapshot of the state of the school at the time of the visit. Conclusions the team writes based on the three focus questions constitute each of the Findings sections. Teams write 3 to 7 conclusions each for Student Learning, Teaching for Learning and School Support for Learning and Teaching. Each conclusion is coded from a list of evidence sources and must include a minimum of two different sources. In addition to the conclusions for the latter two Findings, teams may include Commendations for areas where teachers and the school excel. They also write brief Recommendations based on the conclusions in the visit report. Final Advice is just that: The last chance for the team to speak to the school community, rally them to the work ahead, and give the school a sense of what the team believes, only in the broadest sense, what the school’s next steps should be.
After the team adjourns on Friday night, the chair works with both a PBI master chair and copy editor to make sure the report is soundly written grammatically, stylistically, and effectively communicates the team’s intent. Then, within two weeks of the end of the visit, the chair and as many team members as possible, return to the school and read a working draft of the report to the entire faculty and staff.
Endorsement occurs after a Catalpa representative has a post-visit conversations with the team chair and the school principal to confirm procedures to ensure the legitimacy of the report were followed. [Link to Catalpa Procedures page] With the attachment of the written Endorsement to the report, the final draft is finalized, copyrighted, and becomes the property of the school. Copies are sent to the school and NCS with a third retained by Catalpa.
What PBI Suggests About Learning Technologies Use in CPS High Schools
The details of what can be shared here are limited by confidentiality agreements each team member signs in order to serve on a PBI team. Therefore, the nature of the evidence shared here is generalized.
Nothing in the PBI visit protocol explicitly requires teams to consider a school’s use of information and communication technologies (ICT). Nor should it since conclusions about ICT are easily validated within the bounds of the three focus questions. Indeed, in the past few years some teams have decided to include technology use as evidence examples of broader conclusions about learning and teaching. On one level, this is encouraging, especially since nearly all schools at the time of their visit demonstrated typical ICT use. That is teaching characterized by an overwhelming use of traditional, teacher-centered, textbook-based instructional methods even though “contemporary educational programs recommend the integration of ICT’s in teaching and learning” (Barak, 2014). Only one team of those on which I have been a part has written entire conclusions specifically about technology use in the school that one would recognize as informed by ISTE standards [link]. Even in this instance, the conclusions specifically about ICT use made it into the report only because a single team member with deep knowledge and current beliefs about the role ICT need now play — made a very strong case and successfully swayed the team. Among his arguments was that conclusions about ICT use had to be a priority since the school being visited had a curricular focus on technology. Thus the faculty and staff needed to hear what the team thought about its use of technology for learning, teaching and support. Given that the PBI protocol requires true consensus, eery team member had to agree both that the conclusion was important enough to write and that they had the evidence to write it.Nevertheless, this teacher was selected specifically to reflect the programming of a technology-focused school. To have such highly knowledgeable, ISTE-steeped teacher on visit teams for schools that do not have a technology focus is not the norm.
This raises an issue about intentional composition of PBI teams. Excepting the example above, conclusions in previous reports that even mentioned technology treated it in their reports as so many teachers do in the classroom — as a mere add-on. Yet this may not be because previous teams didn’t deem ICT use important per se, but because to date, teams have not had the current and requisite knowledge or beliefs about pan-curricular, ICT-based teaching and learning sufficient enough to make such conclusions a regular part of visit reports even if such conclusions were warranted. Song et al. in their study of the effects of prior knowledge, self-regulation and motivation on learning performance reference the work of Baldwin et al, noting “the close relationship between prior knowledge and interest from the viewpoint of adult education…. They state that ‘as people get older and increasingly specialized, interest and knowledge may come to correspond closely” (2016). Team members with more prior knowledge and interest in the uses of ICT for teaching and learning across the curriculum would “set larger and more consistent goal structures” and “behave in a more goal-oriented way” (2016). The implications of intentionally selecting educators with such specialist interests to serve as PBI team members would have significant implications for team inquiries into ICT-based teaching and learning. Not the least of which israising ICT use to the level of stand-alone conclusions in their own right, thereby putting technology skills and knowledge on a par with students’ abilities to read, write, and think critically. Such an elevation is necessary for any school that intends to be a 21st Century institution or one that positively impacts educational equity. Then, to round out the nested focus questions then, the same must also be said about technology conclusions about teachers’ use of ICT to facilitate learning and administrators’ expectations, messaging, and professional learning supports.
PBI, Connected Learning, and Equity
Why does NCS exert so much energy to sponsor, support, and in some instances, cajole their member schools into hosting PBI visits? Because PBI is a unique and powerful reflective opportunity to support continuous school improvement. As such, the best teams will uncover issues of equity in their learning about the visit school and raise it to the level of a conclusion in a report. It is worth emphasizing that all NCS schools are CPS schools. As such, NCS member schools serve mostly urban students of color, many of whom are economically disadvantaged. NCS is an equity organization that works from the understanding that education is a social justice issue, where the future success of our society’s most vulnerable citizens is directly linked to quality education. Thus, to host a PBI visit has potential benefits for school equity when the school uses the resulting report as a basis for setting priorities and improvement goals that positively impact educational outcomes for the public school students of Chicago.
As I wrote in parts one and two of this blog post, when schools make learning connectedlearning, they positively impact equity. The correlations between socio-economic class, race, and teacher beliefs, and the kinds of opportunities students have to experience connected learning through ICT-based instruction have implications for how NCS selects educators for PBI visits. In order to impact matters of equity linked to connected learning and ICT-based learning, PBI teams should be more intentionally comprised to include computing teachers (as opposed to computer teachers) [anchor tag to point in previous post] . As noted in the example above, when teams have members who can employ their technological and pedagogical professional judgements to evidence collection and team deliberated consensus, they will include more specific conclusions about technology use in PBI reports.
PBI has been been a mechanism for schools to have discussions about matters of equity all along. Whether it is about which students in a school take full advantage of available learning opportunities and programs or do not, how the curriculum does or does not prepare students for their post-secondary future, how faculty and staff beliefs expand or curtails students’ access to quality learning, or how support structures make access to programs available to all members of the learning community or privilege certain parts over others. ICT-based instruction plays a significant role in students’ development of the growth mindsets necessary for the lifelong learning, just-in-time learning, creative abilities, and collaborative abilities required to thrive in a 21st Century post-secondary world. PBI visits and reports, therefore, need to be able to raise such issues for a school as a part of their post-visit discussions and improvement plans regarding student, teacher, and school uses of technology.
Team Composition for the 21st Century
Understanding ICT-based learning and instruction as an equity issue means it must be an explicit part of school transformation efforts. Inasmuch as PBI visits are a part of such transformation efforts, then it is also vital to keep elements of connected learning with ICT-based, student-centered learning and teaching on the front burner of future PBI visits. Intentional team composition is a means towards this end. It calls for finding educators who understand the critical role learning with technology now plays. “A range of other scholars have argued that knowledge about technology cannot be treated as context-free, and that good teaching requires an understanding of how technology relates to the pedagogy and content” (What is TPACK?, 2012). Where “good [inquiry] requires specific knowledge about the teaching of those disciplines…. [S]ubject specialization helps [team members] make judgements about the quality of teaching” (Wilson, 1996). Since most schools do not effectively use ICT for teaching and learning when it is widely acknowledged how vital it is to do so, PBI practice would be strengthened and visit schools better served if the criteria for purposeful PBI team construction included educators with deep TPACK knowledge and positive belief sets about ICT use who can understand contemporary classrooms through a sort of “TPACK lens” . As ICT-knowledgeable team members collect and interpret evidence about ICT-based learning and instruction and cast their professional judgements about the evidence, they would bring their technological knowledge as well as their pedagogical and content knowledge to the team deliberations and report conclusions.
Similar understandings and belief sets in PBI chairs would also strengthen visit practice. Knowledge about ICT and connected learning would allow chairs to raise appropriate questions for the team, guide collection of useful evidence, and effectively facilitate team discussions such that visit reports include findings and conclusions about how well students learn with, teachers teach with, and administrators support uses of digital, networked technologies.
PBI As Mechanism For Changing Teacher Beliefs
PBI visits are powerful because they are conducted by professional peers. PBI teams are not, as mentioned above, a professionalized corps of outsiders coming in to pass judgement on a school community’s effectiveness and to deliver a “gotcha!”. PBI teams are working educators, fellow teachers and administrators from Chicago Public Schools. They are allies working in support of common efforts to improve teaching and learning for the children of Chicago. As such, the conclusions teams choose to write and the words they choose to write them means reports have a sometimes uncomfortably unavoidable credibility to the faculty and staff of host schools. By including conclusions about how well the learning community is or is not using technology can set the stage for changing teacher beliefs about their own abilities and those of their students. It is yet another opportunity for “perceived social influence from referent others [to have] a significant positive influence on individual beliefs about the usefulness of technology” (Gu et al, 2011). PBI team members — that is CPS colleagues — and their collective voice in the body of a report are the “referent others” who exert “social influence positively and significantly affects IT utilization” (2011).
One of the mottos that guides PBI teams is “Know what you see. Don’t see what you know.” It reminds team members that when examining evidence and deliberating in the team room, they cannot be led by what they do at their school or by whether or not a particular program or framework “should” be deployed as it is at the visit school. It reinforces that they must bring their professional judgement to bear only on what they see and hear during the week of the visit and what that tells the team about teaching and learning at the visit school. Yet it is fascinating how new learning changes what one notices. How in light of that learning that one discerns things that were never noticed before. Two years ago, I did not know about ISTE with its Essential Conditions and technology standards for educators, students, parents, and coaches . Or about the Connected Learning Research Network with connected learning as a social constructivist path toward redefining school for the 21st Century and a digitally networked era. Or about the Partnership for 21st Century Learning and the links between technology, lifelong learning, and citizenship. These are just a few of the organizations, concepts, or frameworks that in this digital, networked era so clearly connect the social justice and equity agendas of schools to the use of technology generally and technology-infused learning throughout the curriculum specifically. Those connections have particular implications in schools that seek to serve poor children of color.
For years as an educator, a PBI team member, and as a PBI visit chair, I regarded technology use during PBI visits no differently than the educators I was leading on a team. I still cannot lead PBI visits with a particular agenda. Yet at a time when digital technology and media comprise an entirely new literacy that will determine the kinds of work students will be able to do as adults, it is vital that schools understand how well they are educating their students in its use. With the considerable flexibility the PBI protocol allows, the times warrant more conscious and conscientious inclusion of knowledgeable and experienced computing educators on PBI teams and the ICT-learning-related conclusions for visit schools that will result.
HM Senior Chief Inspector Bill Maxwell talks about OFSTED school inspection.
Barak, M. (2014). Closing the Gap Between Attitudes and Perceptions About ICT-Enhanced Learning Among Pre-service STEM Teachers. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 23(1), 1–14. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10956-013-9446-8
Catalpa Ltd. (2018, April 2). Retrieved from catalpa.org
Gu, X., Zhu, Y., & Guo, X. (2011). Meeting the “Digital Natives”: Understanding the Acceptance of Technology in Classrooms. Educational Technology, 16(1), 392–402.
SALT Blueprint.pdf. (n.d.).
Song, H. S., Kalet, A. L., & Plass, J. L. (2016). Interplay of prior knowledge, self-regulation and motivation in complex multimedia learning environments: Knowledge, self-regulation, & motivation. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 32(1), 31–50. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcal.12117
Koehler, M. (2012, September 24). What is TPACK? Retrieved April 4, 2018, from www.tpack.org
Wilson, T. (1996). Reaching For A Better Standard. New York: Teachers College Press.
Wilson, Thomas. (2016). The Design and Conduct ofRigorous And UsefulPractice-Based Inquiry® Visits to Schools: A Comprehensive Handbook for The Network for College Success(at the University of Chicago) Handbook 2. The Chair Handbook. Catalpa, Ltd.
Wilson, Thomas. (2017, April 10). Template for Preparing Initial Version of Report.
This February, thanks to the support of Drs. Angela Elkordy and Ayn Keneman, classmates Tori Alland, Mia Gutsell, and I had the privilege to co-present at ICE 2018 — the Illinois Computing Educators conference. Our workshop was nearly two hours and entitled, “In Real Life: Designing Digital Learning Experiences”. In planning the workshop, we felt it was important that our session not present pie-in-the-sky ideals designed for no classroom that ever existed anywhere. We also agreed that in 2018 “in real life” digital learning should be student-centered. Thus, we developed a session that addressed school and classroom realities most teachers face day-to-day. Tori’s presentation focused on the nuts and bolts of instituting Genius Hour as a means of recruiting students’ interests. Mia modeled ways for students to demonstrate their learning through collaborative creation of digital media presentations using Google Slides. My interpretation of “in real life” and student-centeredness focused on the importance of connected learning as a framework for infusing information and communication technologies (ICT) throughout the curriculum by refining extant unit and lesson plans. In addition, we wanted attendees to recognize that Genius Hour and collaborative digital projects are examples of connected learning. It was our intention, too, that attendees take the ideas we presented back to their schools and implement them with confidence knowing that they already had everything they needed to do so without having to reinvent the wheel. In essence, the session was two parts practical application and one part theory. Or, two parts how and one part why.
As attendees were participating in our warm-up and context-setting activity, one educator asked, “Is it your assumption that we know nothing about your topic?” In the moment, it was difficult not to be defensive. It felt like an immediate challenge to the legitimacy of our presentation. The irony was that we had been planning under a considerable assumption that at a conference for computing educators our audience would indeed be highly versed in Connected Learning concepts and deeply experienced in the collaborative, student-centered content we were presenting. However, at a point in the planning, we realized we could not make such an assumption. Thus, we built in ways to tailor our presentations for the audience in front of us. This included a poll designed to assess attendees’ knowledge and experience level with Connected Learning, the results of which would determine which of three presentations I would use.
Despite the above attendee seeming to imply that the room was full of educators possessing considerable knowledge about our topic, it turned out not to be the case. This was evident not only in the poll results, but in attendees’ intense focus, participation, and the nature of the questions they asked about Genius Hour, collaborative document editing, and incorporating Connected Learning elements into instructional plans. Their desire to know more also showed when nearly all attendees stayed well past the official session end time to continue conversation and ask more clarifying and probing questions of we three presenters and our professors.
Why It Matters
In a previous post, I wrote about ICT use and Connected Learning as an equity issue. Teachers set curricular priorities and make instructional choices based more often on their belief systems than their knowledge systems. These priorities and choices are based, in turn, not on what they know, but on what they believe they know and are able to do. Their decisions are also based on their beliefs about what their students are capable of learning. (More in Navigating Teacher Beliefs, Connected Learning, and Practice-Based Inquiry for Equitable ICT Integration, Part 1.) Therefore, the kinds of learning students experience are not solely determined by what teachers know, but in part by what they believe they and their students are capable of when using ICT as methods for teaching and learning.
Consider the latest data available from the National Center for Education Statistics which shows that the access gap has narrowed nearly to the point of disappearing. However, where the gaps persist race, income, and education levels correlate. When looking at how teachers use ICT, all of the numbers are troubling given how few students use ICT for learning beyond basic skills and research — whether looking at urban or suburban contexts. However, more urban teachers report they “rarely” use ICT for learning tasks that involve tenets of Connected Learning such as corresponding with others for learning, blogging or using social media to engage with authentic audiences, or collaborating to create digital resources such as wikis than do their suburban, town, and rural colleagues. At the other end of the scale, urban teachers report they are more likely to use ICT “sometimes or often” for word processing and learning or practicing basic skills than their suburban, town, and rural colleague. These survey results would indicate urban and high poverty students have fewer opportunities to learn using ICT, than do students in suburban, town and rural schools. And when they do, teachers more often provide opportunities for students to use ICT for word processing, basic skills practice, and research (i.e: low-level cognition, substitution and augmentation levels of SAMR). Urban students are less likely to experience learning using digital, networked technology to create, collaborate, and work with authentic audiences and feedback (i.e: high-level cognition, modification and redefinition levels of SAMR, and the 4C’s [PDF]) than their counterparts in suburban, town, and rural school.
One way to interpret these data is as indicative of a pattern illustrating a dynamic prevalent to urban schools where many teachers are reluctant to create the open, freeform conditions often needed for learning to occur. Instead of allowing for the sometimes chaotic atmosphere conducive to learning, many urban teachers engage in “‘defensive teaching’…that is concerned with maintaining control” (Mouza, 2011). When controlling student behaviors is the primary concern for some urban teachers, teacher-centered instruction is more often the norm than student-centered learning. Under these conditions, the uses of ICT will be limited to low-level learning tasks with little to no Connected Learning taking place.
When viewed this way, teachers’ choices about ICT use can be interpreted as widening the achievement gap even at a time when the access gap is all but closed. The choice to use ICT and how to use it is a matter of equity where students in urban and socio-economically disadvantaged schools are less likely to use digital, networked devices in ways that prepare them for the 21st Century world of work than do their counterparts in other non-urban settings.
Whether the underlying cause is teachers’ beliefs about their students’ capabilities, beliefs about their own instructional capabilities, or some other factor, most students regardless of socio-economic class are not receiving the range of learning types digital, networked technologies can facilitate. However, the range of ICT-based learning poor, urban students experience is even more restricted. To address such inequities, teachers’ use of ICT needs to be intentional, explicit, and pan-curricular. Otherwise, our most vulnerable students will continue to be at a disadvantage when it comes to acquiring the growth mindsets and digital skills they will need to survive and thrive in the adult world.
ICE As a Forum For Theory & Equity
ICE 2018 was an exciting and professionally invigorating experience. In every session I attended over the full length of the conference, it was clear that the organization’s membership indeed consists of computing educators, not just computer educators. This is not a mere grammatical distinction. It is a sign that the organization is successfully meeting its constitutional purpose to “[p]romote the development, growth, and use of computers and technology in all facets of the educational process” (Constitution Illinois Computing Educators). It is not an organization whose memberships consists exclusively of teachers of computer courses. In every session there were administrators, teachers from every grade-level and every subject area, even some post-secondary counsellors.
Many, if not most of the sessions were “how to” sessions that focused on products and processes: Ways for students to produce particular learning artifacts or to use a particular app or set of apps to facilitate learning. These types of sessions are important in that they seek to model the nearly endless ways teachers can creatively use ICT to facilitate learning across the curriculum. In addition to such sessions, there are opportunities for ICE to be a forum for the necessary theoretical understandings needed to influence teacher belief sets and “[f]acilitate the dissemination of information concerning computing and technology” (Constitution Illinois Computing Educators). For example, individual chapters as well as the state organization could gain a deeper understanding of the continuum of knowledge about ICT-based learning that undergirds the belief sets and instructional decision of ICE members. Chapters could explore members’ internal anxieties regarding ICT use that impact their instructional decisions and student learning. Such an understandings open the possibility of theoretical offerings at conferences and professional learning sessions that explicate and support the sessions focusing on practical applications.
Many of our session attendees were unfamiliar with Connected Learning, Genius Hour, or how to incorporate student-centered learning using networked collaboration tools. This would suggest another opportunity to examine how member teachers use ICT in their classrooms. Even though “many teachers are aware of the potential of integrating ICTs, a considerable number of them do so in a traditional, teacher-centered manner with no significant change in their teaching methods” (Barak, 2014). As discussed in part 1, teachers’ beliefs and attitudes influence curricular and instructional choices more than any other factor. Additionally, they are more likely to teach in the same ways they were taught and employ “techno-centric and tokenistic use of ICTs” (2014) where “only a few conceptualize ICTs as means for promoting progressive education and social-constructivist learning” (2014). The ICE conference may have revealed these dynamics even among its membership, arguably a set of more “highly functioning” ICT users than the average teacher.
Since most k-12 teachers do not read a sufficient quantity of professional literature, they do not tend to link their practice to wider theoretical underpinnings. “This is not surprising , as teachers were not required to read relevant literature on teaching with technology…. [I]integrating relevant literature … is crucial to helping teachers connect their experiences to a larger body of knowledge” (Mouza, 2011). As a professional organization for teachers who use technology, ICE is well-positioned to provide the kinds of research, literature and theoretical underpinnings most K-12 teachers lack.
For Teachers of Disadvantaged Children of Color
ICE represents an exciting space to explore the perspectives and experiences of educators of socio-economically disadvantaged students of color. Urban students — adolescents in particular, are no different than their suburban peers. They are tethered to their phones, which represents considerable potential to leverage their devices for learning even in the face of very specific district- or school-wide structural, attitudinal, and technological challenges. Looking at the attitudinal challenges specifically, they include the kinds of subtle (and not subtle) deficit thinking some educators hold about urban students’ abilities, such as the defensive teaching mentioned earlier. Teacher beliefs and attitudes about what urban students can and cannot learn often impedes students’ developing necessary technological fluencies. Often, teachers plan in such ways out of the belief that students “can’t handle” innovative practices (Mouza, 2011). Nevertheless, ICE chapters and members represent a dynamic constituency to influence such associated personal efficacy and social factors that impact teacher choices. ICE and its chapters are the energetic sites where, “perceived social influence from referent others has a significant positive influence on individual beliefs about the usefulness of technology … [and] social influence positively and significantly affects IT utilization” (Gu et al, 2011). ICE represents a potentially powerful lever in moving the ICT and Connected Learning bars in urban education where ICE members are the “referent others” who, in their “post-ICE learnings” return to their schools and interact with their colleagues exert the social influence to change the beliefs and practices of technologically reluctant teachers. ICE could be an exciting and perhaps even unexpected vector from which to advocate for the ICT learning needs of some of our most vulnerable students and thus have a positive effect on equity in urban learning communities.
As an organization that supports real life digital learning, Illinois Computing Educators is a remarkable professional body. ICE 2018 was an invigorating three days of learning and interacting with several thousand enthusiastic, like-minded colleagues. As any successful conference should, this one engendered many more wonderings than answers. These wonderings suggest exciting opportunities for nuanced understanding of the needs, knowledge bases, and beliefs of computing educators, as well as adding theoretical learning to the organization’s already strong emphasis on practical applications. And significantly, there is room for added interpretations of the ICE constitution where members, chapters, and the state organization as a whole become sites of educational equity as expressed through their use of learning technologies.
Barak, M. (2014). Closing the Gap Between Attitudes and Perceptions About ICT-Enhanced Learning Among Pre-service STEM Teachers. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 23(1), 1–14. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10956-013-9446-8
Gray, L. (n.d.). Teachers’ Use of Educational Technology in U.S. Public Schools: 2009, First Look, 70.
Groff, J. (2008). A Framework for Addressing Challenges to Classroom Technology Use. AACE Journal, 16(1), 21–46.
Gu, X., Zhu, Y., & Guo, X. (2011). Meeting the “Digital Natives”: Understanding the Acceptance of Technology in Classrooms. Educational Technology, 16(1), 392–402.
