Final Reflection

Beginning this semester, I was somewhat apprehensive about taking EdTech 504. Yet, within my feelings of apprehension, I was eager to begin the course. Though I have been teaching EFL in Korea for nine years, I have only on the job teacher training. I had never taken a formal education course before starting my degree at Boise State. Therefore, the idea of diving into theories of learning was a welcome undertaking.

At the outset of this course, we were asked to give our definition of educational technology. At the time I wrote, “Educational technology may be defined as systematically applying tools, processes, and evaluation that provide effective opportunities for learning.” In this original post, I had concluded that technology, as it stands today, goes beyond pre-digital-aged tools. Educational technology focuses on current tools and the processes of their implementation. Roblyer and Doering, in Integrating Educational Technology into Teaching agree and state, “Educational technology is a combination of the processes and tools involved in addressing educational needs and problems, with an emphasis on applying the most current tools: computers and other electronic technologies” (2010, P.8). This evolving definition, I feel, best captures educational technology today.

The learning undertaken in this course has been invaluable. As the course progressed, we explored the primary learning theories of behaviorism, cognitivism and constructivism. The evolution of these theories from one to the next was fascinating to observe but each one seemed to spin off into a countless number of complex sub-theories. We were also asked to consider how technology fits within these theories. I read deeply on the idea of connectivism. Connectivism addresses learning in a digital age, yet I felt only certain aspects of it were relevant to my current teaching environment. The more I read, the more I began to see that situativity theory fit well within my teaching practice. I think that combining aspects of connectivism and practice fields will result in excellent opportunities for my students.

This course has allowed me to better define how I want my students to learn. As an EFL instructor, seeing students make the same mistakes again and again even after directly addressing the mistakes is frustrating. The educational environment in Korea is still very much behaviorist. Students are empty vessels ready to be filled. Sadly, students themselves believe that their only role in education is to receive the answers and prepare to display them on tests. As I proceed in my career, I will attempt to change this perspective by providing my students authentic opportunities to situate their learning.

As my students will one day become elementary school teacher in Korea, it is my hope that the examples I provide my students will translate into my students using similar methods in their teaching.

Roblyer, M.D., Doering, A.H. (2010) Integrating Educational Technology into Teaching. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Advertisements

Situativity Theory and PBL in EFL

The culminating activity for EdTech 504 Theoretical Foundations of Educational Technology is to write a synthesis paper exploring emerging technologies and how they fit with an organized taxonomy of theory. For my paper, I chose to look at situativity theory as it applies to project based English language learning.

This past few weeks has been spent elbow deep in scholarly articles and materials as I attempted to support my 2500 word effort. At the heart of my paper is the idea that learning in EFL settings needs to be as close to authentic as possible if students are going to truly transfer what they learn in the classroom to real-world situations. I explore what happens in typical EFL learning environments, and I discuss the notion of inert knowledge and its lack of meaningful transfer.

My paper makes the argument that project based learning can be a relevant solution. Though I don’t specifically mention Korea in my paper, my observations living here for the past decade certainly inform much of my notions of the current practices in EFL education. As I see English education in Korea, teachers mostly teach grammar and vocabulary. Authentic situations are only available for those who can send their children to expensive after school academies and the only authenticity comes through interactions with native speakers one to two hours per week. For students to learn the language, much more exposure to real English situations is necessary.

Project based learning can provide these opportunities for authenticity as it takes the emphasis off rote memorization and asks students to answer a meaningful question that drives them to explore the language not in and of itself, but as a means to answering the question. At the heart of PBL is situativity theory. This learning theory is based on constructivist theory where students create meaning based on their experiences. The experiences in situativity are situated in authentic learning environments where the language they are learning can be practiced for real and not in canned, formulaic exchanges.

Within all this comes the role of technology. Because EFL students lack opportunities to explore English speaking cultures, the role of tech is enormously important. It provides real print materials, videos, radio broadcasts and podcasts. It allows for reading and writing opportunities through publishing and commenting on blogs. And it gives access to English speaking communities through social media like Facebook. EFL students can use these tools to access expatriate communities by first breaking the ice through the Internet. By carefully incorporating these technological elements into PBL units, students will have access to authentic learning environments that will truly benefit them and allow real transfer of language learning.

