06 November 2012

Technology Integration (EDIT 9990 5/5)

So, what are we measuring? Is it really learning?

When considering David Merrill's idea that educational research needs to be more tightly aligned with the scientific method (Reiser & Dempsey, 2007), I feel this would be a good idea—but only to the extent to which it is possible. In my opinion, empirically based, randomly controlled experimentation is at its most rigorous when it follows, to the letter, scientific rules of experimental design. Moreover, the scientific method is at its best when the dependent variable can be accurately measured. This approach grew out of the ability of scientists to measure physical entities objectively and accurately. As the social sciences use this experimental method to measure learning phenomena, results are confounded when the dependent variable is, at best, a fuzzy measurement of the given learning phenomenon. How does learning occur? There is no general consensus on this issue, and there are no quantitative measures that can reliably and validly capture the moment of learning. So, in some cases, using quantitative, empirically driven experimental designs to understand a learning phenomenon can be falsely satisfying and even misleading. This is not to say experimental design principles have no place in educational research, but that their contextual limitations should be acknowledged, and research methodologies be adjusted accordingly. We are simply not at the point in the evolution of our field to have the security of knowing that it's possible to use numbers to accurately measure the learning phenomena.

Learning is a messy process, highly contextual, and driven by a constellation of socio-political factors. In order to explore this messiness, we do not have the luxury of settling upon one particular research method in which to do so. Educational researchers should come to terms with this idea, and be willing to take on the herculean task of knowing when and where to apply any of the entire range of research methods available to us in order to carry out research that is relevant to solving the given problem. Given this challenge, it is also a good idea to consider collaborative research, where persons of expertise in one research approach or another, can lend their talent to the corresponding aspects of any given research initiative.

Might we leverage gaming environments like this one (Minecraft)
to meet both learning goals and educational research goals?

If we can agree that quantitative measures are not sufficient tools to capture learning phenomena, then we are tasked with striking a balance between highly disciplined, rigorous experimental research and pure exploration, without the confines (or validity and reliability measures) of experimental design measures best suited to exploring measureable, physical phenomena. This will require creativity and an open mind when deciding how to best understand how learning occurs. Although there are (and should) be a variety of approaches to educational research, I am personally drawn toward game-like environments as a best way of learning and definitely as a best way of measuring how learning occurs (Reeves, T.C., 2011). A game environment, especially one that is computer based, affords the application of a wide range of both quantitative and qualitative research approaches. Perhaps for the first time, we will be able to analyze quantitative data that closely aligns to the learning phenomenon being explored. If these numbers are triangulated with qualitative measures, we may come close to having the best of both worlds. But still it is important to bear in mind—learning is a messy business, and we should guard against situations where numbers are used to come to any real conclusions about learning phenomena.

Teachers and educational researchers working together
is a win for the teacher, researcher, and learner.

A new culture of educational research could be wildly productive. If educational researchers could ally with teachers, we could situate our work in authentic learning contexts. Research initiatives could become long-term longitudinal studies, and we would have the time necessary gain deeper understandings. No more "fly by" snapshot studies—learning is a time based activity, after all. Why not research it that way as well? This would help inform teachers as they do their work of facilitating learning, while allowing educational researchers to do their work of understanding the learning phenomenon and making recommendations that have a practical, immediate, and positive impact on learning outcomes.

http://www.easygenerator.com/

As an aside, I was happy to see the mention of design tools being created that incorporate principles of Instructional Design, in order that regular users could benefit from I.D. principles. When I graduated with a master's degree in Instructional Design & Development, I posted on this blog about such a tool. My idea with that post was that, although I had spent much time and effort to thoroughly understand Instructional Systems Design (ISD), I am always open to automation that might make my skill set obsolete. When disruptive obsolescence happens like this, it's important for practitioners in our field (perhaps all fields) to evolve along with technological progress. Still, software such as this can only assist the user, and there is a danger of dependency on software that might remove the thinking processes from the designer. Worse still, such software may severely limit the potential growth of the user as a designer by imposing limiting structures on the creative process. It seems to be a good idea for educational researchers to test automated software such as this in order to revise and improve its effectiveness, as well as illuminate cautions and concerns for those who use the software.

