Tag: pedagogy (page 1 of 2)

Digital myths, digital pedagogy, and complexity

I’m currently doing some research with Sarah Horrocks from London CLC for their parent organisation, the Education Development Trust. As part of this work, I’m looking at all kinds of things related to technology-enhanced teacher professional development.

Happily, it’s given me an excuse to go through some of the work that Prof. Steve Higgins, my former thesis supervisor at Durham University, has published since I graduated from my Ed.D. in 2012. There’s some of his work in particular that really resonated with me and I wanted to share in a way that I could easily reference in future.

In a presentation to the British Council in 2013 entitled Technology trends for language teaching: looking back and to the future, Higgins presents six ‘myths’ relating to digital technologies and educational institutions:

  1. The ‘Future Facing’ Fallacy – “New technologies are being developed all the time, the past history of the impact of technology is irrelevant to what we have now or will be available tomorrow.
  2. The ‘Different Learners’ Myth – “Today’s children are digital natives and the ‘net generation –they learn differently from older people”.
  3. A Confusion of ‘Information’and ‘Knowledge’ – “Learning has changed now we have access to knowledge through the internet, today’s children don’t need to know stuff, they just need to know where to find it.”
  4. The ‘Motivation Mistake’ – “Students are motivated by technology so they must learn better when they use it.”
  5. The ‘Mount Everest’ Fallacy – “We must use technology because it is there!”
  6. The ‘More is Better’ Mythology – “If some technology is a good thing, then more must be better.

The insightful part, is I think, when Higgins applies Rogers’ (1995) work around the diffusion of innovations:

  • Innovators & early adopters choose digital technology to do something differently – as a solution to a problem.
  • When adopted by the majority, focus is on the technology, but not as a solution.
  • The laggards use the technology to replicate what they were already doing without ICT

In a 2014 presentation to The Future of Learning, Knowledge and Skills (TULOS) entitled Technology and learning: from the past to the future, Higgins expands on this:

It is rare for further studies to be conducted once a technology has become fully embedded in educational settings as interest tends to focus on the new and emerging, so the question of overall impact remains elusive.

If this is the situation, there may, of course, be different explanations. We know, for example, that it is difficult to scale-up innovation without a dilution of effect with expansion (Cronbach et al. 1980; Raudenbush, 2008). It may also be that early adopters (Rogers, 2003; Chan et al. 2006) tend to be tackling particular pedagogical issues in the early stages, but then the focus shifts to the adoption of the particular technology, without it being chosen as a solution to a specific teaching and learning issue (Rogers’‘early’ and ‘late majority’). At this point the technology may be the same, but the pedagogical aims and intentions are different, and this may explain a reduction in effectiveness.

The focus should be on pedagogy, not technology:

Overall, I think designing for effective use of digital technologies is complex. It is not just a case of trying a new piece of technology out and seeing what happens. We need to build on what is already know about effective teaching and learning… We also need to think about what the technology can do better than what already happens in schools. It is not as though there is a wealth of spare time for teachers and learners at any stage of education. In practice the introduction of technology will replace something that is already there for all kinds of reasons, the technology supported activity will squeeze some thing out of the existing ecology, so we should have good grounds for thinking that a new approach will be educationally better than what has gone before or we should design activities for situations where teachers and learners believe improvement is needed. Tackling such challenges will mean that technology will provide a solution to a problem and not just appear as an answer to a question that perhaps no-one has asked.

My gloss on this is that everything is ambiguous, and that attempts to completely remove this ambiguity and/or abstract away from a particular context are doomed to failure.

