Tag: Education (page 21 of 24)

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)

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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?

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On the important difference between hitchhiking and bandwagon-jumping.

Double Yellow Lines

Image CC-BY-NC-SA pitty.platsch @ Flickr

I’ll admit it. From 2004 up to about 2007 I was a bandwagon-jumper. I wanted to be the early adopter, the first to use pretty much anything to do with educational technology in the classroom. But that came at a cost. That cost – and it’s difficult for me to admit this to myself – was borne by my students who had a teacher who was too focused on the shiny shiny and not learning outcomes.

The trouble with bandwagon-jumping is that you’re not entirely sure where that bandwagon is headed; whether it fits in with where you want you and your students need to go; whether it’s potentially dangerous territory to head into. The bandwagon may be driven by sensible, rationale people in it for the long-haul, or you could be left stranded in the middle of nowhere by overnight cowboys. That’s not a safe place for teachers or students to be – even in a metaphorical sense.

Much better then to be a hitchhiker. The hitchhiker knows where they want to go. They don’t mind the odd detour or two so long as they get there. Whilst the destination is of ultimate importance, the journey is also important and life-enriching. So too educators who choose to be metaphorical hitchhikers. Sometimes we can ‘go it alone’ with our classes to blaze new trails to destinations, but often it’s better (and safer) to stick with others and figure things out together.

So if others use new technologies, websites and services before me, that’s fine. I’ll use them when it’s time for me to head that way, when my own or my classes investigations necessitate us exploring those areas.

Until then, I’ll leave the bandwagons to others. :-p

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Assessment in UK schools: a convenient hypocrisy?

Dilbert on graphs

There’s a couple of lines in the otherwise-average film In The Loop that not only made me laugh but made me think. At one point in the film, a British civil servant is remonstrating with his US counterpart. They end up in a very modern-looking chapel within a government building. The British civil servant starts shouting and swearing at which point the American reminds him that they’re in a sacred place, adding:

Neither of us believes that, but it’s a convenient hypocrisy.

I’ve realised that convenient hypocrisies happen often. Unfortunately, I believe it happens with assessment in UK schools every day. ๐Ÿ™

Now I’m no expert on assessment, but even I know that research has established the following:

  1. Students regress as well as progress due to emotional, psychological, sociological (and other) factors.
  2. National curriculum levels and sub-levels are intended as summative, end of Key Stage assessments.
  3. Not all students progress at the same rate.

Yet, in all of the schools I’ve worked in during my teaching career, we’ve done the following:

  • Used National Curriculum level descriptors on a half-termly (or even a weekly) basis.
  • Set students targets based on the number of National Curriculum sub-levels an ‘average student’ will get through during a Key Stage.
  • Make few allowances as to the reasons why students’ attainment might fluctuate.
  • ‘Level’ as much work as possible when we know that doing so destroys any impact formative comments may have.

Using data systems based on numbers for assessment purposes looks impressive, gives control to senior leaders and produces pretty graphs and reports for parents. But is it useful to students? I’d argue that it’s not. Students become hung up on progressing through National Curriculum levels that aren’t always coherent and meaningful. It’s also very easy for Heads of Department to artificially inflate the National Curriculum levels of students whom they’d like to take their subject at GCSE. After all, if you’re a Year 9 student and you’re on a Level 6b in Geography and a 5c in History, which one are you going to take?

The reason for my inclusion of that particular Dilbert cartoon at the top of this post is that I reckon most UK teachers couldn’t differentiate between a Level 4b and 4a in their subject. In fact, the distinction’s pretty meaningless. I’ve seen some schools use the sub-levels as following:

  • Level 4c – some work at Level 4 standard
  • Level 4b – most work at Level 4 standard
  • Level 4a – all work at Level 4 standard

In that case, why use the sub-levels in the first place? :-s

It’s my belief that Assessment for Learning, that buzz-phrase from a couple of years ago, has been hijacked and contorted into something it’s not. I’m certainly not arguing against students knowing where they’re at in a subject and how to improve. It’s just that using National Curriculum levels as a means for doing this smacks of laziness to me. Instead, professional teachers should be able to convey the key skills, processes and subject knowledge students need to be able to progress. That’s just good teaching.

