Making Change Happen: 21st Century Skills and Meaningful Integration into the Classroom

Tme-at-eeobechnology keeps advancing, students keep changing, and the world we live in is vastly different than the one in which most of us seasoned educators completed our student teaching experiences. Yet in many ways, teacher preparation hasn’t reflected these changes. However, there are myriad excellent examples of students, teachers, and teacher educators engaging in truly 21st century teaching and learning. The challenge we face as a community of educators is being able to bring these innovative practices to all students, teachers, and teacher educators. It isn’t enough to simply tweet about technology-enhanced education to other educational technology converts.   How do we engage in a broad, open, inclusive, and effective push for cutting edge yet sustainable teaching and learning at both the k-12 and the postsecondary level?

21st century teaching and learning isn’t solely defined by technology, but certainly one cannot consider the art and science of teaching and learning in 2017 and beyond without considering the role that technology plays. In my own work as a teacher educator and an online professor, I have been advocating for intentional and frequent integration of technology into teacher education programs and k-12 classrooms. I’ve flipped my classroom, tried all sorts of technologies (and both succeeded and failed), and I’ve shared that work with my peers. As a result of this work, in the summer of 2016 I had the great privilege of being invited to attend an Innovators’ Summit focused on advancing the use of educational technology in teacher preparation, along with the Dean of the Rossier School of Education, Dr. Karen Symms Gallagher. I wrote up my reflections on this summit on my blog, and integrated this work into my work as a teaching professor.

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Innovators’ Summit Attendees on the steps of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building inside the White House Complex.

I was thrilled when I then received an invitation to attend a second Innovators’ Summit at the White House in December of 2016. During this summit, I spent two days working with around 50 other teacher educators, professors, deans, k-12 educators, and policy makers from around the nation on the shared vision that was articulated in a U.S. Department of Education Office of Educational Technology policy brief as follows:

Our students deserve to have teachers, including novice teachers, who are fully prepared to meet their needs. In today’s technology rich world, that means educators need to be prepared to meaningfully incorporate technology into their practice immediately upon entering the classroom. Our nation’s motivated and committed pre-service teachers deserve to be trained by faculty using technology in transformative ways that thoughtfully support and measure learning gains.

Faculty at schools of education across the country should operate with a common language and set of expectations for effective and active use of technology in Prekindergarten-grade 12 (P-12) and at postsecondary education levels. Further, schools of education should work with P-12 schools and school districts to provide meaningful opportunities for pre-service teachers, in-service teachers, school and district leadership, and faculty to co-learn and collaborate to better understand and use technology as a tool to transform teaching and learning experiences for learners of all ages. Given the rapid pace at which technology evolves, faculty need regular opportunities to both refresh their capacity and share innovative tools and strategies with other professors in the field to ensure their technology use is contributing to learning and achievement.

The U.S. Department of Education believes it is important that all programs responsible for pre-service teacher training prepare all graduates to effectively select, evaluate, and use appropriate technologies and resources to create experiences that advance student engagement and learning. We call upon leaders of teacher preparation programs to engage in concerted, programmatic shifts in their approach to pre-service teacher preparation.

This policy brief was based partially on our work at the Innovators’ Summit in June 2016, along with numerous other cutting edge educators from around the nation, and was made real by the incredible work of the Office of Educational Technology.

On page 13, the policy brief highlights the work of the faculty of the Rossier School of Education’s Master of Arts in Teaching program.  The course being discussed in the second paragraph is the EDUC 518: The Application of Theories of Learning to Classroom Practice course that I have led for the past several years; we have made significant changes to the course in that time.

To improve their own online instruction, full-time and adjunct faculty at the University of Southern California (USC) collaborated on a data-informed process of course redesign to better meet the needs of their students. USC realized that student feedback via surveys and exit interviews were paramount in enhancing the program with the latest technology and pedagogy. Using student responses, faculty members continue to develop an internal community of practice to give each other feedback on how to improve virtual classroom practices and learn about new techniques and technological tools. For example, faculty members developed a video-based onboarding process where new faculty can engage with multimedia, resources, and lesson plans. Looking ahead, faculty are working toward creating an inventive video-based professional development model for flipped learning as part of a new version of the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program.

Prior to these changes, online course deliverables consisted of five papers and asynchronous discussion boards. Today, students are working collaboratively on online-based documents, recording sample video lessons for constructive peer critique, providing and receiving virtual feedback from colleagues and professors, building dynamic concept maps via web presentation platforms, and learning through flipped instruction models. As more K-12 schools shift to variants of flipped instruction, USC faculty models this work for pre-service teachers and colleagues who increasingly recognize how these pre-recorded videos and prompts can maximize in-class instructional time at the K-12 level and in higher education.

