I promised recently to make it easier for people to easily find out the multiple places online that I publish my research and writing. Some of those places, however, constitute one-offs: contributions to magazines or books for example.
Nicola Yeeles from JISC was in the audience that day and subsequently interviewed me in May. It’s finally made it’s way into a very nicely set-out piece in JISC Inform, the online magazine for the Further and Higher Education sectors in the UK. I especially like the way it includes some audio snippets from the interview itself.
Well worth a read (even if I do say so myself!) if you need some ammunition as to why the dynamics of the classroom need to change.
This was picked up by the editors of JISC Inform and tomorrow I’m being interviewed for an upcoming issue of the online magazine. I’ve been asked the following questions, and below that I’ve written up notes in preparation into some kind of coherent format.
How do you think student attendance relates to their performance?
How do you think students measure their engagement/ attendance?
How do lecturers and other educational professionals measure student attendance?
How would you define ‘attendance’? Which definition works best?
What are the issues associated with measuring attendance when students don’t have to be physically present – for example when they are accessing courses online or using mobile learning technology like an educational iphone app?
How can wise technology use help overcome those issues?
What needs to change about the way we approach teaching and learning to get over this?
In my presentation at the JISC Conference I pointed out that dictionary definitions of ‘attendance’ can be organised into three main categories. The first is attention-based and involves applying your mind to a thing as well as some form of effort. This is obviously something that we want in learning organizations* and we often call this ‘engagement’.
The second type of attendance centres around the idea of service. This is what many would see as a rather 19th-century idea of subservience: somebody waiting upon the actions or decisions of a superior. I would suggest that learning organizations might want to move away from this kind of definition of ‘attendance’.
Third, and finally, comes the definition of attendance as involving community. That’s to say individuals are present at an event that relies upon interaction around a resource or proceeding. Live concerts, court summons and webinars can all be examples of attendance as community.
If attendance is best conceptualised as attention-based and community-based then what does this mean for learning organizations? Does it mean the death of the lecture? Is it possible to measure these types of attendance in the way that you can with the service-based conception?
A while ago, John Popham got me thinking when he mentioned, almost en passant, that learning organizations coud be using something like Foursquare or Facebook Places for registration. This fits in well with, for example, Jesse Schell’s work on the ‘gameification’ of life that’s happening through Facebook, iPhone/Android apps and social media in general.
Technology, therefore, is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for social changes to take place. For example: there were mobile phones powerful enough to do what the original iPhone did before 2007 but it took the idea of ‘apps’ for the use of smartphones to really take off. In that sense, it’s the culture and social norms around technology that matter rather than the devices and communications technologies themselves.
When Bill Gates said recently that in the next five years the best education will be found online, I’m not sure he was thinking about Facebook as the educational platform of the future. But the London School of Business and Finance is, and today the school announces a new course that will make its MBA course materials available online for free, delivered via a Facebook app.
Of course, if you want to actually get your MBA, you’ll have to fulfill the pre-requisites for the program (you need the equivalent of a Bachelor’s Degree) and you’ll have to pay for the credits and examinations, offered through the University of Wales. The LSBF MBA will cost you £11,500 for British students and £14,500 for overseas students.
The three areas I’m researching at JISC infoNet** – Open Educational Resources (OERs), mobile learning and digital literacies (the latter also for my doctoral thesis) – are part of wider changes that I think can be understood using the ‘attendance framework’. Constant contact, previously only possible through physical co-location, leads to interaction, and interaction to engagement.
The first thing from my research is that I think we’re seeing a move away from the educator’s right to lecture towards the learner’s right to learn in personalised and tailored ways. This, along with the ability to use OERs within iTunesU, OpenCourseware, etc. for marketing purposes means learning organizations can justify less face-to-face ‘broadcast’ time and more interaction time. There are, nevetheless, proscribed numbers of ‘contact’ hours which, unfortunately only count if face-to-face. That will undoubtedly change and, as with the example of Michael Sandel’s Justice course at Harvard, prospective students will be able to base their decision on which learning organization to attend based on observable teaching and learning experiences.
The second area, mobile learning, is – as I mentioned in these video interviews – a trojan horse for new ways of working and learning. We now take for granted having a device in our pockets that can help us communicate with or broadcast to almost anyone in the world. The opportunities for peer-to-peer learning, as Graham Brown Martin points out in The Napsterfication of Learning, are huge. If post-compulsory learning organizations don’t ensure they have a compelling value proposition, mobile learning could propel them towards a crisis of relevance.
My third area of research is digital literacies, a much-misunderstood topic and one which will soon be the subject of a JISC call for funding. Two of the key things holding back learning organizations from embracing new ways of teaching and learning are the inter-related issues of institutional culture and staff competencies in the digital arena. The two go hand-in-hand: there’s not need for the latter if the former decrees it’s ‘business as usual’. It’s up to those in the senior leadership of learning organizations to convince staff that it’s certainly not ‘business as usual’ and that we’re entering a brave new world where we’re making up the ‘rules’ (if there are any) as we go along.
In conclusion, then, the future isn’t in ‘virtual attendance’ via some kind of Second Life-style ‘avatar as self’. The future of learning institutions is in moving away from service-based definitions of attendance and towards attendance as attention and community. Using that kind of framework or organising schema will help whether there is a business case for continuing existing practices or, indeed, encouraging new ones. Embracing OERs, mobile learning and digital literacies looks to me like the mark of a forward-thinking learning organization.
* I prefer the term ‘learning organizations’ to ‘educational institutions’. Feel free to mentally substitute the latter for the former if you wish.
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’! 🙂
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.
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:
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.
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. 🙂
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. 😀
Here’s an overview of what I’m going to be saying:
Little 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.
Closely 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.
For 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.
All 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.
When 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.
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… 😉
What do you think? Anything controversial in there? What would YOU change?
It’s a well-documented fact that I don’t like working with paper. Consequently, I track student attendance, homework and grades via spreadsheets. This year, instead of using Microsoft Excel, I’m using Numbers which comes with iWork ’08 for Mac OSX. Numbers has a pre-configured (US-centric) spreadsheet for educators. I’ve played about with it a bit to make it more relevant… 🙂
I’ve set up the spreadsheet in the following way:
The name of the class/set you teach.
This is like a standard gradebook – use /, O or L to indicate Present, Absent or Late.
Colour-coordinated using conditional formatting. Entering Y, N or L (i.e. Yes, No or Late) makes cells change colour to green, red or yellow respectively.
This is entered as a percentage, with less than 60% highlighted in red. Graphs give at-a-glance indication of class performance.