Mouza, C. (2011). Promoting Urban Teachers’ Understanding of Technology, Content, and Pedagogy in the Context of Case Development. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 44(1), 1–29. https://doi.org/10.1080/15391523.2011.10782577
In an editorial in Education Weekly, “The Technology Puzzle: Why Is Greater Access Not Translating Into Better Classroom Use?”, Larry Cuban lays out a number of reasons why, from his point of view, education has not adopted technology into their practices to the same extend the business world has. He outlines the usual tropes that lay the issue solely at the feet of teachers, including pre-service education that does not emphasize technology, a dearth of specific training, not enough time to learn about and practice with technology, the number of “older teachers” in the profession, and technophobia. Yet he doesn’t leave it there. Refreshingly, he identifies five other obstacles, none of which blame teachers. After going into detail about the impacts of contradictory advice from experts, intractable working conditions, demands from others, the unreliability of technology, and policymakers’ disrespect for teachers’ opinions, Cuban concludes,
“Why should very busy teachers who are genuinely committed to doing a good job with their students listen to experts’ changing advice on technologies when they have to face daily, unyielding working conditions, internal and external demands on their time and stamina; unreliable machines and software; and disrespect for their opinions?… What corporate cheerleaders, policymakers, and vendors who have far more access to the media ignore are teachers’ voices, the enduring workplace conditions within which teachers teach, inherent flaws in the technologies, and ever-changing advice of their own experts. Such reasons are ignored because they go to the heart of what happens in schools, are very expensive to remedy, and reflect poorly on corporate know-how in producing machines…. For experts, the answer are straightforward and all point to teachers. Bashing teachers for not doing more with technology misses the deeper, more consequential reasons for what teachers do every day.”
As contemporary as this sounds, Cuban was writing an editorial that appeared in 1999.
Cuban’s perspective is a refreshing break from the tendency to lay blame for all kinds of societal ills at the feet of teachers. Not only does this oversimplification of “laying blame” keep us from adequately identifying what makes for good teaching and learning, but it elides the highly complicated interplay between elements of the school ecosystem and teachers’ roles within it. Indeed, the fact that a description of teaching conditions from nearly 20 years ago is nearly identical to those many teachers work in today would suggest that we are spinning our wheels. Yet when it comes to the integration of information and communication technologies (ICT) into instruction, teachers are the ultimate facilitators or obstacles when it comes to whether and how students get to experience ICT in their learning. As such, we need to explore and better understand how teachers’ attitudes and beliefs impact their use of ICT for teaching and learning. In doing so, education teachers and professional learning providers will be in better positions to support teachers in making the changes needed for ICT to be both process and product of teaching and learning across the curriculum.
Little, if anything, happens in the classroom without the teacher setting the stage for action. What teachers believe about their students abilities impacts what they teach and how they teach it. Yet what teachers believe about their own abilities also influences what and how they teach. Drawing on James Calderhead’s work into the role beliefs play in teacher practice and the differentiation between beliefs and knowledge, Ertmer explores the relationships between them. Ertmer defines beliefs in this context as “educational beliefs about teaching and learning (referred to here as pedagogical beliefs) and the beliefs they have about how technology enables them to translate those beliefs into classroom practice” (2005) In extending Calderhead’s work, Ertmer noted that even after one gains some knowledge, they still either accept it as true or false. That is, they either believe the information or they do not (2005).
Park and Ertmer examined how problem-based learning impacts teachers’ beliefs about the use of technology for teaching and learning. They identified the differences between so-called first order and second order barriers to change where first order barriers relates to externals — limited access to computers, software, planning time, or administrative support. Second order barriers deal with the internals — teachers’ beliefs about instructional technology, preferred methods. and willingness to shift practices (2014). They cite research by Zhihui Fang finding that many factors shape teachers’ beliefs, including discipline subculture, pre-service classroom experiences, and opportunities to reflect on their pre-service experiences. In addition to these, Park and Ertmer find teachers’ beliefs about their pedagogy, their own self-efficacy, and the value of technology for education all influence their ICT use (2014).
In a two-year study that examined K-12 teachers’ perceptions of the benefits of ICT for teaching and learning, Badia et al. They found that while the school structure and the technological profile of the school positively correlated to perceived benefits of ICT use, teacher’s beliefs were the most important factor. “The strongest correlations are found in variables related to the technological profile of the teacher, such as the level of computer literacy…, training received and assessment of its usefulness…, frequency of access to the Internet [sic] at school…and frequency of access to the Internet [sic] outside school” (2015). Other factors that had a significant positive relationship were gender, subject area, and educational technology policy of the school (2015).
Song, Kalet, and Plass conducted a study examining the effects of prior knowledge, self-regulation and motivation on learning performance in complex, multimedia environments among medical students in rotation. They found that students’ prior knowledge in a specific domain “directly influenced their knowledge recall, comprehension and clinical reasoning after learning from a multimedia module” (2015). In addition, prior knowledge is also associated with self-regulation, motivation, self-efficacy, and goal orientation (2015).
Examining teachers’ agency, Biesta et al. consider how teachers actively shape the work they do and the conditions in which they do it. The authors note specifically how this is in marked contrast to “several decades of policies that worked to de-professionalise teachers by taking agency away from them and replacing it with prescriptive curricula and oppressive regimes of testing and inspection” (2015). They position teacher agency within the broader space of agency theory where “rather than seeing agency residing in individuals, agency is understood as an emergent phenomenon of actor-situation transaction” (2015). Recognizing such positioning will have implications for the role beliefs play in teacher agency and the extent to which elements of practice do and do not manifest in the classroom.
Mumtaz explored influences on teachers’ ICT use — both the elements that facilitated its effective use and inhibited it. She identified three behaviors that inform teachers instruction according to their beliefs about technology use: avoidance, integration, and technical specialization. Mumtaz also describes the impacts of these belief-behavior types on the pupils of said teachers (2006).
Multiple Heavy Lifts
While it provides fascinating insights and very useful information, in many ways the research lays out an extremely daunting path for teacher educators and professional learning providers. For the most part, first order obstacles to change are far less an issue today. Even though the “access gap” is all but closed, with near total high speed connectivity of the schools and the ubiquity of mobile devices, we still have not seen commensurate levels of ICT integration. This would suggest that second order obstacles are the actual roadblocks that need to be addressed consistently and often. Part of this challenge is that teachers view first-order obstacles as surmountable because changes they require are seen as incremental, doable without needing to change any existing structures or long-held beliefs. Teachers also perceive them as reversible. Second-order obstacles, however, requires teachers to challenge their deep-seated beliefs. They require teachers to see and do things differently. Significantly, second-order change is seen as being impossible to reverse once they have begun (Ertmer, 2005). As such, we can expect these changes to be hard won and long in the offing since belief change is some of the slowest change of all. Yet it is the most necessary in order to truly integrate ICT into teaching and learning practices for the digital age.
A common belief among educators and professional learning providers is that to attain the necessary ICT integration to thoroughly prepare students for the 21st century world of work, high quality and sustained professional is essential. This is indeed true. However, the idea also runs the risk of being yet another silver bullet since the kind of professional learning we must consider cannot be just about giving them knowledge about technology and how to use it. It must include learning that addresses and changes teachers’ belief systems about the pedagogical value of technology and why it is necessary.
Because the interplay between teachers’ belief systems and knowledge systems is highly complex and complicated, professional learning must address both systems. On one hand, beliefs and knowledge are in opposition with one another as can be seen when it comes to teachers’ pedagogical beliefs and the relative value of ICT for education. The strong emotional and evaluative charges beliefs carry make them “more influential than knowledge in determining how individuals organize and define tasks and problems” and thus makes them more powerful determiners of behavior (Ertmer, 2005). On the other hand there is significant overlap between beliefs and knowledge where prior knowledge impacts teachers’ self-efficacy which in turn impacts implementation of ICT instruction. What teachers believe they can or cannot do with ICT instruction is not necessarily aligned with what they know about what to do with ICT instruction. Teachers’ self-regulation, or “self-generated thoughts, feelings, and actions for attaining academic goals…help a learner acquire knowledge by goal setting, self-monitoring and self-reflection…. [W]hen learners are confident about a learning task, they tend to use more self-regulated learning strategies in the task…[and] when learners perform better using self-regulated learning strategies, their self-efficacy on the task tends to be increased” (Song et al., 2015). In addition, self-efficacy beliefs are a strong predictor for whether or not teachers use technology for teaching and learning. Teachers’ beliefs about the value of using technology in the classroom “greatly enhanced” teachers’ perceptions of computers’ effectiveness as tools for teaching and learning (Park & Ertmer, 2015). Thus, not only do teachers need to have knowledge about ICT and methods for its instructional use, but they also need to believe both that they can use that knowledge effectively and that its use would be productive.
The work of changing minds is difficult enough when the facts are at hand. But as Calderhead distinguished there are differences between knowledge and beliefs in that knowledge is based on factual propositions and understanding whereas beliefs grow out of suppositions, ideologies and commitments (Ertmer, 2005).
Distinguishing between Technophobia and Cynicism
Pew Research Center data shows that as of February 2018, 95% of American adults own a cellphone and 77% own smartphones. Among adults who graduated college, 91% own smartphones. Looking at other devices, Pew finds that 77% of American adults own a laptop or desktop and 53% own a tablet. Teachers clearly fall within these demographics. Yet some teachers self-identify or are identified as “Luddites”, “technophobes”, “digitally reluctant” or any other term we have come up with to describe (and excuse?) teachers who do not incorporate ICT-based methods in their classrooms, or do so only in the most rudimentary, low-skilled ways. Yet given the data like that from Pew, these teachers cannot be true technophobes. Many, if not most, have some kind of digital identity that does not include their teacherly self. They have mobile devices through which they acquire, create, and share information via text messages and social media. They find their way in the world with GPS-supported navigation. They video chat. On their laptops they shop online, do their banking, correspond via email, and schedule their lives with calendar apps. Everyone “googles”. Indeed, there are “no technophobes here” (Cuban, 1999).
So why are these teachers not bringing a similar digital savvy to their instruction through the plethora of edtech options available to them? For “decades, experts hired by corporate vendors and entrepreneurial academics have exhorted teachers, particularly those in high schools, to use new technologies for classrooms” (Cuban, 1999). In the 1980’s teachers were told students needed to be fluent in the BASIC programming language. In the 1990’s knowledge of BASIC was replaced by needing to know HTML so students could build web sites. They also needed to be fluent in specific types of applications so they could conduct research online, communicate with email, write in word processors and compile data and crunch numbers in spreadsheets (Cuban, 1999). The messages today are yet another set of expectations that are quite different from teachers heard at the turn of the century, even if they are more generalized around constructs such as the 4 C’s that don’t strap teachers and students to highly specific contexts or tools. But this is an issue that k-12 educators in particular struggle with as a profession: The never ending revolving door of initiatives and priorities, where said initiatives and priorities only tend to be a focus for a year or two before being replaced by another set of initiatives and priorities. The constant churn only serves to generate initiative fatigue and cynicism when teachers recognize the pattern and stubbornly refuse to change out of sheer exhaustion.
Whether it is initiative fatigue-induced cynicism, technophobia, or something more complex at play, the result is what I am calling an “application gap”, which is the difference between how teachers apply ICT use to their personal lives than in their professional lives. And it represents another fascinating area of study and more research to better understand the teachers who do not implement ICT instruction in their classes and to provide a path for them to do so.
What’s Next and Why It Matters
This is the first post in what is projected to be a three part series. Future posts in the series will further explore the role of connected learning as an ethos for more fully integrating ICT in teaching and learning across the curricula. They will also relate some of my experiences as a team chair for Practice-Based Inquiry (PBI) school visits and what I have seen during the past 6 years I have been doing these visits in regard to ICT implementation and how such visits might serve as a means of providing feedback for schools around ICT implementation. In as much as fully integrating ICT into teaching and learning in our digital, networked age is an essential element of schooling, it means that we then must pay particular attention to the communities in which securing educational resources has historically been a challenge. That is to say those where our most vulnerable and chronically underserved students live — the cities and neighborhoods that are home to poor children of color. Thus, the overarching goal of this series is to position teachers’ beliefs about ICT integration, connected learning, and PBI methodology as matters of equity for all learning communities to consider, particularly those that serve those most in need.
Ertmer, P. A. (2005). Teacher pedagogical beliefs: The final frontier in our quest for technology integration? Educational Technology Research and Development, 53(4), 25- 39.
Mumtaz, S. (2000). Factors affecting teachers’ use of information and communications technology: a review of the literature. Journal of Information Technology for Teacher Education, 9(3), 319–342. https://doi.org/10.1080/14759390000200096
Park, S. H., & Ertmer, P. A. (2007). Impact of Problem-Based Learning (PBL) on Teachers’ Beliefs Regarding Technology Use. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 40(2), 247–267. https://doi.org/10.1080/15391523.2007.10782507
Song, H. S., Kalet, A. L., & Plass, J. L. (2016). Interplay of prior knowledge, self-regulation and motivation in complex multimedia learning environments: Knowledge, self- regulation, & motivation. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 32(1), 31–50. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcal.12117.
The skills students needed to do well in the world of work during the industrial age and the way those skills were taught in schools are no longer sufficient to prepare young people for the world of work and civic life in the networked age. Schools need to prepare students to think deeply, contribute actively and collaborate with others. They need to prepare students for the kinds of jobs that don’t even exist yet. Connected learning offers a range of practices towards these ends. As such, there are many reasons why connected learning practices need to be a regular part of teachers’ instructional repertoires. But today, I’ll constrain them to just three — in no particular order. Connected learning offers paths to move teaching as a profession into the networked age, to resolve the alienation faced by many students today, and to provide equity and visibility for non-dominant learners*.
Before looking at why teachers should incorporate connected learning practices, let’s examine two definitions to help frame why connected learning practices are important. In From Good Intentions to Real Outcomes: Equity By Design in Learning Technologies (PDF), a report by The Digital Media + Learning Research Hub, Justin Reich and Mizuko Ito write that “powerful learning experiences result when students have the opportunity to connect their interests, identities, and home experiences to school and other learning settings. Many successful efforts also draw on interdisciplinary and cross-sector relationships that bring together expertise from social science, technology, and education” (Reich & Ito, p. 12).
In a research synthesis report by the Connected Learning Research Network, Connected Learning (PDF), Ito et al. define connected learning as “broadened access to learning that is socially embedded, interest-driven, and oriented toward educational, economic, or political opportunity. Connected learning is realized when a young person is able to pursue a personal interest or passion with the support of friends and caring adults, and is in turn able to link this learning and interest to academic achievement, career success or civic engagement. This model is based on evidence that the most resilient, adaptive, and effective learning involves individual interest as well as social support to overcome adversity and provide recognition” (emphasis original) (Ito, et al., p. 4).
Transitioning the Teaching Profession
Leonard Waks, in his book, Education 2.0: The Learningweb Revolution and the Transformation of the School, proposes that one of the problems with education has
been the creation of the professional educator and the concentration of teaching legitimacy in this professional corps. He also posits that the advent of Web 2.0 technologies and Open Educational Resources will help make traditional schools and professional educators obsolete since learning can now be done anytime, anywhere with students in complete control of their learning. The role of teacher, in Waks’s world, becomes just another element of the gig economy, where anyone with expertise and an internet connection can be a teacher. While there is a lot to recommend Waks’s scholarship, his views on the role and composition of the teaching profession are dubious. Besides content knowledge, would-be teachers also need pedagogical knowledge along with sophisticated understandings of human development and learning theory. In the digital age, a modern teacher also needs technological knowledge, with the ability to design instruction that incorporates technology into the learning process in ways that enhance learning and put students at the center of the learning process. The extent to which the profession has let schooling replace teaching and learning is problematic, especially for Gen D students, and leads us to the second problem connected learning could help solve.
Resolving the Alienation Crisis
Where commerce, business, and other professions across the globe have embraced the digital, networked age, American education has resisted the transition to the tools, practices, and ethos of the digital age. This has exacerbated the extent to which young people — particularly adolescents — are not just disengaged, but alienated from school-based learning. Currently, we are facing a crisis of legitimacy in our K-12 schooling. This crisis is rooted in the differences between what young people value as worth learning and how they learn it and what school culture values. Outside of school, young people spend much of their time on their digital devices. However, contrary to the dominant narrative, they are not “addicted” to their devices. As Mizuko Ito and danah boyd have found in much of their research about networked youth, young people are pre-occupied with each other. In an age when teens face significant restrictions on their spending time together in public spaces and free from the adult gaze, their devices provide digital spaces for the kinds of interacting adolescents developmentallyneed to do. Young people also interact with content that interests them via their devices. Whether connecting with friends, consuming media, or producing it, young people are engaged in highly sophisticated transactions where they produce and contribute to media culture, actively create modern youth culture, support like-minded producers, learn from others with more experience in their interests, and develop aspects of their identities according to and as a result of these sophisticated exchanges and the devices that facilitate them.
So, it should not be surprising that young people find little relevance in schooling characterized by generalized outcomes and test-driven instruction that is so utterly divorced from the kinds of learning they practice outside of school. Thus, connected learning offers hope for making school relevant to youth by leveraging not only their devices for academic learning, but also their network-based behaviors and habits of mind. In using methods for deep learning young people are accustomed to (modes Ito describes as “hanging out, messing around, and geeking out”), young people can (re)connect with academic subjects through peer collaborators and digital media. The tenets of connected learning and its drawing on technological affordances give teachers significant tools for resolving this alienation crisis.
Equity & Visibility
In an era of increasing gaps of all kinds — between the rich and everyone else, natives and immigrants, the dominant and non-dominant cultures — connected learning and the affordances of digital, networked technology also provide paths to equity & visibility for non-dominant students. Connected learning practices incorporate what Paul Gorski describes as “equity literacy” which enables teachers to “recognize, respond to, and redress conditions that deny some students access to the educational opportunities enjoyed by their peers and, in doing so, sustain equitable learning environments for all students and families” (Reaching and teaching students in poverty: Strategies for erasing the opportunity gap, p. 19). When students who come from families with means are shifting more and more of their learning to “enrichment” opportunities outside of school, non-dominant students and families often cannot afford the same kinds of financial investment in extracurricular “enrichment”. This widens the achievement gap. But connected learning practices can bridge this gap by providing non-dominant learners with such “enriched” learning opportunities. In as much as connected learning places student interests and culture at the center of their learning, non-dominant students can also gain more visibility by accessing the funds of knowledge embedded in their cultural backgrounds — funds that are often ignored by dominant or traditional schooling practices.
Much more than just being about incorporating technology into learning, connected learning leverages the vast learning that takes place outside of school and as a result of interactions between learners and more knowledge others other than their teachers. It is disingenuous to suggest that anyone with knowledge can teach. Still, there is a need for students to learn from other knowledgeable adults who share their interests, who want to share what they know with novices, and from whom young people can learn. Learner interests, collaboration and feedback among their peers, the connections between young people and adults and the creation of knowledge and products are all valid and necessary paths to learning. And while digital, mobile, networked technologies make connected learning possible in ways that were very difficult and expensive to accomplish just a decade ago, there is nothing inherently technological about what makes connected learning so powerful, so vital for young people and schools today. The technology significantly lowers the barriers to connected, relevant learning for 21st century students — ways of learning that were more prevalent and widely accepted as legitimate prior to the industrial age.
Indeed, connected learning as a teaching and learning framework represents a path out of the outmoded industrial paradigm to one that is more aligned with the digital, networked, mobile age in which we now live. Young people learn through different and multiple pathways that include their own interests, their interest-oriented interactions with peers, and mentoring relationships with adults in regard to those interests. That learning should also include elements of the learner’s culture that mediate learning. Each of these factors allow learners to develop their identities through their interests and their developing expertise around those interests. When taken together, connected learning practices make for useful, necessary, and powerful hacks for bringing teaching and learning into the digital age.
*: In Connected Learning, Ito et al. use the term “non-dominant” in place of more common terms like “minority”, “of color” etc. I appreciate their explanation that “‘non-dominant’ explicitly calls attention to issues of power and power relations than do traditions terms to describe members of differing cultural groups.” As such, I am using it as well.
Eleven weeks ago, the fall term started and I groaned at the thought that it would be December when it ended. It seemed so far away. But as the saying goes, don’t blink. ‘Cuz here we are and it’s time to assess our learning.
One of two main projects for this term asked us to examine our foundational beliefs about educational psychology and pedagogical theory. The assignment didn’t ask me to do much more than I’ve been asked to do before over the course of my 30 years in the profession. However, the exercise facilitated a few realizations about the evolution of my beliefs. First and foremost, my constructivist beliefs inflected by social cognitivism, pragmatism and metacognitivism hold up to and compliment teaching and learning with educational technology. I have found as well that they are reciprocally being informed and re-formed by the technology of the times, namely mobile, social, and networked technologies. In the course of writing my final paper, it became clear that I needed to find a way to incorporate aspects of the budding “learning theory for the 21st century”, connectivism. For even though I’m still not convinced that connectivism is a full-blown pedagogy (yet), as it is articulated now, elements of it are worth exploring as we develop curriculum and instruction and assess what constitutes powerful learning for the networked age. These are some surprises that will certainly influence my future studies as well as my practice.
thinking differently about school and educational technology in teaching and learning
While Dr. Leonard Waks’s ideas were not practical to implement in their entirety, his text, Education 2.o: The Learningweb Revolution and the Transformation of the School does have me thinking differently about school and the role of educational technology in teaching and learning. Even though the paradigm shift he is calling for will likely take a generation or more to accomplish — if it is ever realized in its entirety — many of Dr. Waks’s ideas are useful. First and foremost, he challenges readers to confront how thoroughly outmoded the industrial model of schooling actually is. Not only that, the histories he includes provide much-needed perspectives and insights into our current times. The evolution of schools to support the factory-based, industrial economy of the 19th & 20th centuries and the roles of diplomas and degrees as employment sifters and social allocators during those centuries all stand in stark contrast to the evolution of the internet, the complexities of schools and school systems, and the open, networked information and knowledge economy in which we now live. Even though the model of the open learning center as described in Education 2.0 is problematic in a number of ways, the text still begs the question: To what extent are we serving students by continuing an educational model that is yoked to a dead economic model and the social structures that developed from it? Indeed, as a result of reading Waks I clearly see just how misaligned our current school paradigm is with the needs of the modern world. It has made me very conscious of which school structures are impinging on or even making 21st century learning impossible to do.
Future ed tech topics and pedagogical techniques of interest
I would like to learn about a plenitude of topics in regard to educational technology and technology-based pedagogy. I look forward to accumulating more tools and processes for implementing technology-infused learning in the high school classroom. I very much would like to learn more about how to get “technology reluctant” teachers to incorporate more technology in their instruction, getting them to facilitate more student learning with technology. I would also like to acquire more techniques to support teachers who already use technology, getting them to SAMRize their student learning even more than they think they already do. I would greatly appreciate a course or workshop about developing powerful, engaging online learning using platforms such as D2L, Google Classroom, etc, both for high school students and for teacher professional learning. Finally, I would love a course or workshop in which we create digital badges to promote professional learning in the digital age.
