Where Does Typing a Word Fit on Bloom’s Taxonomy?

I participated in a lively Twitter chat earlier this week where Bloom’s Taxonomy and more current Digital Taxonomies were the topic of discussion.  Digital taxonomies are simply visuals of Bloom’s Taxonomy that try to label different technologies as connected to a particular part of Bloom’s Taxonomy. I already wrote about the problems I see with digital taxonomies, but I want to further illustrate my point with a simple example/question.

bloom_taxonomyWhere does typing a word fit on Bloom’s Taxonomy? For easy reference, I’ve included a visual of Bloom’s in this post. My answer is that it might be any part of Bloom’s Taxonomy, depending upon what is happening inside the mind of the person typing it.

Remembering – A student heard a word the other day and was trying to recall it.  She suddenly remembered it and typed it in Google Docs, on Twitter, in a Facebook post, in a very short (as in one word) blog post, or in a text chat amid a Google Hangout. Note that she might have typed the word in any number of technologies, but it was still just remembering.

Understand/Comprehend – A student is on a field trip at the art museum and decided to type one-word explanations of what she saw in each exhibit. She classified what she saw based upon knowledge she recently gained about different art periods. Again, regardless of where she types it, this is understanding.

Applying – The student is in a room full of art from different periods. After classifying the art by period, she devises a plan to organize the art by period in different parts of the room.

Analysis – A student learned about interior decorating and then toured an art museum with the charge of decorating an imaginary house with art. The student used her knowledge of decorating to write down the word of the room in which she thought a given piece of art might best fit.

Evaluation – A student recorded one-word critiques of art based upon her acquired knowledge in aesthetics, art history and other relevant disciplines.

Creation – A student designed unique, one-word statements to represent significant ideas or collections of ideas that are important to a given community.

You could argue that some of the activities I described might be better associated with a different part of Bloom’s Taxonomy. However, it is difficult to argue that the same activity, typing a single word (whether it be on Twitter, a blog, a Google Doc, or a traditional word processor) can only be described as functioning at one part of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Context matters and so does the thought process and nature of the cognitive activity.

This is why I struggle with the digital Bloom’s taxonomies. They essentially encourage teachers to function at the lower levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Designing technology-integrated learning experiences is a higher level cognitive function, not a simple menu selection of technologies that were sometimes seemingly arbitrarily placed in a certain part of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Google Helpouts and Self-blended Learning

I’m sitting in a session at Google, listening to Daniel Arnold (Marketing Manager, Google Helpouts), talk about the vision behind Google Helpouts. The concept is simple. Create a way for people to have one-on-one video chat to “help out” with a question that they might have about a pertinent topic: a student struggling with math homework, a new parent with a question about changing diapers, a person starting a new business and seeking help on where to start, a person with flu symptoms seeking quick advice, or maybe someone wanting a few tips on a hobby.

My first experience with Google Helpouts was on December 16, 2013. I wanted tips on how to host my first Edcamp. I was delighted to see that Kristen Swanson was part of the pilot phase of Helpouts. So, I set up an appointment with her on the 15th, and chatted with her the next day. It was short, simple and straightforward; much like meeting for a Google Hangout. Kristen fielded my questions, shared a few tips and we disconnected. I”m not the type to have video chats with strangers, but this was a surprisingly natural and informal experience.

Listing to Daniel, this resonates with my ongoing reflection about student-initiated blended learning (what I’ve called self-blended learning in other posts). While educators and schools are embracing blended learning at a rapid rate, some students are already there; designing their own blend of face-to-face and online learning experiences to meet their learning needs.

From this perspective, Helpouts is likely to become another tool in the student-led blended learning toolbox. Are you struggling with a concept in a course and not getting what you want or need from a teacher? Find someone on Google Helpouts to provide free or inexpensive help? Do you have a high-stakes paper due soon and your teacher is not providing substantive feedback? What if you could connect with a different English teacher or an editor who would walk through the paper with you in a short 20-minute video chat?

