Let me ask you a question…

The Tricky Nature of Questioning in Coaching

We’ve already established this quarter that coaching is not about being an expert. It’s not “I Know” as much as it is “I Trust” (Goldberg).  The module for this week’s post dealt with how to build that trust. One key element was to ask questions rather than provide answers.  This is the approach Les Foltos advocates in from the beginning of his book; the kind of interaction in which good coaches, “emphasize inquiry over advocacy”(Foltos). However, simply asking questions is not enough. Questions can take any number of forms and, in fact, it is possible to ask questions in such a manner as to appear even more the expert than with making statements.  Because of this, it’s important to get these questions right. We, as peer coaches are to “rely on questioning strategies rather than advocating for any particular solution to the issues facing their [our] peers” (Foltos).  With the importance of asking questions in my mind, I wanted to know exactly how to ask non-judgmental or agenda-laden questions when coaching. Or to look at it another way, how do we move from the “I Know” to the “I Trust” only by asking effective questions?

Seek and Ye Shall Find

Doing research on the internet is always a crap-shoot. One never knows what one will find when looking for answers in the ether.  There have been numerous times for this blog alone where I have been frustrated and not found exactly what I was looking for. This is not always bad, however, and it can often lead to even other avenues of inquiry which are equally beneficial, but the situation is generally one of searching and frustration.  So needless to say, I was shocked when upon searching for an answer to my question, I came across a blog post on EdWeek that almost word-for-word addressed my question!

Elena Aguilar, whom I cited in last week’s blog post on not being an expert, had written a post 2 years ago that was practically a direct answer to my question. In fact, her post was prompted by a question she received from a new instructional coach looking for help as she entered her new position. The new coach was looking for things she could do over the summer to help her prepare and Aguilar provided a list of 5 things she could do to get ready (see chart below). One of those items involved asking non-judgmental, probing questions.  The probing question is different from the clarifying question (which we also practiced recently) in that it is not seeking to understand a specific piece of information, but rather it is designed to prompt the teacher being coached to reflect on their practice. Getting teachers to reflect is goal.  According to Aguilar, “a coach’s primary role is to elicit reflection. You can do this by asking open, reflective questions.” Aguilar then provides two pages worth of sentence stems to help new coaches frame their questions. In terms of practice, this is exactly what I was looking for. The stems are arranged by general category and clearly be evaluated for their probative nature. Here are the categories with a single example of each:

General Coaching Sentence Stems
  1. Active listening stems (“In other words…”)
  2. Clarifying stems (“Let me see if I understand…”)
  3. Nonjudgmental responses (“I’m interesting in learning more about…”)
  4. Probing stems (“What’s another way you might…?”)
Facilitative Coaching Stems
  1. Cathartic (“What’s coming up for you right now? Would you like to talk about your feelings?”)
  2. Catalytic (“Tell me about a previous time when you…How did you deal with that?”)
  3. Supportive (“What did you do to make the lesson so successful?”)
Directive Coaching Stems
  1. Informative (“There’s a useful book on that topic by…”)
  2. Prescriptive (“Have you talked to ___ about that yet?”)
  3. Confrontational (“I’d like to ask you about… Is that OK?”)

The stems operate on various levels and are applicable in a variety of situations depending on the teacher, the coach, the school, the administration, but they provide a basic framework. They form a staring point for me as I look at how to ask the right questions.  Aguilar acknowledges their limitations, but points out their value as well. “You can modify these stems to make them feel more like you–but there are some useful parameters to keep in mind. First, don’t ask ‘why’ questions–sometimes it’s ok, but as a general rule it’s better not to. ‘Why…?’ can sometimes make someone feel a tiny bit defensive. It’s a request for an explanation and often doesn’t yield deep reflection. If you want to know ‘why,’ you might try saying something like, ‘It sounds like that evening didn’t go as you’d hoped. I’d love to hear more about how you made that decision…'” (Aguilar). The thing that struck me most about this is the avoidance of “why.”  I always thought “why” questions were the highest level questions since they got at the causative nature of things and got us to reflect, but apparently there’s a built-in hostility with these questions (although it’s a “tiny” amount) so they should be avoided. I think in some cases, “why” is OK (and she acknowledges that as well), but I’m glad Aguilar provided so many alternatives. She provides a few more useful suggestions as well, “Another parameter is to keep your sentence stems short. Long rambling questions confuse listeners. After a while, you’ll find the stems you use most often, in a range of contexts. One of mine is, ‘Tell me more about that.'” (Aguilar). Two excellent tips here: keep the questions short and you’ll have a few go-to questions that you’ll use a lot. These are both good pieces of advice for me going forward.

Ultimately, I’m still trying to figure out exactly how I can use questions to help make other teachers better. There’s still something that feels artificial (“disingenuous?”) about it. I want to help people, not drive them to frustration by peppering them with questions. It’s going to be a journey and I’m just getting started. I’m still shedding the skin of the expert and molting into a coach, but Aguilar has given me some good tools I can use to flesh-out the philosophies I’ve already been exposed to. I look forward to the next step.

 

 

 

 

Aguilar, Elena (July 2, 2015). “New Coaches: Try This at Home” Education Week.  Retrieved from: http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/coaching_teachers/2015/07/new_coaches_try_this_at_home.html

Foltos, Les (2013).  Peer coaching : Unlocking the Power of Collaboration. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin.

