formal vs. DIY
So here we are. We’ve covered a lot of issues related to the challenges of an innovative, DIY educational initiative trying to work with more traditional, formal institutions.
What are the options for moving ahead? It’s a vast continuum of overlapping choices. Some may make more or less sense in different timeframes.
- Flex to meet credit requirements, which may mean compromising the core values of peer learning as we’ve envisioned it. (At the School of Ed, we won’t likely do that.)
- Flex to meet credit requirements while not compromising core values. (It’s not yet known if this is possible and under what circumstances. It will likely depend on how flexible and creative we all are.)
- Forgo credit for now and work hard on creative new models.
- Forgo credit and stay true to the letter of our core values. (Easy for us but a disservice to folks who need credit; may also limit the reach and impact of P2PU).
- Pursue becoming accredited as a credit-issuing institution. (Lots of time and money involved.)
- Pursue new models of issuing credit by working with policymakers, states, districts, etc. (Long term process, again with lots of time and money required, but the upside for learners could be huge.)
Most of this series has been written with PD and CEUs for teachers in mind. The issues get bigger and more complicated when you start thinking about degrees and actual university credit.
This is a guest post from Erin Knight, who works with Mozilla and P2PU on assessment in open peer learning environments.
Let’s face it – learning looks very different today than traditionally imagined. Its not just ‘seat time’ within schools, but extends across multiple contexts, experiences and interactions. It is no longer just an isolated or individual concept, but is inclusive, social, informal, participatory, creative and lifelong. People are learning new skills like digital literacies and 21st Century Skills, as well as learning through new pathways and channels such as through open education opportunities from providers like P2PU, through freely accessible information repositories like Wikipedia and many other destinations on the Web, and through each other on social media and other collaborative tools. Much of this learning involves critical job-relevant competencies that include the obvious hard skills and professional development, but even further, and perhaps more importantly, social skills like collaboration, teamwork and critical thinking.
And yet, much of this learning does not ‘count.’ Institutions still decide what types of learning if officially recognized, with little room for innovation, as well as who gets to have access to that learning. Their end products, the grade or degree, are the only way that learning is currently communicated and recognized within the system, as well as the larger society. Without a way to capture, promote and transfer all of the learning that can occur (and is occurring) across the wider spectrum, we are discouraging self-driven engaged learning, making critical skills unattractive or inaccessible, isolating or ignoring quality efforts and interactions and ultimately, holding learners back from reaching their potential.
This is where we feel badges can come in. Badges are digital emblems or symbols of skills, achievements, interests or affiliations. Badges can be aligned with assessments, like those mentioned in the last post, to provide meaningful evidence of learning that can be carried with a learner to demonstrate their skills. Badges can support innovation in assessment and be awarded for a much deeper and wider set of skills and achievements, including the often neglected social skills like collaboration and teamwork, and thus one’s collection of badges can tell a much more comprehensive story to potential employers, formal institutions and peer communities.
Specifically, badges can support:
- Capturing and demonstrating the learning path
- Signaling achievement and ability to key stakeholders like recruiters or peers
- Motivating learning and participation
- Adapting to and supporting innovation in learning and assessment
- Formalizing and extending reputation and identity development
- Fostering community and kinship
I am involved in a number of initiatives to explore the potential for badges, including developing a badge and assessment program for P2PU, specifically in their School of Webcraft which is a partnership with Mozilla. This badge program will offer credentials for web developer training and will ultimately provide pathways for learners to not only find additional opportunities for learning and skill development, but to find jobs and get real results. In addition to working with P2PU, as well as a number of other badge issuers, we at Mozilla are also building the Open Badge Infrastructure which will support a badge ECOsystem, in which there are many badge issuers, and any given learner can earn badges across experiences, collect them to a single collection and then share them out with various websites and stakeholders. The OBI provides the plumbing to extend the value of each learning experience and each badge.
Again, the ultimate goal of all of all of this exploration and momentum around badges is to support learning as it occurs all across the Web, keep each learner in control of her own learning and credentials, and allow people to share that learning and evidence of skills and experiences with anyone, thus adding flexibility and value to the system and supporting personalized learning paths.
As far as I know, no P2PU course has a grading policy. To my mind, it would be somewhat antithetical to give participants grades. It flies in the face of self-directed learning to have an external judge make the decision on whether a participant has met the goals (and which goals? the course goals? the participant goals?).
If participants didn’t need externally-validated credits (e.g. teachers and CEUs), we’d probably never even have this discussion.
On the other hand, I understand that official credit cannot be given absent a determination of whether each participant has earned it.
What then could/should be used to assess student participation and learning? Here are some ideas.
- Learner participation in discussions, collaborative projects, etc.
