Monday, 24 November 2014

IMHO: There is no place in modern education for these 6 words

In My Humble Opinion, words matter and from time to time we need to look at our language and re-examine the relevance of terminology to thinking. To what extent do the words we use to describe our rationale and practice correspond with our ideals and underpinning philosophy with respect to education?

Are there particular words that make you cringe when used in an educational context?

Here are six of my favourites (Not!)
1.     Delivery, as in “curriculum delivery” or delivery of a particular programme of study or learning and teaching service.
2.     Teacher Training, also used in conjunction with Teachers’ Training College or Trainee Teachers.
3.     Provision of PD (Professional Development), or the need to “provide PD to teachers”
4.     Control, in any sense really, including the use of the phrase “Full Control” to describe the period of time when a student teacher takes responsibility for most of the teaching in a classroom while on practicum.
5.     Digital Native.
6.     21st Century anything.

Let me explain.

1.     We deliver products or services but we do not deliver teaching and learning. While teaching might be regarded as a service, and some programmes may be packaged as products, the actual engagement in teaching and learning is not a transaction and is not something that can be passed from one party to another. ‘Delivery’ belongs to the discourse of transmission, whereby education is a good that is held by those who have knowledge, and who can transmit the knowledge to those who do not have it. If we truly believe that learners construct understandings, we need to dispense with ‘delivery’ as a term in education. More suitable terms would be: negotiating, empowering, enabling, engaging, working with and even teaching.
2.     Animals are trained and athletes may choose to regard their hard work in pursuit of excellence as ‘training’, but initial teacher education is not synonymous with  training. This is because the aim tends to be to educate reflective professionals, creative and critical thinkers and decision-makers, capable of theorising, carrying out inquiry, and generating knowledge. In professional preparations like ITE, it is less a matter of 'practice makes perfect', and more complex, messy and evolving. Effective teachers never finish learning, the process is never complete.
3.     Provision of PD (Professional Development) or the need to “provide PD to teachers” becomes unnecessary and inappropriate when teachers are as characterised in no. 2 above. An active and creative professional does not wait for or expect anyone to “provide” anything, but seeks out opportunities and makes professional learning happen. This might be considered as adaptive help seeking or a connectivist approach. I have argued this previously in relation to passive PD vs active access
4.     Control is not a term we would apply to learners and teachers if we recognise their agency. Neither is the complex and messy business of learning something we should seek to control. Better to inspire, provoke and generate learning as a catalyst. In this vein, for some time I have been frustrated by the use of the term “Full Control” applied to the period of time when a student teacher takes responsibility for most of the teaching in a classroom while on practicum. What/who has the student teacher full control of? The pupils? The planning? The classroom programme? Any/all of this is entirely unrealistic and inappropriate. It is little wonder that many preservice teachers are obsessed and intimidated by the pressures of classroom management. Instead, as the student teacher progresses to teaching a class for extended periods, planning more of the learning, and making more of the daily decisions, we might regard this as ‘Sustained teaching responsibility’ or some combination of those terms.
5.     Digital Native (Prenksy, 2001) is an outdated stereotype. Although no doubt intended to raise awareness of the needs of young people in modern times, this term has been used to overgeneralise, by conveying an assumption that all young people come from similar backgrounds and contexts that are digitally saturated. This inequitable and unwarranted assumption has been applied to overestimating the digital literacy (and academic literacy) of youth, who still need education and guidance and who are not born knowing how to research and critique. At the same time, the disassociation of many teachers with ‘digital natives’ has led to an abdication of responsibility to learn and to cultivate educators’ digital literacies, regardless of age. For an insightful commentary about similar terms and the critique of the 'native' rhetoric, see Steve Wheeler's excellent blog. In recent times Prensky himself has distanced himself from the concept, acknowledging that the distinction has become less relevant with the passage of time and preferring instead to talk about digital enhancement, digital wisdom, and the importance of listening to kids.
6.     21st Century anything. Surely it is time to move on. Fifteen years into the century, perhaps we might turn our attention to the kinds of learning and teaching we would like to engage in.
For me, preferable descriptors would be: empowering, creative, critical, diverse, active and research-informed.

In relation to educational discourse, what are your favourite and least appreciated words?

Friday, 14 November 2014

Digital technologies in New Zealand schools: an overview of the 2014 report

I thought it timely to provide an interpretation of the Digital Technologies in New Zealand Schools 2014 Report that can be accessed HERE .

