Tag Archives: course

Free Learning

Free LearningFree running* invites participants to use creativity, skill and strength to find new ways to navigate a landscape. It is fun, engaging and highly motivating for those who participate. It takes a space (urban or otherwise) and turns it on its head, drawing new function from an existing, very fixed, form.

In much the same way, Free Learning aims to provide students with an intellectual landscape through which they can playfully discover their own path. It promotes creativity, individuality, team work, freedom and taking responsibility.

* In its spirit what we are talking about is slightly more like parkour, than free running. I thought they were the same, but as @isaacklw taught me, they are slightly different. Read here for more.

Free Learning Map Interface
A view of content in Free Learning. Click for a larger image.

Tell Me More

Free Learning developed in response to my own experiences teaching ICT at International College Hong Kong, where I found myself slowly running out of steam as a classroom teacher. My experience was that as a teacher, working in the traditional school paradigm, I could construct teaching and learning opportunities that focused on all students, and that reached a minimum standard for most. However, to make these engaging and motivating, I had to work myself ragged, and in time, teaching and learning became rote and sterile. We (my students and myself) jumped through hoops together, to achieve things many kids were simply not interested in, or were encountering at the wrong time. Those who were engaged soared, a mass in the middle pushed on through in spite of it all, and the remainder suffered my terrible jokes for 3 years of ICT classes.

In this model, motivation is predominantly extrinsic, hinging largely on the energy and charisma of the teacher.

Free Learning dispenses with the pretense that students need to follow a set path as a group, by simply:

  1. Offering a large online menu of learning choices for students to learn from (we call these units, and they look like this).
  2. Allowing individuals and small ad hoc groups to chose their own path and pace through the units on offer.
  3. Providing a way for students to record which units they have chosen as they progress, and then to submit evidence (e.g. photos, work itself, text) for each unit. This can be done via our Free Learning Gibbon module, or some other method.
  4. Providing a way to map learning outcomes to units, and ways to see what students are currently working on, where they have already traveled, and what outcomes they have covered (or not)
  5. Assessing learning formatively based on observation and discussion, with aspects of summative assessment based on student submitted work and other evidence.

In this way, we can provide more choice, more personalised pathways and more motivation for students to learn. Students spend less time sitting and listening to the teacher, and more time working hands on in ways they enjoy.

By asking students to cover a range of outcomes, we can still help them cover broad swathes of content, but this need not be a focus (and for me it no longer is). If we can free ourselves of the delusions that kids currently cover everything (which they don’t, in any meaningful way) and that we can meaningfully measure learning (which we can’t, in any meaningful way), then we can be comfortable with something less regimented and less like an assembly line. Do all students really need the exact same experience? No.

Free learning, as a model, affords us a chance to set the classroom up for success by throwing out baggage brought along from industrial, conformity-driven, pre-Internet education. It represents the use of technology to finally revolutionise classroom practice.

Have A Go

As a teacher, you can experience Free Learning as a professional development tool using GorillaPD, which gives you roughly the experience of a student. This is a free-to-the-public installation of Gibbon, with Free Learning installed on it, and a growing range of units to help teachers become better at what they do.

Real World Progress

We have now (as of April 2017) been running Free Learning at ICHK Secondary for two years, for a minimum of 50% of student contact time in ICT, and the result is more student engagement, improved classroom energy and zero focus on grades. I learn more and have more fun, and all the evidence suggests that my students do to. Learning new, interesting and useful things is now the prime concern. The proof, so they say, is in the pudding, which you can see via our Free Learning Showcase.

Excitingly, I have been in a position to ask some current and former students to write units, a couple of which are already under way.

For those units involving gear not available in school, students can negotiate with parents to purchase what is needed (this is already common practice in Year 9 where students do an independent unit).

Learning Outcomes

As well as the assessment tools provided in Gibbon’s Free Learning module, I have also been using the Visual Assessment Guide with my Year 7-9 ICT, to enable longitudinal tracking.

