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Student Agency in Developing Computational Thinking and Geospatial Skills

Your Name and Title: Minaz Fazal & Melda N Yildiz

Your School, Library, or Organization Name: New York Institute of Technology

Your Twitter Handle (@name): myildiz

Co-Presenter Name(s): Stan Silverman, Eduardo Rivera, Debjit Mukherjee

Area of the World from Which You Will Present: Azerbaijan, Israel, USA

Language in Which You Will Present: English

Target Audience: Teacher, Educators, Higher Education Faculty, Librarian

Short Session Description: 

The goal of this transdisciplinary participatory action research (PAR) project is to develop a research-based globally connected learning modules and educational app that promotes computational thinking, geospatial, media and informational literacy skills among undergraduate and graduate students. By collaborating with our graduate and undergraduate research students in this project, we integrated computational thinking and educational technologies (e.g. Wolfram Alpha) into our graduate courses (e.g. Instructional Technology courses) and developed computational thinking and information literacy skills through project-based learning activities in the P20 classroom while collaborating in-service and pre-service teachers in our education programs.

Full Session Description:

This session is for educators who would like to integrate global education, 21st Century teaching skills ( and mobile app design into their curriculum. It outlines innovative multilingual and multicultural multimedia projects using mobile app development in teacher education; offers creative strategies for producing multilingual multimedia integrating world literature, culture, and languages; provides the results of participatory research project among educators and students in Azerbaijan and the US; describes participants' reactions and experiences with new technologies and showcases the participants’ educational apps, multimedia projects, and digital stories. Outcome of this study are: 1) an online platform for participants to contribute, communicate and collaborate on world languages, history, and literature; 2) the research based interactive minibook that has mixed reality connected through mobile app (The minibook includes a QRcode for translations and sign language video of the content). The app is designed to be replicable and publishable in a mini book format; 3) the curriculum unit and lesson plans that can be used by P20 teachers to introduce world languages, history and literature. The presentation slides and the online course outline will be posted on our wikispaces page. 

In many countries bilingual education is part of their daily lives, from websites to traffic signs, while in the US, it is becoming popular as the world economy demand global citizens with multiple languages. With our Multicultural Multilingual Multimedia projects we attempted to explore best practices for innovative global education projects and provide research based examples for teacher educators. The research questions the role of new media and technologies in designing effective instruction in K12 curriculum. This paper describes the role of multilingual education in P16 classroom practice (Schecter, Cummins, 2003); explores experiential learning activities that teacher candidates participated in integrating new technologies into their lesson plans; and promotes new media literacies and global competencies in teacher education. We explored wide range of meanings participants and K12 students associated with experiential learning activities; impact of new media and technologies in their Universal Design for Learning (UDL) projects (CAST, 2011) and digital stories; the ways in which teacher candidates and teachers integrate language and media into their global education projects; and how they gained alternative points of view on environment and renewed interest and commitment to community service.


Purpose & Objectives


The study conducted while teaching transdisciplinary technology courses and investigated over 24 technology coach candidates in a master's level course in Instructional Technology. The study explored a wide range of meanings participants associated with new media and mobile technologies; the impact of 21st-century tools in teacher education; and ways in which participants integrated digital mobile technologies into their curriculum projects. Candidates argued the challenges and advantages of handheld devices as classroom tools; developed skills in deconstructing existing curricula for improving student outcomes. In conclusion, we explore how the use of social media and mobile technologies in global education combines knowledge, reflection, and action; promotes global literacies; and prepares new generation to be responsible members of a multicultural, global society.

The purpose of this study was to meaningfully integrate computational thinking and geospatial skills into the P20 curriculum as a means of further developing their media and information literacy skills by having them develop collaborative and community based projects for K-12 students. This research project relates to several International Standards for Technology in Education’s (ISTE) National Education Technology Standards for Teachers, but most specifically relates to Standard One, “Facilitate and Inspire Student Learning and Creativity: Teachers use their knowledge of subject matter, teaching and learning, and technology to facilitate experiences that advance student learning, creativity, and innovation in both face-to-face and virtual environments.” (ISTE, 2008, p1)

Our goal was to: a) To present the role of computational thinking and geospatial skills in order to argue the challenges and advantages of new media technologies in K-12 curriculum across content areas; b) To introduce maps and media across content areas in developing multiple literacies such as information, technology, geography, numerical and media literacy: c) to demonstrate creative strategies and possibilities for engaging K-12 students in meaningful innovative activities while incorporating computational thinking and geospatial skills in the context of global education.


