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.

Finally, Polin and Moe’s “Situating TPACK in Mediated Practice” presented an understanding of how both Shulman’s perspective and Mishra and Koehler’s come together via a focus on the word mediated to describe the relationship between technology, content and pedagogy. Polin and Moe distanced themselves from the idea that technology is, in itself, important, but rather that it must be uniquely integrated as a means to both content and pedagogy. As such, they state that there should be an emphasis on “self-efficacy with regard to learning new technologies” (Polin & Moe, 2015, p. 5). It seems that this is the heart of an ideal learning environment, one in which educators belief in their own ability to select and implement the use of various technologies that contribute to specific teaching and learning needs effectively. And, to further this point, it is my perspective that this same self-efficacy is what students should also possess in an ideal learning environment. The ownership should be on students to utilize technologies in their learning to best suit their needs. Finally, Polin and Moe (2015)  iterated that the means to this technology utilization isn’t dependent on device type.

I was struck by the statement made by Polin and Moe that up until 1998, US public school “classrooms had computers, but typically these were in clusters of three of four in the classroom, or by access to a separate classroom referred to as the computer lab” (2015,  p.11). Unfortunately this pre-1998 reflection is exactly the access to technology that I have currently have in my 2015 classroom. I have four computers in the back of my classroom (reduced from seven last year), and access to three school computer labs via sign-up. My concerns with access paired the acknowledgement that the “how” students create, communicate and collaborate and not the “what” device is used to do it, leads me to my exploration of my ideal learning environment that follows.

HandsPhone2

Exploration of My Ideal Learning Environment

My ideal student learning environment begins with the acknowledgement that learning is not a segmented reality, but a practice that should and does happen at all moments of the day. Unfortunately, our classrooms are not always structured to support and foster this acknowledgment.  In “Blending Student Technology Experiences in Formal and Informal Learning,” Lai (2013) discussed the power of informal learning in education. Lai shared the prevalence of online technologies used by youth, establishing a baseline of learning practice that already occurs daily outside of the formal school setting. To be clear, informal learning encompasses the activities students engage in at their own direction and born of interest, rather than via the imposition of curriculum or assessment needs (Lai, 2013). This type of learning reiterates the self-efficacy in students highlighted above. Lai (2013) suggested that not only can teachers use the informal collaboration and communication students are already doing, chiefly on their mobile devices, to facilitate learning in the classroom, but that the classroom can conversely establish methods of encouraging continued learning away from school. Learning can rest on a continuum of formality. Lai stated that “To blend formal and informal learning effectively, it is essential that students have ubiquitous access to mobile technologies both at home and in school, and they are encouraged to use their personal devices to undertake informal learning in the school settings” (2011, p.421).  One method of achieving this is the implementation of BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) in the classroom.

“Learning and Schooling in the Age of Mobilism” by Norris and Soloway outlined the shift from “I teach” to “we learn” mentalities around education with an initial discussion of the power of the handheld devices in the what they call “the age of mobilism.” According to Norris and Soloway (2011) not only have smartphones surpassed laptop sales, but internet access on smartphones has surpassed internet access on laptops. Norris and Soloway (2011) also shared that the adoption of smartphones equates numerically with those who have access to clean water worldwide, an undeniably remarkable statistic. The authors twice made a prediction that by 2015 most students would have smartphones and that the use of these smartphones would no longer be banned in schools. While the first may be a not too distant reality, the later is yet to be seen. The use of mobile devices supports the idea that intellectual ownership is the impetus behind learning in the age of mobilism, as students are no longer reliant on the teacher for access to information. Rather, students have the means to seek knowledge, create, manipulate, share and connect at their fingertips. As such, classrooms can and need to foster this practice. Additionally, cost and scalability are undeniable factors of using mobile devices in the classroom, as 1:1 rollouts of laptops or ipads are cost prohibitive, daunting endeavors that are incapable of maintaining pace with advancing technologies.

As I think about the action plan I am beginning to formulate in response to my ideal learning environment, I need to first address the current lack of access to technology in my classroom. A TPACK model cannot be established without this access. I began to resolve this issue during the last year by piloting my own evolving BYOD policy. This was often met with challenges and pushback from colleagues. As outlined above, the power of mobile devices to give students ownership over their informal and formal learning as they connect, communicate, collaborate and create is paramount. My goal is to continue to explore and address the needs and methods of BYOD implementation in the classroom in support of this. Of course, there are plenty of challenges and criticisms in implementing the use of student devices in a school.  Last year, I experienced concerns regarding student behavior, school bandwidth infrastructure, tech support, device inequity, and collegial pushback. However, I believe my experiences of the past year will only serve to better inform my discussion and reflection on these concerns as I develop a more robust action plan.

Resources

Lai, K. G. (2013). Blending student technology experiences in formal and informal learning. Journal Of Computer Assisted Learning, 29(5), 414-425.

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (2003). Not “what” but “how”: Becoming design-wise about educational technology. What teachers should know about technology: Perspectives and practices, 122.

