Thursday, December 18, 2008

Seeking Ethics Review of Ethics Review

Our campus desperately needs to review the current approach to ethics review. Please let faculty researchers who are forced to comply with this often unnecessary bottleneck scrutinize the purpose of these social and biomedical ethics review boards. Perhaps if we use our impressive research and evaluation skills, we can gain some insight into secretive ethics review boards and institute some form of accountability and control.

Currently, faculty and graduate student researchers in the social sciences, who conduct human subjects research that is no or very low risk, are overly delayed and overly scrutinized by an opaque ethics review board. Anonymous reviewers get to criticize research protocols well beyond their own area of expertise, and/or request whatever changes, deletions and additions that they dream up for the protocol under scrutiny -- even if these changes, deletions and additions make absolutely no sense and have no discernible impact on subject safety.

A graduate student of mine once had her research held up for 3 weeks because she refused to change a word in her title -- a reviewer objected to a term in her TITLE - eventually the ethics review board backed down from this "strong suggestion" when I sent a letter with three references citing the terminology as used in our discipline. Blind ethics reviewers, who wring their hands and dream up potential unforeseen risks and fantasy phantoms, do not help the research objective of the university nor do they keep human subjects safe.

I ask that ethics reviewers be named and known to the researchers being scrutinized -- let's level the playing field. Researchers need to know the credentials and background and qualifications of those who seek to fiddle with their research plans and protocols -- just as the reviewers know the credentials and name of the researcher. The reviewers should have to defend their requests for changes, and researchers should be given an opportunity to respond.

Currently, if a researcher disagrees with a "strong suggestion" from the REB, they have to argue their case to the ... REB. Researchers must appeal their case to the same board that denied their request. Big conflict of interest here. Researchers need an opportunity to engage in meaningful discourse with peer reviewers and the REB rather than their only option being to capitulate to unnecessary and often unreasonable demands.

One of the purposes of a University is RESEARCH. At my university, faculty and students have to submit ALL PROTOCOLS to an onerous, nit-picking and timely review process. Like many of my colleagues, and like many of our graduate students, I have become "encultured" in the new politically correct approach to vetting research proposals. Any kind of research about sex or religion or death or learning is automatically subjected to "zero tolerance" for ANY risk whatsoever -- even if the research will benefit the groups involved. Note, I do not believe the current ethics review process is methodologically or philosophically or ethically defensible. What I do believe is that our current ethics review process is nothing more than an intellectual exercise for some reviewers and chairs who seem to be drawn to questions about ethics in research and studying lint in navels.

I do believe that Ethics Review Boards are largely a legal, "protectus thy butticus" industry of the university -- ethics review often has less to do with protecting human subjects from any harm involved in the research itself, and more to do with "finding fault" and justifying the ethics review process and protecting the university from imaginary threats. The uni and ethics review boards want to protect their interests and shore themselves up against any legal threats -- the review process is the point, and gives the uni leave to abandon the researcher to his or her own defense -- after all, the uni did everything in its power to protect the human subjects from the researchers, right?

In early December, my research team submitted a research proposal for ethics review concurrently at my university and the sister institution up North (where members of the team work). In a few days, our team had approval from the sister university. That is, we had APPROVAL in a few days. Ethics APPROVAL with no revisions or changes of any kind. I repeat: "ethics approval with no changes" because it is such a foreign concept at my university. So far, all I have received from my campus Ethics Review Board is a series of nit-picking questions about this or that detail - totally unrelated to the research methods and questions and plans.

I expect to wait several weeks, perhaps 1 -2 months, to get approval for my low to no risk RESEARCH at my RESEARCH INTENSIVE university. Hah. Bah humbug.

At some future point, I will submit to the VP Research, at my Research Intensive University (RIU), a comparison between the ethics review and approval time at the sister university (a few days) and mine (probably several weeks or even months), and the process at the sister university (no changes), and mine (nitpicking, detailed changes and requests for more detail and requests for minute changes and revisions) for comparison and consideration. There may just be a reason why the sister university gets more research funding and conducts more research than my institution...

Let me connect the dots: a reasonable and quick ethical review & approval of research that conveys a commitment to the research objective, and conveys a trust of researchers at the sister institution; versus, a chilling, bureaucratic and overly scrutinized and numbingly arcane bottlenecked ethics revivew process at my university.

A few days versus a few weeks or months for ethical review: The defensive position I anticipate from the REB at my RIU is that "our" ethics review process is of "higher quality" - well, I want proof. I want proof of return on investment -- after all, the Ethics Industry is now a significant budget line item. I want proof that the Ethics Review Board has resulted in some benefit to the University, some benefit to researchers, and any benefit to research. In fact, I suggest we bring our social science research skills to bear on evaluating the processes for ethics review, and demonstrate whether this onerous and timely and nitpicking process has any impact whatsoever on human subject safety, and determine the very real impact on slowing down and limiting the type of research that gets conducted at my "research intensive" university.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Meaningful Change Versus Nickle and Dime

This week, academic and support staff had the first of many conversations to come about budget and vision for our Faculty. I hope that we can continue to have open and civil conversations about the many changes that are needed, and indeed may become possible(!), given the current economic situation. I am delighted that "all options" are on the table -- from trimming back on unnecessary expenses, to the bigger issues of staff and faculty workload and reworking programs, to the idea of exploring options for revenue creation and growth. I believe in judicious cost cutting along with sustainable revenue building in line with our primary objectives - world class research, excellent teaching in both teacher preparation and our graduate programs and collegial governance.

I appreciated the open call to civility -- in the past few months, I have become very discouraged by the "open season" declared on faculty and the permissive culture towards bullying faculty in certain divisions. I have been very discouraged by the hall-way back stabbing and open season declared on past leaders and recent volunteer leaders who are doing their very best for this faculty - curious thanks for taking on the difficult task of leadership in these trying times. I hope that future discourse can recognize and support our present and past leader's achievements and efforts and personal sacrifice, rather than the opposite.

I love this faculty and I believe it can have a powerful future. I have been here for 20 years, first as an undergraduate, then as a graduate student and now as a faculty member. I have invested my heart and mind in this Faculty, in my colleagues and especially in my students. I work with people who have the brightest minds and best hearts in education and I am thankful for this privilege. I also believe that as a whole, the members of this faculty can do better -- we can be better with and to each other as we chart uncertain territory in the coming days.

I believe that we need to continuously review, revise and renew programs in the Faculty of Education. I hope that this period of transitional instability will yield meaningful change - I see the current upheaval as an opportunity to examine what we do and to make difficult and needed changes - changes that we might not have had the appetite for if we weren't in such perilous economic times. I hope we take advantage of this opportunity for meaningful change rather than hanging on by our fingernails to stagnant and entrenched programs that have become impervious to new ideas.

My Christmas List:

1. I sincerely hope that members of our faculty can put aside individualistic and selfish concerns, and work together on great solutions that benefit the entire faculty.
2. I hope that the faculty and support staff can continue to have open and civil conversations about the many changes that are needed, and indeed may finally become possible(!), given the current economic situation.
3. I hope that fresh ideas and innovative solutions will be welcomed, and that members of this faculty will (re)engage and be heard.
4. I hope that the benefits and burdens of any changes are shared by all faculty and support staff. Plums should not be hoarded by the few, nor should the sticks be imposed upon the more vulnerable members of our community.

A graduate student and I were chatting about the concept of mutual vulnerability yesterday. When complex systems begin to fail, the reverberating effects are felt by everyone. I do not believe we will get where we want to go in this Faculty unless everyone picks up an oar. Now is the time to figure out how we can get and keep everyone on board. Let's utilize all of our diverse and particular talents to build a common vision and hammer out an ethical and effective plan for action.

Friday, December 5, 2008

100 Years to a Balanced Budget

Similar to other industries, the current economic crisis is hitting campus hard.

