Sunday, February 22, 2015

Ten Key Takeaways from Tony Bates

Like pretty much everyone else in the field I've been immensely enjoying Tony Bates's work-in-progress, an online open textbook called Teaching in a Digital Age.

Having said that, I think my perspective is very different from his, and this summary post offers me an opportunity to highlight some of those differences. So in what follows, the key points (in italics) are his, while the text that follows is my discussion.

Note that this discussion is focused specifically on the "differences between classroom, blended, online and open learning." We have points of disagreement in other areas too :) but this post offers a way to focus on some aspects of that. Note as well that I'm not offering 'gotchas' here; Bates has discussed many of these points elsewhere and my objective is not to refute him based on this quick summary, only to identify the differences in perspective.


1. There is a continuum of technology-based learning, from ‘pure’ face-to-face teaching to fully online programs. Every teacher or instructor needs to decide where on the continuum a particular course or program should be.

The continuum here is presented in one dimension, the most obvious dimension, with teachers and instructors making the decision as to where some particular course or program ought to lie. I think all elements of this statement are problematic.

First, because online learning provides affordances not available in the classroom, there are multiple dimensions of comparison. For example, we could draw a line from one-to-one teacher on student instruction, to small classrooms, to larger lecture or presentation format courses, to delivery to thousands or even millions of people.

Second, one of those dimensions concerns whether the online offering should be a course at all. Online learning allows for informal conversation, videos, simulations, interactive learning, games, and a host of other models that can be attempted imperfectly at best in a traditional classroom. Understanding, for example, the role informal learning can play is key to understanding the distinction between in-class and online learning.

Third, in online learning the locus of decision-making need no longer rest with the instructor. Unlike a traditional environment, where a student's choices are to "stay" and "leave", an online student can select from many different options - including ion-class, if they're lucky enough to be able to find one that is local and offered at a time they can attend, at a rate they can afford.


2. We do not have good research evidence or theories to make this decision, although we do have growing experience of the strengths and limitations of online learning. What is particularly missing is an evidence-based analysis of the strengths and limitations of face-to-face teaching when online learning is also available.

Here I am first inclined to point to differing beliefs regarding the nature and role of research and theories. I consider what I do to be research, for example, and I do not consider surveys of a dozen graduate students to be research. And I am sceptical of the value of theories based on models employing (what have been termed) folk-psychological concepts and naive understandings of human cognition. Any theory of the form "x causes y" in this field should be considered suspect.

So it follows that to me "an evidence-based analysis of the strengths and limitations of face-to-face teaching when online learning is also available" is an oxymoron. Far too much in such an account is left unstated and merely assumed, with variables to be filled in by the reader's own prejudices. What constitutes a 'strength'? From my perspective, each person learning seeks different outcomes, so a 'strength' for one is a problem for another.

But most of all here is the presumption that we can determine a priori the desirable properties of online or traditional learning. In this regard, I side with John Stuart Mill, and aver that "the sole evidence it is possible to produce that anything is desirable, is that people do actually desire it." Without an a priori definition of 'effective' most so-called evidence-based decision-making falls flat, and of course, what we do know though observation is that people desire many different things.


3. In the absence of good theory, I have suggested four factors to consider when deciding on mode of delivery, and in particular the different uses of face-to-face and online learning in blended courses: 
- your preferred teaching strategy, in terms of methods and learning outcomes 
- student characteristics and needs 
- the pedagogical and presentational requirements of the subject matter, in terms of (a) content and (b) skills 
- the resources available to an instructor (including the instructor’s time). 

I find it fascinating that three of the four factors are based on the instructor, with only the very generic "student characteristics and needs" constituting the fourth.

I can understand that, from the perspective of the instructor, the instructor's "preferred teaching strategy" matters a great deal. But from the perspective of the student, the response is, "who cares?"  Elsewhere, the many weaknesses of the lecture format, for example, have been documented, as also most instructors' preference for the lecture. This has produced yet another generation of students asleep in their classroom (especially those where electronic devices are 'not allowed').

The characterization even of "student characteristics and needs" is suspect. The phrasing suggests two aspects of concern: first, that we are considering these in the aggregate, as a generalization across an entire class (or generation?) of students, and not individuals; and second, these are factors out of the students' control entirely, as we consider (predefined? instructor-defined?) "needs"instead of wants, and "characteristics" instead of preferences.

Part of this is the unrelenting instructional stance Bates takes throughout his work. It results in an assessment of factors impacting instructional decisions, even in areas where it's not clear the decisions are open for instructors to make. The key difference between in-class and online learning is the shift in the locus of control.

I would also add (cynically) that today the resources available to the instructor are increasingly based on the students' willingness and ability to pay, as our governments gradually remove all levels of support for public higher education.


4. The move to blended or hybrid learning in particular means rethinking the use of the campus and the facilities needed fully to support learning in a hybrid mode. 

No disputing this one.

As the trend toward online learning continues, the traditional school or university increasingly will become a place where local residents access lab and conferencing facilities, no matter where they are enrolled.Meanwhile, classes offered in situ at these campuses will increasingly need recording and conferencing facilities to support their worldwide audience.


5. Open educational resources offer many benefits but they need to be well designed and embedded within a rich learning environment to be effective. 

I mentioned above the need for an a priori presumptions regarding the desirable properties of online or traditional learning. It comes into play here.

For one would ask, what is the basis for the belief that OERs need to be well designed and embedded within a rich learning environment to be effective? The evidence seems to suggest otherwise. The Khan Academy, for example, made a virtue out of offering very low quality videos helping viewers understand math and physics concepts. People exchange and learn from ideas presented in discussion boards across the internet despite these boards having no pedagogical design at all.

I think that only within a very narrow definition of "effective" can we demonstrate a "need to be well designed and embedded within a rich learning environment."

Again, it comes back to what people want to do. Generally, the learning I need to do from the internet is immediate and simple. A (badly designed) Wikipedia page often does the job for me. Indeed, typically, something designed in a rich learning environment just takes too much time and effort to be useful. I don't need a battleship if I'm just trying to cross the river.
 

6. The increasing availability of OER, open textbooks, open research and open data means that in future, almost all academic content will be open and freely accessible over the Internet. 

Agreed.


7. As a result, students will increasingly look to institutions for learning support and help with the development of skills needed in a digital age rather than with the delivery of content. This will have major consequences for the role of teachers/instructors and the design of courses. 

I also agree with this. I've actually discussed it at length in The Role of the Educator.And my reflections here suggest a very different future than the one considered in this article.

First of all, increasingly, educational institutions will not offer courses at all. Why would they? If you're looking for "learning support and help with the development of skills needed in a digital age" you are very rarely looking for a course. Typically, you're looking for help with a project, or maybe an offer of a project, in which you can apply and augment the skills you're attempting to develop.

And different aspects of your support are offered by different people, at different institutions. Why would we suppose that the same agency offering learning is also the one assessing that learning? Insofar as 'design' (properly so-called) comes into play, it will be based as much on principles established outside education.

Sure, there will be structured learning experiences (and we might even still call them 'courses'). But the idea of an instructor offering a course through a given institution will be the exception, a tiny minority of the cases, compared to the much larger learning and development environment generally.

But of course Tony Bates knows this...


8. OER and other forms of open education will lead to increased modularization and disaggregation of learning services, which are needed to respond to the increasing diversity of learner needs in a digital age. 

Of this there can be no doubt.

But let me add that the phrase"increased modularization and disaggregation of learning services" suggests the repackaging of products and services that already exist. But the defining characteristic of online learning is the wide range of new things you can do to support learning. This leans that there will be a proliferation of new learning services. And additionally, many old learning services will be discontinued.

For example, when I was growing up, there was a thriving industry producing binders and lined paper. Moreover, the concept of blogging did not exist. Today we take electronic notes, blog them directly, and hire blog moderators to ensure children don't get themselves into trouble publishing online.

Learning online isn't simply a shift in modality. It's different. The methods are different, the objectives are different, and the services are different.


9. MOOCs are essentially a dead end with regard to providing learners who do not have adequate access to education with high quality qualifications. The main value of MOOCs is in providing opportunities for non-formal education and supporting communities of practice. 

It is again interesting to see this one thing highlighted. It is interesting to me because this was never the intent of the MOOCs I produced, and with some few exceptions, is not the intent of MOOC producers today.

But more interesting is the question of why MOOCs are a "dead end" in this regard.

The suggestion here (and it's only implicit) is that MOOCs are incapable of providing the learning required to warrant the awarding of a credential. That's why Bates includes the phrase about students "who do not have adequate access to education."This suggests that access to traditional education is a necessary condition, that MOOCs could not provide an education by themselves.

But why not? The role of answering this question is played by the phrase"high quality qualifications." Even if MOOCs could provide qualifications, they would not be"high quality". These, it appears to be suggested, may be offered only by (putatively) high quality formal education.

But I submit that these are not empirical arguments. Indeed, I would go further and suggest that the only reason students cannot earn high quality credentials in MOOCs is that the institutions that offer such credentials won't grant them for MOOCs. And why would they? Their business model depends on requiring students undertake extensive and often extensive coursework before the credential can be issued.

What makes the MOOC a "dead end", in other words, has nothing to do with the MOOC itself, but rather, has everything to do with the credentials.

The more interesting question here is whether a person working from childhood could achieve the same degree of knowledge and (qualification for) credentials taking MOOCs exclusively. Can a non-literate and non-educated person become literate and educated through open online learning? Is there a fundamental property of closed formal learning that suggests that it is the only route to a credential?

There are arguments to be made on both sides here. But I submit that the case is far from closed, and that this is not a takeaway.  


10. OER, MOOCs, open textbooks and other digital forms of open-ness are important in helping to widen access to learning opportunities, but ultimately these are enhancements rather than a replacement for a well-funded public education system, which remains the core foundation for enabling equal access to educational opportunities.

I think that Tony Bates and I both agree on the importance of an open and accessible public education system.

Where we disagree is in the form that system should take.

The existing public education system does a poor job of ensuring equal access to educational opportunities. Major barriers exist across the board, in factors as varied as child poverty and nutrition, access to school materials, fees and access to extracurricular activities, expectations and class backgrounds, travel and work opportunities, opportunity cost and risk, and much much more.

