Wednesday, 15 July 2015

FOS day 3

Twitter shower discussing 3Es Framework. 

From this initial introduction it seemed to me that there is an assumption that students will at first have relatively low levels skills and that learning design should help them progress across the continuum towards developing an deploying higher level skills.
It sounded a bit prescriptive at first I was left thinking what if students in a group are not all at the same level of tech or learning competence? What about mixed group work where students scaffold each other? As the Twitter shower progressed I warmed to it a bit. It certainly looks like it could be a useful set of prompts for individuals or small differentiated groups.  

In the Twitter shower/storm/deluge there seemed to be a fair consensus towards the value of early empowerment and ownership amongst students. I need to read the storify to check that it is all a bit swirling round at the moment. mostly due to me experimenting with Tweetdeck, TweetChat and Hootsuite during the hour, rather aptly I was seeing in the Tweets that others were doing the same and we were also touching on the value of iterative experimenting / play with no fear of failure / seeing experimenting and failure as a potentially valuable learning process and the need to be clear to students that they are allowed to fail so they can learn from that experience. 

I spent a fair bit of time thinking about the structure of my own practice.

Gaining credit by learning from things that do not go well is built into the Ultraversity model for learning design. That partly reduces the risk of failing a module but that is not to get weak students and easy ride to an award it is to encourage experimentation - sometimes radical experiments lead to  useful innovative solutions and I don't want to hold anyone back from trying new things. There is no point in setting out on a journey that is bound to fail, many errors can be avoided by good planning. There is ownership of the learning from day 1. Students develop an ILP or research plan in the first few weeks of a module that shows how they will adapt the module to fit with their own workplace context and personal needs. There is a tutor review and negotiating of approaches process built in, this is supported by peer - peer review as well so that generally ensures that the student's proposed approach will enable them to meet the learning outcomes and that any errors in interpreting goals or designing activities are identified and rectified before they become problematic.

We adapted Richard Winter's Patchwork Text' approach to encompass assessment of a wide range of electronic media and so call our version the Patchwork Text and Media approach. At the module level activities are broken down into discrete but related patches, these are then stitched together via a retrospective critical commentary. In this the students self evaluate what they have learned about learning on both the personal and organisational level. This is because these are work focused students integrating study into their work activities with the aim of improving personal practice and contributing to organisational learning as well. 

The degree is process driven with themes relating to the title: 'Learning, Technology and Research'.

A module might have a structure as below:
Patch 1. Literature review. Learning about theory and developing a critical voice while doing so. some of the key theory areas we cover include reflective practice, action inquiry, prototyping and testing, professional development, research design, presentation of information. These are then interpreted as learning processes students can apply.

Patch 2. Design how to apply the theory to improve practice in the workplace. This is a problem identification and solution design phase, the problem may be how to improve something that has gone wrong, something that is weak or something that is already good but could be better. Ideally some of the modules will focus on addressing professional development or appraisal targets the student has.

Patch 3. Implementation of theory to solve a problem.  This is the active research phase, processes from theory are used to implement change, data is collected and evaluated, iterations of improvement cycles progress, findings are articulated. 

Patch 4. Project evaluation. Having applied theory to practice the literature is re-evaluated in the light of experience - was it interpreted correctly in the lit review; did it stand up to scrutiny when applied in the real world? What was learned about practice through this approach to problem solving / implementing improvement strategies? How could the findings contribute to improving practice in the wider organisation? 

Stitching. Retrospective evaluative commentary. In this activity each patch is reflected on from a learning perspective; identifying what went well, what could have been improved and what the improvements might be. If there were weaknesses in the interpretation of literature for example the student might devise a better way of approaching searching for literature and developing a systematic review process. Less visible aspects are examined such as their participation in peer review, their use of technologies or of the library and other services. Recommendations for how they will enhance their learning strategies ready for the next semester are devised. 

Students are encouraged to consider; who was I  - what did I learn  - who am I becoming - what do I need to do to become the person I aspire to be? 

Fos day 2

Ye like with my day 1 blog I have written too much again but this is my learning journal so reflective notes for my benefit to help me think through what I have been doing and learning.

