The Web Timer app extension to Chrome, is a great but simple tool to help both students and teachers reflect on how they use their time online. The extension sits directly in the browser so is just a click away and an excellent tool to help students take ownership of how they manage their time. The simple pie graph has three different settings; todays time, average time and total. My breakdown is a little depressing and highlights how much time I spend on GMail and Google Docs.
The app does not track activity in other programs such as Skype or games and only measure activity in the current tab or window and Other programs such as RescueTime Lite track more activity including uses of different applications.
Here is great video showcasing how we use technology at UWCSEA as part of our successful iLearn Initiative. We submitted this as part of a 21st Century Learning School of the Year competition, and we recognised as the winner. The following paragraph was a snippet from the organisers, which nicely encapsulates what we try to do, and how I have spent my energies over the last 2.5 years. The panel was especially impressed that…
“staff professional learning structures are built into the process. The targeted use of coaches and Tech Mentors maximizes the ‘spread’ of capacity throughout the school and helps embed a culture of change which we believe will reach well beyond a single initiative, and even beyond technological competence.”
It has been great to work with a wider team of now eight Digital Literacy Coaches, with lots of additional support and clear leadership. It is evident that we are now developing creative and innovative pedagogies that are becoming ingrained into the learning culture of the school.
Last week saw the wrap up of the Learning 2 Conference in Singapore. Last time around in Beijing I was luckily enough to spend lots of the conference presenting with UWCSEA colleagues on Coaching and Mentoring. This time around I was part of the conference organsing committee; immersed in a world of spreadsheets, VLookUp functions, signs and catering. I managed to get to one Extended Session lead by John Darcy focusing on transformation and change in education. (a Google Doc of notes is available here) John is currently the Director of Student Learning at Istanbul International Community School, and in the past had led learning and technology initiatives at Canadian International School of HK. My takeaways from the session were around the risk that the majority of technology initiatives inevitably lead to little or no improvement in student learning.
76% of technology initiatives fail to improve learning (John Hattie)
The quote above ought to be an point of reflection for most school leaders and institutions that have spent a lot of money on technology in the last 3-4 years. I think some schools with developed 1:1 laptop programmes would struggle to articulate exactly where and how technology improves learning. A litmus test for me, when visiting a school is to ask what difference laptops make in their teaching and specifically in their subject. When some schools do explain, the teacher practice could likely be tokenistic and adhoc in nature. Even when they get close to this point of articulation, another initiative will come along that will drain the organisations energy. John’s point was that for a change initiative to be successful, it requires a change in culture and this means looking at a longer timeframe or 5 + 5 years.
I agree technology delivers lots of efficiency gains for teachers, such as disseminating information quickly through a Learning Platform or through using an electronic grade book. It is also easy to say that students have access to greater information and collaborative tools, but I think schools need to be showcasing where the benefits of technology lie at a subject level and grade level, and even more importantly the approaches that have a detrimental impact on learning.
To this end, I have been trying to embed the use of technology in our school, through the goal setting process and have been working the concept on department technology toolkits. I want our staff to confidently identify three to four key areas, where using technology clearly benefits learning in their subject area and to then ensure that all staff are comfortable using the technique or pedagogy in their classes over the next couple of years. Schools can have many beacons of excellence, but for an initiative to improve learning, the majority of teachers need to be fluent and confident users of what we consider best practice. Our toolkits are still a work in progress, but John’s session highlighted the importance of getting more subject leaders on board with the concept and for me to continue to facilitate the process.
The development of these toolkits is also highlighted some important ideas about change. Some teachers love to experiment and try new teaching approaches, but the majority of teachers would like a path or guide of steps to follow. I think we had got to this juncture after two years of our iLearn initiative, where some of the great experimentation had to be consolidated and documented as UWCSEA best practice. if there are true benefits of using technology in a particular subject area then we expect that all of the teachers will be using a similar approach or recommended tool.
