Overwhelmed and under-coherent

I have been feeling rather overwhelmed this week with the number of different study-related things that need my attention (not to mention work and family). Between trying to get to grips with the module 2 reading, keeping up with forum posts for colloquia, thinking about my case study proposal (and the recommendation to dip into module 3 for that), other reading requirements AND blog posts, I’m starting to feel like I’m going in circles spending a lot of time not getting anything done. And I’ve just come down with a cold…that’s what you get for congratulating yourself on how healthy you are!

So, an apology first up, this post will be a bit of a mish-mash of various thoughts I’ve had over the last week and a bit, and probably won’t flow as a coherent whole.

Firstly, while listening to Mike Hourahine on last week’s colloquia it occurred to me that Think Global School’s Learning philosophy had quite a bit of synergy with Modern Learners’ Ten Principles for Schools of Modern Learning

TGS Philosophy

Modern Learners Principles

Think Global School Learning Philosophy

 

Modern Learners Principles of Modern Schools

Students should have more autonomy and choice in their learning Principles 3 and 4
Students should be designers of their own curriculum and experiences Principles 3 and 4
Technology should enable authentic, real and rigorous learning Principles 6, 7 and 8
Learning should not be limited to the classroom and the classroom should not be limited to one teacher and one group of students Principles 5, 9 and 10

Modern Learners’ principle 1 is implicit in a school’s philosophy – “clearly articulated and shared beliefs” while principle 2 could pretty much sum up TGS in a nutshell “Live a mission and a vision deeply informed by new contexts for learning”.

TGS’ Lesson learned #3 really resonated with me: “A focus on high stakes exams and teaching to the test all but eradicates wonder and curiosity.” When will those with the power to dictate curriculum and outcomes to schools wake up to this?

Questions raised by the session:

How might we apply what TGS has learned to our geographically fixed schools?

How could the travelling experience be realised for more students?

Could it be virtual as discussed by Davidson and Goldberg in The future of learning institutions in a digital age (2009). What about programs like the Victorian Education Department’s Alpine, Snowy River and Gnurad-Gundidj campuses of the School for Student Leadership, or other term or year-long experiences for year 9 students? Could it be like the School of the Future where “class schedules and locations change every day (the goal being to break down our culture’s dependency on time and place)” (Davidson & Goldberg, 2009.p. 50).

Davidson and Goldberg was a good read, I particularly liked this statement: [Banning wikipedia]…” is a catastrophically anti-intellectual reaction to a knowledge-making global phenomenon of epic proportions” (2009. p.28).

Back to Mike Hourahine who posed the question “What is the purpose of required secondary education?”. I answered in the chat “to keep them off the streets” and I was only half joking. In Victoria now the leaving age is 17 unless the students has a job/apprenticeship or recognised training course to go to. In the past kids could leave school at 13, 14 or 15 and go into real career paths with the post office, public service, in trades or even just retail. Those opportunities are long gone, VCE is a minimum for anything. For the kids who don’t want to go onto further education the purpose of their education might just be keeping them busy until they are allowed to leave (and hopefully get a job or access welfare if they can’t). My previous school was in an area with a high percentage of generational poverty – 2 or 3 generations of families where no one had ever had an ongoing job, where the family lived on welfare. Job search allowance isn’t available until you are 17. Staying at school is an end in itself.

Interestingly, I was listening to Bruce Dixon and Will Richardson’s latest podcast where they discussed the notion, put forward by Seth Godin, that going to college is a bigger risk than not in terms of cost vs value. They discussed going straight to college or university versus taking one or more gap years or, for those young people with great computer skills (often learned outside of formal school) going straight to the workforce. It made me reflect on my own children and what the future holds for them.

My eldest daughter has just started this year at the University of Melbourne Conservatorium of music. People ask me what she plans to do with her music degree. I don’t know, she’s just started…who knows what will happen in three or more years. In the meantime she’s having some amazing experience, meeting and playing with interesting people. She’s also exploring casual work options on the side, one that has come from her year 10 work experience with Daniel Donahoo – she is now apparently a “creative professional”. I don’t know what will come out of that, potentially amazing stuff or maybe nothing at all, but I’m certainly not worried.

