The making of a MOOC

The scenario of being asked to use a virtual learning environment, a set of laptops or devices, or indeed an interactive whiteboard is likely to be a familiar one to teachers. More familiar still might be the expectation that this technology is used in your teaching and the research evidence supporting its effective use is an afterthought.

On Monday 11 March, a free online course, entitled Using technology in evidence-based teaching and learning launches on FutureLearn with the Chartered College of Teaching and this course will prompt ways of thinking about uses of technology to support evidence-based teaching and learning so that education technology becomes the ‘final piece of the process, not its starting point’ (Neil Selwyn, 2019).

 

What has informed the design of this course?

From previous roles and a number of months working on online learning for the Chartered College of Teaching, I knew the lack of easily accessible research evidence that pointed towards effective uses of technology in schools. Much of what I’d encountered in the past was only really relevant in Higher Education contexts or was presented in a way that aligned to visions of transformation, and innovation, but not to inform the practical application teachers were attempting on a daily basis in the classroom, nor the large decisions being made by school and college leaders every year. This, in the main, drove the vision for the course.

Teacher Online Learning Development group

During my first few months at the Chartered College of Teaching, advertising for and recruiting volunteer members into our Teacher Online Learning Development group took place. From the outset, I’ve been keen that practising teachers and leaders have the opportunity to inform my work and so, with expertise assembled, they set about providing feedback on the various aspects of our online work, including what this course might contain. Once we had a structure in place, it was tested again on the group, before a final draft emerged to be reviewed. I am now as confident as I can be that this first run of our online course will provide a valuable learning experience to its participants.

Research engagement

Engaging with research can be a discomforting experience. We can read something that makes us question our practice; ‘was everything we though correct actually wrong all along?’ We can sometimes dismiss a finding too quickly when it doesn’t align with our own existing bias and perspective. Approaching existing research in a more measured way to decide whether or not it holds answers for our particular context will be encouraged on this course. It was important that the course began with the research evidence so that our exploration of education technologies would be anchored in that, rather than floating beyond grasp in the weightless universe of ‘transformation’ in which education technologies so often find themselves.

I have purposely used language of may and might in the course, not to sit on the fence but to be transparent that not all research has the answer for every eventuality but that it might point towards a possible avenue to explore and experiment with. I’d be glad to hear that a participant who’d been teaching for years had grown more curious about an area of their practice as a result of engaging with research evidence on this course that provoked new thinking.

Impact

If you’ve not accessed any of the articles from the special issue of Impact then you can do so for free online here. Additional articles are available to Chartered College of Teaching members. Many of these articles made their way into the course design because they pointed to the kinds of principles we wanted the course to cover. They were balanced, grounded in effective practice, and made connections between theory and practice. You’ll learn, for instance, about designing better slides and resources that align with learning from cognitive load theory and dual coding, as well as ways in which technology can support metacognition, assessment and feedback in the classroom.

Case studies

One of our biggest jobs, in a short timescale, was to ensure representation across the course from primary, secondary and SEND settings. Whilst I’ll continually work to improve this representation for future iterations, our reviews so far indicate that participants should find something to suit their context throughout the course. Each week, there are a range of video and written case studies to follow the learning from our academic contributors. One of my core aims for the course was for participants to hear directly from academics who would make the research evidence more accessible but for the voice of teachers and leaders to be strongly represented too. I believe that we can only make improvements to practice when we gather all of this influence together. Across the four weeks, I feel as though participants will have heard from voices representing a variety of contexts and perspectives (especially if they also complete the course for leaders once it launches).

What will you learn?

I’m pleased to say that we’ve passed FutureLearn’s quality assurance process and I’m now making the final edits on the course, so what can you expect to learn over the four weeks?

Each week, we begin with a focus on what research evidence tells us about a specific area of practice. Then, through written and video case studies from schools across the country, we explore how technology can be used in a way that aligns with what this research evidence suggests might be effective.

Week 1 – Understanding technology use in educational practice (3 hrs)

This week sets up the learning for future weeks by engaging with the why of technology use; we’ll consider barriers, challenges, and evaluation. You’ll be exposed to your first set of academics and a number of case studies too.

  • Why might we choose to use technology in education?
  • What are the challenges and opportunities in technology use?
  • How can we best evaluate the impact of technology use in our own context?

Week 2 – Building new knowledge and understanding using technology (3 hrs)

This week focuses on research evidence about how we build knowledge and understanding in the classroom. We’ll then see and hear from teachers making use of technology in their variety of contexts to support such practices.

