Saturday, January 31, 2009

Icebery Theory of Educational Technology (Thanks Papa Heminway!)

“People don’t want quarter-inch drill bits, they want quarter-inch holes”, quotes Pip Coburn in The Change Function.

In his famous "Iceberg Theory" explanation, Ernest Hemingway discusses the balance of words for effective prose. He places the responsibility on the writer to know their readers. He warns, however, that omissions from lack of knowing makes the writing "hollow". Likening writing to an iceberg, he illustrates that an iceberg shows only 1/8th of itself above the water while the rest is below the surface.

Much of the time, I feel the same about educational technology. As teachers we must know our students, their experiences (or at least let them be part of learning), and solid strategies for teaching. If we omit any of these for not knowing, the tool is "hollow" or has a great potential to be hollow. If a tool's experience is hollow, my belief is that the learning will be equally as hollow.

Looking below the surface of a tool, just as we are required to do in much of Hemingway's writing, we see meaning. In an educational technology tool, I believe beliefs/values, epistemology, pedagogy, learning, personal learning networks, history, culture, network, support (technical), and any school/district/local issues are the indicators that give the tool meaning.

Much like the iceberg, though, this meaning and these things are below the surface. They aren't visible to the naked eye; easily, they can be upstaged by what is apparent - the tool. Despite being below the surface (out of sight, out of mind maybe?), their impact is far greater than the technology tool itself.

So what does this mean? I think approaching educational technology from this perspective provides for more authentic, more resonating learning experiences, better selection of appropriate tools, and greater chances of technology adoption. VoiceThread comes to mind. VoiceThread can be a powerful and fun means to tell digital stories and construct meaning. But does the creation of a VoiceThread automatically constitute the depth and quality of learning our students need? Or is it what's below the tool--our beliefs/values of teaching and learning among the other factors--that ultimately frame our usage of it and the quality of learning?

Look out below...

Image Credit:

Friday, January 2, 2009

Literacy: Back to the Basics?

There's a bit of research that suggests teachers' views of learning and teaching are often complex and prone to revision. Today I find myself in this spot.

I attended Will Richardson's "What is Literacy?" Elluminate session with a group of outstanding, smart, and dynamic folks from around the country and world.  While there was a stream of great ideas, thoughts, and comments both in the chat window and spoken, I still am feeling a bit empty albeit with a bunch of resonating questions. Talk about conficted. Maybe that's how I should feel.  

This notion of literacy fascinates me and is important to me.  Equally as intriguing is the intermix of skills and time-centric ones such as the 21st Century skills. I live, eat and breathe this stuff with 305 students on a weekly basis. I'm constantly assessing my content and student learning so that some day they may be able be thoughtful, curious, and good people. 

So, what do I think is missing from this debate?  More on that in a bit.  First, just in case you were wondering, I think that literacy is a contextual understanding of some body of knowledge that evolves.  For instance, being able to read, write, and communicate (and doing so critically) has mutliple measures of proficiency for most people.  A pilot's fluency in reading, writing, and communication can be markedly different than a teacher, farmer, woodworker, machinist, or doctor. Skills including using technology enable people in each of these jobs to become proficient at what they do.  Even at the base, there are levels of literacy such as reading blends, decoding words, and inferring meaning.  Over a period of time, a career, or lifetime, I'd think our literacies evolve from experience, learning, and other factors. I also tend to think that literacies can and do merge with others and overlap. The interdisciplinary/cross-curricular movement comes to mind.

Even if we could all come to an consensus on a definition of literacy, pedagogy and learning are still at the most important root of what we do (after caring about students as people). Even the most eloquent, succint, or powerful definition of literacy will not make an impact if our pedagogy doesn't support it nor our views of student learning provide the foundation for students to achieve that literacy. I think this is akin to saying that elearning using precanned slide presentations and multiple choices tests is inherently better than classroom-based learning because it's using technology.

This has been a basic concern of mine for quite some time. And I was reminded of it when reading some conversations on AOPA's message forums. Time and time again, the basics bite us pilots. It's not that general aviation planes are scary things destined to fall out of the sky. Most GA accidents are caused by not attending the basics of flight: lift (you can't get too slow and low),  fuel management (need enough), and flying into bad weather (man vs. nature). It's not programming the GPS, crosswind corrections, or traffic pattern management that's usually the culprit--it's inattention classic stick and rudder (basic flying skills) that stirs so much debate (and negative publicity).   Similar metaphors of sports and medicine can be drawn too.

