Category Archives: STANDARD 1: DESIGN

Ed Tech 513- Coherence Principle Analysis

Jon Freer
Ed Tech 513
Coherence Principle Analysis

Coherence Principle Description

The coherence principle essentially states that superfluous material, in the form of visuals, audio or text, should be avoided when preparing a multimedia lesson (Clark & Mayer, 2008, p. 153).  In each of these cases, there is support for the idea that the extra information that is not directly related to the learning objectives can distract the learner and hinder the learning process.

The most important aspects of the coherence principles focus on the avoidance of extraneous material.  In terms of audio, it is best to avoid the inclusion of background music or sounds in a lesson.  With a limit to the amount of working memory a learner has, the background music or other sounds can lead to overload of the working memory and hinder learning.  Eliminating or avoiding superfluous graphics is also recommended. While graphics related to the learning objectives are important to include, adding graphics not related to those objectives for the purpose of “spicing up” the lesson causes the learner to divide their attention between the learning material and the graphics.  When graphics are used, they should be simple in nature to improve the learning process.  Detailed graphics may depress learning, especially among beginners in a particular subject.  Lastly, it is best to avoid the use of extra words.  Words added to interest learners, expand on ideas or go into technical detail can all be distracting for the learners and hinder the learning process.

Examples of Coherence Principle

An example of successful adherence of  the coherence principle is the following slide from the instructor materials from Campbell Biology, the support site for the Biology textbook by Neil Campbell.  The slide presents a clearly identifies the “key to flight” as “aerodynamic structure and provides an image that illustrates this structure in a simple, relatable way.  In addition, the slide avoids going into the technical details of the airfoil in either words or images.  This allows the learner to come away with the simple idea that it is the structure of a wing that allows a bird to overcome gravity.

Another source provides an example of suspect adherence to the coherence principle.  In the slide below from a slideshow on evolution, focus is on Lamarck’s contribution of evolution theory.  While the limited text implies that this slideshow is being used while a teacher narrates, there is also the inclusion of a picture (perhaps one of the students) and the words “Are you still paying Attention?”  Both of these seem to be an attempt to retain the attention of students, but as they do not directly relate to the information being related, serve only to distract and disrupt the learning process.  They most certainly do not add to the learning experience for the student, nor do they effectively make the material more interesting.

Relationship of Coherence Principle to Other Multimedia Principles

Prior principles discussed include the multimedia principle, which states that learners benefit from having words and images together, rather than words alone, and the contiguity principle that states that those included images should be relatively close to the words to which they are related.  In short, these principles state that images should be included and be close to the words they are illustrating.  The relationship this has to the coherence principle is something like a reality check for image inclusion (or other media such as audio).  It is important to include multiple forms of media to allow users to access both auditory and visual learning channels, however, it is equally important to be sure that the images (or audio) serve a specific purpose.  Images must be related to the learning objective.  If they are not, the benefits of adherence to the multimedia principle may, in fact, be contradicted by the lack of adherence to the coherence principle.

Coherence Principle Related to Psychological Theories

Beginning with arousal theory, many instructors seem to face the challenge of keeping the attention of the learner.  To do this, they make attempts to grab or keep attention through the inclusion of “exciting” images, “fun” audio or “interesting” facts or stories.  Arousal theory assumes that the learners will become emotionally engaged and, therefore, have greater interest and focus in the main learning material (Clark & Mayer, 2008, p. 156).  In many ways, it seems like arousal theory makes perfect sense.  If I am attentive to the screen, thanks to the included media, I must be attentive to the topic at hand. Cognitive theory, however, contradicts this.  Essentially, it comes down to the idea that we must process information through our working memory and that working memory has limited capacity. Inclusion of images that do not specifically and coherently relate to the learning objectives will utilize some of the working memory space and may overload the working memory.  This would lead to decreased learning, rather than increased.  The dual-coding theory goes on to imply that improved learning comes from utilizing both the auditory and visual channels (Moreno & Mayer, 2000).  An example of this might be using an image along with narrated text.

