Blogging Starts with Why

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Everyone has those days. For some they last for weeks. Maybe it was just one incident. You lost it. Raised your voice when you shouldn’t have. Or maybe you started an activity poorly and no matter how much you tried to save it, by clarifying something, talking, adding this, changing that, your hole to hide in never felt deep enough. You just felt like a failure. As much as we try and focus on growth and improvement, there is a voice inside that occasionally says, “You’re a charleton and now you have been found out.” Doug Belshaw identifies this as ‘imposter syndrome‘. The inability to internalise various accomplishments. This feeling of being a fraud often builds up, with one day here connecting with another day there. There is many an answer, sometimes it is talking with a colleague or other times you can gain critical feedback from students. However, the solution often lies within and needs to start with us. One remedy to regain balance is through blogging. Reflection allows us to highlight our positives and come back to the big question, why do we do what we do?

I have written a bit about why to blog since I started. Recently I reflected on the uncanny nature of reviewing the past. However, another reason that I have come upon of late is the opportunity to connect back with your ‘why’. Your central reason for everything. Not everything I do is perfect. There are many moments where I lapse back into what John Goh describes as our ‘default’ value, that initial idea of education which we have internalised over time. However, it is important to stop and reflect in order to remind myself why I do what I do, as well as what I have been doing to support this.

In the closing section of his book, Start With Why, Simon Sinek discusses how a few years ago he realised that although he was supposedly using all the right strategies within his business, he had lost sight of his why. He was out of balance. Ever since he has focused all of his actions on his why. As he states:

If it was important to start with WHY, then I would start with WHY in everything I did. There is not a single concept in this book that I don’t practice.

Regularly reflecting on what we do and making our actions visible helps stay focused on why we really do it. For as Sinek states, “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

How do you stay centred and maintain your ‘why’ in all that you do? I would love to know. Feel free to comment.


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Why Do You Come to School?

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I had my first day in Year 4 yesterday. I am lucky enough to be in their for a full day on a Friday as the usual teacher runs the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden program. As it is their first week, we were working through a range of activities associated with setting up the classroom environment for learning.

One of the activities that we did was to look at “Why do we come to school?” In order to go deeper with our thinking, we did the ‘five whys’ where students were required to answer the question five times, each time elaborating on the last response. Once they had spent some time coming up with answers, I got each student to share on a sticky note the one response that they felt represented them the most.

As we grouped the different responses, four themes appeared:

  • To gain for knowledge
  • To get a better job
  • To live a better life
  • To develop friendships

Having been reading a lot about heutagogy lately, the practise of self-determined learning, the response that was missing was to ‘learning how to learn’. Although some, such as Stewart Hase, assert that we are heutgogical learners from the start, others, such as Lisa Marie Blaschke, suggest that becoming self-determined learners is better understood as being a part of a  Pedegogical-Andragogy-Heutagogy (PAH) continuum. (For more information, see Experiences in Self-Determined Learning). Interestingly, Blashke suggests that, “if we are to help students become heutagogical learners, we must apply heutagogical practices with younger students early on, while at the same time working toward emancipating those who have become industrialized learners and continue to “learn-to-the-test”. In her chapter, she provides a range of strategies, such as:

  • Let learners choose what they will learn and how they will learn it.
  • Encourage learners to explore
  • Be a guide on the side (or a meddler in the middle)
  • Allow learners to learn from each other
  • Help learners understand the process of how they learn

What I was curious about though was at which point does a student say that they come to school to ‘learn how to learn?’ Robert Schuetz talks about the entrepreneurial mindset as being counter to what Yong Zhao describes as ‘Employment-Orientated Learning’, while in a recent episode of the TER Podcast capturing some presentations from a Teachmeet in Sydney, Jon Andrews shared how he had introduced heutagogical learning across his whole school from P-12. Even though Andrews shared his young daughters understanding of design thinking and how she can use such practises across all her learning, the question that remains is when they become conscious of this. That is, when do students make the metacognitive connection that they do not come to school to learn ideas and information that may not even be relevant in a few years time, but instead come to learn how to learn?

Just wondering. As always, your thoughts are welcomed.


