I've been traveling since I returned from the trip to Italy: from a meeting and the CUE conference in Palm Springs, to school site visits in Arizona, New Jersey, Maryland, and California, to the SITE and FETC conferences, a dissertation defense and a meeting in Orlando, to the American Educational Research Association (AERA) Conference in San Francisco. It is good to be back home, even for a few weeks. I've seen a lot of classrooms (as part of the site visits for the REFLECT Initiative) and I've talked to a lot of educators, both in schools and at the conferences. A few of my impressions:
In Florida, it seemed like the role of digital storytelling in education has become more prominent. The FETC conference had many workshops on digital storytelling. The SITE conference hosted a keynote address by Joe Lambert (see my last entry and the new SITE Digital Storytelling blog). I led a roundtable on Researching Digital Storytelling and attended several other sessions throughout the conference. I also saw a new tool that was under development at the University of Virginia, to use primary source images in constructing online digital stories, primarily in social studies classes. The tools are becoming very interesting, and varied.
AERA is always a very enlightening conference, giving a glimpse into the current state of education. I attended sessions over the weekend, and led my own roundtable on the REFLECT Initiative Research project. A session on the role of technology in portfolios in Teacher Education gave me more concerns about the lack of authenticity in the accreditation portfolio process. I was impressed that a paper presented by an educator from Australia, that reported the real value of the portfolio process happened when teachers actually developed portfolios with their own students. I also heard Larry Cuban talk about the problems with researching educational technology in schools. He emphasized the importance of collecting data "on the ground" in schools, and not to confuse correllation with causation. He is rarely invited to speak in technology meetings, because of his book Oversold and Underused and his presentation reinforced the need for triangulation of data in educational technology research, which made me comfortable with the multiple methods that we are using to gather data in the REFLECT research. I also had an opportunity to re-connect with Evangeline Harris Stefanakis, whose book on Multiple Intelligences and Portfolios is one of my favorites.
I also had an opportunity to hear the latest presentations by Neal Strudler and Keith Wetzel about their sabbatical study on electronic portfolios. They have published their papers and presentations online, and their study provides an interesting picture of the status of six Teacher Education programs who are "mature" users of electronic portfolios. Their latest article, "Costs and benefits of electronic portfolios in teacher education: Student voices," is especially interesting, focusing on student views of this process. I heard from them, anecdotally, that for some of the students they interviewed, the term portfolio was a dirty word, or at least the experience was too much work for the benefits. Their paper outlines the benefits of the reflection that is central to the portfolio, but also outlined the disadvantages as well.
I also attended a session at AERA on the impact of high stakes assessment on technology implementation in laptop schools (ubiquitous computing). The study was conducted at the University of Virginia. It should be no surprise that the middle school teachers in the study had to focus more of their time on preparing students for the testing than providing the types of rich experiences that could be gained from the available ubiquitous computing. That study was very depressing.