Teaching Using Tech: Philosophy of Higher Education, Part 2

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I’ve been filling out teaching/education-related job application and I was met with this little gem:

  • Please describe your knowledge of pedagogy associated with various
    instructional modalities, i.e. face-­to-­face, hybrid, and online

_gil01-taskmaster 1Having taught students from Kindergarten to eighth grade, freshmen bachelor’s and second career master’s students, the courses I’ve created must be simple to navigate, have numerous interdisciplinary connections and emphasize effort and exploration over “getting a grade.” My first teaching experiences were with a group of second-language, low SES 6th graders and I discovered that I had to find a way to bridge their previous learning and cultural experiences with the state guidelines in the subject(s) I was covering, in this case Social Studies. Giving them the textbook just wasn’t cutting it. So I studied the state framework for the subject (California 6th grade Social Studies broke down to the study of seven civilizations beginning with ancient man and ending with the Roman Empire). For each unit, I found a video or book that covered that civilization. If it was a book, I created transparencies of the illustrations so that there’d be a wall-sized visualization to support the story that we read together. I also created fill-in booklets that would be worked on in class in small groups. Whenever possible I included a hands-on project. When we studied Ancient Mesopotamia, besides the booklets, I read from a child-friendly version of the Epic of Gilgamesh with illustrations and each student learned to write their name on a clay tablet in cuneiform. I had students come back several years later and they remembered names like Utnapishtim from the story.

As an undergraduate student one of my professors, Fr. Herbert Ryan, assigned research journals instead of research papers because he believed that it was more important that students learn to do good research, instead of forcing immature conclusions into a research paper. We were expected to spend the semester researching our subject and writing about what we were discovering and then in the last sentence of the research journal state what the research paper would have been about, had we written the paper. It was the perfect introduction into exploring complex subjects while thinking and writing about the process. When I began teaching I used journal-writing wherever possible and especially used blogging and reflective writing when working with my masters students. Even when I was working with sixth-graders I knew that they would be much more motivated to write if they were writing for each other than if they were just writing for the teacher or a grade. So, while assignments were graded individually the processes were intentionally constructive and collaborative.

As an online student I worked with a hybrid model where we’d meet face-to-face for class sessions about three to five times a year (depending on the program) but work online the rest of the time. I worked in a traditional public school setting for 13-years and as a fully-online-only university instructor for six-years. In the accelerated online program that I taught, it was essential that the course requirements be as clearly understood as quickly as possible, and that the assignments and projects build out in a consistent, easy to understand fashion. There was enough work to do with the reading, research, writing and interaction, that understanding what was due when shouldn’t be part of the work-load.

Stickam Session 2009 - joe bustillos

Stickam Session 2009 – joe bustillos

We would meet online once a week using a web-based platform so that students could see my screen where I could do demos or presentation slides, I would turn my webcam on so that students could see me and there was a text-based chat area where students could ask questions, if they didn’t want to use their audio. Because I wanted the weekly sessions to be interactive and address any questions students might have with the assignments, I’d pre-load videos or links to materials that we were covering that week, so that students could review the material before the session. Anything that looked like a lecture or was a uni-directional presentation I would give to them before our session to increase the efficiency and usefulness of our time. Students who couldn’t attend the session in real time would have access to a video recording of the session.

Instead of seeing the online environment as something less than face-to-face, I felt that consistent use of interactive technologies, like regular announcements and information in LMS platform and sharing our Instant Message/online chat handles to enable communication the rest week worked against the idea that students were working in isolation. I also promoted the idea that students should share their contact information and develop connections with one another because having multiple layers of support beyond the professor was going to prove essential over the course of the whole program. I know as a graduate of an online program that the support I got from my classmates, facilitated by the use of IM/chat/text and email, made my experiences all the more powerful, to the extent that I count several of these classmates to be my best-friends almost fifteen-years after our learning experiences together.

I believe that the use of technology should always be used to support the needs of the learner and open up the possibilities to experience and interact in ways that would not be possible without the technology. Technology is often touted as a way to lessen the cost of the process by making it possible for institutions to reach out far beyond their physical campuses. I have seen my own influence extended far beyond what I could have accomplished in a traditional setting. But this extension should never be at the expense of the human connections made in the learning process. When educators are empowered to communicate their passion, their expertise and their experiences with their students, these technologies properly extend the educator’s reach. But at its core it remains a human endeavor to work together to learn and be educated.

