“Boring PD”…My #ITEC14 Takeaway

boredI recently attended ITEC, which is Iowa’s big ed tech conference held every year in October. I’ve enjoyed going to ITEC over the years and always walk away with something new. This year my focus was on all sessions related to professional development, although I admit I went to a great session on how a middle school teacher in Bettendorf, IA is doing real project-based learning. In general though, I went to sessions that looked at professional development and how to make it better. At one point someone tweeted, advocating for the use of social media as a professional development experience, that if you aren’t engaging in social media then you aren’t pushing yourself as an educator. After some back and forth the issue that “Boring PD” was insufficient to meet the demands of learners and society arose.

While engaging in social media is a great professional growth experience I believe more teachers should engage in, since it helps us get outside our comfort zone, I don’t consider it all that much different than attending conferences. Instead of engaging with people in a room we engage with people across Twitter on topics we care about. While this will, to a degree, lead to change in the educator and in a more convenient and cost friendly way, our growth as a teacher is much more multi-faceted than spending a few hours a week on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. Great ideas are great…as long as they are implemented. Otherwise, it’s just an idea.

This brings me back to “Boring PD.” We often waste, ignore the opportunities that are available to us for professional growth. Weekly, bi-monthly, and monthly PD shouldn’t be an experience those being served by it feel is boring. I can’t think of a better time for growth than when a group of educators are together to start talking about how we’ve implemented our curriculum, how we can make it better, and then start designing the instruction to make it better. How many times have you experienced this at your school? Your college? Your university? Only on rare occasions have I been engaged in such an experience that led to the development of new instruction for my class or practice. Why don’t we do this more?I get that there are practical issues that we have to discuss, especially in K12 education. Yet, how many of these issues that effect student learning everyday could be resolved if we created more engaging instruction where students are doing more than passively getting by in class, hoping that they won’t be called upon to contribute?

Will there likely be meetings we have to attend that we’d rather not? Yes. Can we change the structured learning opportunities for teachers so that they are more dynamic, more engaging, more productive so that student learning can improve? Yes. We just have to want it enough that we advocate for it, which means that we take the leadership to make it happen. Social media is one cog in our professional growth wheel. There are other factors that make us better teacher, some we know and some we don’t, some we control and some we don’t. Growing as a teacher is complicated, which is probably why we often are unsure of how to go about doing it better. Social media isn’t the answer in and of itself. It’s a small part of a larger system, which means that if we want to grow and see growth in our students, then we need to make professional development not boring. We need to make better use of the time that we have with other educators so that we talk about what’s working and what’s not, how we might improve it, and then create the instruction that leads to better student learning.

Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/22646823@N08/3070394453/


#UNIETD Post 2: Learning Experiences with a Purpose

Metro Candy Bar

This past Friday UNI hosted the ITEC Student Technology Fair for eastern Iowa. I was a judge at the fair and is something I enjoy doing each year as it gives me a chance to see how elementary and secondary students are learning. In the past there have been some great projects, but this year many of the projects seemed to be at a different level. So while I have gained some insight into the work students are doing, I’m also getting a better picture of the type of learning experiences their teachers are creating for them.

What stood out for me was the purposive nature of the projects. One project from Metro High School in Cedar Rapids created a business where they created a mold for chocolate bars, which they sell with proceeds being reinvested back into other programs in the school, such as their robotics team. There was also a young man from Olewein who is creating 3D models of oil platforms for a company based in Arizona. He’s already employed by the company and he’s still in high school. Needless to say he’s smarter than I am. There was also a middle school student from Waterloo who has created an Amber Alert style GPS button parents can sew into their kids clothing. The idea is that if the child is abducted he/she can push the button and a message with the GPS coordinates will go to the parents so they can be found. When I asked him how he came up with the idea he explained that he was friends with a local child who was abducted and murdered this past year. Another stand out was a project by a fourth grader where she built a skyscraper inside and out using Minecraft. She even had a water filtration system for a garden area inside the building.

