Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What do you think is the teacher's worst enemy? A convenient untruth

Learning styles have been under the spotlight for the last few years (see for example, this discussion). If you are still sitting on the fence with your thinking about learning styles, or maybe you are totally convinced...I'd strongly advise your read Steve Wheeler's post below. It offers a well-informed, thoughtful discussion. Initially Steve looks at "bad theory" and the impact it can have on beliefs about learning and practice. One point that I felt was key was the fact that as learning practitioners we might think that there are no issues with thinking about learning styles. However, Steve quotes a really key point - it's not about tailoring resources to suit learners with different learning styles, but rather it is a case of designing a learning experience that is relevant, clear, encourages active engagement...in other words, good design.

The original post A convenient untruth  (in full below) was published by  on 24th November 2011

What do you think is the teacher's worst enemy? Some would say lack of time. Others would say unsupportive leadership, or the dreaded government inspection. Rigid curriculum, lack of resources and bad student behaviour may also be high on the list for many educators. For me, the worst enemy is bad theory. Bad theory, when accepted without challenge, can lead to bad practice. It's insidious, because bad theory that is accepted as fact without a full understanding of its implications, results in bad teaching, and ultimately, learners will suffer.

One of the biggest myths known to teacherdom is learning styles. Time and time again, the belief that students can be placed into specific categories such as activist or theorist, or that they are predominantly inclined toward one modal category of learning (e.g. visual, auditory, kinaesthetic) is inserted into professional conversations as if the theories are fact. And time and again, such beliefs are the justification for placing students into a specific style of learning so that a class can be 'managed' more effectively. Such categorisation of students is an absolute nonsense and the practice of doing so should be challenged strongly. It is lazy pedagogy, and the only reason I see that such beliefs persist, is that it is a convenient untruth which allows some teachers to stay within their comfort zones.

In an excellent expose on learning styles, Riener and Willingham (2010) argue this:

"...learning-styles theory has succeeded in becoming “common knowledge.” Its widespread acceptance serves as an unfortunately compelling reason to believe it. This is accompanied by a well-known cognitive phenomenon called the confirmation bias. When evaluating our own beliefs, we tend to seek out information that confirms our beliefs and ignore contrary information, even when we encounter it repeatedly. When we see someone who professes to be a visual learner excel at geography and an auditory learner excel at music, we do not seek out the information which would disprove our interpretation of these events (can the auditory learner learn geography through hearing it? Can the visual learner become better at music by seeing it?)"

Multiple Intelligences
Multiple Intelligences (Photo credit: London Permaculture)

Clearly one of the problems that emerges when teachers administer a learning styles inventory or questionnaire to their students is that the result tends to become a 'self fulfilling prophecy' (See Rosethal and Jacobson, for more on this phenomenon). One of the most notorious (and vacuous) inventories is Honey and Mumford's LSI, which in essence is nothing more than a repurposing of David Kolb's earlier experiential learning cycle model. Another is Neil Fleming's VAK model (Visual, Auditory, Kinaesthetic) which is basically a reworking of 'tell me I forget, show me I remember, involve me I understand'. Such learning styles theories are based on little more than anecdotal observations, and are akin to folk medicine. But the student doesn't know this, and simply trusts the teacher's judgement. The student then sees the results of the questionnaire which informs them that they are for instance predominantly a 'reflector' or that they are an 'auditory learner'. They then actively seek to maximise their 'learning style' by engaging in reflective activities, or visually rich media. This all progresses to the detriment of the other learning modes, which become deficient and atrophied. Result - the learner fails to gain a holistic learning experience, and misses out on the many rich opportunities to expand and develop their other sensory or cognitive skills. Worse still, as Barbara Prashnig explains:

"....it remains a fact that every human being has a learning style which can consist of contradictory components, often leading to inner confusion and uneasiness. Style mismatches between teaching and learning, physical learning environments not conducive to information intake and unmet physical needs during the learning process can lead to frustration, stress, learning problems, underachievement, low self esteem, discipline problems among younger students, and dropoutism in high schools."

