Category Archives: Change

Rote learning: A necessity but not for the classroom

At UNI we are still in the transition to Google Apps and the last major transition is from our old calendar platform to Google Calendar.  As I was reading the email I noticed that instead of having formalized training sessions on how to use Google Calendar, there was a link to where users can find training on all apps.  This left me wondering, why aren’t we doing this for all rote training needs we have?

As a technology specialist and educator, I understand that in order to reach innovative use of technology in a course, it is necessary to have some “how-to” knowledge about the technology being used.  Typically (going to generalize here) this is taught in large group sessions in a very rote way.  Click here, this feature does this, and so on.  We’ve all attended these trainings and many, including myself, have led a number of these sessions.  I’m wondering however, if we’ve reached a point where we no longer need to concern ourselves with teaching rote knowledge.  If we have very good tutorials on how to use X or what X is, do we really need to take up time “teaching” this when we are all together?  Wouldn’t we be just as or even more effective if we hand picked the videos we wanted our colleagues or students to watch so they can gain that rote knowledge that’s absolutely necessary for being successful?  Then, couldn’t we spend more time learning about how we can be effective with this technology in our courses?

I believe we have entered a point in society that you have to be a lifelong learner.  You simply cannot function without that essential characteristic.  At UNI, I’d say nearly all the people I work with would more than be capable of lifelong learning and I’d imagine many of you would agree you see the same in your colleagues.  However, as educators, have we truly embraced what it means to be a lifelong learner?  Do we take the initiative to learn new innovations as our organization adopts them?  I don’t think we have and I think we are wasting time organizing formalized training sessions on the latest innovation.  I know I’m guilty of this, we all are.  But I think we have a professional duty, as educators, to learn about new innovations as they become available in an asynchronous way.  I’m not saying you need to be an expert in every innovation, but I do think you need to be knowledgeable enough to either have a discussion about the innovation and/or be able to use the innovation in a basic sense without having to sit through an hour or even a full day workshop.

I’m going to shift gears slightly, but remain on the same topic.  I think we need to begin developing this literacy in our students as well.  How much time do we spend in education teaching students rote knowledge?  When was the Civil War?  What is the atomic weight of Boron?  What is the formula for calculating the surface area of a parallelogram?  We need to stop teaching our students how to do these things in our physical classrooms!  The answers to these questions can be found online and are very well articulated in a variety of mediums.  Why, I ask WHY do we still use low level rote instruction?  We’re good at doing it, but someone else is better and they’ve decided to share it with you for free (usually)!  Send your students to these resources online to learn this knowledge and then in class have them apply the concept they learned at home, the library, a friends house, etc.  It’s the application of the concept that get’s interesting and is where students have questions and is where our efforts as teachers should be.  Helping students apply knowledge in a meaningful context.

I’ll end by saying that rote learning, is necessary, but it shouldn’t be the only kind of learning that takes place.  I remember when I was in student teaching, my university supervisor asked me, “When are you going to develop the low level knowledge needed for your students to be able to answer the high level questions you’re asking them?”  This statement has remained with me ever since.  Before we can synthesize, create, or analyze, we need to first be able to understand the concept in its most basic form.  I think advocates for reform forget this, especially those who are critical of the flipped classroom.  I think flipping is exactly what we need to be doing, but it’s not the only thing.  It’s just one piece in the puzzle.

Make time for the important things…

I’ve been busy lately.  If you come here often, you’ve probably noticed that I haven’t done much writing this month.  In fact, this is only my second post this month, but I’ve been busy and writing on my blog hasn’t been the most pressing thing lately.  I mean, c’mon, I have two small children, a busy job, and I’m a doc student!  You’re probably thinking, “Stop complaining, everybody’s busy, suck it up!”  We are all busy in our own ways and as I’ve said before, when you add something to your daily routine, you have to give something up.  Essentially, you make time for the things that are important to YOU!

