Moving from the Ultranet to the 21st Century Learning

It was a sad day last Wednesday as the Melton Network 21st Century Learning Team met for the last time under the tutelage of +Alf Galea. Although Alf suggested that the network meetings may continue next year, it can be guaranteed, that with all the cuts that have taken place, it will not be to the same level and with the same sense of support. It subsequently left me reflecting on the opportunities that were gained from being a part of the group and how the implementation of various 21st century initiatives has evolved in the past five years.



A New Way of Being

I started working with Alf about five years ago as a part of the roll-out of the Ultranet. I had been asked to be a Lead User with Alf being the Melton Ultranet Coach, while after that Alf worked as the 21st Century Thinking and Learning Coach for the Melton Network. Although the Ultranet failed to achieve what it promised and will move into private hands at the end of the year, there were still many gains that came out of it, including the repositioning of learning and teaching for the 21st century. Whether it be working collaboratively, incorporating thinking and reflection or utilising various forms of technology, there were many lessons learnt. I think that one of the biggest disappoints about the Ultranet – other than it was just too fiddly and erratic – was that too much emphasis was put on the tool at school level and not enough put on the way we work. I have spoken about this in a previous post, the problem with isolating the various skills associated with 21st century learning. Whether we realise it now, I believe that the Ultranet forced everyone to make a choice, whether to incorporate various 21st century learning skills into their classroom or to simply continue with the outdated industrial model. Clearly there have always been schools, classrooms and teachers already delving into many of these areas – you just need to go to something like the ICTEV conference or go online to hear about such innovations – but through the implementation of the Ultranet, all teachers across Victoria were introduced to the skills our students need for the future.

Different Opportunities

In addition to some great learning some great ideas, being a part of the network provided some great opportunities. Other than simply meeting together to discuss various thoughts and issues, I was also given the opportunity to be a part of a learning walk through a neighbouring school to reflect on the way that they were introducing the Ultranet and with that, various 21st century skills. One of the difficulties with introducing any initiative is that it can be hard at times to step back and see things from the perspective of other teachers and students. Therefore, opportunities like this are priceless.

I also got the chance to work with the team at University of Melbourne working on the Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills. This included trialling the online testing of collaborative problem solving with my students, as well as working with teachers from all over Victoria in the development of a range of resources designed to help teachers with the assessment and teaching of 21st century skills.

Becoming Connected

I think that in many respects the biggest gain out of being a part of the 21st Century Learning Team was the opportunity to work with so many different and innovative teachers. I can still remember a few ATC21S sessions when Matt Finn and I would drive home together discussing various programs and websites that we had never heard of. I think that it can be so easy and comfortable at times to stay in isolation, but we often limit ourselves and our students when working this way. Although it can be intimidating and confronting at times working with other teachers, with differing ideas, we are all a part of the same game trying to achieve the same results, the very best education for everyone. I think in many respects, getting connected, whether it be in person or online, is the best thing that any teacher can do. So often you are not only one trying to overcome a particular problem or implement a particular program. Being connected redefines how we work as teachers and learners.

One Door Closes, Another Door Opens

In her blog, ‘The End of the Ultranet Era’, +Mel Cashen suggested that one of the benefits of the Ultranet was that it was a safe and contained platform. I think that in many respects, the whole notion of meeting as a network allowed the same benefits, but I am not sure whether it is the best model moving forward. It was great to meet and get together in a structured manner, but in the last few years, the world has changed. In my view, this ‘forced’ relationship of sorts is no longer the best fit. People now have so many opportunities to connect whether it be in person or online that it seems illogical to exclude people because they are not ‘members’. I think that a regular set of meetings run around ‘Teachmeet’ model would be the best fit. As Matt Esterman suggests, all you needs to do is “pick a date, pick a pub/library/space that is free and go ahead”. One of the benefits of the ‘Teachmeet’ model is that, rather than being chosen, it is a choice to attend. In addition to this, it is not restricted to a specific network, which in today’s day and age of world-wide connectivity seems stupid.
 
Being a part of the Melton Network provided me with a range of things, particularly that teaching and learning does not necessarily have to be the way that it is, that there is always a choice. I still remember chatting with +Jenny Ashby about access to technology at her school during one of the ATC21S sessions. Long before discussion of BYOD and 1-to-1, she explained to me the possibilities of going Apple if the school chose to go down that path. 
 
At the end of the day, the Melton Network taught me that I can make a difference. As the oft-quoted Gandhi statement goes ‘be the change you want in the world’, I have learnt that it is possible to be that change. Whether it be the use of technology or the development of reflective thinking, I believe my own learning and teaching has definitely benefited. The big question though is how do we not only change, but actually evolve, as +Jason Markey put it in his post ‘Change vs. Evolution’. To me, you can change as  an individual, but it often takes a team to evolve, that to me is the truly 21st century challenge. 

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Beyond Right and Wrong – Who has the Most Persuasive Sell

http://www.flickr.com/photos/blacksnob/2229230806/


I have recently been posting a bit about the ideas of right and wrong, and how it really comes down to a question of choice and consequences. After a few discussions with some friends, it got me thinking that maybe it is choice, but also something else as well as. Focusing on choice allows us to come to some understanding of the situation, but it does not necessarily explain how we got to that particular situation and why some choices win out over others.

I was recently given some inadvertent feedback which made me come back to this topic. Some of my students wrote a scathing review of my subject from first semester for their school yearbook. Although I had sought their feedback and suggestions at the time, the review that they provided, for whatever reason, was different to the information that they had provided at the time. Clearly, there are many ways of interpreting this situation. Maybe they wrote this because they thought that it was funny? Maybe it is a reflection of poor teacher-student relationships, a product of a lack of rapport with the students or the class as a whole? Maybe the solitary voice of the review did not represent the whole class and it was just chance? Maybe my attempts to do things different, to get students involved, to get students driving the lessons, rather than merely chalk and talk, had its downside? Maybe the students did not feel comfortable in giving me what they felt would be honest feedback? Maybe the questions that I gave them did not allow them to give me the specific feedback in question. Whatever the reason, it definitely left me in a state of self-reflection.
 
Some of the things that were pointed out in the review were what I considered my strengths. When I arrived at the school a few years ago, there was a motto – “No Surprises”. Being quite a large school, spread across several campuses, one of the problems that occurred was that some things were seen as acceptable at one campus and not others, creating a sense of inconsistency. What the motto meant then was that there were no surprises for students and parents. So when students came into the classroom, they knew what was seen as acceptable, and when things such as the end of semester reports went home to parents, there were no shocks and inconsistencies. Since that time, the campuses have split apart and formed separate schools, but in many respects the motto still remains, at the very least it does for my own teaching. 

Whether it be in the yard or in the classroom, I try and create routines. I only need to holler ‘lining up time’ and the kids repeat it for me. If I walk into the classroom and by chance don’t have the title and learning intention clearly shown on the board, my students ask me what it is. If I need to speak with my classroom when they are on their laptops, I only need to tell them to close them to 45 degrees and they start shutting them and facing me. The dark side to all this is that sometimes students get bored of the mundane nature of routine. No matter that many of my habits and rituals were formed as solutions to past problems, there is always a danger that all students come to see in you in the end is a caricature. A parody where all that is remember are the absurdities.
Two things that stuck out in the review was that I always use Google Drive and that we supposedly did the same thing every week. I have had a long history with using Google Drive in the classroom, as I have posted about elsewhere. Basically, I came upon Google Drive as a solution to students losing their digital work on their laptops all the time, due to them being re-imaged or getting damaged. Another thing that I have introduced into my lessons is a focus on getting the students thinking and reflecting, rather than simply telling me what I already know. Associated with this refocus on the student are a range of activities that I use on a regular basis, such as collaborative brainstorming using Answergarden, getting students to pose their own questions to answer before exploring a topic or watching a video and completing a found out/made me think. I return to these habits again and again so that students can stop focusing on the how and the what and start focusing on the why. For learning at its heart should be about the learner, not the teacher teaching. The problem with this is that my students did not get past the what or the how and that is because sometimes the why needs to come first.