One approach that Higgins introduces in a presentation (no date), entitled SynergyNet: Exploring the potential of a multi-touch classroom for teaching and learning, is CSCL. I don’t think I’d heard of this before:

Computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) is a pedagogical approach where in learning takes place via social interaction using a computer or through the Internet. This kind of learning is characterized by the sharing and construction of knowledge among participants using technology as their primary means of communication or as a common resource. CSCL can be implemented in online and classroom learning environments and can take place synchronously or asynchronously. (Wikipedia)

The particular image that grabbed me from Higgins’ presentation was this one:


This reminds me of the TPACK approach, but more focused on the kind of work that I do from home most weeks:

One of the most common approaches to CSCL is collaborative writing. Though the final product can be anything from a research paper, a Wikipedia entry, or a short story, the process of planning and writing together encourages students to express their ideas and develop a group understanding of the subject matter. Tools like blogs, interactive whiteboards, and custom spaces that combine free writing with communication tools can be used to share work, form ideas, and write synchronously. (Wikipedia)

CSCL activities seem like exactly the kind of things we should be encouraging to prepare both teachers and young people for the future:

Technology-mediated discourse refers to debates, discussions, and other social learning techniques involving the examination of a theme using technology. For example, wikis are a way to encourage discussion among learners, but other common tools include mind maps, survey systems, and simple message boards. Like collaborative writing, technology-mediated discourse allows participants that may be separated by time and distance to engage in conversations and build knowledge together. (Wikipedia)

Going through Higgins’ work reminds me how much I miss doing this kind of research!

Note: I wrote an academic paper with Steve Higgins that was peer-reviewed via my social network rather than in a journal. It’s published on my website and Digital literacy, digital natives, and the continuum of ambiguity. I’ve also got a (very) occasional blog where I discuss this kind of stuff at ambiguiti.es.

Photo by Daniel von Appen

Beyond ‘low-hanging fruit’: why I’m no longer an Open Badges evangelist

TL;DR: Open Badges have hit a tipping point and no longer need my ‘evangelism’. This is to be celebrated. What’s needed now is the dynamic and differentiated use of the technology to effect real change. This is why I’m continuing my work with organisations as an Open Badges strategist and change-maker.

Low-hanging fruit

Almost exactly five years ago, I stumbled across a pilot being carried out as a collaboration between the nascent Mozilla Learning team and P2PU around Open Badges. It’s fair to say that this discovery, made while I was doing some research in my role for Jisc, altered the course of my professional life.

As an educator, I realised immediately the immense power that a web-native, decentralised, alternative accreditation system could have. I carried out more research, talking about Open Badges with anyone who would listen. This led to me being invited to judge the DML Competition that seed-funded the badges ecosystem and, ultimately, to being asked to work for Mozilla.

I’m not going to turn this post into a blow-by-blow account of the last few years. This is a time for looking forward. That’s why I’m happy to say that, as of today, I no longer consider myself merely an Open Badges evangelist, but an Open Badges strategist. I’m interested in working with people and organisations who are looking to implement Open Badges in new and interesting ways.

What do I mean by that? Well, here’s a few examples:

  • Building badge-based ‘playlists’ for learning (with an emphasis on diversity and co-creation)
  • Developing new extensions and ways of using the standard in informal learning contexts
  • Scaffolding participation and activism through badges that ‘nudge’ positive behaviours in individuals and groups

One way of looking at this is to use Ruben Puentadura’s SAMR model, which I cite in my book The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies:

SAMR model

There’s some interesting preliminary work I do with clients around ‘Augmentation’ but, as quickly as I’m able, I try to get them to think about the top two tiers of the pyramid.

If you’re an organisation looking for mere ‘Substitution’, then Open Badges ecosystem is now developed enough for you to do this by yourself. It’s never been easier to use one of the many badge issuing platforms to simply digitise your existing credentials. There’s documentation around how to get started all over the web, including the Open Badges 101 course that Bryan Mathers and I have curated during our time working with City & Guilds.

I’d challenge organisations and, in particular, universities, to go beyond what they’ve been able to do for the last few hundred years, and think about how to do true 21st-century credentialing. This is a situation where forward-thinking businesses, charities, non-profits, and institutions are in a strong position to drive not only organisational change, but societal change. The nature of hiring and onboarding, for example, can be entirely changed and revolutionised through a fresh look at how we demonstrate knowledge, skills, and behaviours to others.

