Daily Archives: March 7, 2011

Reflection on the learning theories wiki

This is the second of two reflective blog posts associated with the ICTs for Learning Design course for week 1. Each of these will follow much the same format as the first.

This particular task went something like this

  • Team up with a partner.
    This was intended to be done via the profile wiki, but I must admit I ended up working with the person who was sitting closest to me in a f-t-f class. In part, this was due to implementation issues with the wiki and groups.
  • Select one of many readings on learning theories (we chose constructivism).
  • Specify your selection by placing your names on a Wiki.
  • Perform a PMI analysis of the learning theory examined in the reading.
  • Collaboratively with your partner fill out the PMI on a Wiki.

There was also an unspoken assumption that we might read some of the PMIs produced by other pairs (which I have not yet done).

Reflection on my learning

i.e. “what was it’s value to me as a learner?”

Yes. Two main reasons. First, it provided an opportunity to read and reflect a bit more about constructivism than I have previously. Second, it provided an opportunity for me to see the interpretations and ideas of others.

The second point was particularly evident in the differences between the PMIs of my partner and I. Our process was that we did our PMIs separately and then used the Wiki to merge them. My partner had completed first and it was obvious that his approach engaged more with the details of constructivism, whereas my approach was a little more abstract. I hadn’t really directly engaged with the specifics, showing a limitation of my thinking about this.

I had the opportunity to see the ideas of others because I formulated and posted my PMI initially on my blog. And for some reason it has been picked up a bit of a readership. It’s been viewed 198 times in four days and has had comments from a couple of people. Both comments have included different and interesting perspectives. One commenter has obviously read and thought a lot more about constructivism and its connections with connectivism than I.

It is through this and some other experiences that I’ve formed the opinion that I haven’t really internalised constructivism, not in any deep sense.

At the same time, I haven’t read any of the other PMIs produced by other students. Let’s do that now.

Oh, that is interesting. The PMI on behaviourism suggests that it is heavily used in the gaming industry. Especially in terms of the use of levels in games and its addictive nature. My initial response to that idea is to disagree, at least to some extent. This raises a question I have about this activity, to what level are people getting feedback or discussing with others (outside of their group) about what is written. I could have listed something completely wrong in my PMI that is now being read by others and helping them form incorrect conceptions.

As it happens, there are two PMIs on the wiki. A third has a start, but no content. Mm, that raises questions about the effectiveness of the Jigsaw approach being used for these readings. To some extent the intent is that my learning about the other learning theories/issues/paradigms relies on the work of the other pairs. Most of whom haven’t completed (at least based on the view I have).

Reflection on potential for my learners

There are perhaps three aspects to this activity, each with its own potential for my learners.

  1. The use of the Moodle or a wiki.
    As with the previous post, the use of a particular technology is going to be dependent on the teaching context. It would not surprise me to be in a context where a wiki, especially a Moodle wiki would be inappropriate. It would be inappropriate for two main reasons: (1) it’s a fairly poor wiki, and (2) it is a closed wiki accessible only by people in the class/course. A closed wiki prevents limits the benefits that can arise from other people looking at the work.
  2. The use of the PMI tactic.
    Significant potential. It is a useful way of giving students some scaffolding around analysing an idea.
  3. The use of the expert jigsaw.
    Good potential. The more complete description of the Jigsaw approach offers some potential, though not without its problems.

Constructivism

Are there any visible elements of constructivism?

Yes, in both the use of a wiki and the expert jigsaw, especially in a more complete form. The collaboration, the shared construction within the pair and then the reliance on other groups for other insights. The use of PMI as a scaffold may be an indicator. As would the fact that we had earlier read briefly about these theories. i.e. there’s a link with that earlier knowledge and what we’re doing next.

Cognitivism

I would somewhat tentatively suggest that PMI has elements of cognitivism, at least based on some perspectives. It’s an approach that helps guide learner cognition. I’m thinking this may be a long (even incorrect) bow to draw. Finding it difficult to make this connection based on the limited understanding of cognitivism that I have.

