Evaluating Coursera for Blended and Online Learning (Part 1)

Evaluating Coursera for Blended and Online Learning (Part 1)

Adjusting back to the heat of Milan in August is taking a little time for the family and this means broken sleep all round. Add a fantastic thundstorm right overhead at 3am and you have the perfect recipe for an early start to your day!

Inspired by some of my notes from reading Jay Ashcroft’s The Tablet Revolution (see review) I decided to investigate alternative MOOC platforms to iTunesU. I love iTunesU but the iOS app is a far superior experience than a student gets using iTunes on a MacBook. I flitted between Coursera and Udemy for a while not really finding a suitable course for comparison before stumbling upon an old article related to e-Learning: Most Popular Online Courses for eLearning Professionals. It seemed familiar and my Evernote concurred that I’d been here before.

While many of the courses listed are now long gone I found that Georgia Tech had just begun running a course titled K12 Blended and Online Learning. I decided enrolling would be useful on two fronts:

  1. Allow me to evaluate the Coursera platform
  2. Further my own professional development in the area of blended learning

Week one concentrates on the standards and documents from iNACOL. For anyone interested in deepening their understanding  of blended learning I highly recommend visiting their site. Of course Georgia Tech have linked all the required reading into their MOOC for you.


The instructional videos were clear, less than 8mins each in length and punctuated with short multiple choice quizzes. I do however wonder if Coursera allows different types of questioning similar to EdPuzzle (which I love). The iOS app reminded me of iTunesU a little, especially the ability to download videos for offline viewing.


I do wonder what the extra space is for in the video player… Might have been nice to have a transcript here.


I realise that students might be accessing Coursera on their MacBook so their experience will probably be different.

I completed the pre-assessment you can see linked in the screenshot earlier and found it very useful in helping to focus my targets. I’m comfortable with policy, online tools and classroom teaching, but want to delve deeper into intervention strategies that will enhance the learning of my online students. As the pre-assessment was a spreadsheet (also a PDF option) I would have liked the ability to upload an image or type some notes to myself and link it to my current stage in the course. I couldn’t find a way of doing this outside of the discussion forums so will have to rely on Evernote instead. On reflection it is probably good to have my notes outside of my MOOC, just in case.

Supplemental information appears to be text-only with hyperlinks and this is fine. One of the pages had embedded PDF and XLSX files that opened in Coursera’s own browser. Clicking on a world icon then opened it in Safari so documents could then be opened in other applications or saved. It would have been nice to select between Safari and Chrome as the default.

The discussion forums were basic but easy to navigate. Nothing I’d want to add there, there’s a reply and an upvote button for each post. Not sure how you are notified of new posts but will find out soon I hope!

In summary this is a good start. I’ve not tried creating a unit in Coursera yet but as a user I’m finding it easy to learn and navigate. I’m also enjoying the course and picking up new tips along the way which I intend to share with you, dear reader, in another instalment.

#RGCdevicetrial staff drop-in sessions

We are just shy of 3 weeks from the end of the #RGCdevicetrial and I realised I haven’t yet blogged about the weekly staff drop-in sessions. Every week since early March most staff involved in trialing the devices have given up roughly 45 minutes of their afternoon to talk about their experiences, try out other devices and get troubleshooting help for theirs. Every week @stefanhorsman sends the invite to all staff and every week the attendees and questions have been different. In short, it has been a really great thing to do.

This afternoon we met in the Junior School. I love this venue as it already has the WiFi network coveted by the rest of the campus and, as the drop-in session is hosted in one of the device trialist’s classrooms, we have an Apple TV permanently connected so those experimenting with Macbooks, iPads or Windows 8 tabtops (and Air Parrot) can try wireless projection as well as the devices themselves. In addition the room layout lends itself well to both round-table discussion and informal groupings.

The sessions themselves are organic – there is no agenda apart from to experience the devices and take the opportunity to ask questions. People are welcome to arrive late and leave whenever they like. Today we even welcomed our first pupil who was very quick to explain to her (teacher) mother why they really needed an Apple TV at home!

I’ve blogged already about my experiences with the iPad and Kindle Fire (which I’ve been allowed to keep for a week in return for the Dell XPS tablet – I think I got the better deal there!) but has been really interesting to talk to staff and address misconceptions on cost of devices. Most of the time it is assumed that the Apple products are the most expensive (true for the Macbook Air, but not the iPads), the Kindle is the cheapest (ok, by FAR the cheapest) and the Windows products are somewhere close to £300 as “that’s what normal laptops cost”. When I explain that, bar the Macbook each of the Windows 8 / RT devices in our trial are at the top end of the price list, jaws drop.

