Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Dr. Jeffrey Greene lecture @ Friday Institute

Recently, I attended a lecture by Dr. Jeffrey A. Greene, Ph.D. at the Friday Institute  The lecture was an installment of the FI Seminar Series which showcases innovative work from FI research and engagement teams, as well as that of their partners in the College of Education, throughout NC State University, and across the nation.

The lecturer, Dr. Greene (CVGoogle Scholar, Twitter) is an Associate Professor at UNC Chapel Hill where he also serves as Director of Graduate and Undergraduate Research Programs in the School of Education.  Greene has an academic background in educational psychology and measurement, statistics, and evaluation.
Upon reviewing Greene’s faculty website before the lecture, my eye was immediately drawn the the quote he chose include at the top of the page: 

"Soft pedagogics have taken the place of the old steep and rocky path to learning. But from this lukewarm air the bracing oxygen of effort is left out. It is nonsense to suppose that every step in education can be interesting. The fighting impulse must often be appealed to." 

William James

Reading this, I wondered what point this established scholar was getting at by including this quote in such a prominent location on his website.  Was he suggesting that educators are headed down a slippery slope of trying to make every instructional endeavor overly fun, novel, and catchy (turned up to 11, if you will) out of a fear that otherwise, students would not pay attention and/or learn? Is the instructional technology field guilty of exacerbating this trend with all of our fancy tools (apps, videos, 3D models, virtual teachers in an online class, etc.)?  If so, are we doing kids a disservice by desensitizing them to all but the most flashy and engaging of learning materials? In a quest to make all learning flashy and fun, are we shying away from the simple truth that often, learning (especially in later life in the workplace or as a college student) is ultimately dependent upon a person sitting down and putting in the challenging mental work necessary to understand new information? From my personal experience, I can promise you that nothing about my doctoral coursework at Virginia Tech was overly engaging or fun.  The vast majority of my time at VT was spent on what James called, “the old steep and rocky path to learning”.  

Lots to think about here and I look forward to seeing your responses in the comments section. Like everything in life, I suspect a reasonable balance is best.  I am all for instructors putting in the effort, where appropriate, to use technology to make lessons engaging or even fun. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that ultimately, it is the students who have to put in most of the effort and that often, outside of school, learning environments will not always be so polished and appealing. My hope is that educators are always being thoughtful about how to best prepare kids for what lies ahead.

Alright, moving on…

Some notes from the lecture: 

1.Greene started out talking about what it means when we call modern students digital natives. He acknowledged that yes, millennials and neo-mellennials have likely used technological devices their entire lives but gave some pushback on any assumptions that they absolutely need these devices to learn and may somehow be unable to learn without them. Here, I am in agreement with Greene. 

2. Dr. Greene then moved on to discuss what he calls epistemic cognition which is summed up nicely here. Without getting caught up in a bunch of philosophical terms like positivism and post-positivism, epistemic cognition refers to how students think of knowledge. Do they view knowledge as fixed and absolute, as highly negotiable and changing, or somewhere in between? Greene suggests students’ epistemic cognition is particularly important in the modern world.  He posits that since students are bombarded with information from a huge variety of sources and opinions, it is vital that they think critically about what they are hearing. Greene made a case for the benefits of helping students view knowledge as something that is to be constantly questioned, evaluated, and changed according to current information. 

For example, think of how much scientific attitudes have changed over the years about things like smoking or climate change in light of new information. Scientific facts were facts until they weren’t anymore. What was thought to be true has changed. People questioned, evaluated, and acted accordingly.  Interestingly, such a change is presently underway in the education field. Scholars are openly challenging the longheld belief in the existence of learning styles (more on this in another post!) and this is certainly an area where educators may want evaluate their our beliefs accordingly. 

I think Greene is on very solid ground here. It is vital that we teach kids to be critical consumers of information and to constantly evaluate their beliefs/thoughts/knowledge and the beliefs/thoughts/knowledge of others.  Given our area of work at the intersection of the media and instructional technology fields, it seems that we are well positioned to help students cultivate such behaviors. What do you think? Is this important? Should kids view knowledge as negotiable and changing? If so, how can we help them learn these habits of the mind?

3. Finally, Dr.  Greene moved on discuss Self Regulated Learning (SRL), an area in which he has done extensive research. He shared the example of the Stanford marshmallow experiment. This series of studies was conducted by Mischel back in the 60s and 70s (he still publishes on the topic today). Check out this video to learn more. Anyway, the findings of the experiments strongly suggested that children who were able to wait longer for gratification tended to have better life outcomes like higher SAT scores, greater educational attainment, and lower body mass index. Pretty strong implications, right?

Dr. Greene did a great job connecting the SRL/gratification research to the attributes and affordances of modern technologies. His point was that, sure, such hardware and software open up a huge variety of instructional opportunities that may otherwise not be possible. However, on the other hand, they also open the possibility for vast array of distractions (websites, social networks, videos, etc.) that potentially eat up valuable learning time.  Greene self admitted that he was prone to such distractions and often fell down what he called the ”You Tube Rabbit Hole”.  He explained how, at times, when working at his desk at night, he would suddenly and inexplicably find himself watching videos of the 80s band Journey with a half hour suddenly elapsed. Listening to him talk, I knew exactly what he meant (though my YouTube Rabbit Holes involve Manchester City F.C. highlights and clips from Archer episodes)!

