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A few thoughts about the open class

 

In general, the open classes we had were very helpful to me, especially in terms of getting different opinions from outside of the class. By using twitter and blog in the class routine, the module is no longer restricted to physical space and time. All internet users can join the class and speak freely about their views. From my own experience, I think I have spent more time than expected for participating in the online discussion, at least on reading them. Not only I get a chance to read other blogs and tweets during the class, I also found that these discussions online cover more aspects than the ones I often had in the classroom. In addition, with the help of smart phone and tablet, it also seems natural to get involved in the topic after the class. Since the twitter automatically pushes notifications of the new tweets and suggests new accounts to me. Sometimes, I found myself unintentionally reading new tweets on my way home, during cooking, before bed, etc. It was like these tweets and blogs have a “corrosive influence” on my learning habit somehow. I guess it is like what happens when people check social media in their daily life—it takes more time than expected.

 

Personally, I am very careful when it comes to sharing on social media in daily life. Maybe because of this “over consciousness” of over sharing online, I am very cautious about tweeting in the class as well. Posting my opinions to the world feels different than speak them out in a class. My notes are no longer just for me. I always want to put them in clear and persuasive language for all potential participations in this open class and join the #EDU8213 discussion. What is more, the twitter’s 140-character limit has been another challenge. As a result, it takes longer than expected for me to tweet notes during the class. Although I have tried my best, I ended up doing more reading than posting.

 

One thing good about blogging is the fact that it makes me to review everything that the class has discussed after school. This is a very effective way for me to sort out the main points covered in the class and go over them again—it works as a reinforcement for getting the knowledge. However, it is a little different from just taking review notes after class—there are more audiences for blogs. Thus, writing up a blog usually took a little bit more time and effort than just go over the contents covered in the class. It often requires further reading and put all my thoughts together in a well-structured text.

 

In a word, I think open class has its advantages and challenges. By subtlety influence me to read more and encourage me to think deeper, it has definitely stimulated me to learn than any traditional classes did. I guess the only challenge for me is to tweet with more confident.

 

 

 

The future of learning

In recent years, Self-Organised Learning Environment (SOLE) has been widely employed in classrooms all over the world in different subjects. Teachers and students with SOLE experiences have given a large number of positive online feedbacks about its promotion of students’ motivation as well as engagement, even learning results. Mitra’s (2008) study finds that learners’ knowledge of the subject underlying the question given can be promoted without the presence of teachers. However, there are also teachers who had unsuccessful SOLE experiences (e.g., Didua (2015)) and questions have been raised about the actual effect of SOLE in terms of learning outcome. For example, Tom Bennett (2015) questions that Mitra’s conclusion is not “credible evidence based”. In similar, Dellar (2014) questions about the implication of SOLE in language learning and suggests that a great deal of more reinforcement and practices should be necessary in order to allow learners to make advanced linguistic development.

 

Although this newly invented approach in education has similarities with independent learning, personalised learning and child-centred education, which has “been preached before in many forms” (Bennett, 2015), SOLE stands out in a rather radical way to some education practitioners today. No doubt, fewer studies have been taken to test this approach in the form of large quantities and longitudinal research projects. Naturally, many people are in doubts.  For instance, what students will actually do when enjoying learning autonomy in SOLE has been doubted since certain studies find that unsupervised environment is likely to cause a higher incompletion rate (Ho et al., 2014; Jordan, 2014). Also, certain cognitive skills required for learning with peers can be underdeveloped among children when comparing to adults (Kuhn et al., 2000; Kuhn and Pease, 2006; Dean Jr and Kuhn, 2007; Paradowski, 2014). What is more, Harmer (2014) and Sowey (2013) point out that the absence of the teacher in SOLE can result in lack of instruction, facilitation, and evaluation, even social exclusion and isolation during the process (Arora, 2005).

Considering the heated debate between increasing number of education practitioners who are inclining to experiment the new learning approach (SOLE) and strong resistance from the “traditional” schooling, it is reasonable to think that in the recent future, there might be a time that schools with different teaching/learning approach and beliefs may co-exist peacefully just like public and private schools are today. In my opinion, a primary school system which uses both student-centred and teacher-centred approaches, traditional and conventional, can be a solution in the recent future.

