Last year I signed up for my first MOOC, run by the University of Melbourne through Coursera. Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills* focused primarily on the process of learning collaboratively, arguing that this is an essential skill in our current world. Of particular interest in the course was the way that these skills might be assessed.
Four aspects of the MOOC have stuck with me:
1. The rubric for assessing collaboration
The team presenting the course, led my Patrick Griffin and Esther Care, developed several rubrics of increasing complexity to allow consideration (and assessment) of the skills and dispositions that, together, might be called collaborative learning. Broadly divided into 2 categories – the social and the cognitive – these rubrics prompt good discussion about the nature of collaboration (as opposed to mere cooperative or group work), the changes in classrooms that would allow it, and the ways in which it might be assessed.
2. The opportunity to engage with a very wide professional network
More than I expected, there were lots of colleagues from a much wider range of backgrounds who signed up for the MOOC. As a result, the exchange of perspectives was, on the whole, a bonus. For example, hearing about the way collaboration might feature in a language classroom in central Europe was quite different from how an arts class in Singapore might see it. Again, the rubric allow common ground for discussion, although it was noticeable that some colleagues were not distinguishing between working together and working collaboratively, and this was borne out in some of the assignments submitted for peer assessment.
3. The challenge to derive practical applications for classroom use.
The course was very much focused on the practical – essentially, how could we design activities for our students that were truly collaborative and allowed us to assess their collaboration. Ideally, technology plays a big part in tracking collaborative activity and allowing analysis of patterns, and some interesting work is being done in this area at Melbourne University.
4. Peer assessment
Each of us was required to assess three others’ submissions and, in turn, to have our work assessed by three peers. The criteria and the way that Coursera was set up to allocate a mark from a small range of marks to a relatively discrete or technical element of the submission seemed not always to allow the kind of assessment one felt might be most useful, and the overall sense of what a submission was ‘worth’ was sometimes not reflected in the total mark assigned. Some of the criteria, in other words, biased the result in a way that seemed unfair to some.
I would recommend this particular MOOC as the standard of materials is high, the activities worthwhile and the focus, relevant to contemporary education. I find that the work we did continues to be relevant in discussions with colleagues (a couple of whom have also participated in the MOOC) and in assisting colleagues meet their professional development interests.
*I know lots of people object to this term, but that’s what the course is called!
One could do worse for a framework to review what we all do as educators. Well worth the time to read and reflect.
When I left my 7th grade math classroom for my Fulbright research assignment in Finland I thought I would come back from this experience with more inspiring, engaging, innovative lessons. I expected to have great new ideas on how to teach my mathematics curriculum and I would revamp my lessons so that I could include more curriculum, more math and get students to think more, talk more and do more math.
This drive to do more and More and MORE is a state of existence for most teachers in the US….it is engrained in us from day one. There is a constant pressure to push our students to the next level to have them do bigger and better things. The lessons have to be more exciting, more engaging and cover more content. This phenomena is driven by data, or parents, or administrators or simply by our work-centric society where we…
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Mike Nagel, Associate Professor at University of the Sunshine Coast, happens to be one of our parents and so we are fortunate that we can avail ourselves of the opportunity to hear from him regularly about his work in neuroscience, adolescence and education. (Not sure that his daughter would agree…!) He has published a number of books on this and related areas, such as Nurturing a Healthy Mind.
This afternoon, Mike spoke about recent findings in neuroscience to help us to reflect on whether what we do, how we do it and when we do it is likely to lead to optimal learning and well-being.
One point that resonated loudly with the assembled staff was the levels of stress that the current generation of students reports / has been found to suffer. The causes are not simple but may be related to the kind of, and duration of, ‘screen time’ involving activities such as social media.
Mike explained that, as we have known for some time, the best way to minimise stress is to ensure four aspects of a students’ life are robustly maintained:
Sleep – more than eight hours
Healthy diet – not only avoiding junk food but ensuring balanced nutrition
Exercise – 30 minutes or more a day produces significantly more capacity
Downtime – not simply doing something else on a computer, but putting everything aside.
There were many more insights offered (especially about the vital importance of establishing a supportive and healthy rapport with students at the outset), but this ‘takeaway’ seems salient as our Year 12 students in Queensland yet again enjoy the pressures of the Core Skills Test and their final major set of summative assessments prior to verification.
Some selected notes:
Stephen Heppell opened the first day of the conference proper, with a keynote reinforcing much of his message from the Masterclass. An overarching theme was ‘mending the world through connected learning’.