One conclusion in particular caught my attention. It says this:
The results of this year’s survey suggest that teachers have moved backward somewhat in relation to the six stages of ICT adoption, compared with previous years’ surveys. However, this is likely a reflection of the significant and ongoing changes and development that have occurred recently in relation to digital technologies and in particular access to and use of personal digital devices for student learning (p. 7).  
ITs conclusion is interesting for a number of reasons, including what the report writers didn't factor into the complex:  the types of compliance and reporting schools must complete to both the MOE and parents, meeting MOE-set attainment targets, and, in secondary schools, preparing students for exams. The analysis, therefore, is a little one-dimensional in drawing conclusions. Also, if principals are completing the survey, they may fill it in based on their wish-list rather than the reality. How would the principal necessarily know what technologies teachers regularly use for learning purposes, particularly if teachers experiment regularly, and when the school might have, say 60-80 teaching staff? And who cares about levels of ICT adoption? Don't we want to know more about the relationship to teaching and learning?

Another point caught my attention too. It resonates with the feedback from some of my ITE (initial teacher education) students' practicum experiences when they tried getting students to use the wifi simultaneously:

Eighty-seven percent of schools reported that WiFi access is available in all classrooms, but only 36 percent had tested their wireless infrastructure with large numbers of students (p. 8)
This is significant, for many of the grads on practicum noted that during classes when they wanted students to use wifi, they were regularly being kicked off the internet, taking a long time to log on, or pages taking ages to load.... This testing of the infrastructure is so important, but if you don't know it's important, you don't know to check it, right? This points to a huge chasm between what principals are supposed to know, and what is more realistic. Let's face it, wifi is still pretty new. It takes specialists to know the issues associated with simultaneous use by lots of people. Principals and teachers aren't usually specialists in the field of wifi capability. And this probably accounts for the conclusion from the survey data that:

While schools have started to collaborate with local Internet providers for the purpose of
providing Internet access for their communities by sharing the school’s fibre connection (six percent) and a further 14 percent are planning to do this in the future, two thirds reported they need more information or have not yet decided on the issue (p. 8). 

It is worth noting however, that it is 28% of principals who answered the survey. Is one quarter of the number of schools in NZ necessarily a statistically good sample? And when one principal  responded to a question admitted not knowing what a Google search was, how reliable can a survey be of digital technologies in schools when such principals are asked to fill these in? And can we rely on it being principals who answered? I suspect not. A savvy principal would give this survey task to the staff member they thought was the most knowledgeable in the field.

On page 22 of the report is a graph listing the technologies used by learners. Skype figures prominently, with 6% of survey respondents saying this was used extensively by students, and 55% used it regularly. What we don't get from the figures is whether this represents students in remote schools, or whether this represents the respondent thinking any use would be educational... Skype certainly doesn't figure in many classrooms or teachers' practices that I've dealt with, so I'd like to know more.  On the pages that follow is a table representing responses to the question "Do students at your school use any of the following digital tools for learning?" This at least acknowledges the type of school represented by the figures (primary, secondary, Maori medium, Special school). Worryingly, and given that facebook's stipulated minimum age is 13, 20% of primary school students used facebook for learning according to principals' returns. I have summarised these 'don't knows' as follows. However, it is important to note that no Special School principal responded to any of the ‘don’t know’ options for these listed tools:

Principal responses to the question “Do students at your school use any of the following digital tools for learning?”
Digital tools
% of principals who answered ‘don’t know what this is’
12% of primary schools; 17% of Maori medium schools. This may not be too significant, since Evernote is a tool for collecting, curating, annotating and sharing resources online. Having a mobile device also helps. This may be an school age age, socio-economic indicator
1% of primary; 8% of Maori medium responded with the don’t know it answer
Google+ Hangouts
21% primary schools; 15% secondary; 17% Maori medium
apparently 2% of primary school students use this; 13% secondary and 17%.  Really? That many - for learning? Can this result be trusted?
of the total 5% of ‘don’t know’ answer, this was made up of 6% of primary schools and 1% of secondary
Office 365
I wonder if the results would have been different if respondents were asked about Microsoft Office as a generic thing?
Office Web Apps
The same question applies to this option. Why not Apple or Android Apps?
16% of primary schools, 14% secondary and 17% Maori medium didn’t know about this. Surprising? I don't think so
11% primary; 15% secondary; 33% Maori medium
Slideshare tends not to be used in schools. I wonder why it is an option?
12%  primary; 12%secondary; 33% Maori medium

Because of the options listed, I'm not sure how significant this result is, or what it means, because quite a few of the tools seem more adult-oriented than student-focused, and so seem meaningless when associated with a question about the frequency of student use for learning purposes.

