Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Assessment in the collaborative learning environment

I just had to store this somewhere. I am reading an extract from Building Learning Power by Guy Claxton (2002) and this quote jumped up and smacked me in the face. It made me want to rush out and shove it under the nose of all the decision makers associated with secondary school assessment in the formal education sector (the bold formatting is mine):

If the good learner is the essentially the person plus their resources (and their ability to draw on them), our methods of testing should encourage teachers and students to value and practise capitalising. In today's world, it makes as much sense to sit 15-year-olds down at solitary desks and ask them to display their knowledge and skill as it would to take away David Beckham's football and tell him to perform.
I would go one step further than Claxton's closing words of this paragraph. I would reword it to say "... David Beckham's teammates and tell him to perform." Even the most brilliant player of a team sport cannot defeat the opposition on his/her own. We make new discoveries, conquer new horizons, meet new challenges together. This is reality.

Oh, and by the way...for those outside the UK, David Beckham is an English football (soccer) player - about the best known player in the world in 2002, in fact some would have said the best player in the world, period. In 2006, in his early 30's he is something of a fading star, but he still knows a thing or two about kicking a ball about the place. His appeal may also have a little something to do with the fact that he is... erm... easy on the eye.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Why young children are not ready to be in control of their own learning

I know it's just a cartoon, but today's strip illustrates why I don't believe that young children are in a position to direct their own learning journey. There are things they need to learn that they simply are not in a position to know that that they need to know (sorry - clumsy sentence!). They simply do not have the perspective or experience to be able to identify vital knowledge. The adults charged with the care of a child must assume responsibility for making those choices until they are ready to do so themselves. Ideally on a gradually diminishing basis. Adults have passed on knowledge to the next generation for thousands of years. In some cultures even to this day, survival depends on attentive absorption of this learning.

Of course, we will make some misidentifications, of course we will adopt some dire methods. As a race, we seldom get things absolutely right. But I don't think these errors are enough reason for us to abdicate this responsibility - it's part of the nurturing process.

Or that's what I think, anyway.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Minnows and whales

A comment from Graham Wegner on this post from Kim Cofino got me thinking. As I commented on Kim's post (with a few edits):

We each seem to see ourselves as minnows among whales. My perspective is that I’m just li’l ol’ me conversing with the great and the good of the blogosphere. Graham obviously feels the same. He and I covered this ground once before when he referred to his home as being ordinary Adelaide and I mentioned that to some of us, Adelaide was exotic. One man's ho-hum is most decidedly another man's "wow!"

I wonder of any of those that I think of as being the great and the good think of themselves as li’l ol’ me. It seems this medium has engendered a strong sense of mutual respect, while still being a great leveller. I humbly appreciate the opportunities to engage with the likes of Tony Karrer, David Warlick, Mark Oehlert, Harold Jarche, Vicki Davis and, now that I’ve thought about it, I can just picture them reading this post and going: “Who, me? But I’m just…”

On the blogosphere no-one seems to be “just” anything. So here's to us, minnows and whales all.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Managing Organisational Change

As the designers and developers of blended learning solutions, my team often gets involved in supporting clients through periods of organisational change. We find them to be at varying stages of preparedness and with a varying grasp of the implications and requirements of the change process. Understandably, there's a lot of "we don't know what we don't know" going on. As a consequence, they are often not sure what mechanisms need to be put in place to ensure successful transition.

This week I am participating in an online VLE conference and I came across this graphic on a slide in a presentation by Philip Butler (Senior e-Learning Adviser for JISC's London RSC) - apparently it originates in the States with someone called Andrew Williams (new name to me). So hat tips in all the right directions.

At first I thought it was just a bit of glib rah-rah stuff, but as Philip unpacked it in his presentation I realised how much good, solid sense it made. It had obviously been well thought out. This is the sort of thing that needs to be converted into a poster for some people's office walls, and taped to a few mirrors.

If your organisation is going through change at the moment: adopting a new LMS; going Web 2.0; getting to grips with teaching-with-technology, and struggling a bit, I recommend that you have a look at the diagram and identify the missing piece(s).

