Measuring Success

‘Meaning of Success’ by Celestine Chua (Flickr)
 
The other day I got some feedback about a leading teacher position that I had applied for a couple of months ago. Although I had demonstrated the elements required in my application, it was suggested that I did not provide enough evidence in regards to my competency to lead change management. This got me thinking about what change that I had been a part of. The two things that came to mind were the introduction of the Ultranet and the roll out of interactive whiteboards across the school. However, in reflecting upon both of these situations I wondered if I was successful in bringing about change and how you actually measure such success anyway.
 

Change and Technology

The Ultranet was a learning management system developed by the Victorian State Government to support staff, students and parents by providing an online space to communicate and collaborate. It was also seen as the answer to ongoing student reporting and feedback. As a part of its roll-out, a train the trainer model was implemented where a group of lead users attended two separate days of intensive training and were then responsible for taking this back to their schools to provide support and professional development for the rest of the staff. This came in several shapes and sizes, including whole staff presentations, team focuses and one-on-one support.
 
One of the issues with the Ultranet was that it was not really taken up by all staff. Although we were told about the usage data as a region, many staff simply saw no personal purpose for it and were never really willing to grapple with the difficulties involved in evolving their practise. Subsequently, my role became more administrative than anything else where I was continually resetting passwords for students and dealing with minor problems. This all came to a head when the Australian Education Union put out a directive for members to stop using the Ultranet as a part of the industrial action in 2012, therefore ringing the death knell before the government eventually pulled the plug at the end of 2013.
 
Another initiative that I have had considerable involvement with is the roll out of interactive whiteboards at my school. Before Caroline Springs College separated into four different schools in 2012, an effort was made at the time to install an interactive whiteboard in 100+ classrooms. As a part of this package, the school was provided with a pool of professional development hours. Although I was not in charge of introducing the whiteboards across the whole college, I was given considerable responsibility at my campus. This included communicating with outside providers, as well as facilitating professional development for staff at my campus. Like the Ultranet, this involved a small group being trained up and then supporting their various teams.
 
Sadly, if I were to walk through many classes today there would be little difference from a few years ago. Although most teachers show information or use the associated software to create presentations, there are not many who embrace the interactive potential of the boards as outlined by likes of +Peter Kent and co. Where the boards are used to engage with student responses and give them an authentic voice in the classroom.
 
Interestingly, there has been a greater uptake in the early years classes at my school as it was made a non-negotiable that planning for numeracy had to include a flipchart. What is significant about this is that linking the board to an actual area of study means that it stops simply being a tool in itself and instead becomes a way of refining learning and instruction. It could also be argued that the boards are actually better suited to younger students, a point that +Rich Lambert has made elsewhere.
 
Another issue associated with the take up of the IWBs is that their introduction coincided with the introduction of the 1-to-1 laptop program. Personally, I make more use of student laptops as a way of getting each and every student involved in the lesson, rather than teaching from the board. Whether this be brainstorming with Answergarden or collaborating with Google Drive. What is most important is that, whether be via laptops or interactive whiteboards, the focus is about engaging with student responses to promote deeper dialogue and reflection.
 

Measuring the Immeasurable

The big question then is how do you measure success of such initiatives. I can tell you as I already have what I felt worked and what didn’t, but is that success? Is success instead about data, if so, what data do you use? Linked with this, is change management simply about ‘success’ or is it about what you have done? Being a focus on change, are there some things that never really gain success due to their constant state of flux?
 
To me what stands out about both the Ultranet and the interactive whiteboards is that neither has a direct correlation to clear quantifiable ‘data’. Too often the numbers of hits was relayed to us in regards to the Ultranet. However, even this only tells a small part of the story. For it is not time spent with the tool that matters, rather it is how that tool is used that has the greatest impact. Some suggest referring to such measurements as student opinion surveys which provide snapshot of student engagement and school connectedness, but again this seems like a bit of a stretch. The reality is that there are some aspects of learning are not measurable using grades and marks, a point that +George Couros recently made referring to such soft skills as humility, adaptability and the love of learning. Often the only answers we get in such situations are to the questions we ask ourselves.
 
