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.

Mitchel Resnick: Learning from Scratch

I found myself reeling after tonight’s #ukedchat, frustrated by the 140 character limit, unable to express my view on indpendent learning with enough clarity and detail. I promise to follow this up with a post explaining my thoughts on IL, as well as strategies that I am employing with my students.

In the meantime, I offer you Mitchel Resnick’s presentation from LWF12. What he says between 03:34 and 05:33 has become fundamental in my thinking about both independent learning and education as a whole.

If you can’t wait for the post, you can get a good feeling for where my thinking is at here: TeachMeet Tees 12: ‘Leashes not required’.

Reflective Professional Development: A Literature Review

Yesterday I submitted my latest M.Ed assignment: RPD: Literature Review [Google Doc]

It is part of a Reflective Professional Development module. We were required to submit:

A literature review of 3 – 5 books, articles or papers which have influenced your practice or understanding and have helped to shape you as a professional.

Each of the texts I chose to include made me sit up and reconsider both my values and beliefs about education as well as informing my approach to teaching and learning in the classroom.

The texts are as follows:

I hope that you find it to be a stimulating read. Comments are welcomed.

If you would like to know more about the MA in Education that I am studying towards, look here.

Sir Ken Robinson: Leading a Learning Revolution

Closing LWF12, Sir Ken Robinson did much more than draw together the various themes and ideas from the conference. Instead, he used his closing talk to discuss the “revolution” he believes is needed (and is already happening) in education. Echoing the conclusions of his 2006 TED Talk and purpose of his 2010 TED Talk, he referred quickly to the struggle between “whole child” education and the propensity of governments to want to “control” and “test” education.

Robinson created a highly compelling polemic. He went on to address the disconnect between practice, theory and policy, as well as the technological and social changes that are feed into the need for a learning revolution. He outlined what he believes to be the purposes of education and then set about, under the headings: Curriculum, Teaching and Learning, and Assessment, recommending a series of changes needed to improve education. These included:

  • Emphasising personalised (independent) learning;
  • Customising education for communities;
  • A move away from “subjects” to “disciplines”;
  • Encouraging collaborative learning strategies;
  • Shifting the emphasis in assessment away from “judgement” to “description”.

What I found most gratifying about Robinson’s talk was the emphasis he put on teachers and schools. He believes that teaching is at the heart of education, reminding us (the teachers) that we are part of the system and therefore can, if we choose to, change it. He recognised that there were many of us already doing so and continued by saying: “If you’re waiting for a government to start the revolution, I think you’ll be waiting a long time”. In closing he declared that:

We need to be part of the solution for the revolution and not part of the problem

With that sentiment in mind, I invite you to join me (and a host of other educators) on Thursday, March 1, between 8pm and 9pm, for #ukedchat, where we will be addressing the following question:

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

The question is (I hope) a jumping off point for a debate about what schooling should be like in the 21st century. You can read my full provocation, here.

Recommended Reading:

Ken Robinson – Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative
Ken Robinson with Lou Aronica – The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything

…on Learning Objectives

This post expands on ideas I shared, in a series of tweets, with John Finlayson (@MrFinobi) about ‘learning objectives’.

Learning objectives can be a powerful tool in a teacher’s toolkit. At the same time they can be a teacher’s Achilles heel, either tied in with a rigid lesson structure that has been forced upon them or (as I see too often) misunderstood for being a statement of what is going to be produced rather than what is going to be learned.

Learning objectives are integral to assessment for learning

If used correctly, learning objectives can be one of the keys in developing an effective assessment for learning strategy. Dylan Wiliam (considered an expert inAfL) regularly refers back to the following two slides:

Five Key Strategies

Aspects of Formative Assessment

His contention is that learning objectives are an integral part of effective AfL strategy. He argues that sharing of learning objectives opens up a discourse about learning. (Wiliam, 2010) I am inclined to agree and would recommend that all teachers experiment with the way they share learning objectives.

One of the most effective ways to ensure that you are using learning objectives effectively with your students is to consider the work of Shirley Clarke.

Taught Specifics

In her book ‘Formative Assessment in the Secondary Classroom’, Clarke explores the value of learning objectives in significant detail. She discusses the ‘taught specifics’ inherent within learning objectives arguing that teachers need to “move away from “PRODUCT” oriented success criteria to “PROCESS” oriented success criteria” (2005, 30-31).