Do we really need to label people and brand them in this way? Riener and Willingham again:

"...learning-styles theory is sometimes offered as a reason to include digital media in the classroom. While including multimedia may be a good idea in general (variety in modes of presentation can hold students' attention and interest, for example), it is not necessary to tailor your media to different learning styles. We shouldn't congratulate ourselves for showing a video to engage the visual learners or offering podcasts to the auditory learners. Rather, we should realize that the value of the video or audio will be determined by how it suits the content that we are asking students to learn and the background knowledge, interests, and abilities that they bring to it. Instead of asking whether we engaged the right sense (or learning mode), we should be asking, what did students think about while they were in class?"

The final nail in the coffin on learning styles comes from a report by Frank Coffield and his colleagues (2004) who reported that not only was the concept of learning styles so ill defined as to be virtually useless in pedagogical terms, the instruments used to 'determine' student learning styles were flawed. They failed to measure accurately what they were purported to measure (validity construct) and they failed to measure learning styles consistently over time (reliability construct). Probably the only reason some teachers (and many training organisations) hang on to the idea of testing learning styles is that it is convenient to do so, and that to ditch the idea altogether would leave them having to work harder with students.

We can conclude that in the selection of digital media (and any other learning resource) teachers should not be dictated to by the fallacy of learning styles, nor should they attempt to measure what turns out to be a moving feast of approaches to learning that are actually dependent more on changing context than they ever will be on any deep-seated human propensity. Would it not be better to simply acknowledge that all learners are different, and that all can benefit from a range of varied experiences that ultimately leads to enriched personal experiences? It may mean more work, but it would certainly be a lot fairer.

Coffield, F., Moseley, D., Hall, E., and Ecclestone, K. (2004) Learning styles and pedagogy in post-16 learning: A systematic and critical review. Learning and Skills Research Centre.
Riener, C. and Willingham, D. (2010) The Myth of Learning Styles. Change Magazine, Sept-Oct.
Rosenthal, R. and Jaconson, L. (1992) Pygmalion in the Classroom, New York, NY: Irvington.

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A convenient untruth by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
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Sunday, May 27, 2012

Inequality in society the biggest obstacle to education reform?

 Through a rather circuitous route of recommendations (podcast) and links, I located the post below. The points that Susan Ohanian (Jan 3rd 2012) highlights were pretty much I was hoping to also mention, so I have posted her comments (National education policy centre), along with a reasonable snippet from the original post - enough to whet your appetite :-)

Just when I'd vowed not to mention Finland again, this provocative article gets posted at The Atlantic, Dec. 28, 2011. Of all places. Maybe their New Year's resolution is to atone for all the miserable education pieces they've run in the last few years.
This piece states what everybody else seemed to miss: Finland is an education superpower because it values equality more than excellence. There are no private schools in Finland.
One cruel fact is missing in this picture: Finnish society itself is much more equal to start with. A huge percentage of Finnish children don't go home to abject poverty when they leave school. Providing equal school facilities and staffing will never be good enough when so many schoolchildren live in poverty. The most serious problem facing urban schoolchildren is not that they don't all have teachers with Masters Degrees and small class size, etc. etc. The problem is that 99% of them live in poverty when they leave the relative safety and security of the school building. Yes, 99%. Check out the 'free and reduced lunch' statistics for urban schools.

Meanwhile, appreciate this thoughtful article. If you can't access the whole thing, let me know and I'll send it to you.
The original post (29 Dec 2011) was titled What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland's School Success, and was written by Anu Partanen.

Everyone agrees the United States needs to improve its education system dramatically, but how? One of the hottest trends in education reform lately is looking at the stunning success of the West's reigning education superpower, Finland. Trouble is, when it comes to the lessons that Finnish schools have to offer, most of the discussion seems to be missing the point.

The small Nordic country of Finland used to be known -- if it was known for anything at all -- as the home of Nokia, the mobile phone giant. But lately Finland has been attracting attention on global surveys of quality of life -- Newsweek ranked it number one last year -- and Finland's national education system has been receiving particular praise, because in recent years Finnish students have been turning in some of the highest test scores in the world.

