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Posts Tagged ‘learning

Learning is not a spectator sport. -- Chickering and Ehrmann

Over the weekend, I read an article in The Atlantic about educational escape rooms.

The central idea of these is that students must uncover content-based clues to unlock a box in order to resolve a situation. I learnt that these in turn were based on recreational escape rooms designed by the Japanese in 2007.

The article was intriguing in itself, but I liked even more a quote from a paper that it linked to.

Learning is not a spectator sport. Students do not learn much just sitting in classes listening to teachers, memorizing prepackaged assignments, and spitting out answers. They must talk about what they are learning, write reflectively about it, relate it to past experiences, and apply it to their daily lives. They must make what they learn part of themselves.

The paper was by Chickering and Ehrmann* in 1996. This was a message from 20 years ago and is still relevant now. So much of what we still do with “educational” technology is about answering instead about questioning, consuming instead of creating, and rushing instead of reflecting.

Each and every learner should not just be engaged with technology. Trying to engage is a function of teaching. Learners need to be empowered to participate because learning is not done from the sidelines. Learners must be involved, take ownership, and be intrinsically motivated.

*Chickering, Arthur and Stephen C. Ehrmann (1996), “Implementing the Seven Principles: Technology as Lever,” AAHE Bulletin, October, pp.  3-6.

This week I read two seemingly unconnected articles, one about US politics and the other about cultural literacy. I link them both and connect them to questions about schooling.

The first was a Wired article that contrasted the plans of Clinton and Trump as they drummed up support for their campaigns.

…you can learn a lot juxtaposing the optics of the campaign speeches Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump gave last week on the future of the economy. While Clinton spoke from the center of a tech hub in Denver, surrounded by millennials tapping away on MacBooks, Trump addressed a crowd inside a scrap metal factory in a Pennsylvania steel town, standing before a wall of crushed aluminum cans.

Before either candidate spoke, they’d cast two opposing visions. In Clinton’s, the economy hinges on investing in technology and the industries of tomorrow. In Trump’s, it depends upon reviving the industries of yesterday. Both aspire to create jobs. But one has a chance of achieving that goal, because history shows that industries survive the future only by embracing it.

Two potential country (and world) leaders outlined plans, one designed with the now and future in mind, and the other based on the nostalgic but increasingly irrelevant past.

The second article was also US-centric. It was a cutting analysis of how an older generation might accuse a younger generation of not having enough cultural capital.

However, using #‎BeckyWithTheBadGrades as an example, the author reasoned that the opposite was also true. Adults are just as ignorant of the culture of their children. A case in point:

By the same token, teachers are sometimes unable to connect with their students’ world views.

By some distorted reasoning, we expect the next generation to embrace the past — and they should cherish the good bits — but we do not acknowledge their now in order to help them shape their future. The author described schooling like this:

We might think of schooling as teaching the prior generation's knowledge so that youth are prepared to communicate on an equal footing with those they are about to join in the economic and civic spheres. -- Robert Pondiscio

Is our schooling entrenched in the past? Is it led by leaders looking in the wrong direction?

More importantly, if we see the disconnects, what do we strive to learn and what do we do to address these gaps?

I was appalled when I read this article, For-Profit Coalition Seeks to Bolster the Flipped-Classroom Approach.

First it defined the flipped classroom like this:

A flipped classroom describes a wide range of educational methods, like just-in-time teaching, peer instruction, and the use of clickers.

It did not distinguish between the flipped classroom and flipped learning. JIT teaching and peer instruction can happen in both, but the former is critical in the flipped classroom and the latter is a key enabler of flipped learning.

How in the world did the “use of clickers” even get mentioned? My guess is the university context of lectures and trying to justify clickers as “interactive” or “participatory”. Clickers are neither and their novelty wears off quickly.

The only things flipping when I read the article were my finger and my stomach. All it had to do to flip my life switch off was to suggest LMS, interactive white boards, and smart rooms as means to flipping.

All these and clickers do little to change pedagogy. I have written for years how these constrain pedagogy or maintain outdated methods instead of encouraging progression.

The article also mentioned how the Flipped Learning Global Initiative would be charging a $5,000 annual fee for groups be identified as partners. Why do this? Errol St. Clair Smith, the director of this group said:

…the initiative’s leaders believe there is a $500-million market for products related to course flipping. They include training, software and hardware, and other services. They expect demand to grow to about $2.4 billion by 2020.

So that is what the effort is about: Taking advantage of a financial opportunity. Never mind that university faculty do not really change how they teach. Just sell them clickers. Lots of clickers.

Yesterday I responded to a query about how flipping drives discovery and student-directed learning.

Today I answer a question about how students might not discover the “right” content by discovering or Googling. I have a few responses.

The first is doing away with the notion that students “get it” only when a teacher delivers content. This is merely an illusion because there is no indication or confirmation that learning has happened.

My second response is that one way to be more certain about student learning is to get students to create content and to teach it. These processes help both students and teachers to see evidence of learning.

My third reply is that teaching wrong content happens anyway, not just in the flipped classroom or when you facilitate flipped learning. Both the student and teacher can be guilty of this. However, when the learning is visible the teacher can jump in and intervene.

Three dimensions of flipped learning.

This is why I include content creation and peer teaching in my model of flipped learning.

Peer teaching is something that instructors can do with strategies like think-pair-share, any variant of the jigsaw method, and class presentations. Content creation might be viewed as a prerequisite for this form of teaching. Without artefacts students have nothing to show during the tell.

