Have 150 Years Changed Anything?

Tomorrow is April 12th, 2011. Not a big deal, unless of course you know your history and you realize that 150 years ago tomorrow was the start of the American Civil War. Considering I am obsessed with the Civil War (so much so that I do reenacting), I thought I would devote my blog post this week to the topic and connections to our modern world.

In terms of education, we have come a long way since the days of 1861. When studying company and regiment records from the day it becomes quite apparent how uneducated these young men were. There are recruiter sheets from units in the South where half the men in a 100-man company could not even sign their name and thus were forced to “leave their mark” – usually an x. It was not necessary to be able to write your name to sew seeds in a field or reap wheat, so why learn it? This brings up an issue that we run into today, must all students be in college prep courses, especially the ones who have no plans at all to attend college? Many might point out that it is hard to get a good job without a college degree, but is that the way it should be? Is our society suffering from education inflation where a bachelors degree is now commonplace rather than an achievement? This was definitely not true 150 years ago.

We also have quite a few accounts discussing the fact that soldiers had a tough time learning how to march because they did not know their left from their right. Drill Sergeants did what any teacher does, they made connections to what the troops already knew – in this case, farming. Most of America was agricultural at this time and so the sergeants would teach them their hay foot and straw foot instead of left and right.  Today’s teachers have a variety of ways to connect to students ranging from use of technology to mentioning Lady Gaga. One big difference between a drill sergeant from the 1860’s and teachers of today though, would be that we cannot use corporal punishment, but some states are even re-considering that. It is interesting to note that even the Marine Corps does not condone violence towards recruits anymore – not sure we want public school teachers to be considered more violent than Marines…

Lastly, slavery. I had always been taught that slavery was the cause of the civil war and only later learned that there was “other stuff” as well. It seems recently that a lot of people have forgotten the slavery aspect and focused on the “other stuff” because every historian I see talking about the Civil War always makes it a point to mention that Slavery was the cause of the Civil War. You can talk about states rights and manifest destiny all you want, but all those tangents always circle back to the “peculiar institution”. This brings up another important issue in teaching – myths. As Mark Twain said, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” Our profession needs to weed out certain myths such as technology being a panacea. Technology is great and it should play a role in the class room, but it will not solve all of our problems. As the nation found after the Civil War in Reconstruction, just because you spend a lot of time, money and blood on an issue does not mean you will solve the problem. America still deals with inequality today and so, in a sense, we as teachers are still fighting the Civil War every day in our class rooms.; the only difference is that we use thoughts and ideas where as they used muskets and cannon.

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Gaming in the Class Room

As far as gamers are concerned, the Wii is a lame platform. Nintendo knew that it could tap into the “casual gamer” market and so it sold out – plain and simple. As a result, however, it is the best selling platform, well above PS3 and Xbox 360. So as I read the Edutopia article about using Wii in the class room and how all the examples were of primary education use, I thought to myself “figures.” Counting bowling pins or looking at the weather is not going to help my high school students figure out trigonometry or how globalization affects commerce. These are complex ideas that require a more thorough approach.

So here is a thought, how about one of the good platforms (PS3) design games that teach people stuff? Well I would argue that they already do, but what they teach does not fit well into the design of our educational system. Notice I did not say that video games do not fit into education, just the current design of education. Our current system separates teaching and assessment where as in games, they are one in the same. Video games emphasize problem solving and innovation where as the schools of today focus on rote memorization and test taking.

I could go on, but there is no point: These issues are the backbone of the debate and represent ideas that many teachers are unwilling to give up. Then again, I’m not sure that I am comfortable changing to something that is just like a game. If teaching and assessments become one and the same, do I not have chapter tests anymore? Do I just have a quiz at the end of every day and that is good enough?

As for problem solving, I would argue that I teach problem solving, but it is just not nearly as interesting as what is in a video game. So do I drop teaching the previously mentioned topics of trig and commerce and instead talk about ogres and wizards? If I can teach a student how to beat a level 32 mage, did I not just teach them problem solving? Does it matter what type problems they solve?