This is essentially what I’ve done for my doc classes.  I have a professional goal that I want to achieve and I’ve committed to waking up early to do my readings and other homework for my courses.  This may seem like a small commitment for many of you, but for me 5am would have been out of the question a few years ago.  Now, let’s apply this to the classroom.

We are all busy and have only so much time in the day to devote to our courses.  However, sometimes, a new innovation comes along that we are really interested in and want to pursue.  But where do we find the time?  The truth is we prioritize what’s important and make the time.  Just like I’m giving up sleep, you too may have to give up something you really like or want to do.  It’s part of change and part of becoming a better teacher.  You may not want to do it, but if the innovation is something you really believe in and something you think will help you be more effective or improve student achievement, then you make the difficult decision to make the time where you can.  Because in the end, it’s not about you, it’s about what’s best for your students.

As an aside, if any of you know of a good way to stay awake that doesn’t include drinking coffee, PLEASE leave a comment!!!

Finding the right balance

This is my comment from about finding the right balance through blended learning.  Parts of it may, therefore, seem a little out of context.

Trying to find the right balance is often a difficult thing to do, especially when there are so many good things you can do. My general rule of thumb is that when you add something to your class, something needs to go. However, there is a point when this isn’t really possible any longer. When it gets to this point, I tend to start examining the way the course and instruction are designed. Is the content being disseminated in the most efficient way possible?

This is where I think blended learning can really be helpful. Wendy I know you are already doing some work with Edmodo so this may not be anything new to you, but for the rest of the group it might be helpful.

What I’d do would be to look at everything that I want to include in my course. Put it all out on the table if you will. Then start thinking about what it is that you could do online. Are there components that can be facilitated online, such as discussions, readings, etc. that will reduce the load of your face to face lessons? If so, then start by organizing those components into an online “pile” if you will.

Next, I’d start looking at some of the things that you’ve done in the past that have traditionally taken place during class. Are there other things like lectures and group work that you typically give your students time in class to do that can be facilitated online? Some of you may be thinking, crazy Dan, doing group work online! As crazy as it sounds, it’s actually not that hard and can actually give your students more flexibility. In my master’s program (75% online) we did a considerable amount of group work using tools like Google Docs, WebCT (BB9), Skype, and Adobe Connect. And when it comes to lectures, there are a number of tools available that can help make the transition to online. While I don’t like lectures, sometimes you just have to lecture, but that doesn’t mean you have to do it in class. So as you survey the components of your course for those type of tasks, put them in the online pile as well.

Remember, you don’t have to put everything online, but ranking components by importance will help you decide if you can do it online or in class. Once you have gone through everything in your course, you should see all the pieces of your course that you want to do in class. These should be the crucial components of your course: major projects, central methods, etc. You should also see a considerable amount of your course that will be taught online. These are going to be things like discussions, lectures, small group activities (not major projects), videos, etc. These are still important pieces of your course, and by putting them online in no way are you lessening their value. Rather, you are just being more efficient with how you spend your time in your course.

As you go through this process, you’ll want to talk with an instructional designer who is familiar with online learning, such as myself. The main contact on campus would be Jason Vetter in ITS-ET. Contacting one of us when you go through this process will help as we will likely provide a different perspective. Remember, my goal here is not to have you simply post your syllabus and readings online. I’m talking about putting major components of your course online to complement your face to face sessions with your students. What I’m advocating for is much more difficult to do at the beginning, but has a much greater payout in the end in terms of the type of learning your students experience and the time savings you can experience in class that allows you to do other tasks with your students.

Technology as an assignment vs using technology to support classroom activities

This is cross posted at

I think there are two ways you can look at technology in education.  The first, and most often way people look at it, is through the assignments students complete using technology.  This could include basically any assignment students are required to do through the use of technology.  I’m thinking digital storytelling projects that require students to use cameras, software, and the like.  But there’s also another aspect that is overlooked, which I’m going to term lesson-based technology use.

Technology use doesn’t need to be an assignment to be used effectively.  Rather, technology can be leveraged in the classroom to enhance the teaching that is already taking place, not to mention the opportunity for something new to happen.  In this regard, I’m thinking of lesson-based things you could do with technology such as: setting up a back channel during a lecture, bringing in an expert through a video conference, or something as easy as having access to the Internet to bring in outside resources and opinions.

