Absence makes the heart grow fonder as Tony Parkin reviews the work of John Davitt
Having had enough of Europe’s cold, wet winter, John Davitt jetted off for the summery climes of Australia, and Penang, Malaysia, offering teachers there the chance to laugh and learn, and try out the latest version of his fine creation, the Learning Event Generator (LEG).
The Learning Event Generator is a “fruit machine for learning” that John invented for teachers, parents and learners. A shake-me-up box of delights for the iPhone, it generates a fresh learning challenge each time it is shaken. You shake it, the cards spin and you are presented with a learning challenge. “Do three types of cactus as a haiku,” might seem tricky at first – but don't worry as links to web resources help you through the first stage of research.
If in your experiments you see a challenge that you think would better suit a friend – you can just click on the email option and send it to them. The LEG is an endless storehouse of delightful calls to action, many of the activities are ideally suited to group work and the age range of those who can use the LEG reaches from 7 to 97. And at only 99p, it won’t cost you an arm and a leg!
Great learning tools in the Davitt armoury
John, one of the first members of the Innovators on this site, has always had a great series of new tools for learning in his armoury. The earliest version of the Learning Event Generator started life as a paper-based game, then next came a Flash app that is still in use by thousands of teachers around the world. There was also an early iOS app called the RAG (Random Activity Generator) that first took the basic concept to the iPhone and iPad.
This early RAG app has now been rewritten and updated to become the new Learning Event Generator, and now contains more than 120,000 learning challenges & lesson ideas. In a further development, the new LEG app also allows you to select from 10 different subject areas. Want a science challenge? Just select science on the subject slider and give the iPhone or iPad a shake.
“The Learning Event Generator came out of a desire to nudge learners out of the conventional ‘listen to me and write it down’ learning approach that can easily become the default in countries with a ‘full’ curriculum,"says John. "I wanted a tool that gave teachers and learners a chance to rock the learning boat a little and nudge learners into deeper learning.”
So he settled on what he calls “the perfect grammar of the imperative mash – 'DO something AS...' in the random form of many different activities that run across the full range of media types and artistic endeavours”.
“Recently on my travels I have begun to realise that the LEG is more than an app," he adds. "it's an approach to learning that gives implicit permission to show your understanding through a number of different activities - and for all learners that can be a delightful shot in the arm.”
In the past, learning activities have perhaps been the afterthought. “We need to turn them into an art form,” says John. “We need to get beyond ‘just write it down’ - it really doesn't work as the exclusive diet. At first the idea of 'Do Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle as a dance' may seem bizarre, but once a group of learners get together they are taken away from the shallows of ‘cut and pasted’ computer text – without understanding – into ‘How do we represent this in a media that is so different from our textual research?’
“I think there is a PhD here into how much difference dancing, miming, or sculpting their understanding might have on learning performance for some learners,” John continues. “The key central idea is to generate tasks that lead to deeper engagement by tweaking the approach path to the learning.”
John has more plans for the LEG: “The desire now is to build the collection of possible challenges, and also to build the back channel of videos that we hold of hundreds of LEG challenges that have already been completed by educators. We are currently tagging them, and then they will feature in future updates to the LEG app. As well as individual teachers purchasing the LEG, some schools and district authorities have expressed an interest. Schools and school boards (particularly those using iPads) are welcome to discuss bulk purchase agreements.”
John is a familiar and popular figure on the educational conference circuit, and the Australians have been enjoying a real treat. His keynotes and workshops always leave his audiences both shaken and stirred, and invariably laughing – with him, rather than at him. Jike Billy Connolly, who started as a straight musician and then gradually found the comedy took over,
John has recognised that a key component of his education technology presentations is his own whimsical humour. Is there anyone who has seen him that doesn’t mentally adopt a rustic accent when thinking about ‘hoiperrlinks’ (er, sorry, hyperlinks) after hearing John? So more recently he has introduced the new-format "Standup for Learning" sessions, mixing comedy and learning, and is now roaming the world on his #perkylearning tour.
Given John’s great passion for outdoor learning, Australia would appear to be his ideal continent. After the great success of his "Learning on the Beach" event in Ireland, and "Learning in the Park in Boston", who knows where John found to exercise his skills in the great Learning Outback?
'Learning Score' strikes a chord with other educators
John's approach to digital tools for learning has clearly echoed with other educators. While in Australia John has had a chance to compare notes with a group of academics who share his thinking around the concept of lesson design being closely akin to musical composition. Another of his ‘New Tool’ inventions, the Learning Score, he originally showed off widely at conferences early this century, and it was the highlight of his keynote at the Building Learning Communities event run by Alan November in Boston (see video below).
It was subsequently developed by John into an online multimedia lesson planning tool, in collaboration with Tribal’s Digital Learning Studio. The Learning Score, as the name might suggest, lays out a lesson rather like music staves on a page of music. It allows teachers to easily adjust the tone, speed and instrumentation (content, media and style) that they use in planning their lessons, and then use it to rehearse the lesson against a synchronous timeline.
John was surprised recently to read the portentously-titled “Larnaca Declaration”, drawn up by a group of learning design academics assembled at a higher education event in Cyprus, including some from Australian and UK universities. This also hypothesised just such a relationship between musical composition and lesson design! So while down under he planned to meet up with some of the Larnaca group and see how their thinking relates to his own Learning Score concept and explore collaborations.
Australia’s gain may have been the UK’s loss – but at least it was only temporary. And we have the Learning Event Generator and the Learning Score to experiment with, and remind us just what a creative talent we have in John Davitt.
To find the Learning Event Generator app visit http://bit.ly/LEGwork
or check out this application on the Apple iTunes App Store:
See "The Innovators – John Davitt"
To explore the Learning Score visit http://www.learningscore.com
Read the Larnaca Declaration at http://www.larnacadeclaration.org/
Or you can find out more about John via his mobile-friendly website at m.davittmedia.com and follow him on Twitter via @johndavitt