PAMLA 2014 Reflection on Technology and Education

Although not purely a conference on Educational Technology, the Pacific-Area Modern Language and Literature Association (PAMLA) conference had a few panels related to the use of technology in literature and composition curricula. My goal is to use this space to reflect on those specific panels and their potential to inform my own curricular practices within my discipline. Additionally, I noted the use of technology at the conference itself and have some thoughts as concerns the “proper” use of technology at academic conferences. As an initial disclaimer, too, I should note that I was not able to attend the entire 2.5 day conference: in order to defray the costs of attending the conference in Riverside, I forewent the first sessions on Friday and drove up early Saturday morning. In sum, I attended a total of six panels in addition to being on a panel myself. I found the panels “Teaching with the Internet & Technology” and “Rethinking Remediation: New Approaches for the 21st Century” to be especially insightful with regard to my approaches to teaching with technology and overall curricular strategies. Additionally, the differences in the uses of technology as a means to present ideas—namely from the panels “Comparative Literature 1” and “The Uncanny Art of Reading”—has informed my own attitudes and assumptions about using technology as a delivery device both in conference formats and, by extension, in the classroom itself.

One proper use of technology in the classroom is as a means to get “multiple stories” into our classroom. Sibylle Gruber (2014) from Northern Arizona University argued that students who are not members of the hegemonic tend to be less willing to take risks by offering responses to curriculum in public venues such as a classroom. Students not presently members of the hegemonic are those who represent racial, cultural, ethnic, and religious minorities as well as those who self-identify as LGBTQ. The particular dangers here are that 1) the public sphere only gets to hear stories from the hegemonic and thus loses on a crucial opportunity to critique itself and 2) those outside of the hegemonic continue to be silenced and marginalized. Creating a discussion space online is one way to provide a space where there is less critical distance between those within and outside of the hegemonic, giving representative minorities a chance to share their stories without being put immediately on the spot and having to defend their stories against the more dominant discourses. Gruber (2014) does note a risk with this strategy though—online discussion spaces are asynchronous, so teachers / discussion moderators cannot respond in real time. So the risk of an asynchronous learning environment is having unchecked bigotry that attempts to shut down non-dominant discourses and worldviews. This unchecked hostility can potentially pollute a learning environment, defeating the purpose of creating a safe, equitable space for learning and meaning making to occur (Gruber 2014). PAMLA LogoMy initial response to this problems grows from my studies of Kenneth Burke’s rhetorical theory (which applies directly to the discipline that is was the subject of this panel): if we teach rhetoric and argumentation as a means to achieving mutual understanding and peace—and I mean explicitly teaching that kind of response as a rhetorical move we must make in argumentation—then not only do we teach language as working toward the larger project of human peace, we also give ourselves tools with which to question and respond to bigotry. Perhaps with the work of peace in mind, students will be more mindful of their responses before the bigotry even surfaces. That being said, I think using online discussion boards is and will continue to be a fantastic way to enable students outside of the hegemonic to share their stories, worldviews, responses to ideas we’re discussing together, and so on.

More particular to literature studies, David Sandner (2014) from CSU Fullerton presented a real-world example of using technology to teach literary studies. He and his students created a website using Google Sites to document and archive their ongoing scholarship on a writer specific to their locale, Phillip K. Dick (author of A Scanner Darkly). Although Sandner (2014) did not make this strategy explicit in his presentation, he was using pieces of the ARCS model to construct this project, either consciously or unintentionally. Because their focus was on an author specific to their locale, the project had not only the attention of the students but of the community around them. The project was likewise relevant because it 1) concerned a local, widely-celebrated author and 2) engaged in media that students find important to their daily lives. Because students worked together and collaborated on this large project, they had confidence. Finally, because their labor culminated into a product that the scholarly and non-scholarly community could benefit from, there was a great deal of satisfaction. In my view, working with digital scholarship, research, presentation, and archiving is chalk full of potential! Though unstated in Sandner’s presentation, I especially like how this kind of labor does work to bridge the gap between the university and the community, narrowing the space between scholar and citizen.

Designing curriculum with a shift from extrinsic motivation to intrinsic motivation is crucial in getting students to make real meaning from their time at the university. This is what Nancy Barron (2014) from Northern Arizona University argues, and as a constructivist, I find myself in complete agreement. Leaning on psychology, this look at motivation forces us to think of assignment sequences and even course administration policies that encourage students to think about and value knowledge and learning for its own sake (Barron 2014). The reason why students cheat, plagiarize, or otherwise try to “work the system” is because they’ve been indoctrinated to value grades and not learning. Like Sandner’s real-world example, Barron (2014) urges us to think about designing curriculum that appeals to the current student population. When students become motivated because the processes they do are relevant to their needs and interests, they will naturally begin to shift from an extrinsic (environmental) sense of motivation to an intrinsic (internal, “of itself”) sense of motivation (Barron 2014). Although I believe this approach values (and evaluates) process more than it does product—and I’m not suggesting that this is a bad thing at all—more attention and value toward the process will naturally lead to better, more genuine products that students actually care about beyond the letter grade they’ll potentially receive.

