Recommendations for Addressing the Wicked Problem of Online Learning

I’m currently part of a small group in my grad class class that is working on solving a “Wicked Problem”. This is a problem that is difficult to solve because of it’s complexity and a lack of a clear solution(s). A wicked problem also has a great deal of interdependence in it’s structures and thus solving one aspect of it may create a new problem. The means that “solving” a wicked problem, by it’s very nature, is likely impossible.

But we had to try.

The wicked problem we took on was that of online learning and the different ways it manifests itself. It could be distance learning, MOOCs, blended learning environments, online classes offered through a university or secondary school, or automated training programs. Our goal was to come up with guidelines for anyone trying to implement a quality online learning environment. We had to consider stakeholders (students, teachers, industry, communities, institutions) and constraints (technology, availability, pedagogy, etc.). Classes that are not engaging, not pedagogically sound, isolating to the student, leave out the teacher, and don’t result in quality learning experiences are just a few of the problems that plague online learning.

Although it has many problems, online learning has great potential to change education in a positive way. We came up with policy recommendations that ideally would help ensure quality experiences for all stakeholders. (You can read our white paper here.) We focused on the “how” and “why” of online learning and tried to balance technology, content, and pedagogy in our recommendations. You can click the image below to see our Blendspace that contains an info graphic, video of our collaboration and brainstorming process, white paper, and our references. We’ve received feedback from colleagues and adjusted our recommendations accordingly. We put a lot of time into this project and are really excited about the results! Please feel free to ask questions or provide constructive feedback!

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Community of Practice Survey Analysis

It’s difficult to work in the world of education and not bump into a conversation on educational technology on a somewhat regular basis. Often we base what we know about our community’s (school or district) knowledge on educational technology simply on anecdotal interactions we have with our colleagues. In my MAET course I was asked to design and implement a survey to gain quantitative data on my community’s knowledge of technology, their aspirations for technology integration, and their ideas on what support they needed for integrating technology. Understanding the community in which we work helps to understand how technology might be effectively integrated in the future.

I want to give a brief overview of the results to my survey. You can see the raw data here and a more thorough analysis of my results here. Of the 47 people respond to my survey, most (44) were teachers, with two administrators and one counselor responding. My district is relatively large (approximately 3500 students district wide) located in rural Michigan. I hesitated to ask respondents the age level they worked with for fear of that information identifying a respondent (for instance, an administrator at the high school level would leave only one person) and because of this cannot break down my data in terms of elementary, secondary, etc. There are 260 teachers and administrators in my district so 47 respondents represents roughly 18% of the entire staff.

Significant Findings

Although there were not really any shocking results there were a few trends worth noting. A vast majority (75%) agreed that having an online component to their class would enhance the learning environment. Although many respondents (62%) believed that they should have a BYOD policy, many voiced concerns about using students deices. These concerns revolved primarily around distractions they may cause and the possibility that BYOD would emphasize the gap between the “haves” and “have nots”. Although there were many that voiced concerns about BYOD, a solid majority (68%) agreed that allowing students to use their devices for educational purposed would likely increase the learning in their classroom. A vast majority (87%) said they wanted to integrate a broader range of technology into their practice. This indicates that overall the district is very open minded to technology integration. As far as barriers to technology integration, there was essentially a three way tie between “lack of student access”, “lack of funding”, and “lack of time to learn various technologies”.

In summary, my data indicates that most teachers are open to more technology integration and believe it would enhance the learning environment for students. If there is to be more technology integration it seems that the issue of student access needs to be answered and that teachers need time (coupled with quality PD) to effectively implement the technology. None of this is terribly striking, but I was definitely glad to see an overall openness to technology integration in my district.

Wicked Problem: Post 1

I’m currently part of a small group in my grad class class that is working on solving a “Wicked Problem”. This is a problem that is difficult to solve because of it’s complexity and a lack of a clear solution(s). A wicked problem also has a great deal of interdependence in it’s structures and thus solving one aspect of it may create a new problem. The means that “solving” a wicked problem, by it’s very nature, is likely impossible.

But we had to try.

