Friday, 30 November 2012

Friday Reflection

In ancient shadows

Well last week in November been and gone!  Have spent an interesting week working in Ely and refining the Haverhill Online Learning Community(HOLC).  The poor camera phone photograph shows the view from the window towards the cathedral (better images can be seen on this Google Search).  Ely Cathedral  is a successor to the original buildings recorded in 673 AD.  These were founded by St Etheldreda  who was a daughter of King Anna of East Anglia.  Thus the site of  worship and learning pre-dates the founding of the English State.

Ancient learning is further emphasised in the city (city in the old sense that it has a cathedral) with the King's School Ely  founded in 970 AD turning such old boys out as Edward the Confessor, the patron Saint of England before the popular symbol of St George took over fully in the 1300s.

Ely has had it's rebels in the past.  Hereward the Wake who opposed the Normans taking over and whom some think was the basis for  Robin Hood legend, used the  fen (wet) lands around the Isle of Ely to avoid capture .  The other rebel of note who left an indelible mark on British History was Oliver Cromwell.  Oliver Cromwell lived in the city for 10 years prior to turning the English Parliament on it's head and creating a republic that lasted for about 13 years.  Ely has had a lot of influence on shaping what we now call the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland over the last 1300 years!

Side step into history over  and back to task!  The Reflection for the week!  Have continued to use what I have learnt from the OFLC (Online Faculty Learning Community) of Bank Street College New York to develop our own local Online Learning Community.  We have incorporated a SlideSpeech generated presentation as a link on the homepage of HOLC.  There have been many emails off to various different people and have received some very positive replies.  We have contacted the makers of StudyRoom  (as used by edX and Coursera) and have been granted a private room in principle  for HOLC for which we are very grateful.  Hopefully this should be set up and being used by the New Year!

Coding has started to be be looked at again but not to the stage where I can upload anything yet to the OFLC.  Getting excited though at the possibilities as I delve further into the coding.  Want to get a Raspberry Pi  and programme in Python on this platform, may even be able to run Chrome OS on it as well will have to look into this?  Really cheap basic access for less than £40 (with appropriate accessories).

So next week continue programming with course. Gather collaborators for HOLC locally and further a field. Have an idea of trying to get U3A  members in Haverhill involved in Local History projects, the Church Crawlers and Historians, Digital Camera Group, Garden Group and Art Group.  Already put the information out to local members so will see what happens.  Contact the myriad of local groups and charities (even our county council libraries are being run by a charitable trust on behalf of the council) and present the case for peer to peer learning!

Couple of more weeks of potentially travelling to Ely until the end of the school session.  I have a good journey along picturesque country roads.  The only major "traffic jam" is waiting for the race horses to cross the Fordham Road from  Exning (village where St Etheldreda was born, link back to first part of the reflection, knew I'd be able to get it in somewhere) as they go out to exercise on the gallops!  Very pleasant to watch as they come of the mist!


Friday, 23 November 2012

Friday Reflection

Back in the Swim!

At the end of last week I reflected again as to how the week had gone.  Well back in the swim well and truly now.  One of the tasks for the week was to take the next steps to establishing a Haverhill Online Learning Community.  After making contact with a number of people in local organisations to float the idea on Friday last week, I decided to take the plunge.  

On Sunday I re-established my own domain presence again on the internet after about a year's re-evaluation and consideration.   I used Google Apps for Business to set up the domain  The process was so simple and cheap compared to other packages that I have used.  The DIY approach suits me since I have a lot of experience of dealing with Templates and modifying HTML.  The tools provided were simple to set up (but then I have experience of Google technologies) groups, Google +, Blogger, WordPress and the website.  The website has been launched for Haverhill Online Learning Community (HOLC).  The website can be found at   Please follow the link and view the site.  Visit the Google + site from the link to see how the project is developing.  The site is almost complete in outline only the mission statement needs to be looked at but should be complete over the weekend.

We have a number of collaborators interested in joining the community.  If you are able to offer help and advice please contact via the Contact Us page on the website.  We have a number of projects for collaboration proposed including a Hacktivate Nursery Rhyme book and a Local History Project.  A CPD project for Teachers of Key Stage 2 and Key Stage 3 on how to programme with Scratch is included.  This is the project  already under way with the Bank Street College of New York's Online Faculty Learning Community.

The journey has begun to 21st Century Learning and 21st Century Working.  A good link to find out more about 21st Century Working is the Telework Association.  A body from whom we now have support in the role of an Online Learning Community.  We will be developing courses that will be available on the HOLC website showing  how to go about flexible working and teleworking.

A busy week coding for Google Course Builder is coming along will have to share some code both on the HOLC site and the Bank Street OLC.  So more of the same needed.