Although not necessarily empirical or quantifiable, one approach to measuring success is by setting a clear plan with goals and reflecting on them along the way. This is something that I have spoken about elsewhere. Looking back upon both the Ultranet and the IWB’s, I think that this was a missed opportunity. There was no explicit long term plan put into place at the school level and associated with this, no real accountability. Instead of linking them to wider change through the Annual Implementation Plans and the Performance and Development Process, both were introduced as tools-in-themselves, rather than a means for redefining the classroom. For as I have stated elsewhere, 21st century learning “is not about a solitary category or skill, rather it is about the projects, the problems and the many possibilities.” Without wider support, whatever is achieved will only be limited and often fails to sustain any sense momentum without the involvement of others.
 
Another way of reflecting on success is as a way of perceiving things. No matter what context it may be, nothing ever runs completely to plan and neither should it. There are things that work and things that don’t, success in this situation is about celebrating and building upon the positives and benefits. On this matter, I am reminded of +Mel Cashen‘s post on the Ultranet where she identified some of the things that it made possible and how she utilised these in her classroom. What is significant about Cashen’s commentary is that, although the Ultranet may not have held up against the test of time, it served its purpose and accordingly she highlights some of the good things that came out of it, such as it being a safe environment for students and parents to “test the waters of an online world without the harsh consequences the world wide web.” Like goals, reflection is something that we often don’t do enough. For as +George Couros points out about professional development: “If we start building reflection time into our professional development, don’t you think that we would start doing this in our classrooms. We have to move away from the “mass dump” process in our learning.” Sadly, if we don’t allocate the time for reflection then we take the risk of not really learning anything, instead simply making the same mistakes again and again.
 

Learning Lessons

Sometimes success is not about whether an initiative continues to have a meaningful impact or falls on the wayside, rather it is about whether we learn from our failures, whether we reflect on what worked and what we could improve in the future. Just as learning is a lifelong goal, so to should success be. Instead of considering it as something achievable and able to be quantified, I believe that it is best considered as a target, an ideal to which we aim and aspire. Actually hitting the target is only one part of the goal, what is just as important is what that target is and how we go about trying to hit it.

If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

A Homage to Rhizomatic Learning

So, it is Week 6 of ‘Rhizomatic Learning’, the last planned week of the course, and the focus is how do we teach ourselves into uselessness? How do we empower people so they have the PERMISSION to learn without us?
 
What an interesting topic to end Rhizomatic Learning with, the notion of doing your job so that you are no longer required any more. Maybe the word job is the wrong word, but simply so that you are no longer a required commodity. The question then is what remains? I would argue that when all else has gone, we are left with learning. The problem with this is that so much of ‘learning’ is social, it comes from our connections with other, those clashes of ideas that once settled, develop into new beginnings. The first step then in making ourselves useless is to define who ‘we’ are. Teachers? Learners? Facilitators? Critical friends? Fire starters?
 
What is often missed in discussions about teaching is the inadvertent, incidental, non-traditional environments that don’t necessarily stem from college and higher-education. Take for example a swimming teacher who may have completed a set of modules. However, their ‘qualification’ to teach is often based on their own prior learning and experiences. 
 
I sat watching my two year old daughter’s swimming lesson the other day and wondered what made her teacher a ‘good’ teacher. I had already decided that she was good, especially that my daughter had come along in leaps and bounds since moving up to the next level (although still easily distracted, can’t change everything). Added to this, in the previous group, I had gotten in the pool with my daughter, but now she was going solo and it gave me a whole different view on things. A view from the outside.
 
Some of the attributes that I would say that made her a good teacher is that she is stern but fair, while her instructions are always pertinent and to the point. However, what stands out the most is that she compliments the kids whenever she gets the chance. Although she obviously works from a program, she never ceases to interrupt the lesson when needs be so as to support her students if they are struggling with a particular skill or adapting a lesson to extend them. The reality is that her focus on providing continual feedback and encouragement is the attribute that truly makes her stand out.

Coming back to Rhizomatic Learning, I am therefore left mulling over how +dave cormier has successfully ‘managed the MOOC’. I must be honest that the word ‘manage’ may be slightly misleading, inferring incorrectly a sense of power and control, I think that instead what the course has done is instigate learning throughout. In some respect this has now been coordinated by everyone, although Dave has ‘set’ the tasks and facilitated the communications and conversations. However, as was demonstrated by +Mariana Funes‘ post, much was left to the community to continue the learning.
 
