Monday, April 8, 2013

UDL & There’s an App for That!

Recently in my instructional technology program we have been studying Universal Design for Learning (UDL).  At its very core UDL is a set of principals for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn.  Furthermore, it provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone.  This is not the single, one-size-fits-all approach that we have seen all too often in K-16 education.  Instead, it is a flexible approach that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs, because every student brings a huge variety of skills, needs, and interests to learning every day.  As educators we need to have a better framework to make this work within our classrooms.  With that idea in mind CAST, a nonprofit research and development organization, put together a more expansive, three tier approach to UDL.  It looks like this:

1.) Educators need to present information and content in different ways.  In order to do this UDL looks at providing Multiple Means of Representation.
2.) Educators need to differentiate the ways that students can express what they know.  In order to do this UDL looks at providing Multiple Means of Action and Expression.
3.) Educators need to stimulate interest and motivation for learning.  In order to do this UDL looks at providing Multiple Means of Engagement.

For more information about UDL check out the CAST website.  They also have a great introductory video for those that have not heard of UDL before.  

Our assignment this week was to take a look at ten apps that can help a specific situation implement a more UDL enhanced learning environment.  I took a close look at a fictional, but very realistic situation where a group of early elementary teachers come to their technology integrationist with a desire to more effectively implement UDL in their classrooms.  All their students have iPads, but the teachers are unsure what specific apps might help them in this situation.  I took on this challenge and put together a great list of eleven apps, targeting each one of the three UDL guidelines, that includes links, descriptions, and additional references for each one.  These apps fit really well with the UDL assignment, but ultimately if you are looking at a few great apps in an elementary (or even secondary) setting these may fit the bill.

Click the icon above for the full document!

I encourage you to take a look at my list and see what you think and please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

At the end of the day I am still not ultimately set on UDL as being a “guiding core of the educational system of the future.”  I believe that with its age, its over 20 years old, combined with the lack of real progress and change it has exhibited over time may lead to its downfall.  There are too many misconceptions around UDL and what it means and how it actually even looks in our classrooms.  The idea is great, but the implementation on a day to day basis seems a bit difficult and hard to complete.  Even UDL advocates have had a hard time actually proving that UDL has huge benefits in education on a large scale.  CAST has been able to prove that UDL works well in single classrooms, but even they have had a hard time replicating and scaling this across multiple grade levels and school settings.  In the end I firmly believe in the ideas and the core of UDL as it sits in the learning guidelines, but in its current state there are too many questions that prohibit me from wanting to use UDL on a regular basis.  This is only my experience with UDL over the past two weeks and if yours is different – or even similar – I encourage you to let me know your thoughts below.   

Thanks for reading!  

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Intersections of TPACK

This week in graduate school we have been looking at the idea of TPACK by Mishra and Koehler.  This idea of the three circles (Technological Knowledge-TK, Pedagogical Knowledge-PK, and Content Knowledge-CK) is a relatively new one in the education world.  Gone is the shock of the SAMR Model, which to some element I still believe applies to schools and situations where there is no framework for discussing and talking about technology education.  Before really understanding and being able to have tough discussions about technology integration, staff need to be able to antiquate where exactly their technology integration skills currently fall on the spectrum of the SAMR model.  This discussion, like the one that Maggie Hos-McGrane had with her team, is the prerequisite for truly understanding and applying the TPACK model into our classrooms, corporations, and educational arenas.

The bottom line is that the TPACK model is much more complex than the SAMR model.  TPACK, at its heart, is all about the connection of the TK, PK, and CK.  It is in the middle of these three concentric circles that we find the best opportunity for teaching and learning to occur.  The uniting of these forces can create a learning experience where the content knowledge is presented through technology using a pedagogy that best fits the subject matter.  Or if that definition doesn't make sense, it is really the overlap of these three areas where a 21st century classroom is most powerful.  Lisa Nielsen has some fantastic resources on her blog about using the TPACK as a framework for professional development, integration of technology, and pre-service lesson plan evaluation.  Lisa's work is worth a few minutes to see how she is successfully using the TPACK to continue on this discussion of technology integration.  Another great look at how SAMR and TPACK connect to one another can be seen on Jenny Luca's wiki.  She provides a wealth of videos and links to better understand both models and how they relate to one another.

