Design Rationale – ICTs for E-Learning A3

Introduction

The following describes the rationale behind the design of the first unit of work to be completed in a Year 11 Information and Processing Technology (IPT) course taught using the new senior Queensland IPT syllabus (QSA, 2010). The design of this unit is informed by the outcomes of a profile of potential students in this course. As such the design is informed by connectivism and attempts to embed students within authentic practice as an IPT professional. The contents of this document include the following sections:

  • Rationale;
    Describes the rationale and purpose of the overall design approach for the 2-year senior IPT course.
  • Unit overview;
    Describes the rationale and purpose of this particular unit of work, the first unit in the course.
  • Lessons overview; and
    Provides an overview of the 12 lessons that make up this unit.
  • Example artefacts.
    Describes evidence to support the author’s ability to implement the technology necessary to fulfil this learning design.

Rationale

As argued in the learner profile the design of this course and unit is based on the assumption that connectivism – and its resonances and overlaps with social constructivism and constuctionism – offer the most effective method for helping IPT students learn. As a result, the design of this course and unit is focused on creating a learning experience that engages the students within the community of users and developers around a popular open source tool. Throughout the 2 years of the course the students will use the open source tool and its community to engage in professional IPT practices and make the connections necessary to demonstrate learning.

Tool selection

The actual open source tool chosen is likely to change over the years and between schools. The criteria for tool selection will draw on the following criteria:

  • How large, active, diverse, and open are the user and developer communities around the tool?
    The bigger and more diverse, open, and active the user and developer communities are the more likely students are to generate many and diverse connections within that community.
  • How often will the students be able to use the tool as part of their learning?
    Allowing the students to become users of the tool – as well as developers – broadens their experience and knowledge of the tool. It helps them become more aware of possibilities for improvement. Where possible using the tool should become a key part of student learning within the course.
  • How regularly others within the school or local communities use the tool?
    The local presence of people using the tool will provide the possibility of the students providing technical assistance to those users as part of the class.
  • How well does the tool matches the technical requirements of the course, the technical knowledge of the teacher and school technical support, and the technical infrastructure?
    As part of the course, students will have to download, install and modify the chosen tool. For this to happen, such tasks should reasonably technically feasible within the school context and the topics of the IPT syllabus.
  • How good is the tools plug-in architecture?
    A plug-in architecture allows additional services to be added to a tool without having to understand the complexity of an entire large system. It reduces the entry barrier for students.

At the present time, the two most obvious candidate tools appear to be the WordPress blog engine and the Moodle Learning Management System. For the purposes of this course, WordPress has been selected because it is to some extent a more focused system – blogging is a somewhat narrower task than e-learning – and has larger, more open, and more diverse developer and user communities.

The scenario

The entire course will be underpinned by a scenario in which the students take on the role of entry-level IPT professionals in an open source services company. The teacher takes on the role of lead developer in the same company. This particular company – to be named and branded by the students within this unit – aims to generate revenue through providing technical services to users of the chosen open source tool. Like other similar companies the students’ company must create a positive presence within the user and developer community around the tool. It is through the development of this community presence and fulfilling tasks for the company that the students gain experience with the topics of the course.

The company will – as with most technical services companies – employ a range of different information systems to manage its operations including: project management software, source code management software, developer blogs, company messaging network, and a company website. Not only will the students gain authentic experience using these systems as part of their study, these systems will also be used to structure the learning experience and as a part of assessment management.

Class routine and pedagogy

In keeping with the connectivist principles – especially the widespread availability of information about the chosen technical tool – there will be little to no direct instruction by the teacher. A typical lesson will revolve around the students being assigned a to do item within the company’s project management software. The to do item will typically: explain what the task is to complete; specify whether the task is to be completed alone or as part of a team; and, provide some initial pointers to information that may help in completing the task. Each to do is the next problem the students need to solve. It is their responsibility to identify how and what they need to solve each problem. The information within the to do is designed to act as scaffolding to provide students with some initial guidance in completing the to do. As the course progresses, the amount of this scaffolding will be reduced appropriately.

Solving each to do will involve application of the Design, Develop and Evaluate (DDE) cycle as explained in the learner profile and the IPT syllabus (QSA, 2010). In keeping with industry practice the students will be expected to update the project management software with the approach used to solve the problem, document any additional information, and to indicate the current status of the task. By late in the first year of the course it is expected that students will be starting to create to dos for themselves and other students as part of standard practice as an IPT professional.

As well as mirroring IPT industry practice, this information will also be used as part of student assessment and teaching. For example, the combination of project management software and individual student blogs will be used to aggregate and create the required student verification folio. In addition it is planned that the objectives and topics in the IPT syllabus will be used as tags within the project management software and student blogs to enable the construction of visual representations of how student tasks and artefacts relate to the syllabus. Such visualisations should help students, teachers, parents, and associated school and education partners understand what students have done and what is still required.

In keeping with industry practice the students will also establish company-based social bookmarking, blog, and micro-blogging (Twitter-like) networks. These are used to share information about problems, resources and tasks completed by students both within and outside the classroom. Some will also serve as a major component of how the trainee IPT professionals will make connections with existing developer and user communities. The individual student blogs and micro-blogging network will also be used to provide feedback to the students from the teacher.
As part of the scenario the students will design, implement, and maintain a company blog/web site fitting within industry expectations of such a site. This site will also serve as the public face of the course to parents, the school, and broader communities.

Assessment

The QSA IPT Syllabus (QSA, 2010) identifies three main assessment techniques for IPT:

  1. Supervised written assessment;
    In class, supervised tests with a variety of question types.
  2. Extended responses assessment;
    Written assignments, of various types, which require students to analyse, synthesise, and evaluate information and offer recommendations.
  3. Product assessment;
    Authentic tests of student ability to develop authentic products, such as software development.
    The project management software, student blogs and other information systems used within the course will also be used for assessment purposes. For example, student reports and software development projects will be developed and submitted via the company’s project management and version control software. The combination of the project management software and student blogs will be aggregated to provide each student with the required student verification folio.

Unit overview

The 12 lessons within this unit constitute the first 12 lessons the students will complete as part of a Year 11 IPT course. Consequently, the focus of the unit is more on familiarising students with the course, its approach, the tools to be used over the course, and introduce them to some of the fundamental notions of the course. In particular, the Design-Development-Evaluate (DDE) cycle. A particular focus of this unit is engaging the students in some initial activities and experiences that they will revisit later in the course as they deepen their understanding of the principles. The last major aim of this unit is to firmly establish student ownership of the company and the scenario.

Topics and objectives

The unit will start the process of providing student with experience and exposure to the following objectives of the IPT syllabus (QSA, 2010, pp 2-4).

  • Knowledge of the terminology, applications and effects of ICTs, and of the syntax and rules of programming languages and query languages.
  • Understanding of applicable concepts, design processes, diagrammatical representations, and social and ethical issues.
  • Application of processes and algorithms for the solution of simple and familiar problems.
  • Define and explain information technology terminology, concepts, processes and principles.
  • Apply set processes to solve simple or familiar information technology problems.
  • Utilisation of appropriate design methods and principles
  • Interpret and analyse problems and situations requiring information technology use.
  • Use of logic and reason in a range of evaluation approaches to make judgments and recommendations.
  • Construction of documentation using the information literacy, software, or information systems development cycles.
  • Presentation of technical ideas, design concepts, solutions and evaluations.
  • Develop responsible attitudes towards the use of information technology
  • Appreciate the value of working independently and with others.

As the number of objectives covered suggest, coverage in this introductory unit aims at a broad, but shallow, coverage of the syllabus topics and objectives. It aims to give the students a broad taste for what they will experience in the course. This is the start of the spiral curriculum as identified in the learner profile. The specific objectives are drawn from across the four general objectives listed in the IPT syllabus.

Assessment

In terms of assessment, there will be no formal assessment as part of this 12 lesson unit. Many of the tasks completed during this unit, however, will either form:

  • the first step in a latter formal assessment task; or
    e.g. The course will have a final extended response task that asks the student to re-read the artefact they completed for To do #3 (see Table 2 for a description) and describe how their conception of IPT and IPT professionals has changed over the two years of the course.
  • offer some initial experience with a process that will be used as part of a formal assessment task.
    e.g. To dos 1, 5 and 11 require students to develop and evaluate processes to achieve some specific goal. This connects with a number of the IPT syllabus objectives and will form an important component of a number of remaining assessment items in the class.

There will, however, be quite significant observation of student participation and progress through the use of blogs, micro-blogging, collaboration, and in-class discussion and presentations. Knowledge gained through these observations will be used to provide guidance and additional help where required.

Software and services

Table 1 offers a summary of all the software and services that will be used during this unit. It is a fairly long list, however, as with the objectives discussed above this is due to the nature of the spiral curriculum. The aim of this unit is to provide a shallow level of experience with a broad selection of the software to be used throughout the course. The software in Table 1 covers most of the major planned software and services, with version control software being the main omission. Given the flexible nature of a connectivist approach it is likely that additional software will be used by some or all of the students over the two years. Standard software and services such as Office applications, web browsers, and general web sites and services (e.g. YouTube) will be used but are not included in Table 1.

Table 1. Services and software used in this unit

Service URL Purpose
Basecamp http://basecamphq.com Project management software used to allocate and track student tasks.
Wordpress.com http://wordpress.com Individual student blogs, mostly as reflective journals. Also for course blog.
Wordpress software http://Wordpress.org The open source code the students will install and eventually modify.
RSS reader Various Used by students to track various class related feeds including: blogs of other students, Basecamp information, social bookmarking, and other information sources.
Edmodo http://edmodo.com Private micro-blogging site for education that includes support for assignment submission and polling.
Google docs http://docs.googlecom Collaborative authoring of documents.
Diigo http://diigo.com Social bookmarking
Skype http://skype.com Synchronous video/audio interview of IPT professionals

To dos

As described in the Class routine and pedagogy section above students will be allocated a number of to dos via the class project management software. Table 2 provides a summary of the thirteen to dos planned for this unit. Some additional information is provided in the Lessons overview below.

Table 2. Description of to do tasks for this unit.

To do Description
1 Answer a basic question about how to complete a task within Basecamp. Requires understanding the interface and/or using the online help resources.
2 Create a personal blog on WordPress.com
3 Add a post to their blog describing current conceptions of IPT, what an IPT professional does, and what they need to know.
4 Set up an RSS reader and track feeds from the blogs of other students and the project management software.
5 As a pair (each member of the pair is identified within the to do) design a process to be used by the company to name and brand their company blog.
6 Join and commence using the class EdModo group.
7 Complete a reflective blog post using ??two quick questions??
8 Set up an account on Diigo. Use it and the class tag to share two links: an interesting example of using WordPress, and a company/individual providing technical services for WordPress.
9 Implement and reflect on the process to name and brand the company WordPress site.
10 As a pair, evaluate the WordPress installation process.
11 Students install the WordPress software on their computer/laptop.
12 In a group of 4, Identify each of the major components required to run WordPress and describe important relevant information.

Lessons overview

This unit consists of 12 lessons that are each described in the following sections.

Lesson 1 – Getting started

Aim

  • Briefly introduce students to the course and how it will work with a focus on authentic learning.
  • Start the students using Basecamp and their own WordPress blog.
  • Enable the students to use ad hoc or unplanned processes in their use of these systems as a basis for discussion and reflection later in the unit.

Process

  • Brief explanation of the course and its processes. (Most of this information will be given out electronically and discussesd as we go).
  • Hand out the students “new employee kit” which contains user account details for Basecamp and instructions to login.
  • To do #1: Students told to individually learn how to perform a different task with the software. Little or no direction is given.
  • After 15 minutes run a class discussion about what they found out and ask them how they went about the task. Did they use an explicit process or make it up as they went? What worked? What didn’t. Lead into discussion of the DDE, its connection with information literacy and general processes for solving problems. Explain a bit more about the aim of IPT.
  • Have the students close off their to do in Basecamp and explain more about the purpose of Basecamp.
  • Comment on the public nature of some of the work we’ll be doing in this course and offer some an initial simple rule – “If you don’t want your teacher, your parents, and the headmaster to read something, don’t post it”. Indicate more talk about this later.
  • To do #2: Have students work in pairs to each create their own WordPress.com blog. The to do will offer a brief description of pair programming and the various roles each pair will take on.
  • Close the lesson with a review and point them to their homework. Remind about the need to change the status of to dos as they complete the task.
  • To do #3: Write a blog post that describes their currently conceptions of IPT, what an IPT professional does, and what they will be learning (perhaps a KWL).

Lesson 2 – What is IPT and what do IPT professionals do?

Aims

  • Activate and discuss what students currently know about IPT.
  • Expose them to a variety of different views on IPT.
  • Get them working RSS readers and feeds.
  • Start thinking about their company.

Process

  • Use Basecamp’s management interface to identify who has and hasn’t completed their blog post.
  • To do #4: Students need to learn about RSS/Atom feeds, set up a news reader and subscribe to various course related feeds, including the blogs of other students.
  • Ask students to do a think/pair/share exercise about their blog posts, using the RSS reader to read each others blog posts.
  • Show students a range of different perspectives on IPT from existing professionals, either via online video or live Skype or similar. Aim to include some folk from WordPress or WordPress services companies.
  • Expand on the scenario and the nature of the company we’re creating and its aim to help people using WordPress. Explain that we now need to name and brand our company, but that this is a complex process that needs to involve all members of the class.
  • Introduce To do #5: Students are asked to work in pairs to design the process the class will use to name and brand our company. The best process developed by a pair will be selected and implemented by the class. Some prompts provided about the nature of the DDE cycle, the range of tasks to be considered, and other resources. Resources include the evaluation criteria for the process.

Lesson 3 – What is our name? (1 of 5)

Aims

  • Continue to expand the students’ appreciation of the need for process and planning.

Process

  • Illustrate the need for process and planning when involving groups and connect this to To do #5.
  • Students work in pairs on To do #5.

Lesson 4 – What is our name? (2 of 5)

Aims

  • Continue developing and applying insights into planning and process.
  • Commence some reflection.

Process

  • Start with some discussion about the use of blogs and Edmodo, based on what the students have or haven’t been doing. In particular, encourage constructive replies.
  • Students aim to complete their process design 10 minutes before the end of the lesson and be prepared to do a 5 minute presentation based on their process at the next lesson.
  • To do #7: Students write a blog post with their answers to a minute paper (Angelo & Cross, 1993) around the task of developing a process for naming and branding.

Lesson 5 – What is our name? (3 of 5)

Aims

  • Start students thinking about how to analyse and evaluate different options.
  • Give students some practice at presenting.

