A face-to-face, 75 minute introduction to online collaborative explorations

The following script was used at a 16 May 13 session with technology leaders from K-12 schools to provide a face-to-face, 75 minute introduction to online collaborative explorations.  [Times in brackets indicate the time spent in the session, not the time in an actual collaborative exploration.  When times are not given, the activity was not undertaken at the session.] Read more of this post

Guided tour of my teaching ’98-’01: Teaching portfolio, critical thinking journey, etc.


In the statement for the tenure review in 2001, I discussed my teaching under the headings:

  • A. Wide Scope of My Teaching and its Active, Ongoing Development
  • B. The Philosophy of Teaching Critical Thinking I Brought to UMB
  • C. Teaching Critical Thinking about Science in its Social Context
  • D. Leading Students from Critical Thinking to Taking Initiative
  • E. Learning from Difficult Courses in a Thoughtful, Respectful, and Professional Manner
  • F. Learning from Educators beyond CCT
  • G. Promoting Collegial Interaction Around Innovation in Teaching

(Discussion of related themes and exhibits from a 1999 review can be viewed at http://www.faculty.umb.edu/pjt/portfolio99exhibits.html.)
The last heading points the sharing of work I pursue in a number of ways:

  • documentation of process and outcomes, evident in my Practitioner’s Portfolio;
  • regular presentations and workshops, both at UMB (under the auspices of CIT) and outside; and
  • posting on my website of teaching and learning thought-pieces, tools, and activities (linked to each syllabus) [supplemented in recent years on wikis, such as this page].

Creating and maintaining a web presence for my work is one way my teaching is also characterized by

  • H. Making educationally justified and sustainable choices of when and how to integrate technologies

Related thought-pieces and compilations of exhibits
Guidelines about specific situations and specific ways in which specific technologies are of significant pedagogical benefit. (With case studies from science education)

“We know more than we are, at first, prepared to acknowledge: Journeying to develop critical thinking”

  • “five passages in a pedagogical journey that has led from teaching undergraduate science-in-society courses to running a graduate program in critical thinking and reflective practice for teachers and other mid-career professionals”

Review of Courses, aka Practitioner’s Portfolio.

  • For each course taught at UMB since 1998 I include a review of:
    • the original objectives for the course (which should be read together with the description and goals stated in the syllabi);
    • challenges encountered and my responses; and
    • future plans.
  • Each review is followed by:
    • the syllabi;
    • summaries of the GCoE evaluations;
    • summaries from the written course evaluations I designed; and/or the originals of those evaluations.

Guidelines about specific situations and specific ways in which specific technologies are of significant pedagogical benefit

With the objective in mind of making educationally justified and sustainable choices of when and how to integrate technologies (see previous post), these guidelines emphasize the following general ways — from most important to least — that college faculty, teachers and/or students can use computers and other technologies as tools in education.  (Links are given to 2001-2 case studies from science education)

1. To extend thinking of students

    • E.g., The unanticipated consequences in systems of feedback where there is time delay (see Case study 1a.i)
      E.g., Virtual plant and animal breeding (see Case study 1a.ii)
      Note that most existing websites are designed more to transmit information than to ensure learning.
      E.g., if you have ways to get students to read actively, try to incorporate them in assignments that involve accessing information from the WWW.
      E.g., Problem-based learning, which uses scenarios or cases to engage students in investigation and learning, building on their prior knowledge and particular interests (see Case study 1c.i).
      E.g., if you have ways to maintain the interest of girls in traditionally male-identified areas of science and technology, then use them in maintaining the interest of girls in computers (see Case study 1c.ii).
      Included in such activities is looking at the history and possible future changes that computers have brought in thinking about thinking (objective e).
  • a. Use computers first and foremost to teach or learn things that are difficult to teach or learn with pedagogical approaches that are not based on computers.
    b. Make sure that learning/knowledge-construction is happening, especially when asking students to use the internet.
    c. Model computer use on best practices to ensure learning without computers.
    d. Incorporate activities that identify constraints and keep alternative ways of thinking in mind, remembering that computers, like all tools, constrain at the same time as they enable. (see Case study 1d)
    e. Without discounting the social and inter-personal dimensions of supporting learning (see guideline 1c), consider whether software and/or its use meet the principles of Universal Design for Learning

2. To facilitate group interaction, e.g., by freeing teacher from the bookkeeping part of class activities

    • These guidelines are evident in software from Tom Snyder Productions, whose slogans are “teaching in the one-computer classroom,” and “software for teachers who love to teach (see Case studies 2a-c).
      because pre-programmed software tend to inhibit exploration of pathways and questions that deviate from what the designers anticipated.
      If students remain seated in front of a computer, as is the case in computer labs, they are easily distracted from discussion and other group activities. Ways need to be found to physically separate the computer use from the group interaction.
      Training may be needed. Attention to this contributes to building the desired learning community (see objective c). (See structure of cases in Case study 1c.i.)
  • 1a-c apply here as well.
    1d also applies
    e. “Take away the toys.”
    f. Provide an explicit structure for small group interaction and peer coaching.

3. To enhance communication of knowledge

    • E.g., Powerpoint eliminates the time it used to take to write material on a chalkboard, but chalkboards are better for making connections during class and for acknowledging students’ contributions.
      In relation to guideline 1a, see Case study 3.
      In relation to guidelines 1a-c, see An exemplary webportal that Margaret Waterman provides to resources for science educators, especially in biology
  • Guidelines 1a-d also apply.

4. To organize a personal workstation or “virtual office”

    • See A minimal set of tools to handle my office-on-the-computer and enhance teaching/learning interactions in a sustainable way
      E.g., Do not use email or voicemail to communicate something you are avoiding doing face to face, or that you would not be prepared to do face to face. See Internet etiquette and ethics.
  • a. Identify and address bad work habits before seeking a technical fix.

    b. Assess — either in advance of experimenting or afterwards — whether a new use of technology will be sustainable in your real-life work situation.
    c. Take stock of the tendency towards “Continuous partial attention” (a.k.a. multi-tasking), set limits, and make unrushed time for sustaining/sustained synchronous, face-to-face human interactions.

    d. Hold yourself to high collegial standards.

5. To comply with expectations, standards, or expenditures that promote technology use without providing sound pedagogical guidelines.

    a. In discussions with colleagues and administrators, emphasize guidelines 1-3 and the distinction between “COMPUTERS in education” and “computers in EDUCATION” and, similarly, between “the teaching of technology” and “the enhancement of teaching/learning through technology.” 

    b. Initiate or participate in a needs assessment in relation to pedagogical benefits.

    c. Notice that, although technology standards for teachers may refer to higher-order thinking, etc., illustrations of standards center on using technology and rarely cite evaluations that show benefits for learning the subject matter, let alone higher-order thinking.

6. To occupy students’ attention while the teacher focuses on other students

    a. We should minimize this! When a teacher has insufficient resources to sustain teaching/learning interaction with students, the first step should be to mobilize additional human resources. 

    b. Take into account which software is drill and practice, and which extends students’ thinking.

More notes on the use of educational technology

This post expands on the objectives presented in the previous post for educators when learning about computers and technology in education.  (The objectives set the scene for general guidelines for the use of educational technology to be presented in the next post).

