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Caring about sharing January 11, 2015

Posted by IaninSheffield in Musings, Resources.
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sharing is caring

creative commons licensed (BY-NC) flickr photo by Niklas Wikström: http://flickr.com/photos/niklaswikstrom/5214708665

In a recent discussion with a colleague regarding our learning platform, I was brought up short by a comment they made. One of the affordances of the platform is the capability to share resources and ideas both within our school and between colleagues in sister schools, which strikes me as only a positive thing. Not so perhaps. The colleague observed that whilst sharing and collaboration are fine in principle, the reality is that the performativity demands placed upon individuals, departments/faculties and schools, mean that we are in competition with one another. As individual teachers we compete for recognition or recompense; we strive for things which make us stand out from our colleagues so that we can meet the criteria which allow us to jump through the next threshold hoop. Departments are continually judged against one another by the exam results our students achieve, the approaches we adopt and the opportunities we offer beyond the formal curriculum. League tables and competition for students place schools in competition with one another, rather than encouraging co-operation and collaboration. I was minded of a conversation I had with a colleague a few years ago about an interesting resource they had developed. When I asked how she was going to share that with colleagues, the reply was guardedly unequivocal; whilst we might have a general principle of sharing with one another, she felt she needed to retain sole access to certain interesting resources so that in the eyes of the students, she would be able to stand out from the crowd.

How depressing. When combined with teachers’ hesitancy or reluctance to make their materials open; the possibility of losing rights and control of their materials; concerns over quality judgements of their resources; and possible copyright claims against embedded content that they have downloaded and reused (Davis et al 2010), it’s perhaps a wonder that any ideas or resources are shared at all. But there are indeed teachers out there sharing and sharing generously, as successful repositories1 like TES Teaching Resources, Jorum, MERLOT, and the OER Commons attest. Or indeed by the exchange of ideas and materials that takes place continually through social media platforms like Twitter and Google Plus.

Why then should this be? Perhaps these teachers have found ways to overcome the organisational, cultural, legal and technological barriers (Charlesworth et al, 2007)? Or perhaps they recognise the value of participating in a community of sharing which delivers benefits including:

  • exposure to models of interesting practice;
  • conservation of time and effort by avoiding duplication of resources;
  • scaffolding and mentoring for teachers new to the profession or to a different curriculum area;
  • Inspiration for teachers wishing to redevelop or redesign the curriculum.

(Philip & Cameron, 2008)

For me though, it’s  simple moral issue; one of reciprocity. The Internet and the connections it brings has provided me with a never-ending stream of resources and ideas from which I continually draw. I can trace this right back to a website which provided so many worksheets, teaching ideas and wonderful links to support me in my Physics teaching and my students in their learning. Amazingly it’s still going strong under the name of its author – Andy Darvill’s Science Site, Andy being a Physics teacher and early pioneer of using the Web to provide online resources. It inspired me to do the same for my students (and anyone else who dropped by), though my site is no longer around (other than through the WayBack Machine). I gained so much from Andy and others like him, I felt obliged to attempt to pay back some of that generosity, if not directly, then to the community at large. That’s the way it should work shouldn’t it; the more we gain, the more we contribute? Surely we can do better than 90 9 1?

1Open eLearning Content Repositories

Charlesworth, A.J., Ferguson, N., Schmoller, S., Smith, N., Tice, R., 2007. Sharing eLearning Content – a synthesis and commentary. HEFCE
Davis, H.C., Carr, L., Hey, J.M., Howard, Y., Millard, D., Morris, D., White, S., 2010. Bootstrapping a culture of sharing to facilitate open educational resources. Learning Technologies, IEEE Transactions on 3, 96–109.
Philip, R., Cameron, L., 2008. Sharing and reusing learning designs: Contextualising enablers and barriers, in: World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications. pp. 453–462.

Diffusion … but not gaseous January 3, 2014

Posted by IaninSheffield in Reading, research, Resources.
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diffusion of innovationsI recently finished Everett M Rogers’ book Diffusion of Innovations, a volume I’d been meaning to get round to reading in full for some while. In exploring how technology establishes itself in education, I’d long been aware of the notion whereby individuals within a social system can be classified into categories, based on their attitude to innovations. The rate at which an innovation is adopted by the members of a system can be plotted against time and the following is produced.

diffusion of innovations

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo by Wesley Fryer: http://flickr.com/photos/wfryer/2564440831/

A little mathematics divides the curve into segments, characteristics of people occupying each of the segments are established and voilà, you have the different adopter categories. You can read more about the categories in this Wikipedia article – which category are you in by the way?

