Research, Digital Natives, Flipped Learning & Two Pints PLC

An opportunity to talk about the myth of innate digital natives sparks self-reflection and research.


 Click the image to listen to the audioblog version.

The Opportunity

I have been a flipped educator for almost six complete years now.  In those six years I have grown more as an educator than in in the previous ten.  I cannot in good consciousness say I have grown more, or more quickly, than the first three of my eighteen and a half years in education, but that is more about the general naivete of all new teachers than my desire to grow. In fact, the guest spot on an upcoming blog is what has precipitated this walk down memory lane. I will have had the opportunity to sit down with Michael Ralph and Laurence Woodruff via Skype to join them on their podcast Two Pint PLC at by the time this blog posts. This is a podcast focused heavily around education research and informed opinions over a pint of a favorite beverage.  I only hope they find my research more impressive than my unsweetened iced tea.

My Bias

The topic at hand is research by P. A.Kirschner and P. De Bruyckere entitled The myths of the digital native and the multitasker , which I will get to momentarily. But first, I must admit to, and reflect upon, a personal bias I have held for a very long time. I have always held a strong pragmatist view of life generally, and education specifically.  I have always shied away from education experts and theorists nearly equating them political pundits and textbook sales people. This is not to say I am uneducated, but more a condemnation of the institutions of higher education that purport to prepare people to teach. Piaget, Skinner, et. al. were discussed in such theory without application to the universally industrial education model that, to me, they became a representation of how disconnected higher learning was from daily practice. To be fair, concepts like mastery learning were waiting for synthesis with data technology to become palatable within the monolith of public education at the speed of the assembly line. I have three college degrees and the only institution of higher education I have donated my hard won dollars to voluntarily is the local community college I both attended and at which I now adjunct, because I clearly see the connection with education and opportunity for improvement and employment. I did clearly state that I had a bias. This brings me back to the research topic at hand and my appreciation to Mr. Ralph and Mr. Woodruff for the opportunity (nee push) to look at this research particularly, and research more broadly that may support or undermine my own practices.  

A multi-monitored turbobox…using the fossil fuel equivalent of a 1978 Caddy

I have listened to more than a few of the Two Pint PLC episodes since this opportunity came my way and I suggest you do the same.  I have heard the term Luddite thrown around more than once in reference to, and by, one of the gentlemen above. As a person who came of age with floppy disks and command prompts, who is word processing presently on a multi-monitored turbobox sprouting peripherals for the shear aesthetics of it while using the fossil fuel equivalent of a 1978 Caddy on a cross country cruise, I may not be a digital native but I love me some electrons. I must say that I agree whole-heartedly with both the hosts and the researchers, that digital natives who inherently possess technology skills and have the ability to multitask is a myth.  In fact, I would argue that any teacher who reflectively and intentionally implements technology into their learning process does not need the certified research to highlight the fallacy of an inherently tech capable generation.

Need for Training – Exhibit A

It was interesting to read the research by Kirschner and DeBuyckere because it resonated with the unexpected experience of teaching and re-teaching technology skills to around 1000 students in my flipped classroom over the past six years. Each year I begin my classes with a week long in-class project in which students create a 5-9 minute presentation of a review topic from the previous math course.  The students have nearly free reign on their choice of presentation medium and are paired randomly with a classmate. If the students choose a non-tech based medium of presentation they are told that it will be curated digitally for the purpose of peer-review in phase 2 of the project. As an example, if it is an art piece a visual will be paired with description and explanation. If the presentation is a live performance or speech, it will be recorded and shared digitally. There are a variety of purposes that make using nearly a week of class time worthwhile to me:

  1. I do not spend a week or two of class retreading old ground for students who have mastered old topics and skills.
  2. Students have opportunity to share a topic it is assumed they have mastered, or opportunity to refresh and relearn topics that still require mastery.
  3. I set and demonstrate the classroom expectations for collaboration, level of expected mastery, and student responsibility with support.
  4. Most importantly, I have the opportunity to talk with, sit with, and give feedback to my new students.

As part of this process of introduction and familiarization, I do a lot of technology training.  I am amazed how many students struggle with logins, passwords, and learning programs, applications, or features that are outside their normal routine.  While doing this in a one-to-one environment has been marginally easier than using the rolling labs or BYODevice days, the application of a universal technology does not solve training problems, and in some ways inhibits creativity. While establishing the student-teacher relationship is primary, the peer-review training and practice in phase 2 is a close second.  The technology in this case is simply a collection and curation tool to allow students access to a framework and library of peer resources for review materials while establishing choice as one component of learning. While the project above is not what most teachers and parents imagine as a flipped classroom, it does indeed invert the expectations of roles on day one.

