A Model for Integrating New Technology into Teaching

By Anita Pincas
Guest Author

I have been an internet watcher ever since I first got involved with online communications in the late 1980s, when it was called computer conferencing. And through having to constantly update my Online Education & Training course since 1992, I’ve had the opportunity to see how educational approaches to the use of the internet, and after it, the world wide web, have evolved. Although history doesn’t give us the full answers to anything, it suggests frameworks for looking at events, so I ‘d like to propose a couple of models for understanding the latest developments in technology and how they relate to learning and teaching.

First, there seem to be three broad areas in which to observe the new technology. This is a highly compressed sketch of some key points:

1. Computing as Such

Here we have an on-going series of improvements which have made it ever easier for the user to do things without technical knowledge. There is a long line of changes from the early days before the mouse, when we had to remember commands (Control +  X for delete, Control +  B for bold, etc.), to the clicks we can use now, and the automation of many functions such as bullet points, paragraphing, and so on. The most recent and most powerful of these developments is, of course, cloud computing, which roughly means computer users being able to do what they need on the internet without understanding what lies behind it (in the clouds). Publishing in a blog, indeed on the web in general, is one of the most talked about examples of this at the moment. The other is the ability to handle video materials. Both are having an enormous impact on the world in general in terms of information flow, as well as, more slowly, on educational issues. Artificial intelligence, robotics, and “smart” applications are on the way too.

2. Access to and Management of Knowledge

This has been vastly enlarged through simple increase in quantity, which itself has been made possible by the computing advances that allow users to generate content, relatively easy searches, and open access publishing that cuts the costs. Library systems are steadily renewing themselves, and information that was previously unobtainable in practice has become commonplace on the web (e.g. commercial and governmental matters, the tacit knowledge of every day life, etc.). As the semantic web comes into being, we can see further advances in our ability to connect items and areas of knowledge.

3. Communications and Social Networking

We can now use the internet – whether on a desktop or laptop or small mobile – to communicate 1 to 1, or 1 to many, or many to many by voice, text and multimedia. And this can be either synchronous or asynchronous across the globe. The result has been an explosion of opportunities to network individually, socially and commercially. Even in education, we can already see that the VLE is giving way to the PLE (personal learning environment) where learners network with others and construct and share their own knowledge spaces.

For teachers there is pressure not to be seen as out of date, but with too little time or help, they need a simple, structured way of approaching the new technological opportunities on their own. The bridge between the three areas of development should be a practical model of teaching and learning. I use one which the teachers who participate in my courses regularly respond to and validate. It sees learning and teaching in terms of three processes:

  1. acquiring knowledge or skills or attitudes,
  2. activating these, and
  3. obtaining feedback on the acquisition and activation.

I start off by viewing any learning/teaching event as a basic chronological sequence of 3Ps:

But this basic template is open to infinite variation. This occurs by horizontal and vertical changes. The horizontal variations are: the order in which the three elements occur; the repetition of any one of them in any order; the embedding of any sequence within any other sequence. The vertical changes are in how each of the three elements is realised. So the model can generate many different styles of teaching and ways of learning, e.g., problem based, discovery based, and so on.

Finally, this is where the bridge to technology comes in. If a teacher starts from the perceived needs in the teaching and learning of the subject, and then systematically uses the 3Ps to ask:

  • What technology might help me make the content available to the learners? [P1]
  • What technology might help me activate their understanding/use of the new content? [P2]
  • What technology might help me evaluate and give the learners feedback on their understanding or use? [P3]

then we have needs driving the use of the technology, and not the other way around.

Here is a simple example of one way of organising problem based learning:

(Click on the table to zoom in.)

I have developed the model with its many variations in some detail for my courses. Things get quite complex when you try to cover lots of different teaching and learning needs under the three slots. And linking what the learners do, or want to do, or fail to do, etc., with what the teacher does is particularly important. Nevertheless, I find that my three areas of new development plus the 3P scaffolding make things rational rather than being a let’s-just-try-this approach. Perhaps equally important, it serves as a template to observe reports of teaching methods and therefore a very useful tool for evaluation. I have never yet found a teaching/learning event that could not be understood and analysed quickly this way.

