Monday, September 22, 2008

Do students really know how to read online?

The following quote from the weblog of Will Richardson, an advocate for the use of communication technologies in education, caught my attention:
[Online reading] is one of those areas where the kids are doing it already and the educators in the room don’t have much to go on in terms of what the differences are or any substantial practical experience. Federman makes the point that when new technologies enter the classroom, teachers see change. Students, on the other hand, see the status quo.
In his post, Richardson discusses the article "Online Literacy is a Lesser Kind: Slow reading counterbalances Web skimming" by Mark Federman. Richardson also admits that without an intentional, personal effort to read longer texts more often, increased effort was necessary "to do sustained reading and thinking [and] to stick with complex narratives."

Online literacy is necessary in our current world and in the future. Obviously, continuing to require long texts as part of academic work continues to provide students the opportunity to learn and practice the related traditional but important literacy skills.

So a question hanging out there seems to be what can teachers and parents do in order to help children transfer some of those skills to online reading and, therefore, further practice those skills?

P.S. I have no answer. However, I wonder if something like the recently released 39 Clues book series from Scholastic would help (at least for younger students) or is it just creative marketing. I haven't seen a novel from the series (but probably will since my son would like it), but it appears to promote some sort of bridge between offline and online reading, (Also, seems to bridge the trading card frenzy familiar to anyone with elementary aged boys.)

Monday, July 07, 2008

Research report says one-to-one computing and use of online assessment is on the rise

A May 2008 article in eSchool News reports that researchers surveyed about 400 school administrators between April and September 2007. This resulted in the 2008 America's Digital Schools report by Thomas W. Greaves of The Greaves Group and Jeanne Hayes of The Hayes Connection.

Here are some of the findings and related quotes:

  • The quantity and quality of one-to-one computing programs has increased since 2006.

    • "one-to-one computing is not a fad, but has lasting efficacy"

    • "one-to-one computing can only be successful through teacher ownership"

  • Online formative assessment is a trend on the rise.

    • "The use of … online assessment … suggests a real improvement in using tests to help students learn what they don't know, rather than beat them over the head- after the fact--about what they don't know."

    • "The only major inhibitor to online assessment, according to survey respondents, is the lack of suitable student devices with which to take the exams."

  • Interactive whiteboards (such as SmartBoards) are now viewed as "standard equipment".
    • "The report predicts that [interactive whiteboards] will be in nearly every school five years from now."

  • While use of learning management software (such as Blackboard or Moodle) has increased, its full potential has not be realized.
    • "Schools frequently take less than full advantage of the available applications."

  • Internet bandwidth "remains in a state of crisis".

    • "The average amount of bandwidth needed per student has climbed some 123 percent from year to year."

    • "Two-thirds of those polled say they have implemented a policy to restrict the use of certain applications in order to conserve bandwidth--including banning streaming video."

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Learning to Change video

Thanks to twitter and Arvind Grover (NYC independent school ed-tech director), I just came across the five minute video "Learning to Change" via his blog 21apples. It is a professionally produced compilation of video comments on technology in education from multiple people including Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind.

The notion of students being part of a community larger than just their school and using that as part of their education is promoted. With that in mind, the following quote from the video interests me in particular:

"You start with the teacher. If I want my students to be making global connections, then I'm going to give the tools to my teachers first and provide them with opportunities to connect with other teachers around the world or other teachers around the country."

That reinforces the notion that teachers need to get connected beyond their school and be provided the technical resources (time, tools, and training) to do that. While some teachers have been doing something like that with an email listserve for years, there are a bunch of newer tools out there that might be more effective and definitely are more appealing to students. Kids are already using some of these for non-school work. Why not leverage their existing skills and interest to further their education and foster a passion for life-long learning?

To read comments about the video (or to add one yourself), check out the YouTube page.

If anyone at D-E has enough interest to spend some time on this, but needs a little help to get started, let me know!

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Motivate writers via blogging

During the conversation at our last Teachers and Tablets meeting, Fred our English department chair made a the statement that writing submitted just to the teacher is practice. That and the rest of the conversation concerning writing, one-to-one computing, and chapter four of Mark Warschauer's book Laptops And Literacy: Learning in the Wireless Classroom gave me an idea on how a weblog might be used with writing.

