Thursday, August 28, 2008

Social & Emotional Learning

The notion of social and emotional learning (SEL) has particular implications for 21st Century skills and for team/group work we undertake in our courses.

Goleman bases his theoretical framework around recent advances in brain science and how we can teach emotional intelligence. You can read more about SEL on Goleman's Blog.

Watch the video below and consider the possibilities.

If we advocate a collaborative approach to learning, and the research suggests this improves retention and efficacy, how important is SEL?

So how do you think that you rate in Emotional Intelligence (EI)? Try this test and see how you fair.

Do you think that SEL or EI are important in your classroom? Is this indeed a 21st Century skill? How would you incorporate it in your students' learning.



Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Using Blogs as a Professional Discussion

Before Web 2.0 technology became so pervasive, subject matter experts and discipline leaders would be most likely be identified by the books they publish which would lead to invitations to appear, or write in the popular press. Invitations to speak at conferences would also stem from book and academic journal publications.

Before Web 2.0, the intellectual property (IP) of subject matter experts (SMEs) was controlled by publishers and the organisation for whom they worked. Unfortunately, this arrangement mostly suits the publishers and employers, and not the person who developed the IP.

The Internet and Web 2.0 technologies have changed all of that, and SMEs now have the ability to share their IP and to have rapid access to other IP using predominantly Blog technology. RSS feeds and aggregators now mean that you can monitor each others postings and use what you learn to make up your own "Mashups".

Soon there will come a time when this free exchange of ideas and knowledge will circumvent and supersede publishers and employers. The advent of Creative Commons now means that we can maintain the ownership of our IP, but also share it with others who have similar interests and research areas.

The potential this type of exchange creates is significant as it now shortens the time for new innovations to be disseminated and adapted by others. The implications are no less dramatic in education. The often closed nature of compulsory and tertiary learning means that there is often very little interaction between teachers who are innovators and their colleagues. We, unfortunately often make the same mistakes as those our colleagues have made and learned from. We also are not good at being able to share our successes with a global audience.
Web 2.0 Blogs and WIKIs now make all of this possible instantly and publicly. We can learn on a daily basis from what others have done and adapt the effective approaches to our own pedagogical approach.

So the story is:
  1. Seek out the Blogs of other teachers/academics within your profession and do this with a Google search.
  2. Subscribe to their RSS feeds with an aggregator like Bloglines.
  3. Share your Blog URL with your colleagues and encourage them to start their own Blog.
  4. Publish your experiences, new knowledge and thoughts regularly.
Building a community of practice is an essential part of 21st Century professionalism and ensures that you are not left behind. Lifelong learning is a necessity and a reality and the sooner you join the Tsunami the easier it will be to come up to speed in your professional life.



Thursday, August 14, 2008

Stop Motion Animation--a creative approach to education

A couple of years ago I had the great pleasure to work with a very gifted teacher who was doing a two year secondment to the Faculty of Education in my university. She is a primary school teacher who uses elearning/ICTs to engage her student in ways that contextualises their learning using real world tasks.
In one particular case this teacher had a number of indigenous students who were very active, visual and kinesthetic learners. These particular learners did not respond well to traditional teaching and their behaviour was generally considered a problem.
My colleague introduced her class to stop motion animation and asked the students to represent some of their learning using this approach. This resulted in a strong level of learning engagement for all students, but in particular her indigenous students who went from being a behavioural management problem to requesting to start school early, work through their lunch breaks and stay back after class to work on their stop motion animation projects.

Stop motion animation is relatively easy to accomplish these days with free or low cost software products that allow you to take control of the animation frame by frame.

Click on the image to view a video that describes quickly how your students can design and develop stop motion animation courtesy of Toasted TV.

Recently I've been looking at new software for Macs called iStopMotion (about $100AUS) which allows a myriad of options and flexibility. I'm working with some year two students next week helping out one of my graduate diploma students so it will be interesting to see what they come up with using this software.

Creativity in Education

What will our world look like in five, ten and twenty years? Can we predict the future with any degree of accuracy? What are the skills our children will need after they graduate from school and university? Are they the same as was required 40 years ago?
Previously on this Blog I've discussed the notion of 21st Century Skills and what they may be. The following video features Sir Ken Robinson presenting at the 2006 Technology, Entertainment, Design and discusses creativity and how well schools support the development of creativity.

I hope that this rather humorous provides some scope for discussion.

