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Technology & Education

Progression of technology in education has advanced over my career from chalk to VR.
Progression of technology in education has advanced over my career from chalk to VR.

My experiences with technology over the years have led to less of an evolution of thought and more to an increased number of lens from which I view the affordances and barriers of educational technology. I started with an interest in engagement, and have added lenses of accessibility, equity, inclusion, efficacy, authenticity, and reflection. In addition to the number of lenses, I take a broad definition of ed tech, one that incorporates the pencil, the discussion forum, adaptive learning, and the graphic organizer as all forms of ed tech. Below I outline some of the work I’ve done with educational technology.

Discussion Forum Questions: One of my first examinations of technology in education was exploring discussion forum questions and their perceived impact on student learning. In asking students the impact of discussion forums on their meeting course objectives, I consistently got a low level of students saying they were important. Then I had a teaching assistant who told me that my questions…could use some improvement. I delegated the task to her to improve these. She changed all of the probes from being fact-based to being more opinion-oriented. The perceived value of the forum more than doubled. This was a powerful lesson about how more affective oriented experiences could help to meet more cognitive learning objectives.

Lamprey Paper Model: In the spring of 2021, Michigan State University, as most institutions of higher learning, was in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and all courses were moved to remote learning. This presented a challenge to courses focused on experiential learning, such as Comparative Anatomy (IBIO 328) that is usually taught in a laboratory where students participate in numerous dissections of preserved specimens to better understand the variety of ways that species have evolved to survive and thrive in various environments. To help meet this challenge, Dr. Terri McElhinny enlisted help from me as part of MSU’s Enhanced Digital Learning Initiative (EDLI). We developed a paper dissection of a lamprey to work along with other models by Getting Nerdy.

Elements of paper model of the lamprey
Paper models can offer similar outcomes to dissections, but what exactly are instructors and students hoping to get out of a dissection?

This work prompted questions about the role and expected outcomes from dissection and the potential to have multiple approaches to this course depending on students’ desired credentialing.

TPaCK and Ecology: In thinking about how to use technology in the classroom, one of the models that continually comes up and one that influences my thinking is Mishra and Koehler’s TPaCK framework. One example that I feel captured this was an exercise I developed for an online ecology course, where students adopted a natural site, did weekly observations, uploaded their pictures and observations to an online photo sharing site that allowed them to geotag the images. This activity allowed me to weave content knowledge about soil texture, hydrology, biodiversity with pedagogical knowledge about experiential learning and peer feedback, to authentic experiences with technology like Geographic Information System-like data.

Editable Science Images: One of the challenges I have explored with Dr. Terri McElhinny and the Biological Sciences Program at MSU is the visual representation of biological concepts. For example, if you look at the lectures most faculty give on genetics may incorporate 10-15 distinct representations of DNA. These representations will also vary between courses within a sequence. So, how might this variation lead to difficulties in understanding by students. In addition, many instructors have to cobble together non-editable bitmap images to form a visual narrative of processes such as transcription. Not being able to edit the images leads faculty to say things like, “disregard this part of the image, and try to focus here.” For this project we tried to develop vector images in Powerpoint that faculty could share and edit and to allow for consistency between sections and courses in a sequence. Ultimately, this endeavor ran into the challenge of faculty investment. Being under multiple pressures for research and service makes it challenging for faculty to invest time in image editing even when using Powerpoint, a tool they are relatively familiar with. This has corroborated other experiences I’ve had about the power and importance of community building in creating and more arguably more importantly sustaining change in curriculum and curricular approaches.

Educational Videos: Often in online learning one of the elements that seem a staple is the explanatory video. I worked with TechSmith to create a Learning Community on campus looking at what the primary literature tells us about video production. I hope to paste a white paper on our findings in the near future. In the meantime, here are a couple examples of my video production work.

PaperPusherProductions – This series was inspired by the Common Craft style of videos. I tried to incorporate elements of visual surprise/interest, to help keep learners engaged.

Drawing to Learn – This is an example for a video series I pitched to Pearson and ended up doing ~40 videos (eventually managing a team in their production) that accompanied one of their textbooks. It incorporates student production and self-evaluation.

Informal Learning Tools: For a part of my position at MSU I was an Assistant Curator at the MSU Museum. That work often looked at how technology could impact learning in informal spaces. One of the arguments about the importance of this work that always intrigued me was the Falk and Dierking’s (2010) 95% Solution. They argue that school is not where most
Americans learn most of their science, instead it is informal spaces like museums or what they call “free-choice science learning landscape.” These experiences in planning technological experiences to mediate informal science learning helped me to think out side of the classroom box for improving educational experiences. Below are some of the projects that I work on:



Kiosk Games: To better engage learners with the theory of evolution. I received a grant from the BEACON Center for Evolution in Action to develop with Andrew Dennis and his colleagues at Adventure Time Games two kiosk games, one on variation and one on natural selection. The games were challenging in how do you engage museum goers in 2 minutes or less (the likely time for engagement) in an experience about evolution that is informative but does not lead to additional misconceptions. One particularly tough challenge was how to have players interacting with the games without implying intentional design a common misconception.

QR Code Narratives: As part of the POWerful Design exhibit I created on biomimicry, I created a scavenger hunt throughout the museum with a series of images and QR codes that connected other exhibits to the concepts of the biomimicry exhibit.

QR Code scavenger hunt, you have caught Sammy Squiq
One of 8 superheroes or villains that were throughout the MSU Museum that helped to connect the biomimicry exhibit to other pieces in the museum.

Augmented Reality: