#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.

‘Leashes not required’ – [#TLAB13]

As mentioned in a previous post, today I am running a workshop on ‘Independent Learning’ at The Teaching, Learning and Assessment Conference in Berkhamsted.

‘Leashes not required’ – In(ter)dependent Learning Inside and Outside the Secondary School Classroom

Spoon-feeding and teach-to-the-test culture seem to pervade the secondary school classroom, as teachers strive to meet increasingly demanding targets. This workshop will demonstrate that such approaches are not necessary; that adopting a strategy that encourages independence, critical and creative thinking; and values the use of new technologies produces equally outstanding results. The workshop will share both the guiding principles on which such an approach is built and also give specific examples of what in(ter)dependent learning is like in practice.

The slides have been written in HTML5 and are available here: ‘Leashes not required’ – Workshop.

* 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: 18.03.13] 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 (unedited) below…

‘Leashes not required’ – Workshop – Speaker Notes

01 – Title Slide

  • Educator working with 14-18 year olds at Chalfonts Community College in Buckinghamshire
  • Find me on Twitter: @jamesmichie / Blog: jamesmichie.com/blog
  • Introduce students and explain their role in the workshop
  • ‘Leashes not required’ cc Kevin McLaughlin

02 – What is Independent Learning?

  • I’ve arrived at this definition through innovating in the classroom & research, as part of an M.Ed
  • You might see it as being unrealistic…but I disagree. I think that all learners regardless of age or ability can learn to be more independent
  • Perhaps, the most important factor is acknowledging that independent learning is not about independence at all. It is about developing interdependence.

03 – Discovery

  • When we’re born we learn through discovery and play… we have freedom. However, as we move through the stages of systematised education our independence is stripped away.

04 – Systematised Education

  • Systematised education is like Disneyland. It is exciting, fun even but has become a slick, well-oiled machine where ‘teach to the test’ dominates. Learning is placed into neat little boxes, organised into linear, incremental chunks.

05 – Learning is Messy

  • The problem is, learning is not liner. It’s not orderly.
  • Learning is messy!
  • It’s a tangled web of disconnected strands that over time connect together…
  • To prepare young people to become life long learners we need to stop teaching to the test, embrace the mess and rediscover learning through discovery.

06 – Toward Independence

  • Some learners need to be allowed to be independent.
  • Some learners need to be encouraged.
  • Some learners need to be dragged, kicking and screaming.

07 – Skills

08 – Friction

  • I start this journey towards independence by creating friction…
    • Spelling (Student: “Sir, how do you spell…? “Me: Google it!”)
    • Breaking the rules – mobile phones are allowed in my classroom
    • Make them figure it out for themselves; encourage them to form support networks that are not you!

09 – Toward In(ter)dependence

  • Collaborating, interacting, sharing…
  • AfL – developing skills in peer and self-assessment.

10 – Network

  • Embracing connectivist principles… developing ‘Learning Networks’
    • I use Twitter with my students, the dialogue continues beyond the classroom
    • They know they can email when they need help
    • Lines of communication are ‘open’
    • I’m a learner too… were in this together
  • I seek to give students a voice through: their blogging…
    • Listening to them
    • Surveys and feedback

11 – Tools

12 – Toward Peeragogy

  • Howard Rheingold coined the term ‘peeragogy’. The learning is developed collaboratively by the learners…
  • Put students in control
    • Share, discuss and have the students develop the learning objectives and success criteria
    • Empower them in their learning – What do I need to learn? Why? How?

13 – 3 Tenets

  • When I saw slide 15 from this presentation by Catherine Cronin, I realised it described the approach I have been developing within and beyond my classroom over the last three years.
  • To embrace openness, networks, and choice.

14 – Horses Mouth

  • Break out session. Students working with a group of teachers, discussing their experiences of in(ter)dependent learning.
  • Opportunity for any arrising questions to be answered.

15 – 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.

16 – Critical Skills 101

  • Dissertation for M.Ed. – “To what extent can virtual courses support the development of independent learning beyond ‘real time’ curriculum delivery?”
  • #crit101 – A MOOC aimed at towards 14-18 year-olds.
  • Built on the three tenets – “openness ~ social media ~ student voice/choice”.
  • Hard and soft skills being developed as the building blocks of effective in(ter)dependent learning.

17 – Leashes not required

  • In conclusion, I’m saying: take the leashes off, step down from the pulpit, & redefine your role.
    • I’m a learner too
    • Each year I embark on a journey of discovery with my classes
    • I can’t imagine doing it any other way

18 – Reflection

  • Time for participants to reflect and share a way that they will encourage their students to be more in(ter)dependent.