References

Reeves, T.C. (2011) Can Educational Research Be Both Rigorous and Relevant? Educational Designer, 1(4).

Reiser, R. A., & Dempsey, J. V. (Eds.). (2007). The Future of Instructional Design (Point/Counterpoint). Trends and issues in instructional design and technology / edited by Robert A. Reiser, John V. Dempsey (2nd ed., pp. pp. 235 – 351). Upper Saddle River, N.J. : Merrill/Prentice Hall, c2002.

08 October 2012

Technology Integration (EDIT 9990 4/5)


When I think of a student-centered classroom, I think of students' who are excited to be participating in the classroom activity, and I think of the need for the activity to be aligned with the learning goal of the class. I think of a teacher who is able to inspire students to want to learn more about the subject. You know, the kind of teacher whose enthusiasm about the subject material that is palpable. Finally, I think of a teacher who knows how to "get out of the way" of learning. Once students' are able to identify and relate to any kind of learning activity that aligns with course goals, the teacher transforms from an "inspirer" to a supportive mentor and learning coach.

For a person who happens to be a teacher, these qualities may or may not be in their "blood." Being a learning coach may seem to them as a disservice to the learner. They may feel the only way to serve the student well is to tell them all about the subject material, as well as tell the student exactly what to do for the class. I agree with Belland's interpretation (Belland, 2009) of Bourdieu's view of habitus (p. 355) in that teacher's bring their own set of personal and cultural values to their task of helping learners reach learning goals. Habits are not easy to change, especially ones that have been ingrained and reinforced via life experience. So, if we can agree that a constructivist view of learning best serves learners, we can also agree that showing teachers how to use strategies aligned with constructivism is valuable.

Also, if we can agree that constructivist methods create the best learning outcomes, it makes sense to create learning environments for teachers that allow these learners to experience constructivist oriented learning environments first-hand. Since the goal of having teachers understand and use constructivist oriented methods of instruction, and many pre-service teachers may or may not have had any real experience with the methods, the constructivist approach needs to be used in the education of the pre-service teachers. And so of course I agree with Belland when he states, "Modeling the use of technology to facilitate the construction of knowledge should be integrated into other teacher education courses. To accomplish this, such courses will need to be taught in a more constructivist manner" (2009, p. 361).

I also agree with the crippling limitation of using surveys to determine teacher beliefs and practices (2009, p. 354). It's completely understandable that a teacher might express support for constructivist learning techniques when reporting to "work" authorities, because the teachers' may have been told of the effectiveness of something like project-based learning, and do not wish to appear lacking — and therefore survey responses are confounded. This circles back to the teacher's culture, life-experiences, or habitus. There is simply no other way to have teacher's learn about using constructivist methods unless they themselves have 1) used them and 2) been a part of a curriculum that values and uses constructivist methods of instruction.

So, in my opinion, the best and only way to create teachers who will actually use (not just "believe") constructivist instructional methods is to create learning environments for those teachers that allow those teachers to appreciate and experience these pedagogies in a concrete way that directly relates to their work in the class. Informing teachers of the importance of something like project-based learning isn't effective if the goal is for teachers to use those instructional methods. They must be allowed to experience the methods and draw their own, personal, conclusions as to their utility in the classroom.

References

Belland, B. R. (2009). Using the Theory of Habitus to Move beyond the Study of Barriers to Technology Integration. Computers & Education, 52(2), 353–364.

17 September 2012

Technology Integration (EDIT 9990 3/5)



It's easy to put technology in the classroom. Assuming a school has the resources to buy technological equipment, a cart of i-Pads, or whatever device is popular at the time, can simply be rolled in and made available. As long as I'm making assumptions, I'll assume the teachers all know how to use the device in a variety of ways that support learning goals. And that the learners will know how to use the devices. And that the devices all work without a glitch. Nervous yet? Me too, because that's a lot of assuming. First, schools do have limited resources. Second, teachers do not all know how to use technology in pedagogically effective ways. Third, devices are not always reliable.

