AMEA Conference Next Week!

Next week Jean and I will travel to Arizona to discuss our blended learning project with the music educators at a conference! I am looking forward to it. I love collaborating with my musical friends in a subject area where I feel comfortable, and I love sharing pedagogical strategies of personalization made possible through technology. I’m also grateful to have chances to travel and meet other educators. What a treat!

Our presentation slides are below:

Handout:

 

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AECT Presentation: Facebook for Blended Classroom Use

I enjoyed attending the AECT Convention in Las Vegas in October! It was a long week, but I met a lot of great people and realized that I have just joined a field of amazingly kind and supportive colleagues. I enjoyed the culture of the conference and hope to attend in the future, as time permits.

I presented my research with Tadd Farmer, and you can see our presentation slides below!

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Pre-Course Evaluation Results

The information is in! We received pre-course evaluation results from 150 Women’s Chorus members to get to know them and to use this as a benchmark for the post-course evaluation.

Some of the questions we asked:

“How comfortable are you with discussing ideas online with your peers?” (Scale of 1-6)

“Have you ever set a personal singing goal? If so, what was it?”

“How well do you understand your own vocal/musical strengths and deficiencies? (consider sight singing, intonation, breath support, diction, resonance, expressivity, etc)” (Scale of 1-6)

“How comfortable are you with using Learning Suite for turning in ASSIGNMENTS?”

“How comfortable are you with using Learning Suite for doing ONLINE DISCUSSION?”

As of right now, I’m glad that we decided to use BYU’s learning management system. It doesn’t have every affordance I could wish for for this project, but it does have Grouping Tools, content pages that can be customized with HTML, easy ways to e-mail students who haven’t turned in assignments, and a lot of other good things.

What I wish it had was a way to group the ladies and only assign some assignments to specific students. The way we have personalized the class means that we have taken stock of the individual scores on different skills from their audition, and used those scores to place them in different curriculum tracks.

I’m looking forward to the mid-semester feedback from the girls. I think I’ll try to get a stratified interview sample from ladies who started out with different perceptions of their abilities/strengths and how this curriculum helps them.

Their weekly reflections on their learning will be an interesting way to gauge involvement.

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Women’s Chorus Blended Curriculum Launch

It is almost here! Summer is past, and we are ready to go. Jean and I have met several times this summer, and she filmed her own instructional video to share with the ladies of Women’s Chorus.

At the start of summer, we curated some content by Tricia Pine, in which she shares quick vocal technique tidbits, and does it in a very easy, pleasant way. Check out her YouTube channel! We were glad we found her rather than creating all of our own content.

The bulk of work will come at the beginning of the semester, which begins with auditions, and sorting our singers into the groupings for personalized assignments. Then we need to make sure our singers get up to speed on the Blended Model that we are piloting.

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Women’s Chorus Update

I was just barely approved to use the Blended Learning Initiative for Women’s Chorus as my first PhD project in Fall 2016. We will implement the curriculum starting with the new singers and receive feedback from them, and from Jean, about the effectiveness of the system, throughout Fall 2016. At the end of the semester we will have a summative evaluation and determine whether or not to continue in Winter 2017.

We determined that we will utilize Learning Suite, BYU’s in-house LMS, to administer the content. Though my efforts in designing a useful interface for singers did help me learn how to code, I didn’t think I could build something robust enough for our purposes that would also be user-friendly for future administrators to implement. So we decided to focus on the curriculum and administration of the Blended Learning curriculum rather than building a separate interface. We hope that by using Learning Suite we will have a lower learning curve for the girls, as this LMS will be familiar to some, due to its widespread use on BYU campus for many classes other than Women’s Chorus.

Right now we are in the development stages of planning the curriculum concepts. We just barely determined how we would put the singers into groups based on their vocal skills and characteristics (data we will gather during the audition process). Jean has a curriculum laid out for singers lacking in sight-singing skills, and we will put effort into curating online content and other resources for those who are further developing vocal and tonal skills.

