What’s that outside my window?

I was working at home yesterday with the window open as it was a beautiful Spring day. I needed to leave the study for some reason and so went to close the window. As I pulled the window shut I looked down, and to my great surprise saw that Jurassic Park had come to call. There on the ground, looking up at me, was a one metre long dinosaur! Of course it wasn’t really a dinosaur but a very large lizard.

GouldMonitor2 500 Of course once I saw the dinosaur I immediately forgot whatever I had been intending to do (I still can’t remember) and rushed to grab my camera. However by the time I had picked it up our visitor ws strolling round the corner of the house. I flew into the next room only to see that the lizard had walked under the “gate” where there was a narrow gap and into the fenced back yard area behind the house! An opportunity not to be missed, so I headed rapidly outside camera at the ready.

GouldMonitor3 500Numerous pictures later it was time to chivvy our visitor back out of the back yard. A lizard that size living in the back garden is not to be contemplated – too risky for us and him/her.

GouldMonitor1 500Our visitor, by the way, was a “racehorse goanna” so called because of their speed when they decide to leave in a hurry. Otherwise known as a “Gould’s monitor” Varanus gouldii.  I take delight, daily that I live in such an exciting place with spectacularly coloured birds, dinosaurs and kangaroos outside my window. Yesterday’s visitor will definitely find a space on the “Hart Calendar for 2014” that we make every year from pictures taken around the house and block.

 

Edublogs webinar overviews – Personal e-portfolio journey and a Serendipity session

Introduction

Once again this overview is for two webinars – a FineFocus and a Serendipity. Both sessions were lively and interactive with lots of sharing of ideas annd opinions.

E-portfolios for RPL – a personal journey

Our first FineFocus webinar for 2013 was about using an e-portfolio for Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL). This recorded session was about Phil Hart’s (@philhart) personal journey through the RPL process in gaining higher level vocational qualifications through recognition of his prior experience and learning rather than following a formal course.

Phil began the session with whiteboards to elicit some thoughts from the group on the what and when of e-portfolios.

The next part of the session was a brief consideration of the technologies that can be used in e-portfolio building, beginning with a whiteboard for ideas from participants and continuing with Phil’s own mix of tools (a website format) used to produce his Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) portfolios. This led on to a look at  the design objectives of the website and the portfolio structure used, including drilling down through units to performance criterion level.

Phil then discussed the assessment process (including the challenge test he completed with the assessors for authentication purposes) and lessons learned. Some of the lessons came out of his first portfolio and were applied in the second and third portfolios to give a more streamlined and focussed product.

This was a terrific session – I always find hearing about “personal journeys” fascinating! There were also lots of opportunities for interaction enabling all of us to share our own ideas and experiences of our own and/or student e-portfolios.

Serendipity

As always in Serendipity we began this recorded session with a whiteboard for topic ideas. These were flowing well giving us several topics to choose between in the poll. The topic selected was

“Why do so many students drop out of online courses? How to keep them motivated”

We started with a blank whiteboard focussing on the “why people drop out” side of the topic.

These ideas were developed and extended through discussion in text chat and audio. We then moved on to consider ideas for overcoming the risk of students dropping out. Again this started from a whiteboard and expanded from there into both audio and text chat discussion with many ideas around participative activities, ownership and community.

Conclusion

Two great sessions that provided massess of food for thought and reflection as well as many links and strategies. E-portfolios are always a topic of interest as there are probably as many variants as there are people building their own portfolios. Maintaining student motivation and reducing dropout from online courses is one of those issues that most of us are always keen to discuss in our constant search for ways to keep today’s learners energised.

Our Next Session

Our next Webinar is a FineFocus session. Join us for “Extraordinary Literacy Learning!” in to hear about how we delivered a pilot (funded by the Australian National Vocational E-Learning Strategy initiative – Partnerships for Participation) adult literacy course entirely online using virtual classroom, blogs and other e-tools. Join us on Thursday Jan 24th at 23:00 GMT/UTC the time for you will vary depending on your timezone (check yours here) Thursday afternoon/evening in the USA, late night Thursday in Europe, and Friday morning Jan 25th in Australia – in the usual Blackboard Collaborate virtual room.

