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Posts Tagged ‘engaged learning

Thanks to an email list, I discovered two articles that may interest my preservice teachers.

The first is an Edutopia article on “Ten Steps to Better Student Engagement“.

The other is from Teacher Magazine and is titled “When Testing Fails“. This site requires registration, but it’s free.

I highlight the first article because the course I facilitate is ICT for Engaged Learning, but we focus largely on ICT-mediated pedagogies. The article describes some other principles for engaging students and these cover the gamut of classroom management, classroom culture, managing relationships, etc.

How about the second article? It is a tongue-in-cheek yet serious look at how much emphasis many administrators place on test scores… which are subjective rather than objective!

The second article emphasized how poorly test scores indicated the effectiveness of the teacher. For the same principles brought up in the article, I think that test scores also do not necessarily reflect how much a student has really learned. There are just too many variables that influence learning.

So instead of trying to tackle learning with tests, I say we engage them instead. Provide meaningful experiences. Encourage learners to play, ask questions, and get answers. Get them to think and self-evaluate. I am certain that if we do this, we will prepare them better for an uncertain future better than tests ever will.


Thanks to my reliance on RSS, I came across a good article titled, Web 2.0: What does the future hold for schools?

From the statistics that my blog provider collects, I realise that my readers rarely click on links I make available. So here’s are some of the best bits:

“Web 1.0 was largely a ‘push’ operation, taking already existing content and posting it online,” said Bower. “Web 2.0 is driven by ‘pull,’ not push. … Kids can create their own content and interact.”

But, he added: “The question is, are we inventing a new way for students to learn using this technology?”

Bower, who’s also a neurobiologist at the University of Texas, said the way we learn hasn’t really changed over the years; what has changed has been the medium for this instruction.

We tend to learn best through hands-on experiences, he explained–by trying things ourselves and taking ownership of our own learning, rather than passively receiving information from another source. But until the internet came along, we haven’t had a scalable way to deliver this kind of experience to every student.

Before the internet, Bower said, the two most important developments from an educational perspective were the invention of the printing press and the creation of a university system. But both of these developments were “push” operations, he said–meaning they pushed information out to students, rather than letting students experience learning for themselves.

Reality bites… but we can bite back:

Much of the rest of the discussion focused on how to overcome resistance to this paradigm shift in education, which is notorious for its aversion to change.

One session participant, a district technology director, said she’s had trouble integrating Web 2.0 technologies in her schools, because it’s often hard to convince administrators and teachers of their value. How do you get this buy-in from stakeholders, she asked?

“When an administrator says, ‘Show me the proof,’ just point at the current state of schools,” Bower said. “If we’re not engaging these kids, they’re not learning.”

“We’ve been saddled with bad technology to teach for the last 500 years, with predictable consequences,” Bower said. But now, with Web 2.0 tools, “we finally have a technology that will let us better match our learning process” with what goes on in schools.


This New York Times article highlights an important concept: Pedagogy before technology.

The physics department at MIT decided to do away with traditional lectures. Why? Attendance was low and failure rates were high.

Instead, they replaced the lectures with “smaller classes that emphasize(d) hands-on, interactive, collaborative learning” and the attendance has gone up while the failure rate has dropped by more than 50%.

The press or the layman might focus on the fact that the new settings have networked computers and interactive white boards. But all these are pointless if they ignore the change in pedagogy: The increase in hands-on and minds-on activities, the increased number of instructors for group work, the use of cognitive apprenticeship, etc.

The students actually petitioned against the changes initially. Change is always difficult to adjust to and engaged learning requires effort. But I am sure that they think differently now.

I think that this press article highlights some important lessons. When attempting to integrate technology 1) address a need, 2) don’t fall into the “cool tool” trap, and 3) be persistent and convince your stakeholders.

Don’t use technology for its own sake or because you have a requirement to fulfil. You will waste everyone’s time and create a bad impression about how technology might be used in education. Technology should be integrated so that it supports or otherwise enables learning (not necessarily teaching).

Think of the instructional strategies, learner needs and abilities, and curricular requirements amongst others things before the technology. The “bells and whistles” of technology will not ensure learning, but it can enable it if paired with suitable pedagogies.