As we engaged in the continuation of this work at the December Summit, what struck me the most was how much every single moment of each of these Summits was focused on making change happen. In academia, we often talk about the theoretical, or about the research, and debate the philosophy of Approach A versus Approach B. There certainly is value in those conversations. However, there is also the danger that the conversation never becomes action, that we only talk to those who agree with us, or that we wait for everything to become well defined and backed by big data before we make a move. The problem with that is that while academia and administration tend to move at a belabored pace, technological advances are happening now. While we are busy completing lit reviews and gaining IRB approval, students are out there in a 21st century world, with all of the opportunities and pitfalls that exist.

At this Innovator’s Summit, we were pushed hard to develop plans of action. We all brought considerable knowledge and expertise to the table. Our philosophical, theoretical, and research discussions always were crystallized into things to do. This itself is a transformative practice. Director of the Office of Educational Technology Joseph South told us, back in June, that President Obama likes to say to the experts he calls upon that “there is no other room.” Meaning, the experts who will make the change happen are right here, right now, in this room; that’s why we were asked to be there. There is no other room out there where other, better people are going to solve the problem for us. The onus is on us to make sure that positive change happens, and that the brilliant work being done all over the country by forward thinking educators is shared and expanded upon to the benefit of all students.

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Me with Dr. Joseph South, the Director of the Office of Educational Technology.

So, we spent lots of time writing on sticky notes and chart paper (yes, yes, old school, I know), and snapping photos of innovative thoughts (there’s the technology for you). We got into groups and brainstormed, and then formed those brainstorms into concrete action plans. We focused our work around the following four principles established by the Office of Educational Technology:

  • Focus on the active use of technology to enable learning and teaching through creation, production, and problem-solving.
  • Build sustainable, program wide systems of professional learning for higher education instructors to strengthen and continually refresh their capacity to use technological tools to enable transformative learning and teaching.
  • Ensure pre-service teachers’ experiences with educational technology are program-deep and program-wide, rather than one-off courses separate from their methods courses.
  • Align efforts with research-based standards, frameworks, and credentials recognized across the field.
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Me speaking to Summit attendees as the co-chair of the Active Use of Technology Workgroup about our action plan for moving forward with this work.

I was able to walk away from this two day experience with a set of concrete recommendations for my Dean, who was unfortunately unable to attend the December Summit, as well as a plan for reviewing the work our Master of Arts in Teaching Program faculty have been doing in revising our program.

 

On a larger scale, those of us who attended the Innovators’ Summit at the White House were also asked to commit ourselves to one of four workgroups organized around the four principles shared above. I am co-chairing the Active Use of Technology Workgroup, and I am excited to see what we are able to do with a motivated, focusewest-wing-selfie-2d group of experts on educational technology.

And of course, here’s the obligatory West Wing selfie:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Talking EdTech

TALKING EDTECH

Technology isn’t going to become any less omnipresent in our lives; with the rate at which technology advances, we actually have no idea what type of world our current students will enter when they are ready to pursue careers and make big decisions.  So how on earth do we prepare them for that?  How can we even begin to teach students about technology or prepare teachers to teach technology when we don’t know what technology will look like even a few years from now?

Recently, I’ve been fortunate to be able to engage in lots of great conversations with other professors, classroom teachers, and policy makers around educational technology, in an attempt to answer these questions.  A couple of months ago, I was invited to participate in a summit on innovation in educational technology in teacher preparation. There, I made connections and began conversations with other innovators and experts at all levels from k-16 and beyond. Those conversations have continued at a distance since then, up through this week. On Monday, I led a Twitter chat for the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology, centered around the active use of technology in teacher preparation. Yesterday I had an amazing conversation on the TeacherCast podcast about educational technology, social media, and a host of other related topics. These conversations are absolutely critical to improving both the teaching practice and teacher preparation programs.  It’s no secret that, while we do have plenty of rockstar teachers and professors out there using technology in active and transformative ways, we also have a lot of schools, teachers, and professors still approaching technology from an old-school mentality (pun very intended).

I want to share with you some of the key points that emerged, repeatedly, from these conversations.

Teaching and learning with technology should be a tool to enhance the active engagement of students.  Tech certainly doesn’t have to be integrated into every lesson, but there are many ways in which tech can expand the classroom outside of the 4 brick and mortar walls, can provide more interactive and relevant learning experiences, and can teach students the valuable technology skills that they are most likely to need in the future.