Finally, there is the thorny issue of innovation. Everyone wants a creative thinker, but at the same time people also like it when you can add, subtract and spell correctly. Is it possible to be creative when learning how to add or spell? You can possibly come up with a new method, but it is doubtful you will be any faster than someone who is good with the old method and so what is the point? Where is the happy medium between learning old facts and creating new ones?

I keep hitting this wall where I think certain ideas are good, but they will mean that the entire system will have to be redesigned and I’m not sure about that. Do we really want to throw away the whole system and start new? If you really want to incorporate some of these strategies, I don’t see any alternative. Some might say there is a way to blend old and new, but I just have a feeling it would end up being a watered down version of the real thing. So how do you change hundreds of years of tradition?

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Instructional Challenge #2 – What if?

Life is full of What If’s. I teach history and if anyone knows about what if’s, it is a history teacher. What if Pickett’s Charge on the 3rd day of Gettysburg had succeeded? What if the Christians had not defeated the Muslims at the battle of Tours in the Middle Ages? What if Hitler had just been accepted to art school and pursued that interest rather than anti-Semitism? What if?! A person can spend an entire lifetime thinking about the possibilities, but unless you are going to invent a time machine, they can never have a different ending than the one currently in my history books. School education, on the other hand, is another thing altogether. What if a generous donor decided to give my school $150,000 to do with as I see fit in creating a modern, tech-savvy and student focused educational space which my entire school could use? Well I can most certainly answer this one.

Something that I have come to realize thus far in CTER, especially in EPSY 457, is that I do not encourage creativity nearly as much as I would like to. Part of this is forced on me by time constraints and curriculum guidelines which control to a certain extent what I can and cannot teach. Usually it goes a little like this: “I don’t have time for that because we still have to get through x, y and z.” and the “that” is usually something that would let the students be creative. Essentially creativity is often thrown out in favor of learning basic facts – a real shame when you think about it. Basic facts can be picked up at any old time using Wikipedia or an encyclopedia, but creativity is a skill which must be sewed, nourished and harvested as if one were growing a cash crop. If we as educators do not spend time teaching our students how to be creative, it is very likely that #1) they will not put much importance in being creative and #2) will not be very creative as a result. Once again, speaking as a historian, most of the great innovations of the past century came from rather creative people like Albert Einstein, Alexander Fleming and Guglielmo Marconi.

So how am I going to encourage creativity? Well, first off I am going to let the layout of the room do a lot of the work for me (see below). Many modern class rooms are so small, cramped and stifled that it is no wonder that great ideas do not emerge from them – there is no room for them! My room is going to be big, as in 1,350 square feet big. It is also going to be very open because I think that the more students feel connected rather than shut off, the more they are able to collaborate and create really great ideas. Now by open I do not mean that the room will be one big open space, there will be sections, but there will be no walls. The “front” half of the room will have the teacher desk with student desks in a semicircle around it. The desks will be on wheels along with the comfy chairs so that students are not stuck in one spot but can move around to discuss work and ideas. The comfy chairs are really common sense – how can anyone think while being uncomfortable? Edutopia says it all “A considerable body of research about environmental design shows the positive effect comfort can have on learning, human productivity, and creativity.”The other half of the room will have a super comfortable couch, plush carpet area to one side and then on the other 2 big conference tables. The plush couch section is for students to once again collaborate in groups on projects, ideas and other issues that arise in class. This section can obviously be used as a reward for groups of students that have been working hard. The conference tables are also conducive to group work as they allow a group or groups to plan in semi-seclusion from the outside world. On the walls will be a variety of items such as white boards (which will also serve as screens for projectors), smart boards, book shelves, cubby holes and coat racks. Referencing Sir Ken Robinson who argued that intelligence is diverse, dynamic and distinct, I would argue that a room used by diverse students, studying a dynamic curriculum should learn in a distinct learning atmosphere. All in all, the room should make students feel special if nothing else – which is often half the battle in teaching.

If you would like to see the materials that I would like to purchase for the class room, check out this handy dandy spreadsheet that I created laying out all the expenses. Note: you will need Microsoft Excel to view it.

