I’ve got an article in the first issue of Educating Modern Learners
A response to the ongoing Open Education Week discussion.
Here’s what I’ve been up to this week:
- Talking to Audrey Watters about web literacies. She’s a very smart person and I was impressed by what she had to say. I tried to capture most of what she said in this blog post.
- As my colleagues are such a talented and productive bunch, an important part of my working day is spent in co-ordination. When you’re not co-located it’s important that you get your thinking out there, which is exactly what Brett Gaylor’s done with his post on New Webmaker Prototypes. Exciting stuff! My response is here.
- I continue to contribute to both the Mozilla Webmaker list and the Open Badges Google Group. I’m looking forward to the latter splitting into two equally-weighted technical/learning groups!
- This week I’ve been invited to over 10 events (including Estonia twice!), which is a little insane. I said no to pretty much all of them, as I’m trying to travel less (and be more strategic when I do travel) in 2013.
- I’m trying to comment on more blog posts, especially when people are sharing the awesome work they’re doing around badges. Most notably, I commented on posts by Chris Sharples, Zoe Ross, Robert Weeks, and Grainne Hamilton. You should go and read them (the posts, not necessarily my comments!)
- Interestingly, the post by Robert Weeks was stimulated by a virtual presentation to the Bristol ‘weelearning’ group on Wednesday. Formerly a badge skeptic, Robert is now a badge enthusiast. Job done. 🙂
- My work around web literacies is going to end up as a ‘learning standard’. I’ve been discussing this with Erin and Carla. More on that soon.
- I spent Thursday in Leicester in the company of Josie Fraser, Lucy Atkins, Richard Hall and David White. I was advising on a new digital literacies framework for teachers in Leicester which should, hopefully, lead to badge-infused CPD. That was a bit of an epic journey: 4.5 hours each way in a day. Except the train was delayed on the way after a suicide on the line. 🙁
- I’ve done lots of reading this week, including the excellent book A Small Matter of Programming, a new DML Connected Learning report, the Peeragogy Handbook, and a new version of the IDEO Design Thinking for Educators resource.
- The ILTA invited me to write up my keynote last year into a journal article. I’m about half-way there, I reckon, and should finish it on Monday. It will have the title Zen and the Art of Digital Literacies.
- Thinking about the way that I and most of the people I know live in the future.
- When I wasn’t doing the above I was clearing the drive of snow, spending time at the gym (no running this week!), and sledging, snowman-making, and generally spending time with my family before…
Next week I’ll be escaping the snowy hinterland of Northumberland and heading to sunny California to meet my colleagues. We’ll be participating in a DML conversation around, you guessed it, Open Badges. On that note, I’m delighted to have been asked to do more work around learning and assessment related to badges – so look out for more posts of that nature in the near future!
Image uploaded originally by Cory Doctorow on Twitter
Update: For the latest information on the Web Literacy standard work, head to http://mzl.la/weblitstd
One of the awesome things about my role at Mozilla is that I get to talk to extremely smart people about interesting things. Today I had the opportunity to talk to Audrey Watters, whose writing and thinking I greatly admire. And when she speaks, I listen. We caught up via Skype to talk about the Web Literacies framework and white paper I’ve been working on: http://mzl.la/weblit.
By way of context, before going any further you should go and read this post by Erin Knight, Senior Director of Learning for the Mozilla Foundation (aka my boss). In it she talks about our vision for an ‘open standard’ for Web Literacy:
In addition to all of the flashy tools, content and branding we’ve been launching over the last year, we’ve also been doing some considerable ‘underbelly’ work to define the thing we are ultimately after: a generation of web literate people.
I think this is important work for more reasons than just enumerating the things that Mozilla cares about or may provide learning pathways and badges for, but as a definition that we, as in the royal we of the web world, can all get behind and all teach to.
In 2013 we want to work with other organisations, interested groups, and individuals who are interested in helping people not only be able to elegantly consume, but write parts of the Web.
