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.

Trending from War to Peace

I’ve just read something completely transformative in terms of how to deal with what might be at first glance negative situations. Rick Hanson describes an internal set of triggers that lead to negative cascades (and how to overcome this problem). For example, imagine that you’re home cooking dinner for you and your partner. Earlier in the day, you asked your partner to stop off at the store for some milk which you need to make dinner. While cooking, your partner comes home having forgotten the milk that you asked them to pick up. Hanson describes four stages ranging from war to peace. In Stage 1, you would be caught up in thoughts and dialogue that stresses how the situation of making dinner has been inconvenienced leading to negative communication between you and your partner (how could they have forgotten such a simple task – now what are we supposed to do?!). In Stage 2, you realize that you’ve succumbed to this negative feedback loop and remain persistently annoyed at your partner having forgotten (and perhaps even at their reaction to your own outrage). In Stage 3, you might feel irritated at your partner having forgotten the milk, but you don’t act out knowing that getting cranky will only make things worse. In Stage 4, a negative reaction doesn’t even come up: you understand that there is no milk and calmly figure out what to do next. Ideally, in my own view, you would respond in a way that acknowledges that your partner forgot the milk and present them (and yourself) with options. You say, “Well we need milk to make this meal, so we either need to get some or we need to make something else. What should we do?” Suddenly the irritation has been taken out of the equation, and we’ve constructed an opportunity to 1) be compassionate toward our partner who forgot something and is probably feeling bad about having done so already, 2) collaborate together toward a solution, and 3) given them an opportunity to be compassionate and helpful in return. So, yeah. I’m ALL about Stage 4.


Hanson, Rick, and Richard Mendius. “The First and Second Dart.” Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, 2009. 49-63. Print.

 

One does not simply . . .

It is my absolute favorite meme of all time, and it ranks just below the top-ranking “God Tier” on http://memegenerator.net – It is Sean Bean as Boromir and his now worldly-recognizable prefix, “One does not simply…” I believe the degree to which this meme is effective and/or funny depends on the degree to which the meme’s author plays with the scene:act ratio and satirizes the original scene:act ratio of the dialogue from The Fellowship of the Ring. In the dialogue, Boromir says, “One does not simply walk into Mordor.” The scene he’s describing is the dwelling place of Sauron, the pinnacle of evil in Middle Earth where there are even “fouler things than orcs, and the Great Eye [of Sauron] is ever watchful.” Clearly the act of merely walking into Mordor would cause a disproportionate scene:act ratio, and Boromir is pointing this out (rather obviously). There are two keys to making this meme work: the word “simply” functions to modify the act of the scene:act ratio to create a parody of the original dialogue; and unless the meme has its own scene to replace Mordor (which they often do not as in my example below), the meme depends on the audience associating the meme’s new object with scene of Mordor on their own (which is reasonable given the immense popularity of the original text and the meme itself). In fact, it’s when the audience merges the material of the meme (the new text) with the ideal of the meme (the original text and moment from Fellowship) that real humor happens. This makes me think that there is fertile ground for satire and parody where materialism and idealism intersect (as I tried to work through in my recent reading document). For example:
Boromir Reading Burke
The new act is “read,” modified by the meme’s required adverb “simply,” and the new object is Burke which can only be funny when we merge the material (Burke) with the meme’s ideal (Mordor). So when we think about reading Burke being like trying to “simply walk” through Mordor, chances are it will be funny for anyone reading Burke for the first time. I believe a meme like this does attempt to approach peace by relieving anxiety and frustration through humor. Reading Burke can be like trudging through Mordor, but doesn’t knowing that you’re not the only one who feels that way somehow make it seem a little better?

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