Friday, January 25, 2013

Creative and Critical thinking: Creating space for innovation

Ewan McIntosh's session on Monday was so inspirational we rocked up 45 minutes early to ensure we have a seat for his second session today. The room is completely packed with people sitting on every available floor space, propping up the room at the back and around the sides, and standing outside the double doors craning their necks to see in. The place is a sea of mobile devices, and the wireless is groaning as the Tweets flow. Great stuff. (But maybe a bigger venue...?)
The last Ewan did this session was with 6 people in Texas...and if it fails it's our fault :-). Some of the reasons innovations tend to get blocked are those folk who have leader in their title tend not to be the innovators, and (along with many other things), there is negativity around and dismissal of ideas. On the other hand for innovation to happen it is important for active listening, people who will join in, assume valuable implications, deal with you as an equal, and support ambiguity.

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Teacher's metacognition

Alejarndra Martinez is a psychologist has been working with teachers, initially in rural Chile. She is interested in how teachers view themselves as learners. Currently working on her PhD at the University of Melbourne  Alejandra has been working in professional learning teams, to investigate links between courses and students' outcomes.

One of the focus was to move thinking about my student to our student. The key aspect to inform our teaching from this perspective is the skill level of the students. The variables that are collected around numeracy, literacy, student outcomes, classroom practices, PLT functioning, beliefs and attitudes, and metacognition. Further research on teachers'  professional learning is required in order to understand the characteristics and development of their metacognition (Dinsmore, 2008). The key focus, therefore is how teachers see themselves as learners, and how this impacts their own practice.

The main aim is to analyse the extent to which the shift from a deficit to a developmental approach to assessment and learning influences teacher metacognitive awareness of their professional practice. The study uses a teacher metacognition framework that has 5 elements, which are part of a cyclical process: Comprehension of differentiated teaching practice; self evaluation of current competence; planning professional learning; monitoring professional learning; and evaluation of the progress made.
The Metacognitive Awareness Inventory was adapted (16 questions), and other new questions were added. Two forms were developed (A and B) with 14 common questions to enable comparison. After a calibration process using Item Response Modelling 7 questions were removed, as they were discriminating less the the expected model.

The data was analysed using an item/person map with level descriptions. Teachers were then given the results that indicated that the level they were at, rather than a specific 'score'. The initial findings were based on 359 teachers. There was a large number of teachers at Level A, Level D, and Level F. A learning readiness report on metacognition, which has individual feedback which is linked to the 5 stage cyclical model.

The students who grow the most who are at the lower level, whereas the top level the students do not grow the most. We need to connect differentiated teaching, not only to student needs, but also to teacher needs. Some of the challenges are the links with student performance. There are some aspects of metacognition that needs to be captured with qualitative data; so the next step is to conduct some interviews with the teachers. This is longitudinal research, and data has been collected in year 1 and this year data will be collected to illustrate changes.

Image: '_繁華燃燼,那一面斑駁。' - Found on

Think before it's too late (Edward de Bono)

It is really different to convince people that thinking is important. Thinking needs to be practical rather than political, and focussed on 'what's next' rather than what has been. According to Edward de Bono (keynote at the final day of ICOT 2013), "world thinking cannot solve world problems because world thinking is itself the problem. And this is only getting worse" (source).

"Our existing thinking is EBNE – excellent but not enough. Our minds function like trying to drive a car using only one wheel. There’s nothing wrong with that one wheel – conventional thinking – but we could all get a lot further if we used all four…"  (source).

Our usual thinking is very similar to that of early humans - in other words, most of our thinking is recognition thinking. And that is why we place so much emphasis on critical and analysis thinking to find out 'what is going on here'.

Perception - 90% of errors in thinking are errors in perception and only 10% were errors in logic. As a species we have done little to change our perception of the world. The points of the compass enable us to direct our gaze. So what we need in every day life is a compass to help us look at things differently. PMI is one such tool - plus, minus, interesting. These are very simple but they make a big difference and can make the difference of between 30 and 100%. It gives youngsters a confidence in their thinking. Thinking needs to be taught. Teaching thinking can have a positive effect on students who are underachieving and undeserved.

The Church in the Middle ages was interested in thinking to find the 'truth', rather than in thinking to create value. The provocation, problem connection can be a powerful way to re-frame ways of thinking about specific develop a new concept and a new attitude. The 'random word' can be a great way to also generate alternative ideas. It opens up new tracks and therefore enables new paths of thinking to be opened up in the mind. Argument on the other hand is very negative, there is no design element, and there is way too much ego. It is from this point that the six hats were developed.

