Friday, November 6, 2009

The New Learning Revolution

I'm reading a fascinating book, 'Unlimited - The new learning revolution and the seven keys to unlock it' by Gordon Dryden & Jeannette Vos.

'All of us, together, are surging through the most profound revolution in human history. Its impact is personal, national, global - and, in many ways, unlimited.
'At its core are seven catalysts, now converging and fusing to change the way we live, work, play, learn, teach and create - at any age.'

The Learning Network's blurb says: "In this book, New Zealand authors Dryden and Vos explore the current direction of learning and challenge our traditional thoughts of intelligence. They cover how to develop your own unique talents, find your personal learning style and give advice on how to embrace a life of learning and creative thinking. Plus they give advice to parents and teachers on how to maximise the learning of children. An excellent book for teachers and parents and those who want to enhance their own learning and understanding."

The book covers the 21st Century trends in teaching and learning across the world. This is a MUST READ for everyone interested in eLearning!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Closer, my dear come closer, with Web 2.0

We worry that IM, texting, Facebook are spoiling human intimacy, but Stefana Broadbent's research shows how communication tech is capable of cultivating deeper relationships, bringing love across barriers like distance and workplace rules.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Wonder of eLearning

In the latest Interface magazine, David Warlick says that teachers should focus on information and learning, not on the technology and simply getting ICT into their classrooms.

"The purpose should be creating the new information environment, one that's at the core of our children's 'outside the classroom' experience with technology.  We have to bring digital, networked, abundant, overwhelming information into the classroom."
This article, (together with my studies in EDPROFST 714), has really nudged me to try a new way of teaching.   I've tried Inquiry before, but never with as much success as this time, and in the past I've ended up feeling quite dissatisfied with the whole process.

But, the winds of change are blowing in Room 24!  This term, I decided to take up the challenge, and use technology, together with our school's inquiry model, to let my students manage their own learning.  It has been the easiest few weeks in my teaching career, and the most gratifying.  My class has gone from a structured, disciplined and teacher-led environment, to one in which I am sitting back taking photos of them, for lack of anything else to do, while my students work at their Inquiry topics.  They are surprisingly quiet, and on-task, and need very little support from me, mostly shunning my conservative suggestions for more ambitious ideas.  For example, they want to take a video of themselves explaining a concept against a green screen, and then point at a diagram on a Keynote page.  (Yikes - we'll have to ask an expert!)

Our topic started out being 'States of Matter', but as the students continued the process of asking questions, and wondering, it became, quite simply: Water.  (We were interested in more than just 'states of matter'!)

This is the process we have followed so far:
  • I set the scene by creating a web page in KnowledgeNet with links to websites, videos and online interactive games about Water.  I then set my students free to explore in a very unstructured way.  (For me the letting go was the hardest.  I like structure!)  
  • After that we discussed what they knew already.   But, once the list was made, it covered my whole term's planned teaching!  (No sense in teaching them what they know already!)  Then we made a list of what we wondered.  A very interesting list of questions came up.  
  • When we sorted the questions, we discovered that they fitted into about seven categories.  We decided that we would have seven groups.  Now to decide how to find the answers to our questions. (Social media was their first choice, but we ended up using books and websites mostly).  They decided how to share their findings, and the kids decided on various forms of Digital Books that could be embedded in our class blog.   We made a list of media to use, and came up with some tools that are available on our laptops and are approved in school.  Once we were ready students chose which topic they were interested in, and chose which software to use for publishing their findings.  We also talked about their focus audience, and it became a literacy lesson on Audience and Purpose!
  • After that we started looking for relevant info, adding sticky notes to seven posters with the topic written in the middle, as they came across relevant facts. We did this first as a whole class activity, quite randomly browsing a selection of websites and books.  Later each group focused on their topic only. The next step was for each group to sift and sort the information into at least eight pages.  Once more, Reading comprehension skills, such as Finding the Main Idea, Determining Importance, and Summarising all came into play, in a very natural and unstructured way.
  • Once that was done, students proceeded to write their scripts, using all the terms and jargon they needed, and explaining processes that they would follow.  We spoke a bit about the structure of Explanation writing, but their eyes glazed over after a while, and I left it.  They may as well find out for themselves, that you need a structure!  
  • When everything was ready,  they started gathering media, taking photos and recording video and audio.  At this stage we are synthesizing all of this created material into eBooks. 
The most amazing part of this whole process has been not my student's learning, but MY learning.  I am starting to realize that children respond to media that interests them, want to have fun, and learn better when they are doing and not just listening.  (Duh... didn't Piaget say that centuries ago?)   Even my most hardened ADHD child is on task, producing good material, and reflecting their learning in the material they are producing.  They are all writing, reading, measuring, discussing, thinking, managing self, discovering and solving problems. And all this is happening without much input or support from me.   I'm just watching and learning!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Open source tools for you to use!