Viewing online learning as nothing more than an enhancement of the traditional system is, to my mind, to preserve the inequalities inherent in the traditional system. It is to misunderstand the role played by the traditional system not only in the provision of an education but also in social netorking and the formation of social classes.

The primary purpose, for example, of a school like Harvard or Yale is not to provide a superior education (their protestations to the contrary notwithstanding). It is to provide exclusive access to a network of potentially rich and powerful individuals who will shape and promote your career through future life. Simply building an enhancement on that system will not change the inequality it represents.

For online learning to truly reach its potential it needs not only to break the educational monopoly of the rich and powerful, it needs to break the social monopoly of the rich and powerful, rending open their cliques, and laying bare the foundations of their influence. We too can form global networks of mutual self-support, but only if we break the existing structures designed to preserve status and privilege.

And in the end, I think that this points to the deep difference between Tony Bates and myself. I think that we disagree ultimately about what constitutes an education.

I think that he views it in terms of classes and content, of subjects and competencies and credentials, in terms of instruction and demonstration, pedagogy, skills and knowledge. This is a common and very traditional view of education, but one which I have increasingly come to question.

In my view, education is more akin to shaping and growing oneself, of acclimatization to a community and to an environment. The learning of any subject is analogous to the formation of a literacy in that subject, based not only in speaking the right words, but also in seeing the world in a certain way, recognizing some things as important (and other things as not). Expectations are as important as knowledge in this view, the way we say something as important as what we say.

This is what distinguishes between the education an elite receives, and an education that is reserved for the rest of us. While the mass of people get facts and skills and credentials, the elite are transformed into a natural ruling class. It's like the difference between someone who is taught the rules of the game, and someone who trains as an athlete. No amount of skills and drills can produce in a non-elite person the social and literary bearing of an elite person.

My objective is to transform learning as a whole into something that produces at least this possibility for everyone. We should embrace this as a public policy objective. Because, with all the capacity, technology and wealth available to us in society as a whole, it's the least we can do.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Advice for David Campbell, Chief Economist

The province has just announced that it is appointing David W. Campbell it's "chief economist". Campbell discusses the appointment here. Regular readers know I have responded to Campbell frequently in these pages. Just before his appointment (or maybe on knowing he will have it) Campbell posted an "economic development magnum opus", outlining the key planks of his development philosophy. I take this opportunity to reply to them

We must move from a financial program-centric to an opportunities approach to economic development 

Everyone is in favour of supporting opportunities as opposed to merely giving out money, but the devil is in the details. What does it mean to "support an opportunity" other than providing money? Yes, there are policy changes that can be made, but the bulk of support is still financial. Does it mean "picking winners"? I think that with solid value propositions there's no harm in that - but it's urgent that such a program doesn't devolve into cronyism, or into giving the same old enterprises more money. But I offer qualified support to this approach, provided the mechanisms are open and transparent.

We need to implement an ROTI model (return on taxpayer investment) – all investments in economic development should be able to demonstrate a return on the taxpayers’ investment.

I used to tell people around here that "we're all in the tourism business", because people don't just see the main attractions when they come here, they see (and touch, and talk to) everything. In the same way, we're "all" in the economic development business. Every investment the province makes - from schools built out in the countryside to a local arena to a resort lodge at Larry's Gulch - has an economic development impact.

But not everything demonstrates ROI to the taxpayer, nor should it. Our schools, for example, are crucial to economic development - people will not move here if they cannot ensure a quality education for their children. But any attempt to represent their ROI is a bit facetious; we would build them no matter what. Conversely, things that seem to generate ROTI might in the larger picture be disastrous. Fracking and uranium mining might fit into that category. They might generate incolme, but they might make the province a place that nobody wants to live.

The economy is a complex system. No individual element's ROI can be calculated. The contribution of one depends on the existence of, and the contributions of, the others. So we really have to be careful about using a one-off calculation like ROTI.
We need to turbocharge the workforce – Less worry on short term interprovincial migration and more concern for long term impact on business investment decisions arising from a tight labour market.

We have to stop the whole harangue about "bringing our children home". We're not some outport economy; we want to be part of a modern technological society, and that means migration. People want to move, they want to follow opportunities, they want to experience new lifestyles. We are lucky that our children can grow and develop in most any province or country in the world. Many societies cannot offer that opportunity.

So, conversely, we need to become attractive to new migration, to people who have never lived in New Brunswick before (like me!) and people who have never lived in Canada before. We are so used to depicting the province as an economic basket case, but to many people around the world, this is a land of opportunity.

And we need to start thinking innovatively when planning to attract these people. Consider settlers' grants: we will grant you title to land if you settle on it for ten years and develop it into viable enterprise. In the long run, that creates far more return than simply giving the forestry rights away for free to some large company that hides its profits in offshore accounts.
 
We need to target high growth potential entrepreneurs (HGPEs) not just our current small business fetish – we need to create the environment for these HGPEs – not just small business owners/lifestyle businesses.  

I frankly have seen little evidence of a "small business fetish" in recent years. From my perspective the bulk of attention and investment has been to subsidize large local incumbents who don't need the money.

Having said that, I don't disagree in principle with the strategy, though I believe it has to be based on creating a sustainable value proposition for these companies, and not merely in cobbling together a short term incentives package. We've seen enough cases where a company will locate in the province only for so long as the subsidies persist, only to pull up stakes when the government largess ends. 

We want to be an environment where it is easy for small businesses to enter and exit the business playing field – we want to encourage lots of local competition and dynamic local markets.

This ties closely to an urbanization strategy. And frankly, even in tiny New Brunswick, it is expensive to start an enterprise. We need actual markets - places where new businesses and start, compete, and flourish or fail on a dime.But our craft markets have become a monopoly, our malls and main streets too expensive to operate in for long, our farmers' markets small, fragmented, and mostly closed. We have few innovation centres, few places where someone can make a go of it. The only real wayt to succeed in the province is to know someone who can get you a government grant that will sustain you long enough to get on your feet. That's not the way to do it.


But our growth strategies need to be focused on those entrepreneurs that want to use NB as a base to build a global business. 

Then we need direct flights to Europe. Even if they show net losses over the years. We need cheaper energy. We need (and have just obtained) access to global-bandwidth internet. We need, in other words, to be connected to these markets.

I used to tell people that, from a global perspective, New Brunswick is centrally located. We're the last mainland nexus on the western side linking North America and Europe. We should be taking advantage of that.
We need to focus on attracting investment – particularly investment that fosters product or services export growth.

Yes, but again we have to be careful. Investment expects a return. There's no problem with that, unless we are the source of that return. Investment based on extracting wealth from the local economy isn't helpful in the long run. We need investment that attracts income into the region. Investment based on global services, export income, or some such thing. That was the strength of McKenna's approach - people complained about the low wages, but mostly didn't notice the fact that the call centres were bringing money from outside the province into it.

But I think you get this...

We spend way too much of our effort trying to squeeze more investment out of the local business community.  Between PNB, ACOA, CBDCs, local agencies, NRC, NBIF, etc. we have somewhere in the range of 300-350 people working in economic development in New Brunswick – not a single one located out in the actual world where the trade, investment and immigrant opportunities actually exist.

Right. Our people need to be out there, bringing opportunity back home (where, hopefully, there is receptive capacity to build on it). You've just described my current job.

We need to break New Brunswick’s culture of apathy...  New Brunswickers need to believe their province can change, can address its big challenges and can become a younger, multicultural, growing and dynamic place that is developing growth industries

Break the Irvings and you'll break the apathy.

I know that this sounds extreme. But the reason there is apathy in this province is that the only people who ever seem to benefit from growth and development are the Irvings. Moreover, any enterprise that seeks to rise up in (or move into) the province must contend with Irving monopolies. It means that if they engage in any area of business that the Irvings consider their own - and there are many - they must face down the weight of Irving sanctions. It is a huge weight hung around our collective neck and it prevents any real efforts at diversification - or, for that matter, democracy.





We need to fully engage local government and local community and business leaders in our economic development efforts.

I agree with this. This entails a culture of openness and transparency, an end to croneyism and patronage, the development of policy and investments that make sense on the federal level and on the local level. It entails, in other words, a complete change from top to bottom in the way government does business in the province. I don't know whether we're up to it. But I do agree that it's make-or-break time.

We need to be able to develop our natural resources in a sustainable and responsible fashion.

I think we'll find that in the not-too-distant future a dependence on fossil fuels will be viewed as a liability, and not a strength. Even as we rush to enable exports to Europe in response to short-term geopolitical considerations, Europe is rushing to become independent of fossil fuels, hence becoming fully free of Russian and Middle-Eastern politics. They will no more welcome new sources from Canada than they do from Putin or from the Sheiks. 

And then there's global warming, and the damage our current government's indifference to it is doing to our global reputation. When I travel abroad, people ask me, "what has happened to Canada?" Short-term gain here means long term pain.

New Brunswick does have natural resources, but they are not the sort of resources people think of when they think of energy and mining. The abundant rainfall and the temperate climate are assets not to be dismissed lightly.




We need an urban growth agenda.  If you go back to the 1950s until today, rural population growth in New Brunswick was fairly similar to the rest of the country (modest increase).  It was urban growth where we lagged substantially. 

Here again I agree, but with an asterisk. And the asterisk is this: we have to stop developing suburbs, and start developing cities. And we have to do this in a way that makes these cities dynamic and interesting places to live. In the last decades we have gone backwards. Our cities are not livable - these days they're unbearable. Pedestrians have to walk along main roads; our sidewalks are choked in snow while some special suburbs (like Royal Oaks) get special treatment. The summer is little better; our sidewalks are tiny and broken, our transit systems ineffective, our parks being converted to big box malls.

And there's no means to change this because there's little or no urban representation in government. Our city wards and provincial ridings are splinters, each with the small sharp end some part of the urban core, and the larger part a suburban and rural population. Without a voice, people who live in the cities cannot shape policy.

We need to focus on innovation – across the spectrum. ...  I want to bring back the “living lab” vision for New Brunswick. 

