Friday, 26 August 2016

COOL schools option: a long term view of the potential political agenda


The Minister of Education has announced that Communities of Online Learning (COOLs) will become a feature of the compulsory education landscape in New Zealand. Apart form this being yet another ramping up of the privatisation of our education system, it reminds me of a prescient short story from way last century. I'll refer to that in a moment. First, here are some snippets of bonhomie from those in political power here: "Mr Seymour hopes it'll involve foreign-based providers as well" Mr Seymour is the one and only ACT party member of parliament, representing the hard core of neo-liberalism activism in the country. His presence makes the National Party's work in chipping away at dismantling our system for private enterprise look benign. He also says "It'll replace going to a traditional school, and a brilliant idea."

Claire Amos sees a rosy future for the idea - and good on her for such a positive spin. She has a firm grasp of the educative possibilities. Her post outlines some possibilities where learning is enhanced by the option - and why shouldn't it be? In the right hands, it can be a strong and positive adjunct to deliberate acts of teaching and learning. When students are ill - or even teachers- then learning need not be as disrupted as it might be currently. It can extend students and provide options for accounting for and creating new knowledge. However, I think there is more afoot.

The politics perhaps? 

Hekia Parata as Minister, meanwhile, is talking up this innovation by saying it provides existing schools with opportunities to enhance current practices and offer students greater variety in their learning. But what if future governments also keen on privatising education wanted to completely dismantle public schools and make then less than viable in the face of private companies taking the lion's share of public money?  Derek Wenmouth issues a caution in his very good blog post on the issue when he talks of the apparent influences on the regulation regime that might eventuate here to police this change.

We might even find ourselves in the position Miss Boltz found herself in the satirical (and scarily prescient) short story by Lloyd Biggles Jr And Madly Teach in a collection called A Galaxy of Strangers (1957 but out of print) let me explain:

In this sci fi story (well it was futuristic in 1957), Miss Boltz comes back to Earth after teaching 'overseas ' in Mars for a while. There, she'd had classes full of kids, and taught them English - books, talking, arguing ideas, writing and building connections. Back on Earth, she needs to keep teaching, so goes along to find out what her new appointment was. After all, she had been teaching for 25 years, loved it, and was respected for her expertise. The Deputy Superintendent of tSecondary Education however, suggests she immediately retire because teaching is a "young person's profession". Mr Wilbings goes on to tell her that there had been a 'revolution in education" and that for 5 hours teaching a week, she would need forty hours preparation. There would be 40,000 students who attended class by watching her on television. The success of her teaching would be measured by a fortnightly Trendex rating, but the only thing students had to do was to register.  Assessments, feedback and any kind of communication with students other than pushing material to them, was frowned on.

On her way to being shown how to use the tv studio, she wonders to the engineer who shows her the controls for broadcasting herself, how she is to teach 40,000 students written and spoken English without ever hearing them speak or see their writing. A few weeks later she meets another teacher, who explains, in response to a similar wondering that
Let's not be dragging in abstractions like progress... The New Education looks at it this way: We expose the child to the proper subject matter. The exposure takes place in his own home, which is the most natural environment for him. He will absorb whatever his individual capacity permits, and more than that we have no right to expect... What the New Education strives for is the technique that has made advertising such an important factor in our economy. Hold people's attention, make them buy in spite of themselves. Or hold the student's attention and make him learn whether he wants to or not" (p. 9).  
Miss Boltz protests that students would not learn social values, to which the other teacher replies
"On the other hand the school has no discipline problems. No extra curricular activities to supervise. No problem of transporting children to school and home again.... The most potent factor in this philosophy of the New's money...we save a fortune on teachers' salaries... The bright kids will learn no matter how badly they're taught and that's all our civilisation needs - a few bright people to build a lot of bright machines...Anyway, in the not too distant future there won't be any teachers. Central District is experimenting with filmed classes. Take a good teacher, film a year of his work and you don;t need a teacher any longer. You just run the films..."(pp. 9-10)
The story shows how the Trendex works to 'judge' the success of the teacher through how many students are watching, but the quality is not a factor. So, the story descries a variety of scenarios of 'teachers' doing a slow striptease to "all you cats and toms out there" to explain the predicate in English, ostensibly to students who are US 11th Grade. Another teacher juggles, and another draws caricatures while supposedly teaching history. All for Trendex ratings. Forget the pedagogy or the challenge in learning.

