There has been much discussion lately in Tasmania about student retention and attainment in the final years of secondary school.The state government have established programs such as the 11/12 extension of High Schools and a review of 9-12 education to plan for and encourage student retention and attainment. Other groups such as the Education Ambassadors and events such as The Hothouse , represent a community focus on Secondary School completion.
This policy and community activity is in response to a slowly increasing level of TCE (graduation certificate) completion, which reached a disappointing 50.8% in 2015.
In spite of this there is anecdotal evidence that a large proportion of the regional Tasmanian community still view TCE completion as a worthy secondary objective, behind gaining employment.
In response I would like to put forward some reasons why it is important for students to complete year 12 and gain their TCE, even at the expense of a couple of years in the workforce. These comments are based on a brochure produced by the Department of Education.
Increasingly, career opportunities in the future will be based on non-routine problem solving. The best preparation for this is to complete a quality general education including literacy, numeracy, ICT and 21st Century skills such as collaboration, problem solving, knowledge construction etc. Completing secondary education improves these skills.
In the past (last century) most people would enter the workforce and continue working in the same area using the same basic skills throughout their working life. This is no longer the case and most employees will change jobs and industries a number of times. Even within the same job, technology brings changes. Each change requires new learning and new skills. A solid general education provides a basis for adapting and efficiently developing new skills as they are needed.
Most employers agree that they would rather employ a person who has completed year 12. They find that year 12 graduates are more skilled and more mature that those that have left school at the end of grade 10.
Completing grade 12 opens up more employment opportunities and choices. It also opens up more highly paid and interesting jobs.
With employment comes money and financial independence, so it is not difficult to understand why young people find a job offer tempting at the end of grade 10. On the other hand, however, staying at school will provide better opportunities and a better lifestyle into the future.
In my home state of Tasmania there is a curriculum review of grades 9-12 taking place. Currently most students complete grades 7-10 in a Secondary School and then change to a Secondary College for the next 2 years. Currently in that system slightly over 40% of students achieve the leaving certificate at the end of year 12. The state government are currently extending the Secondary Schools so they will offer grades 7-12. This review is to look at curriculum and attainment in that context. This is my submission to the review.
Analysis of data at 4 key points in the system indicates that there are about 10% of students that fall short of the educational standard all through their education. Approximately 60% succeed at each stage and around 30% fall below the standard at some point but succeed at other stages. This diagram illustrates the data. (Lamb S, 2015, p. iv)
The index of educational opportunity in Australia
(Diagram reproduced from Lamb et. al. page iv)
As senior secondary educators in Tasmania our best chance of improving attainment is to capture the ~17% that fall below the minimum standard between grade 7 and grade 12 and boost them back to a satisfactory level of attainment, as well as improve the outcomes of the ~10% that have consistently failed to meet the minimum standard. The question of course is how to go about that.
What is restricting attainment?
Before looking at solutions we need to find out what factors mitigate against attainment. Lamb et.al, suggest a number of factors (in summary):
- Completion is linked to achievement in school. Only one in two of the lowest mathematics achievers (lowest decile) at age 15 completed Year 12 by age 19. For the highest achievers, 94.3 per cent had completed Year 12 by age 19.
- Levels of student engagement in school – cognitive, emotional and behavioural – as well as student dispositions towards school and learning (sense of belonging, sense of purpose, self-efficacy, determination or grit) vary by student background and are correlated with achievement.
- Linked to the likelihood of doing well at the end of the senior school years are social and cultural factors, as well as differences in the concentrations of disadvantage across schools and communities.
- Year 12 attainment among 19-year-olds varies substantially by socio-economic background. The SES gap is a much as 28 percentage points between highest and lowest. About 40 per cent of young people from the lowest SES backgrounds do not complete Year 12 or its equivalent by age 19.
- Location is strongly linked to Year 12 attainment. Remote and very remote communities have high numbers of young people not completing – 56.6 per cent and 43.6 per cent respectively.
- Of these SES is by far the strongest factor, followed by location. These are things, however, which we cannot do anything about. Things which we can exercise some control over are engagement and achievement.
Students that achieve well tend to complete their education. The building blocks of achievement are literacy and numeracy, students with poor literacy and numeracy skills do not achieve well at school in general and as a result they tend to disengage and not complete their education. For this reason one way to improve completion and attainment, particularly for the ‘at risk 30%’, is to build literacy and numeracy.
A good tool to evaluate the literacy and numeracy skills of our students is the PISA testing for 15 year olds in 2009. On this scale Tasmania provides the following results (Lamb S, 2015, p. 49):
|Mean score||Mean score|
Clearly Tasmania is behind in these areas when compared to the Australian average and the OECD in general. These mean scores hide even worse results for low SES students. Poor literacy and numeracy undermines learning and achievement, and contributes to poor attainment and retention figures.
One focus for improvement is therefore to boost literacy and numeracy, particularly for those students who are at risk. At the moment most students only complete one year of Maths and English in grades 11/12. In fact those students who are weakest in these areas are more likely to complete the least Maths and English subjects. I propose that students complete 2 year courses in literacy and numeracy, in line with the national curriculum. This will give students the best opportunity to build their skills in these areas.
As a teacher of Maths I will use that subject area as an example. If students enrolled in Maths courses over 2 years they would end up with an improved and less rushed coverage of the Maths curriculum and the standard and morale in classes would be much better. With minimal curriculum modification I can see possible Maths pathways for students as follows:
This can be achieved now by having students enrol in a 2 year pathway for Maths rather than individual subjects. A simular collection of pathways could be developed for English.
“Engagement is of primary importance to succeeding at school. Many students who do not feel they belong at school, or reject school values, and become alienated or disaffected, struggle to succeed and place themselves at risk.”
(Lamb et. al. page 53)
Engagement refers to the extent to which students identify with the school and value the outcomes. There are three aspects to engagement (Lamb S, 2015, p. 53):
- Emotional engagement refers to acceptance of school values and responses to peers and teachers.
- Behavioural engagement refers to participation in school activities.
- Cognitive engagement refers to connections with the learning tasks.
Measurements of these 3 dimensions of engagement indicate that Tasmania is slightly behind the Australian average, but more importantly this measure is also strongly influenced by SES and therefore has most impact on the students who are often already struggling with poor achievement and family support.
