Technology and Teacher Education #edtech #edchat

I am in the process of writing up a literature review on technology and teacher education. My focus with this review is to scan literature pertaining to the preparation of pre-service teachers’ ICT perspectives and practices during their teacher education programs. In the process of conducting the literature review I have been able to identify a problem that has bothered me for sometime in the field of teacher education and technology, but I could not put my finger on it until now.

Throughout the arduous process of writing up this dissertation, I have read, scanned, and skimmed many, many articles about technology in education. I have attended numerous conferences and I have taught a number of courses. I had noticed an inordinate amount of attention placed on student learning with technology – topics spanning technological, socio-economic, cultural, subject-specific, and social-relational aspects of student learning with and through digital technologies. I always found it frustrating that there was not a commensurate amount of literature investigating and discussing teacher learning with technology. After all, teachers don’t only have to learn to use the technology to enhance their own learning and how to incorporate it into their teaching practice, they are also expected to provide students with exemplary learning experiences enriched and enabled by the incorporation of digital technologies.

This most recent literature review has confirmed what I suspected, that the proportion of interest on student learning with ICT compared to interest on teacher learning (pre-service and in-service) with ICT is in an estimated ratio of 20 to 1, that is, there are approximately 20 studies investigating and reporting on student learning with ICT to every 1 study investigating teacher learning and teacher candidate learning.


The Significance of Tech Pro D #edchat #edtech

I have heard our current state of human society and technological phenomena referred to being our ‘technological adolescence’. I liked this description because it captures my perception of our uncritical headlong rush to technologize everything without considering the significance of technology in the formation of they ways we think and what it is capable for us to think, or the things we do, and what we are capable of doing. The fact is that our human involvements with technology are inextricably combined to our survival. Technology is a phenomena of human existence. It would seem that we would do well to actually examine our relationship to technology and discuss what it means to the formation of our human society.

The professional development model for technology has been organized around one-off events wherein an ‘expert’ introduces a group of learners to a new device, software application or online resource (or combination of all three). This introduction has traditionally been structured as a curriculum of the devices, software application or online resources – an inventory of functionalities. The pedagogy of this professional development model as been transmissive – the instructor is transmitting their knowledge of device functionality to the learning group in an orderly fashion. The pedagogy has also been based on a graduated acquisition of knowledge, the idea that learning takes place in graduated steps. In this case, the graduated acquisition of knowledge is codified in step-by-step instructions.

We now have more than 2 decades of one-time only transmissive technology pro-d that has resulted in many kilograms of step-by-step instructions in the form of handouts, books, and online user manuals and help screens.

The central problem of this approach is that it is based on an industrial conception of learning – the idea that learning can be compartmentalized into discrete packets of knowledge to be transmitted and consumed in formalized rituals of learning. We know now that this form of learning is antithetical to real knowledge acquisition, and useless when it comes to actually being able to apply new knowledge in real world settings.

At present, the curriculum and pedagogy for tech pro d is an anachronism of a by-gone era. In the case of digital technology pro d, this approach is particularly ineffective. Digital technology, while appearing static or constant as it is embodied in plastic and metal, exists in a highly fluid, dynamic state. It is the flow of electricity, controlled through switches (such as these keyboard keys) that brings it to life. The fluidity is not only embodied in the flow of electrons, it is also embodied in the field of digital technological innovation, with new iterations of devices, software applications and online resources evolving everyday. The fluidity does not end with the forms of digital technology disclosed to us by developers and marketers. The fluidity also occurs in the forms we apply the digital technologies we have at our fingertips. Thus, I am exposed to a story about a 92 year old North Carolinian citizen who is taking up the banner of human rights once again to work to change voter laws that disenfranchise the poor. This is what I refer to as the dynamic contextual conditions of our involvements with digital technological phenomena.

The reason ‘how-to’ pro d has been an inadequate response to preparing professional development with digital technologies is that it is not a simple ‘how-to’ proposition. We are not learning to butter toast. We are learning to develop the necessary cognitive, cultural, and technological dispositions that will position us as leaders of societal change. The formation of our human societies is also fluid. Whether we are implementing government sanctioned oppression of LGBT in Russia, or supporting the restoration of Tesla’s homestead, we are expressing our values, beliefs and ethics in practice. Our professional development with digital technologies must be conceived as complex, evolving, periodic, experimental, risk-taking, collaborative, problem-solving, creative, critical endeavours. These professional development endeavours must focus on the relationships that we form, with, through, and about, digital technologies. They must involve the development of sophisticated social skills, humanist ethics, social justice, and sustainable economic concepts. These kinds of changes are not possible in one time only professional development sessions on how to merge addresses in Word.

