I was honored that they asked me to write the foreword from the book, which is available as a free download from IGI.
Check out the foreword, and take a peek at the table of contents. I will be curious to hear what other educators, especially English/Language Arts educators, have to say about the current state of “the flip” in our classrooms.
As many of you know, and have probably experienced, discussions in online classes can be notoriously bad.
At best, many online courses feign discussion as a pseudo-cooperative (and not a collaborative, generative) task, and students engage because they are required to connect with the content and with one another.
At worst, the tasks are perfunctory and just for points.
Hi, I don’t know you, but I’m required to respond to your post so we can all act like we give a shit about what each other has to say. Great, good one sided talk, keep up the good work.
NOBODY CARES. This is not real participation. It doesn’t even make sense, if you want students to actively have a discussion about something, then do it. But to just say respond to two other students, it’s like talking to a wall. Most students won’t read their responses, and if they do they won’t care enough to do anything about it.
So, yes, we would hope that students would see online discussion in a different light, no doubt.
Yet, we can’t be angry at the student, since it is we, as the instructors, who create the tasks. But, our discussion design is, usually, a variation on the notorious Initiate-Respond-Evaluate (IRE) pattern, only we substitute the students’ peer responses for our own.
Few schools require “traditional” faculty to teach online, though they may allow or even encourage it. As a result the best teachers are not necessarily trying to figure out how to make online learning great. We are left with the poor substitute of models coming from industry (modules teaching employees why they should wear a hair net) and the cult of the instructional designer.
So, as online instructors — especially those of us who are tenured faculty — we need to do better.
Good online discussions can happen, if we plan them intentionally. And, there are ways to do it.
In summary, based on these findings one can conclude that for online discussion to be an effective instructional tool, it needs to have structure, elements of interaction, a certain level of complexity, task orientation, clear expectations, and personal involvement of the instructor in the course and her/his personal interaction with students.
I appreciate these categories as a way to think about online discussion, and I would add one more element: we need to focus on texts (literally, on text as words, but also on texts in the form of image and video). Students need to talk about something, in context, not just try to randomly transfer their ideas into an online forum with no reference to the text under discussion.
To that end, I am using NowComment as a tool for discussion because I believe that it allows me the opportunity, as the instructor, to set the task and expectations, and it allows students all to engage in conversation with one another around the text itself, at a deeper level of complexity.
And, this is especially important at the masters and doctoral level. The heart of graduate study is to engage, deeply, with these complex issues.
This requires us to rethink our teaching, as noted in this Chronicle essay by Leonard Cassuto, a professor of English at Fordham University. He argues that the main point for graduate seminar discussions is to support two learning goals: transfer and retention. He makes the point this way (emphasis mine):
How might graduate professors teach in order to promote the sensible goals of knowledge transfer and retention?
We have to start by reverse-engineering from those concepts. But there’s the rub: Most graduate teachers don’t want to do that. As self-styled defenders of the last bastion of teacher-centered curriculum, many professors in graduate school want to cover “content” and consider anything else to be a distraction.
I am not suggesting that we abandon the work of the discipline, of course. Graduate students have to read a lot to learn their fields, and nothing is going to change that. But they also have to be able to work with what they’ve read. Seminar leaders therefore need to leave enough time not just to “cover” material but also for students to practice doing things with it. As Robert Frost once said, “It’s knowing what to do with things that counts.“
Thus, over the years — both in classrooms and online, but especially online — I have continued to work to make sure that we are not just learning the things, but learning what to do with the things.
To the extent that I am able, I structure discussions have a clear purpose, expectations for turn-taking, and a timeline. With the past few online courses I have taught, I am learning to do this with even more intent. I take time to set up the documents in NowComment, to frame the task, and to set (minimal) expectations for participation. For masters and doctoral students in online courses, I think that these are reasonable ways to initiate a decent discussion and to get students intellectually engaged.