 

Edublogs webinar overview – the Global Classroom project

Introduction

In this session, recorded as always, we heard from Michael Graffin about the variety of projects that have formed part of the “Global Classroom Project” (#GlobalClassroom) this year.

The Session

Michael took us on an incredible journey. He started with some background, firstly explaining how the Global Classroom came about and its reach both geographically and in numbers. Then moving on to the aims and ethos of the community.

For me the most exciting part was the project stories – Michael shared the project stories and some of the highlights of the year. We were lucky in that Lin-Lin Tan from Taiwan, one of the teachers involved in several projects was able to join the session. She told us a little about how the Global Classroom projects have affected her and her students.

Michael moved on to consider some of the impacts of Global Classroom on teachers and some lessons learnt. Finally he turned to the future with thoughts for next year’s #GlobalClassroom.

Conclusion

This was a fantastic session! Michael gave us a brilliant overview of Global Classroom and the projects. Chat was very lively throughout with many ideas shared and also links to many of the projects (thanks to Anne Mirtschin for her help in dropping links into chat). If you are looking to be both inspired and awe inspired then this is a MUST catch recording!

Next Webinar

Our next session will be an Edublogs “Serendipity” session on Thursday July 19th at 23:00 GMT/UTC (Afternoon/Evening USA) or Friday July 21st at 7am West Aus, mid morning Eastern States Aus depending on your timezone (check yours here) – in the usual BlackboardCollaborate room. This is one of our fortnightly unconference sessions where we invite you to bring along your “hot topics” and “burning issues” for our poll on the topic

Edublogs webinars – two overviews

Introduction

Despite my best intentions I didn’t succeed in doing the overview for our most recent FineFocus webinar. So this overview is of that “Sharing our Pecha Kuchas”webinar and the Serendipity session from the following week.

Sharing Pecha Kucha

This session, recorded as always, was great fun! Over the past few weeks we have talked several times about Pecha Kucha and this session consisted mainly of sharing three very different first attempts at  Pecha Kucha and then discussing the challenges and the way we had each approached the development.

The three sessions were “Mad About Maths” by @philhart, “The Gifted Tweet Family” by @jofrei and “About the Webinars” by myself.

These were totally different from one another in content, content purpose, style, and in the way we each approached the development. The recording is definitely worth catching

Serendipity – “personal hubs” could Symbaloo or others replace iGoogle?

This week’s topic in our recorded Serendipity webinar was generated by the news that Google is closing down iGoogle. This was at the front of my mind when we started the session and so I suggested the topic. The preliminary chat gave a consensus to talk about this and the possiblity of using Symbaloo or similar as an alternative.

We looked at Symbaloo through an AppShare and discussed its uses briefly, this led to a short exploration of Sqworl which is also a visual bookmarking tool. Definitely one to explore in the future! The discussion moved on and I shared my own personal iGoogle to illustrate the many feeds and other content that I draw together into one place. Because I have used iGoogle for several years to help me manage content, feeds and links (anywhere, anytime and anydevice) and I have so many things in one place I think it will be hard to find a replacement. Another possiblity suggested was Chrome, again probably worth exploring, but of no use for this purpose if you have to have the Chrome browser installed first.

I have seen other alternatives suggested although we didn’t look at these – they include MyYahoo, Netvibes and Pageflakes. I am currently exploring the first two of these but haven’t worked out how to get GoogleReader to feed in (if anyone knows please let me know how). When I tried to access the third of them I could not as it was too busy so I have abandoned that one!

Our Next Session

Our next Webinar is an Edublogs “Fine Focus” session where Michael Graffin  the Coordinator of The Global Classroom Project (#GlobalClassroom) will be sharing this year’s GlobalClassroom experiences. Join us on Thursday July 12th at 23:00 GMT/UTC the time for you will vary depending on your timezone (check yours here) Thursday afternoon/evening in the USA, late night Thursday in Europe, and Friday morning July 13th in Australia – in the usual Blackboard Collaborate virtual room.

Edublogs Serendipity webinar overview – a lucky dip!

Introduction

This was one of those sessions where we talked about several topics. As always the session was recorded and makes interesting listening. The consesus was to spend some time on each of several topics, these being: the vocational education system; online maths programs & making maths easy; and a quick chat about some iPad apps.