Of course, this is possible apart from Helpouts, but this might be the tool to make connecting with experts easier and more accessible. I look forward to seeing how this plays out in the upcoming 12-18 months.



What is your MOOC’s Mood?

MOOCs have moods. I’ve participated in many MOOCs over the last five years. Sometimes I lurk. Other times I’m an active participant, a co-learner, even co-creator of knowledge. I always learn something valuable.  Right now, I’m signed up for four of them: The History and Future of Higher Education at Coursera, The Badges MOOC at Canvas, the New School Creation MOOC at High Tech High MOOCs, and the Gamification MOOC in Coursera. Taking multiple at the same time makes the feel of each MOOC that much more apparent.

As with every course, each MOOC has affordances and limitations. In terms of limitations, most have yet to discover the power and possibilities available when you have a massive group of participants, so I see very few MOOC makers who are engaging in serious collective knowledge generation activities. There are so many amazing possibilities on that front (like being able to produce book-quality collections of real-world case studies in a matter of days or weeks, crowd sourcing the content generation for central ideas in the course, and building a truly networked community of knowledge generators that spans the social media world and beyond). That will come with time. After all, MOOCs are still new, most do not have extensive experience in building courses rooted in models of connected learning, most who are designing and leading MOOCs are not designers and learning architects at heart, and traditional models like those promoted by Coursera and EdX have temporarily taken the spotlight from the more creative MOOC platforms and MOOC makers.  Even when the MOOC makers are designers and architects, many were trained in the instructional design models of the past, those largely connected with traditional educational frameworks (instructor led courses, computer-based instruction, training modules, etc.). That is why so many return to common schooling vocabulary like quizzes, assignments, and homework. It is with these common limitations in mind that I wrote Assessment Design Tips for MOOC Makers and What is the Center of Your Course Design: Content, Outcomes, or Social Interaction?

Many of the limitations that I see come form the influence and embedded values of traditional education trappings within certain Learning Management Systems. That is certainly the case with systems like Coursera. I commend Coursera for advancing the MOOC movement, but the LMS is limited, especially when it comes to tools for feedback, emerging models of assessment (multiple methods of peer assessment, self-assessment, digital badging, options for portfolio assessment, etc.), and possibilities for collective knowledge generation. Of course, Coursera is great at learning analytics. Since the system has limited functionality, what they do have become easier to track, providing wonderfully interesting findings about learner habits. The downside is that these habits are limited to a smaller number of instructional design possibilities.

In terms of affordances for existing MOOC designs, many of them come from the vision, insights, and expertise of the MOOC makers (and their teams). In fact, two of the four current MOOCs in which I am enrolled are led by people who have reached the status of academic celebrity: well-known and respected, a track record of excellence and innovation in their area, a contagious passion the subject, a loyal following that makes up a critical mass of participants, and a willingness to share of themselves and connect with others. In fact, such MOOCs manage to thrive even when/if there are significant flaws in the course design itself.  The reality is that you could take some of these people, put them in a giant room with 5000 others for a few days or weeks, and they could probably make it worthwhile and engaging…maybe even life changing for some of the participants. This is not to suggest that the course designs of my current MOOCs are bad. I’m simply pointing out the massive affordance of these MOOCs, namely the people who are leading them.

Now what about this idea of MOOCs having a mood? Every MOOC has a mood, as in “a temporary state of mind or feeling.” The design of the course influences the mood as well as the personality and voice of the MOOC makers, facilitators and/or instructors. However, I’ve noticed that the participants are among the most influential when it coms to mood. Some MOOCs are warm, welcoming, and inviting. It is easy to connect with others, and people are generous with their comments. People seek to include as many as possible. They don’t let posts or comments just sit out there for an extended period without comment or recognition.  They value each other as fellow co-learners and as people from who they can learn, maybe people with whom they can collaborate on the next big project or movement.

