Saturday, January 16, 2016

"The Rise of Private International Schools" has been the hype phrase in the education "Galaxy" in recent years. Certainly, parents and their kids are opting more for international schools, with the hope that they receive a world class education (if they can afford the tuition fees anyway). However, to ensure these international schools offer what they claim, they are periodically reviewed by accreditation agencies. Typically, a school has to undergo the accreditation process starting with a self study and ending with the official accreditation evaluation team. Eventually, the team submits an exit report after their visit (which typically lasts few days) whether the school is accredited of not.
But there’s on more add-on to the accreditation process that has gradually been in place for the past decade. The school accreditation agencies now, more than ever, focus on technology integration in schools, as they believe that students should use technology to research, solve problems, communicate, and create authentic materials. The future is technology, and the future is here. I do agree that student technology use is instrumental if they wish to live and compete in the workplace. Our lives now revolve more than ever around technology. However, the school accreditation agencies have regrettably focused on the wrong facet of technology integration. This in turn, generally, contributes in the schools' heedless purchase of tech tools and gadgets to impress and lure. 
I've worked with some school accreditation agencies, and all of them (in their review of a traditional brick and mortar school) focus on technology in the classroom, and to a less extent on technology in school, and even much overlooked is out of school technology integration . Some have even developed a standard (with indicators) for technology integration. Below is one criterion of a classroom observation form that all accreditation review team members have to fill out. 

The problem with this view is that the classroom setting is considered as the sole place to use technology, and so they constructed their classroom evaluations on it. In this particular accreditation agency, the average rating of classroom technology integration among 34,000 classrooms visited around the world is 1.21 out of 4, which is extremely low. But should we base the evaluation on tech integration on only classroom, or even school use? In fact, a bulk body of research now confirms that classroom technology has  a negative impact on student learning. The OECD report (the first large scale comparative study) on students, schools, and computers shows that students in tech rich schools perform the worst in reading and mathematics as compared to students in tech-average schools.

Students who use computers moderately at school tend to be somewhat more skilled in online reading than students who rarely use computers. But students who use computers very frequently at school do a lot worse in reading, even after accounting for students’ background.
On average, in the past 10 years there has been no appreciable improvement in student achievement in reading, mathematics or science in the countries that have invested heavily in information and communication technologies for education.

Three significant interpretations of the findings

The reason is perhaps two-fold : technology setting and technology use.
1- Tech use (in the classroom) minimizes human touch, which improves deep learning. It is really common sense. Why would one be with his peers and his teacher in one room if there is no frequent face-to-face interaction. Communicative tasks and assignments should be done in class.

2- Use of 20th century teaching with technology is obtrusive. This is the perpetual problem in all schools. From teachers to admin, you can only find a couple of teachers in any given school that really uses 21st century teaching practices with technology.

3- Pedagogies for using technology properly for student achievement are fledgling.
On the other hand, the US Ministry of Education found out that student use of technology outside of the classroom or school (online and blended learning modes) have resulted in great student improvements.

So, next time the external review team tries to assess your tech integration solely on school or classroom technology, make sure they know that technology integration is not only confined within the classroom walls. In fact, it shouldn’t be ,for one of the key features that technology brings is student personalized learning, which unconfined by time and space. And, next time your school tries to purchase those Interactive Whiteboards, caution them on the reality of tech in schools in terms of student achievement, or at least suggest that they need to be data-informed and know whether there is a real return of investment.

