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Quantitative Research reading

The required reading, Understanding and Describing Quantitative Data (Lewin, 2011) lays out the variety of quantitative methods of research as well as the details in making the research both valid and reliable.  Of course, all research aims to evaluate what the researcher is focused on (the validity) and that the results can be replicated by others independently (the reliability).  The difficulty lies in the details.  Does the data point to one factor, or are there other possible reasons for the results?  Was there an inherent bias in the process?  Were the results statistically significant?  Many problems may arise regarding the validity of the study’s design.  As for reliability, how many participants were used?  Were they representative of a bigger group?  With a different group, could this be replicated?  Are the experimental and control groups equal?  To ensure a study is both valid and reliable, the researcher must work hard to eliminate as many reasons for discounting the results as possible.

In reading the article, “Closing the gaps Improving literacy and mathematics by ict-enhanced collaboration” (Genlott and Gronlund, 2016), the qualitative research applies, because they have a very specific comparison and measurement.  The hypotheses arose from a method of learning to read and write developed by Arne Trageton called Write to Learn (WTL), and to see whether this method, using ICT (Information and Communication Technologies), results in better scores on a national test of math and literacy.  The three main groups in the study were: a group with ICT and the Write to Learn program; another that did not use WTL or ICT; and the last group used ICT, but not WTL.

The results showed that those students who were in the first group (WTL and ICT) scored higher than the other two groups, as well as the control groups.  The obvious question that arises is a comparison of strategies other than WTL for literacy and numeracy improvement.

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Musings on Social Media and Personalized Learning

First, a response to the readings; then a reflection on the applications to my experience.

July 3

Response to the readings

Re: Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching by Paul A. Kirschner, John Sweller & Richard E. Clark (2010)

The key word in the article and in the title is, “minimal.”  The premise is that students are not successful with an approach that presumes that they will “figure out” a solution to a problem that they are given.  With minimal guidance, it is difficult for some to come up with a solution, or the time and effort required to find a solution does not benefit the students in their learning.  This approach can work, but only when students have enough prior knowledge or experience that their ability to independently problem-solve is high.  As noted in the abstract, “The advantage of guidance begins to recede only when learners have sufficiently high prior knowledge to provide ‘internal’ guidance.” (p.75)  Independent, autonomous problem-solving works best when there is a basic level of competence.  An example may be seen in the trades.  An apprentice does not get sent out on his or her own to work on a job, but rather is paired with an experienced worker to guide and model what is to be done.  Once that apprentice has been on the job long enough to see and try, he or she is sent out solo to work and solve problems independently.  There cannot be instant success by the worker being “thrown into the deep end and being expected to swim.”  Certainly a worker will eventually figure out a solution, but without guidance, the path to the solution would likely be inefficient and possibly ineffective.

Perhaps the interpretation of the data may be at the heart of the argument.  That is, those who promote unguided or minimally guided instruction may be looking for different outcomes.  It may be that what they are measuring is creative and innovative solutions to problems.  With minimal or no guidance, the variety or breadth of solutions increases because the direction is not prescribed by the instructor (the “right” answer).  The focus may be less about the result as it is the process.  In that case, minimal guidance would produce more creative approaches, even if some or many are not efficient or successful.  If the goal is not to have the most efficient or successful solutions, but rather to have “different” solutions (or attempts), then minimal guidance would be seen as superior to guided instruction.  In the end, a proponent of unguided instruction might argue that one innovative method may work out more efficiently and more successfully that the prescribed, guided method.

In the article that follows, the description of problem-based versus project-based is significant.  Problem-based, as described by Drs. Barron and Darling-Hammond, includes traditional instruction (“Teachers also offer instruction in more traditional ways, such as lectures and explanations that are crafted and timed to support inquiry.” p.5)  This description may negate Kirschner’s argument and assertion against problem-based learning.

Re: Teaching for Meaningful Learning by Dr. Barron & Darling-Hammond, Stanford University

The first statement that stood out in the reading was, “Interestingly, students who may struggle in traditional instructional settings have often been found to excel when they have the opportunity to work in a PBL context, which better matches their learning style or preference for collaboration and activity type (see, e.g., Boaler, 1997; Meyer, Turner, & Spencer, 1997; Rosenfeld & Rosenfeld, 1998).”  I would like to know if the opposite is also true; that is, whether students who struggle in PBL settings find that they excel in traditional instructional settings.

If, in Barron and Darling-Hammond’s description, that problem-based learning includes the teacher’s use of more traditional instruction, such as lectures and explanations, then it is not an either-or proposition.

Reaction and reflection

Kirschner – In my mentoring of student teachers over the years, I have often counseled with the same message when they have asked about trying an activity with the students: try it.  No matter what I think, you won’t know how something will work until you try it.  This unguided approach was purposeful because I did not want my bias to influence the student teacher’s thinking going into the activity, in a positive or negative way.  As well, a student teacher typically (if it is his or her first practicum) has no prior knowledge about the probability of success for doing activities in class, and this makes it more nerve-wracking from the student’s perspective, but is a necessary component of real learning-by-doing.  So unguided learning has a place.

Barron and Darling-Hammond – Like most teachers, I have done many problem-based and project-based learning activities.  In English, for the past two years, my school has done a version of CBC’s Canada Reads, but at the school level (Wendy, from your previous cohort, hatched the idea).  This includes having classes championing a book, and culminating in a presentation to the student body about your chosen book.  The carrot at the end was to have your class’s book chosen either by the judges or the students as the book of the year.  My class worked on a guided approach to making a 2-3 minute presentation.  How books were presented was up to the teacher and class, so some did PowerPoint, one did a rap song, one did a dance, and my other class did a narrated, dramatic stage presentation.  This class chose to do a news report-style video.  It was an amazing success (we won the student choice award).  We certainly could have made a documentary about the process, because it would have played out just like the Most Likely to Succeed video.  This, in a “traditional” school setting.  So does a school need to completely alter itself to incorporate inquiry-based projects?  I would argue, “No.”  But also, to be clear, this did not work for every student, so it is not the method of learning for all students, all the time.

Test post on Research Methods

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