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Archive for the ‘Personalized Learning’ Category

Photo - Rob Newell

Photo – Rob Newell

Personalized learning has become one of those terms that can often elicit eye-rolls in a crowd of educators – so used and overused that it has been a word used synonymously with almost all current educational reforms.  As I have joked, there are very few pushing for de-personalized learning.  I have written a number of times on the topic, including specifically here in the fall of 2010, when I tried to wrestle with a definition.

This past week as part of a feature in the North Shore Outlook I was extensively quoted on what I see with personalized learning and just what it means.  Here is the text:

Not all kids learn the same way. Traditional education hasn’t always had space to address these differences, but now the West Vancouver School District is looking to change that.  It’s using personalized learning to shift the emphasis from traditional learning to an  inquiry-based system that focuses on learning  how to learn.
Chris Kennedy, Superintendent of Schools for the district, has been at the forefront of the push towards personalized learning for the last five years.

Things are changing so quickly that the key facts to know right now just won’t be the same in five years,” says Kennedy.  “The topics will be different. The content will be stale.” Rather than teach facts that will likely be obsolete in short order, the district is focusing instead on teaching students how to learn, rather than what to learn, in order to encourage them to continue learning far beyond their time at school.  “Knowledge has become so easily accessible it changes the dynamic between teachers and students,” says Kennedy.

“In a more traditional classroom, students might take notes or answer questions at the end of the chapter. In an inquiry-based classroom… They start with an overarching theme, question or challenge and go from there – this encourages ownership, exploration and curiosity.” Kennedy adds that this approach often results in powerful demonstrations of learning in the form of projects, productions and exhibitions that show real sophistication.

Part of personalized learning includes different types of learning environments and opportunities for students.  Technology is a big part of that. All schools  in the district have wi-fi and teachers are provided with mobile devices to use in one-to one learning environments.  Students are encouraged to bring their own devices, however, the district also provides devices for children who can’t afford their own or have forgotten theirs at home.  But there are also other changes in classroom design, such as offering different work station options or the ability to opt-into an outdoor class rather than an indoor one.

“Personalized learning is about giving students more control – more choice – over what they’re learning, how they’re learning it, even when they’re learning… so students feel it’s more theirs,” says Kennedy. “It’s also important for students to know what they’re working on, how they are doing, and what they need to do
next to improve.”  “It changes the students to being more the owner of the learning experience. The teacher spends more time guiding, rather than directing, learning.”

Parents also have a key role to play in the district’s approach to learning. Educators hope that parents will have conversations with their children to discover what types of learning approaches work best for them so that teachers can address each child’s specific learning needs.

The district is already seeing success with the new model. “We have a long history of very successful students,” says Kennedy. “We’re finding that some students that might not have been as engaged are finding this approach more appealing. In some classrooms students are coming up with their own questions.”

Still a work in progress, but it is important to continue to talk about the future we are trying to create and put depth behind the terms we are using so often.

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waves-15

About five years ago we started discussions in our district about modernizing the classroom. At that point it was really a discussion about creating a level playing field with technology in our schools.

The First Wave

What emerged from the discussions was the view of a modern classroom starting with wireless access across all schools. At the classroom level all teachers were provided with digital devices. We took a different approach from the past and elsewhere when staff were given a choice about what devices they needed — some selected iPads, others MacBooks and still others chose PC netbooks or tablets. In addition, each classroom, from Grades 4 to 12, was also equipped with a projection device. These were not huge shifts, but they created some equity and it also built the groundwork for the student bring-your-own-device program. This program has taken hold throughout the district, in some schools as early as Grade 4, but largely implemented in Grades 6 to 12. Currently, most schools have a plan for students bringing devices and engaging them in the classroom.

The Next Wave

The next wave will continue to have a digital influence, but the modern classroom is far more than a ‘digital’ classroom. Of course, these are not things with clear start and stop timelines, so in some schools the final projectors are still being installed and student device programs are being finalized.  As schools have more students with devices, we will need to revisit our work and make further improvements to items like Wi-Fi access. So, for the next wave, I see four trends emerging:

1)   Rethinking the common spaces. Most notably, rethinking libraries as learning commons areas. Schools see these areas as places that can symbolize and epitomize some of the changes we are seeing with how we access information and organize learning.

