Friday, November 18, 2016

A Beastly Bark

I am currently working with sonnets in my composition class and came up with this example today in class:

Behind the borrowed house I heard a bark
The scene released a fear in me throughout
The darkness droned through sounds that lit a spark
I know not how I ever felt such doubt 

And as the creature came around the bend
It glared through glass as clear to me today
I froze and fumbled for my furry friend
A cat or rat or something to dismay 

But once I saw the "beast" to take my life
I found a friend whose fear of me just waned
We sat to chat to comfort our own strife
And pals became our title to sustain

The moral of this story should be clear
That fear can hinder those who hold it dear

Monday, November 7, 2016

Composition: Unit IV (Poetry)

Open Courseware page

Composition: Unit IV


We will develop a limerick (at least one stanza) and read our limerick focusing on rhythm, rhyme, intonation, and stress.  Here are some examples: page 1.


We will develop a tanka (at least one stanza) and read our limerick focusing on rhythm, rhyme, intonation, and stress.  Here are some examples: page 1.


We will develop a cinquain (at least one stanza) and read our limerick focusing on rhythm, rhyme, intonation, and stress.  Here are some examples: page 1.


We will develop a sonnet (at least one stanza) and read our limerick focusing on rhythm, rhyme, intonation, and stress.  See this example or others found on the Internet.

Thesis Manuscript Template (Video)

Thesis Manuscript Template by Benjamin Stewart on Scribd

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Sample Limericks

Three sample limericks for my composition students...

Limerick #1

I had to admit to them winning
If not I´m afraid I´d be sinning
The Cardinals had flown
A season they´d blown
The Cubs and their fan´s keep a spinning 

Limerick #2

A ball and a bat hit the ground
The pitch which sank down was quite sound
A runner quite fast
the throws that went past
The bunt turned the team all around

Limerick #3

Alone by himself in a crowd
His head was above all the clouds
It suddenly came
There was no-one to blame
The ball rushed right by and he bowed

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Five Ways to Flip the Classroom That Aren't "Personalized"

I continue my argument (see here, here, and here) against using the term "personalized instruction".  This post was inspired by Franklin´s 5 Ways to Personalize Instruction.
1.  Getting to know your students vs. get to know your students.

An instructor never truly gets to know her students.  Instead of thinking dichotomously, consider the act of getting to know someone in terms of degree.  Finding ways to flip a classroom is all about getting to know one's students; flipping the classroom is not an all-or-nothing endeavor, but one viewed in terms of degree
2.  Applying an evidence-based instruction approach underpins the flipped classroom experience.
By using plenty of formative assessment, engagement between instructor and student provides the basis for instruction that serves the needs, interests, and learning preferences (as opposed to learning styles) of each student.  Evidence based on observation frames how much instruction is didactic or facilitative.  Thus, in a flipped classroom environment, one is likely to see instruction potentially emerge from any individual, any place, and at any time.
3. Adapting and adopting leads to flow.
In a flipped classroom, the instructor and students adapt and adopt to content, technologies, and to each other as learning outcomes and learning objectives align.
4. Utilizing performance tasks bridges learning outcomes to learning objectives.
A performance task that maintains an authentic goal, student roles, audience, situation, purpose, and standard of outcomes is best served when it precedes instruction.  In a flipped classroom, technologies afford learners greater opportunities to participate in performance tasks that are more authentic (serve a common good).
5. Technologies should facilitate, not frustrate.
Information and communication technologies (ICTs) should be purposeful and quickly adoptable for teachers and students.  However, sometimes, less is more.

A simple analogy: Google Play's Listen Now takes my play history and makes recommendations (but does not personalize my listening experience).  Sometimes these recommendations are useful while other times they are not.  Most of the time I simply search for tunes (adapt) or just stick to my current playlist (adopt).  So, I do not have to use all of the options from Google Play to get the most out of my own personal listening experience. Notice how personal listening experience is not the same as a "personalized listening experience".

ICTs (in whatever form) should help the instructor and learner become more autonomous (i.e.,  becoming more interdependent) by engaging in content and with other individuals.


Not any of the five points listed above have anything to do with "personalized instruction".  Take point #2 as an example.  In order to personalize instruction, there would need to be one form of instruction for each student that would somehow be within the control of the instructor (teacher).  "Personalized instruction" is impossible, but personalized learning is totally possible (and expected) since this shifts an external locus of control to an internal locus of control (from the learner's perspective).  Thus, Instructors help learners better understand their personal learning networks by helping them become more autonomous.

When it comes to instruction, teachers have an obligation to help learners make decisions about the content, processes, products, and environments that relate to learning outcomes - otherwise known as differentiated instruction.  Differentiating instruction involves the students throughout the educative experience by allowing them some degree of choice.  Empowering students by improving the decision-making processes is the foundation for 1) getting to know students better, 2) providing evidence-based instruction, 3) adapting and adopting flow, 4) aligning performance tasks (assessments) to learning objectives (curriculum), and 5) recognizing that sometimes less is more when it comes to ICTs as human behavior is complex.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

A Flipped Learning Design For Foreign Language Learners

This semester I am teaching a third-semester composition class for English language teachers in training and the following three classes for university professors: Content and English Language Learning I (CELL I), Content and English Language Learning II (CELL II), and Academic Writing.  This is how I am flipping the learning design in terms of structure, readiness levels, and critical thinking.


Course content for all four courses are hosted publicly in Microsoft OneNote: Composition,  CELL I, CELL II, and Academic Writing.  The reason for using OneNote - as opposed to Moodle or any other learning or content management system - is because of its ease of use.  I can easily add and manipulate content using any device (Macbook Air, iPad, and iPhone), anytime from anywhere, and share this information either privately or publicly as well.  Sharing content and the learning experience publicly has particular relevance this semester as I am making a special effort to provide opportunities for learners to share their own learning experiences with those outside their given class.  As their instructor, I too am able to share openly what I am doing and reflect on my own teaching practice by creating affordances for collaboration and cooperation.

In addition to using OneNote, Microsoft Word Online is used in Composition and Academic Writing so that text revisions can be shared amongst the learners and me.  Links to learners' Word online document are included in OneNote so that everyone can not only see each others approach to the writing process and but also see how I provide feedback to everyone and how subsequent changes are then made.

Since OneNote serves mainly as a content management system, Facebook complements the learning experience by providing both synchronous and asynchronous forms of communication.  For example, the Composition facebook page, CELL facebook page, and Academic Writing facebook page allow learners to engage in the content mainly outside of class, but also face-to-face when such interactions promote course objectives.  More immediate content is shared in facebook (publicly) which can either come from the content in OneNote, or when it is new content, may be added simultaneously to OneNote.  Thus, content in OneNote is structured more chronologically or thematically while facebook is structured more to emphasize certain content or to engage learners around certain content through discussions and critical thinking.

In Composition, CELL I, and CELL II, e-portfolios are used for housing specific products learners complete in class.   Learners become recognized for how they demonstrate their understandings, knowledge, skill sets, and dispositions through the presentation of artifacts that positions themselves as professionals.  An e-portfolio becomes part of an online identity that illustrates where the professional has been, where the professional is currently, and what the professional wishes to become.

In summation, OneNote and Word is the "playground" the "laboratory", the "sandbox", etc. where initial learning occurs, primarily via private communications between learner-instructor and possibly learner-learner.  Facebook extends the learning experience more publicly by opening up the conversation more fluidly with others potentially beyond the classroom.  Finally, e-portfolios is the end result, the final objective of the learning process as everything within the learning structure leads to this final destination.

