#28daysofwriting Day 8: A new type of learner

I signed up to a MOOC three weeks ago.  Completely mad given the timing but it sounded interesting.  It is my third MOOC and the second in just 4 months.  My first one in January 2013 Elearning and Digital Cultures (EdcMooc) through Coursera and Edinburgh University was an amazing experience.  One of the most powerful things were the online discussions and the Twitter Chats. These were something completely new for me and completely re-energised my learning.  I love the immediacy of them and the variety of comments from people all over the world with different perspectives.  I am still in contact with some of the other participants of EdcMooc who I made contact with through the Twitter stream.  We formed a Goodreads book club and have a Twitter chat each month to discuss the book that we vote on and read.

collage of photos to offer an image that shows balance.  A man on a bike balancing cleaning materials with social media icons around and the words edcmooc and Finding the BalanceIt took me nearly another two years before joining another MOOC.  Partly because of lack of time, partly because the topics didn’t really inspire me and partly because I had had such a good experience with EdcMooc that I was worried that another MOOC wouldn’t live up to it.

In November, I signed up to Understanding Language, a MOOC delivered by the University of Southampton through FutureLearn.   It was an ambitious task given that it was at the end of the term, Year 10 fell in the middle of it and then I was heading off to Costa Rica.  Would I manage to complete it?  The great thing about MOOCs is that you can do what you can.  You take from them what you can.  They are free.  I enjoyed the discussions in the forums.  People from all walks of life contributing, responding, offering their points of view based on their experience in response to the videos and articles.  I was disappointed, though, in the lack of interaction via social media which had so energised me in the EdcMooc.

This month, I am just about keeping up with eLearning Ecologies, another Coursera MOOC but this time delivered through the University of Illinois.  Again, the forum discussions are the most thought provoking.  One of the discussions following the videos and articles offered last week was about “Creating a New Type of Learner”.  The discussion here was about the affordances of technology to offer new ways of learning.

classroom with students taking photos of work on the board.I absolutely agree that we, as educators, are creating a new type of learner. Well, not just us, but society. However, personality and disposition have a lot to do with how those students develop. Some of my students jump at the chance to use technology; they are photographing notes off the board or mind maps we create in groups and uploading them to eportfolios; my inbox is full of messages and google docs being shared with me and they are responding to feedback with questions at all times of day and night.

Others, though, are completely overwhelmed; they struggle with learning independently, with having to find their way around the learning spaces I provide for them. Whilst they are bright, intelligent girls they prefer to be given the information so that they can learn it and regurgitate it. My hope is that I am providing them with a framework to be resilient learners, to navigate territory they are unsure of, but sometimes it is a battle. A battle which is not always helped by parents who say, “But that is how she learns. She needs written notes. Why can’t you just give her them?”

However, someone touched on the solution in one of the posts in the discussion.  We need to encourage change with the youngest students. They are the ones who have really grown up with a device in their hands.  But I believe that teachers too are important. They need to have the confidence and the conviction to adopt new ways of teaching and learning. Their disposition is just as important as the students. We cannot force change on either our learners or our students, we simply have to sow seed, nurture and reap the harvest.

Teachers of every generation have had to fight for change. This revolution is just a little faster, I think.

Procrastination – term 4 lethargy – searching for inspiration

image of planet with person approaching and spacecraft close by

You can tell I have more work to do than I can fit in a day when I am avoiding doing it at all costs!  Deadlines loom and I will be working frantically into the night to meet them the evening before when I could really save myself the stress and just do the work now.  But that would make life far too easy, wouldn’t it?  I am in the throes of “term 4 lethargy”; it is a highly infectious disease, caught when in close proximity to students who have had enough or who are panicking about exams and so are busily burying their heads in the sand and pretending it will all go away if they don’t really think about it too much.

This weekend, as well as trying to encourage my own son to revise and develop a study plan, I had planned to finish writing my year 10 Spanish Exam. It is mostly done but I have to put it in for photocopying tomorrow morning and so it really needs to be completed.   But my house is also a complete pigsty, washing is (was)  piled up either to be washed or to be put away, the dishwasher has broken and we had to go and look for a new one,  the garden beckons (the sun was shining today), I have friends who need support (two hour phone calls) and this morning was the edcmchat about The Great Wall of Mars.  Apart from the Yr 10 Exam, everything else got done and now I am blogging about it!

