Monday, 15 December 2014

Our final 2014 post: Looking ahead - the year of Digital Smarts, 2015

Digital Smarts: a new book heading your way

Dianne and I are co-editing a book tentatively called Digital Smarts: Examining digital agency in New Zealand educational settings. This will be an electronic, Creative Commons Licensed, freely available e-book, also downloadable in pdf format by April 2015.
        This book arose from our realisation that colleagues were engaged in fine work in the digital educational space but without an outlet for these research endeavours that would reach those who might find the work useful in their own settings. Quite often, research is disseminated through academic journals that are not readily accessed by educators in the compulsory schooling sectors. So, we took the plunge, inviting co-workers to contribute chapters, interpreting 'digital smarts' to their chapter's focus.
         This has been a two-year gestation process of collaboration in as much as authors shared drafts in progress at regular monthly meetings, leading to an open peer review of others' chapter drafts. This open review phase had a twofold purpose: to share and develop emerging ideas into something cohesive; and for newer research colleagues to learn the reviewing process, a key quality assurance aspect of academic writing.
        Through this access to each others' work, authors could better see how their own chapter fitted the wider scheme of things and assisted in refining their chapters, thus contributing to a greater cohesion of the book as a whole. 
         A final step in the revision process was drawing on our international academic networks to provide external, blind peer-reviews before the chapters were finalised. We are now readying chapters for formatting and final proofing before handing to other colleagues who can turn the text into a range of digital formats for open sharing.
Partnership, trust and integrity are implicit in a book development since this one is growing out of a unified and shared context. We hope it provides readers with an opportunity to compare their own educational contexts with those described in the book. The book is a partnership on many levels - it's a partnership between Dianne and me as editors, with and among our chapter authors, and the eventually the book's readership. Our colleagues have also had to trust us in the mentoring and leadership of this project, and that it would see the light of day. We also hope that the work is trusted in the sense of having a quality assurance process that stands up as rigorous and befitting an academic text. Our integrity as editors is on the line!

Where did it come from?

The book's inception was heavily influenced by international colleagues' books in both distance and teacher education where they too have collaborated with academic colleagues within their own institutions. This kind of collaboration provides multiple perspectives on a given topic of inquiry that brings a distinct, shared, institutional understanding to the scope of the book. This process, while using rigorous quality assurance processes, means we have control over the book rather than a traditional publishing house. 
Digital texts, and the social networks developing for academics (eg ResearchGate, can mitigate some effects of distance, population and price, but this also means digital texts need to be freely accessible. Current publishing arrangements through traditional academic publishers, as noted above, can be obstacles for teachers, with access prevented unless a library subscribes to the text/journal, or a reader is willing to pay for an article. 
These constraints have led us to choose a digital format for the book, with a Creative Commons Licence. As academic workers, we are expected to publish but seldom benefit from royalties for this work. Instead, we sometimes even have to buy the book our work is published in. Through an open source format and making the text as available as possible, we hope to share the text widely, contributing to debate about the value of digital technologies in educational contexts.
We have been influenced by the spirit of the simplicity and generosity of examples where book editors gift the work to readers anywhere through open access publication formats. These formats support equitable access and the wide dissemination of research ideas, contributing to the field, discussion and critique. To that end, we cannot thank WMIER enough for providing us with the means to pay for the major costs involved, that of professional proof-reading, graphic design and digitising.

Why 'digital smarts'?

The concept of  ‘digital smarts’ arose when Dianne and I were brainstorming a working title. The term ‘smart’ has stayed with Dianne in particular for some time and links to an early statement by the New Zealand Ministry of Education in 2002 with talked about the ‘smart use of ICT’ in educational contexts. Over time, that sense of agency that the word ‘smart’ has for both learners and teachers has disappeared, with more recent MOE statements about e-learning focusing more instead on describing the potential influence of the technologies on the learning, not the learning on the technologies and how they are used. (see Pachler et al for their exploration of agency, culture, appropriation, and the idea of the 'mobile complex'). 
We want to reclaim the word ‘smart’; it has multiple meanings, making it easy for our chapter contributors to interpret the term for themselves. For example, ‘smart’ can refer to ‘smarting’ - in the sense of being hurt, either physically or emotionally; it can also refer to creativity in the products that can be made through digital means; it can also refer to the degree of agency one exercises, such as in working smarter, not harder; a further interpretation refers to ‘smart’ as an acronym for something that is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely. 
These chapters are the products of some SMART thinking by the authors. What we are producing is specific (for it traverses individual education sectors, and is interpreted for the specifics of the chapter), measurable and attainable (in that the research has produced findings that have been collected, analysed - in a sense ‘measured’ - and attainable, in that the themes and ideas the data generate are arrived at through a rigorous process of investigation), relevant (in that they focus on digital technologies in education when we are on the cusp of all New Zealand schools accessing unlimited, uncapped and robust connectivity), and timely - for now is a good time to explore and share what we know is happening and suggest possible inferences for pedagogical practices across education sectors. In other words, ‘digital smarts’ represents intelligent, pedagogically-oriented and strategic uses of digital technologies to benefit learners of all kinds.

We would be really thrilled to know who's reading our blog and what you think. Please feel free to add comments and/or email us your thoughts.

