I enjoyed reading (January)


Constructivism in the shadow of a dead god (Michael Potter). Potter discusses how academics have dismissed positivism and objectivism only on a superficial level and these concepts are alive and well in the language, course outlines and physical structures of universities. We won’t be able to truly embrace ideas like social constructivism until we start thinking about our learning spaces very differently.


The earth as art (NASA). Beautiful images of the earth from space, shared with no restrictions as a downloadable PDF and iPad app. The iPad app is well-designed, easy to navigate, and visually stunning. It also connects you to online content like time-lapse satellite imagery of disappearing glaciers and the aftermath of a volcano.


Letters to a young teacher (Jonathan Kozol). Jonathan writes a series of letters to a teacher he befriended over the course of a few years, sharing his own experiences of teaching and learning with young children. I highly recommend this book for when you’re feeling a bit down about the barriers and limitations you face as a teacher. I found it inspiring and thought-provoking.


06-medications-wired-designRedesigning the medical record (Wired) and the Future of medical records (the Atlantic). I’ve been excited about the prospect of an Electronic Medical Record since I first came across it almost 10 years ago. Not much has happened (that’s worth noting) in the interim, which is why I got so excited with the design mock-ups in these two posts.


Three ideas that won’t change classrooms (George Couros). George makes some really good points about some of the ideas that are hitting mainstream media around innovations in the classroom (e.g. the “flipped” classroom and BYOD). He doesn’t say that they’re bad ideas, only that when they’re implemented without thinking deeply about them, they have little value in and of themselves.


Why learning should be messy (Mind/Shift). The idea of learning being “messy” forces us to consider removing the subject-specific boundaries and thinking of it as a holistic problem. My students don’t need to just know about anatomy. They need to know about anatomy in the context of human movement and dysfunction, which is how their patients will present in the real world. Yet we teach these concepts to them in separate subjects, which doesn’t help them integrate the concepts at all.

In practice, this means the elimination of English, mathematics, history, and science class. Instead, we need to arrange the curriculum around big ideas, questions, and conundrums. What does learning look like in this model? Letting kids learn by doing — the essence of the philosophy of educator John Dewey. He wrote: “The school must represent present life — life as real and vital to the child as that which he carries on in the home, in the neighborhood, or on the playground.”


Trying to write Rhizomatic learning in 300 words (Dave Cormier). The concept of rhizomatic learning fits in nicely with theories of complexity and authenticity in education, which is why I really like it as a way of thinking about learning.

The idea is to think of a classroom/community/network as an ecosystem in which each person is spreading their own understanding with the pieces the available in that ecosystem. The public negotiation of that ‘acquisition’ (through content creation, sharing) provides a contextual curriculum to remix back into the existing research/thoughts/ideas in a given field. Their own rhizomatic learning experience becomes more curriculum for others.

assessment education learning PhD

Constructive alignment workshop

Constructive alignment workshop – Dr. James Garraway

I attended a workshop this morning looking at constructive alignment, with the view to relating it to the work I’ll be doing on my PhD next year. The second of my objectives is to do an analysis of our undergraduate curriculum and then do a Delphi study evaluating certain components of it. After our planning meeting a few weeks ago, we’ve decided to begin working on our curriculum now, in preparation for our HPCSA audit next year.The process is going to be really valuable for us, as we move towards implementing our teaching and learning policy within the department, as well as for me as I try to get a better understanding of how we actually go about graduating physiotherapists.

Here are my notes from the morning.

Intended outcomes ↔ content / learning activity↔ assessment (make sure that they all “look the same”)

Constructive alignment and submission of new programmes on the HEQF:

  • Develop higher level cognitive skills from graduates
  • Explain how competences developed in the programme are aligned with the NQF levels (looking at systematic, coherent and critical understanding of the discipline
  • Map new knowledge onto the discipline
  • Explain the teaching methods, mode of delivery and materials development for the achievement of the stated outcomes of the qualification
  • How does the T&L strategy promote the achievement of the expected learning outcomes?
  • How does the assessment strategy promote the achievement of the learning outcomes?


