8 April 2013

Which way back to the Drawing Board? - Part 2

MyPortfolio is the tip of the iceberg! Upon establishing how my involvement with MyPortfolio developed, I now want to attempt and take stock of how it has impacted my understanding of education in the New Zealand context (and beyond?), my personal and professional growth, my interest in Professional Learning  and generally speaking my own Learning. There is a lot in my kete, and it is pretty messy...

Where am I now? 
Being a MyPortfolio trainer has allowed me to fill many gaps in my knowledge and understanding of teaching and learning (not an easy thing to admit but my reality nonetheless...)

- an ePortfolio makes the learning process visible to whom it matters most: the user
- an ePortfolio is user centred
- it helps develop a sense of individual purpose, self direction, achievement, over time
- it provides a space to gather all sorts of information in a same place: links, images,  files etc which are either gleaned in different places or at different stages of development (drafts, notes, productions...)
- it allows to share this information, files, reflections with others and invite their input.  Its online nature lets you connect with others and that contribute to collaboration.
- it supports a reflective approach to learning: through revisiting things in one place it allows the user to step back and think about what s/he is doing
- it stores work that is in progress and keeps it when investigation for more/different info is taking place
- its ongoing use favors:
    > the development of digital competences (use of webtools, effective research, file/resource management, content creation, use of tags, understanding attribution, creative commons, leaving comments and feedback, participating in an online community and associated behaviours, digital footprint... _
    > exploration and curiosity!
An ePortfolio approach (MyPortfolio use) supports the intent and vision of the NZC. 
An ePortfolio approach supports a socio-constructivist pedagogy, authentic learning based on learners' experiences,  group work, trial and error,  learning by doing, where the learner takes responsibility for their own work: an education is not something that one receives, it is something one acquires.
So that is that in a nutshell for the teaching-learning"ah ah" moments.

Here are some of my learning and some of the observations I have made while training teachers to use MyPortfolio:

- Always start by having the group talk about the "Why?" and work back to "How",  massaging in "supporting questions" if/when necessary.
- Have plenty of examples: teachers like to see what it looks like! But dont show them all at once, insert them when the need arises  (And throw in some whizzy tools!)
- Make sure there is a final product: teachers want to be able to have something to show for for their time involvement (in this case a first page, with a few artefacts and a journal entry shared to a friend or to a group for feedback)
- One size does not fit all! Skills, interests, purpose, pre knowledge, contexts, infrastructures are different everywhere! This was particularly a hard one to get around with the time constraint (90 min) the content (presenting the space as a reflective tool) the format (guided discovery) of the Taster Sessions. For half day workshops all of this was extended and the day workshops enabled a lot more conversation and exchange sometimes around the Why but mainly around the How! (This is the object of a concluding remark to follow)
eg: I went over time often, and no one ever rushed out ;-) ! That is my very own measure of the willingness to engage all the teachers I have worked with so far have effectively displayed!  I discovered that teachers did not always see the reflection as the primary buy in, so I weaved it in after presenting the group function (teachers primarily interested in seeing how they and their students communicate on this space for assessment purpose for instance). I saw with my own eyes
there is a huge discrepancy in the level of skills required to perform a range of basic steps on a computer which at times hindered the guided discovery approach.  The least skilled the least likely to work within a small group thus the need for me to take time during the training to show one skill (eg: embed external media) to one person and this person teaches others during the session.
- emphasis is put on the importance to start with a small concrete step and build on it, to be strategic about it and start with the end (the why!) in mind. And if necessary to spend more time on the why. 
- Stepping into the eportfolio world ("What I can do" rather than "what I know") both students and teachers are learners need to own their criteria for success. Hence a departure from traditional practice and process for teachers and their students...

Following this immediately by a list of assumptions born from observations that I can not back with hard evidence but that are surely feeding my interrogations!  (Yet to support some of these generic observations you may want to cast an eye on Cathy Wylie's Secondary schools in 2012 Main findings from the NZCER national survey ).

- Use of ICTs is developing. Is it a part of a school strategy? Is there evidence of it effecting students' learning in any given school? Is there any supporting PD?
- How do teachers move from being internet consumers (the model students get) to content creators?
- Equipment and internet access vary a lot from one school to another one learner to another. What to do to lessen the divide?
- Words used to describe actions are not always accurate (eg: I am an early adopter= I have an eportfolio account, we are implementing = we have played around myportfolio at department level, our students create content = they have shown me their powerpoint made from the template I gave them, my principal wants us to use myportfolio across the school= my principal is justifying allowing the 1/2 day PD, I follow a teacher as inquiry cycle to inform my teaching=  my professional goal is to implement level 3 ncea etc.)
How to ensure terminology use describes a reality?
- Strong focus on NCEA and assessments load: is this concealing at times the teaching and learning changes brought in by some of the AS (eg: .3 in the Learning Languages area)?
- The idea of collaborating across schools is welcome but effectively not done that much. How to move to from a "sharing resources" culture to "sharing experiences and big ideas"?
- Online discussion forums to ask questions are used tepidly (the groups started in myportfolio training are not used,  many myportfolio users contact me via direct message rather than post a question on a forum...) Which is a vastly different from the rich conversations and exchanges I witness on say Twitter (eg: #edchatnz) (totally voluntary) or through dedicated NZ educators forums (eg: VLN) where the conversations are either brought on or kept going by dedicated facilitators.
(Tom Whitby in this recent blogpost summed up eloquently and aptly what I merely sensed:
"There is now a new gap in education. In a system riddled with too many gaps, this is not good news. Technology and social media specifically have provided tools that enable educators to connect, communicate collaborate and create. That ability makes a difference in individuals. It enables reflection and relevance. It is also creating two groups of educators, the connected, and the unconnected. The discussions of the connected seem to be focused on the future and moving toward it. The discussions of the unconnected seem to be steeped in the past with little or very slow-moving forward movement." This is a different conversation and blogpost altogether but it still matters as an eportfolio/myportfolio use hinges on the same principles.
-  How to move from Professional Learning to be considered as something that ought to be provided/received to something to go and get? 

