Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Handheld Digital Magazines - An Intriguing Concept

Being that it's almost 2010, it's somehow appropriate to blog about this really cool concept video that came across my Twitter stream via @levarburton (Yep, of Roots, Reading Rainbow, and Star Trek fame!). Mr. Burton's exact Twitter words that intrigued me and made me click to watch the video were "8 minutes that rocked my world! This changes the ereading game...!"

To quote the purpose of the video from its web page:

This conceptual video is a corporate collaborative research project initiated by Bonnier R&D into the experience of reading magazines on handheld digital devices. It illustrates one possible vision for digital magazines in the near future, presented by our design partners at BERG.

The concept aims to capture the essence of magazine reading, which people have been enjoying for decades: an engaging and unique reading experience in which high-quality writing and stunning imagery build up immersive stories.

I was fascinated by this video and the digital magazine concept. Being a lover of reading, I was mostly struck by the idea of trying to preserve some of the traditional paper-based reading experience while moving to a digital medium. I'm actually encouraged by this.

One of the issues I have having been born and learning to read in the pre-digital era is the experience of reading is not the same quality for me when I am reading on a computer screen. I have not as of yet tried a Kindle or any other brand of e-reader simply because the idea of reading an entire novel on a small digital screen holds no appeal for me. I realize as an educator that this is the way things are going, and I should probably force myself to try an e-reader or e-book, but I don't really want to invest in one when it appeals to me so little.

The conceptual digital magazine caught my interest, though. I wanted to hold it and try it out. I think the fact that I would interact with it makes me think it will be closer to the paper-based experience I am used to. I also started to imagine the possibilities for longer works - plays, short stories, even novels - where more graphics could be incorporated with the text. Not that I want to ever give up being able to imagine the settings and events in my head, but think of classic works of literature with historically accurate graphical backgrounds enhancing the text. Or works set in the future with the author's concepts of the settings visually represented.  Just leave the characters out so I can still picture them in my mind, please. :-)

Anyway, you can see the video stirred up some ideas in my head. Take about eight minutes to view it, and see if it does the same for you. Maybe it will "rock your world" as well!

Mag+ from Bonnier on Vimeo.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Grading Shouldn't End With Meeting the Rubric

I just read You Can't Get Too Much of a Good Thing (Not!) at The Educators' Royal Treatment. The post was written by Adora Svitak, a 12 year old accomplished writer, educator, and student.

Adora writes about the need for teachers to provide constructive criticism for all student assignments, especially the ones that "meet the rubric". She gives some very specific examples of how such feedback for continued student growth might look. Adora's words on the need for teachers to provide feedback that goes beyond a grading rubric really resonated with me, so much so that I wrote a comment on her post.

I want to preserve my thoughts here, as well. I love commenting on blogs, but for some comments I hate that I "leave" the thoughts on another blog that I might not recall if the topic comes up again down the road!

So, for my own recollection later, and your information if you are interested, here are the comments I left on Adora's post:

Adora, I am currently a student in an online master's degree program and I want you to know I really, REALLY appreciated and related to your post above on the importance of feedback that goes beyond the rubric, especially when the assignment meets all or most of the rubric's requirements. On assignments where I do well, I still want to know what the grader thought about my ideas or be challenged to stretch my ideas.

I think back to a paper I did as an undergrad. I received a good grade on the paper, but I don't remember it exactly; I do remember a comment the professor wrote in the margin to this day, nearly 20 years later. I remember it because it challenged my beliefs and made me look at them and actually become more resolved in them.

As you so rightly pointed out, everyone, including a student who "meets the criteria" for an assignment, needs to be encouraged to grow from wherever they are. None of us ever arrives - but we can stagnate. A good teacher will use constructive dialog to help keep that stagnation from happening.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Reflecting Upon Teaching With Technology

The following post was written as a reflection on my learning during the fifth and final week of a Teaching with Technology course I am taking as I pursue a master's degree in educational technology leadership.

As an educator, I am quite opposed to the word "stupid" when referring to a person. And yet, as we wrap up our Teaching with Technology course, a repurposed political phrase is circulating in my head. "It's the learning and assessment, stupid."

I do not really think our leaders are stupid, but I do think they have missed the point for quite some time. For years, we have been trying to get teachers to use more technology, to not let those computers in their classrooms collect dust. All the while also building the climate of high-stakes standardized testing, which says every child will perform at an expected minimum level on tests presented in the same medium to everyone.

So, as James Paul Gee says in his Edutopia video Grading with Games, schools have become "test-prep academies" where it is too risky to use digital tools like games and social networking to teach because they don't have enough "skill and drill" focus which is what helps students pass standardized tests. The computer, which could be helping differentiate instruction, often becomes an expensive tool for drill and practice. The potential for true transformation in the classroom is wasted. We have a dichotomy in place where we know what kind of learning is most beneficial for preparing 21st Century students for the world of today, but our schools are still judged on how well they prepare students for the 20th Century.

