Sunday, July 17, 2011

Learning Technologies & LWF (2+2=5)

Graham Brown-Martin & Donald Taylor

I’ve wished for a long time that some of the smaller bodies representing ‘technology in learning’ would get together and, through critical mass, have some political and intellectual clout. So I was delighted to see Donald Taylor and Graham Brown-Martin become part of the same stable. I know both well and the good news is that they are very different people. That, by the way is a compliment, as they’re wholly complementary.

Graham’s game is disruption, debate and discussion. As someone with business background and music industry experience, he brings lots of buzz to events. He’s had the likes of Malcolm Maclaren and Jimmy Wales as speakers, and held juiced up debates with the awful Toby Young and Katherine Birlsbalsing. You get an iPAD (yes an iPAD)included in the conference fee, and he scrapped all that crap, black, canvas bag nonsense.

Donald’s game is calmer and more reflective. He’s more of a charming, James Bond character and a dab hand at getting things done and moving things on, smoothly and without fuss. Learning technologies has managed to outclass WOLCE to become the corporate e-learning conference of the year with quality speakers like Roger Schank. His Learning technologies online community is well respected and supported.

Two plus two equals five

As both are pretty wonderful people, this is definitely a case of two plus two equals five. LWF is an educational entity and Handheld Learning largely attended by educators. Learning Technologies is a corporate learning event attended by Learning & Development professionals. There are a few crossover people, like Stephen Wheeler, but mostly the two sides are like oil and water, despite the fact that the two sides have a lot to learn from each other.

The educators could do with a dose of realism and stop wallowing in the warm sea of useless research grants, European or otherwise. They could also do with getting rid of their petty, anti-corporate prejudices and stop pretending that most innovation in technology and learning comes from education itself – it doesn’t.

The L&D people could do with a dose of educational values, in terms of not seeing vendor-driven models as the only way forward and looking at a wider set of solutions beyond the delivery of ‘courses’. They could also learn a lot from educators about seeing themselves as a profession with status and values beyond employee compliance.

All, in a sense, are trapped in their own particular boxes, classrooms for teachers, lecture theatres for lecturers and training rooms for trainers. All have some really awful theory and practice at heart of their professions. All have an interest in strong, scalable solutions for learning. All have an interest in looking at the spectacular gifts that technology has to offer. I hope, therefore, that this will result in a reboot and uplift of technology in learning conferences.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

NOTW just surface story– real story is tectonic shift to web

Will Self uttered a word and a metaphor on Newsnight last week that said more than everything else I’ve read on the NOTW/Murdoch farrago. “This whole embroglio is epiphenomenal, evidence of the transition between print and electronic culture, between the two tectonic plates of different media”. Brilliant.

1. Newspapers have been squeezed by drops in circulation, as the young don’t read them (all online) and the old will die off.

2. Newspapers have been squeezed by drops in advertising revenues, it’s shifted online and not coming back.

3. Newspaper and traditional media groups no longer at top of food chain and can’t bully everyone, even politicians, as undermined by web – Wikileaks, social networking etc.

4. Old-school journalists had to start to pay for stories, pay policemen, private detectives, missing new online sources.

5. Old-school journalists trapped in tabloid, print culture and kow-tow to Middle England homophobic, xenophobic, benefit cheat, paedo-bashing, proprietor’s political line.

6. Failed to understand that emails are archived and deletion is not really ‘deletion’, so detectible evidence bites back.

7. Mobiles ubiquitous and easy to access voicemail (they were never’hacked’) through default PIN numbers (that’s what Glenn Mulcaire used).

8. Social media (Avaaz & 360) campaigns amplified OFCOM complaints so that BskyB decision cannot proceed.

There’s much schadenfreude in the rest of the print press about the loss of ‘tradition’, as if the demise of the NOTW were some sort of cultural disaster. I think not. The demise of the tabloids is inevitable as they’re not really newspapers but celebrity mags and rags. All of this is just a suface phenomenon. Actually, to take Will Self’s metaphor further, it’s merely a few volcanoes letting off some steam, while below the surface the real tectonic shift has happened. The print plate is being driven beneath the electronic plate and new virtual mountains being formed. These old media companies forgot that they are in the ‘news’, not the ‘newspaper’ business. That’s why Murdoch could easily sacrifice the tatty NOTW, the shift to electronic media and the web has happened.

Print journalists, the police and politicians have yet to waken up to the fact there's a new game in town and it's online. Stop hiring these old-school media directors like Coulson and Baldwin, they're poisonous and actually don't know how these new media work. It's like watching a bust-up in an old-folks home!

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

L&D as ‘curators’? Doesn't ring true...

Curator? Doesn’t chime

Something’s been puzzling me for some time – the use of the word ‘curator’ for learning bods. Curator, to my mind, suggests someone who oversees a dusty, old collection of curiosities to do with the past; not the exciting virtual, digital and social media world of the future. It doesn’t just doesn’t chime.

