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Obsession with tools

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We are obsessed with tools. You can look anywhere in the world of educational technology and all you see is tools: How will the iPad change schools? How do we incorporate Google Docs into our classrooms? What technologies should we include in the syllabus of our Ed Tech class? What kind of Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPCK) do our teachers need to be successful in incorporating emerging technology tools into their teaching? 

[Ed Geek side note: I find this last most infuriating. What is next Spacial Pedagogical Content Knowledge (SPoCK)? Emotional Pedagogical Content Knowledge (EPiCK)?]

I think the obsession with tools stems from an implicit (and unfounded) notion of scarcity described by Chris Anderson in his book "Free: The Future of a Radical Price". We treat technological tools like they are scarce and we have to decide how best to use the ones we have. This is wrong. If you only have a few tools (blackboards, slates, pen, ink, paper), then you have to think about how to best use those things to teach something. These days, however, we are swimming in tools.

I am giving a talk this week in the College of Education about organizing my digital intellectual life. I was planning on talking about Google Reader, Zotero, Endnote, and Papers (yeah, I know, tools), but really about the flow of my intellectual work. In the process of getting ready for the talk I did some research on the internets and met with the amazing PSU librarian, Ellysa Cahoy. The result was a spate of other tools that do this kind of work, including Connotea, Bibsonomy, Easy Bib and Knight Cite. This reinforced for me is that it is not about the tool, it is about the practice or workflow I am trying to accomplish. What is the task? I want to manage information (in the form of journal articles, mostly) in very particular ways. I want a digital intellectual workflow that is as friction-free as possible. I want to see the journal articles I care most about, I want to gather them into an organized system, I want to read and annotate them and then I want to cite them in new knowledge artifacts I produce. I don't care what tools I use. It is NOT about the tools. In this, I am an agnostic. 

We need to start thinking about things in terms of what we are trying to accomplish [Ed Geek note: Can think about this in terms of Gal'perin's (1974/1989) notion of orienting basis of action], not which tools we will used to accomplish them. I don't care about Twitter, I care about multi-channel student discourse. I don't care about Google Docs, I care about supporting collaboration around digital knowledge artifacts. The barrier to creation of new tools is dropping and the cost of acquiring new tools is ahead on that downward curve. Many tools are free. They are getting easier and easier to build. In a world where you can make (or find) exactly the tool you want for the job, isn't the most important thing being clear about the job? 

Seeing is the Key

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So, this is a little bit of an experiment.  I have to write a rationale for a funding agency that characterizes my research in a way that helps non-educators, and specifically business people, understand why what I am doing has value.  I have to do this in one page.  I am going to post a draft of my one page here in the hopes that some folks, educators or not, out there will tell me if I am making sense.  Thanks in advance for your thoughts.

Understanding Professional Pedagogical Vision in Science Teaching

Fewer students are majoring in science and students do not see science as a field of creative expression and personal initiative. The current generation see facts as a keystroke away and they are immersed in dynamically creating for and contributing to the development of their communities through tools such as Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube. We must transform science teaching to engage this new generation. The field of science education, through standards documents and peer reviewed research, is clear the direction of this transformation should be toward classroom inquiry science teaching. However, what classroom science inquiry means has been a debate in the field of Science Education since there has been a field. Inquiry has been used in place of hands-on investigations, described as minds-on activities, and is represented as a continuum from guided or teacher-directed to open or student-directed. One point of agreement is that transforming science teaching will help students understand science better and it will help them experience science as a disciple that requires creativity, initiative, and in which they can make contributions to a larger community.
Perhaps the dominant reason inquiry is not common practice is that prospective science teachers have not experienced inquiry science teaching as students, so they can’t recreate it when they become teachers of science themselves.  We have a self perpetuating system. Many science teacher educators are attempting to address this cycle by modeling inquiry science teaching for prospective science teachers or by engaging prospective teachers in science investigations. There is evidence that these experiences improve prospective teachers’ likelyhood of developing inquiry science in their own teaching, though the effects often wash out quickly.

However, these interventions are built on a key assumption: prospective teachers see the models of inquiry science teaching the way science teacher educator do. Imagine two people in an airport watching a baseball game, one is from the US and the other from the UK.  While they are both watching the same game, they are not seeing the same thing.  The person from the US sees the center fielder make a great catch on a fly ball, hit by a switch-hitting batter, off a left-handed fastball pitcher’s out and away curveball.  While the person from the UK sees all the action, they can’t interpret what they are seeing, and in that sense they literally cannot see the game of baseball.  It is likely that a more subtle version of this phenomena happens with prospective teachers when they watch inquiry science teaching.  They cannot interpret what they see in meaningful ways. What makes this worse, is they know something about science teaching from their own schooling and thus believe they understand what they are seeing.  Charles Goodwin, an anthropologist, described this ability to see and interpret events in a particular way as professional vision.  