In another session and panel titled “Rethinking Remediation,” Richard Hishmeh (2014) from Palomar College proposed a new methodology for “basic skills” instruction and textbook approaches that treats reading and writing as inseparable from each other; he thus calls for composition textbooks that resist partitioning reading and writing activities (and thinking along those lines) from each other. The idea here is to construct writing activities based off of the adjacent readings and reading activities that respond to and engage with the rhetorical feature(s) presently being studied. For example, if the current rhetorical topic is “introduction strategies,” we might think about constructing reading activities that ask students to look at introduction strategies being used by authors from the unit’s readings. One caution that Hishmeh (2014) has about this approach is that it can potentially generate a lot of materials that need to be assessed and that we should be mindful of the “constant threat of assessment” that basic skills students face; I would also make it explicit that this “constant threat of assessment” also generates fear and anxiety that becomes associated with reading, writing, thinking, and learning, which is clearly counterproductive to the purpose of attending college. As an aside, my extended analysis of fear and anxiety in the writing classroom along with strategies to address those problems, i.e. mindfulness practices, is forthcoming, and I will be presenting my findings at the 2015 Conference on College Composition and Communication in Tampa Bay, FL. Meanwhile, an additional solution to this concern is to stop assessing student writing altogether! Consider using grading contracts that derive course grades based on student behaviors like doing the work to the letter and in the spirit in which it was asked, actively participating in class, discussions, etc.—thus we continue to move toward valuing and evaluating process rather than product. Ultimately, I support Hishmeh’s (2014) idea of creating basic skills composition texts that are half as long and half the price of those presently available, and I adore the idea of trying reading and writing as intimately interrelated. One question I have and will continue to ask my students during class discussion is, “How might this thing help us as readers of this text? Ok—how might this same thing help us as writers?” The dyads here are simple: use reading to teach reading; use reading to teach rhetoric; use rhetoric to teach rhetoric; and use rhetoric to teach reading.

As I’ve suggested at least implicitly to this point, the use of technology becomes right and proper when we think about using technology rhetorically. We must ask ourselves what our audience needs from us. If we use technology in order to service the needs of our audience, it is right and proper. If the use of technology is a disservice to our audience, it is perhaps not right and proper. For example, one of the speaker’s during the “Comparative Literature” panel leaned heavily on PowerPoint slides throughout her presentation, and I quickly became mindful of how distracted I was. (Indeed, I was mindful of being distracted). I found myself struggling to figure out if I should be paying attention to the wall of text from the projector or to what the presenter was saying. I believe that having to switch between those input channels kept me from being able to fully engage with and comprehend this presenter’s argument. On the other side of the same coin, a presenter from the “Uncanny Art of Reading” panel also leaned heavily on projected slides throughout their presentation, but they did it in a way that merely supplemented their discussion rather than drove their discussion. Too, the slides were much more visually than textually driven, allowing my brain to multitask because it wasn’t being bombarded by different inputs on the same sensory channel. The lesson here is this: use technology in a way that allows your audience to engage with the material on multiple sensory input channels; in the case of lecture or presentation, the delivery device should complement and/or supplement the presentation, not drive it. This includes the everyday use of technology in the classroom.


References

Barron, N. (2014, November). It’s 2 a.m. Finish Your Own Paper: Writing, Technology, and the Comprehensive Website. Paper presented at the annual PAMLA Conference, Riverside, CA.

Gruber, S. (2014, November). Online Learning Environments: Ideologies and Multiple Stories. Paper presented at the annual PAMLA Conference, Riverside, CA.

Hishmeh, R. E. (2014, November). The Basic Skills Textbook: What We Need…What We Get…. Paper presented at the annual PAMLA Conference, Riverside, CA.

Sandner, D. (2014, November). Darkly Scanning A Scanner Darkly: “Philip K. Dick in the OC” and Teaching Digital Literary Studies. Paper presented at the annual PAMLA Conference, Riverside, CA.

Flipping the Classroom, Constructivism, and Grading Contracts

Flipping the Classroom, Constructivism, and Grading Contracts

Trends in Education Technology, Journal #9

Although I have been a teaching associate with my university’s first year writing program for three years now, we all have an orientation at the beginning of each academic year. During my orientation this fall, one of my colleagues presented an altered curriculum—or rather an altered approach—to teaching English 5A/5B. The most significant alteration was that her course was part of a larger faculty cohort across the disciplines that is piloting the university’s DISCOVERe program—an initiative to run classes 100% through tablets. Throughout her presentation, she kept referring to this idea of the “flipped” classroom, and while I found the term fuzzy at the time, I got the sense that it was something of a colloquial term for a constructivist approach to instruction—an approach that redirects or “flips” the emphasis in the classroom from the teacher/lecturer/professor/master to the student/learner. While my intuition was close, further investigation in the 2014 Horizon Report neatly bridges the gap between the idea of a “flipped” classroom and a constructivist approach to instruction.

