Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Conscious Teacher - Designing an Online Assessment

[This is not related to CONNECTIVISM, but it is related to my teaching experience, as an offshoot of my CIS:ETL course that I am currently enrolled in. This is a repost from my e-portfolio that I used to maintain as Ngee Ann Polytechnic staff.]

We have been asked how the Digital Literacy Course from the University of Manitoba has made an impact into our teaching. It took me a while to write the reflection as I believe it needed careful thought. The University of Manitoba course, or any advanced level course on information literacy for that matter, is very seldom prescriptive. It rarely tells you what to do or not to do. It is quite different with the PDE course that my school dishes out for the new teachers, where obviously, the audience are in need of quick tips and a list of do's and dont's in teaching. Instead, there is a lot of guidance and coaxing for us to explore the information ecosystem (both digital and traditional information learning).

If I have to sum up the benefits I get from this course, I can group these benefits into three.

1. On the knowledge gain, there is no things to memorize or in the traditional sense, things that were passed on from teacher to student. Rather, there is always an option to explore -- explore new softwares, find out how these can be used to improve teaching, etc. A good solid evidence of my learning is this new blog from Weebly. I noted that this website is easy to use due to its capacity for drag and drop.

2. There is a lot of self-examination and defense of one's style of teaching. Because the program does not prescribe the right and the wrong ways to teach--it instead asks the participants to examine and analyze the way by which they teach, to look at the things that work and how to improve them better, and to see where they do not work and how to correct them. More importantly, the programme asks the participants why they teach the way they teach. I believe that my personal growth as a teacher occurred most in this sphere. It allows me to analyze and defend my teaching processes. And in so doing, I become conscious of what the content I put in my lessons, why I put them in, the manner by which I present them. I then become a conscious teacher rather than purely an intuitive teacher (intuition in teaching is nice too, by the way!).

3. Because of this programme, I am able to network with my peers and my teachers who probably have an answer to some of my pedagogical questions. I can seek them out through official lines (office emails) or unofficially, through tete-a-tete. As a result, i do not feel fear in exploring new methods of teaching.

As a demonstration of what I have learned, I have a case that I would like to share with you: The Diploma in Business and Social Enterprise (BZSE) embarks on an in-curriculum (during term time) Overseas Learning Trip for the first year cohort.

The task is to design an assessment for the second year cohort (who will not be in the trip with us) that I can look at and I can mark while the trip is ongoing. I decided to do an online assessment with a 10% weightage (I was afraid to make it heavier as this is my first time).

There are also several constraints:
1. How do you prevent them from copying?
2. How do you make sure that they hand-in on time?
3. How do you make the assessment substantial?
4. How can I make the test results portable enough for me to bring anywhere when I travel? I did tap in to the network and I did ask some of my classmates about this issue and after I have thought through the entire process, the tool that I came up with is:
     a. A Google Doc form wherein the questions to the exam appear in the form of a survey questionnaire.
     b. The results are compiled into a spreadsheet that can be cut and paste or can be left in the internet cloud.
     c. The students are instructed as to the time limit (3 days), but the results also appear with a time stamp.      
     d. To resolve the issue of copying, I used several devices:

  • I appealed to them through a lecture briefing (you have to trust the students to do the right thing)                 
  • I allowed open-book, open-internet approach but no consultation 
  • There is a tick item (do you agree/not agree) to the condition that there should not be copying...this reminds them of the Honor Code that we have established [and to the gravity of their promise not to cheat (you really have to trust your students....:)]
  • the most important of all, is the question design: the questions are designed to be almost individualized.
  • To be substantial and at the same time personalized, the questions are mostly on analysis and reflections (I think this is the most important of all the devices).
The online assessments, when consciously performed, can deliver a different flavor to the module. There are risks, but these can be minimised, and forming trustworthy relationships and innovative question design can help in this effort.

Saturday, February 25, 2012


Connectivism has been proposed as an alternative learning theory particularly in the age of modern digital technology. As discussed by Robertson in a video lecture (2007), it is true that most of the prior learning theories such as constructivism and cognitism were proposed before our major leaps into the internet revolution happened, and therefore, the possibility of needing a new theory to explain how we learn may be timely. But is CONNECTIVISM, as described by its two main proponents, Siemens and Downes, it?

Siemens, in his 2005 paper “Connectivism: a learning theory for the digital age,” claims that learning occurs in “nebulous environments, and that it can “occur outside of individuals.” He is also of the opinion that learning can occur outside of human appliance.

Learning, on the other hand, is defined in many ways, but the one I am inclined to use is the one by Cobb (2009), “Learning is the lifelong process of transforming information and experience into knowledge, skills, behaviors, and attitudes.”
My paradigm for learning is that its evidence occur in many levels, from unicellular organisms (as evidenced by intercellular bacterial communications through quorum sensing), to specialized cellular communication of a complex organism, such as the neurons of the brain. Beyond the individual, there is some evidence of social learning, like how a group such as a flock of birds learn how to avoid buildings in its path, or as political animals, many human societies have learned to fight repression. In essence, there is individual learning; there is organizational learning, and social learning as well.

Using this paradigm of the levels of structures, it seems that Downes and Siemens are pushing for a view that is even wider than the social learning paradigm, a sort of extra-societal interactions that go way beyond individuals and maybe societies. CONNECTIVISM is in a way, paradigm shifting (as a skill necessary for learning, rather than a theory of learning), because it allows for conscious formation of network of learners, which allows each learner to sort into addresses and locations various bits of knowledge that they will need to access to process learning themselves. The main strength of this conscious network formation is that there is high degree of resolution and critical evaluation of the formed networks. A good learner can discern a valuable connection to less valuable ones. On the other hand, the main illusion that is brought about by connectivism is that we are always in a group, and that the group, including the connections between the members, are learning. In the end I believe that we are all in this together, alone.

