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[Edmentum Podcast] Episode 6: A Researcher's Perspective on EdTech Tools with Dr. Robin Kay

[Edmentum Podcast] Episode 6: A Researcher's Perspective on EdTech Tools with Dr. Robin Kay

 In this episode of The Edmentum Podcast, host David Cicero talks with Dr. Robin Kay, the Interim Dean of the Faculty of Education at Ontario Tech University, about what educational technology research says about what’s important when evaluating educational technology tools.

The transcript below has been condensed and edited for clarity.

David Cicero: Dr. Robin Kay is a full professor and interim dean at the Ontario Tech University in Canada. His research spans classroom response systems, gender differences in technology, mobile and online learning. The list seems not to end. He's at the edge of knowledge in terms of integrating technology in schooling, and I'm humbled and excited to have him on today.

Dr. Robin Kay: Oh, it's my pleasure.

David Cicero: I'm going to start with what I found your research call to be, learning object evaluation metric. If any of the listeners want to do a little digging and can find this paper, the paper is entitled A Multi-Component Model for Assessing Learning Objects: The Learning Object Evaluation Metric.

Now we're not going to go through that paper today, but there are a couple of topics in there I really want to draw out. Every day, I speak with educators about potential technology solutions. So many schools are looking for tech and they need some way to evaluate it. Sometimes, they're even going head to head with pilots with two different solution providers.

In that paper, you focused on a few topics to evaluate. Those were interactivity, design, engagement, usability, and content. I think just having a conversation about what these things mean are going to really help our educator listeners think about what they should be looking for, striving for. Maybe it'll help them make some better choices.

In terms of research and your personal ideas on the topic, what is interactivity in EdTech, would you say?

Dr. Robin Kay: Well, it's a variety of things. If I was going to narrow it down to two, I would suggest that there is an engagement or motivation part in that interactivity so that the student might be excited or interested in what's going on. Then there's actually what I would call a cognitive component, which is really what we're looking for, I think, and the two can go hand-in-hand.

But it's really interacting with the content, perhaps constructing information or constructing models, engaging in what-if scenarios, perhaps talking with peers about what's going on, maybe sharing a document and constructing something together so there's something that's a little more meaningful or that is engaging the mind as opposed to just the affective or emotional aspect. I'd break it down to those two areas, and it's somewhat simplified. Yeah. I would say that summarizes, and I would also say that we're often as educators, and I've also fallen prey to this, to being seduced by the kind of emotional or excitement aspect of a web-based learning tool or an online learning tool or an app or whatever.

We have to check ourselves and say, okay, that's great. The students are interested or seem to be excited, but just being excited isn't going to help them learn. I could bring in cookies and cakes and they would be excited, and I would have that, but that doesn't mean that they're learning. Ultimately, I think we want them to be learning and excited about that learning.

David Cicero: Sure. Even sometimes bringing any technology in the classroom gets kids excited.

Dr. Robin Kay: Yeah. Well, it's actually interesting and you have to be careful. I've done a lot of research on that, and students are very candid about their feedback, which was wonderful. We ask for anonymous feedback all the time about what's going on, and a number of comments are, "We're just glad to be doing something different than taking notes or glad to be just engaged in anything." It makes our interventions look pretty good.

Now there are lots of reasons why they like it other than just that change. But you're quite right, sometimes just ... When we first introduced Clickers ... I guess people use Kahoot now. There were physical clickers you had to pay a lot of money for, and students went out of their minds because they could actually interact and answer questions. But there's other ways of using it. Yeah, it can get pretty exciting, but if it doesn't lead to learning, then, yeah, it's actually a distraction.

Driving Engagement with EdTech

Dr. Robin Kay: Let's just talk about affective or emotional engagement versus cognitive. I used interest a bit loosely, because you can have interest in something intrinsically interesting and it can also be sort of like, wow, that's cool-looking or that's shiny.

David Cicero: Sure.

Dr. Robin Kay: That's something I'm ... Grabs me in sort of a visceral or emotional sense. There's that kind of motivation of like, yeah, I'd really love to learn how to use computers because I'm going to be a video ... We're going to design video games or whatever. There's that kind of initial, hmm, this is kind of ... This could be fun.

Then there's the cognitive engagement or the getting down and really kind of what's involved, in a sense, and what are the steps that I need to know? There might be high-level concepts and there might ... All kinds of things that we are using your mind versus sort of your emotions, I guess.

David Cicero: Sure. Yeah, to build ... When you finally ask that question like, "I wonder how that really works? Now, I'm interested."

Dr. Robin Kay: Yes.

David Cicero: "Now, I'm interested in doing this."

Dr. Robin Kay: Then you're shifting into cognitive engagement. It's probably not two distinct groups, because if I'm motivated by something, in fact, I'm kind of fitty. This is like, "Oh, now that is more interesting." And as they get cognitively interested and they get a little more excited, they kind of go back and forth and play with each other.

Inspiring Interest Through Content

David Cicero: If I was looking at something and I wanted to kind of judge its interactivity, since we're talking about the interested side, let's stick with that idea. What would I be looking for to say, "This is likely to kind of get kids interested in the content"? How would a presentation of content do that, inspire that kind of interest? In your opinion or your experience.

Dr. Robin Kay: Yeah. Well, based on the research that you were talking about there, and we sort of shifted to mobile apps because they used to be called learning objects, but it's not a very sexy name, so we moved to mobile apps or online tools or whatever. It was pretty clear back then, and maybe it's less clear now, but you could have some very archaic, old-looking apps with very poor visuals and a ton of text and no video interaction. The look of it is kind of like, I don't really want to go on.

And then there might be a theme that you'd have to be really careful with, say with kids that were grades seven and eight, because if it was too what they refer to as kiddish, too juvenile, they would get discouraged. They would think, well, I'm not going to bother with this. There's whatever, dancing bears or something that was sort of well below what they might be interested in. And, of course, that's an insult at that age because they're grown up.

But if it's an engaging theme that is presented, and a reasonable example, that would be something like Prodigy, which is an attempt to have kind of a simulated world of interactions, what do you move on in a game-like way, and then you have to answer math questions, which is a little bit odd, but there's at least that attempt. Kids do stay with that, so they would probably find that ... Any kind of visual interaction or attraction is generally when kids are grabbed into it.

Listen now to hear the rest of David’s conversation with Dr. Robin Kay, and be sure to follow the Edmentum Podcast on your favorite streaming service and stay tuned for upcoming episodes!

david.cicero's picture

David has worked in education for 14 years. He has spent the last 6 years in the education technology industry and is currently working as an Educational Programs Consultant. As a trusted advisor and education technology advocate he has helped countless districts and schools successfully integrate technology. David holds a B.A. in Mathematics from Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, Texas and a M.A. in Teaching from Northern Arizona University. 

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