Open – Connected – Distributed: Learning [#TLAB14]

TLA Conference Logo

On Saturday 22nd March I’ll be joining a host of other educators at the Teaching, Learning and Assessment Conference hosted by the Berkhamsted School. This is the second instalment of the conference, following last year’s highly successful inaugural event. A wide range of keynotes and workshops were delivered by a diverse group of educators. I am pleased to say that I was one of them and I’m even more pleased to be able to say that I was invited back this year to run another workshop.

Like my previous workshop, I will again be focussing on independent learning. Over the past two terms, I have been reflecting on, and evaluating the various approaches that I employ to help foster independence in my students. While in my previous session I encouraged attendees to ‘take the leashes off’ of their students, this time I’ll be asking them to consider ways to make learning in their classrooms:

Open – Connected – Distributed

In a continued effort to subvert the educator/learner dichotomy, I have ‘pushed the envelope’ in developing in(ter)dependence in the students that I encounter each year. In doing so, a set of principles emerged; whereby learning inside and beyond my classroom became: ‘open’, ‘connected’ and ‘distributed’. This workshop will illustrate the pedagogies and practices that have informed such an approach, including the use of social networking, collaborative writing and self-reflection. Moreover, it will seek to generate thought and discussion as to how you might tread a similar path with your own students.

Why Open?

Openness has become a core tenet in my educational philosophy. As a teacher and as a learner I believe that learning should be transparent. Nothing should be hidden. A part of this has been putting students at the centre of their education, inviting them to participate in setting the direction of their learning; giving them a voice.

Why Connected?

Having participated in and also having run my own Open Online Course, I believe that forming connections is a key part of how we learn. Underpinned by the pedagogical concept of connectivism there is clear evidence to suggest that independent learning is most effective when it is interdependent.

Why Distributed?

I believe that learning should be distributed and shared. Learning does not occur in a vacuum, nor does it have to be constrained by the curriculum, timetable or by physical space. Utilising a range of tools, learners can not only improve the way they learn as individuals but they can distribute their knowledge and skills for the benefit of others.

I walked away from #TLAB13 far richer as both an educator and learner. I fully expect #TLAB14 to be just as valuable if not more so. I am also looking forward to re-connecting with many friends and to making some new ones. If you are attending the conference and the concepts that I have commented on above are of interest to you, I hope that you will join me in exploring them further.

*Slides for my session are available here in HTML5. Double click on any slide to view them full screen.

The Great Discontent

…there’s always this feeling of wishing or hoping that you’ll eventually arrive somewhere. But, I don’t know anybody who’s ever arrived anywhere. Everybody I know with half a brain is always a little bit nervous about how long they’re going to be okay doing what they’re doing.

Merlin Mann, 2013

As Merlin implies, life is a perpetual journey. As I return to this blog, after a lengthy hiatus, I am firmly engaged in the next stage of mine.

I completed my M.Ed. in September. It was one of the most enriching experiences I have had since becoming a teacher over ten years ago. As I worked to complete my dissertation I was promoted to Leader for English. While I might have hoped for a steady start, it has been an intense beginning to my tenure. During my first two months in charge I have: introduced setting at KS3; established a support programme for Year Seven students with low reading ages; participated in a departmental review; encountered Ofsted for the third time; and continue to learn how to lead a department made up of eleven unique individuals. Nevertheless, as I sit here reflecting, I can say that the last two months have provided the challenge and reward that I crave.

Had the past few months been more settled, I would not have gained as much from them. Learning, like life, is also a perpetual journey. If I was not challenged, if there was nothing left to learn, I would become discontented. Fortunately, as a teacher there is little danger of that. The variable nature of teaching make it deeply stimulating and fulfilling.

First Steps into Learning & Teaching in Higher Education [#fslt13]

I have just enrolled in the MOOC: First Steps into Learning & Teaching in Higher Education (#fslt13). This post serves as my introduction and outlines the reasons why I have signed up.

I am currently completing a dissertation for a Masters in Education, seeking to answer the following:

To what extent can virtual courses support the development of independent learning beyond ‘real time’ curriculum delivery?

To explore this I have recently completed the data collection process, which involved running a MOOC titled: Critical Skills 101. The course sought to  develop in(ter)dependent learning skills in 14-18 year-olds. I am currently analysing and evaluating the collected data and will be submitting my dissertation in August.

Taking the M.Ed has not only continued to fuel my interests in Independent Learning and Online Learning but has also made me question what it is I want to do next with my career. I had often felt that it would follow a path that would take me into senior management within Secondary Education. However, I am not at all convinced that I wish to pursue such a career.

As such participating in #fslt13 is going to serve several purposes:

I wish to explore another MOOC. As well as running the aforementioned MOOC: #crit101, I participated in #moocmooc  (A MOOC about MOOCs) during August 2012. While that MOOC explored open online courses themselves, I wish to participate in a course that is teaching a less-meta topic.

Moreover, having just completed  the delivery of #crit101, I hope #fslt13 will provide some useful reference points in terms of pedagogy, participation and assessment, as I continue to analyse and evaluate my course. In addition to this, I want to see how open badges are put into use in #fslt13 having implemented them in #crit101.

Finally, I am beginning to feel that studying towards a PHD and/or teaching within HE may be a career path that I wish to pursue. I hope that participating in this course will give me some further insight into that as well.

Posts relating to my participation in #fslt13 will appear here. Being in the middle of my dissertation poses a significant challenge to my time but I hope to be able to keep up with the course reading and get involved in some useful discussions around learning and teaching.

#crit101 and Open Badges [UCL]

Today, I delivered a presentation about #crit101 and Open Badges at University College London. Critical Skills 101 [#crit101] is an open online course that I have been running as a case study, seeking to answer my dissertation research question:

To what extent can virtual courses support the development of independent learning beyond ‘real time’ curriculum delivery?

The course is intended to help participants develop a set of critical skills that will help them to become more effective in(ter)dependent learners.  Part way through the process of developing the course I decided that I needed a way to acknowledge their achievements. I opted to use Open Badges, having kept up with Mozilla’s work in this area.

The experience of using Open Badges in #crit101 has met with mixed results and this was a great opportunity to reflect on this. As such, it has raised more questions than answers about motivation, accreditation, value, longevity… and also a deeper consideration of the processes involved in creating, earning and awarding badges.

The slides for my presentation are available here: #crit101 and Open Badges

  • Hover over the thumbnails to view speaker notes and links (cmd/ctrl click to open in a new tab). Click on any of the thumbnails to view the slides in full size.

[Update: 02.04.13] Depending on the device/screen size you are using to look at the presentation, the speaker notes may not be that easy to navigate. As such, I have added them below…

#crit101 and Open Badges – Speaker Notes

01 – Title Slide

02 – What is #crit101?

  • Critical Skills 101 is an open online course. It seeks to introduce/develop a set of skills that will encourage independent/interdependent learning.
  • The course focuses on interdisciplinary skills that will be useful for study at FE and HE.
  • My original intention was to target KS5 students specifically. However, after some discussion with colleagues, I opted to broaden the field to include KS4 students as well.

03 – #MAinEDU

  • The course represents the culmination of work/research I have been iterating on with regards to independent learning and e-learning.
  • I am of the opinion that more needs to be done to disrupt the ‘teach to the test’ / ‘spoon-feeding’ culture present within schools.
  • I have sought to use ed-tech to achieve this, using a diverse range of tools with my students:
    • Google Docs
    • Blogging
    • Twitter
  • All with an emphasis on collaboration and reflection.
  • #crit101 uses all the above tools to encourage active rather than passive engagement.

04 – cMOOC

  • The course is underpinned by the connectivist principles of the early massive open online courses (cMOOCs)
  • Connection, collaboration and discussion are at its core, placing an emphasis on creation.

