Strategies To Promote Deeper Student Thinking When Taking Digital Notes

The use of technology for note taking in classes, whether that is in the primary, secondary or even tertiary sectors, can still be a contentious topic amongst educators and parents alike. Today, I read a fantastic article that not only tackles some of the main areas of debate, but more importantly offers practical strategies to promote deeper thinking by students.

Read the full article here.

I am not going to re-post the entire article here, instead I encourage you to click the above link and read it in its entirety, however it  touches on some key points that I will mention below. It cites two important pieces of recent research as being detrimental to the wider conversation of digital technology in the classroom and challenges the conclusions by asking how teaching styles were adapting to use the technology more effectively. The research referenced was:

The key sections of the article are broken down into distinct strategies that students can use to improve their use of technology in classes, but importantly it emphasizes that the educators must take the lead in introducing these to students. Rather than simply tell the students to “take notes on the following topic”, providing them with strategies that leverage the full benefits of technology (such as tags in OneNote and search features across notebooks) is a more effective method of teaching.

  1. Digital Organization and Content Curation
  2. Multimodal Notes
  3. Concept Mapping
  4. Visible Thinking Routines
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Example of how a student might use a Concept Map to more effectively take notes. Digital Inking and an endless canvas in OneNote make this both an easy and efficient way to record critical ideas.

One of the telling passages towards the end of the article is:

Too often, educators project their own note taking habits onto their students, applying paper-based strategies to digital tools. With that mindset, it becomes far too easy for short-sighted studies to confirm previously held biases against technology. However, as students progress in an increasingly digital and connected world, one challenge for educators will be to view digital note taking as a unique, necessary and completely different skill set to be taught.

This accurately highlights the challenges educators face in terms of not being unduly influenced by older learning styles and remaining open to leveraging newer technologies that will benefit students. However, these new methods need to be clearly articulated and presented to students. Using the old adage, they are “taught, not caught” – in my view at least, it’s not enough to hand off note taking to students and simply hope they settle on a technique that works for them. Instead, by providing them with a range of options (like those above) and actively modelling this to them as they master the concepts, students will have the best opportunity to learn and process key information.

Again, I encourage you to read the entire article for yourself.

Using AzureAD Groups To Quickly Populate Microsoft Teams

Microsoft Teams is the new digital classroom platform from Microsoft and I’ve already reviewed the key features recently here, but if you’re unfamiliar with it here is the official overview video:

I have recently been asked by a few secondary schools and tertiary institutes what is the quickest way to populate students into a Team. You can, of course, use the official Student Data Sync tool which will take information from your Student Management System (SMS) and populate the relationship between teachers, students and classes in a very tidy way (full guide available here)

However, if you’re after a super quick way and you’re already using AzureAD Security Groups then it’s a 5 second job to add all your students into a class. Follow the instructions below to learn just how easy it is!

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You need to start by looking at your existing Groups in the Admin Portal and making sure that you have one that reflects the students/teachers that you want to add to your Team. In the above example this is a mail enabled security group called “Demo Students” with an alias of demos@educationgate.school.nz

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Next. go to your Team in question and by clicking on the Team name (in the above example, 11 History) you will see in the above example there are only three members of the team: 1 owner and two members.  You will also see the “Add Member” option on the right

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Once you have clicked “Add Member” will have the chance to add either individual students/teachers by searching for their name directly OR you search for your AzureAD Group name – in this case “demos”. You need to select this and hit “Add”

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Note that it automatically recognises that there is four members of the group and that it will add each of these members to your Team in one go.

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Confirmation that all four members from the AzureAD Group “demos” have been added to the team.

This is a real time saver for situations where schools are already using AzureAD to populate Groups with their students/teachers. In these examples, you can add an entire class of students as easily as adding a single student.

UPDATE: A keen reader reminded me that the above method is a one time import of the Members of the AzureAD Group – it will not keep them in sync if the membership changes dynamically (to achieve this, SDS is the better option). So the above is certainly a time saver in situations where you want to do a one off import and are prepared to add/remove additional members manually at a later date.

Digital Technologies For Learning – What The Research Says

The New Zealand Council for Education Research (NZCER) has released a report on the role of Digital Technologies in the primary and intermediate years of schooling in New Zealand, drawing on data obtained from a survey of schools conducted in August/September 2016. This provides some really valuable insights into the situation in schools (for a direct link to the Key Findings click here), neatly summarized in the following infographic:

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Licensed under Creative Commons – see here for full report.

Having read the Key Findings from the report and the three blog posts from the report’s author Rachel Bolstad, here are a few things that stood out to me:

  • Teachers indicated that student use of technology was still focused around a few key things e.g. practicing skills (think Mathletics and skills repetition/speed work) researching (the ever present “google search”) or creating presentations in documents / slide shows
  • Other uses of technology were less common e.g. game based learning (Minecraft Education Edition is a good example of how to do this successfully), programming and genuine multi-media work.
  • Many teachers did indicate they wanted to harness technology to enable their students to collaborate with students/schools/others outside of their own school but were struggling to make this happen. It was unclear why this did not happen, but one way to forge these relationships is with activities like Mystery Skype, which can then lead to truly Global Citizens connected with fellow learners around the world.
  • Whilst most teachers thought Digital Technologies provided positive gains in the classroom, 10% (still quite high in my view) thought the negatives/frustrations outweighed the positives.
  • Principals identified the obvious challenges to deeper integration of Digital Technologies into the primary curriculum, including issues around equity of access, funding challenges and costs around professional development of teaching staff.
  • I was surprised that so few teachers have built their own online Professional Learning Network (PLN). This was quite prevalent in the previous school I worked in, and there seems to be a wide range of networks utilizing social media to connect teachers with teach other to share ideas, resources, best practice or just some much-needed encouragement!

Whilst the above came from the data surveying primary and intermediate aged schools, in her first blog post Rachel Bolstad did share data from the 2015 NZCER study of secondary schools with some interesting data showing how digital technologies were being used in secondary classrooms:

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Credit: Rachel Bolstad, blog post here

It’s a similar trend perhaps – many teachers saying they don’t use technology for a range of more innovative uses (game based learning, distance learning, coding etc) but would like to. The aspirations are there – identifying the blockers is the next step!

Back the 2016 Primary/Intermediate data on programming:

  • Only 19% of teachers said their students were using digital technologies for coding or programming (15% “sometimes”, 4% “often”).
  • A further 43% said they would like this to be happening in their classrooms.

In her third blog post, Bolstad identified a key point: a lot of the coding and makerspace programmes happening in school are, to all intents and purposes, extra-curricular ones, occurring at lunch times, after school and usually because an enthusiastic teacher (or parent!) is helping to drive it. This is an important point to acknowledge, as it highlights the fact that many schools still struggle to “find time” or integrate this into their core curriculum programmes. This will change, of course, with the NZ Government announcement about new Digital Curriculum Standards and subsequent investment to make this happen.

Another fascinating point to emerge from the research, perhaps lending some weight to the challenges of equity, were found in the answers to the questions around what sort of opportunities students had to access coding, gaming or makerspace activities in schools:

  • 41% of teachers said their students DID have access
  • 41% of teachers said their student did NOT have access
  • 17% were not sure…..
  • BUT in Decile 9-10 schools this was 49% said yes students did have access compared to just 26% in Decile 1-2 schools.

Overall, it seems that activities like coding and gaming still remain less common in schools and a marginal activity that majority of students do not participate in:

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Credit: Rachel Bolstad blog post here

It is fantastic to have this level of research and analysis based off recent survey data and I do encourage you to read the entire findings by clicking the link below:

NZCER Digital Technologies Survey