MATTHEW M. JACKSON
THE DIGITAL COMPUTER CLASSROOM:
COLLABORATION IN ACTION

  • Introduction
  • Literature Review
  • Cycle 1
  • Cycle 2
  • Cycle 3
  • Final Reflection
  • References
  • Blogs
  • Full Report

The Digital Computer Classroom: Collaboration in Action

I sought to focus this year on providing technical expertise to a history teacher to increase collaboration among his students in AP American History.  My idea was to create a Digital Computer Classroom for teachers to work in, as well as to increase student participation and motivation. Traditional classrooms are teacher-centered both in physical layout as well as teaching style.  Mr. Lawson had previous experience with his class using computers and found students more engaged than in previous years.  This year, I reconstructed the classroom from straight rows of computers all facing the instructor into a seminar style layout, similar to a Harkness table.  Students now could see one another as well as the teacher. 

Through the use of technology, the instructor is connected to each student’s machine via Apple’s Remote Desktop Software.  Now each student can be directly responsible for dissemination of information gleaned through research.  The addition of Google Documents and Spreadsheets have allowed for increased student collaboration during and outside of class.  The students are now building knowledge three dimensionally – aurally (through lecture), visually (through online research) and kinesthetically (critiquing others work in the collaborative document).

I have been incredibly excited. E ach time I enter class with Mr. Lawson, we encounter new ways to engage students in collaboration. When I think of collaboration, I immediately think of jazz.  Jazz is America’s one truly original art form and defines us as a people, and as such provides a backdrop for how we live together, work together and, more importantly, how we learn together. Oscar Peterson, noted jazz pianist is quoted as saying “It's the group sound that's important, even when you're playing a solo. You not only have to know your own instrument, you must know the others and how to back them up at all times. That's jazz.” Jazz is collaboration at its best!

In constructing my lit review, I sought to focus on the theory of constructivism and its role in the classroom. Technology has the potential to transform education, not just by providing students with an opportunity to learn the tools of the modern workplace (Suthers, Toth, and Weiner, 1997), but also when combined with collaborative student inquiry, technology has the potential to change how students learn. Technology and the increase of Web 2.0 tools have made the classroom experience far richer and more engaging. The shift in focus from teacher- centered learning to student- centered learning has been remarkable. I'm excited that more and more teachers are beginning to take on this model as a means of reaching all types of learners. Surprisingly, there are still students who want to be given the answer, and then they only want to know what they will be tested on. I continue to try to find ways to engage this type of student through the use of technology.

Building Knowledge Structures

The collaborative teaching process has been greatly enhanced through use of technology, and creating a technological environment for teachers to work in will be at the heart of the discussion.  Technological advancements in schools do not change schools; curriculum, materials, and teacher development must change along with the method that instruction is carried out (Wiske, 2000).  To analyze effectively the impact of technology on the collaborative process, four key areas need to be addressed: 1) the theory of constructionism needs to be established; 2) technologically enhanced learning environments must be addressed; 3) cooperative and competitive learning environments will be discussed; 4) finally, the idea of collaborative inquiry and the impact on student-centered learning.


Constructionism

Constructionism proposes that learning is an active process where learners are actively engaged in the world around them.  Seymour Papert, in his book Constructionism: A New Opportunity for Elementary Science Education , defined constructionism as

… a mnemonic for two aspects of the theory of science education underlying this project. From constructivist theories of psychology we take a view of learning as a reconstruction rather than as a transmission of knowledge. Then we extend the idea of manipulative materials to the idea that learning is most effective when part of an activity the learner experiences as constructing a meaningful product. (1986)

The idea of constructionism provides the backbone for collaborative inquiry as well as cooperative and competitive learning environments.

Children want to learn by doing--where they synthesize their own understanding,-usually based on trying things out. Learning becomes experiential (Tapscott, 1998).  This idea is at the heart of constructionist theory; technology changes the way people teach and learn (Rosenfeld, 2008), and what will now drive a classroom is less of the teacher and more of the student. Traditionally, American classrooms have placed greater emphasis on rote memorization and less on concepts and underlying principles (Wiske, 2008). Technology helps students find answers to their questions quickly and easily using online sources; when students take an active role in their learning, it frees up teachers to be facilitators of knowledge (Rosenfeld, 2008).

When teachers become facilitators of knowledge, the existing paradigm of traditional classrooms begins to be swept away. The teacher gives up the role of information giver, where knowledge flows only well in one direction, and adopts the idea of shared knowledge, where the teacher still has vital knowledge about content and skills and disseminates information to students.. When knowledge is viewed in terms of personal experiences, language, strategies, and the varied cultures students bring with them,  students and their interactions become a valuable resource (Tinzmann, Jones, Fennimore, Bakker, Fine, and Pierce, 1990).

It is critical, that the shift from teacher-centered classrooms to learner-centered classrooms does not presuppose that the teacher is less important. On the contrary, the teacher is a vital part of the learner-centered classroom and critical for structuring the learning experience. (Tapscott, 1998).   If teacher and students work together to coordinate a learning experience, the roles of teacher and student become more flexible; they become co-participants in the exchange of information so much so that students begin to act as teachers themselves (Ligorio, Cesareni and Schwartz, 2008). The structure of a learner-centered classroom enabled individuals in that context to acquire deeper and better understanding of each other, and the transactions within the group reach reached more complex levels of intersubjectivity leading to greater level levels of comprehension and awareness (Ligorio, Cesareni and Schwartz, 2008).

The combination of teachers and students working together provides the backbone for collaborative classrooms. Collaborative teachers invite students to set goals, provide options, and they encourage students to assess what they learn. The collaborative environment encourages students to share their knowledge and learning strategies with each other and helps to foster a higher level of understanding (Tinzmann, Jones, Fennimore, Bakker, Fine, and Pierce, 1990).  Teachers further facilitated the collaborative learning process by providing a classroom with a diverse and flexible social structure that allows for appropriate indication and shared knowledge (Tinzmann, Jones, Fennimore, Bakker, Fine, and Pierce, 1990).
Technology, according to Jonassen, Peck, and Wilson (1999) refers to “the designs and environments that engage learners” (p. 12). The focus of both constructivism and technology are then on the creation of learning environments, and technology provides a vehicle for composting  constructivist-teaching practices (Nanjappa and Grant, 2003).  The relationship of constructivism and technology focuses on cognitive tools, the thinking process, and the role of the teacher in technology-enhanced environments.


Design of Technology Enhanced Environments

Technology has the potential to transform education, not just by providing students with an opportunity to learn the tools of the modern workplace, nor simply by automating aspects of  the educational process (Suthers, Toth, &Weiner, 1997), but educators now also have the opportunity to use technology to their advantage. The evolution of the personal computer allows for the engagement of learners in more meaningful ways. Learners can take on the role of educational designers, using technology to acquire information, analyze, organize, and synthesize their own personal knowledge; when they do this, students are able to share that knowledge with others quickly and easily (Nanjappa and Grant, 2003).

