On Experience

During a recent trip to Fiji celebrating our ten year wedding anniversary, my wife and I were lucky enough to visit a local primary school. It had roughly 200 students with a class for each year level. It is always interesting appreciating learning in different contexts. It highlights some things that we take for granted.

Using the lens of the Modern Learning Canvas:

Modern Learning Canvas
The Modern Learning Canvas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Here are some of my observations of education in Fiji:

Roles, Strategies and Resources

A Fijian computer room … one computer

Although the students we met were vocal, it was hard to decipher much choice or action over their learning. On the flipside of this, the educator’s role seemed pretty traditional with the teacher driving much of the learning.

It is always hard to properly judge learning by a walk through on a random day. What stood out though was the environments. The rooms were relatively dark, with the school building shaded by a veranda on one side and a hill on the other. The only cooling was via ceiling fans. I wondered what Stephen Heppell’s Learnometer would make of it?

The walls were covered with posters of various words and facts, while the chalkboards were full of formulas and activities. By their faded nature, I am not sure how many of the resources are changed around and it made me feel almost indulgent the way some teachers cycle through charts and posters. Having said this, I imagine that posters and paper would probably suffer from the humidity?

It is interesting to think about such technology as the chalkboard in regards to pedagogy, something Audrey Watters’ recently reflected upon. Although many people in the community had smartphones, there was limited access to devices in the classroom. No projectors. A few desktops in a room, but nowhere near enough for a class, let alone the school. Most teachers had a laptop though, which they would use to support learning. This reminded me of my own experience a few years ago and a post I wrote about what you could do with just one computer.

We were shown the library, which was a room with a few boxes of books around the edge. I did not notice many books in the classrooms. Although the government has a policy focusing on access and quality:

A reasonable collection of resources should comprise ten books per student.

It was not clear how this resourcing is funded. This also goes for the push for more devices too. Resourcing seems dependant on donations from companies, such as Vodafone.

Culture and Policy

Fijian Education at a Glance 2018

With limited access to resources, more emphasis seemed to be put on speaking and performance. For example, students went through a rendition of a number of stories, such as We’re Going On a Bear Hunt, where the class was divided into two with one side repeating the lines of the other. A part of me wondered though if this was as much a reflection of the way in which they learnt in general, as music and oration seemed to be ingrained in a lot of what Fijians seem to do?

Each of the schools in Fiji seemed to have some religious affiliation. In part I would guess that this was based on the missionaries who set them up. In the school we visited this was evident in the bible verses posted on the walls.

On the flipside of this focus on culture, students were preparing for exams used to gain entry into secondary school. As with NAPLAN, The focus is on literacy and numeracy. Along with the supply of milk for Year One students, these were the only visible impacts of government intervention.

On a side note, the school had one of the most extreme emergency evacuation places, documenting what to do in the case of tsunami, earthquake, fire or mudslide. A reminder of nature’s presence.

Outcomes and Beliefs

It is interesting to consider Gert Biesta’s three arguments for a good education: qualification, socialization and subjectification. I felt the school touched on the first two of these. Speaking with some of the workers at the resort where we were staying the focus of education was very much about qualifications and what possibilities that might provide, while the posters discussing social media and alcohol touched on what it might mean to be a good citizen within the wider community. What this looked like in terms of outcomes was not so clear.

A Chalkboard and some desks is better than a tree in a field

When I think about other education environments I am always come back to a story, shared via Tom Whitby’s blog, involving teaching 230 children underneath a tree in Malawi. Although the school was not at those extremes – they had rooms and stable class sizes – it was a true reminder that sometimes we need to stop and appreciate the lot we have and make the most of it. What intrigued me is that as education becomes globalised, through such policy bodies as PISA, we overlook the expectations that can come with such changes. In some respect this is the purpose of the current project I am a part of, to bring schools up to a particular standard. Visiting Fiji has helped me think about some of the challenges and opportunities moving forward, as well as highlight some of my biases.

So what about you? Have you visited a school that helped challenge your thoughts and assumptions? As always, comments and webmentions welcome.