Whether the main purpose of the assignment is to develop a particular kind of writing (i.e. persuasion) or to practice writing in order to more deeply understand a particular topic (i. e. a historical event or work of literature) this activity seems like it might be useful for high-school or possibly middle-school students.

What I propose is that a class blog be setup such that every student in the class have the ability to post an entry as opposed to just a comment. (The Upper-School Reading Team and MS book review blogs are examples at D-E.) Students would then be assigned to go out and find a piece of writing on the Internet (another blog would allow trackbacks, defined below) that raises an opinion on a topic.

If the purpose of the lesson is to practice a particular kind of writing such as persuasion then students could be allowed to find something expressing an opinion different from theirs on any topic in which they have a strong interest. Otherwise, students could assigned a particular topic. In some cases, it might make senses for the teacher to identify a collection of sites or weblogs that focus on the a particular topic being studied. Some search engines that specialize in searching weblogs, which could be used by either a teacher setting up a lesson or by students searching themselves include Technorati, Google Blogsearch, and others.

After finding something appropriate to read and respond to, each student would then post a reply on the class blog to what they read. This reply would be done as a "trackback" comment to the original post. A trackback shows up as a comment to the original post (if this feature is supported by both blogs). Its function is to promote communication between blogs. An except of the post would appear on the original blog as a comment with a link back to the students post on the class blog. (If the automatic trackback isn't supported, a student could just manually post an excerpt with a link to the full post.) This post on TabletTails is an example of using this procedure to comment on a Teachers and Tablets post.

This assignment could have the following advantages:
  • Students need to evaluate the writing and credibility of an outsider whom they can't assume is an expert.
  • Students have to critically read to prepare for writing.
  • Students' writing has the potential to be directed to a particular audience besides the teacher.
  • Students have the opportunity to be motivated by the chance of their writing being read by an outside audience.
  • The opportunity for authentic feedback on the topic is possible through the original writer seeing the comment and responding.
If any teacher at D-E is interested in pursuing this, please let me know. We have already have the software available, and I am happy to discuss it further or help you get started.

By the way, if you checkout the Teachers and Tablets webblog, don't let the label "Listen to podcast of article", which refers to the audio files mislead you. The audio recordings are not the text of the blog posts. Sometimes the discussions are closely related to the text of the blog posts, and sometimes the conversations wander from what is written. However, they have all been very good so if you have some interest in one-to-one computing and literacy, give a listen, and post your reaction as a comment to the blog.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Review of some literature on 1:1 computing and teacher PD

In order for a one-to-one computer initiative or almost any use of technology in the classroom to be effective, teachers need more than the just the equipment. Any professional development related to technology has been shown to be better than none. While reporting on an Educational Testing Service (ETS) study that looked at the mathematics scores of fourth- and eighth-graders on the 1996 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), Archer (1998) writes that the students of teachers who had experienced any technology training scored better than those of teachers with no technology training. However, exclusively skills-based training for teachers provides a limited benefit that may not justify the expense of ubiquitous educational technology. In a two-year, ethnographic perspective study of three middle school teachers at a school with a one-to-one laptop program, Windschitl and Sahl (2002) conclude that:
Professional development opportunities should not focus exclusively on skills with computers. Rather, technology use should be more thoughtfully considered within the context of teachers' beliefs about what constitutes effective teaching and how technology and information access can alter the traditional roles of teachers and students in the classroom. (p. 202)

