"Bringing the Farm to School: Growing Healthy Children & Communities" by USDA is licensed under CC by 2.0.

Visual Literacy: Analyzing Infographics with Students

In my last post, I wrote about the use of infographics in the classroom. Their creation can be a powerful exercise in both visual literacy and graphic design. A far cry from the poster projects of my youth, infographics call on students to synthesize information and think thematically. Just because you present students with a great online infographic creation tool (Piktochart, Visme, etc.) doesn’t mean they are ready to create one. Many students are not even familiar with the term infographic (informative graphic). I start any lesson on the topic by asking students to analyze the work of others. This extra step yields far better results in students’ final work.

Questions to Ask Students

  • How do you read this image? From left to right?

  • How does the organization of information/text structure help an author and a reader establish important themes?

  • What do you see first? Why?

  • What stands out to you at second glance? Why?

  • Where does your eye travel?

  • What relationship is shown in this infographic? How do you know? What choices did the designer make to ensure this was clear, even from afar? How does this help you to read this information?

  • How is color used? What is bright and what is dull in color? Why do you think the creator chose to do this?

Students are amazed to realize that these design decisions are not haphazard, but purposefully considered by the author. 

"Bringing the Farm to School: Growing Healthy Children & Communities" by USDA is licensed under CC by 2.0.

“Bringing the Farm to School: Growing Healthy Children & Communities” by USDA is licensed under CC by 2.0.

For example, consider the infographic above. A quick “read” yields some clear key aspects of this infographic’s design. Thematic imagery is used to convey the larger message (farm-to table practices are present in some U.S. schools). Even a cursory glance suggests that numbers and statistics are a focus. Color and font size also draw attention to these statistics. This infographic is designed to highlight the successes of current farm-to-table eating in schools, rather than challenges. One may even notice that the sizes of the grocery bags decrease to coincide with the percentages represented on them. While this is far from a complex infographic, it is successful in presenting synthesized information about the topic. It is  also clear that graphic design elements are purposeful and on-message. You may think these simple elements are innately obvious, but it is useful to model your thinking and work with students to unpack these design choices as they relate to theme and message. Finally, I encourage teachers to survey students for topics of interest before choosing an infographic to study together. This will create further engagement and interest with students.

Using Infographics in the Classroom

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Infographics

In my own classroom, the use of infographics has been a valuable tool to teach not only visual literacy, but graphic design. Our society is a visual one and students need to be prepared to not only interpret the meaning of visuals presented to them but to present their own visual stories back to others. Many already do this in some capacity on sites like Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat. Of course, creating an infographic does go beyond taking a selfie, requiring students to think very critically. Above are some infographics of mine that I’ve shared with students.

What is an infographic?

I tell my students that infographics (informative graphics) are a way to convey information to an audience in a simple, engaging way. I tell them that it is a way of storytelling. I tell them that it counters the notion, often seen in writing, that longer is better. I tell them that synthesis is truly the challenge here. The key to a successful infographic is a finished product that looks deceptively simple.

How do you use them in your teaching?

Each time I’ve presented this idea, I’ve been surprised by how many student haven’t heard the term infographic. They are, however, familiar with similar images in nonfiction books from their childhood. Students are often surprised by how much they can “read” from a visual image, as well as how quickly they can identify the  relationships present, such as in flowcharts and cycles, etc. I often begin by showing students some examples and asking them to identify key elements. This is an important first step to pave the way for students to create their own. Infographics can be used as a creative alternative to a typical project or even writing assignment. Students can share them in a printed form or with each other online. In the examples below, my students use infographics to share elements of symbolism from novels they had recently read.

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How do you make an infographic and not just a poster?

  • Get out of the habit of “go find and stick up” (Images are not stickers to place without thorough consideration.)

  • Viewer should be able to understand relationships at first glance (cross language barriers perhaps)

  • Overall imagery should be thematic or symbolic

  • Not just be content, but an analysis of this information

  • Does your infographic…tell a story? persuade? present an argument?

  • Consider the overall text structure (compare & contrast, sequence, cause & effect, etc.)

 

What tools do you use to create infographic?