A large gap between revenue and expenses means that our faculty is going to have to consider ways to (i) increase revenue (which gives the Marxists a rash), (ii) increase workload, (which gives overworked and already time-poor faculty a rash), or (iii) reduce expenses, which can mean lost jobs given that over 85% of the budget is salaries. In other words, our faculty needs to look for "efficiencies".

At first I believed that our faculty could use our vision for academic programs, research and collegial governance as a lens through which to make these hard decisions about finance. But, no, wait!! One of our fearless leaders found another option!! Let's cut back on office supplies!!!

Yesterday, it was discouraging, if not downright insulting, to learn that one of our leaders has decided that knee-jerk reaction is the way to go rather than transparency and communication. After a budget meeting, faculty were confronted by a locked paper cupboard and demeaning signage about negotiating the key from support staff. That's right -- in our faculty, not only is there "no free lunch", there is no "free paper" for faculty member's office printers. Ho ho ho. The timing and optics on this are just as bad as the opposition leader filming his address to the nation using a cell phone.

"No free paper" - just in time for end of semester assessments and paperwork.
"No free paper" - means, instead of catching up on workload over the weekend, forget it because the photocopier is empty and no support staff are around

Now, I am no accountant, but a quick calculation of this "No free paper" policy, indicates that it will only take us about 100 years to make up this year's budget shortfall. That's right!! Multiply the cost of paper at $25 / case by 12 (1 case per month) by each of 90 faculty members, means we will save 3.6 million and completely reshape this faculty in the next century.

Whew!! Glad that big leadership issue is taken care of....

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Advice to Teachers from High School Students

Originally, the title of the book caught my attention: Cushman, K. (2003). Fires in the Bathroom: Advice for Teachers from High School Students. The New Press: New York

I quickly discovered Cushman's book was written with 40 student collaborators – the author asked high school students about school, teachers and learning, and listened carefully to what they had to say. What emerges from the student stories, is a vivid mosaic of perspectives, ideas and suggestions about improving education. Cushman organizes student voice thematically in ten chapters. Each chapter includes activities or strategies, and concludes with a useful summary.
o “wanted: one teacher. Must be able to listen, even when mad”
o “a lot of people are afraid of teenagers. They think we are these freak humans”
o “just saying you need to pass math isn’t enough. Show me how knowing pi is worth something”

VALUE – throughout the book, there are good charts and checklists that provide quick reference and structured reflection on a range of chapter-related, and student-derived topics - methinks these sections are useful for beginning, experienced and student teachers as well as those that ply their craft on campus:
o Who are you? Questionnaire for the first day of school
o Am I playing favorites?
o Identifying the assets of your worst behaving students
o “I don’t get it” – an exercise for teachers.
o How do I grade? How do I tell and show students what I expect?
o How to make homework matter to us.

Kathleen Cushman is a writer who has specialized in education and school reform for almost two decades. URL:
o “As every educator knows, good teaching entails far more than basic intelligence and knowledge. It requires the courage to look honestly at what is and imagine what it could be. It requires the humility to admit one’s own mistakes and to keep trying. It requires empathy, to hear and feel what someone else is experiencing. And it takes genuine curiosity about people and ideas.” (p. 184).
o Throughout the book, students show enormous appreciation for the teachers that help them to learn – they offer criticism, advice, and still, they testify time and time again about a teacher’s power to change their minds and change their lives.

A few student quotes:
o MIDDLE STAGE: “I’m not adult enough to get a job and have my own apartment, but I’m adult enough to make decisions on my own, know right from wrong, have ideas about the world. That’s why it’s hard to be a teenager—it’s like a middle stage” (p. 18).
o SUPPORTING INQUIRY: “If you’re raised by teachers just telling you things and forcing them on you, it’s hard or frustrating when teachers expect you to be proactive and take responsibility for your own education” (p. 131).
o PUSH US TO DO OUR BEST: “My algebra teacher, when I got a C in his class, he was upset. He just pushed me to keep my head outa them boys and into the books. He made me go to tutoring after school to keep my grades up” (p. 26).

I am involved in a research project with several colleagues that aims to uncover the relationship between technology, engagement and success in high schools in Alberta. I am excited by the possibility that this research can add to the good work published by Cushman on improving learning opportunities in high school.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Leading Change in Educational Technology IS Rocket Science

Educational technologies both enable and require new approaches to learning and assessment that transcend our hierarchical, industrial-based educational models. Just because we can change education, does not mean that we will. And just because a change is required, it does not mean it will happen. Educational technology leadership is complex and contextual; it can be riddled with both consensus and conflict; it is hard work that requires courage.

In his book Leading in a Culture of Change, Fullan (2001) cautioned that “understanding the change process is less about innovation and more about innovativeness. It is less about strategy and more about strategizing. And it is rocket science, not least because we are inundated with complex, unclear, and often contradictory advice” (p. 31).

Change in education is constant and complex -- educational technology transforms the ways in which teachers and learners can work, learn, and communicate in schools / and on campus. Educational technology leadership is needed as schools and campuses both embrace and reject the changes that technology brings.

When teachers invite technology into their classrooms, they are inviting change in at least four areas at once:

i. content knowledge
ii. pedagogical knowledge
iii. pedagogical content knowledge, and
iv. techno-pedagogical knowledge

It is no small task to change what you teach, how you teach, how you teach what you teach, and how you teach with technology - and layered on top of these changes are the many ways in which teacher-learner relationships change with technology. It is impossible to make all of these changes alone -- the days of the teacher serving as the lone classroom expert are over.

Educational technology leadership calls for transparency in decision making, collegiality in a culture of expectation and support, and a scholarship of teaching characterized by learning professionals who plan, implement and assess instructional designs in community with their colleagues.

Schools and campuses need educational technology leaders who can cultivate a shared vision and lead others with a moral imperative sharply focused on the direction and nature of changes that are needed, and accompanied by the strategies that will move education from the industrial age into the 21st Century.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Taylor Mali - My Favorite Teacher & Poet

Taylor Mali is a teacher and a poet. His website includes a blog, podcasts, audio clips, an extensive photo library, an online store and samples of his work. GO TO:

Here is a great YouTube video that I show to all of my student teachers.
Taylor Mali on What Teachers Make

Here is a great slideshow made of Taylor Mali's poem.
Originally on Slideshare, by Ethos3 - here

From his website: "A native of New York City and vocal advocate of teachers and the nobility of teaching, Mali himself spent nine years in the classroom teaching everything from English and history to math S.A.T. test preparation. He has performed and lectured for teachers all over the world.... Generally considered to be the most successful poetry slam strategist of all time, having led six of his seven national poetry slam teams to the finals stage and winning the championship itself a record four times before anyone had even tied him at three, Mali was one of the original poets to appear on the HBO original series "Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry.""

Taylor Mali is sharp, witty and extremely cool.
And he wants more people to become teachers.
I want more teachers like Taylor Mali.

I am a techno-pedagogical bibliophile

After a presentation about my research, given as part of the interview marathon leading up to a tenure track position, I was asked, "So, it is clear you like technology -- do you believe books still play a role in school?"

It is true that long ago I fell in love with the learning made possible with technology. However, long before I touched my first computer, I was already in love with books. My childhood love affair with books and reading started well before kindergarten and lasts to this day. My mother read hundreds of books to my siblings and me, and I read often to my younger sister. Books were cherished and enjoyed in my home. Mom took us to the library to borrow books with our own library cards. I observed my parents and siblings reading and enjoying literature at home. I read favorite books over and over again. I brought books camping, on road trips and to school. I read my mother’s well-worn copies of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s three Anne Shirley books, and continue to reread and enjoy them as an adult. I saved my weekly allowance to buy the Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series, and all of Judy Blume’s books. Laura’s stories sparked a lasting interest in pioneer tales and literary autobiography that influenced my pursuit of an English degree.

I absolutely love in-depth inquiry into good literature - be it holding and owning beautiful books, or accessing the plethora of good texts and resources available online. My iPod is full of great podcasts that enable me to access people and ideas as I drive my car.

