A New Year for Educational Technology and Learning Science

I don’t often try to prognosticate, but with some time on my hand, it’s maybe a good time to look at the future of educational technology and learning. With over 40 years of experience in a variety of learning environments – from pre-school to post-graduate – as a classroom teacher, gifted coordinator, and technology coordinator I feel I’ve learned a few things I’d like to share. Along the way I’ve done my share of research as an adjunct faculty member at West Virginia University, the University of Pittsburgh, and Carnegie Mellon University. Here are some key ideas for 2017:

Redesigning Physical Spaces Impacts Learning

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Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

From my early days as a classroom teacher for grades 5 and 6 in Pickens, West Virginia I observed how adding tables and moving desks changed the dynamics of classroom instruction. Recently I had a chance to visit the Westmoreland Intermediate Unit (WIU) in Greensburg, PA. The WIU converted a computer lab into a Maker space. Computer desks were replaced by flexible furniture that was grouped into clusters. According to Tim Hamill, the Curriculum Services Director at the WIU, simply changing the furniture created greater interaction at curriculum meetings. Whereas people in the past sat at their desk and seldom volunteered to talk, now there was a different dynamic – people were sharing their ideas in small groups and then providing the small group sentiments to the larger group.

Elizabeth Forward was the  first school district I visited to really embrace the transformation of a library into a digital media space. The library had limited use by students. With the transformed space that included a sound studio, TV studio, and cafe for students to hang out, the digital media space soon became the place for students to study and collaborate. Other schools soon followed in their attempt to make learning more social and informal. Instead of a room filled with tables and desks, schools,  like the Environmental Charter School,  added couches for students to work collaboratively.

Three summers ago I went to the national Flipped Classroom Conference outside of Minneapolis / St. Paul. As I walked around the pre-conference workshops taking photos I realized there was a totally different learning experience happening in the rooms where people sat in rows versus classrooms with clusters of desks or tables. I pointed this out to Aaron Sams, the co-founder for the event. He decided to do his own walking tour and discovered the same pattern.

Providing Feedback Enhances Learning

For years research has shown that one-on-one tutoring is the most effective form of teaching. The English have known this forever and it’s the key to institutions like Oxford or Cambridge. In recent years we’ve turned to computers to make this happen. It doesn’t require technology, but when you have a classroom of 25 or 30 students you need something to help this happen. In my early days of teaching in West Virginia I used peers to make this happen. In the 1970s we didn’t have the technology, but I had students who could work with their peers to address issues while I worked with larger groups of students. At Carnegie Mellon University (CMU)  I had the opportunity to discover the work done by the Cognitive Tutor team that became Carnegie Learning and then the Open Learning Initiative. The Rand Corporation did a major study of the Carnegie Learning system’s math tools and they agreed. Computer based feedback did make a difference. Why? Carnegie Learning, like a good teacher, provided frequent feedback. Students knew when they were successful or they were given suggestions to improve incorrect steps. If the student continued to have a problem, the software found a path where the student had previous success. The role of teacher changes, but does not disappear. The software makes the feedback loop quicker and provides data for the teacher to then make decisions about the student learning.

At CMU I discovered a tool, Classroom Salon, developed by Ananda Gunawardena from the Computer Science department and David Kaufer from the English department. The CMU team discovered the power of social learning using data analytics. Classroom Salon allowed instructors to flip the learning. I could have students read articles, view videos, or interpret graphs ahead of class. I could use the information as feedback about what students already understood or needed to learn.

Personalized Learning Creates Deeper and More Engaged Experiences

From my early days of teaching I quickly discovered that when you provide choices to students, you change the learning dynamic. When I first started teaching we called it “Individualized Instruction.” As a teacher I made the choices for students. During my tenure at the Fox Chapel Area School District (FCASD) as the Coordinator of Education Technology we focused on Differentiated Instruction. Again it was about the teacher determining the best groupings and opportunities for students. In both cases I knew there were some positive gains, but something was missing: student agency. While teaching at CMU I had a chance to teach a course where I focused on Personalized Learning using Technology. I came across the work of Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey. They honed in on the differences between what I had seen and where personalized learning really could go when you let the learner make their own choices.

