Learning is Messy and So is My Hair

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#LearningIsSocial

Generally, my personal theory of learning is that learning is social. Learning is a complex process that requires both knowledge and social interaction to help break it down, evaluate the pieces, then put it back together. At the heart of it, we need social interactions to emotionally support what is shaping in our mind. If we limit ourselves to content only, we actually close ourselves off to other perspectives and different interpretations. Without outside contact, we are sometimes left uncertain of achievement, disconnected from course goals, and ultimately self-reliant to a fault.

 

This perception of learning is definitely connected to the current research in distance learning. According to Kang and Im (2013), “learners who felt they had a higher degree of interaction with their instructors and other peer learners had higher satisfaction and higher perceived learning outcomes than learners to felt they experienced a lower degree of interaction.” While this isn’t speaking directly to actual course outcomes, the perceptions of students regarding their success in class matters as a selling point at minimum for online learning. If students get an ‘A’ but are not happy about how they earned it or are dissatisfied by the experience, then it is less likely they will continue with online classes. Similarly, Gutman (2001) lists as her number five barrier of “Six Barriers Causing Educators to Resist Teaching Online,” as “Interpersonal Relations” (pg. 54).  Gutman states that “for some [teachers], the lack of direct interpersonal contact with both students and faculty is an issue” (pg. 54). The role of social interaction is not just important for the student experience; it is important for instructors as well.

 

The idea that the social interaction/interpersonal connection is the missing piece for online learning is a repeated idea, article after article. Not only is this a topic of ongoing research, but it resonates with my own experience as an online student as well as an online instructor. The combination of these things provides a solid foundation for my own personal theory of learning (PLT). As I continue to research, I expect that my PLT will evolve into a more strongly founded and articulated representation of both theory and practice.

 

As I move forward with research, I will continue to refine my search terms. I have already adjusted my focus from “social learning” to “social presence” in the online classroom. My next steps are to finish compiling relevant studies on the influence of social presence in online learning and to follow that with peer reviewed articles defining  how to incorporate or build social presence in online classes. I intend on using the references from class assignments to help guide my choices. So far, many of the class readings have been relevant to this topic, namely: Stodel, Thompson, and MacDonald’s (2006) article,  “Learners’ Perspectives on What is Missing from Online Learning: Interpretations through the Community of Inquiry Framework;” Lowenthal and Snelson’s (2017) article, “In search of a better understanding of social presence: an investigation into how researchers define social presence;” and Gutman’s (2001) article, “Six Barriers Causing Educators to Resist Teaching Online, and How Institutions Can Break them.” I have created a new folder in Mendeley for this research.

 

References

Gutman, D. (2001). Six Barriers Causing Teaching Online, Can Break Them. Distance      Learning, 9(3).

 

Kang, M., & Im, T. (2013). Factors of learner-instructor interaction which predict perceived learning outcomes in online learning environment. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 29(3), 292–301.

 

Lowenthal, P. R., & Snelson, C. (2017). In search of a better understanding of social presence: an investigation into how researchers define social presence. Distance Education, 38(2), 141–159.

 

Stodel, E. J., & Thompson, T. L. (2006). Interpretations through the Community of Inquiry Framework. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 7(3), 1–15.

 

To Be or Not To Be?

Since I feel that generally I am an open person, I think I would be willing to try to accept different theoretical models used for instructional design, especially ones that have similarities to my own model. I know I have a lot to learn about teaching and learning, so I think that would help me at least be willing to try.

 

But I also know that I often think that I am right about most things. I have been trained to think independently of others and one side effect is the secret knowledge that I’m always right lingers regardless of the outcome of decisions made. This ultimately might sabotage whatever research I would be analyzing.

 

So, I guess my way to approach is to talk about it. If I am the support person, then I would be willing to have continual conversations to sort of, recalibrate my way of thinking to the theoretical model we are using. While I tend to think I am often right, I also feel like I am willing to change my mind given logical reasons or new information to reshape what I already know. So, while I typically think on the day to day that I have it figured out, I am still willing to grow and change based on new knowledge.

 

It’s because of this that I would be willing to figure out new paradigms to work under. If I really think about it, I am pretty good at playing the devil’s advocate in other environments. I could use those compartmentalization skills combined with my imagination to wear the hat of a different theoretical model.