So when I look at what these children are doing, they are engaged in projects with a purpose. Whether it’s a fundraiser for their school, working with a real corporation, trying to keep children safe, or simply following their interests and creating amazing designs, these kids are creating with a purpose. One of the comments I have heard from those attending and others I have shared my experience with is that they couldn’t do something like this. They explain they don’t know where they’d even start.

My reaction has been that while these are amazing projects, they are all within the grasp of all teachers. What makes them see out of reach is the difference between what they are doing and what we currently do. It’s hard to see a clear path in doing something like this if we don’t step outside our current paradigm. As I consider how I would approach something like this, what I feel would be key are a couple considerations:

  • What is the essential question I want students to engage in? What is the task or problem they are trying to solve?
  • How much freedom am I giving my students to pursue their interests? Am I giving my students a choice? Am I letting my students take ownership of their learning? Am I getting out of the way?

There’s certainly a lot more to this than these two points, but if we can’t do these two things, then we aren’t going to unleash our students’ inner creativity that our education system has been crushing since elementary school.

My #ITEC13 Reflection

After two days of waking early and making the trek to Des Moines from Waterloo, I find myself on #ITEC13 +1 having trouble sleeping in to my normal 6am and instead thinking about everything I learned over the last two days…at 4am mind you… So, rather than have an isolated reflection while futilely trying to go back to sleep, I might as well get up and share my thoughts, my ideas with anyone who may be interested, which brings me to my first major takeaway: As educators, we find ourselves constantly taking resources and ideas from the internet, but when was the last time we contributed?

Jeff Utecht was the keynote on day two and I’ve been a big fan of his for a few years now. So having the chance to hear him speak in person was amazing. There were a number of things that he brought up, but perhaps one of the most compelling was the need for educators to contribute to the larger community. How are we giving back to others who we don’t directly interact with? Certainly we give back in our classroom, schools, and local communities, but what about the larger community? How are we contributing to the advancement of the profession? More and more I find myself thinking about non-positional leadership and how we are advocating, leading, and working with others to advance meaningful change. Hearing Jeff talk about sharing with the larger community only served to reinforce this concept that each of us are leaders and do have opportunities to lead within our profession and beyond the classroom. For me, I’ve seemed to fallen off the larger community radar a little over the last year. Things get busy, I have small children and I have a pretty full schedule. Yet, given all of that, I still feel this nagging feeling that I’m not contributing enough. I’m not posting enough about what I’m doing or enough about some of the ridiculous ideas that I have that I want to start putting legs on. This wasn’t a major theme Jeff had, but it was an important theme, and has given me pause for reflection, as I hope it will do for each of you.

Sticking with Jeff a little longer, there were two other things that really stuck out for me. The first was the idea of a moonshot idea. As Jeff described it, a moonshot idea is an idea that seeks to change something that appears almost impossible. However, we strive to make that moonshot idea happen because we are bothered by it. We want it to happen and refuse to let it pass us by. The name moonshot comes from when JFK said we would put a man on the moon. No one knew how to do it, but we were going to do it anyway. There was a drive, a passion for making it happen. For me, moonshot ideas are what keep me going, keep me asking questions, and make me challenge those around me. Things bother me. Some more than others, but being bothered is what has kept me feeling like I can make change happen. Probably the biggest thing that bothers me is ineffective use of technologies in the classroom that is then highlighted as increasing achievement, learning, (insert term here) when in fact nothing has really changed. Scott McLeod had a session on this called Gratuitous Use of Technology (or something to that effect). While I missed the session, that really sums up what bothers me. It may be a far cry in comparison to putting a man on the moon, but nevertheless, it still matters, it’s still important, and it really bothers me.

