web 2.0 learning

First look at Schoology

So, it’s one week into using Schoology and pretty impressed so far. It has all the essentials you’d want to see in an LMS including flexible resources and management, assignments, discussion forums, file submission, even badges.

I’d like to see a better looking update system that’s not so teacher-centric, like when a student posts a discussion post or not so m manual. Students shouldn’t have to dig down through the folder list to see if there’s something new, and I shouldn’t have to manually tell them either.

This is how the resources are organised;  there’s folders that can contain a range of resources.

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In this folder there’s some PDFs, a JPG and a homework assignment. Assignments get reminders on the front and I get an email when a student has submitted some work.

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Early days but the rubric section looks pretty powerful. I set up a homework assignment with four criteria and a simple rubric and you can see here that one student has already submitted it. It was easy to mark, but the in-house editing and annotating tools were pretty clunky. It wouldn’t highlight where I pointed, and a comment spread over the whole document . In the end I chose the option of downloading the file, annotating in in Word, saving it, then uploading it again. A bit of a disappointment as far as work-flow goes.

Also, I haven’t found yet whether I’m able to just tick that something has been submitted (like a bit of homework) without assigning a grade.  It wants a number of letter. I’ve tinkered around with a simple rubric that says Done/Not Done, but even that wants to assign some points or grades.

 

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I did have a quick go at a class quiz and that does seem to have some pretty powerful features with a range of question types available like multiple choice, true/false, short answer and match-up the answers like here:

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In the end, whether Schoology works will be in the workflow for me and my students.  It’s got to be better than email, or a shared Dropbox folder. So far, it’s promising, but the fact that new resources don’t automatically create an  update, and that the in-house annotating tools are so bad, it might not last for me or my students as a tool beyond our initial semester trial.

 

The Network takes Over

This post was written at the Idea13 #idea13 Conference, MCG, 12/11/2013

Mark Pesce, from the University of Sydney was the opening keynote.

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Connected World

Pesce opened with the idea that ‘this is the moment’, when things aren’t going to be transformed. They already are. Pesce argued that we’ve gone from little or nothing to a radical change in just over fifteen years; about a billion seconds. Eighteen years from the beginning of the web to now.

The biggest change, he argued, was connectivity and the literally unimaginable possibilities that connectivity created. He said it was about ‘knowledge amplification’ and gave Wikipedia as a key example.

He argued that the next key moment after the internet was the smart phone. ‘A fundamental transformation to the construction of human knowledge’. The smart phone and tablet (he reminded us that the iPhone was only five years old in Australia) were desktop computers in the palm of your hand; ‘a huge, growing wealth of human knowledge’ was the world of our students.

It was interesting, for a futurist, that Pesce seemed to assume that he evolution was now complete. ‘I’ve seen the full evolution of the connected computer’.

‘If the classroom lacks the tools for sharing that are available everywhere, then how is it going to survive?’ was something like a key point. He gave the example of the students who invented a social network for their school, because it needed one.
He called the new generation ‘sharing natives’; sharing and collaboration was native to them, and that’s why THIS moment was the greatest challenge in the last 200 years. Knowledge is not not rare, it’s ‘universal’. What does mean for librarians? What does that mean for teachers? What does that mean for schools?

Craptastic World

What does the educator offer now? In two years the now craptastic $79 tablet will be powerful enough, as powerful as today’s smart phones, which means that everyone will have one. Schools will hand them out every year, with the textbooks on them. The digital divide has expired, he argued. It’s available to everyone, everywhere.  A key point is that sharing is not going to be restricted to the wealthy (the $29 Indian tablet) nations.

He talked a bit about ‘flipped classrooms’ and the rise of MOOCs. ‘The classroom is the least natural environment for the new learning. Peer mentoring is now easier for students to access than a classroom or a teacher. Teachers (professional educators) will need to be problem solvers: innovative, creative, capacity amplifiers.

But…

Sharing can be distracting, the ‘weapons of mass distraction’ and it can arrive too early for some students. We know we can’t stand against this ‘tide of change’, but ‘what do we have to surrender, when the network takes over.’

