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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ISTE Teaching Standard 4: Engaging in the Practice of Social Media at School

A Splash of Colour

A Splash of Colour by Garry Knight licensed under https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Teaching digital citizenship is a broad topic that as the name implies, demands that character education be addressed before one even enters the digital space. If a student doesn’t know how to behave responsibly in real life, then doing so online isn’t going to change that. As part of my studies in Digital Education Leadership at Seattle Pacific University, I am reflecting on ISTE Teaching Standard 4 to promote and model digital citizenship and responsibility in technology by focusing on indicator c. to “promote and model digital etiquette and responsible social interactions related to the use of technology and information.”

Recently some circumstances at my school have pushed me to think further about an educator’s role in digital citizenship. My school has addressed everything from nude pictures shared among students, to YouTube videos posted for the sake of student humiliation, to online threats made to student safety this year. These behaviors occurred both in and out of school, alarming and paralyzing those tasked with responding to them. Disciplinary action was taken in all of the circumstances, but a feeling of resolution remains absent.

Despite the serious acts described above, one situation in particular has stayed with me. A colleague of mine noticed two of her students engaging in off-task behavior while on computers. She used LanSchool to monitor their actions on screen and discovered an inappropriate dialogue between them. She printed out the transcript of the conversation and brought the students down to speak with the principal. While the students were aware that they had violated the school’s acceptable use policy by abusing the use of school devices, they adamantly disagreed that the nature of their conversation was any of the school’s business. This admission forced me to re-evaluate the role educators play in teaching digital citizenship skills. In “3 Quick Tips for Building Digital Citizenship,” Cary (2013) stated that “Schools have a tendency to shy away from actively teaching digital citizenship due to time constraints in the curriculum, concerns about student-teacher interaction online, as well as anxiety over students having ready access to social media (like Facebook and Twitter)” (para. 2). My fellow graduate student @ingersoll_ryan introduced me to the work of Carrie James. In her book Disconnected: Youth, New Media, and the Ethics Gap she addressed the need for educators to foster conscientious connectivity practices in students (2014). She wrote that most adults are not entering into the digital citizenship conversation and that, as a result, our students are lacking necessary mentorship in their online practice (James, 2014).

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ISTE Teaching Standard 3: The Power of Collegiality and Collaboration in EdTech

@University of the Frasier Valley via Flickr

@University of the Frasier Valley via Flickr

This week in my graduate studies, I looked at ISTE Teaching Standard 3 or “Model digital age work and learning.” The broad implications of this standard initially left me wondering where to start. The more I thought about it the more I realized that, in many ways, I have lived this standard over the past year. I investigated the following two indicators, with a focus on the audience of my peers.

  1. Demonstrate fluency in technology systems and the transfer of current knowledge to new technologies and situations
  2. Collaborate with students, peers, parents, and community members using digital tools and resources to support student success and innovation

This school year has seen a major shift in my instruction. Due to the influence of my graduate studies, I have both experimented with and implemented more new ideas with technology, than ever before in my past seven years of teaching. While I have never felt behind in my use of technology, I have certainly never been ahead. Previously, digital tools have felt additive, as opposed to integrative. With new tools emerging all the time, I found myself overwhelmed. I viewed digital tools as finite tasks to master, instead of part of a larger pedagogical approach. As my own discovery of education technology has emerged and left my excited to share, I now wonder how I can become a leader in this field. What are the best methods for sharing my own shift in mindset and becoming a resource to fellow educators?

How can educators share and model successful and unsuccessful technology tools and ideas to colleagues in a manner that is useful, applicable, and trustworthy?

Collegiality

If I reflect on my lack of experimentation in past years, I am reminded that new ideas have been often shared with me in presentations at professional development settings. These have been static in nature, and rarely, ever collaborative. However, this year, that has changed. Learning and improving any practice doesn’t happen in isolation. While informal in nature, my collaboration with one particular colleague this year has resulted in impactful change for my students.

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Creating Book Trailers: A Lesson Exploring Personal Craft and Creativity

 

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My final blog post of the academic quarter in my graduate program in Digital Education Leadership is here and I am eager to share my finished individual project: Creating Book Trailers: A Lesson Exploring Craft and Creativity. This is a topic that I previously explored in my post,  ISTE 1: Digital Storytelling with Book Trailers. Eager to return to book trailers and design a lesson for my students, the lesson was crafted using the ASSURE model. Until this project, I had never used this model before. Although I found it to be overly detailed for regular use, it is also a very thorough method of lesson design.