 

With the speed that the internet has developed through the last decades, it is almost impossible to predict what it will enable us to do in 20 years. However, I believe the internet will be available to almost everyone on earth in a decade. In the discussions, most of our classmates believe that the physical spaces that limit the classrooms now will disappear in recent future. It is a reasonable thought since we just had the open classes which didn’t exist a few years before. My guess is that there will be no more “classroom” with tables and desks that limits the students’ participation and virtual spaces online just like online gaming or face book groups might be the solution, too. What is more, SOLE centres with PC stations and workplaces might be replaced by 3D interactive technology with internet connection (whatever it will look like) that enables students to communicate and collaborate from their own home. In addition, primary educationists can share their skills over the internet because learning and teaching will no longer be restricted to the physical time and space. In this way, the resources for children’s education, not only with learning materials, but also including human resources (e.g., teachers) with different expertise can be shared in order to help children in any possible way.

 

One of the main concerns that teachers have when using SOLE is “Can children learn with just Google?” (Bennett, 2015). The current trend of pedagogy already starts to shift from teacher-centred to student-centred approach. Nevertheless, leaving students unattended can be worrisome for us who are used to the teachers’ help just like how people felt about student-centred teaching hundreds of years ago. There is no doubt students “don’t learn evenly” (Bennett, 2015) in SOLEs and it is a good thing to notice that there are risks when teachers are not around. However, it is equally important to know that it is also common for some children to perform better than others when a teacher is at help. Another concern is the case that not all knowledge is easier and more fun for students to learn by themselves through internet. Even with the convincing evidence in studies of SOLE finding that it has certain advantages than traditional schooling, knowledge and skills which are more abstract, such as art and music, may be easier and quicker to understand when explained by teachers comparing to searching information’s from the scratch by students themselves.

 

Following the question of what and how should children learn, assessment can provide some answers for both teachers and students in terms of “what exactly have been learnt?” Traditional and “standard” tests are useful for testing certain knowledges in a straight forward way (e.g., vocabulary, grammar, questions with only one right answer, etc.). In addition, diversified methods should also be employed for investigating individual performance.

 

Albert Einstein once said “Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” In the same vain, I believe that the difference between knowing and learning lies in the understanding. Therefore, if simply remembering things can be called knowing, then it is obsolete. Unfortunately, a big part of my education is reciting the information and this kind of education only gives me good marks but never empowers me more. I believe learning is the progress of understanding the world and it is learning that makes us confident as independent human beings and enables us to make decisions which other creatures on earth cannot. As many science fictions has described, if A.I. in the future ever tries to turn human into slaves, our independent mind might be the only advantage we have left, and the generation who are only encouraged to recite and remember may not stand a chance when that comes.

 

Maybe my imagination has gone too far. Anyway, new pedagogies like SOLE is very inspiring and has shed a light on the current issues in education. The discussions in the module allow me to rethink my own education experience. I think the role of technology in education should be taken more seriously in terms of enabling students to have different ways of learning as well as being aware of the possible side effects that it might bring. Consequently, teacher’s role need to change. Students should be more proactive in learning and assessments need to transform accordingly. Most important of all, we should always remember the beauty of learning and rethink what education is about.

 

 

References

Arora, P. (2005) ‘Profiting from empowerment? Investigating dissemination avenues for educational technology content within an emerging market solutions project’, International Journal of Education and Development using ICT, 1(4).

Bennett, T. (2015) SOLE: Snake Oiled Learning Environment?  . Available at: (http://www.tes.com.c.tes.ent.platform.sh/news/blog/sole-snake-oil-learning-experience) (Accessed: 07/01).

Dean Jr, D. and Kuhn, D. (2007) ‘Direct instruction vs. discovery: The long view’, Science Education, 91(3), pp. 384-397.

Dellar, H. (2014) Why we should be afraid of the big bad wolf: Sugata Mitra and the neoliberal takeover in sheep’s clothing. Available at: http://eltjam.com/why-we-should-be-afraid-of-the-big-bad-wolf-sugata-mitra-and-the-neoliberal-takeover-in-sheeps-clothing/ (Accessed: June 21).

