Sorry this one took a bit – between the jet lag and all of us here trying to get three (!!!) projects off the ground and running for the end of September things have been a little hectic over here as of late.
As many of you know, and many of you managed to attend, last month was the biennial conference on Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) – and a small band of us headed over the pond to Hong Kong to showcase what we’ve been up to for the past twelve months and have a unique chance to be in the room with some of the best minds in our field and see what they’ve been up to and to share ideas (and the occasional beer).
Here are some of my own experiences at the conference:
It didn’t take long after landing to get into the thick of things as I started the conference off with a workshop on orchestration (How to integrate CSCL in classroom life: Orchestration) chaired by Miguel Nussbaum, Pierre Dillenbourg, Frank Fischer, Chee-Kit Looi, and Jeremy Roschelle.
The workshop centered around whether or not orchestration was the right term for the complex conditions that a teacher must respond to within a live classroom setting and whether or not orchestration, as a metaphor for this, was the right way of looking at it – especially within the context of the role of the teacher as the “conductor” of the class. It was argued that in real-life the conductor does very little during the live show (they wave their hands around to subtly adjust the pace of the performers, but the orchestra is so finely tuned at that point that there should be very little variance), but they are imperative during the rehearsals and preparation – and how adequate does this describe what the teacher actually does (or does something else describe it better?).
My personal feeling on this is that the metaphor overall works quite well, so long as we don’tpress it’s interpretation too rigidly (avoiding what Baudrillard would call the vanishing point) – it not so much the reality of what the conductor does within the live performance but how we perceive his or her actions in framing our understanding of classroom orchestration. The complex dynamics of a live classroom setting resembles an orchestra (Koller et al. 2011 might offer), as different “players” must coordinate their parts within the enactment – and it is the job of the conductor (teacher) to ensure that these individual pieces come together to create a unified sound (learning goals). In an inquiry-focused curriculum this becomes increasingly important as the outcomes are often unknown and the learning only takes shape through the constant evolution of an emergent script.
The notion of orchestration seems particularly poignant in technology supported learning environments, where students must engage in various contexts (individual/small group/whole class, in class/at home/in the field) and the teacher must have a clear understanding of how the learning is progressing (think of this as having an “ear” for the learning). Technology can play a critical role in giving the teacher insight into the evolving state of knowledge within the class, in order to better adapt activities to the needs of individual students or the whole class. Whether or not we love the metaphor of orchestration, the workshop explored an important question of what information and tools (“instruments”?) we should give to students and teachers, to help capture and represent the knowledge in relevant ways. This question is one that serves as a focus for many of the designs currently underway in our lab.
The workshop also touched on the issue of focus within the construct of orchestration, noting that there are actually two intersecting, and sometimes competing, threads in the development of technology mediated learning spaces: The Learning Sciences aspect of the innovation, and “design” or HCI aspect of the innovations. ENCORE lab also comes up against this tension, as we often find ourselves designing with exciting new technologies, but without a theoretical perspective about learning to drive the design and development, we could end up distracted by the design or HCI side of the innovation. There is a need to find the balance between these two (given the finite resources we all are faced with), which was one takeaway from the workshop that really stuck with me as I move forward into designing my own dissertation environment and materials.
Following the workshop, many of us from ENCORE were quite busy. Michelle Lui presented a nice narrative about the evolution of our smart classroom designs, including the aggregation of student data for sense making and teacher orchestration. Cheryl Madeira did an excellent job summarizing her recent work (especially given the last minute scheduling change!) on how technology supported reflection and peer exchange can support teacher professional development. Naxin Zhao and Hedieh Najafi presented their work on how scripted collaboration facilitated knowledge communities in science classrooms. Jim Slotta and Tom Moher (via a cool video production) presented our new work with Embedded Phenomena in a great symposium on embedding CSLC in Classrooms (see link at the bottom). Finally, I had a great opportunity to demo the new SAIL Smart Space (S3) technology framework, using the “Helioroom” materials developed in conjunction with Tom Moher and his group at the University of Illinois, Chicago) – as mentioned by Rebecca Cober in a recent post (link).
We also managed to find a bit of time for fun too, which mostly centered around cool places to eat (when you’re in conference rooms all day, you tend to just want to relax afterwards!) – but two stuck out me in particular. The first was a great dinner at the Pearl on the Peak – a restaurant that sit on the top of Victoria Peak, in Hong Kong, and provided an amazing view of the city. The other was a lunch at a place called Julie’s Kitchen which was literally just a room in someone’s house where we were treated to a 10 course vegetarian meal, which was one of the most memorable I’ve had in years! I did miss out on another truly great experience where a bunch of the crew went to go see wild monkeys in a nearby park… all I can say is that apparently they learned that you never look the monkeys right in the eyes, but I’ll let one of them tell you that tale