By Pati Ruiz, Sarah Hampton, Riley Leary, Judi Fusco, and Patti Schank
For the last few months, we’ve been reading, thinking, and talking about computational thinking (CT) in preparation for three Webinars for Teachers and Parents on the topic. The webinars are on January 30, February 6, and February 13. Go to the link above to sign up for the webinar and get all the details.
A lot of the websites and articles we reviewed about computational thinking for teachers gave us only a brief introduction to it. We’ve read about what researchers have been doing and how they have been thinking about CT, and using their research, we’ve been trying to think about what CT means for and looks like in the classroom. We also know that it’s a new topic for parents, and that parents may want to think about what it means and what it can look like at home.
The term computational thinking was made popular in a paper in 2006 by Jeannette Wing, and since then, researchers have expressed different understandings and definitions of the term. There wasn’t a common understanding of what it was then, and exactly “What is it?” is still a fair question today. Some people equate computational thinking with coding, but others do not. We agree that computational thinking is a much broader set of skills than just coding or programming, and that it’s not the same thing as computer science. Computational thinking skills include abilities that help people use computers to solve problems. Being able to program is one way of interacting with a computer, but there are other ways that one can work with a computer, and computational thinking is needed in more than just programming classes. For example, when researching for a history project, students may need to use data to strengthen their arguments. Students are using CT when they locate, evaluate, analyze, and display data. Learning to program is an advantage, in terms of learning to think in a new way, but we believe that programming is not the only way to incorporate CT into classes. We’ll explore these things in our webinars.
The first session will be an overview of CT. The second session will be geared toward what CT can look like in K12 classrooms. At our third session––a special webinar for parents or other caregivers––we will think about projects and practices that can be done at home with kids to help them learn and think in this new way. Come to the webinars to learn and think with us about computational thinking and what it looks like in K12 classrooms and at home! Please share this information with interested colleagues and parents as well. We hope to see you there!
By Judi Fusco
The Cyberlearning report will be going to school! I teach Ed.D. students at Pepperdine University, many of whom are K12 practitioners. When I next teach my class on learning theories, I will share the Cyberlearning Community Report: The State of Cyberlearning and the Future of Learning With Technology. Because technology use is so common in K16 classrooms, I like to think with my students about how learning theories can help them use technology in deep ways to support learning. I don’t want technology just to be a substitute for pencil and paper. I love concrete examples and this report shows many new ways technology, grounded in learning theories, can augment or help the learning process. Here's a little background.
What is Cyberlearning?
“Cyberlearning research is the study of how new technologies, informed by what we know about how people learn, can be used to advance learning in ways that were never before possible.” (from the report p. 6)
So why do we have this report and who created it?
Cyberlearning is a funding area of the National Science Foundation. This program has funded about 270 projects since 2011. From all of these projects, 22 researchers came together to write about exciting new directions and themes found in these 270 projects.
What else should I know about Cyberlearning?
As we're starting, there's one more thing I’d like to discuss before diving in to the report -- something that teachers who read early versions of the report asked. They wondered if cyberlearning researchers were trying to replace teachers with technology. My answer is a resounding NO! Please know that cyberlearning projects are NOT trying to replace teachers, or other human beings. Often, they are trying to give information to improve the understanding a teacher can have about a situation or support students learning a difficult concept. Technology should not replace a teacher during the learning process. But usually, in classrooms, there’s only one teacher and a lot of students. Many projects are trying to support the teacher and give the teacher more eyes and ears to see what is occurring in parts of the classroom where they can’t be. A teacher may be able to do many things at once, but no teacher can support all of their students at all times.
As an example, let's think about a virtual learning environment for science inquiry (see INQ-ITS in the report). In the virtual learning environment, students do their work and get instant feedback from the system about how they are doing. The teacher also gets a report from the system that tells how each student is doing. From the report, a teacher can learn who needs what kind of help. Some students would not need help and some would; this kind of information could help a teacher more efficiently target the students who need help. It could also help relieve the teacher of some of the mountain of grading they have as the system is monitoring the work in real time and summarizing it. The virtual environment would support and augment the teacher so that the teacher could have a good understanding of how to help students very quickly (nearly real time) and without creating more work for the teacher.
