Another dot in the blogosphere?

Posts Tagged ‘students

I read two recent news articles [1] [2] about a local bank providing 6,000 kids with watches that manage their spending in and outside school. I wondered if there was an unseen opportunity for learning.
 

 
Might the provision of watches be combined with coding and making so the kids try some hacking? This is something that happened in programmes like Negroponte’s OLPCs and Mitra’s hole-in-the-wall computers.

While such actions might be viewed negatively, they are not only an opportunity to learn by tinkering, they are also ripe for learning about ethical practices and responsible behaviour.

Not every hack is bad. Buyers of IKEA products have been hacking them for a long time. The results can be creative and even better than the original.

A Smart Nation is not just about “smart” devices. It is more about smart people making smart choices. One of the best ways to get to that state is learning by doing and learning from mistakes.

What is our next smart move?

It has been a year since I left NIE/NTU to be an independent education consultant. Last week I put myself back into an NTU tutorial room for the first of a series of workshops.

Participants in individual learning mode during a segment of the workshop.

The workshops are designed for teaching assistants and graduate students who wish to work on their teaching muscles. However, the overall course design promises to focus not primarily on teaching, but on understanding the learner of today and processes of learning. This design was what drew me in.

At the mass briefing for participants, I tweeted a question that one of them asked:

The question excited me simply because this instructor-to-be was already thinking like his learners.

As is my habit, I opted to break out of the institutional LMS whenever possible and provide resources more openly and logically in a Google Site (GS). The GS also allowed me to embed unsanctioned but simple and powerful tools like YouTube, Padlet, and AnswerGarden.

  • GS was simply a platform for organizing questions, resources, and tools logically.
  • Information was primarily delivered by YouTube videos.
  • Padlet provided spaces for individual and small group reflection.
  • AnswerGarden was useful for rising above and getting a sense of what was important to the group as a whole.

Participants in think-pair-share mode during the workshop.

As usual, I selected tools that were pedagogically neutral. For example, I used Padlet to present questions and resources, and then to collect responses for both individual reflective work and for think-pair-share.

However, a tool like AnswerGarden collects inputs and creates word clouds from them. It was better for rising above and whole-class discussions.

Note 1: I did not emphasize strongly enough to submit each idea individually. Some responses had two or more ideas despite the character limit. But it is quite obvious what the class thought about how student today learn: With Google, YouTube, online videos.

Note 2: AnswerGarden has 20-character responses that you can change to 40 characters. The tool is optimized for the desktop and not yet mobile friendly. I hope that its creators deliver on the promise it made (see tweets below).

I focused on putting my participants in their students’ shoes. For example, when watching a YouTube video together, I played the first eight-minute video at faster and faster speeds. This is what many students do because it saves time. As the video was old, speeding it up also mimicked the shorter, faster paced videos of today.

But I held back on modelling everything. For example, after the first video, I told my participants to watch the remaining two videos on their own and answer some questions. Their notes were to be transferred to a shared Padlet later.

Anyone who has watched videos and tried to take notes at the same time knows that this is not that straightforward. Here are two main strategies I observed. One was splitting the screen up based on function and purpose.

Only a handful did this as they needed systems, typically laptops, with high enough screen resolutions to do this.

The more common strategy was to watch the video in one tool, e.g., a device with a screen, and record notes in another, e.g., another device. Only one or two hand-wrote notes and at least two worked exclusively on their phones. Most of the participants opted to use two devices.

As with most learning opportunities, there are at least three elements that a facilitator can manipulate: Content, context, and connection.

Most instructors focus on content and its delivery. This does not necessarily take into account the readiness of the learner.

The context for the graduate students and teaching assistants is not immediate as they are unlikely to be teaching in a university in a full time position. Then the danger is that the concepts and experiences they had in the workshop seem theoretical.

However, it helps that the physical and social contexts are like the ones they would eventually teach in. A facilitator can toggle them between learner (current context) and instructor (future context) roles while reflecting in each state. The context strategy might be perspective-taking via these main questions:

  • How/When/Where do you learn best?
  • How were you taught?
  • How do students of today learn?
  • How might we teach?

The perspective-taking then helps participants connect with the concepts and principles that they process during the workshop. The thought process might be: This is what I do and how I was taught, but the learner of today is/is not like me. Therefore, this is how I might teach differently.

ECG is an acronym for electrocardiogram. I had an ECG earlier this week, but it was not about my heart. I volunteered to share some thoughts at a school’s Education and Career Guidance event.

As with other events which are designed so that I give, I received much in return. Here are a few of my takeaways from the event.