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What the drive-in was to teens in the 1950s and the mall in the 1980s, Facebook, texting, Twitter, instant messaging, and other social media are to teens now. danah boyd ‘It’s Complicated’

What might it mean to be ‘digitally mindful’ and does such a thing exist?


I was a part of a discussion about technology and wellbeing today. It was framed around the work of Hugh van Cuylenburg and the Resilience Project. For van Cuylenburg our focus should be on gratitude, empathy and mindfulness.

The focus then moved to Common Sense Media and the addiction to phones. The need for ‘tech-free time’ was brought up. This reminded me of a keynote last year from NSW Secretary of Education, Mark Scott, and his push for deep work, a term attributed to Cal Newport. The suggestion was that to be mindful we need to put the screens away. I was therefore left with the question, what might it mean to be ‘digitally mindful’ and can such a thing exist?

In an article for Common Sense Media, Elizabeth Galicia discusses some strategies families and tech companies can use to foster healthier habits. In addition to screen-free times and parental controls, there is discussion of ‘humane’ design and protection of data. The problem is that there does not seem to be any support for student action?

Maybe this action accounted for through the discussion of citizenship addresses this, but I feel there is a missed opportunity. Rather than wait for the ‘humane’ solutions to arrive, I wonder if there are opporrtunities to create deliberate safe spaces that can be used to support students in learning.

I did this myself with three classes connected together using Edublogs. One of the benefits is that comments were moderated, therefore if there was something shared that was inappropriate then it provided an opportunity for a learning conversation. As danah boyd points out in her seminal book It’s Complicated:

What the drive-in was to teens in the 1950s and the mall in the 1980s, Facebook, texting, Twitter, instant messaging, and other social media are to teens now. Teens flock to them knowing they can socialize with friends and become better acquainted with classmates and peers they don’t know as well.

Although teens will still most likely go online out of school, this safer space within school at least allows them a place to start. We are so adamant about enabling a generation of coders, yet overlook the importance of communication.

A further extension on this is the #IndieWeb and the Domain of One’s Own project. There is something about not only being a part of networked publics online, but also actively engaging with what that actually means. For me, that has come to include commenting, collecting and posting from sites that I have some sort of say over. Some who are currently immersed in what this might mean for education are Greg McVerry and Ian O’Byrne. Although I think that there are currently hurdles around ease and access, for me this is what it means to be ‘digitally mindful’. It is not always easy, but I feel that as I have stepped back from engaging  directly on social media I have become more aware of my presence online.

Although we can push for limited screen-time and better technology, I think that the challenge that faces many of us today is being more aware of the technology we have at our mercy and being more informed about what it all might mean.

What do you think? As always, comments and webmentions welcome.

Also posted on IndieNews


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Instead of buying our way out of obsolescence, we program, adapt, and workaround. What makes a phone great is not how new it is, but how long it lasts.

This post started as a response to a possible future of technology. However, it grew and grew, so I have split it up. This then is a response to my reading of James Bridle’s book The New Dark Age and the place of the future of the smartphone.


John Philpin recently wrote a response to a post from John Harris I shared discussing the destructive nature of mobile phones. He asked:

If we didn’t have them … what would the world look like … Can we definitively say ‘better’ ?

For me, this is such an intriguing question. My initial response was a little circumspect. In particular, I think the idea of ‘better’ is problematic and instead argue for difference. This particular change is captured by Vala Afshar in the form of emojis:

In less than 10 years, 📱 replaced: 📟 ☎️ 📠 💽 💾 💻⏰ 📷 📹 🎥 📺 📻📰 💿 💳 💼 📎 📄⏳ 🔦 📼 📚 ⌚️ 🎮📓 ✏️ 📁 🎤 📇 📆🎰 💵 📬 📝 🆘 🏧🎫 ✉️ 📤 ✒️ 📊 📋🔎 🔑 📣 🎼 🎬 📀📒⌨️🕹🎙⏱📿🗝📇🗄📁📋🗂✉️⌨️

There is no doubting that the smartphone has simplified so many actions and activities. When I think of my own habits, my writing and reading often starts with my phone, whether it be flicking through my feed reader or jotting down a few notes.

