Connective Challenges for the Creative Curator

I present 30 connective challenges for the creative curator (aka educator).


  1. Educational philosophy: Develop an educational philosophy that best represents your outlook both as an educator and learner. Publish your educational philosophy online.

  2. Determine or fine tune your personal learning network (PLN): Find individuals who you wish to follow, and reflect on why you chose them.  Allow yourself to drop them and pickup others over time.  People who you choose to follow are those who contribute most to your own personal learning.

  3. Information and communication technology (ICTs): Find the social networking software that allows you to aggregate information from your PLN in a way that is most useful for you.

Personalized Learning: A Beastly, Binary Buzzword… Begone!

Personalized learning (PL) does exist, but not in the way most tend to use the term within the context of formal education (e.g., schools). The website, Getting Smart, has long promoted the term PL, which although is a for-profit business covering educational topics, does manage to publish many non-PL topics that are worth reviewing. But in What Does Personalized Learning Mean for Teachers, the Getting Smart Staff describes new approaches to teaching and learning (under the umbrella of PL) as follows:

  • Meet the needs of each child

  • Adjust teaching practice

  • Give students “voice and choice”

  • How to achieve mastery learning

  • How to consider student input within the process of learning

Taking each of these in turn, I’ll outline why the term PL is not needed and usually leads to convoluted discussions around education.

  • Meet the needs of each child: Consider the term differentiated instruction (DI), which refers to students making decisions about course content, learning processes, academic products or learning outcomes, and learning environments based on the readiness levels, interests, and learning profiles of the students. Personally, I would omit from this definition learning profiles since it’s too similar to the idea of “learning styles” — something that has more to do with course content than actually any preconceived set of learner characteristics driving daily decisions about curriculum, assessment, and instruction. Thus, in terms of formal education, DI is based on readiness levels, interests, and the curriculum, where a written, taught, and tested curriculum exist in aggregate as a set of iterative and reciprocal networked nodes or actors. Therefore, what a student needs is derived from current readiness levels (i.e., understanding the gap between what a student knows and what they should know), interests (i.e., there is a low level of interest in the curricular goals), and the written, taught, and tested curriculum itself.

  • Adjust teaching practice: Adjusting one’s teaching practice relates to assessment. Formative assessment comprises of adjustments to learning tactics (the student’s responsibility) and to instruction (the teacher’s responsibility) for the purpose of promoting higher academic achievement. This can also occur through dynamic assessment when summative assessments (e.g., grades, badges, etc.) are followed by formative assessment episodes (e.g., turning a multiple choice exam into a learning activity), after having found out that student achievement was subpar. Although formative assessment blurs the line between assessment and instruction, it is still much like DI in that much of the decision making remains a negotiation between teacher and student.

  • Give students “voice and choice”: Giving students voice and choice is directly related to DI as it provides students the opportunity to choose content, process, product, and/or learning environments depending on the context. DI empowers students to take more responsibility for their own learning by democratizing education in terms of what, how, why, when, where, and with whom learning experiences are to occur. Nothing here is personalized nor individualized… just students making decisions about their own learning within the context of formal education.

  • How to achieve mastery learning: Mastery learning sounds good, but what does it mean in practice? How does one reify the idea that a student masters a concept, understanding, a set of skills, etc.? Setting behavioral objectives perhaps (i.e., per Bloom’s taxonomy), but the problem is that possible learning outcomes involve a vast number of performance verbs that go well beyond a simple taxonomy or even a set of competencies. In reality, performance verbs educators rely on to infer whether a student has learned or not are both intentional and (more importantly) incidental or emergent. Plus, Bloom’s taxonomy is more about assessment than setting predetermine learning objectives (how they are commonly used today) to drive instruction. Wiggins and McTighe’s (2005) six facets of understandings (with aligned performance verbs) gets closer to more expressive-like outcomes by assigning a particular set of criteria or standards around specific performance tasks scheduled over the course of term, but leave room for certain knowledge to emerge. Finally, DI forces educators to take into consider what the student views as mastery learning since they are encouraged to make decisions about course content, learning processes, learning outcomes, and learning environment.

  • How to consider student input within the process of learning: Again, DI allows for student choice in terms of content, process, product, and learning environment, and does so by understanding that these relationships allow student and teacher to better define their roles within the educative experience.

What personalized learning means for teachers is that the term personalized learning is no different than the term learning: Learning cannot help but be personalized because there is only one person who can personalize it: the learner. So, because it is so ubiquitous, it cannot not exist. A learner is constantly personalizing learning based on a particular set of forever-changing circumstances: what the student knows, what materials a student has access to, and the personal relationships a student maintains. It is impossible for a teacher to personalize learning for a student — it is like saying that a teacher is going to learn something for the student.

Example 1: A student takes a course where there is zero differentiation such that the student is unable to access any other content, must adhere to one learning process dictated by the teacher, much complete one give product, and the only learning is to occur in class. Those in the PL camp would likely refer to this example as one that lacks personalization; that is, it lacks personalized learning (and probably individualized learning as well). Even within these learning constraints, the student will personalize her own learning by using any tactics necessary to maintain an educative experience. If there is any criticism in how this course is implemented, it comes mainly from the teaching practice and not necessarily the learning tactics. Differentiated instruction, WHERETO (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005), assessment practices, etc. are the issue and not personalized or individualized learning.

Example 2: A student takes a course where there is a high level of differentiation but the student still struggles or fails the course. Let´s assume there are no learning disabilities and student makes every effort to achieve the objectives of the course. Contrary to example 1 above, DI, WHERETO, assessment practices, etc. might all be favorable, giving the students many opportunities to learn but the issue here might be the learning tactics or strategies that the student employed. Teachers also have the obligation to bring about awareness of learning strategies that provide wisdom (knowing what to do when one does not know what to do). The student (not the teacher) learns which strategies work best under different situations in order to make the educative experience more personal, yet all the while remaining personalized. The educative experience is never more or less personalized; it is personal, for better or worse. Stated another way, a PLN always exists but can either be purposeful or serve no purpose.

What teachers can take away from this is that students can become better learners by understanding their own personal learning network (PLN). For this discussion, a PLN is defined as ideational, material, and human connections or relationships that interact with each other for a particular purpose. The learner remains at the center of this aggregate set of ideational, material, and human nodes as relationships remain, grow, and diminish. What a teacher can do is to bring about a metacognitive awareness of how to maintain, grow, and prune a PLN for a particular purpose, like achieving personal and curricular goals simultaneously, for instance.

