Final Reflection

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It is hard to believe that another summer session has come and gone so quickly. This was a course that I was really excited to take as I frequently teach online and am always looking for ways to use technology to get students out of the LMS and engaged in real, honest history content. I was certainly not disappointed this summer as we explored a variety of ways to integrate technology into our content and lessons. Everything I developed this semester is something that I can use in my classes this fall – that’s a win!

For this reflection, we were asked to write about the following topics:

  • What have you learned?
  • How have you grown professionally?
  • How your own teaching practice or thoughts about teaching have been impacted by what you have learned or accomplished in this course?
  • How theory guided development of the projects and assignments you created?.

This summer I learned so many things. First and foremost, I realized that I have a lot to learn about technology integration. I wish I could take the class again to absorb even more information! This semester was one of those moments where I realized the absolute depth of information out there on technology integration (in general) and at times it felt overwhelming. In this age of overwhelming information, each teacher has to make decisions on what to use and focus on as it applies to their students and content. Technology integration should be purposeful, focused, and driven by their content\students rather than the tool. Otherwise, initiatives will largely be ineffective or unsuccessful.

Professionally, I have truly grown in terms of thinking about how I use technology with students. This summer I realized that I need to spend more time aligning my technology choices with intended outcomes. My grandmother has always loved to say “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” In the instance of technology integration, an ounce of planning is truly worth a pound of achievement. Now that I am formally moving into a full-time teaching position at one of our community colleges, I intend to do this technology integration planning weekly.

In terms of theory, I have spent the past few years struggling with the balance of constructivism and objectivism. My instruction is firmly constructivist – it’s student-centered with lots of opportunity for exploration. However, I have worried throughout my career that while my students learn to think independently perhaps they are not getting a strong enough foundation in history. I especially worry about this in my online courses. This semester has given me the chance to explore those themes in greater depth. Rather than being either-or, I now believe that instruction should be a good balance between constructivist and objectivist approaches depending upon need. There are a few tools that allow the teacher lots of flexibility in terms of approach. One of my favorite finds this summer was Versal which allows you to create a number of activities and compile online resources to create a fully integrated online lesson or unit. I plan to create and embed several Versal units into my Blackboard classes this fall in order to achieve a stronger objectivist-constructivist balance for students.

Blog Self-Reflection

I generally love blogging and reflecting on my work, especially in the summer. However, I just could not get into my course blog this semester as I did with some of the projects and activities we did in class. The causes of my blogging apathy elude me. It could be that I am taking 3 classes and teaching 3 classes at once (I’m exhausted) or perhaps it was that there didn’t seem to be much history technology integration scholarship out there. That being said, I did find something to talk about in each blog which I believe had some relevance in terms of history technology integration. Below are my thoughts on each of the rubric segments for course blog.

Content (65/70) – I think this was my strongest area of performance in terms of the blog entries. Each week, I tried to really connect the thoughts I had in the activities with research (or lack thereof) or the course materials. Most of my posts were genuinely personal reflecting issues I’ve had or observed in my career in education. It is the personal reflections that were possibly the most helpful to me in the blogging process.

Reading & Resources (20/20) – Unless my blog post was purely a professional reflection, I always posted references. This is something that I have gotten into a habit of after two years of doctoral courses. I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t find more history focused resources on technology integration that were current. However, knowing that this is a significant gap in the literature gives me some guidance in terms of future scholarship.

Timeliness ( 15/20) – Despite my best intentions, I almost never posted before the due date. I needed the week to really process everything going on in the course (theories, materials, activities, etc.) which often meant writing my blog at the end of the week.

Responses to Other Students (25/30 points) – I think there was only one instance where I didn’t get to add responses to other’s blogs. Otherwise, I tried to be diligent about reading numerous blogs and made comments when I felt like I had something relevant or helpful to add to the conversation.

Overall, I think my blog performance was largely proficient this semester. Had I been able to find more rich resources that applied to history and if I had been more timely, I think my performance may have shifted more towards outstanding.

