vendredi 12 décembre 2014

[edX] Update on progress

As you may have probably noted, I did not follow up on the course in a regular manner and most importantly did not post any updates.

I could go on-and-on and complain about the work load and the motivation and ... but the reality is that I am not alone and the answer is much more complex than laziness. For instance, Justin Reich has recently suggested that completion rates of MOOCs are between 2% and 10% [1]. We are not talking about success, just mere completion is that low. However, when we browse a bit farther, we will find that a completion of a course depends on student's motivations to take the course. From those who intent to explore and discover only 6% complete a course and from those who wanted to do it 22% earn a certificate.

The main argument revolves around the fact that most MOOC courses can not be explored or surveyed before the lesson starts. If we compare this scenario with real classes in schools and universities it looks like one would need to enroll in all classes with a name that sounds interesting and drop them after if they do not fit. In MOOCs, there is no history of similar classes, no one to ask about how it was last year and a very limited information is provided in short 2-3 minutes videos intended to "hook up" more students.

The data comes from nine HarvardX courses with a total of 290 000 students with a response from almost 80 000 students. This gives us a rate of participation of roughly 27.6%. By most standards, it is low, really low. Just this information says a lot about student engagement and intent. It is equivalent of only 8 students answering to a pool in a real classroom of 30 after multiple reminders from a teacher. Does it happen in your classroom? I hope not! It does not happen in mine: even the less motivated and less engaged groups with difficulties have a participation rate varying between 40% and 50%.

More information is shown in the graphic presenting "survivor proportion" throughout the course. While the graphic is not detailed enough, we can see that up to 25%  of those who have responded and around 75% of those who have not responded drop the course in the first days. Half way through the course, around 50% drop from those left after first days in each and every category. This looks a lot like an exponential function of decay we can see in nature!

While at the end of the course there seems to be a notable difference between all groups and those with the initial intention to complete, the drop rates are huge. In fact, given reported drop rates only 20 300 students from 290 000 that have initially registered have actually profited from the course. The intent is definitely important, but keeping the interests and engagement of students looks to be even more important.

So what is my intent? Where am I: in the browse group, audit group or ... ? Initially I hoped to learn something new and complete the course because I have to. However, new learning does not mean any learning. In fact, one of the components of the course: leadership does not interest me. I have no need to do anything on As a result, I have no personal intrinsic reason to do the course on time and the external requirements from my other McGill course was clearly not enough. But I still have my goal to learn something new, something relevant. So how could I live-up to my own expectations?

This does brake the natural flow of the learning experience, but I decided to do it all at once. That is, go through each and every lesson and see what I learn, what I experience. Luckily the materials are available even after the end of the course and I can do it all tonight and tomorrow stopping only to post information here, in my blog.


lundi 3 novembre 2014

[edX] Week 3 - first post

For the past few weeks as I was continuously putting off a discussion about a new course that I’m taking at edX.  Since this post is my first (but it is actually the end of the week 3 of the course) let me tell you a little bit about it:

  • Name: 11.132x Design and Development of Educational Technology
  • The goal seems to be not only to learn about design and dev. of educational technologies but also to enable as many students as possible to make radical changes in the community by proposing and effectively marketing new ideas. 

Given the fact that I do not like online courses for their artificial requirements, engagement formats and so on, I was set to get the most knowledge from this course without actually doing any of these “fluffy” things such as proposals or talks. But I’m getting a bit of topic – Week 3.
This week is all about Active Learning that is a fun and interesting topic to play with and to learn about. Unfortunately, it is one of those weeks that has something like a total of 2+ hours of lectures organised in a format of 5 to 12 min videos separates rather artificially by some additional and mostly boring content to look at without any particular goal. From the get go it sounds boring and completely unengaging. I guess that the format of the “lecture” (nice ideas mixed up with some trivia and completely irrelevant information) is cognitively demanding and may become boring rapidly. Moreover, there are no real profound reflections or discussion of the major ideas making the talks look more like a history lesson or a list of items to think about.

However, most core ideas hidden within more or less artificial interviews are not only essential but could lead to an interesting mind experiments and reflections. For instance at the end of the entire talk on Geniverse, Paul Horwitz discusses the transfer of knowledge from virtual learned environment to the real world examples. He clearly states that no computer will ever be able to construct the same emotionally challenged and engaging situations as a good human teacher in order to help students to make the connection between “dragons” and “Jimmy.” It is an interesting concept to play with when we realize that the teacher is not just facilitating a discussion or a discovery. The construction of an engaging and authentic (as much as possible) scenario, the acting and emotional component are all parts of an interactive play that the teacher has orchestrated and acted out. In fact, that one person in front of a small but really demanding audience is expected to be able to replace an entire production team on a movie set or in a theater. The pressure becomes even higher when we know that such activity is essential in order to improve students understanding and ensure appropriate knowledge and skill transfer between computer simulation and “real world” problems. In short, the software, even great and really advanced simulations, may not do nothing special without carefully designed and crafted activities that reinforce the learning and build new links enabling faster and easier transfer and reuse of learned skills.