The wicked problem we took on was that of online learning and the different ways it manifests itself. It could be distance learning, MOOCs, blended learning environments, online classes offered through a university or secondary school, or automated training programs. Our goal was to come up with guidelines for anyone trying to implement a quality online learning environment. We had to consider stakeholders (students, teachers, industry, communities, institutions) and constraints (technology, availability, pedagogy, etc.). Classes that are not engaging, not pedagogically sound, isolating to the student, leave out the teacher, and don’t result in quality learning experiences are just a few of the problems that plague online learning.

Although it has many problems, online learning has great potential to change education in a positive way. We came up with policy recommendations that ideally would help ensure quality experiences for all stakeholders. (You can read our white paper here.) We focused on the “how” and “why” of online learning and tried to balance technology, content, and pedagogy in our recommendations. You can click the image below to see our Blendspace that contains an info graphic, video of our collaboration and brainstorming process, white paper, and our references.

Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 10.25.26 PM

How to Make a Human Drum kit

In my Masters of Educational Technology program at Michigan State we had the opportunity to host a Maker Faire. We broke up into groups and each group designed a maker “station”. Our group created a human drum kit and it turned out awesome! I want to share a “how-to” for building a human drum kit.

Purpose: The purpose of this activity is to leverage the power of a Makey Makey and Scratch programming to create a set up where one person in a group is a drummer, and each of the other people in the group are part of the drum kit (snare, cymbals, etc.). When the “drummer” touches the hand of the person connected to the snare wire it will complete the circuit causing the snare sound (in Scratch) to play. If you have a person for each part of the drum kit you will then have a fully operational drum set (made of people).

Materials Needed

  • Makey Makey
  • Several Alligator clips and connecting wires
  • Conductive thread (This has two uses, first it is sewn into the “drummers” head band, second it extends the connections between the Makey Makey and the parts of the drum kit.)
  • Pipe Cleaners (To create the bracelets that parts of the drum kit will wear.)
  • Copper Tape (To wrap around the pipe cleaners, so that the wristbands are conductive.)
  • A computer with working speakers that is running this Scratch Program

For the set up I will be referencing the diagram below. The blue dotted lines represent conductive thread connected to wristbands (pipe cleaners wrapped in copper tape) which must be touching human skin. The red dotted line is conductive thread connected from the “earth” part of the Makey Makey to a headband. The headband had conductive thread woven into it. The thread must be touching the forehead (skin). With the scratch program running on the computer a person only needs to touch the drummer for that instrument to sound. This completes the circuit which sends the signal to the computer.

A special note about the kick drum: You can use a wrist band and a person for the kick drum. We found that it worked better if we attached the blue kick drum wire to copper tape on the floor. Then when the drummer touched it with their bare foot they completed the circuit for the kick drum. This allowed for the kick drum to feel more natural. (You could also connect the blue wire to tin foil and wrap it around the person’s shoe if you didn’t want to go barefoot.)

Human Drum Kit Set up

 

General Suggestions

Here are a few suggestions after having been through the project. First, tape down the wires. This keeps them much more organized. Second, make sure there are many points of contact for the headband. Third, make sure no wires are touching the headband wire. This unintentionally completes the circuit. Last, make sure that the copper on the wristbands has a good contact with human skin. Without that you can’t complete the circuit.

Below are a few images and videos of the drum kit in action. If you have any questions at all please leave a comment or tweet me and I’d be happy to point you in the right direction.

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Lesson Plan Version 5.0: Final Revision

Over the course of the last week and a half I’ve taken my old lesson plan over the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus and made several revisions to it as it was examined through different frameworks. The lesson plan was originally very traditional (direct instruction to start, modeling with guided instruction, independent practice, and follow up the next day). However, as I looked at it through different lenses I made several modifications to the original lesson plan that made a better use of technology, made the learning more accessible and engaging, and leveraged networks in an effective way. You can check out my original lesson plan and my revised lesson plan directly below it, here.

