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.
Recently myself and several colleagues (Jeff Plaman, Louise Phinney, Keri-Lee Beasley, and Clint Hamada) were provided the opportunity to present a workshop at the Learning 2.012 conference in Beijing. We ran a 3 hour extended workshop focused on Coaching for Digital Literacy and produced an iBook to support the learning. The workshop was the fruit of our adventures in the last 12 months in being full time Technology Coaches. In reflection the process of writing a book and running a three hour workshop was the best professional development I have had in a long time. The reason for this was being able to bounce ideas around with four other passionate educators… even at 11pm on the evening before the workshop.
The majority of the audience were teachers who had stepped into roles with a coaching expectation, where they are working with colleagues as either a consultant, a collaborator or as a coach. As the discussions in the workshop highlighted, the role of technology coach is very new in many schools. We hope that our book, which is a synthesis of the work of Bill and Ochen Powell and others will become a resource to support people stepping into the role and school leaders who are launching a technology focused learning initiative.
The workshop explored ways to build rapport and participants had an opportunity to practise these skills in a three way conversation. The conversation focused on building a conversation using questions that probe, allow a pause for thinking time and paraphrased to shift the conceptual focus. The second half of the workshop explored technology integration frameworks, shared some of the latest research from Ruben Puentedura, and looked at practical coaching approaches that have worked in schools.
The book from the workshop is freely available by clicking on this download link. You will need to click and open this link from your iPad allowing the book to open in iBooks. (Note that it will take a while as the file is 600mb)
A static PDF of the iBook is also available here.
Research skills are an important facet of being a student in the digital world, and yet these skills are often assessed in very traditional ways. I often see the end product of a research task being assessed; such as students creating a newsletter, writing an essay or completing a presentation. Seldom do teachers try to assess the students ability to use key words, refine search results, make judgements on authenticity and eventually synthesis the results. Whilst they maybe hinted at in the final product the process of searching for information is poorly taught and even more poorly assessed.
As a Digital Literacy Coach, I have therefore been looking at ways of using technology to redefine how we might scaffold students in their research using ideas such as a Google Search Hints, Research Templates and Screen Recording tools to capture student thinking.
Google Search Hints:
Keywords are the keys to unlocking information on the internet and these help students clarify what they are looking for. In a Google Search a group of terms is called a search string. I encourage students to build a search one term at a time, just as you would add beads to a string. Here are some basic examples of developing a search string. The key thing to notice is how the number of search results (webpages) found changes as you develop the search string.
Some key ideas…
- Using the commands AND, OR between terms in the search box helps Google understand what you are looking for.
- Using parentheses around “two or more words” it will search for the exact phrase.
- If you use the ~ symbol and then a word it will search for similar terms. Try ~bike to find related terms such as bicycle, cycle.
- If you use dates in a search e.g. 2008..2011 with the dots it will search for results from within your designated timeframe.
- If you type site:.gov this will focus your search to only websites that contain .gov in the website address. This can help filter information to information created by government which can sometimes be more trustworthy (but not always
Google Doc Research Templates:
A template is an easy way to scaffold students through the research process. I developed an example with help from our Grade 8 English teachers including Mandanna Daemi. The template covered the four main steps as follows. The template is available here if you wish to make a copy.
- Planning your Research Project
- Search Strategies and using Keywords
- Developing a Research Grid
- Creating a Bibliography
The two most valuable aspects are the key words and the research grid. The main idea is that each student creates a copy of this Google Doc and shares this back with their teacher. The teacher can therefore see and comment on the evolution. The research grid shown below is where the student collates the information. For each small question the student needs to find two different sources, and add the hyperlinks to the Google Doc. In the last column they need to summarise the main points into their own words. This table shows the research skills of comparing sources for authenticity and then helps the student phrase the ideas into their own words.
Screen Recording Tools:
This is a very easy and yet very effective way to see how the students research and to hear how they compare the authenticity of websites. I am a strong believer that students showcase their understanding more effectively and truthfully in the verbal format. With a simple Screen Recording using Quicktime Player you can see and hear student’s through processes. This could be written in an essay but there is something organic and powerful in the students videos, that describe their research process.
From – Grade 7 Student – UWCSEA Dover Campus
Throughout my first year at United World College of South East Asia, I have been involved in leading our schools 21st century learning initiative iLearn. The goal of iLearn is to facilitate growth in teacher pedagogy, towards student learning that reflects best practice around creativity and innovation, collaborative learning, flexible progression, and critical thinking.
Staff Professional Development is therefore a huge part of this learning initiative and we are always looking to distribute leadership to different parts of the school. Our Tech Mentors Retreat was a gathering of 25 keen and respected teachers for three days. This group will be the college’s trusted advisors and evangelists in subject areas, and offer curriculum knowledge to teachers using technology in lessons.