Perspective/Theoretical Framework


The study focuses on the impact and power of mobile technologies and multilingual projects in education and outlines its promising implications for education, creativity and collaboration among its users. Lifelong learning environments. The usage of handheld devices and social interaction software develops opportunities and supports “Open Learning” practices and processes, and promotes exchanges, connections, and collaboration among people who share common ideas and interests. 

There are also a growing number of initiatives and projects directed for K12 education and use of mobile technologies such as Global Positioning System (GPS) devices in education. Geocaching for instance has been used as an experiential learning activity which is based on constructivist theory (Christy, 2007) to stimulate students to think critically, and provide group collaboration in authentic settings. (Doolittle & Hicks, 2003; Wilson & Rice, 1999).

Educational apps are ideal for distributed learning. Despite all the concerns and challenges integrating social interaction technologies into the curriculum, there is a growing number of research and support by academics. For instance, Digital Youth Research [] is a collaborative project that studies the number of empirical and theoretical work on youth subcultures, new media, and popular culture. Wesch (2008a) argued the importance of welcoming social media into the classroom as powerful learning tools and wrote: “When students recognize their own importance in helping to shape the future of this increasingly global, interconnected society, the significance problem fades away.” (p.7)

The usage of handheld devices and social interaction software develops opportunities and supports “Open Learning” practices and processes, and promotes exchanges, connections, and collaboration among people who share common ideas and interests.

Research documents how Social Interaction Software (SIS) can be used to support traditional literacy practices as well as facilitate the further development of multiple and critical literacies. According to Jenkins, Purushotma, Clinton, Weigel, and Robinson (2006), “The new literacies almost all involve social skills developed through collaboration and networking. These skills build on the foundation of traditional literacy, research skills, technical skills, and critical analysis skills taught in the classroom. (p. 4)” National Standards such as International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and International Reading Association (IRA) advocates the use a wide range of instructional tools, and curriculum materials to support instruction and promotes access for students to a new media and technologies in classrooms and libraries.

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (2007) suggests that teaching and learning in the 21st century requires that students and teachers have: subject specific knowledge, learning skills, use 21st century tools to foster learning, teach and learn in the 21st century context, connect learning to the real world, and use assessments that measure 21st century learning. Therefore, teacher knowledge about technology and their ability to incorporate technology into their P20 classes are important aspects of the teaching and learning process. Educators need to be familiar with technology so that they can promote students’ technology, information, and critical literacy skills and better prepare K-12 students for the literacy demands they encounter as citizens in the 21st century.

Social interaction software allows greater student independence and critical autonomy (Masterman, 1985, p 24-25), greater collaboration, and increased pedagogic efficiency (Franklin & Van Harmelen, 2007). It also provides learners with an effective method of acquiring the 21st century skills. Tucker (2007) cites Bugeja’s “digital displacement” phenomena: “though family members may be sharing the same physical space, psychologically each one may be in his or her own little universe, making difficult for parents to penetrate the child’s universe, and impairing communication.” (p.3) Bugeja (2008) warns of digital distractions and outlines significant issues to consider in implementing changes in education. He writes: “Due to academia’s reliance on technology and the media’s overemphasis on trivia, we are failing to inform future generations about social problems that require critical thinking and interpersonal intelligence.” (p.66)

As corporate entities create pressure from the outside, coming up with new technologies on a minute by minute basis, Noon (2007) questions what it means to be a media literate “global citizen” and questions the role of schools in preparing students for the work force. Gould (2003) argues we tend to promote the need for a productive citizenry rather than a critical, socially responsive, reflective individual.” (p. 197)