Similarly, the second part of the learning is all about StarLogo Nova and contains long talks about many things that do not often seem related or interesting. For instance, I did not find the conversation about the history and the making of the tool that looks like Scratch on steroids is really interesting. Yes, it is an important part of the learning process to fulfill one of the goals, but I’m not taking the course for that. Rather, one idea mentioned by Wendy Huang towards the end of the talk has caught my attention. She suggests that one of the essential parts of active learning process is the reflection piece. Now, I know what I was missing in my EDPE 640 class (see my other posts)! At the end of the class around 9pm, I leave with lots of ideas that boil and explode in my brain but I’m left to sort them out on my own. Many interesting points get lost, alternative views are not considered. In short, me, myself and I are left to sort it all out inside my head. I do reflect on many things but I miss the opinions of those that do not see like me, that will provoke me either to change or to reinforce my views through additional research and reflection. I miss that skillful and orchestrated guidance that Paul Horwitz was modelling. I miss that emotional part would force me to continue research and reflection after I get home in order to formulate a more clear and sound position on a controversial topic.

I feel like I’m getting again a bit off topic but this time it is on purpose! Even if you do not follow the course on edX or have never heard about Active Learning, how do you think an engaging classroom with authentic activities should be setup? IS it important to have a reflection (a recap with analysis) at the end or at any other moment in the lesson? How all this ties together with cognitive theories and our understanding of brain activity and learning processes?

mardi 28 octobre 2014

[EDPE 640] On evangelism in classrooms

I guess it is more of an irritant for me but it is a BIG ONE: why teachers that are supposed to present multiple views of technology to students do not even make an effort to do so? Or, should I say, that this generalization applies to some teachers that focus only on the tech they love effectively creating an environment where the only way is their way.
For instance in the EDPE 640, the teacher is all sold to Google and it is fine! Google has created a great set of collaborative tools that  have been widely adopted in education. However, we are talking about an introductory course for teachers that is supposed to explore various tools and environments. So why the director competitor and a full viable alternative is not included? Maybe because Office 35 for education is not as familiar for the teacher, maybe because it is a personal choice BUT is t a good choice?

From a practical perspective, will the student teachers and my colleagues explore on their own? Most probably not:
... assessing collaboration and creativity (Cloud computing, e.g. Google drive) ...
 The cloud computing group made me believe that Google Drive is a platform that is well suited to build an interactive and collaborative learning environment. [it was the only one presented]
 ... most of us appreciated the Peer editing and Commenting functions of Google Drive and we all see its great potential in engaging the students to work collaboratively and in organizing homework.
 The technology I am mostly impressed with so far for my personal use is Cloud Computing. [...] We are sharing ideas, editing each other’s work through Google Docs and all of this is happening in the comfort of our homes; this is amazing!
  I can see Google docs as being a very possible classroom resource for me. As I touched upon in the presentation, there are a couple of wonderful examples on now properly incorporate cloud computing in the classroom.
 One theme I can marry from both classes is that Google's suite of web-based applications will lead developments in curriculum and assessment practices for  K12 and HE students.
More to be found here:
Just read the comments and notice how cloud computing is consistently associated with Google and how the suite is "leading the development" in school environment.
From a class management perspective, the argument of simplified environment does not hold. Since the beginning of the class, we are also exposed to multiple tools and multiple environments: Mightybell, Twitter, different blogging tools, Google Docs, Socrative etc. Integrating one more tool will not make the life a student teacher significantly harder.
Overall, I just wonder how many student teachers will leave this class believing that Google is The Tool and The Tool is The Cloud.

Enough with complaints! How this could be fixed? An exploration activity of Google alternatives is one example. Given that the teacher has shared many documents online and has encouraged sharing of documents through Google Drive, it is rather easy to migrate them all into Microsoft, ThinkFree and many more other alternatives just to demonstrate that other options exists. Any other option that could disrupt the flow of brainwashing activities in the form of "Google this, Google that" is also fine.

dimanche 26 octobre 2014

Handwritten vs laptop notes - A large study with interesting results

For a while, I was planning to write about an interesting research on student performance in tests comparing handwritten and computer assisted settings.

One of the biggest recent publications was written by Mueller and Oppenheimer (see the full reference below). In an eleven pages publication, the authors present results of three large sample studies comparing different aspects of handwritten notes and computer assisted work. All computers did not have an internet connection and all distractors were removed. One of the studies even focused on long term retention … but I’m getting too far ahead!