Our toolkits clearly define a path for teachers to move forward, but at the same time the toolkits will hopefully evolve via the input of Tech Mentors or Digital Literacy Coaches. Furthermore these tool kits are becoming more focused on our school learning principles and the guiding principles like formative assessment, differentiation, flexible progression. When technology further enhances what we already acknowledge as best practice in education, then I have no doubt a learning will be improved and your school won’t be one of the 76%.
The other thing I keep going back to is that technology can improve learning in lots of different ways, but perhaps the impact that it has on skills and dispositions that are not explicit in our written curriculum is the most important. Some of the things that happen in schools in the hidden curriculum will have the most impact on students life long learning. I think my school could do so much more to develop creative spaces for making, tinkering and experimenting to happen that are not strictly linked to our written curriculum…. watch this space
Downloads and Examples
A great hint I learned last year from a colleague Steve Vorster at UWCSEA, is to repurpose a Google Form to help students engage with a simple video tutorial. YouTube is full of tutorials on Economics and it is easy to point kids to great playlists from Jodi Beggs the EconGirl or Jason Welker. The struggle is getting students to engage and to elicit some feedback on their level of understanding.
The trick is to find a suitable video. In this case I introduced the basics of demand to my Grade 11 class, and needed something to consolidate their understanding. As this class already has a good grounding in Economics from GCSE last year I can’t spend weeks explaining each determinate but would prefer that students recap at their own pace.
Linking Google Form and YouTube
Google Forms are a simple way to collect some feedback. Create one from your Google Drive, then play the video whilst waiting for a few key points. I try to develop “hinge questions” which really highlight if the student gets a concept, these are explained in the work of educationalist Dylan Wiliam. Less questions the better !
This week Google Forms was updated so you can embed a video directly into the form. Once you have finished share with your students for homework. The feedback spreadsheet of student responses is a great discussion starter/plenary at the beginning of the next lesson.
Google Forms can now be shared with colleagues so others can reuse and recycle your task. Just remember your colleague needs to make a copy of your form. Whilst this isn’t revolutionary it is just a nice example of repurposing a few tech tools to make learning a little more interesting and effective, it sure beats reading the textbook each week.
Over the past month I have been researching online learning platforms and looking for ways to support our school as we move forward with our iLearn initiative. We use technology extensively in our learning programme to transform our student’s experiences. The next step is to now consolidate what we believe is best practise in teaching and learning and to then provide a suite of digital tools which support this. The following graphic explains what I think are the key pieces of a future learning platform.
Our Curriculum Team and IT Director Ben Morgan, have been distilled these ideas into the Principles to Practice document.
Essentially, we would like to find a learning platform, (or several closely linked solutions) which ideally supports the five aspects teaching practice (Planning, Delivery, Assessment, Recording and Reporting). For example we want to find online curriculum mapping and assessment tools that are effective, easy to use and part of every teachers day-to-day practise. We also need to find curriculum delivery tools that allow for flexible progression and support differentiation. While there is no utopia product just yet, we are beginning to find tools that might match our philosophy.
The following presentation is a collection of screenshots from a variety of different online platforms. These highlight some really nice tools, which would support both our teachers and students. These are products such as Desire2Learn or Canvas and then some assessment and curriculum planning tools such as ActiveGrade and Infomentor. We currently use StudyWiz as our online learning platform and have done so for the last seven years. Overtime we have probably out grown what StudyWiz offers in comparison to what many new second generation platforms offer. Two platforms standout by being more socially orientation, especially Edmodo and Schoology, but I am not convinced on their functionality and what lies beneath the hood.
I am interested to see what other schools use and if they are happy with their solution. Most schools would have separate platforms for the delivery of curriculum to students, for online mark books, and for curriculum mapping. It would be interesting to see if some schools have found a mix of products that link and talk to each other.