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There are many, many online tools available that can make this process easy and fun for students. Some examples are shown above. Please note that some of these tools have both free and paid versions with varying customization options. Be warned that “go find and stick up” is tempting with these tools. Additionally, by no means is a fancy tool necessary to create such a visual image. A simple tool like Google Slides, Powerpoint or even pen and paper can work just as well!

The Past Year

Well, it has been 349 days since my last blog post! Where have I been you ask? Great question. My last post found me completing a graduate degree in Digital Education Leadership at Seattle Pacific University while closing out another school year as a middle school language arts teacher. It also found me nine months pregnant and counting, awaiting the arrival of my son. Born on June 10th, Parker arrived only four days shy of the last day of school, and the same day as my graduation from Seattle Pacific. Of course, this made it a tad tricky to attend. Check out the make-up graduation my esteemed program director, David Wicks and my devoted cohort, hosted a few months later. Who says you can’t do it all?

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During this hiatus spent caring for my son, I have continued to engage in education technology by exploring some great opportunities presented to me. Follow me as I share about the following experiences in the coming weeks!

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1. Running professional development sessions for teachers on the topics of Infographics, Student Blogging, and Genius Hour

2. Presenting an Ignite Talk at an EdSurge Summit Event on Inquiry-Based Learning

3. Teaching my first higher education course, EDTC 6102 Teaching, Learning and Assessment 1, at Seattle Pacific University

4. Developing elective coursework for the Digital Education Leadership graduate program at Seattle Pacific University

4. Serving on a Future Ready Framework committee

5. Presenting a workshop for docents at the Bellevue Arts Museum on working with middle school students

I’ve been busy and I look forward to sharing more in the next posts!

 

 

Evaluating a Technology Course According to ISTE Student Standards

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Practicum

As part of my final course with the Digital Educational Leadership master’s program at Seattle Pacific University, I engaged in a 12 week practicum, job-shadowing two instructors who teach a technology elective course for middle school students. The course, a high school graduation requirement, focuses on preparing students to use technology for various academic and job-related objectives. It also seeks to explore the use of different digital tools and is taught using the Learning Management System (LMS), Moodle.

Although in many ways I was an independent observer, I did actively engage in the classroom. I worked with individual students on demand, had regular conversations with the instructors about their approach to the curriculum, and taught a few classes in their absence. These combined experiences provided me with an authentic and immersive understanding of the curriculum’s implementation.

Program Evaluation

After completing this practicum, I chose to engage further in my understanding of this course by conducting a program evaluation of its curriculum.

Focal Points for Evaluation

Utilizing the work of Sanders and Sullins (2006), the following focus was identified for this evaluation (p. 7):

Process of strategies for providing services to learners: to provide insights about how best to organize a school to facilitate learning
1. Curriculum design: to provide insights about the quality of program planning and organization
2. Classroom processes: to provide insights about the extent to which educational programs are being implemented
3. Materials of instruction: to provide insights about whether specific materials are indeed aiding student learning

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Revising a BYOD Action Plan: Creating an Online PD Space

Action Plan Feedback

This quarter, I have been working to develop an action plan centered around how the policy of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) fits into my ideal learning environment. Recently, my class came together for a face-to-face session to review emerging plans. We engaged in a practice known as a Tuning Protocol to receive feedback. Just as student learning isn’t as powerful in a vacuum, neither is the ongoing learning and development of educators. Dearman and Alber (2005) address using collaborative practices to analyze and reflect on student work, and claimed that the involvement of educators in reflection and decision making not only creates commitment, but propels and sustains instructional shifts. After my participation in this process, I can see how this would work.

I was astounded by the high level of my peers’ action plans. Their thoughtful reflections on their school learning environments seamlessly merged into their envisioned growth opportunities. The feedback I received on my own plan left me poised to dig deeper, clarify confusions, and make decisions about how it will all come together. For example, @EllenJDorr prompted me to remember that I have to address the connection between BYOD and student-centered learning. Student independence requires teachers to loosen some control over the use of technology in the classroom. Additionally, @Ingersoll_Ryan reminded me that it is not just about rationalizing the positive impacts of BYOD, but owning the distractions personal devices do cause. Yes, students will be distracted at times, and this will be challenging. However, we can own our role to instruct students how to manage this distraction.