A group of lead teachers who are recognised for their knowledge and skills in using technology to enhance teaching and learning in their area. They have further demonstrated their willingness to share this expertise with their peers. They act as peer support within particular areas to extend and enhance the work of the digital literacy team to develop the transformational use of technology for teaching and learning within UWCSEA.
Change is hard
Our school is large and we need to develop expertise and leadership to facilitate change. At UWCSEA in Singapore, we have two campuses, with a combined student population of around 4500. We have upwards of 400 teachers across the different parts of the Junior, Middle and High Schools. The majority of professional development is delivered by a group of seven Digital Literacy Coaches across the college, alongside other curriculum initiatives. In any institution, successful change cannot be a top down, approach. Within our college we are hoping that it is something driven by departments, teachers and trusted experts in subject areas.
Many of the anecdotes about facilitating change and growth highlight the notion of bright-lights. This is highlighted in an excellent book entitled Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Dan and Chip Heath. In our school these bright lights are the early adopters of learning with technology, highlighting where the change is already occurring. They are also the examples to what works within our school culture. These bright lights are our group of Tech Mentors and showcase where change is occuring.
Coaching and Mentoring is important
The retreat was focused around developing our mentors capacity to share and coach other staff members. We were very fortunate to have external Cognitive Coaching experts Bill Powell and Ochan Kusuma Powell facilitating these sessions. In reflection, having outsiders lead these sessions added a huge degree of kudos to the retreat. Their approach was grounded in modelling good pedagogy, was fluid, and looked deeply at research and what works with teachers. In reflection, the outline below was Social Skills 101 as highlighted by Keri-Lee Beasley in her reflection. By this, I mean that the technology took a back seat to looking at ways to develop social capital and skills to understand the mentee’s needs. If the opportunity arose we would bring the Powell duo back to Singapore in an instant.
The agenda for the morning Coaching and Mentoring session is described below.
- Surfacing assumptions about adult learning — preconceived notions vs. what the research suggests
- Four support functions: Coaching, Consulting, Collaborating, and Evaluating
- Trust and Rapport: Building Social Capital.
- Self-Directed Learning: how does a Mentor support
- Coaching as Mentoring
- The Planning Conversation – how to support a Mentee in planning
- Practice with specific coaching strategies – role plays and scenarios
- Situational Leadership for Adult Learning: Directive and Supportive Behaviors
- Feedback: The Breakfast of Champions and Losers — how different types of feedback affect the recipient.
- Kegan’s Stages of Adult Development and how they impact learning.
- The Reflecting Conversation: how to support a Mentee in reflecting and evaluating
Building a Community
Our Tech Mentors group will continue to be a cross-campus group that supports good teaching with technology across our school. At the moment we aim to keep the group of 25 relatively exclusive, and continue to bring them together for workshops. They are such a passionate and innovative bunch so bringing them back together is so positive.
Throughout the next academic year the Digital Literacy Coaches will continue to push initiatives around Visual Literacy, Assessment for Learning, Information Literacy and Digital Citizenship. Our Tech Mentors group will be slightly ahead of the curve and be the first group to be trained on initiatives. They will also be where new ideas develop and are trailed. Occasional workshops with the group will be scheduled throughout the new school year.
The struggle with such initiatives is to maintain the initial impetus that was developed at the retreat. Through the feedback, the social dinner was one of the highlights for the group so this type of activity will be a good way to develop our community. We have set up more formal mechanisms to share such as a Google Group, twitter hashtags but purely by having met each other we hope that our mentors will be prepared to email each other and recommend fellow mentors as sources of advice for other teachers.
The Nuts and Bolts of our Retreat
The agenda and resources for the workshop were shared via a Google Site. This will be a ongoing portal for information. The retreat was held off campus, which was a perfect way to create an atmosphere and to help staff disconnect from their school work, reports etc. We wanted to build the group and therefore included opportunities for team building throughout. We included an optional Photo Walk with Dave Caleb (Grade Four teacher and photographer extraordinaire), an afternoon session for sharing best practice from participants and a social dinner one evening.
The morning sessions were dedicated to Coaching and Mentoring, whilst the afternoons were focused on technology themes. Each of these sessions was lead by our group of Digital Literacy Coaches. The sessions looked at the following.
- Mobile Learning - each mentor received an iPad so this session supported this.
- Sharing as a Tech Mentor – focused on the formal and informal ways to share ideas
- Information Literacy - a cross subject theme
- Visual Literacy - skills development on another key theme
We were very grateful for the support from our school’s leadership. Any venture such as this, requires organising relief for 25 teachers and also the financial support to make these kind of things happen. To this end, we are all glad to work at a school that supports projects such as this with no hesitation.