Developing custom learning objects

There are many ways that learning objects are defined, and no one universally accepted definition.  Common elements of learning objects appear to be:

  • Focus on learning objectives
  • A particular structure based on instructional design models
  • Use of metadata
  • Hosted in a database or digital library, providing opportunity for ratings and review
  • Simple interface and complex background infrastructure

So, what is the purpose in designing and developing custom learning objects?  For me, learning objects are designed to serve as learning activities providing content and facilitating experiences that lead to higher order use of new knowledge and skills.  The image below is a great summary of what a learning object is what the question still begs, how will this inform my development of custom learning objects?

For me, using the ADDIE model is the best way to develop a custom learning object.  The image below is great at explaining how the ADDIE model is relevant in this situation.  The analyse phase, is the one concerned with the key concepts in the content and developing the required tasks that will achieve the outcomes.  Design phases break it down into learning activities or steps, e.g. the different stages of a WebQuest.  It may also be appropriate here to design and deliver a pre-test in the learning object to identify background knowledge.  Going one step further, I think the develop stage is about the mode of delivering the learning object, the multimedia involved in engaging the learner. Scaffolding the instruction and developing instructional phases are to be developed in this stage as well, e.g. in a WebQuest this might be making sure that all instructions are clear and written with consistency.

When implementing a WebQuest, or perhaps a SCORM package that is a WebQuest, it will most likely need to be hosted in a learning management system.  This is the implementation phase, making the learning object available to the intended audience.  If there is face-to-face lessons that go with and support the learning object, working out the timing for this is also a key part of this phase.  Managing the student data developed during their completion of the learning activities should be determined here as well.  The final phase is of course evaluation.  Evaluating student data, any assessable objects and feedback given by students is a key part in assessing the effectiveness of a learning object in achieving the learning objectives and outcomes outlined in the first phases.  In a WebQuest or online SCORM package learning activity, I would include a student reflection form at the end of the module to gain feedback.

Edmodo vs Moodle – A common debate

So many times when I’ve worked with staff at schools the question is raised, which is better, Edmodo or Moodle?  First of all, they are two different things entirely when you really know what they are.  Is it stated on the Edmodo website that Edmodo is a K-12 social learning network “dedicated to connecting all learners with the people and resources they need to reach their full potential” (Edmodo, 2014).   However, Moodle is stated as being “a learning platform designed to provide educators, administrators and learners with a single robust, secure and integrated system to create personalised learning environments“, as well as this, there is a philosophy behind the development of Moodle that states that “the design and development of Moodle is guided by a “social constructionist pedagogy” (Moodle, 2012).  To me, it is pretty obvious that each of these two products serves distinctly different purposes.

There have been numerous teachers in places I have worked who claim Edmodo to be the best digital learning tool for all teaching and learning activities.  I decided to give it a good go with students a year ago and see for myself how it worked as a learning tool.  It worked well in some instances, and I had about 250 students using it for a range of activities and discussions.  I awarded badges to students based on things they were doing and interacted with them as they completed activities and wrote their reflections etc as replies to posts.  However, after a while, the issues became this:  students forgot passwords and would create new accounts instead of contacting me to find out their password or seek help; students couldn’t find the assigned activities in the feed of comments and activities; and, students focused too much on the social and not enough on completing work and learning.  These are things I found fundamentally disadvantageous to quality teaching and learning.

Moodle on the other hand facilitates teaching and learning that is both synchronous and asynchronous; collaborative and independent; and, passive as well as interactive. Courses in Moodle can be designed to facilitate learning that is based on a linear pathway of content and activities or it can be designed to be completely individualised based on student groups, or some other student-based variable.  For example, completing a lesson activity, students may answer questions in different ways that take them in different directions, depending on the lesson setup.  I could honestly go on about the things I believe set Moodle apart from other systems as a learning management system but basically it is because Moodle facilitates learning customisation, creativity, collaboration and personalisation.

Check out some of these other blog posts that discuss the Edmodo vs Moodle issues:

Ultimately, Moodle is a learning management system and Edmodo is not, it is simply a social learning environment that connects people with the potential to learn.

BYOD vs 1:1 – What do you consider in making the decision?


This is a question I’m pondering more and more at the moment… what is the best device for educational implementation?  But today, I thought a little deeper and took it down into the level of, what is the ideal format for device implementation pedagogically?  BYOD or a 1:1 program?  I know that digital pedagogy involves a lot of scaffolding, but would it if students were able to BYOD, a device they were more familiar and comfortable with? Should the ideal mode of implementation take into consideration things like the Quality Teaching Model?  Productive pedagogies?  Effective instructional design?  These questions only give way to more and more questions, however, I would like to say that from my experience, I am leaning more towards BYOD now because personal learning through digital technology should be facilitated through a device of personal choice.