Professional Development

Free Learning has featured as a presentation at the Hong Kong Institute of Education, 2015 Asia Pacific International Schools Conference, the 8th 21C Learning Hong Kong and RCHK Transform. If you are interested in running Free Learning in your classroom, school or organisation, please do get in touch. If you are looking for the slides used in a presentation you have seen, download them here, or browse it using the embed below:


“You had the presentation of the conference man. Your ideas resonate with me more than anyone else’s. You are a true inspiration to all educators. Keep spreading your message to the masses!” – Ryan Krakofsky, ICT Coordinator, Kingston Internal School

“I attended your free learning session at RCHK and I decided to use a modified version for our current media unit.  I wanted to thank you for the inspiration for this…it has inspired me to see how I can use this type of workflow more often. I am certain that it has met my students needs much better.” – Patricia Thomson, PYP Teacher, RCHK

“It is less stressful without peer comparisons and deadlines. You can choose the subject you want to focus on, it makes the lessons all the more interesting.” – Student, ICHK

“For me it’s fun but hard ; )” – Student, ICHK

“I feel like it is great to let students study what they want to, but still have to complete certain units to be able to move on to the next one, that sort of makes it like a game with levels and different paths.” – Student, ICHK

“It is AWESOME!!!” – Student, ICHK


Some of the ideas here are based on the work of Sugatra Mitra and the related work shown in Good’s Future Learning video. Others have emerged from Toby Newton’s work on independent student learning in Human Technology at ICHK. This work is very much an extension of the work already being done by students at ICHK in their Year 7-9 ICT studies.

Credits + License

Free Learning is an original idea by Ross Parker (https://rossparker.org, @rossparker), created in December 2014 whilst working at ICHK. It is shared under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 License.

Free Running thumbnail image by Alexandre Ferreira on Flickr under CC BY.

Year 7-9 ICT Course

Keyboard & ScreenThis complete course of study aims to engage students aged 11 to 14 in developing their understanding, skills and passion for Information & Communications Technology. Based around hands-on, authentic and meaningful learning, it represents 4 years of reflection, evaluation and evolution in my teaching of students at ICHK.

Originally designed to cover and extend the UK National Curriculum for ICT in KS3, and to include some elements of media studies, the course has morphed into something which I believe is much more general, contemporary and exciting. The aim of this document is to provide an overview of the course. If you want access to the details of each unit, complete with the ability to remix to your heart’s content, please let me know.

Please note that whilst the course will hopefully prove relevant to students from a range of educational backgrounds, due to the nature of my students, some material here may be better suited to students outside of the 11-14 age range. Please apply your professional judgement and discretion, and feel free to share any questions, comments or criticisms.

Course Aims

  1. To encourage and develop students who are independent, creative, problem solvers possessed with understanding derived from hands-on experiences and skills.
  2. To encourage students to understand what it is to be human, whilst developing values, perspectives and behaviours which are positive, respectful, open and creative.
  3. To promote introspection, independence, self awareness, knowledge of the world and agency in changing it.
  4. To promote positive application of ICT to allow students to become better learners now.
  5. To ignite in students a passion for technology, encouraging not just its use, but a deeper understanding of its history, meaning and further development.

Learning Outcomes

The course is structured around the following 10 learning outcomes, which students encounter as they pass through the course’s various units of study:

  1. Controlling Machines – understanding how machines (including computers) are controlled, and how software can be developed to achieve this.
  2. Communication – Developing communication skills across a range of media (online and real world), learning to relate to a range of audiences for a variety of purposes.
  3. Creating Solutions – learning to combine tools to create solutions, leading up to the ability to work for real clients on real clients.
  4. Critical Thinking – learning to see links between units and subjects. Considering causes, effects and implications of phenomena, whilst using them to make predictions.
  5. Getting Work Done – learning to work independently and in collaboration with others in order to move forward in open-ended tasks with diminishing teacher guidance
  6. Humans & Technology – understanding the importance of technology in being human, and the way this is rapidly changing through developments in the field of ICT.
  7. Intellectual Property – learning to appreciate the value of intellectual property and its protection, whilst knowing that sharing leads to creativity and progress. Developing a desire to create and share meaningful work with others.
  8. Technical Ability – developing willingness and ability to use a range of tools, hardware and software, and understanding how they work together to create functional systems. Developing skills in troubleshooting and problem solving.
  9. Technical Concepts & Understanding – developing ability to understand and analyse abstract concepts, whilst developing links between different areas.
  10. Working With Information – developing skills in finding, understanding, analysing, judging, improving and synthesizing digital information.


In order to promote introspection, learning for the sake of learning and real personal change, the course emphasises student self assessment (SSA), whereby students are responsible for assigning their own grades, and the teacher’s role becomes one of moderation and adjustment where required. A Self Assessment Guide is provided for this purpose (follow the link for more details, or look at the guide below for a quick introduction).

ICT & Media Assessment Guide_web

As effective and meaningful self assessment is time consuming, some assessments are graded by the teacher in a more traditional manner. In order to assist in this, an assessment rubric is available (I am not a massive rubric fan, but I understand that many teachers find them effective).

Study Plan

Teaching and learning take place through a series of discreet units, each of which revolves around a single theme linking together a number of learning outcomes. Units are designed to last between 210 and 700 minutes (3-10 lessons in our timetable), but hopefully the content is flexible enough to fit a range of different timetable structures.

In addition to units, single lessons are also used for self assessment, Google-style 80/20 time and important topics not covered elsewhere.

The table below shows my calendar for the 2013-14 academic year, including units of work, assessments and individual lessons. Each of the unit titles is a link which will take you to a complete description of the unit, including complete content written for student consumption.

Year 7 Year 8 Year 9
Tools For Learning
7 Lessons
Pitch: Want To Be A Tech Ninja?Tech: Mac OS, Google, WordPress
Assess1: Tools Discussion
Assess2: Online Portfolio (SSA)
How Stuff Works
6 Lessons
Pitch: Want To Open Up And Explore Inside Gadgets?Tech: Remote Control Cars
Assess1: RC Car Blog Post (SSA)
Computer Systems
10 Lessons
Pitch: Want To Tear A Computer Apart And Learn How It Works?Tech: PC/Network Hardware
Assess1: Teacher Discussion
Assess2: Summary Essay (SSA)
6 Lessons
Pitch: Want To Tell Awesome Stories?Tech: iMovie, Creative Commons
Assess3: Remix Video (SSA)
High Tech Stuff
7 Lessons
Pitch: Why You Aren’t A Wild Beast, Or, What Makes You Human?Tech: Punched Cards, Pages, Prezi
Assess2: Humans & Tech Quiz
Assess3: Visualisation (SSA)
Student Choice
5 Lessons (Independent)Programming 102
Pitch: Want To Learn Skills Vital To Building The Technology Of The Future?

Tech: iOS, Android, Java, PHP
Assess3: Independent Learning Chat
Assess4: Final Product (SSA)


Build A Teacher
Pitch: Want To Prototype, 3D Print And Sell The Ultimate Robotic Teacher?

Tech: 3D Design + Printing, Acorn
Assess3: Independent Learning Chat
Assess4: 2D Poster+3D Model (SSA)

Teach A Teacher
7 Lessons
Pitch: Want To Show Your Teachers Who’s Boss?Tech: Mac OS
Assess4: CPD Delivery (SSA)
Web Design 101
6 Lessons
Pitch: Want To Master The Web And Build Anything?Tech: HTML, CSS, JS, jQuery
Assess4: One-Page Website (SSA)
Assess5: Mid Year Progress Summary (by teacher)
Epic Wallpaper
3 Lessons
Pitch: Want To Make Some Eye Candy?Tech: Acorn
Assess6: Wallpaper Design (SSA)
Digital Citizenship
7 Lessons
Pitch: Want To Keep Yourself And Your Family Safe Online?Tech: Acorn, Search
Assess6: Me vs. Me
Assess7: Online Safety Guide (SSA)
Data Processing
4 Lessons
Pitch: Want To Be Ready When Your Boss Throws A Stack Of Data At You?Tech: Search, Excel
Assess6: Data Graph
Assess7: Data Processing (SSA)
Programming 101
6 Lessons
Pitch: Want To Change The World?Tech: Coding, Scratch
Assess7: Problem Solving
Assess8: Word Processor (SSA)
Eyes Wide Shut
3 Lessons
Pitch: Want To Lose Your Sight And Know What It’s Like To Be Disabled?Tech: Laptops, Webcams, Skype
Assess8: Reflective Blog Post (SSA)
10 Lessons
Pitch: Want To Know What It Is Like To Work In The Real World?Tech: MAMP, Drupal, HTML, CSS
Assess8: Client Presentation
Assess9: End of Year Grade (by teacher)
29 Lessons
+ 5 Self Assess
+ 1 80/20 Time
+ 1 Misleading Images
29 Lessons
+ 5 Self Assess
+ 1 80/20 Time
+ 1 Representation
29 Lessons
+ 5 Self Assess
+ 1 Gadget Shop
+ 1 Software Philosophy

A Note On Software

If you are interested in the format of the units linked above, they were all planned using a system called Gibbon, which allows teachers to create units as sets of media-rich content “blocks”. These blocks can then be deployed very rapidly to lessons, and rearranged at any time using drag and drop. This process has cut down my planning time by around 50%. Gibbon is a free, flexible and open school platform, which I have been working to develop over the last 3 years.


This course is still under active development, as I add, refine and remove ideas, activities and even whole units. Any feedback is most appreciated: in particular I would love to hear how the content and experiences I am offering compares to what other teachers are doing.

Credits: Computer Keyboard in Use image by Aravind Sivaraj on Wikipedia shared under CC BY-SA