Reflecting on learning and seeing the world in exciting new ways.

Archive for the ‘learning’ Category

Passionate about prime numbers

On the bus to work the other day, I enjoyed listening to a TED Talk by someone who is in love with prime numbers – the bigger the better for him. Adam Spencer introduces himself as a breakfast radio host who loves maths and science. I was intrigued by the stereotypes he broke in his introduction alone.

During his talk, Spencer excitedly announces that a new prime number has recently been discovered and that this is HUGE news. It’s hard not to get caught up in his excitement.

Passion for a topic

What I enjoyed most about this TED Talk is Spencer’s passion for the topic. Prime numbers may seem pretty dry for some, but it’s clearly big news for those who love number patterns (or numbers that break them).

I’ve always maintained that I would happily listen to someone talking any topic they choose so long as they were passionate about it. Accounting processes – why not? Writing legislation? Sure thing! At a party recently, I was talking to a policy analyst who was very excited (yes, excited!) about an upcoming job interview. He talked about some of the research he and his colleagues had been doing recently on topics as varied as meeting government objectives to investigating legal highs. Although I’m not likely to follow his career path any time soon, I genuinely enjoyed listening to him describe something he loves to do; his enthusiasm truly was infectious.

A passion for numeracy

123I think that we’re generally pretty good at acknowledging the place of literacy in all its forms in our daily lives. As a society, we are getting better at celebrating literary success. We give ourselves permission to love literacy and it’s not unusual for people to talk about their favourite books or make suggestions for other readers. So why are we less passionate about numeracy and numbers? A recent UK publication, Voices of adult maths learners, identified that “… the biggest single factor in adults not taking up maths learning is fear” (National Institute of Adult Continuing Education 2013, p. 3). I find this climate of fear truly alarming and a sad consequence of lost opportunities.

I don’t know anyone who would casually scoff that they can’t read or write (and don’t want to know how) in the same way that it seems acceptable for people to ‘admit’ that they don’t like maths and were never any good at it but simply don’t care. The only exception seems to be spelling and grammar. Is this a defensive or protective strategy, where it’s easier to feign disinterest than admit fear or failure? How do we as educators go about dismantling this attitude and instead build positivity and excitement for such a vital set of life skills?

I had a primary school teacher who loved science and was particularly passionate about astronomy and geology. To this day, I enjoy a more than fleeting interest in both fields and am amazed at how much I remember learning about them from 30 years ago. Would our issues with child and adult numeracy would be different if those who are fearful of maths had a teacher or mentor who was passionate about numbers in the same way as my teacher loved science?

National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (2013). Voices of adult maths learners. Retrieved November 1, 2013, from


The world of MOOCs and open badges

I’ve been thinking about massaging this blog back to life for some time now. I often come across topical educational discussions or links to resources that are worthy of further exploration but rarely get beyond sharing them as a link on Twitter. I’ll start today with a couple of topics I’ve been recently pondering.


The jury is still out for me about MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). If you’re new to the concept of MOOCs, Ryan Tracey has put together a good overview of what a MOOC is. Built with connectivist design principles in mind, the theory is good. However, the longtime online learner and facilitator in me wonders just how effective such large scale forums can be, or whether the huge numbers involved mean they are simply a recipe for online mayhem, particularly for less web-savvy users. Good organisation and clear communication is critical. I’m happy to be convinced of their worth (or otherwise).

I am starting a MOOC next week with the hope that it will help me kill two birds with one stone. The first is to experience a MOOC first-hand and the second is to explore the possible use of online badges with the suite of qualifications I am involved in developing.

Open badges

Mozilla OpenBadges logoI was introduced to the use of open badges at the elearnz Conference in Auckland recently. Since then, I have thought long and hard about how they could be used to recognise and acknowledge learners’ skills and achievements in various areas. I am interested in exploring how my organisation could develop badges for our learners and whether or not they would find them valuable.

Some initial thoughts I have about the use of badges to recognise learning:

  • What are the conventions around awarding badges to represent whole qualifications, as opposed to the individual skills or clusters of skills that the qualifications represent? Will learners expect badges for every course or standard they complete or will they be satisfied for a single badge representing the whole qualification. For example, if you take a unit standard-based qualification and award a badge for its completion (much like the physical badges some organisations offer), will those learners feel disadvantaged if other organisations offer say 15 badges for the same amount of work? Isn’t that why we register credits for unit standards with NZQA on a learner’s record of achievement?
  • I already have a couple of badges in my Mozilla Backpack. Although they are just introductory examples, they were surprisingly easy to get. I imagine that the number of badges developed will grow exponentially once the concept takes off and more organisations start using them. I wonder what value badges will hold for learners and the issuing organisations if they are presented alongside those that require very low levels of skill or application.
  • How could the skills represented by each badge be made transferrable or even comparable? Will it be acceptable or even expected that hundreds of different organisations could issue badges for very similar skills? I understand that the issuing organisation needs to establish credibility, but how apparent will this be for viewers (for example, potential employers)?

