Tag Archives: independent learning

iPads in – score!

In my new role as coordinator of learning enhancement, I’ve been thinking about providing enhancement on several levels, and focusing on these in particular –

  • the provision of resources to help teachers provide opportunities for learning enhancement in their classes
  • the education of teachers to change their practice so that they realise the powerful potential of a personal learning network (PLN)
  • creating opportunities for passion-driven projects within the school

There have been a couple of major shifts already which I’m really pleased about. The first is the shift in ownership of my blog, Fiction is a box of chocolates. This year I have offered students who love writing to become co-authors of the blog. For me, this means stepping back to support these students from the back row, allowing them to drive and initiate the direction of the blog (which will have to be renamed as it increases its scope).

The second shift involves a move to introduce iPads into the classroom as tools for those who fall into the category of ‘learning enhancement students’. Now, don’t get excited. We’ve only agreed on purchasing a couple of iPads for the music faculty, but to me this a big win. I was pleasantly surprised that a meeting with those who call the shots with regard to technology in the classroom agreed to trial the iPads. The fact that one of our music teachers (Stuart Collidge) was completely on the ball with the potential of iPad technology made all the difference. Even in his initial thinking in an early email, it was clear that the iPads would definitely be an enhancement and not just extra technology:

As a conductor, I would have all my scores in it and work with it on the podium.  As a brass teacher, I would have all of my performance repertoire that I would use with students in the studio.  As an audio tech I have a bunch of apps that give me info about the room, acoustics, sound levels, remote controls for lighting and audio equipment.  The most use seems to be the iPad as an instrument.  The best uses are synthesisers and then using them to teach boys about synthesising sounds.  As they are so visually based and easy to manipulate, it would be a good way of involving students.  Some of the performance instruments invoke compositional ideas in different ways, and there are possibly ways of having individuals use them for performance projects.  Certainly some of the VET Tech Production students should be putting their hands on these and seeing how they can drive sounds, automate performance, run backing tracks, manipulate sound for performances. I guess my perspective is that for $1000 plus cost of apps, I can own 8 or 10 instruments that would be worth a grand each to buy.

I hope that if we start small but think deeply about the creative potential of the iPads, we can inspire teachers from other faculties. Meanwhile I will start purchasing and playing with apps from other areas of the curriculum – so far I’ve focused on music and art.

Listening to Ewan McIntosh’s interview with Gever Tulley confirms for me that the introduction of iPad technology is not gimmicky and that, as educators, we should get our hands on an iPad and play with it in order to understand its potential in class,and also put it into the hands of our students.

“Gever feels that we’re finally seeing the integration of technology to the learning fabric of the school. The best programmes seem to be those where there’s a hands-off approach, where students are trusted to bring in and use their own devices and ideas. The iPad has become the companion of choice for youngsters on their learning journeys in this corner of California, where ad hoc, on demand research enrichens the experience and conversation that Gever and his collaborators have with the learners.

In effecting change at my own school, two main obstacles come to mind:

  • the discouragement of the use of students’ mobile technologies which would enhance their participation in and driving of their learning
  • the need for teachers to book the internet for each class if they intend to use it

Cost has been quoted as  the main reason for the internet connection restrictions. I can’t argue against this, but my problem with this setup is that teachers will book the internet primarily when students are doing a project. This divides learning into two  – no internet access while teachers ‘teach’ and students listen passively, and internet only when the teacher steps back so that students can get the work done.

I would like to see students actively using the internet to clarify and research information while the teacher is teaching. We really  need to give students the opportunity to think actively and drive their learning during class. I still see too much passivity in the classroom.

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Filed under creativity, learning, teaching, technology

We want dot-points

dotpointgrave

Thanks to cogdogblog for the photo.

My older son has started university this year. His core subjects are Psychology and Politics, and Logic is one of his breadth subjects. Today he was telling me that some of the students in one of his Psychology classes were complaining about a particular lecturer. They thought he was too vague. What did they mean by ‘too vague’? The lecturer gave them material to read, but he didn’t specify what exactly they were supposed to learn, he didn’t give them dot points, and he didn’t make it clear what they needed for the assessment task or exam.

In other words, he expected them to read and think for themselves, to learn instead of just memorising dot points to satisfy exam criteria. According to my son, his lectures were more about making students think about things. eg. in a lecture about sensation and perception he might present an example that encouraged students to reconsider the way they perceived things, to deconstruct how they perceived reality.

What is going on in our education system that produces such an attitude to learning ?

Of course, this is a complex question which cannot be answered simply but, in my opinion, this is the result of teaching to the test, of putting all the pressure onto a final mark, an ENTER, which will allow access into a university course, which, in turn, will provide students with a job. Nothing wrong with employment. Nothing wrong with wanting further education. What is wrong, then?

