Monday, June 11, 2012

SCHOLAR: most successful e-learning project you’ve never heard of

Which country has had e-learning, in a range of subjects, aligned with the curriculum, with full CPD support for teachers, supported by good research, in almost all of its schools for well over a decade? Answer – Scotland.
I was involved with this initiative some time ago and was delighted to keynote at their annual conference this week, as it’s probably the most important example of sustained, successful e-learning in schools, in the world.
Heriot Watt University set up SCHOLAR in 1999 and it is now in almost all secondary schools, public and private. Targeted at 16-18 year olds it is designed to stimulate independent study and prepare students for a career, college or university. What I admire is the fact that students lie at the heart of the project. At the conference we had four students present, and then a teenage mum on video, to explain, confidently, how SCHOLAR had allowed her to continue with her education. This is what SCHOLAR IS really all about – creating confident students.
For me, this is what the flipped model should be. It gets rid of the whole concept of 'homework', that hideous word, too often used by teachers (where's your homeWORK, have you finished your WORK...). Guy Claxton showed how destructive this can be with students. This is about encouraging self-study, with useful content that is packed with useful, formative feedback.
Lessons learnt
SCHOLAR is also great case study in how to create a successful, sustainable e-learning initiative. If you want a blueprint on how to do it – it’s here.
Lesson 1: Political commitment. SCHOLAR was supported by central government and the team have always made sure that politicians and civil servants understood its importance. Strong and dedicated leaders, like Professor Cliff Beevers and Professor Phillip John, have relentlessly supported the project and made sure that rigorous research took place to underpin its adoption.
Lesson 2: Create quality e-courseware. Education, with its auteur belief that ‘every teacher must be allowed to create their own course’ is often hostile to external content. This is a catastrophic mistake. Teaching is far too difficult a job for the dull parts, like marking and work outside of the classroom, not to be automated. This is not ‘homework’ it’s independent study. Good content and formative assessment is a godsend, not a threat, to teachers.
Lesson 3: Strong on assessment. Make sure that the formative assessment is fulsome, based on good research and relevant. It must be diagnostic, allow for non-recorded, self-testing as well as tracked tests, all finely tuned to the actual curriculum, and of genuine help in moving students forward. Note that discussion boards are part of this process, where students help other students.
Lesson 4: Buy-in from teachers. From its inception, teachers were consulted, used as champions and CPD is available from an experienced team who will go anytime, anywhere to get their message across. The courseware needs to be demonstrated and the advantages of animations, strong assessment and curriculum coverage needs to be sold. Teacher adoption is a necessary condition for success.
Lesson 5: Subject champions. After 32 years of teaching, a brilliant Physics teacher, full of dry wit and brilliant examples, showed us how he wished SCHOLAR had been available when he was in the classroom. These subject ‘champions’ travel across Scotland and advise educational authorities, schools and teachers. They are the bridge to the teaching profession. Good practice guides in each subject are also available.
Lesson 6: Keep focus on students. There’s e-learning induction for students. The courseware and assessment is constantly updated with data from students fed back into the design process. It is important that the system is easy to use and really does meet the needs of students. Teaching, after all, is only a means to an end. Student learning is always the end goal.
Lesson 7: Do research. Rigorous research has helped sustain the project and give it legitimacy, not only among teachers and students but also with funders, politicians and government. The fact that the project originated in a University (no accident that this was a STEM focused University) was a good thing, in that hard questions were asked about effectiveness, and subsequently researched.
Research matters
Research has been a strong feature of the programme from the start. Several studies have shown a positive correlation between SCHOLAR use and attainment. One study showed that students who used SCHOLAR performed on average half a grade better in their final end-of-year examinations. The research has also confirmed the fact that SCHOLAR encourages extra learning at all times of the day (and night). Every hour on the 24 hour clock has been used. Additional positive findings around students acceptance, the willingness of students to recommend SCHOLAR to others and even research in 3 regions in England with A-level students (I was involved in this LSC study), is also available.
We have a lot to learn from SCHOLAR. First, it works. We have to move beyond this idea that there’s no proof that e-learning works. We also have to commit to the creation and use of quality content and assessment. In an age of austerity, and huge amounts of angst around quality in education, the only way forward is to use technology to provide, scale, consistency and, above all, the opportunity for students to learn where and when they want. We MUST free learning from the tyranny of time and location. The budgets for initiatives like this are minuscule. Why England and other countries have not taken this content and adapted it for their curriculum is beyond me.

Cliff E. Beevers & Phillip John A Case Study: How Scotland Has Leveraged e-Learning to Improve Student Outcomes (excellent overview).
Phillip John, “The SCHOLAR Programme in Scotland,” in Flexible Delivery: An Evaluation of the Use of the Virtual Learning Environment in Higher Education across Scotland (Gloucester, UK: Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, 2006): 33-44.
Kay Livingston and Rae Condie, Evaluation of Phase Two of the SCHOLAR Programme (Glasgow, UK: University of Strathclyde, 2004). 
George McGuire, Martin Youngson, Athol Korabinski, and Douglas McMillan, Partial Credit in Mathematics Exams: A Comparison between Traditional and CAA Exams, Proceedings of the Sixth International Computer Assisted Assessment Conference, Loughborough University, UK (2002): 223-230.
John Winkley, What Can e-Assessment Do for Learning and Teaching?  Paper delivered by John Winkley on behalf of eAA expert panel, International Computer Assisted Assessment Conference, University of Southampton, UK (2010). Case Study: How Scotland Has Leveraged e-Learning to Improve Student Outcomes 15

