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Posts Tagged ‘learning

Recently I read what might be another perspective on flipping the classroom (though not necessarily flipping learning).

Instead of flipping what happens before and during class, how about flipping what happens after?

In an almost two-year-old blog entry, @donaldclark reviewed the work of a Mathematics and Physics teacher named Armando Pisani.

Pisani video recorded his lessons so that his students could review his lectures after class so as to help themselves with their homework. According to his research, students in the video-after-class treatment:

  • did better academically
  • liked the videos and would recommend them to others
  • wanted their parents to watch the videos

Interestingly, all the students’ parents were in favour of the use of videos and thought that online lectures helped their children to study.

Let us ignore that Pisani had just 80 students spread over four classes. We would also have to ignore that there could be other factors in play.

All that said, the design of the study is not really the focus. The design of the teaching and learning intervention is. This flipped classroom strategy helps deal with the problem of poorly designed homework.

Homework is normally assigned so that students can try to apply what they think they know, to surface areas of weaknesses, and to practise. But often homework is done without adequate support.

Videos-after-class provides that support by giving students another opportunity to review lessons and giving parents a window into the classroom so that they can help their children.

This strategy is an interesting and logical twist to the provide-information-before method. It is an important part of the basic way to flip a classroom. However, I would still consider it part of only the first of at least three dimensions of flipping.

Video source

Today I help facilitate a free seminar on Creative Commons (CC) in Singapore.

We do not have an ambitious plan and are starting simple to gauge interest and to create ownership of CC efforts.

I anticipate that a few attendees might have questions and experiences that relate to implementation issues. That is, there might be folks who are already sold on the idea and want to take action. So I share some of my limited experiences with rolling out change using my ABC framework (awareness, buy-in, commitment).

To create awareness, you can organize events like tomorrow’s free seminar. I mentioned yesterday how I also led an e-Fiesta and conducted talks with CC as content.

Some passive but complementary ways of creating awareness might include using media like posters and YouTube videos.

Such efforts can lead to stakeholder buy-in if you manage change well with follow ups like focused conversations and informal meetings.

The stakeholders you might target first for buy-in at institutes of higher education (IHLs) are key appointment holders and librarians.

Appointment holders can set policy around the creation and sharing of learning resources and research artefacts.

For example, most institutes lay claim to the copyright or intellectual property of any process or product created by its employees. Appointment holders might make some exceptions, say resources created under institute-sanctioned volunteer work, as belonging to their staff and/or open for sharing by default.

Appointment holders could require their institutes to be signatory to open licensing and publishing. The could mean promoting financial grants that have open requirements and then sharing data corpuses, reports, and other related material after a short embargo period.

If they are daring enough, such change leaders might add open efforts to staff appraisals and promotions either as core components or as distinctive X factors.

Institutional libraries are publication gatekeepers. They shape policies for the mode of sharing an institute’s research, books, white papers, monographs, posters, etc. For example, yesterday I shared how my alma mater shared dissertations under CC.

Libraries might consider at least two metrics when considering open or CC initiatives. First, open publications tend to draw more views because they are more accessible. Second, open resources are free or might cost considerably less than those hidden behind paywalls.

What of open initiatives in mainstream schools?

Media resources teachers and educators in charge of digital citizenship are in the best position to promote the use of open or CC-licensed resources. They can teach students how to use CC-enabled search engines more prudently and how to attribute what they use.

If good policies are put in place, instructors at mainstream schools and IHLs might also require learners to use and cite CC-licensed artefacts as part of curricular demands.

What I have described so far deals with creating awareness (I know) and buy-in (I believe in). What creates commitment (I own it)?

One of the best ways to create commitment to change is for teachers and students to walk the talk. They should give back or “pay it forward” by sharing what they create under open or CC licences. Creators can use this CC licence generator to label and share their work.

I do not recommend extrinsically rewarding such efforts because they should be rewards in themselves. However, there might be room for strategic efforts like contests on CC concepts or learner-led sharing of their CC efforts. These feed the awareness engine for the on-going and iterative efforts to push open learning forward.

Moving from awareness to commitment (ownership) transforms the good-to-know concept of sharing openly to one of better-to-practise. This is the bottom line if you want to share because you care: You cannot think about implementing CC; you must do CC.

Social media and mobile platforms allow us to become “knowmadic” learners.

Knowmadic in the sense of wandering from resource to resource that is freely available or found after some digging, bartering, or paying.

Like nomads, such learners travel light and are mobile. They go where opportunities are rich and are led less by destination and more by direction.

Unlike the notion of a nomad, knowmadic learners are not impoverished, backward, or otherwise lacking. Such learners are driven to learn simply because they are mad about knowing and exploring.

Warning: Do not read beyond this sentence if you do not possess this third educator trait.

Have you ever wondered something like this out loud?

If so, we have the perfect platform for you. Introducing: Cave minus 10.0.

Secret Cave by heyyu, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  heyyu 

For confidential topics, retreat to our Cave. It is wireless (no wires or power), signalless (no smartphones), and connectionless (no Internet, no social media, no YouTube, etc.).

