Fresno State DISCOVERe Summer Institute | Day 04 – Pathbrite

Authored by Jeremiah Alexander Henry

Fresno State DISCOVERe: Day 4 Reflection – Pathbrite

As an English teacher and rhetorician, I am always thinking about purpose, audience, and context, and I want my composition students to be thinking about these things too, particularly when they generate a portfolio at the end of our courses as a kind of culminating experience. When we were introduced to pathbrite and ePortfolios earlier in the week, my interest was initially piqued, thinking this could be a new opportunity for students to consider purpose, audience, and context. In today’s pathbrite breakout session, I’m further convinced that this will be a move in a positive direction, potentially redefining what portfolios look like in our university’s first year writing program.

Pathbrite LogoAs our world context changes—digital literacies becoming an intrinsic part of academic literacy and citizenship in general—it only makes sense that portfolios in our first year writing program should evolve to reflect those world context changes. But my sense is that pathbrite can allow us to do more than merely shift portfolios from one textual form to another (from print to digital media in this case). The element of public consumption—that added dimension of audience and purpose—will invite both students and faculty to orient these texts differently throughout the writing process, from annotating texts they read to editing texts for final publication. In the past, I have invited my students to consider both their real audience (their classmates and me) and their imagined, ideal audience (a broader college-educated audience, other interested public intellectuals, the authors they’re responding to in their writing, etc.). Pathbrite allows us to shift parts of the imagined, ideal audience toward the real audience. This will certainly effect the way both students and faculty think about student writing because their writing and the publication thereof more closely reflects real-world writing models.

Fresno State DISCOVERe Summer Institute | Day 03

Authored by Jeremiah Alexander Henry

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 2

Authored by Jeremiah Alexander Henry

DISCOVERe: Day 2 Reflection – Google Education

Although I have been using Google Drive, Google Apps, and Google Classroom in my teaching for a few years already, today I did learn a variety of little tidbits that I am excited to incorporate into my teaching. As I wrote in my previous day’s reflection, mobile technology’s potential for formative assessment remains in the foreground of my technological radar, and I believe the entire Google Education Suite is endlessly valuable to this end. Today, however, I am seeing some ways in which the Google Education Suite can help me be more efficient and expedient as an instructor, freeing me from administrative tasks and allowing me to invest more of my time and energy in helping my students make meaning from course material.

Google LogoThe primary benefit I’m seeing with the Google Education Suite is its ability to help me be more efficient and expedient through delegation which, incidentally, touches on flipped classroom pedagogy. This fall I will have 5 sections of English 5A, and if they all maintain full capacity, I will have 125 first-year writing students. Old feedback and assessment methodology would look something like this: I would assign a writing activity or assignment; my students would produce a draft; they would then turn that draft in; I would read each and every draft, commenting where I felt the student could use some guidance; and I would return those drafts to my students. This process would likely repeat for a second or final draft. Using Google Classroom as a distribution platform, Google Forms as a scaffold for feedback, and Google Sheets to manage data, however, will allow me to exponentially expedite this process while also enabling my students to generate meaningful feedback for each other as well, ultimately redefining the feedback and assessment portions of the classroom writing process.

Using Google Classroom, I can distribute all of the materials my students need in order to generate feedback for their peers. This will primarily include a pool of drafts collected in a shared Google Drive folder and a form which they will use to submit their feedback and assessment notes. The form allows me to scaffold how the students leave feedback for each other as well as set minimum length requirements to further insure that they are leaving substantial feedback for each other. Once all of the data is collected in the associated Google Sheet, I can simply mail merge the data back to each student. If I were to assign each student two papers for which to leave feedback, my 125 students will generate 250 feedback items, and with mail merge technology, they will receive that feedback within a day of having submitted it rather than after a week or two depending on my workload. Finally, this allows me to see exactly what kinds of feedback my students are providing to each other. I believe students will gain valuable insights about their own writing with how they’re assessing each other’s writing, and this will be an extension of their understanding about how their writing will be assessed by me. Finally, since I can read all of the feedback they’re leaving for each other, I can engage in writing instruction on both the drafting and peer feedback sides of the writing coin, something traditional writing process feedback methodology could not do.

Fresno State DISCOVERe Summer Institute | Day 1

Authored by Jeremiah Alexander Henry

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.

PAMLA 2014 Reflection on Technology and Education

Authored by Jeremiah Alexander Henry

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

Authored by Jeremiah Alexander Henry

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

Authored by Jeremiah Alexander Henry

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

Authored by Jeremiah Alexander Henry

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

Authored by Jeremiah Alexander Henry

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.

An Open Letter Concerning the Tablet Initiative at Fresno State

Authored by Jeremiah Alexander Henry

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.