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Thursday, 26 November 2009

Instructional Technology in Schools

Graphic: Book cover"The Use of Instructional Technology in Schools examines teachers' use of the major instructional technologies over the last century — from the days of silent film, radio and slide shows through to the modern interactive whiteboard and the Web. It explores the reasons why so few teachers have used these technologies and why, even in today's digital world, the most commonly used classroom tools are the pen, paper and teaching board."

I make no apology for including this 'advert' as I helped in some of the discussions with Mal Lee about the evolving use of technologies in the UK. However, I have just been informed by Eurospan Limited, the UK branch of ACER Press, that they are offering a 15% discount on Mal Lee's books to educationists. The 'blurb' goes on to say:

"The book provides decision makers with an invaluable insight into the million dollar question: What is required to get all teachers across the nation using the appropriate instructional technology as a normal part of everyday teaching? Without question, student learning is enhanced by adopting these new technologies.

"Until now, research on why the majority of teachers use only the most basic tools in the classroom has been scarce. The Use of Instructional Technology in Schools examines this phenomenon and, most importantly, identifies what is required to achieve teachers' universal acceptance of instructional technologies."

About the authors

Mal Lee is an educational consultant specialising in the development of digital technology in schools. He is a former director of schools and secondary school principal, who has written extensively on the effective use of ICT in teaching practice. Mal Lee is co-author of Leading a Digital School: Principles and practice (ACER Press, 2008) and The Interactive Whiteboard Revolution: Teaching with IWBs (ACER Press, 2009).

Arthur Winzenried has taught in a wide variety of library and classroom settings, from primary to tertiary, and has been responsible for innovative developments in school ICT over a number of years. He is a frequent national and international speaker on knowledge management and is currently Lecturer in Information Systems at Charles Sturt University, NSW, Australia.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Graphic: The JISC logo.Two new documents have been published by JISC and prepared by an illustrious team headed up by Janet Strivens of the Centre for Recording Achievement, dated August 2009.

The first, entitled, 'The role of e-portfolios in formative and summative assessment practices', at 66 pages is both a helpful and informative document, despite it being published in Word format. The second, entitled, 'The Role of e-Portfolios in Formative and Summative Assessment: Case Studies of Practice' at a staggering 175 pages takes a bit of time to digest!

The two documents together make a good presentation of the state of e-Portfolios in the UK within the HE sector. The combined wisdom of the team presents a picture that cannot be ignored.

However, there are still too many anomalies and areas which need to be addressed, such as the time needed to train staff and enable them to be comfortable with this medium that might be quite different to anything that they have experienced before.

My main frustration is that over the last few years little has changed in as much as some so-called e-Portfolios still appear to be little more than a substitutionary VLE, delivering both content and in some cases assessment tools built into the e-Portfolio. Again, some institutions' criteria for assessment are more concerned with the skills required for the construction of the e-Portfolio rather than assessing the content and processes demonstrated and the attitude of the student. Questions relating to the use of Macromedia or any web-tool service, for instance, should be irrelevant to the purpose of assessment for which the tool is to be used.

The fact that most of the e-Portfolio systems are still an embedded part of the institutions' delivery is a serious cause for concern and fundamental to issues of portability and student 'ownership'. One emergent problem is that of security, whereby assessors could remotely gain access to parts of the VLE which was not necessarily part of a student's e-Portfolio. Similarly, (an old 'hobby-horse' of mine) there is some discussion about using different e-Portfolios for different purposes, whereas I would suggest that a good e-Portfolio system such as eFolio can deliver different 'views' to different audiences, concurrently, using much of the same content for different purposes.

Perhaps the key-word relating to the functionality of any e-Portfolio is 'interoperability' - and yet the topic does not appear to be mentioned anywhere in the report. Again, the report and case-studies reflect, in my opinion, a significant lack of acceptance of 'transition' and lifelong, lifewide learning as being an important part of the e-Portfolio concept.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Issues Encountered by Distance Educators

Recurring Issues Encountered by Distance Educators in Developing and Emerging Nations is the full title of a very helpful article (first pointed out by Tony Bates) from the noble body entitled, The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning.