Educational stakeholders often use the term “personalized learning” to mean a shift in power usually from the teacher to that of the student. I have also heard the term used to promote technologies that use algorithms to tailor the learning experience for the student. The term, individualized learning is also used, which tends to confound the issue even more. But learning is personal, not personalized nor individualized. Personal learning, as in cultivating a personal learning network, is the recognition of greater learner autonomy in how the learner interacts with content (ideas), materials, and individuals. Personalized learning can only come from the learner if learning is understood to occur within a PLN, which occurs by degree or along a continuum. Personalized learning is not a dichotomy; it is not an all-or-nothing proposition. (Personal) learning, like a PLN, is continuous and by degree, and will forever be a sociocognitive (networked) experience that remains fluid as the individual changes over time.

We don’t get smart nor are we getting smart… we get smarter.

Originally posted to Medium.

What is a Personal Learning Network?

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VVmBNNHcxPc]

A personal learning network (or PLN) consists of ideas, materials, and social relationships.  Each of these three elements cannot be described in the absence of the other two.  For example, I cannot talk about Twitter being part of my PLN without understanding the relationship Twitter has with the ideas I share and to whom I share those ideas.

How many times have you heard educators of 1:1 schools ask, "Now that I have an iPad, what do I do with it?" Any one of the three elements of a PLN cannot be taken out of context when determining its meaning.  Materials, such as technologies, can be  expressed in terms of environments, places, and spaces, as well as any related objects that make up those environments, places, and spaces.  New technologies are constantly being introduced to the public, but they become no more or less important than the ideas and social relationships that make up the holistic set of associations.  Thus, there is an iterative and reciprocal dynamic between ideas, materials, and individuals that continually impact each other to the degree they remain connected.  Being connected emerges when a change or the existence of one (ideational, material, or human) node causes a synchronous or asynchronous change in another.  To understand any one of the three elements of a PLN (an idea, technologies, or human relationship) is to understand this three-way association from both a diachronic and synchronic standpoint. 

A PLN is not constructed, built, nor created. Nor does it grow, develop, nor flourish.  It does not start from nothing to become something.  It is and will always be present. 

What has changed over the years is the way individuals communicate, and how they communicate can best be described as having an understanding of the complexity of a PLN.  This understanding emerges by asking two separate but related questions: 1) How has my PLN changed over time? And 2) What does my PLN currently look like?

A PLN is inherently personal to the degree the individual has autonomy in making decisions about how ideas, materials, and human relationships come together.  Any barriers that hinder ideas, materials, and human relationships will ultimately impede one's PLN.

The ideational, material, and social relationships that connectively form a PLN are both causes and effects.  Each is a result of something happening before it and each is a potential cause for something happening after it.  Similarly, a PLN as a connective whole acts as both a cause and an effect.

A PLN is both intentional and incidental.  An individual will purposefully use a PLN for some sought after goal, but will also recognize the frequency of ideas, materials, and social interactions that cannot be anticipated.  An awareness of one's situated PLN leverages the potentiality of intentional and incidental learning, and offers insights into how they each relate to one another. 

Earlier, I mentioned that a PLN is not constructed, built, nor created. Nor does it grow, develop, nor flourish.  But what a PLN does do is adopt and adapt to a degree on its own and to a degree based on autonomous decision-making that occurs from the individual.  The individual sets out to  _adopt_ and _adapt_ a PLN in order to become more _adept_.

Intentional vs. Purposeful Learning

Taking OpenFlip Spring 2016 (#openflip) provided an opportunity to reflect and share my ideas about intentionality and its roles in education. Last night I watched a Netflix documentary about Tony Robbins, I Am Not Your Guru. This morning I listen to Self-Confidence Matters: "I Determine School (Student) Success", specifically towards the end of the podcast where Baruti Kafele speaks briefly about intentionality. Having done all three continues to solidify my thoughts around how the idea of intentionality is being used in the field of education.

One of the four pillars of the flipped classroom addresses the idea of intentional content by stating,
Flipped Learning Educators continually think about how they can use the Flipped Learning model to help students develop conceptual understanding, as well as procedural fluency. They determine what they need to teach and what materials students should explore on their own. Educators use Intentional Content to maximize classroom time in order to adopt methods of student-centered, active learning strategies, depending on grade level and subject matter.
One of the best things that I got out of taking OpenFlip Spring 2016 was the realization that basing the flipped classroom mindset on intentional content 1) places too much emphasis on content and not enough on the realities (complexity) of learning and 2) ignores the role of incidental learning as a necessary counterpoint to intentional learning. Content (whether intentional or incidental) is only a potential enabler to intentional and incidental learning that both co-exist in any dynamic, purposeful, educative experience.

Regardless as to how you view Tony Robbins, the documentary illustrates how intentional and incidental learning come together for a purpose. There is a clear purpose for each of the six days that Robbins dedicates to his followers, and his plans for each day are well-thought out and can change based on what had previously transpired. So his events are clearly purposeful, with a lot of aspects to the experience being intentional (e.g., content, physical environment, and social relationships). But during the event, much of what he does cannot be anticipated. Many testimonials (I.e., experiences, understandings, perspectives, etc.) shared by the attendees are unexpected (i.e., incidental). This provides the backdrop into making those experiences, understandings, perspectives, etc. revealing for not only the audience member but also for other audience members by linking the testimonial back to the goals for that particular day or event (i.e., intentional). Coupling incidental occurrences with intentional occurrences is what good teaching is all about. Educators can anticipate student mistakes, but there are still many more that are unanticipated. Knowing what to do about unanticipated learning that can occur in the (flipped) classroom is key.

Kafele's point about students walking into an "intentional" classroom is noteworthy, but he appears to be contrasting this kind of classroom with an "arbitrary" classroom experience.

I would use a slightly different vocabulary, since I view "arbitrary" not synonymous with "incidental".
Students need to enter into a purposeful classroom each day - there needs to be a reason for coming to class. Within a purposeful learning context, students and teachers co-adopt and co-adapt by understanding the intentional and incidental learning that can emerge, which should ultimately transform learners based on curricular and individual goals. There is nothing arbitrary about this process.
A flipped classroom mindset needs to embrace the complexity of intentional and incidental learning from ideational, material, and social perspectives so that decisions about content, process, and product can form a more educative experience for each learner.

