Week 3-Learning Management Systems and “Edupreneurship”

Processing Questions from Lucy Gray Following EdSurge & Otus Presentations

1) What do you think of EdSurge?
Image: Lucy Gray

Beyond randomly finding an article or blog post with an EdSurge URL, I’m not that familiar with the site.  Since Mary Jo Madda’s webinar appearance I’ve spent some time browsing the site.  In general, I’d say it looks like a useful clearinghouse of information.  Their Product Index is an elegantly organized resource and provides a succinct breakdown of each product.  Actual user reviews make this particularly useful through both the Case Studies and Summit Reviews.  Providing teacher voice as a professional word of mouth — an educational Yelp, if you will — takes some of the  uncertainty out of purchasing or usage decisions  for unknown, untried products.  The one area that I’m skeptical about and will need to spend more time on is the Research section.  When Pearson and AT&T Aspire logos are so prominently displayed as funders, red flags go up and the page feels rather advertorial.  Still the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Nellie Mae Education Foundation are funders as well, if one reads the mouse print.

2) Did you learn about any new tools from Mary Jo? If so, which ones?

Most of Mary Jo’s talk seemed more general and was a confirmation or reiteration of much of the research I’ve read thus far in my studies at NLU.  Mainly that in many cases, technology isn’t changing the look and feel of classrooms.  As she put it, students are still sitting at desks in forward-facing rows looking at a teacher, work is not student centered, and tech is “sprinkled” into instruction as an add-on.  She added what the research bears out, namely that this is the case with even many tech savvy teachers.  That said, she did mention a few resource I would like to explore: Global Nomads, Everfy, Remind, and particularly the 50 States Project.

3) Any other takeaways from Mary Jo’s portion of the webinar?

The two takeaways, again, weren’t anything new, but confirmation, which is always affirming.  The first of these was her articulation of the three requirements schools must meet to qualify for particular grant funding:  Total and functioning wifi infrastructure, a 5-year plan to continue funding once the grant is depleted, and a 5-year professional learning plan.  The other was her description of how schools in Houston take on new tech initiatives.  They roll it out.  This is something I am constantly wrestling with teachers about.  When we start something new, we cannot start out at 100%.  And to expect that starting at 100% is not only unreasonable, but borderline abusive.  We have to ramp up and build capacity over time when trying new things.  So when implementing a new program or piece of software, begin with a small cohort of schools (or departments or teachers) to establish a learning curve.  This is just, well, reasonable.  As is:

  1. Letting the small cohort determine or at least negotiate what is a manageable set of standards for minimum use
  2. Determine a period of time for safe practice
  3. Assess how the work is progressing
  4. Identify and acknowledge early power users that play beyond that identified minimum use
  5. Make tweaks to refine the work for continued success within the context of the particular classroom/school/district
  6. Repeat the cycle with the refinements.  
  7. Then allow the learning from that process to be leveraged by the next cohort through some kind of mentorship or guided practice from more knowledgable others who learned it first.  

(That last one sounds downright Vygotsky-and-ZPD-esque.)  

Both these takeaways are just basic and essential sustainability practices.

4) What do you think of Chris Hull’s “teachpreneur” story?
Image: Lucy Gray

I have to acknowledge a bias at this point.  The advent of the digital age and the democratization of and explosion of creativity it has facilitated all through society is an incredibly good thing.  However, I am turned off by two notions that seem to have sprung up along with this creativity, particularly in our consumerist-capitalist society.  The first is that this explosion of creativity should be monetized where it can be.  The second is that once we have discovered our creative idea, we must leverage it to become entrepreneurs, essentially leaving behind the work we were doing that led to the creative discovery in the first place.  And we should not just be entrepreneurs; but entrepreneurial “disrupters” of the status quo.  Inasmuch as this pertains to education, ours is a profession that has been beset by snake oil salespeople for decades.  So my bias is that I am highly skeptical of yet another way to sell educators on new, tech-based products, most of which are usually marketed as “the last xyz product or platform you will ever need because it does everything educators need to do in one convenient package.”  To paraphrase Chris, I am wary of the “shiny-shiny” effect of new educational technology.

