How design thinking can help teachers collaborate

I wrote this article with Les Dawes, Natalie Wright, and Jeremy Kerr for The Conversation about how design thinking can help teachers collaborate.

The original article is under a Creative Commons attribution license and is located here: https://theconversation.com/how-design-thinking-can-help-teachers-collaborate-95932

I have included a reprint here:

 

The recent release of the Gonski 2.0 report has done an excellent job of re-opening the conversation around how our schools could better fulfil their purpose.

Much of the commentary has centred on the report’s recommendations for teaching and learning in schools. But the whole chapter focused on “creating, supporting and valuing a profession of expert educators” has not received enough attention.

The suggestion that teaching and learning can be significantly improved by better supporting our teachers is vital and should not be overlooked. In particular, there is growing evidence that teacher collaboration can lead to more satisfied teachers while producing better outcomes for students.

What does Gonski say?

The positive impact of active collaboration is summarised in the report on page 58:

Teacher collaboration occurs in many forms, however not all types are equally effective. Active collaboration — such as peer observation and feedback, coaching, mentoring, team teaching and joint research projects — allows teachers to learn from each other and typically has a positive impact on students. In contrast, collaboration that concentrates on simply sharing resources, planning activities or administrative issues has little or no positive effect on student achievement.

While the report flags the need for action on embedding professional collaboration in everyday teaching practice, it doesn’t provide much in the way of suggestions for how to achieve this. This criticism has been repeated by many in education.

While active collaboration between teachers has long been recognised and encouraged (for example, as a part of the AITSL teacher professional standards), the reality for many teachers is there is precious little time in which to collaborate. Even where there is time, there is a need for more structure to the way teachers collaborate so it happens in an authentic, productive way.

What is design thinking?

The ability to empathise, think creatively, collaborate productively, experiment with solutions and communicate ideas are all key parts of design. They are skills anybody can learn.




Read more:
How the mindset of designers can make us better leaders


The term design thinking has become a popular buzzword to refer to this set of skills. It’s particularly popular in education because design thinking is a great way to learn 21st century skills, such as creativity and critical thinking. If teachers develop these skills themselves, then they are in a better position to teach them.

Design thinking is not just about knowing the design process and having the tools to use it, but also about adopting a design thinking mindset. This involves seeing the world in a solution-focused way and having the creative self-confidence to try tackling problems in new ways.

Design thinking in schools

Our team has been working for the last year on a project that involves partnering with groups of teachers in different schools around Queensland to work on design problems. This kind of partnership between designers and non-designers to solve problems is known as co-design.

Teachers engage in collaborative design tasks as part of a research project in Queensland.
Author provided, Author provided (No reuse)

The first problem that we have worked on is the planning of a term of work for the new ACARA Digital Technologies curriculum. Instead of teachers working individually, we work with school leadership to create time and space for them to work as a group. We support them in framing the problem, developing student-centered ideas, and preparing classes. Teachers learn to adopt a design thinking mindset simply by taking part in this process.

For example, some teachers implicitly conceive of curriculum planning as “making sure that the curriculum gets covered”. We challenge them to work as a team to reframe the problem through a journey-mapping exercise. We find they come up with a new frame such as “keeping students as engaged as possible for an entire term”.

We also use exercises such as developing personas and brainstorming to come up with ideas that are more “out there” than they might first think possible. We then provide the technological and content knowledge to help them achieve their goals.

This form of facilitated collaboration with teachers around design tasks has had success. Preliminary results show that teachers feel supported (because they can draw on the help of a team), happy (because collaboration is one of the fundamental drivers of professional satisfaction), and empowered (because they see the results with the students).

The challenge presented by the Gonski 2.0 report is these benefits need to be scalable — teachers across the country all need to have these opportunities to collaborate meaningfully.