One of my master’s students from last semester described our process in this way:
The most beneficial learning activity for me was using NowComment each week. I prefer to use this format over the Blackboard discussion board because I can find very specific areas of discussion and don’t have to continually click back to a source to discuss it.
So, that was encouraging.
But, right now, I’m struggling.
I am teaching an online doctoral seminar this semester, and I have been trying to scaffold thoughtful discussions around one text and one video each week. I set up the conversations in a protocol-like manner, and I have been sharing resources like the 50 Questions and Critical Thinking Cheatsheet to help them ask critical (but, kind) questions of one another.
The goal is twofold: they should be talking about the content, yes, but they should also be talking with each other. This is what academics do, and I am trying to intentionally scaffold the process for them as graduate students. NowComment is the best tool that I have found in order to meet these purposes.
And, moreover, for any of them who will be teaching online, I want them to use these types of thoughtful, engaging discussion techniques with your students, too. Part of the purpose of our program is to help them become researchers, yes, and to help them become practitioners of educational technology, too.
Yet, I’m still struggling.
A few are participating regularly, and with purpose. Some are participating. Many are not participating at all.
Earlier this week, I tried to call them out, while I also acknowledged the complexity of their lives:
So I know that we are all busy, all the time.
On the go, on the move, on the run.
Pick your euphamism: our lives are *&%#@! busy.
And, I can understand that we are all going to have “off” weeks.
You’ve got family in town. You’ve got exams to grade. You got sick. I totally understand.
As I tried to make clear in my announcement earlier this week, your active, critical, and thoughtful participation in discussion is a key component of your doctoral education. It’s how you retain and transfer information. It’s how you build relationships. It’s how you stake a claim and establish your stance as a researcher.
NowComment is our place to do those things.
In short, I’m trying to be clear about my rationale for having them participate.
Still, participation is stagnant.
I need some help.
So, I ask… any ideas (both technological and pedagogical) for making online (grad school) discussions suck less?
As anyone who has followed my blog probably knows, there are no ads. No banners. No AdSense. No clickbait.
I don’t accept advertising nor do I often pass along information from others. Sadly, as Dan Meyer explained many years ago, many people make many dollars from those clicks, and I think that educators and parents want a website they can trust. So, I don’t do sponsored posts or the like.
Every once in awhile, however, something comes along that I think is legit: the people running it are working to support teachers and students, they engage in genuine education reform or improvement, and/or the message resonates loudly enough that –even if they take ad money or are directly selling a product — I am willing to share their wares.
As it happens, this past week, three sites came my way that fit this “every once in awhile” phenomenon. I will share a bit about each here:
First, I was contacted by Herrie Coralde at BestSchools.com about the possibility of sharing information for students about, as you might guess, the best schools that offer online degree programs. Many sites, like the ones Dan mentioned in his blog post, create these guides or portals with the intent that someone will click from them to the online program and they get a kickback.
Not so with Best Schools. As they note on their About page, they exist for two reasons:
The first reason is simple: there are too many online programs out there. It’s impossible to keep track of the industry’s growth. And if you turn to Google for help, you’ll see a glut of for-profit schools. It’s hard to know what’s legit and what’s not.
The second reason is more complicated, and it’s the reason why we started BestSchools.com. The existing ranking systems aren’t anywhere close to perfect. They look at metrics like graduation rates and extrapolate them into a ranking. While graduation rates can be a telltale sign of a high quality school, metrics like that don’t tell the whole story.
Moreover, they offer many articles that tell this broader story about online education such as Kristen Hicks’ (no relation) “For-Profit Colleges: What Every Student Should Know.” After providing a list of pros and cons for these types of schools, she advises the reader:
In short, if for-profit colleges continue down the path they’re on now, they may not have much of a future. But if they evolve to better meet the needs of current students and appease the governmental powers currently challenging them, they may just weather all the current storms…
Do your research. Don’t just listen to what a representative from a college has to say, get online and see what else you can find about the school you’re interested in.