Readiness Levels

The mixed abilities classroom is the norm and not the exception.  Invariably, learners will enter the learning design at different levels of content knowledge and different levels of linguistic prowess.  So the structure mentioned above is designed to account for this reality.

All four courses above have a face-to-face component: Composition and Academic Writing are both face to face while CELL I and CELL II are blended learning courses.  But the approach to flipping the classroom for each of the courses is similar.  

Making content available publicly online for learners taking a face-to-face class takes into consideration the readiness levels from two main perspectives.  First, content made available before a face-to-face session affords the learner to interact with content much in the same way most view the flipped classroom when lectures are recorded and accessible outside of the classroom.  And second, content can be added or accessed to online spaces after learners meet face to face when such information warrants it.  For instance, followup tutorials might help fill in the gaps created during live classes, additional links to different kinds of content might result, and internal instruments like learner surveys might shed light on how learners perceive the overall educative experience.  More than likely, some combination of pre-/post-loading and accessing of content to an online environment will emerge depending on individual readiness levels that are revealed as personal learning preferences.  Understanding how and why students are accessing content is a constant goal of mine in order to better assess if the structure of the learning design is serving a purpose.

Critical Thinking

The structure of how content is arranged and understanding how learners are accessing course content based on readiness levels underpin how critical thinking emerges.  Learners access content by listening and reading and create by speaking and writing.  Critical thinking emerges by giving them certain freedoms in how and why they access content and where they end up creating their own content for specific purposes.  Critical thinking is creating content associated with the what, how, why, where, with whom etc. that goes beyond simply meeting course objectives.  Learners who become more aware of the what, how, why, etc. of their content creations are better positioned to solve and set problems, resolve cognitive conflict, make associations or connections between the abstract and concrete, and form logical arguments, to name a few.  At the end of the day, the way that I structure my learning design is based on the readiness levels of my learners which together with structure provide an overarching purpose to think critically given changing situations.  A flipped learning experience in my view has always been a more nuanced approach to content accessibility and learner interactions where interdependence grows through thoughtful instructor interventions primarily on an as-needed basis.

As intentional as all of this sounds, there is a larger incidental aspect to this entire learning design that would be best left for another post.  But these are a few thoughts that I have regarding the flipped classroom, and am always interested in learning how others approach similar learning designs under different contexts. 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

How can a diagnostic test determine "fossilization"?

  1. When I read "fossilized error" (term used in quotation marks), I suppose that Jagasia does not really accept the term, but uses it anyway given that others have come to define the term a certain way in the past? Later the term is not in quotation marks that would suggest that it is an accepted term?
  2. The thesis of this piece seems to have less to do with "fossilization" and more to do with 1) feedback and assessment, 2) differentiated instruction (DI), and 3) potential issues with the placement test in terms of validity, reliability, and/or bias. So, to answer the first question from the title would include more to do with feedback, DI, and diagnostic test validity, reliability, and unbias than some notion of "fossilization". These were issues not covered in the piece.
  3. Regarding point #2, in the absence of any real example, it is hard to support the idea that just because a student has a tutor (e.g., italki, Verbling, etc.) that "fossilization" is less likely.  To understand "fossilization" is to observe a language learner longitudinally and not necessarily the individual learning spaces where learning (or lack thereof) takes place.  Another way to state this is that observations (to understand "fossilization") need to be understood from a diachronic versus synchronic lens. 
  4. The problem that this piece sets out to address is not clear.  Jagasia (2016) states, "Almost every student who sits our placement test possesses a significant amount of ingrained or "fossilized" errors" (para. 2). Again, how can a single diagnostic exam (synchronically) measure fossilization presumably before the fact?  Perhaps the assumption is if a language learner is taking a more advanced level class but is still making lower-level errors that this automatically means that "fossilization" occurs.  Intuitively, one can see the weakness of this argument when considering other possibilities: 1) learners acquire the language at different rates, 2) learners had little-to-no exposure to a grammatical structure, 3) learners had little-to-no practice in moving understandings from short term to long term memory, 4) the error could have be a "slip of the tongue" or a mistake that the learner really understands but carelessly overlooked, 5) personal circumstances that would interfere with concentration during the test, 6) simply a poor test taker, 7) poor alignment between diagnostic test and instruction, 8) poor alignment between diagnostic test and assessment, 9) poor alignment between curriculum and diagnostic test, etc. 
Forgetting the term "fossilization" for a moment, how students make mistakes (whether repeatedly or in isolation) cannot be viewed entirely from a single diagnostic test.  It seems for Jagasia (2016) as if the diagnostic test is detecting issues of instruction or assessment?  To understand how students make mistakes requires observations that occur over time in terms of how feedback is given and received and requires test designers to recognize the integrity of the instrument and its purpose.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

What is Reflection?

Taking any single definition of what the term reflection is will likely be incomplete and will miss the emergent aspects of the human experience.   However, looking at some definitions helps to get started…

1. the act of reflecting or the state of being reflected.
2. an image; representation; counterpart.
3. a fixing of the thoughts on something; careful consideration.
4. a thought occurring in consideration or meditation.
5. an unfavorable remark or observation.
6. the casting of some imputation or reproach.
7. Physics, Optics. a) the return of light, heat, sound, etc., after striking a surface; b) something so reflected, as heat or especially light (

Based on this group of definitions, the following offers a slightly more accurate definition of reflection as it relates to teaching and learning.
A carefully considered mental representation of some past, current, or future critical instance that comes from a personal - yet shared - experience.   
Let’s unpack:
  • A carefully considered mental representation: From a cognitive standpoint, it all begins with what one recognizes in the mind, and that this mental representation emerges after having a deliberate recollection, regardless whether this representation is clear or vague.  From a connectivist lens, this “mental representation” is instead referred to as a recognizable pattern of individual nodes that cognitively form, strengthen, weaken, and lose associations.  More accurately, these cognitive connections are black boxed in that the appearance of a single or fixed entity (a single mental representation in this case) instead consists of a more dynamic and fluid (complex) set of associations that remain in continual flux (Latour, 1987).  A mental representation might more accurately be referred to as an aggregate set of cognitive and biological nodes that have both diachronic and synchronic attributes.  This latter definition is more cogent when considering the social aspects of reflection explained below.
  • ... of some past, current, or future…: Simply one can reflect on past, current, and/or future events.
  • ... critical instance…: A critical instance is some experience that stands out, for better or for worse.  It is some experience worth remembering.
  • ... that comes from a personal, yet shared, experience: The shared experience that helps form the mental representation is meant to show perspectival and interpretive variations from individuals sharing a common lived experience.  Also, a reflection initially is inherently personal, but should at some point become articulated to others so that the individual can then experience these perspectival and interpretative variations.  A feedback loop ensues between the original mental representation and the feedback from others to the degree that either changes to the initial mental representation will result or will reinforce the initial representation, forming stronger associations between nodes.
So, reflection begins as a cognitive process then subsequently leads to a social-cognitive process, connecting the ideational (i.e., ideas, concepts, opinions, beliefs, etc.) with the physical (i.e, materials, objects, technologies, etc.) and the human (i.e., human relationships).  Albeit complex, a connectivist viewpoint would simply state that a connection exists between the cognitive, biological, material, and human aspects of the lived experience when recalling personal reflections based on personal observation and interaction.


Latour, B. (1987). Science in action. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Student E-Portfolios for Future and Current Teacher Practitioners

I am working this week in putting ideas together about student e-portfolios (for English language teacher trainers).  Any comments that you might have about student e-portfolios are greatly appreciated!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Establishing Expectations Around APA and Plagiarism

On Monday, July 25, 2016, I will be discussing with our academia expectations we have around APA and plagiarism related to academic writing essays throughout the BA in English language teaching program.  The session will be recorded and subsequently uploaded to this post.

Permalink to Presentation

Monday, July 18, 2016

What is a Personal Learning Network?

A personal learning network (or PLN) consists of ideas, materials, and social relationships.  Each of these three elements cannot be described in the absence of the other two.  For example, I cannot talk about Twitter being part of my PLN without understanding the relationship Twitter has with the ideas I share and to whom I share those ideas.

How many times have you heard educators of 1:1 schools ask, "Now that I have an iPad, what do I do with it?" Any one of the three elements of a PLN cannot be taken out of context when determining its meaning.  Materials, such as technologies, can be  expressed in terms of environments, places, and spaces, as well as any related objects that make up those environments, places, and spaces.  New technologies are constantly being introduced to the public, but they become no more or less important than the ideas and social relationships that make up the holistic set of associations.  Thus, there is an iterative and reciprocal dynamic between ideas, materials, and individuals that continually impact each other to the degree they remain connected.  Being connected emerges when a change or the existence of one (ideational, material, or human) node causes a synchronous or asynchronous change in another.  To understand any one of the three elements of a PLN (an idea, technologies, or human relationship) is to understand this three-way association from both a diachronic and synchronic standpoint. 

A PLN is not constructed, built, nor created. Nor does it grow, develop, nor flourish.  It does not start from nothing to become something.  It is and will always be present. 

What has changed over the years is the way individuals communicate, and how they communicate can best be described as having an understanding of the complexity of a PLN.  This understanding emerges by asking two separate but related questions: 1) How has my PLN changed over time? And 2) What does my PLN currently look like?

A PLN is inherently personal to the degree the individual has autonomy in making decisions about how ideas, materials, and human relationships come together.  Any barriers that hinder ideas, materials, and human relationships will ultimately impede one's PLN.

The ideational, material, and social relationships that connectively form a PLN are both causes and effects.  Each is a result of something happening before it and each is a potential cause for something happening after it.  Similarly, a PLN as a connective whole acts as both a cause and an effect.

A PLN is both intentional and incidental.  An individual will purposefully use a PLN for some sought after goal, but will also recognize the frequency of ideas, materials, and social interactions that cannot be anticipated.  An awareness of one's situated PLN leverages the potentiality of intentional and incidental learning, and offers insights into how they each relate to one another. 

Earlier, I mentioned that a PLN is not constructed, built, nor created. Nor does it grow, develop, nor flourish.  But what a PLN does do is adopt and adapt to a degree on its own and to a degree based on autonomous decision-making that occurs from the individual.  The individual sets out to  _adopt_ and _adapt_ a PLN in order to become more _adept_.

Intentional vs. Purposeful Learning

Taking OpenFlip Spring 2016 (#openflip) provided an opportunity to reflect and share my ideas about intentionality and its roles in education. Last night I watched a Netflix documentary about Tony Robbins, I Am Not Your Guru. This morning I listen to Self-Confidence Matters: "I Determine School (Student) Success", specifically towards the end of the podcast where Baruti Kafele speaks briefly about intentionality. Having done all three continues to solidify my thoughts around how the idea of intentionality is being used in the field of education.

One of the four pillars of the flipped classroom addresses the idea of intentional content by stating,
Flipped Learning Educators continually think about how they can use the Flipped Learning model to help students develop conceptual understanding, as well as procedural fluency. They determine what they need to teach and what materials students should explore on their own. Educators use Intentional Content to maximize classroom time in order to adopt methods of student-centered, active learning strategies, depending on grade level and subject matter.
One of the best things that I got out of taking OpenFlip Spring 2016 was the realization that basing the flipped classroom mindset on intentional content 1) places too much emphasis on content and not enough on the realities (complexity) of learning and 2) ignores the role of incidental learning as a necessary counterpoint to intentional learning. Content (whether intentional or incidental) is only a potential enabler to intentional and incidental learning that both co-exist in any dynamic, purposeful, educative experience.

Regardless as to how you view Tony Robbins, the documentary illustrates how intentional and incidental learning come together for a purpose. There is a clear purpose for each of the six days that Robbins dedicates to his followers, and his plans for each day are well-thought out and can change based on what had previously transpired. So his events are clearly purposeful, with a lot of aspects to the experience being intentional (e.g., content, physical environment, and social relationships). But during the event, much of what he does cannot be anticipated. Many testimonials (I.e., experiences, understandings, perspectives, etc.) shared by the attendees are unexpected (i.e., incidental). This provides the backdrop into making those experiences, understandings, perspectives, etc. revealing for not only the audience member but also for other audience members by linking the testimonial back to the goals for that particular day or event (i.e., intentional). Coupling incidental occurrences with intentional occurrences is what good teaching is all about. Educators can anticipate student mistakes, but there are still many more that are unanticipated. Knowing what to do about unanticipated learning that can occur in the (flipped) classroom is key.

Kafele's point about students walking into an "intentional" classroom is noteworthy, but he appears to be contrasting this kind of classroom with an "arbitrary" classroom experience.

I would use a slightly different vocabulary, since I view "arbitrary" not synonymous with "incidental".
Students need to enter into a purposeful classroom each day - there needs to be a reason for coming to class. Within a purposeful learning context, students and teachers co-adopt and co-adapt by understanding the intentional and incidental learning that can emerge, which should ultimately transform learners based on curricular and individual goals. There is nothing arbitrary about this process.
A flipped classroom mindset needs to embrace the complexity of intentional and incidental learning from ideational, material, and social perspectives so that decisions about content, process, and product can form a more educative experience for each learner.

Friday, July 15, 2016

An "Argument" for the Traditional Lecture

An "Argument" for the Traditional Lecture
Gross-Loh (2016) argues (kind of) in Should Colleges Really Eliminate the College Lecture? for the traditional lecture and greater training to professors for improving public speaking skills. I have gone through the piece and have tried to outline parts of the argument that seem incoherent, along with some perspective as well.

Traditional Lecture as an Endangered Species

The first line of reasoning the author makes is as follows:
  • R1: A lack of training exists among university professors to give good traditional lectures.
  • R2: Although there is a focus on training professors to improve teaching skills, such training focuses more on flipping the classroom (and related technologies) than on the traditional lecture.
  • C: This, in part, is why "the endangered" (para. 2).
This line of cloudy reasoning is a formal fallacy. First, saying that there is the wrong kind of teacher training which focuses on flipping the classroom does not mean there is a lack of training in the right kind of training needed to give traditional lectures in the classroom. Flipped classroom training certainly could focus on producing traditional lectures that are effective and providing these as recordings to students asynchronously. There is nothing in the piece about what kind of lectures are being recorded and how traditional (or non-traditional) these forms of lectures are within a flipped classroom approach. So, to jump to the conclusion that the lecture is "endangered" seems a stretch. Gross-Loh does go however into some level of detail about the lack of training in public speaking among professors, but because it unnecessarily contrasts the notion of a flipped classroom, it certainly seems probable that a traditional lecture (that meets the author's standards) could be recorded, produced, and made available to learners outside of the classroom experience. If the author feels that a worthwhile traditional lecture has to be delivered face to face, then this is a different argument not being made in this piece.

Getting the Question Right

Later in the article, the question is posed: " it the college lecture itself that’s the problem—or the lecturer" (para. 5)?

