Chapter 4

Increasing Reflective Practice
     

Cycle 2- Increasing Reflective Practice

While the school contains three divisions effectively operating as subunits of a larger community, it has been difficult to formally engage faculty across divisions in professional dialogue related to the practice of teaching. This has often been a factor of time. Each division has a unique schedule and demand on faculty time. These differences are often referenced by faculty when discussions relating to additional activities arise.

I am interested in the nature of my relationships with faculty through the development of a formal means of sharing professional dialogue. I am also interested in the individual changes that might occur in participants practices and shifts in frames of references.

Reflecting on past technology professional development programs, most have emphasized the development of specific software skills. While this is important for the growth of the individual, it has had little impact on the implementation of technology in the classroom. While some teachers are using technology in their curriculum, it is usually in a traditional and passive form: PowerPoint poster board presentation. I suspect this “traditional” use of technology by computer literate faculty is linked to two points: (1) faculty have not personally experienced learning with a computer as a tool of thinking and collaboration and fail to see the possibilities on their own, (2) this style of teaching with technology requires a fundamental shift in teaching philosophy. The role of the teacher effectively changes. While current learning theories support this type of shift in pedagogy, teachers are either resistant to the concepts, not aware of the current theories or are not clear how they would implement such theories.

Research Questions

How effective will the practice of engaging faculty members in professional dialogue related to learning, teaching and technology be in affecting change in practices of pedagogy in the classroom and the development of a community of practice?

Sub-question

  1. In what ways will relationships change if faculty members are provided a means of engaging in online professional dialogue centered on provocative articles on the practice of teaching and integration of technology in the classroom?

The catalyst for change starts with understanding. Through contextual reflection on their individual practices, faculty will have the opportunity to explore learning theories related to situated readings.

Action

During this cycle, I engaged the faculty in dialogue related to the practice of teaching. Faculty were encouraged to read and reflect on short articles and videos related to learning theories. The goal was to encourage faculty and challenge them to examine the role of a teacher in today’s classroom.

On a weekly basis, I sent short e-mails to the entire community featuring a short article, essay, interview or video highlighting some aspect of the teaching practice and providing a common point of reflection for the entire community. Each reflective prompt was chosen specifically to challenge the community to look at the act of teaching and learning from a new perspective. Each new prompt challenged educators to question their practice and reflect on how it fits with current learning theories.

Each mailing also included an invitation to join the learning Theory/Technology (LTT) group in Tapped In (TI) for dialogue. Securing permission from one of my colleagues to use some of his group quota, (I had used all of my current quota), I set up LTT as a place for ongoing dialogue. The room is also open to the greater TI community.

The contents for each weekly mailing were posted to the LTT group room in TI as a separate discussion providing structure for future dialogues. This was also done to facilitate communication with the greater TI community. I chose to open this dialogue with Marc Prensky’s article about Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. This article provides context for exploring the concept of today’s students being fundamentally different in the ways they learn.

Four articles served as reflective prompts and were delivered over a one month period. Additional prompts were sent as they were discovered. Active discussion provided additional content for reflection. The following articles were scheduled for distribution:

  • Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the horizon, 9, (5), October 2001.
  • November, A. Teaching Zack to think.
  • November, A. Moving beyond automation.
  • Prensky, M. The emerging online life of the digital native.

Data to Collect

Data for this cycle came in three forms: informal face-to-face conversations, individual postings in Tapped In and e-mail messages. Data was coded and evaluated from the perspective of mutual engagement- meaningful engagement and relations forming engagement- joint enterprise and shared repertoire (Rogers, 2000 and Wenger, 1998). Evidence of extension of ideas, agreement and disagreement, extension of resources, new relationships and change was also noted. All examples of conversations have had names and identifying references removed. Context has been provided as necessary.

The first form of data evaluated were logs of informal face-to-face conversations with colleagues at the school related to teaching pedagogy, theory and technology integration. These conversations were the result of informal, impromptu meetings in hallways and offices. The purpose of these logs was to record the nature of the conversation. This included initiation, duration and content. Only conversations that had connections to teaching, learning theory and technology integration were considered.

The second data set collected were individual posts and dialogue recorded in the group room created in Tapped In for the express purpose of facilitating dialogue related to learning theories and technology. These conversations were in response to articles I sent to the entire employee base as well as original postings by any member of the group.