As for my other daughter, she’s in year 10 and right now facing up to selecting her VCE subjects. She’s a polymath, at this stage for year 11 it looks like English, German, Music Performance, Studio Arts, Maths Methods, and Physics (Unit 3 & 4 as she is doing units 1 & 2 this year). Again, who knows where that will take her, but really, does that matter now? She’s choosing subjects that interest her and that she’s reasonably good at, which as far as I’m concerned are the main considerations. I’m fairly certain she won’t go straight to uni, she’s been planning a gap year (visiting Girl Guide World Centres) since she started secondary school. I’m not concerned at the prospect it might turn into two, three or even five years as apparently Bruce’s daughter’s did – she’s now a successful lawyer.

So there’s my rambling collection of thoughts from week 3. Now back to reading…

#INF537 Back on the rollercoaster

Rage Roller Coaster Drop Harry Rose via Compfight

I’m back! It seems like ages since I posted here. My last subject was through the WISE exchange program – Information Visualisation at San Jose State University. A fascinating subject, totally different to anything else I’ve done and also conducted quite differently to CSU subjects, with continuous assessment including marks for contributing to discussion forums and even a couple of tests. Needless to say, posting on my Thinkspace blog was not required…and, dutiful student that I am, I didn’t!

But I feel I’m back in another way, and that’s down to INF537 itself. I feel energised and overwhelmed all at once in a way that I haven’t experienced since INF530. Fitting, I guess, as that was the keystone subject and INF537 the capstone.

I’m energised by the cohort. So many people I’ve already connected with over this four year journey, and a handful I’m excited to meet for the first time. People I’ve collaborated, commiserated, celebrated, shared, whinged and laughed with, fabulous educators who truly are Modern Learners as described by Bruce Dixon in our first colloquia (more on that soon).

I’m overwhelmed by the prospect of what has to be done in this session (which takes place over little more than a standard school term). Reading, forum posts, participating in Colloquia, reading, blogging about Colloquia, other blog posts, reading and commenting on cohort blog posts, reading, a case study, reading and I haven’t even looked at what assignment one is yet! I’m fighting off an overwhelming sense of inadequacy – everyone else uses bigger words than me, they seem to have read more, know more, they articulate their thoughts more eloquently…will I be good enough, can I keep up? I’ve not felt like this since INF530 (well, maybe in INF536 also) but as I’ve said, I’m fighting these thoughts off and deep down I know that I can do it, seven subjects in I’ve always managed it somehow.
So, onto our first colloquia.

Bruce Dixon, co-founder of both the Anywhere, Anytime Learning Foundation, and, along with Will Richardson, Modern Learners, was guest presenter at our first colloquia held on Monday evening. In the spirit of anywhere, anytime learning, I listened to the first 15 minutes or so while walking home from the gym. The fact that I needed to hold up an umbrella inhibited my ability to participate in the chat for that time but I digress…

Modern Learners recently published ‘10 Principles for Schools of Modern Learning’ white paper which is a short and worthwhile read and much of the colloquia discussion related to issues raised by the paper (Richardson, W. & Dixon, B., 2017).

A key tenet of the paper and our discussion is that the modern world requires self-directed and self-determined learners and there are concerns about the capacity of our schools and teachers to facilitate the modern learning required to produce them.

We were challenged to articulate what learning actually is, what self-directed learning looks like, and to consider what conditions provide the best opportunities for children to learn (whether or not that was within school).

There was some discussion about the role of technology in learning. I particularly like this quote from Chris Lehmann from Science Leadership Academy, PA, that Bruce shared with us:

We believe technology in schools needs to be like oxygen…ubiquitous, necessary, invisible…then stop talking about it.

An oft repeated phrase lately is “it’s not about the technology, it’s about the learning (or pedagogy)” which is true…to a point. I think a lot of “it” is about the technology, but the technology has to be easy and it just has to work – or as Chris says, be invisible. So many things that our students can do today were unthinkable when I was at school (no mobile phones, no instant creation of images, audio or video, no Google, no Youtube, no interactive websites, no instant communication, no social media…), and technology is the reason. What stops many teachers from fully embracing modern possibilities is their experiences of when things didn’t “just work”. We should no more have to think about technology than we do about a pencil’s capacity to make a mark on a piece of paper.

We need to stop privileging content over capabilities. Information is abundant, the notion of content being king started to go out with the invention of the printing press. Scholars then feared that the brain would be affected if it did not have to memorise knowledge that would be now stored in books. Learning how to learn is key. To finish, a quote from the white paper:

Regardless what the future holds, there is little doubt success in the future will first and foremost depend on one’s ability to learn, not on one’s accumulation of knowledge. (Richardson, W. & Dixon, B., 2017. p. 5)

Seymour Papert quote

References

Richardson, W. and Dixon, B. (2017). 10 principles for schools of modern learning. [ebook] Modern Learners Media. Available at: http://modernlearners.com/blog/ [Accessed 19 Jul. 2017].