The other thing that really stood out from Jeff’s keynote was the video of the young man doing a Rube Goldberg, at what appeared to be his house. This child, I think he was in fourth grade, but can’t really remember, creates this impressive Rube Goldberg machine and he makes a prediction about how many times his machine is going to succeed and how many times it will fail. I think it was a two to 14 ratio. As the video continues, it starts showing the trials. The first three are a bust and then on the fourth a success. What happens next is the best thing. This kid literally flips out. He is so excited that it worked on the fourth time when he predicted that if would fail “umpteen” times. I immediately thought, when was the last time we were this excited and willing to fail “umpteen” times? The mantra seems to be if we can’t do it it right the first time, we better not even try. I’d say this was a common theme I ran into throughout the conference. It’s okay to make mistakes, but what we do next is what matters. What’s worse is that we appear to be sending this signal to our students via standardized tests with all the focus on getting the right scores and the high stakes nature of the tests. Nothing in life, at least in my life, is as high stakes as those tests are for students and schools. They aren’t realistic and the emphasis we place on them as a nation, state, and local community truly bothers me. This certainly is a moonshot idea and it’s almost embarrassing that it is.

Other highlights from my conference experience:

  • Teaching students how to search is truly critical. We don’t live in a world where we can organize everything into nice little units. Our knowledge is too large, complex, and changes way to fast to keep up. Being able to sift is going to be much more important that sorting. I actually started this with my son last night. We started searching for orange juice and he loved it! (Henry’s four BTW)
  • Our knowledge has a half life of 18 months. This is interesting for me since the work I did for my doctorate in my first couple semesters is going to be outdated by the time I write my dissertation. Let’s not even go to textbooks…
  • Some key things when it comes to searching on Google: find the ads, the more links to a website means Google thinks it’s an authority, use the search tools to refine results, site: and filetype: are very useful for getting the resources you want, reading level is also helpful, and it is possible to search for dated materials, such as newspapers from the Korean War era (type Korean War, limit results to 1950-1955, and click on the news link in Google).
  • It’s easy to make info grams. Some resources: infogr.am, easel.ly, and piktochart.
  • Never underestimate the power of Twitter. The majority of my resources, including those from the previous bullet, came from Twitter. One person was at ITEC, but the other was in Oklahoma. Not to mention all the things I would have missed that were captured by others via the back channel #ITEC13
  • Speaking of Twitter, it still has a spam issue. I hadn’t really noticed it for a long time, but during the conference it was certainly present in the hashtag. But I did learn that you can filter your results. For me I used #ITEC13 -hidelink (Hidelink was what was spamming everyone). Thanks to @jamiefath for that one!
  • Kids are important and are missed when they are gone. But do we let them know that? My guess is not enough.
  • We are social creatures, yet school is typically the place where we can’t interact either with those literally sitting next to us or those in the larger community. If we want students to be engaged, let’s give them something to be engaged in.
  • There are a number of apps in iOS 7 that use location and notification services that really don’t need to. All that does is suck my battery life down and shares more than I really want. Check it out in settings and take back control!
  • There were three 8th graders at the conference (perhaps more, but I only saw three). It seems like more and more young people are showing up at conferences and I love it. Young people have a voice and they should let it be heard. As I was working on this post I saw Ian Coon tweet out something that appears to be a student bill of rights (I don’t think that’s what it’s called, but something generally like that) about what they want from their school and their educational experience. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m going to later today when I get to work. I don’t know if K12 students have to pay for ITEC, but they shouldn’t. These are the people we need to invite in, because above all, their voice counts, yet they are the most underrepresented group in education. We should be inviting them in so we can learn from them.
  • I met a number of people I follow on Twitter. Always a fun experience. I also had the chance to meet up with some people I hadn’t seen in a few years, even since high school.
  • Looking for more? Check out #ITEC13 and http://www.jeffutecht.com/itec

Finally, perhaps the best part of the conference were the conversations I had with my colleagues on the way to and from the conference. We were able to talk about more things in the two hour drive there and back than any number of meetings would have accomplished. This is on top of the interactions we had during the conference. For me, I was able to get a ton of feedback on my dissertation topic and some new directions to keep my work moving forward.

