Colin's Sandbox

Archive for September, 2013

In search of…

by on Sep.28, 2013, under #seaccr

I’ll be updating this post as my literature review tumbles along, but let’s just say that searching for preexisting research on a research question such as “what is the most effective way to provide teacher training covering teaching with iPads / mobile devices?” is coming up with mostly dead ends, academically.  There are a lot of pieces about which app people used for a certain class, or brief 1000-foot overviews of a specific roll-outs, but little to nothing that appears to be peer reviewed or cites existing work.

Making this job harder is that I’m playing a waiting game to find out what the final contract with the district will look like.  I was given a general overview of the ideal course framework but there’s too many variables and not enough specifics.

In the mean time I’m going to continue my literature review with a more generalized scope, something along the lines of “What are the best practices of professional development of in-service teachers using a blended learning model?”

If anyone out there has a more concrete research that’s been performed on the matter of teaching the integration of iPads / mobile devices to teachers, please clue me in!

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Reflections on Week 2

by on Sep.22, 2013, under #seaccr


I still think I’m in the right class with #seaccr.  I just may or may not be in the right mood for formal education; the leaves falling from the trees with the driving wind and rain makes me think of all the projects that I need to do around here just to get ready for winter.

Suck it up!  I should be settling into a routine schedule this week and that will help me get more into the mood, so I’m grateful for that.

Diigo: My Resource Curation

I’ve spent a little bit of time this past week and a half adding some of my readings to the #seaccr Diigo group.  I started posting to Diigo again this semester mainly for my own needs (cross-platform bookmarking) but it was so ridiculously easy to make it a public group for others to post to that I saw no downside to doing so.

After reading more about the language arts standards shift I spent some time looking at pros and cons listed in various blogs around the net and listed some of them in that Diigo group in order to refer back to when it was time to write my Friday blog post.  During the Thursday Twitter session I also posted the links that others shared in the Diigo group so I can look them up at my leisure.

As far as whatever impact my resource curation has had upon others, I can’t discern real actual impact one way or another.  But coming back to what I said earlier, the posting that I do to the Diigo group are so useful for me alone that I don’t feel any sense of loneliness when I suspect that no one else is using them.  I’ll continue to use them as the weeks roll on in this class with no changes planned.


The glaring whole in my readings seems to be the new Alaska State Standards.  I can’t count to 49 without hearing them mentioned again.  I have spent some time going over various small bits and pieces but I really need to have a greater understanding of where they’ve come from, and how different schools use them in practice (standards-based report cards vs. traditional letter grades).


In reading others’ blogs I get the sense that many are overwhelmed by Twitter and of the feeling of having to “keep up”.  As a #diffimooc veteran I’ve long since gotten over that.  I have found that for me I get the most out of the class Twitter sessions when I pick some interesting tweets out of the “river of news” and have a couple simultaneous conversations going on with others.  When one peters out I just find another interesting tweet and go with that.  Before I know it, the hour is up and it’s time to feed the family.

I found Thursday’s session to have been a great experience whereby I got to throw some of my ideas out for research questions and also learn a lot about how other members in the class get through the needs of their day.  I’m constantly amazed by the different challenges that teachers face and the strategies they use to meet them.  I also really enjoy how supportive the class members are to each other.  One topic that I liked discussing particularly was that of the “colored cups” and other mechanisms that teachers would use in their classroom to discern the understanding level of their students in real time while they were presenting material.

Going Forward

As I mentioned earlier, this week I’m going to try to get on my “fall schedule” so that I can get my coursework done earlier in the week.  I’m going to try to do the Tuesday Twitter session if I can swing it; that gives me time the rest of the week to follow up on topics that people mention.  By the time Thursday rolls around it’s getting a little late in the week to cram in any more reading before the Friday / Sunday deadlines.

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Coming up with a new question…

by on Sep.21, 2013, under #seaccr

New research topic

I was feeling ready last week to dive right into a study about how to best form a student tech team with at-distance mentoring to meet a small Alaskan school district’s needs but that seems to have fallen through. Approaching my supervisor with the need to find a research question with relevance to both my graduate work as well as the needs of my agency, he suggested potentially finding a question concerning an iPad roll-out we’re a part of with a different district.

I contacted Marianne Dobbs, an education specialist working with SERRC’s Project CREATE program, who would be working directly with teachers to modify / develop their curriculum based around the capabilities of the mobile platform while supporting Alaska’s new standards, especially in language arts. When I pitched the idea of researching the project as it went along in order to best meet the needs of the teachers she indicated that it seemed to be a good fit, especially with the timeframe that we’re working with: starting in early October and wrapping up in early November. When we brainstormed about a particular topic to research I felt that studying the students directly would likely be impractical and the data gathered in such a short time frame may be hard to tie back to the original project’s efforts working with teachers to gain an initial understanding of using their mobile devices. It seemed more natural to focus directly on the teachers themselves, so putting my Grandiose Research Paper Title Cap on to try to come up with a Proper Title, I came up with: “Identifying Best Practices for Professional Development for Teachers Learning How to Implement Mobile Devices with a Focus on Alaska’s New Education Standards”, or IBPPDTDLHIMBFANES for short. That title alone is probably longer than the “Conclusion” section of the paper will be.

At this stage I’m still having an issue coming up with a concise _question_ however, but the gist of it is: after the teachers go through with the professional development, do they feel more confident that these new fangled things will help them in the face of these new standards that are so front-and-center in Alaska’s schools right now? How can we take feedback from teachers and improve the program?

How does the shift in the Alaska Language Arts standards impact teaching and learning in my classroom?