We have done so little about thinking for the last 2000 years. We have had philosophers and psychologists, who are more interested in measuring. In his presentation, de Bono asserts that when we change the way we think and strengthen our ability to raise our thinking level, other areas of our life – both personal and business – will improve.
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Thursday, January 24, 2013

One thought to rule them all: The most powerful force in the world

This was the keynote presentation on day 4 of ICOT.  Kerry Spackman, opened by saying that you can work really hard but if nothing changes you are wasting your time. And making a small difference, even if you don't know about it is more important than winning a gold medal. What is the biggest dent you could possibly make in the world? Changes can be from the bottom up, or from top down.

"Thoughts, beliefs, and ideas are the most powerful forces in the world. The champion often wins because the thoughts they run through their mind, whether during training or competition, are better than the loser’s thoughts. At the lowest level, it is our thoughts that separate us from the apes, and give us dominion over the world—a truly remarkable transformation given we share so much physiology in common"(source).

Thoughts can be both positive and negative, but are always powerful. We care very much about who controls for example, nuclear weapons, but do not seem to care about the thoughts that run through our society.

"The power of an idea operates on both a personal and a social scale as we saw when Germany was divided into East and West by opposing political ideologies and the implications of those ideas were allowed to play out—one produced the Trabant and the other the S-Class Mercedes. Indeed, beliefs are probably more powerful than nuclear weapons, and yet, while we take great care to protect access to atomic weapons, we play fast and loose with the thoughts that permeate society. Everyone is “entitled to their own beliefs”—whether they match reality or not—often with catastrophic consequences" (source).

One in every 9 Americans over the age of 12 are on Prozac. Something is wrong here. Thoughts are not matching reality. Beliefs have consequences, especially if they don't match 'reality'. The messages that are portrayed by, for example the media, have consequences. The impact that the legislation around the tobacco industry and smoking has been pretty effective, for instance. Images of celebrities doing certain things shape behaviour - these are thoughts that are being put in people's minds.

The 5 levels - me, people important to me, people I know, people I don't know, and society as an institution. Violence, and hatred are both human. What are we going to do about it? Kerry announced the Knights' Institute. The Knights are influential people who have the clout to help support key initiatives that can change society. There are knights, knights' associates, and knights' agents (and the latter anyone can join). He is always working with Mai Chen.
Often we do things and we don't know the consequences. Do we see beauty any more, or are we constantly running to feed the machine of money and personal gain? Kindness is, now, possibly a path less travelled.

Some of the questions that Kerry poses are:
  • How do we find the very best thoughts, both for individuals and society?
  • What practical tools and techniques can we employ?


The Most Powerful Force in the World from EDtalks on Vimeo.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The four vision principles are building learning capacity, collaborating, making meaning, and breaking through, and the vision for the school acts as a filter for anything that happens there.  As a team. the next part of the journey was to voice a graduate profile, and this is a touchstone to see if the students are working towards their aspirational vision. To realise the vision they needed to develop the mindsets and norms that would help the students develop. Two of the main significant points of differences are the learning spaces at the school (on the site there are several images and a couple of videos you can watch to see the learning spaces). And Breakthrough day is another big point of difference, and this is the day where students can work on their own projects and to develop their talents within areas that interest them.

There are many milestones along the way that have been reached as part of the development of the school, but they wanted to pose the question - what learning matters?  And to help answer the question - why a concept curriculum? A curriculum that is just based on content no longer cuts the mustard. Dealing with the complex issues now needs to be a focus, and students need to be supported in their development of the necessary skills to rise to the challenges.

Peter Newell believes that 90% of what we teach is a "waste of time" - so 90% of what we teach - the nuggets of knowledge - will never be used. As such, we need to teach in a way where students look for wide scope...the areas outside of a topic or discipline that inform it in a sometimes tenuous,  but very important way. This will enable students to develop large understandings to cope with the unexpected. The idea of a concept curriculum is not a new one. 

One of the things did was as a team (and the process included the students) they looked into the macro areas that underpin many of the curriculum micro concepts. They also asked questions such as what are the major concepts emerging? What micro concepts sit beneath the macro concepts that had been identified? And finally they started back-mapping the key concepts (a process that took a number of terms to complete).  The process was one of creating and re-creating, imagining and re-imagining. Then there was a 'so what? What next?' moment.

To evaluate they started by gathering baseline data of student understanding (and used video as part of this process). Using a 'shift happens' bridge, and the middle bit seems to be most tricky, when the try and tried seems not to be working. The learning process is conceptualised as a framework for students to use around building knowledge, making meaning, and applying understandings. The model includes verbs that pop out and help the students actualise and verbalise the process. 