Finland's schools owe their newfound fame primarily to one study: the PISA survey, conducted every three years by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The survey compares 15-year-olds in different countries in reading, math, and science. Finland has ranked at or near the top in all three competencies on every survey since 2000, neck and neck with super achievers such as South Korea and Singapore. In the most recent survey in 2009 Finland slipped slightly, with students in Shanghai, China, taking the best scores, but the Finns are still near the very top. Throughout the same period, the PISA performance of the United States has been middling, at best.

Compared with the stereotype of the East Asian model -- long hours of exhaustive cramming and rote memorization -- Finland's success is especially intriguing because Finnish schools assign less homework and engage children in more creative play. All this has led to a continuous stream of foreign delegations making the pilgrimage to Finland to visit schools and talk with the nation's education experts, and constant coverage in the worldwide media marveling at the Finnish miracle.

So there was considerable interest in a recent visit to the U.S. by one of the leading Finnish authorities on education reform, Pasi Sahlberg, director of the Finnish Ministry of Education's Center for International Mobility and author of the new book Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland? Earlier this month, Sahlberg stopped by the Dwight School in New York City to speak with educators and students, and his visit received national media attention and generated much discussion.

And yet it wasn't clear that Sahlberg's message was actually getting through. As Sahlberg put it to me later, there are certain things nobody in America really wants to talk about.

During the afternoon that Sahlberg spent at the Dwight School, a photographer from the New York Times jockeyed for position with Dan Rather's TV crew as Sahlberg participated in a roundtable chat with students. The subsequent article in the Times about the event would focus on Finland as an "intriguing school-reform model."

Yet one of the most significant things Sahlberg said passed practically unnoticed. "Oh," he mentioned at one point, "and there are no private schools in Finland."

This notion may seem difficult for an American to digest, but it's true. Only a small number of independent schools exist in Finland, and even they are all publicly financed. None is allowed to charge tuition fees. There are no private universities, either. This means that practically every person in Finland attends public school, whether for pre-K or a Ph.D.

The irony of Sahlberg's making this comment during a talk at the Dwight School seemed obvious. Like many of America's best schools, Dwight is a private institution that costs high-school students upward of $35,000 a year to attend -- not to mention that Dwight, in particular, is run for profit, an increasing trend in the U.S. Yet no one in the room commented on Sahlberg's statement. I found this surprising. Sahlberg himself did not.

Sahlberg knows what Americans like to talk about when it comes to education, because he's become their go-to guy in Finland. The son of two teachers, he grew up in a Finnish school. He taught mathematics and physics in a junior high school in Helsinki, worked his way through a variety of positions in the Finnish Ministry of Education, and spent years as an education expert at the OECD, the World Bank, and other international organizations.

Now, in addition to his other duties, Sahlberg hosts about a hundred visits a year by foreign educators, including many Americans, who want to know the secret of Finland's success. Sahlberg's new book is partly an attempt to help answer the questions he always gets asked.

From his point of view, Americans are consistently obsessed with certain questions: How can you keep track of students' performance if you don't test them constantly? How can you improve teaching if you have no accountability for bad teachers or merit pay for good teachers? How do you foster competition and engage the private sector? How do you provide school choice?

The answers Finland provides seem to run counter to just about everything America's school reformers are trying to do.

For starters, Finland has no standardized tests. The only exception is what's called the National Matriculation Exam, which everyone takes at the end of a voluntary upper-secondary school, roughly the equivalent of American high school.

Instead, the public school system's teachers are trained to assess children in classrooms using independent tests they create themselves. All children receive a report card at the end of each semester, but these reports are based on individualized grading by each teacher. Periodically, the Ministry of Education tracks national progress by testing a few sample groups across a range of different schools.
As for accountability of teachers and administrators, Sahlberg shrugs. "There's no word for accountability in Finnish," he later told an audience at the Teachers College of Columbia University. "Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted."

For Sahlberg what matters is that in Finland all teachers and administrators are given prestige, decent pay, and a lot of responsibility. A master's degree is required to enter the profession, and teacher training programs are among the most selective professional schools in the country. If a teacher is bad, it is the principal's responsibility to notice and deal with it.

