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Technology allows educators to gather data on student achievement, replace costly print textbooks with digital versions, and help teachers prepare innovative, interactive lessons. Listen to three experts describe how well-implemented, intelligently used technology can improve education.

Randy Bomer:

Dr. Bomer, who’s chair of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, proposes that smartly-used technology allows more students to get ideas out of their heads and in front of a broad audience – it also helps K-12 students become more digitally savvy in general, which gives them a leg up in college and their careers.

Joan Hughes:

Dr. Hughes, an associate professor in Curriculum and Instruction, believes that well-implemented technology can boost student interest, publishing, inquiry and motivation when it comes STEM content.

Cesar Delgado:

Dr. Delgado, an assistant professor in Curriculum and Instruction, suggests the biggest benefit of instructional technology is in how it helps students become better scientific investigators – they can explore topics that might otherwise be off-limits because of safety concerns, lack of physical proximity to the subject under investigation and time efficiency.

Kimberley Gonzales

Kimberley Gonzales

The College of Education gave me a meaningful way to bridge my undergraduate degree in computer science with my passion for education. I learned so much from others in my graduate cohort because of their diverse backgrounds. There were students who came from instructional design companies, some that were teachers who had led the implementation of education technology at their schools or actively used technology to teach their subjects, and people like me who came straight from a university and had a background in technology or education. I also found diversity in the professors’ interests, and from each class I gained a new definition of what learning technology could mean.

Why UT?
As a native Texan, I always wanted to someday bleed burnt orange. I was so sure my choice was right that I didn’t apply to any other graduate programs. Dr. Min Liu, who’s in the College of Education’s Learning Technologies Program, reached out to me immediately upon my applying and asked me to become part of a group that works with her on an award-winning science education game called Alien Rescue. When I came to visit before officially enrolling, I immediately knew I’d made the right choice.

UT’s location was also attractive because of the number of technology companies located in Austin. I never imagined just how connected UT and its professors are to the greater Austin community and beyond. Education professors have research projects in collaboration with local K-12 schools, other UT departments, and even other universities.  Many major technology and education conferences come to Austin once a year, and sometimes conference speakers make pit stops in the learning technologies classes.

Life After UT
I’m currently a digital content engineer at Texas Instruments (TI) in Dallas. At TI, I manage the development of educational content for various platforms and facilitate the updating of content based on software changes. I use the skills I learned in the Learning Technologies Program to help students and teachers enjoy success with our TI technology’s educational content.

Advice for Students
One of the benefits of a small program like learning technologies at the College of Education’s is that you eventually get to know all students in your cohort very well. Collaborate with your peers as much as you can and learn from their experiences.


July 11, 2014

The College of Education’s Institute for Public School Initiatives (IPSI) and UT Austin’s Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) recently hosted the first-ever education-focused national summit on big data and data visualization.

The Invitational Summit on Education Data Visualization drew tech gurus, educators, policy makers, and community leaders to Austin to discuss how big data can help education solve problems to the same degree that it’s benefited areas like medicine, transportation, and law enforcement.

Attendees learned about

–       issues of privacy, security, ethics

–       how data visualization can affect policy making

–       tools that are particularly helpful when using data visualization in education

–       global trends

–       selling leadership on the importance of gathering and analyzing data

–       how data visualization can help the learning process and educational research

“Over the past 20 years there’s been explosive growth in learning that happens or is tracked in a computer-mediated environment,” said Paul Resta, who holds the Ruth Knight Milliken Centennial Professorship in Learning Technology in the College of Education. “As a result, educators and scholars have large amounts of data that could significantly improve teaching and learning. Data visualization, which has long been used in the sciences and business, offers a variety of powerful tools that can enhance research and make communication of education reform proposals to the public easier.”

Speakers included:

Paul Resta, University of Texas at Austin

George Siemens (keynote), University of Texas at Arlington

Kathleen Styles, U.S. Department of Education

Eric Newburger, U.S. Census Bureau

Larry Johnson, New Media Consortia

Mark Milliron, Civitas Learning

Richard Rhodes, Austin Community College

Peter Winograd, Center for Education Policy Research

JoAnne Wendelberger, Los Alamos National Laboratory

Ben Glazer, Eduvant

Chris Dede, Harvard University

Experts explained the best uses for big data, how to organize and share the data, and the limitations of data as a silver bullet for all education problems. Several applicable case studies also were presented not only from the field of education but also from areas like the oil industry, the military, and wildlife preservation.