For next week, now the site set up and the bare bones of the HOLC stablished it is a time for consolidation and delivering content and connections.  The day job is starting to take off again (must be the season of cold, teacher training).  I have spent yesterday and will spend today in the Isle of Ely area teaching at a very good Academy. Always good to keep your hand in!  Looking forward to seeing how  HOLC develops!


Sunday, 18 November 2012

Haverhill Online Learning Community

The torch is coming!
 (Olympic Torch along Haverhill High Street)

21st Century Learning:  Open, Online and Innovative

Online Learning Communities (OLCs) is a new area of learning experience.  We are all familiar with the traditional role of instructor and student carried out in a classroom.   We all have our own experiences of what worked for us and what did not.  We may have had the elation of receiving a certificate followed by the question what happens next?  Is the learning over?  What if I am still no longer clear about the bits I understood and the bits I did not?  How can I keep in touch?  

The questions may be applied to all stages of life.  Leaving school and entering work or further study, working and growing personally in your chosen area of life, then making the transition into well earned leisure time of retirement all have challenges that  may be helped by community of learners.  The challenge today is that of Life Long Learning.  Online Learning Communities are a way to do this as you pass through the three ages of man.

How can you do this?  I am setting up an Open Learning Community for the Haverhill area.  An Open Online Learning Community.  It is in it's crawling stage at the moment and seeks to appeal to learners from 13 to 99.  I am in discussion with various local Haverhill Groups seeking to establish a 21st Century Learning Community that is both innovative and flexible to move with the vast changes we see happening around us.    A community moulded by and by inspired by it's participants. 

A few scenarios that demonstrate some of the benefits of being involved I have been blogging about in recent months.     

The Everlasting Class:  When did you last speak to your teacher? Did you still have learning questions unanswered on your road to the better lifestyle?

A Personal Reflection on Online Learning Communites:  A personal experience of Life Long Learning within an Open Learning Community

Education in the Third Age:  Ideas on how to keep connected and pass on experiences.

So how to move towards creating a Participatory Learning Community. Some ideas behind establishing the Open Learning Community taken from my own involvement with participating an Online Learning Community (see blogs for details). 
 1.With relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement2.With strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations with others3.With some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced ispassed along to novices 4.Where members believe that their contributions matter5.Where members feel some degree of social connection with one another (at the least they care what other people think about what they have created).
Not every member must contribute, but all must believe they are free to contribute when ready and that what they contribute will be appropriately valued.

If you would like to express an interest or make a comment visit the Facebook page .  As we gather more interest and other parties become involved the intention is to establish a Haverhill Online Community presence.  Regular updates will be posted 

Friday, 16 November 2012

Thoughts on Virginia Tech Model: Part 3

Cognitive Conflict: Piaget and Vygotsky 

The previous blog   looked at the Virginia Tech Model and how it could be extended to include cognitive conflict (defined in previous document).  The model in graphic form (Fig. 1)  was then transformed into a scattergram (Fig. 2).

Fig 1. Graphical representation of Virginia Tech model

Fig 2.  Representation of the Virginia Tech Model in terms of student ownership/engagement  against cognitive conflict.     1. The Audio/Video Tutorial Approach, 2. Personalised system of instruction, 3. Goal Based Scenarios, 4. Case Based Teaching, 5. Guided design, 6. Anchored Instruction,7. Cognitive Apprenticeship,8. Cooperative Learning,9. Constructionist Project based Models,10. Problem based Learning,11. Learning Environments

The transformation of the model into a scattergram allows a pseudo Cartesian co-ordinate plane to be established for the relationship of student ownership and cognitive conflict.  The model shown in the youtube video, mentioned by John Graves (a collaborator in the Bank Street Open Learning Community) in a
personal communication via a Google+ post ,    for the three levels of the revised Bloom’s taxonomy there are three planes of student engagement.  The first plane being the remember, understand apply.  The second plane analyse and evaluate.  The third the creative plane.  (Might need to question the correct usage of the term plane in this context).    It might be best thought of like a game of vertical chess with the student moving between the levels of Revised Bloom’s taxonomy according to the rules of the learning activity and outcome.  

The Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) is drawn on top of  the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy’s (RBT) plane.  The ZPD is the  shoulders, so to speak, on which the next  learning is about to stand.  After the learning and understanding the RBT planes extends to encompass the ZPD to become the what you know core.  This then acts as the starting point for the next learning activity and outcome.  This is a constructivist view of the model, and open to discussion as always.  It is also an iterative process that occurs within the overall learning objective (the “blended” use of activities that have their own learning objective to achieve the overall learning objective).  This is the intrinsic relationship between perceived micro and macro learning activities, a bit like a Russian doll.   

Key Question (IMO):     How might RBT and ZPD be represented on a Scattergram model?

