Know They Context – Measuring Support Before Impact #twistedpair

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This post is my contribution to Steve Wheeler’s twisted pair challenge. Although not as esoteric as Wheeler’s pairings, it at least demonstrates the links between diverse ideas.

I’ll never forget reading about the spat that followed Collingwood’s loss in the 2003 AFL Grand Final. Having lost Anthony Rocca, a key position player, the week before, Mick Malthouse decided to trial Jason Cloke in the position of centre-half forward. A young player who had spent most of his 40 games in the back line, he was thrown into the fire and failed. With only a few possessions, the coach openly spoke about his disappointment as was David Cloke, a proud father, who spoke out about the comments. What stands out to me is the expectation that placing people in unfamiliar surroundings may magically pay off. (Add Glenn Maxwell batting up the order in India to that list, another classic example.) Maybe the player had spent time as a youth in that position, maybe they had shown some promise in a different context in different surrounds or was the right fit on paper. Whatever the reason, such sporting stabs in the dark, hopeful wishes you may like, often fail to proper more often than not.

A few years ago, I was faced with the arduous task of landscaping my backyard. Starting with something of a blank canvas, I drew up an outline of the space with circles and lines to mark the dimensions where the different plants would go. Sometimes it feels both arrogant and naïve planning out a space. After going to the local nursery, I decided to plant lilly pillies down the side of the property. The aim was to create something of a hedge. On the tag, it stated that in the right conditions a lilly pilly can grow up to 100 metres tall. After bringing in new soil, watering regularly and providing large amounts of fertilizer, two of the ten trees failed to take. In addition to this, even though they were all planted at the same time, those at the back grew twice as large as the those down the side. Another observation was that the irises planted near the dead lilly pillies also had struggled to take. This raised so many questions, such as the make-up of the soil, the sunlight in these spots, the potential of basalt beneath the surface and the mix of nutrients. The reality though is that I could have planted another tree in their place, desiring order and symmetry. However, more often than not nature does not work that way. So I left it. Admitting that just maybe the lilly pilly may not be the right plant for the spot.

So often we talk about knowing thy impact. That is, to evaluate the effect of our teaching on students’ learning and achievement. Although it is important to identify what is working and how we might be going. Another story that often goes untold is what impacts upon a teacher?

The easy solution in education that everyone jumps to is the desire to get rid of your worst teacher. However, I have heard many experiences where the supposed ‘worst’ teacher is the teacher who is also the ‘least’ supported. Don’t get me wrong, they are often provided emergency support. At the heart of the matter, they are left to plan alone, expected to create everything from scratch and provide little structured support.

Measuring thy context includes things such as: support provided, level of trust in the organisation, sense of confidence, opportunity to work in a team, size of the classes, the state of the learning spaces, when your classes are timetabled on and the list goes on. This is not a list of excuses, but rather a recognition of complexity associated with impact and its connection to context.

So what about you? What is your context and how does it impact you?

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A Guide to Visualisations defines visualisation as:

To make visual or visible.
To form a mental image of.
I would add to this and suggest that to ‘visualise’ is to make visible something that was not necessarily visible before. There are many ways of doing this. Some involve graphs and numbers, while others are more creative in their expression. Here then are some different types of visualisation with possible resources that you can use to create them:


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A brainstorm is about gathering spontaneous ideas around a specific topic or idea. Although there are many variations, one of the keys is to hold back judgement in order to find the limits. An example of one such variation is NoTosh’s 100 ideas in ten minutes. Some programs to support brainstorming include Answergarden, Padlet, Dotstorming, Socrative, Poll Everywhere and Google Apps. while Richard Byrne has compared a number of options. What is important is the ability to collaborate.

Word Cloud

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An extension of the brainstorm, the word or tag cloud involves visualising text as a cloud. Usually one word at the time, the size of the text is dictated by the amount of times it is represented. Word clouds can also be used to measure the frequency of words in a text. Some programs used to create word clouds include Wordle, Word It Out, TagxedoABCya, and Tag Cloud Generator for Google Apps.