“Regarding big data, it’s both complicated and simple,” said Charles Thornburgh, founder, CEO, and director of Civitas Learning. “You have to provide the correct infrastructure with the right data to the right people in the right way.”

– Kay Randall, k.randall@austin.utexas.edu

Originally published in March 2011

Let’s say you have to teach a dozen college freshmen how to whip up a batch of chocolate éclairs, and the extent of their culinary experience up to now has been stirring Honey Nut Cheerios into lowfat yogurt.

You can stand in front of the group and tell them how to do it while they sit at their desks and copy it down. Then you can give them a multiple choice test to see if they remember the recipe.
George Veletsianos

Adventure Learning

Veletsianos was introduced to adventure learning when he worked with Dr. Aaron Doering, the architect of adventure learning, on a GoNorth! Arctic expedition. GoNorth! links up explorers, teachers and students from around the world to answer a ‘big’ science-related question such as “Why are the world’s oceans important to us all?”.

Or you can provide computers with Internet access and have them search for éclair recipes, choosing one that seems promising based on cooking principles they’ve learned from a cooking science scholar who spoke to the group. They also could use the computer to watch Parisian pastry chefs demonstrate classic cooking techniques and ask the experts questions during the demonstration.

Then the students could go select the cooking ingredients and try their hand at preparing the dish while they receive instant feedback, via the Internet and a webcam, from chefs who’ve successfully made the dessert.  After making the dish, the budding chefs could blog about their experiences and communicate online with cooking school students around the country, sharing some of the éclair recipes that were successful, as well as tips on how to tweak and improve the recipes that more or less went down in flames.

Notice how, with that second approach, the students are likely to learn more than just the recipe and the teacher doesn’t put a cap on what they learn? That’s actually a good thing.

According to University of Texas at Austin Professor George Veletsianos and other top education scholars, the most meaningful learning occurs when students become an active part of the whole process and become investigators and explorers, collecting data and searching for answers and solutions. In a class where this is happening, the instructor designs learning environments that are supported and amplified by technology. There aren’t restrictions on how much can be learned and the teacher’s more of a very skilled guide and supporter than disseminator of bite-sized, pre-packaged factoids.
Aaron Doering sits in a tent working on his laptop during a GoNorth! Arctic expedition

Adventure Learning

Dr. George Veletsianos

“I’m very interested in how to use emerging technologies and pedagogies to design engaging and powerful online learning experiences,” said Veletsianos, who’s an assistant professor in the College of Education‘s Department of Curriculum and Instruction. “We know that technology’s often used in familiar ways in education, in ways that support the status quo.

“But in my work, I try to break away from that mold and rethink the role of technology, role of the teacher and role of the student. The teacher becomes someone who orchestrates rich, exciting, challenging learning situations and is adept at tapping the potential of online networks and contemporary technology. The student generates valuable knowledge and participates in worthwhile activities. And technology transforms and extends the work that these individuals do.”

Back in 2004, when Veletsianos was a graduate student at the University of Minnesota, he had the good fortune to be introduced to a new educational approach called “adventure learning,” which is one approach to inquiry-based, hands-on, technology-supported education. It’s the kind of learning that teaches students how to think rather than simply how to recite, report and recall. Veletsianos was able to work closely with the pioneer of adventure learning and has over the last decade become a well-known national expert on the topic himself.

“I had a really dramatic first experience with adventure learning,” said Veletsianos. “I was able to join Dr. Aaron Doering, an architect of adventure learning, and a program called GoNorth! to research online learning environments that are based on and built around Arctic expeditions. These expeditions are followed, via technology, by students and teachers around the world.

Screen grab from George Veletsianos’ blog

Adventure Learning

To demonstrate the ease with which adventure learning can be implemented as well as some of the technology resources that can be used, Veletsianos turned his blog post about biking around Austin on a Saturday into an adventure learning experience.

“It’s not that there weren’t any teachers offering active learning experiences or instructors using technology in creative ways before the dawn of adventure learning, but adventure learning represents the first time the process was formalized and informed, down to the last detail, by scrupulous research. Adventure learning requires a well-researched, inquiry-based curriculum, collaboration between all of the participants, media and materials that students receive regularly and at frequent intervals from scientists and researchers in the field, and specific pedagogical guidelines.”

In the case of GoNorth!, which has arranged annual educational expeditions to remote Arctic locations since 2004, the learning takes place around a few central “big” questions that relate to the travel destination. For example, a few years ago, scientists, teachers and students set out to answer the question, “What is climate change?” through a GoNorth! adventure.