In addition, Knowlton and Weiss state "when faculty attempt to enhance their courses with technology but do not consider pedagogy, they are usually disappointed with the results" (Knowlton & Weiss, 2000 in Murphy et al., 2007, p. 71).
With regard to the classroom roles of teachers and students, Windschitl and Sahl (2002, p. 169) also report that current research indicates some teachers increase the use of student-centered classroom pedagogies over time in conjunction with the use of technology.1 However, Moersch (2002) points out that while studies such as Becker and Ravitz (1999) found that teachers' pedagogical beliefs and actions were very much affected by substantial use of technology in the classroom, "the question remains, were those teachers most affected by technology use already inclined toward a constructivist approach in the classroom or were the technology and the teachers' abilities to use different applications the causal variables that changed their pedagogical style from a nonconstructivist approach to a learner-centered, experiential paradigm?" (p. 30).
The issue of technology access for all teachers and students can be addressed by a one-to-one computing program. However, Windschitl and Sahl found that the mere existence of a one-to-one program did not initiate an increase in the use of constructivist pedagogy among the teachers studied. In fact, "the availability of technology was neither a necessary nor sufficient condition to affect pedagogy" (Windschitl & Sahl, 2002, pp. 201-202). Yet, in both the Windschitl and Sahl study and in the Becker and Ravitz study, the researchers found that pervasive technology was a catalyst that enabled teachers already dissatisfied with teacher-centered methods or who were already constructivist-oriented to implement more practices consistent with their teaching philosophy than were possible before the existence of pervasive technology (Windschitl & Sahl, 2002; Becker & Ravitz, 1999). Data collected shows that teachers whose instructional practice has moved in a constructivist-oriented direction are the same teaches who have thoroughly employed computers in instruction among schools where other arguably necessary factors exist: frequent discussion about reform, a social network that informs and encourages the implementation of instructional change, and a relatively technologically rich environment (Becker & Ravitz, 1999, pp. 380-381).
Even though research shows a clear connection between instructional technology use and constructivist or student-centered teaching methods, why are student-centered pedagogies that require students to use higher-order thinking and practice solving problems in a practical context important? To make room for more student-centered teaching is this pedagogical change worth a reduction in the time allocated to knowledge-transmission oriented methods and teacher-centered methods? The skills required by future workers in the 21st century work force are "the need to analyze information, make decisions, and solve problems" according to The Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) report conducted by the U. S. Department of Commerce in 1991 (Moersch, 2002, pp. 22-23). Moersch also writes that several commissioned reports during the 1990s recommend that curriculum focus on the skills typically associated with constructivist pedagogies to meet those requirements.
The value of constructivist pedagogy is not a new idea even though it has gained new attention in the context of 21st century skills and teaching with technology. A prominent constructivist, Ernst von Glasersfeld has traced the cognitive construction theory back to a Neapolitan philosopher Giambattista Vico who discusses the idea in a 1710 treatise, where he states that one knows a thing only when one can explain it (Yager, 1991). That idea resonates with any teacher who remembers the level of understanding he or she attained after teaching a particular subject. This understanding often surpasses what that teacher learned while studying the subject as a pre-service student. More recently, Moersch reports that Ryan in 1990, Hopson in 1998, and Lin Hsiao in 1998 found significant improvement in student academic achievement "in classrooms where self-regulated learning was encouraged, higher-order thinking strategies were promoted, and guided discovery learning was nurtured" (Moersch, 2002, p. 53).
Even through the lens of test scores, there is evidence of the benefit of good instructional computer use such as when it promotes higher-order thinking. In reporting the findings of the ETS report by Harold Wenglinsky, which examined math scores from the 1996 NAEP, Archer (1998) states that eighth-graders whose teachers used computers in ways associated with higher-order thinking such as "simulations and applications" scored higher than students whose teachers did not use computers for instruction. Conversely, eighth-graders whose instructional computer use was primarily for "drill and practice" actually scored lower. "What we do know for certain," [Wenglinsky] says, "is that when teachers use the computer to teach higher-order thinking skills, students benefit" (Archer, 1998, Despite his findings section, para. 9).
Back in the context of one-to-one computing, Wambach (2006) quotes Gary Stager, a one-to-one computing advocate: "The success of a one-to-one computing program is in its application" (p. 59).

1On page 166 of Tracing Teachers' Use of Technology in a Laptop Computer School: The Interplay of Teacher Beliefs, Social Dynamics, and Institutional Culture (2002), Windschitl and Sahl cite the following research reports as suggesting a correlation between technology use and the move of teachers toward constructivist pedagogy: Becker and Ravitz (1999), Means (1994), and Mehlinger (1996).


Archer, J. (1998, October 1). The link to higher scores (Technology counts '98: Putting school technology to the test). Technology in Schools Supplement to Education Week, 18(5), 10. Retrieved 12 January 2008, from Professional Development Collection database.

Becker, H. J., & Ravitz, J. (1999, Summer). The influence of computer and Internet use on teacher's pedagogical practices and perceptions. Journal of Research on Computing in Education, 31(4), 356-384.

Moersch, C. (2002). Beyond hardware: Using existing technology to promote higher-level thinking. Eugene, OR: International Society of Technology in Education.

Murphy, D. M., King, F. B., & Brown, S. W. (2007). Laptop Initiative Impact: Assessed Using Student, Parent, and Teacher Data. Computers in the Schools, 24(1/2), 57-73.

Wambach, C. (2006, September). From Revolutionary to Evolutionary: 10 years of 1-to-1 Computing. T.H.E. Journal, 33(14), 58-59.

Windschitl, M., & Sahl, K. (2002, Spring). Tracing Teachers' Use of Technology in a Laptop Computer School: The Interplay of Teacher Beliefs, Social Dynamics, and Institutional Culture. American Educational Research Journal, 39(1), 165-205.

Yager, R. E. (1991, September). The constructivist learning model. The Science Teacher, 58(6), 52-57.

I wrote this in January as part of a research proposal focusing on teacher profesional development in a one-to-one program.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Reading and writing for an audience

The discussion of a common reading experience for all students and faculty in the upper-school (grades 9-12) and the recent article adopted by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) with regard to 21st century literacies raises an idea that is not necessarily original but also not something going on yet at D-E as far as I know.

Update on 3/3/07: I'm pleased to report that my statement above was incorrect. D-E's first experiment with student blogging started in our Middle School in early February with the Umpleby Independent Reading Book Review Site. The blog was setup for a similar purpose to what I am suggesting except that students read and wrote about a variety of books rather then a common reading experience.

While I would prefer this comment to come from a full-time classroom teacher and not me (as some people see me as having a "techie" agenda), here it is anyway rather than risk the idea not occurring to others who might support it.

It is worth kicking around the thought of encouraging or at least providing a place for students and faculty to publically share thoughts on the book that is chosen while it is being read or shortly after finishing it. Doing this in the one-shot, adult-lead discussion group fashion like has been done in Community of Readers has value. However, an asynchronous opportunity to write might appeal to different students (and maybe faculty) in different ways and might also prolong the conversation.

One way to do this that has seen increasing use in schools nationally and internationally is through a web log (blog). (What you are reading now is a blog although it is not a good example of what I'm suggesting.)

Teachers or students can write "journal" entries that anyone on the Internet can read and comment on. (For example, you can click on Comments or Post a Comment at the bottom of this blog article to write your reaction on what I'm saying.) In addition to the obvious benefit of just encouraging students to write, posting articles publically can give some students extra incentive because they consider the audience more authentic than writing just for their teachers. In some cases, others outside of the school who have also studied or have experience with the work (including professionals and sometimes even writers) have commented on students writing presented this way and that could be quite a motivating factor for students to continue to write.

While we could also do this with a Blackboard discussion group, it would not have the public access that has the potential to make a positive difference in some students interest and engagement in writing about what they are reading.

That fact that the Executive Committee of the NCTE adopted a statement on February 15 that includes using communication technologies as an essential skill for twenty-first century readers and writers is also interesting and relevant. (Will Richardson, a prolific educational blogger, writes more about this NCTE statement and literacy at the blog Weblogg-ed.)

Monday, February 11, 2008

Writing scores increase for one-to-one laptop students

A recent article in eSchool News directed my attention to an October 2007 research report on the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI). The MLTI is a one-to-one laptop program started in 2002 by the state of Maine. The program provides laptop computers to all seventh and eighth grade students attending public schools and their teachers. In addition to the computers being available to students in school, each student has access to the laptop at home on nights, weekends, and breaks during the academic year.

The report titled Maine's Middle School Laptop Program: Creating Better Writers (available here) describes quantitative results indicating that the MLTI program has improved middle school students' writing.

The study compares the results of the Maine Educational Assessment (MEA) writing scores from 2000, which is the year before MLTI began, and 2005 for all eighth graders statewide. Results show a statistically significant improvement in the 2005 scores -- an average student in 2005 scored better than about two-thirds of all students who took the test in 2000. With regards to scores indicating student proficiency in writing, 41.4% of eighth graders reached that standard on the MEA in 2005, which is up from 29.1% of eighth graders who took the test in 2000.

Also, the researchers examined the 2005 writing scores against an independent variable measuring the level of use of the laptop in the writing process as reported by students. This analysis found significantly higher scores from students using a laptop more fully in the writing process such as for writing drafts and the final copy as opposed students who used the laptop for only part of the process or not at all. With regard to comparing the extremes, the average "Best Use Group" student scored higher than 75% of the "No Use Group" students. Writing proficiency as measured by the MEA scores was achieved by 43.7% of the students in the Best Use group and 21% of the students in the No Use group.