But it isn’t always as easy as…which is why many teachers resist. Often teachers don’t have faith in the technology working or that they won’t get the intended outcomes they wanted from the technology.  The locus of control is beyond their grasp and when it comes down to it, we don’t have the required trust in other people, the system, or simply that the technology will work.  Usually this is due to past experience.

That doesn’t mean we have to like it, and I often don’t, which is why I try to eliminate barriers that prevent teachers from doing something really amazing with technology in their classrooms.  Will things go right the first time you try it in the classroom, probably not.  But that doesn’t mean we need to stop trying to make it work.  Innovation doesn’t happen overnight and it often takes a considerable amount of time.  I understand that teaching time is sacred, but only to the extent that we fail to be relevant.

So my question to you is, are there ways you want to use technology in your classrooms?  If so, are there any barriers that I can help remove or reduce to make this happen?

The key to innovations: No barriers

I once again come back to the topic of barriers and innovations.  This issue came to the forefront on Friday when I was leading a training session on how to use an innovation.  I had been planning for days to ensure there weren’t any issues that would prevent us from getting through the training, but as it were, when I arrived on Friday, there were immediate problems related to the main part of the innovation.  I won’t bore you with details, but it suffices to say that I prepared a back up plan that would have achieved nearly the same results.  However, after soon running into another barrier I quickly needed a back up for my back up.  Needless to say, the day was pretty much shot before it started.

Why am I bothering to tell you this?  It’s plain and simple.  If we expect innovation to take place in our schools, whether at the elementary, secondary, or post-secondary levels, we must meet the basic needs of people to allow the minimum conditions required for innovation to occur.  If we can’t do this, then we shouldn’t expect an innovation to diffuse across a population.  It just isn’t going to happen.  If you think otherwise, you’re naive and need to really consider the system you are working within.

I understand that innovation by design pushes the limits of the system.  Failure is to be expected and should be welcomed.  But it’s what we do after the failure that is the metric of our commitment to innovations.  If we do nothing, NOTHING, then we shouldn’t expect anything to change.  No new innovations, no new plans, no new learning.  Just business as usual.

Are there innovations taking place in your school?  Are you supporting them by removing barriers?  If not, why?

My comment on: To Control Technology or Unleash It

I just commented on Dr. Daniel Frazier‘s post “To Control technology or Unleash It” and thought I’d post it here as well. You can read his full post here:

My comment:
Dr. Frazier,

I agree with you, that if schools are going to remain relevant, we need to begin embracing technology in all forms, especially having devices for all students to use. However, I’m going to play devils advocate here for a minute, even though I whole heartedly feel the same as you.

How does the district change and establish a culture that encourages the type of learning environment that is relevant for our young people? How does the leadership approach issues like allowing cell phone use in the classroom when there are over 600 students in the middle school? Essentially, how do they create a plan that doesn’t create a culture of chaos and backlash from the teachers? While there may be some leadership issues that should be addressed, I think we also need to look at the context of the school. They are a larger middle school, at least by Iowa standards, and we are quickly approaching the end of the school year, albiet there is still a few months left.

From the non administrator standpoint, I would probably impose the same type of ban on cell phones at this point in the school year. This would only be a temporary ban until the end of the school year, because I’m guessing that the teachers aren’t knocking on the principal’s door to start using these devices. Then for the rest of the school year I’d start building a movement amongst the teachers and a number of student representatives to begin creating the type of learning environment that is supportive of cell phones, computers, etc. This process is going to take more than the summer, but I think great strides could be made to begin making real change in classrooms by the end of summer, where any ban on cell phones can be lifted.

I think the key with situations like the Pottstown Middle School is to have a plan and a lot of patience. The decision to allow any new innovation shouldn’t be a top down decision. It also can’t be a bottom up one either. There has to be discussion and there has to be a plan in place that makes full use of them in the classroom. If not, then it’s almost better off not allowing them at all.