What we really need is a multi-professional development response, one that educates parents, their children (all ages), teachers, administrators, politicians, bureaucrats, business leaders, small business owners, the elderly, and the disenfranchised. In our evolving society of the 21st century we need to evolve our cognitive, cultural and technological dispositions to ensure the formation of our future society attunes to our most deeply cherished values of what it means to be human.

extending applicability

For a period of time, more than a year, my dearly departed mother-in-law was confined to her care facility but was still able to talk on the telephone. We lived a continent apart, so face to face visits were out of the question. It was difficult to have conversations with her as she was somewhat depressed and her life experiences were limited to a dulling sameness of institutional routine. Although her body was aging and ailing, her mind was sharp. I sensed that she needed intellectual stimulation, that such stimulation would probably help her cope with the new realities of frailty, isolation, and boredom she was facing. I decided to provide some of that intellectual stimulation by setting up a reading program for the two of us. In the beginning, we took turns reading, page for page. Later, she would simply rest and listen to me reading a chapter at a time.

We read Dickens, Conan Doyle, and P. G. Wodehouse. We read poetry, from Robert W. Service’ ‘Ballads of a Cheechako’, to a collection, ‘Love Poems from God’. Sometimes, after our readings, we would talk about important things, the readings somehow gave us permission to discuss mortality, death, the meaning of life, mothering, family relationships, and how to cope with reduced circumstances. She chose the literature and in so doing introduced me to many authors and stories I would not otherwise have encountered. It was a very special time, a window that closed when she could not longer hold the telephone.

Her health dwindled over many months, and finally, this spring, she was in her last days. Her family had gathered, and though she was unable to hold a conversation, she was able to listen to a story read over the telephone while the phone was held for her. At this point she had been through one health crisis, and given hours to live. But she had rallied, and I was able to talk to her on the telephone and read her one last chapter of Jeeves and Wooster. I gave a rousing reading, animating all the voices in different characters to the best of my limited acting ability. It was great fun, and although I could only hear Helen breathing on the other end of the line, I knew she appreciated it. After the reading ended, her eldest son, who was in attendance, texted me, “That was amazing! She perked right up!”

We know that reading aloud to young children, even babies, is important for cognitive and emotional development. What do we know about the importance of reading aloud to the elderly? What do we know about reading aloud to Alzheimer’s and dementia patients? What do we know about reading aloud to the terminally ill, or those recovering from catastrophic health crisis?

I have been developing a theory of linguistic cognitive domains as a way to explain how our innate drive for connectivity is satisfied through communication – whether we are talking, writing, drawing, painting, dancing, sculpting, etc. We can consider any form of artmaking as a form of communicating, and any from of communicating as satisfying our need for connectivity. The role art plays in fostering and sustaining connectivity is one line of inquiry to explore. Another line of inquiry is the participating in art appreciation as a form of connectivity. In this activity, it is shared appreciation of creative expression that performs the mechanism for fostering conversation and building connections. Thus, reading aloud is an artful expressive event (as we act out the parts we are reading), a shared event (as we appreciate the author’s work) and a connective event (as the contents of the readings inspire conversation after the reading is completed).

It seems to me that there are some very simple, relatively easy programs that we can implement that would create mutual benefit across ages, mobility, socio-economies, and cultures. I would like to see us developing networks of connectivity for reading aloud to each other. The possibilities for an improved sense of community, health and well-being is as close as a telephone with a good book in hand.

Seeds of Possibility: Working Smarter Tech Pro D

The study I am writing up was titled, “Seeds of Possibility: Mentoring K-7 Educators’ ICT Ecology of Cognition”. When I started the research, I assumed my work as an ICT mentor would be focused on helping a teacher candidate learn to use iMovie to teach a lesson on the environment, art, and social justice. Instead, I am finding my research is devoted to mentoring the formation of learning networks, learning networks focused on fostering new cognitive, cultural, and technological dimensions of learning through social interactivity. To be clear, there has been a fundamental conceptual issue at the centre of efforts to bring ICT into education, and, in so doing, transforming education from 19th century curriculum delivery and social stratification, to 21st century knowledge generation through learning networks.

Conventional thinking as been based on a, “Build it, they will come” assumption: if you provide digital resources and infrastructure, teachers will automatically start using these resources in their teaching practice. Once they start using these resources and infrastructure as an integral part of their teaching, they will abandon curriculum- or teacher-centered pedagogy and foster the kinds of emergent, issue-oriented inquiry style of learning (‘authentic’ learning) that is naturally occurring outside the confines of formal educational institutions. This approach grossly misunderstood the complexity of teaching and learning in educational institutions, and the added layer of complexity that is introduced when digital technologies are used in these contexts.

Conceptions of ICT professional development for educators have also missed the real needs of teachers for support to make sense of what it means to use ICT in their professional practice. Conventional ICT professional development has focused on introducing new devices, software applications or infrastructure with an inventory of functionalities divorced from real-world conditions or day to day realities of teaching. How many of us have sat through a presenter working their way methodically across a menu bar, pulling down drop down menus and clicking on buttons and icons? Maybe they even gave us hard-copy print outs of step by step instructions. However, the moment the step by step instructions did not match what we were seeing on our screens we were lost and did not know what to do. I liken the experience to the difference between being able to use Google maps to see where I am on a map and figure out my route by looking at the network of streets available to me, or having the print out of specific directions to get from A to B. In the first case I am able to orient myself, find my position, figure out where I want to go, and make a plan to get there. If I encounter a barrier or difficulty along the way, I can re-group, re-orient, and set off again. In the second case, if I miss an exit, I have no way to know what to do next because my instructions specifically assumed I would not miss that exit.

I am realizing that this problem is not confined to the field of education. Despite massive expenditures and investments to digitize information management systems in government, non-government, business, medical, and educational systems, there has not been a concerted investment in ensuring those who will use these digital technologies are adequately prepared. We know now that the software instruction manual (hard copy) is as good as a doorstop within months of purchasing because a new version of the software has been issued. We know that the ability to problem solve using online help systems also requires cognitive, cultural, and technological skills to simply name, search, and access information. We know that most of our ongoing learning and evolving with digital technologies is actually accomplished through informal learning networks, where leadership and expertise are transitory, distributed to those who know mission-critical information at a given point in time, knowing this expertise is transitory and going to shift to the next most knowledgeable person, as conditions, situations, and purposes change.

My research and scholarship is focused on mentoring the formation of social learning networks, the relational connections that allow us to immediately put out a call for information or help, even when we don’t necessarily know what to call the problem, or the issue, to turn it into a searchable term. In education, my focus is on mentoring the formation of educators’ social learning networks for incorporating ICT into educational practice. Incorporating ICT into educational practice is not limited to learning to use smartphones on field trips for data collection, it also includes teachers using smartphones to build professional learning networks to address the pressing needs of education in an age of standardized tests, 21st century competencies, and notions of generalizable ‘best practices’ in complex learning conditions.

My job is to mentor the formation of learning relationships among learning professionals, professionals whose preparation for digital technologies, participatory learning cultures, network media, and 21st century educational policy have been sorely inadequate.

Biting Off More Than I Can Chew

As usual, I have devised a learning process that is rather elaborate, and perhaps more than a normal, or mere mortal, would attempt. *Sigh*

I am in the final stages of a formative grading process to wrap up teaching my summer course on Media and Technology in School Library Programs. This course was an iteration of the research theory and methodology I am writing up in my dissertation. It was the best example to date of how the theory works and how the methodology puts the theory into practice. I am very happy with the results, and I hope to write more about the process of teaching the course in the coming days, but first I have to finish this grading.

Once I realize I have gotten myself in over my head (once again!) I will chastise myself for setting myself on a course of very hard work for which no one will appreciate the effort because I have conceived of the entire process myself and the final result does not show up on a highly publicized billboard proclaiming my brilliance. But, because I am an artist, and I made a commitment to the process, I persevere and as I continue through the process, more thoughts, ideas, and understandings come to light, simply because I am staying involved in the process and learning from it. There is a tedium that sets in when I am doing a complicated, detail oriented process that no one can possibly appreciate. And then, through the tedium, insights emerge.

I will write about the actual process of formative assessment that I devised for this course in another blog post. The main point I want to make here is that we can never predict the quality or quantity of learning that is going to take place when we embark on an educational inquiry. I have been working for some years now on bringing inquiry-based learning into formal post-secondary education. With each course that I teach I continue to revise and refine the structure, the language, and the systems of management that formalize the inquiry processes to fit institutional assessment criteria while meeting leaerners’ needs.

What I am learning today, as I devote my Sunday morning to wrapping up the grading and getting marks posted, is that assessment for learning, rather than assessment for achievement, gives life to institutionalized learning processes. It might seem that institutional requirements for standardized criteria for learning are antithetical to the organic processes of inquiry and learning. It is actually possible to turn formative assessment into an extension of the learning processes, to continue to sustain learning through the formative assessment beyond the confines of the classroom or the course schedule. In this way, connections to learning and connections to life outside the institution are fostered and sustained. Learning is no longer a hoop-jumping activity to secure accreditation. The relevance of the institution is significant, both in terms of providing formal learning settings to invest time and energy into broadening perspectives and deepening understanding, but also in practicing applying this new knowledge and practices into day to day life.

So I will congratulate myself on making learning last, on making learning in the institution mean something beyond the walls or confines of the university. This kind of formative assessment for continuous learning relevance is only possible through the affordances of digital technology. More on that later, as well. Now I must get back to my grading.

Making headway #dissertating

I have a schedule for completing my dissertation. I am now on extension, so I absolutely must stick to this schedule. When I started writing for academia, I thought it would be easy because I was a fast typist. Yes, that worked out well, didn’t it. My most recent chapter draft for chapter 2 weighed in at 57 pages. It’s all good, too.

I am working on trimming it down without losing the important connective concepts and topics.

In the meantime, I do have a nice version of chapter 1 done. One of the aspects of this project that has taken so much time is getting my own brain into the game of academia, and then into teacher education. Let’s face it, I am not an educational insider. I have come into the field from the outside, and then fought my way into the labyrinth of history, culture, and normative practice that make up the field of education.

Many years ago I was a self-taught data management professional. I was designing and managing relational databases in Microsoft Access. At the time, the BC Government was implementing a new system for health management in the province. A hodge-podge of centralized systems were being decentralized to local regional health boards and health councils. As part of the transition, the regional health boards needed to conduct their own inventories of services, so they could understand what health services were being delivered in their region, at what cost, and in what facilities. This was a huge undertaking. I was brought in to support data management, as there were problems with with surveys and databases from the original data collection.

As I started to familiarize myself with the system, I realized one of the key problems of the entire field was that similar services had different names in different institutions, and, similar names referred to different services in different institutions. It made it very difficult to figure out what was being reported, and it made it impossible to summarize data in a meaningful way. Part of my job became a coding problem, of ensuring these disparate services and terms were being compiled to reflect appropriate categories and groupings.

My entry into academia and the field of teacher education has been a similar experience. For those encultured from the inside, systems of organization that might appear haphazard or chaotic from the outside are simply the way things are organized from the inside. I have had to go through an extended process of reading, research, and observation, to finally grasp how the system works, how it makes sense to those familiar with its environs, and how I might position myself within it.

It does feel like I am finally making some headway.

The problem to be addressed #edchat #edtech

My research addresses the problem of teachers’ ICT perspectives and practices assumed but not prepared. This has led to a continuing problem of teachers’ lack of innovative uses of ICT in their professional practice. With this lack comes an undeveloped technological disposition in the cultures of schools. Despite billions of dollars invested worldwide in equipping schools with digital infrastructure, there is evidence that these investments have not been utilized to actually influence the emergence of social learning practices. More troubling, these investments have not resulted in a teaching cohort with sophisticated knowledge of digital technologies and their significance in the formation of future human societies. At present we do not have adequate leadership to develop sophisticated understandings of the significance of digital technologies as an apogee of human connectivity and communication. Instead, we have corporate and government initiatives that would assign our technological communicative capabilities to serve the interests of administrative expediency and market messaging.

We have a problem with in-service teacher learning regarding ICT perspectives and practices, we also have a problem with pre-service teacher learning ICT perspectives and practices. This makes sense, because the teacher education system is a quasi-mentoring system: more experienced educators teach pre-service teacher candidates how to teach. If the more experienced educators have not developed an innovative ICT disposition and an ethical commitment to ICT leadership as an integral component of the teaching profession, they are not going to be able to convey these dispositions, and ethical values to a new generation of teachers coming into the field.

However, we can interrupt the cycle of non-ICT engagement in the teaching profession, and we have a very real opportunity for the teaching profession to assume a leadership role in education citizenry for the 21st century. At present, there is no system in place to: 1) address the problem; and 2) implement a systemic intervention for change.

Part of the problem is that traditionally the teaching profession has been concerned with a very narrow realm of educational activity. Specifically, educators have been concerned with conveying pre-determined knowledge about pre-determined disciplinary fields (e.g. math, science, language arts, etc.). It is only in recent decades that teachers have been given the responsibility of more diverse topics and issues (politics, the environment, ecological studies, social justice, etc.). Throughout the history of the field of education, technological knowledge has been relegated to hard sciences and vocational studies. There has never been an educational focus, or leadership, investigating our social uses of technologies, including digital technologies. However, at this point in our human evolution, we must pay attention to our human involvements with technologies, all technologies, as it is through our technological phenomena that we are destroying natural resources, habitats, human populations, and the humanities.

What is at stake, as we consider preparing teachers’ ICT perspectives and practices isn’t simply figuring out how to load a powerpoint lecture into Slideshare, or reversing instructional activity using Khan academy videos. What is at stake is the kind of human societies we want to create as we evolve as a species. Our involvements with digital technological phenomena signify a developmental ‘level-jump’ at a par with the invention of the Guttenberg press. We absolutely need a cohort of educators capable of providing leadership and instruction to our citizenry to ensure the amplification of human communicative capabilities made possible by digital technologies is used for the betterment of living conditions for all humankind, and not to simply empower and enrich a few, at the expense of the many.