Analysis of digital technologies

What follows is a ~1600 word reflective blog post required for assessment purposes. I find myself less than pleased with this assignment. In part because I don’t think 1600 words is enough to do justice to the problem. But also because of my own limitations in terms of knowledge of the context and content.

Introduction

This assignment involved examining four groups of technology, selecting one technology from each group and subsequently analysing how that technology could be applied in my teaching areas of Information Technology (IT) and Mathematics. Table 1 summarises the four groups and the specific technology I chose from each group. The references are to blog posts that provide more detail.

Table 1. The four chosen e-learning applications
Group Technology/Application
1 – Online spaces Blogs as individual, reflective journals (Jones, 2011a)
2 – Images, video and audio Digital video and WCYDWT (Jones, 2011b; 2011c)
3 – Information presentation VoiceThread poster session (Jones, 2011d; 2011e)
4 – Open Minecraft (Jones, 2011f; 2011g)

Before providing more detail on the four chosen e-learning designs, this post starts with a summary of some broader perspectives that informed how I approach e-learning design and some general principles and practices that would underpin implementation.

Theoretical perspectives, tension and influences

The Week 2 reading for this course (CQUniversity, 2011) suggest that

Learning with ICT is beneficial only when appropriate learning approaches are taken.

What are “appropriate learning approaches”? The reading (CQUniversity, 2011) continues

Learning should be authentic, it should be embedded in a real context. It should be connected to the world beyond the boundaries of the learning context. Learning should be problematic, in real life, learning is always messy and ill-defined.

While I sympathise with this perspective, it is my belief that effective and efficient use of ICTs to facilitate and transform learning must be informed by a broader collection of perspectives. The following sections summarise some of the perspectives that create a diverse set of tensions that in turn influences my approach to e-learning design.

Alternate learning theories

Rowe (2006, p. 2) argues, amongst other points (emphasis added)

there is a strong body of evidence that exclusive emphasis on constructivist approaches to teaching are neither initially nor subsequently in the best interests of any group of students, and especially for those experiencing learning difficulties (see: Center, 2005; Farkota, 2003a, 2005; Moats, 2000; Swanson, 1999; Swanson & Deshler, 2003; Westwood, 1999; 2000, 2001, 2003a,b,c, 2004, 2006).

Based on my experience and reading, I remain hesitant to adopt an exclusive constructivist approach. Instead the intent is that my teaching will have elements of constructivism, some connectivism (Downes, 2011), and some direct instruction.

The mix will depend on the context (see next section). In some situations, that mix might be result I an “extreme” constructivist pedagogy such as some project-based learning designs. Within such a design, it would be up to the students to select the what they need to do and how. My role would simply be facilitator, not designer.

Limitations of generic analysis routines

Based on previous experience in analysing e-learning technologies (Behrens, Jamieson, Jones, & Cranston, 2005; Jones, Jamieson, & Clark, 2003; Jones, Vallack, & Fitzgerald-Hood, 2008) I’ve arrived at the perspective that generic analysis routines, such as SWOT analysis, are somewhat limiting. Reasons include:

  1. No theoretical guidance.
    Mishra and Koehler (2008) describe e-learning design as a wicked problem. SWOT analysis provides no additional theoretical guidance to reduce the difficulty of this problem.
  2. Analysis from one perspective.
    This limits the value of the analysis, as it becomes biased. </li.
  3. It’s more than pedagogy and technology.
    The components of the TPACK framework (Mishra & Koehler, 2008) include technology, pedagogy, content and context. The analysis here has focused only on the first two components.

I have made some attempts to address these limitations by performing SWOT analysis from three perspectives – student, teacher, school leadership –but time and length limits prevent further work.

General practices and difficulties

When thinking about e-learning design for this assignment I have generated a number of general difficulties (Table 2) and practices (Table 3) that need to be addressed. While perhaps not explicitly stated in the following designs, these practices and difficulties have been considered.

Table 2. General difficulties
Difficulty Description
Mathematics online Writing mathematics online is difficult with no standard (Hayes, 2009).
What is authentic What I deem authentic may not appear so to students.
Time in the day Developing effective, innovative e-learning applications will take time that may not always be available.
Table 3. General practices
Practice Description
Overlapping and integrated Where possible use of these ICTs will not be in stand-alone lessons. Use will overlap. e.g. as described in one blog post (Jones, 2011b) if creation of digital video is required during a term, the class “getting to know you” activity might include digital video creation in order to get students started with the technology.
Training Training in the use of the ICTs and the broader ethical, legal and safety issues would be integrated. In part, as per the appropriate curriculum framework (e.g. the ICTs KLA) and the development of 21st century literacies.
Anonymity Where applicable students will be encouraged/required to use pseudonyms and other tactics to maintain anonymity within public online spaces.
Observation The connectivist/social constructivist flavour in these designs often requires students to interact with a group of people, including teachers. The openness enables observation, both for feedback, but also safety.
Sandbox and opt-out Where appropriate activities will occur within a sandbox – school specific area – such as with Minecraft. Who can access the sandbox would vary.

