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Sunday, 28 March 2010

Why should I bother?

Photo from FlickR Scr47chy's photostream There is a situation which I feel is endemic amongst many of our traditional academic institutions. Perhaps their argument is 'If it isn't broken, why mend it?' - little realising that the educational omnibus of 50 years ago is not helping today's students and teachers to get to where they want to be in the future. The vintage omnibus is not necessarily going in the right direction for everyone, particularly when more personal and individulaised vehicles can help learners get closer to where they want to be in a more satisfying way. I recently came across a post asking for responses to the statement below.

“In truth, I can't say I've ever found much evidence of demand for any sort of e-portfolio tool among students, and to be honest there's comparatively little interest among academic staff in using them with students - except perhaps in subjects where portfolios are a professional requirement, and even then they tend to be very much driven by the needs of the certifying professional body.”

Why should students or teachers get excited about something that they do not appreciate? As long as an e-Portfolio is held up as an electronic CV or as a storage system for assessment of coursework no one is going to get inspired. As long as publications still suggest that an e-Portfolio can be held on a CD or flash drive we are still thinking ‘old technologies’.

Perhaps the problem is that of understanding new pedagogies:

  • If staff were really looking for a method of capturing the transient interchanges of collaboration or peer review,
  • if students realised how on-line formative assessment helps their academic progress,
  • if they realised that the e-Portfolio was really an opportunity to share with others their deepest interests,
  • if teachers realised that the e-Portfolio can often be a window into the souls of otherwise reticent students,
  • if ownership of an e-Portfolio really gave opportunity for self-expression,
  • if the e-Portfolio really was a Lifelong and Lifewide tool with full and uncompromised portability,
  • if students and teachers realised the value of familial mentors,
  • if the value of rich media was really understood,
  • if both students and teachers really understood that the e-Portfolio can actually save time and allow both ‘travelling light’ and working where and when they choose, then perhaps the situation might be different.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Show and Tell Video

I was recently privileged to attend a 'Show and Tell' meeting presented by Christine Terry of Grays School in Newhaven (on the South Coast.) For me the overriding message was not so much about the technology but primarily that of engaging parents.

Yes, the infrastructure had to be in place. Without a good learning platform developed for even the youngest of children, without a good broadband supply, without a good policy for getting laptops in the homes, without a good understanding of the principles of the Home Access Programme, without good training of all staff including Teaching Assistants, none of this could have come about.

Not much mention is made of their use of their e-Portfolio system inbuilt within their VLE but even the youngest children know and understand words like 'transition' and have a good understanding of how the e-Portfolio can be used even at this early stage. However, the overwhelming conclusion is that the dual criteria of their whole-school strategy and the insistence of involving parents right from the start worked amazingly well.

For more on Becta's notes on the visit please click here.

For more of Becta's Case Studies please click here.

Monday, 15 March 2010

The Amazing Web2.0 Projects Book

Terry Freedman has done it again! An excellent .pdf document at 121 pages is well worth downloading. A mine of information on various Web2.0 projects with honest descriptions by actual users. Go to the ICT in Education website for your FREE copy!

I prefer reading the .pdf on screen as there are many useful hyperlinks to chapter headings, the individual evaluations and also to the products listed. As Terry Freedman lists:
  • 87 projects.

  • 10 further resources.

  • 52 applications.

  • 94 contributors.

  • The benefits of using Web 2.0 applications.

  • The challenges of using Web 2.0 applications.

  • How the folk who ran these projects handled the issues...

  • ... And what they recommend you do if you run them.

  • What were the learning outcomes?

  • And did I mention that this is free?!

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Teachers don't know everything!

Photo: Angry girl dreamstime_8357956 from Dreamstime.comOn more than one occasion when talking to a child in school I have been somewhat rebuffed by the statement, "You don't know everything!" That was always particularly hurtful as I never pretended to know everything and certainly my teaching strategy was always so ask questions and encourage my students to explore possible outcomes for themselves.

In a recent discussion with Glen Finger about the forthcoming book, 'Developing a Networked School Community' and the problems of training teachers for the digital age, Glen wrote:

"A contribution which the book makes, and there is growing anticipation for this, relates to guidance on teacher readiness (including the confidence and capabilities for being aware of the suite of technologies (technological knowledge TK) for enabling a networked school community.