However, content creation does not always have to be on the teacher scale or standard. The content that students create can also be externalisations or manifestations of what is in their minds. These can take the form of short reflections, practiced problems, recorded conversations, summary documents, etc.

My fourth response is to agree that simply copying and pasting Google search results may not be valuable learning. Most teachers tend to focus on content from an expert’s point of view. This is how they judge if content is good or not, and right or wrong. However, this is not how a learner processes information because s/he does not have structure.

The structure is put in place by thinking processes. So instead of just focusing on content (what artefacts students find and use), the teacher should also model processes of learning. For example:

  • How do I look for information?
  • How do I verify information or evaluate it?
  • How do I incorporate it into my own work?

This response is not unique to flipping. But a focus on process over product is particularly important in flipped learning because one desired outcome is students who are more independent learners.

Yesterday I reflected on my long-running integration of Padlet in my courses and workshops. I intend to share screenshots of two sets of takeaways and questions from participants at the end of a workshop on flipped learning. I address one concern today and another tomorrow.

Flipped learning takeaway and question.

One concern was whether students uncover content in the way the teacher intended.

I am glad that the participant used the word “uncover” because that was something we practised during the workshop. Uncovering is based on discovery and not on the traditional notions of a fixed curriculum, recipe-like strategies, and narrow outcomes.

This does not mean that the process is haphazard. In the past, I have described the implementation as creating serendipity.

One way to design the learning experience is to envision a large plot of land in which you have buried opportunities for learners to unearth. They not only dig up treasures (content-based learning about), they also figure out how to problem seek and problem solve (skills-based learning to be).

My reply to the query is that a strategy like flipping is a means of transferring the ownership of learning to the students. While the teacher is concerned with curriculum, schemes of work, worksheets, and other standard practices, these are not always congruent with the overall design and ultimate goal of flipping.

To put it simply, the standard terms, practices, and tools that a teacher is comfortable with are not necessarily what learners understand and need. The teacher may be armed with a spoon to feed; the students need shovels and other more varied and complex tools.

The teacher may be prepared to deliver; the students need to discover. It is inevitable that the scope of what the teacher expects will be much narrower than what the students discover.

Returning to my analogy of the plot of land with buried treasure, what if students discover relevant and useful nuggets elsewhere? What if they go beyond just digging (e.g., clicking on links in web quests) to surveying with drones and satellites (e.g., Googling, YouTubing) or communicating with previous treasure hunters (e.g., tweeting content experts, consulting Facebook contacts)?

One concern that teachers might have is what if students unearth the “wrong” things? I address that concern tomorrow.

A few months ago, I tweet-wondered this out loud.

I ask again: If we can now work just about anywhere, what could modern offices offer?

As an educator, I also ask: If we can study anywhere, why do the majority of classrooms still look like classrooms? Why do they not look more like a Starbucks, as this educator envisions?

Mindsets. They not only shape thoughts and behaviours, they dictate design and implementation.

Let me give you an example. I still get requests for contacts for vendors who can construct “special rooms” in schools.

NIE collaborative classroom in 2009.

NIE collaborative classroom in 2009. Photo by William Oh.

There are not many good reasons to have special rooms. Having a place to show off when visitors come a-knocking is not a good reason. Having an excess of funds is not a good reason to build a special room.

Having rooms that challenge pedagogy, perplex teachers, and enable meaningful, powerful learning is important. But do we need special rooms to do that? What messages does that send if we do?

Every room should be special. That way they become ordinary and accessible to all. Every teacher should have professional development to learn how to integrate technology effectively. Every student should be consume and create because of technology-enabled learning.

To do any less is to make lame excuses while spouting 21st century rhetoric.

I felt privileged to play active roles in SSI Enables 2016, an event held yesterday that was organised under the umbrella of the National Council of Social Services, Singapore.

Delivering my keynote at SSI Enables 2016.

Photo courtesy of Kevin Chan.

I was the keynote speaker on social media-enabled PLNs and a panel member on how to move a system forward.

I do not think I have ever walked away from a keynote and thought to myself that the session was perfect. I invariably look critically at my performance and wish I had used a better turn of phrase or had done something else.

However, I walked off the stage feeling very satisfied yesterday.

The audience gamingly got involved in the pre-keynote activities of taking part in a poll and completing a word cloud in AnswerGarden. During the keynote, the backchannel often scrolled faster than I could read.

During the panel session, the organisers took my advice to use a free tool, Dotstorming, to raise questions that could be voted up. The audience took to it like fish to water.

During the panel session, at lunch, and during my interaction with various people, I received reinforcement, validation, and positive comments. For example, I kept getting feedback from different people that they had never before experienced learning of that kind and quality. That was high praise indeed.

Social service meets social media-based learning

But all that time I thought I was just saying the ordinary:

  • The timeless competencies are learning, unlearning, and relearning.
  • All three are enabled by social media — particularly Twitter — in personal learning networks (PLNs).

This was a reminder that:

  • An old message can be a new one to someone else.
  • Keynotes can be interactive and involved if you design for learning, not for speaking.
  • Panel sessions can be less like a fishbowl and focused more on answering participants’ questions.

I still have some unfinished work even though the face-to-face component is over. While I have processed the questions in the backchannel, I have yet to analyse and answer the 50 or so questions that were raised in the poll. I will do this while I am away at a conference next week.

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