While I do not want to generalize too much, it seems to me that a positive mood in a MOOC often comes from a critical mass of participants who’ve had a formative McMOOC experience. Those who no nothing other than cMOOCs can be quite friendly and welcoming, but people who were “all in” with a previous cMOOC experienced the power of connectivism. They experienced the magic that happens when the MOOC leader becomes almost unnecessary for the class to flourish. People self-organize, connect with one another based on shared interests, blog and comment on other people’s blogs, share thoughts and experiences on Twitter, and sometimes even create follow-up MOOCs, Google Hangouts, and other learning events. These are the people I sometimes greet with a hug when I meet them in person at a conference.

xMOOCers, as I noted, can be warm and welcoming in the same way that some traditional classes have a warm and friendly feel to them. And yet, for me there is always something missing in an xMOOC. I don’t seem to build those connections that last for months or years like I do in cMOOCs. I learn good information and often appreciate the wisdom of the instructor, and I often use the knowledge gained for exciting and inspiring projects.  I don’t, however, get that sense that I am part of a something significant, even transformational. For that, I look for cMOOCs or a critical mass of cMOOCers in an otherwise xMOOC.

Unlearning the Definition of Teacher

I’m participating in a new MOOC on the Future of Higher Education and one of the “assignments” was to describe something that I had to unlearn, the challenges I faced, and the successes I experienced. As usual, I am sharing my work with the public as well. 

Teachers are essential to learning, but for the longest time my narrow definition of teacher prevented me from discovering the power of self-directed learning. Growing up, I thought of a teacher as the person who leads, directs, lectures, and sets the rules for a formal class. The teacher chose what I would learn. The teacher chose how I would learn it. The teacher determined how my learning would be measured and documented, and the teacher assessed my work, determining what was acceptable and what was not. My job, as the learner, was to follow the rules and meet the expectations of the teacher. I was to learn compliance, preparing for life as a good consumer and obedient citizen.

Somewhere along the way, I discovered that this traditional role of teacher was not essential to substantive and high-impact learning experiences. It started in college. I did not read much before college, but the library soon become my favorite classroom. I browsed the shelves for hours, often sitting in a lonely corner, paging through an old, dusty book; the older and dustier, the better. Over time, I decided to start assigning myself research papers and books reports based on personal interests. Soon I had such a collection that I rarely had to write papers from scratch for a college class. I just pulled one out of my personal, unpublished, unshared essays, revised them and submitted them. Mentioning this to some people today, they claim that I was self-plagiarizing because I did not write the paper at the demand of the teacher, but instead started writing it before the assignment was even announced. In other words, since it was not first initiated by a teacher (in the traditional sense of the word), some claim that it was unacceptable or even unethical work.

Many years ago I started to study alternative learning organizations, reading about Montessori schools, Sudbury Schools, Sumerhill schools, project-based learning schools, self-directed learning academies, the unschooling and deschooling movements. Reading about and observing these learners and communities helped me see learning and learning organizations in a new way. Teachers existed in some of these schools, but they were not the center of the organizations. In fact, as I saw these places where young people grew into self-directed, creative, collaborative, critical thinkers; I realized that it was possible, in part, because the traditional role of teacher did not dominate the culture of these places.

There were teachers in these organizations..  However, “teacher” in these communities was not as much about a formal role held by a single person who directed the activities of the learners. A teacher was anyone or anything that aided a given learner in growth and development. Students had more say in what they learned, how they learned it, how they would document their learning and how they would get authentic feedback on it.  Realistically, there were often still teachers as authority figures an guides for the students, but these places seemed to be built around the students and not around the teachers.

The more I observed, the more I realized that mainstream learning organizations maintained too narrow of a definition for teacher. By letting go of that definition or at least letting it expand a bit, I now live in a world with more teachers than ever, amazing teachers who inspire me daily. My children are my teachers. My spouse is my teacher. I am sometimes my own teacher. Each person that I meet physically or online is a teacher. The authors of the books, blogs, Tweets, and articles that I read are my teachers. The communities online and in-person serve as teachers for me. Co-learners and co-teachers surround me. It is often up to me to determine the what, how, and why of learning. It is up to me to decide how I will get the necessary feedback to learn. Amid such self-direction, I have the help of a thousand teachers that I now call my personal learning network.