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6 Levels Towards Virtual Worlds

I’ve been thinking about the decades old promises of virtual reality and how my graduate students have responded to their first experiences with Second Life and thought that an info-graphic break down of virtual reality might help us approach the subject with less anxiety or frustration. It really comes down to thinking of the ol’ “right tool for the right job” mindset. BTW, this infographic/presentation was created with Piktochart. I’ll have a link to tool & presentation at the end of this post. Enjoy.
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Real Computers Versus Toys, Part 2

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I can understand how some might feel that devices like iPads and tablets aren’t real computers, especially those who’ve never really used an iPad or those who think a real computer has to have a keyboard, mouse and USB port. Anything less are just toys, expensive toys, but still toys. Like I mentioned before, I don’t encounter this sentiment that too often, mostly because I normally find that the long-suffering classroom teachers I’ve worked with are used to taking whatever they can get and making the best of it. This bunch would gladly “put up with” a classroom full of iPads.

When I first started teaching I populated my classroom with two PCs that I’d thrown together from parts left over from my latest computer upgrades. With the lone Mac in our non-networked classroom (this was before the Internet had reached our outpost elementary school in Cerritos, California), I set the computers up as stations for student to use in pairs for their language arts and social studies assignments. Basically I used what I had or could cobble together and the addition of the two vintage PCs meant that my students got to be on computers more than just once a week. There was a teacher in another district who populated his classroom full of Apple ][cs that he bought very cheaply or retrieved from school that were going to throw them out. On his own, without school money, he was able to populate his classroom with one computer for each student, long before any one-to-one program existed. Part of being a classroom teacher is working miracles with very little or out of your own pocket, usually both. Ha, we’re used to working with “technology” that’s missing things like working keyboards or mice. Bring it on!

We’re used to working with less than ideal situations. But that’s no excuse for decision makers to underfund us or make purchasing decisions purely on the basis of how much they think they can get for how little and expecting our resourcefulness will make it work. An outspoken hater of iPads-in-the-classroom, Dr. Garry Stager, feels that the technology is too crippled to be truly useful and that decision makers are only thinking of dollars and cents and not the educational value of how technology should be used in the classroom. Granted, we’re still in this asinine numbers-driven/testing mindset, so the value of technology in the classroom from the point of view of district people tends be focused on managing the testing regime and not on learning or Dr. Stager’s beloved (and politically exiled) Constructivism. Screw all that we learned in the late-70s and 80s about useful learning models in the classroom. Hell, because of the scripted test-prep curriculum, we don’t even have time for the wasteful drill-and-kill tech-model, it’s all about training for the test. So, iPads for everyone, my friends, just make sure they’re properly locked down (LAUSD!).

In the end, this version of “real computers versus toys” isn’t about technology but about how little we regard the teaching profession and that, as much as we say we believe in education, we’re not willing to properly fund it. When my district stripped out a huge chunk of our Magnet grant funding, we were able to make it work anyway because something called the”iMac” had just been introduced and cut the expense of buying computers in half. Given any kind of say in the process and we’ll make it work. But it’s shameful that we’re forced to do so because decision-makers have forgotten that this enterprise of learning is more valuable to our culture and society than all other civic responsibilities combined. Fail at this and forget about your healthy economy or tax-base or middle-class, etc. If bringing iPads into the classroom is based on the usefulness of the tools for learning, than go for it. If it’s another workaround more underfunding than shame on you decision-makers and disinterested community for not giving teachers and students the proper tools to get the job done.

Resources:

  • image: 2011-04-14 FaceTime Everywhere by Joe Bustillos, http://www.flickr.com/photos/joebustillos/6035006175/, retrieved 10/23/2013.
  • Point/Counterpoint: Should Students Use Their Own Devices in the Classroom? By Jen LaMaster and Gary S. Stager (posted Aug 7, 2012, 16:36 PM), retrieved 10/23/2013.
  • L.A. Unified’s iPad rollout marred by chaos: Confusion reigns as L.A. Unified deals with glitches after rollout of ambitious an-iPad-for-every-student project, By Howard Blume and Stephen Ceasar (posted October 01, 2013), retrieved 10/23/2013.
  • youtube video: Seymour Papert 1983, posted by Cynthia Solomon (posted May 25, 2007), retrieved 10/23/2013.

The Journey from Doodler to Writer

It would probably come as a great surprise to my elementary or middle school teachers that I fell in love with writing, much less learning itself. I was always of a curious nature, but generally not in a way that worked well with staying in one’s seat or working without talking. It probably didn’t help that, as a kid, I also pretty much hated reading. What changed much of this for me was when I fell in love with words.

dapnon1As a kid I loved drawing and spent hours creating monsters and rockets and silly cartoon versions of myself and my friends. I probably would have happily spent the rest of my life doodling but in junior high I quickly discovered that girls weren’t particularly interested in drawings of monsters or rockets and thus began to experiment with putting thoughts to words. Thankfully most of those experiments in writing have long vanished, but that was the beginning of my infatuation with words and writing.

