Wednesday, 30 December 2009
Educational ‘content’ and ‘tools’, capable of supporting collaboration, communication and learning are increasingly being made available to ‘learners’; that is of course everyone, regardless of age, ability, or geographic location. [Acknowledging the disparity and disadvantage resulting from digital impoverishment] The aspiration being that ‘learners’ will use them in some way, to support their learning. The original focus on harnessing the available technology has now been extended to include the available educational content. Content that exists in formats ranging from ‘How to Do It’ podcasts to complete Open University Units.
Many pieces of the learning ‘jigsaw’ are beginning to fall into place, albeit with a little enthusiastic pushing and some fine adjustment. However, no matter how many Open Educational Resources are available, or how sophisticated the Open Tools are, or how ubiquitous the enabling technology is; a learner must be motivated to engage with the available, learning opportunities. That is the challenge or in the positive parlance, the opportunity for 2010.
A challenge that forces us to focus on ‘teaching’ and what it is that a learner is told/guided/encourage to learn. The ideal; the independent learner will decide what it is that they want to, or need to learn. They will then get on and use the available content to ‘do it’. But what of the developing learner who is operating as a pre-independent (pre Level 2) learner? They might learn by simply ‘wandering’; but is that what our generation would want for our children? I suspect that most would want then to learn from our mistakews; learn the things that we value etc – we need an education system. Perhaps not the existing 19thC system; but something that allows learners to know what our generation values and thinks that they should learn as well as giving them opportunities to explore and make decisions about their own learning. A debate that will engage many folks for many years, but every learner, before addressing the how and when of learning, has to have decided ‘what’ it is that they need to, should, or want to learn. Traditionally many of these decisions have been made by others and have been parcelled-up as a national or local curriculum with the teacher as the messenger and the school as the place that it is ‘done’. The competition from internet-based, anywhere, anytime learning opportunities is threatening the monopoly that schools, colleges or universities have had on curriculum provision.
The ‘new’ competing learning opportunities are either packaged or available as Open course materials, or derive or are sign-posted by an individual’s Personal Learning network. They are available 24/7, at no cost, to any learner, anywhere in the world, who has access to an internet enabled device. The range and quality of these opportunities is increasing rapidly and is attracting a lot of attention and development resource.
Somehow the learner will need to ‘plan’ or agree their own curriculum; a learning plan or personal curriculum that he/she has ‘ownership’ of. Then the access that they have to the repositories of Open Content (OER) and to an Open Tool set, has a reason for being. Without a curriculum or learning plan the content and tools have no purpose other than entertainment or incidental learning. An information generation needs some way that lets them find and organise the ‘content’ and learning opportunities from which they will benefit. They; we; need a ‘Google’ that helps use to find and organise the learning opportunities that will help us to learn and develop. So why are so few people working on this? Have I got hold of the wrong end of the stick? Or have I missed some major curriculum development work?
We could just play with the tools and technology a little longer? Or we could grasp the greasy, elusive nettle?
Sunday, 15 November 2009
A coincidence then, that I found that my sabbatical from teaching had put me into that very same position? A learner; a learner who is not being told what it is that he must do, or what he must learn. A learner, on his own, not following a course. A learner with no real aspiration to strive towards or goal to achieve. But I did want to finish-off/pursue some of the things that I was not able to progress while a full-time teacher; so had a motive or an excuse to wander and e-Lurk.
I had access to, and had some competence with, the evolving social, communications and collaborative tools that could support a Personalised Learning Environment. I had dipped my toe into/had developed something of a Personal Learning Network.
So what did a learner with a rudder, but without a course to sail, do? He retained his working routines, 6am start; monitored eMail; monitored Twitter …. He found himself e-Lurking in some ever so interesting places and discussions, completely ignoring the advice that he had pedalled to his students for many years; that they should Plan, Do and review. He was distracted and was wandering around.
