Remembering the yoin of our work

I’ve been seeing a lot of “Time Hops” showing up on people’s social media feeds these days. The Time Hop allows us to take a peek into the past and remind ourselves of we were and help us better visualize where we’re likely to head. This week, I’m featuring a blog post from November 2012. Written during the throes of the busy part of a Fall semester, the post offers a nice reminder of how important teaching is. Enjoy.

As educators, we often hit a busy part of the semester where the individual tasks and responsibilities converge and create a confluence of work. We have midterm exams to grade, students’ papers to read, assignments to create and discussion board posts to read. We have classes to teach, students to advise, lessons to prepare, phone messages to return, emails to answer and meetings to plan. We have proposals to write, presentations to create, manuscripts to write.. . and… and the work just continues to grow.

For those of you who have stuck around through that mini-rant, let me explain. I really love what I do. I enjoy working with students and love all of the activities and responsibilities that come with this job. I even enjoy serving on committees. The real challenge is that we can get caught up in the machinations of our institutions and lose sight of the tremendous jobs we have and the powerful work we can do. When I think about teaching, I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes. In Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury writes:

“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there. 

It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.”

Teaching can be like gardening. Our work can last a lifetime. We can create powerful change in the students with whom we work and that change can last forever. Recently, a colleague shared the concept of yoin with me and I think it echoes the sentiment that Bradbury describes. Yoin is a Japanese term so I had to do a little hunting to get an accurate description of the word. I found a great definition in Howard Rheingold’s book They Have a Word for It: A Lighthearted Lexicon of Untranslatable Words. The literal definition, Rheingold writes, “refers to the reverberations that continue for a long time after a well-cast bell is struck.” I think yoin can be a powerful metaphor for our work as educators and can also help to motivate us through the busiest times of our semesters. When we’re staring at the stack of papers and the ever-growing To-Do list, we need to remember the potential reverberations of our “well-cast bells.” We may not always hear the resonance but our jobs can make a difference that reverberates beyond the busiest todays and into the distant tomorrows.

Remembering the yoin of our work can also help us live positively in the moment. As we get busier and the stress builds, what emotions and memories do want to resonate with the students who show up at our door needing help? Or the colleagues who just stopped by with a few questions? Or the advisees who are checking in about an email they sent that morning? Each of our interactions, positive and negative, has the power to reverberate long into the future. How do you want your bell to ring?

The SAMR Model: A critical perspective

This post may not win me many fans.  In some ways, offering a critical perspective of the SAMR Model is like attacking rainbows, puppy dogs and sunshine.  The SAMR Model is that beloved.  If you’re not familiar with the model, SAMR is designed to support technology integration in educational settings.  The model’s name is an acronym for different levels of technology integration, Substitution, Augmentation, Modification and Redefinition.  Since Ruben Puentedura introduced it over a decade ago, the model has spread like wildfire across all areas of the educational landscape.

As I write this post, I want to make something abundantly clear.  I don’t hate the SAMR Model.  Some of my doctoral students have accused me of this recently but I really don’t dislike the model at all.  I first introduced the model on the 8 Blog in 2011 after encountering it in a technology training.   At the time, I thought the model could be used as a catalyst to inspire teachers to think about new ways to integrate technology into their classrooms.  I still feel this way.  Over the last five years, however, it has become the dominant model of technology integration in schools.  Because of this, I feel the need to offer some of my reservations.

