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.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

The digital divide and education

I've been mulling over a few things I've heard recently while at two conferences (ACEC2014 and Ulearn14). The first was in Adelaide, South Australia, and the second was in Rotorua, New Zealand, a week apart. The two conferences have similarities in that they are predominantly designed with school teachers in mind. During both of those conferences, I heard, in passing, comments from teachers that position students in particular ways in relation to digital technologies.

The most common is that they (students) already know how to use almost any device, as if it's an appendage, and so it's all sorted. In other words, because these young people are growing up digital, they can transfer what they know about using them from one device to another with ease. The misunderstanding about Prensky's (2001) initial metaphor to describe those born into a digital world compared with those who weren't (digital natives vs digital immigrants), is still alive and well, unfortunately. The Baffler's post captured this misunderstanding succinctly. In other words, people have attributed much more to the metaphor than was intended, and Prensky himself has examined what's happened to it in a chapter of Michael Thomas's (2011) edited book Deconstructing Digital Natives: Young people, technology and the new literacies.

This broad and misunderstood assumption about digital natives and digital divides is understood to mean that 'digital natives' know how to think in subject disciplinary ways when they use digital devices. This view is mistaken because the skills of using a device to do things with are not the same as applying critical thinking - making inferences, seeing patterns, analysing ideas, seeing contradictions, gaps and silences - to the information available through them and making sense of what might be highly political and agenda-driven (the kind of stuff I've alluded to in previous posts). Dianne, in two of her posts, has alluded to similar ideas about teachers' responsibilities and roles, as well as the hype round digital technologies in education in Professional Learning: Passive Development VS Active Access and Is there hope (and depth) beyond the bandwagon?

The OECD for example, discusses relevant issues when they say that:
      ...a second digital divide has emerged between individuals who moved to embrace a technology-rich world and those who have been left behind.
      Part of this divide is generational: the OECD Survey of Adult Skills (PIAAC) shows that on average 16-24 year olds are much more competent at solving problems in technology-rich environments than their older counterparts. Further, in many countries large parts of the adult population have insufficient ICT problem-solving skills - meaning that they either failed the assessment or were unable to take part because they had never used a computer. Between 30% and 50% of the adult population in Ireland, Poland and the Slovak Republic fall into this category.       However, the digital divide is not only generational. Eight percent of young adults aged 16-24 also had insufficient ICT skills on the PIAAC assessment. Unfortunately, young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to be less confident and less proficient at using new technologies. There is also a gender gap. Girls use ICTs less intensively and for fewer tasks on average than boys.
These findings, coupled with the comments overheard at the conferences, really bother me because the assumptions people hold mean students are not being deliberately and systematically taught to think independently with fully functioning crap detectors when they use these digital technologies - leaving aside the class, gender and economic barriers already at work for some students. For adults to reach a point where they cannot easily problem-solve either using or not using technological tools, is a worry. And doing us no favours is the OECD's comment about "insufficient ICT problem-solving skills".  It is a bit ambiguous - does it mean their ICT skills are insufficient for them to solve problems when they use ICTs, or does it mean they have problems solving ICT problems (eg learning how to use them or trouble-shooting)? I'm not sure, so you may not be either.

Of course teaching purposefully with the aim of equipping all students to think deeply about their own and others' contexts and solve problems with digital technologies is really hard - deep thinking is strenuous and difficult - and students will do their best to avoid flexing these thinking muscles because of this. They'd much rather teachers talk at them so they can slump in their chairs and mentally drift off. Teachers will sometimes avoid thinking too hard too - it's exhausting and their days are busy and enervating. I've also been known to skive off mentally when things get hard. It's human nature.

BUT - we are charged with teaching our learners (whether they are our own children, in ECE or are school aged students, or are tertiary learners) to inherit the earth. We can't do that if we continue to avoid teaching them to think, to question, to argue. Some teachers, however, would prefer nice, compliant students who just 'get on with their work' - as if compliance in all things is a good thing. Argumentative, divergent thinkers and inquiring students mean more work!