Mind Map

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Beginning with a central idea, mind maps involve adding branches and keywords to build a deeper understanding. Colours and images are used to convey more meaning. Although they can be drawn, there are also a range of programs you can use to create mind maps, including, Freemind, Connected Mind and Google Drawings.

Concept Map

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Like the mind map, the purpose of a concept map is to present knowledge. However, the structure is not so rigid. Instead, there is a free form which can lend itself to more complexity. Although the same applications used to create a mind map can be used to make a concept map, some additions include XMind and CMap.


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Flowcharts are a means for visualising processes and workflows. They use a range of shapes, each with a different purpose. A prime example is the representation of algorithms, an essential element of the new Digital Technologies curriculum. Some programs to support brainstorming include Lucidchart, Google Drawings, Gliffy and

Graphic Organisers

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Graphic organisers involve using a visual aid to develop knowledge and understanding. There are many different types of organisers, including relational (fishbone), classifications (KWL), sequencing (ladder), compare/contrast (Venn diagram) and concept development (story web). An easy way to create graphic organiser is with these Google Drawings templates from Matt Miller.


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Sketchnoting is about helping us think deeper by mixing, matching and making links using text, image, structure and flow. Some call it visual note-taking, others doodling. For some it is a useful way of summarising different content, while for others it is a creative way to brainstorm new ideas. There are a range of resources and presentations to help with sketchnoting including Sketchnoting FOR Beginners (Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano), Brain Doodles, Sketchnoting for Beginners (Sylvia Duckworth) and How I Teach Sketchnoting (Royan Lee). I have also created a Youtube playlist of useful videos.


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A mixture of text, images and data visualisations, infographics are designed to communicate information quickly and clearly. Like sketchnotes, infographics do not necessarily have a set structure. It is however common for them to be long and skinny. This is to fit them within width of a blog. Some programs that help with making infographics include infog.ram, Canva, Piktochart and Google Drawings.


Timelines are a means for visualising a period of time chronologically and with a consistent scale. This scale can be days, years, months, it just depends on the topic in question. There are a few applications that allow you to create digital timelines, including Dipity, Time RimeRead Write ThinkTimetoast, TimeLineCurator, MyHistro and TimelineJS. Just note, TimelineJS requires Google Apps.

Comic Strips

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An interpretative visual means of presenting ideas, comic strips often lend themselves to storytelling. Some applications that support the creation of comics include Create Your Own Marvel Comic, MakeBeliefsComix, Chogger and Witty.


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Doug Belshaw suggests that, “remixing, re-appropriation and riffing off other people’s work just seems to be part of what we do as human beings.” There are many ways of mashing-up visuals. Often this involves taking something that is used in one context and re-appropriating it for another. This can include making creative maps or adding commentary to an image in the creation of a meme. There are no specific programs used to create mash-ups as there are no specific mash-ups.

So what about you? How do you visualise? What applications have you used? As always, comments welcome.

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Supporting the Development of Digital Pedagogies

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This year I have taken on the role of co-ordinating eSmart within my school. Although I had always been a part of the process, it was never my explicit responsibility. It needs to be recognised that much of the hard work was already done by Catherine Gatt, who had managed it from the beginning and got the school to the point of accreditation. This meant that it was more about maintenance.

Even though we are an eSmart school, during the handover, we went through some of the challenges that still had to be faced, such as:

  • Rectifying how the data is collected and where it is held
  • Reviewing and refining the Acceptable User Policy
  • Further incorporating the appropriate use of digital technologies within curriculum planning

However, the biggest challenge that is still faced was developing teacher practise around digital pedagogies. None of the rest really matters if teachers do not know what they are doing and why it is important.

Some of the strategies that have been used in the past to develop teacher capacity include: the provision of whole-staff professional development, modelling of best practise in an explicit coaching sessions and supporting staff with questions as they might arise.

