Monday, December 26, 2011

Badges for teachers: scenarios (#change11)

In my previous post I outlined an idea I have to make badges work. Here are a few scenarios that might better illustrate what it is I am proposing.

A programmer has been asked by their employer to learn about machine learning. Employee does the course via Stanford's open learning. There is no need for there to be any certification from Stanford because the employer will be able to see if the necessary learning was done. If it was, then the employer gives the employee a badge and Stanford gets a badge as well for that course. By linking the two badges, the credential is transferable.

A employer notices that their new emplyee, fresh out of high school, is very proficient with basic maths and english, as well as being able to learn quickly and think for herself. The employer finds all these traits admirable and decides to award a badge to the student's "overall education" attribute. This badge is automatically linked to all of the employee's past schools and teachers. The employee, realising that there were four teachers that have had a huge impact on her employability, so she awards a badge to each of these teachers.

A parent is looking for a school for her child. She looks at the data for a number of schools, looking at the range of source that the badges have come from. She is able to drill down into the data to see the type employers (industry) have given badges, as well as the number of parents who have given badges, and the number of ex-students who have given badges.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Badges for teachers (#change11)

It seems to me that there is something vitally important missing from this whole badges concept - the reputation of the teacher. The reputation of the software or human teacher which awards the badge is paramount in determining the value of the badge as a means of showing skills acquired. And the best assessors of the quality of the teacher is the employer, parent and student. There needs to be a badges system for teachers if a badges system is to work at all.

Below is a concept diagram of the inter-relationship between teacher, student and employer in the current credentializing system.

The student is happy with how they have been able to apply their learning to their employment and employment prospects
The employer is happy with skills and knowledge of student
The student is assessed to have aquired skills and knowledge from a teacher
A credential has been given and the teacher's reputation has been enhanced.

I am proposing here a system like the one below:

A "badges for teachers" system would track a person's teachers and then having employers assess the skill set of the employee and then award a badge to that set of teachers and, over time, the teachers of higher quality would acquire more badges and hence a greater reputation amongst employers. Employers would be able to give subject specific badges (eg: math) to indicate that the employee has a good overall knowledge of maths. All of the employee's teachers would receive the collective badge. If an employer sends an employee off to learn something specific then they can award a badge for that skill directly to that teacher. By awarding the badge to the teachers the employer is also reinforcing the credential of the employee.

For school teachers these badges could be awarded by parents up to a certain age, say 16, and then awarded by the students themselves. Parents and students would be able to award badges to individual teachers or to a school of teachers in a given year. For tertiary teachers these badges would be awarded by students only.

The value of the badges awarded by the teacher is related to the number of badges the teacher has received. Earning badges from good teachers becomes more valuable over time as the teacher receives more badges. This would allow for parents to 'invest' in their child's education by selecting teachers they feel would be better for their child in the long run.

Running parallel to this system could be one for teachers awarding badges to teachers to indicate collegiality and professionalism to further enhance the reputation of the teacher.

I'm not sure whether this is a new idea but I am sure there is more work to be done on this idea, so I would appreciate any feedback at all, constructive or otherwise.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Where do the facts belong - In the head or in the clouds? (#change11)

This debate between content and learning seems, to me, to be a little superfluous. Does anyone really think one can happen without the other?

The content of our education systems have come about via the learning of others before us. And even the highest of higher order thinking requires the collection, ordering and synthesis of basic empirical facts.

Having said that, the reality is the human brain as a repository of facts is losing its value. The ability to remember and recall facts is not as valuable in our society any more. It is far cheaper, in both money and time, to Google it than it is to sit through a lecture.

An analogy ..... If two people want to have an argument about appeasement prior to the second world war, while they are sitting at a bar, then a ready made store of facts in the brain will be of great use. Now give those two people smartphones and internet connection, suddenly they are able to use facts beyond their own memory to argue their respective positions. Their repertoire of facts has exploded but has their ability to synthesise the knowledge improved? Probably not. What would improve the intellectual outcome of the debate? Further lessons on the facts of appeasement? Probably the least likely. Lessons on how best to find facts on the internet? Lessons on higher order thinking? Rhetoric?

