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Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Five Qualities to Spreading Innovation in Education

"21st Century Education" is a term gaining more and more popularity, despite the fact we are 12 years into it. This term has been thrown around so often that many innovative educators have been faced with rolling eyes at the sight of their upcoming professional development session titled "Teaching for the 21st Century Learner".

Out of curiosity, I started to type "21st Century" into Google. As I started typing, "21st Century Education" pops up 3rd on the auto-fill search display.

So here is the question: How can 21st Century Education seem like it's being done to death, yet still not be spreading?

To approach this question, I'm referring to the five qualities that spread innovation, with a focus on education. If you would like to know more about these 5 qualities, there is a great summary of Everett Rogers' Theory of the Diffusion of Innovation.

1. Relative Advantage:
For teachers to take on the behaviour consistent with a new educational paradigm, they must first trust that the innovation is better than what came before it. This is where many of our late majority and laggards hold their ground, and for good reason. The idea that "It's been working for me so far. My students are attaining very high results so why do I need to change anything?"

How can an innovator argue with that? The problem is that in many educational systems, students will still score a high result in a traditional learning environment because the system itself has traditional context, curriculum, expectations and modes of assessment. The most important variable to all this is the student and their potential for FUTURE success based on a world of ongoing change. If the education system remains static, so will the teaching and learning that resides within it and therefore, blocking the "relative advantage" from taking place.

A good example is the exam. Some schools go to the extent of scheduling large scale examinations for subjects, just so students can gain "exam sitting experience" for state and national standardised testing later in the year. It sounds ludacris, but it's true. Not only do students walk out into the world where examinations are almost never a part of their lives, but they have to spend time doing assessment in a way that builds skills to do even more assessment in an environment to which they will never be faced with again.....what the?

2. Compatibility with Existing Values and Practices:
This 2nd quality questions how educational reform is meeting the values and practices of traditional schooling. Many teachers ask questions like this one: "Will online education inhibit a student's ability to socially interact?"
When we ask this question however, we need to think of which society we are referring to. Are we referring to the society we grew up in as children? Or the society our students will need to prepare themselves for? Drawing that comparison may stop us thinking about our own circumstances and consider the student's potential to not only survive, but thrive in a global online economy. If we focus on that more important idea, then no we are not inhibiting social skills- we're enhancing them.

3. Simplicity & Ease of Use
This 3rd quality states that the easier it is to use the innovation, the faster it spreads. Here is where the ball stops for many of us. Managing a classroom and everything that comes with being a teacher is difficult enough, yet teachers are now overwhelmed with online web tools, social media, technology and portable devices they don't have the time to learn and integrate into their teaching. Tackling this issue is and will never be easy. Firstly, introducing technology to a classroom needs to always be about the learning or teachers will not see an educational purpose. Unfortunately, this is being ignored far too often and educational systems and schools are deploying portable tablets and shoving tech into classrooms to exhibit a visual and tangible advertisment of 21st Century learning, despite whether that learning is actually happening or not.

4. Trialability
If teachers are able to test out a few lessons that challenge traditional teaching methods without feeling failure anxiety or resistance, then this part would be easy. Most teachers however, feel it's easier to teach a lesson they know won't trainwreck, rather than take a risk and teach out of their comfort zone. For a teacher to feel comfortable to trial new classroom practice, they need to feel confident their students will come away with something valuable. They need to feel supported by their school colleagues and leadership. Teachers also need to feel that failing a lesson can be a good thing. I heard a great quote at a conference I attended not long ago:
"You must first endure failure to truly enjoy success"

5. Observable Results
Most people would like to see something is working successfully before they jump on board. The problem with innovating education is that many of the results are not easily visible. Thinking about it big picture, if a student starting in Year 1 was taught by (lets just call them) passionate "innovative teachers" until they finished high school, they would only be finishing school now. Do we know undoubtedly that this student will excel in their future endeavours? Of course not. It's difficult to see some results, but also easier to see others. A few examples that I can answer "yes" to based on what I have seen.
Have you noticed increased engagement since you changed your teaching?
Has a change in a school timetable or eliminating a timetable alltogether improved attendance?
Have students completing online courses achieved higher results than students face to face?
A way we can help spread innovation in education is to acknowledge the positive changes that have already happened because of it. If you are trying something different in your class, research it, get some metrics or a way to analyse and evaluate it. Be a school that celebrates new learning experiences. It's been shown that an "islands of innovation" approach can be more effective than a top down innovation model. If bits and pieces of learning innovations are taking place in the school, then the spread will be more natural and pulled together, rather than pushed.