Over the next few months, I’m looking to build on my doctoral thesis and the work I’ve done over the last few years, to help clients identify, develop, and credential digital skills. If you think I may be able to help you, then please do get in touch: hello@nulldynamicskillset.com

Image CC BY Ian Carroll

Thinking through helping my kids learn Web concepts.

TL;DR version:  I’ve been thinking of the best ways to help my six year-old son understand some of the concepts behind the Web. I’ve settled on a non-linear, interest-based approach that sparks his interest through ‘hooks’. These should build on his curiosity from other areas. He should also get to just ‘mess about’ a lot with some just-in-time intervention.

I went on a walk down to Druridge Bay and back today. It’s my headspace – not just the beach itself, but the whole act of walking on my own without any stimulii but the environment. It gives me a chance to think, and today I was thinking about the Web.

Specifically, I’ve been thinking about how to introduce the fundamental concepts of the Web to my kids. My daughter is two, so she’s probably slightly too young at the moment, but my son is six which is definitely old enough for him to start understanding some of the concepts behind the Web. While the browser is not completely foreign to him his digital life is funnelled predominantly through iPad apps and games platforms like the Wii and PS3. I want to show him the vast expanse of the Web, to begin to help him understand how it’s structured.

While I was walking I was thinking about how best to start introducing Web concepts to my son. The classroom teacher in me made me think about formal, linear structures – about concepts that were fundamental to grasp before he even looked at a Web browser. But then I realised just how disingenuous such a pathway would be; no-one I know who is ‘Web literate’ learned this way. They learned based on their interest and curiosity, they learned just enough to get done what they wanted to do, they learned almost by accident.

When you’re a parent, it’s very difficult to let go of the reins sometimes. It’s hard not to make everything into a learning moment for your child, into an intentional activity with a particular outcome.  And yet, an unstructured, slightly chaotic approach is how I and millions of other people have learned how not only to read but write the Web. At the same time, it’s important not to fetishise such a free-flowing approach: some people understand the Web better than others. Indeed, some misunderstand the Web, some use it in sub-optimal ways, and some don’t understand the basic concepts behind it. I’m trying to avoid that.

So, what to do? I want to list the things I think my son should know about the Web but I don’t necessarily want to place these into any kind of linear order. What I need are ‘hooks’ to sustain his interest long enough to be able to explain concepts that, at times, can be fairly nuanced for someone in their first year at school. Those hooks will, of course, be different for every individual but one good place to start is to find Web-based resources that lend themselves to peeking under the bonnet.

I work for Mozilla and my colleagues are building some fantastic Webmaker tools. One such tool that might be really worth using with a six year-old (and their associated reading level) might be something like Popcorn Maker. This is a video tool to ‘enhance, remix and share Web video’ that relies primarily on visual clues to get started. Basing a project around this tool would, for example, allow for the teaching of concepts like URLs (copying and pasting from YouTube/Vimeo), staying safe online, and fair use/copyright.

Despite their protestations, I’ve found people to be fundamentally creative. It’s the reason why showing users how to change their background, theme or avatar usually gives them so much satisfaction. Indeed, even much more advanced users tend to set up their digital environment before getting on with doing something with a tool. Putting your mark on something makes it yours. The last thing people want when they’re learning about the Web for the first time is to sit through a lot of theory before they get going; they want to tinker, they want to customise, they want to ‘see what this button does’.

One thing that six year-olds (thankfully) haven’t yet had crushed out of them is a fear that ‘they might break something’. Such apprehension isn’t natural, but a learned behaviour that tends to affect technophobic adults. Indeed, it’s a significant reason for such people being technophobes in the first place. Although with my son I won’t have to tell him it’s OK just to mess about with the Web, if this was an adult I may well have to do that. It’s something to bear in mind when introducing new digital concepts, I think. Horses for courses, and always start where the learner is at.