The idea of pointing learners to objective knowledges outside of the classroom is not new to me. Jordan Shapiro (2013) talked about this in his article on forbes.com when he shares how instead of delivering the materials for objective knowledge inside of the classroom, he “flips” this paradigm by delivering those materials digitally and outside of the classroom. This enables us to redirect our face-to-face energy from ingesting material to digesting material. In the reading and writing classroom, for example, instead of focusing our time on reading a text together, we do stuff with texts together—together as collaborators, teachers and learners make meaning. As Johnson, Adams, Estrada, & Freeman (2014) explain, this paradigm “[enables] students to spend valuable class-time immersed in hands-on activities that often demonstrate the real world applications of the subject they are learning” (p. 36). So “flipping” the classroom is essentially a move toward a constructivist paradigm, utilizing digital technologies as a mediator to serve instructional materials to learners outside of the classroom.

Flipping the Classroom Word Cloud

Johnson et al. (2014) points to a resource on flipping the classroom which I have found particularly useful. Jennifer Demski (2013) offers a list of 6 tips from experts on how to flip a classroom. One thing she points to which I believe takes considerable skill and energy on the part of the teacher is to anticipate what students need during the first moments of class, letting the students decide what the particular foci will be during class time. She offers some strategies from Robert Talbert—professor of mathematics at Grand Valley State University—including having students use clickers to take a quick quiz at the beginning of class. This is essentially a quick kind of formative assessment, one that requires a certain flexibility and agility in class planning. To be successful with this strategy, instructors must have the ability to respond to their learners needs at a moment’s notice, and if they teach the same course more than once concurrently, different groups of learners may have different needs on any given day with any given topic, adding even more demand from a teacher’s curricular agility. The benefit here, though, is that you always enable students to pursue not what you think they need but what you know they need. Because they tell you exactly what they need. This approach is not without its perils and pitfalls, however.

Unless curriculum and assessment has built in to it a way to value and evaluate the labor that must take place outside of class, this flip is destined to flop. Flipping the classroom depends on student labor outside of the classroom, so if they show up to class not having done the assigned labor, they’re not able to do anything because they do not have the foundation on which to do anything. Suddenly we’re back to the classroom and lecture being the point of delivery of instructional materials. Essentially, if students have not been motivated to do the labor outside of class, they are not likely to do it. This is why I believe implementing a grading contract is crucial. Grading contracts nudge evaluation away from the product and put it on the process; it asks the question, “Did you do the labor (outside of class) to the letter and in the spirit in which it was asked?” and so long as you construct that labor as something that is assessable, i.e. have them turn something in electronically in advance of the class that’s scheduled to do something with that labor and attach that labor to their grade for the course in some way, students will be motivated to do the labor they need so that we can collaborate and construct meaning with those materials in class.


References

Demski, J. (2013, January 23). 6 Expert Tips for Flipping the Classroom. Campus Technology. Retrieved October 26, 2014.

Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Estrada, V., Freeman, A. (2014). NMC Horizon Report: 2014 Higher Education Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.

Shapiro, J. (2013, August 26). We Need More EdTech, But Less Technology In The Classroom. Forbes. Retrieved October 26, 2014.

Accessibility in Mind with Curriculum Design

Trends in Educational Technology, Journal #8

As a teacher of composition and rhetoric, I feel as though I already have a special affinity for the concept of universal design for learning. In the composition classroom, we spend a lot of time and energy with unpacking our attitudes and assumptions we have about the things we hear, see, and read; along the same lines, we spend equal amounts of time and energy in developing tools to unpack (i.e. detect and question) attitudes and assumptions held by the writers of texts that we encounter. This is a major piece of my curriculum on analysis. Additionally, as my teaching is aligned from a rhetorical perspective, I’m always urging my students to be conscious and considerate of their audience when they compose something. The only way they can give their audience what their audience needs is to first know who their audience is and what their needs are. It only makes sense that as a teacher I do the very same thing: I must be aware of who my audience is (i.e. my students) so that I can figure out what they need from me. To that end, I completely identify with Lewis & Sullivan (2012) when they assert that when students encounter barriers with the curriculum just as those with disabilities encounter problems accessing a building, it’s not the fault of the student or the disabled but of the curriculum and the building (p. 348-49). Curriculum that fails to acknowledge the diverse needs of its audience is not the audiences’ problem, it’s the curriculum’s problem. As such, curriculum must be revised in order to be more universal for learning.

One thing I have been doing recently to make my class more universal is making sure that every single electronic document I generate meets accessibility standards (as assessed by the Microsoft Word Accessibility Checker)—this insures that all of my documents can be read accurately and efficiently by a variety of eReaders and other assistive technologies. Just as Lewis & Sullivan (2012) suggest, I find that I save quite a bit of time designing those documents with accessibility in mind rather than having to revise old documents where I did not have accessibility in mind (p. 348). I also quite like the way it forces me to think about accessibility and my audience as I generate materials for class consumption.