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Ardent student

I realise I haven't been posting much here in the past week, but I haven't been idle. My thoughts have predictably been focused on issues around my learning materials for my Master's degree course. Rather than bore you silly with stuff related to my course, and also with a view to encouraging my classmates to get bloggin' I've created a new blog for these reflections. I opted for edublogs, since most of my classmates are teachers and edublogs seem to offer a lot that would be helpful to people in the teaching profession. The blog's name (Ardent Student) is due the fact that I acknowledge that I am an utter learning geek - what the British call an "anorak". Already, Tuesday evenings have become something I look forward to, in spite of the fact that it adds pressure to my already full schedule, and I really get tense about the fact that I have so much interesting reading to do and so little time to do it in. I find myself reading recommended texts after midnight when a more sensible person would be pushing Zs.

By contrast, I was supervising my 13 year old son's homework a few days ago. The material that he was working on was fascinating. I found it very easy to get caught up in it. But what about my son? Was he ardent? Was he enthused? Not so's you'd notice. I commented to my husband later that teachers really seemed to make an effort these days to make homework interesting, unlike in our day. Then it hit me. My mother would probably have found my homework interesting. The work is interesting to adults because it has been devised by adults.

I don't want to get tangled up in the debate about homework: Good Thing or Bad Thing. I think the principle holds for schoolwork done in or out of school hours. I'm still not prepared to accept that children are ready to determine what they need to learn, but maybe they can help us identify how they could learn it... in ways that will appeal to the child in the equation, rather than the adult. As a student, I have a voice on the course committee. Computer game designers have testers who are children. Systems developers have a user acceptance testing process. Maybe those who devise the curriculum or the scheme of work should adopt the same approach. The child's perspective must surely add value to the process.

Hmm. This one needs further thought.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Interactive whiteboard with a difference

Now this is cool! From MIT, a whiteboard that "gets it", that collaborates with you. I want one. Thanks, Derek for the pointer.

A WHOLE new breed of school

As if by way of reply to my almost-postscript yesterday's post, this link via Stephen Downes, today. A web 2.0 school going up in Sydney, Australia - doing away with classrooms and revamping the timetable. I covered this on my Ardent Student blog, if you're interested in my views, so I won't go into any further depth here.

Monday, October 09, 2006

The flat world? Hardly!

I have just posted this on my family blog about a school trip planned for my elder son:

Björn and I have just been to a meeting at school for those who want to take part in a Tanzanian exchange in August 2008. They will climb Mt Kilimanjaro, spend two weeks in a Tanzanian boarding school, go on safari and finish off with two days on the beach on Zanzibar. It sounds like the growth experience of a lifetime. He is dead keen, so he didn't hear the words like: altitude sickness, malaria, diarrhoea, long-drop toilets, lecture style lessons, no textbooks.

In the two years leading up to that time, they will have to raise £100K to pay for their trip out and the Tanzanians' trip here (there is no way they can pay for themselves). This will involve both group and individual fundraising efforts. They will attend basic Swahili lessons, although their lessons will be in English, and undergo training in hill/mountain walking. While they are there, they will carry out community work in an orphanage.

The teachers who will lead the party went over in the summer and found the conditions in the orphanage quite hard to handle - especially in respect of the way those with special needs - especially mental disabilities - are treated. They also had to watch the slaughter of a goat, which they found tough, since they expected the goat to die quickly, which it didn't.

I think the girls who go will find it even more difficult, since the girls' school is inferior to the boys' and their conditions harsher. Before they go home for the holidays, the Tanzanian girls' heads are shaven so that their parents aren't tempted to take the opportunity to marry them off instead of educating them.

Many of the "boys" at the boys' school are in their 20's, which John and I would have taken for granted, being familiar with African education, but it shocked the English, since the school system here is based on age, rather than progress. Neither of the schools has any ICT kit whatsoever, and the few textbooks they have date back to the 60's or earlier. Not all the children even have their own pens.

I'm sure it will be the experience of a lifetime, if he is able to produce the level of commitment necessary to raise the funds and acquire the skills required. It's bound to broaden him and open his eyes to his own privileged state. We will support his efforts in every way we can, but he needs to take ownership of this himself - this is is his trip, his project.