Today I explained this as I attempted to reinstate the touchscreen on one of the Samsung ATIV Smart PCs: a touchscreen device that allows you to turn off the touchscreen! Not only does it make very little sense, the process is hugely convoluted and therefore difficult for users to remember – meaning troubleshooting at best takes time and at worst requires a visit to IT support and then a longer wait without the device. The Windows devices also need two batch files I created to set up the IPv4 Internet settings correctly for home (or any DHCP network) and school (static IP and DNS servers) use [if these would be useful to you, connect with me on Twitter and ask].

The more I experience the Windows 8 / RT machines the stronger my belief that we should move away from devices where users cannot customise without navigating screens of administrative features that are not linked, grouped or even described particularly well. I don’t think a tenfold increase in the apps available for these devices would matter either: for learning and teaching we have 40 or 80 minutes where our lessons need to be pacey, varied, stimulating and above all educational. It’s hard to do that when the teacher has their head in a user guide because an incorrect keyboard combination or tap shuts down the core functionality of the device.

 

CPD 2011-12 Summary

With one week to go until school session 2012-13 I thought I should summarise and categorise my CPD blog posts this year. I think, to be honest, that I should have posted much more about my offline reading and twitter conversations but I struggled to fix on a method for sharing my thoughts. However I set out to make an impact at my new school and to push for changes which would benefit my learners and I achieved this with a lot of help and support from local and international colleagues so THANK YOU for your tweets, emails, discussions and blog posts: I owe you a coffee when we meet in person!

Please click on the link to CPD 2011-12 to see a summary list of all my blog posts against my initial CPD plans. Also please feel free to post a comment linking to your own CPD reflection or pass on tips of how to nail those targets every time!

Improving learner-teacher dialogue using Edmodo

On Friday afternoon I heard some great news. My school is to extend the trial of Edmodo until Christmas, allowing other teachers in my department to experiment with using Edmodo to positively impact their learning and teaching. This may prove to be the beginning of a big change in whole school policy as, up until now, use of external websites was limited to passive teaching resources such as YouTube and Prezi – only teachers were allowed access.

As part of the approval process I wrote a report on how my Higher Computing class made use of Edmodo in their classwork, homework and preparation for assessment. I was able to answer the concerns of the school’s IT manager with regard to data protection and responsible use. I’ve embedded the document below for anyone else who is interested in investigating Edmodo further.


If the extended trial proves successful Edmodo could become the main resource for allowing external access to pupil resources and, most importantly, providing learners with a permanent record of their knowledge development in a place where it is much less likely to be lost or damaged. Learner-teacher dialogue can be referenced and revisited; gaps in knowledge due to absence could be filled; knowledge could be pulled from the class group rather than pushed. I intend to share my experiences in using Edmodo with my colleagues and blog readers in the coming months.

I’m excited about the possibilities but know Edmodo is not a magic bullet. As part of my research into how Edmodo is used worldwide I set up a Twitter search via TweetyMail and received hourly summaries peppered with disillusioned, confused and angry students who were being forced to use the service simply because it was there, not because it enhanced the classroom experience. I can see the benefits of opening classroom discussion with carefully crafted questions on Edmodo, where every learner has the opportunity to contribute not just the one who thinks fastest. However I can also see the potential for misuse by the minority who want to use Edmodo to keep their classes quiet or too busy to realise that their needs are not being met. It needs to be used in a carefully considered way where it should enhance the learning and teaching of all students in the classroom, but teachers also need to bear in mind that it offers the advantage of being able to hold a 1:1 discussion over a long period of time. The teacher has to make time to read the comments and adapt their usual classroom practice to best serve their learners.

So, in short, it offers the opportunity to deliver a flipped classroom model of education. I’ll investigate this further in future blog posts.

TeachMeet Aberdeen October 2011

On Wednesday evening I once again found myself at MacRobert Building, University of Aberdeen six months on from the last one organised primarily by Stuart Brown. The wikispace advertising the TeachMeet can be found here and, in addition to this, Stuart made use of social media to extend the reach of the promotional material. This approach, along with the assistance of Jim and Linda at the University in selecting the optimum date for engaging PGDE and BEd students, resulted in over 60 attending the evening. At times the online stream had viewers into double figures but we were beset with technical issues, most disruptive was the lack of constant wifi and this seriously hampered our online impact as well as preventing the planned link up with TeachMeet Strathclyde. However the evening could be considered a success and as we were able to record most of the presentations on the laptop I hope we can – in time – share the talks with a wider audience.

