A little break from education-related posting. I have been teaching a lovely class of year 7 girls about poetry while on placement, and revisited an old favourite of mine with them: The Jaguar, by Ted Hughes. I’ve also been listening to Scroobius Pip’s album Distraction Pieces and generally thinking a lot about feminism recently. Somehow, while waiting at the traffic lights this morning this started forming in my head, because thought-foxes don’t only strike on quiet, snowy evenings. Anyway – I have nothing else to do with it…so here it is:
Ted Hughes’ ‘The Jaguar’, as re-imagined by a male feminist, in the style of Scroobius Pip
The apes adore themselves and in the sun they think of breeding
While uncritically consuming, without question, fleas the media
Puts on them: keep on scratching; don’t start thinking; keep on shrieking —
While the alpha dogs keep lying to their minds that keep on sleeping
There are champions in digital high definition streams
Saving people, crushing evil, swinging heroes, screen to screen
Standing for the little man, the lovely little ladies cry,
Half our dreams are brought to life, the better half are raped or die
Iron John McClane is beating on his hollow, tinny chest
In a loin cloth in the forest chanting “Father Must Know Best!”
But the jaguar is stalking and has set her sights on prey
And will devour foil hat prophets who are standing in her way
Under her foot the world still turns, not by her power only
But because it must, and change will come, we just don’t want it slowly
The rising of the jaguar won’t mean the sinking of the Ark
Containing sons of other beasts, left cowering in the dark
The cage long busted open but we sit behind the bars
Idly spouting archetypes about them: Lovely Venus, Warlike Mars
Jaguar will not be bound by cosmic nonsense or be told
That half the world’s not owed to her: it’s not for others to withhold.
I should say from the outset, that this isn’t about Flipped Learning™ as understood by most educators, but I couldn’t resist the reference to it as a catchy title!
So, entitled sense of rage aside, I am currently enrolled in an education course that is taught primarily online. I find this particularly interesting, since in my previous life as a Learning Technologies Coordinator in a Victorian high school I took a keen interest in the possibilities the online space afforded learners. I had lots of theories about how engaged and self-motivated learners would be when given the opportunity to work at their own pace with online material, rather than having to go at the pace of the lessons planned by a teacher, or at the pace of the slower learners in their cohort. Now I am the learner it is great to see it work out in practice.
I think it does have the potential to work well. My course is offered in the ‘blended’ mode, which means we have short, face-to-face intensives, synchronous online workshops, and asynchronous learning modules, made up of readings, video clips and discussion forums we are expected to participate in. As this is a Master’s degree, we also have access to academic journals and books, mostly available online or through the bricks-and-mortar library. So all of the elements we need for our learning are available for us, pretty much whenever we need it. There is also a number of Facebook groups that popped up, which was a student led initiative, to connect people training in the same teaching methods, and one for all those enrolled in the course. Even our assignments are offered in a differentiated, highly engaging and technology rich way. I was surprised to learn that for my Master’s degree I would be submitting multi-modal, multimedia mash-ups for some of my actual, graded coursework. I’m quite enthused by this, as it really ‘walks the talk’ of modern education theory. The schools I have worked in are yet to have the real freedom to do this for ‘serious’ assignments, like year 12 English SACS, for example, because ultimately it doesn’t look like the final exam and so is not trusted as adequate preparation for the final assessment. But I digress. In short, everything I would expect from a well organised teaching team and a well motivated student cohort is in place.
There are aspects that are already working well. This is the first time the university has run this particular course, so there are a few creases to be ironed out as they launch everything and try to engage us in these methods for the first time, but there is a lot that is a success.
Firstly, many students have really engaged with the ‘suggested’ learning activities. These are things we are not graded on, but they are designed to guide our learning and point us in the right direction. My experience with junior kids in the classroom is often that if something is not ‘on the report’ they tend to have very low motivation to do it. Obviously, you try many things to overcome that initial feeling, but it has been the ‘default setting’ of many of the kids I’ve taught. I guess most Master’s students, particularly Master’s students training to become educators themselves, are more intrinsically motivated to complete these optional learning tasks.