Didua, D. (2015) Is it just me or is Sugata Mitra an irresponsible charlatan? Available at: http://www.learningspy.co.uk/myths/is-it-just-me-or-is-sugata-mitra-an-irresponsible-charlatan/

 

Harmer, J. (2014) ‘Angel or devil? the strange case of sugata mitra’, angel or devil? the strange case of sugata mitra. Available at: https://jeremyharmer.wordpress.com/2014/04/07/angel-or-devil-the-strange-case-of-sugata-mitra/.

Ho, A.D., Reich, J., Nesterko, S.O., Seaton, D.T., Mullaney, T., Waldo, J. and Chuang, I. (2014) ‘HarvardX and MITx: The first year of open online courses, fall 2012-summer 2013’, Ho, AD, Reich, J., Nesterko, S., Seaton, DT, Mullaney, T., Waldo, J., & Chuang, I.(2014). HarvardX and MITx: The first year of open online courses (HarvardX and MITx Working Paper No. 1).

Jordan, K. (2014) ‘Initial trends in enrolment and completion of massive open online courses’, The International Review Of Research In Open And Distributed Learning, 15(1).

Kuhn, D., Black, J., Keselman, A. and Kaplan, D. (2000) ‘The development of cognitive skills to support inquiry learning’, Cognition and Instruction, 18(4), pp. 495-523.

Kuhn, D. and Pease, M. (2006) ‘Do children and adults learn differently?’, Journal of Cognition and Development, 7(3), pp. 279-293.

Paradowski, M. (2014) ‘Classrooms in the cloud or castles in the air’, IATEFL, 239, pp. 8-10.

Sowey, M. (2013) Can you kill a goat by staring at it? A critical look at minimally invasive education. Available at: https://philosophyfoundation.wordpress.com/2013/10/14/ (Accessed: June 21).

 

 

 

Provocation 2

This week, EDU8213 had its third session on Tuesday with a new big question: “How should children acquire the knowledge and skills?” It is a matter relates to the first question in provocation 1about what children should know by the age of 12.

 

To look at my own primary school learning experience, I remember a lot of times trapping in reciting and memorizing the things just for the sake of the tests. For instance, memorizing and calculating complicated formulations and equations for imaginary situations only existed in math tests. I never understand the point of doing this and I often forget these “knowledge” that I worked very hard the second after the exam. It seems like that I had to make a habit of memorizing and deleting unwanted information repeatedly. Therefore, I really think that the discussion we had in the previous sessions is essential for moving on to today’s question—we need to find out what the children need before thinking of how to educate them.

 

One of the most popular discussion of this session is about the teacher’s role in future schooling. The leading and guiding role of teachers sometimes can be questionable because of the possible side effects on making children less creative and curious. However, it can show up as a good thing as the mental support children can have when they encounter difficulties in finding the answers of the world. Nowadays, the developing technology and its appliance in education are changing teacher’s role in one way or another. We are turning to computers and internets for answers now because they may know better than our teachers and are available 24/7.

 

Another noteworthy point is the connection Professor Sugata Mitra made between a PhD and studying in SOLE. If the research question of a PhD thesis can be seen as the big questions in SOLE, the process of finding knowledge to answer the research question and writing up thesis can be seen as a self-organized learning process by doctoral students, and the viva is another form of defending and presenting students’ studying results just like the presentations in SOLE.

 

Just like it is always a bit scary to think about how new things can change the way we used to live, it is gruesome to imagine that there is a chance that one day our beloved teachers may be replaced by the cold hard machines. If it ever became true,  I just hope that we had figured out what is the future of learning by then.

What is the answer?  

On the second session, we worked in groups and tried to answer the main question that Professor Sugata Mitra asked in the very first class of this module—“What knowledge and skills should a child have acquired by the age of 12 and how do we evidence it?”

 

After a short discussion, we agreed on that children at this age should be able to take advantage of available resources and find answers (either for schoolwork or their curiosity) by themselves. 2015 is a different time from my childhood while most of the time I have to depend on parents and teachers to give me answers or at least point me to the right direction to read. Nowadays, with the development of the modern technology, internet and search engines can provide almost everything you would like to know. Therefore, we thought that 12-year-old children now have a much better chance to find information than 20 years ago. Therefore, they are expected to use the powerful resources such as the internet to explore the world.