But wandering and bumping into the same problem; no matter how much Open content or Open Educational Resources there are available, or how sophisticated the Open Tools are or how ubiquitous the enabling technology is; a learner must, somehow have a ‘plan’. A learning plan that he/she has some element of ‘ownership’ of. A learning plan that will require them to access the repositories of OER; to use the Tools; to develop the skills; to operate in their PLE; to engage and harness their PLN.
A plan that comes from - an Open Curriculum perhaps?
Wednesday, 4 November 2009
Over the past four years I have given it a go; I posted too frequently; my posts were too long; I blogged into spaces that disappeared, that are no longer available; I overcame my concern that I was writing for an audience that either did not exist, or would not want to read my offerings.
During my blog sabbatical, that happened to coincide with my sabbatical from teaching, I have e-Lurked here, there and everywhere to provide nourishment for my learning need; I really must get out more. I have followed and participated in many excellent discussions enabled by Elluminate Live and FlashMeeting; I have followed conferences, remotely via Twitter streams including live video of the events. All for free, all from home, with me deciding what it was that I wanted to dip into and when I did it. A bit of a luxury, but without having a Personal Learning Plan or even a goal, I simply took advantage of the opportunities that were signposted by my Personal Learning Network and wandered through some rich learning experiences.
Many of the discussion that I found myself following focussed on Personal Learning Environments and Learning Networks; my learning auto-pilot was using my ‘interest lens’ to filter and sift the available learning opportunities.
During this time I have had hundreds of blog posts in my head but not had the motivation to share them. I have become a bit addicted to ‘watching’ Twitter and enjoyed following the ‘is Twitter killing Blogging’ debate. In many ways it was that debate that reinforced some of my thinking about Personalised Learning and Learning Environments, and that made me think more about ‘control’ in the context of a Learning Environment.
I watched as a cloud grew http://cloudworks.ac.uk/index.php/cloud/view/2266, but I realised that if Grainne/Matt had not planted the original seed, and if Grainne had not promoted/propagated it, it would not have grown. My PLN was watching, but needed someone, somehow to ‘push’ and encourage participation. Nothing new in that, the critical role of the facilitator in any Community of Practice is widely acknowledged. But how can we tell/ signpost/suggest, to a learner, who is operating ‘independently’ in his/her own PLE, what it is that they should/might experience or learn. Even with an established PLN around, ‘mature’ independent learners enjoy the ‘wander’ and exploration but ‘need’ someone to guide or mentor them.
From my work with web-based curriculum mapping I had concluded that, to support personalised learning, learners would need to be given access to an accessible, learner-facing learning menu. I need to think a bit more about the role of the learning guide, mentor, facilitator or teacher. Who ‘controls’ and independent learner? Does and independent learner need to be ‘controlled’? – a job for next week!
Wednesday, 22 July 2009
I had drifted into teaching with a degree in Computer Science, a Post Graduate Certificate in Education (Maths, Science and Computing) and an interest in electronics. At the time ‘mini’ computers were becoming popular in the business sector and the ‘micro’ computer was on the near horizon. I had thought that I would teach in a Further Education college, but when I was offered a teaching post for maths and science at a school that I had attended as a student, I could not resist.
I bought the cap and gown; as that was what the teachers were wearing when I had left; I assumed that I would need one. The staff room was the first challenge: where to sit without upsetting some ageing colleague; how to communicate with people, who five years earlier had been teaching me. At that time the school had four staff rooms, two for females, two for males. Although male staff were allowed to enter the female staffroom, generally it was not encouraged unless you had a reason or wanted a cup of tea during the morning break. Failure to present your weekly tea money resulted in an interview with the senior Mistress, not recommended!
The working day was broken down into eight lessons, with the pupils having fixed rooms and the teachers moving to the pupils. The school was really a split site; I did a lot of walking.