I must commend the willingness of authors to publish these articles for open access. There is a whole range of mandatory reading with which I must certainly catch up.
The abstract to the article, The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning reads:

"This article explores a number of challenges faced by e-learning or distance educators in developing and emerging countries, provides a context for many of the challenges, and outlines some measures devised to overcome them. These educators must determine a sound rationale for employing online learning, recognize that technology is only part of the educational transformation process, address the lack of infrastructure and the cost of Internet bandwidth and equipment, counter the cultural imperialism of courseware from Western nations, deal with limited educational resources, place a greater emphasis on quality assurance systems and change negative perceptions of distance education, respond to the needs and concerns of both students and faculty, access or develop up-to-date educational resources, and consider the implementation of mobile learning. The continued growth and success of distance education in developing and emerging nations will depend on the extent to which issues covered in this article are addressed as they bear on the quality of the learning experience provided to students. "

Perhaps a further note of caution need to be defined in terms of the actual Teaching and Learning culture. Perhaps where good VLEs have not yet been established, the place of the e-Portfolio becomes even more important. And yet the very climate in the classroom may still be that of "I teach, You listen." Yes, the e-Portfolio can be a good record of a student's learning, of their competencies and interests, all of which can be part of a traditional didactic approach. However, the e-Portfolio also lends itself to collaboration and peer review which might still be beyond the experience of some teachers and lecturers.

Although 'collaboration' is mentioned several times in the paper, it is in terms of institutions' collaborative efforts related to generally economic pressures. It is therefore time that, in such organisations, teachers and lecturers re-defined their curricula in order to build upon those beneficial processes of collaboration and peer review, sharing with mentors and building upon regular formative feedback from tutors. And this, of course is where the e-Portfolio is best able to support Teaching & Learning.

Beyond the Virtual?

Image:  A lone schoolboy sat on a pile of books looking at a laptop screen.'The loneliness of the long distance runner' came to mind as I first saw this article in eSN Today. The article by Christine Van Dusen raised the vision of the 'Home-Alone' learner - and soon expelled any thoughts that I might have had along these lines. She continues:

"This static, impersonal, anti-social school experience is the image that many parents, teachers, and school administrators continue to have in mind when they picture the world of online learning, even as more and more brick-and-mortar school districts explore full- or part-time virtual education. But this image is a flawed one, experts say. Not only are most online-education programs highly interactive, with students engaging in virtual discussions with teachers and their peers as they work on inquiry-based projects and activities, but often the learning takes place within—or is supplemented by—a traditional classroom experience."

Strong communication is key to effective online learning
In the same newsletter, Meris Stansbury comments on a new research paper (Sept 2009) by the International Association for K-12 Online Learning. In particular, I liked her analysis of 11 points: 'Characteristics of successful online teachers.' I commend this article as a good checklist for those involved in on-line tutoring or even those considering such a career. I list the brief headings of each of her main paragraphs and suggest that you read, reflect upon and inwardly digest the full contents of her list:

  1. Meets the professional teaching standards....

  2. Has the prerequisite technology skills to teach online:

  3. Plans, designs, and incorporates strategies....

  4. Promotes success through regular feedback, prompt response, and clear expectations:

  5. Models and encourages legal, ethical, and safe online behaviour....

  6. Has experienced online learning from the perspective of a student,...

  7. Understands and is responsive to students with special needs....

  8. Creates and implements assessments in ways that ensure validity and reliability.

  9. Develops and delivers assessments, projects, and assignments that meet standards-based learning goals:

  10. Uses data to modify instruction and guide student learning:

  11. Collaborates with colleagues; networks with others involved in online education.

For me, yes, as you might guess, this is yet another area where I would claim that a professional level and yet user-friendly e-Portfolio system such as eFolio is the perfect solution for making Distance-, Virtual-, or Home-learning a successful and enjoyable expereince for all concerned, teachers, parents, learners and peers; to name but just a few!