Yet I am left feeling something is still missing in the discussion. I wonder about the inherent design and consequence of smartphone use? I wonder about those places involved in the production? I wonder about the ethics involved?

This is something Adam Greenfield captures in his book Radical Technologies:

This is our life now: strongly shaped by the detailed design of the smartphone handset; by its precise manifest of sensors, actuators, processors and antennae; by the protocols that govern its connection to the various networks around us; by the user interface conventions that guide our interaction with its applications and services; and by the strategies and business models adopted by the enterprises that produce them.

I am not necessarily arguing we should ‘ban’ smartphones in schools as it often feels like such decisions are sometimes made for the wrong reasons, whether it be liability or control. Instead I am striving for more critical reflection.

Here I am reminded of Doug Belshaw’s work on digital literacies. Rather than defining it as a thing in itself, Belshaw discusses eight different elements that come to play in different contexts and situations:

  • Cultural – the expectations and behaviours associated with different environments, both online and off.
  • Cognitive – the ability to use computational thinking in order to work through problems.
  • Constructive – the appropriate use of digital tools to enable social actions.
  • Communicative – sharing and engaging within the various cultural norms.
  • Confident – the connecting of the dots and capitalising on different possibilities.
  • Creative – this involves doing new things in new ways that somehow add value.
  • Critical – the analysis of assumptions behind literacy practises
  • Civic – the something being analysed.

Too often the focus of mobile technology in education is on cognition and communicative, rather than the critical and constructive. We are often willing to talk about moonshots and wicked problems unwilling to let go of certain assumptions and certifications.

Clay Shirky suggests that workflows need to be a little frustrating:

The thing I can least afford is to get things working so perfectly that I don’t notice what’s changing in the environment anymore.

To return to Adam Greenfield, he argues that rather than being flexible and aware of our impact, we have bought into an ethos of efficiency of everyday existence.

Networked digital information technology has become the dominant mode through which we experience the everyday.

The question is at what cost? Should students be encouraged to use the portable over a more complicated device? Is it an ‘everything now’ cloud computing that we should aspire to? As I hold my old Nexus phone, I wonder what is it we actually need verses want? What next, phones inserted under our skin? As Douglas Rushkoff suggests, “What makes a phone great is not how new it is, but how long it lasts.”

So what about you? What are your thoughts on the ‘smartphone revolution’? As always, comments and webmentions welcome.


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Collaboration needs to be Disciplined

A reflection on my participation with a collective looking at the re-imagination of student reporting and the innovation associated with people and processes.


I was recently reflecting upon an ongoing reporting collective that I have been a part of for the last year and a half. One of the things that I have noticed is how hard change is. It often takes a long time and considerable commitment to turn turn the ship. For example, in a previous project, a principal shared with me that it had probably taken his school five year to transform the way in which teachers engage with data to inform learning within his school. Unless it is a new school or a school in crisis (e.g. Templestowe College), this timeline seems to be common trend.

It can therefore be a challenge to identify the specific points of change based on a year and a bit. One of the reasons is that sometimes we have a predefined ideal as to what such change might look like. A mindset of revolution rather than renaissance. It therefore occurred to me that I might have been thinking about this all the wrong way. Although the schools a part of the collective had not radically torn up their reports. They were still restricted to what providers make possible and the expectations of the various constituents. Instead the innovation came through in the actions, rather than the end product.

I would break this practice up into four aspects:

Time

One of the biggest inhibitors of change seems to be time. This is captured in part by Tom Barrett’s discussion of innovation compression. There is something about committing yourself to regular meetings.

Structure

It is important to have structure to guide things. This has come in several forms, such as appropriate spaces to work collaboratively and activities that supported the reflective process.

Celebrations

Associated with the structure is the opportunity to celebrate the small wins to maintain energy and motivation. Sometimes when you work in a small team driving change this is missed.