Recommendation 1: It may be better to talk of ‘scripting’ than ‘programming’ in a Webmaker context
Another problem with JS is that you don’t know what you don’t know. If you don’t know what JS does then why would you want to learn it? We need, therefore, to surface great examples and allow users to ‘look under the hood’ of web pages, much as we do with X-Ray Goggles for HTML and CSS. Although I forgot to mention it during the call, I think we’re on the right track with the not-yet-released semi-official hackagame.org where you can use the Thimble interface to hack the classic game Pong.
Recommendation 2: Show learners epic things they can do with Web-native tools
Although Audrey is a big fan of the visual programming environment Scratch she talked of giving learners tools ‘that real programmers use’. As an aside, I’ve always found it really disingenuous that some educators add a lot of structure to learning activities and try to make learning ‘easier’ by making the tools available less powerful. After all, it’s highly unlikely that the educators themselves learned in anything other than a fairly ‘messy’ way.
Part of the problem is that we don’t really have a pedagogy around Computer Science (CS) which makes a lot of this suck-it-and-see. I thought Audrey showed real insight when she talked of those who are highly skilled in programming often being highly self-motivated. These people can make great teachers, but (in both our experiences, I think) often don’t. Certainly a lot of the online places you can learn to code seem to be overly-structured and focus on procedural, rather than conceptual, stuff.
At the end of the day, the procedural stuff (especially around syntax) can be learned through tinkering. It’s the conceptual stuff, arguably, that’s the most important.
Recommendation 3: Give learners industrial-strength tools and don’t overly structure what they can do with them
Audrey also mentioned lots of other stuff that would turn this into an epic post. She talked about the importance of real project-based learning, where the learner decides what they’re learning, not the teacher/website. She mentioned why Webmaker as a ‘brand’ is important as it focuses on the Web rather than the (sometimes) closed ecosystems of native apps in the mobile space. And, interestingly, Audrey talked about the importance of users understanding the politics of ‘Open’ and why it matters.
Note to self: talk to Audrey more. 🙂
I was fortunate enough to meet the amazing Audrey Watters and Steve Hargadon when I was over in San Francisco earlier this year. The authenticity of the ‘Irish’ pub in which we met was questionable, but their commitment to furthering education certainly isn’t!
Steve and Audrey have a weekly podcast in which they reflect on Audrey’s (prolific) written output over the past seven days. Today I listened to the one embedded at the bottom of this post (also here). They’re both so insightful that I wanted to be part of the conversation. The only way I can do so at the moment is by adding my thoughts here.
So that’s what I’m going to do.
Steve brought up the point that companies build business models around the idea that teachers want to share lesson plans. He questioned whether that’s actually true.
Not in my opinion.
In my experience, the needs of classroom teachers (which used to include me) are on a spectrum related to interest. So, for example, I’d spend hours researching and creating resources around 1066 and the Norman Conquest. I love that period of History.
On the other hand, I tried to get the Agricultural Revolution out of the way as soon as possible, and used resources in my lessons almost entirely created by other people.
And that’s the difference: if you’re a motivated teacher, you don’t want prescriptive lesson plans for stuff that excites you. Of course, if you’re an ineffective, demotivated teacher, you’ll grab as many lesson plans as you can.
Lesson plans are different to learning resources. I used to have a huge collection of both physical and digital resources, neatly categorised, upon which I could draw. Very motivated and effective teachers within the UK History teaching community would share these – but do different things with them.
Sharing lesson plans as a business model misses the point, I think. Learning, as both Audrey and Steve pointed out, is about relationships not content-delivery.
One of the tangential conversations Steve and Audrey had was around social bookmarking. Steve ‘confessed’ to not really using social bookmarking services such as delicious or diigo any more.
I’m glad it’s not just me.
Since delicious has changed hands from Yahoo! to some randoms, I haven’t even got the bookmarklet or Firefox extension installed. I re-find things either through a search engine, my Thought Shrapnel tumblr or Evernote. As Steve mentioned, the personal (primary) benefit is more important than the (secondary) social benefit in this regard.
What I did find interesting is that Audrey uses Pinboard which positions itself as ‘social bookmarking for introverts’. I’ve got a (paid) account there, so I may give that another try.