Challenges regarding the nature of information

The following is an edited version of a discussion forum post for Module 1.2

Based on your reading of Floridi, and Brown & Duguid, identify three (3) challenges regarding the nature of information that are of particular concern to you as a member of our information society. How do you propose to address these?

1.  The information explosion

Human knowledge is expanding at an exponential rate. From doubling approximately every century a hundred years ago, to doubling every twelve months now (and predicted to double every twelve hours with the expansion of the Internet of Things), individuals can only hope to be “experts” in narrower and narrower areas – there can be no “font of all knowledge” – so how do we know what or who to trust and how can we possibly keep up? We need to be creative and thoughtful about what actually is “the problem” and not always treat symptomatically. At a personal level I do my best to manage the flow of information coming at me by using a variety of digital tools: Diigo to tag and save links; Evernote to store, take notes and organise; Feedly to keep up with blogs I wish to read; Pocket to save for later articles of possible interest that I come across via Twitter but don’t have time to do anything with immediately.

2.  Environmental effects

“Paperless” might seem environmentally friendly but data centres don’t run on air – they consumed 1% of worlds electricity at the time Floridi wrote (p. 155), perhaps more now. (estimates suggest that the carbon footprint of data will outstrip that of aviation by 2020). Can the use of ICT provide benefits to other industries so as to balance out this environmental impact? I hope my largely paperless approach to work and study isn’t stymied by the energy required to power my personal devices and the cloud that supports them.

3.  The rise of the mega-university and online learning

This is already happening at tertiary level but will it filter down to secondary or even primary education? Mega universities can teach numbers of students unthinkable on a physical campus – is it possible that in the future we will have similar mega-schools? In my experience Distance/online learning requires a high level of intrinsic motivation while a physical school/teacher in the room provides for more extrinsic motivation – would children be sufficiently motivated – I don’t think so if the form of the online learning is merely replicating what happens in physical classrooms. I want to know how, as an information professional (ie teacher librarian) I can best support and remain relevant in any move to online learning.

References

Brown, J. S., & Duguid, P. (2002). Limits to information. In The social life of information (pp. 11-34). Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Floridi, L. (2009). The Information Society and its philosophy: Introduction to the special issue on “The philosophy of information, its nature, and future developments”. Information Society, 25(3), 153-158. DOI: 10.1080/01972240902848583

Flexible learning

Todhunter’s article uses the context of the university sector. How does his summary of the definitions and criteria relate to your sector of education? What will be your definition of flexible learning?

Todhunter (2013) quotes the Australian National Training Authority’s definition of flexible learning: “anticipating and responding to [students’] ever-changing needs and expectations, thus expanding their choice in what, when, where, and how they learn” (Backroad Connections Pty Ltd, 2005, p. 3).

It is described as a philosophy, not a technology, although online/e-learning technologies are important in flexible learning.

He finds that in reality it mostly refers to how students interact with staff, resources, and other students and found little flexibility in terms of when and how they study; their choice of courses; length of study, or modes of assessment.

Flexible learning most closely resembles individualised or personalised learning in primary and secondary education although this is more about the teacher tailoring the curriculum to her specific students than choice. This sector continues to group students by age, and the curriculum, although offering some flexibility in delivery, is increasingly standardised across the country. At the culminating point, VCE here in Victoria, it is highly regulated by VCAA, particularly in regard to assessment. An interesting exception to the general rule is Templestowe College in Melbourne which has introduced radical changes to create flexibility for students. There are no year levels and no compulsory subjects instead personalised programs are tailored to each student. Enrolments have doubled in five years and student satisfaction and engagement are very high.

Approaches such as project-based learning, challenged-based learning and inquiry-based learning all offer students flexibility in what and how they learn and are most successful when well supported and scaffolded by teachers. I believe all curriculum requirements could be met in a well-supported inquiry/challenge/project program but most schools, my own included, continue to separate English and mathematics in the primary levels and teach all subjects as separate entities in the secondary sector.

Reference

Todhunter, B (2013) LOL — limitations of online learning — are we selling the open and distance education message short? Distance Education, 34(2), p.232-252

 

A new culture of learning

Thomas and Brown’s (2011) new culture of learning resonates strongly with me as an educator, but even more so as a learner. Since 2008 when I first embarked on a “23 things” learning experience I have been exploring, engaging, following interests, connecting and learning using the fabulously vast resources of the online world. I came into this Masters course not so much for the specific qualification but to find structure and direction to focus my explorations. In the end I hope to find some new career options; whether or not I take them up is moot as I will be equally happy to find new direction within my existing career.

