Designing for a purpose?

Clark Aldrich one of the world’s most prominent speakers of designs of Virtual Worlds, Simulations and Serious Games has declared that “The educational knowledge we deploy and measure is more dependent on what is easy to author than a societal desire or need”. This applies a great deal to the resources I find that we, as teachers, tend to produce and work with.

It only takes a minute to realise that the Web is just the tip of the iceberg of resources that can be used by everyone to learn… and to teach. And yet we still notice that in many classrooms, (not all and I do not wish to generalise), we still keep making use of the same old resources we were used to seeing back in our ‘good, old days’ when we used to complain how boring school was getting.

If you look at schools like Quest to Learn , you will understand what I am trying to say. This school, markets itself as the “school for digital kids” – their description states – “Through an innovative pedagogy that immerses students in differentiated, challenge-based contexts, the school acknowledges design, collaboration, and systems thinking as key literacies of the 21st century”. But in short this is a school that uses games and play to teach and to learn.

If you look at their plans, at their syllabi, at the curriculum which drives them, there is no NASA technology involved. There are no resources which cannot be repeated or done elsewhere. There are only resources that are very carefully designed with a  purpose. There are lessons designed in the interests of the kids who want to be involved in a creative and innovative way. This is not a matter of saying… “oh I am really doing my best… I did so many handouts… what else do I have to do?” Maybe the answer to that question might lead you to think in a different way, to start thinking about the real needs of your students and not the needs of the MATSEC exam which they will eventually choose to sit or not sit for… so start thinking, start looking and exploring and find the right design which suits your students.


19 thoughts on “Designing for a purpose?

  1. ‘It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge’.
    Albert Einstein. To be able to do this apart from choosing the right resources to match her students’ interests and abilities the teacher must be of the right disposition to accept his/her weaknesses and look at every day as a new learning experience. This will model the way forward for her/his learners.

    • Einstein said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
      In fact it is imagination, creativity and innovation that extend the limits of knowledge. I think that with ICT we can achieve all three. We just need to recognise the potential that we can tap into or uncover when making use of ICT.

  2. While the system used in the school might be effective in that particular country, in Malta there is a great emphasis on education; learning for the exam, rather than as a pleasure in itself. The rather extreme focus that, “if you do not go the university, you are a failure”, is what keeps this country from producing good artists, musicians, and so on. Secondary school should be available to those who want to learn a trade, rather than study at university. In this way, there are better students who do what they would love to do, rather than forced to study further on.

    • I do agree with what you say Luke and I feel that the teacher can indeed do something to overcome this kind of mentality. In reality, it’s not that “if you don’t go to University you’re a failure” but more of the kind of… if you don’t have a certificate… any certificate (I think you can even buy one from eBay) then you are a failure indeed… and this is not good. Certificates can’t be abused. Learning is a necessity. If we stop learning then we start dying…and this is a concept which somehow in schools is missing.
      I have spoken about this in my blog as well:
      What I think is, that it is not easy for a teacher to convince someone to have “fun” in schools, but it is not impossible either.

      • I read your blog post, and I quite agree with what you wrote. Teachers are able to come up with their own resources and lead the classroom, since they are at the front lines in education. However, the teacher is still restricted in what he is able to do, since at the end of the day, the students still need to deal with the Matsec exams, and the teacher will be in trouble if s/he did not prepare them sufficiently enough.
        With regards to the training that the teachers are given, they use the same old methods that were used in the past, by just talking, instead of allowing the teachers hands-on experience, or just guiding them along.
        I quite agree with the way that the PETDI module 2 course was given. The lecturer left it in our hands to learn how to use the new whiteboards, which is ultimately, how each and every software and lesson needs to be given. You learn more on your own by experimenting, rather than hear someone else tell you how to do it.

  3. Simulations are a great tool to learn. Flight Simulation is a typical example where Physics, Geography, History and Languages can contribute up to university level students. I have been following flight simulation for quite some time and throughout the years the immersion and the feel of being there had constantly improved. At the moment Microsoft flight and X-plane are two simulators that are being developed for the use of desktop simulators. However other simulators such as Flight Gear is available free online and can be developed by the user community. Explore these simulators online to see for yourselves how you can adapt them in class:

    • Agree with you on this one… Simulations more over offer people an experience which is much similar to real life overcoming obstacles which might be difficult to overcome in real life. For example the flight simulator is cool. How many of us will ever get the possibility of actually flying a plane, albeit a small one? And how many of us will have the possibility of flying the plane whilst talking and discussing flight strategy with our friends? or compete? or laugh at one’s failure to adequately land a plane… (in the hope that we’re not there if that ever should happen…)? This is what simulations and games are about really… offering an alternative to reality, an alternative which is possible, fun and most often shared with people who we consider as friends.

