A Framework for Effective Technology Use in Online Teaching

Since my retirement from the California State University system, I have enjoyed teaching online at several universities. My field is literacy and I am a teacher educator, but I have always been interested in the intersection of literacy and technology. Thus my students, usually practicing teachers who are returning to the university for advanced degrees and meaningful professional development are usually eager to learn about new “tools of the trade,” especially for use their K-12 classrooms.

All of us know that today’s K-12 students tend to be intensive media users who use the Internet for many social purposes. Students use media and the Internet to respond to literature, create compositions and fanfiction, and to connect with others in interest-driven communities, both outside of school and in classrooms (Grisham & Wolsey, 2006; Wolsey & Grisham, 2012). But what are we doing to prepare teachers to address the learning needs of today’s tech-savvy students? In the context of the classroom, teachers choose the content. We know what we want to teach and what we want our students to learn. Can we (should we) try new technological tools to reach and teach our tech-savvy students? When looking for new technological tools, I look for ease of use, application to curriculum and instruction, and positive impact on affect and learning of mystudents. This is what we (Grisham & Smetana, 2011) call “generative technology.”

In the online teaching environment it is relatively easy to answer that, as teachers (and teacher educators) must learn to use some new tools in order to participate in online coursework. But I would argue that we need to be both savvy and strategic about the tools we require them to learn. It is not new, but I like to use the TPACK model in my planning (Mishra & Koehler, 2006) as shown in the figure below.

The TPACK framework or model suggests that three elements must be considered in planning instruction:  content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, and technological knowledge. Where the three intersect may be referred to as the “sweet spot” of TPACK and where we should direct our attention when we plan instruction.

I’d like to give an example of this from my own work. I have taught research methods for many years, originally in the brick and mortar environment of Washington State University, where teacher candidates did action research for their certification and MA degrees. I taught it for almost a decade at SDSU, and recently I have been teaching it online for two other universities.

Content Knowledge:  Teachers need to know about research paradigms and how action research fits into their practice. They need to know how to frame a research question, how to do a literature review, collect and analyze data and how to present and discuss their findings.

Pedagogical Knowledge:  As the instructor, I need to engage these teachers in both learning and applying their new knowledge. The key is engagement.  I can lecture, using a PowerPoint presentation (and I do some of that), but I want them to think and interact with others over the content.

Technological Knowledge: I want to find a tool that is relatively simple to learn and use that will provide my teachers with something “new” and useful to them beyond their own immediate learning (hopefully, something they will use for their K-12 students).

In my research classes, then, I have used another fairly well-known tool called Voicethread to provide an opportunity for my teachers to think and respond to what they have read about action research and use a visual to prompt their reflections.

I created a 4-page Voicethread and provided audio directions for responding to each page. Then I suggested my students should respond to the prompt via audio, which they did. The following screen capture shows the initial page of the Voicethread and if you follow the link below, you can view the page itself.

http://voicethread.com/share/2802061/

Students responded thoughtfully and appeared to enjoy the process from the feedback I received. Several of them also talked about using Voicethread in their classrooms (the Voicethreads can be kept private) with their K-12 students. Their action research projects also seemed to reflect a deeper understanding of the purposes of action research and evidence-based instruction.

In the same classes, I asked students to prepare Glogs and Prezis to summarize their research reports and have been really pleased with the results. I’m grateful that I have the TPACK model to remind me that technological tools have to be used meaningfully.

In a prior blog posting I made the following recommendations for distributing technology throughout teacher preparation and professional development programs, but I think they bear repeating here:

Whether or not you are teaching online, I would suggest the following guidelines for teacher preparation (and teacher professional development):

1)   Work collaboratively within the university to distribute technological use across the teacher preparation programs instead of relying on stand-alone  “Ed Tech” courses.

2)   Seek workshops on technology use for themselves and to learn at least one new tool each academic year to apply to their own teaching.

3)   Where possible, seek student teaching placements for teacher candidates in classrooms and schools where technology is being used productively.

References

Grisham, D.L. & Smetana, L. (2011) Generative technology for teacher educators. Journal of Reading Education, 36, 3, 12-18.

Grisham, D. L. & Wolsey, T.D. (2006). Recentering the middle school classroom as a vibrant learning community: Students, literacy, and technology intersect. Journal of Adult and Adolescent Literacy, 49, (8), 648-660.

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (2006). Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge: A new framework for teacher knowledge . Teachers College Record 108 (6), 1017-1054.

Wolsey, T. D. & Grisham, D.L. (2012). Transforming writing instruction in the Digital age: Techniques for Grades 5-12. New York: Guilford.

 

Expanding Opportunities for Professional Development: Online Conferences and Professional Learning Communities

A post by Jill Castek

We’re all familiar with the impact of shrinking school budgets over the past few years.  One unfortunate consequence has been the decline in funding for teacher participation in national and international conferences. Avenues for teacher learning have shifted and expanded as technology has given rise to new forms of professional development. When it comes to effectively using new technologies to support student learning in particular, these seeking out professional development opportunities is essential.  The IRA Position Statement, New Literacies and 21st Century Technologies (IRA, 2009) calls for professional development that provides opportunities for teachers to explore online tools and resources expected for use with students.  The statement asserts that it isn’t enough to just make new technologies available to students but to provide options in ways to use them to access information and share ideas. To inspire new ways of thinking about the use of technology, tangible ideas and examples of what knowledgeable teachers have implemented need to be shared widely and discussed.  This post introduces free PD resources and online communities that support teachers in integrating digital technologies into learning activities in meaningful ways.

The IRA Standards for Reading Professionals (2010) encourage teachers to integrate technology into student learning experiences. More specifically, learners are expected to engage in opportunities that utilize traditional print, digital, and online reading and writing and represent various genres and perspectives, as well as media and communication technologies. The integration of technology into literacy learning is also called for in the Common Core State Standards (2010). Students that meet the standards are able to, amongst other aspects, use technology and digital media strategically and capably.

Professional development efforts such as the New Literacies Teacher Leader Institute (http://nli2012.wikispaces.com/Home) offer transformative models that expand beyond the school level and help build extended learning communities that promote lasting change. This week-long institute addresses ways that new digital tools can create challenging and engaging learning opportunities for students and teachers in K-12 and higher education. Participants come together to network, share ideas, boost their leadership skills, and create technology infused curriculum units they can implement in their own classrooms. For teachers who are unable to attend such an institute in person, online resources can be explored and discussed with colleagues to support implementation.

Available resources include videos, instructional suggestions, readings that link theory to practice, and online networking tools which allow teachers to connect with others who have similar goals and interests. Teachers who tap into the wide range of social networking tools that are available to educators can participate in virtual learning experiences that can be customized based on the needs in their own setting.

Special interest groups such as the Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group, (http://tilesig.wikispaces.com/) affiliated with the International Reading Association (IRA), the 21st Century Literacies Group, (http://ncte2008.ning.com/group/21stcenturyliteracies) affiliated with the National Council for Teachers’ of English (NCTE), and the New Literacies Collaborative affiliated with North Carolina State University (http://newlitcollaborative.ning.com/ ) put teachers in touch with an extended network of colleagues with whom to discuss instructional approaches, share resources, and collaborate.

Rick Beach (from the University of Minnesota) and I will be giving a talk at the K-12 online conference (http://k12onlineconference.org/) coming up Oct. 15 – Nov. 2, 2012. This is a free online conference open to anyone. This all volunteer event is organized by educators for educators with the goal of helping educators make sense of and meet the needs of a continually changing learning landscape.  Presenters will share ways to integrate emerging technologies into classroom practice.  The schedule of session is available at http://k12onlineconference.org/?page_id=1091.  Our session, entitled Using iOS App Affordances to Foster Literacy Learning in the Classroom is available for download at http://ge.tt/6EtYbCP/v/0.

Literacy Beat aims to build a professional learning community amongst its readership. Please make a comment suggesting other professional development outlets or professional learning communities we can learn and benefit from.  These shared resources will allow us to expand our online networks and be in touch with new resources and ideas that benefit our teaching and our students learning.  We look forward to your comment!

References

Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects (2010). Retrieved from http://www.corestandards.org/the-standards/english-language-arts-standards

International Reading Association. (2009). New literacies and 21st century technologies: A position statement of the International Reading Association International Reading Association. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

International Reading Association (2010). Standard for reading professionals—revised 2010. Newark, DE: Author.

