Tag Archives: learning

Technology is not Additive; it’s Ecological

I have recently been hired as the K-12 Technology Coordinator at Ruamrudee International School in Thailand. I prepared a vision for technology in education that has seen it’s fair share of revisions and reflections. I share it now, for the first time. I use technology because history has showed me that the brightest minds in the world have embraced technology for it’s practical application. I’m sure the late Neil Postman would agree that people should know a few things about technology.

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Education in the 21st century

Education in the 21st century is transforming at an unprecedented rate of change because the needs of learners have shifted toward skills that embody innovation and human experience. I see technology as a historical common phenomena that has peripherally (and continually) shaped the way people view themselves and the world around them. Science, travel, and commerce have evolved (while pushing boundaries) due to the simple implementation of a better, more sophisticated tool which has in turn accommodated progress and collective understanding. We are in a unique time in education and 2012 will most likely be a tipping year as tighter budgets and greater accountability force teachers into adopting new and better tools of instruction.

There is no escaping from ourselves. The human dilemma is as it has always been, and it is a delusion to believe that the technological changes of our era have rendered irrelevant the wisdom of the ages and the sages.

As a student of history, I have always shaped my understanding of human experience around three essential relationships: people’s relationship to their environment, to other humans, and to powerful ideas that have resonance and meaning. Human experience underlies all that we do as educators in preparing students for active participation in a global society. My vision for technology stems from my thinking about what I do as an educator in meeting the needs of my students. But I am not really supporting any real change if I am attempting to change the broken system called formal learning.

I believe:

1. The most up to date information is only accessible in real time. People are at a disadvantage when their information in outdated. This disadvantage can have a range of repercussions; more importantly, the formal learner must be equipped with the understanding of how to navigate the information available, appropriately use the information, and share their use with others.

2. The role of the teacher has shifted  to that of the learner, facilitator, and approximately nineteen other roles. Embracing the 21 roles of the teacher is an initial step toward identifying the value of new tools and ways of thinking in traditional classrooms.

3. Changing roles means changing personal/group habits, temporal/spatial structures, and (wait for it…..) philosophies.  If a teacher has not changed/modified their own philosophy, then everything else would be meaning less and lack motivation. Decision making demands input from all stakeholders regarding schedules, space, collaborative planning time, and data-driven instruction.

4. Former CEO of General Electric Jack Welch wrote, “If the rate of change outside an institution is faster than inside an institution, that institution is in peril.”  Here is the call for adoption of more progressive blueprints of instruction. Curricula are the most important factor in the success of learner. Good curricula makes a bad teacher effective, bad curriculum makes a good teacher ineffective. The call is for internal and external collaboration to streamline, implement, and celebrate mastery learning which is supported by innovative vehicles of social media and rapid communication

5. The commitment must be made institutionally and then recruit personnel that share the same values and vision. School leaders need to ask the right questions of their prospective hires and support a program of mutual sharing, collegiality, and celebration. I believe that traditional mindsets and external pressures weaken commitment to meeting students needs of the 21st century. I asked a Superintendent of a top school in NY if there were plans in his school to initiate a laptop/1:1 program and he cringed communicating the a general fear that students would misuse the computers. I believe that on many occasions we are only limited by our own thinking in what can be accomplished. It is criminal to pass this mindset onto the next generation.

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Technology in Education

Technology in Education should be explored and implemented to its innovative ends! Implementation of a one to one program requires appropriately support for effective use of the tool. While technology opens so many opportunities, I also believe that it is too often viewed as an end in itself rather than a means to an end—or both! Should technology simply replace all aspects of education for the sake of innovation? Who could propose such a preposterous measure? While teaching requires current instruments and connectivity to students, not all current instruments and student connectivity is enhanced by technology.  Like all good things in life, technology is yet another element to examine with an eye for balance. There is great educational and developmental value in students flexing such a critical eye on technology resources, determining effective and ineffective uses of technology in education and in life. There are a number of ethical issues just surfacing regarding technological innovations—issues of ethics that are far less supported by decades of moral and human values. These issues offer an opportunity for students to truly construct parameters for real-life ethical issues regarding how people use technology in the world, ultimately enhancing social awareness through the critical eyes of multiple students. My vision is that technology supports all three aspects of the human experience believing that teachers must evaluate the quality of their instruction through reflection and augmentation of the following:

  • Environment
  • Human interaction
  • Ideas

1. The focus is not technology integration, but transformation of the system based upon  connectivity, collaboration, communication, collegiality, community, and celebration. All words that start with the letter “C.”  The thinking that I support is one of personalized learning that  enables each student to take a customized path toward meeting high level standards. Flexible uses of time and space allow differentiated approaches to content, assessment, pacing, and learning style. This level of personalization, when combined with world-class standards, performance-based assessment, anytime/anywhere learning, deep student engagement and agency, and a comprehensive system of supports, is referred to as next generation learning (NGL); I whole-heartedly endorse choice in learning. This is how people refine their ability to dialogue, crowd source authentic problems, and innovate.

2. My vision supports an increasing emphasis upon practical and philosophical use of social media through pedagogy and project-based tasks that support a wide-range of 21st century literacies.  Everyone blogs in school and the blogs become a digital portfolio that allow for practicing of curation, construction, and written reflection. All important literacies can be supported and student writing will flourish through appropriate feedback. Institutionally, we shall support the Creative Commons mentality of sharing with proper attribution, while simultaneously contributing to specific learning communities. All teachers will develop a personal learning network for on-going professional development that continuously shares new resources and approaches while challenging existing thinking.

3. An emphasis on fast connectivity along with digital and technical support that minimizes breakdowns in classroom instruction and communication. Let’s double the bandwidth every year! Lets have a tech team within sections that have members representing each department. Super fast connectivity is vital for the uploading of media and information. I would like to see a schools become think tanks and centers of inquiry, where the intellectual challenges are practical and put the learner inside the dilemmas. New types of courses will emerge that will not only pique interest, but will require guest speakers, large amounts of data collection and storage, and creativity. Mental associations are the stuff of creativity and people must be given opportunities to be cognitively challenged.

4. Broadcasting & Vertical Initiatives will be much more pervasive in the future. Skill sets will become much more specialized and so a tiered system of service will most likely emerge. The best skill sets will earn premium wages for services. However, the services will stille be in great demand with the opportunities left available for those below the most sought after quite substantial. In addition, broadcasting will be far more reaching with specialization in a diverse and varied number of subjects. People will come to accept information from specific broadcast sources (youtube channels come to mind here), while the natural synthesis of ideas, interests, and subjects will create enormous opportunities for new areas of thought, exploration, and design. School wide programming where a common theme is shared and used to drive creative productivity and collaboration can happen with much more frequency in a connected learning environment where the school values are emphasized, supported, and aligned.

5. Ambitious Exploration and Experimentation should be encouraged and supported when ever possible. Teachers should feel free to try new methods and approaches to instruction if the methods emphasize challenging but engaging tasks. There are those that feel that some cultures do not embrace risk-taking, however that is a very subjective term. Anything novel requires some risk, other wise it would not be a challenge. There is a implied responsibility to address the needs of the whole student and experimentation and exploration are specific habits of mind that are generally valued by groups. I have blogged on this idea before but I am entirely certain that there must be opportunities throughout formal education for students to not only choose what they want to learn, but also plan how they will learn it. That is a pretty ambitious experiment for any teacher. The next generation of teacher should be able to integrate content, pedagogy, and technology CREATIVELY.

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It doesn’t matter if it is five, ten, or one hundred years, the developing mind will require a structure of learning that has leverage, is relevant, and is enduring. I will wager 50 bajillion Schrute Bucks that will include technology because technology has leverage, is always relevant, and seems to always pop up in the historical record as a major agent of change. Technology is not additive-it is ecological.

In short, we must prepare learners to critically embrace their futures, not our pasts!

The Psychology Behind Reverse Instruction

You have no idea

It is not a secret that reverse instruction alters the traditional landscape of education. I mean, what kind of teacher just assumes that a video or screen cast can effectively deliver instruction the way a trained professional can? What happened to the human element in education? Are teachers an endangered species as a result of reverse instruction?  Will Khan Academy threaten my future?

Please! Where do these irrational questions come from? Are teachers predisposed to the role of devil’s advocate? The first understanding of this approach in education is that it is not very innovative or revolutionary. I teach high school aged students and my colleagues would agree that at some point these learners must begin developing habits that allow them to be responsible for their own learning. Actually, in the 21st century, it is earlier than high school. Try Kindergarten.  What I find most practical is that reverse instruction acknowledges the transformation of what we used to value in education (knowledge) to what the world values (information).  Technology may have enhanced and facilitated the forms and resources for learning, but the Socratic method is quite alive in the flipped classroom. The best part of the flip, hands down, is that the students can finally drive the class.