Process

  • The evaluation criteria for the naming and branding process are revisited.
  • Each group has 5 minutes to present their designed process.
  • Class discussion about presented processes in the context of the evaluation criteria.
  • An Edmodo poll is used to select the best process. Rewards given.
  • To do #8: Create a Diigo account and use the class tag to share two links. The first is for a company/person that is being paid to help people use WordPress. The second is for a WordPress site that is being used for something interesting. Links save via social bookmarking and tagged with class tag. No duplicates and points given for the biggest service company and the most interesting application of WordPress.

Lesson 6 – What is our name? (4 of 5)

Aims

  • Give students an experience at following a pre-defined process.
  • Develop the naming and branding of the company’s website.

Process

  • To do #9: The process chosen in the last lesson is implemented with the lead developer (teacher) as project manager who has developed appropriate to dos in Basecamp to schedule student sub-tasks.
  • After class is finished, an Edmodo poll is sent out to select the best links from to do #8.

Lesson 7 – What is our name? (5 of 5)

Aims

  • Give students an experience at following a pre-defined process.
  • Develop the naming and branding of the company’s website.

Process

  • Reward for the best links from to do #8.
  • To do #9: The task is completed.
  • In class reflection and de-brief of the process. Discussion of the tools we’ve been using.

Lesson 8 – Evaluating the installation of WordPress (1 of 2)

Aims

  • Apply experience in creating and evaluating processes to evaluate another process.
  • Start developing the knowledge necessary to install and modify WordPress.

Process

  • To do #10: Evaluation of WordPress installation process. Students pair up with each pair, where possible, containing an ‘expert’ (student greater computer experience, especially programming) and a ‘novice’. The task is to read up and critically evaluate the instructions for installing WordPress on their computers. The aim is to prepare them for actually doing the installation, identify knowledge limitations, identify the information sources for installation, and re-apply recent knowledge about processes and their evaluation. Students are to use the Information literacy cycle to answer specific questions that is to be documented on their blogs.

Lesson 9 – Evaluating the installation of WordPress (2 of 2)

Aim

  • Complete installation of WordPress.
  • Share information gathered about WordPress.
  • Reflect on difficulties in evaluating the process.

Process

  • Students have time to complete the evaluation and change the status of the to do.
  • Use a whole class SWOT analysis to synthesise the knowledge gained by the students. Also reflect on the process of evaluating the installation process.
  • To do #11: Students install WordPress onto their computers. Access necessary software from school servers. Will probably complete process at home. Required to use their blog as a development diary and record the installation. Encouraged to use Edmodo and other sources to share progress and ask for help. Students ask to document anything new that occurs that wasn’t identified during the evaluation process (to do #10).

Lesson 10 – Components of an Information System (1 of 3)

Aim

  • Deepen awareness of just how difficult process design and evaluation is.
  • Commence work on understanding the architecture and components of the WordPress software system.

Process

  • Class discussion about the installation process. What worked? What didn’t? What was new? Why? Identify any scope for improving the process? Reflect on any issues that hadn’t been identified during the process.
  • To do #12: Working as a team of four, identify, describe and categorise the major components (e.g. database engine, PHP interpreter, IDE, etc.) required to run and modify the WordPress software. Identify important locations and commands for using, managing and modifying a WordPress installation. Identify communities and online resources that related to each of the components.

Lesson 11 – Components of an information system (2 of 3)

Aim

  • Continue developing awareness of the different components that make up a working WordPress installation.

Process

  • Complete to do #12.
  • Use class discussion and a Google document to synthesise all the information about the components identified.

Lesson 12 – Reflection and tidy up

Aim

  • Reflect on what has been learned (or not) in this unit.
  • Identify what is working or not.
  • Identify what’s next.

Process

  • Break students up into groups and ask them to complete a KWL based on this unit. What do they know after completing the unit, what do they want to know, and what did they learn.
  • Have groups present the outcomes and use them to build a Google document with a class KWL.
  • Explain about the next planned unit – SQL and manipulating the WordPress database – and how it fits with the KWL. More briefly explain the initial plan for the subsequent units.
  • Any spare time is given over for students to customise their WordPress blogs and search out interesting WordPress plugins.

Example artefacts

Given that there is no chance to deliver this unit during EPL there has been no attempt to construct specific artefacts to demonstrate my ability to implement this approach. It is suggested, however, that my past work experience with these and related technologies provides sufficient evidence of it being plausible. Relevant experience includes:

  • The design and development of a University course on Systems Administration that aimed to make learning more authentic through students managing their own system, system emergencies, and maintaining system logs (Jones, 1993; 1995; 1996; 1999).
  • Work as the team leader of the Webfuse develoment team from 2000 through 2004, including use of a helpdesk system (Jones & Gregor, 2004; 2006).
  • The use of student blogs for reflection and the implementation of both a Webfuse extension (Jones & Luck, 2009) and a Moodle module (Jones, 2010) to aggregate and manage those blogs. The Moodle work included using a WordPress blog as a development diary and seeking to become a member of the Moodle developer community.
  • The design and implementation of a Web 2.0 course site that aggregated feeds from a range of external Web 2.0 applications, including social bookmarking, to automatically populate a course website (Jones, 2007).
  • While working as part of the Curriculum Design and Development Unit at CQU I instigated the use of Basecamp as project management software and worked with Google docs to collaboratively author documents.

References

Angelo, T., & Cross, K. (1993). Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers (2nd ed., p. 448). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Jones, D. (1993). Teaching systems administration. Melbourne.

Jones, D. (1995). Teaching systems administration II. Wollongong: SAGE-AU.

Jones, D. (1996). Solving Some Problems of University Education: A Case Study. In R. Debreceny & A. Ellis (Eds.), (pp. 243-252). Gold Coast, QLD: Southern Cross University Press.

Jones, D. (1999). Solving some problems with university education: Part II. Balina, Australia.

Jones, D. (2007). CQUʼs first “web 2.0 course site” goes live. Retrieved from https://davidtjones.wordpress.com/2007/07/11/cqus-first-web-20-course-site-goes-live/.

Jones, D. (2010). Limits in developing innovative pedagogy with Moodle: The story of BIM. Melbourne. Retrieved from https://davidtjones.wordpress.com/2010/07/20/an-overview-of-bim/.

Jones, D., & Gregor, S. (2004). An information systems design theory for e-learning. In S. Elliot, M.-A. Williams, S. Williams, & C. Pollard (Eds.), . Hobart, Tasmania.

Jones, D., & Gregor, S. (2006). The formulation of an Information Systems Design Theory for E-Learning (pp. 356-373). Claremont, CA.

Jones, D., & Luck, J. (2009). Blog Aggregation Management: Reducing the Aggravation of Managing Student Blogging. AACE. Retrieved from http://www.editlib.org/p/31530.

QSA. (2010). Information Processing and Technology (IPT): Senior Syllabus 2010. Assessment. Spring Hill, QLD, Australia. Retrieved from http://www.qsa.qld.edu.au/downloads/senior/snr_ipt_10_syll.pdf.

Learner profile – ICTs for E-Learning A3 – Part 1

Introduction

The following learner profile aims to provide a generic profile of Year 11 Queensland students enrolling in a senior course in Information and Processing Technology (IPT). While informed by observations of students gained during Embedded Professional Learning (EPL) it does not draw specifically on profiling activities of those students. Instead the profile draws on what is known about these students from the broader literature. The main reason for using a more general learner profile is that any limited profile of a single IPT class generated through activities organised by a student teacher is not likely to be as representative as drawing on an array of literature and supplementing this with classroom observation.

What does the learner already know?

As a senior course, students entering the course will have completed schooling up to Year 10. This may or may not have included formal study of Information Technology (IT). Where formal study of IT does occur in junior years of high school it is likely to focus on learning how to use various computer applications and general computer literacy. Some schools may offer courses in junior years that cover multi-media and programming/games development. It is also increasingly expected that the National Secondary School Computer Fund’s (DET, 2010) aim of a 1:1 computer to student ratio by 31 December 2011 will further impact students experience of computers in school-based learning. Not only should the students have ready access to computers and networks, they will increasingly have experience of using computers as part of school studies.

It is also expected that most students will have an increasing level of informal experience with the use of Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) in the form of either computers or mobile devices. Table 1 is a summary of how American teens (12-17) are using technology based on a survey of 800 teenagers in September 2009 by the Pew Research Centre (Lenhart, 2011). While based on usage by American teens these figures are broadly comparable to 2007 research on Australian children (ACMA, 2007) in showing that Internet, computer, and mobile phone usage have almost become ubiquitous.

Based on this increasing access, t has been suggested that people born since around 1980 – having been immersed in the use of ICTs for most of their lives – are somehow different in terms of skills and interests and that this has significant implications for education (Prensky, 2001; Tapscott, 1998). Bennet, Maton, and Kervin (2008, p. 776), however, suggest that these poorly evidenced claims have created a type of “moral panic” that has restricted critical and rational debate. Jones, Ramanau et al (2010, p. 772) through their examination of first year undergraduates at five English Universities found that

the generation is not homogenous in its use and appreciation of new technologies and that there are significant variations amongst students that lie within the Net generation age band

Table 1. ICT use reported by USA teenagers.

Statistic Percentage
Online 93%
No computer 8%
Own a cell phone 75%
Online with cell phone 21%
Own a game console 80%
Own a portable gaming device 51%
On a social networking service 73%
Write a blog 14%

Hargittai (2010) found that there is significant variation in Internet know-how amongst young adults and that those from more privileged backgrounds use the Internet in a larger number of activities and in more informed ways. It appears that while potential IPT students may be more prepared to use IPT for learning, there remain questions about the depth and spread of that preparation.

It is also likely that most potential IPT students will have little nuanced insights into the impact of IPT on society and the practices and processes of an IPT professional. Computer science – a disciplinary cousin of IPT – has long tried to dissuade people of the narrow and misleading image of computer science as programming (Fletcher & Lu, 2009). Stereotyping of computing and the people who do computing continues to limit the diversity of people studying to become computing professionals (Klawe, Whitney, & Simard, 2009). For example, Cooper (2006, p. 331) argues existing gender stereotypes around computing and subsequent social influences increase the level of computer anxiety felt by girls. Kaarst-Brown and Guzman (2010), however, argue that this focus on the characteristics of gender-based, or other, groupings is insufficient to explain individual attraction to a Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) career. Instead, they argue that a new cultural perspective – one of which they provide – is necessary to generate renewed thinking about attracting students to IT studies (Kaarst-Brown & Guzman, 2010).

Where does the learner need or want to be?

The 2010 Queensland Senior Syllabus (QSA, 2010) for Information and Processing Technology (IPT) Syllabus describes IPT as

an intellectual discipline that involves a study of information systems, algorithms, software programming, human–computer interaction, and the social and ethical issues associated with the use of information technology.

The general objectives of the syllabus are divided into four dimensions: knowledge and application; analysis and synthesis; evaluation and communication; and, attitudes and values. Course content is drawn from 8 topic areas. Figure 1 is a representation of the structure of these topic areas. Two of the eight topics – intelligent systems and computer systems – provide optional material to supplement the six core topics. Two of the core topics – social and ethical issues, and human-computer interaction – are intended to be embedded within the other topic areas. Table 2 provides an overview of each topic area.

Figure 1. The topic structure for a senior IPT course. Adapted from “Information Processing and Technology (IPT): Senior Syllabus 2010” by QSA, 2010, p. 5.
Topic structure for QSA course on Information and Processing Technology

Table 2. Summary of IPT topic areas
* not a stand alone topic, should be embedded in other topics.

Topic Description
Algorithms Students are introduced to the notion of algorithm design, including at least one formal representational system.
Relational information systems Examines formal models for describing the architecture of information systems, presents methods for developing these systems, and allows students to implement these to produce working information systems
Software programming Study the development of software and provide students with some experience and skills in the design, development, and evaluation of computer programs to address practical problems or meet particular needs.
Structured query language The use of SQL to manipulate data within a database.
Social and ethical issues * Develop an appreciation and understanding of the impact of IPT on individuals and communities across the world. Including an appreciation of the social and ethical issues that arise from other sections.
Human-computer interaction * Understanding the interaction between humans and technology to inform better design and improve user interfaces.

Intelligent systems

Introduces a formal model to describe the architecture of intelligent systems, methods for the development of these systems, and allows students to implement these.
Computer systems How are computers and computer systems organised, designed, and implemented?

Fundamental to the presentation of the subject is the notion of the design-develop-evaluate (DDE) cycle Table 3 and one that should be embedded throughout IPT learning experiences. It is through the application of this cycle in a variety of learning experiences that an IPT class should aim to promote the teamwork, communication, and problem solving skills of students through the development of products (QSA, 2010). Learning experiences in an IPT class can include, but are not limited to: using information technology; solving problems in a variety of domains; extended writing including appropriate use of information sources, analysis and evaluation; presentation and communication of proposed solutions; and, collaboration within teams.

Table 3. The DDE cycle and other process cycles. Adapted from “Information Processing and Technology (IPT): Senior Syllabus 2010” by QSA, 2010, p. 20. (Click on table to see large version).
The DDE cycle

How does the learner best learn?

For some there is an expectation that the question of learning styles will in some way be included as a response to this question. Pashler, McDaniel, and Bjork (2008) argue that while there is evidence of learning preferences there is little research that suggests a positive connection between learning outcomes and differentiation of learning based on those preferences. There is, however, evidence that teaching and learning strategies that support the learning style preferences students can increase the motivation of students to learn (Feldgen & Clua, 2004). Platsidou and Metallidou (2009) offer another perspective, suggesting that learning styles inventories are more useful as a tool to encourage self-development of individual students, rather than as a mechanism to categorise and group students. The preceding mixed messages along with the difficulty involved in effectively pre-designing teaching and learning strategies based on assumptions around the mix of potential learning styles of students limit the attraction of this approach. It does appear more effective to make students aware of their learning preferences, the existence of other learning styles, adopt a course design that allows students to adopt and adapt their own learning strategies, and embed into that design approaches that encourage students to reflect and modify their strategies.

In addition, the research literature around diversity within the computer-science related disciplines (e.g. Cooper, 2006; Kaarst-Brown & Guzman, 2010; Klawe et al., 2009) identify a range of strategies intended to aid non-traditional learners studying within these disciplines. A small sample of these include:

  • Allow female students to use computers in same sex groups or alone (Cooper, 2006).
  • Work with female students on how the attribute success and failure (Cooper, 2006).
  • Incorporate opportunities to see non-traditional role models (Cooper, 2006).
  • Engage students actively in their conceptions of the IT culture and demonstrate alternatives (Kaarst-Brown and Guzman, 2010).

