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.

 

Text Complexity in the Digital Age: An F for Online Reading?

By Thomas DeVere Wolsey

If you are reading this, chances are good that you are a teacher or education professional. As a result, the subtitle probably caught your attention right away; but this blog post is not about the ill effects of digital reading. Instead, we are going to explore what reading online might mean at a time when we will all be searching for ways to increase the amount and quality of text students read and the complexity of those texts. Shortly, you will see why an F in digital reading can be a useful tool.

Why Do Digital Texts Get an F?

To understand how text complexity can be promoted in the online environment, it helps to know and understand how readers approach reading many webpages. As you probably know, readers’ eyes move across text sweeping from left to right (a saccade) and stopping on some words to take in the content and perhaps focus on more challenging terms or phrases (fixations). However, when readers go online to a search engine, their reading tends to skip wide swaths of text as they search for the content they need. Eye movements can be tracked, and during perusal of a search result, the places where the reader’s gaze tends to be most concentrated resembles an ‘F’ shape. It would not be productive to read every word of a search result. Rather, the reader takes in key terms most often on the left side of the screen and sweeps across in some places forming the arms of the ‘F.’ Would you like to see what eye movement tracking of a search result might look like? Check this out:

An image from Clickrmedia: Eye Movements on a Search Page

More important, once readers do select a web source to read, they tend to follow the same pattern during initial reading of the webpage. Because reading on the screen is somewhat different than reading on paper, web designers actually take advantage of this F-shaped pattern and write text using headings and key words that fall within the F-zone in an effort to gain the reader’s attention. This results in important concepts from the site being conveyed to the F-zone reader, and perhaps entices the reader to go beyond the F-zone and read more closely. This is a good thing for the same reasons we cannot and should not read every word on a search page. The challenge for teachers and the readers in their classes is deciding when to use this strategy and when to go beyond this approach and read a bit more thoroughly and perhaps slowly. In this photo, you can see what the F-shape looks like when eye movements are tracked. The redder the color, the more time the reader spends looking at the content on that part of the page.

An image from the Nielsen Norman Group: Eye Movements on Three Webpages (Notice the general shape of the ‘F’)

F-shaped Pattern

See eyetracking in action (real-time): http://www.vimeo.com/40021154 (source: The Nielsen Norman Group)

…and eyetracking in action (slowed-motion version):  http://vimeo.com/40021215 (source: The Nielsen Norman Group)

Is F-Shaped Reading a Problem?

Some voices in education believe this F-shape reading pattern is part of a larger problem that demonstrates how online reading in some way detracts from a reader’s ability to comprehend complex and longer texts. While we certainly need more research in the area of digital reading and how it affects young readers (and older ones, too), we can use what we know about the F-shaped pattern to our advantage in the classroom. Slow and careful reading need not be impossible in digital environments.

Effective reading online involves complex skills that can build what Newkirk (2012) calls a growth mind-set. This mind-set “…is the capacity to view difficulty as an opportunity to stop, reassess and employ strategies for making sense of problems” (p. 122). When readers encounter uncertainty, they may quickly navigate away from the webpage causing doubt; however, teachers can assist readers to make clear and conscious choices to seek out uncertainty, confront doubt, and consult many sources. Moreover, maintaining a healthy skepticism that promotes further inquiry even as some uncertainty is reduced, new doubts will surface. A  reason the Common Core State Standards Initiative (2010) includes qualitative elements represents recognition that young readers and their teachers have a role in deciding how they may challenge themselves to greater growth as proficient readers.

A really neat thing about the human brain is that it is very capable of changing its own behavior. Metacognition theories tell us that thinkers (in this case, thinking through reading) can be aware of their learning behaviors and consciously choose to adapt them to suit varying purposes and contexts. Because the Internet is full of worthwhile and complex texts, the online environment presents a challenge for young readers. Fortunately, the challenge is one educators are well-equipped to take on. Reading online has many facets, and four of them appear in the list below. In this post, we have zoomed in on reading habits in online environments. Others will be explored in subsequent posts.

  1. Finding the most appropriate reading material
  2. Determining the best approach for reading that material
    1. Monitoring reading habits
    2. Reading text in a non-linear manner (cf. Reinking, 1997)
  3. Synthesizing multiple sources
  4. Integrating multimodal resources

A Challenge to Readers of Literacy Beat

As you read the remainder of this post, here are some reader challenges for you. Did you use the F-shaped pattern in selecting this blog post from a search engine? Did you use the F-shaped pattern as you read the post at first (remember, this is a good thing)? Did you read “below the fold” or the point at which you had to scroll to get at more content? At what point did you decide to abandon the F-shaped pattern and choose a different approach (you did, didn’t you?). Why did you change your approach? Finally, if you are a teacher, how have you helped your young readers to understand and effectively read online sources?