Our best wishes for a cheerful, safe and refreshing Christmas/New Year break. See you in 2015.

Monday, 8 December 2014

In the face of obstacles, why would teachers persist in using digital technologies in classrooms?

Dianne and I will shortly be having a break from this blog for a number of reasons - first, it's almost our holiday time; second, our university shuts for a couple of weeks, and three, our heads need time to reboot. We intend, as a result, to create a shared blog post as our 2014 finale.

In the meantime, I thought I would talk about an article that has just been published in Teachers and Teaching: theory and practice. I have to fess up though - it's one of mine. I'd like to be able to share the actual article with everyone, in order to generate debate about the ideas, but copyright with the publisher makes that difficult.

However, the basic premise is that There are a number of models that focus on technology uptake in various contexts - such as The Technology Acceptance Model (TAM), which is used in industry and sometimes in education to explain uptake of technology by individuals. Then there's the continuance theory model that hinges on TAM as a foundation. It focuses on satisfaction and ease of use as determinants of continued use, and also began life as a focus on commercial uptake to get the job done. Then there's the SAMR model which is also a kind of continuum but sees this in relation to whether or not the user appears to appropriate it for their own uses, or just adopt it as is. I may be taking liberties in my summary of them, but you can be the judge of that.

These got me wondering, and asking - so are these the reasons teachers will keep going, even in the face of wonky wifi, school policies that obstruct rather than enable, or in contexts where no-else seems to experiment with thee things? My argument is that ease of use, satisfaction with the tool or even whether a teacher adopted or integrated use are not enough for persistent use. Teachers care about whether their students are keen to learn and achieve learning success. When they tell the teacher "this is cool" or that  "this doesn't feel like learning", then teachers will do it again and build on that success, whatever the tool or pedagogical approach. When the two align and students dig into a task, concentrate for long periods and want to produce fine work, then learning is magic.

Extending continuance theory to education therefore, must be predicated on what happens with students. It isn't enough to talk about tools or the teachers themselves - great teachers will make decisions based on the impact on their learners. All power to them, I say!

Monday, 1 December 2014

Are digital technologies really transforming classroom practice?

I've heard a lot (and often) about the idea that digital technologies transform practice in classrooms. It can be trotted out as a truism, when in fact these technologies are still relatively new, and we're still getting used to how we might use them to help learning. I want to have a look a quick look at this notion of transforming practice. It is many-layered, as Wong, Li, Choi and Lee (2008) suggest:
Those schools which have realized changes in classroom practices are characterised by ICT-pedagogical innovations. To make this happen, pedagogical innovations must be rooted in teachers’ experiences of moving away from a teacher-centred approach to one that is more student-centred. Leadership and the climate for collaboration and experimentation are fundamental to the integration of technology into pedagogical innovations
Their comment indicates that change is a complex undertaking with multiple, simultaneous levels at work. For a start, those used to the sage-on-a-stage didactic style of teaching may be deeply challenged by a student-centred model of teaching and learning when they design lessons where students take control of the technology. These teachers might feel a lack of control, causing some levels of anxiety. Others might balk at the idea of having other adults in their classrooms while they teach, yet collaboration and reflection with peers is important, suggesting some kind of in-school buddying system of experimentation and inquiry. It means they will sit down with you later to pick through what happened and why in order to evaluate the experience. And here, I'm talking about f2f (face-to-face) classrooms; online classrooms are a whole other matter, for the physical cues of interpersonal relations have to be accounted for differently, and digital tools are the basis of such learning contexts.  There is a greater open-endedness when what constitutes a classroom is no long bounded by physical walls, and the notion of audience has expanded.

A school culture, if those leading it want staff to continually develop their pedagogy, will need to embrace trial and error and be able to deal with things going wrong as they inevitably will when staff try new learning things. This suggests that leadership will embrace and support change and uncertainty from the bottom up - no easy feat. Another factor is the willingness of staff to use their classrooms as 'change labs'. Experimenting with resources, pedagogical approaches and digital technologies can be difficult when imperatives focus on students passing exams. This push is about content reproduction, while experimentation in the classroom is about uncertainty,  a focus on learning and process. So, transformation? It's a big ask.

One site argues that 'training is key'. It begins by asking the following questions:
What do we know about successful pedagogical strategies utilizing ICTs for teaching and learning. What is known about effective teacher professional development? What do we know about the impact of ICTs on teacher performance? What do we know about the impact of ICTs on teacher motivation?
So how would 'training' solve those? Dianne and I have already argued that 'training' is entirely the wrong concept for education. And it can turn those who would otherwise be entirely competent, into dependent learners, always waiting to be 'trained' before trying anything. We surely want independent, adaptive help-seekers in education, don't we? One way to answer the question What is known about effective teacher professional development? is to go to the New Zealand BES report on teachers' professional learning. That synthesis indicates that professional development which takes place as close to the classroom as possible, but with the support of someone else, has the most traction and likelihood of 'sticking'. The other person can observe, ask questions, feedback ideas and help the buddy evaluate their practices and experiments with pedagogies and digital technologies.

