Can MOOCS Support Teachers in Offering a Flexible Curriculum?
The New York Times named 2012 ‘The Year of the MOOC’ or Massive Open Online Course. MOOCs moved online learning right away from the hour-long videos of classes uploaded to secure web spaces so students who missed the lesson could catch up. Eight years on and MOOCs continue to go from strength to strength with arguably the most successful being FutureLearn, backed by longstanding experts in online learning, the Open University.
Educational technology, or EdTech, has been through a variety of stages in schools. In the 1990s and early 2000s we were teaching students how to use software in the world of work. The last decade has mostly been about the tech itself. Do we want iPads, Chromebooks, Microsoft? Do we want Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD) or class-sets? Should we have smartboards or not? These questions have dominated many school discussions. I am pleased to be part of the GDST community where innovation is valued and shaping EdTech pedagogy is high on the agenda. I believe it doesn’t matter what the platform or software; the main thing is that EdTech should bring the teaching and learning to life, offer choices and give flexibility in the curriculum.
As Dr Eileen Kennedy, Senior Research Associate at UCL, writes that one of the benefits of EdTech is the greater engagement achieved for school pupils though the interaction and collaboration it affords. EdTech, and specifically, MOOCs can also be hugely advantageous due to their inherent asynchronicity. It was this feature of learning anytime, anywhere, at your own pace, that led my venture into designing a FutureLearn course. The driver for this project was the need for flexibility in our curriculum. In fact it was the very flexibility of our Sixth Form curriculum that created a problem requiring a flexible solution! Northampton High School enables Sixth Form students to create a bespoke programme of study; a pick-and-mix of 3 A Levels and a range of elective courses. The Extended Project Qualification elective, for which I am responsible, is highly valued at our school as it gives students an opportunity to study independently and in-depth a topic of personal interest. It also requires a range of skills to be taught in order that students understand how to create an academic piece of work and reflect on the journey they take through the creation of the project. With such a flexible timetable and only two staff delivering the skills, we had been struggling to enable the students to attend the skills sessions needed. So a plan took shape to devise a MOOC (or in this case a SPOC – Small Personal Online Course – as it was initially only accessible to the students at Northampton High School). Video content, suitable tasks, articles and reading materials all needed to be sourced, created or adapted to fit the online learning mode of study. I decided, for example, to use first hand materials from previous EPQ students in my video content, to hopefully bring the program to life for students.
In terms of pedagogical process, designing the course was very similar to planning a traditional scheme of work. Only this time we had a range of online tools such as YouTube clips, in-house videos, self-marking quizzes and randomised peer-marked tasks to add into our resources armoury. The other notable change in terms of setting tasks was the built in discussion tools offered by FutureLearn. Collaboration and connection are vital features in successful online courses. Learning how to help students engage in meaningful discussions was probably the aspect of course design that exercised me most.
And so far, so good. Numbers of students engaging in the EPQ at Northampton High are up this year and their discussion about topic choices appear to have been aided by the online discussions. I am certain that teachers have nothing to fear from online courses; they will not make our roles redundant but are more likely enhance engagement with our subject and give more depth to discussion and collaboration when we are face to face in the classroom.
‘The quality of the pupils’ personal development is excellent’. Northampton High School ISI Report, November 2019
At Northampton High School, we place great emphasis on personal development, and this was immediately recognised by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) on their visit to the school in November 2019. This area of their inspection report considers a number of factors including pupils’ self-esteem, self-confidence, resilience, well-being, spiritual understanding, social awareness and respect and value for different cultures. The school was judged ‘excellent’ for personal development – the highest possible grade.
Personal development is a priority from the outset at Northampton High School as our Nursery girls are encouraged to develop their independence under the careful guidance of their key worker. This member of staff works closely with the parents, as do the tutors as the girls progress through the Junior School. These partnerships of care, nurture and support are vitally important, and small class sizes allow adequate time and attention for each child.
Wrap-around care and a wide range of extracurricular activities enable the girls to develop their interests and individuality from a very young age, and those in Reception to Year 6 benefit from the expertise of colleagues from the Junior and Senior Schools – as well as external facilitators – as they explore extracurricular opportunities and begin to develop a sense of self.
Regular Philosophy for Children (P4C) lessons encourage Junior School students to philosophise about images, video clips and text extracts as they learn to express concerns, create questions, to reason and to identify inconsistencies. As they work together, they learn to become clearer in their thinking, more open-minded, less self-contradictory and increasingly aware of the arguments and values of others.
PSHEE lessons tackle key issues in an age-appropriate way and whole-school assemblies often tie in with these discussions, and with current affairs. Junior School students are encouraged to talk about these themes with their parents as they develop their social awareness. As they move through Key Stage 2 they are increasingly encouraged to take on positions of responsibility and to lead and care for others through initiatives such as peer-to-peer mentoring – opportunities that they will carry into the Senior School and Sixth Form, too.