This infatuation blossomed during my Sophomore year of high school when I became a Christian and I began to read the Bible. Prior to this I rarely read anything longer than the instructions that came with beginner model kits (and even then I never really read the instructions). So, somewhat to the consternation of my friends and family, I totally became immersed in reading the Bible in as many different translations as I could afford. Spending time trying to understand the King James’ Elizabethan English opened my eyes to the fluidity and power of language and words in a way that I’d never appreciated before. I became thirsty to understand and learn more and more. All the adolescent insecurities of not knowing ones self found much needed reassurance and security in stories and passages from a time two-thousand years in the past. Thus I went from being a mostly non-reading “C” student in elementary school to becoming a motivated “A” student in college and graduate school.

My relationship with technology was equally circuitous. Simply put, in the early 80’s personal technology was becoming a reality for any working slob and I was looking for an easier way to do my writing. At this time I had also begun what I thought of as a temporary job for the phone company (a temporary job that lasted for 15-years!). I found myself, an artist, among technologists. But I did well because I was a quick study and the job enabled me to begin my long relationship buying technology.

kayproI remember stopping into a computer store in some mall shortly after the original IBM PC was introduced and when the sales person approached me I thought that there was no way that I could afford to buy one of these things and walked away. Ha! One income tax return later and I was spending every waking hour drooling over every bit of information that I could get about these things. My brother, who was more familiar with small computers, steered me away from the newly introduce Macintosh and IBM’s offering. I was soon the proud owner of a 35-pound Kaypro transportable computer with it’s 9-inch green screen, 5-1/2-inch floppy disks and 67K of RAM. As rudimentary as this machine was, I couldn’t imagine how I wrote papers or did any writing before getting my “little” green-screen friend.

Circuitous route number three: Teaching; Teaching was an idea that I toyed with after completing my first B.A. in Biblical Studies but couldn’t settle on a subject to teach, so I went back to school and began studying for a Master of Theology at Fuller Seminary. When my marriage fell apart, taking with it my aspirations for full time ministry, I began a second B.A. in Communications/Journalism. By the time I finished this program I couldn’t imagine a day without writing but was also convinced that I had no need to endure the egos or small-minded ambitions I’d encountered during my student newsroom experience from editors barely out of their teenage years wanting to make a name for themselves (Go CSUF Titans!). Somehow that decision led back to a second look at a teaching career, by which time I’d also figured out that I didn’t need to decide on a subject matter if I taught in a multi-subject elementary classroom… doh! And because my path to teaching had meandered through lots of different paths I didn’t realize that no one else used technology the way I had when I began teaching. I just did what made sense to me. Thus, I became the technology teacher. That switch led to specialist positions creating a video-journalism academy, then computer-lab teaching assignments and eventually teaching online at Full Sail University.So, somehow after so many years into this journey, the technology and the teaching and my love of writing seem to be coming together. And to think, in the beginning all I wanted to do was find a better way to do my writing.

iBooks Author & the Post-Website World

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I just finished taking an extensive tutorial on the Apple product iBooks Author and it really got me thinking about the post website world. What I mean is that Apple has been trying for decades to create the right combination of tools to enable their users to unleash their creativity on the world. Among other problems, the chief conduit of sharing this creativity has been a mode of communication that was primarily designed to make it possible for scholars to access each others’ papers. In other words, from its inception, the Internet has a narrow set of tools meant to share text or highly compressed versions of other media. It’s remarkable how much can be shared via such small pipes and such non-artist-friendly tools. Apple’s last tool, iWeb, attempted to bridge the kind of page-layout tools used for magazines and graphic design with the limitations of html and the Internet. But as easy as these tools were to use I think Apple discovered that everyone did want to take pictures and make videos, but no one wanted to go through the hassle of putting up a website to post their creative works. But what could not be controlled on the Internet was quite a different thing if one were to use tablets, specifically iPads, as the means of sharing… But, realistically, we’re still dealing with more hassle than most are willing to deal with. I don’t think Apple cares about that or is under any delusion that the vast majority of wanna-be photographers or videographers are going to rush to iBooks Author to share their works. I think that tools like iPhoto and iMovie and the iPhone and iPad will continue to serve the needs of folks who just want to whip out the pictures from the weekend trip or videos from the vacation and YouTube and Facebook will continue to be the easiest way to share one’s work with friends and family. But what happens when one wants to create something more than snapshots from the weekend or something more involved than a 90-second video of the baby dancing? I know this problem well.

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Mobile Tech Invasion – Fullsail Continuing Ed Presentation

Above is an embedded player version of the presentation slides. If you go fullscreen with the player you have the option to open the speaker’s notes (under the Actions menu below the slides). You can also open the presentation slides in it’s own browser window by clicking here

Please leave a comment below with your name (contact info will be recorded, but not public as part of posting the comment) and I will add your info to a google doc where we can continue the dialogue about our experiments with the tools mentioned in this presentation.