Goldberg, David. “A Distinction between Expert and Coach: ‘I Know’ versus ‘I Trust. ‘” Big Beacon: A Movement to Transform Engineering Education. Retrieved from: http://bigbeacon.org/2013/06/a-distinction-between-expert-and-coach-i-know-versus-i-trust/

ISTE (2011). “ISTE Standards for Coaches.” International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-coaches

 

Be Prepared!: Troubleshooting by Looking at Current Issues and Problems in Education Technology (ISTE Coaching Standard 3 E&G)

“Be Prepared!”

I’ve never been a Boy Scout, but I’ve always liked their motto: “Be Prepared.”  And as I was considering this week’s prompt, “Given the opportunities for students and teachers to collaborate globally, how can we help them develop strategies to troubleshoot and resolve issues that can come with increased use of emerging technologies such as digital video, audio, and social media?” I began to wonder about what issues teachers and schools might face when it comes to increased use of emerging technologies.  I thought of my own experiences…internet not working, computers not plugged in/charged up, students intentionally removing keys from the keyboard or stealing mice (“mouses?”), but I was sure there must be more to it than this. My problems are all pretty pedestrian, but schools and ed tech professionals must be thinking more broadly. Fortunately, in my research I came across no shortage of lists of the various issues with technology to be addressed by teachers in the classroom. As I soon discovered, I could place some of the biggest problems into three broad categories.

Pedagogical Problems

The first article, the one I’ll use as my resource for this blog post, is rather extreme in places, but is a good example of the need for a solid pedagogical approach when using technology in the classroom.  My resource is from a 2013 article by Alfonzo Porter at The Washington Post. In his article, “The problem with technology in schools,” he outlines some of the basic problems confronting teachers with regard to technology in the classroom.  Citing a 2012 Pew Research Survey, Porter blames technology for issues like creating short attention spans in students, declining face-to-face social skills, and students being conditioned to find “quick answers” (Porter).  Even more problematic than this may be the inability of students to log off and put their devices away during class time. Porter argues, “To remedy this, all technology should be left in lockers and not allowed in the classroom. Failure to comply should be met with confiscation of the device, which would only be returned to the parent. If parents believe that it is acceptable for their child to violate established school policies, then the schools are left with no other option other than to seize them” (Porter). As a teacher, I recognize that there’s a time and place for technology (and I HAVE taken devices away on occasion), but this zero-use policy is bit harsh.  It seems to belie the fact that technology can be used in the classroom – something he actually mentions later when he cites the survey again and mentions that “Roughly 75 percent of the teachers surveyed said that the Internet and search engines had a “mostly positive” impact on student research skills. And they said such tools had made students more self-sufficient researchers.” According to the teachers, technology may be a problem, but it may also be the solution. I’m willing to cut Porter some slack on his seemingly harsh policy about electronic devices in the classroom (or “gizmos” as he calls them) as being a possible overstatement of what his position may actually be. I’ll also take the age of the article into consideration – although by 2013, cell phones were a staple of most students’ lives.  In any case, I’ll stick with his statement about technology being the problem AND the solution.  But it begs the question about the pedagogical application of technology in the schools. If it’s a question of how it’s used, then that’s an important first step.

Terry Heick at Teachthought and Michelle Harvin at EdTech Times both offer lists of problems with technology in the classroom that focus on how it’s used. Here’s both of their lists with brief explanations as to their points:

1. Pace of Change (Schools are not switching over fast enough, plus $)
2. Different Social Dynamics (Online classes may not be taken seriously)
3. Distraction (Teachers can’t watch what everyone’s doing all the time!)
4. Technology Out-thinking the Instruction (Tech makes it too easy)
5. Learning Innovation vs Improved Test Performance (More technology doesn’t guarantee improved test performance) (Heick)

5. The crutch (Copying and pasting instead of actually learning)
4. The crash (Tech problems at home may make material inaccessible)
3. The old-timer (Some teachers don’t use it, many aren’t trained to)
2. The Facebook (Distraction)
1. The Band-Aid (It’s not a guarantee of success) (Harven)

If we look at both lists, several items overlap. Distraction is on both lists as is some sort of idea that the learning becomes too easy or superficial.  More interestingly is the idea that more technology doesn’t necessarily equal more success, which not only appears on both lists, but appears in the same spot (Harven decided to count “down” rather than “up”).  So clearly the first step is to acknowledge that technology is not a magic bullet that will slay every problem schools face.  In fact, adding more technology without the proper support may exasperate problems (and a greater cost) than actually fix anything.  Pedagogy is key in using technology in a meaningful, impactful way in education. If digital education is going to work, it has to be done correctly.

