Navigating Teacher Beliefs, Connected Learning, and Practice-Based Inquiry for Equitable ICT Integration (Part 3)

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Practice-Based Inquiry (PBI) is a school visit process that provides interested constituencies insight into how teaching and learning happen at a school.  PBI is based on the English tradition of school inspection, by which all UK schools receiving public funds are inspected every four years.  The principles of PBI were also the process by which the State of Rhode Island conducted the “state-wide, school accountability system designed to support the implementation of the Board of Regents’ strategic agenda” from 1997 until 2009 (SALT Blueprint).  The process came to Chicago for the first time in 1998 through the Chicago Schools Alliance at Business and Professional People for the Public Interest (BPI).   ACT Charter School requested PBI visits as a part of their charter renewals during its years of operation . Since that time, the Network for College Success (NCS) at the University of Chicago has become a PBI center, sponsoring visits as a way for its member CPS high schools to better understand learning and teaching at the school.  After a visit, NCS, rather than asserting control over the school, instead offers assistance (Wilson, 1996) towards its improvement plans based on the resulting PBI report.  (If you are familiar with PBI, jump to implications for connected learning and equity.)

The Protocol

Each 5-day PBI visit follows a rigorous protocol that lays out how the visit is conducted. Protocol guidelines determine:

  • The size and composition of the visit team
  • The conduct of team members while in the school
  • Focus questions that guide and limit the scope of the team’s inquiry
  • The nature of the evidence the team collects
  • The structure of the team’s written report
  • The process for how the report is written
  • Tests for each conclusion in the report
  • Tests of the report itself

Team Composition

Each team in purposefully composed for the school requesting the visit and requires a complex balancing of criteria.  The protocol sets requirements regarding the number of administrators, special education teachers, grade-level and subject area teachers.  Further, at least 50% of the team must be practicing teachers.  On top of these requirement, NCS seeks to balance teams in regard to gender and race to match that of the student population of the visited school. Finally, each team is composed of educators currently working in or with CPS schools. After each visit, that team is disbanded.  Thus, each visit is conducted with a completely new, unique team, thereby making it impossible to develop a “professionalized corps of inspectors”.   While assembling a team primarily from working, school-based educators arguably makes for the most daunting logistic of any visit, nearly all team members who experience a PBI visit report that it is one of, if not the most, powerful professional learning experiences they have had.

The Focus Questions

Three nested questions provide the focus for each visit: 1) How well do students at [school name] learn?  2) How well do teachers at [school name] teach for learning?  3) How well does the administration at [school name] support teaching and learning?  The nested structure of the questions with student learning at the center of the inquiry anticipates related conclusions in teaching and support.  While these questions seem generic, that is, in fact, what gives the visit process and resulting report their credibility.  Teams do not go into schools with rubrics and checklists.  In such a context, the use of such tools are far too random and subjective and thus suggest that if teams don’t find what is on the rubric or checklist that the school must not be “good” or “effective”.  Instead, team members observe the school through the frames of these questions and collect the evidence that provides answers, applying their professional judgement to that evidence to determine whether and how well students learn, teachers teach, and administrators support teaching and learning.

5 Days in the School

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Tom Wilson explains PBI.  Click to play.

Team members spend their first day (Monday) shadowing a student through their full schedule to get the students’ perspective and experience being a learner at the school.  Throughout the day team members observe their students’ learning in each class, talk with them as well as other students they encounter.  Everything they observe throughout the day must focus on evidence of student learning and to draw on their professional judgement to determine whether and what their student learned that day.  On the second day (Tuesday) team members fan out to observe every teacher in the building and collect evidence to answer how well teachers teach.  In addition to observations, team members converse with teachers during their preps or lunch periods to get the teachers’ perspectives about what it is like teaching at the school as well as their thoughts about their students and administrative support for teaching.   The team spends the third day (Wednesday) meeting various school constituencies.  By meeting with the principal, the assistant principals, counsellors, parents, students, LSC members, community partners, security, lunch staff, the team determines how well the school supports teaching and learning.  Each meeting lasts at least an hour.  As a result of the Wednesday meetings, team members begin to see connections between and among the evidence they collected during their first two days in the school.  The first half of the fourth day (Thursday) is for conducting “special inquiries”.  By this time, team members have a high level of certainty about what they want to say in the report.  So the time in the school is about collecting the final evidence and determine whether it strongly affirms or challenges the existing evidence and the conclusions they believe are the most important for the school to hear about learning, teaching, and support. All inquires and evidence collection must be completed before noon on Thursday, after which the team is sequestered in the team room for the remainder of the visit to deliberate and write the PBI report.

