Sunday, 22 November 2015

Declining Digital Literacy

An article on the Register website caught my eye: "Kids' tech skills go backwards thanks to tablets and smartmobes."

The article links to a report by Australia's National Assessment Program. The media have taken from the report the conclusion that the levels of student digital literacy have stopped improving and have indeed declined.

For example:

The report authors have not in fact made quite as much of the drop in results as reporting would have you believe.

I have downloaded the report to use for part of my bibliography work for the course, and on face value there is a serious problem with the approach taken that rather undermines it the headline.

The authors have devised a series of tasks a number of years ago that tested the IT skills of students and reviewed the success of a representative sample in completing them. They produced test scores from these and mapped them to a six level scale of ICT literacy. For the 2014 round they changed to a web based testing system and intruded a number of updated modules.

The stats and methodology used in the report are first class - as a report on the ICT skills and attitudes  of this large sample of young people the report is really useful.

But as the tests used in 2014 are not the same as the ones used in 2011 (and rightly so) so a direct point score to point score comparison is meaningless. Attempts to map the new test point scores to the 6 point scale were made but the variation in the way that was done will be at least as great as any difference found in the testing.

If the same test had been the same to compare them directly, that would also have been of limited value as the nature of the experiences of using ICT for students in 2014 is different from that of 2011 (and earlier) and therefore their skills have developed differently.

Still, saying "using Tablets makes you less good at ICT" is a good headline and fits the "modern technology makes young people less good at things" narrative rather well... but the evidence doesn't support it.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

HE Dropouts and the digital revolution

Another article that resonates with the course prompted by a Sunday morning newsletter - this time Quinlearning, Oliver Quinlan's (excellent) roundup of thoughts on education, new practice and research.

The article is "The digital revolution in higher education has already happened. No one noticed" by Clay Shirky for

For me the key passage is:
"students taking online classes get worse grades, but are likelier to graduate, because students struggling in face-to-face classes are likelier to drop out altogether." 
In the first week of  EDX028 the statement that results for students taking purely online courses than those attending face-to-face ones struck me as being supremely obvious (of course the higher investment approach should produce better outcomes) but somehow did not sit well, this article brings it into better focus.

Shirky pulls together a number of examples of the huge changes in US Higher Education arising from new technologies making online courses a realistic alternative to attending campus based programmes.

It isn't the combined outcomes for all students when comparing approach A and approach B that matters, it is the difference in outcome for similar students between their expected outcome for A and for B. The article explores ways in which online courses enable broader access, access that allows engagement and a better result than the alternative (which was 'not completing college' rather than 'doing the course on campus').

Terms like "bricks for the rich, clicks for the poor" I think oversimplify - online courses aren't only for people that cannot afford full time college - and I wish the author had made sources for some of the assertions clearer (a references section at the end, or even some hyperlinks), but it is a great contribution to the debate.

The assertion that "As long as we discuss online education as a pedagogic revolution rather than an organizational one, we aren’t even having the right kind of conversation" is I think a really valid one - so much of the discussion is about how technology can change and improve pedagogy, but it seems to me that it is more a question of the alternatives it makes available, the different structures it makes possible and the pedagogies required to be effective in those contexts.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Digital Literacy - a simplified staff DigiLit Framework

Reflecting on the reading and work around Digital Literacy in the last 10 days and my own need at work to incorporate something achievable and useful into my own practice, I've worked on a model for a very simple staff statement of skills.

It began with the Leicester Digital Literacy framework ( which I could well have simply adopted wholesale - it is in my view by far the most practical and useful toolkit 'out there' and released under Creative Commons license, but I wanted something that:

  • Was even simpler and even more purposeful. 
  • Work as a tool to give a framework for professional development that responds to the earlier thoughts on being about
    • competent use of a core toolset
    • fostering independent discovery and sharing new tools and professional practice as being a fundamental part of the role
  • Could be used at scale, in 30+ schools spread large geographical area.
Please click on the image to open the document itself

I would greatly welcome comments and challenges! The grid itself will go through further development over the coming weeks, I'm very happy for it to be shared and adapted by anyone that finds it useful.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Learner Experience: Critical Reading - Huw Davies

Read three blog posts on Huw Davies’ blog on digital natives, summarise the key points in a blog post
Digital nativism and online youth: separating fact from fiction is an inspiring read as I agree with it so strongly!
"This is patent nonsense, and unworthy of in-depth analysis."
This quote summarises much of my response to the early reading in this area (or alternatively "this is patently obvious and unworthy of in-depth analysis").

