Saturday, 29 September 2012

The Google Classroom: Planning a Course

The Planning Process

Very few teachers would want to walk into a room and be presented with a title and expect to teach for an hour.  We adopted a process orientated approach that is measurable against specific outcomes.  With this in mind the approach I am going to adopt is one of measurable outcomes both for the student and the planner.  I have had a lot experience of this approach to working.

In 1998 when I first joined a Middle School Suffolk a as newly qualified teacher with QTS (a level attained after a year of being a PGCE qualified teacher on most UK career tracks) having already gained a BSc in Botany, MSc in Crop Protection and worked as a Postgraduate Researcher in Fertiliser Technologies and sometime agricultural lecturer.   I took over the running of the science department and later added ICT to the responsibilities.  Two major departments in the scheme of producing effective learners.   

Within a few weeks of taking over we were Inspected by Ofsted and were put into special measures having already been given a notice to improve.  In the next few years (2 and a half seemed like longer) we had quarterly visits from HMIs (Her Majesty's Inspectors) who take over from where Ofsted leave off having  put a school into special measures.  Twelve years later I left this post as they shut Middle Schools in my part of Suffolk to move to a two tier system.

In that time I have seen many changes in what is looked on  as effective teaching and trained a few PGCE students. One of whom I met in another school in Cambridgeshire, where I spent some time teaching secondary as a supply or substitute teacher as per my original science expertise.  Thus my experience spans age groups 9 to 18, to adult.  

Primarily I am going to cover course building using Google Course builder from an educator of 9 to 18 year olds point of view.  Adult courses I will also cover but a little later.  So, the topic.  A universal topic for all science labs, Design technology and  IT use is safety.   I recently  renewed Safeguarding Training and was struck by amount of new legislation related to IT that was brought in in 2010.  However, the 1974 Safety at Work Act still applies (even in Schools) so  some of the legislations key points in child friendly terms are pertinent  especially as we are training them for the work force.   Good habits start early! 

So having rambled on about my professional provenance, does you good sometimes to identify achievements, to the planning process.  I mentioned in one of the last blogs the suggested standard of a Google Certified Course as opposed to a Google certified teacher, not so much an endorsement but a recognition that certain steps have been gone through to produce the course.  A bit like the Investors in People accreditation in the UK,  a record of the good processes being in place but not necessarily a record of  successful outcome of the good practice.

Wiki pages produced by  Google suggest some good practice so I am going to use this as the frame work for the common process with adding layers on top.   One of the  major assessments attached to online courses is the record of time spent on the course.      As mentioned in a previous blog there is a National Framework for Qualifications in the UK as well as in Europe.  More relevant to time spent on a course is the   European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS).   A new innovation in Suffolk is the Suffolk Baccalaureate which a little controversially has been compared to new Ebacc proposed by Michael Gove.  Therefore as a change in the ground rules for qualifications is taking place any course produced has to be working to certain common international  standards to  have longevity.  This is possibly something the Google Teaching Community could look at.  While that discussion is initiated I will take on board to start with as I mentioned the Google planning framework.

So will be putting some "style pages" up for sharing based on the process outline on the Wiki Pages


Friday, 28 September 2012

Towards a Google Class Room

The fine print: How big?

Experience of making IT based resources in the past has taught me the rule: time spent making > time spent watching. 

 In the introduction of IT in the classroom though the UK National Curriculum the emphasis was on using lots projector based resources and whiteboards.  Assuming the equipment worked as it should do (ie whiteboards attached on the other side of  corridor walls that moved slightly due to cracks would always give a interesting experience)  which was rare presentations were not as well received as could be owing to concentration span.  Government produced framework material  guaranteed to cause mental turn off the quickest!

So with the view in mind of the resource rule number one (time spent making > time spent watching) I am looking to try and get in an ideal world a ratio time spent making to time spent watching down quotient of 1.  It is very easy to become technology orientated. You can forget that the 10 hours producing a resource may produce a unique technical application of your skills, but if one person sees it for it's 5 minutes duration the impact on overall learning is small.  Granted if more people see it then the ratio goes down.  

We can modify resource rule 1 for a time efficient resource to be: time spent making < collective time spent watching.  Remembering individually tailored learning experiences there may be a degree of temporal separation from the various learners.

Experience of "playing" with Microsoft Reader when it first became available to produce differentiated texts for individual pupils showed IT  was a resource hungry dead end.  Since then a lot of resources have been supplied if buy the "right " course for the exam board.  GCSE dumbing down apart there is a certain amount of recognition that not necessarily do we need to know how to produce the materials but know how to operate them.  An analogy is a bit like that photocopier in  a school where everybody knows how make a copy but very few know the difference between  photocopy safe acetates and ordinary OHP acetates (there are still some OHPs being used).  Or even more frequent there are some people know how to change the toner, fill the paper hoppers  and clear a jam, while others just cause them by pressing a button! 

How large can the resource be and what is the cost?  A look at the "Quotas page" suggests there is a 5  GB free allocation for data.  This is shared across the appengine applications (courses?) that you generate.  The size might sound a lot but could easily be eaten up with a resource rich content.  The daily useage quotas may be a little small for a large class with access and email limits if the free resource quota is to be adhered to.  A cost estimate would be a useful first step to make in the general planning stage.  This is also a good way to limit enthusiasm with  the first rule of resources in mind.

A suitable spreadsheet needs to be used to give a cost estimates and run as a financial model.  Having had a role with responsibility for resourcing an IT and a Science department budget control is a must as it also can generate time management as well.  Traditional lesson planning methodology in classrooms relies on resources being to hand.  Busy teachers do not always have time to reinvent the wheel in the non-It literate class room.  When I trained PGCE students I used to recommended planning of 20 minutes per hour of teaching when all the resources were available.  The what to teach should be there in the planning at the beginning of the of the period of instruction.  In among the Google Wiki pages, 30 minutes of content for each chunk of topic per session is given as a guideline.  Experience of designing Screen based resources has led me to the conclusion that for every 30 minutes of screen content allow at least a 2 hour planning window for simple content such as PowerPoint or Flash or even effective YouTube presentations.  This is something that the various curriculum strategies did not address when we having to be all singing, dancing multi-skilled  educators.

So the next blog will be looking a little further at the planning for cost and time budgets for the use of the course builder.  After all time is money?

Thursday, 27 September 2012

The Google Classroom

Online Course delivery

A variety of online courses are now on offer (edX, Coursera, ALISON).  Monitoring the Google Teacher newsletter there is now a set of course construction that they are making available.  

A set of Wiki pages ( outline the methodology of producing a course.  This may or may not lead eventually to a set of standards for Google accreditation for the course.  

An initial reaction is that the materials do require a degree of computer literacy beyond the average skills of a recent UK  PGCE graduate.  The skills are therefore arguably beyond the remit of a lot of the profession.

However, using some of the courses offered by edX, Coursera and ALISON it would be possible to acquire the skills.  The use of Google tools will probably become part of Education degrees as time goes on as tailored curriculum become more individual and compulsory.

In the next few weeks I am looking to get to grips with the software and looking to relate the development of a course for my own purposes.  As a former Head of Department for Science and ICT in a middle school I will be looking to develop initially short courses on analytical skills in Science and Safety.

So grab the Python by the tail and see what happens!      

Thursday, 13 September 2012

School day from Yesteryear!

A windy day on literal face value! 

The Public Boarding school!

A new idea surfaced in the area of  state led Lifelong Learning promoting social mobility.  There was talk and mention of the fact some areas starting to set up State Boarding Schools.  The experiment in social engineering is not a new idea.  Looking back in history to the 1830s and 1840s  Poor Law and Public legislation  set about increasing life opportunities (using modern terminology).  The setting up of the Workhouses as a place where poor people could be housed is a stark Victorian image.  However, the next step which was not always implemented, was to provide a bad influence free environment where poor children could be prepared for a useful life. 

A school day typical of that time in local district schools in the Stow area of Suffolk was:

6.00 rise, wash, dress.
6.20 rollcall, inspection.
6.30 prayers, breakfast.
7.15-8,00 recreation in yards.
8.00-11.00   boys-gardening or carpentering, shoe making, whitewashing etc.
                     girls-make beds, scrub floors, work in laundry, kitchen.
11.00-12.00 reading from bible, hymn singing.
12.00 lunch.
12.30-2.00 recreation in yards.
2.00-4.00 reading in lesson books, writing, arithmetic, etc.
4.00-5.00 religious instruction.
5.00-6.00 singing. ,-
6.00 supper. After supper, prayers, hymns and bed.
                                                                         (From Edwin Chadwick, Poor Law and Public Health
                                                                                         by Roger Watson ISBN 0 582 20458 5)

The idea being to educate pupils even though it might not be considered fun by today's standards.  Would we be able to have a twelve day for young people?  The 3 Rs "academic" content of the day might be considered quite small with 2 hours specifically for this out of the day.  The proportion of the day devoted to practical activities and recreation as well as what we would call PSHE/RE is very high compared to the academic week in most schools now.  The practical activities of the 1840s today would be those covered by GNVQs but with more practical than today's arguably theory driven qualifications.   Your average pupil looks as though they might also have been more musicals than today's.

So after nearly 200 years have we educated the population enough that communities are able to self-regulate their life outcomes?  Can we as individuals see how the  benefits of education moves the whole society along a continuum of relative wealth? Interesting questions in the consumption driven economy of today.

More thoughts on the cost of knowledge to follow.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Online Learning .... 24/7 Access

Perpetual Motion in Learning
when do you ------- get the chance to Stop

Continuous Lifelong Learning

 Education and testing of people starts early in the UK.  The measure of progress a child is making starts at the age of two and a half when pupils enter pre-school nursery care.  Ofsted starts their management of lifelong learning.

We continue the lifelong learning treadmill as we grow older.  The industry of Education is a multi-million (and the life-cycle of a generation a multi-billion) pound industry.  Monitoring the progress and the validity of qualifications is becoming increasingly difficult.  Does the education provider provide an accredited qualification?

The folk tales about private American College degrees and the availability of certificates for courses that require no study are common in the pre-internet age.  It should be remembered that Harvard and other Ivy League colleges are essentially private. Before state funded higher education in the UK all Universities were private and those that are old enough ostensibly still private institutions.

So what is there on offer on line.  There is the ALISON group of course providers with certification.  This is wholly on line.  The verification of who you are is therefore a little vague.  The edX  participants have strtaed to address this concern by setting up examination centres in the UK with Pearson .   Competing with edX as a course providers are  Coursera this includes the British University Edinburgh.  This provides free courses with completion certification as opposed to credit certification.

Traditionally in the UK distance and video has been the preserve of the Open University.  There has been a general move towards working students' study to be predominately selected to be via the OU.  Will this continue with other study providers, especially since the validity and longevity of  relevance of qualifications seems to have an inbuilt shelf life?

I have signed up for two courses: one with edX and one with Coursera.  It will be interesting to see what the Lifelong Experience is!