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Record Making With Digital Tools

Understanding whether what is taught is learned is a fundamental concern for education. How do teachers know whether what they do with students produce the desired results? Answers to this question are both elusive and ephemeral, and it is the principal reason teaching is such hard work. Whether a teacher provides instruction, or whether it is provided by intelligent tutors helping students learn is an endeavor filled with uncertainty. Understanding the forces that influence an individual student and understanding how these influences interact with an instructor’s efforts is difficult enough with a single student. Compound that challenge by limiting instruction time to a typical class period and increase the number of students by several dozen, and the amount of information available, for every student, rapidly pushes past the capacity of a single person.

In addition to policy trends that focus on student performance, new ideas about learning also put pressure on teachers. For educators, perhaps the most important aspect of these new ideas is a shift from a largely one-way pedagogical perspective towards one that is more dynamic. As researchers further refine both what it means to know, and how people–in particular students–learn more emphasis is being placed on individual understanding. Servicing the understanding of a student is at the core of the complexity teachers face.

New ideas about cognition (whether Vygotskyian or Piagetian) and an emphasis on achievement and accountability translate into a shift to a model where teachers are being held responsible for managing the construction of knowledge for every student in their classroom. This means teachers need to be able to both keep track of where individual students are, and capitalize on learning opportunities that help move each student to the next stage. In other words, teachers need to be able to significantly reduce the uncertainty and manage the complexity of learning environments. The only way teachers will be able to do this successfully is to systematically learn from what they do. The uncertainty and diversity of learning environments imply that to teach well, teachers must continually engage in learning from, and about, what they do.

This research is interested in developing a theoretical framework for considering how technology can extend the capacity of a typical teacher. The aim is to assist in efforts to take on the complexity and uncertainty inherent in learning environments–including those increases added by the most recent wave of reform. The end result is to influence, positively and systematically, what is taught, and what is learned; teachers are, in this instance, the ostensible targets, but positively affecting the achievement of their students is the true point.

The framework I propose has two parts. The first is an interconnected process approach designed to deal with uncertainty and manage the relationship between what a teacher does and its impact; the process model draws on organizational studies, education reform and teacher education scholarship. The second portion of the framework is rooted in the use of personal digital technologies that can extend the capabilities of educators in a manner that begins to allow an approach to the problem of managing knowledge construction for every student in their class.