David Muir has been underwhelmed by what he saw of the new VLE in Glow. I have seen the pre-Glow version and would agree with much of what he says. But the VLE should not be the only tool that teachers use in the new 21st century classroom. Within Glow itself there is the chance for collaborative working within a Glow Group. The noticeboard can provide the overall direction of the team’s work plus any announcements or hints which the teacher wishes to give. There is space for document storage and there is a discussion page. Plus, because Glow is but a portal, different web parts can provide a view of blogs and wikis, picture galleries, video streaming and ordinary internet links and I am sure over time much more. The use of video conferencing which is really easy to use, once set up, will not only provide peer to peer networking to anywhere in the world but with some effort the addition of experts to the enhance the learning experience. Utopia!
Perhaps not. Because the students will only see real learning benefits when teachers take on a new mindset. The current mindset of too many teachers is to be the fount of knowledge, the controller of the learning space and the arbiter of right and wrong. The technology apart, this in itself goes against the idea of lifelong learning and the Curriculum for Excellence of independent learners. Like all things new, the new Web 2.0 technologies will take time to gain acceptance. CPD and In-service should not only concentrate on the technology itself but much more importantly on how it can be used to best benefit teaching and learning. For example, if blogs become the in-thing and are applied to every learning situation they will quickly become the new worksheet – boring. Pupils in secondary schools will go from class to class mindlessly writing blogs and probably copying posts from one another.
As an ex computing teacher I have tried to rethink how I would use some of the Web 2.0 technologies and other applications to teach the theoretical aspects of the subject. Firstly I would need to change from the idea of me teaching to them learning. Secondly what about the learning intentions? If my class is aiming for an SQA exam they must all acquire the same chunk of knowledge. Here I should point to The Scotsman newspaper of 13th June and the Soapbox article written by Prof Sir Graham Hills, former principal of Strathclyde University who largely refutes the idea of education as a body of knowledge underwritten by closed book exams, but prefers the idea of skills, particularly the generic skills of the Curriculum for Excellence. So looking to the future, I would conveniently forget about the SQA and concentrate on the skills of acquiring knowledge, presenting it to the class and evaluating the result. If my class really had to pass an SQA Standard Grade exam I would provide them with the glossary of 100 words needed to get a pass at General level.
So the task I set will be to demonstrate the Fetch Execute cycle, one of the fundamental processes of a computer. For anybody who actually wants to know what I mean, I refer you to Wikipedia or an excellent animation from Kelso High School. I won’t specify whether this is group work, classwork or homework but I give them only a week to complete it. What tools do they have presently available?
Powerpoint – the tool for the final presentation
MS Word – for text
Various drawing tools to create a series of images of the cycle
Various picture and video editing tools, either already installed on school computers or available free to download at home.
Digital cameras to make an animation???
Video camera – animation or get a group of pupils within the class to act out the cycle
Flash animation – a la Kelso above (various free flash animation tools available)
Web 1.0 – Google, Wikipedia, How Stuff Works etc., etc.
and that’s all without Web 2.0 but they could use
Podcast – for an audio explanation or an audio diary
Blog – to record progress
Wiki – to pull everything together
That leads me to question this methodology. If I present the class with all these tools for every small scrap of knowledge I want them to investigate, I can already hear the moans about not another presentation. I think perhaps I might take all the knowledge and understanding elements of the course and set them the task over several weeks to come up with a unified single presentation. I could then spend time going over with them some tips about all the tools and letting them practise with whatever materials they wanted to try out, perhaps keeping a blog as a record of learning.
This sounds a very non rigorous approach to learning, but I would insist that every aspect of their work had a proper reference to sources including their search terms. I would be certain to see real progress during class time so it was not just parental work and finally they would have a detailed assessment against predefined learning outcomes including the knowledge displayed as well as the presentation. Each pupil would undergo a peer assessment of how readily they were understood and how much their audience learned from the final presentation. Differentiation would come naturally as the academically poor pupil would produce a minimal piece of work while the truly gifted would produce a wide ranging presentation using a majority of the available tools. In general no two pieces would be the same and by watching each presentation and marking it, each pupil would gain knowledge and understanding.
So why would I bother with all this? Pupils would embed the rather dry and tedious parts of the syllabus without rote learning. They would learn to work on their own or collaboratively. They would learn presentation skills and they would have to be creative. They would all have something to be proud of and for most of them there would be a wiki showcasing their work.
Having said all this I now look forward with some trepidation to having holes picked in this post, but dare I hope that perhaps more real teachers will start to think differently about how their pupils might learn an existing syllabus.