Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Research reports: there are no discernible differences between students who have access to technology at home and those who don't

It's all rather confusing! A few weeks ago, the wonderful Rachel Dingle recently shared a piece of research with me that made me go...hmmmm. The research, as she said, indicates that "there are no discernible differences between students who have access to technology at home and those who don't". The abstract reads:
Computers are an important part of modern education, yet many schoolchildren lack access to a computer at home. We test whether this impedes educational achievement by conducting the largest-ever field experiment that randomly provides free home computers to students. Although computer ownership and use increased substantially, we find no effects on any educational outcomes, including grades, test scores, credits earned, attendance and disciplinary actions. Our estimates are precise enough to rule out even modestly-sized positive or negative impacts. The estimated null effect is consistent with survey evidence showing no change in homework time or other "intermediate" inputs in education (Fairlie, & Robinson, 2013, Experimental Evidence on the Effects of Home Computers on Academic Achievement among Schoolchildren)
This was a null finding. In other words, while there was no positive effect, there was no negative effect on completion of homework, for example, or on academic achievement, which is something indicated in other studies. For example, Ofer Malamud and Cristian Pop-Eleches (using a regression discontinuity design writing to estimate the effect of home computers on child and adolescent outcomes) write in Home Computer Use and the Development of Human Capital that:
We collected survey data from households who participated in a unique government program in Romania which allocated vouchers for the purchase of a home computer to low-income children based on a simple ranking of family income. We show that children in households who received a voucher were substantially more likely to own and use a computer than their counterparts who did not receive a voucher. Our main results indicate that that home computer use has both positive and negative effects on the development of human capital. Children who won a voucher had significantly lower school grades in Math, English and Romanian but significantly higher scores in a test of computer skills and in self-reported measures of computer fluency. There is also evidence that winning a voucher increased cognitive ability, as measured by Ravenís Progressive Matrices. We do not find much evidence for an effect on non-cognitive outcomes. Finally, the presence of parental rules regarding computer use and homework appear to mitigate the effects of computer ownership, suggesting that parental monitoring and supervision may be important mediating factors (2010, p. 1)
Taken at face value, these results are at best disheartening. However, I started to ponder - as we know a computer by itself does little for enhancing learning experiences. The learner has to have reasonably well digital literacy / digital citizenship skills; they have to have to be developing metacognitive skills; and they need to have a sense of investment in their own learning. So, now we are back to thinking about curriculum design, and how eLearning is integrated into curricula.

There is little surprise that access to a computer at home is not efficacious in and of itself. Rather, this is just one very small piece of a large and complex puzzle that leads back to how we learn and teach.
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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Virtue of Virtual Fieldtrips (LEARNZ)

kepler track 
Barrie Matthews (LEARNZ Project/Technical Manager) facilitated this session (with Vicki Hagenaars - a classroom teacher extraordinaire with a focus on digital based learning - also sharing some of her experiences). The session  covered the benefits of Virtual Fieldtrips, looking at pedagogies, and encouraging participants to consider opportunities for, for example, students with SEN - due in part to the virtual nature of trip. (You can access a recording of the session here: http://connect.vln.school.nz/p89382630/; and the presentation show during the session here: http://connect.vln.school.nz/p36401599/).

Previous to the session, Vicki wrote I have used "LEARNZ as a method for making my students aware they can be part of an online, collaborative learning environment.  They are always amazed that their questions are mirrored and answered during audioconfereces. The best learning engagement so far has been the one trip last year that we sent an ambassador on - huge buy in to the daily diaries and fully understanding the trip we sent our dolphin friend Poseidon on". 

Barrie started by providing a brief overview of LEARNZ, but giving an overview of a recent trip called Kids restore the Kepler. As well as students being involved, it also showed that individuals can take positive actions themselves. Barrie talked about how to choose fieldtrips, and Vicki gave some insight how she goes about choosing trips by, for example, having a look at the planned fieldtrips at the beginning of the year and taking note of what and when so that she can plan them into her. The fieldtrips are also supported by outside organisations.

The online space for LEARNZ has recently been re-designed and it's much easier to use than it used to be to find your way around and use. The site has a range of features such as an integrated glossary. Vicki said that she uses the background pages about a week ahead to help start her learners thinking about the subject. She usually uses a buddy reading approach, followed by a lot of discussion and research around further ideas before the fieldtrip 'kicks off'.

All of the fieldtrips are curriculum integrated, and even though the most obvious link are science, maths, environmental education, there have been other focii such as health, art and history. For example, a recent fieldtrip involved students working with Ngāi Tahu visiting sites around Timaru, making the pigments, history, contemporary use etc. Vicki mentioned that the curriculum objectives are really useful, and helps her to engage students with relevant authentic activities and tasks. Many of the fieldtrips are aimed across sectors, and can be adapted for junior secondary.


The LEARNZ Newsletters are quite useful because they provide deadlines, especially when ambassadors from a school have been sent. The LEARNZ initiative is organic, and the team really appreciate input from the students and teachers who participate. Pete Sommerville (the LEANRZ project director who was also at the session) mentioned that "Without exception the evolution of LEARNZ has been as a result of excellent feedback from teachers". One example shared by Pete was re the Kids restore the Kepler: ''The two versions of the text was useful.  The inclusion of te reo Māori was excellent " (teacher feedback). A comment  from another teacher was '' I find the field trips as a great way of introducing vocab and scientific language to students. As well as teaching inquiry skills and science knowledge. I used the glossary section of the web site and selected words to use for word study prior to the field trip. We used the words for spelling activities, dictionary skills and quick writing activities. This is helpful for ESOL students that can have difficulty with vocab".

Teachers can send a class mascot or toy, for $30, on a trip. Each of the mascots has their own page. It helps cement the relationship and gives a bit of buy in. Vicki was a bit unsure that Intermediate students would buy into having a mascot go on a trip, but she found that having a mascot involved, and reading their ambassador's diary really helped engaged the students. Barrie also mentioned that secondary schools have had similar experiences. Anne K, in the chat said "Love the idea of a mascot travelling.... adds another dimension to the class involvement. [Brings] an almost face to face dimension tot he virtual trip". Ambassadors are usually returned, although there was a recent fatality rafting the Tongariro.

Students can post questions on the forums for the experts on the fieldtrips. Using an landline phone, Skype, and the audio bridge, students are able to connect with folk on the field trips via audioconferences, and post their questions in advance. Vicki mentioned that the "kids get quite a buzz out of being involved", and Pete said "Visual learning in a shared group is much less threatening than learning by yourself so there is a greater level of focus as you are supported". Often there are students from a number of schools, geographically dispersed, all online and asking questions at the same time. There is no video with it, for many reasons, but Vicki advised that "When we are listening I tend to have a print out of the questions for the students to make notes on.  Gives them focus". One teacher commented "Sometimes our computers don't oblige and that can be frustrating for the kids and me - that’s a school issue but does affect how we use the website. But this won’t put me off continuing to use LEARNZ as for the children who take part, it is the audio conference that stays with them. And for me especially  it is the way Andrew relates to the children - his commitment and warmth come through in all his interactions, even though he has done these trips before he always makes them fresh and exciting".

The videos are one of the biggest learning opportunities  and a couple of iterations later the videos are being put on to Vimeo, and are being accessed by mobile devices, as well as being downloaded to local machines or networks to be watched. Examples of videos can be accessed at:

With reference to the videos and engaging the students, feedback has included "they said they did no real work watching the videos and completing the questions independently, however the level of understanding was higher than is typically observed from text based resources". Pete explained that "during field trips we aim to develop meaningful relationships between experts/students, LEARNZ Teacher/class teacher, LEARNZ Teacher/students and the multiple media helps this getting to know". Merryn, in the chat also commented that "It's amazing how much thought has gone into every aspect of this - so many ingredients, active and reflective".

Kids are challenged to 'do' something, and to take it to the next level. Schools have been inspired to create their own trips, and Pete shared that "Ah yes we do hear of schools organising their own trips - Stuart Cook from Methven School has a great story to tell about that". Barrie shared that if you are interested in signing up for any of the fieldtrips you can:
This was an incredibly comprehensive session, which clearly showed the development of a wonderful resource that has been developed over the last 11 years. Anna K commented that this was an "awesome opportunity to see the richness of LEARNZ - can't believe I have never been involved with this wonderful programme!"

  • 'The path' http://www.flickr.com/photos/28989956@N00/4126509030 Found on flickrcc.net
  • Returning birdsong to a Great Walk; LEARNZ http://rata.learnz.org.nz/summary.php?vft=kidsrestorethekepler132
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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Student voice and meaningful engagement: What might this look like?

I live-blogged these notes during a session facilitated by Rachel McNae (University of Waikato). Rachel's background and main area of interest is student voice, and one of the questions she asks is, what might this look like? Her session looked at what the notion of 'student voice' might be, and explored the ways young people can be engaged in discussions to influence their education, schools and learning opportunities, as well as generating information to enhance teaching and learning.

Student voice can be gathered in a number of ways, and should be, rather than a harvesting, box-ticking exercise, becomes something that informs the way we work.
Rachel spoke from personal experience about how, when growing up in Kerikeri, she set fire to the hall when she was part of Brownies. The thing she remembered most was that she was rebelling against a system where she did not fit. Her brothers were part of scouts, and they did well, because they made bridges, tied things together, and make things...rather than do macramé and sew. She also talked about the leader of the brownie group who bullied and crushed the girls in the group. At the age of 14, Rachel became a scout leader, and she felt insightful, and was using her skills.

What culture do we create as teachers? What do our students feel as far as their own identity and engagement are concerned?

“The issue of democracy. Consultation and participation in schools is now central in terms of the learning process...taking the pupil voice seriously remains a difficult area for teachers, particularly as schools continue to be judges by narrow attainment targets” (Fielding).

Showing the video to “Another Brick in the Wall”, she then guided us through unpacking some key points in relation to student voice. It illustrates some key messages, for example, Roger Walters put the song together as a way of protecting himself. Every interaction with education created another brick in the wall. Her purpose of using of this, however, was to illustrate the student voices. The school, Islington Green, was approached for students to participate in the song. What happened was that 23 students were part of the choir, and their voices were dubbed over 32 times. When they created the video, those same students were not allowed to be part of the video because they didn't have acting cards, so there are students mouthing the words of the other students singing. The students did not get paid for sharing their voices, and in 1996 the copyright laws changed and the students got together to try to sue for some of the royalties. The school got given a donation and a plaque, but there is no word of the court case – the voices have been silenced.

We need to ask ourselves about the spaces that are created for students to share their voices? In terms of the acoustics of the school, whose voices get heard, and whose are silent? What shape can student voice take? Have we got this right – evolving, rethinking? How are students's voices manipulated into different forms? How 'loud' are the voices of the teachers and leaders in a school, and what are they 'drowning out'?

Part of listening to student voice is shifting from an instructional to a pedagogical focus. In part this is predicated by teaching as a profession, and is underpinned by the building of professional learning communities, is sustained by professional learning, has distributed relational leadership, with a focus on students learning, and determined by student needs.

The research suggests that student voice is under-rated and under- utilised in curriculum development, even though student have unique knowledge and perspectives that adults cannot replicate. When voices are valued student may develop a stronger sense of membership, agency, respect and self-worth, as well as developing a clearer sense of self as a learner, and realise that they can have an impact on things that matter to them in a school. Young people should be afforded these opportunities to shape their education, and when this is the case they are more likely to engage as learners – when the power has been shared.

But what is student voice? There is complexity, history, philosophy, dignity, humanity, mana, and has “aspects of participation and crossing boundaries. Involvement of learners in a meaningful conversation which then has the power to transform, by the act of learning and teaching and also the institutions in which they learn” (Fielding)

Student voice can be communicated via student councils, post box activities, brainstorms, student notices, surveys, class speeches, photographic journal, video, scrapbooks, one-to-one conversations, and guided tours. Mitra (2005) has put together a pyramid around 'being heard', and bottom of the pyramid are post/suggestion box activities, brainstorms, and student notices, rather than ways of doing things differently. So we can engage beyond surveys, so that we are helping students build their capability for learning, and this could include student focus groups, interviews, students as governors, and taking on leadership roles.