To whet your appetite, here is a YouTube playlist of the May 2011 TeachMeet Aberdeen presentations.

When I find the time to edit and upload the individual presentations to YouTube I’ll update this post but I’ve included my notes on each presentation and relevant links to the web sites mentioned.

Stuart Brown – “Why de ye bother with aww that?’ – Justifying the use of ICT in the classroom

Stuart Brown: "the way we communicate is changing"

I felt this was an excellent start to the night. Stuart highlighted the fact that 19C teaching methods and environments are not suited to 21C learning. That most pupils have access to instantaneous information using devices which are often more technologically advanced than the computers and resources available in school puts today’s teachers at a disadvantage. I agreed (through gritted teeth as I recognised the phrase “don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater” from many unfocussed, confused presentations on implementation of Curriculum for Excellence) with Stuart on the need for all teachers to adapt, not rebuild to ensure that we are serving our learners sufficiently. I recommend you watch Stuart’s last TeachMeet talk (May 2011) which is a stepping stone to this presentation.

I loved the phrase Stuart used in the presentation “to stratify education” – but felt it needed explanation. Internet searches show this to be standarisation of education or use of standard tests and tracking methods.

Ian Simpson – “Becoming Orson: Podcasting the War of The Worlds”

I did this so I won’t comment for long on the actual presentation. On reflection this talk was a little early, my lunchtime podcasting group had only been working on this for about 5 weeks (30-40mins per week) and despite their excellent progress there was little evidence to share with the teachers present. However it was a good starting point for a future presentation (maybe TeachMeet Aberdeen October 2012?) on how these learners have self-organised themselves into an amateur radio drama production group. After working with them the day after the presentation and seeing how they continued to innovate and collaborate with the newly-arrived high quality microphones I have high hopes of achieving our ambitious target to have recorded and shared the full radio play by next October. Follow the progress via this blog or my twitter stream @familysimpson.

In addition Dave Adams, DO Curriculum and Quality Improvement Service for South Lanarkshire, got in touch in September and kindly sent his ideas based around the 1938 Orson Welles War of The Worlds radio play for CBS. I’ve emailed Dave to see if these lesson ideas are publicly available and will update the links section if this is the case.

Nikki Stobbie – Random Name Generator

Nikki Stobbie describes how she uses classtools.net with her classes

A presentation from a press-ganged student! Nikki showed us http://www.classtools.net and, in particular, the random name generator. Great resource to use in class and a great 2 minute presentation!

Mark Hay – ‎”Look what I did…” E-Portfolio’s using glow wiki

I didn’t see this presentation as I had to run to the shop for supplies but will update once I’ve extracted the presentation from the video clips currently sitting on my laptop.

Martin Coutts – “Maths is just a game”  – Using GBL to raise attainment

Martin showed how he used Mangahigh with an Access 3 / Foundation class to improve their motivation and attainment. Pupils were taught maths through combination of games and Prodigi technique. Competitive aspect through bronze, silver and gold and school leaderboard. Martin especially recommends sigma prime.

Kathryn Roper – “GeoBus – A mobile Earth Science Resource”

GeoBus: based at St Andrews University but a national funded resource for secondary schools (or P7 at a push). Kathryn seems very passionate about Earth Science and claims to be able to develop activities to suit your curricular area.

GeoBus launches January 2012 but those interested can get in touch with Kathryn now via kathryn.roper@mac.com

Gretchen Perk exemplified how she uses the Frayer model to enhance literacy

Gretchen Perk – “Frayer Model in Literacy”

Meldrum Academy English teacher Gretchen spoke about the Frayer Model which is a “vocab aquisition graphic builder”. She found it great for more effective learning of keywords through use of higher order skills such as analysis and synthesis. I personally found the use of non-examples especially useful. Gretchen highlighted the fact that it is a good teaching strategy for all subjects I’m already thinking about how to use this with Computing classes.

Charlie Barrow – An outward facing classroom using Augmented Reality – Junaio

Charlie repeated his May 11 talk on using augmented reality in the classroom but wanted to inspire teachers to build an Aberdeenshire channel for augmented reality. I’ve included the video of his presentation from May and hope to be working with him in the future on his vision for an Aberdeenshire channel.