Badges: New Currency for Professional Credentials starts next week and is run in Blackboard, a LMS I have previously taught in for many years (albeit using older versions). The timing of the live sessions aren’t NZ-friendly so I won’t be attending them in real time by will view the content once it is made available. I look forward to learning more about the issues surrounding the use of badges in education and joining in the discussion.

DEANZ Conference 2012

DEANZ 2012 logoA group of colleagues and I are attending the Distance Education Association of New Zealand (DEANZ) Conference this week. The day’s proceedings began with mihi whakatau with Open Polytechnic (as tangata whenua) welcoming the manuhiri (guests) to the conference. It is good to be able to make use of the wireless internet here at the venue by tweeting and blogging from the event. You can follow updates via the Twitter hashtag #DEANZ2012.

The opening keynote address was given by Professor Paul Bacsich, who we hosted at Open Polytechnic last week. Paul continued talking about his research into models for virtual schools and colleges (VISCED) and shared three institutions who are considered successful: Sofia Distans in Sweden, Interhigh in Wales and Brisbane School of Distance Education in Australia. He has generated a list of ‘Multeversity features’ for universities and tertiary institutions in the future, including bridging into and from upper secondary school learning to reduce the drop-out while still leveraging school-level knowledge. As teachers, we are constantly looking for ways to make connections with learners’ prior learning and experience and it would be good to see mechanisms in place to support this in the tertiary sector.

Professor Niki Davis and colleagues gave an invited presentation entitled A scenario guide to effective tertiary education for New Zealand in 2016. Four scenarios were unpacked: articulation, the ‘supermarket’, quality branded consortia and self-determination. Each has its benefits and limitations and ultimately the exercise is about maximising the overlap and relationships between the four quadrants to provide the most effective learning solutions. Coming from a background in “self-determination”-styled learning as a primary e-teacher, I would love to explore strategies that would enable this approach in the tertiary learning environment.

I will continue to blog and tweet throughout the conference … or for as long as my laptop battery lasts. 🙂

Eating an elephant

How do you eat an elephant?
One bite at a time.

We’ve all heard the quote and have probably all lived it at some stage in our lives. I’m currently in the process of eating an elephant, but this elephant is a sneaky one; just when I finish as many bites as I can possibly manage in a day (maybe more!), the elephant grows a little bigger. It doesn’t always wait until I turn my back before growing again, either. In fact, sometimes it grows right in front of my eyes!

While I was in the final two months of writing my masters dissertation, I had many sleepless nights wondering just how I was going to get through everything that needed doing in order to produce a worthwhile 25,000 word document in the ever decreasing amount of time I had left. It was then that I first stumbled across the elephant quote and it sustained me during those final months. Every night that I went to bed after studying well into in the wee small hours of the night, I told myself I had eaten some more of the elephant. It worked for me.

I was reminded of the elephant quote again earlier this week while talking to a student. Now, this is a part of my job that I absolutely love. Interacting with learners by distance is a little more difficult than in a face to face teaching environment but I find it extremely satisfying. Whether we are talking on the phone, via email or communicating in an online forum, interacting with learners is one of my favourite parts of the day.

This week, I had a call from a student who was panicking about his current study workload (which certainly was heavy). This was on top of holding down a full time job and being a dad to children aged six months and two years. Oh, and his partner had just gone back to work this week after finishing maternity leave. Sound familiar? Time was certainly running out for the courses he was enrolled in, but he assured me he was determined to complete them to a high standard.

We chatted for a bit then broke down the tasks he was facing.  What had he done so far? What could he get on to straight away? When could he send the first part of his work to me? When would he have access to the supporting materials and resources required for the other topics he needed to address? We set some time management goals, reassessed some of his learning programme, made an agreement to communicate regularly and then I followed up our discussion via email. As we said goodbye, I realised I’d helped him plan how to eat his elephant.

So back to ‘my’ elephant. It is not a breed that can be successfully eaten, but I’d be happy to just keep it at a manageable size without growing too much and causing indigestion. It’s going to take some serious bites and quick digesting to keep up with its rate of growth (I think we call that ‘evenings, late nights and weekends’) but I’m determined to not let it wreak havoc across the entire forest. Can someone please pass me a fork? 😉

A changing alphabet

A colleague sent me these graphics this morning; I see they have been doing the rounds via Twitpic this week. They cleverly highlight the key differences between the traditional education most of us would have experienced and the kind of education children growing up in our digital world are experiencing now.