 

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Overcoming Barriers to Technology Integration

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Do you see this picture – you know, the one with the vast black background and two tiny specks of light? Do you know what it represents? It’s the black hole of social studies related technology integration advice when you Google the term “barriers to tech integration in the social studies classroom”

I have addressed this issue briefly in the past. There are simply not many social studies specific resources and ideas online – especially not in comparison to other content areas such as math, science, or English. While we are rich in primary sources and other history-related documents, there is a distinct lack of discussion surrounding integration ideas. When there are research articles or resources out there, they are generally dated and things have likely changed since the time of their publication. Now, I am not saying that technology integration is not happening in history classrooms – au contraire. Rather, I am saying that we, as history, teachers, are not doing a good enough job sharing our successes and failures online.

When it comes to generating ideas for my classroom, I like to search the web to see what other educators are doing. That becomes difficult to do when no one is sharing out there. There is a strong social studies community on Twitter and I wonder why that dialogue is not trickling down into blogs, research articles, and shared\open lesson plans. As such, I think the first barrier to technology integration in history is the lack of resources and sharing in online communities. What should we do? Blog and share more of what we, as teachers, do in our classes regardless of success and failure.

The other struggle I see with technology integration in the social studies classroom is the lack of quality, content-specific resources and tools. This is also something I have blogged about in the past. There are a few amazing resources out there including Mission US and Docs Teach. The Smithsonian Museum also has numerous online exhibits that bring the documents and artifacts that define history to life for students. However, given the lack of national interest in history education, there will never be as many resources generated for us as there are for the STEM subjects.

As I see it, history teachers have two choices. First, we can continue to adapt generic resources (such as Padlet, Google Docs, or Prezi to name a few) to meet our needs as many of us have for some time. The other option is for history teachers to begin to generate online content, activities, games, and resources that utilize technology and share it with the online community. That being said, the content should drive our technology choices, so sharing those lesson plans and integration ideas long with the resources is a powerful practice as well.

If history teachers can commit to freely sharing their practices, resources and stay open to creating technology content that is related to social studies, I believe that black hole of information on Google will eventually be a thing of the past.

The Advantages: Integrating Technology into History

Teaching history today is far more complicated than it used to be even a few decades ago. The rapid availability of information and multimedia can make even the best traditional lecture look like a modern-day archaeology exhibit. Though the essence of history and its studies has not changed, the process by which information is gathered, learned, and shared has evolved.

The use of technology in the history classroom provides a number of unique opportunities for students not afforded by previous generations due to financial and geographic constraints. A student who has never ventured beyond their city limits can visit the ancient pyramids of Egypt or the Great Wall of China with a few clicks of a button. These opportunities have the potential to create a new, digital world in which history can emerge for students. Below is a brief listing of the relative advantages of integrating technology into history instruction.

  1. Engaging: Who doesn’t find playing an American Revolution game far more interesting than listening to a lecture? Integrating relevant technology into history lessons can ensure that students remain interested in the material. These experiences may also serve to maintain student attention later when the content is not as interesting.
  2. Personal Perspectives: Technology provides the opportunity to access exhaustive collections of primary source documents which give students insight into a very personal aspect of the content studied in textbooks and other course materials. Frequently secondary source accounts glaze over the intricacies of events and time periods, tending to favor a summarized approach to the content. Online repositories such as the Library of Congress and National Archives open the door to new perspectives in historical studies.
  3. Practice Digital Skills: Any time students can work with technology or online, they have an opportunity to practice their digital skills as well as appropriate digital citizenship. By utilizing popular Web 2.0 tools (such as Twitter, WordPress, or Google Drive) students can practice digital skills just as professionals do in their daily jobs today. The classroom provides a safe environment by which to engage in this practice and learn new methods students may not have normally explored on their own.

Ultimately, integrating technology into history courses makes the content come alive. Students can explore the people, places, and events in new ways as they see fit making their learning experiences much more customized and personal.

References

Roblyer, M. D. (2016). Integrating educational technology into teaching (7th ed.). New York, NY: Pearson Education, Inc.

