Page 136 of 194

On the importance of ‘real-world learning’

Hot air balloon above clouds

Image BY-NC ms4jah @ Flickr

As with many things I write about on this blog, three things have come together recently to make me think about an issue in more detail. Briefly, these are:

  1. Discovering Courtenay Bird’s blog (via @Stammy) where she posts links to interesting and useful infographics.
  2. Reading @mortenoddvik‘s blog mortempo – and in particular his post Didactical Project: Cultural or Intercultural Competence?
  3. Revisiting Dan Meyer’s excellent work at dy/dan – especially posts like Graphing Stories (from a couple of years ago)

I don’t know when or how it happened (I suspect high-stakes testing had something to do with it) but we’ve managed to completely disconnect teaching and learning from real-world experience. There’s a few pockets of good practice and glimmers of light, obviously, but behind a lot of what happens in classrooms is “you’re doing this because it’s on the test.”

Thankfully, the three examples above point to something different. Here’s how:

1. Infographics

I came across Courtenay Bird’s blog just before I intended to head off to bed one evening this week. Courtenay’s interests lie in sales, marketing, project management and technology. Hence her interest in infographics. Here’s an example:

No more fish in the sea.

It got me thinking about project-based learning and how fantastic creating an infographic would be as a learning experience for students. By their very nature infographics demand a level of expertise by the person who creates them. Look at the research David McCandless at Information is Beautiful carries out before producing one of his masterpieces!

Infographics have to reflect real-world issues and do things with data that interests people. They have to be relevant and meaningful. That’s why I think they’re great for what I would called ‘real-world learning’.

There’s more wonderful infographics below:

2. Cultural references

I’ve only just come across Morten Oddvik’s work. Morten is an innovative Norwegian educator who focuses on learning outcomes rather than activities. A recent blog post of his – Didactical Project: Cultural or Intercultural Competence? – caught my eye because he’s doing something very difficult: using media-focused cultural references to enhance students’ learning about important (and quite high-level) concepts.

Take a look at this:

[googleapps domain=”docs” dir=”present/embed” query=”id=dd6hg9pn_328cswgwrhn&size=s” width=”410″ height=”342″ /]

As you can see, Morten hasn’t simply taken the rap-music-is-a-form-of-poetry route. Instead he’s done something infinitely more valuable; he’s using something students are already interested in to help them learn about a range of concepts. This is another example of project-based learning. Morten’s focused on learning outcomes and using the content as a scaffold towards that. Great stuff! ๐Ÿ˜€

3. Real-world problem solving

Finally, I’ve revisited the work of Dan Meyer recently. Dan blogs at dy/dan and is well known within the edublogosphere for his high work rate and high-quality resources. As my Dad’s recently gone to the UAE as a consultant Maths teacher, I’ve been showing him some of the stuff Dan’s been up to.

I think one of my favourite posts by Dan is one from 2007 entitled Graphing Stories. In it, Dan chronicles not only a formidable amount of work on his part as if it were nothing, but how his high-quality resources and use of human interest led to huge learning gains by his students:

Elevation v. Time

I’ve seen some really bad, disconnected-from-reality lessons during my teaching career thus far. And it has to be said the worst one I ever saw was a Maths lesson. Dan shows on his blog how even the most abstract of concepts can be taught visually, kinaesthetically, and engagingly. That, to me, is what it’s all about!

You should definitely check out his series What Can I Do With This? where Dan takes images and uses them to teach mathematical concepts. Inspiring! :-p

Conclusion

The above shows that if educators focus on learning outcomes rather than activities to take up lesson time (and the high-stakes examinations at the end of a course) then real progress can be made by students. As a subject specialist it paints me to say it, but I think it’s time to move to a project-based curriculum where skills and competencies are focused on rather than simply ‘knowledge’.

Tracey Rosen has a new blog called Teaching is a Verb which focuses on collective action to improve teaching and learning. I’ll leave you with a post she shares in a post entitled Teaching 101:

If you want to build a ship, donโ€™t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea. (Antoine de Saint-Exupรฉry)

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Where we’re headed with the Academy’s E-Learning ecosystem.

I have to keep telling myself that we’re only five weeks in to a brand new, 10-site all-age Academy. There’s so much I want to do this academic year in my first year as Director of E-Learning that it’s frustrating when it’s not all up-and-running straight away! However, that’s because of a number of factors largely beyond my control. Things will settle down! :-p

The above diagram is a very simplistic representation of how I want the E-Learning ‘ecosystem’ to function by summer 2010. It’s a 4-stage process:

1. Roll out Google Apps to staff

This has already been done. We were going to use just instance of Google Apps at ncea.org.uk but decided against it. Why? Because we want to turn on as much functionality as possible for staff (e.g. Google Chat, Google Sites) whilst having the option of turning of these for students.