The first study focused on 67 students following selected five 15 minutes TED Talks covering "interesting but not common knowledge topics." Students (alone or in group of two) followed a lecture projected on a screen and used either a notebook or a computer (full keyboard) to take notes. Thirty minutes after the lecture, following 10 minutes distractor tasks, students have completed a set of recall (factual) questions and a set of conceptual-application questions blind scored by two raters.

Following the analysis, the authors found that students wrote significantly less words by hand than on computer. Moreover, laptop notes contained an average of 15% of verbatim overlap whereas hand written notes contained only 9%. Students who took more notes performed better but those whose notes had less verbatim text also had better results. In short, on factual-recall questions all participants performed equally well. However, on conceptual-application questions students taking hand notes performed significantly better. The authors suggest that
[T]his study provides initial experimental evidence that laptops may harm academic performance even when used as intended. Participants using laptops are more likely to take lengthier transcription-like notes with greater verbatim overlap with the lecture. … mindless transcription seems to offset the benefit of the increased content, at least when there is no opportunity for review.
The second study involved 151 students in a similar setting. However, this time the researchers have attempted to influence students’ behavior by suggesting to take notes “in their own words.” Unfortunately, the suggestion had no effect and the results of this study aligned in the same direction as the previous one: students with handwritten notes have performed better in conceptual-application type of questions.

In the third study, 109 participants have been part of the research in a 2x2 setup: handwritten vs. computer and revision vs. none. All participants have taken the test a few weeks later in order to see if larger note set will significantly improve test performance. Statistical analysis has shown that those who took handwritten notes and were able to study them performed significantly better than any other group in all question categories.  In fact researchers suggest that
it is also possible that, because of enhanced encoding, reviewing longhand notes simply reminded participants of lecture information more effectively than reviewing laptop notes did.
In the scope of an everlasting integration of technologies in kindergarten and up, it is interesting to view this research as a small inquiry into possible effects of educational changes induced by technology. For instance, even in participatory social constructivist classroom a student taking notes on a computer during a wrap-up or presentation by another team could be disadvantaged in all types of analysis-reflection questions asked after. Similarly, a traditional lecture could represent an even bigger problem for many students with laptops resulting in an even bigger loss of information.

However, should we rely on note taking as a study method?  Could we get rid of all forms of note taking completely? Is this the future? How much information can be remembered without any form of note taking?

UPDATE 27/10/2014 : It is now almost midnight and I just had an interesting conversation with my friend and colleague on this research. Despite my fatigue, I will ponder here a few short ideas to play with. He brought up an interesting hypothesis or ... a set of ideas if you wish:

  1. It is possible that the students that have been tested in the above mentioned research have never been taught and thus do not have the skills necessary to take effective notes on the computer.
  2. It is possible that the above tested students did not have sufficient exposure to note taking on the computer: they have learned to take notes by hand and have been "imprinted" with handwritten method versus computer assisted. Thus, their "habits" influence their actions.
When we actually take time to play with the ideas mentioned above we realize that it is possible: all this research could simply demonstrate that our students are not prepared to take notes on the computer. Just think about it!
The above students were born before iPads and even before major adoption of technologies in the classrooms. Teachers that have thought these students were not teaching technology assisted note taking skills or technology assisted anything for that matter. It is probably safe to say that most of these kids did not see much of tech in their classroom until their 10th birthday and sometimes even later. It is therefore possible that this generation simply does not know how to effectively use the tools in the learning process. Have we wrongfully assumed that our tech generation is so good with any IT tools that they will simply naturally know how to use this tech for learning? Could it be that we have been wrong, that our students need good examples, training and exercise in the same manner as they needed before with paper?

Mueller, P. A., & Oppenheimer, D. M. (2014). The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard Advantages of Longhand Over Laptop Note Taking. Psychological science, 0956797614524581.

lundi 13 octobre 2014

[EDPE 640] Teaching and technology - Professional communities

In one of the articles that I am reading on teaching and technology, the authors refer to a Roach & Beck (2012)  and Ranieri, Manca, & Fini (2012) publications and state that "Teachers who participate in social networks, such as Facebook, can use them both to identify distributed professional
communities and to help them assimilate into networks of practice."

Beyond any doubt, they are correct. It is impossible to find a community if we do not look, especially if we consider online communities. However, the real question lies hidden inside these virtual environments: their scope and diversity are often implied and depend on the majority of participants. I would even argue that an old style face to face collaboration community reaching members of the same school may have more diversity than many professional communities online. Unfortunately, I have no research to back it up, but this topic looks rather promising if it was not done yet. My hypothesis is :

Given the size of the internet and proliferation of professional communities online focusing on a single tool (method, or a subject) or working under a rather wide umbrella concept, most of the active online population will gravitate towards communities that best represent their point of view and ensure somewhat high level of comfort while providing an impression of enriching and stimulating learning environment that only slightly conflicts ones views.