Tech as Framework

Flipped is a framework. As discussed above, the term flipped is not limited to relocating the elements of the traditional classroom, but inverting the placement of control and responsibility for learning by providing and accessible and flexible framework. To accomplish this decentralization of responsibility and control, training students on effective technology use is critical.  My classes all use a deck of Google Slides as the framework of resources. These slide decks include all digital instruction components via EdPuzzle, digital practice via DeltaMath, paper and pencil components via Google and Kuta PDFs, in addition to any other cooperative resource the student needs ( Each piece of tech needs to be chosen by the educator with reflection and intent to serve a purpose, not simply for the sake of using tech.

Tech as Data Manager

Edpuzzle provides a level of physical and mental interaction by placing checks for understanding and guiding questions within the otherwise low Bloom’s informative digital lecture. Deltamath can be used in a variety of ways, but for me provides the basic skill practice component while providing immediate feedback and measured progress toward the goal of mastering a specific skill.  Here again the tech is present to do what tech does best: providing accessibility, removing limitations of time and location, record keeping, and instant feedback. In the case of EdPuzzle there is inevitably a day of training and discussion about multiple modes of learning. I must train students on the best way to use and understand a program that allows for infinite opportunities for mastery, but also when to walk away from the technology for real life help from me or others. These digital tools are used both inside and outside of the classroom as supports for the in-depth and extension learning that happens in the group space using a variety teacher led and peer-based activities.

Watching for Information

Turning to video instruction, something that is more commonly associated with the flipped classroom, once the class is underway using a digital framework that reflects the attributes of flipped learning it is time to teach students how to “watch for information”.  My counterparts in the language arts have been teaching reading for information for a long time. In the math and sciences we are only more recently focusing more on the role of reading in our areas of specialty. In the same way students must be trained to “read for information”, it is foolhardy to think that because students watch YouTube for entertainment that they are in any way prepared to use video and audio for learning.  After a day or two of struggling with the questions in EdPuzzle I spend a day with my classes doing origami.

Need for Training – Exhibit B is the video I use to teach my students how to make an origami butterfly and to watch videos for information.  Students are normally excited to gather around the screen with their paper in a “fun” day. What I love about this lesson is that it teaches itself.  I press play. Students keep up initially, then begin to fall behind in frustration. It begins with sighs, followed by grunts, followed by quiet comments, until someone inevitably shouts “can you go back I missed something”.  We go back and view again until someone shouts “slow down it is going to fast”. I comply and use the YouTube speed control. “Can we go back and watch it again?” “Do you have notes or directions on how to do this?” Before long I put the students out of their misery and I ask them how to improve the activity. The student quickly realize they have been duped when I recall their suggestions about what they wanted me to do to help them learn the butterfly and it is nearly possible to see the light bulb go on above every head. No one has ever talked to them about watching to learn.  We then pull up “cat on a roomba” or “cats vs. cucumber” and contrast the way they approach an entertainment video with how they watch a learning video. In my experience this scene is identical for students at every level of academic ability.

Teachers Determine the Tech

While the students of this generation are not digital natives with innate tech abilities, they share a common culture of tech distraction.  When educators attempt to bring tech into the classroom it needs to be used for a specific purpose that is in keeping with the strength of that technology.  In line with the multitasking component of this research, likewise the teacher should not layer tech tasks on top of manual tasks, but should use tech to reduce the number of extraneous tasks. Don’t have students taking notes while the teacher lectures, provide the notes digitally.  If they won’t listen to the lecture if you give them the notes, was the lecture truly a necessary component? If writing the notes is the goal, provide a guided structure to produce usable notes and instantaneous feedback. In a science classroom, why give class wide instructions for multiple centers or experiment steps?  Quick video instructions with demos for students to play and replay can ensure the process is followed with far fewer repeat performances by the teacher. Likewise in science or history when the artifact or specimen is not physically present a digital substitute still provides exposure. When giving practice, allow the tech to provide feedback and reinforcement while recording time required and number of successful and unsuccessful attempts to guide in-person instruction. The list goes on, but all tech used must come with appropriate training by a motivated, intentional, reflective education professional. While students may not be digital natives, they live in a heavily digital world and if the school does not take the opportunity to train and guide students to use proper tools, in appropriate places, in effective and efficient ways then we miss a prime learning opportunity.

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