Sharing the knowledge

Our research (based on earlier international work) provides evidence we can achieve this goal by:

  1. Instilling a design thinking mindset in teachers. This has been proven to be a great way to create the space for meaningful collaboration, while developing the capacity of teachers for teaching creativity, critical thinking and interpersonal skills.
  2. Using co-design as professional development to meet these needs in a way that could reach every teacher across a state, through a combination of face-to-face and online workshops.
  3. Sustaining these partnerships over time by creating online spaces for teachers that enable them to share and re-use knowledge but that remain connected to real-world institutions and events. For example, we developed a community of design teachers in Queensland that was underpinned by professional development workshops and support of teacher associations.

These three pillars provide a direct way of responding to the recommendation in Gonski 2.0 for better teacher collaboration.

Our proposal is to shift funding away from the approaches that have defined the past decade — like online databases of resources that give little context, “standalone” online communities that are divorced from real-world organisations, or “driveby” professional development workshops. Funding should instead be put towards the provision of co-design teams that provide the link between professional development, online resources and online communities.




Read more:
Why teachers are turning to Twitter


Further, co-design is a meaningful way of sharing learning between schools. Each time we work with a school we are able to share with them resources and advice from our work with previous schools.

For example, one rural school we worked with took a term-long project that had been successful in a city, and adapted the assignment to make it fit the rural context. Most of the lessons needed only minor changes, and the result was the rural students felt the project spoke directly to their own experiences.

Gonski 2.0 presents an excellent opportunity for us to re-evaluate how we nurture, support and provision our teachers. The report states:

For teachers to fulfil their role as expert educators, schools need to be seen as professional learning organisations. They need to develop a culture that values continuous learning where teachers, as well as students, can feel safe to admit gaps in knowledge and understanding.

We believe that this culture of collaboration, growth and experimentation is best achieved when teachers adopt a design thinking mindset. Teachers come to adopt a design thinking mindset through a combination of design experience, professional development and ongoing support. Co-design presents an excellent way to achieve all three.

Economic thinking in education and its degrading/corrupting effect

This piece on economic thinking in education was originally published on the EduResearchMatters blog of the AARE under the title Economic Thinking is Corrupting Education in Australia where it is freely available.

Introduction

There is a growing trend in education of proposing and enacting policy ideas that are based primarily upon economic thinking. I believe there are hidden impacts of applying economic thinking (typified by price signals, market mechanisms and market-oriented ideas) to education. In this post I want to unpack some of that thinking and look at what is happening to education because of it.

 Corruption of the concept of education

The philosopher Michael Sandel proposes that there are two main arguments against policy based on economic thinking. These arguments are made on the basis of fairness and corruption, and both are significant for education researchers and policy makers. While it is typical in policy formation for much attention to be given to the concept of fairness – with steps taken to ensure that policy is as fair as possible – the concept of corruption is rarely given consideration. In the case of education policy, this relates to questions about how policy can change (or corrupt) society’s conception of the role and purpose of education, and about how the moral value of education can be crowded out by economic values.

If you want to read more about this notion of economic thinking in education you should read Hidden Privatisation in Public Education and (released in July this year) Commercialisation in Australian Public Schooling. This latter study provides data confirming that teachers in Australia are indeed concerned about the influence of commercialism in schools, characterised by “top-down, test-based accountability, the introduction of market competition between schools, the use of private sector managerial practices, and an increasingly standardised curriculum that focuses on literacy and numeracy” .

In this climate of economic thinking there is a great need to attend to the moral value of education – its role and its purpose in society.

Read the rest of the article on the AARE EduResearch Matters blog.

A commenter on this article recommended a related link to this eloquent talk by Professor Alan Reid about the value of public education:

The article follows on from previous discussions on educational economics by talking bout economic thinking in education.

Presentation: Online support for STEM teachers

On Friday 9th June 2017 I had the opportunity to present some of the ideas that have come out from TeachConnect. The presentation was called Online support for STEM teachers and in the audience we had representatives from government and the councils of deans of science and education.