Professional development has continued to be the focus of my plan. While I have continued to focus on the unconference model, I have struggled to articulate the research-based evidence of this choice. Additional research has highlighted the power of working in cohorts, who focus on content and engage in active learning (Desimone et al., 2002). The professional development cycle I graphically outlined above centers on these fundamentals. The first step of my plan involves introducing this professional development plan to staff. Many in my cohort suggested that I showcase what successful BYOD in the classroom looks like, share school demographics about student online and device use, and present the rationale for why BYOD benefits student learning, all in the pursuit of inviting staff to participate in the larger conversation (@MrsBTodd gave me a great suggestion to develop a simple infographic to distribute).

Finally, the feedback I received also pushed me to realize that I need jump in and start designing this professional development process. My biggest struggle has been how to blend the unconference model, which fosters interest and participant-driven conversations, with the inquiry model, which supports instructional growth via experimentation and collegial feedback. Participating in both of these practices led to my own instructional shifts this past year, so their value is fresh in my mind. So how do these two ideas come together? I thought the only way to figure this out was to start to build it…

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How BYOD Fits Into An Ideal Learning Environment

This week I am continuing to work on my Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) action plan as part of my Digital Learning Environments course at Seattle Pacific University. I am working to get to the heart of why utilizing personal devices in the classroom is part of an ideal digital learning environment. If I remove the word digital, I see that my ideal learning environment encourages students whose learning is a result of their personal curiosity. It challenges students to persist in their learning despite ongoing challenges. And, it develops a student that is able to adapt to shifting situations.

What does a learning space that supports the development of a curious, persistent and adaptable student look like? It is clear that challenging assignments and remediation do not make a student persistent in their achievement. Similarly, asking higher level thinking questions does not make a student curious. And, assigning students to different projects or partners does not make a student adaptable. These skills are learned through the fine craft of a teacher who focuses on each student as part of a larger puzzle. Students have individual needs: they learn at different paces, have different interests, and need support in different areas. Our classroom environment has to be one that challenges students when they are ready for it, encourages students when they need it and teaches lessons that require thinking alongside all types of people. It pushes students to ask questions stemming from their own inquiries and personal interests. It also creates a student who can reflect not only on what they have been learned, but how they have learned.

"High Ropes Course Climbing Forest" CSU under CC BY 2.0 Retrieved from https://pixabay.com/en/high-ropes-course-climbing-forest-246113/

“High Ropes Course Climbing Forest” CSU under CC BY 2.0 Retrieved from https://pixabay.com/en/high-ropes-course-climbing-forest-246113/

Engaging students in this type of environment requires an awareness of current cultural norms with emerging technology. Awareness of how today’s youth are using technology on their own time provides a window into possible approaches (Morris and Stommel , 2013). A lack of awareness can potentially short change our students and push them away from genuine learning experiences that they already understand, enjoy and want to expand upon (Morris & Stommel, 2013). Recently, my district conducted a survey of 8th graders, which included questions about technology. The survey results showed that 91% of 8th grade students had their own cell phone last year. Bringing personal devices means that students are arriving to school with some of the most modern applications available, and my ideal learning environment does not prevent students from accessing the most current tools used by society on a daily basis.

The use of personal devices in the classroom creates opportunities for students to not only access digital tools, but to own their learning literally and figuratively. They have a comfort level with their personal device. They care about their personal devices. Part of being curious and adaptable is being able to resolve individual challenges in real time. The challenges that come with BYOD are also some of the learning benefits. Troubleshooting setbacks on devices, as well communicating with peers to do so is not only real world, but builds a persistent and adaptable person. Personal devices in the hands of every student can also actively engage everyone in the room, motivating students to make choices about how to independently implement technology to meet the demands of a task. The technologies on personal devices are moving targets, putting students in charge, as they need to adapt and learn to dodge obstacles. An ideal learning environment involves students in this process. It includes teachers who are willing to work alongside students to navigate the confusions and shifts of emerging technology to support the development of these skills. This may create anxiety in education, but many effective shifts in educational practice have done just this (Morris & Stommel, 2013).

