Sunday, March 31, 2013

MOOCs: Still not asking the right questions (#MOOC, #tillben)

Although I can certainly appreciate studies and discussions around MOOCs (such as Why 72% of Professors Won’t Give Credit for MOOCs), the tendency is to still ask the wrong questions.

The only aspect of a MOOC (or massive, open, online course) that most educators can agree on is delivery.  Virtually everyone agrees that if a course is labeled as being a MOOC, that the course is being delivered online.  This is basically where it ends when it comes to agreeing on what the notion of a MOOC is supposed to be. There seems to be vast interpretations as to what massive, open, and course actually mean when putting a MOOC into practice.  Let's consider a few questions:
  1. How many learners are required when taking a MOOC so that the experience becomes sustainable, scalable, engaging, effective, and efficient for each learners?
  2. How many learners are required so that groups (clusters) naturally form based on the interests, needs, and learning preferences of each learner?
  3. Are course materials licensed under a commercial or non-commercial Creative Commons license? Certainly there are other relevant questions pertaining to share alike, derivative works, etc., but there seems to be quite a division between those who support commercial and those who support non-commercial open educational resources (OERs).
  4. How should open authorship from MOOC learners be licensed (e.g., commercial or non-commercial)?
  5. What type of educational platform (if any) should be used to host a MOOC?
  6. How long should a MOOC last?
  7. Should credit be given to the learner by an accredited institution for completing the MOOC?
  8. How should assessment factor into a MOOC (both for those credit-seeking students as well as non-credit-seeking students)?
  9. How can synchronous and asynchronous forms of communication produce the ideal learning environment for a MOOC?
  10. What learning theory or theories are most appropriate when it comes to implementing a MOOC?
When we ask professors who are teaching MOOCs these types of questions, we miss the point. Let's take one question as an example,
Do you believe students who succeed in your MOOC deserve formal credit from your home institution? (72% said no)
Asking this question in isolation does little to gain insight into properly interpreting the response.  We might be better off if we cluster this one question around the following set of questions,
  1. Are you a tenured teacher?
  2. How long have you been in the teaching profession?
  3. How long have you been working at this institution?
  4. Have you ever held an administrative position?
  5. Have you ever taken a course online?
  6. Do you use social media to assist your own learning?
  7. Do you use social media to assist your teaching practice?
  8. What type of technical support is available at your institution?
  9. What type of pedagogical support is available at your institution?
  10. Is the MOOC you are teaching included in your teaching contract?
 The answer to the last question is key.  Imagine an educator who teaches a MOOC as part of their teaching contract believing that their students should not receive formal credit for completing the course. 

Let's avoid asking whether MOOCs are a fad or trying to understand where we are on the life cycle of MOOCs because the best we've done so far in labeling the term is to categorize them as being cMOOCs and xMOOCs.  In other words, we are trying to reach conclusions and make generalities of a term (i.e., MOOC) that is to date, hard if impossible to define.  We need a broader lexicon or a more descriptive way of labeling the different types of MOOCs based on learning theory, forms of communication (asynchronous/synchronous), and delivery (online/face to face), among others.  Using a blanket term like MOOC does little to add to the conversation unless it's followed by some of the more detailed questions presented above.  These questions are only the beginning and will depend in large part on the local context and problems that are unique to the learning environment of local stakeholders. 

More studies are needed in order to better understand which facets of a MOOC work and which don't (at the local level) so that over time we may begin to see patterns that can be transferable to other contexts.  But we are not there yet, and will never get to this point if we continue asking the types of questions presented in the Chronicle.  Posing such questions shows a lack of understanding of the complexities that make up a typical teaching and learning environment.

