Tag Archives: Education

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.


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


What does it mean to be student centered? Can we still consider a lesson student centered if the learner isn’t involved in the planning process? At what level does the learner become involved? These are some questions I’ve been reflecting about for the last day or so. The more I think about learner involvement and student centered instruction, I begin to feel like there is a continuum. On one end we have high student involvement throughout all aspects of the lesson, from planning through lesson evaluation. On the other end, we have low involvement throughout the entire lesson.

Traditionally, I’ve thought that student instruction was somewhere in the middle of these two points. Probably more towards the high involvement than then low, but not all the way to the extreme points. As a rule of thumb, I never go all in to one extreme over the other, but I’m wondering how student centered a lesson really is when the learner isn’t interested in the content being learned?

I understand the fact that the more relevant a lesson is to the learner, the more engaged and committed he or she will be to the learning process. But is that enough? What if the learner sees no value in the content or sees value, but wants to be more involved in the selection and design of the lesson? As I reflect on how I’ve taught in the past, rarely have I considered the value learners place on the content they are engaged with (I’m not going to say learning because I’m not sure they really are learning the content if there is a philosophical barrier between what I’m selling and what they’re buying). The content is important to me, but maybe not to everyone else.

I’d make the argument that if faculty (and probably students too) don’t believe in the content or how it is being disseminated, then minimal learning can take place. I don’t feel it’s enough to be student centered in the way that the learner is actively engaged, or even to the extent that the lesson is hyper relevant to the learner. I think there is another factor involved that is preventing a number of new ideas from being implemented. And I think that factor is full disclosure involvement from content selection, through design, and implementation.

I wonder how many of us that provide learning opportunities for faculty (as well as students) do this on a regular basis? I know I don’t…perhaps it’s time that I start.

Leadership Day 2012: Don’t Adopt Technology on a Whim!

My message for this year’s leadership day is going to be simple: Stop making decisions to adopt technology on a whim! You are damaging your school every time you decide to adopt a new technology initiative, because your faculty, staff, and students cannot be expected to change every time you attend a conference and come back with the latest flyer from the vendor hall. Gather a team that represents all stakeholders in the school and work together to create a vision that has student needs at heart.*  Once you have that vision, bring every resource the school has into making it happen, including technology.

I may seem a little harsh, but I have become frustrated with both administrators and teachers, who lack the common vision for where they need to be and how they are going to get there. When this happens, numerous initiatives are started and the disconnect is so great that it is difficult from an organizational standpoint to support everything everyone is doing. The cliché, a mile wide and an inch deep, is very reflective of where many schools find themselves. Everyone has their vision for what needs to happen, but since many of these visions compete against each other, no one can do them well, not to mention enact meaningful change.

If you find yourself in any leadership position, I urge you to stop and take a step back. Gather key stakeholders that represent your school community and take a deep breath and consider where you want to go. What’s important? What skills do your students need to leave with as they enter college or the workforce? What is the light at the end of the tunnel that each student needs to reach when they leave? Define what that is, and then begin talking about how you can get there. How will you use every resource the school can leverage, including technology resources and funding, to make that vision happen? Most important, how are you going to  build capacity within those around you? Figure out what it is that you need do and do it extremely well. This isn’t going to be easy, but it has to be done.

I want to conclude by saying that once you have made your plans and it comes time for implementation, be sure to encourage a culture where change is embraced. Any meaningful change you implement is likely going to be different from what has been done in the past. Teachers are going to need support and lots of it. If a major technology initiative is being implemented to support the vision, be sure to support a culture where teachers and administrators are willing to work with each other and willing to fail together. Perfection isn’t achieved on the first run, so be willing to re-invent your plans, your techniques, and most important, yourself. The road is going to be bumpy and mistakes are going to be made. Lead by example and take risks that could end in failure,  learning from your mistakes. Be willing to move on to find the right solution.  And above all, be true to your vision and stick it out. Don’t let the static of vendor halls and technological novelties interfere with your vision. Don’t adopt a technological innovation on a whim.


*Yes I know schools have these teams, but I often question their effectiveness. How much is what these teams accomplish for show and how much is for real change? Is the culture present within these teams to allow for failure without blame? Is this team really helping your school move forward? If not, maybe it’s time for a change? Certainly not all schools are like this, but I’m sure too many are.