When the first draft of the report is completed by the end of the day on Friday, the team has spent a significant amount of time in the school.  On average, a PBI team is convened at a school approximately 60 hours.  A team of 12 will spend nearly 125 person hours directly observing the classrooms at a given school with a goal of visiting every teacher’s classroom at least once. Teams average around 60 person hours in one-on-one or small group conversations with a school’s students, faculty, administrators, parents, and staff.  They will also spend several hours observing school meetings if school and team schedules allow it. Teams convene meetings that total around 25 to 30 hours to ask questions of students, teachers, the leadership team, the principal, and senior school administrators.  In addition to the time they spend interacting with the school, a full visit team meets privately in the team room for anywhere from 30-40 hours spanning the five days of the visit. During most of this time, teams are in intense discussions to thoroughly consider the evidence they have collected and to build the conclusions, commendations and recommendations presented in the report.

After each day’s evidence collection, team members return to the team room and review their notes from the day.  Every team member shares the evidence they collected to answer the focus question for that day.  They share what they believe is the most important information first.  They finish by asking a question about the school they think they need to attend to during the next day based on what the present day’s evidence seems to suggest is important to learn.  Finally, the team spends some time considering what they heard in the debriefing of the day, what patterns they heard, and common themes.  These questions and common themes are captured in team notes and drive the inquiry forward.

Professional Judgement, Deliberated Consensus, & Dynamic Evidence

Several elements about the PBI protocol make it a compelling process, not to mention unusual, in this age of data-driven decision-making.  What is unique is the emphasis placed on the roles of professional judgement, deliberated consensus and the dynamic nature of evidence.  A PBI visit is different from the kinds of “data dives” so many schools do these days.  The differences are primarily a result of the process the team follows and the evidence it collects, both of which take a significant amount of time relative to spending a couple of hours in a faculty meeting looking primarily at charts, graphs, and numbers and trying to divine from them any specifics about learning and teaching.

elements_of_PBI-8bitDuring the 3.5 days the team is in the school collecting evidence, each team member draws on their professional judgement to determine which pieces of evidence are the most important for the team to hear in light of the previously collected evidence and team discussions about it. They consider if and how that evidence answers the questions raised from what was shared the day before.  Each day, the questions team members ask and the themes they identify in the shared evidence pushes the team farther and provides direction for the next day’s observations.  While the team is open to all evidence they encounter, what they have collected also suggest the kinds of evidence they look for as they move forward.

By about the third day of the visit, the team starts to identify themes they believe are the most important for the school to hear.  These themes become candidates for conclusions in the report.  Thus, what the team believes is the most important findings for the school to hear evolves over time:  The evidence they collect each day and the questions that fuel further inquiry are informed by their professional judgements — both individual and corporate — which in turn are informed by each day’s deliberations. The evidence becomes dynamic as the team deliberates about the meaning of the evidence they find.   What the team believes is the most important conclusions to write about learning, teaching, and support on Monday are usually not the same by Thursday.

The PBI Report

Each PBI visit results in a report that is written by and tested for full team consensus.  The report is the collective voice of the team.  Each report includes the following sections:

  • Introduction
  • Profile of the School
  • Portrait of the School at the Time of the Visit
  • Findings on Student Learning
  • Findings on Teaching for Learning
  • Findings on School Support for Learning and Teaching
  • Final Advice
  • Catalpa Endorsement
  • Report Appendix

Of these sections, each visit team writes the Profile, Portrait, Findings, and Final Advice.  The Profile is drafted by the team chair before the visit begins.  It included the history of the school and its community, drawn from the chair’s own research, public documents, and formal interviews with the school principal.  It is shared with the principal for any factual corrections.  The team also has an opportunity to make any revisions they feel are necessary.  The Portrait, while one of the first parts of the report is one of the last parts written after most of the conclusion writing is complete.  It serves as an overview, or a snapshot of the state of the school at the time of the visit. Conclusions the team writes based on the three focus questions constitute each of the Findings sections.  Teams write 3 to 7 conclusions each for Student Learning, Teaching for Learning and School Support for Learning and Teaching. Each conclusion is coded from a list of evidence sources and must include a minimum of two different sources.  In addition to the conclusions for the latter two Findings, teams may include Commendations for areas where teachers and the school excel.  They also write brief Recommendations based on the conclusions in the visit report.  Final Advice is just that: The last chance for the team to speak to the school community, rally them to the work ahead, and give the school a sense of what the team believes, only in the broadest sense, what the school’s next steps should be.

After the team adjourns on Friday night, the chair works with both a PBI master chair and copy editor to make sure the report is soundly written grammatically, stylistically, and effectively communicates the team’s intent.  Then, within two weeks of the end of the visit, the chair and as many team members as possible, return to the school and read a working draft of the report to the entire faculty and staff.

Endorsement occurs after a Catalpa representative has a post-visit conversations with the team chair and the school principal to confirm procedures to ensure the legitimacy of the report were followed. [Link to Catalpa Procedures page]  With the attachment of the written Endorsement to the report, the final draft is finalized, copyrighted, and becomes the property of the school.  Copies are sent to the school and NCS with a third retained by Catalpa.

