Teacher Leadership and Digital Writing

Wordle of Initial Thinking from CAWP Professional Development Workshop
Wordle of Initial Thinking from CAWP Professional Development Workshop

This weekend, I began working with teacher leaders from the Columbus Area Writing Project on the hybrid course we are calling “Teacher Leadership in Teaching Digital Writing.”

I’ve been fortunate enough to make many trips to Columbus in the last few years, and look forward to having this opportunity to work with these NWP colleagues as they prepare for their two-week Summer Institute as well as advanced institute for teacher leadership in digital writing.

We began Friday night by looking at one of Clay Shirky’s TED Talks, and in thinking about the implications for our classrooms and professional development work, specifically as it relates to the changing environments and expectations for writing in an era of the common core standards. This initial conversation generated a number of inquiry questions and ideas including thoughts about how we can value the principles of good writing instruction over technology tools as well as how we can invite our colleagues into these broader conversations about the changing nature of literacy.

We then went on to identify a number of our concerns through the “yeah but, yes and” activity used by many theater companies, and more recently as a training exercise for MBA students. We ended Friday evening by generating a list of potential technologies to explore together over the next few weeks, including Google Communities where we had already begun a conversation.

This morning we began by looking a the chapter I’ve been writing about our experiences in the Chippewa River Writing Project end how we have positioned ourselves as an “digital writing project,” embedding a variety of technologies and new literacies into our practices. While generally complementary, we were also able to generate a thoughtful discussion about how technology can have positive — and potentially negative — influences on teacher identity, and how sharing work publicly online can affect the ways in which teachers express themselves and choose to write.

The remainder of the day was devoted largely to a deeper exploration of the technologies that participants identified Friday night as being potentially valuable for our work together over the next few months. In particular, we delved deeper into the possibilities with Google+, Twitter, and Flipboard. Here are some of our notes:

  • Google+
    • Advantages
      • Easy integration with all Google services
      • Easy to add members
    • Drawbacks
      • Conversations get lost quickly from home page/lack of threading
      • No way to upload documents easily
      • Being in real time is a challenge in certain situations
    • Hangout
      • Possibilities for conversing with more than one person
      • Having a much larger group work, writing groups
      • Someone is in their classroom, in their school and they want some feedback from other people who are in other places
      • Documenting and saving the comments and responses
      • Moving beyond Skype to use as a way to collaborate across classrooms
      • Get together on early-release days with cross-school teams
      • Giving an oral presentation and receiving feedback from the chat room
      • Connecting with kids outside the classroom
      • Creating a panel of experts
  • Twitter/Chats
    • Hootsuite
    • EngChat
    • Twitter
      • Constraints of space make you choose what you are going to write and share; gets to the essence
      • Connect quickly with people whom you would never connect
      • Who you choose to follow — finding the educational resources — who am I choosing to follow, and why?
  • Flipboard/RSS

The three books that we are going to read are:

  • Carr, Nicholas. The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. First ed. W. W. Norton & Company, 2010.
  • Rheingold, Howard. Net Smart: How to Thrive Online. The MIT Press, 2012.
  • Warschauer, Mark. Learning in the Cloud: How (and Why) to Transform Schools with Digital Media. Teachers College Press, 2011.

Overall, I feel like this initial plunge into digital writing and teacher leadership was a successful one. As we concluded the day today, they generated a number of additional ideas and inquiry questions:

  • What leads to and then feeds thriving digital writing communities for students and for teachers (and are those the same thing)?
  • How do we put everything together in a coherent, usable way?
  • How do I act as a learner and a leader at the same time? What is the balance of teaching and learning at the same time?
  • Where do I find the time to learn it and then be able to teach it? Giving myself permission to be less than expert in it.
  • If you are working with in-service or pre-service teachers, how do you address the tension between the teaching of writing and the learning of the tools?
  • The potential for balancing potential use with triviality — how do we sort out and sift through what is trivial and a waste of time as compared to what will lead to meaningfulness and depth?

Over the next few weeks, we will be meeting once a week via Hangout or Twitter chat to share our experiences, discuss readings, and think about plans for their site as they create future professional development opportunities. At some point in the near future, I am hoping that we will be able to make some of our work public, and this is certainly a rich experience for me as well as I think about future models for professional development and learning and hybrid or mostly online scenarios.

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Initial Impressions of sCoolWork

Earlier today, I had the opportunity to talk with the co-founders of sCoolWork, Alex Dayan and Shachar Tal, about their service and how it might help students come better writers. Normally, I do not specifically write about websites or services because that type of situation has caused trouble for in the past. But, I must say that I’m compelled by their story — as well as sCoolWork’s potential as a digital writing tool — and I wanted to share some thoughts here. In interest of full disclosure, please know that they have offered me no special access to the website, and that I am only currently logged in under the free account while the service is still in beta.A few weeks ago, Alex sent me this introduction to sCoolWork by e-mail:

Since I started development of my school paper writing application, sCoolWork, the question I ask myself time after time was: “Does automation help or harm to the learning process?” The answer isn’t straight forward.

