Wednesday, 6 August 2014

How Higher Learning Can Lead to an Increased Level of Frustration--Rantings of Ed.D Student.

That isn't lightening; it's the sparks that came out of head during one of my new rants (not really but it fits with the theme of this blog post).

Now I knew when I signed up for this program that there was going to be a lot  reading, writing and sleepless nights.  I just didn't comprehend the emotional roller coaster that was involved.  I thought for this blog post that I would give a bit of perspective of the start of this academic journey that I started this summer.

I found out that I was accepted to the Werklund's School of Education's doctorate program on Valentine's day.  I couldn't speak as I read the email; I kept making hand gestures and noises to my husband and daughters as the realization came over me that I was about to start this journey. Overwhelming feelings of surprise and elation washed over me...and then the terror started to creep in. Can I really do this?

As I was packing and getting ready for my trip to Calgary, I read best wishes on social media from not only my family and friends but from current and past students.  I decided to try and explain what it meant to stay in school after school and I posted the following message on my class's facebook page.

For many of you, your summer fun has just begun, but for some of you I know that the jitters are starting about going away to school. On the eve before my first class, I thought I would share some insights about continuing your education. When you came to GRCI, most of you were nervous--it wasn't so much about going to high school but the unknown that it represented. I like to compare it the first time you jumped into a pool of water. Before your feet left the ground, you wondered if the water was going to be cold, if you would swim, if you'd look competent swimming.

Going off to post secondary is like jumping off the lower diving board. You've been in the water--a.k.a. you've changed schools where everything was different, but it's been a while and maybe it feels colder and you're going to go deeper so you question your ability to swim to the surface.
Here's what you need to know--you know you can; you just have to trust yourself. My masters was like jumping off the 3 M board and with my doctorate, it's like jumping off of the tower platform. I have (am) been scared about my ability to succeed at my program; I have had my moments of doubt. Can I do this, am I wasting my money, should I be doing this, but all you have to remember is that there was a reason why you applied in the first place. The water will be fine, you will swim, you will be successful regardless if you take the occasional mouth full of water. So for my recent grads that are thinking that they'll be packing for the new school in less than 2 months, you'll do great. I'll be thinking of you all as I walk into my first class tomorrow morning 9 am central time.

I had no idea what I was about to start, but I was excited and ready to go.  Then I went to my first class and realized just how cold and deep the water was.  I would like to compare my first day to do a belly flop off of the 3 meter board.   The pace was fast (expected) but learning that we were expected to have completed all of the readings before arrive (really, really not expected) left the blood rushing away from my face.  How was I going to catch up?

To be honest, I haven't and with this is in mind I would like to formally and humbly offer my apologies for every opinion I gave about the readings during class.

Why you may ask?  It is because I have started to "catch up" and realize what these articles and books are really saying.  I want a do over as I have something really different to say.   Sadly, I will have to use my blog for this as class is over and I'm back in Ontario.

Once I got back, people were asking me how was it and could we get together?   After I stopped laughing--only a fellow grad student would understand.  I decided to post an answer as I was still off the social gridline.

Some of you have been asking what's it like being a doctoral student? It's taking sips of sleep between sips of caffeinated beverages. We follow the RPTR rule: read, ponder, think and reflect. It's making me reread articles from years ago and realizing that I didn't' really understand the content; it's making me question my teaching practice and adapting new ideas from a lot of thinking. It's learning how critical it is to learn smarter..and on that note:

Why didn't I think of this earlier idea?

Seriously, why didn't I realize this idea before?

One last point, the best part of this program and what I learned this summer is that I'm stretching my learning exponentially but it's also making me question everything about the education system.    From my readings on inquiry-based learning and professional development I have to comment.  Why isn't this preferred and recommended learning style applied to teachers?  What has PD looked like for me in my 16 years of teaching?  It's a stack of manuals, papers and charts that have been placed in my mailbox or distributed at staff meetings with statements such as "you should read this", "we will be adopting these procedures", "the ministry is recommending this."  At best, I only glanced at it at worst it was thrown in a pile of stuff I need to get to on my desk.  Every year I would get to attend a one day PD session.  Was that meaningful PD?  Not really, where was the inquiry or the follow up scaffolding to ensure that a deeper level of understanding was reached?  This summer I got to experience what PD should "feel" like.  I'm finding myself experience informal and non-formal learning experiences from what I learned formally.  I'm questioning, re-evaluating and identifying how I can utilize what I learned.

This is causing me to rant---why has it taken me 16 years as an educator to experience this?!?   My goal is try and facilitate my experience as I prepare to act as a facilitator at a computer ed. camp next week.

Right now I'm going to hit send and enjoy my family.

The most incredible and important invention for education.

I bet you thought it was the calculator or computer.  Perhaps some of you thought it was the modern notebook or fountain pen--those last two items were the beginning of mobile learning. Alas, it was the dusty (sometimes streaky and with dead spots) chalk board.

I never thought very much of chalkboards, after all I'm allergic to chalk dust,  but after hearing about its effect on education I too need to sing about its merits.

For those of you who have never considered what school was (is) like without one of these pieces of technology, ask yourself this.  How did educators draw or write information to share?  Remember those amazing geography maps, congregated verbs, and math graphs?  Now try and imagine trying to learn about them from someone's verbal description.  "So you have this line and it's on a slant, but not a big slant as there wasn't that much change from the first data entry to the second."  I can imagine a room full of confused faces:  visual learners?  They didn't have a chance.

I'm sure some of you reading this are questioning the validity of calling a chalkboard a piece of, granted ancient, technology, but do you know that it came with a teaching manual?  I know for some people the litmus test of identifying technology is an operations manual. Wrylie identifies that following the Education Act of the late 19th century, dozens of teaching manuals appeared that not only identified its purposes but gave suggested uses and teaching strategies for this technology.  These manuals even included diagrams of what to draw on them ( Wrylie, 2012).

The question I'm left pondering, I wonder what adults thought about this new technology?  Were students rolling their eyes as they heard an adult say, "when I was your age, we didn't have any chalkboards."  Wait a minute, they probably weren't in school either.  Tongue and cheek aside, was this piece of technology the beginning of students and learners becoming too reliant on technology?  

It's interesting to think of something as basic as a chalkboard as a piece of technology.  Technology can be frightening and frustrating at times in education.  New technology requires careful examination before its introduction into teaching, but it's initial arrival can create excitement--I like to think of it as the "new car smell" factor.

Whereas Skinner probably scared educators in the 1950s when he said that his "teaching machines" would make the teacher out of date,  Papert in the 1980's made computers sound like theses devices would radically transform schools--same technology,  different spin (Sawyer, 2006, p.8). By the 1990's society was pushing for this technology's adoption and integration into the curriculum--the computer like the chalkboard became the essential tool.    If you ask educators who watched this technologies original arrival, I wonder what they thought of it and how did they implement its use into their teaching practice?  Was it a tool or a toy:  did provide real learning opportunities or was it more of a babysitter that was pulled out once in a while?  I say this because one of the most repeated statements I hear at tech teachers meetings is the concerns and challenges of our dwindling budgets and we need to justify every equipment purchase.  Will it be used consistently to facilitate learning?  Can it be used in a multitude of areas or is it "a one trick pony."  Andreiessen identifies that any learning tool has to be examined so as to identify the impact it can have on learning for each learner as well as the tool's impact on other learning tools.  "We need to avoid falling into the trap of which use is correct and which one is not"  (Andreissen, 2006, p. 456-460 ).

I'm sure the validity of the chalkboard as an instructional tool was question when it was first introduced.  I think this is good practice with any addition to the teaching tool arsenal--whether it be a new learning theory or gadget.    It needs to be examined not only on its own but how it works in the context of other tools and more importantly with the learners themselves and learning is both cognitive and social.

