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 Sarah Hampton
In my last post, I talked about four reasons we should read the Cyberlearning Community Report: The State of Cyberlearning and the Future of Learning With Technology. I really believe that what you learn from the report will make you a more effective educator. Let me give you one concrete example of how the Community Report has already helped improve my teaching by demonstrating the significant value of learning opportunities outside the classroom and how they can be leveraged. (I had the privilege of sneak previewing the report over the summer so I have had a few months to implement what I learned!) Check out this excerpt from the report:
“The central ongoing research question in this work (from the Expressive Construction section) is how to interconnect appealing, playful environments through self-expression to deeper learning goals. The dimension of time is important: how can play result in learning at timescales of minutes, or weeks, or months or years? The dimension of context also needs more investigation: how do unique aspects of homes, museums, playgrounds or classrooms contribute to or block learning? Strengthening our understanding of the social dimension is also critical as these activities often involve complex ecologies of support from peers, parents, and informal and formal educators -- and are not as simple as typical teacher-student interactions...This research is demonstrating how important learning can occur through playful experience, often outside of the school setting. Yet what students are learning clearly relates to existing curricular subject matter, such as engineering, and emerging subjects, like data science and computational thinking. Studying learning in playful and constructive settings can lead to new discoveries about when, where, and how children can learn important ideas and these discoveries can guide policy about when, where, and how these important topics are taught.”
In past years, I would plan a unit and then take my students on a field trip only if the exhibit(s) aligned at that time. This fall (after reading the report), the technology teacher and I planned an entire unit around a Smithsonian traveling exhibit called Things Come Apart that is currently housed in the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, a museum near our school. The exhibit consists of dozens of common objects that have been taken apart to reveal their inner workings. We tied this into physical science concepts like electricity, circuitry, and engineering. Before we visited the museum, students reverse engineered their own objects such as mechanical pencils, clocks, calculators, speakers, and flashlights. They also built circuits using PhET simulations, snap circuits, and then batteries, wire, light bulbs, motors, etc.
After that, we recruited local experts who donated their time, knowledge, and materials so our students could dismantle iPhone 5s phones. When the students later visited the exhibit, they recognized most of the components in the pieces and were able to ask and answer more informed questions because of their classroom work leading to the trip. Reading the report persuaded me that rich, authentic learning is fostered when connections are made between multiple environments, situations, and people, and it made me more intentional about offering opportunities across contexts. I would definitely describe this unit as a richer learning experience for my students than the ways I have approached it in the past.
Going even further, as part of their final assessment, students are creating infographics on five electronic components and how they are used in one of the pieces from the museum exhibit. This was a suggestion from the technology teacher, and I jumped at the idea after reading about the STEM Literacy through Infographics project in the community report. Our students will present their infographics and dismantled objects at our school STEAM Fair in November.
I hope you take the time to read the report, and I hope it impacts your practice as much as it already has mine. I would love to hear your thoughts after you have had a chance to read it! What did you find most interesting? What innovations are you most excited about? Do you think you might look into one of the projects for your classroom? Post in the comments section below!
By Sarah Hampton
It’s here! It’s finally here! Members of the cyberlearning community have been working for months to bring us a report on their recent research in the Cyberlearning Community Report: The State of Cyberlearning and the Future of Learning With Technology. The report brings together key players who “envision, design, and investigate possible futures of learning in the presence of significant innovations.” And when they say significant innovations, they mean significant.
There are new ways to think about learning environments and new ways to use technology that I would have never dreamed about. For example, be sure to check out projects using simulations like RoomQuake in which simulated seismographs in different locations in the room allow students to investigate the earthquake’s effects and locate “roomquake” epicenters within the room. “The students have the social and scientific experience of doing field work, but without ever leaving their classroom.”
Students using RoomQuake
For another example, check out the BeeSim project in which young students enact the behaviors of a bee community as it tries to satisfy the energy needs of its hive using bee puppets equipped with sensors that interact with puppet hives.
BeeSim with younger children
I know you’re insanely busy. Teachers do a year’s worth of work in nine months so I get it. Why should you take the time to read the lengthy report? Here are my top reasons:
1. The report is ultimately for us, the teachers. The entire community that prepared the report wants to support and help us improve what we do for our students. We make these findings valuable when we use them to benefit our schools. All the grant money, all the time, and all the discoveries--we determine their worth. There’s a sign in a grocery store parking lot that says that reusable grocery bags can’t help the environment if they are left in the car. This research can’t help our education system if we leave it on the internet.
2. You can't read this report without getting excited about the future landscape of education. There is a current of enthusiasm and optimism woven throughout the report along with the explosion of technology and research. At school, sometimes the bureaucratic hoops and water cooler chatter is discouraging, but the information in this report will inspire you!
3. There is an encouraging focus on equity. Specifically, there is focus on:
4. You will learn about our changing roles as educators. Instead of the keeper of the keys of knowledge, the report casts the teacher as a facilitator, organizer, creative engineer of learning moments, and co-learner/co-contributor in the learning process. In addition, as technology becomes better able to automate some teaching tasks and give just-in-time alerts, we are freed to target struggling learners with specific skills while other learners remain engaged in learning tasks managed by digital learning environments. See Inq-ITS aka Inquiry Intelligent Tutoring System in the Learning Analytics for Assessment section, for example. The relationship between technology and teachers in the classroom can be rewarding as well as challenging. As part of the report states, “One tension is to balance the human and digital sides and support each side in what they do best.” Digital environments can never replace the value of human teachers in the classroom. The key is to optimize the dynamic. The community report offers insight on our changing roles and on how we can maximize the contribution of both people and technology.
In a few days, I am going to share a concrete example of how the report has already helped me improve my teaching. (As a reviewer, I got to read it this summer and get a headstart.) In the meantime, go download the Cyberlearning Community Report! If you’ve gotten a chance to read it, let me know what you think about it and what I’ve said.