Tuesday, October 24, 2017

It is about doing! Sticky learning requires active thinking.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Ditch that Laptop! (Sarcasm Alert!)

"Ditch the laptop!" "Take notes with pen and paper!" "Science proves it!" scream recent headlines across my Twitter feed. I tweeted in response that this is true for some students but not for others and it provoked more commentary both pro and con.

Folks skeptical of technology like to share articles (electronically of course!) proving the limits of ed-tech. The most common critiques I run across are the related topics of cursive handwriting and note-taking.

There are hosts of studies and articles, such as this one from NPR and this one by Mueller and Oppenheimer, suggesting that laptops inhibit effective note taking and thus detract from learning. 
"The students who were taking longhand notes in our studies were forced to be more selective — because you can't write as fast as you can type. And that extra processing of the material that they were doing benefited them." (Mueller)
I concede Mueller's point. I totally get it that for students who are frantically typing everything, the class is not about learning, but instead about transcription. I also concede that students and the students around them are more likely to be distracted and off task with a laptop. I've experienced it myself.

I have two separate responses/ objections to the "ban the laptops" argument. My first objection is to its insistence on one size fits all teaching. Learners are different and thus require different strategies to succeed. Some students learn more when taking notes. Every learner is unique, but what is common among all learners is that they require strategies to succeed. It is disheartening when capable students flounder because they lack the tools to leverage their strengths and support their difficulties. 

My other response/ objection is a broader concern about a rather narrow definition of what good teaching looks like.

1) When we dig deeper into the study Mueller did at West Point, we read, "Permitting laptops or computers appears to reduce multiple choice and short answer scores but has no effect on essay scores." (emphasis mine)  Is learning about thinking or recall? Essays get to thinking, multiple choice questions get to recall. 

2) Do we teach students how to take notes digitally? The study shows that students with laptops type much of the lecture whereas traditional notetakers write only essential points because they cannot write as fast as they can type. However, there are tremendously powerful note-taking apps such as Evernote and Notability. Take a look at what Alice Keeler does with Google Keep. I suggest that the metacognition involved in the process Alice Keeler shares is far different than transcribing the teacher's lecture. Also, check out this use Google Keep from the I Review Anything channel. Do we teach digital note-taking? It is a different skill than taking notes with pen and paper. 

3) Once notes are taken, technology can help a student organize them (via Evernote, Keep, Notability and countless other apps and extensions) and search within them more efficiently. Suppose we taught students to only listen and type down main ideas instead of transcribing the lecture and then showed them how to search within their notes? I'd like to see a study commissioned about this. 

4) Studies show that students forget what they learn after a test. So, even if students do better in the short-term when taking notes by hand, does it matter at all that students do better on tests if they are going to forget it within weeks anyway? To say that students learn more in the medium or long-term via handwritten notes is fundamentally untrue. 

5) I'll admit it, the lecture has its place. Sometimes it is the easiest and most efficient way to share knowledge. As I've written before, information is ubiquitous. It is accessible from anywhere. All of the world's knowledge is several clicks away. So, why don't classrooms reflect that? Why is lecture still the primary mode of instruction, especially in High School and College? Studies such as these miss the point. Technology allows us to significantly change the way we teach. These studies bemoaning tech use in the classroom are always set in traditionally formatted classes.

6) Information is ever-changing and ever-increasing. We simply can't know it all. In most professions, we should encourage people to look things up and not memorize. Harvard Medical School, hardly a wishy-washy progressive haven, recognizes this and has changed its program.

There's a place for traditional note-taking and some students should take those notes with pens on paper. I concede that. There's a place for lecturing and direct instruction. I concede that too.

For once, though, I'd like to see critics of ed-tech in school ask themselves some bigger questions about the point of schooling and learning and what we actually want students to be able to do. 

Friday, October 6, 2017

Tech Apps + Google Slides = Bingo

It's been a bit since my last post because I've been very busy training teachers and students over these past few weeks.  I'm pushing hard for my school to adopt digital portfolios.

"Why portfolios," you ask?

  1. They document learning and store learning artifacts. 
  2. They offer a place for reflection 
  3. As portfolios become a showcase for learning, students become curators of their own learning story.

I've been pushing portfolios for a couple of years now and I've made only halting progress. I have a more robust support from the administration this year and I've been given more time to lead training sessions for teachers and students. Inspired by Calcasieu Parish Public Schools' training materials, I created my own series of cards using Google Slides for students to work on during the training sessions. (Feel free to use these resources.) 

I then used Osric's bingo card generator to make bingo cards with the squares of the bingo cards filled with the names of the apps and tools listed in this slide-show.

In the two days of training, students worked through the tasks listed on these cards. I'm happy to report that when they returned to regular classes, students were able to think of ways to use some of these tools to demonstrate their learning.

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