But wait, didn’t I just say we don’t know what technology will look like even a few years from now? I sure did. So that’s why technology needs to look less like:

  1. Teaching students to type on a keyboard.
  2. Teaching students to use PowerPoint, Word, and Excel.
  3. Having students use a sanitized and heavily blocked version of the Internet.

And more like:

  1. Exposing students to many different types of technology.
  2. Modeling how to learn a new technology by networking, searching, and transferring knowledge.
  3. Teaching students good judgment for who to interact with online and how much and what types of information to share.
  4. Teaching students about the various things that contribute to their digital identity.

The difference here is that one approach teaches specific technologies, while the other teaches skills that will (probably) transfer to any type of technology that is developed. We must teach students and preservice teachers how to learn about technology and how to have good judgment around technology.

Another major point that I want to emphasize after having had these conversations this week, is that we in the field of education need to have these active conversations regularly, and we need to be talking across disciplines and across institutions and grade levels. Professors need to be engaged in conversations with classroom teachers who are actually implementing this transformative, active technology. Classroom teachers need to be modeling for and supporting each other in their implementation of active, transformative tech. We need to all listen to k-12 students; we need to know how they are using the technology, what they would like to use the technology for, and how they imagine the technology growing.

I want to make the final point that we have passed the point at which implementing technology in every subject area is optional. The Common Core standards require technology implementation and instruction. The U.S. Department of Education expects that schools implement and instruct in transformative, active use of technology. Living and working in the modern United States practically requires the use of technology. Teachers and professors who avoid teaching with technology are doing a disservice to k-12 students and preservice teachers; we can no more decide to avoid teaching with technology than we can decide not to teach kids math or language arts.

The future is here. We must be prepared to teach in and for the future.

Innovation in EdTech: Getting it Done!

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I recently had the privilege of spending a day just outside of DC, working with incredible educators from around the country, ASCD, and the US Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology. Professors, teachers, administrators, deans, organizations, and policymakers came together for a summit on innovation in teacher preparation, with a focus on preparing preservice teachers to effectively use technology in their classrooms.

Heading into the day, I wasn’t sure what to expect; I feared a day of arguing about ideology, or coming up with pie in the sky ideas with no follow through.

Wow, was I wrong!

I knew I was in for something great as soon as I saw the objectives for the day:

Gather information from innovative teacher preparation programs on what ED can do to help the field move toward four goals for edtech in teacher prep:

  • Focusing on the active use of technology to enable learning and teaching through creation, production, and problem solving.
  • Building sustainable, program wide systems of professional learning for higher education instructors to strengthen and continually refresh their capacity to use technological tools to enable transformative learning and teaching.
  • Ensuring pre-service teachers’ experiences with educational technology are program deep and program wide rather than one off courses separate from their methods courses.
  • Aligning the above efforts with research based standards, frameworks, and credentials recognized across the field.
  • Secure plans and commitments from attendees outlining what they will do to move their institutions and the field at large toward better preparing teachers in the effective use of technology to transform teaching and learning.

This summit was the best of what we can do when our most progressive minds come together; when theory meets practice, and when teachers and researchers work alongside each other. We worked in small, collaborative groups, we made strong connections, and we heard case studies of ed tech success. We did come up with pie in the sky ideas, but we also put actionable plans down on paper. We shared those ideas directly with a Senior White House Policy Advisor on education.

I’m proud to say that in the MAT@USC, we are already doing many of these things; as a matter of fact, that is a big reason we were one of the schools selected to attend this summit. Our program is revolutionary in having made hybrid, webcam-enabled teacher preparation a success; a huge risk for such a prestigious institution that has clearly paid off for our school and for our students. We also have a significant amount of active technology use built into our courses; over the next couple of weeks, I will be releasing a series of blog posts that highlight how we have transformed one of our foundational courses, The Application of Theories of Learning to Classroom Practice, from a more traditional, predominantly pencil-and-paper assessment course, to a flipped-learning, collaborative and formative assessment based course that thrives through the use of third-party, freely available Web 2.0 technologies.

However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t still innovations to be made. As we move forward with the continual improvement of our teacher preparation program, I am excited to tackle the task of more thoroughly integrating active, standards-based technological preparation in all of our coursework.

One of the ways that all teacher preparation programs can begin to make improvements like this, to move intentionally toward meeting the objectives above, is to read and integrate the National Education Technology Plan into their curriculum. This plan is brilliant, multilayered, and comprehensive. If you are in any way involved with education, then this is something with which you need to become familiar. As stated within the Plan:

Technology can be a powerful tool for transforming learning. It can help affirm and advance relationships between educators and students, reinvent our approaches to learning and collaboration, shrink long-standing equity and accessibility gaps, and adapt learning experiences to meet the needs of all learners.

