Just a blurb from what I am currently working on since I haven’t posted recently:
Collaboration: What could it look like in the K-12 classroom?
Collaboration is a hot word these days in the education field. It is listed as one of the 4 C’s of the 21st Century Skills: collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity. According to the Report, collaboration is “defined by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation as the mastery of content that engages students in critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, and self-directed learning” (2017) which is a major focus in education right now. In professional development for K-12, collaboration is integrated into at least half of the training sessions, if not more. The problem is that collaboration is never really defined in a practical way for the classroom or taught how to actually do collaboration outside of using a tool like Google Docs. In The Horizon Report for Higher Education, collaboration is a listed as one of the “short-term trends” for 2017, meaning that collaboration is helping to “drive technology adoption now but will likely remain important for only one to two years either becoming commonplace or fading away in that time.” The Report goes on to link collaboration to deeper learning claiming that this kind of deeper learning is necessary for “student motivation” and ultimately to understand the “connection between their coursework and the real world” (2017). Surely if collaboration is part of deeper learning then it cannot be a short-term trend that will just fade away. Rather, collaboration is more likely to become commonplace and therefore less likely to draw research. So why is this important to K-12 teachers? The theoretical meaning of collaboration is at best limited and the practical application of it vague. If collaboration is a foundational element of deeper learning, and it is a current trend driving technology adoption, then it is necessary for both teachers currently in the classroom as well as administrators making technology adoption decisions that collaboration be more concretely defined and measureable research be done so that the power of collaboration can be harnessed more effectively.
Over the last two decades, collaboration generally has come to mean creating knowledge together, but that manifests in different ways. One way to do that is to assign more group projects in the classroom where the final product is on where everyone contributes to the final effort. Another is to have some version of an open forum where students work to create a body of knowledge together, where they become an expert and contribute to the end product as an expert like a wiki page or a blog. The goal of both versions of collaboration is to create knowledge together rather than alone. According to Lev Vygotsky’s “zone of proximal development” theory and his idea that we are smarter together than we are alone, just working together seems to fulfill his requirement for collaboration. However, collaboration is much more complicated than that since Vygotsky’s theory doesn’t account for the social dynamics of collaboration when the social dynamics fail. Vygotsky’s theory only describes learning as social under the assumption that all parties are motivated and engaged. In real classrooms, that is not always the case. It is not hard to imagine a classroom where half of the students are trying to Snap Chat on their phone or watch YouTube videos instead of learn something new. Therefore, a more concrete understanding of the dynamics of collaboration is needed in order to engage them. So, one possible definition of collaboration could be interdependent learning. Interdependent learning happens when all students in the group are needed in order to produce the final product or complete the tasks. But, how do we design lessons and projects to do that? Designing with collaboration in mind has at least 5 key components necessary to create more effective and rigorous collaborative learning environments: creating a culture of listening and communication (Kipp-Newbold, 2010; Atkins,2010; Stacey, 1998), creating opportunities for students to be experts (DeCosta, 2010; Chen, 2017), designing lessons/projects that are role specific (Widodo, 2013; Wilhelm, 2012; Srba, 2014), provide reflective assessments that hold all accountable (Dreamson, 2017; Scalise, 2016; Szewiks, 2011), and providing opportunities to change roles within the group to expand individual expertise (Kipp-Newbold, 2010; Dickey, 2007). Each component on the list is meant to provide more robust guidelines to support the instructional design when integrating collaboration into lessons or projects.
The end, but also not the end.
Surveys take a lot of critical thinking. You can’t just be in robot mode and “wing it” like it’s the Friday of Homecoming during your high school English class with students going wild. Just like any essay or presentation, you should make a draft or two before you create it in a survey program. Question design can’t just be about curiosity or it just sounding like a “good” question. They need to be questions that actually generate data that can tell you something. If questions are too general or unclear, then there are no real valid conclusions to be drawn. However, if a survey is repetitive and long, you might also lose the interest of your participants. Therefore, creating surveys takes critical thinking, but also discernment. Without much experience creating surveys, discernment is difficult on your own. So, it seems reasonable that when creating a survey, you collaborate at some point in the process. Collaboration with a coworker or someone with just fresh eyes can help you be more specific, revise for clarity, and pinpoint missing questions.
I think I have it in my mind that as I progress as a professional that I need to be creative and clever all on my own. However, as I grow, I have learned to work smarter rather than harder. In order to actually be smarter, I need more than me. Lev Vygotsky speaks to me more and more the older I get. So, it both surprises me as well as does not surprise me that seeking social validation of questions for a survey is encouraged. Why not ask my husband if my questions make sense? Why not view my work with a classmate for validation and revisions? Why not do a test run of my survey with fresh eyes? It not just makes sense; it also makes the task easier!