The book “How People Learn” (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000, p. 14-19) presents three key findings related to learning that have a good research based and implications for teaching. These three findings are:

  1. Students come to the classroom with preconceptions about how the world works. If their initial understanding is not engaged, they may fail to grasp the new concepts and information that are taught, or they may learn them for purposes of a test but revert to their preconceptions outside the classroom.
  2. To develop competence in an area of inquiry, students must: (a) have a deep foundation of factual knowledge, (b) understand facts and ideas in the context of a conceptual framework, and (c) organize knowledge in ways that facilitate retrieval and application.
  3. A “metacognitive” approach to instruction can help students learn to take control of their own learning by defining learning goals and monitoring their progress in achieving them.

As mentioned in previous work for this course (Jones, 2011)

Too many IT courses rely on simple and narrow problems in order to focus on the principles. The readings on constructivism, connectivism, and Engagement Theory (Kearsley & Shneiderman, 1998) have reinforced the learning and motivational advantages of engaging students in authentic problems.

There is a body of literature around the teaching of computer science and related fields that reports on work seeking to build on these types of conclusions. For example, Maloney et al (2008) and McDougall and Boyle (2004) report on approaches where with appropriate scaffolding students are helped to learn via bricolage with much of the learning initiated by the student and help arising mostly from peers and mentors, rather than the teacher. The computer clubhouse model (Kafai, Peppler, & Chapman, 2009), an after-school learning environment, is based on four core principles: support learning through design experiences, help youth build on their own interests, cultivate an “emergent community”, and create and environment of respect and trust. Tagney et al (2010) build on the clubhouse model with a system where teams of students adopt a project-oriented approach working to meet set objectives with hard deadlines. The work of Tagney et al (2010), and some of the other work described here, is based on one or both of Vygotsky’s version of social constructivism and Papert’s constructionism (1993).

The position on learning being adopted in this work is based on connectivism (Downes, 2009). While there remains some discussion about the relationship beween connectivism, social constructivism, and connectionism (Kop & Hill, 2008), the position adopted here is pragmatic in terms of taking principles and practices from any source as long as it effectively connects with ideas of Downes’ (2007) basic theory of teaching and learning

to teach is to model and demonstrate, to learn is to practice and reflect

That is, the design here is based on the assumption that students learn best when they are actively engaged in the authentic practice of being an IPT professional and reflecting on that practice. This is especially so, if the students are able to observe and regularly interact with a range of people – including their teacher –actively modelling and demonstrating effective performance of those practices. The intent is to marry this with Bruner’s idea of a spiral curriculum that Harden and Stamper (1999, p. 141) describes as having the following features:

  1. Topics are revisited multiple times.
  2. There are increasing levels of difficulty.
  3. New learning is related to previous learning.
  4. The competence of the students increases.

In the context of an IPT course the adoption of a spiral curriculum not only generates the value associated with the idea, it can also be used to illustrate the important IPT concept of stepwise refinement.
As a consequence, it is thought that the best learning context for a Senior IPT course is one in which the students are working with a real information system. Especially when the chosen information system has a large, active, and open community of developers and users with which the students are able to actively engage. It is through this process that the students will aim to make a contribution to the community that is valued and used by others. It is through making this contribution that the students will best learn about the topic areas and objectives of the IPT course.

References

ACMA. (2007). Media and Communications in Australian Families 2007. Communications. Canberra, ACT, Australia. Retrieved from http://www.acma.gov.au/webwr/_assets/main/lib101058/maciaf2007_overview.pdf.

Bennett, S., Maton, K., & Kervin, L. (2008). The Òdigital nativesÓ debate: A critical review of the evidence. British Journal of Educational Technology, 39(5), 775-786. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8535.2007.00793.x.

Bransford, J., Brown, A., & Cocking, R. (2000). How people learn: brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, D.C. National Academy Press.

Cooper, J. (2006). The digital divide: The special case of gender. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 22(5), 320–334. Wiley Online Library. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2729.2006.00185.x.

DET. (2010). National Secondary School Computer Fund Queensland State Schools Guidelines Contents. Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. Retrieved from http://education.qld.gov.au/smartclassrooms/pdf/nsscf-guidelines.pdf.

Downes, S. (2007). What connectivism is. Retrieved June 5, 2011, from http://halfanhour.blogspot.com/2007/02/what-connectivism-is.html.

Downes, S. (2009). Learning networks and connective knowledge. In H. H. Yang & S. C.-Y. Yuen (Eds.), Collective intelligence and elearning 2.0: Implications of web-based communities and networking (pp. 1-22). IGI Global.

Feldgen, M., & Clua, O. (2004). Games as a motivation for freshman students to learn programming. Frontiers in Education (Vol. 3, p. S1H/11-S1H/16). Savannah, GA: IEEE.

Fletcher, G. H. L., & Lu, J. J. (2009). Human computing skills: Rethinking the K-12 experience. Communications of the ACM, 52(2), 23. doi: 10.1145/1461928.1461938.

Harden, R., & Stamper, N. (1999). What Is a Spiral Curriculum?. Medical Teacher, 21(2), 141–43. doi: 10.1080/01421599979752.

Hargittai, E. (2010). Digital Na(t)ives? Variation in Internet Skills and Uses among Members of the ÒNet Generation.Ó Sociological Inquiry, 80(1), 92-113. doi: 10.1111/j.1475-682X.2009.00317.x.

Jones, C., Ramanau, R., Cross, S., & Healing, G. (2010). Net generation or Digital Natives: Is there a distinct new generation entering university? Computers & Education, 54(3), 722-732. Elsevier Ltd. doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2009.09.022.

Jones, D. (2011). Reflection and conclusions: Learning brief. Retrieved March 18, 2011, from https://davidtjones.wordpress.com/2011/03/15/reflection-and-conclusions-learning-brief/.

Kaarst-Brown, M. L., & Guzman, I. R. (2010). A cultural perspective on individual choices of STEM education and subsequent occupations. Proceedings of the 2010 Special Interest Group on Management Information Systemʼs 48th annual conference on Computer personnel research on Computer personnel research – SIGMIS-CPR Õ10 (p. 55). New York, New York, USA: ACM Press. doi: 10.1145/1796900.1796926.

Kafai, Yasmin, Peppler, K., & Chapman, R. (2009). The Computer Clubhouse: Constructionism and creativity in youth communities (p. 162). New York: Teachers College Press.

Kearsley, G., & Shneiderman, B. (1998). Engagement Theory: A framework for technology-based teaching and learning. Educational Technology, 38(5), 20-23.

Klawe, M., Whitney, T., & Simard, C. (2009). Women in computing—take 2. Communications of the ACM, 52(2), 68–76. ACM. Retrieved June 1, 2011, from http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1461947.

Kop, R., & Hill, A. (2008). Connectivism Learning theory of the future or vestige of the past. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 9(3). Retrieved February 28, 2011, from http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/viewArticle/523/1103%22.

Lenhart, A. (2011). ÒHow do [they] even do that?Ó Myths and facts about the impact of technology on the lives of American teens. Retrieved May 30, 2011, from http://pewinternet.org/Presentations/2011/Apr/From-Texting-to-Twitter.aspx.

Maloney, J. H., Peppler, K., Kafai, Y., Resnick, M., & Rusk, N. (2008). Programming by choice: urban youth learning programming with scratch. ACM SIGCSE Bulletin, 40(1), 367–371. ACM. Retrieved June 1, 2011, from http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1352322.1352260.

McDougall, A., & Boyle, M. (2004). Student Strategies for Learning Computer Programming: Implications for Pedagogy in Informatics. Education and Information Technologies, 9(2), 109–116. Springer. Retrieved June 1, 2011, from http://www.springerlink.com/index/H221286T0727KQ50.pdf.

Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R. (2008). Learning styles: Concepts and evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 9(3), 105–119. Wiley-Blackwell. Retrieved May 29, 2011, from http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/bpl/pspi/2008/00000009/00000003/art00002.

Platsidou, M., & Metallidou, P. (2009). Validity and Reliability Issues of Two Learning Style Inventories in a Greek Sample : Kolb Õ s Learning Style Inventory and Felder & Soloman Õ s Index of Learning Styles. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 20(3), 324-335.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9(5), 1-6.

QSA. (2010). Information Processing and Technology (IPT): Senior Syllabus 2010. Assessment. Spring Hill, QLD, Australia. Retrieved from http://www.qsa.qld.edu.au/downloads/senior/snr_ipt_10_syll.pdf.

Tangney, B., Oldham, E., Conneely, C., Barrett, S., & Lawlor, J. (2010). Pedagogy and Processes for a Computer Programming Outreach Workshop—The Bridge to College Model. Education, IEEE Transactions on, 53(1), 53–60. IEEE. doi: 10.1109/TE.2009.2023210.

Tapscott, D. (1998). Growing up digital: The rise of the Net Generation. New York: McGraw-Hill.

A profile of learners in an IPT class

The last post was the first step in designing a unit of work for a senior IPT (Information and Processing Technology) course as part of an assignment for a course titled ICTs for Learning Design. The intent is to show an ability to integrate e-learning into learning design in effective ways. The first part of the assignment requires a profile of the learners. The following is my first attempt at such a profile. I’m very interested to hear comments from those folk who are currently teaching IPT. Am I on the right track? What have I missed?

Learning Management Questions: 1, 2, and 3

The course and program I am studying is based on the concept of “learning management” which has a technique called the Learning Design Process which is based on 8 Learning Management Questions that

that organises ‘information’ required of learning managers for the successful sequencing, pacing and importantly delivery of curriculum material for individual learners.

The notion of the teacher having to sequence, pace and deliver curriculum material is of itself a fairly specific and somewhat limiting perspective on teaching. A perspective that I’m not sure fits real well with the approach I’m thinking of for my design. I also have a problem with the teleological nature of the design

This process enables learning managers to focus their work on learner progress and future learning objectives; to assemble the required ‘ingredients’ for a successful learning program (design) and to then implement the plan using appropriate pedagogical strategies.

But let’s leave the questioning aside and tick the boxes.

The first three LM questions have to do with profiling the student, they are

  1. What does the learner already know?
  2. Where does the learner need/want to be?
  3. How does the learner best learn?

These are the questions I’m going to seek to answer in the following. The assignment suggests/requires that we do this profiling within the context of our existing school. I’m going to argue against that because what I’m designing is not going to be taught to these students, mainly because it is quite a radical departure from existing practice. But also because there is a tendency for IPT courses to be slightly idiosyncratic in their choice of tools and approaches. For example, my IPT mentor teacher has experience and knowledge with Visual Basic and Access. So his IPT curriculum is based around the use of those tools to achieve appropriate learning outcomes. I have little to no experience with those tools.

What does the learner already know?

As a senior course, students entering the course will have completed schooling up to Year 10. This may or may not have included formal study of Information Technology (IT). It is likely, however, that enrolling students will have had some formal experience of computing in the lower grades. It is also increasingly expected that enrolling students will have access to a computer through the National Secondary School Computer Fund’s (DET, 2010) aim of a 1:1 computer to student ratio by 31 December 2011. This access to computers should increase students’ formal experience of computing to support learning.

It is also expected that a majority of students will have some level of informal experience with the use of Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) in the form of either computers or mobile devices. The following table summarises some data from a talk on American teens (12-17) from the Pew Research Centre. The talk uses data from a survey of 800 teenagers from September 2009. Based on observations in local schools, these numbers seem, if anything, a bit low in the Australian context.

Statistics Percentage
Online 93%
No computer 8%
Own a cell phone 75%
Online with cell phone 21%
Own a game console 80%
Own a portable gaming device 51%
On a social networking service 73%
Blog 14%

It is widely suggested that people born since around 1980 – having been immersed in the use of ICTs for most of their lives – are somehow different in terms of skills and interests and that this has significant implications for education. Bennet et al (2008, p. 776) suggest that these poorly evidenced claims have created a a “moral panic” that has restricted critical and rational debate. Jones, Ramanau et al (2010, p 722) through their examination of first year undergraduates at five English Universities that

the generation is not homogenous in its use and appreciation of new technologies and that there are significant variations amongst students that lie within the Net generation age band

Hargittai (2010) found that there is significant variation in Internet know-how amongst young adults and that those from more privileged backgrounds use the Internet in a larger number of activities and in more informed ways.

The majority will not be familiar with the requirements and practices of a computing professional. In particular, the constraints and interesting effects that having real users can generate. In particular, the gulf that can be created between an IT team and its users. Students, like most people, tend to assume that IT is either programming or desktop support. Computer science – a more theoretical ancestor of IT – has long tried to dissuade people of the narrow and misleading image of computer science as programming (Fletcher and Lu, 2009).

It is also likely that the students enrolling in IPT will not be representative of the full diversity of senior students. Bias and stereotyping of computing and the people who do computing continues to limit the diversity of people actively studying and becoming computing professionals (Klawe, Whitney and Simard, 2009). Some have concluded that men have a relative advantage over women when learning about or using computers (Cooper, 2006). Kaarst-Brown and Guzman (2010), however, argue that this focus on the characteristics of gender-based, or other, groupings is insufficient to explain individual attraction to a Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) career. Instead, they argue that a new cultural perspective – one of which they provide – is necessary to generate renewed thinking about attracting students to IT studies (Kaarst-Brown and Guzman, 2010, p 63).

Where does the learner need/want to be?

This is where I’ll need to draw on some of the information from the last post which briefly examined the IPT syllabus for Queensland schools.

In terms of a hidden curriculum some of the following are potential candidates

  • An understanding of how creative working with IT can be.
  • A sense that they can produce something useful and make a contribution beyond school and family.

How does the learner best learn?

For some there is an expectation that the question of learning styles will in some way be included as a response to this question. Pashler, McDaniel et al (2008) argue that while there is evidence of learning preferences there is little research that suggests a positive connection between learning outcomes and differentiation of learning based on those preferences. There is, however, evidence that teaching and learning strategies that support the learning style preferences students can increase the motivation of students to learn (Feldgen and Clue, 2004). Platsidou and Metallidou (2009) offer another perspective, suggesting that learning styles inventories are more useful as a tool to encourage self-development of individual students, rather than as a mechanism to categorise and group students. The preceding mixed messages along with the difficulty involved in effectively pre-designing teaching and learning strategies based on assumptions around the mix of potential learning styles of students limit the attraction of this approach. It does appear more effective to make students aware of their learning preferences, the existence of other learning styles, adopt a course design that allows students to adopt and adapt their own learning strategies, and embed into that design approaches that encourage students to reflect and modify their strategies.

The book “How People Learn” (Committee on Developments in the Science of Learning, 2000, pp 14-19) presents three key findings related to learning that have a good research based and implications for teaching. These three findings are:

  1. Students come to the classroom with preconceptions about how the world works. If their initial understanding is not engaged, they may fail to grasp the new concepts and information that are taught, or they may learn them for purposes of a test but revert to their preconceptions outside the classroom.
  2. To develop competence in an area of inquiry, students must: (a) have a deep foundation of factual knowledge, (b) understand facts and ideas in the context of a conceptual framework, and (c) organize knowledge in ways that facilitate retrieval and application.
  3. A “metacognitive” approach to instruction can help students learn to take control of their own learning by defining learning goals and monitoring their progress in achieving them.