2)  Refreshing the web environment.  The portal of 2010 has become clunky and dated.  We are looking to create secure spaces to make student publishing easier, and we are looking for ways to ensure the web tools our students and staff are working with outside the school day are available during the school day and part of our core systems.

3)  Self-regulation is influencing our classrooms.  I have written often about Stuart Shanker and the influence he is having, as well as the self-regulation work in our school district.  This can translate into fewer posters on the wall, different kinds of lighting, quiet areas in the classroom for some students and a variety of desks and chairs to improve  environments for learners — another important understanding about how young people learn.

4)  Outdoor learning spaces.  We now see many school and community gardens connected to curriculum, as well as schools interested in outdoor shelters or other structures to allow for more formal teaching out-of-doors. Combined with outdoor learning programs, these shifts are definitely altering how we view classrooms as strictly being an indoor activity.

The modernized classroom is a digitally rich classroom and as this first wave continues alongside the second wave, we will see more students with devices and more technology benefiting student learning.  As mentioned, the modern classroom is much more than kids with computers — from common spaces with less of a library look and more like Starbucks, to flexible classrooms with different furniture to ‘classrooms’ being outdoors, the modern learning environment is an evolving and dynamic place.

It will be exciting to be part of this shift.

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QUestu

I often hear feedback like “I really like what is happening with inquiry and project based learning, but my kids need to be prepared for university, and university is never going to change.”

Well,  last week we loaded up the bus with all of our school principals and vice-principals and headed up the highway to Quest University in Squamish.  Quest has been receiving quite a bit of attention lately and here is why.

Quest University is a private, non-profit liberal arts and sciences university which opened in 2007.  From an initial enrollment of about 70 students, it now boasts a population of about 700 (it is fully subscribed). But what is grabbing the attention of students and parents is how different the university structures its programs.

Students take one course at a time. For three-and-a-half weeks students focus on a single course with at least five hours of class time per day. The benefit around this set up is that it makes it easy to take field trips local or abroad — there is nothing else to worry about.  Students are in classes of 20, and walking through the school one sees tables of 21 — one for the professor and student to sit at for their discussions.

In their second year, students spend an entire block with 15 students and a tutor to figure out what question they are going to think about and focus on for the next two years. We heard  Quest’s President, David J. Helfand, speak about one of the questions a student came up with, “What’s the best way to educate a child?” The student then spent their third and fourth year focusing on this one question. In this example, the student read Maria Montessori and spent a month in a Montessori school; they also read Rudolph Steiner, and spent a month in a Waldorf School; then read John Dewey, and spent a month in a public school.

Students take a series of courses around their passion with a huge emphasis on experiential learning.  To date, the majority of students also study abroad and Helfand sees it as a goal that all students spend some time studying elsewhere as part of their study program.

Even the application is very different with students having to submit an original creation (some sort of passion project), along with an essay. Students who are successful in this stage of their application then move on to an interview process and final decisions are made on students acceptance.

Helfand knows a good deal about the traditional university having come to Quest from 34 years of teaching at Columbia University.  He joked during his talk that he was not all that fond of nature and looked forward to returning to the concrete of New York. He also said that he wouldn’t go back to a world of semester-long courses and individual departments.

The vision he has helped realize gives emphasis to the words of Sir Ken Robinson and his much-loved TEDx presentations.

When a small group of individuals gets together and pools their talents to work on a difficult problem and comes up with an innovative solution, in university, it’s called cheating. In life, it is called collaboration and is highly valued, but in class, it’s forbidden. (Sir Ken Robinson as quoted by David Helfand)

While acknowledging that although it is happening slowly, Helfand envisions what is happening at Quest spreading.  More universities are curious about what is going on. Student reviews at Quest are off the charts — clearly, something is going on.

The work that Helfand and Quest are heading sends an interesting message to those in K-12.  We often shy away from making some of these bold changes in our system; hiding behind a belief that since universities are not changing, we also need to stay the same. Of course, as we see with Quest, those questioning the structures of learning are not limited to K-12 or higher education; there is opportunity for growth in both systems. We are now part of a larger learning transformation not governed by any particular age or school level.