  1.  The model needs a stronger evidence base.  Take a moment and go to one of the research databases (ERIC, Ebscohost, etc.).  Do a quick search on the SAMR Model and let me know what you find.  Or, take a look at some of the larger research-based conferences that study educational technology and research their programs or conference proceedings.  Across these settings, you’ll find few research-based studies that examine the SAMR model or provide an evidence base for its implementation.  I find this problematic, especially with how widely the model is used in schools to drive expensive technology implementation programs.  Advocates for the SAMR Model argue that the model is based on other research bases and that it “just makes sense.” My concern with this perspective is that as we teach our student to make evidence-based arguments and try to foster larger critical thinking skills, would we accept this argument from them?  I doubt it.
  2. The model oversimplifies the complex nature of classrooms and learning. Teaching is difficult work.  Expert teachers must navigate their knowledge bases of content, pedagogy and technology thousands of times during every lesson to effectively support student learning. Can this complex decision-making really be simplified into a four level model?  Research tells us “no.” Take the exhaustive work on technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPACK).  Throughout countless studies on TPACK, one thing is clear. Integrating technology effectively in classrooms is challenging and requires focused attention and support.
  3. The model is too techno-centric.  My main role at my institution is teaching beginning teachers to utilize instructional technology in their classrooms. While I’m often accused as being a “technology guy,” in reality, I see myself as a pedagogy person. I think my perspective is best captured in a quote I share with my students (and in most of the professional development sessions I offer).  In Technology, Pedagogy and Education, Diana Laurillard (2007) writes: “We have to be careful not to focus simply on what the technology offers, but rather on what the pedagogy requires.” The SAMR Model focuses too heavily on technology and the tasks it affords and not enough on the learning it supports.
  4. The model is vague. I’m sure some readers are going to wonder how a model can be too simple and too vague at the same time.  But hear me out.  Most people who use the SAMR Model can offer clear examples for the Substitution and Redefinition levels.  When focusing on the middle two levels, however, things can get a little murky.  Depending on who is assessing a technology-rich lesson, some could identify it as Augmentation while others may see it as Modification.  With some widespread training, this discrepancy could be corrected and the assessment could be normalized.  Then again, what value would this serve? If the primary focus isn’t on the learning supported by technology, is it really important how we label it?
  5. The model is stifling other conversations. Since its introduction a decade ago, many large educational technology companies have adopted the model as their primary foundation for teacher trainings. Because of this adoption, many educators refuse to consider other models or perspectives.  Are you familiar with the Technology Integration Matrix? Developed at the University of South Florida, the Technology Integration Matrix (TIM) offers a different view on the use of educational technology.  When I share the TIM with teachers and administrators, they balk at it.  “The SAMR is much simpler to use,” they argue.  While I also have reservations about the TIM, should we be solely guided by simplicity? In a lot of ways, the dominance of the SAMR Model has kept other models of integration from being fully examined and vetted.  SAMR is a good model that is keeping great conversations from happening.

I have an undergraduate degree in physics.  In one of my favorite classes, the History of Science, we studied primary documents that demonstrated the larger discussions, debates and discoveries that happened throughout history to inform scientific thought.  I offer this post as a way to hopefully begin a larger discussion about models of technology integration.  Feel free to contribute by commenting below or emailing me at:

What’s your teaching perspective?

At a conference presentation recently, a colleague shared the Teaching Perspectives Inventory (TPI) and discussed how the inventory really formed the cornerstone of much of her work.  It was the first time I had encountered the TPI so I furiously wrote down notes and asked questions to better understand its significance and utility.  The TPI was first introduced in the Five Perspectives on Teaching in Adult and Higher Education written by Daniel Pratt (1998). To create the TPI, Pratt and his colleagues studied over 250 different educators across five different countries and identified five discrete teaching perspectives.  The perspectives include:

  • A transmission perspective: delivering content
  • An apprenticeship perspective: modeling ways of being
  • A developmental perspective: cultivating ways of thinking
  • A nurturing perspective: facilitating personal agency
  • A social reform perspective: seeking a better society

Reading across the descriptions on the TPI website, I honestly struggled with how I would classify myself.  While I don’t necessarily lecture, I do feel it’s important for instructors to have mastery of their content.  Would this mean I’m lean towards a transmission perspective?  I believe in the power of scaffolding, Vygostky’s concept of the zone of proximal development and Lave and Wenger’s construct of communities of practice.  Maybe this made me lean more towards the apprenticeship perspective?  Then again, I believe its important to see teaching from the “learner’s perspective” and to tailor learning activities to support their learning and development.  I’ve also been embracing the importance of concepts like mindset, motivation and grit on student learning, which falls more in the nurturing perspective.  Lastly, I’m trying to educate “agents of change” who are going out to innovate in schools and work to make differences.  Wouldn’t that be more of a social reform perspective?  I was torn.

