Everything Is A Draft

Call whatever you are doing, creating, studying, or learning, a draft, a work in progress, or a design cycle. Remind yourself that learning is a process that leads to more learning and improvement, not to perfection.

In the realm of education, we often refer to the process of designing learning experiences as an iterative cycle similar to this.


When we engage in this cycle of instructional design, we find ourselves always in the middle of something. We are engaged in a work in progress. Any part of the cycle, should include constant feedback, discussion, and reflection so that we can learn and improve. Great educators take the time to have conversations about what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, how they’re doing it, how it’s going, and what’s next.

When we work with students, we want them to apply a similar model. Throughout the model, we want students to reflect on their learning, provide feedback to others, and adjust their actions as they go. We want them to engage in something like this when they work on a project, task, or inquiry.


In the middle of our cycles, we sometimes run into these challenges:

  • We insert some kind of final product or assessment and assume that the cycle ends there
  • We get attached to the idea of a final product or assessment and stop sharing our progress and ideas until it is perfect

As a consequence, our learning slows or stops, and we assume that no one can learn from our partial, unfinished, or imperfect experiences so we don’t share them. Think about all of the missed opportunities for learning! Consider the ways in which development cycles are continuous in the world beyond the classroom, and where the goal is not to be perfect, but to grow and improve. Here are just a few examples:

  • Software and app developers release new versions and iterations of their products (sometimes daily, it seems)
  • Hardware manufacturers create new versions every year (think about the newest ________ you’d like to buy, such as a smartphone, tablet, laptop, television, game console, washing machine, air conditioner, power tool, etc.)
  • Fashion designers contribute to new trends, building upon each other, changing every season as well as over time (think leggings, skinny ties, and fringe bangs)
  • Car manufacturers release new models every few years
  • Chefs refine their recipes and take inspiration from trends in health, food sourcing, and cultural inspirations
  • Athletes and their coaches constantly develop new training goals, techniques, skills, and strategies
  • Businesses change their focuses, products, approaches, and markets, and develop over time
  • Medical researchers build on partial and ongoing research across their communities

It’s time to rethink what ongoing learning really means. In what ways do final products put an end to a cycle? Should the end of a unit, course, semester, or school year result in the end of a learning cycle? How can sharing your works in progress or unfinished learning experiences help to propel the learning of everyone forward? How can we create a culture that accepts drafts and builds upon them? How can we apply learning from one situation to the next, even when it seems as though the two have nothing in common?

The act of creating and publishing something online (such as this blog post) is a part of my own reflection and learning cycle. It will lead to more. And I’m not afraid to share and gather your feedback. Because this is a draft.

Why Do Online Discussions Fail?

Over the past few months I have been re-designing online courses that help to support teachers as they integrate technology into blended and online learning environments.

I am going to try to make more time to share my insights with you, beginning with this post about using discussion boards in learning.

Many educators use online discussion tools to facilitate conversations with students, colleagues, and other contacts. Educators often find that the quality of the responses are poor and/or participation is low. Here are some possible reasons why students may not fully engage in discussions:

  • Students have been provided with too little scaffolding and support. 
Is there a response rubric for the discussion? Have students had the chance to practice quality responses? Has the facilitator modelled responses that provide illustrative links and resources, ask further questions, or provide examples to fuel the discussion?
  • The discussion came from, and leads, nowhere. 
What happens before the discussion that led to an online conversation? What happens after the discussion? How do participants and facilitators draw and share conclusions based on their discussion? Like any well-planned lesson, students need scaffolded instruction and activities that build on previous learning and help them to build understanding over a sustained period of time.
  • Discussion questions are unclear. How have discussion questions been worded? What is the purpose of the discussion question? Is the question too open- or closed-ended? Here are some examples to consider:
    • Poor example: Have you ever been in a blended classroom? 
(Problem: The question has a “yes” or “no” answer; the question is too “closed.”)
    • Better example: What do you consider to be the difference between blended learning and face to face instruction? 
(Problem: The question is asking an opinion without the need for examples or references; the question can have a very broad interpretation.)
    • Great example: Explain what you consider to be the three key elements of blended/online learning and the three key elements of face to face instruction. Include links, examples, and resources to illustrate your ideas. Respond to two other posts with links, examples, ideas, and resources.
      • This great example would be even better if participants built upon their first round of posts after additional lessons and/or application. Example: Add to your original discussion thread and include one example of how you applied an element of blended/online learning in your environment. Highlight two elements that you feel were most successful in your example and two changes that you would make next time. Respond to two posts with feedback or resources that relate to your colleague’s example.
  • Discussions are used only to share opinions.
Discussions can also be used to:
    • Share and gather feedback on in-progress work
    • Hold reflective conversations about learning progress
    • Share resources, materials, and links
    • Spark or follow up after f2f conversations, review concepts, and more.