And while Americans love to talk about competition, Sahlberg points out that nothing makes Finns more uncomfortable. In his book Sahlberg quotes a line from Finnish writer named Samuli Puronen: "Real winners do not compete." It's hard to think of a more un-American idea, but when it comes to education, Finland's success shows that the Finnish attitude might have merits. There are no lists of best schools or teachers in Finland. The main driver of education policy is not competition between teachers and between schools, but cooperation.

Finally, in Finland, school choice is noticeably not a priority, nor is engaging the private sector at all. Which brings us back to the silence after Sahlberg's comment at the Dwight School that schools like Dwight don't exist in Finland.

"Here in America," Sahlberg said at the Teachers College, "parents can choose to take their kids to private schools. It's the same idea of a marketplace that applies to, say, shops. Schools are a shop and parents can buy what ever they want. In Finland parents can also choose. But the options are all the same."

Herein lay the real shocker. As Sahlberg continued, his core message emerged, whether or not anyone in his American audience heard it.

Decades ago, when the Finnish school system was badly in need of reform, the goal of the program that Finland instituted, resulting in so much success today, was never excellence. It was equity. . . .

The problem facing education in America isn't the ethnic diversity of the population but the economic inequality of society, and this is precisely the problem that Finnish education reform addressed. More equity at home might just be what America needs to be more competitive abroad.

* * *

NOTE: Susan notes that "The Atlantic gets ticked off when I post whole articles. For the rest of this one, which is well worth reading, go here".

Anu Partanen, a Finnish journalist based in New York City, is writing a book about what America can learn from the successes of Nordic societies, told through her personal experiences as a young woman living between Brooklyn and Helsinki.

OpenStreetMap Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Culturally responsive design: Pacific peoples

I would like to thank Diana Ayling who put together these suggestions and links to resources (the original from which the below has been adapted can be accessed here), which are a great start to thinking about the enhancement of existing courses, or the development of new ones, that are culturally responsive to Pacific students. Although she if referring to a tertiary context, you will still find heaps of great resources and ideas.

Diana starts by outlining the following guiding concepts:
  • Knowledge: Understand the concepts, principles and terminology of Pacific pedagogy.
  • Application: Design, facilitate, and assess within a Pacific pedagogy.
  • Caring: Value Pacific perspectives, knowledge and culture within teaching and learning.
  • Human Dimension: Be both independent and collaborative.
  • Learning how to Learn: Access, evaluate and share resources to support Pacific pedagogy.
  • Integration: Integrate Pacific knowledge, perspectives, and culture into student learning experiences.

A range of resources follow, along with thought-provoking questions designed to help you consider how you might go about integrating Pacific pedagogy into your practice and courses.
The world wide web has a wealth of materials to support teachers to become effective in supporting Pacific pedagogy. There is also a whole community on your door step, Pacific students, families, business and organisations are able to contribute to your knowledge and learning. Click HERE for an index to Pacific organisations.

Design, facilitate and assess within a Pacific pedagogy. To learn more about pedagogy see the video below, "A new DNA of Pedagogy". To learn more about the unique nature of Pacific learners, check out the Ako Aotearoa website: http://bit.ly/byFe9X

  1. How is your discipline interpreted in the Pacific?
  2. What are they key concepts which are integrated by Pacific peoples?
  3. What unique ideas and information from the Pacific informs your discipline?
  4. How can this information and ideas be designed into your course?
  5. What are the unique characteristics and needs of Pacific learners?

Value Pacific perspectives, knowledge and culture within teaching and learning:
  • Learn more about Pacific perspectives from local newspapers and media outlets. ClickHERE for more.
  • The Pacific Archive of Digital Data for Learning and Education. Click HERE for more.
  • Pacific culture guide. Click HERE for more.

Human Dimension

Be both independent and collaborative. Teachers need support from a range of people to advance their practice in teaching and learning.

Learning how to Learn
Access, evaluate and share resources to support Pacific pedagogy

All images were in Diana Ayling's original post.