Keep Calm and Find a Peer Mentor

There may not be a class in the future. Or a school? If everything is connected, why centralise it? Pesce argued that the ‘foundation skills’ (reading, writing, numeracy) are an essential preparation for immersion in the culture of shared knowledge. Digital citizenship, time management, etiquette, safety still need ‘an attentive educator to monitor their progress and provide assistance.’

The next question was around, ‘how does assessment work in a world of shared knowledge?’ Pesce said that this question was a furphy; the key point is that ‘assessment is intrinsic to the act of sharing’ Every moment of peer-mentoring is a moment of assessment. Being able to critique, and receive critiques of mentoring, is a new key competency in the middle years of learning. Schools initiate students into the culture of shared learning and establish patterns of behaviour. The role of the professional educator will change, will be mentoring students some of whom will be face to face, some who won’t. It’s not either/or.

The secondary school will be:

  • Connect.
  • Share.
  • Learn.
  • Do.

A never-ending process of continuing education.

Students need to be able to grow their own networks, beyond a learning network for teachers, but a network of peers, mentors, problem-solvers,for life. ‘The classroom, as it is beginning, is the initiation into this network … the path is clear.

Questions I had
Is the internet ‘wisdom’ or even ‘knowledge’
Is it overly optimistic to believe that peers will shape things nicely and positively for learners?

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Flashcards+

I’m always a little envious of those kids with piles of flip cards. Bundled up in big wads, encircled with rubber bands. ‘This is what I need to know’, they seem to say. Here is the contained knowledge. They sit at their desks and spread them before them, almost smugly.

So, I wanted to have some for my students … Just like they had in Psych. And, who knows, maybe some students actually learn like that? Like the question and answer, the certainty, the ability to review and revise.

Doing *some* research for flash card apps (of course I wasn’t going to go down the ‘paper’ pathway, I found Flashcards+ which works quite well (actually it took me quite a while to work out how the cards could be viewed) and works well with Quizlet, a kind of online community of Flashcard makers. I was very surprised to find several sets already made for Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, which isn’t’ that widely taught.

Still, I made a set of cards for our literature study of *Wide Sargasso Sea*, mainly terms, concepts, characters, factual stuff, which connected more to the things I wanted the students to know and work on, rather than the standard vocab. style ones already there. You can look it up on Quizlet.

 

Then I told the students about it in class and via the class blog where I could EMBED the cards so you could actually play them from the web site.

And, a couple of the students really liked it. Said it was useful. Said I should do it again.

Monitoring (and celebrating) class behaviours with Class Dojo

A little while ago I was lamenting with my Literature class that it wasn’t always easy to document how that class went and establish what to do next, both of which are critical for effective planning, reflection, and formative assessment practice.

I take notes on student progress (formerly in OneNote, latterly in Evernote) but it takes discipline (and time) to do that after every lesson, let alone in that lesson itself. I might do that once a week, so I often don’t even have a record of who I’d had a good learning conversation with each lesson and, importantly, who I hadn’t spoken to 1-1 for a while in class.

It’s something that concerned me again recently when, at the end of term, I asked the students to complete a short online survey of how the course was going for them. Most of the results were positive; the students felt they could learn, were challenged to think and participate and enjoyed the range of activities, though one wag suggested that I could improve my tech skills 🙂

However, the lowest response came from the question: ‘Do you have a good sense of how you’re going in this class?’. It’s something that is difficult for Year 12 students sometimes, especially early in the year when they haven’t done much School Assessed Coursework (SACs) and it’s one place where a short 1-1 conversation can have much more impact than any general or group activity you set up.

But, who have I spoken to recently? Is the problem I began with.

So, I was very interested in the possibilities of the unlikely tool named Class Dojo which promises real-time behaviour monitoring. I saw the program from Roger Zuidema on Twitter and recorded that I was about to invent this!

I was surprised to get a pretty quick reply from the people who make Class Dojo too, proposing a Skype chat sometime about how it could be improved, which I’d like to do sometime.

How it works is you set up your class, who get zany colourful avatars, and you record good behaviour or bad in the class very easily via web page, iPad or iPhone. They get +/s or -/s against their name and the tally adds up. Over the lesson, or the week, or the term or whatever period you decide.