Our schools, community colleges, and universities should be incubators of exploration and invention. Educators should be collaborators in learning, seeking new knowledge and constantly acquiring new skills alongside their students. Education leaders should set a vision for creating learning experiences that provide the right tools and supports for all learners to thrive.

However, to realize fully the benefits of technology in our education system and provide authentic learning experiences, educators need to use technology effectively in their practice. Furthermore, education stakeholders should commit to working together to use technology to improve American education. These stakeholders include leaders; teachers, faculty, and other educators; researchers; policymakers; funders; technology developers; community members and organizations; and learners and their families.

We don’t know what kind of world, what kind of economy, what kind of social situations, and what kind of lives we are preparing our k-12 students to inhabit. We don’t know what the technology they will be using will look like. Short of an apocalypse, though, there will be MORE technology, though, not less. Students and teachers will need MORE ability to effectively navigate a technological world, and it is the role of teacher educators to ensure that we produce teachers with the necessary skills.

In what ways have you incorporated technology into your own teaching or into your teacher preparation program? Share them below, and/or tweet them at me at @DrCorinneHyde, and tag @OfficeofEdTech – let’s keep the conversation going!

photo credit: P1000641 via photopin (license)

The Quandary of the Female Professor

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Harriette J. Cooke, the first female full professor in the U.S., in 1871.

It’s that time again for a new term to begin.  I’m meeting all of my master’s and doctoral students in these first couple of weeks, and I’m faced with the same dilemma I’ve faced since I began as a professor 6.5 years ago.  Do I change my teaching style to deal with the inherent sexism and internalized oppression of my students?

This might seem like a dramatic claim.  Most of my students are women, after all, so how can sexism be impacting my teaching?  Unfortunately, it’s the sad truth.  I’m a teaching professor, so the vast majority of my performance evaluation is based on student course evaluations.  Those little bubbles that students fill in at the end of the course are significant.  I usually do quite well on these evaluations.  Only a handful of my students every year rate me anything other than Above Average or Excellent.  What I find to be the most interesting, though, and the most telling, is the qualitative remarks that students make on my evaluations.  Generally, if I receive a lower quantitative mark, it is accompanied by a qualitative remark about how I’m not warm enough.  I’m intimidating.  I should present myself as more of a coach instead of a professor.  My comments on papers should be more kind.

I’m by no means a perfect professor.  Sometimes I forget to respond to emails.  I make mistakes in grading now and again.  Some students don’t like my low-lecture, high-collaborative-work teaching style.  I’m not for everyone, and that’s okay.  What does bother me, though, is when I see comments like I described above.  Perhaps as a bisexual professor of varying levels of “femininity,” this bothers me even more.

It bothers me because I care deeply about my students.  I have very high expectations of them, but I also spend an average of 23 hours a week meeting one on one with students so that I can provide feedback on their assignments in advance.  I remind them in every class session to take some time for self care in the upcoming week.  I reiterate weekly that I will provide them with as much support as needed in order for them to be successful, even after the course has ended.  I tell them I’ll meet with them daily if that’s what they need, and they should feel free to ask anything at any time, even if it’s something they “should already know.” I close every class session with a “benediction,” – an inspirational video about teaching designed to keep the wind in my students’ sails.

My care, though, doesn’t only manifest as kindness and inspiration.  I have very high standards for student work, and I expect those standards to be met. I expect that students will read the instructions on assignments and be proactive about asking questions if they don’t understand something. I give clear and straightforward feedback on assignments.  Once they choose to submit a final version, I don’t allow additional rewrites.  I often dispense with small talk in emails, simply because I’m answering hundreds.

When I see an article published like this one, Bias Against Female Instructors in Inside Higher Ed, it resonates with me.  This article reports on a 5 year long study that examined over 23,000 student evaluations of teaching, and found that:

““In two very different universities and in a broad range of course topics, SET [student evaluations of teaching] measure students’ gender biases better than they measure the instructor’s teaching effectiveness,” the paper says. “Overall, SET disadvantage female instructors. There is no evidence that this is the exception rather than the rule.”

Accordingly, the “onus should be on universities that rely on SET for employment decisions to provide convincing affirmative evidence that such reliance does not have disparate impact on women, underrepresented minorities, or other protected groups,” the paper says. Absent such specific evidence, “SET should not be used for personnel decisions.””

The results of the study indicate that for US instructors:

“perceived male instructors were rated significantly more highly not by male students but by female students. Male students rated the perceived male instructor somewhat significantly higher on only one criterion — fairness (p-value 0.09). But female students in the U.S. sample rated the perceived male instructor higher on overall satisfaction (p-value 0.11) and most aspects of teaching. Those include praise (p-value 0.01), enthusiasm (p-value 0.05) and fairness (p-value 0.04).”