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Engaging reluctant learners

This was a session facilitated by Clarrie Yates on 23 May 2012. I live blogged as we went along, but Blogger seems to have removed the automatic save function - or maybe something else happened! Needless to say, I lost an entire hour's blogging! Ah well, when it works it works well, when it doesn't it makes you want to tear your hair out and test the aerodynamics of your computer.
So, this will be a rather abbreviated overview of the session rather than anything more in depth. Instead I would encourage you to dip into the recording of the session here: http://connect.vln.school.nz/p82628843/.

If you are interested in continuing and contributing to the the discussion
  • Clarrie has created a pretty extensive resource with suggestions and strategies here: http://bit.ly/Kzz6Ua;
  • The forum below the event overview has some super contributions from Vicki, Heather, and Brenda (http://bit.ly/LFcCbz); and
  • Wi has started a discussion forum around the subject (http://bit.ly/Jyy1mm) to which Melvin has contributed.

The session was very worthwhile with a large amount of discussion and sharing. If you are looking for some ideas around why learners might be reluctant  and/or disengaged, reasons why this might happen, and some strategies as an educator that you might apply, this is a useful recording and set of resources to dip into.
It would be excellent to hear more about how students might be empowered - perhaps through the design of the course, and shifting the current paradigms of formal versus informal learning. So please jump in with experiences and ideas of your own, as well as links to resources.

A bored person (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Mobile learning in the classroom...sound odd to you?

The iPad on a table in the Apple caseThe iPad on a table in the Apple case (Photo credit: Wikipedia)I have just finished reading a post (and comments) that was recommended by Greg Carroll, and found it a thought-provoking read: Amidst a Mobile Revolution in Schools, Will Old Teaching Tactics Work?. It was a little odd, however, that the main focus of the article was that students brought the mobile devices with them to a classroom. Hmmm - the article discusses and calls for shifts in pedagogy and teacher practice, but fundamentally the key model is that of bums on seats in a physical classroom (although, to be fair, mention is made of a student-created guided tour, and use of QR codes).

The wine in my mind is indeed the same, even if the pedagogical bottle is slightly re-shaped. There is a sense that the writers may have not taken the endgame far enough to really explore mobile learning when it perceived as a set of principles that can enhance formal and informal learning opportunities, rather than a series of devices. Learning then becomes:
  • Spatial - learning across space (anywhere)
  • Temporal - learning across time (any time)
  • Cognitive - learning across domains (any topic) (source)
Once this shift is made, the conversation changes from one where the concern is “new technology [applied] to old pedagogy,” (Soloway), to one where learning and the student become the focus.
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Sunday, May 13, 2012

Call for Submissions: Themed Issue of the Journal of Open, Flexible and Distance Learning

Michael Barbour recently put out the call for submissions for a themed issue for the Journal of Open, Flexible and Distance Learning - to be published in April 2013 on the theme:

Primary and Secondary Distance Education: Expanding the knowledge base in the schools sector.

Focus of the themed issue:
Despite a history of over 90 years, to date there has been little published research on the use of distance education in the primary and secondary environment in New Zealand or other countries in Australasia. Barbour (2011a) examined 262 articles from the main distance education journals for Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States (including the Journal of Flexible, Open, and Distance Learning) from 2006 to 2010 and found only 1 of the 262 articles related to distance education in the schools sector in New Zealand. Further, during this five-year period only three of the 21 articles published by the Journal of Flexible, Open, and Distance Learningrelated to primary and secondary distance education in any country.
Read more here>>>

What can you learn from sore muscles, rain, big hills - and lashings of community support

I was blown away by a post (included in full below) by Marg McPherson, that recounted the efforts of 3 young men who cycled from Timaru  to Invercargill in NZ, and whose support crew were 2 dedicated friends. Their efforts were all to raise money for the Prostate Cancer Foundation of New Zealand.

