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Projecting October 21, 2014

Posted by ianinsheffield in research, Teaching Idea.
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Our Year 11 students are drawing their AQA Level 2 Projects to a close, so as they write their reflections I thought it might be an opportune moment to ask them about their experiences.  I spent a few minutes with the eight or so who kindly volunteered their time; the audio interviews can be found on the SHS ‘Look Who’s Talking’ blog, but here I’ll try to provide a synopsis.

…after a short taster:

As might be expected, some settled on a topic quite quickly, already having an idea in mind. Others needed a little more prompting, but the sources from which they drew their inspiration were varied and included books; their supervisors; lessons and subjects; news and magazine articles and the arts.

During the course of their studies they enjoyed the sense of freedom the Project provided, whether in being able to follow a subject about which they were passionate, being able to work in a way and at a pace that suited them, being able to delve more deeply into a topic than was usually possible or having a choice about the way they could present what they had learned. Even writing an essay became more fulfilling since it was on a topic about which they cared and they had carte blanche in the contents and format. Although presenting to an audience caused some measure of stress and induced nervousness in some, having the chance to share your findings proved particularly rewarding, as did working with a teacher on a ‘more equal footing.’ Several reaching the end when the sense of achievement became palpable since it represented the culmination of so much effort over such a sustained period.

This was summed up succinctly by one interviewee as

…to be your own boss and learn what you wanted to learn freely and not have to stick with the curriculum.

Certain aspects of their study came to them less easily and proved tough to overcome, like time-management, the apparent mountain of work, making sense of an abundance of information and overcoming issues with lack of motivation. Yet the interviewees recognised that meeting these challenges provides benefits they would carry forward either into the next years of their education or across into other subjects they’re currently studying. They had become more committed to managing their time, working to deadlines and had become more self-disciplined. They noted how much better they had become at constructing an essay in other subjects and  that the strategies they used to form an argument had improved. Their self-confidence, patience and persistence had all been boosted, reassuring them of their capability to work independently.

Although no questions in the interview asked how technology had been employed in their Projects, several comments suggested how integral it had been to their success, yet made no song and dance about it. To the students, it was just one of the tools they used and so perhaps provides evidence for the degree to which technologies are increasingly embedded? The Internet clearly played a big part, providing access to information (and people!) they might otherwise not have been able to access so readily. However this was often done using more sophisticated techniques than are commonly employed e.g. Google Scholar, Google Books, using advanced search terms and searching YouTube. It’s all very well to bemoan the ease with which students have access to information through the Internet, but if that information is not available in their school or public libraries, then the Internet might indeed be the only option available.

In thinking what we might learn from these observations, I wonder to what extent the outcomes can be extrapolated to our other students and their studies? Those who signed up for the Project are largely well-motivated, capable learners who clearly rose to the challenges they faced; would all students be capable of doing so? Would they want to?

If there is sufficient value in what Project students learned and gained in terms of skill development, then perhaps it is worth relinquishing some of the time we spend on content coverage and give it over to extended project work and passion-based learning? However we need to know the costs as well as the benefits of learning in this way, so we’re better placed to be able to make those kinds of judgements. Although the Level 2 Project is not “Project-based Learning” in the strictest sense, some of the research emerging in this area might begin to inform our deliberations:

Using real-life problems to motivate students, challenging them to think deeply about meaningful content, and enabling them to work collaboratively are practices that yield benefits for all students.

Beyond the Book October 14, 2014

Posted by ianinsheffield in Musings.
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Yesterday I had the great pleasure to attend a talk by Kate Pullinger entitled ‘Beyond the Book,’ part of the Digital Fiction strand of the ‘Off the Shelf’ Sheffield Literary Festival. Kate is the power behind Inanimate Alice, an online transmedia story; the networked novel ‘Flight Paths‘ and the 14-18 Now project ‘Letter to an Unknown Soldier.’ In her talk Kate provided more detail on each of the aforementioned projects, outlining how digital technologies have enabled hybrid forms of literature and facilitated a greater degree of participation and collaboration.

kate pullinger talk

creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by ianguest: http://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/14917070024

