Friday, December 27, 2013

QuizUp- Motivation, Learning, and Dashboard Design, and 6 ways it can work in education

QuizUp is one of these flash in the pan games that takes the mobile world in a storm. In less than two months it amassed over 5 million users. If you haven't tried it you should, but not just because it is addictive, but also because it points to some aspects that QuizUp does well, and that we can do better in education. In short I believe that some of the things QuizUp does right we can use in education.

The key is motivation, and QuizUp uses every game mechanic and social aspect to drive you to use the system out of your own volition. First QuizUp allows the user to select the areas they want to be a part of. While we can't always let students choose what they want (vs. need) we know there is great motivation in choice. Second comes the sense of developing an area of expertise. I am for example the "Best in Ancient Rome in Nebraska" a dubious title but it works! We can imagine a best in multiplication in Mrs. Hendriks class or best in Ancient Greece in Washington Elementary.

QuizUp adds to it achievements (win 500 games, get a perfect score). We could structure those in more meaningful categories, imagine an achievement for knowing all the characters in Othello or all the multiples of 9, or the features of the table of elements. Points also work to motivate users, you get points even if you lose (although less) making sure that your effort is always rewarded. In short QuizUp activates all the short reward cycles that make us persist at game based tasks.

Feedback in QuizUp is exceptional. Beside the obvious leader boards, levels and points there are a slew of ways to get feedback. After each game you can study the questions and your responses, you can also see a graph comparing your score and you opponent's. The dash board is the most brilliant piece of design in the game. As you can see on the right one of the main dashboards shows you the areas you have been participating in and the level in each. It allows in one glance to see where the user had put the most effort and how well the user have been doing overall.

QuizUp has some challenges as a learning idea as well. The format of multiple choice works well for this kind of work but it does limit the sophistication of questions as they relate to different levels of learning (think Bloom's taxonomy). In my own participation I figured out I actually think through my responses through the first 15-20 levels. After that my responses are increasingly automatic as I have seen most of the available questions and must activate my mnemonic devices and memorization based on repetition.

So how does it fit into 21st century learning? Well:
1. It is a great way to develop basic knowledge
2. It is a great way to develop fluency (word recognition, basic math facts, historical facts). This will allow the teacher to focus on more meaningful material in class
3. Taking away the time element can help in some cases.
4. Have enough questions in any bank to remove straight forward memorization except when it i the goal (say multiplication facts).
5. The complexity of the question is up to the author, even in a multiple choice format you can get sophisticated thinking
6. If students can actually create questions it becomes a much more sophisticated task (the feature is available)

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Confessions of an iPad Addict

I use my iPad excessively, or so I'm told. I can't even claim to be a social user. At the same time I divide my technology use between my iPads, laptop and iPhone. In the past month I have paid attention to what exactly I do with my different devices and I present what is an unscientific view of my device use.

As I look at the chart the first thing that becomes clear is that my iPhone is just my backup device. I really use it only when my other devices are not there, are out of charge, or if it is the only device with connectivity.

I use my computer for writing, analysis, and in class. Other uses on my laptop are mainly a result of the fact that I am already on the device. For example if I am already writing I will use my computer for email but I will almost never switch to my computer for handling email.

I use my iPad for media consumption, social media, and media production. In class I use both computer and iPad in equal amounts but LMS work happens more my laptop since many of the functions including file upload and grading are not available on the iPad.

What I think the data shows is that for heavy users like me there is no one device that can do it all. The iPad can become a lot more central (though it does represent more than 60% of my technology use) if it had a good file management system and better LMS interphase that allowed me to use the grading feature on my Blackboard.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

iPads in Chinese Classrooms

We just finished with our second professional development with educators in China. This time it was an elementary school that would like to be part of our long term project. The plan was for 20-25 teachers that have been identified as leaders. Over 40 showed up. Every event like this is fraught with difficulty: bandwidth, technology on both sides but more than everything it is the physical and cultural distance. It is hard to get a read on a large crowd through distance and it is almost impossible to get the personal commitment that would drive change.

I started with a very short theoretical foundation. We then used Socrative as a demonstration of a way to engage participants.  Jason Wilmot proceeded to discuss the Flipped Classroom and Krista Barnhouse showed a few apps she uses in her classroom. It then turned into a mini app shootout. Overall it was a successful if stressful session with Ji at the helm producing the event, Dandi translating and Qizhen as a backup/ backchannel discussant. It is a fairly big team but it probably is the only way we can manage that.

This is an evaluation of the effort through our back channels (edited version so I take full responsibility):

         "There were a total of 43 teachers and two principals joined our conference physically. There were three teachers joined our conference online. According to the responses, teachers who participated in online felt more engaged than those who joined physically. This is because those teachers all had a one-on-one technology person sitting next to them solving the technical issues, such as installation and registration. All teachers love our apps introduction but some of them suggested to get rid of theory section because they all know the theories. Moreover, teachers asked us to bring real-time classroom instructions rather than only introduction. 