Overall, I appreciate the way that BestSchools does their research and presents their findings. For instance, and not just because they pick my employer, CMU, as #1 in the state, they provide an overview of the state’s programs and then dig in to the top 10.
Overall, BestSchools.com appears to be legit and I appreciate having a balanced, research-based team looking at the many options available for online learning. So, finding two in one week was quite interesting, as I will share next.
The second query I received came from Lauren Ford at Online Masters Program. Again, I did some looking around on their site, and found their About page compelling, too. Given my criteria for such sites, listed above, I noticed two things about their page work:
Are you affiliated with the programs featured?
OMP.org is an independently run site. We are not affiliated with any master’s degree programs or schools. None of our links to particular programs or schools are sponsored. These programs were chosen because we regard them as some of the most reputable graduate schools.
How do you make money?
All money made through our site is done so via 3rd party advertisers and affiliates. All ads found on this site, be they banners or forms, are labeled as such. The material we produce ourselves and the tools we offer are all ad-free and 100% free to access. We will never require visitors of our site to use or endorse advertised or affiliated content.
So, fair enough. They are clear about their advertising policy, and I appreciate it. More importantly, they provide a good deal of information for each program, as evidenced here by this entry for CMU’s masters in education.
The site includes public, private non-profit, and private for profit listings and the reviews are written, like BestSchools.com in a balanced, research-based way. Their data comes from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, U.S. Department of Education and the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.
Again, this makes for a very thorough and useful site as someone begins to review online programs. Of course, there are other ways for teachers to get online, too, and this third resource shows how.
I began blogging in 2009 – and since then I’ve managed over 20 blogs, some with 200,000 visitors. I started getting tons of questions about blogging from people all over the world, so I thought it’d be a great idea to pack all that information onto one site where I could share it with everyone.
In doing so, he has created a robust website with a clear approach, a clean design, and usable tips. For instance, the screenshot below shows step two in his step-by-step guide. You can see the clear advice, the helpful links, and (just barely at the bottom) a helpful graphic. Most of the resource pages on his site are designed like this.
He is also very clear about how he earns money from his affiliate marketing program, but that is not the heart of his work. He adds “Don’t get me wrong, it’s not because I want to make money from you. It’s mostly to keep my site up and running so I could provide you with the latest blogging tutorials, guides and strategies in the blogging niche.”
Overall, Mike’s work is smart, concise, and useful. Probably his most relevant page for educators is “Blogging in the Classroom,” followed closely by his “What is a Blog?” resource. In particular, I could see using that document as a great way to talk about audiences, purposes, and genres for blogging, not just for using blogs (ala Bud Hunt).
So, there you have it. Three coincidentally timed contacts in the past week, all of which have led to useful resources that I may have not otherwise considered. Please let me know if you check these resources out and what you think by leaving a comment below or following up with me on Twitter.
At the time, I didn’t think I could answer in 140 characters, and I’m glad that I didn’t try.
There are quite a few things to consider when answering this question, and perhaps it was simply the word “all” that threw me for a loop. Well, yes, in all content areas. I think. Wait, maybe not all. Most? Some?
You can see how I pondered the question, turning it over in my mind.
In doing so, however, I also began to think about the goals for content area literacy or, as it is being described more and more — especially by Tim and Cindy Shanahan — disciplinary literacy. And, in fact, their definition is at the crux of how I would answer the question. They believe that “Most students need explicit teaching of sophisticated genres, specialized language conventions, disciplinary norms of precision and accuracy, and higher-level interpretive processes” (43) and “the nature of the disciplines is something that must be communicated to adolescents, along with the ways in which experts approach the reading of text. Students’ text comprehension, we believe, benefits when students learn to approach different texts with different lenses.” (51).
So, my short answer to Liz’s question would have been, “Yes, various forms of new media such as social networking and gaming can be successfully used in various content areas, perhaps even all of them,” as evidenced by tools such as EASE History, the Science Game Center, the National Library of Virtual Manipulatives, or any of the dozens of options available on this K-12 Tech Tools wiki. Students have created videos about science experiments and historical reenactments, and acted as characters from literature or actual historical figures on Twitter and Facebook.