Whoever it may be, whatever the situation is, I believe that the reality is that someone always needs to be stoking the fire, throwing more wood on it, as well as setting some boundaries to make sure that it doesn’t burn out of control. Now I don’t necessarily mean ‘boundaries’ to dictate what you can and cannot say, rather it is about highlighting fractures or providing critical responses. The reality is, we all need constructive criticism and feedback at some stage.
 
I am reminded of a comment +Steve Wheeler made about blogging that restricting it is like going to a party with a paper bag on your head. To add to that, I think that a blog that doesn’t open itself to readers is like going to a party with only one person. Although a blog is usually written by one person, it is the community which legitimises it. Whether it be adding a different perspective or providing push back. For example, I always love when +Richard Olsen writes back to my posts, questioning all those aspects and ideas that I take for granted.
 
To me, there will always be a need for an instigator, someone to stock the fire occasionally, keep it burning, but whether this needs to be a teacher or leader I am not so sure. I am really intrigued by the idea of guest hosted accounts such as @edutweetoz and @vicpln which are voices rotated throughout the online community. In the end, what needs to change is putting learning at the heart of education. In this environment everyone has their part to play. If we all see ourselves as learners then surely that is most of the job done.

If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

Curriculum as a Verb

Universal Design for Learning by Giulia Forsythe (Flickr)
 
In a recent post, I wrote about the idea that a PLN, whether professional or personal learn network, as actually being something that you do, a verb, rather than something done, a noun, I think that the same argument can be applied to the notion of curriculum. Too often when we discuss ‘curriculum’ it is as something stagnant, something finished, something complete, a document held in the hand. However, treating it in this way misses something, denies the reality that it is something that is constantly developing, growing, adapting, changing and evolving.
 
One of the reasons that we see curriculum as being something stagnant is that often the changes can occur over long periods of time so we do not consider it as something constant. For example, in my time teaching, I have seen three significant curriculum shifts. Firstly the transition from CSFII to VELS. This was significant because it moved subject based assessment to also recognising various interdisciplinary strands of learning. Associated with this, there was also a move from grading students in an individual manner to assessing them in relation to a continuum. The second transition is from VELS, a state based curriculum document, to the Australian Curriculum, a nation wide initiative. What is interesting is that although each evolution brought about significant change, after a period of transition, a mystical sense of inertia kicks in.
One of the reasons that curriculum changes is because the world changes. In a recent post about whether everyone should learn to code, +Richard Olsen made the suggestion that curriculum is a form of future prediction, that is, it is “designed to predict need.” This being the case, curriculum does need to keep on evolving, because once the current set of needs are met then a new set of needs emerges.
I remember hearing David Howes from ACARA present about the National Curriculum a few years ago. One of the things that stood out was what he said about how the cross-curriculum priorities. Howes explained that indigenous histories and culture, Australia’s engagement with Asia and sustainability were chosen as priorities because they were contemporary issues faced by students today. What was significant though was that Howes’ stated that there will come a time in a few years when when these priorities will need to be revised. For if they are implemented properly, then they will no longer be an issue in society. Therefore, there will come a time when a new set of priorities will need to be devised.
This is what much of the debate the 21st Century learning is about. Too often we get caught up with the present and fail to grasp the coming future. Although many of the skills, such as collaboration and problem solving, are needed today, it is a technologically and socially rich tomorrow which they are truly derived for. The problem is that it is so much easier to respond to today, rather than worry about tomorrow.
So far I have discussed the epic seismic eruptions associated with curriculum, however there is also the flip side to all of this, those tectonic shifts in the plates which more than often go unseen. I think that the worst thing that we can do when reflecting on curriculum is to consider such documents as the Australian Curriculum as being the same thing for each and every person. This completely denies any sense of subjectivity associated with the creation of knowledge and understanding.
For example, I remember a few years ago there was an effort to align what was being done in Middle Years English with some of the changes to VCE. One such change was the introduction of contexts, such as imagined landscapes or encountering conflict, as a focus, rather than a particular text, as had previously been done. What was interesting is how everyone saw this change differently. For some it was simply a way of looking at a particular text, while for others there was no central text, rather it was about approaching the context from a wide range of perspectives. Added to this, even once an agreed approach is achieved, it is then further moulded and adapted as new teaches take to it. As I stated elsewhere, the process is often far more instrumental than the actual outcome.
+Richard Olsen sums this whole process up, suggesting that “it is not commonly understood that curriculum is a compromise.” Whether it be compromising on what is included or compromising on how it is implemented, curriculum is always in a constant state of choice and reflection – and that is ok.

