(My lessons learned paper for my Master of Educational Technology at Boise State University)
Throughout my years of teaching, I applied myself to the school of the thought that to be a relevant and effective teacher, one must have a thorough and up-to-date mastery of the subject, and possess the ability to relate to students at their level. Following almost two decades of teaching various grade levels in the same school district, I became cognizant of the changes in teaching methods, with technology assuming a pivotal role in educating our youth. I realized I was lacking in adequate training to infuse technology correctly into my curriculum. Although the district provided an array of professional development opportunities, integration of technology in education was lacking overall. This awakening, my passion for technology, along with the encouragement of our technology director, prompted me to enroll in the Boise State Technology Integration Specialist Certificate Program. I became fascinated by technology integration and the world of opportunities it opened for students and teachers. Consequently, I enrolled in the full Master of Educational Technology Program with the goal of enhancing my own education, and gaining the ability to share my knowledge and skills with the teachers and administrators in my district. Not only did I learn to effectively integrate technology, I gained insight on learning theories, assessment, appropriate instructional design, website development, and online course design. This knowledge applied not only to my classroom, but also to my professional development delivery, and my own professional self-directed learning through social connections. As a resulted of my extended Boise State education, I can now effectively create curriculum that integrates technology. This paper is a reflection of the valuable lessons I learned throughout my MET studies.
Lesson One: Reflections on Learning
“Active learning is grounded on the constructivist theory that emphasizes hands-on, activity-based teaching and learning during which students develop their own frames of thought” (Keengwe, Agamba, & Hussein, 2012, p. 2880). Constructivism states that all learners construct meaning through experiences that are individual, collaborative, or situational in nature. Constructivists believe that individuals are responsible for their own learning, and current and prior knowledge play an important role (Smith & Ragan, 2005). I learned from my studies at Boise State, that it is important to assess the learner’s prior knowledge and context before proceeding with any instruction, particularly those, which require intellectual skills and problem-solving strategies. Without appropriate exposure to particular prerequisite experiences and skills, it will be impossible for students to successfully complete the required learning task. The learner may not possess the knowledge with which to draw upon appropriate decision-making conclusions.
My curriculum is geared towards a constructivist point of view, with student-centered tasks requiring authentic problem-solving activities. One example of curriculum I authored was an online Digital Citizenship Course created during Edtech 512. According to Hathaway (2014), “an online instructor should consider two factors: the characteristics of the learners and the type of curriculum” (p. 6). Keeping this in mind, students were surveyed regarding prior knowledge and current needs. An analysis of their needs and the required curriculum helped create the lesson objectives and determined the content standards that needed to be addressed. A concurrent design was created, outlining the course and activity, along with a timeline of events. Motivational strategies were explored to enhance learning, and the planning began for effectiveness, efficiency and appeal. Constructivist-based activities were put into place and students collaborated and problem solved together on various authentic inquiry-based projects to achieve mastery of curriculum standards. Technology enhances cooperative learning experiences in a project-based learning setting (Jaiswal, 2006). They have access to experts, digital collaboration methods, instant feedback and research and enjoy a much better way to communicate, discover answers to real-world problems, and showcase their work.
I apply to the school of thought that, “constructivists favor rich, authentic learning contexts over isolated, decontextualized knowledge and skill, students centered, goal directed inquiry over externally directed instruction, and supporting personal perspectives over canonical perspectives” (Jonassen & Land, 2000, p. 6). I encourage collaboration, realized by the grouping of workstations around the room with computers accessible to all. My students are working on more than one project and relocate their stations as required during their sessions. I take on a facilitator role through the entire process, questioning techniques and encouraging students to self and peer evaluate, and to reflect upon their learning. “Students indicate whether they have achieved the skill, or if they require further assistance. This is helpful both for student growth and for the teacher to design differentiated lessons ” (McKinney, 2013, p. 45). This particular methodology of allowing students control of their learning, results in significant favorable chatter among parents, teachers and administrators and, most importantly, the students themselves.