The asynchronous aspect of it is a real benefit as well. I get emails every time someone posts to the forums, and some of those emails are coming in a 12am or 3am! Absolutely crazy times, but times that for whatever reason obviously suit those particular students. I did experience this with senior students in the classroom, too, but it was more alarming to see a 4am submission to our class blog than these MTEACH students doing it, because my kids had class with me the next day and trying to teach them when they’ve pulled an all-nighter to meet their blog post quota was a nightmare. I had one kid that would literally have to sleep in class because of the way he worked through the night on his assignments. I don’t think that’s what Flipped Learning™ is supposed to look like.
I’ve noticed a number of frustrations bubble up as we’ve entered into this method of learning as well, though, and it would be remiss of me to ignore them.
Many of the students are super-engaged. I’m one of them. We were accessing the LMS (Moodle…*shiver*) before the commencement of the course and during the first week of face-to-face lectures hoping to get access to all of the material so we could dive in with our studies. This simply wasn’t available. There was an unspoken expectation on our part that we could learn at our own pace, and we intended that pace to be fast, furious and starting right now. The lecturers had an unspoken expectation that we would commence with the online studies after the intensive. In fact, some of the online modules for week one were still not completely uploaded and usable yesterday. This seems like a small point, but it’s worth considering that your most motivated students will demand access to everything and if you don’t intend to make that available, you should communicate that clearly up front. There were a number of forum posts along the lines of people feeling in the dark about what was going on. Like I said, this is the first time this course has been delivered, and this is just one of those ‘creases’, but the take away for me has been that when students are asked to engage with material online, it may cause some confusion and fear, and timely communication that anticipates their needs is crucial to keeping them onside.
Another issue is that, as I just intimated, there is some fear and confusion coming from some students. This is the first time many of us have had to learn this way, and as it is such an alien experience to many they want to be reassured that they are capable. There have been some follow-up offers of assistance in response to some of these issues from the lecturers, but I think in future versions of the course they’d be better prepared to meet that kind of resistance face on at the beginning.
The final issue that I’ve noticed is that a great number of the students have not yet engaged with any of the discussion material online. Now, obviously there could be a great many reasons for this. We all signed up for the online model of the course presumably because we needed the flexibility it afforded, so many of the students simply may not be available to participate yet. Students may also be working more strategically, diving into the material in unseen ways, doing the readings and simply ignoring everything that isn’t direct work towards the assignments. I get that. In fact, I wish that was the approach I was taking, but I have been so immersed in the theory surrounding this method of learning for so long now, I can’t help but get engaged in the slower, more discussion based methods – even though I have 9 years of experience and literally nothing that we have covered yet has been new information to me! Whatever the reason, though, I think the lecturers would likely have mixed feelings about the levels of engagement, and there must be some students for whom there are more negative reasons, be that laziness, difficulty in motivating oneself, or simply struggling to manage the workload without feeling overwhelmed.
I’m excited by the course at the moment, but mainly because it feels like a huge experiment in online learning from my perspective. I will, no doubt, offer more analysis of this as the months progress.
Ok, first things first: I think I am a bloody good teacher. I don’t mean to brag, but I have grown a lot over my years in teaching. I am reflective, critically engaged, creative, passionate, dedicated to improvement and all those other good things that you want in your teachers.
You might not even know what you want in your teachers, but I do, and trust me, I have made it my business to figure out what makes a good teacher and to do those things to become one.
Now, I might not be a great teacher. I will cede that. I’m not so big-headed to believe that there is nothing you can teach me about teaching. I’ve been teaching for 9 years, which means I survived the 5 year black hole that half of my colleagues get sucked in to, and I think that counts for something. In those 9 years I have even achieved the ambitions I set my self quicker than I thought I could.
So why am I bringing this up? Well, my teacher training from the UK was through a course known as the Graduate Teacher Programme (GTP). It’s a pretty tough course. You get thrown in at the deep end of teaching, with a reduced timetable, from day 1. Sure, there’s a crash course in planning and behaviour management, but essentially you learn the job by doing the job. You still get the theory of the more traditional PGCE though after-hours sessions, although admittedly without having to write the academic papers to prove it, and you get a year’s teaching experience under a dedicated mentor. I think there are some issues with the GTP, but it really does produce some much more skilled graduates, in my opinion.
