Cycle Three Report: Sharing New Technology and Pedagogy
Glendale Community College has been committed to Staff Development for many years. One of the goals for the '04-'05 school year is to provide "training in instructional media and technology". This goal clarifies an emphasis on a broad range of technologies, which connects intimately with my lessons learned in the previous two cycles. In recent years, the number of technology oriented workshops has increased dramatically, with the most popular sessions centering on WebCT use and Powerpoint. Ironically, I had been moving away from these two software packages over the previous 11 months. My WebCT course has not been used for one year, and I only used it this year for evidence of the pedagogy I had now abandoned. This shift in my actions does not necessarily reflect WebCT as a course tool. Rather, it reflects my own need to move away from past practices as a means of rethinking my pedagogy.
My use of Powerpoint, by contrast, has been something that I have been wrestling with throughout the Spring semester in all of my courses. Powerpoint was one part of the "show" (mentioned in cycle two) that I had developed since my teaching career began. Although its typical use is for traditional presentations that proceed in one direction, I've always thought that I used the software differently. The bias of this position is, of course, undeniable. Consequently, I began tracking my use of powerpoint over the previous three months, and I've discovered that my use has changed in both nature and frequency. I now jump around slide shows more frequently than in the past, and I use other tools (i.e., internet) in my lectures more often. My use can be characterized as an inverted bell, with a clear dip during the middle three weeks of the term.
These two changes in my use of technology were inspired by my experiences of learning via community. According to Bielacyc & Collins (1999), there are several dimensions that define learning communities. First, the goals of the group must be developed so that they produce movement away from individualism, while promoting consensus and democratic process. Second, the learning activities should be visible, dispersed, and encourage sharing. Third, the teacher must become a facilitator whose identity moves and develops as a function of the expertise across the group. Fourth, there should be a clear understanding that many resources exist well beyond the classroom. Fifth, the knowledge of the community should be celebrated as being both uniquely individual and collective within the community. Sixth, the community's discourse should encourage the development of a shared repertoire, while stimulating research and reflection. Seventh, the products and outcomes of learning should be de-emphasized so that learning processes could be made central to the community's growth. So, to address my research question regarding the best way to share my newfound technology and pedagogy, I turned to the learning community model.
To work within the existing framework of the college, as well as grow from the college's tradition, I developed two workshops that were designed to meet traditional expectations of a staff development session. These two sessions, entitled Education in a Technocentric Environment, were advertised as introductory sessions, and they were followed by four open lab sessions. To support these meetings, I designed a website to host discussions, chat sessions, shared resources, and a photo album. The collective goal of the sessions and site was to learn about learning communities as a learning community.
Technology can be taught in this manner also, but only because it is subordinate to the overarching theme of education. This is the way that educational technology is best approached because it reinforces technology's role as a tool. Tools are best used in the hands of skilled experts who put these tools to the most productive use. In academia, educators are experts regarding their subject matter and means of sharing it. Technology is merely one tool that they may decide to use. To share this idea, I subtitled my workshops "confessions of a reformed techno junkie", and I tried to share common misuses and misunderstandings of technology as a tool. I surrounded these mistakes with ideas and guidance about what I believe are the essential questions surrounding education:
This presentation was followed by four, one-hour open lab sessions, and the time in between and following the meetings was supposed to be filled the use of the site that I had developed. To make the site inviting, I designed it to capture the spirit of community that I saw across the college. The site's main page is dominated by a fun play on Rafael's The Academy, and it has a link to a photo album of the college community to which anyone could upload images. I also created avatars for each member to personalize the discussion board.
Initial interest in my sessions was moderate across the campus, and this was largely due to my attempts to mask the real meaning of the workshop. The title, Education in a Technocentric Environment, made many uneasy because they did not know what to expect during this hour and a half workshop. I received 7 phone calls from people asking about what software I would be teaching. Despite this, I maintained my position that the meetings need be advertised as a discussion of education. Attendance was good for the first two meetings: 21 signed up for the first, morning session, and 16 for the second, afternoon session. This reinforced my belief that future sessions should be offered at different times so that a broader cross section of the campus could be involved. Even those who signed up were concerned about the meeting's agenda. In fact, an attendee inquired, "what am I going to get out of this?... are you going to teach something I don't know?... should I stay?" I tried to be reassuring about the need to discuss technology's impact on education. The person stayed for the workshop, and complimented me regarding the workshop's message as the room emptied.