From what I gather, these L&D ‘curators’ see their role as selecting digital content. But do we learners need to be saved from ourselves, and the world of digital abundance, by professional L&D people as ‘curators’. They argue that we’re overwhelmed by information which leads to addiction, depression, inattention and loss of productivity. So, in steps the ‘curator’, who doesn’t suffer from these afflictions. He/she has his/her finger right on the pulse and can filter, select and summarise the good stuff on your behalf. It’s like having a super-efficient, digital butler.

L&D and curates’ eggs

Well that’s the theory. In practice, where’s the evidence that L&D professionals, especially trainers, are high on research skills, empirical evidence and solid theory?. You’re more likely to be fed a diet of curates’ eggs - old-fashioned, 50 year old theories, faddish trends, non-empirical, anecdotal evidence and bandwagons. Think learning styles, NLP, Maslow, Kirkpatrick……. If you need to know something do you think “I’ll ask the L&D department” or do you get on Google or seek out an expert?

Coach in disguise

So do you really need someone to regurgitate their choice topics for your digestion? Is this is just the old ‘mentor’ or ‘coach’ idea in disguise, desperately trying to find a cool role in the world of social media. Or is it the antithesis of social learning. I suspect it’s just good, old coaching by the back door. As I’ve said many times, “Get a life not a coach”.

Rather than get a cabinet of curiosities, get the real deal. The filters are already there – just learn a little about efficient searching, feeds, good web sites, reliable academic sources, informative blogs and network with people who deliver the goods. You don’t need an interloper to do this for you.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Millie the social networking teacher

Some time back I gave a talk at Richard Huish college in Somerset. Some in the audience were openly hostile to my recommendation that teaching needs to wise up and open up to the use of technology and social media in particular but I also received emails from teachers who apologised for their 'luddite attitude' with the message that they planned to do something. Millie, a teacher in the audience, young enough not to have been infected with the ‘ostrich virus’ popped up a year later, with something extraordinary, social media at the heart of her teaching. Millie sings the praises of the OU, as she dropped out of a more traditional University and found the whole non-lecture based OU approach far more relevant - and it tells.

Millie’s Blog: What I Taught in….

Millie has a blog called What I Taught in Geography This Week. Stephen Wheeler has given a detailed account here of why blogging is such a powerful amplifier for teachers, and Millie is its living embodiment. What better way to interact with her students than to give them what she’s taught online, supplemented by useful videos, links, geography film reviews and relevant books. For teachers and lecturers to simply turn up and deliver verbal stuff in classrooms and not record or and supplement that teaching with useful resources and cool stuff seems odd to me. A blog does nothing but enhance the reputation of the teacher and gives students a second chance to access and use that teacher’s expertise.

Millie’s student Blogs: What I Learnt in….

Her students have responded in kind, creating their own What I Learnt in Geography This Week blogs, contributing content, film and book reviews. One student, who’s applying for Cambridge this year, has used her two year blog as part of her UCAS application, as it shows her deep commitment to the subject. The first line from another student blog says it all, “So I am a geography geek and got added so I can blog too. What can I say, I love it absolutely love it! I'm not really that clever but it doesn’t stop a love I have for the subject, I also study environmental science and geology.” Now I challenge anyone who has doubts about this to read these blogs and say it doesn’t motivate and enhance the students’ learning experience. The very act of writing this stuff gives them reflection, reinforcement and confidence.

Facebook: Richuish Geography

Not content with blogs, although she and her students like them, she set up a Facbook account for her course. More than this, she started to integrate her blog, Slideshare for presentations, discussions (lots on mutual help on revision), Flickr, YouTube (relevant videos) and citeme (pull out a citation in the correct format for research). Closed tutor groups are now being developed.

After a year it’s running at around 13000 page views a month and they’ve only had to delete one comment, which in any case, was pretty tame. And with success in the trial subject, geography, they’re rolling it out to other subjects with Philosophy and Photography up and running.

Coveritlive: online workshops

Millie also used live events through coveritlive. This app runs through the blog and allows a realtime workshop to be run, especially useful for revision sessions. The teacher has complete control over the comments and content and it can be replayed at any time. The –re-exam sessions were well attended, performing the useful function of getting the students to revise through a scheduled event.


All of this was achieved on the back of some visionary teachers, good staff training and the will to help students. As the social media tools took hold they started to move away from Moodle with its log-ons and limited interactivity. My own view is that this supports my last two posts on feedback and good practice in teaching. If, as I believe, teachers often fail students through too much focus on summative scoring and not enough formative assessment through specifically constructive comments, then social media is the way forward. Almost everything Professor Paul Black has to say on formative assessment can be implemented through these tools. Far too long have teachers been stuck in ‘hands-up’ questioning in class, scoring tests and giving vague feedback. This opens up dialogue between teachers and students, especially those who are somewhat introverted in class and who need constructive support and help. Go Millie.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Never praise a child

Sounds a bit kooky but this gem of advice, from Professor Paul Black makes perfect sense when you look at the evidence. He is not saying don’t praise your child as a parent. This is advice for teachers when a child produces verbal or written work for feedback.

1. Never praise a child: “Never praise a child, praise what they did” says Professor Black, and by this he meant praise the work of the learner and not the learner. To praise the student encourages two ideas that are powerfully corrosive in learning; a) the idea that it’s all down to ability b) the idea that the ‘teacher’ likes me. Praising the person stops students from trying harder. Learners must believe they can change for the better.