  4. I think it is important to remember that the role of the teacher is not just to teach content but to educate for life. Keeping in mind a holistic approach to teaching I think is very important. Students just like everyone else have other needs apart from intellectual, such as emotional, social, physical and spiritual. Although maybe a single teacher cannot cater for all these needs, I think that it is important to keep in mind especially when preparing material for lessons. Having witnessed a good number of lessons with no variation in pedagogy, I feel that a lot of teachers tend to forget their days as students. Is it so easy to forget how difficult it can be to sit around in class for 7 or 8 lessons a day without ever seeing a variation in pedagogy? I think that we owe it to our students to deliver our lessons in an interesting, varied way. I also think that it is the role of the teacher to equip students with the skills and values that are needed in life. These essential life tools, unlike the content we focus so much on, cannot be thought through text books!

  5. I agree with both of my colleagues who commented before me! In Malta education is so focused on performativity, on getting the grades, making it to university, and passing all the exams (in a limited number of times which you can opt to sit for them); that even when one loves a subject and is passionate about it they may easily find themselves getting bored of it because of all the stress it brings with it. It is simple things which can help solve this issue, the taking upon of innovative and virtual resources, simulations, educational games, and apps which are sure to motivate students more than the usual slides and packs of notes, as well as help them grasp concepts better.

  6. Hello netizens:)
    With respect to your comment that in several classrooms we observe the ‘recycling’ of the same content year in year out:
    From my own experience during lectures I observe two seemingly different categories of people. There are those who at face value resist innovation and those that wish to ‘fly’ in ICT application. In my opinion they are not that different from each other. The problem is that many are at a loss on how to go about it.
    An important rule to use ICT effectively is to steer away from the book approach. I am not saying that we should throw books away, rather I am just saying that the book is limited because content and structure cannot be edited, manipulated and amended by the user in real time. So a simple rule when using ICT is to ask yourself: ” Can I do this with a book/notes/handout?” if the answer is yes, then you are not using the ICT to the full capacity it was conceived to function with or in.

  7. Nowadays the teacher has a variety of different readily available resources online. As in my subject Mathematics, a lot of simulations including interactive charts and games are available. This makes the teaching of mathematics more interesting and fun. As my colleagues have pointed out the way the curriculum is planned in Malta is content based. The priority is how much content you cover and not how much interesting the lessons were made. At the end of the day the majority of parents in Malta sees that the accumulation of content is the most important thing. In my opinion it is not how much material the student had accumulated but what really matter is the way it was thought that makes the student remember it better. I think we have to move from a curriculum which is content based to a curriculum that is skill based in this type of curriculum what matters most is not how much content you have taught but the skills that the students have acquired at the end of the course.

  8. I agree with all the above comments. There are loads of materials available online which can make learning in schools more enjoyable.

    I totally do not agree with those teachers who keep on considering their subject books as their sole resource to teach students. Nowadays, in this technological world, students would not be motivated to learn only by just reading from books. There are so many online activities that could be organised in class to motivate students to learn. It is imperative for us teachers to teach students not only just subject content but also moral values which will help them in their future life.

    The syllabus that there is right now does not help teachers to move from content based curriculum as Raffaella argued previously to skill based curriculum, because it is so intensive with all the content that has to be covered. This system does allow enough time for the teacher to teach students skills which are related to the subject. However, teachers can still make a difference with the teaching strategy that they opt to adopt in class.

  9. When I was younger, no technology was used in class, no group work or activities of any sort. And this made learning much more difficult. Personally, Maths was never my subject not because I hate it but it was never delivered to me effectively. It lacked group works and activities and the use of resources which would have motivated me in learning the subject. These would have allowed me to picture sums up and reach to a conclusion. I found this link which says it all:

    I feel that in today’s’ world technology is a must and has to be developed and adapted in our teaching pedagogies as it motivates students and helps them to visual things out. Furthermore, activities and resources promote the engagement of students, where the students start to appreciate and like the subject and when a student likes the subject there is a high probability that he will succeed in it.

    What’s the objective and learning outcomes of a teacher who rushes students to remember information? Is Education about rushing learning to make sure that the syllabus is covered or ? Education has to be something that students like and enjoy not a machine which installs information in the students.

  10. Adding to what my colleagues have said, I think that we have to design lessons in such a way that students can become autonomous learners – and thus be able to teach themselves. As the Maltese proverb says “Agħtihom il-qasba tas-sajd, mhux il-ħuta!” We need give pupils “the fishing rod, not the fish!”

    School should not be simply a transfer of knowledge from the teacher’s mind to the brains of the student, as if they are downloading a file. In my opinion, teaching should be so well-designed that pupils will use the content in real-life situations and not only for the exams.