What do you understand by “constructive”? Builds on the term “scaffolding”, i.e. knowledge is “built” by establishing a foundation of basic understanding and then gradually introducing new concepts / ideas → ZPD

What do you understand by “alignment”? All the components of a curriculum are aligned with each i.e. beginning (outcomes) looks like the middle (learning activity), looks like the end (assessment)

What do you understand by “constructive alignment”?

Main steps in the alignment process:

  1. Define the intended outcomes (should be described using verbs that emphasise the higher learning activities → avoid “list”, etc.
  2. Choose teaching/learning activities that assist/encourage students to achieve the objectives
  3. Engage students in learning activities through the teaching process
  4. Assess students’ learning outcomes using methods that enable students to demonstrate the intended learning and evaluating how well they match what was intended
  5. Arrive at a grade (summative) or give feedback (formative)

What happens when new outcomes are derived from a “loose” approach to teaching and learning i.e. discussion, etc. The lecturer can’t foresee the outcomes before the course starts, and what impact will that have on assessment?

People learn within a set of rules / environment that is often determined by the discipline, so it can be difficult to transfer “learning / knowledge / ways of knowing” between disciplines and subjects

Constructivism isn’t necessarily about questioning established knowledge, but to engage with it (“play with it”)

Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes (SOLO) taxonomy

  1. Prestructural (unconnected knowledge)
  2. Unistructural (simple, obvious connections, one relevant aspects)
  3. Multistructural (many connections are made, considered independently)
  4. Relational level (part and the whole are understood, links and integrates several parts into a coherent whole)
  5. Extended / abstract (going beyond – generalises beyond the information given)

Level 1 teachers: make assumptions about what students are i.e. blames the student

Level 2 teachers: make assumptions about what teachers do i.e. blames the teacher

Both of the above perspectives lead to passive students

Level 3 teachers are concerned with what a student does to achieve the outcomes of the course

What is understanding?

Humans are not good at memorising random information (only 7 +/- 2 pieces of random information). But we’re very good at building new information on top of old information i.e. associating new knowledge with old knowledge → ZPD. Knowledge is “constructed”, not transmitted

Learning is a result of what the student does/thinks, not what the teacher does

How do we get students to learn what we want them to?

Teachers intention → student’s activity → exam (it’s the assessment that drives the learning activity, not the teachers intention)

Good teaching gets more students to use higher cognitive processes, that “better” students use spontaneously


