Tag Archives: teaching

How to nurture a community of online learners⤴

from

Community.....
Community…..” flickr photo by Kamaljith shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

I’ve been involved in open learning for several years now. It started almost by accident, when some guy called Dave ran a crazy learning experience that we called rhizo14, carried on serendipitously into a sister experience called CLMOOC, and gradually became a part of my daily ritual as I started participating in Daily Creates. Much of what happens in these open, online experiences can appear to be random and unstructured, but beneath and behind them is a set of core principles and values and a tried and tested design. Those can be broadly summed up as belonging to an educational framework called connected learning. That’s helped me to learn some tricks to help all of us (staff and students) to teach and learn online. They’re at the end of this post, for those wanting to skip straight to the punchline.

Connected learning is a work in progress. It begins from an (intuitively plausible, I think) set of beliefs in the value of learning that is interest-driven, peer-supported and academically relevant, and harnesses the power of social media in order to make these types of learning better integrated into learners’ lives while attempting to make it accessible to anyone who wants to participate (equity is a core value). As such, it is platform and technology agnostic, although the values of open education are central to what practitioners do.

At the heart of connected learning is the thought that we live, nowadays, in a participatory culture. Sometimes people describe this as “Web 2.0”, but participatory culture is actually a richer concept than that. Henry Jenkins contrasts the concept of “interactivity”, which he describes as a relationship between a customer and a software company and a property of some social media platforms, and “participation” which is a relationship between people (which can be facilitated by use of social media). This means that we can’t take student engagement for granted, we have to explicitly design it into our courses. For those familiar with the terminology, I might use this distinction to explain the differences between xMOOCs and cMOOCs. I say this to note a difference, and not to imply that cMOOCs are always superior – knowledge acquisition and participation in learning are not, imo, contradictory concepts – each has its place. Anna Sfard makes this point better than I could.

To an outsider, learning in the open can look unstructured and random, and those new to this type of learning and teaching can feel overwhelmed, out of their depth, unsure of their own abilities, frustrated, scared or even angry. This goes for both learners (often called participants) and educators (often called facilitators). This is why it is so important to design these experiences carefully, and to think carefully about the types of support that can be provided. I think, in the interesting times that lie ahead of us, we are all going to need all the support we can get – both to keep ourselves going, and to help our learners. Teaching and learning online can be an isolated experience, as those of us who do it know only too well.

So how can all of this help us now? First of all I should stress that I’m not suggesting that everybody immediately abandons whatever they are doing and redesign their courses so that they are connected learning experiences – I’m not trying to make more work for anyone. What I am going to tell you about is some tried and tested strategies that have helped the community that I am a part of to emerge and continue. I’m not pretending to have invented any of these strategies either – just to have used or experienced them for myself.

  • Remember that your learners will be in many different time zones, some of which will have better connectivity than others. People who can’t participate are likely to feel very left out and uncared for. Think about asynchronous activities as well as synchronous ones.
  • Some learners will have state of the art technology, others … won’t. Think about designing activities/resources that can load on different devices.
  • Realise that there is no such thing as a digital native: some (staff and students) will find it easy to adapt to this new way of teaching and learning others … won’t. We can’t predict who will and won’t adapt. Think about how to support staff and students who just can’t work out how to log in/submit/engage.
  • Don’t rely on one platform or one mode of delivery. Systems could be overloaded, or not available for a particular device, or not available in a geographical area (YouTube content, for example, can be restricted by geographical area). Yes, this could mean duplicating important content/messages in order to ensure that everyone who needs can access them.
  • Don’t force anyone to use a particular platform (other than official, institutionally supported ones). Your students might well have ethical objections to using a particular one. Respect those. Never require anyone to sign up to a (non-institutionally supported/“official”) platform in order to participate. Data rights are human rights.
  • Tap into the altruism of others. Nurture a community that helps each other (both staff and students). Model this yourself, watch for others doing it and publicly thank them. Think about the types of roles that might be needed to build a learning community: as well as you (the teacher), you might look for particularly active and/or knowledgeable students to become mentors.
  • Structure informal activities that people can engage in if they want. These don’t have to take a lot of time to design – you might ask students to share something unique about where they are living, to tell others about their hobbies, pets, or family. You could ask them to do this by sharing a small image, a link to a website, or a forum post. These help participants to feel that they belong and can build a sense of community over time.

And, finally, reach out to others around you. Use your networks and don’t be afraid of saying that you are finding something hard. My initial experiences of all of this was a baptism of fire. Those who watch me nowadays often think that I always find it easy to participate, and have always found it easy, but that’s not true. In fact, I nearly dropped out of an early connected learning experience (CLMOOC 2015) because I was feeling lost, confused and overwhelmed. What happened next was, I realise, due to the carefully designed support structure that was in place. I shouted out into the void and someone answered. The rest, as they say, is history.

Recipes⤴

from

Bubble and Squeak

My Granny taught me a lot about cooking. She’d read a recipe – say for pork chops with apple – and say that she thought she’d make it for tea, and maybe alter it a little bit, because she realised that she had some lamb chops and apricots that would make a good combination. Whatever she made was delicious – she was a great cook.

I thought about this today when I attended a seminar which was advertised as being about Team Based Learning (TBL). TBL is a very structured approach to active learning, and it has a fairly formulaic recipe. Some proponents say that it should be followed to the letter, others say that there can be some leeway in modifying it – but my experience today got me wondering: when does a learning design stop being a modified version of the original and start being something else altogether? The version I was told about today was an interesting type of active learning, but it was very removed from being TBL. It was not bad teaching and learning, in fact I think it was very good – but I don’t think the presenter had understood what the original design was all about.

So where do we draw the line? If I tell you that I am making you a Shepherd’s Pie, but actually I substitute the original filling with apple and the topping with meringue, is it still a type of modified Shepherd’s Pie? Surely not. How about if I keep the original filling and top it with meringue – is it now a not very palatable Shepherd’s Pie? Possibly.

To return to Granny’s cooking, of course in the example above she wouldn’t have told us that she was giving us pork chops with apple – she’d present the dish as her own, maybe as inspired by the original. And, importantly, my Granny understood cooking – she understood why the original elements worked together and why her substituted ones would also work together well. I think that’s the same for teaching and learning – before we can start swapping bits in and out of a successful design, we need to understand how and why the original design works.

Some people might say that TBL is poorly named, and that others can be excused for not understanding that it is a particular type of design. That might be so, but I don’t think that’s much of an excuse.

The Line⤴

from @ EduBlether

On the back of thinking about all the small things that lead to successes in a school, I thought it would be apt to consider the other side of this. One of the seemingly small things that add to a considerable amount of disruption and wasted learning time, in all of the schools I have ever worked in, is the line. I’m going to discuss the various problems I see with this accepted norm, and then I will try to consider some alternatives.

One of the main issues I have with this is the wasted teaching and learning time that could be better spent doing anything else. The time it takes between a bell ringing and children getting into a classroom is huge. Let’s do some quick maths on this. A conservative estimate (based purely on my own experience, with admittedly no scientific rigour applied), would be that it takes at least 5 minutes once the bell has gone to have a class ready to come in at the start of the day, after break and after lunch (at least!). So this is potentially 15 minutes each day, which is about 70 minutes across the week, taking in to account the half-day! That is over 44 hours across the school year.

I don’t want you to think I am ever condoning counting minutes and seconds and making sure every possible part of time is accounted for. This would be dangerous for a large number of reasons. But when there are so many other issues, it begs the question, why are we wasting our time on a bizarre and old fashioned custom that gives nothing back?

Ordinarily, children have been playing in an unstructured and child-led way, then a bell goes (quite abruptly) and they have to stop immediately and form a line, one behind each other. We often scorn them for not being straight enough or for continuing conversations. Quite militaristic when you think about it? But this is quite difficult for a lot of children to do (I think I would struggle to be honest) especially if they have been engaging in high energy play. What are we achieving by standing in line? Efficient management of people cannot be an argument here due to the amount of wasted time. Compliance?