My View of the Coherence Principle

The aspect of the coherence principle that strikes me as being right on target is that the illustrations used in a multimedia presentation should be simple in nature.  As a science teacher, I am faced with the constant challenge of helping students to better understand complex systems.  Clearly, images and video go a long way towards helping a student visualize a process such as muscle contraction.  However, there exists a wide variety of diagrams that can show this.  Diagrams that are simple and focus on few specific details help beginner students to pay attention to the process in general without getting lost in the details.

The one aspect of this idea that I would say warrants qualification is that not all students possess the same knowledge base.  Advanced students, who may already have an understanding of the basic ideas, would likely benefit, or at least not be distracted by, a more detailed view of this same material.  They key to this is that the advanced students have prior understanding of the material to link the details to, whereas the beginner students do not.

References

Campbell, N. A., & Reece, J. B. (2001). Campbell Biology. San Francisco, Calif: Benjamin Cummings.

Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2008). E-learning and the science of instruction, 2nd edition. Pfeiffer: San Francisco, CA.

Mayer, R. E. (1999). Multimedia aids to problem-solving transfer. International Journal of Educational Research, 31(7), 611-623.

Moreno, R., & Mayer, R. E. (2000). A learner-centered approach to multimedia explanations: Deriving instructional design principles from cognitive theory. Interactive Multimedia Electronic Journal of Computer-Enhanced Learning, 2(2), 2004-07.

Links

Campbell Biology Online (subscription needed)

Southgate Schools Biology presentations

EdTech 513- Screencasting Project

For this project, I created a screencast in which the learners go through a worked example of drawing a Lewis structure. Because the video is a flash video, I had trouble embedding it on this blog. So, I created a Learning Log on Blogger that allows the interactive part to work.  Here is a link to that post.

The content of that post is below:

This screen cast is a worked example for drawing a Lewis structure in Chemistry class.  The video takes a Chemistry student through a review of how to draw a Lewis Structure. It then gives the learner a chance to do an example on their own.  I wanted to create an interactive experience for the learner in which they are able to pace the work on their own.  Unfortunately, I ran into a slew of issues with this.  In the end, I needed to place the video here in Blogger rather than WordPress.  I know there are better workarounds to accomplish what I was looking for, but time was an issue.  I do plan to explore the technology needed to make links within videos a bit more in the future.

Here is the worked example (note, to click “Continue” the video must be watched in full screen format, otherwise the progress bar masks it.) (This is where the interactive video should go, but it doesn’t work in WordPress.

For this worked example, I wanted to begin by giving the the learners a look at what a Lewis structure is to to familiarize them with the vocabulary and the symbols involved.  This pre-training would allow them to focus on the procedure, rather than wondering about the symbols.  I then proceeded to work through the example step by step.  At each step, the learner has the control of whether they feel confidence enough to continue or if they needed to review that step again.  Using the segmenting principle puts control of the learning in the users hands. At the end, the learner’s are given a summary of the steps and the option to replay the lesson as a whole or to move on to try an example on their own.  The example ends with the option of seeing the actual solution.  This example, would help a learner achieve far transfer for the material covered.

One thing to note is that I had some trouble deciding who the learner actually was.  I decided to create a video that I could share with my Chemistry class after this material had been presented.  It is not meant to be a replacement lecture, but rather a step-by-step worked example of something they should be somewhat familiar with.

EdTech 513- Digital Storytelling Project

For this project, we reviewed some of the elements that make for a good digital story and then set to work in creating our own. My story is about a local legend surrounding a a lost stash of gold.  It is a story of the desire to push into a world of adventure and the difficulties we have in doing that.  I found this project challenging in the very best sense of the word.  Technically I struggled at times (especially when it comes to the so-called “Ken Burns” effect), but it all came together eventually.  Even as I finished, I felt that I really wanted to spend more time smoothing out some of the wrinkles that I see in the finished project.  I can see  how filmmakers can get lost in their work.  For me, I simply ran out of time.  Maybe I’ll work on it again someday…

It was fun to develop a story that is personal. Having looked through a number of the examples given, I was struck by the fact that so many has a sad theme.  In developing my own story, I wanted to be positive and see if I could create a compelling story that still had meaning.  In the end, I was happy with the story as it turned out.  Because it was so personal and real, the application of the personalization principle was quite natural to use.  Using a natural, conversational tone allows viewers to get a bit lost, hopefully, in the story being told.  It allows for a deeper connection with the message of the story.

