Thursday, July 09, 2009

More on Mobile Phone Learning in Schools

In previous posting I've suggested that mobile phone technology offers a quantum leap in student connectivity and engagement in schools.
Today eSchool News have published an article by Julie Evans the chief executive officer of Project Tomorrow, which administers the national Speak Up survey on education and technology.
Ms Evans provides an analysis of what technologies students want to use for their learning and how they would like that to occur. Project tomorrow also survey teachers and parents as well and the results may astound you.

The article begins with a discussion of cheating using mobile technology, but then moves to a broader discussion of digital pedagogies that support the use of mobile phone devices. The article is well worth the read.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Mobile Phone Tipping Point in Education?

This week Apple announced the release of their new iphone 3G s which has a substantially reduced cost, twice as fast with some applications and a raft of extra functionality.
This will undoubtedly drive Apple's competitors in the mobile phone market to design devices that are competitive in their functionality and cost.
This is great news for educators as finally there is a hand held device that has powerful computer capabilities that can run over a phone network or private wireless networks.
In many ways these recent developments challenge the notion of one laptop per school student and creates affordable learning opportunities in technology genre that has been embraced by school students across the world.

Just imagine combining the functionality of Google Wave with iphone technology. Students could easily communicate with their peers around the world using Google Wave's translation technology, at the same time, developing an understanding of the language used by their peers in other countries--all on an iphone.
Classrooms can now be a connected learning space that extends seamlessly outside of school hours and grounds. It provides opportunities for a whole new approach to homework, collaboration and media/Web literacies. Teachers can now be considered "cool", "totally sick", deadly, or whatever the terminology of the day is/will be, as they will/should be using the technology of today's digital native.

So what are the challenges? In Australia there are very few external incentives/rewards for school teachers to enter into what has become a self initiated continuous professional development (PD) cycle. They already have heavy work commitments and finding time to undertake a self directed, or minimally supported PD activities is difficult, and at times, impossible.
There is no doubt that teachers need to be provided with time to research and explore a wide variety of digital pedagogies and high on this list should be Project-Based Learning (PBL) as this is the most effective way to engage students and to develop their 21st Century skills and attributes. There are now sufficient examples of how this can work and evidence of its effectiveness. Alexander's Kitchen Garden Foundation and the Edible School Yard trialled at the Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkley California are just two examples of how the PBL approach can work. There are many others across the world, particularly those that concentrate on Maths and Science.
The new connected technology provides the "glue" that makes this type of collaborative learning possible, seamless and transparent to the learning.

Perhaps the major challenge is that of Web filtering approaches guided by a risk aversion response to government Public Policy. I've discussed this complex issue previously in this Blog and choose not to cover old ground. However, when the school students walk away from the school grounds the possibilities (and dangers) open up and students have considerably more flexibility at low cost with the large numbers of free wireless hotspots springing up around Australian cities.
Increasing the number and regionality of these hotspots should be part of the Australia's Federal Government approach to the much anticipated roll out of high-speed broadband across the nation.

As new connected technology breaks down the idea of a physical school environment and classrooms as the only places students learn, the possibilities of Personal Learning Environments becomes a possibility for school aged children. If we believe that children need to have a compulsory school like structure to learn what they need to be successful then we might think that the idea of a self-directed approach to learning for children is an impossibility. This is indeed true if school is a place where students are forced to attend and then presented with learning materials and pedagogical approaches more akin to the 19th rather than the 21st Century. If on the other hand we believe that by engaging learners with real world learning and the team production of artifacts that are valued in the real world, PLEs may be a distinct possibility, particularly if teachers become partners and mentors in the learning process.
It is a difficult gulf for many educators (and Governments) to see across, but there are distinct possibilities and new generation technologies like the Apple iphone make the possibilities a reality.

Friday, June 05, 2009

GoAnimate: a double edged sword

In May 2008 GoAnimate, a browser-based automated animation tool, was launched. This product brings digital story telling to anyone who is connected to the Web. Here's a product promotion that tells some of the story:

Okay, it is easy to use and incredibly powerful, and would take most kids virtually no time to master. And kids are the problem here. The look and feel is cartoon like and very definitely going to be very attractive to young people below the age of 18. This product has tremendous potential for motivating school students and developing their creativity.

The problem with using this technology is the amount and accessibility of inappropriate content for minors. In Australia it is highly unlikely that we would be able to allow to use this fantastic technology in our schools because of the unsuitable content it makes available to our students.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Gaming in Education: are we reaching a "tipping point"?

Prensky, Kearsley and others have been suggesting for some time that Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPG) will be the future of education.
There have been a couple of problems with this suggestion becoming a reality.
The high cost of game development and the need to have massive audiences to be able to recoup costs has posed some problems in terms of convincing gaming companies to risk their venture capital.
Along with the cost has been student reluctance to engage with something that sounds like it has an educational context.

It seems as this is all about to change with 360Ed entering the educational market and targeting high volume core learning outcomes in the US.
This eSchool News article explains how 360De have used popular MMORPG technology and methodology to develop a game that concentrates on developing content knowledge and 21st Century skills side by side.

As technological developments shorten and simplify game development, opportunities will appear for what promises to be a massive market.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

A glimpse of the Future in Web Communication/Collaboration

Ever thought about what Web communication/collaboration might look like in the future? Are you tired of switching between MSN, email, Wikis, Blogs and Twitter?
The following video gives you a glimpse of the near future--and it is something else.
I hope you enjoy it as much as I did--Thanks To Stephen Downes and Michael Feldstein for sharing this amazing story/product.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Internationalisation in Higher Education

Yesterday Professor Glynis Cousin from the University of Wolverhampton, in the UK, led discussions around the internationalisation of higher education with staff from our university.
According to Professor Cousins, internationalisation is more about providing opportunities for overseas students to interact with Australian students, so that both groups develop cross cultural understanding and gain knowledge/experience that will advantage them after they graduate from the institution. Professor Cousins suggested that internationalisation is often thought of in terms of making the curriculum more internationally relevant, but this is not what her research suggest that international students actually want.
"International students want to learn and socialise with local students" Professor Cousins insisted. She indicated that including teamwork that included a diverse mix of international and domestic students was perhaps the most effective way of ensuring a sharing of skills, expertise and cultural understanding.

So where would you begin to achieve a high level of internationalisation in higher education in Australia? If Professor Cousins is correct, two immediate changes are required:
  1. Stop quarantining international students in learning situations where there are few, if any Australian students.
  2. Begin with your course/unit assessment and design problem-based assessment that requires at least some teamwork and where the context is global and student teams are allocated to include high levels of cultural diversity.
Internationalisation in education is desirable, both from a commercial marketing perspective and in producing students who are more globally and culturally aware. Graduating students who have had direct experience working and learning in a global community offers much, and has the potential to enhance the reputation and standing of the university.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

True 21st Century Schools

In this Blog I've shared many ideas and expressed opinions about P/K to 12 schooling today and how the vast majority of our education leaders just don't get it. This leadership begins with government and filters down to school level. Old Taylorist paradigms no longer suitable for 21st century learners who need a vastly different skill set and who have a dramatically different cultural perspective from 40 years ago. The literature has been around for sometime now but the inertia of educational leadership to respond is staggering, and we are adversely impacting the futures of large numbers of young people for whom school is an un-engaging prison of despair.
The following video is an example of the alternative; and it is achievable in Australia, the UK and in the US:

eSchool News has published an article that talks about this school in more detail.It is well worth the read.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Using ipods in school

Pod/Vodcasts have been around now for some years and despite this attraction and hype, the time it takes educators to design and develop acceptable quality media has been an obstacle to full exploitation of the technology.

Grace Poli is a media specialist at Jose Marti Middle School in Union City, N.J. and in the latest edition of the eschool news online magazine her approach to using ipods in her school is discussed.

You will notice that Grace exploits existing media rather than creating many pod/vodcasts herself. Her students, however are.
The article demonstrates how being aware of popular youth culture and being technologically proficient transform school students' learning experiences.

Well worth the read.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

More on Opening up Public School Access to Web 2.0

The following SlideShare offers a constructive approach to bring Web 2.0 and Social Networking into schools.

