What In-Service Teachers Should Know About Connected Learning Practices

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*.

definitions

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
Teachers need to know so much more than just content. Especially in the digital age. Image: TPACK.org

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
Connected learning looks a lot like TPACK model. Image: DMLResearchHub

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 developmentally need 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.

Conclusion

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.


Week 4- The Internet and Education

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:

  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.

They have found that both teachers and administrators need quality, differentiated professional development that 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 by Mimi 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.


For more, check out these other media sources.

Alan Kay on Arthur Koestler and “bisociation”.

Mimi Ito on connected learning

An excellent interview with danah boyd on On Being.


Waks, L. J. (2016). Education 2.0: The learningweb revolution and the transformation of the school. New York, NY: Routledge.

 

Week 1- Responses to Intro/Ch.1 of Education 2.0 by Leonard Waks

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

Education 2.0 book cover.
Source: Amazon.com

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.

Acknowledgments

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.

Introduction

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.

Chapter One: Young People
Book cover for danah boyd’s It’s Complicated: The social lives of networked youth
Source: Yale University Press

My “leisure” reading this summer was dominated by danah boyd‘s It’s Complicated: The social lives of networked teens.  So I found chapter one, “Young People”, to be quite resonant.

“[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.


Dr. Leonard Waks talks about MOOCs

 


Link to Framing Questions

Week 3-Learning Management Systems and “Edupreneurship”

Processing Questions from Lucy Gray Following EdSurge & Otus Presentations

1) What do you think of EdSurge?
Image: Lucy Gray

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 Foundation are 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:

  1. Letting the small cohort determine or at least negotiate what is a manageable set of standards for minimum use
  2. Determine a period of time for safe practice
  3. Assess how the work is progressing
  4. Identify and acknowledge early power users that play beyond that identified minimum use
  5. Make tweaks to refine the work for continued success within the context of the particular classroom/school/district
  6. Repeat the cycle with the refinements.  
  7. 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?
Image: Lucy Gray

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.

Week 7-Gamification

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
My niece learning to code on her mom’s phone by playing Lightbot (and then teaching me!) Source: D. van Dyke

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:

Fired Up For February — Gamifying professional learning; Source: Unified School District of De Pere, WI

 

A Language Geek’s Rhetorical Finish

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!

Week 4: Digital Spaces Map

The New Metaphor

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.

Surprise!  Surprise!

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.

My map of internet use. Clearly I am more resident than visitor, and quite surprised by this outcome. Source: D. van Dyke

 

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.

To Wrap

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.

Week 4: Communication and PLN’s

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.

Using TweetDeck for Twitter chats; Source: Screen cap, D. van Dyke

 

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.

Yet about 15 minutes past the designated start time, there was this exchange between Professor Passafume and Hope Frazier.

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.

Likes from #educoach chat; Source: screen cap, D. van Dyke

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

My first Twitter chat: Warmly welcomed to #hseduchat; Source: Screen cap, D. vanDyke

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

Week 3: The 4 C’s of 21st Century Learning

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”.

Report Summary

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.

“Maximizing the Impact” executive summary; Source: Partnership for 21st Century Skills

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.

Technology use in Education. Sources: US Dept. of Commerce, Partnership for 21st Century Skills

 

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.

A shared vision. Source: Partnership for 21st Century Skills

 

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).

The Good

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.

The Flaw

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:

  1. They were well equipped for ICT instruction.
  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

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.

 

 

Entry #8: Digital Learning — Immersive Experiences and Tech-Enhanced Experiences

This is going to be a difficult log entry since I don’t spend much time playing video games or in immersive worlds.  This is because I become too immersed and exhibit just a few addictive behaviors.  I knew I had to start being very careful one Christmas when I was staying with my parents for the holiday.  I had just purchased a Star Trek (of course!) starship builder game that allowed players to build custom or canon starships and then fly them on various missions.  One night, my parents and I sat in the den, them watching television, me building and flying starships.  I recall my mother giving me a kiss and going to bed.  I remember my father doing the same sometime later.  My next memory is my father coming back to the den, looking at me sitting in the exact same position he left me and saying, “Have you been playing all night?!”  I had indeed.

