You Are Not A Beginner Unless You Have Begun
Feb 15th, 2010 by Karen Montgomery

Mount Hood, originally uploaded by klmontgomery.

If you have yet to put on snow skis, are you a beginning skier? When a beginning skier decides to take lessons to learn to ski, their skiing ability needs to be determined in order to place them in a class at the appropriate level. Skiing ability is based on a scale of ability levels from Level 1 to Level 9. In general, you might assume, Levels 1-3 are for beginners, Levels 4-6 are for intermediate skiers and Levels 7-9 are for advanced skiers. There is no Level 0. In order to be a beginner, you have to put on skis. You need to learn how to fasten your ski boots, step into your bindings and get your balance before you really begin. Beginner lessons focus on how to gain control, go at an easy pace and most importantly how to stop. Even after mastering these simple skills you are still very much a beginner, but well on your way! Whether you are four years old or 28 years old, if you just sit in the lodge drinking hot chocolate and watching the bustle on the mountain you are not a beginner, but an observer.

Over the past few years, it has often occurred to me when I am working with educators that when it comes to the use of technology by teachers and administrators we have to start redefining beginner. The Internet is loaded with websites dedicated to computer literacy for both students and adults. In computer classes everywhere, schools focus on computer literacy skills for students that include both fundamental hardware and software knowledge.

Computers are commonplace in our society and have been for a very long time. Can teachers be expected to use online applications and resources with their students if they are not even “computer literate” and comfortable with basic computer skills and using web-based applications? Are you a beginner if you cannot attached a document to an e-mail, save a file and find it later, tab browse or work in multiple browser windows, copy and paste or sign up for an account online? Is it a beginner or an intermediate user that can download photos to a computer from their camera? Should a beginner know how to save to a flash drive or the desktop? What about administrators who only read their e-mail from the hard copy printed by their secretary? I would argue that knowing how to carry out these activities are analogous to strapping on the skis before you start your first lesson. Never mind integrating the technology into the curriculum if the beginners have not learned how to accomplish basic tasks.

Instruction on how to use blogs, wikis, photo sharing, VoiceThread and social bookmarking with students inherently starts at an intermediate level. But is signing in to your Yahoo! account an intermediate skill? Teachers who do not use online applications personally will certainly struggle with using them for the first time in an in-service or workshop setting. Frustration is imminent in these situations when some participants lag behind. It frustrates the lagging participant and other participants and often the instructor. It is frequently not the function or use of the online resource that creates this frustration but the lack of familiarity with using the computer.

Just like in snow skiing, several levels of beginners are going to exist. There is a range of proficiencies and abilities at every level, but if you are at Level 0, you are not yet a beginner. As part of our Powerful Ingredients for Blended Learning (PI4BL) framework, Wes Fryer and I have divided our levels of use into four levels: awareness, personal use, adoption and invention. At Level 1, awareness, “PI4BL educators may comment on a blog or forum post created in the Powerful Ingredients Learning Community” We feel a beginner be able to comment on a blog post written by someone else. Setting up their own blog comes at the personal use level and using a blog with students at Level 3.

So how do you define beginner? Is a beginner someone who observes and watches others engaged in an activity? Is a beginner someone who knows about goings-on, but doesn’t actually participate? Is a beginner someone who is aware that technology exists but is not engaged in exploring and using technology? Are you really a beginner if you haven’t yet begun? Would love you to contribute your thoughts.

Blending Professional Development to focus on Content, Technology and Pedagogy
Jun 13th, 2009 by Wesley Fryer

In the May 2009 issue of “Learning and Leading with Technology” Punya Mishra and Matthew Koehler discuss the TPACK framework in their article, “Too Cool for School? No Way!” The article is available electronically to ISTE members only. According to Mishra and Koehler:

Expert teachers consciously and unconsciously find ways to orchestrate and coordinate technology, pedagogy, and content into every act of teaching. They flexibly navigate the affordances and constraints of each technology and each possible teaching approach to find solutions that effectively combine content, pedagogy, and technology. They find solutions to complex, dynamic problems of practice by designing curricular solutions that fit their unique goals, situations, and student learners. They use naturally make changes to their pedagogical approach and the content they cover to create a new “curriculum” that is also highly effective.

