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Author: Kimberly Hogg

As a child, Kim would take apart anything she could put a screwdriver in to figure out how it worked. Today, she's still interested in exploring the processes and limits of our tools, whether online or in hand.

Kim enjoys exploring and learning about anything and everything. When not at a computer, she enjoys birdsong and the smell of pine needles after a rain.

Kimberly holds an MEd in Information Technology and a BA in Communication Studies.

You can contact Kim here or on Twitter @mskhogg.

Reflection on Personalized Learning in Education

This post was originally submitted as an assignment for my teaching certification program.

Approaches to Personalized Learning

Special Education in Finland

I found the normalization of Special Education in the Finnish example to be comforting and visionary. Is it any wonder that the Finnish system leads the world? Well-educated, well-compensated teachers in a highly regarded profession produce winning results- there’s no surprise here that the combination works. What is difficult, however, is getting the public support necessary to replicate these results eslewhere.

While many students can benefit from mainstream education, there are still many (around 32%) that fall outside one sigma of variation from the mean (assuming a normal distribution). This wide range of student needs speaks to the need to normalize Special Education (maybe we should just call it “education”), with differentiation done for most students depending on their area of struggle.

School of One

So how to go about that? The School of One has an interesting approach: machine learning and algorhimic student allocation to classrooms, teachers, and various “learning modalities” (did anyone catch more than 3 given specifically?) with daily summative testing, reassessment, and reallocation for the next day. It looks like a combination of Standards Based Grading (the stoplight system the kids talked about with Green-Yellow-Red scores) and Competency Based Education tied to (presumably) the Common Core or New York’s standards.

Pros and Cons

What I liked most about this video was that students didn’t appear to be age-tracked, but rather competency-tracked, with students getting individualized programs based on where they were at and what their goal plans where.

I didn’t find the video was clear on how lesson planning works in this kind of setup, where you don’t know what students you’ll be seeing one day to the next, or what their learning needs are going to be until (presumably) the end of the previous work day. Egads! I also don’t like that all students seem to be taking the same kinds of assessment in the same ways each day. There isn’t the kind of hands-on, integrated display of knowledge cross-curricularly, as can be accomplished in say Project Based Learning. Each skill seems to be tightly encapsulated into a 5-question objective test at the end of the day. Where is the individualization in how students demonstrate knowledge and understanding?

I have two concerns after watching this (and another video on School of One). First, the guy pitching this is a salesman with a disdain for teachers’ unions. Okay, that’s a red flag for me. The other is concerns about the role of teachers as professionals in a system where we are no longer designing, implementing, and completing the assessments of our students. If machines are learning what each students’ individual skills and abilities are, will teachers be necessary? Will we just end up hiring part-time Subject Matter Experts (a la Instructional Design) to come work with students on an as-needed basis instead? If they’re experts, maybe they won’t need the depth of planning if their scope is narrow. Maybe they’ll just log in and do large-group instruction remotely. Who will set the curriculum? Who decides what the students should be learning and what they are learning for?

While the School of One setup is attractive for some reasons, in particular the ability to use big data to individualize a student learning path in ways that are phenomenal, there are a lot of questions I have for where this is going and what the end goals are for this company. The Pearsonification of education has been maybe bolstered by NCLB/IDEA and emphasis on standardized testing, but is that the direction we want to be going? Do we want to drive toward the cheapest option and further standardization under the guise of individualized programming?

Conclusions

There is at least a cultural shift to personalization, some of which is being accomplished with technology. This is true in education and elsewhere. Google’s search algorithm gives personalized results based on tracking of what you read. Amazon gives personalized suggestions of what you might want to buy next. News media has Balkanized into hyper-discreet sources that confirm our own biases and political positions. It is no surprise that personalization for education is following this thread. In our “one-size-fits-one” approach, “Special Education” becomes the mainstream.

The School of One approach is one model for this program. The Sudbury School model is yet another. While these are unique innovations, in combination with the legal and functional changes happening in public K-12 schools, there is a clear shift to greater individualization. What isn’t clear is how to make this function in large institutions with poor student-teacher ratios. Clearly, some re-evaluation of both funding and operations is going to be necessary. Additionally, more professional development in special education and gifted learners may help with the shift from a system with segregated classrooms and subject specialty to integrated, cross-curricular learning models.

