Infinate Learning

FI-ligature type in 12p Garamond.
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It is an exciting and challenging time for education. In the 20th century we perceived information as scarce while in the 21st century it is over abundant. Now students have the ability to search, work or publish at will, using text, audio, and video, or any combination these. The have un-precedented access to technologies previously cost prohibitive for schools, which are usually instant and often free. Learning and teaching has become a multimodal, multi-literate conversation – where participation is an everyday reality for teachers, librarians, administrators and students.

The opposing forces of ‘memory and forgetfulness’ no longer dominate learning. Since Gutenberg’s movable type in the mid 1400s, technology has allowed us to expand our creative and mental horizons, progressively chipping away at the need to ‘memorise’ and ‘recall’. Today more information is stored digitally than in all the libraries in the world combined. We simply don’t need to ‘remember’ everything. The output of ICTs exceeds the wildest dreams of nineteenth century industrialists, and alters our view of memory; forgetfulness; creativity and originality.  Schools need to extend their vision of learning beyond ‘memory-arts’. We are in a hyperdynamic world of connections, relationships, and adaptive tools that help us make sense of the information flooding about us. We are standing at the entry of an age of infinite recall and infinite memory, the lines between original works and derivatives is blurred because duplication is simple and storage cheap. The idea that students learn from single or even limited origins is naive. Originality and creativity is now an additive and transformative process. Students need to develop insight into how to navigate and select a pathway in the online world – and for that they need help – by creating better resources, developing better frameworks inside what schools call ‘information literacy’.

Students that score well on exams can also be strategic surface learners. They want and demand the ‘answers’. While there is pressure to ‘perform’ and ‘get results’, it seems that online learning is adapting and evolving regardless of what mainstream education thinks.

For example : The Florida Virtual High School – has a very different pedagogy, and very different approach to learning.

In two words? Personalized instruction. You want choices. You want to feel that you or your students are not just numbers. You want to work at your own pace. You’d like to study at home or from a library or coffee shop. You want some say in your education, and you want classes that hold your interest!

If these are the things you want for yourself or your students, you have come to the right place. We have built our school on these beliefs:

  • Every student is unique, so learning should be dynamic, flexible and engaging.
  • Studies should be integrated rather than isolated.
  • Students, parents, community members, and schools share responsibility for learning.
  • Students should have choices in how they learn and how they present what they know.
  • Students should be provided guidance with school and career planning.
  • Assessments should provide insights not only of student progress but also of instruction and curriculum

We are presented with infinite memory. We can store, retrieve infinitely more than our fragile memory. Our lives are not limited by local contemporaries or restrained by single sources of information. The internet wiped away that idea a long time ago. The next wave for education to deal with is the nature of schools and the mode of learning itself – in the global context. It is already happening. As Australia starts looking at the next phase of it’s ‘digital education revolution’ – I hope that it pays attention to schools like the FVS. I wonder what would happen if we had a HSC Virtual High School? – Now there’s an idea.

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What is good teaching?

I was reminded in a student-panel session last week that just maybe I have to deal with the ‘ethics’ committee before recording the views of volunteer students. Academics enrolled in a Foundations of Learning and Teaching course were there to listen to the ‘student perspective’ on what is good (and bad) learning and teaching at University.

Their views seem to be echoed online, as this High School student video, buried in YouTube talks about – so I’ll just use this instead.

  • Leading learning, not controlling the class.
  • Having Teachers that THEY can connect with
  • Teachers who realise (though action) that a student is a human being with a range of interests and ideas to share.
  • Allowing students to connect to the teacher without reinforcing the power teachers have over them.
  • Teachers who connect with the content and shows passion for what they are doing – and saying.
  • if they don’t take an interest, then why should you” – teachers faking interest is obvious!
  • Students know that good teachers have a DRAMATIC impact on positive learning experiences
  • They remember ‘good teachers’ because they recognise ‘good teaching experiences’ (and visa versa)
  • Good pupils hope to be remembered

The ‘student panel’ were critical of both the ENTRY and the EXIT events, but also positive about  well designed courses that take into account the ‘learning load’, motivation and learning preferences of the students.

A teacher writing on a blackboard.
Image via Wikipedi

They were giving the room really valuable feedback on instructional strategies that work or don’t – for them. To reinforce the fact that often highly knowledgeable teachers fail to engage students … another YouTube clip … time to spot the strategies here. This clip really engaged the cohort, and pulled together the student panel session and the need to consider much more than content when teaching.

Students highlighted over reliance on summative assessment to grade students. This was later reinforced when the cohort learned about the Solove Method of grading.

They further talked about the assumptions teachers make ” students are there because they are ‘into’ the subject” – when in fact they are curious, interested but not (yet) deeply engaged in it. This assumption leads to issues of engagement if the teachers does not do adequate ‘oil dipping’ for prior knowledge – or motivation.

I was quite amazed to learn that many teachers (higher education) won’t use ‘online learning’ such as a discussion forum, as they have a 1000 students and insufficient resources. I’ve heard that from teachers with 20 students before too. Building effective learning communities remains one of the most important professional development sessions that teachers can attend in my view.

I think that is is great question to ask students ‘what is a great teacher’ (class) or ‘how can teach you better’ (personal).

It was great to see how keen students were to give positive, constructive feedback in the session – and how seriously that is taken as a key element of curriculum renewal. Students are the mirror that we need to look into more often I think.

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