Behaviourism

No.

Connectivism

Potentially yes. The pairing and the use of expert jigsaw could be said to be intended to encourage the formation of networks. The exercise is both recognising and encouraging the diversity of opinions. But frankly, my interpretation is that this activity was designed from a constructivist perspective (this is the paradigm being emphasised) and that I may perhaps be over-reading some connections/similarities.

A more connectivist approach to this might focus more on students blogging their PMIs on their own blogs, on having set up an environment whereby students doing the same reading could see and discuss their different perspectives and then produce a wiki synthesis from there. Or even have them produce a second round of individual posts on their own blogs.

Diversity

The jigsaw tactic is dividing the students into smaller groups and allowing them to figure out how best to work for their needs and situations. There’s still enough scaffolding to bring that all back together at certain stages. However, the activity is still based on a fair bit of reading and writing, which theoretically doesn’t always enable diversity. Allowing the option of folk watching animations, lectures etc on some readings might provide more diversity. Similarly, the requirement to use the Moodle wiki, reduces diversity. The PMI approach provides some scaffolding but is still fairly open in terms of interpretation/diversity.

eLearning and digital pedagogy

I can certainly see applications for PMI, the expert jigsaw, and wikis. Perhaps not exactly the same as the structure used in this activity.

I can see how something along these lines might be a useful way for an exercise where IT students have to read and critique some code and/or learn about some new techniques.

Reflection on the profile Wiki: ICTs for Learning Design

The following is a reflection on one activity required during the first week of the ICTs for Learning Design course I’m taking. Over the next few weeks there will be a number of these reflective posts and then, eventually, a post that synthesises these posts into one reflection.

The intent behind this design is, I believe, to link our uses of various technologies back to what we’re meant to be learning about different learning paradigms/theories with the design of some learning activities. i.e. this is a form of reflection on what we’ve done that should encourage a bit of meta-cognition about how it all fits together.

This task required has to add some personal details to a Wiki within the Moodle course site. We were provided with a template for the personal details and the Wiki was specific to a group. I could be wrong, the current incarnation of the wiki appears to be for the whole course. Unsure if this was the original intent or a result of some problems with Moodle groups and wikis.

Reflection on my learning

i.e. “what was it’s value to me as a learner?”

To date, I have to say not a great deal. Factors behind that include

  • This type of activity is not new to me.
    In terms of sharing information about myself, I’ve had a website since 1994 and this blog for at least 3 years or so. In terms of using a wiki, I was responsible for the decision that led to an organisational unit using a wiki as the unit’s website. And lastly, I’ve developed blocks and activity modules (i.e. software) inside Moodle and Moodle courses.

    That said, I still found using the Moodle wiki to achieve the stated aim somewhat clunky and unclear. Not sure exactly how much of this was down to the directions, the requirements or the idiosyncrasies of the Moodle wiki.

  • My early completion of the task.
    I complete the task on the first night of the residential school and was the first person to add my name. The second person started work on adding his within minutes of me and had similar problems so didn’t have anything posted.
  • My lack of looking at the profile’s of other students.
    Today is the first day (almost two weeks later) that I’ve been back to the page and I note that there are a lot more profiles there. But I haven’t looked at them, mostly due to the previous point. In addition, I’m somewhat reluctant to trawl through a lot of profiles now since
    • I have a slow network connection and the Moodle instance has a history of being slow.
    • I’m unlikely to remember a lot of the details of individuals as I read a long list of profiles.
    • And now as I’m looking through some profiles, I find the design of the wiki/profile combination somewhat lacking. e.g. it would be really useful when looking at a profile to have a previous/next interface element that would allow me to go to the next profile without having to go back to the parent wiki page and then back down again. An example of the drawbacks of a general tool.
    • So far, there hasn’t been an activity that has required me to read through the profiles, until I started here. I did briefly check out the details of my partner in another task, but that was one profile.