I drove to school in my Morris 1000 carrying the executive brief case that I had been given by an Aunt and Uncle for my 21st birthday; I leave teaching driving the same car, and using the same briefcase. I have replaced the blazer and trousers several times but never actually worn my cap and gown. As a Science teacher I soon got into the habit of wearing a Lab-coat. I found that they kept my clothes clean and allowed me to carry all-sorts of useful things in my pockets. Until the early 90’s I wore my Lab-coat for most of the working day and was quite pleased when I was able to claim Tax relief for washing it. During winter months I would wear a ‘Tank-Top’, very practical for a teacher who moved his arms around a lot. I recall the complaint of one Upper-sixth form student who complained that I had warn the same Tank-Top on his First Form (Year 7 in old money), as I had on his Sixth Form photograph! I did wash them, and had quite a few different ones, but global warming came along; the Lab-coats drifted into disuse, the Tank-Top into storage and the top of my Morris 1000 was cut off to create the open-top tourer that I had wanted.
As the young teacher in the Science department I acquired quite a few challenging groups that enjoyed practical work. My favourite experiments were boiling an egg in a paper pan; constructing a loudspeaker from paper, a bit wire and some magnets. Always enjoyed connecting it to the signal generator! Building an electric starter-motor go-cart was quite eventful and enjoyable. I had the same group of students for both Engineering Drawing and Science; they designed and produced the drawings in one subject and then made it in Science.
I made the first computer from a £79 kit, a Science of Cambridge MK14 in 1979. It had a hexadecimal keyboard for input; a seven-segment display for output and a few bytes of memory. The ‘computer game’ was a ‘duck shoot’, a character appearing at random in one of the seven-segment digits with the user expected to hit a key on the keyboard when - sorry forgotten when.
I my early years in the profession I also taught, after school at a local FE College and a University, on Computing night classes. This kept me busy, helped to pay my mortgage but did mean that getting back to school for evening events was often difficult. On one evening I left a night class early, raced back to school, walked into the back the school hall while the HeadTeacher was addressing the annual parents meeting. The HeadTeacher was running out of steam, must have been stuck for something to say, saw me walk in, and announced that we were going to spend £2000 on our first ‘proper’ computer, a state of the art Research Machines 380Z.
When I arrived the school was offering a CSE Mode 3 Computing course; a course ahead of its time. Teachers from across the County worked together to design the course; develop and share resources; set the examination paper, and mark and agree standards. Programming took on a postal dimension using CESIL (ICL home brewed) for Low Level and BASIC for High Level. The results, along with errors arrived back at school one week later!
My work at the local FE College brought me into contact with people who were working in Computing and meant that whenever I needed a visual aid, I only had to ask, and then turn up at their workplace with my trailer. Clearing out these visual aids has been quite difficult during the past few weeks. Who could bear to throw out a picture of Rachael Welsh printed on a 1970’s barrel printer; a deck of 2000 punched cards; reels of paper tape; a first generation circuit board …..? The attic won!
The 1980’s saw the introduction ‘O’ Level, ‘A’ Level and ‘AS’ Level Computing. All courses had coursework requirement that meant we had to chase the hardware that we needed to support the courses. Things evolved through home brewed and wired RM 380Z + BBc networks; through Archimedes RISC Os systems to the commissioning of the first PC network in the County in 1992.
As resources were acquired we needed to find accommodation for them. The computer room/rooms were born. Having aspirations on any and every piece of available space, I was not a popular chap. I did encounter the odd Luddite! Having established an Upper School Room we felt that we (a few folks at least) need a Lower School beach-head. Money was found for a staffing ‘point’ but there was no accommodation to be found. There was one really, really big classroom. Easy, myself along with two Fifth Form students, after their ‘O’ Levels built a room; inside of a room; during a holiday. Generated quite a lot of interest and comment. It even got a mention in the Minutes of a Governors meeting being described as eyesore! Well I was quite proud of it. It did help us to move forward. Health and safety would not be happy with two sixteen year old carrying eight by four sheets of half-inch plywood 10 feet up a pair of ladders. All they then had to do was hold it while I bolted it to the handy-angle frame.
