PBL is a constructivist, inquiry-based learning pedagogy that is often cross-disciplinary and based in “real life.” Gone is the question, “When am I ever going to use this?” and is replaced with “What do I need to learn so I can solve this problem?” With a final presentation that involves the community, students have accountablilty beyond the classroom, as well as acknowledgement and praise from a wider support base.
With clear outcomes, the development of projects can be tied to local or national learning standards, including the Common Core.
BIE provides professional development, training, and sample projects to help teachers get up and running with PBL, regardless of where they are or what age they teach.
As a teacher who is beyond tired of “chalk and talk,” and who recognizes that my students need tangible, presentable outcomes from their studies beyond their transcripts, having my students work toward creating a portfolio of their skills is critical. I know I don’t do PBL as well as I should, but with practice and the tools available through BIE I’m sure I’ll improve.
One of the key areas in which I have difficulty is in the final projects and presentation to the community. Because my students are EFL learners, the host community doesn’t really communicate in the target language of the course. This makes authentic use and demonstration of their skills difficult. It also makes it difficult to demonstrate to them the authentic usefulness of the language in their day to day lives.
I was happy to learn that BIE has expanded their sample, Gold-Standard project samples significantly since I visited a few years ago, and that they have regular updates to their blog and resources that I should be paying attention to more closely! I’ve also added them to my Twitter feeds. It’s always helpful to have good models when working toward a goal.
Overall, I must commend BIE for their work and achievements in promoting PBL to and proviidng education in PBL for teachers around the world. Their resources are simply top-notch and worth checking out for anyone who is interested in either learning more about PBL or getting better at their own practice.
Edutopia is another organization that promotes the use of PBL in the classroom. Edutopia is a project of the George Lucas Educational Foundation, which is “focused on practices and programs that help students acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, skills and beliefs to achieve their full potential” (source).
Edutopia’s website provides access to research and information on PBL, as well as guides and other reseources for teachers.
Buck Institute for Education Website (n.d.). Retrieved from: www.bie.org
Edutopia (n.d.) Vision and Mission. Retrieved from: https://www.edutopia.org/mission-vision
Korea is moving quickly toward competency-based education. The Ministry of Education recently released a new curriculum (2015) for K-12 learners that is transitioning to Competency-Based Education and, according to faculty at PaiChai I have spoken with, is the direction the MOE is pressing post-secondary education. It is not clear whether there is any relationship between this shift to CBE in post-secondary education and the larger structural reforms to universities that is underway (see: “Structural Reforms in Universities,” Major Tasks, Ministry of Education).
Competency tracking is a new feature for Moodle, released with version 3.1, and it shows a lot of promise. While immature and overdue, the update allows for instructors using CBE and even Standards-Based Grading (SBG) to better track the learning of their students in specific skills toward specific outcomes (not to be confused with the Moodle “Outcomes” feature). There has been discussion in the Moodle Development forums about tying Competencies to Rubrics and the gradebook, which is a feature I would most certainly welcome.
There is at least perceived resistance against the transition to CBE at the post-secondary level in Korea, as it will require an overhaul of the curriculum. Considering the changing demands of employers to portfolios of demonstrated competency and success, increasing automation and the current presumption that university education is the path to employment, it may be appropriate to reconsider the role of the academy in society. I know this is an unpopular opinion in some circles, but the shift is already underway (the drop in number of tenured faculty vs. adjuncts alone is indication of a shift in the role of university education).
As the technology sector has shown, a university education is not even necessary for employment. André Spicer, professor of Organizational Behaviour at Cass Business School, City University of London reveals that in the U.S., for example, about twice as many students (30-40%) are being encouraged to go through university as there are jobs that require a university education (15-20%) [Spark Episode 333, starting at 9:04]. If employers are seeking a competency portfolio that does not require a university education, and the university wishes to stay relevant—and perhaps more importantly solvent—it is at least worth discussing changes to how we learn and work that are no longer on the distant horizon.
The Situation Now: Seat Time
The current system is built on a system of credit hours, in which one credit hour equals one hour of student-professor contact and two hours of outside reading and homework per week. At the K-12 level there are a set number of teaching days, but there has been a clearer reliance on standards to be addressed and assessed on the student learning path. Unfortunately, standardized testing still reigns supreme in terms of determining whether or not teachers and schools are passing muster in each of these standards.
This doesn’t mean that there are no measures by which to determine competency. Rather, education groups, professional organizations and others have been using competency frameworks for professional designations and certifications for some time now. The IEEE has a competency framework for software engineers, and the ACTFL a set of standards for foreign language teachers. At the post-secondary level, it makes sense to look at competency frameworks for professional designations, and have students develop their skills towards those ends. While the university can add additional requirements for the awarding of a degree (in terms of liberal arts education, interdisciplinary content, or other specific areas), working with business and professional organizations to craft learning tracks for each matriculating student.