The main thread of my argument is:

  1. There might be a lot of online support available for teachers (in terms of resource banks and open online communities) but it’s incredibly confusing.
  2. What we really need is for the creation of a professional learning network and a professional identity to be supported by the universities from day one of initial teacher education.
  3. To achieve that we need to be the ones that create something online that is more useful than what is currently available
  4. What teachers are actually asking for are four things:
    1. Being able to ask pragmatic questions
    2. Being able to find the right mentor/experienced teacher/professional/peer to have a deep conversation about professional practice
    3. Being able to continue these deep conversations over time for the necessary trust and understanding of context to develop
    4. Being able to share things with the community
  5. What we need to achieve this is, more than anything, leadership from the Deans of Education and Science. The technology and the engagement with students is achievable, but without leadership it will always be an uphill struggle.

Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Les Dawes, Kathy Nickels, Melissa Nugent and Belinda Eslick for early assistance with this presentation.

 

Understanding the role of markets in education

This post continues my attempts to understand how educational economics are shaping our understanding of education. This is a philosophical project in the sense that it’s about concepts – understanding the ones that we use and creating new ones where they are needed.

Previously I’ve written about the difference conceptions of education that arise when beginning from ideologies of either equality or liberty.

I’ve recently been reading What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets by Michael Sandel (a philosophy professor from Harvard – here’s a good review of it and below is clip showing the main arguments).

My takeaway for understanding the role of markets in education is that there are two main arguments against creating a market in any domain:

  1. Fairness: In a world in which different people have access to different resources, there is an inherent unfairness in creating markets for things that ought to be fundamental rights (as indeed education is under the UN charter of human rights). For example, one might be tempted to make the quality of a child’s education entirely dependent upon the willingness of parents to pay. Many reject such a proposal on the grounds of fairness (and hence the presence of government funded education)
  2. Corruption/degradation: Putting a price on something and making it a market fundamentally changes the way that society values something. For example, giving teachers “performance pay” for improving student results is not a neutral action – it fundamentally changes the relationship between teachers and their work.  In this case it might be seen as degrading the idea (held by many teachers) that they do their work to benefit society and not for achieving a financial reward. In other words, the extrinsic reward (of money) can interfere with existing intrinsic rewards.

These two standpoints help to give us some structure for critiquing economic rationale in education. In the first case creating a market creates unfairness; in the second case creating a market in some way changes the values of society in a way that may (morally) be considered detrimental. This second case is often forgotten due to the challenges that it presents.

Why create markets?

A market is fundamentally a way of being able to exchange something. Creating a market is making it possible to exchange something (usually with money) that wasn’t previously able to be exchanged.

In the current climate of neoliberalism, politicians often look for ways to bring “market logic” into education. The rationale for this are complex and I won’t get into the textbook economic theory more than I have to. Mostly it is about:

  1. Efficiency: Markets are really good at ensuring that things get to the people that most value them at the price that best fits the supplier – however, there are plenty of assumptions made about the market for this statement to remain true.
  2. Competition: Making a market introduces competition and (so goes the theory) then the best suppliers win – where success is determined by giving the consumer what they want at the right price. This of course is far more complex in education than this simple idea accounts for. This is why ideas like “making all schools private to improve competition” make little sense when the nuance is considered.
  3. Regulation: Once there is a price on something then it can be controlled and influenced by (government) policy. For example, once teachers have performance pay linked to standardised tests then the logic goes that it’s a matter of finding the right price to “incentivise” them to work harder. (To be clear, in practice there are many issues with all of this – my point here is just to characterise the arguments and policies that are often made).

Markets in education

Where does all of this get us to? The aim is to provide some clear thinking to get us out of the bind that we in education seem to frequently find ourselves in – having to deal with increasing attempts to create markets and set prices within education.

Some examples from around the world:

  • The cost of private schools
  •  Paying students [in low income areas] to read books or take advanced courses
  • Paying students for their performance (e.g., in standardised tests)
  • Paying teachers for their performance (e.g. in standardised tests)
  • Funding schools according to their performance (e.g., in standardised tests or in truancy rates)
  • Funding universities according to the salaries achieved by their graduates
  • Etc

In every case the advocates of the market solution point us to the ways that efficiency will increase and the way that all parties involved will win from increased funding and choice.

