Watched my first live Edupunk Podcast

Source: doctor_bob at

Source: doctor_bob at

I just finished watching Colin Jagoe (@colinjagoe) and Danika Barker (@danikabarker) on Edupunk Podcast Episode 9. I wanted to give proper kudos to both of them, and Twitter’s a little terse for that.


At first it felt a little creepy knowing that the conversation was live, sort of like I was eavesdropping. I’ve watched and listened to plenty of podcasts, some live, but most of the ones I consume are produced in a professional studio for profit. This was decidedly more intimate, but the weirdness passed quickly as I became engrossed in the conversation.

The teacher in me…

…couldn’t resist. I missed the first few minutes, but picked up the threads of the discussion fairly quickly. Then I just had to comment in the “participant chat area”. Both Colin and Danika were very good to engage with what I said, which made it feel more like my usual Adobe Connect meeting with friends and colleagues. I didn’t realize there was a “submit question” button, but they grabbed a question I asked in the chat area anyway, which was nice :)

Tech troubles

Nothing serious. I first tapped the link on my iPhone, and Spreecast informed me that I should download the latest version of Flash player. I moved to my laptop instead. There was a significant delay between the hosts, so they tripped each other up a couple of times, but that’s par for the course with video chat, and they handled it well.

You know…

…I’ve thought about doing something similar: having an organic, unscripted conversation with a colleague and friend about edu-stuff and posting it afterwards. I was thinking just audio, and not live, but this was pretty sweet, and seemed to have low overhead to get started. Maybe it’s time, if I can find something that works from my phone. Suggestions? Anyone else interested?

And of course…

…I had a good time. Thanks to Colin and Danika for going live, interacting, and maybe even inspiring. I suppose inspiration is part of the job description.

Planning Instruction Is Hard

21mapaPlanning instruction for any class, for any group of students, is hard. There are approximately a bazillion factors to consider, each requiring tremendous knowledge of your subject, your students, and yourself. How do we put these together into a cohesive, likely-to-get-them-to-the-destination plan?

I’m fortunate to work with a team of secondary teachers who think and talk about this stuff. We have spent a bunch of time looking at how to support our teachers in their planning and developed some tools (e.g. templates) for them to work from, whether the learning was face-to-face or online (or blended). That collaboration has really helped to refine and solidify my thinking about assessment and instruction, and so it’s starting to feel very natural to consider my own planning in the way I’ll outline below. It’s still not easy, though. Teaching is difficult; assessment is nuanced. It’s all very challenging, for everyone, although we can get good at it over time.

I didn’t come up with this stuff, and I don’t promise that it’s correct, useful, or research-based. It’s mostly just logical to me right now (until someone points out some flaws in my thinking, that is – please do!).

What Not To Do

Don’t just think of a “cool idea” and figure out how to bend your curriculum expectations to fit. Although you might have something that’s engaging, interesting, and even useful, does it really address the big ideas and goals for the course? Often when there’s a significant revision to the curriculum, or a new cohort of students in the class, people like to keep their “binders” of stuff that they’ve taught for a while. I’m not suggesting you throw everything away, but rather that you think through what you’re doing in a little different order, perhaps, to ensure you’re still on target.

Don’t stagnate; reflect.

What To Do

Identify Big Ideas

Start by digging out the curriculum document (not a textbook) and reading the description of the course and the overall expectations for each strand. What are the “big ideas” for the course? What do students really need to understand, especially years later? What’s the point?

You shouldn’t have tons of these; if you do, you’re probably being too specific. Forests and trees, I guess.

You might be looking at a couple of these big ideas in this instructional cycle, based on the overall expectations (see next paragraph)… which ones matter most right now?

Choose Curriculum Expectations

Which overall expectations are you trying to address? These are also the ones (and the only ones) you’re going to be assessing and evaluating later, so think pretty hard about this. From here, identify the key specific expectations that align with the overall expectations. Write all this stuff down.

Create Learning Goals

Take those expectations and break them up, making them accessible to students. Maybe you have one of those exceptionally long expectations, the kind that’s full of commas, the kind that has four sets of examples in parentheses because it’s so complicated. That’s manageable for us; that’s more or less impossible for students to navigate. Write things like “I will solve quadratic equations in any form” or “I will take pictures that show I understand the rule of thirds”. Give these goals to the students. You might need to dole them out as you go along; that depends on the course and how you wrote the goals.