Rolling out Google Apps to staff first enables them to play around with it and get used to a slightly different way of working before they start interacting with students through it.

2. Get forensic filtering & monitoring software up-and-running

Whilst we’ll have some filtering provided through the Postini services that can be turned on for free with Google Apps Education edition, I (and Northumberland County Council) want more than this. We’re going to be going with an offering by the name of Policy Central. This allows us, amongst other things, to do the following:

  • Automatically take screenshots based on keywords typed into any application.
  • Block websites locally.
  • Whitelist persistent offenders.

We need to have this in place before rolling out anything to students from an e-safety point of view.

3. Roll out Google Apps to students

I’m planning to roll out Google Apps to students (nceastudents.org.uk) strategically. I’m going to start with the Sixth Form (ages 16-18) as they’re likely to be the most responsible and give the best feedback. Once I’ve collated, reflected, and acted upon this I shall then roll it out to Key Stage 3 (ages 11-14). Key Stage 4 may or may not get Google Apps depending on conversations I have with various people.

Finally, Key Stage 2 students will get access to Google Apps on the Primary sites. This will start with Year 6 (10-11 years old) and work downwards. This should allow me to go into assemblies and iron out any problems as they happen. I had hoped that this would be completed by Christmas but because of various events that have taken place it may take a while longer.

4. Open up the Learning Platform to staff and students.

We’re going with Frog for our Learning Platform. They are not only the market leaders in the UK, but have a track record of producing easy-to-use software which can incorporate and work with that from other providers. We’ll be looking – as other institutions are – to integrate Google Apps and Frog via a Single Sign-On procedure. That is to say, signing into Frog will automatically sign you into Google Apps.

Once this is in place, I think teaching and learning interactions should begin to be transformed. I’m not going to dictate workflows, but I can imagine something like this happening:

  1. Student collaborates with another student via Google Docs.
  2. Students complete document, export as Word document or PDF and send to teacher through Learning Platform.
  3. Teacher takes submitted work and opens in their Google Docs area.
  4. Teacher stores students’ work in a relevant folder within Google Docs.

You may wonder why I’m allowing only student-student collaboration and teacher-teacher collaboration. This is because I want the Learning Platform for the official submission of work and Google Docs for drafting, collaboration, and more informal interactions. At least in the first instance.

Other than that, I’m happy for things to grow organically. I’ve already seen some teachers begin to experiment with Google Sites, despite my only mentioning it in passing. Encouraging! ๐Ÿ˜€

What are your thoughts on the above?

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Leadership by smiling.

Smiling

Image BY-NC-SA .margotta. @ Flickr

It’s obvious, clichรฉd, and can be annoying, but as the saying goes ‘smile and the world smiles with you.’ It’s especially important for leaders to be upbeat and positive as they set the tone for the rest of their organization. Like it or not, you get a lot of your cues from your line manager. If they’re apprehensive about the organization’s future, this will transfer itself to you. Likewise, you should think carefully about the body language and words that you use with those whom you lead. ๐Ÿ˜€

Smiling is powerful. It disarms situations and produces an almost primal reaction in other people. In other words, smiling is infectious. Thos visiting your organization notice this and it makes them happy. They then think good things about your organization and talk in such terms to others. This leads to your organization having a good reputation.

The other powerful thing about smiling a lot is the power that not smiling then gives. The simple act of stopping smiling, even for a minute or two, lends gravitas and import to a situation. This works as well in the classroom as it does in the boardroom.

Finally, others are drawn to those who smile, making it easier to (as Seth Godin would put it) form your ‘tribe’. It’s easier to influence people – rather than instruct people – when they feel positive around you.

So smile! Be known and come across as a happy, (somewhat) carefree person who can be serious when it matters. Much better that than be known as a miserable workaholic whom it’s best to avoid… ๐Ÿ™‚

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

3 ways Google Wave could be used in the classroom.

Google Wave logo

So you’re an educator who’s managed to score an invitation to Google Wave. You’ve had a play and it’s all very nice, but how could it be used in education?

Before I go any further, read these:

Google Wave conversation

Here are 3 ways I think Google Wave could be used by students for actual learning rather than just playing with something because it’s cool.