Taught Specifics

She goes on to argue that if used correctly, process success criteria can set the agenda for the learning and also provide a specific focus for peer and self-assessment activities. Having built Clarke’s approach into my lessons for some time now, I have seen significant improvement in the way my students approach their learning – confident in discussing what they are learning, why they are learning it, and how they will succeed in doing so.

Clarke also suggests that students should write learning objectives down. This I disagree with. I do not feel it is necessary for students to write down the learning objectives during every lesson. Nor, do I believe that a teacher needs to put the learning objectives on the board during every lesson.

Depending on what is to be learned I take a variety of approaches to introducing the learning objectives. Sometimes, I put the success criteria on the board and then ask students to discuss what they think the learning objective is going to be. Other times, I only put the learning objective on the board and ask the students to decide on what the success criteria will be. This is an important step in developing the discourse about learning that Wiliam refers to.

Discovery

David Didau (@LearningSpy) in a recent blog post discussed the value of ‘discovery learning’, where the teacher does not begin with an objective or question but creates a sense of engagement and curiosity through modelling and student interaction.

So how about trying this? Stride purposefully into the room and, without a word, begin drawing a face on the board. Draw an arrow next to the head and write, “Head like an egg”. Turn to the class to see the reaction. Offer them the pen. Don’t worry if they don’t get it yet, continue by labelling the eye with, “Eye like a crater”. Sooner or later they will begin to join in and end up sputtering with delighted laughter at all the hilarious comparisons they make.

How much better is this than waltzing in with the question, “So, can anyone tell me what a simile is?” Anyone inclined to dismiss discovery learning as nonsense need look no further. The power of students discovering for themselves the point of a simile (or apostrophe, or subordinate clause or whatever) is much more likely to be memorable than their teacher just telling them.

This same approach can be applied to learning objectives. Like many good teachers I do not only spend time discussing where the learning is going but also build in time to reflect on the learning. It can be, again depending on the context, to not reveal the learning objective until the end of the lesson. Allow the students to muddle their way through – it can often be quite liberating and lead to unexpected learning outcomes alongside the ones you intended.

An Incremental View

John’s original tweet asked me if I ‘differentiated’ learning objectives. My response was an unequivocal ‘No’. The reason for this is because I subscribe to an ‘incremental view’ rather than a ‘entity view’ of intelligence and learning (Dweck, 1999). A student’s learning potential is not pre-determined. Both the least and most able students in my classroom have the potential to progress and they need to learn to utilise the same skills in order to pass their exams. As such I feel it is wrong to differentiate objectives by skill or outcome.

The box provided (on my school’s lesson planning sheet) for entering learning objectives is broken down into the following sections: ‘All, Most, Some’. I know this has been set out this way as it is something that Ofsted like to see. However, I am not convinced by it, having never seen the research behind it. I have seen lesson plans dutifully filled in, explaining how different sets of students will learn different skills.

All students will be able to describe…
Most students will be able to analyse…
Some students will be able to evaluate…

Last time I checked, every single one of my students was capable of learning to do all of those skills, if taught the right way. Last time I checked some students found evaluating easier than analysing. Whichever taxonomy you prescribe to (Bloom’s / SOLO), the skills listed do not exist within a hierarchy or on a continuum. They are not linear. Learning is messy. Based on my experiences over the last nine years, learners will acquire different skills at varying rates in varying orders of preference, based on a diverse range of factors.

None of this is to say that I don’t believe in differentiation. I do. In my mind, differentiation is not about learning objectives or outcomes, it is about teaching and learning. Differentiation takes place during the lesson. It is present in the way I formulate groups for discussion and projects. It is present in who I choose to spend my time with during a lesson and what I do with them. It is in how I deploy my learning assistant. It is about focussed differentiation; targeted support; the development of independent learning skills.

The Map

I believe that in a classroom learning objectives should be shared; every student working towards similar goals but in different ways and at different speeds. The learning objectives set the direction of the learning. How the map (success criteria) is formulated however is sometimes up to me and sometimes up to them. Sometimes, we lose the map and get lost along the way. Together, through communication and sharing, we find our way back. And, sometimes there is no map; we get lost on purpose, excited to see where we might end up.


References:

  • Clarke, S. (2005) Formative Assessment in the Secondary Classroom, London: Hodder Murray.
  • Dweck, C. S. (1999) Self-Theories: Their role in motivation, personality, and development, Philadelphia, PA: The Psychology Press.
  • Wiliam, D. (2010) Innovation that works. Workshop at SSAT conference, Birmingham, Novemner. Retrieved 28 November 2010 from the World Wide Web: http://web.me.com/dylanwiliam/Dylan_Wiliams_website/Presentations.html