?In my opinion, automation can help a lot when used in a smart way. First of all, automation can cut many time-consuming repetitive tasks. Once you’ve done something, redoing it dozens of times has no learning benefit. The whole formatting standards (MLA/APA) issue is another positive aspect for automation. Is it really important for the history essay to keep in mind what exactly should be italicized in each bibliography entry? Isn’t it much more important to let the student focus on his/her ideas?

And maybe the most important benefit of automation is conducting a proper workflow. Even after being instructed many times, students still start their work with writing the introduction and, naturally, stop at the second sentence of an almost blank document. Imagine something that can guide them into researching their points first, outlining their paper second, and only then writing content accordingly – what can be better than this best practice??? However, there is no doubt that automation can be harmful if we forget what it shouldn’t do.? Any automation which tries to “think” instead of the student is an enemy of education. Reading and understanding the material, developing and formulation ideas, writing the self-conceived content – all of these tasks must be done solely by the student. As a parent, I can’t accept any kind of “cheating” which might let my child get good grades, without enriching and developing his knowledge.?? My conclusion is simple. I support any kind of automation which can help students to focus on proper researching and writing, and I vote against any kind of automation which turns our children into button pressing monkeys.

Based on these thoughts I developed sCoolWork.

From this initial exchange, we traded e-mails back and forth a few times talking about the benefits and opportunities of such a platform. As we continued to talk, Alex shared this video and a link to their IndieGoGo funding campaign (which I have not yet donated to, although I may very well do soon).

I signed up for a basic account and tried it out.. one of the unique features about this service is the fact that students can create their document, use an existing template (such as cause-and-effect, or problem solution, not just “five paragraphs”) engage in useful research, and eventually will be able to share their work with peers and a teacher. They still need to do the research and learn how to effectively identify information, copy and paste that information into their own paper, and cite their sources. One important note for those of you who tried out is the when you go through the initial example was Abraham Lincoln, sCoolWork will automatically populate a paper with text as a sample. This will not happen when you create your own paper.

I’ve been playing around with sCoolWork (not yet available on my iPad though) and it is not an automated bibliography generator quite like Zotero, nor is it exactly functional in the way that creating a template in Google docs might be. Instead, sCoolWork’s main benefit is the fact that it sets students up to be successful with their writing. As Alex and Shachar made that point clear today, the two most intimidating screens for students of the blank word processing document and an empty search engine box.

sCoolWork helps students move beyond those intimidating spaces and get started on the research and writing. Sachar just returned from educational technology conference here in the United States and talked about teachers concerns related to cheating, plagiarism, or students simply not been able to compose high-quality work within the sCoolWork interface. As of now, they are working on plagiarism detection, as well as ways to help guide students through the research process and thoughtful and critical ways. Alex stated that “Our integrated search is tied to Yahoo BOSS plus we use AlchemyAPI  for additional analysis and ranking.” Their goal is certainly not to do the work for students, but to help by enabling students so that they can do the writing for themselves. Based on what I have seen in the interface so far, I would agree.

Of course, none of this comes for free, and the two cofounders and the development team have been working diligently to bring sCoolWork out of beta in time for an October launch. As Shachar said in our conversation, it sounds as though they are going to work on a model where they will sell individual student or school licenses to those who can afford it, and you also make many of the services available for free to those who need it. The exact pricing structure isn’t set yet, but they estimate the individual licenses for a year would be around $80 with discounts for school-based subscriptions of many students.

Thus, my initial assessment of sCoolWork is that it could become a very useful digital writing tool, especially once the collaborative tools and peer response features are built in. This could be great for middle and high school students who are creating informational and argumentative texts. Thanks again to Alex and Shachar for sharing their work with me and best of luck.

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Workshop on Historical Thinking and Argumentative Writing

As it always does, summer continues to slip by in a blurry mix of vacation days, professional development days, and some that are a little of both. Last week, we hosted our 2012 CRWP Open Institute, and the week before I partnered with another CMU professor, Tim Hall, to lead a three-day session connected with the Teaching American History Grant Year 4: America in Revolution and Conflict. Before the workshop becomes, well, history in my own memory, I wanted to recreate some of the planning that led up to the event, as well as my thinking over the three days as we co-facilitated the workshop.