Tools and thinking habits for evaluating the reliability of online sources are well-known (e.g., Schrock, 2002). Therefore, we won’t spend more time with these tools here. A good point to add, though, is that online readers often do not apply principles successfully for evaluating sources even if they know they should do so (e.g., Leu, Zawalinski, Castek, Banerjee, Housand, Liu, & O’Neil, 2007). Effective instruction in choosing reading material online that suits the purpose for the search and challenges the reader to think deeply about the topic of the search is critically important. To that, I should emphasize that students need to be taught how to select online reading that is appropriately challenging to them rather than defaulting to the easiest material available.

While the F-shaped pattern seems to be the default reading pattern for reading on the web, there are appropriate times when readers should slow down and read closely. In Module 1 on the TextProject site, we defined close reading in rather concise terms:

“Close reading is characterized by the use of evidence from the text to support analysis, conclusions, or views of texts. For example, responses to the definition of text complexity would begin with a reference to the place in the text where the term is defined” (Wolsey, Grisham, & Heibert, 2012, p. 2).

The F-shaped pattern and close reading of complex texts need not be exclusive of each other. There are times when scanning content is appropriate and other times when slowing down and reading closely is the better choice—even for web content.

Please use the comment feature of this blog to explore this topic with us.

  • How do you help your students choose increasingly complex texts that challenge them as readers to work with uncertainty?
  • In what ways do you help students monitor their reading behaviors such that they move from the F-shaped pattern of most web reading tasks to the slower close reading tasks associated with complex text?

References

Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSS). (2010). Appendix A: Research supporting key elements of the standards; Glossary of key terms. In Common Core State Standards for English language arts & literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association. Retrieved from http://www.corestandards.org/assets/Appendix_A.pdf

Leu, D. J., Zawilinski, L., Castek, J., Benerjee, M., Housand, B., Liu, Y. & O’Neil, M. (2007). What is new about the new literacies of online reading comprehension? Retrieved from http://www.newliteracies.uconn.edu/pub_files/What_is_new_about_new_literacies_of_online_reading.pdf

Moje, E., Overby, M., Tysvaer, N., & Morris, K. (2008). The complex world of adolescent literacy: Myths, motivations, and mysteries. Harvard Educational Review, 78(1), 107-154.

Newkirk, T. (2012). The art of slow reading. Heinemann: Portsmouth, NH.

Reinking, D. (1997). Me and my hypertext:) A multiple digression analysis of technology and literacy (sic). Retrieved from ReadingOnline: http://readingonline.org/articles/art_index.asp?HREF=/articles/hypertext/index.html

Schrock, K. (2002). On a good website you can tell… Retrieved from http://kathyschrock.net/abceval/primary/index.htm

Wolsey, T. D., Grisham, D. L., & Hiebert, E. H. (2012). What is text complexity? Teacher Development Series. Retrieved from http://textproject.org/tds

Expressive Learning: Encouraging Students’ Multimodal Expression to Enhance Content Learning

A New Post by Jill Castek

I’ve been exploring the use of iPads to support literacy and science learning in middle school classrooms throughout the school year.  One of the most powerful ways I’ve found to help students make deep and lasting connections to content learning is to design meaningful classroom projects that engage students in working collaboratively to convey ideas  using digital tools that support multimodal expression.  As student design and create, they purposefully use key vocabulary and integrate examples that illustrate their thinking.  Student projects can be celebrated, showcased, and shared with an authentic audience made up of peers, teachers, and the wider community.  They’re also a great way to formatively assess student learning.

Students work collaboratively on digital projects to support content learning.

The Power of Student Collaboration

By working collaboratively, students are challenged to think through the important processes of choosing a focus, reflecting on what they know and how to represent it, and designing an action plan. As peers enact their plans, they critique and rework their representations iteratively until they’re satisfied their work has achieved the intended goal.

Working with iPads has provided students easy-to-use apps that support drawing and annotating images, inserting photographs, and creating voiceover capabilities. These features make it possible for students to express their understanding in multiple ways through multiple means, an aspect central to Universal Design for Learning (UDL). This post focuses on two examples of digital collaborative projects and the apps that supported their creation.

ShowMe for the iPad

ShowMe (see http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/showme-interactive-whiteboard/id445066279?mt=8) is an FREE iPad app that allows users to use images, drawing tools, and voiceover to communicate ideas.  Once a project is created, it can be shared on the ShowMe website http://www.showme.com/ or embedded into any digital forum (blog, wiki, website, etc.)  While this tool is often used by teachers in a receptive way, for example to deliver short lessons or tutorials to students,  I was interested in getting ShowMe into students’ hands so they could use its features creatively to express their understanding of concepts and ideas (thus enhancing and extending content they had learned).

Using ShowMe to Summarize Important Ideas from Reading

Linda Wilhelm’s 7th graders at Valley View Middle School in Pleasant Hill, CA were studying genetics in their Science class.  ShowMe was used to support an enhanced jigsaw activity where students created were expected to weave key ideas from their textbook and web-based reading into a short project that expressed their understanding of the content and provided examples. There were several subtopics; and pairs were assigned one of four themes to convey:  1) Some genes are dominant while others are recessive, 2) Mendelian laws apply to human beings, 3) All cells arise from pre-existing cells through the process of cell-division, 4) Sex cells have one set of chromosomes, body cells have two.

Students were shown a sample ShowMe project created by the teacher to give a sense of what was possible with ShowMe (which included importing images, drawing features, stop and start capabilities, and voiceover).  Then, a project rubric was distributed and discussed with students to convey expectations for the project.  Finally, students were provided time to plan and record their ShowMe projects.

Although storyboarding on paper was modeled and provided as an option, students preferred to draft their ideas directly into ShowMe.  As they drafted, they created multiple takes that were played back and evaluated by students iteratively.  Critiquing and revising with the ShowMe tool was immediate and satisfying for students and sparked careful re-reading and reflection on the texts provided.  It also sparked discussion on important aspects of visual literacy as students carefully thought through what images would best help illustrate their main points.  Throughout, collaboration was evident and a vital part of the digital content creation process.

ShowMe Student Examples

Click on the URLs provided and the ShowMe projects will open in a new window:

Using iMovie for the iPad to Construct, Explain, and Show Understanding

Leon Young’s 6th graders at Realm Charter School in Berkeley, CA were studying plate boundaries during a plate tectonics unit.  They designed and built their own scientific models to show the characteristics of plate boundaries in different locations around the world.   Students were then invited to create a short video using iMovie to showcase and explain their model to their classmates and school community.

Pairs of students worked together to think through how to convey science content through their video productions.  As they discussed shot selection, they showed a keen awareness of audience and purpose and found meaningful ways to explain scientific terms and concepts for those unfamiliar with the content.  As was the case with the ShowMe projects, students created multiple takes and revised iteratively as they reflected on word choice and overall flow of ideas.  The result was a strong and solid representation of what they learned that showcased both creativity and collaboration.

iMovie Student Example

Using Digital Tools to Support Multimodal Expression

When asked about the making these digital products students said the work was “fun, active, and creative.”  Not only did these projects support engagement with content, they also supported the development of vital 21st century literacies.  Students were able to showcase their learning in ways that involved multimodal expression which requires higher level thinking skills such as synthesis, evaluation, and critique (and are also central to the Common Core State Standards).

If you’re looking for a step-by-step guide for the use of ShowMe, iMovie, or other iPad apps that support literacy and content learning, click on the Step-by-step Guide to iPad apps and HandoutForIRAPreCon.  These presentation materials are from the IRA session that Jen Tilson and I delivered in Chicago, IL in May 2012.  Other speakers’ session materials, including Bernadette Dwyer’s handouts, can be accessed from the IRA TILE-Sig website at http://tilesig.wikispaces.com/Conference2

Add a comment to this post and share ways you’ve had students to create content and reflect on learning through the use of digital tools.  Sharing examples is a great way to get our collective juices flowing and sparks our creativity.  In the process, we’ll learn about a range of new tools and techniques for teaching and learning with technology. Enjoy!

Active Word Learning Using Web 2.0 Tools

A post from Jill

Jim Baumann (University of Missouri) and Ed Kame’enui (University of Oregon) are editing a second edition of Vocabulary Instruction: Research to Practice (forthcoming, Guilford Press) to be published in 2011. Bridget, Dana, and I were invited to submit a piece that addressed special topics in vocabulary instruction.

In our chapter, Using Multimedia to Support Students’ Generative Vocabulary Learning (Castek, Dalton, & Grisham, in process) we suggest that the use of digital media in vocabulary learning should not only be receptive (e.g., viewing vocabulary graphics), but also generative (actively engaging students in using language and media to express themselves and to create products that represent their new knowledge). We assert that the act of creation supports ownership, introduces authentic reasons for learning, and tangibly links reading, writing, and communication in ways that mirror learning outside of school. This post draws ideas from the chapter and suggests ways to promote students’ active word learning using Web 2.0 tools.

Create Vocabulary Videos:Today’s students have grown up with YouTube as part of daily life. As a way of extending word learning, consider having students’ produce their own vocabulary videos — 60-90 second videos that situate word learning in a specific context.  The varied student-created examples found at VocabAhead (e.g., the entry for amble, for headstrong, and fecund) illustrate how video creation and multimodal expression make the word learning experience more memorable for both the video producers as well as the viewing audience. For tips and tools for creating videos, see the VocabAhead Teacher Page.  Suggestions for video creation include incorporating visual cues and adding humor, dramatization, or emotions to help learners remember the word and its meaning more easily. There are plenty of free web tools available which can be used to create vocabulary videos such as Xtranormal (if you can type, you can make movies) and GoAnimate (make your own cartoons and animations using free tools that you don’t need to learn Flash to use).

Simulate Twitter to Promote Target Word Usage: Today’s widespread twitter phenomenon tells us something important about language use and engagement. In 140 characters or less, information about “what’s happening now” can be shared instantly with an online community. The defining characteristics of a ‘tweet’ are brevity, timeliness, and the ability to instantly respond to others. Educators can bring twitter-like experiences into the classroom to expand vocabulary learning, without actually creating twitter accounts. To simulate twitter, try Wallwisher. Once the topic themed-wall is set up, this free online application does not require individuals to login and everyone can post together in a shared space. Like tweets, comment space is limited (Wallwisher allows 160 characters).

To model a vocabulary related twitter, provide a target word or concept and challenge students to keep a related stream of tweets going as long as they can. Set the expectation that both target words and related words must be used in each post. Provide a context such as a breaking news event, a topic you’re studying in class, or a book you are reading.

The following interchange may serve as a tangible example. Imagine reading and watching online news reports about an oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. Students could then create a twitter- like stream to express reactions and questions, using the target words pollution and disaster. Before beginning, discuss the words’ meanings. Then talk through a few examples, as follows.

Twitter-like stream

Student 1: Bad news. An oil rig blew up in the Gulf of Mexico. Pollution is going to be a problem.

Student 2: Oil will pollute the beaches. What a disaster!

Student 3: You can’t swim in polluted water.

Student 4: The seagulls and pelicans will be hurt by the oil. It gets on their feathers.

Twitter-like stream (examining the news event from the perspective of different stakeholders)

Shrimper: Major disaster. Oil rig blew and oil gushing in Gulf of Mexico. Pollution might wipe us out.

Oysterman: What about oyster beds? I have to fish. Polluted oyster beds mean no oysters. What a disaster for me and my customers.

Beach lover: Gulf Shores beach has black oil washing up. Seagulls coated. Can’t swim in polluted water.

Clean up crew: Dish detergent is the best thing to clean oil pollution from birds. Who knew?!

Oil company: The faster we cap the oil rig, the faster the pollution stops. 

Have Fun with New Slang: The dynamic and inventive nature of language is dramatically evident in the torrent of new words we manage to create each year. While we all may feel the need to chillax (calm down and relax) in the face of students’ often unconventional vocabulary use, seize the opportunity to build word curiosity and playfulness. Two excellent Internet resources for learning about words and language are the Visual Thesaurus and the Oxford Dictionary of English. The latter posts a list each year of new words added to the dictionary. Another excellent resource is the Cambridge Advanced Learners Dictionary.  Also, at Wordspy, Paul McFedries tracks published neologisms (new word creations, many of which are slang and/or linguistic blends).

Technology and media can play an important role in developing students’ vocabulary through generative, multimodal expression. Giving students experience with the digital technologies required in the 21st century will be motivational as well as academically beneficial. 

References

Castek, J., Dalton, B., & Grisham, D. (in process). Using multimedia to support students’ generative vocabulary learning. In J. Baumann and E. Kame’enui (Eds.) Vocabulary Instruction: Research to Practice (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

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