Who’s running Quality Control and Fact Checking in a Tech Rich, Differentiated, Personalised Classroom?

It was definitely much easier to teach in the ‘olden days’. Everyone read the same text, researched the same topic, wrote the same text type, answered the same question. The students worked hard, studied and took and passed ( apparently everyone did if you listen to the nostalgic educators and parents of times gone by) the same test.

Then along came this pesky new age world of personalising and differentiating teaching and learning with its notion of student choice and planning for a wide range of student interests and abilities. Along with it came a whole lot of challenges for teachers as they passed topic selection into the hands of the children.

No longer does the teacher have access to all knowledge being learned during the unit of work. No longer does the teacher have complete mastery over the content of the class novel. In a single Inquiry Unit, there may be 15 different topics being explored by your class. If your class runs Literature Circles or Book Clubs, there may be 5 or more novels being read concurrently. In these instances, how much is expected of the class teacher to be on top of all the content involved in the individual student’s choice?

At first glance, teachers may point to the fact that today’s curriculum is not about content knowledge any more. It’s about skill development, creativity, collaboration and communication. At a simplistic level, that may be partly true. We can’t escape the fact, though, that accuracy and understanding is still paramount. While an 8 year old will survive making the odd misinterpretation or copying the wrong information down, a 20 year old medical student can’t be confusing a pharynx with a larynx or thinking a 3:4 ratio means 3/4 and 1/4. So the question needs to be asked – How well are we dealing with Quality Control and Fact Checking in the Differentiated, Personalised Classroom? This one question brings up a whole lot more questions that every teacher needs t0 consider.

Are we expecting students to provide evidence for every fact they state in a report (and are we checking them)? In the days of one topic/one book, the teacher had the source of the information and could quickly determine the accuracy of the student’s statements. We knew everything we needed to know about the plot, characters and themes of the class novel. We taught them how to write a bibliography and footnotes whether they really needed to or not. A bibliography is not enough today.  We need to expect digital literacy skills like hyperlinking and bookmarking to be part of a digital report so that as teachers we can check not only that the information is accurate as we read it but also that it hasn’t just been rewritten or copied.

Are we putting more emphasis on the presentation and not enough on the content? In the name of engagement, teachers ( with me leading the charge!) are exposing students to a myriad of great web tools for presenting their work. Do we sometimes get seduced by the magic of a Prezi, Glog or Voki and reward the students for how their presentation looked rather than the quality/depth of the information presented?

Do our assessment rubrics give enough credit for the accuracy, depth and understanding of the information or are these factors downplayed at the expense of grammar, text structure, presentation and checklist of what requirements were met?

During the research phase, do we spend enough time checking that the information collected by students is relevant and accurate or do we spend all our time giving feedback on the quality of questions, time management and selection of ICT tools for presentation?

Do we check for understanding of the references they use to research their topic? We need to expect more than just copying notes. The students should be summarising the notes, writing questions about the information they have found, listing what addtional information is still required from other sources. This takes time to develop in students but it’s important for developing real critical thinking. Just rewriting notes in a different sentence doesnt show enough understanding.

Do we feedback about the quality of the references, the relevance of the information?

How much attention do we pay to the student’s ability to record notes that support the investigation?

Do we spend time checking that they are identifying enough details from a text? Too often students will highlight random sections of text to show they have found some key words but ignore major details within the same paragraph. Utilising a web tool like the social bookmarking site Diigo, we as teachers can collaboratively support students in highlighting key ideas. The tool supports sharing an online text AND annotations, highlighting and comments in real time. This is an improvement on waiting until the end of the week to hand up work to the teacher for checking. In the digital literacy environment, we can be more timely and strategic in our feedback while also checking the references being used.

Are we expecting our students to prove they have fact checked their own research by referring to several sources for each key idea or fact? We often criticise the use of Wikipedia because of its crowdsourced information but don’t question other references’ validity. We need to ensure that we have taught our students to check for the credentials of the source, ( .org/.edu/gov vs .com, blog vs scholarly), how up to date the information is, how to cross reference multiple sources. Again, digital literacy skills like hyperlinking to the source within their text for instant verification puts the onus on the student to prove their information is correct.