Looking at the RBT model we will take 2 plane definition of Lower Order Thinking skills (LOTS) and Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) as a starting point.  This is often referred to by a lot of trainers as fixed definitions.  What might be  LOTS for one group could be  HOTS for others and vice versa.  In other words the instructor needs to embrace the idea flexibilty of task to the approach to learning.  Sometimes difficult to maintain when dealing with the same group throughout  a year where curricula dictate you look at a certain knowledge area but “have to use” HOTS when the group may still be in the realms of LOTS. (But that is a different discussion for another day!).  

Looking at the Vygotsky model of ZPD we have three concentric zones (Fig 3.).   We have the core to the “apple” of what you know, the flesh (mesocarp for the botanically inclined) of the apple which is what you can learn on your own and the “skin” of the apple what you can learn with help.  The “apple” may be a good way of thinking of ZPD in terms of the amount of independent action on the part of the student.  A misshapen “apple” may be used to map the diversity of learners within a group and their relative position to others (another point possibly for development).

Fig 3.  The ZPD model, green represents prior learning (least cognitive conflict), amber represents the application of students knowledge and understanding to new challenges, red represents the greatest cognitive conflict where greater instructor or peer input is needed   
The red zone of Fig 3 is the position where I would expect the social media and collaboration to take place ie the what I can learn with help.  The relative sizes of each zone  would depend on the  learning context.  A MOOC would be more operating in the amber zone while an OLC would be in the realms of the red zone.

On a scattergram I would envisage again green, amber and red zones.  These would be arranged along the cognitive conflict continuum.  An illustrative example is shown in Fig. 4.

Fig 4.  Zones of ZPD superimposed on a Scattergram of Reworked Virginia Tech Model.  Green = What you already know, Amber = What you can learn yourself, Red = Waht you can learn with help from instructor (facilitator) and peers in a social interaction (Numbers represent learning activities from Fig. 2)

The green area extends to the line where cognitive conflict is zero since everything to the left is assumed to learnt and understood and therefore concrete.  (This is an assumption many teachers have make to their peril when trying to use cross curricular skills or a new group of students).  The amber zone is the transition achieved through independent learning using the concrete skills (green zone)  to the point where new learning understanding requires more instruction (the red zone).  As stated previously this might be through the intervention of an instructor or by the use of peer knowledge and peer instruction in an OLC.  This is why I have left activity 3 in it’s position in the 4th quadrant in the red zone
(below the axis where studentship and instructor ownership is zero or of parity between student ownership and instructor ownership).  

The learning activities (the numbers in Fig.4.) can move between the various different quadrants  as would be expected with Individual Education Plans (IEPs) or Group Learning Plans (GLPs).    The activities equally can move between green, amber and red zone.  The zones do not have be fixed on a particular line of cognitive conflict either, I will possibly discuss this in another paper.  

Comments would be appreciated.

Then next step could be to incorporate a degree of grading or using a UK term leveling on the cognitive conflict axis.

There are a lot of very complex interactions between student, instructor, context of learning activity and prior knowledge within the proposed model. Partitioning of the effects of each component and testing their impact becomes a challenge. Developing or applying standard evaluative methodologies to the steps proposed in the development of the Reworked Virginia Tech model requires some though at this time. Possibly a subject for an Open Learning Community!

Thoughts on Virginia Tech Model: Part 2

Fig 1. Graphical representation of Virginia Tech model reworked from original by

Mapping Learning Activities

The reworking of the Virginia Tech Model  above, which I blogged  about previously  , is a starting for classifying Learning Activities by cognitive conflict. 

 Cognitive conflict is a term  defining relative demands made on learners to change or reinterpret their pre-held  concepts.  It is a type of conflict centred on completion of task.  In order to change their understanding of concepts and principles students/participants have to be involved in the learning journey.    

The above is an interpretation the Virginia Tech model and is not intended to be definitive.  The Models themselves are can be subsets of another.  For instance for  a pupil with specific learning challenges such as associated with Dyslexia the primary model may be (2) Personalised System of Instruction.  The secondary model used may (10) problem based learning.  The point I am trying to make is that they are not mutually exclusive but can be “bundled” together.

Another representation of this might be as below.

Fig 2.  Representation of the Virginia Tech Model in terms of student ownership/engagement  against cognitive conflict.     1. The Audio/Video Tutorial Approach, 2. Personalised system of instruction, 3. Goal Based Scenarios, 4. Case Based Teaching, 5. Guided design, 6. Anchored Instruction,7. Cognitive Apprenticeship,8. Cooperative Learning,9. Constructionist Project based Models,10. Problem based Learning,11. Learning Environments

The above is not, as said, a definitive model just a relative qualitative weighting of the activities compared to each other.

So how might I use this in the context of the project shared on the OFLC drive.

  1. To group Apps, tools with their most appropriate model
  2. Within the context of an Individual Learning Plan (IEP, have had to fill out many forms over the years that did not really address the aims  with Learning outcomes in a clear format) to illustrate where learners may be at in terms of independence of learning and ability to cope with cognitive conflict. Quantifying the learning task against the Learning outcome by using a leveled approach (a link here to Levels applied in UK Curriculum ICT    Could also be linked to Piaget’s or Vygotsky’s terms.
  3. To use as an aid to course to design for learning outcomes and representation of number of pupils who are achieving a level or completing a task. Individual tracking also springs to mind.
  4. Mapping the relationship between different activities in a “bundled” model of a particular learning activity/ course..

