Tuesday, April 28, 2015

#worthassigning: Derek Muller's "This Will Revolutionize Education"

Derek Muller, profiled here in Scientific American (http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/psi-vid/2012/03/15/meet-derek-mueller-winner-of-the-cyberscreen-science-film-festival/), is an Australian scholar with a PhD in Physic Education Research, a road that has taken him to the study of digital learning.

He has a YouTube channel with a mix of physics lessons and the nature of learning. Among those videos, a link to which came from Chris Clark via POD-L,  is one called "This Will Revolutionize Education" (https://ltlatnd.wordpress.com/2015/04/24/this-will-revolutionize-education/). I've linked to Clark's blog post so you can see how Chris frames the video, which looks at why, so far, digital technologies have failed to really revolution education. And he looks pretty closely at the nature of learning along way to describing what technology evangelists often leave out of their imaginings and hype.

Consider this example,  a text excerpt from the roughly 7 minute video, from the 2:55 - 4:40 point that I typed up.
Let's consider the process of learning. Say you want to teach someone how a human heart pumps blood. Which learning aid do you think would be more effective? This animation with narration, or this set of static images with text? Obviously the animation is better. For one thing, it shows exactly what the heart does.

For decades educational research focused on questions like this: does a video promote learning better than a book? Are live lectures more effective than televised lectures? Is animation better than static graphics?

In all well controlled studies, the result is No Significant Difference.

That is, so long as the content is equivalent between the two treatments, the learning outcomes are the same with all different media.

How is this possible? How can something which seems so powerful like animation be no more effective than static graphics? Well, for one thing, animations are fleeting and so you might miss something as they go by. Plus, since the parts are animated for you, you don't have to mentally envision how the parts are moving, and so you don't have to invest as much mental effort, which would make it more memorable. In fact, sometimes static graphic perform better than animations.

If you're teaching a course in digital learning, humanities, multimedia delivery and presentation, course design, online learning and the like, the video should prove useful.

If you're working as program administrator, doing professional development with teachers who are being asked to engage digital learning technologies, Muller builds to the point that technology is evolutionary, and that "the foundation of education is still based on the social interaction between teachers and students." So this is uplifting.

But the video is also the basis for departure. What does evolution mean? If you're in a graduate program readying for a career as a full-time, tenure track college professor, will you be hired as the kind of teacher you see in your seminars, or will you be among those who shift to becoming a learning coach as described by Christine Seifert and Richard Chapman in "The Coaching Transformation."

That is, technology will, over time, -- because its happening now--, change significantly the nature of "the social interaction between teachers and students."

So perhaps the most vital use of this video and the discussions that might come from it are not so much Muller's celebration of the centrality of students and teachers working together, but rather what kind of new expertise teachers will need, and what roles they may no longer be asked to perform going forward.

Friday, January 23, 2015

This Week in E-Mail Auto Response, 1/19 - 1/23

Monday, January 19:

The wonderful thing about winter in New England is that when you get them, days like today, days in the mid thirties, with mostly blue skies and slight breezes now and again, feel balmy. No longer underwear, no thick socks, no heavy jacket, no down mittens, just a good coat, cap, and fast step, and you're all set.

Now here's the the other thing: there are times in the winter that are so cold that  there are days after them when the high teens and low twenties feel balmy too.

Tuesday, January 20:


The stop sign outside my window must feel particularly disrespected this morning as cars roll through it, maybe every third or fourth actually coming to a full stop, every fifth or so simply blithely ignoring it and not even pretending to be about to stop. I think even one just accelerated past it, actually sped through it as if it were a traffic light at yellow about to go red. So my question for today: will I be like the stop sign, depending on the kindness of others for respect?. And who will those others act? Like the courteous driver, who comes to a full stop in this residential neighborhood?; the impatient driver who slowly rolls through?; or the road boar who fully ignores the sign because lord knows that the two seconds saved in traffic by doing so means so much to the driver's ego? 

And when I drive, how will I behave? Well, given that I am a bad driver, anything is possible, but I'm inclined today to a longer than full stop, one I exaggerate as if giving a driver's education lesson.