I had an email from Adrienne Carlson today, telling me about her informative blog post : 100 Best Open Source Apps for Educators.  Have a look!

Some of the ones I liked were 
  • Penzu, a journalling site with opportunities for online journalling for our students. 
  • WordSift, really handy for visualizing words, especially when teaching reading comprehension strategies.
  • UDL Book Builder - cool tool for creating digital story books.
By the way, she also has an interesting blog post for iPhone enthusiasts, 100 iPhone apps for Academic Types.  This blog is definitely worth adding to your RSS aggregator!  Definitely worth checking out - make sure you have loads of time, though.  Her '100 lists' will keep you busy for a while!  Have fun!


More about ePortfolios

Further to my recent blog post, this video explains the use of ePortfolios very nicely.

Fostering creativity in the classroom

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

This fun picture taken earlier this year when I was shopping in Singapore, was created with photofunia, one of the tools my teenagers are using to create profile pics for Facebook and Bebo.

Sadly, I'm not at uLearn09 this year, but such is the power of technology that I am actually able to follow most of the keynotes, and twitterings about this year's conference in Christchurch.

Yesterday's NZ Herald reported the following:
Californian Gary Stager, an expert in computers in schools for 27 years, has travelled the world spreading the message of what can be achieved if children get proper access to technology in schools. He is disturbed by the "narrow thinking" he has found from the adults in charge.

"I think one of the trends I am seeing globally is an increasing conservatism, not just in educational policy, but a narrowing of the imagination of what kids can actually do with computers," Dr Stager told the Herald, after speaking to the ULearn education conference in Christchurch."
Many schools, including mine, feel the need to control the use of Web 2.0 tools in the classrooms.  They have various reasons, often citing the need to 'support' the use of these tools (which seldom need support), or the cybersafety policy of this school.  At my school I am fortunate that the powers-that-be are openminded to the creative use of new technology, and we are usually allowed to try out new tools that we come across, as long as it is embedded in our planned program.  This is not so for many teachers at other schools.  Even so, schools are doing some pretty amazing and creative stuff.

I have heard - through my Twitter network - that many New Zealand teachers were left feeling pretty disgruntled by Dr Stager's comments.  But, I suspect he may be right.  Yes, we are pretty forward thinking in New Zealand.  Yes, we are blogging and podcasting, and even putting our student's faces on the net in classroom blogs and - very risque - even TV channels.  But are we really unleashing their full potential?

I've been browsing some of my own teenage children's Bebo pages - which I do from time to make sure they are using safe practices - just to see the most amazing creative artifacts that these youngsters are producing.  Video's, fun photo effects, slideshows and audiocasts, are among the few masterpieces I came across.  The irony is that these kids are getting almost no exposure at the Secondary School they attend.

So sad that in the Primary and Intermediate schools we are teaching kids all these wonderful tools, just to let it all fizzle away - except for privately, in the children's own use of social media.

Dr Stager might not be entirely right about Primary School's use of technology in New Zealand, but I'm afraid at Secondary level we are still sadly lacking.  Or are there Secondary Schools out there that disagree?

Monday, October 5, 2009

ePortfolios and eLearning

At our school we have been using ePortfolios for the past two years, using KnowledgeNet.  Using a template, our students keep track of their own learning, upload their projects and reflect on their goals.  Parents can view their child's progress at any time, and teachers give feedback and feedforward as needed on a regular basis.

Although it was initially a bit of hard work to set it all up, and get teachers trained to use KNet, the kids took to it like a duck to water.  In my class I tend to break down tasks, so that we focus on one task at a time.  I then model the steps to take to the whole class using my Smartboard.  After that I ask for confident volunteers to go and try it out on their ePortfolios.  I can have seven students working straight away, as I have 4 standard computers and 3 laptops in my class.  Those seven students support each other, and working according to a detachable name list, they then call the next seven students, and teach them the process.  The new seven students then teach the next seven, and so on.  As I only have 26 kids in my class, the whole process takes about 45 minutes.  I try to align the tasks with whatever lesson I am taking, in other words, if we are uploading evidence that we have reached our Maths goals, it will take place in Maths time.  I supporse there's no need for this, though - it's just my old fashioned way of keeping track of what's happening in my classroom.