"In particular, the various conceptualisations which Mal Lee visualised throughout the book might be useful for parents, teachers, students to conceptualise beyond 'a place called school' to take into account access to a richer range of technologies, as well as recognise the value to parents as the first and continuing educators of their children."

Glen goes on to remind me of a quote from Dr Helen Barrett, some four years ago:

"There isn't a lot of knowledge about the pedagogical content of using portfolios for learning; the administrators and data managers are implementing electronic portfolios (that are really used as assessment management systems) with full knowledge of data and statistics but without full knowledge of the theoretical underpinnings and value of using portfolios to support student and teacher learning."

The above should disturb any reader, particularly as nothing much seems to have progressed over the last decade. Many teachers see the e-Portfolio as nothing more than an electronic CV. Few teachers use blogs for educational purposes, collaboration is still seen as nothing more than "Turn your chairs around to sit in groups and talk together about the problem." Few teachers use polling or voting software in their classrooms, very few schools permit the use of pupils' personal electronic devices and even fewer teachers know how to apply these technologies in the classroom. So if new ICTs are not being fully used in the classroom, what chance is there that teachers will encourage a Web2.0 mentality for real learning at home?

I really feel that until ITT and in-school CPD can address these issues we will not move on very far.

My response to my original title is therefore, "Yes, we don't know everything, but we should know what we need to know and also know what we don't know!"

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Getting to where others cannot reach

Photograph: Laying a tribute to those who cannot use Google in China - from wired.comI'm presently working on a project concerning Parental Engagement. Certainly Becta and organisations such as Naace are working hard to see through the issues and produce some good advice and support for schools.

Concerning the image above, I have no political axe to grind, but the photograph from exemplifies the problem. Rather than just mourning the inability to reach out to some who are missing out, 'the hard-to-reach', 'the NEETS', those who are totally demoralised, those serving some form of custodial sentence etc etc, I feel that we should be looking at more constructive ways to assist young learners.

The forthcoming book by Mal Lee and Glenn Finger, 'Developing a Networked School Community' (Published by ACER Press in April) is a major contribution to this debate, analysing the worldwide situation. Of course, as Australians, their history of 'The School of the Air' and approaches to distance learning and support of the Home-School Nexus stand them in an excellent situation to pull together deep thinking and case studies from around the world.

This, yet again, is a place where the e-Portfolio concept and eFolio in particular can address Parental Engagement in ways that are unique to the personal ownership of learning and the contribution that families can make to everyone's learning.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Use of e-portfolios in Social Sciences (Sheffield Hallam University)

A nice but brief review of the implementation of a popular e-Portfolio system! Worth reading if only to spot the additional features that eFolio offers!

As you may see in my comment to the authors, I question how students get access to the other necessary tools which we would expect to find embedded in a good e-Portfolio tool. Yes, older and more able students might be able to find the right tools for polls or questionnaires but why not have them already embedded where even the youngest pupils in schools or the elderly or less-able can access them?

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Personalised Learning Plans

Photograph: Classmates at Linwood Middle School in North Brunswick, N.J., working with their personalized learning plans. The report in the New York Times reminded me of one of the key principles of getting started with an e-Portfolio in the classroom, KISS (Keep it Short and Simple). The article is well worth reading in its entirety. Obviously an exciting venture for New Jersey Middle Schools. Educators around the world will be interested to follow their progress.

John Pallister had been doing just this for several years before he retired with his focus on Personal Learning and Thinking Skills. Several other eFolio pilots have similarly started by focussing on a few headings.

One very exciting pilot study in the Orkneys was based primarily on just the four components of their 'Curriculum for Excellence':

The initial headings were restricted to:

My Timetable
Effective Contributor
Successful Learner
Confident Individual
Responsible Citizen
About Me

From this initial setup the children could focus primarily on working to the four main assessment criteria. In their own time they were then encouraged to complete a less-formal description of themselves, their interests and ambitions. Later on it is anticipated that the students will then expand their eFolios to cover more subjects areas of their own choices.