What PBI Suggests About Learning Technologies Use in CPS High Schools

The details of what can be shared here are limited by confidentiality agreements each team member signs in order to serve on a PBI team.  Therefore, the nature of the evidence shared here is generalized.

CPS-Logo_Blue_288x153Nothing in the PBI visit protocol explicitly requires teams to consider a school’s use of information and communication technologies (ICT).  Nor should it since conclusions about ICT are easily validated within the bounds of the three focus questions.  Indeed, in the past few years some teams have decided to include technology use as evidence examples of broader conclusions about learning and teaching.  On one level, this is encouraging, especially since nearly all schools at the time of their visit demonstrated typical ICT use. That is teaching characterized by an overwhelming use of traditional, teacher-centered, textbook-based instructional methods even though “contemporary educational programs recommend the integration of ICT’s in teaching and learning” (Barak, 2014).  Only one team of those on which I have been a part has written entire conclusions specifically about technology use in the school that one would recognize as informed by ISTE standards [link].  Even in this instance, the conclusions specifically about ICT use made it into the report only because a single team member with deep knowledge and current beliefs about the role ICT need now play — made a very strong case and successfully swayed the team.  Among his arguments was that conclusions about ICT use had to be a priority since the school being visited had a curricular focus on technology.  Thus the faculty and staff needed to hear what the team thought about its use of technology for learning, teaching and support.  Given that the PBI protocol requires true consensus, eery team member had to agree both that the conclusion was important enough to write and that they had the evidence to write it. Nevertheless, this teacher was selected specifically to reflect the programming of a technology-focused school.  To have such  highly knowledgeable, ISTE-steeped teacher on visit teams for schools that do not have a technology focus is not the norm.

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School bulletin board for responsible use of social media

This raises an issue about intentional composition of PBI teams.   Excepting the example above, conclusions in previous reports that even mentioned technology treated it in their reports as so many teachers do in the classroom — as a mere add-on.  Yet this may not be because previous teams didn’t deem ICT use important per se, but because to date, teams have not had the current and requisite knowledge or beliefs about pan-curricular, ICT-based teaching and learning sufficient enough to make such conclusions a regular part of visit reports even if such conclusions were warranted.  Song et al. in their study of the effects of prior knowledge, self-regulation and motivation on learning performance reference the work of Baldwin et al, noting “the close relationship between prior knowledge and interest from the viewpoint of adult education….  They state that ‘as people get older and increasingly specialized, interest and knowledge may come to correspond closely” (2016).  Team members with more prior knowledge and interest in the uses of ICT for teaching and learning across the curriculum would “set larger and more consistent goal structures” and “behave in a more goal-oriented way” (2016).  The implications of intentionally selecting educators with such specialist interests to serve as PBI team members would have significant implications for team inquiries into ICT-based teaching and learning.  Not the least of which is raising ICT use to the level of stand-alone conclusions in their own right, thereby putting technology skills and knowledge on a par with students’ abilities to read, write, and think critically.  Such an elevation is necessary for any school that intends to be a 21st Century institution or one that positively impacts educational equity.  Then, to round out the nested focus questions then, the same must also be said about technology conclusions about teachers’ use of ICT to facilitate learning and administrators’ expectations, messaging, and professional learning supports.

PBI, Connected Learning, and Equity

NCS_approachWhy does NCS exert so much energy to sponsor, support, and in some instances, cajole their member schools into hosting PBI visits?  Because PBI is a unique and powerful reflective opportunity to support continuous school improvement. As such, the best teams will uncover issues of equity in their learning about the visit school and raise it to the level of a conclusion in a report.  It is worth emphasizing that all NCS schools are CPS schools. As such, NCS member schools serve mostly urban students of color, many of whom are economically disadvantaged. NCS is an equity organization that works from the understanding that education is a social justice issue, where the future success of our society’s most vulnerable citizens is directly linked to quality education.  Thus, to host a PBI visit has potential benefits for school equity when the school uses the resulting report as a basis for setting priorities and improvement goals that positively impact educational outcomes for the public school students of Chicago.

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Elements of Connected Learning

As I wrote in parts one and two of this blog post, when schools make learning connected learning, they positively impact equity.   The correlations between socio-economic class, race, and teacher beliefs, and the kinds of opportunities students have to experience connected learning through ICT-based instruction have implications for how NCS selects educators for PBI visits.  In order to impact matters of equity linked to connected learning and ICT-based learning, PBI teams should be more intentionally comprised to include computing teachers (as opposed to computer teachers) [anchor tag to point in previous post] .  As noted in the example above, when teams have members who can employ their technological and pedagogical professional judgements to evidence collection and team deliberated consensus, they will include more specific conclusions about technology use in PBI reports.

