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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.

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).

Looks like I picked the wrong year to … start a 365 project! December 20, 2011

Posted by IaninSheffield in Inspiration, Tools, Web 2.0.
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cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo by erg0: http://flickr.com/photos/erg0/5378263638/

As the New Year appears on the horizon, I watch people planning their 365 projects with a degree of envy, but a recognition that I’d be unlikely to sustain a photo a day for a whole year. I’d probably run out of steam or inspiration long before even January drew to a close.

And yet I still have a hankering to undertake a serious year-long project. But who says 365 projects have to be about photography? Might it be possible to have a crack at a 365 project with a completely different theme? Well for my 365 project, I make the rules and I decided the answer would be ‘Yes’ … and the theme would be Web 2.0 tools. Given the thousands that are out there, how hard can it possibly be to find just 365? Well OK, it is a leap year, so that’s just made it a little bit harder, but I’ll live with that.

Rather than just picking tools at random, I’ve already done the hard work of searching out the ones I thought might best suit our learning/school-based needs. You might like to speculate which ones made the cut. I first thought I might present them thematically; a week of presentation tools, then a week of something else. But in the end decided to add a little frisson of anticipation by simply launching them alphabetically! I’ll still be tagging them thematically however, so as the year progresses (assuming and hoping I have the stamina!), viewers will be able to filter those of particular interest.

Adding a few lines of descriptive or explanatory text would have been a little too easy, so since I’m less at ease in the oral medium, I’ve opted to push myself a little harder by producing a mini-podcast outlining what each tool offers. With that in mind, I also wanted to add one more layer to each post, in which I would offer a notional idea of the level of demand or learning complexity of each tool. At first I considered trying to assign each tool to a particular level on Bloom’s taxonomy, but that just didn’t seem right; I felt the level on Bloom’s is more related to the task being undertaken than the tool being used. As Silvia Tolisano observed with iPad apps, tools can be used in different ways at different times, so a tool’s position is likely to be somewhat fluid. In the end, having recently begun to read more about Ruben Puentedura’s SAMR model, it seemed to lend itself more closely to how I wanted to classify the different tools.SAMR model Moreover, regular inspection and application of a framework is surely more likely to lead to greater understanding?

Assuming that each tool could work at least the ‘Substitution’ level, my task then would be to establish what further affordances might enable it to work at higher levels. So for each tool, I’ll offer a tentative level, but hope that folks might challenge my thinking, suggesting how they think a particular tool works at a different level.

Given that each daily post will mash together different resources, Posterous seemed the easiest tool to facilitate that, so you’ll find it’s all happening at 366 Web 2.0 Tools … well, OK not quite yet, but at least there’s a page of introduction and links to some of the sources I drew on. Roll on January 1st!

PLE . . . the best of things, the worst of things? May 20, 2010

Posted by IaninSheffield in Management, TELIC.
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One of the final tasks of this module of study on my Master’s course is, as you might expect, the reflective element. IC2 requires us to take on the role of change agent, charging us to plan, deliver and evaluate a project for a notional ‘client.’ I chose to undertake a pilot study in preparation for a year-long project we’re undertaking next academic year.
Multiple roles

More than once during this project I’ve felt some measure of discomfort, struggling to retain a degree of perspective and feeling I’ve lost the handle on what I’ve been trying to achieve. Now that I look back on my role, I can begin to appreciate why that might have been, for I’ve been wrestling with multiple personalities;

  1. Change agent – the person tasked with moving ‘us’ forward as a result of adopting this innovation
  2. Client – I’m the one who conceived and commisioned the project.
  3. Project Manager – the person who marshals the resources (human & technical) to realise the project
  4. Researcher – someone who determines the success (or otherwise) of the project and suggests routes forward.

From Denise Cross on Flickr

Whilst it wouldn’t be fair to say that these roles conflict with one another, each demands you view the project from a slightly different perspective; that you slip on a different pair of specs. And anyone who wears specs knows that requires a shift in focus . . . which can be quite disconcerting! I’ve often found myself working in an area of the project whilst wearing the wrong specs., for instance trying to view elements of change whilst wearing the project manager’s specs – it doesn’t work and I find my thinking going round in circles. But why so many roles? Why client and project manager?

In school I’m involved with the ‘nitty-gritty’ like getting classroom projectors working and providing, supporting and guiding colleagues with ICT CPD. I also lead the ICT Support Team, manage the ICT budget and ensure our estate is fit for purpose. I advise the SMT on ICT strategy and have the role of school ICT Leader, helping find and map out possible future directions. It’s not that that’s too much for a single individual; swapping a hard drive one minute and writing a development plan the next provides an excellent overview. No, my worry is that in looking for opportunities to explore innovative uses of ICT, I’m on my own; there’s no-one to bounce ideas off or set me a target. I blame my PLE for causing me to feel like this. Many of the people within my PLE are incredibly innovative in how they use ICT in their classrooms and with their pupils. They work at the bleeding edge. They’re inspirational. They provide a constant stream of stimulation from which I draw ideas . . . like @tombarrett‘s Tweet which lit the spark for this project.

Unfortunately there is a small part of me which hopes for a similar experience back in school as that which I get from my PLE . . . and it’s disappointing when that doesn’t come to fruition. There are (to my knowledge) no other colleagues who use Twitter as a learning tool, who blog as part of their professional development, who use social networking tools of any aspect of their work . . . despite my best efforts of encouragement. But then should I be surprised? I’ve come to the conclusion that people in my PLE are quite unusual; they aren’t found everwhere and in fact are spread few and far between. The more I think about it, the more I realise that I’m unusual too; I think differently from other people in school. Is there something particular about edtech enthusiasts that sets them apart?

Anyway to return to the point, multiple roles. In this unusual position, I find I’m the one who taps into channels which provide inspiration for new ideas, but then I also have to explore the possibilities and potential pitfalls, devise a plan, form the necessary coalitions (is that word still allowed in this post-election environment?), execute the tasks and evaluate the outcomes. This isn’t a whinge at all; I love doing it . . . but is it best for our organisation in the long run?