Just think what this approach would need in terms of education for our public school leadership, government and above all the teachers.
It would not happen in Australia without strong leadership from State and Federal government and that does not seem likely as the vast majority of them do not understand how children learn and can be engaged. Even worse, few show any indications of understanding the immense learning potential of Web 2.0 and social networking technology.
The shame is that the private schools, who in many cases have more appropriate responses to child protection, will continue to innovate in the effective use of new technologies and the gap between private and public school students' achievement will continue to broaden, and at an ever increasing rate.
From a social justice position (mine) this appalling as it is denying the most socially disadvantaged the tools that could actually bridge the gap and change their lives positively and dramatically.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Learner-Centred ICTs in Schools

Arguably the very best use of ICTs in schools is where students create new content using ICTs and new media. The following article provides a compelling case study of this happening in a US school with the mentoring and guidance of their teacher.

Student film documents Holocaust memories

Thursday, April 23, 2009

What Should/Will Successful Universities look like in 2020?

Image Courtesy of Flickr

Today in Australia universities are under significant pressure from a range of challenges and market raiders. For years universities have enjoyed a monopoly on certifying undergraduate and post-graduate qualifications, but that has quickly changed with significant increases in government accredited non-university providers.

Currently in Australia the non-university providers are providing learning opportunities predominantly for full fee-paying international students, but this may change in the future because of government policy. Issues like free trade agreements are likely to impact on Australian higher education providers as there has been pressure in the past for the Federal government to introduce a voucher system for Australian students that would allow them to buy education products from any accredited provider. This would allow foreign companies to operate in Australia on a level playing field with Australian universities. The US is a big player in this field.

So how could Australian universities halt the slide in international market share, mitigate the possible impact of a voucher system and infact grow market share?

This article discusses an interesting approach of one private US university that follows on from, and extends the open content approach adopted in recent years by MIT.

Image Courtesy of Flickr

What about extending this notion even further and offering concept of Personal Learning Environments where learners can interact with a range of learning materials, some offered by the university and some sourced externally through open content, in ways that allows participants to follow issues and concepts that take them where they want/need to go.

For its part the university offers expert facilitators with current professional knowledge and experience along with an assessment regime that is accredited to a level that is acceptable to industry, community and government.
While learners can follow their own interests and learning pathway, they would still need to undertake learning activities that lead to certification if that was one of their goals.
But will certification be the main game in 2020? Is it even now? Some would argue that gaining the employment you seek has more to do with what you can do, design and produce than certification. Portfolios, particularly e.portfolios are now an extremely important part of gaining paid employment and the future trend is more towards these kinds of approaches.

So, perhaps a 2020 university will be one that operates in a truly global market place; one that to works with its students to prepare significant portfolios that contain authentic real-world products. A portfolio that they can use to provide a range of purpose-built views to meet the students' employment, promotion and professional requirements.

For Australian universities this will pose some significant challenges. The institutions will need to be highly connected to industry requirements with its key academic staff actively working in and with a wide range of organisations. Academic staff would need to be highly flexible in terms of the support they provide the students and be prepared to hand them over to a colleague more knowledgeable/skilled in the area the students wish to pursue.
Access to learning materials, assessment and academic staff would need to be predominantly online with exceptions only where the online option would not work.
Students would have opportunities to work alongside university staff on industry research projects.
The physical "bricks and mortar" facilities will most likely look very different to what currently exists. Increased emphasis in dedicated research facilities, few offices, general support staff working closely with academics to ensure they have what they need when they need it. Physical learning spaces targeted specifically for learning and assessment that can't be done online effectively. Virtually no lecture theaters, or general purpose classrooms. Libraries that only contain what is not available online and staffed by a mixture of academic, library and IT staff.

Regradless of where the futurevtakes us, the outcomes will be interesting, to say the least.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Future of 21st Century learning

Watch the following YouTube video and then read the short discussion below it.

If schools as an institution are to survive, their leadership and government that develop restrictive public policy, need to pay attention to these scholars.
The model and skill sets this video suggests are required to be effective learners are hamstrung by school students' heavily restricted access to the Web, particularly in Australian public schools. Besides developing an ever increasing gulf between public and private school student learning experiences, the behaviour of Australian education departments in States and Territories is, in my view, unconscionable as we and some other developed nations fall well behind in a globalised society.
In a globalised society and economy, higher order thinking, complex problem-solving collaboration and respect for culture are key determinants for a successful career and life.

When will government and schools give up on a model that just does not work for modern learners or produce the kinds of grtaduates we need in the future?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Authentic Assessment using WIKI Technology

For some time now I've been looking at the possibility of using a public WIKI as a way of having P-12 students construct authentic content in a real-world context. My rationale is simple, students crave real-world learning tasks where what they produce is valued not just by teachers and their school, but by communities across the world.