I understand the argument that it’s not the role of the academy to create workers for specific jobs. I understand that university education is not designed with employment outcomes in mind. In fact, I used to make that argument myself as an undergrad. That said, it is clearly the expectation of the vast majority of students and those advising them to take on large debts for the sake of their futures. If these are the expectations of society, perhaps the academy needs to shift in that direction if it wishes to stay relevant.
Tracking SBG and Skills in Moodle
To help prepare instructors and schools for this shift, it may be worth starting with assessment methods and working toward reorganization from the course level upward. With a combination of Standards-Based Grading and Mastery Learning, we educators can re-examine our content and learning objectives for the skills and measurable outcomes we wish to see for our students.
Right now the Competencies in Moodle are, as mentioned above, immature. They can currently be assigned to students, cohorts, or courses, but when assessing students using rubrics and pushing toward mastery, there is no direct and easy way to tie competencies to these rubrics or the gradebook. Competencies can be used instead of the gradebook, or alongside of it, but not yet in concert. This is a time-sucking headache for educators who wish to track both for their students (as I do).
Using Competencies requires some administrative access to set up a Competency Framework. If you don’t have administrator access to Moodle, you’ll have to speak with someone who does to either grant you the necessary permissions, or to import a Competency Framework for you, which will require the necessary plugin. If you have a professional set of standards that you wish to work with, or perhaps national education standards, you can work with these.
Competencies have some useful options. First, students are able to upload evidence of learning (or prior learning) and request assessment. These can also appear in an attached portfolio such as Mahara. For each competency, there is the option to set auto-completion with passing grades on particular assignments, or after a string of assignments. These can also be assessed manually. Competencies will follow a student through their learning journey provided that teachers use the same framework.
Treating Competencies as Standards allows you to work around Moodle’s lack of support for Standards-Based Grading with a Mastery Learning evaluation scale. providing your standards are worded as demonstrable skills, and your scale is universal, it is easy to map SBG onto the Competencies framework.
When a student logs in to Moodle, they are able to see a progress bar that shows how their skills are developing as a whole, with feedback for each competency and links to the associated tasks/assignments, if you have linked them together.
While a bit hodge-podge at the moment, Moodle is moving in the right direction for teachers and districts working with SGB, and offers a promising future in support of CBE.
If you are interested in the slides for the presentation, they are below. I am also interested in engaging in a conversation on CBE, SBG, Moodle, and making it all fit together. Please feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts on any or all of these topics. We improve by working together.
Teachers and administrators are familiar with email, which makes it a convenient tool for communicating within and across departments. Maybe a little too convenient.
If your inbox is like that of many teachers, there are hundreds of unread messages in your inbox. Things you don’t need to know. Questions you don’t need to answer. Social messages. Mass-mailed jokes. Single-line reply-all messages intended for one person. And, somewhere in the thick of it all, that one email that is actually relevant and important.
How on earth does anyone have the time to get through the backlog, let alone stay current on information they need?
The Solution: Start Slack-ing
Slack is a communication platform that has taken all manner of working teams by storm, and for good reason. Slack helps you filter through the mass of communication you receive and focus only on conversations that matter most. It also allows you to stop by the virtual water cooler and check the social pulse of the organization.
People who use Slack report some pretty remarkable outcomes:
48.6% reduction in emails.
25.1% reduction in meetings.
79% of users agree their team culture has improved. [source]
Slack automatically filters messages into specific topic streams, allowing you to focus on what’s most important to you at the moment. Your supervisor’s jokes stay in an off-topic area, while their time-sensitive messages get your immediate attention.
As you can see from the chart to the right, Slack does the things email does, but it does them better. Need to share a document? Check. Need to hold a quick conversation to make a decision? Check. Give a situation update? Check.
These settings allow you to filter out the noise and only pay attention to the conversations that matter most to you. You can stay abreast of what’s going on without mentally processing the content of the message, and whether it needs your immediate attention, dozens of times each day.
At this point, Slack doesn’t cost anything, and that’s great. In fact, your school may only need to upgrade if message archiving or some other features are important (for legal reasons, of course).
Summary: Leave Email to Outsiders
Email still has its place, and that’s for communicating outside your teams. When having conversations with parents, school boards, or other outside stakeholders, email can still be a great tool. It’s a great way to create a written record of communication should you ever need it.
When it comes to conversations, sharing information, and getting work done in a team, however, put your conversations on Slack and start making progress.
