This Is My #EduDream What Is Yours?

 

Via @hhoede on Twitter 

 

I remember late last year discussing ICT with a guy I know who loves technology and he suggested to me that you need a complete vision for technology in school. Don’t say, ‘I wan’t iPad’s in Early Years or laptops in Secondary’, you need to have in mind a complete vision as to what a 21st century classroom looks like, for students, for teachers, for parents, for administration, for everyone.
I understood what he was saying, that when it comes to 21st century learning, it is important to have a narrative, a story to tell, a painting to show in order to provide the reason and purpose behind the call for change. The problem is that a part of me felt that every time I started imagining such a reality it simply collapsed in heap. All I could see were the road blocks, the hurdles to be jumped. For as I spoke about in my post on excuses, we so often worry about what is not possible and start there. Instead, I have decided that I am going to lay down my dreams, create a vision of my future and start there. So here is my dream for technology in education, actually for education in general …

An Appropriately Funded Education System

Graham Brown-Martin recently posted a graphic comparing military and educational spending around the world. Although there are some countries which spend more on education, such as Norway, Mexico and Canada, more often than not there is often an unequal divide. However, even this only tells part of the story. For what inadequate funding is provided is then often inequitably shared out. There simply needs to be more public money spent on education for it is an investment that all of society benefits from. The Gonski-cum-Better Schools plan was a step towards a more equal divide in Australia, but even that was undermined as it was in stark contrast to the recommendations that the panel headed by David Gonski put forward. The reality is, it does not matter how much technology you have in the classroom, if you don’t have the appropriate structures in place to support it, then it is often meaningless. Funding is a big part of education.

No More Technological Hurdles or Hindrances

I want a learning environment where connection to projectors, to the Internet or school networks is seamless. No more disconnect, connect or finding a cable for the screen. Although many schools have moved to devices such as Apple TV, I feel that the better answer needs to be more open. In addition to this, I want devices which don’t take forever to load up or need to be managed in regards to battery time. Technology should not hold us up, instead it should allow for the more effective use of learning time.

1:1 Powerful Devices

Fine many schools are moving towards BYOD, however I think that as a part of a properly funded education system, all students should be provided with a powerful device to aid their learning (powerful is in reference to a point made in a discussion as a part of Episode 185 of the +Ed Tech Crew Podcast.) I just don’t think that it is either equitable or necessarily fair to have a situation where there are some students in the classroom that due to a range of circumstances are unable to bring a device or have one provided by the school. I am fine if students bring in a second device, such as a tablet. However, making sure that all students have access at the point of instruction is a necessity.

Teachers Given Access to Multiple Devices

I love my laptop, but feel that in a classroom it has its limits. I love my iPad, but feel that when it comes to more series work that it has its limits. I believe that every teacher should have access and be supported with two working devices. +Rich Lambert wrote a fantastic post exploring the issue of whether teachers should have to pay for the technology they use. He suggested that devices should be subsidised and a wider choice provided. Having been provided with a iPad due to my role in the school, I find it frustrating that this access is often limited to those who choose to bring their own. I would go a step further than what Richard is suggesting and argue that all teachers such be provided with two devices to support their teaching, a point I have also made elsewhere.

Access and Infrastructure

Associated with the need for funding for teachers devices is the need for acceptable access and infrastructure. There are too many tales of public schools going out and purchasing their own lines, because the Internet and access supplied by the government is either unreliable and inadequate. In addition to the pipe coming in, there needs to be appropriate support and investment in regards to the infrastructure within the school. The worst scenario in regards to technology is having a classroom full of devices which are limited to themselves or a digital camera with no computer cable or battery charger. No point owning a fast car if there are no roads to drive it on.

Curating not Consuming

Too often the focus of ideas and information seems to be around consumption. Take for example English, there is still the focus in too many classrooms on how many books have been read, rather than what is actually done with that reading. +Heather Bailie makes the suggestion, in her post ‘Curation as a Tool for Teaching and Learning’, that we should no longer read, write and react, but rather create, curate and contemplate. In this situation, students (and teachers) would not just collect information, but “comprehend, critique, think critically and use digital media strategically.” To me, the biggest change in the 21st century is that whereas in the past information was often considered in isolation, as we move towards a focus on curation, everything becomes interconnected and ideas move between subjects, across years, between classrooms and across borders.