I am a techno-pedagogical bibliophile. I adore books. I collect books. I wish I could write novels that other people would read and enjoy. I fill bags of books I have read and pass these along to my mom and my siblings, and they do the same for me. I browse the shelves of colleagues for books I might enjoy, and give books for presents. My children have hundreds, maybe even more than a thousand books -- I buy these new and gather armloads of children's books at garage sales. I hope to inspire my own children and my students to cultivate a lifelong habit of reading for enjoyment, recreation and learning - I broadly define texts to include and go beyond books. As you can imagine, when and were created, I was among the first to partake in the absolute joy and expensive pleasure of buying hundreds of pounds of books online using my credit card and my keyboard. I still buy thousands of dollars of books a year online. And I also enjoy hunting down good podcasts and websites and blogs and edit a scholarly journal and believe in open source publishing. You get the picture. Techno-pedagogical bibliophile. Perhaps I have coined a new term, or even a new condition.

Here is a Book by David Bouchard that I recommend to all of my student teachers.

David Bouchard, with Sally Bender, Anne Letain and Lucie Poulin-Mackey, 205+ pages, 2004, Orca Book Publishers

“we must seek out that part of our children’s hearts that will make them want to read”

“in order to light a fire in the hearts of our children, a fire must be burning within our own hearts” (p. 10)

WHY does Michele love this book (and highly recommend it for your professional library)?

Several good reasons:

“Reading holds out to us … access to the greatest range of thought possible. Reading offers all of us access to the world so that we come better to understand ourselves, those around us, history, culture and science” (p. 10)

• GOOD AUTHORITY: Written by an award winning children’s book author and three classroom teachers, one of whom makes recommendations of French books.

• REACHING OUT TO ALL KIDS: Offers good book suggestions for connecting with kids on the margins (p. 87)

• ALL AGES / CROSS CURRICULAR: In seven chapters, 1 author and 4 teachers recommend books for children pre-conception to two, 3 – 5 year olds, 6 – 8 year olds, 9 – 11 year olds, 12 – 14 year olds, and 15+ years old.

• OFFICIAL LANGUAGES: English and French books across the curriculum

• OLDIES AND NEWBIES: Classics from 50 years ago to very recent publications

• CLASSROOM TESTED ADVICE: Chapter 9 on Do’s and Don’t of reading
o Do become addicted to books / Do make reading a sacred ritual / Do surround yourself with your favorite books / Do work at making your children believe they are readers – we are what we think we are / Do not test the pleasure out of reading. Do not dissect, analyze and make kids memorize every book.

• Chapter 8 on Resources for administrators, teachers and parents – EVEN HOCKEY PLAYERS READ, DRAW AND TELL STORIES

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Interview Questions I Would Ask Teachers...

One of the greatest joys in my professional life is teaching -- as an education professor, I teach seminars in the undergraduate teacher preparation program and graduate courses in my specialization, educational technology. Each semester I get to work with talented individuals who are drawn to teaching and to educational technology (and after we have learned together, we both know a bit more about both).

In every teacher preparation seminar that I have ever lead, student teachers ask questions about "the interview". The desire to prepare for the inevitable "selection process" is normal -- the type of students I get to work with are driven, articulate and high achievers. To help student teachers to prepare for their interviews with school personnel, I have put together a list of the top 10 questions that I would ask if I were the one to hire a new classroom teacher. To add to this short list, I have also gathered some boilerplate questions from here and there on the web.

My Top Ten Teacher Interview Questions

If you were asked these questions in an interview, how might you respond?

1. How do you know the children are learning?

2. What evidence of student learning might / can / should you collect?

3. What is the role of formative assessment?
a. How might you document learning in process?
b. To what use do you put the data / observations / artifacts you collect?

4. What is the role of Summative assessment?
a. What kinds of learning evidence / artifacts belong in a math portfolio? A science portfolio? A literacy, learning or growth portfolio? An art portfolio?
b. How will you report on products, performances and portfolios?

5. In what ways will you use technology to enable and extend learning for all of the children?

6. How will you share your professional knowledge about student learning with others? (i.e., discussing progress with other teachers, specialists, school leaders, parents?)

7. What does excellence in teaching mean to you?

8. What does inquiry mean to you? What does inquiry look like in your classroom?

9. How will you make a scholarly contribution to the profession of teaching?

10. What called you to teaching?

11. [so, sue me!] How will you support the learning of a child that is fluent in their native language, but not yet in English?

From: Education Canada – Over 80 Sample Interview Questions

1. What is the role of the teacher in the classroom?
2. How would you describe your last principal?
3. What principles do you use to motivate students?
4. Describe effective teaching techniques that result in intended learning.
5. How has your education and life experiences prepared you for this position?
6. What is the most exciting thing happening in the area of education?
7. Describe an ideal curriculum in your area of study.
8. Describe the physical appearance of your classroom.
9. How did you make use of your spare time during university?
10. How much time do you devote to the lecture approach?
11. If you could choose to teach any concept in your area, which would you select and why?
81. What failures have you experienced and what did you learn from them?
82. What extracurricular activities have you participated in and what did you gain from them?
83. Tell me about a recent problem you have experienced and how you went about solving it.

From: Career Curriculum

1 - What are your thoughts on team-teaching?
2 - What are your greatest strengths?
3 - What is your biggest weakness?
4 - Let's imagine an interview for a grade one teaching position wherein the interviewer asks: "Describe your classroom's physical appearance."
5 - Why do you want to work for our school district?
6 - How do you handle classroom discipline?
7 - How would you describe a successful principal?
8 - Do you have any questions for us?

What kind of mentoring program do you have?
What is the average class size?
How many are on the faculty?
Do teachers have access to the gym after school?
Is there tuition reimbursement?
Is there a teachers' library?

40 Questions From: Career Services, Virgina Tech

1. Why did you decide to become a teacher?
2. Have you ever taken care of someone? Did you enjoy it?
3. Do you consider yourself a risk taker? (Give an example to back up your answer.)
4. Are you a positive and energetic person? (Give an example to back up your answer.)
5. If a student said she thought you were the worst teacher she ever had, what would you say?
6. If I were your principal and we were setting goals for next year, what would they be?
7. What is the last book you read?
8. Have you ever considered publishing a book?
9. Some people say you should demand respect. Do you agree or disagree?
10. Tell me about yourself.
11. How would you rank these in importance and why? Planning, discipline, methods, evaluation.
40. How would you handle making a difficult phone call to a parent?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Perspiration versus Inspiration: Cultivating Cross-Curricular Habits of Mind

"Genius is 1% inspiration, and 99% perspiration."
Thomas Edison

What is the “real world” relevance of Inquiry, Persistence and Industry? In this post, I explore several ideas, from the role of persistence in inquiry to how we can design learning experiences that require and motivate kids to invest the “sweat equity” needed to be successful knowledge producers. One goal is to confront the Talent Myth of “Getting It Right First Time”. Another goal is to examine how today's digital technologies both enable and require us to move from industrial to knowledge building learning experiences.

Industrial age, mass education focuses on compartmentalization, inputs and outputs - curricula and fields of study are broken down into digestible portions that teachers present to students whose task is to memorize and repeat the content back. Learning is framed as acquisition of known facts and information. Teachers present questions that have ready answers and success is defined as being correct and fast. Technology is used for the sake of technology, to develop skill and speed with the software, not because technology will enhance the learning.

Education in the knowledge age, described by some as 21st century learning, is characterized by ready access to ever expanding knowledge and to people around the globe. 21st century education requires that students and teachers engage with directly with disciplinary problems, issues, questions and ideas, and with perspectives from around the world. 21st century learning requires that learners be engaged in meaningful and relevant knowledge building work using today's digital technologies. Sustained inquiry into questions, problems and issues that have relevance beyond the classroom, beyond the learners' immediate context, that are the same as questions that scientists, historians and educators pursue in the discipline, takes time. Accessing multiple perspectives and external expertise, analyzing and synthesizing historical data, gathering empirical data, interpreting first and second hand accounts, creating a multimedia representation of one's new knowledge, takes sustained effort, social interaction and connection, access to rich and reliable and current information and knowledge, and responsive and knowledgeable teachers and peers. Technology is used in a purposeful manner, and demonstrates an appreciation of new ways of thinking and doing, and IT is essential in accomplishing the task. 21st century learners determine which technologies they need to accomplish the task.

Good creative work, from Writing, to the Fine Arts, Music, and Film, results from disciplined inquiry and multiple revisions over time. Revision, reflection and revisiting a work is a crucial part of the writing and creative process. Rarely do polished forms of writing, such as scripts or songs or poetry or essays, or other fine works of art, drama, sculpture and cinema, emerge from a first draft, a first brush stroke, a first take. Rather, good writing, creative works, art and music composition and film-making, and other forms of expression and representation often take repeated effort, multiple revisions/takes/tries and ongoing refinement. Understanding the creative process as an iterative form of disciplined and bloody minded effort contrasts with the ready, but often inaccurate, image of the inspired and manic artist creating a masterpiece in mere minutes. Appropriate use of technology supports creative work, enables multiple revisions / takes, and enables learners to return to work in progress at anytime to make improvements, to take the work in a new direction.

Multiple experiments, Progressive problem solving in the Science & Math – The scientific method is a set of techniques for investigating phenomena, creating new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. The natural sciences involve field work, gathering observable, empirical and measurable evidence (data, information) subject to specific principles of reasoning. Scientists collect data via observation and experimentation, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses. Mathematical reasoning and problem solving require analysis, judgment and meaning making, not just getting the “right answer the first time”. Across these disciplines, digital technology enables learners to make sophisticated use of visualization tools, geographical information systems, multimedia/hypermedia software, video conferencing, digital games, online simulations, databases or programming. How often do schools require this kind of engagement in scientific, mathematic inquiry?

Inquiry, Persistence and Industry in Sport: The Beijing Summer Olympics gives us a timely opportunity to think about the years of disciplined practice, training, competition, and refinement that goes into the 100 meter sprinter's 10 second performance; the BMX rider's 30 second trip around the track; the precision and elegance of the 10 meter diver's splashless entrance to the tank. It is great to have talent - but ask any of these Olympians about the value of persistence, discipline, multiple takes, revisions and tries, and it becomes clear that to reach the top of any sport, that inspiration and talent are essential but not enough -- it takes perspiration and discipline to cross the finish line.

All Physics – Honda Advert” - I find the following video a useful way to think about the habits of mind that 21st century learners need to be successful - [¥ouTube].

Multiple Takes: There are no computer graphics or digital tricks in the All Physics video. Everything that you see happened in real time exactly as you see it. The video required 606 takes and in the first 605 takes there always was something, usually of minor importance, that didn't work. It was necessary for the recording team to install the set-up time after time and it took several weeks working day and night to achieve this effect (emphasis mine). The recording cost 6 million dollars and it took 3 months to finish, including the engineering design of the sequence. The duration of the video is only 2 minutes. This commercial has turned out to be the most displayed in the history of the Internet. When Honda senior execs viewed it, they immediately approved it without hesitation-including costs.

The Honda advert video illustrates the real world value of inquiry, persistence, revision and multiple experiments – Edison's idea of perspiration versus inspiration -- both are needed, but one really takes an idea to the finish line.

Reflection on Industrialized versus 21st Century Learning

21st century learners need opportunities to engage with mathematics in the same ways, using the same technology, as mathematicians. I question what we are teaching students when we quiz them, over and over, using "Mad Math Minutes", fill-in-the-blank worksheets, and recitation. From kindergarten to grade twelve, learners need opportunities to think like mathematicians whose work with problems and ideas might stretch over weeks or months, and even years -- often with no one "right" answer.

I question what we are teaching children when we give them photocopied pictures to "color in" or pre-cut, pre-colored shapes to "decorate"? How will we convince children (and parents) who have become accustomed to hallway bulletin boards covered with cookie-cutter "artwork" to value free drawing, creative expression, inquiry into multiple art forms, or to develop the patience , persistence and discipline demonstrated by artists, carvers, musicians, or sculptors?

Seymour Papert argued that learning should be “hard fun” (and in Papert, 1996 - The Connected Family). "My whole career in education has been devoted to finding kinds of work that will harness the passion of the learner to the hard work needed to master difficult material and acquire habits of self-discipline." Think about this idea - the hard work that is needed, the value of self-discipline, and how we can design engaging learning experiences to support the development of these habits of mind.

21st Century Learning - The Galileo Network

Inquiry, multiple drafts, continuous improvement, peer and self assessment, problem solving, scientific and mathematical reasoning, and yes, even active living are all well supported and facilitated by the meaningful and academically rigorous use of digital technology and social networking tools. The Galileo Educational Network offers hundreds of classroom exemplars that answer the following two questions:
  • What does authentic inquiry and assessment look like in the classroom?
  • What can happen to learners and teachers when technology comes to school?
Working alongside Galileo professional developers, classroom teachers have created a number of inquiry-based studies which are freely available online. One of these, a project co-created by Neil Stephenson and Candace Saar, is the Calgary Science School - Virtual Museum.

What the Virtual Museum and hundreds of Galileo supported inquiry projects demonstrate is that:
  • 21st Century Learning that is situated in a larger context of a discipline and body of knowledge
  • 21st Century Learners are designers and knowledge builders
  • 21st Century Learners can and do engage in work that is personally important and meaningful
Inquiry starts with Essential Questions -
Essential questions allow us to explore what knowledge is, how it came to be, and how it has changed through human history. An essential question engages the imagination in significant ways. EQs arise from people's attempts, throughout human history, to learn more about the world(s) we live in. An essential question reaches beyond itself.

The Inquiry Rubric, developed by the Galileo Network, demonstrates an proven approach to designing and developing rich inquiry, and articulates the essential conditions of meaningful and engaging "hard fun" learning using eight criteria: authenticity, academic rigor, ongoing assessment, connections beyond the school, appropriate use of technology, active exploration, connecting with expertise and elaborated communication. The primary purpose of assessment is to improve student learning. Using the Inquiry Rubric, conversations about the relationship between inquiry and technology in 21st century education can occur using a shared language.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Embracing Pat

Today I will attend a memorial for my good friend, Pat Clifford.

I first met Pat in 1997 -- I hold in my mind a vivid memory of Pat in a bright yellow raincoat out with the children on the playground - she was comforting a young girl who had fallen down. I had heard that Pat was an amazing teacher long before I met her; I had read work she had written with Sharon. The icon, this mythical woman, put me immediately at ease - she was so smart, so real, very approachable; I fell in love with Pat and her beautiful voice that year.

Partway through that first year, as some conflict in the school caused ripples of tension. I can remember talking with Pat on the phone one night. A bit naive about how to handle a particular situation, I was asking her advice. At one point, I said, "Dammit Pat, this is so hard, I am not sure what to do next", and Pat said, "Suck it up Michele, teaching IS hard work and it requires no small amount of courage - stick to it". In the days, weeks and months that followed, Pat and Sharon demonstrated how to be courageous, kind and steadfast -- they stuck to their beliefs about what was right for children and teachers, and I learned a great deal through their example. There was a great deal of laughter and joy balanced by some tears and frustration that year; when I think back on the magical times I got to spend in Pat and Sharon's classroom, the primary image is one of joyful stewardship of the intellect - I learned more about teaching, learners and myself that year than I had in seven years of university.

Over the past eleven years, I have cherished Pat Clifford's friendship and I have relied on her wise mentorship as I have navigated the professoriate and motherhood. She always knew just when to offer words of encouragement, when to administer a gentle nudge forward, and was both generous and thoughtful with her feedback. She listened patiently to my stories and offered sage observations, stories and advice in return. When I worried about being the youngest female professor in the faculty, she told me to keep the pony tail and to show attitude. Her friendship and mentorship has been so important to me on my journey; knowing Pat has enriched my life, Terry's life and the lives of my children. By believing in me, she has helped me to believe in myself.