Saturday, March 30, 2013


Attending and Schedule - The TICAL Community

Attending the Summit:The Summit is free to attend. Please consider registering at this site so we can keep you updated with any information or instructions, b…Read Article >

How Teachers Are Hacking Their Own Digital Textbooks | Edudemic

A group of teachers have started to disrupt their own textbook options by starting up an iBooks Author Hackathon. And it's incredible. The post How Teachers Are Hacking Their Own Digital Textbooks appeared first on Edudemic.Read Article >

8 Reasons Why you should Create A Blog for your Class ~ Educational Technology and Mobile Learning

Why would I start educational blogging with my students ? what is its benefits on their overall learning ? These are two legitimate questions you need to ponder on before embarking on a blogging... moreRead Article >


The 2013 School Leadership Summit (SchoolLeadershipSummit.c... - The TICAL Community

The Technology Information Center for Administrative Leadership (TICAL) and Steve Hargadon are pleased to announce the inaugural virtual and worldwide School L…Read Article >




Thursday, March 28, 2013

What does an authentic L2 writer feel like?

I enjoyed yesterday's #eltchat on L2 writing.  I received the following response from MarjorieRosenbe and thought I'd respond in a blog post:
@bnleez What does 'an authentic' writer feel like? Not sure I could define that. #eltchat
I would begin by saying that we, as language educators, shouldn't set out to define the notion of what an authentic writer feels like.  Our job as language educators is to create learning designs that allow language learners to feel a certain way.  My approach is to remove the idea of what they do as foreign or second language learners as being any different than what monolingual or L1 writers do.

The definition I present to my L2 learners is that a writer is one who writes.  That's it - a painter paints, a carpenter drives, nails, a driver drivers, and so on.  What I ask them to do is what many other L1 writers do: brainstorm, outline, free write, complete graphic organizers, etc. I explain that their first draft will never be good enough, so they should integrate several revisions into their own personal writing process. That is, the process of reaching the final written product is a unique journey that L2 writers learn to dictate for themselves.  Also, I allow time for self and peer-assessment so that there are reflective and cooperative moments for learning, understanding that not every student will or should follow identical trajectories. 

An L2 writing approach that focuses more on process than product over time will provide the basis for language learners to begin feeling like writers.  It takes constant reminding and encouragement and the simple idea that what language learners are doing is just what many other writers do.  The final component to the question, What does an authentic writer feel like? is what could I possibly mean by the notion of authentic.

My perhaps over simplified definition of authentic is what people tend to do in real life, usually outside of a forced learning environment typically found in many schools.  Examples might be those who have a profession or vocation or it might be any purposeful activity that contributes to a greater good.  Purposeful writing connects the (L2) writer to a real audience (and not just the language educator).  Due to the sometimes difficulty in implementing a truly authentic learning environment in school, I tend to think of the term authentic as following along a non-authentic-fully authentic continuum.  Indeed, the idea is to make the educative experience as authentic as possible.  L2 writers who find purpose in what they do are more likely to actively participate.

In summation, instead of trying to define what an authentic writer should feel like, then attempt to pass this along to students, I begin with a simpler premise: What you do defines you.  L2 writers doing what other (L1) writers do, makes them a writer.  Writers don't just write as an academic exercise usually, but rather they have a purpose or a problem and real audience they must consider.  My job as a language educator is to design learning experiences that allow L2 writers to realize that they are no different than L1 writers in that they are experiencing the same frustrations and joys that other writers feel.  As they systematically learn how to overcome the frustrations of writing, they will begin to truly see what an authentic writer feels like.      


Penn-Finn Learnings 2013: Setting the Stage for a Global Conversation | Edutopia

Blogger Joe Mazza, on behalf of the US and Finnish educators participating in Penn-Finn Learnings 2013, sets the stage for a global edchat live from the University of Helsinki.Read Article >

5 MOOCs Teachers Should Take As Students | Edudemic

MOOCs may or may not save higher education, and if they save it they may further widen the gap between elite and lesser-known schools. They may also reinforce existing achievement gaps for students. As massive open online courses continue to evolve, however, educators need to know what they are and ...Read Article >

We all know that education, specifically online education, has come a long way in the last few years. We've already taken a look back - way back - at online education as we rarely think of it (in the 1960's and 70's), but it is also interesting to see just how much online education has evolved in ju...Read Article >

#ELTchat » What would you like to talk about on March 27th?