All Good Things…
From the moment I saw the title of this course and the text that would provide its foundation, I was excited. Indeed, I have learned much. Significantly, I’ve experienced several unexpected learnings, which is what makes learning really exciting. Not only was the material of high quality, but so were my classmates. They have been a special group. Discussions on the boards were lively, supportive, and challenging which facilitated our learning both through and beyond the text. Each week I extended my understandings of what I read through application or discussion with my classmates and their shared perspectives. Certainly, this course has been more proof just how much students — no matter their age and experience — learn from each other — even beyond a text or curriculum.
The NMC/CoSN Horizon Report 2016 K-12 Edition reads like a state of the union for educational technology outlining key trends, significant challenges, and important developments in the field. Its evaluation of trends and developments as short-term (1 yr or less), mid-term (2-3 years), and long-term (4-5 years) are reasonably assessed. So too is categorizing challenges as solvable, difficult, and “wicked”. Much good information is included here. Organizing each trend into bite-sized pieces with a sort of preamble; Overview; Implications For Policy, Leadership or Practice; and then substantial For Further Reading offerings to further explore each subject.
An element of professional practice that I’ve been wrestling with over the course of this year has to do with professional development for k-12 teachers. There is much to get excited about in this report and some trends are already underway. However, at the risk of injecting a cynical note into the discussion, I’m not sure how many of these trends will become embedded in American practice until we address professional learning. Through 47 pages of the NMC/CoSN report, professional development is mentioned 11 times. In fact, “Rethinking the Roles of Teachers” is a significant challenge addressed in the report as a “solvable challenge”, even if it is buried midway into the report and is the second of only two challenges the authors consider solvable.
I would argue that no trend mentioned in this report can be implemented without significant professional learning for teachers and administrators alike. The dismal quality of much American k-12 PD, little budgetary support, and teacher attitudes towards it will all have significant impact on whether and which trends come to live in any given school or district. As such, professional learning and “Rethinking the Roles of Teachers” is the lens through which I will read this report.
Of the trends outlined in the report, those I think will gain traction in the next five years include collaborative learning, students as creators, rethinking the roles of teachers, personalizing learning, and online learning. They are likely have the best chance of taking hold in American education if for no other reason than they fit within the current paradigm and do not require technology necessarily to provide powerful learning experiences. Collaborative learning, project- and problem-based learning, and personalized learning are already a part of teacher vocabulary. Online learning is gaining traction via flipped classrooms and blended learning. With this foot in the door, technology can be incorporated in ways that modify and redesign extant units and lessons. With some shifts to what they offer, professional learning providers deliver can accomplish such modification and redefinition of existing lessons and in the process realign teachers away from teacher-centered instruction and towards new roles as guides and facilitators. PD providers need to present learning such that teachers receive “hands-on experiences … to help integrate technology in the classroom [and] create agile environments that support the development of professional learning networks where educators can seek guidance and inspiration from peers and around the globe as they rethink their pedagogies and curricula” (p. 24). Through their own hands-on experiences, teachers learn as we want their students to learn in the digital age. With such experiences, teachers are more likely to transfer their experiences to their students. Back in their classrooms, then, teachers facilitate experiences that extend students’ collaborative learning out through digital networks, empower them as creators of content and not must consumers, teach them to recognize and pursue their own interests and learning goals, and do more and more of all these activities online.
Impact on Educators
I predict that online learning will become a path to personalized learning not just for students, but for teachers too. I predict that over the next few years, teachers will figure out they can completely personalize PD, learn anytime/anywhere, at their own pace, and not have to contend with one-size-fits-all PD. I am especially excited about the prospects for digital badging. As it becomes increasingly popular, more and more educators will be able to extend their personalized, online learning even farther as they accumulate only the skills and content knowledge needed for their own specific professional learning needs. In fact, some states are already experimenting with digital badges as a way for teachers to maintain their credentials along side CPDU’s and potentially even in place of them. When these trends take off, online learning for both teacher learning and student learning will become de rigueur.
Good for Schools
All these changes will be good for schools, yes. But mostly, they will be a boon for students and learning. Young people are so disconnected from their school experiences right now. Many teachers teach for compliance and completion because such work is easy to grade and translates into easy measurables like GPA’s and graduation rates. But completion and good grades do not equal learning. And compliance and completion methods are mostly divorced from the kinds of social learning young people are used to doing with and without their networked devices when they are not in school. Perhaps one of the biggest challenges to getting more technology-based methods in the classroom is getting teachers to see themselves as facilitators and not experts. The image of themselves as experts keeps many teachers from trying things they don’t think they know well enough to teach. This is especially so with technology given how vast a landscape it is and how constantly and rapidly it changes. Prior to the digital age, it was a little easier to operate with the expert mindset. But the internet age has given us access to the sum of human knowledge and there is no way anyone can know all of it. The mobile age has given us a multiplicity of ways to access that knowledge and ways that are persistent. There is no way to be expert in all affordances either. In a blog post for a previous class I wrote about this very subject.
“As Bryan Alexander said in the Teaching and Higher Ed podcast, ‘There’s a lot of churn. But …overall we were right. We hit on the web as a major feature of literacy and learning. And that’s a good thing. We didn’t identify a horrible monster. We identified a really powerful platform for human expression and connection, with flaws, with problems. But that’s a major stride forward for the human race…. Teachers are hired to be experts and we can’t be expert in everything online. Therefore they have an extra layer of anxiety to participate in the social world of the web and they’re not the expert. They’re average users. And that is very hard and threatening. That’s why teachers have had a hard time using the web for teaching and learning.’ Yet we have to push through that anxiety and not only take our place in the digital world, but also guide the younger generations to their own critical and constructively participatory place in it as well. And as we do, let’s keep in mind ‘There’s too much to master. No one can master it all.’ So ‘grab one particular corner of it [like Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, etc.] and get comfy with it.’”
Once we can get to this point as a profession — where teachers shed their self-perceptions as experts and dive deep into their “one particular corner” of the internet or social media to feel “comfy” with it — then many more of these trends stand a chance of sticking. Then school will again be a place of interest and joy for our students and not a drill and kill testing mill.
Another significant shift needs to occur around what kind of PD is prioritized. For any of these trends to become a meaningful part of teaching and learning, teachers need to seek more learning about how to incorporate the broad concepts each of these trends represents and how technology plays a role in each. They need far less PD that is merely training for specific apps. Indeed, teachers already in the classroom will need quite a bit of focused, long-term learning so they can become “guides and mentors, modeling responsible global citizenship and motivating students to adopt lifelong learning habits by providing opportunities for students to direct their own learning trajectories” (p. 24). If administrators and teachers prioritize professional learning to focus on a limited set of student-centered outcomes that map to and differentiate for teacher learning needs, then these trends have a chance of taking root. The extent to which schools sustain limited PD over time and partner with PD providers who deliver quality learning experiences will also impact success. But where professional learning is piecemeal, random, low-quality, one-off, and conference-based, I don’t see any of the trends in the report taking root in any consistent way that is beneficial for all learners.
On the whole, Waks’s project seems too extreme and lacks enough solid grounding in the realities and political contexts of our times. As such, it would be hard to see how anyone could take it seriously as a model for transforming existing schools. Nevertheless, several of the perspectives and some of the history and research in Education 2.0 have informed my thinking and professional judgments about how schooling and education in the 21st Century ought to be done.
The Helpfulness of Waks’s Vision of the “learningweb revolution”
One way Waks’s vision has influenced my thinking is his presentation of the scope and magnitude of the social, cultural, and economic sea changes washing across the planet as a result of digital, wireless, and network technologies. Not that I wasn’t aware of these changes prior to reading Waks. But the way he compares our times to similar upheavals in society when the shift from agriculture to industry occurred lends perspective to our current moment. Yet, by highlighting just how different the industrial era is from the digital era, Waks brings into stark relief the tensions and crises the transition is causing across society in our present circumstances. He also does an effective job of addressing what must change if educators are to adapt the profession to the new world in which we already live and serve the children of a networked, digital age who are completely disaffected from industrial schooling.
Despite some of Waks’s proposals being to “out there” to be taken seriously, he presents glimmers of hope for those of us who are eager to usher in the changes we know are necessary for digitally mediated education. After all, “paradigm shifts do not take place in a vacuum. Horace Mann’s ‘common school’ revolution didn’t happen ‘of itself’; it was a direct response by economic and political elites to the social and economic changes ushered in by the automated production in New England factories after 1820” (Waks, p. 196). The history of past shifts in education let us know that the shifts are not only possible, but do happen when the political and economic conditions are right. Today, the economic conditions are ripe for this change. We just have to be prepared for when the political winds shift. When they do, many of Waks’s ideas will make for a helpful menu of educational options even if his entire project is ultimately deemed infeasible.
Another way his ideas about the learningweb revolution could be beneficial is for educators who are interested in starting a new school. For the purposes of such a project, Education 2.0 could be a useful blueprint or menu from which to design a 21st century school for the kinds of learning Waks envisions for the future. Indeed, the schools Waks’s envisions seems a suitable space for the “connectivisit” methods to be tested. As George Siemens defines it,
“Connectivism is the integration of principles explored by chaos, network, and complexity and self-organization theories. Learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements – not entirely under the control of the individual. Learning (defined as actionable knowledge) can reside outside of ourselves (within an organization or a database), is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing. Connectivism is driven by the understanding that decisions are based on rapidly altering foundations. New information is continually being acquired. The ability to draw distinctions between important and unimportant information is vital. The ability to recognize when new information alters the landscape based on decisions made yesterday is also critical.”
Sometimes described as a “new” educational philosophy for the digital age, connectivism describes what I imagine Waks’s open learning centers would be if one actually existed. However, even for a startup school, all of Waks’s version of Education 2.0 are not. Still, it does provide a bunch of paradigm-busting educators many choices for how to plan a school that provides a 21st Century education with the tools of the age central to its mission.
Colleagues and Friends (and Schools) That Are/Not Doing IT
While I may not be in a position to implement much within school contexts, I am taking my opportunities where I can grab them. Currently, one of my schools has agreed to conduct as much of our PD onlineas possible via Google Classroom. This is as much about making an opportunity out of a crisis moment given the current Illinois budget fiasco. But it is also about directly demonstrating to teachers that self-paced, mastery-oriented, just-in-time learning, provided through digital, networked, situated contexts can be powerful paths to learning. Of course, a parallel goal is for teachers to transfer the same methods through which they learn to their students. (Indeed, few moments in my PD sessions are as exciting to me as when I hear a teacher say, “This is so cool! I need to try [insert digitally mediated learning activity here] with my kids. They would love this!”) I’m certain there will be bumps and pushback. But we have to do something to start the ball rolling. Not to mention how great it feels putting into practice some of the things I’ve learned as a result of my studies at NLU. It’s also a great feeling working with a school courageous enough to take this plunge!
Still, the above school is far from the norm. Looking around the CPS schools with which I work, there is much Education 2.0 gets completely right in terms of students’ schooling and learning experiences today. Reading Waks on the heals of other scholars like boyd (It’s Complicated) and Ito (Hanging Out, Messing Around and Geeking Out), it hurts my teacher soul to walk into CPS high schools and see what kids contend with. Day after day they travel from classroom to classroom doing work that has little to no connection to their lives. The work is driven by performance oriented educators and policy makers much higher up the hierarchical org chart where all that matters, really, is high test scores, graduation rates, and college acceptance rates. Worse, most teachers provide few paths that might connect students’ interests to the content they seem to believe is so vital for them to know. When it comes to the educational methods imposed on them, each day students walk into the school and become time travelers for 8 hours a day, warping backwards to the 19th and early 20th centuries. Tragically, most of their teachers view students on phones as some kind of threat. Technology — when it is used — is the gravy on top, not the meat and potatoes of learning. In light of these conditions, is it that hard to understand students’ apathy towards their own learning? I only wish I worked with more schools and colleagues where implementing the new paradigm (though not necessarily Waks’s full vision) was happening as a matter of mission.
My Personal Assist
Even though I don’t know of a school or colleagues that are “working toward implementing this new paradigm”, I would pay real money to get a position in just such a school and begin the long, hard, complex work of leveraging students’ digital lives, tapping their interests, experiences, and expectations in order to transform teacher practice and redesigning curriculum. I would create professional learning opportunities where teachers “must consider how the content and mature organization of knowledge grow out of the practical demands of social life, and how that content is used, tested, and modified in its actual use” (Waks, p. 197). I would work towards a mastery oriented environment (Waks, p. 206) where play and error take their rightful places as the essential elements of learning that they are. And the medium and playground for such work — for students and teachers alike — would include and require the networked technologies and personal devices that are a part of everyone’s lives and central to such kinds of 21st Century learning.
The clash of paradigms described by Dr. Leonard Waks and Sir Kenneth Robinson is a struggle between preserving the hierarchical industrial model of education by reforming schooling on the one side, and deploying digital and network technologies to transform education by evolving schools into open educational centers of learning on the other.
While there are common elements between these paradigms, there are some significant differences. The industrial model of schools is characterized by hierarchical structures, standardization, and age-grouping for the purposes of initiating young people into the adult world of factory work. Some of the assumptions here include the legitimacy of the diploma system to deliver desirable employment and social allocation, the concept of “the dropout” as socially deleterious and collecting diplomas from high school, college, and graduate school is socially desirable. Another assumption is that only certified teachers ought to deliver the content they are credentialed to teach through standardized curricula.
In contrast, the Education 2.0 educational model is based on individualized learning, collaboration, and teaching and learning with digital tools and open, networked resources. Schools are conceived of as open education centers making wide use of Open Education Resources and seek to initiate young people into the adult world by connecting them to it through situated learning experiences. Advocates view teachers and students alike as participants in and contributors to the learningweb, through which they are initiated to take their place in the knowledge economy. Education 2.0 advocates also make some assumptions. The first is that students can guide their own learning journeys. The second is that non-certified persons can be co-equal educators of self-directed students simply by virtue of their content knowledge and experience. The third has to do with what often appears to be a privileging of technological means to learning ends. Granted, this last one is not necessarily what Ed 2.0 adopters believe. Nevertheless, when the use of learningweb technologies is a central component of the paradigm, the message quickly gets elided that what matters is quality instruction regardless of whether or not technology is involved.
Hesitations & Keeping Within Known Boundaries
Reasons abound for why individuals and entire systems remain within the old paradigm and be reluctant to adopt the new paradigm. One reason for remaining likely has to do with the rhetoric surrounding education. “Reform” is a difficult concept to oppose. So conceiving of oneself as a reformer provides an attractive and powerful identity. Who can’t get behind reforming schools, especially when the schools have been framed as failures? As Sir Kenneth Robinson notes, “People say we have to raise standards as if this is a breakthrough…. Yes, we should. Why should you lower them?” Ideas such as this are so positive they are easy to espouse and feel good about embracing. Another reason for keeping within the old paradigm is that most teachers likely see themselves as part of a long tradition of “passing on our cultural genes” and sending young people to meet the future (Robinson). Consciously or unconsciously, they position themselves as the next generation of educators, previous generations of which have heretofore sent their students successfully into the future. Yet lest I sound as if I’m damning with faint praise, I want to be fair. Most educators do not maintain the same perspective as we’ve been privileged to attain by virtue of our interrogating and wrestling with the big picture. Most teachers are too bogged down in the day-to-day dynamics (read: survival) that “school reform” has wrought.
Indeed, hesitation to adopt the new paradigm could very well have to do with a much more down-to-earth reason: The amount of newness Education 2.0 and the learningweb require. When we stop to consider it, what element of our profession is not effected by digital and networked technologies? To truly, meaningfully onboard we need new theories, new equipment, new procedures and policies, new strategies and methodologies, new pedagogical and content knowledge, new relationships with all stakeholders, new workflows, just to name a few. Addressing even one of these can be costly and time-consuming. Becoming overwhelmed happens quickly and thoroughly. Fight, flight, or freeze responses are only natural and manifest as choosing to keep on with what is familiar and doing what one has been doing.
Worthy of Preserving
One of the elements of the old paradigm I believe ought to be preserved has to do with the use of professional, licensed teachers who have completed accredited teacher education programs and not gone through so-called “alternative certification”. While accredited programs in the US are not perfect and can stand to be improved, graduates still leave with far more pedagogical, developmental, and methodological knowledge than their “alt cert” counterparts. They provide the pedagogical elements that form the base of teacher practice. Individuals armed with only content knowledge and practical experience in a particular field do not possess such a base. That is not to say that there is no place for community artists and entrepreneurs in our schools. But the idealized “open staffing”, as Waks describes it, is a potential Pandora’s box of outsourcing that could gut the local teacher corps, not to mention how it will likely expose students to all kinds of unqualified individuals now enrobed in the title of “teacher”. Talk about a legitimacy crisis.
Scott Sternall articulated a sentiment in his commentary on the boards this week. “I wish Breck, Bonk, and even Waks would be honest with their evaluation of why their system has flaws.” There is a whiff of intellectual dishonesty to the mission of Education 2.0 revolutionaries — at least as they articulate it in our readings thus far. As I mentioned back in week 1, societies typically do not shift paradigms quickly. Institutions like schools, with roots that go to the core of societal beliefs, are not easily changed. We all know this. So when the treatise is written as if all we need to do is throw open the doors of our schools, invite the expert community in, slap a mobile device in every child’s hand, point them towards the internet, clap them on the shoulder and education is now reformed is disingenuous nearly to the point that the project cannot be taken seriously. This is a shame because several ideas here have merit, such as the demise of the factory school, the diploma crisis, and the many affordances of the learningweb and how schools, educators, students, and parents ought to be taking advantage of its affordances to once again make teaching and learning the joyous adventures they can and should be. Even Waks’s final chapter, “What Needs to Be Done”, is entitled to suggest he will finally give us some nuts and bolts for specifically how to bring his vision to fruition. Instead, after 211 pages, he delivers an anemic and gratuitous final 10 pages of little more than common sense advice for incorporating Education 2.0 elements into the factory school paradigm. Who knew paradigmatic shift could be ushered in so easily?
Paradigm Clash in CPS
The schools I work with generally keep their heads in the sand when it comes to the broader educational technology culture. The extent to which Web 2.0 and Education 2.0 are brought into the classroom is really up to individual teachers. While a few teachers allow students to use their phones with formative assessment tools like Kahoot!, all of the technology use I see is at the substitution and augmentation levels of the SAMR model of technology integration. None of the schools I work with evince a school-wide ICT policy or ICT culture. I still see far, far too many signs like those on the left in halls and classrooms. The schools I work with have mostly high performing teachers who “get it” So when the district gutted time for professional development and common planning, teachers were highly upset about how the cuts would undermine their planning efforts and instruction. Yet even as I suggested, demonstrated, and mapped out how the collaboration features in GAFE (which all CPS teachers have access to) could be used for asynchronous planning and how with them we could still accomplish most of our goals, I met fierce pushback from teachers saying they were not working on their own time and “for free”. Frustratingly, such mindsets show how completely embedded they still are in the factory school model and school reform thinking.
Education 2.0 in My Consulting Practice
As an education consultant, much of my work is defined by technology Leveraging Web 2.0 as much as possible is how I remain present with and connected to my teachers and administrators. Zoom video meetings, Google Classroom, pushing asynchronous work, using cloud-based apps, built-in collaboration features in Google Docs for curriculum mapping, advocating for and hosting Twitter chats, demonstrating the use of social media as learning tools, using Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Google+ as ways to extend my PLN and PLN’s of teachers I work with are all ways I’ve extended the new paradigm into my work and that of the teachers I work with. Lest I sound like the model “Coach 2.0”, however, I still have a long way to go in incorporating these tools more seamlessly and automatically.
In general, the Education 2.0 paradigm provides many opportunities to use technology to transform what I do as an ed consultant. Mostly those opportunities have to do with my work. Increasingly, though, as I get used to a new app or process, I am able to draw individual teachers and administrators into the same process. It’s a little sly, admittedly. Sneaky even. Sneaky like a fox!
What makes schools complex? At the risk of sounding crass, they are comprised of and surrounded by human beings. Human beings of all ages, types, and backgrounds; each with their own needs, ideas, expectations, styles, and plans of action for what they think should and shouldn’t be happening in schools. Human beings engaged in what they all know to be the high-stakes endeavor of educating young people to take their places in the adult world as informed, equipped, engaged citizens.
Systems of Systems
A primary factor of what makes schools so complex is that not only are they systems, but they are systems of systems where each “is a set of interacting parts behaving as a whole and distinguishable from an environment by identifiable boundaries” (Waks p. 148). Consider for a moment all the nested sub-systems within a school: Classrooms, departments, course teams, grade-levels, faculties, administrators, students, clubs, and parent groups just to name a few. Beyond the system that is the school are other systems with which the school is situated and interacts, such as the local school district, the community, constituencies within the community, and grantors. Then there are the systems beyond this which also impact the school, including state boards of education and other funding agencies. Beyond the state, still, are federal departments and agencies.
Each of these systems having to do with education act as a whole, separate and distinct from its environment and each other. Each is composed of its own interacting parts, or agents, which when they follow similar rules or strategies, become a diverse type of agent. Let’s take just two subjects as an example. ELA teachers interact with each other and their students in similar ways with regard to their content and instruction. Math teachers do so as well. But more often than not, the interactions with the respective content (as opposed to interactions focusing on students) determines the kinds of interactions that occur between “ELA agents” and “math agents”. These content-based interactions make for differences in how the human agents interact with each other and with the content setting up a level of diverse agency between ELA and math departments. Waks notes that a system’s function is based on the nature of the agents and how they are arranged. As the agents interact within the system, they determine the structure of the system (p. 148), hence the differences we often see between departments, subject matter and how each is taught and learned. Each system in and of itself has the potential for very intricate and complicated interactions. Nest these systems within systems as schools are and the complexity that arises is not surprising in the least.
Human Systems vs. Industrial Systems
Inasmuch as education still functions within the industrial paradigm, so-called reformers privilege business models of efficiency, applying them to schools as just another type of factory. Such “reform” efforts, therefore, are predicated on the mistaken belief that the functions within schools can be easily modified — as if the agents within the system are inanimate objects moving along an assembly line passively waiting to be acted upon. Unlike such objects, however, humans are agents whose strong interactions regularly and repeatedly influence future events. Not only are the people in schools and all the other nested systems agents, but they are diverse agents, and thus more likely to generate strong interactions when they engage with each other. Plus, “the stronger the interactions, the more difficult it is to interpret, predict, or control the system” (Waks, p. 148). Not to mention that “[i]n complex adaptive systems agents seek to adapt to changing conditions in the system or environment to achieve their goals. Complex human systems are all inherently adaptive” (Waks, p. 149). So the more other external systems or internal agents push to reform the school, the more human agents within the school will adapt to those changes — either positively or negatively as seen from a reform perspective. As the above graphic illustrates, with all the strong interactions taking place between the diverse agents, school systems are exquisitely complex! Therefore, if we, as a society, are at all serious about our educational change efforts, we need to design those efforts with plans and timeframes that honor the needs and dynamics of the adaptive human elements through which these systems function.