The presenters then provided a glimpse into how the teachers plan when provided with this conceptual understanding input. The audience was split into groups, and each teacher provided an example of the process. Planning is split into 2. The first half of the term is planned up front, and then the team meet halfway through the term to plan for the second half (this is done collaboratively in Google Docs). Videos were taken at the beginning of the term (and captured on video) - the example provided was 3 students talking about the macro concept of collaboration, with an example from the very beginning of the term (very sketchy understanding), which was compared with one from after 3 weeks of engaging with the concept (where the students were a lot more confident, and had the vocabulary and personal / general examples to talk about the concept of collaboration). The teachers were rapt as this was a concrete example of the students developing an understanding of collaboration. The evaluative data that is collected is used to inform reporting, and achievement data. One of the aims is to change the mental models around assessment and the learning that matters (so for example, the report back to the BOT often takes the form of video clips showing significant shifts in understanding). 

 This is gold dust! I can imagine that collecting the data, collating it, and crunching the numbers is quite a big job, but the results - especially the personalising of the curriculum and learning experience in response to shifts - are heartening. 

Image: 'Into the light (Explored)' - Found on

Radical Innovation for Learning (Simon Breakspear)

Simon Breakspear opened by saying that "that there is something about learning that is deeply personal". The challenges we face are worthy of our brightest minds and leadership. It has to be radical change, with a global perspective, that will enable us to explore the pressures and opportunities for systemic innovation in education systems in order to provide different, better, and cheaper learning for all.

"Skills have become the currency of 21st century economies" (Andreas Schieicher), and the ability to change and learn new skills will be a fundamental influence on global change. Some of the global drivers of disruption in education include a realisation "that incremental change in education systems is not sufficient to meet the needs and demand for learning in the 21st Century. Economic globalisation, demographic changes, environmental challenges, and new technologies are all exerting pressure on our 20th Century models of education. We now need all people to develop high-level literacies, and have the ability and motivation to learn throughout life" (source).

In Singapore and Hong Kong (countries that perform really well in PISA), are now focussing on skills that are beyond the cognitive. The narrow measures of tests are actually holding back progress and capability. People who do well in the test taking often struggle to solve problems in novel situations. The skills for learning in the future are therefore in 3 domains: cognitive, interpersonal, and intrapersonal.
The diversity of learners is growing. But, in many western countries there is a decreasing motivation to be part of education, meaning that there are empty seats in say, the UK, while there are students in India who cannot find a place to study.

"Fundamentally, trying to get something out of a broken system won't work". We need a radical new version for learning and teaching, in particular around physical learning spaces, assessment, technology and pedagogy, roles, identities, capabilities of the teacher, and lesson time and sequence. Re-framing these will help us re-imagine learning.

Four big ideas are necessary, Simon believes, for radical innovation. The first is the need to design for learning. At the moment we have the current paradigm of learning + technology. What we needed to do, Simon stresses that we need to cultivate an ecosystem for systemic innovation.  "Innovation for learning will require diverse players in the learning game: government, practitioners, entrepreneurs, research institutions, foundations, social enterprises, technologists, and developers.  We will explore the opportunities to cultivate disruptive innovation and scale up powerful new approaches, which will assure high quality and equitable learning for all" (source).

The second is a rapid prototyping approach, where there is an iterative process of re-working, launching, tweaking, and re-launching. We need to learn the art and discipline of innovation. One of the problems is that many institutions have not put in place an agile process for change. It is necessary to re-frame failure. Success and failure are not polar opposites. "What is the minimum set of features that you need in order to begin the process of feedback and discovery?" (Gomez, & Bryk)'s smaller than you think.

The third idea is to unashamedly seek out disruptive innovations, and harness game-changing ideas, to enhance quality, equity, and at a cheaper rate than before. "When we are doing well we often ask delivery questions rather than disruption questions".

This new learning will be collaborative, social, deep, challenging and stretching. Sometimes learning is sometimes hard. It will involve free content, learning platforms, mobile, be social (platform enabled), and informed by data and learning analytics. These have the potential to re-define learning, especially for those people who have challenges with access. Neil D'Souza (Zaya) is working on solutions that helps address the problems of access across the world, especially in remote places.

The fourth part of the puzzle is the creation of an ecosystem of diverse players, and seeing government as a platform. This will bring real diversity to the greatest challenges of learning.
Simon poses a couple of questions:
  • How might we harness the learning potential of game-changing new ideas in education?
  • What lessons can we learn from the educational pioneers and disruptive innovators?