Stephen reminded the conference of the blogging project, ‘Quadblogging’, set up to allow four schools to ‘find’ each other and spend a week for each of four weeks as the focus of the other three schools. During that week, different perspectives are offered on students’ writing. The first project proved amazingly successful, with students at the Heathfield Primary School where David Mitchell is the Deputy realising incredible results in SATS – writing at Level 5 increased from 9% to 60% in a year.
There was more explanation of his reasoning behind giving his grandchildren a mobile phone before they start school – essentially, he wants to normalise the use of them so that they are removed from the ‘forbidden fruit’ category well before school starts.
One aspect of his presentation left me thinking about the pace of learning: I believe he was arguing for accelerating the current pace of learning to reflect how quickly students can get on top of what we currently require them to learn. He talked of students who graduate precociously, in favourable terms. My question: if time to reflect on learning – to develop metacognition – is also essential, and it requires increasing levels of cognitive maturity to become accomplished in metacognition, then accelerating would seem counter-productive?
Stephen Harris – Northern Beach Christian School/ SCIL
This session was crammed with ideas about 21st C learning enabled by technology but empowered by reconceptualising learning spaces, pedagogy and staff development.
Of particular resonance for me:
- His use of pithy statement implying the ‘mode of operation’ – rather than just offer a vision, the school states what kind of practice/ mindset best supports that vision
- Importuning us to ‘do, then think’ – schools ‘think too much’. A simple diagram where ideas are prototyped and either embedded if successful or sent back for further thought if not summed this up. Design thinking is at the ehart of everything
- the leadership model was redesigned to have a project-based group, which changes according to need – a responsive leadership model
- administrative support structures need to be redefined to reflect new administrative structures. Piggybacking onto old structures eventually reaches a limit.
- leadership team members are encouraged to ‘kick the ball’ without constantly checking with the Principal beforehand. The ball game metaphor continued with teachers being encouraged to move as a team to where the ball will be, not where it is.
- A key phrase around the school is ‘I’m curious about…’
- Teams of students greet all students every morning at the gate
- the day comprises 4 x 75 minute teaching slots
- project based learning was rolled out across the curriculum over 3 years
The School’s Sydney Centre for Innovation in Learning (SCIL) was referred to several times as worth engaging with in one of the programs they make available.
Brisbane Boys’ College – Middle School Building Project
This presentation, by Matthew O’Brien, Head of Strategic Planning, took us through the design process that led to the new Middle Schooling precinct at BBC. With considerable flexibility in the spaces themselves -very attractively appointed – the challenge is to adapt pedagogy to exploit it.
Wilson architects were praised for their expertise; there is a site-wide master plan of which this is integral. (Coherent signage was also a priority!)
As part of the preparatory process, a video was made to share with the community showing the construction while explaining the design principles.
Damian Howard, Assistant Principal, St Raphael’s School, Melbourne
Damian began by putting his school into context – its heritage and proximity to a particular prison! In essence a fairly traditional and less than affluent context meant little change had occurred until recently.
He reminded us of Michael Fullan’s exhortation to create learning places that make learning ‘contagious’, something of a theme of the school. He also is an advocate for student voice- taking control of their leaning, he says, is key. The work of Dr Jeni Wilson was briefly alluded to.
Damian used the extended metaphor of force/ friction/ intertia/ momentum to explain his school’s journey. For example, he explained that change requires force to get started; friction slows- or stops – change; inertia is the tendency not to change what you’re doing – he encountered a fair deal of that. Momentum trying to build it – is a major task. When asked why he was pushing for change that unsettled staff? ‘Schools are for children not staff’. The ultimate response.
Mooted as a chance to work closely with Stephen, this started somewhat disappointingly in a medium-sized lecture room packed with about 80 delegates. Clearly there was going to be less ‘working with’ and more ‘listening to’ than anticipated. Nonetheless, what we were offered was a wide-ranging and coherent view on learning space design, primarily, and how student voice in that design was crucial to achieving better learning. Here are my records of his observations, sometimes through my own current workplace ‘filter’.
STEPHEN’S PRESENTATION TECHNIQUE! Throughout the day, and the keynote the following day, Stephen eschewed traditional presentation software such as PowerPoint or Prezi, and relied on a series of images – mostly pictures but sometimes slides of text – stored in folders which were arranged on his desktop in intersecting circles that suggested a unique organisational structure that allowed him to delve into topics by quickly locating and displaying those images. The message – never spoken – was clear: try to avoid linear presentational technology! Thinking – and communicating with others – is just not like that… or if it is, perhaps it could just as easily be delivered by a robot. Never was the importance of the human in creating a meaning-full learning experience more clearly yet unobtrusively made. The landing page of his website shows this approach albeit not as well as his desktop did! To Stephen’s points:
- His favourite building is the State Library of Queensland, apparently. Over the rest of the day it became clearer why, as he unpacked his criteria for stimulating learning spaces through illustration and analysis. He has photos of inspiring and effective learning spaces (and toilets!) here.
