Reflections from ISTE – Inquiry As Stance

I returned from the International Society of Technology in Education (ISTE) conference with a renewed sense of commitment to the notion of “inquiry as stance” (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009) as theoretical and practical guide for professional learning. For the past two years, I have been working in a community of inquiry with art and music teachers. Together we question our own practice, share students’ insights, grapple with the meaning of ideas, and explore ways that we each envision our classrooms to better support artistic freedoms for students.

At ISTE, a colleague and I attended a presentation called, “Digital Learning Community: Case Study in Networked Professional Learning.” The presenters offered several good ideas for those who design and support professional learning communities for teachers who are setting their own learning goals. They spoke about how their Digital Learning Community (DLC) program as fastened to an Inquiry as Stance (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009) approach to professional learning. I briefly summarize two key ideas from their presentation that stand out as especially important to me as a facilitator of collaborative inquiry. Later, I share a summary of chapter 5 in the book, Inquiry as Stance, which the ISTE presenters cited as their key text in visioning and supporting DLCs.

Key Idea #1 Develop a structured process by which teachers can exercise the freedom to think creatively.

Leaders, project developers, and funders who are aiming to support creative, open-ended explorations of teacher collaborative inquiry should aim to provide a solid structure for this work to occur. This is not to say that collaborative inquiry groups should be given directed assignments or be asked to learn or implement best practices. Rather, teachers should be given the freedom set their own goals, and develop a line of inquiry that fits the unique and particular interests and needs of members of the group. According to the DLC presenters, a framework is needed for this kind of messy, free, creative inquiry work to occur. For example, a structure might require that teachers post periodically and with due dates to a wiki or blog space. Or, set up a series of check-points, surveys, feedback, or other structures that give teachers the confidence that their work is focused in the “right” directions, and they are not “off-task.” The DLC leaders found that this structure gave teachers the freedom to think creatively about their inquiry and contributed to a sense of accomplishment.

This key idea gave me a lot to think about as we plan another year of inquiry together. What are the structures in place that help teachers to feel this sense of accomplishment the DLC leaders speak of? What kinds of structure limit creative freedoms in inquiry and what structures support and promote collaborative inquiry? How can we provide this structure without dictating the themes of inquiry that teachers elect to undertake?

I view the notion of a structured process for inquiry as different from providing the inquiry theme itself. This important distinction could be the difference between a typical novice/expert workshop based professional development class and a collaborative of inquiry model for ongoing professional learning in which teachers are inquiring into ideas and questions that they find to be urgent in their local teaching and learning contexts.

Key idea #2 Evaluate the effectiveness of a professional learning program where the goal is to develop an “inquiry as stance” approach to teaching and learning

The DLC evaluators administered a survey periodically throughout the year. They also observed the conversations that occurred in the group meetings. The survey was constructed of a variety of questions types, mostly multiple choice designed to help teachers self report their learning. The survey data was reported as quantitative data the changed over time. The survey helped teachers indicate 1) What they thought they were learning and 2) Their attitude about what they were learning. The observations helped to determine if the survey data was trustworthy. Evaluators listened to the conversations happening among teachers and learned that they were often teaching themselves the technology needed to accomplish the goals the group set for themselves. This collaborative learning meant that teachers were not only learning new tech skills, but more importantly they were practicing collaborative learning and inquiry-based learning that would hopefully allow them to continue to learn in this way in future. This is a different format that the tech tool workshop in which an expert teaches you everything there is to know about a particular tech tool.

One of the audience members in this ISTE presentation made the comment: “But teachers don’t know what they don’t know. How are you [project leaders] seeing to it that teachers learn the skills and content important to proficiency in digital technology.” The presenter kindly returned to the inquiry as stance framework. Teachers are the experts about their own practice. They seek the tools and information they need to reach their own learning goals and to assist members of the group in collaborative learning. A person fluent in the inquiry as stance view would hesitate to pose a question that positions teachers in a deficit of knowledge. Rather, and inquiry as stance approach is one that values the local knowledge of practitioners as they inquire about and critique the interplay of teaching and learning in their own contexts.