Morris, S. & Stommel, J. (2013) Why online programs fail, and 5 things we can do about it. [Web Post]. Retrieved from http://www.hybridpedagogy.com/journal/why-online-programs-fail-and-5-things-we-can-do-about-it/

 

The Unconference Model: Valuing and Engaging Active Participants

In my last post, I examined how perceptions shape our beliefs. I also commented on how this has impacted the implementation of educational technology. As I think about how perception has prevented those in my own school community to resist a BYOD practice, I have been thinking about my past exploration of unconference models. Many attest to the fact that teachers learn best from one another. Knowing this, I have been wondering how I can broaden the practice of learning collaboratively to my entire school. In a past post, I investigated the unconference model, a more informal collaborative form of professional development. I shared what I’d learned from attending two EdCamps, noting how collegiality and collaboration impacts instructional practices. I also commented on the impact of autonomy and personalization on our development as educators. I have also previously shared my informal collaboration with a colleague last year, exploring technology enabled learning by holding conversations on practices that worked and didn’t. The inquiry model infographic I designed below showcases our method.

I merged this inquiry method with my reflections on the unconference model to come up with the video below, a vision of how this model might transfer into monthly sessions at my school.

Some questions posed by @RMoeJoe and @EllenJDorr left me thinking further about how to accomplish an unconference model as part of a BYOD action plan.

  • How have unconference models worked in the past?
  • Where are evident spaces for it in my K-12 environment?
  • What do I need to invent on campus to help it foster?
  • What supports can I offer to help my colleagues and system to continue growing?

Although this approach to professional development saw its start in the tech industry, its influence is growing in education. The significance of the unconference model is that, as the name suggests, it dispels some of the previous notions of how professional development should work (Howard, 2010). For example, unconferences are propelled by the attendees, not the facilitators, bringing democracy to professional development (Howard, 2010). Normally, professional development asks attendees to choose from pre-determined presentations. With the unconference model, attendees propose the topics for workshopping and discussion together, not for presentation from one person at the front. Howard (2010) shared that an online space be created for participants to suggest ideas of interest and exploration. I did broach a similar idea in my video above, suggesting users pitch ideas on a forum like Padlet for popular vote. AnswerGarden is another tool that can be great for this, and I’ve seen it used spontaneously at EdCamps as late as the very start of the session. And, if interest isn’t high enough, the topic isn’t discussed (Howard, 2010). With the motto that “user-generated is the guiding principle,” the focus is on teachers’ needs, not the directives of administration (Howard, 2010, para. 4). Fostering personalization and leadership for all teachers involved is an extremely empowering practice which might influence buy-in.

Attendance is usually smaller than that of a real conference, which does make it an easily transferable model for recurrence in a K-12 school environment. It is loose, informal, but not without norms and procedures. I thought a lot about the word informal during the crafting of my last posts on this topic. I felt that the work I did with my colleague last year was altogether informal, but I realized that we did have norms for our conversations which is how I came to link our practice to the inquiry model above.

It Belongs to Everyone

The sessions don’t belong to the facilitator; they belong to everyone in attendance (Watrall, 2010). As a result, decisions, conversations and leadership are driven by everyone in the room (Watrall, 2010). Budd et al. (2015) called this “participant-centric thinking” and noted that this style is what separates it from traditional models (2015, p. 3). The empowerment of participants, who are aware of their important contribution to the process, leads to more investment and often better results (Budd et al., 2015). This is also perhaps the key to fostering buy-in and sustainability. Just like the teacher is shifting from the sage on the stage to the guide on the side, so too is the PD facilitator. My colleague @Ingersoll_Ryan said in his feedback that my focus on valuing the input of teachers is key. Perhaps part of valuing teachers to participate is to seek out and encourage colleagues in my building with unique expertise and perspectives to participate (Budd et al., 2105). I hadn’t thought about reaching out beyond those who show up. I should reach out to colleagues who have reservations about implementing technology BYOD. I should reach out to those I know are doing interesting tech-enabled learning in their classrooms. I should reach out and invite administrators and our IT support personnel to take part in conversations. This will send the message that all teachers are valued in this conversation, not just those who are already interested.

