Tag: school (page 1 of 2)

Why we need more e-learning staff tutors

In February 2008, whilst walking back from the staff room to my classroom I knocked on the door of my Headteacher’s office. At the time I was teaching History with a bit of ICT at Ridgewood School in Doncaster and had noticed that the school wasn’t using the technology it already had very effectively. The ‘five minutes’ I asked of Chris Hoyle (one of the best leaders I’ve worked for) turned into a fairly epic conversation. In fact, when the bell went and I rose to go and teach Year 9 for the last lesson of the day, Chris buzzed through to his secretary to get someone to cover my lesson.

Chris and I agreed that the problem was that teachers, busy at the best of times, needed showing what could be done with technology. He asked me to write a job description that I thought would help improve the situation. I did so (with the help of others) and, once he’d toned it down from a senior leadership position(!) we agreed upon my becoming e-Learning Staff Tutor starting from the academic year 2008-9.

I’ve still got the overview of what I got up to during my first term in the role, where I spent 50% of my time teaching History and ICT, and the other 50% of my time teaching the teachers. I had a small budget (a couple of thousand, from memory):

Activities

  • Lunchtime staff sessions (two per week) on web applications and free resources that enhance teaching and learning.
  • Advice to staff via email
  • Face-to-face advice and guidance of an informal nature
  • Preparation of resources for staff training sessions (online and print)
  • One-to-one booked sessions on self-identified areas of development defined by members of staff
  • Involvement in ICT Management Group
  • VLE training for Years 7 and 8 during Form Period
  • Involvement in Becta award-winning Humanities project convened by Balby CLC
  • Involvement in Open Source Schools, a Becta-funded project (speaking at BETT 2009 as a result of this)
  • Research into new technologies and pedagogies resulting from these technologies
  • Implementing and feeding back on new technologies (e.g. purchase and use of six netbook computers).

Successes

  • X members of staff have attended at least one lunchtime e-learning session*
  • A total of X members of staff have booked X one-to-one sessions
  • Email is now being used by the majority of staff within school
  • Every department in the school has had some contact with e-learning sessions, with the exception of Drama and Music
  • There are in excess of ten subject-related blogs around the school
  • The RE department are now using their new interactive whiteboards to enhance teaching and learning after requesting some training
  • Smaller issues relating to the school network not picked up on the ‘big sweep’ have been identified and are in the process of being rectified (e.g. location of network points, ability to print to network printers)

Areas for Development

  • Number of staff attending lunchtime sessions tailed off as term wore on – strategies to prevent this?
  • Ability to visit other schools and conferences for research and development limited by impact on teaching Year 10 GCSE History students. Currently only practical time available is Thursday afternoon.
  • From informal conversations, it is clear that staff would welcome an extended amount of time spent with them as a department. This time needs to either be carved out of a school day, INSET day or arranged in an after-school context.

*obviously there were real numbers here but I can only find the draft of this document!

With an increasing number of schools considering going one-to-one with devices and/or considering a ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD) approach, the need for positions like the one I had for a year at Ridgewood is increasing. Many people will have seen the way the press picked up on the recent Nesta report Decoding Learning. Unfortunately they got it wrong: it’s not necessarily that schools are buying useless gadgets it’s that not enough time and money is being spent on showing teachers how learning gains can be made by using the technology effectively.

I’d love to see schools not only have a senior leadership position for whole-school technology/ICT strategy but, in addition, someone (or a team of people) with the skills to not only teach young people but teach teachers. Get that mix right and technology really does have the potential to transform learning!

Image based on an original CC BY-NC Computing At School Scotland

On private schools becoming academies.

The King’s School isn’t too far away from where I live. It’s about to merge with a local primary school to turn from being a Β£9,990/year private school into an Academy.

I have mixed feelings about this, for a number of reasons. But first, a couple of (massive) disclaimers:

  • I attended a session for ‘potential Oxbridge candidates’ at The King’s School when I was 17 years old and felt very out of place
  • I used to be a senior leader in an Academy and didn’t have the happiest of times whilst I was there

If you’ve read what I’ve written for any length of time, you’ll know that I’m against private schools. So a school moving from independently-funded to state-funded status, should be a win – right?