Connectivism: A Digital Age Learning Theory

To help us understand how technology is changing the ways in which we interact, learn, work and live, Siemens and Downes offer connectivism as a new learning theory. Connectivism attempts to answer the question of whether or not current learning theories address the emerging needs of today’s digital learners. First, Downes says that the theory of connectivist teaching and learning is twofold. First, it is based on looking at the brain as a network of entities and neurons connected to each other and knowledge emerges from the organization of these connections.  And second, social knowledge is created through the connections of the members within a community. Therefore knowledge is broken down into two types: personal knowledge and public knowledge.  Through a cyclical process of accessing, modifying and sharing learning, knowledge is reorganized within a society. Stephen Downes states, “Knowledge informs learning; what we learn informs community, while community defines what is learned, and what is learned becomes knowledge” (2012).Through actions and experiences, connections are formed organically and that this growth of connections can be called knowledge.  When a learning community, or node, accesses this knowledge, it must use higher order thinking skills to evaluate, process and produce a reorganization of this rapidly altering foundation of knowledge.

Where connectivism differs from constructivism is in how knowledge is defined. Downes claims that in constructivism, knowledge stems from representational systems where things, like words, represent knowledge or understanding and if you have that thing in your brain, you know it. The more of these things you build, or construct, the more you know. However, Downes says that connectivism is not a representational theory. He argues that knowledge is simply the connections created between neurons. That is, you have no choice over the matter because learning is what the brain does. What you have control over is how you influence this experience.

In essence, connectivism asks the learner to control their learning through network forms of autonomy, diversity, openness and emergent knowledge. The learner should go about choosing what is important and when to take control of their learning. Within this learner centered approach, teachers model and demonstrate while learners practice and reflect. One area that is evolving from this is that of the PLE (personal learning environment). In a PLE, learners manage their own learning as they work with materials that have been aggregated from many distinct sources and try to solve problem or create new materials. They then share their findings or (re)creations to their various network connections. A PLE will act not only as a method through which to learn, but also as an educational record and portfolio.

Connectivism is certainly interesting. And though many feel it is insufficient in explaining the changes we are seeing, it really got me thinking about how we learn. Do we really construct knowledge? Is this a shared, social experience? Is knowledge an object that we find and keep? Does it require a form first that is symbolized and then collected? Is my brain endlessly learning and I my task is to present it with novel experiences? For me, I see knowledge as a combination of these things. It is to me like a thing that I can describe while at the same time existing as a feeling of knowing. I took much away from this week’s readings and I look forward to continuing through this process as I expand on my understanding of connectivism, activity learning theory, actor-network theory, social learning frameworks, etc. and how they apply to my paper on technology supported project based learning as it applies to English as a foreign language.

Random Connections:

What I found most amazing about reading through the dense exploration of connectivism offered by Downes, was how it kept reminding me of Robert Pirsig and his exceptional, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. In Zen, Pirsig embarks on a 411 page journey across America in search of the meaning of quality. Haunted by the ghost of his former self, Pirsig attempts to understand how Areté (good or excellence) has been usurped by Truth. Here are two passages that compare Pirsig to Downes and, I think, show how closely they relate. First, Pirsig writes, “Areté is dead and science, logic and the University as we know it today have been given their founding charter: to find and invent an endless proliferation of forms about the substantive elements of the world and call these forms knowledge, and transmit these forms to future generations.” As an alternative, he writes, “’Man is the measure of all things.’”[…]Man is not the source of all things… Nor is he the passive observer of all things… The Quality that creates the world emerges as a relationship between man and his experience. He is a participant in the creation of all things” (1974). A bit male centric, but I think aligns quite well with connectivism.

Another quite interesting connection (no pun intended) I found, comes from a recent guest on All Things Considered on NPR. Robert Siegel interviews astrophysicist Adam Frank as he discusses astrobiology and how our coexistence with the planet is changing us, just as we’re changing the planet. Please follow the link and enjoy the discussion complete with nodes and interconnected cities. The City as Infestation

Supporting Theory for PBL in ELL


The theory I poured through this week has further amplified my desire to promote authentic learning situation for my English language learners. Combining this with technology is an area I’m still having a bit of trouble. I feel that the primary reason for this lies in the title of the course I teach: Classroom English. The goal for this course is to provide my students with the necessary language for them to conduct a beginner level, elementary school EFL class. In my class, I am not tasked to teach methodology, pedagogy or theory. Simply language and communicative devices for instruction. Of course, this is nearly impossible to separate. Therefore, at every opportunity, I attempt to allow my students to construct knowledge through role-play, demonstration, micro-projects and micro-lessons. I also incorporate computer based materials and expect a level of computer based output within the student presentations.

This semester has been the most successful for allowing the students the most autonomy and self-regulated learning opportunities. I have shifted from my normal position at the front of the classroom, to a more marginal observer/facilitator. This has allowed me to put shift an important portion of assessment into the hands of the students in an attempt to foster critical thinking skills through a structured evaluative process.  So far the experience (experiment) has been fruitful and though all the kinks have yet to be worked out, I will continue to build on the success and learn from the missteps in this transitional period.