When I have questioned the notion of the flat world, it is these sorts of conditions that inform my position. I grew up in the third world, although I enjoyed a priveleged lifestyle, and there are vast swathes of communities that aspire to the level of "sophistication" described above. I have seen some of them with my own eyes.

Since I know someone is likely to bring it up, let me beat you to the punch... isn't it sad that, although our schools look like something from a different planet, the education system has adapted so little as to be recognisably the same process as takes place in the archaic environs of Tanzania?

Friday, October 06, 2006

How has Web 2.0 changed your teaching/learning experience?

This is an appeal for testimonials. My next module for my Master's degree is ICT in Teaching and Learning. Please would you consider popping over to the edublog I have created for reflection on my studies to contribute your story? Since my regular readership is too small to build up a portfolio of any great size, I would also greatly appreciate any of your own readers pointed in my direction to share their stories. Of course, many of you (particularly Vicki) already address this subject regularly on your blogs, and I will cull much material from legacy posts, but I would also like to hear the stories of people at different stages of the process of exploring new means to deliver or acquire learning.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

How the heck did I get spammed?

I've only ever heard bad things about Walmart in respect of the way they treat their people, but today they infringed on my space: they spammed my blog with an advert for Hallowe'en stuff.

Now this annoys me on several levels: first of all, I do not observe Hallowe'en - in my view it is a dreadful festival (no offence to all you Americans out there). Secondly, I live in the UK and would not order my celebratory accoutrement from a supplier that would have to use international postage to get them to me. Thirdly, and most crucially, I have word verification enabled on my blog. So how did they get past that?

I have now enabled comment moderation as well, something I could have lived without, but would really appreciate any views as to whether this represents the start of a new wave of spambots that can crack word verification.

Postscript: and the "comment" didn't show up on my CoComments, either - go figure!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Gamekeeper turned poacher

This article from CNET appeared in my news aggregator this morning. It's a worrying thing that people who are actively involved in investigating crimes against children sometimes seem to get drawn in themselves. I wish I could remember where it was that I recently read of someone found to have an incredible number of child porn images on his computer (I mean thousands upon thousands) - having been himself responsible for tracking down and bringing such voyeurs to justice. The morbid fascination aspect appears to overcome the inherent revulsion over time, perhaps they become desensitised by constant exposure.

I know that I caught myself watching a news story about some horrific event recently while eating my dinner... and I can't even remember what the event was. Just a few years ago, coverage of the genocide in Rwanda put me off my food altogether and had me simultaneously sobbing and retching on and off for days. Seeing the plight of those newly widowed women with starving, dying children made me take positive action within the community I was in a position to reach. I was passionate, dedicated, committed. And I made a difference - albeit a small one. But now? I write out the occasional cheque as a salve to my seared conscience and get on with my incredibly busy life.

I know the two situations are very different, but is the principle of desensitisation not a constant? I am less affected by the plight of the people I see on television, because I have seen so many of them over the years. I am not about to take up weapons and participate in the violent slaughter of innocents, but what is the Edward Burke saying? ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph [of evil] is for good men to do nothing.

In case it sounds as if I'm coming out in favour of initiatives like DOPA, let me hasten to say that this is not the case. What I am saying is that we need to teach our children to be safe, because it seems that the difference between protector and predator is in some cases, simply a matter of time. When the gamekeeper turns poacher, the prey had better be equipped to protect itself. And just in case people think that online is the only context in which this sort of thing happens, let's just remember that we constantly hear about yet another person who was abused by his/her priest or teacher in childhood.

Online safety is one of Vicki Davis's hot topics, and she has posted some brilliant suggestions to help parents and teachers here, she also pointed to some excellent clips on this subject recently. We need more of this, and it needs to be posted everywhere where the kids are! I know I have invoked parental authority and forced my kids to view every one of the clips, in spite of their protestations that, "we already know all this stuff, Mom!" (ah yes, my boys: I remember being invulnerable and immortal - it wasn't as long ago as you might think). I don't want to scare them with horror stories, but these clips get the pitch just about right, I reckon.