B. Keith Fulton, director of technology programs and policy for the U rban L eague advocated that the key to maximizing the potential of new technology is a well-trained teacher. “A teacher who is computer-experienced and who has training takes her students into hyper learning mode,” he claims, “while those without training are more likely to view the computer as a toy and surfing the Internet merely as a reward for good behavior, not an essential classroom tool” (McAdoo, Maisic).  The use of technology made learning a more interactive process, allowing teachers to use a variety of media to teach students in new and different ways (Rollins, Sami and Almeroth).  This is not to say that traditional lecture methods in classroom settings will be eliminated; however, technology can be used to create a more user friendly, learner- centered environment (Arbaugh, 2000).  The infusion of technology into the classroom was facilitated by constructivist-based activities such as collaboration and cooperation in groups, allowing for the construction of potential solutions to societal problems in a critical development of literacy skills and strategies (Nanjappa and Grant, 2003).  Enhanced collaboration has many benefits, such as; an opportunity for simultaneous participation provided by the medium of technology may eliminate a student’s need to compete for the recognition of the instructor and fellow students (Arbaugh, 2000).


Cooperative and Competitive Learning Environments

The collaborative classroom provides an opportunity for students to connect with one another, share information, challenge assumptions,, and gain knowledge. The intellectual strength of an entire class is far greater than the sum of its parts. The act of sharing knowledge-distributed cognition is at the heart of a collaborative classroom; students actively discover and understand information through reading and discussion. Knowledge is constructed and distributed through writing, problem solving, and active involvement. Active involvement means that students engage in higher order thinking, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation (Kao, Lin and Sun, 2008).  The synthesis of learned material is strengthened through the process of incorporating ideas from peers as well as personal reflection (Kao, Lin and Sun, 2008).  The sense of cooperation that is fostered in the collaborative work environment has the potential to make grading less threatening than the more traditional classrooms. Students evaluate their own knowledge from their experiences within the group evaluation (Tinzmann, Jones, Fennimore, Bakker, Fine and Pierce, 1990).

Students are often motivated by a sense of competition concerning their own individual learning assessment. Researchers Kao, Lin and Sun (2008) discovered that a cooperative-competitive learning strategy that effectuates both cooperation and competition yields greater intrinsic motivation among students. Within a constructivist classroom, the level of competition and cooperation demonstrated is fostered by the social and intellectual climate established by the teacher. In contrast, technology-enhanced classroom’s constructivist strategies harness problem-based inquiry where students begin to construct knowledge by linking new knowledge with previous knowledge (Nanjappa and Grant, 2003).


Collaborative Inquiry

A collaborative classroom is only as effective as the dialogue that takes place in the classroom. The most salient point is that in a collaborative classroom thinking is made public (Isenhour, Carroll, Neale Rosson, and Dunlap, 2000). Technology’s greatest value is to change the organization of classes from teacher-centered didactic instruction to student-centered collaborative inquiry (Suthers, Toth, and Weiner, 1997).  Students learn to conduct critical inquiry by being posed  real-world problems (Suthers, Toth, and Weiner, 1997). Collaborative teachers are now empowered to raise the level of discourse and interaction when a whole class engages in discussion.  No longer are rote memorization, constant review, drills, or pop quizzes functional methods of assessment. Open-ended questions, where discourse is expected and discussion encouraged, allow various points of view, as well as individual assessment of knowledge (Tinzmann, Jones, Fennimore, Bakker, Fine, and Pierce, 1990).  The crafting of ideas in the distribution of knowledge is now in the hands of the students; thus, empowering them to be responsible for their own learning.

Seymour Papert is quoted as saying, “T he scandal of education is that every time you teach something you deprive the child of the pleasure and the benefit of discovery.”  (Tapscott, 2008)  The collaborative classroom allows educators and students the freedom of discovery. Constructionist theory holds that learning is an active process and that acquiring knowledge through discovery is greater than the communication of knowledge via a third party. The use of technology in conjunction with a teacher as facilitator provides a structure for a collaborative classroom. Participants in the classroom are encouraged to be active learners through the collaborative inquiry process. Properly designed technology effectively supports a collaborative process (Suthers, Toth, and Weiner, 1997).  Technology and a constructivist approach are not contrary in nature. Computers are not just merely to deliver facts; nor are students just a means to deliver facts. Rather, we should view students and technology as instruments to collaboratively question and cooperatively learn.

Summary

I have been incredibly excited over the course of the first three months of school. Each time I enter class with Mr. Lawson we encounter new ways to engage students in collaboration. In constructing my lit review I sought to focus on the theory of constructivism and its role in the classroom. Technology has the potential to transform education, not just by providing students with an opportunity to learn the tools of the modern workplace (Suthers, Toth, and Weiner, 1997), but when combined with collaborative student inquiry, technology has the potential to change how students learn. Technology and the increase of Web 2.0 tools have made the classroom experience far richer and more engaging. The shift in focus from teacher centered learning to student- centered learning has been remarkable. I am excited that more and more teachers are beginning to take on this model as a means of reaching all types of learners. Surprisingly, there are still students who want to be given the answer, and then only want to know what they will be tested on. I continue to try to find ways to engage this type of student through the use of technology.

Throughout the sources I consulted, I have noted an important theme; technology when used effectively in the classroom, gives  students the opportunity to stretch their minds and think outside the box. This requires a teacher to give up a certain level of control over  what students learn-- not how they learn but what they learn. The transformation in the amount of knowledge that students are able to glean from overriding these sources in a short period of time speaks well to the power of collaboration and group success.

References

Arbaugh, J.B. (2000) Virtual Classroom Versus Physical Classroom: An Exploratory Study of Class

Discussion Patterns and Student Learning and Asynchronous Internet-Based MBA Course, Journal

of Management Education, Vol. 24, No. 2, 213-233.

Isenhour, Philip L., Carroll, John M., Neale, Dennis C., Rosson Mary Beth, & Dunlap, Daniel R. (2000)

The Virtual School: An Integrated Collaborative Environment for the Classroom, Journal of

Educational Technology and Society 3(3), 1-18.

Kao, Gloria,Yi-Ming, Lin, Sunny S.J., & Sun Chuen-Tsai (2008) Beyond Sharing: Engaging Students in

Cooperative and Competitive Active Learning, Journal of Educational Technology and Society 11(3), 82-96.

Ligorio, M. Beatrice, Cesareni, Donatella, & Schwartz, Neil (2008) Collaborative Virtual Environments as

Means to Increase the Level of Intersubjectivity in a Distributed Cognition System, Journal of

Research on Technology in Education, Vol. 40,Iss. 3 339 -351.

McAdoo, Maisic, The Real Digital Divide: Quality Not Quantity.


Nanjappa, Aloka and Grant, Michael M. (2003) Constructing on Constructivism: The Role of Technology.

Journal for the Integration of Technology in Education, 38-56.

Rollins, Sami & Almeroth, Kevin (2000) Deploying an Infrastructure for Technologically Enhanced

Learning, 1-6.

Rollins, Sami & Almeroth, Kevin (2004) Lessons Learned Deploying a Digital Classroom, Journal of

Interactive Learning Research 15(2), 169 -185.

Rosenfeld, Barbara (2008) The Challenges of Teaching with Technology From Computer Idiocy to

Computer Competence, International Journal of Instructional Media, Vol. 35(2), 157-166.

Suthers, Daniel, D., Toth, Eva Erdosne, & Weiner, Arlene (1997) An Integrated Approach to Implementing

Collaborative Inquiry in the Classroom, Learning Research and Development Center, University of

Pittsburgh, 1-8.

