What comes after this

picture-4I despair at teacher’s who think that PBL or Instructional is ‘the’ way that teaching will go in the next decade. That is naive to say the least and hardly worth beating your chest over. Learning is blended. I think that no matter what approaches you want to use – effective teaching demands that you are media literate – and so are your students.

This is the to me the most significant issue – not the style of delivery. You can be as passionate as all hell about your ‘method’, but if you are not media literate, online and in the global conversations, you are not going to be as effective as students need you to be.

Sorry if that cuts into your idea of what your ‘teaching job is’ right now. But there it is. It is not enough to do in 2009 what you did in the decade before. It is not enough to only change if the syllabus changes or you need to be compliant.

Technology transformed the possibilities. Now we have to re-think and talk about how to stay on top of it. Connectivism is in effect and that delivers connected, networked new knowledge.

Learning needs to be blended, multi-modal and fluid and connected. Technology is ubiquitous in this process. Learning will be instructional and inquiry based – synchronous and asynchronous. It will be virtual and distance, it will be digital and face to face – because it is already.

That is a BIG problem. Not enough teachers have any understanding of the complexity of that last paragraph. Those that do are often not empowered to deliver it beyond their classroom. Teaching as we have known it is doomed to fail if we don’t gain traction. The Titanic was unsinkable technology, the world economy was stable, and no US President would use a line from Bob The Builder to win office. Change is quick and doesn’t care if you agree anymore.

As a rough rule of thumb, I would suggest that a school’s capacity to renew curriculum and explore alternate approaches to learning is directly proportionate to the amount of people who are ‘media literate’ and active online.

I then wonder, given the limited time everyone who can do that has, how it can be done.

picture-5That was a conversation I have this week with Dr Ian Solomonides, who is the acting Director of the Learning and Teaching Centre at Macquarie University. I asked him how K12 teachers could connect with Higher Education, so that their interventions with technology could be assisted, supported or studied by Higher Education. I thought maybe this would strengthen the recognition that those who work K12 are doing.

I was half expecting not to get a concrete answer, but Ian explained about a global group looking at online learning and collaboration based in Australia, the Omnium Group.

Omnium is a research group of academics, designers, artists, programmers and writers who work collaboratively (and from different countries) to explore the potential the Internet allows for what we term – online collaborative creativity (OCC).

As I start working in Higher Education, I am more aware of people talking about Universities being last to take a seat at the table, but this does not mean that there isn’t progress or interest. They, like K12, have academics and lecturers that are passionate about the changes that technology brings and the laggards. Like K12, the issues of taking change to the people, thousands of people, is a challenge. As Ian said this week,

“we know we have to do this, but we are few and they are many, so we have to be strategic in where we do it, how we do it and then to make sure what we do is significant enough that it is maintained.”

Isn’t this the same dialogue in K12?. Hmm, I thought, same issues – but the terms of reference for a large Institution like Macquarie University – which in itself is under going massive changes are different. In this regard, storming the school Firewall Nazi’s office or flash mobbing un-cooperative curriculum laggards seems easier. But I guess there has to be evolution, not revolution, so I’ll put my stick down.

How important are connections between K12, TAFE and Higher Education – are we are all now in the same orbit when it comes to change?.

Motivating Online Learners

Digital scaffolds are essential to motivating online activities – if you want to do more than swap the exercise book for the glass page.

These things go a long way avoiding the ‘exercise book trap’ such as “Identify two factors that caused World War 1” onto a blog.

I’ve often seen that, usually from teachers who accept that moving to read/write activities is needed, but find it more difficult to find ways to do it – so how do you motivate learners to do more than answer text-book style questions?

2089763143_df440a5eb9Firstly, in planning the online activity consider what is the extrinsic reward of taking part?

Starting with the end in mind

Make this clear throughout each activity. This is achieved by starting with the end in mind.

What, at the end of the online activity will students be presenting to you? How will that encompass the standards/outcomes/content needed?

Enquiry based Digital Taxonomies

Much of today’s classroom ‘questions’ are based on Blooms Taxonomy. That can be elevated and integrated into digital taxonomies to motivate learners.

Identify 3 factors that caused World War One.Explain why they went to war. Justify your response.

Digital Blooms
Create a podcast to explain the causes of World War One through events and people leading up to ‘the war to end all wars’.

Inquiry Based Digital Blooms
World War One was called the ‘war to end all wars’. Why then, do we still have wars?

Which of these statements would lead to a more motivational project? Why?

The question drives the learning. The overall end goal will probably sound quite interesting. It is open ended, and initially starts with them thinking from a personal level. “Have I heard that said before?”,”That sounds dumb”,”What are you on about!”. The point is that the answer is neither obvious or explicit, nor does it state which technology to use, nor how what is embedded in the learning.

Those things appear in the documentation of the project, the ‘requirement’. So you can ensure you also embed the key syllabus needs and choose a technological approach that will allow them to explore more than ‘written text’.