To see and learn more about David Helfand and Quest, below is a TEDx presentation he gave in West Vancouver just over a year ago:

 

 

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West Van Image

Checking in on what our leaders are writing about gives a great sense of the current topics and issues percolating in our schools.  In the age of encouraging our students to be public digital writers, we are so  fortunate to have a number of our leaders modeling the way.  What is so interesting is that the ideas from our schools are influencing each other and one feels the diffusion of new ideas and practices.

Bowen Island Community School is one of many schools in our district looking at the shift to learning commons.  School parent, Tess McDonald, recently wrote a guest post on the shift that is taking place.  The parents are clear partners in the shift.

Libraries are turning into Learning Commons; places with flexible furniture that can be moved around to accommodate small or large groups. They have books on movable shelving that doesn’t block the natural light, areas for creating multimedia presentations, listening to guest speakers, using technology that may not be in every home, and yes, reading. There is a librarian but he or she isn’t wearing tweed, but an imaginary super suit! This person is an expert about books and writing, and finding information, and connecting people to the right source, and helping them see bias, and questioning ideas. This person is ready to help you create and question and connect too. (Here is where I admit that, after reading Seth Godin’s blog post on the future of the library, I wanted to become a librarian. It is here, if you are interested).

Another district-wide effort has been in the area of self regulation.  In classrooms and schools across the district the work on Stuart Shanker and others is coming to life.  Cypress Park Vice-Principal, Kimberley Grimwood, has been a leader with this work and recently described what it looks like in the classroom:

We have embraced a number of programs and practices to help teach our students about emotions, mindfulness, and social thinking. In addition, the IB program integrates many self-regulated learning components each and every day.  Specifically it helps to develop the cognitive domain and reinforces reflective practices to allow students to continue to develop their ability to be metacognitive (to think about their thinking). You may see students taking a moment to breathe along with our MindUp chime, or express which zone they are in according to the Zones of Regulation. Or, they may tell you how their engine is running thanks to the Alert Program.  While self-regulation is not a program or a lesson plan, it is a lens through which we are viewing students’ behavior and through which we are teaching them to view their own behavior.  No longer is a behaviour good or bad, but rather we want to understand why, and provide students with tools and strategies to make good choices and to be successful learners each and every day.​

Lions Bay Principal, Scott Wallace, used the blog of the primary school to describe the seemless transition that takes place for young learners between all the different offerings in the school.  It is a true community hub:

Lions Bay Community school is a shining example of quality early childhood education.  Nestled in the woods along Howe Sound, the outdoors provides a perfect backdrop for a child’s self-exploration.  In fact, all three facets of this learning environment; the Before/After School Program, facilitated by the North Shore Neighbourhood House (NSNH); the Preschool for 3 and 4 year olds, supported by a parent run Board; and the Primary school, part of the West Vancouver School District, are all interconnected.  Each unique program draws on the same philosophy that a child should learn to explore their natural environment and ignite their curiosity.  The adults that assist the children at each level are committed to fostering the child’s sense of wonder and provide opportunities and resources to investigate their questions.  For children and parents this seamless organization provides for optimal learning.

There is a lot of interesting work taking place with assessment and reporting in our district and around the province.  While student-led conferences are not new, they have definitely moved more mainstream over the last couple years.  Ridgeview Principal Val Brady makes the case for why they can be so valuable:

Students should be included and actively involved in the process of evaluating their own learning and sharing their perceptions of their progress with their teachers and parents. When students are meaningfully involved in this way, they deepen their understanding of the learning and evaluation process and they grow in their ability to take ownership of this process.  Student ownership of learning results in student empowerment…a powerful motivating factor in the learning!

West Bay Elementary has been looking at assessment and reporting.  Principal, Judy Duncan, described the work of her staff in a recent post, outlining the different factors that they have considered as they have looked at drafting a new report card:

When the West Vancouver School District invited school learning teams to apply for innovation grants, a group of teachers jumped at the opportunity to explore a more comprehensive way of communicating student learning.

What did our team consider while drafting a new report card?

