Category Archives: KCI

My Keynote Address About ‘Blended Learning’

Last Wednesday (August 22), I had the honour of giving a keynote address to about 125 of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB)’s teachers, teacher-librarians, instructional leaders, program co-ordinators, and IT professionals at the 2012 Summer Institute organized by the ICT-Teaching and Learning with Technology and the Library and Learning Resources and Interdisciplinary Studies departments.  It was very well received!  Here’s the slide deck I presented (to view slides in fullscreen mode, click on the icon in the bottom-right of the slide window):

There’s a backchannel on TodaysMeet that ran alongside my keynote address so that audience members could dialogue throughout the half-hour presentation, and see their comments projected on the wall.

I had wanted to include some audience interaction during the address (using slide #17), by doing a think-pair-share-on-TodaysMeet, and follow it up with an oral discussion about the TM posts. I thought that would be nice way to model how to facilitate an offline discussion about online postings. Probably would have taken at least 10-15 minutes. But when I got to slide #17, I glanced down at my time, noticed that I was already at 27 minutes by that point, and decided to skip it because I didn’t want to throw their day’s schedule too far off course (we had started 10 minutes late). Oh well :(.  If I ever do this talk again, might need 45-60 minutes, lol!

Karen Beutler (ICT Instructional Leader for grades 7-12), with whom I had the pleasure of working alongside back in my Instructional Leader days, was very generous with her feedback, and in dialoguing with her, she’s inspired me to think further about how I could improve/extend the ideas I presented (thanks Karen!):

  1. Slide 3:  should “mobile” be considered its own “environment”?   I agonized over this slide.  I wanted to create a visual representation that would make the concept of blended learning easy to understand. Traditionally (i.e. before mobile web-enabled technologies), blended learning was a mixing of face-to-face (f2f) and online learning environments.  Karen:  “…mobile is just the means/hardware to access the online classroom” – exact same thought came to mind as I was googling “blended learning” to see how others explained it. In the same way that “online learning” is a “thing”, “mobile learning” is also a “thing”. Plus TDSB’s director sees m-learning as a focus. Also, mobile devices have other functionalities useful to BL that aren’t necessarily connected to the web (i.e. augmented reality apps, probes, photo/video/audio recording, GPS/mapping-related apps). For instance, James MacLean-Taylor presented at the marketplace his class photo-journal blog about Chinatown, Greektown, and Little India; and there was a mapping component to the photos.  So that’s why I decided to give “mobile” its own circle. I probably should have said more about the distinct affordances of mobile technologies besides the fact that they’re small and portable.I also struggled with the possibility of adding a 4th circle called “immersive”. But decided against it because depending on what type of immersive environment it is, it could either be a subcategory of “online” (i.e. Second Life, etc. – does anyone even use SL anymore???), or it’s a simulation from which to observe phenomena that isn’t accesible in real life – which, on its own, doesn’t really seem to fulfill what I would call “learning”, and therefore not circle-worthy :). But perhaps it really is circle worthy? Time will tell. I think we need a couple more years to see where this thing is going. Will it be a “thing”? I think so. What do you think about this one?
  2. Slide 5:  looking at BL through DI lens, then extend to 3-part lesson?   The term “3-part lesson” crossed my mind briefly when I was building the presentation (remembering Karen mentioning it a number times over the past year or 2). In an effort to ease the teachers into a new concept – “blended learning” (BL) – I was trying to find a familiar “lens” through which the teachers could see BL.  The whole “lens” thing is a throw-back to my master’s work.It seems to me that the 3-part lesson, as a methodological tool, seems to be a more granular tool than Differentiated Instruction(DI). DI as a tool, is on a more “macro” level than 3-part lesson, in that a teacher would use DI to decide on the general approach to instruction, that would possibly span several weeks. 3-part lesson would be the lesson planning tool that the teacher would use to enact said “general approach” on a day-to-day level.So I decided to go with DI because: (1) it’s a familiar lens to teachers, (2) it seems to drive home how “environment” can now be differentiated – DI of “environment” always seemed a bit vague to me without the technolog layer, (3) most importantly – my subversive attempt to get teachers to stop thinking about ICT as the flashy end product, and begin to see that ICT needs to be used in a way that TRANSFORMS learning (i.e. weave ICT throughout the learning process, capitalize on its peer-to-peer communication capabilities because SO MUCH learning comes out of that).Certainly 3-part lesson could have been a lens as well, but perhaps shown much later (after the DI lens), as an example of how to integrate BL into a single lesson, framed within a larger BL-infused lesson unit. This would be an interesting extension to the presentation itself – to show a mapping of an entire BL-infused unit, then maybe a 3-part lesson out of that unit.



Preparing Students for the 21st Century Knowledge Age

If this is what life is going to be like in 2019, what skills do today’s students need to be successful in the Knowledge Society?  How can we help them develop these skills?

Lately, I’ve been reading about Knowledge Building and Online Communities:
One can look up all the various 21st Century Skills projects to see a list of skills, which commonly include creativity, digital literacy, critical thinking, and problem solving:
Teacher A, B, and C (Scardamalia & Bereiter)
Dr. Marlene Scardamalia and Dr. Carl Bereiter, founders of the Institute for Knowledge Innovation and Technology at OISE / University of Toronto, maintain that schools need to adopt a culture of collaborative knowledge building if they are to prepare our society for the Knowledge Age.  Whereas traditional schools adhered to what they call a “Teacher A model” – teaching reduced to tasks and activities; I find that much of our current schooling adheres to what they have termed the “Teacher B model” – a focus on learning objectives/outcomes/expectations with students’ responsibility directed at tasks and activities, and the teacher taking on the cognitive responsibility.  The education utopia Scardamalia and Bereiter espouse is the “Teacher C model“.  In this model, strategic cognitive activity is turned over to the students.  Whereas Teachers A and B roles resembled that of “Engineer”, Teacher C does what Teacher B does – but with the added “objective of turning more of the learning process over to the students” (Bereiter, 2002; Ch. 8, p. 39).
Collective Cognitive Responsibility (Scardamalia, 2002)
Scardamalia defines Collective Cognitive Responsibility as the condition when learners “take responsibility for knowing what needs to be known and for insuring that others know what needs to be known” (2002, p. 2).  She and Bereiter assert that schools actually withhold cognitive responsibility when they operate on a Teacher A and/or Teacher B model.  They espouse that engaging a class in collaborative knowledge building, particularly in an online discussion forum such as Knowledge Forum, effectively enculturates students into the collective cognitive responsibility of their community knowledge.  Scardamalia goes on to elaborate on her 12 Knowledge Building principles (2002, p. 9-12), the basic building blocks of Knowledge Building (KB) pedagogy:
  1. Real ideas, authentic problems
  2. Improvable ideas
  3. Idea diversity
  4. Rise above
  5. Epistemic agency
  6. Community knowledge, collective responsibility
  7. Democratizing knowledge
  8. Symmetric knowledge advancement
  9. Pervasive knowledge building
  10. Constructive uses of authoritative sources
  11. Knowledge building discourse
  12. Embedded and transformative assessment
The following have been my KB-related learning goals since I first learned about KB 10 years ago at OISE (Master’s work):
  • how to implement KB in a publicly-funded classroom
  • possible modifications to the pure form of KB for realistic classroom implementation
  • how to recognize true KB
  • how to foster true KB in the classroom, given the realities of the publicly-funded classroom
My classmate, Kyungmee, writes:  “Moreover, according to Scardamalia (2002)’s paper, knowledge creation processes are basically CHANCY. ‘… knowledge creation depends on chancy processes of discovery and invention.’  Then, how to define knowledge creation processes? Is there any particular steps or conditions? If not, how teacher can try to teach or provide students knowledge building opportunities?”
I have been wrestling with this very question since I first learned of constructivist knowledge building at OISE 10 years ago!  I find that the concept of KB is far too open and abstract to be implemented in its pure form – especially if KB is to be implemented in public schools which are mandated to follow provincial curriculum expectations.
I did a pilot project in a few schools at my school board where I tried to add some structure to KB – a compromise between KB and the realities of time and curricular constraints that public school teachers face.  Teachers chose a curricular area to address, in which their students would begin the unit using the inquiry process infused with face-to-face (f2f) KB cross talks and virtual KB Knowledge Forum discussion.  We used Wiggins & McTighe’s Understanding By Design framework to co-design and backward map a curricular unit.  To satisfy current provincial assessment and evaluation policy which states that summative evaluation can only be of a product, students were then required to create a final flashy ICT-infused project to demonstrate their learning.
I’m sure Bereiter and Scardamalia would cringe at the way I chose to go about implementing KB in these pilot classrooms, but I had to start with where the teachers were at, while considering the realities of policy and classroom constraints that these teachers face.
Systemic Changes Needed for Knowledge Building in Ontario
I see 2 systemic changes necessary for authentic KB implementation in the classroom and Teacher C-ism:
  1. Provincial Assessment and Evaluation (A & E) policies must recognize that Knowledge Building (KB) and collaboration skills can and should be measured, evaluated, and reported upon.  As per Bereiter, A & E policy should recognize that KB is productive work, IS learning, and is a necessary skill for success in the knowledge society.
  2. To avoid Teacher B-ism (a focus on learning goals), is not, in my opinion, a realistic endeavour given our provincially mandated curriculum.  To get rid of a mandated curriculum is unrealistic as well, because I do think that a society should have a certain baseline of common knowledge in order to function cohesively.  However, might there be some sort of a compromise, where provincially mandated learning expectations exist, but does not drive education?  How might a “Teacher B.C” model work?