An "Argument" for the Traditional Lecture

An "Argument" for the Traditional Lecture
Gross-Loh (2016) argues (kind of) in Should Colleges Really Eliminate the College Lecture? for the traditional lecture and greater training to professors for improving public speaking skills. I have gone through the piece and have tried to outline parts of the argument that seem incoherent, along with some perspective as well.

Traditional Lecture as an Endangered Species

The first line of reasoning the author makes is as follows:
  • R1: A lack of training exists among university professors to give good traditional lectures.
  • R2: Although there is a focus on training professors to improve teaching skills, such training focuses more on flipping the classroom (and related technologies) than on the traditional lecture.
  • C: This, in part, is why "the lecture...is endangered" (para. 2).
This line of cloudy reasoning is a formal fallacy. First, saying that there is the wrong kind of teacher training which focuses on flipping the classroom does not mean there is a lack of training in the right kind of training needed to give traditional lectures in the classroom. Flipped classroom training certainly could focus on producing traditional lectures that are effective and providing these as recordings to students asynchronously. There is nothing in the piece about what kind of lectures are being recorded and how traditional (or non-traditional) these forms of lectures are within a flipped classroom approach. So, to jump to the conclusion that the lecture is "endangered" seems a stretch. Gross-Loh does go however into some level of detail about the lack of training in public speaking among professors, but because it unnecessarily contrasts the notion of a flipped classroom, it certainly seems probable that a traditional lecture (that meets the author's standards) could be recorded, produced, and made available to learners outside of the classroom experience. If the author feels that a worthwhile traditional lecture has to be delivered face to face, then this is a different argument entirely...one not being made in this piece.

Getting the Question Right

Later in the article, the question is posed: "...is it the college lecture itself that’s the problem—or the lecturer" (para. 5)?

In problem solving, often it is about getting the problem established that becomes the intellectual exercise. Similarly, sometimes getting the question right is more important than ever being able to truly answer it. What additional insight can be made when separating the performance (i.e., the lecture) from the person (i.e., the professor)? The question in the article can be separated into two empty notions: 1) There is no problem with the professor, but the lectures are a big problem. or 2) There is no problem with the lectures, but the professor is a big problem. I do not see the need to entertain this question.

Training Means Performing Means Learning

The author states,
...although proponents of the movement to move away from the lecture cite data on its ineffectiveness, the debate has failed to take into account the fact that academics are rarely, if ever, formally trained in public speaking.
Another fallacy of sorts...Even if training automatically enables the professor to become a good public speaker, being a good public speaker does not necessarily mean an educative experience for the learners. Public speaking does not always equate to comprehensible input. This is the underlining premise that I cannot subscribe to. Learning has more to do with what the students do than what the teachers do.

The author goes on to say,
The lecture was a highlight of my own education,” Molly Worthen, a University of North Carolina (para.14).
Here, the author provides evidence of linking the traditional lecture with active learning, which seems out of place within the overall thesis of the article. In fact, this is where I asked myself, what is the main thesis of this piece? Is it that professors lack public speaking skills? Is it that professors lack the training to implement dynamic lectures that mix the traditional lecture with active learning? Should a flipped classroom approach be part of this training or not?

Flipping is Elitist

There is a lot to the concept of a ‘flipped classroom,’ but it is also very much an elite-institution idea,” says Hacsi, referring to a model in which students view lectures outside of class and focus on homework elements inside of it (para. 17).
So here the argument is that expecting students to work outside of the classroom is "elitist" because many students have to work their way through college. Thus, only the privileged few (society's greatest) who can afford to go to school and not work could ever have enough time to devote to assignments required outside of class.

As far as I know (and correct me if I am wrong), students are still required to complete course assignments outside of class. So given this assumption, if anyone fails to see how a flipped classroom provides an equitable educative experience to many (both to credit and noncredit-seeking students alike) - the polar opposite of an elitist viewpoint - then more research needs to be conducted before one chooses to write about it in any intelligible way.

This post leaves me confused as to what the overall thesis actually is. Removing any mention of the flipped classroom, I am unable to disagree with many points if presented separately. But the way the ideas are organized as a whole leaves me confused as to what the author is really getting at.

I present my views in hopes someone can shed light on the overall mean of the original post and/or my interpretation of it.

Learning within a formal educational context

The following was a short response to Measurement, Magic, and Balance...

In a formal education context, assessment depends a lot on the written and taught curriculum. The syllabus should state what declarative and tacit knowledge is to be expected and how learners will be assessed. The balance between formative and summative assessment (heavier on the former than the latter) will determine how learners transform as they close the gap between where they currently are and the expectations articulated in the syllabus as to where they need to be. The educator and the learner work together to help close this gap by assuming different roles and actions as the learner becomes more interdependent and the educator becomes less needed over time. There is nothing magical about this; the balance is knowing how to apply formative and summative assessment in terms of learning what, how, why, when, where, and with whom about both declarative and tacit knowledge based on how they are presented in the syllabus.

Cooperative Learning to Rid Teaching in Isolation

I read with great interest Weston's Teaching Problems (And How to Solve Them) - The Paradigm Series and can certainly appreciate issues around teaching (and learning) in isolation being brought to the forefront. The basic argument is a problem-solution scenario based on distinguishing between teachers co-existing and teachers co-evolving as being a solution to issues related to isolating teaching practice. Teachers who co-exist assumes that teachers, "do their core work alone, all the time, never together" while teachers who co-evolve, "establish mutual goals, foster a common professional language, and develop a shared commitment to specific educational practices for doing core-work" (para. 8). But to better understand the problem, a more nuanced discussion is needed in terms of framing the problem sans suppositions and recognizing the value of cooperation above all else.

Teachers teaching in isolation is a problem many face that few would disagree with, but how to go about addressing this problem typically reduces down to the following: 1) administrative responsibilities toward change and 2) teacher responsibilities toward change. Here, I will focus mainly on the latter and assume a great deal of administrative responsibilities rely on understanding teacher evaluation from a formative assessment lens conducive for making change happen across the institution. Another reason for focusing on teachers as change agents over administrators is that making generalizations about schools or school administers as the problem (e.g., teacher isolation) seems to skirt the issue, thus sidetracking the fact that much of one's own professional learning is within one's control. Thus, the problem should be framed simply as teachers working in isolation are at a disadvantage when it comes to improving pedagogical practice that yields higher student achievement. Framing the problem this way refrains from presenting broad accusations that rarely are always true in all cases. And even if they were true, educators will more often than not have more control over their own professional development than leaving it up solely to school administrators.