Last but not least of my learning from being a MyPortfolio trainer and involved in the French Teachers' Community:

- Digital literacies play a more and more important role: digital competences and skills need some sort of recognition
- There is a need for a strategic approach to elearning in every school, developed from the Why? and the pedagogy it aims to support/enhance, with criteria for success bought it worked towards by all staff and
- Individual Professional elearning needs (How?) to be identified from professional learning goals which are in line with the school strategy
- Ongoing Professional development plans need to support the strategy.
- All of the above is necessary for the teachers to engage fully and meaningfully, in support of  personal and professional motivation,  into revisiting their pedagogy, their skills in a supportive environment.

Phew... yes I have learnt a lot.
With no community support budget for MyPortfolio as it stands, plenty of individual teachers wanting to know more but have no access to PD budget, heaps of colleagues who have started and wonder about the next step, what am I going to do with all this?


  1. "authentic learning based on learners' experiences, group work, trial and error, learning by doing, where the learner takes responsibility for their own work: an education is not something that one receives, it is something one acquires." It's so good for me to read your comments as they support me in my conviction that I'm moving in the right direction by trying to foster autonomy in my Y11 students. The majority are feeling as though the rug was pulled out from under their feet so they'll need a lot of support in this journey. I still think it's the only worthwhile one.

  2. 'the need for me to take time during the training to show one skill (eg: embed external media) to one person and this person teaches others during the session.' Yes yes yes. This is what's been happening with our learners so far. Someone asks how to do something and if I know I tell them and get them to help others once they've mastered it. Really great collaboration. If we don't know then we try to find out by trial and error. There will no doubt be lots of neater, more direct ways of doing things but we usually end up with something that works.

  3. Yep, euphemism and fudging. Very familiar with this. 'Window dressing' is another term that comes to mind, along with 'compliance'.

  4. 'How to move to from a "sharing resources" culture to "sharing experiences and big ideas"?' Absolutely. I think teachers rely too much on resources in order to keep the students busy and give them the impression that they're learning whereas quite often the activities are mechanical and neither thought-provoking or engaging. I'd really like to get onto exchanging (on a blog, say) with students in France (on a voluntary basis, to motivate students who aren't turned on by what else is on offer. Some would regard it as too far from the NCEA objective but I'm sure we could marry the two. If only I could convince them that learning is about more that following instructions and doing gap-filling exercises. They automatically lunge for the option that keeps them busy with the least effort. It'll be a hard habit to break.

    1. This exchange of resources is a measure of "being productive",(busy with the least effort?) of showing for the time you have spent in a workshop for instance. It does not mean you have actually made any progress in your understanding but it makes it "worthwhile". I am also surprised that often people are not prepared to be challenged, they attend something to be comforted (for a better word) that what they are doing is "right". Lesley has a good technique that she uses when working with colleagues, where they work backwards from the resource (the crutch) and she weaves in the new concepts, the reflection. You have a big task ahead of you to change the mindset of students who are well into that way of doing, which they have "inherited". You refer often to the openness of mind of the younger ones, is it a matter again of "working with the willing" just as when you were advising? In saying that I know you...

  5. 'The discussions of the connected seem to be focused on the future and moving toward it. The discussions of the unconnected seem to be steeped in the past with little or very slow-moving forward movement.' It's very easy to feel out on a limb when you're working in an essentially unconnected environment. You have to come home for a fix of connection. I wonder how much one can expect to shift colleagues' thinking in this regard. Just as well my HOD is on my wavelength.

    1. With the big ouh ah about bullying etc it is likely that schools choose to remain unconnected spaces for some time to come. It does sound crazy though. What if students and teachers were connected whenever wherever and have a range of clear self established reasons for being connected (educational, relational, hobby etc) then the behaviours would be of a different nature. If schools are not places where digital competence and citizenship are practised authentically then of course this prohibition, like any prohibition leads to excess and abuse. What pains me in this latest law proposal about online bullying is that nowhere it states that there should be education.

  6. 'How to move from Professional Learning to be considered as something that ought to be provided/received to something to go and get?' Exactly, and you can see how the mindset of the teachers affects (or infects) that of the students. Being connected, although it's part of young people's lives, isn't automatically associated with education. I shared Lesley's NY Times article on creating your own job with my Year 11s. The result is that they now feel even more stressed as they try to come to terms with what education really means. I'm not sure whether they feel more short-changed by their previous teachers or by me. I suspect the latter at the moment!! Rome wasn't built in a day!

  7. What are you going to do with all this? Hang in there. I hope that your visit to Columba will provide further food for reflection. We'll certainly have plenty of questions for you. Jacqueline and I will be on hand to see if we can fine-tune the approach a bit before you arrive. When people are confronted with something completely new they often don't have any good questions to ask but if they've had some degree of familiarity with the tool 'en amont' then they can prepare themselves better for your PD sessions.

    1. Yep I just don't know what to do. I do look forward to working with you I always enjoy the questions and the challenges and the good ol'ah ah moments! I have a few ideas as you can read in the next post that I am investigating. It won't come to me, I need to go get it, and as I said in these couple of post titles, I just don't know the way forward. Yet!

  8. Salut, vous deux!
    I’ve enjoyed reading all your postings and you have sparked lots of ideas, wonderings and suggestions.
    But first I need to check I can post – à bientôt


Let's go Back to the Drawing Board!