The third type of data collected was e-mail. These e-mails were connected to articles I sent to the entire community as well as individual discussions related to teaching pedagogy, learning theory and technology integration.

 

Data Analysis

The Learning Theory/Technology group room in TI has now been in existence for about a month. The data collected for analysis was current as of May 13, 2005. The room is still active and as a result, will continue to change. Members learned about the room and joined the group in several ways. Chart 1 illustrates the group membership as of May 13, 2005. While the initial project focused around the mailing of reflective prompts. I have noticed greater opportunities for discussions surrounding pedagogy and learning theories since the beginning of this project. This has provided opportunities for dialogue leading to members joining the group as a result of a personal invitation following informal dialogue.

Chart 2 shows the composition of the group room as of May 13, 2005. The solid arrow lines represent individuals that joined the group as a result of the initial mailings of the prompts or directly through TI. The dashed lines represent individuals that joined the group as a result of a conversation or a personal e-mail invitation. The first number is the participant ID. The second number represents the total number of posts by that participant in the forum as of may 13, 2005. The total number of posts by that date resulted in N=21


CHART 2

Tapped In- Learning Theories/Technology Group Membership Composition

  

As of the date of this analysis, 6 reflective prompts (see table 1) had been sent to the community consisting of 248 individuals. Of these recipients, 138 were faculty and 13 were on the administrative team and 97 were administrative assistants, support and maintenance staff..

TABLE 5

Conversation prompts delivered during the first month of this cycle.

Author

Title/Citation

Medium

Date Posted

# of TI Posts

Prensky, M

Digital natives, digital immigrants: a way to look at ourselves and our kids

Essay

April 6

11

November, A.

Teaching Zack to think

Essay

April 14

0

November, A.

Moving beyond automation

Essay

April 14

3

Prensky, M

The emerging online life of the digital native

Essay

April ( )

3

Papert, S.

Edutopia- Interview with Dr. Papert

Interview/

Video

April 29

1

 

eSchool News

News

April ( )

0

Learner.org

A Private Universe

 

April 20

2

 

Analysis of Posts to Learning Theory and Technology Room in Tapped In

Evaluating the contents of the responses to each of these reflective prompts has shown the presence of the 6 criterion discussed earlier: extension of ideas, agreement, disagreement, extension of resources, new relationships, change and relation to practice. The following discussion consists of sample posts responding to each of these criterions. The names and other identifying information have been removed to protect the identity of the group member. Context has been included as necessary.

Extension of Ideas

Responding to a question, posed to the group by member 2, regarding accepting change, member 5 responds:

“As you say, change happens and we can embrace it or not. The more important question for me, involves the ways visionaries and risk-takers can affect change. Why is that so hard?”

With this post, the author builds on a concept presented earlier and focuses the group reflection in another direction.

Agreement

This quote comes from the 8 th post in a thread and makes reference to agreement with two prior authors (2 and 5). The author says:

“I agree that we are in the midst of many changes and must consider how best to proceed, not just with adolescents but with young children as well.”

As well as showing agreement with others, this author also extends the thinking to younger children. This is pertinent as this individual is the only one in the group at this time that teaches the very young. This comment helps to draw the conversation across the entire age continuum.

Disagreement

This quote from author (6) makes direct reference to items from the prior post where author (1) reflects on their practice as it related to the reflective prompt. The discussion referenced here demonstrated the principles presented in the prompt as action in member (1)’s classes. Disagreement is healthy when respectful as it allows for greater perspective, differences of opinion and diversity of practice. Author (6) writes:

“I’m glad your ____ classes are in step with creative learning practices. You are teaching a ________ driven class (class name) with computers. I however, deal with young children, who have to learn to read and in our college prep environment they therefore need to be proficient readers (at the very least). I found reading Prensky’s article very depressing…”

Extension of Resources

It is through the extension of resources that the group’s discussion can move beyond the ideas of the group. The following quote by member (5) clearly demonstrates the sharing of new ideas by extension of resources. Author (5) writes:

“…to learn about change, check out the work of Fullan and Kotter. Robert Evans also has a great book called The Human Side of School Change.”