The open lab meetings that followed were awkward, at best. Despite my discussion of learning communities at both "introductory" meetings, most who attended the follow-ups seemed to expect content and direction from me. Being leery of this, I planned outlines for the follow up sessions. The first meeting focused on the internet, information, and democracy. Each of the ten attendees were active and engaged during the meeting. The second was more directed, and it centered on blog use and set-up. This meeting hosted 8 attendees with very different technical abilities, and this made the pace of the meeting erratic. I found myself scurrying around the room reassuring folks of their progress. As we finished, many of the attendees expressed curiosity regarding the blogs of others and some even began commenting on the sites of their peers. As disjointed as the session may have felt, I would call it a success because they all left with a basic appreciation for the blog's role in education; and some even built fairly elaborate blogs. The agenda for the third meeting was synchronous versus asynchronous communication, and I had hoped to use both a bulletin board and chat tool to share ideas as our meeting progressed. This never happened. The 4 who attended wanted to work on their blogs, and this lead us into a discussion about multi-user domains, such as myspace.com. One person attended the last meeting, so he and I shared thoughts about the college. Although this discussion was not about technology exclusively, it did help reinforce the notion of community as a means to learn together.
There was sporadic use of the website that I created to augment my workshops. The links (to various resources) on the homepage were used most frequently, but the other, more powerful tools were hardly used at all. Among the links accessed was a sample blog that I prepared to share the different uses of a blog. There were also "technical resources" that pointed to three different search engines and one link to a page on netiquette. In an effort to bolster use following the workshops, I prepared thank you cards to many who attended the meetings. I used the theme from Dr. Suess's "Oh the Places You'll Go!" for the cards, and I made magnets with the site's URL and the phrase "Oh the Places We'll Go" on it. Despite these efforts, however, usage did not increase in the months that followed. In the future, I may focus exclusively on my own Division for the development of a community-based site.
My reactions to this cycle are complex. At one level, I am very pleased that I was able to share ideas regarding learning theory with so many of my colleagues. My hope is that these ideas will serve as the seeds of community. Hope, however, has been fleeting over the weeks since I mailed my thank you cards and magnets. This is the deeper level of my response, and it is the one that is full of doubt and insecurity. Perhaps I approached this wrong- and I should have been explicit about the workshop's purpose? Maybe I was too progressive in my advocacy for learning communities and learner-centered classrooms? I suspect that I will never really know since the timing of these workshops was also poor. That is, they were offered over the last 6 weeks of the semester, and many of my colleagues may have simply been too busy to participate. In the future I should consider holding these meetings earlier in the term or at departmental/division-wide retreats.
One thing that I have a clearer sense of now is the enormity of this undertaking. It is not enough to merely share what I have done over the past two cycles. Wiki and blog technology are powerful, but they are best understood in the broader contexts of educational technology and constructivism. A workshop followed by a few labs are not sufficient, and a requirement for graduate training in educational technology is clearly not feasible. A potential middle ground would be an education technology course for faculty from the college and surrounding districts. I have since developed the curriculum for such a course, and I will pursue its development in the future.
I was also intrigued by the collegiality that emerged among the faculty who attended. Becoming a learner requires a shift in identity for many educators. This seemed apparent in the chumminess that developed as the workshop progressed, and I felt as though community was being created effortlessly in such an environment. I looked to research by Weisman & Marr (2002) to validate my perceptions. Apparently, there are 5 factors that impact the sense of belonging on community college campuses. The following list also includes recommendations for dealing with these factors:
Academic Hierarchy (goal: boost faculty's pride in the unique role of community colleges and the need for diverse programs of study)
Interpersonal Relations (goal: continue to provide faculty with opportunities to interact with other faculty and administrators)
Degree of Autonomy
Orientation to Institution
Bielacyc, K. & Collins, A. (1999). Learning communities in classrooms. In C.M. Reigeluth (Ed.) Instructional Design Theories and Models: A New Paradigm of Instructional Theory, Volume 2. Mahway, NJ.: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Welshman, I. M., & Ma rr, J. W. (2002). Building community: The second century, the same challenge. New Directions for Community Colleges, 118, 99-107.
Site created on August 10, 2004