As it always does, summer continues to slip by in a blurry mix of vacation days, professional development days, and some that are a little of both. Last week, we hosted our 2012 CRWP Open Institute, and the week before I partnered with another CMU professor, Tim Hall, to lead a three-day session connected with the Teaching American History Grant Year 4: America in Revolution and Conflict. Before the workshop becomes, well, history in my own memory, I wanted to recreate some of the planning that led up to the event, as well as my thinking over the three days as we co-facilitated the workshop.

Workshop Planning

When Tim and his ISD partner, Beckie Bush, contacted me about the possibility of co-facilitating the workshop, I was immediately interested given my obvious work with teaching writing in the broadest sense, as well as teaching writing in the disciplines. Together, we agreed that we would use two professional texts for the workshop, aimed at inspiring both historical thinking and a better understanding of argument writing.

Beckie and Tim asked me to bring a focus on argument writing, with the clear goal of integrating credible, web-based sources and, to the extent possible, digital writing with multimedia tools beyond slideware. When we first met, we immediately began constructing a working agenda via a wiki, and I knew that Zotero would be a key component of our teaching and learning. While somewhat fearful that the topic would be one that teachers would find mundane, Tim helped guide us through thinking about Truman’s decision to drop the bomb as a time-period appropriate dilemma that we could use to teach historical empathy and argumentative writing.
Thus, we decided on two main tasks for the teachers to complete over the three days by engaging in a digital writing workshop that would involve lots of research, collaboration, and development of both a written individual essay and a group multimedia presentation from one of three perspectives: Truman’s advisors who supported the bomb, those in his cabinet who were against it, and the scientific community. As Tim led the group through many exercises on historical thinking, DBQ (document-based questioning), and historical empathy, I took the lead on teaching the argument writing.

Day 1

During this day, my primary role was to begin a discussion about the similarities and differences between persuasion and argumentation. With resources from Smekens Education Solutions, and our crowdsourced Google Docs, we began thinking about the subtle differences that teachers will have to make as we move away from teaching “persuasion,” (with its strong reliance on rhetorical appeals and one-sided arguments) and “argument,” (which requires the writer to acknowledge both sides and use reason to support a claim).

Argumentation Persuasion
  • Opinion
  • Facts and Statistics (Both Sides)
  • Support
  • Position
  • Stance
  • Evidence
  • Interpret
  • Refute
  • Debate
  • Validity
  • Agreement/Disagreement
  • Persuade
  • Conflict
  • Details
  • Validate
  • Information
  • Balanced
  • Attitude
  • Acknowledgement
  • Grapple
  • Issue
  • Problem
  • Logic
  • Reasoning
  • #@!%*&? (Cursing or strong language to get a point across)
  • Position
  • Support
  • Emotion
  • Passion
  • One-Sided
  • Propaganda
  • Advertising
  • Facts and data
  • Spin
  • Influence
  • Appeal
  • Aggresive
  • Credible
  • #winning
  • LOCK
    • Loaded Words
    • Overstatements
    • Carefully Chosen Facts
    • Key Omissions

These will be big shifts in the years to come as we implement the CCSS, and I relied on a number of resources to guide us through our thinking about how to create an argumentative essay including Hillocks’ book, the NWP Writing Assignment Framework and Overview, the ReadWriteThink Persuasion Map, a small sample of They Say/I Say Templates, and the Purdue Online Writing Lab’s List of Transitional Words.

Also, on this first day, we talked about how the essay (written from your personal perspective in 2012) would differ from the group multimedia project, meant to be delivered as a factual report to a (fictitious) Congressional inquiry in 1950, built only from evidence available at that time, most of which came from the Truman Library. This was quite interesting, as it forced us to take two different approaches:

Individual Essay Group Mulitmedia Presentation
Mode Argumentative essay (reliant on logical reasoning and multiple forms of evidence from WWII-present) Persuasive presentation (reliant on logic, but also emotional appeals of the era; most evidence was textual, with some images and film footage)
Media Composed in Word or Google Docs, with use of Zotero Composed with a multimedia tool such as Prezi or Capzles
Audience Peers, teachers, general public (op-ed) Peers and teachers, set in roles at a fictitious Congressional Hearing in 1950
Purpose To create a coherent, sequenced argument for or against the dropping of the bomb based on its short and long-term consequences To create a well-reasoned, yet impassioned case for one of three positions about dropping the bomb
Situation Situated in the present, and with historical knowledge from dropping of the bomb, through Cold War, up to present Situated in the past, without knowledge of historical effects beyond 1950.Using the media of today to make a presentation for that era.

Day 2

Screenshot of "Think Aloud" for Argument EssayMy notes here on day two are brief because, for the most part, it was a work day. Lots of trouble-shooting with Zotero as people got their accounts synced up with the web plugin and standalone, connected to our group library, and worked on their multimedia presentations. There were many, many quick conversations with teachers about the affordances and constraints of the technologies — as well as many frustrations — but by the end of the day most of them felt pretty good about the work we were doing. Also, I worked with them to do a “think aloud” of my first draft of my attempt at the individual essay (look at revision history for Jun 20, 1:42 PM). This brought up interesting conversations about the trap of writing though a lens of “presentism,” the use of “I” in writing for history class, and how to best use the They Say/I Say templates and transition words as a way to get started (note the highlights).

Day 3

Screen Shot of "Final" Essay on TrumanMoving into the morning of day three, we talked about ways to effectively integrate peer response groups and did a “fishbowl” model with my essay. Again, this yielded some interesting results as this group of history teachers worked with me to think about what was valuable in terms of both historical thinking and the quality of writing.

We looked at an online rubric generator as a way to keep our conversation focused on assessment, and also discussed the “checklist” type of criteria (Five transitional words/phrases; Three “template” transitions from They Say/I Say) as compared to the parts of the essay that could be judged in a more evaluative sense:

  • State a clear claim and back it with appropriate evidence, from the WWII era through today
  • Develop three main talking points (diplomatic, social, military, political, economic), with two or three sub-points (specific example)
  • Identify and rebut at least two significant counter-arguments

In all of this, we talked about what counts as “evidence,” and many elements were listed including political cartoons, as this screen shot from my “final” essay shows. Also, we discussed the fact that we have to be open to sharing our rough draft thinking with students, even though (by nature) most teachers are perfectionists. One participant noted that if I, as an English professor, was willing to share my writing in this way and not just try to impress the crowd with an amazing essay on the first attempt, then they as middle and high school history teachers should be willing to do the same. I heartily agree.

Then, we moved into the last part of the workshop where groups presented their cases to the “Congressional Hearing.” We tried to complete a speaking and listening guide, as well as some work with Bernajean Porter’s Digitales Multimedia Evaluation Guides, but I have to say that we mostly just enjoyed the presentations. There were, of course, some creative dramatics involved, and here are a few of their results.

 

Reflections

Much of what I have to say about this entire workshop can be summarized in the simple, yet powerful mantra from NWP in that teachers must be writers. When I asked them at the end how they felt about the process, they wouldn’t want to do the group work and the individual essay at the same time. Many felt overloaded, both with tasks and technology. So, there is some tweaking to do. But, some of their final thoughts we captured in conversation were useful:

  • What else would you, as social studies teachers, be looking for in the writing?
    • Background information about the topic: era, people, place (set the stage)
      • Historical thinking gurus: one of the advantages of this approach as a process of thinking is that it gives students a chance to apply what they have learned and then they are able to do something with it
    • Defining key terms/vocabulary
    • Key/relevant statistics/data
    • Citations: analyzing primary and secondary sources
    • Gathering data from their classmates/community
    • Cause and effect, sequential, compare and contrast

And, with that, I will put this particular PD experience in my own history, at least for now, until I have another opportunity to do a workshop on argumentative writing, when all of this will come in quite handy.

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The “Tweet Aloud” as a Tool for Comprehending Digital Texts

Thanks to Tracy Mercier (@vr2ltch) for capturing my unfolding thought process as I responded to The Majestic Plastic Bag — and invited others to do the same — during an #engchat conversation about digital mentor texts on April 23rd.

I think I may have coined a new phrase, at least in the pedagogical sense, mashing together the classic reading comprehension strategy of a a “think aloud” with the idea of viewing a video during a Twitter-based conversation such as #engchat.

The result: a “tweet aloud,” which had me and about a half-dozen other teachers sharing our thoughts on the video while all watching it on our own screens, semi-simultaneously. In some ways, it was a backchannel conversation during a social media interaction, which was kind of doubly-meta. All the same, it was interesting for me as a facilitator and, I hope, for participants, too. It gives me something to think about as I continue to understand online pedagogy.

So, I thank Tracy for capturing that all through her Storify reflections, as well as for Meenoo in trusting me enough to try something like that with #engchat.

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Adaptive Assessment and the Purposes of Educational Technology (AERA, Part 3)

Roy Pea has long-studied educational technology and, in this interchange with Larry Cuban hosted by Tapped In, reminds us that:

A second caution is replacing flesh with silicon. The point here about technology is to augment physical, hands-on learning, face-to-face encounters, not to replace it, and yet, certainly, there may be places that come to feel that interactive programs, simulations, teleconferencing, travels in cyberspace, are cheaper, more effective, and easier to conduct than the real thing. Let’s watch out for that. (The Pros and Cons of Technology in the Classroom, 1998)

That said, as I listened to him talk about adaptive technologies that monitor and respond to student progress (ala Khan Academy), I became increasingly concerned. Captured in these tweets, here are some of the “benefits” that Pea described, without much in the way of critique, posted in reverse chronological order:

Troy HicksTroy Hicks ? @hickstro

Being an #edtech advocate, I am becoming concerned about the focus on collection of student metadata, both implicit and explicit. #AERA2012

Roy Pea: adaptive systems create large scale testbeds to do experiments in comparative pedagogy; expand social networks for learn #AERA2012

Roy Pea: Expand learner access to data in relation to others creating a networked systems of learners in adaptive learning systems #AERA2012

Roy Pea: expand data gathering outside of school contexts; give access of data to learners themselves (performance dashboards)#AERA2012
Roy Pea: learner perceptions and motions (& emotions); capturing uses of written language; expanding our sense-making techniques#AERA2012
Roy Pea: By expanding profile metadata, greater context of learner’s history of learning, capturing learner perceptible aspects#AERA2012
Roy Pea: How can adaptive technologies become trusted resources for students, teachers, and policy-makers? #AERA2012

The idea of a “school of one,” while appealing on one level to anyone who has ever talked about differentiated instruction is, ultimately, terrifying to me. Not because it will eliminate the teacher, per se, although teachers do become more like technicians in this model where they work to support students without really teaching anyone anything directly, or engaging in more substantive conversations in small groups or as a class. While it could be beneficial for students in many ways, my fear is that the implementation of adaptive assessment will inherently isolate students from one another and, as Leigh Graves Wolf reminded me of in a tweet (or three), will create data sets that are ultimately intended to evaluate (and, arguably) punish teachers. This idea of adaptive assessment ties with another popular ed tech trend, one that is perhaps seen as more “progressive,” but in effect is really not much more so, much like many recent edtech fads. For instance, as Ira Socol noted earlier this year, the concept of “flipping” the classroom is very problematic:

But the “Flipped Classroom” is worse than ‘typical homework’ – it literally shifts the explanatory part of school away from the educators and to the home, however disconnected that home might be, however un-educated parents might be, however non-English speaking that home might be, however chaotic that home might be. So, kids with built in advantages get help with the understanding, and kids without come to school the next day clueless. (Changing Gears 2012: rejecting the “flip”)

So, to hear Pea and other distinguished educational technologists talk about adaptive technologies in this manner was, at best, disconcerting. At worst, it is terrifying to think that our children will be measured by computers, as the recent hullabaloo over computer-based writing assessment reminds us. As the CCSS assessments come online, literally, my sincere hope is that teachers continue to question not only their validity as a measurement tool, but also the unintended consequences of such assessments on their students, curriculum, and instruction.

Footnote: Of course, we are all now familiar with the TED-Ed initiative to “flip” videos on their site, and this could be another interesting twist in the conversation. At least with TED, teachers are still in control of the learning process since they create their own versions for the flip.

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Quick Thoughts on the State of Tech Ed

Earlier today, I was sent a request for an email interview from a CMU undergraduate. I only had a quick turnaround time to reply (so she could get enough info to write her paper about technology in education), but her deadline encouraged me to be brief in my responses. With her permission, I share her questions and my answers here. As I prepare for many professional development events coming up in the next few weeks, this was a good time to capture some of my thoughts in such a succinct manner.