Over-Simplification: “In two Years We’ll Be On To Something Else”
Over-simplification, treating schools and the human beings in them like factories churning out widgets, results from an inherent lack of understanding about or disregard for complex systems and how they operate. Such misunderstanding and disregard can be seen in efforts built on the erroneous belief that change in and of a complex system can be fast-tracked, orderly, and controlled. Thus, over-simplification is dangerous in that it will compromise the health and function of the system by collapsing complexity, treating all agents as if they were homogenous instead of diverse. In the case of schools, over-simplification is what leads to the never-ending cycle of initiatives, looking for the silver bullet solution that will catalyze the alchemy of school improvement. When the solution fails or when the next, seemingly more efficient, and “better” solution comes along, the school drops the previous initiative like a hot potato — or worse, lets it fade away without any formal closure or messaging about how it will or won’t continue to live in the life of the school — and lurches towards the new solution. As new initiatives repeatedly cycle through, agents — teachers and students in particular — experience what is commonly referred to as “initiative fatigue”. At that point, would-be reformers start to experience resistance, ennui, or outright refusal from faculty and staff to implement initiatives. When one hears sentiments such as, “In a year or two we’ll be on to something else, so why bother changing what I do?” it is a clear indication that cynicism has taken hold. Its own particular cancer, cynicism can spread rapidly throughout a system. With a cynical faculty, the work of change is tripled. For now not only do change-agents need to effect the desired, root pedagogical change, but they also have to convince the cynics and transform them back into an interactive rather than inert or resistant agent.
Another problem with over-simplification has to do with the de-professionalization that has been wrought on the teaching community, and K-12 teachers in particular. Most often, schools experience an over-simplified reform initiative hierarchically. That is, it’s coming from another system above them — either from their administrators, the district, the state, or the federal government — and not as a phase transition emerging from the school’s own edges of chaos. Such top-down actions feel like they are being imposed on the community by those with little-to-no knowledge of it. It is condescending and implies that the outsider knows better than the highly educated, credentialed, practitioner working in the community. At this point, school personnel are little more than the unionized line workers carrying out the orders of their direct reports as opposed to being the rightful decision-makers in the field as the academics and practitioners they are.
Complexity Theory In The Service of School Change
Complexity theory, in a way, is therapeutic. When we stop to consider all the moving parts, all the interactions, all the places the work can stall or encounter unexpected outcomes, can it be overwhelming? Sure. But at the same time, it acknowledges the elephant in the room that few want to recognize. That is, schools are complicated environments with lots of moving parts that are impossible to control completely. The work of school change and educational reform is hard by nature and by its nature the work of change is slow. Complexity theory blows up the overly simplified organizational flow chart view of schools and recognizes they “are not uniform…. Needs at various levels get misaligned…. [R]esults can be almost impossible to predict…[and] inherent unpredictability is an essential characteristic of complex systems. The education system, characterized by the interdependence of many moving parts, the nestedness and interconnections of subsystems, and competition for limited resources, is inherently messy” (Steele, emphasis added). Perhaps by messaging the intricate complexity of change instead of the urgency to do something — anything — quickly, we can undertake change with a paradoxically more peaceful approach. Perhaps what we need in order to feel fulfilled about such complicated undertakings, as opposed to feeling anxious, is to recognize the fact that the work will never be quick and simple. It will always be slow, unpredictable, uneven, interdependent, and messy; which, after all, any work worth doing, is.
This week’s readings got a change-up. In addition to our assigned chapters from Education 2.0, we also had to read Dr. Cunningham’s critique of the text in Educational Theory, Dr. Waks’s response to Cunningham, and Cunningham’s follow-up to Waks.
The Issue in Question
One point that has been knocking around in my head from Dr. Cunningham’s critique has to do with Waks’s assertion that Education 2.0 should be guided primarily by student interest. In this regard, Cunningham is suspicious of what he reads as Waks’s relying on the “invisible hand” and the potential deepening of inequity in our already greatly inequitable society.
“Waks’s conception of teaching with new technologies is radical, but substantially incomplete. What’s more, he advocates embracing student choice about what to learn in a way that would likely exacerbate social inequalities…. While it is true that some extraordinary young people are able — without the guidance of a set curriculum and without explicit teaching — to organize their activities in ways that extend their interests and lead to growth (and marketable skills), many are drawn, instead, to dissipative distractions and mindless entertainment…. It seems that the ‘natural learning’ he adores may really only apply to the upper classes. If we allow student choice to determine what students learn in school, aren’t we inevitably resigning ourselves to reproducing the huge and growing social inequalities our society faces today?” (Cunningham, Educational Theory 2014)
First, I should note that my reading of Education 2.0 to date is up through chapter 11. So if Waks addresses particular items between chapters 12 and 15 that are raised here, what I have written here should be taken accordingly. Second, I have made some assumptions about Dr. Cunningham’s critique. One assumption is about what he means by “natural learning” only applying to the upper classes. If by “only applying” he means “having easy and regular access to technology” that the economically disadvantaged do not always have, then his point about reproducing inequality has merit. Certainly, there are brilliant young people who are also socioeconomically disadvantaged who could educate themselves and build marketable skills based on their own choices if they have the same technological affordances and educational supports as the wealthy. Yet there are related social obstacles poor students of color face, in particular, which I will briefly explore below. The other assumption is that he did not mean upper class children are more capable of working in progressive, self-directed learning environments whereas lower class children require “structure”, “discipline”, and “limited choices” in order to learn.
Agreement with Cunningham
I agree with Cunningham, that it is far more likely that a learning model based on student-determined education with the learningweb as a central mechanism for that education would reinforce societal inequalities. Technological and educational affordances would be likely to follow the lines of social capital into which students are born. Let’s even assume for the moment the oft-touted hierarchy-flattening, democratic tendencies of the internet to be real for all who access it — a very large assumption. There’s still no guarantee that poor students of color will have the same self-guided learning experiences in light of the social obstacles many face even beyond those of technological accessibility and personal “grit” to learn. For instance, many students work during traditional after-school hours to help provide for their families. If they are not in a traditional school setting, might their families consider their online learning time negotiable and thus available as time for producing income? Also, poor students of color often face negative peer pressure when they are seen to actively or enthusiastically pursue learning. They are derided as an “Oreo” or a “sellout” or trying to “be white” — a kind of peer pressure wealthy students do not encounter to the same degree or with the same resonance. To what extent would such race-shaming from friends and family members dissuade black and brown students from putting their hearts and souls into learning compared to their racial and socioeconomic counterparts? Additionally, many poor African-American and Hispanic families represent generations of limited formal education. Not only that, but the limited school experiences of family elders were often in hostile learning environments and negatively frame their adult perceptions of their children’s school experiences. Many parents and grandparents in said families do understand that education is crucial. Yet they lack the time, mindsets, and skills to adequately support the cognitive and academic behaviors their students need to develop in order to be successful. In most cases, these parents and guardians depend quite heavily on teachers, formal school structures, and their children’s own (developing, inconsistent, and often unregulated) self-discipline in order to inculcate those skills in their children. Given such complicated dynamics, what might the self-guided learning experience be for a young person in West Garfield Park who comes from just such a family, compared to a student from Lake Forest, both of whose parents have master’s degrees?
Lacking the social supports described above combined with inconsistent access to state of the art technology that money affords, I have every confidence that the hypothetical student from West Garfield Park will be sucked into far more “dissipative distractions” — whether those distractions are caused by online content, undeveloped academic skills, or technology and accessibility obstacles. Sadly, when faced with such struggles — struggles that the hypothetical Lake Forest counterpart mostly will not face in either quantity or degree — they will be far less likely to experience “the joy of self-directed learning that accompanies an uncharted excursion on the learning web” (Cunningham, Educational Theory 2014) consistently enough to actually attain a useful education. Furthermore, how will they connect with others outside their social milieu and strengthen their connections and accrue their own social capital — social capital and connections their wealthy counterpart is born into?
Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda
Absolutely, Waks should not have avoided addressing issues of inequality that are likely to result from Education 2.0. In fact, I’d consider not explicitly addressing it a major weakness of his project in its current articulation, particularly in this age marked by the Occupy movement and Black Lives Matter. As is evident in Education 2.0, Cunningham’s critique, and Waks’s rebuttal, Waks does believe there are still important roles for teachers and schools to play. As such, he could have avoided this very legitimate critique had he included more details, more specifics of how the roles he reserves for the schools (mentoring, learning guidance and support, facilitating community connections, open-networked learning centers, etc.) would dovetail with students’ self-selected, online learning (Cunningham, Educational Theory 2014). For instance, in what proportions do students learn on their own versus in the learning centers? How much time is devoted to the various activities reserved for the learning centers? How is it apportioned? Who makes those decisions? And vitally, how will the school side of the equation both guard against and disrupt the entrenched inequities of our highly inequitable society? Answers to such questions might have spared him this particular focus of Cunningham’s critique.
By not answering such questions, Waks also left himself open to Cunningham’s insertion of the invisible hand as part of the mechanism for Education 2.0. And with it the associated inferences that said hand is invisible because there is no such thing and that free markets by themselves do not always act in the interest of the greater good. While there are some very exciting elements in Education 2.0 — likely even predictive — there is also a utopic air to the project which unfortunately allows room for the more pragmatic educator take it less seriously. Besides, utopias have a way of turning dystopic when all the actors in the complex system begin to act in unforeseen ways. Clearly, the inclusion of an entire chapter about complexity theory was not enough to shield Waks from the criticism that he’s leaving far too much open to chance and the likelihood that inequities will persist.
By directly addressing equity as a part of the project, Waks could have presented a stronger argument for the positive disruptive effect Education 2.0 could have both in evolving education and improving our society. Instead, the project is vulnerable to accusations of relying on too many complex systems that will only reinforce inequities and not overturn them. Worse yet, these complex systems are types of free markets: Those of education, of the wilds of the internet, of student interests, and of the caprices of young people in the process of growing their pre-frontal cortices.
Cunningham, C. (2014). Book Reviews. Educational Theory,64(4), 409.
Waks, L. J. (2016). Education 2.0: The learningweb revolution and the transformation of the school. New York, NY: Routledge.
In the vast majority of the schools I work with or have taught in, it is definitely not the case that the internet has transformed K-12 education in ways that were unprecedented by giving everyone access to all the knowledge of the world. Neither, has it, in my experience, pushed classroom learning away from content and basic skills or enabled more authentic, situated learning. To date, I have only ever been in two classrooms out of the dozens of CPS schools I’ve worked with, visited, or toured where I saw practices that even remotely approach this description. Even then, the sophisticated use of BYOD and blended instructional methods were still teacher-driven and focused on content and skills. I must admit, my own classroom was not one of the two, knowing what I know now — though no doubt I would have said otherwise when last I had my own classroom in 2008.
Dynamics At Play
There were a number of dynamics at play in the early days of the internet that I believe short-circuited this utopic vision from becoming even a partial reality. To be sure, “there is an essential lesson we must take to heart if we are to construct a new informational paradigm for education — that Internet architecture by design undermines hierarchy and liberates the end users at their powerful personal computers and mobile Internet devices…. The machine is really a giant centrifuge, forcing power outward from hierarchical systems to computer end users, individually and collectively forming a networked global society” (pp. 68-69). In as much as this is true, the industrial model of schooling has a vested interest in preventing this educational nirvana from being realized. Still, there are some other specific dynamics I see as interfering.
High Stakes Testing and School Reform
The early 1990’s were the point where high-stakes testing and school reform were shifting into high gear. As Waks has noted, these have the effect of solidifying the industrial model of schooling. So even as some educators wanted to innovate as part of a “reform” agenda on one hand, they were bound even more closely to the industrial model on the other via the use of test scores to measure the effectiveness and efficiency of their reform methods.
Cost and the Digital Divide
Then as today, costs for digital hardware and some software are prohibitively expensive and out of the financial ranges of most schools. Beyond a few labs, hardware carts, and faculty laptops, schools lack the funding to put a device in the hands of every student. While doing so is far from guaranteeing high level learning via such devices, digital instruction and learning without them is impossible.
The high associated costs in the early days drove the digital divide separating the digital haves from the digital have-nots — whether a family or a school district. Costs for hardware, commercial software, and basic internet service, never mind even more expensive high-speed options, all contributed to setting up this initial divide. When thinking in terms of academic allocation and legitimacy, as Waks does, one can see a digital analog being set up by the initial and consequent digital divides. People with access to the internet have a far wider allocation to the new social and network structures of the digital age. So even as the internet can be a disruptor of the allocations made by the industrial society and its schools, the economic realities of the industrial society transferred its allocations to the early digital/information/knowledge society via the digital divide.
Roll of Professional Learning and Educator Mindsets
Professional learning for both teachers and administrators has a profound impact on the extent to which information and communication technology gets implemented in a given school. Peggy Ertmer and Anne Ottenbriet-Leftwich have researched (PDF) technology change in schools and have found that in schools where teachers adapted ICT in meaningful ways, all had six characteristics in common:
They were well equipped for ICT.
Their focus was on changing the process of learning using ICT.
Skills were acquired as part of the process of using those skills purposefully.
The school provided support.
Teachers had opportunities to discuss, reflect and troubleshoot with peers and facilitators over time.
The nature of student learning changed along with teachers’ beliefs and knowledge sets.
They have found thatboth teachers and administrators need quality, differentiated professional developmentthat addresses their educational belief systems as well as the learning needed for any given digital tools. In fact, Ertmer and Ottenbriet-Leftwich found that substantive and lasting change around digital methods will not occur with out the former in particular. They also found that school culture is a major driver of change. In schools were the administrators believe incorporating digital learning is a vital aspect to teaching and learning, teachers are more likely to include them in their practices. Even where administrators had laissez-faire attitudes about technology, those schools did not make any meaningful shifts to include digital instructional practices.
When we think about Ertmer and Ottenbriet-Leftwich’s research and acknowledge the paucity of time, money, and attention given to substantive, quality, professional learning for most US teachers, it is no surprise that schools are not making the shifts they need to make to bring teaching and learning into the digital age.
Affordances of Web 2.0 and a Wishlist
Still, 2017 is not 1997. As Waks notes, Web 1.0 was about desktop hardware, dial-up connections, and downloaded applications. The internet was essentially an application in as much as it could only be accessed via the Netscape browser. However, Web 2.0 is mobile, apps and data live in “the cloud”, the browser and the internet have become an operating system in and of themselves through which we can work, play and interact with nearly anyone on the planet via millions of digital networks (p. 81). Even though the world has shifted to this more interactive and participatory model of Web 2.0, I wonder if many educators and parents are not thinking about it in Web 1.0 terms, even as many of them make use of the networked technologies in their personal lives.
What do I wish were different? To start, I wish that with the affordances of lower costs and greater access to what danah boyd calls “networked publics”, adults will realize what young people have. Namely, that Web 2.0 is indeed all about connecting people, not computers (p. 81). That it is defined by social and commercial factors and not technology (p. 82). I would like educators and parents to allow kids to engage more in the behaviors identified byMimi Ito as hanging out, messing around, and geeking out in these digital spaces. I would like to see teachers push their own use past administrative mere tasks with email and online gradebooks and into more instructional practices. I would like to see students, educators, and parents all “make [their] web experience more interactive and engaging…with creative ideas” (p. 82) and realize that the digital sphere is not something separate from “real life”, but just another “social and commercial milieu, not [emphasis added] the underlying technologies” (p. 82). Finally (for now) I’d like teachers specifically to take hold of the “bisociation” Waks cites Arthur Koestler as describing (p. 86). Such “bisociation” in the era of the mash-up and Open Educational Resources provides a great frame for pushing teachers out of their isolation and towards more collaborative work. I’m imagining “bisociated” lesson plans, unit plans, and curricula. Perhaps even a time where the term “cross-curricular” planning fades away to be replaced by “bisociated planning”. A time when teachers creating user-generated content on web sites and wikis like Teachers Pay Teachers or the Smithsonian Learning Lab is de rigueur and not reserved for the “tech geeks” among us.
And, I see this all coming to pass. In the next 10 years? Perhaps. But given the tremendous impact and change the internet has wrought on global society, I don’t think even education can insulate itself from the changes for long.
Academic disasters: A Nation at Risk, the Department of Education, “excellence”, international rankings, high-stakes tests, school reform, “inefficiency”, breakdown of social allocation, diploma inflation, crisis of legitimacy, breaks between youth and the adult world.
If I wanted to make a film about educational apocalypse, I might use chapters 4 and 5 as the basis for my treatment. There is a lot going on here. Much of it very interesting, including the brief history of the US Department of Education, the long view of the US’s standing in TIMSS and PISA results, and the outline of educational inefficiencies. Waks weaves this all together, effectively connecting the history to his thesis for education 2.0.
Schools Left Behind?
A question that keeps coming up in class discussion is that of why, when so many teachers are returning for graduate work in curriculum, instruction, and technology, does so little seem to change back at the school level? Just over halfway through chapter 4, Waks states, “The school reform movement since A Nation at Risk in 1983 has not challenged the factory paradigm. Instead, it has strengthened it.” He continues to describe how schools have gone on to require years more study in core courses — incidentally, those that are evaluated on high stakes tests — and continue to organize instruction by age-grades. I don’t know if this situation is so much one of “the ongoing historical development of society, leaving schools behind” as much as the schools being further cemented into the industrial paradigm. The politics of the situation have also helped ossify the schools in the outmoded model. The Brown Center on Education Policy estimates that the US currently spends $1.7 billion a year on testing. With so much money at stake, lobbyists for the Big Four companies — “Pearson Education, ETS (Educational Testing Service), Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and McGraw-Hill— collectively spent more than $20 million lobbying in states and on Capitol Hill from 2009 to 2014” (Report: Big education firms spend millions lobbying for pro-testing policies). So while there are definitely shifts in society that Waks details, I’m less certain that schools are being left behind as much as they are being held in place by the lobbying dollars and resulting politics propagated by those who stand to gain financially from schools being in a perpetual state of reform. Add to this teachers’ conceptualization of themselves as unionized laborers within the industrial model as opposed to highly knowledgeable academics and the potential for change is further thwarted.
Whence The Failures?
Given that we are now living in a time where there is near total saturation of web-connected
devices, I would not say technology is at fault for the failures we see in school. However, howeducators use that technology is. Frameworks like SAMR, TPACK, and TIM are useful tools for teachers to “level up” their technology use in the classroom. Yet, too many dwell in the Substitution and Augmentation levels of SAMR, for example, where technology is an instructional add-on as opposed to a method of learning. If anything, this is a failure of professional learning for teachers and priority-setting and support from administrators for incorporating technology. Administrators must create conditions that do not waste teachers’ and students’ energies, that shield them from boredom, empowers them to prevail, and harnesses their youthful energies and abilities (p. 51). Smartphones should be allowed, websites should not be blocked and anyone below the age of 13, as danah boyd notes, should not be criminalized when they tick a EULA “Accept” check box so they can use certain web sites to live and learn in a networked culture.
Technology The Fix?
There are no silver bullets. Neither is there anything inherently technological or 21st century about communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creating(the 4 C’s). However, inasmuch as networked, mobile technologies turbocharge the acquisition of such valued practices in a knowledge economy, and allow us to teach and learn beyond the constraints of the factory model school and classroom, I believe they are a tool in our toolbox for ushering in a new system of education. But if teachers can get out from underneath the burdens of being “experts”, incorporate more choice for students’ learning pathways and products, make room for students to follow their interests, and engage in more online learning experiences themselves, then I think there are a number of issues Waks outlines that could be fixed as a result.
For instance, we might close the breach between youth and adult worlds. Technology could be used to get us out of diploma inflation and the belief that more schooling is the answer for failing schools. Thoughtful use of technology partnered with strong pedagogical practices could be an answer to rebalancing allocation and legitimacy. I would imagine the full realization of digital and mobile technologies for education is tremendously threatening to high schools, colleges and the testing establishment. After all, “[s]chools and colleges have retained legitimacy because…students and parents know that if you want to get ahead you need a diploma. Graduates know it even better, through their direct experiences in society; they are accepted or rejected for positions based on their diplomas. Dropouts know this power best — they are allocated to failure, anticipate, it, and adapt to it” (p. 64) But what if K-12 and college were not the only path to allocation? What if badged learning and informal, connected learning were also seen as legitimate precisely because they are paths through and among the adult world? What constitutes education ought to diversify such that each diversified path that allows the learner to accumulate their “10,000 hours” is just as legitimate for access and allocation to their respective fields in the adult world.
What Can Technology Fix?
For some reason, at this point I’m thinking of the poem, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”. I’m thinking that while the revolution might not be televised, the evolution is certainly on a screen. And, brother & sister, you are able to evolve from home, unplugged and turned on —
though not dropped out. In fact, just the opposite. If you really want to be a part of the evolution, you are expected to participate, create, collaborate, mashup. The revolution might not be brought to you by Xerox. But the evolution is being brought to you by Google, Android, Apple, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, WhatsApp, GSuite, Padlet, Pintrest, YouTube, Vimeo, Zoom, Schoology, Google Classroom, Kahoot!, App Store, Google Play, Wolfram|Alpha, Open Educational Resources, Kahn Academy, and Project Gutenberg, to name a few. Indeed, the evolution is already underway. Distance learning, LMS’s, 1-to-1 programs, genius hour, makerspaces are all slowly starting to make inroads, re-establishing the relevance of learning for students by tapping into their interests and their technologies.
Still, what technology can accomplish is completely limited by what humans do with it. As danah boyd says, the good, the bad, and the ugly that we find online are not new to humanity. The online environment only amplifies that good, bad, and ugly. As such, we have to get much more intentional around media literacy and digital citizenship. This goes for adults as well as young people. There’s more than a whiff of hypocrisy among some adults when it comes to restricting online access for students. We all have to learn how to use this technology creatively and responsibly because we’re all new to this era. And age is not a determiner of one’s fluency and effective use. As we do this, I think we will rediscover those “alternative methods for allocating social positions” (p. 59) and bring a richness back to teaching and learning that recognizes a diversity of paths, and values connections between the adult and adolescent worlds that the industrial era wiped out.
Waks, L. J. (2016). Education 2.0: The learningweb revolution and the transformation of the school. New York, NY: Routledge.
Two ideas in this week’s reading particularly stuck with me, not because the notions are necessarily new, but because of how they were elaborated, placed in the context of our course work, and how they then framed my reflections on my high school experiences. These ideas certainly, then, have implications for our work as professional educators as well. Those ideas are schools as places of initiation and education as a “process by which a culture transmits itself across the generations” (p. 12). However, the notion of education as transmitter becomes a different matter altogether as Waks makes the distinction between education and schooling, at which point one sees schooling as transmitting itself across generations en lieu of education — or at the very least, alongside it.