A much more interesting question was associated with the extent of personal digital device use in classrooms. On page 26 is a graph which says that across all types of schools, 23% have 100% penetration of using personal mobile devices all the time for learning. This is significant, especially when added to the 33% of schools that admit to over 50% of the time these are used for learning.
This compares with the statistics associated with an allied question on how often during a typical school week, students would use personal digital devices. Apparently, students NEVER use these devices in 20% of all schools, made up of 24% of primary schools, 4% secondary and 8% in Maori medium. The survey reporters also indicate that socio-economic conditions play a part, for decile 7-10 schools were more likely to report high use of personal mobile devices among its student population. This may also indicate the greater number of high decile schools that mandate these devices.

There is a lot more to analyse in this report, but in the light of the work I do with initial teacher education students in the digital technologies area, some of these findings are heartening and suggest a trajectory of infiltration in schools, and yet not all schools provide digital devices for students to use in class. That is a shame and is preventing some students from flexing their creative and learning wings. Just like books, a school needs to equip its learners and supplement what a home might already have. Or have not.  Let's hope that when this survey is next done, 100% of schools will be able to report providing digital devices for student use so that all students have the opportunity to learn with, through about them.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

ePortfolios in Initial Teacher Education

Earlier this year, my teaching partner and I introduced ePortfolios to our class of first year online students in the Mixed Media Programme, at the suggestion of our Chairperson, the paper coordinator. Neither of us had very much experience with ePortfolios. Our primary ITE programmes use in a limited fashion, for example students create portfolios in mathematics in their second year of study. In my optional papers, where I encourage students to select a means of presenting work and documenting learning, students have submitted eportfolios from time to time. While I have browsed and given feedback, I have been largely hands-off in facilitating the establishment and direction of the eportfolios.

That was until we decided that it made sense for students in the first year of the online Bachelor of Teaching degree to establish an eportfolio that could be used throughout their degree. Thanks to our colleague from the Waikato Centre for eLearning, Stephen Bright, and his collection of manuals and teaching ideas in, we understood the purposes of eportfolios and opted to encourage a learning and assessment portfolio. We also encouraged students to self-select and collate a variety of evidence of learning in their eportfolios, inviting multimedia artifacts. Our first attempt at the eportfolio assignment is appended to this post (Assignment 3).

So what do staff and students need to know when establishing an eportfolio?

Firstly, how the portfolio fits into the course; the formative and summative dimensions, and a couple of technical pointers: Namely, how to set up an account, add a page, how to arrange content for viewing (e.g., by putting journal entries on the same page), and vitally, how to share the eportfolio (with peers and/or lecturers) for formative feedback. Later, the distinction between sharing for feedback and submitting for grading becomes important. We were grateful to have Stephen’s support the first time we navigated these challenges with students.

In our experience, the toughest aspect for some students proved to be sharing the eportfolio with others. The steps for doing so were documented in written form, diagrammatically and within a screencast, but this part challenged students to the greatest degree. Some students also experienced difficulty with arranging content for viewing, to a lesser extent. Besides the technical hurdles, which were by and large surmounted, students had to learn to act on formative feedback in order to revise and improve work prior to submission for grading.

Student response to the eportfolio challenge was mixed, with many appreciating the opportunity to establish an eportfolio. Some were familiar with the approach through work in schools and with their own children. Others were intimidated, and the start of an online degree is an overwhelming time for most. As time went on, with support, students came to appreciate the eportfolio and to enjoy the work. Anonymous appraisals included comments indicating that students valued the evolution of their eportfolio over time and could appreciate the preservation of early work, the formative potential and the future possibilities. As one student commented, “the eportfolio is a good way to keep your reflections in one place… you can look back and see how far you have come”. The same student also remarked, “I like the way I was able to go back and alter some of my first writing". Another student said, “The eportfolio is a great exercise and one that I will continue to develop and also use in my practice”.

One of the aspects of our eportfolio approach that worked particularly well was that students were given designated weeks in order to work on eportfolio entries. During these weeks, no asynchronous online discussion was expected. This emphasises the importance of developing the eportfolio. After such a week, Jenny (my teaching partner) and I gave formative feedback on eportfolio entries. This pattern effectively maintained the progress of most students in relation to their eportfolio entries, by ensuring regular class time. This also ensured the development of the eportfolio was intimately woven into the paper as a learning experience, rather than being purely for assessment purposes (just another assignment). Due to the success of this approach, we are considering alternate eportfolio and online discussion weeks in 2015.