  11. Għalkhemm aħna diġa nħossuna nies li twellidna fid-dinja tat-teknoloġija, it-tfal tal-llum huma ferm iżjed parti minn din id-dinja kbira u vasta ta’ affarijiet li qegħdin jiġu vvintati kuljum.
    Q2L hija sit fejn toħodna f’livell iżjed fil-font ta’ tagħlim u teknoloġija u hawnhekk fejn nidħlu aħna futuri għalliema. L-bidla trid tibda sseħħ permezz tagħna, rridu nderru t-tfal li jaslu għat-tgħallim huma bi ftit għajnuna minn naħa tagħna u mhux bħal kif konna aħna fil-klassi; niktbu biss!
    L-istudenti trid iżommhom il-ħin kollhu maqgħudin mas-suġġett imma b’mod differenti minn kif aħna mdorrijin; mod li jieħdu pjaċir u li jistgħu jużawħ f’ħajjithom.

  12. L’immaginazzjoni u l creativita` huma zewg elementi importanti hafna sabiex lil istudent tqanqallu il motivazzjoni. Meta student jaghmel xi haga min qalbu u jiehu pjacir jaghmilha, l-outcome se jkun ahjar. Bhala teacher jien irrid nghin lil istudent johrog din il creativita` billi nazel attivitajiet adequati. Dan nista nghamlu anki minghajr l-uzu tat teknologija permezz per ezempju fil kas tas suggett tieghi, nghamlilhom role plays, nuri stampi etc.. imma hu veru li t tfal tal lum it teknologija tqanqlilhom hafna kurzita` u meta tuzaha se timmotivhom aktar u ghalekk jitghallmu iktar. Ahna bhala teachers nistaw nghamlu id differenza. It teknologija ghanda nuzawha. Ovjament andi bzonn hafna prattica biex nghamel dan imma mhux impossibli.

  13. The crux of the above argument focuses about the crucial role that the teacher has in the way he or she delivers the lesson to students. The teacher organises, manages and decides on almost every aspect of the lesson. Pedagogy and affective use of resources during the lesson will really make a difference in the learning experience of the student. Nowadays, the use of ICT and Web based learning facilitate the use of innovative and creative resources that surely motivate the learner and result into a meaningful learning experience which suits the needs of the students.

    Now that Interactive whiteboards have been installed in schools, I will surely take the opportunity during my next teaching practice to incorporate in my lessons, the use of such an innovative resource and explore with different uses. I will also let students participate during the lessons through the use of the Interactive whiteboard where students have to go out of their place and work with it. Moreover, during my teaching practice I will utilise other useful resources which promote Collaborative Learning. Furthermore, when I start teaching, I will try to design some independent learning activities or find something ready from the web based material and adapt it to my specific needs, where students can learn part of a topic independently without the use of a teacher, by just following what is being communicated to them online. This will surely promote AUTONOMOUS LEARNING and engage students meaningfully.

    Through such form of quality learning, students can also acquire metacognitive skills that is learning how to learn because Teaching does not only involve the transfer of Content in students’ minds but also the transfer of Skills for their lives. However, to achieve this aim, the lesson should be based on a Student-Centered Approach. This is extremely important if we want students to become ACTIVE CITIZENS in the future. Nevertheless, one should keep in mind that lessons should be varied and students should not be exposed to the same type of activities everyday because students will get accustomed to them and so, these repetitive activities will no longer have a great effect on the students’ learning experiences. Thus, it is important that we as teachers, constantly change our pedagogy and learning resources, although I have to admit that frequent changes require a lot and a lot of preparations on a continuous basis and consume a lot of time. But that is the reality!!!!!!! We should really strive to be PROFESSIONAL TEACHERS!!!!!

    Another personal concern and limitation which I might come across during my teaching practice, is that due to the vast syllabus that I have as a teacher of Business Studies, I have to seek a balance in the use of such resources and Content Coverage. Infact, then it comes the Professional Judgement of the teacher to use the right pedagogy and resources at the right time, right place, and with the right people, and also who seeks to satisfy and balance out all the different tensions being faced in Teaching.

  14. Using creativity in class is essential. Students need creativity to learn. Creativity can be raised by the use of technology. Just by using simple things which has to do with technology you get your students attention. This because you are using something they like, something they use every day and therefore they are used to it and know how to use it. If you use their own arms you get them on your side and therefore make them do what you want. In my case, using technology to teach a language is essential. Languages can be annoying at times because of the grammatical functions, but making use of the resources you have you can make it easier for students to learn. Obviously technology alone is not always the best tool!!

  15. I agree with the above comments that nowadays we have an infinite number of resources to use during our lessons to make learning FUN. However I think that teachers have the issue of time, the vast syllabus and society’s mentality to education against them.

    I think that the mentality of our society has to change – it is irrelevant to try and make learning enjoyable if students at home are continuously pressured to “Study and study and pass, pass, pass or else they are a failure!”.

    According to our lecturers it’s better to cover 50% of the syllabus and know that students have understood, than covering the 100% without them understanding anything. I agree with them, but do parents comprehend it in the same way or will you be considered incompetent because you didn’t manage to cover everything?

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