Posted on Saturday, January 16, 2016 by Ammar Merhbi

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Tuesday, August 11, 2015


“Did you check out that cool ClassDojo app? It lets you control your students and their behaviors”, “ I found a great hardware that I can add to my Tablet. I think I can find a way to use it in my classroom”, “ Hey, this tool I came across lets you take photos and add some cool interactive layers. I must fit it in one of my classes”. These are some of the talks you hear whilst sitting with teachers who are fascinated by the next big thing, excited with the  new cool tool, and they can’t wait to try it with their students (their guinea pigs).  What’s up with most of the 21-century teachers, those who are fascinated by technology, those techno-centric teachers? Why do they keep running after the first tool that appears, the first app that they download, and then they try to squeeze it in their lesson plans; whether it fits with the learning objectives or not. In fact, I have seen some teachers change their lesson plans altogether, and the learning objectives just to fit with the cool tool they would like to use. If you want proof, check out any two blogs on education and technology. I bet you that the one that updates the blog readers on new apps and tools get the much higher traffic and social media shares. The other blog that talks about how to help students learn through technology gets a much lower visitor traffic and shares. There are some exceptions of course.

Come on guys! Your are learning experts. Deep learning should be your top priority. I have seen it over and over again, every year, with so many teachers. I have rarely seen a teacher who starts with the learning target and learning activity type in mind, and then fit the right technology. It is always the other way round, with most teachers I meet or work with. They are always charmed by the novelty effect of technology. Their students too think it’s cool, but what about the result?  what about student achievement? What about learning? These are all kicked downstairs, so it seems; a bypass of trying a new technological tool.

The school administrations are not helping too. They are in the same boat with the tech-centric teachers. “We have installed interactive whiteboards in 50% of the classrooms, use them”, “We have bought great classroom projectors”, “We have subscribed all in x website, use it”, it never ends. I am really tired of hearing this everywhere, in schools and educational conferences.

Edtech vendors are also the culprits. They push so hard with their advertisements and marketing strategies, and biased research reports on how their edtech tool helped students increase their achievement in x school, or y university. That is just nonsense. No edtech tool alone can do it. Without proper alignment of technology with the learning objectives and school ecology, it won’t work. You are just deluding yourself that it works because what you see as “student engagement” you interpret as “student achievement”.

Posted on Tuesday, August 11, 2015 by Ammar Merhbi

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015



During primary and early middle school years I was a typical, diligent student. I was not the top of my class but I did really well in school. I did well because I was expected to do well by the school, my teachers, my parents, and because of peer competition. However, by late middle school and high school, I began falling behind in most of my subjects, especially Math and Science. I did my best but I could not really “understand” the subjects taught. As the school years progressed, my academic achievement became worse, until by Grade 11 the school gave me a choice: either to continue with the school and repeat my Grade 11 or enroll in another school to promote to Grade 12. Like many other students,  I fell into the cracks of a factory-based school system that packages all students in a class by age and treats them as if they have the same learning pace, same learning preferences,  and same brain development (cognitive neuroscience now proves that our learning abilities develop at different rates). I was one of those who took his time to digest the lesson slowly, or take some time to ponder on a question asked by the teacher. I was one of those who think really well outside of a 5x4 m. cell  with other 29 students. And now, as an educator, I cannot but think of the many “Mes” who have a lot of potentials but fall into the cracks of the institutional schooling. Schools as we know it now were conceived and designed against how students learn. They were designed to produce people with standardized knowledge and skills (if any) to fit in the factory model. In addition, students’ learning abilities were, and still are, labeled based on their age not their cognitive abilities or skill development. I have had many peers during my school years and I have known many students who were not successful in this factory-based (institutional schooling) but then flourished in the real world. This is because in the real world they could take things at their own pace, could pick and choose things that they need to learn “just-in-time” and not “just-in-case”. They could personalize their learning out of the school. This means that schools, although they claim they have a positive impact on students (well they should or else all schools will close) they do hinder student learning because they operate against how students are born to learn

How Blended Learning Personalizes the Student Learning Experience

If this is the first time you hear of blended learning, or you have heard it before but you are not exactly sure what it is, blended learning first of all is not a technological tool (although it relies on technology). It is an instructional model (not a new one since it was used long ago before institutional school but did not have any name back then). It is not a technology-rich instruction, it is not about high-tech gadgets, and it is not interactive tools (as many vendors promise schools that their tools will deliver:except they do not deliver student achievement),

The latest definition of blended learning (since it is an evolving instructional model)  is defined by Christensen Institute as a formal education program in which a student learns :

(1) at least in part through online learning, with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace;

(2) at least in part in a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home;

(3) and the modalities along each student’s learning path within a course or subject are connected to provide an integrated learning experience.