Tapscott, Don (1998) Growing Up Digital: The Rise of the Net Generation, 1-11.

Tinzmann, M.B., Jones, B.F., Fennimore, T.F., Bakker, J, Fine, C, & Pierce, J. (1990) What Is The

Collaborative Classroom? North Central Regional Educational Laboratory, 1-12.

Whiske, Stone A New Culture of Teaching for 21st Century, 69-77.


Cycle One Report

Overall Research Question
How do I increase collaboration amongst humanities students in using technology?

Description of action:

Research question
If I rearrange the layout of the computers onto tables with two computers to a table, will this increase the level of cooperation when students are asked to do a task that requires them to work together?

The action that I chose to study was the redesign of the layout of the classroom; my assumption was that placing students side-by-side would increase collaboration in class by allowing conversation, discussion, and interdependence. A typical social science classroom has rows of chairs all facing the front of the room where the teacher looks out over the students.  The redesigned classroom is in the Harkness table model (an oval/rectangular shape), allowing all the students to see one another, as well as the instructor.


Harkness 
Harkness Table

The Harkness Tables were developed at Phillips Exeter Academy in the early 1930 after a monetary donation from John Harkness.  Harkness’ vision was to have "a classroom where students could sit around a table with a teacher who would talk with them and instruct them by a sort of tutorial or conference method, where each student would feel encouraged to speak up. This would be a real revolution in methods."  This Harkness table model is used in many of the classrooms on campus in English, History and Humanities classrooms.  I spoke with several teachers who are now using the Harkness table in their daily teaching and received excellent feedback on the table and method of teaching. In response to the question: H ow has the table affected your teaching?   The answer was, “The table has affected my teaching positively by removing me more often from the spotlight; I've thrown out the spotlight, I lecture much less, and it's now easier to make the students work harder than I do once we get going. They become more responsible for what goes on around the table.” Additionally, “What change have you noticed in your students? “Sitting with my students in the round tends to level the playing field so students feel freer to offer opinions. More and more they direct their comments to one another, instead of to me, so the exchanges are more democratic. Because I try to ‘ disappear’ at times, the boys must generate discussion or nothing will happen. And I've discovered that they are uncomfortable if nothing happens.” These comments show the strength of the Harkness-style model.

My interaction with my colleague began over a year ago when he began to use a computer classroom to conduct his classes as a result of classroom space issues.  Mr. Lawson began to teach AP US History differently in 2007-2008; the initial structure of his class had students seated around the room at computer terminals around the room with their backs facing the instructor. The class began with an essential question posed by Mr. Lawson to the students; they were to research the topic using the school’s electronic databases as well as any resources they could find from the Internet.  Students would then e-mail their responses to Mr. Lawson; he would compile them into a document to be projected on to a screen in the front of the classroom.  Discussion would begin with the students analyzing responses of their classmates and seeking a consensus answer on that particular topic.  After observing his classroom, I believed that a redesign of the room would facilitate greater interaction between the students and foster greater collaboration during the process.

Obtaining a Harkness Table large enough to support 16 student workstations in addition to a teacher station was my initial thought; before acquiring an expensive table, I decided to use existing six-foot tables in my possession.  I started with an empty room 25 feet long and 18 feet wide, ten 6’ tables and 16 iMacs. Various configurations were attempted to provide adequate sight lines among the students as well as to the teacher. Each table supports two computers, keyboard, and mouse with room for writing as well as textbooks. The instructor station is located with its back to the screen to allow face-to-face interaction with students. The classroom is set up with 20 inch iMac’s each with headphones, built-in microphones, and a built-in web cam.

 

My Classroom My Classroom


Results

Over the course of the first several weeks of the school year, the layout of the room provided interesting results.  My initial assumption was that redesigning the room and creating a “Harkness style” table arrangement would increase interactions between students.  Indeed, teachers have reported increased communication between students in rooms with Harkness tables.  The classrooms lend themselves to seminar-style conversations between teachers and students, as well as student to student. While the room does allow students to see one another as well as the instructor; several factors affected the way that students interacted with one another.  First, due to the small class size, students are able to sit in various locations in class-- often not actually sitting next to another student. Second, the collaborative inquiry process and use of Internet searches provide for individualized work activity with shared information as the result, rather than the sharing of ideas throughout the process. What became most compelling throughout this first cycle was that the collaborative nature of the class was not a function of the students being next to one another, nor was it a function of the design of the room.  In retrospect, the collaborative nature of AP US History is entirely based on the collaborative inquiry model and the location of the shared information. Collaboration was not a function of close physical proximity; instead, collaboration took place in virtual and electronic space through the sharing of information via a collaborative Web 2.0 tool.

Reflection:

My classroom has always been my oasis away from the administrative activities required of teachers.  As a result of new construction, I was able to design my classroom to suit my needs as an educator, not the needs of others who may use my space as a drop-in lab.  Last summer I was finally able to think about how I wanted a learning space to look and feel.  Much of the change in my perception was a direct result of my VirtCamp experience.  Experiencing first hand a vibrant, collaborative environment with like-minded individuals crystallized my own ideas for how a learning environment should be designed.  Reading about constructivism and experiential learning and then being able to construct an environment that fosters both experiential learning and collaboration was thrilling.  Students have commented that it “feels” different when they enter the room.  I, too, sense the difference when I come back from teaching in one of the other computer classrooms; the rows of chairs and long tables with students hidden behind oversized monitors and limited workspace have been replaced with a more open design.  Watching students learn, question, and discover more about history and themselves is awe inspiring. Surprisingly, the collaboration between the students has not been as prevalent as I believed it would be.  The students are working together; though, it is not due to physical proximity.  Collaboration among students is being fulfilled in a virtual space using Google Documents and Spreadsheets.


 

Cycle Two Report

Overall Research question

How do I increase collaboration amongst humanities students in using technology?

Description of Action:

Research Question

If I help my teaching colleague transform his tasks using collaborative software that moves him out of the center and encourages more peer-to-peer exchanges, will the students acquire a deeper understanding of the problem and possible solutions? 

The action I chose to study was a natural extension of cycle one.  In cycle one, my assumption was that the layout of the room would be vital to increasing collaboration among students in a social science classroom.  The result of that action was that collaboration was not increased due to proximity of students or the redesign of the classroom. In this iteration, I will examine how the use of collaborative tools helped assist my teaching colleague in moving himself from the center of the class and in encouraging more student-to-student collaboration. My colleague, Mr. Lawson, has taught AP US History for 10 years. The 2007-2008 school year saw a change in his teaching style; last year, his class began having students use the Internet to analyze and answer essential questions.  The location of the classroom was a result of scheduling conflicts that forced him into a computer lab. The change in his teaching style leveraged the information at the fingertips of the students via the Internet. Each day an essential question was posed to the students.  The question was disseminated via e-mail and responses were e-mailed back to the instructor. The instructor culled each response into one document and group discussion began as to which answer was most relevant based on its source and historical validity, as well as student ability to think critically.

