Friday, 25 March 2016

Communication and Collaboration in course design

So... for my course design, which is to produce a programme for teachers wanting to learn to plan and deliver courses around coding, I'm onto the next Cs in the 7Cs model - collaboration in particular.

The table above is an assignment - to consider which kinds of collaboration tool will best fit different circumstances.

I see three use-cases for my course, one for each of the three above.

As the delegates will be from a number of different academies and start the course at different times, it will be invaluable to have a discussion forum running constantly - hopefully reducing email as delegates can offer peer-support but also review the different activities, ask questions and informally share ideas and resources that may not yet be finished. I wouldn''t present to use the forum as a tool to measure progress (although feedback for me as course designer from the kind and volume of queries will be useful). I plan to use Yammer for this, as we already have it available on our system and every member of staff has an account with their email login. I'll prepare materials to welcome and support people joining based loosely on Salmon's framework.

Each delegate will be asked to keep a blog to record the lessons they plan with their classes and review them. Because Blogger is again freely available to us and allows private blogs that can be restricted to members of a group, it is ideal - enabling perhaps greater honesty and opens than something public would support. This will be a good place to start formative assessment and peer support.

I'd like to maintain a directory of teaching resource links for delegates to use and improve. A Wiki would be ideal for this. I'd expect contributions to vary a fair bit from person to person in the groups and to have to put in some material for people who hadn't offered it themselves. I would generally just use Google Docs for something like this but will look at alternatives.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Idealism and Made Up Numbers

This article that crossed my radar this morning left me feeling a little dazed. "Why Aren't More Schools Using Open Source Software?" by Katrina Schwartz for Mindshift.

In it the experiences of Penn Manor School District who have chosen to give their students Ubuntu laptops rather than Chromebooks, iPads or Windows laptops is described. Penn Manor have some interesting ideas about engaging students in the design of the service that I enjoyed reading (although the link between open source software and student engagement is maybe overstating it, I don't see that using Linux makes students more or less empowered to get involved unless they are directly involved in modifying the source code on a significant scale - otherwise they can participate in any project, and indeed should).

Starting from the top:
The stated goal is to make learning more of an individual experience, but many schools have chosen to implement technology programs in fairly regimented ways — for lots of different reasons. Many schools want all students to have the same kind of device, with the same apps pre-downloaded. Students often have little choice over which tools they can use on their devices.
I couldn't agree more. We (as in the education system) have a strong attachment to the idea that we want every learner using the same software. I suppose this homogeneity helps to ensure we can plan quite tight sequences of what the learner needs to do, and we can ensure we "know how to do what we are asking the student to do." But if we want to focus more on the learner resolving problems and enquiring, working with greater autonomy, who cares what tools they use, what matters is the learning and the outcome... And if we let go of that homogeneity, and instead focus on control not of the tools but instead of the resources and the identities of who can access what, well then the learner using their own device becomes something we welcome rather than fear.

Problem is, that isn't what the school district are doing. If they are giving every student an identical laptop (albeit with open source software) then on a wet Wednesday their teachers will be expecting them to use the same tools... Exactly what the author is arguing against.
Even for online research, many schools filter out useful websites like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, making it harder and more restrictive.
I'm no fan of 1:1 programmes - to me they are every bit as doomed to look somewhat quaint and lost in the flow of change as provision based on only letting students use IT suites on the school network. If you want personal and individual experience, you need to accept that not every student will be using the same device in lessons (a big ask, but one we need to accept and plan for), not plan to buy every student a device, forever.

To criticise schools for filtering websites though is so facile and naive, of course they filter internet sources that could contain anything harmful, controversial or difficult. They need to balance the social norms of their audience, the risks and the need to get on with the job. A school district does not exist to argue for an open and free internet, it exists to educate and improve life chances. The irony of an article about open source advocates bemoaning blocked access to the true corporate, closed source engines of the decade is an interesting one.
The district recently gave all 1,700 high school students laptops running Ubuntu operating systems, an easy-to-use version of the open source product Linux. Reisinger estimates that going with an open-source operating system has saved the district $360,000 in just the first year of the program and his dedication to Linux machines has saved closer to $750,000 over the ten years he’s been with the district.
So... 1,700 laptops (or tablets) would have cost $360,000 in software in the first year? That's $211 per student. Even allowing for server software that is just off-the-scale exaggeration. In the UK, closed source software for a project that size would cost a few thousand pounds - because vendors fall over themselves to make sure their software is being used by young people. Anyone spending those sums has either:

  • Lost control of their senses and spent on a massive scale on shrink wrapped software.
  • Or just looked up the per-packet retail price and multiplied by 1,700.
The second choice is far more likely - this is misleading. I've seen similar claims of how:
  • An academy paid for its 1:1 programme by diverting the money spent on textbooks and printing into buying devices - which is great, except it's untrue - they still use textbooks (virtual and electronic) and still have copiers - perhaps less, but they have not made anything like the savings they claim.
  • A group of schools saved millions by "going Google" - when in reality they will be running their existing architecture for years and will never recoup anything like the amount claimed.
Everyone wants to save money. That is an important part of my job. We can save money on software, and should but Open Source is not a magic solution to do so.
“The difference is with a device such as this, it’s unlocked and kids have administrative level accounts on their laptops,” Reisinger said. “So where our formal instruction ends, their new learning can begin because they have control over the device.” 
Again, no problem with giving students control, providing the support is there to fix things when they get bust, or you will have students unable to access the curriculum. Criticising the LA iPad project for trying (and failing) to lock down their devices is hopelessly naive - IT support is expensive.

Apart from that it is a great article!
“What we did a little differently is we structured the help desk into an actual course, so they could do this type of work” 

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Personal Agency

Another of my favourite bloggers, Tom Bennett, published an interesting piece deconstructing Student Voice into a number of Agencies.

  • Proxy Agency - where we rely on others to act (e.g. the School Council)
  • Collective Agency - where we work with others
  • Personal Agency - where we work with forethought to achieve our desired goal.
Tom points out that this amorphous thing called Student Voice which everyone agrees is "a good thing" (indeed it was probably the single most high-impact area of the work we did at SSAT on personalising learning, thanks in large part to the work of Gill Mullis) is far more complex and these three areas perhaps help us understand what it is we are promoting. Student democracy and school councils don't lead directly through to the learner being more independent in the classroom for example.

The notion of personal agency as described by Tom matches very well my ideas about "Personal Presence" within the Community of Inquiry model - that described the extent to which the learner can link their learning to their wider network of tools, contacts and experiences (both ways) which itself was derived from the description of Agency Presence by Anderson (2016).


Anderson, T. (2016) A Fourth Presence for the Community of Inquiry Model? Virtual Canuck. Available at: (Accessed on 13th February 2016)

(Another) Series of Quadrants for Describing Tools within Strategy

From the outset I should say I'm probably writing this for a global audience of one! Appreciate that many people would look at the following and think "so what?"

I worked with some colleagues at an IT Forum this week, and one activity produced by the mighty James Penny (@JSPenny1, or see his website) was an adaptation of Gartner's Magic Quadrants.

click for full sized view
The Magic Quadrants look to me to be a tool to help people decide where to invest in technologies. We have the niche player, the up and coming visionary, the leaders where the main market is and the challengers that work well but are not necessarily progressing with the market.

I find tools like this helpful to make me think - I've blogged about Salmon's model for e-Learning (and I'll come to it again below) which I think has been the single most useful idea from the EDX028 course for me so far.

What James did, and asked us to do, was to consider the technologies we were working with and map them onto a version of this model.

click for full sized view
I like this approach - it made us discuss the different technologies and how perhaps our approach and thinking needs to be different in different areas. On reflection though I think Jame's definition of Challenger is a bit kind and doesn't capture the idea of the "technology that had it's day but we still use, but maybe not for much longer." This is important - I need to keep on my radar:
  • Things that are exciting, interesting but unproven and not yet prime time (visionary, I'd prefer to call them rising stars)
  • Things that are mainstream, mass use and need to run well and keep developing (leaders, I prefer bright stars)
  • Things that frankly are important for a very limited number of people (niche)
  • Things we use and need to keep running, but need to be thinking where we go next (challengers, I prefer fading stars).
That last category is really important for what Hargreaves described as "the creative abandonment of redundant practice." We cannot keep piling layers of new tools and ideas onto current provision and expect it all to still make sense and work well. Just as we spot new ideas and approaches, come to understand and adopt them at scale, we need to identify the things that are currently useful but have only a finite expected life - and plan for their end.