So all in all, I had a great conference experience. My only regret is that I wasn’t able to stay for all the afternoon sessions. Time is a scarce resource, but even with my mostly limited ITEC experience, I still feel I’ve been rejuvenated and am ready to keep on being bothered.

#ITEC11 Reflection

Image from http://itec-ia.org

Well another ITEC has come and gone, which means it’s time to reflect on all the learning that has taken place over the last few days.  This year was probably my favorite ITEC yet, and was certainly the biggest.  My trip began bright and early and often lasted well into the evening.  I went about my “note” taking in my typical way: tweet most everything and for the things that don’t warrant a tweet, I wrote them down in Evernote.  You can find my tweets for the day @dmourlam.

If Games are the Answer, What’s the Question? – Sylvia Martinez

Gaming is one of those areas of education that I’m interested in, but still trying to figure out.  I’ve grown some since I first was introduced to gaming in education and know the focus should be less on the game and more on the gaming, or the process students go through as they progress in the game.  It’s all about how students solve the problems they encounter in the game and the reflection that takes place during and afterwords, either alone or with others.  The first thing profound to hit me during this session was how do we define game?  This may not seem very profound, but it is and here’s why.  There are a variety of different types of games: edutainment, serious games, virtual worlds, alternative (augmented) reality, and commercial off the shelf.  Games will fall into one of these categories, providing a very different experience for the user.  When we think of gaming in schools, we often think of edutainment, which are games aligned to a set of educational standards.  Now the problem with edutainment in most cases, is that they are nothing more than worksheets with some exciting graphics.  Worksheets of any format will not transform education, which means as an educator, even if you aren’t into games, you still need to have a critical eye.  This means taking time to play the game for 15-30 minutes to see what it’s all about.  So before gaming can be part of your lessons, finding the right kind of game is important.  There needs to be a balance between fun and difficulty.  If the game’s not fun, kids won’t play it!  Playing games does not appeal to everyone, and no one game appeals to all gamers.  Sylvia gave us a great way to go about using games in our lessons: put on your skeptic hat, play it, would it be useful if it weren’t a computer game, and think about the assessment.

Keynote: Ten Things to Do with a Laptop – Learning and Powerful Ideas – Gary Stager 

The keynote was very entertaining, while still providing some things to think about.  Gary Stager talked about 10 things you can do with at laptop, or for all intents and purposes any computer.  He started out by saying we need to develop a sense of urgency in education, which I agree.  We need to let the teachers who are still doing the same activities they did 20 years ago that they need to change or move on.  What worked then won’t today.  Dr. Stager said, “Knowledge is a consequence of experiences,” so we need to make sure the experiences our students have are worthwhile and will serve them well in the future.  This means using technology in the classroom, but it’s more than the hardware.  It’s the software that matters, because that is what determines how we will learn.  I could go through all ten points he made but I’d actually like people to read this post so I’ll cherry pick the ones I liked the most.

  • Write a novel: This is spot on for me, because when I entered college, I was woefully unprepared for the type and quality of writing that was expected of me.  However, I think Dr. Stager was going a step further in that we need our students writing “more, better, and differently.”  While writing can take many forms, there needs to be a variety of writing experiences that support reflective learning.  This means having time for both reports, essays, creative writing, among other styles of writing.  If we limit our students to only research based writing, then we are creating a society that doesn’t think for themselves.  I’m comfortable saying this because if all we do is research then students will bore quickly and will  do the minimum to complete the task.  If we challenge students, they will surprise us.  The problem is, we don’t challenge them enough.
  • Share Knowledge: I liked this one a lot since we often think about who should be sharing knowledge and traditionally it has been the teacher.  However, Dr. Stager showed a video of students building robots that really challenged this idea.  In the video, the 6 year old student showed an older student (probably 9-10) how to make a robot ballerina.  All students have information to share, we just need to let them do so.  This can’t be done with teacher-centric classrooms!  We must free ourselves from the constraints of our own imagination/abilities and let our students flourish.  Until then we can only expect more of the same.
  • Change the world: The main take away I have is that if we want our students to do incredible things that can have a difference in the world, we need to let them learn through authentic experiences.  This means real projects that keep students and the teacher up at night, as well as letting students use the tools they need to be successful, whatever they may be.  Learning isn’t about what you can do in a class period, so as we create learning experiences we need to keep in mind that changing the world isn’t going to happen in 45 minutes.