There is no writing on any medium (not even the walls), no storage or archiving (you already have baggage), and no surface for reflection (you already know best because you have class).

Why use our Cave? Simple. Anything online is never completely confidential. It can be video-recorded, screen-captured, or otherwise copied and shared.

SS helmet by gwilmore, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  gwilmore 

We also offer a special brainwashing head gear, Cognitive Helmet (patent pending), that helps people forget the little they remember or learn. If they remember something, they can take it out of the Cave and share it elsewhere (like they did with the Math Olympiad question on Cheryl’s birthday).

Note: Helmet does not help remove bias that your cave people will already have. It has been proven to permit only assimilative thinking and resist cognitive dissonance and accommodative thinking.

The combination of Cave and Cognitive Helmet provide a virtual learning experience. You will think you are teaching and your people will think they are learning. Virtually speaking, of course.

For optimum experience, we encourage your people to bring their own devices. Devices like ear plugs and blinder-equipped glasses. If you think isolating yourself from the rest of the world is good, removing yourself even while in the presence of others is even better. Teach and learn in isolation or even in a vacuum; it is neat, peaceful, and clean.

If you subscribe now, we offer a free* wall of fire (Fire Wall, patent pending) to keep intruders, the curious, and the non-entitled, non-payers out.

*Fuel for fire is limited and subject to supply demand the depth of your budget.

We can be part of this world, but not of it. We ignore calls to break down classroom walls or make them transparent. Why should we let people see what really goes on in there? We refuse external inputs because we have all the experts we need. What do those charlatans know to do anyway? Parody sales pitches?

Screw so called 21st century fluff and fake modern beliefs like connectivism, climate change, evolution, or “the earth is round”. We do not just wish for the Age of Enlightenment or Renaissance men (sorry, women), we create the conditions for it. How do you put a price on that?

We do! It will cost you a lot of money for the few that will use it. But you know that it is worth it because it costs so much! How many other people can say they own a white elephant?

The World in a Bubble (September 2012) by skippyjon, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  skippyjon 

Too long, didn’t read? Create your own bubble of confidential content delivery with Confidential Cave -10.0, Cognitive Helmet (patent pending), and Fire Wall (also patent pending). It will not burst. We promise (fingers crossed).

Contact our sales staff today by smoke signal, carrier pigeon, or telegraph (we are trying this new technology but we expect it not to last).

If you prefer, you can visit us in our underground office located at Ostrich Neck Lane. If you hit Frog-in-Well Industries, you have gone too deep. We are shallower than that.

This message was paid for by Van Doores, Pte. Ltd. and supported by Al M. Esse & Associates and Dead Tree Inc.

The blog entry I shared in my month-old tweet was an interesting reflection on micro learning vs micro content.

Cynics might say that the argument was about semantics, but I disagree. Words hold meaning, meaning is born of philosophy, belief system, or mindset, and these shape behaviour.

It was important to tear down “micro learning”. At the risk of sounding like a squeaky wheel: Learning is learning; there is no micro or mega learning.

The important question is: How do we make learning happen?

There are many ways. I suggest just three design philosophies in the context of the article: Designing for 1) relevance, curiosity, or motivation, 2) learner agency and ownership, and 3) micro content.

Relevance, curiosity, or motivation. If a university offered a six-week MOOC and someone was only interested in a topic in the second week and quit shortly after, did they learn anything? If that person was interested and found some content useful, they learnt something because they wanted to.

They did not fail to “mega learn” the whole course. They did not “micro learn” the content of the second week. They learnt what was relevant to them, what they were curious about, or what they were interested in.

The question a designer needs to ask is not “How do I make this course interesting?” (which is teacher-centric) but “How do I take advantage of what learners are interested in?” (student-centric).


Learner agency and ownership. If a resource provider decided to provide short videos that taught a large, complex topic in smaller chunks and in an interesting manner, will that help students learn better?

The common saying is that you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink. A less common one might be you can try to feed someone an elephant one small piece at a time, but they might not eat.

Only when the learner thirsts or hungers for it does learning take place authentically. If not, they pretend to drink, they shuffle uneaten bits on their plates, or avoid the food and drink. If forced to imbibe, they might comply only to spit out elsewhere.

The question a designer needs to ask is “How to I leverage on or create the natural need to learn?”

Micro content. We might be tempted to assume that a large, complex topic is valuable and needs to be learnt, or we can decide that the micro contents are useful units in themselves. This is the argument for reusable learning objects: Micro content can be learnt for its own sake or be part of larger components.

This might explain the success of micro formats like edu-Twitter or short videos in YouTube. They might not be part of an official and larger curriculum, compliant to a set of standards, or address a list of desired objectives. Every educational tweet or instructional video is valuable in itself. It is left to the learners to judge its value and decide if that tidbit is enough or if they want more.

The question a designer needs to ask is “How to I create micro content that resembles LEGO bricks that stand alone or can be combined into larger wholes?” or “How to I take advantage of what is happening in social media and YouTube?”