The World Bank, remarkably, also questions the hype about digital technologies transforming pedagogical practice:
It is generally believed that ICTs can empower teachers and learners, making significant contributions to learning and achievement. However, current research on the impacts of ICTs on student achievement yields few conclusive statements, pro or con, about the use of ICTs in education. Studies have shown that even in the most advanced schools in industrialized countries, ICTs are generally not considered central to the teaching and learning process. Moreover, there appears to be a mismatch between methods used to measure effects and the type of learning promoted. Standardized testing, for example, tends to measure the results of traditional teaching practices, rather than new knowledge and skills related to the use of ICTs. It is clear that more research needs to be conducted to understand the complex links between ICTs, learning, and achievement.
This statement suggests that the World Bank is hardly endorsing the idea that transformation has happened. Perhaps we can find answers when we can refer to, for example, a blog post that cites Orlando's (2014) 5 year study in Australia, highlighting that changing pedagogy with or through digital technologies results from a long-term and complex process, often initiated by a problem or puzzle of practice. A key factor in this shift is teachers' reflective practices - their ability to critique their own performances in the light of evidence from others, particularly their students and colleagues. Finally, using digital technologies can be highly individual, since their use is based on specific  classroom contexts. Mishra and Koehler's TPACK framework argues, for example, that the closer to practice the digital technology is explored, the more likely it is to become part of the teacher's professional knowledge and practice. Perhaps that's also why the New Zealand Curriculum exhorts Teaching as Inquiry as a process for teachers to develop an evidence-informed reflective practice. It keeps the new learning close to the place in which it needs to develop, and makes it easier for teachers to contextualise new thinking. A ZPD moment perhaps?

The length of time it takes for pedagogical change to happen is also emphasised by Hennessy, Ruthven and Brindley. The idea of 'transformation' is therefore a long bow to draw as hinted at at the start of this piece: instead, change is often incremental. Voogt and Pelgrum, for example, outline how the changes to an 'information society' might affect curriculum content and classroom practices as the orientation shifts from the teacher to the learner. They suggest that "The design and implementation of curricula that are aimed at contributing to students’ lifelong learning competencies is one of the major challenges of curriculum change and improvement efforts nowadays" (p. 158). In other words, they imply that it is curriculum knowledge that might need the greatest overhaul, yet that is seldom mentioned in the hype about practice.  This contrasts with a BECTA report on a review of the literature about ICT and pedagogy, saying that there is a "pedagogy of ICT" (p. 7).  Pardon?

But it also begs the following questions:
  • What if a teacher already has exemplary practice (characterised by openness to ideas, creativity and practices) when they start using digital technologies? 
  • Will their pedagogy alter if they already practice co-constructive learning, and design student-centred approaches? 
  • If a teacher already deliberately includes metacognitive tasks in the work they design for students, will that teacher's practices alter much? 
  • Where do issues of copyright, ethics, privacy and digital safety now feature?
I am keen to hear others' views on this. 

Monday, 24 November 2014

IMHO: There is no place in modern education for these 6 words

In My Humble Opinion, words matter and from time to time we need to look at our language and re-examine the relevance of terminology to thinking. To what extent do the words we use to describe our rationale and practice correspond with our ideals and underpinning philosophy with respect to education?

Are there particular words that make you cringe when used in an educational context?

Here are six of my favourites (Not!)
1.     Delivery, as in “curriculum delivery” or delivery of a particular programme of study or learning and teaching service.
2.     Teacher Training, also used in conjunction with Teachers’ Training College or Trainee Teachers.
3.     Provision of PD (Professional Development), or the need to “provide PD to teachers”
4.     Control, in any sense really, including the use of the phrase “Full Control” to describe the period of time when a student teacher takes responsibility for most of the teaching in a classroom while on practicum.
5.     Digital Native.
6.     21st Century anything.

Let me explain.