As mentioned in previous work for this course

Too many IT courses rely on simple and narrow problems in order to focus on the principles. The readings on constructivism, connectivism, and Engagement Theory (Kearsley & Shneiderman, 1998) have reinforced the learning and motivational advantages of engaging students in authentic problems.

Within the literature on teaching IT, computer science, and related fields there has been a range of work that has arisen from this type of observation. Maloney et al (2008) and McDougall and Boyle (2004) report on approaches where with appropriate scaffolding students are helped to learn via bricolage with much of the learning initiated by the student and help arising mostly from peers and mentors, rather than the teacher. The computer clubhouse model (Kafai et al, 2009), an after-school learning environment, is based on four core principles: support learning through design experiences, help youth build on their own interests, cultivate an “emergent community”, and create and environment of respect and trust. Tagney et al (2010) build and extend on the clubhouse model with a team-based system with teams adopting a project-oriented approach working to meet set objectives with hard deadlines. The work of Tagney et al (2010), and some of the other work described here, is based on one or both of Vygotsky’s version of social constructivism and Papert’s constructionism (1993). I see some significant value from a connectivist perspective of encouraging students to interact with communities outside the classroom, especially existing communities associated with real life systems.

The research literature on encouraging greater diversity amongst IT related disciplines (e.g. Kaarst-Brown and Guzman, 2010; Cooper, 2006; Klawe et al, 2009) suggest a range of strategies that can aid non-traditional learners. A small sample of these include:

  • Allow female students to use computers in same sex groups or alone (Cooper, 2006).
  • Work with female students on how the attribute success and failure (Cooper, 2006).
  • Incorporate opportunities to see non-traditional role models (Cooper, 2006).
  • Engage students actively in their conceptions of the IT culture and demonstrate alternatives (Kaarst-Brown and Guzman, 2010).

Some conclusions from the profile

The following is a short list of arbitrary thoughts that arose while writing the above.

  • The class design should aim to dissuade students that IT is programming or desktop support.
    Don’t start with programming. Though Fletcher and Lu (2009) disagree, so more thought here. Give students experience at the full range of computing roles: from level 1 helpdesk support through to management.
  • Computational thinking is the new term to describe what some see as the predecessor to programming.
    This may also cover some of what the IT syllabus talks about. From Fletcher and Lu (2009)

    The redesign and implementation of K–12 curricula to provide adequate exposure to and practice in CT should, of course, be coupled with ongoing efforts to rethink the ways in which we transition students into programming and higher-level CS.

References

Bennett, S., Maton, K., & Kervin, L. (2008). The Òdigital nativesÓ debate: A critical review of the evidence. British Journal of Educational Technology, 39(5), 775-786. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8535.2007.00793.x.

Committee on Developments in the Science of Learning. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience and school. Washington DC: National Academy Press.

Cooper, J. (2006). The digital divide: The special case of gender. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 22(5), 320–334. Wiley Online Library. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2729.2006.00185.x.

DET. (2010). National Secondary School Computer Fund Queensland State Schools Guidelines Contents. Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. Retrieved from http://education.qld.gov.au/smartclassrooms/pdf/nsscf-guidelines.pdf.

Feldgen, M., & Clua, O. (2004). Games as a motivation for freshman students to learn programming. Frontiers in Education (Vol. 3, p. S1H/11-S1H/16). Savannah, GA: IEEE.

Fletcher, G. H. L., & Lu, J. J. (2009). Human computing skills: Rethinking the K-12 experience. Communications of the ACM, 52(2), 23. doi: 10.1145/1461928.1461938.

Hargittai, E. (2010). Digital Na(t)ives? Variation in Internet Skills and Uses among Members of the ÒNet Generation.Ó Sociological Inquiry, 80(1), 92-113. doi: 10.1111/j.1475-682X.2009.00317.x.

Jones, C., Ramanau, R., Cross, S., & Healing, G. (2010). Net generation or Digital Natives: Is there a distinct new generation entering university? Computers & Education, 54(3), 722-732. Elsevier Ltd. doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2009.09.022.

Kaarst-Brown, M. L., & Guzman, I. R. (2010). A cultural perspective on individual choices of STEM education and subsequent occupations. Proceedings of the 2010 Special Interest Group on Management Information Systemʼs 48th annual conference on Computer personnel research on Computer personnel research – SIGMIS-CPR Õ10 (p. 55). New York, New York, USA: ACM Press. doi: 10.1145/1796900.1796926.

Kafai, Yasmin, Peppler, K., & Chapman, R. (2009). The Computer Clubhouse: Constructionism and creativity in youth communities (p. 162). New York: Teachers College Press.

Klawe, M., Whitney, T., & Simard, C. (2009). Women in computing—take 2. Communications of the ACM, 52(2), 68–76. ACM. Retrieved June 1, 2011, from http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1461947.

Maloney, J. H., Peppler, K., Kafai, Y., Resnick, M., & Rusk, N. (2008). Programming by choice: urban youth learning programming with scratch. ACM SIGCSE Bulletin, 40(1), 367–371. ACM. Retrieved June 1, 2011, from http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1352322.1352260.

McDougall, A., & Boyle, M. (2004). Student Strategies for Learning Computer Programming: Implications for Pedagogy in Informatics. Education and Information Technologies, 9(2), 109–116. Springer. Retrieved June 1, 2011, from http://www.springerlink.com/index/H221286T0727KQ50.pdf.

Papert, S. (1993). The Childrenʼs Machine. New York: Basic Books.

Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R. (2008). Learning styles: Concepts and evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 9(3), 105–119. Wiley-Blackwell. Retrieved May 29, 2011, from http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/bpl/pspi/2008/00000009/00000003/art00002.

Platsidou, M., & Metallidou, P. (2009). Validity and Reliability Issues of Two Learning Style Inventories in a Greek Sample : Kolb Õ s Learning Style Inventory and Felder & Soloman Õ s Index of Learning Styles. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 20(3), 324-335.

Tangney, B., Oldham, E., Conneely, C., Barrett, S., & Lawlor, J. (2010). Pedagogy and Processes for a Computer Programming Outreach Workshop—The Bridge to College Model. Education, IEEE Transactions on, 53(1), 53–60. IEEE. doi: 10.1109/TE.2009.2023210.

Requirements and ideas for an eLearning design for IPT

This week is assignment week. One of the assignments I need to complete is for the course ICTs for Learning Design. This final assignment requires us to design a unit of work (a sequence of learning experiences) for a particular subject that makes effective use of eLearning. The following is the first step in this process.

The process started over a fortnight ago with a post asking where all the innovative IPT (Information Processing and Technology) courses were? Many thanks to @meganrodda for sharing her games design program.

The intent here is to look at the new (2010) Queensland Syllabus for IPT courses and use a unit of work from there as the basis for the assignment. The intent is to try to come up with something right out of left field. Something that avoids all of the common approaches and comes at the question of IPT from a different angle. In the context of this course, one that hits some of the theoretical buttons so desired in the e-learning course. After all, this just has to be a design. I don’t have to implement it, yet.

The idea that is in the back of my head is one I floated briefly in this post. i.e. structure an entire IPT course around a particular open source tool like Moodle or WordPress. Something that has a large community and a plugin architecture that allows fairly simple modification. The students would have to engage with the community, become familiar with the tool, start answering questions/writing documentation for the tool, creating instances of the tool (e.g. managing a Moodle instance for some folk), and finally modifying the tool in someway.

Some detail on IPT

The following are a few choice excerpts from the main IPT syllabus document that I’m hoping might inform my design.

What is it?

Information Processing and Technology is a course of study that provides students with
knowledge, skills, processes and understanding of information technology. It emphasises problem identification and solution rather than the use of specific applications, and is an intellectual discipline that involves a study of information systems, algorithms, software programming, human–computer interaction, and the social and ethical issues associated with the use of information technology.

Some important components

This course should prove especially relevant to students by helping them to engage with the rapid rate of change associated with information technology and to appreciate its advantages and disadvantages….It is therefore important that an approach be employed that enables students to develop higher order processes of analysis, synthesis and evaluation, and that will best equip them to communicate their understanding of the conceptual base integral to information technology.

General objectives

There are four general objectives that are required to be taught. The following table summarises the four.

Objective Encompasses Outcome
Knowledge and application
declarative knowledge and procedural application
knowledge of the terminology, applications and effects of ICTs, and of the syntax and rules of programming languages and query languages
understanding of applicable concepts, design processes, diagrammatical representations, and social and ethical issues
application of processes and algorithms for the solution of simple and familiar problems.
define and explain information technology terminology, concepts, processes and principles
apply set processes to solve simple or familiar information technology problems
Analysis and synthesis deconstruction of a setting to analyse a problem or situation to determine their salient features and their suitability for solution using information technology
utilisation of appropriate design methods and principles
synthesis of solutions to problems or situations that are unfamiliar, significant in scope or complex in nature.
interpret and analyse problems and situations requiring information technology use
design and develop solutions to unrehearsed or complex information technology problems.
Evaluation and communication use of logic and reason in a range of evaluation approaches to make judgments and recommendations
application of metrics and protocols to test solutions, and of prescribed criteria to draw conclusions and make recommendations
evaluation of processes for identified products and solutions
construction of documentation using the information literacy, software or information systems development cycles
presentation of technical ideas, design concepts, solutions and evaluations.
test processes and solutions, apply prescribed criteria, reasoning or evidence to draw conclusions and make recommendations
construct documentation and present information to convey meaning using communication conventions.
Attitudes and values It includes envisioning possible, probable and preferred futures, and taking responsibility for actions and decisions while promoting ethical practices. A course in Information Processing and Technology promotes problem solving skills, teamwork, and communication through the development of products, investigation and the completion of assessment instruments. appreciate the complex interactions between information technology and individuals, and information technology and society
recognise and value their potential to become productive participants in the development of information technology
develop responsible attitudes towards the use of information technology
appreciate the value of working independently and with others.

Course structure

55 hours per semester, over 4 semesters giving 220 hours.

165-180 hours comes from 6 core topics

  1. Algorithms.
    Use of a formal representation system to understand the basics of algorithms, development, sequence, selection etc. Aside: I’m not such a big fan of formal representation systems (e.g. Nassi-Schneidermann etc.)
  2. Relational information systems
    Arghh, they mention DIKW as part of the core. etc. etc.
    Interesting: “analyse an existing information system” is one of the listed outcomes. As is “create, document and evaluate a working information system”.
  3. Software Programming
    3GL programming, debugging, testing etc.
  4. Structured query language
    I find it interesting that this is a core topic separate from relational information systems. But basically it’s SQL.
  5. Social and ethical issues
  6. Human-computer interaction

There are two topics for additional material (as well as extension material for some of the core topics)

  • Intelligent systems.
    AI, knowledge-based systems etc. Gees, Prolog and LISP. There is a bit of deja vu from my undergrad CS days in the late 80s here.
  • Computer systems.
    Everything from processors and von Neuman architecture through to systems administration.

Where appropriate, topics should be investigated through the design–develop–evaluate cycle

A school’s implementation of the syllabus has to be described in a work program that is approved. There are one and two example work programs available.

Learning experience

The design-develop-evaluate (DDE) cycle is emphasised. Also, learning experiences should:

  • provide opportunities for students to achieve the general objectives of the syllabus
  • suit the particular needs, abilities, learning styles and interests of the students
  • provide opportunities for students to think and work individually and with others in a cooperative way
  • be interesting and challenging

The is explicit mention made of progressing from simple to more complex experiences. I find this somewhat contradictory to the ideas behind constructivism etc. Wouldn’t exposing students to complex, authentic experiences from the start be okay, as long as there was fairly significant scaffolding at the start?

And now a list commences of experiences students should have

  • Using information technology.
  • Solving problems.
  • Extended writing.
  • Presentation.
  • Collaboration.

Assessment

Some example types are given, with significant detail, including:

  • Supervised written assessment
  • Extended response.
  • Product assessment.

Each student needs to have a verification folio.

Some initial principles

Some misc. principles that I think might be useful in guiding the plan.

A real system for a real audience

One of the example work plans has the students developing a dynamic web application to keep a “travel blog”. This type of assessment is one of the problems I have with IPT (though I remain uncertain about how realistic addressing this problem is within the practical constraints of actually teaching it).

Here are the problems I have with this approach

  • You would never do it this way.
    Very, very few people would ever write their own travel blog software. They’d get an account on WordPress or some other blogging service. I’m quite sure if you looked through the content/criteria for IPT you would find something suggesting that writing your own travel blog software is inefficient and inappropriate.
  • Your friends and family know this.
    If a student runs to their friends to show off their travel blog, the friends will ask “Why don’t you just use WordPress?”.
  • There are no users of the tool.
    Having people using your tool is important.
  • There is no community of developers.
    The student is often relying on the teacher for advice. There are no other experts around to help.

Creation is the hardest task

Too often algorithm design or programming courses start with students creating algorithms and programs. I’ve never been a fan of this approach. I initially learned how to program by typing in programs from computer magazines, analysing those programs and stealing ideas. i.e I examined working programs first.

And that was in the day when it was quite common to create a brand new, stand alone program. Increasingly over recent years programmers seem more likely to be adding plugins or mods to an existing system. As a result, being able to analyse and become familiar with an existing system is an important skill.

Allowing space for the advanced students

On average, most senior high school students are going to be reasonable computer literate. There will, however, always be the hand full that are streets ahead. I’d like to see a design for IPT that provides a space for these students to learn and experience new things.

Increasing transparency and collaboration

What passes for collaboration in the IPT classes I’ve observed is fairly ad hoc and usually limited to friends helping friends or the smart kid being asked for advice. I’m interested in embedding collaboration more tightly into the class. In part through some of the practices of methodologies like eXtreme Programming (e.g pair programming, story board, standup meetings etc.).

Am also interested in using project management software like Basecamp to manage the workload and tasks. Have students project manage their learning, both individually and as a group. Make their progress transparent.

No or minimal teaching

The above ties into my desire to minimise or totally remove the need for me to be “the teacher”. I guess the ultimate aim would be for my role to be the “lead developer”. The guy with a bit more experience that guides the team members through there tasks with the aim of them not needing any help. I don’t want to be in the situation of having to give “lectures” on SQL, ORM or language syntax. That’s a task to be taken on by the resources that are out on the web. Some of which might be identified by me, but much of it would hopefully be identified by the students.

Realistic?

As mentioned above, I don’t imagine implementing something like this will be easy within the practical requirements and constraints of a school setting. Especially for a novice high school teacher. But you have to dream big. Next to connect this to the students.

