Wednesday, March 24, 2010

ePortfolio sessions

This week I have had 2 ePortfolio sessions with 2 different group of students. One group with a good age mix and another with students arranging from 16-24 year old with a couple probably in the 30s.

About the session:

Well the sessions went well. I always begin by saying use of portfolio in education is not new. It gives the students a sense of believe that what they'll be doing in the session and later in the course is not new. I normally follow this with a question, how did it use to be done. The answer mostly is on paper. I follow this up with, so what problems arise from doing things on paper? Students are normally quick to point out that things begin a nightmare to manage, forget about sharing and collaborate. Now that the students themselves have identified the problem I introduce the E.

Throwing in the mix Facebook, Bebo, Myspace and Youtube helps and also pointing to students who have profiles on any of these systems that they already have a portfolio.  Facebook, Bebo, Myspace and Youtube could be classified as a SOCIAL Portfolio. ePortofolio - e meaning electronic or going digital. Asking the students now to identify the benefits works wonders. In the two sessions I did this week, students in both sessions identified the ability to share, communicate, collaborate and co-create is vastly increased in an online environment. The concept of leaving feedback on Facebook or Myspace and Youtube is not very different to what the students will be needed to do in their course portfolio. Having discussed this and pointing out that your Facebook portfolio is SOCIAL and what is needed in the course is a PROFESSIONAL portfolio seems to help students understand the concept better.

I like to start talking about ePortfolios by asking students to explain this diagram that was done by my former colleague Hazel Owen.
The diagram outlines three very important elements of an ePortfolio, audience, the stage and back-stage. Knowing who you are developing the portfolio for helps you with the content and also helps you keep the portfolio focused. Students identify their two main audience as teachers and potential employers. The stage I find to be very interesting especially if you have teachers in class. The stage is where you are performing and this rises a very interesting question, who is the performer, the teacher or student? The obvious answer is student, it has to be if he/she is expected to talk about it in the portfolio. But if the teacher takes the centre stage in learning everyday, how can you expect the students to hand-in a good portfolio. An eportfolio for assessment in learning only works if students are handed a fair chance to create its own experience on the stage hence creating a event to reflect on. The content becomes the back-stage, what the student did to prepare for it, planning, time management, documentation, reading, writing and research all spiced up by reflecting on the performance on the stage.

After I have established this platform, I take the students through this plan. The session follows, what an eportfolio is, why create one, getting started and finally posting the first blog to get over any initial fears. We are using Blogger as the platform for students to create their portfolio. The choice to go with Blogger was because it makes managing the content easier since it hookers up with Picasa, Youtube and Google Docs very easily. Students are asked to create a Google account first and in the session I take them through Gmail (Video and Voice chat), Documents, Youtube, and Calender. This combination of tools makes Google a very tempting choice. There is not a huge learning curve for the students to get started with most of Google tools.

Now back to the two groups of students I mentioned earlier in the post. I found the students in the class of age group 16-25 years very open to the idea of ePortfolios, whereas the older students out right commented 'Why would I waste my time'. I don't believe in comments like age is a factor in using technology for learning. I believe it is a persons attitude or fear that is holding them back. In the session at regular intervals I run polls and surveys to assure unwilling students in class that you are not alone in this journey. The lecturer and the number is willing students are always available for help, all you have to do is ask. I also at this stage open the room up for discussion and encourage the willing students and persuade and assure the unwilling students why they think eportfolio is the way to go. I found it valuable to get a discussion going amongst students to help them help each other.

Follow up sessions with these students are planned.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Technology and Literacy

The use of technology in learning is increasing and it will grow to be an important tool for the students. Not to say it is not at the moment. Some schools have really embraced learning technologies and really see it as the tool to improve learning. It is no different at Unitec, New Zealand. The eLearning strategy that is being rolled out this year together with the Living Curricula will certainly put technology as the tool for improved learning and teaching.
While talking about a project I am involved in today at a meeting, I was asked how the use of technology in this course was meeting the literacy needs of the institution and other interested stakeholders?

Well for me personally any learning that is driven by technology has to be better than the old traditional transmission method. Technology empowers the students, helps them form their own identity and also helps students identify how they learn best.

It is all good to say a questionnaire can help determine or find the literacy need of a student but is it a matter of asking someone who knows no better? For me literacy is a transformational journey, the needs of a student changes, it does not remain the same every time. Well for a transmission style teaching the questionnaire will work wonders! Things are prescribed for the students hence the literacy needs of a student can easily be determined.

True learning for me happens when a student is responsible of its own learning. The teacher is facilitating learning by encouraging student generated content. 'If I am creating, I am learning', student centred learning hence is the platform you want to be building on if you went to improve literacy in students.

I came across this interesting blog post by Clive Thompson about Andrea Lunsford. Lunsford is a professor at Stanford University where she embarked on a project called Stanford Study of Writing to analyse students use of written and spoke language. Lunsford collected 14,672 student writing samples dating from year 2001-2006, the samples were made up of in-class assignments, formal essays, and journal entries to emails, blog posts, and chat sessions.

Having reviewed the samples Lunford states,"I think we're in the midst of a literacy revolution the likes of which we haven't seen since Greek civilization". Technology was identified as the catalyst that was driving the revival of writing and not only this, it is also creating use for it in many different ways (you can read more about this here).

If you would just take a step back and reflect on what's driving the Web 2.0 craze? Communication, collaboration, creation and networking all of which is underpinned by use of language either written, spoken or visual.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Twitter story

Lisa Etheridge (lisatickledpink), a second year design student here at Unitec woke up on Thursday morning (4/3/10) a Twitter celebrity! Lisa is a student involved in a project Thom Cochrane and Isaac Flitta (staff from Te Puna Ako and Department of Design) are doing with universities from Chile and Ireland.The students from all three universities in the project are using Twitter as a communication tool. The time difference between the three country makes Twitter a perfect fit.

Thom Cochrane ran a Twitter session with the students here at Unitec involved in the project and Lisa Etheridge was one of them. Lisa's first twit to the Twitterverse was "I hate technology".

At the same time in the USA Leo Laporte and Co were looking for someone new to Twitter with less than 3 followers to promote to their 150,000 strong TV show followers. Leo was doing this to show a celeb it is not difficult to get 15,000 followers on Twitter hence the random select. One person from Leo Laporte's group searched for the exact words Lisa had twitted "I hate Technology" of cause Lisa wasn't the only one who twitted these words but what made her special was that she was from New Zealand and the guy who searched for these words had just had an awesome vacation in New Zealand. This is how Lisa became their choice. It was televised live and people watching were asked to randomly follow lisatickledpink. By Friday morning (5/3/10) Lisa had more than 3000 followers ..... the number is still increasing at a steady rate of 10 followers per minute and now stands at 15,638 (as at 10/3/10 @ 11.28 pm).

All this happened, Lisa had become an overnight Twitter Celebrity and she didn't have a clue. She would have had a shock looking at her inbox. She panicked and locked her Twitter profile and spent sometime looking for answers. She after a few minutes unlocked her account and posted her second twit!

Lisa has so far had an Interview on Kiwi FM (Youtube video attached) and she is tomorrow morning featuring in a 1 minute interview on TV 1 outlining her experience so far with Twitter and the expectations from her 15,000 strong followers.

Lisa receives an iPad from Leo Laporte and one lucky follower will also receive one.

The project Lisa is involved in now has a greater scope and a global audience to learn and collaborate with. Reading some of Lisa's recent posts, she has already started making use of the knowledge and expertise from her community.

Lisa's Blog site:

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

CAME Project kicks off

Last week I took the first lot of students from the Certificate in Automotive and Mechanical Engineering course through Google Apps and Blogger. We had about 20 students in class and they all had their own laptops. I wasn't at all ready for this. David Clarke (lecturer in the course) gave me a call early Monday morning asking if I could do something with the students the same day. I was anticipating this but later in the week. I am happy to report the 2 hour session however went smoothly and I managed to achieve what was very quickly planned.

I have since put together a wikispaces resource centre for students. This will make the next session later this week easier for me. Here is the link to the wikispaces website.

Yesterday we gave out Dell Mini 9 Netbooks to a select group of students. It was very interesting to observe how excited and quick the students were to to jump on the net. The Netbooks which were given out were pre-configured hence it made it easy for the students to be connected. I have to say the first site they all opened (most of them did) was Youtube. It is suprising to see how Youtube is replacing Google as preferred search or reference website in the younger generation. The Dell Minis come with a built-in camweb, bluebooth, and Wifi, the only problem with it is limited storage space (it has a 8 gig main drive storage).

The storage space shouldn't be a big issue since students are making extensive use of Google. However we have supplied the students with a 8gig SD card so they can use this to store any video and pictures they may take during to course. Students are to use Picasa to storage pictures and Youtube for videos.

The aim of this project is to embed technology on the learning process hence enabling students to create their own content. Students use this content to create an eportfolio which they submit at the end of the course for assessment. We are also hoping the students will continue working on their portfolio in the courses that follow.

In all we have more than 80 students in this course. They are divided into 4 groups and each group will be looked after by one of the four teaching staff. The students however go through a rotation, all four teachers teach different topics in the course.

Last week I attended a session where students were to present their findings on safety (personal safety in a work environment). Almost all groups had drawn very neat pictures to relay the message, unfortunately the students did not have any equipment to digitally capture this. They could have used the webcame on their netbooks but the problem is, the webcams on these netbooks are facing the user every time, it is fixed.

I sent out a request to the head of department, asking for fund so that we can buy 8 of the compact digital video cameras that doubles up as a camera. I was so delighted to see the support, the head of department approved the purchase in a few hours. So this is what we bought for the students to use to capture what happens in and outside of the classroom.
I'll be shortly adding another page in the wikispaces site: Using the JVC HD Video Camera. I bit about the compact vidcam, Full HD, easy upload to Youtube, 8 Mega Pixel still capture, 90 minute battery life. 3X digital zoom. Only problem with this model is it doesn't not have much built in storage. We now need to buy SD cards, it can take up to 32 gig. This in-fact could play to our benefit since the Dell Mini 9's have a SD slot, hence it will make it easy for the students to transfer files from the camera.

It is an exciting project and a first in the trade school. The four staff involved in this project so far have enjoyed the journey and appreciate the change from the old way to new way of teaching. Early indication from students has been good so far. Most of them have bought the laptop and the use in class has been good.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Albany High School - Learning Commons

Today a few staff from Unitec went over to Albany High School to look at the first totally Open Source school in New Zealand and to also look at the brand new purpose built classrooms. The deputy principal Mark Osbourne met us and was very kind to show us around the new building.

The school has really taken on board the learning commons idea so much so they don't really have any classrooms, very impressive. We came across a class where students in beginner, intermediate and advance mathematics class where were all studying together, awesome! Also of interest was that the teachers for each level were cooperative and totally open to sharing their own teaching practice. Better for the students as Mark put it "students had support if they turned left or right". I won't delve into the benefits of learning commons learning and teaching setups.

Students are not restricted to just the technologies in school rather they are encouraged to bring with them whatever they are comfortable with to help; them in their learning. Some students according to the deputy principal have on occasions brought their Play Stations and Xbox.

The ethos behind the school is 'Open'. What the school has so far customised they have shared with the community and have shared with other surrounding schools. They have their own version of Youtube, they have called it Ourtube. They also have ePortfolio platforms in use (Mahara), a LMS (Moodle), the open source library system called Koha and they are working on customising the open source bookmarking system Pligg. Most of the storage needed for digital data is also outsourced, emails are with Google and the computers in the building are all running Ubuntu operating system.

It is a great model for other schools in New Zealand. Why would you want to pay for proprietary systems and software that cost thousands of dollars which can be spent on providing better service and designing/creating a better learning environment for students.

Every meter of space at the school could be used as a learning space. We also came across a case where students were having a Japanese lesson, sitting on the floor, in the corridor with purpose built desks that could be folded and put away after class.

I however have to say, I did felt there was a mismatch between the setup and how students were taught. I did notice in one class the laptops were kept close, the projector going and the teacher standing in front directing learning. It could well have been something that needed to be done by the teacher hence the setup. I could be totally wrong here as we did not spend a lot of time questioning the teaching style. The picture on the left shows the learning commons setup, the teacher and the students. It would be fair to say from the setup that it is a transmission style teaching setup. Again I could be quick to jump to conclusions and a bit harsh giving only spent 1 hour at the school. From my experience the change from a transmission style of teaching to a student centred teaching is huge and a very sensitive matter. Whatever my thoughts are the setup and work done at the school is a step in the right direction and hopefully these students will help bring about much needed change in the tertiary sector.