In my ongoing interests in the conversation of whether or not to incorporate tablets into the classroom and beyond, this chapter helped me realize that tablets have the capability of decreasing the both the learning distance and the social distance between disabled students and non-disabled students. Lewis & Sullivan (2012) suggest that in addition to assistive technologies being expensive and bulky, they can often alienate or distance the user from the rest of the students not using assistive technologies (p. 349). Tablets, on the other hand, are capable of doing the same things that a variety of assistive technologies can do. So not only are they multi-function devices in the sense of having a multiplicity of assistive features: they’re also the same devices that everyone else is using. That being said, I can only conclude that tablets, being a universal technology, would eliminate the problem of “assistive distance.”


References

Lewis, J., & Sullivan, S. (2012). Diversity and Accessibility. In R. Reiser & J. Dempsey (Eds.), Trends and issues in instructional design and technology (3rd ed.). Boston: Pearson.

The Media Debate is Fresh

The Media Debate is Fresh

Trends in Educational Technology, Journals #6-7

Initially, Richard Clark’s (1994) argument seems to be in line with my own argument regarding Fresno State’s tablet initiative. Clark writes that “media are mere vehicles that deliver instruction but do not influence student achievement any more than the truck that delivers our groceries causes changes in our nutrition” (p. 22). This is exactly what I mean to point out and is at the heart of my critique of DISCOVERe thus far: there’s too much focus on the grocery truck and not the nutrition itself. But the core of this argument is that the wide variety of media carries with it no distinct effects on learning; in other words, regardless of the type of vehicle delivering the groceries, no one type of vehicle alters the groceries in a way that’s different from any other vehicle (p. 22). With the technology and media available during the 1980s when Clark first argued these points, I find myself on board with this, though readily admit having very little literacy in Clark’s work. However, my initial reaction from a 2014-15 perspective is to think about Moore’s Law and the exponential increase of technological power over time. Today, the smart phone in the palm of my hand is exponentially more powerful than the most sophisticated computers from the era of Clark’s original arguments. So in light of the vastly more complicated spectrum of available media and technology (along with new ways to interact with that technology and media), I’m not so sure that we can say that there isn’t a single media that doesn’t have its own unique effects on learning.

The Media Debate has had a weighty impact on my ideas of high technology and its relationship to learning. Though I’m partly finding myself in agreement with Clark—that media is merely a delivery device for instruction—and I find his metaphors of the grocery delivery truck not affecting the nutrition of the food it’s delivering and the form of medication not affecting the healing power of the medicine rather convincing, I believe that metaphor is now past its expiration date (p. 22, 26). Decades after the initial media debate, high technology has become exponentially more powerful—the delivery trucks of 2014 are so vastly different than those of 1994. Clark’s metaphor struggles to keep pace for the simple reason that today’s delivery devices are no longer single-function devices.

This is the new media debate: high technology of the new millennium alters learning experiences altogether. Personal computing devices such as smart phones, tablets, laptops, and desktop computers are multi-function devices that are changing the landscape of learning. They search for and find data; they consume data; they manipulate and interpret data; they record and generate new data. These are new trucks whose functions both include and transcend mere delivery of goods. Additionally, as Dempsey & Van Eck (2012) suggest, the Internet highway is an altogether new highway on which these trucks may drive (p. 281-82); as such, the rules of the road have evolved. So when it comes to this business of whether or not we should implement new technology in curriculum, the response cannot be as easy as the “mere-delivery device” arguments of the past. Multi-function devices are more than mere points of access for instructional materials. Thus I share Dempsey & Van Eck’s (2012) view when they claim that “we are not just ‘adding’ technology; we are changing the very nature of the learning experience” (p. 284).


References

Clark, R. (1994). Media will never influence learning. Educational Technology Research and Development, 42(2), 21-29.

Dempsey, J., & Van Eck, R. (2012). E-Learning and Instructional Design. In R. Reiser & J. Dempsey (Eds.), Trends and issues in instructional design and technology (3rd ed.). Boston: Pearson.

Assessment and Evaluation Models Should Include Reflection

Assessment and Evaluation Models Should Include Reflection

Trends in Educational Technology, Journal #5

I believe that assessment is about more than merely providing a kind of currency-value to students’ learning—assessment and evaluation should also be used to help teachers and instruction designers assess and evaluate themselves and their own curriculum so that they can revise it. Formative and summative assessment are tools that I’m already familiar with, and since I became aware of these assessment methods during my time in English 270 back in 2012, I frequently use them as tools to tweak my curriculum on week-to-week, unit-to-unit, and course-to-course bases. Of course we need ways to assess and evaluate what our students are doing—we are subject to educational structures that demand an accounting of students’ learning, but if 100% of our evaluative focus is on something as slippery as “student performance of learning outcomes,” we miss critical opportunities to see that if students are failing curriculum, there may be problems with curriculum. To that end, Scriven’s (1991) definition of evaluation has given me something to think about.