Finally, a word on measurement. It might seem like what I’ve said so far about providing ‘hooks’ to the user and going with their interests would preclude assessing their progress. But, actually, I think feedback – so long as it’s useful to the user – is extremely beneficial. Indeed, it’s the essence of video games, where you get pretty much instantaneous feedback on what you’re doing. These games tend to throw you right in from the start, without a ‘manual’. You learn how to play the game not by reading about them, but by playing the first few levels. Games designers scaffold the experience for players both in terms of them learning the controls and giving them feedback on their performance. A common way to do this is through some kind of in-game achievements or trophies that signal a player’s progress. These can be expected or can be surprises. The can be easy to acheive or fiendishly difficult.

I intend to follow up this post at some point with a list of the concepts I think my son as a six year-old should understand. Feel free to chip in with some suggestions in the comments below!

Image taken from the iA Web Trends map

How to make #openbadges work for you and your organisation.

A big hello to those arriving here from the Badges MOOC! You may be interested in my other blog posts about Open Badges as well as my presentations. 🙂

“Hi, I’m Doug Belshaw, Badges and Skills Lead for the Mozilla Foundation

“Oh, so you’re the guy heading up all of the badges work? I really like what I’ve seen so far.”

“Well actually my colleague Sunny Lee is Product Manager for Open Badges, and Carla Casilli is in charge of Webmaker Badges. I evangelise both badge systems in Europe and work on Mozilla’s Web Literacies framework.”

“Cool. I’ve been looking at badges for a while and was wondering how to implement them in my context.”

“I’m really glad you asked because I’m just about to write a blog post on that exact subject.”

I’ve had the above conversation with many people over the last few months. They tend to go beyond this, obviously, but I do need a post to point people towards.

So this is it. 🙂

The first thing to say is that there is no objectively-awesome way to issue badges. What works for one group of people in one context won’t necessarily work in another context. Having said that, there are some general principles which should stand you in good stead.

Second, you’ll find that it’s fairly natural for people to project their worldview into what is, after all, an open and emergent ecosystem. I’ve had people tell me that badges “will inevitably lead to X,” that “you can’t do Y with badges,” and that “Mozilla need to make sure that Z”. The great thing about the Open Badges Infrastructure (OBI) is that it’s a platform for third parties – including you – to innovate and think differently about their organisation is set up to do.

Third, there’s some criteria that are required for Open Badges and some that are optional.

The REQUIRED metadata fields are:

  • Badge Title
  • Description
  • Criteria
  • Image URL
  • Issuer
  • Issue Date
  • Recipient

The OPTIONAL metadata fields are:

  • Evidence URL
  • Expiration Date

What follows  isn’t the only way to approach badge design – my colleague Carla, for example, sometimes starts with the graphical element – but it’s an approach which has worked well for me over a series of conversations and workshops.

Here it is in the abstract, followed by a worked example:

  1. Decide on some behaviours, skills or attitudes you want to promote.
  2. Think of some criteria for a badge which would begin to promote those behaviours, skills or attitudes.
  3. Consider if the criteria for the badge you’ve come up with can be broken down in more granular ways.
  4. If (as is likely) you end up with multiple badges, think about multiple (potentially interest-based) pathways through your badge ecosystem. Ask yourself, which badges depend upon other badges? What are the relationships between these badges? (this may help structure that)
  5. Get someone to design you an awesome-looking graphical badge and use a badge issuing platform such as badg.us, ForAllBadges, WPBadger or BadgeStack to issue badges

This, of course, looks fairly easy but will take a decent amount of time from start to finish if done in a considered and collaborative way. Just to illustrate the point, my colleague Laura Hilliger and I are running a two-part, 5.5-hour workshop in Porto this week where we probably won’t manage to get the participants through all five steps in the time we have available.

Now, an example.

I’m always slightly wary about using examples as they tend to be held up as THE way to do things rather than A way to do it. With that in mind, let’s take as our example Alina who wants to start a new online community for teaching Webmaking skills. How could she use badges to promote the behaviours, skills and attitudes that she wants the community to embody?

  1. Alina wants to encourage community members to level up in their web skills. She’s seen that Mozilla have started to provide Webmaker badges for that, so she decides to use those for the skills element. She decides to focus her efforts on badges to encourage mentorship and community etiquette.
  2. New to the concept of badges, Alina thinks that one mentorship badge will be enough. The criteria she comes up with is that once a member has got enough ‘thank you’ upvotes using the forum software then they will automatically be awarded a ‘Mentorship’ badge.
  3. A couple of days later, Alina talks through her idea for a single Mentorship badge with a member of the community whom she meets at a conference. They raise concerns that such a system would promote people ‘begging’ for upvotes and/or lead to reciprocal backslapping. Alina goes back to the drawing board and begins to come up with a system of badges.
  4. Reflecting on her own experience as a member of various online communities, Alina realises that there are different forms of mentorship and ways of recognising it. She proposes several different granular badges which aggregate to a larger mentorship badge in different areas of Webmaking. Alina then invites some community members who already show the behaviours, skills and attitudes she is looking for to an virtual workshop. As a result, she tweaks the number of badges and the criteria for each badge. Some badges they decide should be emergent, all should be peer-assessed, and some should expire. They decide that the inclusion of an evidence URL showing how the member earned the badge would be useful.
  5. Alina announces the badge system to the wider community via a blog post and asks for feedback. She mentions that they haven’t yet come up with the visuals for the badges. A community member with an interest in graphical design volunteers to design the badges. Before long, the first iteration of the badge system is up-and-running using WPBadger, WordPress and BuddyPress.

I hope that helps. Badge ecosystem design is an iterative, emergent process. My main advice would be to make it an open, inclusive process involving the participants formerly known as stakeholders. 🙂

Image CC BY-NC AlbinoFlea

Time for a NICE-r kind of education?

Teaching may be as much of an art as a science, but there’s stuff that we know works in education. Whilst context definitely matters there are things – like timely, formative feedback – that can be done well no matter where you are and what situation you’re in.

To my mind, we should have something like the NHS Evidence website for things relating to pedagogy. It could provide answers to questions like:

  • Where’s the evidence for using tablet computers in education?
  • Where can I find out more about different forms of assessment?
  • Is there a sound research basis for giving homework?

The NHS Evidence website is provided by NICE – the National Institute for Clinical Excellence. We have nothing similar for education. Although health is as much of a political football as education, at least they’ve got a research basis.

If there’s no political will to separate politics and education, perhaps it’s time for a non-profit to do this kind of stuff? Or perhaps they are and they need more publicity?

10 things educators forget to do after teacher training.

proud of my profession

At the start of July I’ll be submitting my Ed.D. thesis. It’s an outgrowth of work I did towards an M.Ed. before transferring to my doctoral studies. That, in turn, was a continuation of the PGCE in Secondary History I completed at Durham University.

Such transition points leads one to reflect upon changes and continuities. Recently I’ve been prompted into thinking about underperforming teachers as a result of a findings in a widely reported survey. Instead of debating the ins-and-outs of whether employment law relating to teachers should be changed, I want to consider the things that cause complacency and rot to set in. I don’t think anyone sets out to be a poorly-performing teacher.

No, instead, it’s a slow process of decline. The ten points below are those I’ve witnessed colleagues struggle with, and a couple (especially number 6) is something I’ve found difficult to remember to do myself. If you’re not on top of your game it’s easy to do things to ‘just get by’. And that’s a difficult and dangerous situation in which to find yourself.

I’d be interested in your reflections on the following as 10 things educators tend to forget to do after their teacher training and NQT (Newly Qualified Teacher) year:

  1. Read academic journals.
  2. Greet students at the door.
  3. Write about their lessons – what went well/badly.
  4. Mess about with technology for the sake of it.
  5. Rearrange their classroom regularly.
  6. Phone parents/guardians for positive reasons.
  7. Active learning – role-play, etc.
  8. Observe good practice elsewhere.
  9. Maintain a professional development folder.
  10. Ask for help and mentoring

What have I missed? With which of these do you agree/disagree?

Image CC BY-NC-SA snacktime2007

The perils of shiny shiny educational technology.

New, free and shiny technologies are like catnip to educators. An almost-tangible frisson of excitement cascades through Twitter, Facebook and subsequently staff rooms and TeachMeets in the hours, days and months following announcements of such products and services.

Puentadura' SAMR model

(click image for explanatory presentation)


  1. Is there a business model behind the technology? (OSS counts!)
  2. Can it be used in a transformative way?

Style is not substance.

I’ve certainly been guilty of using things in the classroom mainly because they look good. And that’s fine, so long as you realise at which end of the hierarchy you’re working. Sometimes you need a bit of the shiny.

Johannes Ahrenfelt in Teaching: The Unthinking Profession nails it:

Teachers want ‘stuff’ they can take away and use tomorrow. While I always show how the theory works in practice, it never seems to have the same impact as CPD with titles like ’10 engaging starters’ or ’7 great discussion tools’… The ‘quick fix’ is just that and somewhere down the line a proper solution needs to be found.

If I had to go back and re-teach 2003-10 again, I’d do so taking into account the sage advice of “more haste, less speed”. It’s the considered and sustainable use of technologies that make a difference.

This post isn’t a dig at teachers; it’s a broadside at senior leaders. They, after all, create the parameters within which teachers operate. If you’re pressured into using technology at the level of substitution it’s effectively akin to using a pen instead of a pencil. Something to merely mention in passing, not something to write home about.

Considered use and reflection upon the use of educational technology can be found. Start at edjournal.co.uk and start asking of each new edtech tool you come across: so what?

The Mobile Learning Edge: Tools and Technologies for Developing Your Teams [Review]


The Mobile Learning EdgeWhen it arrived last Monday, my wife – in that way that only I would notice – looked at me semi-accusingly. “Another book, eh?” she seemed to say, “I thought got your books via your Kindle now?” I swear that the reason old people don’t tend to say much is because they know what the other person’s thinking.

The Mobile Learning Edge: Tools and Technologies for Developing Your Teams winged its way from Canada to the UK courtesy of my responding to a tweet from Gary calling for reviewers. As I’m currently writing a JISC Mobile and Wireless Technologies Review, it seemed rather serendipitous.

The Conclusion

In ancient times, people cut to the chase. Take St. Paul’s letters, for example. He states who he is first and only then greets the elders at the church to which he is writing. It’s always puzzled me that people only indicate who the letter is from at the very end; at least with emails you know who it’s from straight away by virtue of their email address.

So, my conclusion? The Mobile Learning Edge (hereafter MLE) is worth reading by those interested in mobile learning in a formal educational context. Whilst it (presumably due to encouragement by McGraw-Hill, the publisher) tries to be all things to all men, it nevertheless has value to those working in and with educational institutions. Woodill expertly collates and synthesizes information, presenting it in an engaging and convincing way.

Every book has its weaknesses. There is, for example, at times an uneasy glossing and assumed-similarity between the needs of those in formal learning situations and those within businesses. In addition the way in which the book is written seems to purposely align the author with initiatives in which he played no part.

But to overly-criticize MLE would be churlish. It is a readable, reasonably-comprehensive and up-to-date overview of the current state of play in the mobile learning arena. If it were available for the Kindle for £10 (as it should be) I’d recommend it without reservation. As it is, it comes recommended.

The Overview

I have to admit to chuckling a little when I read the opening pages of MLE. Only the day before I had commented about the paucity of metaphors that I come across in educational contexts. It was only after reading the whole of the introduction to MLE that I realised Woodill was setting up – quite cleverly, I thought – the rest of the book to call for a return to authentic learning. He indicates, and purports to show, that mobile learning is our natural way of learning: sitting in classrooms is something alien to us.

Figure 5.5 on page 184 of MLE features an engraving from eighteenth century Europe showing one of the most crowded, although admittedly neatest, classrooms you will ever see. Context is one of the strengths of the book: Woodill is a master at putting things in their historical place, charting the development of technologies and pointing out significances. Granted, in some cases such generalizations could be contested and rely on the tried-and-tested metaphors of hunter-gatherer communities and the industrial revolution, but they are, on the whole, sound.

Of the ten chapters that make up MLE, around seven will be of immediate interest and utility to educators not directly involved with the overall strategy of their organization. Those who do occupy such senior positions will find enlightening the chapter contributed by David Fell, interim CEO of a broadband corporation. In it, Fell discusses of the importance of ‘co-opetition’, a term that will become increasingly familiar to those in charge of schools, colleges and universities.

Easily the best part of Fell’s chapter, however, is his inclusion of and discussion around the following diagram from Ambient Insight:

"A Perfect Storm" Drives Adoption of Mobile Learning

Whilst usually skeptical of diagrams that look designed-for-Powerpoint this one nicely summarizes why now, in the current context, is a great time for institutions to be pursuing mobile learning initiatives.

The second contributed chapter comes from Sheryl Herle, a corporate learning consultant. This, unsurprisingly, deals with Return On Investment (ROI) and business-focused strategy. The chapter does, however, contain some gems that I’ve saved for future use, including the advice that you should be focusing on what you don’t want people to do rather than narrowly defining what you do want them to do; that IT Services/Support’s job is to deal with security threats and network stability – which is why they often oppose ‘innovation’; and that whilst it’s possible to come up with ROI figures for mobile learning initiatives they’re unlikely to be comprehensive or realistic.

Returning to the main author, Gary Woodill’s contribution to MLE, it is clear – and indeed he tells us – that he used to be a teacher. Not only that, but his doctorate (like mine) is an Ed.D. For all the discussion of ‘corporate learning’ and ’employees’, Woodill’s pedagogical background pervades MLE. Take, for example, the structure of the chapter ‘Learning by Communicating, Interacting, and Networking’:

  • Quotation
  • High-level overview setting the scene
  • Problem (disruption of mobile)
  • Some truths (we are social beings)
  • Examples
  • Case study
  • Theory supporting examples
  • Recommendations

The above, fleshed out, could form a lesson plan. This structure and method of presentation makes MLE a satisfying read.

This, as the author would admit, is a book of its time. It’s relevance in a few years’ time will be less powerful but, for now, the appendices, featuring links to relevant blogs and academic articles are a goldmine. Woodill indicates on his companion site to the book, mobilelearningedge.com that there will be a second edition of MLE and that he will use the related site to keep the content fresh.

I hope this is the case. 🙂

Research supporting collaborative, enquiry-based learning.

Model of Learning - Tools for TeachingOne of the great things of studying in the Education Library at Durham University (instead of at home, in my study) is the books I randomly stumble across. For example, I pulled Models of Learning – Tools for Teaching off the shelf today and it fell open at Chapter 7, entitled ‘Learning through cooperative disciplined inquiry.’

This is perfect for me. One of my Performance Management targets for this year – the one focused on my own classroom practices – is about piloting enquiry-based learning with one of my Year 7 History classes. In addition, I’ll (hopefully) be presenting with Nick Dennis at the SHP Conference in July 2010 on this very topic – including the way technology can help! :-p

It’s always good to have some scholarly research to back up one’s actions, so if you’re planning to do something similar here’s some quotations to help you!

The most stunning thing about teaching people to help kids learn cooperatively is that people don’t know how to do it as a consequence of their own schools and life in this society. And, if anything is genetically driven, it’s a social instinct. If it weren’t for each other, we wouldn’t even know who we are. (Herbert Thelen to Bruce Joyce, circa 1964) p.95

The chapter is based on case studies across the age range, but also contains this nugget on p.98-9:

The assumptions that underlie the development of cooperative learning communities are straightforward:

  1. The synergy generated in cooperative settings generates more motivation than do individualistic, competitive environments. Integrative social groups are, in effect, more than the sume of their parts. The feelings of connectedness produce positive energy.
  2. The members of cooperative groups learn from one another. Each learner has more helping hands than in a structure that generates isolation.
  3. Interacting with one another produces cognitive as well as social complexity, creating more intellectual activity that increases learning when contrasted with solitary study.
  4. Cooperation increases positive feelings towards one another, reduces alienation and loneliness, builds relationships, and provides affirmative views of other people.
  5. Cooperation increases self-esteem not only through increased learning but through the feeling of being respected and cared for by others in the environment.
  6. Students can respond to experience in tasks requiring cooperation by increasing their capacity to work together productively. In other words, the more children are given the opportunity to work together, the better they get at it, with benefit to their general social skills.
  7. Students, including primary school children, can learn from training to increase their ability to work together.