Teachers a Part of a Community

A big part of curating is sharing information. A sad irony in today’s world of growing connectedness is that you still hear stories of teachers keeping their thoughts and ideas to themselves, instead of actually giving back to the wider community. Now when I say ‘sharing’, I’m not talking about sharing to make teaching easier, rather I believe that sharing makes learning richer. +Dean Shareski even goes to the point of saying that without sharing, there is no learning.” For me, being a connected educator has not only had a positive influence on me as a learner, but also my work teacher. A part of this is change has been openly reflecting on my practise online. The big challenge is to make this deep and meaningful for everyone, not simply dry and tokenistic, something ticked off on a sheet, but something intrinsic to who we are, something that we want to do, rather something that we are forced to do. In this environment, teachers are then instilled with more ownership over their learning. Rather than buying goods from a small corner store, where what is available is often curtailed by what the owner has bought, teachers can have the choice and variety available at a shopping centre, where they can mix and match, coming up with their own cocktail.

Students Publishing for an Authentic Audience

I am always left wondering when teachers run around after student work, ringing home to complain, chastising students for falling behind, who is this all for? Here I am reminded of Alan November’s story about the student who spent hours writing stories for Fan Fiction, yet failed to get her homework done. The explanation that the student provided was that she makes the choice to publish for the world over publishing for her teacher. Instead of completing tasks for themselves or worse, for teachers, students need the opportunities to publish for authentic audiences. For example, after consulting with a teacher from another state +Cameron Paterson got his Year 9 History class to create picture books around the topic of World War 1 for a kindergarten. If not publishing for a purpose, at least publishing for a wider audience as +Bec Spink has done with the eBooks created by her Prep classes or through a classroom blog as +Celia Coffa has discussed. For what is the point of having a fast car if there is nowhere to actually drive it?

Collaboration not Competition

A part of the problem that I find with a lot of assessment is that too often it is done in isolation, where everyone maybe responding to the same question, they do so individually. There is so much discussion in education about feedback, in particular peer-to-peer feedback, I have concern though that when this is done in an environment where the focus is being the best and therefore being better than everyone else, we miss out on an important aspect of learning, that is collaboration, connections and global communication. Technology provides so many means for this to occur, whether it be working on a project using a Google Doc or connecting all over the world using Twitter. +Anne Mirtschin provides endless examples in her blog as to how technology can be used to open up learning to the world. Whether it be learning how to use Scratch or having a guest author Skype in, Mirtschin always has a story as to how technology opens doors in her classroom to deeper learning. Just as it is said that if a question can be Googled then it isn’t a very good question, I would like to pose that if a task is corrupted by being done in collaboration with others then maybe it isn’t a very good task?

Students Learning at the Centre

 

Although students are often the focus of learning, I wonder if they are necessarily at the centre of it? There are too many choices about the what and why of learning that are made for students. +Ewan McIntosh makes the point that the challenge of finding a problem, one of the most important aspects of learning, is often the first decision taken away from students. Ideally, learning should be at the centre. In his excellent series on learning theories, +Steve Wheeler spoke about heutagogy, the study of self-determined learning. Ultimately, as we aspire to develop lifelong learning, actually learning how to learn in different contexts for different purposes is most important. For as Wheeler suggests elsewhere, “pedagogy is leading people to a place where they can learn for themselves.” Sometimes though it feels like students are learning for us?

 

 

Learning Supported by Space

I must admit, the structure of space is something that I haven’t necessarily thought a lot about and probably should. I think that one of the reasons for this is that so often it feels like such decisions are made for us, not by us and certainly not by students. I remember reading a post by +Matt Esterman on what your schools would say if they could talk. Along with +Stephen Collis‘ response, I was quite challenged. At the very least I think that we need to create flexible learning spaces. This maybe team teaching and open learning spaces, but it also maybe having different uses of the spaces we already have, as was outlined by +Michelle Hostrup on Episode #20 of +TER Podcast. The reality is that although we can make some changes to what we have now, many schools need to be refurbished to account for this change. At the very least, as +George Couros pointed out, technology should not be an event, done in a lab, rather it should be a part of all learning, whatever space that maybe.

Integrated Assessment & Reporting

At present, teachers often give feedback along the way and some sort of detailed assessment at the end. Using technology this can not only become more streamlined, but also more effective. What’s more, it means that the conversation is not always one way. For if a student wants clarification then they can follow up whenever they like. This will hopefully blend with a more fluent reporting system which continually grows and develops to show a students progress over time, rather than the current culture where students get a report at the end of each semester, which other than the previous progression points, exists as an isolated historical snapshot. As +Catherine Gatt so succinctly put it, “assessment is just charting the next part of a student’s journey, invariably owned by them and not by me.” Technology only aides and increases this dialogue that is too often missing in education.