However, something I learned early on in my life here in Australia is that the GTP does not travel well. Since it is run in collaboration between Local Education Authorities and high-schools, it never passes through the esteemed gates of the academy. You don’t get a University issued qualification. You get a qualification that recognises your right to teach in England, but not an academic transcript that you can show anyone in other countries.
The Victorian Institute for Teachers (VIT) doesn’t recognise my qualifications or experience. Even the 6 years of experience of teaching in this country…but I am resigned to that now. I’ve had all the arguments with all of the reps and the resolution is simple: I am going to have to go back to the start and get proper Aussie qualifications.
So I am enrolled in an MTEACH, which seems like a fancied up version of the Grad. Dip. in Education. Really, I think they have just extended the duration and called it a Masters so that we will end up like Finland. Everybody in education is obsessed with Finland.
I have mixed feelings. (About the need for me to study, not Finland. The Fins are currently teaching me Java for free. I love Finland!)
On the one hand: this stinks. I have sat in on lectures where I have been taught about internet browser tabs, and academics are going to teach me how to write lesson plans, and at some point there is probably a session on sucking eggs.
But on the other hand, I am still a good, reflective, critically engaged teacher. I have access to online academic journals, for 18 months. I have decided to suck up my bad attitude towards this whole process (and believe me, I’m pretty dark about the VIT right now), and I will make the best of it. I have time and permission to bone up on theory without having to juggle 3 year 12 classes and parents and meetings and red-tape. I may not like that I HAVE to do this, but I do quite like that I CAN do it.
Sure, I’d rather not pay through the nose for the privilege, but it is what it is…
So the upshot is this: I will spend the next 18 months going back to basics so I can get registered, but I’ll also use my time wisely to actually get something out of this for me.
I mentioned in my last post that one of the things I have been working on is a rubric of sorts for teachers’ self assessment regarding their own progress in getting to grips with Learning Technologies.
I put together the following levels and would love to hear what additions or amendments others might make. The goal is for me to produce a tutorial for each item on the list.
Digital Capability levels
- Able to create text labels using different fonts and colours
- Able to use labels to embed images
- Able to upload documents
- Able to post web links
- Able to create a new Moodle course
- Able to create a glossary
- Able to create a quiz / question bank
- Able to use a forum
- Able to use labels to embed youtube videos
Black Belt in Moodle-fu
- Able to build conditional lessons into the moodle page
- Able to run a workshop online
- Able to embed more complex html widgets (Prezi)
- Able to orient the board when necessary
- Able to access Smart Notebook on personal computer
- Able to customize the menus for ease of use
- Able to create slides in class and save them
- Able to embed images, video and flash objects
- Able to use the floating image capture tools
- Able to export slides as PDF for email or Moodle upload
- Able to source and display 3rd party flash apps from the internet
- Able to use animations to add a dynamic element to the slides (including fades and infinite cloner)
- Able to comfortably browse the internet / computer from the board
- Able to record portions of lessons for upload to Moodle
- Able to store frequently used gallery items in a remotely accessible folder
- Able to use the IWB in conjunction with Smart Response handsets
- Able to find blogs worth follwing
- Able to subscribe to blogs via email or RSS
- Able to comment well on blogs
- Able to set up own blog
- Able to create posts
- Able to include images in posts
- Able to embed video
- Able to embed compatible widgets (Polls etc)
- Able to link to other webpages
- Able to create a class portal
- Able to invite new users and assign roles
- Able to manage/moderate student content
- Able to source and link to videos
- Able to record videos (using phones or Flip cameras)
- Able to record screencasts (Using Camstudio / BBFlashback / ScreenToaster)
- Able to edit video clips (using VideoPad? — Worth checking to see if there is a new/free video editing suite)
- Able to convert video to apropriate formats
- Able to select appropriate video and audio codecs when saving
- Able to source and link to podcasts
- Able to subscribe to podcasts RSS feeds / iTunes
- Able to record podcasts
- Able to edit audio clips (using Audacity)
- Able to convert audio to apropriate formats
- Able to select appropriate audio codecs when saving
I’ve really taken to QR codes recently, so I’ve been tinkering with customizing them.
