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Dec 12 2012

TED talks

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Here’s an interesting talk about the development of language –

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Dec 13 2010

Is technology making us stupid? The deskilling of Canadian students

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In the industrial age, mass production and speedy turnaround replaced craftsmanship and in-depth knowledge of certain processes as desirable qualities in the work force. The word deskilling became a popular term associated with the sudden reduction in the need for skilled workers. According to Economic theorist Braverman, manifestations of deskilling in the workforce included a decline in craftsmen, increasing separation of mental and physical labour, declining levels of training and increased interchangeability of labour (Roger, 1987).

This term has now found its way into the jargon of education specialists linked to our youth’s lack of ability to do the simplest tasks without the aid of a machine, more specifically a computing device. I will use computer as a generic word to include the many devices we find in everyday life such as cellphones, calculators, electronic agendas and computers of all sizes. Jokes and anecdotes abound that lament and ridicule today’s workers as being unable to make change without a cash register, figure out what 10% of their body weight is without a calculator or figure roughly what the loan payments on a $40000 car might be without the aid of the bank’s web-based loan calculator. No one seems to know the capitals of each province in my grade 9 Geography class but they can show where to find the information on Wikipedia. And they can certainly find an app on their cellphone that can answer any question I throw at them. It’s no wonder Nick Carr (2008) wrote an essay called “Is Google making us stupid?” lamenting the loss of our ability to think. He quotes playwright Richard Foreman in explaining that as we use computers to acquire a great deal of non-contextual knowledge, we seem to lose our ability to use that knowledge. “…we are drained of our “inner repertory of dense cultural inheritance,” Foreman concluded, we risk turning into “‘pancake people’—spread wide and thin” (Carr, 2008) Those of us who remember learning how to calculate percentages and can figure out the equivalent in kilometres of the mileage from Montreal to Ottawa shake our heads at how little digital natives seem to know about real life. Have they no skills? Have computers made them stupid?

Micheal Apple has devoted quite a bit of research to the introduction of educational technology and its effects on teachers. He contends that teachers become marginalized as they no longer can use their tried and true teaching tools and methods. Moreover, they have not received sufficient training in the use of technology to integrate it meaningfully into their lessons. Apple worries that our students are being asked to work in a technologically-driven society without being taught critical literacy skills to interpret the rules of this new society. He calls for Social Literacy to be taught as a means to make learning meaningful. Before we jump on the bandwagon and start throwing education funds at teaching some new kind of literacy, we need to analyze exactly what is meant by deskilling or being “stupid” in the context of these authors’ works.

In his Technium blog post, Will we let Google make us smarter?, Kelly (2008) responds to Nick Carr’s essay by calling Carr a self-admitted worrywart with mostly anecdotal data to make his point and only half a story to tell on the effects of using technology on our cognitive levels. Kelly distinguishes between stupidity, IQ levels and loss of certain skills. Briefly, he proposes that in a sense, Google is making people smarter (or at least no less intelligent) as it allows us to move to critical thinking rather than just using our mind as a giant database to store facts. Kelly refutes Carr’s argument that Nietzsche started to think differently as he moved from handwriting to the use of a typewriting machine in his older, infirm years. Carr contends that the technology altered Nietzsche’s thinking. Kelly states that advanced age and infirmity probably had more to do with the changed perspective, but does concede that technology has forced us to change our thinking processes. For instance, as we’ve moved from orality to writing (one of the greatest technological shifts known to man), we have been able to let go of old ways of thinking, speaking and processing information. The simple fact that we can now edit our words as we compose directly onto a computer has radically improved our capacity for speed and a more polished finished product. Very industrial-age virtues, to be sure. Our ability to conduct research from our own living room, to read the thoughts of others without waiting for a publisher to compile them and (through the magic of hypertext) the amazing ability to let our reading take us in many directions, no longer linear, have had significant impact on our thought processes (Bolter, 2001).

