In a moment of self-importance, I thought it might be fun to start blogging. Based on conversations and experiences at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School, posts center on my life as a Jesuit administrator/edtech in a 1:1 BYOT environment. Older posts are from my adventures in certification with the NETS via PBS Teacherline/ISTE... recycle/reuse.
Because professional development webinars need a little "fun"... feel free to use at your next department viewing of your favorite education reform movie/webinar/network expose or article/book discussion.
When we last visited our intrepid rant, we uncovered feelings of anxiety that seemed interrelated with the use of technology by those crazy kids to quickly create presentations using tools that are much more natural to them than they are to the educators (please Google “digital natives” for the 5 million blog entries, books, and YouTube videos on this subject).
But rather than continue to pick apart some of the flaws in presentations-as-assessments, let’s see if there is a correlation between the assessment tool and the tendency to foster an environment that promotes critical thinking skills in students. In fact, let’s just compare presentations to one other tool:
Traditional papers, especially those with multiple drafts, seem to have this call to critical thinking built into the process. First, it is apparent when someone is not saying anything of relevance for paragraph after paragraph (the irony of this multi-post blog is not lost on me). Second, the drafting process itself forces the reflection on both the content (is this really what I want to say?) and writing style (is that the best way to say it?). Finally, the traditional written paper has set modes of attribution and citation that encourages the use of outside resources to broaden the scope of the individual mind.
In summary: · Built-in checks to validate the presence of thought · Built-in reflection on content and style through drafting · Built-in assumptions and methods for incorporating the thoughts of others into your own
Conversely, while the typical presentation is made better when these things are present, they are not necessary. Presentation assessments typically (and frankly ideally) have fewer words so that lack-of-thought can remain hidden. Use of multimedia, pictures, sounds, clever (and not-so-clever) transitions tend to compound the issue, particularly when educators are liable to be impressed by things that have nothing to do with the content of the presentation (but a lot to do with the presentation mechanics).
Informally, there seems to be less of a drafting process with presentation-based assessments. Where formal papers may typically have one-on-one meetings with a teacher, peer reviews, work-shopping strategies, etc., the typical project timeline for presentations often consists of a combined research-and-preparation period (individually or in groups) followed by a class presentation. Feedback by the class is limited and feedback/assessment by the teacher is done in the form of written comments given afterward. There is little presumption that a presentation is “drafted” or will be refined throughout a creation process.
Furthermore, the growing tradition of “borrowed” photos without citation and a lack of feedback from teachers about attributing ideas properly also feed the trend to use other ideas and claims as one’s own thoughts. Not only does this reinforce a cultural trend of plagiarism, but it eliminates the critical process required to properly present the ideas of another and critically compare them with one’s own.
Unfortunately this issue is happening at all levels of education; thus we as secondary educators find ourselves encountering students who have less and less exposure to the assessment strategies that most naturally call for the upper levels of Bloom’s famed taxonomy and more and more experience with assessments that can be done quickly, without drafting, and with minimal critical feedback to evaluate proof of accuracy or originality of thought.
So what is the solution? 1. Let’s isolate the problem from its apparent technological origins. This has very little to do with the mechanics of Keynote or the tendency for teenagers to tweet in 140 characters rather than handwrite letters. Technology is an emphasizer of trends, seldom a trendsetter in its own right.
2. Design assessments timelines that build in the critical thinking process and identify when that process has not been followed. Two examples:
a. The teacher from the illustration in the last blog modified his assignment to require a written paper (with traditional citations, page length, drafting etc.) as a preface to the presentation. Thus the teacher engages with students during the “thinking” portion of the education and the presentation becomes a distillation of the thought that has gone before.
b. Embed another process for showing critical thinking into the presentation assessment. This might include a question and answer period used by both teachers and students after the presentation, formal reflection writing afterward on a prompt of the instructor’s choosing based on the presentation, or a separate analysis of literature about a research topic as pre-work.
c. Require drafting and peer-review of PowerPoint presentations.
It is easy to blame the trends of society at large or the looming media-consumption tablet explosion on our lack of student’s willingness to engage in critical thought. But if we have fallen into the all-too-comfortable trap of lowering expectations due to the lure of the shiny and pretty, we may need to take time to identify our ultimate learning objectives, reflect on our experiences, and match our assessments and activities with our desired outcomes. It is the same bar to which we should hold our students, whether they are thumb-typing a book report at the elementary level, researching for term papers in high school, or presenting with Keynote in middle school.