·     The shifts in the province and how other districts are responding

·      The IBO (International Baccalaureate Organization) requirements to report on the five essential elements (knowledge, concepts, transdisciplinary skills, Learner Profile traits/attitudes, and action)

·      Recently released B.C. Draft Curriculum documents

·      What was missing in the current report card

·      How to report on the breadth and depth of the learning in a clear, comprehensive manner

The full post explores the comprehensive and inclusive approach the school has taken to looking at the reporting issue.

West Van Secondary Principal Steve Rauh recently described how students are using technology in powerful ways to stay connected, even as they travel the globe.  We can all be a “digital fly on the wall” as students are engaged in learning around the world.  Rauh, in citing several examples of students on trips using blogs and other digital tools to stay connected compares it to his experiences as a high school student:

I also remember being fortunate enough in my grade 12 year to participate on a school athletic trip to Europe. A privileged experience for many youth both then and now, and quite often one of the most memorable experiences of their high school journey. I also remember on that same trip diligently selecting and purchasing several postcards along the way to mail home to my family to show my appreciation for their support, as well as to update them on our travels. The final memory I have of this tale is of leaving that stack of postcards, duly filled out, addressed, and stamped, on the overhead luggage rack of a train somewhere between Munich and Berlin; they were never seen again, and their existence questioned when I returned home.

It is not just school leaders that are using their blogs to share what they are seeing and learning.  West Vancouver School District Secretary Treasurer Julia Leiterman focused on aboriginal education recently with her blog and the power she has seen with First Nations learning in our district and how it has had an impact on her:

I can’t fix the old wrongs, and I don’t know whether our work in the schools will inspire our First Nations students, or whether they need inspiration in the first place.  I hope I’ve been using the right words, but I don’t even know enough to be sure I’ve been politically correct here. What I do know though is that I’m grateful that our First Nations neighbours have agreed to partner with us, because thanks to their willingness to share, what I finally, truly feel in my heart is respect.  And that’s a good start.

Huy chewx aa.

So the quick scan of the district – some themes emerge – ones reflected in these blog posts, but ones I see alive in so many of our classrooms and schools.  This sampling nicely summarizes the new work that is taking place.  I am seeing a shift to learning commons, self-regulation, strong early learning connections, powerful efforts around assessment and reporting, new ways of using technology to stay connected and a commitment to aboriginal education and our partnership with the Squamish Nation.

It is an exciting place to work!

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fitbit_2776467b

As I walked into our Soccer Academy class, the students were getting ready for their workout and part of that process is to adjust their heart-rate monitors.  The teacher, Jesse Symons, had an iPad to monitor the heart rates of all students in the class.  As he reviewed the live data, it was interesting to see what he was looking for.  As the intensity of the workout increased, he was looking for students who were raising their heart rate to a place where they were pushing themselves.  He could review the data of the entire class and see how much time each student spent in each “zone”.  Based on a colour scheme, red was the optimal zone for high intensity workouts. Also interesting to see was how quickly students’ heart rates would recover to a resting heart rate during breaks. This, as he pointed out, was usually a sign of strong athleticism, of an athlete who could quickly raise and lower their heart rate. Students who struggle to lower their heart rate (as activities slow down) are often not in as strong a condition.

Jesse Symonds reviews the live data

Jesse Symons reviews the live data

Of course, the next step is for students to understand the data.  Students are able to login to see their specific data and, as Jesse joked, the data doesn’t lie. It is early days yet, but there has already been some interesting findings.  For example, with Grade 8, high-level soccer players, there was a gender difference with many of the top female athletes not seeing their heart rates push to optimal levels for extended periods of time.  The fitness monitoring in the soccer academies is part of an Innovation Grant Program through the West Vancouver School District, with similar efforts also being made with Hockey Academy students.

Jesse talks about how heart rate monitors are being sourced with the Vancouver Whitecaps and the National Team. Combined with a GPS, the monitors give a full picture of their activity levels.  It is clearly a growing area in the science of sports and physical activity.