My High School According to Waks
The high school I attended consistently ranked among the top public districts in the state. In
the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, it was the epitome of the suburban district delivering a “conventional curriculum-based schooling” (p.11) for the mostly college-bound upper middle-class students it served. About a dozen years out from the first rumblings of the Internet (back when it was a proper noun), the faculty and curriculum of my high school absolutely set a path for a “‘particular way of becoming a person-in-society'”(p. 12) . It transmitted the college prep culture across the generations from the Postwar/GI Bill years of the Greatest Generation through the Vietnam years of the Baby Boomers to those of us in Generation X. However, the society my high school sought to initiate me into would no longer exist by the time I graduated from college.
The predictable and orderly “rules of governing…that build up around all of the significant aspects of life in society” (p. 28) my high school teachers were preparing us for were not those of the social, networked, collaborative, knowledge economy in which we currently live. As an educator, I can look back now and see quite clearly the assumptions our teachers made about who we would be as adults reflected in what they taught us and how they taught it to us. They initiated us to be professionals and business people, specifically working in New York City, mostly in high rises, offices and cubicles. Aside from the occasional think/pair/share exercise, I can’t recall a single small-group-activity-to-large-group-shareout I ever experienced in four years of high school classroom learning. Yet I do remember an entire lesson dedicated to learning how to do the “subway fold” with a newspaper. (This is a particular kind of large-scale origami that with a specific set of folds, flips and turns allows one to read a broadsheet newspaper on a crowded train without the paper ever taking up more space than a trade paperback. I even remember the class being instructed to turn to the business section to start the fold and then our teacher coming to each of our desks to watch us demonstrate the fold as an individual performance assessment.) Talk about initiation.
My high school was also the perfect example of mass schooling that habituated us “to the norms of industrial life rather than academic learning” (p. 40). The only exceptions to that would be my “egg-crated” French classes and “extracurricular” theater program. I can point to real learning from those experiences. Still, if I had to estimate, I’d say my high school learning consisted of 25% education and 75% schooling. It really wasn’t until college that I can begin identifying multiple courses that exposed me to much more new knowledge and understandings than I can count — even if it was done within a hierarchical model. But from my high school experiences, I can write well and I can still speak, read, and write French. I can present in front of audiences of all sizes. I can fold a newspaper like nobody’s business. But math stumps me both conceptually and practically. When it came to math I wish I had been allowed to “build up [an] active capability sufficient to perform with enjoyment in activities and share in their values” — and for me, this entailed different methods than were consistently employed throughout my K-12 experience. Given my deep fascination with language, what if I had been encouraged to explore math as another language with its own vocabulary, grammar and syntax rather than as mere formulae known by “rote learning unconnected to performance” (p. 30)? I imagine I would have had a very different experience of math then and far less anxiety about it today.
Waks’s 7 characteristics of the hierarchical/industrial/factory model (p. 38) map directly to my high school. So too were we examples of Sizer’s point that the architecture and grammar of contemporary schooling have changed so little in the past 100+ years and we were so stuck in that way of schooling that college as the next step after high school wasn’t even conceived of as optional (p. 39). In my family, the question was never, “Are you going to college after high school?” In my family, the questions were, “Which four-year college will you attend?” and “Will you attend close to home and commute, or will you go away to college and live on campus?” As a teenager, I was barely even aware of my astounding economic luck to have those as my options, never mind understand the underlying assumptions.
The Sticky Framing Question
I keep returning to the question of the ways in which my high school was a success or a failure in terms of Waks’s beliefs. In terms of how it functioned as an institution that “introduce[d] order and predictability [and] consist[ed] of rules governing the practices that build up around all of the significant aspects of life in society” (p. 28) — such as life and society still were in the early 1980’s — I would say it was successful. Where it failed was in the administration’s and faculty’s ability to see what was coming just five years down the pike, adapt to it, and prepare us accordingly as best they could. Admittedly, a nearly impossible order given the architecture of schooling. So they schooled all of us such that we could attend college and then take our place in a stable, lifelong, white-collar career with a single company that would then provide the benefits we need through retirement — just as our parents and grandparents had experienced. It makes me laugh even to type that today. For Gen X, those work and societal scenarios were already obsolete by the time we graduated college. And that meant years of struggle, doubt, and misbelief about our own success when, by the age of 28, we were already on to our second or third job placement. Sadly, those outdated notions were only reinforced by the older generations who questioned our ability to hold a job and admonished us to “settle down” and “make a decision” about what to do with our lives. My high school and the educators who staffed it did not recognize that “social, political, religious and economic institutions work together in an interdependent institutional order” and that several of those were about to change “in fundamental ways [and that education] must adapt” (p. 28). That was so at the dawn of the information age and it is so again as a Civilization 2.0 reveals itself through a truly global, collaborative society connected through the digital, networked devices that billions of people carry in their pockets. Nearly every institution has been impacted by the internet and information and communication technology — particularly our social, political and economic institutions. Yet our educational institutions have been slow “to give”.
Reflecting on this week’s readings through these framing questions has left me a bit dispirited. Heidi Hayes Jacobs is fond of asking teachers, “What year are you preparing your students for?” From my high school experiences as a student and the evidence I see as a teacher and consultant now 30 years on, the answer — at least in urban schools — more often than not is indeed the 1990’s. Society has changed several times over in the years since I was in high school, and yet too many of our schools chug along in the same, centuries-old, outmoded paradigm. Still, Waks helps us remain optimistic. “Mass secondary education is an accident that turned into an institution. As we re-imagine education in the Internet age, remember that today’s system is an unshapely human invention that today’s humans can replace by another invention better suited for our times” (p.21). That’s encouraging, even if it is a long road ahead.
Waks, L. J. (2016). Education 2.0: The learningweb revolution and the transformation of the school. New York, NY: Routledge.
While there is no requirement that we need to keep a blog for this course, I have gotten used to doing so in order to keep a record of my own learning. Consequently, entries here may be sporadic.
The first week’s discussion prompt
“What do you think Dr. Waks’s purposes and intentions are in his book, Education 2.0? Are you sympathetic to those purposes? Do you have any skepticism about his approach or where you think he’ll be going in the book? Are you excited to read this book? Why or why not?”
To begin, the full title of this text is very alluring: Education 2.0: The Learningweb Revolution
and the Transformation of the School. Even the graphic on the cover draws one in in unexpected ways. Featuring a flat screen computer monitor with a mortar board perched on a top corner with a digital wire frame model of a hand extending from it. At a quick glance it’s easy to interpret that model hand as grasping a human hand and drawing it in towards the monitor/the digital world. But in fact, it’s extending a diploma, which even in its outward motion, still simultaneously draws one into the digital realm of the monitor as the method of attaining the credential. It’s quite a subtle, yet powerful visual representation of the title, and likely the themes contained therein.
As someone who has “a thing” for theory in so far as it has practical applications, the fact that the very first person Dr. Waks acknowledges is John Dewey (along with several other philosophers and theoreticians) is a good sign in my book. I learn best by starting with a global view and then scoping down to see how the big picture applies to the real world. To start with these big picture thinkers is encouraging. That said, it could also signal that the text will be mostly theory with little suggested action. Looking at the table of contents, only the last chapter,“What Needs to Be Done?”, contains a verb in the chapter title. This gives me some pause given the book title includes the word “transformation”. So, I will predict that it is the readers who will have to do the lion’s share of developing the actions needed to bring about the changes implied or suggested in the text. I find it interesting too that I’m reading the acknowledgements of a text with a Web 2.0 eye — as a kind of descriptive narrative of the author’s collaborative network. Connected learning and the 4 C’s in analog form.
Insofar as Waks lays out his proposition “that the Internet and its new social tools have much to contribute to such new social models of learn and living,” I am sympathetic. He rightly and succinctly sums up the extent to which schools have ineffectively employed computers for education and only as add-ons for furthering the industrial model of schooling. Already by the bottom of page xi I’m considering all the ways I’ve been complicit while believing I was doing something cutting edge (at least as far as my technology use when I was teaching — which last was in 2006).
As a coach and consultant, however, I’ve been using Web 2.0 technologies for professional learning much more. But after three classes in the LTE program I realize that even that work has not pushed the envelope sufficiently. I’m finding a high degree of relevance when Waks writes, “Researchers will conduct assessment studies pitting high-tech and no-tech instructional methods against one another in a horserace — with inconclusive results. These responses inevitably miss what is most important about the new technologies — that they are already [emphasis added] facets of new ways of life with their own distinctive processes and ends” (p. xii).
One of the challenges I regularly face as a coach and consultant is getting both administrators and teachers to actually integrate ICT methods into their priorities and practices. For the more resistant, they live in that “horserace”. The difference is that to them the results are conclusive and no-tech or low-tech wins the race. For many of the teachers I work with they either have no interest in digital learning or they believe they don’t have the time to become expert enough in it in order to teach with it. Yet the refrain I keep singing is that the technology is already here and impacting all our lives. Not just the lives of teens. So why are we not using it to teach students who are completely connected the other 16 hours a day they are not in school? Why are we not teaching them how to be responsible, thoughtful, creative users of that technology as well? Consequently, I felt validated reading the above passage and am quite sympathetic to Waks’s message and mission.
“[T]eens are true adults whose development is artificially inhibited by constraining institutions, especially schools. Freed from these constraints, teens are highly capable — in some ways more so than adults” (p. 6). As a high school teacher who has taught mainly 9th graders throughout my career, I’m always amazed at exactly what teenagers can do when we adults set up just enough of a scaffold and then get the hell out of their way and watch. I’m never completely prepared for their boundless creativity, flashes of profound insight and wisdom, and righteous yearning for justice. With 5 decades+ on this earth, I know what horrors humans are capable of. Yet I still shake my head in disbelief when I see or hear something terrible a person or group of people have done. I’ve wondered if that is because I’ve never quite grown out of my own teen mindsets. I wonder if that’s why I believe “teens are awesome, because (some of us at least) still have little bits of innocence from our childhood combined with maturity as we turn into adults” (p. 6).
Finally, Waks articulates something that I have long believed and could not fully formulate, which is Rawls’s “Aristotelian principle”. It hurts my soul as a human being and makes me scream “Malpractice!” as an educator when I walk into a classroom and see students copying information from a textbook into a packet; then to see the teacher walk the room at the end of the period checking for completion of said packet and calling it learning. This is so far below what humans need to thrive because “other things equal, human beings enjoy the exercise of their realized capacities (their innate or trained abilities), and this enjoyment increases the more the capacity is realized, or the greater its complexity” (p. 9).
Conclusion and Final Thoughts
With all of these experiences in my own practices, I am quite sympathetic to Waks’s intention and purposes. From my learnings so far in the LTE program, I absolutely believe in his purposes, his mission. I believe getting educators to incorporate the technologies that are relevant to the lives and experiences of 21st century children is a key to rejuvenating student interest and excitement about learning. And it would certainly seem as if this is Waks’s project. If pushed to articulate where I’m skeptical, I would say it’s around the combination of what may be a significant amount of theory, combined with his stating that this is not about “fixing, reforming, or improving today’s schools, but at laying out a new blueprint for an educational transformation — a shift to a new paradigm for new kinds of educational organizations.” I’m not skeptical about the need for such work. I’m skeptical because it seems to call for a razing of very old, entrenched institutions and very deep-seated societal beliefs about those institutions. And while I may be someone who can get on board with blowing it all up and starting from scratch, societies do not respond quickly to the kinds of paradigm shifts Waks is calling for. What I sense from Dr. Waks so far — and I share — is a sense of urgency to bring about this paradigm shift. What I fear is that it might take generations to happen to the extent we need it to. That said, I think it is no accident that chapter one as a whole is about young people (not “children”, by the way). As such, it implicitly makes young people the foundation, the center, the reasons for the next 14 chapters to follow. That not only excites me. It makes me hopeful that if society can see and believe that this project is about young people and their future, as well as our collective future, then we might be able to make this paradigm shift sooner rather than later.
Waks, L. J. (2016). Education 2.0: The learningweb revolution and the transformation of the school. New York, NY: Routledge.
Our readings this week focused was on Digital citizenship, access, and policy. A shift, but one that turned out to be fruitful in terms of getting me to think about more nuts and bolts of ICT implementation, teaching and coaching.
Digital Equity and Access
The more I read and the more I experience as a student in this grad program, the more I believe the path to better access for students runs through teachers having direct ICT learning experiences themselves. District and school policies, administrator attitudes and priorities, and parent fears and misconceptions all hold their various concerns and possible obstacles. However, the critical juncture ultimately is the teacher who either understands the need for students to have connected learning experiences or does not. For those that do understand, they do all they can to provide those experiences. Continued support and professional learning about is, of course, vital, given the dynamic and ever-changing nature of the internet. However, for those “reluctant” or “traditional” teachers, their understanding needs to be developed. With new knowledge and continued support ought to come a change in instructional behaviors. Most teachers want to do good by their students. But they also feel the need to be experts in their classrooms. So if we provide teachers with their own professional learning experiences that ask them to practice the 4 C’s as learners, they will likely recognize the power of such learning experiences and want to provide the same for their students. In so doing, students have increased, and hopefully better, access.
Digital citizenship and acceptable/responsible use policies our school
It was 2009 when last I had my own classroom. Looking back to that time is instructive given how much has changed in the ensuing 8 years. Our use policy was an AUP since the notion of an RUP didn’t exist yet. Or if it did, no one at our school was privvy to the concept. Students and parents had to sign a form acknowledging that they read, understood and would abide by its terms as well as any consequences for their breach. Additionally, students had to pass a mandatory multiple choice quiz about the AUP’s content with a grade of 80% or better in order to gain access to the school network. (They could take it as many times as they needed to attain the minimum score.) But as Rethinking Acceptable Use Policies to Enable Digital Learning describes it, “[r]equiring students to sign a document indicating they will comply with the district policies may or may not mean that they understand and accept the commitment they are making. A ‘sign off’ could be as casual and thoughtless as the way people sometimes place a check in the accept box on applications or software ‘terms and conditions.'” The quiz was meant for students to do more than merely sign off; but looking back, I don’t think it was significantly more than that. While the large majority of students passed the quiz on the first try, I would surmise that most of them were going for short-term cramming more than long-term understanding. Designing an RUP and the on-boarding process around it today, I would definitely include student voice in its development and some kind of course work to deepen their understanding by applying it in real contexts.
Approaching digital citizenship in your class
Again, going back to 2009, I can see that I definitely focused on what students should not do with technology. That included everything from using the CD drives to play advisory-labeled music, to looking at web sites they shouldn’t be on, to playing games or designing gym shoes instead of doing assignments. (Looking back now, I should have leveraged the creative aspects of those last two examples. But what did I know?) To be fair, though, I was also giving assignments that usually hovered around the substitution level of SAMR and occasionally at the augmentation level. So it’s not likely they saw why doing the work on a computer necessarily mattered to their learning. In other words, their behaviors were, in part, a sign of boredom or low relevance. At the time, we used eChalk, which was as close to an LMS as we got in 2009. Every student account included an email address. So the kinds of citizenship behaviors students demonstrated on a computer were a bit more limited. However, cell phones were another matter. None of my students could afford smartphones, so the most distracting thing they could do with their phones during school was text friends and family. And text they did. Sexting became an issue. At times, fights both in and out of school, would erupt as a result of texting drama. In one instance, we even had parents drawn into texting drama between their children come to the school midday prepared to fight each other. Unfortunately, our reactions in the face of these events were all punitive and centered around confiscating cell phones if they were visible during the school day and then requiring parents to come to the school to pick them up. Repeat “offenders” would get detention.
Needless to say, my approach would be very different today given all the creative, collaborative ways to use phones now. I would certainly identify the ways students need to protect themselves if they find they are in an uncomfortable situation online. But I would focus much more on how to support each other, protect each other, and inform adults when they are in those moments. That’s the doing part instead of the don’t do. It’s no different than teaching kids not to get into a stranger’s car and what to do if they’re approached by someone they don’t know. I would also spend the vast majority of time and energy focusing on all the amazing 4-C’s ways of doing, creating with these devices. A quote by Bryan Alexander has become a favorite of mine and it undergirds my thinking now. “We hit on the web as a major feature of literacy and learning. And that’s a good thing. We didn’t identify a horrible monster. We identified a really powerful platform for human expression and connection, with flaws, with problems. But that’s a major stride forward for the human race.”
Thus, to my way of thinking, we need to mediate the flaws, yes. But we cannot let the flaws completely define how we use the web such that they impede our using it for all the great things we can do online.
Resources, tips and ideas from the week’s readings
This is a great framing question and my answer would be “No”. The model described here where teachers have to engage in the work of citizenship themselves, not just have the work described to them by an expert lecturer is the one that, as I said above, is the path to better ICT access and 21C learning. (And I feel sorry for the one teacher, whose last name is Snowden. That can’t be easy right now, especially working in the [ed] tech field!)
What I liked most about this blog was not only examining ones digital footprint and how to create a positive one, but I particularly like the idea of improving one’s digital footprint. When it comes to thinking about our digital footprint, we more often focus on the tattoo aspect in that once you put something into the digital world it’s out there permanently since we can’t control what remains on, say, Google’s servers, or what other people might download and save from our posts. And that’s a lesson that any Internaut needs to understand at the deepest level. However, we can in fact scrub our identities on sites like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. by going through and deleting elements that might not fit with the online persona we wish to present once we have a better understanding of digital citizenship. This is definitely a surface scrub given that we will never know what is saved at deeper levels of cyberspace. However appearances matter. At least anyone who would be looking to manipulate or make judgments about us based on our digital presence would have to work harder to find that ill-considered material as opposed to simply finding it right there on our public social media feeds.
This week’s readings definitely touched on some of the policy matters surrounding the use of ed tech. Not our usual fare in class so far. But that shift toward the practical and legal matters was an interesting shift to get us thinking about a different perspective in regard to this work. It was also instructive for me to compare where we were 8 years ago and how the times and tech require a rethinking about the policies we put in place and how to roll those out to teachers, parents, and of course, our students.
Processing Questions from Lucy Gray Following EdSurge & Otus Presentations
1) What do you think of EdSurge?
Beyond randomly finding an article or blog post with an EdSurge URL, I’m not that familiar with the site. Since Mary Jo Madda’s webinar appearance I’ve spent some time browsing the site. In general, I’d say it looks like a useful clearinghouse of information. Their Product Index is an elegantly organized resource and provides a succinct breakdown of each product. Actual user reviews make this particularly useful through both the Case Studies and Summit Reviews. Providing teacher voice as a professional word of mouth — an educational Yelp, if you will — takes some of the uncertainty out of purchasing or usage decisions for unknown, untried products. The one area that I’m skeptical about and will need to spend more time on is the Research section. When Pearson and AT&T Aspire logos are so prominently displayed as funders, red flags go up and the page feels rather advertorial. Still the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Nellie Mae Education Foundationare funders as well, if one reads the mouse print.
2) Did you learn about any new tools from Mary Jo? If so, which ones?
Most of Mary Jo’s talk seemed more general and was a confirmation or reiteration of much of the research I’ve read thus far in my studies at NLU. Mainly that in many cases, technology isn’t changing the look and feel of classrooms. As she put it, students are still sitting at desks in forward-facing rows looking at a teacher, work is not student centered, and tech is “sprinkled” into instruction as an add-on. She added what the research bears out, namely that this is the case with even many tech savvy teachers. That said, she did mention a few resource I would like to explore: Global Nomads, Everfy, Remind, and particularly the 50 States Project.
3) Any other takeaways from Mary Jo’s portion of the webinar?
The two takeaways, again, weren’t anything new, but confirmation, which is always affirming. The first of these was her articulation of the three requirements schools must meet to qualify for particular grant funding: Total and functioning wifi infrastructure, a 5-year plan to continue funding once the grant is depleted, and a 5-year professional learning plan. The other was her description of how schools in Houston take on new tech initiatives. They roll it out. This is something I am constantly wrestling with teachers about. When we start something new, we cannot start out at 100%. And to expect that starting at 100% is not only unreasonable, but borderline abusive. We have to ramp up and build capacity over time when trying new things. So when implementing a new program or piece of software, begin with a small cohort of schools (or departments or teachers) to establish a learning curve. This is just, well, reasonable. As is:
Letting the small cohort determine or at least negotiate what is a manageable set of standards for minimum use
Determine a period of time for safe practice
Assess how the work is progressing
Identify and acknowledge early power users that play beyond that identified minimum use
Make tweaks to refine the work for continued success within the context of the particular classroom/school/district
Repeat the cycle with the refinements.
Then allow the learning from that process to be leveraged by the next cohort through some kind of mentorship or guided practice from more knowledgable others who learned it first.
(That last one sounds downright Vygotsky-and-ZPD-esque.)
Both these takeaways are just basic and essential sustainability practices.
4) What do you think of Chris Hull’s “teachpreneur” story?
I have to acknowledge a bias at this point. The advent of the digital age and the democratization of and explosion of creativity it has facilitated all through society is an incredibly good thing. However, I am turned off by two notions that seem to have sprung up along with this creativity, particularly in our consumerist-capitalist society. The first is that this explosion of creativity should be monetized where it can be. The second is that once we have discovered our creative idea, we must leverage it to become entrepreneurs, essentially leaving behind the work we were doing that led to the creative discovery in the first place. And we should not just be entrepreneurs; but entrepreneurial “disrupters” of the status quo. Inasmuch as this pertains to education, ours is a profession that has been beset by snake oil salespeople for decades. So my bias is that I am highly skeptical of yet another way to sell educators on new, tech-based products, most of which are usually marketed as “the last xyz product or platform you will ever need because it does everything educators need to do in one convenient package.” To paraphrase Chris, I am wary of the “shiny-shiny” effect of new educational technology.
That said, Chris stands out as the rarer example in that he has, so far, stayed in the classroom even as he’s entreprenant. This gives him a bit more credibility. His product grows out of his experiences as a working teacher and is not some corporate or academic software designer making products he thinks teachers and students need.
I do wish the webinar had been more academic and less product demo. I would have liked to explore pertinent ideas about teaching in the digital age. Perhaps wrestling with big questions like “Why are LMS’s necessary for teaching and learning in digital age classrooms?” or “What kinds of functions and information are most important when using an LMS?” and “How can that provided information be used to improve teaching and learning?”
5) Have you ever come up with an idea related to ed tech that you might like to develop?
No. I tend to work better along the lines of finding ways to extend the use of tools others have developed beyond their intended use or to use them in innovative ways. It’s taken 7 years of independent consulting, but I’ve learned that I am not entrepreneurial or a “teacherpreneur”. While there are elements of being my own boss I’ve enjoyed, I’ve found I work much better as part of a single school community, with all members working towards the same mission. I don’t think I would want to “dilute” that work. And as I stated above, I resist this whole notion of everyone having to be an entrepreneur. I do not like how that moniker and type of activity have been elevated as some kind of ideal we all should be shooting for no matter our profession. It feels as if you’re not really contributing if you’re not “disrupting” or being “entrepreneurial” and making money from it. We still need individuals who are dedicated and focused on the science and craft of education (or insert-profession-here since entrepreneurship is now applicable to any profession).
6) Check out Otus. What do you like or not like about this platform?
Otus looks to be another tool that efficiently and effectively allows teachers to see all kinds of data about their students. It also seems to allow for quick differentiation (once lessons and assessments are created/input) in terms of what lessons and assessments are assigned to what students. Teachers can then spend more time talking, analyzing, evaluating, and thus making decisions about next steps regarding their own performance as well as their students’. They don’t have to spend all their time searching for data and aggregating it.
While this kind of data can be useful, it is only one kind of evidence about how well teachers are teaching and how well students are learning. It is only one type of snapshot in an album of evidence that tells the story of student learning and growth over time. I would like to see the tool also store and pull up actual student artifacts as easily as it does data points. Looking at student work — not just final grades or completed assessments — and having discussions about what that work reveals about teaching and learning provides far more detailed insights into student understanding, misunderstanding and confusion than looking at scores alone. Scores show trends. Work products show details and nuance about the state of student growth. Being able to quickly select and aggregate said products as easily as scores and statistics would make this platform truly unique.
Since research bears out that what teachers use technology for most is communication, student management, and administrative work, I’m wondering how disruptive Otus really is. Perhaps if there were more functions that facilitated teachers’ use of ICT instructional tools? (And perhaps there are, I don’t know as I’ve only just learned about Otus two days ago.) But then again, if you try to make any one tool all things to all people, it winds up doing nothing very well. Perhaps it is sufficient that it appears simply to be a quality tool for teachers to do what they usually do with technology.
Here’s to the start of the summer term and a new class, TIE 542 – Digital Tools for Teaching, Learning and Assessment! While there is no formal requirement to keep a blog for the class, I’ve found the practice quite useful in clarifying and solidifying my thinking in previous classes. So I will continue the practice and link back to it from the class discussion boards. Here we go!
Technology Use in My School & District
As a consultant working with a handful of CPS high schools, I witness several different kinds of
technology use at different levels. As a district, I believe CPS would like to be “technology forward”. This can be seen in their adoption of Google Apps for Education and installing wireless networks in nearly all schools. But there are obstacles — some of which are out of their hands, such as limited monetary resources for hardware, software, and professional development. Then there are those that are self-inflicted — such as deactivating all GAFE sharing functions with anyone outside the cps.edu domain.
Yet there are disparities at the school level. Some schools, such as the magnets and the selective enrollment campuses, have far more technology on-site with more teachers more willing to use it. Neighborhood schools have far fewer resources.
Finally, I’d say the greatest incongruity lies at the teacher level, which is where the rubber meets the road no matter the school. At this level I’ve seen the SAMR gamut run from teachers who only use overhead projectors and confiscate students’ cellphones to those who use Google Docs for student collaboration to those who require students use multiple apps on their phones to participate in a plethora of class activities in a given period. Still, I’d say that in the schools I visit, more students do not use technology in meaningful, relevant ways than do. Sadly.
School or District’s Adoption of Technology Standards
For the past four years my work is mainly with administrators and instructional leadership teams so it’s difficult for me to say the extent to which CPS teachers hew to a set of standard specifically for technology. However, I have heard teachers and ILT members talk about the technology strands embedded in the Common Core. And strangely enough — especially given how we obsess over standards — when I ask the administrators and curriculum leaders with whom I work what technology standards teachers use to structure their curriculum, they look at me in puzzlement and ask me what I mean.
Update:After two days, one of my principals connected me to the school’s computer science teacher. She in turn sent me the standards she uses in class — the ISTE Standards and the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) [Interim] CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards. Still, I wonder why admin and curriculum leaders don’t know what standards are being used even if they don’t know them in detail. I guess I’ve just experienced connectivism in a real world application!
When I took LSE 500 this winter, I was re-acquainted with “the big 3”: behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructionism. It had been a long time since pondering these theories and I have to say, I missed them. I remember my undergrad professors being amazed at how interested I was in these theories. As one said to me, “Doug, this is the stuff most teaching candidates suffer through to get to the good stuff!” But as a global thinker I was fascinated by the theory and still am. As a practitioner, though, I also need to be pragmatic. So I use the elements of theory that work on the ground and let the rest be interesting abstractions for the pondering. Still, back in January, it was great to dive in again with so many more years of experience to see again why and how the practical works as it does. While I find behaviorist and cognitivist theory interesting, I am a constructivist in both my teaching of adolescents and adults. I find I respond far better to constructivist methods as a learner as well.
Siemens was an interesting read. I would agree that there are elements that make sense for the digital world in which we live. Being able to work collaboratively, recognize and access networks to augment individual or group knowhow is a useful human, social analog to the digital/mobile/social media parallel. Indeed, we do live in a time when knowing when and where to access information can be more important, more useful than having a panoply of content and skill sets stored in one’s brain. In a sense, I can see connectivism as a container for the 4 C’s. However, in suggesting that “knowing”in the digital age is a simple matter of accessing information, connectivism (or at least Siemens’s paper) sidesteps the role of understanding. Knowing is not synonymous with accessing information which is how the term is being used — at least in this paper. Possessing information does little good without some cognitive processing about what to do with it, which, whether done individually or with a group, still must occur within the individual on some level. Perhaps this is what Siemens means when he talks about one’s ability to perceive connections?
I would agree, too, that there are some kinds of knowledge that can be offloaded. Knowing state capitals, for instance. However, just because some knowledge or tasks can be offloaded does not mean they should be. For instance, there are benefits to learning one’s multiplication tables or how to write in cursive that go beyond the mere tasks at hand.
In their paper, “Connectivism as a Digital Age Learning Theory”, Duke, Harper, and Johnston state, “If a person with limited core knowledge accesses Internet information beyond his or her ability to understand, then that knowledge is useless. In other words a structured study using the existing learning theories is required in order to acquire the core knowledge for a specific field. While the theory presented by George Siemens and Stephen Downes is important and valid, it is a tool to be used in the learning process for instruction or curriculum rather than a standalone learning theory.” This captures my thinking about connectivism, at least as I’m thinking about it now based on this week’s reading. I look forward to learning more about it as the weeks go on.
One of the key safety instructions we all hear every time we board an airplane is that in the event of cabin depressurization we must put our own oxygen mask on first before helping others. This is vital since no matter how much we care about the family or friends sitting with us, we cannot help them if we ourselves are unconscious due to asphyxia. When it comes to our societal need to transform our schools, we are very much in a similar situation as a depressurizing airplane. As much as we say we want to focus on the needs of students, we will not see the transformations they need in our education system until teachers and administrators are moved to understand the need for change and prioritize the professional learning necessary to get us there. So this week I focused on the ISTE Standards for Teachers , 15 Characteristics of a 21st-Century Teacher, and The 21st Century Workplace which provide clear targets for teachers to consider when teaching the habits of mind, cognitive skills and collaborative abilities students will need in the world we’re preparing them to enter.
Verbs Calling For Transformation
Consider the verbs of the 5 top level ISTE Standards for Teachers: facilitate, inspire, design, develop, model, promote, engage. In addition to these top level verbs, it is striking that “model” appears nine times across all 5 standards and 20 sub-clusters. When considered in combination with the other verbs inspire and facilitate, I’m struck by the heavy lift the ISTE standards are pointing towards. They suggest that what we need is nothing short of a sea change in school cultures with regard to 21C technology and methodologies. When so many schools outright ban cell phones and so many teachers don’t incorporate technology in meaningful ways, how are they to facilitate, model and inspire?
It’s All About Culture and Professional Learning
In research for a previous literature review I found that a critical component for implementing the necessary change ISTE calls for comes only with consistent, focused professional learning for teachers. Not only that, but school culture also has a significant impact on the success or failure of information and communication technology (ICT) implementation, much of which is determined by the level of support projected by the principal.
School culture can positively impact ICT practices. Positive peer pressure can motivate reluctant teachers to try new approaches with technology. Studies have also found that teachers who see positive student outcomes as a direct result of ICT practices are more likely to continue and expand their ICT toolkit.
In a study of three schools where teachers adapted ICT in meaningful ways, all three schools had six characteristics in common: 1) They were well equipped for ICT. 2) Their focus was on changing the process of learning using ICT. 3) Skills were acquired as part of the process of using those skills purposefully. 4) The school provided support. 5) Teachers had opportunities to discuss, reflect and troubleshoot with peers and facilitators over time. 6) The nature of student learning changed along with teachers’ beliefs and knowledge sets (Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2010).
Therefore, the school community must recognize that the most effective professional development is that which facilitates teachers understanding about how specific instructional practices themselves support student learning of particular content. That is, schools must allow teachers to see that technology-supported, student-centered practices impact student acquisition of knowledge (Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2010).
Finally, even when teachers are willing to wrestle with their beliefs, identify what they truly value, use these realizations to motivate changes to their practice via meaningful PD, the role of the principal administrator cannot be underestimated…. The principal plays an outsized role in creating and maintaining at least four of Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich’s six conditions and is generally responsible for shepherding the wider culture of the school community. Determining what professional learning is necessary among which teachers; establishing the systems for implementing the professional learning plan; creating calendars for structured and unstructured learning; countering programmed time with protected, unprogrammed time for reflection and metacognition about instruction – all these necessities flow from the principal’s office. When the principal does these things in a way that sets high expectations and supports for ICT instruction, shifts can be made more readily if still not easily. However, when the principal’s own beliefs, values, and motivations do not prioritize ICT methods, digitally infused learning environments are far less likely to take hold, even with willing and capable teachers.
Douglas van Dyke, “Transitions to Digitally Mediated Classrooms”
The Educator’s Need to Feel Expert
This dovetails with the what I’ve written about in previous blog posts about the anxiety teachers feel when they are thrust into areas where they do not feel expert. Given the significant shift and stretch for which the ISTE standards are calling, we don’t seem likely to meet them without acknowledging both the fundamental changes in school culture that are necessary as well as high quality and consistent PD for teachers. Additionally, educators must reconcile their reluctance to implement ICT methods in school with their own ICT use in the various aspects of their lives outside of school.
Blow This Stuff UP!
When we consider the 21st century world — that is the one we are living in today — and the workplace students will enter, especially as described by Daniel Pink, the need for a cultural and instructional transformation of our schools could not be more apparent. The leap from an “Information Age” to a “Conceptual Age” cannot happen without students learning through active learning and metacognitive methods. ICT and the 4C’s are uniquely suited for the attainment of the skills categories that will be most valued as described by Levy and Murnane: “expert thinking — solving new problems for which there are no routine answers” and “complex communication — persuading, explaining, and in other ways conveying a particular interpretation of information”. To make such shifts, however, educators must blow up the linearity of the industrial model that defines our school structures and curriculum and the information model on which accountability is based in favor of more distributed, differentiated, student-centric proficiency-based approaches that digital and mobile technologies can now facilitate.
Concluding This Post & TIE 524
What ISTE is essentially calling for is SAMRizing and TPACKing our entire education system. We must prioritize changes in school culture through consistent professional learning for teachers around ICT methodologies. Administrators must lead the way, advocating and requiring ICT methods and solidifying the cultural shifts that come as a result.
Over the last eleven weeks, this course has provided a remarkable set of resources for incorporating ICT strategies for both classroom instruction and professional learning. In doing so it has facilitated multiple opportunities for reflection about my own practice, where we are as a profession, and how far we all have to go. It has been an excellent next step on this master’s journey!
When SAMR first crossed my path last term, it seemed an elegant way to evaluate the role of a particular technology for whether it was innovating the learning process or just being sexy. Among many of the teachers I encounter, technology is, as Liz Kolb noted, a gimmick. Students with iPads are being tricked into thinking they are learning while the teachers who deploy them feel cutting edge. (Though, the kids are not being tricked. If I had a dollar for every time I asked a student about what they were doing with a device and was met with a lethargic explanation through a smirk and some eye rolling. Yeah, they know!)
My SAMR Experiences
SAMR has been useful in my coaching in two ways. I look for opportunities to stretch my coachees into at least augmentation or modification. For instance, I recently set up a discussion board in Google Groups for an ILT I work with to extend faculty conversations around learning walks beyond teachers’ physical time together. Granted, it’s not a lot compared to what we’ve been using in our NLU course work. But even for my teachers who want to embrace technology, it’s an ah-ha since they don’t venture too far down the GAFE paths they have available to them. They are easily overwhelmed and quickly become anxious when asked to use features outside their workflow in programs they use everyday. In general, they struggle with their own ability to transfer skills from a known program to a new one.
In another school I’m helping the faculty map their curriculum using Google Docs to collaboratively write their maps, collect resources, and view each other’s maps. This is the first that they have effectively been able to visualize the curriculum as a whole. However, teachers have struggled to find enough time to meet to work collaboratively on course team maps. CPS’s turning PD days into furlough days has only exacerbated the issue. While many see the value of the project, they are tired of fighting to carve out tiny parcels of time to meet and do the work. So just last week I proposed they stop trying to meet face-to-face as it was less necessary than they thought given the powerful collaboration tools that already exist in Google Docs if only they would use them.
In my instructional work I’ve brought SAMR to planning meetings and coached teachers through using the framework to analyze and evaluate their current technology. Many are surprised to see that they’re operating mostly at the substitution level with occasional dips into augmentation. We all get excited when the conversation then turns creative and the teacher starts visualizing ways to redesign a lesson such that those iPads or Chromebooks are being used for modification or redefinition.
Frameworks From Heaven
SAMR was an epiphany when I first encountered it. But having these other analytical and evaluative tools for ICT integration feels like revelation.
TPACK, 3E, TIM are all new to me and I can see each having its place. 3E and SAMR seem more entry-level frameworks for teachers just starting to wrestle with ICT integration. They are relatively simple and straightforward. Given their complexity, however, TPACK and TIM seem to be for more sophisticated evaluation of technology deployment. The pedagogue in me appreciates how TPACK operates from the interplay among multiple domains and context. TPACK acknowledges the complexity and locality of teaching and learning and demands that the teacher does as well.
Different visualizations of the Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition
TIM reminded me less of a rubric than of a continuum of skill development like something along the lines of a practitioner model of professional growth such as the Dreyfus model. Such models allow practitioners to position themselves on the continuum with the skill sets they currently possess. This creates an evaluative environment, but with less judgment and critique since the model honors practitioners at their current level of experience. It also suggests that their place in the model is dynamic. The longer they practice the more skills or “tools” they acquire. As they grow in experience they travel along the continuum. Such implicit messaging can be powerful for teachers working to improve their practice. There is an implied level of safety which is an important motivator for growth.
Kids are savvy enough to know when an iPad or laptop activity is engaging them cognitively or when it is just a glorified textbook. We’re not pulling anything over on them by simply putting a device in their hands. These frameworks are great tools to level up our “teaching with tech” game. They not only foster teacher reflection about how effectively they teach with technology, but having multiple frameworks allows us to differentiate for the sophistication of the teacher using them.
When is it better not to know something? What does it say about you when you truly believe ignorance really is bliss? How instructive is it to know the extent of your digital tattoo?
Spinning Beach ball
Yes, ok, if someone really wants to find me they can find me in that some of the information is public record (or I myself have volunteered). However, it’s the ease with which the information can be found these days. It is so much easier and potentially more likely that we will experience the social hacking of our lives by triangulating public information in order to gain access to more sensitive parts of our lives. (This is one of the hardest identity theft concepts I keep trying to impress on my septuagenarian parents and in-laws!) Having to live in a constant state of vigilance about such things as we now do is the digital version of low-level PTSD.
In this TED Talk, Juan Enriquez leads with physical tattoos, which made me realize one significant difference between them and the digital variety: Whether good or bad decisions, a body tattoo is a choicewe make. However, many of our digital tattoos are choices made byothers that we must live with.
Nevertheless, I thought a bit about Nicole’s admonition that in an online, networked age, we need to have some searchable presence. It offered a palliative — or at lease a beneficial trade-off. Accepting that some of our credibility is tied not just to the nature of our digital tattoo, but to its very existence, deepens my roots as a digital resident. I, too, am not hiding anything. I took to heart advice I heard way back in the ’90’s: “If you’d be embarrassed to have your grandmother read it, see it, or hear it, don’t post it.” So, I was not worried about finding anything unseemly or compromising. (Color me boring. Or old.) If someone wants to use their time rummaging through all my personal information, and spend about $30 to access all of it, have at it. There’s nothing prurient to see if prurience is what they’re looking for. And that feels good to know.
Still, how accurate it all was was unnerving! Every town I’ve lived in, names of my family members, universities I’ve attended, our home purchase price and tax info, my social media profiles, all there. I found tweets of mine embedded in the blogs of complete strangers — one from the Cubs’ victory and another on the SCOTUS marriage equality decision. I even found my Twitter and Instagram accounts listed among the “most active” on a blog tracking the MLB playoffs. Who knew?? But the discovery traveling the farthest from out of nowhere was a June 2014 church newsletter. Apparently, my mother put my name in for the month’s birthday prayers and it got posted on the church web site which no one knew anything about until this week. Talk about having no way of knowing how and from where your information will show up online!
I was a “Most Active” tweeter & Instagrammer during the NLCS according to Ampsy Insight; Source: insight.ampsy.com/
What I found about myself during my data mine; Source: D. van Dyke
Other surprises included differing search results depending on the search engine and browser used. Finding different results between search engines was less surprising, given differences in algorithms. However, I did not expect the differences between browsers. I’m curious about why that would be.
Ones & Zeroes
The internet and social media are platforms, facilitators, amplifiers. Like everything humans create, they are extensions of us — our good, our bad and our in between. Sadly, many choose to use social media to amplify the basest elements of human nature. But I believe as Nicole does that “the internet can do amazing things. It’s not all negative.” I love the idea that “your online presence gives you a great opportunity to use social media for good.” As well the idea of using it for creative purposes, making online “interest portfolios” to use as models for professional use and CV’s. But I’d like to soapbox a minute against the idea of our digital tattoos as “personal brands”. I have to admit to wanting to scream every time I hear this term or am queried about my own. “Personal brands” represents the commodification, the marketing of individuals. This trend may result from a downside of social media, perhaps because they too are blends of written or aural text and visual images — the very elements upon which branding relies. But companies have brands. Services have brands. Products have brands. Cattle have brands. Which is fine for huge entities that need to be recognized quickly, compressing concepts and information into a single graphic or seconds on radio or TV.
But I resist what to me comes off as the hipster social media-driven fad and pretentiousness of “personal brands”. People have reputations, interests, integrity. And for people, that is what their digital tattoo represents. Never Seconds and @thebenevolentone3 are not Payne’s and Konner Suave’s brands. They are extensions of their curiosity, their empathy for and kindness towards others. Which now, thanks to the astonishing power of social media, nearly every human on the planet can witness. These digital platforms are perfectly suited to explain, demonstrate, exhibit, connect the incredible complexities that make up us human beings. And in so doing, make people and society better for it. So why in the world would we ever settle for reducing people like Martha and Konnor to the something as crass as a brand? [Climbs down off soapbox.]
Whether, what, and how this information should be taught to students obviously depends on the age of the students and the complexities and goals of what is being taught. What if we thought about it like we do sex ed (where schools or parents still teach sex ed!)? Usually, the basics are taught before puberty. Then instruction becomes more nuanced as children mature through middle and high school. When it comes to digital tattoos, parents and computer teachers should both be involved. However, as much as I believe most of this instruction should be coming from home, at this moment in history, I doubt most parents have the depth of knowledge themselves to do it effectively.
As for when we should start, I would say just prior to the age where their getting their own devices or accounts. Perhaps elementary teachers start with demonstrating the kinds of information that can be found online through activities with Fakebook & Twister . Students could examine examples and non-examples from which they discuss possible consequences for each. Adolescents, though, can conduct limited searches guided by their teachers. However, regardless of who teaches about digital tattoos and when, just dis-covering of what information can be found online is not enough. Parents and teachers both need to press kids to answer, “So what? Why is this important to know?” That’s where the understanding and consequences lie.
In the end, I’d say it was beneficial to push through the anxiety. I have a sense of the size and shape of my digital tattoo. Maybe someday I’ll pay that $30 on Spokeo to unlock my full profile. In the meantime, it’s good to know that I’ve made wise choices about my own postings. It feels good to know that in a very limited way I’ve contributed some thoughtful, creative elements to the internet and social media. And I’ve made good choices when it comes to friends since I didn’t find myself compromised by any of their social media choices either. Am I as blissful now as I was when I woke up Monday given my loss of ignorance? Let’s call it a break-even.
"'Right to Be Forgotten' Online Could Spread" (New York Times) - In an effort to counter some of the possible stigma from digital tattoos, the EU defined the "right to be forgotten".
Sum: Forty Tales From the Afterlives by David Eagleman- A wonderful book that imagines 40 different possibilities for the afterlife through 2-page vignettes. Several are a bit cyberpunkesque. These two excerpts have haunted me for the exact reasons we're considering this week.
Since the rubber meets the road with instruction, I continued with a focus on teachers and social media. A number of the readings were interesting and provocative, such as Vicki Davis’s blog post which concludes with
"If you're going to ignore social media in the classroom, then throw out the ISTE Standards for Students and stop pretending that you're 21st century. Stop pretending that you're helping low-income children overcome the digital divide if you aren't going to teach them how to communicate online. Social media is here. It's just another resource and doesn't have to be a distraction from learning objectives. Social media is another tool that you can use to make your classroom more engaging, relevant and culturally diverse."
As an educator whose career has been spent exclusively in the service of poor, black and brown, urban youth, the “If you’re going to ignore…then stop pretending…” formulation is quite satisfying and I want to give it a shoutout. However, the main text for this week I’ll discuss…
Rheingold’s thesis is that skills alone are insufficient for successfully navigating social media. Social media literacy is needed beyond skill knowledge. He then identifies five interwoven literacies: Attention, participation, collaboration, network awareness & critical consumption.
A SUMMARY OF RHEINGOLD’S SOCIAL MEDIA LITERACIES:
Attention is “the fundamental building block for how individuals think…create tools…teach each other how to use them…how groups socialize, and…transform civilization.” Rheingold then delineates different kinds of attention human beings deploy in particular circumstances and their applicability to digital and social media.
Participation online “gives one a different sense of being in the world….[Y]ou become an active citizen rather than simply a passive consumer of what is sold to you…taught to you…what you’re government wants you to believe.” The powerful devices we all now carry in our pockets give us the ability to affect societal change in easier and faster ways than ever before.
Collaboration takes place “[u]sing the technologies and techniques of attention and participation…allow[ing] people to work together collaboratively in ways that were too difficult or expensive to attempt before the advent of social media.” This is a particularly good articulation of how these literacies comprise an interwoven continuum as opposed to 5 discrete elements. Rheingold continues, illustrating social media collaboration through various examples of crowdsourcing ranging from searching for missing persons at sea to citizen responses to natural disasters to charity fundraising.
Network Awareness is a bit more esoteric. Noting that the 19th century saw the industrialized society and the 20th century, the information society, Rheingold suggests the 21st century is seeing the rise of the networked society. “In the past there were physical limitations on which people and how many people we could include in our network…. Now, technological networks…have vastly expanded the number and the variety of people we can contact.” Here he also suggests that deep network awareness also requires participants to understand how networks can influence “how much freedom, wealth, and participation you will have in the rest of this century”, drawing attention to the current debates on net neutrality.