Educational Uses of Facebook – Daniel Mourlam

This was my session!  I was encouraged by Leigh Zeitz to lead a session, any session and I chose an area that’s very central to my beliefs as an educator.  My session, while focused on Facebook Pages, was not so much about how to technically use a Facebook Page, but rather it was about getting educators to give Facebook a chance.  There are a number of different reasons why we should or shouldn’t use Facebook in the classroom, but in the end it really comes down to having an ethical obligation to model appropriate use.  This was my big point I wanted to make in this session.  As a teacher, we typically model appropriate behavior when we are in class with our students.  We act responsible, respectful, and so on.  However, as technology continues to advance, so does our culture.  With the emergence of social networking sites, so to has our culture expanded to included interactions using these sites.  However, in our classrooms if we fail to use these technologies, we fail to model how they should be used.  We know this to be true based on the number of cyber bullying incidents every year.  This is a problem that schools rarely do anything about beyond disciplining students.  I’m promoting a more proactive approach where teachers and schools begin using these technologies in their classrooms to support the type of teaching and learning that should be taking place.  I’m talking about the collaborative, problem solving, critical thinking projects and student-centered tasks students should be engaged in.  It is only though the use of these technologies that we will be able to help our students understand how they can use these sites in a responsible way.  If we educate our students about what is acceptable, then when incidents do happen, very few will tolerate the ignorance and bigotry that often is employed when students and others are targeted.  As a presenter, the best thing about my session was that people came and that there were students in the room who interacted with the entire group.  I couldn’t have asked for a better, or more engaged group.  However, I’d like to improve for next time, so if you were in my session let me know what you liked and what you didn’t by leaving a comment.  Thanks for coming!

TPACK & Creativity in the Classroom – Punya Mishra

This session was very fulfilling.  I have what some might call an intelectual crush on Punya Mishra and his work on TPACK.  For me TPACK just makes sense.  For those who don’t know what TPACK is, here is the quick and dirty: when we integrate technology (T) in the classroom we need to think about how the technology is going to change both the content (C) and the pedagogy (P).  Kohler and Mishra (2006) argue that effective technology integration is at the intersection of all three (T, P, C).  So getting the opportunity to listen to Punya talk about TPACK was very gratifying for my development as an educator.  A lot of what was discussed were things that I already believed, but here they are for the record:

  • For facts go to Google…for wisdom come to me (funny quote from Punya)
  • The single biggest measure of how effective we are as teachers is if our students talk about what we are doing outside the classroom.  This means they are engaged and interested.
  • Adding technology to the learning experience is going to change the dynamic of the classroom so we need to prepare for that by thinking about how the content and pedagogy are going to change.
  • There is no such thing as an educational technology.  Only technology that has been repurposed for educational uses.
  • Repurposing requires teachers to be curriculum designers instead of consumers.  No longer will following the textbook suffice as you begin using technology with your students.  The textbooks weren’t designed to be used with technology, which means we need to take what’s there and make it work for the type of experiences we want for our students.  That may mean using the textbooks or maybe another resource.
  • We know how to use technology, and we are getting good at integrating technology with the things we are already doing.  Now is the time to begin innovating with the technology to begin creating new types of experiences for our students.  This is where the future of education is.
Cell Phones: Smart, Digital, and Mobile The Next – Vinnie Vrotny/Leigh Zeitz
Last year I attended a couple of sessions facilitated by Leigh Zeitz where he used Skype to bring in experts from around the world.  Last year we had a presenter from Sydney, Australia.  This year we had Vinnie Vrotny from northern Illinois.  Vinnie talked to us about how cell phones can be used in education.  While I didn’t necessarily have a huge aha during this session, I still learned new ways of using cell phones in education.  The genius of this type of presentation is that while the video is playing in the physical room at ITEC, there is a backchannel happening with the presenter where we can ask him questions related to his presentation.  We have direct access to him, allowing us to go deeper into an area we are interested in.  For me, Vinnie and I talked more about how cell phones were being used at his school.  While cell phones are not allowed in the building, the athletic director has embraced the technology and blogs from the sidelines during school events.  The blogs are typically short and include pictures.  What an innovative way to engage the school community even if they can’t be there!  I’d likely take it a step further and have the blog connected to a Facebook Page or Twitter account to connect to a larger audience.  This session was one of my favorites not because of the content, but because of how I could interact with the presenter and other conference goers during the presentation.  A unique experience I hope continues for next year.
Facebook in First Grade?  You got it! – Devin and Erin Schoening
This was the best session of the conference hands down, and I almost missed it!   Devin and Erin talked about how they used a Facebook account with their first grade class to bring parents into the classroom during the day.  Parent involvement is crucial for success, but is becoming more and more difficult to get.  However, by inviting the parents to be friends with the class, Devin and Erin were able to let parents see what was happening throughout the day, allowing parents to further the learning at home by making connections to class.  I learned that Facebook Corp is supportive of educators using Facebook accounts for their classes, which is good to know.  In fact, when Erin was contacted by Facebook about her account, they apologized for not having more resources for education.  Talk about surprising!  Being able to see how others are using Facebook in their schools really reinforces what I believe.  Here are some more of the highlights of their session:
  • Used News Feed to see what other classrooms were doing
  • Created Facebook note of who’s friends with the class so reassure parents that only the right people could see and interact with their children through Facebook
  • Council Bluffs has not had any abuse of Facebook by students
  • Sent note home for parent permission and level of use by student
  • Facebook allowed for more immediate feedback from a variety of people, no longer confining the class to the four walls of the classroom
  • Using Facebook doesn’t mean we stopped communicating with parents in other ways
  • Students aren’t on Facebook all day, just a few minutes out of a day
  • Same rules online as face to face
  • Address the problems rather than blanket block if something happens
The Good, Bad, and Ugly.  Taking Digital Pictures Effectively – Leslie Fisher
This session was for my own development.  I am terrible at taking pictures so what better session to attend!  I wasn’t disappointed.  Here are Leslie’s tips for taking better pictures:
  • If you have to ask if it’s a good picture, it’s not
  • Frame your picture before taking and move closer if needed
  • Cropping is only good if you have a high mexapixel camera (above 10)
  • Macro setting will take better pictures when closer than 3 feet
  • The further away you are from what you are taking a picture of, the longer it will take to focus
  • Lanscape mode will focus on everything in the picture, Portrait will only focus on the middle area of the photo
  • More light = less blur
  • Stabilize the camera to reduce camera shake (use a tripod, set timer and place on firm surface before taking picture)
  • Night mode takes better pictures in low light conditions
  • Work angles to tell the story of the picture better
  • Shoot high and low angels
  • Exposure compensation will make take darker parts of picture darker or lighter parts lighter
  • Pay attention to the background to make sure it doesn’t take away from your photo
  • Move if background is distracting
  • Lower quality memory cards take slower pictures (want 8 or above)
  • Flash will reduce items beyond 8-10 feet, which can be good or bad
  • Sports mode will take faster pictures
  • Bigger lens = better zoom, more lighting
  • Digital zoom will kill the quality of the picture
That was my ITEC experience this year.  I think what made this year my favorite was the variety of sessions I attended.  I felt satisfied at the end, which is what I think we all stive to attain.  How was your experience?  Share by leaving a comment!

My thoughts on #IWB

A few weeks ago, I sent out on a quest to learn more about using interactive whiteboards.  I was primarily concerned with the way IWBs change how a teacher teaches, their pedagogy.  I began my search at ITEC, but was left wanting more, since the sessions I attended seemed to only talk about the features rather than on how the technology changes their practice.  I decided to pull out the research skills I had learned in my master’s program and began consulting research on effective teaching, pedagogy, and, of course, IWBs.  Below is what I have found and my opinions on IWBs in general.

