Using Technology to Collaborate with Students and Teachers

As a teacher collaboration is a term that is often used to describe when teachers meet together. However, collaboration isn’t necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about relationships between teachers and their students. When looking at ISTE Educator Standard 4 “Educators dedicate time to collaborate with both colleagues and students to improve practice, discover and share resources and ideas, and solve problems.” I wondered how can digital tools be used to foster collaboration between primary students and teachers? Can these tools also be used to engage in collaboration among other primary classrooms?

With these questions in mind I wanted to find out what digital tools other schools were using as collaboration between staff and students. In my own school we have started using Microsoft’s OneNote to exchange artifacts, assign projects, and to give feedback. While this is something available to all of the students and staff in our district, it is hardly used.

Why Collaboration is Important

Creating a collaborative educational environment can build a community of caring individuals who are all working toward one common goal: increasing the students’ positive outcomes. Whether you are collaborating with another educator to team-teach, working hand in hand with other adults such as the school’s administration or parents, or are encouraging the students themselves to learn together, collaboration in education can benefit everyone who has a stake in the school setting. With collaboration students and teachers can connect to Google Drive, Skype and other cloud-based platforms that enable them to communicate, share their work with each other, and prepare projects together. It makes the interactivity last throughout the school day and beyond it.

Digital Tools to Help Collaboration

To help answer my questions I found an article by Heather B. Hayes “Advances in Technology Foster Collaboration Between Teachers and Students” In this article Hayes talks about Edmond’s School District in Lynnwood, WA using Google Doc and other Google applications for students “to collaborate on group project plans or to peer review each ­other’s papers. In one class, a group of seventh-graders teams up to create a podcast using a variety of cloud-based tools. Each student is assigned a different task, including researching the content online, writing and recording the script, editing and revising the audio, determining sequencing and providing sound effects and music. And kindergarteners and first-graders rely on a secure online learning journal and digital portfolio to post their daily work and comment on each other’s work; produce videos and other creative content; and share online with the class, their teacher and even their parents and grandparents”.

Why Schools are using Google Classroom

After reading Haye’s article it seemed like most school tend to use Google applications for staff and students. I wanted to know how these applications were being used to make them so beneficial. In article Allhands: Why use Google Classroom? Here’s what you need to know by Joanna Allhand, she states that 68% of district nationwide use Google Classroom. Some of the advantages to using this application include, Teachers can customize assignments based on students’ needs and interests. Multiple students can work on an assignment at once, and teachers can watch remotely as students collaborate – making them more like guides for where to find information than the ultimate sources of it. Hayes also mentions that using programs such as Google Classroom are beneficial because “Students are absorbing critical soft skills — teamwork, leadership, networking and critical thinking — that will take them far in life. But they’re so engaged that they probably don’t even realize it. This is about implementing good teaching practices for core subjects, of course, but it’s also about preparing our students for the future.

Benefits of Using Google to Collaborate

Google has also made collaborative learning easier. Teachers can share content with their peers in one way — such as through a document that can be edited — and then share a different version with students — a document without editing functions. My classmate Lauren Borrero wrote a fabulous blog about using Google Classoom for teacher collaboration. Google can also be used for discussions in the classroom. Which become more easily facilitated by a student response system that allows teachers to start question-driven discussions on their class’s virtual page. The Share to Classroom extension lets educators send a website or other content for a lesson to all their students at once.

Although my district doesn’t use Google for collaboration I feel like it is a great free program for teachers and staff to use. With all that is has to offer for collaboration, I recommend that everyone gives it a try.

Sources:

Allhands, J. (2017, November 06). Allhands: Why use Google Classroom? Here’s what you need to know. Retrieved April 11, 2018, from https://www.azcentral.com/story/opinion/op-ed/joannaallhands/2017/10/09/google-classroom-changing-teachers-students-education/708246001/
Cortez, M. B., & M. (2017, June 14). Google Classroom: Exploring the Benefits for Teachers. Retrieved April 11, 2018, from https://edtechmagazine.com/k12/article/2017/06/google-classroom-exploring-benefits-teachers
Hayes, H. B. (2017, July 05). Advances in Technology Foster Collaboration Between Students and Teachers. Retrieved April 11, 2018, from https://edtechmagazine.com/k12/article/2017/07/advances-technology-foster-collaboration-between-students-and-teachers
ISTE Standards FOR EDUCATORS. (n.d.). Retrieved April 11, 2018, from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-educators

Boost your professional learning network with Twitter chats

Back in my first year as a middle school science teacher, I asked experienced colleagues, “When will I know what I am doing as a teacher?” One said it would be at least three years. Another forecasted five. Well, I am approaching the end of my fifth year, and I have come to know what I am doing as a teacher – I am learning.

Now, if you’re a new teacher, that has got to be a frustrating answer to a meaning-of-life type of question, but please hear me out. Maybe some of the “growth mindset” preaching to students has finally started to rub off on me. It is clear as day that if you’re not learning as a teacher, you are stagnating and you will either lose steam or lose heart. In learning from students and colleagues, we can stay prepared and motivated for tomorrow. Toward this end, I dipped my toes into Twitter, looking for ways to boost my professional learning network (PLN).

Every day as teachers, we learn from our students. There is a constant push and pull, a give and take, an ebb and flow, which, at worst, feels like pulling teeth, and, at best, feels like cooperation. When students know we are doing our best, they know we care about them, so they do their best, and everybody learns and grows. I tell students that they are “growing up and growing out” like a tree. As they grow their own self identity (tree trunk), ideas and skills (branches, leaves, flowers and fruit), their roots are also growing to support them and connect them with their community and others outside of their community.

As teachers, we refresh, expand and improve our practice when we collaborate with each other. In the tree analogy, PLNs are like nutrient exchange in plant-fungal symbioses. The people we work with everyday are part of our support system (our roots) and we can expand that system through connections outside of our communities through online PLNs (network of mycelia). Through the PLN we can gain invaluable resources and share our strengths with others.

Why Twitter as a PLN tool?

Twitter is a far-reaching, flexible, and focused tool to boost your PLN. Forte, Humphreys and Park (2012) argue that, “through twitter, teachers forge and maintain professional ties outside their local schools and, in doing so, become conduits for new practices and ideas to move in and out of their local communities.” (Discussion, paragraph 1) If that doesn’t sound like the role of a fungal symbiont, then I don’t know what does.

Twitter is far-reaching in that you can expand your PLN beyond your department, school and district to enrich the diversity of your PLN. Krutka, Carpenter and Trust (2017) designed a PLN enrichment framework, in which they ask questions about the people, spaces and tools involved in our PLNs. Here are examples from each category of questions:

People:

• Which people might I add to my PLN – including those with different perspectives or backgrounds – to enrich my learning?

Spaces:

• What new spaces should I seek out to advance my learning and that of my students?