Teachers, students and experts around the world collected data from their own regions and used authentic, real-time reports from the explorers, as well as the adventure learning curriculum and resources, to learn natural and social sciences. The participants were able to share their findings with one another in online photo albums, webcasts, blogs, movies and interactive maps. One team from the circumpolar Arctic even paddled along the shores of British Columbia and Washington State, reporting daily in journals and with audio and video on the sights and sounds that they encountered as they investigated climate change.

“This sort of large-scale version of adventure learning typically includes exploration and inquiry by an expedition team to some remote location -– Alaska, Australia, wherever –- and the experts share their findings as they happen,” said Veletsianos. “Along with the students, they predict and investigate outcomes.

“Teachers interested in using adventure learning will want to have the option of doing it in a more modest way and implementing it with more ease and frequency, so I’ve begun to study how it can be scaled down and still deliver the same benefits. In the fall of 2010 I and a small group of instructional technology graduate students teamed up with a large, introductory sociology class -– the Study of Society — here on campus to see if the adventure learning approach could help the students experience what it’s like to be a sociologist.”

Veletsianos and instructional technology graduate students Gregory Russell, Cesar Chavez Navarrete and Janice Rios ventured out into Austin to ask the man -– and woman –- on the street, “What’s the role of the teacher?” and collect anecdotes from interviewees about some of their most memorable teachers. Veletsianos named the project “YoTeach.Us,” and he and his team designed and developed a set of online environments where YoTeach.Us data were gathered and posted over three weeks. The sociology students watched and commented on the interview responses, while also collaborating on related tasks assigned to them.

Adventure Learning“The goal was to give the sociology students an accurate approximation of authentic sociology field research,” said Navarrete. “In addition to gathering interviews in Austin, we also solicited responses from instructors around the country. We received a substantial number of audio and video submissions, ending up mainly with YouTube interviews -– and we’re still taking responses. The result was an impressive collection of sociological perspectives gathered around one ‘big question’ that a real sociologist might actually address, and this body of data will likely continue to grow.”

Even though online education tends to be associated with passive instruction, our work and research show how you can capitalize on the power of creative pedagogies and social-oriented technologies to design incredible, lively learning opportunities, whether these are for kindergarten through high school classes or for higher education. George Veletsianos

Next, the sociology students broke up into teams to launch independent explorations of a sociological issue of their choice. They conducted interviews, analyzed print and digital media, created video recordings, researched, blogged and produced digital analyses of their research.

Navarrete, Russell and graduate student Anita Harvin assisted the sociology students by developing and sharing a set of tutorials for online technologies like Bubblr, GoAnimate, Pixton, StoryBird, VoiceThread and BlogSpot. They also worked directly with each team to help the amateur sociologists figure out how best to integrate the technology.

Veletsianos hopes to build a substantial online portfolio of adventure learning projects, similar to YoTeach.Us, that any kindergarten through 12th grade or university instructor can access, use or replicate. Also, university instructors will be able to use the YoTeach.Us videos to lead their pre-service teachers in a study of instructors’ roles in the classroom.

“Even though online education tends to be associated with passive instruction,” said Veletsianos, “our work and research show how you can capitalize on the power of creative pedagogies and social-oriented technologies to design incredible, lively learning opportunities, whether these are for kindergarten through high school classes or for higher education.”

Students tend to share Veletsianos’ enthusiasm for interactive technology and for adventure learning, using words and phrases like “real-life,” “meaningful” and “engrossing” to describe adventure learning. The word “fun” crops up an awful lot, too.

“I hope adventure learning eventually just becomes synonymous with ‘good teaching’ and that at some point it’s what everyone is doing,” said Dee Davis, a middle school science teacher. “It’s not unimportant that our students remember the War of 1812 was in 1812 and can repeat a two-sentence definition of photosynthesis, but, honestly, if I were looking to hire an engineer, computer scientist, teacher, marketing consultant –- whatever –- I’d want the adventure learner. I’d want somebody who’d learned how to think, solve problems and create things that didn’t exist before.”

Photo of George Veletsianos: Marsha Miller

Originally published in May 2011

Dr. Paul Resta

Dr. Paul Resta speaking at the Harvard Advanced Leadership Institute Think Tank on Educational Innovation and Technology, March 31 – April 2.

In December of 2009 a landmark national summit on redefining education for the digital age was held at The University of Texas at Austin, convened by Dr. Paul Resta and the College of Education’s Learning Technology Center. One hundred leaders from state legislatures, state certification boards, education professional associations, teacher unions, teacher education institutions, public schools, the business community and federal government attended the event.

