Welcome to my Blog!

Hello and welcome to my blog. It is here that I will be working through various discussion topics related to technology, learning, and most importantly the creation of meaningful and relevant student instruction. I openly welcome your comments, and hope that my insights and presented information works to inspire and assist fellow educators in the effective integration of technology.

In Barcelona with my Girls!

In Barcelona with my Girls!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Technology Ahead: A Reflective Look Back

So yet another 7 week block has seemingly zoomed by and I now find myself another course farther down the learning trail that is my graduate studies.  Over the course of the last several weeks I have read, reviewed, studied, and ‘crammed’ as much knowledge as time allowed on the topics of learning theories and instructional strategies, and ultimately how the linking of both in combination with meaningful technology integration works to form effective classroom instruction.  In reflecting upon how my new learning has altered my perspective on classroom instruction and goals for the future it is safe to say that my view on technology integration has indeed been further reinforced and my own planning skills as a professional teacher further developed.  If these last few weeks have done nothing else they have highlighted the effectiveness of multi-faceted instruction and how meaningfully integrated technology adds to enhance virtually every aspect of classroom instruction.

Now society is changing, and with it its views on education and student learning.  Societal expectations are that students develop 21st century skills and dispositions whilst sitting in today’s classrooms; consequently teachers need to be able to deliver instruction that addresses these expectations and develops not only technological proficiency but also students’ abilities to locate, evaluate, and communicate information.  In re-examining my own views on learning, expressed way back in week one of my studies, I always considered my instruction to be largely constructivist in nature.  In the past I consistently worked to embrace technological innovation and provide instruction which employed learning scenarios filled with opportunities for my students to effectively and actively create their own personal understanding of classroom concepts.  In now having worked through Orey’s numerous presentations on learning theories I would like to think my personal theory on learning has further evolved and been effectively fine-tuned, so to speak (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011d).   Clearly today’s teachers need to be able to simultaneously deliver instruction using a variety of research-based strategies and innovative technologies in order to effectively address the diverse learning needs of today’s students.  Classroom generated learning scenarios must offer students greater opportunities for effective learning and the recall of information through meaningful collaboration, technology use, and the communicating of information.  In now looking at my new theory of learning I can see that it efficiently works to incorporate a variety of learning theories in order to more accurately reflect relevant instruction and create an effective instructional environment.  In having learned more about how the brain processes information, and now fully identifying the specifics of different learning theories in generating learning connections, my new theory on learning could best be described as unclassified because I now recognize the value in fully stocking one’s instructional toolkit with as many “tools” as possible so as to increase the likelihood of student success in my classroom.  By effectively incorporating multiple learning theories my revised classroom instruction will continue to tap into students’ strengths more consistently by offering multiple instructional angles.

In actively working to generate these multiple instructional angles the importance of effectively integrating innovative technology into instruction cannot be reinforced enough.  As the staff of web-based resource Edutopia (2008) observe,  [t]echnology is ubiquitous, touching almost every part of our lives, our communities, our homes… [and when] properly used, technology will help students acquire the skills they need to survive in a complex, highly technological knowledge-based economy”.  From mind maps and virtual fieldtrips, to spreadsheets and web-based resources the effective integration of technology as both an instructional and learning tool is paramount to ensuring student success both now and in the future.  In reflecting upon my current views on educational technologies and integration everything which I believed before beginning the course was reaffirmed - and then sub-sequentially expanded upon as I progressed through my studies!  In long recognizing technology’s inherent ability to ratchet up instructional effectiveness and “hook” students by facilitating effective learning connections through active interaction with information, the new materials and resources presented throughout the course further expanded my (and my colleagues’) repertoire of instructional options and allowed for the creation of new technological pathways upon which to generate unique and meaningful learning experiences.  Two of these new technology resources which I feel will add excitement and allow for the creative displaying of student understanding are the use of Voice Threads and Xtranormal movies. 

In examining the use of Voice Threads and Xtranormal movies both resources offer teachers instructional flexibility; build on the inherent interest of today’s digital learners; and work to generate unique expressions of learning.  In utilizing these technologies students are encouraged to focus on higher order thinking skills, develop communication and collaboration abilities, and increase their depth of knowledge within authentic cooperative learning tasks capable of providing first-hand interaction with peers, information, and technology.  Both resources efficiently tie in elements of cooperative instruction; provide opportunities for student feedback and collaboration; and both afford students opportunities to interact with information and then effectively use it create a learning artefact which creatively displays their acquired learning/understanding.  In noting these points Orey confirms how active participation in cooperative activities involving technology works to reinforce students’ efforts through the provision of immediate feedback and the development of a learning artefact (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011a).  With these types of technologies students are able to personally adapt information, scaffold their learning upon pre-existing knowledge and the knowledge of others (i.e. the computer or peers), and then, as Siemens notes, consciously work towards attaining higher levels of understanding by establishing effective learning connections (Laureate Education, Inc, 2011b).  My first run through with the Voice Thread technology with students was a huge success, now I cannot wait to begin getting students experimenting with the Xtranormal movie making software next!

