As a teacher, I have worked with educational professionals aspiring to be department heads, assistant principals, principals, and other district-level leadership positions, as well as teachers, administrators, media specialists, consultants, and school district personnel with a strong interest in educational technology and instructional design. In my teaching practices, I aim to achieve four major student learning objectives.
First, I want students to have a sound understanding of key ideas, concepts, and models in the field. For example, like many fields of study instructional technology has fundamental concepts, theories and models that have defined the field and provide a common language used to communicate among professionals working in the field. It is important to ensure that students possess this fundamental information in order to be able to locate relevant information that will allow them to address complex problems in their own professional contexts. For example, one common misconception within K-12 technology is the belief that technology influences learning. However, as Clark (1983) stated, technology was “mere vehicles that deliver instruction but do not influence student achievement any more than the truck that delivers our groceries causes changes in our nutrition” (p. 445). Yet, so many in the K-12 environment begin their degree in instructional technology with the belief that technology can impact learning, and that by learning how to use technology they will be able to use those tools and learning will subsequently improve. Through the use of readings, direct instruction, formal academic writing, project-based learning, and reflective writing, I engage my students on a journey to understand that while technology can influence pedagogy, it is changes in pedagogy that will affect student learning. This is one of the fundamental principles I believe students should learn as a part of their exploration of the field of instructional technology.
Second, while technology does not impact student learning by itself, it can significantly affect teacher pedagogy. In his seminal work, Clark (1983) recognized that it was important for teachers to "package essential instructional methods based on available resources and the cost-effectiveness qualities of media attributes for specific learners and learning goals" (p. 23). Basically, teachers need to make decisions about whether to use technology, and what technology to use, based on sound pedagogy. As a teacher in the field of instructional technology, my goal is to provide students with the ability to use a variety of technologies; as well as to understand how each technology can be used to leverage different instructional strategies. I strive to ensure that students are armed with the confidence to use the technology themselves. Additionally, students should also possess the knowledge of when it is appropriate to (and not to) integrate that technology into their own classrooms. This learning will serve them well in their teaching careers.
Third, as technology is rapidly changing, it is essential that I provide students with the skills to become independent and lifelong learners, particularly when it comes to their own professional development. For example, educational leadership students completing their 250-hour practicum would identify an issue with their own school and/or district (outside of the scope of their regular job description), analyze data, conduct research, and implement and evaluate programs and strategies designed to address the issue. I cannot describe exactly what those individual students will need to address the particular problem or issue that they have selected. However, I can provide them with the skills to find the necessary resources for them to accomplish that goal. I can also help them create personal learning networks of like-minded professionals that can share resources, classroom strategies, and project ideas.
Finally, I strive to develop students’ critical thinking skills to apply various concepts and research findings. To make sure students gain and further strengthen these higher order thinking skills, I use real-world problems related to their professional lives in the course content. Students are asked to interact with a variety of resources and seek out appropriate data related to these problems, and then seek or create possible data-driven solutions based on research and practice in our field. While traditional research methodologies aim to isolate variables to demonstrate a cause and effect relationship, much classroom-based research in educational leadership and instructional technology is moving to an approach where the researcher works closely with their partners to address problems specific to that organization. This requires students to be familiar with the existing concepts and research in the field, but also to be able to work collaboratively with groups in the community.
Methods of Teaching
There are three main principles that guide my philosophy of teaching: social constructivism, constructionism, and mastery learning.
Constructivism is a learning theory that emphasizes learning by doing (Papert, 1991). Smith and Ragan (2005) defined three key features of constructivism: 1) knowledge is built on experience, 2) learning results from personal interpretation of knowledge, and 3) learning is an active process. Good constructivist design includes such principles as allowing students to express their opinions, create their own meaning, and share control of the classroom (Richey, Klein, & Tracey, 2011). Furthermore, the role of the instructor in a constructivist learning environment is to act as a guide to help students form connections between previous experiences and new ones. The activities in the environment are relevant and meaningful to the student, and promote higher-order thinking (Richey et al., 2011).
Social constructivism postulates knowledge is defined as meaning that is negotiated through social interaction within a community of learners (Vygotsky, 1978). This meaning is obtained by the participation of individuals as they become initiated into their community of learners. The major theme of social constructivism is that social interaction plays a primary role in the development of cognition. The interaction between the learner and those around them allow for meanings that are negotiated within the culture of the community. One of the primary features of this social negotiation is Vygotsky’s construct of the zone of proximal development (ZPD). The ZPD is “the zone between the level of problem solving an individual can do in isolation and the level of problem solving the individual can do in social situations involving other, somewhat more knowledgeable individuals” (Gardner, Kornhaber, & Wake, 1996, p. 200). Essentially, the ZPD is the learning space where the knowledge is just beyond the grasp of the student, but through interaction with that more knowledgeable other it is attainable.
In order to ensure that students remain in the ZPD, the teacher needs to provide sufficient resources for the student and also to scaffold the students learning during their interactions. Within the ZPD, the more knowledgeable other does not necessarily have to be the teacher – or even another person. The more knowledgeable other could take the form of a textbook, an instructional hand-out, an online video, or any number of resources. As such, it is imperative that teachers in social constructivism environments provide a resource-rich environment for their students. Multiple resources allow students with many different pathways in which to achieve their learning, basically allowing the student to select which pathway is the most appropriate for them based on their needs. However, there are occasions when the student may not know the most appropriate, or even any route to their learning. In these instances, the teacher must be present to provide the necessary scaffolding to ensure that the student remains in the ZPD. Hill and Hannafin (2001) described four specific types of scaffolding that can be provided: mechanism designed to assist with defining things to consider (i.e., conceptual), assist with establishing what is known and how to think (i.e., metacognitive), assist with how to use a resource (i.e., procedural), and alternative ways to do a task (i.e., strategic).
In my own teaching, I attempt to provide an environment that will help facilitate social constructivist learning, and allow students to be developed within their ZPD. One way I aim to accomplish this is through the design of the online materials that support the courses I teach. Regardless of whether the course is a face-to-face or an online course, my goal is to provide a wealth of resources in a variety of formats that the students can access on each and every topic. As a teacher, I feel it is my responsibility to not only provide instruction and resources on how to use the various technologies that students are responsible for learning, but also to model their use as a part of my own personal learning network and in my teaching. It is important that students watch a more knowledgeable other model how these tools can be used in instructional settings, and for personal use in a professional way, is a critical component to teaching them to use the tools effectively themselves. I also believe that my own use of these tools has resulted in additional student interest in using these tools themselves, which creates a social learning environment – often outside of institutional resources – for students to become engaged. This social learning environment allows the students to be more comfortable in their interactions with both me and their student colleagues, which provides a more welcoming environment for either group to provide students with the scaffolding needed to remain in their ZPD.
Constructionism is an extension of constructivist pedagogy. Papert (1991) defined constructionism as simply learning by making. Papert’s seminal work with constructionism was Mindstorms, which outlined students’ use of a computer programming language called Logo that was used to control a small box (called a “turtle”) to create geometric shapes. Papert (1980) felt that the student was building or constructing their knowledge through “debugging” the computer program; essentially learning by trial-and-error. Further, Papert equated this process with how a child learns their native language with relative ease, yet struggles through the traditional process of learning additional languages later in life.
At the core of constructionism is a student-generated artifact (Rieber, 2004). The artifact is created as a result of a set of driving questions or activities; and acts as a representation of student cognition that can be shared and critiqued. Problems are often ill-structured, and the artifact should represent how the student’s thought processes changed over time. The necessity to construct an artifact makes project-based learning an appropriate instructional strategy to create a constructionist learning environment. Project-based learning is focused on presenting students with authentic, curriculum-based challenges that personally motivate them to solve by creating an artifact (Barron, Schwartz, Vye, Moore, Petrosino, Zech, Bransford, & The Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt, 1998). The students are responsible for deciding upon their own approach, obtaining information from a variety of sources and using that information to create a project that addresses the specific problem (Solomon, 2003).
In my own teaching, I assign class assignments in which students create artifacts that are personally relevant to the students’ own context. In my instructional technology courses, this often means artifacts that my students can use in their own classrooms. My goal in these courses is to teach the students how to use the technology required to undertake the project, but this is accomplished by having the students create an artifact that they can use with their own students. In my qualitative research courses, students conduct their own research, often based on their dissertation interests. My goal in these courses is to teach qualitative research methodologies and methods by having the students design and sometimes conduct their own research studies to put those research skills into practice in a personally meaningful way.
The roots of mastery learning can be traced to Bloom (1968), who contrasted mastery learning with a traditional method of learning. In the traditional method, all students began their learning at the same level and received uniform instruction until they were tested at the end of that learning sequence. Students who began the sequence with greater knowledge and/or students who were able to learn the material faster performed well, while those who began the sequence behind or who needed more time and assistance often performed poorly. Bloom argued that if a mastery approach were applied – where the instruction had multiple starting points depending on the level of the student, where students were provided with additional time and resources if they required it, and where students had multiple opportunities to show their understanding of the content – that student understanding would increase. Kulik, Kulik, and Bangert-Drowns (1990) meta-analysis of 108 studies into mastery learning demonstrated the consistent effectiveness of Bloom’s original faith in the mastery learning approach.
In my own teaching, I employ mastery learning for students through the use of both open-ended and structured rubrics, depending on the level of specificity required by the project. These rubrics are provided to the students at the beginning of each project, and often form the basis of peer review activities where students use these rubrics to provide feedback to one another. The ability to know how they will be assessed in advance allows them to design their project based upon these expectations. In addition to the rubrics, students also have access to a variety of resources that provide them with information ranging from basic, pre-requisite knowledge to more advanced, supplemental understandings. Based on my belief in mastery learning, if students fail to reach those expectations, I allow them the opportunity to re-submit their work (regardless of their original grade). By mastering each aspect of any given assignment, it allows students to develop the correct knowledge, skills and abilities they can later apply to their own real-world contexts. By giving these students the chance to go back and correct their mistakes and omissions, it allows them to gain a better understanding of the content, instead of simply moving on to the next skill or concept, whether or not it was achieved.
It is my belief in the principles of social constructivism, constructionism, and mastery learning that guide me as I create resource-rich courses that allow students with multiple pathways to learn the content. These principles also guide me as I strive to create an environment that provides students with a variety of ways to interact, as well as ample opportunity for interaction with me and their fellow students. Finally, these principles guide me as I strive to provide students with multiple opportunities to both learn the content and demonstrate that understanding through the construction of project-based artifacts.
Barron, B. J. S., Schwartz, D. L., Vye, N. J., Moore, A., Petrosino, A., Zech, L., Bransford, J. D., & The Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt. (1998). Doing with understanding: Lessons from research on problem- and project-based learning. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 7, 271-311.
Bloom, B. S. (1968). Mastery learning. In Evaluation comment (Vol. 1, No. 2). Los Angeles: Center for the Study of Evaluation of Instructional Programs, University of California at Los Angeles.
Clark, R. (1983). Reconsidering research on learning from media. Review of Educational Research, 53(4), 445-449.
Gardner, H., Kornhaber, M., & Wake, W. (1996). Intelligence: Multiple perspectives. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace College Publishers.
Hill, J. R., & Hannafin, M. J. (2001). Teaching and learning in digital environments: The resurgence of resource-based learning. Educational Technology: Research & Development, 49(3), 37–52.
Kulik, C-L. C., Kulik, J. A., & Bangert-Drowns, R. L. (1990). Effectiveness of mastery learning programs: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 60(2), 265-299.
Papert, S. (1980). Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas. New York: Basic Books.
Richey, R., Klein, J., & Tracey, M. (2011). The Instructional Design Knowledge Base: Theory, Research and Practice. New York: Routledge.
Rieber, L. P. (2004). Microworlds. In D. H. Jonassen (Ed.), Handbook of Research for Educational Communications and Technology (2nd ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Smith, P., & Ragan, T. (2005). Instructional design (3rd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Solomon, G. (2003). Project-based learning: A primer. Technology & Learning, #(1), 20-30.
Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in society, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.