Right now, in a physical science lab, a teacher has to grade lab projects to understand how students are doing and can’t give feedback to all until the grading is done. If a middle school teacher has 5 labs of 30 students, the time to get all the grading done is significant. If students were in a virtual environment, a teacher could be alerted how each student was doing before the class period was over. If a student was having problems the teacher could give a quick intervention and help students correct their misconceptions.
Despite how helpful a system is, no system should or could replace the teacher. A teacher is irreplaceable and knows so much about how to help each student. Teachers bring the human touch to the student and so many students desperately need a caring adult in their life. In addition, students are not just empty heads to be filled with one-size-fits-all knowledge. Students come with their own interests and desires and a teacher can help inspire a student. We need to be really smart as we think about the future and make sure that technology is used in ways to support a human teacher in the classroom. Ultimately, we want students to be able to work with other people and having a human teacher will help to ensure human interaction. Of course we want technology to help us and we want students to understand technology -- how to use it, and how to make it -- but human interaction should come first and be placed as a priority. (In addition, in my opinion, a virtual environment shouldn't replace all laboratory experiences as there are so many things to learn in a physical lab, too. )
Many cyberlearning researchers are trying to envision new technology products and activities that might improve learning. Cyberlearning research is typically exploratory, and as it is designing for the future, it is essential to have practitioners involved in the process. We need the wisdom of practice with all that is learned from working with diverse students with needs, interests, and experiences to create more inclusive designs in cyberlearning. Many projects do involve practitioners, but hearing from even more will improve the project, and give the projects new life and directions. We need to hear what makes sense to practitioners. Some of the best (in my opinion) cyberlearning research adds new thinking about equity, affect and emotion, and learning with the whole body (embodied learning research). We need researchers and practitioners working together to make sure cyberlearning research is useful for a wide variety of students.
I’m going to end this blog post with a hope that you’ll go download the report now and that you’ll come back to think more about it with me. I’d love to hear about how you think technology can help or hinder learning and what you think of the report. I’ll plan to post a few more blog posts about the report and some of what I am planning for my class. I’ve talked about the opening section here. Read up to page 11 and then come back for more. I’ll continue to discuss the report in several future blog posts.
P.S. If you’re teaching graduate students, please comment and let me know if you would take the report to your class, and how you’d use it. I'd love to hear more.
By Judi Fusco
One of the topics we learned about at Cyberlearning 2017 was the brain. Cyberlearning researchers are not typically neuroscientists. Many cyberlearning researchers are learning scientists, but there is a gap between neuroscience and the learning sciences. As we planned Cyberlearning 2017, we decided to try and address this gap so we invited Mary Helen Immordino Yang, a social-affective neuroscientist to give one of the keynotes. In this post, I’m going to introduce one of the topics she talked about and give you the link to her talk.
In much of the work we do in helping people learn, we’re trying to make sure they are engaged in a task and paying full attention to it. However, as with most things, there’s another side to consider. Neuroscientists have discovered that the brain has a “default mode” that takes over and is active when the mind is wandering. This default mode network (DMN), that takes over when a person looks like they are engaging in off-task behavior, may be important for social emotional well-being, and it may serve to help “recharge” the brain for better focus in attending to tasks.
I’m grossly oversimplifying, but as we learn more about the DMN, we may need to consider the importance of downtime in the design of learning environments so that brains can work really well. Our brains are never idle and some of what they do when we look off-task might involve using our imagination to help us plan or think about what we are learning and better relate it to ourselves. Mary Helen Immordino Yang calls what is happening when the DMN is active “constructive internal reflection.”
While we know that it’s important to pay attention during tasks, without time in default mode, it may not be possible to focus as well as we should; it may not be possible to really internalize and personalize learning without this network. “Off-task” time may be key to deep learning. Of course, there is much work to be done to understand the balance needed between time for activities requiring focus and attention and time for the DMN.
Below is the Cyberlearning 2017 Keynote by Mary Helen Immordino Yang.
Here are some additional readings if you’re interested:
Why we shouldn't worry about our wandering minds
Rest is not idleness an article by Mary Helen Immordino Yang
Why your brain needs more downtime
I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions as you look at this research. I’ll be looking more at neuroscience, emotion, and learning in future blog posts. Please let me know if there are things you’d like to think about or questions you have.