PBI has been been a mechanism for schools to have discussions about matters of equity all along.  Whether it is about which students in a school take full advantage of available learning opportunities and programs or do not, how the curriculum does or does not prepare students for their post-secondary future, how faculty and staff beliefs expand or curtails students’ access to quality learning, or how support structures make access to programs available to all members of the learning community or privilege certain parts  over others.  ICT-based instruction plays a significant role in students’ development of the growth mindsets necessary for the lifelong learning, just-in-time learning, creative abilities, and collaborative abilities required to thrive in a 21st Century post-secondary world.  PBI visits and reports, therefore, need to be able to raise such issues for a school as a part of their post-visit discussions and improvement plans regarding student, teacher, and school uses of technology.

Team Composition for the 21st Century

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More than just content knowledge and how to teach it: The intricate interplay of teachers’ knowledge domains in the digital age.

Understanding ICT-based learning and instruction as an equity issue means it must be an explicit part of school transformation efforts.  Inasmuch as PBI visits are a part of such transformation efforts, then it is also vital to keep elements of connected learning with ICT-based, student-centered learning and teaching on the front burner of future PBI visits.  Intentional team composition is a means towards this end.  It calls for finding educators who understand the critical role learning with technology now plays.  “A range of other scholars have argued that knowledge about technology cannot be treated as context-free, and that good teaching requires an understanding of how technology relates to the pedagogy and content”  (What is TPACK?, 2012).   Where “good [inquiry] requires specific knowledge about the teaching of those disciplines….  [S]ubject specialization helps [team members] make judgements about the quality of teaching” (Wilson, 1996).  Since most schools do not effectively use ICT for teaching and learning when it is widely acknowledged how vital it is to do so, PBI practice would be strengthened and visit schools better served if the criteria for purposeful PBI team construction included educators with deep TPACK knowledge and positive belief sets about ICT use who can understand contemporary classrooms through a sort of “TPACK lens” .  As ICT-knowledgeable team members collect and interpret evidence about ICT-based learning and instruction and cast their professional judgements about the evidence, they would bring their technological knowledge as well as their pedagogical and content knowledge to the team deliberations and report conclusions.

Similar understandings and belief sets in PBI chairs would also strengthen visit practice.  Knowledge about ICT and connected learning would allow chairs to raise appropriate questions for the team, guide collection of useful evidence, and effectively facilitate team discussions such that visit reports include findings and conclusions about how well students learn with, teachers teach with, and administrators support uses of digital, networked technologies.

PBI As Mechanism For Changing Teacher Beliefs

PBI visits are powerful because they are conducted by professional peers.  PBI teams are not, as mentioned above, a professionalized corps of outsiders coming in to pass judgement on a school community’s effectiveness and to deliver a “gotcha!”.  PBI teams are working educators, fellow teachers and administrators from Chicago Public Schools.  They are allies working in support of common efforts to improve teaching and learning for the children of Chicago.  As such, the conclusions teams choose to write and the words they choose to write them means reports have a sometimes uncomfortably unavoidable credibility to the faculty and staff of host schools.  By including conclusions about how well the learning community is or is not using technology can set the stage for changing teacher beliefs about their own abilities and those of their students.  It is yet another opportunity for “perceived social influence from referent others [to have] a significant positive influence on individual beliefs about the usefulness of technology”  (Gu et al, 2011).  PBI team members — that is CPS colleagues — and their collective voice in the body of a report are the “referent others” who exert “social influence positively and significantly affects IT utilization” (2011).

Conclusion

One of the mottos that guides PBI teams is “Know what you see.  Don’t see what you know.”  It reminds team members that when examining evidence and deliberating in the team room, they cannot be led by what they do at their school or by whether or not a particular program or framework “should” be deployed as it is at the visit school.  It reinforces that they must bring their professional judgement to bear only on what they see and hear during the week of the visit and what that tells the team about teaching and learning at the visit school.  Yet it is fascinating how new learning changes what one notices.  How in light of that learning that one discerns things that were never noticed before.  Two years ago, I did not know about ISTE with its Essential Conditions  and technology standards for educators, students, parents, and coaches .  Or about the Connected Learning Research Network with connected learning as a social constructivist path toward redefining school for the 21st Century and a digitally networked era.  Or about the Partnership for 21st Century Learning and the links between technology, lifelong learning, and citizenship.  These are just a few of the organizations, concepts, or frameworks that in this digital, networked era so clearly connect the social justice and equity agendas of schools to the use of technology generally and technology-infused learning throughout the curriculum specifically.  Those connections have particular implications in schools that seek to serve poor children of color.

For years as an educator, a PBI team member, and as a PBI visit chair, I regarded technology use during PBI visits no differently than the educators I was leading on a team.  I still cannot lead PBI visits with a particular agenda.  Yet at a time when digital technology and media comprise an entirely new literacy that will determine the kinds of work students will be able to do as adults, it is vital that schools understand how well they are educating their students in its use.  With the considerable flexibility the PBI protocol allows, the times warrant more conscious and conscientious inclusion of knowledgeable and experienced computing educators on PBI teams and the ICT-learning-related conclusions for visit schools that will result.

HM Senior Chief Inspector Bill Maxwell talks about OFSTED school inspection.

See the first two parts of this series:

Navigating Teacher Beliefs, Connected Learning, and Practice-Based Inquiry for Equitable ICT Integration (Part 1)

Navigating Teacher Beliefs, Connected Learning, and Practice-Based Inquiry for Equitable ICT Integration (Part 2)


Sources:

Barak, M. (2014). Closing the Gap Between Attitudes and Perceptions About ICT-Enhanced Learning Among Pre-service STEM Teachers. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 23(1), 1–14. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10956-013-9446-8

Catalpa Ltd. (2018, April 2). Retrieved from catalpa.org

Gu, X., Zhu, Y., & Guo, X. (2011). Meeting the “Digital Natives”: Understanding the Acceptance of Technology in Classrooms. Educational Technology, 16(1), 392–402.

SALT Blueprint.pdf. (n.d.).

Song, H. S., Kalet, A. L., & Plass, J. L. (2016). Interplay of prior knowledge, self-regulation and motivation in complex multimedia learning environments: Knowledge, self-regulation, & motivation. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning32(1), 31–50. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcal.12117

Koehler, M. (2012, September 24). What is TPACK? Retrieved April 4, 2018, from www.tpack.org

Wilson, T. (1996). Reaching For A Better Standard. New York: Teachers College Press.

Wilson, Thomas. (2016). The Design and Conduct of  Rigorous And Useful  Practice-Based Inquiry® Visits to Schools: A Comprehensive Handbook for The Network for College Success  (at the University of Chicago) Handbook 2. The Chair Handbook. Catalpa, Ltd.

Wilson, Thomas. (2017, April 10). Template for Preparing Initial Version of Report.

 

Week 11- All Good Things…

image:Rijwana TasnimEleven weeks ago, the fall term started and I groaned at the thought that it would be December when it ended.  It seemed so far away.  But as the saying goes, don’t blink.  ‘Cuz here we are and it’s time to assess our learning.

Surprises

One of two main projects for this term asked us to examine our foundational beliefs about educational psychology and pedagogical theory.  The assignment didn’t ask me to do much more than I’ve been asked to do before over the course of my 30 years in the profession.  However, the exercise facilitated a few realizations about the evolution of my beliefs.  First and foremost, my constructivist beliefs inflected by social cognitivism, pragmatism and metacognitivism hold up to and compliment teaching and learning with educational technology.  I have found as well that they are reciprocally being informed and re-formed by the technology of the times, namely mobile, social, and networked technologies.  In the course of writing my final paper, it became clear that I needed to find a way to incorporate aspects of the budding “learning theory for the 21st century”, connectivism.  For even though I’m still not convinced that connectivism is a full-blown pedagogy (yet), as it is articulated now, elements of it are worth exploring as we develop curriculum and instruction and assess what constitutes powerful learning for the networked age.    These are some surprises that will certainly influence my future studies as well as my practice.

thinking differently about school and educational technology in teaching and learning

While Dr. Leonard Waks’s ideas were not practical to implement in their entirety, his text, Education 2.o: The Learningweb Revolution and the Transformation of the School does have me thinking differently about school and the role of educational technology in teaching and learning.  Even though the paradigm shift he is calling for will likely take a generation or more to accomplish — if it is ever realized in its entirety — many of Dr. Waks’s ideas are useful.  First and foremost, he challenges readers to confront how thoroughly outmoded the industrial model of schooling actually is.  Not only that, the histories he includes provide much-needed perspectives and insights into our current times.  The evolution of schools to support the factory-based, industrial economy of the 19th & 20th centuries and the roles of diplomas and degrees as employment sifters and social allocators during those centuries all stand in stark contrast to the evolution of the internet, the complexities of schools and school systems, and the open, networked information and knowledge economy in which we now live.  Even though the model of the open learning center as described in Education 2.0 is problematic in a number of ways, the text still begs the question:  To what extent are we serving students by continuing an educational model that is yoked to a dead economic model and the social structures that developed from it?  Indeed, as a result of reading Waks I clearly see just how misaligned our current school paradigm is with the needs of the modern world.  It has made me very conscious of which school structures are impinging on or even making 21st century learning impossible to do.

Future ed tech topics and pedagogical techniques of interest

I would like to learn about a plenitude of topics in regard to educational technology and technology-based pedagogy.  I look forward to accumulating more tools and processes for implementing technology-infused learning in the high school classroom.  I very much would like to learn more about how to get “technology reluctant” teachers to incorporate more technology in their instruction, getting them to facilitate more student learning with technology.  I would also like to acquire more techniques to support teachers who already use technology, getting them to SAMRize their student learning even more than they think they already do.  I would greatly appreciate a course or workshop about developing powerful, engaging online learning using platforms such as D2L, Google Classroom, etc, both for high school students and for teacher professional learning.  Finally, I would love a course or workshop in which we create digital badges to promote professional learning in the digital age.