It is essential to note no. 3 above that the modalities between online and brick-and-,mortar should “provide an integrated learning experience”. Many schools and teachers miss on this bit of integrating the two modalities in such a way that they combine the best in the two worlds. By giving the students control over time, place, path/pace schools taps into how students are born to learn. Students can learn then not subdued by the class, teacher, and peer pressure but by how their cognitive processes develop. This is done by “mastery-based” learning. Think of it like an engaging game with levels (including badges and shields). Students will progress from one level to the next by mastering each level. They will then be issued credentials or acknowledgements that they have finished one level and are ready for the next one. This is different than the current model of teaching “ocean wide but an  inch deep” shallow learning. Blended learning if done right yields deep learning for all students.


Blended Learning Models Currently Used in Schools

There are currently four blended learning models being used in schools. This however does not mean that any school cannot come up with its own blended learning model. The field of blended learning is still evolving and any blended learning model can be added to the four currently used. In fact some schools have blended learning programs  that do not fall in the four blended learning models below as identified by Christensen Institute.

The majority of blended-learning programs resemble one of four models: Rotation, Flex, A La Carte, and Enriched Virtual. The Rotation model includes four sub-models: Station Rotation, Lab Rotation, Flipped Classroom, and Individual Rotation.

1. Rotation model — a course or subject in which students rotate on a fixed schedule or at the teacher’s discretion between learning modalities, at least one of which is online learning. Other modalities might include activities such as small-group or full-class instruction, group projects, individual tutoring, and pencil-and-paper assignments. The students learn mostly on the brick-and-mortar campus, except for any homework assignments.

a. Station Rotation — a course or subject in which students experience the Rotation model within a contained classroom or group of classrooms. The Station Rotation model differs from the Individual Rotation model because students rotate through all of the stations, not only those on their custom schedules.

b. Lab Rotation – a course or subject in which students rotate to a computer lab for the online-learning station.

c. Flipped Classroom – a course or subject in which students participate in online learning off-site in place of traditional homework and then attend the brick-and-mortar school for face-to-face, teacher-guided practice or projects. The primary delivery of content and instruction is online, which differentiates a Flipped Classroom from students who are merely doing homework practice online at night.

d. Individual Rotation – a course or subject in which each student has an individualized playlist and does not necessarily rotate to each available station or modality. An algorithm or teacher(s) sets individual student schedules.

2. Flex model — a course or subject in which online learning is the backbone of student learning, even if it directs students to offline activities at times. Students move on an individually customized, fluid schedule among learning modalities. The teacher of record is on-site, and students learn mostly on the brick-and-mortar campus, except for any homework assignments. The teacher of record or other adults provide face-to-face support on a flexible and adaptive as-needed basis through activities such as small-group instruction, group projects, and individual tutoring. Some implementations have substantial face-to-face support, whereas others have minimal support. For example, some Flex models may have face-to-face certified teachers who supplement the online learning on a daily basis, whereas others may provide little face-to-face enrichment. Still others may have different staffing combinations. These variations are useful modifiers to describe a particular Flex model.

3. A La Carte model — a course that a student takes entirely online to accompany other experiences that the student is having at a brick-and-mortar school or learning center. The teacher of record for the A La Carte course is the online teacher. Students may take the A La Carte course either on the brick-and-mortar campus or off-site. This differs from full-time online learning because it is not a whole-school experience. Students take some courses A La Carte and others face-to-face at a brick-and-mortar campus.