Class Structure Audio

Multidimensional Learning Audio

Knowledge and Pace Audio

The model employed last year was extremely successful with an overall increase in average scores on the AP exam against other St. Mark’s students taking the AP, as well as other students nationally taking the AP exam. Prior to the school year, I sat down with Mr. Lawson and discussed how I could assist him in making his classroom more collaborative through the use of technology. I set out to provide a digital computer classroom with state-of-the-art technology, as well as my own technical expertise regarding hardware and software. Mr. Lawson has employed the collaborative inquiry model in his AP US history classroom over the last two years. My intent was not to change his teaching model, rather through my technological expertise, I sought to maximize both his time as an educator and the time of his students as learners.

I introduced a collaborative tool into the classroom model. Having observed the class previously, I noted that collecting information was incredibly time-consuming on the part of the instructor. In the beginning of class, an essential question is posed to the students; they are then charged with acquiring relevant factual information on the topic and to begin offering analysis as historians. Students quickly learn to be media literate, determining which information is most relevant to answer the question, and they hone their own abilities to think like historians. Through the use of Remote Desktop, the instructor is able to view each student’s screen and watch the progression of analysis on a particular topic. Should a particular student find a critical piece of analysis, the instructor is able to pull up that individual screen and assist the student in guiding the discussion.  In the first few days of class, it was apparent that a centralized resource for students to compose and analyze research critically was necessary.

Google Spreadsheet Video



I introduced the Google document to Mr. Lawson and demonstrated its application in the classroom. Mr. Lawson created a Google document with the essential question at the top for each class, shared it with the students, sent them out to continue their research, and in real time to synthesize their analysis as a group. The Google document as a collaborative tool has one small drawback; it only allows for ten users to edit simultaneously. This issue became apparent when one student attempted to insert his analysis into the document and was locked out. The next step was to explore the Google spreadsheet. The number of users at any one time is limited to 200 rather than 10 users. Now in a class of 12, each student can witness group analysis taking place in real time. The introduction of two simple collaborative tools effectively changed the pace of the class on a daily basis, as well as increased the amount of knowledge that students were able to draw upon.

Monthly Discussions

Over the last five months, Mr. Lawson and I have met to have conversations about the progress of the collaborative classroom and its impact on his AP US history class. In a conversation from November 20, he noted that students have worked seamlessly with the tools and their grades have improved; the students behave “as if nothing unusual is going on.” In a prior conversation, we discussed implementing thread-based discussions, using Blackboard as a tool for collaborative work. Part of the dialogue that goes on in class when using a Google document is that there is an opportunity for a student to present his position in answering the prompt, but he is able to evaluate the positions of all of his classmates. Our discussions also focused on the non-linear aspect of learning; students are now learning in three dimensions.  “They are surrounded, engulfed, and encased with the information, ” Mr. Lawson stated and indicated that it would be hard to tell others “what he does in class”; this is something that needs to be seen. An additional observation was the need for a graphic model to describe the interface of shared and reviewed information. The relationship of information is intertwined and cyclical; the relationship starts teacher to student, student to student, student to information, and finally student to teacher. An important point that we discussed in November concerned the institution as a whole. It began when speaking about scheduling classes to a particular room.  My question was directed to Mr. Lawson, “Could he facilitate the collaborative inquiry model in non-networked classroom?” His assessment was that it was not about access; rather, “It’s unwavering quality of access to quality material.” Can we as an institution accept that we need to put out quality material to our students?

We found that the act of listening and processing is key, “My students understand that I’m trying to pull more out of them that I put into them. I don’t even think the same way I used to about teaching.” This sparked a discussion about dissemination of information, mainly how teachers gave information to students. A corollary was made between the Google document and the QuickTime recording of lecture and discussion. “QuickTime Pro will do the same thing for a lecture that the Google document does for essential questions, he said, ” The strength of a digital computer classroom is that technology now allows for greater access to material as well as the means to manipulate information and disseminate critical information to students to be consumed in the manner which best fits their learning style.

Prior to the Christmas break, Mr. Lawson changed his teaching style. There was information he needed to disseminate to students, and he decided that lectures would be the most effective manner for students to receive the material. Several critical processes arose from this change in teaching. The act of lecturing changes the way students learn and obtain information. Through the use of technology, students are obtaining information in seven different ways: through the book, through electronic lectures from the book, from film, lectures by the teacher, the recordings of lectures by the teacher, class discussions, and the recordings of class discussions. Information is readily available with such a large net being cast in each and every class. One possible pitfall is that “exceptional ability does not guarantee one’s ability to learn.”

As a result of the change in teaching style, by moving away from essential questions, collaborative inquiry, and critical thinking on the part of students to an entirely lecture-based style, achievement plummeted across the board. Students were able to record the lecture, take notes and collaborate outside of class; very few of those options took place. Those students got appreciably lower grades due to limited comprehension. The implementation of the Google document/Google spreadsheet and the collaborative inquiry environment provided reinforcement of concepts as a part of cooperative learning. The essential question phase and articulation of information in advance of assessment are  vital. Students, who claimed to want lectures, received lower achievement scores due to limited comprehension. The collaborative inquiry process aids comprehension; students are asked to learn and assimilate information in multiple ways – visually, aurally, and kinesthetically. In essence, the more sophisticated ways in which we help students approach learning or memorizing information the greater memory retention. More synaptic involvement becomes necessary in the collaborative process. Lawson is further convinced that the inquiry-based method is the most effective way to “inculcate higher order thinking in students”; the learning process is a nonlinear process. Perhaps the single most important question I posed to him spoke directly to the necessity of having technological access for his teaching style. “If we took you out of a digital computer classroom, and placed you in a traditional teacher-in-front of blackboard with students in seats, will those students be as successful?” His response was a resounding “no,” and he offered that the introduction of Web 2.0 tools such as the Google doc requires teachers to do more than just sit back and lecture. “It’s central to my teaching; once you see what this tool can do you can never go back; it’s a great non-linear way to learn.”

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Lawson offered an example, “Having a kid take a right answer and make it incorrect and having another student figure out where the error in analysis takes place is part of the energy that collaborative learning brings that you can’t get while learning in isolation, but a competitive collaborative learning environment is vital.  If you embrace the nonlinear path, you will get greater efficiency and a greater depth of knowledge than you get from linear teaching.” He shared that his pedagogical approach would work better if one were not constrained by the curriculum of the advanced placement course.

The use of collaborative tools in a classroom provides an opportunity for the teacher to take the focus off of him/her and place it upon the students.  The connection between the student and the information is strengthened through a variety of relationships that are fostered by online collaboration.  First, the student connects with the information on his own via assigned reading or Internet searches; secondly, the student can connect with information by inserting his own understanding into a collaborative document; and finally, the student now has an opportunity to view his own understanding in light of the material understanding of other students who have completed the same task.  Adding an additional component of audio via Voicethreads to the collaborative nature of the class may further increase student understanding and comprehension prior to the Advanced Placement Exam.

Reflections

As I look back over the course of my relationship with Mr. Lawson, several things strike me.  First, the very nature of history is that of a piece of artwork.  Actions take place and are analyzed in light of the moment they happened and who was there to record them.  That piece of history has numerous factors that affect it at any given moment – economic, cultural, sociological, religious, and societal. Each action brings about a corresponding reaction that provides an opportunity for analysis. Secondly, the path of our relationship began and continues to grow as a function of an informal mentor/mentee relationship.  Mr. Lawson has been teaching history for nearly twenty years and views the study of history as an art.  Yet more importantly, he realizes and has stated to me that there are few if any new questions to be asked about history.  Rather, the questions that need to be asked are those that require students to analyze history as they would a piece of art.  I have been drawn to his teaching style as I embark on developing my own history course for next year.  Modeling his teaching style and methods has been informative over the last six months.  In return, I am able to provide valuable technical expertise in the use of collaborative tools, as well as provide a historian’s eye with a technological lens. 