I would contend that education, and this debate, follows much of the same logic. It's the not the complex tasks that are daunting; rather, it's these stick and rudder skills that become obscurred. The proliferation of technology is a good example. Twitter, VoiceThread, wikis, blogs, and so many more cool and flashy tools are freely available at our browser's fingertips. In a matter of seconds and minutes we can publish to the world and have a global audience. But does the mere use of these tools equate to quality of teaching and learning that we would like to see? I don't believe they do. 

I think a good look at the basics of pedagogy and learning sets the stage for literacy. Talking about how knowledge is constructed, the gatekeeper (teacher, student, network, etc) of that knowledge, and critically evaluating that knowledge lends itself to literacy discussions just as it would ensure that technology is not just used for its own sake. Learning and epistemology do much the same looking at how students are learning, learning modalities, and sources of that learning. Values of learning and knowledge are inherent, and really important, in these discussions.  

Lastly a bit of an aside. A focus on teaching and learning will bring to light our fixation on "the evil standards". Standards themselves, I think, are good frames. It's how we teach (pedagogy), the quality of that teaching, how students learning and the quality of that learning, and a good look at epistemology that matters. Go ahead, take a look for yourselves and see if you think these standards can't be met using PBL, UbD, constructivism, connectivism, critical pedagogy, and lots of other high quality learning and teaching, with learning and teaching the very operative words in this sentence. And, I would argue, that's there is still a lot of room for fun and passion-based learning!

Thanks to Will Richardson for hosting a thoughtful conversation and all the attendees who pushed my thinking!

Photo Credit: Stick and Rudder, A1940 FairChild 24

Sunday, October 12, 2008

K12 Online 2008 Conference: Anytime, Anywhere

Beginning with a Pre-Conference presentation tomorrow October 13th from Stephen Heppell, the K12 Online 2008 Conference will officially kick-off!

This year I've had the pleasure of working on the Public Relations committee. While working with this committed group of folks, I was afforded the opportunity to take a deep look at the conference. The K12 Online 2008 Conference is nothing short of an amazing event. It's not only amazing because of the content of the presentations, the presenters, and keynote speakers. What makes the K12 Online 2008 conference such an unique event is the potential for educators around the world to improve student learning and their own learning anytime, anyplace from experts from across the globe.

Here are another 10 reasons why educators worldwide should attend the
K12 Online 2008 Conference:

Top Ten Reasons to Attend K12Online
10. It's Free
9. Great opportunity to experience technology as a learning and teaching tool.
8. Keynote speakers are well respected in their fields.
7. Great chance to view presentations locally with colleagues.
6. 4 Strands of Presentations representing a wide variety of interests & experience levels.
5. Fireside Chats - Engage in Conversations with Presenters and Attendees.
4. Access 36 Presentations Anytime, Anywhere.
3. No Need to Travel & No Travel Costs.
2. Presentations from World Wide Experts & Practitioners in Educational Technology.
1. Improve Student Learning.

Monday, September 15, 2008

K12 Online 2008 Conference

The K12 Online Conference this year promises to be an amazing forum for educators - worldwide - to engage in learning and conversations about 21st century learning. There is no cost for this conference. Also, the conference presentations and keynote addresses can be viewed anytime.

Be sure to check out the K12 Online website for details.

Also, please be sure to help spread the word.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Mavens, Connectors, or Anti-Social: How Should Our Schools Look?

Denis Hancock wrote this interesting piece on the blog Wikinomics:

As I’ve navigated this remarkably inter-connected little world I’ve probably read several thousand blog posts on the topic, and most of these – predictably – seem to focus on the people Malcolm Gladwell would call the “mavens” and “connectors”.

For the six of you that may not have read his book, “mavens” are the intense gatherers of information and impressions that are most likely to pick up on new trends, and “connectors” are people with a broad network of acquaintances that trust their opinion. Whether the actual term used is “trend setter”, “nfluencer”, “bzzagent”, or any of the many of the others you are likely to come across in the social media blogosphere, the focus seems to primarily be on how these two types of people are using new social media tools.

Seeing this led me to ponder a simple question – what about everyone else? What about that staggeringly large group of people that are neither mavens nor connectors (and particularly those one might call anti–social) - are their social media appetites distinctly different, and if so what are the implications for companies pursuing a social media strategy? More pointedly, will this great mass of people slowly get in line with the adoption curve that mavens and connectors are setting in social media, or might they do something totally different – something that would put some of the prevailing theories regarding cohort behavior into question? To begin looking into this issue, I wanted to start with a particular application where I sense line is being drawn in the sand – Twitter.

