Friday, December 14, 2007

Reset Vista

I have a new computer that's been sitting on my desk, waiting for me to have time to move everything over off my old computer. I only use it only occasionally, but have logged into it several times. So yesterday, as I was trying to transfer some music files over that I didn't want to store on the file server where I'd been putting everything from my old computer, I couldn't get my old computer to connect to the new one. I end up rebooting it, and when it comes back up, the password doesn't work. I don't know if I changed it or if a security update did something weird, but I was locked out. No other account to login with.

I found a nice Linux CD that boots you up to a registry editor that allows you to reset the passwords on accounts and enable or un-lockout accounts. The website itself was confusing to navigate, but once I found what I needed, it went pretty quick. I reset the password to something else a couple times. Nothing. I tried enabling the Administrator account and setting a password on that (since the Administrator account is disabled by default in Vista). No go.

So as I start looking through his FAQs, I find that setting the password is a bit flaky but just blanking the password should be pretty consistent. So I tried that and was in, and then within Windows I set the password to what it should have been all along. It won't let me change anything on the Administrator account, so I'll have to go disable that again, I guess.

When I was setting the password, I got this little hint from Vista: "If your password contains capital letters, they must be typed the same way every time you log on." Yes, thank you, but the question I have to ask is that if my password does not contain capital letters, does it not have to be typed the same way every time? If it's all lower case letters and numbers, do I not have to type my password the same way? I'm not sure I want to actually find out.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Making a Difference with Research

After reading what Fishman, et al. have to say [Fishman, B., Marx, R.W., Blumenfeld, P., Krajcik, J., & Soloway, E. (2004). Creating a framework for research on systemic technology innovations. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 13(1), 43-76.], I'm not sure if I was supposed to be depressed or excited about all the great work there is still to do: "most innovations derived from Learning Sciences research have not found their way into widespread classroom use", "the primary uses of technology in schools remain drill and practice, word processing, and web surfing", "the field lacks a bridge between focused research and development of learning technologies and the broad-based systemic use of these innovations in schools", "technology used for curricular purposes is often maintained by organizations in the school district that traditionally have not been involved in classroom learning", "the time districts devote to standardized assessment activities cuts into the amount of extended time available for inquiry-oriented learning as called for in the standards", "computers distributed throughout classrooms are difficult to secure and maintain, while centralized computer labs create scheduling conflicts", and "the Internet is down more than it is up".

Since I'm not as much interested in K-12 education as I am in higher ed and business, I would be interested to know how many of the above challenges apply to those environments as well. My guess is that it ends up being similar. Often in business the IT department will be somewhat isolated from whatever is actually produced, just like it is in this example in K-12 education. In my experience, I have seen (and felt) frustration on the part of IT personnel when they are not involved in important decisions of the organization.

One of the most important points I read in the article was that successful reform will happen when the local organization is invested and heavily involved in the reform. In Union City, the school district designed its own reforms to avoid losing control of their district to the state. It's too bad that the federal government can't get its fingers out of the country's education and leave it up to the states or even to the local school districts to make decisions about what is best for their students (as the U.S. Constitution states should be the case). Because the district was in charge of its own reforms, it could make changes both to what is taught in the classroom and the professional development of teachers.

Innovation has to be localized and sustainable in order to be successful. Empowering people at all level of an organization to act on a unified set of goals will make an organization more nimble and responsive. I really believe that putting together good people and allowing them to make appropriate decisions without too many layers of paperwork and bureaucracy will keep morale higher and get more good things accomplished.

I would love to implement a cognitive tutor, like that discussed in the article, to track the behavior of the students I work with in CIL. There are many methods students may use to prepare for our tests (and some don't prepare) so it would be useful to track students' paths and really analyze what people are spending time working on in an online environment. Knowing what people are working on and where they make mistakes would help us refine our instruction.

When they discuss the benefits of collaborating across grades to implement tools that can take advantage of economies of scale, it makes sense, but I don't know of a specific tool at the K-12 level that does so other than maybe Accelerated Reader, which, from what I hear, seems to be a pretty decent product. Perhaps Blackboard is supposed to be a tool at the university level that should allow for collaboration and communication in a classroom; if it is, I'd like to see someone that's actually using it effectively.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning

Technology and sociality are interrelated. Few social groups can function without some kind of technology to connect them, and technologies with no social function serve little purpose. Stevens discusses Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) and the relationships among people, tasks, and technologies in performing tasks. Roschelle, in discussing Convergent Conceptual Change (or collaborative learning), describes a process by which students can agree on a given piece of knowledge.

Roschelle’s four-featured process includes production of a deep-featured situation, interplay of physical metaphors, interactive cycles of conversational turn-taking, and progressively higher standards for convergence. In other words, they need the following: a case that captures their attention and requires some effort to accomplish a goal, a connection to their existing knowledge, iterations of practice and feedback, and assessment as they apply their newly constructed knowledge. So we’re talking about Gagné’s Nine Events of Instruction, with a few of the steps combined and applied to a technology-based collaborative environment.

I was interested by Steven’s observation that in a middle school classroom the students mirrored the practice in architectural firms of designers using paper and draftsmen translating the paper into a computer model, even though the computer was intended to be the primary design tool and the students had little training in paper-based designing. Once the roles were established, it was interesting that the students declined to rotate into the other roles as they had been told to do by their teacher. After reading this, I’ll have to take a hard look at my own role as R programmer in the group for my statistics class, where the other members write on the white board and discuss theories, while I actually enter the code based on their recommendations. Apparently I’m the junior draftsman of the group, but seriously with the number of group projects I’ve been in, it appears obvious that in almost any situation with teams, the roles seem to be established quickly and are often difficult to change later.

Steven’s discussion of assessment was very important, given the weight we place on assessment in courses. Students quickly figure out what is and isn’t important in a class, based on how they are assessed. The classroom designers learned very different skills, so how are they to be appropriately assessed? A test on using the CAD software would (and did) result in low scores for the designers, because scores were based on traditional uniform-experience assessment. In the reading I have done on Problem-based Learning (PBL), which this experience appears to match pretty closely, assessment of individuals is always a difficult issue. A possible method for grading is to rotate groups throughout the class, so each individual receives the average of their group scores, if there is time to do so. Assessment should be based on performance on the task, not on a True/False test afterwards. Although students involved in PBL often score lower on tests than those involved in didactic learning, they tend to retain what they did learn longer.

Steven’s discussion of division of labor and Roschelle’s discussion of collaborative learning do not compete, but are complementary. The roles that are played by group members depend on the type of environment in which the group is placed. Individual members of the group come to a shared understanding (hopefully), but the path to get there is dependent on the roles each member plays. An important part of PBL is allowing the group to come to consensus in whatever way works for them. They learn the subject matter, but they also learn processes for collaborating to make decisions and construct knowledge.

It is unfortunate that so much of traditional educational practice discourages teamwork, when the interaction while learning is what really encodes the concepts being studied. Collaboration is key. Some real-world environments continue to function on the competition model we are taught in school, but they are not as productive. That is not to say that competition is bad, because it’s not. It is good but in the right context. A goal, then, should be to provide technology that encourages collaboration, so that sociality can thrive.

Roschelle, J. M. (1992). Learning by Collaborating: Convergent Conceptual Change. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 2(3), 235-276.

Stevens, R. (2000). Divisions of labor in school and in the workplace: Comparing computer and paper-supported activities across settings. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 9(4), 373-401.