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Sunday, June 10, 2012

Swivl: your personal cameraman – dream device

Swivl is your own personal cameraman. Its dock holds your mobile phone or video camera and tracks you as you move, using a little ‘marker’ device with a wireless microphone, which you can hold or hang around your neck. It will record video and audio from an iPhone or any light, video recording device that has a tripod screw. Like most brilliant devices, it’s so simple you wonder why you didn’t think of it yourself.
Follows you
You hold a ‘marker’ and the device follows the marker as you move. This is great as you can point the marker towards a screen, object, colleague and the camera will follow. It will pan through a full 360 degrees and also tilt +10 degrees, -20 degrees. Its wireless microphone is in the marker and is transmitted back to the base and fed into your mounted device. You can also start and stop the video with the button on the marker. With a range of around 10 metres, it is more than adequate and will work with batteries (4-6 hours on 2 AA batteries) but also with an AC adapter. This video really brings it to life.
10 practical uses in learning
This is a dream device for education and training as it has so many potential uses. Here’s just 10. I’d welcome more suggestions:
  1. Lecture capture - it not only follows the lecturer but will go to the screen if the lecturer holds the device in their hand and points
  2. Flip videos – capture flipped classroom lessons for use by students at home
  3. Webcasts – give webcast lectures more naturally
  4. Interviews – if the chair holds the marker and points at whoever is speaking the Swivl will turn to the person that’s talking
  5. How to videos – great for capturing videos that show you how to do mechanical things, play an instrument and so on
  6. Virtual tours – want to show a room or environment, just walk around and point out the features
  7. Performance analysis – the camera will track you as a presenter, teacher, interviewer, for analysis
  8. Sports analysis - capture performance in sports, where movement is paramount, for analysis
  9. Arts capture – capture drama or any type of dynamic performance on stage
  10. Videoblogging – video your own blogs as there’s no need for a camera operator

This is a sweet device as it takes so much of the pain out of recording video. It tracks you, moves to shows the things you point at, wirelessly records audio and is small, portable and cheap. What’s not to like?

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Saturday, June 09, 2012

Video assessment and certification: Italian ingenuity

How do you know if a learner has watched a video or recorded lecture? It can be logged as having been viewed remotely but you have no guarantee that they have attentively watched it. You need some way of knowing they have actually watched the content.
My friends Enrique Canessa, Carlo Fonda and Marco Zennaro, at the ICTP (International Centre for Theoretical Physics) in Trieste, who also produced a brilliantly innovative lecture capture system, have come up with a clever form of video assessment that solves this problem. They have a system which places spoken, unique to every download, randomised numbers in the silences detected by their software. As a student you need to pay attention to the entire video to hear the numbers and write them down. Note that you can’t just fast forward to hear the numbers, as they’re modulated to match the sound on the original video. Clever or what? The idea has been used successfully on TV shows such as ‘Watch & Win’ and in advertising, where viewers watch out for codes then submit these for prizes.
Online certification
The idea is to provide online certification on submission of these numbers. This is an improvement on the current certification for simply attending lectures and seminars and can be awarded for remote attendance. A certificate of attendance is provided on the fly.
Increased recall through increased attention
They don’t pretend that this is sure-fire assessment, as there’s no evidence that the student has paid enough attention to learn, retain and recall the content. However, it does, by definition, force you to sustain attention for the entire length of the video. In this sense it is psychologically sound, as attention is a necessary condition for learning and one of the main causes of failure in learning is lack of attention. By raising attention you’re likely to increase the effectiveness of the learning.
Increased recall through note taking
Id add that we know that attention falls away in lectures, as does heartbeat, the performance of the lecturer and note taking. This technique may also encourage more consistent note taking, again increasing retention. This is not a trivial point, as note taking can increase retention by 20-30%.
Khan Academy
Now let’s think of some concrete applications. One problem, perhaps the most serious weakness, of the flipped classroom, is to identify whether the student has actually made the effort to attentively watch the videos at home. This system could add some psychological punch to the flipped model. Those educational establishments that record lectures could also increase the effectiveness of the recorded viewing by adopting this technique.
It also got me thinking. A possible enhancement could be the insertion of words, not numbers; those numbers being ‘cues’. Tulving, the man responsible for the semantic/episodic distinction in memory, also identified ‘cues’ which overlap with memories, as playing a key role in recall. If you encode memories with these ‘cues’ it makes them easier to recall, like attaching a handle to your memories making them easier ti pull back out. So, imagine placing cues in these silences, so that you note the cues, improving later recall. (I've written about this here.)
At first this sound a little mechanical but on examination it has some sound psychological principles that make it an indirect and possibly very strong form of assessment. As we move, inevitably, towards recorded lectures and video content as a feature of blended, learning experiences, this is a solution that could have a powerful effect in ensuring that actual learning takes place.
"On-line Certification for All: The PINVOX Algorithm" Inter. J. Emerging Tech. in Learning (iJET), Sept 2012

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