Female students aren’t immune to the societal expectations of female behavior.  The fact that most of my students are female doesn’t protect me from feeling the impact of this systemic issue; internalized oppression is incredibly difficult to deal with, and it has taken me decades to even begin to address my own.

Thankfully, USC, where I teach in the Rossier School of Education’s stellar online programs, is quite progressive when it comes to the treatment of NTT (non tenure track) faculty.  Rossier even more so.  Active steps are being taken to improve evaluation of all faculty members’ teaching efforts, and to balance student evaluations with other measures of teaching.

In the meantime, however, I face the same decision I’ve always faced.  Do I change how I teach and interact with my students to try to balance out the inherent bias that may be applied to my student evaluations? I shared an early version of this post with a colleague and mentor of mine, and she had some brilliant insight.  She connected this dilemma I’m in (we’re in) with the issues that face women on a larger scale.  How women are perceived in the workplace continues to be a major challenge to women at all levels, in all careers.  We tiptoe along on a balance beam of perception; if you’re sweet and kind, you’ll be seen as weak, but if you’re assertive and decisive, you’re seen as hostile.  It’s often a no-win situation.  Even in writing this piece, I struggled.  Do I share my own teaching evaluation scores? Do I explain what I do for students to try to build a community of care?  If I include these things, some will say I’m being defensive and overreacting (another common way that women’s voices are dismissed).  If I don’t include them, some will say I’m really just a terrible professor who is bitter about her teaching evaluations.  I elected to be open, and let the Internet judge me as it may, hoping that those who are in the same situation as I am will find it resonant, and knowing that no matter what I write, some will dismiss it.

I hope that these findings spur a larger conversation about not only how we evaluate instructors, but how we can support and challenge our female students as they begin to unpack the internalized oppression that many of them carry as a result of being raised in what is still a deeply sexist society.  These findings give me hope that things can change, and give me support when I speak up to ask that things be done differently. I can and will use my voice as a female professor to challenge these systems of oppression.

As for my courses, I’ll continue to do what I have done in the past; I’ll continue to hold my students to high standards and give clear feedback.  I won’t try to adjust my demeanor to be more “feminine.”  I stand by my teaching practices as being what students need even if it’s not always what they want. Student evaluations will be what they will be.

We need to talk about online learning…

We need to talk about

Inside Higher Ed published the results of their Survey of Faculty Attitudes on Technology today – a collaboration with Gallup.  It details faculty opinions on many areas of technology, including online learning.  Of course, as a distance professor, I was eager to see the results.  And of course, they reflect the same old, tired attitudes about online learning.

So let me tell you a little story.  Once upon a time, when I was a college student, I took a hybrid online course.  It involved participating weekly in discussion boards on Blackboard, turning in papers online, and coming to one brick and mortar class meeting, where we were to give PowerPoint presentations on our final papers.  There were two things that stood out to me as I took this course.  First, the amount of work in this course was substantial.  There was more reading and writing than in any of my on the ground courses, and the discussion board assignments were a snooze.  The second thing that stood out to me was the complete lack of connection with my classmates and my professor.  I had no clue who any of these people were or what they were like, other than some perfunctory text comments on Blackboard or in the margins of my papers.  So when the final day of class arrived, I was excited to finally have some kind of real interaction with my classmates.

Unfortunately, that was not to be.  We sat at our desks, the professor gave a brief and monotone explanation of how the presentations would work, and we got started.  One after the other, we presented fairly boring PowerPoints, while the professor nodded off in the back of the room.  Yes, nodded off.  But we were so disengaged from the course at that point that we didn’t really care.  We went through the motions of completing our presentations, all got a perfunctory A, and I never saw or spoke to the professor again.

When I hear the criticisms and negative opinions of online learning, I am therefore not unsympathetic.  According to Inside Higher Ed’s survey:
“Only 17 percent of faculty members say for-credit online courses taught at any institution can achieve outcomes that are at least equivalent to those of in-person courses, while 53 percent disagree or strongly disagree. Faculty members are even more negative about online versions of courses they teach themselves, with 59 percent hypothesizing that an online course couldn’t match the quality of face-to-face instruction.”

Those numbers are dismal.  And how about this?

“Also unchanged are the indicators that — to faculty members — mark a high-quality online course and the areas where faculty members say the mode of delivery falls short. No more than one in 10 faculty members say online courses are better than in-person courses when it comes to delivering course content, reaching at-risk and exceptional students, and interacting with students in and outside of class, among other factors.”