ICTs for Learning Design: Week 7

After a couple of weeks focused on assessment, not to mention two assignments which I’m far from happy with, it’s time to return to some study. First, the ICTs for Learning Design course and this week the focus is on

  • WebQuests, including “contemporary ideas about webquests and why they are not necessarily aligned with our current perception of good curriculum”.
    That should prove interesting because I’m fairly sure a previous teacher of this course liked WebQuests.
  • Thinking routines.
  • Optional ideas.
    I’m particularly interested to see how this is structured. My impression is that many students are struggling with this course. Consequently the idea of optional may well get translated into “not required”.

Webquests

Defined by http://webquest.org/ as

A WebQuest is an inquiry-oriented lesson format in which most or all the information that learners work with comes from the web. The model was developed by Bernie Dodge at San Diego State University in February, 1995 with early input from SDSU/Pacific Bell Fellow Tom March, the Educational Technology staff at San Diego Unified School District, and waves of participants each summer at the Teach the Teachers Consortium.

This is an approach I’ve heard a bit about, but never really seen in action.

Mm, this description raises some interesting questions

is wrapped around a doable and interesting task that is ideally a scaled down version of things that adults do as citizens or workers.

I imagine there are some “inquiry” folk who pause at the “scaled down” description. At this end of the argument, I imagine using scaffolding to bring the students up to the complete complexity might be preferred to scaling down. I think this will be a problem I fall into often.

There is a WebQuest lesson template which provides a good idea of the structure. A structure that includes the following sections

  • Introduction – prepare and hook the reader
  • Task – describe the end result of the learner’s activity.
    My first response is “what about surprise”. Education folk seem to always want to give the surprise away. I recognise the need for learners to understand the purpose, sometimes, but there is also a place for surprise, not to mention the question of unexpected outcomes.
  • Process
  • Evaluation
    Ahh, rubrics raise their head. I’m getting more and more disappointed in how rubrics are used, they really don’t make things clear. i.e. yes I understand that as the grades go up the quality of performance have to go up. What I want to know is what your expectations are for each level of performance and the rubric doesn’t really help.
  • Conclusion
  • Credits
  • Teacher Page

And look, design patterns have made it into the WebQuest world. Most of these design patterns strike me as not specifically for WebQuests, but as good designs for general inquiry-based learning activities.

Which makes me wonder about the differences between WebQuests and lesson plans? There are some structural differences and WebQuests are specifically web and inquiry-based, but the aim appears to be essentially the same. Especially if you happen to be someone who values inquiry/problem-based learning and just uses the Web and online resources as needed.

Oh dear, I have to take exception to this claim

These five verbs: design, decide, create, analyze and predict, represent the highest levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. Starting with those verbs guarantees that your WebQuest will be wrapped around a higher level thinking task.

This reminds of some university experiences with learning outcomes. When the learning outcomes in a group of Masters courses were deemed to be at too low a Bloom’s level for a particular jurisdiction action had to be taken. i.e. verbs from the higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy (like design, create, analyse) were substituted in for lower level verbs. No other work was done.

Using higher level “Bloom’s verbs” doesn’t guarantee anything. The activities you ask the students to undertake have to require them to actually engage in those “verbs”.

And there’s a link to a good WebQuest.

And now onto WebQuest 2.0. And this seems to be where the idea of WebQuests not being aligned with modern ideas about learning.

Second, research in Self Determination Theory and critical thinking demonstrate the greater learning gains that can be achieved when students are self initiated……Thus, although we might feel as though students will “learn more” when we actively shape their activities into tasks, research suggests that what we lose in the trade-off are long-term retention, interest in further study, better achievement, more conceptual understanding and mental health. Win the battle and lose the war? WebQuests delivered as a series of hoops for students to jump through are not “scaffolds,” but little more than teacher-directed learning dressed up as what might be moderately more engaging Web-based learning.

Which connects well with what I thought the concern might be, however, I have to disagree somewhat. At an extreme, leaving students to be “self initiated” can, in some contexts and groups, generate a sense of confusion and frustration the actively disengages students. There is a balance to be kept here, and it is no simple task. It would have been very interesting to have researched the perceptions of students in this course throughout the term and beyond. As recent as a couple of weeks ago, I sensed a great deal of disconnection from the use of technology for learning amongst many students. The “self initiated” aspect of this course may, I think, have contributed some of this.

Actually, while on the topic of this course, I feel that there is some connections with what comes next in WebQuests 2.0

How do these CEQ-ALL inspired Learning Paths actually eventuate? Using an online learning space provides both the private workspace and public audience that are both important to an authentic learning process. By using a WordPress blog or Ning network, a teacher-centered classroom shifts to a flattened learning hierarchy where each member of the community can initiate posts, get feedback, leave comments or contribute new content.

It’s my impression that while this course has Moodle course site (with forums) and requires each student to create an individual blog, not enough encouragement and scaffolding is provided early on to create a “flattened learning hierarchy”. I think the separation into individual blogs and no attempt at aggregation encouraged this difficulty, but the uncertainty around teaching staff in the early weeks of the course also contributed.
Simply having an online environment does not create a “flattened learning hierarchy”, the members of the community need to be familiar and comfortable with contributing and using such a hierarchy.

Thinking routines

There has been an emphasis in this course on using and becoming familiar with various thinking routines, such as this collection and discussed in this paper. With this paper (mmm, 46 pages), I am now meant to

think about it, contextualise it, what does it tell you about thinking routines? Can you see the value in your own learning, that of your students? Can you contextualise?

This paper arises from the Visible Thinking Team at Harvard. The connection to my context is probably captured in this quote

Understanding how teachers establish, use, and adapt thinking routines to make them a part of the culture of the classroom provides useful insights into how thoughtful classroom environments can be established and maintained.

The “enculturative model of dispositional development” is a new term, but the idea of requiring an appropriate culture to create a disposition is something I can agree with. To some extent this idea resonates with what I think is wrong within University teaching and learning, the culture is wrong. Mmm, eight forces the shape classroom culture: expectations, time, modeling, routines, opportunities, relationships, physical environment, and language. Need to remember this Thinking routines are seen as a “high-leverage practice” as they touch on serveral of the cultural forces.

The use of the term “routines” (rather than strategy for example) is quite specific. It is based on the idea that routines become part of the culture, they contribute to the establishment of the context in which learning takes place. Instructional strategies on the otherhand, are used on occasion.

Four types of routines in literature

  1. housekeeping
  2. management – help students prepare for learning
  3. discourse – structure the discussion and sharing of students’ learning
  4. learning –

Thinking routines are seen as a subset of discourse or learning routines.

Characteristics of routines

  • Explicit in nature – mention the name and the students know it.
  • Instrumental – designed to achieve a specific purpose.
  • Used over and over again.
  • Useful across contexts.
  • Used as both individual and group practices.
  • Having only a few steps.

Okay, so now there is an epistemological analysis of thinking routines. Not exactly all that accessible to pragmatic pre-service teachers, though interesting. The idea is that thinking routines encourage students to engage students in certain epistemic moves – types of thinking – and these moves should influence how the students think or think about thinking.

A list of epistemological beliefs conveyed by this specific subset of thinking routines

  • Learning is doing. i.e. not just read, but do something with it.
  • Learning stats with their own ideas.
  • Learning involves getting personally involved.
  • Questions are engines and outcomes.
  • Learning involves uncovering complexity.
  • Learning can be a group process and a group outcome.

Analysis of digital technologies

What follows is a ~1600 word reflective blog post required for assessment purposes. I find myself less than pleased with this assignment. In part because I don’t think 1600 words is enough to do justice to the problem. But also because of my own limitations in terms of knowledge of the context and content.

Introduction

This assignment involved examining four groups of technology, selecting one technology from each group and subsequently analysing how that technology could be applied in my teaching areas of Information Technology (IT) and Mathematics. Table 1 summarises the four groups and the specific technology I chose from each group. The references are to blog posts that provide more detail.

Table 1. The four chosen e-learning applications
Group Technology/Application
1 – Online spaces Blogs as individual, reflective journals (Jones, 2011a)
2 – Images, video and audio Digital video and WCYDWT (Jones, 2011b; 2011c)
3 – Information presentation VoiceThread poster session (Jones, 2011d; 2011e)
4 – Open Minecraft (Jones, 2011f; 2011g)

Before providing more detail on the four chosen e-learning designs, this post starts with a summary of some broader perspectives that informed how I approach e-learning design and some general principles and practices that would underpin implementation.

Theoretical perspectives, tension and influences

The Week 2 reading for this course (CQUniversity, 2011) suggest that

Learning with ICT is beneficial only when appropriate learning approaches are taken.

What are “appropriate learning approaches”? The reading (CQUniversity, 2011) continues

Learning should be authentic, it should be embedded in a real context. It should be connected to the world beyond the boundaries of the learning context. Learning should be problematic, in real life, learning is always messy and ill-defined.

While I sympathise with this perspective, it is my belief that effective and efficient use of ICTs to facilitate and transform learning must be informed by a broader collection of perspectives. The following sections summarise some of the perspectives that create a diverse set of tensions that in turn influences my approach to e-learning design.

Alternate learning theories

Rowe (2006, p. 2) argues, amongst other points (emphasis added)

there is a strong body of evidence that exclusive emphasis on constructivist approaches to teaching are neither initially nor subsequently in the best interests of any group of students, and especially for those experiencing learning difficulties (see: Center, 2005; Farkota, 2003a, 2005; Moats, 2000; Swanson, 1999; Swanson & Deshler, 2003; Westwood, 1999; 2000, 2001, 2003a,b,c, 2004, 2006).

Based on my experience and reading, I remain hesitant to adopt an exclusive constructivist approach. Instead the intent is that my teaching will have elements of constructivism, some connectivism (Downes, 2011), and some direct instruction.

The mix will depend on the context (see next section). In some situations, that mix might be result I an “extreme” constructivist pedagogy such as some project-based learning designs. Within such a design, it would be up to the students to select the what they need to do and how. My role would simply be facilitator, not designer.

Limitations of generic analysis routines

Based on previous experience in analysing e-learning technologies (Behrens, Jamieson, Jones, & Cranston, 2005; Jones, Jamieson, & Clark, 2003; Jones, Vallack, & Fitzgerald-Hood, 2008) I’ve arrived at the perspective that generic analysis routines, such as SWOT analysis, are somewhat limiting. Reasons include:

  1. No theoretical guidance.
    Mishra and Koehler (2008) describe e-learning design as a wicked problem. SWOT analysis provides no additional theoretical guidance to reduce the difficulty of this problem.
  2. Analysis from one perspective.
    This limits the value of the analysis, as it becomes biased. </li.
  3. It’s more than pedagogy and technology.
    The components of the TPACK framework (Mishra & Koehler, 2008) include technology, pedagogy, content and context. The analysis here has focused only on the first two components.

I have made some attempts to address these limitations by performing SWOT analysis from three perspectives – student, teacher, school leadership –but time and length limits prevent further work.

General practices and difficulties

When thinking about e-learning design for this assignment I have generated a number of general difficulties (Table 2) and practices (Table 3) that need to be addressed. While perhaps not explicitly stated in the following designs, these practices and difficulties have been considered.

Table 2. General difficulties
Difficulty Description
Mathematics online Writing mathematics online is difficult with no standard (Hayes, 2009).
What is authentic What I deem authentic may not appear so to students.
Time in the day Developing effective, innovative e-learning applications will take time that may not always be available.
Table 3. General practices
Practice Description
Overlapping and integrated Where possible use of these ICTs will not be in stand-alone lessons. Use will overlap. e.g. as described in one blog post (Jones, 2011b) if creation of digital video is required during a term, the class “getting to know you” activity might include digital video creation in order to get students started with the technology.
Training Training in the use of the ICTs and the broader ethical, legal and safety issues would be integrated. In part, as per the appropriate curriculum framework (e.g. the ICTs KLA) and the development of 21st century literacies.
Anonymity Where applicable students will be encouraged/required to use pseudonyms and other tactics to maintain anonymity within public online spaces.
Observation The connectivist/social constructivist flavour in these designs often requires students to interact with a group of people, including teachers. The openness enables observation, both for feedback, but also safety.
Sandbox and opt-out Where appropriate activities will occur within a sandbox – school specific area – such as with Minecraft. Who can access the sandbox would vary.

Group 1 – Blogs as individual, reflective journals

The focus here is on web blogs as individual, reflective journals. The design I’ve analysed and would adopt is based on a previous design I used within a university context (Jones, 2006; Jones & Luck, 2009). The basic model is:

  • Each student creates and maintains and individual blog for the entire term/class.
  • Blogs are used to post responses to specific tasks and also for general reflection.
  • Student blogs are aggregated, read and commented upon.

The design is intended to encourage student reflection in part through the blog becoming the students’ learning journal. The specific tasks would depend on the class and context, but would be designed to scaffold student learning and achieve specific learning outcomes. A particular emphasis would be on creating connections between students and appropriate members of the broader community. Another primary aim is to increase the visibility of student understanding and subsequently increase the level of feedback to the student. Reflection, feedback, collaboration, and active construction of artifacts are all seen as important activities for improving learning outcomes.

Group 2 – Digital video and WCYDWT

In terms of digital video, I am interested in the application of the What Can You Do With This (WCYDWT) (Meyer, 2010) approach to mathematics education. WCYDWT is a design strategy for mathematics through which multimedia materials – mostly video – can be used to show the students something interesting. This is then used as the spark for the question “What can you do with this?” and the subsequent collaborative, inquiry-based lesson around mathematics concepts. WCYDWT increases the interest and relevance of mathematics to the students, but also creates an environment in which students are scaffolded to think mathematically.

WCYDWT has a number of other attractions. There is an active and growing community of interested teachers producing WCYDWT resources (e.g. WCYDWT Group, 2011). Also, the initial technical resource and skill requirements are limited to the ability to show a digital video. There is, however, the possibility of expanding this approach much further so that students are creating video. For example, Noschese’s (2010) description of analysing the speed of cars on a local road using video.

Group 3 – VoiceThread research poster session

For group 3 technologies I chose to focus on the use of VoiceThread as an enabler for a public research poster session (Jones, 2011d). This is also based on an early project (CDDU, 2008). The idea is that:

  • Students are asked to create a research poster addressing a relevant topic.
  • Topic choice needs to connect with an important aspect of the curriculum, interest the students, and enable a connection with an external community.
  • Students create the poster using means of their choice, as long as a digital version can be created at the end (e.g. scanning a physical poster).
  • All student posters are uploaded to VoiceThread.
  • Virtual and physical poster sessions are held where students, parents or outside community members can comment on student posters.

In terms of learning theory and pedagogy, the approach has strong connections with constructionism (Papert & Harel, 1991), connectivism (Downes, 2011) and Learning Engagement theory (Kearsley & Shneiderman, 1998). The connectivism influence is why VoiceThread was chosen over other tools such as Glogster. In particular, VoiceThread’s support for comments in the form of text, audio or video.