Conversations

Beyond the explicit structures, one of the most powerful aspects to come out of the collective has been the serendipitous conversations. Although it is possible to structure opportunities to share, sometimes the greatest learning comes through in the random conversation. This is something that I describe as the hidden professional development.


In the end, this experience has reminded me that content and change is people, the challenge is being disciplined about the process. As always, thoughts, comments and webmentions welcome.


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Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.

I recently attended DigiCon18. I was left with a few thoughts on the nature of presentations. I discussed this before, as well as the re-imagination of such spaces. I find this topic important to continually come back to as much as a reminder about what I myself need to improve upon as anything else.

  • Slow Down: I was in some sessions where presenters would run through all their material. I feel this is something that I sometimes do. One strategy is to provide points where you can stop and reassess.
  • Incorporate Storytelling: One of the things that stood out from all the keynotes was the power of storytelling. I was left thinking that if you do not have a story to tell, you probably need to start making one up.
  • Involve Humour: On the flip side to storytelling, it is important to include humour, this opens presentations and workshops to the human side. One of the hard things about this is that humour is often situational and cannot always easily be contrived.
  • Don’t say what doesn’t need to be said: If you are not prepared or do not know everything, do not admit it. I recognise that everyone is human, but more is lost than gained in my opinion.
  • Structured Hands-On Time: There were too many sessions that involved arbitrary activities. If you are going to provide people time, provide them with purpose and structure. This is something that I have been guilty of not doing well in the paste.

With all this said, I think that it is people that make a conference. Maybe above all else we need to start there.

If you were one of those people at DigiCon18 and had a reflection, I would love to hear it.


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Kath Murdoch on noticing

A reflection on participating in the ‘7 black and white photos in seven days‘ activity and the power of constraint and images.


My one word this year has been ‘intent‘. Although this can mean many things in different contexts, one of the things I have tried to do is participate in meaningful activities when they may arise.

I was therefore taken by Ian Guest’s invitation to participate in an activity focused around sharing photos of my life. The catch was there were a few constraints at play. The images had to be black and white, involve no humans and have no explanations.

Here then are my seven photographs:

Day 1
Day 1

Day 2
Day 2

Day 3
Day 3

Day 4
Day 4

Day 5
Day 5

Day 6
Day 6

Day 7
Day 7


What struck me about the exercise was how much more aware I felt of the world around me. Rather than be drawn into a podcast or simply lost in thought, I was instead thinking about what I could or should capture to tell the story of my life.

In addition to noticing the world, I was also forced to think more visually. Where I am usually dependent on words (or audio) to convey a story, I had to think differently about the story being told.

This experience reminded me of Alan Levine’s recent discussion of picking a noticing pattern, something that keeps the brain active and engaged. For Levine, the pattern is ‘106’:


“A House of DS106” by cogdogblog is licensed under CC0

Amy Burvall on the other hand is always open to creative pursuits. Rather than looking for something in particular, she recently celebrated ‘looking down‘ and capturing the serendipitous surfaces:

Amy Burvall's Unicorn
Twisted unicorn in Canberra

What each of these situations has reminded me is that creativity can be cultivated, nature is full of inquiry if we are willing to notice it and sometimes it just takes something to spark that intent.


NOTE: Without a hashtag, they can be hard to collect. Although John Johnston has collected his, many others have just left them on Twitter. If anyone has a collection that would like to share, I would love to see them.


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James Bridle’s book shines a light into the New Dark Age


Have you ever been to a movie that surprised you? Having seen the trailer and watched past movies from the same producer, you assumed that you knew what was going to happen. That is the experience I had with James Bridle’s new book New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future
.

When I read the title, I expected a book describing the coming collapse of Western civilisation. The problem is that this crash is already upon us. Whether it be the breakdown of infrastructure, Eroom’s Law, the unreliability of images and the rise of machine learning algorithms, the darkness is already here.

This book is less about the actual technologies at play and more about their impact on society. It is what Ursula Franklin describes as ‘technology as a system.’ Bridle’s focus is on new ways of thinking about, through and with technology.