In considering what was lost (certainly not IQ, in his mind), Kelly (2008) writes:

“We are about to make the next big switch. Billions of people on earth will stampede to join. Something will certainly be lost. It would serve us all better if that loss was better defined, and it was paired with a better defined sense of what we gain.”

Therefore, as we admit that technology is indeed changing our way of thinking and doing, without value judgment as to whether the good old days were better than these current times, we need to move forward and examine how we can help students use technology judiciously to add meaning to their knowledge.

Historically, teachers have been very busy providing knowledge and interweaving messages about facts so as to make them meaningful to the student. But as teachers are no longer the primary source of knowledge, our role has to evolve. This evolution of teaching approaches does not have to be without the benefit of existing learning theories. Theories advanced by Vygotzky as still valid in this century and have served in the elaboration of Constructivist learning theory.

Vygotzky, a Russian Jew, tried to explain how we learn. His theories, although not without criticism, fell nicely into line with the political climate of his time. As a result of his background and ethnic struggle, Vygotzky saw cultural factors as huge determinants of what and how we learn. He theorized that children learn from society first, through the dialogue they hear and participate in, and later rehearse what was learned privately with self-talk. To Vygotzky, the teacher was not only the source of knowledge, but also the guide that moves the student into what he called the Zone of Proximal Development. The ZPD is where the child learns as he is obliged to work at a level that challenges his current understanding and knowledge. Once knowledge is acquired, it becomes internalized. I mention Vygotzky’s theories at this time because it is important to illustrate how very different this style of learning is from the traditional Rote learning that permeated the classroom in Vygotzky’s time and can still be found in many classrooms around the world, including our own. Respected learning theorist Ausubel, stated that Rote learning seemed a good way for someone to just get by in his lessons. It did not provide an opportunity for meaningful learning. Most importantly, I am trying to illustrate that the role of the teacher must change to that of facilitator in order to help the student reach the ZPD. Gone are the days of the “Sage on the stage”, now welcome the “guide on the side”.

The second lesson we want to retain from Vygotzky is that culture plays an important role, not only in the transmission of knowledge but importantly, in the reception and retention of knowledge. By this, I mean that the student will interpret what is important to retain and how he associates concepts depending on his cultural setting, what theorists call Context.

Merging these two Vygotzkian concepts, it is essential that the teacher no longer act as the purveyor of data, but rather teaches how to access knowledge and how to determine what is to be retained. We would call that teaching critical thinking skills. This role has become even more complex as the computer, which now acts as the primary source of knowledge, lacks the ability to provide the cultural context required for students to understand what they are learning.

Let us now turn to Constructivism, which tells us that knowledge is to be constructed, not just handed over. And here is where meta-search engines such as Google confuse the mind. Perhaps there is something to the idea that Google is making us less skilled if we look at these search engines as depriving us of the opportunity (and skill) to construct knowledge. Think of a Google search as a 2000 piece puzzle someone has dumped on the table. You know you have to make sense of it all, but if you are not given a) an example of the finished picture, b) a method on how to begin (typically the frame goes first, like creating a context) and c) some advice on matching colour and piece shapes, then you will just end up with a lot of pieces of cardboard that don’t make sense. Continuing this analogy into the classroom, the teacher could show you a completed puzzle (the equivalent of stating expectations and showing an exemplar) but then you couldn’t say you knew how to do a puzzle. It’s learning the process that counts in constructing knowledge, a lot more that the final product. Unfortunately, our educational system puts too much value on the product. Most assessments measure if you learned the lesson, which is often an arbitrary set of instructions that match the textbook that was chosen by the teaching institution (Leblanc, 2003), not whether you can transfer the knowledge to other aspects of your life (also known as Situational Cognition). It is not unusual for students to just want the instructions on how to pass the assessment. I seems our assessment system is more about Behaviourist theory than Constructivism.