I was really impressed with the way that Simon (and Warren Hall...and the neat tech assistant) coped with technology that kept throwing the toys out of its cot! It was well worth overcoming the issues (a great example of persistance and problem solving!). Some useful challenges. And while Simon's suggestions are 'on a theme' (that seems to have been under discussion for the last 10++ years), it was useful to find out about his suggestions, and also to hear about some concrete examples (even though they tend, at the moment to be relatively small scale).


The life of PII (Public Interest Index) – Harnessing the Tiger (Government)

Mai Chen, the keynote for day 3 of the ICOT conference, is an energetic, provocative professional, who, again, I have seen only on video previously.
Today she is speaking about thinking keeps you ahead of the wave, which includes
  • Nobel prize winner thinking
  • The power of being discriminated against
  • Throwing a rock at a tiger
  • Changing direction and “leaving home” – often
  • Darwinian adaptation
  • Creating your own wave
Mai opened suggested that one of the greatest influences on thinking is...government. They have a large amount of funding, they shape policy, and so they help shape thinking. In particular they encourage thinking that will help solve problems. Government in all its guises influences thinking.
Over Mai's summer holidays a lot happened. She referred in particular to Kerry Spackman, and his thinking about moral functioning, in particular 'level 5', which is about caring about society as a whole. She has also been to see the 'Life of Pi' - 'without that tiger I would have died', whereby the tiger is a part of the main character. If NZ is to survive the tiger, we need Government to be a part of the solution for civil society.

Can individuals be led by Government to be happy? An interesting question. Can passing anti-discrimination laws impact individual happiness, for example? What does this say about how we frame and think of Government? How can we ensure that Governments act positively for public interest?

What we measure affects what we do - you have got to measure to see if initiatives are having an effect. Which is why it was unfathomable that the financial crisis took us so much by surprise. Mai mentioned that there is an old Chinese proverb that "If you do not want to end up where you are going, change your direction". Metrics of sustainability are therefore important.

The NZ treasury has been working hard, and have come up with the Living Standards Framework, which brings together a lot of thinking about aspects that are often not considered together. The framework build on earlier research and pulls it together, in part to provide a vision of sustainability for the future. However, it is no good having a framework if no one uses it.

Mai Chen's presentation raised some interesting question, and definitely saw Government as part of a sustainable future, supported by a framework that everyone supports. Part of this is having a population who understand how the system works. There is a lot to mull over, and I think I need to sit down with a strong coffee and a group of friends to have a chat about the issues....anyone ready for a coffee? :-p


The life of PII (Public Interest Index) – Harnessing the Tiger (Government) from EDtalks on Vimeo.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Human architecture of the brain and cognitive load theory - so what?

Another person who I have watched (on video) is Lane Clark, (and talked about her work for e.g. What is real learning?) so I am really looking forward to her session.

Interesting that Lane had music playing, toys on the tables, and print-outs on the tables. Really relaxed people, and conversations sprung up. Lane is also setting up Dropbox areas for each of her sessions.

Lane started by dramatising "Hooray for Difendoofer Day!" by Dr Seuss, before moving into cognitive load theory, and explained that it is about getting a feeling and a flavour for the research - along with how it may impact your practice. And then ask the question, this is the theory - so what?

What does the research say about learning? (Human cognitive architecture - HCA; Cognitive load theory - CLT). If something isn't tagged as important it does not get put in the long term memory. Lane also asked what does it mean to learn? "If nothing has changed in the longer term memory then nothing has been learned. Any instructional recommendation that does not of cannot specify what has been changed in the long term memory" will not be effective.

Key guides:
  • limit your words (nothing is recorded in the long term memory in sentences)
  • record in colour
  • use images / symbols
  • initial contributions
Using this approach takes time - and the most important thing for processing is time.

HCA "deals with the cognitive structure of the brain and the relationship between working memory and long term memory". And "Most modern treatments of HCA use the Atkinson and Shiffrin (1968) working memory - long term memory model as their base". The audience were then encouraged to record their own definition using their own words and graphics. Even thinking about the exercise, helped me start to conceptualise visually what HCA means.

All conscious processing occurs in the working memory, and you can process 3 to 4 pieces of information can be processed at one time; we have 15 second retention without rehearsal; and we have a limited short term memory especially if it is new, yet to be learned, information. In comparison, the LTM stores schema (representations; has a limitless capacity; and if the working memory can draw on schema sorted in LTM, then limitations of WM processing are reduced  You can store huge amounts of information in the LTM in a way that allows you to quickly recognise the characteristics of a situation, and then, often, unconsciously you are internally guided by your response".

