Category: Research

How are computers in the classroom really doing?

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By , November 22, 2010 11:31 am

This weekend, I was hit by two interesting finds in my Twitter feeds. The first takes a look at what the Alberta Teachers Association – ATA –  (via @joe_bower) thinks needs to be changed to get computers in the classroom to “actually do something (my words)”. The second is a comment from Alan Kay who goes over some points as to how computers in the classroom have actually failed. Looking to Alan’s points first. He likens what has been done with computers in the classroom to people playing Guitar Hero – players experience the fantasy of being able to play, but in reality learn nothing. Going further,he is frustrated that schools, and society at large have yet to really make use of the technologies made available through the computer to be intellectual amplifiers, rather it seems that computers, specifically consumer computer technology has essentially become the “next legal drug”. Kay suggests that evidence for this can be had if you take a look at how education, which is supposed to (in his interpretation) create a sophisticated voting public, has not been able to deliver on its mission. It seems that many of his frustrations are around the inability of those involved in any given stage of the computers in education process to focus on the curriculum.

The ATA, in its new report looks at changing from the “new chalk” approach that has seen new technologies be used in old methods to shifting to a more problem based curriculum that might encourage new ways of teaching out of necessity. The use of technology to merely create and process more administrative data is also called into question, as it seems to enable the conservative nature of education rather than encourage its ability to change. Technologies in the classroom should be used to create knowledge that is unique to each student and emergent of the situations that the student is presented with as opposed to funneling student responses into a standard score. Finally, it looks at something that the University Academy has started to realize now as well, the distinct and often fiercely independent disciplinary domains of knowledge that have been used for the past hundred years or so are indeed part of the problem and should be revised to recognize the connections rather than the distinctions.

All this was certainly interesting reading. I found that Kay was a bit too gloomy, and the ATA, a bit too optimistic. For my money, the truth is somewhere in the middle. I would love to be able to read more about what Kay has done with respect to technology integration, as a trade article is not really representative of his body of work (I think the only reason it came to light is because of the iPad/Dynabook comparison). I also hope that in some way I can help to effect change within the province and bring forward what some of the ATA has said. There is hope on that front. We now have some schools that are open year round, something that only took perhaps decades. The change of curriculum from Bio/Phys/Chem to Science to the Art of Science hopefully can be done in less time. I think it would be really cool if by the time that my daughter and her cohort hit Div II, that they only have three subject – Art of Science, Science of Art and Human Motion.

Edit: And of course, at it often happens, later in the day, I find another interesting resource that talks about the same thing – this time Mashable‘s take on how computers are helping in Education – part of their Education Tech Series. Some of the points, specifically when it comes to Kay vs Mashable, I would say that with the exception of ebooks and more efficient assessment, Mashable’s list is pretty good. Showing how computers have been used to extend the capacity of students to be able to take in and manipulate data and then synthesize it in novel ways and with others who are not physically in the same location. I would however have to agree with Kay with regards to this list. These examples are the exceptions, not the rule when it comes to computers in the classroom. Even though every school in a district may do the same thing, without the ability or structure within the school and the society within which it exists, students are not really using the computer for what it could do. They are jumping through hoops to meet a standardized assessment (hence not agreeing with all the Mashable points) and only providing the impression that they are capable, ala Guitar Hero. Some students are of course going to be able to transfer the skills and knowledge in spite of the school and the society, but these are few and far between. So perhaps the next question should be… do we really need all students to understand computing and the ways and means that it can extend capacity in the same manner?

Everything plays… some time…

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By , October 19, 2010 12:03 pm

This is an interesting article (Akst, Jef., Recess, The Scientist, v24 i10 p44) that came across my desk today, describing how not only primates but all other sorts of animals play. Not only does it show that play is something that is deeply rooted in life, but there are also some ways to define play:

Burghardt’s five criteria for play:

  1. Play is not fully functional in the form or context in which it is expressed.
  2. Play is spontaneous, voluntary, and/or pleasurable, and is likely done for its own sake.
  3. Play is incomplete, exaggerated, or precocious.
  4. Play is repeated but not in exactly the same way every time, as are more serious behaviors.
  5. Play is initiated when animals are well fed, healthy, and free from acute or chronic stressors.

What really caught my eye is that last part. Well fed, healthy and free from stressors… that sounds much like what people need to be able to learn well. So it might be something to be explored, if one can play well, can one learn well as well?