I’d often wondered whether or how the five categories of adopter might be applied within a school setting, but also felt I needed to know more about the background, which is why I bought the book. The cases Rogers uses to illustrate the principles of Diffusion Theory are taken from widely varying fields (no pun intended!) like farming, health care, contraception, cell phones etc. But whenever I’m reading a book of this nature, I’m always wearing my educational specs and looking for ways to interpret and apply the findings or theory for the contexts I experience at work or in my own learning. We have a couple of major initiatives at school at the moment which would be ripe for analysis using a Diffusion Theory framework. But then something else popped into my head …

With unerring regularity, discussions (and I use the term loosely!) on the merits of interactive whiteboards (IWBs) bubble to the surface. Evidence can be seen through blog posts like this or this and  Twitter exchanges or on discussion threads like MirandaLink, the ICT Research Network or EduGeek. Opinion really can be quite polarised! To nail my colours to the mast, I’m fairly squarely in the pro-IWB camp which I guess stemmed from the time I changed careers to work in a City Learning Centre where one of my first duties was to support the roll-out of a major IWB project in primary schools across Sheffield, providing the training for the teachers involved. I guess you don’t become an accredited IWB trainer without developing some degree of passion for the subject? But that was over ten years ago; do I still feel the same? How much have we moved forward now that the technology is more mature and more ubiquitous in our classrooms? Given their age, some of the IWBs will doubtless be coming to the end of their life (I know we’ve a couple in school which are ready for replacement), so do we replace like for like … or consider alternatives like interactive (boardless) projectors, large touch-capable display screens, tablets with screen-mirroring capability?

With all those questions swimming around, it struck me that Rogers might be able to help here. First to provide a lens to look back at how IWBs were deployed originally – what might we learn by considering that deployment from a diffusion theory standpoint? And secondly looking forward to the next stage and whether we replace our IWB estate and if so, with what? So I started by looking back through the research, which is when I realised this will probably merit a bit more than a single blog post, or even two or three, so I pondered what might be a better forum through which to undertake that examination? A wiki? Maybe a Google site? Hmmm … any ideas?

More to follow …

Let’s Git Goin’ November 1, 2013

Posted by IaninSheffield in Musings, Resources, Teaching Idea.
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cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by Irish Typepad: http://flickr.com/photos/irisheyes/8420312876/

I’ve known about GitHub for some while, but little more than it was a place ‘coders’ seemed to use to conduct the black arts.  Then whilst at the 2013 eAssessment Conference in Dundee, I attended a session on interactive fiction as mechanism for assessment. Intrigued, I investigated further and unearthed a bunch of tools to support the writing of interactive fiction. During these explorations however, I also came across a number of blog posts by writers who saw potential in using GitHub for the writing process, especially where that writing might be collaborative in nature. Just try a search for ‘writing using github’ and see what interest there is. One post by Loren extolling the virtues of GitHub, but bemoaning how off-putting it is for non-techies, described a tool she was designing to make the whole process easier – Penflip, a collaborative writing platform. At that point (having wrestled with writing using Choicescript connected with GitHub) I began to sit up and take notice, because we were now into the realm of something manageable by most people. But, to return to the opening line, why the interest in GitHub?

GitHub: The Basics

Together this TechCrunch article and Loren’s post provide a useful summary and overview, but the principle of GitHub hangs on four basic principles:

  • A repository where projects are held. A coder/writer works on their project, saving the various iterations as they go, allowing them at any point to return to a previous version should they have pursued a dead end.
  • Forking or branching which allows another person to break off from the main project and develop a separate branch, building on what has gone before. When satisfied that their new branch has something to offer, they can submit a
  • Pull request. Now the originator of the project can consider this new branch and if s/he feels it adds to the project, they can approve the request which
  • Merges that into the master, thereby improving or extending the original.

Clearly this is incredibly powerful for writing complex computer applications, drawing on the principle of many hands making light work, but also guarding against too many cooks spoiling the broth. The forking allows different people to work on different aspects, or different ways of addressing the same aspect, yet their alterations/additions needn’t contaminate the original until approved and merged. If on the other hand, their fork leads into a completely new area, but away from the original, the open nature of the platform and the principles which underpin it allow them to pursue that new avenue.

GitHub For Teachers

Marc wrote at length about how to use GitHub, particularly within the context of developing resources as a member of a team within school, though with a background in computing, he’s not perhaps the average teacher. As Loren also recognised, the technical jargon which surrounds GitHub presents a considerable barrier to non-techies, which is why she was prompted to develop Penflip. Perhaps then this might offer an easier entry point to teams wishing to collaborate to build resources together. But why stop at individual resources? There are other tools which have recently surfaced like Activate, OpenCurriculum and others which allow teachers to build upon the work peers have already undertaken, enabling resources to be gathered, marshaled, re-purposed, distributed and deployed to students. However these don’t specifically address the development and writing of the schemes of work which provide the structures within which those resources need to be organised.