05 – Inspiration

  • The course wears its influences on its sleeves:
    • The use of a WP Blog as the course hub has come directly from DS106, along with a number of structural and pedagogical features. Thanks must go to Alan Levine for sharing the nuts and bolts of how DS106 works.
    • Another point of inspiration, particularly with regard to connecting badges with the process came from P2PU
    • And finally, I participated in MOOC MOOC – a MOOC about MOOCs. It also had a significant effect on the way that I pieced together the course, as well as inspiring a number of the assignments.

06 – In(ter)dependence

  • Participants recognise that being an effective independent learner has more to do with interdependence that autonomy.
  • As course leader I have sought to reposition myself; removing myself from the process as much as possible.

07 – Toward “Peeragogy”

  • Howard Rheingold coined the term ‘peeragogy’. The learning is developed collaboratively by the learners.
  • Put students in control; make them take ownership:
    • What do I need to learn?
    • Why do I need to learn that?
    • How should I go about learning that?

08 – 3 Tenets

  • Slide 15 from this presentation by Catherine Cronin, describes the approach I have been developing within and beyond my classroom over the last three years.
  • As I constructed and iterated on the course I have sought to ensure that openness, networks, and voice/choice are at it’s heart.

09 – #crit101 Blog

  • The blog is a hub, hosting the course content as well as syndicating the work produced by participants.
  • Syndication is made possible by using the FeedWordpress plugin.

10 – Critical Skills

  • The skills were drawn from research that I completed in a previous M.Ed. module on Independent learning.
  • Both hard and soft skills have been selected and are given equal footing.

11 – Tools

12 – Changing Roles

  • Empowering learners to take ownership of their own learning; to develop the skills and characteristics of a life-long learner.
  • Placing emphasis on creative thinking, sharing, collaboration, creation and reflection.

13 – Open Badges

  • A badge in its own right is visual representation of an achievement. Open Badges are a digital version of this.
  • They are a useful way of accrediting and acknowledging learning beyond the curriculum and seemed like a good fit for the course that I was offering.
  • I implemented them based on the Mozilla Open Badges Infrastructure (OBI)
  • I worked through a lot of this process, both pedagogically and technically with Doug Belshaw who is ‘Badges and Skills Lead’ at Mozilla Open Badges team.

14 – #crit101 Badges

  • There is a badge to be earned for each skill within the course.
  • Earning the badges is built on an incremental approach. The criteria is available on the blog and is baked into the badges.
  • The badges were designed by Josh Gray – an A2 Media Studies student and one of the first participant in the #crit101 course.

15 – WPBadger

  • To issue/award the badges I am using a WordPress plugin developed by Dave Lester.

16 – Feedback 1

  • After the first version of #crit101 I sought feedback. The review of the badges garnered mixed reviews
  • Part of the problem came with the issuing and claiming the badges… WPBadger is experimental and there are some bugs.

17 – Feedback 2

  • A number of the participants said that the badges were not an incentive for them in the first place; they took the course as they wanted to develop new skills and/or improve their ability to learn independently.
  • Others said they found the idea intriguing but struggled to see the actual value of them.
  • The feedback left me with a number of questions…

18 – Open Badges – Questions?

  • Do badges work as a motivator? (Intrinsic motivation Vs. extrinsic motivation)
  • Accreditation seems to be very important. What form should it take? From where should it come?
  • Without accreditation do badges have value?
  • Should learners need to be involved in the badge design process?
  • Who decides on the criteria?
  • Who should award the badges? How would peer-assessment work?
  • How can we ensure that they are useful beyond the course/later in life?

19 – The Five Ws

  • Deciding to use badges needs to be well thought through.
    • Are they right for your course, learners, institution…?
  • Consider the Five Ws:
    • Who, what, where, when, why, (and how)?
  • Investigate use cases:

20 – Chicken or Egg?

  • The most important thing to remember is that there is no one right way with Open Badges…
  • At this stage, like the ‘chicken and the egg’, it is not so much the answer as the question that is important.