Teachers have a responsibility in avoiding the complacency that is teaching and learning in isolation. Even classifying teachers as co-existing and co-evolving does little to shed light on how teachers seldom are ever stripped from having the power to seek professional learning opportunities as needed - think cultivating a personal learning network through elearning. To "exist" or to "evolve" has more to do with a personal choice than school confinement or mandate. Still, I cannot share the same enthusiasm in using words like co-existence and co-evolving in separating two philosophical mindsets that dichotomously put teacher isolation at one end and an apparent community of practice (CoP) at the other. In my mind all humans adapt and adopt based on their surroundings, for better or for worse; perhaps one could argue to co-exist is to adopt more than adapt and to co-evolve is to adapt more than adopt, but regardless, adapting and adopting does not automatically mean the individual is transforming into a better person (e.g., educator). For this reason, an alternative term is needed to clarify what it means to "co-exist" and "co-evolve".

Taking responsibility of one's teaching practice by cooperating with colleagues underpins how teacher isolation begins to dissipate. Cooperation typically happens when individual strengths (based on individual interests, needs, contexts, preferences, identities, etc.) are supported and promoted within an institution and through self-organizing networks that align with individual goals as well as the individual goals established by fellow colleagues. Cooperation contrasts the notion of collaboration where common domains, interests, goals, like-minded individuals, etc. come together via a CoP, striving for organizational goals that take precedence over individual goals. So, teachers who are able to self-organize with colleagues both internal and external to the institution are better positioned to cooperate if they begin making their teaching and learning more transparent and who are willing to work interdependently so that individual goals and objectives are met. Teacher isolation begins to dissipate when cooperative learning begins to meet individual goals and instructional leaders, supervisors, and other administrators learn how to leverage and align the meeting of these individual goals within the context of overarching organizational goals, objectives, and values. A big part of leveraging between organizational and individual goals depends on how teacher evaluations are formative in nature by the support teachers receive when taking risks in their own teaching practice and student learning.

Institutions have a commitment to adhering to a mission and vision statements, but the responsibility of the teacher is to self-organize and to become a network of interdependent individuals by cooperating with each other on topics related to the field of education. There is a synergistic effect when individuals (at any level within the organization) are able to align self-forming and cooperative action among a group of educators to an institutional mission statement in ways that are absent of any coercive behavior interfering with one's pedagogical practice and own professional learning potential. It is beneficial when top-down support facilitates this process when individual goals take precedence, but even in an absence of such support, much can still happen directly from teacher cooperation that emerges bottom up.

Quoting Blanchard, “None of us is as smart as all of us” (as cited in Weston, 2016, para. 16). Perhaps this is true in certain circumstances, but it is also not a given in all cases. The limitations of developing only strong ties, cliques (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clique), and rationalizing are real phenomena that can go against an oversimplified notion that groups of individuals are somehow inherently smarter than the individual. It ignores the dynamic ways individuals communicate: collaboration vs. cooperation; strong vs. weak ties; groups vs. network formation; and leadership by rank, position, or title vs. leadership by entitlement.

Organizations that promote self-organizing, teacher cooperation through interdependent professional learning instances that ultimately align with overall mission and vision statements are better equipped to address issues of teacher isolation when it comes to both individual teaching practice and professional learning potential. Organizational change in this regard is both a bottom up and top down endeavor, but both do not necessary need to occur at the same time - one can have a positive impact on the other and one be precede the other (e.g., cooperative learning from self-organizing groups preceding top-down mandates).

How do you initiate change when it comes to addressing the problem of teacher isolation? Is it hopeless or can something be done? Should change be bottom up or top down? Or does one happen before the other or are they concurrent?

Types of Knowledge Within a Personal Learning Network

Originally posted as a response to Downes's Mental Models I Find Repeatedly Useful.

"...a carpenter has an understanding that goes beyond the tools...This, not the tools, makes a carpenter."

A carpenter comes to my house and makes claims of her craft, articulating a comprehensive understanding of principles related to her profession.  But after beginning the job,  it is apparent that she lacks the tools necessary to bring about this understanding in the form of evidence.  

The tools are never more important than one's understanding (knowledge, etc.), but they are necessary in reifying an understanding.   That is, knowledge, understanding, etc. are not more important than the materials, objects, technologies, etc. used to demonstrate such knowledge, etc...what is more important is understanding the (synchronic/diachronic) associations between the ideational, material, and social relationships that exist around a particular domain, event, or circumstance.  

How relevant is a knowledgable carpenter who is unable to perform (because of a lack of tools) than one who has no knowledge at all.  Ideas (including declarative knowledge), materials, and social relationships (aka a personal learning network) together bring about tacit knowledge.  To understand any one of them is to understand how the other two form a single (synchronic/diachronic) aggregate. 

It is hard to see how an understanding can ever go beyond the tool.  Artificially, I can see how some might view formal education through the use of quizzes and standardized tests as measuring declarative knowledge in the absence of tacit knowledge (practical skills), where perhaps one could admit that understandings go beyond the tool, but I would not put much weight behind this argument. 

Finally, I can see when one might find clever ways to use simpler or more antiquated technologies to become more effective, efficient, and engaged, but one's understanding is not going beyond the tool.  Instead, this is just an example of understanding ideational, material, and social relationships within a particular context.  Conversely, a teacher who has a traditional ideology related to teaching and learning (which creates inefficiencies, etc.) but uses different kinds of technology in his practice is just demonstrating a lack of understanding between the ideational, material, and social relationships that help define the situation.  It is not a misunderstanding of the technology, course content, or interactional pattern(s) as separate entities, but rather how these three come together and how they influence one another.

Curious how others feel.  When do declarative knowledge, understandings, etc. go beyond the tool?

#Edudemic authors, why hide?

