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Learning at its Best

Fighting a Technological Dystopia in Student Participatory Action

Reading John’s post about ISTE catalyzed me to think a bit about the convergence of several of the projects I have been working on.  I’m attending the July cPAR Institute in NYC focused on Student Participatory Action Research (altering social studies curriculum and pedagogy to focus on building empowered citizens ready to participate in a Democratic society), in preparation for one of my initial research projects during my Ph.D. program next year in which we will be  scaling a current PAR program in New Jersey from 3 to 7 schools in the next year.  That project is a collaborative curriculum development between several researchers and the involved teachers.

Because of the increasing difficulty to coordinate the researchers and teachers in so many schools, we’re looking into applying for a grant to put together a technological collaboration framework.  Since we also want the kids in the classrooms to be able to collaborate with each other, we want to encourage as many connections as possible, and as I know a thing or two about available open-source collaborative applications and program design, I’m encouraging my advisor to make the grant aimed at a general framework with lots of components AND (as the beta-test) a full deployment for initial 4 cases that our PAR project will use for curriculum development, MAT student-teacher conferencing, student projects, and inter-school PAR student collaboration.

I’d like your thoughts and opinions – where do you see the potential for technology-assisted collaboration for teachers and for classrooms interested in innovative pedagogy?  At what point does it become an animal that distracts from the content rather than assists with building connections for learning, and how do we prevent it encouraging the Technological Dystopia?

Optional: More Details on What We’re Thinking

The above is the main point and question I’d like to ask you today.  Not necessarily relevant to the post, below are several more specific goals on what we’re presently thinking about for the project:

1. Make it simple to deploy for teachers that are technological immigrants and IT departments that are focused on keeping a network running rather than providing software support.

2. Use existing open-source projects (like the Coop’s own WordPress, and many more) as the application backbone, and plug into existing online APIs (like twitter and email).  That being said, it should be able to run standalone on a private school network or a computer lab with no internet access.

3. Have hooks to integrate devices (cameras, tablets, netbooks, etc) into the classroom both to assist in collaboration/group project building, but also to allow multiple simultaneous points of response that you can track and review later: instead of asking a question that only one kid answers, everyone answers electronically and that information is saved for you to later review and see if the students got the concept (immediate feedback for the teacher’s approach), or if there are a couple that are falling behind (to provide individual support prior to a quantitative assessment).

4. To make it infinitely domain-able so any arbitrary class, school, or inter-school collection that wants a collaborative space can make a new single point of entry for it.

And of course, if you know other people that are trying to do these things (in an open-source way), please let me know.


5 thoughts on “Fighting a Technological Dystopia in Student Participatory Action

  1. Kevin – thank for this description of the project and call for feedback.

    I’m increasingly convinced that the right technology is the one that helps the student do the job he or she has chosen to do. What can you community of teachers and students manage – or what can the adults let kids manage? How do the kids think about this work, and what do they think they need and can manage? Are their tools with some overlap that also have enough unique features and utility to PAR that students want both? How do we get kids in any program to approach technological tools as collectors of tools that help them curate information and construct knowledge from it?

    So i might ask how the adults plan to frame the PAR work in such a way that students assemble the tool set with some guidance and a lot of experience and evaluation.

    Does that make sense?

    All the best,

    Posted by Chad Sansing | June 29, 2011, 10:48 am
    • Hi Chad,

      I’m not exactly sure I follow you. Participatory Action Research is already student centric – it focuses on helping students develop inquiry projects based on the issues they see in their schools and communities and giving them the tools to do their own investigation, analyze their own data, and develop conclusions and write their own presentations and action plans.

      The technological framework is more open, but looking at it’s potential within the classroom and across classrooms: in the same way, it focuses on giving the control to the students so that a collaborative project is actually about students collaborating. They can control the processes and methods that they use to do so, and hopefully will be able to do so more effectively than the traditional, busted model of group projects. We want to make the tools that some people use everyday (blogs, forums, wikis, microblogging, shared documents, digital photography and movie-making, etc) accessible to all students at every privilege level and in schools of every resource level.

      As to your question of “Are there tools with some overlap” – that was part of what my post was asking 🙂 . Please let me know if you know of some.

      Posted by Kevin | June 29, 2011, 4:27 pm
  2. i’m currently reading Krishnamurti’s Education and the Significance of Life. in it he writes the following:
    “education is intimately related to the present world crisis, and the educator who sees the causes of this universal chaos should ask himself how to awaken intelligence in the student, thus helping the coming generation not to bring about further conflict and disaster.”

    i think the more we focus on life… natural curiosities.. and pairing learners up per interest, we will be spending more energy on things that matter and a result will be intelligent people collaborating with useful tools/strategies.

    Ethan Zuckerman has 4 questions you might find of interest here:

    Posted by monika hardy | June 29, 2011, 12:25 pm

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