The first major theme that I found emerging from the different pieces of literature I read was that IWBs do not inherently change a teachers practice.  There are many ways that IWBs can change your teaching, but they are often used to maintain current practices (Gillen, Kleine Staarman, Littleton, Mercer, & Twiner, 2007).  In my experiences with IWBs, this has been the biggest problem with their adoption.  A teacher is given the technology but not the skills to make it meaningful in their classroom.  As I look at technology and education, I think we need to look at the advantage of adding the technology to the classroom.  What will this change and is it worth the expense of doing so?  Show me the relative advantage over what I’m doing now.  By-and-large, I don’t think that has been done, which has led to many teachers receiving IWBs with little change in their current practices.

The next theme that I discovered was that IWBs change the classroom environment and the management of that environment.  Schmid (2010) explains that IWBs do not need to be the centerpiece of the lesson, but rather we need to think about how we can use IWBs to enhance the lesson.  How can we make the lesson better by using the IWB.  I was talking with Robin Galloway the other day and he said it best when he said, “Start with one feature of the IWB and then go from there to the next feature once you feel comfortable.”  This is the attitude we need to have when we start using IWBs.  Don’t focus on making a flip chart or some other elaborate way of using the IWB.  Start small and then move from there.  Lewin, Somekh and Steadman (2008) talk about a three stage model of pedagogic change with an IWB that I think fits nicely with Rob’s idea of using IWBs:

  • Stage 1: Teachers fitting [IWB] into established pedagogies
  • Stage 2: Teachers engaging in collaborative exploration of the new opportunities offered by the [IWB]
  • Stage 3: Teachers use IWB skillfully and intuitively in ways that extended or transformed their established pedagogic practices

I think this is a logical way for new adopters to become comfortable with IWBs, which is necessary if they are going to change their practice.

Another theme that emerged that I was a little unsure of when I began was the notion that IWBs make the classroom more student-centered.  Where this takes place is when the teacher stops leading the class at the front of the classroom using the IWB much like they would a normal blackboard.  However, once you begin letting students use the IWB in class, it does open up the opportunity for increased discussion and interaction that might not have taken place when the teacher was “in control” of the class.  What I still have problems with is the fact that the IWB creates this opportunity.  What I believe is happening is that the IWB is merely facilitating a student-centered lesson.  There is little that the IWB is adding that makes the lesson student-centered other than the student having the opportunity to physically use the IWB.  I’m making the argument that the same thing could be accomplished using similar technology or even a whiteboard or chalkboard in some instances.  While the technology is certainly adding a new layer, it doesn’t necessarily mean that layer is enhancing the lesson, or at least not enough to justify the cost of the IWB.  If I can do the same thing with a tablet that costs $400 rather than the hefty $1500 to $5000 price tag that some IWBs cost, then that is the direction I think I would want my classroom and school to head.

What also struck me about the student-centered nature of an IWB is that the rest of the class needs to be engaged in some way when a student is at the board working.  How are you going to keep them engaged?  This comes down to having solid instructional design, which for many teachers and administrators is overlooked when these new, expensive technologies are adopted.  This will also depend on creating a classroom atmosphere that nurtures sharing, patience, and suport, which I think is missing in many classrooms and schools (Harlow, Cowie, & Heazlewood, 2010).

I could go on and on, and if this were a literature review I would.  For now, I will just end by stating that I think IWBs can be a valuable tool for teachers, but they are NOT the be all end all for effective technology integration that they are sometimes made out to be.  There are a slew of different ways they can be used in the classroom and can help students learn, especially when used to provide multi-modal instruction.  However, this doesn’t seem to be the case, at least not where I have observed their use.  If we are going to successfully use these tools we need to have adequate PD that helps faculty move beyond the first stages of Lewin, Somekh, and Steadman’s model.  If I were given the option of having an IWB or the money to spend on other tools for my classroom, I would take the money.  I don’t think IWBs are worth the cost, because the same thing can be completed using similar tools at a reduced cost.  The relative advantage isn’t there for me, but this could be due to my teaching philosophy, which is very project based.  My goal is active student engagement that lasts the entire period, rather than merely an activity that lasts only part of the period.


