Year3-Week14: Thoughts from the Educational Trenches


I like being an educational grunt on the front lines in the classroom and take some pride that what others theorize about, I have to make happen. It might be a fool’s errand, but you can’t tell me what we’re supposed to be doing in the classroom if you’ve never spend any given week teaching in said classrooms. And it turns out that we tend to NOT plan for student resistance.

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Year3-Week12: The Value of Pressure in Learning

2018-11-05 STEAMLab_wk12 pressure_12_steam-lab

The original idea was to post at the end of every week something with much more reflection and thoughtfulness than my previous daily social media posts that I had done over the past two-years. I was able to keep to that schedule for the first eight-weeks or so, but have faltered and failed since then. Continue Reading

Year3-Week8: “Classroom Management”

The key to school/student/learning success is student engagement
by 24-years experience in the classroom

I should have known that “classroom management” could be a problem for me going all the way back to when I was doing observations/volunteer work as part of my teacher training program back in the early 1990s.
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Year3-Week7: Course Adjustments

2018-09-24 STEAMLab_wk07 teacher-training

I’ve gone on record saying that you make (teaching) plans so that you can pivot and change them based on the circumstances. This was that kind of week. Continue Reading

Education in the Age of the Technologist

This video presentation was originally given at Bar Camp Orlando 2015 on April 18, 2015. Why do some technology solutions seem to work in education while others don’t? Where are MOOCs missing the mark?

Education in the Age of the Technologist
by Joe Bustillos

Written, Presented & Edited by Joe Bustillos
“NASDAQ” from Smartsound Music (
Young Girl at School Holding a Computer Mouse — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis
Bored Kid,
Mrs. Wormwood,
France in the Year 2000, Imagined by Illustrators in 1900,
edX (screen grab), (screen grab),
Kahn Academy (screen grab),
Long Beach desktop panorama © 2007 by joe bustillos
Synch-Session Run Thru with Henry Price © 2001 by Joe Bustillos, 08-15-2001
Lev Vygotsky,
Frank Smith,
Etienne Wenger,
CSCL – OMAET Conference OMAET Saturday-200 © 2002 by Joe Bustillos, 01-12-2002
Computer Lab Joe © 2002 by Joe Bustillos, 06-04-2002
Wall of Screens Lifestyle © 2012 by Joe Bustillos 02-09-2012
Little Boy Playing with Cell Phone in Class — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis,|mt:2|



  • (Slide 1)
  • Hi, my name is Joe Bustillos,
  • This video is based on a presentation that I shared at BarCamp Orlando 2015, which is fitting because some of the inspiration for this presentation came from talks with folks connected to Code School, one of the local start-ups interested in teaching coding the best ways possible.
  • So, Education in the Age of the Technologist, and when I’m referring to education I’m referring mostly to K-12 Public ed, but my observations apply across the board, public or private, K-12 and higher-ed
  • (Slide 2)
  • The consensus is pretty much universal when we look at the state of education today: it’s broke.
  • I love this kid, I was this kid and when I was a classroom instructor I remembered what it was like to be this kid and tried to work with my students so that we could all avoid this state of boredom in the classroom
  • Let’s face it, Education, as it’s practiced today, is a vestigial institution that’s completely out of sync with how the world actually works
  • So, what do we do to fix this?
  • (Slide 3)
  • Thing is, public education is a bit like puberty, a coming of age thing that everyone had to go through & most weren’t entirely pleased with the process or end results.
  • So everyone has an opinion about what to do based on their own experiences…
  • And when we think about it, many seem to come to the conclusion, though they might not say it out right, that what we need to do is:
  • Get the human out of the loop
    • Reflecting back on the typical classroom experiences one tends to hear:
    • “I didn’t learn anything”
    • “I hate waiting for others”
    • “The teacher never gave me the help I needed”
  • Thus, many have concluded that we could fix a lot of problems if we could just Get the human out of the loop
  • Education, instead of being stuck in the past, could be something where every individual learner would get the support and attention that fits their learning style.
  • This is a dream that’s been thought about for a very long time…
  • (Slide 4)
  • This is a somewhat famous illustration that was published over a hundred years ago, thinking about what the classroom would be like in the year 2000!
  • Automate Education
    • Wouldn’t that be perfect?
      • No more waiting for the slowest person in the classroom
      • Assignments tailored to the needs of the learner,
      • Meaningful grading/assessments designed to help further the learning
      • And no waiting for a damn teacher to get back to you on how you did on that last assignment.
  • It’d be like the perfect video game:
    • Easy to get started, you have a good idea what the objective is
    • Anything you do has a direct connection to your status in the game:
      • If you get things done without errors you move forward
      • If you make a mistake, you wake up in the graveyard and get a chance to learn from your mistake, until you master the level
    • Everything you learn contributes to your chances of success moving forward
  • Automate Education
  • (Slide 5)
  • We actually kind of have that available today with things like Kahn Academy, and MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course) like EdX or Coursera, and Orlando’s own “Code School.”
  • So, how is this working out? What’s the data?
  • (Slide 6)
  • Video tutorial courses, like Kahn Academy or appear to be very viable (especially when you consider that was just bought by LinkedIn for a reported $1.5 billion).
  • MOOCs appears to be a different story – Though one should approach assessing the effectiveness of MOOCs cautiously because they haven’t been around for very long and the definitions for “success” aren’t entirely clear
  • That said, let’s look at one example of one of MOOCs problems: student completion rate (how many students register verses the number that participates in the class versus the number that successfully completes the course): Duke University course called “Bioelectricity” (Fall 2012):
    • 12,725 students enrolled
    • 7,761 watching a video
    • 3,658 attempted to complete a quiz
    • 345 did the final exam
    • only 313 passed the final exam and got their certificate for the course (Catropa 2013, Jordan 2013).