Social Dominance, Peer Victimization

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By , September 28, 2010 11:31 am

Previous studies have shown social dominance and peer victimization to be
on opposite ends of the spectrum in understanding the success and acceptability
in the use of aggression. The current findings build upon these studies by
showing that these same characteristics also play a role in understanding the
link between relational aggression and peer liking. The current findings for
peer victimization are in line with previous work on aggressive victims that
has shown this group to be particularly unsuccessful in their utilization of
relational aggression and to be especially disliked by the peer group (Schwartz
et al., 2001) because of their use of aggression that is dysregulated, ineffectual,
and reinforces others’ aggression toward them (Perry et al., 1992;
Schwartz, 2000; Schwartz et al., 2001).

Ok, not specifically about cyberbullying, but as I’ve mentioned many times before… the e,i,cyber or whatever techno tag that we add to a word doesn’t change the essence of what is being described. Edit – and it looks like some others agree (Downes, Dash)

Adams, Bartlette and Bukoski (August 4, 2009, doi:10.1177/027243160934298The Journal of Early Adolescence February 2010 vol. 30 no. 1 102-121) look at the age group that certainly is adopting technology at the same time they are trying to figure out their own pecking order. The study also takes a look at Canadian kids. Not that this should matter that much, but as it happens, people like to see things about their own back yard as it were.

The study also closes with this very practical take away – a nod a taking a look behind the curtain and not just reacting to the spectacle that is on stage:

In other words,it is not only important to know whether someone is relationally aggressive but it also important to know who is using the aggression and how the peer group views that individual.

Bullying is Bullying

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By , September 23, 2010 1:50 pm

Cyber/e/online whatever, it’s the same thing and some new research out of the US suggests that there are a few things that can be done to help cope with the problem. Looking at cognitive and behavioral measures, the research identified:

  • self-efficacy for avoiding self-blame
  • victim-role disengagement self-efficacy
  • self-efficacy for proactive behavior
  • self-efficacy for avoiding aggressive behavior

Essentially, one can boil it down into a nutshell, kids should learn not to:

  • blame one’s self for being victimized
  • understand that it is not their “lot in life” to be a victim
  • be assertive of your their rights and look to others for help
  • stay on their toes and try not to get into vulnerable situations

A great list to be sure (common sense thrown in there for good measure as well – as most good research seems to be once published), but remembering my own childhood, many of these things are easier said than done on the part of the child. However, these are things that kids might be trying and that teachers/parents/family should be looking out for as well as they may indicate bullying.

mLearning in Asia

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By , May 18, 2010 10:25 am

A new paper out of The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning (Vol 11, No 1 (2010), ISSN: 1492-3831) by John-Harmen Valk, Ahmed T. Rashid, and Laurent Elder finds that mobile devices do indeed have an impact in the developing world by enabling increased access and flexibility that allow students to achieve results that are comparable to traditional methods. The study also finds that there are barriers in terms of cost, infrastructure and language in some environments.

Now even though this work was done in the developing world, is it really that hard to think that similar impacts wouldn’t be seen in the developed world where barriers to education also exist?

Connecting the roots to the leaves – initial ideas for my PhD

By , April 16, 2010 9:11 am

Yesterday I met up with Terry Carson in Secondary Education and we went over some ideas and I’ve put them together and put them out there to see what everyone who cares to comment out there thinks. So here it is:

Problem that needs exploring:
How to get the rank and file of the University to feel that they are truly connected to the University Executive and to help the University Executive appreciate the triumphs and challenges of rank and file in a direct and ideally unfiltered manner. Currently the only vehicles that the two groups have to interact in this direct manner is through town halls and scheduled events. These events have participants who are self selected to attend and then further self selected to interact. This self selection is mediated by various factors ranging from personal to political that are fueled by power differentials. An individual’s perception of self efficacy plays a major role in determining how they attempt to address their peers and others in the more powerful or advantaged classes.

Social media has, to date, been shown to be a powerful democratizing tool and when powered by mobile technology that allows for ubiquitous access to the various streams of social media. Individuals often share through social media, thoughts and ideas that would otherwise be restrained by their position within the organization.

Using the Scholarship of Engagement as a framework and the Obama 2008 campaign as case study, an attempt will be made to understand the roots of the problem within higher education and suggest mechanisms for change.

Preliminary Title:
Connecting the roots to the leaves.