Jenkins et al. (2006) highlighted some of the additional core concerns and challenges integrating new media into the classroom settings: (1) participation gap - opportunities and inequalities in accessing new media technologies; (2) transparency problem - children need to be actively guided in reflecting on their media experience; (3) ethics challenge - children need help developing the ethical norms to cope with online environments. To address these challenges, educators, parents, and community need to work together, rethink which core skills and competencies the younger generation need in their education, and redesign a curriculum to prepare them for the future. Instead of banning resources, such as Wikipedia, or being fearful of these technologies, Prensky (2005) suggests that as “educators our duty is to teach our students to understand both the power and the limitations of all the new technological tools that are, and will increasingly be, at our kids’ disposal. It is our job to show them how they can use all these new tools well, and wisely.” (p.1)

Freire’s (1993) notions of “dialogue” in education insist on breaking the “contradiction” of the teacher-student relationship (p. 72). He was critical of the “banking education,” wherein learners are asked to file and silently absorb the deposits that they are imparted from the oppressor. Srinivasan (2006) adds, “Liberating education consists in acts of cognition, not transferals of information.” Today, various tools such as instant messaging, webcams, and digital voice recorders bring multicultural voices into the classroom and liberates teachers and students from a textbook format. Curriculum can be redesigned based on the needs and aspirations of the students.

Social software provides profound changes in open educational settings that are based on a social re-constructivist paradigm of learning and promote a creative and collaborative engagement of learners with digital media content, tools and services in education. Brundrett and Silcock (2002) wrote, “Many have argued for a “social reconstructivist” education (Brehony, 1992, Dewey, 1916, Engelund, 2000 and Jones, 1983), not especially because they see reconstructivist teaching as itself virtuous, but because they think it is the route to a more egalitarian society.” (p. 69)

With the advent of social interaction software, there will be an expanded access to alternative resources and the real works examples. Teaching and learning have potential to be a continuous life-long process; it is personalized, learner-centered, situated, collaborative, and ubiquitous. Suter, Alexander, and Kaplan (2005) summarized the notion of social interaction software. They see social interaction software “as a tool (for augmenting human social and collaborative abilities), as a medium (for facilitating social connection and information interchange), and as an ecology (for enabling a 'system of people, practices, values, and technologies in a particular local environment')." (p.48)

Social interaction software and handheld devices such as Ipads, cell phones and GPS are ideal for distributed learning. Mejias (2006) wrote in response to his teaching and using social interaction software in his classrooms: “Social interaction software allows students to participate in distributed research communities that extend spatially beyond their classroom and school, beyond a particular class session or term, and technologically beyond the tools and resources that the school makes available to the students.”

Despite all the concerns and challenges integrating social interaction technologies into the curriculum, there is a growing number of research and support by academics. For instance, Digital Youth Research [] is a collaborative project that studies number of empirical and theoretical work on youth subcultures, new media, and popular culture. Wesch (2008a) argued the importance of welcoming social media into the classroom as powerful learning tools and wrote: “When students recognize their own importance in helping to shape the future of this increasingly global, interconnected society, the significance problem fades away.” (p.7)


Research Methods


Formally presenting this information at the beginning of our project facilitated all participants’ ability to fully understand and participate in the smaller group activities that followed. After the formal introduction and group activities, all participants explored a Gallery Walk that was designed for teacher candidates. Gallery Walk is based on Museum approach to teaching. Gallery Walk for this project was a collection of artifacts (i.e. maps, pictures, posters, audio and video clips) designed to showcase the importance and exemplary usage of multilingual learning modules, digital stories across content areas. It also provided learning centers for each individual to interact and complete the tasks while interacting in group discussions and writing responses. There were different projects for participants to view and explore. The participants wrote their reactions next to each activity and discussed the significance and possibilities for incorporating these new technologies across curriculum areas. In one project, Teacher candidates participated in various projects: 1) creating multilingual digital stories as a group activity; 2) geocaching project with middle school students; 3) developing and projects, and 4) creating lesson plans integrating UDL.

Participants for the study was identified in transdisciplinary technology courses in teacher education program at a state university. There were 23 teacher candidates participated to this study.

This research is based on the participatory study conducted on teaching transdisciplinary literacy and technology courses and investigated 23 (7 male and 16 female) teacher candidates in 6 different subject fields (biology, math, art, social studies, physical education and English). The research studied the participants' reactions and experiences with new media and technologies as well as their lesson plans that they developed integrating new technologies into the curriculum with limited resources and equipment.