If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

Community as Curriculum

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

I was faced with a new challenge the other day. With the choice of the new professional learning communities the group that I was allocated to was given an additional challenge, that we would in fact be leaderless, that we would work collaboratively to develop a focus and go from there. Initially, I was apprehensive, as I had concerns about where technology had been heading – the group was meant to focus on using technology to engage. However, what was interesting was the group did manage to develop a voice of its own, a collective voice, with everyone adding their own question and concern. This got me thinking again about +Dan Donahoo‘s keynote at ICTEV13 Conference that a community is not about everyone doing the same thing, rather it is about recognising the place of everyone in the village. 

This led me to reflect upon a bigger problem that has developed in the past few years, the mix and match of different technological devices and platforms. The school I work at has an array of devices, including Windows netbooks, desktop computers, Windows 8 tablets and iPads for leadership. With this assortment comes the issue that some things open on one device, but not another. Although my answer was Google Drive, as I have discussed elsewhere, however the majority of teachers have taken to using Dropbox as their solution of choice. I think what is significant about this choice is not whether the use of Dropbox is more useful than Google Drive, rather that there has been a lack of discussion and consultation. The reality is that I can live with any answer. However, when the community is not consulted, does the answer even matter? Is there a bigger issue at play? Does one size fit all?

In the end, to come back to Donahoo’s message, often the process is far more important than the actual outcome. Maybe that is what community as curriculum is, about a constantly evolving dialogue where everyone’s thoughts and opinions are given due diligence. Something easier said than done at times, but maybe that is the challenge.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

This, But Not That – A Reflection on the Consequences of Choice

It is so easy to get caught up wanting one thing, but not necessarily wanting everything that it may bring. Take for example, the following:
  • Want an 8 cylinder car, but don’t want to pay for the increase in petrol
  • Want to use Google Apps/Chromebook at school, but don’t want to invest in quality Internet and appropriate infrastructure
  • Want to go on a holiday, but don’t want to pay for accommodation
  • Want writing proofread, but don’t want to discuss any of the changes
  • Want students to be at the centre of learning, but still as a teacher want to have all the control
  • Want a bigger house, but don’t want to clean it or pay the increase mortgage repayments
  • Want to have a big night, but don’t want to put up with the hangover in the morning

And the list goes on … This happens in all facets of life, where there is a discrepancy between what we want and the reality of the full situation. However, it is becoming more and more pertinent in schools.

 
So often the ‘next best thing’ is brought in. However, all that will be discussed is the idea, the concept, the skill. What is often missed is the baggage that it brings along with it. For example, I remember when Restorative Practices came into my first school nearly 10 years ago. People thought that it was simply about using the right language and reading off a cue card. Although this is a part of it, for some it failed to bring about the desired results because deep down they still wanted to punish the students, they still wanted to enforce control and discipline. For although they would ‘read through the scripts’, it was what they did beyond those moments that undermined the whole program. What was missing was a change in mindset, a move away from punishment to a focus on relationships.
 
Another great example of wanting one thing, but not necessarily recognising all the other consequences, was outlined in the latest +TER Podcast in an interview with +David Zyngier about engagement, curriculum and pedagogoy. Through the course of the discussion, Zyngier discussed some of the myths and misnomers associated with creating an ‘engaging’ classroom. One of the things that came up was the call for smaller class sizes as an answer to engagement. However, as Hattie and co have pointed out, class sizes in itself has little impact on  student achievement. What Zyngier points out though is that smaller class sizes combined with a change in pedagogy can have a positive impact, particularly in the early years. The problem is that so often we feel that continuing with the same old approaches will somehow achieve results simply because there are less students to teach. I think that ironically, the whole conversation between Zyngier and +Cameron Malcher,which started with ‘engagement’, basically pointed out that you can’t simply have ‘engagement’ in itself. Rather, engagement is something that intrinsically attached to so many other aspects of learning, such as knowing students’ background and interests, and if we are unwilling to recognise these requirements, then we cannot be surprised if students are not engaged.
 

As I have stated elsewhere, just as we have choice, so to do we have consequence. Often the worst decisions that we make are the choices where we are not also recognising the consequences at the same time.

