Thesis: Appropriating Technology in Ways That Make a Difference for Student Understanding

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¶ … Technology in Ways That Make a Difference for Student Understanding

Many of the tasks we propose can be accomplished only if academic leaders model, invite, and ultimately demand learning about learning on a regular and formal basis; not only as a formal part of job expectations but also informally through the establishment of rituals, routines, and experiences that are constantly inviting (and expecting) people to learn. A key job of the academic leader is to make clear that the school must be a model learning organization -- and to make it one.

But here, as in most important areas of life, modeling the behavior we seek is a prerequisite. The academic leader must model thoughtful inquiry and learning in the reform process. Rather than jumping to conclusions and quick actions, academic leaders must demonstrate that a careful diagnosis and openness to multiple possible solutions are always preludes to action. Translated: the leader's job is not to pose solutions but to raise questions and demand thoughtful analysis of problems, leading to solutions owned by all parties affected. Too many academic leaders jump to prescriptions for problems the staff didn't even know existed. As a result, we perpetually hear teachers ask (Moon, et al., 2003). So why are we doing curriculum mapping, and how does that relate to Understanding by Design? It doesn't matter if we see the connections as long as teachers do not. And the staff will never understand why we chose the prescription (such as mapping and UbD) if they weren't made privy to deliberations about the weakness of student performance and curriculum framing (the diagnosis).

This is a parallel to the problem of student misconception in teaching: rather than aiming for staff understanding, leaders in their impatience or naivete too often settle for merely informing staff or covering the details of reform. The most effective academic leaders, like the best teachers, resist the impatience to cover because they understand that it is crucial for the staff to truly under- stand the need for reform and thus the wisdom of any particular proposed solution. They ensure that staff members reach a common diagnosis based on understanding. The leader's challenge, then, is to put staff in a position to own. Any diagnosis, so that any later prescription will seem natural and just common sense. In other words, leaders must ensure that they themselves, as well as staff, really learn:

We must, in other words, become adept at learning.

We must become able not only to transform our institutions, in response to changing situations and requirements; we must invent and develop institutions which are learning systems. That is to say, systems capable of bringing about their own continuing transformation. (Schbn, 1983, p. 28) Exhortation and information will not accomplish this understanding, any more than exhorting students and giving them lots of content enables them to grasp the meaning of their lessons and apply them wisely. So new structures and supportive policies are required to ensure that the new job roles and functions become familiar and habitual. Reforms rarely last beyond the reformer, a fact noted in countless writings on schooling and school change.

Thus, sustainability may best sum up the long-term transfer goal of any leader aiming to implement schooling by design. All of the elements of leadership discussed in this chapter speak to sustainability the long-term viability of a school organized in the ways we have outlined in the book requires clarity about mission; a curriculum and assessment system derived from mission; a results focus with emphasis on gap analysis; hiring, supervising, and training to support mission; structures and policies that put mission into operation; and a culture that reinforces all mission-driven actions. The academic leader's job is not to personally perform all of these tasks (or even know how to), but to ensure that they are accomplished. We do not seek super- human leaders or autocratic managers. Long gone are the days when the headmaster or principal teacher commanded or single-handedly transformed the school. What we seek are academic leaders who understand what jobs need to get done and who figure out ways of involving the staff in helping complete them.

Overview of the STAR.Legacy Software

STAR.Legacy is meant to serve as both a model of instructional design and a design for creating model instruction. It is an easily authored, multimedia software shell that supports development and research on complex sequences of instruction that require students to act on and evaluate their understanding. (the prefix STAR stands for Software Technology for Action and Reflection.) STAR.Legacy has grown from collaborations with teachers, trainers, students, curriculum designers, psychologists, and computer scientists. Its structure helps people organize their thinking about learning, whether they are students learning from a STAR.Legacy or teachers incorporating instructional resources into the Legacy shell. STAR.Legacy has a number of programming features for adding digitized video, audio, pictures, and text, as well as for launching to and downloading from the Web and branching to simulation programs and other types of software (Burns, et al., 2006). These features allow designers and teachers to create or repurpose units of instruction, and it enables students to add their own "Legacy" that future students may consult. In an educational psychology course, for example, students left multimedia essays that taught the next year's cohort about important concepts (Bransford, et al., 2000). The prospect of leaving a Legacy can be very motivating to students, and it can help a Legacy grow and adapt to the interests and resources of the local community. STAR.Legacy is currently being used by professors in college courses ranging from audiology to psychology to business, by middle school teachers who are creating new curricula for their school district, and by instructional designers at the Learning Technology Center at Vanderbilt.

The main STAR.Legacy interface is an inquiry cycle where each of the icons reflects an often implicit, yet important component of most learning events. We have organized the components into this interface because it is worthwhile for students, teachers, and instructional designers to see where they are in a complex sequence of learning events (Burns, et al., 2006). The interface is a learning map that helps them understand where they should be in their knowledge development, and it helps them see that there are typical activities involved in learning, like first tries and revisions. For each STAR.Legacy inquiry cycle, students receive a challenge that creates a need to know. To meet the challenge, students move through the inquiry cycle using a variety of resources that help them develop, assess, and revise their understanding. The inquiry cycle is not meant to imply that STAR.Legacy is a rigid sequential environment that lock-steps the learner and designer (Borko, 2004). STAR.Legacy is intended as a flexibly structured tool that helps people organize and adapt instruction to their specific content and context. We expect users to navigate through the system depending on their learning needs. They may, for example, go backward in the cycle if they feel the need to review previous components, and they may choose to complete some activities and not others, depending on their knowledge state. To help people determine their learning needs, we have included multiple opportunities for assessment. This is one of the reasons that STAR.Legacy is appropriate for dynamic assessment. It integrates assessment and instruction into a single design model.

A Comment on Authorability

STAR.Legacy has been designed to be a flexible software shell for designing and delivering inquiry-based instruction. It includes a visual interface that presents a user-friendly theory of assessment and instruction. It includes a small set of tools, for building, adapting, or adding material to any program, including the Legacy a student might leave (Bransford, et al., 2000). This same tool set is used to add content to any screen of STAR.Legacy. There is a single tool palette that allows people to add "action objects" and determine their look (a picture, a text field, a drawing, or a sequenced list of other action objects). The dialog window shows the list of actions available for an object: playing a movie, playing a sound file, or launching to additional resources. Each action has its own set of properties that control specific execution (Bransford, et al., 2000). The launch action, for example, can be instantiated in three ways, as shown in the edit window of the dialog box (i.e., launch to an external program like a simulation, launch to a Web browser, or create and launch to a new card within STAR.Legacy). We have found the small set of looks, actions, and action properties to be very accessible and easy to learn. Presumably, reducing the learning and programming overhead will lead more people to use STAR.Legacy and to focus on pedagogical content (Borko, 2004), and this will increase our opportunities for evaluating the integration of instruction and assessment.

Collaborative Learning

The potential of the Web for supporting collaborative learning is unprecedented. Learning communities can now involve students, teachers, and other professionals from any location. Scientists can work on collaborative… [END OF PREVIEW]

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