Voting Time The top choice in the poll will be discussed at 21.00 GMT and the 2nd choice at 12.00 GMT. Your browser doesn’t support iFrames Vote for this poll here. If you see your topic but would still like to discuss a different aspect or set of issues, do submit it and we will [...]Read Article >






Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Best Practitioners

 Educational reform begins by addressing "best practitioners" - teachers and students alike.

The point in putting best practitioners in quotes is to indicate the importance of leading change by focusing more on the educators themselves than on a certain set of practices.  If we focus on educators and working collectively in determining their success, I think we'll find that it is not about establishing specific attributes across the profession but rather allowing each educator to reflect and share what attributes they feel they have that fosters their own success.  By sharing these opinions and experiences openly, I believe we will begin to see patterns that I believe have a lot to do with pedagogical content knowledge, willingness to lead, willingness to take risks, and willingness to "fail forward".  In other words, it's less about some set of inherent attributes an educator has, and more about what the educator is willing to do.


20 Ways To Make Professional Development More Effective | Edudemic

Administrators often ask how to best utilize their staff meeting time to promote best instructional practices and improve professional development. Here are a few handfuls that could help them out. The post 20 Ways To Make Professional Development More Effective appeared first on Edudemic.Read Article >
Establish the idea that there is no room for negativity at a staff meeting-too much is at stake for negativity to hijack the group. This sounds a bit like avoiding diversity of opinions, which seldom leads to innovative talk.
Devote a chunk of time in each meeting to best instructional practices... Here we go again...focusing on "best practices" instead of focusing on "best practitioners".  Big difference!

How Online Education Has Changed In 10 Years | Edudemic

We all know that education, specifically online education, has come a long way in the last few years. We've already taken a look back - way back - at online education as we rarely think of it (in the 1960's and 70's), but it is also interesting to see just how much online education has evolved in ju...Read Article >

How Teachers Are Using Blended Learning Right Now | Edudemic

A year-long report is out and it details how teachers and students are taking to blended learning - what's working and what's not. The post How Teachers Are Using Blended Learning Right Now appeared first on Edudemic.Read Article >
79% of respondents reported than an ideal instruction delivery method would be blended learning – 50% face-to-face and 50% online. Interesting... half of instruction online or half of learning online?

Webinars - SimpleK12 Teacher Learning Community

@ShellTerrellJoin us NOW! Free Webinar: Researching Effectively with Mobile Devices, Part 1 #sk12 #ipaded




Tuesday, March 26, 2013


Rethinking Education: Why Our Education System Is Ripe For Disruption - Forbes

Our education system is not broken, it has just become obsolete When I think of all the tremendous, seemingly impossible feats made possible by entrepreneurs, I am amazed that more has not been done to reinvent our education system. I want all entrepreneurs to take notice that this is a multi-hundred [...]Read Article >

The 5 Google Reader Alternatives I'm Trying Out | Edudemic

There are dozens of Google Reader alternatives out there. Everyone is writing about them. So I set out to actually try out the top 5 and weigh in. The post The 5 Google Reader Alternatives I’m Trying Out appeared first on Edudemic.Read Article >

Education Rethink: Should Schools Still Go with Google?

I liked Google Wave when it first came out. However, I should have known by the title (might as well call it Wave It Goodbye) that it wouldn't last. I used to keep track of my news, my reader and my e-mail through my iGoogle account. I was a fan of Picnik and kept waiting for it to become an integra...Read Article >

5 Tips For Getting Children Excited About Reading | Edudemic

No matter the age, there's always some interesting reading to be done. Here are a few tips for parents and teachers on getting the reading ball rolling! The post 5 Tips For Getting Children Excited About Reading appeared first on Edudemic.Read Article >

Penn-Finn Learnings 2013: A Journey of Inquiry

Have you ever wanted to see what really goes on in classrooms of the world's number one educational system? Well, here's your free virtual plane ticket to Helsinki, Finland.