The point of this post is to encourage everyone to consider more deeply the two initial criteria:

  1. Is this change, with all of its economic rationale, fair for all involved?
  2. What are the impacts of this change on the values that society holds about education, and the values of the people involved in education? Are we prepared to accept such degradation (where it exists)?

The former question is frequently addressed in media reports (e.g. this was discussed widely regards the recent HECS/HELP repayment thresholds in Australia). My concern is that the second question is rarely considered, let alone actually treated by politicians as holding weight.

Yet an education system always embodies the moral values of a society. When will we start actually having a conversation around these moral values rather than utilitarian outcomes?

The Educational Economics of School Choice

Ever since Friedman’s work on the educational economics of school choice (Friedman, 1962) the debate has gone round in circles about the merits of a comprehensive public system compared to what is known as a voucher system. It is likely that in some country, somewhere in the world, right now a government is attempting to implement “more competition in the schooling sector” through a voucher system. Is this a good thing?

My fundamental argument in this post is that schooling policy can either work to create a low-friction market or to reduce inequality but not both. I’ll return to this post over time to make improvements as I get a handle on the arguments. My conclusion thus far is that I am strongly opposed to voucher systems based on their tendency to increase inequality.

Some arguments in brief. Schools change slowly. There is a great deal of friction in an educational marketplace (i.e. it is hard to change schools). Critically, human geography (and the social inequality that determines it) makes the idea of choosing schools challenging. There is a strong motivation in a deregulated, competitive market for schools to spend increased amounts of money on advertising (when compared to teaching), to the detriment of all. There are many benefits of schools working in collaboration rather than competition that are lost.

I’m sure there are many more, strong arguments. For now, this is a summary from Dolton (2003) in The Economic Journal:

Opponents of the school choice movement (see Smith and Meier (1995) for example) suggest that it will lead to the destruction of public schools and the increased segregation of schools by race, class and ability and induce greater in- equality. Opponents to the market model suggest that empirical evidence relating to the successes of existing choice-based systems are questionable and that the theories and assumptions that provide intellectual support for choice are abstract and have never been systematically tested. ‘The new market “model” is often not spelt out in detail nor are the assumptions concerning individual and institutional behaviour that would be required to provide the anticipated efficiency gains’, Witte (2000, p. 11). One prominent critique of the public choice also suggests that it ‘will erode the public forums in which decisions with societal consequences can democratically be resolved’,

The central questions in the school choice debate remain: what exactly is meant by school choice; who chooses to select private schools and how do they choose; what do families really know about schools; what are the reasons and rationale for choices; in reality how much choice is there for most families; what happens to the children left behind in the public schools in districts which introduce voucher schemes; how much diversity is there after a voucher scheme is introduced; are parents more satisfied by the market alternative; are parents making rational choices and are market forces leading to improvements in standards?

Empirical evidence which answers these questions can be very negative (see Gorard (1997) for example) suggesting that: schools are basically very similar, families consider very few schools in reality, selection by mortgage/house prices operates powerfully, formal sources of information like league tables are of little consequence and choices are often made long in advance by default. Alternative evidence suggests that the consequences of introducing school choice can lead to positive educational improvements in all schools.

The Dolton article provides an excellent review of the key questions around the issue of implementing voucher schemes. A critical one being the idea that voucher systems presuppose all schools being private. When there is a parallel private and public system then it becomes an issue of “exit and voice” (see Hirschman (1970)):

This problem is that there will not be an effective mechanism for change if the most influential parents choose to ‘exit’ from the state schools to the private schools rather than ‘voice’ their views in an attempt to change the state schools.

The argument that Dolton is making here is that for a competitive market to actually work, there needs to be an accountability – where the needs of consumers (parents) are taken into account by the market (schools). This does not happen in practice.