While VoiceThread’s limited online authoring support can be seen as problem, it is also a potential positive as it increases student choice. Especially in terms of using traditional physical means. This reduces the required digital skills barrier, especially if this were used in mathematics.

Group 4 – Minecraft

Seymour Papert (2004) said

Because in our popular culture the informational side of the computer is the side that is most familiar and most useful, it has the tendency to strengthen that side of our education system. Now that’s good to strengthen it, but it’s also had the effect of pushing the balance over, away from the constructional side.

To some extent I saw the above designs as tending toward the informational. So, for this last group, I looked for a tool that lean toward the “constructional side”.

What I found was Minecraft, an award winning sandbox construction game (“Minecraft,” n d) that is gathering an increasing level of interest within education circles (Webster, 2011). It provides a virtual world in which resources are used to construct objects. Beyond encouraging the “constructional side”, Minecraft is relatively cheap, provides plugins that can be useful for a teacher, enables students to collaborate in world (or not), and can be run as a school (or class) only server.

The pedagogical possibilities of an open-ended virtual world are enormous, however, I found my limited content and contextual knowledge holding my ideas back. On further reflection, I am interested in how Minecraft could be used in an integrated and overlapping way for Year 8 and 9 Mathematics. Some possibilities include:

  • WCYWDWT activities created/shown within Minecraft.
  • Quests into existing Minecraft worlds that require students to apply mathematical knowledge and teamwork to finish.
  • Various pedagogical approaches around collaborative projects requiring the design and construction of replicas of real-world objects.

There are obvious and immediate connections with sections of the Mathematics KLA (QSA, 2007), e.g. the Space organiser. The more complex applications would require significant work, however, given findings around the positive effects of computer games on achievement in mathematics (e.g. Kebritchi, Hirumi, & Bai, 2010), it seems an effort worth making.

More difficult again, but also very interesting, would be the cross-curricular possibilities.

References

Behrens, S., Jamieson, K., Jones, D., & Cranston, M. (2005). Predicting system success using the Technology Acceptance Model: A case study. Sydney.

CDDU. (2008). Voice Thread for research posters. Retrieved April 14, 2011, from http://cddu.cqu.edu.au/index.php/Voice_Thread_for_Research_Posters.

CQUniversity. (2011). eLearning Design. Retrieved April 13, 2011, from http://moodle.cqu.edu.au/mod/resource/view.php?id=163843.

Downes, S. (2011). ‘Connectivism’ and Connective Knowledge. Retrieved April 9, 2011, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stephen-downes/connectivism-and-connecti_b_804653.html.

Hayes, B. (2009). Writing Math on the Web. American Scientist, 97(2), 98. doi: 10.1511/2009.77.98.

Jones, D. (2006). Blogs, reflective journals and aggregation: An initial experiment. Retrieved April 4, 2011, from https://davidtjones.wordpress.com/publications/blogs-reflective-journals-and-aggregation-an-initial-experiment/.

Jones, D. (2011a). Group 1 technologies: Blogs, Wikis and websites. Retrieved April 14, 2011, from https://davidtjones.wordpress.com/2011/04/06/group-1-technologies-blogs-wikis-and-websites/.

Jones, D. (2011b). Group 2 technologies: Images, audio and video. Retrieved April 14, 2011, from https://davidtjones.wordpress.com/2011/04/07/group-2-technologies-images-audio-and-video/.

Jones, D. (2011c). ICTs for learning design: Group 2 technologies – The readings. Retrieved April 14, 2011, from https://davidtjones.wordpress.com/2011/04/07/icts-for-learning-design-group-2-technologies-the-readings/.

Jones, D. (2011d). Group 3 technologies – The readings. Retrieved April 14, 2011, from https://davidtjones.wordpress.com/2011/04/07/group-2-technologies-images-audio-and-video/.

Jones, D. (2011e). Group 3 technologies – The activities. Retrieved April 14, 2011, from https://davidtjones.wordpress.com/2011/04/09/group-3-technologies-the-activities/.

Jones, D. (2011f). Group 4 technologies – activities. Retrieved April 14, 2011, from https://davidtjones.wordpress.com/2011/04/12/group-4-technologies-activities/.

Jones, D. (2011g). Exploring Minecraft. Retrieved April 14, 2011, from https://davidtjones.wordpress.com/2011/04/12/exploring-minecraft/.

Jones, D., Jamieson, K., & Clark, D. (2003). A model for evaluating potential Web-based education innovations. Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (pp. 154-161). Hawaii: IEEE. Retrieved from https://davidtjones.wordpress.com/publications/a-model-for-evaluating-potential-web-based-education-innovations/.

Jones, D., & Luck, J. (2009). Blog Aggregation Management: Reducing the Aggravation of Managing Student Blogging. AACE. Retrieved from http://www.editlib.org/p/31530.

Jones, D., Vallack, J., & Fitzgerald-Hood, N. (2008). The Ps Framework: Mapping the landscape for the PLEs@CQUni project. Melbourne.

Kearsley, G., & Shneiderman, B. (1998). Engagement Theory: A framework for technology-based teaching and learning. Educational Technology, 38(5), 20-23.

Kebritchi, M., Hirumi, A., & Bai, H. (2010). The effects of modern mathematics computer games on mathematics achievement and class motivation. Computers & Education, 55(2), 427-443. Elsevier Ltd. doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2010.02.007.

Meyer, D. (2010). WCYDWT – A new vision for math reform. Retrieved March 17, 2011, from http://mathfuture.wikispaces.com/WCYDWT+-+A+New+Vision+for+Math+Curriculum+Development.

Minecraft. (n.d.). Wikipedia. Retrieved April 14, 2011, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minecraft.

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (2008). Introducing technological pedagogical content knowledge. Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association (New York, New York) (pp. 1-16). Retrieved March 14, 2011, from http://punya.educ.msu.edu/presentations/AERA2008/MishraKoehler_AERA2008.pdf.

Noschese, F. (2010). Speeding problem? Retrieved April 14, 2011, from http://fnoschese.wordpress.com/2010/10/18/speeding-problem/.

Papert, S. (2004). Keynote address at the i3 1 to 1 Notebook Conference. Sydney, Australia. Retrieved from http://vimeo.com/9092144.

Papert, S., & Harel, I. (1991). Constructionism. New York City: Ablex Publishing Corporation.

QSA. (2007). Mathematics: Essential learnings by the end of Year 9 (p. 4). Brisbane, Australia. Retrieved from http://www.qsa.qld.edu.au/downloads/early_middle/qcar_el_maths_yr9.pdf.

Rowe, K. (2006). Effective teaching practices for students with and without learning difficulties: Constructivism as a legitimate theory of learning AND of teaching. Background paper to keynote address presented at the NSW DET Office of Schools Portfolio Forum, Australian Council for Educational Research, Melbourne. Retrieved April 13, 2011, from http://research.acer.edu.au/learning_processes/10/.

WCYDWT Group. (2011). Best content in WCYDWT. Retrieved April 14, 2011, from http://groups.diigo.com/group/wcydwt.

Webster, A. (2011). Educational building blocks: how Minecraft is used in classrooms. Retrieved April 14, 2011, from http://arstechnica.com/gaming/news/2011/04/educational-building-blocks-how-minecraft-is-being-used-in-the-classroom.ars.

Safe, legal and ethical practice for ICTs in schools

The assignment for ICTs for Learning Design that I am meant to be completing has a rubric with four criteria. The fourth criteria is

Model and support safe, legal and ethical practice

During my wonderings within the course, I have yet to come across (or remember) anything that explains what is considered “safe, legal and ethical practice”. Is this constructivism gone made, simply my bad memory, or is knowledge of what this is just assumed?

In the following I’m attempting construct my own meaning so that it will shine through in my assignment submission.

What do I know?

In short, my current knowledge can be described as:

  • Safe – the kids aren’t exposed to situations in which they may suffer harm in various forms.
  • Legal – the participants aren’t doing anything that breaks laws.
  • Ethical – from a simplistic perspective, don’t do unto others, what you don’t want done to you. Morals enter the picture here somewhat.

Time to look further afield.

From the course

Yes, my memory was playing tricks. The course – back in week 2 – does mention the safe, legal, and ethical application of ICTs. It points to the following resources

  • Risk management for web publishing from Queensland Department of Education.
    Which includes the idea that no student information can be disseminated online as part of school activities. Though parental consent can be used in some circumstances. Also, copyright considerations apply.
  • Some more specific discussion of schools, students and teachers and copyright online. (for which the bottom “next page” link doesn’t seem to work).
    Some implications from the examples in this resource
    • Posting original student work online is okay, and can be open to the public if students agree.
    • If the student work contains 3rd party material, fair dealing/use applies.
    • If fair dealing is used, any online student material using it must be restricted to teachers, students and parents.
    • Staff use of copyright material (including video) are covered under the “Part VB” approach and must be limited to teachers and students (and parents for assisting students).

Thinking digitally – Ethics, issues and ICT

Another Queensland-based online resource provides another view on this information. It talks about National Statements of Learning for ICT – which will be picked up in the following section.

It does make the point that teachers are meant to model the ethical use of ICTs for their students. But most of the resources are essentially about creative commons and other mechanisms by which you can access resources that are free of copyright.

Essential learnings

The use of ICTs is actually part of the curriculum (e.g. the year 9 essential learnings for ICTs). “Ethics, issues and ICTs” is one of the organisers for this KLA and includes the following.

Students understand the multiple roles and impacts of ICTs in society. They develop and apply
ethical, safe and responsible practices when working with ICTs in online and stand-alone
environments. They:

  • apply codes of practice relevant to local and global environments, particularly in relation to online
    environments
  • understand that values shape how ICTs are used
  • apply codes of practice and strategies to conform to intellectual property and copyright laws
  • consider individual rights and cultural expectations when accessing or creating digital information
    sources
  • select and apply a range of preventative strategies to minimise health and safety issues
  • secure and protect digital information, including personal information and recognise the specific
    needs of some users
  • develop and maintain strategies for securing and protecting digital information
  • analyse and evaluate ICT use, considering economic, social, ethical and legal perspectives
  • reflect on, analyse and evaluate the current use of ICTs and predict future impacts on the
    workplace and society.

Some questions/thoughts which arise from that

  • What are the most applicable “codes of practice” in this context?
  • Ahh, health and safety is included in this, posture etc.

I find it interesting that the Western Australian Department of Education website on ICT in learning has “Student Safety” as a major section, but not ethics. Not to mention that content filtering is placed within this category, i.e. it’s a student safety issue.

Ethical

This ethical use document for ICTs from a Tasmanian school has, what I think, is an important perspective on the ethical use of ICTs.

Characteristics of ethical use of ICT equipment and systems are no different from
the fundamental principles on which Christianity is based:

Not so much the Christianity point, but that ethical behaviour is ethical behaviour regardless of whether it is with ICTs, a pen, or your fist.

That said, the connection with the fundamental principle of “openness” and the ICT translation being “acceptance of the monitoring of computer use” has me pausing just a bit.

Exploring minecraft

Update/recommendation: The following may be helpful for some, but it has it’s limitations. For example, in terms of coming up with L&T applications for Minecraft I was constrained by my limited knowledge of Minecraft, and even worse, a limited view of L&T. For a broader view I suggest reading about and engaging with Massively Minecraft. You have to be in it to learn it.

The ICTs for Learning Design course I’m taking has a second assignment that requires us to engage in a number of technologies (organised into four groups) and analyse their applicability for learning and teaching. Group 4 is fairly open and includes simulations. We’re allowed to choose our technology. I have been tossing up going the easy route and looking at a given technology, or branching out. The Minecraft movement has encouraged me to choose it. This is a very early, incomplete analysis.

Why Minecraft?

It started with a week or so ago with me stumbling across The Minecraft Teacher. Sorry, I can’t remember how or who directed me this way, but thanks. But it was probably via this article. An important point to make, this teacher is primarily teaching 1st and 2nd graders.

Skimming this blog I came across the mama’s Minecraft birthday post. The story of a 9 year old girl so engaged by a game that she wanted it as a theme for her birthday party was interesting.

But I left it there, didn’t connect it to my situation.

The over the weekend @deangroom started tweeting some, apparently very successful experiences
http://twitter.com/#!/deangroom/status/54019263664635904

Dean has since blogged some of his experiences.

And just as I’ve written this, Dean has tweeted this
http://twitter.com/deangroom/status/54408100995801088

(Can you tell I’m using this as an excuse to try out WordPress’ new “embed a tweet” functionality? Mmm, they come up big in this theme, must look to see if there’s a way to customise the presentation.)

In the days leading up to this I’d been thinking about and starting to do some groundwork on how I could use this assignment to reflect on work I’d already done or examine technologies that I was interested in. All this movement has encouraged me to add Minecraft to the list.

A particular reason I wanted to add it is that most of the “digital simulations” included in the study material were somewhat close. Minecraft is much more open.

What is Minecraft

It’s a game. According to the Minecraft Wiki (implemented using Mediawiki)

Minecraft is a sandbox construction game, inspired by Infiniminer, and created by Markus Persson, the founder of Mojang AB. The game involves players creating and destroying various types of blocks in a three dimensional environment. The player takes an avatar that can destroy or create blocks, forming fantastic structures, creations and artwork across the various multiplayer servers in multiple game modes.

The following video is shown on the Minecraft home page and gives some feel for the interface, variety of the world and the intent of finding resources and using them to build.

Getting started – the purchase

The first step to playing the latest version of Minecraft is spending 14.95 Euros and then either playing it within a Web browser or in a downloadable client.

If you’re more advanced, there is a server that can be downloaded and used to play multiplayer. This appears to be a common approach within a class context. Each class having their own server.

So, off to play.

Okay, so that’s my first pig killed. Picked some flowers and oh dear, night has fallen. This, I believe, is when zombies are supposed to come out. It’s quite dark. I’ve found myself a hole to sit in. Not sure this will be sufficient. The ad hoc comments I’ve seen suggest a need to built a shelter before night fall. Will I die?

Ahh, a Beginner’s guide, this would have been useful to see earlier.

Yes, I did die. That is a bit annoying, you respawn 5 minutes after dieing, which means it is still night time and you die again. I can feel a new world coming on.

Mmm, it appears that Minecraft really chews the battery life on a laptop not plugged in…CPU and 3D I assume. more tomorrow.

A couple of days later and I’ve used a few hours to play the game, as @deangroom found, I’m starting to get a bored with the single user mode. I can see how a multi-user world would be much more interesting. I have developed quite a little underground shelter, have done lots of mining and crafting, killed a creeper and then died in a freak boating accident (actually silly mistake). Death can be a bit frustrating as you lose the resources you were carrying.

So, I have a feel for the game, how is it used in teaching?