Teaching Collaborative Group Work: Day 1

The Need to Change

I’ve noticed that my student project teams don’t always do group work together as well as I think they should, given that they are university students. Haven’t they had lots of opportunity to work in groups before? This shouldn’t be anything new.

What I’m learning, however, is that students need explicit instruction on how to work as a group, since productive group work is not the default. I’ve been working with resources from Edutopia, The Buck Institute for Education, the Productive Group Work book from ASCD, and this handy paper by Phipps and Phipps on Group Norm Setting. I’ve learned that, much like my classroom, it’s important for groups to articulate the norms and values that they want to see from their group members.

The Group Work Lesson

We started with the daily Do Now, which was a survey on Socrative asking students three questions:

  1. Think of some bad experiences working with a group. Why was it a bad experience? [Short Answer]
  2. Think of some good experiences working with a group. Why was it a good experience? [Short Answer]
  3. Generally, how do you feel about working with a group?
    • I love it.
    • I like it, but it’s not my favorite.
    • I don’t feel good or bad about it.
    • I don’t like it, but I can do it.
    • I really hate it.

I use the bell ringer question of the day or short survey to get students thinking about the topic of the lesson, and also to activate the vocabulary they are going to need to work through the day’s tasks. As I work teaching ELLs, our primary goals are language goals, but I try to address content and 21st century skills as much as the language itself. Many of the students have a wide receptive vocabulary, but lack opportunities and experience to turn their receptive skills into productive ones, which is where the Project Based Learning aspect of the class comes in. Today we’re working on collaboration and Social-Emotional Learning to build a solid foundation for their coming group work.

The next task was to put students in groups (redacted), and see how they functioned together. I used today’s class as a test to see how this particular grouping of students would function for the upcoming group work. I was satisfied in general, although there is one student I’m considering moving.

 

The group development task that we shared was to build a house of cards that would hold a film canister with some 100-won coins in it for weight (they are comparable to a quarter in size).

 

 

 

 

Groups started with individual work, where students drew up a design individually for three minutes, and then presented their ideas to their groups. Groups then negotiated on the best way to proceed before being given their cards.

This idea came out of a video on TeacherTV on teaching STEM to middle school students. The teacher for this video is Donna Migdol, and I thought the ways she handled group work were effective and worth trying out, so I’m working on some of that in my classes. I didn’t have time in today’s lessons to work on the “chiming” activity that she used, but I’m sure I’ll get around to it at some point in this project.

So after the introduction, students got to work with 27 plastic-coated cards and 15 minutes of time. They tried, failed, negotiated, tried new ideas, and the winners will get some homemade chocolate chip cookies next week.

 

In the next segment of class, we reflected on our survey questions from the beginning of class, and thought about how we really wanted groups to work. This is an activity taken from the Setting Group Norms paper by Phipps and Phipps.

Phipps and Phipps (and others) argue that it’s better to articulate group expectations and norms than to let them evolve on their own, as this can have negative outcomes. They also emphasize distinguishing norms from rules, as the latter has a top-down approach, whereas norms come from collective participation.

The activity involved large sheets of paper being hung around the room for each group to use to document their thinking in each of the three categories that Phipps and Phipps outlined: How individuals interact, how individuals act toward the group, and how the group acts toward individuals.  The paper by Phipps and Phipps included a lengthy list of idea from students in California, while mine were a little slower due to working in a second language. Their ideas, however, were the same, and it all comes down to mutual respect.

We wrapped up the activity by talking about consensus vs. majority rule, and why that was important to having a healthy group. We didn’t have a lot of time, so we may do some role playing and acting in class to demonstrate what the behaviours look like.

Class ended with our usual Exit Ticket, also on Socrative, with an opportunity for students to give a little extra feedback to me on their feelings about working in a group now they they’ve worked through some activities and talked about how they want groups to operate. I think I may make a poster for the class that includes the results of their first survey with anonymous quotes so they can see their own voices and the opinions of others together. The feelings are repeated by all class members, so seeing the consensus in the classroom may help them understand better that they aren’t alone.