- ‘Teaching algorithmic thinking’ was an early line, almost thrown away in the course of talking about designing learning spaces. His point seemed to me to be that so much of existing curriculum is based on memorising what the teacher tells you, telling it back to them in a test, then forgetting. What gets lost is the need to teach how systems work – for example, how web-based technologies are able to compute your preferences from only a few interactions you have online. More simply than that, though, is the need to teach even very young children how ideas are joined up into logical sequence.
- We spent some time thinking about the ideal level of light for different activity. Some classrooms where the data projector is constantly on but the bulb is too dim require students to sit in almost constant gloom. 250-300 lux are required for effective learning – he suggested that we survey our learning spaces. Interesting…
- He proposed that students should do this kind of measurement, as well as measure decibels, consider colours, music, etc., as part of projects to consider and improve their own learning spaces. Too often we do design ‘to’ students in the belief that we are providing optimal conditions- they often think differently. Why not make a unit based on the project of analysing effectiveness of learning spaces and offering suggestions for improvement?
- The way we speak about 21st Century learning does not tally with what we still do in learning – short lessons, segmented curriculum, absorption of content with little focus on extending, refining or applying it. He pointed out that primary schools and universities are structured to allow for immersion and therefore deep learning – so why are secondary schools aberrant? He gave an example of a school in the UK – Dudley School – where immersion is making a difference.
- Stephen works in Spain a lot and he has seen the staffroom of effective schools become places where important readings are shared. In one school there was a weekly ‘menu’ of readings on the wall, with copies available on iPads (I think) or on paper left lying around. There were also shorter ‘readings’ recommended as a kind of ‘tapas for the mind’, down to the small document holders on lunch tables with the tapas ‘menu’ on display.
- Stephen commented on the prevalence of internet filtering and how it harms learning. His approach is to reduce filters to all but the nastiest material, but have monitoring software in place that is regularly checked for concerning events or trends. Summaries of browsing (without names) are displayed around the school and are accessible to parents. Pull aside students who may be doing something worrying.
- 3D printing was a major theme of his presentation. He claims that UK fashion schools/ colleges have more 3D printers than sewing machines these days!
- A supermarket chain, ASDA, has offered a service to customers who can have 3D models of themselves/ loved ones/ objects made within 24 hours.
- Stephen spent some time talking about how some of the southeast Asian countries that are so admired have moved in policy over the years. In particular he talked about Kenneth Chen, the current Secretary General of the Secretariat of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong. He was appointed as the Undersecretary for education in 2008. In a country that many think of as a factory of learning, he was quoted as saying that their recent changes – which have brought such good results – shift the focus from content to the process of learning. A quick scan of his Twitter feed confirms this.
- An example of how technology can allow students to focus on learning is the Raspberry Pi – a small computer ‘core’ that can be programmed and for which a number of peripherals are being made.
- Quote about technology: Give teachers permission not to know everything but to learn from their students – who also don’t know everything but who may be more willing to experiment with it – while offering guidance and advise (about learning).
- The role of collaborative spaces was emphasised – students working together (and with others beyond the school walls) work better and learn more. We heard about different learning ‘modes’ picked up later in the conference by others – such as the ‘campfire’, the ‘cave’, the ‘watering hole’, and the ‘sandpit’.
- Several times throughout the day – and in a way that resonated with most of the other presenters over following days – Stephen spoke of the widespread policy in successful schools of having mobile phones out but off – unless their use was justified. time and again he explained how this worked not only as a useful BYOD, but also as a better way to minimise its inappropriate use. We all know, he implied, that students are carrying them around and sneaking them under the desk, so out on the desk and off unless their use can be justified (they have to be used on the desk) eliminates that ‘we know that you know but we’ll pretend’ situation. The value of social media in education was explored and an example – the Mark Oliphant College in Adelaide – serves to illustrate his points.
- Student voice featured strongly in his talk about designing spaces for learning, and his daughter, Juliette, a teacher in Hounslow (currently on maternity leave) illustrated this well. She explained the cyclical project she has deployed where students are given a (limited) budget to design their learning space. They have to research their ideas and present them with due analysis to the teacher before any change is made; she explained that they chose things she was not entirely happy with but that was part of the process – letting go. None of their choices impeded learning, though – she did not agree to any that might, but if students came back with valid reasons, she felt she had to. Students LOVED their space – so much so that they broke into the staff lounge over Easter to steal the keys to get into their space – to study for their GCSE exams! As she explained, they were happy to break into the staff lounge but they would NEVER break into their own space. Here is a link to a BETT presentation about this project.