Returning to the puzzle analogy, it is unfortunate that many teachers while trying to allow students to construct knowledge seem to fall short when faced with the intrusion of the computer as an additional variable in the process of transferring knowledge. They often see it as competition. Teachers who avoid computer use in their class have been known to ask: “What if the kids know more than I do?”. I answer: “You can expect that they will. And reward them for teaching you something!” In Vygotzkian theory, it is the exchange between peers that causes them to move towards the ZPD. Although Vygotzky advocated that the peers should be of different levels, the more experienced teaching the novice, I think this process is not unidirectional. Why wouldn’t each party learn from the other, whether by design or by chance?

In his book, Things that makes us smarter, Norman defends the merits of technology as it influences our ability to progress, to create and to advance new ideas. To simplify his explanation, he divides cognition into two major categories, experiential and reflective. He maintains that although being actively involved in a process allows us to gain expert knowledge it cannot replace the required element of reflection – the ability to internalize what we’ve experienced and formulate new knowledge, which are the basis of creativity and growth. Norman cautions us about our current educational system’s emphasis on experiential learning stating that “Experiential mode confuses action for thought.”  He adds that virtual experiences such as simulations and computer-based games do not provide the benefits of actual experience as “vicarious experience through multimedia does not substitute active participation in developing expertize” (Norman, 1994, p. 17).

Norman also addresses the question of why technology provides us with so much information that seems so disconnected from the “real world”. He explains that science and technology are best suited to data that can be quantified and measured. The result is that it “provides a mind-set that artificially elevates some aspects of life and ignores others, not based upon their real importance but rather by the arbitrary condition of whether they can be measured scientifically and objectively by today’s tools” (Norman, 1994, p. 15).

Another interesting observation in Norman’s research is that we all learn best from the process of sharing knowledge. He discusses Distributed Cognition in the light of how computers really prevent the user from receiving the benefits of information that is verbally transmitted directly from peer to peer, as well as the vicarious learning that occurs from listening to parties trying to sort out a problem. Because computers can only provide an answer to a question in a linear mode, it is up to the learner to search for the links between data and its uses. When we learn through discussion, in a social cognition fashion, we gain the ability to receive information that has been processed by all the points of view of the parties engaged in that learning. Vygotzky would add that we gain the experience and knowledge of a whole culture in such an exchange. This is so much more powerful than all the data one very large memory bank can provide.

Having examined the context of a technologically enhanced society, where children gain knowledge from a machine (as an intermediary), we can affirm the importance of the teacher in the role of guide, the sharing of knowledge between peers and the need for a balance between Experiential and Reflective learning. Let us return to Apple’s ideas on the effects of the introduction of technology in the classroom.

Apple’s study of labour conditions in classroom settings prompted him to use the word deskilling as a way to describe the separation of “conception from execution” of the lessons teachers created. He contends that this loss of control brings about an atrophy of certain skills and ultimately disengagement and burn-out. What is pertinent to this essay is that the methods used to teach in our modern classes are certainly influenced by the legacy of the introduction of technological integration into all curriculum. You don’t have to be a teacher to teach this (Apple & Jungck, 1990) describes a day in a Computer Literacy class where the curriculum had been created by the Math department of the school in an effort to standardize and facilitate its delivery by inexperienced (in the subject matter) teachers. The description, while it seems comical today, is telling of the disconnect between new forms of knowledge and traditional teaching techniques. Students were given daily worksheets to fill out while they watched videos and hoped vainly each day that they would finally get to experience working on the computers. The outcome of the day clearly illustrates the fear of losing control teachers experience when they are asked to teach something they are unfamiliar with and have had no hand in creating. This situation exemplifies how constructivist learning was set aside to fulfill a different agenda – that of answering the demands of parents concerned with readying their children for the workforce. Clearly, no learning took place in that classroom. The authors comment that although most students were attentive to the lessons, they most likely only did so under the assumption that successful completion of this course would allow them to move to the next level in Math class. They also recount the teachers’ actions and attitude, going from cautious enthusiasm to disengagement and finally, boredom and frustration that nothing was being accomplished in these lessons. Apple and Jungck point out that teachers knew intuitively that they must discuss and explain the information being presented, but because of time constraints and their lack of in-depth knowledge of the subject matter, they were unable to get beyond the lower level knowledge of knowing the what and how of the curriculum (what we would describe as knowledge-based questions). Students were not given the opportunity to construct knowledge by manipulating information and putting it into a context that could be understood and transferred.