Big Picture: Administrative Issues

The second type of problems that became apparent in my research tended to focus on issues administration might face when looking at technology in the school.  Frank Smith’s article for EdTech Magazine and David Nagel’s piece for The Journal both highlight the administrative side of the equation. Again, here are their arguments (respectively):

  • 75.9% — Budget limits
  • 53.9% — Inadequate professional training
  • 41.4% — Teachers resistant to change
  • 38.2% — Inadequate network infrastructure
  • 30.9% — Unreliable device/software options
  • 29.6% — No systems to use technology for curriculum
  • 17.8% — Other
  • 13.2% — District doesn’t see immediate need for more technology (Smith)

Challenge 1: professional development.
Challenge 2: resistance to change.
Challenge 3: MOOCs and other new models for schooling. (Massive Open Online Course)
Challenge 4: delivering informal learning.
Challenge 5: failures of personalized learning.
Challenge 6: failure to use technology to deliver effective formative assessments.  (Nagel)

Smith’s results come from a survey of 150 education teachers and leaders while Nagel draws upon, “The NMC Horizon Report: 2013 K-12 Edition,” by the New Media Consortium as part of the Horizon Project. It’s fascinating to look at the similarities here: professional development is #2 and #1, and teacher resistance is #3 and #2 (and #3 on Harven’s list above). Two different groups, two years apart both identified two of the exact same problems (in approximately the same place) facing Ed Tech today. And it’s no coincidence given that the lack of training and the subsequent frustration and resistance go hand-in-hand. To me this speaks volumes. We must do a better job of educating our teachers on how to use technology. It’s approximately 1/3rd of the biggest problems facing the field right now!  If you could solve 33% of your profession’s biggest problems by fixing one issue, wouldn’t you?  This is nothing short of a call to arms for Ed Tech leaders to fix the problems that schools have been overlooking for too long.

Most of Smith’s other issues relate to hardware/infrastructure issues while Nagel takes us into different approaches to how education should work in a digital environment (more pedagogical). Both of these approaches are important as well, but I’m looking for commonality here so these points will have to wait for another day.

The Bigger Picture: The Social Network

Attorney Bruce Nagel holding the “lethal weapon”

As I write these lines, a news story from two days ago is still rattling around in my head.  A twelve year old girl, Mallory Grossman committed suicide after some persistent cyber-bullying from her schoolmates. A tragedy.  Now her parents are suing Rockaway Township School District for “gross negligence” in the death of their daughter.  I can’t imagine what these parents are going through. This kind of loss is painful beyond words. But as I look at the position the school is now placed in – as being “responsible” through negligence for the death of this young girl, I can’t help but see another potential problem can come with “increased use of emerging technologies such as digital video, audio, and social media.” I don’t pretend to have any answers for this specific case, but it’s worth taking a brief look at some elements of this tragedy.  New Jersey has one of the most stringent anti-bullying laws in the nation and they even have an 86 page guide: Guidance for Schools on Implementing the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act.  In fact, it’s the school’s alleged failure to comply with this act that is being cited by the parents in the lawsuit. I’ve looked over guidelines and the law, but didn’t see much in the way of internet or social media-specific policies. This may be an oversight on my part or the law’s, but more information will come out about that as the case proceeds. In her coverage of the case, the Washington Post’s Samantha Schmidt pointed out that Mallory is not alone in being persecuted on the internet. “One recent study surveying 5,600 children nationwide between the ages of 12 to 17 found that 34 percent had experienced cyberbullying in their lifetimes” (Schmidt). This number is pretty high and I’m not surprised. The anonymity and power of the internet are a powerful lure, and a struggling adolescent can fall in to a pattern of abusing others at the click of a button. Digital citizenship education must be paired with anti-bullying campaigns. It’s HOW bullying is done in the 21st century.  The problem is the parameters.  The school can curtail your first amendment rights at school when you say you’re going to hurt another student.  But what right/responsibility does that school have when you’re on your own Facebook page or your Instagram page or Snapchat or whatever?  Should the school be checking every student’s internet footprint to see if they’re saying mean things about other students?  Is it even possible?  Again, I’m not sure how this will play out.  The Grossman’s lawyer dramatically pushed the argument to its limits. “‘We are here today to bring light to the fact that this small device can be a lethal weapon in the hands of the wrong child,’ Nagel said holding up an iPhone in the Tuesday news conference” (Schmidt). The cell phone as a weapon – that’s the issue today.  How schools respond to this and what programs they have in place to teach responsible digital behavior, as well as anti-bullying programs, will determine if cases like this become the norm in the future. Just like with the pedagogical issue, technology may be the problem, but it may also be the solution.  Modeling and teaching proper digital citizenship and collaboration is key. “Informed and empathetic global citizens use online technologies to gain different perspectives about the world” (Lindsay). This is a far cry from the insulated, self-focused, vindictive behaviors that victimize so many adolescents (and adults) every year.  This is yet another call for diligent Ed Tech leadership.

Conclusion: What’s the Problem(s)?

At the end of my research, I think the three biggest issues that we, as Ed Tech leaders, have to be prepared to address are pedagogy, professional development, and digital citizenship. Or, to state it as a series of directives, we must practice and promote effective pedagogy that utilizes technology for learning. We must train and support our teachers so they can function and flourish in the digital environment, and we must coordinate and implement meaningful digital citizenship programs that promote healthy internet behavior.  Of course, these overlap with numerous ISTE standards, but i guess that’s the point. Learning the ISTE standards is a way to prepare us to meet and address these issues; it was just fun to turn it around this time and look at it from the problem side.  And at least we know where we can find the answers.

