April 13, 2013
I stumbled upon this article shared by mindshift on facebook about Reading, understanding and analysing complex texts. This is a blog by Catlin Tucker and I think she has some pretty good stuff in her blog for teachers interested in language and blended learning.
I think most teachers including myself, often neglect the meta-learning component of teaching. We all know the allegory of teaching someone how to fish instead of providing the fish. But more often than not and especially when the exams are nearing, we slip into “fish-giving” mode because we fear the students will “starve” without the fish. And as for myself, I sometimes unconsciously think that study techniques should be figured out by the student on his/her own because that was what my class mates and I did. But on hindsight, there’s way more learning output to be gained by students in exposing them to different study techniques than exposing them to different exam questions, which is what I’m spending most of my time doing now -.-.
So well, click on the picture below to access some good tipps about how to annotate complex texts. Happy learning how to fish!
February 4, 2013
Picture from duckdown.blogspot.sg
When I first encountered the word “unconference“, I initially thought it was a typo. A conference in my mind was a gathering of people who were attending a presentation or talk, so an “un”- conference means people don’t gather, so what do they do, stay home and rot? Well, contrary to my initial naive interpretation, an unconference takes away the initial presentation/talk and people gather solely to exchange ideas. Now this is a great idea because I am sure many of us have attended conferences in which we realise that the keynote speech or presentation was not really productive for us. We gained more out of the interaction with our peers or with the presenter via Q&A. As such, why not take away the presenter totally and have discussion throughout. There are varying degrees of unconferences ranging from one in which an initial topic or agenda has been set for the participants to prepare for to one in which this statement ”there is no agenda until .. the attendees made one up” holds true.
Thinking aloud, I could not help but try to bring this idea to lessons. What if we have an “unlesson”? I’m sure we have lessons where students are the main drivers via presentations and other student centred active learning techniques. But language has power, in their mind, it is still a lesson in which the teacher has set the agenda. If however, we tell students that, for example, every 2 weeks we have 1.5 hours of “unlessons” in which students ( perhaps a pre-assigned group) set the agenda and drive the conduct of the “unlesson”, what would the outcome look like? Would they abuse the time to “slack”? Would they use the time to take ownership and perhaps introduce their passions into the “unlesson”?
January 30, 2013
This was the talk I was looking forward to at this year’s efiesta. How to build online participation in online discussion forums. It also helped that Mr Knutzen was using the Moodle platform which Hwachong is using as its LMS now. Although I abhor Moodle for its overly complicated interface, I acknowledge that in terms of features, it’s one of the more comprehensive around.
Well I certainly was not disappointed with this talk! Mr Knutzen was an engaging speaker and mixed the theoretical foundations of his learning design with his real live experiences quite well. I was reminded that the pedagogy underpinning the use of discussion forums should be social constructivism where people collaborate to construct knowledge and shared meanings. The learning design or instructional model that he espouses seems akin to the community of inquiry model where the discussion questions/tasks, social presence and teacher involvement combine to create an ideal learning experience.
His general philosophy as I understand it is that some people need to have, in his words, “their arms twisted” into participating in online discussions. That is why he allocates a certain percentage of the final grade of his course to online postings. His method of grading is quantitative in nature, i.e. as long as students post, regardless of the quality of the post, they will be given credit. The rationale for this is that discussion should be a formative activity which gives them a safe space to admit their lack of understanding and post without fear of losing face should they make any mistakes. I think this is a brilliant insight though I have my concerns about abuse, but according to Mr Knutzen, there was no abuse in his experience. He attributes the lack of abuse to the fact that while he used grading as an “arm twisting” tactic to force students to participate, good learning design and appropriate instructor moderation/participation made the students “buy into” the discussion activities.
He also introduced ParticipationMap.org to us, which is a Moodle plugin allowing instructors to track student activity. This plugin apparently uses the items listed in the photo below as indicators. This seems really useful and I look forward to playing around with it if I can get it to work with my school moodle.
October 27, 2012
Mobilearning Asia 2012 has ended and it was quite an interesting and energizing conference. Apparently this was Crimson Knowledge’s (link) first attempt at organizing a conference of this scale so it was not too bad for a first attempt.
September 12, 2012
It’s been a while since my last post about the multi-touch textbooks that Apple unleashed upon the world a few months ago. Myself and some friends expected it to be a game changer. But it has not “made a dent in the educational universe” as we expected.
One main reason is its closed architecture. iBooks author is only available on the mac, which has not reached the kind of usage penetration that the iPad and iPhone has. Secondly, books can only be produced in the proprietary *ibooks format, and not standard formats like EPUB3. I think Daniel Glazman (W3C CSS Working Group co-chairman) summarises the situation best with this line:
the company has released a great piece of software that could have been the immediate market leader, but through not being able to export nor import ‘real’ EPUB3, it will only fulfil a niche.
He is absolutely right. Imagine if Apple did not release iTunes for windows which was kind of the “standard” operating system at the time, would iTunes have gained that much traction among users?
Oh well, despite these various issues. I still strongly believe in the idea/vision of interactive, engaging multi-touch educational material and as such I shall still attend this session by Moses Sia to see what tips/tricks he can impart and also to interact with like-minded educators. Hope to be surprised and amazed =).
September 3, 2012
Just thinking aloud. I was re-reading Steve Job’s biography and I’m now at the part where the author writes about the difference between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs being a matter of business model. Steve Jobs believed in the vertical integration of hardware and software while Bill Gates believed in the software licensing model (or the fragmented model). In his later years, Steve Jobs took it to another level by even integrating the retail experience, as the beautiful Apple store shown above can attest to. This vertical integration was credited as the model which results in a better user experience because each level, software, hardware, accessories and retail store are tightly integrated. The licensing model however will result in “crappy products” (according to Jobs) because there are gaps between software and hardware.
Education has typically adopted a model similar to the the windows licensing model, teachers use textbooks and videos created by publishers. This often results in the material not being totally relevant or having gaps and the educator would have to fill the gaps or instruct the students to ignore the irrelevant material. This makes for a confusing situation (lousy user experience) for students. This model was necessary because in the past the technology and expertise needed to publish necessitated outsourcing this tedious task to the texbook publishers. But in this day and age of high level personal computing and digital publishing. Perhaps it’s time to reconsider the Bill Gates model for the Steve Jobs model.
Teachers can truly create and publish multi-media material that is tailored to the needs of the students. However, teachers need time to do this. Which means the time allocation of teacher’s duties must change. Junior College teachers in Singapore do spend time compiling notes from various sources for students. But in comparison to the duties of teaching and marking, this seems to take less of a priority. Furthermore, the licensing model necessitates a static set of teaching materials. The textbooks do not change after we have purchased them and the notes we create seldom change in the midst of the teaching term except perhaps when we identify mistakes. An Apple style integrated model should work differently. For example, after a major assessment, gaps in understanding are identified and the various interventions/explanations should be integrated into the learning material. So it’s like a cycle. Teaching ==> Assessment ==> learning material ==> Teaching and so forth. With digital publishing, it should be relatively easier to amend material, just look at wikipedia.
There’s probably something lacking in my thought process somewhere. But one can dream of the days where teachers (and even together with students perhaps) have the time and energy to collaborate to publish humourous, relevant digital teaching material which evolves according to student needs as time goes by. Oh and the language and layout of the material would also correspond with the teaching philosophy of the school, constructivism/project based learning etc. That’d be insanely great!
August 16, 2012
Read a short blog post by Dr Ashley Tan about Inspiring Change Agents . There was a line which gave me pause
So how does one motivate change then? I do not think that you need to motivate the few who are already motivated. They have the will and they will find the way.
He’s right of course, those who wish to inspire change know exactly why they are doing so. They may have a vision of the future, like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. When you listen to their conversations or speeches in the past, it was as if they envisioned the current state of technology and through sheer force of will yanked the future into the present. They may feel the urgency to solve immediate problems, like how Richard Branson is using his status and wealth to bring about more environmental consciousness to business people and consumers.
However, I still think we do need to motivate the motivated, or in other words we still need to sometimes preach to the choir. Because initial motivations may wane in the face of reality which seems to prefer staying still and not changing. “Resistance to change” is an often quoted reason for either failure or delays in bringing about organisational shifts. To break through this obstacle, the change agent must not waver in his/her quest. I must confess that quite a few times I thought to myself, why bother trying anything new, it’s not going to work and nobody is going to embrace it. But I get reminded of my initial motivations by conferences where so many wonderful people have indeed brought about positive change, no matter how small an impact. I get reminded by online conversations on twitter and facebook that certain things we are doing now simply cannot be permitted to triumph over better alternatives. So to all change agents out there, find various ways to remind yourselves WHY you are doing what you are doing and even if the ‘what’ and ‘how’ has not seemed successful so far, you’ll eventually figure it out.