Now that you have an idea of what the layout and materials will look like, let’s discuss how I envisioned the room being used. The great thing about the room is that there are so many different ways it can be used. The front of the room is designed perfectly for lectures, presentations or discussion. Each student will have a mac laptop at their disposal during class and as a result can interact with each other and the instructor like never before. If a teacher is giving a presentation on history of native peoples, he or she can have the PowerPoint slides on one screen while a live chat room using twitter is happening on the other. Monica Rankin and a few other teachers have used this type of idea successfully in collegiate class rooms, so why not in high school? Another great exercise would be for a teacher to present a new topic and then as a pre-teaching strategy, students could Google the topic and use social bookmarking to create a good list of websites on the topic which could be used later for research and also as a chance for the instructor to point out good information gathering strategies in pointing out good websites from bad ones. The best part of both of these instructional strategies, is that it is not just the teacher talking to the students in a one-sided manner, but rather the students analyzing the information, exploring alternative ideas and synthesizing new ones. According to David Kelley of Ideo, synthesis is the very same step at which innovation really occurs. Therefore, the more you work on that step, it could be argued the more innovative your design thinking students become.

Other uses of the computer abound ranging from research projects to art projects. Computers are great at allowing students to approach a problem from whatever angle is best for them. As Gardner showed with multiple intelligences, we all understand information, just in different ways. Where as I may understand something best when I read it, someone else may like to write it down and still another would prefer a picture. Computers account for all of these different styles. If I asked my students to create a project on the computer showing their understanding of the Harlem Renaissance, students could write an essay or craft a poem in Microsoft Word, create a multimedia presentation in PowerPoint or design a picture in Photoshop. Another great program for the visual learner is AutoCad which will be great when learning about ancient architecture as the students could actually build themselves a virtual Roman Villa if they wanted to. Who is to say which of these projects is better? No one, because they are all equally advanced in content understanding, just presented in different forms. So rather than having an end of unit multiple choice test in which part of your class bombs because they are not good test takers or their brain does not work that way, you have a class of A students who now have a new sense of self-confidence ready to take on a new challenge rather than being afraid and resentful of learning. Back in the normal class room the teacher could take advantage of this new-found enthusiasm and turn it into results.

A word of caution for the use of computers, however, they are not a panacea for all the ills of school. With all this great space and new technology, a teacher may think that he or she can just walk away for an hour come back and the students will just be waiting there with completed perfect projects – unfortunately it does not work that way. According to Nelson & Ketelhut, students still need guidance even when working with a powerful machine like a Macbook. The researchers found that the students who were not doing well, or thought they were not doing well, would not seek out help. Students who have experienced a great deal of failure whether in school are at home become accustomed to it, akin to learned helplessness. The only way that this process can be reversed is by showing the student that they can succeed. With a little self-efficacy, students are more likely to not only solve a problem, but also more likely to approach it and try it in the first place.

In addition to all the ideas above, I also wanted to incorporate the findings of Dan Pink. His research showed that despite the simple idea that people work for money, money is not always the best motivator. This came as a shock to me, but the explanation made sense. Money works for mechanical skills in creating incentive, however, when applied to high level cognitive skills, money actually made people perform worse. Whether it was a result of stress or lack of interest at that point, who knows, but the important thing is that simple rewards that we are used to do not always work like me might think they will. Granted we are not handing out $100 bills in the class room, but this idea of a carrot on the end of a stick can be applied to learning as well. I have recently discovered a web-based math program named “ALEKS” that fits Dan Pink’s ideas for creating an effective incentive. First and foremost the students do much of the work in an autonomous fashion on the computer. An instructor is there to help when needed, but ALEKS is a fully self-contained instructor in that it provides instruction, explanation, feedback and assessment. Students start with a pre-assessment that determines what skills they possess and which they do not. The program then starts them at whatever point they need to – this alone is invaluable in teaching mathematics because a student cannot learn advanced skills without understanding the basic ones first. Thus another value of effective incentives is introduced: emphasis on mastery. A student is not allowed to progress until they demonstrate that they have mastered a certain type of skill such as distribution or multiplying exponents. No more copying homework, cheating on the test or any other method that helped students skirt by assessments in the past, they either get it or they keep working on it. The last piece of the puzzle is that the program continually challenges the students to prove their mastery of previous topics and if they have forgotten them, well then they get pushed back to that topic to re-learn it until they have mastered it again. Within this class room setting the program would be ideal for large groups in that an instructor could separate his or her lower achieving students and work in small groups with them while the higher level students work on their own setting their own pace the entire way. In terms of the layout of the class, the teacher could have the lower level at the desks in the front and the higher level at the couches or conference tables working autonomously. So as not to portray a negative impression on the lower level students, this arrangement could always be flipped as well. Individualized instruction does not end when students leave this room, however, teachers can diversify their materials and teaching methods in the normal class room as well.

