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Faculty Learning Commmunity: Agenda and Notes (November 2, 2009)

Anne Dalke's picture

Steven Lindell, "Real-Time Collaboration Tools for Digital Ink"

Lunch served in Dorothy Vernon Room of Haffner Dining Hall

Plan for 11/5/09
I. Howard

any group-keeping items? Who's our note-taker? What are our plans for Nov. 16 mtg?

II. Anne
two weeks ago, we reviewed the history of the "hard science" of educational research,
looking @ how it remade itself from what was largely a humanistic field into a "scientistic" one:
its increasingly narrow definition of itself, as it refined its instruments of measurement
to exclude or define as problematic (for example) the social elements of the classroom,
which might more usefully be seen as virtues and variables in the educational process.

When Steve asked why education is not simply called "the science of learning,"
Howard said that it actually mostly involves the "science of teaching."
That's one question I bring back today: do we think that teaching is a science?
When we are teaching (whether we are teaching science or not), are we engaged
in a scientific activity? Are we running experiments, gathering and organizing
our data, reporting on it in order to get feedback, then re-test what we think about it?
Are we engaged in "an imaginative resistance to authority"?
In acts of "empirically based, socially created scepticism"?

It also struck me that we're not limited to where education has been; we can look
forward together to where it might go. What innovations might help us help our
students learn white-water rafting, to successfully navigate all the unfamiliar
environments they are going to encounter in their lives?

III. Turning from the past to the present:
Steve's supplied us with a paper about using various forms of "digital ink":
different software and hardware that doesn't quite succeed, yet, in supplying
what is needed in successful problem-solving: either the real-time collaboration
or the long-term persistence of paper. What technological aides might help students
acquire deixis: demonstrating (remotely?) an idea by simultaneously speaking about it
and pointing to it?

One thought: that in answering this question, communication might more usefully
be defined NOT just as the "transmission" or "transfer" of information, but rather
as EXCHANGE: i.e.: a two-way mode of conversation in which something CHANGES.

A second thought: how might we revise this paper to make it more "scientific"?
Re-running the experiment Steve describes here to gather more data, and draw on
those findings to perform an intervention in this kind of teaching? Where's the
skepticism? The imaginative resistance to authority?

Might each of us be facing a similar challenge in our classrooms,
around which we could design a similar (or strikingly different) experiment?


Lynne Elkins's picture

Meeting Summary

Anne Dalke summarized the discussion we had on Oct. 19, highlighting questions that came up regarding the science of teaching vs. the science of learning, and how we teach and see our teaching. Ongoing discussion in the online forum noted that we are not limited to past trends.

Our topic for discussion this time was Steve Lindell's paper, which led us to move from discussing the history of science education and teaching to current research on technology in education, including the topics of "digital ink," persistence, collaboration, and deixis.

*What does "communication" mean: the transfer of information, or is it bidirectional (between students and teacher, or students and each other)?

*Was this a scientific experiment? Asked for more details about the results, student anecdotes.

*Are we facing similar challenges ourselves, and could we design a new experiment or direction from this study?

*Steve confirmed that this was a preliminary, qualitative experiment, and that he was interested in considering teaching as collaborative and communication to be two-way. For example, the study looked at lag problems and how they impacted communication. Steve clarified that students in the experiment were located in the same classroom on two computers, and mentioned an upcoming talk at Villanova on this topic.

*On remote learning: Steve's research found that deixis is particularly important, especially for very visually-oriented science teaching. He made the example of a recorded presentation in math where he could not see the speaker pointing to things.

*Is it necessary to for collaborative work and learning to be synchronous/simultaneous? The number of interactions is important for learning, which is why learning/teaching by email instead of in person during office hours is more challenging. Instant messaging could be a remote solution for this, but there is no deixis, even in software with digital ink.

*It is possible to design a talk consciously so it doesn't require real-time ink, but this is completely one-way with no collaboration. It is a lot like the Scientific American figures with call-outs. Non-linearity of teaching and thinking can make linear presentations confusing, especially because there can be no questions from the audience. Don pointed out that there is a new technology that allows for zooming in and out of different parts of a presentation to expand in a non-linear way.