NGLB – No Gamer Left Behind

This is a blast from the past, going back over five-year ago, before anyone had heard of “gamification” or any such nonsense. The George Lucas Foundation as part of an Edutopia documentary explored the possible wealth of learning that might be accomplished through something that at that point was thought to be mindless anti-social entertainment: gaming and game design. More after the video… Enjoy.

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How the iPad will change education by Nick La Fountain

tug of the screen by woodleywonderworks

After the original iPad was released (back in 2010), one of my students wrote the following blog post about how the iPad will change education. 

How will the iPad change education? By Nick La Fountain

There has been a lot of talk around my campus about becoming a 1:1 school. In this vision we imagine each student owning a mobile device and integrating this device into curriculum. In the past our thoughts were limited to tablets, laptops and netbooks. While each has their pros and cons, neither really stood out as a clear winner. With the advent of the Apple iPad, it appears that there may be an opportunity to take our ideas to the next level.

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SoapBox – Technology Bridge to Assist Learning or Just Another EdTech Gadget?

Social-centric news website Mashable recently ran an article on SoapBox with the headline: New App Tells Teachers When Students Are Confused. Those who have vague memories of spending their days in class daydreaming and those have spent the past few years battling students who secretly spend their class time texting their friends, might respond, “What the what?!”

I was introduced to SoapBox a couple months ago by Alison Hannon, a teacher who ran a writing/literacy lab with 21 iPads at Audubon Park Elementary School where I was doing some research on the use of iPads and BYOD in schools. Ms. Hannon was very enthusiastic about how the website helped keep students engaged because their input made a real difference in the instruction, and that a teacher using SoapBox might be more likely to hear from students who might not ordinarily raise their hands in a traditional setting. Hannon used the platform to pose questions that she input before the lesson, to monitor student questions, to monitor the level of student understanding and to keep the conversation going.

The Mashable article and Hannon highlighted the “Confusion Barometer” feature where students can anonymously communicate whether they were getting the lesson or not. There are numerous response devices that might fulfill this need, but the beauty of SoapBox is that it doesn’t require a separate device because it works through a browser that can be accessed via a computer or mobile device like an iPad or smartphone. If you already have students on devices, like Ms. Hannon at Audubon Park, then it’s seamless to have them use the device to communicate to the teacher, making the classroom just a little more like everyone is in the front row and everyone is included in the conversation, that really is a conversation and not a monologue.

Flattening the classroom communication structure is one thing, but what I found interesting, and this is a phenomenon that those using other platforms like Edmodo are indicating, is that because these platforms are browser based they are breaking the “school only happens at school” phenomenon. In other words the lesson begun on these platforms is not limited to the 40-minutes when the student was working in the formal classroom. Students and teachers are using these platforms to continue the learning conversation begun in the classroom and taking them home. Hannon said that they had to set up an agreement with students and teachers that it would probably be best if they stop working on the platform at 9 P.M. Students enthusiastic to keep the learning conversation going long after the dismissal bell? Soapbox is obviously not unique in this, but it’s an example that students (and families) will use the Internet to share, communicate and learn when it’s conversational, relevant and where everyone else is.

When I heard about SoapBox they were conducting their free beta and I was busy getting ready for Macworld 2012, so I signed up but didn’t experiment with the platform. Since then they’ve revealed their pricing structure ($15 per month per teacher or $90 per year), and I was a little disappointed that they couldn’t find a way to make this fly without charging teachers. But after doing further research I’m wondering how I might integrate it into my online sessions at Full Sail. We have a platform where we meet online, that has chat built in, but this is much more bi-directional and could really add to the experience. Unlike the face-to-face classroom where feedback can be as simple as gazing out to see who has fallen asleep, working online really demands much more to bring students into the conversation. Online one cannot assume that students haven’t taken off their headphones and put them on the dog, so I can see having a second window open to SoapBox might add another venue for interaction.

But getting back to my original question: is this a bridge to assist learning or just another edtech gadget? I think the answer isn’t in the tool but in the user. If one has no skill or aptitude towards working with students, SoapBox probably won’t help one become a better teacher. But if one is looking for a way to make your classroom more interactive and your students have access to a web browser as a part of their normal classroom experience, then this might be something to explore. If you think having students continue to work on lessons begun in the classroom after the session is “over” then this might be a way for you to continue the conversation. If you believe that education is about the process of learning and not defined or limited to testing, this might be a way to reclaim the teacher/student learning conversation that may be slipping away from the classroom routine. Damn, I think I just talked myself into putting my money where my mouth is and give SoapBox a test run. Fascinating! How about you?