Digital Badges / Open Badges Taxonomy

Medien-Didaktik 2.0

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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Cybersafety for teenagers

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

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.

Online reputation

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.

Indentity 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

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/

References

  1. http://www.cybersmart.gov.au/Teens/How%20do%20I%20deal%20with/Cyberbullying.aspx (13/6/20013)
  2. http://www.cybersmart.gov.au/Schools/Cyber%20issues/Identity%20theft%20and%20scams.aspx (13/6/2013)
  3. http://www.cybersmart.gov.au/Teens/How%20do%20I%20deal%20with/Digital%20reputation.aspx (13/6/2013)
  4. http://www.cybersmart.gov.au/Schools/Cyber%20issues/Unwanted%20sexual%20contact.aspx (13/6/2013)

21st Century Classroom – Best Practice Scenario

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.

Design for Learning – Handsonict MOOC

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.

The Dream

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.

Persona

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.

Heuristics

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:

  1. Structure and advanced organizers
    1. Are there summaries which assist communication?
    2. Is the content logically organized through the units and pages?
    3. Are the rubrics clear and effective in assisting peer review?
  2. Language
    1. Is the language appropriate to 16 – 18 year old students?
    2. 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.

Scenario

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:

Prototype

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

Class Blogs

I have been using a blog in my design class for a number of years now. I thought it might be a good idea to post about how blogs can be used and how I have mine set up. A sort of ‘Blogging 101’ for teachers.

What is a blog?

A blog (short for weblog) is an internet based technology that allows participants to post diary entries to the web site for others to read. Blog sites generally offer a free basic service which is adequate for general users. The income stream of the service providers is generated from subscribers who require advanced features such as domain registration and specialized page themes. Some providers also use advertising to generate income.
From the early blogs, which provided little more than a ‘roll’ of diary entries in order of date, modern blogs provide for embedded media and content pages accessed through menus, to provide something approaching a wiki. There is also the ability for readers to comment on entries. Integration with social media is also provided so that bloggers can link their posts to Facebook and Twitter feeds etc.
Blog sites offer a range of themes to allow bloggers to personalize their sites and make them attractive. Managing the sites is easy for a user with basic computing skills. It is possible to manage the access to a blog, but the process can be fiddly and usually it is assumed that a blog is a public document.

What are class blogs used for?

There are a number of uses for class blogs and it is important to decide on the purpose of the blog before setting it up. Possible uses include:

  • Information source for class members
  • Flexible delivery of learning materials
  • Opportunity for students to engage in communicating their ideas

Information source for class members

In this scenario the blog is used to support the classroom activities of the students. The focus is on developing a class identity and increasing engagement with the curriculum by providing further activities and interesting peripheral information. For instance links could be provided to multimedia clips on the internet and other information around the curriculum to assist students to put the core curriculum material into a broader context. There is not always time to provide that broader context in our busy curriculum, but it does help students to add meaning to the core curriculum and engage more effectively with their learning.

Flexible delivery of learning materials

Not all students find the classroom environment, with its distractions, an effective learning environment. All students benefit from thinking about the lesson content between lessons. Thirdly, at times the teacher may elect to adopt a flexible delivery mode within the class and provide a work program for students to work through at their own pace during the class time. All these needs can be provided for if the lesson content is added to a blog. In this case the structure of the blog might be different and provide for a menu so that students can browse directly to the activity or lesson material.

True flexible delivery requires that work be submitted, progress through the program is monitored and student-teacher communication be formally managed. A blog does not provide tools to adequately perform all these functions and a virtual learning environment (VLE) is required.

