The Educator's PLN

The personal learning network for educators

First to set some context:

I'm retired. 30 years in the Printing business, then seven years teaching design with a brief but very exciting interlude with a start up called which delivered the ability for teachers to publish their students work in printed using the web and POD technology. It was 1998 - 2000. I like to think that the idea was just right, but that the technology was still too immature. At any rate, we raised $1.5 million and spent $1.8 million. Then the dot com bubble burst.

I found #edchat a couple of months ago. It's been an amazing adventure. I think I've learned more about what's going on in education in three months than I have in the previous ten years of focusing and thinking about the deep problems of learning.

The thought occurred to me that #edchat itself is a naturally evolving learning tool. I've watched myself very closely to see what I could see about the process of engagement, learning, developing relationships. It could be just right. This is what I think I've learned;

1. Being able to continue a conversation without the constraint of doing it right now is a huge advantage. Life is complicated with many interruptions. Having to respond ;immediately - as in a face to face conversation or even in the email leads me to talking before thinking. Since that's always been a huge problem for me it makes me nervous. With #edchat that stress goes away.

2. The practice of getting a complete thought into 140 chrs has been great for clarifying my thinking. The more I do it, the easier it becomes. I started, like the kids, with abbreviations. Then I tried mathematical symbols. Finally I realized that if I were to get a response it needed to be a clear thought in plain English.

3. I've watched as the work done to store conversations has gotten better and better. From the earlier spreadsheets to the state of the posting the summaries has been wonderful. I think we're on the road to having a wild conversation on Tuesday, then watching a couple of private threads continue. Then being able to go over the whole convo when I have the time to see what seems to have emerged as important threads.

4. The connections to blogs, where thoughts can be expanded and augmented with personal experience is a huge benefit. I can see a comment, hear a voice, follow to the website, read a post, comment if I'm in the mood, share if I'm in the mood and know with whom to share.

I would think that this is exactly the kind of experience we want our students to have. So why not focus on thinking about what are the specific problems that people have in specific contexts to take the power that has emerged and use it classrooms?

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Comment by Cybrary Man - Jerry Blumengarten on February 14, 2010 at 9:32pm
Great idea! #edchat and the other Educational Chats are wonderful for educators. I wish I was still in the classroom to try something like this out. I agree with Shelly about putting it on Google Docs to get input on how to develope this idea into reality
Comment by Michael J on February 14, 2010 at 2:07pm
To add a data point and a question in support of the critical nature of future and (past) perception in a students cognitive space. How else to explain the repeated demonstrated success of programs that guarentee college admissions to 6th graders?

It doesn't make sense to believe that 6th graders who almost all wind up in college 5 years later have had all "great teachers" or "great adminstrators". It does seem reasonable to think that outside "support" plays some role. But based on my studies, experience and reflection, I'm pretty sure that once a kid has a rich flexible view of time and her place in it, learning happens much faster and easier than what we see today. Most especially at the bottom of the pyramid.
Comment by Michael J on February 14, 2010 at 1:54pm

I think you're spot on with the biggest problem. It's the idea of "student privacy." From what I can see, the displaying of the progress charts is precisely where the power comes from.

I think it can be dealt with if we remember that the chart does NOT give grades. It only indicates if it was completed on time. Completing on time is well within the power of every student. I've always believed that one of the under appreciated values of formal education is time training. It may seem prosaic, but consider that high schools were invented in the States to move an agricultural work force into industrial economies.

To me, the perception of time is a very good indicator of being able to design a successful life. Short termism is dysfunctional in an enterprise, a household or a family or a school. I've seen enough of bottom of the pyramid kids to know that they have almost no clear picture of next week, much less two years out.

I further believe the most reliable way to time train is to set up processes that everyone can trust moves into the future. The critical issue is building the expectation in the students mind that what they do today will be on record tmw. It's very similar to the power of the "permanent record."

But, as you point out, if the public record is merely some one individual's judgment of "quality", it is unfair and probably dysfunctional. It gives an enormous amount of power to the judger, without the concomitant repsonsibility.

Do you think the following gets around the problem?
To pass a student must do all the assignments. Completely separate from the "quality" of the assignment. If the school is trapped in letter grades, whatever system is still in place. If a school is able to make a transition to fail, pass, pass with distinction and perhaps pass with honors then doing all the assignments on time gets more value than merely doing them.

Then the categories of "with distinction" or "honors" can be left to judgments and portfolios and test results. The hard part is the leap of faith that says "You do all the assignments. You pass." Based on my experience it would be a huge advantage for the student over what is presently going on.
Comment by Greg McVerry on February 14, 2010 at 1:23pm

OOOPSS!! I just re-read your post. I totally missed your idea. You want to make the quick nightly homework assignment online and then compare this to some kind of control or a different condition with the same population.

My bad. Still I never felt good about displaying student "progress" charts. I would keep completion record private.

You could easily have a study with three conditions:
Post short homework to Twitter.
Post short homework in class on bulletin board.
Have third group keep short assignment in private journal.