When I actually delved into the report, though, I found some interesting things.  If the goal here was to determine what faculty think about the kind of online learning I experienced as a student, then sure.  These numbers make sense.  But that’s not the whole of “online learning.”  First, and most importantly, Inside Higher Ed has lumped all online learning together.  Survey participants answered the questions based on their evaluation of ALL types of for-credit online learning: MOOCs (yes, some MOOCs offer credit), asynchronous courses, synchronous courses, blended/hybrid courses, and synchronous, webcam-enabled learning (what I refer to as SWEL) courses.  This is a massive range of educational settings.  Just because they’re all online doesn’t mean they’re interchangeable.  There is simply no comparison between the online courses I teach and asynchronous online classes at a for-profit college, and to lump them together is severely misleading. Further questions ask if faculty have integrated lecture capture, but not if they’ve taught live, collaborative online courses; the omission displays a misunderstanding of the methods that leading online programs are using, which I have detailed in a previous post.

Additionally, one of the survey items asked “In your opinion, should institutions work with online program management companies to produce online degree programs, or should they primarily produce their own?”  The fact that the majority of respondents indicated that institutions should produce their own degree programs shows a severe lack of understanding around what it takes to create a truly high quality online program.  Our model, which allows the faculty to retain control of content and instruction, but partners with a private company (in our case, the brilliant and groundbreaking 2U) to produce, develop, and manage the technology, is highly effective.  It also prevents me, as a faculty member, from having to spend all of my time updating the website, and allows me instead to focus on instruction.

And noticeably absent from Inside Higher Ed’s writeup of the report is a discussion of this interesting bit of data.  Note that half or more of the respondents indicated that moving to a blended or hybrid course caused them to decrease lecture time and increase active learning techniques! That’s fantastic!  Even if the course isn’t a SWEL course, moving to active learning from lecture is a move in the right direction.

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And finally, a particularly inflammatory word choice belies the bias behind this survey.  Note the following item:
“This model of higher education threatens traditional faculty roles.”

Threatens.

THREATENS.

No.  This model of higher education will CHANGE traditional faculty roles.  AND IT SHOULD.  If the traditional faculty role is standing in front of a room of 300 students and lecturing in a monotone for an hour, then good riddance!

So what is there for progressive online educators like myself to take away from this data?  First and foremost, that we need to do a better job of getting the word out about what we’re doing.  I’m shouting from the rooftops, but I’m only one person.  There are hundreds, if not thousands, of faculty around the world that teach in SWEL courses, that use robust, high quality instructional methods, and that achieve high educational outcomes for diverse populations of students.  We need to be a strong, clear voice in the discussion on online learning.

Do you teach a synchronous, webcam-enabled course? Share your information below to connect with other educators like you, and get our collective voice heard!

3 Ways to Support Student-Parents Online

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I teach in a Master of Arts in Teaching program, using an online platform (a Moodle-based LMS developed for us by the fabulous 2U, and Adobe Connect).  In this program, many of my students are also parents.  Since they’re also attending live classes over a webcam from home, this means that often their children are in the house with them.  Many professors in this setting take the approach of banning children, or in fact any potential distractions at all, from the classroom.  My approach is a bit different.  See, I’m a parent myself, and I believe that one of the big problems in our society is the disconnect between work life and family life; the idea that once you get to work you’re supposed to stop being a parent, but when you’re home with your family you should still be answering work email.  I think this is a damaging and stressful thing for parents, whether they’re at work or in an academic program, or as often happens, both.  So, instead, I choose to support my student parents in ways that not only improve their educational experience, but improve learning for other students and improve my experience as the instructor.  It’s my small act of rebellion against the societal encroachment of work and academia on family life.

First, I begin the term by encouraging new moms to feel free to breastfeed their children while in class.  Breastfeeding is normal and natural, and shouldn’t be treated any differently than bottle feeding a child.  Additionally, most states protect breastfeeding moms’ right to nurse in public or private places.  Now, my virtual classroom is neither a public nor a private space, but I’m choosing, as benevolent dictator of my virtual classroom, to make nursing accepted. It is basically not noticeable on camera anyway (we generally only see from the shoulders up), and it can make the new mom more relaxed and able to focus on the content.  Plus, we get to see those gorgeous squishy babies, and it builds our bond as a class.

Second, I tell parents that their children are welcome to join us in the class session.  They can sit in laps and observe, they can ask questions, and they can talk to us.  The vast majority of the time, this stops them from banging on the door and distracting their parent, and then the child either sits quietly and watches, gets bored and leaves, or engages in conversation with us.  Being an education program, this gives my other students a chance to talk to a young person about these ideas we’re learning about in class.  It enhances the conversation and does not distract from our learning.