Do we encourage collaboration as a way to check for quality and accuracy? We need to consider the role of wikis, social networking sites like Edmodo and Twitter and blogs in crowdsourcing support in checking each other’s work. Maybe we need to rethink the idea that we only go public with finished products/published work. Why can’t we post drafts and brainstorms on our blogs and put it out there for others to critique, check, support, add to, fact check? Why not tweet out ideas to a worldwide audience to get feedback or answers. Following experts on Twitter could get you the support you need. One example I’ve seen is Dr Karl Kruszelnicki from Australia, a media savvy scientist who often answers tweets sent to him. I’ve read teacher blogs mentioning how they have organised other teachers via Twitter to mentor students in their grade.

There is no going back to the old way of teaching. Differentiation and Personalised Learning is here to stay. And so it should be. However, we do need to make sure we have measures in place to ensure we are monitoring the quality and accuracy of the information our students present in their projects. Many teachers can find this a challenge.

It’s probably more of a challenge in Primary schools where teachers tend to be generalists who teach every subject. It’s a lot to expect them to be on top of the information in Science, History, Health, Economics, Geography, Technology and Environmental Studies on top of every novel the students are reading. So we have to efficient in checking in on students at all stages of their research, not just at the presentation stage.

What challenges do you have in monitoring your students’ personalised learning? What processes do you have in place to manage? I am interested in your experiences. Join the conversation.

Why e-learning is so hard

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I found this infographic created by Lean Forward on the fine educational website Edudemic and I thought I would share it with you. The author of the post, Jeff Dunn, feels it is missing one important role, the teacher. My take on this infographic is that these are the roles the teacher takes on when implementing e-learning. Yes, the teacher does have to ensure good pedagogy is involved in any e-learning but on the other hand e-learning can be seen as THE pedagogy. Whatever way you look at it, though, it’s a fairly large workload to take on.

As Project Manager, the teacher ensures the learning is on track, supporting the students in managing their time and workflow. As well, the teacher must also instruct the students in how they become their own Project managers so they can organize themselves effectively.

As Instructional designer, the teacher is ensuring that the students have all the necessary skills and tools to complete their task. The teacher is also responsible for identifying that the task is meeting required learning outcomes. There is no point in a creative, technological presentation if it doesn’t involve quality learning and part of e-learning is striking a balance between the technology use and the learning that needs to take place.

As Multimedia designer, the teacher’s role is to support the level of creativity that is possible through using tech tools. Often students don’t know how to use the tools creatively. You only have to look at their overuse of WordArt and animated laser text in PowerPoint as evidence that software features does not equal creativity. Teachers need to provide good models of creative use of software so students produce something worthwhile. The creative use of software can enhance the learning from products created; poor use can hinder learning.

This is the key pedagogical component. As E-learning developer, the teacher needs to “control” the mix of technology and human interaction in the e-learning environment. We need to make sure we are not substituting teaching for whiz bang tech that doesn’t drive discussion and interaction on its own. The teacher and students drives the engagement and interactivity, not the technology. The tech is the instrument or tool to enhance the learning but by itself, without true engagement from the human participants, it’s just tech for tech’s sake – the too regular result of educational technology lacking purpose and control.

As Quality Assurance, the teacher role is self evident. We expect quality. The use of technology should produce quality in appearance but we need to make sure we get quality in content as well. This is sometimes overlooked as we get dazzled by the technical wizardry of a Prezi or a Glog. Bells and whistles teach us nothing if they have nothing to say.

What also comes across in this infographic is the need for each “person” to have some skill level in the tech tool being used. While I have often said that teachers don’t have to be experts to allow students to use technology, I’ve also said that students know how to use tech but don’t necessarily know what to use if for. In the experimental stages of technology learning in classes, it’s OK to let the students do the teaching of the basic “how to’s” but for truly effective e-learning teachers need to improve their knowledge. And that’s why e-learning is so hard to do well. Students can e-teach; we need teachers for students to e-learn.

Finally, this infographic highlights how much time is involved in effective e-learning. To me, this stresses the need for teachers to work as teams for e-learning to take place. This is the way teaching is moving anyway, so it’s a matter of teachers realising that e-learning is achievable if they work together. Share the planning, collaborate between grades, bear the burden of these roles together, not individually. Utilize the strengths of individual teachers for the common goal. Who is the Project Manager among you? Who can best deal with Quality Assurance? Who has the creativity in them to be Multimedia designer?

Whether you are implementing an iPad program, starting blogging at your school, using social media like Edmodo for collaboration, using Web 2.0 tools for the first time, or any other tech based initiative, teachers have to take on all these roles. And if you look at it closely, teachers have been taking on these roles well before technology came into prominence.

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