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August 15, 2011 / rudyrubio

Understanding Teacher Skills and Support Through Research

Research for the Education team has focused specifically on open educational resources (OER) and professional development: how are teachers using OER, what impact have OER had on teaching and learning, and how can ISKME enhance teachers’ abilities to use OER through professional development workshops? As expected, it was not difficult to measure whether there has been a change in the number of teachers using OER in their classroom: we can ask teachers before the workshop and in the months since if they are using OER and count the numbers accordingly. However, the numbers that express these findings share only a small portion of the story; rather, it is the nuanced answers to open-ended questions that have provided a much richer illustration of how powerful OER can be in the classroom.

Including open-ended questions on surveys provides teachers with the opportunity to elaborate on answers that might otherwise omit context, reasoning, or justification. Several teachers have commented on how empowered OER have made them feel by giving them the opportunity to take control of the curriculum materials. Many have openly expressed interest in becoming leaders and advocates within their schools and communities for delivering these resources to colleagues. The extent to which teachers care about one another and feel a sense of community is truly pervasive in their answers. Even our solicitation for honest and constructive feedback on how to improve our workshops, for example, is often framed as helping ISKME to not only improve its workshops but also to continue to serve fellow teachers – future participants – in the best way possible.

Through our research, we’ve been able to capture the growth of OER use among former participants as well as a growing interest among teachers to share their knowledge and resources with colleagues and to construct a wider, more supportive community. This has provided tremendous support to continue our work and help teachers to build on their own success.

February 11, 2011 / juliewalling

Coding Open-Ended Survey Data

I recently started coding the BIF participant survey data using my typical method. I imported the data into excel, looked for patterns in the open responses, and developed categories based on what I found. For the BIF survey, there are 77 responses, and for many questions respondents provided a lot of rich information. I finally concluded that due to the volume and richness of the dataset, my usual method was not the right fit for this job.

To figure out where to go from here, I turned to Google for some inspiration and quickly found this video on the Constant Comparison method at the website Online QDA (Qualitative Data Analysis). After watching this video and reading a few other blogs describing this method further, I felt rejuvenated and had come up with a new approach.

Over lunch, I went to the store and picked up a new ink cartridge so I could print out the survey responses. Once they were printed, I cut out each response on its own piece of paper, and started to organize them on the floor.

I started with just a handful of responses. Once those responses were organized, I added a few more, changing the emerging categories as necessary based on the new information contained in the responses.

This new method is proving to be much more fruitful than my original approach. The richness of the data is being retained, and I am able to see all of the information mapped out in front of me rather than being restricted to the limited view that my excel table had provided.

February 7, 2011 / juliewalling

Troubleshooting a Drop in Search Engine Rankings

When your search engine rankings decline how do you figure out why? Below is a set of questions that can help you to troubleshoot whether the drop in rankings was due to a change in a search engine algorithm, or due to a change or problem with your own website.

This blog post was first put together in response to the Google algorithm change reported on Search Engine Land.

– Have your rankings changed in the other engines or only in Google?

If the decline appears in all engines, this suggests that the problem is with your site. If the decline is only in Google this suggests that the problem is due to changes in the Google algorithm.

– Are all of your outdated URLs being redirected to your new URLs?

If they are not redirecting, external links that have not been updated will 404 and you will lose the link value that could have been gained from those links.

– Looking at historical trends, is there typically a drop off in rankings at this time of the year?

There can be pretty major swings in rankings across the year/month/week/day, but these cyclical changes are not necessarily a problem as long as you maximize visibility in the up-cycle.

– Did this drop off impact rankings of specific landing pages or on specific search terms? Or was it an across the board drop off?

This will help you to determine whether the problem is site-wide whether there are particular parts of the site that need work.

– Have there been any changes in the competitor landscape? i.e. who else is ranking on search terms that you have historically ranked for highly? This can be helpful in a few ways:

1. If a new competitor is on the scene they may be pushing you down in rankings. By studying their site and you can identify and what they’re doing that you think is successful and implement that on your own site to boost your performance. If a new competitor has emerged, this suggests that your decline in rankings is due to a change in the competitor landscape rather than a change in the Google algorithm.