Up all night building starships. Uh-oh…

I remember feeling exhausted, knowing I should go to bed and get some sleep.  My eyes hurt from staring at the screen for hours and hours.  Throughout the night I knew, with every ship lost I should close my laptop and go to sleep.  Yet each time I went back to the builder module and thought, “Just one more.”  Then it became, “Just build it, but don’t fly it.”  As my father stood there laughing at me, but I was starting to wonder if there might be a problem here.

Over the years I have spent endless hours in SimCity — another particular favorite.  I got lost in Star Trek and Star Wars RPGs.  On iPad there’s a game that has taken far too much of my time, Galaxy on Fire (1 and 2).  For all of them, I have to monitor and limit my time very carefully.  

All that said, I find Second Life far more manageable in regard to my time.  I was initially introduced to it by a dear friend in Australia who was getting a degree in medical informatics and discovered it when he was working on virtual meeting spaces for doctors to interact.  It came at a time when I had just finished reading several cyberpunk novels, and SL reminded me very much of the VR & AR worlds described in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash.  Aside from meeting my friend there on occasion I was and still am a total nube.  I find it a somewhat intimidating space.  I’m not comfortable interacting with strangers online and this world of avatars and Linden$ and objects that can be given and received can be overwhelming.  Not to mention my fears of somehow getting hacked.  So I mainly stick to myself and wonder and window shop in the different continents and parcels that interest me.  

One place I spend a fair amount of time is Scilands — the science and technology continent.  And once NPR’s Science Friday started taking questions from Second Life, on occasion, I have listening from there.  Though I rarely interact with other individuals.  It’s fun from time to time.  However, I still find it a rather unnecessary additional layer for that particular listening experience.  So the media I watch or listen to in Second Life are things I happen upon in my wanderings, like NASA videos or information about colonizing Mars.

There is a lot of drek in Second Life and the interface is very cumbersome and rather unintuitive.  So those aspects definitely don’t “work” for me.  Although, I’m fascinated by the details of all the different worlds and seeing the things that others have clearly taken a lot of time to build.  That’s what keeps me coming back.  I think it’s interesting too that there are things that participants can buy that have value in the virtual context somewhat analogous to objects in the real world — clothes, real estate, private aircraft.  It’s enough that I actually think about purchasing Linden$ (especially when the exchange rate is favorable!).  It’s interesting too how it facilitates some sort of telepresence between people separated by long distances — as it did for my friend and me.  So it’s elements like these — analogues to the real world — that make it “work”.   

I’m less certain about Second Life or any other such VR platform functioning as a community of inquiry — at least not at a very high level.  Though it would be an interesting exercise to try setting up a formal class in SL for a while to see what evolves.  However, I see at least one major element that could potentially keep Second Life and any other such platforms from reaching the level of community of inquiry.  That is the use of avatars as they primary means of interacting with others in the virtual environment.  Avatars in particular strike at a critical part of the CoI model — that of social presence.  Avatars in and of themselves are veils, masks that hide the true person behind them.  There’s always a level of wondering about how closely the avatar represents the actual person.  Trust, then, on some level, becomes an issue.  Since learning is impossible without trust between student and teacher, the social and teaching presences are disadvantaged.  The climate is infused with a certain level of dissembling if not dishonesty.  This would in turn, have to impact, in some way, on supportive discourse, climate setting which in turn impact cognitive presence.  If all the other elements of a CoI are compromised, then it almost doesn’t matter what the content is as there may only be a certain level of depth participants are willing to risk in their discourse, reflection, and construction of meaning.  

Additionally, with our current level of VR technology, using it is less effective than using the technology we do have that make a virtual learning community/community of inquiry more cohesive, i.e: platforms such as D2L in combination with conferencing apps like Zoom, where participants can see and/or hear each other in real time.  The current platforms do better at lowering the obstacles of time, space, and distance for such educational endeavors as opposed to adding other layers that must be parsed in order to have meaningful interactions around the content.  Afterall, right now, it’s just easier to put Science Friday on the radio or stream the podcast than to sit at my computer, logon to a virtual platform, fly to the virtual studio in the virtual space, pipe the audio feed, and then send chat texts to digital avatars.

It seems like a lot more work!

Entry #7: Digital Contexts

Play in the Digital Context

informal_learningWhen I think about my own learning in digital contexts, the common theme in all three contexts is my need to “play” with the technology at hand.  I find that in every instance, at some point, I wind up exploring a new software tool or interface while a “more knowledgeable other” continues with a lecture.  Truth be told, I think my “playing” is even more efficient as in almost every case, I find that by the time I’ve tuned back into the MKO, I’ve figured out a task or workflow far ahead of its discrete instruction in the lesson.  If I don’t have the opportunity to work in this way or apply the technology to a specific need of mine, I then become super antsy.  I’m as bad as a teenager, cracking jokes with neighbors, passing notes, and leaving the session for bio breaks.  On more than one occasion, my principal would tell me who I could and could not sit next to so I “didn’t cause trouble” during the session.  And she was often included on the “not to” list!

Online Learning

In terms of the online context, here’s the thing:  I find videos boring to just sit and watch.  Bo-ring. I’d rather listen to them like a podcast while I do other things like cook dinner or cleaning or driving.  And let’s face it.  It’s not like there’s much video adds to most presentations since the presenter just reads something off a slide on the screen anyway.  Even TED Talks.  I love them.  But more often than not, one can get by by simply listening.  So in online and some blended/face-to-face contexts, extensive use of video is no good for this learner.  What is more powerful for me is when we participants can share our screens with the virtual class along with the MKO.  Now we have some skin in the game.  My heart rate is is up.  I need to explain, narrate, take questions, manipulate apps or docs on the screen.  I’m far more active and am thus working to build my understanding as a result.

If you’ll indulge a slight side trip for a larger point here.  We’ve all experienced that feel-good bump when we get a notification that someone liked an Instagram picture or replied to a tweet or left a comment on a Facebook post. That’s because these platforms are designed, as Nir Eyal explains in Hooked: How to Build Habit Forming Products, to keep us coming back by using four key elements: a trigger, an action, and unpredictable or variable reward, and investment.  Additionally, neuroeconomist, Paul Zak, has conducted experiments and MRI tests on subjects using Twitter and Facebook.  He discovered that the brain releases oxytocin during interactions on these platforms.  Oxytocin is the feel-good chemical released during nursing that causes mother-child bonding, or other life events that we feel good doing — falling in love, eating, making money, etc.  He also found that when we receive a “Like” the reward center of our brains, the nucleus accumbens, is activated.  As a result, our brains receive a hit of every teacher’s and student’s favorite neurotransmitter, dopamine, which provides feelings of satisfaction, allows us to identify successes, and take actions toward more successes.  In fact, researchers have found that interactions on the internet can provide more of a dopamine kick than eating chocolate or having sex.  With that in mind, I’m pretty stunned to find that in just one term in a formal online learning environment, I respond to interactions on the D2L platform in the same way that I respond to my favorite (and even my least favorite) social media platforms.  I receive texts alerting me to new discussion threads, or updated grades, or IM’s from fellow students (trigger).  I logon and look for the red notification bubble in the upper right toolbar and click on them (action).  I wonder, what’s going to be there?  Who commented?  What is my new grade?  Is there going to be helpful feedback? (unpredictable and variable rewards).  I obviously care about the work since I applied for and was accepted to the Learning Sciences program and I’m eager to learn new things (investment).  I can interact in multiple and meaningful ways with materials I can share with like-minded individuals who keep in regular touch with each other.  And since it’s all for my education, I can do all of this without feeling guilty about the time I’m spending because it’s not wasted.  Many (more) very tangible benefits result (compared to other social media interactions).   

I also find it far more engaging to be able to see all the fellow participants in online contexts.  Our Zoom sessions for this class are a perfect example.  Even though they’re considered optional, I feel like I have attended a traditional class.  We see each other, talk to each other, ask questions, see each others’ reactions, react to each others’ reactions, share screens, take notes.  It’s utterly engaging.  I believe too that this one course aspect — the weekly Zoom sessions — goes a long way toward creating a virtual learning community out of a mere virtual learning environment.