Edudemic (#edudemic) was created in 2010 and has since grown into one of the most popular destinations to cover teaching, learning, and how technology positively shapes our education.  They publish various types of posts:
  • Research and evidence-driven strategies for professional and self-improvement
  • Expert guides and how-tos for the newest education apps
  • News re-caps of the most important updates for each week
  • Compilations of the most useful edtech tools and tips
  • Reviews of valuable and innovative products for educator
  • Special features such as college reports
I have written for Edudemic in the past (image) and have shared many great stories related to education.  But today, as I was perusing the site, I came across a post that I wanted to share. I noticed (for the first time) that the "author" of the post was listed as Edudemic Staff.

In this particular Edudemic post, I happened to take issue with the narrow definition of the term scaffolding; but more importantly, the bigger question is whether an educational website like Edudumic should post ideas anonymously.

The term anonymous can be defined as
  1. without any name acknowledged, as that of author, contributor, or the like.
  2. of unknown name; whose name is withheld.
  3. lacking individuality, unique character, or distinction
By listing the author as Edudemic Staff, ideas then get linked to the entire Edudemic organization and not to any particular author(s).  From an organizational standpoint, what's the benefit for doing this?  From an individual standpoint, what's the benefit?

As in a school, Edudemic's identity, reputation, etc. is directly related to the efforts of it's individuals.  What's better for the organization, to have a reader disagree with an individual (author) or with the entire organization?

As an individual author, what advantage is there posting one's ideas as Edudemic Staff versus listing one's own name?

When I have posted to Edudemic, I would never have considered spending the time to post an idea if my name weren't associated with the idea.  My rationale was (and still is) that posting to Edudemic was a good opportunity to share my ideas to a readership that also might subsequently lead to connecting with other individuals.  Those who read my posts could also make a value judgment on the validity, reliability, and level of bias of my ideas - they could consult my online identity and judge for themselves how credible (or not) my thoughts and opinions were.  I think this is a valuable consideration that readers of Edudemic lose when posts are published under the veil of Edudemic Staff.

A possibility: One possible reason for posting as Edudemic Staff is to give the impression that there are more authors involved in publishing than there actually are.  If this is the case, what's worse? 1) A blog with the same (or limited number of) authors or 2) not knowing who wrote the blog?  I would say the latter.  If the problem is having a limited number of authors, the answer is not posting ideas anonymously. 

  1. Should websites like Edudemic post ideas anonymously?
  2. From an organizational standpoint, what's the benefit of posting ideas as Staff?
  3. From an individual standpoint, what's the benefit of posting ideas as Staff?
  4. From an organizational and individual standpoint, what's the benefit of posting ideas using the author's name? 
  5. What's better for the individual and/or organization, a reader disagreeing with an idea posted as Staff or an idea where the author's real name is revealed?
  6. How can organizations promote open authorship in online spaces?
  7. What are possible reasons for posting ideas as Staff?

Learning technologies for English for academic purposes (EAP) classes

Here's a rundown of learning technologies I plan to use next semester.


I'll be trying Schoology for the first time this semester for the three courses that I plan to teach this fall (2014): applied linguistics, composition (3rd semester), and composition (5th semester).  All of the resources for the three courses will reside both within Schoology as well as outside of Schoology: public websites, virtual library databases, etc.

Google Drive

Google Drive (documents) will be used within Schoology where learners will be able to create the written word as well as collaborate and cooperate with each other.  As their instructor, I will also be able to interact with their creations and ideas as well.

Google+ Hangouts and Communities

Most ad hoc videos created throughout the semester will be recordings of Google+ Hangouts on Air that will be posted as Google Events within the TILL Community.  Also, certain classes may also involve Google+ Hangouts on Air (such as poetry readings) so that learners have exposure to authentic audiences for their classroom performances.  All authentic performances will also be recorded so that learners can self-assess and use it potentially as a performance-based teacher portfolio.

Scrivener for Mac and Dropbox

Throughout the semester I will be putting together my thoughts and experiences together using Scrivener (for the applied linguistics course only).  Periodically, I will be compiling the data in Scrivener to a PDF file which will be shared to Dropbox (and accessible to learners via Schoology).  This will allow learners to not only have access to information for reviewing content covered in class, but also will give them the opportunity to provide feedback to the document itself.

These are the learning technologies that I plan to use next semester in order for my learners to be more engaged with the content and each other.  My intent is also to be as accessible  as possible as I anticipate using not only my MacBook Air but various mobile devices to access information and student communications related to the three courses.

What learning technologies are you currently using or that you plan to use in the future?  To what end?




The Mitra Debate: Research vs. Teaching Practice

I read ELTJam meets Sugata Mitra today and found some interesting comments that I thought I might tease out.  My comments today are based mainly on Robinson's text as many of the YouTube videos I was not able to open at the time of this writing.

I commend Robinson for taking the time to conduct this interview with Mitra in revisiting some of the issues around his research and how many EFL educators perceive his research.  Then taking the time to post the interview with some journalistic tones that emerge throughout his text.  Overall, I get what he's after: to bring forward some of the controversial issues that have been floating around the web, along with sufficient dousing of editorial comments throughout.

But there are moments in this text that left me scratching my head, followed by a comment from Nicola that prompted me to ask myself, What is journalistic writing as it pertains to this blog post? I realized that this question and the reasons for me scratching my head were related, so I wish to explore this relationship...and yes, I might sprinkle in a few editorial comments of my own as well. :)

Nicola really loves Robinson's piece...

I love this piece! I am choosing to comment on the article as a piece of journalism rather than the questions raised because there are so many and worth a longer time to consider.
But I wanted to say, on first reading, as a piece of journalism this blew me away. I really care about writing – maybe more than I care about ELT in some ways and this seems to me like pretty groundbreaking journalism. It’s not just an interview/blog post…it’s creative non fiction with video. Stand back a minute and look at the skill that went into presenting this in this way. It’s awe inspiring – really.

She may be able to divorce language with content, but it's not as easy a task for me. But I appreciate her comment as it made me take another look at this post from a slightly different perspective: fact vs. opinion.

The Road to Newcastle

Since I was unable to ever view the recording, my commentary is strictly related to Robinson's text.  His use of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person is distracting and presumptuous at times.  This section is mainly based on opinion...after two paragraphs he introduces his first report by quoting Mitra which was his describing how he ended up becoming a teacher and his motivations...

How to make money. … How to make money doing the least amount of work as possible.

Then Robinson's response throws me off...

There it is in black and white: the root of the whole problem. From those early days would come a quest for economic efficiency straight out of the neoliberal manual for the automation of labour, and the root of the eventual demise of teaching as a profession.