TPACK framework

They maintain:

…effective teaching represents a “dynamic equilibrium” between content, pedagogy, and technology such that a change in any one of the factors has to be compensated by changes in the other two. For example, teachers who change the technology they use naturally make changes to their pedagogical approach and the content they cover to create a new “curriculum” that is also highly effective.

This description of “expert teachers” reminds me of the Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow (ACOT) research which identified “stages” through which teachers may progress when appropriately supported with technology, content, and pedagogical assistance.

ACOT Technology Integration Stages

In their May09 L&L article, Mishra and Koehler make the valid point that many of the “cool tools” of web 2.0 and our digital landscape were not designed expressly with classroom education in mind, but they can be “repurposed” for educational uses. This creative process is light years away from the “scripted curriculum” which many schools have embraced in our era of high-stakes accountability. Bill Ferriter’s June 10th post, “The Problem with Scripted Curricula. . .” highlights some of these dynamics and the problems school cultures which push scripted curriculum impose on educators wanting to “repurpose” web 2.0 tools in the ways Mishra and Koehler highlight via TPACK.

TPACK was developed to use a “Learning by Design” approach where:

…inservice teachers work collaboratively in small groups to develop technological solutions to authentic pedagogical problems. In order to go beyond the simple “skills instruction” view offered by the traditional workshop approach, we have argued that it is necessary to teach technology in contexts that honor the rich connections between technology, the subject matter Content (content), and the means of teaching it (the pedagogy).

I like this three-part synthesis of technology tools, content information and knowledge, and pedagogy. We often hear about the need to focus on “learning” rather than simply technology tools. This is something I’ve heard repeatedly from presenters and educational leaders like Will Richardson and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, as well as many presenters active in the K-12 Online Conference. With NECC 2009 just around the corner, I’m sure there will be plenty of situations where these thoughts (along the lines of Jamie McKenzie’s 2001 article, “Toolishness is Foolishness”) will be needed and important.

While I agree an exclusive focus on “technology tools” is ultimately not transformatively constructive for educators as well as students, I also maintain we shouldn’t minimize (or underestimate) the importance of becoming exposed to different tools and getting familiar with their use both for personal reasons and in professional / educational / classroom contexts. These are many of the ideas underlying the activity framework Karen Montgomery and I are developing for “Powerful Ingredients for Blended Learning.” Drawing on the ACOT stage research as well as other frameworks like TPACK, we’re proposing four levels of digital literacy when it comes to educational technology tools:

  1. Level 1: An awareness of the technology tool or resource
  2. Level 2: Personal use of the technology tool or resource
  3. Level 3: Instructional use of the technology tool or resource using an existing “recipe” (lesson or assignment ideas created by someone else)
  4. Level 4: The invention level, creating your own instructional “recipes” for learners using the tool or resource along with others. This is “inventive blending.”

Mishra and Koehler’s framework suggests that attention should not only be paid to the technology tool and the content which is presented or studied, but also on the pedagogy or the way in which students interact with content as well as each other. This gets to the focus of the “learning task,” something Phil Schlechty writes about at length in terms of student engagement. Two weeks ago I heard Tammy Worcester present at Oklahoma City Public Schools’ annual Tech Day, and quote David Warlick when it comes to student research assignments. As teachers we should NOT be assigning tasks, including research assignments, which can be readily Googled and copied/pasted. Learning tasks should be more complex and challenging, involving role play, creative writing, and other strategies which invite a higher level of both student engagement, creativity, and critical thinking. This can operationalize what Andrew Churches writes about in his Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy.

The TPACK wiki (openly accessible to anyone) includes some resources (including an extensive “Reference Library” to articles and conference proceedings) relating to the TPACK framework. Matthew Koehler has an extensive list of TPACK resources and content/conversation channels on his professional website also.

One VERY important book I need to read soon, which I anticipate will further shape my beliefs and perceptions about this intersection of technology, content and pedagogy, is the “Understanding by Design” framework. I own one of Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe’s books, I just haven’t made the time to read it yet. I hope to in the coming weeks.

[Cross-posted to Moving at the Speed of Creativity]

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