Monday, April 24, 2017

Personalized Learning via Crowdsourcing

"That was the best homework assignment I've ever had." 

This is not what you usually hear from middle school students. In fact, sometimes we get excited if they remember there was homework. But this is what an 8th grader recently said to his science teacher. Why? What was it about this homework assignment that made it stand out above all others?

"I was doing something that was just right for me."

If you are like me, you are imagining that his teacher stayed up to all hours searching, curating and refining an individualized learning path for each of her 120 students. After all, sometimes when we hear the term "personalized learning" this is how it is described. Students coming to school and getting a series of assignments that are designed for their ability level and current achievement. These programs are very impressive and often require a major fiscal investment from the school. I think this can be a very powerful part of learning and look forward to working with teachers to develop some lessons and units this way.

So what had this teacher done instead?
She crowdsourced! Crowdsourcing is when a large group of people all contribute to the success of a project, often monetarily. Luckily this teacher didn't ask her students to donate money to a cause. What she did was ask each of them to go out and find a resources that taught them about a specific science concept. Don't get me wrong, this wasn't in place of her teaching. She had already done several lessons on this topic using a variety of instructional strategies. But she knew from formative assessments and her excellent teacher instinct that some students still weren't getting it. So she put it back on them.

"Find a video, a cartoon, a simulation, a website that explains this concept in a way that makes sense to you."

Brilliant! The students found loads of excellent materials and posted to her Google Classroom. She shared that students that never hand in homework, submitted cool resources. And, she now has loads of great resources for when she teaches this concept next year. And because students had found materials that applied to their learning styles and needs, they were able to learn a concept that they had found challenging.

So, why did students respond so well to this activity? My thought is that it is personalized learning, just with a different definition than we've become accustomed to. In this case, instead of a student being handed a series of assignments that someone else (or something else) has decided are right for him or her, he or she gets to be the one to say what learning resource meets his or her needs and interests.  Students have the opportunity to create a meaningful learning experience and own their own learning. This reminds me of what has been termed the "IKEA effect." Mike Norton, Daniel Mochon and Dan Ariely found that when participants in their study put together furniture, they placed it at a higher value than similar furniture that was store-assembled.

So much of what students do in school happens to them. They walk into class and wait to see what the teacher asks them to do, they go home and work on homework the teacher assigned, they take tests when the teacher says. Students today are hungry for the opportunity to contribute, they way they do when they build their own levels on Geometry Dash, or code mods in Minecraft or post their photography on Instagram. Crowdsourcing is a way to shift this dynamic. Now students have a chance to contribute to the learning plan. Someone is asking them what they think and how they want to learn.

Give it a try. Not everyday, every topic, of course. We know, as teachers, that we offer expertise and wisdom that our students don't yet have, but why not give them a chance to contribute to their learning plan?

Monday, April 10, 2017

Keeping the "We" in WeVideo

I am lucky enough to work in a school district that uses WeVideo as part of our 1:1 Chromebook approach to blended learning. If you aren't already familiar with WeVideo, it is a fantastic tool that let's students create, edit and publish videos in the cloud. Students can collaborate on projects and teachers can create sets of media for students to use for video projects. Finished videos can be downloaded or uploaded directly to Google Classroom. It has been loads of fun getting to know this powerful tool for student creativity this year. I have been a part of really innovative WeVideos and I've been a part of WeVideos that felt like any other school assignment that gets completed just because it was assigned. Here are some of my observations of what makes a WeVideo stand out in terms of the student learning experience.
Collaboration. An obvious plus to WeVideo is the ability for multiple students to work on a video project at the same time. In the world of Google Docs and Google Slides, students have come to expect to be able to share a project with a classmate and have dual editing rights. WeVideo is a little tricky this way since only one student can be editing one video clip at any one time. This can be a great benefit though since it creates the need for more coordination, communication and planning among the students. For instance, if two students are making a Google Slide presentation together, two things often happen. One, the students divide up the slides and they each make their slides without checking in with each other about the content or style of their slides. Two, one student does all the work. With WeVideo, students need to plan out the video into media and video edits. Some students can be responsible for gathering the media needed: images, video filmed via phones, photos, music, audio. Other students can be responsible for assembling the media into a video edit. This creates a natural need for students to truly collaborate and not just divide up the work. The editor needs to be able to tell the media managers what they need. The media managers need to check back in with the editors to see how the media works in the videos. Being intentional with students about this is essential, helping students understand how the program works and how to communicate with other students will make the video project much more enjoyable and the final product much more meaningful for all.

Student Created Rubrics. Let's face it. Our students are huge consumers of video. They know what makes a good video and what makes a great video. Make sure to take some time to have students brainstorm what makes a quality learning video. Ask students to work in pairs to identify the characteristics of videos that are informative while fun to watch. Use their thoughts and ideas to build your rubric. Of course, you likely will have to add some components that students might not consider but having their buy-in on what the final products should look like will pay off in the long run. As you do more and more video products, be sure to save the quality examples. Show these to students and have them evaluate what makes them good. You will see an exponential increase in the quality of what students produce. They will feel much more connected to the project when they have helped build the rubric.

Student Reflection. Here's the great news, you've already laid the ground work for this one! Remember that student-built rubric you made with the students? Now, they can look at the rubric and reflect on what they did. In addition to checklist types of reflection questions (did you do this? did you have this?) be sure to include questions about what they learned from the project and, most importantly, what they would do differently next time. I always find that I learn as much from what students put in their project reflections as I do actually viewing the project itself. This also gives students another opportunity to share their view of the project. As educators we need to keep our focus on how students are experiencing the learning opportunities we provide in our classrooms.
Celebration. There is nothing worse than working really hard on a project and having your teacher move right on to the next topic, or the next project. Be sure to take time to celebrate the products students have created. Whether you have a movie day where you watch each of the projects or you have an evening presentation where parents are invited, be sure to plan time to view and celebrate the projects. This is a great opportunity to invite your administrators in or at least the tech coaches (we love this stuff!!). Consider having students write positive notes to their peers about each video. While sharing a glow and a grow is common practice, I find letting students just focus on the "glow" provides a more positive flow in the room and gives us all a chance to go full circle back to that original question of what makes a quality learning video.

I'm sure it is very intentional that the first ISTE Standard for Students is Empowered Learner. The Empowered Learner is one that "takes an active role in choosing, achieving and demonstrating competency in their learning goals, informed by the learning sciences."* Keeping this in the forefront of our minds when planning video creation lessons will ensure that students see themselves as part of the process, not something the process happens to.

*2016 ISTE Standards for Students, ©2016, ISTE® (International Society for Technology in Education), All rights reserved.