16 July 2013

Sharing Passions for Learning

Do you have a passion? A real, profound passion, one that drives you, an obsession that stretches your mind and soul to achieve?

Passion is different to mere interest; passion consumes one to reach for perfection, whether that be in dance, music, mathematical understanding or any other field of knowledge. 

As I read reflections and recommendations about how education has changed and indeed, needs to change to meet today's social demands and work environments,  I find the notion of passion often missing. Not that the writers don't have or share their passion, but the need to tap into learners' own passions seems to be absent, taking second place to other educational issues. I often also hear the complaint of how learners will use their digital devices for everything but learning. Creating digital learning environments take time.  As someone who has recently experienced student rejection of using digital platforms  and tools for learning, I can easily understand the frustration and perplexity that one is left with.

However, there are means to overcome this reluctance and resistance. One approach is tapping into learners' own passions. Yes, educators always have a set curriculum to follow and regular assessments to carry out. But as educators, have you forgotten your passions? What made and still makes you return to classrooms? As many reasons as there may be in a tapestry to why one is a teacher,  it is passion for learning, passion for empowering others, passion to inspire growth in others,  that keeps teachers returning back to classrooms.

Collective.li is a platform for sharing one's passions.

Students can collect videos, images, articles and organise them in collections.

Whether for a syllabus project or giving weekly time for learner-focused activities, helping students find their real passion in life is an essential feature of education.

Each individual has their own talent, their own passion.

Tapping into one's talent and passion is not always so linear; life and learning are organic, evolving chaos. Giving learners a tool for their self expression,  encouraging their talents and interest, a tool for developing their own passion, is in my mind, a motivating approach to learning. 

How do you encourage learners to develop their passions in life?

15 July 2013

Living a Life in Beta

I sometimes have tried remembering a time in my teaching career when I felt that yes! I had achieved what was necessary to know in order to be a "worthy" educator, an educator who was worth working with learners. At each moment, I failed miserably, aware that there was always something new to learn, some new approach to try in class, a different game, a more exciting way to engage students' attention and add value to their learning progress. The novelty of learning kept me endeavouring constantly; a constant search for perplexing questions on how the brain learns, how individuals learn and how learning can be joyful. 

Today, more than ever, I live my professional life in permanent Beta. From social networks to journals, from PDs and informal exchanges with colleagues, I bow my head with thanks to so many who teach me daily. Today was one of those special days. 

As perhaps some of you may know, Vance Stevens holds Learning2Gether on a weekly basis, either with participants in a G+ Hangout or Elluminate session. Even if you miss a session, Stevens then records the event and it is freely available to all to watch/listen to at a later date. 

Among other learning tools and features, today I learnt about Instreamia
- a great platform for students learning languages. Student focused and definitely fun for either individual or pair work, students can improve their language skills through gap-fills and translations. 

Online and also available as an app for Edmodo, Instreamia  offers lessons with a twist of pleasure and learning. 

As I have often said, it is not the digital tool which is the focus of learning, but the learning which that tool may enable. For students who relish challenge,  a sense of empowerment in their learning,  and being the centre of their learning, Instreamia seems to me, to be a great way to engage learners. 

And so my life in Beta continues; learning and practising new tools and platforms, reflecting on how best to use them for the sake of learning and how my students may achieve better outcomes with those tools. Or not. 

As an educator, there is a deep sense of humility living a life in Beta. There is equally, a sense of satisfaction in learning,  a profound sense of gratitude to colleagues who share, reflect and teach me; and endless wonder when seeing how quickly students grasp and create  products of knowledge with new digital tools. 

Digital tools are not the "be all" - they are the means to learning. Edtech is no longer an option and to conclude today, I'd like to quote Tom Whitby who so eloquently summed it up in a recent post:

"Education as much as any other industry has been deluged with technological tools for learning, communication, collaboration, and creation. These tools represent and are used with everything that we teach and hold dear. Some are good and some are not. Our choice as educators should be between the good and the bad, the useful and the frivolous, the productive and the time wasters. As educators we no longer get to choose whether or not we use technology. If our goals, as well as we as educators, are to be believed, and we truly are preparing our students for the real world, we must concede that that world abounds with technology and there are no other choices. We would be more than remiss in our obligation as educators if we chose not to employ technology where it fits. There are times when it may not."

How about you?

Living in Beta or content in Alpha?


Stevens, V., Learning2Gether - A Space Where Educators can Learn Together

Whitby, T., 2013, The Big Lie in Education 

10 July 2013

Developing Your own Elearning

From introducing digital tools and apps in classroom practices,  there are times when educators also need to take that extra step forward and begin developing their own elearning courses.

Versal is one of those platforms which promises to give educators freedom of developing their own elearning courses.

Still in Beta, Versal promises to go
 " Beyond video. Beyond slide decks. Versal brings interactivity to online learning through customizable exercises called “gadgets.”

Drag and drop gadgets – simulations, charts and so much more - right into your course, no coding required." 

Sign up now to explore in more detail what this new platform may offer you and your students. 