 

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A leg for me to stand on

I have thought many times the confounding nature of encouraging moral teaching in the classroom, as our society today looks at some of those types of teaching as “indoctrination.” However, I recently read a paper about education in the Third Reich, I am reminded that history has a crucial role to play in supporting the ideas and morals of free speech, and the encouragement of human connection in teaching. Probably my favorite quote from the document I read was a quote from a book entitled, Teacher and Child, by Haim Ginott.

Women and babies shot and killed by high school and college graduates. So I’m suspicious of education. My request is: help your students to be human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths, or educated Eichmanns. Reading and writing and spelling and history and arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our students human. (317)

Ginott gives voice to my feelings on the importance of encouraging the best of humankind in education. Holocaust stories have a tendency to tug at the heartstrings of most people in this country. And maybe, just maybe, this type of thinking, the words that are shared by authors like Ginott can support my arguments that I want to discuss and research in my dissertation.

What is so vital about teaching our students to be human? Especially in light of all I’ve been learning about technology, I would love to know about more thought leaders who share thoughts about educating for morality, for humane-ness, for liberty. The subjects themselves are a vehicle through which we deliver and share a relationship based on moral grounds.

 

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What Computers Still Can’t Do

I have been contemplating another spin on my possible dissertation topic. Some people frame the argument about blended classrooms as being about using computers for what computers do best, and using humans for what humans do best. I think over the last several years we have been developing the kinds of technology that can capably deliver reports, give real-time feedback, and allow students to work at their own pace. I think we could all say with a fair amount of surety that the Instructional Technology industry has been focused on Technology.

But what about teachers? Are the humans being trained to do what they do best to the same degree that we’ve worked on perfecting technology to do what it does best? Do teachers see their role in the classroom changing as they progress from using traditional classroom methods, or is their role basically interpreting the numbers they get on their data dashboard?

I just checked out from the library a book entitled, What Computers Still Can’t Do by MIT professor Hubert Dreyfus. Though published in 1992 (in its latest edition), the argument still stands for many situations in which we, or our children, find ourselves interacting with artificial intelligences of a computer.

A phenomenological description of our experience of being-in-a-situation suggests that we are always already in a context or situation which we carry over from the immediate past and update in terms of events that in the light of this past situation are seen to be significant. We never encounter meaningless bits in terms of which we have to identify contexts, but only facts which are already interpreted and which reciprocally define the situation we are in. Human experience is only intelligible when organized in terms of a situation in which relevance and significance are already given. This need for prior organization reappears in [Artificial Intelligence] as the need for a hierarchy of contexts in which a higher or broader context is used to determine the relevance and significance of elements in a narrower or lower context…if each context can be recognized only in terms of features selected as relevant and interpreted in terms of a broader context, the AI worker is faced with a regress of contexts. (288-89)

So, we see that contextually, the teacher is well-placed to understand some things about a child that a computer, no matter how intelligent, cannot perceive. The technology as a tool may inform the teacher of some relevant information concerning the child’s interactions with Artificial Intelligence (AI) or with other content within a computer program but will not tell the teacher everything they should know in order to make a difference, or to make a meaningful connection with the student.

We need not just use teachers as sophisticated interpreters of data. Teachers have many good things to offer. Their hearts. Their ears. Their hands. An encouraging smile, a pat on the back. Teachers should desire to figure out what their role in teaching is now that they have extra tools at their disposal. We outsource certain roles to different technologies, and use teachers to be very human with the kids (or adults).

This doesn’t have to mean over-involvement or prying into the students’ lives, but it should mean that we help teachers see their role differently than they ever have before. How can they discern individual student needs and offer counsel or help (in the form of mentoring)? If teachers aren’t seeing their role as changing, what do they see themselves as?