As we reflect on 2014 and look ahead to 2015, we are planning a number of improvements to our eportfolio approach:
  • In short, the eportfolio development will become more central to the paper.
  • When students are on campus, we will repeat the introductory session from this year, but will ensure more time for students to work on their first entries, and will insist that these are shared for formative feedback prior to leaving campus. It may be necessary to make extra sessions available to assist students who have difficulty with arranging and sharing their content.
  • We now have models of student work to share, in order to demonstrate the visual layout and content expectations of the eportfolio. Thanks 2014 students :-)
  • As mentioned, we will deliberately intersperse discussion with designated time to focus on eportfolio development and will continue to ensure students have formative feedback throughout the semester.
  • We plan to actively encourage students to peer review eportfolios for formative purposes, and will look at ways of coordinating this via a non-threatening and criteria-based approach.

In time, as more ITE students begin their degrees by establishing an eportfolio, more of the curriculum can be integrated into the reflective, formative and summative possibilities. After all, one only needs to set up a new page in order to build a new dimension to the portfolio :-)

Any other tips for us for our eportfolio adventures?

Assignment 3: ePortfolio
Weighting: 40%

Due date: Monday, 9 June 2014 Your ePortfolio will be comprised of a series of entries over time. Further details and clarification will be provided at our on campus sessions (Feb 20th in particular) and within our online class. As a minimum, your entries should include the following: First entry – on campus – 20 Feb

1. Reflect on your oral presentation and give a brief summary of the content of your speech. Include:
  • your adjectives and a brief explanation of their meaning to you
  • a teaching role model
  • links to Fraser (2012)
  • a statement about the teacher you aspire to become
2. Comment on audience response and interaction – either during or after your presentation. How did others respond?

3. What did you learn from your colleagues’ presentations?

4. Add any additional current thinking about the teacher you aspire to become

Other entries:

24 Feb: Write a follow up to your time on campus. Reflect on:

  • five things learned
  • one aspect that surprised you
  • one fear, worry or concern
  • one goal for your study and coursework
  • one article/chapter you have read so far that has resonated with you

24-30 March: Module 4 entry: Creating and managing learning environments 

Having completed the Module 4 tasks, collate and present some of your learning by writing a paragraph on each of the following:
  • Describe some of the strategies your CT uses to engage students in groupwork.
  • Comment on how space is used to create a safe learning environment.
  • Give an example of how your CT sets expectations for learning.
  • From the list of ‘General Guidelines’ on p. 133 of The Professional Practice of Teaching, identify three points that resonate with you. Discuss why.

28 April: Module 7: Diversity
Know yourself

Think about your own culture. List the 8 most representative values and beliefs of your culture. Rank the top 3 in order of importance, according to your perception.
Find a digital artefact – film clip, image or link that you consider to be in some way representative of an important aspect of your culture. Add/embed this artefact in your ePortfolio along with a brief explanation of its significance to you.

Other entries, in your own time:

1. Choose a week of significant learning. Write/record a brief entry synthesising your learning in relation to school, reading and discussion.

2. Find and link to a media report about a current issue in the schooling sector. Briefly explain the issue in your own words and write two differing stances in relation to the matter.

3. Find and link to an educational resource online – a blog, website or other digital resource for teachers. Briefly review this resource in terms of its use for teaching and learning in the classroom.

4. Write about a new skill, disposition or insight you have developed since commencing initial teacher education.

5. Give an example of an online discussion in which you learned from a peer in class. Quote and cite the relevant discussion entries, and explain the learning that occurred.

6. Write a set of 3 goals for semester B. For each goal, devise a practical strategy to help you achieve.

= 10 entries

Please note:

You are expected to make regular entries in your ePortfolio. The ten listed above are compulsory and must be made during the time frames where indicated.
You may make more than ten entries if you so wish. Try to reflect on particular episodes of teaching, and make links to your base school experiences (preserving confidentiality), and to your reading and discussion.

Feel free to include multi-media content at any stage, including film clips, audio, images and web links.

(Do not film children, as this requires stringent ethics approval. You may film yourself talking or otherwise engaging with the content).
  • ePortfolio entries are regular, throughout semester
  • Entries are reflective of the tasks set
  • The ePortfolio captures thoughtful consideration of professional issues
  • Use is made of evidence from practice, reading and discussion
  • Written entries are accurate
  • Multimedia is included appropriately in order to creatively enhance selected entries