The next level

You don’t have to have been in school long to hear the phrase “I’d really like to do that, but I just don’t have the time.” Now whilst there’s a whole other discussion to be had around that, perhaps one of the contributory factors is that we rarely work ‘smart.’ The new National Curriculum is almost upon us here in the UK, so once more we rewrite our schemes of work. We do that in response to changes in the curricula that exam boards provide or to address new initiatives that our schools are exploring, but most of all we do it to make the learning we lead our students through more enriching, more effective and more enjoyable. But it’s incredibly time consuming! Time consuming for an individual yes, but collectively across the profession ….!

The question has to be asked why we don’t work in a more unified or concerted way to undertake that development work? I posed a similar question when thinking about the text books which we use to support our students’ studies. Why then shouldn’t we crowd-source curriculum development? And why shouldn’t a GitHub-like tool enable that to happen? I’m not the first to ask the question; Peps McCrea already has, and has even gone a stage further in building OpenPlan, a more friendly and appropriate tool specifically for curriculum planning and to build on the gains that will unquestionably come from teachers planning together, rather than in isolation.

It’s not just about the time-saving and increase in efficiency, but also about the improvements in quality as more minds and experience can be bent to the task. The principle of forking allows you branch off from the main stem and develop the core project to suit your circumstances and students more closely. You’ve saved time in that the foundations were already laid; you just had to tweak things, but in doing that you might also have saved time for someone else down the line with similar needs. Win-win. You might instead have an interest in contributing to the main stem, feel you have ideas to offer, and subsequently offer a pull request for your fork to contribute to the main flow. You made a difference and contributed to your peers’ community and we all know how fulfilling that can be.

I hope OpenPlan gets to fruition and enjoys a wide usership. I’m sure there are technical hurdles yet to overcome, but suspect they will be as nothing in comparison with encouraging people to adopt an entirely new, GitHub-style workflow. It makes perfect sense to me, but as I’m often reminded, I’m not ‘normal.’

Down the rabbit hole … May 19, 2013

Posted by IaninSheffield in Musings, Resources.
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After watching a YouTube video, have you ever been enticed to click on one of the thumbnail links to other videos which appear after the video has finished? Or maybe followed one of the thumbnail links to other videos which are listed to the right of the main frame? I know I have. Which set me thinking about how YouTube can be bent to serve our learning needs in three ways, based on the three different approaches to learning I’ve previously reflected on.

forms of learning

cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo by ianguest: http://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/7338094308/

The boundaries between formal, non-formal and informal learning are fuzzy to say the least, since we must address several factors which influence the type of learning: independent versus institutionalised, structured v unstructured, teacher-directed v learner-controlled, certificated v open, scheduled v time-unbounded, intentional v unintentional, purposeful v serendipitous.

Formal learning

Eraut1 (2000) identifies five features of formal learning:

  • a prescribed learning framework
  • an organised learning event or package
  • the presence of a designated teacher or trainer
  • the award of a qualification or credit
  • the external specification of outcomes

So here is where we would see YouTube videos created (by a teacher/tutor/lecturer) to support students undertaking a course of study leading to a specific qualification.

Non-formal learning

The EC2 (2001) Communication on Lifelong Learning defined non-formal learning as

learning that is not provided by an education or training institution and typically does not lead to certification.  It is, however, structured (in terms of learning objectives, learning time or learning support).  Non-formal learning is intentional from the learner’s perspective.

(Whilst producing similar features to Eraut’s characteristics formal learning, they also added the dimension of ‘intentionality.’)

This where we might see a learner taking an a non-credit art class for pleasure is directed to YouTube to learn more about a particular technique. Or perhaps an amateur astronomer attending a session at a local society on the techniques required to take a long-exposure photo, drops by YouTube to reinforce what she learned.

Informal learning

The EC2 also defined informal learning as:

resulting from daily life activities related to work, family or leisure. It is not structured (in terms of learning objectives, learning time or learning support) and typically does not lead to certification. Informal learning may be intentional but in most cases it is non-intentional (or “incidental”/ random)

These are the serendipitous moments where you set out with a specific goal, then were led down a completely different, perhaps even more stimulating path by the other videos YouTube offered you. You have no idea where these journeys might lead, or what riches of discovery they might offer, though we must also acknowledge that at times they may simply serve to distract or divert attention.

So perhaps we have to accept that using YouTube in a school-context, where formal learning is the dominant form, YouTube is to some extent a double-edged sword. Whilst it can be used in a structured programme for intentional outcomes, it also comes with the rabbit hole of opportunity. Do we use a tool like Quietube or ViewPure which filters out many of the distractions or choose to celebrate the potential richness and additionality that informal learning might bring? I guess it depends on your viewpoint … and your students?

Should you wish to explore further, Colley, Hodkinson and Malcolm3 discussed the field of formal, informal and non-formal learning in much greater depth, providing an excellent summary and overview; well worth a read.