Wednesday, January 21:


It's 10:33 a.m. and I haven't had breakfast yet, though I had have coffee. It's what comes from getting up early, reading and writing right away, and not noticing the time until three hours into work.

It's a good day that starts with reading and writing stuff that keeps you from food, maybe not a good habit for every day, but a good day none-the-less to wake energized and doing those two things.

Next up -- breakfast then a walk. But before that, I want to see if there's a voice t text app for my cell phone so that I can walk and write at the same time. I cannot walk and read -- too many obstacles (parked cars, curbs, telephone poles, branches, deep puddles of cold water or shallow patches of ice) to do that safely, but writing, well . . .

Thursday, January 22:


I really like this time of year, the start of a semester. Now is the time when conversations with students and teachers are most optimistic, when plans are still fresh, class chemistries are still forming. It's a hectic time, these first few weeks -- the period of add/drops; instructor assignment changes; waiting for books to be bought, borrowed, or shared; and the first dipping into any course edutech: textbook publisher learning tools, open education resources, locally coded sites, campus licensed stuff, or the same tools and services non students use all the time such as blogs, video sharing, and social sites. 

And experience says that not everything will go as planned. Some students won't read nor, if they do read, understand assigned work. Others will struggle to create accounts and get off to smooth start in their electronic spaces because of user errors. And too many of those spaces will be slow to load, have bugs, lack content, or simply not work as imagined. There will be hiccups, with online and offline learning. There always is.

Learning is hard, complicated, and unpredictable. People aren't widgets; schools aren't factories. Neither teachers nor students are uniformly designed. And so what's fun in the coming weeks is the work of helping people adjust to one another -- teachers to students -- and to the tools they use. What can supplement a book?, how can an assignment be adjusted?, how do you find a way to get to a goal within the limits of what a technology does?  

So for me, spring is the season of workshops, consultations, learning what worked and planning changes for fall, and other fun stuff. From now to May, no matter how rough things may get here and there as adjustments are made in the here and now of making the current semester work, it's really a forward looking and hopeful time.

Friday, January 23:


Today will be fun -- off to MIT to learn about their HyperStudio's AnnotationStudio software (http://www.annotationstudio.org/for reading and writing. I've explored it a bit on my own, but today in a one day conference, we'll hear from the designers as well as teachers who use it. Nothing like a day spent exploring the pedagogy of learning software, especially when it's smart stuff from smart people.   

The nexus of technology and learning continually surprises and fascinates, and so while there are days when a job can get old -- use this form, fix that bug, complete expenses, the report is late, answer that question again -- there days like this, days of learning and thinking and imagining "what if we did . . ."

Friday, January 16, 2015

#worthassigning: Effective Peer Review Assignment Design from the Eli Review Team

The team at Eli Peer Review (http://elireview.com) has a new professional development piece up for faculty on designing effective peer review assignments at http://elireview.com/content/td/reviews/. If you do faculty development, tutor training, like using digital tools to teach, offer a writing and the teaching of writing course, you'll find this invaluable. 

The full module includes video pieces from professors and useful illustrative graphics, but here's a humble text excerpt from the piece that speaks to its quality and smarts:
Reviews from which writers receive helpful feedback that will drive revision rarely happen without coaching, especially with novice reviewers. Teachers in feedback-rich classrooms must give as much attention to designing reviews as they do to designing writing prompts.  
Review prompts shape how reviewers talk to writers, influencing the details reviewers notice and ignore. Prompts are not just words instructors use, but also the various forms of response they choose to help reviewers read a draft carefully and respond to it thoughtfully. 
Unhelpful feedback is often the result of reviewer insecurities, caused by many factors:
  •     They don’t know how to talk about writing, generally.
  •     They aren’t aware of the learning goals of a project, specifically.
  •     They aren’t comfortable providing feedback to peers, especially friends.
When designing a review, there are three important factors we can take into account that will help overcome these obstacles and result in better feedback: we can consider the cognitive load of our reviews, start with pedagogical goals and design reviews backwards, and be detailed and specific in how we prompt students. 
I really like how this starts -- students can give good peer review feedback (the piece cites relevant empirical research showing as much) with coaching and guidance. And often that's not provided in peer review assignment design. And the second point --- review activities, to succeed, require as much attention, as writing assignments. 

