Archive for December, 2010

Twitter in the Classroom?

Blogger. Jaiku. Plurk. Tumblr. Twitter. Wiki. Yammer.  What do these terms have in common, besides being near-nonsensical one- or two-syllable words of questionable spelling?  As you likely know, each is the name of a different type of social media.  Such media are proliferating in our time.  Our relationships to social media range from the happily addicted to the warily apprehensive to the harshest of critics.  Umair Hague, for example, recently wrote in the Harvard Business Review that social media have led to relationship inflation (and thus debasement), disempowerment, and exclusion (Hague, 2010).  Zachary Cohen, in his own blog, wrote of the mixed bag that social media comprise:

One of my biggest fears about social media is that it will become what so many other transformational technologies and cultural forces has become: an exemplar of the lowest common denominator in our society. And I fear this because I believe, to this day, and as I have for several years now, that social media is one of the most powerful “things” to happen to, and in, our society. I believe it is a democratizing force. And therein lies the rub, because as you democratize anything, a society, a company, the quality and character of whatever it is that is being democratized diminishes. At least initially. (Cohen, 2010)

I too initially viewed social media with a skeptical eye.  In blogging you can at least use complete sentences.  But I dislike Facebook for much more than touching base with an occasional “friend from the past.”  Microblogging seemed even more ridiculous to me: language cut down to such bite-sized pieces that no true meaning could be shared. The English teacher in me revolted.

Then I got hooked on Twitter. Becky Ellis, a colleague at the Open High School of Utah, suggested that it was a phenomenal tool for personal development. Indeed it is. And I decided to take it into the high school classroom (online high school classroom, that is).

First I had my students “tweet” on symbols they each were following in Lord of the Flies.  For example, “p. 21. Conch used to call assembly. Represents community, unity?”  That was enough segue for at least some of the students to continue to share their thoughts about the literature we were reading via Twitter. We already shared very detailed posts with each other in a BrainHoney discussion board each week.  But Twitter allowed them to quickly share immediate thoughts.  As we read “The Lottery,” students reacted on Twitter with an emotional force that died out by the time our discussion moved to the formal discussion board. Now, even as I write this, some of my former students are remembering our “convos” about Lord of the Flies:

We literally attacked twitter with symbols and irony! Ahh good times =D

I decided to try using Twitter when I taught History 201 (World Civilization to 1500 AD) at Brigham Young University last summer.  The first student to post to Twitter after I explained that we would be using it for our class enthused:

College class with twitter? Yes – History 201 at BYU.

In “#hist201” we used Twitter to extend the conversations we had been having face-to-face, and to share links and videos that were pertinent to lecture. That class developed a strong sense of community and willingness to communicate; perhaps it is just my biased perception, but I think in part it was because of conversations carried on beyond the walls of the physical classroom.

I will teach “Intro to Middle Eastern Studies” (MESA 201) at BYU next semester. You can bet we’ll be tweeting…this time about oil and water and the effects of European colonization and that elusive peace.

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Instructional Psychology and Technology is a field which studies processes and practices that facilitate learning, and the technologies that can support learning.  Beginning with theoretical foundations in learning theory, IPT then seeks to understand how instruction can best suit learners of all varieties.  I am studying how to improve instructional conversations in history and humanities courses, focusing on blended and online learning formats.

Dear Mom and Dad,

For one of my courses this semester, we have been asked to write a letter home, explaining the field of Instructional Psychology and Technology (hereafter IPT), how that field developed, my focus within the field, and what I hope to do in the future with the skills I am gaining from my studies.  I’m excited to do this assignment not only because it is required, but also because I want you to understand my interest in the field.  As you know, Taylor received one of his two Ph.D.s in this field (called Instructional Systems Technology at IU).  Indeed, he is one reason that I have decided to do this program, though not the overarching one.  He did convince me that many of the things I am already doing professionally (teaching as an adjunct at BYU, teaching and developing online curriculum for Open High School) will only be improved with studies in IPT.  Moreover, I am able to fulfill some of my Ph.D. academic credit by creating “internships” out of these professional activities.  But more importantly, the field is exciting to me, and I know that a Ph.D. will be of great value.  As you know, I dropped out of the Stanford History Ph.D. in 1999 because I wanted to teach.  I don’t regret leaving the program, because I am happy with all that I’ve learned from 10 years of teaching high school.  (The only place that might have honed my teaching skills better would have been middle school!)  However, I do regret not having a Ph.D. degree.  BYU’s IPT program is a strong one nationwide, and it is right in our backyard!  I have really enjoyed the classes I’ve taken so far, and as I’ll explain later, I’m excited about where I can go with this degree.

