Tuesday, April 8, 2014

What do you mean by Personalization?

Guest Post: Elliot Washor, Ed. D. is co-founder and co-director of Big Picture Learning, the co-founder of The Met Center in Providence, RI, and co-author of Leaving to Learn.  
Join Elliot on a free webinar about Personalization and Student Engagement on April 22nd at 5pm ET, 4pm CT, 3pm MT and 2pm PT in our Blackboard Collaborate room.
The way educators and business people are now using the terms personalized learning or personalization is really baffling me. There have been loads of articles and books written about how Big Picture Learning (BPL) continues to be at the forefront of innovation because of how well we strive to know our students. In a recent book. Redesigning Education: Shaping Learning Systems Around the Globe by the Innovation Unit a Team of Global Education Leaders' Program (GELP), we are featured as a non-profit organization “providing students with a personalized learning experience driven by their passions and anchored in internships out in the community.”

All week I have been in schools and with organizations that want to work with us because they want to get better at personalizing their schools and knowing their students better but what do people mean by personalization? A recent article in the New Yorker on Amazon by George Packer pointed out that to Amazon personalization means collecting data analytics and statistical probability. 

A group called the Personalization team (P13N) comprised of engineers at Amazon employ algorithms that use customers’ histories to recommend future purchases and in the near future Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon reported that "our packages from Amazonia will soon be delivered by drones." 

So with all of this technology, where is the person and the personal in personalization? I got curious about this question and found out that when Bezos was asked: 
What's the ultimate in personalization? He responded, when “you go into a bar and sit down, and the bartender puts a whiskey in front of you without having to ask what you want." 
For me, this begs the simple question, what if you changed your mind and want something else? How would the bartender know? What a waste of a drink!
"When the information network promises to eliminate any reason to travel or to touch something palpable other than a keyboard or a mouse, we search all the more intensely for the personal and the tactile." Ralph Caplan

The digital technology world, including many in education technology, wants personalization to mean that technologies anticipate what you need next and digitally deliver it on a massive scale to each and every student. As Packer points out, to Amazon engineers all content is mockingly referred to verbage, like garbage. It just doesn’t matter what the content is because to them it is all the same.

Since our beginnings, personalization has been at the core of our work. We strive for schools to be communities where every student is known through their interests, academics and how they are doing socially and emotionally in and outside of school. Here the twist is that the student is known well because, it is the student who tells and the teacher who listens and observes rather than adults who are only telling what they know or suggesting what you need to know.

In this real time environment, there are lots of variables to how, when, what and why a student learns. These variables change all the time and they are hard to measure and hard to predict. The good news is that this keeps all of us engaged and on our toes. Figuring out things is what we are good at as humans. It makes everyone a part of a community that listens. observes and communicates.

Structures in schools — like personalized learning plans that start with each student’s voice, choice and interests where parents, teachers and mentors are involved in understanding and developing the next steps, courses and projects a student will do ‑—need to be part of any learning environment and can become a great digital technology platform. Instead, what we get is a hijacking of words and terms that sound like education is personalized. Sadly, the real practice these words symbolize is missing from far too many schools and most digital platforms.

Much more than a prediction or some standardized pre-formatted lesson plan of what is next for a student, personalized learning is complex and variable where teachers, students, and mentors in the process pay attention to multiple measures and high standards coming from school and the world at-large. This is deeper learning that includes academics, social/emotional, and 21st century skills.

These dual meanings of personalization from the business and education worlds create lots of issues. Algorithms and school brands replace human relationships. Qualitative assessments are cast aside because they take longer to do and are deemed too expensive. But this is precisely what personalizing learning is.

International assessments report that if students are not challenged appropriately or do not have real choices they will become bored and disengaged. And although state and school assessments done appropriately are important, the most powerful forms of assessment are about what matters to the student from people who know them well and their own self-assessments. No algorithm can perform this way. 

We have to decide. Do you want Godfather style personalization? 

It's nothing personal. It's strictly business.

Personalize Learning Webinar Series 
at Classroom 2.0

Mt. Abraham Union Middle/High School
Tuesday, November 12 at 5pm ET, 4pm CT, 3pm MT and 2pm PT
using Blackboard Collaborate in this room.
- See more at: http://www.personalizelearning.com/2013/11/personalized-learning-at-mt-abraham-umhs.html#sthash.8fnfZzkT.dpuf
Listen and learn from John H. Clarke, Lauren Parren, Caroline Camara, and Josie Jordan who are the architects of the Pathways Program. Robin Kuhns is an eleventh grade learner at Mt. Abe who will share what personalized learning means to him and his pathways to graduation. - See more at: http://www.personalizelearning.com/2013/11/personalized-learning-at-mt-abraham-umhs.html#sthash.8fnfZzkT.dpuf

Personalize Learning Webinar Series at Classroom 2.0

Mt. Abraham Union Middle/High School
Tuesday, November 12 at 5pm ET, 4pm CT, 3pm MT and 2pm PT
using Blackboard Collaborate in this room.
- See more at: http://www.personalizelearning.com/2013/11/personalized-learning-at-mt-abraham-umhs.html#sthash.8fnfZzkT.dpuf

Personalize Learning Webinar Series at Classroom 2.0

Mt. Abraham Union Middle/High School
Tuesday, November 12 at 5pm ET, 4pm CT, 3pm MT and 2pm PT
using Blackboard Collaborate in this room.
- See more at: http://www.personalizelearning.com/#sthash.Kq1xJdAN.dpuf

Personalize Learning Webinar Series at Classroom 2.0

Mt. Abraham Union Middle/High School
Tuesday, November 12 at 5pm ET, 4pm CT, 3pm MT and 2pm PT
using Blackboard Collaborate in this room.
- See more at: http://www.personalizelearning.com/#sthash.Kq1xJdAN.

Elliot Washor, Ed. D. is the co-founder and co-director of Big Picture Learning in Providence, Rhode Island. He is also the co-founder of The Met Center in Providence, RI.

Elliot has been involved in school reform for more than 35 years as a teacher, principal, administrator, superintendent, video producer, writer and speaker.  He has taught and is interested in all levels of school from kindergarten through college, in urban and rural settings, across all disciplines. His work has spanned across school design, learning environments, practice and authentic assessment.  He is supporting others doing similar work throughout the world.  Elliot’s interests lie in the field of how schools can connect with communities to understand tacit and disciplinary learning both in and outside of school.  

His professional development programs won an “Innovations in State and Local Government Award” from the Ford Foundation and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He has been selected has been selected as one of the Daring Dozen– The Twelve Most Daring Educators by the George Lucas Education Foundation.
His dissertation on Innovative Pedagogy and New Facilities won the merit award from DesignShare, the international forum for innovative schools.

His latest book co-written with Charles Mojkowski is Leaving To Learn: How to increase student engagement and reduce the dropout rate. Elliot will be presenting a free webinar in our Personalize Learning webinar series about Leaving to Learn and personalization. 

Elliot lives in sunny San Diego with his wife and dogs.

You can e-mail Elliot at ewashor@gmail.com

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Continuum to Develop Expert Learners

An expert learner is a learner who is self-directed, self-regulated, motivated and engaged to learn. They have a purpose to learn something they are interested in. They are responsible and own their learning and monitor their progress. However, this doesn't just happen overnight or even all the time. Plus, learners may not be an expert on every concept, strategy or skill. So what we did was create a continuum to develop expert learners that provides the journey learners of all ages go through to build expertise.
When the learner includes their voice and has opportunities for choice, this changes how they interact with the content, the teacher, and each other. The teacher can still be directing the learning but can invite learners to share their ideas and voice their opinion. The teacher can also provide multiple methods, tools and strategies for learners to access information, engage with the content, and express what they know and understand. This is what we call a Stage One Personalized Learning Environment.

The research paper, "Motivation, Engagement, and Student Voice" by Eric Toshalis and Michael J. Nakkula from the Students at the Center explained in their spectrum on student voice oriented activities is that they can start articulating their perspectives as a stakeholder in their learning to directing collective activities. They can move from data sources to leaders of change. Most student voice activity in schools resides in expression, consultation, and participation. The goal is for learners to have a voice that moves to partnership, activism and leadership roles.

