How can we help you to learn with mobiles – PBL project

One of the fantastic project based learning solutions that came out of our Massively Productive #red project with K12 distance and rural educators was “How can we help you learn with mobiles”.

The problem statement surrounds the high numbers of students simply don’t respond to using a learning management system. They don’t log in, rendering all the instructional designed course beyond  unprofitable. This problem leads to a series of escalating pleas, threats and punitive measures which are largely ignored in a game of distance cat and mouse. As the project sketch played out, discussions turned to the transmissive use of SMS messages by schools. It seems most schools use SMS to tell parents that students are not attending school, however the gateway is not used in duplex – students can’t SMS teachers. The irony is that mobiles are banned for students  yet assumed that parents have them – as this is useful to the functional needs of school administration and proof of action. Mass SMS-ing, I am lead to believe is common practice at high public cost with un-reported results in it’s impact on improving student performance or attendance. It obviously ticks a complience box, but if this is all mobiles and SMS is seen as useful for, it’s quite depressing.

Giving students the teacher’s mobile was seen as risky, as was holding the student or parent mobile number on the teachers phone despite this information often being available via administration systems to teachers to call them. The convention is to use the official school phone to contact, or rely on the school SMS gateway to transmit a punitive message to the parent, which one assumes is then relayed to the child – assuming that is possible. In many cases the parents ignore it as well.

The project, as always, needs to make a product, and a case to an audience. The idea was to look at how kids use their phones to learn and to communicate – bringing in aspects of recent events in the UK, how developing nations are using phones, and some quantitative research around the students and their community. This case would them be presented to the people who are running the SMS transmission gateway, in order to argue how it might be better used by students to access and participate in online learning – especially in areas where actually accessing a computer and the internet is proving inadequate.

What is impressive here, is that this project was rendered by a group of teachers, brand new to PBL, in a day as their first. It is wide enough to work at all ages and stages, it has ties to current issues, known frustrations and solves a very large problem that both teachers and students face. Best of all it takes the case to the people who make decisions, policy and rules about the use of phones. The group mapped the project it NSW BOS outcomes, ISTE NETs for students and ISTE NETs for teachers and suggested several great ways of assessing the project. Best of all, it drives an innovation – as the guiding questions use SMS for delivery and response to the students. You might think this is too simple or limited, given the access we have to LMS, blogs and wikis. Consider though, that very high numbers of students simple do not respond to anything. Responding via a text might well be the first level of engagement with learning they have had in a long time.

Gratz! to the group for working so hard. It illustrates just why PBL  allows teachers and students to find, and solve meaningful problems – not cover content-standards, but leads to visible social action.

5 reasons students would rather play Xbox than use the LMS

There are few things that LMS courses could learn from games design and defeat the cursed scroll of deathly dullness – but hey ‘nice graphic on the header there dude’ kind of activity screams quality does it not.  Many LMS courses are there to  suit the teacher, the organisation and occasionally the content, not the student. They must battle bravely to overcome crap design, suspect teaching knowledge, ill-thought out assessment demands and use of tools defined by that knowledge and their willingness to learn how to use them. The LMS might be a pillar of technological-wonderment, hey, we’ve put dogs in space, so why not dump content and questions in locked box and call it teaching.

From personal experience of being in LMS course as a student – here are my top 5 things reasons I’d would rather play the Xbox

Faux-teachers: A teacher is someone you can see and hear. It’s a real person, who knows you. Not some distant auto-bot who can’t differentiate learning. It’s not actually teaching unless there is some element of live interaction. It’s a game of hide and seek over IRC. If you see the teacher mostly answering queries about the course – its both bad teaching and bad course design. I am amazed how often this is mistaken with teaching. Even a vending machine has options. We see forums with questions such as “Can I just clarify what you mean by” or “in the assessment, where it says” type questions. This is just bad design and encourages students to focus on that, not learning – a feeling that is often reinforced though bitter experience where sooner or later, box-ticking begins, as it’s like getting blood out of an LMS.

Compare this with a game-world, there’s always someone there to teach you. There’s an automatic differentiation though the games design which is solved socially so you don’t waste time.

Difficulty Settings: A course should have easy, medium and hard settings. Let students choose. This means thinking about how learning actually works – or at least reading what critical pedagogy is and it rejects the idea of the computer as a tutor hands-down.

Games let you do the same thing at different settings, this lets you get some success and makes you work hard towards the harder setting. Even if you don’t play hard – you at least know what it looks like. LMS courses almost never do this. Its just one setting – Confusing.

Level Editing: Students should be able to earn the right to edit levels of the course, especially in large courses where there’s little teaching and lots of cat herding. For example: creating new forums or new tasks to use to teach each other – especially where there’s almost no teaching evident in the first place. Making a quiz is more useful than taking one (madness I know).

All good games allow the game to be modded by the players in order to make it better. Learn how to do this with your LMS

No Flash Drives and Lock-ins. An LMS isn’t a flash drive. Adding a file, then asking a question about the file isn’t teaching or learning. Is just downloading and asking a question. From day one, students need to create their own identity online and manage it. This is above and beyond an ePorfolio – this is a life portfolio – and that means explaining why.

Games just don’t act as a totalitarian state, and expect players will create affinity content.

Attempts to gamify an LMS – result in all sorts of really bad leader boards and token collecting.

However, if you understand game mechanics, the MS can be really useful as it is – without it. If that’s not obvious, then don’t even utter the word game and think hard and long whether you should be designing courses at all.

A fresh approach to Higher Ed Course Design

There are times when you hear someone talk and you think, bloody hell! – that is going to change everything. Now it seems you only need to read 140 characters, and get the same reaction.

Howard Rheingold posted a link to his ‘social media’ wiki on Twitter.

It’s not the fact it is a wiki and not a course in Moodle, WebCT or Black Board that is impressive though.  HR has built a very sophisticated information architecture that is simple to get around (a massive step forward in itself) and packed it with language that leaves students in little doubt as to the how exciting, challenging and rewarding the course will be.

It’s not there to ‘inform’ in the way most online courses do. It’s not some kind of digital point of reference (though it does that superbly) either. It’s language advocates adoption, adaption and infusion of technology, as a transformational experience that will deliver life long benefits. In just a few pages – HR clarifies, engages and sets up his course as being something you just want to sink your teeth into.

For example: students will have practiced mindful self-observation of the ways they use their own attention. Increased facility at inquiry and collaboration are other meta-skills diligent students should expect to gain: the methodology of collaborative inquiry used in this course is expected to generalize beyond the classroom.

Another significant element of the site is the ‘How To’. He’s immediately set out his expectations, guidelines and criteria for success. He talks clearly about how that success will come about using a range of ‘un-passive’ technologies … but then immediately scaffolds them out of ‘entry’ level uses of technology with a self help guide on how to blog, make a wiki page etc.,

He’s not treating the method of evidencing learning as a separate ‘training manual’. The learning method for evidence is using the tools themselves.

This is the best and most influential ‘course design’ example I’ve seen – but I’m not surprised – as HR is just inspirational.