Major Revisions

I want to first highlight some of the major revisions I implemented and my justification for them. I started with the beginning of the lesson. I wanted to start with some sort of inquiry style activity to get students familiar with the concepts on their own terms. I did this because often when students are faced with tasks lacking apparent meaning or logic, it will be “difficult for them (students) to learn with understanding at the start; they may need to take time to explore underlying concepts and to generate connections” (Bransford, Brown, Cocking, 1999, p. 58). You can check out the activity I developed and the Wolfram Alpha animation it’s centered around.

In addition to making a shift towards inquiry, I wanted to leverage technology in a more effective way. To do that I decided that each student would do the activity mentioned above, on a Google doc. This will allow me to easily follow along and provide feedback as they work through the activity. Frequent and timely feedback is incredibly important to the learning process (Bradsford et al, 1999, p. 59). During the proof stage of the lesson, I will have them participate in a backchannel via Google Docs, providing me with questions they still have and a summary of their understanding of the proof. I can then send this out to a few teachers in my network and get feedback on how to approach whatever student misconceptions still exist. I will still be using “low tech” methods in the collaborative whiteboarding, but will be having them share out their solutions with the class in a more structured way. I will be pushing them to verbally explain their thinking process as they worked through each problem. This gives students another means by which to express their understanding (beyond writing) which breaks down barriers to learning by allowing multiple means of expression (Rose and Gravel, 2011).

One of my last revisions was to create a more focused prompt for students focus on in there weekly blog reflection. My research on Gifted and Talented Learners suggested that it’s good for students to consider how they used inductive and deductive learning so I built that into the learning prompt (Sheffield, 1994, p. xvi). In addition to the blog post post they will also have to give constructive feedback on their blog posts to each other. They will look at a peer’s post through a critical lens which will help students further explore their own understanding of the concept.

Thoughts on the Revision Process

This process has allowed me to see assessment and evaluation differently. Some of the technology I’ve implemented will allow me to assess and provide feedback during and after the lesson in a much more effective way. In other lessons I want to build in a better continuous feedback loop to help students understand where they’re at in the learning process. I tried to do this before, but I think I have some techniques that will allow me to do a better job of it in the future.

More broadly speaking I’ve grown as a professional in this process. Now that I’ve studied the constructivist approach to learning, Universal Design for Learning, the TPACK framework, and network learning I will be able to better utilize these frameworks in my other lessons. I won’t do it in such a formal way, but as I revise in the future I will look through each one of these lenses to create effective lessons that integrate technology and reach more learners. These are powerful tools that I didn’t have prior to going through those revisions. I think being a quality educator means being able to evaluate lessons from different perspectives and I think I’m closer to that standard now.

References

Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (1999). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

Rose, D.H. & Gravel, J. (2011). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines (V.2.0).Wakefield, MA: CAST.org. Retrieved from http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/udlguidelines

Sheffield, L. J. (1994). The Development of Gifted and Talented Mathematics Students and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Standards. Storrs, CT: The National Research on the Gifted and Talented.

 

Networked Learning Project: Planning Phase

For my networked learning project I want to learn how to use HTML and CSS to code a website. By the end of this four weeks I want to have coded and launched a “landing page” for all of my digital “stuff” (my blog, twitter, class sites, etc.). I’ve wanted to learn HTML for a long time as a hobby, but I also think there’s value in understanding how the internet works. When I run into problems with my sites I don’t want to be at the mercy of whatever site is hosting my webpages. I want to have the knowledge and control to change things and trouble shoot as they come up. I also like the idea of having countless customization options that many sites (like Weebly or WordPress) don’t offer or allow.

I currently have basically no knowledge of how HTML works. Because of this, to start my learning, I’m going to take a course on codeacademy.com. (I wanted to use p2pu.org which is a more social site for learning to code, but it would not send me an email confirmation so that I could comment within the site, making it basically unusable from the social aspect of the site.) Within Code Academy you get to pick your goals. It then leads you through the steps to that goal. I really like that from each step you can access user forums and engage with people that have gone through that step. I’ve used these forums on multiple occasions already.