In regards to whole-staff professional development, it has been been a case of hit and miss. Often associated with outside products or programs, sessions seem to lack a sense of agency and purpose. For example, a lot of time was spent introducing staff to the Ultranet or how to use some of the more intricate features of the interactive whiteboard. It was just expected that staff would get on this bandwagon without a clear pedagogical reason as to why. Sadly, when you stand back and look at both of these, the Ultranet has been shutdown, in part due to lack of take-up, while the interactive whiteboards seem to be slowly being replaced by television screens.

Something that worked in regards to whole-staff sessions was the introduction of professional learning communities. This allowed staff to collaborate in the development of shared capacity. A particular highlight was the opportunity to share different practises and ideas in an unconference style session where people could choose which session they wanted to attend. This not only allowed staff more choice, but provided staff with an opportunity to build their instructional capacity. However, the PLC’s as they were lacked clear vision, with much confusion as to what constituted success. They were therefore replaced with a more rigid instructional program with little focus on technology and digital pedagogies.

Another strategy that was trialled to help develop teachers was an explicit coaching program that revolved around modelling. This involved staff in Primary attending fortnightly ICT sessions with their classes and then completing a follow up lesson to help solidify what had been learnt. The problem that occurred was that although these sessions may have helped build capacity, there was still a heavy reliance on the coach to guide the learning. Teachers were not necessarily forced to find their own solutions. Therefore, although significant resources were allocated, just as with PLCs, little thought was given to why the program was actually running and what the explicit end product may be, other than improved capacity.

The last strategy used to develop digital pedagogies has been to provide help at the point of need. Whether it be setting up Google Apps to aid collaboration in class or using Adobe Voice to communicate ideas and information. To support this, the eBox blog was developed as a place to go for answers and ideas when face-to-face guidance is not possible. The hope was (and still is) that this would become a celebration of what is happening, similar to what Steve Brophy has implemented at Ivanhoe Grammar. However, not every teacher is as willing to openly share. Like the coaching hour, this feels like it has created a culture of dependence, rather than a collaborative culture of shared development. It was pointed out by a critical friends that a more structured coaching program was probably needed.

In Thomas Guskey’s evaluation of professional development, he provides five critical levels:

  1. Participants’ Reaction
  2. Participants’ Learning
  3. Organisation Support and Change
  4. Participants Use of New Knowledge and Skills
  5. Student Learning Outcomes

Too often we start at the top and work our way down the list. The result being that many experiences, for whatever reason, do not really go beyond personal learning. Guskey argues that if ‘student learning outcomes’ is to be our goal then we need to plan backwards. So moving on with technology, the next stage is to move technology from a timetabled event or some sort of novelty to something that aids and develops all pedagogical practice.

The school has recently started implementing disciplined collaboration, with a focus on a cycle of inquiry to improve student learning. The purpose behind the model is to adjust the learning and teaching to the needs of the students, rather than being dictated by the perceived needs of the curriculum standards. This freedom within form is designed to allow for a more nuanced approach, that is continually referenced by data and evidence. This provides both purpose and direction, it is this that sometimes feels missing when implementing technology and eLearning.

Some of the things that I have been considering in regards to coaching that have been missing in the past:

  • Setting Goals: More than just SMART, Viviane Robinson suggests that the purpose of goals are to provide focus. A useful guide is the How Might We question, as it incorporate the what, the when and who in a succulent manner. In addition to this, I have found the Modern Learning Canvas useful in regards identifying particular points of innovation.
  • Outcomes: Too often the introduction of technology can lend itself to novelty and lack a clear purpose. Whether it be the visible or invisible, social or academic, it is important that there is some point of reference to guide development. For some this maybe a number, some a recording, while others a case study, what matters is that teachers tell their story of development.
  • Follow-Up. There is tendency with technology, whether intended or not, to provide isolated support. Maybe it is answering a question or giving suggestions. Although demonstration and observation is not always possible based on timetable constraints, providing some sort of ongoing conversation is essential to continue the conversation and ingraining practice.
  • Feedback. One of the biggest challenges is not simply giving support to others, but also providing a means to measure the success of the support given. Whether it be short answer questions or checklist, Google Forms offers a quick and efficient method to do this.