Resources: (Note: This is not the exhaustive list that I researched, only those which I referenced in my post.  If you would like a copy of all the documents I read, please leave a comment and I will be happy to provide you with a copy of the documents)

Gillen, Julia; Kleine Staarman, Judith; Littleton, Karen; Mercer, Neil and Twiner, Alison (2007). A “learning revolution”? Investigating pedagogic practices around interactive whiteboards in British Primary classrooms. Learning, Media and Technology, 32(3), pp. 243–256.

Harlow, Ann , Cowie, Bronwen and Heazlewood, Megan(2010) ‘Keeping in touch with learning: the use of an interactive whiteboard in the junior school’, Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 19: 2, 237 — 243 URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1475939X.2010.491234

Lewin, C., Somekh, B., & Steadman, S. (2008, September 24). Embedding interactive whiteboards in teaching and learning: The process of change in pedagogic practice. Education and Information Technologies, 291-303. doi:10.1007/s10639-008-9070-z

Schmid, Euline Cutrim(2010) ‘Developing competencies for using the interactive whiteboard to implement communicative language teaching in the English as a Foreign Language classroom’, Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 19: 2, 159 — 172

Apple Learning Exchange

Looking for projects or activities for your students to do where they get to use the tools they learn the best with?  The look no further.  The Apple Learning Interchange is a Web site that has a ton of activities for you to do with your class.  The four major content areas are included on this site, as well as all grade levels.  Most of the projects are based upon Apple software and technology, but this doesn’t mean you can’t adapt it if you want to use a Windows computer.

Whatever your motivation might be, check out Apple Learning Interchange.  Just looking at some of the activities may inspire you to try something different.

The Digital Curriculum

I attended another round of sessions today and most of them were things that I need to know, like networking and wireless routers, and the such.  However, I did go to a couple sessions that many of you would have found interesting.  One of them was on the Digital Curriculum.  I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this breakout session since the three sentence paragraph describing the session was a bit vague, but nonetheless I attended and am glad I did.  This session was a very inspiring session that elicited the need for change in the way we are teaching our students.

This session started out by describing a classroom using some pictures the presenter had found and he asked us to guess the year.  As the pictures went across the screen I thought to myself, “well these look like some of the classrooms we have here in Cherokee.”  The kids in the pictures were wearing uniforms so I couldn’t tell what year it might be by their clothes.  As we came to the last slide I just assumed these pictures were taken just recently.  Then came the next slide.  The pictures were taken in 1978.  There was almost a gasp from many of the people in the room.

His point was that we are living in a highly digital and highly connected world, but our classrooms and the way we teach do not reflect this reality.  As the presentation went on over the next hour I listened to the presenter describe what the Digital Curriculum is and how it can be used.  The session I wandered into was making the case for going one to one with laptops for all students.

The presenter quickly explained that the digital curriculum is not something you can take off a shelf and use in your classroom and it isn’t a pedagogical learning theory and it also isn’t a technology tool we can use in the classroom either.  The digital curriculum is a conceptual framework for structuring schools.  One of the main problems with schools that go one to one is that the stakeholders can’t see how the increased technology will transform what they teach rather than only making minor changes to what they teach.

The digital curriculum helps ensure there is a prevailing digital component to every important component of teaching and learning in school.  Digital technology is the major feature but it is not the focus.  Rather the focus is on creating the ultimate enriching environment for learning.

I have attached the narrative the presenter gave us at ITEC.  I think this is where we are going to end up in the coming years as digital components begin to be crucial to our lives.  If you have any questions, or want to talk more about this let me know.