Tag Archives: support

It’s (Already) Been (Only) A Year

Jean at the waters edgeIt’s a year today since Jean Anyon passed away. That length of time feels simultaneously like the blink of an eye and forever. She was respected, admired, and loved by many. And though I can make no particular claim about the relationship she and I had while I was her student over that she had with anyone else, there is an undeniable ache in my heart still when I think of her.

I often return to this photo of her when I miss her. Although I think it was taken at the Jersey Shore, it reminds me of the Breakwater in Mattituck, NY, which I lived near for a brief time as a child, and where I used to go to escape. I like thinking of her this way — at the water’s edge, contemplating the possibilities, her thoughts known only to her.

Like so many people I know, death has punctuated my life, has made me hurt, has brought sadness when I’ve needed hope. But it has also cemented connections with other people in ways that I never could have predicted. After Jean’s death, I have been grateful to be held — both digitally and in real-time — by individuals who were also touched by Jean’s life, ideas, and dedication to her work. The love I feel for that group of people was established when we met under Jean’s tutelage, but has been concretized in the last year by the outpouring of care, advice, and there-ness that we have shared with one another.

The biggest challenge to me in Jean’s absence has been the ability to write. It sounds silly — it’s completely psychological — but for eight years, she read everything that I wrote. Without her feedback as a safety net, the keyboard has felt more like an obstacle than a tool. Only in the last week or so have I been able to start facing drafts that, for a year now, have been frozen in time. It feels good to move to a new place with writing, though I am somewhat surprised it’s taken as long as it has. It’s amazing what a year can (and cannot) do.

RIP, Jean. We miss you still, and as you wished on your last night with us, we will always — always — remember you for your work.

Digital Humanities in the Classroom

As I get my feet wet with this public-blogging thing (intentionally public, anyway–this isn’t the first time I’ve blogged publicly, but it’s the first time I’ve done so while trying to capture the attention of a specific audience and string a common thread through my posts), there is a growing pile (digital and otherwise) of things to think and write about. I find that I am accumulating post topics at a much higher frequency than I have time to write about them! This forces me to be judicious with words and space (believe it or not), to critically think through how I might thread several disparate concepts together, and to consider how I’ll use various media to convey the heart of my message.  As informal as blogging can be, the project of maintaining a blog for a specific professional purpose becomes a formalized act that follows a distinct process, much like that of writing a research paper or article manuscript. Which brings me to what inspired this post: last night’s CUNY Digital Humanities Initiative talk with Shannon Mattern and Mark Sample.

Shannon’s presentation in particular, “Beyond the Seminar Paper: Setting New Standards for New Forms of Student Work,” gave me things to think about when it comes to my research.  While I (and many other K-12 public school teachers in NYC) have a knee-jerk reaction against the word “standards,” it was refreshing to hear someone discuss evaluation and assessment in the context of why.  It’s not that I haven’t heard other academics speak about assessment in productive, logical ways; it’s just that so much of my time as a 5th grade teacher was spent producing pretty, neatly formatted assessments because I was forced to, not because it made sense.  One year, using an informal system of notes on a post-it was the accepted form of evaluation; another year, the focus was on rubrics; our heads spun with the rapid changes that seemed episodic and disconnected to the goals of our lessons, and in the interim, the whole purpose of evaluating was lost on many of us. While Shannon has developed a series of evaluative tools along with each project she has developed with her students, it was clear from her presentation that her evaluations were not seemingly random rubrics or checklists like the ones I once compulsorily produced–her evaluations have a specific purpose, and are connected to the larger learning goals of her students’ projects.  I appreciated being a part of this conversation at the higher-ed level–particularly the part that took up questions around support for practitioners.  (And I’d like to see more spaces for conversations like this at the K-12 level.)

So what do we do if we want to use a technological tool we don’t know how to use?  What are the resources available to professionally develop your own skills as instructors–at all educational levels?  And how can the growth of our society’s do-it-yourself (DIY) culture support those endeavors?