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The Best Thing Happening in My Network is the Network Itself

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So it is Week 4 of the #youredustory challenge and the question this week is what is the best thing happening in your class/school/network. Again, for the second week running, I have been spurred on by the thoughts of Steve Brophy. In his post he suggested that the best is often based on context:

My one best thing changes depending on who I am working with, what I’m working on, the context and a long list of factors.

I would like to take this a step further and suggest that the best thing that is happening in my network is the network itself.

Borrowing from David Weinberger’s saying idea that ‘the smartest person in the room is the room’, I feel that the best thing happening is the network itself. Whether it be online associations, colleagues from nearby schools or those I connect with in person, I am continually inspired at the awesome things happening and the potential of others to go beyond the fixed ideas that we can unintentially confine them with. He did what, but … Or she is just a …

I think that ideas about ‘best and greatest’ are better understood as a way of seeing. More often than not there are great things happening all around us that we never seem to have the time to notice or the eyes to see.

Doug Belshaw wrote a post recently which really challenged my thinking. In it he spoke about our tendency to get bogged down in thinking about the way the world ought to be, instead of celebrating the way that it is. As much as we would like to think otherwise, change takes a lot of time. Patience is therefore needed by the bucket load and change to begin from within.


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In Search of an Understanding of Digital Literacies Worth Having

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This is a review of Doug Belshaw’s insightful book, The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies. I have been meaning to write this review for a long time. The book ends with an invitation to write your own conclusion. The problem is that I didn’t really know what to write or how to write it. Should it really be in the written form? Did I need to create a video? Sticking to what I feel comfortable with, I have decided to stick with a post in a similar style to the book itself. So here then is my review …

Literacies as Process ≠ Product

There are two big takeaways from Doug Belshaw’s book The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies. Firstly, that there is no singular definition of literacy, let alone digital literacies. Like the notion of PLN (whatever you want to take that to mean), our definition of digital literacies is something created by a community and continually negotiated. More often than not, this definition is taken for granted, rarely given air. Belshaw does not identify the eight different elements as an answer, but as a point of discussion. The definition is start of this discussion.

I have attempted to write about digital literacies before and in reflection feel that I got something wrong. My focus was on a singular definition and on the product. What I was trying to do was to differentiate digital literacies from more traditional notions of literacy. However, at the end of the day, our understanding of both is flawed. What is important is the process of co-creation. My way of engaging with digital literacies is only one of a myriad of options, while if I were to readdress it now there would most likely be things that have changed. To borrow from the work of David White in regards to residents vs. visitors, some places that I previously resided, I now simply visit, while others I have taken up home in. This is not something that we co-construct within a community, but is something that is in a constant state of flux.

Dean Shareski provides an interesting take on this by mapping his internet footprint using four different quadrants. What I think would be an interesting activity would be to use this framework create a series historical snapshots in order to represent this constant state of change.

It is easy to get sucked into the notion that one must simply do this or join that in order to be digitally literate. However, such focuses on the what and how overlook the most important aspect of them all, the why? At the heart of the process is the constant nagging question, why am I doing this and what am I trying to achieve? I would argue that using a site like http://memegenerator.net/ just about anyone can create a meme, but this misses something. The question that remains unresolved is why we would create a meme? What is our purpose? What are we trying to achieve? It is these questions that are at the heart of the process, not necessarily the product.

Beyond Good and Evil

Associated with this focus on process, co-construction and community, being digitally literate involves embracing choice and consequence. In a post for DML Central, Belshaw outlined five eras of web literacy. Although in no way concrete, the exercises was designed to demonstrate how our negotiation with the web (and web literacies) has evolved over time.  One of the things that stood out for me was the transition from the ‘Web 2.0 / Everything is an App’ stages to the post-Snowden period which we are now in. This unveiling marked a dramatic change to how we saw the internet, but more importantly how we participated with it. As Belshaw stated:

We collectively realised that we didn’t understand what was going on underneath the surface. We were shocked to discover who had access to our data. We started to worry more about how to manage our increasingly-important online identity and reputation.

What is significant about this shift is that the spotlight is placed on the process. Although the web and technology in general had become a means through which so many could flourish, the question has become at what cost?