Lesson Two: The Art & Science of Teaching
According to Smith (2008), we should change our perspective of how we view creating lessons by shifting our thinking. We must initially determine our learners’ needs before deciding what areas to teach which assists in the design process. Instructional design follows this perspective. It is a systematic process of applying learning theories and principles in order to achieve the successful development of effective, efficient, and appealing instruction (Smith & Ragan, 2005). Instructional Design requires assessment and analysis of instructional goals, learner context and needs, and evaluation of training tasks in order to provide effective instruction. The systematic nature of this approach is imperative for designers in order to ensure that learning theories and proper assessment and evaluation are applied, resulting in successful design implementation and learning success.
Learners today require different methods of teaching due to the current digital technologies in place. Something one must consider:
While doing things the way we have always done them is not necessarily wrong, the problem is that such an approach alone fails to enhance learning among Digital Natives, nor to prepare them for the digital workplace in which they should be productive citizens. (Kivunja, 2014, p. 2880)
Gordon states (2010), “it is time to embrace a more rigorous pedagogy that increases learning by requiring students to think more thoroughly and critically” (p. 1). During my Instructional Design class, I was able to utilize Instructional Design methods centered on students’ current knowledge base and educational technology trends to create an inquiry-based instruction about global warming. Inquiry-based instruction is instructional content and activities that encourage student-centered, open-ended learning tasks, designed to engage students through exploration, problem-solving, and decision-making within a collaborative learning environment (Leonard, Noh, & Orey, 2007). Students were to create interactive digital posters about the causes of global warming, express their opinions on the topic, explain the effects of global warming, and inform others about what citizens can do to slow the process. I evaluated my students through surveys and interviews to determine the instructional needs on this topic. Most importantly, I designed the unit based upon their needs, and implemented the lesson with a group of students to determine the necessary revisions. I incorporate this lesson with my current fifth grade and it happens to be a favorite topic each year. They love the idea of creating digital posters that are published for the community, and the topic is relevant and therefore important to them.
According to Petraglia (1998), today’s educators view learners as having different approaches to classroom activities due to prior knowledge. I continue to analyze the learner’s prior knowledge and required content standards before creating my lesson plans and units. Most importantly, I ask, “What are my students’ needs?” Then I develop the instruction and implement it with groups or in the classroom. I evaluate and discuss results with subject matter experts whenever possible. This method helps create the best curriculum and classroom atmosphere possible for my students, since they are the most important part of the instructional process and must be kept in mind throughout all stages of development. I have learned that the art and science of teaching is having the ability to effectively communicate and facilitate your students. “The teacher is at the center of what takes place in the classroom. The teacher is responsible for creating a student-centered, stimulating, and developmentally appropriate learning environment” (Lucillo, 2009, p. 53). Proper lesson planning and learning theory play an essential role in the classroom, as well as the relationship with your students. Are you meeting the needs of your students, respecting and listening to them, and meeting them at their learning level? I believe these are the most important questions an educator can consider. I ask myself these questions every day, and I can unequivocally answer “yes.”