 

 
I feel in many respects that this vision could be more cavalier, could be more bold. However, I am sure that the more I grow and evolve, so to will my dreams and ideals about education. This then is my starting point. It may not be a vision for tomorrow, but it is a vision for a better future. The challenge is to stop making excuses. Although ideals aren’t always ideal, working towards them is the least I can do.
If you have any thoughts, ideas or suggestions, I would love to hear them. Even better, what are your dreams for technology in education or education in general? For if there is one thing that I have learnt, we are all better off together.

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Collegiality Under Threat – AEU News Letter to the Editor

AEU News Vol 21, Issue 4, June 2014

Here is a copy of my letter to the editor printed in the latest edition of the AEU News, responding to the recent changes to the performance and development process …

I am a believer in lifelong learning and development, but I really question whether the recent changes to the performance and development process will achieve this? I worry that it will achieve the opposite if we don’t manage it locally. Instead of a climate of collegiate collaboration, this creates an aura of self-interest where ironically our prime focus is ourselves, rather than our students.

John Hattie suggests that the greatest point of influence on education is teachers and that our goal should be to help improve every teacher. Yet I wonder if a process with the spectre of fear hanging over it is going to achieve this? If we really want the best then schools need to foster an environment that not only challenges teachers, but also welcomes error and provides adequate feedback. In this scenario, teachers are able to passionately engage with their teaching based on the evidence at hand.

The problem is that a focus on pay means that we miss the point. Instead of saying ‘how can I be the best’, the focus is on ‘what do I need to do to achieve my next increment’. Our view then is of today, not tomorrow.

With a new system being implemented we have an opportunity to make this review process work for us.  We need to demand that the implementation be consulted on at our schools and that it support and advance the work we do, rather than let it be something that is done to us.

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Are Excuses Holding Us Back from Change in Education?

 

 

creative commons licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/aaron_davis/14502665342

 

 
I recently got into a discussion about 1:1 devices. My argument was that we needed to be pushing for more devices in primary school as a part of the long term plan, not just in 7,8 and 9. The response I got in return was that 1:1 wasn’t viable for the taken on and BYOD simply wouldn’t work with our community.
I didn’t accept this. Fine there are some ideals which are not always ideal, but I still felt that there were better solutions than simply perpetuating the present. One of the concerns that was brought up by some other teachers in our ICT committee was that if you look at the continuum produced by the Victorian Government:

 

 

Planning for 1-to-1 Learning via FUSE 
We are currently situated somewhere between the past and the present having 1:1 in secondary, but predominantly depending upon netbooks in trolleys. What was disappointing was that the future being proposed from above was barely beyond the present and definitely far from the future. Although we have moved beyond technology being something done in a lab, the dependency on trolleys still makes it an event. +George Couros sums this dilemma up best, suggesting that “technology should be at the point of instruction and be as accessible in learning as a pencil.” Sadly, this dream seems to be a world away.
 
Having done a lot of reflection lately on the matter, I had a realisation that a part of the problem isn’t that I am not dreaming big, but rather that I am not dreaming big enough. For I recently caught myself making the same excuses that I was being so critical of. I had gotten involved in a debate about pedagogy and integrated curriculum. As much as I agree with inquiry-based learning in whatever guise it maybe, as demonstrated through my past posts, I still had my reservations and subsequently caught myself making excuses why such methods don’t, can’t and wouldn’t work at all schools. My thoughts were that it wouldn’t be appropriate for all clientele, that it required a certain type of student, from a certain type of background. However, what I was denying was that such views and opinions were not only based on innuendo, but also hindering the potential to bring about such change.
It can be so easy to make an endless list of excuses why things won’t work, why we can’t do something. However, how often are these statements based on sound reason? Too often our excuses are based on myths, someone else’s stories, a few numbers viewed out of context. In addition to this, such beliefs actually become a self-fulfilling prophesy where we predict failure, rather than believing in success. This was all brought to a head whilst listening to a fantastic presentation by Andrew Solomon reflecting on difference and disability. In it, he spoke about the choice we face, quoting Miguel de Unamuno,”It is not usually our ideas that make us optimistic or pessimistic, but it is our optimism or pessimism of physiological or pathological origin that makes our ideas.” Too often we think that it is our ideas that come first, but first and foremost it is our take on the world, our mindset, which dictates what we see and the ideas we produce.

 

 
Another teacher in our committee at school, also taken by the desire to have 1:1, put forward his proposal. He suggested that our three year plan should be:
  • P-2 school purchased iPads
  • 3-6 windows tablets
  • 7-9 optional new upgraded tablet

 

Although I felt that this was ill-thought out, it was certainly optimistic. Couldn’t argue with that.
 
I think that the captain from Wall-e sums the situation up best when he says, “I don’t want to survive, I want to live.” Sadly, too often in education we limit ourselves to what we feel is possible, rather than start with what is impossible and work back from there.