In an educational/school context, here are some questions that I came up with:

  1. Assuming teachers are part of a larger world and culture as humans, where do they fit?
  2. Who should teachers be?
  3. How is technology adoption affected by being a maven, connector, or anti-social?
  4. Are teaching/pedagogical beliefs and values tied to being a maven, connector, or anti-social?
  5. Do all teachers need to be mavens or connectors?
  6. Can teachers be anti-social and still be effective by the above definition?
  7. How does this apply to school leaders?
  8. How does this apply to other school stakeholders (students, parents, and community members)?
  9. Will anti-social people (school stakeholders in our context) as Denis asks in the closing of the blog post, avoid it, doing something different, or come around?
  10. How does this/should this impact our thoughts on professional development?
  11. Because we are a maven or connector, can we/do we expect our colleagues to be the same as we are?
  12. How do we teach students to be mavens and connectors?
  13. Do we expect all students (who are part of a larger world and community) to be mavens and connectors?
  14. Who would students rather be?
  15. Is either a maven or connector inherently better from an school/learning standpoint?
  16. Are beliefs and values of learning impacted by a teacher's role as either a maven, connector, or anti-social?
  17. Does the Lake Wobegon Effect apply to this?
  18. How does this correlate to the Pew/Internet study that suggest similar usage/adoption patterns?
  19. How can we use the blend of this framework and the Pew/Internet providing user patterns to develop our professional development?
Please feel free to add your own questions or thoughts.

Interesting stuff to think about!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

What Are Students Really Saying?

It was a seldom break from listening to Buck Howdy, Rebecca's favorite singer/songwriter these days. I was able catch a short segment of On the Media entitled "FAQ Check" on our local NPR station instead of humming along with "Baa, Neigh, Cock-a-Doodle-Doo". The segment was on asking questions and finding information on the Internet. I was all ears. Please feel free to be so too!

Towards the end of the segment Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody, was talking about the difference between humans and artificial intelligence (AI). After Mr. Shirky talked about AI's inability to make inferences I got to thinking about my teaching. The power of making inferences with students and seeing patterns is crucial to the craft of teaching (somewhere there's a blog post about being able to apply this to online learning). And viewing every moment an honor as a teacher understanding these inferences and patterns is important to me.

I teach students in K-8 Technology Literacy. I hear often how students look forward to their weekly "special" with me for 42 minutes. I work hard to make every class engaging, fun, and skill-building for students. Their time with me is precious making maximizing every moment important.

Despite my intentions and being in front of a computer, on any given day I can hear any or all of these 3 comments:

  • "This is boring!"
  • "This stinks!"
  • "Mr. Wargo can we have free time now?!?!"

As a young teacher, this kind of feedback would rattle me to the core. I'd even sometimes get a bit defensive. But then I began to realize there were some patterns in the inferences students were making. I realized two primary things about these top 3 comments:

  1. A foundation to Technology Literacy is reading (literacy). If my lessons required reading levels (or even sometimes writing levels beyond that of my students), the technology can be branded as boring despite it's coolness factor.
  2. My instruction, modeling, or sequence of engagement needed to be revisited big time. Often times, my expectations, goals, or just sheer explanation was murky to them.

I value students' feedback and want to hear more it. Through the feedback loop, I try to develop their articulation so they can clearly identify their thoughts and feelings: a cornerstone of K-8 schooling, I think.

Sometimes, it's admittedly hard to do in today's depth and breadth of covering curriculum where pacing charts regiment instruction and tests loom on the horizon. While data is important to instruction, so too are the patterns of inferences we see and hear from our students. I need to continue to understand students-to get into their heads as I point out here.

In thinking about my teaching, I realize how important is to teach students about reading inferences especially with the volume of content that is created our collaborative technologies. That is the topic of my forthcoming blog post. Patterns of inferences, or as Daniel Pink calls Symphony in A Whole New Mind, are also essential.

I can't wait for September to come!

**Now back to our regularly scheduled programming of Buck Howdy.**

[As a sidebar, there were lots of "stories" or "angles" that could have been taken with the On the Media piece "FAQ Check". One interesting piece are the listener comments to the segment. Analyzing the inferences and any patterns would be a fun, educational exercise.]

Friday, August 1, 2008

Who's Rip Van Winkle? Higher Ed, K-12, Both, or None of The Above

Here's what got me thinking: One of my chores this summer is to organize our basement, garage, and virtually every other surface, closet, and room in the house (guess who's on summer break?). In my cleaning, I've been coming across some articles, research, notes, and binders from my undergraduate days at Penn State.