2. has there been a significant reshuffle in who is ranking on the terms that you historically ranked for? If so, this supports the idea that the root of the problem has to do with a change in the algorithm that has significantly changed how sites are selected, as opposed to a something on your website that has only impacted your sites rankings and has left other search results constant.

With that second point in mind, if changes to the Google algorithm have taken place, the description of the change presented in the recent Search Engine Land article suggests that the homepage would be less affected than pages many clicks from the homepage that have traditionally appeared in response to long tail terms. It would be good to investigate this further to see whether your rankings on long-tail terms been effected more than your rankings on shorter keywords.

Even if none of this reveals anything conclusive — and SEO is extremely complex so even with careful analysis sometimes the cause of a change is elusive — it’s important to structure your site so that it is as content rich as possible, and to work to attract high value external links. A few basics to keep in mind are:

1. Pick one keyword per page and stick to it

Pick a keyword that is highly relevant to the page, and has high search volume (use the Google keyword tool). Make sure that your selected keyword appears frequently throughout the different components of the page, such as the h1 tags, meta description, alt text, and URL.  It’s also important to include some relevant text on the page that is keyword rich. Make sure that this content is not hidden in flash or javascript – if it is make sure that there is an html version of the site that the spider is directed to read.

2. Include your keyword in the anchor text of internal links

Make sure that the anchor text of internal links includes the keyword for the site that you are linking to.

3. Attract External Links

Ways to reach out for external links include creating forums, reaching out to respected bloggers who work in your space to let them know about specific features, events, or content on your site that they might want to share with their audience. Remember to put a marketing spin on things – people are much more likely to take action on something that is scarce and available for a limited time only. Include social media icons so people can easily “like” the site.

Search Engine Land and Matt Cutts are great SEO blogs and have lots of posts that cover all kinds of ideas for how to improve your site, so it’s good to keep track of them for tips and for the latest search engine news.

December 10, 2010 / rudyrubio

Thinking you can see: BIF’s Share-out Boards

By Rudy Rubio

As you enter the Big Ideas Fest 2010 through the main hallway you’re greeted by nine metal boards on wooden pedestals covered in colored paper and magnets. These are the Big Idea Fest’s Share-out Boards. Following their participation in each Action Collab attendees have had the opportunity to use the boards to present to fellow attendees their learnings from the Labs. I’ve noticed three key ways that attendees have used the boards to experience the collaborative and communicative processes at the Fest:

  • Sharing: this element is the foundation for the Share-out Boards – it should be, it’s in the name. While ISKME anticipated that attendees would use the boards to share the ideas that were being developed in the Collabs, attendees are also sharing the experience of problem solving. In order for the visualization of the idea to take place a shared vision about the problem and potential solution must be reached. Speaking to some participants between Collabs, it became clear that this type of internal consensus-building was critical for moving through the Action Collab process. Throughout the Fest, attendees were also encouraged to comment and contribute to one another’s boards, thus opening up the sharing component to the Fest-wide network.
  • Shape and Structure: As the conversations linking the Collabs’ problem to the solution became more defined, so too did the boards reflect this clarity. Random bits of yarn began to link various actors in education; arrows and natural elements of flow (reading the board from left to right, top to bottom, inward to outward) took the viewer on a similar (but abbreviated) journey that was experienced in the collabs; and circles, triangles, and squares formed from magnets and paper emphasized the key components of the group’s thinking.
  • Surprise: The most salient aspect of the boards that I found after visiting groups during the process of adding and revising their boards was the element of surprise. Attendees discovered that no matter how quickly or how well they organized their ideas on board, everything about them – the arrangement, the feedback from other attendees, the idea itself – could change at any time. This was not necessarily a bad thing. One attendee appreciated the uncertainty as part of the learning experience of the Fest. Another attendee was often surprised to find information and ideas from the Rapid Fire speeches reemerging in her group’s work, something that became more apparent for her as she mapped out supporting evidence on the board.

By the final day of the Fest, the Share-out boards were covered in Post-it notes, flipchart paper, magnets, string, photos, and, most importantly, thoughts. ISKME has captured photos of each board and will share it out with attendees in the coming weeks so that they may reflect on their learnings and the power of sharing out. Often part of brainstorming sessions for my job, it was an incredible experience to see nine big ideas about education form out of the tangible energy from the Big Ideas Fest 2010.