I know that there is more to this, but I need to read some more after some sleep and I get to doodle on a chalkboard.  I have the sudden desire to go all old school.


(Andreissen, J.  (2006).  Arguing to Learn. In R. K. Sawyer (Ed.),  The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences (pp. 443-4).  New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.  (Chapter 26)

41:2, 257-272, DOI: 10.1080/0046760X.2011.584573

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Innovations in Education

I actually started this blog on July 16th and it's been percolating in my mind since...  

This week (actually being 3 weeks ago)  it seems my work and thoughts have been centered around the idea of design.  We are working on our learning design briefs, exploring technology design and questioning how all of these items relate.  One of our class discussions has left me  questioning the rationale behind how classrooms are set up-- size,  lighting, temperature, seating, white/blackboard and technology.

Part of this continuing question is based on my own research for my group project.  I was trying to find historical references on how the education system began.  During class, Sharon mentioned "the committee of ten," and I spent hours, which turned into my last few days on campus, trying to find out who these men were (more on this struggle in my next blog).  In the process of my journey what I did find was everything but how curriculum was initially designed.  I found articles and books on expectations of teachers, seating arrangement the purpose of the physical buildings and how it should be arranged, but what I couldn't find was historical reference of curriculum design itself.   It's amazing that curtain design ranked higher than students.  You can see some great schematics in Lindsay Baker's A History of School Design and its Indoor Environment Standards, 1900 to Today.

The irony of this statement didn't escape me

What I discovered was how little the learner was part of design process.  Education had little to do with the learner and more to do with the final product--another obedient worker for the industrial age.  Whereas Plato was one of the great thinkers, school were all about the great doers.  I feel really sad for students during these times.   Nobody wanted to hear a child's original thought but they would praise his or her great regurgitation.

I wonder how this changed?  I know how and by who (Booth, Dewey Vygotsky, etc) but how did anyone dare to be brave enough to question the status quo?  I can just imagine the look on the adults faces of someone, anyone, who question the current thinking/learning model of that time.  Heck, a student could have found him or herself facing corporal punishment for questioning authority--no defiance to authority disorder during these times.

To be honest, in some ways schools haven't changed.  We are one of the only industries, for the most part, which is stuck in a time warp.  I remember when I first read this statement.  I was sitting at the kitchen table reading The December 10, 2006 issue of Time Magazine.  In it was was article that stated that Rip Van Winkle would be very much at home if he woke up in one of our schools.  I'm glad to say that change is happening and what my fellow grad students and I are doing, along with all of the big thinkers that we are learning from, will hopefully lead education into the 21st century. But, change is slow and there are still some people who are in the education system who still say, "that's not the way we do things around here."  I remember hearing that from a few (now very retired) educators and I wanted to bang my head against the wall.  What was so scary about change?  Maybe because I can become easily bored that embrace change, I seek it out--heck, I hunt it out some days.  I love to shake things up.  One of my best lessons had nothing to do with how I arranged the desks or what materials I put on my walls.  I stood with my teaching binders and a large recycling bin and announced to my class that things needed to change....and the pitching began.  My colleagues thought I was a little brave and or crazy  but what took place afterwards was incredible.  I actually asked my students what we should do next--they knew the unit we were covering and their ideas--they were better than what I had just dumped into the recycle bin.  I didn't know it, but I had started to make steps to changing my teaching approach to enquiry base design.  I was starting to follow Dewey's theory of placing the learner at center of learning and I had moved over to work beside.    That was the day I stopped teaching and began facilitating.


Baker, Lindsey (2012). A History of School Design and its Indoor Environment Standards, 1900 to Today, January 2012, National Clearinghouse of Educational Facilities, Washington, DC, USA

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Learning is like riding.