When I started uni, the NSW Quality Teaching Model (QTM, 2003) had just been delivered and I was spoon-fed portions of it for my full four years at Newcastle Uni, and by the authors themselves as well.  I still refer to it now on many occasions and when I started thinking about BYOD vs 1:1 it came to mind again.  The three core elements of the QTM are intellectual quality, quality learning environment and significance and these are foundational aspects of the pedagogy in all educational institutions, whether referring to the QTM or not.  It is the 18 sub-elements within these three categories, I feel, that would inform and assist me in making the decision about BYOD and 1:1.

Essentially, the elements underneath both intellectual quality and quality learning environment are supported by both BYOD and 1:1, however, it is when I get to the significance element that I start leaning towards BYOD, let me explain why.  Significance is an element underpinned by these sub-elements: background knowledge, cultural knowledge, knowledge integration, inclusivity, connectedness and narrative.  If a students’ background knowledge and cultural knowledge are to be considered in creating new learning experiences, would it not seem right to take into consideration that they may not have experience with the device you choose for a 1:1 program and therefore not have the necessary background or cultural knowledge needed to competently take it up as a learning tool?
The digital revolution is a cultural shift, its perhaps not often thought of when we think of the cultures in educational settings today, however, the “digital natives” have created their own culture of LOLs and selfies that need to be engaged with sometimes.  Students are attached to their device in a “culturally ritualistic” and significant way and disentangling them from these under any circumstance can prove very detrimental.  I don’t have any hard facts or research stats to support this right now, I am merely making observations and conclusions based on the context I work in, but I believe I’ve seen evidence that would suggest that if you try and change this culture of who their “learning buddy” (their device) is by dictating a particular one, then their is a loss of confidence in learning that wasn’t there before.  If we don’t let student pick the device they use for their learning, are we being culturally ignorant?

However, then I came across this post: “Are BYOD programs simply an excuse not to fully invest in 1:1?“, and was forced to think of it another way.  Are BYOD programs just a lack of commitment and laziness on the part of educational institutes?  I personally think not, but someone thought it.  If you read the comments on the post mentioned above, it is interesting how the world of business comes into play as well.

I’ll leave you with this video as a final thought… what do you think is the right decision for all?



The Horizon Report 2014 K-12 Edition – Going hybrid

I bought a Toyota Prius last year and I love it!  Its a hybrid, and as such it runs on two a combination of electricity and petrol, powered by two different batteries.  The common misconception is that I must have to do something to charge the hybrid battery, however, it charges itself just like the other battery.  Whenever my car is running under 20km/h it runs on the hybrid battery and when it is not revving very high it runs on the hybrid battery, meaning it does not use any petrol.  I do not have to do anything, it knows what to and makes the switch as needed.  Overall, the fuel efficiency of my car is incredible and I will get at least 800 km out of a tank of petrol, averaging 4.5L/100km 🙂  So why the big spiel about my car (well I do love it)?  Hybrid learning designs were identified by the Horizon report as a mid-range trend in K-12 education and this involves utilising a range of teaching and learning modes to facilitate experiences for students that produce quality learning outcomes.

“Schools that are making use of hybrid learning models are finding that using both the physical and the virtual learning environments to their highest potentials allows teachers to further personalise the learning experience, engage students in a broader variety of ways, and even extend the learning day.  Hybrid models, when designed and implemented effectively, enable students to use the school day for group work and project-based activities, while using the network to access readings, videos, and other learning materials on their own time, leveraging the best of both environments.” (p. 12)

My school does use a learning management system (LMS) and of course a lot of face-to-face learning.  However, utilising a LMS does not mean that online learning models are being implemented.  They have tried the flipped classroom learning model but I am not sure to what extent.  The effectiveness of a hybrid learning model is based on the balance between web-delivery and face-to-face time collaboration.  Hybrid learning can be achieved effectively through the flipped classroom model, which has students engage with some sort of online learning activities, often times a video, before class allowing more time in class to apply the newly acquired knowledge and skills in a collaborative activity.  Homework is given to students in most schools, following many lessons, however, what I have found is that homework is given to followup the lesson just completed and further cement in the knowledge and skills acquired into students’ long-term working memory.  With that said, to adopt a hybrid learning model more, homework could be set that not only follows up the lesson but prepares students for the subsequent lesson, adopting a flipped classroom model.  If the homework also makes use of the LMS (not just for the sake of it), engaging students in online learning activities, then hybrid learning is achieved.

My perceived issues with hybrid learning and why there is not a great take-up of it within primary and secondary contexts is:

  • Takes ‘too much’ preparation time
  • Requires more professional development for teachers to achieve
  • Not enough knowledge of hybrid learning designs
  • More instructional time online and outside of classroom time means relinquishing control
  • Collaboration is harder to assess and monitor

Just like my hybrid car, who when it starts runs on the electric battery and when it slows down to under 20km/h, a hybrid learning design will often start and end with an online learning activity.  The best of two, or more, worlds are combined to create a new design and that is what we see in good hybrid learning designs, the combination of and complementary use of both online and face-to-face learning activities.  Universities have been engaging with hybrid learning for some time, but how can K-12 learn from them and bring it into their contexts.

