EDU 625 Final Project

This post serves as a summary of my learning experiences from course EDU625 Integrating Learning and Technology. 

How has my learning philosophy or perspective changed during this course?

My personal philosophy and vision for teaching and learning aligns best with Jerome Bruner’s constructivist theory.  In his 1960 text, The Process of Education, Bruner claims “We begin with the hypothesis that any subject can be taught effectively in some intellectually honest form to any child at any stage of development.” This claim supports Bruner’s belief that students build their own learning and can acquire knowledge at rates exponentially greater than their age may typically indicate. Knowledge is drawn and constructed from their own experiences and teachers are more facilitators to their growth. (Bruner, 1961)

I chose this theory based on my own experience as a teacher and as an individual lifelong learner.  The most meaningful and rich learning experiences I have created for students have all shared the common thread of me acting more as facilitator rather than an instructor that disseminates information to be memorized or regurgitated.  Similar to Socratic learning, students are offered leading questions that allow them to strategically solve problems using their own capacity to question, think and analyze information.  The instructor provides the framework for this learning and fosters an environment in which the student can reach their capacity at any age level across any discipline.

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(picture from http://www.creativecommons.org with permission)

My experience during this course has strengthened my philosophy of education simply because I have been challenged each week to explore and investigate new technologies as it relates to my workplace.  Along the way, I have drawn the connection between an array of tools and units of study which directly impact student learning.  I feel more empowered having the chance to learn about tools I had never even heard about or had always wanted to explore but never seemed to fins the time.  And best of all, I had to ‘figure it out’ all by myself which really ensured I learned how that particular tool worked.

I was also afforded the opportunity to explore the value of 3D virtual worlds in an academic setting and this expanded my philosophy to include more experimentation.  Up until this course, I had only explored one tool called Wilo Star 3D.  Essentially, Willow Star is a homeschooling program that caters to the students in grades six through 12

I must say had very little experience with gaming and the virtual world and this amazed me with its potential. I could see how valuable this might be especially with students with special needs, who are gifted, or have ADD or Asperger’s syndrome.  I also think this a virtual world could be leveraged teach students and role-play around the use of social media and other important ideas like bowling and respect. The experience feels like a blend of a learning management system (i.e blackboard) with 3-D gaming which produces a heightened sense of interaction and engagement.

virtual world

(picture from http://www.creativecommons.org with permission)

I think this could be used with any student or class as a supplement to the more traditional reading and writing that might occur. But the real beauty of this is that the reading and writing is embedded into the actual avatar experience and with built-in functionality to allow the student to upload information and creates information to share with other classmates could really hit a lot of the common core state standards as well as the ISTE national technology standards. And with it being web-based and accessible anytime anywhere, you’ve created another way to reach students and might have normally fallen through the cracks.

What are the key issues of using technology to actually enhance learning?

One of the most significant issues we face now is teaching our students to search for and use credible resources.  With the ‘invention’ of the internet just 25 years ago, gathering and analyzing content has changed significantly.  Digital literacy and citizenship is being taught more regularly at all levels with the hope that users can decipher which content is valuable, credible and applicable to their needs. Although I think that some of this unit’s tools were more interesting or applicable to my own work, I found several to be less desirable or credible for some of the reasons mentioned below.  The following are considerations when evaluating online content and tools:

  1. Is the information current?  Is there a date on the site as to when it was last updated?
  2. Is there a sound writing style for the site or product?  Is the site design appropriate and acceptable or is it distracting or uninviting?  Are there grammar issues?
  3. Is the site/content ‘pitching’ something or trying to persuade you to make an investment?  Is it just an advertisement?  Is there a cost or is it non-profit?
  4. Does the site or tool use references or citations when necessary or are wild claims made with no support?
  5. Is there any acknowledgement to competitors or the other side of the ‘argument’?
  6. Is your personal information shared?
  7. Is there an author for this content or tool?  Is the information peer-reviewed or is the author accomplished or published?
  8. Is the tool or product from a .gov or .edu site which tends to be more credible?  Or is it from a .org site which tends to be more for-profit and may have an agenda?

Many of these questions can be used to discuss with students or teachers to differentiate between credible content and content that may have other motives. In our technology literacy courses at the middle school, our students are given ample opportunity to learn about and identify content that is both credible and not credible.  The result is a more informed and responsible user that can quickly identify information that helps build their argument or critique someone else’s ideas (P, 2014).  Many of the survey and mind-mapping tools referenced this week are free however more robust versions are offered at a cost to the user.  This does not necessarily imply that the tool or product isn’t credible rather that the organization or individual seeks compensation for profit. When gathering data in any organization it’s imperative that the conclusions drawn from the data are reliable and valid.  The data must measure what it’s intended to measure and deliver consistent results over a period of time or multiple tests (Cherry).

