Authentic work is hard and requires those engaged in the problem solving process to be uncomfortable and to question what they know and how they structure their knowledge. It’s collaborative. It’s engaging in problems that are difficult to answer, but require answering.
Over the last two days I’ve witnessed a large group of faculty members engage in a practical problem solving exercise where they created, discussed, critiqued, and challenged each other in ways that led to deeper learning as they worked towards solving the problem. While they didn’t solve the problem, they were engaged in truly authentic work that has moved them along the path towards finding their answer. Why aren’t we engaging in these types of learning activities either as educators or with our students more?
I’m in the process of designing professional development opportunities for faculty and students in the College of Education at UNI. This past semester we did a number of short, informal professional development sessions that targeted areas where faculty and students felt they needed additional development. I’m following a similar process for this coming year, but I’m wanting to introduce more authentic examples of lessons, projects, etc., that use technology so we can analyze how the technology is being used and to simply show what some of the possibilities are. I’m not an expert in all content areas, so it does get difficult when we try to find ways to use technology in a subject, say world languages, because I don’t really understand the subject matter or how it is taught. We can get there, but it takes time, which is precious.
So what I’m endeavoring to do over the summer and even moving forward, is to work with practicing educators to find examples of technology use in their courses. These could be things like a lesson plan, project, assignment sheet, blog post, or even just a general note about how technology is being used to teach a concept. I’m not looking for anything profound. Just how are you using technology and is there a way we can capture it so I can share it with others.
I’m also looking for examples of when technology hasn’t really worked out as expected or if it was just a poor use of technology. There’s this assumption that many have with any technology improving the learning when often that’s not the case. I feel there’s a benefit from looking at these kinds of examples, because we can identify why it’s ineffective and how we can make it better or do things differently.
So I’m asking for your help. PLEASE send me links, attachments, copies, etc. of how you are using technology in the classroom to teach. They can be good, bad, or somewhere in between. It’s important to see what you are doing, because that is the context we are preparing future teachers to go into. Here is the list of topics I am looking at right now. It is a very rough draft of what I collected from a survey, but it’s where I’m starting from. And yes, I know it is very technocentric, but that’s not how it will end up.
- iPads in all subject areas
- Digital Storytelling in Elementary Education and Literacy Education
- Social Media in Secondary Science, Elementary Education, Social Studies, and Mathematics
- Google Drive/Apps in all subject areas
- Interactive Whiteboards in Elementary and Literacy Education and Level 2 Field Experiences
- Streaming Video (Podcasting/Panopto) in PE, Secondary Science, and Elementary Education
- Web 2.0 (Blogs/Wikis) in Elementary Education and Special Education
- Clickers (Poll Everywhere/Handhelds) in Elementary Education and Special Education
I read something a few minutes ago that said something to the effect that when we begin using a new curriculum, teachers want to get to the point where they have institutionalized the process, so that it becomes a routine. My question is, do we really want to get to the point where our curriculum becomes institutionalized? Doesn’t that admit that we want to routinize the what and how of our courses so that nothing unexpected happens?
After reading and spending some time thinking about it, this is at the root of many of our struggles in education and making “change” (whatever that is by the way) happen. We want routine. We want the expected. It’s comfortable, reassuring. But it’s also damaging considering how quickly the world is changing. Content continues to expand at a more rapid rate everyday. Students are more diverse and thus have differing needs. And society in general is demanding different knowledge and skills, most of which we haven’t, as an education system, been able address adequately.
We need the unexpected, even though it’s messy and chaotic. That’s how the world works. Nothing of any real value comes in nice little packages.
Yesterday was the Iowa 1:1 Institute in Des Moines and I only had the opportunity to attend one session at the end of the day. However, if there was only one session to attend, this was it! The session was How to Evaluate Your 1:1 Program with John Nash out of CASTLE at the University of Kentucky. Here are the highlights and why I think it matters.
While the title suggests the session was about evaluating a 1:1 program, in fact it could be applied to any initiative a school was adopting or thinking about adopting. The general idea that John was talking about was the importance of having specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-based change statements or SMART goals. While this may not be an epiphany for many people, for some reason educators in general seem unable to do this, or at least do it well.
He then took us through the 9 steps of a strand. These steps include:
- State the change you will make via the project/initiative (This is where you SMART goal goes)
- Explain the reason why change is needed
- State the things you will do (This is typically where many people start, and I include myself here as well)
- State the things you need, including people, resources, etc.
- State when we should begin to see the change happen
- State what the indicators of change are so we know what to look for
- State how the indicators will be collected (surveys, focus groups, interviews, document analysis, etc.)
- State when the indicators will be collected
- State who will collect the indicators (This way someone owns it and the data is collected)
So why does this matter? I think it matters, because education seems to be very initiative heavy. Every year we have new programs and projects that teachers, administrators, students, and other stakeholders are involved in. Many of these projects are of tremendous worth. The problem is that we rarely state what our goals are in the way John described and we rarely know if we achieved our goals because we don’t have a meaningful way to measure our progress. So if we don’t really know what we are trying to do and we don’t measure our level of success, then how can we ever achieve change? We can’t.