It struck me that it is one thing to have an idea, and quite another, as Marg says, to plan for and execute such a mammoth undertaking. And they have finished successfully. I've browsed through some of the posts that were on the donation and support site. It sounds as though determination in the face of tiredness, unpleasant weather, and sore muscles (big distances over tough terrain) was in part mitigated by that amazing community support. Marg comments that "They will remember this experience and the things they have learnt from it about themselves and what they are capable of, for the rest  of their lives.  (unlike last week's English lesson which has probably already been consigned to the "trash bin' of their memories!)".

The post below was originally entitled In praise of young men, and was written by Marg McPherson, who posted it on May 11th 2012.

This week I have been taught a powerful lesson - a lesson in commitment,  endurance and citizenship - by 5 young men who I am proud to call students of the school I work in and proud to know personally as friends of my son (one of the 5).  3 of them, Matt Jopson, Joe Langley and Ben Connor (all 17 years old) decided about 8 weeks ago to plan and train for a bike ride from Ashburton to Invercargill to raise money for the Prostate Cancer Foundation of NZ.  They asked my son, Andrew Robertson, and another friend, James Smith (both 18) to be their support crew and the drivers of the lead and trail pilot vehicles.  The boys set about planning this venture with purpose and clarity of vision.  They sought and acted on advice from experts: cyclists who'd done this sort of thing before, LTSA, adults who had driven pilot vehicles for cyclists before, and people who knew about the training and nutritional requirements to support  their plan.  They set up an online donation page, they talked to newspapers and radio stations and, first and foremost they talked to the Prostate Foundation to pitch their idea and see if this organisation was ok with being the beneficiary of their efforts.  Needless to say, the Prostate Foundation is thrilled  - young men doing something selfless for others; mainly older men you could say.
 Prostate Cancer FoundationProstate Cancer Foundation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The boys planned the timimg carefully. they worked out the time they'd need to prepare and still be able to beat the upcoming southern winter and leve themselves time to prepare for their internal school examinations.  They couldn't wait 'til spring - they have NCEA Level 3 to achieve and holiday jobs to raise money for their university plans.  And, young  men being young men, they had a compelling imperative to get on with it while their enthusiasm and motivation to succeed was immediate and therefore extremely high.

Schools along the way given them lunch - more than happy to welcome and support role models such as these.  Businesses have generously offered them sponsorship through provision of equipmens, nutritional supplements and even replacement tyres after two punctures north of Oamaru on the 2nd day!  Family members along journey have provided them with beds and food.  this has truly become a community project.
Their parents have shown them the immense respect of letting them be in charge of this venture; supporting them and advising them when necessary, but allowing them to take complete ownership of their great adventure.  In this age of "blackhawk" parenting and micromanaging by parents and schools of the daily lives of young people, I also stand in admiration of these parents for stepping back to let their sons step up.
Today, day 4, the cyclists have had to grind it out; tired and extremely sore, over the rolling hills from Dunedin to Gore.  Tomorrow they ride to Invercargill to be met by the Mayor and, hopefully, a whole new group of generous donors whose support for the Prostate Foundation is all the reward these boys are looking for.
Young men working together and in support of each other in order to help others - it doesn't get any better than this.  They will remember this experience and the things they have learnt from it about themselves and what they are capable of, for the rest  of their lives.  (unlike last week's English lesson which has probably already been consigned to the "trash bin' of their memories!)

This week I, and others, have been given a powerful lesson in managing self, participating and contributing, thinking and relating to others; a powerful lesson in community, integrity and respect.
Please consider sharing this story among your networks and supporting Matt, Joe Ben and their support team, by donating to the Prostate Cancer Foundation of New Zealand on

This week I have been given a powerful lesson...
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Friday, May 11, 2012

Why are we still measuring virtual learning experiences against face-to-face?

Bagley LakesBagley Lakes (Photo credit: Jeff Youngstrom)Helen Cooper shared this blog a while back, and it has been in my to-read list. I have just had a good read through. Something that jumped out at me was the continued need to measure of virtual worlds and/or experiences with face-to-face experiences...as if face-to-face were somehow the benchmark for the 'best' learning experience. And I may be going out on a bit of a limb here, but many of the face-to-face learning sessions I've experienced have been...dire, to put it bluntly. It feels to me as though virtual experiences need to be looked at for their own stengths, and for their points of difference (which Elizabeth Bagley does, to a certain extent in her study). Maybe it's time to recognise that learning for many people is an organic combination of many forms of engagement (including gaming) and media, in a variety of locations...some of which will be virtual.