1. Empowering learners

There was a great presentation at the TeachMeet that accompanied the Scottish Learning Festival this year. Fearghal Kelly talked about his experiments with giving one of his classes more ownership over their learning. He ran them through the learning objectives and the content they would need to cover and then the student co-created and collaborated on planning what exactly they wanted to do.

Google Wave would be great for this as it allows wiki-like editing but is more threaded and conversation-like. The whole wave can also be ‘replayed’ to see how the thinking of the group evolved over time. It’s something I’d definitely be trying if I had a GCSE or AS/A2-level class… :-p

2. Student feedback

The most powerful learning experiences are those where students have ownership of their learning. That’s been dealt with above. But that’s of no use if students don’t know how to get better in a particular subject or discipline!

That’s why I think Google Wave could be used as an Assessment for Learning tool. Learning as a conversation could be shown in practice through having an individual wave for each student/teacher relationship. Alternatively, these could be small group and ability based to enable peer learning.

I can imagine waves being used for ongoing learning conversations once Google Wave becomes a feature of Google Apps for Education. I’ll certainly be experimenting with it for that purpose! ๐Ÿ˜€

3. Flattening the walls of the classroom

One of the really exciting things about Google Wave is the ‘bots’ you can add to automate processes. One of these bots allows for the automatic translation of text entered in one language into that of the recipient.

Whilst language teachers may be up in arms about the idea of ‘not needing’ to learn another’s language, I think it could be fantastic for removing barriers for worldwide collaboration. Imagine the power of students having the digital and wave-equivalent of ‘penpals’ in various classrooms around the world.

Now that really would ‘flatten the walls‘ of the classroom. ๐Ÿ™‚

What excites YOU about Google Wave’s potential for education?

Related articles by Zemanta

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

A proposal to get more high-quality explanatory videos to learners.

Storyboarding

Image BY-NC-SA Kaeru @ Flickr

I’ve got an idea. Educators need high-quality videos explaining key concepts and processes. There are some great providers of these out there (notably BrainPOP) but these cost $$$. On the flip side, there’s graphic artists, illustrators and animators who are starting out and need examples to add to their portfolio.

The quality of visuals in a video makes a great deal of difference to its overall impact. An example of this is the Shift Happens video, originally created by Karl Fisch. You can view the changes and improvements it has been through on this wiki. Whilst v1.0 was powerful, you’d have to agree that v4.0 has a lot more impact! ๐Ÿ™‚

My idea, then, is this:

  1. Educator comes up with idea for short explanatory video (e.g. how Google and other search engines work)
  2. Educator (with help of their Twitter/Facebook/whatever network) comes up with storyboard for idea including a script.*
  3. Storyboard and script are put in a central repository under a Creative Commons BY-SA license.
  4. Graphic designer comes along and chooses one they believe they can produce to a high quality and cost-effectively.
  5. Graphic designer produces video and shares on video-sharing site (e.g. YouTube). They are free to monetize this through Google Adsense and the like.
  6. Repository updated showing video has been created.

The great thing about this model is that everyone would win.

So… is this a good idea?

I’m up for creating the repository (with help from others) if enough people think it’s a goer. ๐Ÿ˜€

* Details of graphics required for this wouldn’t be as important as the script itself.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Embracing the future: why I’ve ditched MP3s and signed up to Spotify Premium

Spotify logo

Image BY-NC Rsms @ Flickr

I like music. A lot. I listen to as much as I can as I believe it makes me more productive.* As a student I worked in HMV at Meadowhall in Sheffield and bought a prodigious amount of CDs. When I did my MA in Modern History I sold many of them to fund my living expenses, but still many remained. I hadn’t ripped them all to MP3 but still had around 100GB of my 250GB taken up with MP3s. I deleted all of that today, leaving only my downloaded podcasts:

iTunes data

After my week of divesting the only CDs that aren’t in boxes ready to be sent off to Music Magpie or Amazon customers are those (nine) that I’ve decided to keep as artwork.** I signed up for a Spotify Premium account the day after their iPhone app became available. It costs ยฃ9.99 per month to upgrade from the Free account. For that you get, amongst other things, the usage of their iPhone app (which doesn’t work with a Free account), a higher streaming bitrate and no advertisements.

That’s not to say that Spotify features every album and every piece of music that I’ve ever listened to. But I reckon that they’ve got about 90% of the stuff I search for. That’s good enough for me, especially given my eclectic, ever-changing taste in music and the fact they add thousands more track to their library every week – check out their blog!