Tools:

• How do these tools contribute to students’ learning? (p. 249)

In practice, Krutka et al. (2017) suggest we begin by individually considering such questions (branches), then share initial thoughts and answers with trusted colleagues (roots) and then share emergent ideas with our extended PLNs (fungal symbionts). (p. 250)

In case we need a reminder, Larson Jr. (2007) explains why diversity of ideas is helpful for problem solving:

“When different members possess different types of knowledge, skills, and abilities germane to performing the task, the group as a whole has more to work with – and so greater potential to perform well – than when every member possesses essentially the same knowledge, skills and abilities.” (p. 414)

For example, in my department of science teachers, we are all male and would benefit from the addition of ideas and perspectives from teachers of other genders.

Twitter is flexible in that there are many different ways to use it, from lurking, to learning to sharing, synchronously and asynchronously. I had always known hashtags as way to connect people and ideas asynchronously, which is great in times when synchronous communication is not possible. Then, a conversation with a colleague got me thinking about how to use Twitter synchronously and I found a few resources for Twitter chats.

  1. Education Chats – (Blumgarten, Hamilton, Murray, Evans, & Rochelle) a collaborative list of education chats on Twitter
  2. 40 education Twitter chats worth your time (Fingal, 2018)
  3. TweetDeck – dashboard and management tool for your twitter account, allows you to organize information from Twitter and follow specific hashtags and chats with ease.

Lastly, Twitter is focused because you can leave behind the social distractions of other social media platforms. By starting a teacher account and mindfully choosing who you follow, you can keep your home page or “feed” focused on the learning goals you have for yourself and for your students.

 


Resources

Behie, S. W., & Bidochka, M. J. (2014). Nutrient transfer in plant-fungal symbioses. Trends in plant science, 19(11), 734-740.

Blumengarten, J., Hamilton, C., Murray, T., Evans, C., Rochelle, J., Education Chats. Retrieved from https://sites.google.com/site/twittereducationchats/education-chat-official-list

Fingal, D. (2018) . 40 education Twitter chats worth your time. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/explore/articleDetail?articleid=7

Forte, A., Humphreys, M., & Park, T. (2012). Grassroots professional development: How teachers use Twitter. Proceedings of the AAAI International Conference on Weblogs and Social Media (ICWSM). Dublin, Ireland.

Krutka, D., Carpenter, J., & Trust, T. (2017). Enriching Professional Learning Networks: A Framework for Identification, Reflection, and Intention. Techtrends: Linking Research & Practice To Improve Learning61(3), 246-252. doi:10.1007/s11528-016-0141-5

Larson Jr., J. R. (2007). Deep Diversity and Strong Synergy. Small Group Research38(3), 413-436.

Moon, T. (2010). Organizational Cultural Intelligence: Dynamic Capability Perspective. Group & Organization Management35(4), 456-493. doi:10.1177/1059601110378295

 

Co-learning, Co-teaching, and Cogenerative Dialogues to Improve Learning and Teaching Outcomes

What happens when you allow two people with seemingly different backgrounds to work together?  Great collaboration! This is true of a program co-sponsored by the Center for Educational Equity and Big Brother/ Big Sister that paired 9-14 year old girls with adult women to learn about computers.  The little and big sisters would meet to solve computer problems through a software program called SISCOM, (Wolman, 1986). Together they would dive deep into discussion, take turns leading and learning, helping each other problem solve through a process that provided 20 hours of computer basics instruction, (Wolman, 1986). Not only did the pairs work together to solve their shared problem but institutions worked together to provide the necessary resources.  This story highlights the successes of Co-Learning.

Traditional learning environments are generally set up to rely on one “expert” or teacher to lead and the remaining participants as the learners.  The teacher chooses what material to cover and to what extent the participants engage in the material. While this system works on the surface level, one of the major problems is that the teacher and students do not interact,“…when teachers and students do not interact successfully, contradictions occur,” (Tobin & Roth, 2005). This leads to the development of negative emotions that can manifest as disinterest, disappointment, frustration for the students, and job dissatisfaction for the teachers, (Tobin & Roth, 2005). According to Rheingold, one of the appeals of co-learning is that it levels out the hierarchy of the classroom.  When Rheingold engages in co-learning, he has everyone sit in a circle because then everyone is visible and everyone has an equal voice, (Rheingold, 2018). Co-learning assumes that teacher isn’t the gatekeeper nor the expert in all subjects and that all participants have something valuable to share and teach about a given concept. Just like in the Big Brother/Big Sister example above, neither the little nor big sister had an advantage over the learning and teaching of the SISCOM program. Both partners took equal interest and value in what the other knew, shared, and did. Because of the flattened hierarchy, it increased motivation, engagement, and excitement about learning/teaching, thereby improving learning outcome and attitudes towards learning, (Tobin, 2014).

One of the coveats of co-learning is co-teaching. While co-learning gives all participants an equal voice in learning together, co-teaching takes this a step further by inviting participants to also engage in all phases of the teaching process, (Tobin and Roth, 2005).  When implemented, co-teaching occurs between two or more teachers where one teacher may take on a mentor role. The most important factor of co-teaching is that it is not a mere division of tasks, but rather that teachers participate in the creation of all tasks.  Because some of the learning that occurs is subconscious, following through on process of co-teaching is important, (Tobin & Roth, 2005).

Diagram of the Co-teaching summary
Figure 1.1 Co-Teaching Summary

I’d also like to make a small mention about cogenerative dialogues. Tobin defines cogenerative dialogues as a side-component of co-teaching though it may also be used seperately.  Cogenerative dialogues involves small groups of about 5 individuals representing stakeholders (or demographics) that discuss specific incidences in class including reflection on lessons, (Tobin, 2014). Initially, these discussions can explore what works and what doesn’t in class lessons, but the discussions can also be expanded to roles of students/teachers, classroom rules, and how to use resources, (Tobin, 2014).  The benefit of these independent discussions that that all views and understandings are valued and all explanations are co-generated. It helps to ease communications among all cultural, socioeconomic boundaries by identifying (and acting upon) contradictions and later improving the quality of teaching and learning (Tobin & Roth, 2005).

Diagram of summary of cogenerative dialogue theory
Figure 1.2 Summary of Cogenerative Dialogue Theory

Despite the benefits of co-learning, several barriers should be addressed. Rheingold hypothesizes that teachers may be adverse to adopting co-learning because of the high level of trial and error that goes along with it, (Rheingold, 2018).  Teachers must give up a certain level of control and understand that outcomes will vary from classroom to classroom. While Rheingold is sympathetic to these barriers, he argues that trial and error also offers real-time modeling of problem solving and troubleshooting.  The key is to show students how to reflect upon a problem, re-examine, and adjust to the situation as necessary, (Rheingold, 2018).

