Just Thinkin’ ’bout Research

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.


What to do, what to do?

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!

Real World Research

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.

Control Yourself

Tonight I was watching the Gold Cup Quarter Final between the USA and El Salvador. It was not our best defensively, but it was one of the more aggressive games I’ve seen by the US Men’s National Team. If you watched, it was obvious why. El Salvador was clearly the little dog trying to aggravate the big dog. Literally, in the 57th minute, our Jozy Altidore was bitten on the shoulder while also having his nipple pinched by El Salvador’s Henry Romero. How in the world Jozy didn’t turn and punch this guy is beyond me. The ref didn’t see it, so there was no justice. Man! What is it that kept Jozy Altidore in line? Self-regulation. Like so many life skills, self-regulation takes time and practice before a person will find success. Altidore has had 12 years of practice, but my students probably have had none.

So what is it? Self-regulation is really just the ability to control yourself without needing some outside influence to guide you. No one had to hold Altidore back from Romero. He gritted his teeth and kept playing. In the real world, it means I can walk through a Target without having someone tell me NOT to steal something. I can decide for myself to pay for the things I want. In the classroom, it means students take the initiative for their own learning even if they’re not “feeling it.” When they start an assignment, they read the directions. When they get stuck, they ask questions. When they find success, they share it with their classmates. When they are trying to problem solve, the look to their classmates for support. In essence, when students self-regulate they are not dependent on a teacher for the answers.

Self-regulation can also influence others. When students are able to take ownership for their learning, it rubs off on the students around them. It is an odd affect since it is an outside influence regulating others, but since it is unintentional what is really going on is that other students are learning to regulate themselves by witnessing someone else do it. A teacher can help magnify this behavior by acknowledging it in the moment. She could even exaggerate the moment with a “Wow, so-n-so, you’ve really impressed me today! You got started so quickly!” or even drop a few tootsie rolls on a desk or two quietly acknowledging the behavior you want. Whatever it takes for students to observe and learn from the students already self-regulating is worth it because without the ability to self-regulate, students will never actually learn.

However, it cannot be expected that your students, whatever age they are, know how to self-regulate. It is a skill to be learned through constant coaching in the early stages and utilizing teachable moments when self-regulation was not practiced. For example, if I am teaching freshman in high school, I expect to have this same conversation every time I see a student:

Me: Hey, so-n-so, whatcha doin?

S-N-S: Oh… I’m working…

Me: Oh really? What specifically are you working on?

S-N-S: Umm, the assignment…

Me: Oh man, that’s great. Which part are you on?

S-N-S: Well, I just started, but I am confused.

Me: Oh really?? Man, what is confusing?

S-N-S: I’m not sure what I am supposed to be doing.

Me: Oh! Ok. Well what did the directions say? Oh, you didn’t read the directions? Ok. So, read the directions, I’ll be back in 2 minutes to check on you, and then I expect you to ask me specific questions about the directions so you can really get started.

Then what happens is I swing back by and by then the directions are read and the student has started. As the year goes on, this conversation happens again and again at different stages of the assignments. By the end of the year, most of my students have not only learned to self-regulate, but they have stopped asking me for help on topics they can Google search. I have a job as a teacher to be a guide. I cannot however be the motivation and regulation for a student when it comes to learning. Once they know how to regulate themselves, then students reach their goals often on their own. Without it, teachers and students alike will be stuck just dealing with discipline problems.



Part 1 Is Over

The main issue I had with project was the timing. Somehow I got a head and then I was behind. Then, I felt lost. Part of the struggle was that each document in the early stages contained so much duplicate information, I didn’t have a clear understanding of the role for each. The affect of this is that everything since has felt jumbled and over-complicated. I do most of this kind of thinking already when I plan my own class lessons. I don’t always go into such detail but I can see how dense the analysis task is now that I think it will make  my own classroom lessons more attune to learning gaps. I just wonder how much of it is necessary? By it, I mean all the different initial documents. Part of my hang up is that I designed a lesson that was for a subject and classroom environment that I am familiar with. Had I used a client that I was not a subject matter expert for nor familiar with their work space, I think all the documents might be more useful. I still question why each document requires duplicate information. Our textbook is called Rapid Instructional Design for a reason. It is meant to help us cut out what is extra and put into practice what is not. It makes me wonder if this course is actually created around this textbook. It might not be.