Consider objectives b to e in turn:

b. Plan to learn through ongoing Professional Development how to use the technologies you decide to adopt or adapt

Administrators have often allocated funds for new software and hardware and promoted new initiatives to promote computers in education without providing teachers the training, support, and opportunities for ongoing professional development they need to use those purchases well and keep up with initiatives (Becker 1994). In order to address this imbalance the first goal of any course should be to engender in teachers a commitment to and capacity for ongoing professional development (PD).

c. Develop Learning Communities in which we help each other to learn about learning and think about change

PD is like a journey in that it takes us into unknown areas or allow us to see familiar areas in a fresh light; involve risk; require support; create more experiences than can be integrated at first sight; and yield personal changes. In this sense, PD is also personal development and it is essential from the outset to work on building learning communities (see Appendix 1 for more on PD learning communities). In a PD Learning Community we can learn a lot from each other and from teaching others what we know (see Appendix 2 on Learning to use new tools). We can also transfer this learning community model into how we help students learn and into how we find technology “mentors” to guide and support our future, self-directed learning.

d. Respond to the Push for Teachers to Use Educational Technology

The push for teachers to use educational technology often means we try to bring computers into teaching without a clear idea of pedagogical advantages and of ways to ensure learning happens and knowledge is gained. We should be able to respond to the push with more discrimination and to influence decision-making if we:

    a) develop guidelines about specific situations and specific ways in which specific technologies are of significant pedagogical benefit;
    b) identify questions that need to be researched (or that we need to locate the up to date research on);
    c) evaluate critically the stated reasons given for the push; and
    d) understand the less-often-discussed reasons (social, historical, commercial, administrative).

(See Appendix 3 for warm-up, critical thinking exercise.)

e. Examine the Wider Social Changes Surrounding Computer Use

To be creative and critical about the use of technological tools we should consider possible future changes in computers and related technology in society at large — many of these will feed into education and into our lives and those of our students. A toolkit for thinking about these visions of the future would include themes to interpret where we have come from (the history of computers in society, Edwards 1996) and alternative possibilities for where we might be going. As Joseph Weizenbaum, author of Computer Power and Human Reason responded, when asked if computers could one day replace teachers, “Yes, computers could to that, but why would you want them to?”


Becker, H. J. (1994). “A truly empowering technology-rich education‹How much will it cost?” Educational IRM Quarterly 3(1): 31-35.
Edwards, P. N. (1996). The Closed World: Computers and the Politics of Discourse in Cold War America. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Extracted from http://www.faculty.umb.edu/pjt/etguidelines.html

COMPUTERS in education vs. computers in EDUCATION

Although I use a variety of technologies in my teaching, I had not articulated my philosophy until I had to teach teachers about computers and education in 2001.  I did not find a text that I resonated with and during the first semester began to develop my own guidelines, which are included in the posts to follow.  I cannot claim much success getting students to address my guidelines or to articulate their own pedagogical rationale for using computers.  For the start of the second semester, I prepared a typically didactic powerpoint presentation (summarized below) to try to set the terms for the course.  The collapse of the internet stockmarket bubble helped to create more space for critical thinking about the use of technology, but still I was not very successful in keeping students’ sights on the education side of computers in education.  (My college hired a technology booster so I was relieved of that teaching assignment after that.)  A similar technology-trumps-education situation seems to be emerging with the more recent discourse about changing our teaching to reach digital natives, the subject of a future (skeptical) post.

Two emphases in using computers in teaching

COMPUTERS in education computers in EDUCATION
First… get technical skills explore pedagogical need and possibilities
Then… build lessons and other practices using computers develop technical comptency when needed (using especially peer assistance)
Emphasis taught by… people who are keen on technology — often not classroom teachers people who love to teach students
Emphasis driven by… hi-tech industry, administrators, availability of funds, bandwagon, fear of being left behind small counter-current to the mainstream
Success is claimed when… technology is used and flash is added teaching/learning something that couldn’t have happened without the technology
Response to the other emphasis Students find it more fun to use technology. 

Technology use adds flash to lessons.

There’s immediate gratification for teacher in mastering a tool.

Once taken up, we can build on this basis and get better in education

“Yes, you can do it with technology, but why?” 

Usage of new tool declines after the first flush of enthusiasm/first flash.

Time and support for further Professional Development is rare.

The major challenges Use skills in actual classroom siuations with equipment available. Establish plans and connections and PD practices for ongoing learning
Support those with the other emphasis Respond to pressures from those with the other emphasis
+…? +…?
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