WOW in the World is a new NPR podcast for young learners. The series will focus on STEM topics. This is the first NPR program for elementary and middle school learners.
“Free is good” (Bethany Ray) – a recent Edutopia article – provides a nice explanation of OER (open educational resources) for the novice. The explanation argues the benefits of OER in contrast to commercial materials and suggests OER provides educators a way to find resources for individual student needs. Of course, the challenge with OER is finding the resources and the article does a nice job of identifying repositories that can be searched.
A brief plug for my own work – I argue that online content and learning resources are not the same thing (see series beginning with this post). Layering services (examples are explained in the series) enable educators to function as instructional designers and add components to information rich content to guide and support student learning.
I have long argued that a great way to address stereotypes regarding the potential of technology is to show educators striking counter-examples. To many, sitting in a classroom or a lab staring at a computer is the stereotypes I have long seen as artificial.
I was reminded of this issue in a kind of strange way. My personal training in biology sensitizes me to certain issues. The willingness of politicians to deny the reality of climate change is one such issue. In following this issue, I came across this article about taking students into the field to help them understand issues of ecology and climate. The article stressed the importance of getting learners involved in the science of ecology.
Take a look at the article I reference. For me, the image used in the article immediately triggered memories of a field-based experience my wife helped develop and sponsor. The project allowed middle school students to visit a state park in North Dakota and use technology to address issues of environmental importance. This was early on in the push for ways to integrate technology and the project has remained for me nearly a perfect example of using technology to provide students authentic experiences that allow them to function as scientific practitioners.
I wrote about this example in our textbook many years ago (a related description exists online) and the characteristics of the example still serve as a reminder of the potential of educational technology. I had the opportunity to video some of the events and I have now converted the video to YouTube video to offer this example.
The city of Chicago now hosts educational content on climate change that was removed from the EPA site. While this could have been done with heavily political overtones, the sites thanks the EPA for the content and says nothing else about the context surrounding the removal. Since the EPA would seem the likely place to search for such information, the present host will likely receive less traffic. Promoting the new location would seem a good thing.
If having great teachers in the classroom is so important, why then is $2.4 billion in federal funding for teacher preparation, the third-largest federal K-12 program in the country, on the chopping block?
The present administration has proposed a 9 million dollar cut in education funding and a significant chunk of this cut concerns support for teacher preparation and ongoing professional development. Part of the logic is that these programs are ineffective and are without evidence that the product of such efforts is improved teaching effectiveness.
Educator effectiveness is a very complex issue with multiple causal components and disagreements regarding how to evaluate effectiveness. It is also easy for outside parties to propose that we want prove, but have no idea just what prove would look like. A business mentality without much insight suggests that you just get rid of ineffective employees. On the surface this may seem reasonable. However, practicing teachers work in very different situations by time and circumstance and they do not control some of the major variables influencing student performance (factors outside the control of the school).
I would like to explore a related topic associated with some of the political expectations of higher education and to encourage anyone who reads this to consider the complexity of the situation. One way to frame this presentation might be to ask just who is the student of interest when it comes to the role played by higher education. Politicians tend to be focused on performance variables of K12 students so this would be a reasonable target. Clearly, however, those of us working in higher education must have this impact in an indirect fashion. We must graduate future educators who are highly skilled, knowledgeable, and motivated to have a chance at meeting the expected positive impact assuming that these graduates will be hired into situations that offer them a reasonable chance of success.
Here is a dose of reality. Many of those who go into education are not what I would describe as “elite” students. Of course, this blanket statement ignores some percentage that are. Many education majors try something else first and come to teaching as a second choice. Quite a number make this transition late in the college process. Secondly, education programs reject few applicants. Again, there are exceptions, but it is fair to say few are rejected. Finally, the grading practices in education tend to be more liberal than in many other disciplines. Grade inflation is everywhere, but note that the field of education struggles with the issue of competitive grading. If you follow social media addressing the field, you will encounter many K12 educators arguing that grading is ineffective and harmful so this perspective is not unique to higher education.