As an exercise it is interesting to think first about what sort of things mitigate against engagement:
- Emotional engagement
- Ensure students are constantly changing groups so that they find it difficult to get to know their colleagues. Make sure that all their class groups are different and they have little time to develop relationships.
- Ensure that students have as many teachers as possible so they find it difficult to get to know their teachers well and feel comfortable with them.
- Behavioural engagement
- Make sure that students have as little time and opportunity as possible to engage in extra-curricular activities.
- Ensure that any extra-curricular activities have as little connection as possible with the school.
- Cognitive engagement
- Make the curriculum as complex as possible.
- Ensure that the assessment is complex and difficult to understand.
- Make the enrolment process confusing and subject choice is complicated by a bewildering array of options.
- Teach what the curriculum stipulates. The objective is getting a pass, not learning something useful or valuable. Also don’t connect anything learned with the real world.
Based on this much of what we do in senior secondary education actually works against engagement. Again much is outside our control, but there are some things which I think we can work towards.
- Reduce the number of subjects. This will make the enrolment process less confusing and reduce the number of different subjects that students are doing, giving them more in common with their peers. There is evidence that reducing subject choice improves engagement. (Darling-Hammond, et al., 2006/2007)
- A good first exercise is to establish subjects on the basis of learning outcomes and level of difficulty, rather than content. If two subjects in the same learning area have simular learning outcomes then is there a need for both of them?
- Encourage project based learning.
- Provide credit for the learning that takes place in clubs and societies, or community work.
These are just a few thoughts, and they are somewhat controversial and in some cases counterintuitive. But I think that a new direction is needed to improve attainment and retention.
Grant MacDonald B.Sc. (Hons.), M.Ed.Studs
The opinions expressed in this submission are personal and not representative of my employer or any group I am associated with.
This is a public submission – it does NOT contain ‘in confidence’ material in the main submission or its attachments, and can be placed on ACER’s website.
Lamb S, Jackson J, Walstab A, Huo S, 2015. Educational opportunity in Australia 2015: Who suceeds and who misses out, Centre for International Research on Education Systems, Victoria University, for the Mitchell Institute, Melbourne: Mitchell Institute
Linda Darling-Hammond; Peter Ross; Michael Milliken. (2007), High School Size, Organization, and Content: What Matters for Student Success?, Brookings Papers on Education Policy, No. 9, 2006/2007, pp. 163-203)
There has been a growth in the number of Virtual Learning Environment packages in recent years. Fueled perhaps by the marketing hype, teachers are under pressure to move their learning online. many teachers are working hard to learn and implement a VLE to deliver their course online.
In a subversive moment I decided to ask why?
I have used a VLE to great effect, so I am a believer in the technology, but like many good things there is the risk that it is overused. With that in mind I decided to take a step back and ask when and how a VLE should be used.
Broadly speaking I see three levels of technology integration into teaching practice, roughly connected to the SAMR model.
- Classroom teaching is unchanged but online resources are provided to support students. So the teacher might provide some extra resources like Khan Academy links for the students. This corresponds to Substitution and Augmentation, or the enhancement level in the SAMR model. I would include a flipped classroom in this section as it is really just an augmentation of traditional teaching.
- Students are provided with a classroom blended learning environment where they use online resources and activities integrated into the classroom learning. In this situation the underlying pedagogy is quite traditional but the students also work online to complete activities and assessments. This corresponds to the Modification stage in the SAMR model, where the technology has significantly modified teaching and learning, but the learning design is fundamentally the same.
- The final approach is where technology is factored into the learning design stage. This is quite difficult to do but I have attempted this approach in a previous post. This would correspond to the final Redefinition stage in the SAMR model, where the students are engaged in learning that would not be possible without the technology. By this I don’t mean a single online activity like a Kahoot quiz, but a course that integrates technology at the learning design stage and probably would not be possible without Edtech.
Now looking at these three scenarios it is obvious that most classroom use of technology falls into the first scenario. Most teachers are using technology to support isolated activities, or to provide students with remedial support. That is not a bad thing, and I make no criticism of what they are doing. My suggestion, however, is that teachers don’t require a VLE for that level of technology integration. A VLE is a complex package and learning to work comfortably in the VLE environment can be a significant hurdle to teachers wishing to use technology in their classroom. By setting that consideration aside many teachers will feel more comfortable and confident to try using technology.
So if there is no VLE what can teachers use?
- The simplest solution is to use Dropbox or Google Drive. Free cloud services like those are extremely simple to use and resources can be organized in folders for students to access.
- The next level up is to use a blog site such as WordPress. This can start as simple blog posts with work for students and with time it can grow to become a relatively sophisticated virtual classroom environment. Teachers can add features as their confidence grows. I have been using this method for some years now and an example can be found at https://doncollegecgd.wordpress.com/
- To my way of thinking the Rolls Royce of simple solutions is Mosaic LiveTiles. This is provided free to schools with a SharePoint/Office365 environment and while the infrastructure requires some expertise to establish, the package is extremely simple drag and drop technology for classroom teachers wanting to provide resources to support their students with an attractive interface.
So in summary teachers wishing to support their class with online content don’t need to implement a VLE. It is much quicker and easier to use other sharing technologies.
Recently I have grappled with the problem of developing an online course within my VLE that uses modern thinking on pedagogy for 21st Century skills. The course I am developing is called the Design Workshop and this is the pedagogical design which underpins it.
Most online courses are attempts to provide the equivalent of classroom learning experience in an online environment. The design Workshop takes the opposite approach and seeks to use the unique features of an online environment to bring a new style of learning to the classroom.
In proceeding through the 5-6 week course students are taken through the design process towards a goal of their own. At each stage they share their progress with other participants within the online forum. After the introduction there are 5 modules representing 5 stages in the design process.
The purpose of this discussion, however, is to focus on the pedagogy. This approach could be applied to any online course.
The Design Workshop explores a pedagogy and assessment that are not practical in a traditional classroom. The pedagogy is based on a concept called ‘participatory pedagogy’, while the assessment is based on the principles of ‘assessment for learning’ and digital badges.