We know that multi corporations (think alcohol, 'food' producers, tobacco and other manufacturers) are quite likely to prefer to have a compliant and dulled populace to sell stuff to. Governments would like a compliant and dull populace too - a citizenry that doesn't think for itself, but takes at face value what they are told. They are much easier to manipulate that way, to achieve political agendas. We can see it now, for example, in how our Prime Minister is softening us up to agree/be compliant about 'terrorist' legislation - aka more spying on citizens - to make us more fearful and therefore trust that governments have our best interests at heart. Orwell's book 1984 is entirely coming to fruition in the growth of doublethink (using the language and ideas of one side by the other to undermine it) and half truths. The agendas are not laid out for us to see, but hidden. We must teach our learners to dig deep into these words and ideas.

 Supporting our learners to know how to come to thoughtful, well researched and balanced decisions and views is our job. It requires a concerted effort to teach them to think, question, interrogate, create... We need them to be feisty thinkers - and the world needs them. This is what we owe them. If we don't help them leverage the affordances of digital technologies to search out opposing and divergent views about issues in this world, to be courageous in their thinking, and to inherit the earth as well-prepared citizens, then we have failed. Consider Liam Dann's comment about business readiness to cope with technological reliance implications. He notes with some alarm, that "This gulf in technological knowledge is a business problem and ultimately a wider social problem. It threatens to create a new layer of class inequality - if we let it".

So, what does this mean for education? We need to show students how to use readily available digital tools to search wisely, to curate sources, to sift ideas, to question, and to create new thinking and perspectives. We need to show them, for example, what giving up online privacy actually means, what their digital footprint looks like, and what social networking can do both for and to them.

We need to show our students (whoever they are) that thinking deeply and strenuously is hard, but a necessary part of being a full and independent citizen. Let's do this together.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Networking with Alan Levine

As part of my quest to become a connected educator, I attended the recent session with Alan Levine at the University of Waikato about Networked Teachers - A story of open, connected educators.
Alan presented at the University as part of a nine-day research tour around NZ, and his Friday morning session came soon after his presentations at Shar-e-fest.

Alan, aka @cogdog is a web pioneer, a blogger and an inventor, with current interests in narratives and photography. Check out his work at:

The session on networked teachers revolved around open attitudes, sharing stories, improvising and considering options for connected courses. We recorded some stories about times when we opened up teaching and learning opportunities beyond the classroom, lecture theatre or LMS, to find that something unexpected could happen – here’s mine: recounting a time when a student tweeted a blogpost to our class hashtag, only to have the blogger join us in an informal twitter exchange about social media, beginning teachers, and learning philosophies.

We also discussed barriers to openness, in the form of institutional patterns, student expectations, and even twitter trolls masquerading as conference delegates. Sharing can be discouraged when there is a fear of theft, when colleagues are predatory rather than supportive, and when the culture encourages competition and ruthless self-promotion at the expense of collaboration.

We played with the wonderful which involved us selecting ‘teaching’ as a keyword, then speaking for a few seconds each on a series of random images. This was a fun, impromptu exercise, good for surfacing assumptions and for finding common ground.
Check out Alan Levine’s PechaFlickr. If familiar with PechaKucha, you will recognise the idea of 20 slides and 20 seconds per slide, as a way of promoting concise presentations. Similar improvised presentation ideas are BattleDecks and PowerPoint Karaoke.

The session concluded with a whirlwind tour of open connected courses, where students each maintain their own blog as a personalised space, and tag to aggregate these to a source site (syndication). For example, is an open course on how to run open courses.

Thank you to Alan for his openness, sharing, innovative ideas and energy.
And thanks to the other attendees who came along to share, critique, engage and record their stories, contributing to our Pechaflickr fun too.

The key ideas stemming from Alan’s session are, for me:
  • Open up and share
  • Tell stories, listen and collaborate
  • Improvise to improve
  • Connect for active co-learning

Do these ideas resonate with you?
Did you also work with Alan during his kiwi visit?
How did the afternoon workshop session go and what can you share?