28 September 2014

Using Data: Technology, Training, Time and Teamwork

As a fairly experienced educator, I was VERY shocked at the opening statement of Wayman & Stringfield’s (2006) article that student data is an “untapped resource in helping educators diagnose student learning needs.” I find it hard to believe that teachers do not use data to plan out teaching and learning, as “data use is central to the school improvement process” (Chrispeels 1992; Earl and Katz 2002 in Wayman & Stringfield, (2006)). Thinking more closely however, I thought of a few fundamental reasons why data may not be used or may not be used effectively; namely lack of access, lack of time, and lack of training.

One of the major components to why data is not used or is used but perhaps inefficiently, is due to the way it is stored and accessed. Historically, data has been collected, but storage systems effectively rendered that data “inaccessible to most practitioners” (Wayman & Stringfield, 2006) which can only “frustrate flexible analyses” (Stringfield et al. 2001). If there is no systematic way of finding or storing information with access for all stakeholders, data becomes useless. Indeed, in Wayman & Stringfield’s (2006) study of effective uses of data on improving teaching and learning, those involved stated that “user friendliness, system speed and updates, timely data, and longitudinal data” (Wayman & Stringfield, 2006) had a positive impact on their ability to access and use data effectively.

Another reason for the lack of use of data may be due to there being no guidelines or even programme to be used as standard. If you are (un)lucky enough to work in a school that provides no standard facility, there is an “increasing number of computer systems” (Wayman & Stringfield, 2006) providing many options to record this essential data and developed solely for “the purpose of efficiently delivering student data to educators” (Wayman & Stringfield, 2006). Whilst there are now many “computer systems with user-friendly interfaces that allow rapid, easy access to student data for teachers and other educational professionals” (Wayman et al. 2004 in (Wayman & Stringfield, 2006), having the time to learn them on top of everything else we have to do as classroom teachers, is a hard call. But one we have to make and all the more reason that teachers need to find ways that work for them.

Linked to the time factor is another problem I have encountered in terms of “longevity” of systems – initiatives are often introduced but are not given adequate time to be implemented and utilised effectively. Many schools “move quickly in implementing these systems without providing adequate professional development for principal and teacher skill building” (Wayman & Stringfield, 2006). To be effective, there needs to be a “seamless partnership between technology and curriculum” (Wayman & Stringfield, 2006) where teachers, faculty, principals, and districts “work together over time in order to build trust that sustains open and critical conversation” (Jackson & Davis, 2000) about data and assessment, and it is essential that “everyone in the school community [must be] involved in looking at student and teacher work” (Jackson & Davis, 2000). Equal to this is enough time to learn, implement, study and use the data; one factor in the success of using technology based data to improve planning and development specifically cited the necessity of being provided “time during the work week to examine and learn from student data.” (Wayman & Stringfield, 2006). This meant teachers were “better able to tailor instruction because they had more specific information” (Wayman & Stringfield, 2006) as well as the time to do so.

Finally, collaboration with other teachers is essential in discovering “patterns for student performance, [to provide] a better, more well-rounded understanding of what a student’s capable of” (Wayman & Stringfield, 2006). Wayman 2005; Wayman et al. (2004) found that “the most effective application of data use is to involve all teachers on a faculty” as well as emphasis on using “multiple sources of data in an effort to gain a whole picture” (Wayman & Stringfield, 2006). Overall, data can be used effectively to improve teaching and learning with technology along with adequate time, training and teamwork.

Wayman, J. C., & Stringfield, S. (2006). Technology-Supported Involvement of Entire Faculties in Examination of Student Data for Instructional Improvement. American Journal of Education , 112 .

Stringfield, S., Reynolds, D., & Schaffer, E. (2001). Fifth-Year Results from the High Reliability Schools Project. International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement. Toronto.

Jackson, A., & Davis, G. (2000). Looking Collaboratively at Student and Teacher Work. Turning Points 2000: Educating Adolescents in the 21st Century , 24 (25), 1-31.

22 September 2014

Language and Imagery to Introduce: A New School Year

"The educational system is moving with monolithic slowness in this [visual literacy] area, still persisting in an emphasis on the verbal mode to the exclusion of the rest of the human sensorium and with little sensitivity, if any, to the overwhelmingly visual character of the child's learning experience." D. Dondis. (1973) A primer of visual literacy. Cambridge: MIT Press
We have just arrived in another new country to start a new life and work in a new school (see Global Living and Connection). Due to Visa rules and restrictions, I am unable to start work until next term, which gives me more time to sign up to complete TWO modules of my Masters in Education. I must say, to a learning junkie like myself, the idea of studying 'full time' over the next few months is really appealing.
My Masters focuses on technology in the classroom and this semester, I will be studying how to use technology for instructional improvement - using tech for AfL essentially - as well as using synchronous, asynchronous, and multimedia technologies, which will complement my new role as Project Manager of Global Youth Debates (see my post, Is PowerPoint Evil? for first thoughts about multi-media technologies).

As is usual, the first week of each new module usually involves some type of introduction - but what I like about the tasks in these particular modules, is the use of both visuals and texts to convey this information. The introductory tasks are ones that could easily be used in the first weeks of a new school year in any classroom - with or without technology. The task requires interaction and collaboration, which is essential in establishing effective communication and relationships in the early days of classes.

To address the "monolithic slowness" of educational dogma in exploring visual literacy, here is an idea for kicking off your new year in a visual way - perfect for all learners whatever their language abilities.


1) Ask learners to introduce themselves using only (10) images. The aim is to present a clearly rounded 'image' of who they are using only visuals.
2) Provide some guidelines on the kind and amount of images to include (you could also introduce the concept of referencing or use of Creative Commons here), e.g.:
 Include an image of:

         a) where you were born/the country you were born
         b) where you consider home/where you live now
         c) your favourite food
         d) your favourite book
         e) your favourite film (this list of favourites is endless, depending on culture of class you can include football team, car, colour, animal, video game, music etc.)
         f) your hero/someone you admire
         g) a traditional food from your 'home'
         h) your favourite place to be
         i) the most interesting place you have ever been
         j) an image that sums 'you' up

        Do not include any images of yourself or your family that may help others recognise you.

Depending on the ability and age of your group, leave the prompts as open or prescriptive as you deem appropriate; native speaking older learners could interpret a) in an abstract or concrete way, whereas additional language learners may need to include each image in the order of the list you provide, to help with the next part.

Depending on access to technology, this could be completed in class or at home; provide lots of choice and options - images can be from the Internet, cut out of magazines, hand-drawn, photographs etc.

3) Arrange images together to present 'you'. This should be randomly or in a prescribed order dependent on the needs of the class.

4) Collect all completed sets of images and distribute (the teacher should determine how this is best executes according to the needs of the class).

5) Ask learners to interpret the images and create a paragraph/short speech about the person presented through them. Some scaffolding might be required here, depending on the class. Extend more able learners by asking them to create a 'story' or description, rather than stating simple facts, e.g.
"My initial response to the images portraying NAME is one of motion and flux; all the images depict movement and are dynamic and exciting. I see NAME as an energetic person who brings life and dynamism. 
Unlike Gambit, he hails from and resides in the East, but the fried chicken that fuels his quest to figure out how things work hints at more southern, Louisianan tastes - at least in foods and heroes. He is interested in (some may say obsessed by) space, the universe and kinetic energy; he believes we should fulfill our roles as energetic beings and wants to retire to the cosmos and live out his days as a stellar being - which, I suspect, he actually already is."
You can work as much on language skills here as is required or leave it loose, as a simple ice-breaking exercise.

6) Ask learners to share their thoughts/paragraphs about each set of images before revealing who is who.

7) Finally, ask them to respond to the accuracy of the interpretations and lead into a discussion about images and representation; talk about how things could have been different, what they may change, what surprised them, the limitations or freedom of using images in showing who they are etc.

19 September 2014

Is PowerPoint Evil?

In exploring the role visual literacy plays in education, the ubiquitous PowerPoint must be examined. According to Ian Parker (2001) PowerPoint "can be found on two hundred and fifty million computers around the world", and "Microsoft estimates, at least thirty million PowerPoint presentations are made every day". We cannot get away from it as teachers, learners, or managers all are far too aware - and Edward Tuft (2003) goes so far as to suggest that it is in fact 'evil', that "Power corrupts. PowerPoint Corrupts Absolutely".

I would like to think that a software programme, originally developed to allow "the content-originator to control the presentation" (Bob Gaskins, 1984) cannot be inherently evil. I would posit that it is the users who are 'evil' (if anyone has to be in this story) in regards the fact that visual literacy is not being taught as a prerequisite skill in giving presentations. It is wrong to assume that people can do the jobs that designers do - simply inventing PowerPoint to avoid the middle-men designers, doesn't then also provide the skills to the lay-person to create these presentations effectively, it only gives them the tool.

The problem lies with visual literacy not with PowerPoint. When it comes to teaching presentation skills, educators must not only address the content and style of the language, but also the 'presentation' of the non-language features, which are equally important in telling a 'story', be it pitching an idea or providing information. Less is definitely more - we see our learners animating every word, letter even, using every possible transition, colour and font available, as demonstrated in the "The Worst Preso Ever" created by Mitch Champagne (2014). He says that he co-creates one of these at the start of every year to help his class get all their bad habits, errors of understanding etc., out of the way at the beginning. He states that "it definitely helps them. As we "make mistakes" together, they all learn from them". We need to be fully aware that the presentation is there for a purpose, which is as a visual aid to our speech and that "audience boredom is usually a content failure, not a decoration failure" (Tuft, 2003). 

There are many positives to the use of PowerPoint (or the many different slide show tools available) particularly for learners as it has to be thought out and created. Rather than meaning there is any loss of spontaneity, as suggested by Professor Cliford Nass of Stanford Univeristy (Parker, 2001) it actually means there has been a process, and that the presenter is "not thinking about his or her material for the very first time" (Parker, 2001). This preparation also requires learners (presenters) to put thought into the order of their points, and according to Steven Pinker, author of "The Language Instinct" and a psychology professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, "makes the logical structure of an argument more transparent",  which helps student grasp argumentative discourse. Presentations also help visual learners absorb information - and of course, images can be very powerful if done in an effective manner (where the 'power' comes from after all).