It has long been said that if you’re not paying for the product, then you are the product. However, it was Snowden’s revolutions and everything that followed which has made this situation real for many. The challenge is what next, this is where digital literacies fits in.

For example, following the Heartbleed compromise, Quinn Norton provides a portrait of the web as a fractured foundation we have so easily come to take for granted. Story after story, she paints a picture of a world where technology barely works and no-one is ever in control, no matter what measures are put in place. One fix leads to another and all we are doing is staying afloat. However, as she states:

Your choice: constantly risk clicking on dangerous malware, or live under an overpass, leaving notes on the lawn of your former house telling your children you love them and miss them.

What is important is that we actually realise this situation. For it is only then that we can even begin thinking about doing anything about it.

Coming from the perspective of big data, Danah Boyd questions the merit and meaning of measuring endless amounts of stats online. This is not to say that statistics are all bad, but the incessant amount of numbers associated with hits, follows, likes are not helpful.

Stats have this terrible way of turning you — or, at least, me — into a zombie. I know that they don’t say anything. I know that huge chunks of my Twitter followers are bots, that I could’ve bought my way to a higher Amazon ranking, that my Medium stats say nothing about the quality of my work, and that I should not treat any number out there as a mechanism for self-evaluation of my worth as a human being. And yet, when there are numbers beckoning, I am no better than a moth who sees a fire.

Such statistics are more often than not a by-product of our actual actions. I follow someone to extend my network. I write a response to a book to bring together my thoughts. What is important is not the number of likes or downloads, but the ability to communicate and participate within a civic society. This is why digital literacies is more than just about simply constructing and creating.

On the flip side of this, Boyd provides a more meaningful take on statistics in her post exploring teen’s use of social media. In it she uses various points of information to confidently create a critical analysis of the different cultural arguments put forward about teens. This was then communicated within Medium, the same platform that the original post was made.

The challenge is to go beyond good and evil to consider the part we play. It is not that we should stop using online programs and applications, we instead need to be more conscious of our role and the influence we can have.

Curate or Be Curated, That is the Question

In a post investigating the place of information in today’s society, Belshaw posits that, “having opinions and using them to make decisions about our role in the world is part of what makes us human”. The problem is that such ‘opinions’ are becoming more and more controlled. Whereas in the past, information may have been curated for us in the form of the same newspaper, meaning that although this was one editorial, it was at least something we could all talk about. These days, with the development of the web, we are each provided with our own curated content. Through the use of algorithms, companies like Google and Facebook are able to predict what we are searching for or wish to see come up in our stream and provide content accordingly. It is creating what Eli Pariser has called the ‘filter bubble’. Here I am reminded of David Weinberger’s warning that, “even if the smartest person in the room is the room, this does not magically make all who enter it smarter”. The first step that we can take is to be aware that our lives are being curated in the first place and then start challenging this curation.

There are many ways to curate your own existence online. Sites like duckduckgo.com allow you to search for content without being tracted, while using social bookmarking sites, such as Diigo and Delicious, provides a means for developing your own curated content.  In regards to housing your data, there are many companies, like Reclaim Domain, that provide a means for people to manage their own content through open source platforms, such as Known and WordPress. Extending this, Alan Levine suggests that even if we do not house our own data, there are also ways in which we can co-claim. That is, keeping a personal copy of all our digital content, rather than relying on the web.

What is important is that many of these changes are near on impossible to implement in isolation. For example, it would not be a very ‘social’ platform if there was only one person there. It is for this reason that there are no clear cut solutions. There are measures that we can take to encourage civic practise, such as using Creative Commons to license work to make it available to be shared and remixed. It is important though to remember that such change involves communication and dialogue for it takes a village.

It is easy to get caught up in the impact of digital and the web, but at the end of the day what really needs to be addressed is our understanding of literacy. Traditionally, literacy is considered as encapsulating reading for understanding, writing to be understood by others and using tools to write. However, as Belshaw suggests, such a definition denies to important aspects, that literacy has always been and will always be social and will involve some sort of technology. The challenge then is to move our understanding of and engagement with literacies beyond ‘elegant consumption’ to consider the what, the why and the how. This all starts with the who and that who is you and your community. As Belshaw suggests:

Being aware of the way that tools shape the way we think and interact with the world is the first step on the way to changing behaviours. As learners, as teachers, as citizens, we have a duty to ourselves and to one another to be mindful of this.