Co-learning with a tech twist.  The ISTE standard for educators (4b in particular) indicates that teachers “collaborate and co-learn with students to discover and use new digital resources and diagnose and troubleshoot technology issues”, (ISTE, 2017).  In short, the standard places importance on the principles of co-learning addressed by Tobin and Roth, in addition to the modeling Rheingold stresses as a key factor to co-learning by focusing on how technology can foster collaboration while improving troubleshooting skills.  I had a particular problem in mind when I chose to explore this ISTE standard 4 component.  In my human nutrition class, students conduct a dietary analysis on their own diet.  The main features of this assignment is that students must accurately track their intake over the course of three days then input the data into an analysis program, later analyzing the findings in comparison to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The analysis program I had selected for this assignment, SuperTracker (https://www.supertracker.usda.gov/), will be discontinued at the end of this academic year for undisclosed reasons.  While the program was not without its faults, I supported the use of SuperTracker due to the fact that it is a free program easily accessible to anyone with internet, and it relied on the USDA database, an accurate and reliable set of nutrition data. I am now facing the challenge of reviewing apps and websites for SuperTracker’s replacement. However, the assignment would take a whole new meaning for students if they were allowed to co-learn from the start to finish of this project. In order for this project idea to be successful, it is important to consider how  nutrition-related apps can be leveraged to facilitate co-learning among students and professors regarding modes of nutrition education.

Addressing the ISTE Standard. As I started my search of nutrition-related apps and their feasibility for co-learning, I determined that credibility of app information should be a top priority. One of the challenges my students face is finding credible information to further their understanding.  For as long as I’ve been a professor, we’ve always looked at articles and websites and discussed the importance of reviewing these for credibility. However, information is now found in a variety of different mediums not limited to digital articles. Students are now using apps, videos, and other multimedia to gather information.  Understanding where that medium sourced their information is key to determining credibility. By examining and evaluating credibility for each app, all members involved in the use of this app would participate in troubleshooting and problem solving, a key caveat of the ISTE standard.

 The sheer amount of nutrition apps is staggering so I decided to narrow my search by starting with a credible source that provided a curated list, the Apps Review section of the Food and Nutrition Magazine. Food and Nutrition Magazine is a publication of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND).  Where AND publishes research through the Journal of Nutrition and Dietetics, the magazine is often viewed as the “lighter” side or the “practical” side of the dietetics world. Food and Nutrition Magazine features new products, recipes, research highlights, in short, ways to keep updated in the food and nutrition world. The curated list of apps (https://foodandnutrition.org/tag/apps/) contains reviews of new and upcoming apps by the editors.  Those that are deemed reliable, credible, and useful, make the app list. The apps featured on the list explore a variety of nutrition topics that may have a nutrition education focus including food safety, physical activity, dining out, meal planning, in addition to apps that may be used by professionals in a variety of different capacities, such as video recording.

The list could serve as a good starting point for facilitating co-learning of the human nutrition dietary analysis project.  Having students further explore these apps in pairs (or small groups of three) in relation to assignment parameters can help facilitate collaboration and co-learning.  Adding a presentation element where these pairs teach the class on the usability of their chosen app may invoke the principles of co-learning. Finally, placing students in small, diverse groups and allowing them to reflect on the assignment makes their viewpoints heard as they embark in cogenerative dialogues.

While I initially had my sights set on this curated list for my human nutrition class, some of these apps may help facilitate student-professor collaboration, while others help foster practitioner-patient collaboration, making the possibility for implementing this list in other co-learning scenarios very feasible.  When both parties are able to contribute to how and why an app is used for various purposes, the co-learning is maximized.

References

ISTE. (2017).  ISTE standards for educators. Available at: https://www.iste.org/standards/for-educators

Rheingold, H. (2018). Co-learning: Modeling cooperative-collaborative learning [blog]. Available at: https://dmlcentral.net/co-learning-modeling-cooperative-collaborative-learning/

Tobin, K. (2014). Twenty questions about cogenerative dialogues. In book: Transforming urban education: Collaborating to produce success in science, mathematics and technology education, Chapter 11, Publisher: Sense Netherlands, Editors: Kenneth Tobin, Ashraf Shady, pgs.181-190 DOI: 10.1007/978-94-6209-563-2_11

Tobin, K., Roth, W.M. (2005). Implementing coteaching and cogenerative dialoguing in urban science education. School of Science and Mathematics, 105 (5): 313-21.

Wolman, J. (1986). Co-learning about computers. Educational Leadership, 43 (6), pg. 42. 

How can teachers best collaborate asynchronously using technology?

 

For my current course (Teaching, Learning, and Assessment II) in my Digital Education Leadership Program at Seattle Pacific University, we are looking at the ISTE Standards for Educators. These standards are fairly new, having been “refreshed” in 2017.  For this first module in this course, we are looking at Standard 4 – Collaborator: Educators dedicate time to collaborate with both colleagues and students to improve practice, discover and share resources and ideas, and solve problems.  For my work I have chosen to look more closely at the first indicator for this standards: Dedicate planning time to collaborate with colleagues to create authentic learning experiences that leverage technology (ISTE, 2017).  

Teacher Collaboration

 

I wanted to focus on collaboration among teachers because I see how valuable and effective collaboration can be and the positive effects it can have on teachers, students, and entire school community.  Teaching can be an isolating profession, even when you are constantly in a room with 20+ students most of the day and collaboration is a way for teachers to feel connected and supported. All teachers bring such different skill sets, interests, experiences, and knowledge, and when we find a way to share and utilize all the amazing things that are happening in classrooms down the hall, everyone benefits.  While in-person synchronous collaboration certainly has been the preferred (and often only) mode of collaboration in the past, time and physical constraints make finding time to collaborate difficult and sometimes exclude teachers whose schedules don’t work for the collaboration times or teachers who didn’t have similar subject colleagues at the same location. One way to alleviate these issues is by utilizing technology tools so that teachers can collaborate asynchronously at any time or location that works for their schedule. There are technology tools out there that will allow for asynchronous teacher collaboration to be  as, if not more, valuable as traditional synchronous in-person collaboration.

 

Asynchronous Collaboration Benefits

 

Asynchronous, technology-driven teacher collaboration can have many benefits:

  1. Collaborative products/resources are easy to access and available by all members of the group at any time

      2. Collaborative work can be created/edited/shared by multiple authors

       3. More equitable opportunities for participation by all members

 

Different Tech Tool Options to be Used for Collaboration

 

When researching this topic, I came upon a “top picks” list on Common Sense Education for “Student Collaboration Tools”.  I use Common Sense resources quite a bit in my professionally and have found their “top picks” lists very useful.  Although this list is geared more towards student collaboration, I felt that student collaboration (especially in high school) is not that much different than teacher collaboration; a group of people working together to create or plan something that is hopefully a better product that it would be if done individually.  Another goal is a more time-efficient product, especially for teachers who are often stretched thin on time. In this video from Vancouver Public Schools, it is mentioned that “learning together” and collaboration are key pieces of developing a professional learning ecosystem.