Personally, I’ve become convinced of the power of digital health tracking over the past few months since I started wearing my Fitbit. Actually, four of us have similar devices in our house — my wife and two older kids (ages 12 and 10) are also wearing these devices.  My Fitbit Force tracks my steps, distance, calories burned, minutes of vigorous activity and even my quality of sleep. There are dozens of these type of devices on the market with many more being promised this year. A report last week on wearable tech devices suggests these devices may see a 350 per cent growth in sales in 2014. I also think they have a huge potential to benefit students. For decades we have been encouraging students to keep logs and diaries of their physical activity.

Currently, in BC, through the Daily Physical Activity mandate, students track vigorous and sustained activity.  Anyone who has tried to keep an activity log is aware of its challenges. Logging the physical activity in a log book, or a computer is difficult to do (if not time-consuming) on a regular basis.  On the other hand, if all this data could be automatically collected, synced to our computers, iPhones, etc., we would be able to spend more time analyzing the data, rather than entering it.

In our house, we have become much more aware of our physical activity, how much of it is really vigorous and the role that sleep (or lack of it) is playing in our lives.  These are great conversations to have in our PE classes. Just as we want students to take greater ownership of their learning in Science and English and we see that technology as part of this overall plan, the same should be true for health education and physical activity.  We want students to own their own data, set goals, not in efforts to compete with others, but to better themselves.

There are concerns about wearable technology — that these type of devices, as well as others like Google Glasses and Samsung Smart Watches, are once again pushing technology into all aspects of our life.  I am always interested in technology when it can help do something we have always wanted to do but have not been able to without it.  I see the tracking of our health and physical activity in this category.  We want students to own their own learning and education and this includes owning their own physical activity and health. So, we need to find ways to integrate this emerging technology into our schools.

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Photo Credit:  Prasan Naik

Photo Credit: Prasan Naik

The first wave of national rankings from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)  are receiving a lot of attention, but there is some very interesting data which tends to emerge from these results over time, often informative and often challenging our assumptions.  This graph from the Key Findings document did just that (you may have to click on the image to enlarge it):

motivate

According to the PISA Reports, “Stratification in school systems, which is the result of policies like grade repetition and selecting students at a young age for different “tracks” or types of schools, is negatively related to equity; and students in highly stratified systems tend to be less motivated than those in less-stratified systems.”

This is the latest contribution in the forever-long debate about the streaming of students. It is interesting to see the negative relationship regarding motivation. The equity issue could be understood — as students are streamed, those requiring more assistance tend to not get it, and lower level classes may receive less experienced teachers and fewer resources. But, it is the findings around motivation I find very interesting. I have often heard (and have likely repeated) that enriched/advanced classes allow high achievers to work with similar learners, allowing another group of students to be the high flyers in the ‘regular’ classes — opportunities they may not have had without the streaming.  The PISA results tend to counter this. It is interesting to see that Canada is low in streaming internationally, but high in equity and motivation.  The current push in British Columbia and Canada, around personalization and differentiation, embraces the idea that there are different levels of learners learning together in a classroom.

I also recently read an article from author, commentator and sports contributor, John O’Sullivan, Our Biggest Mistake:  Talent selection instead of talent identification which Alison McNeil shared on Twitter. This article takes on a similar topic, in the sports arena.  In it, O’Sullivan describes the differences between those who select talent and those who identify talent:

Talent selection is the culling of players with the current ability to participate and be successful in events taking place in the near future. Talent identification, on the other hand, is the prediction of future performance based upon an evaluation of current physical, technical, tactical and psychological qualities. Talent selection is pretty simple; talent identification is an art. One yields great results today; the other builds elite athletes and winning teams for the future. Our current “win at all costs” youth sports culture promotes talent selection. When a coach is pressured to win by parents or a club, or when he or she feels the need to win to serve their own ego, that coach becomes a talent selector. When you are focused on talent selection, you are picking athletes to help you win now, and cutting ones that will not. You are looking at current athleticism, technical ability and traits to help achieve short-term success.

O’Sullivan concludes “the emphasis on winning prior to high school is destroying youth sports.” And while he is making his argument to a United States audience the same debate occurs in Canada. While the Long Term Athletic Development Stages are being adopted by many sports organizations, it is also being scoffed at by others who see the de-emphasis on competition at young ages as a terrible sign of the times. It is interesting to take O’Sullivan’s writings, and substitute “learner” for “athlete” and “student selection” for “talent selection”. Enriched classes are very much like our private, tiered sports programs.  I have heard similar arguments for streaming young people in sports as young as five, as I have with enriched classes — they allow the high flyers to play with others like them, and allow others to excel at a lower level without the high flyers present.