This chapter in a Nutshell

  • Digital literacies are about process as much as product
  • Lets move beyond good and evil and focus on choice and consequence
  • Literacy starts with you, curate rather than be curated

If you are wanting more information on Doug Belshaw’s book, here is a collection of resources to help you:

Or you can simply buy the book, the choice is yours.


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Difference, Inspiration and New Eyes

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I agree with Steve Brophy that this week’s question for #youredustory is loaded. How are you different to your favourite teacher? Two issues. Firstly, like with my students, I don’t have a favourite teacher. As I say to them, I love teaching all my students, even if it feels like I never quite find that spark in others, I will always strive to look for it. Secondly, asking how I am ‘different’ implies we are ever the same – a fixed mindset. In my view, we are all different, even to ourselves, and are all changing on a continual basis. I am not the same person as I was when I started teaching, let alone when I went to school. For example, I remember starting University with a love of history and the desire to share this with others, while I left with a desire to make the world a better place for tomorrow. Therefore, instead of focusing on differences, I think it is better to focus on those who have inspired me along the way. Although I could go through and make some attempt to name names and try and identify how exactly they have influenced and inspired, but I feel that this misses something. It would be a list that is never quite complete. Instead, it would be historical, a statement of time. See for example, my reflection on blogging. As Jack Welch stated, in his autobiography, “nearly everything I have done has been accomplished with other people”. Who those people of influence and inspiration are does not always matter, but always being open to the ideas of others does.


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Should Every Teacher in the World Really be on Twitter?

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So often it is said, teachers must be on Twitter. For example, Peter DeWitt’s provides 3 Reasons You Need Twitter More Than It Needs You! while Mark Barnes gives 5 Reasons Every Person in the World Should Be On Twitter. The question though is whether Twitter is the answer? Teachers are encouraged to develop their own personal/professional learning network, but does this automatically equal Twitter? I am not saying that I am against Twitter (see for example my posts here, here and here.) I am just wondering, like Audrey Watters, whether Twitter is the best option for online professional development? Here then are some alternatives for cultivating connections online through aggregation, bookmarking and speaking with people:

Aggregation

When I started my PLN, content and connections came via Twitter. I found resources from those I followed and various hashtags, such as #vicpln and #edchat. Connections and relationships felt like they worked as I only had a small network. However, as the numbers of people I followed grew, the medium changed. Although there were more ideas being shared from a wider array of people, it started to lose something. Although lists offers one way of managing noise, I turned to Feedly as a way of managing connections in order to build stronger relationships. Feedly is a news aggregation application, which means that instead of going to different sites to check for updates, RSS allows you to keep track of updates. This is particiularly important for blogs and news sites which are updated regularly. Although I could subscribe to posts, I have enough coming into my email as it is. What I like about Feedly is that I am able to organise posts into categories, quickly flick through them on whatever device that I am on, as well as easily post links and quotes to other applications in order to share with others.

Feedly is not the only aggregator out there. Some swear by Flipboard and Zite (which was recently bought out by Flipboard), while Pocket also offers many possibilities, especially if you have subscriptions forwarded to it. I am also really taken by the idea of syndication as a way of creating a personalised aggregation. A great example of this is the Connected Courses community. Having dabbled with Paper.li, I wonder if this would be a better way of bringing a community together. Although this could be more easily done using something like Tagboard, not everyone in the community uses the same #hashtag, making it that bit more difficult.

Bookmarking

An alternative to aggregation and syndication is social bookmarking. Personally I use Diigo. I came upon it via the Ed Tech Crew group and my practise has grown from there. Some of the benefits include the ability to curate a personalised library of links, annotations, notes and tags that can include not only your own items, but also links to others as well. Like Feedly, Diigo provides the flexibility to work across platforms using a range of add-ons, extensions and bookmarklets, although I still find it easier to use through the browser, rather than on a mobile device. However, the most useful feature of Diigo is the ability to search for resources that you can’t quite find or have forgotten about.

