Digital Sandbox

This Blog is designed to provide the reader with information on how to adopt technology into the classroom by relooking at traditional classroom tools and transitioning into new ways of teaching and learning. The Digital Sandbox explores the future of learning through the recreation of 21st Century learning environments.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Connected Classroom

The connected classroom provides avenues for teachers to become facilitators of learning and move away from the sage on a stage approach to teaching. The foundational concepts of instructors guiding students or facilitating their progress are based on the idea that the instructor is no longer at the center of the interaction and application of knowledge. The instructor remains available to students as a facilitator of resources. The connected classroom teacher is a resource to the students by frequently checking student  understanding for their assigned learning.  The teacher, when necessary provides guidance to students in how to process information for a unit of study. The facilitators role in a connected classroom changes dramatically in that the teacher becomes a source to students in how to better use technology resources, access information and how to apply these resources to authentic task.

The connected classroom is a melting pot of knowledge where project based and problem based learning thrives. These are classrooms where high levels of engagement occur as students work cooperatively to access information, create new ideas, build artifacts from their experiences and formulate models through predicated learning. The connected classroom cannot be defined within the traditional classroom setting as it must simulate the workforce of tomorrow. Tony Wagner provides a definition of the how corporations have changed dramatically in the new world of work through a quoted section by Karen Bruett. Bruett states, "The way work is organized now is lots of networks of cross-functional teams that work together on specific projects."1  Work is no longer defined by a workers specific skill set, it is defined by the task the team has been given.  In summation, these are the workforces that thrive on co-creative environments. Workforces that thrive on meeting goals through creative problem solving. For students to gain an edge on employability schools will need to model, design and simulate co-creative learning environments. These are the learning environments that promote web found knowledge that use information as a source to skill development. These are the future networks in creating the classrooms without walls, were students participate in a universal learning experience, utilizing mobile tools to continually access and create multidimensional patterns of explanations of the world around them. Don Tapscott in his book Wikinomics states,  "Work has become more cognitively complex, more team-based and collaborative, more dependent on social skills, more timed pressured, more reliant on technological competence, more mobile and less dependent on geography."2 It is with these ideas that co-creating may become one of the most powerful engines of change and innovations that the education world will now have to explore.

These are the learning environments of the flipped classroom. The co-creative environments that has given birth to the millennial learner. A generation equipped with the mobile tools structured in the provision to create, and  share information across multiple platforms designed for a world of co-creating. This is the world that educators should capture.  These are the classrooms where students are allowed to tap into a knowledge pool of similar interest, a reservoir of creativity that may emerge through an enthusiastic wealth of talent producing warehouses of digital content. The digital content that is shared with those who have similar learning interest, through the creation of digital textbooks, wikis, or blogs. It will not be an easy change and many tough challenges lie ahead to offset the standardized models of the existing rigors of traditional education.  

Saturday, June 23, 2012

How Students Learn

To be a student centered school educators must first know and understand how our students learn. Educators must be aware of where students come from and the learning tools they are most familiar with. Educators must also have an understanding on how to motivate students to learn and what challenges they will face when entering the work force of tomorrow.  Research has shown that too many students are disengaged and alienated from school, seeing little or no purpose for their education. Business leaders say there is a widening gap between the skills of the workforce and the needs of businesses seeking competitive advantage. Additionally, technology and the networked era threaten to further stretch the already-wide equity gap in education unless there is decisive intervention and a strong public agenda. 

In 2001, Marc Prensky began to bring ideas to the forefront about a new generation of students. In a landmark article entitled "On the Horizon" Prensky popularized the terms “digital native" and "digital immigrant". What he portrayed in these terms was the idea that there is a gap between generations as they experience and learn from the evolution of technology. What can also be suggested from these terms is that technology may be creating an ever widening gap between each generation. 

For those who are in the business of education, becoming aware of these gaps may be the starting point. A starting point that immerses the educator in the learning tools of the millennial student. In other words, bridging the gap may mean to learn as our students learn. To say the least, If we are to be missionaries of learning then we must get among the natives. Learn as the natives learn means building your campfires with the tools the natives use. Visit the watering holes where collaboration is ongoing. Hangout in the caves of posted hieroglyphs of creative thought. Nothing about what we say is primordial as the natives become restless they show us a new way to become engaged. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Information Harvesting

The Backchannel and Information Resourcing 
In the traditional classroom setting, backchannels are simply a way to provide feedback while someone else is talking. In the early stages of instructional practices teachers used the backchannel method to check student listening skills. The teacher would call on a student to ensure that they were listening to the lecture. These backchannel methods have advanced over time and have evolved from keeping students' attention to that of checking student understanding. Marzano and Pickering found that creating backchannels within instructional practices are an important form of checking student understanding. Checking for understanding is made up of at least three instructional practices that formulate high engaging strategies that support the formative assessment process. These three instructional practices include: using questioning to check for understanding, providing meaningful feedback, and reinforcing effort through modeling and reframing of conceptual awareness.