    • Even after you factor in the difference in engagement one might expect with courses that are free versus when one is paying high tuition… it does seem like something is clearly not working. And we’re talking about making high quality education available to anyone with an Internet connection. This is especially concerning when considering how many institutions (higher ed and K-12) are investigating the possibility of going online and using MOOCs as a model to follow.

  • (Slide 7)
  • My Own Online Experiences (both doctoral studies and MA & teaching in undergrad and grad university program) didn’t suffer from the same level of attrition reported by many MOOCs
    • Again, there’s a big difference in commitment and engagement when comparing programs with huge tuitions versus free course,
    • But there’s an even more fundamental difference…
  • (Slide 8)
  • Let me introduce you to Three Scholars who contributed to our understanding of the learning process that has direct bearing on why some programs seem to work better than others.
    • Etienne Wenger
      • Originally interested in computer science and got his PhD in artificial intelligence
      • But the initial research that pertains to our question, was research he did with Jean Lave, studying the learning practices and the learning processes used by apprentices to African tailors.
        • And what he uncovered was that learning was more than the acquisition of the basic skills or knowledge needed to be a competent tailor. Yes, one needed these skills and knowledge, but there was also a sociological transformation that the learner underwent when going from being someone literally outside of the tailor shop, to being an apprentice to being a competent practitioner to maybe becoming a master of the trade.
        • The success of the apprentices seem to involve much more interaction amongst the apprentices than direction/contact with the master tailor
        • The group of apprentices and the group of the master tailors need to welcome and recognize the learner as being part of the community for the learner to progress successfully
    • Lev Vygotsky
      • Soviet psychologist (1896–1934), his research centered on the role of the instructor resulting in something called ZPD (Zone of Proximal Development), which later researchers used to formulate something called Instructional Scaffolding
      • The idea is that we learn when we connect the new information/data/skill with previous understanding or skills
      • The learning is most powerful/effective when it’s based on previous understanding & experiences.
      • The role of the instructor according to Vygotsky is to guide the learner, to bring them from where they are to where they need to be.
    • Frank Smith
      • Wrote a book called The Book of Learning and Forgetting,
      • He wrote that there’s a dichotomy between what he called the “Official Theory of Learning” and what he called the “Classical view.”
        • The Official Theory is based on early Ed psychologists’ theory that we cannot tell if we’re being effective in our instruction unless we strip out all prior knowledge and see if students retain information when later tested. This philosophy was modeled after successes that were noted in how the Prussian Military trained their soldiers and later when the US Military in World War II needed to train massive numbers of soldiers in a way that was almost 100% consistent across several theaters of war. Rote memorization and constant drilling was the center of the Official Theory.
        • The problem with the Official Theory as it’s become translated into practice is that it’s reduced to studying for an exam, taking the exam and then forgetting everything after the exam. There’s no continued development and there’s no real building on prior knowledge or experience. It’s not connected to any prior learning and devoid of any sociological aspects of learning