While it is nice to dream up how we might make systemic and policy changes, I am more interested in how we can make KB work within our existing reality.  Anyone have any other suggestions for implementing KB in classrooms?

Assessment of Knowledge Building
Page 31 of the Ministry of Education’s 2010 Growing Success document on assessment and evaluation (A & E) has a nice summary table of assessment for/of/as learning.
I would agree that assessment as learning (a.k.a. formative assessment) is key in helping students develop their collaborative knowledge building skills, as well as developing their metacognition of this.  It is unfortunate that under current A & E policy, formative assessment is not something that can be quantified and reported upon formally on a student report card.  Since Scardamalia and Bereiter emphasize the importance of these skills for success in the knowledge society, I think it is problematic that this is not addressed in the report card.
Page 11 of the Growing Success document defines “learning skills work habits”, and are part of the student report card.  I think that the Ontario report card should also have a “Collaborative Knowledge Construction” section, much like the Learning Skills section, in which various component skills related to collaborative knowledge building are listed, and teachers may assign qualitative “grades” to each skill.
My classmate, Vincent A. asks:  “How can educators effectively and authentically assess knowledge building, especially if there is no final tangible product?”
I’m quite sure that Scardamalia and Bereiter would disagree that “there is no final tangible product” in knowledge building.  As a member of a knowledge building community, once you put forth an idea, that idea becomes an artifact – its own entity, and belongs to the community collective (not to the person who contributed the idea).  In other words, the community collective is made up of tangible ideas.  The final tangible product would be the community’s Rise Above.
Knowledge Building in Wikis?
I like the idea of a class/group wiki.  Though I’m not sure about 2 things:
  1. Is there community knowledge building occurring, and if so, how might we track it?  I ask this because a wiki is usually a piece of work that demonstrates a group/community’s understandings.  It doesn’t actually show the discussion around it (unless the students use the discussion forum within the wiki), and hence, we can’t see the conjectures, the theorizing, etc.  We just see the factual information that the group has come up with via various resources.
  2. How do we assess wiki work?  Provincial A & E policy states that we can only evaluate students on an individual basis, not on a group-by-group basis.  So how do we evaluate individual students’ wiki work?  Going back and analyzing various iterations of wiki pages for each student is tedious and unrealistic.  Is there a better way?  How do you evaluate this?
Another Way for Knowledge Building Communities to Use Wikis
Prof. James Slotta of OISE (my PhD supervisor) has created a framework called Knowledge Community and Inquiry (KCI), in which groups of students work within a science inquiry model and contribute to a community wiki, then are challenged to solve an authentic problem in which they use the wiki as a resource to do so.

Harnessing the Power of YouTube for Distributed Cognition

I’ve been learning a lot about knowledge communities – including Reciprocal Teaching – (Ann Brown, Anne Marie Palincsar), collaborative knowledge construction (Marlene Scardamalia, Carl Bereiter), and distributed learning (Yvonne Rogers, Michael Cole & Yrjo Engestrom).  However, when I think of “the tubes” (i.e. YouTube, SchoolTube, TeacherTube) and all the learning opportunities they have to offer via traditional transmission instructional strategies – the very strategies we are desperately trying to steer away from – I find myself at a crossroads.  The examples of YouTube learning below have absolutely ZERO aspects of community knowledge creation other than YouTube’s role as video tutorial repository.  Granted, YouTube does allow for the posting of comments for each video, but I have yet to see this feature being used in a way that remotely resembles a community discourse with the goal of deeper understanding.  What follows are some examples of the learning power of YouTube.

Khan Academy
Not sure if anyone has heard of the Khan Academy?  Salman Khan, who quit his job in finance, runs this non-profit educational organization out of a closet in his home.  He regularly creates tutorial videos about an astounding number of science and math topics, and posts them to YouTube.  Here’s a chemistry video about the atom, proton, neutron, and electron:

Common Craft
Then there’s Common Craft, who makes wonderful videos to explain various technologies (e.g. wikis, blogs, augmented reality, etc.).  Here’s Common Craft’s YouTube channel.  Their latest video is about augmented reality:

My 8-Year-Old Nephew
Just to illustrate my classmate, Maria’s, point about the power and appeal of YouTube, I’d like to use my 8-year-old nephew as an example.  Aside from a few ukelele classes he got at his after school program, he has taught himself how to play the ukelele and the guitar by surfing YouTube.  YouTube has fed his motivation to learn both these instruments so much, that he now creates his own ukelele songs (sometimes with accompanying lyrics).  He also gets his parents to take him to local open mic events at least once a week so that he can perform his music.  Furthermore, he gets his mom to video-record his performances so that they can be uploaded to YouTube.  Makes me wonder what he’ll do at age 10.  Here’s my nephew’s YouTube channel if you’re interested.  My favourite song is “I Don’t Know” – hysterical!!!

YouTube for Knowledge Communities & Distributed Cognition?
Contrary to everything I’m learning in graduate school about learning, YouTube, for the most part delivers knowledge in the most pedagogically traditional way.  There is no knowledge community discourse, no distributed cognition, no acknowledgement/accommodation of individual learning styles…it is simply transmission teaching in a digital medium!  Yet, it’s undeniable that such instructional YouTube videos have learning value.  So how might we better use YouTube to enhance learning, promote distributed cognition, and foster knowledge communities?

My first thought is to make better use of the YouTube’s commenting functionality, and use this as a community discussion forum.  However, I think it is better to establish an online learning environment on some other platform, and refer to specific YouTube video resources as the need arises.  This way, the instructor has more tools to work with, in terms of creating an effective online learning environment.  Furthermore, the instructor and participants (through their virtual social presence) may have a clearer picture of how the community’s cognition is distributed and therefore take reasonable actions in their responses to focus on topics/directions that suit the group’s needs.

Case Study Approach
A more concrete strategy to ensure distributed cognition and distributed problem solving within a knowledge community would be to design a specific and authentic problem to be solved by the group as a whole.  Some of my classmates have suggested the case-study method to achieve this.

Knowledge Community & Inquiry (KCI)
Another framework that comes to mind is Knowledge Community and Inquiry (KCI).  The theoretical tradition of classrooms as knowledge communities (Brown & Campione, 1996; Scardamaila & Bereiter, 1999; Hakkarainen, 2004), engages students with a sense of “collective cognitive responsibility” for continuous community knowledge advancement (Scardamalia, 2002).  KCI is a recent effort within this tradition espoused by James D. Slotta and his colleagues (e.g., Slotta & Peters, 2008; Peters & Slotta, 2010). KCI engages the students and teacher as a knowledge community, building a cooperative “knowledge base” that serves as a resource in scaffolded inquiry activities designed to target specific learning goals.  I believe KCI can be a powerful approach to focusing a knowledge community’s distributed cognition on the collaborative inquiry and problem solving.