5 July 2013

Learning with Garfield

Those involved in education and lesson plotting will understand how I regularly reflect on the use of digital technology in the classroom - Can objectives be met with paper and pen? How can objectives be achieved with digital tools?  Will the choice of digital tools enhance in any way the learning process? Do we need tools at all?  Will my students enjoy learning with the tool?

As another academic ended, there is one certainty in my days: I have become more comfortable with probability and uncertainty. This is not to say that I begin my lessons mindlessly or at random; this is not saying that digital tools are more relevant than pedagogy. Quite the contrary, for if there is no pedagogical reason to use a digital tool (whether an online tool or App), then I don't. It is this fine balance of choices that make my teaching today far more interesting than ever. If in the past I spent hours searching, developing, cutting up cardboard and paper for games which would achieve the same aim as in the course book which I found mind-numbing dull, today I turn to the digital world and its rich offers of options.  If I want my students to feel remarkable, why not introduce a remarkable way of learning practice?

Comics Lab is one of those sites that is delightful for students to create their own cartoons. Easy to use, learners can practice linking text and images in a media they are often familiar with. 

Creating a punchline for a short comic take practice and thinking, for which there is also support for students and teachers to develop this skill. 

Another exercise with comics is Professor Garfield's Reading Ring

Learners begin by reading the comic strips and then have to put them in the correct order. To win the round, they then have to answer 2 questions correctly. To become a Word Wrestler Champion, learners need to win 3 out of 5 rounds. 

With the ease of drag and drop (as you can see in the image on the side), students will also be told if their answer is correct or not and be given another chance to re-order the comic strip. 

Professor Garfield includes other games and learning tasks which are fun to explore as well and can be introduced to different levels and ages (though mostly K12). 

Characteristics of learning may be the same as in the past, but students have changed. Their worlds are in perpetual digital flow. 

Capturing their attention, their delight in learning and using information for learning is essential. Meeting students in their digital world, helping them develop digital skills for learning is no longer an option. 

What other characteristics of pedagogy do you find essential today?


3 July 2013

A Breeze of Summer Green

It never fails to surprise me how once Christmas is over, all good feelings and well meant wishes for the happiness and well-being of others, quickly vanish into the thin air of over-loaded daily routines.  The same good-will often fades away as soon as the annual environmental celebrations are over. Environmental awareness is often only touched upon once a year - but since the environment involves all of us, why not introduce it more often?

Today, two brief mentions of sites which can be introduced in class in order to help raise further awareness of how fragile our environment is becoming. 

Inspiration Green offers images, references, issues, and a range of topics related to the environment. User-friendly to browse,  teachers and students can explore whenever they are discussing environmental issues. Of particular interest (to some), are the images from the Omo Valley

in the south of Ethiopia - a world rapidly changing and disappearing owing to motor-ways being developed  and the call to the cities which will soon become easy to reach.
What will happen when these tribes no longer live their traditional life-styles? What does indeed happen when modernity brings about such dramatic social changes? So many people around the world have already had their lives disrupted with modern change. What about these tribes, who now are often regarded as a human zoo in their own land? These and other issues can be debated in class, for when discussing the environment, one needs to remember the human who lives in that environment as well. 

My Garbology offers another range of resources for teachers and learners, as well as families. With a focus on daily waste, My Garbology brings to light recycling and the benefits of composting. Students can revise what they have learnt with a quick, simple game and take their pledge on how to reduce waste. 

From keeping our natural surroundings pristine to healthy living and eating, one cannot only remember the environment once a year. Instead, make it a daily celebration!

Living On The Edge / Tribes of OMO Valley 2012 from O Z Z O Photography on Vimeo.

2 July 2013

Escaping the Echo Effect?

I remember how in my youth, boredom was a danger I did not always ignore. Today, I confess that boredom still leads me astray. What bores me? 

Lack of engagement. Lack of being able to take control of my own learning progress and interests, whether that be as an educator or student. When I think of my students, their assumptions and aspirations, I wonder how they deal with boredom, the endless classroom hopping and the week after week of pretty much the same routine. When I think of educators, I think of the echo tunnel I live in - I participate in social media where I learn and share with like-minded professionals,  I interact with others who embrace educational transformation with courage and joy,  applying change in classrooms just as I do.  But...what lies outside the tunnel?

For students, it is not merely "the same routine", for their hours are filled with constant new demands and bytes of learning and social  opportunities. 

For educators, there are many who tentatively, hesitantly, introduce new approaches in their classrooms and staffrooms. Change, as we all know too well, takes time to trickle down to mainstream practices. Participating off-line with those who hesitate is essential; showing how simple it can be,  in 3 clicks to dream, create, and produce a learning outcome is necessary. Learning with others involves sharing. 

Yet that echo effect still persists in looking at me.  How many Keynote presentations can students possibly be excited about?  No matter how much emphasis I give to storytelling, how many stories must a person tell? How many apps does one really need? 

It is with those and other questions filling my summer days that I have decided that breaking the mould to routine is essential. That itself is nothing new - however, not all educational contexts offer the facility of day trips to students nor extra-curriculum activities. Bringing these into the classroom, is a way of changing routine and expectations. 