The DLC project leaders and evaluators frequently referred to Inquiry As Stance as the theory that supports the design and evaluation of the professional learning communities. I read parts of this book in 2010 as I was writing my dissertation proposal. I returned to chapter 5 this week to think again about the relationships between inquiry as stance and the design of professional learning in collaborative inquiry groups. The following is a summary of the 4 dimensions of Cochran-Smith & Lytle’s (2009) notion of inquiry as stance as it applies to professional learning communities.

4 Dimensions of Inquiry As Stance (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009)

1) Local Knowledge

Teachers learn by constructing knowledge of experience with daily life in schools. This local knowledge is connected to a global context. “Constructing local knowledge is understood to be a practice of building, interrogating, elaborating, and critiquing conceptual frameworks that link action and problem-posing to immediate contexts” (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009, p. 131).

2) Practice as interplay of teaching and learning

Teaching and learning is “continuous reinvention” (p. 134). Practice is not limited to just the practical but is a theory in action. Practice is about “inventing and reinventing frameworks for imagining, enacting, and assessing daily work in educational settings” (p. 134). Teachers engaged in inquiry as stance are not learning from the expert as novices waiting implement best practices. Instead, they are positioned as knowledgable in work that serves to “deliberate problems of practice” (p. 144).

3) Communities as catalyst

For Cochran-Smith & Lytle (2009) communities of learning are the “primary medium or mechanism for enacting the theory of action” that is, inquiry as stance. The focus of the inquiry as stance community is more broad than analyzing test scores or efforts to understand and implement best practices presented in texts written by “experts”. Rather, teachers “work together to uncover, articulate, and question their own assumptions about teaching, learning, and schooling… [They] pose problems of practice that require studying their own students, classroom, schools, programs (p. 141).

4) Toward a democratic end

The authors see the democratic end not as a separate fourth dimension but as an all-encompassing idea. The goal of practitioner inquiry is to enhance students’ learning and their opportunities for life. The potential outcomes of inquiry as stance is for learning and learning agents to be radically changed; and for practitioners to seek new directions, purposes, and aims toward the improvement and critique of learning.

Thanks to the DLC leaders who presented at ISTE for the gentle reminder about how important it is for leaders in professional learning to develop structures with practitioners that serve to empower inquiry in community to study, critique, and re-vision teaching and learning contexts.

Cochran-Smith, M., & Lytle, S. L. (2009). Inquiry as stance: Practitioner research for the next generation. New York: Teachers College Press.

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iPads in the Sandbox

Do you take your iPad to the beach?  Would you take your iPad in a sandbox?  Well come and see 47 art, music, and theater teachers do that with their iPads – using virtual sand of course!

On Friday, May 13, 2011, our Arts Educator 2.o project will be hosting its final workshop day – and from 9-11AM we’ll be exploring the results of  year long inquiry based learning with technology in a “sandbox” style open forum.  We’ll be streaming and blogging the day here.  We hope you can join us!

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One Really Big Mac to Go Please

“Can you find me a scuba diver?”
“I need to cut some frames- the opening is 37 seconds long!”

On Friday the 29th, the Collaborative Inquiry Group I facilitate met at the IU to work on their movie. They’ve never made a movie before. It didn’t stop them. One of the group members owned a Mac, so she went to the Apple store and took a course in iMovie, then the group threw together a pot luck dinner, and we all went to her house with images and video clips and dove in. She continued to facilitate the work, even when our meeting space changed to the IU. Friday morning at 8:00 AM found Mary bringing in her giant Mac desktop wrapped in a baby blanket and rolled in a suitcase. Go Mary! We were struggling with the structure and Jessica took over, designing production shots. Go Jessica! Lauren jumped in to help and the others began searching out data- collaboration! We’re going to use this movie for our CIG playground, the culminating event in this year’s Arts Educator 2.0. Our group will be using their iPads, netbooks and yes, Mary’s Really Big Mac to share our journey this year. Which brings me to the reason for this somewhat random sounding post discussing everything but the iPad on a blog about piloting iPads in Education.