It got me wondering … what will these graphics look like in ten years’ time? Five? Or even next year?Alphabet most of us got to learn ...

Alphabet taught to kids today

The magic of storytelling

I have always loved books and stories. During my years as a primary teacher, I indulged my passion for children’s books and loved telling (and listening to) stories with my class.

Railway iconWe have two gorgeous nephews, Fionn (3 1/2) and Liam (2). They have never met as they are from each side of the family, but their interests resemble those of almost every little boy of that age. Being train mad (and particular Thomas the Tank Engine enthusiasts), we have had plans for some time to take them both on a steam train ride during a special day together.

Fionn is at the age where he asks constant questions and wants to know what is going on around him. What is happening? Who put that over there? How does this work? And, of course, why? More recently, he is wanting to know: What will happen next?

A magical story

Bedtime story imageOne of my favourite memories is of my father tucking me in bed at night when I was 4 and telling me the story of what was going to happen once I started school. I would get dressed in my school uniform and have some breakfast before Mum dropped me off at school. (She, of course, would go home straight away.) I would meet my friends and we would go into class and learn how to read books and write stories. We’d read our stories to each other, then have a little break when I could have a snack and a drink at playtime. (I already knew that the rest of my lunch box was to be saved for lunch time.) Then the bell would ring and we’d all go into class and learn how to count … and the story continued. Dad did a great job of getting all the details right and it was a story I loved, asking him for repeatedly and night after night. Of course, part of the appeal must have been that the story starred me!

In order to prepare Fionn for the upcoming event, we have talked at length about how we will come to get him in the car and go on a long ride to pick up Liam. We are going to go on a steam train ride – and the train might make a loud noise but that’s alright because you can just put your hands over your ears. Next, we’re going to feed the ducks some bread (not toast), then come back to our place for a picnic and to see our kitten – but she is shy and might be hiding (as she tends to do when visitors appear). Finally, we will drop Liam back at his grandparents’ then take Fionn home last.

It’s a story we’ve shared several times now and Fionn is already correcting me when I miss out a vital detail or inadvertently change the order of our plans. “Tell me the story again!” he asks me in delight. “And then what will we do?” he prompts me when he suspects I’m about to cut short the process by even a smidgeon. Liam, meanwhile, is blissfully ignorant of our plans and Fionn’s excitement.

Fingers crossed that the weather and every other variable will play nicely to allow our story to play out in real life sometime soon. Regardless of when we get to go on our adventure, I think the anticipation and the joy of telling (and retelling) the story will prolong the magic for Fionn – and leave us plenty mores stories to tell after the event.

Addressing the conative domain

In education, Bloom’s Taxonomy highlights the complementary nature of the cognitive (intellectual), affective (emotional) and psychomotor (physical) domains. Generally, even though cognition usually ends up taking precedence, educators are aware of the importance of addressing all three domains to enable effective learning and teaching.

Conative people imageOne of the many points to ponder from Tom Reeves‘ workshops at Shar-E-Fest 11 (and his visit to the Open Polytechnic yesterday) is the concept of conation, or the conative domain. These terms are new for me, even if the concepts underpinning them are not. Dating back to the work of Aristotle, conation refers to a natural tendency, impulse, striving or directed effort and is considered one of three parts of the mind along with cognition and affection. The conative domain drives how one acts on those thoughts and feelings. Key words include volition, will, desire, follow through, intention, doing, striving, ethics and self-determination – all tendencies we want our students to have but don’t necessarily help them develop.

Apparently there is a 40% drop out rate from students in New Zealand tertiary education, the second highest in the OECD and only ‘beaten’ by the United States. Could addressing the conative domain through effective learning and e-learning design go some way towards ensuring a higher level of retention and success from our students?

Art Costa‘s Habits of Mind go some way to support the conative domain; they address concepts relating to value, inclination, sensitivity, capability and commitment. Mason Durie‘s philosophy toward Māori health, Te Whare Tapa Wha, which has also been adapted for an education context, is underpinned by four dimensions representing the basic beliefs of life: wairua (spiritual), whānau (social), tinana (physical) and hinengaro (cognitive). It is metaphorically represented by a whare (house) and each dimension becomes a wall. With even one dimension missing, the whare is unbalanced and cannot truly exist. Perhaps a similar metaphor could be used to represent the four domains for learning and allow conation to be aptly acknowledged and addressed in our learning and teaching?