"In Australia, Bennett et al. argue that the Digital Native’s axiomatic adoption has created the academic equivalent of a ‘moral panic’ that restricts critical and rational debate"
Having come to this blog post immediately after the Kennedy et al (2008) paper I particularly picked up on this point. We do suffer from a moral panic about change for its own sake rather than a considered approach based on evidence (and the data sample used by Kennedy and the research line - simply correlating technological activity versus attitude is not a hard one to follow).

Perhaps I was right to be cynical about Shift Happens after all....

From digital nativism to youth ‘savviness’: A Foucauldian perspective is a short piece that continues to critique the writing around 'digital natives' focusing in particular on the use of the word "savvy" as a description of young people as being technologically literate. The piece seems to say the word is misused but was never used by Prensky anyway.

Learner Experience: Kennedy et al (2008)

Kennedy et al. (2008) provide a good critical reflection of the concept of the Net Generation, arguing that today's learners may be technological immersed, but don't necessarily have the academic digital literacy skills they need to harness the power of new technologies for their learning. Read the article and write a blog post summarising the key points of the paper.
This is a paper that makes the weakness of the JISC material even more evident. The researchers took a large sample of students at the University of Melbourne (2120, or 27% of the population) and surveyed them to review access to technology and attitudes.

The study, which of course is very specific to that demographic and time, found huge adoption of certain technologies - almost to the level of universality, and very high availability of others. They also found some kinds of activity were supported by technology for almost all students (e.g. for writing documents). The survey also gathered information about how positive students were about certain uses of technology within their studies.

Some of the things this group of students were not doing though are telling - 70% for example having not made a web page or content in the past year, so it is likely that a learning activity that led to creation of a website would be for the majority the student's first such experience in the year (not intrinsically a bad thing, but the assumption that they would be familiar with the process in planning the learning would be a mistake).

For me the most interesting analysis, and one I would be interested to try with secondary school students today, is looking for association between the extent to which certain technologies are used frequently by the student and the level of interest/ enthusiasm by that student in their being used by the University.

In particular they found that students that actively were involved in blogging were significantly more likely to give a positive response to some of the more peripheral and less "mainstream" uses of IT in their courses.

A key conclusion for me is in this section
"The results of this study highlight the lack of homogeneity in the incoming first year student population with regards to technology and a potential ‘digital divide’ between students within a cohort of a single year level. While some students have embraced the technologies and tools of the ‘Net Generation’, this is by no means the universal student experience."
If we seek as educators to ensure equality of access to learning, and working to 'narrow the gap' in attainment, we cannot blindly assume that the application of learning technology will have strong benefits for all learners, indeed it may well be that those who have the lowest levels of digital literacy are the same ones that have lower levels in other areas; be less engaged with the kinds of activity that are highly associated with positive attitudes to technology and therefore likely to benefit the least from the new technology. Educational technology could potentially widen an achievement gap by benefiting most those who already have the greatest access.

While this is pretty obvious, I find that seeing it set out in that way challenging. How can we implement learning technology in ways that at the very least will have an equally positive impact on all groups of learners, but specifically narrows the gap and supports those at most disadvantage?

Once again, my reading of the research seems to point to a well considered core provision accessible to all as a key strategy.

Learner Experience: Critical Reading, Jones and Shao 2011

Read the article by Jones and Shao (2011) and write a blog post summarising the key points of the paper.
In contrast with the earlier material, this is (for me) an article that will not date badly, avoids simply restating conventional wisdom and can inform strategy and improvement.

The article takes a broad look at much of the writing about "digital natives" and summarises it, and compares it with a body of empirical research over a number of years.

  1. One of the key findings in the article is that though learners may respond positively to changes in pedagogy that are well thought through, and will make use of opportunities to use new technology as they arise, the idea that there is a strong and universal demand for a shift to things like team and group working is simply not true.
  2. The notion that there is a single generation of young people with common features and attitudes in the education system is untrue. Just as with every generations there are many subgroups with varied skills and attitudes.
  3. The use of things like Virtual Worlds is highlighted as something students will be happy to use when directed, but does not form some kind of "inevitable requirement."
  4. Provision of a core set of basic services is consistently seen as highly valued by students. It is interesting to link this to the work published by Salmon around the eLearning strategy at the University of Leicester.
What I take away from reading this article in terms of my own practice is that 
  • changes in pedagogy are things that we need to consider and plan for, not because there is an inbuilt generational expectation, but because they are things our planning and research (and student feedback) tell us are more effective, engaging, efficient or productive.
  • a well planned core set of services, universally available but flexible enough to allow people to access is how, when and where they need to is an area of focus that will be well-received by students.

Learner Experience: Critical Reading "In their own words: exploring the learners' perceptions of e-learning" (JISC)

Read the JISC briefing paper 'In their own words: exploring the learners' perceptions of e-learning', write a blog post summarising the key findings and comment on two other blog posts.
As with the videos cited earlier, I find it very difficult to get any enthusiasm for the contents of the paper as much of it has dated badly or is based on articles I wouldn't say had any real validity.

