Absence, Priorities, Focus and Reflection

Some of you will have noticed that my presence online, both here and on Twitter, has been significantly sporadic since September last year. This extended absence (for want of a better word) has been a choice. One that was predicated by my need to prioritise specific jobs, projects and interests over others.

While I will not be naive and proclaim that I am back full time blogging and tweeting, it is my intention, over the next couple of months, for normal service to resume. In light of this I felt it pertinent to give an overview of how I have been spending my time and what you are likely to be reading about in future posts.

The main reason that I have not been blogging and tweeting regularly is that I have been putting a significant amount of my time, outside of the classroom, into the MA in Education that I am studying towards. I am currently editing my final Module Assignment on Independent Learning, and have begun in earnest the preparation for my dissertation.

The current modules I am working through will be familiar to any of you who have completed an MA in Education.

As I plan to write my dissertation publicly online, I have also opted to write the multiple assignments (related to each of the above modules) publicly as well. The documents at the moment are in very rough form with ideas, notes and links being gathered as I research and complete reading.

I am thoroughly enjoying my studies. I did believe that I was already a highly effective learner in terms of research, reflection and criticality however the academic process has opened up a number of new approaches to learning for both myself and by proxy for my students. The impact my studies have had on my students is something I definitely plan to write about in future posts.

Moreover, I am particularly excited about the prospects of completing my dissertation and the depth of academic study that it is going to involve. I have tentatively begun to work on drilling down my research question. Currently it is too broad but as some of you may be interested, here it is in its current form:

Are schools (as physical spaces) necessary to facilitate learning in the 21st century?

In addition to committing more time towards the MA, I also felt that I needed to focus on two specific areas of my teaching. I am both Leader for Media Studies and Key Stage 4 English. Balancing the two roles can be quite difficult. They both demand my time cut come with very different levels of pressure.

While our A2 Media Results were excellent again, they were not up to the standard that I have come to expect. Having completed closer analysis of the results I found that the exam module was the weakest area. I decided that I would take on the teaching of this year’s A2 group on my own, in order to re-develop both the content of the exam module and to re-evaluate the learning structure that we have had in place for A2 students for over five years now.

The most significant change has been the development of the new exam module. I decided to move away from ‘Media Regulation’ and tackle something a bit more theoretical in the shape of ‘Postmodern Media’. While it has been time consuming, it has been a throughly enjoyable process completing the necessary reading and research before piecing together a scheme of work and resources. You can get an insight into how this is going (as well as copies of various resources) at: Media @ CCC.

I also wanted to focus on the continued development of the new KS4 English curriculum. It has been a significant (and welcomed) change for the department. Not only due to new texts and the introduction of the much discussed ‘Spoken Language’ unit but also, due to some restructuring in terms of Controlled Assessment and the timing of exam modules. I now feel that we are coming out of the back of that process far wiser and ready to develop it further in the future.

Finally, I am an avid reader of Patrick Rhone’s writing:

As a Minimal Mac patron, I have been fortunate to get a direct insight into writing of his upcoming book: Enough. As part of the research process for the book, Patrick would spend time evaluating his use of various tools and services – sometimes by not using them at all. I wished to get some perspective not only on my blog but how I organised/used my online life and the impact it was having (positive and negative) on my day to day life. To do this it was helpful to stop/tinker with the various facets of my online self. I am still reflecting on this and drawing conclusions. Sufficed to say that this will be something I will be writing about in future posts. One thing I am certain of. Blogging (reflecting) as a process is very important to me and is something that I plan to continue to evaluate my use of in the immediate future.

The time away from blogging/tweeting has been useful and allowed me to re-align my time and energy with what I believe to be my priorities. With that I will close. If you questions about anything I have discussed above please don’t hesitate to comment below or get in touch via Twitter @jamesmichie.

Assessment For Learning With Twitter

There is a lot of discussion within the #edtech community about the value of using Twitter within the classroom, which is, in turn, followed by a second conversation about whether educators should be using Twitter in school at all.

I personally believe that Twitter has the potential to be invaluable within education as long as the right safeguarding precautions are taken.