Apple sees this episode, and education in Western society today, as the result of a “restoration of the Right” policies driven by the economics of free market. “Corporations now firmly control both the media and the production of school textbooks. In this control they have established a knowledge industry that emphasizes the traditional family, free-market economic policy, a narrow view of patriotism, Christianity, and a business needs-driven school curriculum” (The Freire Project, n.d.). While the intention has been to prepare students for the demands of the 21st century workforce by teaching them computer literacy, it has in effect overly focused their learning thereby depriving them of many of the skills required in day to day living. Apple advocates for Social or Critical pedagogy where students are taught to expose the driving forces behind what they are learning and to examine how our current immersion in technology is changing society. It comes down to a simple directive – students should be taught to question, to critique, to analyze and make links – not just accept knowledge at face value as if they were sponges mopping up the waters of a tsunami of information.

In The new technology: Is it part of the solution or part of the problem in education? (1991) Apple states that technological changes are really changes in relationships. Is this not the crux of the question that I posed in the title of this article? Is the reason we perceive today’s students as being less intelligent since the introduction of technology in the classroom not as simple as acknowledging that there has been a change in our relationship to technology? Once we accept that this shift has occurred, we can start to understand its implications in education today. Teachers must evolve their methods to include digital literacy, critical thinking skills and a return to distributed learning and constructivism. Traditional methods of assessment must evolve to consider the many literacies and new skill set needed to function in a technologically charged environment. Without these shifts, students are no further ahead than if they were to sit in a room with every bit of information known to man and be expected to come out years later fully equipped to take their place as functional and productive citizens, only to find the world has changed immeasurably while they were in their learning incubator. This is the stuff of experiments, not real life.


Apple, M. W. (n.d.). Computers and the Deskilling of Teachers. Sindh Education Foundation. Retrieved November 4, 2010, from

Apple, M. (1991). The new technology: Is it part of the solution or part of the problem in education?. Computers in the Schools, 8(1/2/3), 59-81.

Apple, M., & Jungck, S. (1990). You Don’t Have to Be a Teacher to Teach This Unit: Teaching, Technology, and Gender in the Classroom. American Educational Research Journal, Vol. 27, No. 2, pp. 227-251

Carr, N. (n.d.). Is Google Making Us Stupid? – Magazine – The Atlantic. The Atlantic ― News and analysis on politics, business, culture, technology, national, international, and food – Retrieved November 1, 2010, from

Driscoll. M.P. (2005). Psychology of Learning for Instruction (pp. 384-407; Ch. 11 – Constructivism). Toronto, ON: Pearson.

Kearsley, G. (n.d.). Introducing new technology in the workplace. Retrieved October 24, 2010, from

Kelly, K. (2008, June 18). The Technium: Will We Let Google Make Us Smarter?. The Technium. Retrieved October 28, 2010, from

Michael Apple | Paulo Freire, Critical Pedagogy, Urban Education, Media Literacy, Indigenous Knowledges, Social Justice, Academic Community. (n.d.). The Freire Project | Paulo Freire, Critical Pedagogy, Urban Education, Media Literacy, Indigenous Knowledges, Social Justice. Retrieved November 16, 2010, from

Norman, D. A. (1994). Things that make us smart: defending … – Google Books. . Retrieved November 2, 2010, from

