Using Technology to Spur Innovation and Creativity in Teaching and Learning

Introduction

This quarter I am in EDTC 6102 for the MEd in Digital Education Leadership program. In this course we focus on teaching, learning, and assessment. For each module we exercise cognitive presence by responding to the ISTE Standards for Students with a triggering question, explore our question by researching and discovering relevant articles and resources, integrate our class discussion and feedback from our peers, and finally work towards a resolution in the form of a blog post–what you are reading now! The first module explores ISTE 1. Below is a visual of the process with a simplified view of each step of the process and main ideas/resources I explored during this journey. The mind map is also accessible directly.

ISTE_1_mindmap_ingersoll

ISTE Standards for Students 1: Creativity and Innovation

The first ISTE standard for students centers on creativity and innovation, “Students demonstrate creative thinking, construct knowledge, and develop innovative products and processes using technology.” I am most intrigued by the second half of the standard, “…developing innovative products and processes using technology.” Reflecting on this standard and my role working with faculty and students my curiosity was sparked about what this standard might mean for the teaching process which formed my triggering question. When I introduce new “innovative” technologies and tools to faculty members what processes and application of those technologies can spur true innovative teaching and learning practices?

Web 2.0 Tools

Weller (2013) discussed the advantages of using web 2.0 tools in the classroom environment. Specifically, the author notes the ability for live communication within groups and sharing of media content. Many web 2.0 tools are device and platform agnostic (40). Weller’s research mainly focused on Padlet, a web 2.0 tool that functions as a virtual Post-It wall for students to share responses, comments, and ask questions, for example. One student, sharing about Padlet, said, “We can all work in groups but share our findings instantaneously. It is great for sharing ideas and being able to see what the other groups are doing” (44). After exploring Padlet it didn’t seem to fit the niche I was looking for, the simultaneous collaboration and sharing of media content attributes reminded me of the quick and reliable real-time editing and co-authoring features found in the Google Drive suite of apps (Docs, Slides, and Sheets).

Is Google Slides Innovative?

Google Slides, while not necessarily an innovative product in itself, can provide professors with new opportunities to be innovative and enable students to investigate complicated ideas and enable students to work together to make new knowledge creatively together with the ability for easy sharing with others (ISTE Standards for Students 1.a-c).

Strengths of Google Slides, like most Google Drive applications, include real-time editing and commenting, free access, easy sharing/editing controls, web-based access, and is platform agnostic. A professor can use Google Slides solely as a collaborative tool for student groups to work together in class as an active learning strategy. The professor can roam the classroom visiting each group to see their progress as they work together online with their devices. Because Google Slides is an online tool, the professor can interact in real-time through her own device and engage with the groups to provide feedback with comments or with the integrated chat feature. This is an innovative process in the classroom learning environment that promotes active learning and encourages students to create new knowledge together in groups with instant feedback from the professor and involve other groups. Professors can use Google Slides to creatively structure their course with more group collaboration enabling them to process new information together.

Integrating Google Slides Innovatively

Untethered Teaching Communities of Practice

For this past academic year I’ve co-facilitated three communities of practice with 22 professors. We provided each faculty member with an iPad, case, Bluetooth keyboard, and a stylus. Our goal is to assist professors to teach untethered from the classroom computer podium. Our communities of practice are aimed at supporting this process by discussing pedagogy and implementing different technologies (such as iPads, Apple TVs, and Splashtop) to support the goal of creating an active learning environment. The University of Minnesota has helpful active learning resources including a repository of strategies and explanations which focus on pedagogy rather than technology. The pedagogical aspect is the primary driver, but we also evaluate technology tools (e.g., iOS apps) for effectiveness in achieving our goal. Bates (n.d.) writes about the need to fully evaluate technologies as their presence is ever increasing, “[F]aculty and instructors need a strong framework for assessing the value of different technologies, new or existing, and for deciding how or when these technologies make sense for them and their students to use (Section 1.7, p. 21).

While ruminating on ISTE 1 I had a one-on-one appointment with a professor who was ready to start using the iPad in more innovative ways in the classroom. Previously, the professor solely used PowerPoint from the podium computer. In this static position the professor wasn’t able to interact easily when the students worked together in groups. Additionally, when the groups created new knowledge together it took a lot of time to properly share it back with the professor and the rest of the class. collecting their documents required a significant amount of administrative overhead. I wondered how might ISTE 1’s call to develop “innovative products and processes using technology” might be helpful to this type of situation. Implementing the latest and most “innovative” tech tool wasn’t the answer. However, repurposing and implementing even the simplest tech tool could prove to spark innovation in the application of that tool.