  • How might concepts such as dual coding and cognitive load theory help with presenting learning effectively?
  • What makes effective pupil collaboration in the classroom?
  • How can the presentation of learning and pupil collaboration be enabled with technology?

Week 3 – Technology to support learning that sticks (3 hrs)

This week focuses on aspects of retrieval and elaboration for learning; learning that sticks. Once more, course participants will have the opportunity to select from a range of case studies that demonstrate how technology can be used to support these practices should they wish to use it.

  • How can we support pupils’ long-term retention of content learnt using retrieval practice, elaboration and spacing?
  • How might technology effectively support the retention of learning?
  • In what circumstances might we choose to use (or not use) technology as a tool to support learning that sticks?

Week 4 – Developing technology supported assessment and feedback (3 hrs)

The final week explores assessment and feedback, and the place of technology there. Participants will choose from a range of school case studies to inform possible solutions for their practice.

  • How can assessment and feedback approaches be made most effective?
  • How might technology support effective assessment and feedback approaches?
  • How might technology and research evidence support changes to marking workload?

Whilst FutureLearn’s model is for course content to be completed in each of the designated weeks, you will have access to the content for a little while after it finishes so that you can catch-up on anything missed, which is handy as there’s a school holiday just after the course finishes. There is an upgrade fee to get longer access if you’re not a Chartered College of Teaching member (£52) but the course content will be made freely available after the course run for all members (£45 per year) within your membership platforms.

Learning together

I’m keen that a learning community is established during the course where practice, experience, and reflections are shared openly. We have a number of mentors supporting the programme who will support the discussions taking place. So often, it can feel lonely learning on a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) and whilst we’ll be doing what we can on the course, I recommend the following if you can achieve it back in school:

  • Gather together a group of colleagues who will undertake the course at the same time. This could be done by you, a senior leader, or a CPD leader.
  • Arrange a weekly meeting time on a morning, lunchtime, or evening best suited to you all where there will be sustenance of some kind (tea, coffee, breakfast, biscuits, cake…)
  • Discuss the learning from the week. Use some of the discussion points from the course or the reflective questions posed at the end of each week.
  • At the end of the 4 weeks, each select something you’ll try in the term ahead and maintain the group to discuss progress (except perhaps reduce the frequency of the meetings).
  • At the end of that term, get together to share your findings, preferably inviting wider colleagues along to learn from your use of technology in evidence-based teaching and learning.

If you do this, I’d love to hear from you. If the above isn’t possible in your setting then take to Twitter or a blog to reflect for yourself and connect with other course learners at the hashtag #FLEducationTech

I hope to be learning with you over on FutureLearn soon!

 

Selwyn N (2019) Teachers and technology: time to get serious. Impact (Special Issue 1). Available at: https://impact.chartered.college/article/editorial-education-technology/

Embracing Difference

30 days ago, I started working at the Chartered College of Teaching. This time has absolutely flown by and I found myself arriving at the Annual Conference early on a Saturday morning to help with the set-up wondering what I would get from the day.

When working full-time as a teacher and leader, it was always at this time of the year (and to be honest – most other times of the year) when I badly needed an injection of inspiration to propel me forwards. It was rare that I’d find enough juice for my batteries in the staffroom and so a Saturday conference was invariably where I’d head. I began the day doubtful that I was in need of this same shot of passion in my new position but this was to be a very different Saturday conference for more than one reason.

The programme put together for this day represented diversity in all of its facets. We heard from teachers and leaders throughout the day that I’d not heard from before. We were inspired by passionate educators who affirmed our purpose through honestly sharing their own.

There are many things that separate us as humans, and certainly as educators –
– Our voices and perspectives
– Our backgrounds and politics
– Our qualities and challenges

It was whilst listening to Abed Ahmed that I  recognised the strength that lies in not just accepting a difference in yourself that others may see as a weakness but going beyond mere acceptance and towards embracing it wholeheartedly.

This video explains much of the power Abed has, in his words, as a result of ‘stammering with confidence’ and helping his students to do the same. And stammering confidently, believe it or not, is wholly achievable – we were all lucky enough to witness it first hand.

It seems to me that society often labels difference as weakness, rather than strength. Oftentimes, apologies are made for such differences and perceived limits are put firmly in place. Abed referenced a point in his life when he’d been told that teaching wouldn’t be the right career choice for him; his stammer would apparently hold him back.