Here are a few other items from the report that I found interesting:

  • Many people debate the merit of using standardized tests, which are often more about recalling knowledge than demonstrating skill or high-order thinking, to measure the learning that is important for students growing up in the 21st century. However, the researchers make a good point that the MEA writing test used for this study actually uses writing samples from students and is scored in a double-blind fashion.
  • It is difficult to attribute the increase in writing proficiency to one-to-one laptop use because may other contributing variables could be present in any particular school. However, the report points out that the results are likely to be due to the laptop program, at least in part, because the increase in proficiency scores occurred across the total population of eighth graders in all Maine middle schools where other contributing variables are less likely to be a constant in all schools.
  • Writing for students who had used laptops improved regardless of whether they were tested by producing a writing sample on computer or with paper and pencil. Therefore, it seems the students became better writers in general as opposed to just when they have to produce on word processor.
  • It is noted that teacher professional development related to integrating technology into curriculum and practices, and teachers helping students learn how to use a laptop as a writing tool were a necessary condition for success.

If any of this interests you whether you agree or not, I suggest reading the report. The main content is about 9 pages long (including figures and tables).

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Constructivist classroom procedures

Well, I did not meet my goal with regard to participating in and possibly drawing others at D-E into the K12 Online Conference as I proposed in my previous post. However, I still think the conference is a resource with potential so I'm going to keep it in mind.

Anyway, what I have been doing is a lot of reading of research articles related to using computers in the classroom, one-to-one computing, and constructivist pedagogy. When I started my review of literature for a research proposal related to one-to-one computing and faculty professional development, I didn't expect to find a lot. I was pleasantly surprised (and occasionally overwhelmed) by what I did find. While every useful article and research study I've read does not specifically deal with one-to-one computing, I've learned that articles on constructivism and, of course, use of computer technology in classrooms with more students than computers also have a lot to offer on this subject

Since teachers who practice constructivist pedagogy or tend toward establishing a student-centered classroom seem to be the most successful with using computers in a a one-to-one environment, I've become interested in trying to finding ways to help faculty move in that direction. I don't have any magical answers, but here are some techniques consistent with the constructivist learning model that are worth keeping in mind:
  • Seeking out and using student questions and ideas to guide lessons and whole instructional units;
  • Accepting and encouraging student initiation of ideas;
  • Promoting student leadership, collaboration, location of information, and taking actions as a result of the learning process;
  • Encouraging the use of alternative sources for information both from written materials and experts;
  • Using open-ended questions and encouraging students to elaborate on their questions and their responses;
  • Encouraging students to suggest causes for events and situations, and encouraging them to predict consequences;
  • Seeking out student ideas before presenting teacher ideas or before studying ideas from textbooks or other sources;
  • Encouraging students to challenge each other's conceptualizations and ideas;
  • Using cooperative learning strategies that emphasize collaboration, respect individuality, and use division of labor tactics; and
  • Encouraging self-analysis, collection of real evidence to support ideas, and reformulations of ideas in light of new experiences and evidence.
These are all quoted from Robert Yager (a professor of science education at the University of Iowa in 1991) originally published in a 1991 article specifically talking about science education. The article may seem a little old to some and was not written about using computers in classrooms, but the statements are relevant now and to more than just a science classroom. The article contains more techniques than I listed. I included the ones I believe are most relevant to my local colleagues in all academic disciplines.

While going through the history of those who have written about cognitive construction, Yager raises one point I particularly like. He says of Giambattista Vico, a philosopher who wrote a treatise on the theory in 1710: "[Vico] substantiates this notion by arguing that one knows a thing only when one can explain it."

All good teachers know that to be true even if they struggle with how to provide students that opportunity in the classroom while still working within the perceived and real constraints of time, meeting standards, and covering subject specific curriculum.

Reminding ourselves how much we have learned about our subject from teaching it, should encourage all of us to find ways to bring at least some constructivist techniques into the classroom.


Yager, R. E. (1991, September). The constructivist learning model. The Science Teacher, 58(6), 52-57. (Get from ProQuest)

Yager, R. E. (2000, January). The constructivist learning model. The Science Teacher, 67(1), 44-45. (Get from ProQuest)

(Excerpts from the 1991 article were republished as the 2000 article.)

The "Get from ProQuest" link should work if you are on-campus at D-E or first access the D-E library databases web page from home. If you are not a member of the D-E community, the links might still work if you have access to a ProQuest research database.