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.