No Better, No Worse

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s findings from the “Evaluation of Evidence Based Practices,” there is no real difference between the online learning success rate and the traditional face-to-face success rate. The article specifically says that K-12 students “in online conditions performed modestly better, on average, than those learning the same material through traditional face-to-face instruction” (pg. xiv). Initial response? WHHHHAAAATTTTT??? Surely this cannot be! If this is true, then why is there a big push to move online in K-12?

 

As a high school teacher and a bit of a technophile, I am shocked and concerned by this data. The key findings from this article stated over and over that online learning provided either no better or only moderately better results than face to face learning (pgs. xiv-xvii). The only positive was that blended environments seems to produce the best outcomes than strictly face to face or online (xiv). While Erick Fredericksen echoes this idea when he says, “converting a traditional classroom course to an online course doesn’t necessarily make it better or worse” in his blog “Is Online Education Good or Bad? And Is This Really the Right Question?” Fredericksen’s tone implies that online is ultimately better than face-to-face. He emphasizes that discussion forums enable better quality discussion and that online courses are “developed through the systematic design of instruction with emphasis on the achievement of course learning objectives.” Both of these aspects, according to Frederickson, make online education a better choice. But, honestly do they? Are not face-to-face classroom lessons based on a “systematic design” as well?

 

In K-12, curriculum is designed by professionals then sent to teachers. Teachers do have a say in how and when to implement the curriculum to students. However, as a college instructor, very little design was required for my courses. I was told to pick a textbook and given course outcomes. The rest was up to me. So, maybe Fredericksen is speaking about college and university professors when he implies that “systematic design” isn’t happening for face to face classes.

 

I also challenge the idea that discussion forums provide an “increased interaction, both in quantity and quality, with and among students”. I am interested in the evidence that backs that up. Having the time to formulate and write out a response to a discussion question does not necessarily mean that this leads to increased interaction. The element that provides better quality is more likely the time students are given to create a response. But, I doubt that posting it online increases interaction. Discussion forums are often hard to navigate once the threads really build. Over time, it sometimes it is not much time, discussion forums become a pool of ideas that is very difficult to wade through much less assess as an instructor. Also, in face to face classrooms, it is possible and often the standard to have students formulate their ideas to prepare for a discussion. This has become an anecdotal best practice shared by many teachers.

 

Fredericksen’s acknowledgement that online is no better or worse reiterates the Department of Education’s findings, but it seems strange to me that he still shows some bias toward online learning.  He most likely represents the mentality of many to read the research but to still go with the gut even when it doesn’t represent the research. This isn’t a question of good or bad, though. I think he’s right about that. The question in is why is there no real notable difference between online learning and face-to-face learning? I think it might have something to do with our methods. If we are simply using Learning Management Systems as a substitute for a face-to-face classroom, then it makes total sense that there isn’t much difference in learning outcomes even if there is more convenience and flexible time. If we look to Ruben Puentedura’s SAMR model, we might be able to find another way to utilize tools and online access to increase learning effectiveness in online classrooms. In Puentedura’s theory, ultimately the goal with online access and tools is to move away from simply substituting an online environment for the face to face and grow towards redefining education as we know it. If online learning is currently no better or worse than face to face classes, then we aren’t doing it right.

 

The SAMR model is not the end all be all of theories to follow. There are many to choose from. The point is maybe it is time to research the effectiveness of these models so that we stop limiting the power of technology on our online classes.

 

Fredericksen, Erik. “Is online education good or bad? And is this really the right question?” Retrieved February 03, 2018, from https://theconversation.com/is-online-education-good-or-bad-and-is-this-really-the-right-question-35949

Puendetura, Ruben R. Learning, Technology, and the SAMR Model: Goals … – Hippasus. (n.d.). Retrieved February 3, 2018, from http://www.hippasus.com/rrpweblog/archives/2014/06/29/LearningTechnologySAMRModel.pdf

U.S. Department of Education. “Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning.” (n.d.). Retrieved February 3, 2018, https://www2.ed.gov/rschstat/eval/tech/evidence-based-practices/finalreport.pdf

 

 

Work

I spent two days this week in diversity training. It seems so commonplace and insignificant calling it “diversity training” when what I experienced was so much more. In fact, it seems almost disrespectful of the issues offered to me to attempt to sum it up here. So, I won’t. Instead, I will focus on one revelation of the seminar that stood out: what seems to be normal life to me, could also be oppressive to my students. While this is a loaded topic, the topic of race and racism, it has been one that clearly demonstrates for me what can happen when we do research on humans without really thinking through all the consequences, positive and negative, of the research on those humans.

