Posts Tagged 'iPad'

Learning Architecture: It’s all in the design

By Dr. Martin Scanlan — The best way to read this post is on an Ipad while sitting at a playground.

Pick any playground you like. Borrow your neighbor’s Ipad that you’ve been coveting if you don’t have your own. Seriously, get outside.

Now that you’re settled in on a bench in the shade, enjoying the breeze and watching the kids play, I want to direct your attention to the design of the playground itself. What do you notice? Is the equipment new or old? Does it appeal to the toddlers or the ten-year olds?

Consider how much the design directs the play, orienting kids toward certain activities. For instance, a freestanding slide with a ladder is pretty directive: climb up the ladder, then slide down. On the other hand, consider how much the design leaves the kids the latitude to create their own activities. For instance, a playground near my house has a simple webbing that is wide open to interpretation. Some kids jump and climb around, while others lay back and relax.

Playground design is a helpful metaphor for getting at key features of designing for learning, and what I’ve recently been referring to in my research as the “learning architecture.” Learning cannot be designed directly. As any teacher knows, the most finely crafted lesson can still flop, and no process or product guarantees that one’s students will learn.

Although designing learning is not possible, designing for learning is. This is to say that certain processes and products facilitate learning more than others. The metaphor of a learning architecture captures this point (Wenger, 1998).  As architecture typically references the process and product of designing buildings, a learning architecture refers to the process and product of designing for learning.

Let me describe a couple dimensions of architecture, using the playground where you’re sitting to make my points. First, designing for learning blends both “participation” and “reification.”

Some dimensions of learning are participatory, involving actions and reactions. On the playground, this is seen in the playing of the kids. It’s unscripted, unfolding, a happening. Other dimensions of learning are captured in things – tools, artifacts, stories, and so on. On the playground, this is seen in the actual equipment, the layout and organization. Think of the latter as reification.  These two dimensions work together, influencing each other. Just as on the playground, the types of toys that are available affects how they play, so too in the learning architecture, our reifications influence how people participate.

A second, related feature of designing for learning involves the designed and the emergent. The emphasis here is that processes and products that facilitate learning are both stable (designed) and malleable (emergent). Again, look back at that playground (aren’t you glad you’re sitting outside?!). The equipment itself – take the monkeybars, for instance – is formally designed, with a particular purpose intended. Yet watching those kids on the monkeybars, you’ll quickly notice that all sorts of improvised play emerges that goes far beyond this design.

Attending to these (and other) dimensions of the learning architecture can help us understand how design features facilitate learning. For instance, in one line of my current research,  I’m examining how educators develop their capacities to meet students’ special needs. One way they do this is by working with coaches. Some aspects of coaching are participatory: the give and take of the teacher and coach working together. Other aspects are reified: captured in notes from the coach to the teacher. Some parts of the coaching process are designed, such as the plan to have the coach come to model a lesson. Other parts emerge, such as when the planned lesson doesn’t go as expected, and the coach has to improvise.

In short, paying attention to design provides a valuable lens for unpacking what is happening — whether one is outside at a playground or inside the schoolhouse doors looking at the teaching and learning inside.

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Martin Scanlan is assistant professor of educational policy and leadership in the College of Education at Marquette University.

I Broke up With My Boyfriend, Quit My Job, and Lost My Faith in the Deity

By Claudia Felske — “What’s new?” an innocent enough pleasantry, uttered by many-a-friend.

My response these days: “I broke up with my boyfriend, quit my job, and lost faith in the deity.”

So, let’s break it down, shall we?

1) I Broke up with my Boyfriend: Last spring, I was his. Seduced by his intelligence, his ability to anticipate my every need, his impeccable charm, his flawless packaging, iPad 2—3G 64 meg in black leather—and I became one. (full story here). I was so taken by him, that I found a way to get a cart of him and 29 of his bff’s into my classroom. Life with boyfriend in the classroom, though, proved less than ideal. At first, he could do everything, so we thought.We tried to introduce him to Dropbox, FilesAnywhere, Google Apps. Let’s just say he doesn’t play well with others.

And so, we broke up. He’s now moving to our elementary school, where we believe he will play better with our younglings. It’s sad, but it must be. So this week, we will say our final goodbyes and hope that each of us finds our technological soulmate somewhere down the road.

2) I officially quit my job two weeks ago. Okay, I’m being a bit melodramatic. (full story here). I’ve shifted to half-time teaching; half time technology integration. Actually, switched to my dream job, to be more precise.

So, two weeks into the new job: the low down?  After 18 years of Pavlovian behavior, NOT responding to a bell every 50 minutes telling me where I need to be is bizarre, but appreciated. I’m winding my brain around the possibilities, I’ve worked in classrooms: multimedia QR projects, Glogster Posters, and Digital Storytelling; I’ve been to a technology summit, planned trainings, dreamed with and tutored teachers. It’s exciting and uncertain and important work.