Lesson Three: The Design and Evaluation of Instruction
Design and assessment of instruction are particularly important to any person in the educational field. It wasn’t until my graduate studies that I realized that assessment did not always pertain to student evaluation. An evaluator looks for a well-written lesson plan design, program objectives, and student participation to determine an effective lesson (Zhao & Ma, 2009, p. 523). Evaluation and assessment can take many forms in education. In my current employment I evaluate curriculum that has already been set in place. Prior to graduate school, once I created the lesson or courses for my students, I never properly evaluated the effectiveness of the curriculum. I informally evaluated the curriculum, without the necessary data to render a professional opinion. Following my MET instruction, I understand that evaluation of your instructional program is mandatory to ensure student success. During Edtech 503, I learned that “evaluations determine program objectives and question whether they have been achieved; it judges the worth of ongoing programs and decides the usefulness of new programs or projects” (Boulmetis & Dutwin, 2011, p. 4). The implementation of evaluation must begin at the onset of missions and goals as they take shape. Evaluation can establish better success if the evaluator is present at the opening of the program to plan goals and assessment early on, and is authorized to monitor the program activities throughout the evaluation process. The evaluator should also be available to communicate needs or revisions to goals, assess program needs and success rates, and communicate all results to the stakeholders for decision making or funding review. I am continually involved in program cycles when developing my teaching lesson plans or units for Boise State graduate work. Involvement in my school STEM program required me to develop a program, collaborate on the program mission and goals with the Administration and Board of Education, implement the program, assess the needs and success of program goals, and provide a summary of the program cycle evaluation results to both the Administration and the board members. This program was for the Middle School Digital Citizenship blended learning unit. I monitored and evaluated its’ success, reported all results, and made recommendations for revisions to the administration.
As a fifth grade math teacher, and hopefully soon to be technology teacher, evaluations will be relentless. I plan on implementing more STEM lessons into my daily curriculum. To do so, I must be open to evaluation of the curriculum I author. Whether it is a Principal, Administrator, Evaluator, or myself taking the necessary steps for program evaluation, I will be sure to implement all recommendations in order to improve program and instructional goals. Curriculum documents should be fluid in that there is always room for improvement.
Lesson Four: Networking and Collaboration
“In connectivism, the starting point for learning occurs when knowledge is actuated through the process of a learner connecting to and feeding information into a learning community” (Kop & Hill, 2008, p. 2). Connectivism allows the learner to have complete control over their learning goals, topics or problems to research, where to research, where to share their learning, choice of social networks, freedom of expert connections and design of learning environments. Networking and collaboration have become a major factor in my professional development life. Prior to my Edtech 543 course about social learning, I always used Twitter and Facebook personally, but did not really dive into professional learning through social media. After the course, I am competent in finding relevant Personal Learning Networks (PLN’s) to help me improve my teaching methods and enhance my repertoire of resources. PLN’s influence a professional to “engage in learning based on their needs, interests, and goals” (Krutka, Carpenter & Trust, 2016, p. 153).
People read, write, listen and communicate differently due to the advances in technology (Holum & Gohala, 2001). Many social networking tools are valuable to my program because I now utilize social media platforms for professional discussions and professional development where I can define the learning goals I need and locate the professional training required without the restrictions a district professional development team may offer. One of the most rewarding experiences of my Edtech 543 class was the Twitter for Professional Development assignment. Having to dive into Twitter chats helped me grow in confidence that I have resources and knowledge that others find beneficial. My Twitter PLN also shared great resources and ideas that I put to use immediately with my students. I fully realize that planning lessons using the knowledge base of my PLN provides me the opportunity to create the best lesson possible for my students. Being educated with collaborative ideas and fine-tuning them for my own, truly enhances my students’ classroom experience.
Working with my class PLN provided a great opportunity to grow professionally and learn about myself. The course Social Learning engaged us in a connectivism learning experience, which proved to be a profound learning experience. I was so conditioned to working independently, it was refreshing to gain insight from others, receive ideas, and share work with classmates. I really enjoyed each learning activity, but I especially enjoyed creating a social media policy for student social media use, as well as a mini curriculum unit with my group. We were able to work together to devise a unit about Games Around the World that facilitates various social medias for an upper elementary class. The students collaborate across the globe to invent games to share with each other. According to Reed (2010), global project based learning “promotes creativity, address all learners, provides success for all students, makes content meaningful, provides an authentic audience, motivates students and empowers students to make a difference” (Changing Curricula section, para. 5). This unit will be completed with my fifth grade. I cannot wait to blog about how the experience unfolded. It is rare to hear about social media use in an elementary setting, therefore, I feel actually implementing the unit may encourage others to do the same. Social media promotes a constructivist’s view of learning as “active social engagement, to encourage the students towards collaborative learning and sharing through networking and in communicating to allowing for feedback from a wide audience, and to connect people…beyond the shores of the classroom and the textbooks” (Mei Ling Yeo, 2014, p. 61). Due to my connection with this viewpoint, I started using social media within my classroom by incorporating a class Twitter account. The parents appreciate the immediate communication, and the students enjoy having work published online, collaborating on weekly tweets, and communicating with experts in a particular field of study. I will continue to introduce new ways to infuse social learning within my classroom and profession. The benefits are plentiful for both the student and the learner.