I wholeheartedly agree with Budd et. al (2015) that some of the most influential conversations to instructional development and relationship building often take place in the space between typical professional development, as well as during before and after school visits with colleagues. Budd et. al advocated that the unconference model should “prioritize conversation over presentation” (2015, p. 2) I wonder if it might be useful to survey my colleagues on their perception of how they best learn professionally. Might they also agree that we often learn better from each other than we do from large scale presentations? Involving my colleagues in this initial question might lead to more interest and buy-in.

The Details: Environment, Anxiety and Communication

Breaking down the formality of a classroom or presentation hall should also be considered. Just like we are shifting our own classrooms to be more student-centered and collaborative, so too should this model. Arranging desks to form circles or clusters for breakout sessions, or even getting out of the classroom in pursuit of more comfortable seating shouldn’t be disregarded as helpful (Watrall, 2010) .

I have been asked multiple times by my cohort and professors how I will lead my colleagues to be active participants in the discussion of BYOD and/or the pedagogical approaches to technology. Asking teachers to engage in regular conversations is a good place to start, although this might incite anxiety. In my first EdCamp, I was very anxious about being asked to lead or speak. In my second, I spoke but still had anxiety about it. Fears such as public speaking or engaging in debate can be concerns in the transition from a passive listener to an active participant (Budd et al., 2015). However, creating an environment that values those in it and carves out a place for all those involved, by giving credence to contributions can build confidence (Budd et al., 2015).

Part of valuing participants is creating a public online space to contribute ideas. Whether through a living online document or via ongoing online conversations, this creates an additional opportunity to be heard by one’s peers, to have a clear influence, and to gain confidence (Budd et al, 2015). It also provides the opportunity for the work accomplished to be lasting. I mentioned the use of Padlet and AnswerGarden, but Twitter is often used to stream conversations occurring during and after. Google Docs is another tool often used to document collaborative activity in real time.

@EllenJDorr also asked how I can prove my theory of action and offer entry points so anyone could join my movement. This is a tough question. The need to accrue clock hours towards re-certification makes professional development a paperwork issue. My school has strict policies for how to run PD and while I could choose not to worry about getting paid as a facilitator, negating clock hours for participants would certainly prevent buy-in. Accountability is required from sign-up to attendance so registration unfortunately stays rigid. As a result, adding additional participants throughout the year might be a difficult to approve. I’ll have to this on this!

Conclusion

Budd et al. stated that “The idea that no individual person has all the answers promotes a spirit of generosity, interaction, and respect amongst all participants. Every voice is valued” (2015, p. 3). This seems to say it all. I think I should even post this for my students in the classroom.

Resources

Watrall, E. (2010). Notes on organizing an unconference. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/notes-on-organizing-an-unconference/24028

Howard, J. (2010). The ‘unconference’: technology loosen up the academic meeting. The Chronicle of HIgher Education. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/article/The-Unconference-Technology/65651/.

Budd, A., Dinkel, H., Corpas, M., Fuller, J. C., Rubinat, L., Devos, D. P., & … Wood, N. T. (2015, January). Ten simple rules for organizing an unconference. PLoS Computational Biology. pp. 1-8.

 

Perceptions, Emerging Technology, & Instructional Shifts

Questions of Perception

The Lumiere Brothers’ 1895 Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat is considered one of the first silent documentary films. The story attached to this film is that audience members ran from the screen terrified, mistaking the two-dimensional image of an approaching train for reality. Over time, this story has been debated, but it still poses some interesting notions. If the story is true, then it is an interesting commentary on the manipulation of our senses by technology. If it is simply folklore, the lasting prevalence of the tale might be a reflection on how the effects of emerging technologies continue to bewilder.

Episode 1 of Berger’s (1972), Ways of Seeing, focused on similar notions of technology’s effect. Berger’s BBC miniseries began with the exploration of technology’s effect on famous art. He invited the viewer to grapple with how photographic reproductions have changed the meaning of one-of-a-kind works. The ability to reproduce, crop, enlarge, and alter the composition of original images has potentially altered our understanding of them. The sound and juxtaposition of images on television similarly produced shifts in our perception. At the same time, photography and television has allowed people to interact with artwork on a global scale. Either way, the technology that produced these shifts is undeniable and everlasting. Berger (1972) claimed that our ability to see is dependent on our individual habits and conventions, leading us to ask ourselves how our beliefs stem from these perceptions.