I won't tell you the rest of the story - it's worth reading for the social and educational commentary it makes. It also highlights a point about those who make educational policy need to speak to those in the educational trenches - teachers and teacher educators - in terms of knowing about successful learning and what is needed for developing skilful, knowledgeable, socially adept and critical citizens. As a teacher educator for example, educational researcher and someone with 20 years' experience in secondary schools, I  actually know what I'm talking about. I'm not unusual as a teacher educator. People like me should not be ignored in the equation, for we have a wider view than the site of one school and we make it our business to keep an eye on wider implications of policies.

And then there's the potential problem of kids at home by themselves. Hands up, those who want to supervise the online learning of their own kids every day of the week from home? Consider what's implicated in this little bon mot on the MOE website about Cool Schools:
Who will be responsible for the supervision of a student enrolled in a COOL?
Enrolling COOLs and schools will be responsible for ascertaining and agreeing with parents and caregivers, about the supervision arrangements of students enrolled. In all cases where a student is accessing online learning, the enrolling school or COOL will have a policy that clearly states the supervisory responsibilities of the enroller and students’ parents.
So how might this work? What guidelines will be in place for the 'enroller' to create a fit-for-purpose policy with actual teeth? Will it be fair? Will it expect a staff member to pop in every day (if in an urban area - rural might be more complex) to check on progress (eg by video feed or actual physical presence)? A computer's camera being timed to take regular pics to prove a student is online? Or Analytics to check frequency and time spent? Or both? Is this potentially the equivalent of a GPS ankle bracelet for students? Or will the expectation be that students actually do this in a school so that surveillance can be more easily achieved?

As far as teachers and caregivers are concerned, what new learning might they need to make this work successfully? What does it imply for households' technological equipment and wifi needs? Who will be expected to supply it?

Teachers and Curriculum and Waikato Journal of Education

This is a shameless post to publicise two of the journals published by WMIER

The first is Teachers and Curriculum, which is calling for papers for a 2017 October issue date. The focus, as you will see below, is a Call for Papers for a special issue on Mobile technologies and learning as noted below. So, if you've been involved in, for example, some action research on your own practices (ECE, school, tertiary) then this might be for you. On the other hand, you might be starting a masters degree or a doctorate and writing a literature review that could offer insights to readers on the topic. You might be a researcher working with others in some education context and have been developing findings from this research. In other words, if you've been wondering about using mobile devices for learning purposes, then sharing your findings by contributing to this issue is timely:

Teachers and Curriculum

Call for Papers 2017

Special Issue: Mobile technologies and learning

You are invited to submit an article to Teachers and Curriculum for the 2017 Special Issue: Mobile technologies and learning. This will be edited by Nigel Calder and Carol Murphy. It will be published in October 2017.
Teachers and Curriculum is a peer-reviewed online journal supported by Wilf Malcolm Institute of Educational Research (WMIER), Te Kura Toi Tangata Faculty of Education, The University of Waikato. It is directed towards a professional audience and focuses on contemporary issues, stories from the field and research relating to curriculum, pedagogy and assessment.
This Special Issue of Teachers and Curriculum aims to provide an avenue for the publication of papers that:
  • report on research in any aspect related to the area of mobile technologies;
  • provide examples of informed curriculum, pedagogy or assessment practices related to mobile technologies, and
  • review resources that have a curriculum, pedagogy and mobile technology focus.
For the 2017 Special Issue the Editor welcomes contributions that are:
  • research-based papers with a maximum of 3,500 words, including references, plus an abstract or professional summary of 150 words, and up to five keywords;
  • papers with a focus on informed, innovative educational practices with a maximum of 3,500 words including references;
  • opinion or think pieces with a maximum of 1500 words;
  • text, publication or resource reviews with a maximum of 1000 words; and
  • research project/thesis summaries from postgraduate students and teacher co-researchers and collaborators.


