Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Project-based learning and teaching to reinvent education

I recently had some reflective time as I sat, stood and walked around a classroom for several hours proctoring an entrance exam. I was not allowed to do anything else because I was there to stop any potential cheating. As I reflected on my own boredom and what a waste of my time this felt like, I noticed the tension, frustration and sometimes boredom among the examinees was also palpable. I found myself thinking this is exactly the kind of education gone wrong that my wicked problem project team (Megan Hess, Meagan Provines, Brittany Schroeder and myself) was considering how to change, and I spent some time reflecting on our discussions and goals.

We had talked about promoting project-based learning, particularly things that are or could be tied, and applied, to the “real world” both during and outside formal education. We had also pondered some issues related to assessing these skills. During my reflective time during this standardized test, I concluded that assessing based on project completion is closer to what learners will face throughout life than standardized aptitude or achievement tests. Once out of school, most people don’t encounter many, if any, of these kinds of tests. However, most people do find themselves judged on the things they accomplish, how well they work with others, things they are able to produce. Even for those who stay in academia, it is the quality of one’s inquiry and of the presentation of one’s processes and results that they are judged on, not taking standardized tests. The reflective, collaborative project is a model that applies to people in many different fields and endeavors and deserves greater attention in education. See the embed below or click the link to see our Reimagining Education Project regarding promoting greater inclusion of project-based learning and teaching.

As I wandered around the examination room I also reflected on what skills people need to accomplish these kinds of projects, skills that educators should strive to develop in learners. I came up with this list off the top of my head: working with others (both leading and contributing to a team), self-expression (multi-modal), persuasion, negotiation, critical thinking (including rational evaluation, critical reflection on outcomes), working to deadlines, and life-long learning. It dawned on me that this is exactly what the CEP courses have been doing!

Click to be taken to our project presentation.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Survey of technology integration among colleagues

This week I was asked to consider my community of practice and the culture of technology integration in our teaching. My community of practice has a couple of distinct circles. One is the English Education Center in which I work with nine other full-time language instructors, then there is the university as a whole, next there is the wider community of language teaching professionals in Japan, and so on. I conducted a short survey of the other teachers in the closest circle, and this report discusses the results from the seven responses. Embedded below are infographic teasers of some of the results.

How the instructors currently use technology.

How the instructors ask students to use technology.

How comfortable the instructors report being with using technology in their teaching, how much they would like to further integrate technology, and how satisfied they are with available technology and support.

Excerpts of answers to open ended questions.
(Questions are on the darker circles, in royal blue text. Differing colors of text within a question's responses represent different instructor responses. The same response color in different questions is not indicative of being the same particular individual.)

Voicesofteacherstechusesurvey title=

The full report is available at this link.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Pinpricks through the bubble

This week we started from the assumption that digital tools and information can help us engage in meaningful inquiry and action, such as described by John Paul Gee and Henry Jenkins. You can watch this video of Henry Jenkins discussing his own thoughts and see my previous post, (or even better, Gee’s book, The Anti-Education Era) for more details about Gee's ideas. We also were informed that the Internet, while providing us potential access to a huge variety of information, is actually being mediated and filtered by algorithms that, coupled with our affinity for information that confirms our world view (see Gee, 2013 for more on this “myside bias”), is creating personalized information bubbles, our own “web of one” as described by Eli Pariser (in this TED talk). We were asked to examine and expand our digital information diet related to our profession, and reflect on how the changes influenced our perspectives. I faced three major challenges in this:
1. identifying what kind of information challenges my perspectives,
2. identifying sources that provide this information,
3. noticing any meaningful impact within a few days.

Figuring out what kind of information challenges my professional assumptions was my first task. In political terms, it would be easy, and I can quickly identify some regular posters in my Facebook and Twitter networks who challenge my perspectives. However, in professional terms it is a bit harder to sort out what my personal biases are since I tend to be surrounded by a lot of practitioners who share the same perspectives. Upon reflection I did come up with a short list of perspectives I don’t agree with; that the grammar-translation method of language education is good, that “no child left behind” policies improve educational outcomes and accountability, and just generally the policies of the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT).

The next challenge was finding sources of information that I could add to my information feed. My regular digital information diet related to my professional life tends to be from mail lists and groups, individual mail, and, in the last few months, Facebook. So, I stepped outside the assignment a bit and choose Facebook as I use that more consistently than Twitter and I don’t use an RSS feed. MEXT has an offical page in Japanese, which I added to my feed. However, my reading in Japanese is limited. I did also look at some of their reports in English, such as this one on directions in English education. For No Child Left Behind, I found this page, which, while displaying a government logo, seems to actually be individuals dedicated to discussing these issues. I doubted it would challenge my perspectives, but did connect to it because it has the potential to inform them. I found a number of pages clearly in opposition to NCLB, but in terms of official government information I was left looking at reports on a web page. For grammar-translation method, I found an interest page, but no active support page.

Sadly, I don’t feel like the third challenge has really been met. The document on the future of English education has led me to think a bit less negatively about all MEXT directives and think they might actually be heading in a good direction with it. I have been inspired to try to get more information about it moving forward. Nothing has popped up in Facebook yet related to NCLB, but I am looking forward to getting more informed about how those policies actually are shaping education in the USA.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Exploring reading and assistive technology.

This week I was given an assignment to explore a special learning need. I have found this assignment somewhat frustrating on two fronts.
First of all, I was expected to research a need that I feel has relevance to my teaching context. However, in my situation I do not encounter students with identified special needs. My impression is that this is largely because these students are either identified but streamed away from university or not identified and therefore don’t receive support. In the latter case it is probably common that they underachieve at earlier stages of education and subsequently don’t try to attend university. However, given the severe demographic pressures on enrollment at Japanese universities, I do think that some students with learning disorders are being admitted. However, they seem to be unidentified, and not provided with any specific institutional support. I did think that my research could possibly help me be at least aware of who those learners might be, and since I teach a lot of reading I decided to focus on reading disorders.
Secondly, an element of this assignment is to experiment with assistive technology to help with this special need. While I was able to identify through web searching quite a number of possibilities, and was already familiar with some text-to-speech applications as well as audio-books, getting hands on experience with some of the more promising technologies was not possible because they are commercial products which I don’t have the funds to purchase.
With an understanding of those frustrations, please have a look at this short paper for more information on this topic.

Below you can also see a short presentation of what happened when I was looking for technology to experiment with.