The pedagogical theory that the Design Workshop is based on is called Participatory Pedagogy (PP).
PP uses a collaborative and reflective process to formalize knowledge. It aims to develop transformative learning (changes in how we know) rather than informative knowledge (changes in what we know).
Successful PP contains three main elements:
1. providing choice and flexibility in learning activities and assignment work.
2. navigating the balance between challenge and risk.
3. creating contexts for critical reflection.
Students will have had little experience in learning like this. Most of their experience will be with informative learning. Given information, learn information, reproduce information.
Students familiar with the PP approach have reported that the teacher using a participatory pedagogy approach needs a range of features (quote from reference):
- Be open to the interaction thereby enabling the students to have a voice.
- Be willing to commit to the style and be an active participant yourself.
- Have courage and be willing to go outside of your teaching safety zone into new unexplored domains.
- Be frank, up front with the format, and provide encouragement to the students so they feel supported during this new learning format.
- Plan learning based on student interests and choice, and do so by collaborating with and guiding learners as opposed to informing them.
- Create an atmosphere of learning where expectation of learner action is high and modify the activities/plans to meet their needs.
- Be open, willing, and supportive to students if you are trying creative adventures because it can be a risky thing for adult learners to engage in.
- Be very comfortable with awkward pauses and strange looks, and be willing to walk students through their discomfort.
- Be humble but have a good depth of experience, both human and professional.
To be successful, therefore, a participatory pedagogy needs to be well supported by a mentor style teacher who demonstrates these qualities.
Choice and Flexibility
In the Design Workshop students will choose the design task they wish to embrace. This provides for choice and flexibility. As a result:
- They will have ownership of the task
- The task is in a context they are interested in
- Within the design process they are able to work at their own pace
- Can go into as much depth as they wish.
- Assessment/success is based on reflection and collaboration rather than comparison with external standard
Other courses using PP will need to find their own way to provide for choice and flexibility, but allowing (or forcing) students to set their own goals or topics will be one way of doing that.
Challenge and Risk
In the Design Workshop students will set their design brief/task before they embark on the solution. This has inherent challenge and risk.
- Can the task be completed?
- Do they have the skills of ability to effect a solution?
- Resilience needed to overcome problems and stalled development.
Students share their work for comment by others and comment on the work of others.
- This is a risk for students.
- Also a challenge.
- What do they say, how do they evaluate the work of others?
- This evaluation process is closer to that which they will face in the real world. Students need to feel comfortable with putting their work and opinions out there for others to see and comment on.
- Risk involved in not knowing what basis others will evaluate the work.
The higher the challenge the higher the risk. Structure provided by the design process gives a paradigm for managing the development of the solution to the design task. It provides an intellectual safety net to allow for a higher degree of risk than normally attempted.
Use of mentor or sponsor also provides for support with managing challenge and risk.
Once again other courses will need to incorporate risk, but using a forum is a method which could apply in almost any situation.
Students share their work for comment by others and comment on the work of others. This is a powerful driver for critical reflection.
- What do they say, how do they evaluate the work of others?
- Is their work ready for criticism?
- How do they respond to the criticism?
- This evaluation process is closer to that which they will face in the real world.
This process is closer to a ‘real world’ process and the structure encourages the students to reflect on their own work and provides the tools for them to do that. They begin to see their work through the eyes of others.
The use of a forum is therefore central to this pedagogy.
Assessment for Learning
Assessment can be formative or summative (or even both). Formative assessment can best be defined as an assessment which moves learning forward, while summative assessment measures learning.
The assessment used in the Design Workshop is intended to be strongly formative and is developed from principles collectively referred to as “Assessment for Learning”.
When considering formative assessment we need to think about where the learner is going, where they are now and how they will get there. This needs to be considered along with the joint responsibilities of the teacher, peers and the learner.
Leahy et al.  uses this framework to identify 5 key strategies of formative assessment.
The teacher in traditional classrooms spends a significant amount of time on content delivery, lesson planning and assessment. When a course is delivered through a VLE these roles are filled by the VLE. As a result a teacher has more time to spend in a mentoring role.
The teacher/mentor does not need to be expert in design or the skills the student requires, but they do need to fulfill some of the roles of the teacher in the formative assessment structure described above. The mentor is responsible for providing encouragement, support and advice. Clarifying the goals of the course and monitoring progress through the course. The mentor needs to be prepared to intervene as necessary to keep the learning moving forward.
The roles of peer and learner are also key in the Design Workshop. In a traditional classroom it is not easy to effectively activate peers and learners as owners and resources of learning. On the other hand educators agree that these are important steps towards students being independent learners and therefore life-long-learners. The Design Workshop makes use of the online forums throughout the course to activate students in this respect and it is important for the mentor to monitor this activity and intervene as needed to ensure that the forums are working effectively.
So what is the assessment for the Design Workshop? In a typical course there are defined outcomes which students are assessed against. But Wiliam and Leahy  point out that often a specific learning outcomes cannot be identified, rather a horizon of outcomes exist and
“…sometimes it is appropriate to do things not because they are guaranteed to result is specific learning outcomes but because they are important experiences for students”
The Design Workshop fits into this category of learning experience. Every student will be working on something different and taking a slightly different path through the course. The value of the course is the experience of designing and collaborating, so success is measured in terms of the degree to which they have engaged in that process.
For this reason, while some teachers may decide to assess the final design, it is intended that assessment focus on completion of the 5 modules and effective engagement in the forum discussion.
The primary assessment for this course is through earning digital badges. Many students are familiar with these in the context of computer gaming. A badge or trophy is awarded to the player in recognition of an achievement. The badge is designed to provoke engagement and reward success, but it is not necessarily an indication of completion. There is more discussion of how badges work at https://doncollegegrant.wordpress.com/2014/07/05/getting-started-with-digital-badges/
Badges differ from marks in that a mark is seen by students as final. If a student gets an unsatisfactory mark then they are likely to just move on. If a student does not qualify for a badge, however, they are more likely to go back and make another attempt. The badges also have clearly defined criteria for earning them, so students know exactly what they need to do to succeed.
Digital Badges are more formative than a traditional assessment and more in line with the principles of ‘assessment for learning’.