Student Generated Questions – they are the experts

That will lead to a lot of questions, which you don’t have to answer. But you do have to discuss them with the class, and get them to clearly understand what they know as ‘fact’ and what they need to know.

Often students think they know – or worse they think that can easily find out – via Google or Wikipedia.

What is a podcast?
Who said ‘the war to end all wars’?
How long is it?
What do we need to put in it?
When was WW1?
Who was involved?

Motivation though ‘chunking’ activities.

When planning, you have to think – how can this ‘end’ be ‘chunked’ into smaller activities to make it more motivating? – Can they cope with being given it at once?

This means that you have to be very explicit about the end goal. To do that you will have to give some resources and boundaries. But take the opportunity to ‘Google proof’ their learning, and clearly explain your expectations.

In developing your podcast, each person will need to research and reflect each lesson on your learning. When you record your group’s podcast, each person will contribute one possible cause, and personally record it for the production.

OMG – I have to participate, and I have to talk about what I am doing towards it all the time!

Prepare yourself for the work-avoiders to mount a rebellion

Yes! they will moan, yes they won’t be used to it, but they will do it! Don’t pander to it – you have just made them accountable to you and more importantly, to each other. That is motivating. It may take several days for them to stop saying ‘I don’t understand’ – remember, students have a wealth of experience in claiming they ‘don’t understand’ – it is simply work avoidance. Ignore it, and focus on praising those who are participating – you are removing the oxygen that that has previously sustained work-avoidance and plagiarism. Be ruthless. The worst thing you can do is ‘give the answer’. Make them find it and believe it for themselves.

That means that each lesson ‘chunk’ has to be considered. Are the ‘breadcrumbs’ I am giving them ‘too hard’ or ‘too easy’?

Tackling the ‘lurkers’.

When presenting the project to students, don’t threaten them with failure. Just talk about the success opportunities for them. Talk about what they have to ‘lose’ by not actively participating. How are you going to stop the ‘lurkers’? We all know that in typical ‘group’ work, with a ‘group’ presentation that some students do nothing, as they know more studious students will carry them.

Are there things you can build into the project  – to stop lurking? – Are there ICT technologies that can act as effective ‘activity trackers’, as an intervention to discourage lurking?

Of course there are. Lots of ways. This to me is one of the more powerful reasons to use social media tools. They use time and date as their differentiators.

Motivation to participate comes though them discovering how ridiculously easy it is to identify their level of participation – anytime, all the time. Of course, you don’t need to labour the point, they soon figure it out.

It is quite liberating for students and teachers to discover that it is no longer difficult to figure out who did what in a group project, to communicate with each student at a personal level, weave conversations and then to allocate rewards. This makes the learning, conversational, rethinking formative assessment.

So when in class, you don’t have to give the answers, as you don’t need to ask the questions. You can give clues, lead them down thinking paths and ultimately use the power of the ‘community’ to keep the conversation on track – through ‘comments’.

This is when a blogging community should be used, to reflect, discuss and weave conversations on learning as they happen. Weaving the comments is often a new skill, and quite different from the classroom experience.

Of course, this is a quick summary … but if you can identify the benefits in this approach, you can then start to think about how this changes the use of ICTs. You will start to think about how ICTs can work better for students and how digital pedagogy does that.

In short re-thinking student motivational factors is an effective approach improving learning as a group and as individuals.

Connected Cohorts

In the information age, the decade that was the 90s had an underlying message “stay ahead of the curve when it comes to technology, or risk being left out of the loop.”

Offices created ‘cube farms’, where workers did ‘information age things’ in very small spaces. The ‘Cube Farm’ lead to an almost sub-culture, and life in the ‘cube’ still remains a substantial source of inspiration for parody websites.

The cube farm seemed to visually enforce the idea that the information age worker was hard wired to communication tools, and could work globally without ever moving a metre and a half from their desks.

What they didn’t tell the cubical worker in the 90s is that their job would moved to Asia and India where volume ‘information processing’ is conducted more profitably. The very act of being globally connected by technology means they should have mentioned that you needed to be ‘creative and innovative’ with technology – not just conversant.

Post 2002 saw an increasingly fragmented media landscape when people have a range of choices at their disposal gave rise to the idea that you don’t need to be an information worker, and in fact no one got left out the loop, simply that the barriers and costs of technology have come down to make it affordable to most of us in our society. Though of course, we do exclude lots of people.

Our connectedness allowed even those in cubical farms to reach out and connect with the world, via Facebook, MySpace, Digg etc., The effect of which is that offices have to a large degree rethought the cubical walls – and that if people actually talk to each other at work, then it’s actually not such a bad thing after all – because there are so many way in which they WILL do that anyway.

If we look at education today, there is much talk about Open Classrooms. This is actually a pre-information age idea from the 1970s, but has returned as a popular discourse.

The open-classroom movement originated in British public elementary schools after World War II. Open classrooms’ focus on students’ “learning by doing” and reflected the social, political, and cultural changes of the 1960s and early 1970s. An era which also saw the rise of a youth-oriented countercultures.

On one hand we have the ‘instructional classroom’, populated by passive learners and chalk and talk teachers. On the other, the teacher who recognizes that the read/write web opens up new opportunities using technology via inquiry based approaches.

In Open Classrooms teachers structured the classroom and activities for individual students and small work groups. They helped students negotiate each of the reading, math, science, art, and other interest centers on the principle that children learn best when they are interested and see the importance of what they are doing.

For a range of reasons, mostly social and cultural, the Open Classroom had faded by the end of the 80s and education returned to more structured, test based summative learning approaches with specific curriculum detail.

There is little doubt that educational ‘trends’ come and go.

‘Open Classroom’ has a new connotation – it’s internet based.

The catalyst for the current discourse is the internet, the falling cost of ‘being connected’ and the hardware needed to do it – that began with the mass introduction of the home micro-computer in the 1990s. The idea that every innovation dreamed up by reformers inside and outside public schools makes its way into the nation’s classrooms is false. Education reflects so many cultural and social trends that at any point, there has always been debate as to which is the best model. The answer generally lies in ‘what is the best model at the time’.

I think that one critical technology has changed the how we use technology in learning – from ‘instructional based’ – where we information is often (but not always) “presented” to a learner (via lectures, textbooks, and testing) -or student-centered where knowledge is often (but not always) “discovered” by the learner (via individual and small-group work, projects blending different subjects, skills, inquiry and questioning).

That critical technology is TCP/IP – the element what was not present until the advent of the internet in the 1990s.

The New Open Classroom now is that connected to the read/write internet.

The classroom teacher who understands the value of allowing students to create, connect and share – is more relevant to their students – but only when they do that effectively and selectively.

The New Open Classroom may also be a virtual classroom – via Adobe Connect or Second Life. It also brings into play the ideas of Ray Oldenburg and creating ‘Third Spaces’ for learning.

These do not have to be ‘teacher lead classrooms’ – they can be discussion forums, Second Life Simulations, chat rooms, blogs, nings and wikis. They are online places that do not follow ‘instructional protocols’, but at the same time do not need radical building reform or pedagogical overhauls in ‘all education’. They might not even be created by teachers or lecturers but by students – but they do need to be understood, not rejected out of hand, based on the idea that they are too social, too liberal or not explicitly designed as ‘edu only’. A student who works well in these spaces needs to be accommodated – as it is a learning style like any other.

Best of Both Worlds

Perhaps we can have the best of both worlds. We have educators with a wealth of experience in instructional and inquiry based approaches to learning.

We have those who prefer single classrooms with single subjects, and other who enjoy team teaching with more holistic subject approaches.

Perhaps the approach is to recognize that students will benefit from the best of both worlds, and that TCP/IP based practice is the important link between them, not the differentiation.

I don’t think that it is beneficial or acceptable for students to have to learn predominantly by ‘listening’ or ‘copying’. Any teachers that think they have all the answers or that the text book is sufficient are clearly misunderstanding the power of Wikipedia or Google in delivering information on demand.

There are times where I want someone to show me, or tell me – I don’t want to jump through hoops to discover it.

Professional Development

To me a successful approach to professional development is not about about efficiently you manage your IT, or how many Web2.0 tools you can use in a project. It about knowing which approach is applicable. Blended, multi-modal approaches work best – and work to the strengths of the staff – you can’t take a teacher whos been used to ‘instructional’ approaches and tell them to now use ‘inquiry’ based, throw a few days training at them, and hope that will be anything other can totally confused, frustrated and under-skilled.

Blended Learning Approaches

I don’t see why a school should be a PBL school or a Regular School.

I don’t think that it is any harder to create a unit in a ‘regular classroom ‘ than it is a PBL classroom – and give students that opportunity to demonstrate their learning.

I don’t think all students benefit from PBL-only approaches any more that ‘Instructional Only’. But surely we don’t have to be absolute in our offerings.

Life is not absolute. There are times when people will tell them and they will need to remember it and times when they have to figure it out and come to their own conclusions due to confusing or missing knowledge. There is increasingly more accurate ‘facts’ available, and aslo increasing ‘rubbish. Students do need to know how to evaluate information –  but at times, the formula for the circumference of a circle is just that.

Forcing teachers and students to be ‘all for one and one for all’ – is blatantly oppositional to the socially-connected world we live in. It also marginalizes significant discourses such as where ‘virtual worlds’ and ‘game based’ learning will feature in student engagement in the next few years – the ‘what comes next’ plays a major role in what we should do now in building capacity.

The critical issue is that we provide quality, relevant learning experiences – that recognise the ease and benefits of extending those experiences though technology, and use a variety of ‘open classrooms’ to do it.