Summary of Teaching Tech Together

Teaching Tech Together is a book compiled by Greg Wilson which is about the pedagogy and practical hints of teaching technology in informal environments. It is a very good resource, and the main point is that research does back up teaching, it’s not all intuition. Many citations are included.

This page contains a summary of the most important points. The point is that one can quickly refer to this before writing a new lesson or teaching a course. The article Ten quick tips for creating an effective lesson is also a good summary of the main lesson design points of this book.

Useful appendices:

Ch1: Introduction

  • Novice = no good mental model of what they are learning, “not even wrong”

  • A manual is not equal to a tutorial - a tutorial needs to build a mental model from scratch.

  • Formative assessment = determine what the misconceptions are.

Ch2: Building mental models

  • “Expert blind spot” = experts have more links, so don’t see what links are missing.

  • Concept maps as a metaphor for connections

  • 7+/-2 concepts can fit in short term memory at once

  • Get feedback from others, then give feedback to others, then self-feedback (last one is “deliberate practice”)

Ch3: Expertise and memory

  • Cognitive load: too much is bad and makes learning slow

  • Faded example: blank out certain things in an example which are added as an exercise/example (what you want to progressively teach). Seeing examples is good, debugging as an example.

  • “I want to do something, not learn how to do everything”

  • Parsons problems - give working code but in random order, students must put it into the right order.

  • Minimal manual: one page micromanuals on specific tasks. Helps training but loses content.

  • The last exercise of this chapter has some good hints for making useful graphics.

Ch4: Cognitive load

  • Cognitive load is divided into intrinsic load (background required learn), germane load (mental effort to link new to old), and extraneous load (everything else that distracts from learning). (this is “cognitive load theory”)

  • A paper claimed that self-guided learning is less effective, because people are overloaded: you have to both learn new facts and learn how to use them at the same time.

  • Strategies: use exercises well that minimize tho load. a) parsons problems, b) labeled subgoals, c) split attention (separate channels, but complimentary rather than redundant), d) minimal manuals

Ch5: Individual learning

(chapter about how people can help themselves)

  • Six strategies: a) spaced practice, b) retrieval practice, c) interleaving (abcbac better than aabbcc), d) elaboration (explain to self), e) concrete examples, f) dual coding (e.g. words and pictures, or different forms of same material).

  • Manage time well

  • Peer assessment

Ch6: A lesson design process

  • Backwards lesson design, similar to test-driven development: 1) brainstorm ideas for what to cover, 2) create learner personas to figure out who you want to teach, 3) create formative assessments to give learners a chance to exercise what they are trying to learn (3-4 per hour), 4) put formative exercises in order, 5) write the teaching material around this.

  • Learner persons, to guide your design process: a) general background, b) what they already know, c) what they think they want to know, d) how course will help, e) special needs.

  • Learning objectives: write objectives and think of what depth of understanding you are getting too. Consider Bloom’s taxonomy: a) remember, b) understand, c) apply, d) analyze, e) evaluate, f) create.

  • Fink’s taxonomy (unlike Bloom’s, complimentary not hierarchical): a) foundational knowledge, b) application, c) integration, d) human dimension, e) caring, f) learning how to learn.

  • Maintainability: is it easier to update than replace? a) You have to document the lesson design process, b) technical collaboration, c) are people willing to collaborate? Or do teachers resample rather than update?

Ch7: Actionable approximations of the truth

(chapter about learning programming specifically… title comes from not necessarily having clear research that says what you should do, but you have to do something anyway)

  • Experts know what and how, novices lack both but most teachers focus on what only.

  • Think about teaching debugging and using it as examples - the how.

  • If you are teaching programming specifically, just read the chapter.

Ch8: Teaching as performance art

  • Get feedback on your teaching. People aren’t born teachers, and feedback isn’t in the western teaching culture enough.

  • Use live coding. It’s much more effective, especially because it’s two way and you can demonstrate making mistakes. a) embrace your mistakes, b) ask for predictions, c) take it slow, d) be seen and heard (stand + microphone), e) mirror your learner’s environment, f) use the screen wisely (make it big enough), g) double devices (one to present, one for notes), h) use diagrams, i) avoid distractions, j) improvise after you know the material, k) face the screen only occasionally

  • Drawbacks of live coding, which you can minimize over time: a) going too slow, b) exercises can be too deep and have too much cognitive load (give skeleton code).

Ch9: In the classroom

  • Code of conduct: teaching isn’t for those that are already “in”, it’s for those that aren’t. If you don’t notice problems and enforce it transparently, it means nothing though.

  • Peer instruction. Discuss in groups. e.g. multiple choice question, if there is a wide variety of wrong answers, have them discuss in groups.

  • Teach teaching: different strategies, consider what you want to do: a) teach teaching (taking turns) b) teach and assist (going around helping) c) alternative teaching (group with more specialized instruction), d) teacher and observer, e) parallel teaching (two groups, same material), f) station teaching (rotate through stations).

  • If co-teaching, plan ahead: a) confirm roles at start, b) work out some hand signals for common conditions, c) each person should talk at least 10-15 min at a time, d) person who isn’t teaching shouldn’t distract, though leading questions OK, e) check what your partner will teach after you are done, f) inactive teacher stays engaged, not doing own stuff.

  • Plan for mixed abilities, especially false beginners who have studied the material before.

  • Can you make a collaborative not online document?

  • Sticky notes

  • Don’t start from blank pages, give some starting point. Many other good points in the chapter itself.

Ch10: Motivation and demotivation

  • Extrinsic vs intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic: have to do it for job or something. Intrinsic: do it for self, you want to encourage intrinsic motivation. Drivers of intrinsic motivation: a) competence, b) autonomy, c) relatedness (connection to others).

  • Consider usefulness and time to master. Focus on useful and fast. Useful = authentic tasks, things people will actually use.

  • Avoid demotivation: for adults, a) unpredictability, b) indifference, c) unfairness. Specific examples: a) contemptuous attitude, b) saying existing skills are worthless, c) complex or detailed technical discussion, d) pretending you know more than they do, e) the word “just” as in, it’s “just easy”, f) software installation problems, g) giving impossible challenges to fail at to try to learn something, if not understanding.

  • Consider accessibility and inclusivity - consider things are harder for others, try to understand diversity of backgrounds.

Ch11: Teaching online

  • Disadvantage of MOOCs: can’t clear up individual misconceptions

  • The chapter has various good ideas, including how to make sure everyone is heard (certain group doesn’t dominate online discussions), short cycles and short exercises, require some small group work, use videos to engage rather than instruct (people can read faster), identify and clear up misconceptions early.

  • Flipped classroom: watch lectures on own time, do exercises and discuss in class time.

Ch12: Exercise types

  • Multiple choice, code yourself, code+multiple choice, inverted coding (given code, test and debug), fill in the blanks, Parsons problems (given questions but in wrong order).

  • Tracing execution, tracing values, reverse execution (find input for output), minimal fix, theme and variations, refactoring exercise. Pen and paper exercises.

  • Diagrams and connection: draw diagram, label diagram, matching problems.

  • Autograding is hard, in particular most automatic grading tools don’t provide useful feedback messages. Also, automatic grading can only test low-level skills, not higher abstractions like code review.

Ch13: Building community

(Chapter about forming a community of teachers and learners working together)

Ch14: Marketing

  • Think about what you are offering to who. Who are the target audiences and why should they be care and become invested?

Ch15: Partnerships

  • Main two points are work within schools or outside of schools. If inside, part of academic programs? Academic programs and especially teachers change very slowly.

Ch16: Why I teach

(A note from the author)