Gluing it all together

If we lived in a perfect world, we could design a learning system that would do everything right the first time and serve us perfectly forever after. However, in such a world, we could never get to the system which tends to evolve in similar ways organisms evolve. New revs mutate and some mutations are more suitable to the current environment so they survive. That's how we got some of the best in Web2.0 design inspite of the mirriad of Web2.0 mutations that didn't make it. In other words, this evolutationary approach is a great metaphorical vehicle for technological progress.

PBL on YouTube

YouTube is obviously useful for more than just silly cat videos, it's a surprising source of information about student learning. Here's one that shows how students are personalising their learning at a US secondary school:
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZX1bv30rYIk&rel=1]

  • They offer another way of reading PBL - Project-Based Learning but it's still basically a technique for encouraging personal involvement of students in their learning and giving them increasing control over deciding what to learn. In other words, Personalised Learning.

Institutional courage for personalised learning?

Bradford college are involved in an interesting JISC sponsored project starting last year involving using ELGG and Moodle to set up a social network.

SpaCE-FD Project Website The proposal also seeks to establish a more seamless link between students, College tutors, and work-based mentors (WBMs), and to open up opportunities for greater collaboration in learning.

I was immediately impressed by the fact that the project aims and approach but also by the fact that it has a website with a blog. I'm planning to investigate the project more but a closer looked revealed that there is only one substantive Blog post at the moment, entitled 'Cannot trust students' (there are some more but those are just testing Live Writer):

Bruce Stafford :Cannot Trust Students: Blog Hi All, We have been informed by Tim, that the Bradford College's net policy regarding collaborative sites is restrictive for operational reasons. If students were given the right to create communities, it is felt that there would be a plethora of such, which could lead to server capacity problems. So we create our communities, and we invite the student into a community which corresponds to their study modules. Those students involved in a single community, could then communicate with each other within that community. Meanwhile, the Moodle site remains the main repository, from which the student downloads the course and module details, along with any learning materials on that subject.

The passage in bold reminded me of how often innovative technological efforts run into restrictive institutional policies from a different age. It is inconceivable that students could create so many groups that it would overwhelm the server! An Elgg group is just a few database entries so the worst thing that could happen is that students would upload large files that can be restricted in other ways. But even if that were the case, I would imagine that the college should be thrilled and run out to buy more servers with a song in their heart! Students have become engaged in the social aspects of their learning and they want to participate. What could be better? You cannot put a price on that!

There are several deeper questions here?

  • Can schools whose first instinct is a close flow of information down and protect privacy effectively support a social space where inappropriate happenings are inevitable? Are institutions willing to reduce their risk-avoidance strategies and deal with the consequences? I've been in a number of meetings that have descended into listings of nightmare scenarios of what could happen describing things that almost never happen. But are a few offensive postings enough to prevent the freedom of expression to a whole cohort of students?(*) But what of those inoffensive postings that are strange and non-learning related or extremely (even unjustifiably) critical of the institution itself? Again, listening to the learners' voice is not always pretty and doesn't always conform to our ideal scenarios of happy self-actualising learners. But aren't we responsible to them and to ourselves to hear what is being said even if we don't like it? All of this requires courage!
  • Should traditional IT departments maintain infrastructure and support innovation. These groups are generally understaffed and mis-qualified so their first instinct is to close things down with corporate closed-source technologies so that an external vendor is responsible for any outages and users have no scope to experiment with things and even break them. This goes against the Open Source agile development ethos of 'fail fast, fail cheap, fail often'. Experimentation and growth in technology requires failure along the way. But admitting failure at the end of a three-year project with massive investment into licences is much more difficult than after a few months of experimenting with a free and open-source platform! But institutional leadership often has to rely on the advice of the very people (IT managers) who it's tryign to supervise. So opening up policies may not be easy. Particularly since often IT departments have to justifiably rein in overenthusiastic managers. How do we provice a safe and creative space for experimentation in this context?

Student voice on personalisation

Here's a video made by City College Student Union about personalised learning:
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kBj8F9K-ldo&rel=1]
Two things are obvious:

  1. Students don't know the latest educational jargon
  2. Students are generally aware of their individual needs and feel schooling should respond to them

Questions to ask:

  • Are students always aware of what their 'real' needs are?
  • Are the scenarios in which educational institutions respond to student needs sufficiently fleshed out to support detailed policies?

"It's called MySpace for a reason": Formal and nonformal education in contact/flict

In a recent meeting somebody quoted a saying by a teacher: "It's called MySpace for a reason" meaning that students may not be particularly keen on inviting the teachers into their own social-networking world. However, on the other hand, a significant amount of non-formal learning takes place in these social environments. From my recent project proposal:

First look: Personalization and self-advocacy on Facebook, MySpace and Bebo

The social networks that students in Norwich are most likely to use are Facebook, Bebo or Myspace. I've recently heard someone suggest that the transition path for friend groups is Bebo > MySpace > Facebook but whether that applies here is an open question. Here's an excerpt from my Interim Report on this project:

Personalised learning and its kindred spirits

Personalised learning isn't a concept that stands alone in educational history or contemporary approaches. I've already mentioned its basic affinity with Rousseau's Emile but that is more a piece of trivia than anything else.

There are a few more substantial analogs that can be made:

  • Problem-based learning
  • Portfolio-based assessment
  • Distance learning
  • e-Learning/m-Learning
  • Self-directed learning/Learner-centered instruction
  • Montessori schools (and similar alternatives)

Personalised learning and centralised outcomes

It occurred to me from a recent conversation with an educator trying to implement elements of personalization that one of the biggest issues facing this idea is the dichotomy between learning that meets the personal needs of multiple students who are nevertheless working towards the same shared outcome that is then tested by

First impressions: Advocacy, student self-advocacy, special needs and personalised learning

My initial impression from looking at the literature on personalized learning is that there is no clear concept of what self-advocacy within personalized learning involves. First, the term self-advocacy if rarely used. There is talk of the student voice, consultation, etc. but not of self-advocacy.

It appears that the term self-advocacy is predominantly  linked to students with special needs (which includes both physical and learning disablities as well as gifted pupils). And in that context there is a very good definition available:

Where is the research on personalized learning?

After a brief look at the literature on personalized learning, I'm amazed at how little actual research there is into what happens when a PL programme is implemented. The vast majority of the literature is about setting trends and conceptualizing PL rather than investigating the ins and outs of the processes involved. This point was also made by David Collins in his introduction to a CEL publication called Leadership and the Learner Voice.

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