I’m not so sure.

First of all, the Academy system as it now stands is problematic. It strikes me that the current government have taken the previous administration’s programme and turned it into a trojan horse to remove the power of Local Authorities, to eventually disapply the entire school population from the National Curriculum, and to create a pseudo-market in state-funded education.

Second, as one parent mentions in the Guardian article it’s not a good thing if a private school merging with a state school is being done “to prop up a school that’s failing to recruit enough students”. Could it be that, like banks, private schools could see government funding as a ‘bailout’?

Finally, and this is something that many people have reminded me of in my attacks upon private education, nothing happens in a vacuum. Compared to the local area, Tynemouth is already an extremely expensive area in which to live. My family certainly couldn’t afford to live there. Chances are that selection-by-fee-paying will be replaced by selection-by-house-price.

So we have a fudge. A pseudo-market in a pseudo-state system with pseudo-traditional examinations.

Perhaps it’s time to move to Scotland.

Image CC BY-NC Paul Thirkell

Why I spent my twenties unlearning my teenage years.

In 2008 I removed myself from Facebook. It’s only this month that I’ve re-activated my account. I’m connected to over 4,000 people on Twitter, but only 7 on Facebook; I ignore connection requests on the latter. For me, Twitter is a forwards-focused social network, whereas Facebook is backwards-leaning.

In fact, the difference between the two was put even more pithily than that (on Twitter, of course) as:

Facebook is for people the people you went to school with; Twitter is for the people you wish you went to school with.

In 2009 I returned back to the North-East with my nascent family after a 6-year self-imposed exile in Doncaster. Like many ex-pats (especially Scots for some reason?) whilst I was living down there I remembered the place I grew up through some kind of mental rose-tinted glasses. The dissonance hit me hard when I came back – as I explained last year in You’re doing it wrong.

Upon my return I saw the area for what it is: broken. The story of my teenage years isn’t a particularly uncommon one: able boy gets bored at school, doesn’t achieve his grade potential, yada yada yada… It was only when I began to study Philosophy at university that I learned that it was OK to be interested in the way the world worked, alright to have an opinion based on values and beliefs, and fine to be seen reading books.

Regret is a wasted emotion, but I feel something close to that having been brought up in the area I was. It’s an uneven playing field, for sure. I feel this emotion especially for those who haven’t managed to escape an area and a mindset that is, to put it quite bluntly, a cycle of despair now several generations deep.

The biggest thing I had to unlearn from my teenage years? A (disguised) lack of self-worth that so often manifests itself in the arrogant, and sometimes aggressive, behaviour of young men. Any time you see someone ceaselessly bigging themselves up it’s likely that this is the underlying problem. Some people attempt (and succeed) in escaping this through religion, some through work, some through sport and some through transformative relationships. I suppose that, whilst it’s an ongoing journey, I’ve achieved some of that self-worth through all of these at some point. Others, it’s sad to say, haven’t.

The above is one of the reasons I’m joining with others to form Purpos/ed. Whilst I’ll do everything I can to make my children confident and full of self-worth, they will spend a significant part of their formative years in a formal educational Β environment that could be as damaging to their character as my schooling (almost) was to mine.

Let’s start building the capacity to change that.

10 things I learned from ‘Why Don’t Students Like School?’

Daniel Willingham is the guy who put learning styles firmly in their place. I greatly respected him for his outspoken, succinct and well put-together YouTube video on the subject and so it was with interest that I spotted Why Don’t Students Like School: a cognitive scientist answers questions about how the mind works and what it means for the classroom.

Here’s what I learned:

1. Thinking is slow

[T]hinking is slow. Your visual system instantly takes in a complex scene… Your thinking system does not instantly calculate the answer to a problem the way your visual system immiediately takes in a visual scene… [I]f we can get away with it, we don’t think. Instead we rely on memory. Most of the problems we face are ones we’ve solved before, so we just do what we’ve done in the past. (p.5)

2. Curiosity is fragile (p.7-10)

Solving problems brings pleasure… There is a sense of satisfaction, of fulfillment, in successful thinking… It’s notable too that the pleasure is in the solving of the problem. Working on a problem with no sense that you’re making progress is not pleasurable. In fact, it’s frustrating… Mental work appeals to us because it offers the opportunity for that pleasant feeling when it succeeds.