Roger. (1987, January 31). Lecture 6: The Deskilling Thesis. doc+deskilling&cd=14&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=ca&client=firefox-a

Shannon, P. (1987). Commercial Reading Materials, a Technological Ideology, and the Deskilling of Teachers. The Elementary School Journal, Special Issue: The Basal Reader in American Reading Instruction(3), 307-329. Retrieved November 4, 2010, from

Sierra, K. (2007, February 1). Creating Passionate Users: Are our tools making us dumber?. Creating Passionate Users. Retrieved November 2, 2010, from

Wesch, M. (2007, March 8). YouTube – The Machine is Us/ing Us (Final Version) . YouTube – Broadcast Yourself. Retrieved December 1, 2010, from

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Nov 05 2010

My alter ego, using xtra normal

Published by under Etec 511,Uncategorized

Here’s a link to my xtra normal movie where I become another persona.

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Sep 15 2010

Return after a long absence

Published by under Etec 511,Etec 512,Uncategorized

Today, I begin using this blog again.  I am now enrolled in Etec 511 and 512 as I complete my journey towards my MET certificate.  I am on leave of absence from work until Feb, when I begin a one year teaching exchange in Australia.

In an effort to make my coursework more accessible, I have organized the blog under the headings of the 3 courses I took that required blogging.  And hopefully, this eportfolio will be used in future endeavours.  I am happy to report that my training in Moodle will already pay off while I work in Australia.  I am hoping to not only exchange positions, but to help my exchange partner improve upon the course structure she has created for her vocational Business Administration course.  I am not sure what I will be teaching in Australia at this time, but I can only hope that it will be some of the courses I am specialized in such as Business and Accounting.

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Apr 11 2010

Reflecting on multimedia

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The most useful reflection I can have on multimedia is to look back at some of the courses I designed in the early years of online learning and imagine how multimedia might have improved their effectiveness.

In the late 1990s, multimedia meant adding images, sounds and possibly animation to our resources and allowing students to create work using some of the same components.  As a matter of fact, much of the course content involved teaching students how to use and insert multimedia into their assignments.

Today, I use multimedia elements, including video streaming, in my lessons and exemplars.  Typically, I create an activity, demonstrate the outcome including the media elements I want the students to experiment with, and then expect them to work adding whatever new element they think appropriate.  You would think that students would find this approach to assessment preferable to pen and paper or oral presentations or slide shows, but they don’t, so far.

I surveyed my students today about the use of a blog to research and present a topic.  They responded that they enjoyed the research and the medium, but did not like having to read each other’s work.  They would rather sit passively and listen to a presentation than take responsibility for active learning (those are my words, not theirs).  Unfortunately, I think my newest experiments with blogs and wikis are the way of the future, putting the emphasis on thinking and inquiry, rather than knowledge and understanding.  I also think the current senior high school students are stuck in an in-between zone.  They may be digital natives, but they are not ready to leave their traditional views on literacy and learning.  In my classes, I feel it is important to work on all forms of literacy and most specifically, visual literacy.  Multimedia is the best tool I can use to accomplish this.

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Mar 27 2010

public spaces in the classroom

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I started using blogs and wikis in my classroom only last year.  Downes (2004) suggests that blog might be used as a class repository of comments, resources, links and even a calendar to follow assignments.  I never thought of blogs as such a tool.  They seem more suited to creativity and research, and possibly, given the right students, creating a community of learning.  Unlike the example of St. Joseph school in Downes’ article, I only use individual blogs and for only one part of my course.  I have used a wiki for a class project as well.

Throughout this unit, and following the assigned readings, I started to think about how self-publishing and public spaces are changing my classroom environment.  The emphasis has been placed on knowledge and understanding for many years and I always found it difficult to use the textbooks in a lively fashion.  It seems to me that the material in school texts becomes outdated too quickly and simply follows the line of thought that the author wants to explore.  Larry in etec565 said something about good books being the only place where good information was found.  In order to keep students questioning and making links, I think we need to look at other sources of knowledge.  And here is where the transition to a different way of learning/teaching starts – we have gone from knowledge and understanding to inquiry and application.