4. Enriched Virtual model — a course or subject in which students have required face-to-face learning sessions with their teacher of record and then are free to complete their remaining coursework remote from the face-to-face teacher. Online learning is the backbone of student learning when the students are located remotely. The same person generally serves as both the online and face-to-face teacher. Many Enriched Virtual programs began as full-time online schools and then developed blended programs to provide students with brick-and-mortar school experiences. The Enriched Virtual model differs from the Flipped Classroom because in Enriched Virtual programs, students seldom meet face-to-face with their teachers every weekday. It differs from a fully online course because face-to-face learning sessions are more than optional office hours or social events; they are required.




Whatever blended learning model you adopt or adapt should be heavily dependent on the school environment: school leadership, vision, faculty, students, parents, country et… Since blended learning is a formal program, faculty and school leadership should collaborate to put policies, allocated resources, set up support systems, professional development etc. so that the whole school moves in the blended learning direction.


Why Blend?

It is time that politicians, educational leaders, and parents realize that learning does not only happen within the school geographical location or only in the classroom. Breaking down the classroom walls is an essential factor in student achievement as it will contextualize student learning in real life. In addition, blended learning caters for unique student learning needs in terms of learning styles, pace, preferences, and cognitive development. To blend means to shift from one-size-fits-all to all-sizes-fit-all. It means that all students regardless of their learning needs will personalize their learning in collaboration with their teachers that act as facilitators to “scaffold” their learning.

Posted on Tuesday, July 21, 2015 by Ammar Merhbi

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Sunday, January 11, 2015

Moodle has been at the forefront of online learning for learning institutions. And, since it is open source, and free for all, it is common that the community that benefit from Moodle to give back in various ways. One such help comes in Moodle Tool Guide for Teachers. It was first done by Joyce Seitzinger, and then adapted to Moodle 2 by Sue Harper.

I have added the feature of interactivity to the guide however. By adding videos to the tool, anyone who wants to learn how to use any tool can just click on the interactive layer and watch the video. I surely hope this helps teachers learn Moodle tools easily and know how each tool affords different learning outcome.

I will hopefully later add more interactivity in terms of instructional design, such as Bloom's taxonomy, assessing learning etc.

Posted on Sunday, January 11, 2015 by Ammar Merhbi


Saturday, March 29, 2014

Many teachers I talk to claim that they know Bloom’s taxonomy, the old and the updated one, they heard other teachers talk about it, they heard it in seminars, in workshops, and the even read about it. However, when asked to build instructional objectives based on Bloom’s Taxonomy, this is where why founder. This is where Instructional Objective Builder, developed by Arizona Stat University Teach Online and designed by James Basore. It is not a fancy too as you look at it, but it gives the right scaffold for teachers to build their instructional objectives based on Bloom’s Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain. Watch the quick overview below.

Posted on Saturday, March 29, 2014 by Ammar Merhbi

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

The NMC Horizon 2013 report  came out couple of weeks back with its time-to-adaption of emerging technologies in k-12 education. What New Media Consortium Horizon does is conduct extensive research in the domain of digital learning, and project their probability on the adoption of emerging learning technologies. The report features six technologies with three adoption horizons: 1 year, 2 to 3 years, and 4 to 5 years.The report also includes major trends in the area of digital learning in k-12 education and the major challenges facing education in terms of using technology in education.

Time-to-Adoption for K-12

New-term Horizon (Time-to-adoption 1 year)

Mobile Learning

mobile learning
Mobile learning is becoming an essential part in k-12 education. There have already been many initiative programs like the one-to-one and the BYOD programs to help students learn anytime and everywhere. Mobile learning also has more affordance than laptops or PCs for combining the real world and virtual tools in what’s called augmented reality (more on this later). In a recent world report on mobile usage, it was reported that approximately 85% of the world now have mobile phones (and a lot in Africa as well). However, the usage of mobile phones in education has up till now been limited by the bureaucracy in the education sector, teachers’ and school administrators’ unwillingness to adopt new and emerging technologies, and even (at times) students’ lack of interest in using mobile phones in their learning.