Shannon’s talk last night touched briefly on what I hear mentioned often in professional talks lately: getting an academic job is no longer a guarantee once you get your PhD.  I feel like I’ve witnessed the development of this phenomenon first-hand over the last decade, and have to wonder at how it has paralleled the development of technology.  At age 26 (eight years ago), with but two years of teaching 5th grade under my belt, I was hired as an adjunct to teach a course called “Assessment and Evaluation” at a local university.  Not only were the students in my course teaching in grades K-12 (I’d only taught elementary school at that point), the course text (which was dictated by the department) was unbelievably dry and disconnected from most of my students’ daily work, and my students were rightfully frustrated by the course content and my teaching of it.  I had not yet developed the wisdom (which would come several years later and is still evolving) to logically develop a purposeful assessment tool that was accessible to my students and made sense for the larger goals of the project or assignment.  At the time, there were few impressive lines on my CV that related to teaching at the Masters level, and other than being an ambitious, personable young woman with lots of energy and a brightly decorated classroom, I didn’t seem qualified.  So why was I hired?  Surely it couldn’t just be because I was cheap at $2,250 per class (or thereabouts), or that I was referred by an advisor through the New York City Teaching Fellows–I still went through an interview! Was something else happening at the time?  Was it the start of what we are witnessing now, with the disappearance of full-time, tenure-track positions? What does it all have to do with the advances of technology?  I realize I’m tangenting, and again, raising threads that I will want to return to, but all of these thoughts were descending upon my brain last night as I sat and listened to Shannon and Mark talk about their work at their respective institutions. (You can read more about my K-12 teaching experience in my previous post if you’re interested.)

Toward the end of the discussion, someone asked a question about the boundary between teaching tech and teaching content–for instance, at what point does teaching how to use a blog platform detract from the content-specific point of the activity?  I appreciated that both speakers had already intimated in their respective talks that the boundary is blurry and increasingly so–that as pedagogues, we will often be required to move our technological knowledge along independently, and make use of the advances available to us whether there is a PD session to support it or not.  I admit I’m out of the loop when it comes to debating the identifiers of “digital humanities.”  It seems that technology and teaching are so inextricably linked at this point that you cannot teach without bumping into technology somewhere along the way, and vice versa.

If I had more hours in the day, I would spend time looking at how developments in letter-writing and the postal service, television, telephones, automobiles, radio, and other technologies have impacted policies and practices around teaching and learning–this tension surely existed before computers, right?  I can’t imagine the development of automobiles having had the same impact on classroom learning as computers and the internet, but I’m curious about how the education system catches up to advances that move quickly around it.

I’m looking forward to continuing this discussion with you and other friends and colleagues involved in the project of education.

And the Search for Next Year Begins

When you’re starting to think about making the commitment to start a PhD program, you hear about how difficult/complex the academic job market is, but you don’t really get what that means till you’re staring down the barrel of your dissertation while simultaneously trying to make a livable wage, eat well, get enough sleep, and figure out what to do next year.  So far this school year, I’ve felt like a circus performer on most days, juggling more things than any person should.  And although I haven’t conducted a vast empirical study to test my hypothesis, it seems that most of my friends and colleagues are in the same exact boat.  I had a lengthy discussion yesterday with some classmates about how crazy (and a bit cruel) it seems that job and fellowship application deadlines are happening now for the next academic school year.

So how do people actually do it?  What does one do when they think they might finish their degree this academic year, but can’t fathom how the job search is supposed to happen right alongside the writing of the dissertation?  How do you know if you’re supposed to be applying for dissertation writing fellowships, jobs, or postdocs?  What if you’re not 100% sure you’ll be able to defend your dissertation by April in order to graduate by May?  What if you can’t have a lapse in healthcare?  What if you find a job but don’t graduate?  What if you graduate but have no job?  What if?