        • The Classical View begins with the idea that we learn from those around us with whom we identify with. And then we do what they do until we’re proficient. The African tailors, the kids mastering MMORPGs, rookie technicians working for the phone company… we’re motivated to learn and over time we learn. Surprise, it’s a sociological process that couples doing with being identified with other doers.
  • (Slide 9)
  • So, why does seem to work while MOOCs are struggling:
    • First, what’s the learning objective, what are you trying to accomplish?
      • There’s a huge difference between trying to learn a single thing, like the Basics of using iBooks Author versus much larger learning goal, like becoming an online publishing expert or earning a college degree
    • The kind of instruction offered by well-produced video tutorials is sufficient for the task, but something that’s going to take longer to accomplish is going to require more than nice videos.
  • (Slide 10)
  • What did we learn from the three scholars:
    • Wenger said we learn best in groups
    • Vygotsky identified the best role of the instructor as being the bridge connecting the learner in a way works for the learner
    • Frank Smith wrote that we learn when we’re motivated by those we want to be like.
  • (Slide 11)
  • When I did my masters and doctorate online, we were studying educational technology so we naturally used technology, like IM and group chat, to make stronger connections with one another, beyond what was required. This was almost 15-years ago so our online class sessions were entirely text based, with all interaction flowing across the screen. Several of us added secondary chat rooms where only a few of us hung out during the class session and it had the effect of giving us a sense of feeling like we were all together in the same room and those of us in the secondary chat room were like the kids whispering in the back of the room.
  • There was also powerful aspect to having one’s study buddies always available for assistance or camaraderie via always-on IM sessions – it made learning ubiquitous. I wasn’t waiting for the weekly class sessions or assignments to interact with my friends, and with the interaction came more learning.
  • (Slide 12)
  • In a way, we actually put more humans into the loop, but in a way that worked and didn’t slow us or waste our time.
  • (Slide 13)
  • What we have to do is to recognize that we cannot use a technological solution on a problem that is essentially a sociological problem.
  • Just like everyone one having Word Processing applications didn’t make everyone into a writer, throwing technology at this problem won’t accomplish what we’re hoping for
  • (Slide 14)
  • The Challenge is how do we keep the things that work well with technology, self-paced instruction with instantaneous assessment, but also works with the social part of learning and being part of a learning community. What I love is that the introduction of technology is causing us or allowing us to really look at what works and how different methods work across different populations. We have a real opportunity to reimagine learning.
  • (Slide 15)
  • I’m Joe Bustillos, thank you for watching “Education in the Age of the Technologist”
  • My contact information is listed below and I will have links to my resources also listed below. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions in the discussion area.

Religion in the Classroom: A Video Reflection (1993)

Religion in the Classroom: A Video Reflection (1993)

In 1993, during my teacher-credential training I produced this video to address the notion of how one might teach religion in the public school classroom. Even in 1993 this was a controversial subject and probably not something one should publish as one was trying to get employment in the school system. This video was also produced without computers, using two video tape players and one recorder and audio mixer to edit and record the video in one take. Sorry about the audio analog hiss. Enjoy.