My experience with the first project has already influenced the second project in that I feel lost getting started. I am just feeling uncertain about what to do. It’s funny. If I ignore what I think I am “supposed” to be learning and just do what I normally do, then I discover a clear path in front of me. But, when I try to perform for others, I feel as though I am just standing on the stage alone having forgotten the song.


I think the strongest part of my first project is that it really pinpoints a specific skill for re-teaching. Having focused so narrowly will help the instructor evaluate whether this was the real issue or not. High school classrooms these days are more like science labs. You just gotta come up with a theory, design the experiment, then try it out. Maybe the outcome with be positive or maybe it won’t. Regardless, it will be a great start to slowly solving the problems in today’s classroom. However, I think the weakest aspect of the project was that it was so narrowly focused. What if this project totally misses the mark? What if I got so side tracked by what I thought rather than what the students needed, that I just waste their time? It is hard to know since school is not in session.

Second Life Reflection – Use the Tool or Be a Tool

We had a class meeting in Second Life. I was super stoked about it just because it was something different. I was super stoked because it was Virtual Reality. I love to play MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role playing games) so having class in Second Life would be/could be fun. As entertainment, Second Life was interesting because you can explore for the sake of exploring. You can walk, run, and even fly. You can pick your own character and look however you want to look. The virtual world is virtually wide open. But, as a teaching tool? From what I explored, it’s not great. Overall, I would say this is just another tool that must be utilized intentionally, not used to replace a teacher which is often how teacher view technology.

The first issue I had in the first zone we explored was the lack of purpose. Our immediate purpose was to just explore, to see what we would see and consider how it was being used instructionally. Instructionally, this wasn’t really being used. There didn’t seem to be any game plan for how to use the space we were in. Namely, there were no objectives. In a game like World of Warcraft (WOW), the game play is generally open. You can go in whatever direction you chose and you can pursue whatever task you’d like. But, at least in W.O.W. you actually are presented with tasks. Random characters give you quests in different zones. You can choose which ones to pursue and which ones to wait on. There are also side quests that ask you to hunt or forage so that you can just roam different zones with a purpose. In the Pavilion we were in at the beginning of our exploration, it wasn’t really clear what we should or could do. There was no real guidance, no goals, and no objectives. So, as far as instructional design, it wasn’t clear, so ultimately the design was a failure.

Something else I noticed in the first zone was there were items that were clickable. That is as much interaction as was available. Point and click is not terrible, but is a point and click environment worth altering a classroom environment? Student engagement will last as long as the clickable items are interesting, but if what opens is just text to read, students will just check out. If we are willing to go through all the trouble of shifting to a virtual reality, it must be so that we can do something now that we couldn’t without the VR environment. This point and click environment is just a substitution for clicking open a link inside a Learning Management System (LMS) like Canvas or Blackboard. So, what’s the point?

The last zone we traveled to had a little more design to it. There was clearly a campus with different buildings that had different purposes. There were more signs and guides along the way. One particular building was like a gallery. You could walk through following the big red arrows and click on the different displays. It would tell you about each display. This is a great start for using the tool rather than expecting the tool to be the teacher. Someone clearly planned this space with a purpose and an audience in mind. They made clear choices about how to share the information they wanted to share. This space was an example of where so many teachers are these days: able to use the tool to do something we couldn’t have done before. However, what this space was lacking and most teachers are still lacking, is the challenge of what to do with the information being shared. Technology integration is not just about streamlining assignments and data, and it is not just about trying to engage students on a different level. There has to be something more. We must have our students apply and create something with this new knowledge. If we want to redefine education, we cannot just redesign how we share information. We must also redesign what we have students do with the information.