As far as the use of digital storytelling goes, I see a great deal of potential for its use in a classroom.   While I did have some difficulty with the technical aspects of the story, with some practice, it seems easy enough to pass the “how-to’s” along to students.  I can envision English classes analyzing novels or making short pieces about Shakespearean soliloquies.  Foreign Language classes could easily make use of this concept by having students create stories in the language they are studying.  Overall, this seems like a fairly versatile type of project.

Jon

Coherence Analysis

Coherence Principle Description

The coherence principle essentially states that superfluous material, in the form of visuals, audio or text, should be avoided when preparing a multimedia lesson (Clark & Mayer, 2008, p. 153).  In each of these cases, there is support for the idea that the extra information that is not directly related to the learning objectives can distract the learner and hinder the learning process.

The most important aspects of the coherence principles focus on the avoidance of extraneous material.  In terms of audio, it is best to avoid the inclusion of background music or sounds in a lesson.  With a limit to the amount of working memory a learner has, the background music or other sounds can lead to overload of the working memory and hinder learning.  Eliminating or avoiding superfluous graphics is also recommended. While graphics related to the learning objectives are important to include, adding graphics not related to those objectives for the purpose of “spicing up” the lesson causes the learner to divide their attention between the learning material and the graphics.  When graphics are used, they should be simple in nature to improve the learning process.  Detailed graphics may depress learning, especially among beginners in a particular subject.  Lastly, it is best to avoid the use of extra words.  Words added to interest learners, expand on ideas or go into technical detail can all be distracting for the learners and hinder the learning process.

Examples of Coherence Principle

An example of successful adherence of  the coherence principle is the following slide from the instructor materials from Campbell Biology, the support site for the Biology textbook by Neil Campbell.  The slide presents a clearly identifies the “key to flight” as “aerodynamic structure and provides an image that illustrates this structure in a simple, relatable way.  In addition, the slide avoids going into the technical details of the airfoil in either words or images.  This allows the learner to come away with the simple idea that it is the structure of a wing that allows a bird to overcome gravity.

 

Another source provides an example of suspect adherence to the coherence principle.  In the slide below from a slideshow on evolution, focus is on Lamarck’s contribution of evolution theory.  While the limited text implies that this slideshow is being used while a teacher narrates, there is also the inclusion of a picture (perhaps one of the students) and the words “Are you still paying Attention?”  Both of these seem to be an attempt to retain the attention of students, but as they do not directly relate to the information being related, serve only to distract and disrupt the learning process.  They most certainly do not add to the learning experience for the student, nor do they effectively make the material more interesting.


Relationship of Coherence Principle to Other Multimedia Principles

Prior principles discussed include the multimedia principle, which states that learners benefit from having words and images together, rather than words alone, and the contiguity principle that states that those included images should be relatively close to the words to which they are related.  In short, these principles state that images should be included and be close to the words they are illustrating.  The relationship this has to the coherence principle is something like a reality check for image inclusion (or other media such as audio).  It is important to include multiple forms of media to allow users to access both auditory and visual learning channels, however, it is equally important to be sure that the images (or audio) serve a specific purpose.  Images must be related to the learning objective.  If they are not, the benefits of adherence to the multimedia principle may, in fact, be contradicted by the lack of adherence to the coherence principle.