Sorry for the long comment, but you are touching on something many people overlook when it comes to “new” innovations. It’s the process we go through as we adopt the innovation that is going to be the indicator of our success. If we don’t do it just right, the results might not be what we want.

Great post!



Dewey and Change

I’ve been reading a lot of Dewey lately for one of my grad classes and I like the point he makes about differing educational philosophies.  Dewey makes it a point to let readers know that positioning philosophies against each other isn’t a real solution.  Extreems rarely have the capacity to create learning experiences that meet the needs of learners and society.  Instead, we need to find the middle ground.  It is in the middle ground where the principles of our educational philosophy will be able to grow and turn into meaningful learning experiences.

Why am I sharing what I learned about Dewey and his thoughts on education?  When it comes down to it, there often is a lot of talk about fixing education and moving completely away from the traditional style of teaching, but I tend to worry about what it is replaced with.  What are the underlying principles of this new education?  If you can’t tell me that, it might be just as well that we stick with the devil we know rather than the devil we don’t.  I’m not saying I’m against innovation and change.  In fact the opposite is true.  However, there needs to be a well thought out line of thinking that lead to central principles that will support your philosophy.  Only then will you be able to find the middle ground between what you are currently doing and what you want to do. It’s not an either-or decision.  It’s a modify-and-enhance decision.  While the result might look radically different, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t components from the traditional educational experience still present in the new education.

Change is compromise, not intransigence.


I’ve been thinking about barriers a lot lately.  It seems like whenever a new innovation rises to the top, there are a number of barriers we need to overcome before we can take advantage of the innovation.  I’m not sure who said this, but someone once said that “Roadblocks are there to make you show how badly you want something.” I think I agree with this statement mostly, and often find myself trying to overcome barriers.  As a person who typically pushes change, regardless of the form it takes, I’ve had some experiences overcoming barriers and thought I’d share my experiences.

  • The first thing I typically do is explain clearly the innovation.  Most people don’t like change because it’s easier to keep doing what they’re already doing, even if there are potential benefits in changing.
  • Next I listen to my audience.  People being targeted for change need to have time to process the innovation and they will naturally have questions.  This also gives me the opportunity to address any misconceptions the audience may have about the innovation.
  • As questions come up, I try to find examples of the innovation.  If I can’t find an example, I do my best to create an example of my own.  Allowing the audience to see the innovation can help them develop a better conceptual understanding of the innovation and will remove some barriers.
  • At about this time, I usually take time to find the people in the school who might be most interested in the innovation and target them for early adoption.  This again expands the opportunity for others to see the innovation while allowing some to actually try the innovation.  This is a crucial time in the adoption process since the early adopters are going to develop a favorable or unfavorable opinion about the innovation.  Therefore I do my best to make sure these early adopters are supported in whatever way they need.
  • At this point, I usually am limited to supporting those adopting the innovation and trying to persuade other would be adopters.  The best path to success here is by word of mouth of those who are the pulse or opinion leaders of the school.

This certainly isn’t an exhaustive list of things you can do to overcome barriers to implement change, but these are the common steps I take.  Frustration is often the biggest barrier to change and I find that if there is a process to follow, frustration and other barriers can be minimized.  If you’d like to learn more about change and how to make it happen, check out Diffusions of Innovations.  It’s a bit of a read, but it does give a good perspective on how to approach change.  If you’re the Wikipedia type, here’s the Diffusions of Innovations page.