I went to the Stampede today; I felt guilty taking myself away from my work but I had an epiphany while I was there. I went to my first rodeo and gained new knowledge and respect for what cowboys do.  In many ways they demonstrate the learning cycle.

  1. They take risks (I wouldn't get on that animal).
  2. They get thrown around (and stomped on sometimes)
  3. There are facilitators who help when they're in trouble with their activity (sometimes I think my students think I'm a clown).
  4. They face humiliation in front of their peers, but most importantly they get up and try again.

It feels like I've been thrown off a few horses this week, but I'm still getting up.  I think we all need to be cowboys (girls) in this program.  Now I really I want a hat.

What would you rather do group work or go to the dentist?

Rather then commenting on articles, I thought I would blog about the insight I gained this week on group work.  In my own classroom, I limit the amount group work in my courses for the following reasons:

  1. students have repeatedly told me how much they "hate" group work, "loathe" group work, would rather go to the dentist then doing group work.  Students have commented that the work load never seems fair and the anxiety levels alway go to extreme levels before due dates.
  1. How do you accurately mark individual learners?  If you mark everyone equally then often you get disgruntled learners who feel that he/she did more.
  1. Late, incomplete or missing sections impacting the mark of those who have produced excellent work.
  1. and then there are the social dynamics of putting people together--even if they choose their group members themselves.
  1. As I teach high school teacher, I won't even comment on the hormonal issues that can get in the way of group work.

Inquiry based learning has been at the forefront of my learning so far,  After reflecting on my own experience this week, I kept wondering if I was meeting Engstrom and Jewett's expectations for helping to foster a learning environment that maximized engagement for our task. Did I add or help to provide clear group expectations so as to create a safe environment to aid in engagement?  but I am also looking through other learning lenses.  I also believe that group work  falls under the category of situated learning.  Group work has provides the added dynamic of what personal previous experiences and beliefs to the project--as these influence the learning outcome. Greeno refers to this his article that, "learning that occurs in one kind of activity system can influence what ones does in a different kind of system (Greeno, 2006)."

Reflecting on the social dynamics of group work, I then found myself in an pedagogical type inner conversation of what came first, the chicken or the egg? In this case, what needs to come first before group work can begin connection between the group members or the knowledge to work. Perhaps it needs to be the establishment of boundaries or defined roles. I'm not sure, but then again I can't answer the whole egg and chicken argument either. I think what I did learn is that it is important every member of a group comes with an inner dialogue previous personal and educational experiences. It shapes how they view group work.

The more I thought about my facilitating with group work, the more I wondered how my prior learning experiences shaped my own performance with my group? It ha also left me reflecting how I can make my own learner's group work experiences more positive and productive. I need to explore how I can help to provide the learning environment, knowledge, digital tools and support to scaffold their growth.

Works Cited

Engstrom, M. E., & Jewett, D. (2005). Collaborative Learning the Wiki Way. Tech Trends , 49 (6), 12-15

Greeno, J. G. (2006). Learning in activity. In R. K. Sawyer (Ed.), The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences (pp. 79-96). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. (Chapter 6)

Thursday, 10 July 2014

When lens gets a little muddy, does it require action or design?

Last night's readings produced a roller coaster of emotions.

7 pm: frantically googling yet another learning science term--define action, define design, compare design versus action research.

10 pm: clutching head while rereading articles while trying to define a clear definition for action and design research.

12 pm: feeling enough clarity to move on to the next task of the evening (morning).

9 am: Sitting with my group feeling utterly confused and mistrusting my own work from the previous night. Am I demonstrating what could be a stage of action or design based research and then again what is this practice research?

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

The Art of Design

I want the latest gizmo as I know it will change my students' lives!

I think at some point, most teachers have been sucked into some new piece of technology that has been promised to revolutionize learning in the classroom.  The new tool/ technology is taken out, used for the specific activity and then put back in the cupboard as it didn't quite work as during the demonstration at a staff meeting.