It’s all about options

Nice to have

I’ve worked with teachers for a while now and one thing has remained constant. They like options. I’m not a big fan of generalizations, but in general, most of the teachers and faculty I have worked with have enjoyed having a few options when it comes to helping them integrate technology into their teaching. Usually just a couple is all I like to offer, since too many options can overwhelm the most willing participant. The key is to listen to what the teacher really wants to do and then pick a couple of technologies that will do it well.

So the next time you work with another teacher on integrating technology, or probably anything, try listening to what they really want to do and then give him or her a couple options. Don’t force them to use X technology. Let them choose. This way technology integration isn’t being “done” to them, they are choosing to do so.

Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/21460573@N08/6490155575/

PBL: An instructional strategy or instructional design model?

Yesterday at work I began pondering whether PBL (project-based learning, not problem) is an instructional strategy or an instructional design model. This question reappeared early this morning while I was trying to get my 10 month-old daughter back to sleep. I successfully was able to coax her back to bed, but I couldn’t do the same for myself. I’m left wondering about PBL and what it really is. So in a vain attempt to go back to sleep before I have to get up in just over an hour, I’m going to expand upon my thoughts here and see if I come up with an answer that pleases me enough to put my mind at ease so I can sleep.

My general thought is that PBL is an instructional strategy. Much like any other instructional strategy. Say cooperative learning or differentiated instruction. There are a variety of characteristics related to PBL that make it different from other teaching methods. In short, PBL is one of a number of strategies I can use to teach my curriculum.

Where my dissonance emerges is with the design aspect of PBL experiences or units. I learned PBL from the Buck Institute and always refer to their terms and their characteristics of PBL when I’m explaining PBL or helping someone implement a PBL experience. Where I think I’m being thrown into chaos is with the way BIE has packaged the design aspect for creating PBL units through their project planning form. This form is a nice, compact guide that walks the teacher step-by-step through all the components necessary to make PBL work. Much like an instructional design model, it has all the major players: goals, curriculum standards, strategies, assessments, assignments, etc. However, as I work through the PPF, it feels like I following an instructional design model.

Now it probably feels like I’m following an instructional design model because I am. However, my instructional design model is not PBL, but rather something that better resembles a Dick and Carey or ADDIE flavor. As I’ve thought more about PBL and what it really is, it would seem that PBL truly is only an instructional strategy. But the way BIE has packaged their materials has confused me for some reason into believing PBL was an instructional design model. I’m not sure why this has preoccupied me so much, but it has.

And with that, I’ll go back to bed hold Nora because she just woke up…

Missing in Action

I’ve been missing for the last few months, at least in terms of blogging and Twitter. My last post here was in May at the end of my first semester of my Ed.D. program, which needless to say was a hectic time in my life. However, since then I’ve found it hard to open the computer and do some non-academic writing.  Not sure what has been blocking me. Perhaps it has been the massive rush of taking a summer course while still being a little worn down from the spring semester. Or perhaps I was too exhausted from playing and having fun with my kids at home this summer. Regardless of why I’ve been absent, I’m back now and will slowly start getting back into the swing of things, which includes more blogging and more tweeting. I’m looking forward to the school year ahead. There should be plenty of fun and interesting things to keep me busy. Here are some things I’ve got coming up that I’ll probably be writing about:

  • TPACK and how to develop it in educators: I’m reading the Handbook of Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge for Educators and am really looking at how we can make teachers more effective educators by developing their knowledge of technology, content, and pedagogy.
  • Instructional design work: I’ll be doing more instructional design work this year at work with both faculty at UNI and our partner school districts. As we create and implement different lessons, I’ll be sure to share those experiences with everyone here.
  • Interesting technologies: I’m a geek at heart and love finding and using new technologies, so count on more of that here, along with possible ideas for using them.  One I’m looking at now is Aurasma, which is an augmented reality app. Still trying to figure out the workflow, but from what I’ve experience so far I can’t wait until it is ready for the classroom!
  • Advocating for change: And as always, I’ll keep advocating for change that matters. The world is changing but our practice in the classroom tends to remain static and this needs to change if we truly are going to make a difference in the world. I feel I can make a difference, even if it is only with one teacher in one school.

I’m looking forward to the upcoming school year with anticipation and excitement. I hope you are too and I wish you the best of luck and success this school year.

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 Lynda.com 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.


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