 

ISTE (2011). “ISTE Standards for Coaches.” International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-coaches

Harven, Michelle (November 6, 2013). “Top 5 Problems with Technology in Education Today.” EdTechTimes. Retrieved from: https://edtechtimes.com/2013/11/06/top-5-problems-technology-education-today/

Heick, Terry.  “5 Problems With Technology In Classrooms.” TeachThought.com.  Retrieved from: http://www.teachthought.com/the-future-of-learning/technology/5-problems-with-technology-in-classrooms/

Lindsay, Julie (July 19, 2016). “How to Encourage and Model Global Citizenship in the Classroom.” Education Week. Retrieved from: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/global_learning/2016/07/how_to_encourage_and_model_global_citizenship_in_the_classroom.html

Nagel, David (June 4, 2013). “6 Technology Challenges Facing Education.” The Journal.  Retrieved from: https://thejournal.com/Articles/2013/06/04/6-Technology-Challenges-Facing-Education.aspx?Page=1

Porter, Alfonzo (January 28, 2013). “The problem with technology in schools.” The Washington Post. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/therootdc/post/the-problem-with-technology-in-schools/2013/01/28/cf13dc6c-6963-11e2-ada3-d86a4806d5ee_blog.html?utm_term=.89898f0ec227

Schmidt, Samantha (August 4, 2017). “After months of bullying, her parents say, a 12-year-old New Jersey girl killed herself. They blame the school.” The Washington Post. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/08/02/after-months-of-bullying-a-12-year-old-new-jersey-girl-killed-herself-her-parents-blame-the-school/?utm_term=.6124ec7ab95c

Smith, D. Frank (November 23, 2015). “The 7 Greatest Challenges Facing Education Technology.”  EdTech Magazine.  Retrieved from: https://edtechmagazine.com/k12/article/2015/11/7-greatest-challenges-facing-education-technology

 

“All Aboard!”- Accessibilty Guidelines and Digital Leadership Coaching

Equal Access [to Digital Education] for All!

When looking at the prompt for this week’s EDTC6104 question, I was struck by a seeming discrepancy in the text of the question for the prompt and that of the coaching standard itself (ISTE coaching standard 3, indicator F). The standard/indicator calls for digital education leaders to “collaborate with teachers and administrators to select and evaluate digital tools and resources that enhance teaching and learning and are compatible with the school technology infrastructure” (ISTE 2011) whereas the prompt question for this module asks, “How do we evaluate, select and manage digital tools for teachers and students and resources that meet accessibility guidelines and fit within our institution’s technology infrastructure?” (emphasis added).  While some of the wording may be slightly different, it is the addition of the clause “accessibility guidelines” that caught my attention and caused me to ask my own questions regarding this standard. Namely, what does this clause mean? Why was it added? What are some examples of these kinds of guidelines? And, what are my institution’s accessibility guidelines regarding technology?

The Need

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are approximately 6.5 million students ages 3-21 with disabilities that attend schools in the US.  That’s 13% of the entire school population. And of that 13%, 35% have specific learning disabilities (NCES 2017). Technology has the potential to substantially help these millions of students, but only if it is done right.

Seale, Georgeson, Mamas, and Swain’s 2014 study, “Not the Right Kind of ‘Digital Capital'” outlines that technology alone is not the answer (2014). Their study focuses on the difficulties incorrect technology presents to disabled students in higher education.  This study indicates that it’s not enough for people with disabilities to merely have access to technology, but that the technology must meet their specific needs. Students with specific learning disabilities benefit when technology matches their needs.  Hall, Cohen, Vue, and Ganley’s 2015 report, “Addressing Learning Disabilities with UDL and Technology: Strategic Reader” (2015) shows what can happen when a more pedagogically holistic approach is applied to digital education for students with learning disabilities.  Their study looks at how a technology-based system based on the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) matched with Curriculum Based Measurement (CBM) led to improved engagement and scores with the Strategic Reader program. Granted, this was paired against a non-digital classroom format, but the concepts found in the UDL go beyond merely being digital.

So how is the technology done right?  Schools and other institutions are learning to establish and implement the aforementioned “accessibility guidelines” in an effort to make digital education meaningful to ALL students.

The Law

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 1975 requires a “free and appropriate public school education for eligible children and youth ages 3–21.” Even more broadly, “title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that businesses and nonprofit services providers make accessibility accommodations to enable the disabled public to access the same services as clients who are not disabled. This includes electronic media and web sites” according to my primary artifact for this entry, TechRepublic’s guide on “Creating an ADA-compliant Website.” (Nash 2012). In this 2012 piece, written by Nicole Nash,  provides a checklist from the Department of Health and Human Services to see if your website is accessible to people with disabilities:

  • Every image, video file, audio file, plug-in, etc. has an alt tag
  • Complex graphics are accompanied by detailed text descriptions
  • The alt descriptions describe the purpose of the objects
  • If an image is also used as a link, make sure the alt tag describes the graphic and the link destination
  • Decorative graphics with no other function have empty alt descriptions (alt= “”)
  • Add captions to videos
  • Add audio descriptions
  • Create text transcript
  • Create a link to the video rather than embedding it into web pages
  • Add a link to the media player download
  • Add an additional link to the text transcript
  • The page should provide alternative links to the Image Map
  • The <area> tags must contain an alt attribute
  • Data tables have the column and row headers appropriately identified (using the <th> tag)
  • Tables used strictly for layout purposes do NOT have header rows or columns
  • Table cells are associated with the appropriate headers (e.g. with the id, headers, scope and/or axis HTML attributes)
  • Make sure the page does not contain repeatedly flashing images
  • Check to make sure the page does not contain a strobe effect
  • A link is provided to a disability-accessible page where the plug-in can be downloaded
  • All Java applets, scripts and plug-ins (including Acrobat PDF files and PowerPoint files, etc.) and the content within them are accessible to assistive technologies, or else an alternative means of accessing equivalent content is provided
  • When form controls are text input fields use the LABEL element
  • When text is not available use the title attribute
  • Include any special instructions within field labels
  • Make sure that form fields are in a logical tab order
  • Include a ‘Skip Navigation’ button to help those using text readers

Many of these recommendations are also mirrored in the government’s ADA Best Practices Tool Kit for State and Local Governments, as well as in the ISTE’s own article, “5 pro tips to make digital learning accessible to all students,” which includes the following list (ISTE Connects, 2017):

  • Write alt text for your images.
  • Caption your videos.
  • Transcribe your podcasts.
  • Structure your website for ADA compliance.
  • Use the right tools.

As we can see, there are many similarities designed to make the material more accessible to more people – especially with regard to issues related to vision, reading, and organization. Nash also includes recommendations for procedures and tools to assist in meeting these suggestions.  These are all good guidelines and they are a good place to start.  But these guidelines are not really about education and their focus reflects that.  As such, they primarily address disabilities not related to learning learning disabled students – the 35% of the 13% mentioned earlier. What about their access?

The School – Helping Students with Learning Disabilities

When examining this part of the question, I found two resources that help in different ways. The first is in practical application. Here, once again, I turn to the ISTE and Luis Perez and Kendra Grant’s 2015 article, “25 Tools for Diverse Learners.” In this overview, Perez and Grant break the tools into three categories to help learners with different learning styles (Perez and Grant 2015):

  • Tools for engagement and the affective network (collaboration)
  • Tools for representation and the recognition network (reading)
  • Tools for action, expression and the strategic network (writing)

The tools are practical and well-organized. They include explanations of how to use them and what kinds of students would benefit most.  Perez and Grant are trying to help teachers where they need it most: in the day-to-day activities in their classrooms.  They also take up the slack where the government guidelines fall short by specifically addressing learning disabilities.

Perez and Grant’s categories are also taken directly from the second source I looked at with regards to this category, the National Center for Universal Design for Learning’s UDL Guidelines.  These guidelines fall into the “Why” of learning (Engagement), the “What” of learning (Representation) and the “How” of learning (Action & Expression). These  three basic categories establish a solid philosophical and pedagogical foundation for education in general and, as we have seen with the Perez and Grant article, can be specifically applied to digital education. This whole-brain approach addresses many of the issues related to students with learning disabilities, and, as already demonstrated in the Hall, Cohen, Vue, and Ganley’s study, can be paired with specific technology tools to achieve better engagement and end-results.

Conclusion

As I see it, when it comes to accessibility guidelines and education, there’s the law and then there’s teaching.  First, we must comply with the law.  As it stands right now, guidelines exist for websites and I’m not sure how compliant most schools’ websites are with this. I believe there is work to be done here. It also creates more questions. How are federal ADA guidelines being applied in other tech components in the school? The website surely isn’t the only place students are interacting with the technology in the school. What about the LMS or LCMS?  What responsibility do third-party developers or the schools themselves bear with regard to making sure that information is accessible and in compliance? I suspect this will be a big issue going forward.  And then there’s the issue specifically with regard to learning disabilities. How is technology being used to address issues of access here?  What are the legal ramifications of this under the ADA?

As usual, my question has ended up with me asking more questions, but I have a firmer grasp on the nature of “accessibility guidelines.” Right now, this is not a formal indicator in the ISTE standards, but maybe it should be.  Perhaps that is the next question.

 

Hall, T., Cohen, N.,  Vue, G., and Ganley, P. (2015). “Addressing Learning Disabilities with UDL and Technology: Strategic Reader.”  Learning Disability Quarterly. Vol. 38(2) p. 72-83. Retrieved from https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5W5P9bQJ6q0UjNkdkNfcDFDYVU/view
ISTE (2011). “ISTE Standards for Coaches.” International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-coaches
ISTE Connects (2017). “5 pro tips to make digital learning accessible to all students.” International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/explore/articleDetail?articleid=943
Nash, Nicole (March 20, 2012). Creating an ADA-compliant Website. TechRepublic.  Retrieved from http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/web-designer/creating-an-ada-compliant-website/
NCES – National Center For Education Statistics (Updated, May, 2017). “Children and Youth with Disabilities.” The Condition of Education.  Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cgg.asp
Perez, Luis and Kendra Grant (June 8, 2015). “27 Tools for Diverse Learners.” International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/explore/articleDetail?articleid=434
Seale, j.,  Georgeson, J.,  Mamas, C., and Swain, J. (2014).  “Not the Right Kind of ‘Digital Capital’: An examination of the complex relationship between disabled students, their technologies and higher education institutions.” Computers & Education.  Retrieved from  https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5W5P9bQJ6q0TE9BMXdyMlhYQWs/view
UDL Center (April 24, 2017). “About UDL: Learn the Basics.” National Center on Universal Design for Learning. Retrieved from http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/udlguidelines_theorypractice

 

 

The Worst of All Possible Worlds – ISTE Coaching Standard 3 and the Dystopian Future of Education?

