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Being online – Dinosaur poo? June 20, 2015

Posted by ianinsheffield in PhD, Twitter.
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I’ve begun preparing for starting my PhD in October later this year. Whilst scouring the Web for articles, papers and other resources I’m keen to explore, a video on virtual ethnography bubbled to the surface. (Writing the research proposal and application, preparing for interview, then the initial forays into the field following confirmation that I had been successful have all contributed to me being less prolific on here than I might have preferred. Apologies.)

During the presentation, a suggestion by Jen Ross, brought me up short; that nowadays, it’s unlikely that we can ever truly be considered to be offline. After my initial reaction of what a ridiculous notion, I began to wonder if that could possibly be true, yet swiftly acknowledged that of course it was.

From the moment we first interact with the Web, as opposed to simply browsing it, we commit ourselves to a perpetual online presence. That might be making our first online purchase, opening a bank account, creating a social media profile or beginning communicating using email. We then become one tiny node in this vast network of people, devices and interconnections. But are we present? One might argue that unless you are at your keyboard or holding your smartphone/tablet and actively engaged in online activity, then how can you possibly be online? I’m not online whilst having a shower, enjoying a meal with friends or out on the bike, and yet … I could be streaming audio from Spotify whilst shampooing my grey hairs, snapping and posting to Tumbler a shot of our group at the table or sending my current performance directly to Strava. But since my smartphone is rarely even turned on, I don’t actually do those things.

The more I pondered, the more it became apparent that whilst at any particular instant, I might not be consciously engaged in online activity, I am still nevertheless online. As a blogger, podcaster, tweeter etc, my digital tracks mean that others have continual access to my thoughts and jottings. They can comment on that alluvium, provide feedback or enter into dialogue, if not in real time, then asynchronously. When I come across the online trails of other people, I feel I am offered a window into their thinking and a glimpse of who they are … or at least, who they portray.

‘Being online’ then perhaps brings into question the notion of presence; if we set to one side our analogue thinking and issues of temporality, it’s more about visibility, connectedness and what we leave for others to find. Whilst temporal displacement means no scientist has observed a dinosaur, we can still hypothesise about their diet by examining their fossilised droppings. Our online ‘droppings’ (an apt term if you’re a regular reader of In the pICTure!) mean we are indeed continually online and because of temporal proximity, available to exchange ideas and information and discuss issues.

These ideas were cemented home for me when I came across this post by Terry Heick, celebrating the life and work of Grant Wiggins who passed recently. Terry noted:

His work remains. His writing is always available–here, in his books, on his own blog, his twitter account, and more. When your work is thought and you leave a record of that thought, then your work never stops. Even when you ultimately have to.

Lazy writing … or pressures of deadlines? May 3, 2015

Posted by ianinsheffield in Musings, research.
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flickr photo by Patty Marvel http://flickr.com/photos/pattymarvel/16304315951 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

I’m not sure when I started becoming a much more critical reader/consumer of information delivered through the Internet, or whether being ‘picky’ is just a personality trait, but recently one particular stream of information has become an itch I need to scratch.

For some while I’ve found Edudemic to be a helpful source of inspiration and information; its RSS feed has always found a regular place in my reader. From interesting and helpful ideas, emerging educational technologies and provocative articles, I’ve regularly found something to stimulate my thinking. Recently though, my spidey-sense has started to tingle when reading some of the articles. If someone writes

Although 80% of K-12 teachers do have social media accounts, such as Twitter for personal or professional use, most of them don’t integrate them into classroom lessons.

that figure makes me sit up and take notice. 80%? As much as that?! I don’t get the impression from colleagues that it’s as high as that, but maybe I’m missing something. First thing then is to check the source of that figure; the link was, as you can see, helpfully provided.

The survey from which the data arose was undertaken by the University of Phoenix and the article helpfully provided a brief overview of its survey methodology. As an ‘online survey’ wouldn’t it be fair to say that it drew from a skewed population? So rather than 80% of teachers, we’re already at 80% of teachers who would complete an online survey. What we don’t know is how the survey respondents were recruited; it could have been through social media sites and if it was, then how is the 80% figure now looking in terms of being reflective of the whole teaching profession? (The University of Phoenix article did provide contact details for anyone who wanted more details on the methodology, so we could doubtless find our answers)

Having spotted one instance of data perhaps not telling the whole story, other examples started to become apparent. In “Teachers Guide to Polling in the Classroom” we’re told that

Research has shown that students absorb new information into chunks, with 20 minutes being the limit for that information to go from short-term to long-term memory.

Which seems somewhat familiar, but rather than take it on face value, we can follow the helpful link. This take us to a brief article on “Use It, or Lose It! Retaining New Knowledge with E-Polling” within the Colorado State University website. This actually cites what sounds like an academic article (Orlando, 2010) and in the references provides a link … to another brief article on polling technologies. This casually mentions

… it’s been proven that most people can only retain about 20 minutes of content in our short-term memory before we have to reflect on it in order to move it to our long-term memory …

yet fails to tell us where the evidence for this claim can be found. So research may indeed have shown that ‘students absorb new information into chunks,’ but at least do us the courtesy of providing a specific citation for the actual source, rather than bouncing us around a couple of other articles, neither of which provide a foundation for the claim.