Evaluation and assessment of instruction design and curriculum should take into consideration each piece of Scriven’s (1991) definition of evaluation, but I would extend that strategy to be even more reflective. Scriven (1991) defines evaluation as a “process of determining the merit, worth, and value of things” (p. 97). So in terms of curriculum design, we must figure out a set of learning objectives or outcomes and have a way to assess the degree to which learners are able to perform those objectives over time. What I particularly like about this model is that designer’s should think about the merit of those learning outcomes. Indeed, learning outcomes should be those things which have intrinsic ed-u-ca-tion, evaluation, assessment value within a given system. And in my own thinking, I believe that another important step in this process of designing and revising curriculum should be to constantly ask the following questions: Why do we value these learning outcomes or objectives? What is the nature of their merit? For example, Stufflebeam’s CIPP Evaluation Model calls for an evaluation of context, “the assessment of the environment in which an innovation or program will be used to determine the need and objectives for the innovation” (Johnson & Dick, 2014, p. 97). I would take that a step further and suggest that we must ask why that environment (context) has those particular needs. Concerning my post-structuralist analysis of these evaluation models, the same thing holds true for Rossi’s Five-Domain Evaluation model. The first dimension of that model is the needs assessment: “Is there a need for this type of program in this context?” but that question neglects an equally important question: “WHY does this context have this particular need to begin with, and is that need justified based on value systems that are of intrinsic value and benefit to everyone?” In other words, we should constantly seek to understand the underlying structures that attempt to justify the connection between a thing and that thing’s merit. This is especially crucial if we think about how those structures change over time or how the objects within those structures change over time.

Absolutely vital to the design process is Stufflebeam’s input process in the CIPP Evaluation Model. It calls for an accounting of all resources that are required to make a program’s goals attainable (Johnson & Dick, 2012, p. 98). Growing from my experience in having to teach the Early Start English program in summer 2014, this is definitely something I’ll keep in mind for the future. One of the reasons why I believe this program failed is because it failed to deliver on what was agreed upon during the program’s input process. During the input process, we were promised specific spaces and equipment, thus we designed our curriculum and it’s learning outcomes with those spaces and equipment as a key component thereof. When the university failed to deliver on that space and equipment, the curriculum could not adapt. Ultimately, if the input process fails, an entire program could also be destined to fail.


References

Johnson, R., & Dick, W. (2012). Evaluation in Instructional Design: A Comparison of  Evaluation Models. In R. Reiser & J. Dempsey (Eds.), Trends and issues in instructional design and technology (3rd ed.). Boston: Pearson.

Trends in Educational Technology, Journal #4

Constructivism

First and foremost, I will absolutely acknowledge my bias toward the reading from Chapter 5. Since day 1 in the teaching associate program for this university’s Department of English, I have taken a constructivist approach to teaching and instructional design (as do my mentors). Reiser and Dempsey also show their bias with sentences like “Some of the negative response to constructivism was due to statements like ‘learners construct their own reality’ and ‘assessments should be goal free’ that traditionalist appropriately perceived as over the top (my emphasis)” (46). I understand that phrases like “learners construct their own reality” sound ambiguous and not quantifiable, but—as Kenneth Burke writes about in his book Language as Symbolic Action, the nature of language is such that the words we use to name things, describe things, and communicate things, at once is a selection and a deflection of reality. This is what Burke refers to as Terministic Screens and, by extension, The Negative. For example, in the United States, we refer to the America’s separation from British colonial powers as the American Revolution whereas across the Atlantic, the same historical event is referred to as the American Rebellion. Like it or not, language does construct our reality. Though learn through a variety of means, we learn largely through language. So learners do construct their own reality through language vis-à-vis terministic screens.

“Like all approaches, constructivism solves some problems while perhaps creating others” (47). I hear Dr. Bohlin in the back of my mind asking, “Really? Do all approaches create problems?” I understand that this is merely a transitional move so that Reiser and Dempsey can bring up their concerns with constructivist approaches to instructional design, so I’ll let that one go for now.

Incidentally, I agree with their primary concern: are students prepared to have the “hardest work” and “most interesting decisions” put on their plate (47)? I think having an awareness of these questions and working through them forces teachers to become more aware of their audience, a rhetorical move that teachers themselves ask students to do in reading and writing classrooms. Having said that, one way to further address this concern is to work a system of a “gradual release of responsibility” so that at the beginning of your curriculum (on the large scale) or of your lesson (on the small scale), you gradually release the responsibility of making the “most interesting decisions” and the “hardest work” as your students become ready for those tasks. But this does require teachers to pay attention to who they’re teaching.

