Authentic Learning Works

How Liveblogging is Changing Journalism

Reading this article about Amir Abo-Shaeer, the recent MacArthur award winner, took me back a few years. Amir has established an experienced-based learning program for his students.  Fast Company reports he runs the engineering Academy “like a business.”

“Students help write grants; they do PR, and they develop our website.” He calls his approach project-based learning and says the students learn both soft skills and business skills so they are ready “to join the world of work.”

“We are going to be left behind if we don’t see a paradigm shift,” says Abo-Shaeer. He therefore wants to see his project-based learning applied to all subjects and taught across the United States in order to meet the demands of “students as consumers of education.”

I applaud Amir for his work and insight into how students learn best– and what we can accomplish when we create the right design for learning.

Years ago, I taught high school journalism along with the standard English courses. Whenever I stopped to think about the difference in the two courses, I was struck with how much the journalism students gained from their real-life work. They wrote, published (yes, even back in the 1980s we used a Mac and published our newspaper at the local printer), and sold advertising. Working in teams, they learned to lead, collaborate, and share. We had real deadlines, and we stuck to them.

In contrast, my English classes, for the most part, sat in rows quietly, discussing the previous night’s reading or taking a quiz.Unfortunately, I hadn’t yet learned how to transfer what I had designed in my journalism classes to the rest of my day.

The journalism students tended to become better writers than my English students. They also approached their learning eagerly, often spending far more time working on our newspaper than our class guidelines required of them. Students engaged in debate about truth and fairness, they set goals, and they learned communication skills. Each student focused on his or her strength, whether advertising, photography, or writing, and yet, they all learned the skills. Heck we were even blogging back in 2004!

I guess  I am a slow learner because I finally realized I could apply similar principles to my English classes. And, as I’ve written before, much improved  learning came from this approach.

Amir has created a powerful program for his science and engineering students. His philosophy of education resonates with all of us who have worked to create project-based, authentic learning in our classes. And now he has been rewarded fully with a grant to teach other teachers.

This works.

image credit: By

On Their Own

I have to admit to feeling somewhat disconnected this fall. After all, I’ve taught for most of the past 30 years, recently at Fredericksburg Academy as the instructional tech coordinator and an English teacher. Fall can be difficult for ex-teachers who love being in the classroom.

Today, a colleague shared with me an email and screenshot of work her kids were doing. She had sent it out to the entire faculty and then realized I might enjoy seeing what the students were up to. She was right. So cool.

Here’s her email:

Here is a little story about young, independent, tech savvy students overcoming their obstacles and taking responsibility. Blair is absent today, but she emailed me this morning to tell me that she had made arrangements with her partner about the paper that they were supposed to write together in class. Now, during class both students are typing on the same Google doc at the same time and chatting with each other in the Google chat feature. I thought that it was cool that I could check in on and literally watch students as they worked in my classroom, but this is even better. The best part: they set this up on their own.

Thanks, @jclarkevans for keeping me in the loop. I especially enjoy this coming from Blair, a student who claimed she just “didn’t love” using the laptops two years ago when I taught her ninth grade! (However, she was the one most intrigued by my talk about digital identity.) We never know where our students will go when we allow them to figure things out on their own. And teachers like Jennifer allow this to happen.

and the research says…

The Zotero group started by Wendy Drexler is often where I look for research regarding issues that interest me. Today, I had a focused discussion with a friend on whether teachers’ personalities made them embrace or more resistant to change, especially related to using technology to enhance student learning.

(As an aside, I should say I support student-centered, inquiry-based teaching and believe the use of social media offers opportunity for collaborative, global learning. If classrooms are teacher-centered and the discussions are focused on gadgets and not pedagogy, then technology is often a waste of time and money.)

After I left her office, I wondered if there was any research supporting our discussion. Sure enough, I found this (unfortunately in a PDF), a study from 2004. Here are some highlights (my emphasis):

Research has found that the personal beliefs and dispositions of teachers may relate to or predict successful technology integration. Honey and Moeller (1990) assert that teacher philosophy (student-centered versus teacher-centered) affected one’s ability to effectively use technology in the classroom, in that student-centered teachers were more successful. MacArthur and Malouf (1991) determined in their case study that teacher beliefs and attitudes greatly influenced how computers were used in the classroom. Other personal variables, such as self-competence and willingness to change, have also been shown to be closely related to computer use among teachers (Marcinkiewicz, 1994). Albion (1999) states that teachers’ beliefs, specifically self-efficacy beliefs, “are an important, and measurable, component of the beliefs that influence technology integration” (p. 2).
Furthermore, this study noted that willingness to spend time outside contracted hours also contributed to technology use in the classroom:
…this study suggests that the teacher attributes of time commitment
to teaching and openness to change combine with the amount of technology
training to best predict classroom technology use. The process of learning
to use technology requires time—time spent in training, but also time spent
playing with and exploring technology. This willingness to commit time to the
technology learning process may be represented by one’s willingness and commitment
to spend time beyond the typical work week to prepare instructional
activities. As such, this result suggests that time is essential in becoming a technology
using teacher, but also that technology use may predict time commitment
to teaching.
This last suggestion gives me pause:
As a result, a teacher who approaches technology professional development with an attitude that is open to change and is committed to spending time outside of training to further explore technology may be more likely to use technology in the classroom than one who attends training with ambivalence and a lack of time.

Now I realize that one study isn’t necessarily the answer. But all of this makes sense as we determine how to best help teachers develop their own professional development online through social media and in “unconferences” where the onus is on the individual to contribute and learn. For those waiting to be spoonfed or who are unwilling to change, the effort may not be worth the trouble.

Teacher Dispositions as Predictors of Classroom Technology Use
Journal of Research on Technology in Education, v36 n3 p253-271 Spr 2004