Eli Review is a Web-based software platform for writing workshop pedagogy; it purposefully puts teachers in the role of guide on the side, with the only teacher-centered commenting space being in their revision plan tool. In that tool, students choose which written comments they'll follow in their revision; after choosing the comments and saying how they'll use them, the professor can comment on the revision plans. Professors do not comment on drafts, nor do they use Eli to grade (there's no grade book), the emphasis is on designing good reviews, coaching good feedback, and for professors, commenting on revision plans based on writers' decisions about classmates review comments. It's a dramatic shift.

But here's the thing, you do not have to teach or have colleagues teach with Eli Review to benefit from its advice on assigning good peer review assignments. The advice is simply smart no matter what tools you use for peer review. Here's another excerpt, this one elaborates on their observations about considering cognitive load:
 One mistake we often make is giving students too much to do. Asking reviewers to read too much text and address too many questions can often mean that they don’t have time to respond thoughtfully. Module 1 discussed the issue of time and feedback loops, but some specific strategies for reducing cognitive load on reviewers include. 
Review smaller texts - consider smaller, focused reviews as a text develops, rather than asking reviewers to digest and respond to a large text. In an example like this, writers get feedback early, on small pieces, helping make sure that the larger draft they’re building toward is on the right track, with the added benefit of making plagiarism much harder (since you can watch as a text evolves from earliest kernels to a full draft):
[image not shown]
Multiple reviews of the same text - Divide reviews to conquer cognitive load. Design smaller, swifter reviews that are focused on specific, granular goals. This will let reviewers focus carefully for discreet moves:  
[image not shown]
The advice to review smaller pieces of writing, smaller pieces of larger texts, or smaller goals in a larger text make incredible sense no matter how one does peer review.

Finally, because the writing is so clear, and the case for the approach so compelling, if you put into practice some of the strategies the piece suggests, no matter the technology you use, this is a piece worth assigning to your students before they begin doing peer review. It will help them to better understand your peer review approach, why you're asking them to do peer review, and it demonstrates convincingly that students can become reliably good peer reviewers.




This Week in E-Mail Auto Response, 1/12 - 1/16

I began the week on the road -- leading a workshop with great teachers at Dutchess Community College -- and then working from my portable office storage device at home, in coffee shops, and even for two and half hours, at the actual office.

Monday, January 12: On the slippery road again . . .

I got home Friday night, but this Monday finds me on the road again. I'm off, with a stop over in Hartford, CT tonight to do a workshop in Poughkeepsie, NY tomorrow.

So today I get to drive through snow and some sleet, or maybe just freezing rain, depends on the route. I'm kind of looking forward to that part, the driving in bad weather part, of today.

Driving in bad weather is actually fun -- a little sliding here, hydroplaning there, wipers not keeping up quite with volume and so visibility reduced, trees and guard rails coming closer, sideways blown weather . . . better than sledding on a lunch tray during recess.


Tuesday, January 13: How do you say that?

In Poughkeepsie today -- and by the way, Poughkeepsie is fun to say if you mispronounce it and enunciate each syllable as its own word, much the same way Worcester is fun to mispronounce -- for a workshop that addresses reading in college. Here's the url for the workshop blog in case you want some fun stuff on reading to read (use the resources link in the menu): http://dutchessworkshop.blogspot.com/.

Wednesday, January 14: Time is not on my side, yes it isn't

Am I this far behind, only 14 days into the New Year, because I've suddenly become inefficient? Or has the volume of what I need to get done expanded? I do not think it is inefficiency. After all, I play solitaire as crisply as ever and linger at the water cooler with the same elan as always and my afternoon naps -- marked as overseas conference calls in my calender -- are still only two hours, taken after my standard lunch of ice-cream and pretzels. No. I think it must be a volume issue. I must learn to say no.