I've enjoyed reminiscing about my classes, friends, and the incredible ways my thinking was transformed about learning and teaching using technology circa the early 90's.
One of the gems was this: "Constructing Community and Intertextuality in Electronic Mail" a chapter in a book written by Dr. Jamie Myers my former professor based on his research in 1991. In the chapter, Dr. Myers talks about conversations, intertextuality, and community that 38 of his preservice student teachers had during a semester in his class.

Here's a snippet from the article:
In addition to connecting personal and shared experiences, seeking responses to questions and ideas, and suggesting shared meanings and values for the community, students (g) shared quotes and paraphrased ideas from the professional literature they chose to read, (h) justified ideas through statements of belief, and (i) challenged each other's meanings, and (j) elaborated group meanings. (Myers, 1993).
After re-reading this article, I couldn't help but to think about the time frame in which these student participated. It was 1991! After they left college and went into the classrooms, did they have email, computers, and a culture conducive to technology adoption? And I wonder how many other students who were exposed to technology but were able to use it in their classrooms as practicing teachers?

But I also got thinking how that same excerpt could be written in an article describing social networking, blogging, or wikis now in 2008. I do know for some this may not seem like much of a revelation since educational technology and technology discussions certainly predated this article by numerous years. Have things really changed?

Walking Up Hill Both Ways in the Snow
From pretty much from day one in my Language and Literacy Education classes (English teaching methods) technology was part of it: email, world wide web, MOOs/MUDs, multimedia, list-servs, and discussion boards. Not only did we learn about critical literacy but we used technology as part of our own learning as teachers. We discussed the literary canon over email with preservice teachers at Bowling Green University, discussed textbooks, and teaching literature through email and the TELL feature on the VM system. Those courses were led by Dr. Myers.

Back in the Day
If you were a geek (but far, far from the smartest guy in the program like me) you could take elective Instructional Systems courses taught by Dr. Ali Carr-Chelman which pushed our thinking about the relationship between technology and education. We also had to create an interdisciplinary thematic unit using technology. And if you were a super-geek you could take a Instructional Design Course (in Hypercard) based on constructivism led by Dr. Kyle Peck and Dr. Dave Jonassen. But wait there's more. If you were an uber-geek as an undergrad you could take the hypertext multimedia software developed in Dr. Peck and Dr. Jonassen's class and present with Dr. Jamie Myers at an English teachers' conference in 1995.

When I graduated (with way more credits than I needed and loans to show for it) in 1996 technology, social construction of meaning, designing web pages, multimedia were just another way of talking about writing, literacy, Morrison, Naylor, Dickens, Thoreau, Angelou, or Shakespeare. While the technology was neat and promising, critical literacy and response-response were the frames to have students interpret their values and beliefs making thematic connections between texts and their lives, values, and beliefs. Pretty cool stuff but in some ways sounds eerily like 2008!

So what has changed since those days with my Macintosh Quadra 610 (you've got to love Wikipedia!) affectionately known as Mac Daddy (my roommate's laptop was Daddy Mac and we would network them using AppleTalk)? It's much easier to publish content now. Technology is much more prolific and lots faster. And adoption rates for basic tasks (email, web usage, etc.) have gone through the roof. Learning is changing. We are getting content at faster rates and from much varied sources. Finally, the skills needed for success in our world are changing.

What hasn't changed? The resonating idea of bring together communities of people through technology. Human nature is still at version 1.0 I believe. Many of the great principles of teaching haven't changed.

What is most striking to me? As others have pointed out before, many of the educational issues we talk about are extensions of what's been said before a long time ago. In the context of the sample article I mention, the tools may have changed but the learning hasn't.

I love to see the excitement and traction that technology has been getting in K-12. The flattening of the world is awesome. And I'm loving the conversations about learning, teaching, and education that are on-going right now especially in the edublogosphere (which is a great point to ponder). Keep 'em coming!

But from my tiny vantage point, I'm not so sure higher ed, or at least the higher ed that I was very fortunate to be a part of, was asleep all these years as I'm hearing rumblings of recently. There were conversations and discussions about this stuff long before we in K-12 started having these broad conversations about it. Was it just falling on deaf K-12 ears all those years? Is it a sustainability or endurance issue of a small echo chamber in the academic community? I don't know but interesting food for thought!

Myers, J. (1993). Constructing Community and Intertextuality in Electronic Mail. In C.K. Kinzer & D.J. Leu (Eds.), Forty-second Yearbook of the National Reading Conference (1993). Chicago: National Reading Conference. p 251-262

Photo Credit
Rip Van Winkle photo is from Wikipedia's article about Rip Van Winkle.