iPads and Field Experiences

This semester we are doing something different at UNI with one teacher education course. With the rapid diffusion of 1:1 schools throughout the state of Iowa, we thought it might be a good idea to try setting up a field experience course this way. We are taking it slow and are going to collect some data as we go so we can try to make better informed decisions. Here’s the general plan:

  • At the beginning of the semester, on day one, we provided 24 students enrolled in a professional development school field experience course with an iPad
  • We installed four apps for them (iMovie, Garageband, Keynote, Page) and then gave them full access to everything else on the iPad. Apart from being owned by UNI, it is their iPad for the semester
  • On the first day I did a very short overview of the iPad, since there were some who hadn’t used one before. I used Sugata Mitra as an inspiration for my overview and essentially left if up to the students to figure out how to use it
  • Throughout the semester the plan is to discuss during class ways they can use the iPad in their instruction and then start implementing those ideas each week as appropriate during their field experience
  • The professor is going to provide contextualized demonstrations for using the iPad effectively as an instructional tool periodically during the semester
  • Finally, the iPad is there as a resource for students to use as it’s needed, which is how it should be. Ubiquitous

I know this isn’t a lot, but we’re just starting this little experiment and I wanted to give an update on what’s happening here at UNI and TQP as it’s been a while since I’ve blogged. As things develop and there’s more to share, I will!

It’s about the technology, pedagogy, and content

A few weeks ago I was talking with a group of colleagues and the topic of how we integrate technology came up. One of them said that it’s all about the pedagogy, not the technology. The point he was trying to make was that we don’t want to base the decisions we make only on the availability of technology. For example, we shouldn’t say “I have this iPad, I should use it to teach Math!” This is a very technocentric approach to technology integration, because we aren’t consider what we teach and how we teach it (content and pedagogy).

However, making the claim that it’s all about the pedagogy is similarly misguided, because it assumes that the ways in which we teach will encapsulate the use of technology (let’s just leave effectiveness out of the discussion for now). We all know this isn’t true and to prove it isn’t true we just need to walk down the hallways of our school, whether it’s elementary, middle, high or post-secondary. There are a number of teachers who don’t use technology and have success. So we have an inherent issue when we say that it’s all about the pedagogy, because as a number of teachers have shown, only considering pedagogy simply ignores the use of technology. Pedagogical knowledge is technology neutral and is concerned with issues surrounding classroom management, assessment, instructional strategies, etc.

If we want to effectively integrate technology into the teaching and learning process, then it really is about the technology, but it’s also about the pedagogy and content too. Integrating technology is not an isolated technology event. Rather it is the complex interactions between three types of knowledge: technological, pedagogical, and content knowledge. It’s not enough to have each type of knowledge in isolation from the others. Each has to be considered in relation to the other two, because only when we consider how a technology effects what we teach by how it can be represented and understood through the use of the technology, as well as how the way we teach that content changes due to the use of the technology, will we be able to truly integrate technology in purposeful ways.

My purpose isn’t to nitpick what one of my colleagues said. Rather, it’s to point out that we can’t continue to think about developing knowledge in isolated ways. We can’t learn how to technically use an iPad and then be expected to integrate it into our teaching. It doesn’t work that way. But we also can’t just focus on pedagogy development either, because that doesn’t guarantee the effective use of technology. If anything, it would guarantee the effective use of a management, assessment, or other instructional technique. So if we really want to integrate technology in an effective way that has implications for learning, then we need create opportunities where we are developing knowledge about a particular technology, but only insofar as it relates to how to teach a piece of content in a particular way.

This is the only way we are going to have forward progress with the effective use of technology in the learning process. As you begin to plan for professional development this next school year, reconsider your technocentric sessions. Find ways to create opportunities for your teachers to develop knowledge surrounding not only technology, pedagogy, and content in isolation, but also with how each of these interact with the other. Then you’ll be on the right track and will have the potential, not the guarantee but the potential, for successful technology integration. Remember, this is the first step, not the last. There’s a lot more to do and no truly clear way of getting there.

 

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?

 

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

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.

Finding the right balance

This is my comment from http://bit.ly/vZEQF0 about finding the right balance through blended learning.  Parts of it may, therefore, seem a little out of context.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Technology as an assignment vs using technology to support classroom activities

This is cross posted at http://tqpplc.blogspot.com.

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

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

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

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

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