Higher Ed Connections

Trickle Down Technology: Tech Lessons Learned From Higher Ed

K-12's tendency toward slow adoption isn’t all bad. It allows schools to draw from the experiences of colleges and universities, which have come to function as a proving ground for classroom devices.

Care has to be taken when relating technology's use in college and university lecture halls to the way it's applied in K-12 classrooms. To some degree, what happens in higher ed stays in higher ed. Differences in pedagogy, learning styles, and even attendance can impact the way the respective students in the two environments consume technology, which in turn impacts the technology's effectiveness as a learning tool. In higher education, for example, classes are large--some lectures can have as many as 200 students--and attendance is often not mandatory. Technology, as such, is viewed more as a utility than a perk.

Consider online environments, which are used in colleges and universities more as a delivery mechanism for educational material rather than as a supplement. "In higher education, when online learning became popular, it was a way to deliver a whole course in an online environment and add students without having to build more physical space," says Peggi Munkittrick, senior director of product strategy at Schoolwires, an online collaboration platform for school districts targeted at teachers, parents, students, and their surrounding communities.

"There is a business value to using technology in K-12. Technology is being used more to complement the face-to-face classroom instruction."

A key distinction is that K-12 often plays reluctant latecomer to higher ed's aggressive early adopter. But that's not entirely a bad thing. It means that K-12 administrators can take from the experiences colleges and universities have acquired through their use of various tools, and then apply what has worked best, molding it to suit their needs. In effect, higher ed has become a de facto laboratory for discovering the best uses of technology and its impact on the learning experience.

Collaborative Interaction
In particular, collaboration tools that facilitate both online and face-to-face interaction are very popular in higher education, with myriad uses that can translate well to K-12.

Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY, has been using an open source collaboration environment called Sakai for both instructional purposes and as a way to support collaboration at the college through faculty committees, student clubs, and student advisement. The college has been working with a number of K-12 schools to implement the technology through a program called Project Greystone.

Josh Baron, director of academic technology at Marist and the leader of Project Greystone, says the use of online collaborative technologies has moved into education partly to address the need for students to be comfortable working in the borderless marketplace that awaits them as adults. Familiarizing students with this new way of working is better done sooner than later.

Abilene Christian Draws the Line

The university's new K-12 professional development institute recognizes the differences in training classroom teachers and higher ed instructors to use technology.

At Abilene Christian University, the variation between technology use at the K-12 and higher ed levels is built into the way the school conducts professional development.

"We understand that technology in a second-grade classroom looks very different from technology in a senior-level college class," says Billie McConnell, the executive director of the K-12 Digital Learning Institute, the new K-12 component of the school's effort to train educators to use technology effectively in instruction. The university's Adams Center for Teaching and Learning works with higher ed faculty members.

The institute, established just this past summer thanks to a contribution from AT&T, is currently in a limited pilot phase, McConnell says, working with just a few teachers at schools in the Abilene, TX, area. Next summer a full launch is planned, as local teachers will come to the Abilene campus for a week's worth of professional development in technology integration and lesson-plan creation. The institute will stay with those teachers the following school year, visiting them in their classrooms and building an online learning community. In the summer of 2012, the hope is to expand the institute to include schools across the state and nation, and then worldwide.

According to McConnell, the differences in implementing technology in K-12 and higher ed classrooms are less about technology and more about policy. "The biggest difference we have is not so much the tools, but the learners themselves and the rules that guide the learner," he says. "At the higher ed level, we're dealing with legal adults. We're not trying to block them from sites; we're not having to worry about filtering. When we deal with K-12, we're dealing with minors. Filtering becomes involved. The tool may be very appropriate, but if it allows students to get places that aren't appropriate or to do things that aren't appropriate, that's where we have to protect them. In higher ed, we don't have those kind of limitations."

McConnell cites social networking as the best example of the kind of watchful navigating K-12 teachers have to do. Virtual worlds are another example. "My college students have ended up in places in Second Life and had conversations with people in Second Life that I definitely wouldn't want my K-12 students to have," he says. "So we have to be more protective and careful of where we allow them to go."