I'd love to see this. In my early days in the province I met with people from Service NB, NBSS, the schools and the universities. Not the spark has gone out of their eyes as inflexible and centrally controlled governance has gradually ground them down. The province would do well to set them free, to encourage diversity and innovation across the system, even if it steps on a few well-connected toes.

When messaging we need to target our audiences.  Almost all stories in the national media relating to New Brunswick are negative. Business leaders, immigrants and other key groups see these stories.  We need to change the national narrative.

Fine. But the only way to change the narrative is to change the facts.

We are the Greece of Canada. A tiny number of people control the province, extracting wealth from  it, and putting nothing back in to support growth and development. Our people are depicted as lazy, but in fact they cannot succeed without connections and cronyism. We have abundant resources, but they are sold for a fraction of their value. We grant large tax breaks to companies who don't need it, and who make promises that are soon broken.

The problem with New Brunswick does not lie in the people of New Brunswick, nor in the stories that are being told about the province. It lies in the leadership, which has been an utter disaster for the last decade, a leadership that lies to the people to get elected and sells its soul to the highest bidder within a few months of the polls. These problems exist not only at the provincial level but at the local levels as well, where it is sometimes difficult to believe that key elements of city governance have not been bought and paid for by special interests to wrest personal profit from the public purse.

We have a chance with a new government to change that. I can't say I feel confident that it will change, but the mandate is yet early and perhaps this government has more backbone that we've yet seen. It's easy for a government to stand up to the people and say it will cut services or raise taxes. It is much harder for a government to stand up to major corporations and interests and to say it will govern in the interests of the people and for the future prosperity of the province.


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Becoming MOOC

There are two types of MOOCs. On the one hand, there is the xMOOC - this is a formal course created in a site like Coursera or EdX. An xMOOC will have regular lessons, videos and assignments, be led by an elite university professor, and attract a large online audience. These are the MOOCs that have received most of the attention in recent years and have generally shaped people's impressions. But there's another type of MOOC, called the cMOOC, which is based on connection rather than content, which looks more like an online community than a course, and doesn't have a defined curriculum or formal assignments. These were the original MOOCs, and they posed a much greater challenge to both the educational institutions that offered them and the participants who studied in them.

One major criticism of the cMOOC is based on the free-form nature of the course. Students have to manage their own time, find their own resources, and structure their own learning. For this reason, it is argued, students must already have a high degree of skill and internet savvy in order to be successful. A student who cannot navigate complex websites, search for and assess resources, or make new friends through a social network may have difficulty navigating through a cMOOC. As Keith Brennan writes, "Not everyone knows how to be a node. Not everyone is comfortable with the type of chaos Connectivism asserts. Not everyone is a part of the network. Not everyone is a self-directed learner with advanced metacognition. Not everyone is already sufficiently an expert to thrive in a free-form environment. Not everyone thinks well enough of their ability to thrive in an environment where you need to think well of your ability to thrive." (Brennan, 2013)

But what makes a person able to function from the first day in such an environment? What constitutes the literacy that is missing in such a case? There's no clear answer, but proposals abound.
Brennan himself suggests that proficiency is based in learner efficacy. "Self-efficacy is our belief that a task is achievable by us, and that the environment in which we are working will allow us to achieve that task. It's that ticking heart that measures out the motivation in us," he writes. And in order to preserve and promote self-efficacy, design is important. Tasks must be challenging, in order to be satisfying, but not so frustrating as to create confusion. Whether a particular task satisfies these criteria, he writes, depends on cognitive load and prior knowledge. That's why "why we tend to teach absolute novices using techniques and contexts that are different to the ones we deploy for absolute experts, and why we avoid exposing novices to too much chaos." Other writers refer to these criteria under the heading of flow, and trace its origin to game design. (Baron, 2012)

But cognitive load theory assumes that there is some specific outcome to learning such that supporting experiences can be divided into those supporting the learning outcome (aka 'signal') and those that constitute part of the background (aka 'noise'). This is especially the case if the purpose of the learning experience is to remember some specific body of content, or to accomplish some particular task. However, in a cMOOC, neither is the case. Indeed, navigating the chaos and making learning decisions is the lesson in a cMOOC. The cMOOC is in this way similar to constructivism. As George Siemens writes, "Learners often select and pursue their own learning. Constructivist principles acknowledge that real-life learning is messy and complex. Classrooms which emulate the 'fuzziness' of this learning will be more effective in preparing learners for life-long learning." (Siemens, 2004)

What, then, would promote learner efficacy even in chaotic or noisy environments? A second, more robust, proposal takes the idea of literacy literally. A language might appear chaotic at first. Even if someone has learned how to spell the words, and even if they know what they mean, the nuances of using them in a sentence are many, and a language supports an infinite number of new sentence combinations. Each new experience with a language will be different, there are tens of thousands of words to choose from when forming a sentence, and only the barest of grammatical rules to aid construction. Imagine the language learner given a new text to read and criticize, picture them in front of a blank page they have to fill with words, and you have created an experience very similar to participating in a cMOOC.

What sort of literacy would be appropriate in a cMOOC? Two major types of literacies suggest themselves: 21st century literacies, and digital literacies.

21st century literacies are those literacies appropriate for living and working in the 21st century. This is an environment which changes at a much greater pace than in previous years, where there is a constant flow of information, where connectivity with people worldwide is part of our everyday reality, and where jobs that existed ten years ago have disappeared, and new ones have taken their place. A good example of this is the Framework for 21st Century Learning, which addresses several dimensions of this new type of learning, including core skills of collaboration, creativity, communication and critical thinking, and supporting skills such as workplace skills, information media skills, and the traditional core types of literacy and numeracy. (The Partnership for 21st Century Skills , 2011)

Alternatively, we can focus on literacies specific to the digital medium itself. For example, the Mozilla Foundation has developed and promoted a Web Literacy Map which describes in greater detail how to engage with digital media (as opposed to merely consuming it). (Belshaw, 2015) Three major types of skills are identified: exploring, building and connecting. The first describes how to find your way about the chaotic environment and even to make sense of it for yourself. The second examines traditional and new forms of content creation, including authoring and art, in a digital media environment. And the third addresses the previously under-represented function of sociality and connection. Taken together, these three literacies can be seen as a way for individuals to manage cognitive load for themselves, to adapt the task of making sense of the web to their own skill level, and therefore to manage even in an environment that is not well designed.

Belshaw writes, "In its current form, the Web Literacy Map comprises a collection of competencies and skills that Mozilla and our community of stakeholders believe are important to pay attention to when getting better at reading, writing and participating on the web. Web literacy is about more than just coding. The web literacy standard covers every part of web literacy-from learning basic coding skills to taking action around privacy and security." In this sense, the modern understanding is about more than communication and meaning in a language or symbol system. It is about operating and interacting in a complex and multi-dimensional environment. This makes it particularly relevant to an understanding of the difference between literacies required in traditional courses and the contemporary literacies required in a much less structure learning environment such as a MOOC.

These types of literacies can be combined into an overarching set of literacies that may be described under the heading of 'critical literacies'. These literacies encompass not only the skills related to comprehension and sense-making, but also the creative abilities that support criticism, construction and communication. And they go beyond this in addressing the dynamics of today's world. They include, at a minimum, the following: the ability to detect and define syntax, structure, patterns and similarities; the ability to identify and generate meaning, purpose and goal; the ability to sense and create context or environment; the ability to apply or use language, literacy and communication to accomplish tasks; the ability to support a conclusion, criticize an argument, offer an explanation or define a term; and an understanding of how to recognize, manage and create change. Or, in brief: syntax, semantics, context, use, cognition and change. (Downes, 2009)

These literacies may be necessary for success in a MOOC, but they are more widely applicable as well. The theory of knowledge underlying the creation of the cMOOC suggests that learning is not based on the idea of remembering content, nor even the acquisition of specific skills or dispositions, but rather, in engaging in experiences that support and aid in recognition of phenomena and possibilities in the world. When we reason using our brains, we are reasoning using complex neural nets that shape and reshape themselves the more we are exposed to different phenomena. Choice, chance, diversity and interactivity are what support learning in neural nets, not simple and static content. Cognitive dissonance is what creates learning experiences. To learn is to be able to learn for oneself, not to learn what one is told; it is to be able to work despite cognitive overload, not to remain vulnerable to it. So the cMOOC is harder, requiring a greater degree of literacy, but in developing these literacies, promotes a deeper learning experience.

Finally, an understanding of the literacies required also helps us understand the difference between traditional courses, including the xMOOC, and the less structured cMOOC. It also offers ground for criticism of the former. Traditional literacies are rooted in our comprehension of, and ability to work within, abstract symbol systems (and in particular, language and mathematics). It is no coincidence that PISA, for example, measures student performance in language, science and mathematics. These are be languages of learning, as well as the content of learning. But from the perspective of the cMOOC, these traditional literacies are inadequate. They form only a part of the learning environment, and not even the most interesting part, as we engage in environments that cannot be described through timeless abstractions or static facts and figures. But this is exactly what we face when we attempt to extend our learning from the eternal present and into the vanishing past or future. We need to learn to engage with, interact with, and recognize form and change in the environment for ourselves, rather than attempt a static and distanced description.

Learning in a MOOC and literacy in a MOOC become synonymous. We are not acquiring content or using language and literacy, we are becoming literate, becoming MOOC. Each bit of experience, each frustrated facing of a new chaos, changes you, shapes you. Participating in a MOOC is like walking through a forest, trying to see where animals have walked in the past, trying to determine whether that flash of orange is a tiger. There are no easy successes, and often no sense of flow. But you feel the flush of success every time you recognize a form you defined, achieve a skill you needed, and gradually gradually you become a skilled inhabitant of the forest, or of 21st century human society.


