Why more research is needed

So many studies end with the admonition – more research is needed. I suppose this is the case because many studies only are able to resolve some of the questions that were originally posed or find results that do not match the findings of others.

This has long been true of investigations of technology in education. Just so I am not accused of being a technology fan boy, here is a cautionary report from NPR.

I cannot say that I have read the original studies cited here. I tend to follow specific journals and I have yet to see these findings in journals. This does not mean that the results do not deserve scrutiny.

One thing I would urge readers to note is the correlational nature of many of these findings. When things are related the nature of the relationship can be challenging to interpret from correlational data. This does not mean that correlational research has no value. Sometimes certain important variables are difficult or unethical to manipulate. I tend to start by trying to generate reasonable alternate explanations just to see if I can find other ways to interpret the statistics.

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If you are brave

My previous post explained that many educators are wary of using the events of the present political season to explore the political process. Their concerns do seem realistic. However, I did not want to imply that taking advantage of these current events do not represent great opportunities for student participation and learning. PBS offers some great ideas for how high school students might be engaged with the upcoming debates in a systematic and more academic way. If the debates of the primaries were any indication, the future debates should provide a great way to exercise critical thinking through the analysis of the arguments advanced and the distractions employed.

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Too real for school

Educators are frequently encouraged to take educational advantage of the “real world”. One might think that the election season would offer a great opportunity to explain the political process. Many are now backing away because the educators are concerned students will repeat inappropriate comments they have picked up at home or have to deal with parents disagreeing with what teachers might say about candidates.

This article from Fast Company explains some of the concerns expressed by educators.

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Follow the sun

I, like many photographers, have lots of pictures of sunflowers. Some of my personal favorites were taken on a road trip in Russia. What encourages this focus on this plant?

I am guessing it is because a) we like the face of the sunflower and often pose human faces among the sunflower faces, and b) the systematic way in which sunflowers face in the same direction is interesting


Do sunflowers follow the sun? I always thought so, but there seems to be disagreement among the online sources I sampled. Recently, I heard a local newsperson offer what were supposed to be the current thought. One explanation concluded that it is the heat that the flowers seek. Heat evidently attracts more insects which encourage more successful pollination which of course results in a better seed crop.

A recent NPR story on sunflowers.

If students have access some of these ideas might be interesting to investigate. How would you collect data in a reliable fashion? How would you test the hypothesis that sunflowers follow the sun? Is there a difference on a sunny and cloudy day?

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Tutorial Updates

I am spending the afternoon deleting and adding tutorial segments on my web site. One problem with offering resources is that the content can become dated quickly. The more you generate, the more updates you must make. Today I am deleting Picasa content and adding Google Photos content. (a sample follows)

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Maybe this will encourage more energy

This Washington Post article will likely generate interest. It challenges the lack of evidence that argues for “educational reforms” and claims young learners have suffered. The dean responsible for the position argues that the reform agenda is misguided and without empirical support.

I agree educators seem easily enamored of messages promoting disruption. Often these messages emerge without solid empirical support from some likely to benefit in the form of attention or financial gain. Gradual improvement is not good enough and ideas are sold based on interest and a good story. To be fair, the Washington Post article mentions research findings without a way to examine this research. I hope these findings are identified in future releases.

Read the comments. In response to the piece, one individual suggested that those in higher education have been too quiet on this situation. I agree and hope those who have been immersed in current research make the effort to make public their opinions (with citations).



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Technology and Higher Education

This Huffington Post article by author Don Tapscott offers a strong challenge to the use and lack of use of technology in changing the nature of higher education. My own work in higher education is focused on K-12 education, but I do find his comments relevant and interesting. On one hand, many of the potential applications Tapscott proposed seem disconnected from the large class instruction that is often necessary to address the number of students we work with and the budgets that support this instruction. This would not be a valid reaction for many programs.

Off the top, let me say that Tapscott echoes some typical stereotypes regarding learning and large courses. His use of  “short term” memory is not the way a cognitive scientist would use this concept. I would also suggest that all learning experiences must be processed by the learner for meaningful learning to occur. The external experiences, whatever they are, do not guarantee effective processing by the individual learner. Processing static content (content without integrated engagement) is in fact that way most of us learn once removed from a school setting and the capacity to learn independently is essential. The advantage of a knowledgeable provider of such content is an advantage that is often missing in daily life. Not to quibble, but reading the Tapscott article or his books would offer examples of such learning opportunities.

On one hand, many of the potential applications Tapscott proposed seem disconnected from the large class instruction that is often necessary to address the number of students we work with and the budgets that support this instruction. There are technology-based opportunities for such situations that do support the independent learning that is of great importance in group situations.

Of course, college students do work with faculty members in many courses that do not involve hundreds of students. I am most concerned when these smaller courses focus on the preparation of future teachers. When technology plays no role in such experiences future teachers are provided no opportunities as learners that might serve as a model for their future work as practitioners.

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I am a sucker for tools that support the reading/writing processes. This is pretty much what I do as a retired academic. I no longer collect data so I rely on the research of others and combine this work in promoting various learning experiences. Some have taken to describing the careful and reflective reading that is the initial phase of this process as “deep reading”. I have always thought of it as “studying”, but one must keep up with the terminology presently in vogue.

My present exploration makes use of an iPad app called LiquidText. I have the paid version ($10), but the free version would work equally well for how I have used the app so far. Liquid text allows the highlighting and annotation of content. It allows this “processed” content to be explored, stored and exported in various ways. Such processes are critical for scholars and advanced students, but if one thinks of what is implied by deep reading, anyone learning from digital content should have tools suited to applying active processes to the content. I cannot say that LiquidText is the ideal way to approach the personal processing of content, but the company working with this product has combined tools capable of a useful workflow in this product.


Screen view when reading a pdf and highlighting/annotating the contents.


One option for exporting content – in this case, the highlighted material from the pdf.

BTW – the paid version allows the integrating of content from multiple documents. When I review a single source intending to generate a blog post, this capability would not be necessary. If I intended to take on a larger project, working from multiple sources, the added capabilities of the paid version would be used.

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CS Teacher Prep

One of the “issues” with advocates is that they tend to ignore how the “improvements” they suggest will fit within existing structures. This is a significant challenge when proposing additions to a space/time limited system such as education. There are plenty of purposes to which education could be put and many have loud advocates, but I tend to wonder what will happen to make room. The alternatives would seem to be watering down offerings or replacing existing offerings with something new. There are issues with both. What can be watered down when the success of existing efforts have already been challenged? What is fair game for replacement? Consider the backlash generated by reductions in art, music, PE.

Coding falls into the “I want to be part of the party” theme. Doing a good job of teaching coding requires preparation and to do a good job some approaches are better than others. Those pushing for more CS make this very point and make suggestions for specific preparation. I don’t see many districts hiring a faculty member specific to CS courses so even the teacher preparation must confront the space/time issue. Some preservice teachers may commit to adding this specialization. Specific methods courses will require appropriate faculty and preservice teachers wanting to take such courses (and probably some programming courses to develop content knowledge) will have to deal with these added expectations. College and university budgets are not presently being expanded and colleges of ed tend not to be at the head of the line when resources are available. The approach here might involve specialization with some institutions cutting back in other areas to offer this type of preparation. Unlike secondary education, every teacher preparation program does not have to prepare all categories of teachers.

As I have explained before, I also am concerned that the push for dual-credit and advanced placement courses adds to the pressure that limits school flexibility.

There seem to be many unanswered questions here. Advocacy is the easy part. Who makes the decisions about the trade-offs? Would that be the administrators?

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Don’t forget RSS

I am still a fan of RSS. I do understand that some would see this as cause for labelling me one of those who cannot move ahead. I continue this commitment as a purposeful reaction against relying on the trendy recommendations that appear in Twitter, Google+ and Facebook. Recognizing trends is important for the work I do, but I want to remain grounded in solid content I rely on from a range of individuals I have identified and respect.

RSS is a little more complicated than following a social media feed, but worth the commitment. I use several RSS feeds (again as a way to keep up with the options), but my favorite as Feedly. Feedly allows the organization of feeds into categories which I find useful. It also provides ways to “share” content to other services. For me, moving content from one service to another is important. When I find something I think is important, I want to do something with this information – save it for more careful reading, sent it to someone else, etc.

I have one major beef with Feedly. It is the same beef I have with several services I use. I am willing to pay for most of the services I use. My general complaint is that the difference between the free version and the lowest tier paid version is often too great. The difference between free and $60+ a year seems pretty large for what you get with the paid version.

The one thing I miss out on using the free version is the opportunity to send content I want to keep track of to Evernote. I would pay something for this capability, but not $60. There is an easy work around. I can share to a browser and then use the browser to share to Evernote.  I suppose Feedly does not see a benefit in a lower-priced option, but I think they are missing out on a substantial number of users who like the product and would fund the company at a lower cost and a reduced set of features that are unlikely to be used.


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