May 26, 2016

Learning at a Distance (or up close!): thoughts inspired by #REFAD2016

I am in Ottawa at the annual conference on distance education offered by REFAD. One of the opening comments was that distance education is just one of the tools we have to reach our learners and to help frame their learning. I like that the conference started off in this vein. It flows well with my own beliefs in tools – that they are just tools in service of our real work: student learning.

The task then is how best to design learning situations that take place at a distance (or up close!) to reach the needs of our learners in ways that make sense.

The answer seems to lie in relationship and intention.

These are the same themes Avi and I explored with online tutors in adult education a few weeks ago.

CORAL (Complementary Online Resources for Adult Learners) is an online tutoring service offered to adult learners from LEARN Quebec. CORAL’s Barbara and Cheryl asked us to accompany their tutors in some professional development on tutoring at a distance.

At REFAD, presenters from CEGEP á Distance (CAD) told us their story of online tutoring. They talked about the centrality of feedback for success and for fighting dropout rates and absenteeism in distance learning.

What I found especially interesting is that their tutors are all CEGEP teachers, which is a similar situation as our CORAL tutors who are all teachers within Quebec’s English sector Adult Ed system. What the CAD is doing, is providing their tutors with explicit professional development in how to provide effective, intentional feedback as the backbone of their practice.

Roselyne Boyer from Université de Laval spoke about the biggest task in online learning being to manage the human element within all of the technology and in face of the distance. That is, in fact, her vision, as shown in this image from her presentation.

IMG_0059

It is really from this point that Avi and I framed our Professional Development with the tutors at CORAL. Our main message was that no matter where we are teaching, the student-teacher relationship frames the work.

Rather than focusing on the technology behind online learning, if we focus on student learning we can then find the tools that make the most sense for everyone within that context.

To return to what I wrote earlier – while the teacher student relationship frames the work, there is also that other human factor that is often missing from the context of the work: the social context.

P., a high school student from Ontario took both online and face to face courses at his school and he shared his experiences with us at REFAD2016. While he did well in his online courses, he preferred his face to face courses because of his friends in the room. I have a feeling that a perfect online course (if that can possibly exist…) will exist somewhere in between the online and the face to face.

So. Flexibility, differentiation, and a recognition of the human element (it is sacred) need to be key factors of learning at a distance. Not very different from learning in presence, is it?

**Featured image: Don’t waste your time or money on ROT! Wellcome Library, London, on Flickr. Shared via CC. BY. ND. NC

January 15, 2016

Shifting the shift – moving away from interesting conversations

Then…
Back in my early days of blogging…somewhere before and around 2007… there was a lot of talk about shifting priorities in education as a result of technology. Just for fun, I looked through my old blog archives and found these articles from that time:

Learning the way they’re living … where I write about the teacher’s evolving role as a connection maker, connecting students to their learning with technology.

and

Why technology in schools? And how do I lead something that is constantly changing? 😉…where I write about how technology can not be separated from the rest of life.

Also at around that time, I remember the hype around Shift Happens. They are a series of videos that were first published in 2007, based on a presentation created for a staff meeting in 2006, called Did You Know? Basically, the videos show us statistics about how and how often technology is used and the underlying message is that we are preparing learners for jobs that do not yet exist.

Now…
lbpsb_google_leadership_tweet
Recently I was at a Google Leadership Symposium where the facilitators were sending the exact same message – that we are preparing our learners for jobs that do not yet exist and that technology needs to play an integral role in that preparation.

10 years later and we are still preaching the same message with as much fervor.

So I ask myself – what has (or hasn’t happened) in the past ten years to replace the skip on the broken record?

Is it time to shift the shift?

A 2015 study by CEFRIO (a centre that facilitates organizational research and innovation around technology) came to the conclusion that Quebec teachers are, at best, in the infancy stage of technology use. Early adopters? That number is at less than 15% of teachers.
CEFRIO (2015) Usages du numérique dans les écoles québécoises (Use of technology in Quebec schools)

So. Preaching hasn’t worked. Scare tactic or shock videos like Shift Happens, haven’t worked as much as we might have liked them to. Targeted training by a network of consultants in technology hasn’t worked as much as we might have liked it to.