Sunday, March 24, 2013


10 Ways To Become A Better Online Learner | Edudemic

There are some quick and easy ways to become a better online learner. Whether you're taking a class or just researching, here are the DOs and DON'Ts. The post 10 Ways To Become A Better Online Learner appeared first on Edudemic. Read Article >

The 8 Elements Project-Based Learning Must Have | Edudemic

If you're contemplating using Project-Based Learning or are already trying out the latest craze to hit the modern classroom, you should know about this checklist. The post The 8 Elements Project-Based Learning Must Have appeared first on Edudemic.Read Article >

Schools are doing Education 1.0; talking about doing Education 2.0; when they should be planning ...

Schools are doing Education 1.0; talking about doing Education 2.0; when they should be planning and implementing Education 3.0. This post seeks to compare the developments of the Internet-Web to those of education.  The Internet has become an integral thread of the tapestries of most societies thro...Read Article >

Free Technology for Teachers: One Week Until EdCamp Maine - And a Big List of Other EdCamps

Next Saturday I'll be attending EdCamp Maine for the second year in a row. It's a great day of informal presentations and conversations around all things education. Last year I gave a short talk about blogging and this year I may do the same or I might just sit back and enjoy what everyone else has ...Read Article >

Leadership Qualities Teachers Want in a Principal

Every year in the United States, an estimated 500,000 teachers leave their schools, with only 16% of the departures the result of retirement. The bulk of teachers leave for a variety of other reasons, including whether or not they perceive their school’s leadership to be effective.



Thursday, March 21, 2013

Relationships & Friendships in the Classroom

Inspired by a recent questionnaire related to relationships in the (English language learning) classroom.

Relationships inside and outside the classroom


Relationships between teacher and students are inherent to any classroom or educational setting. Teachers should maintain relationships with students outside of class by being accessible to them in order to provide additional assistance as needed. If a relationship (a connection) turns into a friendship through normal discourse, then behavior associated with being a friend would be expected outside the classroom. But by friendship, I don’t mean a friendly relation or intimacy as defined in the questionnaire, but rather the state of being a friend. In my view, the state of being a friend has more to do with building strong ties (as defined below). IMHO, a friendly relation or intimacy is simply being friendly.

Relationships that remain in the classroom; that is, relationships that are purposeful to the goals and objectives of a class may be friendly but should not be labeled necessarily as friends. The reason why these types of relationships aren't labeled as friends is because the reason the relationship exists in the first place is because of some outside force (e.g., a college course). In contrast, friends seek each other out without the confines of discussing a mandatory topic (e.g., content related to a college course) at a specific time and place. Additionally, usually students have to pay for classes, so the idea that students sharing a classroom with a teacher inherently makes them all friends is misguided.

Friendships between students and teachers can and do emerge all of the time. Attending a student's wedding or some other celebration is a great thing. Even more satisfying is when friendships emerge after students have entered the profession. Building a collegial working relationship who is also a friend can be quite rewarding. Even if friendships don't emerge, collegiality, cooperation, and collaboration that stems from relationships with prior students can be equally gratifying.
Being a friend is usually not strictly dichotomous (e.g., this person is or is not my friend), although sometimes it feels that way, but rather grows and fades, then grows back, and so on over time.

Strong and weak ties


Like all relationships, teacher-student relationships can be either strong or weak. A strong relationship or tie, is one where individuals feel confident to discuss important or personal information with, provide each other with needed support, have many similar interests and opinions, and actively seek out each other regularly. In contrast, a weak tie is a relationship that does not share these qualities. A teacher-student relationship is a careful balance between strong and weak ties; that is, a relationship that falls along a strong and weak tie continuum. For instance, maintaining strong ties is important when students need help and have the confidence to share personal information when it relates to achieving the objectives of the class. Strong ties are less important when teacher and students share similar interests and when they seeking each other out on a regular basis because this does not automatically transfer into a more effective, efficient, and engaging learning environment for the student. Maintaining weak ties is important when teachers and students have the confidence to share diverse opinions and perspectives with each other. Thus, maintaining weak ties between teacher and students is extremely important to the extent that students have the confidence to share opposing views and concerns with their teacher, knowing that the teacher will maintain a respectful relationship.