Baron, S. (2012, March 22). Cognitive Flow: The Psychology of Great Game Design. Retrieved from Gamasutra: http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/166972/cognitive_flow_the_psychology_of_.php

Belshaw, D. (2015, January 13). Web Literacy Map. Retrieved from Mozilla: https://wiki.mozilla.org/Webmaker/WebLiteracyMap

Brennan, K. (2013, July 24). In Connectivism, No One Can Hear You Scream: a Guide to Understanding the MOOC Novice. Retrieved from Hybrid Pedagogy: http://www.hybridpedagogy.com/journal/in-connectivism-no-one-can-hear-you-scream-a-guide-to-understanding-the-mooc-novice/

Downes, S. (2009, November 12). Speaking in LOLCats: what literacy means in teh digital era. Retrieved from Stephen's Web: http://www.downes.ca/presentation/232

Siemens, G. (2004, December 12). Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. Retrieved from elearnspace: http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills . (2011, March). 21st Century Student Outcomes and Support Systems. Retrieved from http://www.p21.org/storage/documents/1.__p21_framework_2-pager.pdf


Note: this article originated as a submission requested by a magizine, but when I learned that they wanted an article that was 2,000 characters long, not 2,000 words, this article became available as a blog post.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Interview Stephen Downes by Renée Filius

Renée Filius: [Introduction] So what I see at course evaluations is that teachers say: 'Well, when I teach online I tend to ask brief questions. Or students just give brief answers and leave again. There is not a lot of interaction going on and learning tends to stay at a surface level.' Do you recognize this problem?

Stephen Downes
: Well, I don't really give brief answers. I mean, I think I recognize the phenomenon that may cause the problem. It's really hard to get the minute by minute feedback that you get in a personal environment when you're responding to a question. So, whereas if you're talking to a person  you can judge by their facial reactions and that, whether you can just continue talking, but when you're online, you don't have those cues and at a certain point you lose track of that nonverbal communication you're having with the other person. So you stop talking sooner in order to get feedback. That's what I think. What I observe is the lack of the personal cues, you know, except in a video environment like this, where I can actually see you nodding, for example, and things like that. But in typical online communications, even synchronous communications, are usually audio only at best. You know, in environments like Illuminate or some of the others, unless you're doing person-to-person videoconferencing, which is difficult and rare in a classroom environment. So, yeah, but as you can tell, I don't stop myself, so I think the phenomenon may be as much a propriety of the person as it is a propriety of the environment.

Renée Filius: Yes. So, you just mentioned, when we talk about the difference between online learning and offline learning in a classroom, you mentioned the difference because of the lack of facial expressions or body language. What other differences do you see between online teaching and face-to-face teaching and how they can affect the learning results, the learning outcomes?

Stephen Downes: One of the really big things that I see, is the lack of a shared object. For example, when I'm working with somebody, I very often haul out this sheet of paper and start drawing. Because that's the way I think and that's the way I communicate. And when I'm online with someone I can't just haul out a sheet of paper and start drawing. Or, you know, even now, what you've just missed is, I made a hand gesture, like pulling up the sheet of paper and drawing, right, which you didn't see. Online there are shared whiteboards, but it's a different kind of experience using a shared whiteboard, than using a whiteboard in a room, for example. The whiteboard in the room, it's much larger in size, even a piece of paper is larger in size than what you have to use online. The implements are much easier to use, you can just draw. So , the scale of the visual display really limits the kind of interaction in sharing objects that you can have. That's the big thing I find.

Renée Filius: Yes, I understand. So that is a major drawback of online learning, you could say. Could you also see, like, an advantage of online learning, if you would compare it with offline learning?

Stephen Downes: Oh yeah, there's huge- Some of the advantages, bridging distance is one. We couldn't do this session without online learning, it's just not possible. Even with the time issues and that, still, it just simply would not be possible. So that's a huge, huge advantage. I'm doing this in my living room, I didn't have to leave the house. For a day like today, when we have three feet of snow on the ground, that's a huge advantage as well. So it's location independent. Also, there's more modalities. I mentioned paper, whiteboards and of course speaking and gesturing, but that's the limit to the modalities, well there's a few more, but that's pretty much the limit to the modalities face-to-face. Online I can share my desktop, I can open up an application, I can use screen sharing, you know, there are systems that allow me to take control of your computer and do things for you. I won't do that, because I'd need your permission, but do you know what I mean? There's a whole range of things, you know, we can simulate environments online, forming digital environments, generally that would be very dangerous offline, such as an airplane or a nuclear reactor or brain surgery. You know, we don't want people practicing on real airplanes, or brains, or things like that, or especially nuclear reactors. So, I think those are some of the affordances. Also, I think communication is different online from the very early days. People talk to the- How they communicate differently in an online environment than an offline environment. Face -to-face is really intimidating, especially for someone like me, oddly enough, and many other people as well. It's easier to try new thing, to say new things, to put on different identities, to be more expressive, in the online environment. Of course that leads to a weakness in the online environment: people don't feel so inhibited as they would face-to-face, and they start doing things like flaming and stalking and trash talking, and all this bad stuff that happens online too.

Renée Filius: Yes, so there's two sides of the coin.

Stephen Downes: Yes, two: advantage, disadvantage. But I've seen, you know, very open, very personal communications happen online that often wouldn't be possible offline, just because of cultural differences, location differences, personal differences, whatever. So it's a different kind of communication that becomes possible.

Renée Filius: Yes, I see. And when it comes to the use of feedback? When I see feedback, I mean, the feedback used by the teacher or the lecturer, but also peer feedback or canned feedback. How would you say- What would you say about the differences between feedback when it comes to online learning, how could we use feedback to promote deep learning?

Stephen Downes: One of the tendencies in the online environment is to make do with very quick  and easy to do feedback, because it's possible. In face-to-face, or even a classroom environment, there are no such things as a like, or a checkmark or a thumbs-up. And things like counting the number of followers is absurd in a person-to-person environment. No, we use that in an online environment, a lot of the time that substitutes for more traditional forms of feedback. Now, that's not a propriety of the technology per se, it's just the way we use technology. I think that the same kind of feedback that's possible mostly in a person-to-person environment is possible online, so whatever the professor does, for example, to stimulate deep learning offline, the professor can do in an online environment. The reason why I say that is, the bulk of that feedback consists of dialogue and conversation, like we're doing now, and as this conversation gives us dramatic evidence for it, we can do that in an online environment. So, if you were to offer a hypothesis or a methodology or something like that, the two of us could work through it, pull load, underline principles, expose assumptions and all of that, right in exactly the same way we did it offline, except my camera is such that you can't see my hand gestures, still. The main significant difference is in physical activities and skills, you know, things like neural surgery, where the feedback doesn't necessarily get transmitted through a computer screen. I've played around with vital feedback simulators so that the design of the equipment that you're on simulates the physical feedback you get, doing neural surgery. But something like that is expensive and it's also very domain specific, but you know, a lot of simulators are made for medical training and things like that. Flight simulation as well, they try to emulate the actual cockpit environment, even to the point of shaking the plane. But again, that's very expensive to do. But still, it's cheaper than a real airplane, quite a bit cheaper than a real airplane, because you don't require fuel. So there is that. So what the point here is, the physical feedback gets harder and harder and is less and less natural to create, than the audio conversation type feedback.

Renée Filius: Yes. Let's go back to the course evaluations. I noticed that a lot of the feedback that instructors give to their students is written feedback, it's not audio, it's not visual.

Stephen Downes: Yeah, and that's why brief hits hard for people to write. It takes time to write, you know I write 250 words in 15 minutes, is that right, that's about right, I don't know. But I can say 250 words in 3 minutes. So the actual time to compose and come up with feedback in an audio environment, audio-visual environment, is a lot faster. It's slower for you, interesting, because you could probably read faster than I can speak. I can read about 600 words a minute, so I'm writing at 250, I don't know how fast I'm speaking, but it's faster, but I'm still able to read a lot faster than I can listen to someone speak. Of course I can do other things while they're speaking, like check my email, watch Netflix. But that's probably why, if it's typed, it's probably going to be short. You know, I get requests to review things all the time and if I want to do anything like a decent review, it's gonna start consuming hours of my time and I don't have hours of time. A professor and a class, you think about it: 250 words an hour, so that's probably- did I say an hour? 250 words in 15 minutes, a 1000 words an hour. A 1000 words is something like two pages of text. If you expect two pages of feedback, which isn't a lot, on an essay, then if you have a 100 people, that's a 100 hours of work. And that's why you get one line. If you look at offline, if you look at the written feedback on an essay, say, it's the same. It's like little remarks here and there, they're not writing a page of text about the essay that was handed in. Although, they will be happy to have you come into their office and they'll speak about it for a bit, as it's easier. And I also know that most people won't do that. If they had to actually give verbal feedback to everyone in the class, they probably have a different view of how great it is. That's my feeling anyways. When I taught, I only ever spoke to a minority of the people in the class, not because I didn't want to, but I can't chase them down and only a minority came to see me.

Renée Filius: And there's another possible cause. I noticed that online teaching, like in the traditional classroom an instructor knows that he has to give a lecture between 13.00 and 15.00, so that's the time that he blocks in his agenda. But online it's different and after ten minutes he thinks: 'Well I have to finish this quickly, because I have to do so much other work and then I will go.' Is that something that you would recognize?

Stephen Downes: Yeah, of course I do everything that way. But no, there is a point to it, because I do my most focused thinking about a topic when I have to be there and presenting, especially in person, in a certain place and time. I actually prepare for that and the stuff I do just online, I prepare for a lot less. I just find I do it that way, even if I have a scheduled online time I prepare for it less. I think there is more pressure to doing it in person. If you're unprepared, you have to stand there and look them in the eyes and be unprepared. Nobody likes that feeling. We do it once or twice and you're over it, you don't do it again, you just make sure you're prepared.

Renée Filius
: No. And would there be any way of making this better for the instructors in order for them to give better feedback or to provide the students with better feedback on any way?

Stephen Downes: Well, raise the stakes? I don't know, I have to think about that. Because what we're talking about here, is the professor's own disinclination to be prepared and to provide the feedback, as opposed to anything structural. They could do the work, they could block the time, they could be prepared, they could be as on top of it as they are in person. But because they're not so much at personal risk, real or perceived, they have a tendency not to be. And the answer might be, even something simply physical, like bigger screens. If you're looking at a real sized version of the person, you might be more likely to think of them as a person, rather than as a computer artefact. You know, that's a speculation, but it's a possibility. We have a Cisco telepresence system in the office and basically it's a life-size high quality video representation of the person and they just sit across the table from you. And you know, you're pretty out of the wall, you know you're not gonna get away with checking your email while you're on that. By contrast, I could be checking my email with you right now, you'd have no idea. In fact, why don't I do that, you'll see how it looks. Here I am, I'm opening my email and I'm seeing something about a movie. You couldn't tell by looking at me, right, that I'm reading my email. I'm an expert at that.