Watch a bit of an ah-ha I had about D2L interactions:

Flipped Classrooms

flippedgraphic

 

Sadly, I have exactly zero experience with flipped classrooms either as a teacher or a student.  I’d love to experience them in both rolls.  As a teacher, I imagine the flip would provide far more enticing homework experiences for our Gen D learners.

 

Changing My Instructional Practices
SAMR

Flipping, BYOD, application of SAMR to most, if not all, of my lessons, and redesigning my lessons to include far more informal learning and play parameters would be the most significant changes I’d make to my instruction going forward.  A classroom characterized by students regularly creating their own learning goals in consultation with myself, discovery-based and just-in-time learning for students, more project-based learning that is digitally mediated to foster the 4C’s would all be my ICT ideal.  My digitally mediated utopia.

Entry #5: Formal Context

A number of years ago I consulted as a subcontractor for a company that provided both professional development about and software for curriculum mapping.  The software was a suite of 3 programs designed to streamline instructional documentation — curriculum maps, unit plans, and gradebook.  All consultants had to be certified in the mapping software and the professional development modules.  Many were certified for the unit planning software and modules.  Even fewer were certified for the gradebook components primarily because of its complexity.  By the summer of 2014 the number of certified consultants was down to two and the company needed to train more consultants to learn the software in order to keep it a viable part of the suite.  

screen-shot-2017-02-11-at-2-07-15-pmscreen-shot-2017-02-11-at-2-06-31-pmThe course was conducted by another very senior consultant who had many years experience with the application.  We all knew each other very well, having co-presented PD multiple times over the years.  That made  for a high degree of collegiality and support in the group.  The class met for 2.5 hours once a week at the same time each week throughout the summer.  The instructor had a very no-nonsense demeanor which characterized both her style as well as how she organized the course material.  Goals were clear and immediately applicable for our work.  The structure was mostly a repetitive “I do, we do, you do” model followed by clarifying procedural questions.  She consistently focused on interface elements she knew were particularly complex or non-intuitive and allowed us to ask more questions around these elements.  Each lesson finished with a homework assignment that gave us opportunities to practice what we had learned during the session.  She monitored our work in the program as well as requiring we email additional assignments when completed.  We received feedback only if we asked for it which made it feel as if we were simply emailing documents into the ether.

The instructor mainly lectured and demonstrated the software in a scripted manner.  So the level of equity was dependent upon whether or not our learning style worked with her teaching style as well as our individual ability to self-advocate, ask questions, and solicit feedback on our own work.  It was quite possible to make it through every online session, clicking away at the software without ever directly interacting with either the instructor or other learners.  This always struck me as ironic since the company prided itself on learner-centered PD.

Our classroom was online, though it did not consist of a unified platform like D2L.  GoToMeeting was how we conferenced in with the only video component being the presenter’s shared screen.  As a result, there was a bit of bouncing between G2M and the software when it was time for us to practice.  The lack of video for all attendees to see and interact with each other had a considerable, and I’d say, negative impact.  Not only did this setup make it easy to check out of the class, it also reinforced the individual, non-collaborative nature of the work.  It was mostly a one-way conversation with information flowing from instructor to students and questions going from students to instructor.  Fostering more collaboration between learners — especially with software training — would have made for more diverse perspectives, not to mention learning a complicated program more efficient.

I never want to be the presentation.  When I’m teaching any learners — adolescents or adults — I try to get away with saying the minimum possible while still setting up an effective learning environment.  The more the learners do, the more successfully they will learn.  So I do my best to be the “guide on the side”.  I also believe I’m not the smartest person in the room and that we are smarter collectively anyway.  That greatly influences my planning in as much as my lessons almost always have paired or grouped discussion components.  Regardless of whether I’m working with kids or grownups, all learners benefit from formative assessment and metacognitive thought.  They too are centerpieces of my instruction.  None of these elements were present in my colleague’s instruction. What I would take from her book would be to make more and better use of collaborative work by telepresence.  Plus, our course work in the past few weeks around informal learning contexts has me eager to try to subvert formal contexts by creating informal dynamics within them.