  • The LEX programme interviewed a good sized group of students and found things like "learners lead complex lives and require sophisticated time management skills" which, while true, simply state the obvious.
  • LXP went through a wider ranging and more detailed review to conclude things like "learners, like sophisticated consumers, choose from the range of options available to them, adeptly selecting the most appropriate for the task." Yes, and...?
  • The Learner Voice case studies share some interesting and quite engaging personal stories but don't give us any overview of how attitudes or expectations (or capabilities) have changed.
The collection reads to me more like a report to argue for funding or the justify funding already given, not an insight into changes in learner experience or attitudes.

One thing however I did find positive, and have adapted here is a table towards the end of the report that summarised three 'levels' of experience ranging from highly institution centred to highly personal. As this follows well from the earlier work on PLE's I have made some changes and present it here - in reality though I doubt any institution would ever be entirely in any one column and from area to area and issue to issue it will vary. Adapted further, this kind of table might be used in discussion with a management team, group of governors, or indeed a group of students to discuss where the institution's strategy is going (but before doing that I would reword all the boxes as positive statements, so it was about the people choosing the place on the continuum they actively select and support rather than guiding them with the language used).

Please click on the image to open the chart full size

Five video clips were produced with learners reflecting on their use of technologies. Watch the videos and summarise the main ways in which technologies are being used and the learners' perceptions of these. These videos were taken before social media started to have a significant impact, write a blog post reflecting on the ways in which new technologies that have emerged in recent years are having an impact and consider what are the implications for learning. Then, watch Michael Wesch's video, 'A vision of students of today'.
I found it very difficult to fully engage with this part of the unit as I don't feel the content has aged well. Many of the points made are not news for anyone who has worked with young people for the last 15 years. At the time they were produced, the notion of blogging, remote working, social interaction around the course, might have been useful to raise awareness, but I don't really feel the urge to write at length about them.

The Michael Wesch video though is very hard hitting and makes many valid points - not all of them necessarily about technologies, but perhaps as much about the nature of big, monolithic courses themselves. There are two lines of argument in response to this kind of material. My preference is the one where we accept that change has happened and we need to adapt and improve. The counter-argument (that I hear often) is that "young people need to adapt to the needs of society and norms, those laptops need putting away." Many commentators in the media with real influence would respond in that way to the video and they have considerable influence with government and the education establishment.

Digital Literacies: Reflection

After reading through all the content and taking notes in the previous section, consider how this information could be used in the context of your own practice. Write a reflective blog post on how this information could change your practice. Talking points could include: talking about which digital literacies you currently use; whether or not you might change these, and if so what to; how you encouraged development of digital literacies before; and whether or not you have found a more effective way to do so.

I began this week's work with less enthusiasm that the weeks before as I knew that I could gain a great deal from thinking again about policy and practice, and IT strategy - and indeed I've found several aspects of the course immediately applicable at work. I've tended to consider Digital Literacy to be something that was interesting to write about but with less purposeful application to actually improve learning - and indeed several of the more abstract parts of the reports such as TLRP confirmed all that prejudice.

To some extent the JISC material, but to a greater one the Leicester City Council DigiLit work made me think again. There is definitely something useful here I can apply, and shared in a way that makes that practical.

Previously when thinking about professional development for staff I've been very focused on functional, precise pieces of training around a particular skill or service.  Nicole Welsh's blog post about Policy Perspectives and the points made around staff buy-in and the need to avoid simply replicating past practice made me consider more on how can we make CPD general education for members of our workforce that builds? So:

  • Rather than add a skill but leave practice simply enhanced we support real change with some skills to enable it
  • Rather than leave people wanting more training (because it is a finite and limited resource), we equip them to develop their skills independently through PLEs, action research and identifying opportunities independently (that leaves a challenge about disciplined innovation but that is another topic).
This also links back to the four quadrants I discussed in an earlier post about policy - one thing is to set out clearly what your core offer is and make sure all staff and students have the access and skills to use it, another is to broaden the number of people able to tackle discovery of new practice and guide their own use of it - to then feed back to improve that core. Right now I can think of a number of people in every school I work with that have that capacity, but how can we make that broader? That makes our adoption of new practices faster, our organisation more agile. 