Portable Apps is a platform for launching Windows-based applications (programs, software) from a USB storage device (thumb drive, memory stick, etc). You choose which open source software suits your needs, install them on your USB drive, and then have access to them on any computer running the Windows operating system. You can use it for:
audio recording and editing
databases and database management
touch type training
graphics and photo editing
RSS and podcasts
and a host of other things, with more than 300 portable apps available.
Why use portable apps?
If you’re a teacher, you want to have your own files available to you, along with the software to use them, but may be limited in your ability to customize the computers you use. For example, you may not have administrator rights to computers at your school, especially in the computer lab. Another situation is when you don’t have your own classroom and need to use different computers in different classes. In both situations, portable apps can help.
For the mobile teacher
If you move from class to class, having your files and applications on a single USB can make it possible for you to bring technology into your classroom without relying on the cloud. If your school’s internet service is slow or unreliable, it may be hard to rely on services like Google Drive. Portable Apps allows you to have your files in your pocket for presentation on any computer with a USB drive.
It’s more than presentations, however, as PowerPoint allows you to save files as a self-launching presentation that can be saved to your USB drive. One program I use frequently is the countdown timer. By projecting the image of the timer for the students, they can work on time management skills, know that I am going to move to the next activity when time is up, and it also keeps me on schedule.
Another go-to for me for a long time was having Google Chrome or Firefox on my thumb drive. The computers at school only had Internet Explorer and would reset at night, so any downloaded software wouldn’t be there next time you taught. Because IE was (is?) so awful at displaying websites, having another option was a necessity, and portable apps made it possible.
If you teach in a lab where you or students are unable to install software, and getting permission or having it done for you is difficult, consider using Portable Apps. Each student can have their own thumb drive quite cheaply; in fact, they probably already do. The wide variety of software available gives you a decent chance of finding something useful for your classroom.
This also may help keep your system administrator a little happier, as you can now manage your own class’ software needs without needing to involve them.
The benefit of portability also means that when a student needs to take their USB drive home with them to complete some work, they have all the needed software in their pocket. Just remember to have students make a backup, such as emailing the file to themselves if they don’t have dropbox or another service.
Portable Apps allow you to customize any computer in terms of its software for your own use in the classroom, or for your students’ needs. Nothing is installed on the computer itself, so you don’t need to involve your system administrator to get permission to install and run these programs. They also allow you and your students to have the same software at school and at home if you take your USB with you. USBs are cheap and easily replaced, so as long as your working files are backed up, if you lose your portable apps, it’s easy to set up a new drive with the same programs you had before.
The following general assessment is a modified version of Thirteen Ed’s (n.d.) Technology Plan Template. It provides a general overview of the current situation and future goals for technology integration in the basic English Conversation classes.
To create a holistic learning environment with student-centered learning approaches in which multiple learning styles are both recognized and accommodated. This holistic environment will address academic, mental, and physical growth and development. Students will be prepared for employment, citizenship and life-long health and wellness. This will be realized through partnerships with parents and the larger community employing appropriate technology, internships and other resources to benefit and enhance student outcomes.
Basic English courses at the tertiary level will align with the Korean Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology’s (Major Tasks, n.d.) goals of developing a STEAM- based education system, serving to enhance and grow students’ communication skills with the enhancement of appropriate technologies.
Goals and Objectives:
Through technology, students will learn to employ tools that enhance communication, interact with global citizens and their perspectives, and gain preparation for the future through collaborative problem solving.
Iteration is at the core of teaching. Try, fail, rethink, revisit, reevaluate, retry: this is the heart of teaching the same courses year after year. It’s constantly necessary to innovate. The thing that worked this year isn’t going to work forever; the students I have today are not the students I will have next semester, regardless of how similar they may seem on the surface. The product development cycle is akin to how curriculum, classes and teaching develops over time.
While I reject the notion of the digital native, the reality is that our students need to be able to use and understand the technologies they are immersed in. Many of my students (and those of the teachers I talk to) don’t know half of what I do about using technology. Their smart phones are merely an entertainment device with a texting tool and a calling system attached. It is my duty as a teacher to make them think about these tools in a new way.
To do this, I need to move my curriculum in a new direction. Sure, I teach students how to write better paragraphs and speak with greater fluency. Any driven student can do this on their own, and any unmotivated student can hire a taskmaster to drive them through the process. This is not my role.
My role is to have my students think and consider themselves and their world in a new way. Yes, I’ll help you improve your grammar and pronunciation, but what I truly want is to empower you to use your tools to create change in your own corner of the world. Through learning how to use their tools, make connections between their experiences, and view things in a new way, I help them start to develop into game-changers. English and technology are just two tools on the path to change.
Update: [March 29, 2014] My opinion on gamification has certainly evolved. While gamification provides some great external motivation, mere use of badges, leaderboards and points has its drawbacks. Next week I’m releasing my literature review on gamification and academic performance. Stay tuned!