Physical Learning Spaces in Schools Mk 2

Further to my posting yesterday, I received a Facebook message from a previous student of mine who is now teaching at The Lakes School in South Morang Victoria, Australia. The design of this new school encapsulates much of what I proposed in my previous posting and is well worth a look.
For information about the design see this .pdf file from the Victorian Government.
Of particular interest is the "Bubble" model of interaction shown below.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Physical Learning Spaces in Schools

My last post discussed the challenges Australian schools face as we educate and professionally develop our teachers in the effective use of ICTs. Today I want to discuss what a contemporary 21st Century school learning should look like.
As a university lecturer I still have students who come to the classroom believing that the short period of time we share together in class is the sum total of their learning opportunities. They often come in and sit down and look at me as if to say "well teach me!!" When they walk out the door it is as if the y are ready to concentrate their attentions somewhere else. This is most common in school leavers in their first year of university. Mature age students rarely view their learning in this way and will ask good questions during, at the beginning and end of class as well as using the discussion forums and phone to gain additional clarification. The more mature students have long been out of school and understand learning from a personal perspective.

So in many cases school is about performing for the teacher within the limited time they share together in the classroom. ICTs or elearning technologies offer the opportunity to take the learning beyond the classroom by engaging students to achieve and perform with real world tasks. This may not necessarily mean time online at home, but could involve before and after school engagement in the school grounds. It could also occur in Internet cafes and public libraries, or it could involve a different model of schooling, one where there was more project time for students to engage in individual or group learning. More importantly the structure of the schools needs to support a seamless transition in the use of elearning technologies--a structure that makes the technologies easily available when it is required. Computer labs are a fantastic way to control access to and the maintenance of computers, but they score poorly when it comes to flexibility with teachers reporting difficulties in gaining access when they need it for their students.
There are a couple of options and these involve making a substantial number of Internet ready and connected computers available for use in every classroom, or ensuring that every student has their own computer. Some schools are trialling interest free loans through school fees to fund a basic level of student computing that they can take to and from school, while others are considering purchasing laptops that remain in the school. Both ideas have advantages and disadvantages with regard to 24/7 access and the possibilities of damage, abuse and theft.

The design of classrooms also has an impact on learning. Traditional classrooms where desks are lined up and the majority of learning activities are individual pose difficulties for seamless and integrated learning using ICTs. More flexible learning spaces where teams of students can work together with instant access to the Web that is not highly filtered are more likely to support the kinds of 21st Century learning to which the contemporary education literature refers. A number of schools in the northern suburbs of Geelong have experimented with larger and more open classrooms where the technology is readily available. In terms of learning engagement they have been a success; with regard to academic performance the evidence is not conclusive at this stage.

Overall, learner-centred environments require greater flexibility and seamless access to a large variety of learning resources and technologies. The learning space has a direct impact on the way students engage.

Managing Student Centred eLearning

Currently I'm in the process of developing a new Graduate Diploma of Learning Management (elearning specialisation). This program has been designed the key learning criteria and outcomes for Education Queensland's Advanced ICT Pedagogical Licence. The table below gives an idea of what needs to be achieved:

Focus area


Professional Knowledge

I understand how ICT can be used to transform what students learn, how they learn, and when and where their learning takes place

Professional Practice

I experiment and innovate with new ICT and teaching and learning methodologies to meet individual learning needs and to develop students' higher order skills and creativity

I actively construct meaning with and between students by creating experiences for students to work in groups and independently on projects, requiring selection and use of ICT tools

I involve students in developing and solving problems that involve the use of ICT

I create challenging tasks that integrate learning areas and involve student ICT use throughout all stages of the learning process and for a range of purposes

I promote student negotiation of assessment and facilitate student designing and collating digital assessment portfolios to demonstrate depth and level of achievement of learning outcomes

I seek innovative ways to improve access to and management of ICT resources in meeting learner needs

I create meaningful ways for students to use a range of communication tools in their learning; and to collaborate with others in ICT projects in local, national and global communities

Professional Values

I set my own short and long term ICT learning goals based on regular reflection of my own professional practice and determined needs. I devise a plan and timeline to achieve these

I am a lifelong learner who continually develops and expands my operational skills, conceptual knowledge and appropriate attitudes and behaviour towards the uses of ICT in educational settings

I collaborate with staff and students to critically reflect on and evaluate resources used in learning activities to make informed decisions regarding ICT use

I operate safely, legally and ethically when using ICT and teach and model this practice for students and colleagues

Professional Relationships

I initiate professional learning conversations and seek learning opportunities to improve my pedagogy when using ICT

I take responsibility to contribute to school planning and decision making processes influencing the standard of pedagogy and ICT use in my school

Applicants are required to have previously obtained their ICT Pedagogical Licence and the table below describes how this is measured:

Focus area


Elaborations (new window) 221k on the indicators are available.