New Relationships

This is the one criterion that was not clearly evident in the posting data. However, when combined with data collected in face to face conversations, the formation of new relationships was very evident. The following is a new relationship between member (1) and member (6) and is connected to the quote listed in disagreement above. After member (6) posted their response to member (1), member (1) came to my office to talk. This had become a regular practice and the frequency of visits have increased with the practice of reflection in TI. On this particular visit, member (1) was talking about the post by member (6). “Did you see what that (lady/man) wrote? What did you think?” This opened the door for a discussion of differences in teaching styles, fear and the validity of the post. However, the realization that member (1) did not know member (6) even though they walked by the office of member (6) each time they came to my office was revealing. These people have worked on the same campus for the past 2 years yet never knew each other. Yet, they were both open to discussing learning theory, practice

and pedagogy. About a week later, member 1 came by my office deciding they would introduce (himself/herself) to member (6). It is also interesting to note that 3 days passed before member (1) wrote a response to the post of member (6). This is what they said:

“Thanks for taking the time to reply to my comments. After thinking about your email, I think that in a broad sense, teaching is about recognizing students’ learning styles and modifying your teaching to accommodate their learning styles. From your anecdote seems like you are doing just that! Congratulations!”

This response demonstrates reflection on the original prompt, the individual’s practice and the practice of another individual in context with the reflective prompt. It also signals the beginning of a new relationship through professional dialogue and while dissenting opinions, they were respectful in their exchanges. I have to wonder how long it would have taken them to meet each other and engage in meaningful, purposeful, professional dialogue if it were not for the use of TI as a meeting place of ideas.

Change

The following quote was a postscript at the end of a posting. It speaks for it’s self. The author writes:

 

“All this tappedin discussion has really been a wonderful experience for me! This discussion gives me the opportunity to examine my thoughts and write them write down.”

Relation to Practice

The following quote is a wonderful example of reflecting on one’s practice in context with one of the reflective prompts. The author makes the following observation related to their practice:

I have a rather brilliant (subject) student who has taken it upon himself to create a (project) using (resource). He is enlisting other students to help him create objects such as (object list). He has also advertised for students to help with voice-overs for the (project).”

As these are examples of each criterion, the full analysis involved all of the posts for the entire room. Each post was analyzed for the criteria listed above. Since it was possible for a single post to have multiple criterion included as well as multiple counts of an individual criterion, I used the following method to code each post. Posts were grouped by original reflective prompt and assigned an identifier based on the prompt. Since there were 6 prompts, the identifiers are 1 through 6. Each post was then numbered within a prompt. This allowed for the identification of an exact prompt and post. All 7 criterions were assigned an ID (A) through (G). Using these codes, each post was analyzed counting the types of criterion and the numbers of times that criterion was found in evidence. The data was recorded using the following schema: (criterion prompt:post-frequency). Example: A1:7-3 translates to extension of ideas found three distinct instances in post 7 within reflective prompt 1. Table 6 is a summary of the results for the first month of exchanges posted in the Learning Theory/Technology group within Tapped In.

Table 6

Summary of 1 st month of exchanges in LTT group room The data is coded as follows(prompt:post-frequency).

Criterion

Coding (prompt/criterion value)

Summary

A. Extension of idea

1:2-1, 1:4-2, 1:7-3, 1:10-1, 1:11-2, (9)

3:1-3,3:2-1, 3:3-2 (6)

4:2-1 (1)

7:3:1, 7:4:1 (2)

18

B. Agreement

1:1-1, 1:3-1, 1:7-2, 1:8-1, 1:4-1, (6)

7:3:1, 7:4:1 (2)

8

C. Disagreement

1:2-1,1:4-1, (2)

4:2:1 (1)

3

D. Extension of resources

1:7-2, 1:9-1, (3)

4:2:1 (1)

7:1:1 (1)

5

E. New relationship

1:2:3-1, (1) includes face to face data

1

F. Change

1:5-1, 1:6-1 (2)

2

G. Relation to practice

1:1-1, 1:2-1, 1:5-1, (3)

3:1-3, 3:3-1 (4)

7

While most of the data collected comes from discussion in the LTT room in TI, data also was also collected in tow other areas: face-to-face conversations and e-mail.

