SITE 2017 – Austin, Texas, 5–9 March

Last week I attended the 2017 international conference of the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education (SITE) with support from the USQ Faculty of Business, Education, Law and Arts where I work in the School of Teacher Education and Early Childhood. I’m thankful for that support and for the patience of students in my classes who may have experienced oddly time-shifted responses to queries resulting from the time zone differences and long haul flights.

With my retirement locked in for 31 December this year and accumulated leave to be taken from early July (77 working days to go) I anticipate that this will be my last visit to SITE and likely my last conference in any working capacity. I’ve attended SITE each year since 1998 (20 times). It has been my core professional community and a major benefit in my work as an academic. Whether I would have the motivation and fortitude to attend a conference beyond my years of paid employment remains to be seen but I’m doubtful.

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Muddling in Moodle

Those of us involved with developing and teaching courses hear a lot about the desirability of consistency which sometimes seems to be interpreted as just short of uniformity. Historically that is based on student responses to a survey conducted a few years ago which was interpreted as students wanting to see the same features in the same locations in different courses. An alternative interpretation of the data I saw might be that students wanted more consistency in the availability of staff in courses. At times it has seemed as though having courses appear too similar has confused students about where they are leading to questions being directed to the wrong staff. Nevertheless, there is probably value in looking for consistency at a high level such as exists among different web browsers or word processors in respect of essential features.

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Creating digital solutions in EDP4130

It’s late January. I started writing this earlier in the month, soon after I was back in my office and thinking about first semester courses. After a couple of years working with the most recent iteration of assessment in EDP4130, a project-based design challenge, it was time to consider a change. In 2015 and 2016 students created teaching resources for the two Australian Curriculum: Technologies subjects, Design and Technologies and Digital Technologies. With more than 150 students each year that’s in excess of 500 teaching resources, many of which were very good quality. Having so many examples from past years out there means that there may be as many as are needed, it will be more difficult for students in 2017 to innovate in those areas, and it may be tempting for some to ‘borrow’ work that has been done in previous years. Read More

Can I walk the walk? Project-based design challenge in EDP4130

With interruptions it has taken longer than I’d hoped to revise the assessment package for the 2015 offer of EDP4130 Technologies Curriculum and Pedagogy. I do now have what I think is a complete draft sitting on my own site for testing and review. I still need to think about how to integrate that into the LMS and tie in other material that might be needed but I think the major work is done.

While I’ve been thinking about the course and working on the details of the assessment enrolments have crept up from 130 when I began the year to 154 (23, 15 & 30 on the campuses and 85 online). That should not affect the way the course is taught or assessed but will increase the volume of work to be managed.

I began the assignment design with the intent of preserving (and enhancing where possible) the focus on collaboration and sharing of resources that have been a feature of the course in the past while moving toward a project-based learning approach that would use methods we recommend to students for teaching technologies. That resulted in the outline I described previously. This post describes some of the work toward the more detailed description for students.

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Assessing some options

A bit more than a week into the new year and the beginning of semester is inching closer. It’s time to get some work done on the courses I’ll be teaching. Content will need to be updated but I tend to begin most times by thinking about assessment and how that will enable students to demonstrate (or not) their learning.

The larger of the two courses I’ll be teaching is EDP4130 Technology Curriculum and Pedagogy with 130 students enrolled at present, 55 on one or other of 3 campuses (16, 9 & 30 respectively) and the balance online. All students will have access to the online material and, based on past experience, attendance at classes will vary according to students’ other commitments. I’ll be dealing personally with the online group and 16 (so far) on campus. A colleague on another campus will deal with the 30 and the 9 will be serviced by a casual staff member. We will need assessments that can be managed through the LMS (Moodle) by that mixed group of students and staff.
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Tantalising Turnitin toolset for assessment

As is usual at this time of year I’m ‘spring cleaning’ and ‘renovating’ the course(s) that I will be teaching in Semester 1 (begins 2 March). I’ve been working on the assessment for EDP4130 and hope to say more about that soon but, in the process, I was thinking about submission, marking, and managing results using our new systems. That’s my subject here.