December 8, 2010 / cynthiajimes

Reflections on the OER Session at Wise 2010


By Cynthia Jimes

The Open Education Models session at Wise 2010 had speakers from MIT, the Commonwealth of Learning (COL), and the Indira Gandhi National Open University. Much of the usual information was presented, including definitions of and philosophies behind OER, the history of OER, and lists of OER projects globally. Where my interest was sparked was talk on OER’s alignment to potential new teaching and learning practices, primarily highlighted by COL’s Vice President, Asha Singh Kanwar. She discussed a few studies that sheds light on this—although drawn from the distance learning literature and not the OER research lit (for example, she mentioned Bernard et al’s relevant conclusions from an analysis of 232 empirical studies on distance learning).

An interesting question from the audience was from a South African social entrepreneur, who asked: Who isn’t getting access to OER? MIT’s Executive Director answered that access is much about awareness and technology, and that there are initiatives helping with this—namely Lucifer Chu’s Oops project in Taiwan, which translated MIT’s OCW into Chinese. To me, access and adoption is also very much about what research is beginning to show us: The important role that champions (whether students or teachers) play in engaging others in OER, the importance of teacher professional development in OER localization and use, and awareness building on how OER is not only about access to resources, but about sharing of pedagogical practices and knowledge.

December 7, 2010 / juliewalling

The New Non-Traditional Student

By Julie Walling

The traditional path for achieving success in the workforce is that as income increases with level of education attained. Students who complete high school and go on to complete a college degree will be more successful in the workforce than students who only complete high school, and students who complete a graduate degree will have even more lucrative careers than those that only complete a bachelor’s degree. While this model for success my hold true for a large segment of the population, I talked to two community college instructors over lunch on Monday December 6th at the Big Ideas Fest who reported an increase the number of students achieving success by pursuing a non-traditional path.
The community college instructors explained that an increasing number of students are returning to community college to complete associate’s degrees after having already completed a bachelor’s degree at a 4-year university. These students are returning to community college because they have been unable to secure employment with their bachelor’s degree. They have selected an associate’s degree because their program prepares students for a clearly defined career path upon completion. These students who were previously unable to find employment with their bachelor’s degree are quickly able to find employment in stable and sustainable career, such as nursing or real estate, once they are equipped with an associate’s degree.
What are your personal experiences with the utility of higher education in the workforce? Do these new non-traditional students represent a small minority of the student body, or a growing segment of the student body?

December 7, 2010 / cynthiajimes

Wise 2010 – Rapid Prototyping and “Radical Collaboration” Exemplified

By Cynthia Jimes

I’m the only ISKME-ite not attending the Big Ideas Fest, but I’m certainly there in spirit. I’m at the WISE Summit in Doha, Qatar. The WISE Summit is an annual event created by the Qatar Foundation, and ISKME was a finalist for the 2010 WISE awards. Similar to the Fest, we’re discussing education innovations. Also similar to the Fest, we’re at a beautiful resort next to a beautiful body of water. (See photo, which I took during my lunch break at the Doha Sheraton Resort).

One of the more interesting implementation projects discussed at WISE is The Riverside School in India. Riverside’s learning program teaches students that questioning, being challenged and caring about issues are as important as mastering content. I was able to ask Riverside Founder-Director Kiran Bir Sethi (see photo bottom right) a few questions after her talk–specifically related to her emphasis on design thinking, rapid protoytping, and “radical collaboration” as important aspects of teaching and learning. Kiran told me that Riverside encourages design thinking with its teachers, and makes it part of its professional development. Teachers are taught to pose questions, create rapid prototypes of teaching and learning practices, test them with students and others, and analyze feedback toward enhanced design.
Kiran Bir Sethi, Wise 2010 2

During our short talk Kiran also explained how Riverside uses radical collaboration, or collaboration with stakeholders that one wouldn’t normally think of including. In designing one of its new school buildings, she explained, Riverside brought in not only architects, but also students, parents, school staff, anthropologists, community members and others to weigh in on the design.

