Professional learning communities

I have the privilege in my work to be able to both facilitate and participate in a number of online communities of practice (CoP). It’s a great opportunity to learn from others as well as share my own experiences and what I have come across. Like many online communities, sometimes they seem to rocket along and at other times they appear to be rather quiet. This has got me thinking about the online communities I’m a part of and question what it is that brings people to them and engage in them.

I have been given the opportunity this year to undertake some research and have decided to focus it (broadly) on what fosters engagement or participation of educators in online communities of practice (particularly in the communities in which I facilitate). While still very much in the development phases, I would like to come away with a better understanding of where educators are accessing their professional learning from and why. It is also an opportunity for me to find out and hopefully trial different strategies to increase participation in the communities within which I facilitate.

I feel like my thoughts are still quite a jumble, which I think is okay at this stage. As I’m going through the process of thinking around why I want to undertake this research and just doing some general wondering around the topic, I’ve realised how the whole thing kind of aligns with the research I did for my MEd on online student engagement. While there are definitely differences (I’m working with adults rather than middle-school students; participation in the CoPs is completely voluntary), there are also similarities. For example, we still have those that are visibly active and those that are often called lurkers (I prefer the term ‘listener’ myself). We don’t know what impact is being had on those who don’t contribute but could still be reading/learning from the community. It’s also not clear how deep the engagement is going. For example, someone might be reading and commenting, but there is no impact back into their classroom. Understanding this could be useful in determining steps to encourage greater participation.

The expertise and knowledge held with an online CoP can be incredibly vast. Yet, it appears sometimes that we like to hold on to our own knowledge, or perhaps we don’t feel like what we have to share is worthwhile to others. Other times, looking at the various communities, it can appear like we’re just after a quick fix, or something to get us by, eg. “Does anyone have a resource/unit on…”. I’m not saying this is an issue. It is simply an observation. I’ve got quite a few other questions and thoughts at this stage as well, but won’t list them all here.

If you’ve read this far – well done on making it through my jumble of thoughts. Hopefully as the year progresses and I get further into my research things will start to become much clearer. I’m looking forward to developing a better understanding of what is going on in the online CoPs and further develop my facilitation skills as a result. I’ll try to remember to share my progress here as well.

Student and Teacher Perceptions of Online Student Engagement in an Online Middle School

student engagement

 

I’m feeling pretty excited today because I’ve just had my first article published, co-authored with Dr Maggie Hartnett, in the Journal of Open, Flexible and Distance Learning.

The article is based on the findings of my 2012 Masters research.

Student and Teacher Perceptions of Online Student Engagement in an Online Middle School

 

 

 

Here’s the abstract:

While our understanding of student engagement in the compulsory schooling sector is well developed in face-to-face contexts, the same cannot be said for online and distance learning environments. Indeed, most of what is currently known about online engagement has come from research with older students in tertiary education contexts. This study directly addresses this gap in the research by exploring student engagement in an online, middle school in a New Zealand distance education context. By considering three key dimensions of student engagement—namely, behavioural engagement, cognitive engagement, and emotional engagement—this in-depth investigation explores what engages middle school students when they learn online. Data collection techniques comprised student and teacher interviews, online asynchronous discussion transcripts, and statistical data from the learning management system (LMS). Results found that students in this study tended to engage behaviourally (i.e., do what was expected of them) with all required activities. Cognitive engagement (i.e., students’ personal investment in their own learning) was evident in the giving and receiving of feedback as well as the interest and relevance certain activities generated for learners. Emotional engagement was elicited through the design and facilitation of the activities, and through the ongoing development of a learning community in which students felt safe to contribute.

Image source: Flickr CC-BY-2.0

EduIgnite Wellington 2014 – Engaging students online

Last year I presented in my first EduIgnite evening. I blogged about it at the time, including the presentation: EduIgnite Wellington – My presentation.

I have just received the video of my presentation and discovered it actually went better than I thought! Still though, I would say… don’t try to bring your masters research down to a 5 minute presentation! It doesn’t work!

Relevance in learning

Learning to Walk

I’ve recently been taking a lot of notice as to what my own children are being asked to do for homework and what various teachers are expecting of their students and I’ve come to the conclusion that perhaps we’re not really helping our kids to learn.

I’m not teacher-bashing here. I see that I’ve done this before too. And I know this is definitely not every teacher/class. But in my observations recently – reflecting also on what I’ve done – I realise that many children are asked to research this or that and present what they find out. I don’t know about you, but I can go and get information about a certain topic, present it in a way that satisfies the criteria given, and I will not have learnt a thing. I’ve engaged in a superficial way on a task that I can do pretty easily. I haven’t been challenged, however. I haven’t needed to think. I could-and many students/children do-copy and paste from the internet into my own presentation.

Ignoring the copyright issue for a moment, one could argue that this is okay as the student has shown enough understanding to pick the right information to present out of the screeds available online. However is this all we are really looking for?

I’m sure most teachers would ask questions that encourage higher-order thinking, but are these questions getting the answers you would hope by just asking for a presentation (which in my observations is usually a poster or a PowerPoint – don’t get me started on PowerPoint, but it is usually not an appropriate technology for children to use to present information in my opinion).

What many of these tasks are missing is the authentic context, the real life situation that makes the task/topic relevant to the students. They seem to be missing the group discussion/interactions to ask the questions that students actually need answers to. Although they are set up under the guise of inquiry learning, they are still teacher-centered with an expectation that students will carry it out in a certain way and present something to the teacher that satisfies their (the teacher) needs/requirements rather than giving the student ownership of their learning.

One of the key points about inquiry learning is that it is collaborative. Students “co-construct their learning in an authentic context” (Team Solutions). However, I have seen a number of inquiries given to students to work on individually.

I would love to hear about really positive learning experiences that are going on. I know they are happening as I read about many in blogs, on twitter and elsewhere, however I’m not convinced this is the norm.

Personally, I’m going to work at making sure what I ask my students to do is relevant to them somehow. I imagine with some things it could be particularly difficult. Also at the higher levels of school I know that qualifications can get in the way sometimes with students motivated by gaining credits. But hopefully I can help make learning more relevant to them.

 

Image: Flickr.com Tela Chhe / CC-BY-2.0

NZ Mission to Mars – KiwiMars

Today’s blog post is a guest post from my good friend and colleague, Bruce Ngataierua (@bruceyn). It outlines his recent ‘mission to Mars’.


IHi my name is Bruce Ngataierua and I was involved in a analogue simulation mission called KiwiMars 2012. The mission was to send 6 people to live in a simulated environment that would be analogous to living on the surface of Mars.

We travelled to the USA and stayed in a place called the Mars Desert Research Station (M.D.R.S) in the middle of the Utah desert. We undertook many activities that simulated what it would be like to actually live on Mars like eating dried packaged food like astronauts eat, walking around in simulated space suits and conserving our resources like water.

 

The landscape was an awesome sight and it was like nothing I had experienced before. It was a strange “alien” world of hills and rocks and walking around in a space suit was a bit strange as it made you aware of all your senses. You could hear your breath and you could only communicate to others effectively through your radio link.

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The mission went from 23 April to 5 May 2012 and the main objective was an education and outreach programme where students from New Zealand would interact with the crew on how they found their experiences during the mission

The other objective was to produce resources in the Planet Earth and Beyond (PEB) strand of the Science curriculum to help teachers and students in the teaching, learning and engagement of space sciences in New Zealand E

Lesson Plans were planned under a range of topics including:

We communicated with mission control in NZ at Carter Observatory everyday during the mission dates and I spoke with over 500 students either at mission control or online inquiring about the how the mission was going.

Common questions asked included…

  • The environment and living conditions
  • Food
  • What we saw and did

Resources are still being developed post mission and the possibility of being involved with another project called “Spaceward Bound”. This is a possible “Space Camp” idea here in NZ with the help of NASA personnel to train our students.

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Overall the mission was a great success and we had an awesome time. It was certainly a unique experience that could have “far reaching” possibilities for the future of space exploration in our future.


KiwiMars website

Bruce let me know that if you want to ask any questions about his time away, please feel free to contact him through twitter or leave a comment below. Also if you want Bruce (or another crew member) to visit your school then please get in touch with him.

Google Series – Part 2: Timeline

Following on from the Wonder wheel tool, Google have also released a search function called Timeline. This again, can be found in the left sidebar of the basic Google search.timeline

Timeline is a great research function for a basic search. By clicking on Timeline after you’ve started your search you will see a timeline appear at the top of the search page, and everything will be in order of year/date.

timeline2

What you will discover as you have a go with Google’s Timeline, is that it is not only finding websites that have information that you may be after, but it is searching digitised newspaper or journal articles from a huge number of dates. The search I have done above on ‘great war nz’, has given me a number of digitised newspaper articles.

If you click on a section on the blue timeline at the top, you can go into more detail for a specific period of time. Currently it shows every 20 years from 1840 to around 2000. If I click on the 1900 section I get this more specific dates.

timeline3

And you can get more specific again by clicking on a year section.

timeline4

I can see Timeline being used in various curriculum areas for research purposes. It could be great for finding primary and secondary sources. It may also be good for finding information from the time that has been twisted or misinterpreted over the years since the event.

The best way to learn timeline is to get in there and have a play!