Acceptable Use Policies

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In today’s world, there are few environments that are unexplored, wild, and free. When I think of the Internet and Web 2.0, it reminds me of the famed Wild West of the 1800s. Potential fortune and dangers lurked just beyond the horizon of the settled eastern United States for anyone brave enough to venture westward. Though we have already settled from coast to coast, Americans are always looking for new horizons to explore and expand into. The Internet today is no exception to these opportunities. Though virtual, the general theme is similar. 

In the West, there were tales of lawlessness and of brave, unconventional law enforcement agents willing to give their lives to counter such chaos. Though there are no outlaws or bandits to worry about online, the virtual world still harbors dangers that teachers and institutions must help students learn to avoid.  Acceptable use policies are a good step in that direction. 

AUPs stand to protect both users and institutions online (Roblyer, 2016). These policies are devised to communicate policies for use of institutional devices and services. They apply to employees and students alike though there may be separate policies for each group. The Consortium for School Networking (2013) states that AUPs exist for two reasons: to protect students online by managing approved behaviors and to provide quality access to online resources and media. Designing the AUP to do both is possible but can be challenging and may require revisions and updates over time. 

Sample AUPs

Because I work at a community college in Texas, I sought out several examples from similar institutions within the state. Other examples are from larger institutions within the United States. Also included are some recommended\sample AUPs from the National Center for Education Statistics.

References

Consortium for School Networking. (2013). Rethinking acceptable use policies to enable digital learning: A guide for school districts. Retrieved from: http://www.cosn.org/sites/default/files/pdf/Revised%20AUP%20March%202013_final.pdf

Roblyer, M. D. (2016). Integrating educational technology into teaching (7th ed.). New York, NY: Pearson Education, Inc.

 

Relative Advantage of the Basic Suite for Learning

Blogging about tools I have used for almost two decades was a true challenge. It was not until I had done some research and completed this week’s activities that I could truly reflect upon the power of the basic suite tools. Here are a few of those thoughts. 

Most of us familiar with technology have used the basic suite of software tools (word processor, spreadsheets, and presentations) so frequently that they have blended into the day to day routine of work and personal life. As an instructional coach and adjunct instructor, I find that I use Microsoft Word and PowerPoint (or Google Docs) on a daily basis to created assignments and instructional resources. Helping students learn to use these tools in a professional manner is a great strategy to teach them organization and productivity skills.

1. Everyone can create professional products

Regardless of ability level, with a small bit of knowledge of basic software tools, anyone can create professional-quality documents and resources (Roblyer, 2016). With such a strong push towards 21st-century skills arms authentic assignments, basic suite tools provide the foundation for such work to occur in a classroom. Students can quickly pull together flash cards in Microsoft PowerPoint or collaboratively create a document based question outline in a Google Doc with a group of students. The possibilities are endless.


2.  As an improvement to existing in-class activities

Discussion is a critical component of the social studies classroom. History content is, by its nature, filled with controversial topics best explored through class discussion and debate. As Roberts (2013) notes, face to face discussion on challenging issue proves problematic for even the most adept teacher.  Students may prefer to have time to reflect on comments made by peers or on the material itself. Others may not feel comfortable expressing their opinion in a large class of students.

The high level of collaboration potential on basic tools, such as Google Docs, provides solutions for teachers struggling to implement discussions in the social studies classroom. Roberts (2013) documents a case study where a face to face strategy called Chalk Talk was transformed into a digital one using Google Docs. Chalk Talk traditionally occurs on a whiteboard or chalkboard. The teacher writes a challenge question or controversial topic in the center of the board. Students take turns silently responding to the prompt. This strategy is effective but poses a few challenges in terms of logistics. Depending upon the amount of writing tools and board space, a limited amount of students can participate at one given time. Shy students are notoriously difficult to motivate in this type of activity. By using a Google Document as the Chalk Talk medium, students can simultaneously post and reflect upon comments at a pace that suits each individual. While new logistical issues arise with this solution (such as students deleting other’s comments), document organization or division into smaller groups may help improve the experience.

