Week 1- Responses to Intro/Ch.1 of Education 2.0 by Leonard Waks

While there is no requirement that we need to keep a blog for this course, I have gotten used to doing so in order to keep a record of my own learning.  Consequently, entries here may be sporadic.

The first week’s discussion prompt

“What do you think Dr. Waks’s purposes and intentions are in his book, Education 2.0? Are you sympathetic to those purposes? Do you have any skepticism about his approach or where you think he’ll be going in the book? Are you excited to read this book? Why or why not?”

To begin, the full title of this text is very alluring: Education 2.0: The Learningweb Revolution

Education 2.0 book cover.
Source: Amazon.com

and the Transformation of the School.  Even the graphic on the cover draws one in in unexpected ways.  Featuring a flat screen computer monitor with a mortar board perched on a top corner with a digital wire frame model of a hand extending from it.  At a quick glance it’s easy to interpret that model hand as grasping a human hand and drawing it in towards the monitor/the digital world.  But in fact, it’s extending a diploma, which even in its outward motion, still simultaneously draws one into the digital realm of the monitor as the method of attaining the credential.  It’s quite a subtle, yet powerful visual representation of the title, and likely the themes contained therein.


As someone who has “a thing” for theory in so far as it has practical applications, the fact that the very first person Dr. Waks acknowledges is John Dewey (along with several other philosophers and theoreticians) is a good sign in my book.  I learn best by starting with a global view and then scoping down to see how the big picture applies to the real world.  To start with these big picture thinkers is encouraging.  That said, it could also signal that the text will be mostly theory with little suggested action.   Looking at the table of contents, only the last chapter, “What Needs to Be Done?”, contains a verb in the chapter title.  This gives me some pause given the book title includes the word “transformation”.  So, I will predict that it is the readers who will have to do the lion’s share of developing the actions needed to bring about the changes implied or suggested in the text.  I find it interesting too that I’m reading the acknowledgements of a text with a Web 2.0 eye — as a kind of descriptive narrative of the author’s collaborative network.  Connected learning and the 4 C’s in analog form.


Insofar as Waks lays out his proposition “that the Internet and its new social tools have much to contribute to such new social models of learn and living,” I am sympathetic.  He rightly and succinctly sums up the extent to which schools have ineffectively employed computers for education and only as add-ons for furthering the industrial model of schooling.  Already by the bottom of page xi I’m considering all the ways I’ve been complicit while believing I was doing something cutting edge (at least as far as my technology use when I was teaching — which last was in 2006).

As a coach and consultant, however, I’ve been using Web 2.0 technologies for professional learning much more.  But after three classes in the LTE program I realize that even that work has not pushed the envelope sufficiently.  I’m finding a high degree of relevance when Waks writes,  “Researchers will conduct assessment studies pitting high-tech and no-tech instructional methods against one another in a horserace — with inconclusive results.  These responses inevitably miss what is most important about the new technologies — that they are already [emphasis added] facets of new ways of life with their own distinctive processes and ends” (p. xii).

One of the challenges I regularly face as a coach and consultant is getting both administrators and teachers to actually integrate ICT methods into their priorities and practices.  For the more resistant, they live in that “horserace”.  The difference is that to them the results are conclusive and no-tech or low-tech wins the race.  For many of the teachers I work with they either have no interest in digital learning or they believe they don’t have the time to become expert enough in it in order to teach with it.  Yet the refrain I keep singing is that the technology is already here and impacting all our lives.  Not just the lives of teens.  So why are we not using it to teach students who are completely connected the other 16 hours a day they are not in school?  Why are we not teaching them how to be responsible, thoughtful, creative users of that technology as well?  Consequently, I felt validated reading the above passage and am quite sympathetic to Waks’s message and mission.

Chapter One: Young People
Book cover for danah boyd’s It’s Complicated: The social lives of networked youth
Source: Yale University Press

My “leisure” reading this summer was dominated by danah boyd‘s It’s Complicated: The social lives of networked teens.  So I found chapter one, “Young People”, to be quite resonant.