It’s a great idea at this point to relate your learning goals to the categories of achievement (TACK – Thinking, Application, Communication, Knowledge for most subjects). The quadratics example above might be a Knowledge learning goal (using a procedure), while the photography one might be Application or Thinking. Sometimes they’re a little fuzzy, but working on this now will help later.

Think About The Learners

This is the part where the “binder” doesn’t help. Who are your students? What do they know? What can they do? What do they struggle with? What engages them? What disengages them? Write it down, and look at how each item might impact your approach with this cohort.

You’ll also need to figure out what skills and knowledge students need to have in place to be prepared to start the new learning. In the quadratics example, it’s no good to break out factoring and the quadratic equation if a bunch of students have very weak skills in manipulating equations. If you know this is an area they struggle in, you’ll have to “back up the plan” to start where they are, not where you might hope they would be when they come into your class. If they don’t have the prerequisite knowledge and skills, we need to help develop them. Here’s where you plan your diagnostic assessments, if necessary.

You have to do this before you plan the final task (next!) or the lessons. If you wait until your lessons are planned to think about the students you’re servicing, you’re not likely to meet their individual needs.

Describe The Summative Task

This is the part that took me a while to get my head around. I haven’t planned the lessons yet (at all!) and I need to figure out what the students will do at the end of the cycle to demonstrate their learning. The point is to define the destination: we have the big ideas and learning goals, and we’ll add in the nature of the performance. There are books about how to do this well, of course; a rich, authentic summative task that addresses a range of achievement chart categories while providing students multiple and varied opportunities to demonstrate their learning with creativity and innovation…. Okay, probably need another post to talk about this one. Anyway….

Outline the Success Criteria for the Summative Task

You know what the students will be doing to demonstrate their learning at the end of the cycle. What will that look like? How would you describe success to the students? These have to be connected to the learning goals and curriculum expectations, or else they’re not fair game for evaluating students. They need to know these criteria; they use success criteria to monitor their learning and make choices about what to work on. You should also be able to connect these criteria to the achievement chart; that’ll be helpful when you’re evaluating later, eh?

Success criteria are super-useful for assessment for learning (AfL) also – you can point to a criterion and explain to a student how they’ve met or not met it. Boom – instant individual learning goal. How sweet is that?

Plan the Lessons

Yup, now you can start figuring out what learning experiences (lessons) you’ll have the students engage in to prepare them for the summative task. If the task is the destination, the lessons make up the journey (and the route) to get there. Some students make take different paths from others, and they certainly begin in different places. The goal is to get them to perform to the best of their abilities on the summative task, demonstrating their learning. This part takes a long time, because you’ll need to carefully consider the needs of the students in front of you, and plan for them. You’ll need to ensure that you’re constantly monitoring the learning so that you can respond to the changing student needs. You’ll also need to build in explicit, structured opportunities for peer- and self-assessment for your students, so they can become self-directed, independent learners as well.

Look Back

Take a look over everything you’ve created. Does your summative task “match” the learning goals? Are the big ideas in line with the curriculum for the course? Do the lessons bring the students from their starting points? Is there variety, choice, collaboration? Will the students be able to read and understand the learning goals and success criteria?

Start Again

This is a cycle; you’ll have to do it again for the next chunk of learning. It’s pretty hard stuff, so you should probably work with someone else on it. Divide the labour, bounce ideas off each other, share your knowledge and experience, etc. We need to be intentional in our planning if we want our teaching to be effective. It’s tough, but it’s absolutely necessary and totally worth it.


I used to plan “units”. Now I plan “instructional cycles“. Same thing, maybe, but I like the new term better. I’m doing the same things in each cycle, and it’s pretty intentional.

Courses have “big ideas” – the important concepts, the enduring learnings, the things that make the content worth looking at…. the reason we bother with this stuff. Some (or all) of these are relevant in a particular instructional cycle.

Learning goals” are based on the curriculum expectations. They’re little snippets of the learning that takes place along the way, written in “student-friendly language”. They explain for students what they’ll know/understand/be able to do by the end of the cycle.