Becoming an active, critical reader…

Back in September, Jim Groom shared his thoughts on the importance of reading for context. An approach to reading that for me is about becoming a more active, critical reader. As I read his post, I found myself nodding along, each sentiment reflecting what I find myself saying to both my GCSE and A-Level students on a weekly basis…

I’ve taken pains to reinforce how essential it is to read for context. To read for the things that don’t make sense, read for the things you do not know, and read for the ideas that make you stop and think. And in the process take the time to play detective. Look things up. Follow the lead the writer gives you, try and build a context for your reading. What’s more, with the ubiquity of the web the process couldn’t be any easier.

Without an understanding of context…

You miss something in the understanding. And with the web always already right there it makes the excuses of not doing it nothing short of paltry. Contextualizing and augmenting one’s understanding of any book is that much easier, faster, and more powerful—and it should increasingly be expected of students.

Yet I often find that it isn’t or hasn’t been. And as Jim exemplifies in the age of Google there is no excuse.

With my own students I begin at an even more basic level. When they encounter a word they do not know, I encourage them to work to figure it out; to contextualise it. And should that not work, to turn to the dictionary and find the definition. What I won’t do is tell them the answer nor will I allow them to ignore it. Why? Because…

…the act of reading is not to be taken for granted.

Reading is an active, critical process that needs to be cultivated. While it may not seem likely to them at first, I believe that most of my students come to appreciate that rather than taking the pleasure out of reading, stopping and looking things up improves their understanding and their enjoyment with it.

“Something I Learned Today”

Patrick Rhone reminded me today that not only is it important to remember that learning happens everyday and occurs in a variety of ways, but that it is also important to capture that learning.

A practice I have been doing often for the past couple of years is to write down at least one new thing I learned every day… It is a great reminder that, no matter how old I get, there is always the capacity to learn and grow.

Sometimes, the one thing I learn comes from reading. Sometimes, it comes from observation. Sometimes, it comes from conversation. Sometimes, when I get to the end of the day and can’t think of anything new that I learned, I go to a random page on Wikipedia and learn something for the sake of learning.

This got me thinking about student blogging. I have been using blogs with students for some time now, but with a specific subject focus, e.g.: to capture the coursework process (see the archive and sidebar) in AS and A2 Media Studies. But what if students kept a blog (public or private) with the soul purpose of capturing ‘one new thing’ they learned each day? I personally think it would provide a powerful, personal statement for each student about their learning and progress across the year, free from the constraints of individual subjects and syllabi. So much gets lost in folders and books, relegated to cupboards and bins at the end of the year. A blog would provide a permanent digital record.

MOOC MOOC – Day Four

Before I could join in with Day Four’s activities, I decided that I needed to better understand the concept of ‘Connectivism’.

Connectivism

Stephen Downes states that: “At its heart, connectivism is the thesis that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and therefore that learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks.” Which in my mind, could easily be describing my experience in using Twitter to develop a personal learning network (PLN). Through Twitter I have connected with a network of individuals, shared and aggregated resources and ideas, which has resulted in both learning and the (co-)construction of new ideas and resources.

He goes on to outline four process that are integral to connectivism:

  1. Aggregation
  2. Remixing
  3. Repurposing
  4. Feeding Forward

Considering this list closely, it would appear that connectivism is very similar to constructivism, particularly given that these activities encourage sharing, creation and collaboration.

However, Downes et al., see connectivism as a distinct model of its own. In ‘What is the unique idea in connectivism’, George Siemens explains that “learning is defined as the creation of new connections and patterns as well as the ability to maneuver around existing networks/patterns.” While this sounds very similar to Downes’ interpretation, Siemens emphasis on the “creation of new connections” implies that the learning occurs through networking as opposed to the act of construction. Artefacts created, either individually or collaboratively during MOOCs are, to some degree, a byproduct. The dialogue and connections generated before, during and after their creation is where the learning occurs. The network is the essence of connectivism; the essence of the MOOC.

Siemens continues, asserting that “Coherence. Sensemaking. Meaning. These elements are prominent in constructivism, to a lessor extent cognitivism, and not at all in behaviourism. But in connectivism, we argue that the rapid flow and abundance of information raises these elements to critical importance.” This is certainly true, and within MOOC MOOC this has been more than evident. However, for some participants, the sheer scale of information generated by the network can be overwhelming. Therefore, I would argue that, to be successful in a MOOC, you have to be well-versed in the use of tools that can help you make sense of the information. Moreover, as I have previously written, it is important for participants to be willing to plot their own paths and not feel that they have to read/do everything.

Moreover, connectivism, is a pedagogy that places significant emphasis on interdependence. Perhaps then the most important facet of the MOOC acronym is ‘openness’. Relatively free from geographical, economic, social and cultural constraints, the cMOOC gives rise to democratised, networked-learning that emphasises participation and collaboration.

Participant Pedagogy

Day Four’s task was to consider participant pedagogy. I entered into this having not really had time to look at the reading, but with some strong views about learner participation and the student/teacher paradigm. In my own words

Learning is and should always be in the hands of the learner.