Cloud Computing


There is no question about it. Cloud computing has swept businesses, governments, health care, and lastly, but modestly, education. Cloud computing has a lot of benefits, most important of which: cutting down on loss in IT maintenance, better online collaboration, and less hassle for the IT department. Schools have adopted cloud computing so quickly because of their affordability and the absence of any technical maintenance. Google Apps for Education for example offers a suite of collaborative and communicative tools that help the school, teachers, and students work anywhere, and everywhere without cost or any technical knowledge. Google Chromebooks were also adopted swiftly across schools due to their affordability, and having only cloud apps.

Mid-term Horizon (Time-to-adoption 2 -3 years)

Learning Analytics

An emerging field in educational technology, learning analytics pertains to deciphering huge amount of data (Big Data) through learning management systems or any software students use to predict how students learn, and even the probability whether they would fail in a current course so that proper action would be taken to adapt the course to their needs. Some schools have started using LA. However, I am dubious about whether the adoption will be in 2 to 3 years. LA is still in it infancy, even for higher education, and many researchers and educators are still working on refining LA methodologies. To say its adoption horizon is within 2 to 3 years is very ambitious at best.

Open Content

A lot of move in the past couple of years has been towards open content, or open educational resources, not to be confused with free resource because “Far more than just a collection of free online course materials, the open content movement is increasingly a response to the
rising costs of education, the desire to provide access to learning in areas where such access is difficult, and an expression of student choice about when and how to learn”. This is a clear indication that education is moving to the next generation learning era, with the rise of new models of OER publishing of textbooks and educational materials. Open content movement started almost a decade ago with MIT publishing their courses online for free to anyone who wants to view and learn. Since then, many strides towards OER have been done, the last of which was MOOCs, with its pioneers Steven Downs and George Siemens. Still though, the area of open content is still debatable in the k12 arena as many of the schools around the world are built around a business model, a for-profit model, and many huge enterprises like Pearson for Education would be the first to suffer if OER models are adopted on a massive scale.

Far-term Horizon (Time-to-adoption 4 -5 years)


Virtual and Remote Labs

Leveraging high speed internet access and cloud computing, virtual and remote labs are being adopted by schools that do not have fully-equipped labs. But that’s not the only reason. Students can do simulated lab work and experiments with greater efficiency and control than they would do in a physical lab, and they can repeat the experiment as much as they like, giving them more practice and more room for observation over their errors. I believe that virtual labs are already here as I have seen it in many schools, but I do not know why NMC Report has placed it at the far-term horizon. I think we will see more of it in the next 2 to 3 years.

3D Printing

The first time I saw a demonstration of 3D printing few years back on TED, I was stunned, could this be possible? I was also stunned to know that 3D printing was present decades ago but because of their high-cost they did not get through mass production or to the public. Now, with the presence of innovative technologies, not only manufacturers can access it , the public can do, with a 300$ 3D printer. 3D printing has entered the education domain three years back with some schools being innovative enough to have students model and produce their products. This is a very promising technology that will really affect students learning. It needs however more time for adoption.

Final Thoughts on Time-to-Adoption

I wonder why the report has not also included “Augmented Reality” too as it is not yet adopted by schools and holds great potentials for learning. The usage of AR in conjunction with the textbook and real world science inquiry will definitely have a great positive effect student achievement.
If you want to read the full NMC Horizon Report for k12 download it here.

Key Trends in K12

The report has also done a extensive review of articles, papers, and new research to identify and rank trends affecting, teaching and learning and innovation in k12.

1. Educational paradigms are shifting to include online learning, hybrid learning, and collaborative models.

With students already spending too much time online, schools are opting in for using online learning and blended learning models. But this is not the only reason that schools are rushing into these models. The results from blended learning model schools are really impressive. They have high scores, more student engagement, and low student drop outs.

2. Social Media is changing the way people interact, present ideas and information, and communicate.

There’s no doubt about it. Social media has given power to powerless people. This is something that many schools are trying to harness to give students more power in their learning and giving the teachers the role of a coach instead of the sole source of knowledge.