So, taking that premise: that investing in greater digital literacy for staff has huge long term benefits to an organisation and looking at the DigiLit work in Leicester to see what might work for us, I see the work arising from this week's reading being:
  • Considering the various frameworks and models, and the age related expectations for our students in the national curriculum, develop our own - one that is simple and describes emerging, core and advanced levels and makes the steps to progress between them, clear. The fact that the national curriculum does not make much reference to digital literacy in computing is both an opportunity and a weakness. Not having something explicitly mandated gives us the flexibility to keep it simple and about improvement rather than accountability frameworks. Not having it explicitly mandated means we need to work hard to communicate the reason for doing it in the first place.
  • Look at the materials used by DigitLit and JISC, develop some simple, web-based profile tools to allow us to review staff digital literacy in one of the two ways below. This will not give us a reliable dataset for how good our staff digital literacy base is - but right now that is not the main issue, the focus is on targeting limited resources where they will be taken up or where there is a pressing need with resources available.
    • Systemically for groups where there is a programme of work where we can directly attach professional development work and ensure we use the framework to inform, and shape that work.
    • On demand for those wanting to access online and general professional development opportunities relevant to digital literacy. We have an opportunity linked to a programme on Learning Design (blending the Microsoft Educator Community resources with an in-house programme).
  • Alongside the above, working to develop a broader and more reliable understanding of the levels of digital literacy of our staff.
  • Potentially using digital literacy as an early element of a staff learning profile that we're interested in developing - at present the core identity management element of what we do is all about security (who you are and what you are allowed to do) - I'd like to see it become far broader and about service and improvement instead of just compliance.
  • Using that digital literacy framework in developing our professional social network (formerly called an intranet but now with a far greater emphasis on peer work and sharing rather than centrally published material) so that elements are signposted and linked back.

Notes on the Leicester DigiLit Report(s)

I immediately engaged far more with this report than the others presented as it was focused on providing a useful framework for improvement rather than abstract study (not to say that everything has to be practical, but much I've read around digital literacy is a mix of opinion and attempts to conceptualise that aren't necessarily going to help advance anything).

The Digitlit project describes Digital Literacy within these areas using four levels of development (Entry, Core, Developer and Pioneer).

  • Finding, Evaluating and Organising 
  • Creating and Sharing
  •  Assessment and Feedback
  •  Communication, Collaboration and Participation
  •  E-Safety and Online Identity
  •  Technology supported Professional Development

Having done an initial baseline survey of the education workforce in the city's secondary schools they have coordinated a series of interventions before carrying out a second evaluation exercise (the fact that this was completed by a higher proportion of the staff implies (but doesnt prove) an overall increase in engagement.

The area where the workforce showed the highest proportion of confidence was in eSafety and Online Identity (perhaps unsurprising in view of the close relationship with safeguarding training, inspection focus on the area and the compelling case for all staff to engage with the area). The lowest confidence was in Communication, Collaboration and Participation.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Notes on TLRP's Digital Literacies document

I found the most valuable section of the report to be the Response: Contextualising Digital Literacies (by Fred Garnett)  which didn’t just consider our developing understanding of digital literacy, but also considered it in the context of our understanding of literacy as a whole, in particular:
“Literacy is usually identified in terms of something missing from a learner’s skills”
Literacy is intrinsically linked to the desire to ensure education promotes social inclusion and digital literacy inevitably forms part of that. being an area that is essentially about improving critical thinking relating to understanding.

Another part that will stay with me from the text is the quote from Rheingold (2009) explaining that 21st century literacies requiring “attention, participation, cooperation, critical consumption, and network awareness.”

For me that is probably the most concise and precise attempt to define digital literacy in the whole report.

Garnett goes on to explore the purpose of developing digital literacy in the context of a Knowledge Economy that needs digitally literate knowledge workers - requiring the education system to develop digital skills. An inevitable by product of this work is the consideration of the wide range of ethical concerns such as “internet safety” often itself considered a literacy.

Within the main text the discussion of what digital literacy means are presented. The way in which the threshold between consumer and producer has lowered and the roles blurred makes the need to consider both as elements of digital literacy.

The report de-emphasises the focus on the specific skills and competencies required by the ICT industries which I understand as it is narrow. But seeking to define digital literacy in broader terms they make the language and tone of the discussion impenetrable and abstract. In particular the New London Group definition took me several read throughs to work out what they are trying to say and what purpose the statements serve. Actually I still don't see what purpose the definitions they present serve in terms of promoting or assessing digital literacy.

Kress presents a number of points about the central tole of design rather than reading and writing in digital literacy.

Much that is put forward is applicable to the ‘consumption’ of media that pre-date digital media.

Kress points out that reading (and designing) is very different with multi-modal text (mixing pictures, media and text), the physical form being the screen, the varied sources of writing coming away from the editor/ publisher/ reader model. In particular the difference between reading the printed page and working with several open windows and treating the content in each differently is clearly a situation in need of a different skills framework. This seems to me to be useful in framing the key differences between digital and traditional literacy.