From the analogy above I hope it shows that the value of the facts themselves is not as great as the value of collection, ordering and synthesis of those said facts. And I also hope it shows that it is not a question of the necessity of facts, its a question of where they need to be - in the head or in the clouds.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

How do you know when you've learnt something? - #change11

A question has been rattling around inside my head lately, and given that I am a teacher and a person who has always loved learning, it's a little embarrassing to think I haven't thought about it before:

How do you know when you've learnt something?

I asked a secondary student this question and he said, "I dunno. When I remember something." Hmmm, can't really argue with that. I remember that Descartes said, "I think, therefore I am." But there's more to it than this, isn't there? I can remember 2 + 2 = 4 but does that mean I know 2 + 2 = 4? Does the idea of grabbing two of these objects and these other two objects, and putting them together to make four objects make sense to me? Can I use that knowledge regardless of the objects used? Can the objects I use be as abstract as squiggles on a piece of paper?

So I thought, "yes, there is more to learning than just remembering something," gave it a bit more thought and came up with the following:

  • When we see/hear/etc something that we haven't seen before, then we have learnt that this thing exists.
  • When we see multiple actions or things simultaneously then we have learnt of a relationship.
  • When we are able to perform an action then we have learnt a skill.
But how does one hang on to something that was learnt? Memory? Repeated practice? If its not in your memory have you learnt it? If I see something I haven't seen before and say to myself, "Wow, I haven't seen that before." but never think of it again, have I learnt something? How long does the learning have to be present in memory for it to be considered learnt?

After a little bit of research I came across the following article by Mark K. Smith where quotes a 1979 piece of research by Saljo, who saw:
  1. Learning as a quantitative increase in knowledge. Learning is acquiring information or ‘knowing a lot’.
  2. Learning as memorising. Learning is storing information that can be reproduced.
  3. Learning as acquiring facts, skills, and methods that can be retained and used as necessary.
  4. Learning as making sense or abstracting meaning. Learning involves relating parts of the subject matter to each other and to the real world.
  5. Learning as interpreting and understanding reality in a different way. Learning involves comprehending the world by reinterpreting knowledge. (quoted in Ramsden 1992: 26)
The first three of the above seemed to fit in with my ideas of learning above - acquiring and storing facts and skills, and then being able to use those facts and skills as needed. The last two seem to be that elusive quality of learning that leads to that magical moment where you go, "Ah-ha!" Its that magical moment teachers talk of when a student's eyes light up when they get something. Its that moment that we experience as learners, that sends a thrill through your being.

So, have I answered my original question? In some way I have. It seems to be that we have learnt something when how we see the world has changed, be it our knowledge of it or how we think it all fits together. But in other ways I haven't, there are more questions raised above that seem to require more thought, particularly in regards to assessing learning.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Are we preparing them for what's coming? Do we know what's coming?

Its not about the Interactive Whiteboard in the classroom, although it is part of it. Its not about smart phones, tablets or the internet, although they, too, are part of it. Its about the technologically rich environment that is building up around us and whether or not we learn and teach this environment or we continue to teach the environment that is disappearing.

And as Ben Jones says, classrooms are not broken, they are just not reflective of the outside world. The video below, although an advertisement, can give an idea of the environment that is building around us:

Are we (parents, teachers, community members alike) properly preparing our children for this new environment? How much of this new environment already exists?

Non-agricultural communities knew the workings of their environment intimately and taught their children accordingly (See Levi-Strauss, 1962). Farmers gave their children chores so they learnt how to look after animals. Parents used to give their babies plastic hammers to play with and the toy only made the squeaking noise when the right hammer action was used. This was how we taught industrial children about the environment they were growing up in. How are we teaching our children the new environment?

