Monday, July 11, 2005

Personalised Learning Case Study

Case Study of Personalised Learning through an e-Learning Strategy

Mr Dan Buckley
Cambridge Education

(Published in the Alite best practice publication 2005)

THE Vision 2020 vision for education in the future is a compelling one and I have heard a number of derivative predictions and equally compelling ideas, as I’m sure you have over the past year.
Actually transforming a school to meet the aspirations of such a vision is a completely different matter. Clearly, the vision and implementation must be tailored to the specific contextual constraints of the school and, in the absence of state-led abandonment, must also continue with some of the processes it aims to replace.
In this paper I will describe the approach I took when implementing such a vision. The elements of the process will, no doubt, be familiar but, like a cocktail, the relevance lies within the combination. Clearly, there is no ‘best’ cocktail but with creativity, e-learning, a skill based curriculum, student empowerment and leadership, learning networks and inclusion as ingredients, I will argue, the resulting learning cocktail is a potent one for the future.
Analogy exhausted, I don’t want this paper simply to be a vision of learning in the future categorised and described in a slightly different way from others. I want to be pragmatic about how we begin to address the large scale transformation of learning which I am convinced has to happen. Clearly before embarking on such a transformation you need to make sure that the bare bones of your vision are secure.
A Vision of What it May be Like to Be a Learner in 2020
Your mobile device can be used to take video or just photos, edit, compose and record music, email, surf the Internet - and every student will have one. Hands-free versions may use special glasses that allow you to see a virtual screen in front of you or possibly 3D projections. The device is integral to your life and most of your learning, leisure and communication involves its use in some form or another.
Your learning begins in a very structured way, concentrating on skills development. Mentors, teachers and parents will determine priorities and set your direction but, as you become older, it becomes the skills framework that is managed, the content, knowledge base and context is increasingly determined by you, or other teams of learners, who need to employ your skills or provide you with specific training.
Most learning will be problem-based and, as you embark on a project, your mobile device allows you to research, build up an advice network, produce work using a range of media and assess your development. Such assessments will be added directly to your ongoing bank of data, which will draw from teacher’s entries of their observations, team members’ assessment, online assessment and distance mentor assessment. Key elements of your online record of achievement will be derived from your ability to offer guidance and assessment to other students. All learning will be through collaborative networks of one form or another. Key skills, specific skills and behaviours will form the focus for your work and your assessment.
As you work through your learning, your assessment database will alert you to certain weaknesses and propose routes you could take to correct these. The database could either inform the school when you are owed the presentation of a certificate or it could provide details of the stage you have reached at a given date or age.
On leaving school your learning continues in the same way but many of the tasks you will be solving will originate from your workplace. Your qualifications can be interrogated by an employer simply by having selective access to your assessment data bank or by seeing the evidence files you will have developed through your project work. Your learning networks will contain less face-to-face working but the processes will not differ greatly. In fact, you will be used to working within the confines set by a given company as, for all of your secondary school years, you will have had work-based mentors who will already have provided some of the impetus behind your projects.
Schools will still contain experts and people who are excellent at teaching and will still fulfil their supervisory role. Classes may be larger than thirty or may be dispersed, depending on your preferred learning style.
Timetabling will be dynamic and schools will offer a range of opportunities for learners of all ages to opt in to as their needs require. Outside agencies and local employers will be an integral part of this rich mixture and learners who have demonstrated the necessary skills will have a wider range of opportunities made available to them. The e-portfolio which collects all this evidence will increasingly be managed independently by the learners. For example, a learner in early years will have daily or hourly discussions with their mentor or teacher who will look at their learning profile and help them decide which areas they wish to improve and how they could do this. In secondary school this meeting may be weekly and will allow the learner to negotiate a number of targets. They then plan their learning and choose the range of opportunities both in and out of school which will allow them to gather the required evidence. Progress will be measured by means of a wide range of statements that describe specific behaviours. The only reason for introducing such scales are so that the system can generate as may measurements as our current examination system and thereby ensure that the culture of evidence based testing monitoring and inspection can be maintained. In this way ICT provides a ‘middle way’ to the antagonism of skills based and examination based education systems.
Making the Vision Into Reality
If this is the future of learning, then we need to simultaneously transform our institutions on a number of fronts. I have identified five such strands of development emerging from this vision, which must converge as the vision is realised. Whilst it is true that each strand could be developed separately, it is the inter-relation between them that provides the most interesting transformation models. It is my view that development must therefore happen in all strands simultaneously, and in parallel.
1. Creativity. All students will need to be able to interpret, manipulate, gather evidence and express themselves through all media. They must have the tools to investigate their own preferred learning styles and understand those of others.