I’m lucky to work in a school where disruptive behaviour is rarely a problem but I was very interested in how this tool might be used to record learning behaviours. Our school’s reports, for example, include a set of ‘Positive learning behaviours’ from ‘Participates in class discussions’ to ‘Is organised and up to date with set work’ that teachers are asked to record in terms of how often they’ve seen their students exhibit those behaviours? Always, often, sometimes, rarely? But how do teachers record those behaviours and could Class Dojo help?

One of the first things I did was enter my students names and then showed them how the class looked via the data projector in class. They’re Year 12 students but they loved the quirky little pictures, immediately wanted to customise theirs (you can’t) or swap with someone else (you can’t).

We then looked at the behaviours section, which is at the heart of the program. We looked at the default behaviours (out of chair!) and talked about what + or – behaviours might look like in our Literature class, and then added them. One of the nice things is that you can set the positive and negative behaviours yourself and can even vary them from class to class. So, I can set up a series of learning behaviours that suit my senior Literature class, which are different to the ones I want to establish with my tutorial group in the wellbeing program. Here’s the behaviours we agreed on.

 

We agreed on these positive and negative behaviours and I was ticking off some of the things in Class Dojo through the class. This year I’ve started using a student as ‘class blogger’, who records the class discussions, rather than doing that myself all the time in OneNote, (they’re put up on the class wiki) and that’s helped free me up more to direct discussions or take records like this. So you click on the student names and assign ‘points’ as you go and it even pops up on the screen with a cool sound if you want.

At the end of the class, you get a report something like this

or you can get a report for each individual student, from any duration (whole year so far, this lesson etc) and you have the option to email that report card to a parent or student or email all the cards (it remembers the email addresses once you’ve put them in once)

 

 

I don’t think our school would approve of zany colourful non-letterheaded reports being emailed to parents, but I was happy to send them to students, always in a positive way to celebrate some ‘points’ they’d gained during the class. I wouldn’t want this to be a negative thing, and I wouldn’t be showing negative scores a lot, or giving them I hope. But, ‘not doing the homework’ is a pretty clear – in a Year 12 year.

Is it perfect? No. Is it a fun, simple and useful way to clearly document and share the good things that are going on in class? Yes. You need to have internet access and more importantly, your students on board; to involve them in the discussion about criteria and be clear and objective about how you’re using it: it’s not an assessment, it’s a tool for improving learning.

I plan to keep using it with my Literature class and wellbeing class this term and see how it goes.

 

Should I be on “The Facebook”

In the normal classroom discussion the other day I was interested to find that everyone in the class (16 of them) have joined a Facebook group that one of them set up as a Literature study group. They’re all there, I asked and checked, and are discussing and asking questions and supporting each other (I hope) and pushing each other in the right directions (I hope)

I hope because I’m not sure. And I’m not sure because I’m not there. I’m not allowed to ‘friend’ students or be connected to them in social networks according to our school policy; a policy that I had a hand in developing. But, you’ve got to wonder. Here am I out here, trying to utilise our own online tools including a pretty decent wiki and blog setup, to get student collaboration and participation going and, here are they in there, doing it themselves, in their space, where they live, with the whole class.

I know you could argue that I shouldn’t be there, that it would change the dynamics if I was, and that they should have a space where they can test and re-test their ideas in their own way. True. And I don’t want to take over. But I could contribute, could support, could help shape that discussion and use that discussion to shape the classroom interactions and the things we do next. Could. Can’t.

Google +

I’ve been playing around with Google + for the last week or two and am hopeful that maybe, just maybe, this  might be a better social tool than the elephant in the room that is Facebook.

Like most schools, we’ve struggled with some issues to do with student access to Facebook and I think that the students too would like a more transparent, easy to manage social tool that would allow them to share with their real friends, not the public ‘friends’ that Facebook would prefer. Facebook’s default is public; the idea of circles in Google+ means that a student could perhaps have their ‘real’ friends in one circle, and everyone else in another.

I don’t know if it’s the answer, and I don’t know enough yet about how Google+ will develop, but I’ve never got into Facebook, and am hopeful that this might be better.