The research questions I will be investigating are: (1) How do expert and novice teachers see science teaching differently?; (2) How can these differences begin to define professional pedagogical vision in the context of classroom inquiry science teaching?  Put simply, my research project will attempt to understand the differences between expert teachers and novice teachers when they look at science teaching.  Through the intensive use of teaching experiments, field observations and video analysis, I will develop a framework for how expert teachers see inquiry science pedagogy. I will ask experts and novice to analyze examples of classroom science teaching and use their analysis along with discussion around their analysis to understand what they attend to and how they interpret what they see.  My hope is that by understanding how experts see classrooms, and in particular differentiate between inquiry practice and non-inquiry practice in science, I can help prospective teachers “learn the game”. 

The power of the iPhone is its portability and connectivity. The way I imagine this working to support teacher education is prospective teachers are in a classroom to do observations in order to understand inquiry science pedagogy. The teacher is doing a lab with students working in groups. Prospective teachers with an iphone would be asked to follow different student groups and collect videotape of how those students were engaged in the activity. When class is over, all students can then transfer their video to the instructors' laptop. Then the class can analyze the lesson looking not just at the teacher or one group, but at any group in the class. You could, for example, ask prospective teachers to make hypothesis about student learning based on the video of one group and then "test" those hypotheses with video of other groups.

My Dream App

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Here is what I want: I want a tool that would be the equivalent of track changes / comments type of feedback features, but for a video and audio platform. I want to be able to watch video, tag a section, and attach a comment there in text, graphic, audio or video file type. We (here at PSU, including Carla Zembal-Saul who thought this up first) have been talking about this since we first started using the iPod as a voice recorder for video analysis. We wanted to be able to listen to an audio file and insert audio comments directly into the original file which would allow a sort of branching at that point. A student listening to the file could skip to the comments (the way you would with chapters) and listen to what I have to say about their work. The next stage in this, that I would find considerably more valuable is a system where I can code a section of video (a la Studiocode) draw students attention to a particular part of the screen (a la Diver) and then add these annotation to the original video like the director's comments are added to a DVD. A student collects video of themselves, marks up their own video (the way I just described) as part of a reflection on their own practice then gives me the video. I can watch just the marked sections, or the whole thing. I can mark up the original with text, audio comments, or even attach small sections of video of another teacher (student or otherwise) as an exemplar. All this gets stored as different tracks that allow commentary to be turned on and off. The video becomes a dynamic tool for reflection and dialogue between faculty and students as well as student/student and student teacher / mentor teacher. Imagine being able to watch a section of video with a student's comment on their own teaching, their faculty instructors and their mentor teacher all in one file. That is a pretty killer app from my point of view.
We here at PSU are engaged in developing a one-to-one initiative with our undergrad teacher education students. The Commonwealth of PA has committed to having a laptop for every student in every core content course (English, Math, Science, Social Studies) in high schools by 2009. This means our teachers need to be prepared for this environment, and therefore we need to have ubiquitous computing in teacher education programs to prepare teachers to enter ubiquitous computing environments in K-12 schools. As part of this process I get to think about how technology can transform teacher education.  This is something that has been on my mind and I thought would make a good post (or hopefully set of posts). Today I am thinking about the iPhone (I actually can't seem to stop thinking about it).  In my courses I emphasize students developing their ability to see a classroom like an expert teacher (theoretically the concept is professional vision).  Obviously I use a lot of video in this process.  The primary tool my students and I use for analysis is Studiocode, which is a Mac only tool, but does amazing things to allow you to code videotape on the fly and display short sections for discussion and analysis.  So, when I saw the iPhone I was immediately struck by how this powerful tool could be used to enhance what I am already doing with the teacher I work with.  Here is one dream scenario (with the caveat that I am making guesses about the iPhone's capabilities): I am in a student teacher's classroom.  They are teaching a lesson on mitosis and get into an interesting discussion with the class about the relationship between mitosis and cancer.  I pull the iPhone from my pocket and using the digital camera capture a short video of about 5 minutes of class (assumption #1: iPhone camera can capture video).  As the video comes in I can code it using Studiocode (assumption #2: iPhone will run third party apps) to mark sections I would like to talk to the student teacher about.  As the student teacher finishes their lesson I output the sections to a quicktime movie file and either email the file to the student with the iPhone or transfer it to a shared file space over the WiFi.  When the student teacher and I sit down to talk she already has the key piece of video on her laptop (or can get them quickly).  We can discuss it in the moment while looking at the video and she has a file to keep for later reflection.  The key is that I did all this with one device in a seamless way.  I can do some of this now, but it requires me to have a laptop and a digital video camera and significantly more setup time. The end goal for me with regard to technology in education is transparency.  When we get to the point that we can do what we want to do pedagogically without having to think about the tools, we have arrived.  This seems like one more (baby) step in this direction, but it is a powerful one.

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