3. Openness- concepts like open content, open data, and open resources are gaining more audience in the k12 domain

Education publishing giants are facing a real predicament with the open textbook initiatives and open content initiatives. Schools are more than ever accessing, using ,and remixing open educational resources to fit their needs. Teachers are now aware of it potentials and schools are driving their faculties towards adopting openness. However, there needs to be more effort put into curating and organizing content to make them more adaptable and accessible.

4. Revisiting our roles as educators

I said in many of my blog posts, I said it face-to-face with teachers and admin, I said on social media, on video, and I say it again : Teachers need to reassess their roles as sole transmitters of knowledge. No more, sage on the stage, no more Big Brother, no more the only expert in the room. Teachers need to realize that and should encourage students not to think of them like that. Teachers should encourage students to think of them as co-learners, but more knowledgeable. They explore together, and help each other. Many teachers sadly do not do that and are not comfortable believing that their role has changed.

Significant Challenges

With all the trends and emerging technologies, the challenges of using technology or adopting a trend are numerous.

1. Ongoing professional development needs to be valued and integrated into the culture of schools

Extensive body or research has shown that the one-stop workshop or one year professional development sessions would not do anything to improve teachers performance with technology. Teachers need to know, be in contact with, use, teacher, reflect, and redo with ongoing classrooms. Teachers need to take risks whilst teaching and not attend or practice in hands-on workshops away from their natural environments. And so, offering external or internal workshops is not the solution. Schools need to adopt professional development programs that are integrated in the school culture. The school should nurture a supporting community of practice for teachers to experiment and reflect on teaching wit technology.

2. Too often it is education’s own practices that limit broader uptake of new technologies.

Many teachers still believe that taking risks with new technologies, or piloting them are beyond their reasonability boundaries. This needs to be changes,and teachers should see themselves not only as content teachers but experimenter and their classrooms are their labs. The schools too should put clear policy on piloting and experimenting with technology.

3. New models of of education are bringing  unprecedented competition to traditional education

Bended learning model schools, online or virtual school, and MOOCs are some of the models that are brining competition to traditional education. These models are flexible and personalize education for their learners.

4. K-12 must increase the blending of formal and informal learning

“In order for students to get a well-rounded education with real world experience, they
must also engage in more informal in-class activities as well as experience learning outside the classroom”. In many schools students are not encouraged to do that. Students need to work out of class, connect with real world and join it with their in-class activities. In fact, the paradox is that schools are build as social service to society has nothing social in it, they are disconnected from the community. 

5. The demand for personalized learning is not adequately supported by current technology or practices.

“The increasing demand for education that is customized to each student’s unique needs is driving the development of new technologies that provide more learner choice and control and allow for differentiated instruction, but there remains a gap between the vision and the tools needed to achieve it”. It’s still a  vision at least for now since schools have not yet achieved any tangible results with personalizing education and differentiating instruction. Most schools are still following the same lockstep prescriptive approach given 300 years ago, only this time with technology. If technology does not transform the way we teacher and how students learn then there is not need to spend so much effort , so much time,and so much money to use them.

6, We are not using digital media for formative assessment the way we could and should.

It is true that technology gives students timely feedback through automated tests and more time connectivity with teachers. Still, teachers and schools are not really using formative assessment to increase students achievement by tweaking the course for better results. This should be more of a lean teaching approach, tweak as you go. Technology offers many options from observing students’ skills and knowledge to getting data from their behavior as they interact with technology. Teachers and schools should put more effort into data analysis and tracking systems that would give them patterns of students’ interactions.

Posted on Thursday, March 27, 2014 by Ammar Merhbi


Saturday, January 4, 2014

Common Sense Media, a leading nonprofit organization that provides trustworthy information for kids and families to thrive in the world of media and technology, has produced Graphite, a great website for teachers  to discover, use, and share tools, apps, games, website, and digital curricula for their students. All resources are rated and reviewed by their trustworthy community of teachers. As a user, you can also suggest a product for review to get an honest professional advice from Graphite’s teacher community.
Graphite is useful for teachers to explore more in depth the worthiness of a tool or website and possible ways they might be used in the classroom. Graphite is still in its first year of launch but has great potentials to grow its stock of reviews.
Also, do not forget to check out their Common Sense Media for Educators.