2. Skills-based, rather than content-based curriculum. We will lose the notion that ‘vocational’ courses are for those who can’t achieve the true ‘gold standard’ of academic study. Our new ‘gold standard’ will be attained by those who operate effectively in any context, inspire others and facilitate independence of mind. Validation systems must be flexible enough to credibly value achievement if it demonstrates improvement, and maintain self-esteem and direction if it doesn’t.
3. Student Empowerment. Students will be in charge of the content, the assessment and the mode of learning. They will be active in their pursuit of learning and able to teach others around them. They will have true responsibility within the system and feel able to take control of the pastoral development of others.
4. Validating the abilities of young people, by recognising their choice of learning style. The current inclusion agenda provides an invaluable insight into the requirements of such a system. Our aim should be to allow students as much choice as possible given the need to provide appropriate challenge, range and inspiration.
5. Learning networks and the new role of the teacher. We must set up diverse learning environments and investigate how the teacher can be most effectively employed to improve learning and provide support. In this we must recognise the vital role of community in learning and belonging.
Practical Examples of How I Approached Such Transformation at Eggbuckland
Strand 1:Creativity
I began by introducing animation and music composition as compulsory elements for all Year 7 and 8 students. The aim was for them to tell a story through images and music alone. They had access to software that allowed them to take music samples and images from the Internet and blend them into loops and patterns.
The aim of the research was to begin providing students with the skills they will need, if they are to begin expressing themselves through different media in their subject lessons and provide a rationale for file manipulation and Internet use.
The results have been incredible and there is already evidence of the unlocking of potential and enthusiasm. The OFSTED inspection team who observed the scheme reported that the students were: ‘making remarkable progress’. We have also seen the first evidence of students incorporating their own compositions into PowerPoint presentations given in other subject areas. One example of this was the use of low pitched drum beats to provide the right atmosphere for an animation showing the attack of foreign bodies by white blood cells. The animation covered by the course has spread extensively.
In Stage 2, all students in Years 7, 8 and 9 created digital video images to express an idea or view by visual media, then blend these with their own images and music to convey meaning or emotion. Once again the overall aim is to provide the skills that students will need to validate kinaesthetic, visual and auditory forms of expression within their formal curriculum and the complex ICT literacy skills that underpin this.
Once again I conducted preliminary trials to help to evaluate and thereby evolve the course. These have included involvement in the BECTA digital video project, which, through the training, equipment and backup support has really allowed us to accelerate the project. As part of the project, I set up a student TV station and have been amazed by the latent creativity that was unlocked, although the lack of effective broadcast facilities means that this needs to be re-introduced later. As a separate trial I ran a project with Year 6 students, in which they created a music video within a week. All five groups created original music, shot video of their group performing to this music, imported the video, mixed it, and then overlaid special effects. The results are quite stunning.
Stage three involved video and music skills being put to the test as a method of curriculum delivery by students in the laptop groups. Students have already put together a two-minute summary of World War II in images and sounds, and it is very moving to watch. The move to employing such skills generally into the curriculum evolved slowly at first. Although students were excellent at using multimedia to express themselves outside of the classroom, they were slow to accept that formal learning could use these methods. This conservatism was much easier to break down with the primary projects and practically impossible with sixth formers.
Strand 2: Role of Key Skills
In the first year of the project I wrote and introduced an online key skills assessment package for all subjects and all year groups. This was used by all approximately 100 teaching staff in the College and provided criterion-based assessment grades from 1-10 for each of the six key skills
(Communication, Numeracy, Information Technology, Working With Others, Problem Solving and Evaluation Own And Others Performance) in each subject, in each year group.
The twenty skill areas we chose resulted in 200 (20 x 10) statements of attainment. This went through ten drafts as it was so difficult to agree on the top twenty areas considering the vastness of human achievement and learning. We settled on twenty simply because by trial and error we found this was the most we could bite off at one time. Eventually by draft ten we had the agreement of students, secondary staff, primary staff, university colleagues, two local companies and of course parents.
Students taught in the laptop groups (students taught all their academic subjects using a laptop) have made significantly greater progress in key skills than other students of the same ability within their year group. For the last three years they have consistently accelerated their key skills development by three years.
Communication cannot be reported on by English or Foreign Language teachers, as this causes a conflict of understanding about the nature of ‘key skills’ verses ‘literacy skills’. There would logically be considerable overlap but the compartmentalisation of skills training makes it difficult for students and staff to differentiate between a generic ability to communicate and a trained response to a skillfully taught context. The same is true for Numeracy and Mathematics.
Debate about the overlap of behaviour reporting and the key skills involved in ‘Working With Others’, ‘Problem Solving’ and ‘Evaluating Own and Others’ Performance’ has intensified and we have been able to debate and challenge the initial response of some departments which was that they didn’t teach, for example, ‘working with others’.
Parents have received a full breakdown of their child’s performance in each of the key skills and suggestions as to how they can help, as part of the student’s annual report. Responses to the scheme varied. In the first year, partly because drafts one to five were pretty poor and key skills were seen as sub standard measurements that bolted on to the ‘real’ report, it was hard to convince parents, students and staff that these measurements were worth putting in the report at all. As the negotiation continued and the drafts improved, the praise for the system began to flood in. At the end of the five years, parents were extremely supportive and many felt moved to write to me. With staff, although we had moved from five supporters to well over half the staff in support, the database I had been using to generate all of the reports was one I had written myself (badly) and on leaving the college we were unable to find a commercial package that could do the same. This set back has not deterred staff who are working on temporary alternatives to keep the scheme alive.
Having a way of measuring the key skills we then set about developing ways of integrating them into the curriculum. The most impressive of these was the peer teaching programme within the laptop groups. In this, students were given a teacher training course that trained them about the importance of learning objectives, accelerated learning techniques, the role of praise and assessment. Students were then allocated learning objectives to deliver. Teachers were asked not to correct errors so that students believed that the responsibility was real. After eighteen months of such peer teaching, the SATS results showed considerable improvement alongside outstanding development in key skills. The range of learning styles grew and to facilitate this we only assessed the students on their success in delivering their learning objectives not on the way they chose to deliver them. As the scheme progressed, the students provided this evidence of the success of their own lesson by devising quite sophisticated assessment tools.
In the section on strand 4 I explain how, in the final year of the project, this skills based system progressed into a truly remarkable personalised learning model. As expected, there was considerable convergence of the strands as the scheme progressed
Strand 3: Student Empowerment
In the first year of the project I developed the Access Manager Program, which I introduced as a way of developing leadership and management skills in young people. This scheme has developed considerably and now, as well as students as young as twelve-years-old taking control of the ICT facilities at lunchtime and break-time, they also manage rooms for other groups to use, operate lessons for students, assess the ability of other students, mentor students through an apprenticeship, manage student behaviour and conduct emotional intelligence and leadership audits on other students, so that they can offer professional development targets for mentors to implement.
Briefly, a student puts themselves forward for the scheme and is allocated a mentor by the students in charge. The mentor works through two A4 sheets, one covering emotional intelligence indicators and key skills, the other covering role specific skills. Both these sheets were constructed and are evolved by the students. When the mentor and trainee agree they are ready, the trainee has an interview conducted by students which either results in them achieving a ‘Grade 1’ badge or in them being set pointers for improvement to work through with their mentor before re-applying.
Students who have a grade 1 badge are considered to be staff and as such, while on duty can be asked to perform roles normally reserved for adults. There are suspension and disciplinary policies as well as monitoring and observation procedures managed by the ‘Grade 2’ students and so on up the system.
Students who have grade 2, manage ICT rooms, staff rotas and projects. They are similar, in structural terms to deputy department heads with grade 3 being department heads and grade 4 senior leaders. As the scheme progressed we achieved over eighty student leaders in all areas of school life with four grade 4 leaders who represented the school in various ways from writing unedited articles for the national press through to successfully bidding for funds for the school.
Clearly the ethos of the College and the friendly and supportive students that operate within it, provided an excellent context for such a scheme to grow. However, the scheme has now gone much further and is beginning to provide alternative student roles. When students recently conducted a staff meeting, from start to finish, there was an openness from staff to the notion of ‘training’ of this sort, mixed with a genuine admiration for the skills of the students concerned.
Each July, students from the current laptop groups provided the training for our two new laptop groups. The students organised and delivered this course themselves.
Such blending of roles and responsibilities is paving the way for the flexible working that is required by the new paradigm. As one of the students put it, ‘teachers teach you but children talk to you about it and I learn it easier like that’. I am not suggesting that students will make teachers redundant. Quite the opposite, we need to provide students with numerous, diverse routes to learning, role models and mentors. It is through creating such diversity that we can understand the new, more highly focused roles of teachers.
Strand 4: Flexible Working, Flexible Validation
‘The Bridge’ works with students who are at risk of permanent exclusion. Last year we began using the experience and skills of these young people as guidance for developing alternative learning pathways. The results have been featured by both the local and national press. Students have used art in the environment as a medium for the development of self-esteem and key skills. They have used email to contact artists directly for advice and to showcase their work. They use digital media to provide instant feedback and validation and have begun to develop networks of teachers and instructors who they can go to for support. When the ‘Moss Man’ that they erected in the school grounds was vandalised, the group was able to discuss the impact of vandalism from first-hand experience, talk about their own previous involvement in vandalism and work as a team to improve the positioning of the sculpture.
Breakfast classes have been setup for those students who have had difficulty coping with the lunchtime and afternoon, and would prefer to begin school early and leave before lunch.