A recent study (Inan & Lowther, 2010, p. 137) suggests that simply making technology available in classrooms ensures neither better instruction nor better learning outcomes. This is unsurprising, if one believes the adage "A woodshop does not a carpenter make." This idea is not new, and has already been related to technology integration and Instructional Design (Rieber, 1998). Now that classrooms often include media devices, the next question emerges: How can we use technology to support learning goals? Inan & Lowther's research (2010) suggests that "...professional development should show how technology can enhance student learning and how it can be used in a variety of core content areas..." p. 150. Now the challenge becomes how to provide support for these teachers? Kopcha (2012, p. 1115) identifies time as a primary barrier teachers face when trying to implement technology in their classrooms.

For me, a key suggestion from the Inan & Lower research (2010, p. 150) is the need for teachers' professional development learning goals to include abilities of using technology to address a wide range of objectives and contexts. This creates a learning goal that is in itself, complex and ill-structured. How can teachers be given the time they need to take on these new learning tasks? How can we create as much learner autonomy as possible? Teachers themselves are in an excellent position to decide how they go about learning ways of thinking about technology in the classroom; they deserve guidance, not direction. Perhaps if they are supported in the right way they can take on new leadership roles and evolve their own learning environments according learner needs and within the constraints particular to school structure within which they work—and which vary across learning environments. Perhaps a broad and flexible initial top-down design can be "filled in" by teachers and students. This would allow for flexible, bottom-up, iterative design and the result would reflect the needs and attitudes of both teachers and students. It also seems as if this approach would yield a diverse set of approaches to learning problems that could subsequently be compared and refined. Research and education can coexist at the point of impact in learning- the classroom (or any other learning environment). What a fine feedback mechanism for the design of an educational system! This would require creating a new niche in the educational public school ecosystem, as well as adjusting other niches to maintain stability and encourage slow growth. Perhaps the best feedback mechanism for informing the redesign of an educational system is the teachers and the learners. This can help the design be flexible and responsive to a host of problems associated with design, development, and implementation. A top-down design framework combined with a bottom-up design process allows teachers and learners the autonomy to find solutions that are at once grounded in practice while being informed by theory. The problem requires time and resources.

This problem is firmly grounded in available resources, and is why I find the barrier of time to be one of the more thought provoking findings of Kopcha's research (2012, p. 1115). Even the best laid plans for situated professional develop will not lead to new knowledge and application of that knowledge if time is not made available for the process. This seems like common sense, but dealing with a functioning educational system and trying to alter it is akin to making repairs to an ocean liner as it is actively in service. We need to create space and breathing room for teachers' professional development and for those teachers to test out new ideas in a supportive environment. Since our learning goal includes abilities to use a range of technology effectively to meet course and curriculum goals is an ill-structured one, simply telling teacher learners what to do will not work. When teachers are exposed to a range of technologies and their applied use to learning problems, they begin to see approaches based on sound learning theory. This knowledge gives teachers' the guidance they need to navigate the rich and confusing mix of technologies available today. Creating time for situated learning is essential for altering structures in a living, breathing system.

Time and space are critical to growth and change. This idea as it relates to learning is not new. Seymour Papert emphasizes the importance of taking the time to play with and understand a problem (Papert, 1996, p. 12). More recently, Pasi Sahlberg describes how teachers' are given time, space, and autonomy within the highly regarded educational system in Finland (Sahlberg & Hargreaves, 2011, p. 70-95). Discussing either of these two works in any depth is beyond the scope of this post. However, there is one quote from Sahlberg's book that underlines the importance of properly supporting teachers' in Finland's educational system: "Finnish experience shows that it is more important to ensure that teachers' work in schools is based on professional dignity and social respect so that they can fulfill their intention of selecting teaching as lifetime careers." (2011, p. 70). As we come to truly value and broaden the role of teachers', we are transferring energy within the system from top-down policy makers to bottom-up teachers, who are arguably in the best position to effect change that works, is responsive, and is sustainable. And considering the near hostile culture in the United States towards teachers as we determine their value via a set of assessment tools far removed from the actual classroom, and further distorted by political mainstream media, we have a long way to go.