The seminar got me thinking, how many times have I expected my students to meet inequitable standards to be successful? Further, for those who don’t meet the standards what damage have I done? And for those who have found success, what damage have I done?  This has kept me up a few nights this week. Despite ten years of teaching, when it comes to teaching minorities, I feel like a kid, playing with a light-saber, who does not have the Force for guidance.

The existential crisis I find myself in magnifies, in 3-D, how good intentions (or just a good idea) in research is not enough. Our own ignorance, our limited world view, our own arrogance can lead us into irreversible damage, potentially psychological, rather than provide solutions to real world problems similarly to the psychological damage caused by systemic racism. So, what can we do?  What can I do?

I think evaluating my expectations for the work ahead is the starting point for combating the dangerous minefield of both social science research as well as the subtle racism that is still embedded in our culture. Specifically, what I mean by “evaluating my expectations” is to turn my eyes first to the purpose of the research: to discover knowledge then to share it. Then challenge my intentions of the work I am doing. If we start research (for education) with any other purpose, ethical conflicts will arise. Those conflicts will blind me to all the possibilities of what I do, especially the negative.

However, I cannot do it alone. There are so many considerations before doing research that I am definitely going to need help. Building a thought community around the research is needed but a difficult task for me. I am a teacher. I get to create my own world for a living. With that control, comes the teacher version of a God complex. I think when we were kids, we were called know-it-alls, but the result is that we are not and I am not always the easiest to work with.

So, what’s it going to take to do the work? More work. More thinking. More talking. More listening. I’m still at the beginning.

 

This Isn’t a Cage Match

I think, on the surface, more and more classes have moved online because it seems to meets the needs of the student. Moving online is ideal for individual’s time management as well as expands the accessibility of the coursework when students are absent for one reason or another. It also potentially limits the interference of class time and work time because the schedules typically are flexible. There’s no weather, sickness, or holidays that can really prevent student access to coursework other than Armageddon or a storm that kills the internet. Moving classes online is also hip. It’s a trend. If you have online courses available then you are progressive and seem open to innovation as an educational institution. But do these things matter? Does moving classes online really address learning needs? Are learning needs the priority of education? If moving online doesn’t actually address learning needs, then what does moving courses online really do?

Similarly to face to face courses, the quality of online classes depends heavily on the teacher. At every level, the quality of the teacher matters. When I am paying for a doctoral program, I am really paying for my professor’s expertise, not how well an online course is organized. Organization matters. Accessibility matters. Flexible class meetings matter. Ultimately however, it is the quality of the instructor that matters most. So, the real question is, does moving a course online empower a quality educator or does it prevent those instructors from being at their best? What it really comes down to is the instructor’s expertise in online instruction, and their ability to navigate a digital world and system. So is moving courses online really about meeting the learner’s needs?

But then I wonder if face to face (F2F) meetings meet the learners needs? So what is the difference between F2F and online classes anyway? As a student, online classes are so convenient. I can get to my classwork on my time, and usually when I feel like it. I can set my own schedule, turn my interactions online into a checklist of things to do, and I can meet deadlines at midnight instead of class time. I can stay in my tiny little bubble in my tiny little office, and feel certain I have figured it all out on my own. In F2F, I have to show up on the school’s schedule, I gotta talk to people in class whether I feel like it or not, and I really have to be prepared for class when I walk in the door even if I just left work and have no time to review. F2F classes seem so inconvenient. However, the process of learning isn’t always convenient, and I wonder if it even should be. Learning can be fun, but learning is work. Getting an education cannot be just about convenience, yet many of the decisions for shifting to online courses seem to be about convenience. Getting an education takes more than showing up and checking off your list of things to do. It requires engagement: engagement with the texts, engagement with the instructor, and most importantly, engagement with your classmates. This is where the great divide shows its gaping mouth in the battle between F2F and online courses: engagement. This is not a matter of which is better. This is a matter of how engaging is each format, and further, which is most appropriate for the content, situation, and student.

This is not an argument for shifting back to F2F classes. I love online classes because of the convenience and because I am lazy. However, if I am really honest with myself, I know in my gut I not only enjoy F2F classes better, I get more out of it both as a student and an instructor. What it all boils down to is the engagement. Through engagement, we discover that learning is social. Through engagement, we discover what we know and what others know and where our meeting places are. Through engagement, we become whole people because we need to be challenged to expand ourselves. It is through engagement that we evolve what we thought before into something more encompassing, more full, more informed.