O’Sullivan makes the argument that U.S. (and I would say Canadian) sports programs are in deep trouble unless there is a radical shift away from talent selection and toward talent identification. I see this as a similar argument that the PISA results are making with learning around the world — those who select and stream talented students instead of identifying and personalizing learning are bound to have less equity and lower levels of motivation.

This is another example of how efforts in our schools like removing letter grades at younger ages, and focusing on learning, are similar to efforts in our community sports to remove the keeping score and tallying of winners at young ages. While some argue these efforts are reducing standards and rigor, research is showing we need to look at youth development differently.

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TOP3

Welcome to my final blog post of 2013 – My “Top 3″ lists for the year.  This has become a tradition with previous Top 3 lists for 2012 (here), 2011 (here) and 2010 (here).  I know we are abandoning ranking and sorting in our education system, so this is more about highlighting some of the blogs, videos and ideas that have engaged me over the last 12 months. As always with these kind of lists hopefully it will start some discussion and debate as well.

Top 3 “Culture of Yes” Blog Posts which have Generated the most Traffic this Year:

1.  What About Final Exams?

2. Dr. Shanker and Self-Regulation – Continuing the Conversation

3.  Hopes and Dreams for my Kids’ Schooling

Top 3 Used (and often overused) Quotes in Education for the Year (some are past winners):

1. We need to focus on the learning

2. It’s not about the technology

3. The 21st Century is more than 10% over (YES – people are STILL using versions of this one!)

Top 3 Growing Trends I See Continuing in the Next Year:

1. Embedding Aboriginal teachings across the curriculum — BC’s new draft curriculum is a great example

2. Devices becoming invisible — more and more kids have devices, and I am noticing them less and less

3. Rethinking of report cards — we are in the midst of a dramatic shift in reporting

Top 3 Books I have Read this Year that have Influenced My Thinking:

1.  Spirals of Inquiry by Linda Kaiser and Judy Halbert

2.  Calm, Alert, and Learning – Stuart Shanker

3.  Communicating the New – Kim Erwin

Top 3 Professional Development Events I have Attended:

1.  TEDxWestVancouverED — it has been so great to have a TEDx event in our community with so many of our staff and students involved

2.  Connect 2013 — a wonderful chance to see so many Canadians present who I have met over time through Twitter and our blogs

3.  Barbara Coloroso — the Guru of parent education was hosted by our District Parent Advisory Council

Top 3 BC Superintendent Blogs You Should Follow:

1. Jordan Tinney — Surrey

2. Steve Cardwell –Vancouver

3. Kevin Godden — Abbotsford

Top 3 Non-education New Twitter Follows:

1.  Roberto Luongo (Canucks)

2.  Gerry Dee (from Mr. D)

3.  Mr. T (of pity the fool fame)

Top 3 Jurisdictions We Are Going to Turn Into the Next Finland:

1.  British Columbia — high achievement, high diversity, high equity – lots to interest people

2.  Quebec – Just what are they doing different than the rest of Canada in math?

3. Shanghai, China — We are concerned about their methods but their results are stunning

Top 3 TEDx Videos from WestVancouverED (that I bet you haven’t seen):

I earlier wrote a post here that highlighted some of my West Vancouver colleagues, so these are some of my favourite from the non-West Vancouver staff

1.  Katy Hutchinson — an extremely powerful personal story of restorative justice

2.  David Helfand — a new approach to university leadership

3.  Dean Shareski — he has a wonderful perspective and a great way to connect with people

 

Top 3 Fun and Interesting Educational Videos:

1.   What Came First — the chicken or the egg?

2.  Canada and the United States — Bizarre Borders

3.  What Does Your Body Do in 30 Seconds?

Thanks to everyone who continues to engage with me on my blog and push my learning. Some of my greatest professional joy is writing, reading, engaging and learning through my blog and with all of you.   I look forward to continuing to grow and learn together in 2014.

Chris Kennedy

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