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Black tie not required June 4, 2012

Posted by IaninSheffield in Resources, Teaching Idea, Uncategorized.
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black tie

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by sparkypics: http://flickr.com/photos/sparkypics/166671345/

In a recent assembly I introduced ‘Digital Quests‘ to our Y7s to Y10s; they’ve come a long way since the first conception (via San Francisco even!). The idea of undertaking learning beyond the classroom, away from teacher guidance and support and without the possibility of conventional certification would be quite new for many of our students and as a consequence influenced my ‘pitch.’ Given the aforementioned link with Badging, you’ll not be surprised that featured significantly, however I wanted to attempt to set the context within which learning in this way would be located. Describing the what, where, when and how of Digital Quests was fairly straightforward, but the why …

The findings from my dissertation suggested that our students have a rather skewed view of learning, influenced unsurprisingly heavily by their experiences in school. Although some will take music exams, karate gradings and so forth, school provides the bulk of their formal learning. The students I interviewed during my research displayed no appreciation that in fact the majority of their learning actually takes place through informal or non-formal settings. Since Digital Quests fall in the realm (I’d suggest) of non-formal learning, I wanted to try to illustrate the importance of this learning domain, for them now and into the future as lifelong learners. That’s when I chanced upon a highly informative graphic produced by Jane Hart which illustrated many of the facets of the three learning domains, though largely in the context of learning in the workplace. With Jane’s kind permission, I adapted it with the intent of using it to (hopefully) help our students appreciate a little more about the wider circumstances within which they learn. [And I think I’ll shamelessly claim that as a contribution towards our Learning to Learn agenda ;-)]

three learning domains

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

My hope was that students might entertain the possibility that there are alternatives to the formal learning which seems to preoccupy them and that actually non-formal opportunities were deserving of greater consideration. The crucial factors are bounded by the purple outline which encompass learner autonomy and choice. In other words one of the ‘whys’ of Digital Quests (and other non-formal possibilities like MOOCs, P2PU, gaming/coding communities etc) was that students could choose the what, where, when and how of their learning … something they rarely have the opportunity to do within the formal system.

A couple of days later, a Y7 student came to ask me about signing up for the Cryptography course on Coursera, so at least some seed clearly fell away from the stony ground.

… “Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair” February 22, 2012

Posted by IaninSheffield in Inspiration, Musings, Web 2.0.
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It only seems like a short while ago that I first became aware of the Open Badges movement:

Learning today happens everywhere, not just in the classroom. But it’s often difficult to get recognition for skills and achievements that happen outside of school. Mozilla’s Open Badges project is working to solve that problem, making it easy for anyone to issue, earn and display badges across the web — through a shared infrastructure that’s free and open to all. The result: helping learners everywhere display 21st century skills, unlock career and educational opportunities, and level up in their life and work.


badges competitionThe project we’ve recently been working on in school (ICT Quests) seemed to be being constructed in a way which could benefit from the principles of Open Badges. So when the DML Badges for Lifelong Learning competition was announced, the possibility of offering an entry seemed to make sense. Well I’m not quite sure how, but we seem to have dropped lucky. Our submission not only got through the first round of selection, but we’ve been invited to the finals! They’re taking place in San Francisco next Tuesday & Wednesday, with the overall winners to be announced on the first day of the DML Conference.

Our entry was in the ‘Learning & Content’ stage with the ‘Design & Tech’ stage being undertaken by different groups to follow. For the finals we’ve been partnered with an open source development team from Catalyst IT, led by Richard Wyles (Project Lead for Mahara) in New Zealand. Their entry was “Moodle as Issuer, Mahara as Displayer” and clearly links with our ICT Quests through Moodle, our VLE – good matching by the competition organisers.