Preparation

Equipped with an iPad the professor and I discussed how we could transform the process for group interaction using technology to support real-time collaboration and reduce the amount of time spent on administration (i.e., setup and collecting group artifacts). We wanted to create the ability for the professor to watch the group work live, respond when needed, and use the Apple TV to share one group’s work with the whole class.

We created a Google Slides document with a shared link and adjusted the permissions to allow public edit access. It was important to make sure the Google Slides document was properly shared. In this case we wanted to make it as easy as possible for the students accessing the document. Therefore, we chose to make the Google Slides document editable without sign-in. Anyone with the link could edit the document. We included the link in the PowerPoint document that resided in the LMS for students to access.

The Plan

The professor planned to present with the PowerPoint app from his iPad and switch to the Google Slides app when the class session transitioned to group work. Students would follow the embedded link in the PowerPoint document they downloaded from the LMS and each group would edit their slide creating new content together (ISTE 1.b). The professor would view the Google Slides document from his iPad and roam around the room checking-in with each group as necessary using the real-time viewing/commenting of the Google Slides app to see how each group was progressing. The ability to give feedback right away was one of the most important goals of developing this innovative and creative process. Bates (n.d.), describing what current learners need based on research, wrote, “[L]earners need feedback on a regular basis to learn skills quickly and effectively; immediate feedback is usually better than late feedback” (Section 1.3, p. 10). In similar exercises without the iPad and Google Slides it might take a week or more for the professor to collect all of the individual digital documents from each group and respond accordingly with feedback. The plan to integrate Google Slides would decrease the feedback loop from days to literally seconds.

The Reality

After the class I checked-in with the professor to learn about the outcome of trying to integrate the Google Slides workflow for the first time. Unfortunately, the first try at using Google Slides didn’t work as planned. I commonly hear, as I am sure many educational technologists do, the technology failed and that was true in this case. We didn’t practice in the classroom and neglected to test switching between two inputs on the projector. The professor began class with the Apple TV input for the iPad and switched to the classroom computer to show something else. When the professor switched back to the Apple TV input, expecting it to return to where the iPad was before, the iPad disconnected. The professor, confused and frustrated, opted out of trying to troubleshoot the issue and improvised moving to something different. I am hopeful the next try will be successful because of this experience, but it was a clear reminder to walk through the technology beforehand. The possibility of this happening wasn’t on either of our radars.

Moving Forward

Backchannel

Through conversations with my classmates in EDTC 6102 I was introduced to concept of a backchannel. A backchannel is for students to interact with their classmates and professor synchronously during class. One particular tool, TodaysMeet, is used by some teachers for that purpose. It is similar to Padlet’s Post-it note features, but more conversation orientated with capabilities for moderation and room controls. Learning about TodaysMeet reminded me of my graduate theology courses. My classmates and I often used the “chat” feature in Google Docs to expand or ask questions about what the professor said, ask for interpretation when the professor spoke too quickly, and whatever else. We used Google Docs to take shared notes and we utilized the chat feature as a backchannel for the course sessions. While we sat in the classroom quietly listening to the lecture the backchannel enhanced community with our peers and provided the ability for further engagement in the material.

There are many benefits of creating a backchannel administered by the professor. The backchannel provides space for students to communicate in real-time with each other and opportunities for the professor to review the feed, respond to unanswered questions, clarify statements, and gauge if students comprehend the material. Furthermore, it can serve as a catalyst to receive feedback at the end of a course session, as exit slips, or during the course session. Marzano (2012), in an article about teaching with exit slips wrote, “The teacher might also devise ways to routinely monitor the class’s level of energy and effort in view of adjusting instruction.” It would be important for students and professors to write a covenant of expectations regarding respectful communication, participation expectations, and whether anonymity should be allowed. A backchannel complements the feature set Google Slides provides for group work.