Lesson Five: The Research-Practice Connection
During this ever-changing digital era, the question of how to apply appropriate learning theories to educational technology remains at the forefront of my continuing research at Boise State University. I realize the importance of having a comprehensible concept of educational technology and its significance to me as an educator. I have clarity of what principles to set forward when incorporating technology into my curriculum due to constant research and professional communication. Too often I see technology used either as a required tool or bragging right for the newest technological tools. Many districts have the finest hardware and software, but are unable to answer to the required guidelines of the educational relative advantage of such purchases. One challenge struck a familiar chord. According to Davidson-Shivers and Rasmussen (2006), “it is difficult enough for a faculty member to stay abreast of his own content specialty area; having to keep up with technological innovations as well as being the technical troubleshooter places extraordinary demands on a faculty member’s time” (p. 36). When I was enrolled in Edtech 541 class, I realized how vital it is to insure that guidelines are met, hence assuring that the software and tools selected create a positive educational outcome for all learners. The Technology Integration Matrix by The Florida Center for Instructional Technology provides an excellent guideline for implementing technology into the curriculum, and aids in my own technology integration. I utilized this matrix, which emphasizes active technology utilization, collaborative learning experiences, constructive connections to learning, authentic real-world assignments, and goal-directed activities (TIM, 2017). Using this set of guidelines, I created a cross-curricular weather project. I researched what misconceptions children have with weather around the world and infused professionally sound technologies to eliminate these misconceptions. The unit consisted of a cross-curricular approach incorporated with technology enhancing lessons.
How an individual learns depends on prior knowledge, the method of instruction, proper curriculum evaluation, and the instructor effectively implementing the lesson. These methods greatly impact the outcome of learner performance. “Training teachers as reflective practitioners and researchers should be a priority for an educational system that seeks to improve their students in managing complex information and solving problems creatively and divergently” (Fernández-Fernández, Arias-Blanco, Fernández-Alonso, Burguera-Condon, & Fernández-Raigoso, 2016, p. 1). Students are more motivated when instruction relates to content both inside and outside the school, and the content is relevant to real-world situations where students utilize new knowledge for authentic purposes (Brophy, 2013). I personally commit myself to be one of the dedicated researchers to the field of educational technology. Although I am immersed in graduate training research and professional learning networks, my school district is on the cusp of infusing technology into their curriculum. I do my utmost to create a technology rich classroom environment by remaining abreast of the current research and knowledge base of appropriate instructional design, curriculum, technology tools, and educational technology trends. My goal to incorporate additional educational technology into my everyday curriculum has been met with enthusiasm by administrators, students, and parents, thus providing the impetus for me to continue to rally for the advancement of educational technology in my district.
My hope for the future is to present as an example educator who integrates technology successfully through a refined educational product and instructional design. Many teachers are not adequately prepared and trained for successful technology integration, which is much needed in this ever-changing digital world. Not only am I prepared to be a teacher who infuses technology with proper pedagogy, but also I am prepared to also be a knowledgeable educator and trainer of technology integration. My goal is to implement educational technology curricular successfully within my classroom and to facilitate teachers to incorporate a successful technology infused curriculum designed for learner content mastery and educational success. It is my passion to assist my district on this path of technology integration. When technology is infused correctly into the educational setting, our students will successfully achieve the skills required for the 21st century workforce. Thank you, Boise State University, for preparing me with an extensive, rigorous, and well-designed Master of Educational Technology program.
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