I found what Kate had to say fascinating and unsettling in equal measure. Fascinating because of my interest in the different ways we are appropriating technologies, specifically in learning, but also in creative endeavours. I guess I was unsettled due to the three different ways in which literature affects me: as Head of eLearning and someone who promotes and supports the use of digital technologies; as a writer, albeit not one of fiction; and as a reader of fiction. Clearly then I lean towards the notions Kate outlined and am keen to learn from those who use technologies in new ways, so that I am better informed when advising and supporting colleagues and students. As a writer of non-fiction, I’m often trying to convey a message; sometimes that’s in support materials for others, project proposals, evaluations or reflective pieces. Whenever appropriate and where it enhances the message, I try to employ different media, but here is where the tension begins to emerge. If I know who my audience will be, then that may constrain me in serving their needs. For example, in providing an introductory guide to a new software application, a five-minute video screencast might make the most sense, for all sorts of reasons. Yet if my audience prefers paper-based, ‘recipe’-style guidance, then that is what I’m obliged to provide. In producing a report of a particular project, whilst I might feel audio interviews with some of the participants provides a rich narrative, the readers of the report might be more predisposed to plain textual summaries. As a writer then, I’m constrained creatively to some extent by the boundaries imposed on me by my audience. I wonder if writers of fiction are similarly hobbled.

The tension becomes heightened when I reflect on my preferences as a reader. I’m now on the other side of the fence and become the recipient of literature written by others. How do I feel when given the choice of opting for stories delivered in different ways through different media? As Kate introduced samples of Inanimate Alice and Flight Paths, despite being impressed by how they had been produced and the ways in which they were being used and enjoyed, I couldn’t help but feel some degree of conflict. In an attempt to establish why, I thought about how I read and what my expectations are from a story, which is doubtless a rather personal thing for each reader. For me, good fiction should transport me (or my mind?) somewhere else and whilst it might not be quite what Csikszentmihalyi calls ‘flow,’ when immersed in a story, the passage of time melts away. I feel part of the story, either as observer or participant. I control the pace, re-read when necessary or even skip forward a line or two! The words on the page act as a bridge between me and my vicarious participation in the story through the characters. I’m able to do that because I have become familiar (and comfortable) with the linear way in which text is presented in the pages of a book. Images might supplement the story, though should be used in such a way that they don’t conflict with those the reader has generated within their imagination. One example might be the maps that Tolkien included to help the reader appreciate the geography of Middle. At least that’s what I first thought, but then my mind went back to my younger years and my enjoyment of children’s and superhero comics. I felt no less immersed then where the text was an equal partner of the imagery, though even those texts observed the same conventions of linear flow. Although Inanimate Alice for example, flows in a linear fashion, I am required to relinquish some element of control of pace to the writer, only able to move forward when the media have finished their display. Perhaps it’s that, for me, the media add nothing to the story and may even detract from it? Whilst I’m trying to conjure mental pictures of Alice, her surroundings, her relationships with her family and so on, I’m being distracted by background music, flashing images and split screen displays. I wonder if there’s a link here with gaming environments, or at least those with a clear narrative, characters and plot. Gameplay often allows progress through the narrative as a result of exploration, theory testing, experimentation and repetition. I’m not a gamer at all, so have no experience of navigating through different forms of narrative, so I wonder if someone who enjoys gaming might be more inclined towards digital fiction than I? So many questions!

Perhaps my problem has been that I’ve tried too hard to see digital fiction as a subset of traditional, textual fiction, whereas they’re actually different subsets of the parent set, fiction? I think I can resolve this internally by seeing two different branches of storytelling; one which conforms to my preconceived expectations and another, which I can allow to be free to be what it will and enjoy it for what it is.

It’s been a while … September 15, 2014

Posted by ianinsheffield in CPD.
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portfolio image

creative commons licensed (BY-NC) flickr photo by scottkellum: http://flickr.com/photos/devoinregress/3505849421

Phew! That took a while!
Just completed and submitted my application for CMALT (Certified Member of the Association for Learning Technology) status. Developed and administered by ALT, the scheme seeks to enable those working with learning technologies to:

  • have their experience and capabilities certified by peers;
  • demonstrate that they are taking a committed and serious approach to their professional development.