I feel very positive about the use of ePortfolios in our school.  Students are learning to metacognitize about their learning.  They can see how they have reached their goals, and they love to see my comments. 

Jamin Lietse has been researching ePortfolios and provides a link to an MoE document 'ePortfolios - celebrating learning' for those that are interested. You can also get this document, and more, from Ian Fox's download page.


Student created quizzes

I have been thinking and reading about how to use technology to improve student's learning, and not just as a teaching tool.

Thinking specifically of Inquiry Learning, here are a list of 12 interactive quizzes that student's can create themselves, to reflect their learning and to test their peers' understanding of their Inquiry findings.

eLearning Research

I found this interesting document via my eLearning Research Network.  Just scroll down to the third comment and click on the pdf download. This document highlights a Framework for eLearning Research, which is well written and summarizes the current thinking of the MoE.

"e_learning Research and Evaluation Framework 08 FINAL.doc, 125 KB"
- areas of research in e-learning - e-Learning Research Network (view on Google Sidewiki)

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Do 21st Century Learners REALLY learn better?

I must admit - I'm feeling decidedly grumpy! I'm not at uLearn 09.  For various reasons I couldn't attend this year, and I have to say - I'm green with envy...   So, I'll pacify myself by immersing in all things technological, in the comfort of my own home, and under my very warm, fluffy, pink blanket!

I've been reading the research done by Kirkpatrick (1998) in which he looks at the correlation between the use of computers in the classroom, and improved student learning. According to this article, computers in classroom make very little impact on our students learning. At the time of the article being written research was inconclusive, and not much progress was being made.  Many further studies done at the time, underscored these findings.

In an article written a year later, Schacter (1999) argues that computer technology is effective as a learning tool, only if paired with appropriate pedagogy and if designed according to different educational theories and principles. He encourages teachers to not just implement computers technologies for the sake of doing so, but to 'endorse and exhibit the learning that we want all children to engage in.'

In the world of computer technology, changes occur with lightning speed. These articles were written a decade ago.  Shortly after these articles, came Web 2.0.  How has this changed these earlier findings?

Larry Ferlazzo, one of my favourite bloggers and Grand Prize Winner of the 2007 International Reading Association Presidential Award for Reading and Technology, explains how his use of ICT in teaching ESOL students changed their learning:  "Students could create online journals, read each other’s entries and comment on them, and, at the same time, learn more about each other.  Students could design their own online English games and tests that other students would take. These activities, in turn, would lead to further face-to-face conversations"

In spite of his successes, he still feels that "Technology has its place, but also has to be kept in its place. Our students need the support, and power, that face-to-face, flesh and blood, relationships bring – not the virtual ones of MySpace “friends.”   Instead of having our students primarily relate to computers by sitting in front of screens and just using well-intentioned learning programs, let’s have them use these computers to relate to peers and help create a community of learners.  This can lead to students teaching, learning from, and supporting each other, as well as challenging themselves."

A recent article, by Hattie (2009) comes to the conclusion that there is no necessary correlation between having computers, using computers and learning outcomes.  In his opinion, there are more instances of teachers using computers for instruction, than students using computers for learning.  He goes on to indicate that the best results are found when there is a diversity of teaching methods being used, teachers are well trained, peer-tutoring is taking place, computer time is being planned to integrate self-managed learning, and feedback is taking place.

And that's why I would have loved to be at uLearn '09! It is such a wonderful opportunity to learn all of these skills, so that computers in our classrooms can be used effectively to increase student learning!  For those lucky delegates that are there: Enjoy every minute and please keep the blogposts and tweets going so that the rest of us can collaborate and learn with you!

Hattie, J. A. C. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement (pp. 220-233). London: Routledge.

Schacter, J. and Fagnano, C. (1999). Does computer technology improve student learning and achievement? How, when and under what conditions? Journal of Educational Computing and Research, 20(4).

Kirkpatrick, H. and Cuban, L. (1998). Computers make kids smarter — right? Technos Quarterly for Education and Technology, 7(2)

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