“[T]eens are true adults whose development is artificially inhibited by constraining institutions, especially schools.  Freed from these constraints, teens are highly capable — in some ways more so than adults” (p. 6).  As a high school teacher who has taught mainly 9th graders throughout my career, I’m always amazed at exactly what teenagers can do when we adults set up just enough of a scaffold and then get the hell out of their way and watch.  I’m never completely prepared for their boundless creativity, flashes of profound insight and wisdom, and righteous yearning for justice.  With 5 decades+ on this earth, I know what horrors humans are capable of.  Yet I still shake my head in disbelief when I see or hear something terrible a person or group of people have done.  I’ve wondered if that is because I’ve never quite grown out of my own teen mindsets.  I wonder if that’s why I believe “teens are awesome, because (some of us at least) still have little bits of innocence from our childhood combined with maturity as we turn into adults” (p. 6).

Finally, Waks articulates something that I have long believed and could not fully formulate, which is Rawls’s “Aristotelian principle”.  It hurts my soul as a human being and makes me scream “Malpractice!” as an educator when I walk into a classroom and see students copying information from a textbook into a packet; then to see the teacher walk the room at the end of the period checking for completion of said packet and calling it learning.  This is so far below what humans need to thrive because “other things equal, human beings enjoy the exercise of their realized capacities (their innate or trained abilities), and this enjoyment increases the more the capacity is realized, or the greater its complexity” (p. 9).

Conclusion and Final Thoughts

With all of these experiences in my own practices, I am quite sympathetic to Waks’s intention and purposes.  From my learnings so far in the LTE program, I absolutely believe in his purposes, his mission.  I believe getting educators to incorporate the technologies that are relevant to the lives and experiences of 21st century children is a key to rejuvenating student interest and excitement about learning.  And it would certainly seem as if this is Waks’s project. If pushed to articulate where I’m skeptical, I would say it’s around the combination of what may be a significant amount of theory, combined with his stating that this is not about “fixing, reforming, or improving today’s schools, but at laying out a new blueprint for an educational transformation — a shift to a new paradigm for new kinds of educational organizations.”  I’m not skeptical about the need for such work.  I’m skeptical because it seems to call for a razing of very old, entrenched institutions and very deep-seated societal beliefs about those institutions.  And while I may be someone who can get on board with blowing it all up and starting from scratch, societies do not respond quickly to the kinds of paradigm shifts Waks is calling for.  What I sense from Dr. Waks so far — and I share — is a sense of  urgency to bring about this paradigm shift.  What I fear is that it might take generations to happen to the extent we need it to.  That said, I think it is no accident that chapter one as a whole is about young people (not “children”, by the way).  As such, it implicitly makes young people the foundation, the center, the reasons for the next 14 chapters to follow.  That not only excites me.  It makes me hopeful that if society can see and believe that this project is about young people and their future, as well as our collective future, then we might be able to make this paradigm shift sooner rather than later.

Waks, L. J. (2016). Education 2.0: The learningweb revolution and the transformation of the school. New York, NY: Routledge.

Dr. Leonard Waks talks about MOOCs


Link to Framing Questions

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 11-Teaching 21st Century Students

One of the key safety instructions we all hear every time we board an airplane is that in the event of cabin depressurization we must put our own oxygen mask on first before helping others.  This is vital since not matter how much we care about the family or friends sitting with us, we cannot help them if we ourselves are unconscious due to asphyxia.  When it comes to our societal need to transform our schools, we are very much in a similar situation as a depressurizing airplane.  As much as we say we want to focus on the needs of students, we will not see the transformations they need in our education system until teachers and administrators are moved to understand the need for change and prioritize the professional learning necessary to get us there.  So this week I focused on the ISTE Standards for Teachers 15 Characteristics of a 21st-Century Teacher, and The 21st Century Workplace which provide clear targets for teachers to consider when teaching the habits of mind, cognitive skills and collaborative abilities students will need in the world we’re preparing them to enter.

Verbs Are Calling For Transformation

Image source: ISTE Standards for Teachers

Consider the verbs of the 5 top level ISTE Standards for Teachers: facilitate, inspire, design, develop, model, promote, engage.  In addition to these top level verbs, it is striking that “model” appears nine times across all 5 standards and 20 sub-clusters.  When considered in combination with the other verbs inspire and facilitate, I’m struck by the heavy lift the ISTE standards are pointing towards.  They suggest that what we need is nothing short of a sea change in school cultures with regard to 21C technology and methodologies.  When so many schools outright ban cell phones and so many teachers don’t incorporate technology in meaningful ways, how are they to facilitate, model and inspire?

