With advances in brain imaging, neuroscientists can now observe what happens in students’ brains while they are learning in real time. As a result, neuroscience and education researchers are collaborating in ways that benefits both disciplines and may have far reaching effects in how students are taught.
In this Module in our class Teaching, Learning, and Assessment 2, we are focusing on ISTE Educator Standards 1, Learner, and Standard 2, Leader. I chose to focus on standard 1c, “Stay current with research that supports improved student learning outcomes, including findings from the learning sciences.” This topic interested me because I am taking an elective on Neuroscience and Pedagogy, and one of the first topics covered was the perpetuation of “neuromyths” about student learning. It has made me want be more cautious in assessing sources of information on brain-based learning research, but at the same time I am excited to understand more about how neuroscience is giving us better information on how we learn.
Neuromyths are incorrect claims of how the brain works, purportedly based on scientific research. Willis (2015) states “These claims (usually with interventions for sale) are based on research that is either not scientifically valid or not supportive of the specific intervention being promoted.” Figure 1 links to a brief Prezi presentation on several common neuromyths.
Figure 1: Neuromyths (If too small to view here, click on this link: http://bit.ly/2Gy4aMa)
Educators & Neuromyths
In research conducted by the Wellcome Trust in the UK with over a thousand educators, more than 90% of teachers were interested in applying neuroscience research to their teaching, but only a very small percentage used science or academic journals as their source of information. Instead, the majority depended on their organization, other teachers, or an external training provider (Simmonds, 2014). This is understandable, but also somewhat alarming because it means that misinformation is potentially coming from sources like professional development training that should be based on sound research. Zadina (2015) says “’Brain’ presenters are hired for keynotes and professional development with no experience or credentials in neuroscience” (p. 72). Figure 2 shows where teachers said they learned of four supposed brain-based approaches for improving student’s academic performance: Learning Styles, Brain Gym, Left/Right Brain, and Biofeedback.
How Neuroscience and Education Work Together
There is reason to be hopeful however that teaching practices can incorporate sound, neuroscience-based methods and techniques. Master’s and PhD programs are being offered in educational neuroscience, and both disciplines are attempting to work more closely together: educators realize they need to consult with researchers and researchers are trying to share their data with the education community in ways that is understandable and applicable (see Resources below). As Zadina (2015) states: “We cannot underestimate the ability of good teachers to take this information and use it wisely as part of their background knowledge and their strategy toolbox for reaching diverse and struggling learners” (p. 72).
Research Methods Better Suited for Children
Neuroresearch has traditionally involved testing animals in labs, making it difficult to apply findings to humans in the classroom. Even more recent imaging techniques used primarily on humans such as positron emission tomography (PET) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) are not necessarily practical for testing children. PET uses a radioactive substance and fMRI requires sitting perfectly still in a small enclosure (Churches, Dommett & Devonshire, 2017).
Non-invasive and less restrictive neuroimaging techniques such as EEGs (shown in Figure 3) or MEGs can be used on children to measure communication between neurons while doing an activity such as learning to read (Churches, Dommett & Devonshire, 2017).
The Reading Brain
Research conducted at Stanford University led by Bruce McCandliss is an example of how neuroscience findings might lead to effective teaching practices. The study, published in 2015, describes how 16 adults were connected to EEGs to see how the brain responds to different types of reading instruction. Participants were taught a new written language and their brainwaves were observed while they applied either a letter-to-sound instruction method or a whole-word association method. Researchers discovered that the phonics-based approach increased activity in the area of their brains which is optimal for reading and is more developed in expert readers. This research “…provides some of the first evidence that a specific teaching strategy for reading has direct neural impact” (Wong, 2015). Figure 4 below includes a link to a talk by Bruce McCandliss describing this research as well as how scientists and educators can work together to apply brain research to education.
Software and Imaging Allows for Rapid Iteration
The findings from the Stanford study described above were then applied to a study that McCandliss ran in New York City schools. Participants used researcher-designed software that selectively directed the learner’s attention to the sound of words. After twenty sessions, student’s basic reading abilities jumped an entire grade level (Harris & McCandliss, ND). The combination of software and imaging allows researchers to quickly prototype and test different learning strategies in the field, leading to rapid cycles of iteration (Harris & McCandliss – ND).
The stars appear to be aligned for neuroscience research to begin to affect change in education in practical ways. However there will still be neuromyths that arise from oversimplification of research or spin from organizations who might benefit from the adoption of certain practices or products. Fortunately there are resources that are available to educators to help them navigate this extremely interesting but challenging area of science.
“That’s why I think we should start to see cognitive neuroscientists as collaborators on real-world challenges around human learning. That collaborative space—the emerging field of educational neuroscience—is so exciting. Teachers have powerful tools that can change the activity patterns in their students’ minds in the moment. And by applying those tools over time, they can reshape the brain circuits that support fluent literacy. That’s how neuroscientists and educators can come together to empower students in ways we never could before.”Harris & McCandliss (ND)
Resources for Educators on Neuroscience Research
Nature Partner Journal: Science of Learning: “npj Science of Learning is an online open access peer-reviewed journal dedicated to publishing papers on all research areas related to how the brain learns; from the molecular level of understanding how the cells in the brain work to understanding how children and adults learn through experience and formal educational practices” (From their “About” page). The site has a channel with articles targeted toward teachers.