What are some specific topics you have researched in technology?
My research focuses on the ways that teachers integrate technology into writing instruction. In particular, I am interested in how K-12 teachers blend a writing workshop approach to instruction with specific technologies such as blogs, wikis, collaborative word processing, digital stories, and other multimedia to engage students in meaningful writing and learning.
What are the “hot topics” right now?
Given President Obama’s interest in STEM and the new national educational technology plan, I think that the main focus on technology use in education is for science and math instruction. Also, with the push towards more student engagement, paperless classrooms, increased wireless broadband access, and tablet computing, I think that we have an interesting opportunity to change the ways that teaching and learning takes place inside and outside of school.
Describe the current debates of using technology in the classroom
I think that the main debate centers less on why we should use technology, as that is more or less a given, and more on why to use it. On the one hand, we have advocates for online/virtual learning that acts as a supplement or replacement for instruction. On the other, we have advocates who suggest that students should be using the technology to communicate and create, not just for remediation. As we continue to push for technology in schools, I hope that we invite students to be collaborators,  communicators, and creators, and not just to reinforce old models of instruction with newer, shinier tools.
Have you read any informational journals or books on technology?
I do read journals and books, and those are helpful resources, but get most of my news comes from educational bloggers/tweeters and eSchool News.
How do you conduct research?
For the most part, I do research with teachers as we co-design curriculum and instruction that is technologically-rich and pedagogically-sound. This involves time talking and planning with teachers, working with them and their students, doing follow-up interviews and surveys, and then integrating my thoughts and ideas into the existing literature and knowledge about technology in education and writing.
Where do you get funding to support your research?
Mostly from grant dollars which allow me to have release time. For instance, we currently have a grant from the National Writing Project for our local CMU site, the Chippewa River Writing Project. Also, I am working on a Title II Professional Development grant, WRITE NOW.
If I were to look for sources to write grants, where would I go?
For your own classroom, you would look most likely to local sources like community or school foundations. For the district or regional level, you would look to other agencies such as the Michigan Department of Education or National Writing Project.
What are the most enjoyable parts of being a researcher?
For me, the most enjoyable part of being a researcher is working with teachers to help them develop their own passions and ideas into classroom practice. The second most enjoyable part is being able to write and talk about those ideas in my own CMU classes and in professional development sessions that I lead around the country.
Do you ever work with a partner? How?
I am almost always working with partners. From the teachers that I meet with and plan projects to other CMU staff and faculty who help me develop and implement grants, I am working with partners all the time. Especially with writing, I am constantly working with colleagues to do grant applications, human subjects research applications, chapters, articles, books, and presentations.
What are the frustrations of being a researcher?
My main frustration is that I have to divert my attention away from research, writing, and collaboration to write reports and attend meetings that have little to do with my research. Yet, I understand that this is how the university works, and I really do enjoy being a researcher so I am willing to put up with the frustrations.
What do you think will come with the future of technology in education?
That’s a huge question. While I am not 100% sure of what will come, what I would hope will come is something like this: all teachers and students will have ubiquitous and uninterrupted one-to-one access to a tablet or other computing device, high speed wireless internet, and numerous online, open educational resources. This would allow for anytime, anywhere learning that truly pushes us to be instructional coaches and leaders for our students, since the answer to simple questions will only be a Google search away, and we can spend our time answering the bigger, more complicated questions through project-based learning.
Are there are connections to other disciplines? Or opportunities for interdisciplinary research?
Yes, there are many, many opportunities for this when you think about writing and technology. I think that you could connect to any discipline given the interest that you can generate from working with colleagues in that discipline. In particular, I am interested in how English teachers and librarian/media specialists could work together to address concerns about information literacy, copyright, and plagiarism.


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2010 MVU Online Learning Symposium

Notes from 2010 Michigan Virtual University Online Learning Symposium
November 9, 2010 at Michigan State University

Opening Keynote: Steve Midgley, Deputy Director of Education Technology, US DOE

  • Context
    • National Technology Plan (released just today), Four Components: Mobility, Social Interactions, Digital Content, Print to Online
    • This does not mean that we will have a “teacherless” curriculum, but the online marketplace offers many interesting opportunities
    • How do we find the right content and connect it with the right student with the right teacher at the right time?
    • Challenge from President Obama: “By 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.”
    • The crucial thing about this is that if you graduate every student in the pipeline today, we will still not meet this goal. Stats show that many students are not graduating from high school, so this implies that many people need to get re-engaged. This will only happen with online learning.
  • Content
    • Teaching, Learning, Assessment — Infrastructure — Productivity
    • Assessment the way it is working today is pretty fouled up
    • Using $350 million to develop new, next generation assessment
    • DARPA project to assess Navy ensigns “in the field”
  • Learning
    • Some major points
      • 21st century expertise
      • How people learn
      • Personalized learning
      • Universal design for learning
      • Informal + formal
    • Social search — more people go to YouTube from Facebook than from Google
      • What does it look like in a social context that is professional?
    • New models (Netflix/Blockbuster) — what does this look like in education?
  • Assessment
    • Major points
      • Measure what matters
      • Embedded assessments
      • Real time feedback
      • Persistent learning record
      • Universal design
      • Continuous improvement
    • New models of assessment being developed being developed
    • NOTE: I haven’t read up much about this, but there is information about it being distributed through MDE and other news outlets.
  • Teaching
    • Main points
    • What does “highly effective” really mean in an online environment?
    • Connected
    • Online
    • Informal + formal — we can’t organize in ways offline that we can online — some technologies require connectivity to work at all (e.g., Wikipedia)
    • Inspired
  • Questions and Answers
    • Wikipedia — many schools block it, and then students are expected to use it in college to get started with research — this is crazy
    • What other “spaces” can we create for teachers to share ideas and resources? What is officially sanctioned by the state, and what is not? What is the role of textbook publishers and other research-based work to integrate with teacher knowledge?
    • We can’t test everything that we say we want kids to learn, only certain things, and some kids are learning more at different times and in different ways. So, then the question becomes what happens to kids as they figure out seat time/credit hours?
    • Intellectual property — how do teachers’ ideas get recognized in these online spaces? Creates problems with copyright and fair use. Creative Commons and Open Courseware as one option, but also some states and districts have earned RTTT money and are sharing through other avenues.