- number of posts
- depth of participation
- Contributions to peer learning
- Accomplishment of course goals
- as set by participants?
- as assessed by participants?
- as assessed by peers?
- as assessed by facilitators?
- as assessed by outside assessors?
- Completion of traditional assessment tasks, such as written papers, presentations, tests, etc.
- as assessed by participants?
- as assessed by facilitators?
- as assessed by outside assessors?
Only authentic assessments that reflect the achievement of course and participant goals seem useful to me. The challenge, I suppose, is coming up with assessments that meet both informal and formal requirements.
A popular suggestion is to use objective (“one right answer”) multiple choice questions to determine if participants have mastered course goals. These kinds of assessments have the advantage of being machine scoreable.
However, it is challenging if not impossible to create these types of questions to assess deeper learning.
How do you write multiple choice questions to assess these kind of learning objectives?
- “Define what it means to learn deeply via web 2.0/social media.”
- “Have a deeper understanding of what the Common Core State Standards say about writing to learn and writing in the disciplines.”
- “Explain pros and cons of different methods of engagement within different frameworks.”
This is a tough one. Maybe my imagination or knowledge of psychometrics is too small.
Perhaps a bigger concern is eating our own dog food. If we are trying to reinforce deeper learning and authentic assessment, we must model those practices ourselves.
I think the obsession with these kinds of tests (and especially the ones in place in K-12 that test absurdly isolated factual knowledge) is the root of a lot of problems in education. How then can we ask the teachers we are hoping will step out of this model to take a multiple choice assessment themselves?
(After I wrote this, I read this article: Professors Cede Grading Power to Outsiders. Wow — so much to say about this. Think I’ll leave it for a future post though.)
I know you’ve all been waiting for this one. ;)
This is a conundrum online courses have puzzled over for a long time. How do you estimate how many hours per week a course might take? For a very organized and focused learner (or one who doesn’t apply himself), it might take less time. For a particularly inquisitive and extra hard working learner (or one who is just slow), it might take more time.
It is difficult to estimate and impossible to measure or nearly impossible verify after the fact. So most online courses take their best guess, and then credit is given for that amount of time.
A bigger question is should seat time be such an important factor in granting credit?
Some groups, like Western Governors University, have experimented with competency-based criteria. Have those models worked? Is it feasible to do this on a large scale?
For K-12, seat time is the rule. Kids attend x number of hours of school and then move on. Repeat. Repeat. The idea of competency-based learning in K-12 is a model many of would like to see. Stop constraining students to age-based grade levels. Let them move through content at a pace that works for them. Supported differentiation and elimination of pacing would be a real way to make sure no child was left behind.
For P2PU,the process is all about individual learning. It’s all about gaining competence in your chosen area in a way that you define.
Does issuing credit put a crimp in this? I’m not sure.
Traditional university courses have a syllabus. They are set at the beginning of the course (without any input from students, in my experience) and don’t change.
While all the courses in the P2PU School of Ed pilot have a syllabus, that is not the case with all P2PU courses. Some courses may start out with a syllabus. Other groups may choose to develop a syllabus together as a group. Others may feel that having a syllabus is antithetical to their learning process. This could pose challenges to certifying a syllabus for credit in advance.
Even in the School of Ed, we encourage participants to customize the syllabus for their own needs and classroom situations. If an activity isn’t valuable, don’t do it. Instead, suggest one that meets your objectives. That’s what self-directed learning is all about. Yet that does pose issues for a traditional credit issuing process.
A couple years back, I was involved in an open, online course in which midstream in the course, there was something of a revolt. The participants were highly engaged in the studies, so much so that they felt they needed more time to reflect, write, discuss, and play with the ideas being covered. However, the course load and pace didn’t allow that. So midway the course syllabus was significantly altered — by the students.
In my opinion, this is an exceptional example of how education should work. If there were more of this kind of learner self-direction in traditional PD and especially in K-12 classrooms, more and deeper learning would take place.
How do traditional institutions cope with this? At a university, it may be acceptable from a well-respected, tenured professor, but less so from a newer instructor. In district PD, it would not likely be accommodated. In K-12, it is the kind of thing largely frowned upon in this era of pacing and standardization. To me, this is a huge failing. It is definitely not a trap we are willing to fall into at the School of Ed.
So customize away! We’ll leave the lights on.
Before continuing, I should say just a bit about the School of Ed at P2PU and how it is different from other parts of P2PU.
First, the School of Ed is a pilot, and as such, we have some fairly unique characteristics, both when compared with traditional professional development (PD) and from the rest of P2PU.
The School of Ed differs from traditional professional development in many ways. All participation is voluntary, and there is no charge to participants. However, participants are asked to make some commitments in terms of directing their own learning, actively collaborating with the group, and working together on hands on projects. We encourage each participant to customize the course for their own needs. The focus of the School of Ed is on doing (writing, creating, reflecting, etc.), not just passively reading, listening, or viewing.