This article from "The Education Bazaar" Blog provides an interesting analysis of how this could/does occur and what the underlying assumptions are around the use of WIKIs to meet student needs.

Using a public WIKI, like Wikipedia in schools offers a range of opportunities and challenges, but certainly meets the requirements of authentic learning and assessment which is championed by many educators as a way to engage disaffected learners and to develop higher order thinking skills.

Specifically, I'm interested in developing a WIKI section devoted to indigenous Australians; their diverse culture, history, language and their land. While there is some publicly available information in hard copy publications, it is not substantial and does not detail all of Australian indigenous nations and their people. Online the situation is much worse with very little accurate information available.
Just imagine if all of Australia's school students had an opportunity to contribute to a public WIKI with information about the indigenous people native to their geographical area. Much of Australia's indigenous history is passed down by an oral tradition of story telling. The old people, the elders and some historians have information that could be shared with all Australians and the world.
Currently, Australians know very little about indigenous culture, history, language and the land as this knowledge has not been given a significant level of respect and importance since colonisation/invasion back in the 1700s.
For some years now successive Australian governments have committed to reconciliation with Australia's indigenous people, with a view to acknowledging the wrongs of the past and working towards improving opportunities for indigenous Australians to the same level of non-indigenous people.
In my view, true reconciliation cannot occur until all Australians understand, respect and value the indigenous cultural heritage, history, language and their land. This can only occur when all schools have a curriculum with embedded indigenous perspectives and requires its students to learn and understand the culture, history, language and land of indigenous Australia.

The major challenge to the above idea is Australian education departments' implementation of what is often called "Public Policy". The idea of public schools requiring a "Walled Garden" in terms of Internet policy offers substantial challenges to transformational educational ideas such as that offered above.
In nearly all cases, the response to "Public Policy" is to block public school students from accessing collaborative publicly available Websites. Even if we could get all of Australia's state and territory governments to support a school only Web space for an indigenous WIKI, the results of the student work would still be unavailable to the outside world.
The key concern is student safety and relates predominantly to un-moderated contact with persons outside the school, as well as exposure to inappropriate Web content like pornography or racism.

Solution ?
What about having a shared Webspace available to all of Australia's schools (public and private) where schools would submit a list of eligible persons who could create content and collaborate. Additional roles/permissions for moderators who would again be nominated by the schools.
Make the WIKI in this Webspace accessible in a read only version to the general public as this will remove concerns about contact with unauthorised persons.

Clearly, this would need to be a Federal iniatitive and have the full support of state and territory education ministers.

So how about it Prime Minister Rudd and Ms Gillard? Would this not fit neatly into your "Education Revolution".

Thursday, April 09, 2009

School Smart vs Intelligence??

For many years now many educators have being talking about the narrow band of intelligence that is valued in traditional school systems across the world. Gardner suggests that there are eight specific types of intelligences and that embedding an acknowledgment and valuing of these across the curriculum benefits all learners.
The following video, from Edutopia, provides an example of just how this can occur:

Notice how the learners' MI's are made explicit to them and that this stops the learners from feeling as if they are "dumb".

Making learning strengths and preferences explicit to students can also work with their learning/cognitive styles and their personality types. For older learners,
educators will find the following validated instruments useful:

Felder's Inventory of Learning styles

Jung Typology Test

The following image is the output of the Felder instrument for a particular student.

Educators who make student preferences explicit to their learners, and value these preferences, give all students to opportunity to understand just how they learn best and to develop strong learning strategies that will assist in learning where these preferences are not so well developed. To achieve this outcome, many educators and school systems will need to make some dramatic changes to the ways in which institutional-based learning occurs. At the heart of these changes will be the recognition of a truly student-centred approach and not just tokenistic attempts that hang on to existing traditional approaches.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Emerging Technologies Shaping K-12 Education

I gather from the correspondence and phone calls I've received since my initial posting on school Internet policies, that this is a complex problem area shared by public schools across Australia and around the world.

The major sticking point seems to be what has been broadly termed as "Public Policy" and relates to politicians concern about the consequences of being blamed for students accessing offensive/inappropriate material or having inappropriate communication outside the school system. In particular the media find these kinds of incidents very news worthy and this encourages the public policy to one of risk aversion by pro-actively blocking access to Web 2.0 technologies served outside the school system and to blocking a large proportion of websites regardless of their content.