References

Inan, F. A., & Lowther, D. L. (2010). Factors affecting technology integration in K-12 classrooms: a path model. Educational Technology Research & Development, 58(2), 137–154. doi:10.1007/s11423-009-9132-y

Kopcha, T. J. (2012). Teachers’ perceptions of the barriers to technology integration and practices with technology under situated professional development. Computers & Education, 59(4), 1109–1121. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2012.05.014

Papert, S. (1996). A word for learning. In Y. B. Kafai & M. Resnick (Eds.), Constructionism in practice:  Designing, thinking, and learning in a digital world. (pp. 9–24). Hillsdale, NJ England: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Rieber, L. (1998). The Proper Way to Become an Instructional Technologist. 1998 Peter Dean Lecture. Presented at the 1998 National Convention of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT), St. Louis, MO, USA. Retrieved from http://lrieber.coe.uga.edu/pdean/

Sahlberg, P., & Hargreaves, A. (2011). Finnish lessons : what can the world learn from educational change in Finland? / Pasi Sahlberg ; foreword by Andy Hargreaves. Series on school reform. New York : Teachers College Press, c2011.

03 September 2012

Technology Integration (EDIT 9990 2/5)

What can we do to improve learning on a systemic level? Ludwig Von Bertalanffy has made it clear that systems thinking involves considering not only individual elements within a system, but also the environmental aspects of the system (Von Bertalanffy, 1972, p. 417). This way of thinking has its roots in the Aristotelian notion that "The whole is more than the sum of its parts." Opposing this idea is the belief that understanding occurs by reduction, with a goal to "...resolve and reduce complex phenomena into elementary parts and processes (Von Bertalanffy, 1972, p. 408). More recently, research is showing the benefits of a holistic, open systems view when considering technology integration in classrooms (Zhao, Pugh, Sheldon, & Byers, 2002). The Aristotelian view has made its way back into the literature of instructional design, combined with the idea of an ecology and a call to support the keystone species in schools—teachers. Although learners are dominant in this ecosystem, teachers are the keystone species. And this makes them most important for a healthy ecosystem (Yong Zhao, Jing Lei, & Frank, 2006). It follows that technology integration could be improved by supporting teachers in their use of technology on an ecological level, which includes social and educational support.

I believe the best investment in technology is an investment in those teachers who will use it. Having achieved a high degree of technology integration already, it may be a good idea to consider ways of using it more effectively. Consider a teacher who is given a computer but no reliable access to the Internet or school network, or a teacher who has no training in the pedagogical uses of technology. How about the teacher who has innovative ideas but no support in realizing them? So called "technological" problems often have more to do with human characteristics than machines.  Simply having a piece of equipment available is not necessarily a value. It's use creates its value. Cases like these and more are described in a recent study of "...technology integrations in real classrooms" (Zhao et al., 2002). Nurturing the professional growth of the teacher base is crucial in "preparing the soil" in which technological innovations can take root and manifest themselves in creative, problem-solving ways.

Infusion and diffusion of new technologies is happening at a quick pace throughout most societies and on a global scale. Along with the excitement, there is a degree of risk taking necessary when exploring the use of tech in education. This puts teachers in an unfair and difficult position. Care should be taken to provide no risk opportunities to "try things out." To experiment with the communication of ideas in the classroom is to keep it relevant and vital to the needs of the learners. Teachers need resources and support to take on the new challenge of meeting students where they are in the "electro-social" landscape. The learning environment needs to support its keystone species in the interests of the learners. This requires more money, time, education, and status for teachers if we want to see a systemic improvement to the K-12 ecosystem. Our research should include social and subjective aspects of learning, and we should find ways of empowering teachers so they have the time to take chances and have a little fun as they do so. Another area of exploration for Instructional Design might be the recent field of biomimetics. When we are viewing learning environments as ecologies, surely we can be informed by a field that strives to solve engineering challenges by observing nature. In time, a new vision of learning will emerge as a result in the kinds of innovation we choose to support today.