In problem solving, often it is about getting the problem established that becomes the intellectual exercise. Similarly, sometimes getting the question right is more important than ever being able to truly answer it. What additional insight can be made when separating the performance (i.e., the lecture) from the person (i.e., the professor)? The question in the article can be separated into two empty notions: 1) There is no problem with the professor, but the lectures are a big problem. or 2) There is no problem with the lectures, but the professor is a big problem. I do not see the need to entertain this question.

Training Means Performing Means Learning

The author states,
...although proponents of the movement to move away from the lecture cite data on its ineffectiveness, the debate has failed to take into account the fact that academics are rarely, if ever, formally trained in public speaking.
Another fallacy of sorts...Even if training automatically enables the professor to become a good public speaker, being a good public speaker does not necessarily mean an educative experience for the learners. Public speaking does not always equate to comprehensible input. This is the underlining premise that I cannot subscribe to. Learning has more to do with what the students do than what the teachers do.

The author goes on to say,
The lecture was a highlight of my own education,” Molly Worthen, a University of North Carolina (para.14).
Here, the author provides evidence of linking the traditional lecture with active learning, which seems out of place within the overall thesis of the article. In fact, this is where I asked myself, what is the main thesis of this piece? Is it that professors lack public speaking skills? Is it that professors lack the training to implement dynamic lectures that mix the traditional lecture with active learning? Should a flipped classroom approach be part of this training or not?

Flipping is Elitist

There is a lot to the concept of a ‘flipped classroom,’ but it is also very much an elite-institution idea,” says Hacsi, referring to a model in which students view lectures outside of class and focus on homework elements inside of it (para. 17).
So here the argument is that expecting students to work outside of the classroom is "elitist" because many students have to work their way through college. Thus, only the privileged few (society's greatest) who can afford to go to school and not work could ever have enough time to devote to assignments required outside of class.

As far as I know (and correct me if I am wrong), students are still required to complete course assignments outside of class. So given this assumption, if anyone fails to see how a flipped classroom provides an equitable educative experience to many (both to credit and noncredit-seeking students alike) - the polar opposite of an elitist viewpoint - then more research needs to be conducted before one chooses to write about it in any intelligible way.

This post leaves me confused as to what the overall thesis actually is. Removing any mention of the flipped classroom, I am unable to disagree with many points if presented separately. But the way the ideas are organized as a whole leaves me confused as to what the author is really getting at.

I present my views in hopes someone can shed light on the overall mean of the original post and/or my interpretation of it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Defining MOOCs...if we must

MOOC Definitions
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Commonwealth of Learning (COL) published Making Sense of MOOCs: A Guide for Policy Makers in Developing Countries (2016) where they define the term, Massive, Open, Online Course (MOOC). They preface the definition by admitting that how one defines the term is open to interpretation, and go on to state that their approach in reaching a definition was to consider a variety of prior definitions first, then present commonalities in ascertaining what they mean by massive, open, online, and course (p. 17). Since defining a MOOC is open to interpretation, I offer an alternative definition after presenting how UNESCO and COL define each of the four facets. I include italicized text where I feel there are shortcomings in UNESCO/COL's interpretation and attempt for mass appeal. When planning, implementing, and evaluating a MOOC, definitions do matter, but admit that reaching a consensus about a single definition is not all that important. My thoughts on the matter are what crosses my mind when I am confined to using such a nebulous term.

The itemized list below is how UNESCO and COL define massive, open, online, and course (p. 17):
  • Massive: designed for, in theory, an unlimited number of participants. This means that the course is designed such that the effort required to provide all services does not increase significantly as the number of participants increases.
  • Open: access to the course is free, and there are no entry qualifications.
  • Online: the full course is available through the Internet (using a laptop or desktop computer, a tablet computer or a smartphone).
  • Course: the offering is a course, meaning that it offers a complete learning experience — i.e., it is structured around a set of learning goals in a defined area of study and includes the course materials, assessment tools such as quizzes, feedback, an examination and a certificate of completion.
I particularly like how they define online when they say the course is available through the Internet and not that it is necessarily delivered through the Internet (although it often is). But I view the other three definitions from a slightly different perspective. I define each and then provide a rationale as follows:
  • Massive: The course is designed to be scalable; it has less to do with an actual number of participants and more to do with the potential to educate. The course is designed such that the effort required to deliver the course does not increase significantly as the number of participants increases. Rationale: A MOOC, even in theory, is not designed for an unlimited number of participants based on much of my explanation related to the term course (see below). One should not expect that a MOOC of any kind provide all services to the educative experience, even if the term all services could possibly be defined. Trying to come up with a magic number that defines "massive" misses the point: MOOCs are scalable when it comes to the potential of having a larger number of participants interact without changing much in the way the course is planned and implemented (from a learning design perspective). Of course the implementation of the course (from the learner's perspective) will vary greatly when more participants are engaged, but it does not relate to the effort course designers or instructors put into the course per se. The higher number of participants, the higher learning potential, and the greater level uncertainty or variation into types of assessment and engagement. Uncertainty and variation depend on the degree of prestige and power potential (as social networking concepts) course creators have with the target audience.
  • Open: like any open educational resource (OER), access to the course and any subsequent engagement throughout the course may be "retained, reused, revised, remixed, and redistributed" by anyone (p. 20). Rationale: The term free (as in free beer) is irrelevant because learners may still participate in a MOOC but pay a fee in order to receive more direct feedback (e.g., as one might expect in formal education situations) or they may not pay for the course and rely on emergent feedback that is more dependent on the learner's personal learning network (PLN). Feedback (i.e., formative and summative assessment) coming from a learner who pays for the course usually comes from an educator from an institution who then accredits the learner for having participated in a MOOC, likely engaging with other accrediting and non-accrediting learners alike. The attributes of a MOOC are independent to whether the learner pays for the course or not. Also, stating that there are "no entry qualifications" is misleading if 1) the learner needs to take the course and get accredited (when receiving accreditation is for a fee); 2) the learner fails to have the appropriate readiness level or prior knowledge to begin or to complete the course; 3) the learner does not have the technological wherewithal to access a course available online (e.g., Internet connection, hardware, software, etc.); or 4) the learner does not have the appropriate habit of mind (or metacognitive skill sets) necessary to begin or complete the course (e.g., navigating course content, online engagement, etc.). Depending on the target audience, these considerations may need to be addressed at the beginning of the course in order to make entry qualifications explicit.
  • Online: Course is available publicly online. Rationale: Fine for a general definition but would need to be clearer depending on the context. Some discussion of blended or blended online learning would more than likely be necessary and would directly link to the entry qualifications mentioned above.
  • Course: the offering is a course, meaning that it has a set of course objectives around a particular domain that includes either a recommended or required (synchronous and/or asynchronous) timeframe to complete learning outcomes. Rationale: Of the four facets, this is the one that misses the mark the most. In no way is a MOOC a "complete learning experience". When compared with the learner designer, there is greater potential for the learners themselves to create an educative experience by using a PLN for a particular learning purpose within the context of the MOOC. The learning experience comes from learner decisions (based on both course and personal learning objectives) as to how to interact with the content and with others; it does not come from instruction and differs from differentiating instruction. And a MOOC does not inherently include all course materials and assessment. Course materials used in a MOOC come from learner decisions to one's PLN and may or may not be part of any course content provided by learning designers. And assessment relates to the rationale provided above under open. Assessment for non-accredited learners will depend a lot on how the learner interacts within the individual's PLN, and subsequently will receive forms of assessment on a complete voluntary basis (presumably formative assessment over summative assessment). Assessment for accredited learners (who usually pay a fee) is typically more adopted and adapted to the learner's needs, wants, and hopefully learning preferences, and although should include good amounts of formative assessment can be assured to receive some form of summative assessment. Calling this kind of educative experience a course though does not mean that all forms of assessment are inherent or guaranteed which could be a reason for the low completion rate around MOOCs.
If one is to make sense of MOOCs, then one needs to understand what it is under the particulars that make up the educative experience. For me, it's still all about SCHOOL!