In the positions of Siemens (2005) and particularly of Downes (2006) where he claims that “learning may reside in non-human appliance” (or by extension, non biological), it seems that they are claiming that the connections themselves are capable of learning. This is where my opinion diverges. I believe that learning, at least in the current level of technology, is still very much within the province of biology, and in our case, of the human brain. Even in organizational learning, it is the individual that captures that learning and encapsulates it into norms and traditions for the organization or society. Knowledge residing in processors, in the cloud, in the memory chips and in the connections between the biologics, is merely a collection of fact, no different to all the knowledge stored in Alexandria’s libraries. Despite automated processing that may happen to facts, these automated processing still means very little to where it resides. The resulting product of knowledge processing may move robotic arms and adjust machines, but in reality, these processors do not understand what is happening. It is the seat of consciousness that programmed the machines on how to transmit and process information – this is the location of learning. I agree with Kop and Hill (2008), when they concluded that: “Connectivism ...continues to play an important role in the development and emergence of new pedagogies, where control is shifting from the tutor to an increasingly more autonomous learner” and that “it does not seem that connectivism’s contributions to the new paradigm warrant it being treated as a separate learning theory in and of its own right.”


Although I concur with Siemens (2005) when he said that “Our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today.” I do not entirely agree with the concept that forming connections is learning by itself, rather it is a necessary skill in this day and level of technology. Learning to form connections allows for better access of knowledge, and wider dispersion of sources. But I posit strongly, that the critical thinking, forming opinions and creating new knowledge is a province of the living cell.

Siemens G. Connectivism: a learning theory for the digital age. 2005 as viewed from: http://www.itdl.org/journal/jan_05/article01.htm on 15 February 2012.

Cobb J. A definition of learning. 2009 as viewed from: http://www.missiontolearn.com/2009/05/definition-of-learning/ on 17 February 2012.

Robertson I. Introduction to learning theories. 2007 as viewed on:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hsX5Tq3WTBw on 21 February 2012.

Kop R and Hill A. Connectivism: Learning theory of the future or vestige of the past? International Review of Research and Distance Learning Learning. 2008 as viewed on:
http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/523/1103 on 20 February 2012.

Downes S. Learning Networks and Connective Knowledge. 2006 as viewed from:
http://it.coe.uga.edu/itforum/paper92/paper92.html on 17 February 2012.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Who's afraid of social media? CCK12

With the advent of social media, many are afraid of the impact that it may have towards education. While it is obvious that the use of technology, particularly the internet and social media affect the learning of the students, such as increasing individualization and its resulting de-institutionalization, I have a feeling that our fear of social media;s impact on education is largely based on the fear of the unknown.

For one thing, this is not the first time that there was a mass media threat to learning. Even modern music was thought to be a threat, and then came television, that one way information delivery systems that created a generation of zombies, or so they said. But this generation that was raised by a box-shaped nanny also produced the innovators that led to social media, like Sergei Brin, Mark Zuckerberg, and learning products like wikipedia, howstuffworks, etc.

Internet has even raised the bar of television even higher, besides the commercial version of interactive TV that is meant to sell, newer generation of are using the internet for learning.

How often have I seen a socially interesting commentary because of the newspapers from far-away have come within reach through not just the internet, but through facebook, or heard of earthquakes through twitter, and updated the developments of revolutions through you tube.

I believe that social media is only another system of learning/knowledge delivery system, it is not a threat, but has a potential to to elevate learning.

Now who is afraid of social media? Not I.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Are we connected yet? [For CCK12]

We have been at this CONNECTIVISM thing for the past 3 weeks. That is so far the length of my exposure to connectivism, connectivity and networking. Sure, I have been part of many networks,from the internet-based social networks to real-life community networks (i.e. neighborhoods, alumni, family networks, etc - which are all being represented in the internet btw), but I have never truly paid any attention to the elements and semantics of connectivity.

According to Downes in 2006, in his paper "Learning Networks and Connective Knowledge", he mentioned 3 elements of the network:
a. entities - the connected things that send and receive signals
b. connections - the links between entities (can be physical or virtual)
c. signals - the message sent between entities

The question that I want to pose in this blog is, how do we practically define connections in the virtual world?

In the real world, the answer is simple, if you are my cousin, I am almost certainly your cousin, and if you are my parent, I am most certainly your child; and socially, if you are my classmate, then I am yours too, etc.

And yet in a virtual world with superusers, ordinary users, lurkers, inactive users, how do we determine connections. For example, I may have 600 friends in my facebook account and yet, I cannot say that I am connected to all of them. Quite frankly,I do not get to see all their posts, and certainly, I do not believe that they see and real all of mine. In the same context, when I post a question in google groups and it is virtually received by everybody, am I connected to those who ignored that particular email? How about to those who read it but did not do anything about it?

Thus I submit that the 3 elements that were mentioned by Downes above should have a 4th element: FEEDBACK. It is only in feedback that we are assured that the message is received. Whether orn ot there is action may be considered a separate matter - in many cases, non-action is an action. But we have to separate this decision of the receiving entity to NOT ACT as the preferred action versus the receiving entity's inability to receive the message in the first place.Therein lies the value of FEEDBACK.

With FEEDBACK, we are assured of a connection.