Since I used the term backchannel in a different form it becomes a fluid term as we make associations to educational practices and digital literacy. Now all we have to do is identify some backchannel tools and apply them to our understanding of the three formative assessment strategies of providing feedback, reinforcing effort  and reframing conceptual awareness. Twitter, for example, can be used as a backchannel tool .

Creating A Backchannel
Through a social media software protocol like Twitter, students can share their thoughts and ideas about the information being presented with others. The key to any backchannel dialog is  it must include not only the information that is being exchanged, but also the management of the communication. Some teachers perceive management of classroom information as a priority and because of this reasoning, rule out the use of social media in their classrooms. These teachers believe that information sharing using Twitter is to loosely fit for the classroom. The over cautious teacher should be commended for classroom values but at the same time, given examples of how to setup classroom social media norms.  These types of teacher apprehensions are normal in protected learning environments where there is a concern that a student might express thoughts with nuances of attitude and bad intentions.

To offset this fear the instructor needs to set up patterns of classroom expectations "digital citizenship norms," that are appropriate in sharing ideas during a mini lesson or information sharing session.  The goal of any effective classroom experience is getting students involved in discussion while protecting the integrity of all ideas being shared. These are some of the skills that need to be taught and are a part of digital literacy. These are also the same norms we set up for our classrooms in expectations for appropriate social interaction. Any teacher who is a master at classroom management will also provide the same guidance in the promotion of digital literacy.

One method found to be successful in setting up a twitter backchannel is to create a hash tag discussion forum for a classroom event.  To provide information management and to get students more involved, is to plan ways that allows for mini sessions opportunities to take during Twitter breaks. Another method to use on a Twitter backchannel would be to push out preliminary content prior to the start of a classroom session. Pre- content assignments are real time notifications that provide students reminders of what content is required for any given session which can also be used for post session assessments.

Asynchronous Backchannels
A second type of backchannel used for information sharing is a one way response application, established by the classroom teacher that is a synchronous form of communication. Asynchronous means that information sharing is not synchronized at predetermined or regular intervals. These are the backchannels that closely resembling actual, real-time conversations. There are several different types of a synchronous backchannel software protocols available that require teacher management and setup. The two most suggested and easy to use are TodaysMeet and Google Moderator.  The initial setup for an  asynchronous backchannel requires the teacher to establish a specific website address that points to the discussion board.  The purpose for establishing the web address is to reference participants to a virtual meeting place. Within seconds of writing a comment online, everyone else logged-into the system can view and immediately respond to these initial remarks.

The best suggested method for introducing a backchannel to your classroom would be to develop a virtual jigsaw. This will allow the students to participate in a virtual conversation while being facilitated by the classroom teacher.  Backchannels that are asynchronous can be used for various classroom formal or informal discussions about current events, collaborative projects, readings, portfolios, and many other content specific activities generated by the teacher.  The purpose behind the asynchronous backchannel is to provide immediate feedback or responses to learner. The teacher can also generate questions on the backchannel to support students in the construction of a project. Students can use the backchannel to describe their work to others; while other participants provide feedback or advice.  Participation on the backchannel can help in the formation of a community among groups of learners who otherwise would be unable to communicate formally or informally.

Harvesting Ideas on the Backchannel 
To create deeper meaning or an understanding of an idea, presentation or concept in a traditional method would be for a student to take notes on a directed reading. Note-taking skills are important in any academic environment. It helps the student reflect their thoughts on what they have heard or read during a learning experiences. It is both a form of documentation and keeping records on portions and segments of an assignment. The best method for sharing ideas on a backchannel is to keep the channel open until the assignment has been completed. This method of open sharing ideas provides students to create summaries of shared ideas available for review. In a non traditional method we could use a backchannel to support the sharing of multiple resources artifacts of information within a network of contributors. This type of learning provides a different approach to the learning process as the teacher provides social networking tools to harvest information summaries.