Analysis of Face-to-Face Conversations

Since the start of this cycle, I have noticed an increase in my dialogue with others on campus surrounding the topic of learning theories. While it is possible that I have been more cognizant of these conversations, the frequency of these conversations has increased since the start of this cycle.

Since starting this cycle, I have engaged in over 25 separate conversations related to learning theories. Most of these conversations were initiated by others through simple references to the reflective prompts they had received in their e-mail. All of these conversations were informal.

The conversations logged represent interactions with 9 different individuals. Of these 9 individuals, 5 joined LTT in TI and 3 of these have contributed posts to the group. It is also important to note that of the 9 individuals, 2 were teachers that I had little contact with until this cycle. Of these 2, one has very strong opinions about these learning theories and related pedagogy, stating to me the importance of continuing this exercise. However, this individual has yet to post their comments in LTT. Asking this individual why they had not posted, they responded that they were fearful of putting their thoughts in writing for others to read. This individual was not alone in this thought as several others had alluded to not wanting to record their thoughts. Others made reference to the lack of time resulting in their inability to participate. One individual said of the digital native, digital immigrant article, “the article made me irritable” While not opposed to joining such a formal discussion, reference was made to teaching 8 classes making it impossible to participate in the group this year.

Analysis of E-mail

The e-mail received related to this project has been minimal. Several were simple responses expressing thanks for sending the articles. The following are excerpts from 6 of these messages.

Author 1 writes:

“Thanks for the articles!- I would really like to learn how to set up a classroom webpage…"

 

Here the author acknowledges the articles then makes known their desire to establish an online environment for their class. This is the first time this year that this individual has contacted our office with a desire to increase their use of technology.

Author 2 writes:

"Interesting article."

 


Author 3 writes:

"Great article- Thanks for sharing"

Authors (2) and (3) both acknowledge the article but with different responses. Author (3) clearly enjoyed the article. However, their response does not help me to understand their thinking in respect to the article. Author (2)’s response is also ambiguous. Later in the cycle, I had an opportunity to talk to author (2) about the article and the project. It was clear that author (2) had thought about the reflective post and how it related to their practice. Neither author (2) or (3) has joined LTT. Additionally, author (2) cited a lack of time as a hindrance to their participation.

Author 4 writes:

“Thanks for the article, Chris.  It's very thought provoking--and provocative.  My first reaction is somewhat defensive, I'm sure.  I can see how certain kinds of skill and knowledge based learning are very well suited to a digital approach.  Vocabulary and grammar games, for example, seem more attractive than flashcards and diagramming sentences on the chalkboard.  But the heart of what I do, wrestling with ideas (subject) and questioning what it means to be human in a universe of mystery, doesn't seem to me to have much to do with computers.  I don't think much has changed since Sophocles, Jesus, and the Buddha.  How's that for an immigrant mentality?  Anyway, thanks for making me think.”

 

Here is a response by an individual who clearly reflected on the implications for their practice related to the prompts. From the response, it seems that this faculty member has some resistance to the ideas presented and does not agree with the ideas that students today have these fundamental differences in the way they learn. While this is a response to the Digital Native, Digital Immigrant prompt, and the article was more about learning theories than computers, this faculty member seemed to focus most of their response on the technology. This would have been a wonderful post to have in the group room as it demonstrates a depth and purpose of reflection that would add to the depth of conversation in the group. This author joined the group but has not contributed to the group conversation.

Author 5 writes:

“Hallelujah!!!  I can only hope that those who've been fighting this change for years will at least view this video....it's been like beating my head against a wall!!!  …  Thanks, Chris...keep 'em coming!”

Author 5 shares their enthusiasm and support for the ideas presented in a video sent to the community discussing problem based learning models. This author also expresses some frustration with this type of discussion in the past and encourages me to continue with the project. However, the author never does join the group.

Author 6 writes

"…thank you. I’m not a teacher but I like to follow these things."

 

This message was a bit of a surprise. The author lets me know that although they are not a teacher, they find value and interest in reading about this topic. This however is the extent of involvement by author 6.

Of these 6 individuals, only one has joined LTT and none of them have posted their comments in the LTT forum. While there is support for sharing these ideas, there is hesitation to join the group to formally discuss these ideas.