I think if you ask any teacher, most would agree that summer vacations, holidays, etc. (time off) is one of the perks of being a teacher.  Isn't that what Mitra's saying?  And I think in most countries, few teachers would say that they got into the teaching profession because of the money.  How does this statement get construed to Mitra being the "devil in disguise" (aka a neoliberal)? Can anyone argue his investment into educational research as not being work?  And do we need to compare this with the amount of work found by a "traditional" teacher?  Finally, even if he did have horrible intentions when getting into the profession...who cares?  Isn't what he's doing now more relevant?

Then, Robinson shifts from a strict personal opinion to being diplomatic.

But it’s a little facile to read too much into it, isn’t it? What’s more, I agreed with him, as you can hear in the video. And I think many other people would agree, too. Who wants to work inefficiently? Who wants to work more than they have to? Do teachers? Do we feel that it’s the teacher’s lot to work too hard? Do we have some kind of martyr complex? Is that why some people can’t even start to entertain the thought that our role might end up different (or diminished)?

This sudden shift threw me.  I'm used to reading either an opinion piece from start to finish (e.g., persuasive/argumentative piece); reporting that is more diplomatic throughout (e.g., an objective balance between various sides of the argument); or presenting facts, like something Mitra said, followed by a comment (an opinion).

East vs. West

The first paragraph is more reporting, but then in the second paragraph...

What I’d hoped to get here was some sense of just how bad the conditions in a place needed to be in order for the possibility of ever getting a teacher there to be ruled out.

This says a lot.  I'd argue that having this discussion was not at all about how bad conditions would need to be to take any kind of action to improve teaching and learning.  The presumption here is that the result leads to a teacher being ruled out (Robinson does this later as well), which I do not subscribe to.  Robinson continues on which leads to the following questions...

What if the system is actually broken? What then?

I'll just say that every classroom has something that is broken, and that this premise goes a lot further in getting to better solutions that simply asking a overarching, dichotomous question that requires a complex answer.

Better than Nothing

I worked hard to follow Robinson's logic here, but ends by posing two questions:

Are those who agree with him [Mitra] simply giving up too easily?

Or are those who don’t simply too idealistic (or, maybe, naive)?

I commend Robinson for trying to simplify the matter, but I just don't follow.  I think we (the TESOL community) are better off having been exposed to Mitra's research. I think it brings up important questions like how can EFL educators create learning environments where students can learn more on their own, and then assist them more efficiently and effectively in matters they are unable to learn on their own.  Robinson's questions seems to again attempt to simplify a complex scenario.  And whether or not a teacher agrees with the outcomes of Mitra's research specifically (or him personally) does not mean that the research itself is irrelevant.   

The Neoliberal Question

Robinson states, "I’ve taken the liberty of pulling out some of the choicest quotes from this section and displaying them without context, as that’s what’s likely to happen in blog comments and on Twitter anyway..."  In other words, he might as well post isolated comments that are easily misconstrued since everyone else is doing it. Robinson goes on to list six "choice quotes" (again, going by text only since the YouTube video does not open):

  1. How Mitra feels about the profession of a postman is irrelevant.

  2. If Mitra is saying that teachers cannot be replaced, and that schools can never disappear, then what's the problem?  What side of the argument is this statement on?

  3. I have no idea as to the relevance of this "choice quote".

  4. In other words, are educators putting their time to good use when students can learn the same content without the help of the teacher? Students should learn what they can on their own (using the objects available to them), so that educators can take students to the next level.  Wouldn't Mitra support this idea?  I think so. How would one support an argument against this idea?

  5. Any educator who is teaching a student something that they could just as easily learn themselves (with no teacher intervention), and this behavior represents a singular teaching method, should be replaced (by either man or machine - using gender-specific language for effect).  Am I being unkind?  To the educator who is not adding value to the educative experience, yes.  To the learner, no. 

  6. See comment five above.

A Theory about English Language Teachers

Robinson concludes, "non-native teachers of English from around the world; in the anti camp: native speakers from Britain. Is this another battle line in the debate – East vs. West?"  Comparing native/non-native speakers and East vs. West is like comparing apples with oranges.  The logic is all over the place.  Stick to one point and unpack it.  If it's a native/non-native thing, stick to that.  If it's an East/West thing, stick to that.  To answer one of Robinson's questions, yes, I think our community can be divided at times in terms of expectations individuals have between the perceived notion of native and non-native speaker teacher.  But the way to remove this division is to stick to the nuances of issues and avoid generalizing (stereotyping) groups of people.  We should be beyond the native vs. non-native speaker teacher debate by now to one that is more about what is and is not working in the English language learning classroom.

On Evidence

I completely agree with Robinson here.

The Edge of Chaos

Robinson started his conclusion well...

From our conversation, I, at least, did get something of a clearer sense of what makes Sugata Mitra tick: a belief that we’ve let control go too far; that if we can loosen that control, learning will happen, and it will happen in a better way; and that, in some cases, the way to relinquish that control might be to...

I was with him all of the way, until he finished with...

...get rid of the teacher altogether.

What?  Why must the end be "get rid of the teacher altogether"?  Why can't the answer be somewhere in the middle?  Why can't the answer be something like teachers taking a closer look at their teaching practice and adopt and adapt as necessary as they recognize that students can learn a lot more on their own than we sometimes give them credit for. 

I know why...Educators, at times, misunderstand research design for teaching method.  Yes, research should be rooted in pedagogy.  Yes, there should be a link between research and teaching and learning.  But to Robinson's point about evidence, educators should take research (evidence) and compare and contrast how the findings relate to their own teaching and learning (local) context. This should be done without feeling that a particular research design, under a particular research setting, is synonymous in application across an infinite set of local learning environments that may exist.

The Mitra debate is as much about the role of research and teaching practice as it is about Mitra and his research.  It's a worthy debate and one that is likely to continue.

Photo Attribution (Steve Jurvetson)

IHAQ#4 on EdTechTalk

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=reVC9MxJLDQ&w=500&h=315]

IHAQ#4 on EdTechTalk (Google+ Community) begins later today.  Past questions that have led to potential questions for this week:

Featured Question:
From  +Paul Allison   via  https://twitter.com/youthvoices

What would a K-12 MOOC have in it? What connections would it nurture? Would teachers codesign it with students? Do they exist?