History of ed tech
Courtesy of:

All this, of course, is about the physical environment that is changing. There is the social environment that needs to be looked at as well but I don't know where to begin on that side. Mostly because I don't fully understand it yet.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Why schools seem unwilling to adopt new technologies (#change11)

Oftentimes people point to research conducted in a university context to ask why teachers aren't implementing social media services into their teaching practice. The simple answer is schools are different to universities, our clientele is different. The clientele of a university is it's students - the clientele of a school is society in general and parents in particular. Before we try and convince teachers to grasp change in education, it is always necessary to convince parents that it is safe to do so.

I wonder what parents' first reaction would be if they knew that their child had 2000 people reading their child's blog. From my experience as a teacher there could well be a reaction of fear. The idea that 2000 strangers were watching their child would frighten some parents, especially parents who are unaware of blogs and their uses. I think this is part of the reason why we are slow to adopt new technologies in schools. Here is one principal's recent reaction to Facebook. The comments about the article speaks loudest of all about why social media is not being used in schools.

Ten years ago I was teaching students how to use email using Hotmail. Within a very short time Hotmail and other web based email was blocked by the school system I work in, and it took a number of years before an email service was provided to each student. Why was email blocked and then released under strict control? Because of the fear of students sending inappropriate messages to each other. YouTube is blocked. Why? Same reason, only its video not messages.

No doubt, in a few years time all manner of social media services will be available to students under strict, filtered conditions. In the meantime teachers will be unable to fully implement Personal Learning Networks for their students.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Connectivism or not? Its not either/or.

There seems to be a false divide between a fully open, connected teaching style and the more traditional content focussed teaching style. Mrbrenlea expressed this divide with his concern with giving students freedom to build connections:

"But, do I believe it should be up to each individual to follow only what interests them: hardly. Reflecting on my own interests as a child, if I had only followed the nodes that allowed me further to develop my knowledge of areas of interest, then I would have wound up learning nothing except how to put on a show, “Who Shot Mr. Burns?,” and perhaps the 100 reasons why cats are better then dogs."

In the above statement, Mrbrenlea has taken a general principle and applied it to a specific group - children. But would he apply the same principle say, to a 35 year old grad student? Probably not. Each person has different learning needs at different stages of thier lives.

I don't think teaching is a profession that can use conclusions from ideas across the whole profession. Mostly because, as a profession, we deal with all ages. And teaching is a bit like parenting - at first the baby is given very little freedom but they are allowed to experiment with the environment under very controlled circumstances. Over time the child is given more freedom to explore, until finally adulthood arrives and the child is making decisions for him or her self. But parenting is more than controlling the immediate environment (content) of the child, it is also about preparing them for what lays ahead (connectivism). We teach them skills like resilience, even though we would never let them come to fatal harm. We teach them about sex, but we would never want them to act on that knowledge immediately.

But we also teach them how to talk, read, jump, run, swim, all sorts of things that they may not be interested in. And they learn it. Not necessarily because they want to but because small children will learn what they are taught. But as they get older we use more sophisticated methods to teach them what they don't want to know and we also stop trying to control everything they learn.

So to with Connectivism. We can teach children how it is done within a controlled environment when young and slowly loosen the contol as they get older. Where are the key points along the way for increasing Connectivism? This is where the debate should be happening. Not on whether one or the other method should be used.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

MOOCing!! (Said in your best Jim Carey voice)

This week I started the Change: Education, Learning and Technology MOOC. For those unfamiliar with the acronym, a MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course.

Feeling excited about it at this stage but already starting to feel a little apprehensive about it all as well because there is already so much to take in - particularly how I'm going to go about creating and using a cohesive set of tools to collate and organise the information(learning).