Paper submission due:1 April 2017 (all articles submitted via website)
Issue Publication: October 2017
Any queries on paper foci please contact: Nigel Calder (
Note 1: It is expected that all papers submitted will have been “colleague reviewed” prior to submission to ensure a starting point of high quality.
Note 2: Teachers and Curriculum is published online only.

Note 3: We welcome expressions of interest to join the paper review team.

The second journal to shamelessly promote is Waikato Journal of Education. Both of these journals use an open source platform to share educational research that we think will be of use to the education community worldwide. Waikato Journal of Education (WJE) recently celebrated its 20th year with a special issue. Next year, an issue will focus on the politics of education in New Zealand: Nine Years of National’s Education Policy: Where to Now? The call for papers for that issue has gone out, so if this is your area of interest, consider contributing! This year, the first issue focuses on family literacy while the second one will be a bumper crop of articles spanning a wide array of contexts, countries and sectors. 

These two journals are open to anyone to read and submit to. Please take advantage of these Creative Commons licensed journals to see what's being reported in the part of the world. We also welcome your feedback and your submissions to either journal. 

Monday, 1 August 2016

Summer Research Scholarships: Earn and Learn at the University of Waikato

I'm thrilled that a project I want to undertake has been approved for summer research scholarship funding. This means the university will pay a student to help me with my research project this summer! I feel compelled to write a blog post in order to help make students aware of the benefits of a summer scholarship, and to spread the word about my project so that it attracts some suitable applicants.

Each year, researchers from our university submit projects for summer scholarship funding, hoping to employ a student as a research assistant for ten weeks of full time work between November and February. In return the students who are employed receive $5000 tax free and learn a few research skills in the process.

Last year, I received funding for a project I was working on related to social media in tertiary teaching and learning. The summer scholar worked on a literature review related to this topic, learning how to search effectively using electronic library resources, and how to construct a Zotero group library full of annotated references. For the student (a marketing/management major), the work was flexible, mostly completed online, and an opportunity to learn about new searching tools and techniques, as well as to investigate an interesting subject area. The payment was a significant boost to a recent graduate, and the learning (attending sessions with library staff, and researching the topic) was a fun aspect too. In this win-win situation, I had the opportunity to learn and work alongside the summer scholar, and the annotated bibliography produced continues to be a useful resource in my research and writing.

This year, my project is about blended learning at Waikato, and I plan to investigate the instances of blended learning (see this previous post) that are happening in various faculties within our institution. As part of the data gathering process, I want to conduct video interviews with lecturers (or other university teachers) who are integrating aspects of online and on campus teaching and learning as part of their courses, across a range of disciplines. With appropriate ethics approval (of course), I am also hoping to talk with students taking the courses, to hear their views about the pros and cons of blended learning in our tertiary context, the varieties/forms it takes, and what enables and constrains the learning in a blended format. The intended outcome will be a series of small case studies, comprised of short video clips, and accompanying text. The project is #17 in this full project list.

To assist with this case study research, I am looking for a research assistant who is interested in video interviewing. The suitable candidate might be finishing their second or third year of undergraduate study, or could be a masters student taking taught papers, in any discipline at any university in NZ or Australia. The full regulations for the scholarship are here.

Could this be you or someone you know? One of your students? One of your peers?

The summer scholar for the BlendedLearning@Waikato project will be:
- eager to learn about interviewing as a method, and to have a go at interviewing with me at first, then independently
- confident with a video camera or willing to learn
- available to work in Hamilton during the summer period (with holidays in the middle encouraged)

I am interested in hearing from potential candidates, who then need to apply to the scholarships office by 31 August.

In summary, the summer research scholarship is a mutually beneficial opportunity for me to work with a research assistant to progress my project,  while the scholar learns and earns at the same time!

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Variety in the blend

Getting ready for a new semester, I am pondering the fact that until recently I have described my teaching as "mostly online" or "fully online". However, there has gradually been a shift in how I see this online teaching, since most of it occurs in a blended context, to a greater or lesser extent.

By ways of explanation, looking ahead to the coming semester, I am teaching four classes, and each is either online or blended to some degree. I'm using this post to think-aloud about the elements of blended learning in my classes and how they differ in the intent and timing of the face-to-face.