So now where do all these new technologies and skills leave me in reference to future long-term goals? Well in coming at the topic of long-term goals from a school leadership perspective obviously I want to actively share my skills and expertise with my staff and fellow colleagues so as to help further raise the effectiveness of the classroom instruction occurring within the school.  In actively working to establish a professional learning community amongst all staff members, both English speaking and Arab, a collaborative environment can be further reinforced through the meaningful sharing of instructional strategies, information, and resources. Obviously the set up of a professional learning community can take time as staff members get accustom to the idea and work through any challenges in reference to technology use.  Initially this community will be established through weekly e-mail updates and traded messages but over time it will evolve into a shared school wiki where staff collaboration can be fostered; instructional resources and strategies shared; current trends in education discussed; and ultimately best practice instruction formed.  In looking at a second goal our school’s on-site professional development program will be getting a 21st-century “make-over” whereby the instructional strategies and resources utilized to deliver professional development will be changed to incorporate more interactive media, effectively dual-coded instruction, and higher rates of social interaction to allow for more effective and efficient learning amongst staff members.  Technology and its motivational elements will play a larger role in the delivery and attainment of information and understanding – no more lecturing and reading of power point presentations instead professional development will actively work to alter the instructional mindsets of teachers towards the effective delivery of 21st century instruction!  Graphic organizers, interactive media, video and images, virtual fieldtrips and web-based resources are what are in store for the future with the end aim being for professional development to become as Orey notes, an immersive experience in which teachers leave feeling motivated, reaffirmed, and wanting to try some of the new things out with their students beyond the confines of their comfort zones (Laureate Education, Inc. 2011c)!    

The last seven weeks have been challenging, but well worth the time and effort.  With each successive week in my graduate studies I am feeling more and more “masterful” in terms of the manner in which I approach my career as a professional teacher and how I view technology’s role within it.  Through my active participation in my latest course my repertoire of techniques and strategies continues to expand and now my toolbox of resources is growing alongside as well. Undoubtedly the long-term goals which I have set for myself and the instructional shift needed will take time but by effectively communicating knowledge regarding emerging trends and innovative technologies my actions can as Prensky (2005) highlights, get teachers to “rais[ing] their heads from the grindstone and observ[ing] the new landscape that is emerging” (p.9) around them.  Through my actions and the information I now possess teachers will hopefully recognize the necessity for instructional change to assist them in the development of student-centered instruction which builds upon student interests and facilitates new age skills.  I have always enjoyed using technology with students.   In now having worked my way through this course I am able to apply technology more creatively…and ultimately more effectively!

Edutopia Staff. (2008, March).  Why Integrate Technology into the Curriculum?: The Reasons Are Many - There's a place for tech in every classroom. What Works in Education. The George Lucas Educational Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/technology-integration-introduction.
Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011a). Program eight: Social learning theories [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from http://laureate.ecollege.com/ec/crs/default.learn?CourseID=5700267&CPURL=laureate.ecollege.com&Survey=1&47=2594577&ClientNodeID=984650&coursenav=0&bhcp=1
Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011b). Program nine: Connectivism as a learning theory [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from http://laureate.ecollege.com/ec/crs/default.learn?CourseID=5700267&CPURL=laureate.ecollege.com&Survey=1&47=2594577&ClientNodeID=984650&coursenav=0&bhcp=1
Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011c). Program six: Spotlight on technology: Virtual field trips [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from http://laureate.ecollege.com/ec/crs/default.learn?CourseID=5700267&CPURL=laureate.ecollege.com&Survey=1&47=2594577&ClientNodeID=984650&coursenav=0&bhcp=1
Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011d). Program three: Instructional theory vs. learning theory [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from http://laureate.ecollege.com/ec/crs/default.learn?CourseID=5700267&CPURL=laureate.ecollege.com&Survey=1&47=2594577&ClientNodeID=984650&coursenav=0&bhcp=1
Prensky, M. (2005, December). Listen to the Natives. Educational Leadership. 63(4). p.8-13. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Retrieved from: Academic Search Complete database. ISSN: 00131784.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Social Theory and Cooperative Learning

A key attribute of effective classroom instruction is that students work within what Vygotsky termed the zone of proximal development. Through the purposefully design and targeting of instruction to operate within this developmental range learners are given activities which are challenging but easily completed with the use of knowledgeable assistance.  It is in discussing this element of assistance and guidance from more knowledgeable individuals, or as Orey describes them more knowledgeable others, on topics, or within tasks or activities, that we can examine the role of social learning theory within cooperative learning based classrooms (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011a). Social learning theory focuses on the learning that occurs within a social context, and relates to peoples’ ability to learn through observing others’ behaviors, attitudes, and ultimately the outcomes of those behaviours.  In examining social learning theory and instructional strategies such as cooperative learning I believe there is indeed a strong correlation as the effective use of social learning theories supports the implementation of instructional strategies which facilitate student communication, collaboration, and meaningful cooperation with others.