1.     We deliver products or services but we do not deliver teaching and learning. While teaching might be regarded as a service, and some programmes may be packaged as products, the actual engagement in teaching and learning is not a transaction and is not something that can be passed from one party to another. ‘Delivery’ belongs to the discourse of transmission, whereby education is a good that is held by those who have knowledge, and who can transmit the knowledge to those who do not have it. If we truly believe that learners construct understandings, we need to dispense with ‘delivery’ as a term in education. More suitable terms would be: negotiating, empowering, enabling, engaging, working with and even teaching.
2.     Animals are trained and athletes may choose to regard their hard work in pursuit of excellence as ‘training’, but initial teacher education is not synonymous with  training. This is because the aim tends to be to educate reflective professionals, creative and critical thinkers and decision-makers, capable of theorising, carrying out inquiry, and generating knowledge. In professional preparations like ITE, it is less a matter of 'practice makes perfect', and more complex, messy and evolving. Effective teachers never finish learning, the process is never complete.
3.     Provision of PD (Professional Development) or the need to “provide PD to teachers” becomes unnecessary and inappropriate when teachers are as characterised in no. 2 above. An active and creative professional does not wait for or expect anyone to “provide” anything, but seeks out opportunities and makes professional learning happen. This might be considered as adaptive help seeking or a connectivist approach. I have argued this previously in relation to passive PD vs active access
4.     Control is not a term we would apply to learners and teachers if we recognise their agency. Neither is the complex and messy business of learning something we should seek to control. Better to inspire, provoke and generate learning as a catalyst. In this vein, for some time I have been frustrated by the use of the term “Full Control” applied to the period of time when a student teacher takes responsibility for most of the teaching in a classroom while on practicum. What/who has the student teacher full control of? The pupils? The planning? The classroom programme? Any/all of this is entirely unrealistic and inappropriate. It is little wonder that many preservice teachers are obsessed and intimidated by the pressures of classroom management. Instead, as the student teacher progresses to teaching a class for extended periods, planning more of the learning, and making more of the daily decisions, we might regard this as ‘Sustained teaching responsibility’ or some combination of those terms.
5.     Digital Native (Prenksy, 2001) is an outdated stereotype. Although no doubt intended to raise awareness of the needs of young people in modern times, this term has been used to overgeneralise, by conveying an assumption that all young people come from similar backgrounds and contexts that are digitally saturated. This inequitable and unwarranted assumption has been applied to overestimating the digital literacy (and academic literacy) of youth, who still need education and guidance and who are not born knowing how to research and critique. At the same time, the disassociation of many teachers with ‘digital natives’ has led to an abdication of responsibility to learn and to cultivate educators’ digital literacies, regardless of age. For an insightful commentary about similar terms and the critique of the 'native' rhetoric, see Steve Wheeler's excellent blog. In recent times Prensky himself has distanced himself from the concept, acknowledging that the distinction has become less relevant with the passage of time and preferring instead to talk about digital enhancement, digital wisdom, and the importance of listening to kids.
6.     21st Century anything. Surely it is time to move on. Fifteen years into the century, perhaps we might turn our attention to the kinds of learning and teaching we would like to engage in.
For me, preferable descriptors would be: empowering, creative, critical, diverse, active and research-informed.

In relation to educational discourse, what are your favourite and least appreciated words?

Friday, 14 November 2014

Digital technologies in New Zealand schools: an overview of the 2014 report

I thought it timely to provide an interpretation of the Digital Technologies in New Zealand Schools 2014 Report that can be accessed HERE .

One conclusion in particular caught my attention. It says this:
The results of this year’s survey suggest that teachers have moved backward somewhat in relation to the six stages of ICT adoption, compared with previous years’ surveys. However, this is likely a reflection of the significant and ongoing changes and development that have occurred recently in relation to digital technologies and in particular access to and use of personal digital devices for student learning (p. 7).  
ITs conclusion is interesting for a number of reasons, including what the report writers didn't factor into the complex:  the types of compliance and reporting schools must complete to both the MOE and parents, meeting MOE-set attainment targets, and, in secondary schools, preparing students for exams. The analysis, therefore, is a little one-dimensional in drawing conclusions. Also, if principals are completing the survey, they may fill it in based on their wish-list rather than the reality. How would the principal necessarily know what technologies teachers regularly use for learning purposes, particularly if teachers experiment regularly, and when the school might have, say 60-80 teaching staff? And who cares about levels of ICT adoption? Don't we want to know more about the relationship to teaching and learning?

Another point caught my attention too. It resonates with the feedback from some of my ITE (initial teacher education) students' practicum experiences when they tried getting students to use the wifi simultaneously:

Eighty-seven percent of schools reported that WiFi access is available in all classrooms, but only 36 percent had tested their wireless infrastructure with large numbers of students (p. 8)
This is significant, for many of the grads on practicum noted that during classes when they wanted students to use wifi, they were regularly being kicked off the internet, taking a long time to log on, or pages taking ages to load.... This testing of the infrastructure is so important, but if you don't know it's important, you don't know to check it, right? This points to a huge chasm between what principals are supposed to know, and what is more realistic. Let's face it, wifi is still pretty new. It takes specialists to know the issues associated with simultaneous use by lots of people. Principals and teachers aren't usually specialists in the field of wifi capability. And this probably accounts for the conclusion from the survey data that:

While schools have started to collaborate with local Internet providers for the purpose of
providing Internet access for their communities by sharing the school’s fibre connection (six percent) and a further 14 percent are planning to do this in the future, two thirds reported they need more information or have not yet decided on the issue (p. 8). 

It is worth noting however, that it is 28% of principals who answered the survey. Is one quarter of the number of schools in NZ necessarily a statistically good sample? And when one principal  responded to a question admitted not knowing what a Google search was, how reliable can a survey be of digital technologies in schools when such principals are asked to fill these in? And can we rely on it being principals who answered? I suspect not. A savvy principal would give this survey task to the staff member they thought was the most knowledgeable in the field.

On page 22 of the report is a graph listing the technologies used by learners. Skype figures prominently, with 6% of survey respondents saying this was used extensively by students, and 55% used it regularly. What we don't get from the figures is whether this represents students in remote schools, or whether this represents the respondent thinking any use would be educational... Skype certainly doesn't figure in many classrooms or teachers' practices that I've dealt with, so I'd like to know more.  On the pages that follow is a table representing responses to the question "Do students at your school use any of the following digital tools for learning?" This at least acknowledges the type of school represented by the figures (primary, secondary, Maori medium, Special school). Worryingly, and given that facebook's stipulated minimum age is 13, 20% of primary school students used facebook for learning according to principals' returns. I have summarised these 'don't knows' as follows. However, it is important to note that no Special School principal responded to any of the ‘don’t know’ options for these listed tools:

Principal responses to the question “Do students at your school use any of the following digital tools for learning?”
Digital tools
% of principals who answered ‘don’t know what this is’
12% of primary schools; 17% of Maori medium schools. This may not be too significant, since Evernote is a tool for collecting, curating, annotating and sharing resources online. Having a mobile device also helps. This may be an school age age, socio-economic indicator
1% of primary; 8% of Maori medium responded with the don’t know it answer
Google+ Hangouts
21% primary schools; 15% secondary; 17% Maori medium
apparently 2% of primary school students use this; 13% secondary and 17%.  Really? That many - for learning? Can this result be trusted?
of the total 5% of ‘don’t know’ answer, this was made up of 6% of primary schools and 1% of secondary
Office 365
I wonder if the results would have been different if respondents were asked about Microsoft Office as a generic thing?
Office Web Apps
The same question applies to this option. Why not Apple or Android Apps?
16% of primary schools, 14% secondary and 17% Maori medium didn’t know about this. Surprising? I don't think so
11% primary; 15% secondary; 33% Maori medium
Slideshare tends not to be used in schools. I wonder why it is an option?
12%  primary; 12%secondary; 33% Maori medium

Because of the options listed, I'm not sure how significant this result is, or what it means, because quite a few of the tools seem more adult-oriented than student-focused, and so seem meaningless when associated with a question about the frequency of student use for learning purposes.

A much more interesting question was associated with the extent of personal digital device use in classrooms. On page 26 is a graph which says that across all types of schools, 23% have 100% penetration of using personal mobile devices all the time for learning. This is significant, especially when added to the 33% of schools that admit to over 50% of the time these are used for learning.
This compares with the statistics associated with an allied question on how often during a typical school week, students would use personal digital devices. Apparently, students NEVER use these devices in 20% of all schools, made up of 24% of primary schools, 4% secondary and 8% in Maori medium. The survey reporters also indicate that socio-economic conditions play a part, for decile 7-10 schools were more likely to report high use of personal mobile devices among its student population. This may also indicate the greater number of high decile schools that mandate these devices.

There is a lot more to analyse in this report, but in the light of the work I do with initial teacher education students in the digital technologies area, some of these findings are heartening and suggest a trajectory of infiltration in schools, and yet not all schools provide digital devices for students to use in class. That is a shame and is preventing some students from flexing their creative and learning wings. Just like books, a school needs to equip its learners and supplement what a home might already have. Or have not.  Let's hope that when this survey is next done, 100% of schools will be able to report providing digital devices for student use so that all students have the opportunity to learn with, through about them.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

ePortfolios in Initial Teacher Education

Earlier this year, my teaching partner and I introduced ePortfolios to our class of first year online students in the Mixed Media Programme, at the suggestion of our Chairperson, the paper coordinator. Neither of us had very much experience with ePortfolios. Our primary ITE programmes use in a limited fashion, for example students create portfolios in mathematics in their second year of study. In my optional papers, where I encourage students to select a means of presenting work and documenting learning, students have submitted eportfolios from time to time. While I have browsed and given feedback, I have been largely hands-off in facilitating the establishment and direction of the eportfolios.

That was until we decided that it made sense for students in the first year of the online Bachelor of Teaching degree to establish an eportfolio that could be used throughout their degree. Thanks to our colleague from the Waikato Centre for eLearning, Stephen Bright, and his collection of manuals and teaching ideas in, we understood the purposes of eportfolios and opted to encourage a learning and assessment portfolio. We also encouraged students to self-select and collate a variety of evidence of learning in their eportfolios, inviting multimedia artifacts. Our first attempt at the eportfolio assignment is appended to this post (Assignment 3).

So what do staff and students need to know when establishing an eportfolio?

Firstly, how the portfolio fits into the course; the formative and summative dimensions, and a couple of technical pointers: Namely, how to set up an account, add a page, how to arrange content for viewing (e.g., by putting journal entries on the same page), and vitally, how to share the eportfolio (with peers and/or lecturers) for formative feedback. Later, the distinction between sharing for feedback and submitting for grading becomes important. We were grateful to have Stephen’s support the first time we navigated these challenges with students.

In our experience, the toughest aspect for some students proved to be sharing the eportfolio with others. The steps for doing so were documented in written form, diagrammatically and within a screencast, but this part challenged students to the greatest degree. Some students also experienced difficulty with arranging content for viewing, to a lesser extent. Besides the technical hurdles, which were by and large surmounted, students had to learn to act on formative feedback in order to revise and improve work prior to submission for grading.

Student response to the eportfolio challenge was mixed, with many appreciating the opportunity to establish an eportfolio. Some were familiar with the approach through work in schools and with their own children. Others were intimidated, and the start of an online degree is an overwhelming time for most. As time went on, with support, students came to appreciate the eportfolio and to enjoy the work. Anonymous appraisals included comments indicating that students valued the evolution of their eportfolio over time and could appreciate the preservation of early work, the formative potential and the future possibilities. As one student commented, “the eportfolio is a good way to keep your reflections in one place… you can look back and see how far you have come”. The same student also remarked, “I like the way I was able to go back and alter some of my first writing". Another student said, “The eportfolio is a great exercise and one that I will continue to develop and also use in my practice”.

