Since the last post, our e-book has been published. We hope you will read it and use this blog, among many other forums, to keep the topics we present there under discussion. The links on this page will take you to either the Kindle or iBooks versions. We will continue to use the blog, and later, an expanded section of the website, to highlight some topics we introduce in the book as well as to extend some of the information in the book as new apps and uses arise.
In the last post we discussed some broad issues that emerge when school districts or individual schools debate whether or not to go with iPads or other tablet devices. But in this post, we drill down into point 4 from the last post, a topic that assumes you have made the plunge and anticipate the next move. If the district or groups in a district have made the decision to go with iPads or other tablet devices and have purchased enough of them so each student has one, at least for part of the day, the decision is a potential game-changer for improving student engagement and learning--that is, with the right planning and design.
For now, we set aside commercial e-textbooks, online curricula, and similar predesigned experiences. Those apps or app-like tools have affordances designed into them that are relatively fixed, some of which are positive and some less desirable. We also set aside digital versions of print texts that are simple online or pdf versions of the print pages that afford portability--they save on the weight in students’ backpacks by substituting e-book versions for heavy books but do not afford the multimodal learning affordance we discuss here.
In this post we focus instead on the more typical dilemma: Educators have iPads and wonder what apps to purchase, and then how those apps and combinations of apps, including web-based tools, will improve student engagement and learning in various subject areas via teacher-generated lessons and units fit to existing goals and standards. There are lists upon lists of recommended apps via all kinds of users, including recommendations from your immediate colleagues. Some of the apps are more generic and some are discipline-specific. But you need apps that improve your lessons and teaching by building systematically on what you already do well--the more traditional but highly successful lessons you already use.
A recommendation from an educator who uses apps, included a trusted colleague, needs to be contextualized within a broad design. How do they use the app? How does it enhance engagement and learning in relation to a particular teaching and learning topic, within a particular domain, and what evidence do they have of this value added? In short, great apps can fail within some contexts in which their built-in affordances don’t map onto the lesson; and apps that are not even apparently designed for a particular lesson might be ideal, as becomes evidence through use and re-design of a particular lesson, unit, or other instructional framework.
Our school-based colleagues who are migrating to iPads are asking: “What apps should we use?” the answer, at least in this transitional period, is that it depends on three issues: (a) how you want to support students’ learning based on what the app is designed to do; (b) the app affordance based on what you want to do with the app, even if the affordance isn’t apparent in the design of the app; and (c) how successfully you bridge what you have done successfully using a traditional print platform with a new digital transformation approach that improves upon the traditional lesson in terms of both engagement and learning. “
The bridging we note in issue (c), one that has been explored for the last two years or so by our school-based colleagues, serves an important, dual function, in addition to responding to points (a) through (c) above. First, It allows for the systematic planning of a lesson using apps or other digital tools based on what is already successful in meeting learning goals. Second, it provides a way to systematically monitor how well the bridging lesson improves upon the traditional lesson by making explicit both the multimodal affordance and the digital transformation of the lesson--in short, drilling down to a finer level of “value-added.”
Affordance design and app affordances--good and bad. We want to emphasize and repeat a key point from the last post: Each app, enhanced textbook, or digital version of a previously print-bound curriculum material will provide both positive and negative affordances and may retain or exclude some positive features of traditional print curricula. For example, moving to an iPad note-taking app in place of a paper-and-pencil use of Cornell notes, will afford flexibility in taking notes that may be shared and used to review specific topics--e.g., as a feature of an iBook--but a note taking feature of an app, in and of itself, does not afford more effective note taking. Well-designed uses of Cornell note-taking with paper layout for that purpose might trump note taking apps because it is based on sound note-taking principles rather than what appear to positive affordance of an note taking app or feature of an app.
This same critique applies to things like annotation tools and highlighting tools. If you, as the teacher, can design a use of an app affordance like note-taking based on sound, research-based practice, then you can bend what could be a negative affordance into a positive direction, but accepting the app feature in and of itself as designed without your own re-design, is folly. We expand this argument in the book with examples in several places. We will also expand on how app affordances related to things like note taking, annotation, and highlighting can be re-designed to fit specific instruction later in an upcoming resources section of this website.
Teachers as designers. In the book, our notion of app affordances requires teachers to be designers--not app designers in the traditional sense, but designers of instruction and learning environments in which the use of specific apps is tuned to the learning objectives and engagement affordances of an app in these ways: (a) in a particular instructional use, and (b) often tied to an existing lesson with a traditional design. Similarly, we note that teachers as critics of published materials will need to systematically evaluate all affordances--not just design features but affordances-in-use. We take the position that bridging between traditional print materials and new multimodal media materials must be systematically applied.
Bridging designs: As noted in the last post, in the book we discuss frameworks, planning, and implementation of apps with attention to multimodal affordances against the backdrop of what we know about traditional curriculum, teaching and learning. Here, we are going to start (and elaborate in later installments) the discussion of a bridging framework via a plan we use with our initial licensure students and school-based colleagues. The purpose of the framework is to design something new--a “new literacies” lesson if you will, based on an existing lesson plan or framework:
Rationale: We are at a crossroads; planning is transitional and transformational rather than revolutionary. The idea is to improve upon the ways we teach and students learn by taking advantage of new technologies, new media, and new literacies practices while monitoring whether the transformations are really accomplishing intended outcomes.
The bridging framework represents one approach to designing and re-designing. It is based on the idea that as we “move from the page to the screen” (Kress, 2004), we need to take advantage of the affordances of multimodality, online spaces, and flexible media tools, yet ground our planning in traditional disciplinary literacy practices.
Planning/Designing: The design starts with a bridging framework. In the framework, you start with a traditional lesson organized around typical interactions with traditional print media. An easy starting point is to begin with transformations from print to other media. You might plan possible transformations like transcription, which Kress (2004) notes is 'rendering' the world according to the potentials / affordances of a mode. You would ask yourself in planning what video, a simulation, or a photo might represent better than a simple print description--in short, what does another modality afford that the one you transcribe from does not. Through Multimodal Transformations, that is systematically how you might explore, for example, visual representations, or visual with print representations, you end up with Digital Forms and Practices. An example or two is in order. In the table below, we illustrate three traditional lessons with three corresponding transformations.
Tryouts and Re-Designing. The transformation examples are possible transformation from traditional print to representation and working in other modalities that may or may not work as well as you had planned. Compatible with our idea of app affordances, it is possibility that either the affordance designed into an app or web tool or the way you used the app, does not yield what you had planned. More likely, it is possible that you simply try apps in various ways with various traditional lessons without systematically looking at transformations and how specific modalities may enhance learning. In this case, which is now pretty typical when teachers, schools, or districts adopt iPads and then select core apps, the success of the the redesign might be attributable to novelty, general notions of student engagement, or a sense that lessons are more interactive or media rich without attention to why a specific transformation is designed to produce a certain kinds of engagment and learning. We have found helpful, a more systematic look at what sorts of affordances improve upon traditional print lessons in what ways. In the next posting, we will elaborate more on how various types of affordances, some multimodal and some related to features of portable devices and texts can be used more planfully to do the bridging transformations related to any lesson in any content area.