Through this discussion I have used a specific course as an example, but the principles can be applied to any online learning environment.
Technology provides for new and better ways of doing things, but in education many (most?) teaching is essentially the same process when moved online. This discussion is an attempt to describe a new pedagogy which is specific to the online environment.
 Leahy, S., Lyon, C., Thompson, M., & Wiliam, D., (2005). Classroom assessment: Minute-by-minute and day-by-day. Educational Leadership, 63(3), 18-24
 Wiliam, D., Leahy, S., (2015). Embedding Formative Assessment: Practical techniques for K-12 classrooms, pg. 29, Learning Sciences International, USA
At Don College we have made assessment for learning as defined by Dylan Wiliam a PD priority this year. As a teacher who makes extensive use of online content I found that many of the techniques described were not easy to apply directly to my classroom (which is a computer lab). With that in mind I have addressed the task of devloping some AFL strategies which can be used in my classroom.
What is assessment for learning (AFL)?
AFL has been developed and promoted by Dylan Wiliam. In a nutshell AFL encompasses 5 principles for embedding formative assessment into our pedagogy.
- Clarify learning intentions and ensure that teachers, learners and peers share that understanding
- Engineer effective classroom discussions, activities and tasks that elicit evidence of learning
- Provide feedback that moves students forward
- Activating students as instructional resources for one another
- Activating students as the owners of their own learning
(Teachers to Schools: Scaling up professional development for formative assessment, Siobhan Leahy & Dylan Wiliam, http://www.dylanwilliam.org/Dylan_Wiliams_website/Papers.html) These 5 principles have been applied by Wiliam to develop a (large) collection of strategies for teachers to employ in the classroom and if you are not familiar with Wiliam’s work I encourage you to investigate further. Wiliam does not expect teachers to use all the strategies, and he is specific in saying that teachers should use those strategies which best suit their class and teaching style. The important thing is to ensure that whatever the teacher does is true to the 5 principles above.
In general the techniques published by Wiliam are designed for a typical classroom. As a teacher of Graphic Design and Computer Science I spend most of my teaching time in a computer lab, so I have been thinking about ways of applying those 5 strategies in an online environment by adding to and adapting existing AFL techniques.
Use of online forums
All VLE environments have a forum feature. There are also free online services that provide a forum platform. (I use a service at http://www.wikidot.com which provides a free forum service if your school does not have a suitable in-house solution) An online forum can be used to support AFL in a virtual environment. Dylan Wiliam describes a technique called the ‘double deadline’.
- When the students arrive at class they hand their work in with a colour coding. Red indicates that they are struggling, yellow indicates that they have done the work but are not confident, green indicates that they believe they have a full grasp of the work.
- The teacher then uses those categorizations to pair the students up. Strugglers with confident students, and the teacher puts the yellow students together and helps them.
- The students review the assignment in pairs according to a check list of expectations.
- After the discussion the students take their work away and refine it before submitting it at the next lesson for the teacher to assess.
Another technique is called ‘2 stars and a wish’.
- A student presents their work to the class (or a group) and each class member then reviews the presentation.
- The review follows a standard format of 2 stars (2 things done well) and a wish (one suggestion for improvement)
- It is important for the teacher to make clear what the students are looking for so that their stars and wishes are helpful.
- There needs to be some preparation so that students understand how to give feedback in a positive way. In other words suggest improvements rather than just indicate what was not done well.
I am using online forums as a way of adapting those two techniques to an online environment. When students get their work to a state that is just short of complete they submit it to a class forum. To do this the students upload their work in a cloud service (I use OneDrive) and share the link on the forum. All students check the forum and respond to the posts of their peers using the 2 stars and a wish formula. Students can then take the feedback and modify their work before submitting it for assessment.
- This technique allows the teacher to monitor the communication between students and step in privately if assistance is needed (for instance if a student is not getting suitable feedback, or enough feedback). Which is something that the classroom techniques don’t allow.
- Students also learn the best time to ask for feedback. In general students are used to submitting complete work, while it is actually more powerful to submit incomplete work and ask for guidance in completing it. This is a big shift for students, and it takes some getting used to.
- This technique also provides for students to submit their work at different times, so they submit when they are ready, not when the class timetable dictates.
- Not only do students benefit from their own feedback, but they see the work and the feedback of all the students in the class. Indeed some students that are having difficulty getting started will be inspired by the early starters.
- Students experience the difference between plagiarism (stealing work) and collaboration (drawing on work). By not working in isolation they are modelling the real world and learning an important 21st Century skill.
- I can monitor the forum and assess the final submissions and the quality of feedback each student is giving.
This use of a forum in this way clearly applies all 5 of the AFL principles listed above.
Use a class wiki
This is not a direct adaptation from an assessment for learning technique (at least the ones I know) but it does implement the principles of AFL. We are all familiar with Wikipedia. In my design class the students have developed their own wiki on graphic design, focussing on the curriculum content of their course. You can view this wiki at http://dcdesign.wikidot.com. (Another service available is Wikispaces, or some schools have an intranet that can house a wiki.) At random I allocate each student a topic or key word related to the curriculum . They then check the wiki and if a page exists they read through it and make modifications, additions and corrections as necessary. If the page doesn’t exists they get one started. I don’t make this a long task and typically only commit 20-30 minutes to work on the wiki each week through a school term.
Each year we have a mid year exam. I allow my students free access to the class wiki as they complete the exam. This has the effect of adding a strong formative element to the exam. It also gives the development of the wiki an added purpose.
- The wiki structure encourages students to see and form the connections between information, which is the way experienced learners operate.
- The activity is well differentiated in that some students can add in a picture or correct some typing, while stronger students make more substantial contributions. All contributions are valued.
- The development of the wiki actually models effective exam preparation. It is commonly known that writing and answering their own sample questions is a highly effective study technique. Writing wiki pages is, I believe, similar in nature and equally as effective.
- Students are reviewing and improving each others’ work. They are also able to see what other students have done with their work.
- Students experience an authentic 21st Century collaborative environment and experience the difference between copying and using information.
