Fresno State DISCOVERe Summer Institute | Day 03

DISCOVERe Day 3 Reflection

Purely from a social justice point of view, I am passionate about equal access to higher education; it seems like affordable learning solutions and open education resources are a big part of the conversation here. I am particularly interested in Intellus’ framework in curating free materials and presenting them to my students in a way that matches the weekly or modular structure of my courses. Too, having a single place for input/output of course materials seems pretty convenient. While the analytics for student engagement look cool, I do not think they will add anything above or beyond what I already do with incorporated formative assessment.

To paraphrase something I heard on the first day of the institute, students who do not speak in class will speak through their devices; this idea was running in my mental back channel during the breakout sessions this afternoon. Although not limited to this, one of the things that makes tablets so powerful is their multifunctionality and mobility. They are portal multimedia recording devices. I used to think that tablets excelled only at media consumption but not generation. Today I realized that through the integrated microphone(s), camera(s), attachable probeware, and (hopefully) keyboards, tablets have really come in to their own in terms of generating media and data. The tablet’s cameras and microphones along with accompanying editing and publishing software have inspired me to think of a new activity for my first year writing students (and any course for first-semester freshmen, for that matter).

Helping my students more fully integrate themselves with university life and culture is an area of my teaching I believe I could improve upon. To this end, one activity I would like my tablet students to do early on in the semester, perhaps within the first two weeks, is to explore campus and find a place that they believe would be a good place for them to study. I see this taking the shape of a visual and audio essay that also mimics a writing process—I might have them take still images and post that somewhere as an initial draft, maybe writing a paragraph about how or why they believe this place on campus will be good for their study time; once that has gone through a feedback loop, their next draft will be to create a more fully realized video. My underlying thinking for the value of this activity is threefold: they will be invited to explore the campus; they will have to learn some of the functions of their device, both hardware and software; and they will be re-introduced to a composition process that involves inquiry, exploration, drafting, feedback, revision, and publication.

Fresno State DISCOVERe Summer Institute | Day 1

DISCOVERe: Day 1 Reflection

My underlying framework for figuring out how I can “harness the power of mobile devices to redefine teaching . . . and create student-centered environments” so far is the extended ability to incorporate formative assessment. I am also thinking about project-based learning in general and considering how it might touch on the ARCS model for motivation.
With regard to formative assessment, I see DISCOVERe and mobile technology potentially offering new ways to engage in formative assessment. In the past after discussing a new concept in the classroom, I would ask my students to show me on their hands how well they’re understanding the new concept on a scale of 1 to 5—1 being “not at all” and 5 being “confident.” While I will still use formative assessment techniques like this, I believe that observing their written labor in real time through cloud-based word processing apps like Google Docs will offer new insights into how my students are processing new concepts and ideas. Furthermore, having these insights in real time may allow me to touch directly on the ARCS model, specifically on (C)onfidence, if I can give either praise or gentle corrections as they’re working.

In a different area of the ARCS model, I’m considering both (R)elevance and (S)atisfaction with project-based learning. I believe that if I can create a project that’s framed by a real-world concern that is particularly important to my students, they will be intrinsically interested through its relevance to their lives, and if they know that they will be publishing their labor for an audience to consume, there’s a great chance that they will feel a sense of (S)atisfaction. If my suspicions are correct, this framework should invite a great deal of motivation in my students which will lead them to take even more ownership of their own learning.

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.