If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

In the Association We Trust

‘Your Association Needs You’ by Aaron Davis (Flickr)
While attending the recent Teachmeet at Lt Markov, +Roland Gesthuizen posed the question, what do you expect from +Digital Learning and Teaching Victoria? It is a part of a bigger question that I don’t believe we ask very often, what we actually expect from an educational association? It got me thinking about how these expectations have changed in the last few years. I remember when I started teaching over ten years ago, the association was the first place you went to for information and resources. However, in the last few years this pride of place has gradually been dissolved with the development of various sites and spaces. So here then are my thoughts about the place of associations today.
 
I remember as a graduate being inundated by my subject association with an array of sessions for this and that, I thought that every event was worth going to, probably because that was all that was on offer. The problem with this though was that schools never allow you to go to ever event due to the disruption to class and the cost to the school, this was exacerbated when I moved to the country, which also added the issue of travel to the equation.
 
Since then, I rarely look at those sheets and links, while the ones that I do wish to go to are often cancelled due to lack of interest. For me, much of this professional learning has been replaced by what could be deemed as ‘personal learning’, that is, learning that is driven by the learner, rather than the presenter. This can come in many shapes and not always in the physical form. This can include sharing ideas through social media or engaging with different resources through various social bookmarking. I think then that the place of associations in this environment is to not only to add to, but help manage and curate the dearth of information out there.
 
One of the interesting innovations of late in regards to professional development has been the rise of webinars and other such platforms as an alternative to tradition professional learning. Although I have not actually been a part of one of these sessions, I have watched many at a later date. What is great about this is that you can dip in when you want, taking away as much as you want. The problem is that traditionally the success of professional development is measured by numbers through the door. I think though that it can be a misnomer to simply measure such mediums by their take-up. For in the digital age, this take up can be spread over weeks, month and years. In some respect it is important to provide such ideas and information and let it have its own existence.
 
The biggest challenge to associations is that many of those tried and trusted methods and mediums are continuing to come under scrutiny in the world of open learning. I’ve read two interesting posts in the last few months in regards to the continuing currency. One from +Chris Betcher and the other from +Tom Whitby. What was interesting about both pieces was that they both highlighted sharing and networking as one of the essential elements to conferences. For Betcher, conferences need to be offer an experience, not just the same old stand and deliver, rather “moments that could not have happened any other way.” While for Whitby, his concern is about the currency of ideas and information presented at conferences. When sessions often need to be submitted 8 to 12 months in advance, how can what is presented be the ‘latest and greatest’? He gives reference to the move to the more informal style of conference perpetuated by the Edcamp movement and questions what value formal conferences have over such mediums. What is interesting is the move of some conferences now to offer elements of the more informal, running there Teachmeet events at the end of the day when the space which is often hired for the whole day is left dormant. The question then remains, what is the future of conferences? Will they continue to be the staple of the association? How will they change in order to offer experiences rather than content? To these questions, I am not really sure.
 
Associated with conferences is another stalwart, the journal. I remember cleaning out resource cupboard at my old school and finding hundreds to journals stashed away in the corner.  Often a collection of academic papers, detailed case studies and literature, I am sure they will always be a place for journals, because, for some, they provide the legitimacy to move ahead with an initiative or to try something new. However, with the rise of blogging, podcasts and new aggregation applications, the primacy of the old-fashioned journal as the place to find out about ideas and initiatives has seemingly been displaced for some. I think that the challenge that associations now have is how to manage both formal and informal mediums. Just as it is the job of associations to facilitate a wide range of professional learning, so to is it the job of the association to publish across a variety of forms. Coupled with the traditional, there is a place for associations to also promote what is out there. Whether this be a group blog or aggregated zine like Flipboard. However, the issue that exists is what should exist behind a paywall and what should be made public for the greater good of all? Again, like the conference, I am stumped on this one.

This then links to the biggest question that many have in regards to associations, what do you pay for? In some respect I think that this question would be better put as what should you pay for? Clearly associations do not run by themselves and aspects such as books and resources only bring in so much. However, not many people are going to pay as a part of some sort of moral obligation, well not enough to keep the association running. What is worse is that with the tightening of budgets, often it is the school association subscription that is often the first thing to be questioned, especially when there are so many. What then should be included? Traditionally, subscriptions have included discounts to events, various subscriptions, newsletters and access to support. With much of this becoming available elsewhere, is it enough now? On top of that, +Jenny Ashby raised an interesting point during the Teachmeet about whether country educators should get a subsidised rate as the tyranny of distance often prevents them from being able to get the same benefit. Clearly, associations have to charge a subscription. However, at the end of the day, what this cost should include is unknown. At the very least, it means you are supporting a professional group and for some that is all that matters.
 