Entry #4: More Informal Digital Learning

Probably the most informal of my digital learning is my love of podcasts and Audible.  These themselves are extensions of my NPR addiction.  Yes, I’m that cliche one hears during every pledge drive.  I’ve lost track of how many stories I’ve heard during a Driveway Moment that I put to use in class in one way or another.  Part of what I love about podcasts is the wild and wooly nature of the podcasting landscape.  I’ve listened to Valerie Jarrett get tipsy while discussing policy with BuzzFeed contributors Heben & Tracy on Another Round.  I’ve been spellbound by David Gushee and Frances Kissling’s riveting conversation about the tragically narrow nature of the Pro-Life/Pro-Choice debate as part of Krista Tippett’s “Civil Conversations Project” on On Being.  I’ve learned all kinds of details from The American History Guys on Backstory that we’re never taught in school about how the US became the US.  I have drawn inspiration for many a professional learning theme from Terry O’Reilly’s Under the Influence — a show about the history of advertising.  Looking over my Cast feed, my tastes range all over the map. My Audible library, on the other hand, is much more focused to almost exclusively science fiction and non-fiction of mainly history, science, and social science topics.  Right now I’m listening to The Big Picture:On the Origins of Life, Meaning and the Universe Itself  by Sean Carroll in which I’m now finding many connections to this class as we start to plumb the neurological aspects of learning.

podcast1

podcast2
A handful of my favorite podcasts

 

audlib
A sample of my Audible library

 

What’s interesting is that I listen to all this material for my own interests and pleasure.  I don’t set out to mine a particular show or audiobook for professional learning material.  But as I’m listening I “naturally” or nearly subconsciously connect relevant information to my education practice — be it teaching adolescents or adults.  This is just more confirmation of how powerful the “informal” contexts are for learning.  I rarely plan to sit down with a podcast or audiobook — that is until I get hooked on a good one and then I try to find as much free time as possible to listen!  It’s almost always a spontaneous decision.  And I certainly never have a notebook and pen poised to capture useful information.  I listen in the most informal of informal contexts — when I’m driving, getting dressed, cooking, doing laundry.  These are usually some of my most relaxed moments.  Once again, I’m visualizing my synapses firing like Barbara Oakley’s diffuse mode pinball machine.   

I try to keep found material within a digital context, documenting relevant material I hear via Twitter or make a note in Google Keep.  Out of the “Big 3” social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), Twitter is the one I use the most for sharing and finding professional resources.

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It’s fun to point teachers to it in a PD session.  “Ok, everyone take out your phones and open Twitter.  If you don’t have the app, find a buddy who does.”  (I love the looks.  Sadly, we hardly ever hear someone in a faculty meeting say, “Take out your phones.”!)  It’s exciting to showcase Twitter as a useful tool for professionals and not just a time-wasting app.

With all the examples of the fruitfulness of “informal” learning that we’ve uncovered in the past few weeks, I’m realizing I have do more to create such spaces within the professional learning seminars I conduct.  Flowing from podcasts to Twitter can be quite the timesaver.  Especially when planning and presenting professional learning.  There’s no need to make a bunch of slides when I can have everyone take out their phone and make their own meaning and share in discussion.  What is less productive is the way I discover material.  What I find and when I find it is very much up to chance since this is all casual listening.  I never know what I’ll hear and if it will connect to work.  Looking back over this journal entry, it’s clear I draw from many different disciplines in order to inform and enrich my own teaching and learning.  I guess I’ve been a learning scientist for a while now!

 

Entry #3: Informal Digital Learning

photos-pendingUpdate:  Latest ah-ha resulting from a few moments of diffuse mode brain activity.  This journal entry essentially describes what I was trying to characterize as informal learning.  However, I realize now that what I do is try to turn informal online learning into formal learning — at least when it comes to learning a large and complicated program like Photoshop.  Yet we’ve just spent the last week discussing the power of informal learning.  So now I’m wondering how I might reframe my Photoshop sessions such that I emphasize the most effective aspects of informal learning and trusting that the dynamics of informal contexts will be just as powerful as formal contexts — if not more so.  Now I’m not so sure you need to read the rest of my typically TLDR journal post.  But skip to the end to see my friend, Hope!  wink_emoji

Looking ahead at the metacognitive journal assignments, it seems the next few entries will continue to explore my thinking about becoming a better photographer.  I’ve never thought about where I do the bulk of my informal learning.  Though it seems my photography is where I focus.  At first, this realization draws a red flag.  Why am I not spending the same amount of time in informal learning for my profession?  Isn’t it crucial as an educator to keep learning?  Setting aside questions of work/life balance and the fact that my personal interests are just as worthy of time spent learning as my professional interests, I do allocate quite a bit of time for informal professional learning as well.  Though if pressed, I would probably say I spend more time in formal learning contexts than informal contexts for my professional self.  But that’s the stuff of another entry.