Though the circumstances may be different, success at both levels of education hinges on the educators' commitment, McConnell says. "They have to truly believe in and understand the value of technology to help their students reach their learning goals. If they don't believe technology is going to help them reach their learning goals, they're not going to implement it. And that's true for kindergarten or higher ed."

"The speed at which these types of collaborative technologies are being used in the workspace force their introduction in K-12 in part [so students can] pick up technical skills, but primarily because collaborating in these environments is different from face-to-face," Baron says. "It's important to understand how to work with diverse people in this kind of fashion online. It's not about learning how to press the buttons in a wiki; it's about collaborating to a productive outcome."

As such, collaborative technology has moved toward true, synchronous interaction. The ability to annotate documents simultaneously, brainstorm via chat, or view presentations as a group no matter what the time is or where the users are is pushing the use of collaborative tools in both higher ed--and now K-12--well beyond blogs and wikis, not to mention a world away from traditional teaching and learning methods.

"When you start using collaborative spaces, you start seeing things you never would see face-to-face," says Billie McConnell, executive director of the K-12 Digital Learning Institute at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, TX, which works with teachers to integrate technologies into the K-12 space (see "Abilene Christian Draws the Line," page 30). [Editor's note: The page refers to the print edition of the magazine; sidebar appears above in the online edition. The page reference is maintained for archival purposes. --David Nagel] "Students are much more open, and you can almost get inside of their heads and see their thought processes. And then you are able to take that information and change either the course material or your direction of instruction based on their reaction."

As yet, real-time collaborative tools haven't penetrated K-12 schools to the extent they have colleges and universities because of significant contrasts between the two. "In higher ed, synchronous is popular," Schoolwire's Munkittrick says. "Scheduling allows for those experiences, so institutions can add to the classroom without adding space. In K-12 it's different. There is mandatory attendance, so the synchronous delivery of learning becomes less of a driver because those students are a captive population by law."

Plus, Baron says K-12 schools tend to incorporate technologies little by little, so many may have not reached the point where they are ready to take advantage of synchronous online interaction. "Most adoption of technology in K-12 goes through a phased approach," he says. "Most schools start with taking what they are already doing and making it more productive or efficient, or increasing access to it."

Such has been the case with the use of collaborative tools, but asynchronous interaction through blogs and wikis still has something to offer, Baron says. "A teacher can start a discussion in class and continue it online over the weekend. Students can write a poem together asynchronously over a couple of days. This is where a lot of schools are at now."

Capturing Class Time
One technology that is applied to great effect in higher education and would seem to hold similar usefulness in K-12 is lecture capture. Professors use a simple webcam or audio recorder to "capture" their lectures and post them online so students can review the material for homework help or test preparation, or just for greater understanding.

A luxury of lecture capture technology, higher ed instructors say, is that it allows them to tell students to stop taking notes and to encourage them to get more involved in the discussion, knowing that the lecture will be available for viewing online. However, they caution that just capturing and posting a 40-minute lecture and expecting students to view it after class can be wishful thinking. The better strategy is to parse the lecture into snippets of five or 10 minutes and post only the most relevant segments.

"For students who were in class, this is a more efficient way to find out what they missed during the lecture," says George Saltsman, executive director of Abilene Christian University's Adams Center for Learning and Teaching, the higher ed counterpart to the school's K-12 Digital Learning Institute. "Rather than put the whole lecture online, instructors can summarize their key points in a blog or post little 'lecturettes' on different topics. They then can keep those lecturettes from semester to semester for succeeding classes of students.

"We know that this generation of students consumes a high amount of digital video, so this is a great way for them to learn in a manner that they're comfortable with."

M.J. Bishop, an associate professor in the College of Education at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA, and coordinator of the college's Teaching, Learning, and Technology program, sees how easily lecture capture could help K-12 students. As instructional design and development teacher, Bishop looks at all new tools entering the classroom, and with her department evaluates their effectiveness.

"There are obvious potential benefits of lecture capture, such as reaching rural students and accommodating kids who are sick," Bishop says, "but as we looked at the technology we felt that here was an opportunity to offload content delivery that takes up so much time face-to-face. "That frees up the time to capitalize on things that when students and instructor are together really make a different kind of learning experience."

