Category Archives: Learning technology

Reflective practice: the need for open questions

Use of open questions in (e)learning

Open questions are more likely to lead to in-depth discussion in face-to-face or online learning contexts than closed questions. A simplistic example:

  • “Is A better than B?” (closed) invites just a yes or no answer.
  • “What makes A better than B?” (open) invites the learner to justify and explore the rationale behind their decision.

This is not to say that closed questions should never be used, just that their use should be limited – in the above example, the two questions could provide a useful sequence for initiating discussion.

Use of open questions in reflection

Similarly, when encouraging teachers to reflect on their own practice, we need to encourage them to consider and respond to open questions. A reliance on closed questions tends to discourage in-depth reflection. Why? Because in-depth reflection requires consideration of causes and significance of events, and open questions are required to really explore these.

In a recent project, I developed an app which allows the user to reflect on, create and store responses to reflective prompts (questions) relating to e-learning practice. The questions are drawn from one section of the eLearning Guidelines (eLG).

During the development process, I decided to make small adjustments to the wording of many of the questions to make them more open questions. For example:

  • The original question “Do learners have the opportunity to self-assess their readiness for eLearning?” seemed to invite a simple yes/no answer, so it was reworded as “What opportunities do learners have to self-assess their readiness for eLearning?”
  • Likewise, “Is it clear at the start of the course what support teaching staff will offer learners?” was reworded as “How is it made clear at the start of the course what support teaching staff will offer learners?”

I feel these open versions of the questions will encourage teachers to review the evidence and reflect on effectiveness more deeply.

Whether or not you are currently using the eLearning Guidelines, you might find the app a useful tool for reflecting on your e-learning practice. The Android app is free and is available to download from the apps page.

Professional development for teaching with technology

Teacher workshop

Teacher workshop

Integrating technology into learning and teaching is a complex and demanding process.

Teachers and lecturers need effective professional development in order to transform learning and teaching with technology. Ineffective professional development is a waste of resources and may even have a negative effect by de-motivating and discouraging teachers. This narrative illustrates some of the issues and problems experienced by teachers.

What is good practice in this area? Professional development for teaching with learning technologies should be sustained, collaborative, experiential, relevant, situated, and evaluated.

Sustained

  • Professional development  should be sustained over time – one-off work shops may provide for training in technical skills but do not allow teachers to effectively change their practice.
  • It should be incremental, allowing teachers to build on their skills and experience over time.
  • It should incorporate long-term strategies in addition to workshops – for example mentoring, coaching and other forms of support over time to allow teachers to incrementally develop skills and expertise in incorporating the technology into teaching and learning.

Collaborative

  • Professional development should be closely integrated with collaborative planning of how technology is incorporated into teaching and learning. It should also involve collaborative planning of the professional development process itself: this will help ensure its relevance for the range of needs.
  • It should involve sharing of good practice in the organisation or teaching team to allow those who are advanced in incorporating technology into learning to share their expertise with the rest of the team.
  • Many schools around the world have made very effective use of expert students as technical support providers to teachers . This allows the teachers to focus on the educational use of technology.

Experiential

  • Professional development should be experiential and provide direct hands-on experience in using the technology.
  • Experiential professional development also depends on reflection: teachers need to reflect on the their hands-on experience and their developing skills and expertise.

Relevant

  • Professional development  should be curriculum focused, with strong links to the curriculum and how teachers can incorporate the technology in meeting the needs of students
  • It should be focused on outcomes – ie focused on what specifically the teachers will be able to do achieve in terms of enhancing learning and supporting the needs of learners.
  • it should be targeted and allow for the diverse range of skills and expertise amongst the teaching staff. For example, there will be teachers who are early adopters as well as teachers who are resistors or technophobes.
  • It should be realistic and avoid hype: it needs to acknowledge limitations and potential issues as well as the benefits.

Situated

  • Professional development  should be located within the organisation rather than externally. External people can be engaged as consultants and advisors but as collaborators rather than ‘outside experts’.
  • External organisations can be useful as exemplars, but need to be understood from inside and at ‘ground level’, not just as a high-level or impressionistic aspirational model.

Evaluated

  • Professional development  should be evaluated effectively. While it’s useful to get feedback from workshop participants on their immediate impressions, it’s essential to also evaluate the overall effectiveness of the professional development in transforming practice. Evaluation at levels 3 and 4 of Kirkpatrick’s evaluation model should be considered.

References

Kolvoord, R (no date). What Happens After the Professional Development: Case Studies on Implementing GIS in the Classroom. Retrieved from http://spatiallearning.org/publications_pdfs/kolvoord_GISbook.pdf

Left, P (2011). PD Scenario. Retrieved from http://www.verso.co.nz/mw/index.php?title=Stories/5

Unknown authors (no date). Donald Kirkpatrick. Retireved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_Kirkpatrick

Vrasidas, C (2010). Why Don’t Teachers Adopt Technology? Retrieved from http://elearnmag.acm.org/featured.cfm?aid=1785590

Image: Jasonspera

Prezi and PowerPoint: the same but different

In all the discussion about Prezi and PowerPoint and which is a better tool, the basic fact remains: if you use either badly the result will be learners who are bored and turned off:


A learner overwhelmed by PowerPoint

A learner overwhelmed by Prezi

Jokes aside, students of education technology can learn a lot from analysing these two tools and how they can be used. A comparison allows for exploration of concepts such as:

  • The use of technology as a tool – as opposed to a ‘teaching machine’
  • How a tool is used is a crucial issue – tools have a degree of neutrality as well as bias
  • The use of technology as a cognitive tool – to aid thinking
  • The use of technology by learners to author and publish content – a constructionist learning strategy
  • Strategies for expressing information – eg visual metaphors and structured text
  • The role of media (eg sound, graphics, animation) in the expression of information – what helps and what hinders?
  • The advantages / disadvantages of cloud computing

Educators angry at losing investment in Second Life

Jeff Young’s article Academics Discuss Mass Migration From Second Life reports that many educators are angry at changes to the fees charged for Second Life. But educators shouldn’t be angry or surprised when companies like Linden Labs change the rules and start charging hefty fees. After all, it’s a proven business model on the web: get buy-in by providing a free or low-cost service, then raise the fees once a subscriber base has been captured established.*

However, we have every right to be disappointed when large amounts of public funds are spent on projects developing virtual learning spaces which could disappear overnight. It’s exciting and essential to explore the educational potential of tools and systems such as Second Life, but significant investment requires caution. When locked up inside a proprietary system, the value of ‘virtual real estate’ can be reduced to zero overnight if it needs to be rebuilt from scratch.

Decision makers who allocate substantial funds to such projects should expect standard risk management practices to be in place to ensure that loss of investment is minimised. It’s common sense – and in a shrinking economy, anything else is unacceptable.

* I’m not saying that I support this model, just that it is prevalent and it is predictable that private companies will act in the interests of their shareholders first and foremost.

Related post: How secure are your course materials online?

Image: Instituto de Estudos Avançados

Six tips for setting up a small-scale e-learning site

Rodin's ThinkerI often hear from educators and others wanting to set up a simple, small-scale e-learning platform to support their activities. While such a site has the potential to be more flexible and adaptable than a large institutional setup, it’s important to start it off on a sound footing to avoid wasting time and money.

My suggestions:

  1. Start with and maintain a strong focus on using the web to support learning, not to merely publish information. This should underlie all the decisions you make on technical matters.
  2. Don’t spend any money on arranging hosting until you have made decisions about the software platform (eg LMS or CMS) that will best meet your needs. Some platforms require much more robust hosting than others do.
  3. Don’t spend any money on a software platform until you have made some decisions about exactly how you are going to use the site to support learning. In fact, once you have done this it’s very likely that you can identify free and open source software (FOSS) that will be very suitable.
  4. Get help to identify your needs and make decisions. Not just because you may not have all the knowledge required, but also because an outside perspective is invaluable.
  5. Seek out independent help and advice. Talk to lots of people, but be aware that many of the people who will offer advice may not  have an objective understanding of what you want to achieve.
  6. Spend money on what matters – apart from ongoing payments for hosting, you probably have a small budget for initial set up. Since it’s very likely you won’t need to spend anything on software (see point 3 above), set aside at least some of your budget for buying the time of someone independent to help you identify needs and make decisions.