Maggie Aderin-Pocock shared a similar story later on when she related her experiences of schools where teachers had underestimated her abilities as a dyslexic girl from a broken home… and yet, it was a teacher who was able to turn this narrative around. Just the encouragement, on a single occasion, to answer a tricky maths question was enough to help her think differently about her future and to continue believing in her dreams.

Listening to the debate panel on inclusion later in the day made me consider the strength in difference to an even greater extent. Teachers and leaders have the capacity to enable every young person they work with to look to the stars, yet so often we give up before all avenues have been explored and limits are placed on what a student is able to see for their future. Maggie shared her view that as teachers, we are the nurturers of their ‘desire to aspire’.

Whilst there is an enormous barrier to be overcome in persuading some of this philosophy, there are other hurdles to be overcome too if inclusion is to be realised across the education system and I believe they demand a more nuanced discussion. For many, there is a fear over inclusion that became apparent for me through overheard discussions and questions asked by members. We can’t just bury this fear with moral arguments. I would suggest that many schools and colleges are a long way off realising inclusion, not necessarily because they don’t buy into what it means but because there is no investment in the development, structure, and support to enable it to happen effectively.

Listening to our teachers when it comes to inclusion is vital if we’re to begin changing the narrative and the importance of teacher voice was highlighted throughout the day, not least of all by Dr Helen Woodley.

How many times have you listened to your colleagues share their ideas for positive change and they’re ignored? It’s not that the ideas simply can’t be actioned but more than that – no dialogue even takes place about the possibilities that might result from such ideas. Many of you will have witnessed what this does to colleagues over time and disengagement is the least of it. If we are to inject a greater level of professionalism into teaching then we must begin with dialogue and genuine listening. Change can be actioned by a single teacher within their own classroom and it is on most days of the year so to ignore their voice the rest of the time is foolish at the very least. I love Nancy Kline’s work on this with ‘Time to Think’. So often we shut down our vocal colleagues because they’re ‘off on one again’… and yet, what might be the reason for their being ‘off on one’ again? Perhaps we shut them down the last time they tried to speak too… At the other end of this spectrum is the colleague whose opening to speak is not a busy team meeting but a conversation with a trusted colleague over a cup of tea in the morning break. How can we ensure there is space for each of our teacher’s voices to be truly heard in meaningful ways?

The voice of Farhaan Patel has been left resonating in my mind since the conference. He showed what’s possible in a world where difference is not merely ‘tolerated’ as British Values would let us believe but celebrated. It’s clear to me that as educators, there is a moral imperative to help our young people to see difference as simply a part of living in the modern world. When we show our young people what diversity looks like, we make them curious about it and we’ll have moved far beyond the kind of ‘telling them about it’ that ticks the ‘E&D box’ on a lesson plan. Farhaan shared a window into his school where children ask endless questions as a result of open dialogue with the adults they trust. Through a partnership with another school, his students became thirsty to learn more and ultimately found friends in places they would likely never have ventured. I’m left wondering why every area in the country has not done as Leicester has and connected their young people through projects like their ‘UnitEd’.

Another ‘box’ leaders and teachers should be equally reticent to ‘tick’ is the wellbeing one. With the current situation with retention and workload in the sector, more fundamental changes need to be put into place. Dr Tim O’Brien facilitated a panel of practising teachers and leaders from his recent wellbeing CPD programmes for the Chartered College. Having attended the pilot as a member, I’d recommend to it anyone. You’re encouraged to take a ramble through wellbeing issues in the education context and you engage in an experiment within your own context to assess its impact. You can read more about it here.

At the end of the panel, I was speaking to a Chartered College member who shared that he finds his colleagues’ negativity a drain on his energies as a relatively new teacher but the most uplifting parts of his day are when he walks into his classroom and shuts the door to teach. More than that, he relishes the opportunity to engage with pupils on his thrice-weekly lunch duties where he can continue to foster positive relationships with the young people at his school. I was reminded that there is no single way to ‘well-being’ and that an individual approach is best. As we spoke, I reflected on the places I’ve worked over my teaching career and the leaders I’ve worked for. I don’t wish to lay the responsibility of wellbeing at the feet of every leader but one thing is left abundantly clear for me from these reflections: where there was trust, autonomy, support, and gratitude then the very challenging job that is teaching was made far easier.

Our day ended with trainee teacher, Philip McCahillsharing his advice for his future teacher self. He ultimately spoke of hope and possibility. We were shown today that, without doubt, there is always another way. It’s simply a case of being open to ‘possibility’. As a teacher, this sense of ‘possibility’ is multiplied exponentially if we can consider all of the lives we may influence by embracing the power that lies in difference.