What Works Clearing House: “The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) reviews the existing research on different programs, products, practices, and policies in education. Our goal is to provide educators with the information they need to make evidence-based decisions. We focus on the results from high-quality research to answer the question ‘What works in education?’” (From their website). This video that shows how the site works. You can even sort research based on various characteristics to match that of your school (see Figure 5).
Brainfacts.org “Powered by the global neuroscience community and overseen by an editorial board of leading neuroscientists from around the world, BrainFacts.org shares the stories of scientific discovery and the knowledge they reveal. Unraveling the mysteries of the brain has the potential to impact every aspect of human experience and civilization.” (Souce:http://www.brainfacts.org/about). A special section of the website is devoted to teaching techniques based on brain research.
The Dana Foundation “The Dana Foundation is a private philanthropic organization that supports brain research through grants, publications, and educational programs.” (Source: http://www.dana.org/About/Overview/). Like Brainfacts.org, they have a dedicated part of their website for educators.
McQuinnable.com Resources Thanks to one of our instructors I found this helpful resource on Neuroscience and Learning, along with Conn McQuinn’s Neuroscience and Learning Pinterest Page. I also really liked this article he wrote on “The Brain Science of Making” in the School Library Journal.
Resources on Learning and the Brain from Edutopia. Written in 2011 but updated in 2016 – a list of articles, videos, and other links for exploring education and neuroscience.
Churches, R., Dommett, E., & Devonshire, I. (2017). Neuroscience in the classroom – principles and practices. Neuroscience for Teachers. Carmarthen, Wales, UK: Crown House Publishing.
Harris, L. & McCandliss, B. (ND). Rewiring the brain for reading. Amplify Blog. Retrieved from: http://blog.amplify.com/rewiring-the-brain-for-reading
ISTE Standards for Educators (2017). ISTE.org. Retrieved from: https://www.iste.org/standards/for-educators
Khazan, O. (2018). The Myth of ‘Learning Styles’. The Atlantic, April 11, 2018. Retrieved from: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/04/the-myth-of-learning-styles/557687/
McCandliss, B. (2015).The neuroscience of learning. Retrieved from: https://youtu.be/5_6fezBz9IA
McCandliss, B. (2010). Educational neuroscience: The early years. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States of America. Retrieved from: https://www.pnas.org/content/107/18/8049
Resources on Learning and the Brain. (2011; 2016). Edutopia. Retrieved from: https://www.edutopia.org/article/brain-based-learning-resources
Simmonds, A. (2014). How neuroscience is affecting education: Report of teacher and parent surveys. Wellcome Trust. Retrieved from: https://wellcome.ac.uk/sites/default/files/wtp055240.pdf
What works clearinghouse. Institute of Education Sciences. https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/FWW
What We Do– Learn about the What Works Clearinghouse (2018). Institute of Education Sciences. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k7MHz6swwi4
Wong, M. (2015). Brain wave study shows how different teaching methods affect reading development. Research Stories, Stanford School of Education. Retrieved from: https://ed.stanford.edu/news/stanford-brain-wave-study-shows-how-different-teaching-methods-affect-reading-development
From the time we could speak and draw images on cave walls, humans have used stories to make sense of ourselves and and our place in the world. As new technologies have arisen, we have applied them to storytelling: pigment, pen and paper, printing press, photography, film, video, digital text and images and now, augmented and virtual reality.
In quality storytelling, however, it is never about the technology, but about the story being told.
In the final module of our class, Teaching, Learning, and Assessment 1, we examined the ISTE Student Standard 6: Creative Communicator, and explored how digital tools can be used effectively, responsibly, and creatively to express ideas and learning. I personally wanted to investigate whether digital stories have proven to be more effective than text-based stories for learning, both for the students creating them and their audiences. I also wanted to familiarize myself with some of the tools that are available for for digital storytelling, particularly for elementary and middle school students.
What Defines Digital Storytelling?
Digital stories are usually brief (2-10 minutes in length) and combine a variety of digital media, including text, graphics, audio (voice and/or music), photographs, and video. They are most often thought of as being personal narratives or a story told from a particular point of view, but can also include documentary, informational or instructional stories (Robin, 2016).
Learning from Digital Storytelling
Creating a digital story is a complex and very creative process: the voice-over or onscreen text supplies the narrative while the images, video and music add nuance and richness. Finding your voice, distilling your message and orchestrating the timing and relationship of the various elements of digital storytelling is challenging, but also a perfect opportunity for students to dig deeply, both intellectually and emotionally.