Photo attribution

Friday, July 8, 2016

Learning within a formal educational context

The following was a short response to Measurement, Magic, and Balance...

In a formal education context, assessment depends a lot on the written and taught curriculum. The syllabus should state what declarative and tacit knowledge is to be expected and how learners will be assessed. The balance between formative and summative assessment (heavier on the former than the latter) will determine how learners transform as they close the gap between where they currently are and the expectations articulated in the syllabus as to where they need to be. The educator and the learner work together to help close this gap by assuming different roles and actions as the learner becomes more interdependent and the educator becomes less needed over time. There is nothing magical about this; the balance is knowing how to apply formative and summative assessment in terms of learning what, how, why, when, where, and with whom about both declarative and tacit knowledge based on how they are presented in the syllabus.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Cooperative Learning to Rid Teaching in Isolation

I read with great interest Weston's Teaching Problems (And How to Solve Them) - The Paradigm Series and can certainly appreciate issues around teaching (and learning) in isolation being brought to the forefront. The basic argument is a problem-solution scenario based on distinguishing between teachers co-existing and teachers co-evolving as being a solution to issues related to isolating teaching practice. Teachers who co-exist assumes that teachers, "do their core work alone, all the time, never together" while teachers who co-evolve, "establish mutual goals, foster a common professional language, and develop a shared commitment to specific educational practices for doing core-work" (para. 8). But to better understand the problem, a more nuanced discussion is needed in terms of framing the problem sans suppositions and recognizing the value of cooperation above all else.

Teachers teaching in isolation is a problem many face that few would disagree with, but how to go about addressing this problem typically reduces down to the following: 1) administrative responsibilities toward change and 2) teacher responsibilities toward change. Here, I will focus mainly on the latter and assume a great deal of administrative responsibilities rely on understanding teacher evaluation from a formative assessment lens conducive for making change happen across the institution. Another reason for focusing on teachers as change agents over administrators is that making generalizations about schools or school administers as the problem (e.g., teacher isolation) seems to skirt the issue, thus sidetracking the fact that much of one's own professional learning is within one's control. Thus, the problem should be framed simply as teachers working in isolation are at a disadvantage when it comes to improving pedagogical practice that yields higher student achievement. Framing the problem this way refrains from presenting broad accusations that rarely are always true in all cases. And even if they were true, educators will more often than not have more control over their own professional development than leaving it up solely to school administrators.

Teachers have a responsibility in avoiding the complacency that is teaching and learning in isolation. Even classifying teachers as co-existing and co-evolving does little to shed light on how teachers seldom are ever stripped from having the power to seek professional learning opportunities as needed - think cultivating a personal learning network through elearning. To "exist" or to "evolve" has more to do with a personal choice than school confinement or mandate. Still, I cannot share the same enthusiasm in using words like co-existence and co-evolving in separating two philosophical mindsets that dichotomously put teacher isolation at one end and an apparent community of practice (CoP) at the other. In my mind all humans adapt and adopt based on their surroundings, for better or for worse; perhaps one could argue to co-exist is to adopt more than adapt and to co-evolve is to adapt more than adopt, but regardless, adapting and adopting does not automatically mean the individual is transforming into a better person (e.g., educator). For this reason, an alternative term is needed to clarify what it means to "co-exist" and "co-evolve".

Taking responsibility of one's teaching practice by cooperating with colleagues underpins how teacher isolation begins to dissipate. Cooperation typically happens when individual strengths (based on individual interests, needs, contexts, preferences, identities, etc.) are supported and promoted within an institution and through self-organizing networks that align with individual goals as well as the individual goals established by fellow colleagues. Cooperation contrasts the notion of collaboration where common domains, interests, goals, like-minded individuals, etc. come together via a CoP, striving for organizational goals that take precedence over individual goals. So, teachers who are able to self-organize with colleagues both internal and external to the institution are better positioned to cooperate if they begin making their teaching and learning more transparent and who are willing to work interdependently so that individual goals and objectives are met. Teacher isolation begins to dissipate when cooperative learning begins to meet individual goals and instructional leaders, supervisors, and other administrators learn how to leverage and align the meeting of these individual goals within the context of overarching organizational goals, objectives, and values. A big part of leveraging between organizational and individual goals depends on how teacher evaluations are formative in nature by the support teachers receive when taking risks in their own teaching practice and student learning.

Institutions have a commitment to adhering to a mission and vision statements, but the responsibility of the teacher is to self-organize and to become a network of interdependent individuals by cooperating with each other on topics related to the field of education. There is a synergistic effect when individuals (at any level within the organization) are able to align self-forming and cooperative action among a group of educators to an institutional mission statement in ways that are absent of any coercive behavior interfering with one's pedagogical practice and own professional learning potential. It is beneficial when top-down support facilitates this process when individual goals take precedence, but even in an absence of such support, much can still happen directly from teacher cooperation that emerges bottom up.

Quoting Blanchard, “None of us is as smart as all of us” (as cited in Weston, 2016, para. 16). Perhaps this is true in certain circumstances, but it is also not a given in all cases. The limitations of developing only strong ties, cliques (, and rationalizing are real phenomena that can go against an oversimplified notion that groups of individuals are somehow inherently smarter than the individual. It ignores the dynamic ways individuals communicate: collaboration vs. cooperation; strong vs. weak ties; groups vs. network formation; and leadership by rank, position, or title vs. leadership by entitlement.

Organizations that promote self-organizing, teacher cooperation through interdependent professional learning instances that ultimately align with overall mission and vision statements are better equipped to address issues of teacher isolation when it comes to both individual teaching practice and professional learning potential. Organizational change in this regard is both a bottom up and top down endeavor, but both do not necessary need to occur at the same time - one can have a positive impact on the other and one be precede the other (e.g., cooperative learning from self-organizing groups preceding top-down mandates).

How do you initiate change when it comes to addressing the problem of teacher isolation? Is it hopeless or can something be done? Should change be bottom up or top down? Or does one happen before the other or are they concurrent?

Types of Knowledge Within a Personal Learning Network

Originally posted as a response to Downes's Mental Models I Find Repeatedly Useful.

"...a carpenter has an understanding that goes beyond the tools...This, not the tools, makes a carpenter."

A carpenter comes to my house and makes claims of her craft, articulating a comprehensive understanding of principles related to her profession.  But after beginning the job,  it is apparent that she lacks the tools necessary to bring about this understanding in the form of evidence.  

The tools are never more important than one's understanding (knowledge, etc.), but they are necessary in reifying an understanding.   That is, knowledge, understanding, etc. are not more important than the materials, objects, technologies, etc. used to demonstrate such knowledge, etc...what is more important is understanding the (synchronic/diachronic) associations between the ideational, material, and social relationships that exist around a particular domain, event, or circumstance.  

How relevant is a knowledgable carpenter who is unable to perform (because of a lack of tools) than one who has no knowledge at all.  Ideas (including declarative knowledge), materials, and social relationships (aka a personal learning network) together bring about tacit knowledge.  To understand any one of them is to understand how the other two form a single (synchronic/diachronic) aggregate. 