Although technology may be seen by some as something that just has to work, I feel that we need to move from discussions of the what, to that of how and why. Incorporating goals in Performance and Development Plans maybe seen as one step in the right direction, what we really need to do is move from push professional development to pull. That is, where instead of teachers being served with endless sets of predefined answers and solutions, they instead act as problem finders where they work collaboratively to identify a problem of practice in order to build and develop more innovative practices. I feel that it is only then that technology can make any sort of difference.

So what about you? Is there anything that you have done? Any thoughts and suggestions you could provide? Whether it be integrating technology or the use of coaching to develop staff capacity and competency. As always, comments welcome.

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Mapping the Divide: Visitors and Residents on the Web

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In an attempt to make sense of the divide when it comes to the use of technology, Marc Prensky published two articles in 2001 in which he coined the terms digital native and digital immigrant. He used this to explain the difference between those born after 1980 who have grown up with technology being in every part of their life, compared with those ‘immigrants’ who have had to pick everything up.

The problem with the native/immigrant explanation is that it lacks nuance. Firstly, it assumes that if you were born after a certain time that you represent certain disposition. Secondly, it fails to recognise that our use of technology is forever changing over time. Thirdly, it was developed in a time before the prevalence of social media and its impact on how we use the web. In contrast, David White and Alison Le Cornu offer a more fluid typology with their notion of digital visitor and resident.

White and Le Cornu suggest that our use of different spaces on the web fluctuates between two states: that of the visitor whose use is often short term and task orientated compared with the resident who sees their participation as being an important part of their lived experience.

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Unlike Prensky, White and Le Cornu argue that our use of the web is constantly evolving, not only different from one space to the next, but also from changing over time. For example, today I maybe only be a visitor to Twitter, but be a resident of Facebook, whereas tomorrow for whatever reasons this is might be completely flipped around.

Doug Belshaw explains this problem by pointing out that workflows should always be a case of permanent beta. Although this may not be a month to month or even a year to year thing. If we were to reflect our use of the web ten years ago, I would find it hard to believe anyone’s map would be exactly the same.

Another dimension which White and Le Cornu add to this is the question of place. They suggest that our use always moves between the personal and the organisational. For example, some students use spaces banned from them in school, such as Facebook and Youtube, to participate in what can be described as the learning black market. That is, informal collaboration and communication in aid of learning.

What is interesting about the visitor and resident typology is that is that it is not necessarily about the tools, but how we use these tools. As White shares, we can give all the guides we like, but people’s participation within different spaces only changes when they can identify a reason why that is pertinent to them. With this in mind, creating our own map of the web offers a great way to start a conversation about how and why we use technology.

One of the challenges with technology is to move beyond supposed simple solutions. Often terms like visitor and lurker are used with negative connotations. Instead the question should be why are visitors and what would change if we were to take up residency. The same thing can be said of those spaces which we have come to depend upon, what would happen if they were to shut down? What is also interesting is that many social media platforms do not allow visitors. That is, an existence without some sort of sign-up. This alone is a conversation worth having, as to why this might be the case and what the consequence of such restrictions might be.

For more information, have a go at using Google Drawings to create your own map, see White’s post or his short introduction from White:

While here are my slides from a presentation at Teachmeet NGV on 24th October 2015

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Merging Passwords and New Accounts

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One of the biggest challenges when introducing a new application, such as Google Apps or Global2, is setting up the new accounts. Although programs often make it easy enough to create the accounts in bulk, the challenge is communicating this to students. My answer has been to merge cards for the students using Microsoft Publisher. This involves three steps:

Making a Spreadsheet

The first thing to do is to make a spreadsheet in which you collect all the information required. I find that it is always good to have a document with all this sort of information in one place. I use a few ‘concatenating‘ tricks in Google Sheets that I picked up via Alice Keeler to help combine different pieces of information and then download as a CSV to turn formulas into text and numbers. It is important to use clear headings for each of the columns.