There are other alternatives when it comes to curation, such as Delicious, Pinterest and Evernote. I could spend all day arguing why Diigo is the most useful or provides the best features. However, at the end of the day it comes down to personal choice. For a more extensive list of the alternatives when it comes to bookmarking and curation, see John Pearce’s extensive presentation. The benefit of curation, Tom Barrett argues, is not about whether you will continually use all the links you save, but about building a resource you can dig through and mine for ideas at a later time.

Sound and Vision

One of the complaints about Twitter is that due to constraints it does not properly grasp the personal and limits depth of dialogue. An alternative that has really taken off for me lately has been Voxer. A touch-to-talk application, Voxer allows you to communicate with a community via voice, text and image. Joe Mazza calls it his very own personalised podcast, This may not seem that revolutionary, but there is something slightly more humane about the human voice. I think that is the success of podcasts in general. In addition to voice, you can add as many contributors as you like. For more information, see Pernille RIpp’s post.

An alternative to Voxer is Google Hangouts. Hangouts allows you to connect ten people at once through video. In order to go beyond this, there is the option of broadcasting the conversation to the world and involving others through backchannels, such as Today’s Meet. This is the process used by Amanda Rablin and Roland Gesthuizen with their online ACCE Learning Network show. The other way of extending the conversation beyond ten people is by using MIT’s open sourced Unhangout platform. Based around Hangouts, Unhangout allows you to start centrally and then split off into various small sessions as needed. The only other feature that is sometimes overlooked when it comes to Hangouts is the ability to communicate via text. Like Facebook Messenger, these conversations provide the means to create quick and easy conversations with a wide audience without filling up the inbox.


Interestingly, last year there was a report published by Kathryn Holmes, Greg Preston, Kylie Shaw and Rachel Buchanan about ‘What Twitter Offers Teachers.’ They studied the tweets of 30 leading educators, as well as streams of some popular #hashtags, for their evidence. There findings were:

  • Twitter is a filter for educational content
  • Twitter facilitates positive, supportive, contact between teachers but not sustained educational conversations
  • Educator tweeters are not prone to tweeting inane meaningless comments
  • The majority of hashtag posts contain educational links
  • Hashtags enable access to a wide variety of web-based resources and news without the need to interact with others or to sift through the personal communications between othersTwitter offers connections with a network of like-minded educators
  • Twitter gives a user total control over the level of interaction and focus
  • The key characteristics of effective professional development could be accomplished through the use of Twitter.

Going beyond this list, what interests me is why just Twitter? Why not all platforms? Why not a focus on the connected educator, rather than just Tweechers? In the post script it is stated that more research is needed into the impact of Twitter on the classroom. However, I think that what is really needed is reseach into the impact of being connected as a whole on educators (and learners for that matter too). However, as Alan Levine pointed out while reflecting on Connected Courses, that the data which we collect and collate often misses serendipitous nature of learning.

Above anything, it needs to be remembered that there are many ways to foster connections and they don’t all need to be on Twitter, let alone online at all. Although digital tools make connections more doable, not everyone is comfortable being active in such spaces. However, this is not to say that they cannot or are not connecting. At the end of the day, what matters is why people are connecting. Maybe moving forward this should be our message moving forward? So, how are you connecting beyond Twitter, I would love to know. Your comments, as always, are most welcome.



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How Are You Making the (Educational) World a Better Place?

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Earlier in the year, I had the benefit of hearing Will Richardson present. Like so many others, Richardson put forward the argument that, with the drastic changes occuring in the world today, school and education is in desperate need of an overhaul.

The two takeaways I left the presentation with were:

  • Start with ten percent at a time
  • Be the change through your own learning

I have discussed both before, but was reminded about the question of learning and change recently by a post from Matt Esterman for the collaborative blog Learning e-Nabling in which he asked the question, “what gifts have you given this year?