The integration of technology should not be an isolated event. Technology integration should be consistent, persistent, logical and meaningful. Students, parents, and even colleagues might not be convinced that such technology-mediated pedagogies will work, but know that integrating technology and changing mindsets takes time. Keep at it and communicate your plans and efforts at critical moments.

Here’s an article from the New York Times: Start-Up Uses Online Games to Teach Math. (Many thanks to Laremy from last semester for pointing this article out to me.)

The article does not reveal very much about the games themselves, but the approaches taken by the company are progressive.

Here are some choice quotes:

Children pick a theme, like an arcade or adventure park, and a character, like a dinosaur or pirate, and play an online game with a hidden math lesson.

“The hallmark of the product is it’s real math, but children think it’s a game,” said Lou Gray, DreamBox Learning’s chief executive officer.

Most competitors are doing repetition practice and drills — the lesson pathway is very linear, from lesson one to two, whether you crawled there or whether you zoomed there,” he said. “We founded the company with the idea that every student deserves an individually tailored education.

A good example of engaged learning that can be fun!

Many thanks to Carolyn for telling me about the YouTube video below. It is an advertisement for a university in the USA, but the same changes hinted at in the commercial are needed our educational system too!

While the “cool tools” might be obvious in the video, the rethinking of how we teach and the instructional strategies to enable this sort of  learning are not. These tools already exist. It is for you, my teachers-to-be, to discover some of these technology-mediated pedagogies.

Reach them to teach them. Engage them or else you enrage them.

I sent out email to one of my classes today because I sensed that the usual semester load was getting to some of my preservice teachers.

I am including part of that email here because these are some things I want to say to all my classes, but don’t always get round to saying. I am human after all. And they need to hear it. They are human after all.

I know that your workload is building up. I’d like to offer you some encouragement and advice.

Know that you are not alone. It may help to share the load if you are able to work in groups.

Don’t try to absorb everything every week. You can’t because you are human. You shouldn’t because it is not meaningful. Instead, identify what is important for your development as a teacher.

Recognise that you will get some concepts now and others later. Remember that engaged learning takes place over a long time. In fact, some of you will only “get it” once QED522 is over. Still others only get it when they are fulltime teachers!

If you only rush to complete assignments and checklists, then you are doing busy work. If you stop and reflect, you may identify what is important. After all, grades aside, you will only remember what was most meaningful to you.

I hope that this blog serves as another channel to get the message across. It also reminds me to remember what, or rather WHO, is important: The people who are to be teachers.

I think that most of my teacher trainees “got” what I was trying to do at the last session: Model one lesson on engaged learning by engaging them with technology-mediated pedagogies. How do I know they know? I read the entries of those who have already blogged about it!

Li Ling posed an interesting question in a recent entry:

How do one gauge if students are actually engaged?

Seriously I think it’s quite subjective. In any case, how are we to judge that the traditional one-way teaching methods are not sufficently engaging?
An important factor in engaged learning is that of the child’s mental processes. I swear I was stressfully engaged between notes-scribbling, following the lectures & fear of being called upon by the teacher. (Of course, there are also times which I simply switch off as I master the art of goldfish sleeping.)

Here are some of my thoughts:

  1. Learners cannot be engaged 100% of the time and it is unrealistic to expect that.
  2. Didactic teaching can be engaging (based on a layperson’s definition). But just how many of the dimensions of engaged learning are met with lectures? We must think outside our mindsets and comfort zones in order to critique our instruction as teachers. Just because we are comfortable teaching a certain way does not mean that our students are learning optimally.
  3. If, as teachers, we participate actively in the process, it will be obvious whether students are truly engaged. Engagement is indeed a mental process, but it can also be obvious in body language, physical performance, reflections, etc.
  4. The engagement does not end when the bell rings. It is an on-going process. There can be learning that takes place outside the classroom that you may or may not be monitoring. My experience tells me that a significant amount of learning takes place individually and at home, on the train, in a fastfood joint, etc. This is why I design for tasks do be completed outside of class time.
  5. Engaged learning = meaningful learning. In other words, engaged learning takes place when the learner has “a-ha!” moments or realises what makes sense to him or her (internalises).

On a separate note, here is another reflection simply titled “Catharsis“. I wonder if any one of you have had similar experiences.


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