“In a world…”

And so begins the introduction to countless movie trailers.  We’ve seen them: psychological thrillers, sci-fi classics, action-packed blockbusters all use that famous three-word tag-line.  It’s become so ubiquitous that it’s become a parody of itself and is often used ironically or in satirical versions of these somewhat-esteemed genres.  And it’s a tag-line that immediately sprang into my head as I looked over my research for this week’s question regarding ISTE coaching standard #3, “How do we design, teach, and facilitate digital age learning environments for students and teachers that promote collaborative learning while maintaining effective classroom management practices?”  The journey from this digital education question to the ominous opening of a dystopian sci-fi movie is a strange one, but one worth taking.

The Question

The question regarding the role of teachers and teaching in the digital classroom is a logical one for an ISTE coaching standard. As coaches, our intent is to help facilitate teachers in this environment.  My specific question relative to this particular prompt regarded student autonomy (to research, study, and design their own learning) vs. the supervision and direction that must be supplied by the teacher in a digital classroom.  I was in search of any good resources for how to manage this delicate balance.  My question morphed a bit over time as I began to explore this tension. To me, it was an obvious question, but there didn’t seem to be much on this specific topic so I began to look more generally at the role of teachers in the digital classroom.  It was in the context of this query that I came across an article who’s subtitle begged the question, “When kids can get their lessons from the Internet, what’s left for classroom instructors to do?” (Godsey, 2016).  I found this question, despite it’s obvious bias, to be more compelling. I didn’t necessarily agree with the implication of what was being argued, but I did like the question, so I effectively adopted it as my own.

The Resource

Michael Godsey is a veteran high school English teacher who obviously loves teaching English – many of us who teach love our subjects – and he presents a grim forecast for the future of teaching as we know it.  His essay, “The Deconstruction of the K-12 Teacher” in The Atlantic presents a grim dystopian scenario worthy of any science fiction story. And just like the best writing in that genre, it is grounded in reality.  Godsey is correct in pointing out that education is changing – that the role of the teacher is changing.  His “guide-on-the-side” vs. “sage-on-the-stage” is something I’ve heard numerous times in my graduate studies in education.  “Teacher as facilitator” is another mantra I’ve heard repeated in the program. Other components like shared lesson plans, educational YouTube videos, companies like Kahn Academy and Edmodo all already exist. What Godsey does is take these realities to the extreme. But is his vision the “logical” conclusion of this evolution in education?

The Future (?)

In Godsey’s future, students learn in digital classrooms with a “fantastic” computer screen in the front of the class where a “super-teacher” (think John Green, TED Talks, etc.) delivers professionally produced, interesting, and engaging lessons to the students. The students then use their computers to play interactive games with a global student body and take formal assessments that will all be graded by the computer. The actual in-class supervision is handled by low-wage, uncertified (and one would assume non-union/non-NEA) “techs” who would look after the mundane details of basic technical maintenance and classroom management.  The implications are frightening.  Students screen-time would skyrocket as all learning and engaging and assessing would be done through the computer.  The outlook for teachers is also bleak as in this scenario as anyone short of a super-star, multi-media teacher is not needed in education. The profession would become the purview of a elite few.  Even beyond that, the teacher becomes the least important part of the educational equation as students take control and “masters of content” – aside from the “super teacher” on the screen, are not needed in education anyway.  Even the organization and management of educational content has already been monopolized by companies like Edmodo and the coincidentally-orwellian-sounding “Activate Instruction.”

It’s a bleak scenario Godsey paints for us, but one that is usually at odds with contemporary thoughts on education. Most scholars in the field are usually in favor of the current changes in education.  Godsey mentions several of these scholars in his essay and holds to his view that the ramifications of the current trends will mean the demise of the teaching profession (except for an elite few) and the establishment of schools dominated by the computer and online, impersonal learning.

The Hole in the Wall and the School in the Cloud

Godsey references this particular TED talk by “Hole in the Wall” computer pioneer Sugata Mitra.  I’ll be referencing this, and Godsey’s take on it, below.

 

 

Utopia or Dystopia?

Since Godsey’s approach is essentially dystopian, I’ll look at the argument from both sides: first addressing the potential negative aspects Godsey brings up related to the proposed changes in education (cases where the dystopian alarms should be heeded) and secondly looking at the more Utopian elements that technology brings to education that Godsey may be overlooking in his bleak scenario.