Each of our interactions leads to questions and discussions about education: how best to provide an environment where learning flourishes, teaching styles evolve, and historical tools are used and understood. I believe I have learned much from him through our work together. I view this experience as a large puzzle with new pieces fitting in each day.  The frame of the puzzle was started last year when classroom space was limited and a computer lab was the only space available. The border was completed during VirtCamp and the summer session. I began to learn more about the type of learner I am, as well as the type of teacher I want to be.  Viewing education through constructivist glasses, I see that learning is about doing and being active – to borrow a phrase “Learning is not a spectator sport!” We must continually get students involved in their learning – less of us and more of them.  The puzzle pieces continue to be put in place with each new interaction.  I am empowered by my own learning and find it exciting to talk about ways to increase student understanding through collaboration, not just with Mr. Lawson, but also with other colleagues.  Interested teachers on a regular basis observe his class, because what he is doing is different and the results are evident.  The collaborative inquiry model is effective in inculcating higher order thinking in students.  The Advanced Placement scores continue to bear that out each year. I believe the puzzle will be complete when I am in front of my own history class next year. I look forward to the opportunity to put into practice what I have learned in the OMET program as well as emulate a master teacher who has embraced technology as a vehicle to increase student understanding.

 

Cycle Three Report:

Overall Research question
How do I increase collaboration among humanities students in using technology?

Description of action:

Research question

If I help my teaching colleague transform his tasks using collaborative software, how would the use of collaborative tools affect him as an instructor?

At the conclusion of cycle two, a definite correlation between collaborative learning and student comprehension was evident. The action I chose to study was more deeply centered in his experience as an educator over the course of this year.  I have noted changes in pace of instruction, a clearer idea of media literacy requirements, and a willingness to create a learning environment that is effective for those with and without learning differences.  The impact that my action research has had on Mr. Lawson will not be reflected in just this year; rather, I believe there will be a domino effect that will filter down to other teachers as well, specifically in the Middle School.

The shift in Mr. Lawson’s teaching style over last year, as well as the past nine months, is evident.  Collaborative tools such as the Google Document and Spreadsheet are a double-edged sword; on the one hand, they allow both the student and teacher to be engaged in learning, and, on the other, their use will require more of the instructor. As the school year has come to a close, Mr. Lawson notes that his students are indeed better learners, better critical thinkers, and better writers as a direct result of collaborative documents.

When questioned about a major shift in his teaching style,  Lawson says he lectures very little, as this removes the students from multi-dimensional learning.  When Lawson did lecture, he noted that students did not type notes; they recorded the lecture for later transcription; they interrupted and asked questions.  An observation when lecturing was that he could see the thought process forming, “I never used to see that; now they are thinking about what I am saying in real time and asking critical questions.”  This became more of a running dialogue, a conversation, and less of a lecture.

The students are only going to get better at writing and creating essays.  Mr. Lawson spoke of change for next year and felt he would need to dump all the work done this year and start over with a new batch of students to make the work done by the students more authentic.  Otherwise he felt that it would become one big review; he wanted them to have a review at the appropriate time, but he also wanted them to take part in the collaborative process of the class and refine their own thinking and writing.  I suggested giving the students the document at the end of the chapter/section to have a student evaluate and assess the exploration of the class into a particular question as written by peers.  This would be an ultimate test of cognition and knowledge building: Critique the work of others and write an answer, or indicate what is the most appropriate question that needs to be asked vis-à-vis the knowledge that has been built over time by the collective.

Grading and Assessment
Lawson indicates that he will be stunned if the class did not average 4 on the AP.  Never has he had so many students walk out of an exam indicating how comfortable they were. There is one student in particular who struggled a great deal over the course of the year, and Mr. Lawson once predicted  that the student might earn a score 2 out of a possible 5 on the AP.  He now goes on to say that should that student receive a score of 3 or higher, it would confirm everything he believes about collaborative learning.  He discussed this with the student at the beginning of the year.  The student indicated that he could not do it on his own, “I can’t figure out what’s important.”  His ability to decipher and comprehend the work was in large part driven by the collaborative work done in class. “Frankly if he gets a 2, I’ll be impressed; if he gets a 3, I’d be stunned. The goal of the class is to prepare a student for a 4 out of 5.”

The class is fundamentally set up for a student with a learning issue. Students are assessed on class participation, multiple choice (memorization and critical reading), an essay section for the creative thinker, class discussions  for those who are more auditory individuals, films for those who are visual learners, as well as primary documents, and the collaborative documents.  “You can pick it all up, but you must articulate it well; those who can create context rather than discern context thrive on the essay.  Additionally there is a creative writing element, a highly organized research paper, and if they learn how to narrow their focus, they will write a B+ to A paper,” he says. 

To highlight the collaborative nature of a Google document, Lawson gives this anecdote.  “I went away on a trip; students uploaded their paper to a Google doc; I was able to highlight the sections that needed work.  Yes, this could have been done with a word document, but the Google doc allowed me to be in the document with the student. “  Lawson further notes, “The class essential never stops; if I am online in a document, students now see that I am on and are now asking to chat.  Initially I ignored those requests but began to realize that if I’m on at 11pm and the student is on and asking for help, ‘I’m working now and he’s working now.’”  Lawson has essentially provided office hours, with one slight change.  He did not realize until the 3rd trimester that for the last five months he had been correcting their daily work.

The collaborative inquiry technique is effective for students with learning issues, and when applied to students without learning issues, every student has an opportunity to do what he does best – read, write or speak.  Everything done in class is public; those who do not speak –write.  Class participation can be offset by what has been written collaboratively.  A particular student, when confronted with a decreased class participation grade, indicated that he had been spending most of his time working in the documents, refining his and others’ content.  Lawson was able to go back and see the work that was done in written format and changed the grade accordingly.

When asked if this has created more work for him, he responds, “I am better at reviewing the kids work because I do it more often.  The part that is of issue is figuring out what was incorrect, especially while assessing all 12 students’ work, and I have to assess each on an individual level.”  Last year’s assessment was on an individual basis via e-mail; this year’s is public assessment, and those students that were hungry for more depth were not left out.  This is in stark contrast to traditional modes of teaching--reaching the middle or middle-bottom, while often those at the top and very bottom are left out.  Lawson’s teaching style has a larger spray, covering every boy; each student gets a public critique.

Student Improvement
There has been dramatic improvement in one particular student who progressed from a D to a B.  “You can’t stop the learning –visually, aurally, writing, reading, reproducing, multiple choice, lectures from electronic version of the book, and essays.”  By the end of my work with Mr. Lawson, it is clear that there are at least eight different ways of acquiring information in this class. The most dramatic change is that students are writing all the time.  They have notes, as well as professional/technical writing all in one place, not hardcopy but in digital format that contains all the daily grunt work.