Below in Figure 3, I have sought to apply this to a Dyslexia scenario.

Fig 3.  Application of scatter chart to specific learning difficulty Dyslexia: tools considered YouTube and Kindle-book .    1. The Audio/Video/Visual Tutorial Approach, 2. Personalised system of instruction, 3. Goal Based Scenarios, 4. Case Based Teaching, 5. Guided design, 6. Anchored Instruction,7. Cognitive Apprenticeship,8. Cooperative Learning,9. Constructionist Project based Models,10. Problem based Learning,11. Learning Environments

The Virginia Tech model definition (1) (which I have slightly modified to be Audio/Video/ Visual Approach) may appear in several positions on the scatter gram Fig. 3 ( there is a more correct name but can’t recall it just at the moment).  This could be used as a graphic for the initial evaluation of where the pupil may be at and how provision for access to learning may be achieved.  The solution graphic might look something like this.

Fig 4.  Application of scatter chart to specific learning difficulty Dyslexia: tools considered YouTube and Kindle-book .    1. The Audio/Video/Visual Tutorial Approach, 2. Personalised system of instruction, 3. Goal Based Scenarios, 4. Case Based Teaching, 5. Guided design, 6. Anchored Instruction,7. Cognitive Apprenticeship,8. Cooperative Learning,9. Constructionist Project based Models,10. Problem based Learning,11. Learning Environments

In Fig 4 I have sought to demonstrate how mapping of activities to solutions might take place. A text based mode learning activity might not be the most appropriate for dyslexia at first glance.  Using the tool OpenDyslexic  ( could be a solution,  closing the gap between learning task and accessibility.  

Mapping a learning journey may be achieved using the same framework.  This could either teacher, peer or self-assessed all that is needed is editing access to the graphic.  In Fig. 5 a theoretical journey has been shown for increasing knowledge and understanding of the Louvre Gallery in France and the Mona Lisa (general easily recognised subject).

Fig 5.  Application of scatter chart to map the learning journey for specific learning difficulty Dyslexia: tools considered YouTube and Kindle-book .   Arrows indicate potential route of the learning journey (open to change)   1. The Audio/Video/Visual Tutorial Approach, 2. Personalised system of instruction, 3. Goal Based Scenarios, 4. Case Based Teaching, 5. Guided design, 6. Anchored Instruction,7. Cognitive Apprenticeship,8. Cooperative Learning,9. Constructionist Project based Models,10. Problem based Learning,11. Learning Environments

Final bit for the thought on the model is the monitoring stage.  The timing might be over a whole  unit/course or during a year.

Fig 6.  Application of scatter chart to map the learning journey and monitoring for specific learning difficulty Dyslexia: tools considered YouTube and Kindle-book .   Arrows indicate potential route of the learning journey (open to change), red circles indicate the start and finish time for example in an academic year and not necessarily duration.    1. The Audio/Video/Visual Tutorial Approach, 2. Personalised system of instruction, 3. Goal Based Scenarios, 4. Case Based Teaching, 5. Guided design, 6. Anchored Instruction,7. Cognitive Apprenticeship,8. Cooperative Learning,9. Constructionist Project based Models,10. Problem based Learning,11. Learning Environments

The cognitive conflict the pupil undergoes during learning is a difficult quantity to measure.  Approaches of defining progression through cognitive conflict using Piagetian levels has been attempted with the use of Cognitive Accelerated Science Education (CASE).    This is not necessarily the same as the use of case based teaching alluded to in Learning Activity 4 of  the Virginia Tech Model. 

The next step will be to look at how the theories of Piaget and Vygotsky might fit into this Reworked Virginia Tech Model.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Friday Reflection

Treading Water!

The Friday reflection has come round again, well Thursday evening. It is Friday already somewhere in the world. Have been having a bit of week of treading water.  A week of considering whether that hillock is the top of the mountain or only anthill that could have been avoided without disturbing the occupants.

To start off with, something that I have learnt this week.  I found out when  reading and posting to Google+  that there was a hump day.  Being in the UK I was a little puzzled.  Camel support day?  But I was politely informed it was Wednesday by another name.  So over the hump I went.

I have had a little review my own personal experiences of completing courses and lack of engagement afterwards.   This led me to conclude that there is a place for the Everlasting Class to become a new forum for professional dialogue.  A Networking opportunity not limited by geographical boundaries.  In a small country like the UK relatively short distances with congested infrastructures are such barriers.  Google+ Hangouts  can be a solution.  I was unable to attend a local meeting of Best of Haverhill , owing to a few conversations via mobile phone, discussing a very worthy topic of reconnecting Haverhill back to the railway.   We had our rail link removed nearly 47 years ago in a so called rationalisation.  In my apologies for absence on the Best of Haverhill Event Facebook page I suggested that a Google+ Hangout or YouTube channel broadcast would be ideal for small business owners to be informed of such an important topic. We will see what comes of that.

On Wednesday (my Hump day apparently)  I blogged on the topic of the changing mantras of UK education.  The article that prompted my meandering  was  thought provoking as it gave insight on the influences of our current Minister for Education.  The book that he was most influenced by according to the article promoted the ideas that there were no individual learning styles.  That rigorous testing was good for the development of learners and should be the norm.  Without having read the book yet I am not in a real position to comment (sitting on the fence?).  I haven't found a Kindle version of the particular book.  Amazon  do have it for sale in print version.  However, I predict that that the book may be a mini-bestseller as every Head Teacher, Deputy Head and journalist will clamour to buy a copy in a bid to understand the future path of education in England and Wales (Scotland has it's own apparatus for mass education).

After one of the pillars educational thought had been questioned how did this affect my perception of Open Learning Communities (OLC also stands for Online Learning Communities).   A reference to the Royal Society in Tuesday's blog and it's origins prompted a comment from one collaborator of the Bank Street OLC.   The  original format for Royal Society meetings was a kind of "show and tell".  He was interested how this element could be introduced into Google+ Hangouts.  Smartphones were mentioned as a possible tech solution.  The new Nexus range launched this week could be in the part of the enabling technology.  Especially if there are front and back mounted cameras that can work independently in separate Hangout Windows.

So how did I do with the plans for this week.  Well I have edged a bit further along the path to coding and producing a Google Course Builder application.  Still a little way off.  Have to catch up with the edX and ALISON courses. Did use Study Room   for the edX course.  Interesting experience, a bit like a game navigating the Avatar to interact with other students.  Have not yet blog posted the updated Virginia Tech thoughts.  May look at the context again to see if it is Learning Style independent.  First thoughts are that it is since it works on the student-instructor continuum.

So for next week.  I will look at how OLC could be set up in the local area for Haverhill and float some ideas.  The coding courses really need to be caught up with and put back on track.  Long Term plan may need to be completed!

Well just about cat is in front of fire.  One side is done the flip side soon to happen.  Think I will join her next to the fire as it starting to become very wintery in Suffolk!  

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Can the Individual in the room please sit down?

A Personal Reflection of Trends in perception of the Learner in UK Education

A look at the diagram to the left show's a mainstay of what has been part of British Education practice for a number of years.  The use of Learning Styles has been part of CPD in English schools through out  the drive of the implementation and improvement of the national curriculum towards individual learning. 

I have personally received many photocopied transcripts of how we should tailor individual learning plans to the student.  The idea that everybody learns differently has been an unwritten law (as opposed to theory).  Tailoring the learning process to individual perceptions of how they learn has passed into educational aspiration and often Ofsted criteria.  

A few years ago in the institution that I worked in one of the first lessons of the year in PSHE (Personal, Social and  Health Education) was to survey the pupils and decide with them which Kolb learning style they fitted into.  They were then instructed to write it down in their planner.  The grand scheme was to gather the data together at school level to inform teaching and shape individual learning experiences.  The staff were informed for a few weeks after that senior staff would be making drop-in visits to classes and asking children if they knew their individual learning styles.  Ofsted then came and went.  The effort to pursue the Individual Learning Plan along the Every Child Matters and every child is a child with special needs was somewhat lost in the mist.

The idea of Thinking skills  has been part of supportive Science teaching for a few years through CASE (Cognitive Acceleration for Science Education).  A similar project CAME has been formulated for a few years.  The basis of the work is the theories of Piaget and Vygotsky.  The CASE approach, which I have taught myself, is a set of activities teaching skills in addition to present national curriculum.  It does produce results in improving  thinking skills.  However, the difficulty in quantifying thinking skills and Piagetian levels against the framework of the national curriculum has been difficult.  The difficulty is such that time investment in  developing these critical skills is not pursued since they do not appear  to add any intrinsic to data that feeds into league tables.

The focus on thinking skills has also briefly seen an interest in Edward De Bono's Six Hats  (apprently used by the British Civil Service).  Again this was a CPD fashion at one point (along with later Emotional Intelligence) but we did need to have a bigger hat  stand at the time to be able store the new apparel. Thinking skills is still a topic kicked around on the pitch of English educational thinking.  I am trying to be neutral and to stress the benefits.  However, as has happened with the reactive nature of the way the National curriculum has developed there is never enough time to see the final result.  There appears no willingness for a second half (to continue the analogy) or the extra time goal  that makes all the effort worthwhile.  The analogy of rolling the rock to the top of the hill springs to mind. Pausing half way up for a little bird (as in a little bird told me something else) to sit atop the rock.  The rock starts to roll back down the hill with the added information.

So what has prompted this lurch through the potted history of UK educational thought in the last 15 years (yes only 15 years)?   I read an article on the BBC website reporting the Education Ministers' Michael Goves' intention to speak at a conference on Wednesday (today).  In the article we are informed that the major influence on Michael Goves' thinking comes from Dan Willingham,  a cognitive scientist.  The main thrust of his work proposes that Learning  Styles do not actually exist.  Dan Willingham's book  "Why Don't Student's Like School?" will be worth reading to see the road map for education up to 2015 and beyond.  Personally I think, he could have thought of a better title since the implication is that at the moment all pupils do not like school.  However, this does reinforce the natural English reaction to education promoted by media to a large extent.            

The reaction to the speach will be interesting to know later today.  The fact that a cognitive scientist is becoming an influence is encouraging.  How this fits with the drive to instil knowledge compared to understanding will be an interesting path to follow!

How the idea of their being no Learning Styles affects Online Learning and Open Learning Communities is an area for further exploration.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Everlasting Class!

Education for Life Long Learning!

Do you still talk to your teachers?
Do they still talk to you? 

The three shots I have included above and to the right are in no particular order, Harper Adams University College ( formerly Harper Adams Agricultural College), Aberdeen University and Dundee University.  There have been other institutions that I have attended to receive an education in response to changing times other years but these are probably the most traditional.  They are in their own rights National and International leaders certainly in some of the disciplines I which I studied.   All of them were pre-JANET  (a precursor of the Internet in the UK) for undergraduates.   

In discussions within a group based at Bank Street College, New York, the term everlasting class has emerged.  This is a concept which at first looks to be an impossible goal.  How can you have an everlasting class and what makes it everlasting? Is there a topic that can be everlasting? When do you stop being a student? When do you know enough?  Will we still have the same structure and instructor in years to come?

I mentioned the three institutions in the first paragraphs because although I have become well qualified through them, once I received the certificate of competence that was the end of the relationship.   There was no real organisation from their part in promoting continued association or disseminating further knowledge.  The responsibility was over and another commodity created, the graduate.  

Times have moved on.  Now Universities in the UK charge fees an impetus to find out what their students have gone on to achieve has started.  As the system is now "monetised" marketing data is essential.  However, now fees are charged regulation requires a new set of data and tables to explain to students and government the cost-benefit of their efforts in establishing skills for life and Life Long Learning.  As time goes on the term "career" may become superseded by Life Long Learning or an equivalent, since career and job are interchangeable and do not necessarily imply development of skills any more    This development of tables and data is also something that  is referred to when considering with the main choice that faces young UK students.  Do we study at the local institution or do we live away from home and study?

So returning to the everlasting class.  In the grand scheme of education and career development in the traditional professions (Law, Accountancy and Medicine) membership of bodies such as the Law Society,  Royal College of Surgeons and other Chartered Institutes maintained some sort of everlasting class.  However, even these are not connected to the original providers of that training in all cases.

The Bank Street Group is at present moving towards an Open Learning Community (OLC) Model.  This is where a group of similarly interested parties and individuals are exploring how social media tools can be used to promote understanding of the new area of collaborative and peer learning.  Each course that is passed by a student is essentially a record of understanding of historical information at that point in time.  It is not necessarily going to be relevant information in ten years time.   Knowledge and understanding frameworks move too quickly compared to 30 years ago or even 16 years years ago (pre-internet).

With the connected world of the Silicon Age the everlasting class or learning forum could take place.  If I wanted to attend one of my former institutions for a meeting I would have to travel between 170 and 480 miles from Suffolk.  A Google Hangout may be the solution.  Could this be the new dawn for cross disciplinary , industry and local interested groups to take off again?  The Royal Society   and the Spalding Gentleman's Society  started by the same group of people (Sir Isaac Newton was a member of both) initially as an OLC.  As they became more established and formalised they started to become more closed and bureaucratic.  Question is did they promote new inquiry or did they establish conservative habits that stifled new areas owing to personalities and self-interest? 

OLCs have the potential to be the new Dawn of open enquiry in a group.  All educational institutes should have an  OLC to promote discussion as part of everlasting class (IMO).  If not only to prevent knowledge from becoming historical but also to tap into that vast "crowd source" of experience, knowledge and potential research sitting just the other end of the internet!                 

Friday, 9 November 2012

Friday Reflection

Online and overland communication!

In a week when Sandy premièred in New York followed by snow,  the power of the internet for meetings and connections was for me reinforced.  The Wednesday hook up or Hangout happened  attended by other members of the Bank Street OLC.  Microphone problems aside it was possible to carry out a meeting, even though I was resorting to chat messaging, that was a thoughtful and provided new perspectives for my own practice.  The fact we could speak in real time across three continental shelves leads to greater understanding of for example terminology and other descriptions of online learning activites.