For learning, novel information must be processed in the working memory; schemas must be constructed and tagged meaningfully, and then stored in LTM during REM sleep. If instruction overloads the learner's working memory capacity (cognitive load) then learning is inhibited.

Lane moved on to cognitive load theory, which is concerned with the "cognitive load placed on your working memory processing and how this can be reduced so that cognitive resources can be devoted to learning" i.e the ultimate goal of well-designed learning activities is reducing cognitive load. When we plan learning for students, as educators we already have the schema. If you don't have the schema it is way more fuzzy. Sometimes the issue is that the pre-requisite schema is not in place. Also, many students are not 'tagging' the schema because they are not seeing the relevance, so it only remains in the working memory - where is can be kept alive for quite an extended period of time...or until the focus changes. Hence of the 'phenomenon' of "but they knew it", and even passed the test at the time.

Cognitive processing is affected by the complexity of the information. The issue with very complex material is that the elements have to be related so to understand, all of the elements have to be processed simultaneously. Interestingly we have no control over the intrinsic cognitive load. The problem is that when we artificially break up the complexity to help students learn this can compromise the integrity of the material and therefore compromises schema construction and learning. Students are often engaged and experiencing what you understand to be the schema, but they have not extracted and made their own meaning from it.

Next question is - so we know this - so what?

Extraneous cognitive load is associated with the way material is presented. So instructional approaches require learners to use working memory resources on activities that do not contribute to the desired schema - such as:
  • Writing when writing outcomes do not matter or when the learner is not fluent in their writing
  • searching for information
  • trying to record and listen at the same time (audio recording is your friend - no matter the age of the learner)
Designers of instruction have complete control over the way in which material is presented.

Inquiry learning - Lane has completely shifted in her focus. She 'owns' much of the organisation around inquiry learning for 4 days out of 5 to reduce extraneous cognitive load for her students, and then on the 5th day she has 'clinics' around the skills required to be effective inquiry learners. The topic doesn't matter (students have the choice of topic); rather the focus is the learning skills.
You want to increase germane cognitive learning. When learners are not overloaded extraneously or intrinsically  they have the capacity to invest in their learning. They may invest extra cognitive resources in schema construction, if, they see the relevance. Lane said that may educators may point to the curriculum and ask how they are going to make the learning relevant for all their learners.
So you know what? How can you use what you know to make a difference in your life or the lives of others? How can we decrease cognitive load?
One of the highlights of this session for me were the conversations. Lane gave us plenty of opportunities to unpack and 'own' aspects of what we were hearing and reading - and we could write, speak, draw, or type - or a combination. Had some neat conversations with Marion who was sitting beside me (thanks, Marion). Lots to go away and think about - loved it.

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Performance inquiry: A paradigm shift from performance management and appraisal

Mary Wilson opened by asking for help and giving insights into performance. The seating in the room was set out for discussions, and Mary said that she would be inviting us to share and 'make meaning'.

The project that Mary was involved started by creating a really big dynamic, as a space was developed ready for the learning to happen for 59 children and 12 staff. By 2008, they were staring down the barrel down a system that they had tried to avoid. ERO was on the doorstep. They stepped back and thought, what is the research telling us (a now large organisation)? The vision was that learners know what they are learning and why they are learning it. Mary then shared the following quote, before opening the floor for discussion: "80% of people leave the performance review space feeling undervalued and less than effective in their workplace" (MacKergow, Solution focus at work).

The reference to Daniel Pink (Drive) was timely, especially to carrots and sticks - will rewards get us the behaviour that we want? "We are born to be players not pawns, We're meant to be autonomous individuals not individual automatons" (Pink). If you offer, for example, monetary rewards, all you get is compliance. Within this, there are levels of perception, such that if you have, as an organisation, structures in place, these structures will fundamentally influence what happens within the day-to-day practice. So, what is autonomy?  The desire to be self-directed? Freedom? Respect?