So my refinement of Jame's grid looks like this:

click for full-sized view.
But what's the point?

Well, the Salmon model helps me to consider four main areas of development, but it is a steady state description, but in real life there are things that are Core-Core today that we need to be planning the end of (Challengers, although that's not a good term), and things that are Core-New that we need to be planning to co-opt and take to scale  (Visionaries). Not everything in Core-Core is a long term strategic bet for the organisation.

click for full-sized view
When thinking about a major set of developments for IT at work, the model above has clarified for me:
  • Where's the work where I need to keep my eye on the ball about delivery? About reliable, clear, simple services that every teacher and every learner should expect to "just work?"
  • Where's the work where we're looking for new ideas and exploring them, where we need to give permission for people to take risks and step from under the technical support umbrella for a little drizzle?
  • How can I apply familiar systems and technologies to the new challenges we're looking to deal with?
I want something that combines the two, because I don't believe they do the same thing, although there are similarities.

I want to be able to describe the "ascendance" of a set of tools. Are they in quiet decline, maintain them until they are set aside more? Are they core and expected to continue to be so, requiring investment, effort and ongoing development? There is limited resource to do that. Are they the next big thing? Are they actually something that might appear super-important, but in reality only of interest to a few people and best delegated to them to look after it themselves?

I did wonder about a 3D model thing but:
  1. I can't draw it
  2. I can't think of any 3D framework/ quadrant model that anyone actually found useful, ever.
So I'll ponder a bit. I haven't done a Venn-Diagram in a few weeks, maybe....

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Some Practical Thoughts on PLEs and online conferences

An article on Edsurge "Could Slack be the Next Online Learning Platform" by Amy Ahearn really got me thinking this week. For a while now I've been bandying about the concept of the "professional social network" as a logical successor to the intranet (so, private and authenticated but the content organic and user-generated) but much as many write about how an LMS can co-exist with personal learning environments where the learner uses their own set of tools and ID to manage learning, I haven't seen much by way of practical application.

Amy described how her organisation co-opted a piece of public web technology (Slack) to provide an effective live environment for a course to run and the experience it offered.
"We need platforms that enable us to pivot between large-group, small-group and solo learning."
That tools like Slack can work isn't surprising - the workflow for an online meeting/ collaboration is not so different from some approaches to e-padagogy (but not all).  It is interesting how, having read about COI and Salmon's 7 stage e-mentoring model that is exactly the problem they faced and had to resolve to make the system, work - getting learners up to speed and active as quickly as possible (to make the system disappear and let learning start).

You might worry about where your content is and sustainability but if as an organisation you unbundle things so that...

  • You use an appropriate tool to store and publish your education resources (open or not) to the web 
  • You have a method of identifying people in a reliable way so you can say that user @abcd maps onto person Mr Abcd and controlling what they can and cannot do with your materials
Then you can start to use various web tools to run much more fluid and agile courses.

The best link in the article for me was Unhangouts from MIT.

I'm a huge fan of - a free system to let you run web conferences for up to 8 endpoints - but 8 is a good limit for meetings, but a useless one for conferences.

Unhangout lets you use existing proven tools (Google Hangouts) but co-opt them into the shape of an online conference, with introductory material, a signing in space and breakout rooms for live collaboration. Because my organisation use a system that synchronises ID with Google ID, and because Unhangouts uses that, it is a perfect vehicle for us to use.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Learning Design 1: Conceptualise

This is actually out of sequence - I wrote it a few weeks ago and didn't like it, now reading it back I don't hate it so much...

The work I'm going to use as a context for the Learning Design study is something I'm currently actively engaged in - partly the save time (in the hope I can use the material made and build on experience of delivery) and partly to make the project more authentic. I don't teach much day to day, and I very rarely work for an extended period with the same group - so this is a good focus.

For the Conceptualise section - the first of the seven deadly Cs of the 7C model - I must consider why and what I want to design, key principles and pedagogical approaches and demographics and needs.

What I'm designing is a course for in-service teachers, mostly working in primary schools, to support their "delivery" of computing in the English national curriculum. As most of the programme is known to this audience from the old IT curriculum, the focus naturally resides on the programming elements. It tends to be an area where teachers haven't had instruction in the actual skills themselves to code and where they may lack confidence in classroom management and assessment as well.