August 13, 2012
I’ve just finished reading Insanely Simple by Ken Seagall. Quite an interesting read. And I would say a good companion to the Steve Jobs biography if you wish to know a bit more about how Steve Jobs works. Some of the parts I enjoyed the most was the depiction of Steve trusting his gut or as Ken says, fiercely adhering to the principle of Simplicity. In a chapter about lawyers advising him to reconsider his position on a certain situation, his reply was simple indeed “Fuck the lawyers”.
There is good use of metaphors like the Simplicity stick and a narrative template, i.e. protagonist = Simplicity and Complexity the evil antagonist who wishes to gain world domination only with Simplicity standing in its way. This narrative template works very well and I almost cheered in my mind at times when Simplicity won over its evil counterpart.
However, as pointed out by quite a few reviewers, Insanely Simple can use a few strokes of the Simplicity Stick as well. It lists 10 sub-types of Simplicity i.e. Think Different, Think War, Think Brutal etc. But there are often repeating points and stories in these chapters. The PC vs MAC ad, for example, was referenced quite a few times with seemingly no added value with each retelling. I think he was adhering to another principle of Steve Jobs, the power of the deca. 10 seems to be a psychologically satisfying number, probably due to the fact that we have 10 fingers (if we had 12 fingers, our number system will probably in terms of twelves) and is in Apple products and marketing. Up to 10 hours of battery life on the iPad. 1000 songs in your pocket. Hence Insanely Simple broke things down into 10 sub types. This runs counter to his point on “Think Minimal” but hey it’s still a good read and a good book about Apple and Steve Jobs, just not a good business/management book.
I think it would be apt to end this blog post with this quote from the book,
Simple can be harder than complex. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end, because once you get there, you can move mountains.
August 5, 2012
Recently came across this extremely simple app which is perfect for people like me who often lets time just slip by. Take a look at the video below to see its gorgeous interface.
The colours, sounds and the simple gesture based interface make me WANT to use this app just for the heck for it. It’s fun enough for the average lazy person to want to use it and since you’ve already started using it then you might as well follow through and adhere to task timings you yourself created. The only issue I have is that sometimes, the notification sounds for your next task are a little too soft, and not “disruptive” enough such that if you were too engrossed in a particular task, you may ignore it and continue on your current task instead of moving to the next task.
Another cool thing as mentioned in the video is that the revenue model is an “honour” model. The app is free to download and it then allows you the choice to contribute various amounts of money to the developer should you find it useful. So check it out and have fun with this. You can download it at the app store here.
April 15, 2012
I recently discovered this behavioural management system called classdojo . I was quite fascinated by the concept. Most elearning applications concentrate on managing learning rather than managing behaviour. So I went on youtube to check out some videos about it. I’ve embedded one video below for your viewing pleasure.
As you can see from the video, it’s pretty easy to use and the ability to customise behaviours has huge potential for at least sending a signal to the class about what kind of behaviours are desired in the classroom.
My objective of using classdojo was more to encourage participation and recognise positive behaviours like “great insight” than to highlight negative behaviours. That being said, at the start of a class, a student was not paying attention and I half-jokingly awarded him a “disruptive” negative dojo point rather than verbally admonish him to keep quiet like I usually do. It had an immediate effect and he kept quiet and jokingly gestured that “hey he was quiet so why did I award him a negative point”. Subsequently, I did not have to use any more negative points.
There were a couple of considerations I had before I trialled this in the classroom. Firstly, it seems a tad childish and more suited for the primary school classroom than a junior college classroom. Well, to somewhat alleviate this concern, I decided that the dojo points will still be awarded to individuals but awards/rewards and forfeits will be given at a group level. This gives students a team to strategize a gameplan with, making it somewhat more “teenagish”. This also allows more variations like banning students with more than 5 dojo points from participating, “forcing” the others in the team to participate. So far, the team concept has been working well. I believe it’s less personal than ranking people individually by dojo points. For one class (let’s call it class A), I’m using a straight up “who has the most points” model, while for another class (class B) I’m trying to use RPG elements like individual Levels and group levels (it seems very daunting though and I think I might revert to a straight up competitive model soon. ) There was one class (class C) in which I trialled classdojo but dropped it within minutes. It was my form class and the rapport was already good, hence I was awarding participation points like crazy and the time it took for me to award the points actually slowed the flow of the discussion. This really emphasised to me the need to keep objectives in mind and not be too carried away with a new tool. I may or may not use classdojo again with class C but I’ll really have to modify the behaviours according to my objectives. Even for class A and B, as time goes by I should tweak my usage of classdojo, as my objectives are met/unmet and/or new objectives arise.