Analysis: (I struggle with stats so take statistical advice with grain of salt)
Check to see what you need for sample using some pwer analysis tool.
Use ANOVA to test if the means of the three groups are different. Y
Comment by Greg McVerry on February 14, 2010 at 1:15pm

I like your idea. I was only thinking about how people could study teachers who particpate #edhchat and how that affects practice. I never even thought about using #edchat as a tool to discuss all different types of action research practice.

Taking the normal behavior chart and posting it online to Twitter to see if making it noticeable would change behaivor is a novel idea.

Two things to think about: probably research has been done in sociiology and education on tracking charts. Might want to find it. I don't know of any studies. You seem much more versed in the literature. I would try to find a few.

Two: I see some major ethical issues to how twitter is set up and protecting student privacy. How could you guarantee the students wouldn't share scores with others? They might RT someones lack of doing work or even target kids who complete all homework to ridicule. If you created a class specific hashtag how would you know if students did not send it to other hash tags.

I am all for making student work public, but would have to think long and hard about linking it to specific behaviors and sharing that information.
Comment by Michael J on February 14, 2010 at 9:11am
My interest is to use twitter functionalites to develop early warning signals for kids that are moving into the "at risk" bin. The notion is to find real time unambiguous signals of "engagement." Engagement in the most interesting sense is exchange of ideas. But the predicate for at risk kids is engagement in the sense of homework compliance and attendance. To be very clear, compliance and attendance are separate from evaluations of the quality of engagement. It's merely the necessary, but not sufficient condition, for learning events to occur.

Here's my first stab at how it might work:

"Research questions."
What is the effect of transparent engagement information on student engagement. The goal is to increase engagement of at risk middle and high school students.

"Theory that aligns with this goal."

In sociology there are well documented effects from the mere act of focusing on behavior can result in positive changes in that behavior. The most notable is the Hawthorne effect. In medicine, there are well documented effects from studies on Placebo. The notion is that both have similar underlying mechanisms. The act of being noticed by an "Other" changes behavior in sociology. The belief that an intervention works makes it work. (There is much more work needed to clarify the connection between the two. The promise is that it might help bridge the gap between biology and sociology.)

" identify patterns that enhance or hinder or behavioral goals"

Give a simple homework assignment that is due ever day. Keep a record of how handed it in on time. Make a chart of each student and whether they did it. Display the updated chart, every day. Do not grade the quality of the entry. Only note that it has or has not been completed on time.

Depending on the specifics of a teachers situation this could be done traditionally at first, then moved to online as practical. First start without #edchat. The assignment might be "Write two sentences to describe what you see, feel or think. The only constraint is that it has to be a complete thought. Abbreviations are allowed.

As the migration goes to online, the two sentences are tweets, 140 characters or less.

"describe the practices that enhanced or hindered the pedagogical (behavioral) goal."

My bet is that consistency is the secret sauce. I've tried a similar method and got 85% homework compliance in a bottom of the pyramid high school class in two weeks with no further investment of time or effort.

Next steps:
If the same effect I achieved in homework complaince is replicated It then becomes a technical issue of seeing how RT, @, and the other features of Twitter can be optimized to save teacher time and decrease response time. It might also prove very effective in raising the quality of the tweets to publish in Print as appropriate. The Print tech exists to do this very easily and economically, but that's not really germane in this context.
Comment by Michael J on February 14, 2010 at 8:36am
Thanks for the comments. Very useful.
Comment by Greg McVerry on February 14, 2010 at 7:46am
Here are some brief ideas for methods. You could choose almost any methodology.:

Develop your research questions. I would suggest some type of pedagogical goal you want to see in the classroom.
Next choose a learning theory that aligns with this goal.
Then decide on a method that will help you identify patterns that enhance or hinder or pedagogical goal:
-Maybe start with older #edchat transcripts. Inductively code these to look for common patterns (assessment, student cenrered learning, etc).
-Then recruit participants (should be mix of #edchat newbies and veterans).
-Maybe have each participant do reflective journals.
-Over period of time collect participants #edchat transcripts and journals.
-Maybe participants to keep written documentation of lesson plans.
-Maybe they could collect artifacts of learning
-Then code artifacts from participants (logs, transcripts, lesson plans). Look for patterns between #edchat transcript and practice.
-Maybe then finally describe the practices that enhanced or hindered the pedagogical goal.
-Finally make recommendations that would improve #edchat as a PLN tool for professional development.
Comment by Michael J on February 2, 2010 at 7:32pm

My theory is that if text can be broken down into "edible bites" they will be much easier to read. My further hypothesis is that if they have a chance to engage by either agreeing, disagreeing or questioning a complete thought in 140 chars they might start seeing treating it as a game.

One possibility might be to take a long text, chunk it, and see what happens. Without getting into the problems of getting everyone on twitter, a small experiment migth be done by replicating the experience on paper.

Do you think that might make sense? Do you think it's worth trying?
Comment by Pamela Vance on February 2, 2010 at 6:54pm
I have a question which I believe is valid for an action research project. I teach Middle school Science and find taht the students shy away from reading text in that content area. How Can I heighten their willingness to read in Science using primarily the affective domain?


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