flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

Edmodo is an education social networking tool. It provides a means for teachers to easily create an online space where students can connect and communicate. Some examples of some of the things that you can do with Edmodo include:

  • Set tasks and assignments: Whether it is a quick task or a bigger assignment, Edmodo allows you to easily set dates and provide information and resources. In addition to this, once submitted feedback can be provided in a timely manner. Only limitation is focus on scoring, rather than rubrics.
  • Provide links and resources: Although URL shorterners and QR codes make it easier to share long webpages, there is nothing better than simply clicking on a link. You can also provide additional materials, such as documents and images to support learning.
  • A place to respond and reflect: Along with sharing material, Edmodo provides a place for students to post and comment. There are different options associated with this and it can all be locked down by the teacher if needed. Posting can occur within a group or directly with a teacher, but never between students.
  • Include parents in learning: Parents can be provided with a group code to connect. This does not mean that they will be able to see everything, instead they are connected with their child, having access to assignments, events, alerts, direct messages and anything else you tag them in.
  • Connect with other teachers globally: An underutilised function, Edmodo provides the ability to connect with teachers in a safe and secure environment. The initial setup asks for information about subject areas, this then aligns teachers with others in their subject areas. There is a stream of information provided that allows people to share and connect. This not only provides the means for finding ideas and resources, but also for collaborating with teachers around the world.

It needs to be noted that Brookside has signed up for School Account. Not only does this help to organise things, but it prevents students from signing up as a teacher and creating their own groups.

Further Reading

Edmodo Support Site – a collection of frequently asked questions associated with every aspect of Edmodo.

Social Networking for Schools by John Pearce – a thorough presentation from John Pearce looking at all the different elements to consider when it comes to Edmodo.

Edmodo Still Has My Heart by Bianca Hewes – a reflection from a Secondary teacher on how she uses Edmodo within her classroom.

7 Steps on How to Use the New Edmodo by Blake Waldman – A collection of ‘how to’ videos associated how to do different actions within Edmodo.

Should my class blog, tweet, Google App, Moodle, Desire2Learn, or Edmodo? Arrghhh!!! by Royan Lee – A comparison of the different Learning Management Systems and social media platforms available and things to consider.


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Some Aus

The Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) recently sent out an email celebrating the end of term. In it they shared some ideas for some professional learning over the holidays, ranging from the most popular AITSL reports to suggestions for education videos. One of the things that stood out though was the list of ‘best blogs’ provided.

  1. Learning Deeply by Education Week
  2. Mindshift
  3. Edutopia blogs
  4. Teacher Toolkit
  5. Mr Kemp

Now I don’t wish to questions the quality of any of the blogs, but for an ‘Australian’ institute it was strange that of the five blogs included, none of them were actually Australian? This subsequently got me thinking about which blogs are missing from the list, which ‘local’ bloggers I would recommend dipping into over the holiday period:

  • What Ed Said – Along with Kath Murdoch’s Just Wondering, I love delving into Edna Sackson’s own inquiry into inquiry. Always open, always sharing, I feel I come away from each post with a different perspective of my own practises.
  • My Mind’s Museum – A little bit practical, a little bit personal, the one thing that is guaranteed in reading Matt Esterman’s blog is that I always leave thinking a little bit more deeply about things. Along with Cameron Paterson’s It’s About Learning, Esterman’s blog provides a great mixture of practical examples and personal musings, covering everything from educational spaces to digital identity to what constitutes history.
  • About Teaching – I think that the title sums it up best, Corinne Campbell’s blog reflects on everything relating to teaching from managing stress to engaging learners through project based learning. What I like is that she not only offers a honest and personal insight into things, but she also tackles topics that others often overlook.
  • Dan Haesler – This is another one of those blogs that is hard to categorise. It is a little bit about wellbeing, a little bit about engagement, a little bit about leadership, but a lot bit about improving education across the board. Haesler provides commentary on all things, from class sizes to interviewing prospective staff to gifted and talented programs.
  • On an e-Journey with Generation Y – Every time I start making excuses about why I can’t do something, I remind myself of Anne Mirtchen. She seems to manage so much with her students that goes far beyond the traditional classroom.
  • ReconfigurED – Along with Ross Halliday’s Making Learning Fizz, Anthony Speranza touches on all things learning to drive innovation in education. Whether it be introducing Genius Hour or implementing Chromebooks, Speranza’s continual push to disrupt the traditional learning space is always both interesting and inspiring.
  • Miss Spink on Tech – From using Twitter to connect beyond the classroom to publishing student work through iTunes, Spink is always writing something about how technology can make learning more meaningful. In addition to this, if there is anything to know about Evernote, she has spoken about it.
  • Transformative Learning – The strength of Steve Brophy’s blog is that it is usually purposeful and practical. Like Corrie Barclay’s Learn + Lead + Inspire, Brophy provides endless reflections on the way in which technology can and is already improving learning.
  • Bianca Hewes – I initially came upon Hewes’ blog looking for more information and ideas associated with Project Based Learning, but what I found was so much more. Whether it be the highs or lows, Hewes is always honest about all things life’s learning journey.
  • Betchablog – It would be easy to label Chris Betcher’s blog as ‘just another tech’ blog, but to do so really misses the strength of it. Betcher not only writes about all things technological, like Hewes, he does it in such an open manner that it forces you to confront many challenges that we more often than not choose to ignore.