Posted on Saturday, January 04, 2014 by Ammar Merhbi

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Like any parent,I enjoy my kid’s engaging with an educational app assuming that it is useful and that it helps my kid comprehend a new concept. Although I see great benefits in the child’s engagement with an educational app, I have a conviction that the app alone won’t help the child understand concepts or prevent the child from developing “misconceptions”. The child needs a more competent person to guide and explain concepts guarding the child from incorporating misconceptions by observing nuances in the child’s behavior during his play that the app won’t recognize. Of course, if the educational app is well designed based on pedagogical models that work, the app would incorporate a tutor and/or tutee. that would take into account all misconceptions that children might develop.  However, if one looks at all the educational apps, only few are designed and developed based on proven pedagogical models.

First, to explain my point, let me tell you about on instance with my child that prompted a parent’s attention to rectify a possible misconception. We have proudly downloaded a Math application for kids that we thought it was “WOW” because of the graphic, the human-screen interactivity, and the feedback for the kid’s responses. This particular app helps the child in counting to 10 using his fingers. The child would typically press and hold a finger or more  and the app will display visually and auditory the  number of fingers held on screen.

At first our child scarcely knew how to use the application and what it did. Eventually, after a few tries, he gave up. Later that night however, when he felt he was alone, he picked up his iPad and started playing with the Math app. First, he watched an embedded video demo on how to use the app and after 4 views he started to get the idea behind it. Then, delighted that he figured it out, he started pressing and holding his fingers enjoying the audio and visual display on the number of fingers that are in contact with the screen. I was delighted at first, observing him from behind. I however, observed, as he went along with his play, that he pressed his thumb to get a “1” feedback then he took his thumb off and pressed and held his index finger expecting a no. “2” but got a “1” feedback instead. Then, he pressed his middle finger, expecting a “3” feedback but again got a “1” instead. He was ambivalent on how if he pressed two his thumb he would get a “1” and then, with the thumb pressed on the screen, he would use his index too and would get a “2”, but won’t get a “2” if the index is pressed alone. He started looking at his index finger as if it were a no. “2” alone and at his middle finger as if it were no. “3” alone.

I had to intervene at this point to explain to him the concept and  how to think about numbers and fingers. Only then he understood the relationship between numbers and counting on fingers.

These subtleties can never be detected by apps, at least those that are not designed based on learning theories, and the child needs a more knowledgeable “person” to help the child to reach his “zone of proximal development”. Parents should also go beyond the “WOW” factor of the app and explore whether it does help their child understand a concept. Most importantly parents should be present with their child noting observable learning or mislearning and rectify errors in a timely manner.

Posted on Saturday, January 04, 2014 by Ammar Merhbi

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Thursday, January 2, 2014

It’s been more than 8 years since I started using technology in the classroom. Ever since then technology has drastically and rapidly evolved concurrently with how I used it to support student learning. However, there was a pattern I have noticed in our students which is that they are technology comfy but not technology savvy. Throughout my years as a teacher and then senior teacher, edtech specialist and teacher trainer I have noticed that not only teachers lack the necessary knowledge base into incorporating technology into their content and pedagogy (TPACK deficit), students too are not aware and not well prepared to use technology to support their learning.

Across all student ages, nationalities, and academic abilities there are but a few students who use technology in support for their own learning. This is chiefly due to lack of integration between ICT subject and other subjects, lack of understanding on part of the teacher on the importance of technology to help students solve problems, communicate, and collaborate, and students’ lack of motivation to use it in their learning process unless prompted.

I recall once teaching a Grade 12 class a course in conducting research. I was helping them with tutorials on how to use automated referencing system, Zotero or Mendeley, whilst writing their study report. They asked me a lot of questions that I was startled by because I assumed that they should know about, like : How do we insert page numbers into Microsoft Word? or How do we double space lines? , How do we do graphs in Excel?