I spent a little more time in the FOS G+ community G+ still doesn't feel like a great place for hosting large communities, like with lots of things they can be fit for purpose but just don't attract some people and really work for others - Twitter is perhaps one of the best recentish examples of social network software that has the Marmite love it or hate it touch. I at first was not impressed but came to appreciate it over time, I have used G+ for many years and apart from the Hangouts it has never grown on me. That might be partly because of all the stuff that happens outside of what I would like to happen but is mostly just due to how it is organised.

The second chat was focused on flexible pedagogies with this as the core reading:

I popped into the chat stream this morning to see what had been added since I left and James Clay had posted a link to his previous thoughts on informal learning -  I agree with the thoughts about not being able to design informal learning, as soon design by a tutor or teacher creeps into in the real world the learning becomes formalised although that does depend on your conceptualisation of what formalised means. Discussions I have had over the last 18 years about this have tended to include reference to what happens in organisations in spaces such as around the water cooler or coffee area. Here conversation can be less formal and perhaps more spontaneous but I question how free that really is with the potential for a line manager to be round the corner or to arrive without being noticed - do people hold back? Does conversation tend to be more focused on gossip or moaning about colleagues or the organisation rather than learning from each other about stuff that is not directly related to accredited or work-focused, role-related learning?

One of the first online learning communities I joined included in its online design the provision of spaces for informal learning, it was hosted in FirstClass and included community folders tagged as the kinds of places people might hang out informally, there was a bar, a bus, a garden, a train, and more besides. It felt artificial and there was a lot of talk about e-moderating back then (Gilly Salmon style) so a suspicion that there would be some staff monitoring so it did not feel totally informal to some members although there was plenty of off topic discussion it mostly seemed to be social posturing and arranging liaisons. Today with more social spaces available I think it is better to suggest that students self organise in spaces that are tutor free/ Having discussed informal learning and made the suggestion I have been provided with insights into such spaces and they do seem to sometimes provoke strong bonding and valuable discussions. When the BA LTR course first started a small group of students did this on their own initiative and created  more recently LTR cohorts have use G+ circles as informal spaces and I think there is some Facebook related interaction as well. Although the G+ spaces were informal the discussions seem to have often been very much focused on course related topics, I think the move might have been more related to dissatisfaction with the course discussion software limits on layout and tools rather than a need to escape tutors for informal learning. Several groups have then invited tutors into the spaces but that risked the whole course facilitation moving out of the institutional VLE and I was not keen on that fragmentation so suggested they post key points from their informal discussions into the VLE spaces.

We were asked to add an image that represented flexible pedagogies I had really struggled with that during the day and could only think of a blank canvas on which tutors and students could negotiate what and how they would learn in an equal partnership co-learning co-constructing. Given we are talking about flexible pedagogies for courses that was perhaps a step too far as negotiation would have to include topic and accreditation criteria. I would love to try that but I think perhaps a little too disruptive to gain institutional adoption. The notion of equality was questioned in the Twitter shower I think it rather came out of the rapidity of the discussion - equal in terms of mutual respect in this context as the tutor does hold the keys to what needs to be achieved and how that might be achieved within the framework of the institution so there is some hierarchy implicit.  n the time-limited pressure of a one hour chat I eventually hit on an old picture of a day with friends on Vilarrube beach near where we lived in Galicia. I wasn't impressed with myself but it served the purpose of stimulating my thinking about flexible pedagogies.

This kind of setting provides some materials, some structure, some limitations, but also adds some freedom in that adjacent to the castle that we had all set out to communally build were independently built structures such as dragons and cars, the boys can be seen in the distance starting to make a tunnel world -  their idea - dozens of holes linked by dozens of tunnels. Temperature was in the high 30s so forays into the sea were frequent. I guess that could equate to my needing breaks from study - diversions and mulling things over times to refresh the mind.

I have got a bit diverted into thinking about informal learning and identity, remembering just now about off topic discussions that developed integrated into the main online learning community discussions, I recall topics with stances being defended via vigorous evidence based debate such as creationism / evolution and the role of genetics and whether evolution can happen on a relatively rapid time-frame, particle physics and the possibilities of quantum computers - how will moving from binary to zero, one and 'simultaneous zero and one' affect calculating processes/power? Debate about single/multi-universe possibilities, discussions about cooking, health, keeping fit are just some of the seemingly spontaneous topics that come to mind and that fall into the informal learning category in my opinion. Some were spawned by course related topics such as discussing literature about reflective practice and flow theory leading to a chat about about the value of mulling critical incidents over when running or hill walking. All helped people learn, be that about how to express themselves and debate without causing or taking offence or how to find further information to bolster their arguments, or just how to have fun together with relative strangers who will not meet during a course.

I am more than happy for students and staff to chat about all sorts of things in the same space as their learning discussions, clear labelling of threads is important so those who want to can filter out what they do not want to be involved in. Sharing thoughts about what you are interested in helps convey identity, engaging in debates such as the creationism / evolution one also helps model good behaviour and critical friendship - debate the idea and accept difference rather than attacking it or getting angry about a person's stance. All very useful practice for engaging in course related critical peer review or debate.

One aspect that can limit flexibility is the mode of assessment, many institutions seem to have set processes for assessment that limit the product - submit a bound thesis, hand in an electronic file through something like Turnitin, post work in a community portal that picks certain things up as assessable, fill in an online quiz that is automatically marked there are many approaches and many of them impose limits; often text is to the forefront. One driver is reducing the time spent by markers, another is homogeneity so like is compared with like across a cohort. I had a discussion at the JISC connect more conference in Bristol and heard frustrated tutors complaining about the technological dog wagging the pedagogical tail - that is a situation that really limits pedagogy.

One of the aspects of the Ultraversity project I was very pleased to be associated with was the use of assessment by online portfolio. This amplifies how students can convey information both during the course of a module and at the point of assessment. There are very few restrictions as to what can be included, there is a limitation in that files have to be in the portfolio so can't be hosted online, this enables date stamping so ensures no changes are made after the submission date.  Assessors may not be able to install new software on their machines so access and interoperability is a key concern and addressed during semester to ensure that what is submitted can be assessed. File size can also be an issue although I have accepted portfolios that included single files of over 250Mb with agreement by prior negotiation that the creation of high resolution video was a work based competence so should be assessed in hi resolution format. There is no typical portfolio but over the three years a student might well have included at various times: Word, PDF, PowerPoint, Excel, various video formats, various audio formats, Prezi, screen shots of maps made using a range of concept mapping tools, Gant charts, animations, scanned paper sketches, electronic drawings, graphs and charts, images and posters, tables, diagrams, cartoons, Powtoons and more.

It was mentioned that institutions can be resistant to flexibility / innovation and I can't disagree but my experience at Anglia Ruskin has shown that they can also be willing to let people explore new approaches and to adopt some of what is learned into the mainstream. Economics are key to maintaining an institution and it is understandable that the new needs to be shown to have benefit before large scale investment can be directed along non -traditional vectors.

Since the chat I have also been thinking about what my online pedagogy is based on, I don't feel I can wear the badge of any specific learning theory, I am not an instructivist or constructivist, I don't really go for behaviourism and not keen on multiple intelligences and definitely not learning styles, I don't like dogma or didactic stances, I can't just accept 'truths' and don't see truths as permanent states or 'proof' or 'truth' as particularly useful concepts; proofs are limited by current strategies and often overthrown as time progresses understanding, 'truth' seems a dangerous concept that can limit thinking. I admired Alfred Korzybski and his idea in that the concept of 'is' is a limiting factor although it is a word that is hard to avoid using it should not be taken as meaning an absolute belief or state. When we say x is y we are only mapping our notion of what x might be; a map is not the territory.  Knowing is a fragile and individual thing, I can't believe in collective intelligences. I am not hugely keen on measuring students against set criteria but can accept that in most situations that is needed for credit bearing awards.

 I do want to help students develop critical thinking skills; to be aware of the fragility of knowledge and able to challenge their own internal constructions about reality; be able to articulate themselves well in whatever medium they choose; to listen to what others have to say; to listen/read deeply and critically and to say openly what they think without seeing any of it as needing to be set in stone or intransigent. I am sure that can be achieved by many people using many pedagogies and am still struggling as to whether it is possible to, or even worth, defining my own.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Thoughts on first day of FOS course

Last night was my first experience of a Twitter shower via the FOS chat, I was using  It did not seem to let me add images to my contributions but was handy as the hashtag was added automatically - I often forget to paste in a hashtag when in focused discussions. Looking in my Twitter account I see images were posted and the conversation does make more sense however Tweetchat was an interesting experience.

Earlier in the day I was at the JISC connect more event in Bristol, two names I know via Twitter and was interested to see in person were Sarah Knight and James Clay but I also spotted a fair few names on badges that belong to people I now know are in the FOS community - missed opportunities to say hello.

One of the themes in the Twitter shower was teachers using Twitter for CPD I see that working on at least two levels both of which rely on the 'Gift Society' a concept coined I believe by the founder of Facebook.  One is the use of Twitter as a portal to other resources, often blogs or other professional information sharing sites and sometimes I see links to published journals. The other is professional discourse often between people ho have never met but who are non the less willing and keen to help each other out. The image below shows someone considering the use of some new software (Showbie) then Mr Parkinson and Mark Anderson offering advice.

Twitter in that example is being used to check whether some software is worth trying out, it can take hours to work out how to use new software and sometimes the software is not what we are looking for so this can be a timesaving filter and in this case has added a further option - 'Classroom' OK that might add in more time working out which is best but the whole experience increases the users knowledge so contributes towards their professional development.

Another theme was around Identity and whether to split professional and personal identities. I do that by having two main blogs this one for more professional posts although it is also my learning journal, I also have a blog that is more about family life and have tried others themed on my personal interests.

As far as online identity in my professional world goes another image I wanted to add to the chat is shown in the extract from a blog post on use of audio pasted below. I teach in a fully online world, although I have been in HE since 1998 I have only ever done two traditional lectures from a lecture theatre. The first time I meet 99% of my students is at graduation so conveying a sense of who I am is very different to most teachers who have the classroom or lecture theatre in which most students can construct a sense of who the tutor is via their body language, voice and other real world clues. My courses are predicated on content being of less value than discourse, content is relatively simple honed down to essentials, as the discussions evolve they become the content. For most people text is a very efficient means of hosting asynchronous discussion, it is quick to write and to read and as my students are all in work they need to be able to study at times that are convenient to them, hence text tends to dominate.

One of the first activities I ask students to do when they join the course is to share aspirations, this starts to convey some sense of who they are and who they hope to become:
1. via padlet
2. via creating a poster, this starts their journey towards using media to handle and present information. reveal comments to see some of their interactions.

A fair few years ago I started adding podcasts to my online teaching, it was an experiment - could my voice add an extra dimension of inspiration or would the spontaneity help me convey things I would not think of including in text?  The impact on conveying identity was something I had not really looked for. I shy away from video as having my image recorded puts me off balance and I lose the flow of what I want to convey. The image should open full size and clearer if clicked on. The original post is here

Another theme I though about but couldn't articulate well in the heat of the moment relates to what it means to be ITC proficient:

So what does ICT proficient mean in a rapidly evolving world - ability to constantly adapt?

Q have humans always been doing this? What is new?

What is new is a huge theme, yes humans have been adapting for a long time as have many animals but this very recent evolution to electronic/digital capability and communications faces us with both an attenuation and amplification of complexity in that machines can now relieve us of the burden of vast calculations that would take us months or even years with pen and paper but can be done by well designed software / hardware combinations in seconds. Then there is the amplification of complexity via increasing the social capabilities beyond the located. The first recordings of images and then text in all forms meant information could be accessed by people without the author being present and long after they had ceased to exist. We had to adapt from social learning, through shared experience and conversation held by being with someone, to also having access to the cave or rock surface on which information was recorded, the viewer had to travel to where the information was recorded. Transcribed, then printed, words in books added portability but access was still relatively limited until mass production. Images of newspaper readers on buses and in other public places show newspapers were as attention grabbing as smart devices are today - As a child I remember my gran complaining about how people used to talk more before the war and blaming newspapers, radio and TV for that. Sitting in a train or bus today we appear to have a moved away from public conversation but many people focused on their smart devices are not isolated, much of the time they are absorbed in socially networked conversations with a reach far greater than my gran could ever have achieved or imagined.

So what is new is the diversity of ICT capability and the potential scale of interaction. Anyone with a modern digital device can be a talker or a publisher, generating text and rich media via photos, audio and captured or streamed video or combinations of all. Many people will only do that in their own language but that only scratches the surface as to what is out there. As part of my EdD lit review and a paper I am writing I am looking to find out: 'what is known about this topic' I stumbled across some academic journal resources in Spanish which fortunately I can translate reasonably well, that got me thinking that what we generally find out is just what is known about x topic in languages we understand. Twitter and other social media tends to have translation built in although it is not always perfect it is a lot better than it was a few years ago, we can paste slabs of text from digital documents into Google translate but how often do we bother? I have 1000 words to articulate 'what is known about this topic' in the paper I am writing - that is a bit like presenting an image of one of my fingers as what is known about the being who I am - a tiny almost meaningless insight - what is new is that we have more information that we can cope with so we have to compromise. We have to be careful when reading or writing, we have no chance of knowing what there is to know, more than ever before it is clear that we can not claim breadth of knowledge on a topic or originality in the insights or new contributions we might make to that topic.

One last thing it was suggested we map out digital me - I did that in CMapTools but not yet worked out to share the interactive media version so here is a screen shot without the rollovers and links to media that are on the original. Again it needs to be clicked on to read properly.

Have been monitoring my use of Twitter today to see whether it gets in the way of every day workflow, not a great objective survey thing but I try to keep my behaviour constant with my norms which includes the fairly unusual practice of keeping many windows open for weeks, right now I have 11 browser windows open hosting 52 tabs so its easy to to visit places... as I write this I am having a conversation about PREVENT in Twitter - I hit Twitter while waiting for the phone to be answered and looked at my notifications then timeline spotted / read the prevent discussion. Phone not answered, Grabbed a screen shot of an image for my lit review then started log in to remote desktop so I can use Photoshop to modify the image, while that was opening I had time for 3 responses in Twitter. I had to attach the image to an email to send from my Mac to my remote desktop - 30 secs while it uploaded so another response in Twitter. 30 secs for Photoshop to open so time to read responses to my responses. Then time out for 2 mins to write this. As I am mostly working on a paper for my EdD course today I have found occasional forays into Twitter to be useful diversions, research is concentration heavy and breaks are needed, some people (self included) head to the kitchen for a bit of grazing while mulling things over, hopefully browsing Twitter while ruminating on my research will be a healthier option than grazing.

Weird that having spellchecked this I see that the Google powered Blogger spellchecker does not recognise Google as a word!

Monday, 6 July 2015

Outdoors and the IT curriculum

Linking outdoor activities to the elements of the new IT curriculum can be a good way of legitimising outdoor learning with stakeholders and is valuable for children in that it provides tangible learning opportunities for what can be fairly abstract concepts to absorb in a classroom.

Some ideas for how aspects of outdoor activities can be linked to key IT curriculum elements. 

Key terms for primary age pupils linked to outdoor activities:

Identify the elements needed to carry out an outdoor activity. Depending on the age group either discuss with the children as a class or set them off on individual or collaborative deconstruction. The steps can be recorded on digital devices or paper or assembled by the teacher on an IWB visible to all. It is not important to get the elements into the correct order at the start. There are many activities that can be used, for example; building and lighting a fire, creating and navigating a trail, designing then creating and photographing a woodland creature, building a den or woodland kitchen.

An algorithm is a logical sequence of instructions. Ask children to arrange the deconstructed elements in sequence to create a plan or ‘recipe’ they can follow. This seems to be a great way of developing systematic thinking and understanding of logic.

First stage debugging - applying logical reasoning to detect errors. 
Ask children to tell each other about their aim and the algorithm they developed to achieve it. Encourage them to explain their reasoning, identify potential problems and suggest solutions.

Second stage debugging - real world testing. 
In the outdoor setting the children test their plans in the real world. Again they should be looking for errors and working out how to improve the plan. Reviewing and improving the original plan during, or closely after, the event is a good way of embedding the learning and making further links such as between a ‘plan for human activity’ and a ‘code for a computer’. 

An example - Building and lighting a fire safely

On separate strips of paper print or write the decomposed components below or start from scratch asking the children to identify the components themselves. Give one to each of 10 children and ask them to line up in the order of the numbers then show their strips to the others.
1 Safety equipment.
2 Locate a safe space.
3 Light the fire.
4 Gather small sticks.
5 Cut logs.
6 Gather larger sticks and logs.
7 gather kindling material.
8 Find something to light the fire with.
9 Find a hatchet, saw or other tools to cut fuel.
10 Build the fire.