A tool could work well in one environment and epically fail in the next one.   Quintana et al.'s article illustrates the importance of  the backward design of technology for the learner.  If a tool is going to be designed for the learner, the learner must first be understood--and not from the perspective of the  ideal skill based learner.  

From the K-12 perspective, it is often reported in the media of how technically savvy today's youth are.    Assumptions are very dangerous thing.  From the technology designer's perspective, if he or she assumes that the targeted learner is computer savvy, he/she could build in computer functionality features that leave some learners confused and disengaged.  For the teacher who may be following a more learner centered practice, it creates classroom management issues as the learner can become more of a distraction then as a collaborator to the learning activity.    From the perspective of the teacher, if the teacher isn't proficient with the tool/technology, then the learner success may become limited  to the ability of the teacher's proficiency of implementing the use of the technology to be used.    It is imperative that the ease of use or learning of the technology is critical for learning success.  From the perspective the designer, checks and balances need to be implemented in the technology initial's build to better meet the learner's varying needs and therefore avoid growing frustration that could lead to abandonment of the technology

I think this is where web based tools (WBLT)have moved towards better meeting the needs of both the learner and teacher.  Help features can be turned on and off depending on the needs of the learner.  As a learner's skill set develops, more features can be added.  This can have a dramatic psychological effect with the student having the ability to master the technology at a basic to advance level.  

Therefore education technology designers must remember that their devices will be used at multi-level and checks and balances must be put in it's place in order to meet the needs of the learner--and teacher.

As budgets shrink, what we don't need is one more device shoved into a cupboard after a few use.  We need devices that are potentially multi-functional and can be successfully operated by learners and educators of varying levels.

Doing your Ed.D Means You Want to Change.

My goals walking into this program is to continue where I left off with my M.Ed program from UOIT.

This isn't where it started.  I think everyone comes into a program coloured by their life experiences.

If I was to describe myself from literary terms, I'm a deconstructionist,   I like to take things apart, change them and put them back together.  I think this comes from being viewed as being different.

I was the first female student to take a technological studies course.  I was one of the first female tech teachers in my school board and am still well in the minority.  Many of the social challenges of my schools got in the way of my learning.  In hindsight, if a more diversified approach had been allowed for my education, my success rate would have greatly increased, but it wasn't the time nor the attitude of that time.  Starting my masters, I believed that I could change education from a micro classroom level, but the more read the more I realize that implementing change at the classroom level, doesn't really change or improve education.  It must be done at the school or preferably the district level.  The question I need to explore is how to work around the politics.

Day 2 Reflections

One of my challenges in this program is to be aware of academic distractions.  I kept finding myself reflecting inward during class as a thought resonated with my own teaching practice.  As we talked about the changing role of technology,  what is learning and how is it evolving, I realized that it isn't the technology that limits learning rather it is the curriculum.   The model that we are following is atequated and based on time when communication technologies were limited and therefore slowed down the learning/teaching pace.  The education model needs to shift away from the need of memorization to that of gathering, assessing and implementing.   The problem in education is so much bigger then I have ever thought.   It lies in the idea that the central point of the classroom is the chalkboard--whether it has been replaced with a white or smart board, it is still based on the principle that the students gather around this hanging piece of technology, listen and react.

My education in Jamaica was very much routed in the more original model of the formal classroom.  More than half of my social sciences classes, for instance, was spent copying copious amounts of notes from the board or from a teacher dictating.  Textbooks were very scarce and expensive--it required a trip into town to purchase them as students have to supply their own books.  Even for students who were lucky enough to own their books,  they weren't using the same edition so notes were necessary to compensate for any discrepancies.  I never really questioned this approach at the time, but in retrospect, I lost half of my year in each course due to the notebooks that I filled up.  We were always being encouraged to hurry up so we learn what we were writing down.  The curriculum that was covered had to be condensed and was more memory rather than learning focused.  I'm starting to see that memorization is an extremely small part of learning.  For instance, I know that Jamaica has one of the richest deposits of bauxite in the world and I think of this often when I drinking from a soda can.  What I wished we had discussed further in geography class was why it would stain our clothes red?