If my hypothesis is correct, only artificial diversified non self-constructed learning environments are suitable for deep, authentic and fruitful knowledge construction. For example, only carefully crafted wiki spaces illicit high levels of interaction and collaborative learning (as suggested by the same authors while referring to research published by Moskaliuk, Kimmerle, & Cress in 2009).

If not, such a behavior demonstrates that human social imperative has evolved online in a different manner than it has in face-to-face interactions. That is, some specific aspect of the technology has allowed humans to reduce the fear of unknown, the fear of mistake and rejection of ideas located too far from our own perceptions. It has also given a potential for a minority to keep its identity and ensure an equal presence and visibility of its opinions. Probably, an active online citizen can find a few examples of the above mentioned characteristics of minority groups online. However, they are often contrasted with rejection of arguments and sometimes even hateful and personal attacks on those that voice different opinions from the majority of the participants in a given group.

I have no idea what research has found or will find but for now I question the effectiveness of open professional communities in the field of education. Why in education only? Well, not only in this field but in this field too. In contrast to professional communities in IT, education is too broad with many conflicting ideas leading to a huge opportunity for debate. In IT field, there is also space for debate, discussion and reflection but it often gravitates around a narrow topic or a problem and requires factual knowledge and deep understanding. In fact, many professional IT communities are actually dynamic ever evolving FAQ pages, blogs, forums etc. created with a sole purpose of transferring knowledge and supporting each other in a complex world of IT. Most of such communities, do not focus on philosophical or ethical questions. They tend to avoid discussions about "hot" topics. Finally, there is often an implied understanding that the focus is on technology that may or may not work as expected. In education, we do work with humans while potentially shaping their lives. Mistakes make cost our students a lot. This knowledge, coupled with uncertainty, broad range of issues and luck of deep understanding of learning processes creates a fertile environment for debates, discussions and endless fights between members of the diversified community. Such environment may naturally alienate those that stand too far from its main stream and lead towards self-censure followed by eventual search for a more "friendlier and open"community.

  • Roach, A. K., & Beck, J. J. (2012). Before Coffee, Facebook: New Literacy Learning for 21st Century Teachers. Language Arts, 89(4), 244–255.
  • Ranieri, M., Manca, S., & Fini, A. (2012). Why (and How) Do Teachers Engage in Social Networks? An Exploratory Study of Professional Use of Facebook and Its Implications for Lifelong Learning. British Journal of Educational Technology, 43(5), 754–769.
  • Moskaliuk, J., Kimmerle, J., & Cress, U. (2009). Wiki-Supported Learning and Knowledge Building: Effects of Incongruity between Knowledge and Information. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 25(6), 549–561.
EDIT 14/10/2014 : One of my colleagues pointed out an interesting observation that I forgot to include into the above conversation: a god example of failed community is the EDPE 640 course circle online. We do posts, but there is hardly any conversation taking place online. In fact, there is rarely any space for a conversation because everyone seems to like everything. I'm not even sure that everyone reads the posts of everyone else.


Following is just a a short rant about how we, teachers, are often oblivious to the amount of work we give to our students.

For instance, it is expected that an average graduate 3 credit course requires 10-15 hours of work at home. At the same time, a full time student in a non research masters program is required to take at least 12 credits (4 courses in this scenario) in order to qualify for full time. Let us now count:
Courses themselves : 4 x 2.5 hours = 10 hours
Additional workload: 4 x 10 = 40 hours minimum OR 4 x 15 = 60 hours
That makes us a grand total of 50 hours minimum and 70 hours maximum of workload. I do not know if you have ever experienced 60 hours workload but let me tell you it is not fun. Certainly, it is not appropriate for a good and deep learning experience.

Now you will tell me that this is not possible. I agree that this is hard to believe but here comes a real workload for a week:

  • A short chapter to read: 17 pages
  • Another short chapter to read: 25 pages from Teaching and Technology: New tools for new times by Fishman and Dede
  • A few chapters for a book club (around 45 pages)
  • Make at least 4 tweets on the subject of the course (of course, reading other tweets is part of the expectation too)
  • Post a short reflection on previous course
  • Start work on the final project (4 to 6 hours per week)
All of this results in an average of 85 pages per week of reading plus reflections publications etc. For a person that reads, makes comments and really reflects on the topic, it does average out to 10 - 15 hours per course for a total load of 50 to 70 hours per week. Unfortunately, this is not all: the course also requires to prepare a presentation, to lead a discussion by posting questions on the topic etc. Overall leaning towards 15 hours/week and not 10 as one would hope.

What can be learned in such an environment? How deep and thoughtful are the reflections? Are all these readings required? 

jeudi 4 septembre 2014

Cost of migration to the Internet for schools

In educational environment, I often hear teacher discussions about affordability of technologies and their advantages. One of the discussions usually turns around the reduced price of ABS device or service (replace ABS by Chromebook, iPad, GoogleDdocs or anything else) that uses Internet for an important part of functionality.

However, the reality in education is much more complicated. One of the main limiting factors of Internet related technologies in education is the network. The system is routinely hit with spikes of activity followed by down times. For example, when everyone comes after lunch and starts working, the system and the servers are often hit with thousands(or hundreds of thousands) of requests that they need to serve in timely manner.


In our hypothetical school of 1200 students and 120 members of personnel, everyone has a network enabled device and around half of people have two devices. That means that WiFi needs to support around 2000 devices.

WiFi price

Usually, schools are highly dense environments with poor WiFi performance. That means that despite the fact that many APs (WiFi access modules) can support  up to 60 students it is common to see a density of 30 devices or less per AP. This gives us a total of 66 APs plus a controller:

  • each access point will cost from 450$ to 1200$ CAN. Assuming an average of 700$ per unit we are talking about 46000$
  • the controller with licenses will cost around 12000$. 
This gives a total of 58 000$ that has to be reinvested around every 5 to 7 years (8280$ to 12000$ per year) if the institution wants to keep up with new technologies (g-->n-->ac) and the increasing demand of users.

Of course, this calculation assumes that the prices will drop while demand will increase in the same proportion keeping the costs on the same level as now. In fact, the demand for broadband high speed internet has been growing exponentially resulting in a net increase of prices if we consider the same level of service over a span of the last 10 years.

Internet price

  • roughly 30% of the users will need concurrent access to bandwidth intensive applications (YouTube, Skype and the likes) requiring 500+ Kbps
  • roughly 30% will need 15 Kbps or less
  • 40% of users will be inactive
  • prices are based on Montreal, Quebec, Canada pricing as of August 2014
The calculations:
  • 30%*2000*0.5 Mbps=300 Mbps
  • 30%*2000*0.015 Mbps=9 Mbps
The price:
It is not easy to set the price for such a service BUT... let's take the prices at Montreal:
  • Videotron Business Solutions: highest offer is 200/30 Mbps for 207$/year with an agreement of 3 years. In this case, we will need two connections to satisfy user demand totaling roughly 340$/month plus a rooter that can aggregate and balance both connections. 
  • Prices accessible through private school association agreement: minimum of 960$/month for 300Mbps fiber optic connection.
  • Prices available on Skynet Canada highspeed WiFi service: 25Mbps for 900$/month
Using the lowest and the middle from the three examples above we could now calculate the total price of the network connection not including maintenance fees and other hidden costs.


  • 8280 + 4080 = 12 360$/year on lower end (Videotron)
  • 12000 + 11520 = 23 520$/year on higher end (fiber optic)
Considering that the above calculations do not include support, maintenance and possible growth, the cost estimate is a tight one and will most definitely be higher.
Definitely, the "free" is not really free. Schools need to carefully consider all implications before investing time and money in these cool tools and gadgets.

So what a school can do with 6000$ to 12000$ invested in pedagogical services like psychologist or inclusion specialist?

[EDPE 640] First impressions

As I have mentioned in my previous post, I will try to keep a log of my impressions about a class on disruptive technologies for educational change(EDPE 640 at McGill) that I am taking right now.

After the first class, I am still not convinced of anything. I remain highly skeptical about technology in education and its advantages (data supported).

On the negative side, the teacher has hit some of my sensitive points. While I do know that these are only my perceptions, I still look for deep reflection and data supported tools in education. Phrases in form of "Why would you ask your students to take notes, when everyone can take a photo of the board with a smart phone" simply hit on my nerves because they ignore all neurological research and educational theories. We do learn better when we write with our hands because we are:

  • using different parts of our brain when writing, thus multiplying input methods for long term memory
  • forced to re-code the information to write faster, thus forcing the brain to analyse, modify the information and create additional links between previous knowledge and new info.
During the same lesson, the teacher also stated that we should have a Facebook account with students as friends. Of course, this means that we should have a professional one and personal one. However, current (04 sept. 2014) Facebook Statement of Rights and Responsibilities clearly states that:
  • "Facebook users provide their real names and information"
  • "You will not create more than one personal account"
  • "If you violate the letter or spirit of this Statement, or otherwise create risk or possible legal exposure for us, we can stop providing all or part of Facebook to you"
Which means that we should have only one personal account; In caseof multiple accounts,they can removed or deactivated. Moreover, we should behave like good online citizen: we should model the behavior of respect and understanding of online laws and regulations. That is, we should have follow the regulations of every service, know them int he same manner as we know civil rights and responsibilities (do we actually?). I'm not even talking about ethical and legal issues that may arise when by mistake a teacher or as student will move from a realm of polite communication between "Facebook friends" into a realm of real friends.