This semester, in particular, I’ve found myself getting completely away from having students read texts, news articles and have spent less and less time giving notes.  Those seem too static to me.  The past practices of making presentations are becoming more and more outdated.  Where once a slideshow would intrigue students, I now find the same glazed over look as soon as the projector goes on.  These children (16-18 yr olds) grew up with toys that were completely interactive, they don’t want to learn in a passive mode, maybe they can’t learn that way anymore.

Another skill that continues to need refining is that of active listening and discussing.  This is difficult to address and online discussion, whether on a wiki or a blog, in the form of comments, is a major benefit of  public spaces.  The other major benefit to using this style of discussion is that students can choose the direction of their inquiries, unlike sitting in a class and having to listen to every presentation before they can ask questions or are asked questions.  This is more in keeping with the constructivist theory of learning.

Downes and Fisch (2007) address the improvements seen in the quality and quantity of writing that is afforded by online journaling.  Students generally do rise to the challenge of creating material that is original, suitable for many audiences and contains fewer typos.  Allowing the public to comment on these spaces does pose privacy and security issues and many teachers/institutions are addressing these.  In our school board, we are moving to google docs for collaborative writing and web design.  Since we have our own domain, students are free to share ideas that will only be seen by our school community.  It does limit the input of expert commentators (such as a marketer or a banker) but it does not preclude the teacher from inviting outside comments in a controlled environment.

One other skill that I think collaborative writing develops is the ability to work in cooperation with others.  Some students still are adamant about working alone, while I have noted that others, when given the chance to share the workload, still cannot coordinate the final product, so that we end up with 2 projects or 2 distinct voices within one product (something that is not always the desired effect).  Still, many students enjoy the creative exchange that takes place when planning what to write about.  The availability of the online space is a great benefit to busy senior students who have difficulty managing the work/school balance.

Lastly, working in public spaces teaches the students that they are accountable for what they publish, that content cannot be simply copied and pasted and that sources must be acknowledged in order to show their writings are indeed a synthesis of what they have researched.

All in all, I see the use of wikis and blogs as an excellent tool for moving the teaching style in my classroom from knowledge based to inquiry and application based.  The final element that needs to be addressed is the ongoing education of what is safe, what is appropriate and what is private.


Downes, S. (2004).  Educational Blogging.  Educause Review.  September/October 2004 Accessed online 26 March 2010.

Fisch, K. (2007). “Blogging: In Their Own Words,”The Fischbowl. Accessed online 25 March 2010.

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Mar 21 2010

Wikis in the online classroom

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This week we had a chance to explore wikis in our course.  Although I have used wikis in my own classroom for large projects and I have collaborated on course design using a wiki, I had never really used one for group discussion.  Wikis, to me, are a place to add knowledge in a collaborative space.  Usually information is posted, then edited by other students to make it more in-depth, accurate, easy to read, what have you.  I’ve also used them where one student did and posted research, while the other wove the information into visual and textual presentations.  We have not explored the addition of visuals in this wiki as we did in a previous course I took.

The discussion is not as easy in this wiki format.  The wiki I use for my classes allows a thread to begin and others reply, more in the fashion that we see in the WebCT discussion questions.  We seemed to have felt the need to label our contributions with our names.  That did make it simpler to understand who was responding to what post.

One of the advantages to this wiki discussion format, in that all the information is placed on one page, so it would be easy to follow a thread based on the information, rather than following the author or the date.  It’s a bit like having a lots of snippets of text on a table and being able to rearrange them in some logical order.  With hyperlinks, many of us are starting to follow themes from one document to another rather than reading in a linear fashion.  It is how literature will appear as we continue to convert written text to a digitalized version.