So, yes, they can.
The deeper answer, and the one that I have been struggling with over the week, however, is a little more complicated.
If we think about the Shanahans’ ideas that content area literacy is quite a bit more specific than simply applying a general set of strategies for writing-across-the-curriculum — as good as those strategies may be — then there has to be something deeper, something more rhetorical, to the idea of composing a disciplinary text with multimedia. Returning to Liz’s question, and pivoting it just a bit, I wonder: Can various forms of new digital media be effective as a tool for composing in all disciplines?
Here, the answer gets a bit murkier, mostly because I am not a disciplinary expert outside of the field of writing. On the one hand, I can imagine that expressing disciplinary knowledge in math, science, history, or the arts — demonstrating a way of thinking through expert interpretation, analysis, and communication — could happen in any form of media. Heck, a whole movement in education, the flipped classroom, has come about because teachers have taken up the idea that they can create and deliver lessons via online video at least as effectively, if not more so, than they can do in the classroom. So, multimedia exploration of disciplinary knowledge is, conceivably at least, possible.
On the other hand, I wonder what is lost when transitioning from writing (words into sentences into paragraphs types of writing) into multimedia composition? Are there components of disciplinary thinking that don’t translate well from words to images to video to links to… whatever other form of media we can imagine?
At the same time, what do disciplinary experts gain in the process of being able to use images, voice, video, links, and other forms of media? How can they use multimedia to more fully express their ideas? What is it that we want to know about learning math — or science or music or art or anything — that multimedia can offer above and beyond print?
Liz’s question has pushed my thinking this week, and for that I thank her. I’m hoping that this response pushes her thinking, too, as well as yours. What does it mean to compose, as a disciplinary expert, with digital writing tools?
Lastly, and on a related note, for more of my thoughts on disciplinary literacy from an English Language Arts perspective, this chapter could be useful:
Hicks, T., & Steffel, S. (2012). Learning with Text in English/Language Arts. In T. L. Jetton & C. Shanahan (Eds.), Adolescent Literacy in the Academic Disciplines General Principles and Practical Strategies. New York, NY: Guilford Press.
In the next few weeks, I will be participating in a few events related for Digital Learning Day. Here’s one of them:
January 19, 2014: Celebrate Digital Learning!
As you prepare for Digital Learning Day (#DLDay) — February 5, 2014 — join two NCTE members and edubloggers for a conversation about classroom technology’s past, present, and future.
Kevin Hodgson (@dogtrax) and Troy Hicks (@hickstro) will host #nctechat on Sunday, January 19th, 8 PM EST, and will invite you to consider three big questions while sharing tech tips and teaching tools:
To begin, what was your first brush with technology and how did it change the way you wrote, read, and interacted with others?
As you think about your classroom right now, what are your plans for Digital Learning Day this year? With critics concerned that technology has become more and more of a distraction, how can we help our students stay focused on smart, intentional work?
Finally, what are you looking forward to learning, trying, or making in 2014?
Join us for a conversation about the history of Digital Learning Day and great ideas for teaching digital reading and writing in your English classes!
Though I am a little late to the MOOC movement, I’m excited to be participating in a venture this fall — K-12 Teaching in the 21st Century — that will be facilitated by Rick Ferdig, Kristine Pytash, and a host of other educators from around Michigan. Here is a quick summary, and you can register on the MOOC’s main website.
This free course runs from October 7 to November 8, 2013. It is aimed at high school students, pre-service teachers and in-service teachers who are interested in a conversation about using 21st century tools for teaching.
My hope is that we can use the MOOC to foster rich dialogue about the nature and uses of digital literacies, looking for themes within and across the experience of teachers at various stages of their career and in different professional contexts. More on this next week as we get closer to the October 7th kick-off date.
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:
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.