It is hard to see how an understanding can ever go beyond the tool.  Artificially, I can see how some might view formal education through the use of quizzes and standardized tests as measuring declarative knowledge in the absence of tacit knowledge (practical skills), where perhaps one could admit that understandings go beyond the tool, but I would not put much weight behind this argument. 

Finally, I can see when one might find clever ways to use simpler or more antiquated technologies to become more effective, efficient, and engaged, but one's understanding is not going beyond the tool.  Instead, this is just an example of understanding ideational, material, and social relationships within a particular context.  Conversely, a teacher who has a traditional ideology related to teaching and learning (which creates inefficiencies, etc.) but uses different kinds of technology in his practice is just demonstrating a lack of understanding between the ideational, material, and social relationships that help define the situation.  It is not a misunderstanding of the technology, course content, or interactional pattern(s) as separate entities, but rather how these three come together and how they influence one another.

Curious how others feel.  When do declarative knowledge, understandings, etc. go beyond the tool?

Saturday, July 2, 2016

A Connectivist Story About Gratitude

Below is a story involving my son, which also serves as a text I plan to use for a future composition course where we discuss the differences between academic and creative writing...

I talked to Beny on the phone yesterday afternoon as he explained how he had slipped on the stairs walking up to his seat at the Cinepolis movie theatre in Altaria (Aguascalientes). While he was telling me the story, taking it all in stride, I could see how it might have been a little embarrassing, having this happen in a public place while celebrating the last day of school with three pals from school.  Later did I find out the whole story...

After performing a common ritual of securing soda and popcorn, Beny was walking up a poorly lit stairway before getting tripped up and losing his grip around snacks that he has come to enjoy while watching the opening credits to his favorite movies - yeah, food rarely has a chance of surviving the opening lines of any given film.  As he sat on the stairs trying to gather himself, his pals could hardly contain themselves.  The subsequent 30 seconds that it actually took to pick up after himself and move on to his assigned seat had to feel more like several minutes as slow motion seems to enjoy dragging out embarrassing moments for full effect.  For the next 10 minutes (about the time we spoke on the phone), his crew continued to recall the moment, each having a particular vantage point in recollecting what had happened.  I image it being something like a variation on a theme of the humiliated.  Suddenly, out of nowhere, a perfect stranger approached Beny and his posse and went on to share a similar story of her also falling down the stairs, much in the same way that he had just experienced.  Unbeknownst to Beny, the lady had immediately posted to facebook what had happened, and within minutes the Cinepolis manager on duty had replied to the post, expressing that the boy could find her in order to get a free refill. The good Samaritan passed along the news to Beny, and well, all ended well.

This story is about gratitude more than anything else and how technology offers affordances to individuals who find fulfillment in helping someone else without thinking twice.  In this case, the end result was trivial; however, the chain of events that reached the end result remains the true lesson.  Although Beny thanked all of those involved at the time, he later never found the post in facebook so to extend his gratitude.  But by sharing his story, our "posse" gets to reflect on how empathizing with others leads to actually taking action on someone else's behalf.

Beny has read this post and has given me permission to share his story with others.  I wasn't sure how open he would be about me sharing his experience, but was relieved to find out that he had awarded me a 10 (an A+) for my efforts. I thought the issue might be about inaccuracies of what had transpired, my perspective, or simply not wanting to rehash what had happened, but he seemed to be especially surprised that I even had an ability to put ideas together in the form of a written text (admittedly, others may still not be convinced).  Regardless, what’s a story if it can’t be shared?  #cinepolis #gooddeeds

The Flipped Classroom and Personal Learning Networks

My final post for #openflip Spring 2016 includes discussing the fourth facet of a flipped classroom: a personal learning network (PLN).

Professional learning is to become self-aware of one´s personal learning network in how it contributes to a particular experience. A PLN is having the self-knowledge of how learning spaces, groups and networks, and all forms of learning come together at any particular moment and how they adopt and adapt over time. A PLN is about understanding ideas (beliefs, opinions, thoughts, etc.), materials (objects, technologies, etc.), and human relationships (uni/bidirectional communication, strong and weak ties, etc.) not as isolated notions, but as associations that are influenced by each other. In a flipped classroom scenario, a learning network can be viewed at any level: individual, pairs, small groups, whole class, domains, institution, district, community, global, etc., but what makes a PLN personal is that the power and prestige (from a network and not a sociological perspective) are revealed through the understanding of how all ideational, material, and human nodes connect and surround the individual (e.g., student, teacher, etc.). Thus, the individual remains the unit of analysis but cannot be taken out of context. Understanding a PLN (i.e., a learning network at the individual level) becomes a prerequisite for understanding a learning network at the group level, for instance. Understanding a learning network at the classroom network is to understand the learning networks of various groups, pairs, and individuals, etc. Within the context of formal education, an educator has a responsibility in bringing about awareness of student PLNs as well as one´s own PLN. An expert learner is one who has a high level of self-awareness of a purposeful PLN at any given time and how it adopts and adapts over time - a PLN is at the heart of understanding what a flipped classroom is; how it is employed; and how effective, efficient, and engaging it can be for both learner and educator. In order to become adept, one needs to adopt and adapt a PLN.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Flipped Classroom: Intentional vs. Incidental Learning

After watching OpenFlip Spring 2016 Week Three (noon edition) (#openflip, #flipclass), I quickly began feeling lost at the notion of "intentional content" and it´s relevance in the flipped classroom.  I actually did not disagree with anything mentioned in the video, except when the term intentional content was mentioned, which would lead to a "what are we talking about" moment.  The group discussion quickly forced me to revisit what others said about the third pillar of the flipped classroom (internet search), and then try to relate it to what Ken and others were discussing today...and I think I have it.  Just for the record, my discussion about intentional learning vs. incidental learning was recorded yesterday, before having listened to today's talk. Now, let´s unpack the term, intentional content.

Several definitions around the notion of intentional content seem possible.

  1. Predetermined (or prepackaged) content available outside of class that serves as input that enables learners to take subsequent syllabus-aligned action.
  2. Predetermined (or prepackaged) content available outside of class that serves as input that enables learners to take subsequent non-syllabus-aligned action.
  3. Predetermined (or prepackaged) content available in class that serves as input that enables learners to take subsequent syllabus-aligned action.
  4. Predetermined (or prepackaged) content available in class that serves as input that enables learners to take subsequent non-syllabus aligned action.
  5. Student-created content made available outside of class that is a result of syllabus-aligned action.
  6. Student-created content made available inside of class that is a result of syllabus-aligned action.
  7. Student-created content made available outside of class that is a result of non-syllabus-aligned action.
  8. Student-created content made available inside of class that is a result of non-syllabus-aligned action.
At first glance, one might argue that intentional content is only that which is found outside the classroom.  But in practice, I do not think it is a stretch to image predetermined content beginning the learning process outside of class, then to a certain degree subsequently being part of an educative experience in class. Even in the case of student-created content, if the teacher permits such content to be produced, then there is still a level of intentionality to the process.  Thus, the eight definitions above are all possible when considering what is intentional content, intentional on the part of the educator and not the curriculum.  For this reason, the third pillar (intentional content), seems arbitrary.

In my wiki, I modified the third pillar to my own third facet of the flipped classroom: intentional and incidental learning.

In the eight definitions above, definitions 1, 3, 5, and 6 relate more to intentional learning while definitions 2, 4, 7, and 8 relate more to incidental learning.  Additionally, definitions 1-4 could also include incidental or emergent content as well (as opposed to predetermined content) which brings another level of complexity to the mix - a complexity that I think is also very relevant to the flipped classroom. 