I liked Kiran’s project and the philosophy behind it–it reminds me of the potential of the Action Collabs to do similar things, with their emphasis not only on rapid prototyping, but also on collaboration across diverse groups and communities.

December 6, 2010 / shenweiss

Planting the Seeds of Engagement: The Opening Session of Big Ideas Fest

By Shen Weiss

Participants took their first steps toward connecting and collaborating during the opening session of Big Ideas Fest.  Participants were asked to discuss personal stories about how their personal learning experiences were influenced by the issues of access, cost, and quality of education.

Examples of stories shared include:

  • Margaret Campbell related the word “access” to geographic inequities in education:  Margaret shared that she changed schools from rural Washington D.C. to Philadelphia in order to get access to a better education.  Her personal struggle motivated her to start her own charter school in a rural area.
  • Helen Lowe related the word “quality” to student achievement:  Helen shared that switching to a school where she felt challenged took her from being an underachieving student at one school to being on the Dean’s list at another school.  She later added that the school that challenged her had a more Socratic method of teaching, and that she realized that she needed to “her herself think” in order to learn.
  • Steve Midgley related the word “access” to a technology tool: Steve shared that when he got access to a basic 8-bit computer, it changed his “whole landscape,” motivating him much more than any subject he was taught in school and eventually landing him in a career path.

The session closed with reflections from participants.  One participant commented that a lot of the stories that were shared had to do with external influences, but that her greatest hope as an educator was to inspire students to follow their own internal motivations, adding the observation that there are many students that are incredible learners despite being poor or not having access to many resources.  Another participant made note of one particular wall posting that they found interesting which read, “consequences of risk.”  Both of these comments relate to the larger picture of the kind of sharing that we hope to inspire in participants:  Sharing that takes risks and is derived from both personal and professional experience, and sharing that facilitates an open space for collaborating around solutions for today’s pressing educational challenges.

What comes to mind for you in terms of your personal learning experience when you think of the relationship between the words quality, access and cost? Please post a comment to this blog and share your thoughts.

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Pictured above: Participants tell personal stories about how the words “Access”, “Cost” and “Quality” relate to their experiences as learners.

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Pictured Above: Participants translated their stories into words and shared them collectively on a wall

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Pictured Above: Big Ideas Fest speaker, David Merrill (Co-Founder and President of Sifteo) shares a video of his company’s first product, Siftables, with participant Steve Midgley (Deputy Director of the U.S. Department of Education Office of Education Technology). Siftables are a tabletop game system made of active physical/graphical tiles.

December 5, 2010 / chedgspeth

Button, Button….Who’s Got the Big Ideas Fest Buttons?

By Carol Hedgspeth

Who’s got the Big Idea Fest buttons? Well,  I do! As resident “Button Lady” at Big Ideas Fest 2010, I am in charge of providing Big Ideas Fest attendees with information about the variety of buttons they can earn, wear, or give away while at the Big Ideas Fest. These buttons say things such as, “U inspire me,” “I’m tweeting,” “Went for a swim,” or  “Geek on duty.” So why would buttons like these be important? After all, why would grown ups be excited about getting and trading buttons?

These buttons ARE important – they may be the first step towards an engaging conversation among like-minded (or not-so-like-minded) thinkers. They may even be the reason why two (or more) brilliant education reform champions start a dialogue about changing the world of education! So, while I am a senior researcher at the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME) by day, investigating ways that people collaborate and share knowledge , I am pleased that my alter ego for the next few days is Big Ideas Fest 2010 Button Lady!

What button would be meaningful for you to receive? What button could someone give you that might spark a deep discussion?

December 1, 2010 / chedgspeth

Countdown to ISKME’s Big Ideas Fest!

By Carol Hedgspeth

In just 3 short days, Big Ideas Fest will begin at the Ritz-Carlton in Half Moon Bay. The Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME) hosts this innovative, exciting 3-day convening with the goal of  of modelling and sharing cutting-edge, state-of-the-art thinking in K-20 education and lifelong learning. How exciting!!

Fellow ISKME-ites and myself are busy dotting i’s and crossing t’s to make sure BIF2010  rocks. Hope you can make it! Maybe I’ll see you at the Juggling Station, or perhaps the Tweet-up….