It’s All About Culture and Professional Learning

In research for a previous literature review I found that a critical component for implementing the necessary change ISTE calls for comes only with consistent, focused professional learning for teachers.  Not only that, but school culture also has a significant impact on the success or failure of information and communication technology (ICT) implementation, much of which is determined by the level of support projected by the principal.

School culture can positively impact ICT practices.  Positive peer pressure can motivate reluctant teachers to try new approaches with technology.  Studies have also found that teachers who see positive student outcomes as a direct result of ICT practices are more likely to continue and expand their ICT toolkit.

In a study of three schools where teachers adapted ICT in meaningful ways, all three schools had six characteristics in common:  1) They were well equipped for ICT.  2) Their focus was on changing the process of learning using ICT.  3) Skills were acquired as part of the process of using those skills purposefully.  4) The school provided support.  5) Teachers had opportunities to discuss, reflect and  troubleshoot with peers and facilitators over time.  6) The nature of student learning changed along with teachers’ beliefs and knowledge sets  (Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2010).

Therefore, the school community must recognize that the most effective professional development is that which facilitates teachers understanding about how specific instructional practices themselves support student learning of particular content.  That is, schools must allow teachers to see that technology-supported, student-centered practices impact student acquisition of knowledge  (Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2010).

Finally, even when teachers are willing to wrestle with their beliefs, identify what they truly value, use these realizations to motivate changes to their practice via meaningful PD, the role of the principal administrator cannot be underestimated…. The principal plays an outsized role in creating and maintaining at least four of Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich’s six conditions and is generally responsible for shepherding the wider culture of the school community.  Determining what professional learning is necessary among which teachers; establishing the systems for implementing the professional learning plan; creating calendars for structured and unstructured learning; countering programmed time with protected, unprogrammed time for reflection and metacognition about instruction – all these necessities flow from the principal’s office.  When the principal does these things in a way that sets high expectations and supports for ICT instruction, shifts can be made more readily if still not easily.  However, when the principal’s own beliefs, values, and motivations do not prioritize ICT methods, digitally infused learning environments are far less likely to take hold, even with willing and capable teachers.

Douglas van Dyke, “Transitions to Digitally Mediated Classrooms”


The Educator’s Need to Feel Expert

This dovetails with the what I’ve written about in previous blog posts about the anxiety teachers feel when they are thrust into areas where they do not feel expert.  Given the significant shift and stretch for which the ISTE standards are calling, we don’t seem likely to meet them without acknowledging both the fundamental changes in school culture that are necessary as well as high quality and consistent PD for teachers.  Additionally, educators must reconcile their reluctance to implement ICT methods in school with their own ICT use in the various aspects of their lives outside of school.

Blow This Stuff UP!

When we consider the 21st century world — that is the one we are living in today — and the workplace students will enter, especially as described by Daniel Pink, the need for a cultural and instructional transformation of our schools could not be more apparent.  The leap from an “Information Age” to a “Conceptual Age” cannot happen without students learning through active learning and metacognitive methods.   ICT and the 4C’s are uniquely suited for the attainment of the skills categories that will be most valued as described by Levy and Murnane: “expert thinking — solving new problems for which there are no routine answers” and “complex communication — persuading, explaining, and in other ways conveying a particular interpretation of information”.  To make such shifts, however, educators must blow up the linearity of the industrial model that defines our school structures and curriculum and the information model on which accountability is based in favor of more distributed, differentiated, student-centric proficiency-based approaches that digital and mobile technologies can now facilitate.

Concluding This Post & TIE 524

What ISTE is essentially calling for is SAMRizing and TPACKing our entire education system.  We must prioritize changes in school culture through consistent professional learning for teachers around ICT methodologies.  Administrators must lead the way, advocating and requiring ICT methods and solidifying the cultural shifts that come as a result.

Over the last eleven weeks, this course has provided a remarkable set of resources for incorporating ICT strategies for both  classroom instruction and professional learning.  In doing so it has facilitated multiple opportunities for reflection about my own practice, where we are as a profession, and how far we all have to go.  It has been an excellent next step on this master’s journey!

Week 7-Gamification

When it comes to game theory, I have had only a passing, skeptical interested.  But my recent studies have started me thinking about gamification from a different perspective.  So that is my selected adventure this week.

The quick Answer to One Framing Question

The week’s framing questions for the topic were provocative.  Do I think we need to gamify our classrooms to engage students?  This one I can answer quickly.  No.  There are many ways for creative teachers to draw students into learning without having to sexy it up with a video game interface.   That “no” is even firmer if it means that gaming is the only way we conduct instruction since no teacher can be successful with only one method or strategy in their toolbox.