Although I may know why it was decided that we may be studying something, unless I properly sell this to the students, it is pointless. Even with all the blurbs, introductions, PMI’s and initial discussions, unless you provide plausible reason why something is worth learning about, there really should not be a surprise if students do not buy into it and find the learning boring. 

Maybe in the end, rather than who is right and wrong, it all comes down to who has the best sell. There are many factors that influence the ‘big sell’, such as charisma, power of persuasion, passion, good communication skills, support, friendship, uncomplicated narrative and what is the current status quo. The problem with the sell is that there is no recipe for how to successfully hook someone in. Sometimes it can be something innocuous, while other times it can take considerable time and effort. What is guaranteed is that if we don’t care to provide a reason why anyone should learn, we can’t really expect anyone to care in return.

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Can Everyone Really Be a Meaningful Leader?

Over the past few years there seems to have been a push from some in education to make everyone a leader. There has been an effort to give power to a wider range of people, spreading leadership across the board. A part of this movement is a move from a top-down to a bottoms-up model. (See for example, such programs as Leading Teams and Restorative Justice, both of which focus on relationships as a way changing culture.) The two questions that come out of all these changes is ‘what is leadership?’ and ‘can everyone really be a leader?’
 
So, what is leadership? Dictorary.com defines leadership as:
the position or function of a leader, a person who guides or directs a group
Thinking about this, there are two things that need to be addressed. Firstly, what does it mean to ‘guide and direct’, and secondly, what does it mean to be in a ‘group’. In regards to first question, there are many ways to ‘guide and direct’. Sometimes it might be overseeing a project, monitoring everything, making sure that everyone is on task, other times it might be providing support through the development of curriculum or the implementation of an initiative. While in relation to ‘groups’ we are all a part of many groups at once, some that we maybe in charge of, others that we may simply be members of. Although this covers it, there is still something missing.
In addition to ‘guiding or directing a group’, leadership can also be thought about as both a naming word and a doing word. Often when we reflect upon the notion of leadership we are left pondering about those who have been appointed to various positions of responsibility, those in charge of making the big decisions, those whose choices have a visible impact on the set-up and structure of a school, those anointed with a title. The problem with this way of seeing things is that it does not capture the idea of leadership as a characteristic. On the other side of the coin are those who lead in the way they work. Although these people may not necessarily be named ‘leaders’, in charge of significant groups, be found in closed meetings, instead these people embody the principles of leadership in what they do in their day to day activities. +Dan Rockwell puts this best in his blog post ‘How to Become a Leader Before You are One’ when he says:

Reading and talking are useful, even essential, but experience matters most. Leadership is about practice more than theory. Every leadership behaviour can be practised as a volunteer.

Rockwell goes on to provide a long list of things that people can do to demonstrate leadership before they are actually leaders. Some of the examples that he provides include:
  • Take initiative.
  • Solve problems
  • Motivate others
  • Manage projects
  • Endure through adversity
  • Teach others your skills
  • Adapt to others
  • Deal with stagnation and resistance
  • Act with generosity and compassion

 

These are attributes that can easily be added. For as +sethgodin argued in a recent post, it is a poor excuse to simply suggest that some people are gifted with certain attributes, while others don’t. As he suggested:
Someone who is likable, honest, curious and thoughtful is easy to think of as gifted. This natural charisma and care is worth seeking out in the people we choose to work with.
The thing is, it’s a copout to call these things gifts. You might be born with a headstart in one area or another, you might be raised in a culture or with parents that reinforce some of these things, but these are attitudes, and attitudes can be taught, and they can be learned.

The same thing can be said about the characteristics of leadership. Although there can be only one principal or one head of a KLA, we all have the opportunity to learn new traits and be leaders on a daily basis.

The question that remains then is what stops everyone from having a meaningful impact when it comes to leadership? Returning to Leading Teams Model, often the answer relates to the culture of a school, the ability to develop a ‘trademark’ that everyone is able to buy into. The problem with this is that it does not marry well with the traditional top-down model of management where the power and control is held by a small group of leadership, rather than dispersed throughout the organisation. People need to not only be empowered, but their roles also need to be recognised in a meaningful way. This does not necessarily mean that everyone has to have a ‘named’ position. However, it does mean that those with power to make significant differences support those below them, not simply palm off those jobs and responsibilities that seem tedious or banal, giving them a legitimate voice. In the end, the first challenge to empowering everyone as a leader is how we support each other to get the most out of each and every situation.

How does your school or organisation support the idea of everyone as a leader? Does it work? Is it meaningful? Leave a comment below?

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Hidden Professional Development

Often when we talk about education, the term ‘hidden curriculum‘ is used in reference to all those elements that are not necessarily accounted for or made explicit, those elements that are between the lines, inferred. I think that much the same can be said about professional development. Often there is a hidden professional development that happens, often when we least expect it.
 
In a recent blog +Ian Guest spoke about the differences between professional development from the ‘personal’ to the ‘organisational’. On the one hand, professional development can be self directed and based on the needs of a teacher. This is learning that can be classified as ‘googleable’. On the other end of the scale is the learning that is often dictated by somebody else. Maybe it is a whole-school approach or nation wide program. Below is a table that Ian created to represent this continuum of sorts.
 
 
This is a fantastic description of the different types of professional development, but what it does not account for is the learning that happens along the way, the accidental learning that was not intended. What is missed is that life long learning is about incidental learning.
 
I have been reading quite a few blogs lately associated with Connected Educator Month outlining some of the benefits of being connected (see for example +Tom Whitby‘s ‘The Connected Educator Culture‘ and +Tony Sinanis‘ ‘Being Connected Saved My Career‘.) Often the benefits spruiked are that through social media applications, like Twitter and Google+, you are able to connect with learners often with different perspectives and share ideas with a wider audience. The benefit though that I think stands out the most is the incidental learning that happens along the way. The ideas that come up in my feeds, whether it about alternative approaches to teaching or changes in technology, are always one thing, stimulating. Being connected is priceless for getting answers and ideas to questions, but is also priceless for the incidental learning that happens along the way. I think that +Alec Couros sums it up best when he stated in an interview with the +Ed Tech Crew that “Some of the best learning happens each day on Youtube whether it is meant to happen or not”. This incidental ‘learning’ goes well beyond Youtube.
 
There were many highlights at the recent Google in Education Summit, something that I have spoken about elsewhere, but what stuck out the most was opportunity to meet and great with other learners. Often there were large breaks between sessions in which you could chat with others and continue to develop ideas sometimes left incomplete. Not only did I get to connect with new people who I would not otherwise spend time with, I had some really interesting debates and discussions, and not all about Google, often about anything but Google. Some of the topics included connectivity in schools, implementing a 1:1 program and the differences between primary and secondary education. Interestingly, it was some of these discussions that lingered in my mind long after the summit was over.
 
What disappoints me the most is that this hidden professional development is often the first thing to go when it comes to professional development, the first thing to be cut, because it is often seen as too informal, lack purpose, not measureable and not always manageable. However, these opportunities are often the seeds for deeper life long learning. This is what makes things like Teachmeets so powerful. Situations where you don’t go wanting an answer to a question, rather it is the opposite, you go seeking questions for the answers that you already have.
 
Learning happens in many places and often when we least expect it. The question I have then is what hidden professional development are you a part of? Is it a conversation around the photocopier, a chance meeting at the shops, a random video watched online, a song that you heard, a personal novel that you are reading. I would love to hear. Please share in the comments.

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A Meditation on the Taboos Associated with Being Connected

 
There has been a lot shared lately as a part of Connected Educator Month about the benefits of connecting online. In many respects, I agree with +George Couros that ‘isolation is now a choice educators make‘. However, something overlooked in many of the discussions and debates are some of the taboos associated with being a connected educator. Some of the reasons why teachers do make the choice to stay isolated.
 

Teacher-Student-Friend?

In a recent post, Peter Dewitt spoke about how he saw a photo come up in his feeds from an ex-student, whom he had taught in Year 1. She was photographed finishing her last teaching round. It got me thinking, when is it ok to connect with students (and ex-students) online? Another similar example that comes to mind is from +Adam Bellow‘s inspiring keynote from ISTE2013 where he invited people to ‘change the world’. A part of this is utilising the power of social media to connect with students through such mediums as Facebook. In addition to this, +Anne Mirtschin‘s many posts and presentations on connecting online seem to be littered with incidental connections with students in and out of school in a whole range of spaces. Now I am not saying that any of these situations are wrong, but it begs the question, when do we cross the line, when does our relationship with students go from being a professional one to being personal?
 
A few years ago, a friend of mine who works at a different school told me about how his principal directed teachers to remove all ex-students from their social media accounts. He spoke about the threat of images and ideas being spread, the spectre of being sued for negligence and a litany other things. Now I am not sure if the principal in question was mandated by their region to tell the staff this, but what confuses me about such situations is that little attention was given to what teachers actually publish online in the first place. I know some teachers who won’t even connect with other teachers online, let alone ex-students, in the fear of being caught out and incriminated, while there are others who won’t connect with anyone and simply leave social media altogether. I have written about the culture of fear elsewhere. To me, this makes me wonder what are they afraid of? For some, it is a fear of their lifestyle choices outside of teaching crossing over into their professional life. Others, it is a political decision, a refusal to share personal information and ideas with online corporations. Sadly, what is not brought up enough during such discussions amongst staff is what is published online, rather than who we are publishing too.
 

Connecting in the Classroom

Attached to his website, +stephen heppell and his wife, have provided a different take on the social media phenomena. Instead of running from it, the Heppell’s propose that we run to it in a safe and constructive manner. Correspondingly, they have developed a list of some do’s and don’ts associated with using social media safely in the classroom. 
 
Some of their do’s include:
  • Developing a personal and professional presence online 
  • Let students ‘friend’ you, not vice versa 
  • Build groups for your classes and share information and resources 
  • Post positive information 
Some of the don’ts include: 
  • Don’t FB chat 
  • Social networks in school are not places for criticisms or whingeing. 
  • Don’t look at, let alone comment on, pupils’ pictures 
Now in some respect, I think that sites such as Facebook and Google+ have actually come a long way since 2010 when the Heppell’s space was last updated. For example, you are now able to ‘post’ and ‘share’ with different groups and circles, you are therefore supposedly able to maintain different connections within the one ‘presence’ (although I wouldn’t want to post the wrong information to the wrong group, may be a bit awkward.) However, many of the original tenets remain pertinent today. Whatever medium you are communicating in, it is always important to have boundaries. 
 
I think that this is sometimes why some staff have issues with students sending emails to their school email account. For them, this crosses their private and personal boundary. They just don’t expect to have students sending through questions, while they are checking their work email. Whether it is using a school’s student emailing system to engage with students or setting up spaces like Edmodo, the most important thing is to set up boundaries. The problem is though that such boundaries are often left unset or worse, they are set by the habits of other teachers whose classroom culture creates a different set of expectations.
 
A simple example of where a clear set of boundaries has been set up comes from +Richard Lambert. In his school two different email accounts have been created to differentiate between staff to staff communications and student related communications. The school’s Google Apps for Education account email that staff and students get is used to facilitate collaboration and connections between staff and students, while staff’s edumail accounts are left for professional correspondences.
 
Sometimes though there is something even more than boundaries, sometimes the question is what we choose to publish in the first place.
 

Duty of Care … To Ourselves

 
 
Just as there is some confusion at times where duty of care and professional responsibility starts and stops, so too is there a dangerous blurring between our private and professional relations when it comes to our online identify. Often, through social sites such as Google+ and Facebook, we connect with people in the community that we work in. Whether it be someone met at the gym or a team mate at a local sporting club, these online associations often compromise who we are and raise questions about our actions. The big challenge is that we are all many things to many people. For some, this is just too much to handle.
 
I have been privy to many a holiday briefing where staff are warned about how they ‘act’ in public over the break. This fear can lead to some staff almost refusing to go out in the community in which they work in, instead going to great lengths to create a divide between their professional and private worlds. Sometimes though, you can never escape past students or parents in the community. I remember a fellow staff member sharing a story about how she bumped into an ex-student at three in the morning a long way from home.
 
I think that this dilemma of trying to create a divide between our private and public worlds relates to our online identity as well. No matter how far you run, how many walls you hide behind, you still leave a trace whether we like it or not. Often we provide information to corporations whose goal is to make money, they often slip with keeping information and accounts private. Facebook, for example, has a long history of ‘accidentally’ changing users privacy settings, switching them from private to public.
 
Although I clearly don’t agree with what Facebook does, my bigger concern is what we put up online in the first place. The big question, in my view, is that we continue to think that we can really have a public and private divide completely separated from each other? We speak to students about the issues associated with digital citizenship, when in fact many of us fail to heed the warnings ourselves.

In an insightful article, ‘On Best Behaviour: Three Golden Rules for Ethical Cyber Citizenship‘, +David Tuffley suggests that:

Eventually, but not soon enough for some, society evolves rules of acceptable use that become established as standard behaviour.

As various sources of technology becomes a part of our everyday lives, we need to consider what these ‘rules’ should be. Addressing our universal actions online, Tuffley appropriates Kant’s notion of ‘categorical imperatives’. He outlines three suggested guiding principles for the ethical use of technology:
  1. Before I do something with this technology, I ask myself, would it be alright if everyone did it?
  2. Is this going to harm or dehumanise anyone, even people I don’t know and will never meet?
  3. Do I have the informed consent of those who will be affected?
Whether Tuffley is right or wrong, I think that it highlights one important factor, that we need to better self-monitor ourselves when it comes to technology. For in the end, our first duty of care should be to ourselves, for if we cannot maintain our own public identity, what hope do students have?
 

Conclusion

Now I am not saying that all the points and ideas that I have discussed here are right, such as connecting in the classroom, but they do deserve to be given due diligence. If teachers are to become more connected, then these are some of the things that need to be discussed. Instead of young potential leaders going offline in the fear that their digital footprint may hinder their climb or locking themselves within their gated communities, we need to discuss these issues in a more meaningful manner. The question that we always need to be mindful of through all of these discussions is what are the consequences of our choices and, in particular, what possibilities are being missed if we make the decision to stay isolated, rather than being connected.

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Supporting the Tool without Teaching the Tool

In a recent blog, +Vicki Davis shared about the idea of having an ‘App of the Week’, where she has a focus each week on a particular application. As she suggests:
I want my students to be productive geniuses. They are a human being not a human doing but they carry around a full blown secretary in their pockets, if they’ll learn how to hire it. If you are a BYOD school, you should do everything in your power to help students really “Bring it” using their mobile device and an app of the week is just one way to do it.
Using Dragon Dictation as her example, she shows how she introduces a new program and gets the students using it in five short minutes. This is a great example of how to manage 1-to-1 programs.
 
One of the biggest challenges I have had in being a part of the group implementing a 1-to-1 program is how to get the most out of the devices. I have found one of two things happen, either the devices are rarely used, only when they fit a particular need in the lesson, such as research, or students simply use the programs and applications that they feel comfortable with, rather than the programs that would best address the purpose and audience. Associated with both of these issues is how we see the devices in and out of the the classroom.
 
 
If you follow Ruben R. Puentedura’s SAMR model, ‘tools for working’ that many teachers have in the classroom should not only support learning, which they often do, but also add to learning, with the aim of redefining education and providing possibilities which were previously unavailable. The big question is how do we help this move from enhancement to transformation happen?
 
Having had the experience of being a Lead User for the now defunct Ultranet, one of the problems that occurred was actually developing the habit of use amongst both staff and students. A part of this was finding authentic purposes and having the confidence with the system, but I feel that the biggest challenge was associated with people actually overcoming the hurdle of how to use this. I could list a range of systems and programs where the lack of time and opportunity to experiment and understand them has hindered their take-up. Take for example ActivInspire, Photoshop Elements, student email, Edmodo etc … At some point 1-to-1 programs needs move the focus away from the device and to the learning.
 
In addition to Vicki Davis’ idea of an app a week, another example of a program that I found, which provides students with opportunity to be immersed within digital technologies, not just use them, is Ben Gallagher’s idea of a ‘Digital Sandpit’. Developed as a way to improve some poor Attitudes to School Survey results relating to motivation and connectedness, Ben incorporated a set time each day where students would engage with a range of different devices set up as rotations.
With the support of my Principal and Staff I decided to start the Digital Sandpit at 8:50, 10 minutes before the schools start time and run it to 9:10, a 20 minute activity that only takes 10 minutes out of the regular school day. The sessions originally consisted of 4 rotations, Nintendo DSi, iPod, Nintendo Wii and Laptops. All of the activities were carefully selected and had educational underpinnings, such as the Brain Training and Math Training games on the DSi, Racing on Mario Kart and ordering each other’s times from fastest to slowest and many more.
I think what is significant about the idea of the ‘Digital Sandpit’ is that it is both structured and done on a regular basis.
 
 
 
Finding time within an already busy curriculum to incorporate such opportunities is often the biggest challenge. The Western Metropolitan Region set out a few years ago to increase levels of reading across all levels. One of the initiatives that were introduced was a set reading time each day supported by regular conferencing. Although the initiative hasn’t been smooth sailing, with its speed humps along the way, one of the reasons for its success is its regularity. At my school, the students read from 2:15 til 2:30 each day. Like Ben’s ‘Digital Sandpit’, this could not be possible without the support of the whole staff. Coincidently, as soon as a few staff stop supporting an initiative like the reading program, then cracks begin the appear. 
 
On the flip side, if an initative like the 1-to-1 devices is left to too few, then nothing seems to be ever achieved. One of the challenges for 21st century learning is the integration of ICT within the classroom. Often, however, the responsibility for this change, for the upskilling of students, is left to the ‘ICT’ teacher. Interestingly, when you look at AusVELS, ICT is a form of interdisciplinary learning, yet it is so often spoken about as a ‘subject’ to be taught. One of the negatives to this, other than the fact that it expects too much from too few, is that students often enter such classes expecting to simply learn programs or how to code. Sadly, this is more akin to computer science. Engaging with the various tools for learning is bigger than exploring computer science. Personally, I recently changed the focus of my ‘elective’ subjects from ‘ICT’ to ‘Media Studies’ as too many of my students were caught up in what they did rather than why and how. In reality, whether it is English, Humanities, Media Studies, everyone of my classes is an ‘ICT’ class. Although it may not be the focus, it is often how learning is facilitated and coordinated.
 
One of the other claims that is often made about laptops and technology is that students are digitally native and that they already know how to use it. The problem with this is that they may be immersed in different technology within their day to day lives, this does not necessarily mean that they always know how to get the most out of it. Associated with this, many students lack the ability to find the most appropriate application or program to use, let alone how to get the most out of these them. +Rebecca Davies sums this dilemma up in a blog ‘The Digital Native Myth: Why we still need to teach kids HOW to use the iPad‘ suggesting that:
Students need to be taught how to use the iPad. They need to be taught how they can use it to create amazing things, to share their learning and connect it with the real word, to deepen their thinking.
What is important is that they need to be given the opportunity to explore and experiment. In my view, for such an approach to work it needs to be integrated across the board. Just as we encourage students to share, we also need to provide staff with more informal opportunities to share.
 
 
+Tom Whitby sums up the whole problem in his recent post ‘20th vs. 21st Century Teaching‘ where he suggests that, “What we learn should take a back seat to how we learn.” And how we learn is something that we all have a stake hold in. 
 
I would love to here of any other ways that people are introducing different tools, programs and applications into the classroom. Please feel free to leave a comment below.

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Argo, a Tale of Risk, but not Failure

My wife and I sat and watched Argo the other day. We had both read the hype and were dully rewarded, on the edge of  the couch to the very end. The question that it left me with though was how many other such stories exist through history of extreme risk that have failed and why are they not the stories that we are told?
 
Having completed my rudimentary study of Joseph Campbell and The Hero with a Thousand Faces, I understand that there is a predetermined nature in all of us that wishes to succeed, a staple of the Hollywood film industry. However, how does this match up with the notion of failure? A part of me thinks that even a hero fails somewhere along the way, often this is making of their success.
 