In light of the recent revelations around Cambridge Analytica and GDPR, I recently reflected upon the importance of informed consent. I argued that we have a responsibility to:

  • Critically reflect and ask questions
  • Learn from and through others
  • Engage in new challenges

Bridle’s book starts this journey by actively informing us. He then puts forward the challenge of what next.

There is a kind of shame in speaking about the exigencies of the present, and a deep vulnerability, but it must not stop us thinking. We cannot fail each other now.

Although the book offers more questions than answers, it does it in a way that left me feeling somehow hopeful. Whether you are coming from the perspective of culture, education or politics, this book is a must read for anyone feeling at all dissatisfied with the current state of the world today.


For a different introduction, listen to an interview with Bridle on The Guardian:


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Alan Levine recently put out a request for stories about domains as a part of the Ontario Extend project

What is your domain name and what is the story, meaning behind your choice of that as a name?

In part, my domain name comes from my interest in the notion of marginalia, the stuff that we write, but never gets written. As J. Hillis Miller explains:

As we read we compose, without thinking about it, a kind of running commentary or marginal jotting that adds more words to the words on the page. There is always already writing as the accompaniment to reading.

It was also inspired by a friend, Fiona Hardy, and her blog Read, Watch, Listen. My first incarnation was on Blogger, where I had to use Reading Writing Responding. Although I liked the active nature of this, it was just too long.

I also had a little help from some friends as a part of the Connected Courses MOOC:

What was your understanding, experience with domains before you got one? Where were you publishing online before having one of your own?

My move from Blogger was initially about finding a place of my own. I saw a domain as being an opportunity to renovate and stick up posters without the landlord coming through for inspection. The wider ramifications for having a domain had not even crossed my mind. Not only could I have a space of my own, but in fact have infinite spaces, each with their own purpose.

What was a compelling feature, reason, motivation for you to get and use a domain? When you started what did you think you would put there?

Initially my attention was my primary site. However, my interest in (sub) domains was piqued as I opened the door to the #IndieWeb and the idea of POSSE. I setup an instance of Known and started using it for posting images to Flickr. This is one of the ways I have found self-hosted different from WordPress.com or Blogger. Although you can add a domain to both platforms, when it is your own space, there is so much more you can do with it.

What kinds of sites have you set up one your domain since then? How are you using them? Please share URLs!

Beyond my main space, I have created a number of sites for various purposes. They have included:

  • Aaron Davis – Built on Alan Levine’s Big Picture theme, I designed this space as a landing page for my presence on the web. My own version of an About.me page.
  • Read Write Wikity – Built on Mike Caulfield’s Wikity theme/platform, this space was about developing knowledge over time. It is an extension on social bookmarking.
  • #WhatIf – Interested in the possibilities and potential of Known, I started a short blog to record ‘What Ifs’. This is partly influenced by Amy Burvall’s #rawthoughts and Ian O’Byrne’s own short blog IMHO.
  • Read Write Curate – A Known site developed in my exploration of POSSE.

More recently I have made some effort to condense some of these spaces into a secondary site, Read Write Collect. In part this stemmed from my interest inreclaiming the presence on the web. One of the limitations is that webmentions can only be attached to so many sites, so that is why I moved much of my content into two spaces.

What helped you or would have helped you more when you started using your domain? What do you still struggle with?

What has helped me is having continual support from Reclaim Hosting. Not only do they help in resolving most of my technical issues, but they also have a wealth of resources too. If there is something that I still need to work on it is archiving some of my older sites as static HTML, as well as sharing resources across my sites.

What kind of future plans to you have for your domain?

I am sure there will be cases for spinning up a new domain to test a new application and/or theme. For example, I am interested in PressForward as a means of organising research if I ever went further with my studies. Overall though, I am pretty happy with how things are at the moment.

What would you say to other educators about the value, reason why to have a domain of your own? What will it take them to get going with their own domain?

It is easy to create a WordPress.com or Edublogs site and add in your own URL. This will often alleviate concerns around updates and security. However, the effort required in maintaining your own space seems a small price to pay for the power and possibility it can provide.


It feels like every time I tell my story I add something different. I am sure that there are parts I have left out or failed to elaborate. If this is the case, feel free to leave a question or a webmention. The conversation only starts here.


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Technology as System

A reflection on changing positions within a complex system.


I have a confession to make. I am not the #EdTech coach who you think I am. Let me rephrase that, I am not the #EdTech coach I imagine others to be. The title associated with my current position was ‘eLearn Implementation Coach’. The job description was littered with mentions of technological change and transformation, I was sold.

As is often the case, the reality on the ground is vastly different to the stories we are told. The transformation I felt I was a part of was that of my role. I went from supporting schools through a change management process to learning a whole new set of applications and becoming a proverbial ‘fixer’.

Things will change again. My work is progressively realigning to being more reactive, but these things take time. The question in this situation is how one responds.

I came into the position believing I would be supporting schools with technological transformation and innovation. Instead, it has become focused on responding to policies and implementing transactional processes associated with as enterprised system. This has me rolling out student reports, booking programs and pastoral applications.

It is a very niche roll in education. Although it is a part of schools, it does not necessarily involve students or teaching. It certainly does not feel what my own education prepared me for. Yet it has highlighted to me how technology is a system with many parts, people and processes at play.

Some days I wish I was still in the classroom, especially when I attend regional meetings. Other days I envy those explicitly leading technological change within schools, especially when I listen to the Design and Play podcast. However, when I stop and consider the worth of the work I am doing I feel it is purposeful and does have an impact.

The further I dive into my current work, the more I appreciate the ground that change is built upon. It would be nicer if it were someone else testing, documenting and working everything out, sadly though I am yet to meet this someone else is. So for now it is me.

It is not the ideal of the #EdTech coach that I had envisioned. However, maybe this is the reality of the #EdTech leader, always doing many things? As always comment and webmentions welcome.


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Comments are the power of the village

What does it mean to be caring in online spaces and how is this related to sharing?


I recently came across a message on a blog that stated ‘sharing is caring’. This was placed next to buttons for the various social media silos. This had me stop and think. Is this this in fact a lie we have been sold? I have spoken before about paying ideas forward and feeding back into the stream, but I wonder, are there means of caring that do not involve sharing into somebody else’s backyard? This then involves stopping to reflect on two questions: what does it mean to share and care?

Sharing

I love to share. It was one of the things that really drew me to Twitter and then blogging. It offered the ability to post short snippets, telling a story over time. This though touches on the first consideration, what should we share?

I often share quotes, visual creations and links. In the past, this was straight to Twitter. However, over time this seems to have become about something else. Although I was backing up my Tweets, my contributions seemed conflicted.

Recently, I have taken to posting everything on my second blog – Read Write Collect – and syndicating from there. This often involves capturing a quote or a short reflection. The question I have is, when I share out, whose link do I share? If I share a link to a bookmark or like then it will bring back all the responses using webmentions. However, then the question is about whether I am sharing for the original author or myself? Should I instead by retweeting a tweet from the author or share out the original link? This then leads to the second point of caring.

Caring

I imagine caring can come in many shapes and sizes. When sharing out on social media, I have long made the effort to mention the original author in the post to indicate to them that I care. Sometimes this also involves attaching a graphic or a quote that caught my attention. Although this is good, I wonder if there are better ways to show care?

A step beyond sharing a tweet is posting a comment. I am not sure if it is the effort involved or the process behind it, but I have always valued a comment more than a tweet. In recent times, this has included posting comments from my own site (where applicable) or pasting in.

Another part to this is linking to ideas when I know that they have come from elsewhere. I think this is often overlooked and I really like the latest change to the webmentions plugins that allows you to turn mentions into comments.


Maybe it is just me. Maybe sharing online just works? However, I agree with The Luddbrarian that where we need to start in regards to Facebook and social media in general is ‘expand our imagination’ in this area. I think that this starts by asking questions. What does it mean to be digital? How are we really caring in online space? Does it have to involve sharing? As always, comments welcome.


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