I also had the opportunity to implement this lesson during its creation, revising the lesson in real time to meet student needs. While this project was new territory for me, allowing more student choice and use of individualized technology than ever before, I can attest to its success. Check out the media gallery above to see some screenshots of their work. I hope to share some of their fully finished products soon! If you already use book trailers in your classroom or are interested in trying to, I encourage you to review the lesson and provide your feedback in the comments.

Creating Book Trailers: A Lesson Exploring Craft and Creativity

ISTE Student 6: Guiding Students to Troubleshoot More Autonomously

In my final week of reflection on ISTE Students Standards for my graduate work in Digital Education Leadership at Seattle Pacific University, I am focused on ISTE 6: Technology operations and concepts. I also encourage you to check out my previous posts from the quarter on ISTE Students Standards 1, 2, 3, and 4. ISTE Standards for Students 6, asks students to demonstrate a sound understanding of technology concepts, systems, and operations. This sound understanding includes the expectation that students can also troubleshoot encountered technology issues, a skill also included in my own state of Washington’s K-12 Educational Technology Learning Standards below.

Washington State K-12 Educational Technology Learning Standards

Washington State K-12 Educational Technology Learning Standards

Recently, I have been working with students on their development of book trailers, conferencing with them regularly on their progress and technology needs. By design, this assignment is highly individualized, incorporating student choice in both content, digital tools and devices. Students have all read different novels, are using a variety of tools or apps, and are bringing their own devices to class. This personalized approach has led to highly motivated students. As is the case with any project involving technology, troubleshooting needs abound. The use of many different technologies in the classroom only increases the likelihood that I don’t always have the answer myself. As a result, I have been thinking a lot about how to teach my students to troubleshoot with increasing independence. There is a common misconception that today’s students possess a technological expertise beyond that of their teachers (Margaryan, Littlejohn, & Vojt, 2010). Rather, there is research to support that in many ways our students are mislabeled as digital natives. The research of Margaryan et. al (2010) found that students had limited expertise of widely used technologies. In my own classroom, I have seen how frustrated students can become when technology fails them upon the first attempt. We know that technologies will continue to emerge and change into the future, and offering students the ability to bring their personal devices and select their own digital tools will only continue to enhance their 21st century skills. The reality is that educators will never have all of the answers to technology questions. The common denominator will be to teach students to become their own problem solvers.

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ISTE Student 4: Gaming to Teach Problem Solving

I am continuing my ongoing look at ISTE Student Standards with my graduate program in Digital Educational Leadership at Seattle Pacific University, and I encourage you to visit my previous posts addressing ISTE 1, ISTE 2, and ISTE 3. This week, my focus is on ISTE Student Standard 4 which addresses using critical thinking skills to problem solve and make informed decisions. These skills are necessary for any content area or age level, and can be learned through game-based learning (Sardone & Devlin-Scherer, 2010). Using games in education has become increasingly popular in recent years, as games reward small successes, while engaging and motivating participants. Games also produce less of a stigma around failure, since gamers simply persist until they beat a level.

The Power of Games in Education: What the Research Says

This investigation led me to bold statements claiming gaming is the future, as it has the ability to save failing educational systems…and even the world. Believing that humans are better at games than they are at real life, McGonigal (2010) claimed that gaming can make the world a better place. Gamer motivation is often tied to personal meaning, inspiring collaboration and cooperation (McGonigal, 2010). In games, individuals stick with a problem for as long as it takes to achieve success, propelled by urgent optimism, otherwise known as the desire to solve a problem immediately if one believes success is possible (McGonigal, 2010). These facts combined suggest that if gamer power is harnessed, real world issues could be solved (McGonigal, 2010). McGonigal’s (2010) latest project, a collaboration with The World Bank called Evoke, is designed to empower players to develop innovative solutions to dire social problems.

While the suggestion that gaming can save the state of education sounds improbable, “neuroscientists are discovering more and more about the ways in which humans react to such interactive design elements. They say such elements can cause feel-good chemical reaction[s], alter human responses to stimuli -increasing reaction times, for instance – and in certain situations can improve learning, participation, and motivation” (Anderson & Rainie, 2012, 2nd para.). A shift away from standard educational models, which rely heavily on direct instruction, would mean that “students have the responsibility for finding, analyzing, evaluating, and sharing knowledge under the direction of a skilled subject expert” (Bates, n.d. p.68).

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