The reality is, associations are there for their members. Just as social media would be nothing without people sharing and interacting, so to with an association. For without members to support and represent, an association is nothing. Really, the association is there to be whatever you want it to be. Whether it be solving a problem or answering a difficult question, there are often people working there with a wealth of knowledge and experience who can help out with. In addition to this, associations offer a united voice to curriculum submissions and other such educational initiatives. 


In the end, I am not sure what the future of the association is. I asked a few colleagues about what they thought. Some spoke about the opportunity to network, while others questioned whether there was a need at all. What I found interesting was that many of the perceived ‘benefits’ of an association are now things that we can find elsewhere. After reflecting on everything, I think that the future of the association is somewhat linked with the future of the teacher. Although there will always be a need and a place for the role of the ‘teacher’ in the future to support the human side of learning. This role is becoming more and more that of a supporter and facilitator, rather than the old-fashioned instigator of learning.

So then, what do you think? Do you see a place for associations in the future? What is that place? Is it the same as now or are there things that you think will change? Have I simply missed a large chuck of what an association is? Leave your thoughts below. Would love to know.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

When Encouragement isn’t so Encouraging: A Meditation on Rewards and Celebrations

 
 
I read a fantastic post from +George Couros a few months back about sharing a positive story a day. In a dark place personally after the death of his father, Couros decided to try and change how he was feeling by starting the day by tweeting something positive about someone else, and sharing it with the world. For this, he started a hashtag #365greattweeps. To me, this is really a part of a wider movement associated with celebrating the successes and recognising the failures. The question though that is often left unasked is whether celebrations and successes always have a positive consequence for everybody else?

Take for example the ‘student of the week’. A staple of many primary schools. In another post Couros argues that such awards are often handed to the detriment of the students, rather than to their advantage. The reason being is that different items are often found for awarding students. For if such awards were based on academic results then they would often go to the same student every week. The problem with this is that the focus should be on students being good students, rather than being recognised at an assembly. Couros’ solution is to reverse the situation and instead of teachers randomly choosing an item, give this responsibility to the students. That way the students still get 15-minutes of fame, but they also get to share something important to them, a little bit of their story, rather than the story that is chosen for them.

Another scenario where celebrations and encouragement isn’t always so positive is during staff meetings. I was in a planning meeting the other day where it was suggested that staff should always do background reading before preparing a unit of work, to provide the best possible platform to construct the topic on. I could not agree more, having a clear foundation can help to alleviate any confusion, as well as support deeper learning. The problem though was that one staff member was then identified as a great example of this in action. That they did not just rely on a textbook or a curriculum document, instead they grappled with a wide range of sources in coming to grips with topic at hand.

Now I have two problems with this situation. Firstly, if the focus is on the skill of preparation, does it actually achieve anything to highlight the prowess of a particular person? Does this actually add anything of value? While secondly, in celebrating someone’s successes, it can be easy to overlook the context of the situation. For example, the teacher at hand takes three different classes of the one subject. This is a large chunk of allotment, three quarters to be exact. This compared to another teacher who takes six different subjects, none of which are repeated. It seems unfair to compare.

In regards to teachers, if the focus is on celebrations and providing encouragement for individuals, then maybe the solution is to provide a time in every staff meeting for one member of staff to share something worthy of celebrating. Just as Couros suggests that students take on the responsibility of choosing what they share, why do we not do the same with teachers. Why not let them know ahead of time that they will be sharing and instead of making everyone awkward by only focusing on the few. For in today’s day and age where the focus of leadership is an agreed set of goals and values, surely it misses the point to then celebrate the deeds of a small few.

In the end, just as it misses the point to focus on technology as a tool, so to does it miss the point to celebrate the person, rather than focusing wholly and solely on the skill or goal in question. The reality is that in education parlance reference is usually made to ‘best practises’ not ‘best people’, maybe then that should be the focus.

If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

Is Books Making Us Stupid?

