Today’s Blended Teacher: The Blended Schools MOOC – Week 2 and 3

I was not planning on tackling the Create activities from the last two weeks (see previous post for more information on the MOOC) but decided that a couple of the activities were worth a think.

A Concerned Parent

In this blog post, you will be playing the role of a teacher faced with an important question from a parent.

Make a blog post in which you respond to this message:

“My daughter has told me that you are using online tests in your class. I am very concerned about this practice. What prevents the students from sitting at home with friends using their books and Google to answer every question? My daughter is not a cheater, and I am concerned that her honesty will become a disadvantage in your class. It is very important to us that she maintain a competitive class ranking, as she is hoping to attend Miskatonic University. Thank you for taking the time to respond to me.

Mrs. Lovecraft”

The concerned parent got me thinking as the use of online tests by secondary (aka high school) students is a concern for me in my academic support volunteering work.  It is clear that this homework can be seen as something the kids try to get through quickly without really thinking.  Thus my response to the parent would be something along the lines of the below

Dear Mrs. Lovecraft
I appreciate your concerns.  Please be assured that online assessments are part of the wider learning process and your daughter will achieve the highest grades by not cheating on these tests, instead using them to help learn the course material.  I also use data on assignment completion to identify where students may need extra assistance.  Therefore, if there are any areas where your child is struggling this will be highlighted for me by her online assessment scores.  Those students who do simply attempt to look-up the answers will find that they can answer some of the basic questions quickly but their scores will drop as we progress into more complex areas.  Again, their data will highlight this apparent failure to progress, many questions are authored in a way that incorporates random presentation of answers and complex thinking skills meaning students need to think about the tests, their online and classroom activities to achieve high final grades.

This is something I regularly tell the kids I volunteer with, homework needs to be not something you do to stop your teacher nagging but something you clearly see as worthwhile.

The “When Will We Ever Use This?” Blog Post

Students often ask us, “When will I ever use this in the real world?” Consider a handful of standards taught in your class.

  • How are these concepts used in the real world?
  • How might you use those applications as inspiration for projects in your classroom?
  • How well do your current practices reflect the real-world applications of the standards you teach?
  • Consider offering a full lesson plan based on these reflections

This issue cropped up this last week when I was asked why we should study the English Civil War.  My response was that it is important to remember England has really had many more than the one given the name and that understanding the different conflicts can show the evolution of the country.  However, the particular point I made was that every civil war holds some similarities, even though the English Civil War looks very different initially to Syria and elsewhere today the same key societal factors are at play – power, money, marriage, religion, arms Continue reading “Today’s Blended Teacher: The Blended Schools MOOC – Week 2 and 3”

Today’s Blended Teacher: The Blended Schools MOOC – Week 1 – Pie in The Sky

I am currently picking up bits from the BlendedSchools.net MOOC, currently being run via a combination of Google+ and a SoftChalk course.  I have seen BlendedSchools present at events and thought it was an interesting idea for them to offer such a course for free, in addition to their traditional services including offering of professional development.

So far, most of my interest has been in seeing the US-centric conversation’s similarities with the UK including concerns about school systems delivering the highest quality education.  Much of the Google+ discussion in week 1 seems to have centered on the limits of professional development in the US.  However, the main issue, that teachers see personal development as a set number of hours/days a year, would be the same as the UK’s approach via inset days.  This is not to say this is unique to teaching, I once attended a trade union health and safety course to be shocked that most people wanted to drag the day out as an escape from their day jobs.  Even in the banking sector there seems to be a need to encourage staff to realise learning does not end with school/college/university graduation, within the wider L&D agenda.

This week’s MOOC ‘create’ activity offered a number of options the below is my response to:

The Pie in the Sky

This activity is ideal for theorists or for pre-service teachers who do not yet have their own classrooms.

Write a blog post describing an ideal blended classroom in the year 2013.

You may post this blog using any tool you would like. If you want to build your blog using Blended Schools Networks’ BSNshare blogging tool, you can view the tutorials above for instructions.

  • What sort of content is delivered online? What is delivered face-to-face?
  • Which assessments use the Internet? Which assessments do not?
  • What benefits does this environment have for students?
  • What sort of resources are being used in the classroom?