Student blogging

In English writing classes there is an obvious use for blogs as a tool to develop writing skills in a modern context. Blogging has become a genre in its own right and students benefit from experiencing it. In other classes, however, there is also a place for a blog.
Many teachers come from an age when privacy was a virtue and most people equated privacy with safety and freedom to some extent. Students today often lack that reserve and think nothing of throwing information about themselves ‘out there’. While young people might view the privacy of the pre-internet age as secrecy and repression, which allowed many social ills top flourish (abuse, sexism, racism), the openness of our students also supports bullying, identity theft, and other misuse of the information disclosed.
I took that brief digression to make the point that it is important when establishing a class blog to educate students in how to protect their own safety. It is important not to imbue them with paranoia, but on the other hand they need to be aware of the safe boundaries. I prepared a wiki page on cyber-safety for the staff at my college which you are free to use at http://edict.wikidot.com/wiki:cyber-safety.

Blogging as a creative writing exercise

In this situation students will be writing about the topic of the blog, attempting to appeal to a wider audience. If this is oyur aim then students and parents should be consulted before a public blog is established. Students will not in general be posting personal information, but what they do post might still create a negative impression of them which may have consequences in the future. If there is any concern then a safer option would be to use a blog on the school intranet.

How do I get started?

The first step is to decide what the topic of the blog is and stay true to that. If there are several different purposes then consider multiple blogs. (Blog software generally allows users to establish a number of blogs under the same account.)

There are a number of free blog sites available. WordPress seems to be one of the best and most popular, and at my school ( Don College, Australia) we have standardized on that. I also like to encourage staff to use a standard theme and appearance, which gives our subject blogs a relatively consistent look and feel. In this way students readily identify the blogs as part of the college teaching program. It looks more professional as well.

An example

The blog for the Don College Computer Graphics and design class is at http://doncollegecgd.wordpress.com. This blog has two aspects. The first thing you see is a traditional blog which reports once a week on the progress and direction for the classes. (Note though that lately I have not added a post, this is because we are into exams and then the long summer break will start.) Once a week is a good spacing between posts, as it maintains engagement and interest and doesn’t become tedious for the teacher writing or the student reading. It also provides an item of interest like an embedded animation which serves to attract students to the blog and inspire them a bit. The second part on the front page is a set of links to other resources. Thirdly there is curriculum content and copies of assignments etc. under the menus at the top. So that overall the blog acts as a sort of class home page where students go for information and resources they need.

Conclusion

In conclusion there are a number of effective ways in which blogs can be used, and with a little planning and support they are an effective way of presenting material to students and supporting their learning. They do not have the power of a fully functioned VLE but they are quite easy to set up and very easy to post information to. They are also free to use. The blog can become a sort of home space online for the class.

Teaching and assessing problem solving skills – PISA recommendations

In 2012 PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), which operates under the OECD, released their evaluation of problem solving skills in 15 year old students. The study defined problem solving and established an assessment regime. They then compared the results from 65 participating economies. The full report is at http://www.oecd.org/pisa/keyfindings/pisa-2012-results-volume-v.htm

I don’t propose to critique, or even attempt to summarize the report, but as an educator there are some interesting points in it which I would like to refer to. I will be skipping through the report, highlighting what I see as key ideas for classroom teachers and mixing in a few personal observations and ideas. For the full context and supportive data you should refer back to the original report.

Importance of problem solving skills in the 21st Century

Across the countries it was found that a large majority of workers are expected solve a simple non-routine problem (taking less than 30 mins) once a week. One in ten workers are confronted on a daily basis with harder problems. Complex problem-solving skills are more in demand in the faster growing managerial and professional occupations.

A suggested explanation is that automated systems are increasingly dealing with routine problems, leaving the workers to deal with the unexpected or unfamiliar situations.

As a result we see the following trend in employment towards non-routine analytical and relational skills.

As educators preparing students for the world, we need to consider these trends. Amongst other things we need to be seeking to equip our students with the skills to thrive in non-routine problem-solving situations.

What are problem-solving skills?

In order to teach and assess problem-solving it is necessary to define the skills and understand them.

PISA defines problem-solving as:

…an individual’s capacity to engage in cognitive processing to understand and resolve problem situations where a method of solution is not immediately obvious. It includes the willingness to engage with such situations in order to achieve one’s potential as a constructive and reflective citizen.