Group 1 – Blogs as individual, reflective journals

The focus here is on web blogs as individual, reflective journals. The design I’ve analysed and would adopt is based on a previous design I used within a university context (Jones, 2006; Jones & Luck, 2009). The basic model is:

  • Each student creates and maintains and individual blog for the entire term/class.
  • Blogs are used to post responses to specific tasks and also for general reflection.
  • Student blogs are aggregated, read and commented upon.

The design is intended to encourage student reflection in part through the blog becoming the students’ learning journal. The specific tasks would depend on the class and context, but would be designed to scaffold student learning and achieve specific learning outcomes. A particular emphasis would be on creating connections between students and appropriate members of the broader community. Another primary aim is to increase the visibility of student understanding and subsequently increase the level of feedback to the student. Reflection, feedback, collaboration, and active construction of artifacts are all seen as important activities for improving learning outcomes.

Group 2 – Digital video and WCYDWT

In terms of digital video, I am interested in the application of the What Can You Do With This (WCYDWT) (Meyer, 2010) approach to mathematics education. WCYDWT is a design strategy for mathematics through which multimedia materials – mostly video – can be used to show the students something interesting. This is then used as the spark for the question “What can you do with this?” and the subsequent collaborative, inquiry-based lesson around mathematics concepts. WCYDWT increases the interest and relevance of mathematics to the students, but also creates an environment in which students are scaffolded to think mathematically.

WCYDWT has a number of other attractions. There is an active and growing community of interested teachers producing WCYDWT resources (e.g. WCYDWT Group, 2011). Also, the initial technical resource and skill requirements are limited to the ability to show a digital video. There is, however, the possibility of expanding this approach much further so that students are creating video. For example, Noschese’s (2010) description of analysing the speed of cars on a local road using video.

Group 3 – VoiceThread research poster session

For group 3 technologies I chose to focus on the use of VoiceThread as an enabler for a public research poster session (Jones, 2011d). This is also based on an early project (CDDU, 2008). The idea is that:

  • Students are asked to create a research poster addressing a relevant topic.
  • Topic choice needs to connect with an important aspect of the curriculum, interest the students, and enable a connection with an external community.
  • Students create the poster using means of their choice, as long as a digital version can be created at the end (e.g. scanning a physical poster).
  • All student posters are uploaded to VoiceThread.
  • Virtual and physical poster sessions are held where students, parents or outside community members can comment on student posters.

In terms of learning theory and pedagogy, the approach has strong connections with constructionism (Papert & Harel, 1991), connectivism (Downes, 2011) and Learning Engagement theory (Kearsley & Shneiderman, 1998). The connectivism influence is why VoiceThread was chosen over other tools such as Glogster. In particular, VoiceThread’s support for comments in the form of text, audio or video.

While VoiceThread’s limited online authoring support can be seen as problem, it is also a potential positive as it increases student choice. Especially in terms of using traditional physical means. This reduces the required digital skills barrier, especially if this were used in mathematics.

Group 4 – Minecraft

Seymour Papert (2004) said

Because in our popular culture the informational side of the computer is the side that is most familiar and most useful, it has the tendency to strengthen that side of our education system. Now that’s good to strengthen it, but it’s also had the effect of pushing the balance over, away from the constructional side.

To some extent I saw the above designs as tending toward the informational. So, for this last group, I looked for a tool that lean toward the “constructional side”.

What I found was Minecraft, an award winning sandbox construction game (“Minecraft,” n d) that is gathering an increasing level of interest within education circles (Webster, 2011). It provides a virtual world in which resources are used to construct objects. Beyond encouraging the “constructional side”, Minecraft is relatively cheap, provides plugins that can be useful for a teacher, enables students to collaborate in world (or not), and can be run as a school (or class) only server.

The pedagogical possibilities of an open-ended virtual world are enormous, however, I found my limited content and contextual knowledge holding my ideas back. On further reflection, I am interested in how Minecraft could be used in an integrated and overlapping way for Year 8 and 9 Mathematics. Some possibilities include:

  • WCYWDWT activities created/shown within Minecraft.
  • Quests into existing Minecraft worlds that require students to apply mathematical knowledge and teamwork to finish.
  • Various pedagogical approaches around collaborative projects requiring the design and construction of replicas of real-world objects.

There are obvious and immediate connections with sections of the Mathematics KLA (QSA, 2007), e.g. the Space organiser. The more complex applications would require significant work, however, given findings around the positive effects of computer games on achievement in mathematics (e.g. Kebritchi, Hirumi, & Bai, 2010), it seems an effort worth making.

More difficult again, but also very interesting, would be the cross-curricular possibilities.

References

Behrens, S., Jamieson, K., Jones, D., & Cranston, M. (2005). Predicting system success using the Technology Acceptance Model: A case study. Sydney.

CDDU. (2008). Voice Thread for research posters. Retrieved April 14, 2011, from http://cddu.cqu.edu.au/index.php/Voice_Thread_for_Research_Posters.

CQUniversity. (2011). eLearning Design. Retrieved April 13, 2011, from http://moodle.cqu.edu.au/mod/resource/view.php?id=163843.