Changing from intentional content to intentional/incidental learning puts more focus on learning by doing and is more pertinent to the idea of flipped the classroom.  Content as input is secondary since 1) the degree to which it enables action highly depends on the individual learner and the particular context and 2) the enabled action really depends on whether an educator can bring both intentional and incidental learning together to meet both curricular and individual goals; when it comes to content creation, the action (intentional/incidental learning) is typically more relevant than any preconceived notion of student-created content.  If student-created content is equally or more important than the learning process, I would question whether or not this falls within the four facets (or pillars) of a flipped classroom.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Flipped Classroom: Learning Community

This week I share my current thoughts on creating a learning community within the flipped classroom (#openflip, #flipclass)...
A learning community stems from both student collaboration and student cooperation. Student collaboration focuses more on the we, and centers around having common goals and best practices. Collaboration requires participants reaching a consensus in how they work together and to what end. The downside to student collaboration is possible coercion. In contrast, student cooperation focuses more on the I, and is the assigning of individual responsibility around a particular task based on one's individual interests, strengthens, and background; then managing those individual interests, strengths, and backgrounds as a collective whole. When students cooperate, there may be a common goal that brings people together, but individual goals take precedent. A possible downside might include individuals putting self-interests over helping others. If the goal is helping learners become more interdependent, then student cooperation has certain advantages over student collaboration. Regardless, both have advantages and potential drawbacks, and both can be incorporated into the overall educative experience so that students learn to work in different ways.
From a pedagogical standpoint, educators need empathy, perspective, and metacognitive strategies to rallying together enough educational stakeholders to promote an open and engaging learning community.

Flexible Learning Spaces

As we enter week one of #OpenFlip Spring 2016, I thought I would create a wiki about my thoughts regarding the four pillars (I call them the four facets) of the flipped classroom.  Under its current (rough) form, it offers a slight variation from teachthought's (2014) version, and likely will undergo several more changes as I continue to reflect on the subject over the next few weeks.  Currently, I have this to say about what I refer to as flexible learning spaces:

Flexible learning spaces relate to one of the four aspects of differentiated instruction: learning environment. Differentiating learning environments offers flexibility to learners as to when and where the educative experience might take place. As with any educational setting, the role of the educator in offering such flexibility comes from being a didactic leader (learner as dependent), facilitator (learner as independent), and coach (learner as interdependent). Thus, the value in thinking in terms of flexible learning spaces comes from the degree with which learners become aware of how these spaces facilitate the learning process, creation of products, and retrieval and creation of content based on a set of educational and personal learning objectives. Within a formal education context, the teacher-student relationship exists from having a perpetual feedback loop that is reciprocal and iterative that over time takes the learner from being dependent, to independent, to finally interdependent. With flexible learning spaces this process becomes more ubiquitous.

In a flipped classroom, having flexible learning spaces is using physical and online educational resources in a way that offers the greatest chance for student achievement.
Thus, I attempt to...

  • provide options for flexible learning spaces and time frames that set out to facilitate engagement and reflection.
  • provide ample amounts of formative assessment that periodically (not continuously) leads to adjustments to instruction and adjustments to learning tactics as required.
  • differentiate product, process, content, and learning spaces collectively as needed in order to help learners become more interdependent.   

Sunday, May 29, 2016

OpenFlip Spring 2016 Course

Just signed up for OpenFlip Spring 2016, #openflip.  Will be thinking about this infograph throughout.

Flipped Classroom
Created by Knewton

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Prescribed Outcomes in Formal Education

Today I came across an image entitled, Types of Student Inquiry, which sparked a Twitter exchange around the notion of prescribed outcomes. I would like to dig a bit deeper into the idea of prescribed outcomes, specifically within the context of formal education.  By formal education, I simply mean teaching and learning that occurs in schools which follow some form of written, taught, and tested curriculum.  This argument does not hold up to informal learning contexts.  My Twitter exchange with Sanchez is more related to what is meant by the term prescribed outcomes and less about educational philosophy; having followed her for some time, I can say we agree on most things when it comes to education.  My argument here has more to do with how others might interpret the idea of inquiry as it relates to their own local practice.

My initial reaction to the types of student inquiry related to the small degree of difference between structured, controlled, and guided inquiry, followed by an enormous jump from guided to free inquiry.  The differences that I am referring to have to do with transitioning learners from being dependent, to independent, to finally becoming more interdependent (You can find more about this by searching interdependent in this blog).  But what stood out the most from these different types of student inquiry was the definition of free inquiry:
Students choose their topics without reference to any prescribed outcome.
After a few Twitter transactions, Sanchez suggested that students, "first come up with ideas & the topic which are approved [by] the teacher but they still choose". (Emphasis added.)

So, one could argue that giving students opportunities to choose about what and how they are learning aligns with the definition of free inquiry based on the definition above.  It sounds logical that letting students decide is equivalent to freeing up the inquiry process. But looking at the underlined part of the definition is what is in question: ...without reference to any prescribed outcome.

When teaching grammar, language educators typically have two approaches: teaching grammar prescriptively and teaching grammar descriptively.  Teaching prescriptively is about making a clear distinction as to what is correct or incorrect when it comes to grammar.  In contrast, teaching descriptively has more to do with teaching or learning grammar based on how it is currently being used within a particular speech community.  An example might include the subjunctive verb, were.
(Prescriptive grammar): I wish I were a millionaire...This is the correct use of the verb were and saying I wish I was a millionaire... is incorrect.
(Descriptive grammar): I wish I was a millionaire...Using was in this case is commonly used in songs, poetry, and common day-to-day interactions in both formal and informal situations, and therefore is acceptable.    
Just as a doctor prescribes medicine or a way of life to a patient who is ill, a teacher at some point "prescribes" an outcome, process, product, or content to a student who is experiencing a gap in knowledge and/or skill sets.  The word prescribe within the context of this post relates to a ¨correct or incorrect¨assessment of outcomes to a given set of desired results (e.g., the curriculum).  Agreed, feedback can be qualitative or quantitative, but in formal education, a student typically either passes or does not pass a class.

Sanchez states, "The image doesn't say students do whatever it says no prescribed outcomes".

If teachers agree that students can choose topics but should be approved by teachers, then the approval process must be based on criteria or a set of standards that all students must follow.  The criteria are usually related to (or based on) outcomes, products, processes, and content.  The criteria are the expectations the students should meet based in large part on the curriculum, and are reflected in the outcomes, etc.  This does not mean that students have no input or may not make any decisions on the outcomes, product, process, or content, but there are expectations that students must meet, and these expectations impact the expected outcomes students are to pursue.

Now, one could argue that teachers may not dictate these outcomes, products, processes, or content before the learning sequence, but the learning objectives are (or should be) determined beforehand.  Outcomes that align with learning objectives can emerge (inductive learning) or they can be shared beforehand (deductive learning);  they can be implicit or explicit. Regardless, at some point outcomes must adhere to standards that will be assessed based on the curriculum.  And because instruction and (formative) assessment are so closely intertwined, topics students discuss must (at some point) be referenced to some prescribed outcome.  This can happen without specifying how the outcome was determined (or by whom) or when throughout the learning sequence the outcome is determined.

As a side note, the act of inquiry is part of an overall learning sequence that likely will also include collaboration, cooperation, creation, etc., so saying that free inquiry has no reference to any prescribed outcome could lead some to believe that outcomes are completely separate from the inquiry process.  It seems logical to believe that the inquiry process (regardless of kind) would also consider various kinds of outcomes.