Success criteria” describe what success looks like. These are also written for students. (Side story: The other night my daughter told my wife and me that she wanted to write a letter to her favourite author, Ellen Miles. Before she got started, though, she asked my wife to give her some success criteria for writing letters. Cool, eh?)

A gesture drawing approach to learning and educational technology

I’m not an art teacher, but I recall learning about teaching Intermediate art at Nipissing University. In that class (which admittedly was only a few hours) we spent a little time on gesture drawing. We were told to draw a subject quickly – very quickly. Something like 30 seconds, start to finish, and no erasers were allowed.

I seem to remember the point being to look for overall shape and form, and not get hung up on trying to draw the person’s hair perfectly. I feel like it helped – we started to look at light and shadow and large shapes instead of fine details, and we produced some pretty sweet sketches in a hurry (and some pretty terrible ones, too).

In my mind, gesture drawing can be effective because

(1) the students already know how to use the tool (pencil/pen/etc.),

(2) it can be started and finished quickly, and

(3) it has a clear, big picture purpose and a product.

Applying gesture drawing to other learning/educational technology

What’s the equivalent of gesture drawing in a math class, or a history class, or a business class?

Let’s look at an example. Say one of the learning goals for your course is that students can explain how a strong password can help improve a user’s security. You’ve spent some time in class learning about this idea, talking about it, researching it… how do students distill it down to the key points?

Try asking them to create a product that shows they’ve met the learning goal. Okay, that sounds pretty normal so far. Try asking them to create that product in 10 minutes, tops. Very different, I think. If they’re comfortable with the use of technology as part of their learning, you can restrict their product to one they can produce using the technology. What will they create? A flyer? An audio clip? A chart? A webpage? A video skit? A pamphlet? Something you haven’t thought of?

I think this is analogous to gesture drawing: use a tool you’re familiar with (1 – technology) in a short time (2 – ten minutes) to meet a clear, big picture (pun!) purpose (3 – demonstrating having met a learning goal). Like gesture drawing there isn’t time for an exhaustive treatment of the topic, it doesn’t always look great, and that’s okay. But sometimes the product is great as-is, or is a good starting framework for a more polished work.

Anyone out there with a classroom want to give it a try?

Struggling with user interfaces

I work in Desire2Learn, a Learning Management System (LMS) or Online Learning Environment (OLE! – I prefer this acronym, for obvious reasons). When I work with a new student or a new teacher, I’m always reminded of something important:

I’ve used this before; they haven’t. It’s not obvious.

I know where everything is. Of course you click on Content. Where else would you click? You mean, you’re considering one of the forty other links on the screen? But you want Content… oh, you mean you would have called that something else?

We need consistency for e-Learning.

Students take courses online from our board and from other boards, and it’s very helpful for them if we use the same terms, put things in the same places, etc. It cuts down on the amount of adjustment going from one course/organization to another. But just how important is it?

I’m not renaming Content.

Don’t worry, I don’t want to do anything too drastic. But I’ve had several experiences in the last three weeks or so where people got a little lost in the system. I have a widget on the default course homepage that I called “QuickNav” that provides links to the mostly commonly accessed tools, and the feedback is that it helps:


(BTW, the icons came from the Open Clipart Library, an excellent collection of public domain SVG files, which includes the stuff from the Tango Desktop Project)

So, I’m thinking about reworking the homepages for the Semester 2 startup in February to make things a little more navigable. We are also upgrading to D2L’s LE10.1 in January, so that might affect things a little (I’m not sure how much yet).

Peter Anello (@PJAnello) pointed me to Barry Dahl’s slideshow from the Denver, Colorado Regional User Forum. It has several slides on homepages, so I’m considering that stuff. Anyone have any exemplary homepages they want to share, either Org-level or course-level?

The Point

I’m trying to simplify everyone’s life a little, especially the students’ lives. The interface should be simpler, and right now there is a bit of a cluttered legacy that I think is a barrier for people. I’m looking for help, suggestions, experiences… what works for you?

Starting to publish

I haven’t been blogging very long. I tried it before, several years ago, but I didn’t stick with it. I think that was partly because I didn’t really have an audience, and partly because I didn’t have much to say.

Things are different now; I have Twitter (yay!) and I have a job in digital learning. That’s really changed the landscape for me. Most of my posts so far are about technology and education. The one will be a little bit, although it’s broader than that. I’m thinking about publishing.

