Content Creation and Calibration

Let’s be honest, it is hard to truly personalize learning when there are established standards for learning. Please don’t get me wrong. I am not arguing against standards for learning, I’m simply trying to reconcile the ideas behind the two approaches to distributing and measuring learning. I call this ideological dissonance, the instructional dichotomy. The table below illustrates my ideas on the difference between standardized learning and personalized learning:

Table: The Instructional Dichotomy

Learners vs. Students

Why am I interested in this topic? To answer this question, I must first start with a quote.

“If you consider anyone who is learning at any age and anywhere a “learner,” then you give the responsibility for the learning to the learner. When the institution or anyone who is teaching students are accountable for the learning — not the learners — the responsibility falls on the teachers for what “students” learn. Doesn’t this seem backwards? Where is the incentive and motivation to learn if all the responsibility is on the teacher? If you change the thinking behind the terms, then using the term “learners” makes more sense” (Bray & McClaskey, 2014). 

Bray and McClaskey’s (2014) quote caused me to examine the notion of personalized learning in a standardized classroom.  How can teachers possibly shift the onus of learning from the institution to the learner?  And how can teachers employ individualized instructional procedures that are in sync with each students’ learning stage and learning process? There is no straight answer for this. Nonetheless, Kalaitzidis, Litts, and Rosenfeld Halverson (2017), asserted that today’s communities of learners “thrive upon innovation in tools, meanings, and ways-of-knowing, and favor distributed, emergent, and egalitarian methods for achieving goals” (p. 179). Hence, to authentically personalize learning in a standardized classroom, teachers will have to adopt “design identities” and learn to distribute learning, teaching, and assessment across the entire class community (pp.195-197).  This will require ontological and paradigmatic shifts towards learner-centered instructional designs (Kalaitzidis, Litts, and Rosenfeld Halverson, 2017, p. 182).

Action steps for personalizing learning in a standardized classroom

Developing “design identities” will take time to cultivate and implement in our schools. Nonetheless, I have created some action steps that I believe teachers can use to help address the instructional dichotomy of personalizing learning in a standardized educational field. Let’s begin by stating, true personalized learning starts with the student and his or her learning goal. However, to remain in compliance with the State’s required standards, I suggest starting with the standard and help students contextualize their learning goals within the required State’s standards. The student’s learning goals can be converted into competencies that align with the State’s standards. Below lists the remaining steps in my action plan:

  1. Identify Learning Objectives and Learning Outcomes – aligned with the standards and converted into “I Can” statements
  2. Identify Student Learning Goals and Student Learning Goal Attainment – aligned with the learners
  3. Identify Instructional Methods and Procedures: How will the learning objectives be achieved? (e.g., direct teaching, games, simulations, lab, multimedia, discussions, reading, field trip, drills, demonstration, brainstorming, etc.) – aligned with the standards
  4. Identify Learning Stage: What learning stage is the student in? (e.g. acquisition, fluency (reinforcement), generalization (maintenance), adaptation (experiential)) – aligned with the learners 
  5. Identify Learning Process – Doing something (Concrete Experimentation), Thinking about it (Reflection), Doing some research, Talking with others and applying what we already know to the situation (Abstract Conceptualization), Doing something new or doing the same thing in a more sophisticated way based on our learning (Active Experimentation) David Kolb – aligned with learners
  6. Teacher provides feedback to student – Feed-up, Feedback, Feed-forward; (Feed-up – clarify the learning objectives; Feedback – Respond to Student Work; Feed-forward – Modify instruction for future lessons). – aligned with the standards
  7. Student provides feedback to teacher – Feedback – aligned with the learners

In sum, I still believe that it is hard to truly personalize learning for students when there are established standards for learning. Nonetheless, to help address this instructional dichotomy, I suggest that we continue to start with state standards and help students contextualize their learning goals within those standards.

References:

Bray, B., & McClaskey, K. (2014, March ). Building Personalized Learning Environments. Retrieved July 10, 2018, from http://www.advanc-ed.org/source/building-personalized-learning-environments

Fisher, D; Frey, N. (2009). Feed Up, Back, Forward. Educational Leadership. Retrieved September 12, 2018, from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/nov09/vol67/num03/Feed-Up,-Back,-Forward.aspx

Kalaitzidis, T.J., Litts, B., and Rosenfeld Halverson, E. Designing Collaborative Production of Digital Media in Reigeluth, C. M., In Beatty, B. J., & In Myers, R. D. (2017). Instructional-design theories and models: Volume IV.