Dystopia
  1. Underlying assumption that all learning is about jobs.  To me this is the most troublesome and unquestioned assumption about education today: the purpose of education is to prepare someone for a job.  In the hurry to make education relevant and meaningful, we have lost sight of the greater purpose of education.  Maybe it’s because I teach government and there’s something about an educated electorate being necessary for the survival of the Republic, or maybe it’s just my liberal arts college background showing through, but if education is all about jobs, then no one should ever have to read the Great Gatsby or learn the periodic table of the elements or take an art class or learn just about anything in US history.  Students should just learn how to read, use computers, and do some math.  If knowledge is all about jobs then we just need to know our work.  Ironically, Mitra is critical of the imperial/industrial model of education because of it’s dehumanizing effects that turned people into clerks, but presents a model which is designed to essentially the same thing (produce good workers) with a different technology. I believe that our education is more than just about jobs – it is teaching us who we are and how we can be better as a people…not just as employees.  It is about understanding our world, ourselves, and celebrating our shared humanity – the art and culture and literature and history that makes us human.
  2. “Knowing is obsolete.” Godsey is not incorrect in worrying about this.  Mitra mentions this phrase specifically as a virtue in his TED talk and while it’s not without its veracity or merits, it’s a problematic mindset.  Technology has indeed changed what we need to know (I’ll deal with this below, but when was the last time you consciously tried to remember a phone number…other than your own?).  It has liberated us from a fair amount of mundane knowledge but it does not mean we need to know nothing.  I understand that necessary knowledge changes.  Several thousand years ago it was good if you could identify which berries were poisonous and which you could eat, but once we figured that out and made stores where you could buy your food we didn’t call it quits and say we were done knowing stuff.  New stuff came along for us to learn.  We have unprecedented, unfettered access to the accumulated knowledge of all mankind; that does not equal the repudiation of knowledge.  When we stop knowing things, we cease to understand who we are, where we are, and where we came from.
  3. “Grandma would make a good teacher.” Not an actual quote from Mitra’s talk, but one that I think belies his under-appreciation of what teachers do. At one point Mitra says that the teacher, “only raises the question.” Raising questions is a huge part of what we as teachers do, but that sort of oversimplification hurts his argument. It’s no wonder Godsey is skeptical of the changes in education and what they might mean for teachers.  Mitra blithely mentions several times that classrooms can/should be managed by “grandma’s” who have this kindly, home-spun, wisdom of the ages that would allow them to effectively guide the students on their quest for knowledge just like they guided their children to adulthood.  First, let me just say that I loved my grandmothers and I think grandmothers a great. I even think his project with grandmothers is interesting and worthwhile, but his contention that life experience is all that matters in education (and that’s essentially what he’s arguing), runs counter to almost everything the entire field of education stands for.   Not that experience doesn’t have its benefits, but if the future of education – the school in the sky – is all about grandmothers directing students on using the computer, Godsey is right to be worried.
  4. “Teachers can/will produce good original video content.” This dystopic vision is closely associated with the flipped-classroom concept and what it might mean for education.  The flipped classroom is key to Godsey’s argument and he discusses at length.  He’s concerned about the fact that teachers don’t really need to work hard to record and plan flipped classroom lessons because other teachers have already done it.  His extension of this idea is that schools will realize this and just use the best ones in the aforementioned video classrooms led by “super teachers.”  Not an unthinkable reality.  Recording lessons is hard work and while 16% of teachers say they regularly record lessons for their classes (Project Tomorrow & Flipped Learning Network, 2014), 19% report concern over the difficulty in making them (Yarbro, Arfstrom, McKnight, and McKnight, 2014).  Interestingly, that number was much higher in the previous report (27%) but declined substantially. Also noteworthy is the fact that the same report cited 25% of teachers worried about finding suitable videos for classroom use but that number subsequently dropped the following year to 1%.  Is it possible there is a connection between these two figures?  Could it be that as more teachers found outside videos to show for class, they didn’t need to worry about making their own? I have no evidence for this, but it’s an interesting correlation. One last point on this topic is relevance.  I’ve taken classes where the video content created by the instructors was out of date.  Not necessarily in terms of specific disciplinary content, but in terms of course material and requirements. Recycling old content can be devastating. If the intent is to engage and encourage students to learn, re-posting an old, outdated video which contains irrelevant or outright incorrect information achieves exactly the opposite. I’m currently making some videos for a class I am teaching and I am intentionally making them specific to the class I am teaching at the moment. I’m doing this because I know it will force me to re-record them if I teach this course again. If my students have to watch it, I feel like I owe it to them to make sure the material is up to date and personalized for them.
Utopia
  1. Technology is leveling the playing field for students. No matter how critical Godsey and others may be about technology, this fundamental truth still applies.  This is the beauty of Mitra’s message.  The democratization of information is perhaps one of the most transforming components of the digital age, and his “Hole in the Wall” experiment is a vivid testament to what technology can do. Godsey may be critical of the impact of educational change on teachers (and it’s probably not going to be the catastrophe he envisions), but for the overwhelming majority of the world’s students, the reality is that the technological changes that have accompanied education have greatly enhanced their educational opportunities.
  2. Technology is empowering students.  Much like point one, this component of technology and education has been overwhelmingly transformational and positive.  Godsey may lament the loss of his knowledge monopoly in the classroom, but I, for one, welcome it (mine, not his).  I like to know things – as much as the next person and maybe more so, but I  take genuine pleasure when a student in my classroom corrects me or wants to elaborate further on a point that I bring up.  I frequently throw out facts (usually non-essential, but interesting, minutia) that I think to be true and then casually inform the class that I’m not sure about it, but someone could look it up.  What follows is usually a flurry of cell-phone and/or laptop activity.  I won’t hazard a guess as to what % I’m right, but students love to fact-check me.  And I like too. It engages them and they feel a part of the process as we stumble towards the truth.  And that’s where Godsey is wrong. It’s not about us as teachers knowing everything – we can’t and we shouldn’t think we can; it’s about working with the students, nurturing their curiosity, and forming a relationship of learning where we are partners.  I believe technology has made that relationship easier to establish because it has empowered our students; and empowered students are more interested and more invested in what they learn.  It also empowers students in the areas of collaboration and publication, both of which also enhance the learning environment.
  3. Technology is helping teachers. Godsey walks an interesting line between praising technology and condemning it – or more precisely, condemning its impact on education.  The reality though, is that technology has made our jobs as teachers manifestly easier – not just for the reasons mentioned in issue #2 (although no longer having to be the fount of all knowledge is a relief), but for a host of reasons. Everything from taking attendance, communicating with parents, communicating with students, tracking student progress, providing supplemental material, finding lesson plans, finding tests, quizzes, review games, activities, etc. are all made easier by technology.  I’m old enough to remember when a computer in the classroom was a new thing (see previous posts); now, I can’t imagine doing my job without it. And Godsey acknowledges this reality too. The flaw in his argument is that he’s projecting out into the future.  He’s taking something that is essentially a good thing and creating a worst-case scenario where our technology essentially puts us out of a job. And there is some precedent for this. The first time a robot was introduced on the factory floor, I’m sure management told the workers it was going to make their jobs easier, not replace them (University of Phoenix just released an ad expressing this sentiment – where technology displaces a worker and then helps her get a new job. See below).  And this is where Mitra’s underestimation of what professional teachers actually do is dangerous because it feeds into this fear.  This is also where effective leaders in digital education are so very necessary.  Digital Ed leaders must not only train (and, in some cases, calm) this generation of teachers on how to effectively use digital technology in the classroom, they must also help shape the direction this educational change will take – steering it away from Godsey’s dystopian vision.  It’s not like Godsey is making crazy assumptions.  If the cost of education could be drastically cut by using technology and streaming some “super teachers” and running a few programs (at the expense of the entire teaching profession – and breaking the union to boot) is it so unreasonable to think government wouldn’t support such an effort?  Government leaders have a history of making educational decisions based on economic factors over educational ones. Godsey cannot be disregarded as a crank, but for his vision to come true we have to fail as Ed Tech leaders.
  4. Technology is changing what we know and what we need to know. This is a truism that Godsey would probably acknowledge.  However, this doesn’t mean we don’t have to know anything (Again, I think Mitra’s overstatement hurts his overarching argument here).  Our ways of thinking and understanding are all being changed by technology. There’s no changing that fact.  The trick now is for us to figure out what this new mode of thinking looks like and how we can effectively use it in education. Much of what we needed to know from rote memory is no longer essential.  Much of the grunt work in education can be simplified or eliminated just as knowing how to shoe a horse or sharpen a quill for writing is not essential today.  Once again this is the duty of digital education leadership.  The pioneers in this field are doing the research, publishing, and pushing an agenda where education and technology work hand-in-hand for the benefit of the student, the teacher, and the community.  It’s not a matter of eliminating all knowledge, but of refining the canon.