So now it’s all hands on deck to prepare our pitch for the judges. It’s not a massively big ask, but clearly competing against other teams adds a certain … edge! Bearing in mind we only have a maximum of 10 minutes to cover what our project can offer to the Open Badges movement, ensuring that the criteria for the content and tech strands are both covered and that they marry together to deliver a coherent whole. Condensing all that into a meaningful pitch is proving to be quite demanding. Given that projects can attract up to $200 000 of funding, it’s taking quite a bit of thought what to include and leave out … let alone the style! A bit like condensing Hamlet into a single Tweet.

So next Tuesday after the orientation and information dissemination session at the California Academy of Sciences, Richard and I will be knocking our pitch into shape, distilling and refining the content and finalising our budget ready for the judges on the following day.

Excitement and fear often do hold hands don’t they?

No, I’ve not had a good Xmas … and it’s John McLear’s fault! December 29, 2011

Posted by IaninSheffield in Musings, Reading, research.
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Punished by rewards
It’s John McLear’s fault for unsettling me over the Christmas break. It was he who suggested I ought to read Alfie Kohn’s book “Punished by Rewards” as he felt it might inform the work I was doing towards ICT Quests. The subtitle gives you a clue as to the basic premise of Kohn’s thesis – “The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes.” In essence that much of what we do to reward, incentivise, celebrate and acknowledge the achievements of our students, actually has a detrimental effect in terms of student learning and their commitment to good values. A rewards-based system promotes extrinsic motivation or ‘Do this and you’ll get that’, the result being that much of what students do is geared towards and directed by those rewards. The question then arises’ what happens when those rewards are no longer available for whatever reason? Maybe they move into a higher year group where gold stickers are no longer appropriate, maybe they have a new teacher from whom praise is less forthcoming or they leave formal education and no longer have grade’s to strive for. Furthermore, that providing rewards has been shown to stifle creativity and problem solving capacity and discourage risk-taking.

The key is doing all we can to nurture intrinsic motivation where students have a genuine interest in their endeavours, relish challenges and display greater innovativeness. We want students to want to learn, rather than wanting to be rewarded for their learning. A student choosing to produce a piece of artwork and work at it out of class of his own volition or solving a maths problem she read in a newspaper because it’s challenged her thinking, is far more important than a student aiming to get an ‘A’ for a piece of coursework … or avoid getting an ‘F.’ When the grade becomes the significant element, then shortcuts are taken to achieve that grade, paths of least resistance (and lower challenge) become preferable and interesting diversions will be ignored – “Will this be on the test miss?” To get students engrossed in their learning, it is far more effective to encourage them to think about what they are doing, rather than how wellthey are doing compared with everyone else.

bling my grade

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by DavidDMuir: http://flickr.com/photos/daviddmuir/583377693/

Oh dear! Not only have several of the behaviours I exhibited as a teacher been shown to be rather less than beneficial, but the ICT Quests model I’m working on might be fatally flawed, linked as it is to a badge-based ‘rewards’ system (Thanks for pointing that out John!). So have I dropped a clanger by devising a system in which completing each step in a sequence of tasks results in the ‘reward’ of a badge. Well, maybe; I’d certainly be interested to hear what Alfie thinks! But I’m going to say no for four reasons:

  • Students will be undertaking the ICT Quests as a result of their own interest or desire, not through any element of compulsion. They will be in control; they will make the choice to opt in.
  • They will also have choice of the level to which they wish to progress and to some degree, choice in what they produce for the output from the tasks.
  • The intention is that the badges needn’t be perceived as rewards. They are more correctly seen as markers; indicators to other people of the range of skills possessed by the student displaying those badges – a ‘can-do profile’ if you will.
  • Badges won’t be awarded with a ‘well done’ pat on the back. They are merely indicators showing that a set of criteria have been met.

Well they’re the intentions at any rate, though there will clearly need to be some work done as the project is rolled out to achieve a common understanding with participants … given the rewards and achievement based culture within which we come together. (And I’m now going to be looking in far more detail at the positive AND negative effects of leaderboards before I include them)

I think Mark Twain pretty much had it nailed when he had Tom whitewashing the fence.

[If you want a brief overview, here’s a PDF of an interview in which Alfie Kohn discusses the underlying themes in ‘Punished…’]