Aside from these factors which you may or may not accept, try this final reality. Educators believe they can educate. This is what they do. If the skills in question concern teaching practices, it is these skills that they are trying to develop. It comes down to how much stock is placed in selection vs. training. Consider that med schools (just another professional school) reject a sizeable proportion of those who apply. I spent a good part of my career as the administrator for a program that trained clinical psychologist and rejection of applicants was at pretty much the same level as med school. Many of those rejected could have made it through and been successful. This was known to all, but the success rate definitely goes up when the admission process is very competitive. Consider the difference in approach here and how the outcome is as much influenced by the selection process as the education process. Consider also that those students who were rejected really wanted to become professionals in the field and have invested a great amount of time and money in the preparation process. Should the preparation programs those failing to gain admission invested their time and money in be blamed? I do not see this as a common reaction.
Here is a somewhat different observation from my experience with clinical psychology. Sometimes one of the students selected for our training program would struggle. This was easier when they struggled with courses they took. In the old days, the general knowledge courses were front loaded so that the students would not be expected to begin developing clinical skills until later. This took some of the pressure off because course failure seemed easier to use as a reason for asking students to leave the program than poor “clinical skills”. One downside was that students would get deep into their education – say 6 years – before it became obvious they were just not good with people and would likely not make an effective clinician. Our program did begin to mix clinical skill development with background coursework partly because of this issue. From my outside perspective, I saw situations in which the clinical faculty observed some students struggling with clinical skills and understood this situation as an educator would – the student needed more time and more mentoring. Again, this is how educators think. Once in a great while, we got burned. We would decide that a student was finally ready to go out on internship (something like supervised teaching for clinicians) and have the student dismissed. This did not happen often, but it happened. My point is that it is difficult to give up and decide that a student will not develop expected skills and when you keep trying to develop needed skills, which I assume most would see as the right thing to do, it becomes even harder.
I think a similar thing happens with future teachers and is much more common because of the limited restrictions on admissions and on the reduced time frame. Note that the time frame in preparing teachers may be significantly truncated if the student changes majors into education. It is very possible you do not start to have misgivings until a future teacher is a senior and it is easy to give such students the benefit of the doubt. Consider being a professor confronted by an angry student and sometimes the parents trying to explain that the teaching skills necessary to continue are just not there – threats to call the dean, the president, etc. There is always the concern that this is an inexact science and maybe that future teacher will somehow blossom.
K12 institutions have a role in this process. What happens with the multiple opportunities to observe these future teachers working with students? What about the cooperating and supervising teachers? What about the hiring process itself? What about the administrators who avoid the A students reasoning that such future teachers will be unable to relate?
It is a messy process. My point is that it is messy in ways many critics do not consider.
I am more and more impressed by the capabilities of Amazon’s Alexa. Like most owners, I am willing to say that most of those capabilities go unused. I do the same things over and over. Like play music. I fail to take advantage of capabilities that make sense because I rely on existing habits.
Here is a capability I encourage book lovers to consider. I was aware that Alexa would read me my Kindle or Audible books.
- Alexa, play the book, [title] (Audible)
- Alexa, read me my Kindle book
The Audible books are the same recorded voice you would normally hear when listening to an Audible book. The Kindle narration is a computer voice but not that bad.
I use Kindle and Audible in different ways. I use Kindle when I want to read carefully – take notes and highlight. I listen to Audible about an hour before I go to sleep. So, the real benefit of Echo is for my Audible books.
I have avoided using Echo for book listening for one reason. I sometimes doze off and I did not want the recording to continue. With a device – usually my iPad – I could set a time limit to end a listening session. I have now discovered how to do the same thing with the Echo.
- Alexa, set sleep timer for xxx minutes
I have a sense, that for one reason or another, educators who work at the secondary level make less use of technology in their teaching. I reach this conclusion from the active participation of teacher conversations I observe online. What I observe and what is actually happening in classrooms may differ or what I observe may be accurate. Many may assume that writing using a device or searching online to acquire the information needed for an assignment meet expectations for tech integration and such activities are so common that sharing that your students do such things is not worth doing.
I am assuming for the purpose of this post that secondary students do make less innovative use of technology because I want to propose an innovation that fits naturally with the heavier emphasis many secondary courses place on the consumption of content. I believe that the personal processing of content is an important life skill and while the format of this information may change as it exists in a digital age, reading, studying, deep reading, media literacy or whatever variant is in vogue does change the importance of developing content processing skills for the present and future work of learning.