In all subjects so far (INF530, INF536, INF506) I have learned just as much with and from my fellow students as from exploring the course materials. Distance education has been an eye-opener and a fabulous surprise in how rich and rewarding the engagement has been. Many years ago I started on-campus Masters studies and never once felt anything like this level of engagement with other students. We sat in the same room for 2-3 hours a week and nothing more (or since). In this past year of study I’ve had many interactions with my fellow students which continue despite the subject/s being complete. My PLN continues to grow.

Just as it is for Allen (Thomas & Brown, p. 26), Google is the first port of call for many people faced with an error or problem these days and I’m certainly one of them. Whether it’s battling Apple’s Configurator for our class set of iPads, finding the best app for a purpose or trouble-shooting computer errors I can almost always find and answer or a forum where similar experiences are being discussed and learn from them.

Beyond a depressingly unsuccessful go at learning about Minecraft (at a full day workshop) and an uninspiring exploration of Second Life for INF506 I’ve not ventured into the world of massively multiplayer online games. Perhaps the closest I come to it is managing the family footy-tipping contest at Footytips. When we first started (about 7 years ago) my brother and his family were heading overseas for an exchange year and I thought it would be a good way to keep in touch. It was and is, but really it’s a very insignificant part of how we connect as a family.

It is clear to me that allowing students the freedom to explore their own interests and passions will facilitate the learning of concepts and skills beyond the topic – like Sam who learned valuable citizenship habits through the Scratch community (Thomas & Brown, p.21). In my school, as a teacher librarian, I promote project-based/challenge-based/inquiry-based learning by engaging with teachers and supporting them in myriad ways. We are a mixed-ability staff and some are much more ready to give up teaching to start enabling (as Thomas did (Thomas & Brown, p.25))  than others but there is recognition that old ways need to change and some commitment to giving it a go.

References

Thomas, D., Brown, J. S. (2011). Arc-of-Life learning. In A new culture of learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change (pp. 17-33). Lexington, KY: CreateSpace.

Module 2.7 Education Informatics

I enjoyed learning about Education Informatics because what I’d thought might be a scary and complicated concept turned out to be something quite simple – putting people (teachers and learners) at the centre of discussions about information technology and education. Obviously it is not so simple when you start to delve but at least the concept is understandable and should be accessible to anyone involved in education. Levy and others (2003) more formal definition “the study of the application of digital technologies and techniques to the use and communication of information in learning and education” sums it up nicely in more formal language. I’m interested in the distinction between learning and education in this definition. I think it is important, as is separating the “people” into “teachers” and “learners” even though the two groups can and should overlap.

As I read it occurred to me that much of what we have covered so far in this subject can be considered part of education informatics…and then that was stated as part of the forum topic.

I think I fall in the Liberal and Humanistic schools of thought about what learning is for. The various purposes of education and how they impact the design of learning and teaching seem to have crossovers with some of the things we have looked at. Humanistic, being driven by individual’s intrinsic motivation fits with the Connected Learning movement while the Social/Situated where it’s about interaction between people and real-world contexts seems to me to be what Connectivist learning is about.

As an educator I try to take account of my student’s existing knowledge and experiences and I want to enable authentic learning opportunities where the students can make connections with their real-life experiences. My recent move from a large, multi-cultural, lower socio-economic state school to a small, Jewish, private school has required significant adaptation on my behalf. Expectations are different (parents and students particularly, less so from other teachers) but other things are not so different. Kids are kids by and large. The biggest difference is that the new school does not have the range of extremes. In one class I taught I had a brilliant student who topped the state in VET Lab Skills as a year 10 student and got 50 in two VCE Unit 3&4 subjects when in year 11 (I can’t wait to see how she does this year when she’s actually in year 12). Contrast her with another student in the same class – a recent arrival from Somalia with a highly dysfunctional family. I can only imagine the horrors he had experienced in his short life but in my classroom it manifested itself as complete disengagement from learning, a law unto himself, coming and going as he pleased, and unable to string two words together unless one of them was f@#$. At my new school the worst behaviour I have come across is from the highly intelligent “bush lawyer” type who will argue that black is white, just because he can do so so eloquently.