A final example (The Four Negative Sides of Technology) offered up plenty of threads at which to pick, including

More than a third of children under the age of two use mobile media.

Whereas what the report actually said was “38% of all children under 2 have ever used a smartphone, tablet, or similar device.” ‘Use’ as opposed to ‘have ever used’ might seem to matter little, but I’d argue there is quite a significant shift in emphasis by changing the phrasing slightly. In the same article there’s

A report from the United Kingdom revealed that kids who use computer games …

where the link doesn’t actually go to a report, but to a Telegraph article about the report, which inevitably includes journalistic license. Why not simply link directly to, and quote from the report itself?

I suppose I’m simply being pedantic, expecting authors who are trying to convey a particular message and who might be on tight deadlines, to be completely rigorous and accurate in their referencing. Or with the impending election here in the UK, perhaps my cynicism filter needs recalibrating. And yet with the ease with which headlines can be quickly bounced around the Internet these days, if people don’t take the time to verify for themselves the claims that are being made within an article and simply take a headline Tweeted out at face value, groupspeak and the echo chamber become the norm. That’s beginning to bother me.

21st Century Learners – Myth or Reality? April 26, 2015

Posted by ianinsheffield in Musings, Teaching Idea.
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Earlier this week I was working with a colleague and her Year 6 group (10 year olds), introducing Google Maps – how to create your own customised map and add your own content. The group is shortly to visit Eyam on a field trip and we were exploring an alternative way to synthesise their learning from the trip, which has both a History and Geography focus. Rather than presenting the findings in a conventional way, using a customised map enables them to be rooted it in the geographical context from which they arose. Although familiar with Google docs, slides and sheets, creating a Google map constituted progression in their digital skills. This lesson then was about laying the foundational skills to enable them to work in the new environment, so the aims included creating a blank map, sharing it with their partner so both could edit, locating a specific point and adding a placemarker, editing the placemarker, adding text and an image, adding a line to represent a route from school to Eyam (then finding a shorter one). An extension task involved exporting the map to Google Earth and ‘flying’ along their route(s). If you’ve never used Google maps for anything other than searching for a place, then all of the above is likely to be quite new and (other than the notion of sharing) involves a different set of features than the ones commonly found in other applications. So in addition to teacher-led demonstrations of the tasks they were to undertake, I also produced a set of instructions to follow; a recipe book if you will. What happened next was quite interesting.

When the class began the activity (working in pairs), few bothered to refer to the instructions I provided and dived straight in, trying different parts of the available interface until they made headway. Those adopting the ‘trial and error’ method made faster progress than those following the instructions, up to the point where they got completely stuck then they floundered, trying to find the relevant point in the instructions (perhaps I need to rethink the way the instructions are compiled?). Once back on track, they raced ahead once more. They also made more mistakes, but seemed comfortable with that, happy to retry an attempt which had gone awry. Fascinating and delightful to see such resilience.

What intrigued and surprised me, though it probably shouldn’t have, was how different these ten-year-olds were when compared with the teacher groups with whom I often work. If I’d undertaken a similar activity with colleagues, I’m fairly sure (albeit anecdotally) that the proportions of those who begin with the instructions and those who would open with experimentation would be reversed. Which then begs the question, do young people these days approach a new task with more abandon than their older counterparts? Is this evidence for 21st Century Learners being somehow different i.e. that the digital era into which they were born is affecting their attitude? Or perhaps younger people are more experimental and happier to take risks, where time-poor teachers would rather adopt the low-risk strategy in order to ensure successful completion? If the two groups are not fundamentally different and all I’m seeing is age-related, developmental differences, I wonder where the transition from one approach to the other takes place and if it’s an incremental change, stretched out over time? As ten-year-olds, they’ve little experience of high-stakes testing; perhaps that’s the point when a trial-and-error approach becomes more of a liability and has to be dropped in favour of the safer, low-risk option? Sadly I don’t have the data to provide answers to these questions, but that one lesson prompted an awful lot of pondering!

Footnote. Two days later I was working with another class when a couple of students came by and said they couldn’t find the Google maps they had created last lesson. I couldn’t immediately leave the class I was supporting to help, but suggested they look in the instructions. They had; without joy. Fifteen minutes later when I could pop across to their class, they were all back on track, maps open and immersed in their activities. It transpired that my instructions had lapsed owing to the update to the new version of Google Maps. Although initially flummoxed, their ‘Try. Fail. Fail better.’ approach helped them to get up and running independently … and to be able to explain to me how my instructions needed amending!. I wonder if … more mature learners would have shown such persistence and adaptability?

In this TED Talk, Tim Harford talks about using a trial and error approach, which others discuss in more detail here.