Do I think gamificaion is bribery and the way students learn in the 21st century?  As a result of my course work last term and my readings and explorations this week, those answers are now more complex.  As I said, the idea of gamification has been, at best, at the edges of my professional interests.  When thinking about my own gaming experiences my gut tells me there is something there that I “get” as it applies to learning and I have trusted that academics have teased out all the theory for those teachers who want to traverse that route in their classrooms.   But this grown up, serious teacher never pursued deep research into game theory because I was fine with my practice as it was, thank you very much!  But last term was a watershed for me when it comes to thinking about the conditions that provide powerful learning experiences.  The course of study Dr. Angela Elkordy put together for Intro to the Learning Sciences required us to think deeply about our own learning in every conceivable context (documentation of which is posted on this blog under the NLU Class Journal Entries tab above).  Examining my own informal, collaborative, digital, self-directed, just-in-time, playful learning experiences caused me to realize the potency of learning in these other-than-formal contexts.  Those reflections have led me to re-evaluate some core beliefs about teaching and learning — for both students in the classroom and teachers in professional learning.  That re-evaluation has ramifications for my thinking about game theory.

Constructivism and Game Theory
My niece learning to code on her mom’s phone by playing Lightbot (and then teaching me!) Source: D. van Dyke

I’ve always believed that teachers needed to be more facilitators of exploration than dispensers of information.  I am a constructivist.  So my instruction — be it with children or adults — is designed accordingly.  My lessons are always written for the specific learning needs of the students in front of me.  Pacing is a dance with students’ zones of proximal development.  Formative assessment is central for two-way feedback, metacognition, and reflection for both students and myself that then determine my next planning steps.  With the growth of digital technology and mobile tech particularly, it makes sense to leverage these to push the boundaries of constructivism even farther.  Additionally, I see clear connections now between constructivist methods and the way games work for those who play them.

Any-time, just-in-time, exploratory learning all cement learning in long-term memory.   As a result of Dr. Elkordy’s strategies with us, I experienced first hand how learning new content through learning a new app permanently inks that neural tattoo on the brain.  Almost weekly I learned a new app of my choosing by exploring it, playing in it, and not from a formal training course or a user’s manual.  Then I applied my understanding of the app to demonstrate my understanding of the course content.  All of this was done informally, in my time, with just enough difficulty to challenge me.   Except now I don’t only understand the content.  By learning content through the use of a digital tool, I now understand so much more than just the content itself.  Not the least of which is that the learning I structure myself is highly enjoyable and more often than not elicits flow and the consolidation of understanding in long-term memory.  These are the learning conditions I want to create for my students and teachers.

A More Complicated Answer to the Other Framing Questions

As to the questions of gamifying education as bribery and being particularly suited to 21st century learners, I believe it is neither.  The way humans learn best is the way humans learn best whether they are of the 11th century or 21st century.  What is different about the 21st century is our knowledge of how the brain functions; the advent of technologies that allow us to align our pedagogy to our neurology, psychology, sociology; and the economic imperative that we change the way we do school.  In as much as game theory and educational psychology share underlying elements, I can accept gamification as a methodology.  Though does it always need to be so literal as turning the learning process into an actual game?  Especially since doing so requires an incredible investment of time and effort to convert a unit of study into a game that will create the conditions necessary for deep understanding to occur.  So I have generated a few key questions that could help guide decision-making when thoughts turn to gamification:

  • What are the concepts from game theory that are applicable to a given unit of instruction?  A given set of students?  Under what circumstances might it be useful to apply those concepts to improve teaching and learning?
  • When teachers decide to convert a unit into an actual game, what online platforms are available to facilitate the implementation and that can quickly and easily provide insights (evidence and data) about student learning?
  • When teachers want or have to make the game themselves, how can they create elegant games that don’t require disproportionate amounts of time to construct and relatively easily provide insights (evidence and data) about student learning?
How can we make certain gamifying efforts result in students learning the intended content and not just playing the game?
Video: Heck Awesome blog, Carrie Baughcum

Still, informal learning, unstructured learning, choice, and play are powerful contexts in which deep understanding can occur.  These modes are, as Willis calls them, “neuro-logical”.  It makes sense to create them when possible since they activate optimal learning pathways in the brain and foster new, strong synaptic connections.  Well-designed games create these conditions and leverage the same brain processes for learning.  Thus, including high-quality game-based instruction could be a powerful method for teaching and learning.