An Open Letter Concerning the Tablet Initiative at Fresno State

Dear President Castro:

We are now just over a month in to your new tablet initiative here at California State University, Fresno, and—with some reservations and stipulations concerning the university’s focus on diffusing this technology to faculty and into its classrooms—I am writing to urge you to continue to invest time and resources into this program. However, I believe that the initiative’s current incarnation—at least with as much that has been made available to the public—is potentially problematic. Presently, as reported by Associate Vice President for University Communications and Integrated Marketing Shirley Armbruster (2014), the guiding question of the tablet initiative seems to be how can we accommodate new technology (i.e. tablets) in the classroom, (p. 22).But I think the question we should be asking is how can we evolve pedagogy and curriculum to leverage the meaning-making potential of new technologies in (and out) of the classroom. So far as I can see, there are already hints of strategies to address the latter question coming to the surface, and I believe that continued faculty support in terms of evolving curriculum and especially pedagogy will be absolutely crucial in getting this new technology to be successfully adopted, diffused, and put to constructive use throughout the university. Certainly, as Troy Tenhet’s (2013) dissertation An Examination of the Relationship Between Tablet Computing and Student Engagement, Self-efficacy, and Student Attitude Toward Learning reveals, we should not take for granted that just because students have tablets in their hands means they’ll automatically engage with tablets academically. With this in mind and to the means and ends of using tablets in the classroom constructively, let me explain some of my aforementioned reservations and stipulations more fully.

The biggest issue I see with incorporating tablets into the classroom is in having faculty transition from a direct instruction approach to teaching to a constructivist approach to teaching because, as I will explain shortly, leveraging the power of tablets in the classroom requires a constructivist approach to teaching. Of course this is not an issue for those faculty who already embrace a constructivist approach, but not all faculty share in this pedagogical framework. While the general troubles of a direct instruction approach are beyond the scope of this discussion, I believe the relationship between direct instruction and high technology is relevant. According to Reiser & Dempsey (2012), direct instruction is teacher-centered learning where the teacher acts as the “sage on the stage” who fills students—seen figuratively as empty vessels—with knowledge (pp. 45-46). It is the teacher who has access to knowledge, and students only have access to that knowledge through the teacher. The trouble with this approach in relation to high technology is that the technology becomes nothing more than a digital notebook for students to take dictation from the “sage,” something they could do with the technology of a $2.00 spiral-bound notebook and any number of low cost Pilot G-3 gel pens. At best, direct instruction would leverage high technology’s ability to help students drill on material they need to memorize in order to pass an objective test, but that task could also be easily accomplished with a buck’s worth of flash cards. So suddenly there’s quite a contrast between a pen and paper budget and a tablet budget which Armbruster (2014) reports to be to the tune of $850 (p. 23). Fresno State Tablet CaseSo in terms of classroom use, $850 worth of high technology becomes roughly an $847 investment to majorly glorify what ink and paper can already do or, at least, dress what a cheaper laptop can already do with new designer clothes for the 2014 iFall Fashion Season. Now in all seriousness, I don’t mean to suggest that tablets do not have a place in the classroom in particular or in education in general: tablets have a great deal of potential to allow students to work on solving real and meaningful problems (i.e. problems that matter to them) but only if a teacher is able to structure their class in such a way that fosters that kind of learning. I grant that supporting faculty in the physical use of tablets and mobile computing applications through faculty expertise is important—though I’m quite interested in knowing more about specifically who these faculty experts are (“DISCOVERe”). Too, the support through TILT and through LEAD workshops is also important. But I believe it’s equally if not even more important to support faculty in making the shift from learned based off of teacher-centered, direct instruction to learning that is constructivist, putting the students on center-stage. Therein lies the greatest challenge to get this technology to be successfully diffused, adopted, and put to meaningful use where student learning that persists beyond the classroom is (or at least should be) our antecedent purpose.

There exists a well-established framework for the adoption and diffusion of new technology theorized by Everett Rogers (n.d.) which asserts that there are five qualities of new technologies that are determining factors as to whether or not and how expediently that technology will be adopted. I’m certain that the Tablet Task Force, headed by Provost Lynette Zelezny, has already come up with a diffusion strategy that discusses the 1) relative advantage of tablets (over previous technologies like paper notebooks and laptops) and 2) the simplicity and ease of use of tablets, and the faculty cohort established earlier in the year demonstrates the task force’s way of addressing 3) the trialability of this innovation. I’m certain that other organizations have piloted similar programs, so there should be available a set of 4) observable results, but I have not yet seen references to any studies or outcomes presented by you or the university in support of this initiative—this is something I urge you to keep in mind as you move forward, for if both students and faculty have no way of accessing any observable results from this innovation, they will be less likely to embrace it. The fifth item from Rogers’ list is by far the most contentious item for our purposes as it serves as a sort of cross-section between both the new technology and the pedagogical framework required to leverage the new technology.