Downes, S. (2011). ‘Connectivism’ and Connective Knowledge. Retrieved April 9, 2011, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stephen-downes/connectivism-and-connecti_b_804653.html.

Hayes, B. (2009). Writing Math on the Web. American Scientist, 97(2), 98. doi: 10.1511/2009.77.98.

Jones, D. (2006). Blogs, reflective journals and aggregation: An initial experiment. Retrieved April 4, 2011, from https://davidtjones.wordpress.com/publications/blogs-reflective-journals-and-aggregation-an-initial-experiment/.

Jones, D. (2011a). Group 1 technologies: Blogs, Wikis and websites. Retrieved April 14, 2011, from https://davidtjones.wordpress.com/2011/04/06/group-1-technologies-blogs-wikis-and-websites/.

Jones, D. (2011b). Group 2 technologies: Images, audio and video. Retrieved April 14, 2011, from https://davidtjones.wordpress.com/2011/04/07/group-2-technologies-images-audio-and-video/.

Jones, D. (2011c). ICTs for learning design: Group 2 technologies – The readings. Retrieved April 14, 2011, from https://davidtjones.wordpress.com/2011/04/07/icts-for-learning-design-group-2-technologies-the-readings/.

Jones, D. (2011d). Group 3 technologies – The readings. Retrieved April 14, 2011, from https://davidtjones.wordpress.com/2011/04/07/group-2-technologies-images-audio-and-video/.

Jones, D. (2011e). Group 3 technologies – The activities. Retrieved April 14, 2011, from https://davidtjones.wordpress.com/2011/04/09/group-3-technologies-the-activities/.

Jones, D. (2011f). Group 4 technologies – activities. Retrieved April 14, 2011, from https://davidtjones.wordpress.com/2011/04/12/group-4-technologies-activities/.

Jones, D. (2011g). Exploring Minecraft. Retrieved April 14, 2011, from https://davidtjones.wordpress.com/2011/04/12/exploring-minecraft/.

Jones, D., Jamieson, K., & Clark, D. (2003). A model for evaluating potential Web-based education innovations. Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (pp. 154-161). Hawaii: IEEE. Retrieved from https://davidtjones.wordpress.com/publications/a-model-for-evaluating-potential-web-based-education-innovations/.

Jones, D., & Luck, J. (2009). Blog Aggregation Management: Reducing the Aggravation of Managing Student Blogging. AACE. Retrieved from http://www.editlib.org/p/31530.

Jones, D., Vallack, J., & Fitzgerald-Hood, N. (2008). The Ps Framework: Mapping the landscape for the PLEs@CQUni project. Melbourne.

Kearsley, G., & Shneiderman, B. (1998). Engagement Theory: A framework for technology-based teaching and learning. Educational Technology, 38(5), 20-23.

Kebritchi, M., Hirumi, A., & Bai, H. (2010). The effects of modern mathematics computer games on mathematics achievement and class motivation. Computers & Education, 55(2), 427-443. Elsevier Ltd. doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2010.02.007.

Meyer, D. (2010). WCYDWT – A new vision for math reform. Retrieved March 17, 2011, from http://mathfuture.wikispaces.com/WCYDWT+-+A+New+Vision+for+Math+Curriculum+Development.

Minecraft. (n.d.). Wikipedia. Retrieved April 14, 2011, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minecraft.

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (2008). Introducing technological pedagogical content knowledge. Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association (New York, New York) (pp. 1-16). Retrieved March 14, 2011, from http://punya.educ.msu.edu/presentations/AERA2008/MishraKoehler_AERA2008.pdf.

Noschese, F. (2010). Speeding problem? Retrieved April 14, 2011, from http://fnoschese.wordpress.com/2010/10/18/speeding-problem/.

Papert, S. (2004). Keynote address at the i3 1 to 1 Notebook Conference. Sydney, Australia. Retrieved from http://vimeo.com/9092144.

Papert, S., & Harel, I. (1991). Constructionism. New York City: Ablex Publishing Corporation.

QSA. (2007). Mathematics: Essential learnings by the end of Year 9 (p. 4). Brisbane, Australia. Retrieved from http://www.qsa.qld.edu.au/downloads/early_middle/qcar_el_maths_yr9.pdf.

Rowe, K. (2006). Effective teaching practices for students with and without learning difficulties: Constructivism as a legitimate theory of learning AND of teaching. Background paper to keynote address presented at the NSW DET Office of Schools Portfolio Forum, Australian Council for Educational Research, Melbourne. Retrieved April 13, 2011, from http://research.acer.edu.au/learning_processes/10/.

WCYDWT Group. (2011). Best content in WCYDWT. Retrieved April 14, 2011, from http://groups.diigo.com/group/wcydwt.

Webster, A. (2011). Educational building blocks: how Minecraft is used in classrooms. Retrieved April 14, 2011, from http://arstechnica.com/gaming/news/2011/04/educational-building-blocks-how-minecraft-is-being-used-in-the-classroom.ars.

One thought on “Analysis of digital technologies

  1. Pingback: Starting on a “student diversity report” « The Weblog of (a) David Jones

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