Khan Academy, K-12, Moodle and Teachers Pay Teachers

Occasionally I say things that get people’s attention, sometimes I need to think before I speak… If only I could rewind and start again, is something that does at times go through my head. And this occurred the other day when I made an off handed comment about some tools we were looking at for class. “Sometimes lazy teachers can hide behind these tools”.  Yes this was my comment – oopsy! And apologies as I have possibly already offended someone reading this far into my post, but please stick it out and keep reading. Please be aware that I do make comments that are at times intended for thought or to provoke discussion, yet I wasn’t expecting this to become my work regarding our weekly quest. So I will rephrase it to be more useful in my discussion. Sometimes misguided teachers can hide behind these tools. And I will broaden it out to sometimes educators, administrators and broader systems can be ill informed with regard to technology and it’s place in education.

There is nothing wrong with any of these tools. In fact, they can be a wonderful addition to your teaching tool kit. They can save you time, they can help you explain things when you have not the discipline knowledge due to being asked to teach out of area, and they can be extremely powerful if their use is well thought out. Good teachers think through their lessons and the needs of the students that they teach, with the aim to provide opportunities that bring about active and empowered learning.

I have seen teaching staff be impressed by people who quickly pick up tools like Khan Academy and Learning Management Platforms and use them in their classrooms. Staff who have limited knowledge of these tools are often taken in by the shininess of them. I have seen teachers be revered by others, for their use of technology due to their limited understanding of what it really is about and how it can/is being used. For example, if a teacher chooses to use an LMS, for say a Mathematics class, yet does not give time to developing understanding around the use of posting comments or developing community, is the tool being used to its capacity and effectively for empowering learning? For this teacher it may suit their approach to teaching, handing out the worksheet and getting it back to mark. The platform becomes nothing more than a digital version of the well-entrenched teaching practices of the past. It just looks modern. With no focused learning around community, forums and posting can become problematic, as boundaries are inevitably discovered/pushed to their limit. Some teachers may go so far as to turn off the communication/collaboration tools due to the need to be present and the potential layer of behaviour management that might need to be employed. Without the layer of communication/collaboration is the tool being used to empower learning beyond what we saw prior to its implementation into the classroom? Is it potentially limiting the learning that was once occurring in the classroom prior to its use? In some ways it does make life easier for the teacher – uploading of assignments means no heavy lifting (carrying books to and from class) and in some cases marking can be refined and made more efficient due to the use of the tools. Yet does this address learning?

An online school is an interesting option and on the surface provides flexibility and access to learning. The questions that I would raise include does this option provide students opportunity to participate in a manner that covers the 6C’s as mentioned by Fullan and Scott (2014) as well as the notion of ‘E Squared’ that they suggest “permeates this endless cycle of learning in action” (p. 3). Are participatory teaching methods engaged to increase retention rates as identified in The Learning Pyramid (figure 1). Not to mention how is Bloom’s taxonomy (figure 2.) overlaid and incorporated to reach higher level thinking skills? To achieve this in an online school setting without deliberate blended learning approaches and the effective incorporation of communication tools, within the suite of tools available to enable synchronous and asynchronous connection that builds relationships, would prove somewhat difficult. Again this comes down to how the teacher/s use the “virtual classroom”. How do they perceive their role and in turn how it plays out in the workplace.

Figure 1

The Learning Pyramid

http://softstarresearch.com/Blog/wpcontent/uploads/2011/10/TheLearningPyramid.gifAccessed 27/10/14

Figure 2

Bloom's wiht questions etc

http://lccfestivaloflearning2012.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/support-document-13-blooms-taxonomy-teacher-planning-kit.jpg accessed 28/10/14 via http://www.educatorstechnology.com/2014/03/new-blooms-taxonomy-planning-kit-for.html

An LMS like Moodle provides a space to use as you please, within the parameters that they have created. Being open source can have its benefits and its pitfalls, but when on a limited budget these things balance out. Again, as mentioned, these platforms have a social space and how this is used is key to enabling the incorporation of the 6Cs (Fullan & Scott, 2014) or the elements of P21 (“P21 – Framework Definitions,” 2009) that focus on higher order evidenced learning. Some schools are moving out into the space of welcoming parents into the LMS environment they use within school to be part of regular active conversations (not just access to their child’s assessment) and general updates, seeing their webpage as something that is for those who are not yet part of the community, but who may be considering enrolling their child (Teachers Education Review).  Careful consideration of the purpose of the LMS is important to ensure that you choose the most appropriate one for your environment and use. When I first dabbled with Moodle it was in it’s early stages of development and was very clunky in comparison to the WebCT platform that had been used. A number of staff found that the learning objects they had created for the WebCT space would not transfer happily. Another aspect to consider, transferring resources and the like needs to be efficient. The learning curve needs to be manageable.