Rogers (n.d.) suggests that in order for a new technology or innovation to be adopted and diffused throughout an organization, it must also be compatible with existing values and practices. For faculty who are not presently in the camp of constructivist pedagogical practices—which I’ve submitted as absolutely necessary to take advantage of tablets in the classroom in a meaningful way (i.e. activities that are full of meaning-making potential)—there will be a significant conflict with the existing values and practices of direct instruction. This is not just about adopting tablets and new software applications in the classroom but about adopting a whole new way of operating within the teacher-student dynamic; therefore, investing in and implementing faculty programs to urge and support a transition to a constructivist framework for teaching and learning is absolutely crucial if we want this technology to successfully diffuse throughout the university and not be a waste of money and resources.

Now I don’t mean to suggest that a support system—albeit perhaps indirect—is not already in the works, but as a graduate student who is outside of the opaque Tablet Task Force and not a part of the faculty cohort, it is difficult for me to make any of these determinations outside of what is released to the general student body and public. When, for example, I see a series of Learning for Excellence and Development (LEAD) activity workshops throughout October that are centered around topics like “How to use Google Drive,” “Docs and Sheets,” an introduction to Lynda.com (the lessons therein generally of a direct-instruction nature), etc., my perception mirrors the overall point of this letter: I’m happy to see such an investment in faculty support for new technologies, but I’m apprehensive that these support programs are too focused on the technology itself rather than how to shape instruction to leverage the meaning-making potential of these technologies. As your tablet initiative moves forward, I hope you will also include a forward-thinking support system for faculty needing to make the transition from direct instruction to a constructivist approach to pedagogy and curriculum design. President Castro, you were quoted in an article as having said that one of your goals for this tablet initiative is to “build a sustainable program that keeps the cost of attending Fresno State affordable” (Schaffhauser). Without the support for the aforementioned transition to a constructivist framework, this program will not be pedagogically sustainable nor will students really save money or learn any better than they presently are: this expensive technology will be nothing more than an $850 drop in the bucket where a $3.00 trip to Dollar Tree for school supplies would suffice. Letting technology drive pedagogy and curriculum is like putting the cart before the horse. Instead, let’s create a sustainable system that privileges meaning-making in the classroom and thus make meaning-making drive the technology.

Sincerely,

Jeremiah Alexander Henry
California State University, Fresno
MA Literature Candidate
Teaching Associate
President, Sigma Tau Delta


References

Armbruster, S. (2014, Spring). Fresno State’s DISCOVERe Tablet Program. Fresno State Magazine. Retrieved from California State University Fresno University Advancement website: http://www.fresnostate.edu/advancement/ucomm/magazine

DISCOVERe — Fresno State Tablet Program. (n.d.). Retrieved from California State University, Fresno President’s website: http://www.fresnostate.edu/president/discovere

Reiser, R. A., & Dempsey, J. (2012). Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology (3rd ed.). Boston: Pearson.

Rogers, R. (n.d.). Diffusion of Innovations: Part 1. Retrieved from Iowa State University Department of Sociology website: http://www.soc.iastate.edu/sapp/soc415Diffusion1.html

Schaffhauser, D. (2014, August). Fresno State Intros Tablet Program with Device Grants for Students. Retrieved from http://campustechnology.com/Articles/2014/08/21/Fresno-State-Intros-Tablet-Program-Supplies-Device-Grants.aspx

Tenhet, T. (2013). An Examination of the Relationship Between Tablet Computing and Student Engagement, Self-efficacy, and Student Attitude Toward Learning. n.p.: ProQuest, UMI Dissertations Publishing.