References

Roberts, S. L. (2013). The “chalk talk” 2.0: Using Google Docs to improve silent discussion in social studies. The Social Studies, 104(3), 130-136. doi: 10.1080/00377996.2012.703972

Roblyer, M. D. (2016). Integrating educational technology into teaching (7th ed.). New York, NY: Pearson Education, Inc.

Relative Advantage of Instructional Software in Social Studies

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This week in our Technology Integration course, instructional software has been the topic of focus. According to Roblyer (2016), instructional software differs from tool software (i.e. Microsoft Word or PowerPoint) in that instructional software exists solely for the purposes of instruction and learning. Instructional software can fulfill both objectivist and constructivist purposes depending upon the content being taught and the software utilized.

Roblyer (2016) identifies five types of instruction software important in education including drill and practice, tutorials, simulations, instructional games, and problem solving software. Below is a brief discussion of each software type along with a description of its relevance to social studies. Example software applications for social studies are also provided at the end of each section.

Drill & Practice Software

Used to help users practice content knowledge, drill and practice software allows students exposure to concepts with quick, individualized feedback on their progress. Common drill and practice software applications include flash cards and fill in the blank charts or sheets. More advanced versions of this type of software may include branching drills (students take different pathways based on responses) and extensive feedback applications (beyond “good job” or “try again”).

Good drill and practice applications should provide students with the ability to control the pace of the content. Students who are struggling with the concepts being practiced may need extra time to review feedback provided by the software whereas those who have almost reached mastery may be able to progress at a faster pace.

Mastering facts, vocabulary, names of historical figures, and sequencing of events and dates are all critical foundational pieces students need before moving to higher order thinking skills within the content. A student cannot have a deep grasp of the causes of the American Revolution without a fundamental understanding of the colonial story that precedes it. As such, drill and practice tools fulfill an important need in social studies classrooms.

Social Studies Drill and Practice Applications:

 

Tutorials

Tutorials are applications that are similar to direct instruction in the classroom. A good tutorial should consist of an explanation phase, practice opportunities and feedback related to those activities. Roblyer (2016) identifies two main types of tutorials – linear and branching – based on the sequence they follow. A linear tutorial provides the same content for all learners regardless of their mastery level. Alternatively, branching tutorials differentiate the experience based on a student’s performance on questions or activities. If a higher level of mastery is observed, the viewer may be directed to a more complex path in the tutorial sequence.

A good tutorial should include interactivity or responsiveness in design, especially in terms of practice opportunities and associated feedback. The student should be able to control the pace of the tutorial to meet their personal needs, as with the drill and practice software. The tutorial should be sequenced in a manner that facilitates learning (i.e. concepts build over time throughout the tutorial). Roblyer (2016) also notes that purposeful graphics and video are crucial – too much can be a distraction, especially to younger learners. Teachers may benefit from record keeping capabilities within the software as well.  Finally, a good tutorial provides relatively flexible feedback. A student first learning the content should be able to provide an answer, which if correct, is recognized as such. Rigid rejection of correct answers due to spelling, capitalization, or wording is not a beneficial element in tutorial software.

The benefits for tutorial software are similar to those of drill and practice applications. Students benefit from the immediate, individual feedback possible through tutorial software. These applications also save on time for both students and teachers. Since tutorials can act as a chunk of instruction on its own, they can prove especially helpful in cases of absence (teacher or student), reteach, and the flipped classroom model.

Tutorials with some form of assessment or drill and practice feature are difficult to find in social studies. There are numerous videos available for history content but they lack the interactivity required. Consequently, this resource section is a bit small. There is certainly room for growth in social studies with respect to this instructional software.

Social Studies Tutorial Applications:

 

Simulations

Simulations, often confused with games, are applications which give students the opportunity to visualize or manipulate complex content being explored in class. Often, these applications have a focus on systems. Roblyer (2016) identifies two major categories of simulations: those which teach about something and those which teach students how to do something.

The simulations which fall into the about something category include physical and iterative simulations. Physical simulations allow students to manipulate something, such as an electrical circuit. Iterative simulations allow students to observe and analyze a process or concept through manipulation (speed up or slow down a process). This might include a simulation on a concept as complex as genetics.

How to simulations include procedural and situational simulations. Flight simulators are a great example of procedural simulations, which are designed to teach the sequence of steps to carry out an objective. A stock market simulation exemplifies a situational simulation, which is used to create a problem-solution scenario where students must make choices based on their knowledge.

The perk of simulations, according to Roblyer (2016), is that they “make the impossible possible,” a concept especially important in social studies classrooms (p. 90). Any simulation which allows students to travel in time virtually to experience the Age of Exploration or Feudal Europe during the Middle Ages is a powerful teaching tool.

Social Studies Simulation Applications:

Frequently, social studies simulations and instructional games are treated synonymously. These simulation resources ask students to behave or play as a person in history or as a civics professional.

Instructional Games

Instructional games, one of the more recognizable software applications in this post, take content and situate it with gamified elements including rules, credentialing, and competition. Good instructional games should include visual elements and activities which students would find appealing and, consequently, motivating. The content featured in a game should have value in terms of instruction. Additionally, a good instructional game considers student’s physical and cultural needs so as to include as many as is possible.

Instructional games can be used to replace worksheets or practice activities in the classroom. They are also quite valuable as rewards given that they are not used too frequently. Instructional games are especially helpful in teaching additional personal skills such as empathy or perseverance – a need especially important in social studies classrooms.

As with simulations, instructional games help to place students in situations in order to experience history content in a personal way. Games have the capacity to take boring information from the textbook and make it come alive through adventurous stories, lively characters, and student-centered decision making. There are not a tremendous amount of quality social studies games online. That being said, those that do exist are spectacular. Below is a short listing of some high-quality social studies instructional games.

Social Studies Instructional Game Applications:

 

Problem Solving Software

Lastly,  problem solving software helps students to learn and practice higher order thinking skills. Roblyer (2016) identifies two types of problem solving applications – either content-based or standalone (without a content foundation). Content-based problem solving applications teach these skills through the lens of the content being studied. Alternatively, standalone problem solving applications teach students the process of how to solve problems by modeling the sequence of procedures. It is hoped that by knowing this sequence, students can apply the process to any content or life situation.

The elements required in a good problem solving application include providing students with interesting challenges. The contents of the software should have a clearly delineated connection to specific skills. Problem solving software allows students to visualize the process of higher order thinking skills and provides the interest and motivation needed to solve complex problems. As mentioned previously, good problem solving software models complex thinking for students through the activities provided.

Social Studies Problem Solving Software:

 

References

Roblyer, M. D. (2016). Integrating educational technology into teaching (7th ed.). New York, NY: Pearson Education, Inc.

Vision & Mission Statement

Technology often garners a reputation for societal reform among a variety of experts including historians, reformers, politicians, and other specialists. Many believe that a new device has the deterministic power to change the world as we know it. After all, history classes continue to learn that Eli Whitney’s cotton gin essentially led to the Civil War. Educational technology is undoubtedly a critical component in today’s academic world but it must be implemented in classrooms on an educator’s own terms.

In Defense of Choice for Educational Technology

As technology continues to evolve and change at an increasingly rapid pace, the pressure to implement it into classrooms surges (Friedman & Friedman, 2013). Regardless of funding issues or background knowledge, reformers, politicians, and other stakeholders criticize schools for not using technology.  Proponents of educational reform often cite rapid changes in the business world as a major factor for the preparation of students for the workforce. When these rapid changes are not matched in the classroom, schools and teachers are branded as failures (Selwyn, 2011; Sheninger, 2014).

This pressure to emulate the business world or other societal domains places unwarranted pressure on schools to implement technology in ways that do not benefit the unique needs and challenges of their students and communities. Educators and leaders of schools struggle with methods of technology integration into established systems of curriculum and procedures.

It is within this maelstrom of policy and opinion that educators must learn to navigate a new age of education in a way that best fits their students, schools, and community. Educational technology is undoubtedly a right for students and a needed element in all schools. However, what that implementation should look like must be catered to the needs of students. What works for Wall Street or even the campus down the street may not work for another school. Educational technology should have a presence in every school. That presence, however, should not be dictated. Educators and school leaders must have the space and time to find innovative ways to implement technology in a manner that solves local problems and best fits their unique situation.