Thursday, 19 November 2009

On-line Learning

Logo:  On-line Colleges The above company drew my attention to some challenging statistics concerning on-line learning. Obviously, I see on-line learning as the future for all ages and strata of society. And, as I've argued previously, mainstream schools need to start thinking about how 'the school without walls' will actually support teaching and learning and to what extent the curriculum will change.

Despite the statistics being American it gives us six significant pointers for discussion and how we should be arguing for on-line provision in our own countries or localities.

Again, for readers who might not have seen some of my previous posts, the benefits of having one's own e-Portfolio cannot be over stated. eFolio meets the needs of all learners, Lifelong and Lifewide (ie whatever one's abilities).

Graphic: Man looking at a very small world in the palm of his hand. Citrix on-line also provides some very thought-provoking papers including 'Questions senior executives ask about eLearning' and 'Five Keys to getting started with interactive on-line training' and 'How to Market Training'. Again, very thought-provoking papers to be read in the context of schools and Virtual Learning.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Small-Group Collaboration

Photo:  A group of children with their teacher around a single laptopI have just come across a very useful article on teaching and learning with a particular emphasis on collaboration from eSchoolNEWS. The article is well worth reading with the proviso that one can think in terms of on-line learning instead of the scenario depicted of US schools still living in the 20th Century.

Almost every single point could be translated into 21st Century Virtual Learning using a good e-Portfolio system such as eFolio. The Author, Ellie Ashford writes:
"Everyone needs to be able to collaborate in a group, because that's how things are done in the real world. No one sits alone and works by themselves any more," said Stan Silverman, director of technology-based learning systems at the New York Institute of Technology.

Some educators believe students gain a deeper understanding when they participate in group projects.

Lance Sutton, a teacher at Westview Elementary School in Goose Creek, S.C., said: "When a teacher lectures to them, they forget; when you have kids help design something, they will remember for a lifetime."

Sutton said collaboration is "a more positive way of teaching" and addresses the needs of students who learn best in different ways, such as those who are visual learners or auditory learners. He uses an interactive whiteboard and Interwrite Workspace software from eInstruction to facilitate small-group instruction with his fifth-graders."

As much as I agree with the teaching and learning style eloquently put in this extensive article, surely it is time to encourage, even at this young age, that students work on computers attached to a VLE or at least the Internet. This way all the exciting discussions, and activities, the artefacts produced etc are recorded for the teacher to assess or for the pupils to collaborate even more effectively, to reflect upon, access from home or present to an audience.

Everything Ellie Ashford says is true, but how much more effective can collaboration be through the use of e-Portfolios!

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Virtual Schooling ?

Graphic: Logo for ReViCaFollowing on from my previous post I wanted to explore with you the impact of 'Virtual Schooling' and came upon a post by Tony Bates commenting on the newsletter from ReViCa. This looks like a document that we should all be watching.

However, as a footnote to the newsletter was the link to Morten Flate Paulsen's book 'Online Education'. Although somewhat dated (pub 2003) and at 338 pages (.pdf) it is still a serious read. The following SlideShare brings out just a few of the salient points to whet appetites:

I make no excuse for quoting this academic document which deals primarily with 'Virtual Learning' across Higher Education in Europe. I believe that mainstream schooling can have much to learn from such documents. - It is just a pity that teachers in Secondary schools do not have the time to produce such works.