One of the aspects of our eportfolio approach that worked particularly well was that students were given designated weeks in order to work on eportfolio entries. During these weeks, no asynchronous online discussion was expected. This emphasises the importance of developing the eportfolio. After such a week, Jenny (my teaching partner) and I gave formative feedback on eportfolio entries. This pattern effectively maintained the progress of most students in relation to their eportfolio entries, by ensuring regular class time. This also ensured the development of the eportfolio was intimately woven into the paper as a learning experience, rather than being purely for assessment purposes (just another assignment). Due to the success of this approach, we are considering alternate eportfolio and online discussion weeks in 2015.

As we reflect on 2014 and look ahead to 2015, we are planning a number of improvements to our eportfolio approach:
  • In short, the eportfolio development will become more central to the paper.
  • When students are on campus, we will repeat the introductory session from this year, but will ensure more time for students to work on their first entries, and will insist that these are shared for formative feedback prior to leaving campus. It may be necessary to make extra sessions available to assist students who have difficulty with arranging and sharing their content.
  • We now have models of student work to share, in order to demonstrate the visual layout and content expectations of the eportfolio. Thanks 2014 students :-)
  • As mentioned, we will deliberately intersperse discussion with designated time to focus on eportfolio development and will continue to ensure students have formative feedback throughout the semester.
  • We plan to actively encourage students to peer review eportfolios for formative purposes, and will look at ways of coordinating this via a non-threatening and criteria-based approach.

In time, as more ITE students begin their degrees by establishing an eportfolio, more of the curriculum can be integrated into the reflective, formative and summative possibilities. After all, one only needs to set up a new page in order to build a new dimension to the portfolio :-)

Any other tips for us for our eportfolio adventures?

Assignment 3: ePortfolio
Weighting: 40%

Due date: Monday, 9 June 2014 Your ePortfolio will be comprised of a series of entries over time. Further details and clarification will be provided at our on campus sessions (Feb 20th in particular) and within our online class. As a minimum, your entries should include the following: First entry – on campus – 20 Feb

1. Reflect on your oral presentation and give a brief summary of the content of your speech. Include:
  • your adjectives and a brief explanation of their meaning to you
  • a teaching role model
  • links to Fraser (2012)
  • a statement about the teacher you aspire to become
2. Comment on audience response and interaction – either during or after your presentation. How did others respond?

3. What did you learn from your colleagues’ presentations?

4. Add any additional current thinking about the teacher you aspire to become

Other entries:

24 Feb: Write a follow up to your time on campus. Reflect on:

  • five things learned
  • one aspect that surprised you
  • one fear, worry or concern
  • one goal for your study and coursework
  • one article/chapter you have read so far that has resonated with you

24-30 March: Module 4 entry: Creating and managing learning environments 

Having completed the Module 4 tasks, collate and present some of your learning by writing a paragraph on each of the following:
  • Describe some of the strategies your CT uses to engage students in groupwork.
  • Comment on how space is used to create a safe learning environment.
  • Give an example of how your CT sets expectations for learning.
  • From the list of ‘General Guidelines’ on p. 133 of The Professional Practice of Teaching, identify three points that resonate with you. Discuss why.

28 April: Module 7: Diversity
Know yourself

Think about your own culture. List the 8 most representative values and beliefs of your culture. Rank the top 3 in order of importance, according to your perception.
Find a digital artefact – film clip, image or link that you consider to be in some way representative of an important aspect of your culture. Add/embed this artefact in your ePortfolio along with a brief explanation of its significance to you.

Other entries, in your own time:

1. Choose a week of significant learning. Write/record a brief entry synthesising your learning in relation to school, reading and discussion.

2. Find and link to a media report about a current issue in the schooling sector. Briefly explain the issue in your own words and write two differing stances in relation to the matter.

3. Find and link to an educational resource online – a blog, website or other digital resource for teachers. Briefly review this resource in terms of its use for teaching and learning in the classroom.

4. Write about a new skill, disposition or insight you have developed since commencing initial teacher education.

5. Give an example of an online discussion in which you learned from a peer in class. Quote and cite the relevant discussion entries, and explain the learning that occurred.

6. Write a set of 3 goals for semester B. For each goal, devise a practical strategy to help you achieve.

= 10 entries

Please note:

You are expected to make regular entries in your ePortfolio. The ten listed above are compulsory and must be made during the time frames where indicated.
You may make more than ten entries if you so wish. Try to reflect on particular episodes of teaching, and make links to your base school experiences (preserving confidentiality), and to your reading and discussion.

Feel free to include multi-media content at any stage, including film clips, audio, images and web links.

(Do not film children, as this requires stringent ethics approval. You may film yourself talking or otherwise engaging with the content).
  • ePortfolio entries are regular, throughout semester
  • Entries are reflective of the tasks set
  • The ePortfolio captures thoughtful consideration of professional issues
  • Use is made of evidence from practice, reading and discussion
  • Written entries are accurate
  • Multimedia is included appropriately in order to creatively enhance selected entries

Friday, 31 October 2014

The NZ eLearning Guidelines

I've been reading the eLearning Guidelines that are an Ako-Aotearoa project aimed at (a) the tertiary sector, and (b) at providing support for those involved in online learning.