Volunteering, opinions, creating art, celebrating, complaining, praising, objecting
Being asked for their opinion, providing feedback, serving on a focus group, completing a survey
Attending meetings or events in which decisions are made, frequent inclusion when issues are framed and actions planned
Formalized role in decision making, standard operations required not just invite, student involvement, adults are trained in how to work collaboratively with youth partners
Identifying problems, generating solutions, organizing responses, agitating and/or educating for change both in and outside of school
Co-planning, making decisions and accepting significant responsibility for outcomes, co-guiding group process, co-conducting activities

When the learner has a choice in what they are learning especially if it is something they are passionate about or interested in, they jump in and sometimes get lost in the task or project. This is called "flow" and you can see and hear the engagement. The room changes. Learners want to share and talk about what they are learning in one corner. In another silent area, there might be a learner fixated on a book or something they are reading. They are also in "flow" and lost in the text. When the teacher opens the door to allow voice and choice, it opens the door to noise and what Chris Edwards called "messy learning." It is not predictable. This is where learning is becoming personal to the learner.

When learners pursue their passion or interest, they are intrinsically motivated to learn. It is something they want to learn. Bell schedules or grade levels don't work as well in this type of environment. Learners are not only in the "flow" and engaged in learning now, they are totally immersed.
Time is the variable. Learning is the constant.
Fred Bramante

We asked Kathleen Cushman to share what kids say about school and what motivates them. Through her research and the 8 Universal Secrets of Motivated Learnerskids want to have a voice in their learning. They want to be heard. They want to learn by doing and building. They want learning to be relevant. We need to ask our kids and listen to them. When kids are motivated, they are engaged and enjoy the challenge. The next thing that happens is they take ownership of their learning. 

Learner-centered environments offer active and collaborative learning where learners are able to generate questions, organize inquiry projects and monitor their own products and progress. Chris Watkins is a reader at the University of London, Institute of Education, in the London Centre for Leadership in Learning and participates in the Campaign for Learning’s ‘Learning to Learn’ project. His research is on learners driving and owning their learning. Teachers have been taught to manage and control the learning environment. To encourage learners to own and drive their learning, teachers' roles need to change. 

  • The more structured we make the environment, the more structure learners need.
  • The more we decide for learners, the more they expect us to decide.
  • The more motivation we provide, the less they find within themselves.
  • The more responsibility for learning we try to assume, the less they accept on their own.
  • The more control we exert, the more restive their response
    (Watkins, 2009)

When you see this list above, think about yourself as a learner. Traditional teacher-centered environments direct the learning and control the environment. If someone tells you what and how to learner, how do you feel? 

Just imagine if you could learn something you are interested in, passionate about, and find it is your purpose. When you pursue your purpose, you tend to self-direct your learning by setting goals and planning how you will meet those goals. You do this, because you believe in this purpose. When you work toward a goal you really believe in, you self-regulate your learning and monitor your progress. You persevere to learn more. You actually learn by trying, failing, and trying again. Failure is not an option. It is about developing agency and owning your journey.

When this happens, you become expert learner. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

UDL for All Learners

The Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) was founded in 1984 at the same time the report A Nation at Risk was released about the state of education that expressed the need to provide all individuals with full and equal educational opportunities. CAST envisioned new technologies as learning tools for learners especially those with disabilities. Ann Meyers and David Rose from CAST developed Universal Design for Learning (UDL) [www.cast.org].

What they found out in the early years at CAST is that UDL was not about learners overcoming their barriers; it was about reducing or eliminating the barriers that keep learners from learning. CAST started with digital books for those with reading challenges; linked definitions for those with limited vocabulary; large buttons that talked for those with low vision and so on. In fact, each interface was customized for each learner. What they realized was that the curriculum, not the learner, was the problem. UDL is an approach to curriculum that minimizes barriers and maximizes learning for all learners.