I remember a poster in the classroom of a colleague many years ago – it went something like

If you have explained it to me the same way a million times and I still don’t get it…who is the slow learner?

It was in response to well-meaning teachers or tutors who sometimes just re-explain things, only louder and slower, in the hopes that their charges will ‘get’ whatever it is they don’t understand.

So what do we do? Do we continue to offer technology training, only louder?

Yesterday I had a conversation with a colleague about how, too often, the important conversations about our students and the roles technology play in their learning are happening between the people who already agree with the outcomes.

My conclusion? Those are interesting conversations but they are not the important conversations.

EdCamps and Twitter chats – PD that happens on Saturdays, in the evenings, on our own time – are fabulous for inspiration and motivation because when we get together with like-minded people we become a mutual cheering society and that can be motivating in the We. Are. Awesome! kind of way. But again – the conversations are happening with those who already believe in the outcomes. They are interesting but not important in a change the culture kind of way.

Important conversations need to include many voices. Not only the ones that echo each other.

I think we have moved past the point where EdCamps need to remain voluntary and on our own time to be valid. What if we move the edcamp philosophy into our places of work? What if we allow expect educators to have conversations about what is important to them as a part of their in-service PED days? It is something we are experimenting with in Quebec’s Adult Education community.

Simple, truthful conversation where we each have a chance to speak, we each feel heard, and we each listen well. Conversation is the natural way we humans think together. We may have forgotten this, or no longer have time for each other, but it is how good thinking grows into actions that create real change.

~ quote from Margaret Wheatley

Conversations about what matters to us are necessary to the human existence. Necessary! How human to have these conversations in the places where we congregate to help people learn how to participate in society and create a better future for us all.

These conversations may be difficult ones. They may get messy. But, facilitated in a caring, open, and practical way they may likely become the important ones.

I think they will form the basis for the shift.

October 14, 2015

Why Daniel records his math lessons

Teacher voices are incredibly powerful.

They are powerful for me because they teach me how I can best support them.

They are powerful for each other because they can support each other in this extraordinarily complex and important profession that can often feel so lonely.

They are powerful for their students because it is their teacher’s voice, their teachers’ voices, that are their prime models for learning – their anchors in learning.

And this is why Daniel records his math lessons. As he explains in this video, he records himself every day so that his students can have access to his lessons when they are ready for them – at their pace. Sometimes it is during class time when he explains things live … but sometimes it isn’t and that is ok. By recording his lessons and posting them online, he can model learning to his students wherever they are in the learning process without having to do much more than press record when he starts speaking. No extra prep, no circus sideshows with apps that do or do not need wifi or login credentials or fancy devices. As he concludes in the video:

It assures the students that, you know what? If I don’t get it now, it’s ok! I don’t have to beat myself up about it right now. I can always go back later and then learn this thing.

And if this weren’t enough, it is only one of the areas where teachers voices hold power.

It was through feedback sessions with teachers that I learned of the need for videos like Daniel’s. Last spring, my colleague, Avi Spector, and I went to an adult education centre to present something that the teachers ended up absolutely hating but that particular afternoon became incredibly valuable to me (to both of us, I think). Why? Because some of the teachers let us know that they hated it (beyond just falling asleep in the back of the room) and let us know what they needed from us. They said, you know what would be valuable to us? Concrete examples of good teacher practice going on in Quebec Adult Education Centres. Some might think that flop of an afternoon PD session was a disaster but it changed the course of how I support the educators I work for. This is the power of teacher voice for me and I am hopeful that videos such as Daniel’s story above (and Julie and Michelle’s story, here) hold proof of the power of teacher voice for each other.

(If you are interested in Daniel’s approach, a good place to start to learn more about it is on this PD Mosaic tile about Blended Learning.