A number of us, decided that some face-to-face interaction was needed and so a Google+ Hanout was instigated. After a few technical problems, Sheila MacNeil, Martin Hawksey, David Kernohan, Alan Ng and I engaged in a fruitful discussion.

The discussion covered a number of related topics:

  • the pedagogical models found within the cMOOC/xMOOC dichotomy;
  • the position of teacher/lecturer and the way that we (educators) view education/learning;
  • the problems with systematised education (sage on the stage, teach to the test culture);
  • participant pedagogy, including the problem of the teacher/student paradigm

As I suggest a number of times during the discussion, I believe that the dichotomy of the traditional student/teacher relationship is a false one; based on an out of date system of education. If our goal is to foster a love of learning, then I believe it is necessary for educators to position themselves as learners, facilitators, guides; not as experts. A scary prospect for some.

Pete Rorabaugh argues that:

Critical pedagogy, no matter how we define it, has a central place in the discussion of how learning is changing in the 21st century because critical pedagogy is primarily concerned with an equitable distribution of power… Digital tools offer the opportunity to refocus how power works in the classroom. In its evolution from passive consumption to critical production – from the cult of the expert to a culture of collaboration – the critical and digital classroom emerges as a site of intellectual and moral agency.

This is certainly a thesis that I can support, given that I would describe my own classroom in similar terms. However, I am left asking whether or not such an evolution requires ‘digital tools’ to achieve such equity? Can learning not be democratised within traditional educational settings, without the influence of technology? Does this not, have more to do with shifting beliefs and values about pedagogy and the student/teacher paradigm?

Teo Bishop, makes a similar case, asserting that:

A teacher and a student, when presented as text on the screen, look exactly the same. They are just text. The internet is the Great Equalizer not only because it provides the world with a seemingly unlimited amount of information, but because it reduces us all to font, to pixels, to bits of sound and noise that only begin to approach our full complexity.

Perhaps… although I think this is a naive view. Technology, in this case ‘the internet’, is being given far too much credit. Social status, expertise and power are in no way absent from the world wide web. Blogs and social networks may have given everyone a voice, but that does not mean that everyone is listening.

Technology, itself, does not have the power to improve education. Nor does it have the power to democratise it. The participatory pedagogies alluded to by both Rorabaugh and Bishop require a change in values and beliefs on the part of not just educators, but society as a whole. Moreover, they require a dramatic shift in the priorities of educational institutions. It’s better economics for institutions such as Stanford and MIT to proffer xMOOC style courses, as the investment in participant-based co-creation and the development of networks is labour intensive and difficult to control.

Earlier in the article, Bishop asked what I think is a more important question: “I’m in a position where I can do my best work, and inspire the most dialogue, by openly not having the answers. Do teachers have that luxury?” Yes they do, but they have to be prepared to take risks; to be willing to redefine their role within the classroom. As I shared in the Hangout, I do not consider myself to be a teacher anymore. I am a learner, facilitator, and guide.

On reflection, I wonder to what extent teaching Media Studies has impacted on the way I view education and my role within it. Media Studies is in a continual state of evolution, built on theoretical ideas rather than absolutes; responding to a changing landscape, influenced by social and technological developments. There is always something new to learn, to understand, at no point would I therefore, profess to be an expert.

Jesse Stommel (on Twitter) shared: “Every semester I teach at least one book that I’ve never read before. I read it with the students and actively under-prepare.” Within his words, there is a clue to a deeper philosophy, a belief in shared, interdependent learning between teacher and student. I take a similar approach with my own students, wishing to participate in a ‘learning journey’, where the opinions of student and teacher are of equal value.

Of all of the reading that was provided to support this part of the course, I found Howard Rheingold’s article ‘Toward Peeragogy’ provided the most compelling narrative. Reflecting on the development of what he has coined “peeragogy”, Rheingold draws out, what I believe to be, key tenets in encouraging independent/interdependent learning in any classroom.

In retrospect, I can see the coevolution of my learning journey: my first step was to shift from conventional lecture-discussion-test classroom techniques to lessons that incorporated social media, my second step gave students co-teaching power and responsibility, my third step was to elevate students to the status of co-learner. It began to dawn on me that the next step was to explore ways of instigating completely self-organized, peer-to-peer online learning.

In his classroom, both online and in the lecture hall, Rheingold’s “peeragogy” is built on ‘openness’, ‘social media’, and ‘student voice/choice’ – the same three tenets advocated by Catherine Cronin during a presentation at #EdTech12. Three tenet that can easily be applied to cMOOCs.

The Role of the cMOOC

Returning to one of the articles, from day one of MOOC MOOC, I would argue that Siemens is correct. c“MOOCs are really a platform”, out of which an interdependent network is built. A network that encourages, openness, social connectedness/collaboration, and voice/choice. The cMOOC is nothing without its participants and its participants are in control of the pedagogy.