Teaching with Technology: Passion, Scholarship, and a Leap of Faith

Bonnie BraceyBy Bonnie Bracey Sutton
Editor, Policy Issues

I always liked that discussion about the body falling down the stairs and how it looked from various perspectives. I consider myself a change agent and that got me called into the office, moved from school to school, and actually allowed me to work for the President of the United States.

The answer is not on the page

KidsNetwork National Geographic and the laser disk programs I had (old technology) made me think in new ways, especially when the kids wanted to know why they couldn’t use the technology that I was using, computers, digital cameras, story boxes, etc. With laser disks, you could capture frames and create presentations. I also had a lumaphone from Hawaii somewhere, and we could see the people we talked to. This was revolutionary. You know what? Even though that stuff is old hat and we have moved on, there are people still looking for the answer on the page.

So what changed was me. I was not looking for the answer on the page. The kids were free to think, read, and use other sources. Dr. Hilda Taba did this without the technology. She used pictures. But that was way before the Internet. There have always been people seeking to create change. Change is chaos to many and quite frightful.

Perhaps you used to be a teacher and you learned what was in the book, so you dropped the book or lost it — easily replaceable — and you could look every kid in the eye while standing your ground. It takes courage to do anything else. I don’t believe I know how classroom management is taught for computer use, nor do I know how people estimate the variables of change over populations not used to being given permission to think, explore, search. That’s a whole discussion for another day.

How do you manage different populations of students using technology?

I learned classroom management for technology through NASA and National Geographic. The Challenger Center and various groups demonstrated and taught as much as they could about different approaches. Earthwatch did some of this too. Everything you teach is not going to be interesting, but there are different ways of teaching.

I made up my own matrix, a game, some books, a classroom display and resources, a field trip, and local and international resources. But I can cheat because I live in Washington, D.C. What expert is not available to me? What gadgets and gizmos, intriguing laser disk lollipops, giant insects, lizards walking on water, astronauts coming in to tell kids how they got started? With the magic of multimedia, though, you can have access to the things that go on in D.C. In fact, most of this stuff have migrated to the web. Now the problem is that there is too much information and too many things to do, and someone has to make choices.

I used the standards that I knew, and the students and I would apply them in reviews of their individual and group projects. Not hard to do except for the first time. I sent home the objectives I wanted to accomplish at the start of every big unit. A mistake?

No. Three things happened. Parents who could help, did. Parents who did not understand or know about the topics asked to come in to learn it and help me. (That was scary, at first.) Kids who were not in my class, unfortunately, wanted in on some of the action. You can see how I was a nuisance.

We did the Challenger Center’s Marsville project in my class. I asked other teachers to be a part of it, but they refused. At that time, I almost had an accident while going home. As I rounded the curve in the neighborhood, I saw a giant Marsville that my kids had built for their friends.

Teaching as a passion

For social studies and geography, I did a study of the Chesapeake Bay, the great shell bay. The Fish and Wildlife Service helped me with field trips; National Geographic had a video and lesson plans, and the map was wonderful. We read sections of the book Chesapeake and learned more than the three paragraphs in the social studies book. We knew the history, the science of the estuaries that lead to the sea, and we seined for crabs, did water turbidity and salinity studies, and examined microscopic organisms. Click here for the lab part — where I work.

school children using microscopes

One teacher told me that when they decide how to do technology and get it right, she would make an effort to learn. I suppose she is still waiting. Another teacher I knew watched me and asked to be a part of the project. So we worked together. This woman was such a good teacher that we joked she could teach the dead to read and write. No kidding, she could get a child up to grade level in about a year. Immigrant kids.


Deloris Davis. What she did was not to do all the work. We had a parent committee who did most of it for us. I never thought of that.

Teachers in Hawaii — I went there to learn about the long canoes. I have a friend from New Zealand who is a book publisher. I studied Hawaii, the islands, and the history in depth because if you are a National Geographic trained teacher that’s what you do.

Lately there is always more to learn

So there is Web 2.0 and the new Blooms Digital Technology and TPACK. You can see why teachers who are used to a book might run screaming from the room.

In Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century, Henry Jenkins talks about the new skills:

  • Play— the capacity to experiment with one’s surroundings as a form of problem-solving
  • Performance— the ability to adopt alternative identities for the purpose of improvisation and discovery
  • Simulation— the ability to interpret and construct dynamic models of real-world processes
  • Appropriation— the ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content
  • Multitasking— the ability to scan one’s environment and shift focus as needed to salient details.
  • Distributed Cognition— the ability to interact meaningfully with tools that expand mental capacities
  • Collective Intelligence— the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others toward a common goal
  • Judgment— the ability to evaluate the reliability and credibility of different information sources
  • Transmedia Navigation— the ability to follow the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities
  • Networking— the ability to search for , synthesize , and disseminate information
  • Negotiation— the ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives , and grasping and following alternative norms.

The school system did not like National Geographic, NASA, Discovery Channel, and others coming into my classroom to film because it made the other teachers feel bad. The teachers did not want to do the work, which I understood. Converting to technology is no easy task. It requires more than a leap of faith and a loss of total control, in some ways, of the classroom. It requires scholarship, diligence, and willingness to learn, and it also takes an inordinate amount of time. Few people appreciate that.

But it also leads to better classroom work. I was invited to leave teaching with early retirement and a bonus. Innovation and that kind of thing was not amusing to the school system where I worked even if I had worked for the President — which seems to have made it worse.

I was not a prima donna or a diva either. I simply love teaching.

Meet the Endless Summer – A Review of ED-MEDIA 2009

Stefanie_Panke80By Stefanie Panke
Editor, Social Software in Education

The 21st annual World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia & Telecommunications (ED-MEDIA) attracted 1200 participants from 65 countries. A diverse crowd, including K-12 teachers, university faculty members, researchers, software developers, instructional designers, administrators and multimedia authors, came together at the Sheraton Waikiki Hotel from the 22nd to 26th of June with a common goal: to share the latest ideas on e-learning and e-teaching in various educational settings and at the same time enjoy the aloha spirit of tropical Oahu, Hawaii.

Organized by the Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE), the annual conference takes place at varying locations in the US, Europe and Canada. Thanks to funding by the German Academic Exchange Agency, I was able to join my colleagues in Hawaii to present two current research projects on social tagging and blended learning and en passant absorb the international flair and information overflow that go together with a packed conference program.


The attendees experienced a full program. In addition to various invited lectures, 210 full papers and 235 brief papers were presented, complemented by numerous symposiums, round tables, workshops and an extensive poster session. The conference proves to be exceedingly competitive with an acceptance ratio for full paper submissions of 37%, and 56% for brief papers. Eleven submissions were honored with an outstanding paper award. My favorite was the work of Grace Lin and Curt Bonk on the community Wikibooks, which can be downloaded from their project page.

Beginning with Hawaiian chants to welcome the participants at the official conference opening and the local adage that “the voice is the highest gift we can give to other people,” audio learning and sonic media formed a recurring topic. The keynote of Tara Brabazon challenged the widely held perception that “more media are always better media” and argued for carefully developed sonic material as a motivating learning format. She illustrated her point with examples and evaluation results from a course on methods of media research (see YouTube excerpt below). Case study reports from George Washington University and Chicago’s DePaul University on iTunesU raised questions about the integration into learning management systems, single-sign-on-procedures and access management.

Among the invited lectures, I was particularly interested in the contribution of New York Times reporter Alex Wright, who reflected upon the history of hypertext. The author’s web site offers further information on The Web that Wasn’t. Alan Levine, vice-president of the Austin based New Media Consortium, clearly was the darling of the audience. Unfortunately, his talk took place in parallel to my own presentation on social tagging, but Alan has created a web site with his slides and hyperlink collection that gives a vivid overview on “50+ Web 2.0 ways to tell a story.”

A leitmotif of several keynotes was the conflict between open constructivist learning environments on one side versus instructional design models and design principles derived from cognitive psychology on the other. Stephen Downes advocated the learning paradigm of connectivism and praised self-organized learning networks that provide, share, re-use and re-arrange content. For those interested in further information on connectivism, an open content class starts in August 2009. This radical turn to free flowing, egalitarian knowledge networks was not a palatable idea for everyone. As an antagonist to Downes, David Merrill presented his “Pebble in the Pond” instructional design model that — similar to “ADDIE” (analysis, design, development, implementation, evaluation) — foresees clear steps and predictable learning outcomes. Tom Reeves, in turn, dedicated his keynote to a comprehensive criticism of multimedia principles derived from the cognitive load theory, picking up on an article by Kirschner, Sweller & Clark (2006), “Why Minimal Guidance Does Not Work . . . .” The audience, in particular the practitioners, reacted to this debate true to the Goethe verse “Prophet left, prophet right, the world child in the middle.” As Steve Swithenby, director of the Centre for Open Learning of Mathematics at Open University (UK) posted in the ED-MEDIA blog: “Well, actually, I want to do both and everything in between. I can’t see that either is the pattern for future learning – both are part of the ways in which learning will occur.”

With blog, twitter feed, flickr group and ning community, the conference was ringing with a many-voiced orchestra of social software tools. Gary Marks, member of the AACE international headquarters and initiator of the new ED-MEDIA community site, announced that he has planned several activities to foster interaction. So far, however, the few contributions are dedicated to potential leisure activities on Hawaii. The presentation “Who We Are” by Xavier Ochoa, Gonzalo Méndez, and Erik Duval offered a review on existing community ties of ED-MEDIA through a content analysis of paper submissions from the last 10 years. An interactive representation of the results is available online.

Twitter seems to have developed into a ubiquitous companion of conference talks. Whether the short messages add to the academic discourse and democratize ex cathedra lectures or divert the attention from the presenter, replacing substance with senseless character strings, is a controversial discussion. Accordingly, twitter received mixed responses among the conference attendees and presenters. In the end, 180 users joined the collective micro-blogging and produced approximately 2500 postings — an overview may be found at Twapper. As a follow-up to this year’s ED-MEDIA, participants were invited to take part in an online survey, designed by the Austrian/German twitter research duo Martin Ebner and Wolfgang Reinhardt. The results will hopefully further the understanding of the pros and cons of integrating microblogging in e-learning conference events.

The AACE used ED-MEDIA as an occasion to announce plans for future growth. Already responsible for three of the largest world-wide conferences on teaching and learning (ED-MEDIA, E-LEARN and SITE), the organization extends its catalog with two new formats. A virtual conference called GlobalTime will make its debut in February 2011. Additionally, the new face-to-face conference GlobalLearn targets the Asian and Pacific regions.

Is ED-MEDIA worth a visit? The sheer size of the event leads to a great breadth of topics, which often obstructs an in-depth discussion of specific issues. At the same time, there is no better way to gain an overview of multiple current trends in compact form. Another plus, all AACE conference contributions are accessible online through the Education and Information Technology Library. The next ED-MEDIA will take place in Toronto, Canada, from June 28 to July 2, 2010.