Reflection on potential for my learners

i.e. how could I use this with my learners. I’ll start by assuming that my learners would have reasonable access to such a tool. Which would not always be a given.

First implication is that it probably wouldn’t be all that useful. A typical school situation is going to somewhat different to a university course, especially one where the students are distributed very broadly in geographical terms and are mostly not going to be regularly meeting face-to-face. i.e. there are probably strategies that don’t involve technologies that might achieve the stated goal here more easily than a wiki.

In addition, as currently designed this activity doesn’t integrate the use of the information in the disparate profiles into the everyday practice of the students and/or another assessment task (beyond my partner). Given that in Moodle each user has an associated profile, it might have been more appropriate to put the profile there, rather than a stand alone wiki. That way if I see someone make an interesting comment in a discussion profile I can click on their profile and learn a bit more about their background and how that fits with their comment.

The application of technology to encourage my learners to know each other (and I and them me) is beneficial. But I think there are probably better ways of doing it.

Constructivism

Are there any visible elements of constructivism?

Well, rather than simply read about how to use the Wiki, the students are actively constructing their knowledge about how to use a Wiki by doing a task. Though I’m not sure how authentic the task is. There is perhaps a flavour of social constructivism in getting people to know more about each other, but that wasn’t strictly part of the task.

Cognitivism

I don’t think there’s any strong evidence of this. No great discussion or engagement with the internal functioning of the brain.

Behaviourism

You could probably argue that the task itself is potentially behavourist. There wasn’t a lot of discussion of internal workings of the brain, instead you were told to do a task and success is measured on the outcome, not any internal changes. Of course, when you add in this bit of reflection, the game is changed. However, there wasn’t a lot of explicit direction or on-going practice around how to perform the task.

Connectivism

No real evidence of this, beyond the capability of students forming connections with other students through information gleaned from the profiles. Though I don’t think the actual task of creating your profile encouraged or required this. The absence of embedding the need/ability to use this information as part of everyday practice limits this somewhat.

Diversity

Does it support a wide range of students? How?

I’d have to suggest that it doesn’t. There was one tool, one task and limited instructions in how to do it. I doubt that the Moodle wiki plays nicely with such assistive technologies as might be used by someone who is blind and the requirement to use ICTs – understandable given the course – limits diversity. The requirement to put the profile in the Moodle wiki using the provided template also reduces support for diversity.

That said, there was some support through the suggestion that students didn’t have to provide all of the information specified in the template if any of it made them feel uncomfortable.

eLearning and digital pedagogy

How could the design of this activity, as an e-learning strategy, support learning?

As stated above, the purpose behind this activity seem two-fold. First, start students using a wiki for a potentially authentic task. Second, encourage students to learn about each other. If you use the Chickering and Gamson’s 7 Principles then this activity potentially connects with three of the principles

  1. Encourage active learning.
  2. Develops reciprocity and cooperation among students.
  3. Encourages contact between students and faculty.

As said above, however, I think the activity needs some re-design to fully support these principles.

End of week 1: reflections and what’s next

It’s the start of week 2 of my studies in a post-graduate teacher education program. Time for a bit of reflection and planning.

The experience so far

I’m studying at an institution at which I worked for 20 years, both as an academic designing and running my own courses and in an e-learning support role. From this I know the difficulties that an academic has to overcome to create and maintain a good learning environment. This is by way of a disclaimer. In the following I will identify the factors that haven’t quite worked for me in this first week, not to criticise, but to help identify where things might get better. (Not to mention to fulfill the on-going pleas from senior university staff to give feedback.)

To satisfy the namby-pamby, fluffy bunnies amongst you who desire some good news first. The staff associated with this program have been great. Going out of their way to help, being contactable, responding quickly and for the most part demonstrating aspects of good teaching practice.