What is the answer? How about lessening the importance of THE TEST and increasing the importance of real world problem solving? This Vision for 21st Century Learning video was intriguing to me, as it shows a possibility for authentic learning and assessment through simulations which would connect students to the ancient world.

But I am just one person. I cannot institute on my own the paradigm shifts required to make 21st Century learning and authentic assessment a reality in today's classrooms. Unless I redefine paradigm shift. An entire educational system can make a paradigm shift. So can a person. Maybe for now, until Gee's modern Sputnik comes along to spur the overhaul of education that is needed, I can focus on helping individual teachers move toward constructivist and connectivist practices. I can show them how technology can support them and their students in these new endeavors. We actually made our drop in the bucket this school year by starting a Moodle initiative. At least five classrooms I'm aware of are now experiencing blended learning environments. The word is getting out and more teachers want to try.

My own mini-paradigm shift because of this course has been toward concentrating on teaching, not technology. For the sake of some test-prep academies I know and love, I'm going to look for ways to sneak the good practices in. Then, hopefully, when the change really does come, we'll have teachers ready and waiting to lead us in 21st Century learning - because they've already been there.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Designing Student-Centered Learning Experiences With Technolgy

This content below is written as a reflection on what I learned in week four of the Teaching with Technology course I am taking as I pursue a master's degree in educational technology leadership.

The two themes that stood out the most for me during Week 4 of Teaching With Technology were "cooperative/collaborative learning" and "contextual/situational learning".

After working together to design an action plan for helping a teacher teach with technology, the project group I belong to started creating and uploading lesson plans and resources like crazy! It has been stressful trying to get everything in place in time to meet deadlines, but extremely rewarding as well. Something that became evident to me as I was working with my team was the fact that I was experiencing cooperative/collaborative learning at the same time that I was reading about it. As a teacher I have asked students to cooperatively complete assignments and projects over the years, and I have been on many collaborative teams. I have not ever, that I can recall, worked on a team that was somewhat separated by distance, however. I worked with three very dedicated people, so it was a rewarding experience for me. I found that I love learning "across space"! I also reached out to my "extended cooperative network" for ideas via Twitter. At one point I was at a loss for how to approach loading our files to our Google website, so I sent a message via Twitter, and within minutes, five people had sent me suggestions. The power of cooperative learning, or as Pitler et. al. (2007) quotes Wong and Wong (1998) on page 143 of Using Technology with Classroom Instruction That Works, "cooperating to learn", was demonstrated for me in a real and immediately applicable way. I was then able to turn around the knoweldge I gained for the benefit of my project group. This is an experience I could not have had even six months ago, before I came to know the usefulness of Twitter as a networking for learning tool. This transitions me nicely to my second learning theme for this week.

In Web 2.0: New Tools, New Schools, Solomon and Schrum (2007) write on page 103: "Lave (1998) suggests that most learning occurs naturally through activities, contexts, and cultures, but schools too often abstract learning, 'unsituate' it, and teach concepts removed from natural contexts and applications." They go on to say a little further down the page: "We often provide 'just in case' training rather than 'just in time' training, which provides educators with the information they need just as they need it." These words literally jumped off the page at me. The authors reference several times in this chapter the fact that even after years of investment in training and infrastructure, educational technology has not lived up to its potential in the majority of schools. I find these observations echoed in many of the educational technology blogs I read, such as this one. Although I don't entirely agree with the blog author's take on his colleagues and their lack of technology savvy, I do understand his frustration. After all of the professional development reading I've done in my coursework, I would argue, however, that the failure of educational technology to reach the heights we should have expected by now lies not with teachers for the most part, but with the way we've tried to train them, in hour-long or even day-long workshops using traditional "chalk and talk" or "spray and pray" methods (Solomon & Schrum, 2007, p. 101). I am now beginning to make connections to the need to use connective Web 2.0 technologies in staff development to stay in touch with and continuously support educators and their growth in the use of educational technology. The support will work on two levels; educators can ask for help when they need it and receive consistent feedback, and they can become proficient in the use of the tools because they'll be using them in context. My own experience of becoming more of a participant in blogging and personal learning networks (PLNs) is evidence of the benefits of contextual/situational learning. I became a blogger because my graduate classes asked me to blog and reflect, and I became a PLN participant because someone in a workshop gave me an opportunity to participate immediately in a PLN. I am excited by these personal discoveries, reinforced by our professional readings this week, and look forward to hopefully creating similarly meaningful opportunities and experiences for the teachers in my district.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Planning for Student Centered Learning With Technology

The following was written as a reflection on my learning in week three of the Teaching with Technology course I am taking as I work toward a master's degree in educational technology leadership.