When unique solutions can be found, student learning moves to new levels resulting in experiences that were not possible previously. Students well-versed in the world of technology can use it to interview experts, create professional products, and communicate with an audience beyond their immediate geographic region. Take for example John Boyer’s World Regions class at the University of Virginia. Through the power of Twitter, his entire class made enough requests to get to interview Noble Peace Prize winner and Burmese human rights activist Aung San Suu Kyi (under house arrest at the time) via Skype (Boyer, 2011; Marshall, 2011). When harnessed in fitting ways, technology can transform students and teachers alike. When forced, technology results in failures, frustration, and eventual abandonment.

What issues can educational technology address in my area?

My geographical area is somewhat desolate. Despite living in a city of a moderately-sized population (approximately 200,000 people if you include our sister city 30 minutes away), many of our students have never left the region. When it comes to teaching social studies, lack of exposure to other cultures and places can prove detrimental. Educational technology has the power to open student’s minds to these experiences without physically leaving West Texas. Ultimately, this exposure would facilitate student growth in the social studies content.

Another major issue in our area relates to pedagogical practice. Many of the teachers in my region have not yet begun to shift away from daily lecture-based, whole class instruction. Our state standards and assessments have increased in depth and rigor in an attempt to test student’s ability to apply history knowledge and skills. The lack of student-centered instruction has left our students unable to apply their history knowledge and skills at a high level – both in assessment and higher education situations. Educational technology has the capacity to increase student engagement by giving teachers new opportunities to shift their mode of instruction towards more personalized, student-centered activities.

As such, my overarching goal for educational technology implementation in social studies is to increase student-centered learning opportunities, expand student horizons (knowledge, exposure to other cultures), and provide digital opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge through assignments that promote the application of history content and skills. Building professional skills and digital citizenship characteristics will also exist as benefits of technology implementation in our courses.

What learning theories that drive educational technology?

The same learning theories that drive education today also support education technology. Directed instruction (based on objectivism) and Inquiry-based instruction (based on constructivism) support the different viewpoints on technology integration (Roblyer, 2016). Directed technology integration models are rooted in behaviorist, information-processing, cognitive-behaviorist, systems approaches, and objectivist learning theories. Alternatively, constructivist technology integration models are rooted in social activism, social cognitive, scaffolding, child development, discovery learning, multiple intelligences, and constructivist theories (Roblyer, 2016).

Roblyer (2016) support a needs-based approach to choosing a learning theory when considering technology integration.  Depending upon the instructional situation and a student’s needs, an objectivist or constructivist approach may work best for a learning environment on any given day. If a student struggles to recall the sequence of battles in the Revolutionary War, an objectivist approach with digital flash cards may best suit the student. If students are exploring the concept of war and what causes it throughout all of American History, a constructivist approach where students collect sources and build an eBook or web page may be best.

References

Boyer, J. (2012). Aung San Suu Kyi interview with Prof. Boyer’s World Regions class at Virginia Tech [Video file]. Retrieved from https://vimeo.com/33219064

Friedman, L., & Friedman, H. (2013). Using social media to enhance online learning. Journal of Educators Online, 10(1), 1-22. Retrieved from http://www.editlib.org/p/114389/

Marshall, J. (2011). A memorable Skype call between Aung San Suu Kyi and Virginia Tech students. Retrieved from http://blogs.skype.com/2011/12/16/a-memorable-skype-call-between/

Roblyer, M. D. (2016). Integrating educational technology into teaching (7th ed.). New York, NY: Pearson Education, Inc.

Selwyn, N. (2011). Education and technology: Key issues and debates. New York, NY: Continuum International Publishing Group.

Sheninger, E. (2014). Digital leadership. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Smith, M. R. (1994). Technological determinism in American culture. In M. R. Smith & L. Marx (Eds.), Does technology drive history? The dilemma of technological determinism (pp.1-35). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.