The streaming model makes sense. Now that a decently-fast internet connection is available to me pretty much everywhere I go, there’s no need for me to manually sync and carry around with me a partial collection of music I like. Much better to have access to a much bigger collection everywhere I am. ๐Ÿ™‚

Of course, there are times when your internet connection isn’t so good (or even non-existent). It’s for these times that Spotify has made playlists that you create available offline. Up to 3,333 tracks can be cached for offline play at any one time. That’s certainly enough for me!

Finally, then, there’s the problem of making Spotify’s vast library user-friendly. A start has been made via SpotifiTunes (see my library here) which takes your iTunes XML file and creates a list of Spotify links. Wanting an up-to-date version of this, I’ve created a workspace on my wiki dedicated to this. To access this, click on the ‘Music’ link at the top of this blog or click here!

What do YOU think about Spotify and the like? Will you be signing up any time soon? ๐Ÿ˜€

* I recommend you read Lifehacker’s The Best Sounds for Getting Work Done

** See CD wall tiles @ IWOOT)

Has WordPress-powered P2 left me ‘more organized and productive’?

Doug's work record - search for 'Google Apps'

Last month I wrote a post entitled How WordPress-powered P2 is (hopefully) going to leave me more organized and productive. If you haven’t read that yet, you probably should do now so that you understand what follows… :-p

There’s several reasons for my wanting to keep a record of the stuff that I do in my role as Director of E-Learning. These include:

  • Performance Management
  • An aide-memoir when dealing with other people
  • Interest – how much of my time do I spend on various activities?

Does it work?

If you’ve got this far into a second post on the subject, the question you’re probably asking is probably something like Does it work? or Is it useful? The answer to both of those questions is YES!

What’s harder to answer is whether it’s left me more organized and productive. After all, entering even a one-liner (and adding tags) takes time. When you’re flat-out busy (like I am most days at the Academy!) that could be seen as a bit of a waste of time.

So I suppose the best way to answer questions relating to organization and productivity are to take the politician’s approach and not really answer them. Instead, I’ll tell you what I’ve used the WordPress + P2 system for. So far, it’s been for three things:

  1. Checking when I emailed someone and tasked them with a particular activity.
  2. Counting how many of a particular meeting I’ve been to.
  3. Seeing which individuals I interact with most often (the tag cloud is very useful for this!)

I can’t help but think that this system would go from good to great if it were being used by more than one person. For example, ICT technicians could use it to keep a record of what’s going on, cropping up, and taking their time. This could be viewed by their line manager, who could make comments. And as with my personal work record, it could be password-protected yet internet-based for secure yet easy access! ๐Ÿ™‚

P2 is available as a pre-installed theme at WordPress.com. A standalone version for self-hosted WordPress-powered blogs can be downloaded at p2theme.com.

So why not give it a go? It’s free! ๐Ÿ˜€

Who are you and where do you come from?

People come from far and wide to read this blog:

Map of visitors to dougbelshaw.com/blog

Source: Clustrmap

At my previous blog (teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk – back online soon!) I used to reflect monthly on blog visitors and subscribers via RSS or email. In a relentless drive to improve vistors’ experience when visiting the blog I’d analyze which browsers were being used, their screen resolution, and so on.

I haven’t really done that since moving over to blogging here at dougbelshaw.com/blog. Whilst I don’t intend to produce monthly blog posts on the matter, I thought it would be interesting and useful to reflect on the information I’ve got about blog visitors and subscribers! ๐Ÿ™‚

The two tools I use to find out about blog visitors are both now owned and provided for free by Google: Analytics (for visitors) and Feedburner (for subscribers)

Visitors

The following graph shows how many visits were made to this blog per week between 26 February 2009 (when I installed the Google Analytics WordPress plugin) and today:

Graph of visitors to dougbelshaw.com/blog (Feb - Oct 2009)

Visits are slowly on the rise and are affected significantly by the school year! I’m slightly concerned that people spend, on average, less than two minutes here and tend to only visit one or two pages or posts.

Perhaps I need to make the blog easier to navigate and flag up related material?

So what are people looking for when they come here? The Top 10 most visited posts/pages is make interesting reading:

Top 10 visited pages/posts on dougbelshaw.com/blog (Feb - Oct 2009)

Unsurprisingly, stuff that was of direct practical utility – either in the form of a downloadable resource or a how-to guide – featured heavily in the Top 10. Geeky stuff also features significantly. I was, however, delighted to see that my Director of E-Learning interview presentation on How E-Learning can contribute to raising achievement was up there as well and that people, on average, spent over five minutes reading through it! ๐Ÿ˜€

Finally on the general visitor front, I’m pleased to see plenty of people coming from referring sites:

Traffic sources for dougbelshaw.com/blog (Feb - Oct 2009)

The majority of these referring sites were social media/networking sites such as Twitter and Disqus (the comments system that I use on this blog).

