Tuesday 4 October 2011

Collective Learning . . . all together now!

I love the concept of collective learning. Making use of people and organisations with different skills is absolutely how the real work functions in business - but rarely in education. I suspect that too often there is a confusion between the concepts of group work and collective learning and I believe there is a fundamental difference between the two.
Group work tends to take place when a small group of students are asked to produce a piece of work together. Usually there is little division of labour and individual skills are often ignored. Teachers seem to encourage groups to work "together", that is, all doing the same thing as this makes assessment easier. How do you assess students who are all contributing in different ways towards a goal?
Collective learning involves the use of student skill diversity. The importance is placed on the learning rather than the method to get there. This is much harder to assess.
In my year 11 IT class we produce web sites. I try to make the task a real task: real clients, real web sites, true teams with team leaders, teams with mixed abilities, etc. Teams conduct face-to-face meetings with the client, produce mock-ups, correspond with the client, produce and evaluate the site. However in the context of a secondary school with 72-minute periods, three periods per week, the task becomes very difficult to sustain. There is little time to devote to the task and it is expected that students each meet a common set of criteria.
As usual there are lots of problems - are there any answers?
We are investigating an online elective. It would run outside of normal class/school hours giving the possibility of more time. It would move beyond the constraints of the common curriculum allowing students to be assessed individually. An online elective could encourage the use of Web 2.0 tools for collaboration both within the college and beyond.
Changing teacher attitudes to assessment will be a major task but an important one if we wish to pursue true collective learning tasks.
Finally, until the end of year examination is replaced by a more effective and realistic measure of a student's ability then, sadly, little will change.

(For week 04 #change11)

Thursday 29 September 2011

Digital Scholarship

In the early hours of this morning I attended an online session with Martin Weller on Digital Scholarship. At first it seemed to apply more to research in academia but on reflection and as I have worked through the follow-up material I have come to see application in my own area of secondary education.
The idea of sharing openly between teachers is anathema to many in my profession. Young staff often find it difficult to gain access to teaching senior classes and when they do, often as a result of "death or retirement" (Terry Anderson, Alt-C 2009 Keynote), the knowledge has not been passed on to them. I have heard teachers say that if a younger teacher wants to teach at senior level they should look for a new school. I think that the reasons for not sharing at the secondary level are different from those in research but the need for openness is just as important.
So why don't teachers share? I'm sure there are many reasons but four stand out.
  1. The expectation of reciprocity. Few teachers - there are some wonderful exceptions - are willing to give if there is no expectation of getting back. Anderson's keynote talks about Networks of Practice which have "Little expectation of reciprocity" as a key feature. Developing a culture of altruism amongst teachers would not be an easy task.
  2. The fear of peer review. I hear staff comment that they are reluctant to contribute work to online forums as they believe their work will be belittled by their peers. There is certainly a culture on the web of commenting on others without maintaining a proper etiquette. The lack of respect seen in discussion forums can be very disheartening as some contributors feel that the anonymity of the Internet gives them some sort of divine right to be extremely negative and insulting.
  3. Lack of example. Anderson used the work of missionaries going out and converting by walking the walk as an example of how he believes change will come about. I whole-heartily agree but it is difficult in a secondary school environment where the closed-door of a classroom precludes others seeing good pedagogy and little expectation of disseminating ideas widely retards communication.
  4. Lack of time. To share requires an investment of time which for most teachers is in short supply. Whilst it is easy to say that the initial investment will pay dividends in the long run, many teachers are reluctant to take the risk.

Monday 26 September 2011

So, if the world is round then . . .

Oh for a flat earth! There are so many opportunities for learning, sharing and collaborating in online, International courses such as  #change11 BUT, a round earth means so many time zones (would a flat earth have time zones too?). As a result the live broadcast I'd like to attend is at 2am my time. It is school holidays so I can make this one but when term begins I will have to consider the benefits of getting up for an early morning session against the disruption of getting up so early and then trying to get back to sleep with my head buzzing with new ideas. The recording of last week session was fine so I'm not missing out on the content - only the interaction and I'm not a particularly interactive person.

Sunday 25 September 2011

Mobile Learning

Zoraini Wati Abas gave a presentation on mobile learning at the Open University of Malaysia. For me the big question is, "How do I convince my colleagues that mobile devices such as phones have a legitimate place in the classroom?" While I have some support, most staff see mobile phones and mp3 players as distractions and discipline issues rather than readily available tools for teaching and learning.
I attended a Biology revision lecture recently with some of my students. The presenter was Andrew Douch (http://biologyoracle.podomatic.com/), a very technologically switched on teacher who uses a wide range of ICT to develop a learning environment that extends well beyond his classroom and his class. Andrew asked the students in the lecture to get out their mobile phones. Instead of telling them to switch them off - the expected outcome - Andrew gave a phone number that students could SMS questions to which he answered during the course of the lecture. A brilliant use of technology that brought the phones alongside of the learning rather than excluding them.
I have been using vodcasts this year, taking my PowerPoint slides and adding narration, and they work well but demand significant time to create. Andrew's SMS option took no time at all. The moral to this is that effective use of ICT in teaching and learning can be effective and simple to use, we just need to be more creative with the tools.

Saturday 24 September 2011

In the beginning

Well, here goes. I have put off blogging until now - too much to do and so little time. This week I decided to sign up to a MOOC, a Massive Open Online Course, and decided to launch straight in with a blog. Can I develop a momentum and keep the blog going or will all the competing pressures for my time defeat the best laid plans?
As to the MOOC, I have signed up to http://change.mooc.ca Change: Learning and Technology! At Yarra Hills we are investigating learning environments that will give our students access 24/7 and my hope is that this MOOC will provide some clarity to our goals. So here goes . . .