If students are to receive a grade, or fail/pass marks, then at some point student outcomes become prescribed to the degree that outcomes meet or fail to meet some level of criteria or set of standards that align with a curriculum.  Without such criteria, student outcomes would take on any form.  Having prescribed outcomes simply means that expectations about those outcomes have been communicated, discussed, negotiated, etc., between teachers and all learners.

What are your thoughts about inquiry?  Agree or disagree with my argument?

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Personalized Learning vs. A Personal Learning Network Awareness

I read What is Personalized Learning, and I agree with several things about the overall post, most importantly the opening sentence...Words matter.  This post came after an earlier post of mine which countered the term "personalized learning".  As a result, I feel I need to address this again since there are a few points in yesterday's post that I take issue with.  My ideas are not totally inconsistent with what Downes mentions in his piece, Personal and Personalized Learning, well worth the read, but will attempt to take a slightly different angle.

Philosophical Analysis

Let's first take a look at the use of the term, personalized, which is defined generally, outside the context of education.
to design or tailor to meet an individual's specifications, needs or preferences: a personalized search engine (
We often hear of companies personalizing objects, software, materials, computers, etc. for other companies, which is clearly an appropriate use of the a point.

I used to work for a university who contracted a company to design an accounting software system which was said to be "personalized" based on certain criteria dictated by the institution.  When it came to implementation however, there were many cases where the "personalized" accounting software failed to meet the needs or preferences of the user.  Now, in all honesty, personalizing any accounting software to the needs and preferences of every user within an organization is indeed an impossible task.

Let's look at two attempts to transfer the notion of personalized learning to education.
Tailoring learning for each student's strengths, needs and interests - including enabling student voice and choice in what, how, when and where they learn - to provide flexibility and supports to ensure mastery of the highest standards possible (iNACOL).
"Tailoring" is not the same as "personalizing".  Tailoring instruction and assessment as been mentioned at length in Wiggins and McTighe's (2005) Understanding by Design, and is quite different than "personalizing" something, which in education, is impossible frankly. More on this later.
Buckley's attempt at personalized learning brings together "personalisation for the learner" and "personalisation by the learner" (Wikipedia). 
Buckley is on to something, but using the word, personalization, gets in the way.  Let's analyze.

Personal Learning Network

For the purposes of this discussion, I will use the term personal learning network (PLN) to mean any and all associations between 1) ideas, beliefs, thoughts, concepts, etc.; 2) materials, objects, technologies, etc.; and 3) human relationships.  A PLN will also be used instead of the notion of a personal learning environment; the former again will include ideational, material, and human nodes in their aggregate, both as they exist at any given moment and/or how they morph, create, and deplete over time.

Without a doubt, teachers are huge factors in how students use their PLN for the purposes of achieving course and personal objects within a formal education context.  But a PLN never begins from nothing and changes into something.  It always has and always will exist, for better or for worse.  Learning is a particular change in one's PLN for a particular purpose (whether intentional or incidental), usually allowing one to either be able to do something new or to realize a new perspective (i.e., to think differently).

To personalize a learning experience for a learner would mean having some god-like ability to control every possible (ideational, material, and human) node configuration that came directly (one degree of separation) or indirectly (two or more degrees of separation) in contact with the individual.  Impossible.  If we look at Buckley's "personalisation by the learner", this would mean that the learner is beginning (presumably from nothing) to personalize (or control) every aspect of ideational, material, and human nodes that came directly and indirectly with the person.  Again, not possible.

The term personalized learning is not needed in education when referring to teaching and learning because we already have more accurate terms already available in the literature.


What follows is a counter to What is Personalized Learning?
Tailoring learning for each student’s strengths, needs and interests–including enabling student voice and choice in what, how, when and where they learn–to provide flexibility and supports to ensure mastery of the highest standards possible.
I do not think tailoring is the same as personalizing.  Differentiated instruction is a clearer term that means the same as this definition, except for the focus on students' strengths.  It seems negligent to ignore differentiating content, process, product, and environments based also on students' weaknesses.  
Personalized learning includes the idea of connectivism... In personalized learning environments, educators seek to meet each student within their own zone of proximal development.
This is the first time I have ever witnessed someone attempt to connect #connectivism with a cognitivist idea - the zone of proximal development (ZPD), a concept belonging to the Vygotsky's sociocultural camp.  The ZPD actually is another reason why personalized learning falls short.  The problem with using ZPD is that it is impossible to accurately determine the ZPD of any one individual (either at a given point of time or over time), let alone a group of 20+ students in a particular class.  Likewise, it is impossible to determine what a learner can truly do on her own, and what she can do with the assistance of a more capable other (e.g., teacher or classmate).  The ZPD also fails when explaining how students learn by helping less capable others (e.g., reciprocal teaching).

Differentiated Instruction

Practitioners mentioned different components of personalization (differentiated instruction, student agency, flexible pacing, etc,), but differentiated instruction really covers most of these components.  Differentiating content, process, product, and environment pretty much covers it.  Giving students agency, (democratic education), giving them a voice, etc., allows them to take responsibility of their own learning.  If we just removed personalized learning from the discourse, a more accurate discussion could be made on how to create educative experiences for the active learner.

Buckley was on to something though if he just had worded it a bit differently.  Instead of bringing together "personalisation for the learner" and "personalisation by the learner", the job of the educator is to bring better awareness among their learners of their respective PLNs as they pertain to specific contexts, conditions, and purposes so that learner can transition from being dependent, to independent, to later being interdependent. This has nothing to do with personalization, and has everything to do with having the metacognitive skills and insight to cultivate a (ideational, material, and human) nodal collective that best serves the individual and society at large.  It appears that Buckley was all about awareness building, but I would frame it as a PLN as opposed to personalized learning.

Words do matter.  Conflating words like connectivism and ZPD when trying to justify "personalized learning", seems to cloud the issue.  No need to add yet another buzzword when we have plenty that currently exist in the literature that say the same thing in a much more unified, coherent, and cohesive way: differentiated instruction, understanding by design, paideia seminar, greater awareness of one's personal learning network, problem-based learning, task-based learning, content and academic language learning approach, sheltered-instruction operation protocol, content and language integrated learning, etc.

Personalized learning already exists, and has always existed simply because each individual is unique.  Each person already has a PLN, for better or for worse, whether the individual is aware of its potential or not, even if the educator never differentiates instruction whatsoever.  Each learner will experience the exact same situation and subsequent situations differently, even if told to do the exact same thing.  To personalize anything requires using past experiences and current understandings (which are unique to the individual) to link the known with the unknown.

In order to link the known with the unknown (i.e., learning), educators can help learners better cultivate their (already existing) PLN for a particular purpose.  Educators and students alike are making decisions throughout this awareness process, but it is not personalized learning.  Learning happens at both a cognitive and metacognitive level, through constant "tweaking" of monitoring of learning and making inferences based on empirical (observational) data.  It´s´s simple, yet complex.  Personalized learning is not dichotomous (all or nothing), but rather inherent in the individual learner (for better or for worse) regardless what happens in the outside world.

I can agree with many concepts that others associate with when linking these concepts with personalized learning, without agreeing with the term itself.  I have done the same with the term massive open online course (MOOC) as well. If one feels compelled to use the term personalized learning, envision how it would look in practice and then thoughtfully distinguish this term (empirically) with concepts that already existent in the literature.

What have I missed?  Looking at the pragmatics of teaching and learning, what does personalized learning add to the discourse that hasn't already been said?