The lamentable thing here is that academic success is based on performance which is made up of mastering discrete chunks of information. Why? In order to pass the assessment task or test. What is missing here is the desire to learn something because it’s interesting, because a deeper understanding enriches your life. What is also missing is the thinking behind the learning, the ability to independently read and understand, construct meaning, evaluate information, solve problems and construct creative solutions.

If students at tertiary level claim they cannot learn without the summaries or the dot points, then shouldn’t we reassess what we are teaching them? Shouldn’t we consider which skills are most important to them in their lives?

These students compared two lecturers: the one who frustrated them with the open-ended teaching method, and the one they preferred, who provided dot-point summaries, and provided notes, telling them that this was all they needed to know for the exam, and anything else they didn’t need to worry about.

My son liked the unpopular lecturer’s teaching style because it was more philosophical, more interesting because it required higher order thinking.  He said that it wasn’t the case that this lecturer would include in the exam things they hadn’t covered, it’s just that he didn’t present his information in pre-digested chunks.

What do other educators think about this? Do you see this as an isolated or general problem? What do you think are the most important skills students should leave school with? Are we preparing our students for their future world?

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Filed under Education, learning, teaching

Hating school, loving learning

 

Nevertheless, the point about disengagement of students is one with which most educators would not argue. Wesch entertains the idea of ‘play’ as opposed to dull routine and meaningless tasks.

Perhaps the word “play” is imperfect. I could say that in school, they should be invigorated or engaged or even inspired. But whatever the word, the idea is to create a stimulating environment were the learning comes natural and not forced, where the desire to learn is created first. Then, the labor of learning is a labor of love.

Technology is what students of today play with. As many advocators of 21st century learning suggest, technology plays a large part in the new vision of education. But technology is also the thorn in the side of a large number of teachers. Although we use the language – ‘integration of technology into learning’ – not many of us have actually taken this seriously.  Managing technology in the classroom is often seen as asking for more problems. Wesch is clear about the role of technology in his classroom:

Texting, web-surfing, and iPods are just new versions of passing notes in class, reading novels under the desk, and surreptitiously listening to Walkmans. They are not the problem. They are just the new forms in which we see it. Fortunately, they allow us to see the problem in a new way, and more clearly than ever, if we are willing to pay attention to what they are really saying.

What are they saying? I think they’re saying that they’re bored, that their tasks are not relevant, that their projects are not engaging, that they’re sick of being passive recipients of content over which they have no control. When they turn to texting or web-surfing, they’re getting out of the classroom, they’re reaching out into the world.

Wesch explains this problem: 

And that’s what has been wrong all along. Some time ago we started taking our walls too seriously – not just the walls of our classrooms, but also the metaphorical walls that we have constructed around our “subjects,” “disciplines,” and “courses.”

When I was in primary school,  I had a strong sense of where I belonged. I belonged only with kids who were born within 12 months of my birthday.  I was afraid of those a year ahead of me who belonged to an entirely differentand superior group, one that I wasn’t to have anything to do with.  If I had known what learning took place in the older years, I would have wanted to be there, but I learned to sit and wait during reading classes, as students took turns to labour over stories in our reader, stories I had already read early in the year. There was no wider reading, there was no skipping ahead, we all had to be open to the same page, doing nothing but daydreaming. The reader was all we had for the entire year. And so would the next class the following year. Of course, now things have changed a great deal. Now we have many more reading choices, and in some cases primary students can choose to read library books instead of readers from the box. 

But I’m not sure that things have changed as much as we think. We still teach from textbooks. We’re not all consistently planning scaffolded inquiry-based projects which ask rich questions. We’re not experimenting enough ourselves with technological applications and seeing educational possibilities. We’re still proud of research assignments that supposedly encourage independent learning, assignments which leave our students to google incompetently, to copy and paste, to present superficial findings, to lose interest, to just get the thing done, hand it in and sigh with relief.

Wesch is clear about the solution:

Fortunately, the solution is simple. We don’t have to tear the walls down. We just have to stop pretending that the walls separate us from the world, and begin working with students in the pursuit of answers to real and relevant questions.

He says we need to acknowledge the shift in learning based on information being everywhere. What we should do is let go of ‘the sage on the stage’.

When we do that we can stop denying the fact that we are enveloped in a cloud of ubiquitous digital information where the nature and dynamics of knowledge have shifted. In the process, we allow students to develop much-needed skills in navigating and harnessing this new media environment, including the wisdom to know when to turn it off. When students are engaged in projects that are meaningful and important to them, and that make them feel meaningful and important, they will enthusiastically turn off their cellphones and laptops to grapple with the most difficult texts and take on the most rigorous tasks.

Something is not right in the state of education. Wesch, to finish off:

And there’s the rub. We love learning. We hate school. What’s worse is that many of us hate school because we love learning.

It doesn’t have to be this way… 

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Filed under Education, play, Web 2.0