I quote, below, a number of key points identified as, ' Fourteen interventions to stimulate learner persistence and reduce dropouts.' Most of these points should be discussed in relation to on-line learning and virtual schools:
  1. Students’ active participation should be sought in planning remedial or introductory courses.
  2. Interviews with students while in their first year (or even before it starts).
  3. Skilled diagnostic counseling to “help each applicant to explore his aims, motivation and commitment and comprehend how they might relate to the ... [institution]”
  4. Counselling-out of high risk students.
  5. “Conditional registration ... after students have taken advantage of the counseling service, every effort should be made by the University to ensure that they are able to follow the courses they really want... Students interested in courses which entail projects should be made aware of the volume of work involved and the type of library resources required (especially remote students)”.
  6. “Counselors, academic advisors, course designers, and administrators of distance-taught programs should develop a diagnostic and remedial program to assist students in organizing their time and energy toward a successful completion of their study program”.
  7. Regulate the study load of students.
  8. Active tutorial assistance during the course. This might be provided either face-to-face or via mediated communications.
  9. Examination of students’ completed assignments to analyze students’ cognitive learning styles, strengths and weaknesses, and affective responses to the instructional materials.
  10. Provide option of longer time period for students with difficulty to complete the course.
  11. Monitor the performance of participant instructors for needs amenable to improve via in-service training.
  12. Distance education institutions should develop programs to enhance their academic status and social credibility so as to enhance student satisfaction and commitment.
  13. Concentrate resources for student advising and other assistance on the more vulnerable first-year students.
  14. Periodical redesign of courses and print (on line? -ed) materials. Cookson (1990)

Where does Learning take place?

Graphic: Venn diagram of the connections of a 'networked school'.Adults, or certainly those in Higher Education, may be free to do their learning when and where and from whom they like. However, the same is not equally true for those younger students or even adults who need some guidance.

Bob Harrison recently quoted on a NAACE forum the following from 'The Impact of ICT in schools-a landscape review-Becta 2007' :

'While this study has looked closely at the impact of ICT on how pupils learn and how this might be has not addressed the impact of what they learn or where learning takes place and whether the schools of the future will be the physical entities we have today.'

Some two years later we still do not have clear answers and probably there will not ever be one set of answers which will suit everyone. However, building upon Mal Lee's graphic of the 'Home-School Nexus' (highlighted in the above diagram in blue) and looking further to Networked School Communities, I have tried to identify most of the major influences affecting any young learner. The nature of 'Virtual Learning' and how this might impact on current school practice and 'physical entities' will be explored more in my next post.

What young people learn has been the centre of discussions and the culture of a digitally aware society has begun to impact on curriculum design in most of our schools. Whether examination boards are ready to develop new ways of assessing learning is another question altogether.

How young people learn in a digital age is still not well-defined. Despite the fact that many schools may have an abundance of digital appliances, schools may still have a large proportion of teachers who believe in the "I teach, you listen" philosophy. The problem with this is that where children attend such a mixed-strategy school, it is doubtful that either system can be successful. And, again, despite a tacit recognition of the theory of Multiple Intelligences, it is often the case that lesson after lesson the children only experience one form of teaching and learning.

When and where young people learn has been the subject of much discussion and in some cases a serious indictment of our academic culture. We tend to expect children to learn only in lesson time and do not appreciate the vast amount of 'out-of-school' time which can be rich with experience and capable of much reflection and collaboration with others outside of the immediate home-school environment. Although the following graphic might raise some questions about the quality of the research relating to students in Holland, again, it raises questions about whether tapping into the power of modern media is recognised by schools as having any real merit.

Graph: Student media use per dayfrom: CISCO Equipping_Every_Learner_for_21st_Century_White_Paper.pdf

The question is, do these figures represent total media usage by students in your country or is Holland different to other countries?

Minds on Fire?

Graphic: Front page of the Educause magazine.This morning I came across a blog from 'Supercool School' which pointed me to the Educause document
'Minds on Fire', from last year. The document is well worth reading, even if a bit out-of-date now.

What particularly attracted me was the strapline to their recommendation, "In a rapidly changing world social learning will dominate over formal education."
'How daft', was my instant response. For ages we have recognised that more sex education is taught behind the bike sheds than in the Biology labs, that 5-year-olds are taught how to say 'please' and 'thank you' not by being told that this is the accepted norm, but by the fact that parents and grandparents informally and unconsciously teach these things by regular practice between themselves and also upon the informal correction, at the point of need, of the child.

Similarly, schools recognise that they only have an input to the child's education for some 12% to 20% of their young lives. Recently, through the Home Access Programme in the UK we are supporting the need for closer contact with parents and carers in order to reinforce good educational practice. (Use the search tool at the top right column for more on the Home Access Programme.)

Nowhere is the e-Portfolio a more practical and effective tool for supporting informal or social learning and documenting the transitory and ephemeral experiences of out-of-school learning. What I would like to see in the coming months is more examples of good practice in capturing that 'butterfly' of informal learning, particularly with younger students. - Any offers?

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Informal Adult Learning

Graphic: Logo of the 'Learning Revolution' site

This new .ning site addresses yet another area in which an easily 'portable' e-Portfolio can meet a wide variety of needs. The thread started by Christine Lewis needs serious attention. I quote her opening challenge:

"Chapter 4 of the Learning Revolution white paper states that Local Authorities will work with others to provide five core elements to underpin a strong local offer of informal learning:

  • Innovation: public funds used flexibly, complementing private and third sector investment effectively, enabling learning opportunities to thrive by building new partnerships and connections;
  • Universal access: all adults able to shape and access the learning activities they want for personal development and fulfilment wherever they live, whatever their qualifications and income;
  • Targeted support: those in most financial need given greatest support. In relation to taught courses, most adults should contribute in part or in full to the cost of their learning wherever it is provided, and local areas should actively use fee collection to reinvest in extending the reach of what’s on offer;
  • Collaboration: a wide range of partners and services working in partnership, aligning funds where appropriate, to maximise the scope for offering high quality, inspiring learning opportunities, increasing choice and helping adults move from one learning opportunity to another;
  • Promotion: the maintenance of good, up-to-date information on informal learning opportunities to be freely and openly available to local communities.

Am I the only one who believes that a good e-Portfolio is the only real solution to this present debacle? It seems that Local Authorities in particular are failing to recognise that a tool such as eFolio in the UK can meet all of the above criteria. eFolio, in particular can meet the needs of those who may not be so ICT 'savy' and yet at the same time lends itself to any level of sophistication that a learner may wish for.

If any Local Authority staff are reading this, I challenge them to come up with a solution that is more cost effective than eFolio! Or better still, come back at me at:

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Quality, Choice and Aspiration

Graphic:  Front page illustration of the document.Or as the subtitle reads, "A strategy for young people’s information, advice and guidance." At 52 pages this is a serious read that all involved in the education of children should be aware of. Click here to download the .pdf file.

The document outlines yet more initiatives to be included within an already crowded curriculum. That said, it identifies issues that most schools are taking on board or have had as part of their Careers responsibilities for some years. Careers teachers and counsellors will probably shout out, 'What do you think we've been doing for the past 20-30 years? It talks, correctly about the need to help young people to be aware of the opportunities available to them and repeatedly encourages teachers, parents and students to "think outside of the box".

As the introduction says: "Young people need high quality information, advice and guidance (IAG) to help them find their way in the world and make decisions that will set them on the path to success. We want young people to access the support and opportunities they need to:
  • succeed in education and continue participating in learning until the age of 18
  • make informed choices about their careers and be prepared for the demands of working life
  • raise their aspirations and fulfil their potential
  • overcome barriers that may be preventing them from releasing their talents."
Taken as a set of guidelines, this is basically a common-sense document about communication skills, how schools and employers relate to each other, how parents and pupils are encouraged to gain impartial and appropriate advice.

Every page is about communication, BUT, as with many government documents it leaves open the question of how best to encourage processes of communication. For me, every single page is shouting out, 'Why not use an e-Portfolio?'