Saturday, July 4, 2009

Three effective training experiences in one week

Those who know me may have a laugh at this (given my usual loathing of classroom learning) but this week I attended a classroom-based workshop to learn a database. The first part of the course, the theory, I had studied online and the classroom component had two reasons for being: 1. to provided a simulated environment using a test database so those attending could learn how to use an international database, before they got let loose on it. 2. a supervised assessment for the same so that an industry recognised certificate (license to use the database) could be issued. Both valid reasons in my opinion for requiring a face-to-face, that is: to enable delivery of training that might otherwise have ramifications if students were left to their own devices and for licensing purposes. What really surprised me was how well the course was delivered. The tutor revised what we already new from the course and checked our knowledge levels in the process. The agenda and expectations for the day and half course were clearly laid out. Delivery used a demonstration, redomonstrate and then have a go in pairs and finally on your own approach. Delivery was what I would call onion based - it started with the small core of what we already knew and then kept building on it in small acheivable chunks, adding layers to our knowledge until the whole class was fully competent by the end of the workshop. This was done in a friendly, non-demeaning and non-threatening manner. I heard other students comment that it was a refreshing approach and unstressful. I enjoyed my time at the workshop and met some great people too.

Earlier in the week I had another effective training experience. My hobby/addiction is learning languages (mostly Spanish and German with lots of dabbling in others thrown in) but one that has always been a brick wall for me is Welsh, the language of my grandmother. I'm not alone in this. Various approaches have been used for trying to teach this unique language over the years. The dialogue with grammer points explained is used by the Teach yourself book series. Some teach it using a bilingual approach with simple welsh and english on facing pages, supplemented with a basic vocabulary and key sentence patterns. Others use a formal grammar based approach - memorise the grammar and the vocab lists (Ugh!). All this resulted in me being able to read some Welsh but with no ability to put a simple sentence together. Where SaySomethingInWelsh differs is that it uses much the same onion-ring delivery approach as my above database experience. It starts with a very small core of pronouns (I and you) and some basic verbs (to go, to want, to speak etc) and some basic spoken sentences using these. It keeps building variations on these basic sentences by first turning them into questions, introducing yes/no answers, then negatives, future tense and past tense. It only adds a small amount of key words at a time. So by the end of about the first five lessons you (or at least I'm) putting together some pretty complex sentences without having to think to much about it and in one of the more different of the indo-european languages. Its almost like the original speakers of Welsh spoke a non-indoeuropean language and then one-day just up and replaced all the words with indo-european equivalents but kept the grammar of the older language.

My third effective training this week was real life. I have had a mentor for the last year who's been trying to get me fully conversant and confident in applying robust project management, risk management, continuous improvement, clear and specific communication, measurable goals to enable evaluation and a client focus to my work. Of course I already thought I did all this but life had a way this week of really pounding home to me how important it is to take this stuff seriously.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The role of educators in supporting independent learners

Here's my slidecast (hopefully as I haven't tried to put one inside a blog before). Rather than plan a flexibly delivered course I've taken the student's perspective and outlined the suppotive role educators can take in helping self-directed learners to acheive their formal learning goals:

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Lectures by influential teachers

Reading the latest on Peter Shank's blog I came across: 100 Free Online Lectures that Will Make You a Better Teacher. I think they were right to list Gilbert Strang in the lectures by influential teachers but they forgot the best of all He's a 71 year old who runs up and down ladders to stage his demonstrations and does demos like measuring the speed of a bullet - if you're not interested in physics its still dry but its probably as close as they've come so far to Mythbusters style university. Academic Earth is also has a presence in Facebook now. A directory to a lot of educational material (videos and podcasts) is oculture

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Supporting diy learners

So you have a self-directed learner who doesn't want to sit in class for more than is necessary - how can you as a teacher, mentor or learning facilitator support their learning and their achievement of their learning outcomes. Maybe this is my topic (thanks Brownwyn - see comments to the post below). This might be loosely titled "how to not-teach but support and guide a diy learner". This could be broken down into the following parts

Finding out what is driving them to learn the subject. How do they emotionally feel about the subject ( are there any fears and hangups brought over from earlier attempts at learning this)? How do they want to learn? Do they want to take on the subject wholistically and fill in the bits as they go or do they want it in a linear fashion, delivered in small achievalbe chunks, or a mix? How do they want to use the knowledge or skills once they obtain them - can you help them to discover the applications, benefits and other rewards. Where could adding even further to this knowledge take them in the future (the dream)?

What are the holes in their existing knowledge and how you can support them in discovering what these holes are and working with them to help formulate a strategy for progress - developing a roadmap, preferably visual and maybe helping them to construct a connective map of how the knowledge they wish to acquire will fit will connect with what they already know and do in their life.

A knowledge resource map of where to how to start their own search on the web (suggest search terms). Sites to check out but don't worry to much with specific urls as they get old quick. Give them a review of a choice of free online texts or readings that they could use for reference. Whose video's should they watch. Is there anything or anyone in polular culture (videos, fiction or online games) that might inspire them in the topic. Are there animations, puzzles, games and other interactive memory aids that might help them embed some of the harder stuff. Let students add their own reviews of stuff they find so they can improve the experience for future students (maybe on a wiki)

Teaching skills - where possible use videos and animations that the student can watch and rewatch, slow down and rewind, see from multiple angles etc. Is there a retiree in the student's community that can mentor the student. If its difficult or dangerous then do some face-to-face delivery. Support the student in discovering or choosing their own preferred ways to learn.

A context to learn and try out skills. For high risk skills this may have to be in a supervised workshop but for many things the student may be able to find a context in their own life, work, club, study-group or community where they can try out their skills. Set realworld based problem solving activities so the student can see relevance in what they are learning. Report back can be by video, webcam and supported by reference, as a way of confirmation, by a third party.

Assessment - preferably without ever using the "A" word. Let them explain or demo to someone else, share what they have done through reflection etc. Written tests should be left for "must have" knowledge that is madated by curriculm or licensing requirements. Where possible use what they have done to recognise skills and knowledge used in real contexts.

Throughout - check with the student often to see how they are going and offer reinforcement, guidance, suggestions and encouragement. Connect with them by Skype, elluminate, email, sms, face-to-face - what ever they prefer.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What to do?

I'm up to the "What's your idea?" bit on and its asking

  1. What is your idea for flexible learning?
  2. What examples of Flexible Learning does your idea draw on?
  3. How does your flexible learning plan fit with an educational organisation's strategic directions?
  4. What are the considerations, risks, concerns that you will need to resolve before you can implement your plan for flexible learning

To be frank I'm stuck, as I'm not actually teaching a particular subject. I'm a learner at heart and I'm passionate about elearning. I do work in the vocational education field but not actively as a trainer, at the moment. I do have a micro business (just started out this year) creating and customising learning objects and material for other people.

I'm wondering if the reason why I'm in a mental block on this is because I'm uncomfortable coming up with an actual course. As a learner what I want is more a learning map to get me to a particular goal within an agreed time - much like this wikieducator course has done. As a learner I want something that saves me searching time, highlighting the best and free learning resources out there, gives me hints on how to construct my own learning and gives me a way to test my progress against a widely acknowledged benchmark. In part I've tried to do this through my existing wikispace in regard to ways of learning languages, without the testing/self-assessment part because I don't have a good enough knowledge myself of the (for example) European levels commonly used internationally for such bench marking.

If I was to do something similar on say "worm farming", "edible landscape gardening" or "small-scale rainforest rehabilitation" (two things I do in my "spare" time would I do it in wikispaces or wikibooks or wiki-educator? - I'm really not sure.

Adult numeracy also interests me. Most people reach a point in their maths ability where they can't progress. what's needed when that happens is someway of self-assessing what underpinning knowledge needs strengthening so that progress can take place. Its also hard to get a visual interconnective map of how the different types of math: geometry, algebra and so on fit together to enable future learning and vocational application within industry - ie where can I use this stuff? what's it good for? But that is probably something of huge scope and not something that I have enough underpinning skills to take on.

I'm more used to helping others with their stuff than doing this myself

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Cultural Aspects of Flexible Learning

I'm responding to

Tasmania is outwardly a uniform culture but as in any part of the world, I expect, there is a significant level of diversity. Mountainous, but not quite as much as New Zealand, the island has many valleys. The Huon Valley with its long history of fruit growing, once apples now other fruits like cherries too. Below the Huon lies Cygnet where alternative lifestylers live side by side with the established community. The Derwent Valley, once known for its hop growing (still some), small fruit (raspberries and currants) and logging industries. Hobart, once a busy port with whaling and ship building industries at the end of the 1800s - now a sprawling riverside city of some 200,000 people. And I've only mentioned a very small part of the state. Ethnically we are a mix of the original inhabitants (descendants of the Tasmanian Aborigines) and the descendants of convicts and free settlers from Britain and migrants from all parts of Britain, Italy, Greece, Lebanon, most of Eastern Europe and more recently from Vietnam, Laos, Japan, China and Sudan as well as many other places.