To build a compelling digital story, students need to conduct deep research that includes investigating background information on a topic and finding images, videos, and music that are appropriate for the story and and labeled for reuse. The trail of information and media that students traverse to build a digital story is often much longer than writing a text-based story or report. Though this can be overwhelming, it can also be a source of great discovery for students.
Writing scripts and creating storyboards teach students organization, the importance of concise language, sequencing, and narrative structure. Digital storytelling may help some students understand and explore a subject more deeply than they would in a traditional writing assignment. A study with first and second graders showed that students who participated in digital storytelling assignments showed more motivation to work on their stories and saw themselves as more competent writers (Robin, 2016).
Once students research the story and find all the elements they want to use, they must analyze and synthesize the information and media into a cohesive whole. Robin points out that older students in particular “construct their own meaning” through the process and end up with “…a multimedia artifact that richly illustrates not only what the student has researched and brought to life but also what they have learned from the experience” (2016, p. 20).
Digital storytelling makes students creative users, rather than passive consumers of technology (Robin 2016, p. 19). They must learn to use a variety of digital tools, including photo, video, and sound editing software in addition to the software in which the digital story itself is built. Though a challenging process, students can point proudly to a finished product that not only show creative process but also technical mastery of multiple types of technology.
Students of all ages can develop greater emotional awareness when they create digital stories. Students are usually encouraged to pick a topic or an aspect of a topic that resonates with them, and this alone can motivate students. In research conducted with preschool teachers whose students (with guided practice) had created multimedia stories, it was found that students “…behaved better in class, had an increase in self confidence and displayed greater interest in the subjects they were learning” (Robin, 2016, p. 20).
Older students in particular may be surprised by the emotions their stories display or elicit. They may not have realized how they felt about a subject until they pull the various multimedia pieces together to form a complete story. Students also build emotional and collaboration skills by critiquing other students’ work as well as having their own stories critiqued by their peers (Robin, 2016).
Language learners or students who struggle with writing may feel empowered to express themselves using visual or audio elements of digital storytelling. Multilingual students may even use their native language in the voice-over with subtitles in English as a way of sharing a part of themselves normally hidden to their classmates or teacher. Antonacci and O’Callaghan (2011) point out that “this opportunity to display proficiency in another language boosts self-esteem and confidence” (p. 240).
The Use of Voice to Create an Emotional Connection
Though using one’s own physical voice to narrate a digital story is not mandatory, doing so can create a surprising element for the author and a powerful connection between the author and the audience.
“When we hear our voices coming from ourselves, we have a moment of seeing ourselves as someone other than our Self. In that moment we can experience the kind of empathy and compassion for ourselves that we would feel for another person who might be telling this story.”(Rossiter & Garcia, 2010, p. 43.)
This video was posted on the University of Houston College of Education’s Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling website by an anonymous storyteller. Though not an example of a young student’s work, I thought it was an amazing and touching example of the power of voice in digital storytelling and a reminder of how technology can enhance a very human story.
Digital Storytelling Tools
Though there are some great tools available for younger students to use for Digital Storytelling, I was surprised that nothing appeared to be available cross-platform (iPad/Chrome/Windows) that would allow students to combine audio narration, text, video and images for free or for minimal cost.
My Storybook Creator is a free, web-based and simple to use, but doesn’t allow voice narration.
Microsoft Sway is free to anyone with a Microsoft account and could be used by older elementary and middle school students, but doesn’t allow background narration – you can only insert audio cards as slides which requires pressing the play button on each slide.
Book Creator gets good reviews and allows students to create digital stories using all types of media but doesn’t work on Windows. Pricing varies but starts at $60 per teacher, per year, for 180 books.
Buncee is a really nice product that works on the web and can be used not only for multimedia stories, reports, and presentations, but also by teachers to build media-rich lessons. Classroom pricing starts at $10 per month.
Microsoft PowerPoint – I initially overlooked PowerPoint but it really offers an easy way to incorporate audio (or video!) narration that syncs with slides. PowerPoint also includes the ability to search for online images and automatically insert Creative Commons attribution.
Best Practices for Digital Storytelling
In their article Digital Storytelling: A New Player on the Narrative Field,” Rossiter and Garcia (2010) offer some valuable tips for digital storytelling students, which are summarized below.
- Carefully consider multimedia elements – do they enhance or detract from the story?
- In every digital story, there are two narratives: the overt narrative as told by the voiceover and the covert narrative as implied by the images and background music or sound effects. It’s essential that the two work together for the desired effect.
- The narrated voiceover should flow as a conversation does (not as formal written text) and can be enhanced by layers of ambient sound or music.
- Text should be used sparingly since the audience has different reading speeds and may also be trying to follow the audio track
- Once a digital story is available online, it is hard to control where it goes. Therefore it is important that any work includes crucial context information. Otherwise those who view it may not have the information they need to make sense of the story.
Digital storytelling is a powerful way for students to learn more about themselves while building key skills they will need as they grow up: creative and critical thinking, analysis and synthesis of research and ideas, communication (written and oral) and emotional awareness of not only themselves but their audience. To me, digital storytelling melds the best of what’s old (storytelling) and new (multimedia technologies) into a perfect whole.