Today the Summit Public Schools with a little help from their friends at Facebook have created software to move in this direction. Was it possible to differentiate without software? Yes, but the number of hours and amount of energy necessary is overwhelming. At FCASD I worked with a team of educators who were part of a project called ALEM (Adaptive Learning Model) from Temple University. The program had many merits, but it was not scalable. Today with technology we have the possibility to make learning truly personalized, but we have to start with the understanding that the learner must be in control of many of the choices. For younger children teachers, parents, and other supports will be part of the process. Even at the college level there are needs for supports. However, if the learner doesn’t truly have responsibility for their learning, the learning is not intrinsic. Again we have years of research to indicate the value of intrinsic learning.

Becoming a Creative Producer Should be the Goal

robotzoo

Photos by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

While working West Virginia I came across the work of Seymour Papert. I become a Logo convert. I believed every child could construct their own knowledge and use the computer as part of the process. Today we call this computational thinking. I’ve been fortunate to see how the South Fayette School District has used Computational Thinking to empower student learning.

Today we are moving towards Design Challenges where teams of student consultants solve real world problems. Each team takes on a role based on the challenge. The student consultants work collaboratively to creatively produce a product that solves a real-world problem. I’ve worked the past year with the Energy Innovation Center and Parkway West Career and Technology Center to coordinate a series of Design Challenges. I have observed students at work at Hummingbird Makeathons, where older students are challenged to create robotic pets to interact with younger children. I’ve seen the value for all types of students. I’ve always believed that what I did as a Gifted Coordinator was applicable for all students. Build on student successes and interests! Let every student become a creative producer.

 

 

Hacking the government to try to solve the world’s problems

[In this LA Times article students from Stanford try to combine technology and Human-Centered Design. The students are enrolled in courses that require them to “hack” national problems from the Defense or State Departments. I work with teams of high school students around real world problems that are part of the Energy Innovation Center or the Parkway West Career and Technology Center in Pittsburgh. Students are creative thinkers, but often their first ideas do not work or do not fit the situation. It’s vital to use a human-centered design approach to test an idea against an end-user’s needs.]

Steven Weinstein, center, an instructor of a class called Hacking 4 Diplomacy at Stanford University, helps students from a variety of fields come up with strategies to solve real-world problems. (David Butow / For The Times)

Steven Weinstein, center, an instructor of a class called Hacking 4 Diplomacy at Stanford University, helps students from a variety of fields come up with strategies to solve real-world problems. (David Butow / For The Times)

By Tracey Lien, December 9, 2016

They’re some of the brightest students in the country — a group of wunderkinds known for hacking their way through any problem thrown at them. So what could possibly stump a Stanford University student?

Government bureaucracy, it seems.

In a lecture hall nestled in Stanford’s Environment and Energy building, dozens of engineering, science and arts students were put through the bureaucratic wringer this year when they took Hacking 4 Defense and Hacking 4 Diplomacy.

The courses — taken for credit and taught by Stanford instructors — let teams of students choose from a list of real problems plaguing the government, paired them with sponsors from the Defense or State departments, and tasked them with not just finding a solution, but coming up with a viable product that the government would actually use.

“It was really humbling,” said Katie Joseff, 21, a human biology major who took Hacking 4 Diplomacy this fall. “My team had to make lots of pivots because over and over again our assumptions just weren’t correct. We had to first break through the bubble of Stanford, then Silicon Valley, then California, then the U.S.”

The problems included  finding ways to track objects in orbit to prevent space collisions, developing tools to assess the effectiveness of peacekeeping forces, and in Joseff’s case, designing a platform for a coordinated response to the Syrian refugee crisis.

Like many students, Joseff went in thinking there would be an easy technological fix: Perhaps an app that would enable nongovernmental organizations to communicate with refugees, or a platform on which NGOs could share information with each other, or another app through which refugees could send feedback to NGOs.

But after interviewing more than 100 people in the sector, she realized that apps aren’t the answer to everything. In fact, some 200 apps had already been developed to help with the refugee crisis, and only two of them were in use.

With each interview, Joseff’s team learned that many NGOs already had ways of reaching refugees — they didn’t need another app. They also learned that NGOs are reluctant to share information on a platform because so much of their data is sensitive. And if refugees had a way of sending NGOs feedback, who exactly would that information go to? Was there even enough personnel to handle the information?

“People are obsessed with hacks and hackathons, and they think they can solve these issues with technology,” Joseff said. “But we learned that the human element is still needed.”

The classes come at a time when Washington is trying to forge deeper connections with Silicon Valley, with the hope that the region’s tech-savvy and innovative streak will rub off on government agencies.