Students are able to log on and access college materials outside of school hours. We have also linked up with the local hospital school, so that students can log on via a laptop in their hospital bed and access our network as they would in College. The date stamp on emails has revealed that students are using e-learning over a wide range of times and even, in some cases, from their holiday destination.
The extremely high quality of work and the ability for students from such traditionally mistrusted groupings to effectively self determine their learning led us to feel that we were not being ambitious enough with the students we had. We decided to trial a completely self determined curriculum for year nine students after their SATS exams had finished. We chose the laptop groups and used the extremely detailed structure of the key skills matrix discussed earlier as the basis for their learning.
On Monday of each week, the students analysed their learning profile, decided which skills they would improve and how to gather the evidence of these improvements. Hence they constructed a plan for the week in which their only restrictions were that they had two classrooms to use, a range of staff available at different times as per the timetable and had to factor in Technology and PE lessons which were the only ones that continued during the scheme.
Students shocked all of us including themselves and their parents. The acceleration of progress was quite astounding and within the space of five weeks, all students without exception, could give a presentation in which they supported evidence of their own progression. A City & Guilds qualification was used to demonstrate that the students had achieved GCSE standard in five weeks in year nine post SATS.
After five weeks, the students were given the opportunity to play on games, chat or just relax for the last week. Interestingly only two of the sixty students chose to do this, the rest continued. Another interesting outcome was that, despite choosing a qualification that required the minimum written evidence, even those students who achieved enormous progress and who gave quite stunning presentations to prove this slowed to a halt when asked to ‘write it up’.
Strand 5: Learning networks and the new role of the teacher
Students as young as twelve are undergoing teacher training.
Staff are meeting weekly to develop alternative modes of working.
Students and their teachers are engaging in weekly conferences to discuss teaching and learning trials.
Parents have worked alongside their children. Children have been training their parents in the use of ICT.
Students have devised, resourced and delivered a staff meeting and presentations to parents.
In a project filmed by the DfES, as an example of good practice, students constructed an advice network by emailing the local harbourmaster, chief constable, hospital trust director, high ranking naval officers, city councillors, pressure groups, community leaders and local MPs. They then used this network to devise a detailed plan and risk assessment for the refitting of a nuclear submarine. This action plan challenged the official plan and caused a number of its proposals to be modified before the refit took place.
All students and staff have been provided with an email directory, which allows them to contact anyone in the College directly.
Students aged thirteen and fourteen were trained in the ICT packages used in primary schools and were then asked to devise and deliver a course for students aged from seven to eleven.
We are currently developing a network of web pages that provide students with skill scaffolding, so that they understand the process of skill development and, as a result, ask more directed and specific questions. This will encourage a more focused use of teachers, as well as paving the way for more effective peer teaching.
In 2003 we invited the TTA to a seminar including students from the laptop groups, Access Managers, teachers in their first year of teaching who had taught in the laptop groups, long established teachers who had taught in both areas, trainee teachers who had taught in both areas and parents of students in the laptop groups. The resulting discussion convinced all present that we had evolved a model which was entirely different to the ‘traditional model’ and which resulted in more engaged parents, more engaged and motivated learners and stimulated teachers engaged in the process of learning through a different yet more intense role. As a result we were made into a training school specifically for fast track trainees, but we had only just begun.
All over the world, individuals are linking up through the internet forming complex learning communities which are rewriting the way learning works. Our scheme simply managed to explore some of these ideas and bring these forms closer to the classroom. At home, students are moving much quicker, the role of MSN, peer review, exemplification, mobile texting, blogging and threaded learning are revolutionising learning and yet we just didn’t have the tools to even begin to evaluate or utilise these emergent learning communities.
On leaving Eggbuckland I conducted a rough survey of some indicators. All students I asked used MSN accounts and in their contact lists had people not in this country and not their age. One fifth of students had had their work reviewed by others on the internet, that were not their teachers, and had acted on the advice. All had either read a blog or constructed one. All had constructed a threaded piece of work and all turned to the internet for exemplar material when they were unsure how to do a piece of work (they and the teachers called it copying!)
Our most successful project aimed at looking at such communities centered around secondary students helping primary students to achieve better Science Investigations. The primary students would email their work to the secondary students who would provide constructive advice and send it back. This resulted in significant improvements on both sides but as a learning community, the students felt that there was too much teacher involvement and they ‘couldn’t be honest’. Some students even agreed to write offensive emails to see if they were being monitored. Six months later, only six students from the sixty were still using the community for collaborative learning. What tools currently exist that allow non-obtrusive construction of safe communities and how will students respond if we continue to deny the importance of such a significant aspect of their development as learners and people in society?

In conclusion I believe that we have hit upon a cocktail of change processes, which is already delivering measurable improvements to student learning. I believe that it is only through the simultaneous developments of each strand that true progress towards transformation can take place. I look forward to your observations, thoughts, criticisms and ideas,