- Using the wiki in the exam models 21st Century problem solving and also turns the exam into a formative assessment exercise. Some might think that since they can look up the answers all students would get full marks. My experience is that they don’t as the questions are not simple fact recall, but the wiki does help students to think more about the questions in the exam and not give up if the question looks unfamiliar. I believe I actually get better information about the competence of my students from this ‘open wiki’ exam than I do from a closed exam.
- The wiki platform allows me to see past versions of each page and identify the edits each student has made. This allows me as a teacher to do an assess the contributions they are making if I wish.
- The wiki has been running for a few years now, so students are also collaborating indirectly with past and future students.
This learning activity supports all 5 of the principles of assessment for learning, but it is especially powerful at activating students as instructional resources for one another and activating students as the owners of their own learning.
Assessment for learning provides principles and a range of techniques which improve learning. I found that applying the techniques as described by Dylan Wiliam and others were not directly applicable to my ICT based learning environment. I have however, found that activities can be planned using online forums and wikis that effectively implement the underlying principles of assessment for learning.
In the Gormenghast Trilogy, Mervyn Peake paints a vivid picture of a huge and crumbling castle looming over a community. Within Gormenghast Castle the residents perform endless ritualized activities which have no relevance to the population around the castle, and even the residents of the castle can’t remember why, they just believe them to be important and not to be broken. Once a year the citizens of the village outside the walls were allowed to enter the castle and display their carvings for the castle residents. This quote describes that annual event.
Very little communication passed between the denizens of these outer quarters and those who lived within the walls, save when, on the first June morning of each year, the population of the clay swellings had sanction to enter the Grounds in order to display the wooden carvings on which they have been working during the year.
Mervyn Peake, Titus Groan
While Gormenghast is clearly a fantasy I can see certain similarities between it and our current schools. Classrooms are strange places which bear little resemblance to the world outside the school. They have their own rituals and practices which are rarely questioned.
When parents visit a classroom there is something of the atmosphere of the village people visiting Gormenghast. The atmosphere is that of people entering a space where they don’t belong. The education space is separate from their day-to-day life. Children enter this space to get an education before emerging (graduating) to enter the real adult world. Rather like butterflies emerging from the chrysalis.
Teachers find these analogies confronting. As a teacher we see schools as vibrant social spaces where children and young adults grow and develop, but this is the view from within the castle. For those looking in from the outside it appears quite different. When someone in the community thinks about a class room they often imagine something like this:
As teachers we know this is outdated. Modern secondary classrooms look like this:
The students look happier, but in my opinion, functionally the difference is small. The fact is that our K-12 schools are still based on an industrial model. They are essentially production lines where students enter in kinder and work through the curriculum in lock step, coming out the other at a graduation. It comes a surprise to many that education has not always been like this. Schools as we know them appeared as a way of providing mass education in the 1800’s. Prior to that time education was based around community tradesmen and experts passing skills on to the young people (professional teachers were rare) and usually look more like this:
When asked to provide mass education to the community in the industrial age, the educational leaders of the time used an industrial model. They essentially developed an education factory and in industrial societies it was, and continues to be, spectacularly successful. In Australia we have emerged into a post-industrial 21st Century world. The most valued traits are now creativity, individuality, problem solving skills, communication skills, initiative and entrepreneurship. We need an educational model which encourages these 21st Century skills.
At this point you might think I am going to advocate doing away with traditional schooling. Actually no, I happen to believe that traditional/industrial schools are still a very effective way of mass educating basic skills and starting to teach 21st Century skills. They are also an excellent way for young people to develop social skills vital for surviving in our overcrowded world. In our schools students learn the limits to individuality and the communication skills and social customs which are the glue for our society. What I do want to see, however, is a change in community attitude which recognizes that learning is an integral part of life. Schools provide one type of learning important in the early years of life, but there is learning which continues outside school throughout life. This life learning allows people to adapt and enriches their life. Life learning is needed to hone and further develop 21st Century skills and learn new skills as the employment market changes. It is the life learning where people further develop their creativity, problem solving and communication skills in a real world context. In saying this I don’t want you to confuse life learning with life experience. Life experience is certainly valuable, but life learning can also be structured learning. Attending short courses, reading, practicing new skills, etc. these are the life learning experiences I am referring to.
There are a number of reasons why many in the community do not see learning as part of their life. Their experience in school, the opportunities available, cultural factors and many other things contribute to community attitudes to learning. To cover them all would require a text book rather than this short blog post. One aspect I would like to focus on is recognition of learning. Modern society places high importance on evidence and the measurement of learning. This gives institutions like schools an advantage, as they have the infrastructure to provide robust credit for the courses they offer. This in turn means that formal school-based learning is more highly valued by the community. The life learning, which is often not supported in this way, is considered of less value and more of a hobby activity. In fact as we grow older it is the life learning that becomes more important.
To raise respect for life learning and encourage more participation, one important step, therefore, is to democratize recognition for learning. The giving of credit needs to be taken out of the exclusive control of the learning institutions and distributed to the community. One effective way of doing this is to facilitate and promote open badges in the community. Open badges are a computer image or icon which links to information about what the badge was awarded for, the issuer, the recipient and supporting evidence provided by the recipient. The badges can be shared online (social media and blogs) and through email. Using open badges it is possible to give robust credit for skills and achievements in a non-institutional context. I believe that providing an open badges infrastructure to a community so that non-institutionalized learning is recognized equally with institutional learning we will take a big step towards a learning community. A community that sees learning as a part of living rather than something associated with a period in their early life. Some communities are beginning to embrace this idea to great effect. Perhaps the best known are the Cities of Learning in the USA. Even there, however, the emphasis is on youth and I would like to see programs develop that encompass all life stages. So, in summary:
- Our schools do their job, but they are an uncomfortable environment for most adults.
- If we are to have a learning community, a community which views learning as part of life we need to break the association learning has with schooling.
- In turn we need to democratize recognition and credit for learning within the community (pre-industrial model learning) so that learning outside institutions is seen on an equal footing with school learning. Open badges are an effective way of achieving that.
Working on the taxonomy of digital badges / open badges is an interesting empirical and conceptual endeavour. I have been looking into different types of badges as part of the “Discussion Paper on Open Badges and Quality Assurance” on which I have been recently working in context of the European Project “Badge Europe” (Erasmus+, Strategic Partnership). Before the first draft of the discussion paper will be open to public for comments and edits, I would like to share the first draft of the taxonomy of digital and open badges. I have proposed a classification based on three categories – (1) content-related: what the badge represents, (2) issuer-related: who issues the badge, and (3) process-related: how the badge was achieved.