This post was originally published by the Wisconsin Center for Education Research here, in December 2011.
Elizabeth Bagley
Elizabeth Bagley

Students enjoy learning about the environment. The process usually involves trekking out to the nearest prairie, waterway, or forest. But given the time and expense involved, field trips can be unrealistic.

One alternative is to use computer-based programs that simulate the experience a student would have out-of-doors.

Our increasingly urbanized society and our technology-mediated lifestyles distance most of us from the biological and non-human physical world. Environmental problems present a challenge for education and outreach because they are inherently complex, interdependent, and interrelated. The need for environmentally literate citizens has never been greater. We need people who can work toward an ecologically and economically sustainable environment.

Students who use the computer game Urban Science learn to think like professional urban planners  and, in the process, improve their ability to address environmental problems. The game creates opportunities for students to develop science, ethics, and practice to build a professional urban planning frame of reference, or epistemic frame.

In a recent study WCER researcher and former graduate student Elizabeth Bagley found that students who played the game used more scientific language and gave more specific recommendations for addressing environmental problems.

Avatar in Second LifeAvatar in Second Life (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bagley found that “virtual” environments made possible by computer games are well positioned to provide students with high-quality environmental education.

Students use Urban Science in a supervised setting where mentors play a central role. Mentors
  • Help students carry out complex tasks
  • Facilitate cycles of real-world learning through frequent and strategically-placed conversations with the students
  • Model a professional “epistemic frame” by asking players to reflect on what worked, what did not, and why
  • Scaffold a way of seeing and solving problems that the players can adopt.
Throughout the game, students and their mentors interact through reflection meetings where they discuss completed activities and plan next steps in the project.

Bagley’s research focused on whether and how these reflection meetings created opportunities for students to develop a combination of the skills, knowledge, values, and identity of environmentally literate urban planners. In particular she wanted to determine whether virtual (online) interactions between learners and mentors were as effective as in-person interactions. Specifically, how did mentoring communication change (a) the quantity of the discourse, (b) the quality of the discourse, or (c) the impact on players’ learning outcomes and engagement?

Bagley’s study found no significant differences in students’ level of engagement or learning outcomes between the in-person condition and the virtual condition. Players in the online condition were as engaged as those with face-to-face mentoring, and they derived similar benefits from playing the game.

Whether face-to-face or virtual, mentors led students to use similar professional discourse. The occurrence of elements of the “epistemic frame” within mentor-player discussions followed similar patterns, and students in both conditions produced professional-quality documents and learned professional ways of problem solving.
These results suggest that the key function of the mentors—to communicate professional ways of thinking—was not diminished in the online chat condition.

In other words, mentors should consider “stop talking and type” since Bagley’s results suggest that the mentoring condition didn’t affect the players’ reflection meeting discourse, learning outcomes, or level of engagement.

Moreover, the results of this study have the potential to influence the design, implementation, and assessment of virtual environments. This study suggests that learning in a virtual environment like Urban Science is viable and desirable because virtual environments can expand the range of what players can realistically do and thus also the problems they can address, the possible collaborations they can participate in, and the communities they can inhabit.

Learning in a virtual environment gives players a chance to see how the world—or at least some piece of it—works under the guidance of a mentor.
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Monday, May 7, 2012

How do you facilitate synchronous sessions? Please share your effective practices...

Karen Melhuish made the following post, with the following request to share your wisdome and your experiences:
"You may have seen a number of online workshops - (sometimes called web conferences or webinars) - offered by Enabling e-Learning, VPL-D and other groups over the last few months.
Online workshops offer another pathway for learners that can be efficient and flexible (meeting in your pyjamas, anyone?;-), but the distance and lack of face-to face can also present particular challenges to facilitators, as well as participants.
The big question is: how do you design and facilitate an online workshop in ways that support learners to achieve the goals?