It is easy to think that extending your learning into the 21st century is as easy as joining Twitter and creating your own personal learning network. However, for change to truly happen in education, it needs to have more facets than that. I was particularly taken by a post from George Couros where he suggested that there are three levels of ‘teacher’: classroom, school and global. I feel that a good teacher encompasses all three of these elements. It is also a good way of reflecting upon how we are making the educational world a better place. This then is how I feel I made the (educational) world a better place last year …

CLASSROOM

In regards to making the change in the classroom last year. I paid more attention to my pedagogical approach in the classroom. This led to providing students with more choice about what they do and how they do it, especially in electives. To support this push for empowerment, I continued to use ICT as a medium for communication and collaboration in order to foster thought and celebrate new knowledge, especially in intervention,

SCHOOL

On a school basis, I have taken a step back from pushing my notions of change and reform, as this was becoming more of a hindrance rather than a help. Instead I have learnt to work with and through others. For as Tim Kastelle writes, “You need the great new ideas, but you also need the execution skills to pull off the ideas.” This has culminated in getting a few people engaging beyond the school through Twitter, some exploring blogging (see for example https://commandokiddz.wordpress.com/ and http://shapingbridges.blogspot.com.au/), while others took up new ideas relating to pedagogy and technology here and there, particularly around the notions of choice and instruction. I feel that many of these ‘seeds of change’ will often grow and develop overtime. The reality is that instead of cultivating a single tree, I feel I have propagated a forest. Some will not come into fruition as when the saplings pop their heads, they are yanked out as ‘weeds’, while others see something good. The most important lesson that I have learnt is for change to truly occur, we need to hold onto our ideas less tightly. Yes, sometimes someone else might get ‘credit’ for something, but at the end of the day, that is not what it is truly about.

GLOBAL

The last area of influence is the world. It is easy to get caught up with this and jump around the globe, but sometimes the first step to becoming ‘global’ is connecting with those schools in your own area, as Sam Irwin and I did with our digital network. In regards to external professional development, I attended a few Teachmeets this year, presented at a range of conferences/sessions including DLTV14 with Steve Brophy and the Melbourne GAFE Summit. In regards to the more informal, I have continued to grow and nurture my ever so global PLN, whether this be engaging in discussion on Twitter, sharing resources on Diigo, commenting on blogs, supporting others in getting connected, creating images to capture cool ideas and just generally thinking out loud online. Although not always explicit, I think that all of these activities help build towards a better education.


Although it can be good to discuss how we are going to change the world and make it a better place, it can be just as powerful to look back upon and build on the things that we have already done. Sometimes this point of reflection has the potential to be uncanny. So what about you, what you have been doing that has made a difference? I would love to know.


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Baggage in the Classroom

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I was recently at Officeworks inquiring about iPad Minis. For some reason the cost had fallen through the roof and I was wondering why? The sales assistant informed me that Apple were basically trying to offload the first generation minis now that the newer version had come out. The catch, they only come in 16gb. This led to that and we ended up talking about storage and how there are so many unnecessary apps that clog things up. He then told me about a ruling in South Korea last year which stated that bloatware, those applications that are placed on the phone before you even get it, must be deletable. Of course, laws in South Korea are different to laws in Australia (or United States), therefore such rulings are yet to be made here. The assistant wondered though whether at some point of time this might not have an influence on mobile computing.

This idea of inherited applications however got me thinking beyond mobile devices and to the classroom, learning and education as a whole. What are those elements that we take for granted in the classroom? Those structures that simply get enacted each day, month, year? Who is making the informed choices? School? Region? Union? Government? You? Do we have a choice to stop and question such things? Should we? Are such habits and structures useful? Essential for things to keep moving? Or should there be a choice about what structures there actually are?

George Couros touched on this in a recent post in which he put out the challenge to see our schools with ‘fresh eyes’. Importantly, this is not just for those practises which we as negative, but everything. Every now and again, we need to stop and ask ourselves the question, “Why do we do this?” Couros also encourages us to also reflect upon our own personal habits and choices. This though, Couros warns, is to no avail if we are not willing to be persuaded into a new way of thinking.

I am not saying that there is not need for process and structure. For as Tom Barrett recently suggested, “By having a simple, clear, and shared process we actually offer some certainty amidst the planned doubt and mystery that is to come.” The question though is whose process is it and who is owning it. As I suggested last year, the new year offers a great opportunity to once again reconsider the baggage in the classroom.


POSTSCRIPT: For more ideas and inspiration in regards to seeing things differently, I also encourage you to read Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question.


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