Written, Produced and Directed by Joe Bustillos
Filmed on Location in Irvine, CA
Audio: The Voice of Enigma by Enigma Mcmxc A.D., 1991
Audio: A Call To Us All by Teri Desario, 1984
Video: Documentary The Glory & The Power: Fundamentalisms Observed by Bill Jersey, PBS/BBC, 1992
Video: Kung Fu TV-Pilot episode, Directed by Jerry Thorpe, 1972
Video: Fall of the Berlin Wall CNN, November 9, 1989
Video: Altered States directed by Ken Russell, Warner Brothers, 1980
Video: Second Baptist Church of Santa Ana, Filmed by Joe Bustillos, December 1993

Video Project BTS Notes & Script (PDF version)

A Personal Reflection on the demands of Religion in the Classroom
by Joe Bustillos

There’s a call to us all to love all humanity
Every race on the face of earth 
come to unity
“Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
These, the Master’s words, would do us well
But Man’s belief, religious creeds, can make him blind
The narrow way is not a narrow mind.
– Teri DeSario

My fundamentalist father and I had a boisterous discussion the other day about “the state of education.” In the past my father’s general arguments (true to his conservative roots) have centered around a need to return to the basics—reading, writing, arithmetic. He wanted to know how my teacher training was going to address the moral needs and foundations of my students. Ouch, I wasn’t ready for that one (I should have been ready—we’ve been having religious tussles since I was fifteen).

I wanted to say something about the separate roles of public education and religion but I knew that wouldn’t get very far. I mean, the question about moral education has always been a cornerstone to his theory about the decay of the education (which predictably includes the need to bring prayer and Jesus back to the school system). No, this was a very old discussion that I should have seen coming. I could have said something about Irvine School District voting to require graduating high school seniors to take courses in Ethics and Morals but I knew that that wouldn’t begin to address the crux of his concern. The real difficulty with what he wants is that to “teach morality” of the fundamentalist Christian variety in our divergent society is to open a Pandora’s box.

The thing is that I’ve been there before, I understand my father’s concern. He and I may not see eye-to-eye but I understand that “to not teach X” is “to teach Y.” That is, on the surface one can talk about Morals and Culture and Heritage and Religion like they’re all complete separate subjects with no association but that’s a bit like teaching To Kill a Mockingbird without talking about racial prejudice.

Humans are Religious creatures. The Soviets weren’t able to erase it in 70 years. In the West, Television and its attendant shallow pop-culture has defamed it and trivialized it but not eliminated it in 50 years. Those who say that they don’t believe in any religion are in fact practicing the religion of “no-religion.” In the end we believe or choose not to believe, not because of “objective scientific inquiry” but because of gut-level personal faith. We like to think we’re being rational but when push comes to shove the tenor becomes very emotional.

So then, how does one teach Morals or Ethics or Religion? Without being overly didactic, it’s a matter of casting a broad enough definition about what is considered “normal” human behavior and culture. One thing that I learned during my brief stint as an Anthropology major was that the Polytheistic cultures tended to reflect the greater range of human behavior in their gods without downplaying the moral consequences of that behavior. They didn’t suffer from the tyranny of the “One Standard” that on the outset is not a “Human Standard” at all. It will not satisfy the conservative factions,^ but teaching religion, or morals or even cultural diversity is a matter of presenting it as just another part of the “normal” human experience. This is certainly preferable to ignoring it like it was something our ancient ancestors did but that we’ve “grown beyond.”

Religion in the Classroom

The Unfortunate Consequence of Ignoring Small Group & Classroom Dynamics

DeMille Middle School Yearbook Staff circa 2008

DeMille Middle School Yearbook Staff circa 2008

My girlfriend, Maggie, and I were talking about optimal class sizes, me from my 19-years as an educator and she from her experiences as a lifelong student and being around her kids’ schools. When I taught in face-to-face environments with elementary and middle school students in Southern California, 25 to 30 students was a pretty good number to work with, assuming that there would be an even number of girls to boys in the mix. And while the mindset seemed to be that smaller class sizes were always better than bigger, I experienced situations where, if for some reason 10 or more students were temporarily removed from the mix, then it was actually harder to work with the smaller number of remaining students than the original bigger group.