Trends in Educational Technology, Journal #3

The Problem with “Increased Performance”

While I still have certain linguistic and rhetorical problems with starting a topic at the level of definition, I am pleased to see Chapter 1, “What Field Did You Say You Were In?” take up the question as to what we mean when we attempt to define the field Educational Technology (or, rather, Instructional Design and Technology by using terms like “improve performance.” According to the 2008 take on the definition, the phrase “improve performance” seems to mean the ability for learners to apply what they learn (4). (I realize I’m using MLA style documentation for these journal entries, but since this is informal writing, I’m using the style that’s familiar to me so that it’s easy for me to appropriate citations and such for later uses).

That being said, the word “performance” is still rather contentious, especially when the authors conflate student performance in an educational setting with performance in the workplace. Do the authors really mean to conflate “performance” in a workplace under a capitalist business model with “performance” in an educational setting where, arguably, capitalist business models do not serve the best interests of academics? Is the motivating factor behind academia a for-profit one? I’m doing my best to suspend my disbelief and to read with the grain here, but I have to say that Reiser and Dempsey are already on shaky ground. Perhaps what they describe as “meaningful performance” later in Chapter 2—“thus, there should be a high degree of congruence between the learning environment and the setting in which the actual behaviors are performed [in the “real” world]”—is what they mean when they conflate “improved performance” as hand-in-hand in educational settings and in the workplace (11). With this, I wholeheartedly agree and foster this very constructivist practice in my own writing classrooms. My students never read, write, and think solely for their English teacher: we collaborate together concerning topics and issues that matter to them, and they are always given the opportunity to research and, think, and write about what is important to them (just like how writing exists in the “real” world where no one actually writes a 5-paragraph essay).

Trends in Educational Technology, Journal #2

Educational Technology and Rhetoric

One trend that I’ve noticed as I’ve begun to converse and network with other teachers is that teachers frequently default to a mode of communication that is response-centered rather than understanding-centered. In other words, teachers tend to listen to respond rather than listen to understand. I believe this happens because teachers are frequently put in the position of being asked questions and having answers expected from them. I’ve observed the communication style of my colleagues in this course to hold true to this. To be clear, though, I don’t mean to use this space as a place to vent or complain but rather to use this situation as a springboard into a brief discussion about where I see opportunities for educational technology to shine.

Listening first to understand rather than first to respond is a communication style that is not new: rhetorical theorist Kenneth Burke and Psychologist Carl Rogers were talking about this back in the 50s. Both Burke and Rogers submit that in order for all parties in an argument to be able to move forward toward a solution (a solution, for Burke, being movement toward peace), we must make our first priority to understand each other so that we can move toward common ground (peace).

That being said, I want to return to one of the important points from this Forbes article where Shapiro suggests that educational technology has great use outside of the classroom where it can be used to communicate “objective” knowledges, the kind of formal knowledge Heidegger described as stuff that fills the empty vessels of our students’ minds. Educational technology allows for this kind of knowledge exchange to happen outside of the classroom which enables us as teachers to foster healthy rhetoric in the face-to-face classroom where we can make it our first priority to get our students to seek to understand ideas by asking questions, seeking ambiguities, feeling comfortable in spaces of uncertainty where the real thinking happens, rather than pressuring them to have the “right” response on a test.

I see this as one of the most powerful and compelling implications for instructional design and technology, and it is my personal goal to continue to think about how I can design my curriculum and evolve my pedagogy to allow me to continue to trend toward making my classroom a rhetorical space where we privilege grey areas and approach problems from a position of inquiry where our goal is to seek a sense of mutual understanding before we pass judgment when our impulse is merely to respond.

Trends in Educational Technology, Journal #1

Things Before Definitions

My inner rhetorician keeps telling me that definitions come after things, after experience. We see instances of things, we come to a general sense as to their qualities, then we attempt to abstract a set of common qualities into a definition. In other words, definitions do not come first: things come first. So when it comes to defining “educational technology,” I honestly believe I’ve observed and experienced too few instances of “educational technology” to be able to arrive at a definition. But this isn’t an exercise in futility. This thinking allows me to do something that is crucial to my own pedagogy, and that’s to get learners to take inventory of their knowledges, attitudes, and assumptions about the topic they’re learning. The definition I came up with in class is as follows:

Any technology that has had, presently has, or has the potential to have an effect on literacy events or literacy moments between any permutation of teacher and student subjects, I would consider as technology that is educational technology. What I mean by any permutation of teacher/student subjects is, for example, teacher/teacher, teacher/student, and student/student exchanges, as well as literacy moments or events exchanged between a reader and a text or a reader and herself. This ranges from a pencil or a fountain pen to the printing press to overhead projectors, tablets, and Twitter.

During this activity, I found out that my assumption about “educational technology” primarily concerned instances of educational technologies—that is, specific pieces of technology that can be used for educational purposes. Though my attitude is certainly open to expanding that definition to include the following, my assumptions had not presently accounted for educational technology as a field of study involving theoretical practice—that is, development, design utilization, management, and evaluation of technologies in learning environments (http://www.aect.org/standards/knowledgebase.html).