If you know a teacher who is doing something great in their classroom with technology or if you are doing something interesting yourself – please let me know about it so we can share even more stories. Find me @tracyrosen on Twitter)

June 4, 2015

Where does technology fit if it is no longer the goal?

Short answer? In service of relationship-based teaching & learning.

For the past little while I have been working on a follow-up video to ICT is not the Goal, that I created for the DevPro Flipped Consultant YouTube channel back in 2013. Here it is – I have been experimenting with different ways to incorporate video and animation using my limited creative toolset (PowerPoint + MovieMaker + Audacity).

Long Answer? Watch the video 🙂 or, if you prefer, read the script below the video, where you will also find links to the credits for the artwork and music in the video.

ICT is (still) not the Goal
I am not interested in how we can best integrate technology. I am interested in how we can solve problems no, scratch that – more importantly, I care about what is working well in our classrooms and how we can amplify THAT.

Amplifying what works is more important for me than solving problems because if we look for problems to solve, our world will be full of problems. But if we look for what works, if we look for our assets, then our world will be filled with what works. Isn’t that an amazing possibility?

Have you ever been in the market for something new – a new car, paint colour, diet. And all of a sudden you see these new things everywhere? It’s not that there is a sudden influx of new cars, colours, and food on the streets, it is just that your brain is noticing them because they have taken a place of prominence.

I truly believe that we find what we look for.

And so I look at the question of technology and learning through that lens and consciously ask what works? How can we create more of it? How are we getting better?

There are different models we can use to measure technology use or integration – one that many know of is called SAMR – or samr. With SAMR, we can look at how we are using technology in our classrooms and determine if we are just teaching the ‘same old, same old’ with new tools or expanding our horizons beyond what was possible before technology.

It`s interesting and does help to focus on the problem of how technology is used …
but there are two issues at play here:
By using a model like this, we are still placing our focus on the tool.
and by looking at our own integration of technology as a problem to solve , are we not surrounding ourselves with problems?

Instead of focusing on tools to solve problems, what if we just focus on what happens in a learning classroom? When I look around for what works, the stories I see and hear all have the same themes:

  • There is a caring teacher / student relationship.
  • There is a high importance placed on pedagogy.
  • The use of technology is allowed to happen naturally, more by need than by design.

The first two of these themes are really interconnected. As teachers, one way that we care about our students is by keeping the bar high on the learning in our classrooms. When I care about my students I want the very best for them and the only way that is really in my control in this area is by ensuring that I continually evolve in my knowledge of my subject-area as well as on strategies for effectively teaching (and learning!) it. More and more, these strategies turn towards accessibility through technology.

When technology use is allowed to happen naturally, it arises out of need more than by design. This one can be trickier to manage in centres where there is a dearth of technology or where it needs to be reserved ahead of time UNLESS we allow students to bring technology into the room and we arrange to share the technology a centre does have with those students who don’t have their own. This may mean that we need to explicitly foster a climate of collaboration and sharing within our classrooms as well as our centres. This may also mean that it becomes ok for a student to walk into another classroom to borrow a tablet or laptop during the school day.

What if your students and centre don’t have access to technology? That is a big reality for a number of us. Remember – ICT is not the goal. Luckily, the first two of my themes are more than just themes. I would call them conditions for learning. It is in the intersection of relationship and pedagogy that passion for learning is ignited. Technology can facilitate the communication of this passion with others, it can facilitate creative manifestations of this passion but it is not the end of the story. The conditions for learning exist beyond those tools.

So I challenge you to look for instances of what works. Actively seek out our assets as teachers and learners and amplify them by sharing them with others, reusing great ideas from others in your classroom, and demanding the tools and conditions necessary to do so from those in a position to give them to you!