While I understand the complex issues, public school leadership needs to address these as a priority, otherwise we will continue to see the gap widen between what is possible in the non-government schools and the paralysis of fear in the public school sector.

If you have any doubts about the future of schooling, you need to look at what is occurring around the world and seriously consider the predictions currently being made. The following article is just one of many that makes substantial predictions:
eschool news-- Six technologies soon to affect education.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Followup to School Internet Policies and 21st Century Learning

My last posting dealt with closed IT systems in Australian public schools and as the comments reflect, this is a problem not just in Queensland.
I've also received emails and and phone calls regarding this issue that suggest that it is a major barrier to teachers adopting ICTs for use inside and out of their classrooms.
Thanks to Stephen Downes and James Farmer for providing a much wider readership and as a result, creating interest (and maybe some angst) within Australian education.

Many of my Blog postings have sought to expose colleagues to engaging learning design that caters for difference. This has also been Edutopia's goal (with regard to K-12 schooling) in the past and they have highlighted some excellent examples that are happening in the US and Canada. The following video is no exception and showcases what my pre-service teacher students are learning at the moment. The need to adopt learning design that caters and values a raft of learning styles and intelligences. This is absolutely essential for learning engagement in 21st century schools. It also provides many more opportunities for students to acquire and integrate and then extend and refine their 21st century skills and knowledge .

Friday, March 13, 2009

School Internet Policies: Protecting Students or the Organisation??

Since the introduction of Web 2.0 technologies the gap between what school students can do at home, Internet cafes or public libraries has grown dramatically.
This is exasperated by most Australian State Education authorities being painfully slow to even acknowledge the need for an integrated approach to the inclusion of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs)into school learning environments.
While States like Queensland are rolling out a new Managed Operating Environment across its state schools, the draconian policies of blocking almost all Websites and virtually all the available Web 2.0 tools, means that student learning experiences are much poorer than those they can experience outside of school.
Not only are they poorer, but the gap between what is possible and what the schools can offer is growing very rapidly.

When you add these issues to the ridiculously complex security regime that requires students to log on twice with different usernames and passwords and again if the computer is dormant for a relatively short period of time. The task for teachers becomes enormous, particularly for younger students.

Unfortunately, the issues with school Internet access does not stop there. Many schools in Queensland are starved of bandwidth. The author has worked in one large school in Central Queensland that was expected to manage with 1.5MB of bandwidth for around 800 students plus staff. Showing a streaming video clip, even in low usage time was not even possible. In this school, staff were told that they had to use the Internet as much as possible so that they could demonstrate to the State governing body that they needed more bandwidth. Of course, in these circumstances teachers give up on the technology as their working lives are already busy enough without having a disgruntled bunch of students complaining and becoming bored at the slow access.

Restricting access to all externally hosted Web 2.0 technologies and most external Websites, appears to be motivated by the organisations fear of being accused of allowing student access to inappropriate material and uncontrolled contact with persons outside of the school and the student's immediate family. This fear is not without foundation as the Australian media is quick to judge and make inaccurate assertions. Pedophilia (or grooming), and child access to explicit material sell newspapers and fuel television ratings. Because the State education authorities are responsible to the State governments of the day, the issue becomes political with ultimate responsibility resting with the Minister and the government.
But what about the Internet access at home, friends, Internet cafes and public libraries? Just because this is not "on school grounds" does not mean that the State authorities do not have responsibility for educating school students in cyber safety and issues around inappropriate material.
As yet none of the Australian State education authorities have integrated cyber safety and issues around inappropriate material into their curricula. "Stranger danger" of the physical type is there but not the former?
The video below offers a student perspective on blocking technology and access:

In Queensland, all of the mentors charged with implementing the "
Smart Classrooms
" initiatives that the author has spoken with, want better access to external Web 2.0 tools and are frustrated by the intransigence shown by the State authority in this area. They are also frustrated by the over the top security that make access difficult for students. These professionals are tasked with professional development that will result in the integrated use of ICTs in Queensland State school classrooms, but the teachers find it all too hard with the issues mentioned above.

As a teacher educator, the author regularly has students and graduates who complain that they are unable to implement the innovative digital pedagogies they are taught at University because of the security policies and procedures present in State schools.
As the video shows, this is not just an issue in Queensland schools. Other Australian States and other countries have similar problems around these issues.