A cherished memory -- a story, for Pam. My sons love to grow things in the garden -- one June, as a few things were ready to pick in the garden, I invited Pat for lunch. My two little sons and I were in the yard when Pat came walking down the hill. The first thing you noticed was her big smile, and her hearty hello -- she was always delighted to see my boys and showed great interest in their stories. If they showed her a bug, she bent down, examined it carefully, and questioned them thoughtfully; time stopped as these two people, one big and one small, shared in the wonder of the earth. A dandelion, a rock, a ladybug took on new significance because Pat shared a tiny boy's fascination with these marvelous objects and living things.

In this picture, Pat is accepting a radish from my dear son, who had just plucked a handful from his little garden. She raved over its fresh flavor, expressed delight in his skill as a gardener and made him feel so very important, accomplished and brilliant. Pat savored food as she savored life -- with rapture, gratitude and style!!

Recently, Pat's two lovable big cats came to live at our house. Named for characters in Shakespeare (of course - Pat was an English teacher), Olivia and Portia are ten year old female cats that Pat adopted from the SPCA long ago when she lived in her house. Olivia is a great black matriarch with compelling green eyes, one fang and a throaty purr - she doesn't want any trouble, but she stands her ground. Portia has a creamy white belly and paws, a peach colored nose and orange and black tabby markings on her back and tail. Portia has developed a habit of lounging on my husband's chest and watching television with him.

A few months ago, during a phone call with Pat, I offered to take care of her cats if she needed some help -- I knew what I was committing to, and so did she. In her graceful way, she simply said thank you.

Saturday, I brought my boys to see Pat in the hospital -- they had each made her a blue card. She greeted them enthusiastically as the new cat daddies. She held their artwork in slightly shaking hands, and asked them to explain the drawings, the sparkle paint, the stickers. Pat listened carefully to each of their stories and commented on the details they shared. Erik had drawn a castle with a room for each of us; he drew swirling cat mint plant with hundreds of bees beside it. Kai had painted a blue sparkle paint ocean for the Nemo stickers. Pat praised their work and let me hang them in her room - she made my boys felt very important. My sons basked in her attention and affection. My sons thanked Pat for letting them watch her cats. She asked them about camping. That day, I picked up the keys from Pat and Pam in the hospital -- Pat and I discussed details about Olivia and Portia, like who liked to be brushed, who ate first, where the cat's favorite blankets and toys were, and how much to feed them. We talked about how to best ease Olivia and Portia into our house given that we already had a ten year old cat, a feisty girl named Kiri. When the boys started playing with Pat's precious meditation bowl, I encouraged the boys to say good bye. Her smile shone from the bed, and as I kissed both cheeks, I told her I would visit on Monday.

Sunday morning, my older sister helped me pick the cats up from Pat's condo. I took a few pictures of the kitties in Pat's living room to show to her in the hospital. My husband and I thought it best to settle Portia and Olivia in our bedroom first -- so, once they were home, we set up their blankets, food and litter boxes upstairs. Our other cat, Kiri, had the run of the house downstairs. Portia and Olivia transitioned very well -- Olivia ate some kernels and sipped water from her vase. After the first few hours, Portia was still under the bed, but BOTH cats slept with us that night (along with our children). My sons continue to lavish attention on Olivia and Portia and are delighted with the new additions to our family. I took several pictures to show to Pat -- I knew she would be interested in hearing how her girls felt during their first few hours in our house. It was hard to drag the boys away from the two new girls -- I took the boys to see their grandpa and left my husband in the bedroom watching television with Olivia and Portia.

Monday, August 11, I took some photos of Olivia and Portia to the hospital to share with Pat -- she was delighted to hear that her girls had slept on our bed. "You must have known something that I didn't" she said. Pat smiled and thanked me when I told her that Olivia and Portia were eating, drinking and purring, and getting lots of love from all of us. She thanked me; and, I immediately thanked her - I feel truly grateful for the opportunity to do something that makes her so happy. I told Pat I loved her, I was grateful to be trusted with her cats, my boys were incredibly happy, Terry and I were happy, and that I was happy to adopt the cats because it made her happy. I promised to come and tell her more stories about Olivia, Portia and Kiri on Wednesday or Thursday. I knew she wanted to do some more writing. She and I hugged, kissed, and said good bye.

I am so grateful I got to see Pat on Monday evening. The next morning, my world shattered when I read Sharon's email -- Pat had died during the night. My boys asked me why I was crying; they, too, became quiet and subdued when I told them that Pat had passed away. "Mom, that is very sad - I am going to go hold the cats". My two little boys understand, like I do, that hugging and loving these cats is like loving Pat, because she loved Olivia and Portia so dearly.

I am so very grateful for Pat's love, friendship and mentorship. She helped me find courage so many times when I faltered; Pat was always open to hugs and laughter; she offered wise advice exactly when I needed it. I am grateful for the last few minutes I had with her, for the last few visits we shared in the hospital, for the phonecalls and the shopping trip and the walk to the park and the suppers, for the lunches and the wine, for the trust she placed with me, for the belief she had in me, for the last eleven years that I had to learn with and from this world class teacher, and good friend and dynamic, powerful woman.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Seymour Papert's Powerful Ideas

I often get asked, "who was the most influential educational technologist in your career?".

Here is a quote from Seymour Papert's book, "The Connected Family" that I love:

"There is a prevalent tendency to think that when children under-perform at school and dislike schoolwork this is because it is too hard. Nothing could be more wrong. Most dislike of schoolwork comes from finding it boring, the exact opposite of finding it too difficult. Children, like everyone else, don’t want “easy” – they want “challenging” and “interesting” – and this implies “hard” (Seymour Papert, 1996, p. 52)

Although I could cite many important influences, the most influential researcher on my own development as an educational technologist is Seymour Papert from MIT. His early work in the 1960s on constructionism and children’s thinking with computers was ground breaking, and his influence continues to this day -- in fact, Nicolas Negroponte's One Laptop Per Child Project builds on Papert's work.

I have never met Seymour Papert, and I hope that I might – I have attempted to read everything Papert and his close colleagues have written. His ideas inspired my own passion for learning with technology. Seymour Papert has been credited with having some of the most powerful ideas about children, learning and computers. His work continues to be the most important and influential work on children’s thinking with technology to this day. A great deal of the philosophy underpinning the work of Sharon Friesen and Pat Clifford, from the Galileo Network, and subsequently, my own work (Jacobsen, 2006), is based on the constructionist ideas proposed and published by Seymour Papert, and several of the researchers who follow in his footsteps (Mitchel Resnick, Andrea diSessa, Ricki Goldman, Yasmin Kafai, Nicholas Negroponte, Sherry Turkle, Amy Bruckman).

During my student teaching, I became passionately interested in how children use computers for learning and play. I was first asked to read some work by Seymour Papert in a mind-numbingly boring, “computers in education” textbook and programming course we were all required to take (Ironically, years later I ended up teaching the labs for this course, and then the course itself as a graduate student and then as a professor -- as you might imagine, I aimed to teach with computers in a radically different way!!). The book was Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas, published in 1980.

I loved Papert’s ideas, and was very keen to learn how to program with LOGO in the lab. After the course, I wanted to pursue creative activities with the computer further, so I proposed and completed an independent study on using hypermedia for learning with a professor in educational technology who happened to be in Ireland on sabbatical for a year (Incidentally, Dr. Bill Hunter became my colleague years later when I was hired as an assistant professor in educational technology). Dr. Hunter and I used email to communicate and exchange assignments, feedback, etc., and I also used the internet to do a great deal of my literature review and research on hypermedia (at that time, access to the web was through Lynx, a command line interface). Specifically, I investigated the nature of children’s learning when they created hypermedia representations of their original stories. This project, and many others that I became involved with, ignited what has become a life-long passion for better understanding (what can be) the emancipatory relationship between learners and technology.