For the past several years most of the work I have had submitted for marking has come in the form of Word files submitted through EASE (Electronic Assignment Submission Environment). When EASE was introduced in 2008 for use in conjunction with our LMS (Moodle) it was an advance on the previous arrangements using WebCT Vista or Moodle. EASE provided for allocation of items to markers (originally manual by selection from a list) and for bulk download of submissions in a zip archive that expanded to a set of folders, one per submission. It lacked any automated way of allocating to markers and had no facility for bulk uploading of marked work with marks and feedback. With a bit of AppleScript and JavaScript in combination I was able to build a method for allocating items to markers according to a list in a spreadsheet and to automatically upload marked work from a suitably configured folder. The latter is something I would not give up lightly if the alternative is uploading marks and feedback individually for up to 100 or more students at a time.
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Tidying the assessment for EDP4130

With just a few weeks until the start of semester I’m working on my course materials and website for EDP4130 Technology Curriculum and Pedagogy. Consistent with my belief that students are most often most interested in what they need to do to successfully complete the course I’ve been giving a lot of attention to the design of the assessment. My approach might be described as some variation of assessment for learning in which I attempt to design assessment that will encourage students to engage with what I think is the important learning in the course.

Ideally I would design assessment around a series of mostly small tasks that would spread the workload for students and for markers, avoiding the tsunami of marking that usually mounts at mid-semester and the end. That approach would allow me to provide meaningful feedback through the semester so that students do not suffer nasty surprises on high stakes items and can take corrective action, if necessary, in time to make a worthwhile difference to their final grades. I’ve worked in courses where the assessment consisted of (almost) weekly tasks linked to learning activities that occur in class. That can often be arranged so that students complete much of the necessary work in class leaving relatively little demand on their time out of class. It usually also means that they have feedback within a week so that they can adjust their approach.

Unfortunately that approach to assessment is not acceptable right here and now so I am limited to 3 pieces of assessment though those may include multiple components. That allows linking of assessment to the learning activities as  I might want to but imposes restrictions on due dates so that feedback is less frequent than might be desirable to shape progress.

Given those constraints, in addition to the professional experience that must be satisfactorily completed for students to pass the course, the 3 assessment items are as follows:

Item Content

Short report about planning for the curation task including establishing a personal learning network
Simple online quiz about curriculum documents, readings, and introduction to Scratch

2 Short report about the CSG WebQuest
3 Short report about the digital technologies activities
Short report about a learning activity with design briefs
Curated collection of resources and associated report
Simple online quiz over the course 

I’m now in the process of working through those components to ensure that things are complete, adequately explained, and presented so that they will be accessible and clear to students.

I posted yesterday about finalising the digital technologies learning activities and now have both those and the related assessment requirements in place. Rather than directly assess the activities, though the quizzes may include some specific items about Scratch programming, I have opted to require students to write a reflective blog post for each of the four phases and share that with their personal learning network. Their reflections are to briefly describe the activity, make links to the Australian Curriculum documents, explain what they learned, and comment on potential application in primary classrooms. The actual assessable piece will be a report that summarises the content of those posts. I hope the result will be encouragement for students to think about what they are learning through the activities, both at the time they are working with them and toward the end of semester, and a piece of work that is manageable for all involved in the submission and marking process. 

Some months ago I posted about adjustments to the WebQuest about Coal Seam Gas that I developed for a previous offer. It had worked fairly well but feedback from students suggested that some changes might be in order.  Those changes were made and the CSG WebQuest is now tidied up with links to resources checked and should be ready for use.

I’ve used variations of the design brief activity since I first developed a technology education course in 2002. The first iterations were in classes on campus where students worked in groups one week to develop a design brief that could be managed by a group of their peers within a standard class period. The following week briefs were exchanged around groups and responses generated. After some debriefing discussion students wrote a short report for assessment. Since 2011, when EDP4130 was offered online as well as on campus, I have used the Moodle database to manage the exchange of briefs among individuals or small groups. Assessment is still based on a report about the activity and what was learned. For 2013 I’ve adjusted the report requirements and associated marking guide on the basis of feedback from 2012. Those elements are ready but I have yet to revise the materials that guide the activity. A significant part of the work for that may be to revise the instructions and illustrations for the database following our move from Moodle 1.9 to Moodle 2.x. 

I posted my early thinking about the content curation task some time ago. The basic requirements for the planning to be reported on in Task 1 and the collection and report to appear in the assignment are written up. What remains to be done there is to provide some introductory material about curation and PLNs. I’ve been collecting resources for that in my Diigo space but will need to find time to extract and present the key points.

Preparation for the quizzes is similarly incomplete. I have some material for the first quiz that I prepared in previous years. With a little updating and addition of some Scratch questions that will serve. The second quiz will need to have items developed as I put together the balance of the semester resources.

Introducing digital technologies for teacher education students

In a previous post, Scratching about with planning, written in August before I went on leave, I wrote about my intentions for addressing the digital technologies element of the proposed Australian Curriculum in my revision of EDP4130 Technology Curriculum and Pedagogy. I had settled on Scratch as a medium that could be used to introduce the basics of computer program to preservice teachers in ways that they should be able to adapt for use in their own future classrooms. At that time my plan for the available 10 weeks of classes was to offer a 3 week structured introduction to Scratch, followed by a small common project using Scratch, an individual project with Scratch, and exploration of alternatives to Scratch.

After thinking about that and working through the development of materials the final configuration is similar but less focused on Scratch. Work with Scratch now uses 50% of the time for digital technologies, rather than 70% as in the earlier planning. The final configuration is as follows:

Class weeks Activity
1 – 3 Structured introduction to Scratch using ideas from various sources
4 – 5 Extension project work (individual or small group) using Scratch
6 – 7 Exploring alternatives to Scratch (individual or small group)
8 – 10 Independent digital technologies project (individual or small group)

Preparation of the material has progressed as far as preparing a working draft and putting it on my web server. The first introductory activities are based on the Scratch Getting Started Guide but most of the remainder of the activities in the first three classes are based on lessons developed by Simon Haughton with some adjustments for the learners being adult preservice teachers rather than school children. The remaining classes are open to students exploring in directions that appeal to them with suggestions offered for starting points in their explorations beyond Scratch

That part of the course now appears to be ready for use by students who will be attending classes on campus and those who will study entirely online. I have yet to prepare some accompanying material that will make links between the learning activities, ideas presented in the curriculum documents, and simple programming concepts. I also need to prepare some simple quiz items that can be used to check student understanding of the key ideas.

I think that Scratch looks simple and approachable. The success that it has had with kids bodes well but I’m still more than a bit nervous about how the preservice teachers will take to programming concepts. It’s a different way of thinking and I expect we will have some challenges through the semester.

Content curation as assessment for learning

I’ve had a long pause for travel and then, once I returned in mid-October, catching up with comments on drafts for doctoral students and getting a conference submission away. Sometime last week I managed to get my head back into this space and begin thinking again about course design. I’d previously thought through feedback and experience of recent offers and come to the conclusion that ab initio development of curriculum materials should be replaced by an activity that would be closer to curation than creation, encouraging students to engage with a  personal learning network to locate and curate resources to support teaching of technology education. The challenge now is to develop that idea into an assessment task that will help to engage our students in appropriate learning.

As always, there are some constraints imposed by bureaucratic processes. There are limits on the number and timing of assessment items that make it more difficult than it need be to arrange for an optimal flow of activity with checkpoints at the most appropriate places. It seems undesirable, and risky, to trust the outcome of an untried assessment process to a single submission at the end of semester. Ideally there might be multiple checkpoints that would provide for corrective feedback along the way so that students who initially misinterpret the requirements can be helped back on track. If I’m serious that this is about assessment for learning rather than assessment of learning then it seems sensible to try to arrange that students do not spend the semester learning the wrong thing.

Given the administrative restrictions, I decided a little while ago that the best I could do would be to arrange a checkpoint by placing a requirement for a plan/report about 3 weeks into the semester. That would require students to make an early start on the curation process and would deliver them feedback early enough to allow for adjustments where those might be necessary. The final piece of assessment would include the curated collection and whatever report might be needed around that.

With that basic structure in mind for the content curation task I needed to think about how that might be described and specified in a way that would both allow a degree of choice for students about content and tools and ensure some defensible basis for assessment of the products (and process). Rather than risk reinvention from scratch I spent time last week searching for material to support my assessment design, ideally by way of a ready made rubric. I’d been collating links to material on curation in Diigo for a while and some concentrated search turned up a variety of resources related to content curation but no ready made solution to my assessment challenge. About the closest I came was the curation project in a class offered by Corinne Weisgerber. Using some ideas gleaned from that course syllabus and other sources I found in my search last week I’ve been working toward setting up at least the skeleton of the curation task for EDP4130. I’m focusing first on envisaging what students might produce at the planning stage and by end of semester and writing some marking guides around those. Once I have that in place I can think about preparing a fuller description of the task with links to relevant resources. That will almost inevitably result in another iteration through the marking guides to align and refine those. As usual, I expect the first steps will be the most difficult because they involve a blank page. Once I have a draft, the refinement might be easier.

My current thinking about criteria for the final collection and a short associated report is:

Criteria Notes
Publication Curated collection published on a professionally presented public site
Content A number of properly attributed items linked to the collection theme
Value added Evidence of selection, editorial comment, contextualisation and critique
Audience engagement Evidence of efforts to promote the collection and of responses and further dissemination
Curation process Explanation of the curation process, role of PLN, etc.
Professional learning What was learned in the process and what is the continuing value of curation for professional growth?