The pattern of behaviour resulting from the ubiquitous access to technology at our school is the perceived level of student distraction. Overtime we hope that students develop coping mechanisms to deal with digital distractions and the risks of multitasking. The long term impact of not dealing with this, is that student develop bad habits that linger throughout their professional careers. Focusing on single tasking and deep authentic learning is a key lifeskill that we hope that students at UWCSEA develop.
Debunking the concept of Multitasking
The concept of multitasking describes the idea of someone flicking their attention between two separate tasks. When the students are working on laptops, the temptation to switch to a different task is just a quick swipe of the trackpad away. Because it become so easy to work on multiple desktops or between numerous tabs in a browser multitasking has become an unproductive habit of many students.
We know from research that every switch between tasks leads to a decline in performance. If the switch is from one simple task, directly into a second simple functional task there maybe no impediment. When we are trying to immerse ourselves into deeper conceptual and abstract thinking, multitasking is a severe impediment to our collective efforts. It is a misconception that we can multitask and successfully juggle two complex tasks.
How does this affect learning?
There are lots of ideas about how lessons should be made shorter and learning split into bit size chunks for information for students to digest. The counter-argument to this is making lessons a place of socialisation around learning; and a “no-hands up” environment where every student is accountable as suggested by Dylan Wiliams. Further to this notion, we want student to experience the flow involved in authentic independent learning tasks.
To achieve these aims teachers need to make a concerted effort to encourage greater single tasking and constant reinforce. If student are completing a more process based lessons, or functional tasks in Maths or Science they need to how these activities occur in a the classroom.
What do we know about best practice?
Best practice is when teachers develop an environment of trust, and where every student is accountable for their learning. Whilst the temptation may exist to open Facebook during class we would hope that the student would balance this against the eventual lose of trust with the teacher and disappointment from the teachers or peers in the class.
Best practice suggests that explicit expectations and transparent consequences are the other important element. Ideally these expectations are developed by the students and used across the school. Best practice would also suggest that having a routine at the beginning of the lesson where devices are on but closed or placed away until the learning requires the internet.
A plethora of teaching approaches
Other than developing an environment of trust and clear expectations there are numerous other ideas which can hopefully encourage students to be on task for longer.
- Seating arrangements which change from group activities to independent tasks.
- Learning objectives which show students where the learning has come from and where it is heading.
- Developing an environment where each student can be called apon to answer questions and contribute.
- Use of timers such as Triptico to focus students attention into chunks of time or to break up longer task.
- Providing opportunities for students to discuss and dissect the learning in groups or independently.
- Intentionally providing students with opportunities to stand up and circulate
- Ensuring that teacher circulates among the students, or sits in the groups as a participant.
- Enforcing devices to be closed when the instructions to the task are given.
- Asking one student to be the groups electronic scribe whilst others discuss.
This week’s Economist contains an excellent article about Bangladesh and it’s progress towards development. It was insightful and interesting in so many different ways, but most importantly it explained how the nation had been extraordinarily successful in improving the welfare of the poor.
The article Bangladesh and Development - The path through the fields explained how development had occurred in Bangladesh without spectacular increases in average incomes, but through ground roots initiatives and a little innovation. It would be a ideal case study for any IB Diploma student as it clearly compares and contrasts relevant health and education indicators, but also goes on to explain the development strategies that have worked in the country. Download a PDF copy of the article here.
The article used statistics (top table) to clearly show how Bangladesh has streaked ahead of both India and Pakistan in terms of nearly all development indicators. Some of the drops are amazing, such as a 10 year increase in life expectancy over the past 20 years, and the decreases in infant and child mortality rates. In many ways the article also highlights the issues the India and Pakistan continue to face and ignore.
The article also illustrates how the two concepts, economic growth and economic development can be decoupled. Last week in a class, I spoke about the differences between the two concepts with the aid of a venn diagram shown below. The example of Bangladesh shows a huge focus on increasing access to healthcare and education for all people, but especially women and young girls. The information in the article could also link into an exploration of GapMinder World or the use of Infographics to show patterns in the data. Click on the links above for some ideas for using each of these in class.