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?