I like this Mindflash explanation of blended learning, because it includes mention of flipped learning as well as structured independent study. Other definitions stipulate that the online study should replace some of the face-to-face component, rather than being merely an add-on, which is an important point in terms of workload management for students and staff. Still other definitions do a great job of illustrating some of the variations possible, both in terms of models and quality.

In semester B, I am teaching:

One fully online class, an undergraduate elective, entitled 'Learning through ICT: Issues, perspectives, and strategies'. We'll call it the ICT option.

One mixed media class, a compulsory paper for students in our Bachelor of Teaching, Mixed Media Presentation, entitled 'Curriculum and Assessment'. We'll call it the MMP core paper.

A masters level 'research methods' class, compulsory for students as a precursor to the research component of their masters degree. Let's call it the masters class.

And a new class for me: Originally an on campus offering, entitled 'The teaching and learning process: Innovative approaches', which I have elected to blend with online components. This one will be referred to as the new blended course.

In each of these three classes, there is a continuum from fully online to blended study, and the blend occurs in different ways.

For example, the ICT option is fully online. It caters for students who are located at a distance from the university, often in their final semester of study, and is sometimes taken by students who have timetable clashes with other options. I see it as "full immersion in online study", and explain it this way to students. The online interaction takes place in Moodle, and is comprised of asynchronous discussion, opportunities for synchronous chat, and video-conferencing. Resources include video and electronic text materials, and websites. Students are encouraged to 'do and report back' when it comes to exploring new technologies (e.g., social media tools), and interviewing teachers and learners about their use of ICT. I'd be reluctant to add a compulsory on campus component to this optional course, or to mandate synchronous work, as the students who take the paper have opted into an ICT-rich experience, and are often already challenged by distance and scheduling. So far, paper appraisals indicate that students are happy with the fully online design, and appreciative of flexibility and choice.

In contrast, the MMP core paper begins with two compulsory lecture/workshop sessions f2f, as part of the week-long intensive block of on campus times for students in this initial teacher education programme. In every class, there is a firm expectation of attendance on campus, in part due to Education Council requirements for the ITE qualification. When we meet with the students on campus, we take time to build a rapport, establish expectations, workshop complex concepts, and prepare students for ongoing work and assessments online. For MMP students, meeting on campus is an essential ingredient in the MMP blend - along with work in schools, community study groups, and online. Time spent with peers and staff on campus is of interpersonal importance, cultivating relationships that are then developed and sustained online as a learning community. I often say to students on campus that my aim is to "put them at ease and rev them up simultaneously" in that I want them to be reassured that they are facing an achievable challenge, so they leave feeling ready to tackle their learning with energy and enthusiasm.

The masters class is in between the ICT option and the MMP core paper, in terms of the blend of online and face-to-face interaction. While it started as a fully online paper, and many of the students are in similar circumstances to those in the ICT option, the students working at masters level can be less comfortable with working entirely online. Although they are often working full time (e.g., in school leadership or as educational consultants), and are geographically dispersed, the masters students are often compelled to take the online version of the paper due to the timing of the offering. That is, it is offered in semester B, and they have to take it before they embark on their research project (directed study, dissertation or thesis). The same paper is offered on campus in semester A, and in summer school as a blended offering, but students may find the July-October timeslot suits their circumstances, so they find themselves working online. I am particularly sympathetic to international students who travel to NZ, only to find themselves taking an online class! The online format can be challenging when many of the concepts are new and complex, and even controversial - ethics and paradigms can be tough to engage with online! We keep things lively with online debates and screen video-interviews with active researchers, but there are times when the students want to meet and talk through their own projects, and to puzzle through some of the challenges of research in a face-to-face context. In response to this, we have started to offer informal meeting opportunities - for students who can make it to the campus - to discuss concepts, experiences, projects and assigned work. Last year, Noeline and I instigated this prior to an assignment and found the students were so relieved to meet with us, and with each other in person, there was an overall stress-release when we met with students to offer reassurance and talk through research challenges. So that students who could not make the on campus meeting did not miss out, we produced a video-summary (Panopto) immediately after the meeting to go over the key points raised, and to clarify points of interest to the group. In the semester ahead, we plan to do this optional meet then follow-up video-cast, about three times - near the beginning, middle, and toward the end of the semester. Of course we have always been available for appointments and phone calls, including skype and conferencing, but meeting on campus as a group will be an ongoing part of the design in this paper.