Last night I went off, as I usually do, following links as I pleased and ended up where I usually do, in a headspace that was struggling to make sense of what I'd seen and read. So now I am going to try and document my cyber travels.

At this stage of the course we are in Orientation, which means we are finding our way around the idea of a MOOC. As a first step I bookmarked an article using Diigo. I am not the most reliable bookmarker, I never have been, so it will be interesting to see how long I keep that up!

The article, How to participate in an open online course, did just that, with an outline of what not to expect and some tips for getting started. Here are a couple of responses:

Step 1. Somewhat define your goals. What is success for you? - In this course I will be happy if have put together a modest portfolio of resources and contacts that are organised in a way that is easily retrievable.

Step 2. Declare/define yourself. Where can people find you? Twitter? Your blog? Give enough information so people can connect with you. An image never hurts. - Obviously, I will use this blog. But I will also use Twitter and probably Google+.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Modelling learning: Do as you say.

While teaching a "hard to teach" Year 7 class recently I was struck by an event that started me wondering about the learning that we teachers model.

I had an assistant in the class with me who was working with a particularly troublesome group of students and she was doing a spectactular job keeping them on task. She wasn't supplying the students with answers to copy, she was leading them towards finding their own answers. An excellent assistant.

And then she came and asked for the answer to a question. I thought nothing of it at first, as I gave her the answer. She went back to her underlings, where she continued asking questions and encouraged them. It was the change in the students that I noticed. They were no longer as enthusiastic about the task as they had been and one of the students began wandering around the classroom disturbing others. What had gone wrong? What was it that changed the dynamics of the group the assistant was working with?

Then it occurred to me - she had modelled a learning behaviour that we teachers actively discourage in our students. Instead of trying to work out the answer with the group, when she didn't know the answer, the assistant went and asked the teacher. Then she returned to the group, and kept the secret to herself.

Now the added layer to this story is the fact that I was teaching outside of my subject area and the only reason I knew the answer was because I had asked a knowledgeable teacher earlier.

How often do we do this as teachers? We go into the classroom as experts, ready to distribute our knowledge to others like Moses descending from the Mount? Almost challenging our students to catch us out. "Come on, ask me a question I can't answer." When they do catch us out, we hurry back to the staffroom and ask our colleagues or research the answer; all of it away from students' prying eyes.

What about Professional Development? A lot of this is focussed on technology at the moment. Why are we learning this away from students, after school or during Pupil Free Days? Why don't we invite the knowledgeable person into our classroom and learn the technology alongside our students? We all know the technology gurus in our schools, why don't we attend their classes along with the students? This way we do three things: 1) learn, 2) model learning, and 3) publicly state that we value the teacher.

This shouldn't be restricted to technology either. Why not attend a woodwork class and learn to make a cabinet? Imagine what you could learn as a Maths teacher in a woodwork room? Better still, imagine what you could contribute to the learning group as a Maths teacher in a woodwork class? What about a Geography teacher in a Science class? An Art teacher in an English class? An English teacher in a Year 4 class? The opportunities are limitless.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Withitness and the packaging of knowledge

Technology is blasting holes through the closed wall environment of the classroom and learning is gushing in from the outside. Teachers, forever the gatekeepers of knowledge, are under seige from a battallion of mobile devices.

Everywhere a teacher looks there are phones, cameras, tablets, personal listening devices and the like. What the students are saying, hearing or seeing on those devices is anyone's guess, and its frightening for a teacher to think that a student could be looking at or saying something inappropriate while under their tutelage. Worse still, they could be learning something other than what the teacher is, at that moment, teaching. The ability to control the learning process is slipping from the teacher's grasp and we're either petrified or oblivious.

But we needn't be. There is a way through this and its all to do with withitness and an understanding that the packaging of knowledge has changed.