Overall I think spaces like Second Life have so much potential, but it is the teacher or instructional designer that must intentionally use the space for their own objectives, not expect the tool to take over for the teacher. During our meeting, Dr. Warren talked about needing a narrative in order for these kinds of environments to work. It is the narrative that provides the parameters, the purpose, the goals, and the context of the game play. Without it, we are virtually stuck in the wilderness like contestants in Alone. We have some tools, and we want to survive, but without a purpose, we will not make it to the end.

Method of Loci

I am comfortable with visualization. I think it comes from being a team-sport athlete. Somewhere along the way a coach of mine showed us how to visualize the game. I learned to see the space on the field and imagine what to do with it before I did it. I learned to see the game in front of me and create the movement. I was in control. It was up to me to be the instigator of plays and mover of the ball.  However, this kind of visualization is different that the Method of Loci used to remember Wilson’s Situated Instructional Design. The Method is meant to help you memorize ideas by assigning them to images, to movement, in order to create almost like a memory. This kind of visualization creates the past as if it really happened. You take something you are so familiar with that the memory of it is like a photograph in your hand. Then you superimpose new ideas into the memory in order to recapture something important. Hopefully, you can then refer back to the created memory because it now has emotional meaning to it that it didn’t before.

This is a fascinating concept, but then I think about what my students would do with it. I was that student that thought things like this were dumb. I wonder what my students would do in class if I walked them through this kind of memory work? Since meeting the Internet, my students can’t remember my name even by the end of the year. Would they scoff at this kind of exercise? Or would they take the time to create something with it… like new knowledge?

This method could work for them, but for me I hadn’t been specific enough with my time and place. I don’t have a favorite room. I don’t have a lot of favorites anyway. I do however have locations that stick to me like peanut butter on a dog’s tongue. But, these emotional palaces are too broad for this exercise. I can imagine myself as student staring back at me the teacher refusing to visualize. When prompted, my student self would say, “I don’t have a favorite room.” My teacher self would just say, “Use any place that you can clearly remember…” Then my student self would find some new response that is just as dense and unimaginative as the last excuse. And she may pretend to do the exercise, but that doesn’t really count does it?


So does this work? Could it be used? Possibly, but I’d have to do a lot of my own pre-game visualization to prepare for my most stubborn students.

Instructional Design: Is it Worth It?

So far I am frustrated about instructional design. I went to school to study English Literature. I continued my education in Composition and Rhetoric. Somewhere along the way, I alternatively certified to be a teacher. Not once in my formal education or professional development have I ever been formally taught to design in this way.  What is frustrating is that I’ve never met a teacher who goes into such details for their lessons. It’s taken me years to figure out how to design a practice that’s based on theory and data. Yet, I am still struggling to know how effective I am as an instructor. So, I am frustrated with instructional design because I think this kind of thinking is only reserved for our curriculum specialists in the district. While I know these analysis skills are critical for those designing for the entire district, every teacher still needs to know, at minimum, how to do a gap analysis for their classroom. So many teachers often shrug their shoulders when faced with the same challenges and failures over and over again. I know what it is like to feel like you’re running into the same wall over and over. Then a technology specialist shows up with web tools that convince you will solve all the problems.

But, they don’t work.

It doesn’t work because the problems are not actually clear. Teachers are stuck at complaining because maybe they don’t have tools to truly pinpoint breakdowns in the learning environment. Maybe if they had better tools to analyze their environment, they would stop complaining and start solving problems.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my technology specialists! They help me to evolve what we do in class into something we do in class differently and share into the world. But, what if technology specialists were able to bring in these analysis tools into their collaboration time with teachers or into summer training? What if the web tool was presented as a tool to support the gap in learning instead of just a cool thing or an easier way to collaborate? What if we tweeted out transformation in the classroom instead of just whatever hip cool thing is going on? What if we were able to identify the problem, solve it, change the data, and really have proof of effective instruction?


So, I am frustrated with instructional design because we need more of it.

Oy! Analysis!


