In a whirlwind of a week of the academic year and CEP 812 starting at the same, it’s all about new shoes – the physical ones that gave the students (and myself) blisters and the intellectual ones that pushed me to reframe well-structured, comfortable problems into those that are well worth the effort.
In a week of learning that was multi-faceted, let’s start at the beginning.
Problems of Practice:
How do you categorize a problem? We looked at 3 types:
Well-structured: These are the traditional, textbook questions that can be graded correct or incorrect in the blink of an eye – multiple choice, true/false, etc. While these problems appear to give an indication of knowledge acquisition, they do not necessarily correlate to understanding and retention. Thus, as educators we are encouraged to modify these problems into ill-structured problems.
Ill-Structured: These problems are complex and require engagement and understanding to solve. While there is an answer, there are many paths that students can create to formulate their response. These problems involve higher order thinking to synthesize responses through reading, writing, and problem solving. Dan Meyer’s TED Talk inspires us to re-imagine well-structured problems into more meaningful ill-structured problems.
Wicked: These problems are those that we typically face as educators. There are moving parts that are constantly in motion that continually change the conditions of the problem we are trying to solve. As such, there is not one answer, but rather, simply a best answer at each specific point and time. For example, how do I provide the most effective learning environment for a student? This problem relies very much on the student at hand, and the physical and emotional state of the student on a specific date and time. In teaching high school, this variable changes greatly due to the nature of adolescent life. As such, one can only come up with a best plan, and then remain open to change as implementing the plan itself changes the variables.
Using Technology to Address Ill-Structured Problems:
In teaching chemistry, there are a number of places that well-structured problems can be transformed into more complex ill-structured problems to promote engagement, understanding and retention; however, I chose to focus on the teaching style in my classroom, which in and of itself presents an ill-structured problem. The class (chemistry) is primarily discussion based with a “flipped classroom” implementation of textbook readings. What then are the implications for students who have an auditory processing disorder? In a fast-paced discussion in a room with continual ventilation (fume hoods for chemical storage) how am I best serving their learning needs? If questions are ill-structured and students cannot simply Google an answer, then it is even more imperative that they can follow and engage in class discussions. And more broadly, these are adolescents – rife with turmoil in so many ways. Remember being a teenager?! It’s tough, really tough! Between navigating social life, athletics, familial life, the college process, where to sit at lunch, etc., how can I possibly expect them to be fully engaged every day? Let’s be realistic, even the most invested students have a bad day. Add to that difficulty following oral directives, particularly in a room with continuous background noise, and straining to follow a discussion as it bounces from student to student across the room, and it’s a recipe for anxiety (Ross-Swain & Geffner, 2013).
Fortunately, working at the interface of technology, pedagogy and content (Koehler & Mishra, 2008) affords a solution and that’s where Educreations comes in to play. This app enables me to make a screencast in which I can record examples and/or give feedback to students. The screencast can incorporate multi-modal elements with the ability to ink over the screen to emphasize a point or solve a problem – hopefully one that is ill-structured – in real time. Students are able to pause , ‘rewind’, and re-watch the screencast as many times as needed, and can even make their own screencast to explain it again to themselves or ask a question to the teacher. (They can snap a picture of their assignment and incorporate it directly into the screencast.) While the ability to re-examine a classroom topic at the student’s own pace, volume setting, and environment directly enhances the learning experience of a student with an auditory processing disorder (Ross-Swain & Geffner, 2013), it also caters to those students who are struggling to understand a new topic because they are having an off day.
Koehler, M.J., & Mishra, P. (2008) Introducing TPCK. In AACTE Committee on Innovation and Technology(Ed.), Handbook of Technologyical Pedagogoical Content Knowledge (TPCK) (pp.3-29). New York: Routeldge.
Ross-Swain, D. & Geffner, D.S. (2013) Auditory Processing Disorder: Assessment, Management, and Treatment. San Diego: Plural Publishing, Inc.