(http://www.oecd.org/pisa/keyfindings/pisa-2012-results-volume-v.htm pg. 30)

The key domains in the definition are identified as:

  1. Cognitive domain: The problem solver needs to engage, understand and resolve the problem.
  2. Problem domain: The problem is non-routine, meaning that the goal cannot be achieved by merely applying a proviously developed solution.
  3. Affective domain: The problem solver needs willingness to tackle the problem. I would add that willingness also pre-supposes confidence and the ability to handle failure positively.

The problem solving framework defined by PISA involves three main elements, further divided into parameters or processes:

Using this framework a problem can be categorized and the problem solving process (not necessarily linear as shown) described and evaluated.

Levels of problem-solving competence

To evaluate  the level of competence of a problem-solver there needs to be a progressive developmental framework. In previous posts I have discussed the progressions to evaluate collaborative problem-solving skills proposed by the ATC21S (Melbourne University) group and 21CLD . I have summarized these down to 4 levels relevant to secondary education https://doncollegegrant.wordpress.com/2014/08/06/digital-badges-for-collaborative-problem-solving/.

PISA present 6 progressive levels of development for problem-solving:

Level 1

  • At Level 1, students can explore a problem scenario only in a limited way, but tend to do so only when they have encountered very similar situations before. Based on their observations of familiar scenarios, these students are able only to partially describe the behaviour of a simple, everyday device. In general, students at Level 1 can solve straightforward problems provided there is only a simple condition to be satisfied and there are only one or two steps to be performed to reach the goal. Level 1 students tend not to be able to plan ahead or set sub-goals.

Level 2

  • At Level 2, students can explore an unfamiliar problem scenario and understand a small part of it. They try, but only partially succeed, to understand and control digital devices with unfamiliar controls, such as home appliances and vending machines. Level 2 problem-solvers can test a simple hypothesis that is given to them and can solve a problem that has a single, specific constraint. They can plan and carry out one step at a time to achieve a sub-goal, and have some capacity to monitor overall progress towards a solution.

Level 3

  • At Level 3, students can handle information presented in several different formats. They can explore a problem scenario and infer simple relationships among its components. They can control simple digital devices, but have trouble with more complex devices. Problem-solvers at Level 3 can fully deal with one condition, for example, by generating several solutions and checking to see whether these satisfy the condition. When there are multiple conditions or inter-related features, they can hold one variable constant to see the effect of change on the other variables. They can devise and execute tests to confirm or refute a given hypothesis. They understand the need to plan ahead and monitor progress, and are able to try a different option if necessary.

Level 4

  • At Level 4, students can explore a moderately complex problem scenario in a focused way. They grasp the links among the components of the scenario that are required to solve the problem. They can control moderately complex digital devices, such as unfamiliar vending machines or home appliances, but they don’t always do so efficiently. These students can plan a few steps ahead and monitor the progress of their plans. They are usually able to adjust these plans or reformulate a goal in light of feedback. They can systematically try out different possibilities and check whether multiple conditions have been satisfied. They can form an hypothesis about why a system is malfunctioning, and describe how to test it.

Level 5

  • At Level 5, students can systematically explore a complex problem scenario to gain an understanding of how relevant information is structured. When faced with unfamiliar, moderately complex devices, such as vending machines or home appliances, they respond quickly to feedback in order to control the device. In order to reach a solution, Level 5 problem-solvers think ahead to find the best strategy that addresses all the given constraints. They can immediately adjust their plans or backtrack when they detect unexpected difficulties or when they make mistakes that take them off course.

Level 6

  • At Level 6, students can develop complete, coherent mental models of diverse problem scenarios, enabling them to solve complex problems efficiently. They can explore a scenario in a highly strategic manner to understand all information pertaining to the problem. The information may be presented in different formats, requiring interpretation and integration of related parts. When confronted with very complex devices, such as home appliances that work in an unusual or unexpected manner, they quickly learn how to control the devices to achieve a goal in an optimal way. Level 6 problem-solvers can set up general hypotheses about a system and thoroughly test them. They can follow a premise through to a logical conclusion or recognise when there is not enough information available to reach one. In order to reach a solution, these highly proficient problem-solvers can create complex, flexible, multi-step plans that they continually monitor during execution. Where necessary, they modify their strategies, taking all constraints into account, both explicit and implicit.

I believe that this progressive development is sufficient basis for an assessment rubric and to establish zones of proximal development for students, which is the first step towards developing an educational process for teaching and assessing problem-solving. Test questions have also been developed and they can be viewed at http://www.oecd.org/pisa/test/ .

Recommendations

Analyzing their assessment results PISA found that some countries were doing better than others at teaching problem-solving skills. On this basis they were able to make recommendations on improving education in this area. There were suggestions for improving educational policy, but I have adapted the following 5 points from their recommendations, which can be implemented at the classroom level. I suggest you refer to the original document for a more detailed discussion.

Don’t teach solutions

In general problem solving is taught by focusing on rule-based solutions. This is most obvious in Mathematics education. This is really a two step process, the first step being formulation of the problem from a messy real-world scenario, the second step is the application of the solution. Once the solution path is established the rest of the process can be automated, so it is the first step that is the more valuable skill.

In order to assist students to develop skills in problem analysis and solution formulation they need to be exposed to numerous real-world problems.

In the language of ATC21S this means exposing students to real-world problem spaces so that they learn to develop, evaluate and select solutions. Presenting students with restricted problem spaces leading to defined solution paths is not developing effective problem-solving skills.

Teach for skill transfer by looking for connections

problem-solving skills developed in one domain do not readily transfer into another domain. Teachers can assist this transfer by using diagrams and illustrations to highlight the similarity between strategies across domains rather than the superficial differences of jargon or context.

In practice this might involve finding the similarities in the design process when designing a house or a prom dress, or calculating loads on roof trusses and optimum tacking angles for a yacht. These pairs of problems seem superficially different, but the problem spaces have things in common.

Skills are best developed in meaningful contexts

People are less likely to transfer isolated pieces of knowledge than they are to transfer parts of well-integrated hierarchical knowledge structures. The more connections a learner sees between the learning environment and the outside world, the easier the transfer will be.

(http://www.oecd.org/pisa/keyfindings/pisa-2012-results-volume-v.htm pg 121 )

Teachers need to be prepared to look at the real world, particularly the world that students live in. I have always been aware that this helps with the affective domain in problem solving (willingness and persistence), but the evidence shows that it also assists with the cognitive domain by aiding skill transfer across contexts.

Encourage metacognition

Students need to be encouraged to think about how they are thinking about a problem. Self awareness through the process is extremely powerful in developing problem-solving skills.

This can be encouraged by “thinking aloud” sequences. Solving problems in a collaborative setting is also a way of encouraging this, particularly if the communication is managed. For example if students are placed in the situation where they are collaborating through a network chat session it encourages them to communicate their thinking explicitly to one another. It also records that communication for later analysis and discussion. ATC21S made use  this strategy in their work. I have also explored this using etherpad.

Teachers also need to be courageous enough to model this behavior for the students. Because of their familiarity with the subject teachers tend to model problem-solving as a routine activity with their classes, simply because they generally go into class knowing how to solve all the problems. It is not a bad idea to sometimes attack a problem that the teacher does not know how to solve.

Utilize the visual arts

The visual arts are often devalued by teachers, particularly teachers of the core disciplines like Maths and Literacy, as a place where real problem-solving does not happen. The visual arts can be a powerful vehicle for developing problem-solving skills. On a superficial level students are learning skills and techniques, but on a deeper level participating in the visual arts involves:

  • Envisioning: Students are asked to envision what they cannot observe directly.
  • Observing: The skill of careful observation is taught.
  • Reflecting: Teachers often encourage reflection by asking open-ended questions about the work. Students are therefore encouraged to develop metacognitive awareness of their work.
  • Engaging and persisting: Students tackle projects which engage them, and they need to persist through frustration as they refine and develop their skill with the medium.
  • Stretching and exploring: Students stretch themselves and take risks in producing their work.

So the visual arts are a powerful context in which to teach the basic problem-solving tools.