The trouble is, the guidelines are intended for 5 different but audiences, but doesn't address any of them as it should. As a result, I find them very confusing.  This is taken from its own home page:
The eLearning guidelines (eLg) have been developed to assist the tertiary sector in its engagement with eLearning. The guidelines offer prompts for reflection from five perspectives - the learner, teacher, manager, organisational leader and quality assurance body.  When considering one of these perspectives in the eLearning and eTeaching process, the guidelines assist the designing, implementing and enhancing of your practice to ensure thoughtful and intentional eLearning provision.
It amy offer prompts for reflection, but it DOESN'T do it from 5 perspectives. I argue that it hasn't sorted its audience at all. I will use one of the perspectives (The Teacher Perspective) as an example. It leads with this rather tautological statement:
The teacher perspective asks you to consider your practice from the educator's point of view. It includes the development of teachers for eLearning, their different roles in the process and the evaluation of practice
Now, if I'm a tertiary teacher, I already know that this is my perspective - I want to know how these guidelines can help me help my learners online.  I've been teaching online and f2f for a very long time. Should these guidelines inform me of things I haven't yet considered? This statement "The teacher perspective asks you to consider your practice from the educator's point of view" is really no help at all. If I'm not an educator coming to these specific Teacher Perspective guidelines to help me develop my practice, who would I be? If I am an educator, what sort of educator am I?

When I look at the Designing guidelines, I'm faced with a series of questions, rather than guidelines. Let me look at these wearing the hat of someone who's a newbie online educator in my first 3 months as a polytechnic tutor from a trade. I have very little idea of what pedagogy is - but I know my content. I want to know what to do to start developing some online stuff for my learners.

There are, ominously, 13 TD (Teacher Designing) questions for me to answer. Not guidelines. Number 5 is this: Are staff development personnel involved in the introduction of new approaches, tools and materials? I come out in a cold sweat. I have no idea what this means. A 'new approach' to what? What is a 'new approach'? Compared with what? What if everything is new to me? What do 'staff development personnel' have to do with my class? What does it mean by 'tools'? 'materials'? Aren't I just using the internet and the institution's LMS? It gets worse. The 13th question asks "Do teaching staff engage in an online teaching orientation programme?"  If I'm a beginning online educator, how does this question help me design my online learning? These questions appear to be aimed at programme co-ordinators, not individual tertiary educators wanting some guidance.

If I go to 'Implementing' then I hope to find some clues about how I implement my online learning. Here is one of the questions: 'Do teaching staff introduce and support the development of digital information and technical skills relevant to their course?' Now, I'm not only not addressed as an educator, I'm asked to answer for my colleagues, but I'm no further ahead in knowing what I'm supposed to do and know myself as a new polytechnic educator.

This set of questions appears to me to be talking to a programme co-ordinator, not someone who's desperate to find out what to do to put a course online and understand the process.

Should such a set of guidelines use second person to address the reader in the role being talked about? Should the guidelines about each aspect (designing, implementing, enhancing, resources) focus on addressing the intended perspective? Incidentally, the acronym for Designing, Implementing, Enhancing is DIE. Add Resources and you have DIER - Should it be dire?)

I can see that guidelines for eLearning are a positive thing. But I wonder -are a set of questions actually guidelines? Are sets of questions that do not directly address the perspective of the intended audience of them, the right approach? Could guidelines be written a bit differently? And there are already some perfectly good sets of guidelines already in existence. Take for instance Gilly Salmond's series and now the new book by Bonk and Khoo already reviewed in one of Dianne's earlier posts. Dianne's own doctoral thesis, about effective online discussions, is also another fine resource, as are her articles on this topic. And on Slideshare is the Sidneyeve Matrix presentation Quick Start Guide for Online Students.  It is clear, straightforward and keys into student experiences for learning online.

Now that I've posed some challenges, here's one possible alternative to open up the discussion. For the Teacher Perspective/Designing list (Guidelines? No), might something like this better address an audience of educators new to online teaching:

You're new to teaching online? Here are some pointers to think about as you learn to plan for your learners:
1. Seek support from your LMS support team (Moodle might be your LMS) so they can help you get the best out of the online options available.
2. Ask yourself: What do my learners need to know in this topic? What will be different online from f2f? For example, you might need some demonstration videos to illustrate key ideas or processes. What already exists that's useful?
3. What do the learners need to read/have access to? Is this easily accessible online? How will their learning materials/tools shape how you organise the learning online?
4. How will you check for learning? What will be the best fit? (eg for factual or right/wrong answers, an online quiz might work?
5. How will you assess their learning?
6. If you know that they are are new to online learning, what will you do to help them?  
Of course, there might need to be different or extended options for an experienced online educator looking to improve and update their online practices. The difference between the questions and ideas above, and the ones in the eLearning Guidelines, is that I could more readily find myself knowing what to do and how to go about it. And what about including examples of effective practice in action? A TLRI project a few years did that, directed by Marcia Johnson from the University of Waikato. Models of practices with accompanying annotations might be very useful to other tertiary educators. After all, we know that context is hugely important in education.

Does anyone else have suggestions for developing the guidelines into something that an educator could use and springboard action from?