Using it in teaching, in schools

Following up on the teaching angle I get pointed to the Minecraft in school wiki. It appears to be early days but they have started on lesson plans. Currently with a single lesson plan for the Language arts with an idea for teaching non-fiction/procedural writing in primary school.

As described in the ArsTechnia article the game very much is used to achieve certain learning goals. The class starts with an explanation and the teacher has pre-configured the world with some sort of task. For example, exploring a pyramid and thinking about what to do with the artifacts. As described here the classes being taught are basic computer skills. So skills like typing, manipulation etc fit. “Minecraft makes it fun for them”.

The big question about using Minecraft – as with any of tool, ICT- based or not is whether you can come up a purpose connected to the learning objectives which emphasise the strengths of the tool.

This blog post (from what appears to be the IT director of an Australian school) points out some of the following

  • “First, the kids really needed to know how to make decisions based on priorities.”
  • “Another thing that came out of it was how students quickly developed an appreciation for the value of hard work.”
  • “it became clear (quite by chance) that the discussion around Digital Citizenship was more and more relevant.”
  • “I’m not even mentioning the incredible amounts of math you can get into when you start to talk about building plans”.

Some of the requirements for use in schools

  • Purchase a licence of the game for each computer to be used.
  • Probably set up a Minecraft server.
  • Install any mods deemed appropriate.

It is interesting to see how the flexibility of the game is used by “The Minecraft Teacher”, examples include

  • Making students invulnerable so they cannot be hurt or killed.
  • It is played on a school only multiplayer server version of the game.
    i.e. only the students are in the world, but they are all in the same world.
  • The teacher uses a “god” mode in the game to help students who get stuck.
  • Provided a narrative and a constrained world in which the lesson will take place.

Why use it

Well, engagement seems to be a significant reason

Not only did we have a productive and fun unit, but I would say that this was the best project I have ever done in the classroom. In my 8 years of teaching I have never seen students so excited and engaged.

Something about letting go as per this comment

If we give kids the appropriate motivation and respect, they can be a lot smarter than most people expect them to be.

Not to mention some of the comments on the post that are from students “wish i had a teach like you”

The sheer openness of the possibilities is perhaps one of the major advantages of the game, possibly also one of the major challenges. There are folk who have built 1:1 models of the Enterprise or the following video that shows someone who has built an Arithmetic Logic Unit (the component of a computer that performs arithmetic).

This is one of the major advantages of the game, as described here

Minecraft has gained a cult following for essentially allowing players to create anything they can imagine; it has the same cathartic ability as a drawer full of Lego bricks

Applications

As mentioned above, there appear to be some obvious mathematical applications around space. One quick idea would be that once students are familiar with Minecraft

  • Give them a specification for a building within Minecraft. (e.g. length, breadth, height or some other primitives).
  • Have them calculate the amount of resources they would need.
  • Use the “god” mode to provide each group with exactly those resources.
  • Get them to construct the building.

I’m somewhat ashamed to include that example, as it doesn’t explore the full capabilities of the tool.

A related, and perhaps slightly better example, would be to go the whole hog with a building project for the school. i.e. set groups of students up as builders who have won the tender to construct buildings for the school. The buildings would be the existing school buildings, each group given a different one. The allocation of buildings to groups could be random. At this stage the steps could vary

  • Each group might have to convert an existing “real-world” plan for their building into a Minecraft plan.
    This could be used to teach scale, but also requires decision making etc.
  • The group could be given the Minecraft plan for the building but then have to develop the quantities of material required.
    In fact, this step could be put first and the groups could be asked to tender for the building project. i.e there could be some market rates set for different Minecraft blocks and the students have to compete against each other for the tender process.
  • The quantities they estimate are then provided to them (via the teacher in god mode) and they are required to construct the building.
    Before this, they could be asked to develop plans for how they are going to build it. In fact, this stage could also be turned into a game. i.e. The speed with which they complete the building could be rewarded. Either through competition with other groups developing the same building, or through bonuses for early completion.

Other possible application in a mathematics class, coming from a beginning mathematics teacher, might include the following. This is a brainstorming list, the validity of the ideas has not been checked.

  • Some linkage with graphing.
    The block like nature of the game seems to lend itself to this.
  • Length, perimeter, area etc all link with the building examples above or similar.
    e.g. introduce the pyramids and get them to calculate how many blocks would be required. Could actually start with the complete Minecraft pyramid in a WCYDWT type application using the game to show it, rather than video.
  • Angles and direction.
    Having small groups of students each with their own computer in single player mode. Have the same world loaded up and use it for an orientation game. They are given a in-world compas or other tools to estimate angles/direction and have to follow a set of directions. If successful, they will see neat things, gather good resources etc.
  • Shape recognition.
    Rather than simply ask the students to name a set of shapes. Have them explore a Minecraft world that has various shapes already created in it. They have to correctly identify the full list of those shapes and perhaps record other characteristics of those shapes. The task could perhaps be combined with the previous one.
  • Probability.
    Am wondering if/how statistics and the study of probability could be used to estimate the best places to look for resources within the game. Depending on the game mechanics, have the students (in groups) estimate the best locations to search, perform the search and see what they find. As a whole class they could perhaps compare where they want to search, what they find, and then calculate some rules of thumb.

    In fact, perhaps a better way to frame it is to ask, where is the best place to mine? And have them empirically test it by performing experiments in mining in different locations, comparing and analysing the resource data and developing rules of thumb.

  • Money.
    Wondering about the setting up of a Minecraft economy in which the students have to participate and subsequently exchange money. Perhaps even countries????

In an IT course, especially a junior one, I can some applications in teaching students about the value of combining different tools and manipulating data. For example, show them the guy who create 1:1 scale model of the Enterprise and ask them how they would have done this. The idea being that manually creating this model by putting block on block would be a very silly idea. Instead, it’s about grabbing plans from one place, converting them into another, feeding it into another program (map editor) etc. From here, see if similar projects can be set for them in terms of constructing some rather large local or important artifact.

And let’s not forget the guy building a computer in Minecraft. Obvious connections between that and an IT class. Beyond that, having the IT class support the local school community in its use of Minecraft offers some positives.

The experience described on this comment strikes me as something much more interesting. The idea of exploring bartering for resources as part of an economics class. Or perhaps constructing Minecraft renditions of “important” environments and having the students role play various tasks. Starting to make connections here with the early work of Mike Wesch.

Analysis

So, for the purposes of assessment, let’s bring the analysis together into one place. A SWOT analysis as used in previous posts. As previous, the idea is that the “internal” perspectives (strengths and weaknesses) are associated directly with the technology (Minecraft) while the “external” perspectives (opportunities and threats) are associated with the pedagogy used for the technology and the broader social setting/issues.

Strengths Teacher Students School leadership
Strengths A “sandbox” game, limited only by the imagination of the users.
Ability to set up a “school” server.
Flexibility provided by mods.
Possibility that students could continue playing at home (at least single user mode).
It’s a game! The ability to run a school server provides a safe environment for the students.
Weaknesses The theory is that students require a significant amount of scaffolding to engage effectively in the game *
There are a few online reports of technical problems with the vendors servers.
It’s no Call of Duty. Why would I both playing such a silly game.
It’s so basic and a little difficult to get going in
You want to spend $$ on installing a version of a game on every computer?
You want to set up a school server for Minecraft and allow the students to access it from home? And others from around the world?
Opportunities The motivation/engagement of a game.
All of the positives that arise from a more constructivist approach to education
It’s fun. The chance to be seen as innovative?
Threats The difficulty of coming up with applications that actually work within the constraints of schooling
Finding the right balance of freedom, scaffolding and control would appear to be difficult in an open game like this, especially in terms of balancing perceptions of children, parents, management etc.
All the difficulties that arise from a more constructivist approach to education.
All we do is play games. Aren’t the parents going to question whether playing a game is learning i.e. the “fear of games” (Squire, 2002)

* There is an alternate perspective (e.g. as shown in the Hole-in-the-wall experiments) that children don’t really need all this scaffolding. Instead, given the right setting they can figure much of this out themselves.

There is a significant literature around “game-based” learning. I have not had the opportunity to engage with it in any meaningful way. And will not have a chance to do so for this assignment, though it is definitely on my list of tasks to do. That literature will have significantly more informed perspectives on the application of a game like Minecraft into education. I would imagine there is also quite a history of using such games within education that would offer insights.

References

Squire, K. (2002). Cultural framing of computer/video games. Game studies, 2(1), 90. Retrieved April 12, 2011, from http://gamestudies.org/0102/squire/?ref=HadiZayifla.Com.

Group 4 Technologies – Activities

And so the final group of technologies to play with prior to the assignment. This is an open-ended group and includes: animations and simulations; Google earth; Google Maps; and Google docs. The “historical” recap of what I’ve done associated with these technologies is part of the assessment – showing that I’ve “played” with the technologies.

Animations and simulations

I have a bit of experience with using and helping create (usually in a fairly minimal role) animations and simulations as evidenced in some publications (Chernich and Jones, 1994; Chernich, Jamieson and Jones, 1995; Jones and Newman, 2001; 2002). All of those publications were about various versions of Ron Chernich’s Operating System (RCOS). RCOS was a simulated operating system in that it actually ran programs and managed I/O devices etc. But it also showed animations of the internal algorithms and data structures that the operating system used to perform these tasks.

The following images show the same basic view. First in RCOS, the MS-DOS version of from the early 1990s.

RCOS CPU Scheduling screen

Second from RCOS.java, the Java version from the late 1990s.

RCOS.java CPU Scheduler

Interest in RCOS arose because I was given the task of teaching a course on operating systems, which was described as (Chernich and Jones, 1994)

An advanced level computing subject covering the theoretical concepts of operating systems is an essential part of any computing degree (Denning, 1989). The study of computing has three essential paradigms: theory, abstraction and design (Denning 89). An operating systems subject is very heavy on the theory. In such a subject providing the abstraction and design paradigms to enable students to fully understand the theoretical principles involved is difficult (Hartley, 1992. Withers and Bilodeau, 1992. Goh, 1992. Christopher et al, 1993). The provision of these paradigms to distance students is considerably more difficult.

Essentially, the concepts within the course are difficult and heavily theoretical. Most people struggle to get them when taught face-to-face and accompanied by lots of physical demonstrations. The majority of the students in the course I was teaching were distance education students, i.e. they never saw my physical demonstrations. Initially an existing animated operating system tool – PRMS – was used but it had some difficulties. One of the students who experienced that difficulty – Ron Chernich – liked the idea, but thought he could solve many of the problems. He did, very well.

But by the late 1990s, the MS-DOS platform was not really state of the art. So with the release of Java a decision was made to port RCOS to the Java platform. RCOS.java was the result and much of the work ended up being done by another student Andrew Newman. As it happens RCOS.java website is still up and provides access to the code and some of the background to the project.

RCOS.java was never used at CQU, but has been used at a number of other universities around the world. For example, this project report from a Brazilian university student.

Simulations, especially as complex as RCOS, take a lot of effort and resources to implement effectively. Hence that option tends to fall out of the realm of most people. There has been significant improvements in the tools that can be used to implement simulations, but if you are attempting to simulate something that is complex, it is still going to be complex. RCOS and RCOS.java were possible because of the benefit of having talented project students who were able to develop these simulations as part of project work.

In addition, really complex simulations can be a barrier for student use which implies significantly more work on the part of the teacher to effectively scaffold student use of the simulations. This is one of the reasons why RCOS.java was never used at the host institution. Other people were taking the course, they didn’t see the benefit from investing the necessary time to scaffold effective student use. The quality (perceived or otherwise) of RCOS.java probably played a part in that.

Which is one of the reasons why by the late 1990s the focus had turned to producing “canned” animations of operating systems concepts. I am somewhat amazed that these 12+ year old Flash animations are still working. Which does raise the other problem with these type of approaches, obsolescence. As technology progresses the significant resources invested in a particular application may have to be thrown away. e.g. it would be very difficult to get RCOS up and going again these days.

All of which points to the idea that K-12 teachers are more often than not going to be consumers of simulations (and to a lesser extent animations) produced by others than producers in their own right. There are tools and approaches, especially for animations, that do lower the entry level especially for animation (e.g. Animoto, Powerpoint, stop-motion video etc) and in some cases enable students to be more engaged in the production of animations.

Picking up on that point, the activities page for this group of technologies starts the animations and simulations section with the following quote

Animations and Simulations offer substantial advantages over print based material when it comes to complex interactions and abstract concepts.

And that certainly was one of the major driving forces behind the above work. There was, however, a more important finding or reflection from this work.

Student construction/manipulation of animations/simulations provide an even stronger learning experience

The two project students that helped design and implement the animations reported this. The task of designing correct and pedagogical effective animations taught them more about the operating systems concepts than they had learned taking the course the previous term (and they were amongst the best in the class). In addition, the real benefit from RCOS arose because as a simulation, students could create programs that RCOS would run. They could also change algorithms used by the operating system. Both of these changed how RCOS operated and they could observe these changes. This ability to experiment significantly helped learning.

Learning objects

The difficulty and cost of producing animations/simulations brings up the idea of Learning Objects. We’re pointed to this article (Bratina, Hayes and Blumsack, 2002) on “Preparing teachers to use learning objects”. I have to admit to always being a bit of a skeptic of learning objects, especially in terms of the large-scale, centralised warehouse projects that were all the rage. i.e. to help people use learning objects we have to have them all stored, categorised and described within this single index. As if by doing so you would solve all the problems that were preventing teachers from using learning objects. Which I thought was just wrong.

One reason why I think this comes back to the observation that most people, there are always exceptions, don’t want abstracted, formal, packaged recommendations of useful tips and tools. Most people get their tips and tools from people they trust. If Fred in the class next to me found animation X useful and his kids were in raptures about it, then I might use it. Average Joe Teacher isn’t going to get enthused and adopt learning objects from centralised repository because he doesn’t use the repository as a regular part of his everyday life and somewhat relatedly doesn’t really trust the repository. Average Joe Teacher does, however, know and interact regularly with Fred. From this perspective encouraging the building and maintenance of PLNs (why is it I feel a little dirty when I use that buzzword) would seem a better approach to spreading the use of PLNs.

From my experience (not entirely bias free) I’ve used more “learning objects” that have come over my PLN than from any repository. For example, I really want to trawl through the collection of resources put together by the WCYDWT group on Diigo. Here’s a group of learning objects I think I would use.

How’s this for a learning object that just came across my PLN (click on it to see a bigger version). It shows a series of dance moves based on arranging arms to match the results of graphing various formula. How’s this for an activity for kinesthetic learners? Given a piece of music, create a dance limited only to these dance moves. Which has me wondering how games like Dance Central and the Kinnect could be harnessed as part of this.