This week I have been chipping away at my own black box understanding where coding and computer science is concerned.  I am part the way through an Alison Diploma course on Programming in C.  The basis to the reasoning for attempting this I have blogged about in my last post.  I have had a look at the Wiki pages for Google Course Builder and will start looking at putting the materials together for Project Scratch.  This is a  CPD project for teachers to start to learn how to code using Scratch.

Thursday, yesterday, I embarked on an overland journey to talk to a small, expanding company run by very pleasant people. They have selected a particular niche in the online education sector.     Delivering learning to groups of pupils via virtual learning environments.  The model they are following is try to get the pupil to be immersed in the activity and have ownership. 

They are based in South Gloucestershire   After becoming lost trying to follow Google maps and drive at the same time I can understand why. The nature of 21st Century working is Teleworking (a representative organisation in the UK is the  Telework Association).  Their's is a prime example of this activity. 

Fish Hill a 1 in 10 hill with great views
A Cotswold town
So after driving down Fish Hill (and back up again) I arrived in the Cotswold town.  As you can see a chocolate box High Street.  It is close to Sudeley Castle.  Having spent nearly five hours getting there I have to say the purchase of a discounted Road Map most valuable item bought this month (silly me thought I could just rely on Google Maps' directions forgetting the vagaries of UK highways Authorities signage and desire to redesign road layouts).  Prior to this purchase I had been following my nose and luckily it was working properly and I was only 15 miles from where I needed to be.  The map will be accompanying me Google Maps just there to calculate journey mileage and potential time!!  A lot of miles (500 or so) to eventually get back to Suffolk at about 4.30 pm, (left at 5.30 am that morning) but worth the trip to see how others are approaching the task of online learning.

Returning back to the reflection.  Last week I set myself the task of looking further at the Virginia Tech Model of learning activities .  I have developed my thinking a little further to include representation of the model as scattergram.  Included has been the step to incorporated a the model of Revised Bloom's Taxonomy and Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development.  This has been shared with members of the Bank  Street College OLC.  I will update the blog later to show the new model additions.

So for next week.  To pursue further leads for collaboration within the OLC group to move forward Project Scratch.  Blogcast the ideas of extending the Virginia Tech Model.  Continue to look at coding since we have an OLC deadline/waymark coming up and want to be able to have at least an outline project working.  Like the idea behind the NYC Learning Hive.  Have viewed the new initiatives launched in the UK by Mozilla.  A Hive or OLC is really appealing to set up with local volunteer centre (for whom I work with from time to time) and the local council.

Weekend starts here, POETS day being enforced (Push Off Early Tomorrow's Saturday!).

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Coding for Google Course Builder

Stepping up to Code

Over the past fifteen years or so I have flirted with coding in my position as Head of Science and Head of ICT in a middle school.  The requirements for coding has not been a part of the UK education systems' relationship with computers in the classroom.  The use of WYSWYG applications such as Macromedia Flash, Microsoft's FrontPage is about as close as most  teachers of ICT have come to coding.  We now have a need for coding skills in schools.   

Having tinkered about with coding in HTML and other languages along with  a very long ago remembered relationship with early BASIC and Machine Code a formal "Hello World" approach was needed.  So looking for a "modern" start I enrolled on the edX course Computer Science CS50x.  This is a whole semester course (half an academic year to those of us used to British University systems of terms).  So far this has been a great course, something that should feature in Year 1 of all UK university courses no matter what your discipline as a core passing course (ie you not do have a grade just pass or fail).  Certainly something similar  would have been useful later when I was grappling with analysing data from large field and pot experiments for efficacy of fertilisers.

For the short term I needed to get up to speed again (?) very quickly with how to code.  I selected a course from , Diploma in Programming in C.  Having had a little experience with C,  I started to work my way through the course.  A little hard to follow as a lot of information delivered by white board and screen capture, since there are no notes to download.  This is in contrast with the edX course where there are full transcripts of the lecture and the possibility to download resources to go on your iPod Touch, MP3 player, PDF on Kindle etc.  The ALISON course is quite taxing on the memory where assessments come about with 80% pass rate needed for the assessment.  It is possible to bale out and restart the start the test.  I needed to do this twice since the string reading for the answer and the  question were often not specific enough to allow success.  A feature of validation is that at any time after certification you can  login and sit a test again to validate your understanding for anybody that is interested.  This makes sure that skills are maintained to be current apparently.

So tools downloaded and followed  so far with ALISON are the Codeblocks C++ compiler .  A useful website is  Codepad which is an online compiler and more importantly also covers Python.  Python is used with the SDK AppEngine to create Google Course Builder e-Learning Courses.   Python also seems to be embraced as well by the Raspberry Pi community.  

So conclusion can now programme a little more efficiently  in C++ with a better understanding of the Computer Science.  Next step is to start to get to grips with Python and look to writing a Google Course Builder App!  