Coherence Principle Related to Psychological Theories

Beginning with arousal theory, many instructors seem to face the challenge of keeping the attention of the learner.  To do this, they make attempts to grab or keep attention through the inclusion of “exciting” images, “fun” audio or “interesting” facts or stories.  Arousal theory assumes that the learners will become emotionally engaged and, therefore, have greater interest and focus in the main learning material (Clark & Mayer, 2008, p. 156).  In many ways, it seems like arousal theory makes perfect sense.  If I am attentive to the screen, thanks to the included media, I must be attentive to the topic at hand. Cognitive theory, however, contradicts this.  Essentially, it comes down to the idea that we must process information through our working memory and that working memory has limited capacity. Inclusion of images that do not specifically and coherently relate to the learning objectives will utilize some of the working memory space and may overload the working memory.  This would lead to decreased learning, rather than increased.  The dual-coding theory goes on to imply that improved learning comes from utilizing both the auditory and visual channels (Moreno & Mayer, 2000).  An example of this might be using an image along with narrated text.

My View of the Coherence Principle

The aspect of the coherence principle that strikes me as being right on target is that the illustrations used in a multimedia presentation should be simple in nature.  As a science teacher, I am faced with the constant challenge of helping students to better understand complex systems.  Clearly, images and video go a long way towards helping a student visualize a process such as muscle contraction.  However, there exists a wide variety of diagrams that can show this.  Diagrams that are simple and focus on few specific details help beginner students to pay attention to the process in general without getting lost in the details.

The one aspect of this idea that I would say warrants qualification is that not all students possess the same knowledge base.  Advanced students, who may already have an understanding of the basic ideas, would likely benefit, or at least not be distracted by, a more detailed view of this same material.  They key to this is that the advanced students have prior understanding of the material to link the details to, whereas the beginner students do not.

 

References

Campbell, N. A., & Reece, J. B. (2001). Campbell Biology. San Francisco, Calif: Benjamin Cummings.

Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2008). E-learning and the science of instruction, 2nd edition. Pfeiffer: San Francisco, CA.

Mayer, R. E. (1999). Multimedia aids to problem-solving transfer. International Journal of Educational Research, 31(7), 611-623.

Moreno, R., & Mayer, R. E. (2000). A learner-centered approach to multimedia explanations: Deriving instructional design principles from cognitive theory. Interactive Multimedia Electronic Journal of Computer-Enhanced Learning, 2(2), 2004-07.

 

Links

Campbell Biology Online (subscription needed)

Southgate Schools Biology presentations

Science/Fiction Podcast- Episode 1: Extinct Species, Zombies, Time Travel and Tricorders

For this assignment, I created a podcast called “Science/Fiction” (or perhaps Science-Slash-Fiction” to add emphasis to the slash).  The idea behind this podcast was to spark the imagination of the listeners.  As a Science teacher, all too often I see student that become disenchanted with science because so much of it seems to be fact memorization.  While I can sit back and be amazed by the work of Charles Darwin or Gregor Mendel, student don’t see it that way.  So, I wanted to create a podcast that reminded listeners that there is a connection between real-world science and science fiction.  Through this series, listeners will see connections between dreams of the past and the realities of the future (or present).

In the pilot episode, the four topics I chose to look at were the possibility of bringing extinct species back to life using their DNA, parasites that infect the brain of their hosts turning them into zombies, the ins and outs of time travel and science fiction devices that will soon be a reality.

This was a very enjoyable assignment.  While I can’t say I am natural at podcasting, I do feel like the process is a great learning experience that helps you delve deeply into topics that are interesting.  I would love to make this particular podcast a series in which my students are the contributors.

Ed Tech 513: Project 1- Multimedia Instruction

For this project, the assignment was to create a presentation that utilizes the multimedia and contiguity principles (I have tried to embed the presentation here, but had no luck) as they are applied to learning a process.  I have chosen the creation of a voicethread on voicethread.com as the process to be learned.  The method I chose was to take screenshots of the process and highlight the steps being described.  The utilization of screenshots that have been annotated (with arrows) reduces the cognitive load of the viewer, allowing them to better process the information.  The setup allows learners to easily find the necessary tabs and buttons to proceed through the process of creating and commenting on slides as well as sharing a completed voicethread.

The combination of the words (slide narration) and the graphics, in this case arrows, creates the “multimedia effect,”  which enhances learning.  Rather than simply reading over a screenshot or simply placing arrow on the screenshots with no narration, the learners are guided through the steps of the process by a combination of graphics and words.  Even this somewhat easy process becomes much easier to understand and process.

Ed Tech 543- Development of a Social Media Policy

While many teachers still choose to keep their head in the sand, the fact is that Social Media is in our schools.  Moreover, that’s where it should be.  There is no doubt that dealing with social media in a school setting is tricky business.  Fears about students safety, cyber-bullying, reputation management, distraction in school and the like are real issues that should be addressed by school communities.  More and more, this is being handled by the development of a Social Media Policy for the school or school district.  This is an important part of creating a culture where students learn to use social media,, something they are already doing in the personal lives, in the space they spend so much of their time.  By taking the approach of creating a policy that cultivates an understanding of the proper use of social media, schools not only protect themselves and their students, they also help students learn to better use such technology.

The following was developed as a guideline for developing such a social media policy in a school.  The original document can be found here.

Plan for Development of a Social Media Policy for Holmquist School

With the ever increasing presence of Social Media in the world of our students, it is important that the school take time to reflect upon what it deems to be “appropriate use” of social media in the school setting.  While it is important to ensure the safety of our students, it is equally important to help students develop skills for using social media and a sense of how to manage their online world.  To that end, this plan was developed as a guideline for developing a Social media policy that effectively meets the needs of our school.

Take a Social Media Inventory

Before developing a policy, it is important to first have an understanding of a great many factors.  The following topic/areas should be included in a questionnaire that may be shared with teachers, administrators, students and parents.  Gaining an understanding of the current use and impact of social media on the school is essential to craft an appropriate policy.

  • Definition of “Social Media”
  • Current Use
    • Teachers/Classes
    • Administration/School Communication
    • Student Use (Academic and Non-Academic)
    • Examples of Good Use
    • Concerns related to Social Media Use

Form a Social Media Policy Committee

A committee of representatives from each of the main areas of the school (teachers, administrators, students and parents) should be assembled with the purpose of working through the answers to the questionnaire and crafting the policy.  It is important to include those who are technology literate and those who are a bit more dubious of technology.  Having the spectrum of attitudes represented on the committee will help to build a policy that makes sense to all members ofthe community.

Research Existing Policies

While the goal of this process is to develop a policy that is crafted specifically for our school, the committee should certainly utilize existing policies to develop an understanding of what areas should be covered in such a policy and how schools similar to ours approach social media in their school.  Individuals with their own learning networks via Social Media may also reach out to find guidelines and ideas.  The following are areas that may be included:

  • Type of Usage
  • Web Access
  • Collaboration, Web 2.0 and Academic Policies
  • Personal Device Useage
  • Security
  • Downloads
  • Online Behavior and Etiquette
  • Personal Safety and Cyberbullying

Write a Draft of the Social Media Policy

With an understanding of the school’s current use of social media and policies of similar schools, the committee should turn their attention to crafting their own policy.  Once completed, this draft should be presented to some constituent groups within the school community (students, teachers, parents), school administrators, the school board and, if deemed necessary by the administration, the school’s attorney.  It is important to emphasize that this is a draft of the policy to reduce confusion and to open the way for feedback from those reviewing it.  Edits may be made based on the feedback received.

A policy may include the following sections (as needed):

 

  • Introduction
  • Rationale for Policy Development
  • Policy Guidelines (broken into sections)
  • Help/Questions Contact Information
  • Signature of Student and/or Parent

Introduction of the Social Media Policy to the School Community

Once reviewed and edited, the policy should be presented to the school community.  The members of the committee should play a central role in explaining the policy and answering any questions that may arise.  This could/should include:

  • Introduction to faculty
  • Introduction to student body
  • Introduction to parents
  • Posting of policy in accessible space

Review the Policy

As social media changes, policies may become somewhat outdated.  Regularly scheduled reviews of the policy should be scheduled to be sure it is up to date and still meets all the needs of the school community.