During the early/mid 80’s, before Local Management of schools, money was tight, furniture etc was provided by the Local Authority. We became experts at remodelling and repurposing; classroom would be moved at the drop of a hat; sponsored desk sanding would give desks another life. Our student labour force was second to none, moving, shifting and sanding nearly made it onto the curriculum. We became competent furniture and resources scroungers; as schools closed we would chase after the resources; as black and white TVs gave way to colour, my Morris 1000 carried at least six 26 inch school TVs and stands into school. We established and wired out rooms with two big TVs daisy-chained together to enable whole classes to watch videos. I spent many years throwing wires through ceiling spaces that really I should not have been in.
At the same time that I was trying to bring Computing into the school I took on a responsibility to mange school resources including stationery and Audio Visual. Five staff rooms meant five Spirit Duplicators and a lot of entertainment. The introduction of the photo copier sent cost through the roof. Previously all paper, exercise books, chalk etc was provided ‘free’ to staff and departments. Changing this to a system where departments were delegated budgets from which they had to purchase and control their own stock resulted in my being removed from many Christmas card lists! – but the benefits of the technology; a machine that could remove the colour from a map so that the pupils could colour it in must be good!
I managed to further reduce my Christmas card in-box when I tried to introduce an internal communication system; the pigeon holes. I sited the pigeon hole ‘furniture’ in the Upper School Masters staffroom only to find that an hour later, colleagues had evicted it!
Charging departments for copying, although not popular but it did allow us to dramatically improve the resources available to staff and the printed resources that were being used with learners. This led into the TVEI years when I was heavily involved with many initiatives designed to support a move towards personalised learning. A period of rapid development, that was funded, that let us re-model a multimedia Resource Centre; investigate creative timetabling and staff deployment options and increase the support available to both learners and staff.
We had committed a lot of time and money developing a Multimedia Resources Area only to find that our students did not have information skills that they needed to use it. We also discovered that nowhere in their curriculum, were learners being taught how to use the new Resource Area; they did not have the required Information or Research Skills that they needed. We went on to identify and define the skills and set about integrating them into the curriculum. We made the front page of the TES as the first school to have a newspaper archive, stored on CD-Rom available to pupils to help them with their research. I recall, with our Librarian, setting up a regional group for school librarians interested in developing and supporting Multimedia Resources centres. The discussions on the date of the next meeting always returned to the day/date of market days!
By this time we had quite a large Support Services Faculty that was supporting learning across the school. We extended our support to embrace the local community and contributed to a local community based Open Learning project.
In 1988 removed taught Computing classes from the timetable so that we could release the Computer Rooms for other Departments to use and release the ICT staff to support other teachers in the classroom as they came to terms with ICT.
Parallel curriculum developments, and a change in regulations, led us to franchise a Btec First Award in Engineering from a local college – an arrangement where the school delivered the Core Skills (Maths, English and ICT) while the college delivered the vocational elements. My experience of acting as Course Tutor helped as we prepared for the GNVQ years – the D32, D33 and D34 days, compiling evidence with no recognition of APL! Having been involved with the initial negotiations to franchise a Travel and Tourism course from a local college I became heavily involved with Core Skills and then Key Skills support for our GNVQ students.
And then we ran out of money! Doom and gloom – Support Services Faculty disbanded with many of the team moving on. Every teacher left in the school was in front of a class. I ended up teaching Maths and Technology. Interesting and demanding years; on reflection perhaps I should have moved on at that stage, but I made the decision to stay and ‘take my medicine’ – the common perception was that it had been my vision that had cause a lot of the problem, but it was ‘my’ school.