[W]hen does curiosity have staying power? The answer may lie in the difficulty of the problem. If we get a little burst of pleasure from solving a problem, then there’s no point in working on a problem that is too easy – there’ll be no pleasure when it’s solved because it didn’t feel like much of a problem in the first place. Then too, when you size up a problem as very difficult, you are judging that you’re unlikely to solve it, and are therefore unlikely to get the satisfaction that comes with the solution.

[C]uriosity prompts people to explore new ideas and problems, but when we do, we quickly evaluate how much mental work it will take to solve the problem. If it’s too much or too little, we stop working on the problem if we can. (p.8-10)

3. Cognitive limits should be respected

When trying to develop effective mental challenges for your students, bear in mind [their] cognitive limitations… For example, suppose you began a history lesson with a question: “You’ve all heard of the Boston Tea Party; why do you suppose the colonists dressed as Indians and dumped tea into the Boston harbor?” Do your students have the necessary background knowledge in memory to consider this question? If students lack the background knowledge to engage with a problem, save it for another time when they have that knowledge. (p.15)

4. Background knowledge is necessary for cognitive skills

Not only does background knowledge make you a better reader, but it also is necessary to be a good thinker. The processes we most hope to engender in our students – thinking critically and logically – are not possible without background knowledge.

[P]eople draw on memory to solve problems more often than you might expect. For example, it appears that much of the difference among the world’s best chess players is not their ability to reason about the game or to plan the best move; rather, it is their memory for game positions.

Much of what experts tell us they do in the course of thinking about their field requires background knowledge, even if it’s not described that way… Unexpected outcomes indicate that their knowledge is incomplete and that this experiment contains hidden seeds of new knowledge. But for results to be unexpected, you must have an expectation! (p.28-32)

5. Memory is the residue of thought

Whatever you think about, that’s what you remember. Memory is the residue of thought. Once stated, this conclusion seems impossibly obvious… Your brain lays its bets this way: If you don’t think about something very much, then you probably won’t want to think about it again, so it need not be store. If you do think about something, then it’s likely that you’ll want to think about it in the same way in the future.

The obvious implication for teachers is that they must design lessons that will ensure that students are thinking about the meaning of the material.

Trying to make the material relevant to students’ interests doesn’t work… [A]ny material has different aspects of meaning. If the instructor used a math problem with cell phone minutes, isn’t there some chance that my daughter would think about cell phones rather than about the problem? And that thoughts about cell phones would lead to thoughts about the text message she received earlier, which would remind her to change her picture on her Facebook profile, which would make her think about the zit she has on her nose…? (p.47-50)

Willingham goes on to explain that we tend to focus on the ‘personality’ aspects of what makes a good teacher, which is only half the story. The other half is meaning. One of the best ways to convey meaning is to use story structures.

6. Understanding is remembering in disguise

[Students] understand new ideas (things they don’t know) by relating them to old ideas (things they do know).

[U]nderstanding new ideas is mostly a matter of getting the right old ideas into working memory and then rearranging them – making comparison we hadn’t made before, or thinking about a feature we had previously ignored.

Now you can see why I claim that understanding is remembering in disguise. No one can pour new ideas into a student’s head directly. Every new idea must build on ideas that the student already knows. (p.68-71)

7. Practising is better than drilling

Doing a lot of studying right before a test is commonly known as cramming… If you pack lots of studying into a short period, you’ll do okay on an immediate test, but you will forget the material quickly. If, on the other hand, you study in several sessions with delays between them, you may not do quite as well on the immediate test but, unlike the crammer, you’ll remember the material longer after the test.

[Y]ou can get away with less practice if you space it out than if you bunch it together. Spacing practice has another benefit. Practice… means continuing to work at something that you’ve already mastered. By definition, that sounds kind of boring, even though it brings cognitive benefits. It will be somewhat easier for a teacher to make such tasks interesting if they are spaced out in time. (p.90-91)

8. Experts have abstract knowledge of problem types

Experts don’t think in terms of surface features, as novices do; they think in terms of functions, or deep structure.