- At this point we were entreated, in not quite as few words, to respect student voice as long as it was based on research and reason, not merely opinion.
- We were also offered the view that universities shouldn’t be trusted to run teacher education courses if they aren’t running a highly successful school themselves!
- At the end of the day, Stephen reminded us that we have been looking at the past even though we might have thought we were looking at the future. There’s something in that….
Stephen’s website offers interesting resources linked to these and other ideas. One that seemed useful for a staff meeting was a video taken at the end of a session in Hobart in 2010 where he asked participants to record what they were ‘taking away’ from the session.
Great news this year that Diigo has created accounts designed for educators. It’ll streamline the way that we create groups for use with our students, and will make them more secure as well for younger students.
I’m grateful to my colleague, Teresa, for introducing me to the tool ‘Thinglink’ (http://www.thinglink.com/learn) recently. Simply, it allows you to upload an image and place links to online resources – video, audio, text, etc. – on the image in places that resonate with that resource. So, for example, a map could have video links pinned to cities marked on them; a picture of the human body could have links to explanatory notes; an image of punctuation marks could be linked to audio explanations of each, etc.
I think I’ll use this tool to encourage my students to make connections themselves – a creative way to collect research links on a particular theme or topic.
I applaud all of those teachers who selflessly share their best resources with others through various online repositories. Some of the major ones have hundreds of thousands of resources and are available regardless of geography (for example, the http://tes.co.uk/resources collection which boasts ‘the largest network of teachers in the world’). One of the real boons of the Web has been the ability simply to share resources and draw on the imagination and ingenuity of others (with the option to use them collaboratively even more of a bonus).
Some education authorities also provide a wealth of resources, usually tied to particular curriculum areas, topics, units, activities or assessment items. These, too, can be very useful.
I wonder, though, whether it is always in our best interest when an education authority provides a collection of resources so explicitly linked to each learning activity/ task/ assessment item? Is it possible that this kind of detailed link between a unit and relevant resources can suggest:
- these resources MUST be used;
- these resources are ALL that you need to use/ may use
- these resources must be used IN THIS ORDER/ IN THIS WAY
- these resources WILL work with all students/ teaching styles/ in all learning contexts?
If this is the outcome – desired or not – is it fair to raise concerns about:
- de-professionalising teachers who become deliverers of standardised courses?
- limitations on creativity, ingenuity, responsiveness to individual learning needs?
Seems to me that there is the potential for, paradoxically, these potentially marvellous resource banks to become counter-productive, working against other educational aims such as joint construction of meaning, individualised learning, and wide-ranging collaborative learning.
If I come across a tech tool that I think might add something to my work with students, I’ll often look for the next opportunity – or create one – to use it with them. An example of this would be the social bookmarking tool, Diigo, that I realised part-way through last term would help my senior English students keep track of reference sites for their most important exam of the term, as well as share the fruits of their labours. Although I’d been using it myself for some time, I hadn’t created – or found – the opportunity to build it into my lessons plans; however, when I saw how my students were conducting their research (simple bookmarks, or copying and pasting URLs into their OneNote workbooks) I realised that Diigo’s time had come.
There are also times when I’ll plan in advance to use a tool because I anticipate it will be productive to do so, and – usually – I am trialling it to share with others and so want some evidence of its usefulness. This term I think I’ll try to expand our Googledocs repertoire.
We’ve previously used Googledocs to collaborate on a series of questions: with 90 revision questions to answer and 30 students, each student was assigned three to write a ‘killer’ response to, and then had at their disposal the other 87 answers to revise from (they were encouraged to suggest amendments/ refinements to those other answers through commenting, by the way).
This term, I want to try the ‘immediate feedback’ function of Googledocs. That is, I’ll project a Googledoc on the screen and invite all students to co-edit it. They can add questions that arise during the class discussion, and add ‘me too!’ to existing questions, etc. so that I can get a sense of the more pressing questions/ areas needing clarification. I can add some pointers or other guiding responses to the document after class and then change the status to ‘view’ so they can see the document later as part of theirt revision. Incidentally, I won’t require them to log in to edit the document during class time so that their contributions can be anonymous – this time at least, and with my senior class, I want to see if this encourages the quieter ones to ask questions without their worrying about what others think (there is more research I’d like to do in this area using this tool!).
I’ll post about the outcome later….
- Diigo as a classroom collaboration tool (keithbirch.wordpress.com)