I talked with a couple teachers yesterday and they said they need the conference but they all indicated that Chinese teachers will never integrate technology into classroom unless principals force them to do so. A teacher stated that there is only five who want to learn among 100 teachers in similar trainings in China, meaning those teachers did not get engaged. The lack of quality of motivation, will hinder them to learn."

I do not share the morbid evaluation. At the heart of it, it seems that teachers in China are like teachers everywhere. They want to change but know it is hard and are afraid that it might not work. Change if any will be slow and will depend on our ability to deliver tailored information and on-going support. It is true with the schools we work with at LPS, it is true with pre-service teachers, and it si true when we work with Chinese educators. Heck based on a faculty meeting last friday, it is also true with our teacher education faculty.

Our Chinese experiment will continue!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Honesty, Data, Mooc Mania, and Persistence

MOOC Wheel
from the Chronicle of Higher Education
Graphic by XARISSA HOLDAWAY; illustration by NIGEL HAWTIN
I have mixed feelings about the fate of the Udacity experiment and the glee of many in the I told you so. Let's start with where I am, I am no fan of MOOC's as a "hack" and a solution to all of our Higher Education woes (cost, quality, ROI). I have written in this blog and have spoken publicly on my beliefs that MOOCs (more specifically xMOOCS) crowned as the solution will fail but may hurt public higher education before it fails to deliver.

As the data about Udacity's experiment at San Jose State emerged, Udacity admitted they have failed to achieve the projected results. Consequently they decided to change course and try to work as a workplace initiative. There are great points of discussion here that are worth attending to some actually positive.
The first is that a major corporate player was honest about dismal results, yes it took a while but we seldom see this kind of honesty from corporate or educational leaders. Moreover, they admitted reality with data in hand. We preach data based decision making and here it is.

I think this data will temper MOOC mania for a while and serve higher education as a reasonable argument for caution if not resistance. But something bugs me about it. The main finding was that students need to persist to succeed. In effect students the best predictor of success was the number of assignments handed in. Its actually a lecture my wife who teaches in a community college gives her students often: Not handing assignments is the surest way to fail. The problem is therefore first and foremost a problem of motivation.

Here lies the problem of all MOOCs be it x or c (more on x and c MOOCs here). Persistence is key, but persistence is driven by self efficacy the feeling that you are capable of performing a task which is usually derived based on past success. When the students you use a MOOC with have had little success they have little self efficacy, therefore they do not persist, drop out or just stop handing assignments. This theoretical view is well supported by the SJSU MOOC effort. In effect to break this cycle of low success and self efficacy we need to rewire students by making sure they succeed and interpret their success (attribute) based on their effort and persistence. This can be accomplished most easily with instructors who are sensitive to their students needs provide the right encouragement and the right feedback. To quote Taylor Mali in What Teachers Make:

                          You want to know what I make?

                          I make kids work harder than they ever                               thought they could.
                          I can make a C+ feel like a Congressional                           Medal of Honor
                          and an A-­‐ feel like a slap in the face.
                          How dare you waste my time
                          with anything less than your very best.

So why am I ambivalent? Because if persistence is the most important component in success; where is Udacity's persistence in producing a quality learning experience? 

Friday, November 29, 2013

A Thanksgiving post on Complexity

Sometimes I need to remind myself that technology integration does not mean just using a movie or a device as a replacement. It does not mean just using a document camera or power point. In the same way I need to remind myself that arts integration is not about coloring the right shades inside the lines or making your basic five finger turkey outline.

What integration is, is a thoughtful, well planned exploration of the ways an integrated process and product represent a more complex (sometimes efficient) way to teach to the standards that all of our children need- creativity, collaboration, and a complex understanding of the world around them.

Complexity this time of year is the ability to celebrate Thanksgiving while recognizing that for Native Americans it is not a day of joy. Just like I can celebrate Israel's independence day while recognizing the Palestinian Naqba is valid.

Personally I want to give thanks to all the teachers past present and future who work everyday to make education meaningful! Keep up the good complex work!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Standards and Integration

Last week I participated in the first phase of Reading/ Language Arts standards writing organized by the Nebraska department of education organized by the very capable Tricia Parker-Siemers. Our charge was to consult with existing standards and rewrite them with an eye to the changes in our understanding of literacy. The changes we suggested (the process is long and we were merely the first stop) focused on the significant changes to the ways we understand literacy, primarily because of technology. We crafted the new standards to have an expanded notion of what counts as a text and aspects unique to online reading and writing. For example in Reading Fluency we added the notion of persistence and focus in online reading. This integrated approach seems o make sense at this point in time as a signal to teachers that they cannot separate technology integration from everyday classroom practice. The idea of "computers specials" once a week cannot help our students meet the standards necessary for them to be ready for college and work.