You don’t have to look very hard on the Internet to find a discussion of some of the health benefits of failing every know and then. For example, Seth Godin states that, ‘All of us fail. Successful people fail often, and, worth noting, learn more from that failure than everyone else.’ While Sascha Heckmann posted an interesting image on Twitter suggesting:

With all that said, the big problem with failure is that there is still a large majority out there who treat it negatively and are unable to embrace its potential for a greater good. The first place that this needs to change is finding support and cultural role models who say its ok to fail.
 
In a Ted Talk ‘The Clues to a Great Story‘, Pixar’s Andrew Stanton spoke about the need for stronger role models for women in film. Stanton suggested that Brave is one such film where the writers set out to reposition the female character in the role of stronger and more confident hero. Where are such role models encouraging people to take calculated risks in life and fail every now and then?
 
Some of the films that I’d associate with the idea of failure include The Pursuit of Happyness, The Blind Side and Freedom Writers. Each of these films provides a range of situations where people have persevered through their failures in order to succeed in the end. The problem though with these examples is that they either seem too extreme or involve too much chance. Where are the examples and role models for the common people, those individuals whose life isn’t about changing the world of the down and out or playing elite sport. I am not saying that they are not important, but they are not everything. 
 
I’m subsequently left thinking of the characters like Walter White in Breaking Bad. Yet not only is Walter anything but a role model, but his life seems to be a is a story of unrecognised successes, rather than clear failures. The more I think about it, there just aren’t the models out there.
 
So in conclusion, I return to the place where I started, would Tony Mendez, the protagonist from Argo, be treated the same way at the end if he came back without the six Americans or would he have lost his job? Would his wife have taken him back? Would he have succeeded in life?

POSTSCRIPT

I apologise if you have not seen Argo and I have given away too much.

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What do we Learn From Creating a Culture of Fear?

Whenever I go to ICT conferences there are always companies offering the opportunity to gain complete control over student computers, complete control over their activities, seemingly complete control over their lives. Maybe that is a little bit of an exaggeration, but it does beg the question, when does the responsibility to create a safe and meaningful learning environment crossover to being a situation of control and domination?
 
I have taught in many schools and been privy to many systems of control, from using software to hijack a student’s screen at any one time, to having open access to the student’s network drives, to using knowledge of passwords to monitor emails, to doing random spot checks of student laptops. Each method comes back to one thing, the notion that we can be watched anywhere, anytime. It reminds me of Michel Foucault’s metaphor of the panoptican in Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison to describe modern society. As Paul Oliver describes, “The principle of the Panopticon was that prisoners could be observed night and day, without realizing that they were being observed.” This sort of approach creates a culture of fear and surveillance, but does it have to be that way?
 
Now I am not saying that schools shouldn’t have have points of control and surveillance, but in setting the scene this way, what are we really teaching the student? Often when you ask students why they can’t listen to music, why they aren’t allowed movies on their laptops, why they shouldn’t have various games or software installed, there is little discussion of why. Take music for example, other than being a distraction from learning (at times), often the argument is made that the music is illegal. It is then left up to the student to prove that it is not. 
 
The problem with this situation is that there is little discussion about the consequences associated with downloading illegal music, let alone what other avenues there maybe to listen to and download legal music, such as Soundcloud and radio web applications. The big question is that is forgotten in such situations is what are we teaching students about copy write? Are we taking advantage of the teaching moments? Associated with this, what happens when things change? For example John Birmingham’s article on Game of Thrones for a fantastic critique of the torrent culture, how often do we have such conversations? In the end, we ‘ban’ putting music on their laptops, so they keep it on a portable hard drive or the more savvy students keep it in the cloud. The same can be said about publishing images online. In refusing to discuss these matters, we resort to the ‘no’ just because, instead of using the flowchart from Common Sense Media to develop a dialogue where we can discuss why and develop a better appreciation of technology and the 21st century.

So how do you monitor your student’s activities? Are you creating a culture of fear or a culture of learning? Do you ban or embrace the power of social media? The question that we need to consider is whether we are setting ourselves and our students up for failure, where nothing is ever learnt, but everything is lost.

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