Levels of technology integration
Oct 29th, 2008 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I am in the process of writing a manuscript about 21st-century learning and the integration of technology. I have developed a three-tiered system to identify types of learning activities that integrate technology. Their descriptions are provided below. Can you help me by providing practical examples from the classroom of the different technology integrations? Your comments would be greatly appreciated.

The simplest integration of technology into teaching and learning is retrofitting. There is little change in instruction, but rather a different tool is used to facilitate similar learning strategies. This level of implementation has the instructor performing the same tasks, with the same teaching and learning strategies, only using the technology as a new tool. The teacher still delivers information directly to students and may have interaction via questioning. The use of the technology does not intellectually challenge students in any new or novel format. Instruction, although perhaps enhanced in some fashion, really is not altered in any meaningful way.

The next level of information technology integration offers educators more tools for learning. Retooling expands options for learning. For example, instead of being limited by the books available in a classroom or library, a virtual world of extensive, seemingly endless information becomes available using online tools. The information is generally available upon demand and is easily cross-referenced and verified by a cautious, critical eye. Although there is an increase in options for knowledge acquisition, there is still only a one way flow of learning: from source to student. Educators have the ability to do more to enhance student learning.

When truly considering the implementation of twenty-first-century skills in conjunction with core instruction, educators must reconfigure. Most recognize that constructivist-based knowledge acquisition occurs through a situated learning schema where students not only learn from the “Sage” (whether the Sage be a teacher or a website), but from social interaction with one another. Knowledge flow can occur in two directions. Therefore, students need to become producers of information, not just consumers. Implementing novel knowledge production in this bidirectional fashion certainly will cause changes to teacher pedagogy. It is probable that many educators will need direct and specific training and mentoring to implement this type of change.
Many web-based tools are specifically designed with interactive features. Sometimes dubbed Web 2.0 or the read/write web, these sites allow simple production and the ability for others to provide reactions or comments. Blogs, wikis, podcasts, discussion forums, photo albums, instant messaging, and voicethreads allow students to produce original work, publish it online, and solicit feedback from other classmates, the teacher, or the online world in general. Student-producers do not have to be savvy at programming. Rather, the web tools are menu driven, object-oriented, and often have interfaces that look like common word processing software packages. This is important because it allows students and teachers to focus on content, concepts, and ideas, not the distracting minutia of web coding.

Andragony offers an effective use of formative assessment
Oct 22nd, 2008 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

Adults have different expectations in learning than children do.  Androgogy, the teaching of adults, contains the following important components and tenets:

·         Adult learning is voluntary and learner-oriented. 

·         Education brings freedom to the learners as they assimilate learning with life experiences.

·         Androgogy encourages divergent thinking and active learning. 

·         Often the roles of the learner and the teacher are blurred in the process. 

·         Often there is an uncertainty about the outcome of learning, regardless of the curriculum content. 

I currently have the pleasure of working with many expert teachers in the quantitative statistics course I am teaching for WestConn.  Interestingly, though, the course I am teaching puts many of these expert students in an uncomfortable novice position. 

Research demonstrates that there is a difference in learning between novice professionals and expert professionals.  Three main aspects of performance change in novice to expert learners: 

·         The novice professional’s work paradigm focuses on abstract principles while the expert uses concrete past experiences

·         The novice often views situations discretely where the expert sees situations as part of a whole.

·         The novice is often a detached observer where the expert is an involved performer (Daley, 1999). 

A striking difference when considering novices and experts is that novices are often hindered by specifics of the job, where experts are often hindered by the system.  Novices prefer, and best learn formally, where experts learn best informally, often in conjunction with their peers.  Novice professionals prefer learning strategies like memory and therefore accumulate information, while the expert professional uses dialogue to create a knowledge base (Daley, 1999).    When I consider my students, clearly from an andragonolical standpoint, they behave as experts. 

            Throughout the course, I have assigned work for the students to learn and master statistical techniques that may be useful for them as they begin to research their educational passions.  The assessments have been designed to be formative in nature.  As such, many submit assignments, wait for meaningful feedback, make necessary changes and resubmit.  I am very glad that many feel very comfortable presenting work, knowing that it may require revision. After all, much learning takes place when there is dialogue (in this case, electronic dialogue).  Mistakes are just as valuable as successes. In an adult learning environment, where students are motivated to learn, we can take advantage of the formative process.

            In just a short while, they will begin to work on dissertations, and that is a totally formative process.  Glad we can enjoy it now!