While the masters class barely nods toward blended learning with a small number of f2f meetings, I am taking a new blended course where we will experiment further with blended and flipped learning. Having inherited this paper very recently, it came with a weekly lecture, followed by a weekly tutorial (with two timeslots for students to join the tutorial so as to work in smaller groups, as their timetable allowed). Given my preferences for A) online learning and teaching; and B) working smarter; and also considering that C) the paper is about innovative approaches to learning and teaching, I have redesigned this option. This year, students will work on campus for one session a week, which will be a workshop in which we will learn about a range of pedagogies, work with guest experts (my learned colleagues), and engage in hands-on activities. We'll continue our learning online each week, with preparation for the on campus class, which will take the form of a video to view and analyse, an article written by the guest expert, an interview with the guest, a discussion to elicit prior knowledge, or a mini-investigative task. Obviously, this is an attempt to flip the learning and to create continuity between sessions. Following each face-to-face class, students will continue to discuss the topic online, in an asynchronous Moodle forum, moderated by me, and with a couple of follow-up posts from our guest expert. We know that groups of 10 are ideal for this purpose, to enable deeper interaction and reflective learning through the discussion. I'm excited to see how this plays out, and the extent to which it challenges students while enabling their learning. I'll follow that up, so watch this space!

In conclusion, I would say there are many ways of blending learning, and many reasons for doing so. (See Noeline's recent post also). Sometimes, this is about meeting the needs of diverse students, and it might even seem contradictory at times since it can be about reassuring students, ensuring their comfort, but can also be about challenging students to move out of their comfort zone. Neither is blending learning all about the students, as we are increasingly being reminded of the need to work strategically (smarter) and to reduce the time we spend on teaching, while maintaining the quality of our teaching. While this may seem an impossible challenge, I have explained elsewhere that I value the flexibility, and time-shifting efficiencies of online teaching. I'm more and more convinced that blended learning is an effective way to survive and manage tertiary teaching, while maintaining high quality pedagogy in terms of student engagement, deep learning, rich feedback and relevant experiences.

How about you, readers? Care to add your voice to our discussion of variety in blended learning?

Friday, 24 June 2016

Blending learning and teaching: One example

Dianne's last post has got me thinking about how we connect when we have combinations of face-to-face (f2f) and distance students, especially when we have to cope with three scenarios simultaneously. The juggling has to be creative to get all three to work.

I thought I'd share with you what we've tried to do in one paper that's part of a secondary graduate initial teacher education qualification. It is a compulsory, full year paper that has to be comparable across three versions - f2f locally, f2f in another city (about a two hour drive away) and entirely virtually, where students are spread throughout the country and are often already working in schools. These people might be teachers from other countries whose ITE quals are not recognised here, and this includes many teachers from the UK who migrate to New Zealand.

Another complication is that this paper consists of three diverse modules: Te Puawaitanga, which is about understanding cultural diversity and honouring our treaty partners; literacy across the curriculum, which is examining textual strategies and their links to learning; and PICT - pedagogy and ICT.

On the face of it, they have nothing in common, yet they are part of aspects underpinning the New Zealand education system. They help address the Key Competencies in the curriculum and support the professional practices of novice teachers. They also position these pre-service teachers to examine themselves, their contexts and their practices. So that there are synergies across the three modules, the other lecturers and I use Panopto to stream live and record our lectures to our local f2f group.  This is accessed through Moodle and all three groups are using the same Moodle site. To provide a mix that acknowledges the three versions (they are labelled HAM, NET, TGA), students are in subgroups for each discussion and all discussions are online in response to whatever is prefaced by the lesson itself. The discussions are also predicated on students having to try something out after the lecture to inform their online posts.