Teachers Pay Teachers is a great place to look for resources (if you are happy to pay and yes some are free), but in saying that it is no more than a worksheet/book like environment. The power of this comes about due to access and when the resources can be manipulated to fit the students you teach, its all about design. So effectively these resources make for a great starting point. They need to be flexible to ensure that they can be used effectively in a specific situation. LMS’s that are directly linked to publishing houses or who provide content can be similar to the Teachers Pay Teachers, as too are eBooks focussed on curriculum content, in that they provide a bank of resources. They can be pricey and will need to be altered to be appropriate for individual settings. How inconvenient would it be to obtain an LMS/VLE to find that learning objects already integrated into the tool as part of the provided content cannot be tweaked to suit the local context. For example measurement an money.

Khan Academy has had significant growth since it started and certainly does fill a niche. Yet one needs to consider what it is really providing. It now has a ‘gamified’ system using points/badges to encourage students. It allows teachers to monitor where the student is at within the assigned content areas. It provides video (previously known as lectures), which sits at the top of The Learning Pyramid and focuses on knowledge dissemination – the learning is passive in nature unlike determining the most efficient design for a kitchen or the most efficient design for a tennis ball holder. This type of learning does have a place, but with any approach needs to be used when most valuable to the learner. There are activities that are embedded within the Khan Academy space, the question I ask is how different are they to a worksheet? Does Khan Academy alone meet the many aspects of P21 or the 6C’s? Often teachers have used Khan Academy as part of the concept called flip learning, where students focus on the content at home (watch the video) and practice in class. This appears on the surface like a great idea, however, one needs to consider accessibility to the Internet and tech devices for this to occur without creating inequities. Furthermore, you do need to ensure that the required technology is available if one is going to use this in the school environment and how you might work around limited resources in this area.

It is easy to impress others with one’s use of technology if the audience has limited understanding. Over time this will become more difficult as people look to technology to provide experiences that go beyond the management of resources, assessment and delivery of content and technology becomes more ubiquitously used for collaboration in the education setting supporting good pedagogy – becoming an accelerator not a driver with pedagogy and collaboration being the drivers connecting into networks (“Michael Fullan Live,” p. 16:29). When teachers, on mass, start to participate actively in online spaces that require them to use tools that engage more active learning their understanding regarding potential for the classroom will become more evident. This especially will happen when they participate in “pedagogical partnership for deep learning”(20:20), a term coined by Michael Fullan which focuses on “involving students in their own learning, learning with each other”(20:30). It is through their involvement in such spaces for their own learning, with regard to their passions and interests and professional learning, that they will start to determine the skills and understandings that they need to integrate such tools into the classroom and their ability to leverage learning. It is at this time that video games could potentially become more mainstream in the classroom, along with mobile learning. Becoming a connected educator is central to integrating tools that support the 6C’s and P21, being involved in networks that provide for collaboration. It allows you to ask questions, learn from others, tinker and collaborate with others.

So I now return to why I went looking for how I could integrate technology into my classroom, after finishing with the online school, I wanted something different. I was developing my connections with other educators in the online space, developing a Professional Learning Network or PLN. It was through these connections that Quest Atlantis was brought to my attention closely followed by Minecraft. Both of these have virtual spaces for more active learning that are central to the activity within the space. Minecraft, in particular, can easily incorporate higher level thinking skills, the 6C’s and the elements mentioned in P21. However, good learning design by the teacher is required to produce the outcomes you want to achieve within an educational context. It is at this point that I realise how important Colleen Macklin’s (figure 3) comment, at Meaningful Play 2014, was which focused on the importance of the goal. If the goal is the test results all elements that fit into the learning process will feed into the test results. The goal will either limit or empower the integration and use of technology and consequently the learning.

Figure 3

2014-10-18 09.32.07

Colleen Macklin – Meaningful Play Conference 2014

So, I will leave it up to you to determine if misguided educators can hide behind the tools…

References

Fullan, M., & Scott, G. (2014). Education Plus – A Whitepaper. Retrieved from New Pedagogies For Deep Learning – A Global Partnership website: http://www.newpedagogies.info/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Education-Plus-A-Whitepaper-July-2014.pdf

Michael Fullan Live. (10/10/2014). Dept of Ed Tasmanian Staff Meeting

P21 – Framework Definitions. (2009).   Retrieved 09/22/14, from http://www.p21.org/storage/documents/P21_Framework_Definitions.pdf

Teachers Education Review [Retrieved from http://terpodcast.com/2014/10/19/ter-033-jenny-luca-on-digital-literacy-and-21st-century-learning-19-october-2014/

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