Up Next

Next class I’m planning to have a lesson on group roles and how they function differently but all help move the group toward a common outcome.

Your Thoughts

Have you done any explicit training  on how to work in groups? I’d love to hear about your experiences so that I can learn from how things went in your classroom or group environment. Please leave your comments below.

Creating High Performance Learning Environments

Introduction

When planning to create a learning environment with high expectations for students, it is important to consider some of the existing and popular teaching methods, and consider whether or not these styles promote the type of environment you are looking to establish for your own classroom. Today we are looking at three different scenarios, an elementary STEM class, a Chinese-language elementary maths class, and a Whole Brain high school class, all of which are, or appear to be, in the United States. We’ll look at both the academic and behavioral expectations set by the teachers in each scenario, and consider the norms and procedures for the class, and how these support student performance.

Case Study 1: Roller Coaster Unit

Similar lesson plan by Robert Mace on Glog

Academic Expectations

This lesson and the associated interview demonstrate very high academic standards for these students. They are working across the curriculum, developing skills for planning, financial literacy, knowledge in physics and engineering, and using math skills to track data. They are also developing their “soft skills” or 21st Century skills through communicating, collaborating, being creative and innovative, using critical thinking to evaluate their process and outcomes, and their Career and Life Skills, including social skills, productivity and initiative.

There is a balance here between independent and group work, with students working alone on designs and plans, but then coming together with their group to present their ideas and negotiate which elements they are going to use and test on their roller coasters. Students also have a whole-class opportunity to share their successes and failures with the other teams through the “chiming” activity. In this activity, students can learn from the successes and failures of the other groups without needing to go through the same experiences themselves. One of my favorite maxims has been to “learn from the mistakes of others; you don’t have time to make them all yourself.” This chiming activity promotes exactly that kind of learning, which while indirect is still relevant and valuable.

The other key takeaway here how Ms. Migdol reinforces the use of precise language and vocabulary at each stage. It was great to watch students self-correct when they started to lapse into less formal language, but caught themselves and returned to the higher register. The students seemed very self-aware that they were on camera and that they needed to perform their best for this demonstration. It appears as though Ms. Migdol did a lot of reinforcement work to have the students practice speaking about the aspects of their projects with the appropriate academic terminology, which prepares students for further scientific learning.

Behavior Expectations

There isn’t much demonstrated correction or explanation of expected behaviors in this video, but there is much evidence of a well-practiced group of students in these expected behaviors. Ms. Migdol merely needs to outline what kind of activity is happening next, along with a basic reminder of what that is, and students begin the process. We see students that are familiar with listening to each other, supporting and offering suggestions to other teammates, negotiating without conflict, and cooperating toward an end goal. In each group students have clear roles and know the responsibilities of each role, making it familiar and comfortable for them to operate in their groups.

Norms and Procedures

The norms for this class appear to be tied to 21st Century Skills: cooperation and social skills like showing respect to each other. She has set up roles for each person in the group, creating procedures for each role that are exercised throughout the group activities. Students have choice in which role they take on, as long as all roles are covered. This also ensures that each student is contributing to the group’s progress and productivity.

When working in groups and as a class, students show respect through active listening, turn-taking by raising their hand to contribute, and giving detailed feedback to each other.

Case Study 2: Chinese Immersion Math Lesson

Background on math education in China

Academic Expectations

It’s not entirely clear what the expectations are, but part of that could be not understanding what the teacher says between activities and also the brevity of the clip. It appears that the teacher expects the students to know their multiplication tables so they can chant along, and if students aren’t up to speed with their peers, they will be aware of it as they are not keeping up with the chant. The teacher doesn’t call anyone out for failing to keep up, but the unspoken message here is uniformity of output.

Behavior Expectations

Students are expected to participate in the group chants and recitations of their  times tables. The teacher reminds the students to listen carefully while the other students are giving an answer. When asking for individual answers, students are expected to raise their hands and wait to be called on to give their answer. This part of the lesson is entirely teacher-centered, but as it is only a two-minute clip, it’s impossible to ascertain what expectations exist for other types of activities.

Norms and Procedures

Transitions are handled by group chants as the teacher re-sets for the next activity. Students are well-practiced in these chants, and it creates a short but managed transition between activities in the same lesson. The students are seated in a single group on the carpet in front of the whiteboard.

Case Study 3: Whole Brain Teaching

Whole Brain Teaching website | Introduction to WBT Playlist via Youtube

Academic Expectations

It’s not entirely clear what the academic expectations are from this video. The class seems very teacher-focused, even though students work together, it is on direction and within a very small limit set by the teacher. I don’t see any evidence of higher-order thinking or engagement with the materials here. I don’t see constructivist principals at work here, nor any evidence that the students are developing their own schema.

Behavior Expectations

Students in a Whole-Brain class start out with a recitation of the class rules, which are uniform across WBT classes and have corresponding actions.

Students are expected to engage with the physical aspect of the class, doing the actions that correspond to key terms and ideas in the lesson. Students repeat the mini-lesson in concert after the teacher to their peer(s), reinforcing the information in the mini-lesson.

Norms and Procedures

Trigger words (“class” and “teach”) have a corresponding response from students (“yes” and “okay”), which are said and acted in the same voice and style as the teacher. The style changes from trigger to trigger, maintaining a sense of fun and interest. Silliness is expected and promoted for an atmosphere. that is light but has rigor. They also repeat key instructions like page number and textbook that is being used as they move through the action to complete the instruction.

Summary

Each of these methods holds students to high standards, but the outcomes or values that drive these expectations are not the same in each case. While it is certainly important to hold students to high standards, it is important to also consider the values that these expectations promote, and whether those values are appropriate to the culture and community that we are preparing our students for.

When considering what these values may be, it is worth looking at the norms and procedures that come out of these styles and methods. The norms and procedures will demonstrate what is valued in that environment and promoted by the method, and should match the community and culture’s desired outcomes for their children.

My Students

The students that I’m working with at the moment are first and second year university students at a mid-sized institution in South Korea. These students come from a rigorous education program that produces students who score very well on global education tests, and a system that has traditionally given high degree of respect to teaching as a profession.

Students are accustomed to a direct-instruction, teacher-centered classroom, although the Ministry of Education in 2012 started moving toward a new, constructivist and student-centered curriculum and recently outlawed corporal punishment in classes (Associated Press, 2010) as a violation of students’ human rights and an affront to their dignity. The recency of these changes has created some uncertainty among teachers and concern about behavior, but in my personal experience students do not have any severe behaviorial issues, and classroom management is a simple affair.

While university is a stepping stone to a professional career, for most students in Korea it’s a time to relax a little between the grind of public school and that future career. It’s also an important time for networking, as the networks developed during university will be the core of an adult’s resource community when it comes to both landing a job and advancing in their careers. Some groups of students will even make their own “community chest” that members pay into and that gets drawn on when members have financial need; a type of communal insurance for the friends. The importance of these relationships cannot be overstated.

The values of the students and the culture for this period is on forming and developing strong peer bonds, and as a result, classes and academics, while still important, often come second to social events that serve to enrich these bonds.  While in North America university is comparatively easier to get into and harder to get out of, Korean universities are harder to get into and easier to graduate from. This can cause a strain between my North American values and expectations, and my students’ Korean values and expectations.

Application to My Classroom

I have been working to set high expectations in my classes, but don’t see the WBT working well for my students, as I think it would be too hokey to get them to buy into. The rote memorization, recall and chanting of the Mandarin immersion math class would be familiar, but is hardly engaging in the way I hope to be with my students. As with the STEM class, I use PBL with my classes, and we started the semester off this week with a discussion about expectations and norms. We worked together to establish our class expectations using the guide by Emma Mendiola of San Antonio College.