From Google Slides to a Digital Whiteboard

Reflecting more about this process and the exploration phase I am not convinced Google Slides is the best tool. I wish there was a digital whiteboard with live real-time editing and flexible creation capabilities. I’ve seen classrooms with whiteboard walls, which significantly enhance group work collaboration and new knowledge production, yet require significant cleaning maintenance and aren’t supportive of sharing across the room (especially when thinking about accessibility issues). What is essential and innovative about whiteboards is their simplistic unrestrictive canvas–just grab a pen and go to a wall! Whereas Google Slides feels too restrictive for the creative creation aspect. What I want is a real-time digital whiteboard that features sharing tools similar to Google Drive. Where a professor could, from their device, jump to group’s whiteboard and add comments right on their drawing and students in that group could engage immediately. This feature could provide the ability to share with groups across the room when needed. Microsoft’s OneNote has nice whiteboard-like capabilities as the page isn’t restrictive in size (e.g., it isn’t a 8.5-inch by 11-inch canvas). You can type and add content anywhere (and the Surface device does have a digital pen). However, I have yet to be satisfied with Microsoft’s real-time collaboration capabilities. Simply put, Microsoft pales in comparison to Google’s fast and reliable real-time collaboration–which is the hallmark of the Google Drive suite of apps.

Conclusion

In summary, there are two innovative processes worth developing and researching further to assist professors with technology-infused active learning strategies in their classrooms based on ISTE 1. First, a real-time collaborative group-based digital space to create new knowledge together with ability for a professor to peek in and provide feedback as needed. Second, a backchannel for students to interact with their peers during class without distracting the performance (e.g., lecture, movie, or other groups sharing) and introduce opportunities for the professor to engage during appropriate times and, on the fly, adjust the class session as needed. I plan to continue exploring these areas. I invite you to share any insight you may have, or recommendations of apps/services to try out.

References

Bates, A. W. (n.d.). Teaching in a digital age. Retrieved from http://opentextbc.ca/teachinginadigitalage/

Marzano, R. J. (2012). Art and science of teaching / the many uses of exit slips. Students Who Challege Us, 70(2). http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/oct12/vol70/num02/The-Many-Uses-of-Exit-Slips.aspx

University of Minnesota. (n.d.). Some basic learning strategies. Retrieved from http://www1.umn.edu/ohr/teachlearn/tutorials/active/strategies/

Weller, A. (2013). The use of Web 2.0 technology for pre-service teacher learning in science education. Research in Teacher Education, 3(2), 40–46. Retrieved from http://roar.uel.ac.uk/3322/1/RiTE_3_2_Weller.pdf

  5 comments for “Using Technology to Spur Innovation and Creativity in Teaching and Learning

  1. January 19, 2015 at 10:53 am

    This is fantastic, Ryan. Very well thought out and organized. It is evident that you invested so much time and thought into this module, you incorporated tools, articles, conversations with classmates and even past experiences. Through all of this, I think it is interesting that you found your original concept to not be the best path to pursue for your intended purpose. It reminds me that looking at all angles of implementing a new tool or idea is such a necessary step. It can either illuminate how that resource could fill a need or save a great deal of time on something that is not the best option. Great job, this was very inspiring!

  2. Marsha Scott
    January 19, 2015 at 11:33 am

    Ryan, I’m very impressed with your blog. You clearly referenced the reading assignments and standard 1 to address your trigger question. I liked the way you linked your mind map, so that readers could view a larger version. I will need to try that on my blog. I noticed you were able to carry out your question, by working with a professor. You took us through the plan and the reality of working through your question. In your conclusion, you provided us with a summary and then “invited” the readers to become involve with finding other apps or resources. Again, I enjoyed reading your blog and learning about new technology to use in the classroom.

  3. January 19, 2015 at 2:05 pm

    I really like that you took an online tool that many think they are familiar with, and revisited its uses. Until I read your post, I probably wouldn’t have thought to use Google Slides. I viewed it as another version of PowerPoint. Reading your post pushed me to remember that a lot of online tools have been designed to allow for more innovation than I realize, and I am eager to reframe my thinking in the classroom to reflect this. I can now easily seehow students could use this tool to collaborate and construct new knowledge while I’m instructing. Perhaps, this could be a running theme for you! “You thought you knew about…but have you thought to……?” Great job!

  4. Janiess Sallee
    January 20, 2015 at 10:28 pm

    Great reflection, Ryan! In particular, your section on “The Reality” is particularly valuable as it not only reminds me to test my use of technology prior to implementing it but to also stay flexible and open to alternatives when plans don’t pan out as desired. In regard to TodaysMeet, I have seen it used effectively in a large conference setting and agree that it, or a similar tool, could be used effectively, too, in a classroom. I must confess that keeping tabs on a backchannel while “being live” can be challenging. Designating a moderator may be a good way to go. Thank you for sharing your insights! I look forward to seeing what collaborative tools you find best suit your learners.

    • Ryan Ingersoll
      February 3, 2015 at 6:24 pm

      Janiess, great thoughts on a moderator! I love the idea–empower a student to take that role! That is another opportunity for a student to learn applicable skills for a future job.

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