Training, instruction and education are all aspects of learning as a whole. As a teacher and particularly as a teacher-librarian I find myself doing quite a bit of training and instructing on a day-to-day basis. Hopefully I get some educating in from time to time. Crosby’s (2002, referenced in Ford, 2008) safety analogy was a clear demonstration of the differences. It reminded me of a curriculum day speaker (whose name I’ve sadly forgotten) who spoke of the differences between amateurs, para-professionals and professionals; and then spoke of artisans who lifted teaching into a whole other dimension.

Around two years ago at my old school we spent a great deal of professional learning time working on “The Mill Park Instructional Model”. I was fascinated to find that what we came up with almost exactly followed Gagné, Briggs, and Wager (1992) (referenced in Ford, 2008 p. 82-83) nine instructional events for providing the right conditions for learning to occur.

Gagné, Briggs, and Wager’s nine instructional events The Mill Park model
Gain the learner’s attention (reception) Orderly classrooms

Developing clear and consistent routines and cues for students to follow

Make the learner aware of the objective of the learning activity (expectancy) Learning intentions and success criteria:

Ensure that expectations for learning are set at a challenging but achievable level for all students

  • Clearly identifying and displaying the learning intentions for each lesson that are linked to the relevant standards and build on student prior learning
  • Ascertaining student levels of knowledge as well as other needs that impact on their learning
  • Providing students with a range of ways to access the learning and demonstrate success
  • Clearly articulating and displaying the success criteria for learning so that students will know if they have met the learning outcomes
Stimulate recall of the learner’s relevant prior learning (retrieval) Teacher input: Design learning experiences that are engaging and encourage student curiosity and achievement. We do this by

  • Linking learning to student experience
  • Reviewing previous learning
Present the learning stimulus (selective perception)
  • Using ‘hooks’ to generate student interest in learning
  • Ensuring that the ‘Pace ‘ of the lesson is appropriate to maximise student engagement and learning
Provide the learner with appropriate guidance (semantic encoding)
  • Differentiating the learning experience to cater for a range of student interests, skill levels and learning styles
  • Using activities that are clearly and explicitly linked to the learning outcomes
  • Encouraging collaborative learning through use of grouping strategies and peer coaching
  • Using and encouraging higher order questioning techniques
  • Providing a range of activities to maximise student learning and provide access to the learning for all students
Elicit performance on the part of the learner (responding)
  • Using ICT to engage students and to enable students to demonstrate their learning in flexible ways

Activating student learning: Provide opportunities for students to actively engage in learning and to demonstrate this learning

  • Ensuring that students practise skills being taught using a range of scaffolding devices
  • Ensuring that all students have access to appropriately pitched curriculum materials and support so that all student learning needs are well met
  • Providing opportunities for students to apply concepts taught in a range of ways that link to the learning intentions, to prior and possible future learning
  • Clearly referencing the success criteria outlined at the beginning of the lesson to guide students in the development of their knowledge and demonstration of their learning
Give the learner feedback (reinforcement) Feedback: Seek and provide feedback to maximise student learning by:

  • Coaching and correcting student performance to provide feedback to students as they progress
  • Tie feedback to the specific learning intentions
  • Provide information that students can use to improve their performance
  • Deliver feedback on student work in a timely manner
  • Provide opportunities for students to participate in generating feedback rather than always acting as passive receivers
Assess the learner’s performance (retrieval)
  • Use a range of formative assessment strategies to determine which aspects of the lesson have been learnt well and which aspects may require reteaching
Enhance the learner’s retention and transfer of what is learned (generalization). Review: Wrap up and review what has been learnt and reinforce expectations for students

  • Explicitly revisiting the learning intentions and success criteria
  • Identifying which students have mastered the learning and which are yet to do so using a range of strategies
  • Summarising the key learning using student input where possible
  • Outlining the next steps for future learning including possible review and revision for students who have not yet reached the target learning

I have and will continue to use the Mill Park model for planning learning activities because it is a really comprehensive and useful document and  I now know it is grounded in research! (and my new school doesn’t have a similar document).

References

Ford, N. (2008). Education. In Web-based learning through educational informatics: Information science meets educational computing (pp. 75-109). Hershey, PA: IGI Global. Retrieved from: http://www.igi-global.com.ezproxy.csu.edu.au/gateway/chapter/full-text-pdf/31399

Levy, P., Ford, N., Foster, J., Madden, A., Miller, D., Nunes, M. B., McPherson, M, & Webber, S. (2003). Educational informatics: An emerging research agenda. Journal of Information Science, 29(4), 298-310. Retrieved http://jis.sagepub.com.ezproxy.csu.edu.au/content/29/4/298.full.pdf+html