During the three days of the invitational summit, education stakeholders held intensive discussions on the transformative policies and actions necessary to bring public education into the digital age. The aim was to address large issues and try to:

  • Identify the characteristics of a true 21st century educator
  • Define the critical elements of an educator preparation program that will produce this digital age educator
  • Identify the institutional, state, and national policy structures that support the creation of these programs
  • Develop a national coalition to reinvent teacher education for digital age learners to identify and resolve challenges to this transformation, and seize opportunities resulting from these challenges

The summit resulted in a major report that was delivered to Congress by Resta and National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future president Dr. Tom Carroll in the summer of 2010. It contained detailed recommendations for the transformation of teacher education programs.

New Hampshire Takes the Lead

To make revolutionary, far-reaching changes in public education, there has to be buy-in from most, if not all, major stakeholders – from teachers, school administrators, communities and parents to policy makers, educators’ professional organizations, and corporate supporters and partners. And from Washington, D.C., down to the local level.

Fewer than six months after the national summit hosted by The University of Texas at Austin’s College of Education, New Hampshire held a state summit modeled on the national event, replicating the brainstorming, discussion and recommendations process.

Fred Bramante, a member of the New Hampshire State Board of Education and former Board chair, attended the Austin summit and is a passionate advocate for the recommendations in the summit report – he’s one of the visionaries who’s kick-started the progress in his state.

“There are specific changes that need to be made and then there’s a general transformation of the whole concept of what education is, or should be,” said Bramante, who at one time was a middle school science teacher. “We’re addressing both. It’s 2011, but most schools around the nation are still using a 20th century model – considering educators to be ‘content deliverers,’ assuming that learning can only occur within the four walls of a particular classroom and using school calendars that have remained unchanged for roughly a century.”

Bramante has led a major effort to review and revise state K-12 education policies in New Hampshire, with the focus being on the documented academic, physical and social progress of each student.  One of the results of Bramante’s hard work has been New Hampshire’s Minimum Standards for Public School Approval, which call for:

  • the personalization of learning environments and strategies
  • harnessing of untapped local resources that can yield partnerships which, ultimately, increase students’ learning and career opportunities
  • more flexibility in developing a school calendar
  • extended learning opportunities for credit toward graduation
  • distance learning and technology to access new learning opportunities and support the learning process
  • moving from a Carnegie Units-based system to a competency-based one

The standards were distributed to and accepted by the major education organizations that must review and implement such regulations.

“We’ve scheduled another state summit, which is being held this month, and in which we’ll discuss additional reforms, like those needed in teacher education programs” said Bramante. “The language we use now to talk about education and learning reflects the direction in which we’re headed. In our draft of higher education teacher training regulations, we’ve replaced every instance of ‘classrooms’ with ‘learning environments,’ replaced ‘teacher’ with ‘educator’ and ‘instruction’ with ‘learning’ or ‘learning strategy.’ Little by little there is progress and we don’t want to stop until we’ve fulfilled our vision.”

Additional states have begun to implement recommendations from the University of Texas at Austin summit as well, with California working on a transformation of their teacher education programs and Wisconsin instituting reforms in one part of the state with plans to scale the changes to the rest of the state in time.

Success at the National Level

Of the numerous national education leaders to attend the Austin digital age learners summit, Dr. Tom Carroll has been one of the most enthusiastic and vocal advocates for radical change. As well as being president of the NCTAF, he co-chaired the University of Texas at Austin summit along with Resta.

“Post-summit recommendations are really gaining traction at the state level,” said Carroll, “and that’s excellent because both Congress and the U.S. Department of Education are putting leadership back at the state policy level. As far as our national recommendations, the most important thing is to establish national competency standards.  I see that as the area on which we should focus most of our energy and resources right now. Ideally, there eventually will be shared international standards – we need to keep the international context in mind as we establish ours.

“As Congress reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, we need to get them to directly address the need for education that creates a 21st century, digital age workforce. To teach students who know how to work with new media and social network tools, we obviously must have teachers who have the necessary technology skills and knowledge. It’s imperative that we help Congress understand that this must be part of the investment in education.”

Key national education leader Susan Patrick, who also participated in the Austin summit, concurs with Carroll regarding the urgent need for updated teacher training programs and teachers who are highly skilled in technology use. Patrick is president and CEO of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, which promotes access to a world-class education for all students by promoting online learning opportunities.

“Currently, there are few teacher education programs in the U.S. that offer training and pre-service practice in online and blended learning,” said Patrick. “One of the most significant outcomes of the summit was to highlight the need for this kind of teacher training. We’re starting to see programs include instruction in online learning as part of their curricula.

