Colin's Sandbox

Goal One: Philosophy

Before we get started:

First: A Confession

When I first came to the realization that I would have to write a page pertaining to my philosophy of education, I was immediately thrown into the paralysis of writer’s block; at least on this one portfolio topic.  I was able to work through the remaining topics of the portfolio relatively quickly and you will no doubt be thankful that they are much less long-winded than this entry.  I was raised primarily in the midwest, and although I don’t personally follow A Prarie Home Companion,  I do associate with a lot of the sentiment expressed in the characters’ portrayals: in this case an avoidance of talking up of one-self.  After going through the master’s program I understand that there is a real importance for going back and exploring the seminal texts out there, consider competing ideas, and synthesize what comes out the other side.  Although I have my preferred learning environments, both a learner as an educator, there is certainly a lot of room for me to explore in this realm.  So while in an effort to better frame learning strategies I have stepped into the larger academic world of Vygotsky, Dewey, Piaget, and many others, I feel that I have been shown a much wider world than I was prepared for, and this view has expanded far faster than efforts to make sense of it all.  So here’s the crux of difficulty of being the consummate midwesterner: how do you write decisively (and when you think portfolio, you want to think “sell yourself!”) about that which you do not feel 100% definitive on?

Getting Over the Writer’s Block

This is not to say I haven’t given the matter serious thought.  I am constantly reflecting on how my efforts connect with some of the outstanding work that I have read in this program.  Instead, this document outlines what feels right to me, and demonstrates my growth as a result of going through this master’s program.

A couple things got me over the hump of writer’s block: first, reminding myself that in the perspective of the project-based learner-driven environment, as a teacher it is impossible to adopt the role of sole provider of information (the proverbial “sage on the stage”).  Rather, the role of “guide on the side” is more appropriate, whereby the educator engages the students initially, spends time with the students to assess what they know and craft a learning path for the course, developing project ideas and questions, helping with research strategies, and keeping students focused on track to reach their goals.  Secondly, graduation requirements dictated that I get my work done before a certain time, so at a certain point you just have to “get on with it”.

Getting On With It

The answer of course is for me to write about what I do feel definitive on, and that is to demonstrate my growth as a result of my work within the Educational Technology program at the University of Alaska Southeast.  As background: my previous title was nominally that of a “technology specialist” at a private, non-profit education service agency here in Alaska, but that fails to adequately describe the experience.  As part of my duties for that position I was called upon to train teachers, administrators, and staff on a wide variety of technology issues involving computers, servers, networks, peripheral devices, websites, and so forth. The most concise definition that I came up with at one point for my role was: “One who is called upon to help educators work with anything that sends or receives data digitally”.  Although I spent quite a bit of time in the field over the years, much of the actual job was done over email. Over time I got to know many of our clients fairly well and would keep mental notes on what grade they taught, what interesting things were happening in their classroom, and how they viewed technology’s place in that classroom. When faced with any challenge more complex than “I can’t print!”, this long-term relationship, coupled with sufficient background knowledge of their desired outcome allowed me much better success.

Now at the conclusion of my studies I look back and realize that this essential quality and process that proved so helpful has a name: differentiation. When you make an earnest attempt to understand a learner’s knowledge level, learning style, and goals, the result is that you are much more able to tailor the resources available to them and combine it with direct instruction pitched at the appropriate level.  All while keeping in mind their preferred learning style.  Although I have had several opportunities along the entire program to coach coworkers, fellow graduate students, classroom teachers, and K-12 students, the most vivid examples for me are naturally the most recent ones occurring in the Winter 2014 semester.


STEM in K-8 Education

The EDMA693 (“STEM in K-8 Education”) course offered by the University of Alaska Southeast with the help of the NASA Space Grant brought three professors from engineering, science, and math backgrounds together to further the concept of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) in education.  I was brought on to demonstrate modeling of STEM concepts in a 3D platform that many students were already familiar with: Minecraft.  I participated during class planning meetings, figured out ways to use Minecraft to reinforce weekly lessons, and helped to facilitate the class through a variety of means, both synchronously through Blackboard Collaborate (the class as a whole), Google Hangouts (weekly planning meetings); and asynchronously through email, supporting video screencasts, and participation in the EDMA693 class blog.

Gamifi-ED Project

My work with the Gamifi-ED project and the associated open online learning community (Gamifi-ED OOC), both of which I engaged within the context of the EDET 668 Leadership in Educational Technology (#etlead) class further leveraged my previous experience utilizing Minecraft in the classroom in order to lead 9th students on a quest, exploring game creation to reinforce concepts of social studies, economics, and civics in the context of the future dystopian universe portrayed by The Hunger Games series of books authored by Suzanne Collins.  To examine the rationale behind using games within education, the Gamifi-ED OOC project brought together experts from around the world to present their view and lead discussions through the use of Google Hangouts on Air.

The combination of modeling good search strategies, connecting learners to larger learning communities, using supporting media effectively (such as screenshots, videos, and audio podcasts) allows me to feel confident that I can communicate with learners wherever they are, either across the room, across the wire, or across time (through archived resources).  A key concept that I leveraged during my coursework is that the best learning happens when the learner is in the pursuit of creation, ideally with others.  Although important, curation of our knowledge path is not enough.  I think of the act of creation as the act of focused play.  Steve Keil explains in his TEDx talk that, “the opposite of play is not work, the opposite of play is depression”.  I cannot agree more.

Goals and Standards

University of Alaska Southeast School of Education Standards, Education Technology, Goal 1

a. support their philosophy of education with research-based theory and evidence. (K)
b. apply their philosophy, beliefs, and theory to practice. (S)
c. are guided by their philosophy of education are flexible in revising it based on new research and teaching experience (D)

ISTE Standards for Coaches (2011)

1a. Contribute to the development, communication, and implementation of a shared vision for the comprehensive use of technology to support a digital-age education for all students
1b. Contribute to the planning, development, communication, implementation, and evaluation of technology-infused strategic plans at the district and school levels
6c. Regularly evaluate and reflect on their professional practice and dispositions to improve and strengthen their ability to effectively model and facilitate technology-enhanced learning experiences

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