Through teachers’ meaningful actions effective learning atmospheres within classrooms which utilize social learning strategies such as cooperative learning work to, as Johnson, Johnson, and Smith (1991) note, generate the associated student benefits of “positive interdependence, individual [and group] accountability, face-to-face interaction, appropriate use of collaborative skills, and group processing” (as cited by Tsay and Brady, 2010, p.79).  In using social learning activities which promote active engagement with information and other persons such as jigsaws, think-pair-share, round-table discussions, three step interviews, or pairs checking  greater retention of subject matter, improved attitudes towards learning, and enhanced relationships amongst group members are encouraged.  These types of cooperative activities can be further enhanced through the effective integration of social networking media such as Skype, Facebook, Twitter, Second Life, or multimedia web-based learning tools like Xtranormal, Glogster, blogging Webquests, or Voice Threads.  Through the use of innovative technology students are given further means to efficiently gather, evaluate, create, and most importantly display and share their acquired learning.  In having had the opportunity to personally work with Voice Thread technology my mind was immediately swamped with ideas on how this type of software could influence instruction - and more importantly benefit student learning.  Through my own playing around (see appendix 1 below) I was amazed at how easily one could visually and orally display information.  Through the software I was able to organize and manipulate materials and then give detailed information specific to individual components within my project.  This visually interactive nature and the ability to express thoughts is something which O”Bannon, Puckett, and Rakes (2006) cite as being essential to students being able to “discover, create, and communicate understanding in a format that is…[personally] logical” (p.129).  In having this ability to creatively design and present, students are able to effectively communicate their learning to others even if not face-to-face consequentially expanding the range of learning possibilities beyond the walls of the classroom and aiding in greater opportunities for collaborative learning and the sharing of information between classmates.  With the aid of technology shy or reluctant students would be given a medium or ‘voice’ through which to present their learning in a nonthreatening, user friendly environment; high achieving students would have their learning further opened to a world of possibilities through which to creatively express themselves; cooperative learners would be able to effectively collaborate and share; and most importantly teachers would be given a tool through which to gain a truer picture of their students’ levels of understanding through students’ physical creation and application of learned concepts.  In being able to produce movies, generate multimedia slideshows, collaborate in virtual worlds, and communicate digitally classroom learning becomes relevant to students’ lives and in the end is more reflective of today’s society.

In offering their perspective on cooperative learning Wong & Wong (1998) note how “cooperative learning is not so much learning how to cooperate as it is cooperating to learn” (as cited by Pitler, Hubbell, Kuhn, & Malenoski, 2007, p.143). Through the exchanging of information and material, the challenging of each other's reasoning, and the provision of feedback and encouragement, the use of cooperative learning works to aid students in assisting each other in overcoming challenges and completing whatever task has been assigned.  Social learning theory and the learning that occurs though the peer-to-peer exchanging of ideas within cooperative instruction are indeed correlated.  Through its effective integration social media can be an accelerant for this type of cooperative social learning by working to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of learning interactions both within and outside of school by, as Siemens notes, allowing for increased visualization opportunities and the generating of learning connections (Laureate Education, Inc., 2011b). In the end learning is complex and being afforded and having fluency with multiple teaching strategies such as those associated with social learning remains the key to effectively reaching students and promoting learner success within today’s classrooms.

Appendix 1
My Voice Thread URL: http://voicethread.com/share/2680654/

Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011a). Program eight: Social learning theories [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from http://laureate.ecollege.com/ec/crs/default.learn?CourseID=5700267&CPURL=laureate.ecollege.com&Survey=1&47=2594577&ClientNodeID=984650&coursenav=0&bhcp=1
Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (2011b). Program nine: Connectivism as a learning theory [Video webcast]. Bridging learning theory, instruction and technology. Retrieved from http://laureate.ecollege.com/ec/crs/default.learn?CourseID=5700267&CPURL=laureate.ecollege.com&Survey=1&47=2594577&ClientNodeID=984650&coursenav=0&bhcp=1
O’Bannon, B., Puckett, K., Rakes, G. (2006). Using Technology to Support Visual Learning Strategies. Type II Uses of Technology in Education: Projects, Case Studies, and Software Applications.23(1/2).p.125-137. The Haworth Press, Inc. Retrieved from ERIC database. DOI: 10.1300/J025v23n01_11.
Pitler, H., Hubbell, E., Kuhn, M., & Malenoski, K. (2007). Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works. Alexandria, VI, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Tsay, M. and Brady, M. (2010, June). A Case Study on Cooperative Learning and Communication Pedagogy: Does Working in Teams Make a Difference? Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 10(2), 78-89. Retrieved from ERIC database.