Thursday, January 15: Charm only lasts so long for some frogs

I got into work at 7 a.m. today because getting into work meant shuffling from shower and shave to laptop, coffee in hand, cereal by my side, banana peeled, mimosa aflute, ready to go. My New Year's nonresolution -- I prefer gestures and water testing to resolve -- is to have a mimosa every morning for breakfast under the theory that it combines two great fruits - oranges and grapes - with a little effervescence.

If you see me and I'm effusive, cheerful, helpful, now you'll now why -- my morning glass of effervescence. If you see me and I'm not effervescent, that means it's 8:00 a.m. or later and you missed my window of charm.

Friday, January 16: I am my own auto-correct fail

I'm starting to mishear. My daughter was telling me about how she had to buck calls yesterday, and I said, "do you mean, 'duck calls?," meaning to me not answer the phone. She glanced at me, paused, and said, "Dad, I said _muck stalls_." Of course, since she works at a barn tending to horses that makes sense.

Now, it's one thing to mishear when another is speaking, but I sometimes mishear when I write. As I write, I say the words in my head. A few days ago I was writing an email and almost sent out "raisin finds" instead of "raise funds." That would not have been an auto-correct error. That would've been a "me  mishearing my own words as I inner speak to myself as I write what I say" error.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

This Week in E-Mail Auto Response, 1/5 - 1/10

This past week I was in fact out of the office, for the whole week, at the national sales meeting for Macmillan Higher Education (where I work) and the high school division, BFW High School. So you'll sense of theme.

Monday, January 5: A Room w/ a View, But in Only One Direction

I am in Huntington Beach, CA until Friday, at a hotel across the street - US 1, the Pacific Coast Highway - from the beach. Sadly, there is too much sand on the beach for my taste, the water is salty, so I will not cross over to the waves. But at least if you look west you see water, though not quite blue in color, more an industrial gray heavy green.

But it's nice to look at, maybe the only thing nice:
If you look south from the hotel, it's flat and dull until you see what look likes some kind of oil storage or processing facility, all done in gray.

If you look north, there's construction, with iron skeletons of shops, hotels, and condos yet to be born in the rust red and black of new iron works encased all around by silver scaffolding.

And to look east from the hotel, it's all gated communities with walls and Spanish style roofs.

-- So look west, especially at sunset:
sunset at huntington beach
West is best.

Tuesday, January 6: Lots of Books Get Carried and Shipped

A Textbook Publisher Sales Meeting Limerick:

A meeting in California
Is a textbook cornucopia
  If you happen to go,
  You really should know
That too many books gives a hernia

Wednesday, January 7: Apologies to Princess Leia

A long time ago, in a state far, far away . . .

. . . It is a period of the sales meeting
Travel away from Boston, gripped
in wind chill readings of minus -24
degrees, means those from there who
are here in Huntington Beach, CA have
won their first victory.

During the meeting, restless reps
make secret plans for their free afternoon.
Avoiding the doom of cognitive overload,
the break should refresh people with
enough power to survive through Thursday.

Friday, everyone who hasn't already left,
races home, most in cramped and crappy
coach seats, custodians of plans
that can save schools from the Evil
Galactic Empire's  MyLab Plus and restore
learning to the galaxy....

Thursday, January 8: If I'm Not at  E-Mail, You Shouldn't Be Either.

I am in the office, not out. I have access to email. So nothing's changed. But still, I may not reply automatically except for this automatic reply.

My office is my laptop, and it is in a hotel in California, not to be confused with the Hotel California in Peoria, Illinois. I am not at my laptop right now. I am either in a car on the way to campus, at a meeting at this hotel in one of their conference rooms, or six paces away on the bed watching a movie from 20 years ago where Richerd Gere is a lawyer defending an altar boy who . . . cannot stay awake any more.

I hope this reply finds you well and ready for the weekend, which can start now if you like. Really, go ahead. Leave, go home, get a drink, call it 5 pm on Friday. I won't tell.

Friday, January 9: Switching Songs of Home

All my bag's are packed, I'm ready to go . . .

Just can't wait to get home again . . .

To see my wife again . . .

Be in her arms again . . .

To wake up Saturday morning with her again . . .

Bonus -- Saturday, January 10: No, Not a Bad Cocaine Memory

I really wish it were possible to eat broth with a fork. Spoons scare me.