Norris, C. A., & Soloway, E. (2011). Learning and Schooling in the Age of Mobilism. Educational Technology, 51(6),3.

Polin, L., & Moe, R. (2015, in publication)  Situating TPACK in mediated practice.  In K. Graziano & S. Bryners-Bogey’s Handbook for Educational Technology Teaching.  

Shulman, L. S. (1986). Those who understand: Knowledge growth in teaching. Educational researcher, 4-14.

5 thoughts on “Exploring my Ideal Digital Learning Environment

  1. First of all, you’re a phenomenal writer. You helped me understand Shulman far more through your reflection. Thank you.

    You note 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). How do we coach and help teachers be successful with this? It seems overwhelming for me, let alone a teacher that is new or intimidated by technology in the classroom.

    You write, “Unfortunately this pre-1998 reflection is exactly the access to technology that I have currently have in my 2015 classroom. I have four computers in the back of my classroom (reduced from seven last year), and access to three school computer labs via sign-up.” Your visual really drives home how disconnected this model is, how do we combat that? I suspect that is where your action plan and use of BYOD comes into play…

    Great job, Annie.

  2. Hi Annie, thank you for a wonderful sojourn into your thoughts for the week.
    It is interesting for me to see your thoughts as they pertain to Schulman moving to Mishra & Koehler, and then my analysis with Linda Polin of the history of TPACK and its evolution; being able to see my writing as it influences your thinking surrounding BYOD was powerful, and I thank you for teasing that out.
    So…if we said that device is not the decisive factor in technological utilization, how do you as both a coach and a practitioner work with students in a device-agnostic, self-fulfillment manner? That’s a big question. One thought — considering the environment you lay out (looking more like 1995 than like 2015 in the classroom), how can you work within those constraints to get power out of BYOD? From what you said in class, there were external problems with the roll-out on campus (students using improperly, etc.). Without support for the initiative beyond your walls, how does the synthesis of TPACK force you to consider the why of your BYOD choices?
    You tie the purpose of BYOD to a collective vision of student ownership, and that’s a great first step. Moreover, your chosen articles refer to the ubiquity of mobile devices for students, much greater than laptops or computers. Much like a TPACK focus would consider the technological appendage in the context of pedagogy and content, how does the hardware of BYOD both limit and shape what you can do? There is a lot of pushback to BYOD because of some of these infrastructure concerns, but from the perspective of equity it is heralded. Example: Gary Stager, a pioneer in one-to-one computing, wrote a firebrand article several years ago wondering if BYOD was the worst idea of the 21st Century http://stager.tv/blog/?p=2397 These criticisms are worth a read not to dissuade you, but to help you understand the issues you faced and will continue to face (whether theoretical, academic, practical, political, etc.) Stager believes that devices cannot do the programming or creation of a raw personal computer. He might have a point, but you have a classroom with four computers and little chance of getting more. Maybe your ideal learning environment is the use of BYOD in certain situations to prove efficacy for a more administratively-supported roll-out.

  3. To reiterate Becky’s comments, you provided a well written overview of the articles and then tied in your thoughts just as well. Knowing that last year you began work on a BYOD policy in your class, I wondering with new students this year, what will you incorporate or change with BYOD methods this year? Will there be any colleagues who might want to implement BYOD into his or her class and that would need coaching? I realize that you are still piloting the program within your classroom, but for myself, having other colleagues trying something new is exciting. Of course, having the support to troubleshoot or collaborate with others is beneficial. I look forward to reading about your next step with this project. Thanks for sharing, Annie.

  4. Annie, You highlight a number of key reasons why technology–e.g., BYOD–is important to the classroom learning environment. First, the shift to “we learn” from “I teach” is foundational. That is the catalyst for changing how the classroom is situated and what the relationships and interplay are between student to teacher, but also student to students–peer coaches in a sense. Furthermore, you discuss the importance of ownership on the part of the students (which I can’t help but be reminded of your story about when you gave your students the freedom to select their own books for a reading project). I wonder if the one of the hidden advantages of BYOD is all about ownership–a mechanism for free and responsibility. Which, as you mention, does have its own concerns (e.g., classroom management, off task adventures, BYOD safety policies, etc.). The reality is that it is all messed and not easy to navigate, but education is about giving students space to explore and experience new things in a safe place. As we negotiate 1:1 and BYOD I think if we, which you put so well, on ownership and co-learning we end preparing our students much better for “real” life post-school.

  5. Annie,
    I am really excited to read more about your plan. I am especially interested in how you will address what you discussed here: “This was often met with challenges and pushback from colleagues. As outlined above, the power of mobile devices to give students ownership over their informal and formal learning as they connect, communicate, collaborate and create is paramount. My goal is to continue to explore and address the needs and methods of BYOD implementation in the classroom in support of this.”
    While you are being a strong advocate for the students in your classroom, without greater support, this access is limited. How will you influence the broader system? How can you find leverage points to expand this work? How will your experiences from last year influence how you share this model?
    I appreciate your thoughtfulness on this and look forward to hearing how you’ll revise the work you’ve already done.

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