This was a content-packed week in our Teaching With Technology course, and although I have been working consistently on the coursework, I find myself finalizing my assignments just under the wire of the no-penalty grace period. I am tired, but not discouraged, as there have been many important learning moments for me over the course of the last seven days.

The first theme I encountered this week is that of planning for instruction and the needs of learners first, and then planning to use technology if it will help address learner's needs. Fortunately, in most cases, technology does make indvidualzation and instructional support more possible than ever before. One example that stood out to me was from the book Web 2.0 New Tools, New Schools by Solomon & Schrum (2007). On pages 92- 93 Christopher Johnston writes in a sidebar about using a blog in math to help students articulate their problem-solving strategies on a new problem posted each week. One of the issues faced in math education is the rote memorization of procedures without understanding of the "whys" behind the steps. I thought the use of a math blog to help students solidify their understanding was a brilliant idea, and an excellent example of using technology for an authentic purpose rather than just using a blog for the sake of blogging itself. This was just one of many examples of incorporating technology in classrooms when and where it makes sense, and it gives me food for thought about how we might need to tweak staff development opportunities in our district, so we are emphasizing the "why" of technology integration more than "how-to" of using technology.

Planning for instruction and the needs of learners was the major emphasis of the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles I learned this week through readings, UDL lesson plan design, and creation of an online book using the UDL Book Builder. The in-depth work we did with applying UDL principles to a complete lesson plan design helped me for the first time to get my head around the essence and practical applications of UDL - the "how-to" of meeting the needs of the diverse learners in today's K-12 classrooms. Again, meeting those learner needs is more possible than ever before because of the wide range of technology tools we have at our disposal for delivering content in multiple formats and giving students diverse choices for demonstrating their learning.

As I read in Chapter 6 of Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age: Universal Design for Learning (Rose & Meyer, 2002) about addressing the three identified UDL brain networks - the recognition network (the what of learning), the strategic network (the how of learning), and the affective network (the why of learning) - and then had to make sure I addressed them in the development of a lesson plan, I made a connection back to the 14 Learner-Centered Psychological Principles which we were introduced to and had to apply in our Curriculum Management course. In both systems, educators are encouraged to put the needs of the learner or learners above everything else, and then design instruction and activities around those needs while keeping in mind methodologies that will engage the learner on multiple "fronts" of cognition. I think that the UDL model is easier to keep in mind when planning, since it includes only three networks and many of the strategies for addressing the networks are similar or overlap. Making the connection, though, made me realize that although I am not in the K-12 classroom, I am still a teacher of teachers when I develop staff development, and just as I was able to address the 14 Learner-Centered Psychological Principles in designing staff development for our Curriculum Management course, I can also use UDL principles in designing effective staff development experiences for teachers. I look forward to being able to apply these principles in real-life very soon.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Lesson Plan Reflection

Putting together a lesson plan in the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) format for Week 3 of my Teaching with Technology class was challenging and rewarding. I have been out of the classroom for a few years, so I felt a little rusty at formal lesson design, but the UDL model was easy to follow. The challenging parts were striving to address all three of the UDL brain networks and finding quality resources in a variety of formats to incorporate into the lesson.

I was amazed at the amount of time it took me to hunt down quality resources to address the recognition, strategic, and affective networks. Providing multiple media and formats addresses both the recognition and strategic networks while offering choices of content and tools addresses the affective network. With the Internet, these types of resources are abundant, but the time investment it takes to screen the resources for appropriateness regarding quality and level and type of content is large.

The recognition network was addressed by supporting students' background knowledge and providing multiple examples of critical features in multiple formats. I imagined myself working with students and moving seamlessly from displaying and discussing a diagram under the document camera to manipulating an interactive website on a whiteboard as we began to investigate food chains and webs together. I hope students would be as engaged as I imagined they would be.

The strategic network was addressed by providing opportunities to practice with multiple media and formats. It was also interesting to imagine students getting to decide if they wanted to read from a book (would any really pick that nowadays?) or view movie clips or play interactive games on the computer. Would they work in pairs or solo?

Addressing the affective network by offering choices in content and tools, rewards, and levels of challenge was most engaging for me to think about, though. One of the goals teachers often have is to turn their students into lovers of learning. How much more frequently would we achieve that goal if we strove to connect more with students' feelings about learning through methods that address affective networks?

If I were still in the classroom, I know I would feel challenged to plan all lessons to this level all of the time. And I know logistically that would be impossible. But I hope these principles will stick with me as I design staff development for our teachers. I hope to integrate some of the UDL principles into our staff development offerings, so they become less focused on technology skills and more focused on solid pedagocial practices.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

SixthSense: The Next Evolutionary Leap in Personal Computing & (Hopefully) Edtech?