The only problem on my radar thus far is the phrase I often see come up when talking about education, this business of “increasing student (or teacher) performance.” Technology is “educational technology,” by definition, if it helps to “increase student (or teacher) performance.” As a language lover (and critic), I’m left asking myself the not-so-obvious question of what we even mean by “student performance.” Exactly what constitutes student performance, and how do we quantify student performance? It’s a slippery phrase that I’m quite interested in deconstructing, and I hope this course will help me—in the context of educational technology—do just that.

Mindfulness Practices in and out the Classroom

A Pedagogical Innovation: Mindfulness Practices in and out the Classroom

I first feel compelled to offer a disclaimer that the innovation I have am offering is not a technological innovation in the “high tech” sense nor is the thing itself an innovation; rather, I am offering an innovative use or application of a practice that is not traditionally associated with pedagogical practices in the West. This practice which I will herein refer to as mindfulness gives both teachers and learners tools to, as Thich Nhat Hanh writes, “keep one’s consciousness alive,” to be conscious of walking when walking, of breathing when breathing, of reading when reading, of writing when writing (11-12). In his book Wherever You Go There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation for Beginners, John Kabat-Zinn offers a friendly definition of mindfulness: “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally” (4). Although mindfulness is “the heart of Buddhist meditation,” the bearing of mindfulness on secular and pedagogical paths has little if anything to do with Buddhism or becoming Buddhist, but, as Kabat-Zinn offers, “it has everything to do with examining who we are, with questioning our view of the world and our place in it, and with cultivating some appreciation for the fullness of each moment we are alive . . . with being in touch (emphasis added)” (3-4). I realize that this must sound rather new-agey­, and the connection of mindfulness and pedagogical practices and instruction design remain unclear, but once we begin to pay attention to the particular things we want teachers and learners to do in and out the classroom, mindfulness practices become a means and an end with those goals. That being said, I am offering a handout developed by Dr. Asao Inoue (University of Washington, Tacoma) and myself that, in its present form, is tailored for the writing and composition classroom; however, mindfulness practices can be used in any classroom across the disciplines and grades, and its widespread application and ease of adaptability make this innovation easily adoptable, but I will speak in more detail to the adoption and diffusion of mindfulness in the classroom following the handout.


Reading and Writing as Mindful Practices

“Some people, especially the very young, are good at noticing things that the rest of us don’t see or have ceased to notice. Growing up, we all become increasingly desensitized to the world around us; we tend to forget the specific things that get us to feel and think in particular ways.” (Writing Analytically 15)

Listening. We take the act for granted, but what do you do when you listen to a text, or another person speaking to you, or something on your PC? What is happening in your head as you listen to someone else say something to you? What is happening in your mind as you read these words? Are you fully and undividedly listening to the words on this page as you read them in your head? Chances are, if you are like almost everyone else on the planet, your attention is divided to some degree. You may be reading these words, but you are also thinking of other things.

“…we aren’t the victims of declining intelligence, but of habit. That is, as we organize our lives so that we can function more efficiently, we condition ourselves to see in more predictable ways and to tune out things that are not immediately relevant to our daily needs.” (Writing Analytically 15-16)

Have you ever read a page or even a chapter from something, finished reading or paused, then realized that you don’t know much of what you had just read? Your mind was multitasking as you were reading. This multitasking of the mind actually keeps you from reading academic and dense texts carefully and critically, even to the point of not really knowing what you just read.

“Moving along the roadway in cars, we periodically realize that miles have gone by while we were driving on automatic pilot, attending barely at all to the road or the car or the landscape. Arguably, even when we try to focus on something that we want to consider, the habit of not really attending to things stays with us.” (Writing Analytically 16)

If you are like most people, there are other voices in your head as you read a book or this page – or do anything in your daily life, really. These voices, we might say, are an ongoing, running monologue to yourself about anything and everything, your own voice speaking to you in your mind as read these words, telling you that you are hungry, or that you should have worn that green shirt today, or that you don’t really understand the point of this class, or that you’re anxious about a job or dating prospect, etc. This is normal. Everyone’s mind does it. In fact, one might say it is how our minds work, but they don’t always work this way. Occasionally, our minds are silent for a moment. In that moment, we aren’t thinking of anything. There is no monologue. When this happens, we are the most aware and alert to things around us, including words. Many have found ways to silence the monologue intentionally so that a deeper awareness of what is happening in one’s life, such as reading a text, can occur, a deeper awareness of what these words mean and don’t mean, what they could mean, and what might be underneath them, assumed by the writer, tacit or implied. This kind of listening to words we read in silence takes practice, but it’s easy to begin doing.