I don’t like the idea of continuing to do something one way just because it is the way we have always done it. I want to know what the alternatives are.

Comment below with any suggestions on alternatives to lining up.

Impact⤴

from @ Just Trying to be Better Than Yesterday

It’s a strange little word, impact. Impact. We hear it everywhere, use it often. ‘That action of one object forcibly coming into contact with another’ our dictionaries tell us. The impact of a book; the impact of a piece of music, a painting. A movie. The impact of an accident, an illness, a death in the family. But is impact merely the act of making contact, ‘forcibly’, or is it actively concerned with what is left behind? When we use the word ‘impact’ do we consider the aftershock of what we’ve done or has it become merely the act of doing, the ‘forcibly coming in to contact’ with something?

We are, I think, often quick to judge the impact our actions are having, without really considering the long-term consequences of what we do. Twenty years of teaching have taught me that. The quick fix, the celebratory pat on the back, the smiling compliments, all make us feel good but in teaching does impact- real, true and honest impact – really matter? I say this as one who has been blogging about teaching practice since 2011 and realise that this part of my teaching career is coming to an end. No big drama, no big story, I just don’t do it any more. But what impact has it had?

I haven’t blogged in ages; perhaps, in recognition of that, this will be my final post. But for much of what I’ve written I think I can reflect on honestly on the impact my work has had, both good and bad. Much of my writing I’m really proud of, some of the points I’ve tried to make I stick by. But there are others, especially some of the ones on teaching strategies, I wish I’d held back. Those are the ones where I’ve tried something in class and written about it when it seemed to have gone well. Some of them I don’t use anymore; some I can’t really remember using at all, beyond that first flush of enthusiasm.

I’ve learned that, as I wouldn’t really boast about that lasagne recipe until I’d cooked it about ten times – I do boast about it a lot. It’s worth it – I shouldn’t really write about strategies unless I’ve used them many times and can accurately assess whether they work, whether they have ‘impact’ whatever that means. Our time is precious in teaching. The internet has allowed us to share great resources, great ideas, great conversations. But we bandy about terms like ‘creating life-long learners’; how can we ever know? Or more specific to me, ‘life-long readers’; how will I ever know?

Blogging has had a huge impact on me personally. It has allowed me develop ideas more clearly, to articulate my thoughts on education. What I can’t judge is the impact on others. Maybe none. Maybe in a way I could never imagine, good or bad. But there are so many better blogs now, blogs I read with awe and delight. They have an impact on my practice at times because I can spot my ‘areas for development’ and go searching for things to help with that. And that’s perhaps my point. It’s not only up to us to assess the impact our work has. Perhaps ‘impact’ is a word we should use sparingly.

An EduBlether with Vocabulary Ninja⤴

from @ EduBlether

We were lucky enough to catch the Vocabulary Ninja to have a chat about his new book, his app and vocabulary in general. It is hard not to get passionate about vocabulary after reading this, we are sure you will enjoy it as much as we did.

Can you tell us about how you became the vocabulary ninja? Was there a long and gruelling training regime? Let us know about your journey.

Vocabulary Ninja stated quite simply out of a reflection on how one particular year had went, the results the Y6 pupils achieved and how things could be improved. Within this period of refection, I decided that vocabulary would become a driving force of everything that happened within the classroom and around the school.

I decided to introduce a word to my class everyday, and because I was doing it anyway, I thought that I would share it. So, I created a blog and Twitter account and shared the word of the day every day for people to use. That’s it. I’m really proud to see where Vocabulary Ninja has developed in the 2 and a half years it has been running. One of the best things about it, is the people you get to engage with as a result! It’s amazing! Who knows what will happen in the next 2 and a half years.

As someone who is a true advocate for the power of words, what is your favourite word?

Well that is a tough question. In terms of how I have seen a word used in such a skilled way by a pupil, it would have to be translucent. A pupil used it to describe the wings of a dragon, it was a real lightbulb moment for me personally and the pupil, as to the impact this word had on the writing, and the deeper meanings it portrayed. She pupil built a vivid image of this dragon using words such as emaciated and frail. Perfect!