This involves assembling a portfolio of evidence illustrating capability and experience across a range of ‘Core areas’ like ‘Operational issues’ and ‘Learning, teaching and assessment.’ This is then submitted for assessment by other holders of CMALT who will judge the portfolio against the assessment criteria. This is a process I’ve not experienced before, where you’re producing a body of work to fulfil a set of criteria which will be judged by people you’ve never met.  Unlike traditional assessments where you’re responding to specific prompts, here you’re submitting evidence of your own choosing. You have the choice of which aspects of your work to focus upon and which examples to use. There’s plenty of guidance available through the CMALT support site and as a member, you have access to the members forum where you can seek advice from the community. I was also grateful for those members who submitted their portfolios openly online, thereby providing examples of the kinds of standards to aim for. In particular I’m grateful to David Hopkins for curating this list of CMALT members who have done just that and to Sarah Horrigan for posting a Google site template, structured for assembling the portfolio.

Time consuming though it may be, I rather perversely enjoy activities like this. Reflecting on previous experiences and projects with which you were involved, often benefits from a little time and distance, so undertaking a review in this way sometimes brings fresh insights. Caught up in the day-to-day business of the current workload, we perhaps don’t reflect back as often as we might like.

Assembling illustrative examples of my practice and the outcomes of various endeavours brought to light a shortcoming in my online presence. I have this reflective blog, Practically In the pICTure where I share more practical ideas and 366Web2.0 where I explore the affordances of Web 2.0 tools. (And a bunch of other creation and curation accounts of course) What I don’t have is an online portfolio of examples of resources I develop. No self-respecting artist, designer, architect, coder(?) would fail to maintain a portfolio of their work; why should educators be any different? In these days of performance management and professional development planning, keeping a portfolio of evidence seems a smart thing to do, alongside the benefits mentioned previously. There’s also the notion that publishing your portfolio (like the CMALT members mentioned previously) might provide inspiration or support for colleagues in similar positions to you. It requires no extra effort and you might just make a difference to someone … or the students with whom they work. It’s got to be worth it, surely?

If it’s of any interest, my portfolio can be found here, but should carry the health warning that it has yet to be assessed. Maybe you have a comment or two to offer?

BYOD4L July 15, 2014

Posted by ianinsheffield in CPD.
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byod4l logo

BYOD/T is an area I’ve devoted a fair bit of thought to, so when the opportunity to participate in the open, online ‘course’ that is BYOD4L offered itself, I wasn’t so sure. But then I recognised that our BYOT developments in school have plateaued to some extent and perhaps need additional impetus to reinvigorate things.

BYOD4Learning is a truly open course, or an ‘open magical box’ for those who don’t like the term ‘course’ very much, for students and teachers (nothing is locked away or private and you won’t even need to register) who would like to develop their understanding, knowledge and skills linked to using smart devices for learning and teaching and use these more effectively, inclusively and creatively.

I’m always interested in exploring new ways of learning, so BYOD4L offered that chance and in so doing, to rethink some aspects of our own developments. So my intention is to participate in the daily 5Cs activities, evening #BYOD4Lchats on Twitter where possible and as always, enjoy making a few new connections. Rather than post here as I normally would, because I want my participations in the 5Cs activities to provide a resource for colleagues in school, I’ll be posting (openly) on our learning platform, a place colleagues visit more regularly than my blog. (Shed no tears for me here. I can take it. I’m a realist!) Whilst reflecting on the 5Cs and their relations to BYOD, I’ll be attempting to provide practical ways colleagues might make more of BYOD.

Last night’s BYOD4Lchat got things off to a rollicking start and my first post on Connecting is done … and almost on time too!

Thinking about teacher attitudes to technology May 12, 2014

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If we weren’t able to help our students appreciate their current capabilities, how they might improve and how to set about that, we’d be failing in our duties as teachers. But how do we know our own level of capabilities, at least in regard to the use of learning technologies? By what yardstick can we measure our own progress? Without that, how can we even begin to see a path forward?

In the quest to find answers to these questions, I’ve come across a whole raft of contenders:

SAMR

creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by langwitches: http://flickr.com/photos/langwitches/5687009271

1. SAMR – Proposed by Reuben Puentedura, you can find a helpful set of resources which delve into the topic in more detail here. The model is incredibly useful for reflecting on the role of technologies in activities developed for using with our learners. Its simple four level scale, divided into the two domains of enhancement and transformation is accessible, understandable and enables teachers to quickly consider the impact that technology might have on the learning process. However measurement against the SAMR model needs to be undertaken on an activity by activity basis; in one lesson with one group of students, you might be undertaking an activity at the Modification level, whilst during the very next lesson with a different group (or even the same one) technology might simply be used at the Substitution level. That’s absolutely fine. Technology isn’t always used to take us to new places, sometimes it simply helps make a task that little bit more manageable. Some people see the levels as a ladder and that we should aspire to climb the rungs to Transformational enlightenment. So by recording all the activities we undertake using technology, progress could be measured as the overall level moves towards Redefinition. I don’t subscribe to that. If someone understands how to use technology at the higher levels and does so within their practice at appropriate times, whilst at others uses technology at the Substitution level, then that to me is acceptable. If they’re not in a position to do that, then perhaps remedial action does need to be taken.

