Unfold Learning

exploring the best innovations in learning and teaching


Rethinking the coding craze…

Today’s post is by guest author Bea Leiderman. Bea is a technology coach at Goochland County Public Schools in Goochland, Virginia, where she helps middle and high school teachers use technology to design effective learning opportunities and environments. Bea has won numerous accolades for her innovative teaching, and her work with colleagues incorporating Agile / SCRUM to transform learning projects was featured in the June 2016 issue of ISTE’s entrsekt magazine. Bea is the author of six books of insect macrophotography and a book about iBooks Author, all available on Apple’s iBooks Store. You can find more of her amazing insect photos on Flickr, and can follow her on Twitter, where she also has a channel for insect photography and information.

Final Cut Project

A complex Final Cut project

For as long as humans have been alive, we have been problem-solvers. The idea of designing solutions and executing them did not come about with the advent of the personal computer, although the personal computer and other related technologies do make the iteration of approaches and ideas so very convenient. This might be why Steve Jobs said in a 1990 interview that a computer is “the equivalent of a bicycle for our minds,” allowing our creative and problem-solving processes to go so much faster.

Coding in particular seems the most obvious method for teaching the design-and-iteration process that develops creative and critical thinking skills. Using coding is transparent, and it is easy to contrive ways of bringing coding into the traditional school schedule. It is also easy to dampen the joy that comes with ideating, designing, and executing an idea when coding is adopted as the only way to do so. As much as we might think we are helping students be creative, by making them all learn “coding,” whether they are interested or not, reduces coding to the same level as anything else we have ever forced upon children in schools.

I’m not against the idea of teaching coding, but I believe we are pushing too hard in the wrong direction. We don’t all need to know how to develop apps, as fun as it might seem to some, especially because each of us have our own particular idea of fun and our own plans for our future. Knowing how to code is not as important as knowing the ideas behind coding: designing a process and making it happen. If indeed all jobs will require coding in the coming century, everyone will have a better incentive than a grade on a report card (or *gasp* a standardized test) to pick up the skills. Continue reading

MiTE 2017


I’m excited once again to be keynoting the amazing MiTE conference: MiTE 2017 — one of the preeminent conferences for technology- and mobile-enhanced teacher education in the world. This year, it will be leaving its Irish birthplace for the first time and will take place in Los Angeles on January 12–14. If you’re interested in great research about how technology can impact both teaching and teacher education, if you’d like to rub shoulders with thoughtful practitioners from around the world, and if you’d like to invest some productive time thinking about ways to transform your own teaching praxis, this is the place to be. Plus, there will be a dance contest! I can’t wait to see everyone there soon…

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“Formal” Learning


A tri-lobed sassafras leaf from Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. Photo by W. Rankin, 2016.

Last week, I published a model of natural learning that explores the cyclical structures of the informal or “personal” learning we do outside of school and professional settings. Thanks for the comments and ideas you’ve sent me — and I hope you’ll send even more. Refining these models and getting them right is important to me, and I know they’ll more accurately represent the complexity of the learning process with your input and insight.

This week, I’d like to enlist your help with another model: my model for formal learning — the sort of learning we do in schools and formal training sessions. Again, my goal here is to begin a discussion around a work in progress rather than to present something fully formed — though this is, like my “natural” model from last week, something I’ve been thinking about and working on for several years. I’d love to hear what you think so please leave me comments or send me a message. What do you like? What seems off? What parts seem overblown or underemphasized? What’s missing?

You can download the complete model in PDF form here: dimensions-of-formal-learning. The second page defines the terms I’m using and discusses some of my rationale for understanding the structure the way I do and for including the particular elements I include. In this post, therefore, I won’t go into any detail about the overall structure of this model. Instead, I’d like to focus on a substructure of this model — a process of moving between and among the elements that I call the “propeller of learning.”

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“Natural” Learning


Prehistoric stone with cultic pictograms from the National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen. Photo by W. Rankin, 2016.

For several years now — certainly since our team began to explore the implications of mobility back at ACU — I’ve been thinking about learning and trying to understand its structures. It’s my conviction that the way we conceive of and practice learning in schools is largely the product of a series of technological challenges that once constrained the movement of information and people — challenges that have now been superseded or solved. Understanding “school” from inside the structures we’ve invented for schools thus leads to a kind of echo-chamber problem that tells us more about the institution than about learning itself. So for some time, I’ve been working to understand other sorts of learning — specifically, the self-motivated learning that dominates so much of our lives: the learning of hobbies and pastimes for our own edification and enrichment, the learning we do around our homes from parents and grandparents, and the learning that we do to survive and navigate our everyday lives.

What I’m going to present here today is a work in progress. Though it’s based on a synthesis of research and experience, I’m not going to present that research here today. What I’m interested in instead are your comments and feedback about the overall model. Does this model seem plausible? Where is it flawed? Where are its strong and weak points? What exceptions to it can you suggest? Where do you see it applying? Though I’ve been working on it and thinking about it for half a decade, I need your help to test its soundness and make it stronger before I take the next steps with it. By the way, if you’re interested in another model based on this one’s structure, please see my post about “formal” learning here.

Here’s the the complete model in PDF form: structures-of-personal-learning. Because this PDF is able to connect all of the elements in a more complex way, it has some features that I don’t discuss below, but here’s a quick overview of most of what appears in it.

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ECIS 2016 in Copenhagen

screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-11-51-54-pmI’m so pleased to be back in Denmark for this year’s European Council of Independent Schools conference and look forward to meeting and sharing with lots of colleagues. This year’s theme is one particularly close to my heart. Today working with some local school principals, I presented my idea about “learning ecosystems,” and one of the principals astutely observed that no ecosystem can survive without the input of energy. When we look at the natural world around us, that energy comes from the sun — plants transform that solar energy into sugars and fibers, and herbivores, carnivores, and scavengers continue that transformation. “What,” he said, “is the energy that drives and transforms learning ecosystems?” His answer — and mine: curiosity. Everything else we do is driven by its energizing force. If you’re around Copenhagen tomorrow, I’d love to see you. You can find out more about the conference here.

Video from CADE por la Educación


CADE por la Educación brought together some of the leading figures in education, government, and business from throughout Perú to talk about the future of learning. Although the video starts about 10 minutes into my presentation, you can see my talk here. Most of the audio is translated en español, which may be helpful. Or not. The video concludes with a Q&A from this year’s president of IPAE (from 41:00 to 56:30). By the way, if you’re wondering, my headset mic failed early on (the reason the video starts midway through) so I got to use a handheld. Being such a gesticulator, I decided to put it in my shirt pocket to free up my hands: both fashionable and functional!

Thanks, EdCrunch!

I had a spectacular time at Moscow’s EdCrunch. Amazing speakers (including Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales), great exhibits, and some spectacular conversations. It was a privilege to participate. If you’d like to see the video of my keynote, you can watch it here.