The most obvious use for Twitter I feel is to utilise it as a tool for giving feedback as part of assessment for learning.  Therefore, I decided to start there and trial this with one of my Year 10 classes.  Why Year 10?  Mainly due to the fact that I believe they are mature enough to handle the use of Twitter sensibly and that if successful it could become part of our working process; having time to develop its use through to the end of Year 10 and beyond.

My students set up their accounts with me in the classroom.  I gave them a clear set of instructions about how to set their account up – most importantly that their account name be created in such a way that they can not be personally identified by it and that their account is locked so that they can control who is following them.  To make the “following” aspect even more straightforward I followed (with a specific Twitter account I set up for use in school) all of them and created a group “list” that they could then follow.  It meant that they were not searching through lots of other people to find each other and possibly coming into contact with people and tweets that they shouldn’t.

I wanted to be sure that they looked on this as an educational tool – although that was not too hard as some of them were quick to tell me that: “Twitter is for old people like you sir and Facebook is for us, teenagers!” – thanks a lot I thought to myself.

The group of students I decided to trial this with were my Creative Media Diploma students.  They are a small pilot group so provided a situation that was manageable to try out a new form of Assessment For Learning.  Here are some examples of tweets by the students:

twit feedback 1

I feel that the 140 character limit was actually one of the most effective aspects of the process – the students found it challenging at first but once they got over the fact that they were being allowed to communicate as they would in a text message or e-mail with friends they quickly adapted and began sending very short but constructive comments to each other.  The unit had culminated in the students creating a multi-media presentation (animated still images and audio) comparing BBC Radio 2 with either Capital FM or XFM.  The students were required to evaluate both the analytical content of the presentations and the visual/auditory features.

twit feedback 3

To facilitate the process each student was assigned a hash tag which was made up from the first three letters of their name and then the initials of the course “cmd”.  This allowed for easy searching and provided some uniformity and structure to the task. I asked them to make one positive comment and one comment that offered some constructive criticism.  This was handled fairly well and only one student on one occasion wrote something about another students work that the rest of the class and I felt was not appropriate.  Due to the public nature of the process the students were quicker than I in picking up on it, making the student who sent it send a tweet apologising and for them to delete the offending tweet.  You see it is about teaching the responsibility.  If we treat what we do online seriously they will take it seriously.

twit feedback 2

Each hash tag ended with cmd as an identifier of the task being evaluated.

After the evaluations were complete the students were asked in the following lesson to use Twitter Search to locate all of their tweets.  They printed out a copy of all the tweets that contained their given hash tag for their portfolio and read through them reflecting on the positive and negative points that they had been given.  They then set themselves two targets. One target explaining how they could improve the content of their presentation and one target as to how they could improve the visual/auditory features.  Here is an example of a students targets which they submitted to our Virtual Learning Environment (moodle), printed out and stapled to their tweets inside their portfolio.

example of target setting

This was an enjoyable and (I feel) highly effective process.  It certainly was for me as a teacher, being able to offer feedback and advice instantly but in an alternative way to the usual verbal approach.  The 140 character limit helped I believe as I had to get to the point rather than waffling on! There was a record of it all, just as if I had filled in some laborious assessment sheet. And they were able to respond to the feedback and they got to not just know what I thought but what their peers thought as well.

Furthermore, it was helpful to me to see what the other students were saying – giving me an insight into the way they saw each others work at the same time I was assessing and evaluating it.  This made me stop sometimes and re-evaluate what I was saying in terms of feedback.  As the process developed, being able to read each others tweets, we all got better at it – providing better and better feedback for the student being evaluated.

While Twitter remains available at school I will definitely use it again for this process and hopefully for others.  I have considered using Twitter to help develop my Y10 English class’ writing skills – a story or poem developed tweet by tweet!  I also saw, just today, as I was working on this post that @tombarrett used Twitter in his classroom today using his PLN to tweet what the weather was like in different parts of the country.  I’ll say no more as I know that he plans to blog about it himself! This to me was a fantastic use of Twitter in school and exemplifies the value of it being left open and free for use, not shut down (behind a firewall) like so many other great social learning tools seem to be.

If you would like to know more about this project or other ways I plan to use Twitter in my classroom please feel free to tweet me @jamesmichie.