Shifting Mobility, Learning and Assessment

Mobility defines our times. From cheap flights to ever more accessible mobile phones, being mobile, being able to connect anytime anywhere is taken for granted in many parts of the world.

As mentioned in some posts back, digital mobility is not restricted to phones – iPods, iPads, gaming devices are all mobile technology as well.  How is the implementation of such mobile devices in the classroom changing the playing field of education and how is education lagging behind with the consequences?

As many know, the implementation of iPads in schools and higher education has been taking the world of education by storm. This does not mean that iPads in classrooms have become as ubiquitous as blackboards or even IWB, merely that increasingly, where possible, educational institutions are turning towards iPads as the panacea for educational woes and hope that iPads will solve the many problems in education today.

Despite currently teaching  with iPads, I don’t perceive iPads as a global panacea for education. iPads are devices which allow users to access tools and to engage in digital literacies. Undoutedly, iPads offer a wide range of potential uses in classrooms, from digital books which are easy and promote learning autonomy to creative activities such as learners creating their own podcasts, visual displays with popplet and digital stories, among many others.  Yet, before teaching with iPads, my students were already carrying out such tasks, just like many other learners around the world.

The main difference I see so far, is the emphasis on mobility, choice, autonomy and personalization. Students carry their iPads because it’s cool (and one should never underestimate the cool factor); working on iPads becomes cooler than on a laptop, even though laptops still offer users an ease of use which sometimes the iPad doesn’t – for instance, embedding work done on an iPad is not always simple; if you create a story with Puppet Pals, for instance, you have to email yourself before including it in your blog. Other tools are also not immediately simple to manage on the iPad, such as Glogster, which my learners have found easier to use on a desktop or laptop. For me right now, these are technical issues which are easily solved.

This does not mean  that using iPads is misleading nor out of place in education. Mobility implies being able to be connected to the living Web, being able to communicate, create, collaborate and hopefully, when making choices, being critical in one’s evaluation.

In my view, there are however, two sticky thorns which need to be addressed and not only by educators.

One is the issue of learner autonomy – a constant issue in education (not only in the “digital” age) and assessment.

On the one hand, not all learners are willing to take responsibility for their learning nor academic progress. This may be due to cultural traditions and hence, learners’ expectations in the classroom. As such, bridges to learner autonomy need to be built so that instead of giving up or using the iPad merely to play non-educational games, learners do in fact see how the iPad is much more than a cool accessory or gaming board. With the wealth of apps, iBooks and online activities to engage students, this issue is more a question of time, of adaptation than a long term stumbling block.

In terms of activities, I would take note regarding using the iPad as one uses other more traditional devices with programs such as Office – the iPad is much more than a typing and reading device. The degree of interactivity which the iPad offers is as relevant as it being such a convenient mobile device.

If the emphasis today is even greater for learners to be autonomous in their learning, if the focus on creativity, connectivity, collaboration and mobility are seriously implemented in education, my question is: how can traditional assessment reflect what students are learning? How can multiple choice ever determine a learner’s digital literacy and creative success? If there is an ever increasing emphasis on personalization in education, how can traditional methods of evaluation have meaning in this context of learning? Concepts of time, place and teaching approaches change, but in formal education (i.e. at educational institutions) there is still traditional assessment. Shades of change in classrooms, with safe, tried and tested, traditional methods to measure their activity and knowledge accumulation.

In some ways the use of iPads in classrooms brings to mind some of the same issues as OER and MOOCs, namely the issue of assessment.

This chart below provokes further questions regarding traditional assessment in an age of mobility and openness:

(taken from: Connectivism)

Moving away from more traditional approaches to teaching and into a more open field of personalized learning, networks, diverse means to deliver content, a strong emphasis on creativity and innovation, is a basically a frightening experience for many educators and learners at times. There is a shift in classroom power, a shift in responsibility, and there should be a shift in how assessment is carried out. However, this is complex. Not all educators are creative. Not all educators think critically. And not all educators are innovative. Relying on traditional methods of assessment echoes stability and comfort – even if these echoes are not effective nor reflect what is really taking place in digitally engaged classrooms.

I don’t hold a golden key nor crystal ball with clear answers to this. I do know, however, that by learning with multimedia/multimode literacies, making use of formal and informal learning, taking advantage of all the positive features that mobile learning brings with it, the thorny issue of assessment will need to become more in tune with the pedagogical changes in classroom practices.


Adventures in Mobility


Exploring the Pedagogical Applications of Mobile Technologies for Teaching Literacies

On the Brink with Mobile

The iPad – What it Should and Shouldn’t Be for Education


A Journey of Stories and Roles

 Leave by Raluca Deca 

When plotting stories, one needs to find a point to begin, then, one must entwine the threads which will lead onto the following scenes and actions. Perhaps there will be characters. Perhaps they will have names. One thing is certain: it will not take place in a void.