Teacher Improvement

Mr. Lawson would be the first to comment, “Having exceptional ability, does not guarantee your ability to learn.”  The inquiry-based teaching style works for students at every grade level.  Late in the third trimester, Mr. Lawson brought his teaching style and the Google Spreadsheet to a sixth grade humanities class.  Several key points emerged; the sixth graders were media literate.  They were able to quickly search and analyze information; they were engaged throughout the process.  The ability to see the answer of a classmate and discern its accuracy while acquiring their own knowledge was impressive to watch.  Lawson’s teaching style translated quite well to younger students, and this speaks to his comment that “The collaborative inquiry model when combined with a collaborative document is perfect for students in middle school.”  Lawson noted that not being bound by a particular curriculum such as the AP, freed him as an educator to spend more time exploring concepts and ideas with students, rather than pushing the pace of instruction. “The reinforcement of learning through the use of collaborative tools and cooperative learning cannot be ignored, nor can the impact of questioning a student about what he knows and testing him on it in advance of the lecture.” Mr. Lawson embraced technology this year and believed in the strength of his teaching style.  His intent was to continue to inculcate higher-order thinking in his students.  In a prior year Mr. Lawson was assessing student’s work privately on an individual basis via e-mail.  Subsequently, Mr. Lawson is now able to publicly assess and critique every student’s collaborative and individual efforts. His willingness to allow me to bring change into his classroom speaks to his belief in individual access, individual pace, and individual determination of learning.

Reflection

In working with Lawson over the course of the last nine months, I have noticed an important change in him and in me.  This action research has brought me in contact with a phenomenal Master Teacher who is unafraid to learn what he does not know. I have been fortunate enough to watch his teaching style and have begun to incorporate it into my own.  My strength is in recognizing a situation and developing a solution that both works for the teacher and provides students with cutting-edge educational experiences. As collaboration among students grows, so, too, must the collaboration among faculty.  Knowledge building will be vital to the growth of my institution.  Mr. Lawson uses an analogy when discussing his students that I believe applies to teachers as well.  “Teaching is like an oil reserve; you know the reserves are deep and valuable, but you just don’t know how valuable yet.” The simple yet powerful Google suite of applications can change and has dramatically changed the way St. Mark’s students learn and how this teacher will teach.

 

Final Reflection

Jazz as a genre contains elements of West African slave songs, Negro spirituals, gospel, European Classical, and the blues.  All are intertwined to create an art form that is purely American. Jazz is the combination of many for the betterment of the whole.  Jazz is an apt metaphor for learning.  How we begin to structure our own knowledge is rooted in the very things we have come to learn and the methods by which we learn them.  To adequately frame this experience, I chose the words of Herbie Hancock: “Creativity and artistic endeavors have a mission that goes far beyond just making music for the sake of music.” Learning and reflective endeavors have a mission that goes far beyond just learning for learning’s sake.  Experiencing knowledge-building, experiencing something greater than you at work, is an awesome gift. That is the experience of teaching.

Watching a student become an active participant in his own learning and following as he begins to shape his own cognition is exhilarating.  As a child, I often swore that I would never become a teacher.  My mother was a high school English teacher in my hometown; every night and weekend I watched her grade papers upon papers.  I saw the frustration on her face as her students struggled with grammar (dangling participles, subordinate clauses, sentence structure) and vocabulary. What I failed to recognize beneath the frustration was the joy that she gained when students “got it.”  Her passion for making students better writers, thinkers, and better people is more evident now that I am older and have become a teacher.  The ideas instilled in me by my parents, my siblings, my music teacher, and my band director were to “love what you do, and do what you love.”  It is so simple and sublime, yet full of endless possibilities – just like jazz.

The process of action research and the OMET program has been one of the single most rewarding activities I have had the privilege to undertake. I have learned more about who I am, why teaching is so important, and how I could not see myself doing anything else.  I am empowered as a learner, emboldened as a thinker, and enlightened as an educator.  This final act of reflection is meant to serve as notice of hopes and dreams achieved, yet provide for future exploration.  Miles Davis said it best – “Do not fear mistakes; there are none.”

 

Education Does Not Have to be Boring.
7/26/08
In reflecting back over the last six years and observing how St. Mark’s has educated young men, I am often struck by how little we employ technology in the classroom setting. My colleagues will point to the technological advances that are in place in the classrooms themselves – Overhead projectors, a computer with internet access, some teachers even use document presenters. What most upsets me (perhaps upset is the wrong word), what saddens me the most is our failure to use technology to stimulate learning. We are good at employing “cutting edge technology” to provide teachers with means of educating, however we are not using the cutting edge technology to stimulate student beyond rote memorization. I am not diminishing the need for fact-based education – mathematics, science, history, English, et. al. Instead let’s find a way to preserve the traditional methods of learning rote information, as well as employing technology to stimulate the learning process through Socratic discussion and collaborative learning. A “Wisdom of the Crowds” Classroom.

I am intrigued a colleague’s classroom experience. He teaches AP American History, last fall his first period class did not have classroom space. We placed him in a computer lab, and a new era of education was born. He is reasonably tech savvy and quickly realized that allowing students to access the internet to stimulate discussion. Rote memorization of facts still takes place in the form of assigned reading from the textbook and assessments of facts continued in the form of testing. Discussions became increasingly more stimulating. Allowing students to use the internet to research a topic, communicate their answers to the instructor via e-mail and then discuss their findings became an invaluable teaching tool. No longer was history class merely lecture and discussion, now it was research based with the collective examining each fact for accuracy based on their existing knowledge of the topic, tossing out those items which were clearly erroneous.

AP US History was able to use this new collaborative style of learning to place themselves in various periods of history and begin to construct a knowledge base with primary documents far more vital than those placed in their textbooks. I believe there are Web 2.0 tools available which will make this collaborative style of learning even more exciting than year 1. I’m looking forward to a productive year of research and growth not only from our students but from myself and my colleagues.

Walking the Line

8/14/2008
A previous event had to do with my role as a football coach. Our team was winless going into the next to last game of the season. After several difficult losses, the coaching staff believed we were due for a win. I came to work on a Tuesday, spoke with the Athletic Director and he indicated that an Administrator had called over to our upcoming opponent, described our difficult season and requested that they “take it easy on us.” I have never been more disappointed in my institution than at that moment, how dare they call another school and ask for leniency in athletics. We lost that game by 1 point when our athletes decided to go for a 2 point conversion and the win rather than take the tie after 39 minutes of intense football.
In reflecting back on the events, my feelings of anger and disappointment still exist. There are many ideals I try to live by while coaching and teaching. Do your best, do not look for the easy way out and compete as if it’s your last game. My students have done this, and the athletes I coach try to live by this creed. I am disappointed not only in my reactions but of my superiors; it was as if they were saying to us, “you’re not good enough, you need our intervention to protect you.” When a team gets blown out of a game, I do not blame the players, responsibility lies with the coach.

I would like to do a better job of expressing myself in these situations. At times I feel as if the very act of being a competitive, strong, confident man is no longer valued. Further, that in some cases we are not trusted to take the right course of action. That somehow the adrenaline rush of scoring would remove all common sense or fairness. As the 2008-2009 season approaches, I believe that I am better equipped to handle the ups and downs of walking the line.