All Good Things…

From the moment I saw the title of this course and the text that would provide its foundation, I was excited.  Indeed, I have learned much. Significantly, I’ve experienced several unexpected learnings, which is what makes learning really exciting.  Not only was the material of high quality, but so were my classmates.  They have been a special group.  Discussions on the boards were lively, supportive, and challenging which facilitated our learning both through and beyond the text.  Each week I extended my understandings of what I read through application or discussion with my classmates and their shared perspectives.  Certainly, this course has been more proof just how much students — no matter their age and experience — learn from each other — even beyond a text or curriculum.

Week 10- Predicting the Most Important Trends in Ed Tech

NMC/CoSN Horizon Report 2016

The NMC/CoSN Horizon Report 2016 K-12 Edition reads like a state of the union for educational technology outlining key trends, significant challenges, and important developments in the field.  Its evaluation of trends and developments as short-term (1 yr or less), mid-term (2-3 years), and long-term (4-5 years) are reasonably assessed.  So too is categorizing challenges as solvable, difficult, and “wicked”.  Much good information is included here.  Organizing each trend into bite-sized pieces with a sort of preamble; Overview; Implications For Policy, Leadership or Practice; and then substantial For Further Reading offerings  to further explore each subject.

Professional Development

An element of professional practice that I’ve been wrestling with over the course of this year has to do with professional development for k-12 teachers.  There is much to get excited about in this report and some trends are already underway.  However, at the risk of injecting a cynical note into the discussion, I’m not sure how many of these trends will become embedded in American practice until we address professional learning.  Through 47 pages of the NMC/CoSN report, professional development is mentioned 11 times.  In fact, “Rethinking the Roles of Teachers” is a significant challenge addressed in the report as a “solvable challenge”, even if it is buried midway into the report and is the second of only two challenges the authors consider solvable.

I would argue that no trend mentioned in this report can be implemented without significant professional learning for teachers and administrators alike.  The dismal quality of much American k-12 PD, little budgetary support, and teacher attitudes towards it will all have significant impact on whether and which trends come to live in any given school or district.  As such, professional learning and “Rethinking the Roles of Teachers” is the lens through which I will read this report.

Trends

Of the trends outlined in the report, those I think will gain traction in the next five years include  collaborative learning, students as creators, rethinking the roles of teachers, personalizing learning, and online learning.  They are likely have the best chance of taking hold in American education if for no other reason than they fit within the current paradigm and do not require technology necessarily to provide powerful learning experiences.  Collaborative learning, project- and problem-based learning, and personalized learning are already a part of teacher vocabulary.  Online learning is gaining traction via flipped classrooms and blended learning.  With this foot in the door, technology can be incorporated in ways that modify and redesign extant units and lessons.  With some shifts to what they offer, professional learning providers deliver can accomplish such modification and redefinition of existing lessons and in the process realign teachers away from teacher-centered instruction and towards new roles as guides and facilitators.  PD providers need to present learning such that teachers receive “hands-on experiences … to help integrate technology in the classroom [and] create agile environments that support the development of professional learning networks where educators can seek guidance and inspiration from peers and around the globe as they rethink their pedagogies and curricula” (p. 24).   Through their own hands-on experiences, teachers learn as we want their students to learn in the digital age.  With such experiences, teachers are more likely to transfer their experiences to their students.  Back in their classrooms, then, teachers facilitate experiences that extend students’ collaborative learning out through digital networks, empower them as creators of content and not must consumers, teach them to recognize and pursue their own interests and learning goals, and do more and more of all these activities online.

Impact on Educators

I predict that online learning will become a path to personalized learning not just for students, but for teachers too.  I predict that over the next few years, teachers will figure out they can completely personalize PD, learn anytime/anywhere, at their own pace, and not have to contend with one-size-fits-all PD.  I am especially excited about the prospects for digital badging.  As it becomes increasingly popular, more and more educators will be able to extend their personalized, online learning even farther as they accumulate only the skills and content knowledge needed for their own specific professional learning needs.  In fact, some states are already experimenting with digital badges as a way for teachers to maintain their credentials along side CPDU’s and potentially even in place of them. When these trends take off, online learning for both teacher learning and student learning will become de rigueur.