Other Questions That May Be Addressed:

From +Benjamin L. Stewart 
How can instruction and assessment (not accreditation) "live as one" within an online course.

Why does Mitra anger so many in education?  

Curious, is it possible to pull info (using a hashtag) from blog posts without sharing in Twitter, facebook, Google+, etc? 

From +Clarissa Bezerra 
Best ways to approach/handle teenage smart-phone use/addiction <nervous-thumbs syndrome> :) in the classroom?

From https://twitter.com/joseluisserrano
How can assess (and accredit) rhizomatic tasks in higher education? or, it is conflicting? 

From: https://twitter.com/EarlyYearsErica
Teachers are subverting education policy rubbish to ensure children have creative learning experiences! Good! #eduquestion time

Possible follow-up on last week's question

Parts of a thesis

Refer to the following when developing your thesis paper:

Parts of a manuscript (APA, 2001, pp. 10-29) SampleSample two

  • Title page

  • Abstract

  • Introduction (Introduction to APA)


  • Method (Express the appropriateness of the method and the reliability and the validity of the results.)


    • Participants or subjects

    • Instruments (Apparatus/Measures)

    • Design and procedure (Data collection)

  • Results


    • Data analysis

    • Tables and figures

    • Statistical presentation

    • Effect size and strength of relationship

  • Discussion (conclusions and recommendations)Multiple Experiments (if applicable)


    • Evaluate and interpret implications

    • Problem choice (limitations)

    • Levels of analysis

    • Application and synthesis


  • References

  • Appendix


How can assessment and instruction live as one? (#eduquestion)

[caption id="attachment_1148" align="alignright" width="300"]Attribution: https://flic.kr/p/d43JtU Attribution: https://flic.kr/p/d43JtU[/caption]

During I have a question #2 (see video below), several questions were addressed (using the Twitter hashtag #eduquestion); one in particular that I posed and one which I would like to discuss in more detail here was, How can assessment and instruction (and not accreditation) live as one within an online course?

When I say, accreditation, I mean receiving grades, diplomas, certificates, etc. in formal education; and badges, certificates of completion, etc. in informal education.  Albeit important, I'd like to exclude the topic of accreditation from what I'd like to cover in this post and also will not need to make any real distinction between informal and formal education as I think my overall thesis applies to both.

TeacherRefresher presents a concise outline (PowerPoint presentation) of the differences between assessment of learning, assessment for learning, and assessment as learning.  If assessment and instruction are to live as one, some combination of these three types of assessment usually exists.

In an online learning environment, assessment of learning might be receiving constructive criticism from one's peers or outside experts (not just the instructor, trainer, facilitator, etc.) pertaning to what a learner understands (content) and can do (process and product).  Making the learning process as transparent as possible yields (i.e., through online blended learning scenarios) more dynamic interaction where assessment of learning can more effectively take place.

Assessment for learning can be linked to assessment of learning by allowing the instructor to reflect on learner progress to see what future changes in learning designs or instruction are needed, and what learning tactics are needed on the part of the student.  Perhaps a new video or different problem-solving activity is in order.  Maybe a subsequent review or more didactic learning session is required.  It's been my experience that any changes to a learning design and/or learning tactics be considered as a negotiation between instructor (trainer, facilitator, etc.) and learner through ongoing reflection (i.e., reflection-in/on-action).

Assessment as learning takes summative and formative assessment one step further by allowing learners to begin the process of matching individual goals with institutional or organizational goals (e.g., syllabus, curriculum, company mission/vision statements, etc.).  For instance, online courses with the various social media tools available allow learners to more actively design their own rubrics (as assessment tools), which in-and-of-itself gives learners a chance to interact and think critically about how they learn best, and how to best approach their individual weaknesses.

In all three examples - assessment of learning, assessment for learning, and assessment as learning - instruction is "baked in".  Many of the open, online courses that I have experienced (we used to call them distance courses before MOOCs came along), learners really had to take it upon themselves to see how these three types of assessment fit within their own learning experience - course facilitators tended to lecture and attendees conducted discussions as they pleased.  In formal educational settings, assessment (along with accreditation like grades etc.) is typically forced onto the learner, which too tends to interfere with finding the right mix of this assessment trilogy.

Regardless if in a formal or informal educational setting, recognizing that assessment and instruction are not mutually exclusive but rather reciprocal and iterative throughout the learning experience does away with the antiquated notion that instructors must first teach learners (or students must learn something first), then assess what students (theoretically) have learned later (i.e., two separate and isolated processes).  Online learning, with its inherent potential for interaction and transparency, embraces assessing of/for/as learning so that both intentional and incidental learning can emerge in more effective, effecient, and engaging ways.

What do you think?  How does assessment and instruction intertwine within an open, online course?


Narrowing down a research topic

Narrowing down a research topic

Selecting a topic (handout): Move from an everyday problem that you would like to investigate (stage 1) to defining a specific subject, perspective, and vantage point that defines your research topic (stage 2).  The final stage (stage 3) is to remove yourself from the personal domain of refining the topic of interest to the formal world of academia.  In this final stage, switch from everyday language to technical terminology used in a particular academic discipline (e.g., applied linguistics). See list of possible research topics in applied linguistics below as a guide. Source: The Literature Review

Merge your topic with an area of linguistic focus: a) individual skills (i.e., reading, writing, listening, speaking), b) grammar, c) vocabulary, d) or some combination of the aforementioned (e.g., reading and writing, listening and speaking, speaking and vocabulary, etc.). 

Moving from a topic to questions (Booth, Colomb, & Williams, 2008

Brainstorm a set of questions from a variety of perspectives, beginning with asking who, what, when, where, but focusing on how, and why.  Then continue brainstorming through the following types of questions:
  • Topic history

    • Ask questions about developmental context.  How has this problem, technique, method, material, etc. changed over the years?  Why has it changed over the years? etc. 
  • Structure and composition

    • How does your topic relate to a bigger context?  What is the composition of your topic?  How do the pieces fit together?
  • Categorization

    • How can your topic be grouped together?  How does your topic compare and contrast with topics within the same or similar category.
  • Positive to negative questions

    • Turn positive questions to negative questions.  Why have wikis not become a prevalent web tool in today's language classroom?
  • What if... questions
    • What if all language teachers had to use wikis with their learners?
  • Questions from sources
    • Search primary research articles and find questions for further research.  Or tailor research questions from primary research articles to local research topic interests.  Find questions from outside sources that allow you to fill the literature gap so that what you investigate adds to the body of knowledge that currently makes up the field.