Time on task

The institution uses Chickering and Gamson’s 7 principles for good practice in undergraduate education as part of its teaching framework. Time on task is one of those principles and an aspect of time on task is that students aren’t wasting their time trying to figure out what they are supposed to do.

This has been my biggest problem this week. What am I supposed to do next? Some of the contributing factors to this problem include

  • Broken links on Moodle course sites.
    Come on, automated link checkers were one of the first tools to be available to support web authoring. Surely the institution could help academics by having some form of link checker on course sites to identify when links are broken.
  • Out of date information.
    eStudyGuides have mentioned Blackboard or course mailing lists. etc. Things that no longer apply.
  • Inconsistent and/or duplicate information.
    As a student, what am I supposed to do each week in the course. Some courses have eStudyGuides, some have Moodle resources to described this, some have both and in some cases the duplicate information is inconsistent. Some aspects of this seem to arise from the understandable practice of the courses in this post-grad program having much in common with courses in other programs.
  • Moodle slowness/unavailability.
    There were a couple of times in the first week that Moodle was really slow, both while I was on-campus and off. In some case, so slow as to be unusable. I believe there was a network outage at one stage that brought most institutional services off-line. This is a problem because all of the resources and activities for these courses are on Moodle, or accessed through Moodle. When it’s down, we’re wasting time.
  • Broken Moodle features.
    One of the courses tried to use Moodle Wikis within groups. It didn’t work. Apparently the institutional Moodle technical support couldn’t identify why it didn’t work. This wasted time.
  • Differences within the use of Moodle.
    There is some evidence of the great “consistency program” in terms of course site design, but there still remains some significant variety in how different course sites are structured. This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if those structures were effective, but some of the points I’ve made above suggest that there are problems with those designs and hence the variety causes problems.

I feel this is perhaps the biggest problem faced by other students and it’s especially problematic in a program that is acknowledged to require a lot of work. I have observed some students taking the pragmatic route and deciding what to do next by starting at the assessment and working backwards identifying exactly what they need to complete the assessment.

Encourages Active Learning

Another one of the 7 principles. All of the courses have attempted to do this. I must admit, however, that at times some of these exercises have felt a little contrived or ineffective. e.g. getting us to give examples of literacy and numeracy without defining what it was, or without bringing the activity to a close with clearer definition and reflection on the discrepancies.

I think there’s also a potential tension between some of the more practice, teaching oriented tasks from later in the term (e.g. preparing lessons plans etc) that are generally also assessment tasks and some of the more reflective learning activities (e.g. reading various articles).

Develops Reciprocity and Cooperation Among Students

There have been efforts at this. Especially in one course, however, that has been hampered by technical difficulties. Much of what has arisen has probably been through the extra efforts of some students, and consequently is necessarily spread across all students.

Encourages Contact Between Students and Faculty

I think this is perhaps the other major downfall of the institution. I make the clear distinction here between the individual teaching staff and the institution. It’s been my experience that the teaching staff have tried as much as possible to be available for contact. The trouble is that only two of the four courses is being taught by a permanent members of staff. The other two have permanent/full-time members of staff as the “coordinator”, but are actually being taught by casual staff. This is the institution’s common band-aid solution and it typically doesn’t work well.

Reading between the lines, it appears that full-time members of staff are being drawn away by projects and research. An apparent ramification of the increasing emphasis on research.

This is not to say that casual staff can’t be good teachers, many are. But a casual staff member brought on to teach someone else’s course – especially if they are unfamiliar with the institution – is being placed in an incredibly difficult situation. And that’s assuming they are going into course that is in a good state.

My practice

The problems aren’t all the institutions responsibility. If it is to be, it is up to me.

Time on task has been my biggest flaw. A tendency to go too deep or off on tangents not directly related to the requirements of the program have slowed me down. In part, I need to be more pragmatic in focusing on the assessment requirements, hopefully, without sacrificing some of the important learning experiences along the way.