Oct 14th, 2008 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

Disclaimer: I am generally very pleased with the education my daughter is receiving at her elementary school. She comes home excited about learning, and I can see her growth in reading and especially writing. She is adept at finding patterns in numbers and we often “play games” to reinforce her math skills. This “rant” is an attempt for me to evaluate my own practices when assigning homework.

My 1st grade daughter comes home on Thursdays with a homework packet, which is to be done over the course of the week. The paper requests that for management purposes, the papers not be returned until the following Thursday. The assignments have caught my attention, but unfortunately, in a negative way.

I was quick to notice that the top portion of the paper has the date the assignment is given and it is followed by the date it is due. Usually the day (Thursday) and the month is typed in, but the numerical date always seems to be handwritten.

I inquisitively wonder how many years these papers have been recycled. I was particularly aggravated last week, when one of the “handwriting assignments” wasn’t even copied correctly – the children couldn’t even see the full word.

The assignments are uniform across all 8 sections of first grade – our neighbor’s child, in a different class, also comes home with the same work. There is little to no differentiation on the pages, and I find many of the assignments to be busy work. I work with my child diligently, but I really see very little learning taking place, besides the responsibility of a parent to work with a child to complete this work. Perhaps skills are being developed, but I see very little attention being paid to higher-order thinking. In fact, the one time I see a potential higher-order thinking assignment, it’s assigned to ME!

As part of our fire safety program, please create a simple map of your home showing at least two fire escape routes from your child’s bedroom as explained in the packet.

My child’s? I recognize this is most likely an error on the part of the original writer, and that my daughter is the one that is supposed to complete the assignment, but it just illustrates to me the lack of care that goes into the preparation of these documents.

As many know, I am a strong advocate for 21st-century skills. To me, they are just as relevant in elementary school as they are in high school. If we are preparing our students for the challenges and demands of a 21st-century society, I think we are obligated to request meaningful work that challenges them (as developmentally appropriate), but moreover asks them to use those skills that are so critical: critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, effective written and oral communication, creativity, and the likes.

I think it just reminds me of the importance of relevance when we give students work to complete outside of class. I need to be mindful that an assignment should be a learning experience, and challenge my students to make connections with previous knowledge, build skills, and certainly use higher-order thinking. If we are not promoting thinking and acquisition or refinement of knowledge, we are not valuing the time our students are spending doing work outside of class.  Meaningful work can take a long time to complete – that’s acceptable, because learning is taking place.  What I must try to avoid are assignments that don’t have meaning, and don’t stretch students to learn.

Equally important is to provide feedback to students, even when the work is good.   We always talk in education how there’s room for improvement, and our students need similar feedback.

I hope I haven’t insulted too many people.  Moreover, I hope I assign homework that follows my model.

Concepts versus facts
Oct 6th, 2008 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I taught a statistics class last Wednesday evening on correlation, and left feeling very depressed. I could see the level of frustration in some students’ eyes. They were working extremely hard, focusing, and were struggling immensely. These are no ordinary students: they are clearly some of the top educators in the region, all pursing a doctorate in instructional leadership.

I had lost some students along the way, and I my reflection on the process leads me to believe that I didn’t stress the “big idea,” strong enough. What may have happened is that the students got caught in the idiosyncrasies of the mechanics of correlation. Certainly the content was extremely rigorous for some of the students. There was a high level of math concept connected to technical use of the computer to analyze data. In other words, we went from conceptual learning to learning about facts in isolation – always a bad way to go.

What was the big idea in laymen’s terms? Is there a mathematical pattern or trend between two variables? The pattern or trend we were searching for was a linear relationship. So, if a set of points for one measure is compared to the set of points for another, do they plot out to produce an image that looks like a line? Once this line is ascertained, how accurate is it? In other words, do the points that were used to plot it have statistical significance?

I can certainly discuss the concept more, but what I want to focus on is concept acquisition, specifically as it relates to teaching and subsequent learning. When considering learning, Fischer, B.B. & Fischer L. (1979). (Styles in teaching and learning. Educational Leadership, 36, 4, 245) suggest that the environment generated by the teacher can be teaching centered, learning centered, or student centered. (There are actually several others, but I will limit for the purpose of this discussion.)

The child-centered

This teacher provides a structure for students to pursue whatever they want to do or whatever interests them. This style is not only extremely rare, it is almost impossible to imagine in its pure form because the classroom, with its adult-child ratio and adult-responsible environment, automatically encourages some interests and discourages others.