I should be studying, but I made the "miskate" of checking my Twitter streams first this morning. When looking at my #edtech search, I came across a tweet that actually sent me to the second of the two videos below, which then sent me on a rabbit trail I'm excited to have gone down.

I had not heard of SixthSense technology before today. It's a project being worked on by MIT Media Lab's Fluid Interfaces Group, led by Pattie Maes and her student Pranav Mistry. Assuming continued successful development, this technology has potential for causing a huge paradigm shift in personal "computing", and it SHOULD be hugely impactful in the world of education. (I say SHOULD because of the unfortunate slowness of adopting new technologies especially in the K-12 world). I predict this for two reasons:
  1. The technology behind the device costs around $300, well in reach of the masses in developed nations.
  2. Mistry plans to open source the technology.
Is your curiosity meter revved up yet? What is this SixthSense thing that has me blogging instead of studying this morning? I invite you to watch the two videos below - combined they are about 20 minutes in length and they will convince you I think. Only have time for one? The first one gives a great overview of the technology. But the second one is also cool because it talks about the development - I like the "story behind the stuff". By the way, you can follow @SixthSenseTech on Twitter if your interest is piqued.

I also invite you to leave a comment on how you think this might impact society and culture in general, and education in particular.

I leave you to the videos, while I go study so I can finish my master's degree and hopefully live to see this technology integrated into K-12 one day. :-)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Research Shows Technology Strategies That Positively Impact Student Learning

The following was written as a reflection on what I learned during the second week of the Teaching With Technology course I am currently taking as part of my masters in educational technology leadership program.

December 1, 2009

During the second week of the Teaching With Technology course, I learned the most from the research studies we read such as Michael S. Page's Technology-Enriched Classrooms: Effects on Students of Low Socioeconomic Status from the ISTE Journal of Research on Technology in Education (2002) and John Schacter's The Impact of Education Technology on Student Achievement: What the Most Current Research Has to Say from the Milken Exchange on Education Technology (1999). Page's work included an overview of prior studies of educational technology's impact on student achievement and then went on to detail his own study of the achievements and classroom interactions of 211 third and fifth grade students, half of whom were learning in classrooms that were not integrating technology, and half of whom were learning in classrooms with multiple technology resources as well as teachers who were thoroughly and continuously trained in the use of the technology they had been provided. I was encouraged by Page's findings which concluded that when compared to their counterparts in the non-technology infused classrooms, the students in the technology-enriched classrooms posted higher math achievement scores, showed higher self-esteem levels, and participated in a significantly more student-centered environment. As an educator, I have informally observed such results on a regular basis, and it is empowering to be able to point to specific research that demonstrates technology's positive impacts on student learning.

Likewise, all of the summaries in Schacter's work were interesting and demonstrated various instructional benefits of educational technology. I was particularly intrigued by the West Virginia Basic Skills/Computer Education study by Dale Mann (1999) which Schacter referred to. The finding that "Consistent student access to the technology, positive attitudes towards the technology (by both teachers and students), and teacher training in the technology led to the greatest student achievement gains" (1999, p. 6) was again reaffirming what I have come to know as best practices in the use of technology in instruction. I wanted to know more specifics about the West Virginia BS/CE initiative, so I did some looking around the Milken Family Foundation Website and found West Virginia Story: Achievement Gains from a Statewide Comprehensive Instructional Technology Program (Mann et. al. 1999). Upon skimming the information, I discovered that the State of West Virginia started to infuse classrooms with computers beginning with Kindergarten classrooms in 1990-1991, and moving the initiative up one grade level during each successive year throughout the elementary grades. Teachers were thoroughly trained in the use of the technology as it was implemented. It turns out that the specific software the teachers were trained in was primarily a drill-and-practice approach aligned with West Virginia's basic skills goals, making it easy to correlate the infusion of technology and teacher training directly to increased standardized test scores. These were interesting and encouraging findings which led me to wonder if any studies had been done since the late 1990's or early 2000's on the impact of technology on student learning, particularly since it has been since 2000 that Internet use and the read/write web have become mainstream. I put a request out amongst the edtech professionals I network with on Twitter, and Teri Wilkins pointed me to Technology in Schools: What the Research Says 2009 Update, an overview of recent educational technology research which seems to be similar in design to Schacter's work. I have not had time to delve into this promising find, but I look forward to reading it and finding out what more recent studies have to say about educational technology impacts on student learning. The next question I'll be looking to answer is, "If we have studies going back at least ten years showing that thorough teacher training and consistent student access to adequate technology resources positively impacts student learning, why are we still struggling with how to properly implement instructional technology in our schools?"

Photo of kids at computer courtesy of edenpictures used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 license agreement.