This is just a first attempt and I would be very glad to get your feedback on this. Thank you to the authors who inspired my work in this area – Carla Casilli
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As teachers we are all aware of the online dangers that our students (and children) face. It is easy for us to channel; that fear into excessively controlling or prohibitive behaviour. It is more valuable to support teenagers with some knowledge and advice so that they can step out into the exciting and educational online world with a little bit of awareness. To use an analogy, every teenager will want to drive a car, we can’t stop them but we can do our best to make them as skillful and careful as possible. We will in some cases fail, but our only practical option is to try.
Some might argue that the issues for young people online are the same as they have always been. Bullying, scams and predatory behaviour have always been a part of our society. The difference is that information technology has amplified these problems, while also moving the crimes into a physical environment where the victim feels safe. People generally have strategies for dealing with criminal and antisocial behaviour out in the world, but they are now facing them in their private lives and homes. While the problems are not new, these two factors put them into a new context.
Teenagers are often trusting and overconfident at the same time.
- They are trying to establish their maturity and independence and are unwilling to admit that they are struggling.
- The risk taking behaviour teenagers are famous for is also expressed online.
- Teenagers crave acceptance and this can lead them to be excessively trusting of others.
- They are also early adopters of technology.
All these factors make cyber safety a particular issue for teenagers.
There are a number of resources available to help teachers approach these issues with students. I will list a few here, with a focus on Australian content.
The Australian Media and Communications Authority (ACMA) provide a web site on cyber safety at http://www.cybersmart.gov.au/ This site provides resources suitable for children, teenagers, teachers and parents. ACMA also have a cybersafety Facebook page, so by liking the Facebook page, or registering on the cybersmart web site, people can receive regular updates and alerts. ACMA also visit schools and present free sessions on cyber safety to students and/or parents.
ACMA also run a Youtube channel at http://www.youtube.com/user/ACMAcybersmart
ACMA have a blog at http://acma.gov.au/theACMA/engage-blogs/engage-blogs/Cybersmart which has articles designed to facilitate discussion of the issues.
This video, entitled ‘TAGGED’, deals with issues of cyber bullying, sexting and online reputation in the context of a secondary school. It is an excellent introduction to the topic.
The reality is that social media is a part of teenage life, and it can be a very positive experience. Teenagers need to know how to use technology safely and effectively. With this in mind there is an “Easy guide to socializing online” at http://www.dbcde.gov.au/easyguide.
Cyber bullying involves posting defamatory or threatening material online. SMS messaging is also often used. Bullying has always been an unsavory aspect of teenage life, but with social networking and text messaging the bullying can be both more public and anonymous, increasing the damage and viciousness. Bullying typically makes the victim feel powerless and can lead to self esteem and mental health issues. Cyber bullying can be worse than face-to-face bullying because (1):
- the bully feels protected by anonymity
- it happens all day any day and the vistim feels they can’t escape by simply avoiding situations
- victims can be targetted in a usually safe place, such as at home
- the audience is large and the posted information can be permanent and widespread.
The cybersafety web site offers the following advice to the victim of the bullying (quote from ref. 1)
- don’t retaliate or respond, no matter how tempting
- block the person doing the bullying and change your privacy settings
- report it – click the report abuse button
- collect the evidence – keep mobile phone messages and print emails or social networking conversations
- talk to someone you trust, like a family member or friend.
If a friend is being bulllied:
- don’t forward messages or pictures
- though you may not have started it, you will become part of the cyberbullying cycle if you forward messages
- stand up and speak out – tell a trusted adult
- support your friend and report the bullying.
If students are in need of help or advice in relation to online bullying they can contact kids help line.
As students use online resources they create a virtual picture of themselves for others to see (3).
Information online has a long life and really should be considered permanent. Facebook and blog posts are obvious contributors to the online reputation, but web sites visited and other online activities are also monitored and tracked by interested parties.
In the case of teenagers, things which might be considered a bit of fun may turn out to be an embarrassment in later life. It is important for students to be thinking about this.
These short videos illustrates the issues:
This video looks at the general issue of digital reputation and using common sense about the things we post online.
We can thoughtlessly damage the online reputation of our friends. What seems like a joke at the time might be seen in an entirely different light by those that are not in on the joke. This video can be used to illustrate this point.
To keep digital reputations under control it is important to:
- think before posting on social media and blogs (note that even if Facebook posts are only shared with friends, if friends ‘like’ a post it becomes visible to their friends as well)
- keep profile information private
- monitor tags in pictures and remove anything which might be embarrassing
- treat others as you would want to be treated
- don’t post photos with others in them unless you are sure they would be OK with it
Online sexual predators
Online activity can be a lot of fun, but there are those that will take advantage of this contact with young people (4). As a result students can find themselves involved in contact which makes them uncomfortable, or the victim of grooming.
Often the predator will present a false identity designed to appeal to the victim, at least in the early stages of grooming. The process often involves gradually introduces the victim to increasingly sexually explicit material. The predator may also applying emotional manipulation with flattery, romance and understanding, to build trust with the victim while simultaneously undermining the victim’s trust with family and true friends. This online activity is illegal in Australia.
In the majority of cases the online predator is known to the victim, but not always.
When a meeting is arranged the victim generally knows that the aim is for sexual activity, and this makes them feel some responsibility. It is important to emphasize that the victim has been groomed and manipulated and is not at fault, even if they met willingly.
To manage the risks schools should (quote from reference 4 ):
- Identifying vulnerable students, including those who take greater offline risks or behave inappropriately offline. These students should be referred to students support services, and be provided with connections to trusted and supportive staff at the schools.
- Referring a student who has participated in a sexual relationship or is distressed by online contact to student support services. They should also be provided with options for psychological support including school counselling and anonymous counselling through the Kids Helpline 1800 551 800, or the Cybersmart Online Helpline.
- Reporting to the Australian Federal Police if a student reports making contact with an individual online who appears to be grooming them. The AFP investigates suspected cases of online grooming.
- Booking a Cybersmart Detectives activity for upper primary and lower secondary students to enable them to experience a simulated online grooming scenario supported by lesson plans.
- Booking an Outreach Professional Development workshop for teachers and Internet Safety Awareness presentation for students and parents. These are free to all schools.
- Refer parents to the Guide to Online Safety which is a brief video resource with strategies to help parents explain the importance of avoiding unwanted contact to their children.
Useful online resources:
This item from A Current Affair could be used as a discussion starter.
http://www.theline.gov.au/ is an interactive site that offers young people advice in positive relationships.
http://www.teachers.reachoutpro.com.au/ offers online training modules and lesson ideas on youth mental health
Identity theft and scams
While cyber bullying is probably the issue of most concern to students, online scams are also an issue and teenagers are often trusting and prone to identity theft.
Identity theft involves using information about a person to adopt their identity with the aim of financial gain. Commonly it involves using a stolen identity to take out loans etc. A person who’s identity has been misused will find themselves receiving demands from institutions for the repayment of money, or even from police in regard to crimes committed in their name.
The information used to steal an identity might be gained from information posted innocently online, from responses innocently made to spam emails, or from malware/spyware (malicious software) infecting a computer.
To avoid identity theft:
- Use strong passwords including uppercase and symbols
- Don’t use the same password for all your logins
- Use secure (encrypted) websites when transacting online
- Don’t post personal information online
- Don’t respond to emails asking for personal details such as bank account numbers etc.
It is important to keep an eye on bank balances and credit card transactions and contact the bank immediately anything unusual occurs.
Scams involve tricking a user into handing over money. ACMA lists the following typical scams (2):
- Lottery – The scammer claims the recipient has won a substantial prize and asks them to pay a small fee to claim the prize. Unexpected fees then continue to arise.
- Phishing – Emails are sent from falsified or spoofed email addresses. Phishing emails claim to be from well-known financial institutions or telecommunications providers and direct recipients to a website that mimics the company’s real website. Phishing emails may also request confirmation of usernames and passwords. They are designed to allow the scammer access to the victim’s financial details such as credit card numbers, account names and passwords or other personal information.
- Advance Fee (or ‘Nigerian 419’) – These scams offer to pay a considerable sum of money to assist in transferring millions of dollars out of a foreign country for various legitimate sounding reasons. Similar to lottery scams, unexpected fees arise that must be paid before the money can be transferred.
- Mule – Prospective victims are sent attractive job vacancy adverts claiming to provide high pay for limited work. The job often involves transferring sums of money between accounts. This is money laundering and the recipient themselves may ultimately face criminal charges.
Adults have learned to be cautious of scams online, but school students are often new to this world and need to be reminded to be cautious. Early scams were very crude and the emails contained poor grammar and spelling, but scams are becoming increasingly sophisticated and use professional looking web sites etc.
Advice on how to safely use social networking sites
Most people are familiar with Facebook and how to use it more safely. It is good advice to set everything so only friends can view posts. Users need to remember, though, that if a friend can see a post, then under certain conditions their friends can also see it. In addition, the privacy settings in Facebook are very complicated, so regardless of how users think their settings are, it is safest to assume that anything on Facebook is public.
Twitter is of course intended to be public, and people only tweet what they want everyone to see. The advice is to ‘count to ten’ before tweeting.
There is specific advice on using other sites such as Kik, Instagram and Snapchat at http://blog.iinet.net.au/safer-internet-day-2014/
- http://www.cybersmart.gov.au/Teens/How%20do%20I%20deal%20with/Cyberbullying.aspx (13/6/20013)
- http://www.cybersmart.gov.au/Schools/Cyber%20issues/Identity%20theft%20and%20scams.aspx (13/6/2013)
- http://www.cybersmart.gov.au/Teens/How%20do%20I%20deal%20with/Digital%20reputation.aspx (13/6/2013)
- http://www.cybersmart.gov.au/Schools/Cyber%20issues/Unwanted%20sexual%20contact.aspx (13/6/2013)
Welcome to 2015. We are coming to the end of the long summer break here in Australia, which is why I have been quiet.
This year Don College are implementing a BYOT policy across the school. In that context I was asked by my principal to outline current best practice in educational technology. As part of that I wrote a scenario, or dream. Something for us to aspire to as students walk into that first class and open up their laptops on their desk. The software examples I will use reflect my preferences, but you can substitute your own.
A few minutes before the lesson Audrey is collecting her thoughts. She has set a 5 minute video to watch and some questions for homework (using Edpuzzle) covering the content for this lesson. Earlier in the day she spent 10 minutes looking at the students responses and most seem to have a satisfactory understanding, but 6 look as if they need more help.
Audrey arrives at the classroom and begins to get her laptop connected to the IWB. (There is quiet music playing to set the tone. Audrey likes Bach, and she finds students tend to settle more quickly and not run around as they come in when it is playing.) Students are trickling in and Audrey chats to them about their weekend and asks them to log into Fronter (the VLE) while they wait.
As the lesson starts Audrey has the learning objective for this lesson and the activities on the IWB. The activities are ready in Fronter and most of the class have covered the theory so they are able to settle straight down to work. (They use Office365 for their work.) Audrey then spends time with the 6 students needing help.
20 minutes into the lesson all students are working on the assignments and Audrey takes a few minutes to do the attendance (on her laptop). She finds that 2 students are absent and checking, she sees one of them (Jack) is currently online. She opens up a Lync (video) call to jack and it turns out that he only has a cold and is able to do some work at home. Audrey explains what the class are doing and Jack logs into Fronter at home and starts the class assignments. Jack opens up a call with his friends at his usual work table and they chat and discuss the problems in the same way they would if they were physically together in class.
Audrey also has a distance education student in the class (Mandy), and Audrey takes a few minutes to check on her via a Lync call. Mandy needs some guidance but is then able to work on by herself.
Now Audrey is free to move around the room as usual assisting students. She has found that with the work online she spends much more time working with students individually and in small groups.
