Evaluating eLearning

My homework for my E-learning Theory and Technology course at the Cork Institute of Technology is to review this Wall Street Journal website about the Kowloon Walled City.

We were asked to spend time exploring it and then reflect on the following three points:

  • Engagement of learner
  • Quality of interaction
  • Advantages and disadvantages over traditional ways of learning.

First I would like to say that we were supposed to spend 10 minutes exploring and reflecting. Here I am 25 minutes later beginning my reflection while trying not to return to the website and explore more!

So as far as the engagement of the learner goes I think that this is an amazing site. The following things are the positives I would say the site has for engagement.

  • It is visually appealing on every page.
    • Each page is unique but to me, that unique element does not distract from the experience but heightens it.
    • One of the points the digital story makes is that the Kowloon Walled City was a maze of buildings, alleyways, and people. I think that the visual changes in the story build on that maze feeling and reinforce the chaos that many people must have imagined it to be like, yet the site also reflects the order that the residence described as the reality.
  • The story uses sound, images, and text.
  • The short clips are just the right length to keep the learner engaged but not lose interest because they drag on.

As for the quality of the interaction, the quality of this digital story is amazing. The elements are put together in a way that tells a story if you go from point A to point B through the site, but also tells the same story if you play a bit of alphabet soup along the way! Everything ties to something eventually. The way the stores of real people who lived within the walled city are woven throughout the site makes you the reader feel what it would have been like to live and work there.

The advantages of this type of learning platform are that a learner can attack the learning in whichever way they prefer. They can watch a video or just read the text. Nearly all of the text on the first page (People) reinforces the video, yet does not copy the video 100%. You are getting less information if you only choose one method but you are not “missing out” on the whole picture of what the walled city was like.

This type of platform allows for someone to experience through first-hand interaction a place that they may never get to visit. Having recently visited Hong Kong and hearing about the tiny apartments and “cage” houses still in Kowloon, it was very interesting for me to see what it had once been.  As a way of learning, first-hand experiences are a good way for learners to connect with a learning experience and make emotional connections with them. Even if those first-hand experiences are only through video interviews and not live person to person interviews.

A disadvantage to this type of platform is that for some it can be visually overstimulating. They may get distracted easily and jump from place to place within the site without really engaging with the learning.  This could be especially true when they get to the “Imagination” page and begin watching video clips of movies.

Overall I think that this is a great learning piece if you just want to get a feel for what it was like to live and work inside the walled city.

If you wanted a detailed look at any element of the walled city, I don’t think that it would achieve any level of detailed information.

Personally, I like this platform. For me, it was just the right amount of information to keep me interested in exploring without losing interest or getting off task (which is a huge problem for me!).


Hong Kong Day 3/4 – The Conference

Day 3 & 4 were workshop/conference days. This is a pretty typical conference with a variety of workshops. Much of my takeaways are resources to spend more time learning about.

My first 5 takeaways are from Ewan McIntosh’s session on collaborative planning.

  1. Trying to plan units with teachers in short blocks of time increased the amount of planning time overall that it takes to get the work completed, by 50%. Having longer blocks 1 ½ or 2 hour blocks of time could give your teachers up to 18 hours a semester back.
    1. I agree with this completely and think that it might actually be slightly longer if other elements are needed, for example, single subject integration.
    2. We have seen this in our school with our new schedule not allowing for the long block of time to effectively plan units.
  2. I need to consider whether I say “I” or “We” when I am presenting about my work since I almost never work in isolation.
  3. Could we take a suggestion from the restaurant Wagamama in the UK, about feedback? When a waiter stops you to ask if your meal is okay they put an X on your placemat. This tells the other waiters that you have been asked so that you can eat in peace.
    1. What if we were to develop similar systems with students. Even possibly ones independent of the teacher?
    2. I have tried this in the past with red and green cups or something similar, but I realize that one of the things that I had not done before was teach my students how to work independently in the first place.
  4. Ewan introduces ideas where he wants to receive feedback from colleagues by saying “this is a 30% idea”. He has found that this tells colleagues that it is an idea still in progress and that they can openly and freely give their thoughts on it, because they don’t feel that he is attached to it yet.
  5. Instead of always frying your steak, try making tapas or something small that makes you say “Ah”.
    1. He was making the connection that while there are probably hundreds of ways to cook steak, most people buy it, take it home and fry it.
    2. Why not try something new. It might work. It might not.
    3. Also, why not try little things like the way tapas allow you to try new dishes without too much commitment because they are small.

The following takeaways are from the rest of the conference.

  1. I need to look into change leadership PD.
  2. To test parent presentations on a small group of parents first. You may find that what you think that they want to learn about and what they really want to know about don’t match!
  3. Studies show that a teacher’s personal and professional personas are the closest of any profession.
  4. Identify teacher’s fears about change so that you can address them. In addition to that identify your own fears and share them with the teachers.
  5. Add Makers and Innovators to your school’s Artists in Residence lists.
  6. Meet with your facilities team. They are a valuable but generally overlooked resource.
  7. Find out more about the OECD

Always admit to your students and parents that you do not know something sometimes and it will be fun to find out. Teachers are human just like they are and they are also always learning. They did not come out knowing everything.

Hong Kong Day 2 – Making

Day 2 was a day spent with the co author of Invent to Learn, Sylvia Martinez. The day was a combination of listening and doing. Many of the teachers in this workshop were in schools with or looking to make Makerspaces.

My takeaways were:

  1. Design for Agency

    1. This is a word that came onto my radar in Munich in 2015, but that I really like. The idea that you are going to teach kids to do something like they are are a scientist, doctor, engineer, physicist. I think this makes you think about planning differently as a teacher which is a challenge but good practice.
  2. Use tools with a “low floor”, meaning that they don’t require a lot of instruction. This allows the kids to get working faster.
  3. Constructivism and the idea of answering the student’s questions when they ask not before, but in the moment. I do this pretty regularly but I want to be more conscious of when I can do it more.
  4. That I need to shorten my explanations which will give more time for kids to work.
  5. Doing interesting things first. Then explain what they were doing, then let them ask questions.
    1. For example, don’t explain how circuits work or how to make one, ask them to make one. Then afterward explain what was happening and let them ask questions.
  6. That I want to start up my Geek Squad again, though I think I will change the name for this school setting.
  7. That design prompts should be brief, ambiguous, and immure to assessment.
    1. Brief allows for lots of ideas to be “correct”
    2. Ambiguous also allows for any idea and any solution
    3. Immune to assessment because the projects themselves are self-assessing.
      1. Did it work? No. Then you didn’t do it right, try again!
      2. You as a teacher don’t need to tell them this, the project will tell them.
  8. Don’t choose the groupings, let the students do that.

Hong Kong Day 1 – Schools Tour

We arrived in Hong Kong to attend the 21st Century learning pre-conference school Maker Tour. The plan for the day had us visiting five schools who had Maker programs. Our school sent our R&D leaders for research for our flexible spaces team. Our hope was to collect more information to use during our development process. We were very lucky that this was a perfect pre conference to help with this.

Our first school was the Kau Yan School, a local Chinese curriculum school that has committed to having every student participate in Maker lessons. One of the things that worked well at this school was that they asked local parents and specialists to come in and help them teach. For example, a parent who is an Engineer came in to teach engineering concepts to the students. Another element that I liked was that they had specific skill development lessons outside of projects. That allowed students to develop skills and knowledge to use during their projects.

The Harbour School was our next stop. The schools “Foundry” was only in its second year. This school also had made a commitment to every student having a full week of intensive Maker experience. The full week begins in grade three with grade two and below having half day lessons scattered throughout the year focused on skill development. They also have some interesting community connections beginning. For example a group of students building a hydroponic garden in which they will grow items to sell in the local market while educating the locals in the benefits of local organic produce.

The West Island School showed us their design space which is only slightly smaller than my nephew’s University Engineering Lab! One of the aspects of their program that stuck with me was their upcycling abilities. They went beyond using old/used items by just cutting them up or using them as is. They had systems in place where they could shred plastic then remelt and press it into sheets which would allow them to then use the plastic sheets in other projects. I also loved their idea of having students create Kickstarter like videos to promote their projects. Their Repair Club is one of the programs that they started which has given their Maker and CAD club students a way to help their community by repairing items while learning about them.

Canadian International School was a school that I looked forward to visiting because they are a PYP. I was curious to see how they were developing their program within their programme of inquiry. One of the elements of their program that I thought was a good idea is that they have set aside a ½ day per grade level for their teachers, as a team, to work as Makers in order to develop their Making skills. They also had me asking myself questions after seeing their 1:1 robotics rial group. This got me thinking about ways to better embed coding into our curriculum. I also liked that they had parent days with their Maker program where their students taught the parents how to work in the Maker program.

Our last stop was at Hong Kong International School to see their new lower elementary (PK-G2) Maker space. One thing that I took away from them was that the Tech Coach does things like put a stack of iPad boxes and the start of a domino run on the floor outside the lab, which is also across from the library. He does this just to see what the kids will do. They also had some great furniture and room layout ideas that I liked.


After seeing all five of these schools my main takeaways were actually common to most, if not all of them.

  1. Embed coding in math and/or writing. I had been mainly thinking writing as a replacement for instructional writing.
  2. Sustainability is a key element.
    1. As in using recycled products, using products that can still be recycled after, and actually recycling products into new materials that you can then use.
  3. Kids are pretty good at Problem Solving but not at Problem Finding.
  4. Everyone is Learning – teachers, students, parents, the admin
  5. Failure is the goal, a process and how the learning happens
  6. Class teachers are hands on as learners or as leaders of the learning, not dropping the students off and leaving them.
  7. You need a Design Cycle.
  8. Maker is a Mindset not a space.
  9. We must use explicit language not kid speak.
  10. Teachers need tinker and training time