1Eraut, M.R., 2000. Non-formal Learning and Tacit Knowledge in Professional Work. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 70(1), pp.113–136. Available at: http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/bpsoc/bjep/2000/00000070/00000001/art00008 [Accessed May 18, 2013].

2European Commission, 2001. Making a European Area of Lifelong Learning a Reality, Available at: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:52001DC0678:EN:NOT [Accessed May 18, 2013].

3Colley, H., Hodkinson, P. & Malcolm, J., 2002. Non-formal learning: mapping the conceptual terrain, a consultation report, Available at: http://www.infed.org/archives/e-texts/colley_informal_learning.htm [Accessed May 19, 2013].

ePortfolios … Part Deux April 29, 2013

Posted by IaninSheffield in Management, Resources, Tools.
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The previous post outlined the reasons behind our investigations into ePortfolios. Here are some thoughts following those explorations.

ePortfolios mean different things to different people and are defined subtly differently. For Sutherland and Powell1 an ePortfolio constitutes a

… purposeful aggregation of digital items – ideas, evidence, reflections, feedback etc, which ‘presents’ a selected audience with evidence of a person’s learning and/or ability.

and this is where the highly informative and extensive JISC Infokit begins.

George Siemens summarises other definitions and also examines in more detail the components forming an ePortfolio, their benefits and uses and the steps necessary to implement a system, then create the portfolios themselves. Lorenzo and Ittelson produced a helpful overview through an Educause ELI Publication, covering definitions, issues and different types (student, teacher, institutional), rounded off with some useful case studies, though these are all understandably within a higher education context. To find material more closely related to primary/secondary (K-12) education, you need to dig a little deeper, but there is plenty there. Dr Helen Barrett produced a Google site which explores how ePortfolios might be provided through Google Apps and John Pallister provided a detailed and informative account of how Wolsingham School engaged its community in the eportfolio process … and product!

Process? Product? Both?

Our students will be recording and reflecting on their ongoing learning, activities and participation yet at some points the collection of artefacts they’ve aggregated will need turning into a product provided for an audience or audiences. It’s this process-product interaction which steered us towards considering an ePortfolio solution to service those needs. But, as I asked in the previous post, is it really a full-blown ePortfolio we need? Or might there be other options?


There are several continua across which different solutions can be mapped.

  • Control: the extent to which the solution is in the hands of the institution or learner. Is it locked down or open, rigid or flexible, fixed or customisable, learner-centric or institutionally driven?
  • Alignment: the extent to which a solution meets the specified requirements
  • Cost: always a thorny one! Accounting for the hidden costs is often problematic, especially attributing a specific value for aspects such as people’s time, whether the teachers’, technical support or administration.
  • Features: the range of features the solution offers.
ePortfolio Continuum

ePortfolio Continuum, Ian Guest (http://www.flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/) / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Here’s one example within which, from back to front, feature-richness and alignment increase, and indeed, likely does cost. And control? Well that could probably be argued either way. Some solutions may be feature-rich, more costly but be well-aligned with our needs whereas others might be more flexible, cheaper, but less well-aligned. So how to reach a more objective decision?
In some sense it could be possible to ascribe a numerical value to each of the potential solutions and thereby place them more objectively on each of the continua. A weighting could be applied to each continuum based on the degree of importance i.e. if cost is critical, that could be weighted more highly. In this way each solution could be scored and compared with other alternatives … but that’s quite some job. Particularly so when you begin to explore the possibilities out there:

About.me https://about.me/
Desire2Learn http://www.desire2learn.com/products/eportfolio/
Easy Portfolio (app) https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/easy-portfolio-eportfolio/id516212900?mt=8
eFolioworld http://v2efolioworld.project.mnscu.edu
epsilien ePortfolio http://corp.epsilen.com/k12/eportfolio/
Foliofor.me http://foliofor.me/
Foliotek http://www.foliotek.com/
Google Apps for Edu https://www.google.co.uk/
Mahara https://mahara.org/
OneFile http://www1.onefile.co.uk/tour_eportfolio_overview.aspx
PebblePad http://www.pebblepad.co.uk/
RCampus http://www.rcampus.com/eportfoliohomeshellc.cfm?view=cp
Relection2 http://www.symplicity.com/reflection
Sakai http://www.sakaiproject.org/
Taskstream https://www1.taskstream.com/solutions/student-assessment/
Wikispaces http://www.wikispaces.com/
WordPress http://wordpress.com/

… which is of course just a flavour of what’s available across the spectrum and is far from exhaustive, leaving us with much pondering, ruminating and exchanging of views still to be done.

1Sutherland, S. and Powell, A. (2007), CETIS SIG mailing list discussions [Online] Available at: https://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/cgi-bin/webadmin?A1=ind0707&L=CETIS-PORTFOLIO#3 (Accessed: 13 August 2012).