Hazel Owen (VPL-D) and myself have decided to kick-start this work and offer this shared Google doc as a starting point for sharing ideas.

>>>>Running Online Workshops

Feel free to add in...
  • advice
  • facilitation strategies
  • stories of effective practice
  • readings and research
...and do please share your questions in this thread, too. Everyone welcome:-)"
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Thursday, May 3, 2012

It was refreshing to listen to what Guy Claxton had to say in the video embedded below (shared by Derek Wenmoth and cross-posted in full below). His pragmatic stance that, while students need to achieve in assessment, they also need to develop and use metacognitive and social skills (key competencies), made a lot of sense. I did have to laugh at his anecdote of a maths teacher grumbling that not only did he have to teach his students maths, he now had to teach them how to think.... Highly recommended.
One tiny grumble...and less irritating in a video, Guy does have a tendency to read the quotations from his slides in full. But, hey!


Original post "Can schools prepare you for anything?", by Derek Wenmoth, April 18th 2012.
I had the pleasure a couple of weeks ago of attending the 2012 Graham Nuthall Annual Lecture at Canterbury University where I heard Guy Claxton present an engaging talk titled 'Can Schools Prepare You For Anything?' His abstract read:
Traditional education aims to raise standards by any means, but we are coming to see that preparing young people for tests, and preparing them for life, are different goals. How do we deepen learning so that it systematically builds the learning dispositions that the next generation will need? As work on ‘key competencies’ and ‘21st century skills’ evolves it is becoming clearer just what it takes to raise standards in a way that helps kids be ready for anything.
In Guy's typical provocative and well informed style, he challenged us to think more critically about many of the things we're carrying forward from our traditional education system, and to think more creatively about how we might conceive of and implement a truly 21st century approach where we maintain the focus on a future-focused curriculum as well as raising standards for learners.
As with all of these sorts of talks, there was so much to take in and reflect on, but thanks to the team at EdTalks we can all enjoy the change to view Guy's talk again and engage in a bit of 'rewind learning'!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Nearly 78% of teachers in NZ support bring your own device to class...

Image of an HTC Touch2 smartphone, also known ...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Paul O'Leary dropped me a line recently, with the results of a recently conducted survey of 280 people in the education sector on the use of ICT in schools across New Zealand (a joint venture between Adobe and Interface Magazine). Paul wrote "The survey results provide insight into the thoughts of educators in New Zealand on technology in education". There is a superb accompanying infographic (but, unfortunately, it's in .pdf format so I can't embed it, but I can link to the .pdf file here). Paul provided a neat summary (see below), and you can access a fuller online Interface Magazine summary at http://bit.ly/IoRHX4. It would be interested to hear your thoughts and responses to the survey results - anything surprising there? Anything jump out and grab you?

Research highlights
  • 68% of respondents think ultra-fast broadband will change the way they currently teach.
  • One in five schools (21.8%) operate a Bring Your Own Device policy. A further 42.1% of schools are currently considering introducing a BYOD policy.
  • Three quarters of teachers surveyed (75.7%) support the idea of students bringing their own device to class.
  • Lack of funding is the most common barrier to using new classroom software and devices for teaching with almost 7 out of 10 teachers (69.3%) citing this as a problem. The next most common issue was lack of time with half of teachers listing this as a barrier.
  • Only 1 in 4 teachers (25.4%) notice a digital divide between themselves and students in terms of knowledge about software and devices used in the classroom.
  • Seven out of 10 teachers think there are opportunities to apply the teaching technologies that already exist in school differently to produce better education outcomes.
  • Three quarters of teachers (75.2%) think that it is valuable for students to learn office productivity tools in preparation for entering the workforce. 65.5% of teachers view learning creative and design software as important for students in preparation for entering the workforce.
  • Communication and critical thinking and problem-solving are seen as the top real-world 21st century skills for today’s learners with nearly all respondents rating them as important or extremely important (97.9% and 97.5% respectively).
  • Collaboration follows closely with 94.6% of teachers rating is as important or extremely important as does self-directed learning (92.8%).

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