At the end of the day, the TPACK model is a great way to discuss technology integration.  I think it has some fantastic applications in the K-12 educational environment.  However, I believe it is even more important to consider this model in the corporate setting.  As an educational trainer I need to consider the specific content knowledge of what I am teaching.  First, do I know the content inside and out?  If I am teaching about a new piece of software, it needs to make sense to me and I have to know it really well.  Second, can I teach?  I might be the absolute smartest person when it comes to the content, but if I don't know anything about teaching I will fall flat on my face.  Having a background in teaching, classroom management, lesson design, and other characteristics of pedagogical knowledge is immensely important to my job.  Third, do I know the technology?  Having a background in technology is important, but even more important is the ability to actually use it productively when training others.  Do I know which buttons to push, where to navigate to, and more so what to do when something goes wrong?  I have to know these elements in order to be effective in this area.  Each of these areas are wonderful if all I wanted to be was someone with great knowledge of a piece of software, a great teacher, or a total technology geek – not all three.  However, educators and corporate trainers need to be all three of these at once.  That is a difficult and tall task for any educator, much less for someone that works at software company.  The world continues to change as new items come out, methods occur, and older ideas that used to work no longer do.  I have to do my job as a corporate trainer at the intersection of these three circles in the TPACK.  If I do, then I succeed.  People learn the product because of my teaching, knowledge of the technology, and effective use of the technology.  If I am too much about the technology or lack the knowledge of the product then I will not be successful.  I like how Mishra and Koehler discussed this idea in their recent publication: "This would not be possible without a deep, complex, fluid, and flexible knowledge of the technology, the content to be covered, and an appropriate pedagogy."  This intersection is something that I strive for each and every time I step in front of a captive audience to teach our software.  I need to equally hit the technology, content, and pedagogy in order to be successful.

When I step back and consider this intersection it does, at times, seem daunting.  Balancing these three areas is a difficult task.  At times I think we all dip into having too much technology and not enough content or vice versa.  However, I really believe that if teachers took some time and framed their teaching using the TPACK model it might become more successful.  It begins with reading the works of others like Mark Fijor as he discusses TPACK in terms of really limiting and narrowing down the tools that educators use in their classrooms.  It is by this smaller number we can really begin to allow staff to go deep and truly learn them inside and out, which in turn allows them to be successful in this circle of the model.  Simplifying the technology offerings is also an idea patterned by Dr. Jenny Lane as she discussed app choices and starting with the content and app rubric that matches the TPACK model.
Citation: Mishra & Koelher
Finally, like the cartoon above, our teachers can really be effective integrators of technology, but they need to begin with the content and instruction and then add in the technology component.  It is through the use of the TPACK model that corporate trainers like myself and K-12 educators can really begin to re-think, retransform, and re-imagine instruction to become more effective in today's world.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Google Forms Updated

Google Forms has long been the middle child of Google Documents (now called Drive).  It has been under appreciated, long forgotten, but still a vital member of the Google Apps family.  That is until this week when it got what Google is calling "rebuilt" and "a faster, cleaner, and more collaborative experience."  More information on the release from Google.

Well, I have to say that Google has made significant strides in this new version to satisfy those of us that have used Forms for years.  I have long written about Forms on this blog, but these updates are exciting.  The layout is a lot more user friendly, it auto saves like the rest of the Drive documents, responses can be directed to a totally different spreadsheet , and URLs actively link to websites.  But don't just take my words here on the page as truth, let me show you:

Google Forms is very much updated, but it still leaves a few items to be desired.  For instance, where is the functionality to add in images?  There are scripts out there that assist us in doing it, but isn't it about time Google?  Also, math formulas?  These should be part of a WYSIWYG editor and not limited to text as it currently is.  What about the option to randomize questions?  Add a timer?  Some of these features are still very much needed.

At The FAIR School we have been consistently using Google Forms to collect teacher evaluations, enrollment information, quizzes, and more for years.  Also, don't forget the fact that you can now create a form from a current Google Spreadsheet.  For more information, check out this video from Google.  These updates only make Forms more of a player in the survey universe.  Try out the new version today and let me know your thoughts below.