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.

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