Preliminary Research Question:
“How can the emerging social media tools, driven by increasingly ubiquitous mobile technologies be used to connect executive leadership with rank and file individuals within an organization in a meaningful manner”

If I’m not working “for the man”, I might as well “work for mankind” and take this opportunity to do my PhD. I was planning to do it eventually and a few weeks ago I started poking around to see who I might work with. Now I’ve got a few names and I’m getting my application together. Strangely enough, if I hadn’t been laid off, I might very well never have been able to ask the question that I did in the town hall that was followed up by a candid conversation that identified this issue. So hopefully, in a few years, I’ll be able to look back at this and say that this was where it all started… great trees grow from a seed and fertilizer. It certainly seems that I’ve got the seed and the fertilizer, now let’s see what will grow.

Another member of the digital addiction food group – the iPhone

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By , March 9, 2010 2:06 pm

People have long talked about their Crackberry, and many iPhone users have known that a similar addictions to the “insta-stim” data stream that can be provided by their device, but now there is proof. Respondents used their device to replace their watches, they reported that they were more likely to forget their wallet than their iPhone and they called the devices “doorways to the world”. Personally, I have been a Crackberry user and now I’m ‘droid – never leaving home without my brain, but regardless of the platform, the ability to have your information in one location combined with the ability to get more information is certainly addicting in this information based world. But the thought of bringing into the educational sphere something that is addicting is somewhat problematic – do we really want your students to become addicted to gathering, storing and making use of information in a context specific manner? I don’t know, but I’m sure someone will tell me one day.

Dream On Kids… dream on all day

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By , February 23, 2010 4:27 pm

I’ve posted before on WILB and how the use of small distractions might actually be beneficial for people who are working on the computer. But what about those people who are not on the computer? All they have access to is their imagination, and specifically, their day dreams. Could those help do the same thing? Well it seems that they can. Kalina Christoff, Alan M. Gordon, Jonathan Smallwood, Rachelle Smith, and Jonathan W. Schooler. (Experience sampling during fMRI reveals default network and executive system contributions to mind wandering. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2009; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0900234106) have a paper that is just over a year old talking about this and how it can be important. So why is this post worthy today? Well I was in a meeting and I noticed myself getting unfocused and then my mind started to wander and I thought about the WILB materials I had dug up a while ago because there is a debate raging in my inbox about the value of monitoring web use (Facebook, Olympics et al) and it occurred to me that I was WILBing without the computer. Getting back to the office, and I found that there was indeed research that suggests that daydreaming is an important part of a creative, healthy mind.

Student Perceptions – a report from Memorial

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By , February 5, 2010 2:27 pm

You can download the entire report here, but I’ll quickly put up the main findings.

To be an effective face to face instructor, students were looking for an instructor who is:

  1. Respectful
  2. Knowledgeable
  3. Approachable
  4. Engaging
  5. Communicative
  6. Organized
  7. Responsive
  8. Professional
  9. Humorous

For distance education streams students looked for instructors who are:

  1. Respectful
  2. Responsive
  3. Knowledgeable
  4. Approachable
  5. Communicative
  6. Organized
  7. Engaging
  8. Professional
  9. Humorous

The report concluded “the data clearly indicates that the characteristics of effective teaching transcend the mode of delivery.”

The report is lengthy at 69 pages plus the appendix, but it has some solid “common sensical” points that I think just about any instructor can take away.

PEW finds that young people are finding long form blogging less “sexy”

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By , February 4, 2010 10:34 am

PEW is reporting that there is a drop in blogging among the under 30 demographic, a general lack of adoption of Twitter, except for high school girls who seem to be getting keen on it. The reason for this drop seems to be Social Media.

But for all the drop in activity that might be caused by the increased adoption of Social Media, there might be an increase of people who will start using traditional blogging for some of the advantages it has (length, data portability) that social media updating doesn’t allow. To me, I would think that if you’ve got a population that is keen on sharing what it is doing with everyone and anyone, but it is one that has just enough time to input a couple taps to update a status, then the lack of longer compositions make sense. But as people get a chance, and are able to reflect on those smaller updates, I think you’ll see old skool blogs coming back.

At the same time, it doesn’t seem to me that old skool blogging is going to take this laying down. WordPress has released tools for all three major mobile platforms and this tool could help traditional blog find a place in this mobile and fast paced world.

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