My Pie in the Sky

I have mentioned on blogs and in conference discussions in the past my belief that we need to totally overhaul the predominant model of British K-12 schooling.  In the USA, and elsewhere, we have seen the growth of online K-12 schools.  What I would see as ideal in UK, in 2013, is a ‘hub and spoke’ approach.  The responsibility for learning will be shared between pupils, parents and teachers.  Large amounts of knowledge work will be completed electronically via video, reading and other asynchronous technologies.  Students will then congregate in synchronous learning ‘hubs’ which are both virtual and physical.  Physical hubs could make use of unused shops and other buildings to offer students across the community access to the latest technology, such as 3D printers, whilst most learning is undertaken remotely from home, public libraries and other low-tech study centers.  The ratio of study center to student would partly be determined by the area’s technology, if high speed home internet is easy to establish there would be less need of hubs.

Formative assessment and tracking technologies, such as the Tin Can API, ensure students are ‘attending’ school via appropriate learning outcomes, not bum on seat time.  This also allows for learning time to start later in the day (as recognized by science, teenagers need to sleep later than some other ages groups) and be more flexible for those who have major extra curricula interests such as acting and sport careers.

As with any ideal blended learning solution, the focus would be on valuable synchronous communication to develop student capabilities in communication, timekeeping and problem solving whilst allowing them to learn at their own pace at other times.  Reflection, through blogging, would be a key aspect aspect of this model, ensuring the key attribute of understanding the importance of lifelong learning is achieved.

Should central government happen to be reading…

There are plenty of views online already about the latest government announcement that could have a huge impact on the education of teenagers in the UK, decreasing further the need for teachers to hold a teaching qualification.  I thought I would just put down my mixed feelings on the news.

Personally I am willing to accept there are problems with the current system.  Some of the things that astound me about UK secondary education continue even when they have become high profile, for example the quality standards of school meals – many of which are surely worse than Subway?  In this and other areas there seems to be a lack of forward planning and I suspect that kind of organization will only happen when, as a country, we have a more intelligent combination of local talent/views (led by head teachers but certainly not restricted to them) and central government.  This may be some form of ‘Council of Education’ supported by powerful Local Education Authorities, it may be a democratic House of Lords with long serving head teachers and vice chancellors among their number, it may be one of many other models – the problem seems to be that changes take place which do not have consultation before hand.  The government does itself no favours at all by releasing such stories hidden away under the Olympics coverage – which in itself is a somewhat old fashioned approach considering that, whilst you might not get a mention on the main TV broadcast, you will probably still get called upon by twenty-four hour news and you certainly will by those following their RSS and social media feeds

In terms of educational outcomes, some centralization towards Whitehall control might make sense.  One thing that has always astounded me is that we can have a lengthy national curriculum but then expect teachers to waste time preparing resources or, and possibly even worse, individual schools and Local Educational Authorities licensing bits of content.  There seems room for some centralization?  The same can be said for educational technology purchases and other areas.  Yet, where centralizing services do (or rather did) exist, such as shared library services, Local Education Authorities and the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency they have been the victims of policy decisions and budget cuts.  I have commented elsewhere, including when chatting at events, my belief that we need to globalize education in this country, most likely through borrowing from examples of online schooling from other countries.  If classroom education was designed for the Industrial Revolution how can we now build educational experiences that give students a global view?  Online experiences could help children realise there is much more beyond their locale (which may or may not be where they decide to live once they are 16/18/21) and help the UK become fully integrated in the future world through collaborations with other education systems in the UK, EU and beyond.  This is another confusing element of the current policy changes – the rhetoric often calls upon 1950s or 60s education as its examples when something very different is surely needed.

Fundamentally there seems a distinct lack of a link, currently at least, between possible improvement through centralization and the idea of ‘opening up’ education to more free market forces.  Perhaps the idea is that everything can be centralized so it can be carved up/controlled/set free – the issue seems to be that there is not a clear policy road map.  Or perhaps there is but if the main driving force is to find ways to bring down average teacher pay then said map is not going to shown to anyone any time soon.

There have been plenty of calls for debates on education and the latest policy change will only accelerate those.  At least the previous government were clear in their opposing view, setting timescales for new teachers to be qualified beyond teacher qualifications and through to full masters level qualifications.

I would like to congratulate the current government for at least looking to transform education, the problem seems to be knowing exactly what it is they are trying to achieve and the fear that they may yet make some big mistakes.