Personalized PBL: Student-Designed Learning

 

This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >

 


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I wrote a blog about one of the pitfalls of personalization for the ASCD Whole Child Blog. Specifically, that pitfall is the lack of engagement. With all the focus on personalization through time, pacing, and place, it can be easy to forget about the importance of engagement. No matter where students learn, when they learn, and the timing of the learning, engagement drives them to learn. When we factor all the pieces of personalization together, we can truly meet students where they are and set them on a path of learning that truly meets their needs and desires. Project-based learning can be an effective engagement framework to engage students in personalized learning.

Moving Past “Course-Based” PBL
Due to the antiquated restraints of the education system, most educators are forced to implement PBL in a “course-based” manner. This means that the project occurs within the traditional discipline structures, where there may be integration, but learning is framed within grades and competencies. In addition, start and stop times, driven by the Carnegie unit, force teachers to start and stop a project for all of their students around the same time. What if PBL wasn’t held to antiquated rules of time, space, and discipline constructs? In that ideal situation, students could be engaged in personalized projects.

Student-Designed Projects
Students at Phoenix High School have been engaged in a model similar to the one I’ve described. In it, students design their own driving questions and select the 21st century skills they want to work on, as well as the content learning objectives. They select and design their own products to show their learning in a true commitment to performance assessment. They decide on due dates, benchmarks, and the authentic audience of the work. There is also a heavy push toward community impact and work outside the four walls of the classroom.

My PBL colleague, Erin Sanchez, (formally Erin Thomas), created an amazing graphic of this continuum that shows the power of PBL truly aligned to the learner. As teaching colleagues, we did our best to implement personalized projects for students, and we experienced many of the same challenges faced by teachers who attempt to do this. However, we also saw the payoff: engagement! When students are truly in the driver’s seat of their learning, the impact of their work and the learning associated with it can be powerful!

Role of the Teacher
When teachers move toward personalized PBL, their role continues to shift, just as it does when teachers move traditional instruction to “course-based” PBL. While still involved in the design process, they also serve as advisors. Teachers frequently use question techniques to help students focus and crystalize their projects and project plans. They coach students in creating effective driving questions and student products. They’re still involved in frequent formative assessments, but instead of planning all instructional activity for the students, they help students plan it themselves. In addition, teachers help students select standards and learning targets that will align with the project and products. Teachers at Phoenix High School, for example, help ensure that all standards are targeted for a year, but do not limit the standards that students may want to hit in a project. Here the teachers create and facilitate the infrastructure for the learning rather than designing the PBL projects themselves.

Not every teacher may be ready to jump into this type of personalization. To make it work, they’ll be required to adopt a different teaching role. They’ll need strong management skills and a commitment to disruptive innovation. In addition, the current constructs of the education system may hold us back. What if we could make this dream of personalized PBL a reality? I say that we work toward it, creating a push on the system that demands change in the education of our students.

The Missing Piece of Personalization: Passion and Engagement

 

This post originally appeared on The Whole Child blog, an ASCD initiative to call on educators, policymakers, business leaders, families, and community members to work together on a whole child approach to education. View Original >

 


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Personalization is quickly becoming a buzzword in education, especially in terms of blended learning and educational technology. I joined a team of educators on a panel on the same subject on the Whole Child Podcast. We unpacked what it is and what it might look like in the classroom. We talked about its challenges and benefits and collaborated to explain its implications for education. Most importantly, we talked about the critical role of relationships. When you break down personalization, most of us would agree that there are great aspects. Take a look at this chart.

I think one of the most overlooked pieces for personalization currently is that the learner “connects learning with interests, talents, passions, and aspirations.” Those who know personalization believe it is a critical component, but in the implementation it can be lost or “put on the back burner.” There are couple reasons for this.

First, the language is key. Here the learner is in complete control, and it almost seems as if a teacher is not part of the picture. In fact, a teacher is still integral to personalization, not only in helping provide scaffolding and instruction, but most importantly the engagement. A pitfall is to look at this language around personalization and engagement to a point where teachers have no role in it. In fact, student engagement—whether in a model of personalization, differentiation, or individualization—is arguably the most important factor. If you ask teachers what their biggest concerns are for the classroom and education, student engagement is at or near the top of the list. We need to remember that this is still true in personalization. Relationships and the creation of engagement still remain a critical component of personalization.