Create a Template

The next step is to create a template. For this step, I use Microsoft Publisher. I begin by choosing a business card template and then enter all the appropriate information. This can include name, website, username and temporary passwords etc …

Produce the Merge

Once I have something that looks like a finished product, I click on the Mailings tab and work through the Step-by-Step Mail Merge Wizard. This includes selecting the appropriate spreadsheet (choosing comma), inserting the various fields and checking through the previews.  Once satisfied, I then print the merge.

Although I have come to use Google Apps for for many things and could possibly use Autocrat, this is still one thing that I still find easiest to do with Microsoft.

So what about you? What steps do you take to support students with new programs? Feel free to share below.

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What Could Your Leader Do?

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While taking the reigns of the #edutweetoz rotation curation recently, Paul Browning put out the question:

Although I engaged in some discussion at the time, discussing the idea of fostering the ‘hidden’ professional development, it is a question that has lingered with me ever since. How can leadership help me? Here then are three things that stand out:


I know I am lucky to have smaller class sizes. That the behaviour of my students is nothing compared to other schools. That I should be thankful that students have some access to technology. None of this actually helps to move things forward in and of itself. It reminds me of the teacher who complains to students about a failed lesson because they put hours into preparing it. I don’t want to know how good I have it, I want a vision to aspire towards, to drive me forwards.


It is one thing to be aware of what is going on in the school. However, to feel supported, I want leaders to be more than aware. I want them to ask questions? To have some understanding of the intracises involved. I do not expect them to be able to replicate everything that I do, but I would like them to have the appreciation and awareness to be able to provide meaningful feedback and advice.


I am aware that much of what schools get measured on comes back to literacy and numeracy, however this fails to recognise the importance of other learning. Actually, not ‘other’ learning, rather learning as a whole. Coming back to the question of vision, why do we do what we do. I am happy to have a guaranteed and viable curriculum, but what is it guaranteeing? Are subjects such as music, science, the humanities and languages important? Why? What are they trying to achieve? Content knowledge? College readiness? Citizenship? Whatever it is, how is this at the core? Richard Olsen touches on the dilemma of learning here.

So what about you? What could a leader do to support you and your professional growth? As always, comments welcome.

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Technology, Data and the Untold Stories of Learning

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Recently, I was challenged with the question about what data could be used to support the improvement of learning and teaching using technology. Beyond the discussion of classroom observations, surveys and planners, I spoke about monitoring usage. However, I added a point of caution to this. Many of the applications, especially those that are web-based, offer a form of analytics. The problem with this though is that although it covers what technology is being used, it does not allows account for the how or why. This was a particular problem with the Ultranet. Each meeting we would be delivered the latest statistics with encouragement for students to simply login in. I am a massive advocate for the use of technology, but used blindly for the sack of it, I wonder at times if this is counter-productive.

I was reminded of this a few days ago by Sherry Turkle’s article, ‘Stop Google. Let’s Talk“. Taken from her latest book, Reclaiming Conversation, Turkle continues the discussion she started in Together Alone.

In the article, she describes a world where through our incessant use of social media, we have actually lost the art of conversation. This has not only had an impact on our ability to listen, but to actually empathise with others. The first step, she suggests, is reclaiming our solitude. A part of this is moving from multi-tasking to uni-tasking, where we dedicate ourselves to one thing at a time, rather than spreading ourselves thin.

Coming at the question of data from a different angle, Audrey Watter’s makes the point that it is never neutral. It has its biases and blind spots:

Education data often highlights the ways in which we view students as objects not as subjects of their own learning. I’ll repeat my refrain: education data is not neutral. Opening education data does not necessarily benefit students or schools or communities; it does not benefit all students, all schools, all communities equally.

This is a message that is carried throughout Watters’ book, The Monsters of Educational Technology. A collection of essays which explore various facets of technology, but most importantly the many assumptions we make about the benefits and gains.

In the end, data does not always tell a story in itself. It is interpretative. It does not account for the nuance of personal experience. It does not always touch on how we use it. It does not always tell the full story about learning. To truly engage with the enabling power of technology, it is here that we need to start the conversation, with the question of why.

How about you, how do you use technology? What are the ways you critique this? As always, I would love to know. Feel free to comment below.

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