Summary: The PoodLL plugin for Moodle offers EFL and ESL teachers the opportunity to do 1-on-1 assessment of learners, provide timely and specific feedback, and to supply students with personalized listening files for pronunciation practice. Learners need access to a computer with video and audio recording capabilities, which is standard in most laptops and smartphones produced in since 2009. Learners can record live to the Moodle website via the PoodLL plugin, or can upload a file to the server. File size should be considered when determining the length of the assigned video.
I’m experimenting with a new Moodle plugin with my EFL students (university freshmen). As my classes have about 25 students each, I find it hard to get around to each student in a timely manner to assess their speaking on specific metrics. The PoodLL plugin allows me to give formative feedback to my students in a timely manner and with individual attention. The plugin requires the students to use a computer with a video camera and microphone, which the PoodLL plugin can access directly (a smart phone, which all of my students have, works well here). Otherwise, teachers can make the option for uploading of files available. Be careful about the length of the assigned video and the maximum upload capabilities of your Moodle server. Keeping my videos short prevents any file size issues I may otherwise encounter.
Each assignment is a cloze assignment for the unit, designed to exercise specific grammar and vocabulary within a real-world context. I set a speaking target of 1 minute for the activity, but anything within 30 seconds of this target receives full marks. There is also another line in my rubric for the associated grammar in the task. I use the feedback boxes for detailed criticism, and the general feedback box for anything outside of the assessed material. I also have the PoodLL feedback (audio MP3 with download option) available to me to give specific feedback and examples where pronunciation needs attention.
Because I keep the assignment short (which is real; few of us orate for minutes at a time in a conversational setting), it’s achievable for students, and I can mark them all within an hour. As they are videos of the students, if I get interrupted I’m easily able to get back on track without keeping a live student waiting. I also can go back and review sections where I can’t understand the student to give pointed feedback on problem areas. Students can also review these sections to see where communication breakdown occurred.
Here’s an example using the second assignment:
From WorldView 1, Unit 16: In the Cafe
Grammar focus: modals for ordering (would like, will have, can I…?)
Vocabulary: Foods, quantities, money amounts
You are calling a catering company (Lunch Munchies, page 75) to order food and drinks for a party. Start your video AFTER the caterer answers the phone.
Caterer: Hello? This is Lunch Munchies. How may I help you?
(Start your video here):
You: Hello. This is (NAME). (Why you are calling). (What you want to order). (Party Date and Place). (Your Phone Number).
The minimum possible score for this rubric is 0 points and it will be converted to the minimum grade available in this module (which is zero unless the scale is used). The maximum score 4 points will be converted to the maximum grade.
Intermediate scores will be converted respectively and rounded to the nearest available grade.
If a scale is used instead of a grade, the score will be converted to the scale elements as if they were consecutive integers.
Between 0:30 and 1:30
Too Short/Too Long
Used (with errors)
In addition to the rubric, it is possible to associate specific outcomes with these assignments, allowing teacher and student to track progress with regard to specific standards, not just an assignment grade. I like having this option as it helps me better assess exactly where weaknesses are occurring and to what degree.
When the students log in and check their assignments, they will see something like this:
The student gets specific feedback about each part of the rubric if available, and also gets feedback about their pronunciation, as this presented a problem for this particular student. I recorded an audio file for them to compare against their own video and speech patterns. They can even download the file as an MP3 for their own practice.
So far I’m really enjoying using this plugin with my students, and I’ll be doing a mid-term assessment in a few weeks to see how they are responding to the assignment.
I have questions about how this might work for families with members living away, and even more how they might help students avoid feeling the “distance” in distance education. I wonder if this would allow students to have a workspace where they could set up such a system and be online to meet with other students for more of the discussion and unplanned conversation that happens in regular programs. The idea of a portal where you could see who was around and could instantly “drop in for a chat” opens the potential for synchronous conversations that are not place-dependent. I think there are a lot of advantages here over Skype, in which there are several barriers to success. With Perch and it’s set-it-and-forget-it approach, there are interesting options for ad hoc group formation that I find intriguing.
I also envision this “portal” as an opportunity to hold distance office hours for students. It’s not always possible for my students to get in to meet me at my designated office hours, but if they were able to hop on to a virtual chat and get help, or see I’m around at other times on the portal, I could potentially increase access for my students. It’s currently only available on iOS, but they’re looking for an Android developer, so that’s obviously not too far down the road (which is essential for me here in Korea, where Samsung dominates).
I had a student tell me today our final project changed the direction of her life. Although she is an English major, she has decided to use her English skills as an instructional vehicle to teach Korean, her native tongue. These are the moments you live for as a teacher- learning that something you designed had a profound impact on the life of a student. I’ll be sure to put the project together in the existing and a revised form to share.