There are several features that will shape the approach for the course:
  • Although several full days of training would be ideal, it will never happen. The course needs to be structured in such a way that minimal face to face training will take place because to offer this design at a scale that is meaningful (covering 25+ schools) nothing else is affordable.
  • To gain confidence requires people to have done more than master content - they need to experience programming to have the capacity to teach it.
  • There is a wide range of levels of experience (as teachers) and settings (as schools) for the audience, so they will need a way to work together to adapt the approaches offered to apply the material for themselves.
The content and approaches can break down as:

Knowledge of what is required: associative approaches presenting content, giving feedback on understanding, coupled with a community of practice to share understanding and tease out subtleties as a group.

Learning how to program: is something I can only see being successful through very constructivist, hands on, problem solving activity. Learning by doing and reflecting and sharing thereon. The outcomes, user generated content and collaboration for members of the community of practice to help resolve problems together.

Considering how to teach programming: is very much a dialogic process with colleagues, having understood what needs to be taught to their classes and mastered some of the skills (and experiences) involved, consider how to frame this in their own teaching. I'd see elements of situative and connectives pedagogy in this phase. 

Activity: How to Ruin a Course

At last, an activity that practically qualifies as therapy.  This task is to list ten things that can ruin a course - I'm taking it to mean online course as that is what we are ultimately designing. Responses from other people can be found here.

My top ten (in no particular order).

  1. Fuzzy thinking and lack of purpose: Everyone, no matter their age or background will have some point at which they pause and stop to ask themselves "so why am I being asked to do this?" Different kinds of learners will have different motivations (extrinsic or intrinsic) and although theory says some pedagogical approaches are more one that the other, with either approach if the course isn't clear why things need to be done, how they are relevant, how it all fits together, eventually something will give. So the design of the course needs to state and restate how each part fits into the whole. I don't accept that only applies to an associative approach (only) in fact I think it is even more important in something very situative of constructivist (the other learners may co-construct that structure, but they won't do it by accident). I still remember being told to submit a learning journal for the NPQH course when it bore no relation to the course objectives or how I would be assessed, and frankly I wanted to pass and move on to the next job - so my motivation and learning from the experience was not good.
  2. Mistakes in the materials: An online course lives and dies by the quality of what learners self-access. A broken link is terrible. Two is distressing. A file that won't open, a document that is outdated. All of these things break flow, waste precious time and make it more likely the learner will just skip ahead and not actually explore that part of the course. Also, with an online course, the provider saves a huge amount of cost - some of that saving needs to be reflected in the quality of the materials. My personal yardstick is that if it looks and feels worse than what I'd expect to see outside work, it probably isn't good enough - and a dead link on Amazon would indeed be a #fail.
  3. Setting high expectations and under-delivering: People will take on board advice about what to expect and not expect. Some will still push that, but to promise support of any kind and then not have it there when it is needed is another cardinal sin. Better to say "support is only available by email" and mean it.
  4. Lack of feedback: If you're struggling or puzzled a three line email can be a life saver. Opportunities for peer feedback, to view model responses to reassure yourself you're on the right track, to engage with course staff are all essential - and they don't need to be highly intensive. Working in total isolation required a lot of motivation.
  5. Poor dynamics: A course is like any kind of event or 'show' - it needs changes of pace, episodes, highs, quiet moments. A monotone tick-tock-tick will lose people.
  6. Technical issues: Enough said. Everything has to be tested and tested again. When there are issues the route to solve them is essential.
  7. Fail to provide the right kinds of choice: Choice is not always a good thing, but to offer more than one way to interact with material from time to time gives ownership and allows self-differentiation.
  8. Setting pointless activities, that everyone knows are pointless: Back to the point at the start. Filler. OK the course needs to say it will take 4 hours, but honestly if I can learn it in 2, don't make me waste 2 hours doing something that doesn't take me to the right place.
  9. Fail to get the social presence aspect of the COI right: Back to 4 and 5 - if there is to be a peer to peer element, pay attention to it, set expectations and enforce them. Otherwise as the studies of cMOOCs found, people retreat into their comfort zone.
  10. Fail to take account (and to exploit) the personal/ agency presence of the COI right: Nobody does a course as a blank slate, whether it be in reception or postgrad. Assuming there is nothing outside the course to use and build on is a resource wasted.