Posted to Diigo 02/18/2010

  • The impact of digital tools on conducting research in new ways

    tags: education, research, technology, digital

    • we need to toss out the old industrial model of pedagogy (how learning is accomplished) and replace it with a new model called collaborative learning. Second we need an entirely new modus operandi for how the subject matter, course materials, texts, written and spoken word, and other media (the content of higher education) are created.
    • “Teachers who use collaborative learning approaches tend to think of themselves less as expert transmitters of knowledge to students, and more as expert designers of intellectual experiences for students — as coaches or mid-wives of a more emergent learning process.”
    • The bottom line was simple: professors should spend more time in discussion with students.
    • “Collaborative learning has as its main feature a structure that allows for student talk: students are supposed to talk with each other . . . and it is in this talking that much of the learning occurs.”
    • With technology, it is now possible to embrace new collaboration models that change the paradigm in more fundamental ways. But this pedagogical change is not about technology
    • this represents a change in the relationship between students and teachers in the learning process.
    • Today, universities embrace the Cartesian view of learning. “The Cartesian perspective assumes that knowledge is a kind of substance and that pedagogy concerns the best way to transfer this substance from teachers to students. By contrast, instead of starting from the Cartesian premise of ‘I think, therefore I am,‘ . . . the social view of learning says, ‘We participate, therefore we are.‘”
    • one of the strongest determinants of students’ success in higher education . . . was their ability to form or participate in small study groups. Students who studied in groups, even only once a week, were more engaged in their studies, were better prepared for class, and learned significantly more than students who worked on their own.” It appears that when students get engaged, they take a greater interest in and responsibility for their own learning.
    • “The scandal of education is that every time you teach something, you deprive a [student] of the pleasure and benefit of discovery.”
    • Like Guttenberg’s printing press, the web democratizes learning
    • Rather than seeing the web as a threat to the old order, universities should embrace its potential and take discovery learning to the next step.
    • One project strategy, called “just-in-time teaching,” combines the benefits of web-based assignments with an active-learner classroom where courses are customized to the particular needs of the class. Warm-up questions, written by the students, are typically due a few hours before class, giving the teacher an opportunity to adjust the lesson “just in time,” so that classroom time can be focused on the parts of the assignments that students struggled with. This technique produces real results. An evaluation study of 350 Cornell students found that those who were asked “deep questions” (questions that elicit higher-order thinking) with frequent peer discussion scored noticeably higher on their math exams than students who were not asked deep questions or who had little to no chance for peer discussion.
    • The university needs to open up, embrace collaborative knowledge production, and break down the walls that exist among institutions of higher education and between those institutions and the rest of the world.
    • “My view is that in the open-access movement, we are seeing the early emergence of a meta-university — a transcendent, accessible, empowering, dynamic, communally constructed framework of open materials and platforms on which much of higher education worldwide can be constructed or enhanced. The Internet and the Web will provide the communication infrastructure, and the open-access movement and its derivatives will provide much of the knowledge and information infrastructure.”
    • The digital world, which has trained young minds to inquire and collaborate, is challenging not only the lecture-driven teaching traditions of the university but the very notion of a walled-in institution that excludes large numbers of people.
    • If all that the large research universities have to offer to students are lectures that students can get online for free, from other professors, why should those students pay the tuition fees, especially if third-party testers will provide certificates, diplomas, and even degrees? If institutions want to survive the arrival of free, university-level education online, they need to change the way professors and students interact on campus.
    • The value of a credential and even the prestige of a university are rooted in its effectiveness as a learning institution. If these institutions are shown to be inferior to alternative learning environments, their capacity to credential will surely diminish.
    • Professors who want to remain relevant will have to abandon the traditional lecture and start listening to and conversing with students — shifting from a broadcast style to an interactive one. In doing so, they can free themselves to be curators of learning — encouraging students to collaborate among themselves and with others outside the university. Professors should encourage students to discover for themselves and to engage in critical thinking instead of simply memorizing the professor’s store of information.
    • The Industrial Age model of education is hard to change. New paradigms cause dislocation, disruption, confusion, uncertainty. They are nearly always received with coolness or hostility. Vested interests fight change. And leaders of old paradigms are often the last to embrace the new.
    • whilst the educational technology community has tended to espouse constructivist approaches to learning, the reality is that most Virtual Learning Environments have tended to be a barrier to such an approach to learning
    • In such an age of supercomplexity, the university has new knowledge functions: to add to supercomplexity by offering completely new frames of understanding (so compounding supercomplexity); to help us comprehend and make sense of the resulting knowledge mayhem; and to enable us to live purposefully amid supercomplexity.
    • A teacher/instructor/professor obviously plays numerous roles in a traditional classroom: role model, encourager, supporter, guide, synthesizer. Most importantly, the teacher offers a narrative of coherence of a particular discipline. Selecting a textbook, determining and sequencing lecture topics, and planning learning activities, are all undertaken to offer coherence of a subject area. Instructional (or learning) design is a structured method of coherence provision.
    • When learners have control of the tools of conversation, they also control the conversations in which they choose to engage.
    • Course content is similarly fragmented. The textbook is now augmented with YouTube videos, online articles, simulations, Second Life builds, virtual museums, Diigo content trails, StumpleUpon reflections
    • Traditional courses provide a coherent view of a subject. This view is shaped by “learning outcomes” (or objectives). These outcomes drive the selection of content and the design of learning activities. Ideally, outcomes and content/curriculum/instruction are then aligned with the assessment. It’s all very logical: we teach what we say we are going to teach, and then we assess what we said we would teach.
    • Fragmentation of content and conversation is about to disrupt this well-ordered view of learning.
    • How can we achieve clear outcomes through distributed means? How can we achieve learning targets when the educator is no longer able to control the actions of learners?
    • I’ve come to view teaching as a critical and needed activity in the chaotic and ambiguous information climate created by networks. In the future, however, the role of the teacher, the educator, will be dramatically different from the current norm. Views of teaching, of learner roles, of literacies, of expertise, of control, and of pedagogy are knotted together. Untying one requires untying the entire model.
    • For educators, control is being replaced with influence. Instead of controlling a classroom, a teacher now influences or shapes a network.
    • The following are roles teacher play in networked learning environments:

      1. Amplifying
      2. Curating
      3. Wayfinding and socially-driven sensemaking
      4. Aggregating
      5. Filtering
      6. Modelling
      7. Persistent presence

    • A curatorial teacher acknowledges the autonomy of learners, yet understands the frustration of exploring unknown territories without a map.
    • Instead of explicitly stating “you must know this”, the curator includes critical course concepts in her dialogue with learners, her comments on blog posts, her in-class discussions, and in her personal reflections.
    • How do individuals make sense of complex information? How do they find their way through a confusing and contradictory range of ideas?
    • When a new technology appeared, such as blogs, my existing knowledge base enabled me to recognize potential uses.
    • Sensemaking in complex environments is a social process.
    • Imagine a course where the fragmented conversations and content are analyzed (monitored) through a similar service. Instead of creating a structure of the course in advance of the students starting (the current model), course structure emerges through numerous fragmented interactions. “Intelligence” is applied after the content and interactions start, not before.
    • Aggregation should do the same – reveal the content and conversation structure of the course as it unfolds, rather than defining it in advance.
    • Filtering can be done in explicit ways – such as selecting readings around course topics – or in less obvious ways – such as writing summary blog posts around topics.
    • “To teach is to model and to demonstrate. To learn is to practice and to reflect.”
    • Learning is a multi-faceted process, involving cognitive, social, and emotional dimensions.
    • Apprenticeship is concerned with more than cognition and knowledge (to know about) – it also addresses the process of becoming a carpenter, plumber, or physician.
    • An educator needs a point of existence online – a place to express herself and be discovered: a blog, profile in a social networking service, Twitter, or (likely) a combination of multiple services.
    • Without an online identity, you can’t connect with others – to know and be known. I don’t think I’m overstating the importance of have a presence in order to participate in networks. To teach well in networks – to weave a narrative of coherence with learners – requires a point of presence.
    • the methods of learning in networks are not new, however. People have always learned in social networks
    • Education is concerned with content and conversations. The tools for controlling both content and conversation have shifted from the educator to the learner. We require a system that acknowledges this reality.

Posted from Diigo.

social media

Some activity at last

It’s been a pretty busy morning so far, catching up on all the feeds that I’ve neglected over the past month or so.  Here’s a list of a few things I found that might be interesting to you.

Found Academic Earth, an online repository of video lectures by international scholars, which could be a useful resource.

Did some research on a social networking platform called Elgg that could be useful for the department, rather than relying on a hosted service like Ning.

Read this short article on differentiated learning spaces at Eduspaces (also powered by Elgg).

Gave some feedback on the OpenPhysio paediatric assignment.

Read a little more on the idea of open research (or research 2.0, online research communities), which is an approach I’d like to consider for the writing of my PhD.

Came across this interesting article on Social learning at C4LPT, a social media platform for learning that runs on Elgg.

Found this presentation on Slideshare about the 21st century classroom.

Found an article on the principles of web-based teaching at the Canadian Journal of Teaching and Technology.

Downloaded an article called Beyond constructivism: exploring future learning paradigms from

Followed a few people on Twitter.