Students can become unmotivated if the wrong aspects of either a strong or weak ties result. For example, forming strong ties where teachers and students agree and seek each other out to the degree that other students feel marginalized or neglected, can cause a problem. In extreme cases, these kinds of strong ties may lead to nepotism - favoritism to close friends by those with power or influence. Teachers and students who maintain weak ties to the extent that the teacher no longer is accessible in helping students achieve their academic goals, can lead to problems as well.

"Good" and "bad" relationships in the classroom


In order for a teacher to reflect and comment on a relationship with students, both the teacher and the student must provide input and understanding together. A relationship is not one way, but rather a mutual intelligible belief. A teacher cannot infer that a relationship is “good” or “bad” unless there is a bidirectional, communicative effort between both parties (i.e., teacher and student) about how each other feels. If there is no reciprocity or understanding of how the other feels, then there is little basis for a relationship. Also, since each relationship with students is different - as a result of each student being unique - it's impossible to generalize when assessing such a subjective notion that includes some many individuals (i.e., students) who each have different personal attributes. Finally, there are external factors that also impact the kind of relationship a teacher and student may have. Some of these factors may include home environment, prior experiences, school administrators, to name a few.

Professional ethics


Professional ethics in education should emerge throughout the curriculum in the form of values: respect, honesty, transparency, commitment, etc. Instead of “teaching ethics”, educators should set the example.

How do you view the notions of relationships, friendships, etc. in the classroom?

Defining Leadership

“…here is my definition of what effective educational leadership is able to achieve: improve learning outcomes for students.”

I agree that the purpose of educational leadership is improved student achievement, definitely. It’s the outcome of leadership practices, but is no more or less important than the process that leads to this outcome. I think others come close to a working definition of the notion of leadership:

1. “Instructional leadership consists of direct and indirect behaviors that significantly affect teacher instruction and, as a result, student learning” (Daresh and Playko, 1995).

2. “The leader is a person who is in a position to influence others to act and who has, as well, the moral, intellectual, and social skills required to take advantage of that position” (Schlechty, 1990).
3. “Instructional leadership is leadership that is directly related to the processes of instruction where teachers, learners, and the curriculum interact” (Acheson & Smith, 1986).
4. Quoting Jo Blase, “Leadership is shared with teachers, and it is cast in coaching, reflection, collegial investigation, study teams, explorations into the uncertain, and problem solving. It is position-free supervision wherein the underlying spirit is one of expansion, not traditional supervision. Alternatives, not directives or criticism, are the focus, and the community of learners perform professional-indeed, moral-service to students” (as cited in Gordon, 1995).
5. “Leadership [of nonprofit organizations] is not about being soft or nice or purely inclusive or consensus-building. The whole point is to make sure the right decisions happen-no matter how difficult or painful-for the long-term greatness of the institution and the achievement of its mission” -Jim Collins, Good to Great and the Social Sectors
6. “…any useful conception of academic leadership must be based primarily on clarity about the goals of school, analysis of current results, and purposeful actions to close existing gaps between desired results and present reality” (Wiggins & McTighe, 2007).
Patterson (1993) provides further insight into specific behavioral patterns that stem from effective instructional leaders:
  •  They provide a sense of vision to their schools (can articulate a vision, help develop it, and keep the vision and mision alive on a day-to-day basis).
  • They engage in participatory management (empower others to lead).
  • They provide support for instruction.
  • They monitor instruction.
  • They are resourceful.
Any other good definitions of leadership out there?

Friday, March 15, 2013

How to address a question like, "Are schools outdated?"

I read another great post from Harmer entitled, Is technology killing school?  Harmer poses the following questions:
Is technology starting to drive learning (cf what Pearson are doing – that was at the top of this blogpost), or is learning directing technological development?

Is ‘school’ outdated? or perhaps, what is the role of school in our modern world?

How much self-organised learning can (and indeed should) children be asked to do, and how confident are you of its success?

How on earth can we evaluate the glowing evangelism of a TED talk?

Technology affords learners to gain understandings, skills, and appropriate dispositions more effectively, efficiently, and engagingly.  This is not necessarily the same as technology driving learning, not necessarily the same as learning driving tech. development.  The two are actually an emergent relationship among a single dynamic system.  Thus, technology feeds potentiality…the potential for learners to connect ideas, materials, and personal relationships into something relevant and meaningful.  To understand the use of materials or objects such as technology is to understand it in relationship to the connection of ideas and personal relationships that make up an overall (material-semiotic) assemblage.

Understanding material-semiotic assemblages enables one to better address questions like “Are schools outdated?”  and “How useful are SOLEs?”  When one questions whether schools are outdated or not, much will depend on how ideas, materials, and personal relationships (both within schools and among schools) connect in an overall network.  Same goes when asking whether SOLEs are beneficial or not.

Answering the essential questions about the potentiality of technology, schools, and SOLEs will depend on how we avoid the trap of assuming an understanding of any single facet of a material-semiotic assemblage (i.e., ideas, materials, social relationships) while ignoring or placing less emphasis on any of the other two.

My answer to the first three questions is to begin by assuming that “schools” is really a material-semiotic assemblage of ideas, materials, and social relationships that all must come together (or connect) in ways that allow for educative experiences to emerge – thinking Dewey here.  The ideas, materials, and social relationships are networked not only within the school but extend outside the school as well.  The emergent networks underpins all educative experiences that learners experience, which leads to a slightly question: How can we improve a school given a particular material-semiotic assemblage?  Indeed, the answer will be rooted in context.  So, my “answer” is really not an answer but an approach to an answer…how’s that for an answer. :)

As far as evaluating a TED talk, I would also approach it a bit differently.  How can ideas stated from a TED talk (theory) become relevant and meaningful to the practical aspects of a local context?  My approach to the answer would be to begin connecting these ideas to a certain set of materials and social relationships that relate to a local context.  If this is done long enough, then holistic patterns may begin to emerge that then will allow educational stakeholders the luxury of assessing whether or not the ideas from a TED Talk where useful.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Taking the guess work out of guessing meaning from context

I just read, "Is guessing from context a load of XXXXXX?" and thought I'd respond.

A couple of things...First, a reader does not need to know 100% of the words to understand the meaning of a particular text. So, guessing the meaning from context will depend on the familiarity the reader has with the language (i.e., English proficiency) and the percentage of words the reader does not understand.  If it's true that the most 50 common words used in English are functional (as opposed to lexical), and that 45% of all written text are made up of these 50 functional words, then this seems to indicate that lexical words would be a bigger issue when it comes to word recognition.  So gaining the meaning from context would only be beneficial if the reader were to understand a lexical word she did not understand before AND that in doing so would enabled her to understand the overall text.  Put another way, I see little importance in trying to determine whether a reader was able to get the meaning of a particular word or not from context if not doing so still enabled her to understand the text.  "Did the reader understand the overall meaning of the text?" becomes more important that "Did the reader understand 100% of the words in the text?"

Second, I think the blog post (Is guessing from context...) doesn't fairly present the issue if the only examples are at a sentence level.  The act of guessing meaning from context is at a discourse level (i.e., beyond the sentence level).  There are many types of references (e.g., anophoric, cataphoric, and exophoric references) at a discourse level that help tie ideas together in a given text.  Cohesive devices such as reiteration, substitution, ellipsis, conjunctions, etc. provide a means for making a text more cohesive, which incidentally can be a reading strategy that readers can incorporate when "guessing" the meaning from context.  But all of these examples of cohesive devices only work at a discourse level and not at the sentence level.

In summary, guessing the meaning from context only becomes an issue when the level of unknown lexical words begin to interfere with the overall meaning of the text.  I would argue that most readers (in L1 or L2) fail to understand 100% of most texts, but this does not always interfere with the enjoyment of learning something new.  Additionally, guessing the meaning from context occurs at a discourse level and not at the sentence level; if readers begin learning the cohesive devices writers typically use anyway, this will go a long way in taking the guess work out of tackling an unknown lexicon.