I found it notable that we have not used the wiki for what it does best – allowing editing and additions to communal knowledge.  I sense that my colleagues have not dared to edit work, possibly because people have signed their every entry.  Perhaps it would be best if no signatures were permitted to encourage people to collaborate more freely.

As I write this, I am overcome with an urge to go organize the wiki entries by themes.  Perhaps I will attempt that next and hope others will see it as a true collaboration, not a censure or need to control the direction of the project.

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Mar 15 2010

I love Wesch!

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Each time I watch a Wesch video I am amazed at how well he describes the evolution of learning paralleled with the evolution of the internet, along with our evolving use of it.

YouTube Preview Image

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Mar 13 2010

Using assessment – lessons from elearning

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Our readings have outlined the theory of assessment both formative and summative; certainly something each teacher should be very conversant with by now.  The innovation that was added in this research was how assessment translates in the elearning environment.  There is no doubt that assessment provides timely feedback and that technology has improved our response time through automation.  Jenkins states many concrete examples of how assessment is being used in higher education, specifically for formative purposes. “Assessment methods involving ICT include case studies,
mock exams, group projects and the creation of authentic learning tasks (Brown et al., 1999; Peat & Franklin, 2002; Herrington et al., 2002).” (p. 70)

Jenkins further delves into the use of multiple choice questions to provide “feedback in a range of contexts. At the University of Gloucestershire, MCQs are used in weekly tests as part of a first year Marketing module (a popular module with over 300 students). Providing formative feedback on this basis using traditional approaches would be prohibitive. The MCQ tests were introduced to provide students with regular feedback on their understanding of
the key principles being introduced throughout the module. Eight  formative assessment using CAA tests, each consisting of ten questions, are made available at weekly intervals during the module, delivered via the University’s VLE — WebCT. Initial evidence suggests that students have responded positively to receiving feedback in this way. As an added incentive to completing the formative tests, the best five scores contribute to the summative assessment of the module. (p. 72-73)

This seems like a key paragraph and a solution in my own class setting.  I hadn’t though of MCQs as formative assessment until now.  And I like the idea of using the 5 best scores to contribute to the summative assessment.  In my high school Marketing class, I’ve given a few MCQ quizzes to cover material that is available on the published notes.  It’s been more a  method of checking the students’ reading as we work through the chapters.  The final exam is made up entirely of MCQs.  Other assessment has come in the form of major group projects which include presentations both oral and visual (website, posters, flyers, packaging design) and online asynchronous group discussions.

Reading Jenkins has certainly confirmed that my students are given plenty of opportunity for both formative and summative assessment and has helped me to realize why I feel the final exam is merely a formality that I must carry on because of school policy.  I now feel I have the means to justify what are becoming shorter and easier (to mark) exams.  The one thing that should be addressed next is the allocation of marks for culminating tasks and exams.  They should probably reflect less than the current 30% of the final grade.  I understand the need for uniformity within a school board and even province wide, but with the changing face of assessment, we need to revisit this point as well.

  • Jenkins, M. (2004).  “Unfulfilled Promise: formative assessment using computer-aided assessment.” Learning and Teaching in Higher Education , i, 67-80. Accessed online 17 March 2009

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Mar 07 2010

Adding opportunities for communication

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This week’s reading and assignment has taken us into considerations of how to build communication opportunities into our online Moodle course.  Anderson states that once the teacher has established the content and direction of the course, the second step of  “teaching involves devising and implementing activities to encourage discourse between and among students, between the teacher and the student, and between individual students, groups of students, and content resources”. (Anderson, p. 345)  It is here that we begin the task of designing communication opportunities, both synchronous and asynchronous, to facilitate this interaction between students and their community of learning, as well as between teacher and students.  This is an important distinction between an online course and a tutorial, where little interaction, and more importantly, little feedback is possible.  The online course allows assessment and feedback such that the course can evolve to suit the needs of individual students (Anderson, p. 346).  The students therefore begin to take ownership for their learning.  This is truly self-directed learning.