 

However, there are also challenges brought by this convenient  access to the massive amount of information online. For example, can children determine what the keywords to use in order to get the most relevant search results? And how could they determine whether the information found is valid or not? Or could they be able to pick up the most correct and relevant information between thousands of links?  Thus, a certain level of high order thinking skills (Hopson et al., 2001) will be needed in order to use the internet and search for information more effectively.

 

Also, the desire to learn is vital to take advantage of the modern technology. Unlike 20 years ago, a kid without the urge to learn are in greater danger now because of the countless harmful contents and addictive games in the virtual world are available at their fingertip.  Although with many advanced technology available, a 12-year old children should also have the basic skills just like 20 years ago, such as communication skills (e.g., form and explain their own opinion), numeric and literacy knowledge.

 

To be honest, I think we are expecting more from children now than before. Apart from what we learnt in our childhood, they are also expected to have a certain level of critical thinking and skills to take advantage of the modern technology. Thus, the occurring question is–how should we assess them for these knowledge and skills we expect them to learn?

 

All members in my group agreed that new methods of assessments are necessary. Firstly, formative assessments should be promoted in order to bring different angles to enquire children’s learning performances. For example, self-refection and peer assessment should both contribute to the final assessment as well as teachers’ opinions. Also, apart from tests involving multiple choices and doleful presentations, summative assessments could be in different forms such as projects presentation and showcases which students can pick their own topics and show their advantages in different subject/areas. Other forms of assessments including debates, book reviews, and student guided enquiries, can also be integrated. The aim of these new types of assessments is to bring new perspectives and give children  opportunities to show their individual differences in their study. Hopefully, in this way, the assessment results could be more objective and children can have more confidence when realising their individual difference and appreciating their own strong points.

 

This class has worked like a SOLE session, students have the access to internet, work in groups, have a topic question and a final presentation at the end. The only two differences from most SOLE sessions are that a) the students are adults, b) we didn’t use the internet in our group. In my opinion, SOLE can work among adult learners as well as children. It’s just that our group didn’t use the internet is because we already had some prior knowledge for the topic question, even though several group members (including me) admitted that we didn’t have a clear answer to the question at the beginning of the class.  That is why it went more like a brain storming plus group discussion rather than collaborative learning and searching information on the internet. However, we did use another form of modern technology—one of the group members brought her Macbook to the class and noted down our discussion in a word document.

 

Bibliography

 

Hopson, M.H., Simms, R.L. and Knezek, G.A. (2001) ‘Using a technology-enriched environment to improve higher-order thinking skills’, Journal of Research on Technology in education, 34(2), pp. 109-119.

Provocation 1 #EDU8213

I had my very first open class this Tuesday for The future of Learning. I was in the classroom with Prof. Sugata Mitra, Dr James Stanfield, Jonathan Worth, Edward Jenkins and other students in Newcastle University, interacting with people from all over the world, sharing our notes on twitter. It was a new and interesting experience for me.

 

The theme of this class was to think about this question: What knowledge and skills should a child acquire by the age of 12 and how do we evidence it?

 

What knowledge should a 12 year old acquire? I think it is difficult to give an answer that generalizes all the 12-year-old needs. Every kid is different and I would rather not imagine them trying their best to meet a general expectation or standard.  Also, shouldn’t these children have a say about what they want to know? Of course, guidance and tips from the teachers are a big part of the education and children at that age would need it, yet educators sometimes can take it a bit too far in terms of deciding what children need and how to make them “achieve” it. However, isn’t this the chronic problem we have in education?

 

This question makes me wonder, what could be done to make education better? What can the future of learning be?

 

Using twitter to share notes can be one of the ways to learn in the future. In Tuesday’s class, I twitted two notes and shared it with participants of the open class all over the world. Although the classroom was really quiet at most of the time (we were listening audio files and tweeting), my mind were experiencing a chaotic classroom with heated discussions (tweets popping up constantly) and sometimes the teacher’s voice (from audio files) was forced into background. I think I may be one of people who tweeted least in the classroom — about half of the students in the classroom tweeted more than 10 notes. That is impressive! It was challenging for me to listen, read, think critically and tweet at the same time—too many things were going on!

 

Overall, I enjoyed this interesting class. I have to admit that there were a couple of times I was distracted from the topic because of the diversified discussions on twitter. It was more like a big group discussion rather than a traditional classroom with order. The only drawback is that A LOT of my “group mates” on twitter are “talking” at the same time.