With 10 minutes to go Audrey brings the class together and refers them to the learning objective. She has a short questionaire prepared in Fronter for the students to answer. Based on that she will know which students might need extra help. Those students will receive some extra work in their inbox later in the day. She also talks about the next lesson and what they need to do to prepare for that. When the students have completed the exit questions and uploaded the work from today’s lesson to the class cloud share, they are given permission to leave the room.
So that is how I envisage a 21st Century classroom. Yes it is a dream and there will be students arriving late disrupting the start to the lesson, there will be disruptive students, there will be students off task etc. But I think the dream still gives me a direction to work towards.
I have just competed a rather intensive MOOC on designing ICT rich learning activities called Hands- on ICT.
In the words of the MOOC developers it:
… [focuses] on the Learning Design Studio (LDS) approach, a design process to help educators design courses and learning activities.
A colleague has posted in detail his overall impressions of the MOOC at http://ianinsheffield.wordpress.com/2014/12/02/definitely-handson/ and rather than cover that ground again, I will endorse his comments and suggest you read his contribution yourself.
Since the MOOC finishes tomorrow, and may not be offered again (let’s hope it can be) I would like to preserve the essentials of the LDS approach as it was presented through the MOOC.
In a nutshell the Learning Design Studio (LDS) approach to educational design is an adaptation of the standard design process as taught in my design classes. The steps in the LDS process are adaptations from the object design process, taking into account the learning context for the design. In other words the result of the LDS process is a fluid activity involving interactions between learners and teachers, rather than a static artifact and the process reflects that.
It is usual in design to start with a design brief. The design brief sets out the design problem and the context, constraints and considerations, for the design.
In the LDS based approach the brief is replaced with a dream. The dream consists of:
- Situation or context
- The change we would like to see (challenge)
- The proposed solution
- Measures of success
So the dream fulfills the role of the design brief, but it is subtly different. While a design brief begins with a problem and outlines the parameters around that problem, the dream involves looking at how things are in our classroom, imagining how it might be better and describing what that ‘something better’ might look like.
The dream is the driver for the learning design process and much of what follows involves adding specifics and details to the initial dream.
Starting with a dream colours the entire design process with an optimism. In some ways traditional object designers find themselves always referring back to a problem, while in this learning design process the designer is always referring back to a solution, a vision of something better.
The second stage is to develop persona(e) for the participants in the learning activity. The persona is an extension from the context in the dream. This is an important stage, as learning is a human activity and it is important to consider those personae in the learning design. The personae consist of things such as:
- Education and experience
- Role and responsibilities
- Technical skills
- Subject domain skills and knowledge
- Motivation and desires
- Goals and expectations
- Obstacles to their success
- Unique Assets
All these things have an impact on the teaching and learning and need to be considered in the learning design. For instance pitching an activity at the wrong level of technical skill for the participants can limit the effectiveness of the activity. Failure to align the activity with the Goals of the students can also create issues etc.
Context, Factors and Concerns
Based on the personae and the dream, the next step in the process is to identify specific factors and concerns. These might involve the availability of suitable resources, or factors arising out of the personae such as inappropriate motivations or goals, or limited background skills.
Once these things are documented they can be taken into account in the final learning design.
Heuristic evaluation is a technique borrowed from usability research, where a group of experts is asked to assess a particular design using a given rubric (set of heuristics). It offers a low-cost rapid evaluation which often uncovers design flaws at an early stage.
It is fair to say that this step in the LDS process caused the most difficulty for the participants in the MOOC. The heuristics consist of a series of evaluative questions or considerations used to judge the effectiveness of the activity. In my case the activity was an online learning package and my heuristics evaluated content, layout, navigation, platform and pedagogy. For example my content heuristics included:
- Structure and advanced organizers
- Are there summaries which assist communication?
- Is the content logically organized through the units and pages?
- Are the rubrics clear and effective in assisting peer review?
- Is the language appropriate to 16 – 18 year old students?
- Are the ideas clearly explained?
These questions can be used to evaluate and improve the activity.
Based on the forum discussion it seemed that a lot of the participants had difficulty envisioning heuristics for an activity that was yet to be written. It is important to write the heuristics first, however, so that they can guide the development of the activity. Heuristics written later in the process are likely to be limited by the designer’s perception of the work. In effect there is the danger that the heuristics share the designer’s blindness to the weaknesses in the activity. In other words the heuristics need to guide the design process, not be shaped by the design process.
Research existing activities
It is a standard part of any design activity to look for comparable work. This can act as an inspiration while also avoiding ‘reinventing the wheel’.
In my case I found a number of examples amongst the references given which assisted in developing my activity.
At this stage the designer returns again the the dream to write a scenario about the learning activity. The scenario is really just a story about the activity in operation. It is important because it focuses the dream and assists the designer to fully envision how the activity will work from the student’s point of view. This slide share (also provided as part of the MOOC resources) describes scenarios well:
At this stage a prototype, or rough version, of the activity is developed. This is a further opportunity to envision the learning activity as a whole. In object design a prototype would consist of a scale model, but in learning design it is more likely to take the form of a part of the activity or an overview of the activity. Participants in the handson MOOC favoured Prezi presentations, or mind maps for their prototypes. These are suitable for providing an overview, but in my case it was difficult to apply the heuristics to properly test the prototype. Sample content or an abbreviated activity is more effective at this stage in my (retrospective) opinion.
The Activity – Evaluation and Review
After all the work it is with some relief that the activity can be developed. And of course evaluated and reviewed using the heuristics developed earlier. (In the design world nothing is ever finished.)
It is tempting to wonder why this involved process in developing a learning activity is important. At times I questioned some of the steps as I completed them, but towards the end of the process it became obvious to me that I had learned things along the way that significantly informed the activity I developed. It is true that as teachers we don’t have the time to replicate this process for every learning activity we develop, but it is certainly valuable to apply this process to some activities. It is also true that having been through this process once, much of it can be reused to develop further activities. For instance the personae, context, heuristics etc. once developed will be relevant to further learning design situations.
I think that as we come under increasing pressure to develop learning activities that are relevant to students and provide rich opportunities to develop 21st Century skills, this design process will be an important aspect of our professional practice. I was not taught to approach learning design this way during my teacher training, but I am sure that I would have become a better teacher more quickly if I had.
For more information on LDS I refer you to this blog. http://www.somolearn.org/lds