The Flipped Classroom Model Full Approach


I teach IB Psychology and some of the concepts and theories students must master in the course are quite sophisticated. Schema Theory particularly can blow your mind. The cognition necessary to build conceptual understanding cannot be derived from someone else’s mind. The brain doesn’t work that way. It is impossible to share a mental framework with another student and thus “plant” information in their minds (I also don’t believe narratives do this, but they are entertaining). Reverse instruction of sophisticated material requires student engagement and inquiry. The in-class agenda becomes predominantly deep discussion with Q & A time allowed.  In-class activities can engage students in research, organization, and further extensions of the learning with emphasis on the specific meaning connected to the information. This is the flipped classroom: jumping “head first” into a new and interesting concept, while the teacher “life guard” throws the life line when necessary. I cannot lecture on notes, I cannot present lectures embedded into power points. That is a waste of time and the learning moment is seriously marginalized.  Interestingly, I suppose it doesn’t matter if the students utilize videos, notes, articles, textbook; what matters is how those students are expected to relate to the information. What they need is an essential question to guide their understanding outside of class so that they do not lose focus. Once in class, their responses can be challenged or shared. Ultimately, the classroom experience should allow for thinking time, peer reflection/discussion time, creative activities, and student feedback. It would be difficult to schedule these important experiences in a forty minute lecture.

If you have an hour of time, it may be worth it to listen to Eric Mazur discuss how moving away from lecture has transformed his teaching.
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 Psychology & Reverse Instruction

I feel there is some sound psychology at play in reverse instruction.  Cognitive and behavioral sciences have elicited a number of interesting ideas about learning, decision making, and motivation:

  • I think the motivation factor is one easily addressed in reverse instruction, particularly if there is variety in the forms of resources and reasonable time expectations. I also believe that if students actually feel more confident about their cognition, then they will try more difficult tasks and become better at self-regulation, abilities inherent in not just academic success, but future success.
  • Moving from conventional to conceptual understanding does not happen in lecture. It comes from time and attention, deep processing, and articulation.  Importantly, when students do well with conceptual problems, they do well with conventional problems. This cognitive effort works the slow thinking system that is less intuitive and demands more information and time.
  • A major part of the flipped classroom should engage students in abstract and integrative thought processes. Mental models of information and associative memory are extremely vital to success. In fact, creativity has once been described as “associative memory – that works extremely well.” Creativity and systematic understanding can be fostered through inquiry and constructive (or connective) activities. Teachers can facilitate a classroom that move away from favoring cognitive ease by giving less of the information and providing more of the challenge.
  • Teachers should train students to self-prime for their individual self study. Priming techniques are powerful, yet can be extremely subtle. Experiments have shown that simple visuals or words can prepare the mind to learn or behave in particular way. Using priming in reverse instruction significantly enhances the students engagement outside of the classroom.

Reverse instruction also conditions learners to build organizational skills, seek help and assistance, and construct their own personal learning environment. Technology has greatly facilitated learners by allowing them to crowd source information (like using wiki’s or sites), apply and construct visuals that enhance understanding, and share those materials with others. I feel that if teachers communicate the value of using information over  the acquisition of knowledge, then learners will seriously reexamine their roles and responsibilities.  With reverse instruction, what we really expect are students that perform at a high level, not regress to the mean, as so often happens when certain units favor their abilities or piques their interests.

In the end this is about good pedagogy. When the brain learns something new the first time, there is a lot of work involved in regard to neural activity. Anyone who learns something new (a procedure, information, language) must devote an appropriate amount of time and attention to that new learning.  That makes the learning part of education quite difficult. In the words of High school chemistry teacher Ramsey Musallam ,

 “Good teaching, regardless of discipline and age, should always limit passive transfer of knowledge in class, and promote learning environments built on the tenants of inquiry, collaboration and critical thinking.”

This doesn’t sound like reverse instruction, but forward instruction. As for the questions at the beginning of the post,  isn’t exaggeration a truly wonderful literary device.


For more on the flipped classroom check out the following resources and articles:

Should you Flip your Classroom?

Flipped Classroom Livebinder