Why is Web 2.0 so important?

As you would see from much of this Blog, learning engagement is the key to successful and deep learning experiences. In Australian schools the Literacy and Numeracy crisis is not due to the curriculum taught in school, but to a lack of learning engagement that leads to absenteeism and behavioural management issues that block learning in the students' early years. Once the student is behind the schools system marches them through into areas they are unskilled and under-prepared for and the die is cast for the majority of those students. They feel "dumb", develop low self-esteem and finish school completely unprepared for work or further study.
Low socio-economic status (SES) and indigenous students are over represented in this area and this leads to generational poverty and disadvantage (Vinson, 1999; Black 2007).
Keirsley and Shneiderman (1999) and Herrington & Oliver (2002) assert that authentic learning experiences with outcomes valued in the real world lead to learning engagement. In both cases, the integrated of ICTs plays a pivotal role in this authentic learning, as a quick search of this Blog will reinforce.
By way of example look at the video below to see just one example of how this can work with Web 2.0 technologies:

What's the Answer?

So here is the the tough question and one with no easy answer.
First and foremost, there needs to be a national curriculum that has cyber safety and recognition of inappropriate and dangerous material integrated within it.
Secondly, there needs to be a scaled approach to School Internet security with the most security applied to the youngest and most vulnerable students and a gradual relaxing as the students reach later years. In all cases, where a teacher deems it necessary/desirable for their students to have access to a particular technology, it should be provided and the teacher supported throughout its use.
Lastly, we need to ensure that the Australian media are aware of the reasons for this approach and an undertaking from them that they will not sensationalize incidents that may occur.

Regardless of what happens, there should be wide consultation with all the stakeholders an a genuine attempt to educate children, their parents the general public and the media on the need for 21st century learning approaches.
It is not impossible and many private schools are already managing this issue very well.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Is there still a place for Lectures??







As we begin to acknowledge the research around learning retention and effectiveness, it is difficult to continue to make a case for lectures. Notice how much is retained from a lecture format (learning Pyramid), and also note the effectiveness of a learning experience that relies heavily on verbal symbols (Dale's Cone).

I acknowledge that while this research that was conducted in the 1960's looked at large numbers of students and classes, it does not identify specific pedagogical approaches, the quality of the lectures or the technologies now available.

Recently, I had a conversation with a colleague of mine who teaches professional communication and media. We were discussing the role of lectures and she has decided to go back to lectures, but with a difference. In this course she explains the curriculum with current public relation examples. Those that are currently making media coverage.

As a result of this approach her preparation must happen on the "fly" and cannot easily be re-used the next time she teaches the subject.
In her lectures she proposes to discuss the current media events and make direct connections to these by referring to the curriculum available to the students online. Now, she has both face to face online and international students who are taught by tutors at other campuses. The interactive lectures she is to conduct will be video recorded and placed up on the subject Website so that all students can view these as streaming media files.
This means that she prepares once, but all students have a chance to have an equivalent learning experience.

Overall, this approach is not seeking to replicate the learning material already available online, but to "Value Add" to her students learning experience in an interactive lecture format. She intends to discontinue the previous two hour tutorials, and in doing so, will gain additional preparation time.

So is the lecture "dead", not with clever pedagogy.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Technology Mediated Student Feedback

This week I had the good fortune to attend a morning session facilitated by a colleague of mine, David Jones. David introduced a group of academics new to our institution is some of the more contemporary views on education and literature that supports this.
I'd come to the induction course to catch up with a colleague of mine who I'm collaborating with to re-write an elearning course for undergraduate students at our university--sorry I've digressed somewhat form the purpose of this post.

At this session I met another colleague, Dave, who teachers OHS online and who is in fact located in another state. All of Dave's students are online and he shared his approach to voice feedback for his students assessment submissions--he says it's much faster and his students prefer it.