Some might say that the design of this class room is too different and that in the end it will only serve as a temporary distraction with no long-lasting impact upon the students and faculty. I would respond by saying that the room is supposed to be different and that the skills learned while using the room will help the students and faculty the rest of their lives. The objective of educators is to create high achieving, self teaching life long learners who have an interest in bettering themselves. As shown by the research that the design of this room has taken into consideration, it is a very real possibility that student achievement will increase and stay increased. This room will make use of the disruptive innovation theory, as expressed on Edutopia, in which rather than just reinforcing the status quo, technology is used to create a new path that will be student centric. Technology will foster creativity and support different learning styles; allow student-teacher involvement in a beneficial manner for both parties; make individualized education an easy and productive task rather than difficult and strained one and finally, increase accessibility while reducing costs over the long-term. This is not a dream. This “what if” can really happen. This “what if” should happen.

Sources:

http://www.edutopia.org/comfortable-truth

http://www.emergingedtech.com/2009/06/6-examples-of-using-twitter-in-the-classroom/

http://livebinders.com/play/play_or_edit/9665

http://www.aleks.com

http://www.edutopia.org/student-centric-education-technology

http://www.edutopia.org/school-innovation-defined

http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/132/a-designer-takes-on-his-biggest-challenge-ever.html?page=0%2C0

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc&feature=related – Dan Pink

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iG9CE55wbtY”

http://chronicle.com/article/Teach-Creativity-Not/124879/

Nelson, B. C., & Ketelhut, D. J. (2008). Exploring embedded guidance and self-efficacy in educational multi-user virtual environments. International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, 3, 413-427. doi: 10.1007/s11412-008-9049-1

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Social Media in the Classroom

One of the big challenges I face as an instructor, is to foster student involvement and discussion on the topic we are discussing in class. Some students are shy and do not want to speak up, others are perfectly content to take their notes and give the ideas no further consideration. This is a problem, however,  in that I do not want robotic students that just memorize facts and then spit them back out on an exam. I want students that understand the material and how it relates to other ideas we have discussed – memorizing facts will not create these learners. In fact, I would prefer to have students that really engaged the material and perhaps did not learn as many facts, rather than a student that memorized every factoid that left my lips. In the end, students will most likely forget any facts that they crammed into their head for an exam anyways, but skills like debate, analysis, criticism and conjecture can be used and re-used for a lifetime.

I feel like sometimes I get caught in a rut of teaching facts because they are easier than teaching someone how to question an idea, formulate an opinion and write a response. In addition, the students protest much less when having to just fill in blanks, so that is enticing as well. Bottom line, thinking of creative and innovative ideas that motivate students while demanding a higher level of work from them is hard.

However, some teachers around the USA are using social media to make this process easier. A number of college professors allow computer and cell phone usage during class (gasp!) so that their students can discuss topics that come up. One teacher led a twitter discussion while another encouraged students to make posts as he went through his slide show.

I like both ideas because I think the novelty alone will improve student achievement, but once again, I feel locked in place because of restraints I find at my school.

  • We have a computer lab to use, but we would have to leave the class room which immediately removes us from the routine and if anything changes in the routine, many of them turn back into 2 year olds.
  • Beyond losing the attention of some, the computers are pretty slow these days, require the students to log-in multiple times and often stop working. So if I were to say “go make a post on twitter about what we talked about today,” it would take them at least 15 minutes, probably more like 20 to get it done- that is at least 1/3 of my class time.
  • Some would never get it done because of tech problems. I would like to make it a grade, but if they are unable to complete it because of technology, I can’t hold that against them.
  • Students are blocked from Twitter by a filter anyways.
  • One last barrier – the students are not allowed to download anything (even plug-ins) which makes using technology a nightmare. Even I, as a teacher, am not allowed to download anything on the computer. This really ticks me off – how can you pay me thousands of dollars a year and entrust me with the future of dozens of children, but you won’t let me update my Firefox?!

Every time I like an idea that uses technology, there is some sort of constraint that I cannot overcome that prevents me from using it – it is kind of depressing. Sometimes I kind of feel like it would be better if I did not learn about this stuff because then I would not know what I am missing, ignorance is bliss as they say. How does one fight the uphill struggle against student apathy while at the same time having to do it with one hand behind their back and hopping on one foot because of constraints on technology?

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PBS Digital Media

This past week I watched the 1 hour special on PBS entitled Digital Media: New Learners in the 21st Century. There was a lot of interesting ideas and themes contained within the hour long show, but at the same time, there were also a lot of unanswered questions. I am going to use this blog to discuss the possibilities of the what the video showed as well as the doubts that I have.

I suppose let’s start with the bad news first. Throughout the entire show, as cool as the stuff seemed, I just kept asking myself the same question: how could my school ever afford this stuff? From what I saw, not only did every student have a new Mac laptop, but they were also working with advanced programs, projectors and software. All of that stuff costs a lot of money. I know that when my school recently purchased a projector for us, I was quite excited and that is nothing compared to what the students in the show were using.

Another unanswered question that I had was whether all this stuff worked or not. Not once throughout the entire show did they mention improved students achievement, grades, test scores or anything. The film obviously made everything look very nice and educational, but for all we know all the students were failing. In this past week’s class, it was mentioned that most, if not all, of the schools in the film were private charter schools. Since they are not public, they are not required to conform to standardized testing and AYP. Now I am not saying that I am a big fan of standardized tests, but before we spend millions of dollars on re-tooling all of our schools with a whole lot of technology, we better make sure that it is going to make a sizable impact. Therein lies another question, if a company guaranteed a 1% rise in student achievement or test scores for $5 million, would you take it? You are improving student success, but is it worth the cost? Obviously this is an extreme case, but it brings up the point of where do we draw the line between student achievement and cost – which I am sure will be an issue when deciding on technology usage.

Enough pessimism, now it is time to talk about what interested me from the video. Despite my complaining about the cost of each student having a laptop, the possibilities of what could be done with such a situation are certainly enticing. At the bare minimum, we would not have to leave the class room when we need to use the computers. Students could use the computer to type notes during lectures, they could quickly find additional info when completing assignments and they could actively participate in class discussions using chat boxes or forums. Active student engagement would be the best product of in class laptops. It would certainly be a challenge making sure that the students were doing what they were supposed to rather than just playing solitaire during a lecture, but certain programs or websites could be blocked using a filter.

Another issue in Digital Learners that interested me a lot was the use of video games. I like video games a lot myself, therefore, I know that when I really get into a game, I learn a lot about it. Now if the game is focused on killing aliens, what I learn is not so useful for the real world (unless of course there is an alien invasion). However, if games could be designed that focused on school topics but were as engaging as the “killing aliens” video games, then that could be a powerful tool in the class room. They mentioned during the show that video games are essentially just a group of problems and the way you beat the game is by solving those programs – otherwise known as problem solving which is a major topic in schools. So if a student could be led to believe that they are just playing a video game, but are in fact learning life-long problem solving skills, everyone wins. So I guess the question is, how do we create a really engaging game about not so engaging topics like Keynesian economics or quadratic equations. Somehow the real game industry, not the boring educational games that exist today, but the people who make games like Grand Theft Auto or World of Warcraft need to be enticed to create educational games.

Then again even if the top game designers work on turning linear algebra into a video game, is it ever going to be as fun as blowing stuff up? Is it possible to turn every topic into a really good video game? I’m not quite sure honestly. Which brings up the idea of perhaps not everything can be fun to learn, but that doesn’t mean you should not learn it. Perhaps we should focus less on making learning fun and more on teaching students to enjoy achieving success. When I was in school, I did not study because I liked to learn the topics necessarily, I studied because I enjoyed getting good grades. Maybe that is the problem, we are trying to make the learning process fun when it is not possible, but then again, how do we teach them to strive for success? Another question that I do not have an answer for.

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What’s my sentence?

Here is my video answering the question “what is my sentence?” It is almost 4 hours late because I am an idiot that doesn’t know how to read directions, but none the less, here it is hopefully for some partial credit.

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Techstanding #1

It is no secret that modern teachers are fighting an uphill battle for the attention of our students. The main competitor is technology such as Iphones and PSPs. How do we as educators compete with devices that can take you half way across the world with the push of a button? I would argue that we cannot win, therefore, we should cut our losses and pitch in with the winning side – technology. Who says that it is not possible to harness this unstoppable energy and use it for education in the class room? If the students put as much interest into learning in the class room as they do texting or playing video games then we will have no problem in creating strong learners.

In order to break down how technology will be applied to the class room, I am going to make use of the Universal Design for Learning.

When using UDL, the first step is to consider representation – or in other words – what types of media will I use? The students of today are a very diverse population with a very diverse set of intelligences. Obviously it behooves an instructor to tap into these varied intelligences by presenting students with a variety of different media from which they can learn information. In my class room I would like to make use of PowerPoint for those days that you are taking notes. It provides a clean and neat form of displaying important information while allowing for pictures, audio and video so as to augment the words. Nothing hits home while talking about D-Day in WW2 like showing a clip from Saving Private Ryan.

Saving Private Ryan D-Day

Another form of media that I would like to use more is video games. According to Gee, a well designed video game allows the user to feel like a master before total competence has been gained. By reaching the rewards of instruction early, this motivates learners to continue on. Prensky also supports the use of video games in that they appeal to the modern brain of digital natives. Rather than being slow and methodical, video games force students to multi-task, use graphics instead of text and allow them to achieve random access. In my previous grad class I designed a simple simulation using Inform 7 which allowed the user to become part of the decisions leading up to and during WW2. Using technology in this fashion fits Prensky’s beliefs as well because it provides instant feedback. As soon as a student makes a decision, he or she is presented with the results immediately. On top of all these benefits, most video games make use of spatial reasoning which is another type of intelligence that I am trying to target.

A final example of a type of technology which is well suited to the class room, is music. Now music has been around for centuries and, therefore, is not necessarily a new technology, but the new ways we have of using it are. I can download a song from Itunes at home, put it on a jump drive and play it at school the next day. In most cases actually, I just use YouTube to look up a song and play it in class. If need something for the American Revolution, I just type in “American Revolution songs” and I have a variety of selections to choose from.

By using music, it appeals to students that are strong in that form of intelligence, but it also gives them something to associate the information with. Rather than just memorizing facts, they can link them to the song that I played that day, which is much easier for some of the students.

Having considered representation, it is time for the next step in UDL: action & expression. By allowing multiple forms of response to the information, teachers allow students a variety of means to express their thoughts and ideas. One method which has been studied quite a bit by Maloney, J. H., Kafai, Y., Resnick, M., & Rusk, N. and Kelleher, C., Pausch, R., & Kiesler, S. is the idea of letting students explore technology on their own with limited support. Maloney et. al. gave groups of inner-city youth access to the computer program Scratch after school on a voluntary basis. Despite having only a few mentors with no experience in Scratch, the students were able to achieve significant progress in using the program. Kelleher et. al.’s experiment was very similar, but they studied adolescent girls and their interaction with the computer program Alice. This time they had an expert mentor, but he or she would only help the girls when asked to do so.

