Dewey (1976) said:
…to satisfy an impulse or interest means to work it out, and working it out involves running up against obstacles, becoming acquainted with materials, exercising ingenuity, patience, persistence, alertness, it of necessity involves discipline, -ordering of power-and supplies knowledge (p. 25).
I’ve started reading Dewey a bit more lately as I begin writing my dissertation and I’m struck by how clear he is and, yet, how muddied improving our educational practices have become since Dewey’s time. Sticking to what I know, I immediately reflect to the professional development experiences surrounding new technologies that teachers everywhere are subjected to, some times on a monthly basis. The idea that no single technological innovation exists for all teachers (Mishra & Koehler, 2006) highlights the almost cruel nature and certainly squandered learning time for teachers when they attend such professional development sessions. So as I reflect and make sense of what I’m reading, I ask: What would Dewey do? How would Dewey approach professional development for teachers surrounding what in fact are critical issues facing not just our society with regards to being competent problem solvers, critical thinkers, collaborators, etc., all at the intersection of content, pedagogy, and technology.
The quote above, to me, provides some clarity. While Dewey was talking about children, I feel at heart we all are children only as we get older we conform more to society and the responsibilities that go with being an adult, an employee, a teacher, a parent. Why can’t we explore the topics, the needs, the desires that our teachers have? That’s what Dewey is saying we should do and when we do, it’s going to be a little bumpy and that’s okay. The bumps provide openings for weaving in subject-matter knowledge and skills, which is the concern we all have as educators. How will the students learn the content if we don’t teach them? They key is to indulge students in their interests and use that to wrap in the content they are supposed to learn.
So as we approach professional development for teachers, we should listen and think about what Dewey would do. Let’s listen to the teachers and see what they’re interested in or what problems they are experiencing in the classroom. Then start working with them so they can create educational technology solutions at the intersection of content, pedagogy, and technologies.
Authentic work is hard and requires those engaged in the problem solving process to be uncomfortable and to question what they know and how they structure their knowledge. It’s collaborative. It’s engaging in problems that are difficult to answer, but require answering.
Over the last two days I’ve witnessed a large group of faculty members engage in a practical problem solving exercise where they created, discussed, critiqued, and challenged each other in ways that led to deeper learning as they worked towards solving the problem. While they didn’t solve the problem, they were engaged in truly authentic work that has moved them along the path towards finding their answer. Why aren’t we engaging in these types of learning activities either as educators or with our students more?
I’m in the process of designing professional development opportunities for faculty and students in the College of Education at UNI. This past semester we did a number of short, informal professional development sessions that targeted areas where faculty and students felt they needed additional development. I’m following a similar process for this coming year, but I’m wanting to introduce more authentic examples of lessons, projects, etc., that use technology so we can analyze how the technology is being used and to simply show what some of the possibilities are. I’m not an expert in all content areas, so it does get difficult when we try to find ways to use technology in a subject, say world languages, because I don’t really understand the subject matter or how it is taught. We can get there, but it takes time, which is precious.
So what I’m endeavoring to do over the summer and even moving forward, is to work with practicing educators to find examples of technology use in their courses. These could be things like a lesson plan, project, assignment sheet, blog post, or even just a general note about how technology is being used to teach a concept. I’m not looking for anything profound. Just how are you using technology and is there a way we can capture it so I can share it with others.
I’m also looking for examples of when technology hasn’t really worked out as expected or if it was just a poor use of technology. There’s this assumption that many have with any technology improving the learning when often that’s not the case. I feel there’s a benefit from looking at these kinds of examples, because we can identify why it’s ineffective and how we can make it better or do things differently.
So I’m asking for your help. PLEASE send me links, attachments, copies, etc. of how you are using technology in the classroom to teach. They can be good, bad, or somewhere in between. It’s important to see what you are doing, because that is the context we are preparing future teachers to go into. Here is the list of topics I am looking at right now. It is a very rough draft of what I collected from a survey, but it’s where I’m starting from. And yes, I know it is very technocentric, but that’s not how it will end up.
- iPads in all subject areas
- Digital Storytelling in Elementary Education and Literacy Education
- Social Media in Secondary Science, Elementary Education, Social Studies, and Mathematics
- Google Drive/Apps in all subject areas
- Interactive Whiteboards in Elementary and Literacy Education and Level 2 Field Experiences
- Streaming Video (Podcasting/Panopto) in PE, Secondary Science, and Elementary Education
- Web 2.0 (Blogs/Wikis) in Elementary Education and Special Education
- Clickers (Poll Everywhere/Handhelds) in Elementary Education and Special Education
If you’ve been following over the last year or so, you might remember that I was given the opportunity to create a learning environment that provides the means to create learning experiences that are transformative in nature. For more information about what I mean, go here and scroll to the middle of the page to the Emerging Qualities of Effective Teaching Continuum.
As the last year has progressed, we were actually able to implement my design in a classroom (the TEE room or Transformative Education Environment) in the College of Education and this semester is the first semester where we have teachers using the classroom. I’m extremely excited and happy with how things have turned out, but this is just the beginning. Because all I’ve done is bought a bunch of stuff and then put it in a classroom. Remember, my task was to create the means or the potential for transformative teaching and learning to take place.
The reality is that transformative education doesn’t just happen because a bunch of equipment and furniture was put in a classroom. Rather, there has to be professional development around what it means to be transformative, which is now going to be my focus moving forward with the grant.
I’m currently working with faculty on in the college to create and implement a PD series that is aligned to the TQP Transformative Model (see link above). As I was designing the room and aligning it to the model as much as I could, I clearly could see a connection for needing a certain amount of technology in the classroom. Therefore, as I move forward with creating PD I’m being very conscious of the role technology has and how it can be used effectively. Therefore, I’ll be leveraging TPACK as I work with others on campus to offer PD for faculty and students.
TEE PD is in it’s infancy and I’m hoping to take this semester to do a small pilot and then ramp up in the fall. This is certainly an exciting time for me and will certainly be an exciting path ahead.
I’ve started to realize that as I work with more and more teachers to use technology in their courses that they really are only interested in developing one of two types of knowledge. The first is Technological Knowledge. They just want to know how to use the technology. What steps to do I need to go through to make this work. The second is Technological Content Knowledge. An example of this would be the teacher wanting to know what the good math apps are.
There’s an implicit problem with both of these approaches to integrating technology…they don’t address teaching. If our goal for any professional development is to help teachers become better teachers, then we need to make sure we are talking about teaching. But here’s the problem, there are a lot of teachers who don’t want to talk about teaching. They’d rather just keep on keep’n on. I think this is the biggest challenge I, and I assume others, face. We need teachers to talk about their teaching. Oh, and it needs to happen more than once a month.
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.