The key gap in the literature is that models of school choice theory “do not explicitly address the issue of how parents exiting from the public school sector to the private sector will affect outcomes in public schools” (F179)

Paywall link: http://www.jstor.org.ezp01.library.qut.edu.au/stable/3590143

References

Dolton, P. (2003), A review of ‘The Economics of School Choice’, The Economic Journal, Vol. 113, No. 485, Features (Feb., 2003), pp. F167-F179

Friedman, M. (1962), The Role of Government in Education. In Capitalism and Freedom. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

 

Acknowledgements

Thanks to the community on the economics StackExchange site for help with researching this post, especially the user luchonacho. You can read the full thread here: http://economics.stackexchange.com/questions/16128/is-there-any-work-on-equality-in-a-market-versus-friction/16158#16158

Update and edit:

This theme was recently addressed by Amanda Keddie in an excellent post on the EduResearch Matters blog on Why Australia should not follow Nick Gibb’s advice on how to run our schools.

My comment on her post is reproduced here as it is germane to this discussion:

Thanks Amanda for a well-written post arguing for nuance in this debate around educational reform.

I am writing this comment to take up the thread and argue for a high level of debate around this issue. To my mind there are three levels at which debate tends to occur when it comes to ideas of school privatisation:

1. Ideology: People who talk passionately about educational systems tend to hold one of two ideals. If liberty is your ideal then anything to do with “competition”, “autonomy”, and “choice” is a good thing. If equality is your ideal then anything to do with “social justice”, “opportunity”, and “social mobility” is a good thing. At this level, the debate can go nowhere and cannot attempt to find common ground. (For the record: I favour equality but I recognise that this is simply not as important as liberty for many people in society).

An example of commentary at the level of ideology: “I believe that choice is also a major piece in the puzzle of providing the best education to young Australians” – Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham

2. Empirical: Sometimes the debate rises to the point that people start throwing around the conclusions of one or other study from the literature. At its worst there is cherrypicking of whichever study best supports ideology. Often there is simply a lack of recognition that education is highly contextual. Something that works in one country with its own culture and educational history may have entirely different outcomes in another country. At its best there is nuanced weighing up of empirical evidence from both sides and attempts to find trends and contradictions.

3. Theoretical: We need debate that attempts to understand why studies produce the outcomes that they do. Debate that leaves ideology at the door and perhaps even moves beyond prior examples to imagining what could be possible. This would involve firstly having a discussion around the objectives for what we want the outcomes for a school system to be. For example: Do we want better international PISA scores (often assumed to be a goal) or do we care more about a reduced disparity between advantaged and disadvantaged (one of many other possible aims)? Is it possible to achieve both without significantly more funding? What do we choose if it must be one or the other?

From a considered understanding of desired outcomes, we can then learn from many the nuanced examples in the literature. The literature around these issues is far more broad than many recognise, spanning many decades and multiple paradigms: applied economics, education, sociology, history, etc. We need to learn from all of it if we want to get arrive at good policy that fits with our own context in Australia.

For example, this is a quote from Dolton (2003, The Economic Journal 113(485)) trying to find the nuance in the debate around “school choice”:

“The central questions in the school choice debate remain: what exactly is meant by school choice; who chooses to select private schools and how do they choose; what do families really know about schools; what are the reasons and rationale for choices; in reality how much choice is there for most families; what happens to the children left behind in the public schools in districts which introduce voucher schemes; how much diversity is there after a voucher scheme is introduced; are parents more satisfied by the market alternative; are parents making rational choices and are market forces leading to improvements in standards?”

Online learning networks of preservice and early career teachers

I’ve realised that I’m yet to put up here on this site a plug for my own book (co-authored with Marc Clarà, Ben Kehrwald and Patrick A. Danaher).

It’s got the catchy title of Online Learning Networks of Preservice and  Early Career Teachers. What does that actually mean?

The book brings together a few years of research into understanding what actually works for teachers within online communities.

You can find the book here: http://www.palgrave.com/us/book/9781137503015

The book is structured in a way that aims to make a contribution to theory. Each of the chapters addresses the questions of:

  1. What do we mean when we talk about the “greater community of teachers”?
  2. What kind of support is relevant to this greater community of teachers?
  3. What kind of knowledge do beginning teachers need?
  4. How is engagement and presence in an online space for teachers created?
  5. What kind of methodology is appropriate for inquiring into online networks of teachers?
  6. What does the design and implementation of an online community of teachers look like? (Describing the TeachConnect platform and its development)
  7. How should online communities  of teachers be evaluated?
  8. What do we know now that we didn’t previously?

Chapter 7 brings the whole book together and there is a figure that I would like to briefly draw attention to – a framework for evaluating online communities:

The y-axis in this diagram is drawn from the framework outlined by Carvalho & Goodyear (2014) in The Architecture of Productive Learning Networks.

This is an ontology for talking about the different design elements in an online network (e.g., a community of teachers). In brief: set design is design for look and feel (the stage on which action occurs; social design is design for the relationships between participants (how you set things up for actors to relate to one another); and epistemic design is design for the relationships with knowledge objects (how actors are able to relate to things).

On the x-axis are theoretical constructs that we believe are critical to the success of any online network of teachers:

  1. The richness, connectedness and diversity of the community of teachers that are involved,
  2. The type of knowledge development that you are supporting (situational knowledge being more important to beginning teachers, we argue),
  3. The presence experienced by the participants in the community.

Each square in this matrix is interrogated within Chapter 7. For example: How can set, social and epistemic design all come together to facilitate presence in the community? How can the design of the learning network facilitate teachers supporting one another to develop situational knowledge about the profession.

The book can be found here.

(Update: We’ve just found out that the book won a USQ Publication Excellence Award for 2016 in the authored books category.)

References

Carvalho, Lucila, and Peter Goodyear. The architecture of productive learning networks. Routledge, 2014.

Kelly, Nick, et al. Online Learning Networks for Pre-Service and Early Career Teachers. Springer, 2015. https://doi.org/10.1057/978-1-137-50302-2

 

ATEA 2016 – What are beginning teachers looking for online?

A presentation from the Australian Teacher Education Association (Kelly & Kickbusch, 2016) about work we’ve been doing on online teacher support. In particular there is a useful reference list contained in the presentation of recent research from Australia in online teacher support.

What are beginning teachers looking for online? The TeachConnect story (and what can be learnt from it).

TeachConnect is a platform to support pre-service secondary maths and science teachers through their professional experience and into the profession. It has been developed over four years as a design-based research project and now has over 500 users across Queensland.

This presentation aims to share everything that we have discovered during this journey. It contributes a discussion of :

– The unrealised potential for online support for pre-service and early career teachers (to augment rather than replace existing support).

– The design principles for online communities of teachers that have been developed through analysis of existing platforms and multiple iterations of TeachConnect development with input from participants.

– The design of the engagement strategy for involving all stakeholders within the state education system, with a particular focus upon the development of the online group and peer mentoring program.

– Real-world impacts and discussion of future steps.

Finally, the presentation describes how the open-source platform could be used in other states. The work can be understood as a contribution to the vision of an online platform that is as useful as possible for pre-service and early career teachers. In summary, we believe this will continue to be achieved through: (i) widespread collaboration between universities, government and accreditation bodies; (ii) ongoing participant-led design and redesign; and (iii) convergence, for maximising benefits of a large community whilst retaining the benefits of enclosed spaces where deep reflection can occur.

  • Clarà, M., Kelly, N., Mauri, T., & Danaher, P. (2015). Can massive communities of teachers facilitate collaborative reflection? Fractal design as a possible answer. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 1-13.
  • Herrington, A., Herrington, J., Kervin, L., & Ferry, B. (2006). The design of an online community of practice for beginning teachers. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 6(1), 120-132.
  • Kelly, N., & Antonio, A. (2016). Teacher peer support in social network sites. Teaching and Teacher Education, 56, 138-149.
  • Kelly, N., Clará, M., Kehrwald, B., & Danaher, P. (In press). Online Learning Networks for Pre-service and Early Career Teachers. UK: Palgrave Pivot.
  • Mansfield, C. F., Beltman, S., Broadley, T., & Weatherby-Fell, N. (2016). Building resilience in teacher education: An evidence informed framework. Teaching and Teacher Education, 54, 77-87.
  • Prestridge, S. (2016). Conceptualising self-generating online teacher professional development. Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 1-20.
  • Redmond, P. (2015). Discipline specific online mentoring for secondary pre-service teachers. Computers & Education, 90, 95-104.
  • Sari, E., & Herrington, J. (2013). Using design-based research to investigate the design and development of an online community of practice for teacher professional development.