“The summit recommendations also are having an impact Congress’s reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Obama’s plan includes standards on teacher preparation and professional development for 21st century skills and online instruction, so we’re beginning to see some very significant effects on state and national policy.”

In March of this year, Resta, who has been shepherding much of the progress and information dissemination following the Austin summit, was invited to Harvard University’s Advanced Leadership Initiative think tank to speak about redefining teacher education. The think tank drew education stakeholders like IBM Foundation president Stanley S. Litow, who is a former deputy chancellor for New York City schools, and U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Tony Miller.

“This Harvard event included an international group – since it was a webinar, 1000’s of individuals worldwide were able to participate. Other countries are watching with great interest to see what we are going to do about issues such as the revamping of teacher education programs.

“During the three days of the summit, the clear and recurring theme was that we must change the ways that we’re preparing teachers so that they can prepare today’s students appropriately,” said Resta. “Most agreed that we need to build a ‘collaborative atmosphere’ around issues of reform so that there will be largescale buy-in at all levels and so that schools that are islands of excellence won’t be such a rarity and remain un-replicated.”

In April, Resta was in Washington, D.C., again, this time to update invited U.S. Department of Education leaders and Capitol staff on the impact that the Austin summit has had in the past year and a half and the reforms that are being adopted across the nation.

“It was very gratifying to be able to report that a great deal of progress has been made,” said Resta, “and share the message that the recommendations are gaining traction. Places like New Hampshire, Wisconsin and California are setting the stage for sweeping nationwide change.”

Originally published August 2012

Dr. Min Liu

Dr. Min Liu

Providing English language learners (ELLs) with iPod touches, or other similar handheld devices, can support their learning and improve academic outcomes, according to a study from The University of Texas at Austin’s College of Education.

Dr. Min Liu, a professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, looked at ways that teachers and ELL students in elementary, middle and high school are using iPod touches to improve teaching and learning. Qualitative and quantitative data gathered during the 2010-12 school years revealed that students enjoyed educational benefits from the device’s mobility, flexibility, connectivity and multimedia capabilities. ,

College of Education graduate students Cesar Navarrete, Erin Maradiegue and Jennifer Wivagg assisted Liu in this study.

“The majority of ELL students in Texas are Spanish-speaking and many are from economically disadvantaged families,” said Liu. “Mobile devices like iPod touches offer them an academic advantage in that they have 24/7 access to learning resources on the Internet – this can help them do their homework anywhere and anytime. Our research shows that these students’ learning opportunities are extended well beyond the classroom and there’s even an indication of ‘sociocultural capital’ benefit. That just means that these students have a device that helps them feel more like their English-speaking peers and it isn’t something that sets them apart in a negative way and stigmatizes.”

In Texas, ELL students begin to be integrated into regular classrooms in middle school and, according to Liu, using mobile learning using like the iPod touches could help make the transition more successful.

For the study, Liu examined students in a Central Texas school district that is spread over a large geographic area, making it even more of a challenge for students without transportation to avail themselves of after-hours learning resources at the schools.

One of the concerns about students using mobile devices for education purposes is that they instead will be focus on accessing recreational content, but Liu found that students primarily employed the iPod touches for school-related work. They frequently used resources like translators, calculators, maps and media creation tools such as voice recorders, still cameras and video cameras to complete homework assignments.

“The positive outcomes for the students were that they had a home-to-school connection, could engage in language learning away from school, could accomplish more content learning, were able to extend the amount of time they were able to do schoolwork and they had multimodal support,” said Liu.

When surveyed, students and parents had very positive responses to the iPod initiative.

“The parents and students loved the iPods,” said Liu, “and the teachers were enthusiastic about helping the students use any new resource that could help them succeed. For the teachers, though, there were some challenges to overcome. A significant amount of technology training is required as well as training in how to effectively teach the subject matter using the devices.”

Liu discovered that significant training time was needed to instruct teachers in how to integrate the mobile devices smoothly into teaching. In order to be effective in the classroom, the teachers needed assistance in finding the appropriate iPod applications, monitoring students’ use of the devices, solving iPod connectivity issues and dealing with lost devices.

“We’re only beginning to look at how best to use mobile devices with English language learners,” said Liu. “For something like this to succeed, teachers and school districts must be willing and able to make a major time commitment to training. Also, you have to deal with the issue of rapid obsolescence when it comes to technology, and, as we saw in our study, the devices often are lost or broken. All of this equals financial demands on a school district. If a district adopted an initiative like this, we’d want it to be sustainable. That requires further investigation.”