I am planning to launch our groups in the second half of this week, and will employ the suggestions from Maurice L. Phipps and Cynthia A. Phipps outlined in their paper, “Group Norm Setting: A Critical Skill for Effective Classroom Groups.” Like in Ms. Migdol’s class, I want all my students to have a role and function within their group that doesn’t leave one or two students picking up the slack for the others, as happened with one of my project groups last semester. I will probably also pick up both the chiming activity, and the development of individual proposals as a formative assessment tool. I found that element of the project, and the students’ need to negotiate and advocate for their designs to be both realistic and helpful. The chiming activity was a great way to get students out of their own groups and collaborating through their struggles and finding solutions together, which is also a key aspect of life and work outside of the school environment.

Why Mobile Devices Belong in the Classroom

photo of student hiding mobile device inside textbook
by: Intel Free Press https://www.flickr.com/photos/intelfreepress/ is licensed by by-sa 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

When mobile devices started to become commonplace, teachers quickly found that they had a high potential to be distracting to students during class time, whether merely through the interruption of incoming call or message alerts, to students taking calls and corresponding with others. Cheating through text message, text files and Internet searches via early mobile browsers raised eyebrows and hackles, and quickly mobile phones were outlawed in the classroom.

In truth, mobile phones are disruptive technology. This is even more true in how they have and have yet to affect education than the simple distractions of incoming messages. For several generations now, smartphones have become a game-changer in education, moving from mere communication devices to full-on pocket computers and audio-visual devices. While the distraction elements remain, the potential for these mobile devices to change what is possible in the classroom, along with the need for students to learn self-regulation, demands a re-examination of any bans that are still on the book.

Just why should a teacher be prepared to allow or require students to use mobile devices to achieve learning objectives?

First, because they are powerful tools. Phone is a true misnomer at this point in time: they are creation and viewing devices; they capture video, audio, and imagination; they are a portal to the knowledge and ideas of humanity across time, space, cultures and languages. They can be used to confirm or disprove, to document and display, to research and discover. Mobile devices offer students access to the world through its Internet connection, opportunities to create visual, auditory, and interactive experiences, and connection to students and mentors the world over through chat and conferencing applications. The use of mobile devices, simply put, create opportunities for students to practice and engage at all levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Additionally, mobile devices are ubiquitous. A popular idea is that students are Digital Natives, having grown up with handheld technology. Arguments of students’ inherent prowess aside, many come to class with a computer in their pockets that they engage with in myriad ways until the moment they walk into the classroom. Instead of outlawing this powerful tool, educators and administrators need to encourage students to use these devices, learning about digital citizenship, self-regulation skills, and exactly how powerful these tools can be in service to their owners; skills they may never learn if they are not provided an environment where learning how to do so is valued. If we want our students to be creators, to make connections across subject areas, and to be active participants in their own societies, we need to practice these skills with them on a day-to-day basis with the tools that are available to them. The purpose of school is to prepare students for life outside of the school, and so our classrooms should be the best microcosm of that world that we can create.

Creating an Appropriate Environment

Begin by establishing norms. Work with your students to decide together what is and is not appropriate use of technology, including what various situations demand. Consider courtesy, safety, and responsibility. When students violate the norms, refocus on what you have established together as appropriate, as you would with any other behavior.

Rehearse expected behaviors. We know now that willpower is a limited resource, and that creating habits of desired behaviors takes much less mental effort, reserving our limited willpower. By creating routines and habits triggered by specific classroom events, students are less likely to be distracted by their technology in non-beneficial ways. For example, create a simple opening and closing routine for class that involves turning off notifications and re-enabling them at the end of class. This does two things: it creates a normalization of a distraction-free sanctuary, and also a confidence in students that they will have their life returned to “normal” at the end of this period. If there is no “closing ceremony,” students may forget to turn their notifications back on, leading them to be more reluctant to turn them off in the first place. Look for other places where routines and habits can streamline your use of technology with students, such as setting up a home screen that is specific to educational apps, and deploy these routines with your students.

Suggested Activities

Scavenger Hunt   Use QR codes containing text, links to images or video clues, puzzles, GPS coordinates, or other information to lead students on a scavenger hunt in the classroom, playground, or school campus. Answers or hints to guide students to the next clue as they work cooperatively to solve a larger puzzle or problem. Students learn critical thinking skills to apply knowledge across situations to solve puzzles and to work cooperatively toward a goal. Content of the puzzle questions and hints can be related to a wide variety of subject matter, depending on curricular needs.

Geocaching    Have students join the world’s largest game of hide-and-seek! Learn about GPS coordinates and how to navigate. Find out what geocaches are in your local community. Then, have students choose some historical, natural, or other points of interest around the community (or research on the local area and determine what is worth sharing with the world), and then create caches for these locations. When complete, stash the caches and create a cache profile on a geocaching website. This helps students learn both navigational skills and opens opportunities for cross-curricular exploration that is local and relevant.

Personal Portfolios    Have students create an online portfolio of their learning in a walled-garden scenario to demonstrate their learning to the teacher, their parents, and their own records. Use mobile devices to capture images and video of learning process and outcomes, along with text descriptions where helpful or necessary. Have students make connections between products, processes, and learning goals, articulating each. When students move into finding employment, they will be able to draw on this skill and examples as they prepare resumes and portfolios for potential employers.

Project-Based Learning

What is Project-Based Learning?

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.

Where can I learn more?

The Buck Institute for Education (BIE) is a not-for-profit organization with a mission to get Project-Based Learning (PBL) in every kind of classroom at every level.

 

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.

References

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

Competency-Based Education and Moodle

I had the good fortune these past two weeks to present on Competency-Based Education (CBE) and Moodle. The first was at the Faculty Education Special Lunch Lecture on October 5 at PaiChai University. Dr Park Jong-Dae of the Department of Engineering invited me to reprise the presentation today for the E-Learning Society of Korea.

20161005_134455
At the PaiChai Lunch Lecture

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.

The credit hour, originally known as the Carnegie Unit, was originally developed to count faculty work toward pensions. It morphed into a measure to track student participation and learning, albeit poorly. The Carnegie Foundation completed a two-year study of the credit hour in 2015, which found that although the credit hour is a poor measure of learning, there is nothing more suitable that exists presently that can be adopted as an alternative. A standard method of measuring competency has yet to be developed.

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.

Conclusion

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.

The Presentation

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.

Schools: Dump Email and Start Slack-ing

The Problem: Too Much Mail

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.

email slack Comparison
How email and Slack stack up where it matters

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.

How to get started

Talk to your coworkers about Slack. Install the app on your phone and desktop, and start using it within your department. Set up “channels” (like a chatroom) for whatever projects or conversations you have going on.

The channels all start with the “#” symbol, and #general and #random are set up as defaults. An example list of department channels might look like this:

  • #general (for department-related news)
  • #ad_hoc_committee_A
  • #discipline_issues
  • #late_dismissal_tardies
  • #Materials_and_Resources
  • #meeting_agenda
  • #random (for off-topic discussion)
  • #Social_Events
  • #any_topic_you_like

Okay, that’s great. Next, you can set up some preferences for each channel such as:

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.

You can also send direct messages (DMs) between members when there’s something only they need to know.

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.

Ed Tech Tip: Portable Apps for Labs and the Mobile Teacher

I’ve talked before a little bit about the Portable Apps platform, but I want to talk a little bit more about it today. Specifically, I want to address its use for teachers who move from classroom to classroom, and for students in computer labs. For Mac environments, please check out OS X Portable Applications.

What is Portable Apps?

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:

  • presentations
  • audio/video
  • radio
  • audio recording and editing
  • word processing
  • databases and database management
  • XAMPP
  • touch type training
  • ear training
  • space simulator
  • graphics and photo editing
  • CAD
  • web browsing
  • FTP
  • RSS and podcasts
  • antivirus
  • screen recording
  • timers
  • file syncing

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.

Take a look at the software available in portable versions. There may be something here that would help you in your classroom.

For the computer lab

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.

The Takeaway

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.

Technology Plan for Basic English courses at Korean Universities

Overview

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.

Vision Statement:

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.

Mission Statement:

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.

Download the Complete Plan:

HOGG Technology Plan for University

Teaching: Iteration and Innovation

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.