In fact, I think the hardest part of making a quality survey is working alone.
It’s hard to say that I’m not a “math person” when I love to 1) solve problems, 2) use logic, and 3) look at data. However, and this is a big HOWEVER, there something about creating data that does not feel intuitive. Learning most things, outside of musical instruments, typically feels intuitive for me. But, when reading a chapter on Analysis and Interpretation of Quantitative Data, my eyes start skimming for what seems important to highlight. The descriptions and advise given do not engage my attention or help me to envision what it would look like if I were actually doing the collection and displaying of data. I think in this instance, I need to do something more tangible, kinesthetic, with these new processes.
It is similar to following maps for me. I have spent many years traveling, mostly on my own, sometimes using hand held maps and sometimes using street maps at bus stations. Either way, I don’t really get lost. I see the map with my eyes, I study the main layout of the area, then I can envision the same thing in my head. It isn’t an exact copy, but I noticed enough to help me make good decisions on the way so that I don’t get turned around. However, when you put me inside a digital game and give me a map, I get lost. Seriously. I cannot figure out how to get to any location and often get separated from the group because I turned the wrong way for a split second. When I turned back, the group is gone. I will admit to running a zone for an hour without having actually done anything because I got stuck in some mountain region. I usually have to get my husband involved to make it make sense. It makes me feel totally incompetent, but I also know in real life that this is so easy for me.
I figure it will be the same with the data. Stuck in the textbook, I will just be lost but put me in a real life situation, I can handle it.
Before I read this chapter over surveys and questionnaires for research, I just thought surveys were annoying because the surveys I am thinking of are the ones from Subway where you can get a free cookie if you fill it out. I totally get wanting feedback on how your store is doing, but honestly I don’t think it is a valid source for businesses to reward stores and employees. I used to work at places that gave incentives for surveys, but while you get the survey filled out, how real is the data? If I want a cookie, I’ll give you all 10s because I don’t care about to store’s improvement; I care about getting the free cookie. However, after reading this chapter, I think surveys and questionnaires could be pretty useful pending on the willingness of the participant to give real feedback. What incentives can we give to help get participants actually involved? I know if there is no incentive, I still don’t care about it! So, this chapter really got me thinking of ways to attempt to get genuine feedback from participants but also having a quality sampling. I don’t have answers yet; I think that comes with experience.
What seems most interesting about quantitative research is that it what it produces, if done ethically, are results that seem reliable and reproducible. So, if I am trying to solve a problem, and I use a fixed design to test out a solution, the design can (should) be replicated in other situations and environments. The process itself seems more controlled and intentional so that its results seems more credible and reliable. I think using this method will help to create generalizations that are general conclusions drawn from the evidence discovered in the research design. This kind of inferencing can help an overall understanding of whatever your topic/issue is. It can address what is typical but maybe it can’t address what is not typical. What I mean is that I often read or hear about practices that work in the classroom that I try out in mine, but I don’t get the same results. I don’t know if it matters that I teach low income students who speak two languages and often don’t value education. Were those conditions considered in developing those practical ways to teach students? More often than not, they were not considered. So I think quantitative research can help recognize patterns to help generalize what it is typical but I am not sure if that kind of research applies to the classroom at all times. So, I am drawn to fixed design for the structure and replication aspects of it, but I also recognize it is not an all-encompassing design model.
I think what I am most concerned about ethically when doing research is my own ignorance. My background in research is 100% historical research and/or literature analysis, no studies of humans. So, I haven’t been trained to be aware of possible effects of the research I will do. Similarly, I hadn’t considered that providing a technology intervention should be considered a form of treatment. If I was handing out pills, I would definitely be more cautious about testing out my theories on people, especially on students which is predominately my research field. I have done my NIH training, and it was a little overwhelming. In fact, my first response was “umm is this really the kind of research I want to do??” Ha! Then I remembered that I want to solve problems for teachers and students, so this kind of research is what it is going to take.
I have the same concerns about the IRB approval process. I am not interested in wasting the time of the faculty or the IRB committee by submitting an application that shows my ignorance. So, I really need to know my resources for constant review to help me in the IRB application as well as for my own research design. One of the requirements in our research is do not harm. It had never occurred to me that anyone in Learning Technologies could do harm! That is because my previous perspective of research had nothing to do with studying humans directly. Further, I am not clear on when to do IRBs. What is the timeline? What can you do when you are waiting on approval? During our meeting, Dr. Warren said when getting IRB approval on minors, it could take between 2-4 months. So, I am concerned about time management since my work will be focused on students.