I found the work by Hutchins included in the report, that argued that much of meaning only exists in relation to the understanding and response of others a bit hard to take on board as being ‘digital literacy’ as the same applies equally to all forms of communication, digital or otherwise.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

My Own Digital Literacy Experience

Think about your own experience as a learner / teacher / educational manager. How much do you rely on the Internet and digital devices for accessing information and for communication? What kind of skills do you need in order to use the internet and computers effectively and safely? How did you / do you learn these skills? 
I rely completely on digital devices for accessing information and communication. In recent years I have gradually reduced the number of different devices and methods I used to find a workflow that runs smoothly and doesn't allow things to fall between the cracks. For me a key part of digital literacy is the decision making process of which messages and pieces of information require attention (and when, and how).

I have found my mobile phone to be one of the biggest productivity drains on my time so voice communication tends to be daily calls to a few key people to keep in touch, but I have to screen calls very carefully to blank out sales people and avoid constant diversions. I no longer use voicemail instead asking people to text me or email me.

My phone is however important to allow me to triage incoming messages - responding to a few from the onscreen keyboard, or deferring them to a later time (the ability to just 'park' an email until the evening or a few hours time is really useful).  I get a lot of items that are more alerts than messages to me so I can simply view them on screen and forget them. In an ideal world almost every message that doesn't require me to do something or write something I will view on my phone.

My family and friends almost exclusively use text messages to keep in touch with me - very little work-related things come to me that way, which helps keep separation and allow me to focus.

I also use my phone to keep track of tasks to complete, news (I subscribe to a good number of RSS feeds, all work-related) and less and less frequently, Twitter. I have several other tools on my phone I use but rely on less:
  • We use an internal social network based on Yammer and I do occasionally post to it from my phone, but generally when I am using my phone, I'm not working in that area.
  • I use my camera to capture things (flip charts, diagrams etc) to pick up on later - especially if I am visiting a site or at a conference.
  • Helpdesk, I have an app that allows me to view and respond to IT support tickets on our helpdesk - if I am personally involved in an issue I can refer to or respond to it while on the move.
  • Google Drive allows me to view and use my documents (I keep most things there) and refer to them in a meeting or situation when a laptop would be inappropriate.
Everything else I now do through my laptop - previously I've tried tablets but always ended up carrying both.

My laptop is my main tool for communication:
  • Email, anything other than two or three word answers.
  • Yammer - rather than send emails to multiple recipients I try to use Yammer, but habits die hard and most of my colleagues still use email almost exclusively.
  • External social networking is something I sometimes do on Twitter, but time doesn't really allow much scope for that.
  • I use Hangouts for online conferences to reduce travel, but nothing like as much as I should.
My laptop is also my main organisational tool - as well as being where I work on my calendar, I also drag emails into a reminders app, or type in tasks directly, to keep short term priorities clear.

For productivity I have gradually moved to using Google Drive on my laptop. Most documents I work on are shared with colleagues so instead of worrying about version control we can collaborate that way.

The skills I use have changed over time. The main ones that concern me from minute to minute are ones to do with decision making, prioritisation and keeping focus. I need to ensure I keep the main thing the main thing and avoid being distracted too much. In particular:
  • Setting up rules to divert traffic to where I want to deal with it.
  • Rapidly filtering information to seek out anything that cannot wait.
  • Creating pockets of time to focus and process all the stuff I parked when I was busy!
A few years ago I would have highlighted the ability to design, to pull together media to make presentations and documents, which is still an area I perform well in. I'm finding with time that I am less concerned with small details in putting together content and more on the 'main message' I am trying to convey - that is probably more to do with confidence than skill.

I've learned skills by iteration, by trial and error and making mistakes. There is nothing like a nightmare week where you achieve very little for making you better at managing your workflow!

I also learn by imitation. When I see an idea for how to handle something or do something better I get a lot of satisfaction from working out how to adapt and adopt it myself.

Inspiration/ imitation comes from being with clever people, following a small number of blogs and twitter feeds and Google+ people. I tend to find joining 'communities' (like for example "Chromebook Teachers" low value because of the large proportion of repetitive or formulaic content).

Life after the Personal Computer

This blog post by Ben Evans "Mobile Ecosystems and the death of PCs" I think takes on what is actually quite obvious but sets it out clearly and logically. I must admit, I sometimes find even the IT suites at Leicester University a bit... quaint; I have spent a lot of time considering how you put together a strategy for investing in and supporting something you know is on the way to obsolescence!

Thinking of digital literacy... what value now on all these arguments about "children need to leave school able to use Excel?"