The children can be rearranged so the elements are in a logical sequence.

Adding detail.
 By adding instructions to the logical sequence they become a sequencing algorithm.

1 Prepare safety equipment - bandages, antiseptic, fire-blanket and water...
2 Locate a safe space - clear ground, no overhanging branches, sheltered from wind...

First stage debugging.
Debugging the algorithm via thinking or discussion might lead to noticing additional components such as; that material to be burned needs to be dry, an adult should be on stand-by, clothing should not be easily flammable, we need something to cook. Work on creating a complete set of instructions before field testing in the real world. 

Second stage debugging.
Children should take photographs or make drawings of each step, these can then be added to the original instruction text to provide an illustrated version in a PowerPoint record or on a school blog to meet the Information Technology strand of the curriculum. 

 Other computing terms that can be applied are:
 Inputs - the things that go to make the fire.
 Outputs - the heat, light and smoke generated by the fire.
Variables - the kinds of fuel, dry, wet, quantity, wind.
Selection – if dry then it lights easily, if wet then it is difficult to light.
Control - the lighting of the fire and the quenching of the fire. Topping up the fuel, cooking.

To create a detailed program requires a logically structured language that turns the algorithm into a set of instructions that caters for inputs, outputs, variables, selections and control. A flow chart or diagram can work very well with older children to move from algorithm towards a more detailed program. CMapTools is a useful free App that most older primary age children will be able to use.

The tasks below are in a logical order for one person who builds the fire after the components are assembled.

Gather kindling material including paper, leaves, moss etc.
Gather small sticks.
Gather larger sticks and logs.
Find a hatchet, saw or other tools to cut fuel.
Cut logs.
Build the fire.

Further work on the algorithm can focus on the concept that a computer or a group of people can make completion of a task more efficient by working on several tasks at once. For a group approach one person might take the role of building the fire with others tasked with organising tools or bringing back specific kinds of fuel. The algorithm now needs to be annotated with names against tasks to organise the multitasking. The process ‘Build the fire.’ evolves as materials are accumulated. With larger groups other tasks might be identified as being better if organised as a parallel self-contained algorithm. A group could be tasked with safety, another with preparing and cooking food, another with building temporary shelter from sun wind or rain.

When first running through the plan in the outdoors children should be in problem solving or debugging mode and have a means of recording any adaptations.

 A blindfold trail activity.
These are usually designed to work on communications skills and developing trust, for example negotiating a trail blindfolded with helpers acting as guides by using physical or verbal strategies. To link closer with the IT curriculum children could approach the activity in a similar way to the fire one above. Firstly working collaboratively on site devise and lay out a trail using a string or other simple marker so they can see it. From that point they need to develop a sequence of instructions that is the code for the trail.
A trail code might look something like the instructions below:

From the start point:
Forward two steps
45 degree left turn
Forward 3 steps
90 degree right turn
Forward 4 steps
Duck (to avoid branch)
Forward 5 steps…

 It is likely that after a few children have tried out following the sequence they might find that for humans it needs to be adaptable for different step lengths. Putting children in role-play as a robot that is verbally programmed could encourage then to move more mechanically trying to keep their step length consistent. With further debugging they might realise that different sized robots would need different instructions that could allow for such variety. Whether done from a theoretical or practical perspective a simple solution would be to develop several versions of the code to cover a simple range of step sizes. For each individual they could then first measure the step size then identify which of the code strings would work best for that individual. Real world explorations like this provide tangible demonstrations of why coded instructions need to cater for variables in order to be fit for purpose. 

 Learning about computer coding can be perceived as fairly mundane or even pointless for young children, however using real world situations to explore systematic problem solving can help develop perceptions about transferability of skills and the wider value of computational thinking. I hope the above gives you some ideas as to how linking this to the imaginative and creative world of outdoor learning activities can be beneficial to staff and children.

I have blogged elsewhere about a presentation by Dr Bird that shows clear links between stress and non-communicable diseases. Given teaching is a profession known for provoking high levels of stress I think this is a presentation any teacher could benefit from reading. It is not only beneficial for children to spend time outdoors it benefits staff by reducing their own stress levels as well.