The tiny logo customisation you may have seen in branded QR codes is really easy to achieve with a little trial and error, so I decided to try something a little more tricky:
This is based on the idea that QR readers are colour blind, so what they look for is high contrast. This allows you to create a simple four-tone image, in this case black and red contrasting white and grey.
I did this using GIMP. My tutorial for how to do this is available on youtube:
Because of the pretty impressive error correction, you can pull off some other quite interesting hacks, too, which I might show next week.
If you are using QR codes in an interesting way in the classroom, please let me know in the comments!
Yesterday, I attended the fourth day of Web 2.0 workshops run by Tom March. In this session we focused on the use of WebQuests.
We have been progressively working our way through various strategies to meaningfully embrace the use of ICT, particularly web 2.0 tools, in the classroom. The thing I have found most helpful about these sessions has been Tom’s focus on the things that will really enhance the learning of the students. These sessions aren’t about tacking technology on, but rather using these tools to completely reshape the way we think about education.
Tom taps into a lot of sound educational and pedagogical theory in his introductions to each session, and I find this gives us a real motivation as teachers to take his suggested activities seriously. I hope I can represent everything accurately in this post, because it was an excellent session!
We kicked off, as always, with a brief introduction from Tom. As an IT Applications teacher, one thing about his intro caught my attention immediately. In ITA one of the design tools we get kids to use when solving information problems is an IPO chart (Input|Processing|Output), and something Tom said reminded me of this and helped me re-frame the way I think about teaching. He said, roughly, ‘we know what the input is (the content), and we know what we want the output to be (what the kids produce to demonstrate their acquired knowledge and skills), but what we need to really think about is what happens in between: the process. What is the magic that need to happen in the middle?’ I think keeping this process in mind throughout any learning program is essential.
So then Tom explained the theory. Essentially, he suggested that there are all sorts of ideas relating to what leads to good learning and outlined them roughly as:
- Motivation Theory
- Critical Thinking
- Intentional Learning
- Basic Skills / Foundational Knowledge
- Collaboration / Team Skills
- Authentic Assessment
WebQuests can dovetail nicely with this list:
|Motivation Theory||Compelling Scenario|
|Critical Thinking||Open-ended question|
|Intentional Learning||Specific Task|
|Basic Skills / Foundational Knowledge||Background Knowledge|
|Collaboration / Team Skills||Perspectives and Expertise|
|Constructivism||Group Process / Transformation|
|Authentic Assessment||Real World Feedback|
Compelling Scenario, Open-Ended Questions and Specific Tasks
The idea of this compelling scenario is to create cognitive dissonance. If we can unsettle the thinking of our students,this will lead nicely into the open-ended question to encourage critical thinking. The compelling scenario should be real, rich and relevant (the new ‘Three R’s for education?). That is, it should be something that is really happening in the world right now, that is relevant to the kids and can be explored with a rich variety of resources. With web 2.0 tools, finding the material for such tasks is too easy. The hard thing is filtering it successfully so that you pitch it at the right level (to encourage Flow…see day 3 (which I still need to write! tk)).
Tom told us a story about a guy who asked him, ‘in this age of student centered learning, what is the role of the teacher?’ Tom’s excellent answer: ‘To perturb.’ I think if we can perturb the preconceived ideas of our students, they will be motivated to resolve their unsettled thoughts.
One key way to perturb the students is in the juxtaposition of the material you present them with,but more on that later.
The background knowledge we provide can be just enough to give the kids the standard they need to participate in exploring the ideas for themselves. (Personal sidenote: ‘We’ often go into lessons with a minimum standard we want the kids to have achieved by the end of the lesson, or at least, ‘we’ are encouraged to by standardised testing. I like the idea of making the minimum background info and from there encourage excellence, whatever that means, for each kid.) The background knowledge serves as the ‘What does Wikipedia/The Textbook say about this?’ input. This is essentially the sort of stuff that can be copied and pasted, but real WebQuests should not allow for such simple and uncritical responses.
Perspectives and Expertise
This is where the kids really get the chance to explore the topic for themselves. The key is to find roles and perspectives that clash. It is important to remain neutral as the teacher and not sell a particular answer. The main goal is to give kids a 360 degree view of the issue. Able students can work individually, while less able students might work in pairs. (Logistically, in a class of 28, you might have six roles/case studies, and four groups over all, but the students work individually at this stage.) Tom suggests even introducing ‘some wackos that are not obviously wackos.’