Renée Filius: I can see the change in your glasses.

Stephen Downes: Yes, exactly. So, but in a virtual environment, I can get away with that. When we're talking like this, if I haven't prepared - and I've done this before, right - I have you on one side and I have my notes and stuff on the other side and I look stuff up as we're talking. Now that's both an advantage and a distraction. It's a distraction in the sense that it allows me to be less prepared, it allows me to be less focused. On the other hand, I have access to stuff I wouldn't if was standing in front of the classroom. In front of the classroom in the sense that you have no props, depending on the style of the person, but here in the computer world I can take much more like a disc jockey kind of approach to it. Haul by resources as I need them. And I do do that sometimes. Sometimes I do that even during presentations just for fun, but doing that live is riskier, it feels totally different.

Renée Filius: Would you expect any types of futures technologies or inventions that would help us in the future?

Stephen Downes
: Well, first I need to be convinced that it's a problem. Is the online experience so bad when compared to the in-person experience, that we need to make this extra effort to make the online experience better? That is to say: more like the personal experience. You know, we could, for example, build a room, just a little square room where a whole side of the room is a computer screen, but you don't have a mouse or a keyboard, or anything else in the room, just that screen. And you go into that room and the other person sees you, all of you, and you see the other person, all of the other person, and they're in their own room, and you have a really focused interaction, because there is nothing else to do. That would address the problem, that would fix it. Guaranteed. The question is: Is the problem so great that this is worth doing? Now that's a different issue. It might be, you know, it might be.

Renée Filius: Yes, but you could think of just small adjustments to the feedback process that enables the teacher to give feedback easier or that provides students an easy way to ask for feedback.

Stephen Downes: Well, I'm not sure it's a question that it being too hard to do though. I think it's a question of people not being inclined to do it. Do you see the difference?

Renée Filius: What exactly do you mean?

Stephen Downes: Well, the ease or difficulty of doing something is only one explanation of why something is done or not done. 'Why didn't I give Fred feedback? It was too hard. I don't like Fred. I didn't feel like it. I wasn't sure what to say. I didn't have time. I was washing my hair.' You see what I mean? There's a whole range of possible explanations and the difficulty of doing it is just one of those. Making it easier to do makes the feedback more likely and better, only if the difficulty was the cause of the problem in the first place. But how hard is it to give feedback online? Well, there's the typing thing, I get that, but you can also have a video conference like this, and those are very easy to do. Even easier than the one we have, because, you know, both people will show up on time.

Renée Filius: Those people don't get lost in a snowstorm.

Stephen Downes: Yeah. But you know, it's funny, one thing I have observed, and this is a good example of the counter example I'm giving, in the online environment, it has been observed that professors get many more requests for feedback and students show higher expectations of feedback and more immediate feedback. So a professor that in a class would speak to maybe ten people in a week, will get twenty emails in a week, or more, they get many more emails, cause emails are easier than going down to the professor's office. Well, maybe that's not the cause, but you know what I mean, right? So, because it's easier to give feedback in an online environment there's more expectation of it and in the end, it becomes harder. So, the way to make giving feedback easier might actually be to make it harder for them to do. Then they'd have fewer requests for it, then they'd be more inclined to treat those requests with more seriousness and give it more weight. So, now of course, that's the opposite of the effect that you want, although it's not the opposite of the effect that you want. It's a horribly confused situation now. What you're doing is, you're giving better feedback, but to fewer people, and that takes you right back to real world environment, where professors give better feedback, but to fewer people.

Renée Filius: Yes. If I may summarize you, you say when it comes down to writing feedback, it is more time-consuming for lecturers to write feedback, but it takes less time to read the feedback. And when it comes to giving feedback in general in online education, it is easier for students to ask for feedback, but it is more difficult for lecturers to provide feedback.

Stephen Downes: Exactly. Now what you could do, and I think some people play with this, is, you get the email in and you just say something back and send the recording back. That's easier than typing and you can be faster. But now you're still looking at a situation where professors are spending all of their time reading emails and answering them, or receiving inquiries and responding to them. I really think the volume of the requests is one of the key parameters here.

Renée Filius: But perhaps we could change that by making a better design of the course, of the education?

Stephen Downes: Well, this is part of the thinking of MOOCs. And here's what the thinking was: existing learning is very labour intensive for the professors. It's very labour intensive in the class, and as a result in a person-to-person class you can only have a certain number of people. You know, I've taught in some very large classes, but I know that I'm still only actually interacting with twenty or thirty of them. Even in the 150 student class, I'm still only actually interacting with twenty of thirty and the rest are what we would call online lurkers, which is okay. But the more learning becomes about the interaction, as it does in higher grade levels , the smaller the classes must become, by necessity. Because you can't get a graduate level education, say, simply by lurking. It doesn't work that way. You have to be completely engaged in the process, that's why it's so hard. It's not hard because the material is hard, it's hard because you have to dedicate yourself to it. But online, these constraints appear to disappear. Everyone thinks they have a personal relationship with the professor, no matter how big the course is. This is a problem. It's been problem because online courses very often have many students. It's just like offline, but you get desires who say: 'It takes no more effort to offer a course to eighty people than to twenty. So let's offer this online course to eighty people.' And the poor professor is drowned in email and the discussion posts. When we opened our course, so now we have an open online course. We're not dealing with eighty, we're dealing with two thousand people. In that case, I'm still only talking to twenty or thirty people personally, so the only way, absolutely the only way in such an environment,  is to remove the requirement that everybody talks to the professor in order to get this interaction and feedback. And so, to create what we would call a network based course, where the interaction of students among each other is an important and vital part of the learning experience. So, they get the feedback, not from the professor, but from other students. In an ideal world, and this actually happened, they get feedback from more experienced students.  This is what happened the second time we ran the same course. The second time we ran the same course, many of the people who took it the first time, came back for the second time and they picked up and led a lot of the interaction. They almost led the course. So, one of the things that we have tried to do when designing these MOOCs is to design it in such a way that it accommodates people at different levels in their professional development. So you can go into the course if you're new to the field and you'll get the basics and the few people who are slightly more knowledgeable will interact with you. Those slightly more knowledgeable people are interacting both with new people and with more experienced people, and they're learning more in depth, and so on. You know, it's kind of like the one-room classroom of old, right? Where part of the responsibility of being in grade five was teaching the grade two students. It's interesting, John Stuart Mill comments on that as all the biographies say. It's a great way to learn, teaching is a great way to learn. It's not necessarily, being taught is not necessarily itself a great way to learn. So the real learning happens in the teaching, which happens later on, which is probably why these people came back to the class.

Renée Filius: Yes, that was what I wanted to ask: Why would those people come back, the more experienced students? Is that because they know that by teaching, it's a great way to learn?

Stephen Downes: I don't know if they came back intending to teach. I think they came back because they were inherently interested in the subject and thought that they would get a deeper learning experience the second time through. Which they did, but one of the ways they did this was by talking about all of these concepts with the new people who started the second year.

Renée Filius: But wouldn't it make more sense if they would go to a new and different course on a more advanced level?

Stephen Downes: Well, I wouldn't think so, honestly, because a new course- It depends on how you view the subject. If you view the subject as linear, first you do A, then B, then C, and then you go up to P, and that's the end of the first course. And then the next course starts Q, R, S, T, U, so then, yeah, it makes more sense to just continue. But if the course is A, B, C, D, F the first year and then A, B, C, D, F, but in more detail the second year, then there's- You could just go back to the original class. And I think it's more like the second type, than the first. I think it's more a holistic, you get deeper and deeper, rather than you're doing more things and going further down the linear- following your story as it were. Mathematics works that way, it's presented as: 'First you do this, then you do this, then you do this.' But, mathematics, it's all the same thing always. You're doing the same thing when you do simple addition as when you do set theory, it's the same thing.  It's just set theory is addition, but understood at a much deeper level. So I think that- And then it's the simple thing: you learn better when you teach. So get you get this deeper set theoretical understanding, if you will, when you're trying to teach kids how to add, because you know, they make mistakes you've never dreamed of. That's what I discovered when I taught. My students made mistakes: 'How could you- What were you thinking?' You know, that sort of thing. But the thing is they  were looking at this very simple subject from this very weird perspective and to deeply understand the subject, you need to understand how you can see it from that perspective and what's wrong with that. So this is how you go from simple math, which you memorized, to set theory where you understand.

Renée Filius: But then, do I conclude correctly that it's that much as getting or receiving peer feedback that leads to deep learning, it's providing peer feedback that leads to deep learning?

Stephen Downes: Yes, that's a really good way of putting it. And I think that's true. Providing is much better than getting.

Renée Filius: That's very interesting. If I may ask- Can you think of other examples of feedback interventions that may lead to deeper learning that we haven't mentioned yet?

Stephen Downes: Other examples of feedback interventions. Well, there's music critics. No, I'm just kidding. Yeah, but that leads me to- Synchronous coproduction, no, I just made up that term, of the top of my head. But the example that I'm thinking of, as an instantiation of that, is a jazz band. And of course jazz band came from music critic, that's how my brain works, it goes from subject to subject and you don't know where it's gonna land. Think about how it works in a jazz band. You got, say, four or five players, each with a different instrument. What they're trying to do is put on a show for a crowd, and get paid at the end of the night, cause they're jazz players and they're poor. So they start playing, but they're not playing to a predefined tune, that's the old learning object hardly matters sort of way. They're improvising, but in a jazz band, you don't just go do your own thing, because the sound would be terrible and everybody would hate it. So in a jazz band, you work some common themes, you know, a common beat and a common key, etcetera. I don't know a lot about music, so I'm not sure exactly what they do. But then they begin to play off each other. So, one person, they're doing a certain melody and they'll vary the melody. And then the other person sees the variation in the melody and harmonizes with it. See what I mean?

Renée Filius: Yes.