As I get further into learning to code I will undoubtedly be relying on forums to support my learning. The great thing about forums is that if I have a question, there is a community of people that want to answer it (and usually can!). I then hope to be able to contribute to these forums once I understand HTML better. StackExchange looks like an awesome community that I will likely rely on as a resource. I will be documenting my learning via this blog, so follow along if you’re interested!

Here I am learning about headings.

Zach learns headings

 

Lesson Plan Version 4.0: Networked Learning Revision

For the next revision of my original lesson plan I want to look at how networks (both my own and my students’) can be leveraged to create a higher quality lesson. I want to quickly recap my lesson with it’s revisions. First, students will engage in an inquiry activity where they will do an exploration using this Wolfram Alpha widget. We will then have a group discussion looking at the patterns students noticed in exploring different functions with the widget. I will then transition into the proof of the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus. During this, or immediately following, I will ask students to backchannel, explaining the questions they still have with the proof, a part they understood the best, and how it fits with the activity they just did. I will then move into modeling a couple problems. They will then try some problems in small groups using the mega whiteboards, sharing out solutions with the class when they’re done. Finally, they will have independent work time. The following day we will follow this system for clearing up misconceptions on the assignment. At the end of the week they will write a blog post with the prompt “What kind of inductive and deductive reasoning did you utilize in constructing your understanding of the fundamental theorem of calculus?”

hugh-network-node

Image credit: http://innovatribe.com/tag/connected-workplace/ 

How I Currently Utilize Networks

The biggest way that my lesson currently uses networks is through their blogs. I can do a better job of making this an effective use of networks (see below), but I will often tweet out quality blog posts to my network and will occasionally get feedback from people in my network. In addition, I knew Wolfram Alpha was a great math and science resource so I explored that and (surprisingly quickly) found a simulation that increased the quality of the lesson. Although I use networks a small amount in this lesson, I think that they can be implemented in a much more effective way that will further enhance the quality of the lesson.

How Networks Could be Better Utilized

I want to focus on two specific aspects of using networks: how can I leverage my network to increase the quality of the lesson, and how can my students use their networks to gain a better understanding of the concept.

One way that I can use my network is to have them look at the backchannel the students do during/after the proof. Let me explain. The backchannel will happen on a Google doc. I won’t change anything in the Google doc (I may leave students comments but I won’t change what they originally wrote). I will then ask specific math teachers that I’ve connected with previously to scan the Google doc and give me feedback on students’ misconceptions. What do they think I need to go back and reteach? Do they have ideas for extending the concepts? What trends do they notice that I should address? I really think this would be a powerful use of my network that would certainly help me increase the quality of follow up instruction on the topic.

Another idea I’d like to explore is connecting with the physics teacher to discuss overlap in our lessons. I know the fundamental theorem has implications in science and I’d like to look at how to leverage that overlap to bring a more real world context to the concept. It might be worth my time to develop a project for the end of the unit in collaboration with him.

I also think that students could leverage their network in creative ways to increase their learning. First, I’m going to have students comment on other students blogs while considering the following questions. How does that student’s understanding of the concept differ from yours? What did he/she leave out that you would put in? What did they explain that you missed? Can you help to give that student a better understanding of the concept and if so, how? This should help each student better construct the knowledge in their own mind as well as help the person whose blog they are commenting on. This idea of explaining and discussing mathematics is especially important for gifted and talented learners to extend their learning beyond a surface level understanding of a topic (Sheffield, 1994, p. xx).

I also want them to tweet out their article using both the hashtag #mathchat and #calcchat asking for feedback on their ideas. Many of them probably won’t get feedback, but the potential for a random person to actually read their post and give feedback will motivate them to do better work.

Last, as an extension for the motivated learner, I’d like them to find a video online over the concept and critically analyze it with questions like “What did the creator do effectively and what did he/she miss?” They will then post the link to their analysis in the comments. This gives students the opportunity to participate and contribute to the conversation in mathematics. This is authentic, motivating (for some students) and will help them deepen their understanding of the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus.

References

Sheffield, L. J. (1994). The Development of Gifted and Talented Mathematics Students and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Standards. Storrs, CT: The National Research on the Gifted and Talented.