I have a lot of “what if” questions, and despite all the talking I might do with my mentors and colleagues, it ends up seeming like an arbitrary set of choices that may or may not work out in your favor when you’re trying to conceptualize what life might be like a year from now.  In an ideal world, I would either get funded for another year to write, or I would find a position in a school of education as a full-time professor, teaching a mixture of methods and foundations courses that draw on my experiences as a classroom teacher, literacy specialist, technologist, and artist.  I have yet to find a job listing that meets this criteria, but a grad student can dream, right?  In the meantime, I’ll keep at it with the job search on the Chronicle of Higher Education, keep poking around at various fellowships, and keep crossing my fingers that this all makes a little more sense come April.

“Hope and enthusiasm are soaring here. But not test scores.”

This past Sunday’s New York Times published the first of a series of articles about “the intersection of education, technology and business as schools embrace digital learning”(p. 16) with the title “In Classroom of Future, Stagnant Scores.”  I have to say, I appreciate the NYT’s effort at turning the spotlight to education every now and then, thus encouraging the masses to pay attention to K-12 classroom learning; however, they don’t always get all sides of the story.

I’m often looking for articles and media presentations about teaching that take into account teachers’ input, and it should be noted that this article gives a nod (in the section “Teachers vs. Tech” on the last page of the article) to the impact of recent technological developments in education on teachers — particularly the financial constraints of new materials, resources, and training.  So often, discussions of education leave out the part of the narrative that honors that teachers are living, breathing human beings, too, who, despite the efforts of teacher education programs, don’t arrive at the classroom door with a fixed set of skills — especially at a time when skill-level requirements (particularly around computers) are changing and ratcheting up on a daily basis.  Teachers, just like students, need ongoing learning opportunities, too, and their input in this conversation is necessary but often absent.

There are a million threads to take up in response to this article, but I want to focus on just a few:

  • definition of what we’re referring to as “technology”
  • teacher as guide instead of lecturer
  • proof of value of technology in the classroom

Definition of what we’re referring to as “technology.”  So what do we mean by “technology”?  It is implied throughout this article that the “technology” being discussed is computer and internet technology.  But where does technology end and begin?  Wasn’t the invention of the wheel “technology”?  Isn’t using a xerox machine technology?  Do students have to be operating in virtual spaces for it to be considered “technology”? Are there actual, specific requirements for a classroom to be considered “technology-centric?”  How does this distinction help or hurt when it comes to developing best practices in the classroom?

Teacher As Guide Instead of Lecturer.  The article references Kyrene School District in Arizona, which has “invested roughly $33 million” for computers, interactive screens, and other virtual technologies, and states “the digital push here aims to go far beyond gadgets to transform the very nature of the classroom, turning the teacher into a guide instead of a lecturer.”  This line honestly floored me — each of my teacher education courses, whether I was a student or an instructor, centered around the Piagetian idea of constructivism, in which the teacher is a guide, not a lecturer.  Put simply by Dewey, constructivism means that “experience is education,” and that the act of doing is, in itself, a powerful form of learning.

For me, and the majority of my teaching colleagues, the notion of acting as a “guide” instead of  “lecturer” is not new, and focusing on this as some sort of new method for approaching the classroom via the lens of technology does a disservice to the last century of progressive educators’ work.  While I can only speak for myself, I find it angering to have this concept renewed again and again, as if for the first time, without focusing on what is really happening: a lack of equally accessible resources, a dearth of ongoing, effective training for teachers, and a system of policymaking that could not be further from the actual classroom.

I remember when the new citywide curriculum for K-6 was implemented (roughly 7 school years ago) in New York City, and as a fifth grade teacher I was expected to start teaching with a new curriculum that was unfamiliar to me (Everyday Math).  At that time, the rhetoric was that we needed classrooms to be “child-centered.”  Now we need classrooms to be “technology-centered”?  Will this simple shift in focus actually make a difference?  I am guessing that it won’t.