It isn’t hard to recognize that the difficulty of working face-to-face with the 10-students-missing was that the classroom dynamic had been disrupted and the teacher must now extend energy across all the remaining students simultaneously to move the class forward in its tasks. Effective educators carefully balance individual attention, maintaining a classroom-wide presence and managing the ongoing group dynamic. Contrary to uninformed popular mythology, we really aren’t as efficient working one-to-many, as much as when we work one-across-small-groups, constantly shifting focus between the whole group and small groups. I can spot a novice educator immediately because he will allow all of his attention to be focused on the student or small group of students right in front of him and not maintain a sense of presence across the classroom. Simply sitting down too long without the across-the-classroom-glance is enough for the classroom to lose focus and the teacher to “lose control” (“control” is another misnomer… but we’ll save that discussion for another time). We actually spend a lot of energy putting together and managing the small groups so that they can effectively encourage, correct and instruct one another and we, in turn, give them sufficient input and feedback to keep that process going. And as much as we might idolize the one-to-one instruction model, I’ve found the one-across-small-groups instruction model to be much more efficient and powerful. Anyone who has worked in face-to-face classrooms will agree with my premise of the importance of engaged small groups. But what is almost never acknowledged is that this same dynamic/requirement is also true in online learning environments.

Going back to my experiences in my Masters and Doctoral work online with Pepperdine University from 2001 to 2009 and the last six-years teaching in the fully online Masters program at Full Sail University, a large measure of the success, engagement and powerful results can be attributed to the strength of connection we had as students with one another and in the Full Sail example, with our recognizing and building the “cadre” mindset into the structure of our courses. Elsewhere the assumption is usually made that online education is just this generation’s version of the solo correspondence education of the past with little to no direct interaction between the instructor and students except when students submit work and the instructor issues grades. Some institutions sell this solo on-demand educational, “Don’t have to bother with others” model of instruction as a strength. The MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) phenomenon is often sold as a “from your home/at your leisure” education. Actually it seems like the solo online-only well-produced video-instruction model is highly effective when used to learn a single application or task, as demonstrated by the successes of sites like Kahn Academy or A 3.5-hour course like “Up & Running with (Adobe’s) Lightroom 5” works perfectly as an online video tutorial (even if I have to go back to it several times, to try to remember how to do something a couple days after doing the course…). But this is something very different from earning a Bachelor’s or Master’s or Doctoral degree fully online.

One of my favorite online video tutorial series: Crash Course

For all of the hype and big names entering the market, course completion rates for students participating in MOOCs hasn’t been very encouraging. For example, one course offered for free from Duke University called “Bioelectricity” (Fall 2012) began with 12,725 students enrolled, with 7,761 watching a video, 3,658 attempted to complete a quiz, 345 did the final exam and only 313 passed the final exam and got their certificate for the course (Catropa 2013, Jordan 2013). As much as making high quality education available to anyone with an Internet connection seems promising something is clearly not working.

Some have recognized this problem and decided to focus their online programs to a more “certificate” type program that can be accomplished in a few months and not require as much time as would be required for a full degree program. These programs are sometimes called micro-college programs, and given the success of sites like Kahn Academy, the popularity of certificate or micro-colleges is understandable and might well be what the future of education, particularly university and higher education might look like over the coming years (Frey 2013, Brantley 2014). Single focus tutorials are easily accomplished without the need for anything other than the video tutorial and some interactive assessment process. But anything resembling a full degree program or long term education would be well to recognize the need for the social interaction and support that the best face-to-face and online courses have as part of their learning process.

It might not seem like a logical discussion to begin with optimal face-to-face class sizes and end with online certificate programs and the failure of MOOCs, but they’re all related. In fact we can add the failure of teaching-to-the-test forms of face-to-face instruction because all of these systems consciously or unconsciously remove the person-to-person, small-group interaction that is the most powerful engine for real learning that any good educator takes advantage of when delivering instruction or managing students. Whether face-to-face or online, whether working with young learners or masters students, one of the greatest tools for learning is the small community of learners, actively engaged in their own process, supported by the educator, curriculum and learning platform. After 19-years as an educator and more than a few decades as a participant, it comes down to not only having great curriculum, caring instructors and a wonderful place or platform to use, but making room for the interaction of the small community of learners. As long as the assumption is that we can just throw higher quality instruction at the problem or some other idea that doesn’t recognize the need for students to interact than it just won’t work. The micro-college folks recognize this in as much as they are redefining “education” so that their system works. Don’t ignore the importance of the classroom and small group dynamics.

2007 Demille Student Council

2007 Demille Student Council


Teaching Using Tech: Philosophy of Higher Education, Part 2


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.