Since the beginning of mass education teachers have needed to be alert to signs in the classroom that students were not doing as they should. An experienced teacher knows when a student is off-task. Remember the old movie scene where the teacher rips the book out of the student's hands to reveal the comic he was reading? Or the teacher seeing the note being passed around but waits till recess to ask for the note? Even if the student eats the note, consequences were applied - detention. All we need to do is learn the new signs and use our presence, as we have always done, to get the student back on task.

The changing packaging of knowledge

The packaging of knowledge has been changing since the invention of art. It can be supposed that in the beginning, all knowledge was passed on orally, from elder to the younger. Art then gave the artist the ability to pass on knowledge through paintings, without having to be there. Then came symbols, writing, the printing press, audio and visual recording, electronic broadcasting and finally the Internet. At each step of the way the method of accessing the knowledge has needed a teacher to either unpack the knowledge or to develop the unpacking skills in the student.

In the past, teachers upacked the knowledge by, first of all, stuffing all the knowledge into their own brains and then handing it out in small, bite sized pieces. But now those bite sized peices are just a finger flick away. Students don't even have to know how to read to receive this knowledge; video and audio recordings are released in their thousands (or millions) every day about a myriad of topics.

There is no need for the teacher to store the information like before, the content is out there and its flowing in and out of the classrooms at an increasing rate. But the content still needs unpacking. In fact, it probably needs more unpacking than ever before. This is the new skill that we teachers need to teach students - how to access and make sense of the knowledge out there and how to manipulate it in a way that brings benefit to the student.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Intercasting - where social networking is really impacting on the classroom

In order to properly embrace the social networking paradigm teachers need to be able to distinguish between the broadcasting and intercasting tasks they perform every day, and understand the impact that technology is having on these tasks.

The idea of any technology is to enhance the task already being performed. The washing machine made it possible to wash clothing without having to exert as much physical energy and was soon made to do the task itself better than a human could do with some soap and a scrubbing board. The computer was able to collate and manipulate the data from a census quicker and more accurately than a room full of analysts. Its computational power was soon able to be used to enhance a multitude of tasks. This computational power is now being used to enhance communication abilities.

But which communication abilities?

There are two general types of communication in the classroom - broadcasting and intercasting. Broadcasting is the model used by teachers to insert the knowledge of the ages into the minds of students. Teachers have used a myriad of technologies over recent decades to enhance this process - radio, television, VCR and YouTube. This is also where the Interactive Whiteboard is used. Intercasting in the classroom has been the teacher talking one-on-one with the student or the teacher implementing some form of group work. The technology of intercasting is social networking and the tablet.

The issue for teachers at this stage is one of control. Up until now teachers have been able to control the flow of communication to the student in their classroom. Teachers controlled the broadcast, by ensuring the attention of a captive audience towards a specific flow of information from the voice, chalkboard, radio, television, whiteboard or YouTube via the interactive whiteboard. Teachers controlled the intercast by limiting the off topic talking between students and by deciding on the structure of group tasks. Social networking and the tablet takes the communication of the classroom beyond the walls of the classroom. A network of knowledge holders is just a fingertip swipe away from a deeply connected student in the classroom; and the action is barely visible in a classroom where phones aren't allowed, let alone in a classroom where the tablet forms part of the desk.

And that's the crux of the matter, the teacher is no longer the only knowledge holder in the classroom. There is a plethora of knowledge holders out there available to the student in the classroom. We have known for a while that students are able to discover their own learning while interacting with other students in the classroom but we were able to direct that learning through control of the broadcast and our physical presence. Now we have to learn how to direct the learning without being able to control who is delivering the knowledge or how it is being delivered.

A difficult task indeed.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The hard (some say impossible) to reach kid

We all know the kids I'm talking about - wander in and out when they feel like it, if they turn up at all; worst of all, you dread when they do turn up because the class runs well when they aren't there. When you wander around the school in your spare time (spare time??) they are usually outside the classroom, often not their own classroom either, but outside some other classroom making silly faces through the window. They throw things around the classroom, yell out insults, swear profusely and often get into real and pretend fights. They've been on every level in the discipline system and suspended twice already, and its only term one.

