Archive | April, 2014

#ocTEL Big and Little Questions

This is our first “assignment” in ocTEL. Simon Hawksey asks us to

reflect on your work experience and ambitions for developing your teaching.

  • Can you identify the most important question about TEL that matters to you?
  • Or alternatively do you have a cluster of issues? Or perhaps you’re ‘just browsing’?

Some people are discussing this here.

The most important question I have about Technology Enhanced Learning is about how technology transforms teaching and learning?   I don’t mean that technology directs or determines change, but I do believe that tools change the way we work and see the world – and I’m defining technology very broadly.

2001 Bone to Space

Technology has always had a transformative impact on human cultures and societies.  I became involved in TEL because I was interested in teaching and learning, not because I was interested in technology, and I’ve continued with it because I have found that it did change the way I saw learning and teaching.

I teach English Second Language in an academic bridge program. Our administrators have always been interested in appearing to be “cutting edge” so they provided us with a minimum amount of support: WiFi connectivity and email for students and faculty, Internet wired classrooms with LED projectors and “SmartBoards” (TM) installed. The stuff has been poorly maintained —  the photo-op is now over — and most regard WiFi as something to keep students busy between classes, but it is there anyway, for anyone to use. I have used it.

One thing I’ve learned from this is that I cannot and should not plan what students will learn and I should not be saying things like “students need” this and that. I’ve learned to provide tools and opportunities and then watch and listen. It’s changed my own practice and helped me become a co-learner with them. Others continue their control culture, deciding what students should do at every step… these are “accountable” and “responsible” teachers, unlike me.

I see it changing students too. It changes the way they interact with one another, how they use the space, how they use the material, how they relate to me. They begin to take possession of all these things, and to self-direct, to a large degree. They co-opt me into their subversive activities, learning whatever they feel they need despite what is handed down to them in the syllabus. They do this without commenting. They are not noticed anyway. They reward me by doing well on their common assessments. I’ve learned that the best way to support their learning is to stay out of the way most of the time. This gives me a lot of time to see who needs extra “help” and then to help them. Usually this just means talking to them, showing some interest, showing some support.

This is totally unlike anything I could have imagined happening. I started out with it just as a way to make it easier to handle classroom management tasks, to free me fro the photocopier, to free them from carrying books and papers, but so much more has happened.

So, now I sit quietly in staff meetings and listen to others talking endlessly about control issues – never about teaching or learning, never about students…

TEL will alienate you too, eject you from your control culture, show you that you are more like your students than you had ever suspected.

Exploring New Metaphors for Education through Design Thinking

As a teacher, participating in this type of research [Design based] gave me the opportunity to work toward solving challenging pedagogical issues in my classroom with collaborators who were experts in the field; it was fantastic professional development for me. As a researcher, I get to see what happens when a promising practice is put into action in a particular context. Everyone wins – students, teachers, and researchers.  -Sarah Hunt-Barron

Last night the Literacy Research Association sponsored their sixth netcast. We focused on formative research and how this translates to the classroom. Two themes kept reoccurring throughout the talk around new metaphors for education.

  • In order to empower teachers we need to consider teaching more of an engineering career.
  • We also using the principles of design thinking, need to rethink the concept of rigor in research.

This new mindset would help transform research and professional development.

Teaching as Engineering Science.

Formative, or design based research does not begin with a question. Instead you start with a goal in mind. Then you develop learning activities, grounded in literature to reach this goal. As you begin the work you take note of factors that enhance and inhibit the goal and enter into a process of iteration. Basically it boils down to, “How can we design something and what can we learn from designing it?”

Education in terms of practice and research benefit when we draw on engineering and a design metaphor. We need to create situations for students to design their won learning and engage in MakerEd. We need to think of our own practices as teachers in terms of a constant iterative practice based on reflection and a goal for the greater good.

Rigor or Vigor?

The panelists also held a wonderful discussion on what should count as rigor in educational research. They discussed the amount of data analysis necessary to do formative experiments well. It involved a constant examination of quantiative and qualitative factors through numerous design cycles. Just like engineers teachers and researchers need to build things and change what does not work.

I found myself on a train during the show so spent more time on Twitter as wifi on Amtrak did not allow me to watch the live. I brought up the idea that maybe rigor does not work as a modifier for research. After all rigor means to be stiff. That does not seem to share principles with iterative design.

Jeremy Lenzi shared a wonderful idea with me. Maybe we need research with vigor and not rigor.

Vigor, mean to life, to be lively, anyone who has spent time doing classroom research knows fidelity can be out of reach beacuse we are talking about lively spaces. The panelists argued that the greater good and the pedagogical goal should drive research. Sounds more like vigor than rigor to me.

Professional Development and Formative Design

Just before the show I also participated in the weekly #edchat on Twitter. We all discussed ways to improve training teachers get once they work in the field. I see many parallels to the panelists talk in terms of improving education through high quality professional development.

Teachers need to design their own professional development. They shoudl create this design cycle around a pedagogical goal. Then over the course of their “learning cycles” teachers can use a process to see whta works to reach that goal and change what is not working.

The goals can from many places. Teachers might have to develop student learning objectives for their evaluation systems. Maybe the teacher and  her building administrator work together to  develop goals after formal observations. Finally teachers might just choose a goal such as improving internet comprehension and seek out opportunities to learn about pedagogy rooted in research.

The design cycle works for professional development. Teachers just need to build iterative design and reflective teaching into everyday practice.

Professional Development Built on Design Thinking

When selecting professional development to attent teachers should make sure opportunities to make, create, break, and iterate are included. There is no need for districts to spend thousands of dollars to see speakers. We have YouTube for that.

Spires & Young (2012)

Spires & Young (2012)

Formal professional development should revolve around the design cycle. For example at the New Literacies Institute we build the class around inquiry. Background knowledge is taught before the conference through learning modules. At the conference itself teachers choose a pedagogical goal. Next researchers work with teachers to  identify digital texts and tools that align to that goal. Using these resources participants  create learning activities that should enhance the goal. Finally they bring the project back to the classroom and iterate.


Design thinking has reshaped my vision of education. Every aspect from teacher preperation, to curriculum, professional development, and research needs new models and metaphors. We need to consider design thinking as a guiding principle, an overarching theoretical perspective. As an end result the act of iterative teaching and reflective practice  will then get ensconced in every classroom at every level.