3) So, to review: a failed love life and uncertain work life. At least I have my faith, right? Strike three. Much has been uttered lately about our false faith in technology. Steve Jobs is not the Messiah, nor is Bill Gates, nor Mark Zuckerman. The list continues. We can’t continue to melt our golden earrings for technological innovations that sell our students short. The only way this thing will work is if we wed sound practices and clear objectives with tools that will enhance and streamline those practices, engaging students in their digital language, and preparing them for our 21st century global world.

We can’t continue to salivate over all things shiny and new, but we also can’t close our eyes to emerging technologies. We must exert self-control around the shiny, new things. We must give students their due attention. We must give technology its due research. We must give teachers their due respect.

No alchemy. No elixir. No golden calves.

No boyfriend can complete you, no job can define you, no technology in and of itself can save education.

Still, with all of this uncertainty, I feel like Marlo Thomas in That Girl or maybe Zooey Deschanel in New Girl. Amidst an educational system in flux and new Golden Calves by the day, I find myself metaphorically frolicking in the street, spinning in possibility, tossing my hat in the air, believing we’re on the cusp of figuring this out.

This is exciting.

Through the Back Door: Backchanneling

By Claudia Felske — I remember when I was a first-year teacher in awe of my mentor, an amazing veteran teacher who made it a point to speak to every one of her student each day – no small feat for a high school English teacher, juggling 100+ students, 5 classes, 4 different preps and loads of correcting. Yet, she did it.  That was 18 years ago.

Flash forward to 2011.  With 30-40 students in many classes, with many teachers having an extra class altogether, with laser focus on test scores in many districts, the goal of speaking to each student each day and hearing from each student each day seems to be a schoolgirl fantasy, literally.

Enter: technology. In my continuing iPad experiment (see past posts for the full dramatics) I tried my first stint with backchanneling last week. Backchanneling involves having students engage in a second layer of participation during class. While the teacher is talking, while a video is playing, while the class is discussing, students can also be posting comments, questions, and answers about the topic at hand via a computer, ipad, or cell phone.

It’s basically Facebook for the classroom. Comments are visible to students on their devices and visible on a screen in front of the room. Theoretically, the benefits are obvious: greater participation, increased engagement, a less-threatening way for shy students to converse, and an opportunity for students to speak in their native tongue: social media. The liabilities, however, are also obvious: how to control the conversation, how to keep comments appropriate, how to keep students focused on the topic at hand.

And so this week, I went beyond the theoretical in three of my classes with the following results:

In Junior English, my students had turned in generally dull first drafts of their college entrance essays. We’d stressed the importance of writing an essay that would rise to the top of the application pile, that would be unique and showcase its writer as an individual. The results were otherwise. So, as an antidote, I taught a mini-lesson on using figurative language in narrative writing. Then, I had them use backchanneling to write and post key metaphors they could incorporate into their essays. Next, students commented on each others’ metaphors, communicating what they thought the metaphors meant and suggesting ways to extend or intensify them.

The results were exciting. All students but one posted metaphors; then, 189 comments were made on those posts. This class averaged 7 comments per student, far more than would have ordinarily happened in traditional discussion mode with one student speaking at a time with the others passively listening. Fingers were clearly on keyboards, tapping away; students, reading and posting actively. What also happened is that EVERY student in class (sans one) received peer comments. Once I allowed the “backchannel” to become the primary focus, I started commenting too, picking up on lost details, nudging some writers to go deeper. Clearly both student engagement and constructive feedback were on the up and up. I’m anxious to see the full results on their revised essays.

In Freshman English, I used backchanneling to turn a whole-class discussion on a short story into a posting session. We started with students posting what they thought the story was about – what the author’s intent was. Answers appropriately and predictably varied as it was a difficult story. Next,  each student posted a line from the story that he/she didn’t understand. Then, students posted comments on each other’s lines, attempting to connect the ambiguous lines to the theme/point of the story. Again, all fingers were clicking and posts were flying onto the screen.  What was eerie was I didn’t know quite what to do. I started out commenting aloud on posts as they appeared, but it felt strange because kids were responding with their fingers, not their mouths.  I was talking to a a silently-clicking room of students. And so, I stopped talking and started typing too.

I had been transformed into a mere moderator, watching the conversation flow. I found this rather confusing: Shouldn’t I be talking? Shouldn’t they be talking?  I felt out of place, like an interloper in my own classroom. I wondered what my role was; I wondered what the right ratio of audible and clickable words was; I wondered if it was okay that I wasn’t speaking. Was I doing my job? Were they doing my job? What was my job? I ended the hour with plenty to ponder, but what I did know is that all students had participated, 6-12 times each: ten or more times more than they would have in a traditional whole-class discussion. Continue reading ‘Through the Back Door: Backchanneling’


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