Category Archives: Pedagogy

The NKK Learning Design Model

In 2005 I worked on the Nga Kiwai Kete design model as part of a collaborative professional development process with members of Te Runanganui o Te Arawa:

The Nga Kiwai Kete Design Model

The Nga Kiwai Kete Design Model
Translation by Tutu Kautai

The model is intended to specify both the components of an effective learning design as well as an approximate sequence for the design process.

The model was intended to build on work such as the ARIA Model with which I was involved in 1999.

Note: The model is reproduced here as the original Nga Kiwai Kete site is unfortunately no longer available online. Released under a Creative Commons licence by Ako Aotearoa.

Watching learners with laptops – what’s really going on?

Jonathan Martin is the principal of a 1:1 laptop school school in Arizona. In a recent issue of Connected Principals he reports on his experience with observing students at work by Standing in the Back, Watching the Screens.

This article raises all sorts of  issues – including what (if any) internet filtering schools should implement. But what really interested me was his observation that students changed what they were doing on their laptops depending on what else was happening in the classroom:

When the topics appeared relevant to students, the note-taking pages appeared; when the topics veered to the arcane and irrelevant, the screens veered to facebook, gaming sites, and other distractions…

When [the] teacher moved towards more discussion, though, asking questions to facilitate conversation… Nearly half of the screens veered away from both note-taking pages and distractions; appearing instead were google, wikipedia, and other information source sites.

This seems very positive – students appeared to be responding to classroom discussion activities to maximise their own ability to contribute. However, the report does raise a few issues:

  • In my experience, students don’t always know what is relevant information and what is ‘arcane and irrelevant’. So there is a risk that a student with little prior knowledge will assume something is irrelevant when it is not.
  • Discussion is not always about ‘finding the right answer’, so searching the web is not always a good strategy. For example, a teacher may want to explore learners’ prior knowledge in order to help them acquire new learning – a sound constructivist learning strategy. If learners immediately turn to an external information source rather than reflect on their own understanding and experience this would tend to undermine the effectiveness of the activity.

I’m not arguing here that students should not be in charge of their own learning. But teachers do need to take a proactive role in guiding the learning process. Both issues suggest that making the learning process explicit is important:

  • If something is likely to seem irrelevant to students, point out why it is in fact important. And if it really isn’t important and relevant, drop it!
  • Make it clear that not all learning is about ‘finding the right answers’ from an external source. Discuss why making prior knowledge explicit is an important stage in the learning process.

What do you think?

Open teaching: sharing responsibility for the learning process

Some years ago I worked in the professional development centre of a university. One of my roles was to run a series of short workshops for new lecturing staff. One of these was focused on developing interactive lectures where learners were more actively engaged than in a traditional lecture.

It was during a later workshop that a participant said to me “I’ve started using some of the things I learned in that session and it’s changed the way I teach. And the students think it’s great.”

I was keen to know exactly what she had changed that was working so well. I thought maybe there was one simple teaching technique she had used which had made a lot of a difference, and that maybe I could pass this on to others.

But what she told me was unexpected: the key thing was that she had gone to her next lecture and talked to the students about some of the ideas raised in our session. So she and her students had discussed some ideas about effective teaching and learning and agreed to give some of the strategies a go.

I had long thought that classrooms needed to be more open and democratic, and that the rationale for choosing and using specific approaches to teaching and learning should be made more explicit. But this lecturer had gone beyond that: she didn’t just say “here’s what I plan to do and why”, she said “here are some ideas about teaching and learning, I’d like to try some of these approaches, what do you think?” And then she engaged in discussion with the learners about how they could go about it. I was more used to lecturers saying to me “that’s all very well, but it wouldn’t work with my students/in my situation/in my subject area…”

So this person’s approach seemed simultaneously quite sophisticated and quite naive:

Sophisticated, because it required a level of trust and confidence that I wasn’t used to seeing, along with a willingness to explore new ideas and approaches.

Naive, because it seemed this lecturer had not yet been ‘inducted’ into the accepted ways of working wherein the responsibility for choosing learning activities lies solely with the teacher. This accepted way of working seems to place more power in the hands of the teacher, and yet can serve to make teaching a more anxious and isolated profession.

Perhaps if there is one change that would benefit our higher education system more than others it is this: not a new technology, not a new technique, but an approach based on making teaching and learning processes more explicit and a greater degree of shared responsibility for teaching and learning processes.

Photo of Sorbonnne University courtesy of the photographic service of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Games, models and real-world complexity

Stephen Downes recently commented on a critique of the use of Powerpoint for presenting highly complex information. The original critique used the example of a model of the factors involved in the conflict in Afghanistan. Downes comments that:

The reason games change this equation is that you can actually model the relations between the entities.

I agree that games which model interacting factors can be a great way to provide an immersive experience for learning about a complex situation. However:

  • The problem is not with the diagram but with how it is used. As a tool to ‘impart information’ it is way too complex to be understood by a passive audience. But the real value of such a diagram is to the understanding of those who develop it. Indeed, developing such a diagram could be seen as an essential step in developing a game or simulation*.
  • I don’t believe most games which successfully engage players / learners are anything like as complex as the real-life situation which the diagram attempts to model. Games which don’t provide regular reinforcement for successful progress towards reaching the solution tend to lower the motivation of the learner. I suspect any game which modelled more than just a subset of the diagram would be unplayable by most learners.
  • Games tend to lend themselves to simpler situations where decisions result in immediate consequences. Note that the game described in the original article seems to have a strong tactical focus where the diagram seems more concerned with strategic factors.

* Just as developing a PowerPoint resource is often of most value to the presenter as a way of organising their own thoughts in preparing for the presentation.

Powerpoint and the brain

Recently I’ve been reading Norman Doidge’s fascinating book The Brain that Changes Itself. One of its key themes is the ability of the brain to repair itself, and to compensate for damaged areas. New to me was the idea that areas of the brain could ‘invade’ other areas which were not used – as when sensory stimulus is removed with loss of a limb, for example.

Most of the book is not challenging to someone committed to constructivist teaching and learning. But in one short section he claims that changing approaches to teaching and learning have changed our brains. Doidge states that in earlier times education included lots of drill, memorising pages and long poems off by heart. He claims that this led to certain areas of the brain being ‘strengthened through exercise’, then goes on to claim that this allowed lawmakers and debaters to speak for extended periods of time from memorised speeches.

Now that rote learning and memorisation has little place in education, Doidge claims we no longer develop the skills needed for such feats. He then makes the witty observation that ‘many of the most learned among us… prefer the omnipresent PowerPoint presentation – the ultimate compensation for a weak premotor cortex’. This is perhaps the most memorable criticism of Powerpoint I’ve come across!

While I’d hate to see return to rote learning, Doidge’s comment did get me thinking about learning approaches with a new perspective. One conclusion which scares me somewhat is that as learning designers we have a big responsibility: not only do we make decisions about how learners learn and how they spend their time, we may even be affecting the structure of their brains. This raises some interesting ethical issues, especially in relation to negotiating learning approaches with adult learners. Perhaps more open teaching is one approach to dealing with the ethical issues.


Doidge, N. The Brain that Changes Itself. Viking, New York, 2007.

Left, P. Open Teaching. Accessed 23 November 2010 from

Neurotiker. Medial view of a halved human brain, labeled in Latin. Accessed 5 December 2009 from,_medial_-_beschriftet_lat.svg