That being said I am also keenly aware that changing of standards is rarely correlated with a change in the ways teachers teach and even less with student achievement. So what is the hope? Why did I take two days out of my professional life to spend trying to re-craft a set of standards that may matter very little?

I believe that we can send a message and provide support for teachers that are working in the right direction. In the work on Tech EDGE Laurie and I have often invoked the multiple literacy standards as a way to justify and base our work with teachers across the state.

The danger of the integrated standards is that they can disappear into the background. When the standards were all together they had a "presence" that cannot be denied. I worry that when they are part of wider constructs (e.g. comprehension) they might only get a nominal mention and much would happen. On a second thought this is already happening in many classrooms anyway...

What I really hope is that the Nebraska State assessment will use these new standards to make better items and test environment that includes multiple literacies in wise and creative ways. Yes, I used state assessment, creative and wise in the same sentence; a man can dream, can't he?
If they follow in the footsteps of the work Don Leu and his colleagues have done we may have some interesting things in our future.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Five Wrong Paths Down Technology Integration Road

I believe we stand at the dawn of a great change in education. Technology is forcing schools to change as it does society at large. The direction of change, however, is not always clear and looking around I see plenty of examples for paths we should not be taking.

1. Buy Devices- This is an if you build it they will come argument. True new devices will push some teachers to try them out. But, it usually starts and ends with a massive investment in equipment followed by very little professional development and opportunities to experiment. Devices are great but they are just tools, teachers and students need to be shown how to use them well.

2. Teacher Devices Only- For financial and other reasons some schools see teacher devices and professional development as the end game. They champion a laptop/iPad/smartboard in for every teacher or in every classroom. These are inherently teaching devices and will increase student achievement marginally if at all- the real gains and 21st century learning will be achieved only if we put instruments in students hands.

3. Lets wait until they master basic skills- This is an old argument that has been used in many ways to stand in the way of making sure that all students learn high level thinking. In technology integration it usually means that students who have lower achievement are robbed of opportunities to explore other modalities and ideas. In this we may be limiting the futures of our most needy students. Just last week I heard a teacher say that her third graders were going to do research without computers because they have not learned how yet! It is our job to teach them and administrators jobs to make sure there is space for that.

4. The disabled device- Most teachers I meet have device/s from their district that they cannot update, download to or in one case even change the background on. In that way iPads go for a year before they are updated (making some apps useless) and prevent teacher from downloading great (mostly free) apps.  In some ways it is a curious argument. We trust teachers with the lives and well being of 20 seven-year olds but do not believe they are responsible enough to use their computer/iPad wisely. The same goes for student use. While I do not advocate allowing students full access to every device, if you do provide individual devices you must open it up, as recent examples from LAUSD show.

5. The canned curriculum- At the heart of 21st century learning is user choice motivation and creativity. In some districts, however, technology is leveraging curriculum company software to deliver a "one size fits all" curriculum. Paradoxically what started as an opportunity for teacher leadership and professional decision making is turning into a regimen of assessments, activities and monitoring that limits teacher decision making. If the curriculum companies with districts created a dashboard driven structure in which teachers can create their own sequence to a core curricular path, that would be great, but that is not what is going on on the ground. This is perhaps the most dangerous road to take as it may very well help de-professionalize the teaching profession further.

At the heart of my argument is that technology is opening new paths to leaning, adding a diversity of possible paths. Let's not use it to close down options. And if we choose to go down the road (I do not think we have a real option about that) we need to make sure that it is used by students and supported by top notch PD that helps teachers experiment and learn not follow a predetermined path.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

iPad Focus

I admit it. I have been waffling. I have been championing iPad use but have actually been using a combination of iPhone iPad and laptop. Two weeks ago I met with a potential honor student and her parents. The conversation predicitably came around to iPads. The dad asked me if I thought the iPads were the roght devices for a college students, and I answered that a mixture of devices is what I use and what I can honestly recommend at this juncture. I know that devices matter and i love my ipad but I do not want to lead people to believe that just an iPad would work out. Some application clearly do not.

Then, Last week in out iPad user group meeting Dave Brooks asserted- iPads are still primarily a consumption device. I thought about it, and I still disagree, true, I consume a lot of media on my iPad, from reading news stories to netflix. At the same time I also create video, particpate in online discussions, write in google docs and take notes. The iPad is also my primary machine for email and calendar. 
So where is all of this going? I am doing my own ipad experiment. Any thing I need to do digitally I will start with on the iPad and switch only if it does not work well on the IPad. I will make daily notes about use and see how I manage and how much I need other devices (read laptop).

This blog post was writtem on the blogger iPad app.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

My Chinese iPad Adventure

Ji Guo is a new graduate student in our program. With his help I have been able to expand our work on professional development in technology integration to China.

The first foray was adopting our YouTube videos so they can be accessible in China's YouKu. We went even further and developed a separate series of video PD on iPads designed specifically for the Chinese market.

This monday we tried something new. An online presentation for Chinese teachers who are interested in integrating iPads into their classrooms. It took us a full day to prepare and make sure the technology and content were all up to par. We had a great crowd of about 50-60 computers linked (we estimate 100 viewers) through Adobe Connect. This was a great experiment in producing a cross cultural professional development. I think that the team including Ji and Qizhen is very aware of the cultural differences and we all took special care to make the content relevant and helpful as well as culturally sensitive. The viewers were attentive, interactive and fun to work with!

As a reality check I would like to talk about 3 unexpected outcomes that can serve as a guide to working with China.
1. Less than 48 hrs after we made our powerpoint available someone was using it as their ow selling PD.
2. Our book on the Universal Learning Model is available in China in digital format illegally
3. Someone has charged $50 for the password to our presentation (that we served for free).
I find the experience educational and amusing. In some ways it is flattering.

I take a few things from it- We can have a real impact in China- there is obviously a thirst for innovation. The added value in the market cannot be a product it has to be the service- us. Finally that there is considerable monetary value to our and if anyone is profiting it might as well be us.

Here's to continuing my Chinese adventures...

Friday, November 1, 2013

The NEA Foundation and Talking Ginger- Moving National Meetings to the 21st Century

My son, now seven, had a wonderful time with the Talking Ginger app last year. The app allows him to talk at Ginger the cat and Ginger repeats his phrase with a distorted high pitched voice. It also creates short movies based on actions and phrases created by the user. A few weeks ago I took a look at my YouTube channel and was surprised to find that he had uploaded about 50 videos he created to YouTube. To my chagrin his videos had more hits than mine, but I digress.

Last week I spent two days with the NEA Foundation in DC. The convening had exceptional organization, great speakers and quality content. It was also decidedly a 20th century affair. We had paper books, paper feedback sheets, paper poster boards, our tasks and responses and reports were also text and paper heavy.

There we sat creatures of the 20th century discussing 21st century education innovation in 20th century ways. Nobody created a movie a prezi or a piece of art, music or a storybird. We discussed globalization without global connections and just one global speaker. We discussed curriculum without open source ideas. We discussed ways we use technology on paper and reported orally- not a single image, collaborative product (say or a link was shared. Groups that complained about culturally insensitive curriculum didn't share any alternative- none have realized that with the advent of the Internet and online mostly free resources there was no reason to keep sticking with curriculum companies. The 21st century gave us ways to stop complaining and start acting.

Do not misunderstand ,we all had devices, iPads, iPhones and other smart devices. It was clear that as individuals we have entered the 21st century. But as a group we collectively act in 20th century ways. As a group we are not digital immigrants- we are still on the boat dreaming of the old country pretending we are still there. How can we lead change for students that have already uploaded 50 youtube videos of Talking Ginger?

Five suggestions for a meeting:
1. Have each grantee create a short 2-3 minute video describing what they do. Suggest some styles but let creativity reign. It could be a narrated prezi or ppt or a flash documentary
2. Have a Twitter back channel and share it on a video crawl
3. Have group products created digitally
4. Make the digital curriculum choices especially Open Educational Resources (OER) a major point of discussion
5. When discussing globalization connect globally in real time into group discussions
plus a simple one:
6. All materials should be available in apps/ live websites and paper should be shared only with those who request it (greener too!)

I could go on for quite a while...

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Teacher Change and Technology Integration

Too many ideas are running through my head this morning I will try however to stay coherent.
This week we had a visiting group of teacher educators from India. The always energetic Del Harnisch  invited and hosted the group. I met with the four teacher educators to share the work we have done on technology integration and used a new set of results that you can view here. One of the major questions that followed was the one I get the most. How do you help change the way practicing teachers (who work with our preservice teachers)? 
The answer is incredibly unsatisfying: multiple exposures, with small groups at a time, and with attention to differentiated needs. For example we have been working with one Elementary school on iPad integration. As we planned our sessions we asked to work with 1-2 grade levels at a time making sure that the staff to teacher ration was low. This ensures that even the most frustrated member of the group gets the attention they need. We all preach differentiated instruction to students attentive to their needs but forget the same principles when we work with adults. The results of multiple visits and individual attention are undeniable. Just yesterday one of the teachers told me that the iPad provided a breakthrough with an autistic student. The student refuses to engage in school. Being a thoughtful educator she kept looking for ideas, after our training she used Educreations to create a math lesson. The student watched the lesson and then recorded his own understanding to demonstrate mastery. It is a small step, or is it? One student and one teacher found a meaningful way to use technology, this for me is the only way to move forward, until the critical mass of teachers using technology will simply overwhelm the tendency to replicate past practices.
Little Priest Tribal College
Monday and Tuesday Laurie and I traveled to Little Priest College to teach a class on iPad integration to  preservice educators in the Indigenous Roots program. The story was the same seven teachers were at different levels of comfort with technology but at the end of the three days they all created educational materials for use in their classroom. I cannot wait to see what they use next. 

I know we want a revolution but, change will most likely happen after multiple exposures with small groups with attention to differentiated needs.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The End of Textbooks as I knew Them and 5 Reasons it is Democratic

It seems that I got to the end of textbooks in my classes. This week I had an email from my contact at the book store. "What are your book orders for next semester". I almost sent an email saying, keep it as it is (that is no textbooks). But then I stopped myself. I wanted to hear what my students have to say. As I have said before my students and I have worked through half a no-textbook semester so far. The reaction was mixed and we have set a better infrastructure for making it work. So I went back to my class and asked. I felt I could ask and get honest answers because the answer has no direct impact on my current students AND I think we have developed an open rapport. When I pose a question like this we usually go around the room with each student weighing in. This time they all just said almost in a chorus- digital resources rule. The tone was a "you've got to be kiddin me" tone.

As an instructor this is plainly the better (though more labor intensive) approach. I choose my own materials, can present divergent point of views AND I must take the lead in presenting the underlying structure and way of thinking that connects everything. In a way this is the opposite of teacher proofing. Textbooks are easy in a deceptive way because they take away our need to unpack what it is we are trying to teach. So out they go.

At this point for full disclosure I would like to add that my students are asked to buy a few books, practical guides that have usable materials (Teacher trade books), but no textbooks. That is I am not anti-books, just pro making good instructional choices. And this is first and foremost an instructional choice with side benefits.

I also think that most of the current models for textbooks are obsolete and most of the companies simply do not get IT. The change is not just in format or even in the media included. There has been a shift in the way we consume all media. I am not sure I would like to see textbooks in the future, but if we do, it would probably have to follow a model like Netflix more than the traditional bookstore or even iBooks.

I am also wondering how this choice is linked to democratic education. I don't want to push it too far but here are a few ideas:

1. No textbooks make my classes effectively cheaper, thus more accessible. More likely I am simply releasing students with less debt. It is my small contribution to decreasing the cost of higher education. It is about $100 for each class (if you take into account that students sell their books back, more if they keep it). If we all did it, it would represent a savings of about $4000 to an undergraduate in our program.

2. A significant portion of the materials I use were developed as part of federal and state efforts. Such these efforts belong to all of us. Reading Rockets, and the Education Northwest are two great examples.

3. Using digital resources allows me to present divergent view and critiques that are presented with the same passion and expertise. This will force students to weigh the evidence and make up their own mind as budding professionals.

4. Most textbooks are currently rented for a period (especially if consumed digitally), or resold. The cost of textbooks forced most students to have only temporary ownership of the material. This creates two classes of students, those who will have access to quality materials (could afford to keep the books) and those that don't (had to resell). Since the resources are digital students can save them for future use.

5. It is more environmentally sound- less dead trees.

Since I am thinking about democratic education

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Benefits of Gaming

This week I have been thinking of the befits of gaming. It started as Jason initiated a conversation about MinecraftEDU. This was combined with an interest from Ji one of my graduate students. Minecraft is a veteran game that still engages millions around the world. The EDU version allows educators to create a self contained and "safe" environment for students to explore.

As it happened I also presented at NETA fall conference this Thursday and happened to see the tail end of Jason Schmidt's presentation on MinecraftEDU. We had lukewarm coffee right after my presentation and chatted about opportunities to not just do but also research. I am excited.

As Ji and I brainstormed the benefits of using Minecraft we came up with four areas that we think would matter greatly to our students growing up in the 21st century.

1. Collaboration- to be successful students must learn to work together toward common goals, coordinate and learn to create a code of conduct. We also expect distributed practice and cognition. These are key skills and Jason suggested that he has already seen it at work.
2. Problem solving- since mine craft is a Lego like world with it's own rules any task requires some creative problem solving to reach goals (both ones you set for yourself and one set from the outside).
3. Engagement- we expect that incorporating Minecraft will improve attitudes toward school and engagement in school activities.
4. Creativity- The open ended nature of the world and the tasks can naturally lead to creative thinking and solutions.
5. Language- we expect that students will develop a community of practice that will distinguish itself using specific jargon and develop efficient ways to communicate.
By Megx see here
6. Democracy and control- Minecraft rests most of the control in the hands of students teaching them about decision making and creating opportunities for learning social skills and tolerance.

Our biggest challenge:
How do we measure impact?

We are currently collecting literature on these issues BUT we are thinking of designing individual and group tasks using Lego and
Keva Planks. More to come...
Comments and ideas welcome!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

An Odd Post about Democratic Education

This is an odd post because Democratic education is not a topic I usually address in my blog. Well, at least not directly and intentionally. I have some of my best ideas emerge during the summer. Summer for me is a time of concentrated teaching. I spend full days teaching, and something about that focus on two teaching projects at once seems to focus my mind and generate surprising new directions. Two years ago it was the time Tech EDGE idea was born.

This summer I woke up one morning and thought: I wonder what a democratic teacher education would look like? I posed the question throughout that day and found that it resonated with two graduate students. Now, I am quite center that the same two students are probably the reason I asked myself the question in the first place. Our conversations during the intensive weeks in class help direct my thinking and allow me to wonder.

Fast forward 3 months and we now have a troika exploring democratic teacher education embedded within a  teacher education program that focuses on pedagogical content knowledge. So my task here (homework assigned by graduate students really) is to try and explore in writing what Democratic education means to me.

On that morning I first consciously thought about democratic education I walked around and asked anyone I can. What would it even look like? I found the idea tantalizing but far from fully formed. To me democratic education has three main features: participation, tolerance, and process. This view has emerged after some discussions and additional thinking I've been doing. It is not an attempt at an objective definition it is what it means to me.

It starts with participation. Show up, use your voice, work with others. Democracy for me is about using your voice on topics you know and care about. It is not part of an agenda define by others but instead guided but a set of principles you work out for yourself overtime. It starts with showing up, if you do not show up nothing else will happen, tacit voting does not replace engagement. Using your voice is a balancing act. I know people who use their voice because they have it and frankly like to use it more than they actually like thinking through issues. For me the heart of using your voice is actually about understanding the problem first, the complexities involved the risks and opportunities. Finally its the ability to work with others, more precisely others who may not agree with you about everything. I HATE debate, the way it plays out in American schools and congress, it is not an effort to reach compromise or listen. Instead it a battle with points winners and losers, teaching that it is all about who comes on top and not what we can accomplish together, but I digress.

Tolerance has to be a key principle in any democratic endeavor. When defining what democratic processes are, there must be ways to protect divergent views from being squashed by fear of social or grade pressures. This has always been a struggle for me. How to get an honest discussion in class when I am the all powerful instructor (read: grade giver), professional authority (education and experience). I also have a strong voice and am a male teaching mostly female students in a genderized (my dictionary says it is not a word, is it not?) profession. The completely unsatisfactory solution (like democracy itself?) is on creating a community in the classroom. Creating familiarity that can increase students' level of comfort (and mine) to reduce the power relationship so central to higher education.

Process for me is the how. This is probably where most of my work must be. How to create procedures and actions that will create a more democratic milieu. The paradox of course is that I cannot fully define such process, because if I do it becomes inherently undemocratic.

This is it for now, welcoming all democratic ideas...

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Six Lessons about Textbook Digital Alternatives- from Students Perspective

I've been working without a textbook this semester and discovered that my students do not read/ consume the media I included. My students are preservice teachers and I teach them teaching methods for reading and writing- a key area.

I decided to take Tricia's idea (more about that in a future post) and open the topic for discussion with my students. We set up a circle around the room and established rules for discussion: open, respectful to all, no grade repercussions, everyone has to contribute. I actually found it hard to phrase my concern about media consumption and what I wanted out of the discussion so I used a sort of a think aloud
sharing my goals and hopes for the no books approach but also reminding them that this innovation and it simply might not be optimal practice.

My students reaction was interesting. They made a few points:
1. They really prefer the digital resources. They all said that the variety of resources and the practical application examples are extremely helpful. I include high quality websites (e.g., reading rockets) and articles from practitioner journals (e.g. The Reading Teacher).

2. They like classroom example videos the most. This was one of the main reasons I wanted digital resources the peeks at models different than their cooperating teachers can open up new ideas and break the first axiom of pre service teachers that states: When there is a dissonance between method classes and student field experiences the impact of method instructors is positively correlated with pre-service teacher achievement. Classroom videos help bring more evidence to the alternatives I am trying to bring to their attention.

3. They would like more chances to discuss and organize the information in class. The set of materials do not connect like a well organized textbook. Frankly they are not used to making these connections especially when different sources use somewhat different vocabulary. I believe that it is an important skill to learn as a professional but it requires some practice.

4. Sometimes they just "forget", or prioritize differently but that is true of traditional materials as well. We always knew they weren't always reading but with digital resources I have evidence. I do not want to turn the evidence into grading though- mostly because it can be easily "gamed" by opening files without actually engaging students.

5. Some often print out shorter pieces so they can comment. Students have obviously not used digital commenting options for consuming different media. This is something that they need to learn (and we must teach) since they will most likely have to teach this skill to their own students!

6. Some find long written pieces (in PDF) hard to follow digitally. (goes back to point 5).

Together we came to some ways we can improve learning using these resources.
       I go over the assigned media in the class session before it is due. I briefly explain emphases and what I expect them to gain and provide some key vocabulary. This has been hard to remember but since then I have done it in 2 out of 3 meetings.
       We established a discussion board for questions about the reading to be posted before beginning of class. Students can either post their own questions or vote to support others questions. I have used this method extensively in my summer classes that I flipped to create "just in time" teaching.  I spend 10-15 minutes at the front end of class responding to questions that emerged from media consumption (for example- "the video showed how to do think alouds with fifth graders, how can you do it in first grade?"). The questions that I do not have time to respond to in class will be answered online through direct responses to posts (potentially too labor intensive) or a short video summarizing ideas.
      I will also try to avoid very long pieces (text or video) and establish a way for my students to evaluate the content and their satisfaction with it (still working on that one). The last piece is helping students find ways to comment on digital resources electronically maybe through a student user group...

Still work to be done.


Monday, September 16, 2013

Textbooks Alternatives and Despair

In my search fo better ways to teach I have challenged myself to teach this semester without textbooks. In my four classes I use no textbooks (although I do use two content books). Instead I use a series of freely available resources from professional organizations, libraries, YouTube etc. The idea was to tailor learning to students of the 21st century adapting to their media consumption behaviors. At the same time since all of my students aim to become elementary teachers this serve as a demonstration of a possible future in which education can choose a digital option that is not tied to one of the large curriculum companies.

As such I also imagined my role in the classroom changing from the authority on content to being the person who connects all the pieces to a meaningful schema.

A month in I have some neat mixed media in folders on LMS, I am happy enough with the resources. This is where despair kicks in. I spent a lot of time planning resources and approaches- putting items I think are really exceptional BUT when I try to get discussion going in my class I am met with blank stares. A quick check of student activity online shows that they are not consistently accessing the materials. Heck even materials students create for themselves and others as part of the learning are not really accessed...

This is where despair creeps in. The empty stares and quiz results tell me they are not consuming the media, that they do not know core ideas beyond what was discussed in class.

When I try and analyze why I have a few ideas. The first is that this is a new practice and students have been conditioned to consider online resources as somehow "lesser" or supplementary. Without a textbook class becomes the main event and without students being well versed it serves more like a lecture since they have no clue what I am talking about.
The second is that this is actually like textbooks that students often skip reading. While less dramatic this option is exactly one of the things I am trying to fight against.
The last options is that the materials lack a coherent structure and thus students are lost as they try to engage and they give up.

As I try these new ideas I am modeling to my students how one grapples with innovation and less than stellar outcomes so despair is not really a constructive option. Instead I will start an open discussion in class addressing my students as learners and teachers and hear what they think and suggest. I usually have an open conversation at the end of class when we know each other well, and I get some pretty honest feedback I use to redirect my class. This time it may worth trying to do so earlier, although I am facing the danger of collective negativity, that is the ability of one or two negative (but strong) personalities to influence events.

So, this thursday I will set chairs in a circle and be honest with my students hoping that they can learn from my mistakes... Deep breath.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Bridge, Layering Information and Redefining Literacy

The Bridge is a new FX TV show that I picked up on demand recently. The topic of a thriller around the border crossing between the US and Mexico seemed like an intriguing opportunity to examine how pop culture is viewing the issues.

While I found the series thoroughly enjoyable I was even more intrigued by their effort to integrate media. The website for the show includes everything in both English and Spanish just like the show itself alternates between English and Spanish as appropriate for a scene.

In addition the series created a free iBook that provides additional textual and photographic layer. I think that this aspect of the show is very interesting for educators trying to create content that is interesting, integrated, and meaningful. The way I think about it is purposeful layering of information in different information without guiding the conclusion. For example the series shows many facets of immigration and the people who are impacted by it but it does not come at it from an obvious pro or con stance. The book just thickens that layer and allows those who are interested to explore further.

In a way the show is a good example to how popular culture and the entertainment industry are seeing as the next step and I see as a redefining of literacy. Literacy is no longer primarily reading and wring on paper but instead a multimedia weave of forms and content- including visual, audio, video, word, and social. It is as interactive and social as we'd like to make it. The layering allows each person to choose an entry point and explore in different directions.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Games and learning- evidence

I am attaching empirical results about the impact of games on learning. This is where empirical evidence trumps "common sense" it is not motivation. Instead it is combining traditional and game based instruction, group work and multiple sessions. A good preview to Jim Gee's visit to UNL on Aug 20th and his talk on Gaming in Education.

A meta-analysis of the cognitive and motivational effects of serious games.
By Wouters, Pieter; van Nimwegen, Christof; van Oostendorp, Herre; van der Spek, Erik D.
Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol 105(2), May 2013, 249-265.
It is assumed that serious games influences learning in 2 ways, by changing cognitive processes and by affecting motivation. However, until now research has shown little evidence for these assumptions. We used meta-analytic techniques to investigate whether serious games are more effective in terms of learning and more motivating than conventional instruction methods (learning: k = 77, N 5,547; motivation: k = 31, N 2,216). Consistent with our hypotheses, serious games were found to be more effective in terms of learning (d= 0.29, p < .01) and retention (d = 0.36, p < .01), but they were not more motivating (d = 0.26, p > .05) than conventional instruction methods. Additional moderator analyses on the learning effects revealed that learners in serious games learned more, relative to those taught with conventional instruction methods, when the game was supplemented with other instruction methods, when multiple training sessions were involved, and when players worked in groups. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2013 APA, all rights reserved)

Saturday, July 20, 2013

iPads in the classroom workshop

I have just finished an intense week working with educators on iPad integration into the classroom at UNL. We had participants from across the k-16 spectrum and with very different levels of experience. From first time users who unboxed their first iPads the morning of the workshop to a teacher that has already implemented iPads in her classroom effectively.

The approach was developmental and each of our learner-participants (students just sounds wrong) set their own personal goal. They all made it. Outcomes included creating iBooks on grammar, a blog on apps for teachers in the school, books that taught basic words in native languages and many many more. As everyone presented on Friday I could not stop smiling and thinking about this amazing group of learners and their willingness to step with us outside their comfort and embrace twitter, apps, and a new role for the teacher. We aimed straight for the creation and critical thinking (Blooms taxonomy) knowing that the rest was something we could all do.
One of our participants reflected on her blog: "My mind is reeling with ideas now. It is an exciting time for me as I feel we are on the cutting edge rather than just catching up with a movement."
I also like the idea of a flipped classroom.  It was nice that Jason was honest about the startup time and possible frustrations that we may run into while trying to implement this process.

The biggest lesson was mine. Yes, all teachers can learn to CREATE in a short amount of time and all of them created video, screen casts, and other media products. Yes, iPads seem to make sense for everyone in education in different ways although it is by no way a magic bullet. And, Yes, it was very stressful but also lots of fun. Looking forward to next year and using some of this year's participants as coaches. 
Now I am ready for a break...

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Netflix Binges and Education

I have recently joined the Netflix throngs. As its use spread throughout our devices  I observed my kids and I binging on a specific show. 
I started thinking about the value of "binging" in education. As a matter of fact I just finished teaching two summer classes that effectively were a binge phenomena. My perception that on some topics, especially ones that have a high level of novelty and cognitive load a concentrated effort like this is useful. 
The question I am left pondering is whether this can work in schools. The Accelere program in Omaha is one such approach helping high school students get credits in short bursts.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Back at the Reading Center- iPads and pre service teachers

 I come back to Reading Center every summer with anticipation. It is a great place to try out new ideas and examine change in teachers and students over short periods of time. During the last few years integrating technology especially tablets (well really iPads) has been a focal point. Two years ago we experimented with iPads for instructors, coaches, and teachers working with struggling readers. The following summer we purchased a classroom set and integrated technology into every aspect of the course.

This summer technology, when it is useful, is ubiquitous- which ultimately is our goal. During the first day about a third of my students showed up with their own tablets. By mid course it was over a half. As students saw that tablet use is encouraged, almost required, they brought devices they already had. The rest are still using our class set.

I am not a big fan of a random BYOD. It creates more problems than solutions. As a program we moved into defining a requirement that will create enough uniformity allowing faculty and students to find a common path. At the same time I am finding that students are eager to bring their devices and use them to support instruction.

I love hearing comments like: "this is much better when I use my phone" or this works better without using the iPads. It means that teachers (and future teachers) are developing the capacity to use technology and make professional judgements about utility and cost benefit.

The impact can be seen through comment by one of our teachers last week:

Alan lights up whenever I pull out the iPad and always wants to know where I found a certain app, or how I created a game. Alan even goes home and adds the free apps to his iPad at home. I have liked using just the basic Safari browser for Google Images. Alan has a hard time picturing words he's never heard of, so we look up pictures of him. This week I used iCardSort, Safari, Dragon Dictation, iDictionary, and Track and Change. (Names were changed)

Change now is multi level. Teachers are coming with more willingness and more access to devices. They see the connection to devices already in the schools, and finally we can add to their knowledge and flexible implementation of technology integration.