I could have written this privately

It started that way. This was a draft post (as I type this out, it is a draft post), and then I published it for anyone to see. If I didn’t publish it, that’s because I didn’t think it was worth sharing: either I didn’t think others should bother reading it, or I didn’t think it would spark interesting dialogue (here, Twitter, Facebook).

But if you’re reading this, it’s because I wanted to expand the conversation. Maybe in the context of education, maybe in the context of life… somehow. I’ve learned that the conversations go where they should, not necessarily where I think they should.

What I think publishing is

Creating for consumption. Putting something out there. Sharing your words/voice/art. Maybe with the world, maybe with friends… it’s all publishing. The sharing matters, even if it’s just with one other person. Committing to a product of your mind, and taking a chance by letting someone else see it. That’s how I see publishing in all its forms. Whatever the purpose of the work, it needs to be shared.

Creative jealousy, or something

I’m listening to more music lately, as opposed to my usual complement of podcasts. Actually, I’m several weeks behind in my podcast listening, even Security Now! (embarrassingly). When I listen to music I start to think about writing a recording a song. When I listen to podcasts I think about how I might like to start podcasting. When I view artwork I start to gravitate to painting again. I want to create something.

So it didn’t surprise me this summer when I started to write out some ideas for a fantasy world that I could write a book about. I like to read, and I usually consume fantasy novels, so it was bound to happen eventually. I developed a quick system of magic, thought up a couple of compelling situations, and figured I was good to go. Of course, I didn’t actually start writing any prose. I’ve heard/read interviews with authors who say things like, “I’ve always written journals, or stories, etc., and now it’s my career.” I’ve never been like that. I think a lot, and I talk a lot, but I’ve never written a lot.

Then I saw a tweet from Colleen Rose, who goes by @ColleenKR on Twitter:


We had a short back-and-forth about publishing in which I told her that my daughter wants to publish a chapter book, and that I’d been thinking about it too. She suggested I get started, so I set a goal of December 15th for a first, rough draft.

Wow, this is actually pretty tough

Any authors who stumble across this post are gritting their teeth right now. Of course it’s tough to write something. Really tough.

I found that I started second-guessing everything I wrote. Is this name okay? Should I capitalize the words about magic to make them seem “different” somehow? Do I need a map? Should I draw the map first, or see where it goes? Oops, I didn’t think about history, and I didn’t flesh out the political situation very clearly….

Of course fantasy worlds have to be internally consistent. The magic needs to have be a kind of economy, where there is a cost to using/creating/accessing it. Can everyone do magic? What sets some people apart? Is it physical, spiritual,…? Are there materials needed? And the level of available technology needs to be considered. What kinds of materials are available? What are the methods of transportation? Will there be fantastic creatures?

Sigh. I didn’t think of all of that.

In retrospect, I imagine that successful fantasy authors have way more material written about their worlds before the book begins than actually make it into the book. Oh well. My 400 words of planning seem pretty paltry now.

Worse, after I started to write my barely-considered book, I realized that I was making decisions in the text but not summarizing them anywhere. So later I had to refer back to earlier paragraphs to make sure I wrote consistently.

But it’s okay, because…

…I’m not planning to monetize anything. I’m planning to enjoy writing something, and sharing with my family. I’d like to print a physical book, probably a paperback, just for kicks (funny, because I can hardly stand to read physical books now that ebooks are so readily available). I’ll paint the cover art, likely in the old-school, tacky, fantasy style (just because I like it). And I’ll probably share it online, maybe here, if anyone wants to read it. There’s nothing for me to lose on this, since there aren’t any dollars in this venture, but maybe someone unexpected will enjoy it (or more likely, learn through my mistakes). I even thought about posting things as I go, but I figure I’ll change too much along the way right now, and I might find it frustrating.

Maybe audio too

I’m really interested in audio. I’ve considered going back and reading each of my blog posts aloud and attaching MP3 files to the posts. I thought it might help as an accommodation, or for people who want to listen to me in the car, or just to help people connect with me more easily. It also seems like fun. Let me know if that would help you out, and I’ll do it.

So I’ll probably read the book too and post it here. Maybe after I get some feedback. :)