Things move on; we re-introduced taught ICT courses at all Key Stages and I got involved with Key Skills pilot work. We managed to attract external funding to support curriculum development work. Early work led to the development of the Year 12 careers interviews to satisfy a Level 3 Communications requirement; the end of Year 12 Review meeting to assess IOLP; the school approach to investigations; a school standards manual covering letter writing etc. As many of the process resulting from this development work were integrated into the Year12-13 PSHE programme, I was moved into the Year 12/13 Tutor Team.
For many very enjoyable years I battled with Year 12/13 groups trying to convince them that Action Planning was good; that they needed Employability Skills; that they needed an ePortfolio. During my time with sixth form I was inspired by Angel of the North to get students to design and make a work of art; to make a Phoenix. As part of an activity during a Bridging week students were each given a block of polystyrene and asked to sculpt a head for a Phoenix. It was a competition; 40 students carving polystyrene; mess everywhere, but the ‘winning’ head was cast in aluminium by local foundry. The body was designed and the neck rings were hand beaten by students. The product was too big, heavy and dangerous to kept anywhere on the school site! It saw its days out in my back garden.
This post is becoming too long! – I had better save something for my best seller.
Wrapping up, I must mention the school Pantomimes that I got involved with for the first 10 years of my career. I worked with a team that recognised the relationship between cast size and ticket sales; a team that once they discovered dry ice, thunder flashes and stroboscopic lights, integrated them into every performance. A team that to reduce performing rights costs, wrote their own script and music! Not always perfect, but enjoyable for all.
I have enjoyed many opportunities and many challenges. I have had my share of disappointments. I been very fortunate in that, throughout my career, I have worked with, and enjoyed the support of teams of committed professionals who have always employed their skills and enthusiasm to support learning. I leave my school and my students in their care.
To the thousands of learners that I have worked with, thank you. I have enjoyed watching you grow, learn and develop
Friday, 26 June 2009
Ready or not, the Personal Learning Environment is coming with the ePortfolio Process as the Keystone.
Although there are many ‘Drivers’ for personalised learning, the term itself does mean different things to different people. Having been ‘thrown in’ to educational agendas and discussions, a lot of people are talking about ‘personalised learning’. Frequently they are talking about different things. This has created a situation where schools and teachers are generally quite confused about what it is that they are being told that they need to implement, introduce or support.
Assessment for learning and curriculum choice feature as key components in most definitions of personalised learning, with the need for a shift from teaching to learning being identified in all discussions on personalised learning. Assessment for learning has been a priority for a number of years, if it is ‘happening’ in schools, it would follow that personalised learning, to a greater or lesser degree would also be happening. If we add in the ‘curriculum choice’ ingredient we would move a little closer to ‘personalised learning’. Learners would be following the assessment for learning ‘process’; making choices about their own curriculum; with their teachers advising, guiding and supporting.
The much heralded shift from teaching to learning is happening, albeit quite slowly.
Yesterday’s learners followed their Destiny; their teachers planned their learning; they followed the pre-planned journey, often reluctantly, often influenced by distractions provided by the technology and media rich environment that they increasingly had to operate in. The experiences and expectations of today’s learners are different from that of previous generations. The opportunities and stimuli offered by the planned learning journey have to compete with those available from other sources. Learners have learning choices to make even if their school is still emphasising the teaching and have not prepared their learners to manage their own learning.
Whether planned or otherwise today’s learners find themselves having to take decisions about their learning. Many will not have had the opportunities to develop the skills that they need to manage their own learning and to survive and thrive in this personal learning environment. They will be disadvantaged.
At the core of current national initiatives is an ambition to improve children and young people’s lives by providing them with a curriculum that would enable them to become: successful learners, confident individuals and responsible citizens. This national curriculum, defines what learners are expected to experience and be able to do at all stages. While schools are being encouraged to personalise learning; to give learners choice, voice and control over their own learning, they also have to ensure that all learners follow the prescribed curriculum.
In addition to being able to select from the curriculum opportunities offered by their school they will also be able to benefit from those available from a wide range of other sources. They will decide what is appropriate to their learning needs or plans. They will follow a personalised learning journey, sharing their thinking and reflections with their teachers, peers and others. Schools and providers will need to investigate how they can make sure that their curriculum ‘offer’ is visible and accessible to learners.
While a lot of the debate and confusion about personalised learning centres on who personalises the learning; the teacher for the learner, or the learner for themselves, there would appear to some agreement about what a learner will do when they operate in their personal learning environment. They will need to be self motivated and self regulated, making decisions about what they need to learn, how and when they learn; they will have a ‘say’, a voice in the design of their learning experiences. They will be ‘active’ learners who value their own ideas and respect those of others; they will the confidence an ability to put their ideas forward; they will reflect on their learning, identifying how they can improve and exercising choice as they develop as independent, lifelong learners.
Every thing that will be discussed and explored at this conference will rely on the ePortfolio process; a process that is consistent with the assessment for learning principles and that is capable of supporting personalised learning, whatever definition is adopted.
Shift happens slowly; but without the shift towards personalised learning, the ePortfolio process has little to offer the learner. As a product the ePortfolio can record evidence of achievement, experience or competence that the learner could use to support their transition to employment, training or Higher Education. Simply as a product, without the active reflection component, it will not contribute to the learning process.
Without the commitment, time and space that would allow the ePortfolio process to be embedded into everyday practice, discussions on tools, technology and supporting processes will be of little value.
I am a different learner now; I lurk around many online communities, I increasingly contribute and participate. I decided that I would try to involve as many people as I could as I developed my presentation for this conference. For two months I posted my thinking to as many groups and communities that I could in an attempt to validate my thinking. What follows is the result and I acknowledge the contribution of the members of the ePortfolio and PLTs group, the MirandaNet and Becta Research Lists, the LinkedIn community, the TES Community Forum and Twitter.
I have been an advocate for learner ePortfolios for many years and have experience of working with, and supporting, learners of all abilities in an 11 to 19 school environment. I have, at all stages of my ePortfolio exploration and experimentation, shared my thinking and findings with the community. My journey is well documented and forms part of my digital footprint.
Not rocket science, but from my experience and thinking, I had concluded that unless ‘something’ is integrated into the curriculum, it is very unlikely that the ‘something’ will happen. The integration must not only be into the curriculum as the plan for what learning experiences will be presented to the learner, but into the processes that are in place to support the learner as they learn.
The ‘something’ in this case is the ePortfolio process. A process that requires learners to take increasing responsibility for their own learning and encourages them to record, share and reflect on their plans, aspirations, progress and development. It is a process that needs to be integrated into the curriculum; a process that supports learning. That it is a ‘process’, presents the real challenge. It requires much more than simply integrating activities or opportunities into the curriculum to satisfy a requirement for the learner to ‘know’ or be able to ‘do’ something.
As a process, it is a much more complex ‘thing’ to integrate. The process requires the learner to learn, develop and apply a set of skills before they can use the process. It is the opportunities for learners to learn and develop these skills that must be integrated first; then it is the requirement or expectation for them to apply the skills as part of the ePortfolio process that must be integrated.
To integrate the skills development without having integrated the opportunities, requirements or expectations for learners to apply them will not move us forward, nor would building in opportunities, expectations or requirements for learners to apply or use the skills, if the skills development stage had not already been addressed. Skills development and opportunities to practise and apply must both be planned and integrated before the process can really begin to work for, and support the learner.
This ‘paper’ explores the relationship between the personalisation agenda and the ePorfolio process, and the potential of web-based curriculum mapping to support personalised learning. I will provide links to a commentary that describes the approaches used to engage communities in the discussion via my ‘web-source’ at www.johnpallister.net .
Presentation Deque at http://www.slideshare.net/jpallis001/london-2009-e-portfolio-v2