Antonacci, P. & O’Callaghan, C. M. (2012). Strategy 41: Digital storytelling, in promoting literacy development: 50 research-based strategies for K-8 learners, pp. 238-241. Retrieved from: http://bit.ly/2UHnOtQ
WeVideo Review (2013). Common Sense Education. Retrieved from: https://www.commonsense.org/education/website/wevideo
Robin, B. R. (2016). The power of digital storytelling to support teaching and learning. Digital Education Review, Number 30. Retrieved from: https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1125504.pdf
Rossiter, M., Garcia, P. A. (2010). Digital storytelling: A new player on the narrative field. New Directions for Adult & Continuing Education (2010)126, pp.37-48. Retrieved from: http://bit.ly/2ClKxo8
Lascaux painting. Retrieved from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lascaux_painting.jpg
Attribution: CC Share Alike Unporte
“Virtual Reality in Story Telling” Moody College of Communication (2016).
Retrieved from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/utcomm/25936077286
Attribution: CC By-SA 2.0
“Digital Storytelling Challenges Students to:” background photo from Pexels.com via Prezi.
As part of the Teaching, Learning, and Assessment 1 class in the
SPU Digital Education Leadership program, I wanted to investigate best practices for designing meaningful elementary makerspace projects that balance student engagement, empowerment, and self-efficacy while avoiding the frustration that can be caused by open-ended projects and challenging technology.
Making in Education
In his research on makerspaces and education, Lee Martin (2015) defines making as “…designing, building, modifying, and/or repurposing material objects for playful or useful ends,” and identifies the maker mindset as asset- and growth-oriented, “failure-positive” and collaborative (pp. 31; 35). Makers choose what they want to work on and believe that through research, trial and error, and help from the community, they can learn (and share) the skills required to accomplish their goals. Maker activities are well suited to building many of the 21st Century “Career and Life Skills” described by Kivunja (2015), including flexibility and adaptability; initiative and self direction; social skills; and productivity, accountability and responsibility.
Making vs. Project Based Learning and Design Based Learning
Maker activities in schools complement Project Based Learning (PBL) and Design Based Learning (DBL) instructional strategies as both are inquiry-based and loosely structured to allow students to pursue individual areas of interest, often within a defined content area. In both strategies, students learn background information on a subject, identify problems that need to be solved, research and brainstorm potential solutions and select one based on further research, reflection and/or testing. In the case of DBL, proposed solutions are prototyped, tested and modified based on testing (DBL: Vongkulluksn et. al., 2018; PBL: Wolpert-Gawan, 2015). In this sense, Making probably most closely parallels DBL.
Self Efficacy and Motivation in an Elementary Makerspace Environment
Research conducted by Vongkulluksun, Matewos, Sinatra, and Marsh (2018) studied one hundred 3rd – 6th grade students from a private school in California to understand how self-efficacy and situational interest changed over the course of a semester-long DBL makerspace project. Students were asked to define a question based on a real-world need and design a potential solution. As an example, one 6th grader chose to create a “grow with you” prosthetic limb for children that would require him to learn how to use 3D modeling software and a 3D printer. Students were divided into two sections: 3rd and 4th grade and 5th and 6th grade groups, and were given the choice of working in pairs or on their own. Researchers measured students’ self-efficacy levels at the beginning, midway, and at the end of the semester, and also measured situational interest and achievement emotions, including frustration, confusion, excitement and curiosity, midway and at the end of the semester.
The study, which included both quantitative and qualitative methodology indicated:
- Self-efficacy (belief that one can successfully complete the project) and situational interest were “high in general across time points, remaining higher than the median score i.e., 3 out of the possible 5, for most of the students” (pp. 7-8).
- Students’ self-efficacy decreased midway through when the reality of their task set in. The decrease was greater among the upper-level class which the researchers attributed to the greater complexity of their projects. Self-efficacy levels did not change significantly, however, between the midpoint and the end of the semester.
- Situational interest decreased significantly from the midpoint of the semester to the end and the study’s quantitative data showed that self-efficacy beliefs were associated with situational interest.
- Achievement Emotions of excitement and frustration were significantly associated with situational interest, and as one would suspect, “…frustration was found to be significantly and negatively associated with situational interest” (p. 12).
Key Takeaways for my inquiry
1 Makespace projects can be exciting and motivating for elementary-aged students.
As the researchers note, “Students’ personal ownership of their design project is optimal for triggering situational interest, as collaborated by quantitative descriptive results showing moderately high levels of interest present at the beginning of the semester” (Vongkulluksun, et al., p. 13).
2 Ongoing belief in their ability to complete their project (self-efficacy) is key to keeping students motivated and interested.