Purpose is incredibly important. "The need to be part of something that's bigger than themselves and make the world a better place" (Pink). Mary says you only have to look as far as Encarta - a private enterprise product that was superseded by Wikipedia, a voluntary  collaborative effort.
Alongside Pink, Mary's organisation also looked at the Gallup organisation (1 million workers over 25 years), which provide 12 core elements of employee engagement (Buckingham, & Coffman):
  • Know what is expected
  • Have the necessary tools & materials
  • Have the opportunities to use their talents every day
  • Receive recognition for accomplishment
  • Feel someone in the organisation cares at a personal level
  • Know personal development is encouraged
  • Feel that their opinions count
  • Feel that their work is important to the organisation's mission
  • Have co-workers committed to doing quality work
  • Have a good friend at work
  • Have talked to a leader about their own progress in the last 6 months
  • Have opportunities to learn and grow

If an organisation does not fulfil the 'What do I get'? then the whole cycle falls over, and each of the items is reliant on the others.

Mary's organisation jumped in, and wrote a statement around Learning to grow: Growing to learn (the school motto) - "the entire cycle is based on deep personal inquiry and the regular use of high qualify learning conversations, When theses are used effectively they are a vehicle of growth to achieve our shared vision, core values and personal visions". This was used to put together a one-page diagram that illustrates a cycle. Every staff member writes a personal vision every year, which is shared with the Principal and with another person who coaches them. For Mary's school, the whole staff go on retreat and re-visit the inquiry performance process.

The presentation offered some valuable opportunities for touching base with practice in other places, as well as a set of tools and a process that any organisation could adopt and adapt.

Image: English: Autonomy Mastery Purpose vs. Carrot and Stick (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Alternative approaches to the standard conference ‘lecture’? Please?

I am in a session, and I have decided to change the name of the presenter and not mention the title (but this person is an invited speaker). I read the overview of the session beforehand and was hooked. I turned up early to the session to make sure I had a seat. The presenter kicked off by introducing himself and then setting the scene for the session. Then, he took a seat, said that he would talk for about 30 mins, and finally he pulled out his notes - no visuals. My heart sank - but I thought I should hang in there as the subject was well worth listening to and thinking about. I lasted about 10 minutes before I typed in the live blog I was typing up about the session:
Hmmm - maybe I've been spoiled by visuals and media....usually when I am listening to someone present - with just audio - it is when I am out running with my iPod. The presenter has some interesting points, but somehow I feel cheated. I could be out running and listening to what he has to say, or even sitting in a comfortable seat, reading his words. The face-to-face context, I feel in this case has not offered anything extra. Again (having previously blogged about this), I ask when are we going to make our conferences more engaging for everyone involved?

And about 5 minutes after that:
I'm reflecting about why I am feeling so negative. Other people here seem to be fully involved. I'm finding it really tricky to stay on track...and so I am fidgeting, and my mind is drifting.  The presenter is personable, he has an interesting voice, and is making some interesting points.
He has just said that "sending our children to school is not really educating them" - and, my immediate thought was, if I chose to be in this session, and have chosen to be at this conference, what do students who have been made to go to school, and who are sitting in a room like this one (chairs in rows, all facing the front), while someone talks 'at' them - feel?

It was at this time I decided I would continue following this line of thought (with half an ear on the lecture) as follows:

So, if face-to-face lectures have their place as some people argue, what are the ingredients that make them valuable? Thinking of Ewan's presentation this morning (which was enhanced by relevant, rich media), he told stories, he gave us hooks and provocations. There was humour, the presenter was obviously enthused, and there was a lively backchannel. But, I hate to think how long it took Ewan to prepare this presentation - and realistically, can we expect presenters to put this amount of effort into every presentation? I suspect not.

Preparing a presentation, and presenting, are skills. Likewise, at conferences, not all presenters and presentations have these skills well-honed. So - returning to the question about conferences that I posed above, perhaps presenters (maybe following guidelines that are nutted out by the conference 'community', which includes the presenters, beforehand) create a multi-media resource that can be accessed prior to the conference (think K12 online). Presenters may even want to collaborate to create a single resources that captures overlapping experiences, points and theories across one common theme. Then conference participants rock up to discuss the key points in the presentation...or to figure out how these points relate to them and their context.

The unconference is popular, but some folk finds that there is sometimes a requirement for more of a catalyst to get conversations underway. However, the big conferences (including TED Talks) are still focussed on the transmission model. What can we do, that is still financially viable (have to be realistic here), still going to fulfil PBRF requirements, but that respects, engages, and makes the most of all the participants at a conference - and in turn models the approaches that we could be using in school, university, and businesses?