When it comes to online learning, I am an extremely critical learner due to the fact that I used to deliver regular webinars for several years. Consequently, I have a very low tolerance for poorly designed and/or poorly executed web-based learning.  And there are a lot of bad webinars out there that ought to be much better regardless of whether they are paid or free.  Luckily, I’ve found some very good online resources in the world of photography.

Upon reflection, I notice I go searching for learning materials when there is a discrete photographic skill I’m looking to develop at a particular moment.  Recently, for instance, I have wanted to explore macro photography.  After purchasing and playing with a fantastic macro lens, I then went right to my primary online photography subscription, Digital Photography School (DPS).  So I’d say learning individual skills seem to drive my online learning as a photographer.  As an adult learner, this makes sense.  The learning is done very much in the moment I want or need it.  It’s immediately applicable in my work which makes it relevant.  I’m making 100% of the choices about what, where, when and how I learn the material.  What I appreciate about DPS as well is that it is a rich community of learners (even though I don’t think they’d describe themselves in that way).  The comment sections of the articles turn into forums for photo sharing, discussion, questioning and critique.  So feedback is interactive, quick and useful.

Another online source I’ve used is Phlearn.  This site is a phenomenal resource for learning all things Photoshop.  While I don’t spend much time using PS, it is something that comes in handy when I’ve taken a picture that cannot be sufficiently developed or corrected in Lightroom.  But the learning curve on PS, for full-on fluency is around 100 hours and I am being very complimentary even calling myself a novice.  Phlearn is not free and is not inexpensive.  However, both the video tutorials the the instruction are very high quality.

Neither DPS nor Phlearn offer live webinars, which makes sense given the subject matter.  (Though could be a cool thing to try online!)  So all learning is independent and self-paced.  To ensure I kept up with this learning, I spent real money for Photoshop courses 101, 201, & 301. That’s twelve modules. I figured throwing my Visa at it would put some real skin in the game.  Yet I still find it challenging to prioritize and protect the same kind of time and effort these tutorials require.  Clearly, I’m more likely to apply consistent effort to deep, complex learning like this when it’s a “live” event, where there are regular and required interactions with assignments, the curriculum, the instructor, other learners.  I’d say that’s the main difference when it comes to complex, conceptual learning compared to learning discrete skills.  The latter I can easily do with a click-and-read online.  The former requires much more constructive pressure to persist.

Comparing the online learning design described above to non-digital experiences, the greatest differences are in environment, process, pace, interactions and affect.  The environment is can be just about anywhere I have an internet connection.  I’ve watched all of the Phlearn tutorials at home where I can more easily manipulate practice materials.  However, I’ve watched some of their free Youtube content while on the train or at the in-laws’.  The same is true of DPS articles.  They make for great reading on the train — especially with my phone or DSLR in hand.  With this subject matter I can take the tutorials where the photographic subjects are and practice on the spot.  Processes are determined by what I want to learn and practice at the moment.  This is different from non-digital learning where goals and assignments are usually determined and set by the instructor.  Interactions are limited to those with the computer as none of these are live events.  Though the comment sections of DPS will bring some interaction with others in the community, though not in real-time.  In terms of participant affect, I find I get very excited on either platform when I’ve actually learned something conceptually, not just mimicked an outcome.  When I “get it” and can apply the skill or technique with my camera or software in a particular context.  Posting on DPS comments almost always comes with some anxiety.  Trolls can be obnoxious.  But when people are generous in their feedback and kind in their tone, I feel very affirmed and motivated to keep working, to keep growing, to keep participating.

There’s more photography and metacognition on Youtube.  Enjoy!