I think those criteria address the key aspects of curation as I’ve been reading about them but I’d be interested in comment about anything I may have missed or that seems not to belong.

The earlier piece of assessment needs to be pitched toward ensuring that students make an early start and are on track for success. For that I’m thinking about the following criteria applied to a short report about progress to that point:

Criteria Notes
Theme Identify and justify a theme for its professional relevance to technology education
PLN mechanics Explain the choice of 2 or more online services as sources of information for curation
PLN membership Explain the choice of 3 to 6 experts as sources of information
Curation tool Explain the selection of a curation system
Curation sample Provide a sample of a curated item with an explanation of the curation process

Again I’d be interested in comments about what I might have missed or anything that seems out of place.

Scratching about with planning

Work on redevelopment of EDP4130 came to a halt over the past couple of weeks because there was other work that needed to be done immediately. That, and the fact that I spent a few days scratching around with some ideas about the revisions, resulted in silence here. Now that I have completed a couple of other jobs, both related to EDP4130 and the review and accreditation process, I can try to do some more work on the revisions before I head off on leave to travel for several weeks.

For as long as technology has been part of the general curriculum in Queensland (and across Australia) it has fitted the pattern of what is often referred to as Design and Technology. The mantra of the national curriculum statement that appeared in the late 1990s was “designing, making and appraising with materials, information and systems”. That was variously interpreted and linked with other curriculum areas in different states. In Queensland, the 3 verbs of “design, make, and appraise” became 4 nouns – “investigation, ideation, production and evaluation” – but there was a broad consistency. Information and ICT figured in the curriculum but was not central.

In 2012 the development of the Australian Curriculum has progressed to the point of releasing a document on The Shape of the Australian Curriculum: Technologies that proposes two subjects, Design and Technologies and Digital Technologies. The first of these will require some adjustment in our preparation of teachers but shares much with what is already in the technology curriculum. The second represents new ground, including concepts about computer hardware and software for which we are not currently preparing our graduates. It will require more substantial changes to enable graduates to approach teaching about concepts that many of them will not have been exposed to in their own schooling.

Because the proposed scope and sequence for Digital Technologies includes basic concepts of computer programming – linear, branching and looping instructions – which will be new to our teacher education students I wanted to introduce those concepts in a way that would quickly build the basic concepts they need but could also suggest how they might approach the teaching of the same ideas in schools. Thus I came to be literally scratching about with Scratch, which provides a visual programming experience that is simple enough to be accessible to children and sophisticated enough to support teaching the important programming concepts.

Having decided that Scratch is likely to be a suitable basis for developing the important programming concepts I need to devise a workable plan for that component of the course. We run a 13 week teaching semester but students are out for 3 weeks of professional experience placement, leaving 10 weeks of actual course time available in 2 blocks, each of 5 weeks. For students studying on campus there are 3 hours of class time each week, conventionally divided into an hour of lecture (whole group in a large space) and two hours of tutorial (groups of 20 to 30 in smaller spaces). If Digital Technologies is to have equal billing to Design and Technology in the future curriculum then allocating one tutorial hour to each (and some suitable balance in the ‘lecture’ hour) would seem reasonable. That would allow 10 hours of class time to introduce students to computational thinking and the essential programming concepts via Scratch or otherwise. That’s not a lot of time but it will have to do.

There are possibilities other than Scratch that may deserve exploration so it will be important to allow some time for that. Students are likely to come to these classes with different background experience and skills so some flexibility in that exploration would be appropriate. If there are students with prior coding experience or access to particular hardware and software they might be able to tackle more ambitious projects. Possibilities for exploration might include building games with GameSalad or Stencyl, making simple apps for smartphones using Infinite Monkeys, coding with Google blockly, learning a ‘real’ programming language with Codecademy, or one of many other rapidly evolving options.

My first thoughts about how to block out the time are along these lines:

Class weeks Activity
1 – 3 Introduction to Scratch using ideas from the Scratch site resources
4 – 5 Common project using Scratch – prescribed outcome
6 – 7 Individual project using Scratch – free rein
8 – 10 Exploration of alternatives – breadth and/or depth

That pattern should ensure that everybody develops fair familiarity with Scratch, including some ideas about how to structure learning with it. It should also provide opportunities for exploration of multiple alternatives (breadth) or selecting one alternative and completing a simple project (depth).

Because a proportion of the students take the course entirely online it will be necessary to develop any materials and activities to support that mode. Students on campus will have the opportunity to attend classes in a computer laboratory where they will be able to obtain support as and when they need it.

That’s the core of my plan for that part of the course. Materials will need to be developed and some form of assessment designed but that will take a little longer.