What does this have to do with education technology? Questions of perception are tied to how teachers, students, and administrators respond to emerging technologies. In my last two posts, I reflected on the place of education in an age of mobilism (Norris & Soloway, 2011). I began to flesh out my action plan for a BYOD initiative by considering the how and the why of BYOD, as well as the benefits, challenges, and criticisms of it. I am turning my attention this week towards the idea of perception.  As I consider the obstacles faced in professional learning environments in the implementation of technology such as BYOD, I am wondering how our perceptions of emerging technology impact our practice. What are our perceptions of students use of technology? Personal devices? How do teacher perceptions, and resulting beliefs, shape their instructional choices?

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My Emerging BYOD Action Plan: Responding to Feedback and Criticisms

This week, as part of my exploration of ISTE Coaching Standard 3, I began to think about what an ideal digital learning environment might look like. My process began with my first post, Exploring my Ideal Digital Learning Environment. I started by reviewing three readings that explored the TPACK model, each one seeming to build on next ideologically in the integration of content, pedagogy, and technology. My takeaways from these readings were that content and pedagogy must work together to meet specified learning needs alongside the support of purposefully chosen technologies (Mishra & Koehler, 2003). I was also reminded that technology-supported learning is not reliant on the “what,” in this case the type of device, but rather “how” technology is used by the teacher to support objectives (Polin & Moe, 2015). Learning in this model should be student-centered and student-directed, and one method of encouraging student ownership of learning is to embrace a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) program in the classroom.

Lai (2013) discussed the importance of teaching on a continuum of formality, in which learning is a daily practice that is not segmented between the informality of online interactions at home and the formality of teacher-directed use of technology at school. The interest-driven communication and collaboration by students on social media, on blogs, and in game play should be a catalyst for learning in school, while formal learning in school should also foster learning to continue beyond the school walls. While this is a device-agnostic sentiment, the relationship of personal devices to this continuum is undeniable as mobile devices travel with students between these settings. Additionally, Norris and Soloway (2011) outlined the prevalence of mobile devices on a global scale to outline the potential of taking advantage of such a widely-adopted technology.

Propelled by limited access to technology in my own classroom, I implemented a pilot BOYD program last year. I found the program to be valuable and successful, despite clear challenges. My emerging action plan for an ideal digital learning environment will revolve around the use of BYOD. I plan to consider how my past experience with BYOD, current research and received feedback assist my action plan for an adoption of this type of learning environment.

Classroom BYOD

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Exploring my Ideal Digital Learning Environment

This quarter in my graduate work in Digital Education Leadership at Seattle Pacific University, I am exploring Digital Learning Environments by focusing on the exploration of ISTE Coaching Standard 3, which charges technology coaches to create and support an effective digital age learning environment to maximize the learning of all students. In an effort to explore this standard, I read a number of initial pieces on in the intersection of content, pedagogy and technology in educational practice. I then used these as a jumping off point to explore and investigation my initial thoughts on my own ideal digital learning environment.

"TPACK Dark" by uImagine CSU under CC BY 2.0

“TPACK Dark” by uImagine CSU under CC BY 2.0

Shulman (1986) presented an understanding of both the history and intersection of content and pedagogy in the preparation of teachers. He established that intellectual biographies are the background a teacher brings with him or her in the approach to teaching, and shared that teachers are dynamic and improvisational because the practice requires it (Shulman, 1986). He continued that neither content knowledge, nor pedagogical knowledge can reign supreme in one’s approach to teaching, but they must interact as specific learning needs require it (Shulman, 1986). Shulman’s piece led directly into the work of Mishra and Koehler, who added technology to the working relationship between content and pedagogy. Mishra and Koehler (2003) articulated the shift from previous models of preparing teachers with specific technology skills to the promotion of educators in their exploration and evaluation of possible technologies, as they align with teaching and learning needs. Mishra and Koehler proclaimed that educators should “go beyond thinking of themselves as being passive users of technological tools and begin thinking of themselves as being active designers of technology” (2003, p. 5). This sentiment embodied their focus on the “how” to teach over the previous notions of “what” to teach in the facilitation of student-centered learning environments. The takeaways are that educational technologies have challenges, are messy, and need to be designed for both the content and pedagogy in play.

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