The point the blog post makes about each new generation of technology first carving out a niche for itself and gaining acceptance, before replacing the systems that came before it is well-made.

For a funnier look at the death of the PC and the rise of touch based devices (especially if you like to see someone throwing £000's of Apple equipment about) I commend this simple and rather insightful little video.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

A Matrix for Mapping Learning Principles Against Learning Characteristics

Please click on the image to open it as a pdf file

E-Pedagogies - Create

Map the remaining nine listed pedagogies/technologies onto the framework.

Although I can see value in considering the purpose and possible pedagogic uses for a tool and mapping it in this way, it seems to me that it is over simplistic as the purpose you put a tool to may not be the obvious one.

Several of the tools above could quite easily be used in a different quadrant if we chose to use it in that way (or in more than one) - to say a tool belongs in a particular quadrant is quite meaningless in itself.

Being aware of e-Pedagogies and using it to inform practice and be more effective is one thing; categorising a set of tools is quite another.

E-Pegagogies, Critical Reading and Reflection

Write a blog post providing one example of each of the four types of learning theories. For example, you might describe how collaborative learning can be supported through a group wiki activity, or the use of a blog to promote reflective learning. Also indicate what you think are the key strengths of each and what disadvantages there might be with them.

Associative: Focus on individual Learning through association and reinforcement: 

For example the primary school that uses daily use of Mathletics to both reinforce and provide diagnostic assessment information to map out differentiated and group learning for the coming weeks. The teacher and support staff have a medium term plan for the mathematics programme and deliver short and very focused skills based workshops in groups for the students - tailored to the needs of that particular group. Using Chromebooks students log into Mathletics between these sessions to practice related exercises with constant feedback and scores. Staff are able to review the progress of individuals and the group to plan who will need to work in which sub-group and the short term programme for the class.

Strong positives seen within this type of work

  • Pace of work while in small groups with the teacher is rapid and there is a sense of purpose and value - ‘we need to learn this to make progress with that’
  • Content can be strongly tailored to the needs of each learner
  • Feedback for the learner is never a surprise - self assessment became very reliable in terms of making summative judgements.

Possible disadvantages

  • Over time the use of Mathematics will become less and less compelling through repetition. If overused as a strategy learners may well become disengaged
  • Requires on-demand access to IT resource to make the mix of group work and online work flexible - the minute it becomes fixed the whole point of responding to student-need is lost.

Constructivist: Building on prior knowledge Task Orientated: 

For example the class project looking at the design and manufacture of shoes. A skeleton website structure created in Google Sites by the teacher with sub-sections allocated to teams of students, within which each individual holds responsibility for one or more areas. Groups review the prior knowledge they have and research material and then have an open ended series of sessions to develop and link their work.

Strong positives seen within this type of work

  • Learners highly engaged and help responsible for making progress by their peers
  • Learners actively looking for connections between their work and their peers
  • Learners dedicating substantial amounts beyond class time to develop their work
  • Learners engaged in critically reviewing each other’s work (making it bot constructivist and situative in many ways).

Possible disadvantages

  • Time spent on form vs content - the class could spend significant amounts of time and effort on things that were relevant to completion of the project rather than building their knowledge (but making it a project that also had assessment credit for the IT skills mitigated this)
  • Requires dedicated IT resources

Situative: Learning through social interaction & learning in context: 

For example the use of SimCity within a topic for Geography class with low rates of prior progress, where short periods of game play are then used for review and discussion within the group (both online and as time allowed in class discussion). Simple questions like "how would we advise Paul to play the next 10 minutes" with guided follow up questions about the course content ("build more roads" "why? what difference will better road links make?" As well as allowing the students opportunities to test ideas against the model it prompts discussion about the realism of the model itself - helping them to relate the content of the course to the simulation to their experiences outside the classroom.

Strong positives seen within this type of work

  • Learners had fun but realised that computer models are by no means perfect - looking at the faults in the model made them think about the world the model tried to represent
  • Some quite abstract material was made highly accessible and students that had difficulty describing them in writing had safe and simple ways to articulate them verbally

Possible disadvantages

  • Constant change of state from teacher led work to gameplay to group discussion tested the resilience of everyone involved - the teacher had to use a range of behaviour management strategies to keep the students working to the required pattern
  • If unchecked gameplay time could become very unproductive. Cases where the students played the game without looking to follow through on the work at hand needed to be picked up early and addressed.

Connectivist: Learning in a networked environment: 

For example developing writing skills by asking pupils to frequently take “time out” to review the work of others and then to write as a team online. By assigning roles (e.g. person charged to enrich the quality of words used in the paragraphs, accuracy and grammar lead, plot building lead) the teacher can target particular strengths of members of the group or of course areas for development.

Strong positives seen within this type of work

  • Even reluctant writers found themselves making progress
  • The most able were able to take on roles that truly stretched them
  • The final quality of writing was very high
  • Subsequently individual writing was better for all the group

Possible disadvantages

  • One member of the group could have a very negative impact on the progress of the group as a whole, so they had to be carefully constructed and small (2-3 people)
  • Roles had to be rotated to prevent specialisation.

To review the third week of the course I wanted to try out the template for creating an annotated bibliography. I chose a reference from the end of the third week that I hadn't had time to read earlier (Using Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) to encourage peer learning and learner autonomy, by Chris Harwood Technology in Pedagogy, No. 6, October 2011 Written by Kiruthika Ragupathi).

Open Badges, Bitchains and Disruption of the Qualifications Marketplace

This piece is in not directly related to the EDX208 course, but once you get into the blogging habit... it was prompted by reading the always wonderful weekly bulletin on news and thoughts from Doug Belshaw "Thought Shrapnel" (which I'd recommend to any fellow students along with Oliver Quinlan's Quinlearning).

One theme from the early part of the course was the disruptive nature of change brought about by the internet and social media (I'd say that is too simplistic and that this is permanent process). One area not mentioned in the materials but I'd say is ripe for highly disruptive change is accreditation of learning.

We have a model at the moment based on trust and centralised records where my data belongs to the institution (linking back to the PLE vs VLE work we did).

I must trust the University of Leicester to maintain a common standard for awarding the MA in Education, because without that it becomes worthless. How much of the cost of the course is for the provision of teaching and facilities, and how much is for that nebulous 'value' of the brand, prestige and trustworthiness would be an interesting calculation to make. Similarly exam boards charge schools, and the state in the UK to ensure the exam certificates they issue retain a value.

In a true PLE, the learner will disintermediate those bodies - rather than having a profile with my qualifications or micro awards with each awarding body, I will hold them where I choose (after all they are just data - my identity, the awarder's identity, the date, the standard attained and what that standard means) and present them as I like. Even attempts like the National Qualifications Framework and the standard learner profile in the UK are just efforts to move the level of control to a higher one (there remains a barrier to entry for new awarding bodies into that marketplace).

Open Badges seemed at face value to present a step to resolving that. A standard way of describing the data and sharing it around qualifications which had broad support. What I didn't realise until today was just how fragmented and troubled the Open Badges movement was (but I did wonder why Mozilla Backpack was still pretty poor and why there isn't yet a true, open plug in for the system that I can offer to my schools within our secure sign in structure). After reading this piece posted my Kerri Lemoie linked to by Doug, I understand. It appears that the project has lost backing and lost direction and that is such a shame.

Doug's blog post on the potential for blockchain for accreditation really made me think.

Blockchain is a key technology behind bitcoin. It allows people to securely verify data without being able to see the contents - so for example ensuring the same bitcoin isn't spent twice, without giving away the details of the transaction. Applied to accreditation blockchain provides the technology for people to award and hold qualifications without a single central authority managing the data. Potentially it allows for new entrants to the education marketplace to establish themselves, making awards, countersigning evidence and for people to decide who to give trust to (and the value of that trust).

As MOOCs become more important it allows for low cost micro-awards not tied to traditional awarding bodies.

As we seek to recognise achievement outside the classroom it allows for non-traditional education providers to securely accredit achievement.

I truly hope that Open Badges isn't dead in the water, and that some good comes from a genuinely visionary and very idealistic group of people. Whether that happens or not, I think it's a question of how, rather than when, the accreditation market place goes through massive upheaval with publishers, higher education providers across the globe and recognised qualification brands such as Cambridge Assessment having to deal with small startups.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

This week has given you a broad overview of technologies, along with their implications for learning.
This will provide a solid foundation for the remainder of the module, which will explore these technologies in more depth. Consider the following questions:
What are the key characteristics of new technologies and what are their implications for teaching and learning in your own educational context?
What are the main ways in which you use of technologies has changed in the last few years (2, 5, 10 etc) 
What are the key challenges associated with better uptake and use of technologies for learning?

What are the key characteristics of new technologies?

We can describe new technologies using characteristics like purpose (both intentional and valuable but often unintended secondary application), the cost and complexity of deployment, risk to deploy and pedagogical focus.


Most tools used have an obvious primary purpose that they were designed for, however it isn't unusual for educators (or their students) to co-opt them and find new uses for them. As the range of tools available to us becomes richer (and we depend less and less on office-type productivity tools as the mainstay of our work), awareness of the purpose of tools and how they can share data with others to make more complex workflow is important.