*The idea of pointing/deixis does draw from traditional teaching methods. It is similar to architects and how they collaborate.

*What is the role of students in evaluating software effectiveness? WHat kind of information was gathered? Steve found the students to be very excited about the new technology, and they loved working with college students and doing puzzles. They evaluated paper vs. the computer software. They commented on software problems, being in the same room, the fact that paper allows for movable pieces of information, the advantages of being able to record collaborative thought processes, that the software was quick and allowed for remote access, and the advantages of searchability. The students much preferred working next to each other than remotely.

*Another paper from Temple (name?) looked at recording and presistence, and noted that going back to your own notes could be seen as collaboration with your past self.

*But collaboration needs feedback, and nonverbal signals (e.g. facial expressions) are important for collaborative learning. The biggest limitation on remote office hours is the inability to see student reactions. With video conferencing, it is possible to see people, but it is not as easy to read body language as in person. Technology will never perfectly replicate in-person interaction, but is that necessary?

*More important than using technology to mirror face-to-face interaction is rooting the technology in the teaching and collaborative goals. For example, the traditional teaching model of asking directed questions with right/wrong answers, with teacher as knowledge-holder, is not necessarily really collaborative. Learning is about the process of changing, and feedback is important to education and learning. If the goal is synthesis of and ability to apply information, and developing something new instead of "transferance," the technology should be developed with that goal in mind.

*Learning is active and occurs in the space "between" people; technology like clickers tends to be more cognitive and less useful for group learning. Interactive technology is more focused on group learning.

*It's not necessarily about group- vs. individual learning. It is important to consider the process of construction of learning, whether it occurs internally or as a group. A next step is to ensure that that construction is both useful and usable by the people learning.

*Research can be learner-focused or culturally/socially focused. This is related to how fields have tried to become more scientific by focusing on the group average to reduce noise and variations, but that variability is important and needs to be considered.

Paul Grobstein's picture

looping in education and in interpersonal interactions

Steve's paper was an effective take-off point for a rich conversation.  Thanks all.  For myself and anyone else interested, a few issues I'll continue to mull, with some perhaps relevant links to things elsewhere related to them ...

I'm intrigued with the issue of "bidirectional interactions" and its various meanings as a way to distinguish different pedagogical approaches/methodologies, and, in particular, the notion of "construction" versus "absorption" approaches to learning.  For more on bidirectional interactions, see Loopiness: conflict, humanness, and the universe ("Bidirectional interactions not only blur simple relations between cause and effect but themselves bring new properties into being").  The notion of several distinct but interacting sets of birdirectional interactions or "loops" was the theme of a paper on pedagogical practice by Anne and myself (Story telling in at least three dimensions: an exploration of teaching reading, writing, and beyond).    Its a framework I continue to work out of, both in educational contexts (cf The three loops and their implications for the classroom) and, more generally, in trying to make sense of "understanding" itself. 

I'm equally intrigued by the perception of "opposition" between thinking of education in terms of individuals as opposed to groups, and the origins of that sense of opposition.  In the three loops framework, interpersonal interactions constitute an essential "loop" and so I never thought of myself as giving priority to individuals over groups.  I probably did though, as per my memories of writing with Anne and other colleagues a paper on "emergent pedagogy."  As came out in the discussion though, there is a further interesting issue here, perhaps related to the "scientific" preference for avoiding "noise".  A "one on one" approach to behavior and to education forces one to confront the enormous variability of individuals amplified by interpersonal interactions.  Both a cognitive approach and an anthropological one help to lessen this variability but then end up as competing versions of simplification, one "individual" and one "social."  The three loops framework would actually require one to deal more directly with human diversity and the complexity of interpersonal interactions.  And that makes it additionally appealing to me. 

Some thoughts to explore these issues further

  • Mike and I talked a bit after the session about "supervised" vs "unsupervised" learning models, and an introduction to this literature by Mike might be of use to the group.
  • I'd like to think more about what I think are two different senses of "social," one rooted in individual variation and its value for co-construction and the other rooted in the comfort of feeling part of community.  These two aspects of social can, I suspect, can sometimes conflict and other times be mutually supportive of co-construction and it would be worth thinking more about  how to effectively understand/intersect them. 

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