In the same class, I have heard a quote from a report on future of education. While I haven't found such a report online, it does not matter. Predicting what technology will be most popular in 5 years is hard enough. Predicting that in 5 years the education market will embrace ubiquitous presence of smart phones is at least pretentious. First iPhone was released in 2007 and it was much less capable than the current version; iPad arrived in 2010 and is now one of the most popular mobile devices in education in North America. There are countless examples of accelerating tech development suggesting that in 5 years we will probably have one or two technological revolutions in consumer market spilling over into business and education.  

On the positive side, I have heard a lot of new names:, etc. It certainly looks like I will be bombarded with new tools and websites throughout the course. It will most certainly give me the chance to broaden my view and improve my digital toolkit. 

In short, the two hours lesson was full of various types of information that has interested and engaged me in various ways. An the end of it all, I will try to stay open to new ideas and learning experiences.

samedi 16 août 2014

Universal Screening - short description

Universal Screening is the entry point for all students in the RtI model. It is the first step in the analysis which gauges whether or not the student is attaining current benchmarks in basic/core skills in reading, mathematics and behaviour. Typically, assessments occur three times per year and the results are compared to a benchmark available as part of the tool used or decided upon the teacher (or teaching team).

The screening process is necessary to ensure that a student does not fall through the cracks in a given year in such a way that they end up being a year behind in the next school year.  Once students have been assessed, their current performance can be monitored.

If they are falling below targeted benchmarks, teachers can offer in-class remediation/enrichment to bring the student to level of mastery in that particular skill.  Universal Screening enables teachers to target students' needs exactly where they are at and at the level where they are rather than giving general remediation help to many students, which may or may not be what the students need in particular.

Multitasking - Part 2

I have come across a really interesting article on multitasking (and many other things related to digital age).

The article: - Section on MultiTasking Vs. 'Hopping' or Task Switching. In this text, the authors discuss the differences between Multitasking and Hoping (switching between tasks). Unfortunately, some aspects of the discussion  are not detailed enough and may lead one to believe that the situation is better than it actually is.

For example, towards the end of the section, the author suggests that there is not enough research to clearly conclude that multitasking impairs understanding. This is probably the biggest message in the section! While it is totally true, let us not jump to a conclusion that there is no negative impact in multitasking.

The text suggests that "reading while listing to music" is an example of multitasking. In reality, it is not. If we turn to the research on human development especially on processing of reading and auditory information, we will find that reading is actually a skill directly associated with auditory sections of the brain. Some even suggest that good readers "imagine" sound in their head in order to improve processing of information. Moreover, both reading and listening to songs (with words) requires the same sections of the brain to work on executive and decoding functions.

In short, we cannot multitask as long as the tasks in question require the same section(s) of the brain to process or react. Just imagine a highway with toll payment section on it. The toll is hundreds of lines wide but each line is specifically associated with a particular model/brand of car. Each car has to, absolutely, use the appropriate toll booth. Moreover, there is a processing restriction: at the same instance no more than 7 cars can pay. Therefore, two cars of the same brand/model cannot cross the toll at the same time but a few different model(s)/brand(s) of cars can. While this analogy is limited, it still demonstrates the basic principle: the brain simply cannot keep alive more than 5-7 chunks of info at the same time. The same type or form of information cannot be processed at the same time. While the brain works much faster than any toll on the road can, it has other restrictions that our special toll does not: it cannot process more than one higher level task. That means that, according to a Revised Bloom's Taxonomy by Anderson & Krathwohl (2001), many tasks at

  • Level IV - Analyze
    • analyze
    • categorize
    • classify
    • compare
    • infer
    • etc.
  • Level V - Evaluate
    • appraise
    • judge
    • compare
    • criticize
    • defend
  • Level VI - Create(Synthesis)
    • choose
    • combine
    • create
    • design
    • construct
    • hypothesize
    • etc.
cannot be done at the same time. 

So what? Well, this goes much farther than we could initially think. If we come back to our early example of reading, research demonstrates that an effective reader will naturally analyze, evaluate and hypothesize in the process of reading a paragraph or section. 

If this hypothetical reader is also doing something else requiring the same section(s) of the brain, the reader will be Hopping. If we push it a bit farther and assume that the stream of information(from one of the sources) is continuous and cannot be stopped: the reader will loose information! However, in most cases, we can stop reading and restart again at our ease. So what is the problem? Well the problem is that the short memory and executive function will be taxed much more: before Hopping the info on the text will have to be fully processed and stored in long term memory. Before, the reader can come back to reading and restart, the information will have to be retrieved and reprocessed again. Considering that at all stages short time memory is bound to loose some information, that the executive function and many other sections of the brain have to work more, the understanding will not be the same. Of course, the essentials will probably be understood, but the depth of the text and the detailed appreciation of the language and vocabulary will be lost (at least partially).