Epistemological Beliefs and the Classroom

Wow! If one thing is clear from this week’s assignment, it’s that the amount of thinking that has gone into thinking is mind-blowing. Before I started this assignment, I had done quite a bit of highly specific research on various applications of certain learning theories. I had never delved specifically into the theories themselves on such a detailed level. I come away from this week feeling more knowledgeable as knowledge as a noun, and somewhat reassured in my own practice looking at knowledge as a verb.

I chose the theory of situated cognition as my theory of exploration because I feel it has great implications in the world of ELL. The idea of communities of practice and practice fields offers language learners authentic opportunities to better learn and apply language. As I look at my classroom and the methods and learning strategies I employ, I feel I go to great lengths in my attempts to create communities where my students can practice in the field of education. Though I don’t hit the mark perfectly, and this is somewhat for reasons beyond my control, my students participate in ‘near’ authentic environments, collaborate, evaluate, and reflect on their own learning and productions. My classroom is as close to a student-centered environment as I know how to create. My “focus is to support the learner to actively construct meaning” (Jonassen and Land, 2012).

When addressing integration of educational technology, I often find myself at a loss. In my current role as Classroom English instructor, I find the use of tools and production software an ill fit to the learning goals associated with my course. In using tech tools, I would expect my students to actively participate in creation and discussion. I would model and scaffold expected standards, focusing on collaboration and reflection. This style of learning is quite obscure in Korea and may challenge my students beyond the expected requirements of my course. This is not to say that I don’t use technology in some, limited fashion, but is more a statement about technology as needed and used by my students.

As an instructor, I use wikis to organize my course and keep students in constant contact with me and course requirements. I often use the monitor as a glorified white board and will sometimes use presentation software when needed. I have hope that the educational environment in Korea will allow for some use of constructivist learning theories. With this shift, more powerful applications of technology including blogging, using and creating podcasts, document collaboration and social media utilization will become relevant to student engagement and production.

References

Jonassen, D. H., & Land, S. M. (2012). Theoretical foundations of learning environments [Kindle edition]. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com/Theoretical-Foundations-Learning-Environments-ebook/dp/B001OLRNWC/ref=tmm_kin_title_0

EdTech Explanation: Reflection

What is considered technology? Is the pen I hold in my hand for writing technology? Are the blackboard and chalk or the whiteboard and marker technology? Is the book from which I learn technology? Of course these tools designed for providing educational opportunities are technology. However, when I applied to the Ed Tech master’s here at Boise state, these were not the tools I had in mind. For me, educational technology started with the computer, branched out to the monitor and projector, intertwined with tablets and smart-phones and was all made possible by the Internet.

Now in my third semester in the EdTech program, I know educational technology is much more than this simple list of hardware. Educational technology is processes, methods, strategies and design. It is tools, applications and an understanding of how these various elements combine to enhance and foster learning opportunities. It is also an understanding that it is not only the teacher and students who play a role, but that parents, administrators and government all share in the process of effective technology integration.

The history of educational technology is long. Along the way, many technologies have been touted as the ‘future’ of instruction. Though some still remain, others lay dusty and unused in the closet of time. Is it possible to predict the technologies of the future? Most likely not. Yet to imagine a future devoid of computers and the Internet seems almost entirely unlikely. Therefore, it is imperative to ready our students now to use these tools because, like this video demonstrates, the world is changing fast.

As I begin another semester teaching at Daegu National University of Education, I am encouraged by my continuing efforts to incorporate technology into my practice. Each year I improve upon the previous year by updating and fine-tuning my wikis. I provide assistance to other instructors looking to find better ways of using technology. And this semester, I am excited to see one of my PBL project take wings as my colleague will be integrating it into one of his freshmen English classes on a pilot basis. I look forward to receiving his feedback and preparing the project for full integration.

From this course I hope to better understand individual theories of learning and how they fit within the context of educational technology. I am hoping that after this course, I will be able to look back through my assignments in EdTech 541 and 542 and have a more critical eye and a deeper understanding of my work. I want to be able to retroactively apply the theory I learn now to past lessons. And I want to use this knowledge to help make me an effective instructor who seamlessly integrates technology into my curriculum.

References:

Januszewski, A. (2001). Educational technology: The development of a concept. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, Inc.

Luppicini, R. (2005). A systems definition of educational technology in society. Educational Technology & Society, 8 (3),103-109.