2. Wait 3 seconds: Teachers have been observed to jump in too early when asking questions (less than a second) and rely on ‘hands up’ techniques, which encourages the extroverts & achievers but discourages the rest. Target questions to individuals, then wait, for at least three seconds.

3. Don’t pass judgement: Every answer deserves a positive response in terms of building confidence and not knocking them down. You have to steer between being too dominant and too open, but steering students in the right direction is the real art of feedback.

4. Right questions get right answers: Reflect on the questions you ask. Many questions just fill time or don’t stretch the students or probe understanding. Hinge questions are carefully structured to diagnose students, which is why coloured cards and clickers can accelerate a teacher’s diagnosis of whole class performance.

5. Careful comments: Comments on student work is hard work but some simple rules help. Avoid vague, general, “Needs more detail….expand…add a few thoughts of your own if you can” comments. Be specific about the error and recommend a specific action. A good comment would be, “You’ve used ‘particle’, ‘element’ and ‘compound’ in your answer, look at the glossary in your textbook to see how they differ”.

6. Automate marking: Marking does give learner a rough guide to what they know but those sorts of tests are automated on the web. Why, as a teacher, would you waste your time doing a soulless, mechanical task like marking, when computers do it more accurately and instantly? Leave that stuff to the learner and the web. Mark my words, not my ego

7. Use social media: As everyone wonders how social media can be used in education, some people just get on with it. One is Millie, who uses facebook, teacher blogs, student blogs, slideshare, Flickr, coveritlive, and citeme, to create a real community of learners around her subject. Social media is built around comments andfeedback. This will be the subject of my next post.


Sadly, summative, scored and graded assessment techniques are used inappropriately for formative feedback. With some simple adjustments teaching and learning can become more productive for learners. Black has the experience and evidence to prove this, so isn’t it about time that INSET days focussed more on these practical evidence-based techniques, rather than bogus theory and practice such as learning styles, R/L brain theories, Maslow, learning objectives at the start of lessons, Piaget, Brain Gym…..sorry blood pressure is rising.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

7 reasons why 'marking' sucks

In all the time I was a parent and employer, I never marked anyone. So I was delighted to give a keynote, alongside assessment guru Professor Paul Black. Inside the Black Box by Black and Wiliam, should be compulsory reading for all teachers, trainers and lecturers, and it was thrilling to see him give a masterclass in assessment with solid, evidence-based advice that you can apply straight from the hip in teaching. Marking (not against in entirely) may do more damage than most educators realise. It is a summative assessment technique, all too often wrongly used in formative assessment.
  1. Terminal. A marked test promotes the idea that it marks an end-point. You’ve passed or failed, a success or failure, bright or dim. Tests are seen by learners as terminal. Far better to deliver feedback in the form of comments that point to improvement.
  2. Mark of Cain. For many learners, marked tests literally leave their psychological mark. That mark, for the majority, is a mark of failure. The mark is seen as a score on fixed ability, fixing in the mind of the learner a view of themselves. It says nothing meaningful about how they can change and improve.
  3. On the mark. Even for high scorers, full competence is rarely the aim, so they see a high mark as ‘having done enough’ and take their foot off the pedal.
  4. Hit the mark. A score, rather than understanding and improvement, becomes the goal. What really counts often can’t be counted and what’s counted sometimes doesn’t count. Numbers are not constructive, they're just numbers.
  5. Black mark. Teachers who use marks as formative assessment should be marked down. The more teachers mark, the less they comment, and it is formative comments that matter to the learner. Formative assessment is all about constructive feedback.
  6. Marked for life. Even on summative assessment, a university degree is no more than a number (1, 2.1, 2.2, 3). So what does that tell you about several years of intellectual effort? Not a jot on any other useful skills or experiences you may have picked up along the way? ‘Predicted grades’ is another insidious practice, that stops students in their tracks. It reinforces the idea of innate ability rather than aspirational learning.
  7. Tests too late. A test at the end is too late. It’s a feature of old behaviourist attitudes in learning and just hammers home the old view that there’s winners and losers. It promotes the idea that you need to pass the text, not master the subject. We need to focus more on formative, not summative assessment.
Black quoted an important study of 132 mixed ability, Y7 students in 12 classes across 4 schools, using the same teaching aims, teachers and classwork. The students were given three types of feedback:
Marks plus comments
The ‘Comments' only group had a significant attainment gain with NO gain in the 'Marks' only and 'Marks plus comments’ groups. Increased interest and motivation was positive with all in the ‘Comments’ only group but only positive with high achievers in the ‘Marks’ and ‘Marks plus comments’ groups, where low achievers registered lower interest and motivation. This is, at first, puzzling. Why does more feedback 'Marks plus comments' have such a negative effect? The researchers concluded that ‘marks’ signalled the end of the matter, a terminal test, which stopped learning and further interest.
The message is clear - hold back on marking in formative assessment.
Professor Black’s message was clear. Modify teaching and get off marking and into feedback. the nuts and bolts of how you do this will be the subject of my next post ‘Never praise a child’.