Third, I allow people’s children to come first.  There is no situation when a class session should come before taking a child to the doctor, and yet I’ve had many students arrive in class and apologize because they might have to step away and clean up their vomiting child.  My response is always the same.  “Go take care of your child.  They need you, and the content will still be here later.”  All of our class sessions are recorded, so the parent/student can watch the class session later, and then meet with me during office hours to make sure they are confident in their mastery of the content of the missed session.  Yes, they miss a class session, but if I made them stay, they’d be behaviorally engaged at best.  Most likely, they’d be looking at the camera, but thinking about their child and listening and watching intently for the signs of worsening illness.  The student will get more from the class session if they can watch the recording and meet with me one on one later, than trying to struggle through the live session with a sick child.

I’ve found that each of these not only allows for a better educational experience for my student-parents, but it makes the teaching experience better for me.  Our online classes develop a stronger bond when we meet each other’s children and share these parts of our lives.  My students are more engaged when I let them deal with the issues that inevitably arise for parents, and work with their role as a parent instead of against it.

Dear failing student,

success

Dear failing student,
I’ve just discovered that you’re past the tipping point, and won’t pass my course.  I will spend all day thinking about you.  I’m so sad that your outcome in this course wasn’t positive.  I take it personally when even one of my students doesn’t succeed, even though I probably shouldn’t.  I know this is a big obstacle, because my course is required.  I’m a gatekeeper for the degree and the credential, which you have your sights set upon.
As tough as this may be for you, though, I hope it is also a positive experience.  I hope you learn from it, take the feedback you’ve gotten from me to heart, and use that feedback to improve your work.  I hope you don’t give up.
Sometimes it may seem, especially when I’m highlighting the errors in your paper, that I’ve got all the all the answers.  It might look like I’m doing things right and you’re doing things wrong.  What you don’t see, though, when you meet with me to go over your paper, are all of my failures.  I’ve failed plenty, and so has literally everyone who is successful at anything.  I love my career, and I have worked very hard to achieve my goal of becoming a teacher educator.  However, I never would have been on this path if I hadn’t failed, and failed hard.  Some of my failures were academic, some were professional, and some were personal.  Some were small, and some were large, but they all contributed to my growth as a person and as an educator.  In fact, these failures allowed me to learn more about myself and how to be successful than many of my successful endeavors ever did.
So when you look at this failure in your life, understand that this is but one twist in the road.  This failure is making you stronger, and more knowledgeable about yourself and about the world.
As long as you continue to persist, you are better for having failed.
Best wishes and Fight On!
Your Professor

Teaching Tech to Preservice Teachers

projector

I recently ran across this brilliant blog posting as I was browsing Reddit, and I knew I needed to share it.  The author shares a mock test as a way of illustrating the major gaps in how we teach preservice teachers about technology.  The sins he describes are not at all exclusive to McGill University; all too often, education schools resist change, or misplace their focus when it comes to teaching about technology.  He offers a set of recommendations for universities that I couldn’t agree with more, that includes things like teaching about net neutrality, basic hardware usage (I am REALLY tired of seeing professors at conferences who can’t hook up a projector), closed vs. open source software, and the cloud. The only thing I would add to this list is that while all of these things are critically important, we also have to teach new media literacy.  Both teachers and students need the new media literacy skills named by Jenkins:

Play — the capacity to experiment with one’s surroundings as a form of problem-solving Performance — the ability to adopt alternative identities for the purpose of improvisation and discovery Simulation — the ability to interpret and construct dynamic models of real-world processes Appropriation — the ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content Multitasking — the ability to scan one’s environment and shift focus as needed to salient details. Distributed Cognition — the ability to interact meaningfully with tools that expand mental capacities Collective Intelligence — the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others toward a common goal Judgment — the ability to evaluate the reliability and credibility of different information sources Transmedia Navigation — the ability to follow the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities Networking — the ability to search for, synthesize, and disseminate information Negotiation — the ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives, and grasping and following alternative norms.

Education schools aren’t exactly known for being cutting edge, which is a very sad thing.  We’re supposed to be the leaders in learning, and yet we often have to be bashed over the head with something before we change.  ALL schools of education should be teaching these skills to ALL of their students, not as an elective, but as a required course.

photo credit: Pablo Maroñas via photopin cc

Academic writing “rules” you should break

typewriter

As a teaching professor, I read a lot of papers.  In those papers, I see a lot of wonderful writing, and a small amount of terrible writing.  I spent a fair amount of my time while reading these papers correcting grammatical errors.  Some of these errors are things that absolutely must be fixed.  You do need to have complete sentences.  You also need to have subjects that agree with verbs.  In academic writing, the rules are rigid for a reason.  However, there are a couple of rules that I would love to see fall by the wayside.  Students, if you’re reading this, the answer is yes.  This is your permission to ignore these rules when writing papers for me.

1. Never use passive voice.  This is one that every professor loves to browbeat students about.  “It should be ‘The teacher decorated the classroom,’ not ‘The classroom was decorated by the teacher.'”  Yes, it is commonly recommended that you avoid the passive voice in favor of the active voice.  In many situations, defaulting to the active voice makes sense.  However, sometimes passive voice just sounds good!  There’s nothing wrong with tossing a little passive voice in your writing now and then.  For example, the sentence “Dr. Seuss books are loved by millions of children around the world,” sounds great to me!  A little passive voice here and there adds variety to your writing, and when I’m grading my 60th paper, I’m more than ready for a little variety.  This doesn’t mean you should apply passive voice willy-nilly, but a thoughtful application of passive voice can make your writing more interesting.

2. Never use “they” when referring to one person.  Maybe this one made sense 150 years ago, when men were publishing about the work of other men, and everyone fit into a neat little gender box.  In modern times, though, if you follow this rule you either have to exclude a gender or you end up with clunky writing.  I find “he or she” to be disruptive of the flow of reading, and it’s still supportive of the gender binary.  Not everyone is a he or a she.  I’m all in support of adopting “they” and “them” as singular, gender-neutral pronouns.  We use this language convention all the time in spoken language, and it’s time that it was accepted in academic writing as well.

3. You should always put one space after a period.  No, wait, you should always put two spaces after a period.  People get really up in arms over this one.  I’ve seen entire articles written lambasting writers for using two spaces after a period, and yet the APA guidelines require two spaces after a period.  What is an academic writer to do?  How about whatever you want?  In this day and age, is this really an issue that is worth spending time and effort on?  If your manuscript is getting published, the editor can space it how they like.  For anything other than published manuscripts, however, the micrometer of difference between two spaces and one isn’t worth anyone’s time to correct.  If you do think it’s worth correcting, perhaps you need something else on which to spend your time.

4. Never end a sentence with a preposition.  Many times, this one makes sense.  However, there are also lots of situations in which reworking your sentence to avoid a terminal preposition just makes your sentence sound terrible.  This is another example of modern spoken language having solved a problem that written language is still wrestling with.  No one is going to say in spoken language, “To which schools are you applying?”  We would say “Which schools are you applying to?”  And yet, all to many professors whip out that red pen at any sign of a terminal preposition.  Good grammar should make writing more readable, not less readable, so put those red pens away.

5. Never begin a sentence with a conjunction.  If beginning your sentence with a conjunction results in a sentence fragment, then by all means, rework your sentence to avoid the beginning conjunction.  In my opinion, though, the fact that one of these sentences is correct and the other isn’t is arbitrary:

However, I do not think standardized tests are effective.

But, I do not think standardized tests are effective.

The words that begin those two sentences mean the same thing, so why is one acceptable and the other isn’t? If you guessed “archaic grammar rules that have no value in modern academic writing,” then you get a gold star!

6. Make sure to always write in academicese.  Okay, maybe this one isn’t a rule, so much as an apparent unspoken agreement.  There seems to be some vast conspiracy among academics that the more 50 cent words you use, the better your writing is.  No, no, no.  The purpose of academic writing should be to convey ideas clearly and concisely.  I can’t tell you how many published papers I have read that required me to translate from academicese to plain English before I could understand the points they were trying to make.  I have a vast vocabulary, but I don’t want to have to translate your writing before I read it.

photo credit: Lívia Cristina via photopin cc

Web 2.0 Tool Review: PowToon

I love to use little video clips or images to supplement my online class sessions; today’s class was on social constructivism and connectivism.  I had no problem finding a video summarizing connectivism, but one that focused solely on social constructivism was, surprisingly, more difficult to find.  Thankfully, the one I found on connectivism was really cool.

The creator, Mike Penella (@MikePenella), had used something called PowToon, which I, of course, had to investigate (LOVE the bee analogy, by the way, Mike!). Thankfully, I was able to get started using it for free, and I created the below video in about 10 minutes; it filled the gap in my class session nicely.

I’m planning now on going back and putting some more time and effort into creating all kinds of supplemental videos for my students.  There were a couple of spots where the interface wasn’t totally user-friendly, but on the whole it was a really simple yet powerful tool to use.  I can imagine the types of interesting things a class full of k-12 students could come up with if they were given access to this.