You mean there’s a plan???

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September 1, 2011 by jonmillymiles

It is often said that people fail to plan, but never plan to fail. So for a while now I have had a loose collection of thoughts that I have kept in my head about the way that I see my role in our organization progressing in order to achieve the goals that we would like to see accomplished. It sounds a bit woolly and vague I know, but there is a need for flexibility in all things innovative.

So, to know where we’re going you really need to know where we’ve come from. If you’ve read my blog from the beginning then you’ll know that we’re clawing our way out of the dark ages (didactic PowerPoint) into pastures new, full of the green grass of Evidence Based Teaching growing from the fertile soil of technology. In order to understand this analogy you need to understand that our students are the sheep (I like sheep :D) gaining sustenance (knowledge) from the grass (our teaching) which is aided in its growth by the fertile soil (technology).

But we have a problem… only a few of our staff (the farmers) know how to use these new techniques and even less know how to use the technology. Therefore it is imperative that we invest in our staff time, money (resources) and personal commitment so that they are empowered in these areas.

So we need a team to teach the teachers, but who teaches the teachers’ teachers? That would be me when it comes to technology!!

I’ve come up with some loose objectives to try and achieve, they’re relatively simple. They are:

  1. Teach how to use the technology to create resources
  2. Demonstrate how to use the technology within a classroom

Like I said vague, but there are some other things that I am going to throw in as personal objectives:

  1. Raise the standard of course resources.
  2. Allow the teachers to be more creative
  3. Encourage a culture of sharing and collaboration

So how am I going to do this?

Well, I intend to use our Moodle VLE as the medium for pretty much all of our lessons. From this I was asked if I intended to use e-learning packages to teach and the simple answer is no. From my check list above I would meet objective 1, partially objective 2 and 3 but would barely touch on 4 and would not encourage 5 at all.

What I am going to do is to use the other activities within Moodle, wiki’s, databases and forums within lessons. So, some examples:

Using a wiki + choice activity:

First get the class in to pairs. This is done through the use of a choice activity. Students select a number from 1 to 5 (there is at most 10 in a class) with the maximum limit of 2 for each choice. The students cannot see who has picked which number until after they have chosen, therefore guaranteeing that the pairs are random.

Then we get on to the actual exercise: comparing the design of four websites against a list of suggested criteria that they will be learning about in the rest of the lesson. To do this the assignment is presented as the first page in a wiki, with 5 sub pages already primed, but not created, for each of the pairs. One person uses their PC to access a web page, while the other accesses that pairs page and begins to take notes on the aesthetics. To ensure that they both use the wiki they are required to swap roles for each web page.

At the end of the allotted time, about 10-15 minutes, the class is called on to look down the front and the thoughts of each pair are shared with the rest of the class. Common traits are picked up on and good design principles are emphasised. These are then bought out in the topics that follow.

This hits all 5 of my personal check list items and more.

  1. The teachers are using the technology to create a learning resource: the wiki pages
  2. The teachers are using the technology within an actual lesson.
  3. The teachers are learning good design principles through what they themselves like and, more importantly the collective thoughts of the group reinforced by myself.
  4. The teachers are exposed to sources of inspiration and are allowed to format their wiki page however they wish.
  5. By working in pairs, and ultimately as a group of 10 within a single wiki they are sharing information with each other and working collaboratively.
  6. The teachers are gaining an advance knowledge of the principles they will be learning about later, this helps them to retain future information.
  7. The teachers can relate what they learn about with what they have seen.
  8. The teachers are already thinking about design principles when the actual teaching occurs.

In short this is a highly engaging activity which forms a strong foundation for the rest of this subject area.

Using a database activity as a consolidation exercise:

A simple database is created which has two fields, a file upload field and a description text area. There are to be no student names attributed to any of the views of the database or any of the files uploaded. Comments are enabled for each database entry.

Following the “basic design” lesson students are asked to design a two slide PowerPoint presentation, consisting of a title slide and a simple content slide. They then upload this to to the database and are asked to look through the other slide shows that are uploaded. They are asked to make written notes on each entry.

After the allotted time (10-15 minutes creation and 10-15 minutes browsing) the class discuss each of the slide shows in turn, the teacher emphasised the anonymity of the owner by asking everybody providing two points of positive and negative feedback. A brief class consensus is drawn up and a member of the class is called upon to enter this as a comment on the database.

The students are told that if they like the resources then they are free to use them but to comment if they do so.

What this achieves:

  1. The teachers are using the technology to create a learning resource: both the PowerPoint slide shows which can be used as a template by others and the commented database.
  2. The teachers are using the technology within an actual lesson.
  3. The teachers are employing good design principles through what they have produced.
  4. The teachers are actively encouraged to try new things.
  5. By uploading their slide shows and providing feedback they are both sharing and collaborating.
  6. The teachers are using what they have learned in a practical manner, meaning that they are more likely to do it again in the future.
  7. The teachers comment when they reuse a resource, this means that the person that has generated that resource gains recognition for their efforts

The most important thing though in a both of these examples is the way that they are created: there is a great deal of weight placed on active participation by all involved with no option for a student to sit back and do nothing.

The use of peer review, pairs work and whole class discussion ensures that sharing and collaboration occurs. More importantly it allows people to be honest without feeling the intimidation of acting as an individual. Even in the slide show exercise when students are asked individually for feedback to the group: no-one knows who produced the slide show so that honest feedback can be given by all.

The final point that I am going to make is that this way of teaching is then passed on to the other teachers. Hopefully they will enjoy the level of interaction and collaboration that occurs in the lessons and be more inclined to be less didactic in their own approach.

Only time will tell…


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