Including the Family in “Personalized Learning”

Personalized learning will mean something different for the parents of our students than for our students and our administrators and our teacher colleagues. As I continue to explore the topic of personalized learning, I haven’t seen a lot of information on personalized learning that includes families. For the most part, the crux of the conversation on personalized learning has been centered around teaching and learning. This obviously is important, however, where do the families of our students fit in within this educational shift?

Most districts and schools us the definition from The U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) National Education Technology Plan (2010). Here is how they have defined personalized learning:

Personalization refers to instruction that is paced to learning needs, tailored to learning preferences, and tailored to the specific interests of different learners. In an environment that is fully personalized, the learning objectives and content as well as the method and pace may all vary (so personalization encompasses differentiation and individualization).

Rickabaugh (2016) submitted that the USDOE’s definition missed a few key elements linked to personalized learning. He stated, “the USDOE’s definition stops short of recognizing the powerful role students must be allowed to play in setting learning goals, planning their learning paths, tracking their progress, and demonstrating their learning as partners and co-designers alongside educators”(p. 5). I agree with Rickabaugh’s assessment of the USDOE’s definition and I’d like to add to his list of key elements that there is a powerful role that families too, must be allowed to play other than the traditional role that they have been playing.

Rickabaugh and his colleagues illustrated the key elements of personalized learning in the form of a honeycomb (Institute for Personalized Learning, 2015). One of the key elements within that honeycomb, is family engagement. Rickabaugh submitted that, “families can play the traditional roles of providing support for learning at home, but they can now also review their children’s learning goals and activities, track their progress, and even serve as an audience for student demonstrations and performances” (p. 49).

But isn’t there more to family engagement than reviewing their children’s learning goals and activities, tracking their progress, and serving as an audience for student demonstrations and performances? What about the family’s role in helping their child develop his or her voice and his or her choice within the learning path? What about the family’s role in helping their child develop agency? Recognizing that each family is different and that families have the right to raise their children in a way that they see fit, it is important for educators to understand how families can impact student voice, choice, and agency within a personalized learning environment. Might I add that some students may have preferences and interests that are contrary to the culture of their family. And some students are not able to articulate their learning preferences, learning needs, and learning interests. So, the next best source for teachers who wish to implement personalized learning, is parents.

What tools can educators provide parents to help them support their child’s learning goals? What tools can educators provide parents to help them scaffold their child’s learning preferences and interests that are in line with the culture of the family? To answer these questions, educators can use the learner’s analysis to discuss with parents a prescribed learning path for their child that was co-designed with their child. During a parent teacher conference, teachers can gather insights from parents and strategies that will help support their child’s educational development. What is more, teachers and administrators will have to make it clear to parents that the role of the teacher within a personalized learning environment is shifting to a true facilitator of learning. Hence, parents will have to be even more present in their child’s education since the shift towards personalized learning promotes learner independence and self-regulation.

In sum, our knowledge about personalized learning is still evolving, thus the empty cells within the honeycomb model of personalized learning (Rickabaugh, 2016). As we are learning more about personalize learning, we should also study the influence of family engagement on the learners’ voice, choice, and agency.

References:
The Institute for Personalized Learning (2015). Our Model.Retrieved September 3, 2018, from http://institute4pl.org/index.php/our-model/
Rickabaugh, J. (2016). Tapping the power of personalized learning: A roadmap for school leaders.
U.S. Department of Education. (2010). National education technology plan. Washington, DC: Author.

Paideia Proposal 2.0

To this day, I’m still fascinated with Mortimer Adler’s Paideia Proposal. I first heard about it in 2002 in a Graduate course at American University. I admired Adler at the time for his work as an Educational Essentialist and advocate for critical thinking. His model, the Paideia Curricular Framework encompassed both pedagogy and heutagogy concomitantly. His model worked well for his time, however, if updated with the citizenship component from the 5Cs for 21st century education (fig. 1 below), I’m sure that it can be fit for teaching and learning of today.

In an earlier post, Finding the sweet spot in personalized learning, I wrote about the Paideia Proposal as an additional scaffold for personalized learning. What I noticed is that Adler’s Column 1 is directly linked to pedagogy while Column 2 and Column 3 is linked to heutagogy. Pedagogy is defined as a learning and teaching approach that is primarily reserved for learners that are new to concepts, procedures, and topical knowledge. Heutagogy, on the other hand, is defined as “a learning and teaching  approach that is primarily self-directed or self-determined” (retrieved from https://www.educatorstechnology.com/). Table 1 below lists the attributes of pedagogy, andragogy, and heutagogy. For the purpose of this post, I will only be focusing on pedagogy and heutagogy.

Adler’s Paideia Proposal is perfect for personalized learning because the 5Cs are natural by-products of his framework (Table 2 below). What I would like to add to his curricular framework is the notion of student lead instruction rather than the teacher led lectures and an over-reliance on one textbook. In other words, how can students take more onus of the features within column 1 vis-a-vis digital learning tools? I propose that blended learning could be the answer to this question. By incorporating online learning, teachers are more free to facilitate the acquisition of organized knowledge within their classroom and function as a learning coach rather than an absolutist.

What about columns 2 and 3? How can students take more onus of the features within those columns? Column 2 looks very much like an apprenticeship while column 3 looks like inquiry. I propose that project-based learning (PBL) or problem-based learning (PBL) could be the answer to this question. However, to make authentic learning experiences connect with each of the 5Cs, I suggest that the projects or problems that are embedded within the learning experiences be related to citizenship, an important C from the 5Cs that is often neglected. In other words, what projects or problems could be embedded into a learning experience that would benefit the community in which the student is a citizen of? What resources and persons could students have access to that would further develop the student’s intellectual skills while enlarging their understanding of ideas and values?

All and all, Adler’s Paideia proposal is still relevant and necessary for the current teaching and learning course within curricular model theories. Furthermore, by using digital tools and PBL that incorporates community engagement and civic responsibility, Adler’s Paideia Curricular Framework could be upgraded to a 2.0.

Ode to OERs

My institution of higher learning is moving towards adopting Open Educational Resources (OERs). Thanks to policies and initiatives such as the Maryland Open Source Textbook (M.O.S.T),  my colleagues and I are working on creating and sharing OERs in all of our courses. I’ve spent the last few weeks exploring OERs and their potential to remove barriers for learners and faculty alike. I was so impressed with what I saw, that I decided to write an ode to OERs. Here goes…

Ode to OERs

OERs give learners and faculty  true creative freedom.
Liberated from ultra-expensive textbooks, all shout nil desperandum.
Opening the windows of the mind so that rays of knowledge shine in.
Librarians and Creative Commons Licenses are part of its underpin.
Information freely plays amongst different ideas.
Dynamic teaching materials and media, one truly endears.
Appealing to instructors and learners because of its public domain,
OERs present high quality resources that copyright would otherwise detain.
Constellations of resources unlocked by a Creative Common License,
freely creating and sharing information with unbounded salience.
Years of development and attention have bought them up to par,
As such, much learning begins and matures with powerful OERs.

Genius Hour: The Mother of Personalized Learning

The concept of “Genius Hour” was new to me up until I realized that Genius Hour is what my former school used to call the “Multiple Intelligences” or M.I. clubs. Back in the day, once a month, we carved out an hour for all of the students to go to an M.I. Club of their choice. The year was 1998, and once my principal made the announcement, the students would scramble in the halls to get to their cooking club, printing club, bird watching club, football club, etc., etc. What I realize now, that I didn’t know then, is that with M.I. Clubs, our school was genuinely interested in what students were interested in. We took a break from teaching the curriculum and taught what students actually wanted to know more about.

 

Genius Hour is a movement that allows students to explore their own passions and encourages creativity in the classroom.  It provides students a choice in what they learn during a set period of time while in school (retrieved from https://geniushour.com/what-is-genius-hour/). You will recall, in an earlier post, that I wrote about encouraging students to follow their desires rather than their passions. On the contrary, by definition, Genius Hour encourages students to explore their passions. Still, I’d like to amend this definition and state that Genius Hour allows students to explore and discover pockets of passions which can be bundled into long-term learning desires.