The article offers the following advice about how to “motivate teachers to use learning objects”

  1. Help teachers to find and develop useful learning objects.
  2. Have new learning object users determine lesson objectives.
  3. Urge novices to begin gradually and play with purpose.
  4. Motivate novices to conduct a “dry run” and seek critiques of their work.
  5. Stress the use of research-based, interesting and connected learning objects to beginners.
  6. Support teachers’ work on learning objects.

Is it just me, or does this have a preachy tone to it? For example this quote from the paper

We must help teachers recognize that determining objectives is a requirement for all lesson plans.

Are there really any teachers who don’t really know this? I think some of my biases about this sort of work apparently have a deficit model of teachers practice. i.e. the teachers are missing something by not doing X – in this case using learning objects – so we have to help them overcome their deficit. In this case, by helping them start with lesson objectives and use a research basis.

Explore Learning and Gizmos

One example we’re given is ExploreLearning and its collection of Gizmos. First problem, need the Shockwave plugin, download that. Second problem, they cost money. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but depending on context, might be a limiting factor. Back to this later.

Actually, no. The Shockwave installer has worked, but the Gizmo is still giving me an error message, an unhelpful one at that. It’s a commercial application that has problems, so I’ll ignore it. What I suspect I would have seen is well designed “applets” showing off particular aspects of content all integrated into a nice package, including lessons plans.

Google earth and google maps

Ahh, google earth the old standby example for “cool technology” presentations, like this one I gave at Glenmore High 4 years ago. A presentation that included a section on Google earth which was demonstrated using the following movie (wasn’t sure I’d have Internet access at the school). The video briefly shows off the Travels of Odysseus in Google Earth.

Oops, vimeo doesn’t like the format of the video and I’m not going to waste the time to do the conversion. It essentially showed an image of Google Earth first focusing on the school and then zooming out and across to the Mediterranean and showing the placemarkers for the travels of Odysseus.

Was interested to see a link to Real World Math. It’s a pity that the website is having problems. Though the related blog seems operational. Ahh, this is what I wanted to see, a collection of lesson plans. This lesson around estimating distance using landmarks familiar to the students looks like having some benefits. It connects them to their real world/context and lets them see it in different ways (both through Google earth but also through mathematics). A related example is Dan Meyer’s Speeding in Compton.

And to pick up again on the argument for PLNs being the best mechanism for disseminating learning objects, take a look at this post. It details how someone else has taken the Meyer idea and applied it in their context.

Interesting to see Google Earth and Google Maps put into different categories, I always treated them as essentially the same technology using a different interface. Each interface having its relevant strengths and weaknesses based on the context.

In a previous life, we used Google Maps on the group’s website to show people where we were located on the campus. The map has changed a bit since then – organisational restructures are great – but it’s essentially the same.

Google docs for collaboration

Personally, I think many of the Wiki activities used in the early weeks of this course would have been better done using Google docs. Especially given that most of those tasks were based around collaborative authoring of a single document. In my experience, Google docs offer a much easier to use, familiar approach to collaborative authoring than Wikis. Wikis work better, in my experience, for entire websites or collections of web pages.

I haven’t had the experience to use Google docs in learning and teaching but I have used it to co-author papers and also in managing processes used to produce study guides for a University. Traditionally the process had been done using a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet that was controlled by a single person. This created all sorts of problems, mostly around that person being the only person who could contact authors. To make the process more distributed we moved and adapted the spreadsheet into Google docs.

Online concept mapping

We’re pointed to bubbl.us and Text2Mindmap as examples of online concept mapping. As it happens I came across this presentation on Google Docs (via my PLN) which outlines “15 Interesting ways to use Prezi in the Classroom” (It is interesting that it is a presentation about using Prezi, that isn’t done in Prezi). #7 is “Use Prezi as a mind map”. It in turn points to the following video of a Prezi mindmap

I think I’m tempted to use Prezi for mind/concept mapping, more so than other tools. I must admit that I have rarely used concept mapping myself. The other challenge is being able to achieve the task

Develop a mind map that presents an overview of this week’s topic. This will be used to support your analysis of tools for Assignment 2.

My first response is exactly what was the content/purpose of this week’s topic?

The stated topic title was “Digital tools and pedagogies 3”. The overview basically mentions presentation tools and “favourite” tools. The readings essentially summarise the tools and point to some extra readings (e.g. the learning objects article mentioned above). Mmm, am thinking this doesn’t interest me much, instead I’ll go for something aimed more at assignment 2. In particular, the concept of “effective and efficient digital pedagogies to enhance student learning”.

And here it is with an image of it below. It is still very incomplete. Mainly because the affordances of the Prezi authoring functionality isn’t that well matched to concept mapping. i.e. the authoring functionality is more low level and doesn’t know anything about concept maps. Which means the author has to combine the lower level Prezi functionality to achieve the concept map effects he/she wants. On the plus side, the visualisation is, at least to me, a big plus. The zooming nature of Prezi lends itself to this sort of thing. A Prezi concept mapping overlay would work well.

prezi concept map

Other tools

It’s suggested that we also looking at Dipity – a online timeline tool – and Zooburst – an interactive digital storybook – I’m going to ignore both of those. They are just essentially more tools for information distribution. A very different emphasis than other tools but I’m confident I could learn how to use them quite quickly and I can see applications for them. Intead, I’m going to focus on the other aspect of this group and look at a tool that I choose.

Which begs the question as to what tool to choose. Some of the possibilities I have considered over recent weeks include:

  • Minecraft – a construction game which is being used in teaching and getting some positive feedback.
    This connects somewhat with the simulation category this week, but goes beyond that. It does lead me to thinking about the role of games in education which is becoming increasingly prevalent.
  • Scratch, Alice or some other introductory programming language.
    This is really getting into Papert/constructionist territory. A programming language would normally be seen as something restricted to IT courses, but there’s an argument to be made that programming should be something everyone learns (e.g. Ruskhoff’s program or be programmed argument).
  • Python or some other “real” programming language.
    For example, the idea of programming in math/sciences.
  • ManyEyes or similar data visualisation tool. Especially when used in connection with some of the open data repositories and the ideas associated with quantitative literacies. Or, alternatively, just with data provided by the students.
  • Some mathematics related software such as GeoGebra.
    As described by Stols and Kriek (2011)

    This software allows learners to discover patterns, to explore and to test conjectures by constructing their own sketches. Dynamic mathematics software is a powerful teaching and learning medium and it has been reported to (a) enhance mathematics teaching; (b) help with conceptual development; (c) enrich visualisation of geometry; (d) lay a foundation for analysis and deductive proof; and (e) create opportunities for creative thinking (Sanders 1998). School students can improve their understanding using software because the dynamic environment improves visualisation skills and ability to focus on interrelationships of the parts of geometric shapes (Clements, Sarama, Yelland & Glass, 2008).

In the end the decision most comes down to time. All of the above are interesting to me for various reasons. But it is Minecraft that I have already put a bit of time into having a look at, so that’s the one I’ll focus on. That focus will be done in another post.

References

Bratina, T. A., Hayes, D., & Blumsack, S. L. (2002). Preparing teachers to use learning objects. The Technology Source, 2. Retrieved April 12, 2011, from http://depd.wisc.edu/html/TSarticles/Preparing_Teachers.htm.

Chernich, R., & Jones, D. (1994). The design and construction of a simulated operating system. Brisbane.

Chernich, R., Jamieson, B., & Jones, D. (1995). RCOS: Yet another teaching operating system. Sydney: ACM.

Jones, D., & Newman, A. (2001). RCOS.java: A simulated operating system with animations. In G. Chapman (Ed.), (p. section C4). Brno, The Czech Republic.

Jones, D., & Newman, A. (2002). A constructivist-based tool for operating systems education. World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications (pp. 882-883). Denver, Colorado.

Stols, G., & Kriek, J. (2011). Why don’t all maths teachers use dynamic geometry software in their classrooms. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 27(1), 137-151. Retrieved from http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet27/stols.html.

Group 3 Technologies – The activities

Following on from the last post this one reports a bit more on activities associated with the Group 3 technologies, tools that “present learning or information”. The point is mostly to document that I’ve done this stuff (for assessment purposes) and also to implement the necessary analysis of one of the tools.

Powerpoint

Beyond the presentations that are on Slideshare (including some that have audio narration), in completing my experimentation with Prezi yesterday I included a stop-motion animation video that was created using Powerpoint.

Prezi

As outlined in the last post I did transform some of the ideas/resources from a previous presentation into a Prezi. It’s by no means complete and needs some work to really be a good Prezi, but it’s made me familiar with the tool and its capabilities.

Perhaps the biggest annoyance I had was the apparent inability to select a collection of elements simply by “dragging a rectangle” over them. You can do it by “shift-clicking” on each element, but when the elements can be radically different sizes this can take some time and planning. If that’s my biggest annoyance, the tool works quite well.

That said, however, I’m not sure that the tool holds a really huge advantage over Powerpoint. In the future, I’d probably give Prezi a go with my own presentations. But I wonder if having students use Powerpoint and then engage them in discussions about what makes a good presentation would be more beneficial. Having them battle against the constraints of Powerpoint might help them learn more.

But then, perhaps the best approach is to let the students choose. Rather than require them to use a particular tool, let them use what ever they want and then engage them in discussions about the relevant strengths and weaknesses of the tools.

Glogster

So, I haven’t played with this tool and am feeling somewhat reluctant to, for some reason a “online scapbook” doesn’t excite me. To juvenile? To strong an association with the “scrapbooking” that my mother-in-law loves?


Of course it could be used for more than that. For example, I was involved in a project a few years ago called Voice Thread for Research Posters. The description of the project was

For 2008, Term 2 the course PSYCH13021, Special Topic in Psychology has used VoiceThread.com to host research posters generated by the students as part of their major assessment. Normally this would have been done using Word/Powerpoint files.

From the start the coordinator wanted to organise a social event to show off the posters. Local psychologist would be invited to attend through the professional association.

I’m somewhat interested to see if any of the research posters is still available. Yes, at least one is.

You could do something similar to this project using Glogster, but I think VoiceThread has one advantage which was important to this particular project. VoiceThread allows other people to comment – with text, audio and video – on someone’s poster. With the social event we organised for PSYCH13021, rather than put physical posters up on a wall. We set up a half-dozen computers around the room. The attendees at the poster session could walk between computers and look at any poster they wanted to. If they wanted to ask questions or make a comment on a poster, they used voicethread to make the comment.

The first example poster has some textual comments. This one has a couple of textual comments, including one from a person who has uploaded an image of themselves that is used for the comment. Even better, this poster has a narration from the author of the poster and an audio comment from the lecturer of the course and a “test message/comment” from one of the attendees.

Which raises the question, does Glogster support comments? It does allow text-based comments. Not quite as good as the audio and video comment support on VoiceThread, at least in terms of impact/connection.

This is the type of application of this technology that interests me. It involves the students in developing something real, that is then shown to an audience that provides feedback to the students. It’s resonates with the “constructionist” in me.

One of the drawbacks I think we experienced in the PSYCH13021 project was that the students (I believe mostly 25+ university students) had some difficulties in creating their posters. VoiceThread, unlike Glogster, doesn’t offer support for creating the poster. Instead students used Powerpoint, Word and other tools they had access to. This made it harder for them. Glogster seems to be focused more on scaffolding the act of creating the poster. From this perspective, it looks to have the advantage on VoiceThread.

Especially given its ability to include video etc such as in this example I came across via Ian. Ian also makes the point about having to upgrade from the free version to access some of the features. More on this below.

Analysis – research poster presentation

This is the application I’ll analyse for the assessment, will stick with VoiceThread and in particular the idea of using it to produce a class poster session similar to the PSYCH13021 project from above.

The question I have is just what topic such a poster session might take for my subject areas: information technology and mathematics. One possibility for mathematics arises from this video showing comedy in some incorrect mathematics from Ma and Pa Kettle. There are similar videos from Abbot and Costello. “Correct mathematical mistakes” might work as a poster topic. The process might include the following

  • (Optionally) Identify some example of incorrect mathematics from the public arena.
    They might be asked to identify their own or pick one from a selection. If they were to identify their own, I might warn them at the start of 1st term and only start working on the posters in 2nd/3rd term. Providing a selection would be easier for them, but there is benefit to them having to look at their world for a while for examples of bad mathematics. In fact, this might be the biggest advantage of this approach.
  • Create the posters.
    Have them connect the maths to their study and develop explanations about why it’s wrong and what the right answer would be. Perhaps even design the posters to use VoiceThreads multiple slides approach to introduce the problem (e.g. show the video of Ma and Pa kettle) and ask the viewers to see if they can identify the problem.
  • Engage a community.
    Identify a mix of people to interact with the posters such as students from other classes, other teachers, parents and siblings, classes from around the world, mathematics experts and organise session(s) in which that community interacts and comments on the posters.
  • Do it groups.
    The project could be group-based, perhaps it would work better that way.

As with the group 2 technologies, I’m going to do a SWOT analysis where I classify the technology itself (voicethread) as “internal” (strengths and weaknesses) while everything else, including pedagogy and school context, is external (opportunities and threats). As with the previous analysis, I am going to try and give the students and high school leadership a voice in this analysis.

Analysis Teacher Students Leadership
Strengths Multimedia in terms of creations and comments.
“Advanced” support for comments enables great sense of community/connection with audience. It’s aimed at enabling group conversations.
Allows moderation of comments.
Offers some support for teachers.
A class subscription only costs $USD60 a year.
We can save our voicethreads for ourselves.
We can use our Facebook stuff.
Threads can be limited to school groups, maintaining privacy and there’s also a safe K-12 space
Includes support for integration with LMS/Authentication
Weaknesses Creation relies on existing tools and capabilities (i.e. not as scaffolded as Glogster).
Creating and managing class accounts can consume a bit of time, even with support.
I can’t embed YouTube videos A class subscription costs $USD60 a year!!!
Opportunities All the typical advantages from constructionism (Papert et al, 1991) and engagement theory (Kearsley et al, 1989)
Developing multimedia literacies with a real purpose and developing engagement with an external community.
Some with a real job (i.e. not a teacher) actually liked and commented on what I did!
I began to see mathematics everywhere.
Demonstrates multimodal literacies and community engagement, tick those boxes.
Threats Do the students have the confidence/skills to create and share posters?
Does the school have the resources to support this?
Will the chosen external community engage?
Will the engage in supportive ways?
Helping the students, setting up Voicethread, identifying and engaging the right external community and managing the interactions all consume time.
Identifying a good purpose for the posters may take a bit of thinking and work.
Sharing our work is scary.
They made me work with “joe”.
There will be at least one student that embarrasses the school.
How will this increase NAPLAN results?

References

Kearsley, G., & Shneiderman, B. (1998). Engagement Theory: A framework for technology-based teaching and learning. Educational Technology, 38(5), 20-23.

Papert, S., & Harel, I. (1991). Constructionism. New York City: Ablex Publishing Corporation.