Summary Indicators from the Florida Centre for Instructional Technology TIM

2. To get a better overview of how technology is being used across a teacher’s practice, across the curriculum or across a school, the Technology Integration Matrix (TIM) offers itself up. Both that used by Florida and the one in Arizona have the same underpinnings and enable cross-referencing of five characteristics of meaningful technology integration at five different levels. Support for TIMs is extensive (lesson plans and video exemplars) and they offer useful lenses through which to view your own practice or that of others. The five characteristics quite rightly focus on the activities of the students and how they have been enabled or empowered to use technology … but I feel there are consequently areas within our own practice which are to some extent neglected.

TPACK

Reproduced by permission of the publisher, © 2012 by tpack.org

3. One powerful lens through which to view the use of technology in learning is the TPACK framework1 (Technological Pedagogical and Content Knowledge) proposed by Mishra & Koehler1. This requires teachers to consider three different components of their practice. Any particular teaching situation or activity involving the use of technology will involve expertise across the three domains and require an appreciation of the roles of the technology, the subject or content and the pedagogy which enables the learning. Each teacher with each activity will encounter a unique context. In some circumstances where their content knowledge is well-grounded, they may wish to use a new technological tool and therefore need to reconsider their pedagogy, yet in another they may be teaching something for the first time and want to explore how to make the most of a tool they’re already adept with. The more often a teacher finds themselves at the heart of the diagram where all three domains intersect, or the degree to which they can see how to quickly navigate there, the more developed their practice is becoming. Powerful though TPACK may be, it is a framework more suited to deep reflection and devising appropriate curricula and lessons which incorporate the use of technology appropriately.

There are plenty of other frameworks cited in Knezek & Arrowood’s2 “Instruments for assessing educator progress in technology integration,” which can be divided into the three areas of attitudes, skill/competency and level of proficiency. Dating back to the turn of the millenium, some aspects within some of these instruments are now slightly dated, but nevertheless could be updated.

In the past we’ve asked colleagues to report on their skill levels with technology and subsequently put in place a programme to provide support. More recently we shifted the emphasis of our self-reporting process to towards capability, rather than plain skills. Now however I’m wondering whether we need to dig a little deeper and explore some of the underlying attitudes which determine teachers’ beliefs towards eLearning and technology use.
Never one to shirk a challenge then I’ve drafted a framework which draws inspiration from SAMR, TIM and to some extent CBAM (Concerns Based Adoption Model, mentioned in Knezek & Arrowood). The matrix suggests teacher attitudes at four possible levels, across ten aspects of technology integration, the idea being that colleagues would choose statements that best reflect their attitude. This would generate a profile (a radar chart might be useful here), hopefully indicating areas in which they might be open to change. If nothing else, it should provide a starting point for discussion.

attitudinal matrix

creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by ianguest: http://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/14192259133

The big BUT though is whether these criteria and the statements at each level are valid. What do you think? What might you add, leave out or amend? Feel free to add your observations below, or do please add comments to the draft document.

As Christensen et al (2000)3 observed

…not every educator is best served by training aimed at some arbitrary level, and that different levels of integration may require different techniques.

Before we decide on a professional development strategy, we clearly need to know the levels.

 

1Mishra, P., Koehler, M., 2006. Technological pedagogical content knowledge: A framework for teacher knowledge. The Teachers College Record 108, 1017–1054.

2Knezek, G.A., Arrowood, D.R., 2000. Instruments for assessing educator progress in technology integration. Institute for the Integration of Technology into Teaching and Learning, University of North Texas Denton. [online at http://www.iittl.unt.edu/pt3II/book1.htm, last accessed 12/05/2014]

3Christensen, R., Griffin, D., Knezek, G., 2001. Measures of Teacher Stages of Technology Integration and Their Correlates with Student Achievement.