Coincidentally, I've been relatively active in the Mahara community lately as I'm incorporating e.portfolios into the assessment of all the courses I coordinate. Currently we are discussing the types of social networking software we would like to be able to be imported in to Mahara as educational artifacts that can be then placed in a particular "View" and made available to a specific audience. One of the suggestions was "VoiceThread.
Upon further investigation, I've found this software to be extremely flexible and useful for providing feedback to students who are involved in the submission of visual products.
Not only for educators to provide feedback, but also for their peers to do so as well. See and example below:

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Gaining Traction in Schools

One of the problems with introducing radically new approaches to learning in conservative institutions like schools is that teachers need concrete examples of how these approaches have been used in similar organisations elsewhere.
The most recent edition of eschool news offers two excellent articles that report excellent practice with the use of elearning technologies and Project-Based Learning.
To be able to read the full articles you will need to register (for free) with eschool news.

Article 1: Technology empowers differentiated instruction

This article demonstrated how technology can be used to make a variety of learning activities available for students to choose so that their learning preferences are valued.

Article 2:
Project-based learning engages students, garners results

This article demonstrated how authentic projects can be used to develop 21st century skills and, more importantly, engage students who would otherwise lose interest in school and drop out.

Both of these excellent articles give concrete examples of how learning can engage students and develop higher order thinking.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Group/Teamwork Resources

Perhaps the most commonly ignored aspect of student groupwork is the assumption by teachers that students already possess the skills required to function effectively in teams.

Effective teamwork requires considerable scaffolding and specific skills training for it to work well.

The following resources are a good start to getting this part of collaborative learning right:

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Educational Silver Bullet??

I'm currently in the process of re-writing one of my Graduate Diploma courses for a pre-service teaching program we teach at my university and came across a video of George Lucas discussing effective learning and how it engages school students. The video is on edutopia so I expect that many of you may have already seen it, but I embed it here in my Blog for those who have not yet had the privilege of hearing Lucas talk about a not so new paradigm in education.

I use this approach in my classes, on-campus and online and it just works brilliantly.
Is it a silver bullet? It's very likely.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Childrens' Age--the worst grouping indicator!!

Image courtesy of Flickr--
In Australia, as in many other developed countries, we group our school students by their age despite knowing that all of them come to school with a varied readiness to learn (at least the way we currently teach) and progress at rates that vary greatly.

The child that begins school and cannot cope will quickly fall behind. The upper primary teachers will believe that the early childhood teachers should have spent more time with the children, but do not have the time in their classrooms to bring these children back up to the required level. The children themselves believe that they are "dumb" and the school system reinforces this perception. When the children are unable to understand and learn at the required rate they often become disruptive or withdraw. Teachers then perceive these students as a behavioural management challenge and the pattern of poor behaviour is perpetuated throughout the rest of their schooling.

Keeping a child back a grade is often discussed, but the negative effects on the child's self esteem most often results in graduation to the next grade, even though this is most likely to make learning even more difficult.

By the time these children reach high school the pattern is well entrenched and these children are condemned to a miserable learning experience that offers nothing at the end of formal schooling.

But what about those children who find schooling easy? They quickly acquire and integrate the required knowledge and skills , but then become bored and disinterested because the learning pace is not sufficient for them to maintain engagement. Often this boredom results in similar behaviours to those children who are unable to keep up with the learning journey presented to them.

So what's the answer to a formal school schooling system in crisis that does not meet the needs of many of its students? If the answer was simple then we would have found the solution already!! There are, however, some strong indicators in schools across the world--strategies that work and ensure that "no child is left behind".

In Warrego, a small aboriginal settlement at the edge of the Tanami Desert, an elder approached a retired school teacher (who lived in the area) and asked if he could teach the aboriginal children to ride so that the community could once again run the cattle station they owned. Read the story to understand how this school turned around its attendance to become one the highest in the Northern Territory.
Unfortunately, this model relies on the absolute dedication of the teacher and his wife and in 2007 this school was closed because of the dwindling population. The notion of reward and authentic learning is also used with indigenous students in Djarragun College, a school near Cairns in Queensland.
In both of these schools indigenous students are encouraged to engage in their studies to be able to participate in authentic activities associated with their learning.

Some schools in the US have been experimenting with ability-based cohorts rather than age-based classes. Read the story to gain a better idea as to how this works. This model has much to offer, but as the article warns, it should replace the traditional system and not be imposed on top of the existing system. This article also suggests that it is the student-centered goal setting that encourages participation and improved attendance. These schools do not offer a radical change in pedagogy, merely a mastery approach to the curriculum.

Of equal promise are more student-centered pedagogical approaches that have authentic tasks and assessment integrated to the entire learning experience. The removal of age-based cohorts would work well with these approaches.