So where is the proof? Remember the phrase that we have started with? Unfortunately, the research that specifically targets our ability to multitask is new and there is simply not enough information to build a sufficient body of knowledge in order to make a sound conclusion. That does not mean that we do not have an idea on what should happen. For instance, according to the most recent ideas in neurology, we know that the brain can rewire itself and restore some of the lost or initially impaired function. So why not multitasking? Why not imagine that we are getting better at Hopping to a point of not loosing any information? One of the hypotheses suggest that such a major rewiring of the brain cannot be accounted by a mere principle of brain elasticity. Others, like Prensky think that new generations are different. However, we simply do not know.

The jury on the multitasking may have yet to come to a conclusion, but one thing remains the same: as long as we consider that our brain has not evolved in the pas thousand years, multitasking, as a limited and extremely taxing on our brain activity, will have a noticeable impact on higher level cognitive functions of the human.

Rationale for RtI in Quebec

The current model of intervention in Quebec is the "Wait to Fail" model.  This model stipulates that a student will not receive extra assistance (or intervention) until they are two years behind the current grade level.  The problem with this model is that the first three years of school (Kindergarten, Grade 1 and Grade 2) are the most critical for students to learn literacy and numeracy skills.  If students do not have these basic skills by the time they are in Grade 3, they will continue to fall further behind as they are no longer being taught literacy and numeracy, but are expected to know them already. This intervention in this model occurs too late for students as it is too difficult to catch up.
Response to Intervention (RtI), however, offers immediate, real-time response to students who are struggling in reading, in writing, and in math.  The RtI model does not wait for a student to fall two years behind grade level, but through Universal Screening and subsequent Progress Monitoring, it gathers data regarding the current achievement level of the students, rather than relying on "gut feelings" or other emotionally based decisions. 
In addition, RtI requires Educational support teams comprised of teachers, resource staff, and administration, to use data based evidence to make decisions regarding the interventions needed for the student. All selected Interventions should be research based and curriculum based. In fact, the curriculum itself should be supported by research. Once the student has been identified as needing intervention, a Multi-Tiered delivery system will structure the intervention plan.  Lastly, RtI implies that all selected interventions and measures should be used with fidelity and integrity in the same way as defined in the research.
Challenges inherent in supporting students with special needs are numerous: teachers are not adequately trained to deal with students with special needs; costs associated with extra resource help can quickly over run a school budget; students with special needs get labelled, be it as problem children or other, and quickly fall into a trap of self-fulfilling prophecy; support outside the school is sometimes lacking (eg - lack of food, sleep, security) causing student to struggle in school; education students with special needs are not always relevant, like a stairway leading to nowhere; etc..

According to the Canadian Council on Learning (CCL, 2010)48% of Canadians have low literacy skills and more than 15 million adult Canadians will be part of this group by 2031 (a 25% increase from 2001). According to NICHD, 10% of US citizens have Learning Disabilities-80% of them in reading; every dollar spent on literacy programming results in a 241% return; a 1% increase in literacy rate would generate 18 million dollars in economic growth; if students are not reading at grade level by the third grade, the odds that they will ever read at grade level are only 1 in 17; by the 4th grade, 2 hours of specialized daily instruction is required to make the same gain that would have resulted from only 30 minutes of daily instruction if begun when the child was in Kindergarten.
CCL. (2010). The Future of Literacy in Canada’s Largest Cities: Canadian Council on Learning.

samedi 19 juillet 2014

Digital natives – being or doing?

One of the main reasons for introduction of technologies in education cited in the last eight or more years is a “digital nation” argument (Buckingham, 2007). Many proponents of the ICT integration in the classroom argue that the current generation is born with new technologies and thus can easily use them (Prensky, 2001; Prensky & Berry, 2001). Consequently, teachers usually assume that students are “better” and “know how things work.”  However, Holley and Oliver (2010, p. 694) cite multiple researchers and state that “students are not, in fact, digital natives; indeed, they are not particularly prolific users of technology.”  They also conclude that we should be “exploring, rather than taking for granted, the practices and preferences of students.”