Needed – A Professional Approach to Teaching

adsit80By John Adsit
Staff Writer

I approach the subject of Rhee and the reactions of the teaching “profession” with a sadness bordering on despair for I enter a battlefield on which I have often fought. My few small victories pale in comparison with my many painful defeats.

I put “profession” in quotations because I am not sure teaching can be called a profession. In what other profession can its members practice with no training whatsoever, as happens frequently at the college level? In what other profession can its members start with basic training and learn nothing new over a 40 year career, as frequently happens at the K-12 level? If a doctor were to start bleeding patients rather than use the results of the latest medical research, he or she would be hauled before a medical tribunal, but in education ignoring research results is the norm.

adsitdec1508Nearly 20 years ago I was a highly regarded teacher. Although I was somewhat innovative, I used a largely traditional approach, imitating the best of those who had in turn taught me. All my graduate work was in my content area so I had little education training beyond my initial certification. One day I was sent to a workshop introducing a very different educational approach. Most of what I heard sounded perfectly wrong, and I was close to dismissing it.

I was intrigued by some points, though, that made me fear some of my practices might be harmful to student learning. I took some of the more interesting ideas back to my classroom and gave them a go. I first completely changed some of my favorite lessons into authentic learning projects, and I started experimenting with a mastery learning assessment process at the same time. (For more on the “mastery learning assessment process,” see my earlier article, “Old School Thinking Blocks Quality Online Science Classes.” In upcoming articles, I’ll delve deeper into these approaches.) The level of immediate success was shocking. I implemented one change after another and watched student achievement soar beyond my wildest dreams until I was a complete convert.

One year I had more students get top scores (5) on the AP exam than all the other AP teachers in the school combined had students pass (3). I also taught a remedial writing class, and its average score on the district writing assessment was higher than most of the regular classes. Despite objective measures of success, my colleagues angrily accused me of lowering standards because so many of my students were getting A’s and B’s! I was not teaching the right way, the way teaching had always been done.

When I was brought into the central administration to help teach these methodologies, I became an education literature junkie, learning many things that the general education community evidently does not wish to know. Longitudinal studies, for example, have shown that some teachers have significantly superior student achievement than their colleagues in the same school, year after year, and some teachers have consistently poorer student achievement, year after year. If an elementary student is blessed with three consecutive years of good teaching, his or her achievement scores will be about 50 percentile points higher than a student cursed by three consecutive years of poor teaching. The most effective and least effective methods of instruction have been identified. Processes by which whole schools can be turned from failure to success are known.

adsitdec1508bNone of this is a secret. All of the nation’s top theorists are largely in agreement. Outline the main concepts before a meeting of district curriculum leaders, and they, too, will nod in agreement.

But talk about it in a meeting at the school level, and you’ll be lucky to get out alive.

Only a few weeks ago I watched a school leader outline the steps her school would take to improve its miserable failure rate, and I saw the same failed ideas that have been used for decades. I asked if they were planning to investigate the latest research on successful schools, and she said no, they were sticking with “tried and true” methods.  I was reminded of how George Washington’s doctors bled about half of the total blood volume from the choking ex-president  (the tried and true cure) and refused to allow another doctor to perform a new procedure, the tracheotomy that might have saved his life[1].

Change can happen. Individual teachers can change instructional methods and vastly improve student achievement. Schools can adopt processes that have been proven successful. This will not happen, though, as long as the majority of educators stick with the “tried and true” methods that have brought us to where we are today. This will not happen until education becomes a true profession, with members who view the educational process as worthy of study in and of itself.

Michelle Rhee – What’s Really at Stake?

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

She’s on the cover of Time (week of December 8), in a classroom, unsmiling, dressed in black, holding a broom, with the cover title, “How to Fix America’s Schools,” set to look as though it’s the lesson for the day written on the blackboard. Framing her head is the huge “TIME” trademark. She is Michelle Rhee, Chancellor of Education, District of Columbia Public Schools. And the question for the “class” is, Does she have the answer to America’s failing public school systems? Is it, finally, time to make the kinds of sweeping changes that she represents?