Conclusion

This post constitutes a summary of what I learned form the PISA report. It has given me a lot to think about as I evaluate my teaching practice. 21st Century skills, like problem-solving, are the key to future success for our students. Effectively teaching them is as challenging as it is worthwhile and work by PISA, ATC21S and 21CLD are showing the way for classroom teachers like yours truly.

 

 

Badge Taxonomy – Badge Alliance consultation overview

Let me start by making it clear that I have not personally been involved with the Badge Alliance working groups. As an impartial observer I am free to congratulate them on the progress they have made. The report on the first cycle of consultation is at http://www.badgealliance.org/blog/celebrating-our-successes-an-overview-of-cycle-1/

Having posted in the past on badge taxonomy I was particularly interested in their comments on that. Under Badges for Educators & Professional Development the working group made the following recommendation:

[To]…Loosely standardize a set of badge types. This would not dictate the content of the badge (i.e. assessment), but the class of badges or the general type of activity/assessment it represents. This would help educators, administrators and employers more easily anticipate the value or weight of various badges, and ensure some commonalities in experience across different badge systems.

Potential examples:

◦Participation/Attendance – a badge for attending a conference or seminar, participating in an online community or event. No assessment other than proof of attendance/participation.

◦Skill – a badge representing a distinct skill. Assessment is tied to demonstration of that skill.

◦Achievement – a badge representing a completed set of activities or a set of skills. May have a number of skill badges that ‘stack’ to an achievement badge, or unlock access to it. Assessment involves demonstration of the sub-activities or skills, and perhaps some expression of the cumulative learning.

◦Specialty – a badge representing an interest area, area of training or skill set. Assessment is most likely tied to demonstration of the sub-skills, but also includes evidence from educator’s own experiences and approaches.

◦Peer/Social – a badge representing qualities or skills, awarded peer-to-peer. Assessment is peer review/recognition.

◦Community – a badge representing behaviors, values and roles within a particular community. Badges are defined and issued by members of that community to reflect values, behaviors and roles that are important to them.

These categories are more refined and expanded than my initial definitions. I do have a couple of comments though.

In my taxonomy I used the term “mission” badges where the badge alliance have referred to “achievement” badges. I still prefer the term mission badge, as it speaks to me more of engaging in a process or journey to achieve the badge. To me an achievement is more suggestive of a ‘one off’, and I reserved that term for badges that mark specific achievements, such as breaking sports records etc. On the other hand these are just names, would a rose by any other name smell any less sweet?

I like the idea of the community badge, participation badge and the specialty badge.

Overall I congratulate the badge alliance on their work and I encourage you to read through all the recommendations.

Flipping classes using Edpuzzle

This year I have been reading about flipped classes. I must say that I am amused by this term. Here in Australia “flipping” is used as a softer version of another less socially acceptable “F” word, as in “He is a flipping idiot!”. As a result, talk about flipping maths classes might generate some smirks or raised eyebrows amongst my peers.

For the uninitiated this is what flipping classes really means. Typical (teacher centered) teaching involves using class time to teach new material and homework to practice and consolidate. In a flipped class students cover the new material in their own time before class and class time is spent on practice and consolidation. Flipping classes is made possible by the availability of online multimedia resources. The advantages are that the teacher can spend less time teaching from the front and more time providing individual help to students. More able students can move ahead more quickly while less able students have improved access to the teacher.

This is a great idea, but so far I haven’t done much with it. I guess my resistance comes down to two main points. Firstly it takes significant time to prepare or find suitable resources. Secondly I don’t really trust my students to do the pre-class work. If I turn up to class and discover half of them didn’t bother to do the preparative work, then I need to rewrite my lesson plan on the fly.

Recently I have discovered a tool which makes flipping more convenient. EDpuzzle allows me to take clips from any online source (or one of my own) and annotate them at particular points with comments, questions or commentary. I can create classes within EDpuzzle and it will record the responses of my students so I can tell before class who has watched the video and how well they understand the content.