Luckily, the TPI is available online.  Educators (and others) can answer a series of questions broken up into three main categories and the website will show their “dominant” and “recessive” perspectives.  The first category of questions has instructors examining their beliefs of teaching and learning.  The second category of questions asks instructors to reflect on what they try to accomplish during their lessons.  The third category asks instructors to analyze what they do during class.  After a series of 30 Likert scale questions, my personal TPI was displayed showing my perspectives and my ratings on the beliefs, intentions and actions related to that perspective.  My report is shown below.

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 4.26.14 PM

Looking at the report, my initial self-assessments were confirmed.  While I’m strongest in the developmental perspective, I’m also “dominant” in the apprenticeship and nurturing perspectives.  I wasn’t that surprised to find that I was “recessive” in the transmission and social reform teaching perspectives.  I don’t lecture that often and I don’t have many opportunities to discuss larger societal aspects in my classroom.  Examining the report in more detail, I think it’s a fair representation of my teaching.

Like the Myers-Briggs, the TPI offers a unique way for individuals to do some self-examination.  While I can’t really argue with my personal results, I worry how others can use the TI results. While I see some usefulness in having colleagues take the TPI and discussing their results, I worry that some people may misuse the tool or over-emphasize the results.  For instance, could the TPI be used to inform hiring decisions?  Could it be used for student evaluation purposes?  Could it be used to assign classes?  Ultimately, I doubt any of these will happen.  The tool has been around for a while and these misuses haven’t occurred.  But the TPI may be a powerful tool for those of us working in professional development arenas.  Could the TPI be used to help capture the overall impact of professional development on campus?  It’s an idea that I’m like to examine down the road.  Then again, that might just be my developmental teaching perspective talking.

Recorded lectures: Does size matter?

This week, I’m helping to facilitate a professional development workshop to train faculty to teach online.  This workshop is offered twice a year and the participants always have a lot questions about the best ways to teach online.  This group is particularly inquisitive and really interested in what research says about online learning.  Yesterday, we were introducing different tools for creating record lectures for use in online classes when one of the participants asked, “How long should a recorded lecture be?”  Since a face-to-face classes are usually scheduled to last an hour (or longer), the faculty member wondered, shouldn’t online lectures be a comparable length?

The simple answer is “No.” If the goal is for students to watch the entire video, instructors need to be strategic with how they create videos. Wistia, a streaming service for business videos, examined data from millions of views of their online lessons.  Across the videos they analyzed, the researchers found that as the size increased, the percentage of viewers who watched the entire video decreased.  Looking at the graph below, when a video was less than two minutes long, viewers on average only watched about 65% of it.  If a video was 60 minutes long (or more), viewers watched less than 30% of the video.

Looking at the next graph, however, viewer drop off becomes a little clearer.  For videos longer than 10 minutes long, most viewers had stopped watching by the halfway mark.
So, what does that mean for online teachers who want to offer recorded lessons for their students?  One, try to keep it short.  How short?  Looking at the data, videos under five minutes long seem to be the best length to keep most viewers engaged through the end.
Some readers may be wondering how they’re going to be able to distill their hour-long lecture down to five minutes.  That the second main takeaway from the Wikia data.  In their research, all of the videos were passively viewed.  The videos offered no engagement opportunities and didn’t offer any interaction.  If you want to keep students engaged for longer periods of time, build in some interaction.  One suggestion is to use a site like EdPuzzle to embed assessment questions and targeted instructor feedback through the video.  By adding these engagement points, student drop off can be diminished.
Another suggestion is to break up longer lectures into smaller sections.  Have a 60-minute lesson that you’ve recorded?  Try offering it in smaller, more digestible chunks. This suggestion ties back to Meyer’s Multimedia Principle of segmenting that I’ve talked about previously on this blog.
Another possibility is to offer descriptive tags to enable to students to jump to sections where they may be struggling.  Take research reported in the British Journal of Educational Technology (BJET).  In a study conducted with 1200 students in Netherlands, recorded lectures (45 – 60 minutes in length) were placed online for students to review prior to exams. Some of the videos were tagged so students could jump to specific sections of the lesson based on their interest.  Other videos were not tagged, requiring students to fast forward or try to watch the lesson in its entirety. Ultimately, more students chose to watch the videos with tags over the ones without tags.  The downside is that students using the tagged videos didn’t watch as much of the video as the students who watched the videos without tags.  The upside? Students who watched the videos with the tags performed better on classroom assessments than the students who didn’t. The big takeaway is that metacognitive links that allow students to select the sections of videos they need to watch may improve their overall engagement and motivate them to learn.
The BJET study didn’t include the specific technology that allowed the researchers to mark specific portions of the video with descriptive tags.  I did a little searching online and found a site called YouTubeTime that allows users to link to specific start times in a YouTube video.  Pretty slick and easy way to offer students the ability to navigate longer recorded lessons.
Gorissen, P., van Bruggen, J., & Jochems, W. (2013). Does tagging improve the navigation of online recorded lectures by students? British Journal of Educational Technology, 46(1), 45–57.