Methodology included analysis of surveys, process papers, questionnaires, electronic journals, reflection papers, responses to online activities, and content analysis of participants’ lesson plans and online projects. For our research, we collected all the written responses as well as the lesson projects created by participants.

Our investigation was guided by these questions:
1. What are the participants’ personal experiences in integrating computational thinking and geospatial skills into their curriculum projects?
2. What perceptions do content area teacher-candidates and teachers have of P20 students’ needs and skills after the hands on activities?
3. How do content area teacher-candidates and teachers envision incorporating computational thinking and geospatial skills into their teaching practices? How can teacher educators prepare teacher candidates for the 21st century teaching and learning?
4. What common problems and discoveries do the participants share during the process of developing their lesson plans?
5. What suggestions do participants make in order to improve teaching and learning? How to design effective instruction integrating computational thinking and geospatial skills into the curriculum?


Standards addressed

Our graduate students who participated in the action research study are working towards their master's degree in Instructional Technology. Candidates will apply for their Educational Technology Specialist Certificate from the State. Our program is aligned with ISTE coaching standards. This study addresses:- 2c Because Coach teachers engaged in local and global interdisciplinary projects to promote world literature, culture, and history. 3g- Because they used various digital communication and collaboration tools such as zoom and skype to collaborate with teachers and students in Azerbaijan. 5c- Because coach candidates promoted diversity, cultural understanding, and global awareness by using digital-age communication and collaboration tools to interact locally and globally with teachers and students.


Results or Expectations


To date, few scholarly studies have investigated the use of mobile app development in teacher education. The research participants deconstructed and assessed the national and local curriculum and standards; collaborated with teachers and scholars overseas; presented their curriculum projects such as video documentaries reflecting not only on their stories but also international issues and perspectives through their online contact to global community and documented their stories in order to articulate the realities of conditions in schools through their research, analysis, and dialog. Through the discovery process, the participants explored, designed, and created the strategies, curricula, and programs for improving student outcomes, also the candidates gained alternative point of view on their subject fields and renewed interest and commitment to socially responsible teaching.

Participants argued the challenges and advantages of integrating multimedia production into curriculum; developed skills in deconstructing existing curricula and digital resources and media messages; examined the process of integrating new media as a tool for teaching and learning; integrated the use of media in an instructional context in order to develop global understanding; explored lesson plans, assessment tools, and curriculum guides that incorporate new media and technologies across grades and subjects; experienced how a critical approach to the study of new media combines knowledge, reflection, and action to promote educational equity, and prepares new generation to be socially responsible members of a multilingual, multicultural, democratic society.

Participants enjoyed working on experiential learning activities and developing interactive mobile app and minibook projects and also gained global media literacy skills. A number of participants said they learned more than the mobile technologies. One participant said, “I am happy to have met you, because you have given me much more to think about than just the content of this class.” Another one wrote, “More than learning new technologies, this course gave me chance to reflect on my own mobile habits and learned about myself.” They found the online collaboration with Azerbaijani colleagues and students engaging and helpful in developing digital citizenship and global competencies. 

Participants in addition to creating lesson plans integrating maps and media into the curriculum, they developed Internet search skills, focused on deconstructing websites, analyzing wiki entries. By actively involving participants in collecting and analyzing data, taking and uploading pictures and videos, producing media such as interactive maps, wiki pages, blogs and digital stories, they understood the conventions of the medium. As they became the producers of their own multimedia projects while collaborating on mobile app development, they developed computational thinking and media literacy skills, and became informed consumers and citizen of the world.

The participants repeatedly said in their reflection papers how much they were intimidated by the coding but they eventually enjoyed being part of the collaborative mobile app design. As one said, “I don’t believe what you see on television or read on the Internet. All these statements are can be untrue, after recently developing my lesson; I believe anything is visually possible with the help of teachers around the world and fancy equipment.” 

Participants in addition to creating lesson plans integrating mobile tools into their curriculum, they developed Internet search skills, focused on deconstructing international websites and mobile apps.