The Department of Defense opened its Defense Innovation Unit in Mountain View — Google’s stomping ground — last August. The State Department created the role of ambassador to Silicon Valley this year and appointed the director of its Strategy Lab, Zvika Krieger, to the post (Krieger teaches Hacking 4 Diplomacy alongside Stanford professors). The Department of Homeland Security last week held a meeting with local tech start-ups to offer funding to companies developing technologies that the department can use. And earlier this year the Obama administration invited representatives from Silicon Valley’s top firms to Washington to brainstorm ways to fight the militant group Islamic State online.

“So much of what we’re doing is at the intersection of policy and technology,” said Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken, who visited the Hacking 4 Diplomacy class in November. “At the same time, many of us don’t have the background and expertise when it comes to tech. We need technologists and innovators in the room just to tell us whether we need technologists and innovators in the room.”

Stanford University has a reputation for being a breeding ground for technological innovators, counting among its alumni founders and executives of Google, Yahoo, PayPal, Netflix, LinkedIn and Instagram. Long synonymous with Silicon Valley, the university is often the first stop for tech firms looking for engineering talent — and the place where hot companies such as Snapchat got their start.

Class instructors admit there was some trepidation over how Hacking 4 Defense and Hacking 4 Diplomacy might be received by students, given the school’s history as a hub for private-sector tech, and the general distrust between Silicon Valley and the federal government. Leaks by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden and the high-stakes encryption fight between the FBI and Apple have heightened longstanding tensions between two vastly different cultures, which both believe they know what’s better for the world.

But they were surprised to learn that, far from being cynical, students were drawn to the opportunity to solve some of the toughest problems facing the country and the world.

Over 10 weeks, students in each class wrapped their heads around the bureaucratic workings of the Defense or State departments, interviewed at least 10 stakeholders a week, and learned the Lean LaunchPad method — an approach to start-ups and entrepreneurship that helps company founders identify markets for their products. For many, it was the first time they’d used the skills learned in school to tackle real-world problems. And nearly all butted up against challenges that technology alone couldn’t fix, and were forced to throw out their ideas again and again.

Read more…

Middleschoolers design and build STEM carts for younger students

[Read about a wonderful example of student innovation at Hampton Middle School, near Pittsburgh. I work with Ed McCaveney, the Technology Director, at Hampton, on several projects in the region and nationally. Hampton received recognition from Edutopia last year, and with projects like this, more national attention should be on the way. I, personally, work on Design Challenges sponsored by the Energy Innovation Center in Pittsburgh with teams of high school students from the Parkway West Consortia. On November 8, I’ll present with teachers and students some of our findings at the Three Rivers Educational Technology Conference.]

BY DEBORAH DEASY, THE PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
October 28th, 2016

School cart competition put creativity to the test. Now, grant funding will get them built

cartimage2-300x300Team by team, 50 Hampton seventh-graders recently pitched their competing blueprints for a rolling cupboard of educational aids.

Their assignment: Design a cart to carry today’s tools for STEM learning — the teaching of science, technology, engineering and math — in Hampton Township’s three elementary schools.

“We are Spark Engineering — lighting your world on fire one idea at a time,” Mia Conte, 13, told the 15 judges who ultimately chose her team’s cart design for production.

Later this year, Hampton High School students will manufacture three of Spark Engineering’s mobile carts — dubbed Tech Eddies — for use in Wyland, Poff and Central elementary schools.

As part of their product development, Mia’s classmates computed each Tech Eddie’s production cost: $235.

To boost their cart’s child appeal, Mia’s teammates proposed to coat each Tech Eddie with chalkboard paint.

The carts are being designed and manufactured by Hampton Middle and High School students for use in the elementary schools as part of a $20,000 grant coordinated by the Allegheny Intermediate Unit Center for Creativity, school officials said. Funding came from Chevron, the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation and the Grable Foundation.

Glenn Geary, technology education teacher at Hampton Middle School, supervised the seventh-graders’ weeks of data gathering, measurement taking, cost estimating and cart designing that preceded each team’s 15-minute presentation to judges Oct. 13 at the middle school.

“Please don’t be nervous,” Marlynn Lux, acting principal of Hampton Middle School, urged the presenters.

“We’re excited to hear you” said Lux, one of 15 Hampton administrators, teachers and business people who judged the proposed cart designs and oral presentations.

Read more…