Oh man. There is so much to do with Analysis for the ADDIE model for instructional design. It is almost TOO much to do. I was so overwhelmed by the possible things to analyze last week that I almost forgot that I do this all the time when I reflect on how a lesson went and then make adjustments accordingly as a teacher. The analysis itself is not what is new for me. It is all the templates, possible questions, and potential things to analyze. It is like a Russian nesting doll, you open the lid and there’s a whole other doll! What I can appreciate is the realization that there is so much to consider when designing quality curriculum or an effective training. I also realized that I need a method that works for me, one that makes sense based on memory. Then when I need something  more detailed, I just need to have the resources to rely on. Otherwise, I can’t think straight. In fact, last week was one on going migraine, literally one of the worst I’ve had. I’m not blaming my homework. There are other triggers. But, I will say that I was so inundated with analysis pathways that I literally couldn’t see straight. So, my take away for this phase of instructional design: have a vision. If we don’t want to get lost in all the Matryoshka of analysis, then we have to be able to have a clear view of what we need to analyze. I think this vision comes from the situation you are designing for. I think the less you know of the content, the more variety of analysis you need. However, the more expertise you have in the content, the easier it is to analyze.


For example, I am an English teacher. I paired up with another English teacher. This helped me to understand the needs of her students and her needs as a teacher. This made not having access to her students for data gathering less important. I’d love to talk to them, but since it’s summer, it is not an option. But, because I am an English teacher too, I can understand her classroom in a way that a non-English teacher may struggle to. My own experience has helped me fill in the gaps in a lot of ways. However, if I had been designing for a company whose job duties were unfamiliar to me, I would need much more research and data to help me understand the TAP of the training needed. I would need more than an interview and handouts to grasp the concepts and needs I would be designing for. This makes me think twice about designing for people who are outside my scope. I think I will need a lot more practice with the ADDIE model, especially the analysis part, to be an effective designer where I am not a SME.


This analysis, especially after multiple conversations with Mrs. Bookmiller, has helped me to narrow in and target a specific skill to design for. Before the analysis, I wouldn’t have imagined actually being able to pinpoint a particular skill to focus on. My mind would have said, the students just need more practice writing or more discussion or more mentor texts to get better as writers. But now, after the analysis, I actually feel like I might be able to make a difference because once I narrowed my focus, the plan of attack just came together. Had I not narrowed my focus, I don’t think this would have happened. Ironically, I teach this in my classroom. When students narrow their topic enough, BAM, their words come rolling out. This was true for me as well in this assignment. However, just like my students need to revise their essays, I too need to come back to the work and look with fresh eyes for things that I could rework. Also, collaborating with Mrs. Bookmiller will make this kind of revision very easy since she truly knows her audience and topic.


Analysis and design are interdependent. Without analysis the design is founded on personal feeling which doesn’t bode well in an academic world nor does it make for a good business model. It’s not that personal feelings are bad. They just don’t provide a strong enough basis for education or training. On the other hand, without design, the efforts in analysis are wasted. What I mean is that if you ignore the results of your analysis and create based on that, there is no real design present. Design implies that you structured or created something with a purpose. The analysis results give us purpose for our design. I think the R/Evolution video brought up something an important concept that we should consider in our future ID. Before the internet, we managed information via categories, but after the internet, it is generally though links and key terms. If I want to know about the cast of Roadhouse starring Patrick Swayze, I don’t have to start with possible categories for finding that information. I just type in the title and different links pop up. I didn’t need to click on a movie category followed by action category followed by 1980s movies followed by etc… Key terms lead to links. Information managed! So where does this lead us for the future of instructional design? When we begin to truly integrate technology and the power of the internet, will our ADDIE model change? Part of the analysis requires that we categorize our skills into topics. We create these trees of knowledge so that our human minds can trace the pathways to concepts. Will computers, will the internet, R/Evolve our instructional design? Will our designs become the Russian Matryoshka doll without designers having to do analysis? In the future, will all of the analysis work we do now be “stored” digitally and be accessible without having to always re-analyze the situation? Could there be an internet based engine that takes all of our TAPs and designs for us according to past analyses?