Stephen Downes: Synchronous coproduction.  Another example is an article co-written in Google Docs. So if you're all working on the very same article and you're each writing bits, in Google Docs you can actually see the other person's cursor and the words pop up as they type. So again, you have a case of synchronous coproduction. So, one person writes something, the other person sees that and changes another paragraph or whatever. So you're not actually correcting or giving feedback directly to a person's work, but rather you're watching, responding to what other people do as you work together, engaged in a single project. That is a whole neat concept there. It's probably been written about, and I'm sure - we haven't invented it - but I'm sure it's a good way of doing feedback. I know it's a good way of doing feedback. It just shows up over and over again. You know, in a football team as the play develops, and all the players are interacting with each other and with the opposition and they're attempting to coproduce a goal. Literally in this case. You know, there's an example. Improvising comedy is very popular here in Canada and that's the same sort of thing as well, where they coproduce something funny. Well, something that's intended to be funny, it isn't always funny, cause it can't be easy sometimes, getting this from your improv.
[later added via Twitter: co-creation is a means of mediating between different visions, each adding and learning, the final form emerging, not pre-designed]

Renée Filius: But the thing is, you work on it together and you look at each other and you improvise and you watch each other and by doing so you choose your next steps.

Stephen Downes: Yes, exactly. So the DS106 course which is a MOOC run by Jim Groom, they don't coproduce so much, but they do have a lot of fun creating things and then looking at what each other has created. They don't go back and change their own creations as a result of this, but what you see somebody else do, influences what your gonna do next. So, you see somebody do a film noir photo and then when you do your video you think: 'Yeah, film noir, that'd be cool.' It's a little less overt than that, but you do see that interaction back and forth.

Renée Filius: Yes. And then I have another question. If I may ask, if I would ask you to formulate three statements or golden rules for providing feedback focused on deep learning, what would you say?

Stephen Downes: There are no rules. There are no rules. There are no rules. I don't do rules.

Renée Filius: And what about statements?

Stephen Downes: Similarly. By statement you mean axiom or principle, as opposed to: 'This text is black. Link text is often blue.' That's probably not what you mean. So you're looking for a generalisation of some type and I have a lot of difficulty with rules, principles, generalisations, because I think they're abstractions. I think that they can be useful in certain contexts. They're certainly useful for observing and reflecting on what you've done. You can identify a pattern in your own behaviour, but as prescriptions they're notoriously unreliable. All kinds of sadness and misery has been caused by somebody who is just following the rules, or just doing what you're supposed to do.

Renée Filius: I can see your point. Well, the reason that I ask you was just by trying to formulate a summary of what we just said. And one of those rules would be: Peer feedback is very valuable when it comes to deep learning.

Stephen Downes: Yeah, but, no, that's the other side of abstractions. They can be so abstract that they're not useful. Some feedback is better than none. Oh yeah, true, but not helpful. I'll give you my methodological principles. They're not really principles, don't treat them as such. They're not generalisations or categorizations either. Together I call them the semantic condition. You may have seen that in some of the stuff that I've written. There's four words: autonomy, diversity, openness and interactivity. And autonomy is the idea that it's better when entities - individuals or people or whatever - make their own decisions about their own objectives or goals, than having them determined for them. Diversity is, it's better to have many different things, than many of the same thing. Openness is, as the word suggests, it's better to be open to experiences, better to be open to sharing. The hard one is interactivity, because interactivity is the idea that knowledge is created by the interaction we have with each other, as opposed to something that is created and then transferred one person to the other.  Knowledge, in other words, is an emerging phenomenon and not an inherent phenomenon. So, I decided to call those the semantic principle and they're methodological principles that enable a network type of structure to be dynamic, that is to adapt and change and therefor learn. So, the more you embrace principles like that, in a network or in a system, the more that network or system is able to learn. Conversely, if you impose uniformity, if you impose obedience, etcetera, if you follow principles, the system's unable to learn, it's unable to adapt, it's unable to accept new input to change itself, to change its objectives, its goals, etcetera. Does that make sense?

Renée Filius: Yes, I see your point, yes.

Stephen Downes: That's the best I can do to answer that question.

Renée Filius: Yes, well, thank you. Okay, I have one last question and that is: Are there any other questions that you expected me to ask you and that I didn't ask?

Stephen Downes: Let's see, you covered the weather, so that was important. We haven't talked about the time difference. Sorry, I'm just kidding. I don't think so. You didn't ask me for a definition of deep learning and you didn't define it, that's interesting.

Renée Filius: Well, I did send you a definition of both by email before this conversation.

Stephen Downes: Oh, okay. There's the question that you didn't ask: 'Did you read the email?'

Renée Filius: That's a good one.

Stephen Downes: Because I almost never read the preparatory material for an interview. It's partly laziness and partly, well mostly, because I like to be surprised. That's what makes interviews fun. I don't expect the question and then on the spot I need to think of an answer, that's how we came up with, what was that? Synchronous-

Renée Filius: Synchronous coproduction? Co-creation?

Stephen Downes: Synchronous co-creation is it exactly. Never would have come up with that had I looked at the materials ahead of time and taking notes or whatever. Never would have come up with that.

Renée Filius: No, no, that's great. Well, thank you very much.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Education Technology Strategies - Day Two

Educational Technology Strategies Conference - Toronto

Simon Pugh-Jones
Teacher
Writhlington School, (UK)

David Crellin
Creative Director for the Mendip Studio School
Writhlington School, UK

David

Participate - was a 3 million pound, 3 year project - 2005
    - looked at creating sensing systems that would measure air quality in Bath, UK
    - integrated with Google maps
    - developed kit - 'logger' with integrated GPS

Health Environment Action Network
    - 40 cities around US being monitored
    - again presents information with Google Maps

AZ Teaching Trust
    - Sept 2008 for a year
    - 10 primary schools investigate their environment in Bath, UK

WiFi Arduino IOT Devices
    - wifi datalogging, to make technology platform independent
    - no installation, saves a lot of time fussing with the equipment
    - always-on data collection; web interface to data

Distance - Bid with Intel to Technology Strategyu Board - IoT demonstrator
    - school as platform, community data, shared experiences - $800K
    - worked with 8 schools across the country; participatory design activities
    - platform: Xively
    - control opf greenhouses using data from Africa and Asia

Peterborough - Smart City
    - want to measure the weather across the city - started with weather stations in schools
    - also added high quality rain gauges cooperating with Envrionmental Department (city saved money)
    - www.iotschools.org.uk
    - eg. showing C)2 levels in a classroom in the UK (finding 4K ppm - concentration is impacted!)

Robo Tug
    - working with Intel to generate some IoT kits for schools
    - robots having remote tugs of war

Simon

The students get it much more than I do - the challenge is to let go and let the students be the experts

The Writhlington School Orchid project
    - "slow is good, good is fast" - been going since 1991
    - started as students growing orchids, largest 'orchid from see' project in the UK
    - requires "high knowledge, high skill" - growing from seed requires special procedures (scientists)
    - Aaron is told "you are in charge of catius" - he doesn't know about it first, he is just told, and learns
    - the teams that work on this become scientists, they become botanists
    - students: provide real solutions for real projects
    - also requires cash - so we go around the country selling orchids students have raised)

We have done school expeditions to 17 tropical places ('expeditions') - costs about 20K pounds, about what we raise in a year
    - students also raised some of the their own money
    - another project with Muttart conservatory in Edmonton
    - expeditions are in the early phase, we're still learning things
    - since 2004 the expeditions more about my students running workshops with students in local environments
    - the work they do is forest identification of species (photos from Rwanda)

The technology (we never went out to say 'we want to do things with technology' - instead it solves problems)
    - eg. datalogging for the 'hovering properties of hummingbirds' project;
    - also, datalogging for investigation of microhabitats
    - we put in dataloggin into the curriculum wherever we can
    - building two megalabs at the school; one a genetics lab, another a microporpagation lab
    - IoT and real data on a website is so much better than going to a greenhouse for a week
    - biobox - replicating real-time rain forest in a box
    - the great thing about real technology projects is that there are so many hassles and problems along the way
    - and there are many roles - web designer, business, engineering

School projects from the audience:
    - in-school Dragon's Den
    - higher-needs school, started a coat swap, which is now city-wide (coats everywhere for three days)
    - schoolyard project - greenhouse project to prove they can build a greenhouse in northern Canada and eat healthy all year long
    (you don't need to think of the solutions and how to do it, because the kids do that)
    - future idea: in-tree sensors next to orchids that can be followed on the internet
    - another future idea: connecting the kids in Rwanda to their own forest with electronics, etc


David - where next for the IOST
    - different kids adopt different roles - not all kids like orchids, but may be really interested in electronics
    - smart schools
    - inspirational teaching has to be at the core of all this
    - "students of today are the innovators of tomorrow" (Simon: "... innovators of today")

Q: are we looking at ways to ... my grade 12 students last year built five apps ....  could be marketable today
- if we have students are experts and knowledgeable - are we looking at a way to make the transition in our schools?
- right now, if students sold the app the school would say they own the money - could we pay students to incent the students
A: it's all done in the team - the money raised by the team is used by the team for things like trips
- another group wrote a book, which sold well, that project looked at royalties
- in general it's now accepted in the UK that when people generate ideas they get to keep ownership of them
- but you have to have a very clear plan particularly of how you deal with great success



Honourable Liz Sandals
Minister of Education
Ontario Ministry of Education

This is a paraphrase summary, not direct quotes (though often words are used)

(Ministry of Ontario vision video)

What we all have in common is that we're committed to the well-being of our students

About a year ago our government began renewing the vision of education in Ontario schools. We had a range of stakeholders outside the system, a lot of students involved, but there was a high degree of consensus. So the Achieving Excellents has four major objectives:
- achieving excellence
- ensuring equity
- promoting well-being
- competence

We've also been partnering with the Council of Directors of Educations (CODE - 'superintendants') - this boosts what we know about technology and enabling innovations.

The challenge now is how do we take those innovations and find those things that are working best and spread them not just to lead schools, but all across the system and in every school and in every board - the challenge is to get the great innovations more generally in use. Need a sustainable transformation that's relevant and meets local needs.

We certainly know that we need to learn from our stakeholders.

