Saturday, February 21, 2009

Educators and Participatory Learning

"To me it’s one of the tragedies of the so-called information age," writes Cathy Davidson, in Academic Commons about educators limited willingness to embrace technology that allows for participatory learning. Continuing in this discussion she adds,
"Here we have this astonishing new way that people are making knowledge together. As educators we should all be vibrating with happiness at this moment! Here are millions of people, typically unpaid, with no ulterior motive, for profit or otherwise, who are validating what we do as a profession with what they do in the spare time as a passion. That seems to suggest that all of us overworked underpaid teachers have it right, that in fact there is something about humanity that likes to learn, and likes to share its learning, and likes to participate. That’s incredible! Every time I read some professor grousing about Wikipedia--that it’s not reliable, it’s not credentialed, etc.--I say sure, of course, so what reference work is perfect? What we may give up in some instances in expertise we more than make up for in scope. We have to have some skepticism about the products of participatory learning--skepticism is what we do as a profession. But, my God, you’re talking about billions of contributions that people are making for free to world knowledge in so many languages, from so many different traditions of knowledge-making, and on a scale that the world has never seen before."
Yes, this does seem like a good thing and it is clear that people are engaged in creating and sharing knowledge. So what is troubling to educators? Why haven't we embraced these tools and why aren't more of us building educational activities in this space?

Davidson despairs, writing,

"I guess part of me just doesn’t understand why this isn’t the most exciting time for all of us in our profession. Why aren’t we figuring out ways that we can use this exciting intellectual moment to bolster our mission in the world, our methods in the world, our reach in the world, our understanding of what we do and what we have to offer our students in the world? It just feels like we’re in an age where we educators should be the thought leaders and instead we’re futzing around the edges. Our profession’s lack of excitement and leadership in all the issues surrounding the information age baffles me."

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Program Evaluation-- NC State U Presentation

This week I have been asked to comment on a presentation related to the importance of evaluation to program development given by Roger Rennekamp entitled, "Dare to Evaluate."

He makes three major points in his presentation:

1) Logic models must be better understood-- need deeper efforts.
2) Build capacity for increased rigor in evaluation.
3) Rethink the purpose of evaluation in Extension for program improvement.

In response to this presentation, the main point I plan to make are that evaluation is critical to improving programs. To do this we this we need to strengthen the development of logic or program models. To often current logic models do not are too superficial to inform program improvement. We need to development three levels of logic models--

1) a theoretical model of the problem that describes the factors that contribute to the problem.
2) a program model that is based on theory model, but identifies the specific change mechanisms that the program is designed to use to solve the problem and
3) an instructional model that describes the instructional processes that are designed to implement the program mechanisms.

In evaluation, too much of the focus has been on outcomes and not on program improvement. In many cases, it makes little sense to move to assessing outcomes because there are basic weaknesses in the program design that need improvement. When I champion the need for evaluation, I have Jacob's 5-tiered model of evaluation in mind-- needs assessment, utilization data collection, program clarification, measuring short-term outcomes and finally, measuring longer-term outcomes.

Additional sources:

Jacobs, F. (2003). Child and Family Program Evaluation: Learning to enjoy complexity. Applied Developmental Science, 7 (2), 62-75.

Small, S. A., Cooney, S. M., & O'Connor (2008). Evidence-informed program improvement: A manual. Retrieved Feb 17, 2009,

Small, S. A., Cooney, S. M., & O'Connor (2009). Evidence-informed program improvement: Using principles of effectiveness to enhance quality and impact of family-based prevention programs. Family Relations, 58, 1-13.

Taylor-Powell, E. & Henert, E. (2008). Developing a logic model: Teaching and training guide. Retrieved Feb. 17, 2009,

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Parents and Facebook

There were at least 14 books written in 2007-2008 about protecting children in regards to social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace.

In reviewing these books, Zheng Yan writes,
"public concern is enormous, the entire scientific community, including governmental and private funding agencies, theoretical and applied researchers, and journal editors and reviewers, appear to have fallen behind rather than lead the communities of parents, publishers, and policy makers in responding to the growing use of SNSs among adolescents and the accompanying concerns about their safety on these sites" (J. of Applied Developmental Psychology, 2008, 29, 473).
In the same journal Subrahmanyam and Greenfield (2008) write,
"For researchers who study young people's use of the Internet, one of the biggest challenges is the constantly changing virtual world. Online communication forms are in a state of flux, and many operate like a fad. By the time researchers become aware of a popular online application or site, identify the research issues, design a well thought-out study, and get IRB approval, the population of interest has moved on to the next new application" (p. 417).

As information and communication technologies continue to change the social environment we will increasingly be pressed to move more rapidly in understanding and adapting to these changes.