Are we worried about becoming irrelevant?

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?

 

Striving for Good PD

I’ve been providing regular professional development for teachers at one of my partner schools this school year. I’ve been trying to provide PD that is more valuable than what has typically been the norm in my experiences. The norm from my vantage point has been you come, sit for a few hours, and then leave with little real accountability. Pretty much a waste of time. I think we can all relate to this type of PD.

So what I’m attempting to do is the following. Every month when we meet for PD, there is some form of accountability built into what we are doing. There is an outcome. I can’t stand doing things for doing thing’s sake. I just won’t do it. I can’t.

I’m also changing what I do to make the PD more like an instructional design session. What I find amazing from my experiences has been that we learn about all these new topics, whether it’s technology, pedagogy, or content, but then we never have time to look at how we can use them in the teaching and learning process. We’re left to do that after the fact, alone, with little support. Sounds like a recipe for success…right? What I’ve attempted to institute has been a Learning by Design PD where the teachers come, work in groups and design a lesson with whatever we’re learning about.

Once we are done at PD, the teachers have had a pretty good idea of what they want to do, and at that point, it is up to them to do it. However, I think it’s easy to fall back from a PD session and not use what was learned. That’s why as a follow up, we are going to look at what they did in their lessons. What happened when they actually taught the lesson? Did it go well? What happened that you didn’t expect? How are you going to change it for next time? Are there external issues we need to consider before moving forward? And so on.

I’m still learning and developing my own iteration of Learning by Design. This is my first attempt and next week I’ll have another go at it. I’m doing a little research to see what I need to change to be more effective. I’m also looking into how I can change the focus of the PD from being more techno-driven to being more pedagogic/content-driven. I find it very discouraging if we lead with the technology because it all too often follows that we only focus on the technology skills. As Mishra and Koehler have said many times, there is not single technology solution for all teacher, courses, or teaching philosophies. So I think it’s time we stop looking at our PD that way.

If you have any thoughts, suggestions, comments, etc., I’d love to hear them. Leave a comment.

Access and Support

So I haven’t blogged since mid-September, which is much less than I want, but as it is, I’ve been busy. Which is good! I’ve been working with faculty here at UNI and teachers in our partner schools to use technology in their courses. I thought I’d share a major theme that has emerged over the last month: it’s all about access and support.

Not surprisingly if you give educators the tools and time to learn how to use them, they’re going to create some amazing things for their students to be engaged with during their courses. However, this often isn’t the case in many schools. For any number of reasons the access just isn’t there. However, with the grant, I’ve been able to help provide access to a number of educators. This access has taken many different forms, from equipment to software to my time and to the time of those around them. This certainly shouldn’t be anything new, but I sometimes think we forget that if we simply provide the time for teachers to work together toward a common goal, they can accomplish amazing things. Like we should ever doubt them. They teach our kids. They should be some of the most trusted people we know.

But providing access to technology and the right people has only been part of the theme. The other part is support. This support has expressed itself in many ways, such as: administrative support before, during, and after professional development, technical support, curricular support, and sometimes, moral support. There have been ups and downs over the last month, but we’ve always held strong and kept moving forward. We haven’t let problems derail us in our pursuit of our goals. Often the best solution is asking teachers what support to be successful and then following through. It doesn’t always mean being immediate, but it does mean following through.

This has been a little big picture, but as I look at my experiences over the last month, there are too many to describe here. The pace is likely to keep up until November and then I’ll take some time to debrief more specifically. Until then, here are some helpful tips to help guide your work.

When things don’t go as planned…

Model of technological, pedagogical, and content knowledgeUsing technology in the classroom can be high stakes. There are a number of things that can go wrong, from technical issues like the WiFi going down to the lesson not going as you expected due to an unforeseen issue. There certainly are things that can go wrong, and sometimes, it just doesn’t work out. I think teachers who want to use technology in the classroom, but have a tough time doing so because of the potential for failure, need to remember that teaching is a complex activity regardless if technology is used or not. Things go wrong. The power goes out, the wrong instructions for a project are handed out, there’s an interruption in the hallway, or worse in the classroom that stops everything. Technology is no different. Things go wrong here too, but the difference is, with non-technology things, we pick up the pieces and move on. With technology, however, it seems like we give up. We can’t go on, or even think about how we could go on if something went awry. Why?

I was leading an in-service for secondary teachers at a school last week and we ran into issues with the Internet. We were exploring iPads and how they could be used in a very low stakes way. Not looking at going one-to-one but as a way to enhance the current learning taking place in their courses.  As luck would have it, the Internet went down and wasn’t available for the rest of the day. I adapted. We relied on the tools available at the time to finish the in-service, and from what I heard from a few of the teachers afterwards, it was a pretty decent afternoon. Certainly not life changing, but valuable.

I’m not telling my story here for my ego. I’m talking about it because it underscores a key area I feel we need to develop as educators. I’m talking about teacher technological, pedagogical, and content knowledge, or TPACK. I was able to adapt to my situation when the Internet went down, because I knew what I wanted to do, how it could be done, and what I could use to get there. I acted much like teachers do in classrooms every day.  However, I think we grossly underestimate the role technology knowledge and its interactions with just content and just pedagogy have in the teaching process. While many effective teachers can handle curve balls in the non-technology classroom, many of those same teachers would be overwhelmed if they were in a similar situation like I was last week.

I feel we are still in technology as an isolated knowledge mode, rather than as an equal player mode. There is a dynamic relationship in TPACK. Any change in one is going to result in a corresponding change in the other two (Mishra & Koehler, 2006). For me, teacher TPACK is on a continuum. It isn’t something a teacher achieves, even though there may be varying degrees of TPACK. A teacher’s TPACK just keeps enhancing and adapting do new or different contexts. Teachers aren’t able to come to PD sessions, learn about or even experience technology and expect to attain TPACK. There’s more to it than that. Teachers have to learn about the technology, pedagogy, and content, and their interactions with each other as a whole and as individual entities, in a variety of contexts.

I think the main focus of developing teacher TPACK is on the confluence of each knowledge domain and rightly so. But that overlooks all the other areas (TK, PK, CK, TPK, TCK, PCK). These are all just as crucial to develop as TPACK, even though TPACK is the variable we’re trying to enhance. TPACK may be what teachers use as they demonstrate their effectiveness with technology in the classroom, but in order to demonstrate that effectiveness through TPACK, teachers must first have a firm grasp on each knowledge domain. If not, I’m not sure that teachers, regardless of how effective they may be, can handle problems with the technology when they arrise in the classroom.

There has to be a better way to helping teachers use technology. We know it’s not focusing on the technology, and I’m not sure focusing just on TPACK is the next logical step. To me, it seems like we need to think about TPK, TCK, and PCK and how they fit in the overall picture. Without them, I’m not sure we can develop teacher TPACK.

Your thoughts?

Image credit: http://mkoehler.educ.msu.edu/tpack/files/2011/05/tpack-1014×1024.jpg

The Access Obligation

I’m taking a class right now that is NOT using a learning management system or LMS. During my undergrad, I only had a few courses using an LMS and my masters was mostly online, thus we relied heavily on our LMS for making the course happen. However, this is the first semester since I started my masters (I’m working towards an Ed.D. now) that I haven’t had an LMS for a course. While I generally don’t like the idea of college controlled LMS, I have grown to expect them to be used if at the very least to provide access to the syllabus and other general course information.

It may sound like I’m complaining, which is good, because I am. I don’t typically like to complain, or at least not in a public manner such as this, but I expect that course information is going to be available online, anytime, and every time I enroll in a course. The impetus of my complaint is that I’m stuck at work without my readings schedule. I have the time to read since class doesn’t start until 6pm, and have been, but now that I’ve finished my chapter I don’t know what other readings I have to do.

Now I could call my wife and have her tell my what I need to read next, or I could have been more organized and brought my folder with my paper copy of the readings with me to work…but I didn’t and that misses the point. I’m a paying customer and I have certain expectations when I spend a large amount of money. As far as my education goes, I expect to have access to my course materials regardless of where I am and when I’m accessing them. This is a base level expectation I have for my courses and is something I have become very accustomed to over the last four years.

The best part is that making these items available is something that could be done for the instructor if requested. At the very least, someone in the department or within the instructional design services on campus could help walk the instructor through the process of uploading the syllabus, readings and assignment schedule, as well as any other general course information. I’m not asking for my courses to be taught online in any fashion as much as I am asking for access. And higher education has an obligation to provide me that access, because even though I’m not likely to switch institutions, others may and others may not choose to attend a school that doesn’t provide this basic type of service.  Millennials have and will continue to enter higher education and are coming with very specific expectations for their courses. Much higher expectations than uploading a syllabus and readings schedule to BlackBoard. Are you ready higher ed? For some reason, I doubt it…

Open letter to those providing tech support in educational settings

Dear Technical Support Professional,

Today I helped a faculty member I work with setup her iPads to use in her classroom. She had technical support in her college come help her set them up but they ran into problems and couldn’t come back for two weeks. This is a problem.

While I fully understand the constraints that tech support professionals operate under, especially having been one myself in a school district, it is completely unacceptable to allow faculty to struggle with a technology problem for two weeks, when in reality a day is too long.

There appears to be a misperception in the hierarchy within the organization. You see, faculty, teachers, and students, are near the top of the hierarchy, with support staff such as technical support, near the bottom. However, it appears that we have inverted this hierarchy and now support staff, in particularly technical support, believe they are able to dictate when problems will be addressed, when equipment will be setup, and which policies will be in place. I’m writing to say, enough is enough. It’s time to find your place.

Plain and simple, technical support professionals don’t get to make the rules, they don’t get to dictate policy. They get to support the people in the organization that need help with technology. Sure there will be give and take, especially as budgets continue to shrink. But you work for the faculty, teachers, and students. You are there to make their lives easier. You are there to make their teaching better. You are there to make it possible for their students to learn better. You don’t make unrealistic demands that effect teaching and learning. You aren’t qualified to make such decisions. You are there to make things possible.

I respect the knowledge, work, and commitment to your profession. I have been there. I have been technical support. I know what it’s like. It’s tough and stressful and unappreciated. You are the person people come to when they are unhappy and rarely are you thanked for your contributions. I’m not writing to be a pain. I’m writing because even though you are frustrated, stressed, unappreciated, and any number of other adjetives, you have a role. A crucial role. A role that is perhaps one of the most important in the school. Your role is to support faculty, teachers, and students in whatever they want to do in the teaching and learning process regardless of how outrageous it may sound. Innovation is outrageous by design and we need to embrace that if we are going to make a difference.

I want to thank you for all that you do and encourage you to help make things happen. We need you.

Respectfully,

Daniel Mourlam

Take Aways from Class

Tapping a Pencil
The semester is in full swing and this has been my first week back in the Ed.D. program.  Here are some take aways I came up with while sitting in class.

  • Students come to school (K12/College) expecting to be engaged, however, when they come to school they aren’t engaged, at least not in the way they want to be engaged. It’s no wonder students drift off to Facebook, Twitter, texting, or even sleep. Sitting in lecture/discussion is not engaging and as the size of the class increases, motivation and accountability to be engaged decreases.
  • Just because students stray from lecture/discussion does not mean they have short attention spans. Rather they have better things to do than participate. How engaged would you be if someone talked to you for an hour or more and didn’t interact with you in any way. Saying they have short attention spans and that technology is to blame is a copout for the traditional teacher. See how attentive they are when you engage with them in meaningful ways, perhaps using technology. You might be surprised.

Image Credit: http://flic.kr/p/5y2Uqm