The Session

We used a whiteboard for each topic for a heading to help us maintain topic focus, but also to be available for ideas and sharing as needed. It was interesting that each of the topics was addressed differently in terms of the way we used BbC. This demonstrates well the capability of the platform as a learning space. The first topic (TAFE) was almost entirely discussed via audio and text chat. The second (online maths & making maths easy) made heavy use of the whiteboard for ideas and link sharing. Our third topic of iPad apps also used the whiteboard but to a much lesser extent mainly for sharing app names.

We were a small group – all Australian which  gave rise to one of the topics. Our public Vocational Education and Training system is currently the centre of much debate regarding funding. It is under pressure to compete for students with private trainers who do not have the same government imposed constraints – hence the heading of TAFE (Training and Further Education). I know I had far too much to say about this because it is my own sector and I care about it intensely! There were many comparisons to be drawn with other sectors and globally.

The maths topic – as is always the case with maths generated much activity. We had a whiteboard in two columns – for sharing links and ideas for making maths interesting. However so many links were shared that the second column was largely taken over by the first! If you access the recording and use the bottom scroll bar in it to scroll to about 3/4 of the way through you can access most of those links live from the whiteboard. These lead to a positive “treasure chest” of online maths!

Our final topic was a quick look, with short descriptions, at some of the apps that those of us with iPads have and find useful.

Conclusion

This was fun! As always (for me anyway) the great thing about our Serendipity sessions is that we never know where they will lead. Sessions where we range accross several topics are particularly interesting because of the diversity of information shared and views expressed.

Our Next Session

Our next Webinar is an Edublogs “Fine Focus” session.   Join us on Thursday May 31st at 23:00 GMT/UTC the time for you will vary depending on your timezone (check yours here) Thursday afternoon/evening in the USA, late night Thursday in Europe, and Friday morning June 1st in Australia – in the usual Blackboard Collaborate virtual room.

Are we setting them up to fail?

Introduction

Is giving students unrealistic expectations unfair & unreasonable? Are we setting them up to fail and failing to prepare them for the real world?

Education and the “real” world!

However much we, as educators believe with passion that education should be valued for its own sake surely that doesn’t mean that:

  • It ALL has to be easy and fun – the real world isn’t!
  • Every student is capable of achieving ANYTHING they want – life doesn’t give us everything we want and anyway sometimes there will be things we don’t have the capacity to achieve. In my view this is what “diversity” is about.
  • We should fail to consider the needs of the students in the future to function in society and the world of work.

The world is not a “nice” place that will pander to their every want or even to their desperate needs.

There are some things that will be unattainable. This is true for all of us & while I agree “man’s aim should exceed his grasp” I think this should be “but only just”. There are some things we have to learn to “get over”. Then get on with life in the knowledge that there are some things that we as an individual can’t do, just as there are some things we can do “better” than many others. Sometimes we can find an additional strategy to enably us to reach the unattainable but not always!

By way of illustration that everyone has some things that are impossible for some of us – I am a musical incompetent. I am semi-tone deaf, find keeping time extremely hard and consequently can’t dance, sing or appreciate what others see (sorry hear) in what is a fairly meaningless cacophany for me. As far as I am concerned it was far better to find this out young despite the angst it caused as a child to be “different” and singled out as a “growler”. The alternative now would probably be that I would be encouraged to feel that I could do anything and would be continually set up to fail in the name of increasing my self-esteem and not hurting my “precious” ego. The subsequent negative impact on myself and potentially on society of the inevitable self-realisation doesn’t really bear thinking about.

Differentiate the learning

My message in this is don’t try to tell all students they can do anything/everything! This just leads to disaster. Find out their strengths – celebrate and build on them. For example I have had a number of students over the years who were (in my professional opinion as an educator) not capable of developing critical thinking skills. Time to duck methinks – I see many bullets waiting to shoot me down in flames!  All of these students have had immense strengths in other areas. One was a brilliant natural horse rider, building an instant rapport with any horse she rode. Another was (so I’m told) an excellent musician.

I would certainly not deny students the opportunity to develop skills that in my professional judgement may beyond their capacity – I could be wrong (we will all be wrong in such judgements at times) and I always hope I will be wrong. However I believe strongly that I need to differentiate the learning. Many of the activities I use across three Certificate levels of Certificates in General Education for Adults are very similar for each level but are differentiated by the outcomes expected at each level.

Conclusion

In my opinion it is critical that I exercise my professional judgement on the potential capabilities of my students. I then need to apply this judgement to the development and utilisation of strategies that will enable my students to achieve to their full capacity.

Edublogs Serendipity webinar overview – applied learning

Introduction

This was one of those occasional sessions where I am writing the overview post from the recording  of this Serendipity session. I was laid low by a migraine! So Phil went “solo” doing a fantastic job as Moderator/Facilitator. On hearing the recording I was so sad to have missed this exciting session about something very close to my heart. The chosen topic in full was “Would teachers value professionals from the real world of work in the classroom to reinforce applied learning?”

The Session

This was a great session although for me as always when I listen to a recording rather than attend a virtual session of any sort it was somewhat frustrating! I kept wanting to type in text and on the whiteboard and trying to put up my virtual hand :).

The session started with a whiteboard of some initial thoughts. These included: clarification of the meaning of “applied learning” in this context; and some examples.

The first whiteboard  generated discussion that led to a second whiteboard about visiting experts – their presence or non-presence and their roles.

Again much more discussion took place with consideration of attracting learners into skill shortage areas, and reference to teaching for jobs that currently don’t exist through transferrable skills. This is a part where I so wanted to join in as I have a “bee in my bonnet” about transferrable skills and the need to teach generic rather than specific tool use, and of course critical thinking. Although I have a caveat on this because in my professional judgement not all students can learn critical thinking – we can’t all learn everything there are some things for each of us that we lack the capacity to learn! For me one of these is anything music related!

Conclusion

I really wish I had been there – I always hate to miss a session and in this one there were so many times when I wanted to join in! As a literacy/numeracy lecturer in Public Vocational Education (Australian TAFE) I am is a system that is based on experts from the real world of the industry or profession doing the teaching. However I often feel that the whole system focuses too much on industry expertise & not enough on the skills to facilitate learning. For me the use of team teaching and/or inclusion of guests still working in the industry is a great potential solution.

Our Next Session

Our next Webinar is an Edublogs “Fine Focus” session. “A Moderator Sandpit” In which we will discuss and “play with” BlackboardCollaborate from the Moderator perspective.  Join us on Thursday April 19th at 23:00 GMT/UTC the time for you will vary depending on your timezone (check yours here) Thursday afternoon/evening in the USA, late night Thursday in Europe, and Friday morning April 20th in Australia – in the usual Blackboard Collaborate virtual room.

Edublogs two webinar overviews!

Introduction

Firstly, my apologies for the delay in posting such that I have ended up doing a “two in one” post of the most recent Serendipity overview and link and our “Desert Island App/Tool” FineFocus session. I have been totally overwhelmed by work for the ELFADA project. As well as being in virtual class for over 20 hours last week I have been finalising and publishing posts on the course blog.

Serendipity 29/30 March

There were only three of us in this session, we chatted a while before starting to give others time to arrive, and with only three we didn’t do a poll we just chatted about education issues. The recording is thus only about 45 minutes. We ranged across a variety of topics including:

  • Use of the term “blended learning” and its perceived meaning. My personal feeling on this is that the frequent use of the term to refer only to delivery that includes face-to-face is now totally outdated.
  • The need for empathy with students and the frequency with which those who perform very well in job interviews are often unable to “walk the talk” effectively once in contact with students.

This was a great session – so nice to just chat about “edu” matters with others!

Desert Island Apps/Tools

This session, recorded as usual, arose from my continual quest for slightly different approaches to the webinars. I have noticed in the past that when we ask for “a” favourite anything even if we say JUST ONE we always end up with most people putting in a list of several! This led me down the pathway of wondering how to emphasise the “ONE”. I remembered a radio show from my childhood in the UK – “Desert Island Discs” – where guests chose the 8 records they would like to take if they were to be marooned on a desert island for the rest of their lives. They were also allowed to take only ONE book! So I used the marooned concept as a way to focus our minds on the one app/tool we felt we couldn’t live without.

