The Learning Designer is a “tool that helps you plan your teaching” (Kennedy, E. 2016) by asking the teacher to think about the learning experiences which will help the learners achieve the pre-planned learning outcomes.
This is an online tool which helps design the activities for a particular lesson or set of lessons. Some information must be inputted in the beginning to make the lesson more focused, e.g.: the lesson title, topic, description, aims, outcomes, the number of learners involved and the duration of the lesson.
The learning outcome can also be linked to Bloom’s Taxonomy.
After that, a set of learning activities must be included in the designer. These must include a name, the type of activity and the type of learning experiences the learners will be having.
The learning types include: Read, Watch and Listen; Collaborate; Discuss; Investigate; Practice; and Produce. (These learning types are very closely linked with the Future Classroom Zones.)
The activities must also be described in this section and any resources needed must be linked here.
Once all the activities are inputted, the total time needed for the activities can be viewed. One can arrange accordingly if the time allocated for the activities is too little or too much. The proportion of different types of activities can also be seen and modified accordingly.
Once everything is set the design can be saved and exported and it can also be shared with other people.
Throughout this module we were given many new insights on various topics including digital citizenship, blended learning, collaborative learning and active learning. The SAMR was also an effective tool which we discussed and reflected upon.
All these topics have given me a new perspective on how to look at the teaching and learning process where technology is involved.
Hopefully, the idea of the FCL will become a reality even in Malta and the school I teach in. This would be ideal because the physical setting would help in the delivery of the lesson in a new and innovative way. However, I will not wait until this happens in order to change my teaching style. Even though the physical setting is very important when one wants to adopt new strategies, it is not something that should hold me back from doing so.
Now that I know more about the SAMR model, I can make sure that technology is not used just as a ‘Substitution’ tool, and move more towards the ‘Redefinition’ in which the learners produce tasks inconceivable without technology.
The TPACK model is also very important when changing the way we view our teaching. It provides 3 interlocking strands – the Pedagogy, the Content and the Technology. Technology should make the pedagogy easier and the understanding of the content more attainable.
Having gone in more depth about blended learning, I believe that the learning experience can become more positive if the learners are given time to do research in order to come prepared to school. Giving them tasks to complete at home (in an asynchronous manner) helps the learners become more independent in their learning. At school we can then discuss the results. For this type of activity, the learners can form a circle in which they are more comfortable talking and sharing their ideas (‘Investigate’ and Present’ zone).
Having active learners in class is also crucial. Learners learn by doing as well as by associating. Therefore, they should be given the time and space to do so, both alone and in a group, while the teacher guides them (‘Develop’ zone).
Collaborating between peers is a very good way in which learners can come up with an idea, discuss it and make a plan to carry it out. The teacher should give opportunities to the learners to do so in a controlled environment (‘Create’ and ‘Exchange’ zone).
The classroom can take various forms even though the physical environment is that of a “traditional” classroom. What must change is the mentality by which we teach.
Biggs, J. (1999), “What the student does: teaching for enhanced learning”, Higher Education Research & Development.
The Future Classroom concept brings about many changes. These changes are crucial if we want to make sure that we keep abreast with new concepts and technologies which are available in this day and age.
There are various implications which one must take note of in order to change the pedagogy used in the classroom . Apart from taking note of the physical environment in which we teach, “teachers need to change to embrace where children learn, what they learn and the tasks they undertake” (Files.eun.org, 2017).
Technology gives a helping hand in teaching – Using technology, not for the sake of using it, but in order to help teach a concept or a skill, is what this is all about.
Giving learners the opportunity to research on their own – Learners must be in control of their learning and use devices to become active participants in their learning experience.
Using technology to gather feedback – Feedback of what the learners have learnt during the session can also be given through different digital devices and not ONLY through the use of copybooks or worksheets. We need to move away from giving the learners only written tasks and move towards an environment in which evidence can be collected from other work.
The seating arrangement needs to change – Having a classroom with rows of learners sitting behind each other is not conducive to collaboration or active learning. Even though this arrangement is practical when we want the learners to listen to us, this is not what we want all the time. There are times in which the learners must listen and absorb, but this should not be the majority of the time in class.
Where the teacher stands makes a big difference – A teacher who wants to communicate with his/her learners does not sit or stand at the front of the class, but moves around and engages the learners in conversation.
Preparing activities which enhance collaborative work – Learners should not be expected to know how to work in a group. They should be trained. This can only be done with the help of activities prepared beforehand by the teacher in which the learners are given the skills needed to collaborate.
Learning beyond the school – What is crucial is that the learners are given tasks in which they learn useful skills which for everyday life beyond school. 21st century skills are very important and the learners should be given opportunities to gain them.
All these changes will only occur effectively if “teachers … rethink their current practice and consider how they can maximise the potential of their students” (Files.eun.org, 2017)
The ‘Future Learning Classroom’ is a recent concept which “challeng[es] visitors to rethink the role of pedagogy, technology and design in their classrooms” (Fcl.eun.org, 2016). Six learning zones are identified in this concept and each zone is created with a specific target in mind which supports different learning styles.
Investigate – In this zone the learners are asked to investigate for themselves. Through inquiry-based learning, learners can work together to come up with different ideas and strategies. Critical thinking skills and problem solving skills can be adopted in this zone.
Create – In this zone the learners are asked to plan, design and produce a piece of work. Learners use their knowledge to create real-life developments. This zone allows for ownership and showcasing of work, which can help the learners become more independent in their learning.
Present – In this zone learners are given the opportunity to present and deliver their work and at the same time receive feedback which can help them improve. Learning to share and communicate their ideas is a key factor in this zone which allows the learners time to communicate among themselves.
Interact – In this zone learners can interact between themselves as well as with the teacher. The learners are given an active role in this zone, which might seem “traditional” but which is very important for the learners’ active engagement.
Exchange – In this zone learners collaborate and work in teams to investigate, create and present a project. Brainstorming is crucial here, as the learners need to communicate and share their ideas.
Develop – In this zone the learners are free to work independently and self-reflect on what they have achieved. This informal environment helps the learners work more freely and in a comfortable setting.
21st century skills are put forward in this environment and given a lot of importance, both by the setting of the Future Classroom space as well as in the way that this theory was developed.
Technology can be an enabler of active learning in the classroom. The use of an active learning classroom very beneficial, both for the learners and the teacher. “Active learning classrooms … are student-centered, technology-rich classrooms [which] are easily identified with their large student tables and moveable seating designed to facilitate and promote active learning” (Cei.umn.edu, 2019).
I agree with the idea of an active learning classroom for a number of reasons, some of which include:
The teacher in the classroom interacting with the learners, which will enable the teacher to give a helping hand to the learners in class while they are on task.
In an active learning classroom, the learners are engaged all the time with both their peers and the teacher. This helps them learn social skills in addition to the lesson’s content.
The teacher is also encouraged to be more effective when it comes to thinking of different ways in which a lesson can be developed and delivered. Space and resources are crucial when implementing such an environment.
However, one must keep in mind that, while such an environment is very attractive, many of these objectives are also achievable in a traditional classroom; all one needs is a little bit of imagination and motivation to make some changes in the day-to-day running of the class.
Active learning refers to a classroom environment in which the learners are active in their learning experience.
‘Constructivism’ is the theory behind active learning. This theory revolves around the “fact that learners construct or build their own understanding” (Cambridgeinternational.org, 2019). Learners come to school with a lot of knowledge about different subjects and it is the teachers’ job to make sure that they are given opportunities to replace or adapt this knowledge to a deeper understanding.
Apart from that, the theory of ‘Social Constructivism’ states that learning cannot take place if there is no interaction between the learners and other individuals. Vygotsky focused his studies on the zone of proximal development (ZDP) which shows how much more a learner can achieve when moving from working on his own to working with those around him.
Rousseau also conducted research on the idea that learning should be relevant to the learners’ life experiences and that learning experiences should be attached to a meaningful environment in order to obtain maximum retention. He also puts forward the idea that learning should be age-appropriate, even though he understood that the development level of a learner is not always at par with his age.
Why adopt active learning in the classroom?
Learners understand better what they are learning, therefore they can retain it more.
Learners can adapt the theories learnt to everyday situations, since they understood them better.
Active learners become autonomous learners.
Different learners holding different learning patterns are able to follow the lessons.
Active learning also goes hand-in-hand with Bloom’s Taxonomy.
Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey created a chart which shows that the difference between personalisation, differentiation and individualisation lies in the shift in focus from the teacher to the learners. Even though these three approaches are different from one another, I believe that, depending on the time and activity at hand, all of them are important and beneficial to the learners.
Sometimes it is important for the teacher to group the learners together as a class and allow time for the class to receive instructions as a whole (Traditional Method).
At times it is also important for the teacher to group learners according to their learning abilities and use different teaching strategies to make sure that all the learners are improving their personal knowledge in a particular topic (Differentiation).
Other times yet, the teacher needs to let the learners explore on their own and get involved only to guide them and facilitate their learning experience (Personalisation).
On other occasions, the teacher needs to look at the learners as individuals and help one learner at a time where s/he is having difficulties (Individualisation).
After doing research on these three approaches, I decided to plan a Maltese comprehension lesson where I incorporate all these approaches. The text is a fictional one involving Mars.
Step 1: The learners are asked to watch a video about Mars either on the class blog or on their tablets at home: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WrMo1ohW3Iw. The learners can be asked to form a mindmap on the SimpleMind app to show that they watched the video and familiarised themselves with the concept.
Step 2: The next day, a class discussion is organised where the learners are asked if they watched the video at home and asked some questions about it.
Step 3: They are then given the comprehension text. As a differentiation strategy, three different texts will be provided – the main stream text, an adapted text (on level 1) and another adapted text for the foreigners in class. The learners are asked to read the text on their own for some time.
Step 4: The learners are then grouped according to their levels, asked to read the text on their own at first and then together as a group and to go through the given tasks, which will also be differentiated.
Step 5: The learners are then given the time to personalise their learning by choosing which question they want to answer as a conclusion. Questions vary and the learners can choose to draw a picture, write a short paragraph, give the answer orally or find some information on their tablets. In this way, all the learners are engaged in a task but they are free to choose the modality they prefer when delivering the work.
I am also trying to use personalisation in my own learning. During this course I try and find ways which are beneficial to me in order to motivate myself and succeed in my studies. What I try to do is follow some simple steps which aid my learning experience.
When we are assigned a task, I take the time to read the title carefully and highlight key words which I need to learn about. After that I start doing some research, which I prefer to carry out on websites and using images rather than videos. The reason is that I tend to remember something I learnt better when I read it rather than listen to it (even in a video). After reading the information, I write my own notes on the subject and then start writing my posts and adding videos. Once done, my husband helps me by proofreading the posts.
I also try and make the course more relevant to me by finding ways to implement the subjects I research during my teaching. I also try to adapt my teaching and incorporate 21st century skills to give my learners a better learning experience.
Personalised learning “refers to a diverse variety of educational programs, learning experiences, instructional approaches, and academic-support strategies that are intended to address the distinct learning needs, interests, aspirations, or cultural backgrounds of individual students” (Partnership, 2015).
“We need to give students a more individualised curriculum and ensure that students get what they need, when they need it and how they need it” (YouTube, 2015). In my opinion this is the basis of personalised learning and it would be great if we could adopt this method in our classroom.
Some examples of how personalised learning looks like:
Collaborative learning – small groups of children working together on their given tasks, with each group having a different task.
Different modalities – different learners use different modalities to work on the concepts being taught.
Self-assessment and personal goals – each learner should be empowered to self-assess his/her work using a given checklist.
Digital tools in learning – each learner should be allowed the time to use the digital devices to work at their own pace.
Adapted and alternate work – each learner should be given the time to work on their own adapted or alternate work according to their level of attainment.
In theory, these are all good practices. However, there are various barriers which we must overcome to move towards this kind of teaching. For example, the teacher must be well prepared to follow this kind of system. Remote preparation is the key to success here, which includes the preparation of different resources and prompts.
Moreover, according to Larry Ferlazzo, “realistic teachers know that any instructional strategy will only be effective if students are willing to do the work” (2015). I cannot help but agree with this statement as, for this kind of system to work, learners must be empowered and given the responsibility of their own learning ; they must be intrinsically motivated to stay on the task, even if the teacher is not physically present all the time.
While I was browsing through some eTwinning projects, an idea came to mind.
Project Title: Teddy goes sight seeing
Description: While on a school outing, learners will take a soft toy with them. During the outing the learners are asked to take photos of the soft toy, which they will then have to caption in class. They will also need to mention interesting facts about the visiting sight. Once ready, these photos will be sent through the eTwinning portal to the partnering school and the soft toys will subsequently be exchanged by mail and go to the other country.
Objective: The learners will be practicing writing captions and postcards in English. They will also be revising the Social Studies facts they learnt about Malta and learning about different sites from the home country of their partners.
Part 1 – Getting to know each other – Learners can create an avatar to share something about themselves with their partners.
Part 2 – Both schools will go on outings with their soft toy. A plan is designed so that each school will send out their soft toy and get one in return. Learners will then be asked to take the photos and write captions. They will also send a postcard along with the soft toy.
Part 3 – When both schools have received the exchanged soft toy, a Skype call can be organised between the schools.
An online community is “a group of people with common interests who use the Internet (web sites, email, instant messaging, etc) to communicate, work together and pursue their interests over time” (LeFever, L. 2003).
During this week’s activities I became more familiar with the European Schoolnet Community and the Microsoft Educator Community. Both communities offer different courses for educators who wish to further develop their skills on different aspects of their teaching profession.
Another online community is the eTwinning community. Although I had previously done some projects on the eTwinning platform, I was not aware that this community offers the chance to educators to enroll in online courses as well.
Being part of an online community has different benefits, both for educators and learners, including:
Discussion – where educators are given the opportunity to discuss with their peers, both local and worldwide, and get exposed to different points of views on several topics taught in class.
Collaboration – where educators can collaborate together and plan interesting activities for the learners in class.
Insight – where educators gain a better understanding of different strategies used in different countries.
Networking – where educators are able to meet new people, create new partnerships and make friends. When I was in Prague for an eTwinning seminar, I had an enriching experience both as an educator as well as an individual and still communicate regularly with some of the people I met.
Learners are given different opportunities when their educators are involved in an online community, such as:
Meeting other learners in a safe and controlled environment, where they learn new things from other learners, which can be very beneficial.
Collaborating with other learners online and through digital tools.
Using digital competences in a real-life environment. In this way they can also learn to become responsible digital citizens as they know that they are sending a message or e-mail to a real person and might even get a reply.
Peer-review, where learners can have a fun and interesting experience receiving work and feedback from international learners who they have never met.
Benefiting from the different geographical aspects and the diversity in ages, beliefs and backgrounds.