Gamifying Professional Learning

What was already a paucity of professional learning time in CPS has been completely eliminated this year as a partial “solution” to the budget travesty being visited upon CPS teachers and students.  As a result, I have started leveraging ICT options that are included with GAFE to continue our professional learning despite losing our PD calendar.  Via Groups and Sites, we continue the work asynchronously by holding discussions of professional readings, presenting aggregated learning walk evidence and sharing thoughts and insights about them.  We have already moved quite a bit of planning to remote, synchronous spacetime via Hangouts and Drive.  So the idea of gamifying professional learning is just an extension of this.  Taking PD into the realm of gaming would have the combined benefits of making PD more relevant by providing teachers with differentiation, choice, and timing.  I have also started researching adding digital badges to the work which I find terribly exciting!  On my goal list for next year:  implementing a badged, gamified professional learning series for the schools with which I work.

Digital badges for both student and teachers.  Video: HASTAC

Below are three game-based PD ideas I’m totally stealing from our readings this week:

Fired Up For February — Gamifying professional learning; Source: Unified School District of De Pere, WI


A Language Geek’s Rhetorical Finish

Even as I find myself being convinced of the benefits of game theory as instructional practice, there is still something that doesn’t sitting well when I hear phrases like “gamifying the classroom”.  If you’ll indulge the English teacher unpacking language here.  A game is a diversion or something trivial.  Something that can be taken less seriously.  Even in the multi-billion dollar world of professional sports, the expression, “It’s only a game.” is used to readjust perspectives when emotions are high.  Yet the very project at hand for education is de-trivializing digital instruction among reluctant educators.  So while I can see the underlying value and power of this way of “doing” teaching and learning, I wonder if framing it as “gamification” works against us.  I don’t have an answer as yet for what to call such a complex process.  Maybe a few rounds of Words With Friends will do the trick!

Week 5: Collaboration and Ed Tech Research 

I have held this image of Alejandro Zamora in my mind’s eye since reading this NY Times article in 2012. Credit Drew Kelly for The New York Times

Five years ago, I read an article in The New York Times, “Wasting Time is New Divide in Digital Era”.  It had such an impact on me professionally that I refer to it even today.  The more I reflect on it, the more I believe it was one of the catalysts that ultimately put me on the path to this master’s program.  It raised an important issue five years ago.  But reading it today it seems a bit of a broad brush.  The research paints a more detailed, nuanced picture of teens’ online activities.  Still, the article surfaces yet one more inequity faced by students from low-income communities and those of us who serve them.  It draws attention to two concerns I have as an educator:  How our most vulnerable students make use of information and communication technology (ICT) and the discrepancy between how many educators use ICT in their professional practice compared to their personal lives and how the latter impacts the former.  It is these interests that influenced my reading choices this week.

…And what a selection of readings they were.  The sources Nicole pointed us to are such an embarrassment of riches, I wish we had longer to pour over the research before having to blog about them.  Needless to say, this week has been a bookmarks a-go-go.  Eventually, though, I narrowed down my choices to:

The elements that stand out to me are the extent to which the dynamics described in the Times article still hold true today, five years on.  The other is the extent to which the differences persist between how teachers use ICT in their personal lives and in their classrooms.

One of the benefits of consulting is that I’ve experienced more ways of “doing school” than I ever could have imagined I would in my career.  And much of what these reports describe hew to what I have experienced first hand.  That is, not surprisingly, “[t]eachers of the lowest income students experience the impact of digital tools in the learning environment differently than teachers whose students are from more affluent households” (“How Teachers Are Using Technology…”).  Specifically, this means “low income students…[are] ‘behind the curve’ when it comes to effectively using digital tools in the learning process…, teachers of students living in low income households say their school’s use of internet filters has a major impact on their teaching…and…, teachers of lower income students say their school’s rules about classroom cell phone use by students have a major impact on their teaching” (“How Teachers Are Using Technology…”).  Meanwhile, teachers of students who come from higher socio-economic households do not face the same obstacles to teaching and learning.  In fact, respondents to the the “How Teachers Are Using Technology…” survey report they are likely to face the same conditions stated above only half as often as their counterparts in low-income districts.