There are other services that do the same sort of thing, such as Blubbr, but I found EDpuzzle to be very easy and flexible to use. I sat down and was immediately able to work up this simple 5 minute flipped lesson presentation ( https://edpuzzle.com/media/54338e38ae72d0930a6fd241 ) There are a lot of other examples on the EDpuzzle site. In fact all work is available to all users of the site, so a teacher can use the search function to find suitable presentations prepared by other teachers.

So the advantages of flipping lessons with EDpuzzle are:

  1. You arrive at class knowing who already has a good grasp of the topic and who needs extra help.
  2. You spend less time speaking from the front and more time on individual assistance.
  3. Students that miss classes have the capacity to catch up more easily.
  4. It makes viewing clips fully interactive rather than passive.
  5. You don’t have to do the marking.
  6. The data collected by EDpuzzle can inform your reporting on things like participation and effort.
  7. The EDpuzzles can be embedded in a VLE and used over and over by classes.

I now have no more excuses and I will be starting to flip more of my lessons in the new school year.

Badge Taxonomy – further thoughts

In a post earlier this year I voiced some thoughts on a taxonomy for open badges. In this entry I proposed that open badges needed some categorization to maintain their utility and integrity. To this end I suggested that badges be classified according to genera and species (to steal terms for biology and maintain the taxonomical feel)
I proposed dividing badges into badges based on a competency and those not based on a measurable competency.

Within the non-competency badges we have two species:

  • Encouragement badges are awarded like good work stamps to encourage (mainly) young learners.
  • Social badges are used like friendship cards, or for fun.

Competency based badges divide into three species:

  • Achievement badges are issued to credential demonstration of a specific skill or achievement. An achievement badge might be issued for running 100m in 10 seconds, for being elected class captain etc. The achievement is defined in the badge and evidences attached.
  • Skill badges are issued to credential expertise in an area. They include a series of criteria that need to be met. For example they might be issued to staff who demonstrate effective integration of an ICT package into their teaching. Skill badges differ from achievement badges in that they have more complex criteria and do not apply to a single achievement or event.
  • Mission badges are used where a person (usually a student) has embarked on a series of activities with the aim of achieving a badge. These missions are often cross curricular and involve the development of a skill followed by a culminating achievement. Mission badges occupy the area between skill and achievement badges. Not surprisingly a mission badge might be issued as the culmination of a group of related skill and achievement badges.

Flavio Escribano has since extended this concept of badge taxonomy , including my nascent thoughts and those of Charla Long at Lipscomb University, and developed a more robust classification for badges.

Long describes an excellent badge system implemented at Lipscomb University. They have 7 badges categories further divided into 41 competencies, each measured at 4 levels of achievement, giving rise to 164 badges. The 41 competencies are identified workforce skills and my impression is that the badge ecosystem at Lipscomb is designed to map college education to the  requirements of employers with more granularity than the traditional credentials.

Escribano introduces the idea of the BadgeRank and the BadgeScore. The BadgeRank is a number based on the rank of the badge developed from the rank of the institution, the position of the badge in the institutional ecosystem, the teacher etc. The BadgeScore is based on the BadgeRank, but also takes into account the context in which it will be used. In other words the BadgeScore considers things such as the relevance of a badge to an employer or the desired career path of the earner.

Extending and generalizing the system at Lipscomb, Escribano proposes that badges be categorized according to fields, competencies and categories:

As you can see from this graphic the system proposed also provides for badges to credential a mix of these parameters to varying degrees.

So in summary, a huge amount of work has gone into improved ways to categorize and improve the robustness of digital badges.

My thoughts

As you will gather from the title my objective with this post is not to simply provide an overview of developments in badge taxonomy, but to document how my thinking has developed in response to this work.

I will start by saying that I am very impressed by the work of Long, Escribano and others. It is not my intention to present a critique of their work. These are merely my thoughts in response.