During the research activities, participants:
• argued the challenges and advantages of integrating computational thinking and geospatial skills into curriculum;
• developed skills in deconstructing existing curricula and digital resources and communicating media messages and integrating computational thinking and geospatial skills;
• examined the process of integrating computational thinking and geospatial skills for teaching and learning;
• explored lesson plans, assessment tools, and curriculum guides that incorporate new media and technologies, computational thinking and geospatial skills across grades and subjects.


Educational and/or Scientific Importance


This participatory action research project is significant on many levels for participants of all ages, countries, backgrounds, and from all disciplines. This study attempts to fill the gap by outlining the natural links between educational mobile app development and computational thinking and geospatial skills. Current literature on computational thinking and geospatial skills has focused on the benefits for 21st century skills, entrepreneurship, and innovation in education; this project gives us the opportunity to increase the body of literature to multilingual and multicultural aspects of computational thinking and geospatial skills. Participants will also benefit from the interactions with different disciplines and countries. The mobile app project focuses on the role of multiliteracies (i.e. numerical, geospatial and media literacy) through the lens of multiculturalism; and explores the power of educational media in improving literacy and research skills. We outlined the benefits to local and global communities. 

With the world becoming increasingly accessible to people (Freidman, 2005), and greater diversity in U.S. public schools due to immigration, many of our teacher candidates are likely to work abroad or in school districts that serve children from diverse backgrounds including English language learners and work with international students that require skills in developing global curriculum that is innovative and transformative. As the world flattens (Freidman, 2005), educators are required them to apply an interdisciplinary global curriculum for children to acquire knowledge and skills needed to succeed in the 21st century.

Our research team in the US and Azerbaijan had an opportunity to co-develop mobile app and participated in transdisciplinary project-based activities using mobile technologies and transformative teaching strategies in order to investigate the use of these innovative and transformative activities among P20 students to promote global competencies and 21st-century skills. Our project-based activities will also enable us to integrate new technologies, information literacy skills, and social media tools and to work collaboratively with students and educators across the nation while providing service in regional, national and international arenas. Candidates not only developed an educational app but also developed global competencies. Globally connected projects provide significant outcomes in improving educators’ response to diversity issues, digital citizenship, global education, and 21st-century skills.

New Technologies such as SIS and GPS devices are no longer the for the corporation and communication professionals. These software such as ning, google earth are successfully adopted by many, although their use in education is still in its infancy. (Hendron, 2008, p. 238) From developing digital portfolios to posting online reflections and journals (wordpress), co-writing books and maps (communitywalk) to co-producing digital stories (voicethread), social software is increasingly being used for educational and lifelong learning environments. SIS provides space for its participants to co-construct meaning using multilingual (Google Translator) and multimedia (slideshare) tools. Participants are bricoleur (Levi-Strauss, 1998) where they are the author as well as the cast, collector, and the director of their projects. Content of their knowledge is co-constructed by the participants.

Today new generation use variety of mediums to communicate and form communities of interest outside “the classroom.” There is an obvious disconnect between current educational practices and what the students are exposed to in their daily lives. We encouraged teachers and teacher candidates to integrate new media and technologies into their curriculum units. They outlined the difficulties and unique characteristics of Web based technologies and discussed the power of social interaction software in creating educational learning tools and developing media literacy skills.

We have developed Community Maps, Multilingual Educational App and integrated social interaction software (i.e, wikis, google earth) to foster connectivity among the students, faculty and community and shared our presentation slides. The project focuses on the role of multiliteracies (i.e. numerical, geographical and media literacy) through the lens of multiculturalism; and explores the power of educational media in improving literacy and research skills.

This study will have a broader impact in the computational thinking and geospatial skills field and benefit our computer science students, teacher educators, P20 educators, parents, and administrators who seek transformative, inclusive and innovative strategies and tools for improving instruction, assessing students' work and for preparing our educators and technology coaches to be transformative and visionary leaders and global citizens.

Our international collaborators in Azerbaijan and participants in the US collaborated on developing a mobile app integrating AR/VR technologies, deconstructed and assessed the national and local curriculum and standards, gained alternative points of view on global education and renewed interest and commitment to world culture, history and literature.




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Link to GlobalEdCon Session Proposal (full URL with http://):


Investigating Computational Thinking and Global Competency Skills in Teacher Education

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