Credits
Original script, video, and drawings by Tracy Rosen. RECIT Provincial Service for General Adult Education. Share, adapt, attribute – CC BY 4.0 – May 2015

Prayer Loop Song, sampled in the intro with permission from Supaman, Many thanks!
View the video here (it is stunning): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_0jq7jIa34Y

Appreciative Inquiry cartoon by Jeff Logan, 2012. Used with permission. Thanks!
See it on Jeff’s blog here: http://leadershipoffools.com/2013/04/25/train-your-weakness-race-your-strength/

Excerpt from Nova Career Centre’s video Resource Centre – supporting our students
Used with permission – thank you! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8kX0cfPt51Q

Excerpt from BYOD Success Story – No Internet? No problem! By Avi Spector & Hilda Smolash. Used with permission, thank you! https://youtu.be/XrXMS9ak-hg

Image of hammer, created with HaikuDeck. https://www.haikudeck.com/

Unconnected by Chapendra on Flickr, shared with a CC BY-NC 2.0 License
https://www.flickr.com/photos/chaparral/1198896696/sizes/o/

14th Chinup by Ian on Flickr, shared with a CC BY-SA 2.0 License
https://www.flickr.com/photos/peanutian/2243427968/sizes/l

Quotes on pedagogy from: Smith, M. K. (2012). ‘What is pedagogy?’, the encyclopaedia of informal education. [http://infed.org/mobi/what-is-pedagogy/. Retrieved: May 17, 2015].

Additional images from Pixabay, http://pixabay.com/ shared via a Creative Commons Public Domain license.

List of resources referenced in the video
SAMR – accredited to Reuben Puentedura http://www.hippasus.com/rrpweblog/

Quebec Adult Education Common Core Basic Education Programs, http://www.recitfga.qc.ca/english/programs.htm

Changing the way we teach math: A Manual for Teaching Basic Math to Adults
By Kate Nonesuch http://bit.ly/ChangeMath

PD Mosaic – resource tool for personalized PD http://pdmosaic.com

BYOD in Secondary Math – Pinterest board by Rafranz Davis https://www.pinterest.com/mathwhiz11/byod-in-secondary-math/

Posted in: EdTech, Video
June 3, 2015

Tech + learner autonomy #AQIFGA

The first workshop I had the pleasure of attending at this year’s AQIFGA conference was presented by Michelle Robinson and Julie Salomon of Western Quebec School Board, called: Les TICs au service de L’autonomie en FLS, roughly translated as ICT in service of autonomy in French Second Language.

Essentially, their workshop was organized around the presentation of three tools they have been experimenting with to help the learners in their classrooms develop autonomous learning practices. Too often, learners wait for teachers to supply them with the answers…why? because this is how it has always been! In particular in adult education centres, this type of learning and teaching is becoming less and less relevant. Classrooms are beginning to look more and more like this:

 

Adult Ed environment

Evolving Adult Ed Environment

 
So teachers are looking for ways to keep the learning environment of their classrooms relevant in the face of this continuously evolving picture. 

What Julie and Michelle are experimenting with in their French second language classrooms is creating an online resource center of videos, activities, and explanations of basic, key concepts that their learners can access whenever needed – both in the classroom and outside of the classroom.

So far, they have used Popplet – an online mind mapping tool – to organize resources around ‘La phrase de base’ (basic sentence structure); Padlet – an online bulletin board – to organize multiple resources for second language learning, including their Popplet resource and videos they created to support their students as they learn French; and Quizzlet – an online quiz making tool – to provide their learners with multiple ways to practice what they learn.

Highlight
What I would like to highlight were some comments Julie and Michelle made in conversation with the participants about student use of the tools:

You can’t just create resources online and expect learners to use them – and to use them in the way that you expect! Technology use needs to be modeled. They both spoke about the need to model how to look for information and solve problems in relation to what learners are working on. As students worked on creating sentences in French, for example, it was important for the teachers to show them explicitly how to use the online resources they compiled to help them in their tasks.

A common thread of teacher conversations is about learner autonomy and what I love about this project is that Julie and Michelle are teaching learners how to become autonomous and not merely hoping for it to happen.

The tools that Julie and Michelle create are in constant evolution as they use them with their students and as they receive feedback from their students as to what works more, what works less. Here is how their collection of resources looks at the moment:

Padlet for FLS

Posted in: EdTech, Modeling