To have an impact beyond a small group or individual, we must consider the ways in which a tool can be deployed. Cost matters (even free tools carry cost), as does the risk for the safety of learners (and their data), the complexity to make a tool available and useful and interoperability with other tools so that content and ideas can flow from one to another.


Whichever model for describing pedagogy is being used, tools can be categorised as being most effective when used with a particular intention. Tools that work well for a highly constructivist approach where the learner understands through making systems and digital media, will not be the best vehicle when the focus of the activity is on the learning conversation between students and teachers. Many Adobe tools are superb for creating rich content, but weaker then simple web-based ones that emphasise groupwork and collaboration.

What are their implications for teaching and learning in your own educational context?

  • Opportunities to make the use of technologies ubiquitous and truly embedded are growing rapidly.
  • We may not all be using the same tools for much longer - the days where a teacher can know which tools their students will be using to work with them, and plan the use of technology around that, are coming to an end. Instead the focus needs to be on pedagogy, on process and on outcomes, not the tools themselves.
  • Learners need to become increasingly more autonomous and discerning.

What are the main ways in which you use of technologies has changed in the last few years (2, 5, 10 etc) 

  • I use far more tools than a few years ago, which tend to be more focused on particular tasks rather than general purpose ones.
  • More and more tools depend on small, handheld or mobile technology where data is stored on the web rather.
  • The ability to print is becoming irrelevant.

What are the key challenges associated with better uptake and use of technologies for learning?

  • Privacy eSafety and data protection as the management of systems becomes increasingly personal and decentralised.
  • Interoperability to allow content to flow from tool to tool and allow learners to use the tools of their own choice and interact with each other in an increasingly less heterogenous environment.
  • Training for staff to maintain capability and confidence.
  • Education for staff and their leaders to support continuous improvement and flexibility.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Mapping my use of learning technologies to pedagogical functions

Draw a diagram of your use of learning technologies (either for your own leaning or for your teaching) mapping the technologies to pedagogical functions. As a starting poing, try to use Laurillard's Conversational Framework and her approch to categorising media and technologies.

I find this task tricky to complete as I'm not entirely sure what the end result should look like. It has though led me to look at this article "A model for selecting educational technologies to improve student learning (Lambert & Williams)" which I found a useful primer as it runs through from "use of technology for novelty value" to mapping technologies to what it describes as learning processes.

Laurillard's "conversational framework" model of the learning process (from Laurillard, 1993, p103)

Laurillard's Conversational Framework features in the article, and I look at it and think I understand it -  but I don't see how it helps me to evaluate and reconsider anything in particular. I look forward to further reading and thinking about it when I've seen some more responses to this...

The change described in Lambert and William's paper, made by Curtis to make step 1 into "Information Transmission" (rather than combine it with 2, 3 and 4 as discursive) seems to me to be a useful one as the tools used may well be different, so to break them apart could lead to a more specific analysis.

Using that model, and taking a recent piece of work in which I took on the role of teacher with a primary school class, I'd set it out as follows:

Information Transmission: Online Concept Board (Realtimeboard)

Presentation:  On-line document (writing frames and templates made in Google Drive and shared through Google Classroom), big screen, Online Shared Concept Board

Search & Retrieval:  Internet Searches from prepared 'whitelist' of high value sources

Learner response: Document preparation using Google Drive and templates from Google Classroom - working in groups collaboratively in what is essentially a wiki, plus photographs and video clips collected into same same folders.

Discursive: Through sharing the documents produced for comment (only) with peer groups and teacher and hyperlinking to Online Concept Board.

Adaptive: Review of the responses from pupils, both the original work, and the comments made on their peers to shape follow up work to address gaps, need for progress etc

Interactive Use of comments and email. Media resources added as links to Concept Board

Reflective Email, self review/ peer review and teacher review of document(s) produced and handed in via Google Classroom.

Clearly this isn't a diagram!

This is my attempt to present the above in diagrammatic form - I'm not happy with it but that is perhaps because there is something much deeper and more useful about Lorillard's Conversational Framework than I have understood. I'd find a model based on the ePedagogies described in next week's study much more engaging.

Click on the image to see it full size

Virtual Worlds Activity

Describe three features of this use of a virtual world that are not game-related.
  • The presentation of previously covered content in a new context through text and animations, intended to resonate with the student's experience in other parts of the course and consolidate learning.
  • Students to access the activity on demand and as often as required.
  • The resources needed to present the material and create the space is one off and not a recurring one - so it scales to future and broader use easily

Describe three features that could fit within a game.
  • The use of things like clothing and safety equipment where failure to follow the taught process can result in 'failure,' correct use can release activities or add to a score.
  • The requirement to carry out actions in a particular sequence or in response to certain events on screen - so testing the student's understanding.
  • Response to questions posed by the system to test the student's understanding.