References

Von Bertalanffy, L. (1972). The History and Status of General Systems Theory. Academy of Management Journal, 15(4), 407–426. doi:10.2307/255139

Yong Zhao, Jing Lei, & Frank, K. A. (2006). The Social Life of Technology: An Ecological Analysis of Technology Diffusion in Schools. Pedagogies, 1(2), 135–149. doi:10.1207/s15544818ped0102_5

Zhao, Y., Pugh, K., Sheldon, S., & Byers, J. L. (2002). Conditions for Classroom Technology Innovations. Teachers College Record, 104(3), 482.

19 August 2012

Technology Integration (EDIT 9990 1/5)

When viewing technology integration through the lens of instructional design, I believe the most beneficial point in time to assess user concerns and attitudes is during the formative evaluation component of Instructional Systems Design (ISD). This way, the new technology can be refined while being created. And with user feedback grounded in the creative process of ISD, barriers to integration can be identified and addressed while there is still time to change the design of the product. Instruments designed to collect data around user concerns and attitudes are of course helpful during analysis and summative evaluation, but I believe the data they collect is most useful when aligned with formative evaluation. And so my key idea is that the timing of assessment is perhaps a prime factor in being able to successfully gauge, and respond, to elements of technology that either hinder or help the adoption of it. Understanding the importance of when to collect this data can avoid the costly mistake of mandating technology adoption from the top down only to find that the new technology is unloved, underused, and fiscally wasteful.

The theories and assessment instruments outlined in Straub's article (2009) are an effort to understand user's attitudes and behaviors toward new technologies. On the whole, they strike me as both limited and useful. It is difficult if not impossible to get a "true" picture of a user's feelings about a particular technology, precisely because a user's feelings and behavior is influenced by a multitude of variables, many of them interacting with each other. It's confounding, and the net effect is at best a blurry photograph. Still, this does not quell the need for information about users and how they view a new piece of tech. Nor does it entirely negate the value of such data. In fact, collecting user data during the design and development process is hugely beneficial to the end product and the end users. I believe a respect for the inherent limitations of such assessment instruments will help a researcher not be unduly influenced by attitudinal data.

My opinion about technology integration is in no small part influenced by my personal experience with technology. For example, I've spent countless hours learning new software only to see it become obsolete. As I gain more experience with software, I notice that I've become more and more skeptical about integrating new software into my life. I am pleased to see this perspective acknowledged via the mention of Lippert and Foreman's research (Straub, 2009, p. 643). For me, experience with technology adoption positively correlates with skepticism and resistance. I want to be a beta tester as little as possible, unless I'm am getting something out of it that balances the frustration of wasted time.

On the balance, curiosity keeps me so interested in new technological developments that I still take leaps of faith when adopting new tech. For instance, I set up a twitter account several years ago because I needed to know what the buzz was about. The Twitter account lay dormant for a long time before I began to see the value of using it. I've realized it's a good way to follow and learn about my interests. But the main thing I've learned is how indispensible it is when following real time news events. Just last week, when the Red & Black student reporters walked out, I was glued to their twitter feed. It was the only way to follow the story as it unfolded. It's addictive.

So now I view Twitter as my best method for following news events as they unfold. I'll give myself a score of 6 on the Levels of Use (LoU) instrument (Straub, 2009, p. 636). After I thought about the Red & Black saga, I tweeted about it. Soon after, my tweet was retweeted. I also got a new follower who maintains an interesting blog about journalism. Interestingly, I had already found her blog and was reading it before we became followers. I imagine I use Twitter because it is 1) easy to use, 2) does something better than anything else (real time news), and 3) because of its large community of users. So, I've slowly (and informally) adopted Twitter — until the next innovation comes along to replace it. Technology integration is personal, needs driven, and greatly influenced by ease of use. Perhaps the best way to ensure adoption is by design.