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Connected Educators, Connected Students

As the end of the month draws nearer, this is a follow up to a post I wrote back in September, about Becoming a Connected Educator. I mentioned the social media challenge I have tried recently with online undergraduate ICT option classes (in teacher education).

Sometimes called POPLN (Professional Online Presence and Learning Networks), the social media challenge involves students exploring a range of social media and selecting a tool or combination of tools to use for learning about teaching and learning through ICT. The task involves an orientation and goal setting at the outset of the semester, followed by weekly reminders and prompts to continue learning through social media. Twitter is used to model some of the learning possibilities, via a tweetstream embedded in Moodle, and a class hashtag for asynchronous use, as well as the synchronous tweetmeet approach.

Since the September 22 post, our class has had two more synchronous tweetmeets, this time using TweetChat, followed by storify, as recommended by my learned colleague, Nigel (Thanks Nigel!).

We arranged the tweetmeets via a Moodle sharing space, negotiating a suitable time (after children were put to bed), and at tweetmeets #2 and #3 we set topics in advance to guide our discussion. Each tweetmeet went for around an hour, and at the end a student volunteer used storify to capture the essence of our conversation, posting the link in Moodle for the class.

In terms of the wider social media challenge, students reported their progress three quarters of the way through the semester, which served to demonstrate the learning. Students were asked to reflect on the following:

Briefly summarise your progress with the use of social media for learning about ICT issues, perspectives and strategies. Specifically,

  • What tool/s have you used and how has your use supported your learning?
  • Explain how the use of social media has helped you to gain awareness or insight into ICT-related issues, perspectives and strategies.
  • What challenges have you faced in relation to social media use?
  • Briefly relate a highlight or breakthrough moment.
  • What are your goals for future learning in relation to professional learning through social media? What are the next immediate steps for you as a learner?
Student responses to these prompts were mixed, with some fairly surface-oriented comment. Some were inclined to pay lip service to the task rather than providing actual evidence of learning through social media. Superordinate reflections like this task, as outlined above, catch students out when the work is not available to draw upon as evidence of learning. In response to this concern, I plan to restructure the task, retaining the element of choice, while providing further direction in terms of pacing, and what constitutes evidence of learning.

Some of the student responses were rich and articulate. I have permission to share a few here.

Popular media for this group of students included the VLN, Twitter, Pinterest, and blogging. Some students, like Angela, have been busily tweeting, blogging and pinning all semester. In relation to Pinterest, Angela reflected:
It has been a great tool to collect resources related to teaching. For example, I have been interested in modern learning environments so using Pinterest, I was able to find images that helped me gain an understanding and insight to what this might look like. I also wanted to find resources about e-learning and Pinterest provided me with a range of creative and engaging e-learning posters that have tips for teachers and also great visuals to hang in the classroom.
While Angela combined her use of three forms of social media, Josie stuck to Twitter with a single-minded determination to wring out every drop of professional learning. Josie explained:
The tool I chose to use for the social media challenge is Twitter.  I feel this was a great choice as it has opened up professional learning possibilities in many ways.  Firstly, through ‘following’ specific education-based individuals as well as organisations, I have been able to stay updated regarding movements relating to educational policy and research through the comments or ‘posts’ others have made through Twitter.  I have also found this medium useful with regard to resources.  There are many organisations that actively use Twitter to share their great ideas for classroom activities, and positive experiences they have had using particular resources.  CORE Education and the Science Learning Hub are examples of some Twitter users who post tips for their followers to use.  Another dimension of awareness I have encountered through the use of social media is the ability, when actively looking, to stay updated about the latest and greatest in terms of educational opportunities.  There have been summits, conferences and professional learning sessions which have been ‘tweeted’ about, and I have come to know about these events solely through reading Twitter. I have visited many websites and blog pages as a direct result of tweets that I have read.  Being connected in this way has brought me to academic readings, topical debates and page after page of classroom activity sites.
The biggest challenge for the students was finding the confidence to post. Surmounting this hurdle was also the most significant breakthrough, and with it came the realisation of the power of social media for collaboration and discovery. 

As Angela relates: 
My breakthrough moment would definitely have to be joining the 'What is School' educational chat. I was able to connect with educators from around the world for one hour to discuss educational technology. It was a great experience that allowed me to gain insight on the perspectives of other educators and discuss issues and strategies with using technology in the classroom. For example, during the ‘what is school’ chat one person stated that, “Closed minds are the biggest roadblock. Just seeing tech and not the possibilities” (Drager, 2014) and in regards to strategies, Lang (2014) shared, “Technology should be used as a transformational tool for innovation and creativity, not an add-on.” A common theme was that technology should be used to enhance collaboration, discovery, and a sense of empowerment.
I can sincerely tell you that it is a pleasure to work with student teachers like Zoey, who wrote in conclusion: 
I am aware that being a teacher who is a “confident, connected, actively involved, life-long learner” (Ministry of Education, 2007, p. 8) will be beneficial for my own growth and for my students. I plan to have an open-mindset towards learning in new environments because I want to be a teacher who guides my students to do the same.
This sums things up well. That is what I want too. 

Sincere thanks to Angela, Emma, Josie, Zoey and Natalie for allowing me to draw upon their work for this post.