Conversation with Michigan Online Teachers of the Year

  • What has surprised you about online learning?
    • The personal connection, the human touch. Part of this is about the evolution of the internet and how we use social networks today. It is very easy to develop the relationships.
    • When you never see students face-to-face, and you are teaching 125 a semester, when someone writes that “you are my favorite teacher” — that is motivating. The additional thing that surprises me is the connections that you make with your mentors and how much of a factor that they play in their students’ lives.
  • What are your major apprehensions?
    • The fact that the technologies continue to change. Need to keep on top of things, for instance with the 21 Things for 21st Century Educators. (NOTE: I am not so sure that I agree with this statement — I think that there are generally principles about online learning and digital literacy that we need to know, but that we get way too caught up with the tools.)
    • If we don’t teach kids how to use their mobile phones properly, how will they learn these life skills? (NOTE: Again, I am a bit concerned about the tone that we take when we assume that we, as educators, have the “right” answer about how, when, and why we use the tools. Not that I disagree with the principle that we invite them to use these devices and applications, but I do worry that once we co-opt the digital tools and spaces that they are familiar with, we are changing the purposes and audiences for which they write and work).
    • Assessment is built in to the system — the fact that student time online is logged.
  • What are the roles that teachers and students play in the process of online learning?
    • If you are just introducing it, you have to give it time. Initially, it depends on the success of the students that are there — highly motivated kids are successful and motivate other kids to continue working, too.
    • This is rewarding for teachers — we enjoy having the opportunity to teach in a more flexible model. Old model was to have AP kids in advanced classes and remedial kids in other courses (kind of a dumping ground, without mentor support). We have now moved to a model where most students who are in our courses actually get to work and achieve a passing grade.
    • We can bait the hook, but students need to bite. People talk about the way that online learning is better because it offers students new opportunities as compared to what they have experienced in school. This is especially true for students in credit recovery. Still, they have to be motivated and self-directed. (NOTE: So, in what ways does online learning really change the paradigm? That is, if students are reluctant to engage in school, for whatever reason, does the flexibility of online learning really overcome the negative feelings that they have towards school?) Can you meet them online through Skype and Adobe Connect or other similar tools?
    • What are your strategies for connecting with online students? It is not about loving your subject, it is about loving your students. Students see it and recognize it, and they reciprocate.

Lunch Keynote: Milton Chen, Senior Fellow and Director Emeritus at George Lucas Educational Foundation — “Education Nation: Six Leading Edges of Innovation in our Schools” and Edutopia

  • Interesting note — Chen was born in Negaunee, and his father was a mining engineer
    • “I am here as an accident of history” — China was an ally, and my father was able to come to the US and learn about mining at Penn State, and my parents were married in 1945, although my mother didn’t arrive until 1949. They didn’t plan to stay in the US, but the stayed and I was born in 1953.
  • Imagine an Education Nation: “A learning society where education of children is teh highest priority, equal to a strong economy, high employment, and national security, which rely on education.”
    • The book is a “curation” of many resources from Edutopia; interesting that the magazine has been discontinued; e-books now outsell print books
    • “I think this is the first decade of the twenty-first century for education.” — we are at the tipping point.
    • Innovation — the key to creating an education nation; it is a “must do” than a “nice to know”
    • Bugscope
    • Google is 12 years old, YouTube is 5 years old, Edutopia YouTube Channel
    • Clay Shirky — we are witnessing the biggest change in human innovation and creativity in history; every media that we have ever known is now on a device in our pocket next to every other media
  • These are old ideas… Dewey
    • “From the standpoint of the child, the great waste in the school comes from his inability to utilize the experiences he gets outside the school… within the school itself while, on the other hand, he is unable to apply in daily life what he is learning at school.” The School and Society Lecture, University of Chicago, 1899
  • 6 Leading Edges of K-12 Innovation
    • Thinking
    • Curriculum and Assessment
    • Technology
    • Time/Place
    • Co-Teaching
    • Youth
  • The Edge of Our Thinking: Ending the Education Wars
    • From the either/or to both/and hybrids
    • Phonics and whole language
    • Arts and core curriculum (opening minds with the arts)
    • Learning in nature and technology
  • Curriculum Edge: Globalizing the Curriculum
  • Technology Edge
    • We want all students to use technology; weapons of mass instruction (one-to-one is the weapon that we need to employ)
      • We need to reduce the 1:6 student/computer level to a one-to-one (it can be done for $250 or less, per year)
    • iPod, iListen, iRead: EUSD iRead Program
      • Technology is only technology for those who were born before it existed
      • Using the iPod as a device to record students’ own voices reading: the “missing mirror” in literacy instruction
      • This is not about just getting to the standards, this is about having kids learn more, and learn earlier
      • Have students see how other students are learning; what are the different paths that other students take and how can we learn from this public learning process?
  • The Time/Place Edge
    • Getting kids out into the community for place-based learning
  • Co-Teaching
  • The Greatest Edge: Today’s Youth
  • What is your definition of a great school?
    • Make it short, make it measurable — are the kids running into school as fast as they are running out of it; are the kids so excited about their work that they do not want to leave school?