The more these 5 qualities are addressed in education, the sooner we will stop hearing the term "21st Century Education" and it will become simply...Education.

Friday, 9 December 2011

5 Stages of Personalised Learning

Personalised learning (PL) is an educational philosophy that focuses on a student's individual goals, talents, aspirations and learning outcomes. Through a semester unit, our class has completed "Self-Directed Music". Through my reflection process, I found that this semester went through 5 stages that I will share with you here.

Step 1: Develop student understanding of PL.

My students are in years 11 and 12. They have been spoon fed their education for most of their lives and the concept of making them responsible for their learning is just as new to them as it is for us teachers. I found that when introducing this unit, some students loved the opportunity of selecting their own topic area and couldn't wait to get started. Conversely, Other students were not used to exploring an area without being a part of a group or class. Uncharted territory...alone. This is where I knew exactly what my role was this semester. This takes us to step 2.

Step 2: Establishing your role as an educational "personal trainer"

A personal trainer would not bring all clients together in one group and expect them to:
- Have the same goals for their fitness and health
- Complete the same fitness program
- Enjoy doing the same thing as everybody else

Why would we expect such things in education?

The students need someone to guide and coach them to achieve their own learning outcomes. Perhaps not all students know what their learning goals are, but in this case, the teacher collaborates with the student and co-designs this with them; just like a personal trainer's first consultation. From that, the student has a clear personalised learning program. My students wrote up a research proposal that indicated their intended direction for the semester. This was not only to keep me informed of their plan, but to ensure they had made a plan for themselves.

Stage 3: Motivate, Affirm and Develop (MAD)

Motivate: We all need someone to keep us in check and encourage us to keep going. At this stage, it's more of a checking in with the student and asking them to brief you on where they are at, what they have found and a where they are heading to next. It's imperative that we continue to motivate students so they don't get complacent, or think their learning is less significant because nobody else is doing it.

Affirm: Sometimes we just need someone to bounce an idea off, or have someone tell us that our idea is a good one. Don't leave this part out. Some students can really flourish when they are told they are onto something....and to keep going. That is where affirmation can also be a form of motivation.

Develop: There might be occasions where students have explored or analysed something, but haven't quite dissected enough substance from it. Maybe they just need a few stepping stones dropped in front of them so they know where to go next and flesh out their ideas.

Stage 4: Collaboration and Assessment

With a class of students all exploring various topics and musical areas, it would be silly to not have students share their knowledge and findings with others in the class. At this stage, students would give a presentation to the class of their topic and by sharing their ideas and knowledge, this gave significance to their study. They knew that students and even myself as a teacher could take something away from their presentation. It gave the students an opportunity to play on their strengths and exhibit their knowledge to others.
Although the presentations are some form of collaboration, presenting to others isn't necessarily working actively with others. This collaboration took place when students wanted to perform as an ensemble and to do this, they needed to find other students with an overlap in the study to create a performance that demonstrated technical fluency, expression and a piece associated with more than one topic area.
Two students worked together to perform a duet. A French Horn player was studying the development and expressive techniques of the French Horn and another student, an Oboist, was studying Korean Music. Together, they wrote a duet that incorporated the French Horn's stylistic techniques, with the use of major pentatonic scales used predominantly in traditional Korean music. It was great to see all this come together. I found that students with more specific topics came out with more interesting material than students with very broad topics such as "heavy metal".

Stage 5 - Evaluation and Reflection
At the final stage, it makes perfect sense for students, and ourselves of course, to look back and reflect on the unit. This can be done in a variety of ways, one being the PMI model which is a list of Plus, Minus and Interesting. Or perhaps a more creative and collaborative way could be to start an online discussion forum or have students write blogs and comment on them. As you can see, this blog you have just read is my reflection of the process and I hope it can be of some help to you when it comes to Personalised Learning in your class.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Reverse Engineered Innovation

The definition of Innovation: "Something newly introduced, such as a new method or device."

