Teacher Professional Development

“Teacher Learning” in How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition. (2000).  Commission on Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. pp. 178-193.

The article defines five (actually four) primary ways that practicing teachers learn:

  1. from their own practice (reflection)
  2. from interaction with other teachers (informal apprenticeship, formal in-service workshops, and professional associations)
  3. from graduate courses
  4. from their roles as parents

Bransford then considers the quality of these learning opportunities from the four lenses previously explored in this book:

  • Learner-centered
    • efforts often fall short as professional development is delivered transmissionally
  • Knowledge-centered
    • efforts focus on techniques and methods but fall short on pedagogical content knowledge
  • Assessment-centered
    • most efforts lack feedback
  • Community-centered
    • efforts are most useful when centered on situated discourse around texts and shared data

In response to these failings, Bransford proposes two solutions. The first–action research–is a social constructivist process in which ideas are collaboratively discussed in a community of learners. Despite reported successes, action research faces difficulty because of the disparity “between practitioner and academic research.” The second solution– a revised approach to preservice education–holds greater promise. Current teacher education programs tend to be a disjointed collection of academic theory (both subject matter and methods) and practicum. Instead, Bransford argues for an integration of courses with classroom practice to overcome the belief that the two are unrelated. A possible solution is an epistemic game which provides education students the opportunity to intellectually integrate the profession into their behavioral repertoire.

Ethics and Internet Research

Ess, C. & AOIR Ethics Working Committee. (2002.) Ethical decision-making and Internet research: Recommendations from the AOIR ethics working committee. Available online: http://www.aoir.org/reports/ethics.pdf.

The article provides important guidance for research on the Internet although the central claim, that the medium raises “ethical questions and dilemmas that are not directly addressed in extant statements,” seems incorrect. While boyd has argued that  social networking poses the problem of invisible audiences, the ethical questions posed in this article seem relevant to research of real as well as  virtual behavior:

  • Where does the inter/action take place?
  • What expectations are established by that environment?
  • Who are the subjects?
  • Are they informed in advance?
  • How will their material be used?
  • What are the existing legal requirements and ethical guidelines for your discipline?
  • What are the existing expectations/assumptions of the subjects (and particularly, do they believe their communication in the specific environment is private)?
  • What are the risks for the subjects (if the content were to become known beyond the environment)?
  • Do the potential benefits of the research outweigh the risks?
  • What are the cross-cultural implications (such as the ethical traditions of the subjects’ country)?

A superb practical suggestion was somewhat buried among the question recitation and the myriad of appendix forms: studying the form of the communication rather than the content may reduce the risk to the subject.

Meaningful tools

Fetterman, D. (2002). Web Surveys to Digital Movies: Technological Tools of the Trade. Educational Researcher. 31(6). pp. 29-37.

Any article on technology tools is out of date the instant it is published; however, this article endures far better than the 2002 date suggests, possibly because Fetterman concentrates on tools that build meaning. Without inventing a complicated taxonomy, he lists a number of tools and their practical application:

  • Surveys (for gathering feedback)
  • Photography (for socialization)
  • Voice recognition (for data collection)
  • Collaborative file sharing (for group projects)
  • Video conferencing (for nonverbal communication)
  • Chat (for immediacy)
  • Reporting (for fast dissemination of research results)
  • Movies (for compelling capture of events)

Two conclusions seem appropriate seven years later:

  1. tracking changes by users in collaborative files is an invaluable feature–and yet is still elusive in Web applications (Google’s Wave may change that)
  2. private chat rooms allow users to maintain contact “more than any single software used”

While Fetterman’s optimistic vision of copyright-free accessibility still seems out of reach, his advocacy of a culture of participation has already come to pass. And as an instructional technologist, I personally appreciated his  admonition that “it is necessary to learn about technology to learn (and to help others learn how to learn) effectively with it.”

How Computer Games Help Children Learn – Chapter 6

Shaffer, D. (2006). How Computer Games Help Children Learn. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

The final chapter brings out several challenges in designing epistemic games:

  • games are built on simulations which are inevitably simplified (and thus distorted) views of the world
  • simulations without a community of practice and without the opportunity for reflection and feedback offer no real context
  • professions are built on practices which are evolved rather than designed
  • these professional practices do not offer “general principles of learning that can be used anywhere;” instead they provide markers
  • “learning takes place only as part of a coherent system” and thus we will fail if we merely extract professional practices (or game elements) and drop them into existing curricula

The proposal for developing a third place which is neither home (family) nor school made sense although the concept of designing such a place (or space) makes less sense than simply recognizing that the space already exists and has been well-described by danah boyd. How we reach into that space with being “creepy” is the challenge.

The final challenge offers the most fruitful direction for future research: which professions are the most fundamental? Because we cannot know what jobs will even exist in 20 years, this question seems impossible to answer. But it’s not. Every epistemic frame has value; learning how to be a journalist teachers students how to be more than a journalist. Thus, the answer is that we should create a curriculum based on a broad taxonomy of professions and allow students to choose based on personal interests. Some games will model analytical thinking skills with particular application in more quantitative professions; others will model behavioral skills with use in more social endeavors. The unknown professions of tomorrow will require different blends and different ratios of these skills, but if we can craft a new curriculum with the right breadth, the specific job title won’t matter. What will matter is that our students will have learned how to think, how to learn, and how to innovate no matter what the future brings.

