Differentiated Tasks

William M. Ferriter’s article is Why Teachers Should Try Twitter is more about differentiated instruction than Twitter. When I read it, I thought – here’s a note to self – time to explore how technology can be leveraged so that  “students of different abilities, interest or learning needs” can use  different learning paths so that they can experience appropriate instruction.”

Typically, in class, we create a single path and teach a specific amount of content to fill up the period of time while walking on that path. Ranking students’ ability to complete the journey is the teachers intention, and in our assessment, we measure how much of the content they have passed through as they walked along the path with us.

Here in Ed Tech, there’s an unlimited about of learning trails available and a wide range of students with different backgrounds, skill sets and abilities. I’d like to see what paths  students take to develop their technology mastery. So, to assist the “newbies” and to challenge the “geeks” in the class, I have created three routes for them to follow.

  • Entry Level (students simply complete the Tasks )
  • Adoption Level (Do the tasks and create a PLN)
  • Innovation Level (Complete the Tasks, create a PLN and represent what you know publicly, online)

Background and experience with ICT will most probably have an impact students ability to complete the tasks that I’ve set.  Students be able to consult the rubric and complete a task at a certain level. In order for this to work, my role (as instructor)  will have to move from simply teaching to content in lectures and workshops to designing learning activities, facilitating and modeling methods to achieve mastery at an optional drop in session.

I’m trying to persuade students to use Twitter to connect with  and mentor other students as they progress from one task to another or shift from one path to another.  They will have to practice their skills and solicit coaching and feedback from their “networked sherpa”. Both instructor and student will be walking into a  “knowledge gap” and jointly taking steps to shift that gap a step closer to mastery. They seem keen and  I think it’s going to be an interesting journey.

Digital Pocket Knives

QR Codes I’ve been wondering, when the mobile phone has shown such an amazing penetration rate, why students aren’t using their mobile phones as a digital “pocket knife” for personal and lifelong learning? Although our Internet penetration here in South Africa is disturbingly low, we are not “backwards” with cell phone adoption. The penetration rate in South Africa is an estimated 70% (only 17% of the population has a land-line), but cell phones use seems mainly tied to entertainment and personal communication purposes.

Today, with my PGCE class, I thought that I’d explore whether my pre-service students would haul out their phones and access data, URLs and email addresses. I created a gallery of 7 social media applications with associated codes to guide their introduction to each medium, and then left them in groups to figure it out.  I stuck my head out a few times (had to duck to avoid debris being thrown at me) and discovered that  great confusion reigned.

Only a few students owned phones with a QR code reader installed. Most phones were dinosaurs with no camera or (typically for a student) had no airtime left. Those that were able to complete the task with their digital “pocket knife” kindly dictated the content of the QR codes  to the rest of the  reluctant bunch.

Two observations

1) No one enjoys feeling like an idiot. Very little support or structure was given to students to make this fairly obscure concept more manageable. Learning curves are never fun, and it’s useful to think about ways that I could have made this learning curve a little less steep.

2) There seems a reluctance to see the mobile phone as something more than a phone. Despite many phone owners out there, few students were able to download the necessary apps to enable their phone. Maybe they resented the intrusion of “work” into their “personal” spaces? Perhaps Maybe user attitudes towards mobile learning need to be changed before people will want to start learning about how they can use their mobile phones.

What future does the mobile phone have, for learning? The availability and afford ability of mobile devices (when compared to desktop computers) should make these digital “pocket knives” a high demand device in a classroom? Or are they a threat?  Are you using your mobile devices for personal and lifelong learning? How do you feel about taking your phone out for learning something? Should learning tools remain tethered within classroom walls? Are mobile phones as sharp as they appear or are the blunt butter knives, keeping us fed and entertained. Perhaps the digital pocket knife is a silly analogy. Is it a utopian dream to expect mobile phones to usher in a new age of learning?

Certainly the exercise left me with more questions than answers. Be interested to hear what you think.

Ref: http://mlearning.edublogs.org

Students networking with Students

There’s a range of people in my Ed Tech PGCE class this year. Some are very sussed, and others are finding computers a frightening prospect. This morning a small co-hort of about 10 PGCE students (many of them very new to computers) joined me while I demonstrated copying, cropping and adding effects to their class photographs. I also included a quick tutorial on Twitter and then shut up and left them to work out how they could use Microblogging to connect to other PGCE students. It’s great watching students teach students technology. They do it far better than I could ever hope to. Happy to report that they are excellent peer teachers and all of them “got it”. Conversations between students have started to flow. Hope I don’t sound to patronizing, but well done. Many others have not got this far. If I’ve left anyone of the list, please contact me. Would be great if we could have a network of 80 + PGCE students on Twitter.

Does it have to be so hard?

logonHostname, username, computername, network, password, submit – are words that I see everyday and respond to without thinking. This jargon however, is a foreign language to a person on the other side of the digital donga. Yet the terms are thrust as a greeting at the struggling “digital immigrant”, aware of an information avalanche, threatened by a disconnected future, worried about tripping over hurdles as they try to login to the LAN.

I’ve just tasted this cocktail of confusion. I spent an hour introducing the LAN to a student who’se managed to avoid browser wars, Hotmail, e-commerce, Google thedotcombomb, Youtube, Facebook etc. The jargon and the process was unfamiliar and obscure. The purpose of the login exercise did not communicate security. It spoke of trickery and confusion, things that you’d expect a usability expert to have simplified by now.

Firstly, you have to swipe your card at the help desk (located 10 minutes away from this lan). Secondly, you have to enter your user number and then your password. Thirdly, after entering your password, you are prompted to add a new one, and then to repeat this new one, and if you don’t think of a “secure” password, you’ll be asked to repeat step 3 again. With login done, the fourth step is to attempt to access your e-mail. And so you repeat the process of usernames and passwords. And then if you are to make use of any social media – the process has to be repeated again.

Why, when the LAN is used primarily by students that don’t have a computer at home, does it have to be so darn difficult to logon to a network? When swiping the card, the “help” desk could use a branching test to easily establish whether the user was a newbie and give the struggling student a small tutorial in login procedures. A single hand out with the space for a user to fill in their username and password might avoid countless confused students. Or how about an ambient gaming overlay that will nudge users forwards. At least create a screen saver that offers a login tutorial might assist the student scaffold their thoughts.

The banking industry have managed to simplify the login procedure to access money from an ATM. OpenID is making it safe, faster and easier to log in to web sites. Kodak (and other film companies) have managed to get photographers to use their terminals to print out photos, but network security technicians (or whoever is responsible for the LAN login process) have re-enforced a late adopters inferiority complex and excluded them from participating all because of network security.
There must be ways that can make connecting to the net work a little less work?