It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, but I came across a useful app so I thought I’d share. The app is called CloudOn and it is an office app. It opens most files and for most people we really are only talking about Microsoft Office files. The app connects with Google Drive, Dropbox, SkyDrive, and Box, which means for most people it is going to integrate into a service you are already using. I found that feature to be the most beneficial since I don’t want to sync my content manually, which really is the biggest downfall for things like Pages or Keynote. That is unless you are using iCloud, but I don’t want another service either.
As far as the app features, the feel when you’re in an app is really like you are using Word or PowerPoint on a computer. For me that’s both good and bad, but in general I like it. The resolution seems a little low and words on the screen are a little pixelated, but it’s still acceptable. The navigation on the app is logical and flows easily. There’s also a decent tutorial at the beginning to help with learning the navigation within the app.
All in all, if you are looking for a free office app for the iPad, this one might be your ticket. If you’re a Google Drive user, I’d probably still recommend the Drive app, but this one is probably a close second, especially if you are editing actual Word files and want some of the more Word features. It really depends on how you are going to use it on your iPad. For most of us, we likely aren’t doing a ton of document editing on the iPad, but this at least provides a nice option if we need to make some changes when we’re away from the computer.
The app is free.
We hear often today that we need to be collaborating with others outside of our classrooms. It isn’t enough that we only talk within our own schools and districts. We should be talking with other educators and students outside of our schools, but what does that really mean? Until recently I really didn’t know what it meant, even though I believed we should be engaging in those kinds of activities. So I thought I’d briefly describe my recent experiences facilitating collaboration between UNI students and CAL elementary students.
What we are doing here at UNI is connecting with rural schools and one of them is the CAL school district. One of our courses takes all of the UNI students out to CAL towards the end of the semester for a full day of the arts. Leading up to that culminating event are a number of smaller events and one of them is a video conference between CAL and UNI. We are doing that today in fact and my biggest take away is ensuring that we make every moment a learning experience, both for the CAL students, but also the UNI students.
For CAL students, they are excited to learn more about who the UNI students are: What’s your favorite color, do you have any pets, what’s your favorite thing to do outside? These are just a few among a host of questions the CAL students have had. For the UNI student, their learning surrounds becoming a teacher. What questions should we ask? What do we do if they don’t say anything? How do you relate to students on their grade level? What do I do if I freeze up and don’t know what to say? These are just a few of the things we talked about here at UNI between groups.
As I look at the learning that’s taking place for students at both ends, I can see truly see the value of collaboration, especially with those outside the school. Which brings me to my point. If we are really going to take advantage of collaboration and not simply collaborate in name only, we really need to be deliberate about what the students are learning when they collaborate. It isn’t enough to open Skype, the Polycom, or Google Hangout. There has to be substance to what the students are doing. It sounds so simple, but even today it took us a minute to really discover where we needed to target our learning for the day.
What I’m trying to say then is that collaboration is only as good as you make it…so make it good. It truly makes a difference.
I asked a group of people yesterday if we were worried about becoming irrelevant and the response has stuck with me. We were talking about the big push in K12 for 1:1 computing. As the discussion unfolded I threw it out there and asked at what point do we become irrelevant if we don’t meet the needs of learners coming from 1:1 schools and if we aren’t preparing our graduates enough for teaching in a 1:1 school? Nothing specific about the response from the people in the room stood out, but rather it was more what wasn’t said. The looks on some people’s faces said more. It felt as if some in the room thought that what I said was absurd or that I’m out of touch with the demands of the higher education classroom.
But here’s the thing, I can see a future where students either transfer away or simply don’t attend colleges and universities that don’t create the type of learning environments where students can work together with other students and experts to solve real problems. The needs of students are changing. They have different interests, different learning preferences, and they aren’t afraid to shop around for education that meets their needs.
As we talked yesterday, one thing that came up was that a number of the 1:1 schools in Iowa aren’t being effective, which I can’t argue with. I know there are schools in the state that just bought a bunch of computers, gave them to the students, and hoped for the best. But, there are a lot of schools that are doing amazing things with the technology, whether they have 1:1 or not. They are implementing learning environments where students are the focus, not the teacher. The students are doing all the work. The students are guiding their own learning. Is it happening everywhere? No. Does that mean we shouldn’t respond, knowing that this type of learning is best practice? No. We need to respond and respond loudly. But we aren’t. Most colleges and universities aren’t, or if they are, we don’t hear their stories. I know we get hung up on the technology and how that is only going to distract from learning. But what if it doesn’t or even better, what if it does distract? Not from learning, but from the way we used to learn. What if learning changes?
I’m in a curriculum theory and development course right now and something we’ve been talking about is that the curriculum should reflect three distinct groups: the subject matter, society, and the learner. My concern isn’t that instructors aren’t teaching their content well, but rather that they might not be considering the needs of society and the learner. They are experts for sure. There’s no debating that. However, how they leverage their expertise depends on their consideration of the learners and the society in which we all live. These things do effect the way we use our expertise. But for many instructors, they are teaching to the past without look towards the needs of the future or even the present. I think we’ve been too quick to discount the latest generation. They are unique and with that have unique needs considering the changing landscape within which we live.
So how are we going to respond?