Proof of Value of Technology in the Classroom.  The article states the claim that “educators would like to see major trials years in length that clearly demonstrate technology’s effect. But such trials are extraordinarily difficult to conduct when classes and schools can be so different, and technology is changing so quickly.”  Sure, yes.  We would all love to see trials of things that “work” in education, period, but one sure-fire thing that a century of education research has helped us conclude is that nothing works for everyone.  I am not advocating the willy-nilly implementation of programs in classrooms (if you’re a public school teacher, you know this happens already.)  As an educational researcher, I unconditionally agree that more research must be conducted; however, one need not conduct a years-long, longitudinal study to make the basic claim that technology (of the computer/internet variety at the very least) is increasingly becoming a necessary pedagogical component.  You can’t get a library at the local library, get an MTA card, or communicate with a cell phone today if you don’t have a basic understanding of technology.

As I said, there is a lot more to say, and I’m having a hard time cutting this post short as a result, but…  I hope this is the start of a really important conversation that every educator can be a part of right now: how can/will the technology revolution transform education?  Will it transform education?  Or, will the same trends continue, in which a new silver bullet is proposed (in this case, “technology”), tons of money is invested, and empirical data shows little or no change?  At what point are we going to stop beating around the bush and figure out that 1) any new device — whether curricular, pedagogical, technological, or any combination of the above in nature — will require additional, sufficient teacher training; 2) clear channels for teacher input/expertise need to be forged; and 3) the internet isn’t going anywhere and kids need to interact with it in their learning environments — and not just in the name of improving American test scores.

Pednology, or Maybe Techagogy

Yesterday’s post marked the start of me trying to work out, in writing, some of the questions I have about pedagogy and technology.  I’ve been spending more time with my computer than any other object in my life for at least the last ten years, and there are (many) things that have developed or changed over time that I’ve often discovered by mistake, and I wonder how other teachers have handled it.  Educators aren’t generally trained in new technologies unless we seek out the training on our own or it’s for some profit-driven company that will benefit when the school buys 500 of whatever’s being offered (at least that’s been my experience).  And yet we are required to stay up-to-date in the name of pedagogy, a requirement that is understandable and at times, impossible.  For example, how are teachers expected to use SmartBoards if they are taught a crash course in an afternoon PD session when they’re already exhausted, have about 8 million other things to do to prepare for tomorrow, there will likely be no follow up, and they don’t have regular access to the SmartBoard itself?

This is one of the things I’m talking about when I mention “the gap between policy and practice” in my work.

But I’m talking about less-technologically-advanced things than SmartBoards, too.  If you haven’t ever had a Facebook account as a teacher, you’re missing a huge understanding of how young people communicate; if you do have an account, you have to be careful about what you post (and gets posted) on your wall.  And what about learning less big-concept things like the fact that you don’t have to type “www” anymore when you enter a URL?  Or what about fair-use and copyright laws?  I admit that the first time I taught an online course (back in 2004!?), I simply scanned in and uploaded portions of texts that I wanted to use.  I had a hunch that that wasn’t exactly what I was supposed to do, but as a part-time instructor at a university that had little means to train a rookie teacher who’d been hired as a teacher educator (a problem in its own right, but one that initiated my career as a teacher educator), I did what I could with the technology available to me at the time.

So what of these changes — both subtle and far-reaching — that are happening at mach speed on a daily basis now? When and how are teachers trained, if they don’t take the initiative on their own?  Some people might argue that everyone, no matter the industry, has to figure out how to use new technologies, but my counterargument to that is that education is different.

On the day I received my acceptance letter to the New York City Teaching Fellows — a little more than ten years ago — one of my best friends said, “teaching is the most important job.”  Granted, he’s a professor now so might be biased, but that statement really impacted me — education is a requirement in this country, and thus something we all universally experience in some form; it is also something our society values a great deal, despite the fact that a degree does not guarantee being able to find a job.  Teachers need to be taught, too, and we’re starting to figure out ways to do that at the post-secondary level, but what about K-12?  Where are the in-depth, across-the-board trainings for teachers that don’t 1) take time away from everything else they have to do, 2) are free of charge, and 3) address, in a zone-of-proximal-development type of way, the pednology, or maybe techagogy, needs of teachers?  Pedagogy and technology are no longer disparate concepts, and K-12 educators who don’t feel completely comfortable with what’s happening need the supports to catch up, too.