Research Methodologies
Oct 28th, 2013 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

Came across this interesting figure comparing qualitative to quantitative methodologies.  I think it tells a nice story.



Blended Instruction
Oct 15th, 2013 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

Using technology to enhance the learning process has been my mantra for years.  My team at Center for 21st Century Skills at EDUCATION CONNECTION recently published a white paper.  Check it out!

Virtual Machines
Oct 5th, 2013 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

Working with my students, I’ve come across an interesting concept regarding use of technology.  I am teaching an advanced qualitative and quantitative methods course.  The course requires the use of a statistical package, SPSS.  SPSS is quite pricey and the university offers it to the students through Citrix.  The Citrix client allows the student to virtualize their computer to “pretend” that it is actually the university computer.  So although the screen is theirs, they are actually using the university machine located somewhere else.

This has created an interesting situation.  I put data on my Moodle site in SPSS format.  (I generally put it in Excel, then have students copy-and-paste into SPSS.)  I thought it would save a step.  However, when a student downloads the file, it resides on their local machine.  Therefore the file CAN’T be opened on the virtual machine – file transfer is NOT compatible.  This creates confusion if the student doesn’t realize that the machines are in fact different, even though one is being emulated on his or her own computer.

The solution, luckily, IS simple.  I provided an Excel doc and the students can copy-and-paste to SPSS – that feature does work from local to virtual.

Educational Inputs vs Outcomes
Sep 18th, 2013 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I was meeting with a medical doctor last week who asked me about my profession.  I expressed that I was an educator working on STEM programming with teachers and students across the state.  He asked the off-color question “Do you do that education stuff where you make kids feel good about themselves?”  I didn’t even hesitate to say no.

The programs I run focus on rigor and increasing achievement.  Thinking about it more, I think we work on engagement (a.k.a. “feel good”) as an outcome, NOT an input.  This really made me think more about the design of research.  When conducting studies you need an independent variable and a dependent variable.  To me, engagement is a dependent factor – what should happen with quality instruction.  I wonder if other educators consider it an input.  Kids thinking, working hard, problem solving, collaborating, asking and answering hard questions .  .. .  that’s the essence of good engagement.  Good instruction, success for students, meaningful and relevant assessments .. .  . that leads to success.

Practical Stats, MediaWiki, and SPAM!
Sep 8th, 2013 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

This semester, I am teaching a graduate class in quantitative and qualitative methods.   As these topics are often challenging and sometimes bring out the “math phobic” in teacher-practitioner/students, I think it is very important to create learning experiences that allow the student to construct knowledge and be actively engaged (hands-on/minds-on) in the process.  To that end, I am attempting to utilize student-centered practices and limit teacher-directed instruction.

As part of the process, I am leveraging blended learning strategies.

  • Utilizing a Learning Management System (Moodle) for course resources.
  • Using this blog for my reflexivity and student feedback
  • Creating an online repository (student created) resource for domain-specific knowledge using MediaWiki

MediaWiki is the online software platform that drives WikiPedia. It has a user-friendly interface, is attractive and (purportedly) allows the instructor to focus on the content, not the platform.  However, since MediaWiki is used for WikiPedia, I have discovered that it is subject to major hacking and spamming.  I had a similar problem in the past, which required me to take down the site, and I found over the past week, the same problem reemerging.

Prior to me even populating the site with the previous data, I found that there were over 245 unlinked pages created.  Stuff about your dog’s ears, the latest stocks to buy, online gaming in China, and quite a bit of Arabic typology.  I started manually deleting these pages, which was quite tedious, and then went into the back end to find out that there were now over 12,000 users on the wiki and the front page had been “viewed” over 36,000 times.  Clearly an act of sabotage!  Either that or my “Practical Stats” popularity has become world renowned in just a few days.

Acts of Problem Solving.  Not knowing what to do, I first decided that I needed to turn off the ability for the wiki to create new pages.  I found a tutorial, access the Local php file and edited.  No more new pages . . . (Of course, now I can’t create new pages either, so this is not a long-term solution).  Some students register in the meantime.  More thinking, several days – I better turn off the ability to log on to the system and create a new account – more tutorials, local php edited again.  Now we’re pretty much shut down.  But what about all these users?  “They” (the bot-generated addresses) can potentially get back in.   A guide page suggests accessing the MySQL database via cPanel, use phpMyAdmin and find the code lines and delete them.  What does that mean?

A bit of trial and error, and I find the code and have access to 30 lines of entries (users) at a time.  I start deleting – this is going to take hours.  I look at the code above that is calling the data and decide to edit it.  How about showing 100 instead of 30.  Try that, seems to work. Let’s move faster, try “all.”  Ut-oh I’ve generated an error in the database.  A bit of haggling and reconfiguring and fffewww, problem solved.  I find that I can call 1,000 lines of data, then 2,000, and finally 5,000 at a time.   Eventually everyone is OUT.  If you are a student reading this here, your account has been deleted too.

I also deleted the bogus pages too.  Now I have to get back to populating the data and figuring out how to set up accounts.  Warning to all:  if you are installing MediaWiki, PRESET the safety protocols.

