It’s not the technology, it’s what you want to do with it that matter

ipad-airWhen we think about integrating technology into our teaching, we’re thinking too much about how to use the technology and not enough about how that technology will impact our instructional decision making. What we do in our lessons is directly related to the decisions we make when using technologies. Simply put, technologies and their affordances and constraints are on equal footing with the content we’re teaching and the instructional strategies we’re using to teach that content. Therefore, if we choose to use a SMART Board, the content we teach and how we teach it are going to be impacted in some way, good or bad. How we represent information on the SMART Board is going to be different from what we’ve experienced in the past. How we teach using the SMART Board is also going to be different than it would if we didn’t use the technology. What this all means is that when we’re going to use a technology in our instruction, we need to change how we approach creating and preparing for that lesson.
Hofer and Harris (2009) explain that there are five basic instructional decision making actions made when planning learning experiences. These include:
  1. Choosing learning goals/objectives
  2. Making instructional decisions about the nature of the learning experience
  3. Selecting/Sequencing activities that make the learning experience
  4. Selecting formative and summative assessments to determine student learning progress
  5. Selecting tools and resources that will assist student learning
Looking at this five step process, which is pretty linear, it’s clear the last component we need to account for when designing the lesson is the role technologies will have. Instead, the initial focus is on what we want students to learn, which is really what we should be focused on. What is the goal of the lesson and what do we hope students will learn? That’s perhaps the most important piece to consider when planning the lesson, because if we can state that clearly and in ways that we can assess it, then half the battle is over. Then it’s a matter of deciding the look and feel of the lesson.
Here are some quick guiding questions you can ask yourself regarding the look and feel of the lesson:
  • Will the focus of instruction be on the teacher or student?
  • Will the students create something?
  • Will the student perform something?
  • What will you be doing during the lesson?
  • How will you know if students are making progress towards your learning goal/objective before the class ends?
  • How will you determine if students met your learning goal/objective?
  • If students are making or performing something, will they use digital technologies (computers, Web 2.0, iPads, etc.) or analog technologies (paper, pencils, markers, whiteboards, etc.)?
  • What resources will students needs, including material, human, and community, in order to be successful?
If you’re stumped on some of these questions or are just unsure what you want a learning experience to look like, then check out the Learning Activity Types. These are subject specific taxonomies that provide lists of instructional activities students can complete. As these activities are combined lessons are created. What’s also nice is that once you’ve selected and combined your activities, there are corresponding technology suggestions that make the final step in the planning process a little easier.
There is no single technology solution for every subject and every way of teaching, even though it would be easier if there were. Integrating technologies into our instruction is a very ill-structured problem, because we don’t always know what’s going to happen or what we need to plan for to make sure we’re going to have success. Confounding the problem often is our own perceived lack of knowledge, preparedness, and confidence we believe is needed to use technologies. Instead of hitting barrier after barrier when we try to use technologies, let’s take a different approach that’s more focused on the learning experience we want to create by first stating what we want students to learn, the what we want that experience to look like, and then look for purposeful ways technologies can be used to support learning. Doing so will likely increase your chances of using technologies in more meaningful ways that support student learning.

Expressive Arts Project-Based Learning Project

Map of Project Steps

 

I working again this semester with a faculty member at UNI that teaches an Expressive Arts Integration teacher education course and thought I’d share the project map I’ve created the more or less maps out everything we’re doing.

To give a little context to what we’re doing and what we’ve done in the past, this is a project where small groups of UNI teacher candidates are paired up with small groups of elementary students. The UNI students teach a series of lessons to the elementary students using one of the following art themes: drama, music, visual arts, and dance and movement. This is a project that the professor has done for a number of years, but since the closing of Price Lab School, I’ve been involved in making this project happen from a distance.

While this semester is logistically a little different, what happens is that the UNI students learn about using the arts to teach content in meaningful ways, by preparing lessons for when they travel to the school to teach to their small group. These lessons are done collaboratively, both planning and teaching. In the meantime, commercials are recorded and posted online for the students in the schools to watch. I think both the UNI and elementary students enjoy the videos, especially when the students respond, either in their letters or by creating a commercial of their own and sending it to UNI. We also do some low tech handwritten letters to the students to help them get to know each other more. I am actually a big fan of handwritten letters since it seems everything else is so digitized. It’s always fun to get real mail!

Finally, after the students go out to the school and teach their lessons, they create some kind of documentation artifact, such as a book, poster, etc. that documents their day and the learning that took place. The elementary students are then each provided a copy of the documentation as a form of capstone to the experience.

What I like about this project is that it is a real project. Everything that’s done in this course centers around preparing for this experience. I also like amount of autonomy and student choice that the UNI students have in creating their lessons. There are some requirements, but overall, they have a lot of choice in what they teach and how they do it.  Like all good projects, it takes a lot of time and planning, but it’s worth it, because it’s real.

Knowing When and Why, Not What and How

I was reading this article today and thought it summed up my beliefs about technology. The real challenge is convincing others to believe the same.

Knowing when to use a particular technology for activities such as collaboration, or why to use a certain technology for acquir- ing specific disciplinary knowledge, is a vastly more important, transferable, in- finitely relevant type of knowledge, one that will not quickly become antiquated with ever-changing technological trends.

-Kereluik, Mishra, Fahnoe & Terry, 2013, Pg. 133

Kereluik, K., Mishra, P., Fahnoe, C., & Karr, J. A. (2013). What Knowledge Is of Most Worth: Teacher Knowledge for 21. Journal of Digital Learning in Teacher Education, 29(4), 127–140.

 

Making Distance Collaboration Work

Video Conference with CALWe hear often today that we need to be collaborating with others outside of our classrooms. It isn’t enough that we only talk within our own schools and districts. We should be talking with other educators and students outside of our schools, but what does that really mean? Until recently I really didn’t know what it meant, even though I believed we should be engaging in those kinds of activities. So I thought I’d briefly describe my recent experiences facilitating collaboration between UNI students and CAL elementary students.

What we are doing here at UNI is connecting with rural schools and one of them is the CAL school district. One of our courses takes all of the UNI students out to CAL towards the end of the semester for a full day of the arts. Leading up to that culminating event are a number of smaller events and one of them is a video conference between CAL and UNI. We are doing that today in fact and my biggest take away is ensuring that we make every moment a learning experience, both for the CAL students, but also the UNI students.

For CAL students, they are excited to learn more about who the UNI students are: What’s your favorite color, do you have any pets, what’s your favorite thing to do outside? These are just a few among a host of questions the CAL students have had. For the UNI student, their learning surrounds becoming a teacher. What questions should we ask? What do we do if they don’t say anything? How do you relate to students on their grade level? What do I do if I freeze up and don’t know what to say? These are just a few of the things we talked about here at UNI between groups.

As I look at the learning that’s taking place for students at both ends, I can see truly see the value of collaboration, especially with those outside the school. Which brings me to my point. If we are really going to take advantage of collaboration and not simply collaborate in name only, we really need to be deliberate about what the students are learning when they collaborate. It isn’t enough to open Skype, the Polycom, or Google Hangout. There has to be substance to what the students are doing. It sounds so simple, but even today it took us a minute to really discover where we needed to target our learning for the day.

What I’m trying to say then is that collaboration is only as good as you make it…so make it good. It truly makes a difference.

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?

 

Technology without PD is like a Car without a Driver

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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.

It’s the Total PACKage that matters

BoxI’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.

 

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