Microscope by BWJones, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  BWJones 

There is no micro learning, only micro thinking. This is the sort of thinking that prevents instructional designers, subject matter experts, and teachers from designing and using micro content because they think that the mega complex forms makes them valuable.

It is also the sort of thinking that focuses on how to teach instead of how people learn. It takes humility to admit that teaching does not always lead to learning.

Effective resource design and teaching starts with understanding the learner and learning. It is about starting with learner relevance, curiosity, motivation, agency, and ownership. It is about going to where the learner is at.

In conversations I participated in #asiaED last week, I detected some confusion about “formal” and “informal” learning.

If talk and write about “formal learning” or “informal learning”, I am not thinking about different thought processes. Learning is learning; it is neither formal nor informal. Instead I am thinking about formal or informal contexts for learning. These might include places, spaces, and circumstances.

Places might include the school (typically but not always formal) or the home (typically but not always informal).

Spaces might include a classroom in school (where a teacher instructs formally) or a bathroom in school (where kids share information informally). An online space like Edmodo can be used formally (e.g., teacher sets a curriculum-defined task for students) or informally (e.g., kids talk about hobbies, ask for homework help).

Places and spaces do not define formality or informality.

If Person A (teacher or student) shows Person B (another teacher or student) how to troubleshoot a technical problem while in school but not during class or professional development time, is that formal or informal? If a parent arranges home-based remedial tuition using school textbooks and worksheets, is that formal or informal?

It is the circumstances that might define formality or informality. The place and space alone do not. Learning can happen in any context. Learning is learning; it is neither formal nor informal.

Teachers might equate formal contexts with formal learning. Teachers might also like to think that formal teaching leads to learning, but there is no guarantee of this because such teaching is not always meaningful, just-in-time, or just-for-learners.

Learning does not need a formal invitation to learn, a defined set of objectives, clearly delivered content, or even well constructed tests.

Learning happens when the learner is ready. Learners are most ready when there is a need to learn or when there is cognitive dissonance. This then affects motivation and curiosity.

Simply consider how people learn from YouTube when they are driven to learn a new dance move to show off, to play the guitar to impress someone, to try a new recipe to improve their repertoire, or to try a new gaming strategy to outwit an opponent.

A skillful and caring teacher can create this same drive in class. A group of boys exchanging tips in a school bathroom on how to bring and hide cigarettes creates the same conditions.

When I shared the tweet above in response to a question about designing “modern learning environments”, I was not being flippant. I was trying to send a message.

Focusing only on classrooms or schools so that they become “modern learning environments” is misguided practice. It might not recognize that learning happens everywhere and anywhere.

Students can and do learn while they are on public transport, waiting in a queue, or seated on a “throne” at home. They typically do this with a smartphone in their hands.

Google knows how important mobile access and resources are so much so that it is changing search returns to favour mobile-enabled sites. Do schools recognize the importance of mobile access and contexts? Or are schools still concerned about the physical classroom instead of enabling learning with mobile devices?

School authorities and vendors can do all they can to make schools and classrooms safe for learning and to simulate “informal” spaces, and they should for the good of learners and learning. But they should not do this under the guise of the false dichotomy of formal or informal learning.

I would rather time and resources be spent helping teachers reconnect with what learning is like and how learning takes place than creating “special rooms” for teaching. Learning is learning; it is neither formal nor informal.

The moderator at this week’s #asiaED slow chat posted this question:

I had to respond with:

I had to because MLEs are not confined to the classroom.

Kids and adults alike learn while they are in the loo, travelling on public transport, or waiting in a queue. They study or even have remedial tuition at McDonald’s and Starbucks.

One way to rethink the design of classrooms is to make them look more like home or cafes.

In 2009, my former workplace, the National Institute of Education, Singapore, took the initiative to convert all the tutorial rooms on the ground floor to “collaborative classrooms”. There were almost 70 of such rooms and several other special rooms on other floors.

I shared a few photos of these places with this message: MLEs can be designed to look like where the learners are already at. If learners are already comfortable in cafes and their living rooms, simulate that.

I also tried to warn that MLEs should not just be about transforming the physical space.

A redesigned classroom can be most impressive to visitors or administrators. But what good is that if teachers teach the same way and students do not learn any differently (e.g., not at all, only in isolation, sans Internet)?

The previous director of NIE provided some anecdotal evidence at a talk about two years ago. As he walked around campus, he could peek through the windows of our collaborative classrooms. He wondered out loud why tutors and professors still seemed to be standing in front. (Background: We had started a professional development programme on using such rooms effectively, but 1) it took time to reach almost 400 instructors), and 2) only the usual suspects and the already converted tended to show up.)

It is easy to paint walls, buy new furniture, and change layouts. These also cost a fair bit of money.

It is more difficult to change teacher mindsets and behaviour. But I rarely see such MLE change initiatives include rigorous professional development. The cost of not doing this is even higher, not because it is expensive but because you spend money to make changes to the outside (the classrooms) without tending to the insides (instructor beliefs and mindsets).

When there is superficial or no pedagogical change, the cost is high because it does little to benefit learners. This can happen when vendors sell only furniture and classroom layouts without considering professional development or student inputs.

Caveat emptor.

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