Designing Learning Analytics Tools

This post is about designing learning analytics tools and some theory around their innovation.

Having said that, this site is at risk of becoming a litany of posts about papers that have come out, such as this one on teacher support and this one on developing online communities. I’m curious, does anybody have any good examples of academic websites that illuminate? One that I’ve found is the blog by David Jones (USQ) which is extremely generous without being outlandish – a place where new ideas happen as well as discussing established ideas. Something to aspire to perhaps.

This post is about the design of learning analytics tools, and sharing a paper that I wrote with Kate Thompson and Pippa Yeoman. The paper is interesting in that it discusses the design of learning analytics tools in the big picture, before using the innovation of a specific tool to provide an example.

The abstract for the paper:

This paper describes theory-led design as a way of developing novel tools for learning analytics (LA). It focuses upon the domain of automated discourse analysis (ADA) of group learning activities to help an instructor to orchestrate online groups in real-time. The paper outlines the literature on the development of LA tools within the domain of ADA, and poses an argument for conducting tool development based upon first-principles. It describes first principles as being drawn from theory and that these principles can subsequently inform the structure and behaviour of tools. It presents a framework for this process of theory-led design. The framework is substantiated through the example of developing a new tool for assisting instructors with the orchestration of online groups. A description of the tool is given and examples of results from use with real-world data are presented. The paper concludes with a call for intent on the part of designers to connect the design process explicitly to theory on the basis that this has the potential to yield innovation when developing tools as well as the prospect of outcomes from tools connecting back to theory.

It was reviewed by Chris Teplovs who asks tricky questions around how learning analytics innovators can work towards tools that scale along with the innovations occurring in education. He goes on to discuss the work occuring at the Michigan Innovation Greenhouse, which focusses upon this kind of innovation. To quote Chris:

One question that emerges has to do with the sustainability of the development of theory- and principle-based tools and techniques. Are there better models for getting to scale with educational innovations? Those of us at the University of Michigan’s new Digital Innovation Greenhouse think there are. Researchers are good at innovating but their creations can seldom be scaled up for widespread adoption. They are focused on creating and testing innovations but typically have little experience with developing software that can be supported as infrastructure. On the other end of the spectrum, Information Technology Services (ITS) organizations are very good at staging and supporting mature software systems. Their skills are ill-matched to the loose, rapid, duct-tape development methods of researchers. It is not possible to take code from a research group and hand it off to ITS for staging at scale. We have tried for several years; the mismatch is too large. This chasm between innovation and infrastructure is present in all kinds of technology transfer. Our team posited that higher education needs a greenhouse for propagation; an interim space that understands both why innovations arrive so fragile and how to make them stronger before they’re taken “outdoors.” In the world of entrepreneurial business, these spaces are often called “incubators.” We have adopted an “incubator” model that seeks to take educational technology and learning analytics innovations and grow them to scale. Time will tell how successful we are. Innovators such as Kelly, Thompson, and Yeoman can help usher in a new era of learning analytics tools and techniques that incorporates not only powerful design frameworks but also concern themselves with the design, development, and deployment of robust and scalable tools and techniques.