So, it is Week 4 of ‘Rhizomatic Learning’ and the focus is whether ‘books are making us stupid?’. The questions posed are what the medium of print done to learning? What are the implications of this objective distance? How does it impact what we believe is valid in our society both inside learning and outside of it?
 
In a recent post, I posed the question, ‘What’s so Digital about Literacy Anyway?’ One of my concerns was that in all of the reading practises that I have been a part of, digital texts are too often frowned upon, a poor distant relative to the exemplary printed text. The argument usually stated to me is that it just isn’t the same to read a text on a screen as it is to feel the texture of the paper, to flick the pages. It just isn’t organic. It is not how it is done. I couldn’t agree more, it is not how it is done, it is different, but just because it is different, does that make mean that it is better or worse?
 
This brings me to my other concern, that of ‘reading’. One of the things that I think is often overlooked in the whole process is the place of the response. Whenever we read we respond, the only question is whether we are willing to engage with that inner voice. So often students are indoctrinated from a young age that reading is what is important, that dedicating regular time to the cause is somehow what makes someone a good reader. I feel that although reading is important, responding is great. This may be as simple as asking a question spurred on by a book or sharing a quick summary with someone else.
 
What I find sad is that this denial of  digital literacy as a part of ‘reading’ denies such a powerful opportunity to respond to the text and take action. What I love about reading something an ebook or a blog post is that there are various ways in which I can capture my thinking and then collate it afterwards. Whether this be collecting my highlights and digital notes or using a social bookmarking tool like Diigo to capture annotations and ideas. On top of this, it is so easy to then share these ideas and pieces of information to a blog or a tweet.
Now, I am not saying that books make us stupid, but prioritising one medium over another is stupid. In the end, anything that limits the conversation is nonsensical, for as +Doug Belshaw pointed out in his ebook The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies, “I would argue that literacy is inherently a social phenomenon. In fact, I’d argue that, in isolation, an individual cannot be literate at all”

If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

22 Questions …

I have been sent two separate challenges in regards to the 11 question meme, one from +Ian Guest and the other from +Steve Brophy. Although I have already engaged with this meme elsewhere, I just could not help but respond. So instead of choosing one set of questions over the other, I have decided to simply answer all 22 questions. Therefore, some of my answers may be shorter than you or I would like. However, I am always here to continue the conversation some other time …
 

1. What teacher had the most influence on you and why?

I would have to say Karl Trsek, my Year 12 English/History teacher. Not only did he have a breadth of knowledge, about history and the world – demonstrated by the fact that he wrote his own texts – but he also challenged the way I thought.

2. During your career, which student (without naming them!) most sticks in your mind and for what reason?

I think that it is the student that doesn’t necessarily fit in with the status quo, not necessarily academically, rather socially, those students who need a little extra help and support. Students at the margins. I think that I was much like that at school. I remember reading a quote a few years ago from Mark Haddon, the author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. He basically said that some children are like gazelles running across the savannah, growing up is easy, no hassle, while on the flip side there are those students who find every day a struggle. In the end, it comes down to my belief that we are there to help make a difference and that is not just academically.

3. What was your most abiding memory of school dinners?

What is a ‘school dinner’? Enough said.

4. Two Harry Potter inspired questions now. If you had Harry’s cloak of invisibility, what educational event would you like to unobtrusively observe and why?

I think that it would be a ministerial meeting involving the heads of the different regions and the minister for education. I would just love to know what they do and do not talk about. I always wonder whether such people are administrative or if they are truly driven and innovative.

5. What aspect of education or the classroom would you most like to wave your wand over and why? Educatio revisiorum!

I think that it would be the teacher at the heart of the classroom. With so many different means of providing instruction and giving feedback in today’s day and age, I dream of the day when students become empowered and engaged in their own learning.

6. For any historical figure of your choice, what might they have tweeted at a significant moment for them?

Maybe Jesus tweeting “It is finished #crucified”. Short and sharp. Geting his message out there. Other than that, maybe Moses looking out across the River Jordan before he died. Reckon that he would have had some interesting things to say. Maybe a few well wishes for Joshua and the rest of the tribes:

Sad I can’t be there today w/ my ppl as they cross into the promised land HT @Joshua #finally #regret — מֹשֶׁה (@moses)
Also reckon @laotzu would have had some interesting stuff to say back in his day.