So, almost 20 years ago I was asked to read a 10 year old book by Papert and it transformed my ideas about inquiry and technology.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Intersections between Professor and New Mother

As a nursing mother, I was stuck like glue to my infants for the first six to seven months. They do not recognize or even respect such lofty titles as Doctor. To them, mom means milk. To my two, mom meant meals and cuddling every two hours.

When my first child was a few weeks old, I received word that I was being considered for a Teaching Excellence Award in our Faculty. I had to update my teaching portfolio and actually enjoyed the process of reflecting on my teaching philosophy and various projects. The writing and revision usually took place with a hungry infant in my lap -- hands hovering over the keyboard, small little head seeking out some nourishment. My two month old baby was never far from me because I was nursing exclusively. My husband worked full time and in order to attend the interview required by the awards committee, I had to find someone to watch my infant. A dear colleague agreed to watch my baby while I attended the hour long interview. Like many a proud mom, I dressed my baby up in a cute little outfit complete with matching socks and bonnet and felt only mildly anxious as I left him in the capable hands of my colleague, who was mother to two teenagers, and a female doctoral student. They both had my cell phone number, just in case...

The committee sitting around the table included several male and female colleagues and a representative from the Alberta Teacher's Association. After the interview, I was told by one committee member that I had enthusiastically answered a variety questions about courses I had taught, detailed my teaching philosophy, discussed various projects I had worked on that contributed to teaching, and the research that I had published on teaching and learning in higher education. During the interview, though, all I remember is this distracted feeling of separation as I imagined my hungry child kicking up a fuss. When the interview was over, I hurried down to my colleague's office to collect my still very happy baby who did not seem unduly alarmed by my absence.

I was informed that I had received the Teaching Excellence Award a few weeks later. Of course I was delighted. I brought my three month old baby to the Faculty for the event. The award was presented during a Faculty meeting, and a few colleagues still marvel at how well behaved my infant was during the first part of the meeting. All was fine up until a few minutes before the awards presentation; my baby had started to squirm and turn insistently towards my chest. I left the room to find a quiet spot to attend to my hungry baby. While I was out of the room, the dean announced my award. So, I got all dolled up, and got my baby all dolled up to attend this presentation and I missed the vital part because there is no reasoning with a hungry baby!

A few years later, my second child was born. At two months old, this baby accompanied me to educational technology conference on campus. I had submitted two proposals to present different research and development projects at this conference, one on my own and one with graduate students. I can remember showing up for my conference sessions in full professional dress, baby carriage in tow after having just dropped my two year old off at a day home.

At one point, I was presenting the slides during my session and my baby was in the stroller off to the side. As I scrolled through the first part of my presentation, baby started to get fussy, so I had to pop over to the stroller to comfort him and then glide back to the podium. This balancing act was carried out in a dark room filled with dozens of faculty and graduate students in educational technology; sitting in the front row was the present and past presidents of the association. Nice. Thankfully, the crowd seemed sympathetic to this mother-researcher dance (at least, nobody was overtly rude) and I carried off the presentation reasonably well. By the end, during the question period, my baby was no longer content in the stroller, so I answered most of the questions, rocking back and forth on my feet, with my tiny infant cradled in my arms.

At lunch, at the same conference, I had to present the editor's award to the author of a paper that received the most nominations. At the round, eight person table, I just rolled the stroller close to my seat so that I could keep an eye on baby. Call me paranoid, or just extra-sensitive, but I definitely detected a frosty tone to some of the remarks about a stroller parked at the table. After I had presented the award, and the luncheon was drawing to a close, I had to find a private place to give my infant lunch.

After settling onto a bench hidden behind some plants, I nestled my child in to nurse. Turns out my cloaking strategy was not effective; One of our very talented edtech graduate students spotted me, and sauntered up for a conversation. After a few minutes of back and forth talk, she kind of realized what I was doing. With a chastized look, she said "Oh, do you want me to come back later?" I reassured her that it was fine with me if she stayed. She replied, "I just cannot believe that you are here with a small baby, while on leave, while nursing, and presenting your research, and giving out awards. Don't you professors ever stop?"

And in that very moment I thought, "no, no we don't".

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Yes, Children Can Learn With Technology (if we can get past the "I have a curriculum to cover" approach to doling out information)

A graduate student email-interviewed me recently, and prepared a web summary of our exchange for a course assignment. One of the questions she asked was, "Often teachers will voice that the lack of machines and the lack of software make teaching with technology nearly impossible. In your opinion, what is the biggest technological obstacle that teachers face?" My response was that the biggest obstacle is pedagogical.

In my recent work (Jacobsen, 2006) I argue that several essential conditions need to be in place to support meaningful use of technology for learning, among which is ubiquitous access to reliable technology. However, it is vital to understand that access to computers and networks does not make much of a difference to the majority of teachers – the biggest obstacle that teachers often face is pedagogical – most adopt a reductionist stance on learning (I will qualify this argument later…). The second obstacle is techno-pedagogical – most teachers have underdeveloped skills for using interactive technologies in constructivist ways. Teachers will always argue that they have (i) no time, (ii) no access to technology, software, networks, whatever, and (iii) that technology doesn’t make a difference anyways when they have a curriculum to “cover”. Blah, blah, blah.

I believe we need to better understand the relative challenges that individual educators, entire school staffs, and entire school systems face when deciding whether or not, and then how, to use technology for learning. We need to study the nature of support that persuades teachers, schools and systems to make the shifts from transmission pedagogy to constructivist approaches to learning and when to invite technology into their classrooms, schools and systems.

Therefore, I do not believe that the question is whether we have enough machines, or not, or whether we focus on developing “technology skills” or not. If we are to take advantage of the power of technology to connect people with other people and link people with ideas, then fundamental changes to teaching and learning are required when computers come to school. Therefore, our approaches to professional development need to be part of an overall approach to educational reform and leadership in schools and school systems, rather than just with individual teachers and individual skill levels.

In my recent book, I argue that the issue is not whether technology makes any difference in learning (Jacobsen, 2006). We know that learners of all ages can use technology for imaginative and creative design work and that meaningful learning can result. The issue is not whether there is any credible evidence or enough “hard” research linking effective use of technology with meaningful inquiry and learning. I cite dozens of researchers who have provided example upon example upon example of meaningful learning with technology (Jacobsen, 2006). The time for piloting technology is over (Negroponte, 2006).

The problem is that after more than 25 years of experience with computers in K-12 classrooms, we have not seen the meaningful uses of technology for interdisciplinary inquiry by children in some classrooms and some schools spread much beyond the enthusiastic early adopter teachers and visionary innovators. It is generally accepted that the problem of uneven adoption of technology extends to other institutional settings.

What does it take to move technology for learning beyond the early adopters? Building upon Becker’s (2000) research on the use of technology for learning, I identify ten essential conditions that support innovative teaching and inquiry-based learning with technology in K-12 schools (Jacobsen, 2006):

(1) Supportive leadership
(2) A learning, risk-taking culture among staff
(3) A colleague, from within or without the school, to walk the road with the teacher (a mentor or critical peer)
(4) Ubiquitous access to reliable technology
(5) Time for professional dialogue and connections
(6) School board and parent support
(7) Secured, sustainable sources of funding
(8) On-site capacity and leadership
(9) Diffusion of the mentorship relationships
(10) Designing learning communities that resist the urge to turn back.

So, while I argue that the genesis of the problem can often be understood to be teacher pedagogical beliefs, techno-pedagogical skills and attitudes, I recognize that teachers are subject to the political, social, technological, economic and cultural contexts in which they work. So, even teachers who readily embrace inquiry and have relatively good skill and experience with the technology will run up against problems using technology for learning if there isn’t supportive leadership, supportive and helpful colleagues, access to reliable technology, and so on. An individual teacher cannot easily link her students to peers in another country without an internet connection and a computer in the classroom.