Subscribers

As I expected, most subscribers use either Google (iGoogle, Google Reader) or FriendFeed to keep up-to-date with my blog posts:

dougbelshaw.com/blog subscribers

At one time this would have been dominated by Bloglines. Google, as with most things, now rules the roost!

The above chart shows a combination of those who subscribe to the RSS feed via a feed reader or by email. Almost exactly 10% of the 964 people who subscribe to this blog do so by email. The great advantage of this is that I can see who they are and (potentially) contact them without having to put up a public blog post. ๐Ÿ™‚

Subscribers act differently to general visitors. The latter might only ever view this blog once, having searched for a very specific thing on a search engine and leave after gaining that new knowledge or insight. Subscribers, on the other hand, have (presumably) made a judgement that this blog consistently produces content that they find relevant and useful.

You’d expect the Top 10 posts/pages for subscribers to be different. And it is!

Top 10 blog posts on dougbelshaw.com/blog according to subscribers

I think it’s fair to say that the majority of subscribers to this blog are those related to education in some way. And that would make sense given that the tagline is Educational Technology, Leadership & Productivity!

The best indicator of which posts have been most popular, however, comes from the sidebar widget at dougbelshaw.com/blog (RSS/email readers will need to click through to see it). This is powered by the previously-mentioned Disqus and measures how much interest a post has caused based on factors such as the number of comments it generated directly, how many tweets there on Twitter link to it, the number of trackbacks it received, and the number of pageviews.

To finish off, then, here are the current Top 10:

  1. HOWTO: Present using Cooliris (the basicsโ€ฆ)
  2. Why Iโ€™m trying to make myself redundant.
  3. HOWTO: Present using Cooliris (advanced)
  4. Assessment in UK schools: a convenient hypocrisy?
  5. A Week of Divesting: an introduction
  6. A (temporary) farewell to a hero.
  7. Heuristical Templates (or, how to review elearning stuff in a way that benefits others)
  8. On the important difference between hitchhiking and bandwagon-jumping.
  9. How WordPress-powered P2 is (hopefully) going to leave me more organized and productive!
  10. Carol Dweck on โ€˜growth mindsetsโ€™ and motivation.
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Activity, Passivity and Failure.

quotation marksPerhaps I’m one step away from ‘the Voices’ telling me what to do, but some days a thought swirls round in my head and ends up fully-formed in a quotation. Here’s what has been doing the swirling today:

Failure does not spring from any one type of activity but from almost every type of passivity. (Belshaw, 2009)

What does it mean? I know in my context, but perhaps you could tell me about yours? I really hope I haven’t inadvertently claimed someone else’s work as my own – that would be embarrassing! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

My next job is to find a relevant Creative Commons-licensed Flickr picture using something like CompFight to which I can add the quotation. Perhaps you could direct me to one in the comments? ๐Ÿ˜‰

Sign up for TeachMeet ETRU edition 09!

I’m delighted to announce on behalf of EdTechRoundUp that we’ll be having a (completely online) ‘TeachMeet’ on Sunday 6th December 2009. It’s called TeachMeet ETRU edition 09 and will hopefully be the first of many!

If you’re not too sure what a TeachMeet is, watch the excellent explanatory video by the BrainPOP team below:

Please do sign up to do a 7-minute ‘micro’ presentation, a 2-minute ‘nano’ presentation or to be an ‘enthusiastic lurker’. The idea is that we’ll be using Adobe Connect Pro for the TeachMeet. Presentations can be done live, but I for one will be pre-recording mine! ๐Ÿ™‚

I noticed that TeachMeet Falkirk had a QR code* to make life a bit easier for those publicising the event. Here’s one containing the URL of TeachMeet ETRU edition 09

qrcode

Finally, please remember to include the tag TMETRU09 when discussing the TeachMeet on Twitter, uploading Flickr photos, YouTube videos or blogging about it! ๐Ÿ˜€

* A QR code, for those who don’t know, is kind of a barcode that stores information – in this case the URL of the wiki page (more at Wikipedia). Try it by downloading the software from qrcode.kaywa.com.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
css.php