Secondly, there is a danger with regard to personalization and technology. Much of personalization is done through blended or online learning. I, myself, am a big advocate for online learning. However I have major caveats and critiques. I have seen digital courses where students still receive the “sit and get” instruction, where they is no choice in what they learn or how they show their learning. The digital curriculum may have amazing tools, such as videos, games and more; but the model of learning is still grounded in traditional instruction. Yes, students may have control over time, place, and pace, but often the engaged tenet is not truly manifested in this model of personalization.

As we move forward with personalization, we need to make sure not to forget student engagement and its implications for truly personalizing learning, where student passion and interest are not only allowed, but a critical component of the model.

4 Lessons We Can Learn from the “Failure” of MOOCs

 

This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >

 


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Recently NPR did a story that had the general title The Online Education Revolution Drifts Off Course. And yet the article was focused solely on MOOCs (massive open online courses). Let’s be clear that MOOCs are just one part of the so-called online learning revolution. (Don’t forget blended learning, the flipped classroom, etc). The story was a strong critique on MOOCs and their effectiveness. For instance, the article cites one case at San Jose State University in California:

But by all accounts, the San Jose experiment was a bust. Completion rates and grades were worse than for those who took traditional campus-style classes. And the students who did best weren’t the underserved students San Jose most wanted to reach.

Even Udacity’s co-founder called their MOOCs a “lousy product.” Obviously MOOCs are not as successful as was previously hoped. In fact, much of this was not a surprise to me. MOOCs can run into the same pitfall that swallows other iterations of online education. Let’s use this iteration as an opportunity to improve practice for online learning.

1. Retain the Human Element
Education is about relationships. We know this, and the creators of MOOCs have started to adjust based on this. Course mentors are being added, as well as more 24/7 support specialists. We can no longer continue with the “factory farm” model of online education and push students through it without the close relationship and coaching of a teacher. Online and blended-learning teachers need to continue building relationships with students to truly personalize learning. You can’t personalize learning with a 100:1 student:teacher ratio!

2. Foster Focused Collaboration
While MOOCs have had a lot of tools for open collaboration, engagement in these spaces may be hit or miss. Participation in discussion boards can in fact be a good metric to gauge a MOOC’s success. In order to increase participation, give students authentic issues and problems to address. In addition, create affinity or project groups, or have students self-select for these groups. This will create not only a focused cohort of colleagues, but also a focus on topics and problems.

3. Provide Ongoing Feedback
If students receive needed and timely formative assessment feedback, learning can be more personalized, and they will be getting the attention they need. There can of course be self, peer, expert and teacher assessments, along with assessment by other agents, but it must be ongoing. We need to build more of this into MOOCs and online education in general.

4. Blended Is Best
I would make an argument that one of the best ways to work on all the above recommendations is to take on some sort of blended model. There are many of these models and implementation methods. When a course is blended, ongoing feedback and assessment can happen more readily, relationships can be strengthened, and collaboration can happen in varying spaces that meet student needs. Even Coursera is seeing this as important and is building “learning hubs” that include weekly in-person instruction. Anant Agarwal makes the case in a recent TED talk that MOOCs, despite the issues we’ve discussed, can still be used to supplement instruction. In fact, Anant pairs online instruction with face-to-face, creating a blended environment.

We know these strategies and recommendations work! Another important thing to consider, however, is how we are measuring the “failure” and “success” of MOOCs. Perhaps MOOCs are disrupting the traditional mold of education and are still being measured using the quality indicators of Education 1.0. In fact, the Atlantic recently published an article that explains how “tricky” it is to measure the success of a MOOC. In addition, Anant Agarwal believes that MOOCs can still be a useful component of blended learning. And so, regardless of this rough patch, we can still learn from some of the bumps and, in learning, we can improve digital education for all.

Virtual Schooling: Where Are We Now? Where Are We Headed?

 

This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >

 

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I am a committed virtual learning advocate. As an experienced virtual teacher, I have seen students thrive where they’d previously failed. I have seen students who didn’t have access to certain courses gain not only college entry requirements, but also innovative electives to support their passions. At the same time, I am also a thoughtful critic of virtual schooling. We have an opportunity to innovate with online learning; we also risk stepping into pitfalls of doing the “same ole thing.” We run the risk of the “factory model,” where we put as many students as possible through a course with a large student-to-teacher ratio. So where are we now? After many of years of experimentation and implementation of various models, what are some challenges that still remain?