What I find so frustrating here is what the conditions described in the survey indicate about adult mindsets and the policies that result from those mindsets.  Both mindsets and policies are grounded in negative assumptions about low-income students and positive assumptions about affluent students.  Namely, that poor (read also black and brown) students don’t know how to use their devices and online services responsibly; therefore they’re not allowed in class and access to the internet must be heavily firewalled.  For children of affluent schools, the converse is assumed.  They can be trusted to use their devices properly and not surf verboten sites, thus they are granted access.  The result is a self-perpetuating cycle that reinforces these inequities when it comes to digital learning.

The Common Sense report, “Connection and Control…”, debunks these negative assumptions about poor black and brown kids.  It is based on 11 case studies of African-American and Latino teens and their parents from households qualifying for free and reduced lunch.  The study complicates the often monolithic block into which all American “youth” are often lumped.  The authors note that mediating factors such as time spent with media, socio-economic differences, the types of devices and media available to low-income youth all influence how they use devices and media and thus the type of user a young person is.  Categories of users include “Light Users”, “Heavy Viewers”, “Gamers and Computer Users”, “Video Gamers only”, “Readers”, and “Social Networkers”.    The authors also nuance the often-cited nine hours average amount of screen time US teens accrue, noting differences by age, income, and race.  According to the study, “Tweens (8- to 12-year-olds) use an average of about six hours’ (5:55) worth of entertainment media daily. Teens from lower-income families spend more time with media than those from higher-income families (10:35 vs. 7:50 of total media use). African-American teens use an average of 11:10 worth of media a day compared with 8:51 among Latinos and 8:27 among whites.”

While the report provides a detailed analysis which offers useful insights into the different ways low-income teens and their families interact with their devices, media, and each other, one set of dynamics is particularly striking.  First, low-income youth, with more access to mobile devices than desk- or laptops, use their devices for what I will call positive “coping” or “survival” applications.  Children who live in high crime neighborhoods use social media to break the isolation imposed by their circumstances to maintain connections with family and friends who live at a distance from them.  They will also use their devices to create distance in close living quarters and when going outside is precluded by neighborhood violence.  As one student articulated a common finding, “[Using media is] fun and it’s definitely a way to keep calm and peaceful [emphasis added] when you don’t feel like doing anything else.”

When it comes to informal learning, teens use their devices and apps as problem-solving tools. In fact, problem-solving is a kind of use we would expect from a sophisticated, tech-literate, 21st century user.  For instance, students with long commutes to school will use transit apps to shorten their travel times.  Others will use YouTube as a sort of tutorial service for just-in-time learning according to their interests — personal grooming, learning new dance moves, and gaming hacks, to name a few.  And among Social Media users, platforms such as Instagram and SnapChat become spaces to try out new personas — a normal stage of development for tweens and teens (“Connection and Control…”).  This contradicts rather poignantly the characterization in the Times article of online behaviors as “time wasting” among low-income teens.

However, the second dynamic I was struck by is a significant difference between low-income teens and their middle- to upper-middle-class peers.  Low income students rarely use their devices to create digital content.  “On any given day, American teens spend 3% of their time on computers, tablets, and smartphones creating content” which the “Connection and Control…” report defines as “writing or creating digital art or music”.  However, low-income teens spend the majority of their time consuming media and online services compared to their wealthier peers.  And whereas middle- and upper-middle-class teens have resources to create digital content at home, when their low-income peers do have the opportunity, it is usually available at school or an after-school program where the devices and applications are accessible to them.

The study notes one exception, which I interpret as a function (and limitation) of the devices low-income students have the most access too.  Low-income teens do “show evidence of creative practices in the digital world, taking photos and altering them with different filters and stickers before putting them on Instagram or pulling images from the internet, often manipulating them, to create their lock and home screens” (“Connection and Control…”).  Here I feel I need to acknowledge a personal bias:  I generally find “mashup art” just shy of plagiarism.  Admittedly, my views on mashups are evolving as I come across more complex examples and recognize it as a kind of expression digital technology makes particularly easy to create and the internet makes very easy to distribute.  Still, I find it a low bar creatively.  Nevertheless, it’s clear that the ability to create content is strongly influenced by access to the tools of creation.  Household income and school budgets are key determiners of such access.

Given the length of this post so far covering only one of my two stated areas of interest, I’ve decided to spare readers some time.  I’ve created a short video compressing a few of my take-aways on teachers’ personal and professional use of ICT.  Enjoy!