Of these, I think that responsive and embedded professional development is probably the most important condition for effective technology use for learning, along with supportive leadership. Teachers are asked to make major changes to their practice when computers come to school – they need to adopt constructivist practices (big change for many) and they need to constantly learn new media and methods to do with the technology (this tends to get easier over time), they need access to colleagues and positive mentoring, they need parental and board support, they need the digital tools and networks, and so on.

Therefore, I believe the biggest barrier is the relative lack of effective and meaningful PD – public schools have more computers and better networks than ever, but these are still underused and often mis-used because appropriate investments in professional development (both inservice and preservice) have not been made, and there is a need for strong and supportive leadership to connect the dots and make things happen in schools.

Finally, I think the biggest gap that we need to address is between those teachers who believe their role is to "transmit knowledge in predefined curricular bits and easy to swallow pieces" and those teachers who see their role as constructing meaningful learning opportunities and supporting children in constructing their own knowledge using disciplined inquiry. If teachers see themselves as "delivering the curriculum" then they will try to use technology to "deliver information". If teachers see their role as cultivating scholarship and supporting innovation, inquiry and creativity, then they are more likely to design a constructivist learning environment for children. I see "delivering information" as an under-use, or mis-use of schooling and technology. On the other hand, if teachers see their role as supporting learners in constructing knowledge, communicating their understanding, solving challenging problems, inquiry, and decision making, then they will tend to use technology to support these forms of thinking and communicating.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

An EdTech View on Literacy and Harry Potter

A dog's age ago, Margaret Wente published a column in the Globe and Mail about the demise of books, entitled, "Need more bad news? Try schools without books", on November 22, 2001. In brief, Wente argued that schools were diverting money from teacher-librarians and libraries to fund more computers in schools; she worried that this shift in priorities would result in children reading fewer books and, therefore, developing fewer literacy skills.

In response to the column, I sent Margaret a letter in which I presented an alternate, educational technology view on literacy and books. She didn't respond, but I came across this letter the other day and believe that many of the points are still relevant and worth sharing almost seven years later.

To Margaret,

In your recent column, "Need more bad news? Try schools without books", you make some good points, albeit, sensationalized a bit to get people's blood running. I need to ask: Have you paid attention to the Harry Potter trend? A good majority of children in Canada, and many many adults, have read all four of these books and cannot wait for the author to write the next one. Children and adults are lining up to buy... books. In our multi-media age, children and adults are also trooping off to the theatre to see the movie, looking up Harry Potter information and movie trailers on the web, posting comments on fan sites, and sending each other email about their favorite wizard.

It is unfortunate that you only present one perspective effectively in this article. Most of your arguments are presented with the barest of facts and tend to polarize debate as an "either/or" dichotomy. The "grim news" is not that schools are buying less books (because parents are buying more books) and that computers have come to the classroom; the bad news is that some booksellers are seeing parts of their market share dropping, and like the luddites of past technological shifts, are resorting to fear tactics as an attempt to hold on to the past version of their industry . Playing on people's fears, rather than presenting honest and well reasoned arguments, is both inaccurate and immoral.

The truth is that books AND computers are today's literacy and authoring tools. Via and, and other online sellers, people now have more access to better, cheaper and more beautiful books that ever before. You likely used a word processor to write your article in the Globe and Mail -- it is also published on the web. The only reason I knew about your article was because a colleague forwarded the link -- I didn't need the paper version to access your argument.

You end the article with: "Yet books, not computers, create the common ground for literacy and love of reading. Is anyone listening?" Well, I am listening, but I simply do not agree with most of what you say. I agree that books are very important in our culture; however, books are not the only way to create a common ground for literacy and love of reading. To be literate means more than just being able to read books. Literacy includes a critical reading of texts of all kinds (books, newspapers, websites, cultural norms, facial expressions, and so on), from authors with a range of perspectives; literacy includes writing and expressing oneself using multiple media and forms; literacy includes counting and numeracy, and yes, computing - Andrea diSessa (2000) makes a well-reasoned argument for the growth of computational literacies -- you should read his, yes, book!

In the 19th and 20th centuries, the dominant communication medium has been the printed page, whether it be a newspaper, an essay or a novel. And people not only consumed; they authored. Children read novels in school, and they write letters, essays and poetry. Other dominant mediums in the past 50 years have been radio and television - and people consumed, but rarely had a chance to author unless they were in specialized fields and media occupations. The dominant media of today are interactive and social; today's interactive media includes international networks, digital video and hypermedia. Unlike the predominantly broadcast media of the past, digital technologies and the Internet enable both adults AND children to author, publish and exchange their stories, their narratives using text, graphics, animation, sound and video on public web servers.

One of our most important jobs as educators is to help children to read the many texts and media forms in their world. We must also teach our children to author using the media of their time… It is not enough to teach children in the ways we were taught - because they live in a different age. Yes, stories and information shared in books AND via computers and networks can create a common ground for literacy, and promote a love of reading, writing and communicating with the world.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Donald Norman: A Scholar of Interest to Educational Technologists

When I was a doctoral student, I took graduate courses in computer science, psychology, management of information systems and educational psychology. One reason for this interdisciplinary choice of courses was the nature of educational technology itself, and my felt need to broaden my scholarship and doctoral coursework to include an understanding of other related disciplines. Another reason was that I had completed my master of science degree in the same educational psychology department, and had already taken most of the 'in-house' courses in my area.

In a computer science graduate course, Dr. Mildred Shaw assigned a paper entitled, "Norman, D. A. (1980). Twelve issues for cognitive science. Cognitive Science, 4, 1-32." Our task was to publish a brief review of the article on our web sites. In brief, Norman discusses 12 concepts, or issues, that must be considered in the study of Cognition (i.e., belief systems, consciousness, development, emotion, interaction, language, perception, learning, memory, performance, skill, thought). My "take" was that Norman argued for the discipline of cognitive science to adopt a broad view which includes consideration of evidence from various disciplines, such as the neurosciences, cognitive sociology and anthropology, linguistics, psychology, education, and the study of artificially intelligent mechanisms. Norman asserted the value of multiple philosophies, multiple viewpoints, multiple approaches to common issues -- which rang true to my developing understanding of educational technology as an interdisciplinary field of study. Norman argued that cognitive science could / should bring together heretofore disparate disciplines to work on common themes.

Norman's ideas about an interdisciplinary, multi-perspective approach to scholarship in this article resonated strongly with me and I began to gather and read his other works. In this context, I recommend that educational technologist students and researchers might like to read other books by this great thinker - I have read most of Donald Norman's books, and have used 3 of them as course texts*.

- Norman, D. (2007). The Design of Future Things.
- *Norman, D. (2004). Emotional Design: Why we love (or hate) everyday things.
- *Norman, D. (1999). The Invisible Computer: Why Good Products Can Fail, the Personal Computer Is So Complex, and Information Appliances Are the Solution. See review.
- *Norman, D. (1994). Things That Make Us Smart: Defending Human Attributes in the Age of the Machine.
- Norman, D. (1992). Turn Signals Are the Facial Expressions of Automobiles.
- Norman, D. (2002). The Design of Everyday Things: (originally under the title The Psychology of Everyday Things, 1988).

Learn more about Donald Norman and his works at these websites:
Donald Norman's jnd website:
Podcast on Emotional Design:

Friday, July 18, 2008

Celebrating Folk Music and Freedom on the Alberta Prairies

What do professors do for fun? "Are you going to take any holidays this summer?" asks a colleague in the elevator. "Yes, we are going camping this weekend," I respond.

In the middle of July, my husband and I get ready for the annual, two-hour trek to the South Country Fair in Fort Macleod. Our goal: three days of folk festival fun and camping on the banks of the Old Man River. We used to drag our old 1970s Bonair tent trailer to the fair; now we cruise down the highway in our small motorhome - perfect for four people. We pick the same spot to set up camp every year -- close to the banks of the river and a five minute walk from the fair grounds.

Fair headquarters used to be an old army tent. Now, the HQ is a log structure that displays programs, CDs and t-shirts on picnic tables. Meandering through the campground, we encounter tarot card readers enclosed in tie-dye tents, poetry readings by grungy hippies younger than their circa 1960 campers, and teenagers selling beaded jewelry and hemp chokers. We narrowly miss getting sprayed by a water truck sprinkling the wide swaths of prairie to keep down the dust.