During my study I will not have to work. I do have family duties, but most days of the week I have free to study. Last week there were various events (dentists appointment, child’s vaccination and farewell lunch) that consumed parts of the day.

Some of the readings have also caused my eyes to glaze over and made it difficult to engage in them. I need to develop strategies to work around this.

On the plus side, it’s been an amazing week in terms of learning from the folk from twitter and the blogosphere. Arguably this has contributed to my going off on tangents, but it’s not something I’d give up. It has added a much needed richness and also significantly increased the feelings of reciprocity/cooperation between my learning and others and active learning aspect. Thanks to you all.

Multiliteracies and why weak students become teachers

A tweet from @rgesthuizen pointed me to this article which argues that only weak students are ending up as teachers because education programs lack intellect. This is of interest to me for two reasons. First, I’m currently enrolled in an education program and I’m not sure my experiences match 100% what is claimed in the article (perhaps an interesting US/Australian difference). Second, because the fatal indicator of a lack of intellect within education programs seems to be in direct opposition to the positions I’ve seen in my first week of study.

The basic argument is that less intellectual able students are flocking to education programs because they are easy. The suggested solution to bring intellectually strong students back to education is

If we want to reverse that trend, we’ll have to make teacher-preparation programs challenging enough to lure these students back in.

Okay, so what’s the evidence, the indicator, that education programs are intellectually weak?

The author draws on the outcomes of the Academically Adrift book/project to report

just 45 percent of students in education and social work reported taking a course in the previous semester requiring more than 20 pages of writing, while 61 percent took a class with more than 40 pages of reading per week. By comparison, 68 percent of social science and humanities students took a class with 20 pages of writing, and 88 percent had a class with 40 pages of weekly reading.

So it shouldn’t surprise us that students in education and social work reported studying less, too: 10.6 hours per week, as opposed to 12.4 hours in the social sciences and the humanities. The hardest workers are science and math majors, who study 14.7 hours a week.

The first week of the Literacy and Numeracy course I’m taking has argued heavily for the concept multiliteracies. About how the changes in the world have increased the variety of literacies behind traditional writing/reading/rithmetic. I find it somewhat ironic that we have an education faculty member espousing the need for education students to return to more writing/reading as the solution. Not that it doesn’t surprise me that there is disagreement within the ranks of education academics.

But then there’s the really interesting argument

Nor should we be surprised that education students show significantly lower gains than these other groups during their undergraduate careers on the College Learning Assessment (CLA), an essay-only test measuring complex reasoning and written expression. As ed schools should be the first to acknowledge, the only way to cultivate these higher-order skills is to practice them. And our students appear to do that less than most other undergraduates.

Hang on, the measure of students complex reasoning is an essay? Isn’t there just a chance here that the measure is determining what is classed as intellectual. Yes, if you are assessing via essay, then writing more essays (especially if they take the same format as the test) will probably give better results. But I am not sure that better results on that test are indicative of better complex reasoning. I’m also pretty sure that it doesn’t say anything about students capabilities to engage in different literacies.

That said, my feel is that most of the four courses I’m studying have suggestions that I should have read at least 40 pages during the first week. The thing is that I haven’t really completed all the readings, though I’m guessing I’ve completed more than many of the students. Is this because I’m a poor student? Perhaps, but it’s also down to other reasons including:

  • Some of the readings are repetitive, poorly written and repeating material that I already am familiar with.
  • Some of the readings repeat discussions in class.
  • The design of the courses means that it is not always obvious what I should/shouldn’t read.
  • It’s just not the reading that has to be done, it’s the reflection and activities based on those readings and the combination is taking much longer than what is expected.
  • And to repeat, simply doing a lot of reading is not really developing my complex reasoning.

Perhaps education students are spending less time on their study, because the courses are better designed at keeping them on task? Perhaps the test is not measuring intellectual capability?