To organise the Moodle page this year, instead of having three different sites, all three groups (HAM, NET, TGA) and all three modules are organised into the same online space. Each module has its own section so the lecturers modified their section to suit. Each section was collapsible, to stop the page looking too daunting, but had easy navigation options that started with a structured overview diagram.  I created it using, which cleverly works with Drive. I had never used before, so I had to figure out what to do and solve the problems I needed to address. I had to create the three modules' content information as labels, adding hot links for each to the relevant area of the module, get the timetable information in order, and then work out how to imbed the overview into Moodle. The intention is that it operated as a ready reckoner for students to quickly find their way around. This is what the overview looks like. Students can enlarge or reduce the size as they wish by using a + or - option above it:

However, even the best laid plans have issues. One of these is the expectation that students will familiarise themselves with the site and read the information designed to help them, from the get-go. As learners, when we're busy, we tend to skim and look for shortcuts. This is eminently sensible when you already familiar with things, but not a good idea when everything is unfamiliar. When the total cohort is about 120 students, addressing individual help! emails (outside of Moodle) that ask questions about things that are answered in the site itself,  often requires some restraint. This is because questions can come thick and fast at the start of a programme. They can be overwhelming and stressful when students do not indicate whether they have tried to find out the answer before emailing, so this requires some more digging to check what didn't work first in order to rule certain things out, or offer good solutions where possible. A short video that screencasts the answer to a stated problem is one I find that works which I post into the Moodle site for everyone to use (in the Q&A area - see the image below):

I now have quite a large store of how-to screencasts that become useful as a just-in-need arises. As Dianne's post notes, the video posts can personalise and humanise what might otherwise seem distant and cold. One of our colleagues, lisahunter, describes her trials and tribulations of trying to teach online as a new staff member in Digital Smarts. She describes some of the labyrinthine efforts that took place as she found her way. You might enjoy reading her chapter. The book is free!

Also as Dianne observes, clarity and presence is something we strive for and constantly seek feedback on how well things are working. To that end, Dianne is leading a partnership with York University on peer mentoring online, where we are paired with someone else to seek a dispassionate point of view about our own puzzles of practice as we teach online. It is a wonderful experience and creates links that might not otherwise exist across space and context.

So what are your experiences? As a lecturer online or as a student learning through such an LMS as Moodle? We'd love to hear from you.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Teaching Online: Clarity and Presence

The final week of semester is already here and we are encouraging students to reflect upon their learning, and upon our teaching. This is not to suggest such reflection takes place only at the end of semester, but rather that this is the final chance to prompt evaluative thinking and to obtain student suggestions before class ends.

In a previous post, I wrote about ways to elicit student feedback and a little about how my colleagues and I respond to the suggestions that students make. In today's post, I want to sum up some of the ideas shared with us by our current cohort of first year students in the Bachelor of Teaching degree, studying online. This summary is for my own analytical purposes - to synthesise student input and consider how to action it; and also for students - to show we are listening and taking suggestions seriously, ready to act upon these. It may also be of interest to colleagues who have a  stake in what students completing their first semester of online study have to say. As always, there is much to be learned from listening to student feedback.

Earlier in the semester, the coordinator of our programme travelled to the regions to visit students in their base schools and returned with some informal feedback for us. In a nutshell, she reported that students were happy with our work in the online class because everything is nice and clear and my teaching partner and I are on hand for students when needed. That is, the students immediately highlighted Clarity and Presence as two key elements in their satisfaction.

I've kept my ear to the ground to find out more about these two factors and have swiftly concluded that they are of tremendous importance to first-time online learners, and are reasonably straight-forward to achieve. They also represent, in my view, two of the biggest pitfalls for lecturers who teach online. Taking a closer look at each factor in turn,

Clarity - is about having a clear and simple layout in the LMS (in our case, Moodle), so it is easy for students to navigate and to find materials and interactive spaces for various purposes. I think of the Moodle site as a classroom first and foremost, and a tidy classroom can be read as caring for one's environment, and being organised. Of course there are other interpretations of tidiness, but when it comes to online classes, students seem to appreciate uncluttered simplicity.
Beyond spatial design, clarity is also about communicating expectations. We post a weekly reminder for students, warning them what is coming up, deadlines ahead, and how they might prioritise their time in the week ahead. Each year, we refine our assignment instructions and criteria, working to clarify these as best we can.