Good for Schools

All these changes will be good for schools, yes.  But mostly, they will be a boon for students and learning.  Young people are so disconnected from their school experiences right now.  Many teachers teach for compliance and completion because such work is easy to grade and translates into easy measurables like GPA’s and graduation rates.  But completion and good grades do not equal learning.  And compliance and completion methods are mostly divorced from the kinds of social learning young people are used to doing with and without their networked devices when they are not in school.  Perhaps one of the biggest challenges to getting more technology-based methods in the classroom is getting teachers to see themselves as facilitators and not experts.  The image of themselves as experts keeps many teachers from trying things they don’t think they know well enough to teach.  This is especially so with technology given how vast a landscape it is and how constantly and rapidly it changes.  Prior to the digital age, it was a little easier to operate with the expert mindset.  But the internet age has given us access to the sum of human knowledge and there is no way anyone can know all of it.  The mobile age has given us a multiplicity of ways to access that knowledge and ways that are persistent.  There is no way to be expert in all affordances either.   In a blog post for a previous class I wrote about this very subject.

“As Bryan Alexander said in the Teaching and Higher Ed podcast, ‘There’s a lot of churn.  But …overall we were right.  We hit on the web as a major feature of literacy and learning.  And that’s a good thing.  We didn’t identify a horrible monster.  We identified a really powerful platform for human expression and connection, with flaws, with problems.  But that’s a major stride forward for the human race….  Teachers are hired to be experts and we can’t be expert in everything online.  Therefore they have an extra layer of anxiety to participate in the social world of the web and they’re not the expert.  They’re average users.  And that is very hard and threatening.  That’s why teachers have had a hard time using the web for teaching and learning.’  Yet we have to push through that anxiety and not only take our place in the digital world, but also guide the younger generations to their own critical and constructively participatory place in it as well.  And as we do, let’s keep in mind ‘There’s too much to master.  No one can master it all.’ So ‘grab one particular corner of it [like Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, etc.] and get comfy with it.’”

T.A.T.Too, “Critical Thinking and Information Literacy”

 

Once we can get to this point as a profession — where teachers shed their self-perceptions as experts and dive deep into their “one particular corner” of the internet or social media to feel “comfy” with it — then many more of these trends stand a chance of sticking.  Then school will again be a place of interest and joy for our students and not a drill and kill testing mill.

Final Thoughts

Another significant shift needs to occur around what kind of PD is prioritized.  For any of these trends to become a meaningful part of teaching and learning, teachers need to seek more learning about how to incorporate the broad concepts each of these trends represents and how technology plays a role in each. They need far less PD that is merely training for specific apps.  Indeed, teachers already in the classroom will need quite a bit of focused, long-term learning so they can become “guides and mentors, modeling responsible global citizenship and motivating students to adopt lifelong learning habits by providing opportunities for students to direct their own learning trajectories” (p. 24).  If  administrators and teachers prioritize professional learning to focus on a limited set of student-centered outcomes that map to and differentiate for teacher learning needs, then these trends have a chance of taking root.  The extent to which schools sustain limited PD over time and partner with PD providers who deliver quality learning experiences will also impact success.  But where professional learning is piecemeal, random, low-quality, one-off, and conference-based,  I don’t see any of the trends in the report taking root in any consistent way that is beneficial for all learners.  

 


PD Issues in Ed Tech Video

Week 5-Acceptable/Responsible Use Policies & Digital Citizenship

Our readings this week focused was on Digital citizenship, access, and policy.  A shift, but one that turned out to be fruitful in terms of getting me to think about more nuts and bolts of ICT implementation, teaching and coaching.

Digital Equity and  Access

The more I read and the more I experience as a student in this grad program, the more I believe the path to better access for students runs through teachers having direct ICT learning experiences themselves.  District and school policies, administrator attitudes and priorities, and parent fears and misconceptions all hold their various concerns and possible obstacles.  However, the critical juncture ultimately is the teacher who either understands the need for students to have connected learning experiences or does not.  For those that do understand, they do all they can to provide those experiences.  Continued support and professional learning about  is, of course, vital, given the dynamic and ever-changing nature of the internet.  However, for those “reluctant” or “traditional” teachers, their understanding needs to be developed.  With new knowledge and continued support ought to come a change in instructional behaviors.  Most teachers want to do good by their students.  But they also feel the need to be experts in their classrooms.  So if we provide teachers with their own professional learning experiences that ask them to practice the 4 C’s as learners, they will likely recognize the power of such learning experiences and want to provide the same for their students.  In so doing, students have increased, and hopefully better, access.