PS: Yes, this is a long multi-post blog. But according to Mark Bauerlein’s article “Too Dumb for Complex Texts?” (Educational Leadership, February 2011), we need to encourage reading of complex texts for at least one hour a day (we’d link to it but we don’t think he’d like that… oh whatever…click away). Consider today complete for you.
It has been an interesting week in the world of technology and #edtech and, as is often the case, a number of seemingly isolated incidents have begun to swirl around in my head enough for me to draft a blog-entry. Luckily, I have @40ishoracle to look over the writing to make sure that it makes sense when all is said and done (if you haven’t had the opportunity, you should take time to read her profile in “School CIO”).
Incident #1: My nine-year-old (for those of you who follow me on twitter, Daughter Prime) came into the living room where I was diligently working on the RIO version of Angry Birds and her mom was typing on a laptop. She asked “can I use the (Google)TV? I need to type a reading log.” Now this question could be worth a blog entry in and of itself, but I watched in fascination as she accessed her school’s learning management system, brought up a blank report template, thumb-typed three solidly written paragraphs about The Mysterious Benedict Society, and posted it for teacher review to a virtual homework dropbox.
Incident #2: I had the opportunity to play with the ASUS Transformer brought in by @brebeufjesuit alum @kcklippel. As I played with the device (an Android Honeycomb tablet with widescreen that docks with a larger-than-netbook keyboard for fast typing and 7hrs additional battery life), I began to see how useful it could be in the post-pc world that Steve Jobs declared with the release of the iPad 2.
Incident #3: (stolen from fellow parent, @40ishoracle): Her daughter has had an increasing number of assignments taking the form of “presentations” created in Keynote for assessment and evaluation in place of traditional papers at the middle-school level.
The discussion that swirled around these incidents began with typing.
For a number of years, I have been saying as part of the precursor to Bring-Your-Own-Tech language @40ishoracle introduced me to, that the role of tablets/phones will be as personal productivity enhancers…That a computer will be necessary for “full production” – papers over a certain length, multi-tasking or multi-window or multi-screen research, etc. After watching my nine-year-old comfortably manipulate a thumb keyboard at a decent rate and speed indistinguishable from a nine-year-old at a standard size qwerty keyboard, I opened myself up to the idea that home-row typing vs. thumb-typing alone is not a distinguishing element from critical thinking and productivity.
So if students can be as productive typing (or swyping), what does this say about the types of assignments that we offer?
Rant Begins Here:
When @40ishoracle and I offer a presentation, it is backed up by hours of work. This work ranges from formal and informal discussions, conversations with other educators, background research on the topic, examples in the lab environment that is our Jesuit High School, etc. The presentation is a distillation or interpretation of the thinking that went before it. This combination of context (the work that has been done by others), experience (trying and interpreting lessons in the classroom), reflection (the conversations), is the heart of the Jesuit educational system and parallels with critical thinking that is so beloved of everyone from the ASCD to legislators to *gasp* teachers.
But (and it is a big one): It is absolutely possible to create a presentation that does not benefit from this level of prep work.
Last year, as part of our preparation for addressing issues of information literacy and research rigor that the school wanted to address, we had the opportunity to review a number of student presentations created by our junior class. A common trend that became apparent in our evaluation was that the presentations, while for the most part factually accurate and in most cases properly, if loosely, sourced, lacked the depth of thought that we would have hoped to see (that critical thinking piece again).
In our year on the social-media and research presentation circuit, we found that we are not alone with our assessments. Teachers have noted and agreed that:
• The number of presentation based assessments are growing and in some cases replacing traditional writing.
• There is a general feeling that students are not thinking as hard about the subjects on which they are being assessed.
• There is a malaise of inevitability about this that is wrapped up with “info-whelm” and technology anxiety.
Ultimately, the call for educators, and the educational technologists that support them, is to help craft lessons, including assessments, that will challenge students to think and then demonstrate in some way the level, accuracy, and intensity of that thought process either publicly (presentations) or interpersonally (papers, tests). If our anxiety level is increasing and we lack confidence in the student-created presentation as an assessment tool, then we owe it to ourselves and our students to analyze the assessment and figure out how to make it fit our critical thinking needs.
Will students notice if we replace traditional keyboard with thumb boards? Is there an inherent flaw in electronically assisted presentations? Do these rhetorical questions raise feelings of nostalgia for 60s syndicated super hero TV shows? Stay tuned to the blog for your answer…Same #edtech time, Same #edtech URL! …