It seems wrong to have only included ten as there are so many other great blogs out there. There are some who I love to read – such as Richard Olsen, Jason BortonRichard Lambert and Mel Cashen – who just do not write often enough for my own liking. While there are some that I feel bad about missing, such as those by Eric Jensen and Dale Pearce. All in all, there are just so many great blogs out there jam packed with great ideas and resources. This is exemplified by Corrine Campbell’s fantastic list of Australian blogs that she has started curating: http://list.ly/list/WsG-australian-education-blogs-worth-reading.

At the end of the day though, it is not the ‘ideas’ the necessarily keep me coming back, although they are important, but the connections that I feel that I have engaging in an online environment. So what are the connections that you have formed, those blogs that you go back to continuously? I would love to you.


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Photo Credit: Celestine Chua via Compfightcc

This is the first assignment as a part of the ATC21S Coursera MOOC. It involved selecting an example of collaborative problem solving (CPS) in which you have been involved. The response included illustrating an understanding of the nature of collaborative problem solving, why it is important and what sets it apart from activities like group work. Associated with this, two specific incidents were required to demonstrate that different collaborators have different levels of skill in CPS. This is my response …

 
It is easy to think of Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) as a highfalutin euphemism for what is commonly known as group work. However, they are not the same. The major difference is that CPS focuses on the skills and attributes people bring, rather than the jobs people do. In a traditional classroom, group work usually involves splitting a task between members in order to do something more efficiently or simply to share responsibilities. These contributions are then usually assessed at the end of the outcome. With CPS, the focus is not so much about product, but what that process can bring to bear.
 
In his book Too Big To Know, +David Weinberger argues that there are two key elements relating to diversity which make the room smarter: perspectives and heuristics. Perspectives are the maps of experience, while heuristics are the tools we bring to bear. Without either, there is little point to diversity. I feel that the same can be said about CPS.
 
What is significant is that success is not deemed by the room itself, but by who is in that room and what skills may be drawn upon. The reality is some individuals have more abilities than others. For as Weinberger posits, “Even if the smartest person in the room is the room itself, the room does not magically make all who enter it smarter.” CPS helps assess the contribution of the different people in the room by splitting work into different subsets as represented in the Conceptual Framework for Collaborative Problem Solving in order to identify areas for growth and improvement.
 
Difference between CPS and group work often relates to the authenticity of the task. Group work is often heavily scaffolded. In comparison, CPS is ambiguous and ill-defined. There is more than one way to solve problems and deciding on such solutions is usually more important than the end product.
 
An example of CPS I have facilitated was the creation of the school yearbook. My Year 9 Elective Class was put in charge of creating a yearbook. They had to decide who the yearbook would be for, what it would include and how they would complete it. Once students had made these decisions, they worked collaboratively to develop roles, timelines and expectations.
 
Two particular incidents of ambiguity associated with CPS was firstly, the beginning where the project was in its infancy, and secondly, in what +Bianca Hewes‘ describes as the ‘mushy middle’, where the project had taken shape, but hurdles start to arise.
 
The beginning is always an interesting point to reflect upon. Everyone starts from scratch, with a new opportunity to prosper. However, this lack of clarity and cohesion often divides collaborators.
 
On the one hand, some members commence by working as a part of the group to define the project and then set out to independently come up with all the answers. Although there is some recognition of the need for information, there is little consideration as to where this comes from or how it all fits together.
 