Open Education Resources – Experts modelling

If an academic, or two, work for over 4 years on a book that offers a solid framework/model for engagement and online motivation, including 100+ activity suggestions you would think they would be charging a substantial amount for such a resource right?  Such books as Engaging the Online Learner: Activities and Resources for Creative Instruction by Rita-Marie and Teaching Reading in the 21st Century (5th Edition) by Michael F. Graves, Connie F Juel, Bonnie B. Graves and Peter F Dewitz sell for upwards of $20 on Amazon.  However, whilst the newly released Adding some TEC-VARIETY is being sold on Amazon for a mere $10-14, it is also made freely available by the authors on the website of the same name.  Check out the image I create below, that outlines the key elements of Dr Bonk’s TEC-VARIETY Model.


One of the authors of the book is Dr Curtis Bonk, professor of instructional systems technology and educational psychology at Indiana University and President of CourseShare, has authored a number of books and delivered many significant presentations and keynote addresses worldwide but has made the majority of his presentations and resources freely available on his site TrainingShare.  Whilst his work is not Creative Commons licensed, it is a far cry from the attitude so often seen for most academics who, apart from published works, do not necessarily disseminate a great deal of materials and resources freely in order to facilitate more education and learning experiences for others.  I applaud Dr Bonk’s immense generosity in making these types of resources available because such resources have definitely enriched my own professional learning and development.

What will it take to encouragement more of this type of sharing amongst experts of the field?  How can educators facilitate greater sharing worldwide?

Edmodo and MOOCs for high school students

I’ve been very keen to get all students at my school to learn more about and develop more skills in both digital citizenship and study skills, however, I obviously cannot physically teach the entire students body all this.  So it was decided that I would focus digital citizenship on a particular year group that really needed to become more aware of the implications of their social interactions online and that study skills would be open to anyone and everyone in the school.  I decided that instead of using Moodle this time I would use Edmodo and simply focus on generating discussion and encouraging students to put into action what they learn.

Having such large numbers in these two Edmodo groups has made me think about it a little more as MOOCs for high school students.  I like the idea of these lessons being learnt across the stages and different year groups.  How have I set them up?  The digital citizenship group has activities added to it that come from Common Sense Media and the amazing curriculum they have developed for Digital Citizenship.  I try and ask a lot of questions and provoke thought, reflection and action.  The study skills group runs in a similar way but follows a little less formal scope and sequence, it is very much about skills.

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Figure 1: This is an example of a post from my digital citizenship group.

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Figure 2: This is an example of an activity given in study skills group.

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Figure 3: This is an example of a polling activity. I use polling activities often to gauge an idea of what students need most.

The groups have only been running for a few weeks but already I have over 200 students across the school involved in them.  It’s rewarding and I feel like I will have achieved successful outcomes from the students if they are able to improve their study habits and exam results, as well as demonstrate more awareness of how to be a good digital citizen in every online environment and activity.  I’m using lots of badges to reward and inspire them but so far it hasn’t caught on but I will continue to develop both groups more over the rest of the year and then restart them next year.

Paperless worksheets – Going 1 to 1

I’m not going to hesitate when I say that a teacher’s best friend is… the photocopier.  I’ve been guilty of it as well until this year, but teachers do not often think twice before going to the photocopier to get a few copies of worksheets to hand out in their next lesson.  So what has changed for me?  Why has this year brought about a more conscious effort to reduce photocopying?

With the intentional integration of iPads in the junior half of our school, its important to make good use of the technology.  The device costs a lot and if we were to continue teaching as we once were then it would not make good use of this technology.  A quote I really love says this:

“If we teach today as we did yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow.” – John Dewey

Another reason for going as paperless as possible with the integration of iPads is so that the teaching and learning experiences planned can cater for the needs of the students we teach now.  Students now do not learn in the same way as those students who first started using a pen and paper.  Anyway, that is why I decided to consciously NOT do photocopying at all for my lessons, but utilise technology in as many ways as possible to model the paperless classroom.

The biggest issue in going paperless is the use of worksheets in the classroom and the best workflow for distributing them digitally, having them completed and then handed in for review/marking.  I wrote another blog post that went through what was decided for handling worksheets and converting them into worksheets that allow for text input called ‘iPad Workflow in the Classroom‘ and it outlined how Adobe Acrobat Pro will be utilised to convert PDFs into online forms essentially.  As an online form, however, the PDF has text fields where students can provide their answers and write notes and then open in Moodle to submit to their teacher or email it.  Many worksheets teachers have are Word docx but if you Save as… PDF and then open the PDF in Adobe Acrobat Pro, you can convert it easily (see below).

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However, today it came up that a colleague wanted to create a booklet of worksheets etc to distribute to students to be able to complete and hand in and they wanted it to do it digitally.  I knew I could convert the documents and have them each as separate worksheets but I didn’t realise I could merge them so easily into one PDF.  Then I discovered the option to Combine files into a single PDF (duh, its right there).  You simply select all the PDFs you wish to combine and its done.  So within a very short time I had converted Word docx into PDFs, PDFs into online forms and these online forms into a booklet of combined PDFs.  It works great and I was really excited to be able to share this with my colleague.