Obviously both situations had students learning on their own – something all teachers salivate over. The idea that students could be motivated to learn new ideas with no threat of punishment or poor grades almost seems too good to be true. Herein lies the true potential for technology: students want to use it. If we as educators can design technology that has skills and ideas embedded in them, the students will use them willingly and learn without even realizing it. On some level this seems like we are duping the children and taking advantage of their naivety, but if it works, it works. One final thought on this idea, as effective as these tests were with very limited instruction or support from a teacher, Nelson, B. C., & Ketelhut, D. J. bring up the obvious next step of how powerful technology could be with the proper level of scaffolding provided by a knowledgeable teacher. With technology, a teacher moves from being the main source of education to a learning multiplier which increases retention enormously.

Another form of student response which has been suggested is the use of groups and technology. Papert in his paper Mindstorms discussed the use of Samba schools in Brazil where there were no adult teachers. All the children were learners, but with differing levels of experience. This environment of participatory culture as Ondrejka refers to it allows those who want to learn to go to those who know a lot about the subject. Everyone participates in the teaching and learning process rather than it being a one-side affair between a teacher and students. Schools could make use of the online program SecondLife as it is an open world that allows anyone to create pretty much anything they want. Students could experiment on their own, get help from knowledgeable peers and most importantly take part in the education process from start to finish.

Second Life

Another part of action & expression is varying how the instructor gives feedback. Technology provides many venues for responding to student creations. At my school we use a web based program called EdOptions (www.edoptions.com) which uses a pretty simple text and question format. Using this design, the most basic feedback to a student is what questions they got right and what they got wrong. Students can go back and look at previous submissions to see correct answers in green and wrong ones in red. I can also post a comment at the bottom to provide focused support or even motivation. Technology can do much more than this, however, via the internet a teacher could create a shared document on google docs in which the teacher and student could edit a work in progress. Another option is to record a video and post it on YoutTube showing the instructor explaining his or her feedback using audio and visual sources. The possibilities for post-assessment instruction and re-teaching are really only limited to what the teacher is up for.

The final step in UDL is engagement. This is popular idea in education today with many different names such as Differentiated Instruction and Response to Intervention (RTI). They all focus around the idea that education should be student centered and based upon what interests them and what they need to succeed, even if success is not the same for everyone. I think that an instructor combines methods from above such as audio/visual references, computer software, web based learning and student involvement in learning with the idea that these tools should be crafted for each individual learner, any child can be made to achieve. Rather than designing a unit with 3-4 weeks of instruction and then one big test, have multiple informal assessments along the way with which the instructor can gauge the progress of individual students and tweak things as necessary. If a student seems to be struggling with learning facts through using notes, allow him or her to learn them using another means such as a video game or computer application. If a student has trouble connecting information, use music to create bridges between islands of knowledge. No matter what, no student should be forced down the same path as everyone else. We all are different people and, therefore, learn differently as well. To achieve more in school, we as educators must adapt to the needs of our students.

From my own experience,  what I have found is that even though school is serious business not be taken lightly, education must be fun or else it is just not as effective. If technology will help create that aura of fun in the class room, then it should be used to the utmost extent. By combining effective content, varying means of response/feedback and engagement, instruction should become not only easier, but also better over the long run.

Sources:

Papert, S. (1993). Mindstorms: children, computers, and powerful ideas. Basic Books. Chapter 8: Images of the learning society.

Gee, J.P. (2007) Pleasure, learning, video games, and life. In Knobel, M., & Lankshear, C. (2007). A new literacies sampler. Peter Lang Publishing.

Maloney, J. H., Kafai, Y., Resnick, M., & Rusk, N. (2008). Programming by choice: urban youth learning programming with scratch. ACM SIGCSE Bulletin, 40(1), 367-371.

Kelleher, C., Pausch, R., & Kiesler, S. (2007). Storytelling alice motivates middle school girls to learn computer programming. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems (pp. 1455-1464). San Jose, California, USA: ACM.

Ondrejka, C. (2007). Education Unleashed: Participatory Culture, Education, and Innovation in Second Life. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning, 229-251.

Nelson, B. C., & Ketelhut, D. J. (2008). Exploring embedded guidance and self-efficacy in educational multi-user virtual environments. International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, 3, 413-427. doi: 10.1007/s11412-008-9049-1

Mark Prensky Digital Natives/Digital Immigrants

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