Since I have the luxury of not being a teacher (and therefore have my weekends free to not grade my students’ work), I wanted to give my takeaways on what I’ve read concerning the three shifts identified inthe presentation put together by Dr. Anne Jones: “Building Knowledge Through Content-Rich Nonfiction and Informational Text”, “Reading and Writing Grounded in Evidence From Text”, and “Regular Practice With Complex Text and Its Academic Vocabulary”.

As you can imagine from reading the three topics, I saw a huge emphasis on information text, with the emphasis growing as the student progresses through the grades, from 50:50 informational:literary text in grades K-5 to 70:30 in grades 9-12. My first thought was “How utterly boring we’re going to make reading for those poor students! What’s going to happen for reading for just reading’s sake? Isn’t there value in that as well? Are we just looking to train our students to read specifications and churn out drivel over mindless email threads for entirety of their career?
The Schoolmaster from Pink Floyd's
After I closed up that presentation for a bit and did a bit of running to escape the mental imagery I softened up my stance a bit and realized that separating the two broad areas of writing, non-fiction and fiction, is a false dichotomy and the one doesn’t have to mutually exclusive of the other. Engaging reading, be it non-fiction or fiction, is a mixture of narrative and descriptive elements and we need our students to be conversant in both to be effective in whatever communication they’re going to use in the future in order to be good critical thinkers and conveyers of ideas.

The saving grace was when I saw that the split in reading covered all subjects, not just what was termed “English” when I was in school. Coupled with differentiation, if teachers looked at the informative text portion of the language arts shift, they could use it as an opportunity to provide choice for students. Students could focus their reading on topics they found interesting and develop projects that required them to dive deeper into the informational reading and curate it (yes, I’m liking Diigo more and more these days). This all fits with my view of education in middle or high school, but I wonder (as does this piece by Jay Mathews in the Washington Post) if too much emphasis on information text in the K-5 grades will just turn students off to reading.

I’m hoping some teachers (primary grade teachers in particular) can chime in and let me know their views on the shift in language arts standards.

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Contemplating Action Research for the #seaccr MOOC

by on Sep.14, 2013, under #seaccr

“Action Research is a fancy way of saying let’s study what’s happening at our school and decide how to make it a better place.”

– Emily Calhoun (1994)

Ideas for Action Research within my duties at TechOps

I’m currently in my second year into a Masters of Education, Educational Technology program at UAS.   This semester’s efforts are focused on performing an Action Research study to improve my practice as a technology specialist working for SERRC, Alaska’s sole non-profit educational resource center.

Over the past two weeks I have been contemplating different avenues for class research.  My first thought was to dig into the upcoming Minecraft session to be given at the Anchorage Math and Science conference to K-12 teachers and then research follow on interactions with students and teachers to measure their progress in their classroom according to identified state standards.  That would definitely be appropriate and good information to share with others.

Another idea I had would have been to put together a programming and design unit utilizing the Raspberry Pi platform.  During one of my undergraduate engineering classes a partner and I took on a microcontroller project in which we designed a digitally operated drink dispenser that would track of individual users’ tally.  The actuating mechanism consisted of a solenoid which pinched off a flexible rubber hose – not terribly exciting.  But the fun for me was the microcontroller programming for the simple LCD and keyboard interface along with the simple management logic.  All done in assembly.  Now the barrier for entry is much lower: the microcontroller board is cheap, around $25 (although you do have to pay for the power supply and any supporting electronics, sensors, motors, etc. too), the programming environment is open source, and the world-wide userbase is much larger.  It seems like a great project to dive into but after floating the idea out there to a few people I haven’t gotten any takers yet.  Honestly to do it right we would likely need a semester just to design the course, assemble a good selection of spare parts (old motors and such from appliances would be good candidates for fooling around with) as well as ancillary equipment such as power supplies.  Not to mention to learn the development environment well enough to teach it to others.  Doesn’t seem wise to do on this semester’s timescale.  Something more doable with fewer barriers to entry would be a Android or iOS programming unit, and I’m still open to that if anyone has a drive to see it in their classroom.

Finally I approached my supervisor with my quandary and he brought up our fledgling efforts as a team to collaborate with students to be the “tech team” at one of the school districts we serve.  There’s some real challenges and some history here to research: we tried this a couple years ago with the same district without success and it would be important to identify potential areas to improve.

The challenges would be somewhat unique.  We would have to identify the best way to provide mentoring to the individual members of the team remotely.  Figuring out the best environment to manage everyone’s efforts and track progress would be essential as the semester went along so that we could work efficiently and target mentoring sessions or materials appropriately.  Lack of face-to-face contact may be something of a concern for management.

I’m interested in performing an action research study into how to best develop and work with a student tech team with at-distance support and mentoring throughout the year.  As an “action research” study the purpose of this study would be to actively make changes to the subject under study (essentially the organization and methods used by participants to solve tech problems) as we progress through the study period.  The researcher (myself) would be an active participant in the effort.  The students’ personal information would be kept confidential, and their names anonymized.  Due to the nature of the study, the students would be informed of the intention and the ongoing results so that we can work together to make the most effective team possible.

It is expected that the time spent writing the results of the study and working on the initial literature review, observational notes, essentially the “framework” of the study would come out of my own time.  The operational pieces, such as working on solving actual issues and mentoring tasks I would consider part of my day job.

The results would be shared with the district, and perhaps published in an open fashion to benefit others, again taking great care to ensure confidentiality of the participants.

I have started putting together resources to help me draw parallels to my own proposal.  Among them was an Action Research case study examining a financial services company’s Information Systems organizational strategy (Marshall, P. et al, 2010).  Others to follow if my proposal is accepted and as I get into the initial literature review phase.


Marshall, P., Willson, P., de Salas, K.,  & McKay, Jody (2010). Action Research in Practice:  Issues and Challenges in a Financial Services Case Study.  The Qualitative Report. Volume 15(1).  Retrieved from:

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