Mindful Reading

Mindful reading is reading when your mind is most calm and silent – that is, reading when the monologue has stopped. The key is to find some practices that will help you stop the monologue, at least for a time, so that you can read a text more carefully, more focused, more aware of its nuances and possible meanings. To mindfully read a text, do the following before you begin any session of reading:

  • Find a quiet, distraction-free place with little or no ambient noise or motions in the background. This is important. Sounds and sights around us in small ways take our attention away from a text when we read, even when we don’t realize it. Silence and the absence of motion in the environment are your friends when trying to silence the monologue and find focus and awareness when reading.
  • Create a comfortable, upright bodily position in which to read. If we are going to read with purpose, it makes sense to get our bodies into a position of intention. When you are upright and your back is straight, your diaphragm has more freedom to articulate your lungs—physiologically, you can get the most oxygen to your brain, helping your body stay alert. It’s not really a good idea to read lying down. That bodily position is not conducive to alertness and awareness, which is important for carefully reading a text. When you lie down your body begins to shift into rest and relaxation mode. This might work well for you for casual or leisurely reading, but reading academic texts is a different kind of act with different purposes requiring a different type of agency, namely more focus and attention than you might be used to giving while reading.
  • Spend 2-5 minutes just breathing mindfully. There is lots of research that shows the benefits of mindfulness practices. One of the benefits is helping one to focus just on the body so that the mind’s monologue subsides. There are several ways to mindfully breath, but to start, try sitting in your comfortable, upright position, closing your eyes, and breathing in through your nose, deeply and slowly, then out through your mouth slowly and completely. As you breathe, notice the feelings in your body, in your nose as the air comes in, in your belly and throat as you exhale. Just pay attention to those physical sensations. When your mind begins to talk to you, notice the thought and let it go. Don’t pursue it or worry about it. Notice and release it. It’s okay to have thoughts during mindful breathing. If you practice this, you’ll find it easier to clear your mind, but clearing your mind is not the point. The point is to focus on your body, on your breathing. Just be right there in the moment, breathing.
  • If you can, ring a bell or chime and focus on the sound. By focusing on the sound of the bell as it fades, listening to it, following the sound as it gets softer and softer, you will notice that your mind becomes quieter. Your mind is busy listening to that sound as it fades, searching for hints of its tone. You can repeat this several times. The reason this activity works to help quiet your mind and move you toward a more focused awareness is because of the silence. The silence is actually more important than the sound of the bell. In a sense, you are really listening to silence, which helps your mind settle and focus.

The interconnectedness of mindfulness practices and reading and writing well go hand-in-hand, but I believe using mindfulness practices as a way to prime teachers and learners for literacy events—which require both physical and mental presence—can be endlessly effective across the disciplines (including STEM fields which also require highly focused thinking and attention to detail). As I mentioned, the widespread adaptability and application of mindfulness practices make the odds of this innovation being adopted highly likely; simply put, it is simple and easy to apply to your pedagogy. But this is not the only reason why I believe mindfulness practices will be readily adopted by those who give it a chance.

Mindfulness practices have a distinct relative advantage over pre-existing technologies, namely that mindfulness practices are not replacing anything! They merely offer a set of tools for teachers and learners to achieve focus and peace which enables more productive and meaningful intellectual and physical labor. We are at risk to lose nothing other than the short amount of time we spend attending to ourselves in advance of our labor, but if mindfulness practices can help us be not only more productive during our labor but to feel better about our labor throughout the process, we have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Mindfulness practices are also compatible with existing values and practices with one small caveat. You’ll notice that I am careful with my language by naming these tools “mindfulness practices” rather than meditation. The word meditation carries with it spiritual connotations, and it is not the intent of these pedagogical tools to get teachers and learners to have a spiritual experience (although if they want it to a spiritual experience, that’s perfectly fine too); rather, this is a pedagogical tool to help teachers and learners become more aware of what they are doing when they are doing it, to truly be alive and present in the moment.

Seeing as though mindfulness practices only take time—a few minutes per day to begin with—there is no real monetary cost. There is only the opportunity cost of a few minutes’ worth of time, but again, if mindfulness practices can help us be more productive and at peace with the time that follows, the return on investment of that few minutes is exponential. Of course it goes without saying that since implementation of mindfulness practices in the classroom is essentially free, so too can be your own personal trial of mindfulness practices. With an open mind and a few minutes’ worth of time, you can quite easily keep a journal in which you reflect on the quality and intensity of your intellectual and/or physical labor in tandem with mindfulness practices then observe the results thereof over time. You can have your learners do this as well. In fact, having learners (and teachers for that matter) reflect on the quality and intensity of their labor—to be aware of these things—not only makes the effectiveness of mindfulness practices quantifiable over time, it is the only way to identify what goes well and what doesn’t go well so that we can seek improvement with our labor. Observing ourselves, indeed, is at the very heart of mindfulness.


The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation. Trans. Mobi Ho and Dinh Mai. Vo. Boston: Beacon, 1987. Print.

Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life. New York, NY: Hyperion, 2005. Print.

Rosenwasser, David, and Jill Stephen. “The Analytical Frame of Mind.” Writing Analytically. Mason: Cengage Learning, 2012. 1-38. Print.

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