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Computers, Technology and Education

(ED610, Sp 01, F 01)

(9/01-see appended 10/02 update)
Initial Goals
Having been assigned the secondary education section of Ed610 at short notice, I built my syllabus on the plans I made after teaching CCT670 in 1998: making explicit at the outset the critical thinking aspect of the course; early classes hands on; starting with the WWW; required teacher-student conferences; etc (see 1.). Given that I was not experienced using computers in K-12 classrooms, I would also a) bring in guests who were enthusiastic and experienced in using pedagogically powerful software; and b) model the commitment and capacity for ongoing professional development, including learning from colleagues and students, I wished to engender in students-in short, I would try out new things and learn on the job.

My other goals derived from a number of expectations: c) a diverse range of subject areas and technical competency would be represented, so I planned to illustrate principles and survey possibilities more than train them in specific software; d) the students could learn from peers when classes were in a computer lab and also outside class, so I invested in activities on learning communities, co-operative group-work, establishing an email list, and assigning homework (beyond assignments) to be done outside class sessions; e) the students would be experienced as teachers or have taken several courses in teacher ed. so they would be comfortable translating new ideas into lesson plans; f) there was lots of flux and hype around the power of new technology, so students would see the importance of keeping track of changes in technology that might feed into education and our lives more generally; and g) a majority of the teacher ed. students would (based on my CCT670 experience) come to appreciate the critical thinking emphasis I bring to the subject.

Challenges and Responses
This was a very challenging course to teach on two levels:
1) Technically, there was a lot to learn-about using email lists, a course web portal, smart classroom, universal design software; and in arranging facilities for the guests, booking labs and presentation rooms, etc. Not everything went smoothly-from the sound having been turned off in one smart classroom after I did my practice run to viruses infecting many students' projects just before I uploaded them onto the website for the final showcase, I learned the hard way, namely, in front of students.

2) Pedagogically, there was also a lot to learn-how to lead students into internet research on effective lessons using of computers; coax them over math phobias so they could create formulas for spreadsheets; and nudge them away from their individual terminals to help each other or to participate in small group discussions. I also had to rethink the goals in light of my expectations (outlined above) not all holding. The range of subject areas was indeed diverse, but, with prospective elementary teachers also enrolled, even more so than I had assumed. More importantly-as I discussed in my personal statement (sect. II.E)- it was not easy to engage students in the range of teaching/learning interactions laid out in the syllabi. In particular, few revised significantly in response to comments and many did not seem comfortable with my expectation of self-constructed learning-learning new ways to learn-which requried practice out of class. (There was a strong preconception that this would be a lab course, with all the attendant connotations of most of the learning being hands on.) I responded thoughtfully, respectfully, and professionally to students' resistance and criticisms (see new exhibits); made adjustments where possible without inventing a new syllabus mid-stream; initiated class discussions on the challenges of teaching such courses (see new exhibits); and spent considerable time developing guidelines to engage current students if possible and provide a scaffolding for future courses.

At first my reworking of the course was directed at satisfying student interest in a hands on introduction to general-purpose browser, spreadsheet, and presentation software. I changed my mind, however, about the long-term educational value of this approach after I noticed two things: a) student fieldwork reports confirmed my impression that in actual classrooms computers and software fell into disuse unless there was a strong and clear pedagogical reason to use them; and b) most exponents of technology in education were general enthusiasts for using technology, but provided little guidance about specific situations in which specific software could be of significant pedagogical benefit. I produced a new syllabus for Fall '01 (with student input-see comments in this binder and course design activity in the new exhibits) that attempts to ease future students into a sustainable approach to integrating computers in education through: a) more explicit scaffolding (see exhibits) and b) the requirement that they keep a Professional Development workbook in which they insert homework tasks they have completed. Indeed, after the first three classes of the semester, there is a noticeably higher level of student involvement in the class and attention to homework tasks.

Future Plans
I hope that I can sustain the students' involvement this fall and that they come appreciate my multi-stranded approach to this subject. However, I also plan to propose to the Teacher Ed. program that it reviews the role of this course in the secondary teacher ed. curriculum. I believe that the course should not be taken by students without first completing foundational curriculum design and pedagogy courses. Moreover, I do not think it should be presented as a lab course. Instead, students should be strongly advised to undertake technical training through the courses offered by Computer Services; this would allow the course to focus on the education side of computers in education. Finally-especially while GCOE faculty members are building up their own technology skills-the Program should, I would propose, try to retain the services of the adjuncts who have brought real life experience using computers in K-12 classrooms into the course in the past.

Reflection on students responses to ED610 Fall '01
3 Oct. '02

Because the evaluations for ED610 in Fall '01 are mixed (both the official GCOE evaluations and the ones from my self-designed evaluations) I am submitting additional material and analysis. These remarks are preliminary; when I have received the comments from the official GCOE evaluations I will make time to respond in more detail.

The syllabus and web portal for ED610 shows significant development of the course in response to evaluations and reflection from the Spring '01. In the fall I taught the course in a computer lab with hands on work almost every class; set the scene at the outset (beginning with a powerpoint on the emphasis on "computers in EDUCATION" over "COMPUTERS in education" and by highlighting what was distinctive about my teaching approach and expectations); organized the classes around the primary objective of "making educationally justified and sustainable choices of when and how to integrate technologies"; and instituted a Prof. Development Workbook and worksheets so that they might learn the second objective of "planning to learn--during this course and in ongoing Professional Development--how to use the technologies you decide to adopt or adapt." (See also my reflection on the Spring semester printed from my on-line portfolio.)

The paragraph summaries from my self-designed evaluation indicate that I engaged about half the students in the range of teaching/learning interactions laid out in the lengthy syllabus. This is an improvement on the spring. From this success and external comments on my guidelines I believe we owe it to teachers to promote critical thinking about computers in EDUCATION now that the bubble has burst both on the economy and on the overenthusiastic purchasing of technology that far too often (as students observed in their fieldwork) lies un- or under-used.

The other half of the students were partially or highly dissatisfied, some of them reading things (unspecified) as offensive to them. It does not matter that I think some of their comments are not a fair representation of the situations I think they refer to. Whatever the source of such feelings, these would have to be addressed or avoided if I were to have a chance of getting them to take seriously the modest theory (the objectives and guidelines), in-lab pedagogy, and out-of-class expectations. More one-on-one time (beyond the two required conferences) would be a start. (This was not possible with a class of 25 students given the service loads I and other GCOE faculty experienced last fall, helping prepare for NCATE while running non-NCATE programs.) I would also keep consulting with colleagues who specialize in teaching technology about how to promote critical thinking about its use. The "future plans" I described in the reflection on the Spring semester still seem appropriate. None of this, however, is enough to quell the distress at the negative commentsof some of the students. Once I receive the comments from the official GCOE evaluations, more digestion and reflection is in order.

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