Is your book only relevant to the teaching of English and Literacy, or will the content be useful and transferable across the curriculum? 

It’s a great question. The book is stacked with ideas to support reading and writing, via vocabulary. However, there are over 50 topic word banks based upon the national curriculum, etymology sections that swirl their way through history, geography and science, and most importantly a range of content to your mentality towards teaching vocabulary.This mentality has the same applications across the curriculum, not only thinking about vocabulary, but in everything that you do as a teacher. You’ll see what I mean!

Your book recommends some fantastic ideas, strategies and games for improving vocabulary in your classroom. Which of these is your favourite and why?

I think simple things are the best. My favourite is the word of the day, the original and the best. The beauty of the word of the day is that it has so many applications. The main aim of the word of the day is to widen and deepen a pupils vocabulary. By discussing the associated SPaG, word classes and definitions with pupils, then giving then the opportunity to apply. Then revisit, use orally through the day and week. Slowing helping pupils seethe word in action. It’s a mindset – it’s free. Words are there all around us, as teachers we must make them a priority in our classrooms. If someone was to implement one idea from the book, it would be this.Further to this. The free Vocab Lab App has been a revelation! Nearly 100K downloads and the feedback that I receive is wonderful! If you haven’t downloaded it for your personal or school iPads yet, then you are missing out!

What do you see as the main barriers to children developing a wide ranging vocabulary? How do we, as educators, best work against this? 

Honestly, and I touch on this in the book. You, teachers. And a child’s home life too, but yes teachers can be a big barrier. So, ok, this is a barrier, but let’s not look at it as a negative, but rather an opportunity for change. By making vocabulary a priority of our own and thinking about it as a valuable ally, rather than the enemy, then we can begin to win the war of words! 

You have also developed a Vocabulary Ninja app. Can you tell us a little about how this came about and what the app does? 

I love the apps that I have created so far. The Vocab Lab is amazing really and is due for an expansion upgrade very soon! The Vocab Lab has 100 very common words that pupils often use within their writing, mostly because the have no alternative. As a year 6 teacher, the App for me, was a way to impact on more children at once and to promote independence. The App gives 6 alternative for each word – children (and adults) love using it.Plus – it’s free! I also have a Word of the Day App too, again totally free. This has both Words of the Day, appear in the App every day! Super handy! The App’s are designed to make teachers lives a little easier, reduce workload and improve outcomes for pupils and schools.

Finally, there are so many competing agendas in a school. Why do you think vocabulary is so important and what can it do for our learners? 

I honestly don’t think there is enough time in the school day for vocabulary to become a competing agenda item,  and rightly so. But it must form part of teachers daily routine, part of your mentality and your schools ethos towards learning.Words impact and unlock the curriculum. Quite simply, if pupils understand more words, then they will be able to access more of the learning opportunities put before them in science, english, maths, PE, in conversations and so on.

There won’t be a test, it isn’t measurable, but its impact will be profound.

Website – www.vocabularyninja.co.uk

Blog – vocabularyninja.wordpress.com

Twitter – @VocabularyNinja

 

♥︎ Like: Must Do Better⤴

from @ wwwd – John's World Wide Wall Display

Liked Must Do Better (Just Trying to be Better Than Yesterday)
...There are loads of issues linked to the poverty gap, health and well-being issues and attainment, but I’m not convinced that school is always the place to solve them...

I am not convince either. Kenny has, as usual, a lot more intelligent things to say on the matter. A good end of year read.

Kenny goes on:

And we need to find a balance between thinking that Scottish Education is going to hell in a handcart and those who refuse to acknowledge that and believe that all is a shiny brochure and a Twitter feed.

 

Miscommunication⤴

from

Close up, blurry image of a pink flower

Random moments of misconnection:

George, a Chinese UG, tells me how hard it is to study independently when there is so much he does not understand in lectures. He struggles to understand aurally and finds it hard to use lecture notes to find out what he missed because he … does not know what he missed. We talk about strategies, I suggest some support networks. I tell him not to struggle alone.