The Interconnected Model – Part 3 April 1, 2015

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creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by Jordanhill School D&T Dept: http://flickr.com/photos/designandtechnologydepartment/5168943814

In preceding posts, I introduced the Interconnected Model as a mechanism through which to explore teacher growth, then discussed how that might provide one way by which to consider our recent RiskIT project. Here I’ll briefly reflect on the ways the Interconnected Model has informed my thinking and perhaps more importantly, what it has to say for our professional development agenda.

It’s perhaps important to state from the outset that this has been no more than my mental exercise; the examples referred to in the previous post used nothing more than imaginary personas. As I mentioned, it would be far more powerful and informative if we could gather the experiences of all our RiskIT participants and analyse the growth sequences they felt they undertook. Clarke and Hollingworth observed:

The non-linear structure of the model provides recognition of the situated and personal nature, not just of teacher practice, but of teacher growth: an individual amalgam of practice, meanings, and context.

By synthesising messages in the models contributed by whole community, we might be better placed to adjust our provision to better meet the needs of our participants and better allow for varied and individual growth.

Although the two examples in the previous post are fictional, they mirror reality in one sense; neither has any arrows which indicate flow to the external domain. Although we gather and share the outcomes of our Risks, the successes and failures (yes, I dare use the word!) within our community, it goes no further than that. We don’t formally reflect on the process, as we might if we were using the Interconnected Model as an interpretative tool. This means that our individual learning experiences can’t help inform each other’s knowledge and practice in anything other than a surface way. The brief information we share is decontextualised, making it harder for colleagues to see whether someone else’s journey through a particular Risk can help guide their own development. With adequate preparation, we could doubtless include a reflective element using the IM, but even if we did share those reflections within our community, would colleagues have the time (or inclination) to learn from the experiences of others? If we are to move beyond a simple surface approach, perhaps we need to commit more deeply? But to do that, colleagues will need the time and space. As Dylan Wiliam2 exhorts:

(School leaders) …should create a culture for the continuous improvement of practice, and to keep the focus on a small number of things that are likely to improve outcomes for students. In addition, they need to create the time within the existing teachers’ contracts to do this, and to encourage the taking of sensible risks.

1Clarke, D., Hollingsworth, H., 2002. Elaborating a model of teacher professional growth. Teaching and teacher education 18, 947–967.

2Wiliam, D., 2010. Teacher quality: why it matters, and how to get more of it. Paper given at Spectator ‘Schools Revolution’ conference http://www.dylanwiliam.org/Dylan_Wiliams_website/Papers.html

The Interconnected Model – Part 2 March 28, 2015

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As I mentioned in the preceding post, I wanted a way to explore the RiskIT Week programme we recently undertook in school. This is our third year of RiskIT and I felt it was time to focus in a little more closely on how it works, so wondered whether the Interconnected Model might provide a useful lens. Let’s consider how the Model might look for a particular individual then.

During the preliminary week of RiskIT, colleagues offer brief sessions sharing interesting practice where they enjoyed some measure of success. Let’s imagine Sarah attended a session where Paul was showing how he’d used Google Slides to on a collaborative group project with his Y10 class.

riskit1Sarah was sufficiently inspired to try it out in one of her Y9 lessons (1) and could then add that technique into her professional repertoire (2), becoming slightly more capable as a user of learning technology and having a new way through which to undertake collaborative work. Subsequently whilst reviewing a project she had done with the same Y9 group, she found that several of the students had transferred what they had learned in the RiskIT lesson to help them complete their project (3). This caused Sarah to reflect on the consequences of the lesson in a deeper way and helped to further embed what she had learned about collaborative work and Google Slides (4).
Of course different participants might have completely different models.

riskit2James was recently at a subject co-ordinator’s meeting where someone had demonstrated using Socrative as a lesson exit ticket system (1). Having been concerned for a while that he wanted a quicker way of scanning his classes for how much they had understood during lessons, he decided to try it with his Y11’s to establish how well the group had understood the introduction of difficult concept (2). The intention was to use the feedback from the class to prepare the follow-up lesson. Unfortunately, he hadn’t allowed sufficient time at the end of the lesson for the students to power up the laptops, log on, access his exit ticket, then log off and put the laptops away. He got very little usable information. Following a rethink (3), in preparation for a repeat with his next group, he asked if those who had them would use their smartphones (4). This time everything was completed in a few short moments (5) and he had the feedback he needed (6).

Although reflecting on the activities in this way is useful for me, it would be so much more powerful for colleagues to reflect on their own undertakings with a view to exploring what went well and what might need further attention (and how to go about that).

As I’ve started to look at our RiskIT in this way, I can see where our emphasis might need to shift for next year. Although the project closes when we share our Risks amongst each other, what we don’t do so well is to share our reflections on the outcomes. But then again, would people be able to find the time to read or hear about their colleagues’ experiences? Perhaps the most important bit of all?

In the concluding post of this series, I’ll consider some of the implications that taking a perspective using the Interconnected Model has revealed.