Let me first explain what “IPT” is and where it came from, however.  It sounds very technological.  (Even today, I expect Taylor to solve my every computer question, which he cannot always do!)  Early on, “the field of instructional technology focused on instructional media—the physical means via which instruction is presented to learners” (Reiser, 2007b, p. 3).  In the early 20th century, that often meant educational film, and so some saw the field as a movement in visual instruction.  In the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, the use of audiovisual instruction grew, coming of age during WWII, when audiovisual instruction was used extensively in the military.  One of our textbooks has a fascinating quotation from the German Chief of General Staff, who said in 1945: “‘We had everything calculated perfectly except the speed with which America was able to train its people.  Our major miscalculation was in understanding their quick and complete mastery of film education (cited in Olsen & Bass, 1982, p. 33)’” (Reiser, 2007a, p. 19).  With the 1950s (as perhaps you’ll remember from your own elementary school days), the interest in instructional television increased.  During this time period, the field was dominated by the behaviorist learning theories of B. F. Skinner, which means that instructors saw their role as creating just the right stimulus to produce a certain behavior (thus demonstrating learning).  (Mom, was B. F. Skinner still the Big Man on Campus when you did your elementary education program in the early 1970s, or did you learn of cognitive theories as well?)

In the 1960s, however, our field took on a new focus: instead of equating instructional technology with media, leaders in the field redefined it as being “a process…, a systematic way of designing, carrying out, and evaluating the whole process of learning and teaching in terms of specific objectives” (Reiser, 2007b, p. 3, 4).  As learning theories grew to include not only behaviorism but also cognitivism and constructivism, the focus on “systematic processes” diminished too.  One of the largest professional organizations in the field of instructional technology, the Association for Educational Communications and Technologies (AECT), defined it this way in 2006 (even altering the label): “Educational technology is the study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using, and managing appropriate technological processes and resources” (Reiser, 2007b, p. 6).  I’m interested in both the focus on processes and practices that facilitate learning, and on the technologies that can support learning (especially in blended and online settings).  A new model (TPACK) stipulates three areas of knowledge (content, pedagogy, and technology), and then looks for the places where they intersect to find the very best instruction for learners (TPCK, n.d.).

As I work towards my Ph.D., I would like to do research on the best practices in blended (online and face-to-face) and online settings of instruction in the fields of humanities and history.  More specifically, I want to expand upon a metaphor created by one of my professors, Andy Gibbons, in his forthcoming book, Instruction and Learning, Technology and Design. He proposes that instruction is “the intentional engagement of two or more agents capable of decision-making in purposeful conversation” (A. S. Gibbons, personal communication, September 2010, italics mine).  As you know, one of the things I have loved most in teaching is the discussions that enrich a class’s collective understanding of a historical process or a piece of literature.  I do truly believe that much valuable learning comes through thoughtful conversations.   I was known among the OHSU teachers for the quality of my online discussions with students.  But what were the factors that caused these conversations to excel?  How could they have been better?  Was learning truly occurring at its best levels in these discussions, and where could I have engaged learners even more (especially the reticent learners)?  How can the humanities and history fields benefit from viewing instruction as a conversation, and employing technologies to expand these conversations beyond the walls of the classroom only (for face-to-face settings)?

In the future I will have many uses for this Ph.D. in Instructional Psychology and Technology.  First, Taylor and I have proposed a course taught from the School of Education, called “History of Learning.” This course will fulfill the History of Civilization requirement (which both Taylor and I have taught), but will also incorporate strategies about learning, how to be a better learner, how learning has been viewed throughout the millennia, and how technologies have abetted learning.  This course development might be able to be incorporated in my Ph.D. coursework; eventually we hope to write a textbook for the course, too.   I would like to have further opportunities to teach online, whether with Open High School, Stanford’s Online High School, or other online opportunities.  Finally, I want to continue teaching at BYU, incorporating the very best technologies into my face-to-face teaching.



Reiser, R. A. (2007a).  A history of instructional design and technology.  In R. A. Reiser and J. V. Dempsey (Eds.), Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology (pp. 17-34). New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall.


Reiser, R. A. (2007b).  What field did you say you were in? Defining and naming our field.  In R. A. Reiser and J. V. Dempsey (Eds.), Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology (pp. 2-11). New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall.


TPCK – Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge.  (n.d.) Retrieved November, 15, 2010 from http://www.tpck.org/tpck/index.php?title=Main_Page

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  • Every truth has four corners: as a teacher I give you one corner, and it is for you to find the other three.  –Confucius
  • The teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind. – Khalil Gibran
  • Good teaching is more a giving of right questions than a giving of right answers.  –Josef Albers
  • The essence of teaching is to make learning contagious, to have one idea spark another.   –Marva Collins
  • Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.  –John Cotton Dana
  • Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.  –William Butler Yeats
  • It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.  – Albert Einstein
  • Ideal teachers are those who use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross, then having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, encouraging them to create bridges of their own. – Nikos Kazantzakis

OK – this last quotation is a bit strange.  Collapsing bridges remind me of my husband’s hometown (St. Paul). But it goes with my header photo.

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On the lookout for another photo to replace the stock one that came with this website design.

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