Closing Keynote: Richard Ferdig, Kent State University

  • Building the plane while we are flying it — and that’s OK
  • Is K-12 online learning academically effective? — this is not the right question
    • Example of TV and video games — not good for kids, right?
    • Actually, depending on the TV or game, it is good for you.
    • Asking the right question — when are courses taught “better” online as compared to face-to-face?
    • Quote from USDOE: “On average, online learning students performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.”
  • So, the better question is “When is online learning academically effective?” or “Under what conditions is online learning academically effective?”
    • How is online more effective? What are the conditions under which it is more effective?
    • Is “X” technology better for learning? — Sometimes (under certain conditions)
  • So, when is K-12 online learning academically effective?
  • So, what do we look at?
    • Student and Teacher
      • With teachers, we know that a teacher has a significant role in mentoring students through their online experiences
      • Highly qualified teachers matter in virtual schooling as well
      • How can we get highly qualified teachers?
        • Professional development — because not any teacher can teach online, they need particular skill sets for teaching online — engaging parents and mentors, using virtual school resources
        • Teacher education is not the answer — they are not working with K-12 online schools. Do they have virtual internship programs? Most teachers leave colleges of education without any preparation to teach online.
        • Lack of PD opportunities – not all have online experiences, only 21% had a customized experience
        • Does PD work — sometimes. PD only works when teachers take charge of their PD experience.
        • PCK — talk about teacher knowledge for practice, in practice, and of practice
        • Classroom — inquiry — community
        • Suggestions/Recommendations:
          • Record and reflect on exemplary practice
          • Ownership of the PD model, using innovative means and tools
      • Does online learning affect student retention?
        • Retention is a significant problem, and they drop out for different reasons such as their own individual reasons, or institutional reasons. This happens at key transitions points, students are myopic, and there are disconnected understandings about what is happening and why.
      • Solutions
        • Better communication
        • Individualized instruction
        • Additional mentoring
        • Connections to jobs
      • Why did it work?
        • Accepted by peers
        • Accepted by online teachers
        • Learning styles were met
        • Connections to real world
        • More opportunities for expression
        • In short, all the reasons they dropped out of their F2F school is why they succeeded online
  • Understanding Virtual Schools
    • 80/20 — most of what happens across states is common, although there are some unique features depending on the state
      • Partnerships — including school, university, research, and evaluation
      • Exponential growth
      • Retaining both students and teachers
      • The funding dilemma/opportunity
    • Best practices
      • Engage in attention on pedagogy, innovation with technology, etc.
  • What are some ways to get to better practice?

Reflections on the day

Along with all the technology interests that I have had over the years, my formal introduction to online learning began around the turn of the century when I was trained as an online instructor with the Michigan Virtual High School. Because of a variety of reasons, not the least of which was starting grad school, I taught my last online course for them in 2002. Given my continuing interests in online and hybrid models of learning — especially in professional development for teachers — it was good to come to the conference today and get reconnected with the state of online learning.

I do have significant concerns about the commercialization of online learning and how models like MIVU, Blackboard, textbook companies selling products, charter schools and other organizations who are working, in one way or another, for a profit versus the model of open courseware, collaboration, hybridity, and free or opensource web-based tools. This is a significant wedge that continues to grow. For instance, I set my courses up with a wiki, invite students to use free tools for collaboration and bibliography management, and engage with a variety of other tools. contrast this with the subscription that my university pays for to use Blackboard, including all the proprietary tools and content management.

One of the resources that I was reminded of, and I know I need to continue my participation in, is Edutopia. Milton Chen talked about the many ways that educators are innovating, and that the “internet makes learning international.” It’s been one year since I was invited to be a moderator of a group on Multimedia Literacy, and I need to get involved again.

Also, the implications for professional development for online teachers has just as much, if not more, resonance with our needs for traditional professional development. One of the main points that I will take from the final talk by Richard Ferdig is the fact that teachers, like students, need customized, just-in-time learning opportunities to find out more about how to teach and learn in their own context. I hope that we are doing some of that with our work this year in the CRWP/CGRESD partnership, and I look forward to seeing results from that work.

It was an interesting day, especially in the sense that this conference was one that I chose to attend because it was outside of my normal areas of conference-going, yet remained on the border of them and moved my thinking forward in new ways.


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