UDL drew upon neuroscience and educational research to design learning environments based on the UDL principles:
  • Multiple means of representation 
  • Multiple means of engagement
  • Multiple means of action and expression 

UDL is the framework for personalized learning. We found this very helpful for the teachers we are working with to personalize learning. UDL made sense for all learners. If you look at the three principles from the learner’s point of view, it is all about access and how they process information, how they engage with the content and use what they learn, and how they express what they know and understand. To personalize learning, we recommend using these three terms: access, engage, and express to help teachers wrap their hands around the design of their curriculum and learning environment.

Schools have been teaching “one-size-fits-all” to the average learner for too long. Dr. Todd Rose, a Harvard professor, was a research scientist for CAST, and is co-founder of Project Variability stated that "even though we have the most diverse population in the world, we are unable to exploit this natural advantage in human capital." 

Four percent of dropouts in the US are intellectually gifted. That comes up to 50,000 minds each year who don't fit in the average model. 

What about those who dropped out who were not identified
as gifted but have gifts and special talents? How much of this is bad design? 

We have been taught to design learning environments for the average learner. We call our system age-appropriate, but it is not. Learners vary on many dimensions of learning. According to Rose, each learner has a jagged learning map. We adapted the learning map from Todd Rose's Myth of Average Ted Talk so it encompasses the information around personalizing learning. 

Read more and view the Ted Talk at: http://www.personalizelearning.com/2013/07/design-learning-from-extremes.html

We keep creating learning environments where we expect learners to do the same thing as everyone else. It is time to rethink how we design learning environments that support the full range of learners in our classrooms. Not only is there a variability in learners, there is variability in learning as a learner learns. The study of neuroplasticity of the brain shows that the brain changes in response to positive social-emotional experiences.

The core beliefs of CAST are to develop the theory of self-efficacy for learners to believe in their own abilities and competence. UDL informs the design of the environment so that it is flexible enough to address variability. UDL happens both in the design of the learning environment and in the use of the design to facilitate the appropriate, dynamic interaction between the learner and context.  

For so long the predominant instructional materials were printed textbooks and worksheets that were fixed and inflexible. Any learner that could not learn that way was labeled disabled, underachieving or failing. Classrooms became textbook-centered instead of learner-centered. Since there were no obvious alternatives, learners had to learn how to adapt. Now that can change. The idea of a well-designed learning environment, systematic variability is planned from the beginning based on the diversity of all learners.

Clear learning goals are the foundation for any effective curriculum. Designing UDL goals takes practice. In traditional learning environments, learners think narrowly about goals and how they meet them. Effective goals challenge and actively involve learners. 

“What we want are kids who are able to set good goals for themselves, to be able to regulate when things go wrong, to be able to sustain and handle frustration.”
David Rose

Using the UDL framework, there are materials and methods that support the variability of learners by offering:
  • Choices of content and tools
  • Adjustable levels of challenge
  •  Choices of rewards
  •  Opportunities to practice
  • Ongoing, relevant feedback
  • Multiple media and formats

UDL materials offer strategies like hyperlinked glossaries, pop-up video tutorials, and manipulatives to just name a few. UDL methods provide a flexible learning environment that encourages learner voice and choice. To build a UDL culture that supports all learners, there needs to be effective professional development (PD) for teachers and all staff.  Teachers are learners also and diverse learners just like those in their class. “One size fits all” PD does not build a UDL culture.

Since UDL is the framework for a personalized learning environment, then the focus needs to be on building a culture of expertise. That means expert learners and expert teachers. Expert learners believe in themselves as learners, seek new knowledge and know when to ask for help. Expert teachers know how to act on challenges and understand the variability of their learners.

Sounds simple, but all of this takes time, a flexible learning environment, and trust that allows for taking risks. That doesn’t happen overnight. As soon as learners have a voice and choice in their learning, teaching changes. This is where teachers need support and coaching. This works well when teachers are in a community of practice sharing ideas, lessons, what worked, what didn’t work, and what they might do different next time. 

We highly recommend reading “Universal Design for Learning: Theory and Practice” by Anne Meyer, David Rose, and David Gordon because the authors go into more detail and provide interactive modules and videos that are valuable resources.