The Twitter chat was energising and, of course, I had to read the short story first – that was yesterday evenings “task”.  All work and no play, makes Jack or Jill a dull boy or girl and it also allows you to look outside the box for a short while and put things in perspective.  These Twitter chats have grown out of the MOOC (repeat of which starts tomorrow – not too late to enroll and I would thoroughly recommend it!)  in which I participated earlier in the year.  A few of us decided to form a group on GoodReads, choose a book to read each month and then chat about it.  I have been very much a bystander, a participant rather than a mover and a shaker ( I haven’t plucked up courage to moderate a chat yet) but have thoroughly enjoyed the chats I have been able to participate in.  Nor have I always found the time to read the books, but this month we had a short story which was great and I was also at home on Sunday morning to join in.

I had forgotten how stimulating it is to just chat about a book, to think about the themes, to share your thoughts with others and to spark new ideas from others’ comments and opinions.  I have created a Storify from the Tweets.  You probably need to read the story to really understand the comments.  Maybe, you’d like to join in?  Next read is “I love you like water” by Angela Slatter.

Now, where was I …..?


What if? Visions of the Future

Some intriguing and thought-provoking ideas from the BBC. A competition that invites people to submit ideas about what the future might hold for us.

This competition links in appropriately with the Coursera cMooc I recently completed when we looked at utopian and dystopian views of the world, past, present and future; the role that technology has played, plays and will play in the development of the world; the integral role and responsibility that we have in that development in terms of shaping society, societal values, the environment and the way that we live. There are some fascinating suggestions which I will explore in greater depth but one of the things the BBC did was to ask 6 artists to provide images that represented their ideas of the future.

I like Abdoulaye Konate‘s image which he suggests represents the idea that “the future of the world will depend on the attitude mankind decides to adopt. Above all what’s needed is total respect for the environment.”

image of a tapestry which shows strips of green fabric and a cut out silhouette of a person in the bottom right hand corner

Chema Madoz‘ vision is more bleak but a reminder too that we have to take responsibility for the world we live in and take measures to protect what is, after all, our lifeblood.

empty glass with the words "The End" imprinted on the bottom

Pulling things together post edcmooc

Young man looking at panoramic table showing the distance in kilometres to Vancouver, Canada

Well, it is now a couple of weeks since edcmooc finished and I feel sort of empty – there is a hole in my life!  Even though I have had plenty to fill the space it has left; during edcmooc we were also building up to saying farewell to our eldest as he starts on a new chapter of his life in Canada. We saw him off at the airport last weekend and he has now been away for a whole week.  Good old social media means that we know he arrived safely – he checked into the Spaghetti Factory in Vancouver on Foursquare, posted on Facebook about taking a tour in a pink double decker bus and we saw his tweets too. Oh, and he did manage to text me as well.  Hoping that this weekend he will skype us so I am sitting with Skype open just waiting for him to come online!

Life at work has also been frantic; I wear several hats one of which is Outdoor Education Coordinator and with two camps coming up in the next four weeks I have a huge mound of paperwork; RAMS and medical forms are coming out of my ears as well as trying to sort out staffing.

Alongside that paperwork I am also part of a team reviewing the EOTC documentation and practice in school.  We had four hours of meetings this week to try to break the back of that and put in place a plan of action for next term.

I also teach Spanish so I need to leave work for my classes when I am away so I have to make sure that we have covered enough in the lessons so that they can complete online activities whilst I am away.

Finally, I am part of a team leading the Professional Development in school this year.  Our focus is Blended Learning and so we  are each leading a 5 week module on a different aspect of Blended Learning which obviously requires a fair degree of preparation.

Oh, and on top of all that, I am preparing for a two week trip to Spain during the April holidays; I was awarded a scholarship for a fully funded Spanish language course at Salamanca University which is fantastic.  However, because it is fully funded by the Ministry of Ed and the Spanish Embassy, there are plenty of hoops to jump through!