Statistics of Virtual Schools
The International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL) continuously updates their statistics and facts about virtual school in the United States and worldwide. In their document of Fast Facts About Online Learning, some of these statistics highlight the growing prevalence of virtual school. For example, during the 2009-2010 school year, there were 1,816,400 enrollments in distance education. There are currently 27 state virtual schools, and fulltime online schools in 31 states and Washington D.C. Florida alone had over 303,329 course enrollments during the 2011-12 school year, making it one of the largest schools in the world. Some of the top reasons for this rise in blended learning include course credit recovery and giving students access to otherwise-unavailable online learning opportunities. It’s clear that virtual school is here to stay and will continue to become more prevalent.

Quality Online Courses
There are so many different providers of online courses, and some schools elect to create their own content to fit their model. But even then, the quality of instruction seems to vary. I’ve seen many online courses that look like the same “sit and get” structure with added multimedia attempting to conceal its quality. iNACOL has excellent standards that explain and can help evaluate not only rigorous courses, but also rigorous and effective online instruction. As more and more teachers are asked to teach in blended and online environments, it is critical that they’re provided professional development and targets allowing them to teach this way effectively. Parallel to that, the courses must draw on effective pedagogical models and not replicate ineffective learning environments that don’t meet the needs of all learners.

Misunderstanding of Blended Learning
Allison Powell, iNACOL’s Vice President for State and District Services, says, “We are seeing/hearing more blended learning happening, but the majority of people who say they are doing blended learning are really just integrating technology into their classrooms.” I too see this when I work with schools. Blended learning is not simple technology integration! At the same time, there are many implementation methods for blended learning, from the flipped classroom to the “A La Carte” model. The Clayton Christensen Institute (Formally Innosight Institute) has an excellent publication that explains and gives examples of the various models of blended learning. It is important that we venture down the path of blended learning, that we’re actually doing blended learning, that we’re clear in our model, and that we share common language.

Shift to Competency-Based Pathways
This is a major reframe of education. Instead of relying heavily on the Carnegie Unit, which requires seat time as an indicator of learning mastery, competency-based education focuses on mastery and competency as the critical piece of virtual school. It reframes grading and further personalizes instruction. We know some students take longer to learn and master material, just as some of our students take less time. Competency-based pathways honor this, seeking to advocate and build structures where this can work for students. However, with the Carnegie Unit still used as an assessment standard in many states, any newer model is a challenge to implement. To learn more about competency-based pathways, visit CompetencyWorks, an organization that dedicates itself to this reframe.

While it is clear that online and blended learning is becoming a norm for educators, it is also critical that we embrace this learning model with a demand for quality and innovation. We cannot replicate a broken system, and there are many challenges we need to overcome if we’re going to ensure that we do not.

The Project IS the Learning!

 

This post originally appeared on CompetencyWorks, a group designed to support the development of a community of people knowledgeable about competency education. View Original >

 


Typically, teachers launch projects after students have learned concepts and skills, or as a culminating activity in a lengthy unit of instruction. Also traditional projects generally follow a scripted, one size fits all design. What would happen if a project were launched the first day of a unit of instruction? What if unpacking that project resulted in students determining what is important to know and do in meeting the criteria for the product and presentation?

Welcome to project based learning that allows students to meet multiple competencies! As teachers struggle to work with the rigorous performance assessment demands of the Common Core State Standards, a well-designed project can be the vehicle for highly authentic, rigorous, and personalized learning experiences for students.

The Buck Institute for Education, one of the preeminent organizations with expertise in Project Based Learning, describes the eight Essential Elements of a PBL Project. Included in these elements is inquiry. We are all familiar with inquiry-based learning as an effective framework for the classroom, and similarly, the Project creates the inquiry to learn targeted competencies that integrate both content and 21st Century Skills. Instead of giving the project at the end of a curriculum unit, the Project is presented up front to students to create the “need to know,” the inquiry to engage in the project. In addition, this work is the frame around the learning while engaging the learner in the driving questions. This work is presented to a public, authentic audience. Students are given voice and choice in how they present their learning of competencies to allow for personalized and differentiated instruction. Students become the centers of learning, rather than the teacher. In turn, the teachers arm students with the skills and knowledge needed to meet competency through a variety of instructional activities.

The planning and preparation for a project that is designed to meet multiple competencies can provide teachers with the tool kit they need to retune their curriculum, assessment, and instruction paradigm to the new expectations of the Common Core State Standards.

The presentation and product of a project based learning opportunity allows students to demonstrate they have transferred the knowledge and skills of multiple competencies identified as essential in the project design.

The project IS the learning!

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