We can generalize by saying that experts think abstractly… Experts don’t have trouble understanding abstract idas, because they see the deep structure of problems.

[E]xperts save room in working memory through acquiring extensive, functional background knowledge, and by making mental procedures automatic. What do they do with that extra space in working memory? Well, one thing they do is talk to themselves.

What’s interesting about this self-talk is that the expert can draw implications from it… [E]xperts do not just narrate what they are doing. They also generate hypotheses, and so test their own understanding and think through the implications of possible solutions in progress. (p.101-104)

9. Learning styles theory is subject to ‘confirmation bias’

[T]he visual-auditory-kinesthetic theory seems right [because of] a psychological phenomenon called the confirmation bias. Once we believe something, we unconsciously interpret ambiguous situations as being consistent with what we already believe… The great novelist Tolstoy put it this way: “I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabrics of their life.” (p.121)

10. Beliefs about intelligence are important

In a classic study on the effect of praise, the experimenters asked fifth graders to work on some problems in which they were to find patterns. The first set of problems was fairly easy to that the students would solve most of them. The students were then praised for their success. All were told, “Wow, you did very well on these problems. You got [number of problems] right. That’s a really high score.” Some were then told, “You must be smart at these problems.” In other words, the were praised for their ability. Others were told, “You must have worked hard at these problems,” thus receiving praise for their effort. Each student was then interviewed by a different experimenter to learn what the students thought about intelligence. The results showed that those who had been praised for their ability (“you’re smart”) were more likely to describe a fixed view of intelligence than those who were praised for their effort (“you worked hard”), who were more likely to describe a malleable view of intelligence. Similar effects have been shown in many studies, including studies of children as young as four years old.

Conclusion

The two main things I took away were:

  • Practice. Practice. Practice. Get and give feedback. Observe others. Ask questions. Be curious.
  • Be careful with the language you use with students – both in terms of representing concepts and in terms of praise.

I’d recommend Willingham’s book wholeheartedly. The nine principles he puts in a table towards the end of the book are worth the price of the book alone. They should be jazzed-up and given to all teachers, everywhere!

Why Don’t Students Like School: a cognitive scientist answers questions about how the mind works and what it means for the classroom

Literacy -> Digital Flow: moving beyond Traditional Literacy.

This post comes from my (ongoing) Ed.D. thesis, which can be read in full over at http://dougbelshaw.com/thesis. You’ll find full references and more reading material at my wiki (http://dougbelshaw.com/wiki). πŸ™‚

Marginalia

CC-BY-NC seriykotik1970

Whatever literacy is, it [has] something to do with reading. And reading is always reading something. Furthermore, if one has not understood [made meaning from] what one has read then one has not read it. So reading is always reading something with understanding. (Gee, Hull & Lankshear, 1996:1-2, quoted in Lankshear & Knobel, 2008a:2)

The idea of literacy being ‘reading something with understanding’ is what shall be referred to in the followin as ‘Traditional Literacy’. This conception of literacy is ‘Static’ and ‘Psychological’, being focused on the individual’s relationship, and interaction with, physical objects. The book comprises what Lankshear & Knobel call the ‘text paradigm’ – something over and above the simple act of reading with understanding:

[D]uring the age of print the book… shaped conceptions of layout, it was the pinnacle of textual authority, and it played a central role in organizing practices and routines in major social institutions. The book mediated social relations of control and power… Textual forms and formats were relatively stable and were ‘policed’ to ensure conformity. (Lankshear & Knobel, 2006:52)

This perpetuation of hegemonic power through Traditional Literacy has complicated debates surrounding, and the evolution of the term, ‘literacy’. Not only is ‘reading with understanding’ bound up with politics, but with religion (due to the actions of the Catholic church) and identity. Literacy is predicated upon a scarcity model, ‘with literacy comprising a key instrumentality for unlocking advantage and status through achievements at levels wilfully preserved for the few’ (Lankshear & Knobel, 2006:62). Schools and educational institutions, as Bigum notes, are mainly consumers of knowledge (Bigum, 2002:135, quoted in Lankshear & Knobel, 2006:188). Meaning is made centrally and then disseminated to such institutions and individuals as can access the encoded texts used to convey ideas, thoughts, concepts and processes. These encoded texts consist of, ‘ texts that have been “frozen” or “captured” in ways that free them from their immediate context and origin of production, such that they are “(trans)portable” and exist independently of the presence of human beings as bearers of the text.’ (Lankshear & Knobel, 2008b:257)

Recently, with the dawn of first mass media, and then mass participation with the rise of the internet, conceptions of literacy have had to change. This has put a strain on the Static, Pyschological conceptions implicit in Traditional Literacy. As a result, what ‘literacy’ means (and therefore what it means to be ‘literate’) has changed. As Lanham (1995:198, quoted in Lankshear & Knobel, 2006:21-2) puts it, literacy ‘has extended its semantic reach from meaning ‘the ability to read and write’ to now meaning ‘the ability to understand information however presented.’ There is no doubt that ‘literacy’ has become a fuzzy concept that gives the semblance of being straightforward, but contains layers of complexity. Erstad, for example, comments on this fuzziness, noting that it is apparent ‘especially among those educators and researchers whose professional interests are tied to how literacy is understood’ (Erstad, 2008:181-2).

Given these difficulties, some commentators (such as Sven Birkets in The Gutenberg Elegies) yearn to return to Traditional Literacy, due to the decline in the reading of books, ‘with the attendant effects of the loss of deep thinking, the erosion of language, and the flattening of historical perspective’ (Taylor & Ward, 1998:13). Birkets, like Barton (1994) and Kress (1997) argues that literacy ‘should be confined to the realm of writing (Buckingham, 2008:75). Rejecting the dichotomy, Tyner (1998) sought to reconceptualize the debate in terms of ‘tool literacies’ (the skills necessary to be able to use a technology) and ‘literacies of representation’ (the knowledge required to take advantage of a technology) (cited by Erstad, 2008:183). This middle ground gave space for multiple conceptions of literacy to flourish.

Unfortunately, and perhaps inevitably, these ‘new literacies’ smacked of old wine in new bottles:

It does not follow from the fact that so-called new technologies are being used in literacy education that new literacies are being engaged with. Still less does it imply that learners are developing, critiquing, analysing, or even become technologically proficient with new literacies. (Lankshear & Knobel, 2006:54-5)

The problem surrounding new(er) literacies in schools is fourfold. First, there is the very real problem of educators not having grown up in an environment where such digital skills – both Tyner’s ‘tool literacies’ and ‘literacies of representation’ were necessary. The age-old problem of “it was good enough for me when I was at school” applies as much to educators as it does to parents. If a problem cannot be seen it and/or understood then cannot be dealt with effectively. Second, is educators’ willingness to ascribe problems to factors other than their own weakness, ignorance or fear of change. If the mere presence of, for example, an interactive whiteboard in a classroom does not lead to increased examination performance, then the technology is blamed. Following on from this, and third, is what is known as the ‘deep grammar’ of schooling:

School learning is for school; school as it has always been. The burgeoning take-up of new technologies simply gives us our latest ‘fix’ on this phenomenon. It is the ‘truth’ that underpins many current claims that school learning is at odds with authentic ways of learning to be in the world, and with social practice beyond the school gates… It is precisely this ‘deep grammar’ of schooling that cuts schools off from the new (technological) literacies and associated subjectivities that Bill Green and Chris Bigum (1993) say educators are compelled to attend to. (Lankshear & Knobel, 2006:57)

‘School’ then becomes a self-perpetuating institution, cut off from new(er) conceptions and forms of literacy. Given that this is the place where most people (are supposed to) learn, this constitutes a problem.

Finally, there is the problem of ‘knowledgeable peers’ when it comes to new forms of literacies in schools. Top-down, hierarchical, Traditional Literacy is perpetuated within schools because it is so difficult to come up with other models. Students ‘seek to enter new communities… but do not yet have the knowledge necessary to act as “knowledgeable peers” in the community conversation’ (Taylor & Ward, 1998:18). Educators seeking to perpetuate Traditional Literacy often exploit the difference between students ‘tool literacy’ on the one-hand (their technical ability) and their understanding of, and proficiency in ‘literacies of representation’ (making use of these abilities for a purpose). Reference is therefore made to ‘e-safety’, ‘e-learning’ and ‘e-portfolios’, slippery terms that sound important and which serve to reinforce a traditional teacher-led model of education. As Bruffee (1973:644, quoted by Taylor & Ward, 1998:18) points out, ‘pooling the resources that a group of peers brings with them to the task may make accessible the normal discourse of the new community they together hope to enter.’

The barrier, in this case, is the traditional school classroom and the view that Traditional Literacy is a necessary and sufficient conditional requirement for entry into such communities.

Learning objectives: the importance of trigger verbs

Right arrowI’m not sure whether it was because I was new to the profession, but it was during my teaching practices that I attended two in-service training events that have had a profound inuence on my teaching. The first, about the use of body language and voice in the classroom I shall share in a future post. This post builds on Learning objectives: the basics, and concerns the second: the use of trigger verbs when framing lesson objectives.

It’s important to use these ‘trigger verbs’ – words that relate specifically to actions – when framing learning objectives for (or indeed, with) students. Sometimes, however, it’s difficult to know which trigger verbs to use. Is, for example, interpreting a high-order skill than categorizing?

The document below () is based on an original by Ron Rooney of the Education Development Service and provides some clarification. Let me say in advance that I’m aware that some people believe that Synthesis and Evaluation should switch positions from that given in Bloom’s original taxonomy. I’m just providing the document largely as it was given to me. πŸ™‚

You should have the options to both download this as a Microsoft Word-formatted document and print it using the buttons below the table. ‘KS3’ and ‘GCSE’ stand for ‘Key Stage 3’ and ‘General Certificate of Secondary Education’ respectively. You can remove or change these if they are not relevant to where you are or what you’re doing!

What do you think? Is this useful? Is it out of date? :-p

Learning objectives: the basics

Bullseye

A combination of my ongoing mentoring of an M.Ed. student, a request by a commenter (Ian Guest) and some broken links on the newly-restored teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk has spurred me to write this post.

As a teacher, I’ve never really known a world before learning objectives. It was certainly something that was expected of me during my PGCE at Durham University and from then on in my teaching career. And, to be fair, it’s fairly obvious why. If a learner knows what’s expected of them, and then can ascertain whether they’ve achieved a learning goal, then they’ve been successful.

However, I’ve seen learning objectives used really badly. I’ve seen a ‘learning objective’ that ran something like:

To know who the Romans were.

How would a learner or teacher know whether any type of meaningful learning has taken place with this as a learning objective?! A far better one would be:

To list 3 ways the Romans have influenced life in the 21st century.

This is SMART – i.e.

  • Specific – ‘list 3 ways’ tells students exactly what to expect.
  • Measurable – both students and the teacher can tell whether the learning objective has been attained.
  • Achievable – the learning objective is open-ended enough to allow for effective differentiation.
  • Realistic – this particular learning objective doesn’t really require any prior learning.
  • Time-related – students need to have achieved this learning objective by the end of the lesson.

Even better practice would be to use ALL, MOST and SOME with learning objectives. This allows for even more differentiation and sets and explicit baseline for all learners.

To use the above example again:

ALL students should: list 3 ways the Romans have influenced life in the 21st century.

MOST students should: decide which Roman innovation has been most profound.

SOME students should: explain how Roman innovations have changed/evolved over the last 2,000 years.

It’s only after the learning objectives have been formulated that lesson activities and resources should be prepared. After all, if the activities and resources aren’t focused on learning, what are they focused upon?

Do you have a view or some advice on learning objectives? Share it in the comments below! πŸ™‚

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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’.Β  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. πŸ˜€

(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)

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 Β 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? πŸ™‚

How E-Learning can contribute to raising achievement

Many, many thanks to in my Twitter network who replied to me during my presentation for the ‘Director of E-Learning’ position. I received over 100 replies in total and the panel seemed impressed at the ‘power of the network’! πŸ™‚

ABCDE = Raising Achievement

The graphic that I’ll be referring to in the presentation.