Her goal’s clear, “To make Washington the highest-performing urban school district in the nation” [1]. The yardstick is a simple one: reading and math scores on standardized achievement tests. And her formula’s just as simple: reward teachers who can help her reach her goal and get rid of the ones who can’t.

time_mag_cover_dec8This unflinching focus, she says, places the student’s best interest at the forefront of schools. Higher scores will eventually translate to college degrees and better jobs, which are the tickets out of poverty, discrimination, and all the other social ills.

The underlying assumption is that all students can significantly improve their scores IF they have teachers [1] who are willing to set that as the primary goal and do everything it takes to reach it. In this picture, there is absolutely no room for failure. Little or no gain in scores is a sign of failure, and failure means a quick exit from the teaching profession. When student success is weighed against teacher security, there is no issue. Tenure is a dead horse. For teachers, the decision is a simple one, too: Deliver higher scores or get out.

“She is angry at a system of education that puts ‘the interests of adults’ over the ‘interests of children,’ i.e., a system that values job protection for teachers over their effectiveness in the classroom. Rhee is trying to change that system” [2].

What about the gray area, the affective dimensions that defy objective measurement? Rhee says, “The thing that kills me about education is that it’s so touchy-feely. . . . People say, ‘Well, you know, test scores don’t take into account creativity and the love of learning.’ . . . I’m like, ‘You know what? I don’t give a crap.’ Don’t get me wrong. Creativity is good and whatever. But if the children don’t know how to read, I don’t care how creative you are. You’re not doing your job” [1].

michelle_rhee01In pursuit of her goal, Rhee has the complete backing of D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, who appointed her chancellor in June 2007. “In her first 17 months on the job, Rhee closed 23 schools with low enrollment and overhauled 27 schools with poor academic achievement. She also fired more than 250 teachers and about one-third of the principals at the system’s 128 schools” [3].

Rhee scares the daylights out of me because she may very well be the wish that we’re warned to watch out for, the one that we might actually get. Now that we have someone with the power to really change the system, I suddenly have cold feet. Yes, she seems to make sense. Student achievement should take precedence over the needs of teachers. But are there other issues waiting below the surface that might just jump out and bite us if we follow Rhee?

For example, despite the radical nature of her approach, the bundle that we think of as “school” remains pretty much the same. The burden of accountability has shifted to the teacher, but the roles, resources, goals, and environment remain constant. Even pedagogy seems to be the same–more homework, more demanding tasks, more discipline, more testing. In other words, the same, but more of it.

One could argue that Rhee’s changes don’t go far enough and need to include innovations in information technology. There’s the possibility that these innovations could enhance learning by dramatically altering schools as we know them without some of the harsher consequences that seem to be a part of Rhee’s strategy.

Another issue is the effectiveness of strategies that Rhee lumps into the category of “touchy-feely.” Are these affective, student-centered, holistic, indirect methods proven ineffective? Or are they, perhaps, just as if not more effective than Rhee’s hard-nosed direct approach? Are we ready to toss these out as useless?

Yet another issue is the similarity of Rhee’s model to test-oriented systems in Asia. Is Rhee simply transporting a traditional model from China, India, Japan, and South Korea to the U.S.? If yes, then are there consequences that we need to be aware of?

Finally, are we beginning to draw a line between schools in general and poor urban schools in particular? A line that requires a radically different approach for the latter? Are we bending to the notion that schools not only can be but should be different for resource-poor inner-city schools? If this is the case, then could we be developing a system that channels or tracks children into careers at an early age, forever excluding college for many in favor of technical training? This could result in a form of economic and racial discrimination with far-reaching consequences.

In conclusion, my initial reaction is that Rhee’s ideas sound good, but I’m not quite ready to dump what we have now for an approach that we haven’t fully discussed or studied. At this juncture, an open discussion about the implications of Rhee’s tactics may be in order. I’m sure there are many other issues at stake. Thus, please share your thoughts with us. Either post them as comments to this article or email them to me at jamess@hawaii.edu

(Note: For a quick background, see Amanda Ripley’s “Rhee Tackles Classroom Challenge” [26 Nov. 2008] at Time.com and Thomas, Conant, and Wingert’s “An Unlikely Gambler” [23 Aug. 2008, from the magazine issue dated 1 Sep. 2008] at Newsweek.com. Finally, go to YouTube and do a search on “michelle rhee” for lists of videos.)

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