That said, Chris stands out as the rarer example in that he has, so far, stayed in the classroom even as he’s entreprenant.  This gives him a bit more credibility.  His product grows out of his experiences as a working teacher and is not some corporate or academic software designer making products he thinks teachers and students need.

I do wish the webinar had been more academic and less product demo.  I would have liked to explore pertinent ideas about teaching in the digital age. Perhaps wrestling with big questions like “Why are LMS’s necessary for teaching and learning in digital age classrooms?” or “What kinds of functions and information are most important when using an LMS?” and “How can that provided information be used to improve teaching and learning?”

5) Have you ever come up with an idea related to ed tech that you might like to develop?

No. I tend to work better along the lines of finding ways to extend the use of tools others have developed beyond their intended use or to use them in innovative ways.  It’s taken 7 years of independent consulting, but I’ve learned that I am not entrepreneurial or a “teacherpreneur”.  While there are elements of being my own boss I’ve enjoyed, I’ve found I work much better as part of a single school community, with all members working towards the same mission.  I don’t think I would want to “dilute” that work.  And as I stated above, I resist this whole notion of everyone having to be an entrepreneur.  I do not like how that moniker and type of activity have been elevated as some kind of ideal we all should be shooting for no matter our profession.  It feels as if you’re not really contributing if you’re not “disrupting” or being “entrepreneurial” and making money from it.  We still need individuals who are dedicated and focused on the science and craft of education (or insert-profession-here since entrepreneurship is now applicable to any profession).

6) Check out Otus. What do you like or not like about this platform?

Otus looks to be another tool that efficiently and effectively allows teachers to see all kinds of data about their students.  It also seems to allow for quick differentiation (once lessons and assessments are created/input) in terms of what lessons and assessments are assigned to what students.  Teachers can then spend more time talking, analyzing, evaluating, and thus making decisions about next steps regarding their own performance as well as their students’.  They don’t have to spend all their time searching for data and aggregating it.

While this kind of data can be useful, it is only one kind of evidence about how well teachers are teaching and how well students are learning.  It is only one type of snapshot in an album of evidence that tells the story of student learning and growth over time.  I would like to see the tool also store and pull up actual student artifacts as easily as it does data points.  Looking at student work — not just final grades or completed assessments — and having discussions about what that work reveals about teaching and learning provides far more detailed insights into student understanding, misunderstanding and confusion than looking at scores alone.  Scores show trends.  Work products show details and nuance about the state of student growth.  Being able to quickly select and aggregate said products as easily as scores and statistics would make this platform truly unique.

Since research bears out that what teachers use technology for most is communication, student management, and administrative work, I’m wondering how disruptive Otus really is.  Perhaps if there were more functions that facilitated teachers’ use of ICT instructional tools?  (And perhaps there are, I don’t know as I’ve only just learned about Otus two days ago.)  But then again, if you try to make any one tool all things to all people, it winds up doing nothing very well.  Perhaps it is sufficient that it appears simply to be a quality tool for teachers to do what they usually do with technology.

Week 1-Connectivism & ISTE Standards

Here’s to the start of the summer term and a new class, TIE 542 – Digital Tools for Teaching, Learning and Assessment!  While there is no formal requirement to keep a blog for the class, I’ve found the practice quite useful in clarifying and solidifying my thinking in previous classes.  So I will continue the practice and link back to it from the class discussion boards.  Here we go!

Technology Use in My School & District

As a consultant working with a handful of CPS high schools, I witness several different kinds of

Graphic credit: Clix

technology use at different levels. As a district, I believe CPS would like to be “technology forward”.  This can be seen in their adoption of Google Apps for Education and installing wireless networks in nearly all schools. But there are obstacles — some of which are out of their hands, such as limited monetary resources for hardware, software, and professional development. Then there are those that are self-inflicted — such as deactivating all GAFE sharing functions with anyone outside the cps.edu domain.