The Classroom of the Next Generation

The classroom of the next generation

I was asked yesterday to be thinking about what the classroom of the next generation might look like as we may invest in the redesign of a classroom here at UNI to use with the grant.  As I was thinking about what I would want in my classroom for pre-service teachers, I came up with the following:

    • Moveable furniture that is lightweight and allows for a number of configurations
    • Displays mounted around the periphery of the classroom to allow students to work in small groups and for students to display mastery
      • There would be no front of the classroom
      • A larger display or IWB could be used for entire class problem solving and discussion
    • A wireless mobile device for all learners, including the instructor
      • Necessary for connecting to the outside world and for changing the configuration of the classroom learning in the 21st century
    • Comfortable and easy to move seating, preferably with wheels and cushions
    • Video conferencing technology to connect with experts in multiple content areas as well as in the field
    • Audience Response System for increasing the number of formative assessments given during the course
    • Ubiquitous wireless Internet access, it just has to work
    • Writable surfaces (walls, tables, windows, floors, etc.)
    • Sound proof teaching rooms
      • Each room needs video conference technology and display
      • Allow pre-service teachers opportunity to teach during course to put theory into practice (I’m thinking a Distance-based PD School type experience)
      • Experts (faculty, teachers, other experts) are available to assist, observe, co-teach, etc.
    • Other classroom technologies (digital cameras, camcorders, scanners, slates, etc.)

However, the physical classroom is only part of the equation.  There is a virtual classroom that must also be accompanied with all physical classrooms.  Here is my short list of general features of virtual classrooms:

  • Common online meeting space that can be accessed from anywhere, anytime
  • Membership to the virtual class should include experts in multiple content areas and experts from the field
  • Needs to allow for high levels of collaboration
  • Needs to be flexible and user friendly to have as low of a learning curve as possible
  • Needs to allow for high personalization at the user level

This is what I see as being crucial for transforming learning in schools.  The role of everyone in the classroom changes.  There is no front of the classroom for the teacher to “teach” from, rather, the teacher moves around the room supporting small groups or individual students.  Those groups will change, which means the basic structure and configuration of the classroom needs to be flexible.

Above is a crude, very crude, sketch of what I think the physical classroom would look like.  (Please excuse my awful drawing skills).  The main point I want to get across is that the classroom needs to be flexible, open, comfortable, and highly structured for collaboration.

What does your classroom for the next generation look like?  Leave a comment!

Professional Learning Communities

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about anything substantive here at Technology Tips so I thought I’d do a short piece about something I’ll be engaged in for this next semester.  At UNI we have the goal of becoming the premier PK-12 teacher preparation institution in the US and to that end I’m on a committee that is working towards this end in the area of technology.  What’s interesting about the work that we are doing is that we are only focusing on technology use in a roundabout way and are instead looking at the underlying teaching teacher education faculty are using in their courses.  It is the pedagogy teachers use that will ultimately determine how technology is used in the classroom.  Only then will we be able to design creative, meaningful, authentic learning experiences for our students.

We recognize that this change is going to take many semesters.  Mainly because we are talking about changing the culture within teacher education, which like any culture change, takes time.  So our first step is to create the opportunity for faculty to see some of the possibilities through a mini pilot of a few faculty.  These faculty will be engaged in a professional learning community during this semester as we look at different things we can do in their classrooms to become more effective.

Many of the specifics are still to be worked out by those in the PLC, but here is the general idea:

  • Meet face to face once a month to reflect on our teaching practice, observe/interact with other educators who embody what we feel as effective teaching, learn new strategies/technologies
  • Communicate via Twitter when we are apart about things we are trying in our classrooms, resources we find, and to ask questions both to our small group and to others in the Twitterverse
  • Reflect on new strategies, innovations, etc. that we are trying in our courses through a group blog
  • Continuous focus on how to improve student learning in their courses

The end game for this small pilot PLC is to both create the opportunity for other teacher education faculty to see the process they will eventually be going through, as well as become a better teacher which should lead to greater student learning.

My role in the PLC will be as a facilitator.  I’ll help organize meetings, teach faculty how to use certain technology, assist with instructional design, etc.  If the faculty want to try something, I’ll be there to help them do it, which is a crucial component in any change process. I clearly have my work cut out for me this next semester, especially since this is my first PLC I’ve been apart of and I want it to be a success.  And part of that success means connecting with others who have been a part of PLCs in the past.

So…what has worked well for you? Is there any PLC resources you could recommend as we get started?  What can I/we do to help make this PLC a success?  Help us out by leaving a comment!



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