As girls mature, relationships with friends become more complex, and we prepare them for this by adopting the ‘Girls on Board’ programme in Years 5 to 9. This approach enables the girls to find their own solutions to disagreements, giving them an emotional toolkit to use independently and empowering them to take control of their own relationships. It also helps them, their parents and their teachers to understand the complexities and dynamics of girl friendships and helps in the transition from their junior to senior years.
‘The social development of pupils is excellent’. Northampton High School ISI Report, November 2019
Promoting emotional security and developing character and resilience for life are key principles in our personal development programmes. In addition to Girls on Board, there are a number of structured programmes that underpin our Senior School Wellbeing and Development practices, and these fall both within and outside the main curriculum.
The Positive™ programme promotes positive psychology in every area of school life and we teach students to use tools such as the Worry Filter™ and Emotional Barometer™. These tools help them to notice and normalise a range of feelings, whilst working through helpful techniques to move from a negative to a more positive mindset.
In Year 7, pupils are introduced to the COaCH (Confidence and Challenge) programme. This programme, spanning Years 7 to 9, provides a range of challenging activities aimed at developing confidence, resilience and leadership, alongside introducing a range of supportive services available in school.
Our PSHEE curriculum is a core element to the COaCH programme. Through these lessons we encourage students to explore, in an age appropriate way, a range of social, personal and health matters. This includes digital literacy and awareness and dealing with problems they may encounter in school and their wider lives. Getting involved in new activities and learning new skills are vital to personal development and the COaCH programme challenges students to take up at least one new activity each term from the vast list of extracurricular offerings. This gives them the opportunity to learn about themselves and others.
Our excellent pastoral structures mean that all the pupils have a range of people to turn to for day-to-day support as well as more specialist services. Form tutors meet their tutees daily for a catch-up and termly for a more detailed tutorial. Heads of Year work with the whole year group, running activities, assemblies, relaxation breakfasts and other events to promote friendship and well-being. Our Wellbeing Assistant offers a listening ear as well as bespoke mentoring and coaching sessions and group workshops on a range of wellbeing topics. We also employ a nurse to deal with day-to-day medical issues and support with chronic complaints.
In the Sixth Form, students’ personal development is driven by an active engagement in the wider community and by a bespoke programme that supports their next steps after school. Through schemes such as the Community Sports Leaders Award, Young Philanthropy and Big Sister Little Sister, students develop practical skills while actively supporting other people, whether that be through promoting sport at local primary schools, visits to nursing homes or mentoring younger girls at the High School.
The PSHEE curriculum also includes sessions that reflect on the role Sixth Form students can play in helping to support wider society through joining the Anthony Nolan register, for instance, or taking part in the Oxford University Meningitis B vaccine trial. Leadership roles throughout school are taken by Sixth Formers, who gain valuable experiences while giving back to the school community.
We support students in making decisions about life after school through a personalised, comprehensive programme. This includes visiting speakers, trips to universities and apprenticeship fairs, opportunities for work experience through the GDST Rungway app (among others), as well as a continuing, personal dialogue between students and tutors that is supplemented by PSHEE sessions on writing applications, managing finances and making informed decisions.
‘There is an excellent awareness from all pupils as to their moral obligations to each other, themselves and the school to be the best they can be each day’. Northampton High School ISI Report, November 2019
Throughout the school, personal development is enhanced by a broad curriculum that offers students the opportunity to learn in creative ways, promoting confidence and offering independent choice without compromising on academic excellence. Our students leave us as confident and forward-thinking young women with a strong sense of their own identity and a deep respect and tolerance for each other, which is a strength of the school (ISI report, 2019). The results speak for themselves.
Caroline Petryszak, 14 February 2020
Tough lessons in learning
I always think that late January has something of a ‘between the wars’ feeling to it in school. As Year 11 students breathe a sigh of relief and head bleary-eyed back into lessons after their mock exams, Year 13 students are girding their loins for the onslaught of their own practice papers. And let there be no doubt, mock exams are a significant hurdle. At first glance, they may simply appear to be a measurement against the exam boards’ yard sticks, but, of necessity, they are crammed into a short period of time, and doomed to attempt the near impossible – to give a picture of overall attainment in courses that are not even completed in many cases.
For teachers, parents and guardians they represent a challenge too. At best, they provide a helpful pointer in terms of likely achievement, but they also often hint at how much more could be achieved if heels were picked up and whips were cracked, ringing alarm bells that can lead to disillusionment. We must help students to see mocks as opportunities for development and reflection that do not merit such draining emotional torments, while also ensuring they take them seriously.
And yet, year after year, we see final exam grades that significantly outstrip mock results. So surely they are doing their job? I would argue that this is indeed the case, and the very fact that they are able to replicate some of the high stakes to come is what leads to this success.
So, what is indispensable to effective learning and how do mocks help with this? Research points to active processes for recalling information as being the most effective. In essence, this is what tests do – force learners actively to reclaim specific knowledge from their memories, according to the requirements of a given paper.
This is why past paper practice, like the mocks, can be such a good way to revise. If you want to support a learner towards a specific aim, you practise within the context. It is of little help to a learner driver in a practical test to read and reread the Highway Code, but improving parallel parking by completing the manoeuvre multiple times in different parts of town will certainly make a difference.
In their research, Dunlosky et al. say that practice testing has ‘high utility’ and is ‘not time intensive in comparison with other techniques’. This comparison is with very widespread but unproductive methods for revision, such as rereading, highlighting and making notes. Study vlogger Ali Abdaal goes into more detail on this in his YouTube channel here: youtu.be/ukLnPbIffxE
So, gather all the past papers and individual practice questions you can. Complete them (in timed conditions, if possible) and seek feedback on all of them. Use www.thestudentroom.co.uk forums to see what other people thought of past papers and get to know what the board is looking for by reading examiners’ reports.
Don’t forget, the more active you are in extracting your memories, the more learning you are doing.
John Dunlosky, Katherine A. Rawson, Elizabeth J. Marsh, Mitchell J. Nathan, Daniel T. Willingham; Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology. In Psychological Science in the Public Interest Journal, January 2013
There’s a rumble in the jumble – A textile teacher’s pledge to support a sustainable fashion future
2020, a new year, a new decade even! Talk of new ideas and resolutions are flooding onto my instagram feed.
This year I am not contemplating dry January or any get fit quick regimes, I have decided to set myself a challenge which is by far more difficult for a self confessed shopaholic.
For 2020 I am setting myself the task not to buy any new items of clothing for one whole year (with the exception of smalls).
Faced with tempting sale rails and new season window dressing, I know I will find it hard to resist the lure of the high street or filling my ASOS basket with gorgeous goodies, but before I head out into the January sales I am taking a stand to think about the impact of fast fashion on the environment.
I am sure this pledge will come as a laugh out loud surprise to many, particularly those who know me well, this is for several reasons.
- I am a fashion addict.
- I worked as a designer in the fashion industry for 11 years (prior to my teaching career), therefore this concept is somewhat hypocritical.
- My current job title (Subject leader and teacher of Fashion and Textiles) involves me inspiring and motivating a new generation of designers who could well seek careers within the fashion industry.
That being said, what better way is there to inspire and teach this generation to consider environmental and ethical issues surrounding fast fashion to create a more sustainable future for the industry.
The fashion industry is one of the major polluting industries in the world, the production and logistics of crops, fibres, fabrics, dying/printing processes and garments all contribute to the pollution of our environment, not to mention the 300,000 tonnes of used clothing which goes into landfill in the UK every year.
So what will I do? How will I raise awareness? How will I feed my addiction for shopping? How will I survive without regular retail therapy? And how will I avoid looking like a dishevelled version of my former self?
- I will need to consider the fibres and fabrics of which my clothes are made and the way they have been manufactured. Ultimately the best thing I can do is to keep my clothing in use for longer and buy no new stuff.
- I am a magpie for collecting vintage textiles, fabrics and trinkets so already I relish the thought of rifling through a vast array of charity shops and vintage fairs in order to feed my addiction for clothes shopping.
- I am looking forward to the thrill that comes with a winning bid on eBay and also learning how to use depop to buy and sell.
- I have the advantage that I know how to design and make my own clothes (these of course will need to be made from fabric which is already in my existing stockpile, as buying new will go against my pledge).
- I have an open invitation to staff and pupils to attend our sewing bee/make do and mend sessions in D4 on Monday lunchtimes during REC
- Plans are already underway to organise a jumble sale within school (volunteers and donations needed).
I will report back in 6 months’ time with an update of my progress. Wish me luck, I think I am going to need it.
Some ideas for upcoming sustainable fashion events and local vintage shopping:
January 18th Jumble fever (Oxfam), Oxford town hall
February 1st Lou Lou’s Oxford Vintage Fair, Oxford town hall
February 15th Worth the Weight Vintage Kilo Sale, Milton Keynes, see facebook page for details
The Vintage Guru, St Giles, Northampton – a wonderful emporium of vintage pieces.
Image: A vintage skirt which I reworked from a 1950s dress. I am looking forward to wearing this during the summer.