Critical Consumption is, as Rheingold reminds us, what Hemingway called “crap detection”. In essence, it is now up to the reader to vet whether or not a media source is trustworthy. As he notes, “[t]he authority of the text that goes back at least a thousand years has been overturned.” Prior to the digital era we could rely on a whole series of steps and checkpoints traditional publishing provided for fact-checking and accuracy of information. But now, the democratic nature of digital media means any yahoo with a device can publish. Thus, all responsible citizens also have to possess the skills of a critic if they wish to be informed. Critical consumption, then, brings us full circle, back to attention as we need to use our crap detection to determine exactly what is and isn’t worthy of our time, energy, and focus.
Rheingold slides the following point into critical consumption but is worth highlighting separately. He notes that social media is a flow, not a queue. Email is a queue. With email, messages arrive one at a time into our mailbox in chronological order where we deal with each message in some way — answer, ignore, delete, schedule, file. Whereas, social media is a constant and overwhelming flow of information that we can never ever entirely apprehend. Therefore, we have to choose what we will pay attention to, when, and how. This is a helpful way to conceptualize the cacophony of social media and suggests a way to engage it. It gives permission to let go of all the messages that get by us no matter how we struggle to keep up. (For those of us who feel compelled to respond to everything that comes through our feed(s), this is no small reprieve!) In addition, this distinction between managing items in a queue versus an endless flow of information accentuates the idea that social media participation requires conceptual, literacy-based understanding and not just skill knowledge.
Defining as “Literacy” Raises the Stakes
Shifting the conversation from one of skills acquisition to literacy raises the stakes for educators. Prior to starting this master’s program, my thinking about the role of digital media in education could be described as more subconscious, intuitive. However, in the last 20 weeks, my thoughts have become more clearly conscious. One articulation of that emergent thinking, as I noted in last week’s post, is that the internet and mobile technology are no longer curiosities or places where we dally in cyberspace. They are as crucial to our daily functioning as the telephone, radio, television, and the automobile became in the last century. The digital realm is, arguably, even more profound than those previous technologies in that it constitutes spaces for the conduct of nearly all kinds of human transactions — commercial, professional, artistic, personal — while at the same time breaking the limits of time and space. Clearly, social media are now extensions of our actual social lives as well. So in this sense, my thinking has evolved in that I believe parents and schools have a obligation to teach children what constitutes safe and responsible behaviors online just as much as they do what’s appropriate in the “real” world.
Changes in My Thinking
Rheingold’s article has helped crystalize my thinking. Given the power and place of digital media in our lives, we need to teach their navigation as conceptual literacies and not merely skills. This makes sense, too, given the vast and ever-changing complexities that make up the digital realm. People will only be able to navigate as digital residents when they are fluent in the hows and whys of digital world and can transfer skills to new digital contexts as they are likely to emerge.
In his conclusion, Rheingold notes that social media and their accompanying literacies will “shape the cognitive, social, and cultural environments of the 21st century” just as the printing press, books and their literacies shaped the Enlightenment. If this turns out to be the case, and it looks very likely that it will be, then we as educators have responsibilities here. We can’t bury our heads in the sand ignoring and pretending, as Vicki Davis passionately called out.
We like to say the world is changing. But more often than not, by the time we make such a statement the world has already changed. And so it goes with social media. As a profession, education is behind the curve. There is quite a bit of catch-up we have to do when it comes to ICT instruction in general and social media in particular. Rheingold’s formulation of the 5 social media literacies implies the stakes are higher than we thought. It is incumbent upon us to learn these literacies at least well enough to teach them to our students. After all, we are the ones charged with projecting them into the future — a future none of us can see — armed with the tools and understandings they (and our democracy) will need to survive through this century.
When it comes to game theory, I have had only a passing, skeptical interested. But my recent studies have started me thinking about gamification from a different perspective. So that is my selected adventure this week.
The quick Answer to One Framing Question
The week’s framing questions for the topic were provocative. Do I think we need to gamify our classrooms to engage students? This one I can answer quickly. No. There are many ways for creative teachers to draw students into learning without having to sexy it up with a video game interface. That “no” is even firmer if it means that gaming is the only way we conduct instruction since no teacher can be successful with only one method or strategy in their toolbox.
Do I think gamificaion is bribery and the way students learn in the 21st century? As a result of my course work last term and my readings and explorations this week, those answers are now more complex. As I said, the idea of gamification has been, at best, at the edges of my professional interests. When thinking about my own gaming experiences my gut tells me there is something there that I “get” as it applies to learning and I have trusted that academics have teased out all the theory for those teachers who want to traverse that route in their classrooms. But this grown up, serious teacher never pursued deep research into game theory because I was fine with my practice as it was, thank you very much! But last term was a watershed for me when it comes to thinking about the conditions that provide powerful learning experiences. The course of study Dr. Angela Elkordy put together for Intro to the Learning Sciences required us to think deeply about our own learning in every conceivable context (documentation of which is posted on this blog under the NLU Class Journal Entries tab above). Examining my own informal, collaborative, digital, self-directed, just-in-time, playful learning experiences caused me to realize the potency of learning in these other-than-formal contexts. Those reflections have led me to re-evaluate some core beliefs about teaching and learning — for both students in the classroom and teachers in professional learning. That re-evaluation has ramifications for my thinking about game theory.
Constructivism and Game Theory
I’ve always believed that teachers needed to be more facilitators of exploration than dispensers of information. I am a constructivist. So my instruction — be it with children or adults — is designed accordingly. My lessons are always written for the specific learning needs of the students in front of me. Pacing is a dance with students’ zones of proximal development. Formative assessment is central for two-way feedback, metacognition, and reflection for both students and myself that then determine my next planning steps. With the growth of digital technology and mobile tech particularly, it makes sense to leverage these to push the boundaries of constructivism even farther. Additionally, I see clear connections now between constructivist methods and the way games work for those who play them.
Any-time, just-in-time, exploratory learning all cement learning in long-term memory. As a result of Dr. Elkordy’s strategies with us, I experienced first hand how learning new content through learning a new app permanently inks that neural tattoo on the brain. Almost weekly I learned a new app of my choosing by exploring it, playing in it, and not from a formal training course or a user’s manual. Then I applied my understanding of the app to demonstrate my understanding of the course content. All of this was done informally, in my time, with just enough difficulty to challenge me. Except now I don’t only understand the content. By learning content through the use of a digital tool, I now understand so much more than just the content itself. Not the least of which is that the learning I structure myself is highly enjoyable and more often than not elicits flow and the consolidation of understanding in long-term memory. These are the learning conditions I want to create for my students and teachers.
A More Complicated Answer to the Other Framing Questions
As to the questions of gamifying education as bribery and being particularly suited to 21st century learners, I believe it is neither. The way humans learn best is the way humans learn best whether they are of the 11th century or 21st century. What is different about the 21st century is our knowledge of how the brain functions; the advent of technologies that allow us to align our pedagogy to our neurology, psychology, sociology; and the economic imperative that we change the way we do school. In as much as game theory and educational psychology share underlying elements, I can accept gamification as a methodology. Though does it always need to be so literal as turning the learning process into an actual game? Especially since doing so requires an incredible investment of time and effort to convert a unit of study into a game that will create the conditions necessary for deep understanding to occur. So I have generated a few key questions that could help guide decision-making when thoughts turn to gamification:
What are the concepts from game theory that are applicable to a given unit of instruction? A given set of students? Under what circumstances might it be useful to apply those concepts to improve teaching and learning?
When teachers decide to convert a unit into an actual game, what online platforms are available to facilitate the implementation and that can quickly and easily provide insights (evidence and data) about student learning?
When teachers want or have to make the game themselves, how can they create elegant games that don’t require disproportionate amounts of time to construct and relatively easily provide insights (evidence and data) about student learning?
How can we make certain gamifying efforts result in students learning the intended content and not just playing the game?
Video: Heck Awesome blog, Carrie Baughcum
Still, informal learning, unstructured learning, choice, and play are powerful contexts in which deep understanding can occur. These modes are, as Willis calls them, “neuro-logical”. It makes sense to create them when possible since they activate optimal learning pathways in the brain and foster new, strong synaptic connections. Well-designed games create these conditions and leverage the same brain processes for learning. Thus, including high-quality game-based instruction could be a powerful method for teaching and learning.
Gamifying Professional Learning
What was already a paucity of professional learning time in CPS has been completely eliminated this year as a partial “solution” to the budget travesty being visited upon CPS teachers and students. As a result, I have started leveraging ICT options that are included with GAFE to continue our professional learning despite losing our PD calendar. Via Groups and Sites, we continue the work asynchronously by holding discussions of professional readings, presenting aggregated learning walk evidence and sharing thoughts and insights about them. We have already moved quite a bit of planning to remote, synchronous spacetime via Hangouts and Drive. So the idea of gamifying professional learning is just an extension of this. Taking PD into the realm of gaming would have the combined benefits of making PD more relevant by providing teachers with differentiation, choice, and timing. I have also started researching adding digital badges to the work which I find terribly exciting! On my goal list for next year: implementing a badged, gamified professional learning series for the schools with which I work.
Digital badges for both student and teachers. Video: HASTAC
Below are three game-based PD ideas I’m totally stealing from our readings this week:
Even as I find myself being convinced of the benefits of game theory as instructional practice, there is still something that doesn’t sitting well when I hear phrases like “gamifying the classroom”. If you’ll indulge the English teacher unpacking language here. A game is a diversion or something trivial. Something that can be taken less seriously. Even in the multi-billion dollar world of professional sports, the expression, “It’s only a game.” is used to readjust perspectives when emotions are high. Yet the very project at hand for education is de-trivializing digital instruction among reluctant educators. So while I can see the underlying value and power of this way of “doing” teaching and learning, I wonder if framing it as “gamification” works against us. I don’t have an answer as yet for what to call such a complex process. Maybe a few rounds of Words With Friends will do the trick!
Digital literacy is the adventure I chose for this week because it is the near universal substrate of all the other kinds of media and communication in the Information Age. Not to mention, the nature of digital communication means that the lines between message and medium can be blurred far more easily than in the analog world, which has significant implications for teaching and learning all the other literacies outlined for the week — information, news, media, and critical thinking.
The most succinct definition of digital literacy I found is from Purposeful Technology-Constructing Meaning in 21st Century Schools and is defined as “the capability to use digital technology and knowing when and how to use it.” Yet in light of the other rather troubling readings on the topic, the expanded aspects of digital literacy are vital. Specifically, the authors note that digital literacy includes “when students are able to engage with multi-media to read and interpret text, sounds and images…when students can manipulate and evaluate data to construct their own meaning…having knowledge about how to use technology to construct meaning…in ways that are appropriate to their needs…effectively and appropriately to communicate a message.” The emphases are added and align to some specifics of digital literacy instruction the inclusion of which, I believe, needs to be mandatory in any district curriculum. Common Sense Media also notes that digital literacy is an aspect of media literacy and that both fall under the broader umbrella of information literacy. Common Sense specifically designates media from the internet, smartphones, video games, and “other nontraditional sources” as within the realm of digital literacy. (By the way, Common Sense has many useful resources. It’s worth exploring from the link above.)
2 Framing Anecdotes
Part of the work I do as a consultant is leadership and instructional coaching through the University of Chicago’s Network For College Success. We work with Network high schools to implement professional learning rounds that facilitate instructional improvement in a targeted instructional area. The method for teaching the targeted instructional area is a research-based powerful instructional practice. One of the powerful practices we support is Reading for Understanding: How Reading Apprenticeship Improves Disciplinary Learning in Secondary and College Classrooms, also know more simply as Reading Apprenticeship or RA. The RA model operates from the belief that all teachers are literacy teachers. Not reading teachers, but literacy teachers. It also proceeds from the notion that different disciplines require different literacy skills specific to that discipline. This makes a world of sense when one considers that the way one reads a novel is very different from reading a science text, which is different from reading a social studies text, is different from reading a math text, is different still from reading an art text. Each of these content area teachers is the expert in how to read these specialized texts. Therefore, all teachers have a responsibility to teach the reading, writing, and thinking skills necessary for the text types of their particular disciplines. So the RA framework is the schema that activated when I read the framing questions for this week’s assignment, “Who is responsible for teaching information literacy?”
When I read the second framing question, “When should it be introduced?” I was reminded of a time when I was at a friend’s home. We were sitting on the living room sofa, talking. At some point we realized that his 3 year-old daughter was standing in front of the flat panel TV which was off at the time. From the corner of my eye I half noticed that she was alternately waving at the television and turning to us, waving at the television and turning to us. When it registered that she was actually talking to us, we turned our full attention to her. She was saying, “Broke! Broke!” What was happening was that she was swiping the TV screen. When it did not turn on after several attempts, she turned to us to demonstrate that the TV was broken because that big flat screen didn’t wake up when she moved her hand across it! My friend and I were blown away by the implications of this moment. Indeed “[s]tudents learn technology just like they do the spoken language, by doing and today it is not uncommon for a 3 year old to have some basic knowledge regarding how to get on to the computer and load a game” (Purposeful Technology).
Teach Digital Literacy and to Whom?
Thus, based on my own literacy coaching, the incident with my friend’s daughter, and the readings for this week, my answer to these questions would be “All teachers are responsible for teaching digital literacy to all students and it should start as soon as they enter school!”
Wrestling With the Texts
Mike Caulfield‘s “Yes, Digital Literacy. But Which One?” borders on screed; however, his take on the literacy situation is spot on and aligns with the research-based method of RA. “One of the problems…with traditional digital literacy programs is that they tend to see digital literacy as a separable skill from domain knowledge…. In reality, most literacies are heavily domain-dependent, and based not on skills, but on a body of knowledge that comes from mindful immersion in a context.” Caulfield then demonstrates in short order how inadequate tools like RADCAB and CRAAP are to the task of developing a reader’s ability to accurately and reliably evaluate digital media.
Caulfield’s larger argument also puts me in mind of a subject we studied in LSE500. Namely
that educators have for years misunderstood the notion of learning style. Our brains make meaning through all our senses. While research indicates that every learner has a preferred learning mode, it is inaccurate to say that that mode is the “best” way for them to learn all material. The most effective way for any learner to make meaning is to experience the content in the learning mode best suited for the content not the learner. In fact, what teachers need to consider is the learning mode best suited for the particular content. For instance, it makes no sense in an art history class to differentiate lessons for aural learners that privilege verbal interactions over the visual when studying the complex imagery of Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper. Painting is a visual medium and thus is best taught visually. Since the human brain makes meaning from visual inputs, it is a more efficient and effective way to teach about The Last Supper, even for learners who prefer an aural approach.
Caulfield takes the same approach to Bloom’s Taxonomy and digital literacy. Yes, in a democratic society citizens need to be critical thinkers. But all content does not need to be processed at that high a level. At specific stages of the learning process, some content is most effectively taught at the remembering and understanding levels of the taxonomy. Remember it. Understand it. Apply it. Move on. Caulfield effectively argues that digital literacy instruction is in need of this approach. Do digital citizens need to know how to analyze and evaluate the reliability of a source? Of course. And students should have opportunities to practice critical thinking throughout their educational career. However, in the early stages of developing one’s digital literacy instruction, or with particular kinds of literacy content, basic knowledge is what’s needed first. For example, it’s important that a digital citizen know that images and videos can be presented out of their original contexts and paired with other information to mislead a reader. Or that when reading a tweet one must actually click on an embedded link to get to the detailed information the tweet is sharing. Or that one may have to take a few more steps to do additional, deeper searches to vet the context of a piece of information. Only after someone knows these basics can that they apply them in more complex and critically thoughtful ways.
Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning is a Stanford study that clearly illustrates how teaching digital literacy exclusively from the top of Bloom’s is failing our students and our society. The study assessed “civic online reasoning” by collecting and analyzing 7,804 response from students of varied ages and socio-economic backgrounds ranging from inner-city Los Angeles to suburban Minneapolis to Stanford University to public state universities. Disturbingly, their findings echo Caulfield’s concerns.
"...[T]o a stunning and dismaying consistency...[o]verall, young people's ability to reason about the information in the Internet can be summed up in one word: bleak.... [W]hen it comes to evaluating information that flows through social media channels, they are easily duped.... [I]n every case and at every level we were taken aback by students' lack of preparation."
This statement and the examples of student work collected for the study are indeed “stunning and dismaying” in their implications. Yet in light of the the 2016 election, it can’t be a surprise. I spent much of November with colleagues wrestling with what they felt were our profession’s responsibility for the election outcome. “If only we had taught media literacy better.” “We need to teach kids how to be more critical of what they read online.” “Schools have got to get their hands around fake news and teach our students how to tell it from the real thing.” These are all paraphrases of statements I heard teachers and administrators saying on November 9th. As much as I don’t want one more societal ill to be laid at the feet of our profession, I have to say, on several levels I had a hard time disputing their analysis.
Teachers: our job is more important than ever. Teaching communication, critical thinking, and inspiring empathy via reading.
That said, we will not be served by once again looking for a curricular silver bullet, an instructional quick fix for the paucity of digital literacy in k-12 and collegiate learning. It’s going to be a generational effort. And as we get this ball rolling, our profession would be well-served keeping three things in mind to remain positive. “First and foremost — encourage, request, even demand that teachers in your school district get EXTENSIVE (not just one workshop) training in the use of technology in the classroom and Digital Citizenship! Teachers are the front line of content delivery, but if teachers are not comfortable and confident with the use of technology, then they will not incorporate its use into their classrooms” (Purposeful Technology). Second, as Bryan Alexander said in the Teaching and Higher Ed podcast, “There’s a lot of churn. But …overall we were right. We hit on the web as a major feature of literacy and learning. And that’s a good thing. We didn’t identify a horrible monster. We identified a really powerful platform for human expression and connection, with flaws, with problems. But that’s a major stride forward for the human race.” And finally, as Alexander continued, “Teachers are hired to be experts and we can’t be expert in everything online. Therefore they have an extra layer of anxiety to participate in the social world of the web and they’re not the expert. They’re average users. And that is very hard and threatening. That’s why teachers have had a hard time using the web for teaching and learning.” Yet we have to push through that anxiety and not only take our place in the digital world, but also guide the younger generations to their own critical and constructively participatory place in it as well. And as we do, let’s keep in mind “There’s too much to master. No one can master it all.” So “grab one particular corner of it [like Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, etc.] and get comfy with it.”
The internet and the digital domain ceased being curiosities and merely interesting diversions decades ago. As the cartoon at the top of the post illustrates, concepts of traditional citizenship and digital citizenship are utterly intertwined. Thus, being a good civic citizen requires one being a good digital citizen also. Both, therefore, require a sophisticated level of digital literacy where the literate person uses technology to interact with the world in a responsible way (Purposeful Technology). Given the ubiquity of digital technology globally and the very real and tangible impact the digital world has on the actual world, concepts of digital citizenship cannot be any less important than those of traditional civic citizenship. Literacy is a crucial component of citizenship — in both the real world and in the digital world.
The authors of Evaluating Information conclude the study’s executive summary with a quote from philosopher Michael Lynch:
"[T]he Internet is 'both the world's best fact-checker and the world's best bias confirmer -- often at the same time.' Never have we had so much information at our fingertips. Whether this bounty will make us smarter and better informed or more ignorant and narrow-minded will depend on our awareness of this problem and our educational response to it. At present, we worry that democracy is threatened by the ease at which disinformation about civic issues is allowed to spread and flourish."
Indeed, given what’s at stake, if ever there was a clarion call for embedding and infusing digital literacy throughout our curriculum, this is it.
A Coincidental Post Script
Throughout my academic career I have been the lucky beneficiary of strange coincidences connected to my research. This started all the way back in 8th grade with the dreaded annual science fair dog & pony show project. Randomly, I had selected “nuclear power” for my project. One week before the project was due for class and two weeks before the fair, the Three Mile Island accident occurred (and which just 12 days after the release of The China Syndrome!) So I shouldn’t have been surprised to wake up this morning and open my New York Times to find the above-the-fold-top-right headline, HACKERS USE TOOL TAKEN FROM N.S.A. IN GLOBAL ATTACK. What an opportunity to talk about digital citizenship, literacy, and safety with our students (and our septua- and octogenarian parents for whom some of us are the 24/7 support desk!)
Five years ago, I read an article in TheNew York Times, “Wasting Time is New Divide in Digital Era”. It had such an impact on me professionally that I refer to it even today. The more I reflect on it, the more I believe it was one of the catalysts that ultimately put me on the path to this master’s program. It raised an important issue five years ago. But reading it today it seems a bit of a broad brush. The research paints a more detailed, nuanced picture of teens’ online activities. Still, the article surfaces yet one more inequity faced by students from low-income communities and those of us who serve them. It draws attention to two concerns I have as an educator: How our most vulnerable students make use of information and communication technology (ICT) and the discrepancy between how many educators use ICT in their professional practice compared to their personal lives and how the latter impacts the former. It is these interests that influenced my reading choices this week.
…And what a selection of readings they were. The sources Nicole pointed us to are such an embarrassment of riches, I wish we had longer to pour over the research before having to blog about them. Needless to say, this week has been a bookmarks a-go-go. Eventually, though, I narrowed down my choices to:
The elements that stand out to me are the extent to which the dynamics described in the Times article still hold true today, five years on. The other is the extent to which the differences persist between how teachers use ICT in their personal lives and in their classrooms.
One of the benefits of consulting is that I’ve experienced more ways of “doing school” than I ever could have imagined I would in my career. And much of what these reports describe hew to what I have experienced first hand. That is, not surprisingly, “[t]eachers of the lowest income students experience the impact of digital tools in the learning environment differently than teachers whose students are from more affluent households” (“How Teachers Are Using Technology…”). Specifically, this means “low income students…[are] ‘behind the curve’ when it comes to effectively using digital tools in the learning process…, teachers of students living in low income households say their school’s use of internet filters has a major impact on their teaching…and…, teachers of lower income students say their school’s rules about classroom cell phone use by students have a major impact on their teaching” (“How Teachers Are Using Technology…”). Meanwhile, teachers of students who come from higher socio-economic households do not face the same obstacles to teaching and learning. In fact, respondents to the the “How Teachers Are Using Technology…” survey report they are likely to face the same conditions stated above only half as often as their counterparts in low-income districts.
What I find so frustrating here is what the conditions described in the survey indicate about adult mindsets and the policies that result from those mindsets. Both mindsets and policies are grounded in negative assumptions about low-income students and positive assumptions about affluent students. Namely, that poor (read also black and brown) students don’t know how to use their devices and online services responsibly; therefore they’re not allowed in class and access to the internet must be heavily firewalled. For children of affluent schools, the converse is assumed. They can be trusted to use their devices properly and not surf verboten sites, thus they are granted access. The result is a self-perpetuating cycle that reinforces these inequities when it comes to digital learning.