General Reflections from Cycle 2

I had expected many faculty members would join this group in conversation. The faculty at the school is strong in their opinions and has historically been vocal in meetings and small groups. While there has been quality feedback in the three data forms discussed earlier, the level and intensity of discussion has not been as high as I might have expected. I believe this might have some relationship to the time of year this project started. Teachers are coming to the end of another year. This usually means there is an increase in daily tasks and increasing demands on their time. I was impressed with the additional conversations that took place outside of the LTT room. There was also indirect evidence supporting the existence of discussions about this project outside of my presence. I believe the faculty is open to these types of discussion in an informal environment- water cooler talk. However, the formal aspect of this project might have been met with some discomfort among some faculty. I point to evidence of faculty making their opinions and ideas known to me through e-mail and conversation yet not taking the step to share with the wider community. This evidence speaks directly to my third sub-question: How open will teachers be to sharing their views and opinions in a public forum in response to articles challenging the traditional methodologies of teaching?

Teachers that joined LTT and contributed were very open with their ideas. I was impressed by the level of reflection related to personal practice. Elements of mutual engagement, joint enterprise and shared repertoire were in existence in the postings of the room as discussed earlier. Several posts were very reflective and demonstrated considerable thought about the material presented and their personal practices. With the quality of discussion in this new forum, why didn’t more teachers join the group? Why did some members fail to contribute to the group? What was the difference between the teachers that joined and those that did not? Beyond the issues of time and timing, could there be something about the school culture that limited participation? What else could I have done to increase the number of faculty members engaged in dialogue centered on learning theories, technology and pedagogy?

It is also important to note that only one member of the administrative team has joined the LTT group. The reflective prompts were sent to the entire community with the invitations but I have only had dialogue, related to this project, with one administrative team member. Why have the others not joined? I purposely have not made specific requests to each division head as I wanted to group to form on its own. However, there has been no dialogue with these individuals on learning theories, technology and pedagogy. While I could have initiated the conversation, that was not the focus here. I do know that in the case of one individual, the technology might have been an issue. It appears that personal invitations and opportunities for face to face conversations on these topics may be a necessary augmentation. This is something that I will have to consider as I try to develop this CoP.

It is possible that the technology itself might have been an issue for others as well. For most of this community, a discussion forum such as TI is a new experience. I believe that it would be beneficial to offer several introductory sessions on working in the TI environment. These sessions would allow faculty the opportunity to interact with each other in the TI environment with access to individual help. This being said, two members of LTT are known to me to have weak computer skills. Yet, they successfully and independently set up an account in TI and joined LTT. Neither member however, posted to the group. I had an opportunity to discuss posting with one of these individuals and they expressed hesitation to put their thoughts in a place for others to read. The also expressed how much they enjoyed reading the dialogue that was taking place. In short, they were content watching from the side. This brings me back to the question of culture and what could be done to increase participation.

Looking at culture, the school has a climate that really pushes the students to perform in all areas. The school tries to focus on academics, arts and athletics equally. This places pressure on all students to participate in multiple activities. Teachers feel this pressure as well. The students work hard and much is expected of them. Our students get into some of the top colleges in the country providing evidence of jobs well done. This might also factor into the low number of participants. I believe that there are many that do not see the need for change. The theories that have been presented represent change. While there has been an effort by some at the school to fight the concept of “we have always done it that way” or “we have a precedent”, the concept is still present on the campus. Without a perceived need to make changes, there is little reason to participate in discussions about change when time is so limited. I must focus on raising awareness for the need to change in our practice. One way this might be accomplished is to focus on current reports, studies and news items related to these issues. There have been many this year and they might help raise awareness to levels that stimulate a teacher to the next level of action and dialogue.

Communities of practice (CoP) take time to develop. This is just the beginning of this process. With new teachers joining each year, this might be a group that would have greater response to these types of discussions. Integrate this type of dialogue into a teacher initiation program. This would help take the focus off the technology and place it on practice and pedagogy. The technology would be a means of delivery for this information and a means to continue dialogue. The current room could continue next year but a room for the “class of 2005” faculty would provide them with their own space. Ownership and collaboration of ideas in this space along with other aspects of an induction program might make a difference. Giving faculty several reasons to go to this space may elevate the frequency of visits increasing the likelihood of greater interaction.