University of Phoenix Commercial: technology hurts and helps

Conclusion: “In THIS world…”

Does this movie turn out to be a teacher nightmare?  Are we going to end up with 500 students in a classroom all watching a super teacher on the computer?  Is the teaching profession destined for the dustbin of history, like the cobbler or the blacksmith or the town cryer?  Not likely. To be fair, I’m undoubtedly influenced by my own educational program and interests.  Pursing a digital education degree has exposed me to various theories on both sides, though primarily positive, but I like to think that I’m open-minded enough to reach a reasonable conclusion. Godsey is a critic and we need critics. He’s shouting a warning from the watchtower, but that doesn’t mean his vision will come to pass. Technology is changing education. That it is a reality and there can be no doubt, but where Godsey foresees apocalypse, I see hope. The future remains unwritten.  How exciting it will be for those who have a hand in it to write this next crucial chapter!

 

 

Godsey, Michael (March 25, 2015). “The Deconstruction of the K-12 Teacher: When kids can get their lessons from the Internet, what’s left for classroom instructors to do?” The Atlantic.  Retrieved from: https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/03/the-deconstruction-of-the-k-12-teacher/388631/

ISTE (2011). “ISTE Standards for Coaches.” International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-coaches

Project Tomorrow & Flipped Learning Network. Speak Up 2013 national research project findings: a second year review of flipped learning.  Retrieved from: http://www.tomorrow.org/speakup/2014_FlippedLearningReport.html

Rebora, Anthony (June 6, 2016). “Teachers Still Struggling to Use Tech to Transform Instruction, Survey Finds.” Educational Week. Retrieved from: http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2016/06/09/teachers-still-struggling-to-use-tech-to.html?tkn=SUNF3xA1W22FFtjNlbjUg5JOX4Y8vP7i4W5T&intc=es

Yarbro, J., Arfstrom, K., McKnight, K, and McKnight, P. (2014). Extension of a Review of Flipped Learning.  Retrieved from: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5W5P9bQJ6q0ZEZELXFYTEg3Uk0/view