Ronald Danielson, vice provost for information services and CIO of Santa Clara University, envisions lecture capture helping each wing of the K-12 community--teachers, students, and parents.

"In K-12, and especially in K-6, the topic periods are shorter, so if a teacher captures snippets of the day it's more convenient for students to go back and look at the material in depth," he says. "Parents trying to help their kids with math, for example, can look at the lecture before they sit down to help. Teachers could edit the video down to the essence of what they are teaching, particularly as pressures to teach to achievement tests increase."

In the larger picture, Saltsman believes the use of lecture capture could go so far as to produce an entirely new classroom model.

"What is the appropriate way for instructors and students to use their time together?" he asks. "In higher ed, and even in K-12, students come together, we dispense information, and then send them home to use the information in their homework. But what if we could tell students to watch a lecture online for homework and then come to class, and that way we can work together to make sure students are learning the right stuff? That model brings the benefit of people being in the room together. It answers a need to 'capture' class time back for active learning."

Tablets Take Over
The elimination of the textbook remains the endgame of technology in education. The tablet computer, such as Apple's iPad, HP's Slate, and the Dell Streak, is the latest device to provide a new way to access information and push textbooks closer to the brink.

"I know of faculty using tablets in teaching, and the results go back to a computer that is projecting or capturing the image," says Wayne Brent, senior consultant in the University of Arizona's Office of Instruction and Assessment. "We see them being used in lecturing to annotate graphics and perform problem solving, where instructors bring up a problem and then work through it. Tablets offer the ability to sketch and draw and mark up images, which provides an additional form of expression that you don't have with a regular computer. And, of course, the portability provides that mobility."

But Saltsman points out that finding a means of implementing the technology to benefit the educational process takes considerable thought.

"The challenge is we have to adapt the media to fit the new medium," Saltsman says. "Just because something works well in print doesn't mean it will translate well to an iPad. With this technology, what was a static graph in the book now should be interactive; what were photos now should be videos; and on and on. We know that as tools mature they will be much better. We're not at the point where we can say tablets are ready, but give them a couple of years."

The use of tablets is currently more prevalent in higher ed, says Hap Aziz, director of the School of Technology and Design at Rasmussen College, which has campuses in Illinois, Minnesota, North Dakota, Florida, and Wisconsin. For tablets to make the same impact in K-12, Aziz says that some key issues need to be overcome that are less of a concern in higher education. "If you drop a book, big deal, but if you drop a tablet you get a cracked screen or a broken unit," he says. "At the very least, a tablet for a second-grader should be ruggedized. There are reasons why in lower grades a book is still a good idea."

Still, the multitude of advantages that tablets present to K-12 schools should make it well worth putting up with the occasional butterfingers. And those advantages go far beyond instruction. Lehigh's Bishop says that schools are looking at tablets as a way to reduce the costs of buying new textbooks and limit their physical footprint. Libraries, for one, are looking at using tablets as alternatives to books and making them accessible for checkout by students.

"I've had conversations with the local middle school about using Kindles or iPads to begin reducing library and textbook costs and allowing students to have access to these devices," Bishop says. "It's definitely an idea with possibilities."

Whether tablet devices become the substitute for the textbooks, notebooks, pen, calculator, and everything else that students have crammed into their backpacks for decades remains to be seen. However, educators generally agree that the technology will have a place in the K-12 setting.

"I have confidence there will be a major shift," Marist College's Baron says. "I think the iPad has made some strides in the form factor, but there is a cost factor. But textbooks are also expensive, and I think there will be a tipping point where it becomes more cost-effective to just buy an iPad and have the textbooks preloaded on it." He adds that the catalyst for adopting any of these technologies in the K-12 space will be similar to what drove past changes.

"A lot of it will come from the corporate sector saying it's not getting students with the skills it needs, which will also pressure the government to set mandates on understanding these technologies. Those will be the big drivers of change."


Sakai: sakaiproject.org

Schoolwires: schoolwires.com

This article originally appeared in the November 2010 issue of THE Journal.