Blogs in learning: what they are and what they aren't

Today, Vicki Davis has linked back one of her previous posts about the use of blogs in teaching and learning. I found it useful then, but am looking at it from a different persepctive today. She links to a post by Nicole Ellison on the empirical testing of blogs in the classroom.

I have been thinking about this from the learner perspective - trying to find ways that I might use this blog as a tool in my studies. This blog, my blogroll and my CoComments are so central to my thinking, that it is impossible to think of undertaking a complete postgraduate course without incorporating them.

Today is the deadline for my first paper, and I had considered handing it in on my blog, but, for many of the reasons Vicki gives, I decided that papers work best on paper. By and large a paper is a finished piece of work, which can be assessed. A line can be drawn under it and the teacher can comment on the content, the layout, the development of arguments, etc. A blogpost is more of a conversation. I can set out my thoughts on a subject and the whole blogosphere can tear the post to shreds, or agree, or add their own contributions. It is a work in progress, organic, and not restricted to contributions from the blog owner.

I think I might be able to use my blog as a research tool, but I can't see it becoming my delivery medium. However, this being a blog and all, I would be happy to consider suggestions as to how I might be able to incorporate this tool into my studies. All you teachers out there - what advice to give your learners? Would it work for me?

Monday, October 02, 2006

Reflective professional development

I have just submitted my first assignment for the MA course. I suspect there is unlikely to be another assignment as easy as this one, since no research was required! The idea was to write a 1000 opening summary for a reflective professional development assignment that looked at my journey to the MA course in terms of:

  • previous study
  • in-service training in school/college
  • professional role
  • other experience/interests
  • present focus
The summary was to show evidence of planning, analysis and reflection, as well as an explanation as to how the MA course fits in with career plans, etc.

Since my route to the course has been somewhat haphazard, it was tricky to cover the journey within the 1000 word limit (that's my story, anyway!). Later we will provide updates. I presume the idea will be to indicate how the MA is measuring up to initial expectations and if/how what we learn is impacting our lives, both professional and personal. Since my interest in the course was mainly due to a module called the Nature of Knowledge that has since been discontinued, this is a bit of a sore point at the moment! What also niggled me somewhat was the fact that, in spite of assurances that the course was not purely aimed at people in the formal education sector, the wording of the point about in-service training (see my second bullet point above) would indicate otherwise. However, it isn't all doom and gloom, I will take from the course what I can get, hoping to put some structure around what I already know as well as to fill in the gaps and learn more along the way. In my class of about 23 people, most of us middle aged, the wealth of experience represented has got to be worth sticking around for!

By way of coincidence, David Warlick's potted history of his teaching career made me smile today. It's an upbeat anecdote and gives me context for someone I respect. Perhaps he's been given a similar assignment! I'll spare you the full text of mine: 1000 words makes for a lot of text, but I couldn't help contrasting his post with a section from my assigment that read:
A student counsellor conducted a battery of tests and advised me that I showed an inordinately high aptitude for teaching, but almost no aptitude for working with children. Sadly, it seems it was not as evident to him then as it is to me now that, ergo, I should teach adults. I was not even aware that adults undertook any learning. With more knowledgeable guidance, my career path might have been more direct than it has proved.
As it happened, I taught drama part-time at a private school of performing arts during my final year at college in order to meet overheads, and turned out to be far from inept at it. At the time of the tests, though, I was adamant that I didn't want to have anything to do with children. With hindsight I realise that having a modicum of intelligence enabled me to manipulate the results to reflect exactly that. Just goes to show...

In spite of the student counsellor's lack of insight/foresight, I wound up in the world of adult learning at the age of 24 anyway. So I had taken 8 year detour, and picked up a lot interesting skills and experiences along the way. And without the necessary piece of paper in the form of a B degree to back me up, I was forced to do things hard way once I got started: building relationships with people, networking, word-of-mouth, busting a gut to ensure that the quality of my materials were beyond question... and my presentations memorable, providing follow-up evaluations at no extra cost. That too, served me well, I reckon. So no harm, no foul.

When all's said and done I think it turned out okay. Except when people ask me (or my husband, or my kids) what I do for a living. The short answer gives rise to looks of puzzlement, and the longer explanation causes eyes to glaze over! Ah well.