Group Process / Transormation
This is where 84% of the 2000 WebQuests, Tom and his research team reviewed, stopped being real WebQuests. Here the kids come back together into their small groups and attempt to synthesise everything they have learned as individuals. The big group answer has to incorporate everybody’s point of view. This is a good time to use graphical organisers such as mindmaps, or collaborative documents like Etherpad/Typewith.me.
Real World Feedback
Students can then be encouraged to act upon what they have learned. We can find real world opportunities for kids to reach out, beyond the classroom, with what they now know. This might take the form of some sort of social action, or simply creating resources to educate others. The key to this stage, though, is to find a real world audience to respond to this. It could be members of the parent community, other classes, the local community, or anyone else from the 2 billion strong community that is the world wide web. It’s a good way to help the kids feel like they have really done something, and not just got another grade from their English teacher!
We can also help kids to reflect on the process they went through and how their thinking may or may not have changed. Getting kids to understand how their own cogs turn (metacognition!) will encourage self-initiative, critical thinking and lifelong learning. No small claim.
What does that look like in practice?
Here is one of Tom’s own WebQuests, complete with resources: Terrorist or Freedom Fighter.
I didn’t go to a wonderful conference today. My wife is away on a school camp, so I thought I should make the most of being on my own to not go to a wonderful conference.
The conference I didn’t go to started with a relatively brief keynote by Chris Lehmann, the Principal of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. It was really inspiring stuff. His passion for the kids we all teach is incredible and contagious. I came away from this keynote at the conference I didn’t attend with a real sense that the much needed change in our education system is within reach. Knowing that pioneers and visionaries like him and many more have gone before us gives me real hope that it is possible. He said a few things that really resonated with me, such as the story he shared about his students that built a bio-diesel generator that they released as a creative commons product for the third world. I got goosebumps when he said: “What if high school wasn’t just preparation for real life? What if we honoured the work of the kids and said high school is real life?” I find this kind of validation of the kids work so inspiring and much more meaningful than any test score! His comments about technology being ubiquitous were fantastic too.
So, after this keynote I didn’t see, I was excited about the other workshops and seminars that the day wouldn’t have in store for me. I’ve been really interested in gamification recently, so I was glad to see that the non-conference had a study group dedicated to Open Badges and Assessment, based on the work that’s being done by Mozilla and P2PU. The session started with a review of the documentation that’s been produced by Mozilla. I was thinking about applications just within my own high school context, but seeing the scope of the project Mozilla is undertaking was phenomenal. They have a plan for building an open badge standard to recognise learning from a whole range of sources that has been ignored by traditional qualification awards systems. It really is revolutionary and some in the group were considering this as a potential contender to replace traditional universities! I really love the range of ideas that I get exposed to when I don’t attend a conference. The group from this workshop will meet on a weekly basis now until the end of September, and that’s the other great thing about no going to these great conferences: the fabulous networks you build with interesting people.
Not going to a conference has a real downside, in that I was solely responsible for the catering…so lunch was disappointing.
In the second workshop we shared resources between interested parties. I picked up a great educational game teaching disaster preparedness which will make a fun little homework activity for my year 11s as they explore ideas about survival in English (I might get them to review the game or suggest alternate levels/scenarios…just thinking out loud). The same game will probably get shared with the people I’m working on KIOSC with, since it has a marginal focus on sustainability. There was also a wonderful teacher that shared a whole heap of SMART board resources, which will take me weeks to digest. I’m always happy to get more IWB resources, and I’m sure others at my school will appreciate them to.
Finally, the closing address summed up the incredible speed that the tech world is changing and highlighted the importance that education keeps up. It was drawing upon examples from Iowa, but in today’s global society, I could really see the importance of the message for my teaching in Australia, too.
Overall, the conference I didn’t go to has given me a lot to think about and I’m sure it will take a while for my to really understand the full implications for my teaching.
Next time you have a day free, I highly recommend not going to a conference.
Thanks to the following unwitting organisers of today’s couchCon, without you sharing such great content from the web recently, I might have gone outside today: