Friday, March 5, 2010

Inspiring learners

A little bit of background to this one...

I work full time in a traditional brick university... but I'm also lucky enough to get to work part-time for the Open University, both as an Associate Lecturer and as a Moderator on a couple of their short courses.  One of the latter is T189 - Digital Photography: Creating and sharing better images.  Now, for this fully online course, students work for 10 weeks creating and sharing their images using a Flickr-esque OU system called 'OpenStudio'.  They get used to posting images, commenting on them and for those that engage with the course, there's a real sense of community - even though the students never actually meet in person.  What there also is, every single presentation of the course, is the spontaneous student-created groups on Flickr (just do a quick search on Flickr for T189 Groups and you'll find our students soon enough!).  And what I love more than anything is that long after the course has finished, they're still there.  Taking their photographs.  Sharing their brilliant images.  Constructively discussing and commenting.  Setting each other challenges to develop their skills and maintain their interest.  It really is just the most amazing thing to see and I love that years after the course - and just a 10 week course at that - the students are still there.  Still learning.  Still supporting.  Still creating.  For me, it exemplifies what learning can and should be.  The seed was planted and given just the right amount of nourishment to grow into the future.

Anyway, take a look at this.  These brilliant former T189 students have gone and set up their first online exhibition:

"After taking part in the Open University Course: "T189 Digital Photography: creating and sharing better images" course first run in May 2007 a number of the students have continued to share images through a Flickr group. 
In late 2009 we realised that between us we had started to build up a collection of photographs that firstly we are quite proud of and secondly that we'd like to share with a wider audience. 
Thus we conceived the idea of a joint exhibition of our work. In the spirit of the course, which is run on-line, the we decided that the exhibition should also take the form of a website and this is it. Thank you for taking the time to visit. We hope you enjoy it."

Isn't that just the most superb thing?  This is what happens when learning extends beyond targets, quotas, learning outcomes and assessment.  Deep, long lasting engagement.  I feel extremely fortunate to have a connection with such an amazing group of students.  All power to them!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Oh look... more fingers in the educational pie...

Just seen this little article in The Guardian...

Why David Cameron's schools policy is out of date | Politics | The Guardian:

"We can stop worrying about how to improve schools. It's simple, according to David Cameron. It's a good school if it's got a uniform, and children get up when an adult walks into the room, and teachers set and teach by ability. That clear? Good. But try telling Sean O'Regan that all good schools have uniforms. He runs Edith Neville primary school, with one of the most deprived intakes in London. Its results are brilliant, Ofsted calls it an outstanding school, and it has no uniform. 'People think a uniform is a shortcut to raising standards of behaviour,' O'Regan says, 'but it is not.'

School uniforms are a British obsession. In most of Europe and America, they don't bother. It always seems to be the apostles of economic liberalism who are keenest to dictate every inch of what our children wear. I'm not saying uniforms are always wrong. I've met heads who make good use of them. It's ignorant to make a simple rule out of it. The same applies to teaching by ability. There's a lot to be said for setting – placing children in ability groups for different subjects – though much less for streaming."

When, when, when will politics get its ugly, opinionated, ignorant backside out of learning? Actually, it often seems that the moment something goes mainstream - a practice that kinda worked in a particular context, extrapolated beyond all reason - dogma and ill-informed dictate overturn good intention.  Reminds me of this xkcd cartoon:

What follows is my random musing.  Feel free to switch off at this point, or go visit some more of those fab xkcd cartoons if you'd rather!   :o)

Anyway, it often seems to me that politicians can't seem to steer away from an inherent belief that education is something which must be done to others.  "Sit still!!  Stand when an adult enters the room.  Wear that tie.  STRAIGHTEN THAT TIE!!!!! 6 sixes are 36, 7 sixes are 42..."

Real learning seems incidental or sidelined.   Provided that predefined 'learning outcomes' and targets are achieved, who cares what really went on in that learner's head, huh?  I'm also bothered by the idea of setting by ability as if ability remained static.  As if ability was measured by volume.  That somehow you're given a certain amount in this life.  We'll teach to that ability, no more and no less.  Just doesn't make sense to me that 'ability' is a label which is so happily bandied about.  Label this child as 'gifted',  that child as 'weak'.  No get out of jail.  No chance of parole.  You are the ability you're allotted.

Education = Extrinsic motivation, carrot and stick, rules and requirements
Learning = Intrinsic motivation, enjoyment, creativity, expansion, curiosity etc...

How much easier to meddle with the former.  How much damage to inflict on the potential of the latter?  Today's musing is done.  More pondering later no doubt!

PS  They don't wear uniforms at my kids' school either.  Shocker, huh?  :o)
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