Evaluating a learning activity under 21CLD

21CLD evaluation tool

21st Century Learning Design (21CLD) is a Microsoft supported project to promote the teaching of 21st century skills. They have produced an evaluation tool and a Windows 8 app called ’21st century learning design’. These are intended to help teachers assess their learning activities and develop learning tasks that focus more effectively on 21st century skills. In simple terms a teacher can select one or more skills dimensions and follow the tool to evaluate their activity. For the purpose of this post I have chosen to look at the dimension they define as ‘Knowledge Construction’. This is a key aspect of my innovation strand. The app takes the teacher through a series of questions about the activity, to place it on one of 4 levels of increasing effectiveness. This can be seen in the following screen shot from the app. (I trust Microsoft will not mind me reproducing it.) 21cld knowledge construction This is only the landing page for this evaluation, once the assessment has started more information and exemplars are provided at each of the 4 stages.

Evaluating an activity

Armed with the 21CLD app I decided to evaluate a task of mine. I have run this task for a couple of years, and it is fair to say I was quite proud of it.

Description of the activity

In my Computer Graphics and Design class I wanted to cover theory and highlight connections between concepts, while at the same time give students ownership of their learning. To achieve this I decided to give the class the task of developing a wiki. After some instruction on how to use the wiki software I handed out suitable page topics at random to the students and set them to work researching and writing a page. Each lesson I would give the students another randomly assigned topic and they either started a page or contributed to the one started. The lessons are quite long so only the first 20 minutes was allocated to this task before they went back to their practical assignments. More recently I developed a digital badge to reward students for significantly contributing to the wiki pages. Overall the task went well. Students were engaged and covered a lot of theory. (If you are interested the wiki lives at http://dcdesign.wikidot.com) On the face of it this activity ticks a lot of boxes. It is well differentiated, as weaker students can contribute at their own level and be supported by the contributions of stronger students. The students are interdependent, connecting with each other’s work. They are investigating and constructing information and via the wiki links they see connections. It also forced students to think about copyright and intellectual property in a practical way.

Evaluation against 21CLD

The process of evaluation, as you will guess from the diagram above, is to work through a series of questions connected to levels of effectiveness under that dimension. It is possible to evaluate an activity against several of the dimensions, but thinking that this activity was strong in the area of knowledge construction I applied the 21CLD evaluation tool for that dimension.

  • The first question was “Do learners engage in meaningful knowledge construction?”
    • Reading through the documentation and exemplars provided, this activity is not ideal in this respect. Students are constructing knowledge, but in this case the knowledge is not meaningful in the sense that it is not connected with existing knowledge or experience. By distributing the topics at random I was actually breaking this connection for the students. I was asking them to work backwards and attach meaning to isolated concepts.
    • My task could be stronger if I had managed to make the learning more meaningful. Perhaps if I had started with the students selecting a favourite CD cover, book or other exemple and explore that. researching the techniques used and the designer that developed it. Working from that starting point to populate the wiki. My approach was content driven, and therefore not as effective.
  • The second question was “Do learners work with significant ideas, topics, questions and thinking?”
    • Once again my task was hindered by the wide selection of topics. There are certain key concepts in design: the design principles, design elements and design process. While these are covered in the early part of the course they don’t shine through in this activity. It was not easy for the students to connect the learning in this activity back to the overarching concepts.
    • Perhaps I could improved this activity by posting a few key wiki pages on those big ideas with links in place branching out into finer detail. Allowing students to populate those branches and work ‘outwards’ would help them connect their work to the bigger picture.
  • Question 4 asked “Do learners make important connections and identify patterns?”
    • While I was hoping that my students would see patterns and connections as they developed the wiki, I was not making this easy for them.
    • Once again building the wiki from the big picture down to the details rather then from the details up would help strngthen the activity in this area.
  • Finally “Do learners apply knowledge to new contexts?”
    • As it stands this activity goes nowhere. Having covered the theory students have nothing to do with it. The final stage is to encourage the use the information in the wiki to address design problems.

So in summary, by applying the 21CLD tool I have been able to find weaknesses in my learning design and from there formulate ways in which I can make it richer and more effective in teaching knowledge construction. In this way the 21CLD tool can be used to significantly improve learning design in all the 21st century skill dimensions. Finally, my digital badge for this task was issued for significant contribution to the wiki by adding and editing pages. In retrospect this was a poorly designed badge as it doesn’t credential the aim of the learning activity. I will need to think more about the design of that badge and develop one which credentials knowledge design, or more generally innovation.    


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