As I watched these and other teachers in the room scurry about, working collaboratively while tuned in to the web on their netbooks, iPads and smartphones, I was struck by the changes. In September some of us had never met a wiki before, some worked with a netbook for the first time, some of us had no technology available in our classrooms due to either resources or district policy, and many were a bit timid about technology, looking to the facilitator to teach them how to use it. Now they teach each other. Now all contribute to a blog and over half maintain a wiki or a website or both. After all, they are using iPads, netbooks, laptops, document cameras and Q-3 video recorders to track student progress, keep track of their calendars, conduct student surveys, document student work, facilitate peer to peer and self evaluation, create multi-media assignments and engage their students.

The success stories are awesome. One teacher saw an urban classroom of disinterested students turn into engaged enthusiastic artists. Another teacher used the 2 iPads given her by Arts Educator to change her school climate. She sent one around the building, sharing with other classes, she sent another home with the students on a rotating basis. She has seen watershed change. Her school district now allows her access to wireless internet in her room. Other teachers ask to borrow her room and the technology in it for their formal observations, and she has partnered with a local university who will be donating 25 iPads and iPod touches to her building for use with special education students. Yet another teacher so engaged her students in their choral music curriculum using technology that they have taken over ownership. She recently had the distinct pleasure of becoming a living metaphor for “guide on the side”. She relates the story of her final concert, during which she stood in the wings watching while her students conducted music they had chosen with student arranged accompaniment. She told me she has had students ask to come and audit any class she teaches during their free period, just to get more of what she is offering. Another teacher drew her elementary students deep into the reasons behind why we create art with a unit on environmental art. Her art students materials were a literal mountain of paper discarded by their school that she rescued from the landfill. Their work resulted in recycling bins being put in place for their building. I could go on- these are only a sample of the stories, and only the stories of one of the six collaborative inquiry groups in Arts Educator 2.0.

But back to the iPads…. I promise I have a point. I have to say that the one thing I can pinpoint as being the most influential in moving my teacher’s professional development forward this year was the piloting of the iPads. The iPad’s ease of use and “eye candy” appeal of the many attractive aps, created an energy that acted as a catalyst. No matter that it could not be or do everything, what it could be was user friendly and that was enough to light the fire. To paraphrase my colleague Leslie Gates “they left behind the fear that they could break it” which was an incredibly freeing and creative thing to do. I am convinced it was the iPad that has created this change in the way that they use technology.

In fact, in reflection, it seems to me that on a deep level, the iPad represented a metaphor for the entire process of shifting the way we think about teaching and learning. Within minutes of opening the box, my teachers had discovered how to download photos to their iPad and they were sharing pictures. No one taught them how to do it. No one made it a learning goal. They created their own learning goals, gathered the tools they needed and taught each other. This process continued each time we met. Even as we explored learning theories for our classrooms that suggested that student centered and inquiry based learning was the most effective, they were doing this very thing with their iPads and the other technologies they were given. It is no wonder that their classrooms have become student centered with a focus on collaborative learning, student feedback and self evaluation.

I began this year wondering how offering a single iPad to a teacher could effect change for the students. I am humbled by the results and shame-faced at my skepticism. Those single iPads offered a way in to a world from which many had been previously shut out. Kudos to the far sighted leadership of Arts Educator 2.0 for making possible this tremendous experiment. Oh, and my teacher’s don’t intend for this energy to stop. We are all keeping up with each other over the summer using Flipboard on our iPads to capture our blog and other arts and technology resources for easy reading by the pool!