At this stage in my career, I am definitely more concerned with practical research questions rather than theoretical. What draws me to practical research is my job. I currently work in the classroom. I am constantly evaluating and adapting my process even within the same day in a different class period. I have a great group of students who have a particular set of obstacles to overcome. So, when I think about spending my limited free time on research, I want to have practical answers to help my students. Further, I want to find real solutions that work in the classroom. I want to witness the effectiveness of some aspect I’ve researched for my specific students that actually works. What’s more, if it works for me, I want to share it. I don’t have a problem with theoretical research; it just feels less important than practical research.
I guess to start, my first research question is What is collaboration? I want to know what definitions are out there. I am specifically looking for versions that lean towards interdependent learning structures and assignment design. Then, I’d like to test out some version of interdependent learning style collaboration on a group of my current freshman in high school. I would like to take a 6 weeks, possibly the 6 weeks teaching Romeo and Juliet where I have two of my four classes integrating collaborative assignments and two classes using the traditional group work style assignments. I’d like to do two for each side since time of day and class size really affects student participation and involvement. For example, first period of the day is one of the most difficult to get students to work with anyone. They are tired and don’t want to talk to anyone. Also, the last period of the day is often more rowdy and harder to keep focused. Group work easily shifts to social time since they just got back from lunch. So, I’d like a wider group for each style of teaching/learning. As far as data, I’d look at the level of analysis in their final project as well as the data from a multiple-choice test.
The kind of research I am attracted to is research based on actual successes in the classroom. However, in class this week you talked about Education being a subset of Psychology. You described education as a way of influencing behavior and thinking, and therefore, theories of thinking should underpin our research projects. This is a new realm of research for me, so I think starting here is both efficient but also overwhelming. I have done zero amount of research in Psychology as it relates to Education. I wonder if this would be a better minor for my degree plan rather than business administration or educational leadership? I can’t know until I start reading.
The questions I am constantly asking are related to both read and writing and always collaboration. I have my own theory, based on experience as a student and a teacher, that learning is social. I can easily learn from a book. I can easily learn from doing. But, the most engaging way I have learned is by having to work with a group on an assignment that I could not truly do on my own. This type of learning was also connected to an immersive learning experience abroad. So, I wonder what kind of design creates those types of assignments? How do we design that? What theory is under all that? How do we create interdependent learning opportunities? How do we evaluate if it was an effective method? How do we measure growth with these types of assignments? How will these assignments support state testing in a high school setting? How do we draw in reluctant students to play their part without it damaging others in the process? Or can we? How do we really “grade” collaborative learning? Should we? Can we create immersive learning environments in a stationary classroom? What learning technologies help to create interdependent learning as well as immersive technologies?
I can see that there are two topics intermixing: collaboration and immersive learning. There is an overlap. When I get into gaming in the classroom as a method for collaboration that is where I start to delve into the immersive learning environments as well. That is when I come back to reading and writing as topics for research. I wonder how we could use immersive technologies to teach reading and writing separately but also maybe together! I don’t know what is out there, so I need to start reading!
I am most interested in collaboration in the classroom. So far right now, collaboration is only a word that educators throw around but it has very little substance. Collaboration is more than group work, but what is it really? Further, how does technology support that, enable that, and hinder that? So, my research will be focused first on defining the term more concretely. Then, I’d like to see if there are different functioning versions of this definition. I’d like to then test out those theories in my own high school classroom. After those tests, I want to know how to more effectively train a variety of teachers in the real meaning and function of collaboration. This would include core, vocational, and elective teachers. Finally, I would like to support this research with suggest strategies for instructional design integrated with effective collaboration
As far as learning technologies, I am curious about available tools out there like VoiceThread or Quizlet Live that support collaborative learning. I am also curious about Computer Supported Collaborated Learning (CSCL). I don’t exactly know what that is, but Dr. Lin suggested I look into it for this topic. The common tool used today for “collaboration” is live documents. These kinds of tools are super cool, but I am wanting tools that create an interdependent learning environment rather than just a shared space.
What I found most enlightening about class and the first chapter of Real World Research is the emphasis on what our research should be about. I appreciate that this research is really focused on real-world problem solving. I do love research, but I feel that research for the sake of knowing is short-sighted. I can do that kind of work on my own time. But, research for the sake of problem solving is very motivating, and what’s more, it feels easier. You are telling I should be trying to solve problems, not just point them out. This gives more validity to why I chose this program over a strictly English PhD and that makes me feel confidant about my choice.