Friday, 20 June 2014

Professional Inquiry - update

[For 2014 I have decided to share aspects of my professional inquiry through my blog. I believe that inquiries into our practise are essential for all educators and I would like to encourage every teacher to regularly inquire into their practise. I value your feedback and / or questions.]

Back in March I had decided that this year I would inquire into how I can build capacity for teachers learning in a blended way. This came from the observation that up here in Northland where many schools are small and geographically isolated, teachers feel they cannot access the same quantity and maybe also quality of PD as teachers in the big cities can (I am just stating what teachers are expressing, I am not making any judgement if this is the case or not).
It is a fact that there don't seem to be many f2f workshops and courses in our area. Travelling out of the area is an option, though a course in Auckland for example will incur quite a cost to schools, travel, accommodation all on top of relief. Since I started working as facilitator, I have actively involved myself in various forms of online learning so that I can be as knowledgeable as possible when supporting my schools. I thoroughly enjoy f2f opportunities, though with a family to look after going away can be a challenge, too. Not only do I believe that online opportunities are a great addition to f2f ones, I believe that this will become more and more important in the future, and the government support for N4L unlimited internet and Pond certainly indicate that they see this as an important part of teacher PLD in the future.

What do I regard as positive about online learning?
We often hear about huge drop out rates for MOOC students (and yes, I did NOT complete my Gamification MOOC from earlier in the year), but Johnathon Haber from The Huffington Post crunched numbers and came to a different conclusion in this article. The fact is that online we can access many more topics than we could if we relied on f2f.
There have been distance education opportunities for many years, for example our own NZ Te Aho o Te Kura Pounamu, formerly The Correspondence School, has been in operation since 1922. Our modern online learning looks very different though from the printed books in the mail from days gone by, Digital Technologies allow almost immediate access to resources and activities, they also allow completion of work and proof of learning in new and creative ways.
The biggest potential in online learning in my opinion is the opportunity to collaborate. Sugata Mitra is probably one of the best known proponents of students learning with and from each other (and with the help of the internet). Online tools give us the opportunity to create, collaborate, to share, we can discuss issues synchronous and asynchronous, from anywhere around the world. The exchange and cross-pollination of ideas, the co-construction of solutions to problems that concern many of us all over the world and the power of knowing you are not alone in this can be incredibly powerful tools in the kete of every teacher.

As for my professional inquiry, I am actively seeking to involve other educators in various forms of online learning and connecting by sharing links, resources, inviting them into discussions, webinars, arranging online meetings with them etc. I have (with varying success) monitored my efforts and so far have found two main (and not completely surprising) contributors to success:
  • relevance of the topic
  • familiarity with the online tool
I have placed them in this order on purpose: I believe that when a topic is sufficiently relevant, people will be more inclined to get over the obstacle of an unfamiliar tool (but maybe you disagree?). However, no matter how well they know a tool, they are not going to engage if they are not interested in the topic.

What does this mean for me in my practise?
My role is not one of  'teaching use of a tool' simply for the sake of the tool. However, when this tool serves a purpose, such as access to a webinar or sim., I believe it can be a very good use of my time to walk others through the use of that tool. Hence for the second half of the year I will put even more emphasis on actively promoting the use of tools like Skype, Google Hangout, Blackboard Collaborate, VLN, Google+, Twitter etc. in my schools. This is almost 'the easy part'.
The more challenging part is to ensure I am more aware of possibly relevant topics that I can connect my schools and teachers with. I already spend many waking hours in educational online spaces, but I want to make sure I am very aware of teacher interests and needs, scour these spaces thoroughly and share anything that might be relevant to these teachers - without completely overloading them.

What advice can you give me to ensure I am supporting teachers effectively?

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Recurring themes for schools involved with e-learning

Being involved in education hands-on is a very busy place to be! It is just amazing how quickly time flies. In my current role a lot of my learning has to happen 'just in time' - our PLD programme does not have set sessions that we prepare for and deliver, being always mindful of future focussed learning theories we are building the programmes around our learners' needs. This does not mean though that there isn't a certain amount of overlap between different schools. I would like to share some of the themes I seem to come across regularly:
  • Stock Take: Where are we at? What is our current location in regards to the initiative (in my case usually e-learning)?
  • Vision: Before starting on any new initiative, developing a vision is incredible important. Why are we doing this? Where are we heading? How will we know that we have gotten there? Who helps build that vision (ideally representation from all stakeholders)? Does everyone know and share the vision? It is really important to remember that there is a difference between the vision and the results of the vision, e.g. see Simon Sinek's TED Talk on the Golden Circle.
  • How will we put that vision into reality? Just like when we go on a physical journey, there are different routes we can take, influenced by where we are starting as well as the 'road conditions', the 'sight seeing' we want to do on the way - and sometimes we change our mind about our destination.
  • What we are actually doing will come out of the above, it is what effective teachers do in their class everyday. It includes any devices and programmes, the 'when is it the right time to use a device, and when do we put it away'.
Many, but not all schools are aware of 21C learning and the Future Focus Themes of Personalising Learning, Rethinking Learners' and Teachers' Roles, New Views of Equity and Diversity, New Kinds of Partnerships and Relationships, A Culture of Continuous Learning  for Teachers and Educational Leaders and A curriculum that uses knowledge to develop learning capacity. If you are interested in finding out more about this, you can find a summary in the Curriculum Update 26 and the full report here. If we want to cater for our learners and prepare them for their future, we cannot ignore such important research. How to fully integrate 21C learning and teaching into practise in all schools is the great challenge for all of us in education.

Often the adults I work with are concerned about their own confidence and competence in using devices, as well as how to incorporate these in their classes effectively. It is very interesting how students are a lot less worried about devices, they are 'just doing it' - not always completely effectively, but they are certainly not hindered by a 'fear of devices' unlike some of us adults. Claire Amos wrote a very interesting blogpost this week as part of their #hackyrclass initiative about Handing the Power over to the Learners. Claire identifies that true engagement is hindered by the teachers' need to maintain power and control in the classroom.

Out of the varied approaches schools are taking, some recurring themes have become apparent:

  • Use of technology to collaborate, share and create, within a group of learners (classroom / syndicate), across schools / clusters of schools and beyond. Many schools are using their websites and GAFE for this. 
  • Personalising learning with providing multiple means of engagement, action and expression, and representation (the 3 themes of Universal Design for Learning)
  • Integrating increasing number of devices into learning programmes effectively.

If you find that you or your school are in a similar position as these schools, how do you go forward?

  • Stocktake: You will find great resources around the e-Learning Planning Framework, a self-assessment tool for schools around e-capabilities here.
  • Vision: I strongly recommend you endeavour to involve representatives of all stakeholders into the school visioning process.You can find some interesting links and video to support your work around creating a vision here
  • Putting the vision into action: Both Enabling e-Learning and the Virtual Learning Network have an amazing array of ideas and resources that can help you put your vision into action. You can also find great support on Google Plus and on Twitter.
If you have any questions that you think I an help you with, please feel free to comment or contact me via email, twitter or Google+!