5 October 2012

International Teachers' Day: Thanks to All Teachers

My name is Nol Samnang. I am 24 years old. I am a new teacher graduated from Regional Teacher Training Center (RTTC) in Kandal province last school year. After my graduation, The ministry of Education assigned me to 24 Kannha Upper Secondary School, located in Kampong Speu province which is bit far away from my home town, but still I am happy with my career as a science teacher. The school runs classes from grade 7 to grade 12, and this school year I am appointed to teach chemistry for all classes in grade 10. I was very nervous for my first teaching day when all the children in my class stared at me with huge expectations.

Ever since I was a small girl I dreamt of being a teacher.  I like explaining things and want to help children to gain better knowledge and skills.  During my two years training at RTTC I have learned a lot both on teaching methodology and content knowledge. I usually worked in group in the library on the homework given by my teacher trainers. Through the assignment I learned how to think critically, how to solve problems as well as to observe phenomena.  These are the skills I find very important to become a good science teacher.

My teacher trainers usually apply student center approach as well as including experiments in their lessons.  This has stimulated me to repeat the same method during my practicum. Student center approaches stimulate students to develop their skills; they are encouraged to use their prior knowledge and creativity to form a new content. They learn to recognize and listen to others’ opinion.  Moreover, I find experiments very important for science lesson, it retain their knowledge in the memory without forgetting it. 

In general, to become a good teacher, they should have strong content knowledge and good appearance, furthermore they should think logically, be neutral and friendly with the students.

I encountered some challenges to apply student centered approach in my lesson when I became the teacher. Some teaching materials are not available in school but I can find and bring them from home. Sometimes my pupils help me with finding the right materials.  My director is always enthusiastic to support me when I ask for any request.   

Today is International Teachers’ Day.  In Cambodia thousands of teachers work every day in challenging conditions to give children a better future.  They deserve a lot of respect and support for what they do.  The above story is a summary of an interview we had last month with Nol Samnang, chemistry teacher in Kampong Speu province.  Credit to Sokhany Nget for transcript and pictures.
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29 September 2012

#H810 Financial Support for Disabled Students in Flanders

Photo Credit: Klasse
This week we look at forms of financial support that disabled students receive in higher education. As Cambodia does not have a system for financial support for disabled students to study higher education, I decided to look at the situation in the Flemish Community.

Flanders does have a wide range of support mechanisms to help disabled students succeed in higher education. However, findings one's way through the maze of involved agencies can be daunting.     
Additionally, HE in Flanders is heavily subsidized already with annual tuition fees for most courses not exceeding 500 euros.

In the UK the newly approved Equality Act requires anticipation, compared with the previous Disability Act that required reasonable adjustment. The principle of anticipation seems not yet to be embedded in Flemish legislation, although various institutions seem to work on Universal Design Principles, to make all courses and course materials more inclusive.

1. Legal basis for financial and other support 

- The UN convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was ratified by Belgium in 2009. 

- The Participation Decree (link in Dutch) (2004) intends to stimulate participation to higher education for all students, including those with a disability or learning difficulty. The decree stipulates that each institution should make adjustments for disabled students.  However, as the adjustments are not clearly defined, students remain dependent on the commitment of the HE institution.

- The Flexibility Decree (link in Dutch)(2004) provides the framework for differentiated and flexible learning trajectories.  It intends to improve access to HE for disabled students.

- The Flemish Decree on Equal Opportunities (link in Dutch)(2008) prohibits discrimination based on among others physical or genetic characteristics, disability or health situation. The Decree also makes it compulsory for the institution to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to accommodate students with a disability. 

- The Flemish Decree on the Financing of Higher Education (link in Dutch)(2008) stipulates that HE institutions can receive additional funds for students with a disability. A condition is that students need to be registered with the Vlaams Agentschap voor Personen met een Handicap (VAPH). Students with a learning difficulty such as dyslexia however are not eligible for financial support. For these students the schools themselves have a budget to pay for extra support.

2. Financial support is provided by the Vlaams Agentschap voor Personen met een Handicap (VAPH), Flemish government agency.  Various non-profit agencies play a complementary role. Higher Education in Flanders is overwhelmingly publicly organized.

- The VAPH provides:
  • A budget for a pedagogical or technical assistant (can be a fellow student). There are limitations on what this budget can be used for, as it’s not intended for adapting learning materials, having someone take notes during lessons or helping finding resources in the library. 
  • Disabled students can request a ‘Personal Assistance Budget’ (PAB). This budget can be used by the student to organize and finance assistance. The student can employ one or more assistants to help with studies or daily activities such as cooking, transport… 
  • Reimbursement of Screenreader software
  • Within this agency there's an unit that deals with assistive technologies and interpreters for deaf and hard of hearing students.
  • This is a non-profit organisation that coordinates the deployment of interpreters for deaf and hard of hearing.  Some interpreters use VGT (Flemish Sign Language), others write down what is being said ('Schrijftolk').
Disabled students can be eligible for study financing, depending on their parents’ income. This is only for ‘initial academic courses’ such as bachelor and master courses, but not for postgraduate courses. As mentioned before, fees for postgraduate courses are not limited as those for bachelor and master courses are. 

- Epos vzw is a non-profit organisation that provides financial support for disabled students who want to study abroad under the Erasmus programme. The organisation provides an additional budget on top of the regular scholarship to cover additional costs.

It should be noted that registration fees at Flemish institutions for higher education are notably low compared with those at UK institutions. Most Bachelor and Master courses have an annual fee of approx. 500 euro. Only postgraduate courses can be much more expensive. 

3. Barriers for accessing support

- Students need a recently issued medical certificate for accessing various kinds of support. This renders disclosure compulsory and may also provide a financial barrier for some students.

- The type of assistance available and required procedure to obtain assistance varies between institutions and even between departments of an institution.

- Frequently there’s a lack of communication about the available support. For example, a list with possible adjustments or assistive technologies is not always available. Students are requested to ask what type of assistance they need, but are not always aware of all technical and other types of assistance available.

- Some institutions have a list with possible adjustments and support and let students choose what they need. This seems to be perceived as positive as individual needs are recognized. However, students need to select the type of support early, and can not always accurately assess what they would need.

- Many learning difficulties such as dyslexia are not recognized by the VAPH.

- Support seems to be scattered among various ministries and organisations and there are many rules for each type of support. It may seem quite daunting for disabled students and their families to find their way in the maze of support mechanisms. Fortunately, most institutions have one person per department who helps with disabled students with their study trajectory.


The 'Support Center for Inclusive Higher Education' (Steunpunt for Inclusief Hoger Onderwijs' (SIHO) - link to limited English version) is a inter-universitary knowledge centre for studying with a disability or learning difficulty.  It's an excellent source of information and contains various studies and testimonies from students (written and video, both in Dutch,), teachers with a disability (in Dutch) and lecturers.
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13 September 2012

#H810 Challenges Disabled Students Face in Education

Photo credit: see below
Disabled students encounter a range of challenges in their education, including in online education.  Th is week's readings feature a few qualitative studies and a variety of case studies to describe the challenges disabled students are facing.  Most readings deal with dyslexic students, and students with mobility, visual or hearing impairments.  Occasionally, we read about students with mental disabilities, dyspraxia and epilepsy.  

Challenges go beyond the accessing the course materials and can be roughly divided between course related challenges, challenges related to registration and bureaucracy, and psychological challenges.

Course related challenges include:
  • accessing course materials: 
Many disabled students use assistive technologies such as screen readers, mechanical page turners, scanners, laptops with specialised software etc. Challenges also include bad pedagogy (such as long PowerPoint lectures) and design (such as images without description).

  • communication with other students
This includes challenges to engage in group activities and to respect the deadlines that come with it.  However, informal peer support is important for many learners with disabilities.
  • examination and assessment
These include problems to work under time pressure, extra time needed due to use of assistive technologies and difficulties to express verbally or orally one's thoughts.  Inappropriate feedback such as excessive attention on spelling and grammar mistakes for dyslexic students can be demotivating.
  • managing learning
These include challenges to find their way in a multitude of assignments and readings. Looking up and accessing third party materials online may pose challenges.  An university library can be a daunting place for a student with dyslexia.

Registration related challenges include:
  • dealing with procedure to get accepted for additional help
  • deciding whether to apply or not for additional help
  • lack of communication between the administration and the academic department, or between various departments ('glass walls')
  • waiting for extra help to arrive 
  • time and energy spent on administrative issues encroaching on study tasks.

Students with disabilities are each engaged in a 'personal journey' (Goode, 2007) trying to reconcile a desire to study with a learning disability.  They are actively managing their identity in various ways.  Psychological challenges in doing this include:

  • Dealing with the decision whether or not to disclose their disability
People may have various reasons to try concealing their disability.  Students try finding a balance between a need for assistance and a desire to live and study (as) independently (as possible). Some students fear being stigmatized by their peer students or harming their job prospects when disclosing a disability.  Some students fear being victimized, and prefer a 'give-and-take' relationship.  In online learning, students arguably have more control over what they want to disclose and to whom.  

  • Deciding whether to use additional services & issues related to their use
Mortimer and Crozier (2006) report that additional services are underused (and perhaps also oversold).  Lack of information and aversion from bureaucracy may offer some explanation, but case studies show that quite a few students deliberately choose not use services that they are eligible to.  For them using them may present more disadvantages than benefits.  Disadvantages can include creating a sense of dependency or abandoning their coveted 'ordinariness'.  Sometimes they fear that staff or peers may be unappreciative to their 'special' situation.  

Both challenges come down to finding the right balance between becoming 'invisible' and becoming 'extravisible'.
Students with disabilities can become ‘invisible’ if/when their needs are not met— they are disabled by the environment from full participation and ‘disappear from view’. On the other hand, if and when they have to go out of their way to make their needs known they become ‘extravisible’ in a negative way.(Goode, 2007, p.42)

  •  Negotiate a variety of social relations
Studying usually brings a variety of challenges that studying entails, even without a disability to handle. Studying is often a first break with parental oversight. Disabilities may manifest more clearly as study demands rise.  For quite a few students in the case studies studying is a kind of personal endeavour, proving to themselves that they can achieve something, move beyond their limits.
Already facing physical and psychological hurdles, they often didn’t have the energy to ‘do battle’. ‘Battling the system’ was a very common phrase and several interviewees had come close to dropping out. In other cases students had become battle-hardenedand were more able to ‘demand’ the rights to which they knew they were entitled (Goode, p.44). 

The case studies seem to support the argument for a social approach to learning disabilities, in which courses are designed with flexibility in mind, enabling variations in study pace, media preferences, study approach and assessment.  In its accessibility policy institutions should not only focus on developing a system of specialist help, but on designing courses that are inviting for as large and diverse group of learners as is reasonably possible.  

Goode, J. (2007) ‘“Managing” disability: early experiences of university students with disabilities’, Disability & Society, 22(1), pp. 35–48.
Mortimore, T. and Crozier, W.R. (2006) ‘Dyslexia and difficulties with study skills in higher education’, Studies in Higher Education, 31(2), pp. 235–251.

Credit for the picture at the top to UNICEF/UGDA2012-00127/Michele Sibiloni.  http://www.educationandtransition.org provides stories on inclusive education from many countries.

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10 September 2012

Too Hard To Measure: On the Value of Experiments and the Difficulty to Measure Lesson Quality

Interesting article in The Guardian (from some time ago, I'm a slow reader) about the overblown importance attributed to doing experiments during science lessons.

The article reminds me of my experience in Cambodia, where experiments are also frequently espoused as proof of a student-centred lesson.

In reality experiments in Cambodian classrooms are often a very teacher-centred activity:

    • the teacher demonstrates and students (at best) trying to observe what happens. 
    • students do the experiment in large groups, by adhering to a strict series of steps outlined in a worksheet. 
    • students work in large groups, in which usually only one or two students do the work, The others are merely bystanders. 
    • the procedure, observations and interpretation of the experiment are laid down in detail beforehand.
The article touches upon two interesting elements.  First, there is the questionable educational value of many experiments in science classes.  secondly, there is the challenge to measure lesson quality beyond 'ticking off' the occurrence of activities such as experiments.

The article refers to 'The Fallacy of Induction' from Rosalind Driver.  Her book 'Making Sense of Secondary Science' is an excellent book on misconceptions in science education and has been an important inspiration for me.  

Driver doesn't dismiss practical work in science, but argues that 'Many pupils do not know the purpose of practical activity, thinking that they ‘do experiments’ in school to see if something works, rather than to reflect on how a theory can explain observations.' (Driver et al, 1993, p.7).

She raises two main arguments.  First, practical activities are often presented to students as a simulation of 'how science really works', collecting data, making observations, drawing inferences and arriving at a conclusion which is the accepted explanation.  It's simplistic, and pupils happily play along, following the 'recipe' in the 'cookbook', checking whether they have 'the right answer'.  In reality, science rarely works this way:
For a long time philosophers of science and scientists themselves have recognised the limitations of the inductivist position and have acknowledged the important role that imagination plays in the construction of scientific theories.' (Driver, 1994, p.43)

The second argument is that pupils don't arrive in class with a blank slate, but with a whole range of self-constructed interpretations or 'theories' on how natural phenomena work. These 'preconceptions' require more than an experiment to change, as children tend to fit observations within their own 'theoretical framework'.

Observations are not longer seen as objective but influenced by the theoretical perspective of the observer. ‘As Popper said, ‘we are prisoners caught in the framework of our theories.’ This too has implications for school science, for children, too, can be imprisoned in this way by their preconceptions, observing the world throught their own particular ‘conceptual spectacles.’ (Driver, 1994, p.44)

Misconceptions can be changed if they are made explicit, discussed and challenged with contradicting evidence.  After this 'unlearning' phase, children may adopt a different framework.  Driver concludes: 'Experience by itself is not enough. It is the sense that students make of it that matters' (Driver et al, 1993, p.7).  

Discussion activities, in which pupils have the opportunity to make their reasoning explicit and to engage with and try out alternative viewpoints, including the 'scientific one', need to be central (cognitive conflict). Practical activities can be complementary to these discussions, instead of the other way around, when discussion and conclusion are quickly reeled off at the end of the practicum.

However, the love for experiments while neglecting the question whether and what students are actually learning also touches upon the difficulty to measure adequately lesson quality.  Limited time and resources result in a focus on outward and visible signs. However, these:
    • deny the complexity of teaching and learning;
    • deny the individuality of students' learning and understanding;
    • steers teachers and programme staff towards focusing on these outward signs, as they know they will be evaluated on these criteria. 
Collecting valid and reliable data on lesson quality is hard.  Self-assessment instruments are notoriously prone to confirmation bias. Lesson observations don't give a reliable everyday picture of lesson practice.  They suffer from the fact that teachers pull out special lessons when visitors appear for announced (or unannounced) visits.   Conversely, as Cuban describes beautifully, other teachers tremble and panic when an evaluator walks into their classroom and the lesson becomes a shambles.

Evidence-based evaluation is often touted as the way forward for development projects.  Randomized trials in health have been useful to collect a body of knowledge on what works and what not. In a randomized trial a group of students where teachers received pedagogical training is compared with a group of students where teachers didn't receive training.  Comparisons can be made with test scores, student satisfaction or drop-outs.

However, test scores are unsuitable as exams are notoriously prone to cheating and questions focus on recollecting factual knowledge, the opposite of what we want to achieve.  A self-designed test could be a solution, but there's the risk that programme activities will focus more on the test than on improving teaching skills.  Student satisfaction scores are prone to the aforementioned confirmation bias.  Drop-outs are hard to use as they are influenced by many interrelated factors such as geography, economic growth and government policy.

Ownership by the direct target group on the evaluation is part of the solution in my opinion, as well as using a variety of data sources.  In future blog posts I plan to write more on how we try to measure lesson quality.


For more detail see this available study from Prof. James Dillon (pdf) on the value of practical work in science education.
Dri­ver, R. (1994) 'The fal­lacy of induc­tion in sci­ence teach­ing', in Teach­ing Sci­ence, ed. Levin­son, R., Lon­don, Rout­ledge, pp.41–48.

Driver, R., Squires, A., Rushworth, P. and Wood-Robinson, V. (1993) Making Sense of Secondary Science, Routledge.

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4 September 2012

#H810 Accessibility and Online Learning

Image credit: Phil Roeder (CC)
Accessibility is the removal of barriers. Barriers can relate to physics and mental disabilities, but also to geography, culture, ethnicity and gender. In an educational context it means providing equitable access to educational opportunities to all.

Accessibility is a responsibility of all of us. In an (online) educational context there is a shared responsibility of administrators, course developers & designers, teaching staff and co-learners to ensure that everyone has access to an equivalent (not necessarily equal) learning experience.

Online learning has potential to remove barriers for disabled learners. Online learning doesn’t require transportation to campuses and lecture halls. Learners have more control over what and how much they disclose to whom. Various tools enable learners to overcome all kinds of impairments and engage in online communication with fellow learners. Online learners may enable disabled learners to be real peer learners and engage more easily in a reciprocal, ‘give and take’ relationship. However, online learning may also increase barriers, due to badly designed software and learning materials, or due to a lack of personal support.

In developing countries 90% of children with disabilities do not attend school (UNICEF data). In Cambodia there are both political, economic and cultural reasons for the lack of accessibility to education in my opinion. Ensuring accessibility is not a matter for a small minority of the population. An estimated 20% of the population in Australia and New-Zealand have a disability. Lifelong learning means that more learners are elderly people, with various kinds of impairments. Impairments may be temporary such as a broken arm. Accessible learning materials are also flexible learning materials, catering for various styles and contexts, thereby benefiting all learners.
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3 September 2012

#H810 Thinking about Accessibility in Education

Some reflections on the first two chapters of Seale (2006) and the questions in the course text.

Reliable data on the number of learners with disabilities is important to raise awareness with institutions and policy makers on the importance of increasing accessibility of education.  Accurate data make it more difficult to ignore or minimize the challenge.  Officially, 4.5% of the Cambodian population has a disability (UN-SDD, 2010), but given its turbulent past, murderous traffic and high diabetes rate the figure seems an underestimation. Comparing and interpreting disability data is notoriously tricky with various definitions being used. Official percentages vary widely, for example between 1% and 20% in Asia-Pacific.

Again these [percentages of disabled students] figures should be treated with caution. They may reflect an increase in students’ willingness to disclose a disability, changes in the figures in the  general population, changes in support for children in the school system or some other factors. (Seale, 2006, p.10)

from: Disability at a Glance, 2010

Traditional definitions of disability and accessibility focused on the medical diagnosis.  Legal and administrative interpretations are still infused with this approach.  The ICF classification from the WHO, however, integrates more contextual and social elements in its approach to disability.

The WHO argue that their new classification now operates a universal rather than a minority model of disability where everyone may have disability; disability is seen as a continuum rather than dichotomous and is understood as multi-dimensional. This universal model is based on the value of inclusion and rejects the view that disability is a defining feature of a separate minority group of people. (Seale, 2006, p12)

In this approach every learner may have some kind of disability, understood as some limitation of the learner experience. In the Cambodian situation, these may include traumatic experiences, as many families are broken or still face the traumas experienced during the Khmer Rouge regime and its aftermath.  Visual or hearing impairments are often compounded by a lack of affordable glasses or hearing devices.  The social view considers the definition and extent of a disability socially constructed.

Despite legal, pedagogic - a course designed for accessibility benefits all learners - and moral reasons to develop truly inclusive education, disabled learners may often decide not to disclose their disability.  In online learning, the absence of face-to-face contact may increase the barrier.  In Cambodia, culture, religion and poverty all may play a strong role in attitudes toward disability and education, which I want to explore further in this course.

Participants gave a number of practical reasons for why they concealed their impairments:
  • those with invisible disabilities expressed concern that others would not believe that they had a real disability;
  • participants felt that others would see them as less competent;
  • they wished to be viewed as consistent and trustworthy;
  • they worried that others would see them only as needing help rather than as a peer who can give and take in a relationship.  (Seale, 2006, p.16)
Seale argues that disability and accessibility should be treated as social rather than individual problems.  An education system should be flexible enough to cater for a variety of learning needs, rather than redirect learners with disabilities to specialized or medical services.

Accessibility, given this redefinition, is the ability of the learning environment to adjust to the needs of all learners. Accessibility is determined by the flexibility of the education environment (with respect to presentation, control methods, access modality, and learner supports) and the availability of adequate alternative-but-equivalent content and activities. (Seale, 2006, p.19)

This vision may of course clash with economical considerations.  In Cambodia, large parts of the education system are (being) privatized.  Ensuring accessible education requires investments in infrastructure, staff training and school management.  Without sufficient and enforceable legal provisions, they are unlikely to invest in an accessible learning environment.  A magic fairy is an apt imagery here, as paying lip service to an accessible education system is easier than realizing it.

In seeking to develop accessible e-learning practice, we cannot rely on finding ‘magic fairies’ with magic solutions. (Seale, 2006, p.5)

Larry Cuban uses the metaphor of hurricanes on sea to describe educational reform.  Grant policy statements are like giant surface waves.  Education practitioners and scholars point out research findings and bring nuance, like the disturbed waves below the surface.  At the bottom of the sea however, the hurricane above is hardly felt.  This is where teachers daily struggle to cope with the challenges thrown at them and make the best out of it.


Seale, J. (2006) E-Learning and Disability in Higher Education: Accessibility Research and Practice, Abingdon, Routledge, [online] Available from: http://learn2.open.ac.uk/ mod/ subpage/ view.php?id=153062.

United Nations - Social Development Division (SDD) (2010) Disability at a Glance 2010: A Profile of 36 Countries and Areas in Asia and the Pacific, [online] Available from: http://www.unescap.org/publications/detail.asp?id=1407.
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1 September 2012

#H810 Context and Expectations

Today, H810 kicks off, my third module in the MAODE master programme of the OU.  The title of the module is 'Accessible Online Learning: Supporting Disabled Students'.

The start seems very promising, with an already active tutor group an interesting learning materials (nicely available in epub format).  Blogging is heavily encouraged and this first week we are asked to reflect on our context and expectations for the course.

I believe that a qualitatively rich education is an universal right for everyone, not only for the 'average' or 'traditional' learner in developed countries.  Not only is education for many the best chance for upward social mobility, it also enriches and empowers people and gives them a sense of achievement and self-fulfilment.  In Cambodia development programmes are often geared toward increasing enrolment rates, reducing attrition rates and improving the general quality of education.  Learners' special needs are rarely recognized and only but a few NGOs focus on improving educational accessibility for disabled learners.

Online learning offers tremendous potential for learners in developing countries.  Open courses, such as those offered by Coursera and EdX have many participants from developing countries, attracted by the prestigious institutions involved and the free admission.  MOOCs espouse a completely new educational formula, based on distributed content, networking, participation and self-motivation.  However, in all the hype surrounding these developments I've never encountered so far any mention of disabled learners.  Do they participate at these courses?  Are these course designed for them anyway?

Cambodia has come a long way since the first elections in 1994.  Schools have been built, teachers been trained and enrolment rates in basic education been vastly increased.  Resources have understandably been focused on getting the basics in order (schools, teachers, books) for traditional learner groups.  Understandable as in this way with limited resources a maximum number of learners can be targeted. On the other hand, it also means leaving a considerable number of people out in the cold.  Should we as development partners focus on inclusive education, even if it means that a lower total number of people will be targeted?  Inclusive education means expanding educational opportunities for all learners, including disabled learners, learners with learning difficulties, and learners from minority groups. 

I'm looking forward to learn more about what improving accessibility can mean for these various groups of learners.  How they can cope with the educational challenges thrown at them.  How instructional design can be used to develop inclusive course materials.  And how, in Cambodia, we can improve opportunities to those who still fall through the (wide) mazes of the educational net.
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18 August 2012

Effectiveness of ICT in the classroom: Findings from the IDB study on OLPC Peru

Credit: jdebner

The Edutech Debate and the World Bank Blog from Michael Trucano regularly provide excellent background reading on the effectiveness on ICT in education (‘computers in the classroom’).  Discussion surged again with the publication of an Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) evaluation of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) in Peru, which sparked an lengthy but worthwhile discussion on the EduTech website. 

Read further here
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13 August 2012

#H807 The Final Verdict

In a few weeks, I resume my MAODE studies at the OU with the module H810, Accessible online learning: supporting disabled students. I submitted by H807 EMA hours before boarding the plane to Belgium, and I didn't got to blogging during my holiday.  As the dust settles - but without the EMA scores in yet - I want to write a few final reflections on H807.  

Read further on here  (new blog address)
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28 May 2012

#H807 E-learning models and their implications for activity design

Copyright: Oliver Merkel

With the submission of TMA03 focus in H807 shifts to the design of e-tivities (Salmon, 2000).  The ultimate block starts with a study of the theoretical foundations that underpin activity design explicitly or, more often, implicitly, as pedagogic assumptions.  The key text is a review of e-learning theories by Mayes and de Freitas (2004), complemented with e-books from Terry Anderson (2008) and Peter Goodyear (2001). 

Read further here
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24 March 2012

#H807 The Wiki Way: Analysis of Social Values of Wikis

 A wiki is a collaborative authoring environment that can be used to reach certain pedagogical objectives, in particular when the underlying pedagogy is social constructivism.  This learning theory asserts that learning occurs by reconstructing knowledge in social activity.  Wikis can be used to support group activities, peer and tutor reviewing and knowledge creation and sharing activities.  Some people would say that these are the ‘affordances’ of wikis. The learning artefact is usually a collectively authored text. Sukaina Walji provides an excellent overview on wikis in a FAQ format on her blog.

Read further here (new blog address)
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17 March 2012

#H807 On Affordances

This week in H807 features an elaboration of the term 'affordances' in educational technology.   This relates to the broader discussion on if and how technologies we use affect our behaviour.  Is our behaviour (as a learner) influenced by the use of e-mail, blogging, e-readers etc.?  For example, 'writing with pen and paper required the user to think linearly, writing only when the text was near completion, in contrast the use of a word processor allows you to think non-linearly and to adapt and develop ideas as they emerge.' (McGrenere and Ho, 2000, p6)

The term was originally coined by Gibson (1979), but has since undergone an evolution in its meaning.

Gibson (1979)
Origin in the study of perception by WWII pilots.
Interaction between environment and organisms.  Environment becomes meaningful in its interaction with organisms.
Objective/ Positivistic meaning
Fundamental properties:
  1. An affordance exists relative to the action capabilities of a particular actor.
  2. The existence of an affordance is independent of the actor’s ability to perceive it.
  3. An affordance does not change as the needs and goals of the actor change.
Norman (1988)
Adoption of affordances for design.
Design of an object may support its intended use. 
Suggestions or clues as to how to use the properties
Perceived and actual properties of an object.
Can be dependent on the experience, knowledge, or culture of the actor (User-centric meaning of affordance)
Can make an action difficult or easy

McGrenere and Ho (2000)
Utility vs Usability
Degrees of affordance
        Ease with which an affordance can be undertaken
     Clarity of the information that describes the existing affordance.
Kreijns et al (2002)
Social affordances
Properties of technologies that create and sustain social interactions (‘social space’).

To invite learners to act in accordance with the perceived affordance, i.e., start a task or a non-task related interaction of communication’

Conole & Dyke (2004)
Taxonomy of affordances
Standard set of taxonomies can help practitioners to make better use of ICT in education.'

Boyle and Cook (2004)

Affordances incompatible with social constructivism

Oliver (2005)
Term ‘affordance’ is confusing and used inappropriately. 
‘Claims’ would be better.

Wright and Pamchoma (2011)
Suggest discourse-based approach, like the 4 discourses on technology in learning identified by Bigum.

In Gibson’s view affordances are latent in the environment, objectively measurable and independent of the individual’s ability to recognise them, but are always in relation to the actor (Wright and Pachoma, 2011, p.249).   Its meaning was confused by the appropriation by Norman, who distinguished between ‘real affordances’ (conform to Gibson’s notion) and ‘perceived affordances’.   This shift incorporates subjective interpretation and mental activity, which were explicitly rejected by Gibson (Wright and Parchoma, 2011). 

Conole and Dyke (2004) introduced a taxonomy of affordances for educational technology.  This aims at helping practitioners when designing e-learning activities.  The affordances include:
  • Diversity
  • Communication and Collaboration
  • Reflection
  • Multimodal and Non-Linear
  • Risk –Fragility – Uncertainty
  • Immediacy
  • Monopolization (convergence)
  • Surveillance
The paper from Conole and Dyke (2004) generated an interesting discussion with a response from Boyle and Cook (2004) and a counter-response from Conole and Dyke (2004).  They argue that it’s wrong to apply the notion of affordances within a social constructivist context.  ‘Gibson’s approach is (a) not constructivist, and (b) not social’ (Boyle and Cook, 2004).  They claim that other theories of perception are more reconcilable with social constructivism.  Oliver (2005) refers to Gregory’s perception theory: ‘Gregory, for example, presents a position far easier to reconcile with constructivist perspectives. Perceptions are predictive hypotheses, based on knowledge stored from the past. ...We carry in our heads predictive hypotheses of the external world of objects and of ourselves.’ (Gregory, 1998, cited in Oliver, 2005, p. 405)

McGrenere and Ho (2000, p.7) suggest a two-dimensional interpretation of the affordance concept, ‘where one dimension describes the ease with which an affordance can be undertaken and the second dimension describes the clarity of the information that describes the existing affordance. Each of these dimensions is a continuum.’

The main critique centres on the confusing nature of the concept, because of its appropriation by different theoretical streams.  Oliver’s (2005) concludes that the term is highly problematic in both its origin and in its application.  McGrenere and Ho (2000, p.8) state that ‘as the concept of a affordances is used currently, it has marginal value because it lacks specific meaning’.

‘The term becomes shorthand, causally ‘afforded’ by the technologies and presented as obvious and inherent.  Rendering something as complex as the idea of anytime anyplace learning in this way closes it to investigation; it simply becomes a black box with an input of access, which occurs anytime or anywhere, and an output of learning. What is going on inside the black box has been obscured from view and closed from enquiry.’ (Oliver, 2005, p.252)  ‘Once prevalence and ubiquity are expanded to include and acknowledge heterogeneity, the supposed ’affordances’ start to break down and its black box begins to crack revealing a much more complex system than a mapping of affordance as input to pedagogy as output.’ (Oliver, 2005, p 254)

Oliver (2005) denounces the taxonomy of affordances, suggested by Conole and Dyke (2004).  ‘This list [taxonomy of affordances] groups together qualities attributable to the technology (e.g. multimodality and non-linearity), to its user (e.g. reflection) and to their mutual relationship (e.g. immediacy). Arguably, such a list does not conform neatly to Gibson’s, Norman’s or McGrenere & Ho’s formulation of affordance. Some elements seem consistent with the essentialised, positivist origins of affordance. Others seem entirely unrelated – reflection, for example, would be denounced by Gibson. Moreover, the idea that reflection might be a response to an offering by technology (implying some causal link) rather than an act of personal agency seems odd. ‘(Oliver, 2005, p.409)

However, Oliver (2005) acknowledges that a list might be useful, but objects to the use of the term ‘affordances’.  ‘The notion of ‘affordance’ seems ill-suited to legitimating this conglomeration of claims about perceptions, actions and characteristics. Something much broader is required. Substituting the word ‘claims’ for ‘affordances’, for example, provides a more plausible framework with no loss of the central message and no diminution of utility to practitioners.’ (Oliver, 2005, p.409)
A brief ‘tour’ of the literature provides some insight in the origins and various interpretations of the term ‘affordances’.  It seems wise to either refer specifically to the intended meaning when using it (for example, by referring to Gibson or Norman), or drop the term altogether, using more neutral terms as ‘claims’ or ‘potential’ instead.

Key references

  • Gibson, J. J. (1979) The ecological approach to visual perception (Hillsdale, NJ, Lawrence Erlbaum).
  • McGrenere, J. & Ho, W. (2000) Affordances: clarifying and evolving a concept, Proceedings of Graphics Interface, May, Montreal. Available online at: http://www.dgp.toronto.edu/~joanna/papers/gi_2000_affordances.pdf
  • Kreijns, K., Kirschner, P. A. & Jochems, W. (2002) The sociability of computer-supported collaborative learning environments, Educational Technology & Society, 5(1). Available online at: http://www.ifets.info/journals/5_1/kreijns.html (Accessed March 14, 2012)
  • Oliver, M. (2005) ‘The Problem with Affordance’, E-Learning and Digital Media, 2(4), pp. 402–413.
  • Wright, S. and Parchoma, G. (2011) ‘Technologies for Learning? An Actor-Network Theory Critique of “Affordances” in Research on Mobile Learning’, Research in Learning Technology, 19(3), pp. 247–258.
  • Categorization of Affordances, http://acad88.sahs.uth.tmc.edu/courses/hi6301/affordance.html

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10 March 2012

Improving Physics Education in Cambodia: Beyond the Workshop

Last week we’ve been organizing a workshop on physics education for lower secondary teacher trainers in Cambodia at the regional teacher training centre in Kandal province.  All Cambodian physics teacher trainers were present.  That makes around 20 people.  The workshop lasted 5 days.   Each day we discussed a different part from the curriculum.  There were days we focused on sound, mechanics, pressure, optics and electricity and magnetism.  The last day participants collaboratively made a lesson plan using materials they’d learned.   There was a strong emphasis on low-cost experiments, but there’s also attention for simulations and animations, and student-centred approaches.

The underlying concept of the workshop – and actually the whole programme – is the TPACK concept (Mishra and Koehler,2006; Koehler and Mishra, 2007; Abbitt, 2011), an extension of Shulman’s idea of pedagogical content knowledge, this is knowledge of pedagogy that is applicable to the teaching of specific content.  

Read further here (new blog address)
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15 February 2012

#H807 case-studies in elearning innovation (4): Use of e-portfolios and blogging in Teacher Education

This case study investigates the introduction of e-portfolios in three teacher education programmes at the University of Wolverhampton.  PebblePAD (http://www.pebblepad.co.uk) was used as e-portfolio system.

The case study discusses well the pedagogical principles that underlie the adoption:
-       Making teacher education more authentic;
-       Encouraging deeper engagement with the course material by stimulating discussing observation underpinned by theoretical understanding.
-       Stimulating learner ownership and control.
-       Develop critical thinking skills, underpinned  by a 'dialogic' approach 
-       Developing a Community of Practice (Lave & Wenger), that continues to be active beyond graduation.
-       Gibbs/ Kolb reflective cycle.  This is a series of writing and thinking frames to prompt and encourage deeper levels of learning and meta-learning.
-       Patchwork text approach.  This focuses on developing shared short formative writing into summative pieces.
-       Personal Learning Environment (rather than a mere content repository).

The author describes the introduction as an astounding success.  Success factors include:

-       Training and support for staff and students.
-       E-mentoring system for ongoing support (system of graduated students supporting subsequent student cohorts)
-       Introduction was based on sound pedagogical principles.
-       Early online socialization
-       Expectation that reflection and analysis will continue beyond the classroom.
-       Providing a safe environment for students to share thoughts.

“Taking an approach which supports confidence and esteem building, early writing, rapid feedback moving into writing/ reflective communities of practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991, Wenger, 2005) is hugely beneficial and supports meta-learning.”

There are drawbacks as well and the author honestly describes her feelings of isolation and frustration that befell her during the pilot programme.  She found that e-portfolios weren’t regarded as seriously as other innovations by colleagues.  “False dichotomies” were created by school directives such as content delivery vs. dialogic approach, VLE vs. E-portfolios that divided many staff and making that the e-portfolios were often considered as an add-on rather than integral to learning.  The author found support in professional communities, leading to an invitation to contribute to a book on e-portfolios.

I found this the case study the most instructive of the four, because of the attention for the learner experience, the honest description of drawbacks and the clear links between the technology and the elements of learning theory on which the adoption of new technology was based.
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