My district uses the Google Apps for Education and I have found this a very good platform for asynchronous teacher collaboration. However, I was curious as to what else was out there.  Besides the Google tools (Hangouts and Drive), I have not used the tools listed below but I hope to in the near future as I dive deeper into asynchronous teacher collaboration.

All of the tools I have listed below are included on Common Sense Education’s “Top Picks” Best Student Collaboration Tools.

 

  1. Google Hangouts- “Google Hangouts is a Google-based service that allows you to communicate through text or video with anyone in your network. Hangouts can also be recorded and archived if you ever want to revisit a conversation or lesson.”
  2. Google Drive- “Originally called Google Docs, Google Drive is a combo online-productivity software suite and cloud-based, file-synchronizing service. Basically, it does everything and lets you put everything somewhere.”
  3. Chalk-Up– “Chalkup is a learning management system (LMS) focused on two things: (1) providing seamless transition from school to home to bus/car rides to extra-curricular events and (2) fostering discussion and collaboration.” This seems very similar to Google Classroom and was recently acquired by Microsoft.
  4. Mural– “MURAL is a website where kids can save text, video, and images to a virtual corkboard to share or catalog them for future use. It functions as a social bookmarking aid and brainstorming tool by making idea sharing and presentation a simple, visual process. Text elements function like notes and can be moved and revised by one or more users.”

 

*descriptions of above listed tech tools from Common Sense Media

 

Sources:

 

Chalkup (Retrieved on 2018, April 6)from: https://www.chalkup.co/

 

Commonsense.org. Top Picks for Student Collaboration Tools (Retrieved on 2018, April 6) from:  https://www.commonsense.org/education/

 

Iste.org. (2017) ISTE Standards for Educators. (Retrieved on 2018, April 6) from: https://www.iste.org/standards/for-educators

 

Mural (Retrieved on 2018, April 6) from: https://mural.co/

 

Office of Educational Technology. Future Ready: Establishing a Professional Learning Ecosystem. (2016, April 05). Retrieved from:  https://youtu.be/TMbeqn7NlyI

 

Google Classroom for Teacher Collaboration

Collaboration. It’s one of the biggest buzzwords in education, and when done properly can take your teaching to the next level. The problem is that time is not something teachers have a lot of. What tools exist for asynchronous collaboration that will actually make life easier while enhancing student learning?

This was my guiding question as I considered ISTE Teaching Standard 4: “Educators dedicate time to collaborate with both colleagues and students to improve practice, discover and share resources and ideas, and solve problems.”

Like a growing majority of schools across America, my former school was a Google school. My department and I used Google Apps for Education extensively to communicate and collaborate. We shared resources, planned assessments, and compared student results using Gmail, Drive, and the commenting features within Google Docs, Slides, and Sheets. This strategy worked well for the most part. However, I knew there had to be a way to streamline the process by collecting all this information in one place, sort of how Google Classroom helped me corral all my students’ work files, comments, and information into one place. And then it hit me…why not use Google Classroom to collaborate with your department?

I’ve been told my Google kung-fu is strong, but I couldn’t find any teachers currently using Classroom as a tool for collaboration. What I did find is a principal using Classroom to share information and hold teachers accountable. Amy Heavin is an elementary school principal in Indiana whose frustration with the large number of emails, announcements, and random Shared with Me files in Google Drive led her to create several Google Classrooms for communication between teachers. She creates classes by grade-level and instead of sending out mass emails that are easily lost or deleted, she posts the information in the appropriate class. As a principal, she also utilizes the assignment option to keep track of which teachers had submitted required forms.

As I read Heavin’s post, I kept thinking about how great it would be to apply this same concept, but within department or grade levels. Instead of it being used strictly for communication and accountability, it could be used as a powerful collaboration tool. All teachers within the department or grade level could be added as co-teachers so that anyone could post and access shared materials. I see this being a place to send reminders, share resources, co-plan lessons, ask questions, share student successes, and house commonly used files.

This Google Classroom “hack” streamlines the collaboration and communication process while allowing teachers to access or input information asynchronously. It would promote ongoing collaboration and work to break down the silo effect between classrooms. To demonstrate how I envision this collaboration happening, I created a sample Classroom and made the following screencast overview.

 

Source: Heavin, A. (2017). Streamlining Teachers and Staff with Google Classroom. [online] Fractus Learning. Available at: https://www.fractuslearning.com/2015/09/30/staff-streamlining-google-classroom/ [Accessed 1 Apr. 2018].

Collaborative Professional Development as a Key to Sustainable Technology Integration

In a recent post, I explored the way faculty behavior—specifically in the form of modeling and collaboration in the classroom that enables students to co-construct knowledge—is a primary factor in connectivist learning. Here, I would like to address the subject of how an institution can help faculty cultivate that type of behavior and the pedagogical and technological skills to support such faculty behavior (specifically in terms of using the LMS required of all and videoconferencing system required of some faculty at my institution). Part of the answer is formal training, such as through online modules that address different aspects of using an LMS. Faculty can complete and return to such modules as they set up and manage course shells and synchronous class sessions. But faculty technology training also needs to become ongoing, discipline-specific, and innovation-oriented, and this can happen through collaboration more sustainably and effectively than through formal training (Future ready).

However, ISTE Standard for Educators 4, which addresses faculty collaboration as a key to improving instructional practices, particularly those involving technology, also raises the implicit administrative question of how faculty can have the time to do so.

At my college I have advocated for establishing a standing committee that would work toward developing a comprehensive framework for educational technology decision-making, including decision-making about professional development for faculty in pedagogical technology. Such professional development could include not only (1) formal training such as modules in the form of tutorials either purchased or created by the institution; but also (2) ongoing support to help teachers from diverse subject areas troubleshoot and adapt the LMS and synchronous platform to the particular learning conditions of those disciplines; and (3) trainings in which faculty would first develop technology-related solutions to instructional needs, then, after implementing their solutions, reconvene to refine and share their solutions which could then be permanently shared in a collection of curricular tools and resources that faculty could continue to develop and draw upon.

I began thinking about this third area of professional development, faculty collaboration in curricular development across the disciplines that meets an institution-wide curricular need, when reviewing literature in my discipline about addressing the needs of students (for example, resettled refugees) who enter open access institutions like mine and have literacy backgrounds that diverge considerably from the college-ready standard English speaking, reading, and writing skills that college instructors may assume students possess. In one such model, Hernandez, Thomas, and Schuemann (2012) described a campus-wide initiative at Miami Dade Community College to use corpus linguistics to analyze  the discrete language skills (e.g. the use of key grammatical features and interpersonal skills such as asking for clarification on assignments) students needed to be successful in general education classes. Faculty then collaborated through a series of workshops over a several-year period to transform the general education curriculum of the college into content-based instruction in the various disciplines that also supported learning English. The collaborative structure of this initiative could be applied in the development of institution-wide instruction that supports faculty (and thereby students) in learning and using the affordances of the technology platforms chosen by an institution’s administration.