Where do you start with these kids?

1. Before you can get them inside your boundaries, you have to find out where they have their boundaries.

As every parent will tell you, its about boundaries. Children not only need boundaries, they constantly live within boundaries. If the boundaries outside of school (or in other classrooms, for that matter) are different to the boundaries you expect, then you have an immediate problem. Its no use expecting a kid to obey your classroom boundaries if the kid already lives outside them. It can be a bit like putting up a fence for your sheep when they're over the next hill enjoying their lunch. They're not going to put themselves inside your sparkly new fence, you're going to have to go and get them.

So you have to find out what they see as their limit. And the only way to do this is to observe and interact with the kid. If a kid swears at you it doesn't necessarily mean that they are behaving outside the boundaries set by others in their life. When this happens, just ask the kid, "Would you speak like that to your mother?" If the kid answers yes then you know that swearing is accepted in their home. If the kids says, "My mother swears worse than me," then you know swearing is definitely allowed in their home. Whether or not you agree with the way a child is reared has no impact on the reality of that child's life. It is not the teacher's role to rear the child, it is their job to get them in the classroom behaving in a manner which is conducive to learning.

You are now over the hill where the sheep are grazing.

2. Tell them what you expect, give them respect, teach them how to learn

Finding their boundaries doesn't mean you don't have your classroom rules in place while you're finding these boundaries, you should always maintain a strong set behaviour expectations for all your students. Just don't expect every child to come to your classroom with the same set of rules in their heads. You will need to explain your expectations to them, as well as the consequences should they step outside them. Try not to compare your expectations with how they behave outside your classroom. A simple, "In my classroom I expect you to talk without swearing," is enough to set the boundary.

But its more than telling them, its also teaching them. Just like with the Assessment for Learning cycle, you've assessed what they know and can do (their boundaries), you know what knowledge and skills they need (your boundaries and how to function in the classroom), now you need to set activities for them that takes them from current knowledge and skills to new knowledge and skills.

Most of this teaching can be informal, mostly out in the playground, during sport or other places away from the classroom. You can cajole them, argue with them, even let them get away with behaviour you wouldn't allow in your classroom. At other times it can be whole class lessons on behaviour, so long as it is about how everyone should behave, not about that student's behaviour in particular. Some of the time it will be one on one outside the classroom, inside the classroom during detention, at the student's desk or at your desk.

Along the way they will keep testing your boundaries, much like sheep try to avoid being rounded up. But stay persistent, pull up their misbehaviour consistently and follow-up with consequences. Whenever they do as they're asked say thank you.

You're rounding the sheep up, they're heading in the right direction.

3. Expect them to do well, teach them to overcome hurdles

Along the way, as you try to corral the kid through the gate, there are going to be some problems. Other kids are going to stir them up, push them out the way, brag about how better they are at doing things in the classroom. Most kids who don't want to be in your classroom have very good reasons. Usually its the feeling of failure they have built up over the years. They have gotten to the stage where it is easier to face punishment than it is to try and fit in. This means that any difficulties can seem like insurmountable hurdles to them. They will undoubtably revert to past behaviour when the going gets tough.

Congratulate every achievement, no matter how small. Sometimes just a smile is enough. Encourage resilience. Teach them that to learn they must try. Remind them of the time they did try and succeeded, even if it is not class related. For instance, ask if they remember when they couldn't kick a ball properly, then remind them that after lots of practise they got there, and now they can kick a ball really well.

You've got the sheep in the pen but they're restless and keep escaping. You have to keep going out and getting them.

You will know that you have reached the kid when they stay behind after the bell and tell you about something they realised in your class that was beyond what you taught. When you reach these kids they usually can't wait to tell you what they've learnt and show you how smart they are. There is no greater feeling.

You've got the sheep feeding out of your hand.