A Grade 11 class I was teaching in Literature had to produce a poster as part of their assignment. They did not actually know that Microsoft Publisher existed or that it came as part of Microsoft Office package that they have installed on their computers.

The idea is that students are not aware that these tools exist and have never explored nor used them to solve problems. The other issue is that teachers have never asked them to use tools to help them with their assignments. However, once everything is in place, tutorial videos are given and guidelines of accepted practice are set , students rapidly start developing sense of urgency and the need to figure out how to work with the tool. This is a great thing   ; however, it has a steep learning curve because instead of focusing on completing the task, students are preoccupied with figuring out how to use the features.

The solution? A system’s approach of integrating technology in education. There should be a real plan into adopting particular tools into teaching and learning. Such an integration should happen horizontally and vertically to ensure students of all ages and across all disciplines have equitable access to and opportunity in using technology in their learning process.

Posted on Thursday, January 02, 2014 by Ammar Merhbi

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Saturday, November 16, 2013


I’ve been asked lately by some teachers to share with them a list of platforms that offer MOOCs. It is great to see that teachers are gaining interest and realizing that learning is a lifelong process that, with the help of technology, can happened anytime, anywhere. Some of the MOOCs I  list below are offered by outstanding universities around the globe, other ,however, are not well known, but are worth the look.

  • Coursera is the top MOOC platform offering hundreds of courses from top universities in the world. Courses encompass everything you can think of. However, teachers and educators might be interested in these courses. A typical course would include : short video lectures, discussion forums, weekly assignments and deadlines, and a final test. The courses vary in duration and requirements depending on the course type and the university offering it. Some courses that I have undertaken were outstanding, others however were a not so worth the effort and time, and I had to drop out because of the boring online lectures.


  • Edx is another MOOC platform offered by Harvard, MIT and University of California Berkley, among others. Courses are worth taking as they are offered by Ivy league universities. However, the courses are limited in scope, mainly focusing on computer science, electronics, and sciences.


  • Novoed MOOC platform is offered by Stanford university. The courses are great. I have taken two courses myself “Designing a New learning Environment” and “ A Crash Course on Creativity”. The course on Designing a new Learning Environment was outstanding as it followed a PBL approach and we had to assemble a team for the final project assignment. Novoed however is mainly geared towards Entrepreneurship and technology courses.

  • is another MOOC platform with courses offered by great universities. I have taken a course “Learning Analytics” offered by George Siemens, the professor who  offered the first MOOC in the world. His approach was a connectivist approach, dispersing knowledge among many social media platforms.


  • Udemy is an other interesting MOOC platform ;however, many of its courses have a low fee. The courses are offered by either university professors or professionals.


  • Future Learn is UK’s earnest endeavor in entering MOOCs domain dominated by US terrain.


  • Alison Courses is yet another not well known MOOC.Initiated in Ireland, this MOOC platform offers many online courses for free mainly for soft skills. All courses are for free, but if you wish to take out the ads you need to pay a small fee. There is also a group management account if you are intending to give courses to your employees or students so that you are able to manage their accounts and track their progress.


  • Openlearning is great MOOC platform that connects teachers with students. Courses can be taught for free or can have a little as 10$ fee for every student. Courses are very varied but still limited in scope. Openlearning has a great potential but still is fledgling.


  • DS106 Do you love digital storytelling? Do you want to know how to use it in real life and in the classroom? Then this unconventional MOOC might be worth the look.

Digital Storytelling (also affectionately known as ds106) is an open, online course that happens at various times throughout the year at the University of Mary Washington… but you can join in whenever you like and leave whenever you need. This course is free to anyone who wants to take it, and the only requirements are a real computer, a hardy internet connection, preferably a domain of your own and some commodity web hosting, and all the creativity you can muster.

Posted on Saturday, November 16, 2013 by Ammar Merhbi

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