Identifying ideas . . .
Aug 18th, 2013 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I am preparing for a workshop tomorrow and will include a session to teach how to correct/comment on papers electronically.  Looking for a sample of student work, I came across Jon Morrow’s post “Seven Bad Writing Habits You Learned in School”  Jon has hit the nail on the head with #2 when he talks about PROBLEM FINDING.  There it is in a different domain, identified, as I often do as a necessary process that is often avoided in education.  Cheers to you, Jon!

2. Expecting someone to hand you a writing prompt

Looking through the eyes of an educator, I can see why telling students what to write about would be useful. You have a bunch of students who couldn’t care less about your curriculum, and making them write a paper about the assigned readings is a great way to force them to read the material.

Makes sense . . . but it doesn’t make it any less damaging.

One of the biggest challenges of writing is figuring out what to write. Whether you’re writing a memo, an article, or a letter to your mother, the process is always the same: you start out with a blank page, and you decide what to put on it.

Sure, that involves considering what your audience will want to read, but no one but you makes the final decision of what to put on the page. That act of deciding is what writing is all about.

The Network via Facebook
Aug 8th, 2013 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

The Soapbox:  I have maintained a Facebook page for the past 3 or 4 years.  I’ve never really understood the beast of the social network.  I’ve always found it kind of bogus that the utter-nonsense postings and musings of individuals who seem to appear to have far more time than I could ever imagine really made any difference or significance.  I’ve often wondered about a false sense of connectivity that Facebook diehards have with their “friends,” who probably, in many cases would not hold the label if it weren’t for the ease of click and point.

The Situation: I have been teaching at the Green Light Academy for the past 5 years in the summer.  This year, the Academy was scheduled for Maine.  Last year, my daughters joined me and my brother accompanied us to help me out while I was working.  Good times.  This year we wanted to do it again, but to no avail, I kept struggling to find a baby sitter. “No, not available,”  “Sorry, not this year, but it sounds like fun . . . ”  My wife suggested posting on Facebook.  I poo-pooed the idea – who in my network would have the right-aged sitter?

The Surprise:  Realizing that it was find a sitter or not go, I begrudgingly made a post.  Within several hours, I had multiple responses: on the Facebook page, through the Facebook message system, and via email.  I was really shocked.  And, as I thought, my network didn’t have that “person.”

However, what I found was that my network’s network had all of the connections I needed.  By the afternoon, we had confirmed someone and everything was a go.

I didn’t expect this, but it really goes to show that even those of us might not have  “believed” can find the power and success of the network

A Crash Course on Creativity
Jun 2nd, 2013 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I am just completing my first MOOC (Massively Online Open Course) entitled “Crash Course in Creativity” offered by Tina Seelig at Stanford University.  It’s been a pretty amazing experience taking a course with 15,000 others – probably about 5,000 active students in the process.

To me, I’ve had two great experiences:

  1. Taking a course on creativity.  Although I’ve only been able to dedicate limited time to the course – and that’s allowable. I’ve come to realize that time and dedication to a project is necessary for maximum results.  I think I’ve been able to think about creativity and also how to get others to think about it in a meaningful way.  To me, that’s the big take away that makes me happy.  I’m less happy realizing that if I had and/or made more time to participate in the course, I would certainly had a more robust experience. But isn’t that what I’ve written about on this blog for years?  Creativity and problem finding take time.  If you don’t dedicate the time to the creative process, you won’t come up with your best ideas.  Incubation takes time and if you don’t make the time to do it, you won’t generate enough ideas for prioritized selection. I guess in that sense, it’s very self validating
  2. Taking a MOOC.  There’s been a lot of buzz around open courses lately, and professionally, I’m glad I could experience the process.  I really like the way the platform is flexible and the way the professor designed the learning challenges.  I really want to figure out a way to engage Connecticut students from across the state in a MOOC environment.  I have a few ideas about content and think there is incredible potential for breaking down barriers when students can be allowed to collaborate across school and district boundaries.  Learning can truly be anywhere, anytime.
Student Innovation Exposition 2013
May 5th, 2013 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I wanted to share a brief story from the 2013 Student Innovation Exposition.  The Expo brings together over 2,000 students, parents, teachers, judges, and community members.  I have the distinct pleasure of hosting the event.  Near the end of the day a teacher from an urban high school approached me and asked if she could speak to me privately for a minute.  A bit nervous, not knowing what she was going to ask, I agreed, and we moved to a quiet corner of the tradeshow hall.  She started telling me that her students had really not done a good job preparing for the event and that several of the students were identified as Special Education.  Then she started to cry.  She said the judges had been so supportive of her students, they gave them meaningful feedback, asked questions, and complimented them on their work, even though the students knew it wasn’t the best or of the highest quality.  The students felt VALUED.  And what can be more motivating than that.

If we really want students engaged, they must find value in the process.  That engagement undoubtedly leads to higher achievement.  As another teacher put it – the event is unique – it allows students to really be challenged by academic content, it encourages them to be extremely creative, they must collaborate and rely on each other, but most important, it allows them to be kids at the same time.

I couldn’t ask for a better assessment of the program.

Student Projects
Apr 8th, 2013 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

It’s great to see the news media giving students in our programs credit for their wonderful work. Our Innovation Expo is only 3 weeks away!

View more videos at: http://nbcconnecticut.com.

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