Articles for further study from the Notes Section:

Taxonomy – Bartle, R. (1996). Hearts, clubs, diamonds, spades. Journal of MUD Research 1(1).

Games – Donald, M. (2001). A mind so rare. New York: W.W. Norton

Microworlds – Hoyles, et.al., (2002). Rethinking the microworld idea. Journal of Educational Computing Research 27 (1&2).

Schema – Dreyfus & Dreyfus (1986). Mind over machine. New York: Free Press.

Mining for gold

Romero, C., Ventura, S. & Garcia, E. (2008). Data mining in course management systems: Moodle case study and tutorial. Computers & Education 51. pp. 368-384.

While the concept of using data from course management systems (aka learning management systems) to increase student success is laudable, a fundamental technical inaccuracy mars the argument; the end result is guidance for instructors and designers on course revision, but little practical advice on in-course intervention.

The key inaccuracies are the inclusion of a time component (the Web is a stateless protocol) and the equation of “clicks” with activities (a student can click aimlessly in a course, convincing an instructor of her active engagement). The authors accurately note the CMS’s ability to store information (although face-to-face instruction could also store information if the class were transcribed). However, they incorrectly claim that log files can tell an instructor what a student did; submission of assignments or discussion posts or tests (performance) is the only determinant of doing. Further, while the authors argue that Moodle is designed to support “social constructionist pedagogy,” Moodle is no more (nor less) constructivist than Blackboard or WebCT or any CMS.

At the same time, the authors offer several enlightening ideas:

  • the distinction of data-mining as a discovery-driven process suggests a pattern analysis approach unencumbered by predisposition
  • item analysis of tests will certainly improve objective assessments
  • grouping students by interactivity-determined clusters seems like an innovative intervention technique (although it was unclear if clusters are required to be of equal size)

The authors suggest an interesting idea which is never fully developed: that data could provide information to users for self-adjustment. The unexpected relationships that emerged from association rules (low engagement and poor tests scores predict failure) seem completely expected; however, sequential pattern rule mining may offer potential for optimized organizational strategies, personalization of activities by cluster, and success prediction. Although LSA (latent semantic analysis) is beyond the scope of this article, the section on text mining could have correlated this technique with the section on SNA (social network analysis). In summary, while the authors provide a helpful overview of the potential for CMS data to inform online pedagogy, they missed an opportunity to provide clarity and direction for this important topic.

Hybrid designs

Doering, A. & Veletsianos, G. (2008). Hybrid Online Education: Identifying Integration Models Using Adventure Learning. Journal of Research on Technology in Education. 41 (1). pp. 23-41.

The importance of this article is succinctly presented in a chart defining four models for integrating technology-based instruction. The applicability of the article is that the authors examined how teachers incorporated a computer-based, community-oriented PBL in actual classrooms. Rather than examining teachers’ technical literacy as previous studies have done, the authors ask “how technology is used” and provide real answers.

Previous research suggests three methods that teachers use to incorporate technology:

  1. for efficiency (replacing less efficient methods)
  2. for enhancement (transforming methods)
  3. for entertainment–relaxation and reward (amplifying existing methods)

Doering and Veletsianos define four methods from observing actual use:


Focus Community Activities Online
Curriculum Student-student, student-expert Student collaboration Medium (to high)
Activity Student-student Student collaboration and construction High
Standards Student-student, student-teacher Teams, student construction High
Media Student-teacher Passive student consumption Medium

A larger study may provide a full gradient of methods with a near-infinite number of defined paths–or it may provide validation of this four-method topology. Regardless of the methodological count, the article points the way forward in urging us to consider how technology is used in real classrooms. In addition, the article underscores the importance of teacher-teacher collaboration.

Let’s go on an Adventure

Doering, A. (2006). Adventure Learning: Transformative hybrid online education. Distance Education 27 (2). pp. 197-215.

Despite the unnecessary introduction of a new term (“adventure learning”), this article provides a concise and clear vision of an instructional model with solid grounding in contemporary learning theory and immediate practical application in the classroom. Doering positions adventure learning as an online course taken in the classroom while “teachers are facilitators” (differentiated from the other hybrid model where students take a face to face class augmented with online instruction outside the classroom). Combining collaboration and reflection to transform students into the authentic practitioners of Shaffer’s epistemic games, adventure learning relies on real-time community and fantastic (unknown) environments to provide student motivation.

The seven elements of adventure learning provide the practical application:

  1. begin with a researched curriculum grounded in problem-solving and based on learning outcomes
  2. provide collaboration opportunities among students, peers, experts, and content
  3. utilize the Internet for delivery
  4. provide authenticity with media and text from the field (emphasis is mine)
  5. provide synchronous opportunities
  6. offer pedagogical guidelines (for the teacher)
  7. captivate students through adventure

An interesting variable which is mentioned but insufficiently explored in the research is the importance of teacher-teacher interaction.