Later that day some of us struggle in an LTHEChat as the terminology used by the question setter is obscure. I laugh with my network. It does not matter to me that I am not understanding as nothing hangs on it. Still, I feel frustrated that an opportunity for a conversation was lost.

Unboundeq runs scavenger hunts. These are FUN! We share blurry, close up pics of everyday objects with each other and try to guess what they are. It’s hard. I realise how difficult it is to anticipate what others will and will not find obvious.

We also talk about ALT-text, and realise how hard it is to add this in a way that makes visual activities inclusive. I don’t feel I have an answer to that.

There’s a lot to process here.

Reclaiming Lurking⤴

from

Stalker

Lurking is a potential problem for theories of social constructivism and principles of active learning. It’s also a problem for data analytics – if the student is not VISIBLE, how do we KNOW that they are learning? The invisible are easy to ignore, easy to problemetise, easy to marginalise, easy to other, easy to shame. It is tempting to chivvy them into participation, but participation without intrinsic engagement and motivation is futile, is facile, is inauthentic. A pedagogic approach that emphasises the visible over all else ignores autonomy, dismisses reasons, denies that another story might exist. This type of approach can force us all to join in the jolly learning games FOR OUR OWN GOOD.

All of this makes me shudder with memories of the forced jollity of childhood – the insistence upon JOINING IN – no sitting in the corner READING quietly while the rest of the (good) children are PLAYING NICELY together. (If you know Joyce Grenfell you will hear her voice here.) I felt odd. I am not shy, yet for most of my life I had no way of describing my need to sometimes pause and reflect before speaking. Now I know that I am not alone – that others (sometimes) feel as I do. But I digress.

When we other the silent participants we risk confusing what is countable, what is trackable, what is noticeable,  for what is important – we risk confusing meaningful learning with what is easy to assess. But learning is not a counting noun – Dave Cormier taught us that. And, if we are not careful, we send students the message that spending time in quiet reflection is somehow wrong, that spending time learning conventions is wrong, that watching is cheating, that this behaviour is FREELOADING and that is JUST NOT CRICKET.

Yet learning often takes time. Thoughts need to percolate. Fine wine is not made overnight. this blog post, for example, began with a discussion on Twitter, and has been knocking around in my head ever since.

So I am stating, here and now, that I am reclaiming lurking. I am reclaiming the behaviour, and I am reclaiming the word. Lurking is allowed. Lurking. Is. Allowed. There, I said it aloud (lol).

I’ve written about this with others before. I’ve used Lave and Wenger’s idea of legitimate peripheral participation to suggest that lurking can be a legitimate strategy for those new to a community and its norms. I’ve talked about how our Facebook groups can help shyer students, and those without English as a native language, to take their time to respond in their own way. I’ve run a Twitter chat to talk in more detail about this. I’m not saying anything new. But the current emphasis on student engagement and active learning makes me want to emphasise this more. Lurking is a legitimate behaviour. It is something we all do from time to time. I lurk, you lurk, we all lurk. (Note, by the way, that I am talking about a behaviour here, and not a type of person – lurking is relational, is situational, is context dependent.)

We learn a lot by doing, I know. We should encourage our students to participate. We should ensure that the digitally shy can be helped to find their voice, that students build their digital capabilities as well as their academic ones. All of these will help them both within academia and beyond it. But any insistence on one size fitting all, of active learning being the only ‘proper’ way of learning, needs to stop.

So the question becomes, I think: how do we, as compassionate educators, allow students opportunities to learn what, when and how they want to learn?

Image of Cagney, lurking in our garden

Stealing learning⤴

from

He came like a thief in the night. Stealthily, furtively, he crept in. With nobody watching he grabbed it, clutched at it with all his might, cradled it close to his chest and shuffled away.

This picture of learners who do not actively post, but passively consume, is one that I think is prevalent with some folk. I’m not minded to give in to it – I think that this is an opportunity to reclaim the term. That’s an idea that is at the edge of my mind a lot at the moment. Lurking there, some might say. I’ll say more soon, but in the meantime here’s a couple of my sketches.