Moving from questions to a problem

To move a question to its significance, try using the following prompts:
  • I wish to learn more about...(a topic).
Here are some examples with key words (nouns deriving from verbs) italicized...
  • I am studying teachers' beliefs about formative assessments and related teaching techniques.
  • I am working on why students are reluctant to speak English in class.
  • I am trying to learn about teaching covert grammar and how students feel about different related teaching techniques.
Add an indirect question (in bold) to your topic to indicate what you don't know or would like to understand better...
  • Example: I wish to learn more about _________ because I want to find out who/what/when/where/whether/why/how _________.

  • I am studying teachers' beliefs about formative assessment because I want to find out how students feel about related teaching techniques

  • I am working on why students are reluctant to speak English in class because I want to find out what authentic materials I might use to promote better interaction among students

  • etc.
Build research questions specifically around the indirect question (bold text) that you have created above.

So what?

Your topic must be interesting to you, the researcher, but must also be interesting to others in the field.  Add to your topic and indirect question the significance of your research.
  • Example: I wish to learn more about __________ because I want to find out who/what/when/where/whether/why/how _________ in order to __________.

  • I am studying teachers' beliefs about formative assessment because I want to find out how students feel about related teaching techniques in order to demonstrate the role of formative assessment in the English language classroom. 

  • I am working on why students are reluctant to speak English in class because I want to find out what authentic materials I might use to promote better interaction among students in order to place less emphasis on the coursebook as a syllabus

  • etc.
Moving from a topic to questions involves a three-part process: 1) stating what you want to learn more about, 2) tagging an indirect question to your topic (beginning with a because clause), and 3) concluding with the significance of your research (an in order to clause).

Moving from questions to a problem

Reflect on your topic-to-question statement:
  • Topic: I wish to learn more about...

  • Question: because I want to find out what/why/how etc....

  • Significance: (Reflect on the reader's point of view.): in order to...
First, distinguish between a practical problem and a research problem...
  • Practical problem: Students are afraid to speak in class.

  • Research problem: How can I provide feedback to students in such a way that they feel more confident to speak English with their peers?

  • Research solution:  Provide individual feedback when requested during the task, and group feedback once the task has been completed.

  • Practical solution:  Avoid overcorrection or providing too much feedback to students.
A problem consists of a condition and a cost or consequence.
  • (topic) I am studying teacher feedback (question #1 & condition) because I want to find out when giving feedback allows students to feel more confident when speaking L2 with their peers (significance, question #2, & cost or consequence in order to answer the bigger question of how teacher intervention can either promote or discourage student's oral production in class.
The first question (the condition) helps answer the second question (the cost or consequence).

Example: Knowing when to give feedback that allows students to feel more confident when speaking with their peers (question #1 or condition) addresses the bigger question of how teacher intervention can either promote or discourage student's oral production in class (question #2 or cost/consequence). 

Here are additional tips when searching for a problem to research:
  • Ask teachers, students, administrators, and other experts in the field about problems they face related to teaching and learning an additional language.

  • Search primary research articles for related problems to find relevant examples.

  • Begin with a problem at the onset of your research, but understand that research problems may morph or emerge in different forms as one conducts a study.

Unit of Analysis

Lesson 1-5 Units of analysis
Possible Research Topics in Applied Linguistics 
  • Grammar
      • Overt/cover
      • Implicit/explicit
      • Chomsky's Universal Grammar

  • Bilingual education

  • Classroom discourse

  • Corpus linguistics

  • Cognitive linguistics

  • Discourse analysis
    • Grice and Implicatures (part 1part 2, & part 3)
    • L1 use in language teaching
    • L2 transfer
    • Learner autonomy
    • Interactive/collaboraitve language learning.
    • Task-based learning
    • Problem-based learning
    • Performance-based learning
    • Language learning strategies
  • Language exchanges

  • English for Academic Purposes
  • English for Specific Purposes
  • Generative grammar
  • Chomsky's Universal Grammar
  • Innatism
  • Krashen's monitor model
  • Language and culture
  • Language and Gender
  • Language and Identity
  • Language Emergence as a complex adaptive system
  • Language learning and technology
  • Language teacher education
  • Professional development or professional learning among (English language), in-service educators
  • Professional development or professional learning among (English language), pre-service educators
  • Language testing
    • Formative assessment in the language classroom
    • Formative vs. summative assessment in the language classroom
    • Dynamic assessment in the language classroom
    • Language exchanges
    • Task-based learning
    • Problem-based learning
    • Performance-based learning

  • Lexis
  • Linguistic Imperialism
  • Multilingualism
  • Phonetics and phonology
  • Systemic functional linguistics
  • Multimodality
  • Psycholinguistics
  • Sociocultural theories
  • Sociolinguistics
    • Motivation
  • Translation

Additional reading

Six steps for conducting a literature review (Machi & McEvoy, 2009)
  1. Select a topic.
    Search the literature.
  2. Develop an argument.
  3. Survey the literature.
  4. Critique the literature.
  5. Write the review.


Booth, W., Colomb, G., & Williams, J. (2008). The craft of research. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Machi, L. & McEvoy, B. (2009). The literature review: Six steps to success. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

#Eduquestion Matrix

EdTechTalk brought up a question I had this past Sunday about how to best foster/curate #eduquestions...


Here is my response and a possible #eduquestion matrix...


If you would like to post education-related questions and engage in the discussions, use the Twitter hashtag #eduquestion.

Participatory Action Research

Review what is meant by participatory action research as this is the type of research we'll be doing this semester.  As with any type of research, the "secret" is not to get behind.  This week we discussed what applied linguistics is and the importance of being able to define a problem.

Your assignment for this week is to come up with a problem you can investigate as part of a PAR project.  The problem you choose should be something that interests you but also a problem that others have already investigated.  I recommend that you visit the UAA virtual library in order to get ideas.  See how others have research your problem to help you get some ideas.  You are free to duplicate or modify someone else's study, which includes using their instruments.  Just make sure you reference their study according to APA.


  • Create two Google Documents using your own Google (email) account.

  • Copy and past the text from the Problem and Argument template and the PAR template to each of your Google Documents; create links to your Google documents and add them to the class projects page.

  • Complete the Problem and Argument template which now resides in your Google Document.