Many thanks to this group for giving me the permission to share this photo.

The students were prepared with some guiding questions, but we found much of this scaffold unnecessary. When we made meaningful connections, questions and answers flowed naturally.

For me this reinforced the importance of being personable and personal as an educator.

Being personable is being approachable, having a smile that comes from deep within, and above all sounding human instead of high-and-mighty. Being personal is sharing meaningful events or stories. This sort of sharing is sincere and connects with heart and mind.

For example, when I introduced myself I mentioned that I was married to one of the teachers in the school. That naturally piqued interest and generated a Q&A game.

I also noticed all members of one group were armed with smartphones. So instead of answering the “What do you do?” and “Why do you do it?” questions the standard way, I asked the students to Google me. It was my way of showing them that:

  1. they should use the tools they already have,
  2. they could teach themselves, and
  3. it was important to be Googleable in a good way.

All three are important in modern work. If that is not career advice and guidance, I do not know what is.

I took the opportunity to ask different groups of students what they thought about the state of technology use in school compared to their personal lives, what games they played, and what social media tools they preferred. I will focus on their social media habits since that was the topic I discussed with all of them.

Almost without exception, the students seemed to favour Instagram. Some were on Twitter, and if they were, they preferred to keep private accounts. YouTube was also popular, but it is not really a social media platform if the behaviour is largely consumptive. Only a few had heard of or used more current tools like Snapchat, Meercat, or Periscope.

The serendipity ship sailed by because a tweep shared this the next day:

Her students were slightly older, but they had a similar evolutionary social media profile.

Take one or two accounts and you have anecdotes; collect more anecdotes in a disciplined way and you have data. Groups like comScore, TheNextWeb, and MindShift provide similar anecdotes and data about how teenagers use social media.

The more important question is whether teachers know and care enough that their students are on such platforms. If they do, the next question is whether teachers use appropriate strategies (read: non-LMS, non-traditional).

Students and teachers have different expectations of social media. For example, teachers seem to forget how they use social media in their own lives and resort to push strategies instead of pull.

Push strategies include making announcements, giving instructions, requiring online discussions of a certain quantity by a certain time, etc. These are pushed towards students and rely on an external locus of control (the teacher).

Pull strategies, on the other hand, originate from the students, a shared event, a common interest, or some other internal locus of control. No one has to tell them to take a photo (like the one above) and share it on Instagram, to talk about Amos Yee or Taylor Swift on Twitter, or to discuss homework on Facebook.

I let some of the students know that one of the things I do now is try to show teachers how to unlearn old habits and pick up new value systems for teaching. The secret sauce is this: Teachers have to use social media in their own lives and transfer what is good and useful to class. It is social first, not content first.

One student asked me if I could come back to her school and tell her teachers how to do that. I would love to. I can, but will the school leadership or staff developer even bother?


Video source

In this video Noam Chomsky explains the problems with assessment: The way they are misused, misaligned, and misappropriate.

It is no surprise then that a Secret Teacher wrote the following article in The Guardian about how tests seemed to be dumbing down her students.

The teacher bemoans:

My students are bright, engaged and well-behaved, but there is something missing: they cannot think.

The Secret Teacher goes on to blame a focus on exams and I agree with the teacher for the most part. But tests are not the only thing to blame for students who do not know how to think independently.

Teachers who spoon feed, stifle thought, or fail to stay relevant are just as culpable.

For instance, the teacher said:

Last week I caught another of my A-grade students using his phone in the lesson. As a starter exercise, I told them to think of as many advantages as they could of being on the UN security council. “What are you doing?” I asked. “I’m googling the list of advantages,” came his wary reply. I was flabbergasted. I tried to explain that there is no list of advantages, but that I wanted his own views.

I am confident that the Secret Teacher is also a Good Teacher. But she also sounds like a traditional one in that she is averse to searching for Googleable answers. Perhaps she did not know how to take advantage of a now natural behaviour to show her students how to think, act, and write critically after Googling.

Most people would eventually realize that the most important factor in a schooling or educational system is the quality of its teachers. Those that join the profession are self-selecting by choice and pre-selected by institutes of teacher education.

But only the exceptional step up to deal with the problems with assessment or learn how to skilfully promote critical and creative thinking in a conservative system. The rest need professional development and the mindset of lead learners to do this.


http://edublogawards.com/files/2012/11/finalistlifetime-1lds82x.png
http://edublogawards.com/2010awards/best-elearning-corporate-education-edublog-2010/

Click to see all the nominees!

QR code


Get a mobile QR code app to figure out what this means!

My tweets

Archives

Usage policy

%d bloggers like this: