Tag Archives: online learning

Online platforms for personalisation, analytics and immediate feedback #fliptm #TMACT

Last week I presented at the Gungahlin College Flipped TeachMeet on the topic of personalisation, feedback and analytics. The format of the TeachMeet was a bit different to the usual – presenters recorded their presentation via video and posted it online prior to the event, so the focus of the sessions was on discussion around the ideas. My video is embedded below and explains some of the tools I’m using to personalise learning, provide automated feedback to students and analyse data about student achievement to help identify where additional support is needed.

In the video I talk about a few platforms I’ve used extensively in class:

  • Grok Learning – Learn to program in Python, and get instant feedback every time you attempt a problem. For teachers, the dashboard really is an excellent tool that gives you an overview of student progress and helps you identify what topics students need extra support with.
  • Treehouse – This platform contains guided lessons and activities that help you learn a range of topics. For us our focus is on Web Design/Development, and it allows students to pick and choose individual paths to help them learn the skills and knowledge that is most suitable for where they’re at. Like Grok, feedback is given in browser so you can quickly see if you understand the material being presented.
  • Schoology – Our LMS provides us with automated quiz/test tools that give us a way of quizzing students and checking that they are grasping the material. Since students are provided with feedback on their progress, they can use this to identify their areas of strength and weakness and seek targeted assistance from teachers.
  • Oppia – A new open-source platform that allows users to create “explorations” that provide guided, personalised paths through the learning of material. Explorations can direct students to different activities depending on their answers to previous questions, which better targets the individual needs of each student.

There was a lot of enthusiasm on the night from teachers of many disciplines and school levels for Oppia in particular due to its flexibility, and I’m looking forward to working with some teachers at my school to see just how powerful it can be as a platform. I’m even thinking I’d be interested in contributing to the codebase as the group of us identify features we see as integral to it becoming a useful tool.

The K-12 Horizon Report 2013 lists learning analytics as a trend we’re likely to see having an impact in schools in the next 2-3 years, and its clear based on tools like Oppia and some of the third-party proprietary tools I’ve seen recently that data is becoming increasingly important in education circles. Being able to harness that data to better meet the needs of our students won’t put us out of a job – what it will do, though, is allow us to utilise our time better and focus on the things that are important to our students, rather than what might be important from our curriculum authorities.

MOOCs: How good are they from a learning perspective?

I’m currently working through my 3rd course no a MOOC – a Massively Open Online Course. This one is hosted on the Venture Lab platform and is called “Designing a New Learning Environment“. Prior to this one, I’ve completed two on the Coursera platform – one on Cryptography and the other on Gamification. Based on these experiences so far, I thought it was time to reflect on the effectiveness of these environments as learning tools.

I should start by saying that as far as motivation for learning is concerned, I’m pretty driven. I don’t need a structured course to get me interested in learning about something – just an interest or desire to want to know more about it. The problem is that its easy to want to know a lot about lots of things, and you tend to get distracted by others as you’re trawling through the wealth (?) of information available to us now via the the Internet. So I jumped into these as a way of providing some focus for my learning – in that regard, they’ve been pretty successful.

I’ve managed to make the time in my already full schedule to spend a few hours a week working through the materials. I’ve identified topics of interest to me, and devoted the time necessary to get my head around the concepts. Some have been pretty challenging (it had been a while since I’d done any real mathematics, and while the Crypto stuff wasn’t overly complicated, it required getting my head back into the notation peculiarities of the discipline), others pretty cruisy (I never really felt “challenged” by the Gamification course, even though it was interesting). It’s my feeling that there’s something available through these MOOCs that will be of interest to everyone.

The big plus of these platforms is the access it gives you to world class academics. They allow leaders in their fields to present materials to anyone from anywhere, and that’s great for everyone who gets involved. It’s also great marketing for the Universities involved. Actual interaction with the professors is virtually non existent, but given these courses can upwards of tens of thousands of participants, what more can you really expect.

And while there are capabilities in the platforms for people to engage with others (the usual forums, peer assessment tools and the capacity to comment on other people’s work) I have to admit that I haven’t felt the urge to engage beyond what I’m required to do. Perhaps I’m just too busy to do so, but I can’t help but feel that ultimately it comes down to the way the content is being delivered.

You see, it is still based on the lecture-task-evaluation paradigm – sure, evaluation may be by peers, but once something is submitted and assessed, there’s no real reason to go back to it. And given the assessment tasks are primarily individual (there are group tasks coming in DNLE, but we’re not there yet), there’s no motivation to collaborate on them in the lead up to submission either. It is essentially about watching/listening to the lecture, applying that to a problem, then moving on to the next one. All pretty low on the Bloom’s taxonomy classification scale.

The DNLE course is attempting to go beyond that with an emphasis on teams creating a design for a new type of learning. The goal is admirable, but so far I’m not feeling it. I don’t want to be too critical given there’s still a while to go yet, but so far I haven’t really felt the mechanisms for true collaboration have existed in the platform or the method of delivery.

I’ve formed a team with colleagues I know through other means (the OzTeachers mailing list), and we set up a Google+ hangout to throw around some ideas for a team-based project initially. Apart from that though, there has been little collaboration. There is a video-chat capability in the Venture Lab platform, but because of the way we’ve built our team up, I just haven’t had the desire to use it.

For someone like me who is happy to work alone on things and doesn’t require a stack of extrinsic motivation, the existing MOOC structure is fine – it provides a scaffold for me to keep my learning on track, and that’s what I need to keep from getting distracted. However, for people who want to engage with others in meaningful ways (and I enjoy doing this too), these platforms seem to be a bit too disconnected from the networks we already engage in heavily.

MOOCs in general, and platforms like Venture Lab in particular, are still very much in their infancy. But My attitude towards them so far is that if they don’t evolve quickly to offer more than online courses have since early LMSs launched in Universities and Schools in the early 2000s, their appeal for may people won’t last. As a cost cutting measure for universities they’re a great tool, but as they currently exist they use the same methods of teaching that have always existed, and that’s not advancing learning like it needs to.

We know that models of learning and teaching have to change. Moving what we do now into the online space is hardly sufficient to advance things further. We need to see some truly transformative education platforms and tools – MOOCs (at least for now) do not fit that profile.


cLc in the DET

As I mentioned in a previous post, the ACT DET has recently announced the adoption of the cLc by Uniservity as its new Virtual Learning Environment. Over the last couple of days I’ve had the opportunity to really begin exploring how it operates, and here are my intial thoughts.

1. It has a lot of useful features

Now it’s probably true of every modern learning environment that many things Web 2.0 have been included – things like Wiki and Blog services, podcasting and RSS etc. The cLc has a quite extensive set of services built-in, and the editors allow a reasonable amount of flexibility to insert other stuff that isn’t built into the system. You can embed videos from YouTube and do all the usual stuff, but it doesn’t have every feature I would have liked. One of the obvious ones missing for me is an RSS aggregator/feed reader that can be attached to users and classes – given how much easier it is to have relevant content fed to you now, it’s a big hole that I would like to see filled in future versions.

2. The Interface needs work

I’ve spoken with the vendor and he’s acknowledged that the interface does have an “old school” feel about it – given it’s evolved from around 8 years ago that’s no real surprise. The good news though is that in September, Uniservity are releasing cLc Life – an update to the environment that will have a dramatic impact on how the user interface works. I’m going to reserve my criticisms of this aspect of the system until after Life is released and I’ve had a chance to use it, but until that happens, I feel that the complexities involved in using some elements will be a bit of a deterrent to teachers.

3. It will integrate nicely with our student management system

Setting up any online learning environment involves the tedious process of populating it with users and grouping them into classes (or whatever unit you want to use). Thankfully, this will be alleviated when the cLc launches in the production phase – the system will integrate nicely with Maze (our admin system) so that class lists are automatically populated with data, and the ability to do things like send one-click emails to groups of parents based on the school email records will make communicating much easier than it is now (gone will be the days we have to manage our own mailing lists). There are a few more minor challenges we need to address here, but they are related more so to the processes involved in keeping info up to date rather than the cLc itself.

4. It’s going to require a cultural shift

There are a number of ways that the cLc could be leveraged to deliver online learning experiences for our students, but its going to be important that our school works out a strategy that is going to work for our community. The ability to share resources across multiple classes should help alleviate workload concerns if staff work smarter, and ultimately allow more time spent planning as a collective which will be much more efficient than everyone planning things on their own. But this is going to require staff to embrace the change, and that’s an issue that we’d face regardless of the environment being adopted.

Am I as excited as I’d hoped I’d be when I first heard about it? No. Am I of the opinion it is going to have benefits to our students? It definitely has that potential, but ultimately that rests not with the cLc itself, but with the ability for our teachers to rise to the challenge and rethink the way they approach the use of an online learning environment to support their teaching.

Another example where it’s not about the technology, but it is about the pedagogy.