The three arrows pointing towards the centre relate to the three strands that shall permeate the Academy’s curriculum.

Background

I’ve an interview today for a position entitled Director of E-Learning. It’s a position at the Academy that is to replace the schools that I attended growing up, so it’s especially important to me. I was asked to present on the impact E-Learning should make in the Academy in terms of raising achievement – and how I would go about achieving this. It’s a school that has a catchment including fairly high levels of deprivation and standards are improving, but academic results still low.

My 15-minute presentation

Mulling over in my mind the type of person they want for the role, I decided to make a bold statement and not to use technology to present to them. Hopefully this will have the effect of reinforcing my point that it’s all about the appropriate use of technology in education. I am, however, going to show them the power of my Twitter network. How? By a 3-step process:

  1. Explain how I’ve been using Twitter for the last two years to establish connections with learners worldwide. I’m going to use the map of my Twitter follwers at TwitterAnalyzer to illustrate this.
  2. I’m then going to show the type of people (currently numbering around 1,100) following my updates by creating a tag cloud of the words in their Twitter mini-biographies. I’ll be using TwitterSheep to do this. πŸ™‚
  3. Finally, I’m going to direct my Twitter network towards this blog post and ask them to comment on it during my presentation/interview. Their responses will appear on the screen for the interview panel to see courtesy of Twitterfall.

Whilst that’s going on, I’ll be referring to the diagram at the top of this blog post. It’s something I put together to illustrate my (hopefully) clear and straightforward way in which results can improve. That graphic, with my name, a photo of me teaching, my online avatar, and links to where to find me online will be on a sheet of A4 paper in front of each member of the panel.

I’m going to take each of the points in turn – Attendance, Behaviour, Communication, Design, Engagement – and discuss the role E-Learning can play in it. Obviously, there’s some points (e.g. Communication and Engagement) that I’ll spend longer talking about than others (e.g. Attendance). I’ve got each word with a relevant image printed on a sheet of A4 paper. I’m going to stick these on the walls of the interview room at various places as I talk about them. πŸ˜€

Here’s an overview of what I’m going to be saying:

Attendance

Alarm clockLittle in the way of worthwhile learning is likely to place if learners are not ‘present’. But what does ‘present’ mean? You can be physically present whilst being emotionally and psychologically ‘somewhere else’. This feeds into issues surrounding engagement that I’ll discuss later.

In addition, learners can be somewhat self-directed by using a Managed Learning Environment (MLE) to access resources and materials to help develop their skills. This links in closely to the ‘Design’ element that I shall also be discussing later. This will feed into the concept of an ‘e-Extended School’ programme, where learning does not stop at the school bell, but continues either on the Academy sites or at home.

Do learners need to be present in a traditional classroom to learn if they are ‘in school’? Probably not. Whilst it shouldn’t be a free-for-all, leaners should be able to take control of their learning so they are more self-directed and can ‘attend’ in various ways.

Behaviour

BullyClosely related to the ‘Attendance’ element is the issue of learners’ behaviour. This has improved in the existing High school over recent years, but still has a way to go in order to bring about a happy, positive environment conducive to learning.

Behaviour management is a huge field for research, but the findings are clear: learners who are aware of what they need to do in order to improve and who have a meaningful towards which to aim, are much likely to be well-behaved. Technology has a role to play in improving behaviour in three main ways:

  • Enabling data to be shared and made accessible to Academy staff, parents and learners themselves on how their behaviour is affecting their own learning and that of others.
  • Providing a way in which learners can publish their work and results of their learning to a real-world audience.
  • Creating an exciting, immersive environment in which to learn.

Without appropriate attendance and behaviour, other efforts to raise achievement are less likely to be effective. Getting these right means greater likelihood of employability which is central to the ‘Investing in my Future’ strand.

Communication

Tin cansFor any organization to be successful it must have a steady flow of relevant and timely information between those who make up its members. At a basic level, communication about attendance, behaviour and attainment can be shared using a shared interface.

But technology can do much more than that. In an Academy that is currently spread over 10 sites and is to end up as 5 sites, it can enable cohesion and informed decisions to be made. Communication using technology doesn’t have to be real-time: it can be asynchronous or a blend of synchronous and asynchronous. Updates and messages in a Web 2.0 world can be as real-time as you want them to be. This enables busy teachers and administrators to be flexible in their working whilst being responsive.

There is also no need for either learners, educators or administrators to be tied to a single physical space. With mobile technologies, e-portfolios and Internet access should be available anywhere. Year 9 learners at the current High school have individual netbooks and 3G broadband dongles. These, and their successors, if available for all learners should enable ‘anywhere, anytime’ learning – either individually or collaboratively. Both educators and learners should feel ‘digitally connected’.

It’s also important to have a dialogue with the local community, including churches and businesses. To truly promote the ‘Investing in my Community’ strand, the school must be confident enough in its internal communications to be able to face outwardly to the community and world-at-large. A large part of this is equipping learners with the literacy and oracy skills to articulate their view of the world and how they want the future to be.

Design

Lego bricksAll staff at the current High school are expected to use the current Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) for their planning and interactions with learners. This is a good start, but does not guarantee that the VLE is suitable for pedagogically-sound learning design. We need to move from a one-size-fits-all approach to a much more personalized one. Staff will need training on how to use the introduced MLE as a base to bring in relevant and targetted resources to use with learners.

In my role as E-Learning Staff Tutor I have experience of persuading staff to voluntarily give up their time to embark upon Continuous Professional Development (CPD) relating to E-Learning. I would build upon this experience at the Academy, seeking to not only accreditize their professional development, but contexualize it and build a constituency of those willing and eager to try new and innovative E-Learning strategies.

It is vitally important to have a whole-Academy overview and plan for this. As Director of E-Learning, therefore, I would aim, after making sure data management and communication issues had been ironed out, to head a group of educators and learners focusing on using E-Learning to raise achievement. This would be on a voluntary basis, but attendees would have specific time set aside for related development work.

Using a metaphor of the National Grid, the school should build up enough innovation to sustain itself, but then feedback into the national picture, much as the most sustainable and efficient buildings sell electricity back to the National Grid.

As the Academy’s specialism is in ‘Design and the Built Environment’, modelling best practice in all elements of design is essential. Learners need to have examples of well thought-out methods of presenting information and expressing ideas on which to draw. A properly-managed and crafted blended learning environment can go a long way to help make this happen.

Engagement

EngagementWhen ICT or E-Learning is mentioned in terms of impact on achievement and attainment, ‘Engagment’ is usually the first thing that people think of. Yet, it’s something I’m addressing last in my presentation. Why?

Whilst I’ve nothing against the ‘wow’ factor – it’s important to have those moments in learning – only aiming for these when using E-Learning strategies and resources is not a recipe for success. After all, to do so would be to pit Academy-centred learning experiences against entertainment experiences on games consoles. If learners get bored playing the same game that has an initial ‘wow’ factor – despite its richly-immersive environment and compelling storyline, how much more quickly will that happen with E-Learning?

Instead, we should be using innovative technologies to provide a sense of achievement. The confidence that comes from many small successes and the positive feedback is what gets game-players going back for more, long after the ‘wow’ factor wears off. Engagement should come with well-designed and professionally-produced resources and activities that are provided for learners. They should be available ‘anywhere’ and ‘anytime’ and be immersive enough for a learner to ‘lose’ themself in them for a period of time.

Conclusion

I’ll be wrapping up my presentation by referring back to the Twitter replies to this blog post that (hopefully!) appear on the screen. I’ll talk about my connections to educators worldwide, about my ability to tap into this and other networks (EdTechRoundup, Becta, Mirandanet, etc.), about my Ed.D. on the concept of ‘digital literacy’, about events I have and shall speak at, and my CV in general.

After that, all I’ve got then are the interview questions… πŸ˜‰

What do you think? Anything controversial in there? What would YOU change?

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