A deeper understanding of a topic allows the learner the opportunity to connect knowledge and then apply it in different or new ways.  In order for the current education system to be improved, we need to turn our backs on the chalkboard and move towards a more collaborative environment that will facilitate deeper exploration.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Reflections From Reading 1

Blog Posting #1

My own personal journey for obtaining a doctorate in education comes from a deep desire to be part of the solution of improving the education model that will drive our schools to meet the needs of learners.  Our society is rapidly evolving from both technological and social standpoint and educators need to address and embrace these changes in a thoughtful manner so as to better prepare students for the 21st century.

Whereas traditionally learning was believed to take place in a classroom and students would reinforce their learning outside, technology has provided a catalyst to facilitate the expansion of the learning environment to move beyond the traditional classroom.   Hoadley and Haneghan recognize and discuss this in their article, The Learning Sciences: Where they came from and what it means for instructional designers, and comment on the importance of educators committing to build solutions for learning to take place both in and out of the formal school setting (Hoadley & Van Haneghan, 2011, p. 11).  Technology is providing new tools to allow learners to become more active and in control of their learning.  A student can sit on a bus and review audio notes from the mobile MP3 players, watch a YouTube video from the comforts of his/her computer or watch an educational television show on a number of school topics for example.   Technology is helping to drive a learner’s curiosity to learn by providing the method to obtain knowledge.

I agree with their belief that the education model of requiring students to be able to regurgitate copious amounts of facts needs to be replaced with one that facilitates students obtaining a deeper understanding of knowledge and skills.  I can’t help think how more districts are adopting the American model of standardize testing rather then moving towards students developing their ability to problem solve, seek knowledge and being more in control of their learning—I don’t believe standard testing facilitates this.

Another area that needs to be recognized is the role of the educator and the skill level that she/he bring to the learning process.  In Bransford, Brown, Cocking’s article, How people learn, they recognize the role that successful teachers have on learning.    The adoption of technology as a teaching tool needs to be based first on the learning/teaching process or there is a risk of the technology becoming more of a toy rather than that as a tool (Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R., 2000 p.6)

Technology has the opportunity facilitate a deeper learning for the learner as the memorization of facts isn’t is as important as he/she can Google facts when necessary.  As discussed by Bransford, Brown, and Cocking, technology not only has affected how learners are learning but the high literacy skills needed in society today.  Another benefit or effect from the adoption of technology is that learners want more freedom and control over their learning.  They are using their tools to seek answers and solutions in a just in time manner.  I see this as an important benefit that helps facilitate developing passionate life long learners.  As discussed in the article, it means that we need to change that is working with students—we need teachers to view themselves as facilitators that work with students rather than pushing knowledge on to learners.  By moving towards guiding students, we can guide students towards a deeper understanding of any given knowledge. 

In the past five years, I have been taking on a great role as a PD trainer.  I offer workshops in a variety of web based learning tools.  At the beginning of my workshops I always like to give the analysis that each WBLT is very much like a pencil crayon in a pencil case:  sometimes we need a red pencil crayon and sometimes we need a purple one.  The important part is being able to recognize and identify the correct tool/technology for the job.  Our readings so far definitely confirm the importance for both the learner and educator to be able to do this.

Works Cited

Hoadley, C. & Van Haneghan, J. (2011). The Learning Sciences: Where they came from and what it means for instructional designers. In R. A. Reiser & J. V. Dempsey (Eds.) Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology (3rd ed., pp. 53-63). New York: Pearson.  Online:

Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school (Expanded edition). Washington, DC: National Research Council. PDF copy downloadable at  (Chapter 1 and selected pages).