It only takes a few songs by the first band Friday night to stir the blood of the dancers. Boys, girls, children and women in wraparound batik skirts and bare feet do a folk hop in front of the stage. A six year old in a fluorescent bathing suit, an expectant mother with a toddler, and nubile teens and suntanned goddesses form a cohesive whirling dervish that sways and undulates to songs about social justice. "You have in god we trust on your money, but school children aren’t allowed to pray in school" croons the Welsh guitar man with biting humor. After the first few sets, we stroll back to the campsite, a little sunburnt and thirsty, to roast a few smokies and refresh our drinks. Festival friends from previous years stop by, a French woman and her children from Vancouver Island, a waiter from the Kooteneys, and a couple from Chestermere Lake.

A hot morning sun the next day sends a multi-aged throng to the river for relief. Along with the children, we throw on sandals, scale the eight-meter river bank, and body surf with hundreds of other neo-Woodstockians down the fast moving Old Man. In the afternoon, we meander through the Artisan tents, where one can choose from Celtic
artwork, bright sarongs and dresses, and bongo drums. Participants wanting more than a garment or hemp hat as a festival momento can get a temporary henna tatoo at the Mehndi Artistry tent, or saunter across the way to a tatoo tour bus where they can make a more permanent body art decision.

The first year we came to the South Country, we stood in rain one night at a tiny modified Boler, and waited while two hippie chicks assembled our bean burritos and watery coffee. Yum! Both were delicious. Nowadays, there are wider culinary options, from fruit juice slush to mile high indian tacos, designer coffees, the ubiquitous mini-donuts, and all kinds of meat on a bun with fries or poutine.

The Fair’s diverse crowd includes minivan couples who arrive with children in car seats, dreadlock teens in refurbished schoolbuses, and fifty and sixty somethings who sit cross-legged on woven blankets. The friendly family atmosphere enables adults to indulge in the odd concealed beer and turns a somewhat blind eye to other kinds of partying, as long as patrons are well behaved and respect the rights of others to have a good time. Swarms of children run around to tents and activities set up just for them, from an Earth ball, face painting, puppet shows, to the clowns. Kids can make crafts, walk the labyrinth and splash each other with water from the ancient pump.

In the early evening, the ground in front of the main stage becomes a multicolored tapestry as people stake out claims with dozens of blankets, quilts and old sleeping bags. Can you dance in leather pants o’ lady with a tambourine? The sun goes down and more people are up dancing than clapping and hooting from lawn chairs. Weekend acts can range from a bad boy fiddler from Cape Breton, a Swiss songwriter, to a Japanese drum group from Winnipeg. Crowd favorite, Fred Eaglesmith, shares the stage with musicians from Taber, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto and Vancouver.

A brief evening rainstorm does nothing to dampen the spirits of the festival die-hards. Tarps, raincoats and unbrellas form a sea of protection against pelting raindrops as the bands play on. The dustbowl dance pit becomes a mudbath, fraught with multicolored flashes as barefoot young dancers wave their glowstick treasures attached to every limb. This Fair is not subject to the eleven o’clock curfew of many city fairs - music lovers often indulge well into the morning. Late night revelers meander back to their sites along a moonlit path strung with fairy lights.

Our first visit to South Country Fair was ten years ago. Now we make the annual trek with our own children, several great friends and their children, and anyone we know who wants to tag along. For three glorious summer days, our family joins hundreds of Canadian and international souls, liberated from 21st century cares and concerns, to enjoy groovy outdoor music and wholesome camaraderie on the southern Alberta flatlands.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Day in the Life of One Education Professor

At social events, I have become used to questions about what professors actually "do". I usually offer a brief overview of the teaching, research, and service responsibilities that characterize most education professors’ workload. If the person doesn’t wander off for another cheese and cracker, I’ll share juicy tales of my field research, traveling to distant lands to present at conferences, editing an academic journal, interviewing participants or working closely with student teachers, classroom teachers, graduate students and many bright and interesting colleagues. Oh, just give us a chance and we professors can become the life of the party!!

During many of these conversations, I almost always get asked, "If you only teach 9 hours per week, what you do with the _rest_ of your time?" There are a number of ways one might answer such a pragmatic question. One way I thought I could explain what professors do with the "rest of their time" is to share a couple "days in the life". Here are a couple of mine.


8:30 - Meet with Associate Dean to discuss course scheduling, staffing and workloads and the development of new courses.

9:00 - Edit academic journal. This role involves (i) receiving manuscripts, (ii) completing an editorial review, (iii) deciding whether to reject or peer review, (iv) sending manuscript to 2–3 peer reviewers, (v) managing the peer review process, (vi) communicating with authors, (vii) selecting manuscripts for inclusion, (viii) creating a table of contents and article order, (ix) writing an editorial, and (x) managing the revision and final layout stages with the copyeditor.

12:00 - Meet with colleague to discuss course development, research projects and graduate supervision.

1:00 - Meet with another colleague to analyze data and prepare a conference presentation about a three year research project.

3:00 - Service: Tenure track position, a committee meeting to discuss and select potential interviewees.

4:30 - Gently stuff 24 student papers in bag to mark at home that night.


7:45 - Prepare letter to support former doctoral student's application for academic position.

8:30 - Prepare and submit proposal on conference website to present results from a year long research project.

10:00 - Read and respond to present doctoral student's draft research proposal.

11:00 - Department meeting, many items on agenda, the most thrilling of which is graduate admissions and how photocopying budgets will be scrutinized.

12:45 - Hasty lunch at desk while reading email and preparing for next net meeting.

1:00 - Login to SL to meet with doctoral student.

2:00 - Review graduate admissions files.

3:00 - Review transcripts from field-based research project.

4:30 - Pack laptop in bag and head to car.


8:00 - Arrive on campus, grab a coffee, blast through a couple dozen emails from solicitors, respond to important emails, listen to phone messages, photocopy an article and refine slides & plans for afternoon class, review a draft of a newsletter, grab snail mail from mailbox, sync iPod, water plants, and read favorite blog.

9:00 - Teleconference with colleagues here and at another university to discuss and negotiate details of a province wide research project.

10:00 - Serve as external examiner on a masters thesis. Think, what a great project!!

12:00 - Eat lunch in car while running a few errands.

1:00 - 4:00 - Lead a doctoral seminar (about which an entire other post can, and probably will be, written!).

4:10 - Grab iPod, stuff a few articles & books in my bag, jog to car.

At some point, if the person isn't shifting uneasily towards the buffet table, or the bar, I launch into an analysis of multi-level committee work in different parts of the academy, and if time permits, end with a thesis on the relative merits of the paper versus electronic daytimer. Uneasily, perhaps, I realize I am only partially joking about this last part.

Still. "If you only teach 9 hours per week, what you do with the rest of your time?"

I estimate I spend at least as much time preparing for a seminar as actually leading it. I read several articles and book chapters before selecting the few that I will assign to students. I browse hundreds of websites, listen to dozens of podcasts and draw upon a vast network of expertise in my own professional network when selecting case studies or exemplars to use or guest talks to highlight in a seminar.

When speaking to a fellow educator or, at the very least, another pedagogical enthusiast, I might launch into my ideas about instructional design, development and assessment, how to review and select good texts (widely defined) that will provoke discussion, why and how I develop tasks and assignments a certain way, the standards and criteria I employ in a rubric, and the joyful time spent reading and responding to student work. Though I am committed to and passionate about my many funded and unfunded research projects, one achievement I am particularly proud of is an excellence in teaching award. Now, that was hard work.

When I started as an junior, assistant professor many years ago, I believed I would spend a great deal of time reading and reflecting upon scholarly works, writing academic papers, going for leisurely lunches once in a while, and working closely with talented students and colleagues. I was correct in that I get to do all of those things, and a great deal more!