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A Dozen Great Ways to Use the iPad!

As part of our documentation of the ArtsEducator 2.0 project, we have been collecting stories of how the iPad is being used in classrooms across the 3 counties that IU1 serves.  As of today, our video count has reached twelve – there are a dozen great examples to watch and learn from.  We welcome you to watch a few and get some ideas about how you can utilize an iPad in the art, music or theatre classroom.

At the recommendation of our featured teachers, I’ve added the following apps to my own iPad:  RainbowNotes, ReadRhythm, d’ART HD, PhotoGoo, and CrazyBooth, to name a few.  We hope you enjoy these teachers’ stories as much as we do.  Enjoy!

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A “Splashy” New App

Earlier this week I read about an app called “Splashtop Remote” on the PA CFF Coach listserv.  $5.00 and about 30 minutes later (after reading through the procedure at Jim Gates’ Tipline Blog) I can now access my home desktopfrom my iPad. Yes, for those who are wondering, I still have an iMac at home!

My mind hasn’t quite wrapped around what this will mean for me – other than the fact that I no longer have to drag home my work laptop to use all my Office software.  I’m also letting the notion of access to years worth of files from the iPad while on my deck, sink in.

Hope you find this as useful, and potentially game-changing as I think it may be for me!

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Garageband on the iPad!!!!!

Recently Apple released iMovie and Garageband for the iPad.  Naturally, I was a bit skeptic. I have used recording softwares before and used Garageband pretty extensively on my MacBook Pro.  I wasn’t exactly confident that the iPad could handle the overall interface or manage the type of processing power that I know audio and video can demand. Well…enough of my chatter.  Needless to say, my experience with Garageband on iPad… wow…just….wow!

It was only $4.99 in the App Store which is intensely reasonable for having drums, keys, organs, bass, electric and acoustic guitar sounds.  Oh, and there is vocal processing tools as well.  Its a miniature studio with an absolutely amazing graphic interface.  Super easy to navigate, I spent about 5 minutes clicking around and found tons of great usable tools.  The ability to quantize, add reverb & echo, loops sections, and limit notes to specific scales..all at my fingertips.

Above is the how the bass playing section looks… with specific chords available to show keys and also create complimentary basslines.  There is even an autoplay button that comes with pre-created patterns for every instrument.

The instrument lineup shows the specific loops you have created with optional buttons for solo-ing and muting individual tracks.

The only thing I am missing is the interface to plug a guitar in so that I could record my flesh & blood electric.  At any rate, I have to get back to recreating “Dark Side of the Moon” on my iPad…

Here is a little snippet I did first time around… only took a few minutes.

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Teach this Old Dog New Tricks

Our arts educators have had their iPads for approximately 7 months now and they are really beginning to innovate with them.  In a multi-purposed gathering last Friday (a lunchtime iPad focus group) we had a chance to hear more stories of how folks are making the iPad go to work for them in the most fascinating ways!

Project-wise we are charged with documenting what we do, as are our educators.  We are also charged with sharing our learning and project model as widely as possible.  To that end, many of the project faculty have created conference proposals to talk about elements of the work that are near and dear to their hearts.  Camille and I have presented at PETE&C on the iPad as a tool for inquiry, and will present on a similar topic at ISTE in Philadelphia.  To that end, we have begun to gather the best of the best of what our arts educators are doing on our project wikispace, with the help of Jordan Mroziak.  We welcome you to look over the resources and videos there to inform your own playful exploration of iPad use.

One of the best things that has come of giving iPads to educators as part of inquiry is that they have begun to teach us old-dogs new tricks.  One of the best things that happens when we gather is iPad swapping and the creation of lists of recommended apps.  One barely has to go to the App store with a group like this!  If you are someone who does like to search for new apps however, I recommend you try one that was shared just last week by our RedCIG group – AppShopper.  Its a much easier interface to find what you need, app-wise… at least in the world of this old dog!

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