So, about that hole that edcmooc left?! Well, actually, even though it has been filled with all these other things it is only partially filled.  Something has been sparked in me and I need more. I miss the interaction, the opportunity to read the articles, watch the videos and exercise my brain with something academic. I have signed up to Goodreads and joined the edcmooc groups and hope to find time to read the suggested book “News from Nowhere”  that I have downloaded and join in the twitter chat planned for 6th April.  I am also hoping to join in the twitter chat tomorrow morning. I missed last weeks chat and although I read through the tweets afterwards, it just wasn’t quite the same!

The problem is, when there isn’t the structure of the weekly course plan, the momentum of

the discussion forum, the traffic on Twitter, FB and Google +, and when there are lots of external pressures,  it is easy to drop off the chat.  I have looked to see what other Moocs are coming up and definitely plan to do another but I know that right now is not a good time.  I want to be able to give it my full attention.  I am also a little worried that edcmooc was such a good experience for me that other moocs won’t match it!

Last week I went to lecture at the University of Waikato by Mark Pagel called “The Evolution of Human Language”.  It was fascinating.  He is an entertaining speaker and as a good speaker should,  he raised more questions than he answered.

“Each of you possesses the most powerful, dangerous and subversive trait that natural selection has ever devised. It’s a piece of neural audio technology for rewiring other people’s minds. I’m talking about your language.”

In this Tedtalk from 2011 he suggests that “social learning is visual theft” but that it is social learning, that has helped us develop as a species.  At some point in the past we realised that we had a choice – we could either protect our ideas and not let other people steal them by copying what we had discovered or we could share. We decided to share and language is what resulted.  

Language evolved to solve the crisis of visual theft. Language is a piece of social technologyfor enhancing the benefits of cooperation — for reaching agreements, for striking deals and for coordinating our activities

I am hungry for more – maybe there will be a mooc out there somewhere on the development of language?  As a lingust I have always been fascinated with how languages develop, where they came from, how words transfer from one language to another, how they metamorphose, and how language tells us so much about the culture of a people.

#edcmooc A reflection on artefacts

Lily pads on a lake with three leaves which are not real superimposed
What is real and what is not? Getting to the heart of the matter..

So, I have finished evaluating my artefacts and am now awaiting my marks. After looking at the three artefacts I was allocated, I have to admit to feeling a little disappointed in a couple which was why I opted to look at some more. Two of the five I looked at didn’t seem to address the themes at all.  One was a great selection of external websites, videos and quotations but there was no narrative to link them all together.  The other two, I thought were pretty good and clearly showed a good understanding of the concepts although they too lacked personal reflection.  I had thought that the criteria were relatively clear about what we had to do.  Having said that, I suppose that the guidelines were also sufficiently open to allow for a great deal of subjectivity in the interpretation of them. I guess that can be both an adavantage and a disadvantage.

I think that being involved in the Tweetchats and browsing the forums reasonably regularly gave me some insights into the way that other people were thinking and interpreting the resources.  I didn’t contribute as much as some because many people were saying what I was thinking so didn’t feel the need to repeat.  However, I did use the voting buttons when I though that a post was particularly helpful or interesting to me.

I wasn’t sure whether looking at the many artefacts that people posted early was going to be helpful or confusing to me as I grappled with decisons around the focus for my artefact.  I did look at a couple of early ones and they seemed so well-polished and cleverly written that I felt a little bit out of my depth, so decided not to look at any more!  Never having had to do anything like this before I decided to launch myself into the unknown and just go for it.  I don’t know how my artefact will be viewed, I hope that I managed to fulfil the criteria …

I have been a teacher for a long time now and I know how difficult it is to assess creative work against criteria however specific they may or may not be.  Creative interpretation is very personal and it evokes responses in people that are very personal too, so judgements are often subjective.  Getting past the “pretty”, the gizmos and gadgets and uncovering the real content is not easy. And creative people are often drawn towards the effects they can create and get caught up in them which means they forget where they are going with the content.

I know that I have been guilty frequently in the past of seeing a bright, shiny new application and being determined to use it, I incorporate it into a lesson withot it having any real pedagogical purpose.  Who is in control?  The technology or me?  I am still drawn to those sorts of things but I think that my experience has taught me that I need to be circumspect about the tools I introduce.  I have seen it with my students especially when I asked them in the past to create a presentation or a poster – they are filled with whizzbang features, pictures swirling in and flashing before exploding, sound effects and bright, glaring colour schemes.  They are slickly presented but absolutely no content worth marking!

But we are all on a learning journey and we are all at different points along the way and if even only a small percentage of the 43,000 people who started edcmooc submitted artefacts, that is still going to be thousands.  So, I guess that the range of media, interpretations, quality and understanding within the artefacts is going to be very wide.  Some of the comments on the Facebook page have suggested that there may be “mooc spammers” who have no interest in following the course but who submit artefacts as a way of advertising their products.  I don’t know if that is true or not.

However, I hope that my comments during the evaluation process have been “both supportive and critical” and “provide valuable guidance and stimulus to further thought” (edcmooc feedback guidelines).  I know that evaluating the artefacts made me think more critically about my own and I am sure I could go back and improve it if I had the time.

I wonder if, given the complex nature of evaluation – I believe it is a skill that many of us do not practise very often – it may have been worth us having to evaluate a smaller artefact earlier in the course?  The flickr photo challenge for example, could have been a more formal activity that required some feedback.  Having to critically evaluate someone else’s work helps you in the working of your own and a greater understanding of that process may have led to a higher standard of final artefacts across the board.


Photo by Easegill (Nigel Robertson) Taken at Hamilton Sculpture Park

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

#edcmooc What it is to be human; Part 3 True Skin

TRUE SKIN from H1 on Vimeo.

True Skin raised more questions than I can answer or have time to think about in the short time we have in edcmooc.  This short has really got me thinking; it raised lots of issues about life, society, equality, ethics, morality and especially what it is to be human.

It made me think of “Sight” that we watched last week (or was it the week before?!) Anyway, the glasslike, piercing quality of the eyes and the invasiveness of the technology on the mind were disturbing .

Interestingly, my first thoughts were around the idea that in general we often resist new ideas on instinct; a sort of defence mechanism, that life is all good and we don’t really want to rock the status quo. A few seek the new things, the different things, while the rest of us watch and wait.  Slowly we start to see the attraction, curiosity gets the better of us and more of us try the new thing, the different thing.  There is a pivot point of adoption; the point where more people have the new thing than the rest and that is when everyone has to have it.

It made me think of Ionesco’s “Rhinoceros”. It is a story of humanity, of choices, free will, control, existentialist and dystopian but also utopian in the end – true humanity comes through.

It made me think about the increasingly blurry line between humans and machines.  If we can “back-up” our memories like computers where doe the human end and the machine begin?  When our hard drive gets full we can archive old memories and make space for more or store them to review later. It is not a new concept – J.J Rowling’s character Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter used a pensieve to store his thoughts!

If we will be able to store our thoughts, our knowledge, our feelings, how will that impact on learning?  As we age all those things will not be lost – they will be retrievable (as long as we store them logically).  But will they become distorted?  Will they evolve in the telling and remembering as our memories tend to now? Will we be able to “save as” but keep the original?  How much of our ability to empathise, to understand, to feel, to analyse will be lost?  Will the nuances of our memories  remain, the context, the reality?

I was also prompted to think of man’s age old quest for eternal youth (also a theme in Harry Potter!); the idea that we can regenerate, get a new body to replace an old worn out one but maintain our memories, thoughts and experiences.  How much of our humanity are we prepared to sacrifice for that?

not hiring naturals

In the short those who had not chosen (or maybe could not) to “enhance” were seen as second class citizens, old, sick, pathetic, destined to beg for their survival in the street, unable to get jobs.

“Let’s face it, no-one wants to be like them, entirely organic”.  “No-one want to get sick and old and die”.   

If there is a world where the sick and the old are percieved to be irrelevant, surplus to requirements where will that end?  Relationships, family, society, community, the ability to care for each other, nurture, revere, respect, communicate, connect, hope – they are the human qualities that give our lives meaning.  Without them we are reduced to machines.  The lines will no longer be blurred.