As a starting point to designing my course, I thought I’d revisit previous courses I wrote on Blackboard about 8 yrs ago as well courses I wrote for the Min of Education more recently.  As I read Anderson, I felt I had overlooked many opportunities to add assessment into my course designs.  This seemed like a good time to re-invent or at least improve on the wheel.  I asked one of my students to show me an online course she just started last week to see if any new features had been added to the design.  Our board uses Blackboard to host the content of courses written by teachers for the Ministry of  Education.  I recognized the format I had used in courses I wrote.

The student took me through the course as we searched for opportunities for discussion and feedback.  Sadly, no opportunities were provided other than an email link to all students and the teacher.  I asked if she would be able to see her grades and she answered that she could call the teacher or email her for any mark she wanted to see.  It was clear to me that the student had not realized the power of assessment for learning, rather than of learning.  Lastly, I asked how she was introduced to the course.  She stated that she had a short f2f meeting with the online teacher to show her the course environment and answer any initial questions.

From this knowledge, I tried to improve the format I used in previous designs.  The course I chose for Moodle is grade 11 Marketing.  I am teaching this class this semester.  In the past, students have been difficult to engage in this class simply because it’s been a mix of keen Business students with some who see it as a filler course.  Unfortunately, optional courses don’t always attract the most academic students.  My challenge has been to create meaningful activities and allow for discussion in a group that doesn’t listen well or structure their ideas very well.  Giving everyone an opportunity to join the discussion is an important aspect to building communications opportunities.  The other design consideration is offering short answer assignments mixed with group projects to balance the demands made on students who are not terribly literate in the traditional sense.  Discussion questions are well suited to thoughtful consideration and opinion giving in a safe environment.  Anderson refers to research from Garrison, Anderson, and Archer (2000) in his model for online learning, of which one of the components, social learning, requires ” establishing a supportive environment such that students feel the necessary degree of comfort and safety to express their ideas in a collaborative context…” (Anderson, p. 344)

The elements I have built into my course are as follows:

Asynchronous discussion:

  • Icebreaker – student get to introduce themselves by researching their name and creating their own slogan to reveal themselves to the class.  I have posted the first entry as an example and in an effort to show a more approachable side.
  • Discussion – an introductory discussion on a current topic, the Vancouver Olympics, allows students to experience discussion boards and state their hypothesis on how things are done in the advertising business.  This brings in previous knowledge, another element in establishing a safe environment.  The opportunity for peer to peer communication is an added feature to all discussion groups.
  • Regularly Scheduled Discussion – each week, students are to view an episode of Dragon’s Den and answer the posted questions.  This allows students to plan their learning time and get used to answering short answer questions using terminology they have covered in the chapter.
  • Group Discussion – an assignment on Product Life Cycle asks students to answer questions related to the chapter and comment on at least 2 other assignments created by other discussion group members.  The groups are set up to reflect varied abilities.  It would be difficult to set up groups until at least 2-3 weeks into the course if you plan to group students according to ability rather than randomly.
  • Ask the teacher – the important panic button for all students.  It also serves the  function of allowing student to find answers to problems between themselves while waiting for the teacher to respond.  Students are encouraged to check her for answers in this section before they contact the teacher.  It is my hope to build a FAQ section in future iterations of the course.

Synchronous Communication:

Finally, an opportunity is given for a chat session in the form of a Q & A session with a guest speaker.  This is scheduled a little further on in the course as part of the career exploration expectations in the curriculum.  The teacher will lead the discussion, followed by an open question period from the students.  It would be a good idea to have each student prepare a question before the actual chat session to improve the amount and quality of the questions.

You can find my Moodle course at


Anderson, T. (2008). Teaching in an Online Learning Context.  In: Anderson, T. & Elloumi, F. Theory and Practice of Online Learning. Athabasca University. Accessed online 3 March 2009

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