7. What’s your favourite online video (for any reason) and why? (A link would be good)

Any time I am asked about ‘favourite’ this or that, I feel that it is so subjective, often dictated by time. If I answer this question next year I will probably give a different answer. I am therefore going to go with my favourite video right now, which is an episode from Beat This where Four Tet creates a track from Michael Jackson’s album Thriller in just 10 minutes. Both inspiring and intimidating at the same time.
 
 

8. In Horizon report style, which technology-enabled educational activity is likely to be becoming more mainstream in 3-ish years?

After reading +George Couros‘ post ‘5 Reasons Your Portfolio Should Be Online‘, I think maybe student digital portfolios that are sector blind and self-managed will be something that becomes more mainstream.

 

9. Which fictional character would you most like as a work colleague and why?

I think maybe Jay Gatsby, an eternal positivist who once he believes in an idea will let nothing get in his way. Need more of that passion in teaching sometimes.

10. What educational movement or initiative, currently in its infancy, will endure and why?

I think that one initiative that will endure is blended learning, especially as technology becomes more and more prevalent. Online mediums will be used to not only supplement ‘in class’ learning, but also add to it by providing additional resources to support students to go further.

11. Which educator (dead or alive, real or fictional, famous or not) would you most like to interview or enjoy the drink of your choice with and what would you be chatting about?

I think that I would have a chat with +Tony Richards. With a dearth of experiences, he always has that knack to some up a situation and provide a dearth of ideas and solutions to support the discussion. If Tony wasn’t free then Sir Ken Robinson, +Alec Couros or +Peter DeWitt would do.

12. If you had the power to make one rule in your school that every teacher would follow, what would you your rule be and why?

I think that it would be to share everything. So often I have seen people answer this question by saying ‘develop a PLN’. I think that we all already have a PLN, we just don’t all recognise it. One of the important ingredients though of a PLN is sharing. I believe that if people learn to actively share ‘good ideas’ when they come upon them then PLNs will follow.

13. What is your learning process?

Although I have posted elsewhere about how I consume digital information, I think that it kind of misses the point to restrict learning to a simple ‘process’. If anything I would say that my process is to follow up on thoughts and threads of inquiry that arise in day to day life.

14. Where do you see education in ten years?

Asking where education will be in ten years always makes me wonder how much it has changed in the last ten years. I think that we won’t even question the use of technology, that it will be a given. Associated with this, learning will be more individualised. However, I still think that we will be dreaming of different and more flexible learning spaces. I just can’t see governments around the world investing in new buildings and I am not yet convinced of private/public partnerships.

15. Why are you a teacher?

First and foremost I am a learner and that is why I am a teacher. In addition to this, I am passionate about making a difference to the lives of others, whether staff or students, and supporting them with their passions. I have spoken about this elsewhere in regards to leadership.

16. How should a technical team support teachers?

I think that the most important thing that a technical team can do is be active and transparent about what they are doing. Like so many rolls in a school, such as the timetabler and daily organiser, you often don’t think about them until something goes wrong. Therefore, it is important to engage with staff when things are right.

17. If you weren’t a teacher, what would you be?

I am not exactly sure what I’d be, but it would probably be something that involves supporting others in an active roll. This would also most likely involve problem solving and technology.

18. What is the hardest learning experience you have ever had?

I think that hardest learning experience has been that no matter how passionate you are or how much energy you put in, real change involves a team. I actually think that this lesson is a bit of an ongoing experience. 

19. What three books changed your life?

This is such a nostalgic questions. Three books which have had a significant influence on my perspective on things are Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, Stanley Fish’s Is There a Text in This Class? and Paul Carter’s The Road to Botany Bay.

20. Who inspires you?

I think that inspiration is a mindset. I will therefore say that my PLN inspires me. Everyday I read something that challenges me, makes me thing differently, forces me to reflect upon my own practises.

21. What strategies do you use to bounce back from the tough days in teaching?

Whether it be spending time with family or connecting online, I make sure that I get out of that bad space.

22. What is right with education in 2014?

I think the push to place the student at the heart of the classroom is right. Whether this be about involving them in the planning or developing better strategies in regards to differentiating for each and every student, I think that this can only be a good thing.
 

Opening Up the Challenge

So there are my 22 questions answered. Some with more detail than others, but answered non the less. To build upon +Peter DeWitt‘s break with tradition, I have two questions for anyone who is willing answer: “What inspired you the most last year” and “What are you excited about this year?”
I look forward to your response.

If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.