The researchers suggest it is key for students to “…come to a personal understanding of what solving their specific problem requires” (Vongkulluksun et al., 2018, p. 14), and therefore it is particularly important for teachers to provide scaffolding and support in the beginning when students are attempting to define the scope and the sequence of their project. They also stressed the need for ongoing support for self-efficacy through “…verbal persuasion to convince students of their ability, and small successive goals to maintain self-efficacy levels” (p. 16). The age of the students also called for more scaffolding than might be found in DBL projects in middle or high school since, as the researchers noted, elementary students might not have the emotional regulation skills needed to deal with negative feelings such as frustration or confusion (p. 16).
3 Digital tools found in makerspaces and the STEM skills required to use them can cause frustration which is negatively associated with situational interest.
Though the researchers don’t specifically call out digital tools as the primary source of student difficulty, they do mention that “rudimentary” understanding of STEM concepts due to the students’ grade levels contributed to negative emotions and a decline in self-efficacy (Vongkulluksun et al., 2018, p. 16). I know from experience how challenging it can be for elementary students when learning how to work with 3D printers, electronics, microcontrollers, coding, and many other tools typically found in a makerspace. It takes practice and access to knowledgeable adults for the majority of students to feel adept at using these tools.
Implications for Elementary Makerspaces Beyond the Private School Setting
The study described above was conducted at a private school in a relatively affluent area with a typically “high performing” student population who had access to sophisticated digital tools and instruction from kindergarten through their current grades (Vongkulluksun, et al., 2018). The students also had ready access throughout the semester to mentors familiar with these tools.
Self-efficacy and situational interest could be very different at a school with fewer resources, less flexibility, or a struggling student population. In order to offset this, it seems that focusing on what makes PBL and DBL projects successful, such as proper initial scaffolding, interim milestones and ongoing teacher support, is key.
The makerspace material and tool challenges should be considered part of the scaffolding and addressed when teachers are helping students define the scope and sequence of the problem they want to solve.
If necessary, teachers should consult with those in their school who are familiar with makerspace tools to determine what level of STEM skills are required and how available these experts would be to help their students. Also, prior to the main project, it might be useful to assign students a set of smaller, skill-focused projects such as designing and printing a 3D object or writing a program in Scratch. This would not only help students become proficient with makerspace tools but also give them a realistic sense of the the time and skill level required to use them (Worsley & Blikstein, 2013).
Maker activities in elementary offer the opportunity for deep personal and collaborative learning and strongly support the ISTE student standard 1: Empowered Learner. Given the proper parameters and guidance, students learn how to define a vision (1a) and make it real through planning, iteration, and sharing ideas and artifacts with other students (1b, 1c). They assess what they’ve made based on peer feedback and by comparing their work to their initial vision. And they learn to use and apply multiple digital technologies to help them solve the problem they defined (1c, 1d), (ISTE Standards for Students, 2016).
If teachers can make an accurate assessment of the time they have to devote to a project that incorporates maker activities, the STEM skill levels of their students, and the availability of mentors who can assist with Maker-specific tools or activities, they can help students choose projects that are within their abilities so their interest and self-efficacy levels remain elevated throughout the project. As Martin (2015) suggests, schools need to “…construct their own version of the maker mindset appropriate to the local context,” and that it is dangerous to assume that the power of the Maker Movement “…lies primarily in its revolutionary tool set” (pp. 36-37).
The document below contains a table I created to help organize my thoughts regarding this inquiry, and look forward to adding to it or modifying it with feedback from my learning community.
ISTE Standards for Students (2016). Retrieved from: https://www.iste.org/standards/for-students
Kivunja, C. (2015). Teaching students to learn and to work well with 21st century skills: Unpacking the career and life skills domain of the new learning paradigm. International Journal of Higher Education, 4:(1), p.1-11. Retrieved from: http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1060566.pdf
Martin, L. (2015). The promise of the maker movement for education. Journal of Pre-College Engineering Education Research (J-PEER) 5(1), Article 4. Retrieved from: https://docs.lib.purdue.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1099&context=jpeer
Vongkulluksn, V.W., Matewos, A.M., Sinatra, G.M., & Marsh, J.A. (2018). Motivational factors in makerspaces: a mixed methods study of elementary school students’ situational interest, self-efficacy, and achievement emotions. International Journal of STEM Education, 5(43) Retrieved from: https://stemeducationjournal.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s40594-018-0129-0
Wolpert-Gawan, H. (2015.) What the heck is Project-Based Learning. Edutopia. Retrieved from: https://www.edutopia.org/blog/what-heck-project-based-learning-heather-wolpert-gawron
Worsley, M. & Blikstein, P. (2013). Designing for diversely motivated learners. Paper Presented at the Digital Fabrication and Making In Education Workshop at the 2013 Interactive Design for Children Conference (IDC 2013). New York, NY. Retrieved from: http://www.marceloworsley.com/papers/dfm_idc_2013.pdf
Blue Robot Box: Palesa via Unsplash/Piktochart. Retreived from: https://unsplash.com/@palesa08?utm_source=Piktochart&utm_medium=referral
MakerBot: Creative Tools, 2011 via Flickr.com. Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0). Retreived from: http://bit.ly/2R0zRzK
Hand and Gears: Fabrice Floren, 2017 via Flickr.com Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) Retrieved from: http://bit.ly/2R4MkT7
My mission as a digital education leader is to:
Share the joy and promise I find in using technology with educators and students.
Promote equal access to digital tools and rich use of technology to help build lifelong skills of independent learning, critical thinking, creative problem solving and collaboration.
Deeply understand the needs and concerns of teachers and students so that their digital tools will work for them and not against them.
Encourage thoughtful use of technology in a way that reflects the tenants of good citizenship.
Being adept with digital technology is more than knowing how to use hardware and software. It also includes wisely navigating the online world and using technology to enhance human abilities and interests. To address this, the International Society for Technical Education (ISTE) has developed a set of standards for educational leaders, teachers, students, and technology coaches. Digital Citizenship is a key component of each of these standards and for technology coaches includes:
Standard 5.a. The promotion of equitable access to technology and the modeling of educational technology best practices
Standard 5.b. Safe, healthy, ethical and legal use of digital tools and information
Standard 5.c. The application of technical tools for furthering cultural understanding and global communication
(ISTE Standards for Coaches, 2011).
1. Equitable access to technology increases opportunity.
Providing students with equal access to technology consists of many moving parts, including procuring devices, software, highspeed internet, and ongoing instructional, technical and financial support (Jones and Bridges, 2016). But the aspect of equal access that will create the greatest opportunity is learning to use technology to help develop lifelong skills: independent learning, creativity, communication, problem solving, and working well with others.
Seismic societal change caused by technology is nothing new in human history, but the speed at which our current society is changing is unprecedented. Within 25 years, the percentage of the global population that is online went from 0.25% in 1993 to 55% in 2018 (“Current World Population,” 2018; Ritchie, H. and Roser, M., 2018). Basic aspects of daily living now require some level of digital literacy, from applying for a job, to navigating the healthcare system to mapping out a local bus route. Technology is also changing the nature of work, and the job market that today’s students will face when they graduate will look very different than it does today. Up to 30% of global workers could be replaced by automation by 2030, pointing to the need for workers to constantly reinvent themselves by learning new skills and switching careers (Manyika, J., Chui, M., Bughin, J., Woetzel, J., Batra, P., Ko, R. & Sanghvi, S., 2017, Table: Impact of adoption by 2030).
Fortunately, technology provides many effective tools for building knowledge, including online degree and certification programs. To take advantage of these opportunities, however, people need to know how to use digital tools creatively, critically, and collaboratively. These are among the very skills that employers will be looking for in the years to come (Manyika, et al., 2017).
The World Economic Forum predicts that the jobs that will show the most growth across all industries will be in data analysis, science, software development, ecommerce and social media “…all of which…are significantly based on or enhanced by technology” (“Machines will do more tasks than humans…” Para 7).
Though technology is causing a shift in the skill sets required for future jobs, it also offers educational opportunities to build those skills through:
- Online collaboration on projects
- Positive interaction through social media
- Access to rich scientific and historical research and exposure to industry and academic thought leaders and open educational resources (Jones and Bridges, 2016)
- An array of digital tools for creating various types of artifacts (text, graphics, video, music, virtual and mixed reality, 3D printed objects).
For this to occur equitably, all teachers need professional development to keep up to date on best practices for creatively incorporating technology into their daily teaching. Funding is needed to pay for this training and for technology such as 3D printers and software that goes beyond basic office-suite functionality. In addition, Computer Science should be included as a required subject starting in elementary school.
Educators will continue to prepare their students for the future in the way they always have, by modeling a love of learning and encouraging critical thinking, creative problem solving, and collaboration. These skills are independent of technology. However, technology used effectively can let students explore and express these skills in new and personal ways.
(References ISTE Coaching Standard 5a)
2. Technology in the Classroom should be Meaningful, Engaging and Culturally Sensitive.
Equitable access to technology devices, software, internet access and quality instruction is essential. But the next layer of accessibility is providing digital tools that are flexible enough to enhance different learning styles and appeal to diverse cultural identities. The potential is there: technology offers many ways of customizing instruction for students, either through language, types of media, or self-paced curriculum. Students can access artifacts, ideas, and people of similar backgrounds and/or interests through globally available content and social media. Ideally, students should never feel isolated or disregarded by the technology they use, but unfortunately, this is not always the case.
Robbin Chapman says, “The learner’s experience of a technology will be influenced by whatever cultural assumptions influenced the design of that technology” (2016, p. 289). The developers of today’s digital technology are not a very diverse group, and as a result produce designs that reflect their own cultural bias. As one example of the lack of diversity in tech, a report published by the National Center for Women and Informational Technology showed that only 25% of computing occupations were held by women, of which 16% were white, 5% were Asian, 3% were African American, and 1% were Latina/Hispanic (Ashcroft, C., McLain, B., Eger, E., 2016). This lack of diversity in tech can contribute to several negative effects: students who don’t see themselves reflected in the digital media they use (through pictures, text, dialogue, video, or cultural situations) don’t connect as well with the material being taught. They also receive the subtle or not so subtle message that “people like me” don’t develop technology products, continuing the cycle of not enough diversity in tech. A personal example includes an online Lego Robotics certification course I took this summer for teachers. It included a nicely done video that explained the engineering process. Initially, I thought it would be helpful to show to students but then realized that there was only one African American man and no women in any of the crowded engineering classroom photos shown in the video.
Tech companies and universities are working to improve diversity in the industry, but it will take time. Meanwhile, it is important that educators do what they can to select technology tools that can be customized and are culturally sensitive. It is also important for teachers, curriculum specialists, and technology coaches at all grade levels to give feedback to product developers if they notice features or content that are off-putting or insensitive to their students.
Finally, though it should be a given, the technology chosen for classrooms should be based on the expressed needs of teachers and students. Digital education tools should never be irrelevant or a burden to learn or to use. I view the role of a technology coach as similar to my past role as a product manager: understand the goals, desires, and problems teachers and students face in their daily work and provide them with digital tools to help them meet their needs and solve their problems.
(References ISTE Coaching Standard 5a and 5c)
3. Mindfulness and Digital Citizenship should be applied to all technology use.
Viewed historically, digital technology has come to monopolize human lives in a relatively short period of time – as mentioned earlier, most of us have only been online 25 years or less. The combined speed with which the change has happened and the subtly with which new aspects of tech steal our attention has left us with very little objectivity or resistance to it. This is partially by design: tech companies have monetized our attention and do everything they can to keep us coming back for more (“Silicon Valley renegades take on tech obsession,” 2018). Many users feel bewildered, guilty and powerless at being “sucked in” by technology (Ticona and Wellmon, 2015). The good news is that as a society we are starting to become aware of the need to step back and think about how we spend our time online and the importance of explicitly teaching students to do the same.
In his book Net Smart, Howard Rheingold advises that we apply mindfulness techniques to our online use. This includes using metacognition – thinking about thinking – to become aware of how we are using our time online. Are we mindlessly scrolling through a newsfeed or social media? Is this what we really need to be doing right now? Just taking the simple step of having a plan before going online and checking in with ourselves periodically to see if we are following the plan can make a difference. Rheingold also recommends using the breath to bring our minds back to the present moment and our own bodies during online use (Rheingold, 2014).
Another effect of rapid technology adoption is that we have difficulty recognizing that the online and offline worlds are inextricably linked. In her book Disconnected, Carrie James describes teens and young adults as unaware or uncaring that certain behavior could harm others online. James links this to the fact that as humans, we are more accustomed to interacting on a local level. It is easier for us to imagine the effects of our actions on our families, friends, or nearby communities, and this usually regulates our behavior. In contrast, we have difficulty seeing the global online community as anything but a faceless, anonymous enigma. James suggests we need to learn (and teach) an expanded ethical framework for living online that considers the needs of “…distant unknown individuals and the integrity of larger communities” (p. 7).
Fortunately, we have a model that already works for us in the real world – good citizenship – that can help us build James’ ethical framework for online living (Fingal, 2017; Ribble and Miller, 2013). As good digital citizens we should:
- Understand our roles and responsibilities for protecting our own data, privacy, and content ownership, as well as that of others.
- Expand the empathy and protectiveness we feel for our local community to our global online community by treating others with kindness and respect.
- Selectively consume and conscientiously produce online content.
- Be conscious of our own health and that of our community regarding online use. Recognize that our actions affect others, and that in the ecosystem of the internet they can have far-reaching and unforeseen effects.
From Carrie James’ research and our own experience, we know that it takes a conscious effort to connect real-world good citizenship skills to our online use. We can’t expect young people to know how to act online without being taught. Interestingly, several of the most sought-after skills for future employment as described in my first guiding principle are the same skills we need to be good digital citizens: the ability to educate ourselves, think critically and work well with others. As Ribble and Miller said, “Times and technologies have changed, but the need for basic skills in humanity are important no matter how people connect with others.” (p.139, 2013)
(References ISTE Coaching Standard 5b.)
Technology may present us with challenges, but like other human creations, it can also be inspiring and joyful. Over the past two weeks, I’ve spent time in classrooms that were participating in the Hour of Code. This year’s showcase lesson is “Dance Party,” where kids (and yes, adults too) can create an onscreen dance party with effects, different animated characters, and songs by top musicians. The students were having so much fun – dancing at their desks, sharing what they created with their friends – it was a powerful and happy reminder of the good that tech can bring to our lives.
Ashcroft, C., McLain, B., Eger, E. (2016). Women in tech: The facts. National Center for Women and Informational Technology. Retrieved from: http://bit.ly/WITI_Report
Current World Population. WorldoMeters. Retrieved 12/2/18 from: http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/
ISTE Standards for coaches. ISTE. Retrieved from: https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches.