Presence - is about being there when students need us. Of course we can't predict when students will need us, so being present means 'standing by' regularly. This is a familiar message to me, as my doctoral work some years ago yielded the very same finding - that is, students studying online prefer lecturers to visit the Moodle space daily to answer questions, and to appear in online discussions 2-3 times a week in order to signal presence and reciprocate the degree of involvement expected of the students. Online, students perceive lecturers who are not actively present as being absent from class. Even if the lecturer is 'standing back' to enable students the freedom to express their ideas or to develop scholarly independence, students cannot know that this is the case unless they are explicitly informed. Which brings us back to clarity of communication.

There is a subtle distinction between standing back and standing by. The latter involves monitoring, signalling presence in unobtrusive ways, and being ready to intervene before problems escalate.

Alongside our responsiveness to student queries and our regular input into online discussions, students have expressed their appreciation of our panopto recordings. Initially, we intended to produce a videocast weekly (as we do in our shorter 3rd year class), however we found this repetitive so instead recorded 9 videocasts between February and June. In each, we spoke to the camera, news-reporter style, and talked the students through the week that was and the week ahead, expressing our interest in their discussions, explaining key ideas, and reminding them of upcoming deadlines and expectations. You could say Panopto videocasts are where clarity meets presence.

The students said:
"Your Panoptos are fantastic as it makes the subject and your expectations clear and easy to follow! (which is very important when you are stressed at 2am, on your own and hundreds of miles from uni, eating cake!!)"
"The panoptos have been great and it adds a personal touch to the paper."
"it was like I was in a class environment and you were speaking directly to me.  By doing this, it really personalised this paper for me."
"I really enjoyed the panoptos, as it gave me the direction I needed at certain times."
"Just to know that you are around made it so much easier"

Perhaps all of this sounds pretty standard. It isn't hard to do, after all. So, doesn't everyone teach this way?

Well, apparently not. There are still instances where lecturers struggle with clarity and presence. Perhaps they inherited an online paper, and had to hastily cobble together something based on past years' classes, resulting in a cluttered, confusing mess of a Moodle site. If lecturers are unfamiliar with a paper and unsure of expectations, this lack of clarity is conveyed to students. A staff member who has never used an eportfolio may find it challenging to teach students how to do so. As for being present, it seems some lecturers are overwhelmed by the volume of online traffic, or are intentionally standing back for legitimate reasons. Unless the learning intentions are shared, or better still negotiated with students, however, the students will remain in the dark.

If we want students to lead online discussion, we need to model this first and provide guidance and scaffolding to support their leadership.

If we teach online, it is not sufficient to drop into class once a week. Even lengthy posts at such intervals will be a case of 'too little, too late'. Teaching time in an online context is more effectively apportioned as 'little and often'. This is how we keep on top of the volume of messages and how we demonstrate we are there, working alongside students.

I am grateful to the students who have conveyed this feedback as they have taught me something very valuable about my teaching, helping me to prioritise and act.

Because this sounds self-congratulatory and even a bit smug, I will finish by saying: We haven't got it all right, we are not perfectionists. Thanks again to student feedback, we are re-examining one of our assignments for next year with a view to altering the summative weighting; we plan to provide more explicit demonstrations of how to contribute to online discussion; and we are modifying our word limits in the forum. As further student feedback comes to light, it will alert us to any further concerns and hopefully point us in new and productive directions.

How does student feedback inform your teaching?

How important are clarity and presence as factors in effective teaching?

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

If you teach, you know isolation....

This is a response to Mark E Weston's blog post . He called his "TEACHING PROBLEMS (And How to Solve Them) – The Shift Paradigm Series" and I've stolen the first sentence of his post for mine. 

I'd like to respond for the following reasons:
First, I don't know much about the educational context he's referring to in his post, or what sort of schools he has in mind, for those are not made clear. For example, does he have secondary or primary in mind? Or both? Second, I'm not sure if he has a particular country's schools in mind either, or if the post is to mean schools everywhere on the planet. 