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(picture from http://www.creativecommons.org with permission)

Aside from using the internet and different tools judiciously, I also believe that a key issue to enhance learning is teaching our students the skills to find the answers or ‘figure it out’ when their task isn’t always clear.  As educators, we need to be comfortable allowing students to use multiple different platforms with different kinds of software and apps.  In fact, I believe we should be exposing our students to as many different kinds of technology so they have a library from which to choose when trying to solve the many problems they will face.  And for teachers, we must accept that technology doesn’t have to replace good instruction rather it can enhance or supplement good instruction when used appropriately.

What is my personal greatest challenge relating to technology and learning?

As a technology integrator, I believe my greatest challenge is trying to find enough time to assist teachers in using new technologies.  Convincing administrators to create consistent blocks of time for me to work with grades and teams has been an ongoing challenge with no consistent or recognizable solution.  Educators today confront many new obstacles.  With the introduction of a new teacher evaluation process and the arrival of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), teachers are facing new challenges under tremendous pressure (The Teaching Channel, 2013).  In addition, districts like mine are encouraging teachers to incorporate technology into their everyday lesson plans and units of study as a tool to deliver these new standards. The issue, however, is that many educators lack the resources, ability or confidence to effectively leverage technology to utilize in the classroom.  My goal is to create blocks of time that are sustainable and supported by the administration.

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(picture from http://www.creativecommons.org with permission)

I also believe it is a tremendous challenge for me to help learners actually ‘do’ or ‘practice’ rather than absorb from me the presenter for too long.  Teachers need time and support to actually use new tools and then plan how they could be used within their instruction.  In all of my training experiences, I try and allow for the learner to actually apply what they have learned usually in pairs or small groups to alleviate some of the pressure and allow for collaboration.  This is the part where I do less instructing and more guiding because I almost want the teachers to struggle a bit and attempt to solve the problems with the resources they’ve been given and/or by communicating with their colleagues.  I also find that allowing users to reflect on the experience and report back to the large group helps them articulate and reinforce what they have learned as well as brainstorm how this new learning might be used to help improve instruction and student learning (the application piece).

What are my personal plans for next steps in learning?

Last October I began a new job as a technology integration specialist.  In six short months I have explored many new apps, devices and software packages that could enhance instruction and improve student learning.  This has all been productive.  But I must say that all of the conversations we have had around accessibility, devices, professional development, infrastructure and training all really lead back to two of the most important points:

  1. Any initiative I have, or our tech group has, must become the initiative of the administrators.  Without the ability to convince people in power of your cause, it really is just talk.
  2. The use of technology needs to be directly linked to curriculum, units of study or lesson plans.  It needs to have the capability of direct and immediate impact for student learning.  Without this connection, teachers won’t see how it can enhance what they do.

We are currently using our curriculum map at our middle school to create a web-based resource that outlines tools, applications and apps that teachers can refer to that are directly linked to their units of study.  Take a look at our 7th grade Social Studies page: http://region18techintegration.weebly.com/social-studies-7th.html

With this being said I think the next steps are to build this document out so teachers can easily learn about and use new tools that can enhance their instruction. In time, we plan to build this out for each grade level and content area throughout the district.  We have our tech department, media people and various teachers all pitching in to select the best and most appropriate tools.

The biggest concern I have is that change moves too slowly in education.  This is particularly an issue for technology because it’s changing more rapidly than anyone (especially schools) can keep up with.  The result tends to be a lot of missed opportunities and hesitation to see what other districts are doing first.  For this reason, I think it’s imperative to gather as many people in on the conversation so more people take ownership of the issues at hand.

Reference

Bruner, J. (1960). The Process of education. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 33.

Bruner, J. S. (1961). The Act of Discovery. Harvard Educational Review, 31, 21-32.

Cherry, K. (n.d.). What is reliability?. Retrieved from http://psychology.about.com/od/researchmethods/f/reliabilitydef.htm

Constructivist theory (Jerome Bruner), (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.instructionaldesign.org/theories/constructivist.html

(n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.wilostar3d.com/

P, M. (2014, January 29). How can I tell if a website is credible? Retrieved from https://uknowit.uwgb.edu/page.php?id=30276

The Teaching Channel. (2013). Transforming professional development for 21st century educators. The Journal, Retrieved from http://thejournal.com/Whitepapers/2013/10/Teaching-Channel_Industry-Perspective/Asset.aspx

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