As a result, we may ask ourselves what it means to be a digital native and what it implies in a school setting. One of the most commonly cited definitions has been proposed in Prensky (2001) and Prensky and Berry (2001). Prensky suggests that digital natives are like native speakers. Compared to immigrants, they are born into a world with high ICT use, and are surrounded by its variant and multiple forms. As a result, a “digital native’s” brain and behavior may be altered. Prensky suggests that digital natives may be characterised by their habits and behaviour:
Digital Natives are used to receiving information really fast. They like to parallel process and multi-task. They prefer their graphics before their text rather than the opposite. They prefer random access (like hypertext). They function best when networked. They thrive on instant gratification and frequent rewards. They prefer games to "serious" work. (Prensky, 2001, p. 2)

In the paragraph above, Prensky describes a Digital Native as a person with certain behaviour. This person is “used to” certain forms of informational load, “prefers” a certain format of information, “functions” best in a particular context, “thrives” on a certain reward system and “prefers” certain work format. However, the same author suggests that this divide is generational. That is, all students born at a certain period of time belong to this category and behave in a similar manner. In comparison, Digital Immigrants – those who have learned the new way and born before the period of initial technology adoption – always retain their “accent” and remain attached to old ways. Prensky suggests that this gap is major and not incremental as many may think. “Today’s students have not just changed incrementally… A really big discontinuity has taken place”(Prensky, 2001, p. 1).

Many opponents, however, argue that there is no clear generational divide, and that this cannot be used as the only principle to define digital natives (Helsper & Eynon, 2009). Most of the arguments are concentrated on the assumption made by Prensky and his followers that Digital Natives are surrounded by new technologies that are an essential parts of their lives. (Helsper and Eynon (2009); Holley and Oliver (2010)) and many others argue that so called Digital Natives are not actually that different from so called Digital Immigrants: some are using ICTs, some aren’t.

In the scope of this debate, it is interesting to analyse the proposal made by Helsper and Eynon (2009). The authors suggest that we should “separate the ‘doing’ from the ‘being’. That is, we should concentrate on behavior, as Prensky often does, while still identifying the most likely categories of people that are bound to demonstrate such behavior. Following this proposal, it is possible to adjust Digital Natives definition by Prensky to encompass Digital Immigrants embracing technology to the point that they act like Digital Natives.

This divide in conception of digital natives, either as a generation or as those with certain experience and expertise with new technologies, may have a direct impact on the effects of ICT use in education. If we assume that the status of digital native is acquired, there is a possibility that some students, if not most of them, are not digital natives and may not be familiar with ICTs. For example, Cole (2009) has found out that her students do not use ICTs as expected and some do not know how to use them at all. Although most students used SMS or chat (92.2%) and many have browsed Wikipedia (86.3%), 37% have reported that they had difficulties with the technology while trying to post on their course’s wiki page. The experiment with wiki may have failed for many reasons, but one thing is certain: a large set of students was not familiar with wiki editing or how to find suitable help on the Internet.

In short, I argue that we should stop thinking that our students are better at IT: they do need training to use technologies appropriately, especially if it is not the most popular tool among this age group. 


  • Buckingham, D. (2007). Beyond Technology: Children's Learning in the Age of Digital Culture: Wiley.
  • Cole, M. (2009). Using Wiki technology to support student engagement: Lessons from the trenches. Computers & Education, 52(1), 141-146. doi:
  • Helsper, E. J., & Eynon, R. (2009). Digital natives: where is the evidence? British Educational Research Journal, 36(3), 503-520. doi: 10.1080/01411920902989227
  • Holley, D., & Oliver, M. (2010). Student engagement and blended learning: Portraits of risk. Computers & Education, 54(3), 693.
  • Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants part 1. On the horizon, 9(5), 1-6. 
  • Prensky, M., & Berry, B. D. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants, part II: Do they really think differently. On the horizon, 9(6), 1-9. 

dimanche 8 juin 2014

Thinking about technologies in the classroom

I have just looked up a new course created at McGill University (Montreal, Canada) called Emerging Technologies for Educational Change (EDPE 640). It is an interesting course that I may take this summer or fall. ButBut, as often … as always, the teacher completely ignores personal choices of his students. As far as I can see, there is no consideration (or time taken to talk) about one’s digital footprint (in this case, Internet footprint).
While the nature of this course suggests that all students will have to "get dirty" and create some form of online presence, it is always astonishing to note that no time or place is taken to talk about how our choices (as teachers or students) may influence our future lives and the lives of our students. There is no mention of privacy online or any other similar idea. Considering that this course is tailored towards teacher learners it looks like an important concept to consider.
Instead, the teacher expects his students to share their ideas (essentially school work) on Twitter, blogs etc. Most probably, all proposed platforms will be commercial products made for profit and using personal user information to do whatever it takes to make money. Application of such technologies in an adult classroom may, in worst case, generate some form of complaints. Using them in the high school or lower is at least unethical.

Don’t get me wrong: I cannot simply judge a course by its description and declare it bad or unethical or anything else. I simply deplore the fact that there is no course that I know of at McGill that addresses the moral, ethical and legal issues related to the use of “disruptive” technologies including Wikipedia, Twitter, Facebook, Cloud etc.

UPDATE 02/09/2014: I am, finally, taking the above mentioned course now (in the fall semester). More impressions and reflections to come!