Yet there are disparities at the school level. Some schools, such as the magnets and the selective enrollment campuses, have far more technology on-site with more teachers more willing to use it. Neighborhood schools have far fewer resources.

Finally, I’d say the greatest incongruity lies at the teacher level, which is where the rubber meets the road no matter the school. At this level I’ve seen the SAMR gamut run from teachers who only use overhead projectors and confiscate students’ cellphones to those who use Google Docs for student collaboration to those who require students use multiple apps on their phones to participate in a plethora of class activities in a given period.  Still, I’d say that in the schools I visit, more students do not use technology in meaningful, relevant ways than do.  Sadly.

School or District’s Adoption of Technology Standards

For the past four years my work is mainly with administrators and instructional leadership teams so it’s difficult for me to say the extent to which CPS teachers hew to a set of standard specifically for technology.  However, I have heard teachers and ILT members talk about the technology strands embedded in the Common Core.  And strangely enough — especially given how we obsess over standards — when I ask the administrators and curriculum leaders with whom I work what technology standards teachers use to structure their curriculum, they look at me in puzzlement and ask me what I mean.

Update: After two days, one of my principals connected me to the school’s computer science teacher.  She in turn sent me the standards she uses in class — the ISTE Standards and the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) [Interim] CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards.  Still, I wonder why admin and curriculum leaders don’t know what standards are being used even if they don’t know them in detail.  I guess I’ve just experienced connectivism in a real world application!

Learning Theories

When I took LSE 500 this winter, I was re-acquainted with “the big 3”: behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructionism. It had been a long time since pondering these theories and I have to say, I missed them.  I remember my undergrad professors being amazed at how interested I was in these theories.  As one said to me, “Doug, this is the stuff most teaching candidates suffer through to get to the good stuff!”  But as a global thinker I was fascinated by the theory and still am.  As a practitioner, though, I also need to be pragmatic. So I use the elements of theory that work on the ground and let the rest be interesting abstractions for the pondering. Still, back in January, it was great to dive in again with so many more years of experience to see again why and how the practical works as it does. While I find behaviorist and cognitivist theory interesting, I am a constructivist in both my teaching of adolescents and adults. I find I respond far better to constructivist methods as a learner as well. 

For more, watch Carol Dweck on Teaching Channel

Connectivism

Siemens was an interesting read. I would agree that there are elements that make sense for the digital world in which we live.  Being able to work collaboratively, recognize and access networks to augment individual or group knowhow is a useful human, social analog to the digital/mobile/social media parallel.  Indeed, we do live in a time when knowing when and where to access information can be more important, more useful than having a panoply of content and skill sets stored in one’s brain.  In a sense, I can see connectivism as a container for the  4 C’s.  However, in suggesting that “knowing” in the digital age is a simple matter of accessing information, connectivism (or at least Siemens’s paper) sidesteps the role of understanding.  Knowing is not synonymous with accessing information which is how the term is being used — at least in this paper.   Possessing information does little good without some cognitive processing about what to do with it, which, whether done individually or with a group, still must occur within the individual on some level.  Perhaps this is what Siemens means when he talks about one’s ability to perceive connections?  

I would agree, too, that there are some kinds of knowledge that can be offloaded.  Knowing state capitals, for instance.  However, just because some knowledge or tasks can be offloaded does not mean they should be.  For instance, there are benefits to learning one’s multiplication tables or how to write in cursive that go beyond the mere tasks at hand.

Conclusion

In their paper, “Connectivism as a Digital Age Learning Theory”, Duke, Harper, and Johnston state, “If a person with limited core knowledge accesses Internet information beyond his or her ability to understand, then that knowledge is useless. In other words a structured study using the existing learning theories is required in order to acquire the core knowledge for a specific field.  While the theory presented by George Siemens and Stephen Downes is important and valid, it is a tool to be used in the learning process for instruction or curriculum rather than a standalone learning theory.”  This captures my thinking about connectivism, at least as I’m thinking about it now based on this week’s reading.  I look forward to learning more about it as the weeks go on.