In the book Blended by Michael B. Horn and Heather Staker they quote a teacher from Idaho who has begun to teach in a blended classroom. She says, “In some ways it feels less … teacher-ish. You almost have to redefine how you see yourself as a teacher.” She explained that her role had changed to something like a sideline coach or cheerleader (p 44). Are there other ways for this teacher to see herself? How can we assist her, and others like her, in cultivating a personal character that will desire to assist students in character building, or other life qualities that are desirable beyond grade school?  I feel as though there are many skills that teachers can help students acquire during school that will have some transferability, such as problem solving, teamwork, communication, service, compassion, and wisdom. Could we help teacher see themselves as coaches especially in these types of life skills rather than in content-area specifics? What if each teacher in a classroom were a business leadership coach who read self-help books and learned about effective communication in school and work environments and passed down wisdom like that to their students? Might our students be gaining some real-life wisdom then, that only humans could truly teach?

To first observe some of the events occurring in blended classrooms across the nation would be my first step. Then I would conduct interviews with a select group of teachers, and possibly some of the students. I want to get at the root of whether or not the student-teacher relationship stays the same or if there is a noticeable shift when technology is introduced. I suspect that some of the change in relationship will be variable to each blended environment’s different ecosystem, as well as the personal characteristics and motivations of the teacher. I wonder what kinds of questions might be good for me to ask the teachers.

 

References

Dreyfus, H. L. (1992). What computers still can’t do: A critique of artificial reason. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Horn, M. B., & Staker, H. (2013). Blended: Using disruptive innovation to improve schools. Jossey-Bass.

 

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Teacher Reflection and Sharing

I think it’s rather inevitable that in the coming years technology will become an integral part of the learning and teaching environment. That doesn’t mean that it has to permeate the environment completely; for certain subjects such as music or PE, there are some very important reasons to keep technology at a distance from the students while they are in those instructional spaces. So if technology is becoming more ubiquitous in our schools, how do we assist the teachers, those individuals closest to the students, to use technology wisely?

First of all, I believe the teachers need very rigorous training and follow-up from their leaders. In one example, Matchbook Learning (located in New Jersey), holds bi-weekly meetings with teachers to encourage them to reflect on their pedagogy and use of technology in the classroom. These questions include: “Are the students actively engaged in their learning?”, “What evidence is there that a student has mastered a particular principle?”, and “How are you using the student achievement data to determine what to do next with that student?” or “What strategies will you tweak in the next two weeks to try something new and improve student learning?”

These questions are good, but I believe there is another dimension to quality teaching that is missing here: what kind of relationship is being built between student and teacher?  A few questions I might like to include in an interview like this would be, “When did you last see a student light up with excitement? Tell me about it.” , “What behavioral issues are you encountering in your class and how are you trying to help?” , “Are there any students with whom you feel a particular connection or desire to help?” , and  “Are you sharing authentic bits of yourself with students during the day?”

Some of these questions have been prompted by my recent researching on Parker Palmer and his educational paradigms. I never knew that this philosopher existed, let alone that his ideas exist in this modern world. He is quite radical in proposing so many spiritual dimensions to teaching and learning as he does in some of his books. Here is a favorite quote of mine,

If we want to grow as teachers — we must do something alien to academic culture: we must talk to each other about our inner lives — risky stuff in a profession that fears the personal and seeks safety in the technical, the distant, the abstract.

I think this is especially true when we decide to integrate technology into our classrooms. The technology can help students progress at their own pace in certain activities, but then, do we improve our interpersonal interactions in the classroom to counterbalance the technology effects. Do you take opportunity to be real with each other, even with young students? When the laptops are all put away, can the teacher say that they made a difference in the students’ lives or was the improvement of the classroom due to technology alone?

 I want to know about teachers who have been using a blended system for many years, or some teachers who may have only used a blended system for a little while. What concerns do they have or what paradigmatic shifts have occurred for them as technology has outsourced some of the responsibilities that they have previously held? I know that technology integration can be done poorly, and that it can be done well. My supposition is that in blended learning environments that are flourishing, that students and teachers are embracing new roles and responsibilities. In some cases, maybe change is hard for a long-time teacher who is not used to the technology. We are seeing some achievement gains in learning for students, but are our teachers the ones getting left behind as we plow forward with these new learning and teaching apparatuses and schools?

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