The problems come not only aesthetically, but when they cease to be the visual aid they were intended to be in terms of supporting the actual words, and they instead, become the actual focus. As Tuft (2003) states, "presentations largely stand or fall on the quality, relevance, and integrity of the content". Educating learners in basics about design skills, as we might when it comes to web or blog design, is crucial at an early age. Providing plenty of positive examples is also key, as educators must also realise these essential points about effective presentation.

Champagne, M. [MitchChampagne]. (2014, September 17). My students love it! We make our own every year, right about now, to get all our silly & tacky mistakes out of the way! [Tweet]. Retrieved September 18, 2014 from https://twitter.com/MitchChampagne.

Champagne, M. (n.d.). The Worst Preso Ever. Retrieved September 17, 2014, from https://docs.google.com/a/mrshollyenglish.com/presentation/d/1MaC6BGDHrUSK6KNklvK24aBVnekYdiUzQVUjknUOaeo/edit#slide=id.p

Parker, I. (2001, May 28). Absolute Powerpoint. Retrieved September 18, 2014, from http://www.physics.ohio-state.edu/~wilkins/group/powerpt.html.

Tuft, E. (2003, September 1). PowerPoint Is Evil. Retrieved September 19, 2014, from http://archive.wired.com/wired/archive/11.09/ppt2.html

16 September 2014

Real Life Learning: Global Opportunities

Working internationally for the past seven years has allowed me the opportunity to meet people from all over the world. This has helped me to be open to new ideas, beliefs and cultures, as well as ways of thinking, seeing, and perceiving the world. Studying my MEd online with a global cohort has also opened my eyes to the fact that many countries are still very insular about their approach to education in terms of pedagogy as well as content. We simply cannot afford to be this way if, as many schools nowadays suggest, we are offering our learners a 'top class education'.

On today's digital planet, a world class education means we must prepare learners for what the world is now, for life both off and online - that means we must expose them to a daily routine that requires skills in managing devices, accounts and netiquette. If we do not provide learners with the opportunity to organise themselves effectively and appropriately using technology, we are not preparing them for what their true working life is going to entail. 

One way we can help expose learners to how life will be once they leave the protective yet unrealistic 'walled gardens' some schools create, is through online projects. These projects provide the opportunity to learn essential twenty first century skills, collaborate online, meet other learners from around the world and realise that business sometime has to be conducted asyncronously due to time zone differences.

I Project Manage one of Julie Lindsay's Flat Connection projects, Global Youth Debate (formerly Eracism). This exciting project joins schools across the globe and provides essential skills in:
  • research
  • collaboration, and 
  • communication
Debating hot topics asynchronously, teams share resources via Diigo and foster discussion on Edmodo, then battle it out via Voicethread for a place in the final. It provides a chance to use web 2.0 tools to develop a wider global perspective of the planet we all live on; it provides an insight into different cultures and beliefs, and this year's theme is all too relevant - Global Peace and Security. Our topic up for debate is: 
Revolution is a justifiable means to global peace and security
Whilst not every school can travel to new countries in a face-to-face capacity, any school with access to computers and the Internet can flatten their classroom walls and enrich the learning experience of their students. Global Youth Debates allows learners a valuable connection and insight into their peers' lives on a world-wide scale - without having the expense of travel. As a team, we are also here to provide lots of training and support for teachers and their learners in taking these steps into the future of learning. Click HERE to have a look at last year's debate to give you more idea about how the projects operate.

Global Youth Debates is open to all schools and learners aged 10-18. Sign up is open from now through September for debating to commence in October. More information about this year's Global Youth Debate can be found on the website and teachers should read this guide for more information.

If you think your school would be interested, please contact me, +Julie Lindsay or visit the contact page to ask a question. Alternatively, you can email globaldebate@flatconnections.com, or go right ahead and sign up.

Follow the project on Twitter @DebateGlobal or Facebook.

Read more about this and other #FlatConnect Global Projects for all age groups HERE.

10 September 2014

Assistive Technology to Support Writing

I spoke at the Google Summit KL in 2013 about tech that enhances the reading and writing process. One of the apps I shared, Ginger, was one that I had been using as an assistive technology with a targeted number of learners who particularly struggle with spelling or who are dyslexic.

Whilst there are in-built spell checkers in a lot of word processing systems, Ginger differs because it
...analyzes the context of an entire sentence, and its corrections conform to the writer’s intended message. This method is especially successful for dyslexic students who often confuse words which sound the same but are spelled differently. 
Ginger is more sophisticated and identifies homophones, which helps many EAL/ESL learners too. In addition, rather than being isolated to one system, it highlights words in all online writing - including Blogger, email, Twitter etc.  Areas that need attention are highlighted and suggestions can be accepted or declined.

In readiness for IOS8, you can sign up for the new keyboard app HERE, available from the App Store. You can also visit the GingerSoftware site to download the app onto your computer or add the extension to your browser.