According to TeachThought, Genius Hour is:

  1. Student-centered
  2. Messy
  3. Emphasizes inquiry and research
  4. Authentic
  5. New challenges (i.e., it creates new problems to solve in your classroom)
  6. Inherently personalized
  7. Inherently creative
  8. Purpose-driven
  9. Maker-friendly
  10. Often collaborative and social

Genius Hour is not:

  1. Standards-based
  2. Data-driven
  3. “Free time” for students
  4. Teacher-centered
  5. Without any rules or expectations
  6. Less rigorous (compared to other approaches to learning)
  7. Structure-free
  8. Requires whiz-bang technology
  9. Unfit for schools and other formal learning environments
  10. Requires less planning and less teacher “effort”

After reflecting on the principles behind Genius Hour, I concluded that Genius Hour is the mother of Personalized Learning because during Genius Hour, students explore their interests and begin to understand themselves as learners and their learning preferences. During the structured inquiry, students have an opportunity to assess their knowledge gaps and ascertain their learning needs. Moreover, Genius Hour promotes project management, iterative thinking, systems thinking, exploration, critical thinking, and valuing lessons acquired from failures.

For instructional designers, Genius Hour is yet another strategy that can be utilized within any instructional systems design models. For instance, instructional designers for online learning can use Genius Hour to personalize learning based on learner analyses. Learners are taking courses for a reason, hence, doing a thorough learner analysis will allow the instructional designer to prescribe opportunities for learners to specialize in their interests.

The following is an example from my work. I’m currently working with the Borg’s Ubuntugogy as Contextualized Instructional Design Model.  See figure below:

Within this instructional design model, I could easily prescribe Genius Hour to occur within the apprenticeship phase of Borg’s model. Borg defined the apprenticeship phase “as a delivery method for experiential learning” (p.81). Hence, during this portion of the model, I could prescribe learning tasks that are structured around the principles of Genius Hour using a  framework that I developed based on Michalko’s ThinkerToys.

Borg defined an apprentice as “someone who learns from a skilled practitioner through shared experience” (p. 82).  Hence, the instructor is the skilled practitioner that will create a shared Genius Hour experience that can be individually personalized. In my framework, I propose that Genius Hour start with Mind-pumping. Mind-pumping fills the minds of learners with informed ideas, thus helping them to “act like an idea person” (Michalko, 2014). The following strategies will help learners fill their minds with ideas and capture those ideas before they dissipate.

  • Keep an idea log
  • Set idea quotas
  • Paying close attention to what happens around you daily
  • Capture ideas by writing them down

The next step I prescribe is to center the learner’s interests or challenges within a specific goal. Hence, learners can use the following strategies to highlight his or her  ideas that will help to attain the goal.

  • In what ways might I…
  • What are the key words within my challenge or interests
  • The five Whys
  • Squeeze challenges or ideas with restraints

Now, the meaty part of Genius Hour, the Creation Framework portion taken from Michalko’s ThinkerToys.  According to Michalko, “Thinkertoys reflect linear and intuitive thinking, both of which are necessary for optimum creativity. The basic difference between the two is that the linear Thinkertoys structure existing information while the intuitive toys generate new information using insight, imagination, and intuition.

Finally, design thinking can be employed once the creation of a solid idea is evident. Steps in design thinking include:

  • Empathize
  • Define
  • Ideate
  • Prototype
  • Test

In sum, Genius Hour is the mother of personalized learning because learners embark upon a learning path of their choice within the context of the course. Learner voice is very evident and their preferences are made known throughout the inquiry. Moreover, learners develop agency when they perceive their ideas as valid.  If instructors want to enhance learner retention and course completion, then Genius Hour is perhaps one way to deeply engage learners and provide support for their learning needs, preferences, and interests.

Reference:
Borg, S. (2017). Ubuntugogy as Contextualized Instructional Design for Adult Leadership Development within the Swaziland Leadership Academy. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED582698 on August 26, 2018.

Michalko, M. (2014). Thinkertoys: A handbook of creative-thinking techniques. Berkeley: Ten speed press.