So, what is my purpose here? I think this is a call to solve a problem: the problem of engagement in online courses. Should we start with how to create engagement in F2F classes then attempt to recreate that in online spaces? Or should we evaluate the tools available and redefine engagement for specifically online spaces? There is work to be done on this front. This isn’t about polarizing tradition and progress. This is about utilizing what we have now in technology to enhance education to its fullest. Surely we can do more now than we could do before and better. So, how do we do it?

Thinking and Qualitating

First and foremost, the most important quality of Qualitative Research is that hypotheses come from the research rather than having to come up with my own hypothesis and test it. Being new in the field, and it will take me years to not be “new,” grasping this understanding of Qualitative Research is such a relief. So far in my education, the only real distinction between Qualitative and Quantitative Research is really about the results they produce; however, that limited information does not inform my decision-making when designing a research plan. Also, until now, I have been thinking my research will be predominately multi-strategy, incorporating both. But after this new adjustment, I feel a little off-the-hook for designing more complicated research plans. As of now, in order to help grow my knowledge in the field, I can primarily focus on Qualitative Research. I imagine in making this my focus, I will be in a constant state of discovery when it comes to research, and honestly that is less stressful. There is not much I really need to already know before doing research outside of ethical and rigorous research methods.

After my initial practice with gathering field notes, I am certain I have no idea what I am doing. I have always been one to notice small details in the world around me, but that doesn’t mean that the small details I notice matter for research. Further, I don’t exactly know what kind of information, broad or specific, we should be looking for. Meranda, my classmate, had this plan in her mind about how to go about gathering field notes, and while her quick description of what she was doing helped me to think differently about how to gather field notes, it wasn’t enough for me to gather notes effectively on my own. So, I definitely need to know more about that. I mean, what’s the point of gathering information if it isn’t the right information? Then, once we gather that information, what do we do with it? No clue. 🙂


I am glad I am taking this class now, at the beginning of it all.

Design Not Method

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: I think qualitative research makes sense to me. As a teacher, I am constantly watching and asking interview style questions of my students as they work. I think we do need qualitative research because including the experience of a person alongside of their performance helps to capture the whole picture of an experiment. That is necessary when your experiment revolves around humans. However, what seems to be the challenge is dealing with the data. It is hard to imagine, and imagine is all I can do at the moment, how someone would deal with the data produced by a qualitative study.

My view point of qualitative research is positive so far because my research deals with people, relationships, and meaning. However, I could see how people could have a negative view of qualitative research. It seems more difficult to interpret the data produced from a qualitative study. It is because of this that some people could question the validity of the results in qualitative research. The thing is though, relying solely on quantitative research doesn’t seem to give the whole picture of the research problem or situation. Further, the results of a quantitative research study could be just as questionable as well depending on how the research design was implemented and the quality of the questions being asked.

Overall, it seems that both methods are at risk of questionable data if the quality of the research design is weak. Ultimately this is reflection on the researcher(s). So, it seems to me that whether it’s qualitative, quantitative, or multi-method, the data you get is a reflection of the quality of the design implemented. This means to me that it really isn’t about the method; it’s about the design.

Qualitating

I think qualitative research makes sense to me. As a teacher, I am constantly watching and asking interview style questions of my students as they work. I think we do need qualitative research because including the experience of a person alongside of their performance helps to capture the whole picture of an experiment. That is necessary when your experiment revolves around humans. However, what seems to be the challenge is dealing with the data. It is hard to imagine, and imagine is all I can do at the moment, how someone would deal with the data produced by a qualitative study.

With a survey, you can use different programs to calculate response percentages. These programs, in essence, are your collaborators since the program will make it easier to compare demographics with responses which will help to highlight patterns and so forth. But, dealing with the data from interviews seems more daunting. It is definitely something I would need help with from collaborators because how do you do it? A spread sheet?? The thought of recording responses from several interviews sound as exciting as doing the dishes… which is not exciting at all. So, I definitely think collaborators are needed.

As a younger student, working with collaborators seemed like I was cheating in some way. I felt, at the time, that the work would have to be solely mine. There is probably a little arrogance built into that perspective as well, but now, I feel certain, especially with qualitative research, that I will need help. It is interesting that this method seems so intuitive yet that processing of the results seems so foreign.

A Little Proposal: A Work in Progress

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.