Fingal, D. (2017). Infographic: citizenship in the digital age. ISTE. Retrieved October 8, 2018 from https://www.iste.org/
Global Digital Population as of October 2018. Statista. Retrieved on 12/5/18 from: https://www.statista.com/statistics/617136/digital-population-worldwide/
James, C. (2014). Disconnected: Youth, the new media, and the ethics gap. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Jones, M., & Bridges, R. (2016). Equity, access, and the digital divide in learning technologies: Historical antecedents, current issues, and future trends. In N.J. Rushby & D.W. Surry (Eds.), The Wiley handbook of learning technology (pp. 327-347). Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell.
Machines will do more tasks than humans by 2025 but robot revolution will still create 58 million net new jobs in next five years. (2018). World Economic Forum. Retrieved from http://reports.weforum.org/future-of-jobs-2018/press-releases/.
Manyika, J., Chui, M., Bughin, J., Woetzel, J., Batra, P., Ko, R. & Sanghvi, S. (November 2017). Jobs lost, jobs gained: What the future of work will mean for jobs, skills, and wages. McKinsey Global Institute Report. McKinsey and Company. Retrieved from https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/future-of-work/jobs-lost-jobs-gained-what-the-future-of-work-will-mean-for-jobs-skills-and-wages#part4
Rheingold. H. (2014). Net Smart. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Ribble, M. and Miller, T.N. (2013). Educational leadership in an online world: Connecting students to technology responsibly, safely, and ethically. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 17:1, 137 – 145.
Ritchie, H. and Roser, M. (2018). Technology diffusion & adoption. Retrieved October 27, 2018, from: https://ourworldindata.org/technology-adoption [World Bank – World Development Indicators; International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication/ICT Development Report and Database].
Silicon Valley renegades take on tech obsession. (2018, June 29). WSJ Video. Retrieved from: https://www.wsj.com/video/silicon-valley-renegades-take-on-tech-obsession/2D3A120C-C88F-4C81-A005-1439E464A507.html
Ticona, J. and Wellmon, C. (2015). Uneasy in digital Zion. The Hedgehog Review 17:1, 58-71. Retrieved from: https://chadwellmon.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/ticonawellmon_hi.pdf
Reflective assessments can be a far more valuable way of assessing teacher effectiveness that what is used in practice today. One technique requires students to write down a series of “I learned…” statements to summarize what was learned in a class, exercise, or assignment. Another technique requires students to draw a vertical line on a blank piece of paper, label the left column as ‘Clear’ and the right column as ‘Unclear’, and then list the things in the class, exercise or assignment that were clear or unclear in the appropriate column.
In my school, every other quarter, a full-time instructor will sit in your class for 30-40 minutes to assess your teaching effectiveness. This is not much time, and I am not sure a realistic way to assess a teacher’s effectiveness. Although I have received positive assessments from these full-time instructors, the feedback is at such a high-level that there is not much I can use to improve my teaching effectiveness. We also get evaluations from students at the end of the quarter which sometimes provide data that is useful for the next time the course is taught, but often has feedback that would have been useful for the quarter in which the student was enrolled.
I intend to use both the clear/unclear windows and “I learned…” reflective assessments in my classroom this quarter to enable me to incorporate feedback in the current quarter. I also will share these assessments with colleagues and my department chair to get their feedback on usefulness, and discuss whether we can add reflective assessments to the current student evaluations and full-time instructor assessments.
Technology coaches demonstrate professional knowledge, skills, and dispositions in content, pedagogical, and technological areas as well as adult learning and leadership and are continuously deepening their knowledge and expertise.
- Engage in continual learning to deepen content and pedagogical knowledge in technology integration and current and emerging technologies necessary to effectively implement the standards
- Engage in continuous learning to deepen professional knowledge, skills, and dispositions in organizational change and leadership, project management, and adult learning to improve professional practice
- Regularly evaluate and reflect on their professional practice and dispositions to improve and strengthen their ability to effectively model and facilitate technology- enhanced learning experiences
[ See ISTE Coaching standards ]
Technology coaches model and promote digital citizenship.
- Model and promote strategies for achieving equitable access to digital tools and resources and technology-related best practices for all students and teachers
- Model and facilitate safe, healthy, legal, and ethical uses of digital information and technologies
- Model and promote diversity, cultural understanding, and global awareness by using digital age communication and collaboration tools to interact locally and globally with students, peers, parents, and the larger community
[ See ISTE Coaching standards ]
Technology coaches conduct needs assessments, develop technology-related professional learning programs, and evaluate the impact on instructional practice and student learning.
- Conduct needs assessments to inform the content and delivery of technology-related professional learning programs that result in a positive impact on student learning
- Design, develop, and implement technology- rich professional learning programs that model principles of adult learning and promote digital age best practices in teaching, learning, and assessment
- Evaluate results of professional learning programs to determine the effectiveness on deepening teacher content knowledge, improving teacher pedagogical skills and/or increasing student learning
[ See ISTE Coaching standards ]