The authors go on to summarise the evidence about improved learning through collaboration on p.99:

Classrooms where students work in pairs and larger groups… are characterized by greater mastery of material than the common individual-study/recitation pattern. Also, the shared responsibility and interaction produce more positive feelings toward tasks… In other words, the results generally affirm the assumptions that underlie the use of cooperative learning methods.

It’s not hard to get started with cooperative learning (p.100):

[A]n endearing feature is that it is so very easy to organize students into pairs and triads. And it gets effects immediately. The combination of social support and the increase in cognitive complexity caused by the social interaction have mild but rapid effects on the learning of content and skills.

The authors dismiss claims from some teachers that ‘gifted students prefer to work alone’ as the evidence does not back this up (Joyce 1991; Slavin 1991). They believe it may rest on a misunderstanding of the relationship between individual and cooperative study; partnership still requires individual effort. There’s no need to be concerned about students’ ability to work together (p.101):

In fact, partnership s over simple tasks are not very demanding of social skills. Most students are quite capable of cooperating when they are clear about what has been asked of them.

The Teacher's ToolkitI’ll not go into them here, but the authors mention a number of ways in which teachers can foster ‘positive interdependence’. They also suggest the ‘division of labour’ into specializations. Instead of learning only a part of what every is supposed to be learning, they have found, ‘jigsaw’ activities and the like lead to more learning across the spectrum. Many of the activities they suggest are, in fact, featured alongside others in one of my favourite education-related books, The Teacher’s Toolkit.

The teacher’s role in cooperative learning moves from that of instructor to ‘counsellor, consultant and friendly critic.’ (p.107) The authors note that this ‘is a very difficult and sensitive’ role ‘because the essence of inquiry is student activity’. Teachers need to:

  • facilitate the group process
  • intervene in the group to channel its energy into potentially educative activities, and
  • supervise these educative activities so that personal meaning comes from the experience

The upshot of this is that ‘intervention by the teacher should be minimal unless the group bogs down seriously’ (p.107).

The authors suggest a 6-phase process for cooperative learning:

Phase 1 – Students encounter puzzling situation (planned or unplanned).

Phase 2 – Students explore reactions to the situation.

Phase 3 – Students formulate study task and organize for study (problem definition, role, assignments, etc.)

Phase 4 – Independent and group study.

Phase 5 – Students analyse progress and process.

Phase 6 – Recycle activity.

In conclusion, the authors note how universally cooperative group investigation can be used (p.111-2):

Group investigation is a highly versatile and comprehensive model of learning and teaching: it blends the goals of academic inquiry, social integration and social process learning. It can be used in all subject areas, and with all age levels, when the teacher desires to emphasize the formulation and problem-solving aspects of knowledge rather than the intake of preorganized, predetermined information.

Finally! a video that explains what I’m aiming for as a teacher.

This video was originally created by Wendy Drexler and uploaded to YouTube. I’ve transferred this to Edublogs.tv as YouTube is blocked on most school networks in the UK. I came across it after reading Clint Lalonde’s post about it, and I discovered Clint’s blog after an incoming link from his blog to this one!

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A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog post entitled The kind of school in which I want to work… In that post I outlined a different role for teachers using the analogy of the teacher as lifeguard:

I don’t think I’d come across the theory of Connectivism at this point which explains really well my pedagogical stance. We can’t consider each learner in isolation. Their ‘network’, both physical and digital is extremely important in the learning process. As a teacher, I’m effectively aiming for redundancy: I want students to leave me at the end of the time at school with the ability to learn independently and play an active role in learning communities. If I can contribute towards that, then I’ve done my job effectively.

The trouble is, I can’t do this alone – it’s a whole-school issue. Wendy’s video will hopefully help explain myself a little better in future. 😀