My mind and vision are swimming again with possibilities. So, I need to stop, refocus, and come back to the vision I had at the beginning of all this: analysis. Oh man! There is so much to do with analysis!

My Personal Learning Theory

The summer between 7th and 8th grade year, I was given a summer reading list for my Honors English class. As I skimmed the list, I noticed several books I had already read just out of curiosity rather than requirement. So, I spent my summer only reading about 2 books and returned the next school year “prepared.” Our first week in class, we were to choose which novels we would take tests over. I picked all the books I had read before instead of those I read over the summer. I felt so strongly that I would be successful since I had read them before. I chose the Anne of Green Gables exam knowing in my heart of hearts that I would ace it. Well, I didn’t. I failed. It sounds crazy, but I had never failed anything up to this point. I was one of those smart kids who learned to be lazy because it took too long for the class work to become challenging. My teacher, Mrs. Lewis, handed it back with the answer key, and I painfully looked over each incorrect answer. With each correction, I felt a stab of failure, over and over, in my gut. It was humiliating, except no one knew but me. I realized I was humiliated in front of… me.


This experience is the beginning of my personal learning theory because it is the moment I understood with my young 14 year old brain that I learned more through failure than I did with success. And, most importantly, I did not know everything.


Now that I am older and have spent years obsessively analyzing that moment so as not to experience it again, I have noticed more in that situation that guides me now in my teaching as well as in my own learning. According to the essay Personal Learning Theory, “Hoy, Davis, and Anderman (2013) believed there are four pillars” to “quality learning.” I can see those pillars in this experience. The first is that “students must first understand and make sense of material.” In my own experience, I failed this pillar. I failed to recognize the different between academic reading and reading for fun. This is a failure because I failed understand the content on a deeper level. I never really “made sense of the material.” The second pillar is that “students must remember what they understood.” I could not be successful at this pillar since I never really understood the real meaning of the material. The result is that I only remembered the parts I liked or identified with. The third pillar is that “students must practice and apply their new skills… in order to become a permanent part of their repertoire.” This pillar was successful because all those corrections were seared into my memory. I will now never forget that Mrs. Blewett (with two Ts) was the one who wanted to take Anne off Marilla’s hands. And finally the fourth pillar is to note that “all of these processes are embedded in social and cultural contexts inside and outside of school.” It is this last pillar that has had the most influence on my own P.L.T. In my moment of failure, I was humiliated. I humiliated myself, in front of, myself. What?


One more time: I was the only one who knew the extent of my knowledge of Anne of Green Gables. I was the only one who set my impossibly high expectations for success (was there a grade other than a 100?). I was the only one who knew exactly how I “prepared” for this test. So when the results came in, I was so ashamed of myself for being so… foolish? Or was there a better word? Arrogant. Yes, arrogant is a better fit. My own pride stopped me from really learning this assignment. So, while I totally agree with Hoy, Davis, and Alderman about their 4 pillars to quality learning, I think there is something more physiological, spiritual even, that is required for learning: humility.


Before any teacher can design a lesson, or any student can jump from pillar to pillar, it is imperative that we have that acknowledgment of our own ignorance, a realization that we do not know something. Without this revelation we come to class, to training, to professional development with a closed mind and closed spirit. We are not open to trying to understand the content, nor are we willing to remember it. There’s nothing to remember since you already know everything, right? Applying the knowledge is just wasting time, and it certainly won’t apply to any aspect of my “social [or] cultural contexts inside [or] outside of school.” Humility is required in order to move towards understanding instead of standing still in our pride.

In summary, my personal learning theory starts with owning the fact that I do not know everything. From there, I can actually move forward to those four pillars, to that “complex process” of struggling and wrestling with concepts in order to grasp them, apply them, and be changed by them. Because, if we are not changed by them, did we really learn?



Hoy, A.W., Davis, H. A., and Anderman, E. M. (2013). “Theories of Learning and      Teaching in TIP.” Theory into Practice52(sup1), 9-21.