The purpose of education
Time and time again, Audrey came back to the purpose of education. It’s not about content delivery. It’s not about power. It’s not about money.
This is something that’s obviously close to my heart.
I really enjoyed listening in to Steve and Audrey’s conversation and shall do so regularly. I just hope that as the podcast develops they summarise the stories before analysing them. What’s huge in the US (for example) is sometimes barely reported over here in the UK. I had to read between the lines of the Penn State controversy, for example.
But that’s a minor, nitpicking point. Listen to the podcast. It’s awesome.
A couple of days ago I noticed #beyondthetextbook emerging on Twitter. It turns out that this hashtag related to an gathering sponsored by Discovery Education in Washington D.C.
My (remote, somewhat helicopter-like) contribution, was pretty much summed up by the following:
After reading Audrey Watters’ post about the gathering (as well as those by others), I’d like to expand up on that and highlight some thoughts from others with whom I’m in agreement.
I want us to weigh classroom practices, power, authority, politics, publishing, assessment, expertise, attribution, and the culture(s) of the education system. I would argue that the textbook in its current form — and frankly in almost all of the digital versions we’re also starting to see now — is tightly woven into that very fabric, and once we tug hard enough at the “textbook” thread, things come undone.
The textbook is easy to talk about. It’s a physical thing that people have known as students and, for some, as educators. The trouble is that, just as with any technology, it’s difficult to separate the thing from the practices that surround the thing.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with textbooks – especially if you define them as Bud Hunt does as “A collection of information organized around thoughtful principles intended to provide support to instruction.” I’m not so keen on the word ‘instruction’ (I’d substitute ‘learning’) but like his basis in ‘thoughtful principles’.
Getting assessment right
One of the reasons I’m such a big fan of badges for lifelong learning is that assessment is broken. I don’t mean ‘broken’ in the sense that a bit of a repair job would fix. I mean structurally unsound and falling apart. Liable to collapse at any moment. That kind of broken.
It’s a problem I felt as a classroom teacher. It’s an issue I had to deal with as a senior manager. It’s evident in my sector-wide role in Higher Education. The hoops through which we’re asking people to jump not only don’t mean anything any more, but they don’t necessarily lead anywhere.
To me, that constitutes a crisis of relevance. So when we’ve got textbooks solely focused on providing content in bite-sized chunks in order to allow people to pass summative tests, then we’ve got a problem. A huge problem.
But let’s be clear: the problem is to do with the high-stakes assessment. It’s akin to the current attacks on the efficacy of teachers. The problem isn’t with (most) teachers, it’s with what you’re asking them to do. Likewise, with textbooks, it’s not the collecting of information in one place – it’s what people are expected to do with that information.
Open content and the blank page
I’ve seen many state their belief that the best kind of textbook is the blank page. By that, they mean that textbooks should be co-constructed. I certainly can’t argue with that, but we must always be careful that we don’t substitute one form of top-down structure with another.
Back in 2006 I wrote a couple of posts on my old teaching blog. One covered the idea of teachers as lifeguards, and other focused on the teacher as DJ. In the former I talk about the importance of teachers ‘knowing the waters’ so that they can allow students to explore the waters, growing in confidence (but be there when things go wrong). In the latter I discuss the similarities between teachers and DJs around ‘tempo’ and ‘playlists’.
Both the lifeguard and DJ analogies work with textbooks, I think. The difficulties are always going to be around time and competency. It’s all very well for those new to the profession, willing to burn the candle at both ends to remix the curriculum and create their own textbooks to move #beyondthetextbook. But that’s a recipe for burnout.
As usual, I’ve more questions than answers, but if I have one contribution to the #beyondthetextbook debate it’s that our current use of textbooks is a symptom of the problem, not the problem itself. It’s difficult to debate nuanced things online, and even more so via Twitter.
I think we need a renaissance in blogging – and the kind of blogging where we reference other people’s work. If we’re going to debate problems in education, let’s do so at length, with some nuance, and in a considered way.
Thanks for reading this far. I’d love to read any comments you have below!