In order to prepare my students for their digital story task, I too needed to plot and reflect on the journey. This post is an attempt to describe the steps which will lead to a multi-media story written and produced by my learners.

Opening the Door

In language classes, learners are accustomed to the traditional approach of teachers asking them questions and then moving on to the next task. Whether brainstorming in a group or a reading or listening activity, it is always the teacher who has the power to ask questions. My first step was to reverse this role.

The currant topic discussed in lessons has been on education. Having worked through the various types of learners and each of my students understanding better what their main learning style/preference was, it came to light that the majority of students had a preference for visual learning. Consequently, in the next lesson I divided the class in half. One half of the class had to prepare questions on the image they were about to see, while the other half of the class were to prepare answers about the image.

My choice of image was not random – my students are 19 years old, mostly single and many watch romantic movies. They also live in a mountainous region, where tales of genies  are shared and believed.

Magic is not remote. Magic and metaphors live round the bend of the mountain.

Some may think that giving answers is the key to power in the classroom, however it is the one who asks, the one who questions, who has the power. This power is also quite perverse and relative – both the teacher and students know who has the answer. By giving this power to the students, I as a teacher did not abdicate; I shifted the traditional power balance. Students had to study the image and formulate their own questions. The other students had to predict what kind of questions could be asked, what kind of responses they could give about the image. The only framework I gave them was that they had to observe the image and read the story in the image, thus giving students a broad scope for whatever story they read from it.

This first stage involved only a projected image and oral work. Students were highly engaged and with the slight element of competition (i.e. which group would have the better questions or answers?), listening attentively to each other. My role was different. I stood in the shadows, listening, observing, making no intervention until the end, when I congratulated them on their work – for while they were asking and answering, they would sometimes even correct themselves (e.g. a verb tense or SVA), something that they wouldn’t do so eagerly in other circumstances.

Knowledge, Culture and Roles

Stenhouse (1991) claims that the school is basically a distributor of knowledge rather than a manufacturer (1991:10). This raises two issues – firstly that the knowledge found in schools is moulded in the activities of maintaining that knowledge rather than generating new forms of knowledge. Secondly, as Stenhouse also points out, disciplines of knowledge “have a social existence” and:

are located in groups of scholars, typically in our society working in universities, extending their disciplines by research and teaching them to students.

(Stenhouse 1991:11)

 Knowledge – or what is accepted as useful knowledge by a certain community – is thus maintained in educational institutions. We may perceive by this that this maintenance of knowledge is a powerful form of social control, and in effect, a maintenance of reality.

What if that maintenance of knowledge is reversed? What if the classroom culture is altered?

It is my belief that knowledge and culture cannot be regarded as a fixed, immobile reality. It is dynamic in the sense that it is a phenomenon which is alive and changing. But although change occurs, that does not imply that a culture is altered: any culture will hold elements of changing factors which will in turn be perceived as recurring patterns to the members of the group, thus keeping the group together. There is a common understanding, whether in language classrooms or others. There may be reversals and moments with altering realities (e.g. who is asking the question) but members of that particular culture share an understanding that it is momentary.  And if not, if there indeed is a deeper change, what are the consequences?

In education, there is an inferred recognition of the classroom culture by both teachers and learners. This understanding is accomplished by the acknowledgement of roles: roles are the means of cultural recognition in a classroom. Yet roles are neither static nor permanent. Each member of the classroom will play out different roles throughout a lesson. The recurrent roles will become the pattern of cultural recognition. The issue which now follows is – what is in a role?

Sarbin tells us that:

A role is patterned sequence of learned action or deeds performed by a person in an interaction situation. The organizing of the individual action is a product of the perceptual and cognitive behaviour of person A upon observing person B.

(Sarbin, in Cicourel 1972:25)

Cortis (1977) claims that:

The role of teacher and pupil are accorded different statuses both by tradition and by the age and developmental differences between the two parties.

(Cortis 1977:19)

In contrast, Gremmo, Holec and Rilec perceive a role as ” more dynamic and consequently more fleeting than status. It operates over a narrower set of relations and is dependent on norms set and accepted by the participants themselves.” (Gremmo, Holec,Rilec 1985:37)

How then, are roles established in the classroom society? Breen states that the culture of the classroom “insists upon asymmetrical relationships”:

The rights and duties of the teacher and taught are different. More significantly both teacher and taught may be equally reluctant to upset the asymmetry of roles and identities to which these duties and rights are assigned. (Breen 1986:146)

Postman and Weingartner have discerned how when the teacher assumes new functions and exhibits different behaviours, so do his students. It is the nature of their transactions. (Postman & Weingartner 1975:47)

They also explain that:

Ecology has to do with the relationships of all the elements of an environment and how these relationships lead to balance and survival (…) In the learning environment there are at least four critical elements: the learner, the teacher, the ‘to-be-learned’ and the strategies for learning.

(Postman & Weingartner 1975:58)

Culture and the roles within culture are not static identities. They are alive, dynamic and as such, subject to alteration. In the classroom, we find a scenario where these elements are constantly altering – both throughout a lesson. Breen comments:

Learners give a teacher the right to adopt a role and identity of teacher. And a teacher has to earn particular rights and duties in the eyes of the learning group. (…) each new class-room group reinvents the rules of the game in ways which both reflect and form the classroom-culture assumption (…)

(Breen 1986:146-147)

Roles imply games and games imply power. Just like the playing pieces of the chess game, teachers and students too have pre-determined roles to fulfill. These roles will be shaped by an implicit or explicit power relationship. This power relationship between teachers and students is one in which power struggle, which will reflect in discourse practices. By giving the students the power of questioning, I intentionally reversed roles.

Esland (1981) remarks that “Pedagogy also contains a manipulative dimension in that it suggests strategies for minimizing the resistance between the teacher’s world view and that of the pupil.” (Esland 1981:84)

And so the scene was set for minimizing resistance. Minimizing conceptions of authority, roles and expectations. My intention is for my students to create a digital story. A learner centred task, in small groups, in different stages. My role is to provide a framework for them to achieve their task.

In a flatter world, an inter-connected world where learners may become the producers of their knowledge, classroom roles will be different. I may hold the knowledge to syntax and other features of language; I may also hold the knowledge of ICT tools for a fleeing moment until my students master them faster and even better than I do.

Perceptions of knowledge, culture and roles are undergoing shifts of perception. Shifts in understanding. Knowing is never static.


Breen,M.P. –1986, “The Social Context for Language Learning – a                                          Neglected Situation?”. In SSLA 7, pg.  135 -158

Circourel, A.V. – 1972, ‘Basic and Normative rules in the Negotiation  3.Status and Role”, in Recent Sociology no2, ed. Dreitzel H.P., Collier Macmillan

Cortis, G. – 1977, The Social Context of teaching, Open Books

Esland,  G. – 1981, “Teaching and Learning as the organization of knowledge’, in Knowledge and control, ed. Young M.F., Collier Macmillan

Gremmo, M-J.,H.Holec, P.Riley,   – 1985, Interactional Structure; the Role of Role”, in Discourse and Learning, ed. Riley, P., Longman

Postman, N. & C Weingartner – 1975,  Teaching as a Subversive Activity, Penguin Education.

Stenhouse, L.  – 1991, An Introduction to Curriculum Research and Development, Heineman

Further suggestions:

Digital Storytelling 

Digital Storytelling Collection

Global Digital Citizen – The Role of the Teacher

A Stream of Voices

One of the characteristics of Web2.0 has been  the possibility for individuals to participate actively in the dissemination of knowledge  and in the process,  become part of the collective knowledge which so often is shared in social networks.

My ventures into social networking probably are similar to many others: in order to keep professionally up-to-date, I was part of mailing lists, subscribed to associations which interested me, and book-marked sites to re-visit. Today my practices have changed and my social/professional digital networking is an integral part of my daily routines.

When becoming a more active participant on Twitter, for instance, I knew that I wanted to use Twitter as a learning tool and therefore began following educators who I had learnt from previously, for example, through their blogs or other publications. Slowly my network grew, I have met other educators and participants from different fields which I am interested in, and today I am grateful for all the selected up-dates and information that is shared by my PLN. If initially I step-toed with a strategy and wish to learn, today I realize that being a participant in a social network such as Twitter (for example) is much richer than only the exchange of information.

These digital networks have different characteristics: on the one hand, information and connections are made without direct economic interests. On the other hand, there is the need to maintain a professional reputation and with that, there is certainly a certain dimension of egocentricity. Having said that, one should regard that last aspect as part of human nature. For instance, in many F-2-F meetings participants will speak up not because they have anything worthy or of interest to add to the discussion at hand, but to be recognised by their peers as someone whose voice should be heard.

Despite the differences between communities and networks (see Nicky Hockly’s clear explanation here), these spaces of interaction have become active learning environments. Whether the exchange of information/data may be transformed into knowledge for the participant, is another issue, but one that occurs equally in more traditional learning environments. With the rise of social media, one is given more choices as well. One may log on to find out what is going on in one’s world, one becomes an evaluator (i.e. is the information true? is it relevant?) and one has the power to express one’s voice.

My focus up to now has been digital networks. Obviously there are others – family, friends, colleagues and those who one interacts on a daily basis. There are formal and informal networks; often it is over an informal cup of coffee that peers in an organization exchange information (the waterhole phenomenon) and that too has its role in the flow of information in an organization. One of the issues raised for this blog entry, was the role of knowledge, networks and organizations, which I will now turn my focus to.