I Love It When a Plan Comes Together

8/17/2008

I love to quote obscure TV lines. For those of us who remember the 80's and watched "The A-Team" remember his Hannibal Smith’s (played by George Peppard) famous quote from every show, “I love it when a plan comes together.” Peppard’s line was speaking about their elaborate plan coming to fruition albeit in 44 minutes of TV time. I love the quote, as it’s how I’m beginning to feel about my action research. Through more and more of the reading, I’m finding ways to construct my ideas about a truly collaborative classroom for teaching. Reading “Wikinomics” and sharing the book with my colleagues, I’m reminded of the idea that we continue to use traditional models of educating students, when the rest of their lives are spent using technology to collaborate and communicate. We must change the way we think and act in order to educate a 21st century learner.

The more we read about the future of education, the more I begin to see my role evolving as a specialized educational coach. Teaching will no longer be one-dimensional, students will come to educational coaches who specialize in a field and the idea of brick and mortar learning centers will be a distant memory.

I spoke with my colleague about using his class as a model for my action research project and he was excited that I would be able to help shape the idea of a collaborative history class though technology. As we began talking, I mentioned OMET’s use of Blackboard and blogging and found out that he had set up a meeting with a contact from Blackboard. I believe we are all in a unique position. Each of us has skills and talents that are untapped and as we grow through this program, we can showcase our skills and knowledge to provide our respective organizations with growth opportunities. As pieces begin to fall into place and more ideas are shared, more questions are asked, opportunities continue to be reflected upon. I can still hear George Peppard: “I love it when a plan comes together!”

May the Force Field be with You

8/25/2008
It’s nine o’clock on a Monday, the cleaning crew shuffling in. As I look over my Force Field Analysis, I am struck by how many different factors might be present as I begin to analyze and study the potentiality of my research topic. I found it difficult to name the forces against the project. Even in ranking forces 5 to 1 presented a challenge. I fear that my eyes may not be subjective enough at this moment. What seems to be a “ringing endorsement” may be the impetus for greater faculty involvement. I do not want to get caught up in the “of course, that makes perfect sense” mindset. I need to continue to be a critical thinker and observer. If in fact we can create a collaborative computer classroom, and provide students with cutting edge resources; then I believe we will begin to see the increased level of critical analysis we look for in our students.

Action Research - The Digital Classroom

9/8/2008
Week three of the school year and I’ve been taking notes each day during my Action Research Observation Class also known as AP US History. AP US History as taught by Byron Lawson has been an eye opener for me. Byron is a historian first and a budding techie in his own right. I am a techie with a history degree, a match somewhat made in heaven, or at the very least a fortuitous pairing. AP US History is made up of two sections, a first period and a seventh period class (these time diffrerences bring up interesting technological problems as we’ve gone along). Each day I am amazed at the ideas that come from the class but more so the 2 or 3 new questions that come about from 1 simple answer. To say that this is OJT (On the job training) is an understatement. Nonetheless, the first 9 days have been awesome. Here is just a sampling of the questions that I have posed to myself as I observe the student teacher interaction along with some of the solutions in parentheses.
1. How to best establish class structure (Byron poses a question at the beginning of class and the students search out the answers)
2. Is this a teacher centered class? (Less us, more them (students))
3. Centralized Posting Location (Google Docs, each student creating notes on a topic with the collaboration of other students simultaneously)
4. How do we handle the teacher not being physically present (Skype)? A student?
5. How can the teacher access what a particular student is researching, while the research is ongoing to help steer discussion (Remote Desktop)
6. A method for on-line testing (?
7. Google Documents have a 10 user limit concurrently
Each day brings about new questions and new possibilities. Looking back the one key factor that is missing from my force field analysis – the teacher is comfortable melding the old with the new. For that I am truly grateful.

Thank God for E-mail or I Love It When a Plan Comes Together (Part Deux)

9/9/2008
The headmaster sent out an e-mail about the International Boys School Coalition (ISBC), it was the monthly newsletter for member school. In this issue, which I am ashamed to say I do read many of these, but I'm glad I did, there was a section on Action Research. I clicked and was directed to the IBSC site which showed Action Research projects for the last 4 years. I hit the jackpot!

I was lucky enough to find 6 Action Research projects. I am most pleased because 4 of the 5 projects speak on point to my research as well. Two years ago, a colleague investigated "What aspects of video gaming and other digital expression appeal to male learners and how can educators use these techniques and attributes to enhance learning." I was lucky enough to be a part of the research in 2006-2007 as the computer technician/consultant. Little did I know that I would be looking at that very research 2 years later.

Her research design was quite extensive and yet the lit review only used 4 sources. The findings as well as the reflection and question section spoke volumes. "How do we increase the instructors grasp of the new learning tools and what is the best balance between traditional methods of instruction and new digital methods?"

I look forward to picking her brain about these very ideas very soon.

Action Research - Questions and Answers Part 1

9/20/2008

What am I looking to accomplish?
I want to create a teaching environment that allows educators to break away from traditional lecture, listen, note take and regurgitate system and allow them to engage their students in learning.

How does that happen?
First, show teachers what a classroom might look like. Traditional classrooms have rows of student desks with a teacher up front. Recently our school has built two new buildings with Harkness tables in each classroom that allows for all participants to be see each other with little encumbrance. These rooms are effective for group discussions and collaboration with students in the classroom with pen and paper.
A Digital Collaborative Computer Classroom (DCCC) maximizes all of the elements of a Harkness table classroom with computers. The design of the classroom is student centered, where every student can interact with another student either verbally or electronically.

What are the technological specifications?
My school is fortunate to have a an entirely Mac classroom, with 20 desks in a rectangle. Each table seats two students, with ample room for books and primary sources. The computers are all networked and can be observed from the teacher station. An overheard video projector is located in the room to display documents from the teacher station. In addition, Remote Desktop Application is installed on the teacher station, which allows the teacher to select an individual student machine for teaching purposes.

Reasoning?
Students are significantly more technologically savyy than in previous years. Their adaptability to new technology and methods is extraordinary. Students exist in a digital world in most of their lives but are still being taught using 19th century educative processes. The DCCC allows for learning to be less teacher centered and more student centered.

Collaborative Tools
Through the first four weeks of school, Google Documents has been an incredibly useful free tool. The instructor in a shared document amongst the class poses a question and students are responsible for researching the topic. Students place their answer in the document throughout the research process. The instructor then makes the document available on screen for the students and discussion about the merits of each answer are processed. The discussion often presents additional questions and those are tabled for later discussion or may become the new focus of the discussion. This allows each student to be a part of the discussion as a group.

Football - A knowledge building community

10/11/2008
The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise. ~F. Scott Fitzgerald

Two weeks ago, I had to do something I have never had to do as a coach. I had to fire an assistant, not because he wasn't a good football coach, but because of his attitude. When working with 14 and 15 year old boys it is paramount that we look at them as "works in progress." Each day they continue to get better, increase their knowledge of the game, and and alearn to make sound decisions on and off the athletic field. In essence, athletics is a "knowledge building community."