Resources Used:

Anderson, S. (2012). How to create social media guidelines for your school. Edutopia. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/how-to-create-social-media-guidelines-school

Dunn, J. (2012). It’s time to crowdsource your school’s social media policy. Edudemic. Retrieved from http://edudemic.com/2012/05/social-media-policy-crowdsource/

Johnson, S. (2010). How we used twitter to create our school’s social media guidelines. Ed Social Media. Retreived from: http://www.edsocialmedia.com/2010/08/how-we-used-twitter-to-create-our-schools-social-media-guidelines/

Schultz, J. (2012). Should we fear children accessing facebook? DMLcentral. Retrieved from: http://dmlcentral.net/blog/jason-schultz/should-we-fear-children-accessing-facebook

Smith, L.  (2012). Creating social media policies for school educators- a wise step for a better future. Solutions for Schools. Retrieved from http://solutions-for-schools.com/creating-social-media-policies-for-school-educators-a-wise-step-for-a-better-future/

EdTech 543- PLE Depiction and Analysis

Entering into this class, I was certainly aware of the term Personal Learning Network.  I had been through a professional development ‘workshop’ on web 2.0 and it’s potential uses in education.  I had embraced Facebook as a way to connect socially, Twitter as a way to see what others are doing and various Ning Communities as a way to converse while still be distant.  If anyone asked, I would have said that I had a PLN.  Looking back, I am not so sure.  I had connections, for sure.  I lurked in the background and cherry-picked the good stuff.  I read blogs posts here and there, but never commented.  I tweeted experimentally, but with little of substance to add.

[gigya src=” http://media.spicynodes.org/display.swf?id=a5c45c8257abfa64abca0e952767e4d8&nodemapID=395959″ quality=”high” width=”550″ height=”315 ]

So what has changed.  In some ways, not a great deal.  I am still more lurker than contributor…but I am working on that.  More importantly, I have come to gain a better appreciation of the fact that the PLN is simply a portion of the Personal Learning Environment (PLE).  When push comes to shove, this is about my own learning.  For that to happen, I need to have a variety of ways to obtain and process information.  The tools for finding information vary from Google to Twitter to Facebook.  (For the sake of this assignment, I am limiting myself to the online communities, but understand the role of my offline interactions as well.)  From there, learning becomes an interactive process.  I reflect in a blog or comment on someone else’s blog.  The dialogue begins and I build on a base of understanding.  From there the cycle builds and grows over time.  Interestingly, I used to feel like I could “master”  a topic.  I may not have known everything, but I knew everything that was reasonable to know.  Now, it seems there really isn’t such a limit (or achievement?).  With so much to know and so many potential teachers, all PLE supported,  the sky is the limit.

One thing became apparent as I viewed some classmates’ own PLE diagrams- mine showed less distinction about what each tool/community is for.  That is not to say that mine is better.  Truth is I really don’t know.  Distinctions about personal vs. professional seem like they should be distinguished.  But, for me, as I view my own learning, they all blend together.  This class brought my social world, Facebook, into my professional world.  One of my students follows me on Twitter, which I use for Professional Development.  We chat about golf.  So many of the tools could be placed in every category.  Even in my depiction this was true, but I went with what I use it for most.  Heading forward, this is both a challenge and an opportunity.  I have to be aware that my audience is very diverse.  It includes my colleagues, my boss, my students and even my mother.  However, it also brings the opportunity to catch things that might pass by otherwise and to get input on professional topics (or personal ones) from unlikely sources.

I’ll be interested to do this again in a few years.

Integrating Technology into the Teaching of Science

One of the best parts of being a Science teacher is that my students get to investigate the world on a regular basis.  So much of science is based on observing the world around you, asking questions about that world, investigating your questions and drawing conclusions from those investigations.  It is formal inquiry at it’s best.  For most students, however, there is a limit to what they can see.  Even now, in the 21st century, most of the world we experience is fairly limited in scope.  We know our houses and families, our schools and friends, but only rarely get to peek to the world beyond.

Assuming one has a curious and inquisitive mind, this is where technology can step in and pay huge dividends in the science classroom.  While I am a firm believer that the bulk of science that our students do should be hands-on work, there are many ways that technology adds to that experience.