Taxonomy vs. Ecosystem

In my reading it looks to me as if there is some confusion around these terms. I will go out on a limb and say that they are not synonymous and I would define them as follows:

Taxonomy

A way of classifying different types of badges into groups. These groups are broad and refer to the general characteristics of the badges. I have suggested taxonomical groups as Skill badges, Achievement badges, etc. Taxonomic classification would be a property of all badges.

Ecology

A way of defining the interrelationship between badges. How they span the curriculum/competencies and the levels of competence from novice to mastery. In biology, ecology only has meaning in the context of an ecosystem. Similarly, a badge ecology only makes since within an institution or educational system.

The systems proposed by Long and Escribano are very good, but I think that much of what they describe is ecology rather than taxonomy. As such they would be difficult to apply to the secondary school curriculum I follow.

Having said that I believe that badge ecology is a much more interesting problem than taxonomy. Sample ecologys need to be developed and shared so that institutions can easily develop their own robust ecology.

BageRank and BadgeScore

This is a powerful idea. I have written previously about the need to make badges comparable, but this is the first attempt I have seen to quantify badges for comparison across institutions. Having said that, it seems to me that the BadgeRank is quantifying information which is largely already in the metadata. When someone presents a badge I will be able to look at the issuing institution, the competencies and the level of competence in the metadata and make a good assessment of the value of the badge (essentially the BadgeScore). If I am presented with a number I will not know what to make of it without a lot of interpretive documentation anyway.

As a secondary school teacher I am not going to be very interested in the BadgeRank and BadgeScore, but colleges and universities are much more preoccupied with these things.

Leveling

I have written before that achievement badges are of limited use educationally. Achievement badges allow students to mark milestones, but they don’t support the continued development of skills. In order for students to recognize achievement and also be guided forward through stages in skill development there needs to be a series of levels of skill badges built into the badge ecology.

Finally

I am excited by the amount of thought going into open badge development. Some powerful and sophisticated ideas are coming forward, particularly in relation to badge ecology. The work I have discussed here typifies that.

My final observation is that most of this work, for various reasons, is being lead by colleges and universities. Other institutions are deploying badges, but usually (based on my reading) achievement badges with little or no ecological context. I agree that badge ecology is vital, but it might be a pity to find growth and development of badge ecology dominated by higher education institutions.

Open Badges at Don College

I started working on open badges as a personal project in April of this year. It being September I thought it would be good to reflect on progress after 6 months. It has continued to be a personal project and although I refer to my school in the title the opinions expressed here are mine and not necessarily those of my employer.

Through that half year my ideas have changed and evolved, and for that reason it is valuable to collect my thoughts and take stock.

I have blogged about how I create and issue badges in the past. To put it simply I have been using a minimal system where I create and issue the badges using http://credly.com. For a single person working with badges this has been adequate.

Initially I developed badges for staff professional learning and then I began to develop and issue badges for my students as well. The student badges were usually contingent on successful completion of a section of the work. For example I issued a badge for sketching to my Graphic Design class and a basic java badge to my Computer Science students. All the badges were supported by specific observable skills, which was a strength. A weakness, as I will discuss later, is that they were all isolated badges with no interconnection or progression.

So far I have created 15 badges and issued about 40 badges to staff and students at Don College.

What have I learned from this and what have I yet to work through? What follows might be a bit rambling, and the ideas are not always fully formed. I should also say that I am still learning and in another 6 months I might have changed my opinion, but here goes.

Badges vs marks

My first badges were issued for reaching a level of competence or successfully completing an exercise. In this situation the badge is really just sitting alongside a traditional assessment. So why give the badge? I have found there are several reasons:

  1. There is an element of reward or celebration in a badge which is missing in a mark. A student might post their badge on Facebook , but they might be less likely to post a status like “Just passed Maths test. Yay!”
  2. There is often an immediacy about a badge. The reward is close to the event.
  3. Badges can be shaped to fit the skill set of the student. Students can be rewarded for sub-skills which might get lost in a poor overall mark. Badges can also recognize progress toward individual goals which might not be quite the same as the course goals.
  4. The data attached to the badge gives a clear definition of what the student has achieved to earn the badge, so they are actually more reliable than a school report or certificate, which can be easily forged.

So badges do have a place in the classroom alongside existing assessments and there is in my opinion good reasons for issuing an Algebra badge or a Reading badge, but I can also see that many teachers would ask why bother with this ‘double entry’ when it is the mark on the report card which really matters?

If badges are to become a widely used and recognized credential there needs to be a wide acceptance of the reason for using them, and an increased dissatisfaction with the current assessment methods. We could build a better mousetrap, but it will not catch on while people are broadly happy with the old one they have.

Learning vs badge collecting

Collecting badges in areas of interest is fine in a holiday program, but there is the danger that the students are badge collecting rather than engaging in focused learning. Many badge advocates point out that learning doesn’t only happen in school and badges give credit for the informal learning people do. That is true, and people may find those badges valuable, but as a teacher I am mostly interested in badges that have a connection with the curriculum I am delivering. In the context of  formal education the badges need to support focused learning and development. In my opinion this is achieved by sequencing and interconnecting badges. The badge system needs to allow multiple paths, but also encourage development in skills. When a student has achieved a badge they need to see the next badge in the sequence as a goal to encourage the further development of their skill.

My initial badges lacked this, but I think that by carefully planning badges at the various stages of proximal development for a skill, the students can be lead through skill development. By providing a number of such sequences students will also be able to shape their personal education plan, while still remaining within the curriculum provided.

Gamification and badges

Gamification refers to the practice of applying the engagement and motivational techniques used in (computer) games to learning design. This is distinct from game-based learning which uses computer games as a learning tool.

Not being a gamer myself, I only had a vague notion of the relationship between badges and computer games, but now that I am mixing in the badge community I realize that most people see badges as a gamification technique. In my case I wanted to be able to credential staff PD and also keep track of skill development using badges. As a result my first badges were probably designed a little differently and I certainly didn’t place emphasis on the graphics.

I can see the value of badges as an element of gamification, but I still tend to take a more utilitarian view. I view badges more seriously as a credential rather than a game-like addition to learning. That doesn’t mean that I don’t also see them as fun, it is a matter of emphasis.

Badges are only one element of gamification and I have not ventured into the other aspects, so I view myself as an educator that makes use of badges rather than a practitioner of gamification.

It is still about good pedagogy

I have learned it is important to focus on the learning, and let the badges come out of that. I hear people talk about building a curriculum with badges. I know what they mean, but we need to be careful that the pedagogy remains preeminent. Good teaching and learning doesn’t change when we introduce badges to a course. Having said that I know that the mode of assessment is a driver in curriculum delivery. Teachers tend to teach what is being assessed and if something is missing from the assessment it gets neglected in the teaching. So it is important to get the assessment right if a curriculum is to work.

Badges and 21st century skills

The curriculum in schools is divided up into subject areas like Mathematics, English, Art etc. , however, modern educators know that there are skills which cross the traditional curriculum, such as problem solving, collaboration, ethics, research etc. These skills have come to be known as 21st century skills because of their importance in the 21st century information economy. While they are considered important, fitting them into the curriculum is problematic. Regardless of the curriculum statement, the 21st century skills will get neglected if they don’t appear in a meaningful way in the assessment. On the other hand if there is a problem solving or collaboration mark on the Maths report, how is it assessed and how does it compare with the collaboration mark awarded in English? Isn’t it a wasteful duplication to be assessing that same skill in different subjects?

As I work with open badges I can see that this is an area where badges can have a real impact. They can be used to credential cross curricular skills. At the moment work is being done on ways of teaching and assessing 21st century skills. With well developed rubrics for these skills it will be possible to issue robust skill badges to students. A 21st century credential for a 21st century skill.

 Finally

My early badges simply rewarded development of a specific skill in the curriculum. I now see those first attempts as somewhat naive, but they were where I needed to start at the time. Some of my students enjoyed earning those badges and I will continue to use them.

Now I would like to develop badges which are sequenced, aligned to the development of skills, guiding students forward on a journey of learning. I would like to develop badges which credential cross curricular 21st century skills.