The Common Sense report, “Connection and Control…”, debunks these negative assumptions about poor black and brown kids. It is based on 11 case studies of African-American and Latino teens and their parents from households qualifying for free and reduced lunch. The study complicates the often monolithic block into which all American “youth” are often lumped. The authors note that mediating factors such as time spent with media, socio-economic differences, the types of devices and media available to low-income youth all influence how they use devices and media and thus the type of user a young person is. Categories of users include “Light Users”, “Heavy Viewers”, “Gamers and Computer Users”, “Video Gamers only”, “Readers”, and “Social Networkers”. The authors also nuance the often-cited nine hours average amount of screen time US teens accrue, noting differences by age, income, and race. According to the study, “Tweens (8- to 12-year-olds) use an average of about six hours’ (5:55) worth of entertainment media daily. Teens from lower-income families spend more time with media than those from higher-income families (10:35 vs. 7:50 of total media use). African-American teens use an average of 11:10 worth of media a day compared with 8:51 among Latinos and 8:27 among whites.”
While the report provides a detailed analysis which offers useful insights into the different ways low-income teens and their families interact with their devices, media, and each other, one set of dynamics is particularly striking. First, low-income youth, with more access to mobile devices than desk- or laptops, use their devices for what I will call positive “coping” or “survival” applications. Children who live in high crime neighborhoods use social media to break the isolation imposed by their circumstances to maintain connections with family and friends who live at a distance from them. They will also use their devices to create distance in close living quarters and when going outside is precluded by neighborhood violence. As one student articulated a common finding, “[Using media is] fun and it’s definitely a way to keep calm and peaceful [emphasis added] when you don’t feel like doing anything else.”
When it comes to informal learning, teens use their devices and apps as problem-solving tools. In fact, problem-solving is a kind of use we would expect from a sophisticated, tech-literate, 21st century user. For instance, students with long commutes to school will use transit apps to shorten their travel times. Others will use YouTube as a sort of tutorial service for just-in-time learning according to their interests — personal grooming, learning new dance moves, and gaming hacks, to name a few. And among Social Media users, platforms such as Instagram and SnapChat become spaces to try out new personas — a normal stage of development for tweens and teens (“Connection and Control…”). This contradicts rather poignantly the characterization in the Times article of online behaviors as “time wasting” among low-income teens.
However, the second dynamic I was struck by is a significant difference between low-income teens and their middle- to upper-middle-class peers. Low income students rarely use their devices to createdigital content. “On any given day, American teens spend 3% of their time on computers, tablets, and smartphones creating content” which the “Connection and Control…” report defines as “writing or creating digital art or music”. However, low-income teens spend the majority of their time consuming media and online services compared to their wealthier peers. And whereas middle- and upper-middle-class teens have resources to create digital content at home, when their low-income peers do have the opportunity, it is usually available at school or an after-school program where the devices and applications are accessible to them.
The study notes one exception, which I interpret as a function (and limitation) of the devices low-income students have the most access too. Low-income teens do “show evidence of creative practices in the digital world, taking photos and altering them with different filters and stickers before putting them on Instagram or pulling images from the internet, often manipulating them, to create their lock and home screens” (“Connection and Control…”). Here I feel I need to acknowledge a personal bias: I generally find “mashup art” just shy of plagiarism. Admittedly, my views on mashups are evolving as I come across more complex examples and recognize it as a kind of expression digital technology makes particularly easy to create and the internet makes very easy to distribute. Still, I find it a low bar creatively. Nevertheless, it’s clear that the ability to create content is strongly influenced by access to the tools of creation. Household income and school budgets are key determiners of such access.
Given the length of this post so far covering only one of my two stated areas of interest, I’ve decided to spare readers some time. I’ve created a short video compressing a few of my take-aways on teachers’ personal and professional use of ICT. Enjoy!
The digital spaces work this week was incredibly interesting. Building my map was a fascinating exercise. As someone who has made regular use of Prensky’s “immigrant/native” metaphor, I found White’s rethinking of the differences between people’s’ internet use far more nuanced. In that it more accurately describes the various ways people use the internet by identifying multiple types and contexts for online interactions, it is ultimately a more helpful metaphor as well. White’s metaphor succeeds through his identification of a continuum of use, which takes the way we talk about online usage out of the realms of generational differences and binary oppositions. And while it might not completely remove notions of identity based on internet use, the visitor/resident metaphor does allow us to think about online identities without the freighted connotations that terms like “immigrant” and “native” carry. Describing a continuum of use between the poles of “visitor” and “resident” presents internet usage in terms of dynamic, frictionless, and intentional participation anywhere along that continuum according to a user’s needs or desires in a given moment. Taking it two-dimensional by adding the “personal/institutional” axis ensures that practically anyone can positively locate themselves in this metaphor.
I love maps. I love maps of all kinds. Ancient maps. Atlases. Globes. Curriculum maps. Mind maps. And now I have a new one to pour over, the digital spaces map. This map allowed me to visualize my own cyber contexts, the online tools I use, and the places on the internet where I reside and visit. And while raising a slight challenge above to notions of identity, this exercise has revealed, in no uncertain terms, aspects of my identity. I was quite surprised by the extent to which I “live” as a resident of the internet. As I set out to draft my map, I predicted it to be weighted far more on the visitor side given the hallmark of our visitor-like actions not leaving traces or “footprints” of our having been online. But it would appear that I leave a few more “tracks” in the cyber-sand than I originally imagined. For having been born into the old country of Analog, it would appear I have readily embraced my adopted country of The Internet.
A First Draft
At this point, I would view the first pass at my online usage map as a draft. (In part, because I would like to create one that is not as “old school” as this is with its paper, Sharpies, and colored pencils.) In a second draft I’d likely slide everything on the “resident” side a bit more towards the center. While I am decidedly more resident than I initially suspected, I’m not that far to the right. Some of the positioning was due to needing to fit everything on the page such that it could all be seen. I would also like to find a place for search, as White discussed in the video of his own map.
Future Drafts and Uses
I think it would be a very interesting exercise to do as a reflective exercise with a faculty and to do repeatedly over time. What an interesting tool for reflection: How does my online use change over time? Does that change mark some kind of evolution? How does my online presence map onto phases in my life? In my instructional practices? What might it suggest for my professional development? My role as a coach? How might de-compartmentalization streamline my online presence? Is de-compartmentalization desirable? In what areas might compartmentalization benefit my online experiences? How would I use this with my students and to what ends? Etc.
Again, this week’s assignments have been mind-blowers in multiple ways. My thoughts over the past few days keep returning to how in a couple short decades digital technology has so utterly transformed our world. That realization makes the work of getting our students learning digitally and acting in terms of digital and global citizenship seem more important than ever. All from a simple map? Yeah, all from a simple map.
Update: Six weeks on from this post and Twitter chats have become a go-to component of my PLN. I’ve attended four other chats in the intervening weeks with another scheduled for today. I’m finding that when I’m in need of a particular kind of research or just in a curious mood I turn to a scheduled chat or skim related hashtags of past chats. Some chats are definitely operating at higher levels in terms of depth of thought, extent of conversation, or ideas and resources shared. However, I’m singularly impressed by the one characteristic common to all of them so far — how welcoming, friendly, and generous the participants are. Too, I had no idea how many chat groups are out there — not just in education, of which there are dozens. I’ve even found a couple chats for my husband who works in the hospitality industry and is always looking for new ideas. He is a Luddite. But after a couple hours of his peering from the corner of his eye from the other side of the sofa as I chat, I figured I’d see what I could find for him. When I sent him the links, his response was, “…I’d like to know more….” Next stop is getting him his own Twitter account!
The New Addiction
I’m officially hooked on Twitter chats. While I knew these were “a thing”, I was never clear on how exactly to access them. And I certainly never thought they were as organized as having an official chat list. Admittedly, I found them rather intimidating to start. However, our reading from the PLP Network was spot on with “how to”. A particularly good recommendation is to use TweetDeck — a platform I’ve used in the past for my multiple handles*, but discovered its ultimate usefulness in this chat context.
3 Different Experiences
In all, I participated in three chats. Coincidentally, they provided three different kinds of experiences. I’m trying not to rate them on a qualitative scale; however, I did find one a more enjoyable, and thus a more worthwhile, experience. But “enjoyable” and “worthwhile” are according to what works for me in terms of my learning style and learning habits.
Starting with the chat I found most challenging, Digital Citizen Chat (#digcit), was the most rambling and freeform. Chronologically, it was my second chat which followed a highly organized first experience last week. So the differences were immediately noticeable. Right from the start, there were a number of participants who seemed to be looking forward to the chat.
Hello all! Preservice teacher here. Excited to discuss Digital Citizenship! #digcit
From what I could tell, no moderator ever showed up. So people posted randomly. While I’m not sure the number of conversation threads were different from other chats, it all seemed vague and scattershot with very little focus. In all, I didn’t find it a terribly helpful chat given there were more opinions being solicited and shared than useful practices and resources.
The middle-of-the-road experience was the Instructional Coaching Chat (#educoach). More organized and attended by experienced coaches, #educoach had two moderators and a set of nine questions at the ready. While the other chats seemed to be attended by several self-identifying pre-service and novice teachers, I felt more in the company of my experiential peers in #educoach. Unfortunately, there is either an error on the Education Chats schedule or there was some other kind of snafu. When I showed up 10 minutes ahead of the scheduled start time — 9pm Central — it had clearly been underway for 50 minutes. I didn’t feel comfortable crashing in with ten minutes on the clock, so I scrolled and lurked through the conversations and liked the tweets that had thoughts and resources I found useful for my work. One such resource was a meta-analysis shared by @region13coaches at the very end of the chat. It was a nice button on the conversation for how the work of instructional coaches has a measurable impact on teacher practice and student outcomes. I read it and immediately emailed it to the principals of the schools I work with — as research support and encouragement for our work.
Finally, the chat I found to be the most enjoyable experience was, oddly enough, my first. Last week I decided to preview the Twitter chat experience in anticipation of this week’s assignment. I didn’t want to troll this one, so I decided to boldly identify myself as the nube I am. I tend to get anxious with online interactions among strangers. So participating in this new way among fellow professionals felt risky because I knew there likely were all kinds of rules of etiquette of which I was completely unaware. But I could not have been more warmly welcomed. I
wouldn’t say my contributions to the conversation were high-level or even on topic. They were more about meeting and greeting and getting my feet wet with this new professional learning experience. Luckily, though, the folks over at #hseduchat were accepting and supportive of my lack of chat experience and encouraged my contributions. Their behaviors made it more likely that I’d participate in other chat in the future.
This chat was very well-organized, the moderator having sent out the questions in advance, reviewed them all again when the chat started, and gave instructions for how to format responses. She then released the questions at regular intervals. In this way the moderator kept tabs on the conversation and kept it rolling. All these elements fit with my own needs as learner. It really was the perfect chat for my first attempt.
The assignments this week made for highly enjoyable learning (more on the Resident/Visitor map to come). While I’m not new to Twitter, chats are a revelation. In my experience Twitter has been a much more positive, uplifting, useful platform than, say, Facebook. Still, as a professional resource, it always seemed a bit random, even when I used hashtags to track down resources. But having entire lists of chat schedules, the ideas and suggestions from Nicole’s narrated Prezis, and some chat experiences under my belt, Twitter finally feels like an actual arrow in my professional and ICT quiver. My exploration now will turn to those chats that are moderated and organized for those times when I’m on the hunt for useable material — actual ideas and resources. Though I can see hanging out in a chat with no clear facilitator where participants ask and answer random questions, for those times that I’m looking simply to network or have collegial conversation.
It’s become increasingly clear to me that informal learning is an extremely potent type of learning. Twitter chats hit so many of those buttons — self-directed, just in time, anytime/anywhere, tailorable to a learner’s needs of the moment, learner choice, working with a sense of relaxed and stress-free flow in the learning moment. I can see how Twitter chats can be a powerful tool for a particular kind of teacher support and professional learning. With such tools and access, this really is an exciting time to be an educator!
*:I have one professional Twitter account: @commonelements. I also have two personal Twitter accounts: @oberon60657 for general, personal tweeting. My husband and I enjoy cruising and try to do at least one sailing a year — despite the outrageous behaviors of many passengers. I finally couldn’t take that behavior anymore and as an outlet started a separate handle just to tweet out the ridiculous things people say while shipboard. If you want a laugh, follow me on @some1saidreally.
As I may have mentioned on some post somewhere, I am developing an interest in how educators’ use of information and communication technology (ICT) in their personal/non-school lives influences their curricular and instructional decisions regarding ICT in their classrooms. Particularly where high school educators are concerned. So it made sense that I do a close reading of “Maximizing the Impact: The pivotal role of technology in 21st century education systems”.
A collaboration between ISTE, SETDA, and P21, the report explores the needs and rationales for ICT inclusion in education in three areas: proficiency in 21st century skills, innovative teaching and learning, and robust education support systems.
The executive summary clearly lays out the issue and goes on to note that as a nation, the US simply cannot rely on the global standing, economic prosperity, and technological predominance we have enjoyed as a result of the industrial era. Nations that lead in technology development lead in prosperity. Therefore, we must prepare students to thrive in the 21st century and thereby take the nation into this digital age.
What does this look like? To start, we must focus on what college and business leaders identify as “21st century skills” and what we now commonly refer to as “the 4 C’s” — communication, collaborations, critical thinking, and creativity. These are the how’s of the executive summary — the ways through which we teach content. This aligns with the other literature assigned this week that points to teaching the 4 C’s in addition to the more traditional 3 R’s. Importantly, the authors note that it is less useful now for everyone to know about computers, software, coding, etc. Their ubiquity in our lives means it is more important for everyone to know how to use them as tools for learning, productivity, and creativity. A common analogy is that in order to do the shopping, shuttle the kids, or take a road trip, everyone need not know how to build, conduct maintenance, or even understand the basic workings of an automobile. It is sufficient that we know how to drive in order to complete our errands or enjoy an adventure. It is the same with ICT.
Therefore, students need “more robust education than they are getting today” and this involves a comprehensive inclusion of ICT across the curriculum (p. 2). As mentioned above, this must entail not just learning about technology, but learning with technology.
With a shared vision of a 21st century education system, the authoring agencies of this report succinctly identify needed outcomes and why they are vital for both students and educators.
The report also included a visually colorful and intriguing graphic of a Framework for 21st Century Learning. It is eye-catching, but not easy to interpret without some explanation. Watch the video for an attempted unpacking.
The rest of the paper explores details, gives examples and provides analytical and evaluative questions for educators in a “call to action to integrate technology as a fundamental building block into education” (p.3). That plan for ICT implementation focuses on the three areas mentioned above: Using technology comprehensively to develop proficiency in 21st century skills; using technology comprehensively to support innovative teaching and learning; and using technology comprehensively to create robust education support systems (pp.6, 9, 13).
Overall, “Maximizing the Impact” presents a useful roadmap for schools to implement ICT-based instruction. The report makes a strong case for why it is vital we undertake this tech-based approach to teaching and learning. It presents a thoughtful plan that makes much sense. Indeed, the collaboration between different organizations with different goals and priorities only bolsters its persuasiveness. In addition, the P21 web site offers many resources to support the work.
Ertmer and Ottenbreit-Leftwich (2010) and Somekh (2008) found that a significant challenge to incorporating ICT into classroom instruction is that it destabilizes classroom routines. And this is, in fact, what we need to happen to transform our classrooms for the digital age. However, they found that teachers who don’t value ICT negatively impact those who do and then point to the destabilizing effects as reasons to shun technology-based learning. In a related study, Ertmer and Ottenbreit-Leftwich also found that teachers who see positive student outcomes as a result of using ICT instructional practices are more likely to make technology a part of their practice. Thus, teacher mindsets is a key factor in implementing ICT-based instruction. They also found where ICT is central to learning, schools had six qualities in common:
They were well equipped for ICT instruction.
Their focus was on changing the process of learning using ICT.
Skills were acquired as part of the process of using those skills purposefully.
The school provided support.
Teachers had opportunities to discuss, reflect and troubleshoot with peers and facilitators over time.
The nature of student learning changed along with teachers’ beliefs and knowledge sets
Looking at this list, it is hard not to recognize the outsized role professional development must play in making ICT the how of student learning. Yet in the P21 framework, professional development is sandwiched in between standards and assessment and learning environments. In the bullet list explanation of the framework graphic “21st century professional development” is the 27th bullet out of 28. Indeed, in nearly all our optional readings this week, the various authors address professional development almost parenthetically. And some suggested a mere workshop or two is all that is needed to provide teachers with the understanding necessary to make a seismic pedagogical shift. Such approaches to PD run contrary to much research that finds one-off professional development neither changes teachers’ mindsets nor practices. As the Center for Public Education has found, to bring about sustainable change effectively PD must: be of a significant and ongoing duration; be supported by the administration; allow teachers to actively make meaning of the new material; and not be generalized, but presented for the teacher’s subject and grade-level (Teaching the Teachers: Effective Professional Development in an Era of High Stakes Accountability). When we consider most of our professional learning experiences, how do they hold up to these criteria? Likely, not too well. As Tom Murray noted in the Start^EdUp podcast, we’re not going to fix anything by buying “more stuff”. To make the needed shifts we have to hack educator mindsets.
If we must first “win hearts and minds” of teachers and administrators in order to bring lasting instructional change where ICT is a method of instruction, then I believe delivering focused, sustained professional learning differentiated by educator should be prioritized over the development more standards and assessments, new curriculum and instruction, and rejiggered learning environments. Not that these areas are not important. They are. However, spending money and effort on those will mean very little if educators do not understand or have the pedagogical skills to implement ICT practices throughout their buildings. Once that is in place, the rest will follow, brought about by those who know best how to develop and document them– namely the teachers, students, and administrators who are engaged in their regular practice.
Last term, one of the organizing principles of our class was using concept mapping as a metacognitive tool and a way of expanding our adaptive expertise. Indeed, I found it to be a powerful way to process new information and gain insights into my own thinking. Concept mapping allowed me to see and think about ideas and connections I might have otherwise missed. I’ve returned to that practice as a way of exploring this week’s learning.
To start, my Padlet links to the Coonley blog post I was assigned and briefly summarizes my thinking that surfaced through the concept map. To view the concept map more easily, click the map in the embedded Padlet to either download a copy or open it in a new window. The rest of this blog post will interpret the map further as a means of exploring my thinking. It will also show a bit of the experience I have with active learning.
To start, I would like to note two different types of evidence I considered to analyze the last three bullets of our Do activity:
What active learning traits are present
What are opportunities/suggestions for growth, and
Any additional information
The first type is the “Cougar Code” lesson summary which arguably contains the most direct information about the lesson. The second is the included media of student work artifacts as well as images of students at work. These constitute information about what students did and possibly trait evidence of active learning and web literacy. Neither type of evidence presents a complete picture of what was taught and what was learned, but together provide insights. What is lacking from each type of evidence also makes complete determinations about the above bullet points difficult to say with certainty. Nevertheless, the evidence that is in the post gives us much to think about and discuss.
Interpreting the CONCEPT MAP
The summary of the Cougar Code assignment provides the most information that allows some answers regarding the extent to which active learning could occur during the lesson. On the whole, the Cougar Code lesson exhibited many constructivist elements, particularly in its engagement, purposefulness, reflectiveness, and complexity. The assignment is learner-centered from start to finish, beginning with students’ exploration of their own learning styles, the outcomes of which the teacher uses as the launching point for the rest of the lesson. Students seemed to draw from their experiences as well as their values in defining examples of being responsible, being respectful and being safe. I have gone back and forth on the extent to which the lesson elicits metacognition. There are signs of reflection in the Educreations video. But a focus on students’ final products and a lack of formative artifacts makes a definitive determination difficult. For instance, from the attached media, it is difficult to tell the extent to which students actually engaged in active learning or if they were simply completing tasks.
When it comes to evidence of web literacy traits, evidence of student outcomes are limited to the 21st Century skills in all three segments of the lesson. It could be argued that the students wrote and participated in that their work became the content of a blog post. However, the blog post analyzed for this assignment was their teacher’s, not the students’. So actually the teacher is demonstrating her web literacy by contributing to building the web and connecting with other educators online. While we definitely want students to be creators and participants online, we want teachers to be as well. Especially in light of research finding that when teachers do use technology, it is mostly for administrative purposes or electronic communication with peers and parents. Even among constructivist teachers — as we clearly see in this lesson — when they do use technology, they tend to do so at levels akin to substitution or augmentation on the SAMR model (Ertmer & Ottenbriet-Leftwich, “Teacher Technology Change: How Knowledge, Confidence, Beliefs, and Culture Intersect”). Thus, from the evidence presented in the blog, technology seems to be primarily the teacher’s tool when it comes to web literacy traits and possibly the students’ tool when it comes to active learning traits.
Opportunities for Growth
While the Cougar Code lesson suggests quite a few opportunities for active learning in the blog summary, more and better evidence of student formative artifacts would allow for deeper insight and feedback as to the quality of students’ active learning traits demonstrating metacognition. So too would artifacts of the students’ digital photos and their final PicCollage products. More student artifacts would also allow assessment of whether the technology was instrumental in developing students’ understanding of the Cougar Code or whether it was merely a fun activity.
I don’t want to dwell on the SAMR level of the work too much given the fact that this lesson was taught at the beginning of the school year. However, going forward, the teacher can consider evaluating this lesson through a SAMR lens. From the evidence presented in the blog post, it seems to ask students merely to substitute and augment traditional learning methods with the available technology. For future lessons, the teacher can consider how similar uses of digital cameras, iPads, PicCollage, and Educreations could be used in such modifying and redefining ways that without the technology, students could not develop a particular level of understanding. She can also consider creating opportunities for students to develop their readerly, writerly, and participatory netizen selves.
Active Learning in My Practice
This notion, I must admit, of explicitly stating that students need to be active learners, strikes me as odd. I was taught to be a constructivist teacher, to think in terms of what students do and not just what the teacher does, to focus on critical thinking, collaborative group work, and reflective activities. These traits are how I was “raised” to be a teacher. Given the usual levels of participation, energy and focus I experienced from my students (most of the time!), I wonder why anyone would think a mostly teacher-centered, student-passive model is preferable. That is, if actual student learning and not just teacher moves is the goal for which we are aiming. Additionally, active learning methods support what we now know about how the brain functions and how humans learn. So yes, I believe teachers should create lessons that give students consistent and regular opportunities to be active learners.
Below are links to two lessons I found in my archives from over ten years ago. They are part of a set of lessons I developed to introduce Shakespeare units to my 9th graders. They represent a departure from what had been my habitual way of introducing The Bard and were utterly transformative. In fact, my students responded so well as seen through their attitudes about, interest in, and understanding of usually very difficult material, that these new lessons became
the way I introduced Shakespeare from then on. I am showcasing it here because I believe it gives students active learning opportunities. It predates the web as we know it today, so it was not originally written with web literacy in mind. And sadly, I could not find any student artifacts of the completed work to share for evaluation. Still, I have some ideas about how to revise it accordingly and I welcome any ideas from the class.