As an educator who works for institutions, there is no doubt that any materials I create for assessment or teaching purposes will belong to the institution. That has always been my attitude. If I am part of an examination committee, for instance, I consider it professionally unethical to use the same exams in another institution. The same applies to didactic materials,  with the emphasis that I regard each class of learners as an individual culture with its own needs and interests, therefore, transferring didactic materials to another educational institution does not make sense to me. However, when it comes to knowing and knowledge, the issue is quite different.

I have always covered my own personal expenses for professional training. As a blogger, as a participant in social networks, and as a curator, those products and activities  are mine and do not belong to the institution. Should wish to share (and I always have), that is different. In other words, organizations do not hold possession of one’s professional development nor knowledge. Should I wish to share what I create, publish what I write, have my ideas developed even by other teams if I cannot myself carry them out, then that is my decision and responsibility – not the organization where I work, as long as the ideas are mine and do not belong to the institution.

There are boundaries in networks. I may have my immediate professional network of colleagues and peers as one circle and at the same time, participate as an active member in other networks and online communities without harming or disrespecting any of the other circles I may interact with. In the end, knowledge may flow in streams of networks, but will always belong to the individual and not a particular organization unless he/she has a research contract that specifies otherwise.

On a lighter note, I created some visual representations of my Twitter activity, which I will share here:

Networks, communities and knowledge. A stream of voices, a cacophony of giving, receiving and perhaps even creating.

Participating is part of one’s digital identity.


Knowledge, Learning and Community: Elements of Effective Learning

View more PowerPoint from Stephen Downes
How do you navigate the streams of social networks?



Green Eggs & Facebook: 15 Social Media Tips from Dr.  Seuss – Pam Moore

Knowledge, Learning and CommunityStephen Downes

N is for Nicky – Interview with Nicky Hockly on Communities, Networks, Infusion and more

The Myth of the Online Community – Mark W.Johnson

Who connects with whom? – Shen, C. and P.Monge

It’s Not About the Tech

You may hold an exquisite  musical instrument in your hands and  make no melodic music. You may even know how to read a musical score, but without passion and flair, all that will ring out is a mechanical, soulless sound.

The same holds true for learning. If learning is only a mechanical  regurgitation to be immediately forgotten after an assessment, what hope of inspiring learners to become life-long learners – a concept  is so easily repeated,  but so rarely questioned. If my generation has already witnessed and experienced a change in the career pattern of holding a job for life, of obtaining tenure, of rising up the corporate or institutional ladder, today’s generations will have to face many other uncharted changes in their professional lives.

What are educators doing about this?

How can educators enrich learning while encouraging an open attitude to life-long-learning?

Perhaps some may reply that educators should “teach” , “educate”,  but as most teachers themselves know, defining education is no simple task. Articulating the meaning of education is challenging; so much depends on context and one’s own personal learning experience.

Nevertheless, there is once certainty I have. Education is a lot more than knowledge transfer. In this sense, regardless of social/educational context , regardless of one’s learning experience, education today requires  the following elements:

As I have mentioned before, these are elements which are not only pertinent today. They have always been relevant to me both as a learner and an educator. What has changed is the degree and urgency to involve participants in education (administrators, principles, teachers, students, and yes, parents too) in the new education setting – one which is accompanied by technology and all the open options that digital literacies offer.

Yet technology is not the aspirational answer for all the ills in education. Simply by asking learners to use technology in class, whether that be digital games or educational tools and platforms, will not in itself, improve learning. ICT is a means – not an outcome. Having computer labs where students do mindless repetitive  drills on a desktop is no different to watching mindless television.

Involving learners in their learning process, fostering critical thinking, analytical analysis, as opposed to passive reception of content, is the key. Guiding learners how to successfully  participate as digital citizens, facilitating best practices of ICT for discovery and collaboration with others, being able to be open-minded in regard to other cultures and social values, accepting that differentiation among human beings is the norm rather than the exception – all these aspects are more easily possible  – and interesting – to carry out with the use of technology.

These arguments are in no way exhaustive, merely some issues which are often on my mind as I reflect on my own use of tech in classrooms.   It’s not about the tech – an easy cliche, but one that does raise questions too. As George Couros reminds readers:

” (…) Based on the definitions I have read, and the way I see technology (in many cases) being used, it has the power to be so much more than a tool.  If technology transforms the way we do things, is it “just a tool”?” (Technology is More than a Tool).

Tech. Transformation.  Education.  A seamless solution for today’s learning?


A shift in perspective.

A shift in paradigms.

A shift in the mirror.

What paradigm shifts do you see in the field of learning?

Further reading and references:

Building Learning Communities 2011 – Keynote –  Eric Mazur

Technology is More than a Tool – George Couros

We don’t need no education – The Role of the Teacher in Today’s Online EducationStephen Downes