"Any community has to provide sufficient satisfactions of peoples diverse motives that they will want to belong. Belonging means adapting, and in the case of knowledge-building community, adaptation entails continual investment of personal resources in the advancement of knowledge." (Surpassing Ourselves, Bereiter, C and Scardamalia, M, 1993)

Athletics brings together individuals with diverse motives but common goals. The act of belonging to a team requires continual investment of both mental and physical capabilities. On the football field 11 men work together with one goal in mind - to score, or to keep the opposition from scoring. Both activities, if completed with success will bring about the overarching goal of winning. Coaches provide a level of "expertise" on a daily basis, expertise born out of prior experience. The idea of team over the individual provides the opportunity for the whole to be greater than the sum of the parts.

In athletics and education a positive coach/teacher is often the difference between success and failure. How you present yourself, how you interact with athletes/students, and how you interact with other coaches/teachers is critical to building a community of practice. It is vital that we look at every new experience as an opportunity to learn and to grow. This is not exclusive to coaching, rather this applies in every discipline most especially in educational technology. The attitude we exhibit towards our colleagues in how we present new information and new technology impacts how they view something that might be new or away from the norm. I can look back on my own experiences with colleagues and the frustration that I may have displayed when an individual did not "get it" right away. Did I provide them with an opportunity for them to be their best selves while trying new technology, or did I rant and rave and throw my arms with the thought that they'll never get it. If I've learned nothing else from this experience it is this - passion, desire, technical expertise are phenomenal attributes but without the ability to step back and allow others to experience and enjoy the process of learning at their pace, we are missing an opportunity to build our community.

Pay No Attention To That Man Behind the Curtain

1/14/2009

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain – The Wizard of Oz “The Wizard of Oz”

Dr. Riel prompted us to think about the “in there” and “out there" in relation to our action research. This is the feeling I have been having about my present career path – clearly as a function of the OMET program. I am very much “in there”, reflective, thinking, learning and looking for change in how I teach and how I learn. I am acutely aware that my colleagues view my new ideas as “out there.” In discussion with one of my colleagues, he asked me “We’re getting pretty far “out there?” He was speaking about the usage of collaborative tools and the pedagological change that has taken place in his class since last year. One of the most surprising elements for us has been our awareness that learning can take place anywhere and that technology can a does make this easier.
A young man broke both his legs and is not able to make it into a second floor classroom. The technological shift in this class has allowed for the student to “attend” class remotely from another location. Due to the shift in pedagogy from a purely lecture based history class to a collaborative inquiry based class, this student is able to be a part of class while not being in the same building or even while at home. Skype, Google Documents and Spreadsheets provide the support for this pedagological shift.

In my action research, the "out there" is the creation of a classroom environment that allows for the use of technology to foster collaboration and collaborative inquiry between teacher and student. This idea became more evident after a lunch meeting with my colleague.

The "in there" part is becoming more challenging each day. The change in me is clearly how my values and ideas changing on a daily basis, as I see growth in the learning of students and receive "push back" concerning the use of technology. I remember Dr. Riel telling us during Virt-Camp that the way we think will change and the possibility that my values and ideas will divert from those of my employer will lead to tough decisions. The struggle begins when the "in there" - me begins to see the "out there" -my institution in a new light. The curtain has been opened.

Turn and Face the Strain...Just Gonna Have to be Better Man

2/10/2009
This has been an incredible couple of days I had a fabulous conversation with two colleagues about my Action Research. One of the things I’ve realized is that I don’t share my excitement for this program as much as I should with colleagues. Sitting at lunch talking about the OMET program forced me to think and realize how much my life has changed over the course of the last six months. In six short months I’ve realized what type of learner I am, I’ve realized the type of teacher I want to be and most importantly I’ve realized what type of students I have the opportunity to teach. I am blessed with extremely intelligent young men, who like to try new things and be inventive, that’s the go a long haul them on a bit of a great part. I’m also blessed with an institution that allows me to design a curriculum as I see fit. Where I fit in with this institution is sometimes extremely tenuous. There are moments when I feel they are not moving fast enough inadopting new technologies, new ways of thinking, and new ways of teaching. What I’ve come to realize is that I need to bring myself closer to them as well as bringing them closer to me. Each day I need to get out and be an evangelist, a cheerleader, an advocate for the students of today and tomorrow. My charge is to take what OMET has shown me, has allowed me to experience, has awakened in me and exhibit that passion by leading the way at my institution.

Earlier last week a position in administration opened up, and everyone is asking if I’m up for the job. While the idea of administration and a key role in our leadership program does excite me; I realize it’s as far away from teaching and that’s not where I’m prepared to go. The experience in OMET has shown me where I can make a difference in the lives of students. Simply displaying my passion for technology and learning each and every day will do more to change the lives of young men than any administrative job ever will

Action Research "Ripples"

3/31/2009
There is a road, no simple highway
Between the dawn and the dark of night,
And if you go no one may follow
That path is for your steps alone.

The words of my action research continue to ring in my head “If I provide technical expertise to faculty will this increase collaboration?” Each day I realize more and more that the answer to that question is a resounding yes. Technological enhancements can and have changed the way my students learn and how I teach. There are so many “crux” moments that have happened recently. I was stopped in the lunch line last week by a parent of an 9th grader whom I previously taught. Her first question was if I would be willing to offer a class on new technology for our parents. I agreed quite willingly, but was surprised at the technology in question. She commented that so many of the parents are unaware of the growing social network technology and they don’t want to be afraid of what their children are doing in Facebook, Twitter and others.
I have been working with a colleague attempting to enhance his teaching environment with collaborative online tools. He is extremely proud of the work we have accomplished thus far and has asked me to co-author a paper on inquiry based learning and collaborative tools. This paper was originally presented two years ago in Paris. I am honored that he respects the “process changing” work we’ve accomplished in a few short months. The teaching model we are presenting has garnered a great deal of attention from our faculty. More conversations are taking place concerning how students learn, how best we as teachers can reach them, and most importantly how we can create an environment where thinking critically is a natural byproduct of learning.

I seek to understand how my students learn; first I had to understand how I learned before I could begin to effectively teach them. I continue to gain confidence in my own abilities as an educator and want to continue to evolve as a learner. Then I can begin to adequately teach this next generation of students. I am one small pebble in the water, and the ripples are just beginning.

Lead, follow, or get out of the way. - Thomas Paine (1737-1809)

4/11/2009
A few days ago as I was sitting at lunch, I pulled out my iPhone to answer a question for someone. An older faculty member, jokingly (I believe) chastised me for using my phone as our students are not allowed to have them out during the day. I played along with the joke and asked if as a math teacher I should preclude her from using a calculator as she wished to preclude me from using a computer as a computer science teacher.

The conversation quickly devolved into how students should never be allowed to use technology in classes because of the "rampant cheating" that computers allow. At that moment dialogue took a back seat as she commiserated with other colleague about student computer usage and "she would retire before she'll allow students to use computers in her classroom"

I was surprised at the anger and fear she displayed and despite being an advocate for the use of technology, I felt I had little to offer at that moment. Neither dialogue, discussion nor debate was even a possibility. For the first time, I felt a clear break in how we "do business." Perhaps she is not the only faculty member who feels this way? How can I help educate and enlighten individuals to put aside their fears? Is that my job or even my responsibility?

The immediate thought was "Wake up! The bus is leaving." As more and more students require computers for learning differences, and technology provides avenues for exploration and learning. How can we as educators continue to hold on to an antiquated model of believing "all knowledge flows through us?" Do I walk away and pray for retirement? I hope I can "trust the process."