  • TED Conference '97 - Peter Max Signed Print (Photo credit: The Daring Librarian)
  • Bored (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn_be_back_on_Jan_20th)

The Problem Finders: Design Thinking for Genuine Epic-Scale Problem-Based Learning (Ewan McIntosh)

I have seen and heard Ewan McIntosh speaking on many occasions, but all on videos or podcasts, so I am really looking forward to seeing him live in this keynote session. The description of the session reads:Project-based learning has been let down in too many instances with “fake”, academic, theoretical problems that need solving. The learning processes involved are at best fuzzy for most educators: what is “collaboration”, “student-designed” and “student-led” learning?
  • See how research on great learning blends with creative practice to open up new exploratory, student-led learning.
  • Learn from the creative practices of some of the best media and tech companies in the world, with whom Ewan McIntosh has spent the past five years. What makes creative people creative?
  • Find out what the independent and collaborative learning skills and processes these growing creative industries, and other business, require. (source)
Nouvelle affiche Dada 2.0 - 200811posterdada.jpgEwan started by admitting that he is nervous because many of the thought leaders he follows are here! He points out that there is a mix of business, academia, schools sector etc, which, in part makes it quite a challenge. The presentation then moved to notions of success, and how we measure it. Is it money, happiness, the concrete 'outputs' they produce? Business feels they have nothing to learn from education, and education are not at all keen about being put within a business framework. Success is, in part the unpacking of mystery, into heuristics (gut feeling that something works), and synthesising our own 'algorithm' (up front awareness of what those heuristics imply, and what we need to do to build on them). Agents provocateurs are essential for creativity. And making learning whole is essential...what is the point of the learning? What are the goals? Ewan said that one of the reasons that he learned French was to meet French girls; and he did - he is now happily married and have three children! Ewan suggested that challenge is important for learning. Another key factor was collaboration; there are no things around, even jeans or a shirt, that don't represent collaborative effort (as opposed to team work). Responsibility and respect are also necessary for learning. Young people also want real things they can get their teeth stuck into. "Worksheets are really boring".  A couple of very entertaining examples were presented to show how 'irrelevant' and confusing many worksheets are. You can pretty much pick on any subject and find these pseudo problems that are totally out of context, and not at all experiential. Choice is the final, and the most important aspect of successful learning. Do your students always have between 3 and 20 choices when they are learning? The curriculum is the first thing that is cited as a reason that choice can not be given. Ewan asks "have you read your curriculum?". The duplication that goes on is often massive, so something like a learning wall can provide a creative way of removing the "repetition, conflict, and the stuff that is done again and again to no effect". There is less racing toward the clock. "Imagine a kids project defining your school mission statement" (Ewan gave the example of the Levi advert when they first started selling black jeans - "when the world zigs, zag"). [caption id="" align="alignright" width="240"] Nouvelle affiche Dada 2.0 - 200811posterdada.jpg (Photo credit: Abode of Chaos)[/caption] Ewan discussed four ways of thinking about how technology is often used in education. These were "Substitute - Technology acts as a direct tools substitute with no functional change"; "Augmentation - technology acts as a direct tool substitute, with functional improvement; "Modification - signififcan task redsign", "Redefinition - Technology allows for the creation of new" meanings.
Build in provocation and certainly don't come up with questions that are Google-able. You have to work quite hard to find questions that are not Google-able. Students can do the initial Google search on the answers that can be found online, and the rich thinking and learning happens around the (fewer) questions that are tantalising, and often personalised.
Drafting is very different that prototying. You build low fidelity prototypes - it happens really on in the research process. Handing the whole research process back to the students is important - take the teacher out of the picture. Empathising is the first stage. This is the stage where students jump in; they don't have to be taught the subject beforehand. Many things students already know a wide range of things and skills, the majority of which can be applied to questions and projects. Things such as 'master classes' for just in time learning, rather than just in case, which are optional, can also be effective.
Design thinking - "so what, who cares?" to test an idea. Research and practising skills, often with collaboration to 'pool' skills froms a wide number of resources. Taking time to analyse and evaluate is really important. And building confidence around these skills, ideas and thoughts are all part of the transformative process.
Ewan's talk had all the right ingredients: humour, stories, authentic examples, provocations, things to go away and think about, and some practical skills to take away.
Image - Nouvelle affiche Dada 2.0 - 200811posterdada.jpg (Photo credit: Abode of Chaos)

Ewan McIntosh: The Problem Finders from EDtalks on Vimeo.