           Dr. Greene wrapped up by making a strong case that in light of how much time modern students are spending with devices (that offer powerful opportunities for learning but also very alluring ways to get off task) we need to teach students to self regulate their learning especially at a young age. Greene offered some strategies and later, I found this paper which seems helpful. Some of the strategies that are suggested as effective for teaching SRL are goal setting, planning, self-monitoring, appropriate help-seeking, and self-evaluation. Greene suggested that teachers directly model these behaviors for their students.

So what do you think? Can SRL be taught or is the ability to delay gratification hereditary? Are student self regulation strategies already entrenched before they start school or can we shape them? Is this something we as instructional technologists should care about and try to support with teachers?


So that is it! I am glad I had the chance to attend this lecture as it gave me lots of new information to think about. I would very much like to hear what you think about all that was discussed here. Please consider posting some comments and try your best to stay out of the YouTube Rabbit Hole!

Chris W.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Mobile technology - should it change what we do?

Mobile technology is changing the landscape of the business world. What about our instructional world? Should it? Or should that be "life outside of school?"

I was reading a mobile predictions report about trends in mobile technology published by Forrester Research Inc. I know, not the kind of thing you read every day, but I thought it might provide some insight about where our thinking should be with regards to mobile technology looking forward. Some key phrases jumped out at me as something we need to pay attention to: "ubiquitous devices
with perpetual connectivity" and "The intersection of mobile with the physical world will emerge as a top priority" (p.2). As I continued to read, this really struck me as applicable in our context:

"Mobile is transformative, but only if you can engage your consumers in their exact moment of need, which we refer to as a “mobile moment,” with the right services, content, or information. Not only do you need to understand their context (e.g., situation, preferences, or emotions) in that moment but you also need insights gleaned from data over time to know how to best serve them in that moment."(p.3)

They're describing the power of marketing at point of need. Isn't that when learners really learn? At the very core, they are describing differentiating the experience for each individual. Education is not the only industry moving toward personalization. This statement is a distinct shift away from one size fits all and everyone learns everything at the same time. So how do we apply the research of the business world to our context? Should we? I would argue that we should learn from observing all around us - and that includes business marketing and mobile strategies. If 61% of teens own an iPhone (Piper Jaffrey, p.4), that should change everything.

One last thought from the introduction of Predictions 2014 - "[Marketers] must leverage current context and insights to evolve their ability to serve customers in their mobile moments. Static experiences will fall flat."

I love the line "Static experiences will fall flat." That's true in any context in true.

Keep moving forward.

Husson, Thomas and Ask, Julie A. "Predictions 2014: Mobile Trends For Marketers." Forrester Research Inc, January 13, 2014.
"27th Semi-Annual Taking Stock with Teens Survey, Spring 2014." Piper Jaffray. April 9, 2014.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

What Gets the Most Attention?

We've been talking a bit lately about strengths and how a team needs people with different strengths. We all bring something to the table. I have been thinking about that a lot in the context of children. We're all teachers at some level and many of us are also parents - and we certainly serve as parents for many of our students along the way...
How do we help support them in their passions? How do we figure out what makes a child tick then put him in a position to experience success? What we focus on in students can be an influence. Most of us can think of a teacher who ignited passion in us, or one who completely put out the only spark we had.

Monday, May 12, 2014

School Media Spotlight

Recently, 8th grade students at Durant Road Middle school completed an enrichment project in which they conducted an oral history interview with a family member, wrote a unique focus question inspired by their interest in their own family history, explored primary and secondary source documents to gather information and images supporting that focus, and culminated their results using an online tool that best expresses their findings to others. 

The project was the result of collaboration between the media specialist Ms. Ziller and social studies teacher Ms. Richardson at DRMS. Students demonstrated competence with a variety of presentation tools such as Animoto, Haiku Deck, and Glogster while they gained valuable experience speaking in front of a crowd. Going forward, all student work will be published in an iBook.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Successful Learning and Momentum

Education specialists all over the world describe the essence of good teaching as something measurable, tangible, visible. Success is not a mystery. Students can show what success looks like. Teachers can have conversations around student success. How does this occur; how do teachers talk about what good teaching looks like? As we all strive to improve our craft, how do we go about encouraging positive peer interaction, protocol for discussion -- online and face to face? Like anything new, we must be explicit, straightforward and clear to to the point where the success criteria is obvious.

This involves much more than simply posting objectives on the board. Learning outcomes need to be part of individual student's goal setting. As we design learning opportunities to meet the needs of our individual students, we need to include the students in the design process. After all, what is our end game -- to push student learning into the zone of proximal development, to remove scaffolds, teach metacognition and academic independence, guarantee student success, to remove labels so that students will have a growth mindset, establish a safe learning environment where students can and should take risks, make mistakes, and grow learners.

As John Hattie explains in his latest publication, Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning, thinking is hard work. No learner naturally chooses to think independently. This is why questioning, having deep conversations, debating, making comparisons and digging deeper is so important for all learners! My team and I believe that promoting wonder is one of the secrets to making students engaged stakeholders in their own learning.

eWISE is an inquiry learning process, where students choose the direction of their learning based on interests, questioning, natural curiosity and exploration. The cyclical process includes developing strong questions based on wonder. Students want to know more, want to learn, read, research, discover, think. They investigate independently, collaboratively and with teacher support. Synthesis is where the thinking comes in. Students decide what information is important enough to express, to share, to solve problems; and throughout the process learners evaluate. They evaluate their own thinking; they evaluate the information they discover. Peers and teachers provide evaluative feedback, ask questions and display genuine interest in the information the students are sharing and applying. To learn more about the eWISE model, visit the ITLMS website.