Both the paper on designing learning analytics tools and the commentary are freely available the Journal of Learning Analytics website. The references for the two papers are:

Kelly, N., Thompson, K., & Yeoman, P. (2015). Theory-led design of instruments and representations in learning analytics: Developing a novel tool for orchestration of online collaborative learning. Journal of Learning Analytics, 2(2), 14-43.

https://epress.lib.uts.edu.au/journals/index.php/JLA/article/view/4265/5088

Teplovs, C. (2015). Commentary On “Theory-led design of instruments and representations in learning analytics: Developing a novel tool for orchestration of online collaborative learning”. Journal of Learning Analytics, 2(2), 44-46.

https://epress.lib.uts.edu.au/journals/index.php/JLA/article/view/4606/5091

Teacher Peer Support in Social Networks

Interested in the ways that teachers support one another online in teacher social networks? A recently published paper by myself and Amy Antonio looks at open Facebook groups of teachers to examine the ways in which they support one another.

Some elements of this paper are discussed in another post about the limits and potential of online communities for teachers.

The paper has been published in the journal Teaching and Teacher Education and is titled teacher peer support in social networks (free link).

The crux of the paper is that six roles can be identified that experienced teachers take on to support other teachers online:

  1. Advocates the practical. Teachers help one another with day-to-day pragmatic aspects of the profession, such as finding resources for a lesson or navigating the bureaucracy.
  2. Conveners of relations. Teachers instigate relationships with other teachers, and can make introductions to other useful contacts.
  3. Agents of socialisation. Teaching as a profession has cultural norms. Experienced teachers induct other teachers into these norms, such as in the way that they share stories and the ‘memes’ that they promulgate.
  4. Modelers of practice. Teachers give a rich description of what they are doing in the classroom, providing a model of teaching practice.
  5. Supporters of reflection. Collaborative reflection is often considered the most important kind of knowledge for beginning teachers, to make sense of confusing situations and learn from their experiences.
  6. Providers of feedback. Teachers provide a constructive source of feedback, such as pedagogical and curriculum advice or in reconstructing an event that has occurred.

In a review of existing online communities, it appears that certain conditions are needed for teachers to be willing to engage in the most important of these roles: modelling practice, supporting reflection and providing feedback. Such a connection appears to have preconditions of a trusted environment with stable relationships and a sense of privacy

The logic for reaching these six categories comes from two places. The first is from Clarke et al. who identify eleven roles for co-operating teachers of which only six apply to the online context. Secondly, there is much in the literature on forms of social support onto which these six roles can be mapped:

  • Emotional support in the form of esteem, affect, trust, concern and listening
  • Appraisal support in the form of affirmation, feedback and social comparison
  • Informational support in the form of advice, suggestion, directives and information
  • Instrumental support in the form of aid in kind, money, labour and time.

The main contribution of the paper is to define these six roles for online teachers. The paper then uses these roles to analyse teachers interacting in social network groups (on Facebook).

The results show that teachers support each other in open groups of teacher social networks in very pragmatic ways – there is very little in the way of reflection upon practice or modelling of teaching occurring in these groups.

The citation for the paper is:

Kelly, N., & Antonio, A. (2016). Teacher peer support in social network sites. Teaching and Teacher Education, 56, 138-149. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2016.02.007

 

Online communities for teachers

Here’s a link to a recent article I wrote for the AARE blog:

Online communities for teachers: what research says about their limits and potential

The piece begins:

The ability to be connected “anywhere, anytime” is recent enough that most professions are still figuring out how make best use of this connectivity, and teaching is no exception. Online communities offer great potential for teachers, in helping them to create and sustain networks of mutual support. However I believe current online networks are still a long way from reaching their potential to help the profession.

Teacher educators emphasise the importance of having a network of colleagues to draw upon in the challenging early years of the profession, yet many beginning teachers find themselves without adequate access to such support. When asked to name their most useful form of support, many simply say that they have none. Preliminary results from further research show teachers in rural locations, on short-term contracts, and supply teachers, are more likely than other teachers to lack support.

A strong online community of teachers is no panacea for the problem of early career teacher support. But improvements in online communities have the potential to make a significant difference, particularly for those teachers currently missing out on support.

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Senior Research Fellow at Queensland University of Technology and Adjunct Senior Research Fellow at the University of Southern Queensland, Australia. Research on teacher support, online communities and the cognition of creativity.