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Monday, January 14, 2013

30 Surprising (possibly controversial) research findings about how young people learn

In November, just before the Christmas madness, Tess Pajaron dropped me an email to share an article that focuses on how people learn based on a range of research. The writer explores 30 approaches, each of them drawn from current research (which is linked to so you can explore more if you'd like).
Although I may be a little tentative about some of the points and approaches covered, some caught my attention including 'Teaching kids at a very early age is counterproductive to their learning' and 'Engaging children in planning and reflection enhance their predictive and analytic capabilities'. The article opens as follows:

Have you checked your assumptions about student learning at the door?
People in general, hold onto beliefs that are shaped by early experiences, the media, and faulty influences. The following list is a compilation of research that may surprise you. Video games, e-books, playtime, and music are all a part of an educator’s repertoire.
You can read the whole article here: 30 Surprising (and controversial) research findings about how people learn

Image: 'J.O.Y | B.O.Y'. Found on
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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

MOOCs - returning to questions of assessment and why we learn...

Massive open online courses (MOOCs), have been under discussion, and it seemed that in 2012 you couldn't escape the flurry of courses (free on the whole, although many provided with a for-profit model seemingly in mind further down the track).

There is also some controversy around the shifting notions of what comprises a MOOC. Originally, MOOCs as an approach were developed by folks such as George Siemens, Stephen Downes and Dave Cormier (who also helped coin the term). They aimed to develop a way of learning that made the most of the affordances offered by near-global connectivity, and which was closely related to the connectivist theory of learning. MOOCs in this form involve learners who gather online to collaborate in sense-making, and to exchange knowledge and share experiences. The course is fluid, and can be changed by participants, who also select their own ‘learning path’ to develop their own ideas and skills within a focus or project of their own. Activities within such a MOOC are likely to include remixing, re-purposing, feeding forward, curation and aggregation. A few of the key benefits of MOOCs are that learning is contextualised, happens in a relatively informal setting, and can connect across disciplines, organisations, and institutions. In addition, you don’t need any formal qualifications to participate, and there are no physical barriers, as long as you have some form of connectivity.

To find out more, you might want to watch the video, What is a MOOC? (4 mins 27 secs), where Dave Cormier gives a clear overview of a MOOC.

Once you have watched the video, if you scroll down to the comments you will spot the following, which highlights some of the key confusions around what a MOOC comprises and how this might differ from an online course (free or inexpensive) with a lot of participants:
Thanks for this nice well made video. However this is not what a MOOC is. It not necessarily participatory, connective or distributed (you projected your personal preferences/hobbies/limitation­s/fetishes onto this exciting new concept?). For many purposes expert driven, centralized MOOC’s are not only possible, they are just the right thing. So, either change the title of this video into “this is what I think a MOOC ought to be” or expand the content to cover the full range of possible MOOC’s (Vilkoos, source)
After a bit of further discussion with Dave Vilkoos concludes "Conceptually the original MOOC's...are polar opposites form what Coursera and Udacity are doing. So what Coursera uses should be labeled as an anti-MOOC" - an interesting suggestion :-p!!

No matter what you think a MOOC is or is not, a key consideration that is returned to is assessment. Beverley Oliver has written a post that raises issues of plagiarism and verification in connection with assessments in MOOCs. She concludes with the following suggestions:
Maybe in the world of free content, assessment is the part that you pay for (already an option at Udacity). But maybe this assessment should also include face-to-face tests online? FaceTime, Skype and Jabber are all programs that could enable this and verifying your identity in that mode is not insurmountable. If MOOCs can be done at scale, so can assessment — but it should be a separate process, on a user pays basis and it should include face-to-face assessment where possible. 
The (MOOC) genie is out of the bottle. The challenge now is to add new ways of doing better quality face-to-face authentic assessment in the cloud. (Oliver, source)
Again, it's well worth scrolling down to the conversation and comments that follow Beverly's post. For other suggestions to do with assessment of learning, you might enjoy Andrea Zellner's Thoughts on badges for learning.

Some learners report that their experience of MOOCs has had a powerful impact on their learning and professional practice. On the other hand, MOOCs tend to have a high drop-out rate (George Siemens estimates that about 10% of registrants in his MOOCs complete the course), partly because of the perception of a highly unstructured approach. These points highlight what some people see as benefits of MOOCs and others, as drawbacks - in part it depends on your expectations, background and skills as a learner.
At the end of the day the whole conversation, I feel, needs to focus back on the fundamentals...learning - and as equitable access as possible to education for all. Formative, diagnostic, and self- and peer-assessment are likely to be part of the learning process...but, do we need to re-frame, or re-think, formative assessments? Is all learning, after all, related to the needs of (future) employers, or is it for something more? It is interesting that the initial MOOCs, after all, did not have summative assessments built in to them. Would be good to hear what you think, so please jump in with comments :-p

What is a MOOC? by giulia.forsythe
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