The School of Ed differs from other parts of P2PU as well. It is generally more structured than most P2PU courses. We have a somewhat common approach, format, syllabuses, etc. Other P2PU courses span a huge continuum from more structured “courses” to highly unstructured “study groups.” The School of Ed has highly-qualified experts developing our courses. In general, anyone can develop a P2PU course, so organizers may be highly-qualified experts or not.
In starting the School of Ed, we talked a lot (and continue to talk) about how traditional or not our approach should be. There are certain foundations we are committed to — peer learning, individualization, openness, community, and deeper learning. However, there are also certain more traditional things we are doing to make these courses “fit” into the existing K-12 system. Awarding credit (and even assessing participation) might be one of these.
It’s a fine line we’re walking, and we’re constantly refining.
Now on with today’s post…
Instructors at a university, even for online courses being given for CEUs, undergo a rigorous vetting process. Sometimes there is an “instructor of record” process by which a proxy instructor is used for certification purposes. Absent that, instructors typically must have at least a masters in the field being taught and must complete a fairly lengthy application process. For the School of Ed pilot, this doesn’t pose much of a barrier, because we have assembled a very special group of highly qualified experts, a true dream team.
However, this is certainly not the norm. In fact, P2PU prides itself on the fact that anyone can put together and/or facilitate a course. In fact, open communities like P2PU are able to scale because of their ability to attract volunteers. Some of the volunteers are experts in their fields; others are great facilitators but may lack more formal qualifications.
In addition, it wouldn’t make logistical sense to try to put facilitators through a lengthy application process. Courses are constantly being created and run, and there is a stream of new facilitators joining us all the time. In fact, at the School of Ed, we hope that some of the participants in our first courses will go on to facilitate future iterations of these courses or even create their own new courses.
Powered by high-quality content (all P2PU content is also open licensed for sharing), self-directed learners organized in peer teams may drive the learning process more so than an instructor. What then is the role of a facilitator? Certainly, it is not the same as that of a traditional instructor.
To me, the roles of course developers and course facilitators are very different (although at P2PU, they are often one and the same). Given an expertly designed, high quality course, some of the roles of the facilitator are:
- To encourage participants to set their own goals and to customize the planned activities (or design their own) accordingly
- To answer questions, provide support, and recommend additional resources for participants
- To moderate synchronous sessions if applicable
- To encourage participants to collaborate with each other (peer learning) and to take on leadership roles as appropriate
And now considering the possibility of offering credit, a new role:
- To certify participant learning mastery
Stay tuned for a future post on assessment and grading!
This is the first in a series of posts about the differences and similarities of formal adult learning, especially through institutions of higher ed and ones that issue some kind of formal credit, and informal DIY adult learning.
P2PU is all about informal learning. The new School of Ed pilot at P2PU is to give K-12 teachers a chance to engage in professional development that not only covers innovative approaches to learning but also models collaborative approaches that we hope teachers will take back to their own classrooms.
Historically, much professional development (PD) is mandated by districts. Teachers are told what, how, and when they will learn. There is little differentiation. Courses at the P2PU School of Ed are all voluntary and free of charge. Participating teachers choose what courses they want to take and even what types of projects and activities they will pursue to accomplish their own objectives. It is differentiated and self-directed.
In order to renew their teaching credential and to advance on the salary scale, teachers must earn professional development credit, the requirements of which vary state by state. In some states, this is tied to continuing education units (CEUs), typically issued by a university. In others, it is clock hours, often issued by an intermediate unit. A few are experimenting with more innovative models.
Obviously it would behoove participants in P2PU, both in the School of Ed and in other areas, to be able to earn this type of credit for their participation and achievements in courses.
It is with that goal that we recently began discussions to seek CEU credits for School of Ed courses through a prestigious traditional university.
In beginning this process, the chasm between the traditional and new peer-driven models was immediately evident. Here are just a few of the questions that arose. (I’ll be writing more about each of these in the days to come.)
- How do you certify the course facilitators? What exactly is a “facilitator”, and what is his/her role in peer learning?
- What is the syllabus for each course? What happens if that syllabus is fluid and flexible for the class as a whole as well as for individuals?
- How do you measure students’ time on task in the course, as well as their concrete outcomes?
- How are learners formally assessed and what is the grading policy (if any)?
- Does the normal timeframe for going through this certification process work for a learning environment founded on rapid development and constant iteration?
In discussion these questions, I could really understand and empathize with both perspectives. (I am often accused of being more “traditional” than my avant guard peers. :)
These questions are more will be the basis of other posts in this series. Hope you enjoy reading and join in the discussion!