On my summer reading list

It’s finals week at my institution so I’ve started to compile my annual book list of professional literature that I’m hoping to tackle during summer break. I’m open to other suggestions so if you’ve read something interesting recently be sure to share it in the comments section below. I’ve ordered the books chronologically in the order I plan to read them.

  1. Small teaching: Everyday lessons from the science of learning: In this book, James Lang discusses practical ways to incorporate cognitive science into collegiate classrooms. I recently re-read Lang’s book Cheating Lessons as part of a faculty learning community. I’m certain that Lang’s new book will continue to expand the way I approach my teaching roles on campus.
  2. Discussion in the college classroom: This book, written by Jay R. Howard, explores ways to increase the academic discourse that occurs in our classrooms.  Discussions are one of the most widely used instructional strategies on campus and I’m hoping the book will help me facilitate more engaging discussions in my online and face-to-face classrooms.
  3. The work of play:  I recently re-read James Paul Gee’s book What video games can teach us about literacy and learning.  I continue to be amazed at the level of involvement that games can foster with some of the most disengaged students. This book, written Aaron Chia Yuan Hung, examines how video games represent new literacies and captures digital epistemologies. While I’m sure it’s going to be a dense read, I always enjoy books that make my head hurt.
  4. How we learn: The surprising truth about when, where and why it happens: While I like to think I’m up on educational research, I always to like to read new texts that can broaden my perspective. Written by award-winning New York Times science reporter Benedict Carey, this book seeks to challenge long-held beliefs about learning and attention.
  5. Girls & sex: Navigating the complicated new landscape: Besides being a college instructor and a campus professional developer, I’m a father of a teenage girl. Last summer, I read It’s Complicated by Danah Boyd which explored how teenagers use social networks and other digital communication tools. Girls & sex, written by Peggy Orenstein, examines how teenage girls are negotiating a complex sexual terrain that is influenced by mixed signals sent by popular culture and social media.

Are the bots taking over?

I follow a bunch of different people on Twitter. Some are real people I’ve met at conferences who say and share interesting things. Besides these people, I also follow topical Twitter users who share content on specific areas of interest. For instance, I started following a Twitter user that shared stuff on Apple Watches. After buying an Apple Watch last fall, I wanted to learn more about the device and thought that Twitter would be a great way to get started.

After following this Apple Watch user for a few months, I started noticing some odd behavior. First, the user shares a lot. It tweets something new almost every hour, which is a little excessive. Also, it sometimes shares the same posts over and over. If I scroll down through my Twitter feed, I’ll see that this user will share the same post several times over the course of a day. While I don’t know for sure, I’m starting to suspect that the Twitter user isn’t a human at all. After examining the user’s tweets and actions, I’m starting to think that I may be following the machinist musings of a bot.

Bots are scripts that run automated processes over the Internet. Bots can be simple or really complex.  For instance, the Apple Watch Twitter bot may just be programmed to retweet anything with an Apple Watch hashtag. That would explain some of its excessive and repetitive behavior. More complicated bots could be programmed to write news articles for web publications. Sound farfetched? Check out this article from Wired magazine. Bots are already generating the articles on some major news services. Who knows? Maybe you’ve read an article or two that were written by a computer application and you didn’t even know it.