There are many tips around using discussions as part of a dynamic learning environment. Do you have more to add?

(Image: Pacman, by Fenix_21. 2008. Available under a Creative Commons (CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0) License.)

Checklist for Evaluating Tech Tools, Apps, Software, and Hardware

I have been searching high and low for an efficient, easy-to-understand list of criteria for evaluating hardware, software, tools, and everything in between. Most online articles that I found focus on selling things, or are incredibly vague or incomplete so I decided to do some brainstorming based on what I have found in my own practice speaking to students, teachers, specialists, and researching online. Here’s what I came up with.

TechPudding’s checklist for evaluating technology:

  • Always put learning first. What is it that you want your students to learn, examine, discuss, think about, use as assistive technology, and research? it is useful to create a list of what you want to do first so that you don’t forget anything or get distracted by extra bells and whistles. How does the technology help to accomplish your learning goals? There are so many options for applications, software, and hardware out there that you will definitely be able to find a tool for every learning opportunity.
  • Higher order thinking skills. Does the tool support you and your student’s engagement in higher-order thinking? Andrew Churches’ Educational-Origami wiki provides a look at Bloom’s Taxonomy (knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, evaluation) and Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy (remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, creating).

  • Does it follow universal design for learning (UDL) principles? Meaning, does it allow for: 1) multiple means of representation, 2) multiple means of expression, and 3) multiple means of engagement? UDL principles are becoming more and more important as we move toward personalized, real-world learning and away from teachers as conduits of knowledge that use limited modes of teaching and delivery.
  • How about usability? Is it user-friendly? Is it easy to learn for everyone who will need to learn it, including teachers, administrators, students, and parents? What kinds of training and support are necessary? How long does it take to get comfortable with it? One way in which you can “try before you buy” is by downloading a trial of a prospective application or service. It is useful to have people of varying comfort with technology try it out, and for students to try and evaluate it.
  • How much does it cost? What can you, your students, and your institution afford to spend on training, maintenence, upgrades, and the like?
  • Word-of-mouth. Researching online user discussion boards and asking specialists for recommendations can be very useful. But also be careful about word-of-mouth. I find that people often recommend anything that is new, just to sound like they are on top of the trends (or they try to sell you products and services).
  • Reliability and support. How much support is required? Are there frequent updates that need to be installed? Does it break down easily? You can find information about this from real users on discussion boards.
  • Flexibility. This refers to how the software is used, what it can produce, how much it can expand with increased use and access, and how it might expand to offer more services in the future. For instance, utilizing Google Apps may offer incredible options in the future as its services and access points expand.
  • Evaluation and monitoring tools. Does the technology come with tools for you to monitor how you and your students are using it? Does it come with tools for you to evaluate your students’ learning? If these tools are built-in to the application, it can be a huge bonus for both teachers and students.
  • Security and privacy. How does this technology protect information and privacy of its users? Who has access to what is shared and how is it shared? 
  • User interface. The more I use different tools, the more this has become a deal-breaker for me. When user interfaces are cluttered, illogically laid out, or overly complicated, they immediately turn me off. Information and commands should be laid out with the most-used ones easily accessible. There should be no more than 3 mouse clicks to access any option or command, and vocabulary should be readily accessible to new users. Again, UDL principles dictate that software and apps should offer visual, audio, text, and other forms of support, not just one. Furthermore, the user should be able to create their own shortcut keys and commands for exactly what she/he would like to accomplish.
  • Sharing and communication. We know that collaboration online and sharing with an authentic audience is important to both student learning and teacher collaboration. Therefore, the software should enable sharing either in a secure way to authorized users, or in a public way to all users online. The tool should make it easy to view, share, comment, communicate, evaluate, contribute, and socialize synchronously and asynchronously.
  • Integration with existing tools. Does this tool support or integrate well with the existing tools that you are currently paying for or using? Can you use it to “fill in the gaps” for existing applications? How can all of the tools that you use collaborate with each other and enable you to do more than you could with them independently?
  • Don’t get attached to one tool. This is the most important thing to remember! There was a time when we all thought that Microsoft Word was the be-all and end-all of word processing tools. But now there are multiple ways to produce, share, collaborate, and contribute to written texts. There will always be new tools–one is released every second, so don’t get stuck using only one. Always be on the look-out for recommendations and discussions about the next thing. That way, you will be able to find the best tool for whatever job you are engaged in. You can sign up for online newsletters, blogs, and other services to help stay up to date.

What are your criteria for evaluating technology, applications, software, tools, or hardware for the purposes of learning and teaching? What can you add to this list based on your experiences?

(Image: Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy Concept Map from Educational-Origami and Andrew Chruches. Used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike 2.5 License.)