We also know that we need to work more closely with businesses, with research institutions, agencies - there are many relationships out there, often local relationships, we need to draw from to enhance what we're doing with technology. When we were talking to students, we heard the students really want to participate in experiential learning. They want to feel connected to the real world. How do we build on this?

So, there's going to be lots of exploration. Some things will be directive - we continue to work on math, for example. We've appointed four advisors who will be helping to guide us. They will review emerging trends and research. They will work on incorporating research into making our vision a reality.

When we look at education, it isn't really just about education. We're also looking at the future of the economy. They will be key to our future prosperity. We are competing with the rest of the world based on the skills and the knowledge of our workers.

So, one thing we've been able to do over the last 4 years is to increase our high school graduation rate - it's up to 83% since 2013 (but I want to say a few things about how we calculate that - we assigned an Ontario education number to every student in schools, and it follows them through the system - we are literatlly looking at who comes into the door and where they are 5 years later - if they move to Alberta they are shown as not having graduated, if they enter a high needs program, they are shown as not having graduated.) From 68%.

We created the child care modernization act - they have to give the students a number when they enter child care. That means we can track kids from the time they nter a licensed care system all the way therough to university in Ontario.So we can find how their PSE experiences relate to their elementary and secondary experiences.

One reason we were able to raise the HS grad rate is that we introduced more ways students could access experiential learning. If they have co-op experience, they get a red seal on their diploma if they graduate from specialist high schools labour - includes mining, ICT, manufacturing, etc. These programs are very community-oriented. This is a great example of experiential learning.

Not everyone can participate in this. So another way of doing this is to bring tech into the classroom, so they can get real-world experience in the classroom. We haven't thought though this as carefully as we have the outward-bound experiences. In this case, we're often supporting students who are otherwise struggling.

One of the things we've done recently is to create a $150M tech fund over 3 years, to invest in tablets, software, cameras, etc., and also training, so we don't just acquire hardware and apps.  But we know that these new techs are engaging students in new ways, particularly when we partner with the right learning task. We also find these technologies are giving students with special needs a new voice, and to connect with their teachers and classmates.

So, we see this huge growth in technology. I was at the College of Business and Economic in Guelph, talking about entrepreneurship. One cluster of students were trying to start a business, a board that you can play around with to help you create new technology to support science learning in a variety of different applications. I said, it's great you have these ideas, connect it to the curriculum and you can sell it to teachers and librarians.

We've also got partnerships with TVO and KFO and their website, which has programming that follows the curriculum. Have a look at what they are creating. It's always connected to curriculum so you don't have to worry about whether it's appropriate. Eg. homework help line.

When we talk to parents and students, they want 21st century learning - critical skills, collaboration skills, communication skills. When we look at their future, we know they won't geet a job with the plant that sets them for life - we know many of them will have to start their own businesses. We depend on technology to expand students' view of the world and an independent critical thinking mindset.

Another of our goals is well-being. As we get involved in technology we want to ensure our studetns are ethical and socially-responsible citizens. We have to talk about safe and ethical internet use.

A couple of things going on in boards around the province:

- a board in Keewatin using Skype to communicate with students in remote communities in other parts of the world.
- in Belleville - Saganaska demonstration school - use sims to solve problems and learn scientific skills, like heat transfer

Q: UK - coding in curriculum; hour of code in US - is Ontario looking at coding?
A: my background is math and computer science, so this is a hot button with me. Mostly when we talk about tech we talk about how to use tech that someone else created. We don't talk about coding in the first place. A problem is we don't have enough teachers qualified to teach computer science, especially in small high schools. When we look at students who go into STEM, there's a drop off. I'm not sure the solution is to do an hour of code. But we need to pay attention to STEM students. Especially women.

Q: Ontario student ID - anything at the federal level that would integrate information exchange between the provinces? At the Canadian level?
A: Education in Canada is a provincial responsibilities. So we have CMEC - Council of Ministers of Education in Canada. I'm not aware of any such discussion around tracking. The discussion is more around common curriculum initiatives. Talked about aboriginal education, international students - nothing on the bookkeeping techie sort of thing.

Q: 21st century skills - when might the ministry provision boards of education with new measures so we can assess students on these?
A: there's an active discussion going on right now about that - how do we measure communication, collaboration, critical thinking? Teachers often comment, but it's usually a personal opinion thing. I don't know when we'll have an answer.

Q: ed tech startup entrepreneurship in education. Do you see innovation hubs emerging in K12 - are you looking to encourage this?
A: I mentioned high skills majors, one is focused on this. It's not as widely offered as the others. I think it will evolve and I think it will grow. I was at Guelph - youth job strategy, a lot went to match students with first job, but there was some money set aside for innovation. In Guelph I was announcing a grant to the business school doing this.


Jim Bennett
Manager Information Technology
Greater Saskatoon Catholic School Board Office, (SK)

Implement a Cross-functional Department using Agile Methodology and Scrum to Improve Efficiencies

From the IT perspective, the landscape looks more like looming crisis than idyllic beach
- but by implementing agile processes we can address this

'Scrum' is one of several agile frameworks - they are ways of organizing yourself, ways of managing the workload, and ways of adapting to changes. Ways of being less formal in our approach, shift directions, and be more flexible. It came out of Japan, a wholistic approach to manufacturing. 6 core tenets. The term 'scrum' coined in early 90s - Ken Schwaber, Jeff Sutherland. You get a "group of guys that really know what they're doing", they pick their own tasks.

Here's the top-level view:
- the organization sets the priorities
- teams self-organize to determine the best way to deliver
- work is organized into 2 to 4 week cycles, called sprints
- after each sprint anyone can see real working solutions
- it's a highly transparent process so there are no surprises

Applicable to school division - not just software development teamss

Three major pillars: roles, ceremonies, artifacts

Roles:
- product owner - who takes deliverables, sets orders of priorities
- scrum master - like a project leader
- team members

Ceremonies - very important, every one of these
- sprint planning session - when the product owner comes forward and says I have all this work, teams selects 2-week bit from the pile
    - when they look at these stories, they estimate how big a job they think it is
    - they talk back and forth and talk out all the little bits that make up a story - 15-minutes - 12 hours granularity
- sprint review
    - everybody can see what was done - no powerpoints, though you can show what was created on a screen
    - people who did the work explain a bit
- sprint retrospective
    - a team-focused activity, based on continuous improvement model
    - teams sits without outside influence and taalks about it
- daily scrum meeting
    - 15 minute stand-up meeting

Artifacts
    - product backlog (project backlog) - all the stuff you have to do
    - sprint backlog - the stuff that needs to be done
    - burn-down chart - graph showing how much work is remaining in that sprint

Agility:
    - having the characteristics of speed and coordination
    - the ability to react quickly and appropriately to change

Agile & Lean
    - in Saskatchewan, a strong push for all departments to adopt 'lean'
    - 'Lean' is focused on eliminating waste - wasted steps, wasted materials
    - agile and lean are totally linked

Benefits of Agile:
    - clairity, focus, aligns work to organization goals, productivity, communications, no surprises

(Example of F-35 as being built by scrum - not the best example!)

Scrum in Educational IT - EduScrum
    - how can a manufacturing process work in our IT department?
    - think of it just as a process, a framework - build your teams
    - scrum at the GSCS
        - started by the book - Agile Software Development with Scrum
        - but it's like a recipe, you can make changes as you need to (we started adjusting after 5 sprints or so)

In Scrum....
    - the first thing you want to do is build a team:
        - by discipline - eg., programmers
        - or cross-functional teams
            - teams often give themselves names
    - then the working agreement
        - how will they meet, how will they communicate
        - eg. "during the meeting lids are closed", "we'll always be on time" (team decides penalties)
    - create a definition of 'done'
        - sw team can have very granular detail about what counts as 'done',
        - eg. 'passed all the tests', docs complete, end user has accepted

Take all of the work that you need to and build it into stories - "user stories"
    - as an end user, I want something so I can accomplish some kind of goal
    - "As a student I want to see my grades online so I can see how I'm doing wihtout waiting"
        - enables acceptance criteria
        - you don't have to be technical, it's up to the team to figure out the tech
    - Epics - contain many stories

Managing Backlog
    - used to use sticky notes on whiteboard - move them around, reprioritize
    - now nice tools to do this

Sprint planning:
    - not traditional program manager at the front assigning tasks
    - team-centric, stories are brought in and discussed
        - 'planning poker' - "is it bigger than a breadbox" - tough to estimate time it takes ahead of time
        - compare with previous estimates - start with '8' - next project, is it bigger than the '8' etc
        - after a few times, this becomes a really accurate estimate and you learn how many story points you can pack into a sprint
            - our team finds it can do maybe 110 story points in a sprint
    - the work begins...
        - storyboard - on the left, story cards, on the right to-do cards, work in progress, and done
            - once the notes have moved across the board then the story is done

VersionOne - the online software we use (so we no linger have the backlog board)
    (bit of a software demo going over the tasks)

Sprint standup meeting
    - no detailed discussion at all - it's only for 'what I did yesterday', 'what I'm doing today', 'what is standing in my way'
    - these meetings are open to the world, but only scrum members can talk

Retrospective
    - what will we stop doing?
    - what will we continue doing?
    - what will we start doing?