Such a simple definition. It's interesting that just by introducing a new device it is considered innovation. But is it really? With innovation being a big part of many recent systemic educational frameworks, we have to think past the device itself, whether it be iPads, smartphones, netbooks etc. and ask ourselves why such technology will make a difference and what that difference would look like. A keynote I listened to recently said this:

"if you were to fast forward your life 5 years and everything was perfect in every way, what would that look like?" so many of us strive for change, but projecting what that is can be the most difficult part. I then translated this into a question of innovative pedagogy.

"if you were to fast forward your classroom 5 years and everything was perfect in every way, what would that look like?" Immediately many of us think technology, Web 2.0, collaborative spaces, game based learning, augmented reality and social networking. Now it goes without saying that much of these technologies are already hitting our classrooms in a big way, but using these technologies simply because they are new does not necessarily mean we are being innovative, despite the definition I began with stating so. Once we can picture what effective 21st Century learning is, we can then reverse engineer that projected outcome in steps to reach it. This may involve minor incremental changes with varying uses for technology. The fascinating part about all this is that our projected outcome may in fact change, and undoubtedly it will. It's a process that is re-configured as we go. How do we keep on top of it all though? There are definitely resources out there. The Horizon Report being one if we want to know what emerging technologies could be introduced in th next 5years.

The emerging technologies just give us an idea as to what we have in our toolbox to design the learning. Once again, the learning outcome is the focus.....not the tool that builds it. That is where true innovative teaching practice can happen.

I feel the best way we can lead each other to innovate is to share and learn from one another. Social networking, Voip, IM and other Web 2.0 counterparts now connect us to inspiring educators all over the globe almost instantly. This was obviously not always the case and it shouldn't be taken for granted. When Benjamin Franklin was asked how he accomplished so much in one lifetime he replied, "I stood on the shoulders of giants." simply put, he learned from those who came before him. Benjamin Franklin was in no way globally connected like we are now. Imagine the potential for learning when students realize just how many shoulders they can stand on.

Friday, 11 November 2011

"daqri" anyone?

Some schools have successfully launched their own smartphone app with a 3rd party developer. This can be rather costly and out of reach for many schools. There is a way however, for students to access school content within a smartphone app and this is one of those ways.

"Daqri" is a smartphone app with the potential to upload and link documents, images, websites, maps and more. The most impressive feature and the real purpose of daqri, is the integration of "Augmented Reality" content, although that is for another blog post alltogether.

A free daqri account gives you 3 "daqris" to use, each with it's own QR-Code that can be accessed by anyone through the daqri app on a smartphone. Once you create your first daqri, it's actually quite easy to upload content to it, add a background or create your own and upload it. For schools, this means that you can give students access to news items, timetables, planners/calendars, school policies, images and links to useful resources. Parents can also download the app and have access to the same content, although it's at the school's disgression as to whether they make this content public, or only make it available to particular people.

The other consideration is that not all students will have a smartphone, so it's important that anything made available on the daqri is also accessible via the website, or in hard copy.

What's this mean for teachers?? With 3 daqris for free (more if you sign up with another email), you can create a daqri for your class. This can give students mobile access to resources, a unit/course outline, assessment dates, a link to useful websites or your email address. If you want to empower your students and create a student-centred environment, you can put your students in charge of maintaining the class daqri and ask they all contribute resources to help one another.

In the Real Hands of the Students
Each student, or a group of students sign up to daqri and create their own daqri on a specific concept/theme/topic of the unit of study. They find quality resources and perhaps write an essay or a blog which the daqri links to, along with some YouTube podcasts the student has recorded to share their findings. On the due date, the student electronically submits a QR-Code which links to their daqri content. Now let's take a look at what you now have done:

Project-Based Learning: collaborating, creating something that extends beyond the classroom using authentic Web 2.0 tools. Although there may be separate goals for different students, it's the first step towards a PBL approach.

Student Ownership: Students could potentially negotiate their topic area, co-authoring their assessment with the teacher.

Digital Literacy: Students locating, organizing, understanding, evaluating, and analyzing information using digital technology. Well, that's exactly how Wikipedia defines DL at least.