Friday, 2 November 2012

OFLC - Online Faculty Learning Communities

Whaaaaaat? Friday Already???

Friday Reflection

A busy week not just with OFLC but other online learning experiences via edX and ALISON.  The last Friday reflection  seems a long time ago now.  So in 500 words or less how have my  personal targets been met for OFLC set by me last week.  

Two main goals for this week were to set up a Medium Term Plan and Long Term Plan.  The Medium Term Plan was posted into the OFLC Google Group Drive (like this feature will have to investigate GoogleGroups further for some of my own projects).  We are at the stage of proposing projects and coalescing into working collaborations.  The initiation phase has been a feature of this week with facilitation of group make up being the next step.  Sharing has been  happening with OFLC which is great and promotes confidence in exchanging ideas.

The Long Term Plan is at the stage of being for personal consumption. As it becomes more fleshed out in the next week or so with aspirational targets for the next year I will then share. For me Long Term Plan is anything from 3 months to a Year in the future.  I use the term aspirational since all plans are subject to change and review as experiences dictate.  The trick with Long Term and Medium Term Plans is to realise that they are just that, plans.  Investment  in  collaboration/ownership  and setting realistic review schedules is the basis for successful projects that have lasting longevity.  The "there are no problems only solutions" mantra is often used as a summation of this approach.  It does rely on leadership within a group being a shifting fulcrum as opposed to management of the group.

So goals for Online Learning for the next week.   Have made a few detours this week into considering the wider role of Online Courses and OFLC in society and especially the Third Age of Man.   Having both parents involved in the University of the Third Age  (U3A).  I am aware through talking to parents of the vast repository of knowledge that still resides with active older people.  My father has an interest in Pewter, history and digital photography and regularly gives talks to the local group.  One of the tools that I have come across with involvement in the OFLC (OLC) is SlideSpeach.  This tool transforms a presentation (PowerPoint, Open Office, GoogleDocs) and slide notes into an audio and visual experience without having to use complex video authoring packages.  A worthy tool for preserving talks made within the context of  the U3A.  So a project for this week is to teach/lead father into recording his thoughts on diverse subjects with SlideSpeach.  Could be a trying experience for Tech Support (me) since although he is a retired electrical engineer he is more analogue and 3000v than digital.  Operator error is not a term he readily admits to where computers are concerned!  

Development of the Virginia Tech Model is ongoing.  I am in the process of investigating working with an Online Tutoring company as a contractor/supply teacher on specific delivery of teaching to individual students.  I believe the development of this model provides me with understanding of what is a relatively new field that could be constricted if traditional models of instruction are adopted.   

So a few things to be going on with for the next week! 

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Education in the Third Age

Silicon Age and the Third Age

The riddle of the sphinx is a famous Greek tale.  The Sphinx on the road outside Thebes in Greece, asked the question "Which creature walks on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon, and three legs in the evening?".  Any traveller who could not answer the riddle was devoured. That is until Oedipus solved the riddle and freed Thebes from the sphinx.  The answer to the riddle was man.  The morning, afternoon and evening represented the three ages of man.

Online education has so far been usually mentioned in the context of the first two ages of man.  Personally I think this is because the people practising the use and invention of online learning experiences are within the first two ages of man.  In the UK the Third Age is often characterised by people struggling to find activities to fill their time when they first retire or choose to give up work.  Society and Industry can often loose valuable contributors and knowledge as they progress through their Third Age. How can that be addressed to include the people with the most "leisure time" on their hands, the people within their Third Age?

In the UK and Australia there is a charitable educational organisation run for the benefit of it's members.  This is the University of the Third Age  (U3A).  This runs traditional learning activities based around lectures and interest groups prepared and delivered by members.  A new project for them is to design and deliver Online Learning Courses.   The driving force behind this is the realisation that not all members of the U3A are able to attend meetings owing to other commitments or mobility issues preventing from leaving the house.  The isolation issue can lead to older people becoming invisible to society. Another driver seems to be that expertise and experience in geographical group can be transferred to another.  

Online Courses could also be a good opportunity for businesses to help their employees adjust to retirement and allow some of their accrued knowledge and understanding to be retained within the company.  A for instance is that in the UK we have come full circle in promoting apprenticeships in the workplace in the transition between the first and second age.  The people now coming up to their Third Age retirement who did serve 7 year apprenticeships and worked for that organisation in middle management and production roles usually have specialist knowledge that is lost.  Part of the training and support for new entrants in the company could be aided by this repository of expertise.   

The Silicon Age does not necessarily need to bypass the Third Age.  Retirement does not mean people become invisible or childminders.  People in this context are more important resources for passing on knowledge and undersanding. This is an opportunity to use Online Faculty Learning Communities or possibly more appropriately named Online Facilitated  Learning Communities to maintain contact between the different ages of man!