In contrast, there are some collaborators whose first thoughts are about everyone else. This does not necessarily mean that they are leaders in the traditional sense. On the contrary, they often seek to support others to take the limelight. These students persevere in the effort to identify the heart of the ambiguity and break things down into subtasks. They seek to include all the differences of opinion and create strategies associated to goals for how the project is going to push ahead.
 
The second significant incident when it comes to CBL is the middle stages. Unlike the defining stages of a project which asks collaborators to work together to define what it is that they are working towards, the middle stages raises the challenge of redefining ideas, managing goals and continually reviewing strategies.
 
For some, this part can be gruelling. Whereas in the beginning the connection that everyone shares is obvious, once people start moving into different subtasks, they lose track of where they are in relation to the wider problem. Therefore, when issues arise, there are random examples of trial and error. However, little effort is made to modify the initial hypothesis or reconstruct the problem at hand. It is simply seen in isolation with little connection to the other tasks or group members.
 
Contrary to this, some members thrive on continually reflecting on goals, connecting personal contributions with the work of others, exhaust all possible solutions when faced with a hurdle and evaluate their own performance. For example, when a program didn’t allow for the creation of collage, a student with high level ability took a step back and considered the alternatives. Once they exhausted this, they then spoke with other members of the group to see if anyone else had any ideas.

While here is the feedback which I received …

Suggest any elaboration of the example that could have made it more clearly an example of a collaborative problem solving.
self → I think that I could have been more explicit in regards to the assessment. Maybe even fill in some examples and attach them to the document.
peer 1 → This example would need significant elaboration if it is to be considered an example of collaborative problems solving, The author speaks about the difference between CPS and groupwork, yet fails to implement this in the learning activity.
peer 2 → It would be better to show the specific skills listed in CPS workframe.
peer 3 → Provide clear links of personal behavior to CPS framework.
Say what you liked best about this example as an instance of collaborative problem solving. 
self → I like the practicality associated with the task. It is essential that the task is authentic.
peer 1 → This example did not address Part 1 of the assignment as outlined, and completely failed to recognize Part 2. This example does not demonstrate the capacity to use the conceptual framework for CPS.
peer 2 → i am not sure about the difference between CPS and group work and i think this homework gave a good explanation.
peer 3 → Very vivid and essential examples of CPS are provided.

It was definitely an interesting process and demonstrates one of the biggest problems with innovation, implementing 21st century strategies and education in general. As much as we think that we are on the same page, this is rarely the case. That is why the focus needs to be on creating canvas to structure the conversation as +Richard Olsen has suggested with the Modern Learning Canvas, rather than dictating strategies. For how can we achieve anything if we cannot talk about it?


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This is an introduction to +Steve Brophy and I’s presentation ‘Listening to Voices In and Out of the Classroom’ for #DLTV2014 and explains what we mean by ‘voice’ and its relationship with technology …
 
It is so easy to consider technology as the answer, that missing solution, that panacea that will somehow manage to solve all education’s ills. However, there is no tool or technique that will magically solve all our problems for us. Instead, technology is a support, an addition, a supplement, something that helps us do what we do, but better. In regards to Ruben Puentedura’s SAMR model, this change revolves around ‘redefining’ what we do. Providing a possibility for something that was often deemed impossible. +Bill Ferriter suggests, “technology lowers barriers, making the kinds of higher order learning experiences that matter infinitely more doable.”
Importantly, the changes brought about by technology are not about simply dispelling the past. For as Ferriter argues, many of those attributes that get lumped with the call for reform are things that highly effective teachers have been doing for years. Various higher order thinking skills, such as the engagement in collaborative dialogue, solving complex problems and manipulating multiple streams of information, are not new.
Take the act of publishing for example. After consulting with a teacher from another state +Cameron Paterson got his Year 9 History class to create picture books around the topic of World War 1 for a kindergarten. While +Bianca Hewes used Blurb, a site that allows you to create both eBooks and physical books, to publish her student’s stories for a wider audience. There is nothing new about composing texts for an audience. Technology though allows us to publish to a more authentic audience more easily.
Another particular area where technology allows for a change is in regards to capturing the different voices associated with learning. Whether it be communicating or collaborating, there are many different scenarios involving listening and responding to voices in and out of the classroom. Voices have always had a central role in the classroom for at its heart, learning is a social activity. However, instead of conversations being dictated by the few, technology democratises the whole process, it takes away some of the social pressures and tedious silences when no one is willing to respond. Technology makes it more doable.
We feel that there are three different categories when it comes to listening to voices in education:
  • Students communicating and collaborating with each other
  • Students and teachers in dialogue about learning
  • Teachers connecting as a part of lifelong learners

As with any sort of arbitrary division there will always be examples which go across categories. However, splitting things in this way helps to highlight some different spaces and situations where voices can be heard and provides a foundation on which we can continue the conversation.
So to the big question, how are you listening to different voices in and out of the classroom? And in what ways does technology make this more doable?

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creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by antaldaniel: http://flickr.com/photos/antaldaniel/2912118873
 
In an ongoing conversation about the challenges with being a connected educator, +Alan Thwaites posted the following comment:
Not just what you Tweet Aaron, but watching how you use Twitter has been very clarifying for me. I appreciate it mate.
— Alan Thwaites (@athwaites) April 6, 2014
Although these were some very nice words, it sometimes misses the full story. Being a connected educator is not something that happens overnight, it is not a case of joining this site or posting that comment. Being connected is much more complicated than that, it is better understood as a journey with everyone a different point on a continuum.
 
Short of some sort of autobiographical recount reminiscing every event and connection that I have made, I thought that it might be more meaningful to list the five ‘markers’ that have led to me being a more connected educator. These are not necessarily distinct periods of time and some spread across weeks, if not months, but they are the significant events that have made me who I am today. The first of these step relates to connecting with people.
 

Connections Start with People

I have read so many examples where teachers before getting students writing blogs begin by getting them to write paper blogs. (See for example +Pernille Ripp‘s ‘Paper Blogs: A Lesson in Commenting on Student Blogs‘ and +Bianca Hewes‘ ‘Paper Based Blogging with Year 7‘). Students then publish them in the room in order to share and continue the conversation. I think that in the same way the mindset and actions associated with being connected starts long before people get ‘online’.
 
Through my involvement with +Alf Galea and the Melton Network 21st Century Learning Team, I had the opportunity to connect with some amazing people. Formed as a part of the Ultranet project, the network was a place to share and collaborate with other teachers in the area who were grappling with the same sort of problems.
 
Through this group, we were invited to be a part of ATC21S project running put of the University of Melbourne. Needless to say, this was a fantastic experience and involved working with a range of teachers from around Victoria. However, through this project there was one teacher that stuck out in particular, that was +Jenny Ashby.
 
I must be honest, I was slightly intimidated at first. I am reminded here of a comment from +Cameron Paterson on Episode 17 of the +TER Podcast to find a mentor that scares you. I think that what Paterson is saying here is that in order to drive you forward that you to find someone who challenges and pushes you. Jenny whether meaning to or not definitely did this.
 
My colleague and I would leave the sessions reflecting on all the different ideas that we had picked up and so often they came via Jenny. The educational environment in which she existed was so different. As a starting point, her school (although a little smaller than my own) had already had a significant investment in ICT. Far above anything that I could imagine, well at least far above anything that I had experienced. In addition to this, she was confident, a little brash and eager to get into things.
 
No matter what was discussed, Jenny would always have an idea and was willing to share it. I think that by the last of the planning sessions at University of Melbourne, I had actually adjusted to her frenetic style and was beginning to really thrive on the chats wherever they would go.
 
Although I could have described numerous examples of connections that I have formed as a teacher and a learner, I would argue that my connection with Jenny stands out because it was one of the first connections that I made that was outside of my usual surroundings and hasn’t it changed me.
 
What is an incidental connection that you have formed and how has it changed you?

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cc licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by mrkrndvs:
http://flickr.com/photos/113562593@N07/13713874174
 
Alan Thwaites posted the following tweet and it got me thinking.
Not just what you Tweet Aaron, but watching how you use Twitter has been very clarifying for me. I appreciate it mate.
— Alan Thwaites (@athwaites) April 6, 2014
How is it that I use social media anyway and more importantly, what does it mean to be a connected educator anyway?
 
In a recent post about the benefits of blogging and being a connected educator, +Tom Whitby outlines some of the many benefits associated with sharing online. He states:

The difference between writing a blog post and writing a magazine or journal article is the immediate feedback in the form of comments or responses. Before a blogger puts words to the computer screen the audience and its reaction are a consideration. The blogger will strive for clarity in thought. The blogger will strive for clarity in the writing. The blogger will attempt to anticipate objections.

What stands out to me in Whitby’s post is that the whole process revolves around its reciprocal nature, that is, as a reader you not only take in various ideas, but also respond and add back. One of the big problems though with being ‘connected’ is that for some it simply means lurking in the background. Although they may draw on the dearth of ideas and information out there, there is no impetus to give back in anyway, shape or form. My question then is whether this is really connecting at all?
 
Whilst perusing the net a few weeks back, I got involved in a twitter chat with +Bianca Hewes about the matter of sharing. Hewes was ruminating about the one way flow of information that too often occurs online. Those situations where others ask for resources, but fail to offer anything in return. She tweeted:
It kinda irritates me when I’m a member of a fb group for teachers and people only ever post to ask for stuff… rarely offering stuff 🙁
— Bianca ‘Jim’ Hewes (@BiancaH80) March 12, 2014
If you read the ensuing chat involving Hewes, myself, Dick Faber, Audrey Nay, Teacher from Mars and Katelyn Fraser, there were a breadth of responses provided. Some of the concerns raised included the apprehension associated with looking like a dill and some people’s fear of sharing. A topic that +Chris Wejr has elaborated on elsewhere in his post ‘Not Everyone is Able to Tweet and Post Who They Are‘. On the flip side though, there were some really good suggestions provided, such as lurking for a time until comfortable, sharing something small or even simply re-tweeting something to add to the flow of information.
 
Thinking about all of the these great responses, I feel that there are three clear ways that we can respond and give back. They include the ability to share links and ideas, adding to a conversation by writing a response or remixing an idea creating something new in the process.
 

Sharing Ideas

There are many ways to share, whether it be using social bookmarking, such as Diigo, where you might share with a particular community, or using social media, such as Google+, where you might share out into the world. This is something that I have elaborated on elsewhere. One of the easiest ways I find to share ideas though is on Twitter. Most applications offer the potential to post to Twitter with a click of a button, making it quick and easy to read a piece on Zite, Pocket or Feedly and then share it with the others.
 
There are many different perspectives associated with Twitter. For some, it is too much. How could you possibly keep up with each and every tweet posted by those that you follow? However, +Darrel Branson put a different spin on it in Episode 238 of the +Ed Tech Crew Podcast, where he suggested that mediums like Twitter are great to just dip into whenever you have the chance, not necessarily something to be hawked over 24/7. Branson suggested that if an idea is significant enough it will be shared around, re-tweeted and reposted enough that you will pick up on it in the end. What is important then is actually sharing good ideas and keeping the river flowing.
 
In addition to sharing, Bill Ferriter wrote an interesting piece on the importance of not only sharing, but also recognising whose content it is that you are sharing. One of the problems with many applications is that they allow you to quickly share the title and web link. However, they fail to provide any form of attribution to the actual creator. Therefore, I always endeavour to make the effort to give credit whenever I can. This has led me to use applications like Quozio in order to turn quotable pieces of text into an image in order to fit more into a tweet. To me, this means that while perusing something like Twitter, you are able to continue the conversation with creator, not just the curator.
 

Commenting and Continuing the Conversation

In addition to sharing ideas, another great way to give back is add a comment. Whether it be a video, an image, a blog, a post on Google+ or a tweet, writing a response is a really good way to continue the conversation. Too often when we think about commenting, there is an impression that it needs to be well crafted thesis, however it can be as simple as a confirmation thanking someone for what they have shared. Some other possibilities for comments include posing a question about something that you were unsure about, sharing a link that you think made add to the dialogue or providing your own perspective on the topic. The reality is, we often learn best through interaction and dialogue with others, a point clearly made in Whitby’s post.
 

Remix and Creating New Beginnings

A step beyond sharing and commenting on the ideas of others, is the act of remixing. Using someone else’s idea as a starting point, remixing involves adding something and turning it into something new, an idea in its own right. This blog itself can be considered as a remix, bringing together a range of different ideas in the creation of a new beginning. A great exponent of the remix is +Amy Burvall, whether it be using Mozilla’s Popcorn Maker to mash-up text and videos or using the paper app by Fifty-Three to create images to capture her ideas. Remixing ideas not only allows you to continue the conversation, but also start a new one as well.
 
 
Now I know that everyone comes from a different perspective and have their own view of what it is meant by digital literacy. A topic that I have explored elsewhere in my post ‘What’s So Digital About Literacy Anyway?‘ However, I find it hard to believe that there can be any example of being connected that does not include getting involved and giving back. A point clearly reiterated in Mozilla’s Web Literacy Map. The question then is how are you giving back? Is there something that you do that I have missed? What are the problems that you have faced along the way? I would love to continue the conversation, so feel free to leave a comment below.

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Background

One thing that I have learnt over time is that there is no silver bullet in education. However, there are some things that work better than others. The problem with this though is that you do not always know what the ideal solution is until you are in the midst of learning and teaching. 

I have taken a range of ICT-based electives for a few years now. From Pulp Publishing to Multimedia. One of the biggest changes that has occurred during this time has been a transition from teaching ICT to teaching through ICT. One of the consequences of this change has been the search for the best way to teach technology without actually teaching the technology. One of the answers that I have found is the notion of Project Based Learning. 


I first stumbled upon Project Based Learning via a post from +Rich Lambert looking at the difference between Project Based Learning and Challenge Based Learning. After exploring a range of free resources provided by BIE, such as Rubric for Rubrics, and incorporating some of these into my teaching, I got to a point where if I really wanted to see its worth, that I really needed to enter into it in a more whole hearted manner. I had already seen some of the issues associated with Inquiry Based Learning as the school actually prided itself on being an inquiry school with various ‘critical’ friends, such as Jen Wilson and Kath Murdoch. 


I just needed a little bit of encouragement and that came in the form of a post ‘PBL: Managing the Mushy Middle‘ from +Bianca Hewes. I always felt comfortable with structuring an inquiry unit. However, some of my early experiences with inquiry had petered out in the middle section and dragged at the end. Hewes’ post provided a wide array of resources and was the impetus for throwing myself into the wolves once again. To relinquish control in the hope of empowering students in their learning. I decided that the best place put PBL to the test was in my Year 9 Elective entitled Digital Publishing.

 

Context & Background

Small businesses, home office workers and social organisations often find it necessary to prepare their own advertising flyers, promotional pamphlets, menus, display notices, catalogues, timetables, tickets, letterheads, business cards and web pages. However, the question that people often ask themselves, how can it be done easier and quicker? Students in Digital Publishing will explore different information and communication technologies and reflect upon their potential. This elective will culminate in the creation of the Year 9 Yearbook.

 

Blurb from the Year 9 Elective Handbook

 

If you ask anyone, Digital Publishing is the subject where the students make the Yearbook. What that actually means, no-one really cared too much. So, Just as +Anne Mirtschin describes trialling gaming because she wanted to see their potential, I wanted to trial getting the students to produce real and authentic publications from scratch to see what would happen if students were given control over an authentic task. So other than creating the yearbook, I really had a blank slate on which to work upon. Spurred by +Jim Sill‘s call during his keynote at the Melbourne Google Education Summit 2013 to allow creativity in the classroom and let go, I let go – a bit.
 

Publishing with Purpose

I started the class off with a focus on publishing with purpose. One of the challenges that I had spent hours racking my brain trying to come up with an authentic task for students to complete in order to learn and explore the different ways we can publish digital content. A few years ago, when the focus was on the tool, not the task, I had methodically gone through a range of applications and programs with the students. Although some students got something out of this, surprisingly, there was little engagement overall. I therefore came up with the idea of creating a publication for students and staff focusing on programs and applications to use when programming.
 
In unpacking this task, students grappled with a number of challenges and issues, such as:
  • What programs should be reviewed
  • What should the structure of each of the reviews be
  • What program should be used to create the publication
  • How would the publication be organisation
Each of these questions was discussed by the class in a communal manner. Once this was done, each of the students chose their own program and went about exploring.
 
There were quite a few issues that arose out of the process, such as some students taking more responsibility than others, as well as a lack of care and consistency for the end product. In addition to that, some students took the task as being able to find other examples of tutorials and ‘borrow’ from them. 

Some of the reasons for this were that students did not believe that anyone would actually use the document, even if it were shared with staff and students, because if people really wanted to find such information then they could look it up themselves. Another issues was that I took on the responsibility of being the project manager and bringing the end product together. I think that this was the biggest mistake, because many students showed little care for what they submitted, believing that I would fix up any mistakes.
 

Yearbook 

After my mixed experiences with exploring different types of publishing, I took a different tact with the Yearbook. Instead of controlling the structure of the project, I stepped back. I handed control over to the class and instead of being the focus of the lesson, I stepped aside and simply added comment as a kind of devil’s advocate, querying decisions and posing questions when students stopped talking.