Looking into Other Worlds

As stated, our view of the world is fairly limited.  Technology allows students to look into the heart of an atom or out into the unknown reaches of the galaxy through experiences like Absorb Learning’s atom tutorial or the Hubble Deep Field Academy.  The fact is that resources are being developed all the time that broaden students world and what becomes observable.  This broader view leads to more interest and investigation on the part of the students.

Learning from Others at Your Own Pace

Another wonderful aspect of technology integration is the fact that students learning is no longer limited to the teacher’s experiences.  Nowadays, students can learn from MIT professors or experts on subjects from around the world.  They need only reach out (with guidance) and follow their path at their pace.  Unlike any other time in history, students can truly follow their passions as far as they desire.

Using Inquiry to Learn

All science education should be inquiry based to some degree.  Technology integration supports such learning by allowing students to learn through experience as they tweak conditions in simulations, design and run experiments online or use tech-based data collecting in their own in-class experiments.   Technology supports a number of various ways for students to both gather information about their world and to visualize that information as they work to draw conclusions.

The fact is that the list goes on and on.  Students can utilize tutorials to gain better understandings of concepts, make connections and develop learning projects with partners around the world or simply track their own learning through the keeping of a blog.  Technology has always played an important role in the teaching and learning of science and that connection is growing deeper every day.

Resources

Haury, D. L. (1993). Teaching Science Through Inquiry. ERIC CSMEE Digest (March Ed 359 048).

Roblyer, M.D. & Doering, A.H. (2013). Integrating educational technology into teaching (6th ed.). Boston: Pearson.

An Integrated Curriculum- Worth the Effort

What is the daily experience of most teachers?  Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but for me it is, sadly, a fairly isolated experience.  I plan my lessons on my own, I prep them on my own, I deliver them on my own and evaluate their effectiveness on my own.  Do I do a good job?  I like to think so.  I also work hard to stay innovative and to make the work and learning interesting for my students.  When push comes to shove, however, my students are working in isolation much the same as I am.  They are studying Biology (or Chemistry, or whatever subject I happen to be teaching) in isolation from other disciplines.  Sure, I like to slip in historical context when I can and I certainly help them through math skills, but the reality is that this type of isolation just isn’t real…except in school.

What happens when the students toss their caps and head off into the real world?  They are asked to complete projects for work that integrate all of the subjects they learned separately in school.  In some ways it seems like learning to hit a golf ball by learning small parts of the golf swing, the initial takeaway, taking the club up, starting the downswing, etc., from different coaches, only to ever take a full swing when it really counts- on the course.  Chances are the first few times you try that full swing, it will be awkward and not so successful.  The same goes for those first integrated, real-world projects.  Awkward and, perhaps, unsuccessful.

What would serve the students better?  An integrated curriculum.  A curriculum in which they develop English skills, Math skills, Science skills and all of their other skills through work on the same project.  A chance to see how the world connects outside the classroom walls.  Imagine a student who spent their time in school in this fashion as they attack that new, but familiar real-world project when they get their first job.  To say the least, they will be better off for the experience thay had in school.

So how does a school deliver such an experience?  To be honest, I don’t know.  It seems to take dedicated teachers, hard work and long hours.  What I do see, however, is that the first step is to create a culture of collaboration.  Administrations must make this a priority.  Creating lines of communication between faculty members is the essential first step to building an integrated curriculum.  Perhaps replacing faculty meetings with grade-level check-ins is a start.  Simply getting teachers together to talk about what they are teaching and how they are teaching it.  Can’t you just imagine the conversation as teachers begin to see the overlap in their subject matter.  It seems to me, it wouldn’t take much for that conversation to turn into an idea for small-scale collaboration, which could lead to…who knows.

The reality is that such conversation would not likely turn into a fully integrated curriculum.  That type of teaching is just too complex to come by through sheer enthusiasm.  But, the conversation is the starting point.  The communication between the people students spend their day with.  The realization that there are common goals and ways to make every subject more relevant, real and meaningful.

I like the sound of that.