Insights From A Service Learning Project: Creating Digital Projects with iPads to Encourage Safe Driving

A new post by Jill Castek

Melanie Swandby, a 7th grade teacher at Lighthouse Community Charter School in Oakland, CA was conducting a service learning project geared toward promoting safe driving habits.  Melanie was happy to explore digital content creation with her students, extending her original vision for the project with the goal of producing clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style were appropriate to task, purpose, and audience (CCSS Initiative, 2010). She invited Heather Cotanch and I to explore the use of iPads to create digital products that would resonate with teens and the wider community. We were excited to witness the content creation process which included elements of collaboration, experimentation, and flexible grouping to support peer facilited tech-help.

Why Digital Content Creation?

Digital tools are transforming what it means to be literate in today’s world. In the past, it may have been that decoding words on a page was enough to consider a student literate. Today, we live in a world with ever increasing importance on digital tools and technologies as a means of accessing and sharing ideas.  Students need to become facile with the full range of communicative tools, modes (oral and written), and media. Having the ability to comprehend, critically respond to, and collaboratively compose multimodal texts will play a central role in our students’ success in a digital information age (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2007; IRA, 2009).

Setting the Context for Digital Content Creation

Melanie’s class  worked to actively create projects that resonated with their intended audience without needing elaborate direction with the use of iPad apps. First, we provided a basic overview of the affordances of three digital composition apps (ShowMe www.showme.com, VoiceThread www.voicethread.com, and iMovie for the iPad www.apple.com/ipad/from-the-app-store/apps-by-apple/imovie.html – these three content creation apps were chosen because they allow users to integrate still images, include a drawing tool, and have the capacity to include voice and sound effects).  Then, we shared an example product from each app and students were off and running. They soon discovered many features of the apps themselves as they worked.  This new knowledge was distributed throughout the classroom as peer support and flexible grouping was implemented.

Students completed digital products can be viewed from their student-created website Hitting The Road Safe http://hittingtheroadsafe.webs.com and at Safe Driving VoiceThreads https://sites.google.com/site/swandby/safe-driving-voicethreads and also ShowMe http://www.showme.com under the username jill.castek@gmail.com and password safedriving.

iMovie. While using iMovie, students worked in groups and took on different roles such as creators, actors, and editors. Collaboration came in many forms, for example, some students did not want to appear on camera, but were willing to write a script and film a partner.

 Other groups took turns incorporating found pictures and discussing sequencing to communicate a strong, clear message. Because of the ease of use and multiple options within the iMovie app, the editing process can become never ending.  To support a more skilled use of the app, we pointed students toward a YouTube editing tutorial. Students who found themselves with extra time added captions or experimented with the background music offered within the tool. These “extras” gave the movies a professional feel while extending the students’ knowledge of the technology and supportive the processes of reflection and revision.  While the iMovie app proved easy for students to navigate, explore, and edit, teachers would be well advised to guide students through ample planning of their project during their first few interactions with this tool.

ShowMe.  Possibly the greatest successes were achieved with students use of the ShowMe app. Like iMovie, it produces a video, but its affordances allowed students to deliver the most complete, succinct messages of all three tools (student work is available at showme.com under the username jill.castek@gmail.com and password safedriving). During the showcase at the end of the project, the student audience commented on the ability for students to appropriate humor about a serious topic to be showcased. This was achieved through the use of voice, drawing, and integration of selected images. This app has limitations in the amount of media that can be uploaded and may have prompted the students to choose wisely from their options, making the message clear rather than being lost in elaborate visuals.

From the first introduction of this app, the students demonstrated an eagerness to peruse the tools and begin incorporating images, drawing and voice together rather than compiling images for a later use (a pattern we noticed with other tools). Even after several projects were lost due to glitches with the system, students simply started over learning from their mistakes, making strategic use of the drafting process, and integrating their new knowledge into final products.

VoiceThread.  This tool offered the most structured means of conveying ideas and the students took to the tool readily.  Once slides containing images were created, they could be moved around as the message was drafted and revised. Once sequenced, students could voice over the visuals to communicate their message.  Completed VoiceThreads can be viewed at https://sites.google.com/site/swandby/safe-driving-voicethreads.

Students created multiple drafts of their VoiceThread project and practiced their voiceover several times to ensure the tone and quality of the message was spot on. Unfortunately, the VoiceThread interface selectively saved some of voiceovers, which required students to re-create their projects more than once.  However, this redrafting wasn’t something students balked at and the message conveyed in each subsequent draft was more extensive, and richer in vocabulary and details.  The limits of the technology were not discouraging, but rather a valuable introduction to the process of creating technology-based multimodal products.

What Did We Learn?

Students completed projects included a logical sequence but also incorporate personal touches through the use of music, voice, sound effects, and pictures remixed and used in creative ways.  By including a specific focus on intended audience, Melanie’s students were readily able to form and frame a persuasive message. For example, students who chose parents of teen drivers as the target audience drew on experiences from their out-of-school lives and combined them with statistics from a school-based text. This resulted in charts and graphs representing percentages, an articulated message free from teenage jargon and pictures free from gore (as opposed to an increased shock value to presentations geared toward teen drivers).

Collaboration is key. Collaboration was widely fostered by encouraging students to turn to each other as resources and to help each other figure out how to accomplish their goals. For example, one group of students was using the ShowMe app and wanted include text in their presentation (there is no feature in which students can type using a keyboard). Students offered each other a workaround demonstrating the use the notepad feature and taking a screenshot to import it into the project. Other students offered another option and hand-wrote text on a piece of paper in bold marker and took a picture to import into the project.  Still others shared how to use their finger to write the message manually. As was the case here, students often knew what feature that they wanted and found innovative ways to use the app to meet their goals. These observations reinforce the idea that step-by-step instruction by a teacher is not necessary before students use new apps.  We discovered taking the time was not worthwhile and may, in fact, detracted from the collaborative and discovery nature of the work and curtail digital competence.

Time for experimentation is vital.  We recognized at the outset of the project thatstudents were eager to learn how to use the apps offered to them in the act of content creation.  While our instincts told us to model for students, it became increasing clear to us that experimentation with the apps supported student learning much more efficiently.  It became evidence that when technology is being used, a new role for the teacher is created.  She is no longer the “sage on the stage” and must be more comfortable circulating to support implementation by being the “guide on the side.”

Creativity and humor were strategically to convey ideas. As students created their projects, they infused persuasiveness through their use of creativity and humor.  Creativity extended well beyond being able to draw well.  When asked to reflect on the project, students reported being more engaged in the digital creation process, than the paper and pencil task (even though they needed to develop digital skills quickly to use the tools).  They also enjoyed viewing the projects created by other classmates (even though they were very familiar with the content contained within them).  Students created multiple digital drafts of their project (and were glad to do so).  They appeared to use the multiple drafts to improve the project iteratively.  If a student wanted to revise or rethink a portion of the digital creation, the opportunity to do this was manageable as opposed to the static poster version from which the students began. As pairs worked collaboratively, new ideas for improvement were shared amongst partners, which led to subsequent (improved) drafts. Even though students might have stumbled through the first couple of tries, they got better at it each time. Persistence was key!

Student Insights

Through the implementation of this project, we aimed to test a process by which students could create digital products (including drawings, images, and voice)  that could be shared with a school and community audience.  At the end of the project, students were asked to share what was different about digital content creation. One student remarked, “It’s more creative and more fun to play around with. It’s more exciting. You can put your voice into it and you can make it more fun.” This student aptly points out that digital projects are flexible.  If a student wants to revise a portion of the digital creation, this is manageable. In contrast, changes on a static page can be messy or difficult and offer little room for rethinking of an idea. Another student shared, “You can use funny pictures but you can still have a serious message.”  This learner points out that students could develop and incorporate their own multifaceted literacies. Although humor was never mentioned as a component of the project, students freely infused their personalities through media to reach their intended audiences on a level that demonstrated a high degree of literacy skill. A third student pointed out, “It’s a lot faster than when we usually do projects, you can write in different ways like voicing your message.”

Communicating with a Real Audience

In viewing the final projects,  the audience (made up of members of the school and community) found the addition of suspenseful music, images, and the story-lines conveyed through multiple modes generated a tangible impact that was memorable. Witnessing the audience’s reaction interaction was one way that the students owned their success. It was clear that all students felt accomplished and through the act of digital content creation, they became more skilled in the digital literacies that are a vital  part of our 21st century world.

References

Common Core State Standards Initiative. 2010. Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects. Available at http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_ELA%20Standards.pdf

International Reading Association. (2009). Integrating literacy and technology in the curriculum: A position statement.  Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Partnership for 21st Century Skills. (2007). Learning for the 21st century. Available at http://www.21stcenturyskills.org/reports/learning.asp

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