Collaboration: I listed this one in PBL, but it deserves it's own mention. Your students are sharing a simple QR-Code that links to quality resources for various topics that can be shared with one another. Lets do the math....

25 students create a daqri each. You then decide to do this with all 5 of your classes. Your students now have access to 125 smartphone apps (daqris) on a specific topic or concept. You then decide to do this in the next semester. Your students now have 250...and so on. Surely within that you could find some pretty amazing stuff and before we know it, our students are more interested in what they're learning from one another, what they can teach each other and what do we become? The Co-Driver

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

QR Codes in Education

You may have set your eyes on a poster, bus stop, real estate sign or some other form of media and noticed a strange looking diagram something like this:

This is a QR-Code, or Quick Response Code. This code works much like a barcode, yet your smartphone is the scanner. With a QR-Code scanner/reader app, your phone can scan this code, recognise it instantly and direct you to the code's intended location. This could be a link to a website, a phone number, VCard or SMS. The best part is that it is fast and easy to set one up. Here's how:

1. Go to a QR-Code Generator website like Kaywa and select what you want the phone to do when it scans your code.

The next step is to either paste the URL of the website, or write the phone number or text message, select the size you want the code to be and hit "generate". Thats it! Then you can save the image of the barcode, send it electronically or print it. Anybody who downloads a QR-Code scanner is able to use the camera within the app to scan your code and access the content.

So how can this be used in education?? Anything that is web accessible can now be on the screen of a student's phone instantly. In music, i'm starting to encourage students to find useful Youtube tutorials on how to use the studio equipment and then sticking a QR-Code on the equipment itself that directs them to this video on their phone. Students may wish to create a QR-Code as an assignment that links to an online blog, journal, photography flickr page with their assignment images, a podcast they produced on Youtube. They can be printed on newsletters to parents that link to the school website, blog or Youtube channel.
QR-Code scavenger hunts are quite popular now also, where a QR would navigate your phone to a google maps location.

The only thing to consider is whether all your students have a smart phone. If they don't have access to one, you may have to ensure that those students can access the same content and not be disadvantaged.

It takes a few minutes to set up, but with a little brainstorming you can create something engaging, all the while enabling students to use their phones properly. Have fun!

Co-driving your classroom

Question... do we harness the potential of technology in the classroom??
Take for example, the smartphone.

When phones are not used correctly, yes they can be a distraction. Although, a smartphone with internet access can connect our students to resources, people outside the classroom and a lot more answers than I can give them. No i'm not cutting myself short, i'm just saying that I the teacher, no longer have all the answers. My students are no longer passive learners because they are now connected to knowledge.....and it's all in the palm of their hands, quite literally! So where does that place us?

Teachers are co-drivers now, yes just like a rally car team. The driver would not cover such large distances in the same amount of time without their co-driver there. Sure, they may reach the finish line eventually...but an intuitive, supportive and focussed co-driver can make all the difference.

What must a co-driver do?? Study the environment....know which direction to take. One of my worst mistakes, was assuming that students know how to find relevant quality information online. Ever said this before?..."Use the internet to research your topic." ...hmmm, maybe someone could suggest to you "Use the planet earth to find your car keys".....was that helpful advice?

But surely, their years of experience using facebook, hotmail and video game cheat sites would enable them to synthesize information for assignments?? They need online orienteering, support, advice....a co-driver.

Here is another blog that includes other search engines for education other than google.
Do we even use google effectively???

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

"Prezi" - Giving your presentation some wow factor

Prezi is all the rage in presentations now, leaving powerpoint looking a little sleepy and flat sometimes. Yes we've all seen those powerpoint presentations that leave you with nothing but watery eyes from trying to read endless slides.

Prezi is online, free and only about a million times better. I can see people may get a little too crazy with it, but when it's used well, it's a very engaging visual reference for presentations, almost to the extent that you forget there's a speaker there because the screen is so captivating!

Once again with that collaboration aspect...students can group themselves together and contribute to the one prezi from various computers and locations.

Sign up for an education account (it's free) and check it steps. It's not that hard, plus it gives you access to a library of free images that ...well people rip images from google all the time but it's naughty naughty and illegal. This way is perfectly legal under Prezi's license.

Prezi also has an iPad viewer app. Free also

Once again i'll stop the video.