Some of what Mark describes may be ubiquitous descriptions, such as: 
The paradigm that guides the field of education assigns great value to standardized school days, unidirectional meetings, institutional not personal development, and cookie-cutter buildings. It commits students to age groups, teachers to levels and subjects, and both to buildings and classrooms. A teacher teaches a set of students in a classroom. There she is singularly responsible for how and what students learn. Every other teacher, each in a classroom, is singularly responsible for her or his students’ learning and performance on achievement tests and other academic measures.
The design and organization of your school—schedule, meetings, professional development, technology, and building—reflects your responsibility for student learning. It may support you meeting that responsibility but definitely prevents you from working collaboratively with other teachers. And, if you try to work together, you encounter difficulties. So you and other teachers co-exist. Co-existence is the source of your isolation.
However, when I think of the changes to schooling contexts in New Zealand, I cannot but think, 'yes, but..' to a number of his contentions. 

Let me explain.

Firstly, in new Zealand primary schools for example, there has always been a focus on collaboration in year level or learning area syndicates of teachers. This persists, and is aided by collaborative tools like GoogleDocs.

Secondly, because of population in various parts of New Zealand, or, in Christchurch's case the need to rebuild schools after the earthquakes, new kinds of schools are being built. They are built in accordance with new thinking about how education happens. The new thinking defines these spaces as ILSs (Innovative Learning Spaces), or, in Ministry of Education speak, ILEs (Innovative Learning Environments) or FLSs (Flexible Learning Spaces).

Thirdly, there are online portals here which foster collaboration, such as:
Other aspects foster collaboration in educational research, such as TLRI or TLIF. A brand new initiative to share good practice has just been announced too - the Grass Roots Ideas Initiative.

And a way for educators to collaborate across the country is provided by #edchatnz - the Twitter hashtag used for regular discussions. One of these is collated in relation to the question

Question 1 – Why engage with the community when designing your school curriculum?

 And lastly, I shall give you a secondary school example, which also counters Mark E Weston's contention that 
Teachers who co-exist do their core work alone, all the time, never together. For instance, when one designs a complete lesson—pedagogical approach, strategy, materials, and rubric—other teachers do not benefit from her efforts. Similarly, when a teacher delivers instruction, she cannot share what she learns from her delivery with others. Such duplication of efforts and disconnection of core work is why your workload is so high. It is why you have neither time nor energy to teach well. It is why teachers burnout. Why the field of education cannot reform itself. And why you feel so isolated.
Hobsonville Point Secondary School, a new (state funded) school now in its third year, has taken advantage of the option to resign how the school enacts the national curriculum, and how teachers work in these new spaces. From the beginning, teachers have critical friends who are colleagues they turn to for advice. Also, teachers work in cross-curricular teams developing a term-long big module that pulls together learning from 3 subjects under one theme. Each week, the teachers get together to review students' progress and design the next week's learning programme. In this school, not teacher is isolated or teaching alone. They may plan lessons individually for their curriculum, but these lessons are designed to complement the two other subjects and links to learning outcomes that all work towards.

When they teach, they do so with colleagues present. The learning and teaching take place in wide, open and large, communal spaces. Breakout spaces for smaller group or individual work make it easy to concentrate on specifics and complete tasks as needed. Teachers, like students, collaborate as needed.

Teachers openly blog about their growing learning, as does the principal. They let me visit a few times a year to find out how they are evolving(see, for example, Wright, N., & Adam, A. (2015). The ‘critical friend’ role in fostering reflective practices and developing staff cohesion: A case study in a new secondary school, New Zealand.School Leadership & Management, 1-17. doi:10.1080/13632434.2015.1070821).

This way of operating is now spreading to another school which opened this year (Rototuna Junior High School). It has heavily borrowed ideas from HPSS, and so this open, collective and supportive vision of education has an opportunity to override the paradigm of one that Mark describes. I am currently awaiting review feedback on a paper about disrupting the paradigm of one. I'll let you know when it sees the light of day!

While Mark hopes for change, here in our little corner of the world, it is already happening, and has been for some time. Perhaps isolation is blessing- may be it means we work harder to make connections and support each other.
So what's happening in your corners of the educational world? Anything similar?