We started by assuming that we had our device of choice, Internet connectivity and access to cloud-based apps/tools so that the focus was entirely on apps/tools that needed a download. Then we had a whiteboard for people to jot down a few of their favourites from which to choose that final one to take to our desert island and to talk about!

Once we had some ideas we discussed further – we thought that some of our “must haves” were browser accessible so perhaps we didn’t need an app/tool. The next step was for each of us to decide on our ONE app/tool and then for us to talk a little about it an why it was our choice. Probably the most ingenious idea was for “Java IDE” enabling the maroonee to build his own tools.

This session was fun! The desert island concept seemed to work in focussing minds on choosing just one tool, and I think we all got interesting insights into each other’s preferences. Definitely a format to repeat.

Next Webinar

Our next session will be an Edublogs “Serendipity” session on Thursday April 12th at 23:00 GMT/UTC (Afternoon/Evening USA) or Friday April 13th at 7am West Aus, mid morning Eastern States Aus depending on your timezone (check yours here) – in the usual BlackboardCollaborate room. This is one of our fortnightly unconference sessions where we invite you to bring along your “hot topics” and “burning issues” for our poll on the topic.

The demise of an icon – Goodbye EB in print!

Introduction

Many of those of us who are “booky” will have the Encyclopaedia Britannica as part of our childhood. Certainly in my case there was never even the possibilty of having it at home! The price would have been well outside the reach of my parents’ income. However I was lucky enough to attend a grammar school of very old foundation (Queen Elizabeth the first) in the UK and the old creaky library had two Britannicas one fairly old – one rather newer – ie only several years old.

As an 11 year old the EB seemed to contain all the knowledge I would ever need – I was both awestruck and awe inspired by so many volumes. Every time I opened one of those volumes it was a journey into adventure.

Why are we all so sad ?

Last week it seemed I couldn’t access Facebook, Twitter or the Internet in general without seeing a reference to sadness at the demise of a printed Britannica. I too felt sad! This made me explore the “why” in my own mind. I am definitely a “book” person of eclectic tastes – we have several thousand books which travelled half-way round the world with us when we moved from the UK to Australia. So there is at least one reason why I would be sad – loss of any printed book option is sad for me. However the comments I have seen and my own thoughts go beyond my normal response to loss of a print option.

The disappearance of print versions of many texts has been happening for quite a while but this seems something of a watershed for many of us. Perhaps (and I feel this is definitely so for me) this stems from reasons that are more to do with our “comfort zones” and the iconic nature of the EB than with its undoubted former value as a reference. I certainly feel that a childhood friend is lost to me forever – an over-reaction certainly! After all the print versions of the EB won’t simply vanish, there will just not be any new editions. I am sure that the EB will remain on many shelves for many years so that we can still access and savour the feeling of exploring a topic in a printed form. I know that his is something I do even though I have been fully aware for many years that much content in any large reference book is out of date well before it is printed.

The very fact that the content of a book once published is “cast in stone” has given us interesting opportunities to explore change in meaning, understanding and development of knowledge over time. Even as a child I often looked up a topic in both editions of the EB available to me in my school library (one about 30 years older than the other) and saw the changes in understanding and knowledge that were reflected there. I suspect that seeing these differences was fundamental in shaping both: my own awareness of the non-immutability of some “facts”; and my understanding that perceptions of events and information changes with time. In my opinion it is much harder in an online context to chart those perceptual differences as there is often no definitive change of edition – online material is often continuously updated in small increments. Finding previous versions can also be difficult as they may be deleted or overwritten. This is not to say that I don’t love being able to access vast amouts of information and soak up knowledge anywhere, anytime – I most definitely do. For me the Internet is a “magic carpet” and “open sesame” and I would never want to go back to having only printed books as information sources!

Conclusion

I count myself lucky that I now have a set of the EB! As a child I would have given much for this. A friend and colleague recently moved and was going to get rid of her set of Britannica – I couldn’t bear the thought of this and they now have a home with us. For myself this feels very much like the beginning of the end of an era. I am still sad at the loss of this particular printed text. I suspect I will be even sadder if/when the day comes when that other (for me) great institution as a reference text  the Oxford English Dictionary decides to be available online only!