More information on his own use of augmented reality in the classroom can be found at http://www.charlesbarrow.com

Stephanie Orr – Medieval Law and Order

Stephanie gave a quick 2-min presentation on using games in class to motivate and educate by stealth. http://www.tudorbritain.org/joust

Ed Walton – Fusion, Meta-cognition and The Learning Story

Presentation written during teachmeet! Ed shared how Fraserburgh Academy used Glow effectively to dissemenate work to pupils unable to attend school during snowdays. Three themes; fusion, meta-cognition And the learning story. Ed showed snow work posted for AH on glow featuring embedded prezis for self-directed learning, stagework.org which allows users to be the director for a scene from His Dark Materials. It looked fantastic! Ed showed Comic Life which he has used with classes and whole-school assemblies to explain meta-cognition. Finally Ed explained how Fraserburgh Academy has been using Honeycomb / I Can as a trial school to build an ePortfolio which remains with the child as they progress from primary through secondary. I was interested to note that because data is stored on a separate server from Glow there is no upload limit so videos and large image files can be posted. To be honest the presentation was actually 3 or 4 but there was lots of useful information.

Darren Gibb describes how he uses a variety of ICT tools to enhance learning and teaching in the English classroom

Darren Gibb – ICT teaching and learning tools

The last talk of the night was delivered by Darren Gibb, teacher of English at Banchory Academy. He exemplified many ICT tools that has augmented his learning and teaching. Again the audience was treated to a suite of presentations on different services from Todaysmeet to Evernote, Wikispaces to Glow.

The coffee shop as a classroom: mobile learning environments

Image shared under Creative Commons licence - Kate Williams

I like coffee. No – let me rephrase that – I LOVE coffee. It plays a big part in my teaching – at times providing a versatile prop for explaining the difference between an object and operation, at others simply providing the nervous energy to keep the learners learning. (I’ve been re-reading #MoveMeOn, curated by Doug Belshaw @dajbelshaw. thanks to @frankcrawford for that particular gem!)

I managed to clear my desk on Thursday earlier than planned so took the opportunity to walk around the three shopping malls near my new workplace. Not just to kill time (heaven forbid Mr McCormac!), I wanted to expand an ongoing series of lessons on data protection and loyalty schemes I had delivered to my S4 ICT class earlier in the term and me having an up-to-date knowledge of the businesses in the local area was a pre-requisite. It didn’t take long to complete what I needed to do (UK shopping malls or shopping centres are much smaller than in the US with perhaps 20-40 stores, some smaller) so I had a quick stop at the Apple store in Aberdeen to eavesdrop of a group of six pensioners who were being shown how to use their brand new iPads then started my lunch break at the nearby Starbucks with a crème brulee macchiatto and a quick refresh of my social media sites on their free wi-fi.

It was a lot busier than usual – I had, in the past, only used this particular Starbucks as a go-to when late afternoon trains were cancelled and I had an hour or so to kill before the next one – but I found a small table with plenty of scope for people-watching. The coffee-house furniture is a mixture of hard back chairs and small “regular” tables, sofa chairs and low tables, benches and long tables, stools and narrow bars. Students, parents, office workers and transients like myself sat and chatted, read quietly, enjoyed their purchases and from time-to-time accessed their devices if they had them and if they needed to. A few of my Advanced Higher Computing students had had a similar idea to my own, joined me at my table (they asked first!) and then… we had a fantastic unplanned seminar on what had been taught over the past few weeks, about mobile apps, about Steve Jobs, about programming, about social media,  and then finally about learning spaces! During this enthralling conversation (I think we all learned a lot in this half-hour) one asked why schools didn’t create spaces like this and I saw immediately what he meant because it had been percolating in my head at that moment too. Why can’t we all have learning rooms where the furniture offers visitors choice of working areas, where the wireless Internet access is a background consideration that “just works with a quick log-in”, where there isn’t a designated space for the teacher to lecture from, where learning becomes personalised? All three of us had mobile devices on the table between the cups and plates and augmented our conversation with these when we needed to: I showed them Twitter for example and explained why it was such a great resource for me to make contact with others who share similar interests. I posted this tweet:

Coffee chains have undoubtedly studied the effect of their environment on their customers from a financial point of view and have generally come to the conclusion that a varied, customisable, slightly eclectic environment is the worm that keeps us on the hook. So who is doing this for education? There are educators in each authority, in roles from classroom to management, who are striving to find the best furniture or layout for existing classrooms. Most of us tend to tinker with our rooms if we can. But if you’ll indulge the point of view of a Computing teacher for a moment (well you’ve got this far!) this may be the problem – moving the furniture in any space which has been built to deliver the Victorian model of education has inherent restrictions but when you also have electrical equipment, cables and power sockets to worry about you really can’t change very much without the firm belief and financial support of your school management team. And then you move on and the next teacher has a different idea… it’s really not that feasible an option for any subject with fixed resources.