Scrum at the GSCS
    - disruptive, but working
    - initial backlog was 10 years, now down to 2 years
    - note: people can't just come and say "drop what you're doing I need this now"
   
    -Team Structure
        - started with one team, the programmers
        - then we created a team for the system administrators
         - third team for the network administrators
        - after about a year, the three teams merged into one

    - Work process
        - started with 4-week sprint, went down to 2
   
    - Challenges
        - getting users used to the idea of user stories, getting user engagement
        - defelcting outside influences
        - balance 'break-fix' tickets, vs time to apply to stories
        - changing admin mindset, so now it's more driven from the bottom up
        - getting team members used to the idea of saying "no"

https://www.scrumalliance.org
http://www.scrum.org
Steve Denning Forbes article
jbennett@gscs.sk.ca





Jon Butcher
Administrative Coordinator & Physics Teacher
St. Andrews College

Building on Existing Platforms

School went full laptop in 2002, pen-enabled tablet in 2008 (St. Andrews College - university prep school)
- 2nd screen BYOD
- rolled out dual projectprs in most of our classrooms recently

MS OneNote - our 'killer app' - teachers have built their textbooks in OneNote
    - pen-friendly - which is huge
    - network sync, off-network use
    - paperless: marking, etc
    - integrates with TurnItIn
        - we weren't using it - we discovered a hard drive with every single assignemnt ever distributed by a teacher
    - FirstClass -
    - Edsby - built by people who built FirstClass - it's definitely the application of choice right now
        - eg. student page - I can see all his activities - attendance, assignments, project reports, etc
        - at the end of every day, teachers enter what they did in class, what the homework was
            - really important because we're a big sports school

Exploring - pioneering
    - connectivity - Diigo, PLNs, (Edsby, twitter, etc)
    - collaborative spaces - where they can meet with shared screen etc

Meeting Policy Objectives
    - all academic leadership positions held by actual teachers
    - policy is team and committee based
    - ITI committee
    - Tech related policies:
        - daybooks, online marks, etc
    - pioneer model - explorers, pioneers, settlers, urbanites
        - we all had elements of each of those things

Measuring return on investment
    - really hard to nail down, education is so wholistic
    - instructional strategies are enhanced by technologies

Developing Cost-Effective Solutions
    - fail often fail cheaply

Core beliefs
    - where tech is the best way to teach, we should do that, if not, we shouldn't
    - the teacher is the best person to judge
    - support model - teachers have 3 minutes worth of tolerance - if if doesn't work in 3 minutes, it's garbage
    - usability ranks higher than security!
    - teachers cannot be expected to troubleshoot
    - plan for the worst case scenario

Conclusions
    - single device is better than BYOD alone
        - higher cost but significantly higher gain
   


Shawn Lehman
Supervising Principal of Pathways for Student Success
Limestone District School Board

    - 61 schools, mostly small schools, 20K students
    - moving away from a break and fix model
    - support for learning around technology investment

    - role of the educator and education has changed dramatically
        - how has tech changed this? we're not always able to say exactly how
        - learning stance: needs to be open
        - student voice: is expected and accepted within our context
        - good pedagogy: including connected learning and connected learners

    - George Couros - learning can take place anywhere
    - creating a culture of yes
    - fixed mindset vs growth mindset
        - soa - service-level agreement - urgent - fixed in 3 days; others - fixed within a week

    http://www.foodsharingproject.org/Home.html

    - airwatch & a whiteboard



Joel Handler
Director of Technology
Hillsborough Board of Education, New Jersey

How to Implement the Best Device to Achieve Learning Goals

Looking at 1:1 technology - looked at 4-year time frame, looking for results, adjust on the fly
2011-2014 from small pilot to full 1:1 with Nexus 7 tablets (Chromebooks) grades 1-4

You all have devices - you're checking email, working - that's just the norm

The educator used to be the 'sage on the stage' - but today students have access to all the knowledge in the world
Tech - we wanted a culture where tech was just the norm, not to get excited about....

Some of our rooms, you walk in, you think it's startup culture - organized chaos

District technology goals:
- asynchronous learning (so you don't have to learn algebra at 7:30 in the morning, even if that's when it's scheduled)
- globalizing the curriculum (these four walls no longer really confine us any more)
- creation, collaboration, and publication of digital content

- summary of how it was built up over four years
    - ubiquitous wireless
    - projectors / sound field systems in every class (we used to only put it in if teachers really wanted it)
    - explore 1:1 technologies

Lessons Learned
    - the training and support capacity is needed - what you put in will break, and if support isn't there teachers will leave it
    - need tech integration specialists, tech coaches (teachers with a 1 yr assignment)
    - turnkey training system
        - training last day before summer? no
        - InService? No, they are being inundated - it's not what they need today

Assessments and analysis
    4636 students assessed
    - nothing earth-shattering - no major increases or decreases in assessments... but
        - these assessments aren't about our new way of learning, they focus on old regurgitation
        - also research says it takes several years for 1:1 to show academic changes
    - but we have seen academic improvement in our lowest skills students
    - staff survey - benefits to students:
        - students present ideas more effectively
        - it's easier to demonstrate learning
        - they integrate from multiple sources better
    - student survey from pilot study
        - 70% believe they learn faster
        - 60-75% think they learn it well enough to teach others
    - excitement levels increased, increased organizational skills
    - we implement only with Google login (so it's the same user name and password)



Stephen Baker
B.Sc.,B.Ed., OCT, Principal, Founder and CEO
Virtual High School, Bayfield (Ontario)

Began in 1995 - in 2000 broke with the school board
But without the school board in 2002, could not grant credit - only had 34 students
2003 - became an accredited private school (they wanted a fire report - I got the KW fire department to come and inspect my computer)
2006 - 419 students
2010 - moveed from the house basement - to another house basement -
    Paul W. Bennett - "Virtual High School survived despite all odds"
2014 - 6400 students - they have to pay, we're for-profit online - what do we do?

- we look after their individual needs
    - adults - appreciate asynchronous learning - 18 months to complete a course
    - time zones - 17 percent outside Ontario, 7 outside Canada
    - we're always open

- courses
    - we very closely adhere to the ministry curriculum guidelines
    - backwards design - no textbooks - all content online
    - reference: Ministry document 'Growing Success', 2010
        - 'triangulation' ('as', 'for', 'of') -- we redesigned all our courses
        - where are your OSR's (Ontario Student Record) - they told us what we had to do to maintain them
        - improve transparency - reliance on rubrics
        - we *begin* from the rubrics when we design our course
    - major issue: plagiarism - we have to convince people students can't cheat
        - academic integrity is a big part of my day - we look at a series of red flags

- we're really a broker - all we do is connect students and teachers, and provide the curriculum that brings the two together
    - 124 teachers around Ontario, and as long as they respond to students in time, etc., and as long as parents are happy, I'm happy
    - we do a lot of coaching of our teachers
    - most students come to fill one or two courses
    - alleviates fear - the online interactions are largely anonymous - it's very unbiased
    - there's no competition for the teacher's attention

- Looking at the future -
    - American system
    - adaptive - looking at D2L LEAP - responding to how the student performs
        - table of paths through course with D2L system - gathering 'keys'
        - we had to get around their previous and next buttons (we used an iFrame)
   
Q: you have to create OSRs - you ahve to keep them
A: we have banks of filing cabinets :) In many cases they come to us with an OSR



Jan Courtin
Superintendent of Education
Peel District School Board

Hazel Mason
Superintendent of Education
Peel District School Board

21st Century Teaching and Learning

Hazel

We're past talking about technology, and are asking what different it makes in the classroom for teaching and for kids. If all it's doing is making our students more engaged, it's too expensive.

We're looking at traditional learning - "we're looking to blow it up." When you start to look at what some of the things people are talking about, none of it has anything to do with Lord of the Flies or Hamlet and whether he was pathetic and whether he was tragic.

Moral imperative: why is this important? Why do we see it as a moral imperative? We have to do our very best for students every day. That means preparing them for the world they're going to inherit (not just preparing them for the next grade). There are many things for them to tackle and solve. Also, what technology has blown up the idea of information for us. Knowledge is like buying a car - drive it off the lot and it's out of date.

We are no longer in a place where we want to work as solo individuals. We need lots of cooks coming together.

Video: Apple - iPad in Business - Profiles - PepsiCo
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A0hCmzbQJSA

The Golden Circle - from the inside out...
    Change: from why to how to what
    Teachers are very risk-inherent (they don't have big investment portfolios because it's not safe)

21st century pedagogy means getting rid of the classroom hierarchy  - it means the teachers have to take a back seat
 - still a role in safeguarding quality
    - we move away from the single story of an event, and give students the opportunity to hear from multiple voices

math math math math - is kicking the butt of Ontario pedagogy


Some plans to date to support our numeracy focus
    - SAMR pilot project
    - how do we move tech from substitutional to redefinition (transformational)?
    - how do we move teachers through that?
    - if we are going to be collaborative we have to share the work
        - 21st century steering committee - keeps growing
        - holding our very first Google camp on ....(something) - done every summer - last year on gamification

Jan

2012 - Will Richardson - we were just hanging our heads, he was so fired up
- we sent principles to west Van to see what they were doing
- we went to Troy Michigan to see the 'flipped school'
    - it was $5M in debt, huge suspension rate, etc. - after flip - attendance strong, whole culture started to shift
- Pilot projects to train teachers in flipping
- in April we ran 'speed dating' PD with these new experts
- when we went totally BYOD we no longer had to apologize for using Apple products

- we did this - and noticed it was flooded with elementary teachers - where were secondary folks
- got a list of names of people to talk about what we should be doing
    - first half was a bitch session - it was a bit ugly
    - then we got constructuve - that day was so good we gave them another day
    - they now form the core of the 21st century steering committee

We work with Apple - they're open to innovation
Kyle Pearce - Apple Distinguished Educator
    - works with Windsor school board - used iPads to teach class
    - 87% of math students reach level 3/4 in math
    - did PD days with Kyle on Saturdays - and gave an iPad to participating tecahers
    (never do one-off PD - it never works)

iTunesU
    - started from a red flag - applied math - grade 9 especially - 35% of students at level 1 or 2 grade 6 EQAO scores
    - iTunes for math - get away from the text book
    - when they know work will go live, it is very motivating for teachers
    - Audrey Burnss - head of iBooks Canada - asked if we'd go to secondary

Theory of Action Science Inquiry
    - support teachers with iPads, engage teachers as scientists
    - Apple Distinguished Educator - teacher rounds, group debrief
    - science coordinator, instructional coaches, Apple reps

We want more people in Peel to become Apple Distinguished Educators
    - we have 50 people show up to heard about it - it's a rigorous program
    - we also have a large number becoming Google certified, a large number becoming Microsoft certified
        - it makes a difference to teachers when they get professional development from a teacher
        - we want people in Peel so we have a built-in resource

Leaders vs Those Who Lead
    - you have to have a strong belief or a fire in your belly
    - we follow those who lead not for them but for ourselves
        - MLK - I have a dream.... not I have a plan
            http://www.apple.com/ca/education/real-stories/rdfz
    - we don't believe in 1:1 necessarily, because we believe collaboration is huge
    - we want teachers to be part of the creation, not just going from page 1-35