Any attempt to understand learner/user characteristics as they relate to technology adoption is made hugely challenging by the long list of variables to consider. Social, cultural, and economic variables are just a small sample of variables that influence one another when analyzing technology adoption. Perhaps this is a task fit for Sisyphus.

References


Straub, E. T. (2009). Understanding Technology Adoption: Theory and Future Directions for Informal Learning. Review of Educational Research, 79(2), 625–649.

Surry, D. W., & Ely, D. P. (2007). Adoption, Diffusion, Implementation, and Institutionalization of Instructional Innovations. In R. A. Reiser & J. V. Dempsey (Eds.), Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology (2nd ed., pp. 104 – 111). New Jersey: Pearson.

10 August 2012

Improve Your Typing Skill

Typing, for many of us, is a necessity. If you're like me, you think faster than you type. If you want to capture those great ideas before they go *poof* from your working memory, improving your typing skill is a practical way to help yourself. I've found that just a little practice with a typing program helps me become a more fluent typist, especially after taking a month long break.

So here's another game-like app that helps you take care of fundamental skills so you can focus on higher ones.

Typist (Mac)

There are many typing programs out there, but this is the one I use. It's free and works fine.

Exercise Your Working Memory

If knowledge is all about connections (and I think it is), then reasonable questions to ask are: connecting to what? What connects with what? Working memory connects with long-term memory, which is also called prior knowledge. For example, when a person comes across a new piece of knowledge, it's temporarily stored in working memory and may or may not connect with long term memory well enough so that the person can retrieve that information at a later date. So, working memory is the conduit between new knowledge and long-term storage. The weakest link in this equation is working memory, which can only hold the information for several seconds. Research shows that with some mental exercises, the length of time that working memory can hold information can be increased. It stands to reason that the longer working memory can hold information, the better the chances that working memory will be able to make a connection to prior knowledge in long term memory.

If we want to make working memory more robust, there are exercises that can help. One such exercise is the Dual N-Back memory game. Try it out, make it a daily habit, and find out for yourself if it improves your powers of concentration and your ability to make connections to what you already know as you are exposed to new information. You may find yourself becoming a better conversationalist. Instead of thinking of that great response minutes after the conversation is over, you may be able to retrieve that great idea during the actual conversation. As you are able to hold new information for longer amounts of time in working memory, you may give yourself the opportunity to relate the new knowledge to what you already know in a deeper, more meaningful way. Think of this as a tune-up, much like you would give to a car to keep it running optimally. The tune up may not have any effect on your driving skills, but does give you increased odds of the best performance possible.

Try it, regularly!

soakyourhead.com

11 July 2012

Webinar: Conflicted -- Faculty and Online Education 2012


Check out this webinar, Conflicted -- Faculty and Online Education 2012, hosted by Scott Jaschik, Joshua Kim, Steve Kolowich and Jeff Seaman. The webinar addresses questions based on research results about faculty and administrator attitudes towards online education. The research was conducted by Inside Higher Ed and the Babson Survey Research Group. The report is available here.

A key theme in this seminar is the need for faculty to autonomously participate in the building of new online learning environments.


01 April 2012

Instructional Technology Timeline

This timeline is from a class assignment we had a couple of years ago.

The class divided into groups of 3 and then collaborated within those groups to make a timeline.

In reviewing for my upcoming comps, I dug it up and found it to be a useful study aid. Maybe you will too.


11 February 2012

e-learning software: easygenerator



easygenerator is a cloud-based software service boasting a feature rich e-learning design and development environment. Standout features include collaborative authoring, adaptive learning, and extensive project management tools. The task management tool seems to use an agile approach, which seems particularly suited to collaborative, online design and development. All created materials are SCORM compliant and can be integrated into LMS.

I haven't seen software like this before, and think it's wonderfully innovative and practical.

Have you used it? Does it help your process?