Digital citizenship and acceptable/responsible use policies our school

It was 2009 when last I had my own classroom.  Looking back to that time is instructive given how much has changed in the ensuing 8 years.  Our use policy was an AUP since the notion of an RUP didn’t exist yet.  Or if it did, no one at our school was privvy to the concept.  Students and parents had to sign a form acknowledging that they read, understood and would abide by its terms as well as any consequences for their breach.  Additionally, students had to pass a mandatory multiple choice quiz about the AUP’s content with a grade of 80% or better in order to gain access to the school network.  (They could take it as many times as they needed to attain the minimum score.)  But as Rethinking Acceptable Use Policies to Enable Digital Learning describes it, “[r]equiring students to sign a document indicating they will comply with the district policies may or may not mean that they understand and accept the commitment they are making.  A ‘sign off’ could be as casual and thoughtless as the way people sometimes place a check in the accept box on applications or software ‘terms and conditions.'”  The quiz was meant for students to do more than merely sign off; but looking back, I don’t think it was significantly more than that.  While the large majority of students passed the quiz on the first try, I would surmise that most of them were going for short-term cramming more than long-term understanding.  Designing an RUP and the on-boarding process around it today, I would definitely include student voice in its development and some kind of course work to deepen their understanding by applying it in real contexts.

Approaching digital citizenship in your class

Again, going back to 2009, I can see that I definitely focused on what students should not do with technology.  That included everything from using the CD drives to play advisory-labeled music, to looking at web sites they shouldn’t be on, to playing games or designing gym shoes instead of doing assignments.  (Looking back now, I should have leveraged the creative aspects of those last two examples. But what did I know?)   To be fair, though, I was also giving assignments that usually hovered around the substitution level of SAMR and occasionally at the augmentation level.  So it’s not likely they saw why doing the work on a computer necessarily mattered to their learning.  In other words, their behaviors were, in part, a sign of boredom or low relevance.  At the time, we used eChalk, which was as close to an LMS as we got in 2009.  Every student account included an email address.  So the kinds of citizenship behaviors students demonstrated on a computer were a bit more limited.  However, cell phones were another matter.  None of my students could afford smartphones, so the most distracting thing they could do with their phones during school was text friends and family.  And text they did. Sexting became an issue.  At times, fights both in and out of school, would erupt as a result of texting drama.  In one instance, we even had parents drawn into texting drama between their children come to the school midday prepared to fight each other.  Unfortunately, our reactions in the face of these events were all punitive and centered around confiscating cell phones if they were visible during the school day and then requiring parents to come to the school to pick them up.  Repeat “offenders” would get detention.

Needless to say, my approach would be very different today given all the creative, collaborative ways to use phones now.  I would certainly identify the ways students need to protect themselves if they find they are in an uncomfortable situation online.  But I would focus much more on how to support each other, protect each other, and inform adults when they are in those moments.  That’s the doing part instead of the don’t do.  It’s no different than teaching kids not to get into a stranger’s car and what to do if they’re approached by someone they don’t know.  I would also spend the vast majority of time and energy focusing on all the amazing 4-C’s ways of doing, creating with these devices.  A quote by Bryan Alexander has become a favorite of mine and it undergirds my thinking now.  “We hit on the web as a major feature of literacy and learning.  And that’s a good thing.  We didn’t identify a horrible monster.  We identified a really powerful platform for human expression and connection, with flaws, with problems.  But that’s a major stride forward for the human race.”

See also: TIE 524 Week 6: Critical Thinking & Information Literacy

Thus, to my way of thinking, we need to mediate the flaws, yes.  But we cannot let the flaws completely define how we use the web such that they impede our using it for all the great things we can do online.

Resources, tips and ideas from the week’s readings 
 This text was very useful in helping me reframe my thinking, shifting from AUP’s to RUP’s in the Web 2.0 era.  It informs much of my discussion content today.
This is a great framing question and my answer would be “No”.  The model described here where teachers have to engage in the work of citizenship themselves, not just have the work described to them by an expert lecturer is the one that, as I said above, is the path to better ICT access and 21C learning.  (And I feel sorry for the one teacher, whose last name is Snowden.  That can’t be easy right now, especially working in the [ed] tech field!)

What I liked most about this blog was not only examining ones digital footprint and how to create a positive one, but I particularly like the idea of improving one’s digital footprint. When it comes to thinking about our digital footprint, we more often focus on the tattoo aspect in that once you put something into the digital world it’s out there permanently since we can’t control what remains on, say, Google’s servers, or what other people might download and save from our posts. And that’s a lesson that any Internaut needs to understand at the deepest level. However, we can in fact scrub our identities on sites like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. by going through and deleting elements that might not fit with the online persona we wish to present once we have a better understanding of digital citizenship. This is definitely a surface scrub given that we will never know what is saved at deeper levels of cyberspace. However appearances matter.  At least anyone who would be looking to manipulate or make judgments about us based on our digital presence would have to work harder to find that ill-considered material as opposed to simply finding it right there on our public social media feeds.

 

Conclusion

This week’s readings definitely touched on some of the policy matters surrounding the use of ed tech.  Not our usual fare in class so far.  But that shift toward the practical and legal matters was an interesting shift to get us thinking about a different perspective in regard to this work.  It was also instructive for me to compare where we were 8 years ago and how the times and tech require a rethinking about the policies we put in place and how to roll those out to teachers, parents, and of course, our students.

 

 

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!