September 4, 2017

eLearning is all about learner autonomy and agency, differentiation and self-paced learning. It can not happen in a classroom where you control what is going on and when it is happening.

Did you have a minor freak-out when you read “self-paced learning”? In the back of your mind, you know that in most lessons, the top learners get bored, while the weaker students get lost. Our system is set up to cater for the middle group.

How will technology and especially personal devices change this?

Imagine dissecting a frog in the Life Sciences class. You could demonstrate it, or show learners a video of how to do the dissection, treating everybody the same. Or you could give learners written instructions as well as the a link to the video as resources. Some students will find they work better from the written instructions while others might watch the video once and be able to do the dissection. Another student might conclude that he want to pause and rewind or look at the video multiple times while doing the dissection. You can take it a step further and just give them the frog and their tablet and leave it to them to find a source that explains how to do the dissection.

So what does this have to do with control? If you leave it to them to find their own instructions, they will find some that do it differently from how you would do it. You won’t be able just to say, “you’re at step 5 so this is what you do next…”, since you are no longer the sole source of information.

This is an example of real differentiation. Nobody is kept waiting until the last person got the hang of it, but there is the opportunity for the student who struggle to get the instructions multiple times.

My subject, mathematics, leans itself towards revision. At the beginning of each chapter, we normally have a lesson where we revise last years work. I hate these lessons. Half the class can remember everything, so they sleep, the other half can remember nothing so we try to cram three weeks worth of work into 45 minutes.
This year I have tried something new. All my revision lessons now consist of a worksheet roughly on the previous year’s level, as well as the powerpoint presentation I use the past year and some video clips with explanations and worked examples. (Either from youtube or screencasts that I made myself) The only instruction is that they have to finish the worksheet by the end of the lesson. The one who remembers everything will start immediately and might not need to make use of any of the resources. The rest use the revision resource they prefer as and when they need it.  If the supporting resources do not have the answer they require, they can still ask their friends or me.

Differentiation can also be in the format of assignments. If learners have to do a research project on their ancestors, leave it to the students to decide if they want to do a paper project, make a video, create a website or a poster. As long as it contains all the information the you required, anything goes.
If you watched the video by Catlin Tucker in the post about a authentic audience, you would be familiar with her concept of “Passion blogs”. When she tried blogging with her class at  first, she did not know what topic to give them, until she realised that she does not need to provide a list of topics, each learner can blog about something they feel passionate about. This let them take ownership of their work. Giving learners a voice in their learning is paramount in teaching them responsibility for their own learning and create life-long learners. But it is quite a novel experience for the teacher.

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