What is the biggest source of variation amongst Tasmanian is not culture but whether you are in city or the country. Often as not the country has no broadband (although there is whisper that that might change soon), no piped water, no local doctor, maybe a local shop that sells bread, milk and basics while doubling as the local post office. As an inhabitant of country Tasmania I am passionate about flexible learning because it is one of the few ways available to me and others like me to access formal learning, that is via distance learning, online learning or skills recognition.

Stumbling upon all sorts of stuff

I had a rare moment of having time to ramble around the internet over the weekend. During the week I had downloaded the newly revamped Google Chrome browser to which I quickly became a convert - its fast even on dialup and very user friendly. I'd also had some reason, I can't remember what, to revisit stumble upon and this time got curious enough to try it. This led me on to Academic Earth with Gilbert Strang's wonderfully clear thoughts on linear algebra and a series of lectures on Ancient Greek History which I've duly favorited in Stumble upon and bookmarked in delicious for later viewing. Digressions from these led me to look at Tedtalksdirector on Youtube, including a talk Jamais Cascio: Tools for building a better world on which is a site that promotes the idea that we can indeed change the world for the better - did you know there are whole eco-village suburbs in places like LA? Or how about Michael Merzenich on re-wiring the brain? So the weekend left me feely very much enriched. I finished off by watching a new crime mystery series on RTV Spain The web is my learning platform! (when I have time)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Study workload and other obstacles for students

I was asked to have look at Estimating student workload, readability and implications for student learning and progression It got me thinking: what if we had required great thinkers like Einstein to have a couple of doctorates, ie have written a bucket load of acadmic stuff, before we listened to their ideas? It would have held the world back - no relativity theory, no decipherement of cuniform, no discovery of Troy, no continental drift theory...until someone had published or studied enough gained the right to comment came up with the same ideas. So why do some institutions require their students to do X amount of work before they issue a qualification. Even in competency based training I have come across trainers who wanted proof that students had worked through the course material they had! This is often given as a reason for putting learning material inside a learning management system - so you can see the student's use of the course.

Instead of workload quantity what should count is a student's
  • understanding of key principles and concepts
  • their ability to apply their knowledge and skills to real world problems
  • their ability to reflect on, share and transfer their knowledge and skills to others through writing, demonstrations and other media
How they got there is unimportant, as long as their way of learning worked for them.

Excessive workloads = stress and/or boredom which tends to course non-completion, which is a sad waste for the student who was originally motivated enough to enrol.

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

University 2.0

What would I want to see from a univerity of the future:
  • being able to work with an advisor to design my own course of study/qualification to meet my unique learning goals
  • a learning mentor who would help me find the resources and experience I would need to achieve my learning goals.
  • a learning mentor who could help keep me motivated with plenty of feedback on how I was progressing towards my learning goals
Those learning resources and experiences would not necessarily have to be web based. They could be within my own community, stuff within my own work and life. They could be people I should meet and network with. They could be must read books or videos. It might even include a short, to the point, talk from an expert.

Being self-directed (supported with mentoring and feedback) and not based in scheduled class-room based experiences wouldn't take from the validity of the learning. Learning outcomes could still be assessed and validated. The learning could be benchmarked against that achieved by individuals with similar goals and interests.

What would matter was whether I was doing the training for interest or a future job. If for interest then the opinions of other experts in that field would matter, re my learning outcomes. If for a job then the opinions of those who might buy my skills would be important.

Reasons for doing such learning would therefore be:

  • access to knowledge experts
  • access to learning support to help acheive learning goals
  • validating knowledge acquired against accepted levels in that field of interest (maybe for reasons of self worth or standing within a specific group)
  • making yourself more employable

If you didn't need any of the above then you'll just continue to learn on your own.

Moving back from edublogs

Well I started in blogger and now I'm back. My edublogs site was either getting hacked or edublogs itself was putting advertising on my site so here I am. I'll miss my worpress template but at least here I'll be able to use embed code (videos and the like)