If the above has left you feeling the need to brush up on your knowledge of assessment, you might want to read Beyond the Black Box and/or view the TeachersTV videos on the subject.

What are YOUR views on assessment? :-p

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‘So… what do you do?’

Abstract light 8109

(image by atomicShed @ Flickr)

It should be an easy question. In fact, it’s the one that usually comes in rapid succession after enquiries as to your name and perhaps where you’re from. But ‘what do you do?’ is increasingly a difficult question for me to answer.

If I want to move the conversation onto other things – or indeed to get out of the conversation quickly – I simply say I’m a ‘teacher’. Except I’m not any more (although it is in my portfolio). As a ‘Director of E-Learning’ I’m in a job that has only existed for a couple of years in a handful UK educational institutions

So what do I say? One colleague referred to me recently as ‘Director of Excitement’. Sometimes, to get a cheap laugh, I refer to myself as ‘Chief Geek’.ย  But, whilst there’s a grain of truth in each, neither’s true in its own right.

The acid test is my 85 year-old grandmother who doesn’t really know what the internet is. I find myself at a loss for words to try and explain the world I inhabit. It’s so different to that which she grew up in it’s unreal; we have few common frames of reference.

So what do I do?

  • I blend digital and physical worlds.
  • I tell stories about how learning can be.
  • I show people stuff.
  • I research.
  • I find the best of the best.

My job’s what I make it. I can live with that. ๐Ÿ˜€

(N.B. this brief post has been ‘stewing’ a while, but was prompted directly by Chris Messina’s post The Elevator Pitch in which he recounts a similar problem)

Director of E-Learning: Doug Belshaw

I’ve just typed ‘Director of E-Learning’ (in quotes) into Google. The results left me surprised, pleased and dismayed all at once…

Google search results for 'Director of E-Learning'

I was surprised that Laura Walker’s blog post of her (successful) expression of interest in the ‘Director of E-Learning position at her school was in first place. I was pleased for her, and for Dan Stucke – another Director of E-Learning – whose blog post also featured on the front page.

But… where am I? It sounds a bit egotistical, I know, but I was kind of expecting to be there too. Where’s the link to my Director of E-Learning interview blog post? Some may construe this blog post as a blatant attempt to point out to Google that I’m a Director of E-Learning too, thank you very much and to get my name on that front page.

You’d be right. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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A Tale of Two Guest Houses (or, what are you offering your students this academic year?)

I’ve been in Devon this past week. Driving back from Exeter to my inlaws’ house I passed the signs for two guest houses:

Guest house with hot tub and wi-fi

Guest house with 'central heating'!

It got me thinking about the differences in educational opportunities being offered at various schools not only in the same country, but around the world. No doubt, the reason why the guest house at the top in the pictures above is successful is because of the bells and whistles it offers. I should imagine they could get away with relatively poor customer service and offering a ’rounded’ experience as they offer the ‘wow’ factor.

The bottom guest house in the pictures above ย is probably still in business due to the personality of the proprietors. The fact that they’re still advertising having central heating and a TV shows how behind the times they are, yet they must offer something the others don’t otherwise they would have gone out of business long ago.

Transferring the above into an educational context, it’s easy to see the parallels. The equivalent of the first guest house is the educator who jumps on every new bandwagon, wanting to test everything so they can say they’ve used the newest tools with their students. The equivalent of the second the educator that eschews completely such technologies and continues by force of personality.

I think our students deserve both: committed, personable teachers who are au fait with technology. I’m sick of the false dichotomy between the two.

I’ll be doing my best to promote educational technology in a way that enhances learning in my role as Director of E-Learning this academic year. What will you be doing? ๐Ÿ™‚

My ‘Edonis’ interview with David Noble

edonis

David Noble (@parslad), a Scottish educator with a long track record of innovative and supportive blogging and podcasting, interviewed me last month. David’s one of the founding members of EdTechRoundUp, so I’ve known him for a while. He too is doing an Ed.D. but hasn’t taken the easy route (as I have) and is actually doing some original research!

Focusing on the question How are learning professionals dealing with the social web?, David’s podcasts can be found on his Booruch blog. You can listen to mine either on his blog or by clicking below. ๐Ÿ™‚

Contents:

  • My (professional) educational background
  • My experiences of ICT-related training and professional development: as a student teacher, during INSET, and as part of CPD
  • My previous workplaces and the level of web access availble learning professionals
  • My notion of a ‘learning network’
  • My uses of the social web
  • Changes I anticipate in use of ICT over the next 3 years.

The 8 C’s of digital literacy

generator.x show

Image by jared @ Flickr

Poets talk of a ‘muses’ and people talk of inspiration ‘just coming’ to them. Me, I’m a believer that connections come when you completely immerse yourself in something. About an hour ago I had a breakthrough with my thesis, the tentative title of which is What does it mean to be ‘digitally literate’? A Pragmatic investigation.

I’ve been looking for a way to organize the multitude of definitions of ‘digital literacy’ that there are – almost as many as there are writers on the subject! Then, as I was looking for categories, I noticed that almost every category I used began with ‘C’! I quickly wrote down eight and tweeted it out:

My original tweet

Josie Fraser, herself quite the expert on digital literacy, responded that I really needed a ‘critical’ element in there:

Josie - helpful tweet

She had a very good point and I noticed that the similarity between the things I wanted to put in the ‘cultural’ and ‘community’ sections I’d demarcated. Hence, I changed it round to come up with this, the 8 C’s of digital literacy. Each of the following I believe to be an element with which any definition of the concept must deal:

  • Cultural
  • Communication
  • Cognitive
  • Citizenship
  • Constructive
  • Creativity
  • Confidence
  • Critical

I haven’t numbered them as they’re in no particular order. I will, no doubt, be thinking and reflecting more on the subject. I just wanted to get this post out before anyone else tried to claim this as their own! ๐Ÿ˜‰

A reminder that you can view my thesis as I write it, if you wish. ๐Ÿ˜€

The importance of heuristics in educational technology and elearning.

Dilbert - heuristics

This post has been brewing for a while.

I’m sick to death of people ‘recommending’ products, services, applications and utilities based on, essentially, zero real-world testing and feedback. Why? They can’t help with the heuristics.

What are heuristics?

Wikipedia definition:

Heuristic is an adjective for experience-based techniques that help in problem solving, learning and discovery. A heuristic method is particularly used to rapidly come to a solution that is hoped to be close to the best possible answer, or ‘optimal solution’. Heuristics are “rules of thumb”, educated guesses, intuitive judgments or simply common sense. Heuristics as a noun is another name for heuristic methods.

Why are heuristics important?

As I argued in my SHP Conference workshop Raising achievement in History at KS4 using e-learning, it can actually be damaging to:

  • launch into using educational technologies without thinking it through properly (the how not just the what).
  • attempt to replicate what someone has done elsewhere without thinking about the context.

People like Andrew Churches (of Educational Origami fame) deal with heuristics. They show how educational technologies can be used, things to think about, and issues that may arise.

What I’d like to see

Think about new users of educational technologies. Let’s say that someone wants to show parents what’s happening on a school trip in the following country. They ask for advice. Which of these would be the most useful response?

  1. I’d use a blog if I were you.
  2. Have you seen Posterous?
  3. I used Posterous successfully. Here’s how to set it up and here’s an example of how I’ve used it before. Ask me if you get stuck.

Obviously 3. I really don’t want any more of 1 and 2 thank you very much. :-p

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