Learning Success

To know what rain feels like, one has to actually go out, let the water drops touch one’s skin. That is water. That is rain.

You have to not only see, but experience it.

So what has rain got to do with learning?

In order to learn anything, one needs to be involved in their learning process. One needs to experience learning – that process in which one is actively engaged in finding out about something new, in experimenting, perhaps even in failing and trying to succeed again.

Until one does.

As a learner myself and an educator, I find it increasingly frustrating to keep distinguishing between F2F and online learning. Yes, there are differences as there are differences in every context, but there are equally many similarities.

Learner autonomy and the need to be proactive in one’s learning, is the same.

These characteristics may not come naturally to students who have little or no experience of being autonomous, independent, responsible learners, but with time and practise, they too can succeed.

However, today it has been mostly how learners can become successful when studying online that has taken up my mind.

What other tips to become a successful online learner would you include?

Images from Pexels

Embracing the Chaos of iPadology – Part 3

I sought bridges and found none.

I sought coherence and was left with chaos. At times, there is no choice but to embrace chaos, to accept the dynamics and life within a sphere of chaotic movement. I regarded fractuals and their apparent order, quietly acknowledging how fractual my  practices in the classroom had become. Is this where teaching practices were heading towards? A fractual of lessons  where chaos reigned?

Murphy (2011) refers to Katherine Hayles, when reflecting on elements of chaos in an instructional designer‘s practices:

Chaos theory . . . can be generally understood as the study of complex systems, in which nonlinear problems . . . are considered in their own right, rather than as inconvenient deviations from linearity. Within chaos theory, two general emphases exist. In the first, chaos is seen as order’s precursor and partner, rather than as its opposite. The focus here is on the spontaneous emergence of self-organization from chaos. . . .

The second branch emphasizes the hidden order that exists within chaotic systems. Chaos in this usage is distinct from true randomness, because it can be shown to contain deeply encoded structures called “strange attractors.” Whereas truly random systems show no discernible pattern when they are mapped into phase space, chaotic systems contract to a confined region and trace complex patterns within it. The discovery that chaos possesses deep structures of order is all the more remarkable because of the wide range of systems that demonstrate this behavior. . . . The strange-attractor branch differs from the order-out-of-chaos paradigm in its attention to systems that remain chaotic. For them the focus is on the orderly descent into chaos rather than on the organized structures that emerge from chaos.” (Hayles, 1990, pp. 9–10)

While I was quite comfortable with the varying rhythms of students working on their laptops, the introduction of iPads in my practices forced me to look into chaos and the organised structures which may emerge. I began by considering what could be done with an iPad:

The iPad is much more than a mere toy which gave access to digital games; it is also much more than only a device to create engaging presentations; it gives learners practice and develops skills which they will need in their lives beyond the school’s gate. The argument against this is,  whether adopting iPads is really necessary as there already is a wealth of digital tools online which provide free practice for the above skills. However, that was a thought, a reflection; the refute, being how data access has become mobile and that this has affected education as well. Nevertheless,  my main concern was how to find a balance between my teaching beliefs and practices and iPads in the classroom.

The moment came when I tried a different approach.

As usual, I wrote up the date and day of week on the upper hand corner of the whiteboard. As students came into the classroom, there was the regular  pre-lesson interaction, greetings and questions. Then, instead of having the whole class focus on the same task at the same time, I explained that they were to complete the tasks on the board within the time of their lesson. I quickly wrote up the tasks which needed to be done, from tasks in their course iBook to the use of apps to complete project work.

Silence. Stares. Silence.

 Then a wave of energy ensued. And chaos reigned.

If I was reluctant to have students enclosed in their individual bubble, working quietly, individually with their iPad, I was wrong.

As I went around the classroom, observing them, students were working together, solving exercises, collaborating with each other. Some worked alone then checked with a partner. Others decided to go straight for their project work and compared their work with those students who were also focusing on that task, comparing what they had achieved with their choice of Apps. (I had given a range of Apps for them to choose from).

The energy was catchy and my teacher trainee was equally surprised at how autonomous they had become. Yes, there was a certain degree of noise as students called out for each other. Yes, I was kept busy as individual students had different questions. The 2 hour lesson went by in a flash; all tasks had been accomplished. At the end of the lesson, I exchanged views with my trainee; after all, her opinions as an observer and a speaker of L1, were relevant. What I found out surprised me – students had been focused on their tasks throughout the entire lesson. What appeared to me as chaos, was in fact students talking about task problems and how best to solve them. Instead of being distracted with  games and private texting, they spent the whole lesson focused and being productive.

There had been no isolation. Collaboration ruled within the apparent chaos.

From apparent fractuals and chaos, I had found the bridge I so needed. Perhaps this lesson had been characteristic of a certain group of learners, at a certain point in time. They certainly had had experience with using their interactive iBook; they already had had experience using a range of Apps for carrying out assignments. What I had not expected was their autonomy in achieving all tasks. I, in turn, was able to assist more individually, giving specific support and clarification to each individual. The iPad, with its ease of mobility in the classroom, allowed everyone to work at their own pace and easily collaborate with whom they wanted to – not only with the person sitting next to them.

Ideally, I wish that all my lessons had the flow and energy that this particular one had. But that would be like wishing for a perfect world, not taking into account students’ moods, concerns, and other features which influence a lesson. My quest remains: at every step I wish to use the iPad as a 1:1 teaching device, I want my students to collaborate, solve problems, create, and above all, learn.

iPads still frustrate me with their lack of Flash and Java; iPads are certainly not for word-processing but offer users the possibility to blog and write and even print from them.

iPadology? A welcoming world of streamlined fractuals and chaos, from where new practices of learning arise.

References:

Bloom’s Taxonomy Re-imagine & Digital Blooms: different ways to approach learning

Gleeson, M., 2012, The iPad, What it should and shouldn’t be for Education

Holland, B., 2012, What Students Can Actually DO with an iPad (Edudemic)

Kulowiec, G., 2012, iPads are like Hammers (Edudemic)

Murphy, D., 2011, Chaos Rules, Revisited in IRRODL, Vol 12, No 7 (2011)

The Discontent of our Connectivity

1x.photo33064There is no doubt that connectivity has opened up learning possibilities and approaches which were not viable before. Skills such as collaboration and networking online have become more urgent and unquestioning relevant for both institutions and individuals. I often disagree with notions that creativity and critical thinking are essential ingredients of today’s education, for they have always been necessary. Nevertheless, with the role of digital literacies firmly in place, shifts of classroom practice and assessment are required.

Digital literacies is an umbrella term which includes different kinds of literacy, ranging from digital citizenship to digital media fluency. Some may even include  lCT literacy, while others claim that learners today also need to have improved computer knowledge and not only know how to use them.

At times I sense that there is a certain degree of unease when discussing digital literacies in education: Where are they visible in the curriculum? Aren’t teachers supposed to teach their subject matter and not dabble in visual representations, games, social media and other digital tools which are free online? And if teachers are wasting time with these activities, will there be sufficient focus  on the official syllabus for students to achieve in their  assessments?

55476-time-travelAssessment.

Evaluation.

Tests.

Exams.

Measuring days behind the desk in tea spoons.

Popping bubbles in charts to please the statistics of a nation.

Within the analogue classroom, my approach would easily be labelled as blended. However, what of my assessment approach? As an individual working within an institution, I have no right to disrupt what my department lays down as the framework for assessment. As an individual, I may reflect and consider what best may be done for my learners and how they are practicing learning in my classrooms. As an individual I have the right to think and express myself, but not necessarily go against the directives of my workplace. Nonetheless, educators often have leeway in terms of assessment – for as long as I can remember, I have always had the space and numbers to award learners a mark which was based on qualitative features, rather than measured “rights” and “wrongs”.

So, where is the discontent?

In the classroom. 1x.comphotos52084-21735

In the halls of educational institutions.

On the playground.

At home, where learners plug into their connected world and plug out of their learning environment.

This raises several questions:

1 – Learning Environment

Today the learning environment is not self-contained in one particular space. Students can log into their LMS to be updated, check emails, join chats  in synchronous time. Learning is neither solitary nor confined to space and time.

2 – Classroom Practice Versus Assessment

In classrooms where the focus is on learner autonomy, individualization and digital practices, how can assessment continue be practiced in its traditional format of multiple choice boxes and bubble sheets? Where is the connection between the work done on creating a Popplet, a glog or a blog post and then labelling a learner with a quantitative evaluation approach? Is there any link between the emphasis on type of activities carried out in the classroom and the tests that students then must take?

3 – Assessment,  Learning Culture and Discomfort

Self-evaluation, as described by Rolheiser and Ross (Student Self-Evaluation) plays an important role in education, however, in my view, educators need to first take the learning culture into consideration, namely the issue of responsibility and learner autonomy. These features need to be in place before institutions move ahead to a more open and transparent form of assessment. A case in point is my current teaching context.

My students arrive at tertiary education from a primarily rote-education background. They are accustomed to a strong group mentality and culture; for instance, if a student has a complaint, that student will not complain alone but with the whole group together. In the classroom, as in many places around the world, students are more comfortable working in small groups rather than on their own. Although there is place for both pair and group work, there are times when work needs to be done individually. This is a learning bridge to be crossed.

Additionally, this current academic year my students are using iPads as their main learning tools. They have books (which they do not bring to class); they also have an iBook to follow. Their iBook is quite interactive, with activities that do demand a range of digital literacies – from being able to use a range of apps to different individual tasks. It is ignoring the fact that students are now in possession of a tool which transforms their autonomy, which becomes a discontent in connectivity. The learner has both the content and means to create further content. The focus is highly individualized, with each learner moving from the different tasks at their convenience and pace.

I have noticed how the most successful lessons are those where chaos reigns. There are set tasks for students to accomplish; they do them in their own pace. With this apparent chaos, as I am called by X or Y , while looking over the shoulder of Z, I confirm that each of them are in fact carrying out their tasks. Individually, they will use tools which they prefer for a presentation or digital story. They will collaborate with one another, helping a peer to use an app or adjust an image.

Day by day their learning culture changes. Chaos will rule and within the apparent chaos on the surface, learning is happening underneath – learning how to be autonomous, learning how to create digitally, learning how to become more effective digital learners and citizens.

It is only when these practices have been ingrained and learned, that self-evaluation will actually take on a more meaningful role. Not that these learners are unable to evaluate themselves; yet one needs to respect how they are already juggling some steps of autonomy and the teacher’s different role in their classroom. Should the teacher’s assessment fade away completely, learners would feel cheated and uncomfortable with such a consequence. As with all learning, it needs to be practiced and implemented in achievable steps so that all parties involved perceive it’s utility.

self_eval1Despite giving learners guidance and the chart on the left is an example,  one needs to remember that not all  cultures regard responsibility and autonomy in the same light. There are critical differences, linked to the broader cultural environment. Self-evaluation may become part of my students’ assessment today, but only up to a point.

Connectivity. Discontent. Realities which go hand in hand with today’s digitalized classrooms.

Assessment is part of education.

However, passivity in the face of change will not silence the discontent.

References

Rolheiser, C and J.A.Ross – Student Self-Evaluation: What Research Says and What Practice Shows

Silva, E. – Measuring Skills for 21st Century Learning