Initially, I had thought that the yearbook would simply be a digital publication, a PDF publication, that students would get access to. With little money in the budget, I was unconvinced as to how we would get the yearbook published. However, the students had a different idea. They did some research, surveyed the staff and students in Year 9 and even made some calls to some companies. Next minute, they had teed up a trial and demonstration from Fusion Yearbook Australia.


Associated with this, the students had looked at some examples of yearbooks and brainstormed a list of things that they thought should be included. Once they had refined this list, they then divvied up the list amongst themselves, with students working in pairs. In addition to the various jobs, such as student profiles, elective reviews and organising photographs, two students were chosen to oversee the whole project, helping out where needed and making sure that everyone knows what needs to be done.


The students then proceeded through what Hewes’ describes as the ‘mushy middle’. One of the biggest difficulties faced was in gathering together all of the content and information. A part of the problem was that the photographs and reviews had to be gathered. In addition to this, just as with the first project, some students put in more effort than others. This led to a tight situation in regards to submitting the yearbook online on time, which meant that instead of having a few weeks to thoroughly edit and proofread the finished product as a class, this process was left to a group of dedicated few, who gave up their own time to make sure everything was as it should be. 


Although I had always intended to implement many of Hewes’ initiatives, such as developing a comprehensive project calendar, creating a contract and constructing a self-assessment rubric, once I had relinquished much of the control to the students, they were sometimes hard to implement. Often, the class leaders thought that some of these things were a waste of time and were really about me taking back control. 


Although running a class on passion led to some great initiative on behalf of some, it still had the problem of everyone being being passionate about the task, which was not always the way. I guess though that this is sometimes the risk, if you are not willing to fail, then sometimes you cannot really succeed. My only concern is that sometimes I felt that the class failed more than it succeeded.

 
Once the yearbook had been submitted to the publishers, the class came up with a list of suggestions for future students and this is what they came up with:
  • Maybe use Microsoft Word, instead of Fusion, unless the Internet is improved.
  • Spend less time planning what needs to be done and more time doing it. 
  • Find an ‘alternative’ to student laptops, as they are too slow and crash all the time 
  • Collect images from the start of the year, rather than wait until the end.
  • Have people should take more ownership over editing of their own work.
  • Be clear and consistent about the fonts, layouts and backgrounds used.
  • Split tasks so that each individual knows what to do to help with accountability. 
  • Develop a ‘cheat sheet’ for students, which include jobs, layout and timeline. 
  • Have a weekly update as to where things are at and a list of any new jobs.
  • Create clear descriptions and expectations for the different roles 
Although I did not agree with all of their points of reflection, it was interesting what the students identified in their sometimes scathing review.
 

Learning is about Lessons Learnt

Some of the lessons that I learnt from the whole unit include:

  • Be more stringent with timelines. That means not only providing the due date, but breaking projects up into its part and providing each of these a due date too. I had encouraged students to set both short and long term goals in regards to the project and was hoping that managing deadlines would be a part of this. However, some students are better at setting goals than others.
  • Plant the seeds for the task earlier on in the year. That means that people need to be aware from the very start where to save photographs or submit reviews to.
  • Be clearer with descriptions of the different roles and the project as a whole. It is funny reading back through Hewes’ post now, especially when she says things like, “I thought team contracts were completely naff. I didn’t use them for years. Now, I think they’re really important documents for my students.” I could not agree more. I did not implement them because I thought that the students would laugh at them, telling me that they were for primary classes. Whereas now I think that they were exactly what was needed, something that they could refer back to, a reference point, a set of expectations that everyone agrees to.
  • Support the People, not the Project. I really did not know where to step in and when to stay out. I was so worried about it being the students work that I don’t think that I got involved enough. Although I helped a few groups solve some of their problems, I think that I could have done more equipping the leaders in the class by sitting down with them and not just discussing the project, but also helping them to better facilitate the project. Although they did a fantastic job, they still needed prompts and guidance and I could have done this better.


In the end, I am not sure that this is the best representation of Project Based Learning or if it really constitutes Project Based Learning at all, for the end goal/product was decided upon prior to starting. However, I learnt a lot about how students learn and look forward to running the class again this year.


Would love your thoughts and comments below, especially about how you think that the whole process could be improved.


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