Professional Knowledge

I understand how ICT can be used to support and enhance what students learn, how they learn, and when and where their learning takes place

Professional Practice

I plan learning experiences within units of work that use ICT to achieve curriculum goals and are based on student developmental needs, interests, prior knowledge and experiences

I provide opportunities for students to use ICT to enhance the learning of concepts and processes, working independently and as part of a group

I provide challenging tasks that integrate learning areas and involve student ICT use throughout all stages of the learning process and for a range of purposes

I create opportunities for students to use ICT to develop and apply new knowledge, skills and understanding

I effectively manage the access to and use of ICT resources in meeting learner needs

I provide opportunities for students to purposefully use a range of communication tools in their learning; and to participate with others in ICT projects in local, national or global communities

I plan assessment tasks that incorporate the use of ICT to meet learning goals

Professional Values

I set my own ICT learning goals based on regular reflection of my own professional practice and determined needs

I am committed to developing my skills, knowledge and abilities required to exploit the potential of ICT in education

I critically review and select from ICT resources and teaching and learning approaches and adapt where necessary

I operate safely, legally and ethically when using ICT and teach and model this practice for students

Professional Relationships

I seek opportunities to contribute to professional teams to share what I know and do regarding ICT and pedagogy

Essentially the Advanced licence requires additional evidence of student use of ICTs and an advanced championing role within the teachers learning environment.

The advanced and standard level frameworks are excellent and apply to any learning organisation, school, university or industry. The portfolio that these students develop as a result of their graduate studies will make them among the best in the State.

The challenge is of course that the schools will need to upgrade their technology infrastructure to meet the needs of this emerging group of learning professionals. More bandwidth into schools, more computers in the classrooms and ancillary learning spaces and a way of acknowledging and rewarding teachers who make their learning activities engaging, effective and real.

Finally, a chance to reflect on 21st century learners.

More soon.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Three Years On!!

Yes it has been three years (there abouts) since my last posting to this Blog and a great deal has happened in the elearning world.
Web 2.0 is now common parlance; Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) are now being promoted by some as an alternative to traditional education; YouTube has exploded and spawned a plethora of look alike sites offering similar services; podcasting is now incredibly popular and used by virtually every radio and television provider; image repository like Flickr and image manipulation products like Picink have revolutionised the way we store and share images; video had morphed into a variety of formats and even easier to edit, store and distribute; SecondLife has captured a massive audience of players and pretenders; free WIKIs and social networking software; MySpace and FaceBook engaging a whole generation of children and young adults; Google earth now offers animated and current views of the planet; we now have alternatives to video like SlideShare that provide small bandwidth footprint media with audio and images and Mashups and re-packaging are common with the application of some media re-purposed for another audience.

The pace of Web 2.0 innovation and development is staggering and shows no sign of slowing--if anything, the rate of change is faster than ever.

So what about the uptake of these technologies by schools and Universities in Australia? Australian Universities are by enlarge conservative institutions that are slow to adopt new ways of learning.

Despite the strong body of evidence of what constitutes effective learning, many universities persist with lectures and reading as their dominant approach. In choosing the two least effective methodologies (lectures 5%; reading 10%).
There are of course some notable exceptions to the norm with some universities experimenting with SecondLife Islands, RSS feeds, media rich and authentic learning environments. However, change is slow and patchy and the uptake and exploitation of these new and exciting learning technologies is poor at best.

Australian University Learning
Ironically, even though Australian Universities are relatively (or completely) free of Web censorship there is little interest in leveraging the strengths of the technology to engage learners and enrich their educational experience. Much of the reason rests with how academic staff are rewarded and employed. The easiest performance indicator to measure is that of research quanta. The number of conference papers, journal articles and book chapters is easy to quantify and reward. Teaching and learning effectiveness is much more difficult with uncontrollable variables such as personal circumstances, entry scores, competing assessment from other courses, family crises and student over commitment.
Exactly what effective teaching and learning is is also a challenging term to define and measure and so universities most often defer to the quanta of research publications as a guide for promotion and progression.
Often what attracts academics to academe is not the teaching, but the ability to engage in research and this is encouraged by the need to achieve a research higher degree such as a PhD.

Traditionally, universities have been a place where students come to study face to face. While distance education was available from some institutions, it was considered a poor substitute for the "real" university learning experience. As a student who has done the vast majority of my tertiary study by distance I can but agree with this analysis. Studying using poorly designed print-based study guides, sometimes illegible photocopied readings, and without the ability to make effective contact with a lecturer is a lonely and unpleasant experience.
The ability to study online with well designed courseware and flexible and authentic assessment, combined with the ability to make regular contact with your tutor/lecturer is a quantum leap from the old distance education materials of the past.
The challenge is for universities to encourage, support and reward academics engaged in the design and delivery of high quality interactive learning environments. Once Australian Universities understand this imperative the education world is there for the taking.

Australian Schools & ICTs (elearning)
The basic design of schooling has changed little in the past 40 years, but society and the students have changed a great deal. What use to work 40 years ago no longer meets students' needs. In Australia, the numbers of students lagging their year level in literacy and numeracy have ballooned over the last ten years and the trend is upwards

The results in the 2005 National Report on Schooling reports the performance of Australian students in Years 3, 5, and 7 against nationally agreed benchmarks in reading, writing and numeracy. The results of testing across Australia in 2005 show that around 20% of children in Year 7 do not meet the benchmarks for numeracy, and around 10% do not meet the reading and writing benchmarks. Indigenous children were worse, with more than a 33% of Indigenous children in Year 7 failing to meet reading benchmarks, and more
than 50% failing to meet numeracy benchmarks.
In 2002, the first year where Year 7 testing was initiated 10% of students did not achieve the benchmark level in reading and writing. In numeracy, more than 12% of students failed to reach the benchmark level. Again, the proportion of Indigenous year 7 students achieving at or above the benchmark level is significantly below the proportions for non-Indigenous students.
These data suggest that despite the continued emphasis on literacy and numeracy in Australian Schools, and the extraordinary practice in schools of suspending normal classes to practice the tests for two weeks or so, year 7 literacy and numeracy performance is either showing no improvement or going backwards, particularly in numeracy with a 100% increase in students failing to reach the benchmarks.
In low socio-economic areas the results are dramatically worse than the national data and this trend offers little hope for the generational poverty suffered in these areas.

If we look at the reasons for these results a strong component relates to a lack of engagement in all years of schooling, but particularly in the early years where the basics of language and numeracy are taught. School no longer meets the needs of students who are use to a digital world and who expect teachers to earn their respect. Often teachers will draw on the research that suggests a close correlation between low-socioeconomic background and academic performance. This they might suggest is grounds for poor performance and something that they will having difficulty addressing in their classrooms. However, there is also strong data that suggests that the teacher makes the most significant difference in a child's educational performance. Much more than the school itself.

So how do we engage modern students, these digital natives, and earn their respect? The answer to these questions is complex and interactional. Let's start with looking at what Keirsley and Shneiderman say about learning engagement and what engages a digital native. Learning engagement theory asserts that students need to work together in small teams to RELATE to complex real-world problem tasks, CREATE workable solutions/products and then DONATE these back into the real world. Keirsley and Shneiderman suggest that this authentic learning and the product are the key to engaging learners in what the students believe are worthwhile tasks--not one developed for the edification of teachers. So how does this relate to earning respect? Perhaps the fact that the students' perceive their learning to be meaningful and applicable in the real world that they develop a respect and admiration for their teacher. Could this also be influenced by a student-centred learning environment where student views and values are respected? Could it also be connected to the students' sense of achievement and understanding, no longer believing that they are "dumb" just because the schooling system does not suit them? Interesting questions to ponder?

So let's get back to elearning or ICTs in the learning environment, and actually how you describe just what a student's learning environment actually is. We know that the vast majority of today's students are digitally literate and that their world is one where digital technologies are integral to them. Imagine how they feel when they are denied the technologies they can already use to apply to a learning situation? Let's also consider what a student's learning environment is? From a traditional teaching perspective we may suggest that the classroom is the learning environment and that the majority of learning takes place there. What then of the other times of the day? Is this a learning free part of life? I don't think so!
Okay, so what might effectively the classroom to the rest of the students' lives in ways that are accessible and real?

If indeed technology is a critical part of the key towards meaningful and authentic learning that happens inside and outside of a formal learning environment, imagine the students' consternation when they find that access to their most popular tools are blocked by the school/education institution? Unfortunately, this is the case in most Australian schools because there is an underlying belief that students will attempt to access inappropriate material and/or be exposed to cyber danger. Now these fears are not unfounded and indeed even with all of the many security measures some students do obtain access to inappropriate and sometimes explicit material by exploiting weaknesses in the school's information technology (IT) security. Likewise, there are significant dangers posed to children by adults and other children who may wish to do them harm.
The possibility of having the press reporting any of these instances is enough to frighten even the bravest of school principals. So what is the answer? Do these same students have in filtered access to the same material outside of the school environment and IT infrastructure? Is there a need to educate students on the dangers and exploitation offered buy some of the content and communication tools available online. Who should bear this responsibility and who is best placed to organise this learning? If children are properly and effectively informed will they make better online decisions? Do the downside risks of better access to online tools override the learning opportunities offered by this technology? How might schools manage the risks posed by the provision of more Web 2.0 technologies?

Interesting questions indeed and perhaps the topic for some interesting problem solving.

More soon.