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...