But why do they have to be fixed? Hasn’t the last decade of technical innovation shown that mobile devices are here to stay? That an increasing number of learners arrive in classrooms with devices that can easily be personalised to suit their learning, rather than forcing the learner to make use of a machine set up to a generic specification? Are educators really, as a group, nervous about losing control?

And who is studying the effect of the coffee shop environment on learners? Well, a few have come to my attention. I stumbled on a paper whilst writing this blog post called “The Classroom Coffeehouse” which focusses on reworking the layout of an English classroom to promote sharing of written work between New Jersey 8th graders – well worth a read! Also highly recommended is the well-considered post “The Coffee Shop: A Classroom for Creativity, Reflections from a Coffee Shop in Harbin, China“. The Edinburgh Coffee Morning model is something which I envied a few years ago while at Inverurie and provides a nice text break below!

Edinburgh Coffee Morn Stop Frame from brandfeed on Vimeo.

Edinburgh Coffee Morning: from Mike Coulter, DigitalAgency.com on Vimeo.

Last night I read Angela Maiers’ post “What If You Knew You Mattered?” where she describes an increasingly common experience of customer non-service where recognition of failure and empathy with the customer would do much more than a discount voucher. It’s at the core of GIRFEC policy for teachers to make their learners feel included and respected while at the same time encouraging their development as respectful and inclusive citizens. The two words “you matter” apply to each young person who steps into your classroom, but if you are delivering your education as if you were working a conveyor belt at a factory when do you have the time to make sure your well planned generic summaries (and even the differentiated materials) are actually arriving at their destination? Through spending some time listening to the learners and learning something new yourself. Where better than the relaxed environment of a coffee shop?

I’m not advocating that we all abandon our classrooms for the nearest coffee chain but that school leaders and decision makers take a look around the wider world and really see what engages people. I highly recommend you view the articles, blog posts and videos I’ve linked to if you are in any way interested in developing mobile learning, and please suggest more using the comments option below! I am already planning to make this chance meeting a more formal part of my teaching at upper secondary level in the next term and although, yes, it will be more work initially filling in risk assessments and carefully planning my mobile lessons and – depending on the numbers – speaking nicely to the manager of the coffee shop! Escaping the classroom might be just what our learners need, and all it took was a coffee.

Using iPod Touches in the classroom #3

Thanks for your comments, tweets and face-to-face discussions regarding the previous posts on using iPod Touches in the classroom (part 1 / part 2). This blog post concentrates on the issue of using QR codes with a mobile device that doesn’t have a camera!

I met with a colleague from the Aberdeenshire iPod Development Group this week to share what we were doing and to see if there was potential to work together. They discussed an idea to use the iPods in an outdoor learning exercise and wondered about using QR codes to allow pupils to access educational resources while exploring a forest.

I’d also been reflecting on using QR codes within the school for an iPod treasure hunt and we had both realised that the lack of a camera on the iPod Touch 3G made this tricky. Tricky but not impossible. The BeeTagg Reader Pro app (currently free) can read QR codes (and other types) from the iPod Photo Library!

I had successfully tried this app before but wanted to know if I could put more information into the image containing the QR code. This would allow the pupils to be able to differentiate between them in the Photo Library. I tried adding some text underneath the QR code and transferred this image to the Photo Library.

It worked! However the text is a little difficult to read on the small screen, especially when you only have the smaller tile view of the Photo Library. So next I tried colour-coding the QR code images.

 

It worked as well! I imagine that colour-coded or labelled QR codes could be printed out and placed in appropriate locations (either in the forest or within the school. Or even within your classroom!). The pupils could match up the QR code to the ones pre-stored in the Photo Library and then access the material on their mobile device. This method also enables use of mobile devices with cameras, so has longevity if planned correctly. The material linked to the QR codes can also be modified without having to reprint the labels so resources can be tweaked to improve pupil learning at will.

There are more pressing concerns as to how the content will be stored on the iPods or accessed from within a forest (I imagine you’ll need a 3G signal for internet access unless you can set up some kind of adhoc wifi network in the trees!) but allowing pupils to access this content quickly means mobile devices already have a significant benefit to classroom teachers.