Some of the most powerful voices are the silences. Also, just because we have collected student voice does not mean that we have evidence. Students are often saying what they think a teacher wants to hear. There are also cultural barriers and protocols, as it is disrespectful to speak out. Other things to be careful about are:
  • Romanticising the notion of voice...and uncensored acceptance
  • Totalising / essentialising – 'one voice' of a collective used to reinforce status quo vs a collection of voices
  • marginalising of groups
  • tokenistic changes or responses
There needs to be a shift toward student-adult partnerships, where meaningful, powerful conversations are undertaken. When this is the case, it shifts the focus and moves to a point where we share some key understandings. Sometimes you will need to search for student voice.

Some of the examples that Rachel shared were revealing. Juliette Hayes (Geraldine High School) & Amy Clode (Grantlea Downs Primary School), undertook a project that developed creative leadership of Maori student partnerships...and the end of the project a significant number of students identified themselves as Maori. She also mentioned a student who, during the conversation, it took a sustained set of questions to move past the 'I don't do anything', to then discover that the student and some mates run a charity that raises money and give it away. they turned over $20,000 last year - but she had to really dig to find this out.

Rachel recommended that it is worth looking up Adam Fletcher from Soundout.org, if you are interested in finding out more about student voice.

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Thursday, June 6, 2013

Does formal education require timetabling?

The whole notion of the tyranny of the timetable and how it can stifle learning is quite a popular one - see for example Enslaved by timetable tyranny. There are many ideas discussed in the article, a couple of which included:

A primary head said to me recently: "Wouldn't it be marvellous if we could do the daily literacy and numeracy hours Monday to Thursday, and then have Fridays free for more flexible approaches?" One of the best literacy activities I do involves children acting as radio journalists and compiling a radio news bulletin. It needs a whole day, however, if a visit to the local radio station is to be included. A newly-appointed geography teacher in a very academic grammar once persuaded his head to suspend the timetable for two days so the whole school could do Project Africa. It was a knockout, and he went on to be one of the best heads of his generation.

There is also the negative effects that timetables can have on the teachers. For example, in this paper Living by the clock: the tyranny of the secondary school timetable, Kathy Brady quotes:
Bells ring to signal the passing of classes, each of which will spend some parcel of time with the teacher in his or her classroom. Though students may move throughout the building, high school teachers often never leave their rooms in the course of a day. For every ‘period’ or ‘hour’, there is a routine: taking attendance, continuing from yesterday, introducing today’s material, winding down. Repeated five times a day. (Johnson, 1990, p.6)

I wonder if some of the notions about organisation and standardised assessment tend to go hand-in-hand with timetables?

From a personal point of view, I know that when I am learning something it can take ages to get my head down and 'into it', and sometimes it's really frustrating to have the flow broken. And when you get back, sometimes those good ideas will have dissipated...along with some of the motivation to continue. 

I would say, though, that in my experiences with working with students, there needs to be quite a lot of initial support and guidance up front with a less formal, time-tabled structure...and skills to be taken on board such as time-management, digital literacy, research skills, self-reflection etc. (see, for example, Meeting diverse learner needs through blended learning). A continuum where you move from a relatively teacher-led approach at the beginning of a year, to a student-led/directed one by the end of the year seems to be fairly effective, and helps ensure that differentiation can be built into a programme...especially if a blended approach is used. What are your thoughts? Are you tyrannised by a timetable? Or do you and your learners have heaps of freedom?

Image:  'Alternative Pedagogies, hosted by Barry Joe &+Jill+Grose' http://www.flickr.com/photos/59217476@N00/7093752299. Found on flickrcc.net  
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Pinterest - 16 ideas from educators

Linda Ross recently dropped me a line and recommended that I have look at the infographic below entitled 16 ways educators use Pinterest. I haven't used Pinterest before, but John S Oliver has and he has blogged about it here. John reckons that he has "had far more responses there than Facebook and Twitter". I've had a quick look at Pinterest and it reminds me a lot of Twine (remember Twine? O how I miss Twine), and other social bookmarking tools with enhanced functionality. Definitely worth checking out.

16 ways educators use Pintererest
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