The subject-centered

These teachers focus on organized content to the near exclusion of the learner. By “covering the subject,” they satisfy the clearly delineated curricular requirements of the course.

The learning-centered

These teachers have equal concern for the students and for the curricular objectives, the materials to be learned. They reject the over-emphasis of both the “child-centered” and “subject-centered” styles and instead help students, whatever their abilities or disabilities, develop toward substantive goals as well as in their autonomy in learning.

When designing the class, I tried to design learning activities that would allow for some concept acquisition, followed by skill building activities to learn the techniques necessary for computer calculation of correlation. The activities were intended to be compartmentalized and chunked –learn a concept then apply it practically. I think I had planned my class as a learning-centered teacher, but as the class progressed, I think I transitioned more to a subject-centered teacher. I had allowed the content that I was obligated to cover, take over the responsibilities for the class, and mercilessly plowed along, to the dismay of some of the students. I think I would be remiss to mention that some students were with me without fail the whole time. I am struggling with the balance for all of the students.

The challenge for me is to meet the curricular requirements of the class while allowing students to grow to be autonomous quantitative educational researchers. It’s hard enough to be a teacher, let alone a teacher of teachers.

Probably the ironic part of the whole story is as I sit and beat myself up over my work, there are probably students doing the same thing to themselves. We’ll all grow together.

What does a collaborative assignment look like?
Oct 2nd, 2008 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

There have been several requests to make one of the assignments a collaborative group effort.  I believe in the situated, socially constructing knowledge approach, so I am open to the suggestion.  My question to the group is, “What does a statistical collaborative assignment look like?”  I ask, from a very serious perspective, because the purpose of the assignments are to build the requisite skills for conducting individually-determined quantitative skills necessary for conducting an inquiry study (a.ka. a quantitative dissertation).  I have thus far designed the assignments, to (hopefully) build upon the experience in class so an individual student can then apply the skills and knowledge, to hopefully gain a positive disposition to and clear understanding of the statistical process. 

A group assignment would have to take a different form, and I am open to suggestions to think about ways to implement this.  Your feedback is appreciated.

Remember . . . 40% of the course grade are these assignments and these discussions . . .

I will make a post regarding last night’s class by the end of the week

Sore throat . . .
Oct 2nd, 2008 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

Last week I taught a statistics class on converting data to different forms: z scores, percentile rank, NCE scores, and the like.  The challenge with teaching these concepts, besides the obvious mathematical concerns, is the relevance of doing it.  The basic meaning behind converting scores is to put numbers in common terms so sets of data can be related to one another.  For example if one instrument had potential scores of 1-42, and another had a range from 200-800 (like the old math SAT ranges), its hard to put that interval-level data into common terms.  That’s the ultimate purpose of the z-score:  to base a set of data (e.g., a sample of students with normal distribution with a specific standard deviation), in common terms, regardless of the raw score format.  Remember that z-scores are based on a SET OF DATA that is inter-related.

The majority (~96%) of z-score data will be between the values of -2 and 2, with a mean of 0.  Uggg . . . now all numbers are on the same scale, but still have relatively little meaning to a non-stats person.  So the percentile rank comes in.  Put the scores in percentiles relative to one another.  This comes at a cost:  the data is now ordinal.  But the benefits are enormous:  they have meaning to practitioners. 

Now for an affective comment.  I went home with a sore throat.  Hmmm . . .  I must have been talking too much.  I wonder, for a two-hour class session, if there was too much direct instruction.  Were there enough opportunities for the students to apply their knowledge? 

I pondered this on the drive home, and even more so on Friday, when I had the opportunity to meet with a master World Language teacher for whom I am serving as a dissertation major advisor.  Since my primary role is a science teacher, I wanted to expose myself to the instructional experiences of a high school Spanish teacher.  For me, this was a wonderful and enlightening experience. 

I had never seen a computer-driven language lab and the power of allowing students to demonstrate their technical speaking, reading, and listening skills.  The process was so fluid and dynamic, and the transitions from learning activity to learning activity were masterfully administered.  No doubt, this was due to an extraordinary master teacher.  Easily five different learning activities took place in each class I observed.  Each learning activity was targeted to a specific skill or knowledge and was seamlessly transitioned to the next.  Just amazing to watch, and I know I do it no justice in words.

My learning helps to remind me that students need a variety of instructional strategies to address their varied learning styles.   Also it reinforces my general strategy to vary instruction, especially in an extended-class setting.   

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