This blog is dedicated to teaching, learning and technology. So, what are the instructional applications for bots?  Before anyone worries about instructors being replaced by Matrix-like computer agents who lecture and assess students, I don’t see bots taking over the instructional landscape.  Like any instructional technology, bots will play a role in supporting the work that instructors do but not replace it.  In a book I reviewed a few months ago, Zhao refers to the process as “dancing with robots.” Instructors will still take the lead in creatively designing lessons and assessments. Bots will complement our pedagogical work.  Maybe bots will help us assess the grammar in papers. Or maybe bots will allow us to email struggling students or offer assistance to students who have missed class for several days.

But this isn’t some distant vision. This is already happening to a degree. Take this post from W. Ian O’Bryne.  He used a bot in a MOOC he regularly helps to facilitate.  Because the MOOC is large and participants share a lot of their work through Twitter, some students are overwhelmed by the shear volume shared by their MOOC-mates.  Some students also feel isolated if nobody in the MOOC shares, likes or responds to their work. To address this, O’Bryne developed a Twitter bot that provided feedback to people when they shared MOOC-based content. He’s still tweaking the bot’s performance to add some randomness and more authenticity but he writes that he can visualize a future where bots become “concierges to learning experiences.”

The development trajectory of bots will not be without some bumps, however.  When we reduce complex processes to algorithms, crazy things can happen, especially when the programs are designed to adapt and evolve in the wild. Check out this story of an algorithm that mistakenly tagged photos uploaded through Google.  Or this story of the Microsoft-developed chatbot that became racist after interacting with other Twitter users.  Ultimately, these issues will be worked out and better bots will be developed.  Until then, however, I’m happy to say that this blog post was entirely written by a genuine human being.

Or was it…

Slow teaching

The end of the semester is nearing for a lot of colleges and universities in the Northeastern US.  With the coming closure, one can see a sense of urgency in both students and faculty. Paces are quickened. Emails are written in hurried tones. Meeting goers are arriving late and leaving early, trying to fit as much as they can in their busy days. It’s a fast-paced time of year.

Maybe it’s this crazy time of year, but a few items have come across my digital field of vision that are communicating something clear and poignant:  We need to slow down.  Take the recent review on the Inside Higher Ed website for the book The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy.  The book presents a compelling case for slowing down the rate at which we work and teach.  The book draws heavily on the “slow food” movement as a way to makes its point.  Quality food takes time to cultivate and prepare and the sources can only be sustained through concerted, local efforts over extended periods of time.  The fast food movement, with its efficient, low quality offerings, stand in stark contrast to these time consuming productions.

Returning to the book, the authors outline the need for the academy to resist the ever-quickening pace of service, scholarship and teaching and focus on quality experiences over efficient ones.  In a quote from the book, the review discusses that “slow professors act with purpose, cultivating emotional and intellectual resilience to the effects of the corporatization of higher education.”  This perspective is particularly important for our classroom instruction, the authors argue. “It is neither frivolous nor incidental that to ensure that we enjoy ourselves in the classroom: it may be crucial to creating an environment in which students learn.”  Slow teaching, it seems, offers greater opportunities for enjoyment, engagement and effectiveness over efficiency and expediency.

As I mulled the “slow professor” premise, a colleague shared a blog post from the great Alfie Kohn.  While the post focused on the “overselling of Ed Tech,” One section of Kohn’s post really resonated with me.  Discussing the widespread adoption of instructional technologies in schools, Kohn writes “But the rationale that I find most disturbing .. is the idea that technology will increase our efficiency at teaching the same way that children have been taught for a very long time.” To drive the point home, Kohn includes a quote from Terry Bracey where he discusses how technology allows educators “to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn’t be doing at all.”  It’s the fast food mode of instruction. It’s efficient but not particularly satisfying long-term.

Reading the blog post more closely, however, it’s clear that Kohn is not attacking the wholesale use of technology in schools.  Instead, Kohn promotes the use of technology for collaborative activities, creative projects and more open inquiry.  These are “slow food” modes of instruction.  They require sustained development and support.  They require long-term cultivation, local facilitation and attention.  While these “slow food” teaching methods often require more instructional time, they can also offer students with a more healthful intellectual diet long-term.

While these two online articles provide disparate views of education, they communicate a similar message.  As educators and scholars, we need to slow down.  Slowing down our academic and professional lives can foster a more positive mindset across our institutions and also promote higher quality instruction in our classrooms.