Here is the opportunity I think secondary educators are missing and that could be productively integrated onto the existing heavy emphasis on content processing. Onto is the word I prefer to “into” because I think of the change as “layering” opportunities on top of existing content. Some of the layering opportunities are familiar to content processing at the college level or outside of academic settings – e.g., highlighting, notetaking. Some of the opportunities we see applied by content providers, but seldom find ways to apply ourselves (as teachers or students) – integrated questions, suggestions for connections or perspective. Some of these opportunities we apply to students but fail to show them how to apply these opportunities themselves and with peers – any of the tactics I have mentioned.
I have been writing about these tactics for about a year now – visit my other blog and use the built-in Google search capability to search for “layer”.
Another source for a subset of these ideas has been pushed by the developers of an online highlighting and commenting service called hypothes.is. Here is a conference presentation sponsored by this group that provides background and examples of the applications they propose.
Secondary educators and tech facilitators – take a look.
My personal take on tools for adding various types of annotations and prompts to existing online resources has emphasized the educational potential for teachers and students. I see these tools as ways to convert information resources (web pages, online video) into instructional resources.
Many of the tools I have reviewed in writing about the potential for education were developed by individuals with a different vision. They view their tools as a way for individuals to contribute to the public discussion on important issues or as a form of curation. I suppose either of these visions might be considered a way to influence learning on a broader scale than might occur to K-12 educators. The following are my own thoughts on the possibilities these tools allow.
Annotation as a form of commenting:
The tools (I will offer a couple of links at the end of this post) I have in mind might be understood as providing an improved or at least more precise form of commenting. Some online resources offer a place at the conclusion of the post to add a comment. If the service allows and the author is willing, readers have access to a text box that allows input and then appends this input to the end of the original post or possibly linked to a previous comment. This sounds great, but as most familiar with social services understand the opportunity is often abused as a way to garner personal attention or to harass the author. Some services allow comments to be moderated so the original author has the opportunity to approve comments before the comments become part of the public post.
The form of annotation I am describing does not fix this problem and it may make it worse. What it does to potentially improve the process is to make commenting more specific. The highlights and comments (or similar additions) are inserted (layered) on the existing document (highlights on top, other additions typically linked to the side). Think of this as a way to identify the precise existing content that has generated the addition – support, objection, additional information, external link, etc.
On a grand scale (many participants), this could create quite a mess. However, the value of such public systems improves as the developers find ways to embrace multiple contributors in a useful way, additions can be shared with designated users only, or the number of participants is not large. These services typically have some form of on/off switch – you can turn the service on to make contributions or to observe what additions have been added by others or you can leave the service off to see a clean copy.
Highlighting as a form of curation:
A major issue of online resources for many is that there is just too much. Curation offers a group approach to deal with great quantity. For example, Twitter is often used to identify useful “reads” others might find worth their time. This form of curation (see Nuzzel as build on top of this model) reduces the number of articles, but not the amount of content per article. Now, imagine others you trust have gone through content you might find valuable and highlighted what they think is most important. You may have experienced such a think purchasing a used college textbook or using the public highlight feature available when reading a Kindle book. The idea is that you can skim and use the existing highlights to make decisions what you might consider reading more carefully.
Is this a good idea? I would refer you to your own experiences with used textbooks. You may have found the highlights to be helpful and you might have found the highlights to be distracting. I know there has been research with have been described as “experts” (expert note takers, highlighters), but this may or may not apply to the content you would experience. Kindle has a way of aggregating highlighting so you see only the most frequently highlighted material. To my knowledge, this has yet to be tried with the type of services I am describing here.
Again, if you have installed the extension in your browser, this model of curation can be turned off or on so you as a reader have control.
One issue may have occurred to you as you read this content. If you are the content creator, you really have no control of whether others add highlights or notes to your material. This is the case and this situation might be imagined as more traditional commenting that cannot be turned off and is not moderated. Just to be clear, these additions do not actually modify the author’s content, but might be understood as a layer added on top. The author presents content as intended and this content is there without any changes for viewers who have not employed one of the services I have described. I guess I will leave it at that for you to evaluate.
Hypothes.is – highlight and annotate
Apple Keynote (computer or tablet) has been upgraded to allow a slide deck to be shareable. This requires that the file is saved in iCloud. The controls (available under the share menubar option) allows the file to be shared in several ways and to allow read only or modify options. I would think there would be many classroom opportunities based on these capabilities.
(Tap image to advance. Arrows may not appear on tablets.)