The collaboration inherent in such a model would potentially empower faculty to not only work with required technologies, but to gain agency in developing curricula and, in so doing, to both employ the affordances of and overcome the limitations of required technologies. Potential drawbacks with this approach are the amount of time required for faculty and professional development planners alike, and the administrator and faculty “buy-in” needed to replace traditional approaches to institutional technology decisions and traditional course preparation with a willingness to re-design curricula.

Another collaborative approach that I have actually been able to help implement was an informal gathering of interested faculty who met once monthly over the course of a year to share pedagogical technological needs and solutions. This “Reflective Practice Group” met during the 2016-2017 school year in a classroom at my college and provided collaboration, idea sharing, and a deeper sense of support and community to the faculty who participated. Though it was appreciated by these faculty and the college’s administration, as an entirely ad hoc movement outside the normal faculty responsibilities and professional development structures of the college, it was difficult for faculty to devote time to the group following its initial year.

As I continue to dialogue with my administration about how to both sustainably support faculty in developing pedagogical agency in technology use and to build community among faculty (rather than perpetuating a “digital divide” among faculty who are more or less knowledgeable of technology use), I’ll be consulting literature from the interdisciplinary fields of digital education. One such source is Jaipal-Jamani, Figg, Gallagher, Scott, and Ciampa (2015), available at https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1077239.pdf.

This source describes a professional development initiative in which faculty developed pedagogical technology (TPACK) knowledge in a way analogous to the Miami Dade content-based English instruction initiative in that faculty members worked collaboratively to identify and address their own instructional needs, then develop an approach to professional development in which faculty themselves became professional development facilitators. Although this approach contains the drawback of requiring more time investment than faculty or administrators at my institution may be willing or able to give, the source looks like a useful conversation builder for ongoing discussion about technology-related professional development because it contains a practical framework for designing workshops, specifically addresses the TPACK knowledge that is becoming a felt need at my institution, and uses a qualitative research approach to evaluate how research and practice in the professional development of educators can be bridged.

 

References:

Future ready: Establishing a professional learning ecosystem. (2016, April 05). Vancouver Public Schools Office of Educational Technology. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/TMbeqn7NlyI

Hernandez, K., Thomas, M., & Schuemann, C. (2012). Navigating uncharted waters: An accelerated content-based English for academic purposes program. Teaching English in the two year college, 40(1), 44-56.

Jaipal-Jamani, K., Figg, C, Gallagher, T., Scott, R.M., & Ciampa, K. (2015). Collaborative professional development in higher education: Developing knowledge of technology enhanced teaching. The journal of effective teaching, 15(2), 30-44. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1077239.pdf

Engaged conversations: text-based vs. verbal (Module 5, ISTE-CS 4)

For our last post on ISTE Coaching Standard 4: Professional development and program evaluation, we’re thinking about what technology rich professional learning looks like, in the ideal. In my own typical fashion, I am generalizing the population to “learners” before thinking about the specifics of professional development (PD) for teachers.

Ideally, an online learning community looks like a group of people engaged in meaningful, virtual conversation/sharing/collaboration which supports their learning.

But how do you have meaningful conversations in virtual environments? What does it require? What’s different than in-person communication? Why does it feel more difficult?

How can we use what we know from our experiences in other online communities to inform our interactions in the online learning communities that we wish to create? 

How can we use that information to support teachers in creating virtual communities of practice that support them in their professional learning?

Talking with the experienced

I’ve had a hard time finding information about what online community members themselves can do to develop their shared community and learn from each other. There is a lot of information on what facilitators and community leaders can do to encourage community participation, but at the end of the day, it’s up to the community members to engage. So what should community members know about engaging in rich discussions through text to help them have successful text-based discussions? (When I refer to “text” I don’t necessarily mean “texting,” I just mean any form of text-based communication – e.g., texting, Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Reddit, etc.)

My primary tactic for answering my questions this module was to talk to a handful of people I know, who are both thoughtful and have spent a considerable amount of time participating in online communities or otherwise engaging in text-based communication.

Through these conversations, I realized that I was conflating two things: actions that community members can take that support participation in the community and its discussions, and actions that people can take that support engaged conversations. This may or may not be a subtle distinction. The difference is like participation in discussion threads, which may not have much of a back and forth conversational element, versus participation in an engaged conversation where there is a back and forth between participants. For example, if someone posts a question and everyone simply gives their own answer, versus if someone posts a question and a debate begins. One of my friends proposed this definition for an engaged conversation: “engagement is usually when both parties are kinda, aware of and committed to the outcome/effect of the conversation on the other person.” I haven’t fully explored if I think this is a complete definition for my use, but I think it’s worth considering, and for now it’s the most concise and accurate definition I have to work with, so I will use it.

What I was really after was how to support engaged conversation, but there was a noteworthy similarity in what everyone said about how to support participation. The two main things that community members can do to support participation in the community and its discussions are:

  • Post content
  • Respond to posts (even when you disagree)

On the one hand, “yeah, duh,” but on the other hand, even though it’s obvious, there seems to be no escaping that this is the bottom line for an online community. And the smaller the community, the more important it is for community members to commit to doing these things.

Engaged conversations

However, having an engaged text-based conversation is not dependent on participating in a community, since it really only requires two people. So whether your participating in a community, or just one-on-one discussion, what’s different about communicating through text compared to verbal conversation? For text-based conversations:

  • It can require more energy – Typing your thoughts takes time and effort, and communicating through text is slower, overall. The thought of putting all you’re thinking into coherent sentences can feel like walking through pudding.
  • The ability to put ideas into sentences becomes very important – Sometimes we don’t have the words, but in person we still manage to communicate our thoughts or questions through half-sentences and body language. There’s a certain concreteness that becomes very important in a text-based conversation.
  • Multiple people can share ideas simultaneously – Conversations don’t need to be as turned based. You can complete your thought while the other person is typing. In this way, you don’t have to be interrupted and everyone can keep contributing to the conversation. While this can work really well in one-on-one conversations, it seems plausible that this could also work against large-group conversations; if there’s too much to respond to, groups may break out into multiple, smaller-group conversations.
  • You can keep track of multiple conversations simultaneously – For example, in a one-on-one, real-time conversation, while I respond to conversation 1, the other person can respond to conversation 2.
  • Tangents can be easier to come back from – If you are talking about some topic, and you go off on a tangent (or a few), in a verbal conversation it can be hard to remember what point you were initially discussing. But when talking through text, you can make your tangential point and then refer back to what you were discussing earlier to get back on track.
  • They can be very focused – Being able to look back at what you’ve been talking about (like in the above bullet) can promote focused conversation on whatever central thing you’re discussing.
  • Miscommunication or misunderstanding may be more challenging to overcome
Handling miscommunication

The challenge of miscommunication was my husband’s central focus during our discussion (which was verbal). To him, the main thing that seems hard about text-based conversation is preventing and fixing miscommunication. Indeed, when I am writing for people that I don’t know well (like posting to a discussion board for a class), what stresses me out the most is worrying that I will be misinterpreted…and offend someone. And I can easily think of examples where a conversation essentially ended due to unfixed miscommunication. But miscommunication isn’t a difficulty unique to text-based conversations, so what is it about text that makes it feel so much harder?

Signaling misunderstanding is a slower process than the immediate “wait, what?” of verbal conversation. It can take more time and energy to fix miscommunication, and it might be one of those things that feels like walking through pudding. Because the whole process is so much slower, it might amplify how much it feels like clarifying derails the flow of the conversation.

And we all know that lack of tone and body language can lead to miscommunication. But there are two specific ways I can think of that the missing tone and body language can cause a miscommunication to effectively end the conversation:

  • Emotions are muted in text, and emotions are a huge indicator that miscommunication is happening. Therefore, we can’t necessarily see that miscommunication is happening in real-time. And if tension is on the rise, being able to respond to the miscommunication is time-sensitive. If you’re upsetting someone, and you can’t see it, the conversation may be over before you even know what happened. (This happened to me recently. I was pressing for clarification and didn’t realize I was upsetting him.)
  • When miscommunication is realized, and emotions are affected, we don’t have access to tone and body language to smooth things over, which we rely on heavily in verbal conversations. This just increases the difficulty of managing certain types of miscommunication.
Implications

So what does this mean for those of us who are trying to engage in an online community or otherwise trying to have a meaningful conversation through text (whether it be for an online class or professional development, or for a hobby)?

  • Commit to putting your thoughts in writing – There are a handful of people I communicate with regularly, and primarily, through text. There are times when I have to make a conscious decision to sit down and take a minute to write out what I’m thinking. I can feel that I’ve stepped into the pudding, and I can either choose to step out, or walk through it. If you want to have that meaningful conversation, accept that you’re going to walk through it.
  • Work to clarify miscommunication or misunderstanding – Ask for clarification. Put in the time to clarify. Be patient. While it can derail the flow of the conversation to go back and hone in on something you didn’t understand, luckily, tangents are easy to recover from. And it’s worth it. Trusting that someone will work with me to resolve a misunderstanding makes the effort of communicating worth it – because if we’re not going to work to understand each other, why are we even communicating?
The ultimate question

The ultimate question we need to ask each other, and ourselves, when trying to encourage meaningful communication online is:

What will make you choose to participate in engaged conversation in an online community? What do you need in order to commit to writing your thoughts and responding to others? What do you need in order to commit to working through miscommunication?

If we want to intentionally build online learning communities, I think it’s important that we figure out what our own answers to these questions are. If we are going to use virtual communities of practice to support teachers’ professional learning, we need to know what the teachers need in order to participate; and the teachers need to know what their own needs are, too.


Resources

ISTE: International Society for Technology in Education. (2017). ISTE standards for coaches (2011). Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-coaches

Regional Teacher Professional Learning and Technology – Module 5

Involving Many Stakeholders

Like some of my colleagues in the Digital Education Leadership M.Ed. Program at Seattle Pacific University, this quarter has led me to think more broadly about professional development for teachers and specifically professional development through technology. Much of the learning this quarter has been new and valuable to me as a first year instructional technology coach. I’m understanding more about the limitations on professional learning. At the same time I am becoming more and more involved with school and district leadership teams through my position, which exposes me to district and building PD models. Also, I have had the chance to read about some really great professional development initiatives that are happening and have thought, what would it take to make that happen here in WA or in my region, or in my district? By no means have I figured out how to do that, but I still have a desire to work toward better, more engaging professional development that reflects best practices and teacher needs. Although my lens has been fairly focused on building level learning up until now, for this post I’m going to try to zoom out a bit and think about region wide PD. As the final post this quarter, I am still considering how technology coaches implement technology rich learning environments which is ISTE-C 4b. However, as instructional technology coaches work in concert with district and building administrators, I’m going to talk about how I think they might aid in that development once again. A quote from the Office of Educational Technology continues to guide my thinking about professional learning, “technology should not be separate from content area learning but used to transform and expand pre- and in-service learning as an integral part of teacher learning” (National Education Technology Plan 2017). As I frame my thinking about professional learning, I’m always considering that technology is an integral part of that plan.

Learn spelled in scrabble tiles
Pieces of the puzzle

Regional Supports

The question I was asked to investigate this week originally was, what does the ideal technology rich professional learning program look like? I could have investigated that question alone because I’m still unsure of what the “ideal” program looks like even after reading about many great programs. Instead I chose to look at professional learning as a partnership. This quarter I’ve come across so many great partnerships, like those discussed in WA-TPL for example, and that makes me think that the ideal professional learning program would have to be developed in partnership with organizations that reach beyond one school, or school district. State partnerships certainly can help, but I’ve decided instead to focus on regional learning.  The same need is explained this way in the National Education Technology Plan, “broad, coordinated strategic planning requires a commitment from all parties involved to collaborate consistently across organizational boundaries.” Another resource that I found helps to explain how partnership with state, district and regional organizations might work to support professional learning. The authors of the study found that state policies and systems are important for the implementation of effective professional development. “But to ensure the quality of that professional development, it is equally critical to couple state efforts with professional associations and intermediary organizations that help extend the reach of state agencies, offer learning supports of many kinds, and provide a voice for local stakeholders and outside experts” (Chung Wei, Darling-Hammond, Jaquith, & Mindich 2010). Clearly there is a need for ESDs to be a part of professional learning.

Not Recreating the Wheel

In education we are usually great borrowing the work of others. Teachers are resourceful, they will find a way to get material especially lesson plans in the most efficient way. As designers of professional development couldn’t we be doing the same thing? In reading some of the national documents like the NETP or even WA-TPL it is clear that great learning is happening and needs of regions, states or other areas across the country may be similar. Often it seems that lack of resources prevents school districts from really developing a wide spectrum of professional learning that supports all staff. Educational service districts could play a role in alleviating the lack of variety and depth. I think that administrators could support teachers in seeking out additional professional learning and could even allocate time for that if they were familiar with resources that were available. I’ll expand more on these ideas in later paragraphs.

Vertical Disconnect

As a teacher, I’m not sure that my needs were considered for building level learning. I know that I didn’t feel district learning was always relevant to me and I often didn’t hear about professional learning that the ESD was offering. I often hear this complaint from teachers, whether it is voiced in such a direct way or not. Teachers feel like learning isn’t relevant to their needs. Perhaps we can prevent this from happening! As school districts are adopting a professional development plan for a curriculum, a standard, or technology, they could share that with their local ESD. I have a vision that the ESD becomes a virtual library of professional learning, which would allow it to pair districts together, and maybe even provide training to support the needs of more teachers, or extend that learning. Even a medium sized district like mine can’t possibly meet the needs of all of its teachers, a close ESD partnership makes sense. Systems should also be developed to gather a list of requests from teachers. Districts should encourage feedback – authentic feedback – from professional development. District level and building level feedback to let the district look for additional resources if needed. Those requests could shape building level learning, district level learning or regional learning. I may be advocating for something Vermont has been doing for nearly ten years, “the state is attempting to coordinate statewide professional development and allow districts to pool resources and share knowledge through state-supported Educational Services Agencies and intermediary organizations” (Chung Wei et al. 2010). If it has been working in Vermont, I wonder what might be keeping it from happening here?

Past Connections

Many ideas from my previous few posts definitely build to this one, and I would be remiss not to at least mention those themes. Some I mentioned previously are:

  • Administrators becoming instructional leaders
  • Educators turning to local and global PLCs
  • Staff input for professional learning

In addition to these ideas, administrators could be the missing link to provide relevant resources for their teachers. If administrators were really excited about professional learning, because of the impact it can have on their staff and students, connecting staff with additional professional learning opportunities and removing barriers to help get them there would make a lot of sense. I know when my administrator did that by allowing me to attend PD I was appreciative and it impacted my teaching. Maybe administrators would think about becoming experts on professional learning offered in their area if an ESD served as an organizational repository for that learning.

Administrator and Advocate

I don’t mean to say that administrators should know all there is to know about professional learning in their area. Instead, I hope that if they are able to partner with local institutions like ESDs, Universities, in addition to district leadership so that teacher learning could improve. If this were to happen states would prove to be a stronger network of educators because of the common learning and collaboration that would be happening. “A continuum of services should be considered and utilized, from site-based teacher leaders to ESD and state-level experts that can offer further support as needed” (Bishop, Lumpe, Henrickson & Crane 2016). Let’s follow the recommendation from WA-TPL to fully support professional learning in our schools. 

Building on Established Groups

Professional groups definitely are serving a need educators have to get connected and to learn about best practices of technology integration. I have written before about how  Twitter chats turn into a PLN because of the shared learning. Many local professional organizations are serving a similar role, like the Tech TOSA groups that meet in the Puget Sound area. In addition to these opportunities I think administrators and district leaders could partner with ESDs to provide even more focused professional learning for teachers. Maybe they could bring trainers into individual schools, maybe increased utilization of ESD resources would lead to more online trainings. A regional partnership seems like a great next step for school districts to collaborate and extend the learning for their staff since supporting it alone isn’t working. In addition WA-TPL advocates for continued bolstering of state-wide PD saying, “support systems should be scaled up statewide in order to build high quality professional learning” (Bishop et al. 2016). Hopefully this state level work is happening, while it is, I would advocate for strengthening regional systems to better support teachers all across the state.

Resources

Bishop, D, Lumpe, A., Henrikson, R, & Crane, C. (2016). Transforming Professional Learning in Washington State – Project Evaluation Report. Seattle Pacific University: Seattle, WA. Retrieved January 19, 2018, from http://www.k12.wa.us/CurriculumInstruct/WA-TPL/pubdocs/2016-WA-TPL-Evaluation-Report.pdf

Chung Wei, R., Darling-Hammond, L., Jaquith, A., & Mindich, D. (2010). Teacher Professional Learning in the United States: Case Studies of State Policies and Strategies (Summary Report). Stanford University. Retrieved from https://learningforward.org/docs/default-source/pdf/2010phase3report.pdf

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology, Reimagining the Role of Technology in Education: 2017 National Education Technology Plan Update, Washington, D.C., 2017. Retrieved from https://tech.ed.gov/netp/

Individual Project Lesson: Modeling and Understanding Chemical Reactions in Middle School Science

This year, our middle school has taken part in an amazing opportunity to pilot a new, web-based science curriculum that incorporates digital simulations and hands-on learning experiences in an immersive learning environment. As a school, we are teaching the curriculum with as much fidelity as possible in order to be able to provide useful feedback to teachers around the district and to the curriculum developers.

In my Individual Project lesson, I stuck close to the original plan in our curriculum, with the exception of two technology additions: 1.) an online collaborative element using Nearpod and 2.) a feedback poll asking students to reflect on the modeling tools used throughout the unit.

The lesson is part of a unit about chemical reactions in which students experience chemical reactions in the context of a fictional town where people discover an unknown substance in their water, and through three different methods: 1.) an online simulation of a laboratory where students can choose chemicals from a stockroom to virtually mix together and then watch animated groups of atoms interact with each other, 2.) a traditional, hands-on chemical reaction demonstration in class and 3.) rearranging color tokens to represent groups of atoms in chemical reactions.

Wiggins and McTighe (2005) present six facets of understanding, in which students who understand 1.) can explain, 2.) can interpret, 3.) can apply, 4.) have perspective, 5.) can empathize and 6.) have self-knowledge.

The chemical reactions unit offers students plenty of opportunities to explain what they understand, but usually only with one partner or directly with the teacher in written form. Nearpod’s “Collaborate” feature allowed our students to explain chemical reactions to each other in a low-pressure, social format. The students were presented with a question and a virtual board on which to post their answers. This also allowed my students to practice responsible digital citizenship skills while posting something that would be made immediately visible to everyone in the class.

Screenshot from Nearpod.com‘s collaborate feature.

Two aspects of this collaborative activity proved to encourage student engagement and participation. First, students can see each other’s responses as they come in, and can see how I respond to those posts in real time. Peer responses offer a helpful scaffold for students who need help getting started. Secondly, students can give each other “likes” in the form of small heart icons under each post, which brings a fun and positive social aspect to the activity.

In order to provide students an opportunity to show metacognitive awareness, or self-knowledge, I asked them a survey question using Nearpod’s polling feature. I wondered out of the three forms of modeling and demonstrating chemical reactions, which activity helped students the most in understanding how chemical reactions work. I posed the question to two class groups and received surprisingly balanced results:

Nearpod poll for Group 1 (top) and Group 2 (bottom).

While Group 2 showed a preference for the online simulation as the most helpful activity, there was a solid balance between the three activities overall, which shows that our efforts to differentiate instruction modalities are not in vain. Students were receptive and aware of the pros and cons of the different activities they participated in.

In general, the fictional scenario of the town with polluted water keeps students engaged, but I think that making a connection to students’ own communities and even giving them a chance to test their own water or interact with water utility or water treatment officials would help students develop a broader perspective and to develop further empathy. If I could do this project again, I would focus on ways to use the fictional scenario presented in the unit as a springboard to engage students with own community around the topics of chemistry and water resources.


References

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2005) Understanding by design: Expanded 2nd edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ. Pearson Merrill Prentice Hall.

Redefine Your Middle School Science Classroom with Blogging

Blogging as a practice shows great potential for students and teachers to redefine science classrooms. When implemented thoughtfully, blogs can empower students and expand the classroom through interactions with outside learning communities. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) standards call for 21st century science students to be creative communicators and global collaborators, and blogging may be a practice that helps students become both.

The metacognitive nature of this post is not lost on me. I am, after all, blogging about blogging. In fact, my own use of this blogging portfolio (or bPortfolio) spurred me to research blogs in middle school science classrooms. As I learn about learning in a school of education, I have found these blog posts to be one of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of the entire experience.

Our instructors provide topics and facilitate conversations with colleagues. Then, we are sent off on our own to develop a question we are interested in learning about. Our research and further discussion with colleagues helps to refine our question and polish our purpose as we venture forth to post a blog about what we have discovered. Finally we read each other’s blogs and share final thoughts.

Throughout this process, I have felt supported, motivated and free. The built-in feedback processes provide excellent support from instructors and colleagues, so even when I am working independently, I am guided by the support of my instructors and peers. The public nature of blog posts allow a broader audience to access my work, which motivates me to do my best. Within this structure, I have been free to explore my own values, seek answers to the questions I care about most and to find my voice through blog writing.

The ISTE standards for creative communicators calls students to “communicate complex ideas clearly and effectively by creating or using a variety of digital objects such as visualizations, models or simulations” (ISTE Standards for Students, 6c). Student bloggers can link and embed rich online content in their work to engage their readers with a variety of content. Luehmann & Frink (2009) argue that “extending scientific understanding through engagement with content in multimodal format, across geography and time” is one of the learning affordances for science classroom blogs (p. 277). Please see their full table below of learning affordances for blogs in science classrooms:

Luehmann and Frink’s (2009) results of aligning learning affordances of blogging with reform-based science education goals (p. 277, Table 1).

The ISTE standards for global collaborators calls for students to “use collaborative technologies to work with others, including peers, experts or community members, to examine issues and problems from multiple viewpoints” (ISTE Standards for Students, 7c). Blogs can connect students to each other, and virtually break open the walls of the classroom when students engage their own communities in scientific exploration, dialogue and argumentation, redefining the traditional classroom writing task. In redefinition, as described by Puenterdura’s (2006) SAMR model, “technology allows for the creation of new tasks, previously inconceivable.”

SAMR infographic by Lefflerd – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47961924

It is true that blogging is a tool that offers many learning affordances and may even redefine writing tasks for students, but neither would be possible without thoughtful implementation in the classroom. Kolb (2017) reminds us that “technology integration is more complex than simply using a technology tool; pedagogical and instructional strategies around the tool are essential for successful learning outcomes (p. 10). Going further, Cope et al. (2005) argues:

“The thing about all these tecnologyies is that any device which gives human beings another capacity to communicate increases their capacity to do good things and to do bad and silly things. Technology doesn’t drive it. It just opens new possibilities, new depths and new shallowness… Like all technology, it just opens up human capacity to do things better and to do things worse” (p. 203, as cited in Luehmann & Frink, 2009).

What may seem like a grim view of the use of technology is, in fact, supported by research. Petko, Egger & Graber (2014) tested multiple hypotheses around the efficacy of blogging versus a traditional paper and pencil writing assignment and on the use of prompts (e.g., “What key points in today’s lesson did you understand? What key points haven’t you understood yet? Reasons?”) versus no prompts, and found that “the choice of writing medium – weblog versus paper and pencil – had no effect on learning gains as long as writing was supported by prompts,” and, without prompts, students writing on paper performed better than those who wrote online (p. 13). One important limitation of their study was that students did not mutually comment on each other’s blog entries, which is an important social aspect of the blogging experience.

Luehmann and Frink (2009) claim that, while the instructional design of the blog is important, we must also consider practices and culture of the classroom. There needs to be a shift, according to Luehmann and Frink, toward more student agency “through, in part, shared access to learning goals and objectives” (p. 281). Luehmann and Frink recognize the challenge facing teachers: “it is likely challenging to create new activity structures that both upset this positioning, placing students as key contributors to science knowledge construction, and to do so in ways that capitalize on the social networking afforded by blogs” (p. 284).

Lankshear and Knobel (2006) see this as a shift from “Mindset 1 (in which authority and expertise are centralized in the person of the teacher) to Mindset 2 (a distributed and collective authority in which there are ‘hybrid experts’)” (as cited in Luehmann & Frink, p. 289). By using guiding questions and teaching students to fact check each other’s work, teachers can build a culture where students co-construct knowledge and meaning.

To foster inquiry practices with science students in the middle grades, Grant, Lapp, Fisher, Johnson & Frey (2012) recommend the Gradual Release of Responsibility (GRR) framework (Pearson & Gallagher, 1983, as cited in Grant et al., p. 46). Fisher and Frey (2008) have built on the original “I do, we do, you do” gradual release structure to build a more flexible and adaptable model including four components: 1.) purpose and modeling, 2.) guided instruction, 3.) productive group work and 4.) independent tasks

Gradual Release of Responsibility Framework (Grant et al., 2012, p. 47, Fig 1)

Grant et al. (2012) go on to argue that the components of the model can be implemented linearly or recursively among the framework’s components (p. 46). Teachers can take a similar approach with blogging. Teachers should write their own blogs and model appropriate research and writing strategies. Teachers should also provide guided instruction and allow opportunities for group work, but the components need not occur in order before reaching the final goal of independent blogging. Students will then have had sufficient scaffolded exercise to feel capable to write their blogs independently.

We have seen that blogging is a powerful tool that can empower students when implemented thoughtfully. Blogging also has the potential to connect students to communities outside of the classroom. With the a teacher-centered classroom culture or mindset, or without the proper initial support, we have seen that blogging in science classrooms may fail. With a student-centered mindset and with a gradual release of responsibility, we can offer students a chance to co-construct meaning and expand the science classroom through blogging.

 


Resources

Cope, B., Kalantzis, M., Lankshear, C. (2005) A contemporary project: An interview. E-Learning 2(2): 192-207

Grant, M. m., Lapp, D. l., Fisher, D. d., Johnson, K. k., & Frey, N. n. (2012). Purposeful Instruction: Mixing Up The ‘I,’ ‘We,’ and ‘You’. Journal Of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 56(1), 45-55. doi:10.1002/JAAL.00101

Kolb, L. (2017) Learning first, technology second: The educator’s guide to designing authentic lessons. Portland, OR: International Society for Technology in Education.

Lankshear, C., Knobel, M. (2006) New literacies: Everyday practices and classroom learning. Open University Press, New York: NY.

Luehmann, A. a., & Frink, J. (2009). How Can Blogging Help Teachers Realize the Goals of Reform-based Science Instruction? A Study of Nine Classroom Blogs. Journal Of Science Education & Technology, 18(3), 275-290. doi:10.1007/s10956-009-9150-x

Petko, D. d., Egger, N. n., & Graber, M. m. (2014). Supporting learning with weblogs in science education: A comparison of blogging and hand-written reflective writing with and without prompts. Themes In Science & Technology Education, 7(1), 3-17.

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