Seriously Amazing , by the Smithsonian, brings all kinds of questions forward. From the arts to the sciences, from history to science, one wanders through a wealth of questions. 

Why not give learners time to explore, choose their own questions, check and compare their own answers? Even if there are questions which tend to be geographically and historically localized, they can be adapted to the local context. It's the challenge of the question, the challenge of what a question may bring that triggers curiosity.

Students can work on their own or with a partner, then towards the end of the lesson, a Padlet can be made, where every student shares their chosen question and what made them choose that particular question. Let them create their own game for teams or even develop a poster with the most intriguing questions and answers. 

Who knows what further questions may arise as they compare questions, issues and answers. Learning opportunities arise from learners' own interests - not always from a set syllabus. 

Another variation for a lesson focuses on reading. So often students quietly show me the most boring books they find, just because they must write a short book review!

LitPick reviews books but with a twist - the reader requests a book and within 4 to 6 weeks must submit a book review. 

In other words, LitPick offers books which learners may want to read and offers reviews written by them for other readers. 

Again, writing need not only be for the teacher but a broader audience, a "more real" audience who shares similar interests and ... books. 

Language students in particular, will strive to write better knowing that their thoughts will be read by others, while at the same time, the practice will help them learn more about how to develop their digital footprint. 

Tunnels of echoes risk turning into boredom. 

How do you deal with boring, long semesters of set teaching and testing?

Summer Stories with New Storytelling Tools

Summer and the freedom to read, reflect, re-design. 

At times I close my eyes and wonder : when was learning ever to be a simple, straight-forward process? Learning is messy, chaotic, demanding and fulfilling. How can teaching objectives fit neatly into little boxes? 

Then again, for me, that is not the question I focus on. Yes, there needs to be a flow in a lesson, connections,  and like a well loved recipe, a delicious outcome. Yet even the flow of a lesson may differ according to class context.  Hence, my more immediate question is, how can my learners learn? How can they achieve that outcome with the ingredients (e.g. syllabus, learning objectives) that they have? How can their learning through the messy chaos become more significant, more relevant to them?

Learning through story-telling. 

Learning by focusing on the tale to be told, the story to be shown, heard. 

Learning through reflections of going through the story-telling process. 

Learning through one's voice. 

Holding pieces of information, processing them into one's world view. 

This holds true in particular for L2 learners. As they focus on the task, their use of language goes far beyond what is often required or even expected. 

Summertime is a time for stories, for creating stories, for living stories. 

And so today, once again I turn to three suggestions for story-telling. 

StoryPlanet may not be the simplest platform to create digital stories, but is definitely worth exploring. Still in Beta, begin by requesting an account, then continue with the tutorials, which help visualize how to create a story with grids. 

I wouldn't use StoryPlanet with learners who are just beginning to learn with digital tools, but definitely with learners who are more at ease, experienced and enjoy a challenge to express their creativity. 

Populr is another way to create a webpage and tell a story.  Essentially for micro-blogging, a POP is a page where you can embed different media (video, images, PDF or other file) and share easily.

The video below is set within another context, but isn't a learner's product also a pitch to the teacher and class that the learner has a learning message to share?

Populr video tour from Populr Team on Vimeo.

Picture Teller can be found among E2BN Tools.  After registering and logging in, you will find a simple screen which is easy to navigate and create a visual story by adding images and sound.

One feature I particularly like is how you can also pan and zoom in.  The interface is simple and easy to use - and, as one today expects, it is possible to download and/or embed.

For both story-telling or presentations (and what is a presentation but a different kind of story?), this is another tool which learners can easily use to narrate their stories.

 Despite the many choices of online tools and apps becoming increasingly richer and broader,
it may be challenging to  initially incorporate digital storytelling in lessons.
Nevertheless, glitches too are part of learning. As Seth Godin reminds us,

"Anyone who says failure is not an option has also ruled out innovation".

It never fails to amaze me at sometimes how little education learns from other fields, namely business, where innovation is a regular feature. Within education too, there are moments of failure and these need to be regarded as learning steps toward a goal. Learning is a process - not a product, after all.

In his post on what makes a great teacher, Johnson points out project-based learning and performance-based learning - two of my favourite approaches, but equally two approaches, which in my eyes, will accept that glitches and momentarily failures are part of learning.

And on that note, I would like to end here with Johnson's words:

" ... great teachers do not teach. They stack the deck so that students have a reason to learn and in the process can't help but learn mainly by teaching themselves. This knowledge then becomes permanent and cherished rather than illusory and irrelevant."

Learning through storytelling is part of stacking that deck.

How do you encourage storytelling?


Godin, S. , 2013, The Lab or The Factory

Johnson, B.,  2013, Great Teachers Don't Teach

Further Tools for Storytelling:

Breezi - Create a website

SrollKit - Create a webpage


The above poster with quote can be found on Design Different, which has a wonderful collection of minimalist posters with quotes.

With other images I borrow, you only need to pass the cursor on the image to know the sources (unless they are mine)