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Different Podcasts, Different Voices

creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/aaron_davis/14476927585
 
Someone recently asked me which educational podcasts I listen to. It got me thinking about the different podcasts and what makes them each unique. Although they all focus on education and so often incorporate some element of technology and pedagogy. What makes them each unique in my view is the voice in which they provide. By ‘voice’ I not only mean the perspective grasped, but also the means in which it is presented. I feel that the best way to represent these differences is through different forms of refreshments and the context created through each one.
 

RU Connected

I am not sure if it is my habit of listening to the podcast at school early in the morning or it is the style of conversation, but I always feel as if I am sitting at a cafe with +Jenny Ashby and +Lois Smethurst drinking a coffee and having a chat. Wandering from one subject to the next, each different episode seems to flow into one. What I like most is that it is a celebration of learning with an effervescent joy.
 

2 Regular Teachers

A little bit like RU Connected, +Rick Kayler-Thomson and +Adam Lavars podcast is a open discussion about education from the chalkface. It is an open and honest discussion of what is happening in and out of their classroom, as well as some musing about how things could be different. Whether this is due to the two duelling personalities or the common nature of the topics discussed, but listening feels like sitting at a bar and just having a few casual beers.
 

Teachers’ Education Review

Unlike the subjective approaches to education provided by RU Connected and 2 Regular Teachers, the +TER Podcast attempts to provide a more serious platform for the deeper discussion of anything and everything relating to education. Although +Cameron Malcher and +Corinne Campbell will share examples of their own experiences, it is often to dig deeper into a particular issue in the news. What is also a little different is that the podcast often provides a platform for experts to dig deeper into a wide range of topics impacting schools all over Australia. To me this is a more complex mix and I think that with its length, it is something that you dedicate a certain amount of time to. It is a serious drink.
 

Ed Tech Crew

I think that the +Ed Tech Crew Podcast is a bit of an enigma to explain. One week it will be casual chat between +Tony Richards and +Darrel Branson about tips and tricks collected via social media, another week there might be guest interviews, whilst other times they will open things up to a panel of people. In the end, I think that the podcast is best thought of as a night around at a mates sitting around drinking home brew where everyone is welcome. Although the process has been somewhat perfected overtime, you still never quite know what you are going to get each time you listen. There is no promise of anything in particular, just a few guys who love technology and education.
 
 
So these are some of the local educational podcasts I listen to, what about you? Are there any that I have missed that should be added to my playlist? If so, what is it about them that you like and keeps you listening. Feel free to share below.
 
NOTE: I must apologies for using the drinking analogies, however I couldn’t think of anything better to differentiate. 

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Compass and the Spectre of the Ultranet

creative commons licensed (BY-NC) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/aaron_davis/14441599366

 

Recently a representative from Compass, a relatively new LMS, came and presented at my school. The presenter began with the statement, “This is what the Ultranet should have been”. After he had finished and the presenter had left, I was asked for my thoughts. One of my biggest weaknesses is that I always see the positives and potentials in technology, whilst being blind to the negatives. Some of the pluses were the ability to share classroom content with students and parents, the idea that students could gain permission digitally and the possibility to publish reports through a portal with the click of a button. However, once the glimmer and gleam had waned, I started thinking about what failed with the Ultranet and why it would not simply happen again.
 
Looking beyond the poor product provided by the Ultranet, there were also many other hiccups and hindrances that existed. I have reflected on some of the more positive aspects of the Ultranet elsewhere. Here though I wish to pose some questions that were largely left unanswered in regards to the Ultranet and subsequently need to be addressed before embracing a product like Compass:

Who is in charge of getting everything up and running?

One of the problems associated with implementing anything within ICT is that someone is always responsible for getting stuff up and running. Even if a part of this is organised by an outside entity, there are still questions to be answered and information to be provided. Whether it be Google Apps for Education or the Ultranet, there is always some sort of administration issues. In some schools there is an ICT Coordinator or 21st Century Leading Teacher whose plate such rolls and responsibilities often fall upon. However, this is not the case in all schools. Therefore, it both needs to be made clear and equitable as to who is responsible and how they will be supported. Although the argument maybe that it makes teaching easier and allows for more focus on learning, at the start the most basic of tasks can take hours.
 

Once things are up and going, who is responsible for maintaining the system?

After everything is organised, the next question is who is in charge of maintaining things? This process involves many aspects, including ironing out bugs, sorting out passwords and other menial issues that always arise along the way with setting things up. Maybe Compass is different to the Ultranet and has rectified many of these challenges. However, one lesson learnt is that such issues can’t simply be left to one person, there needs to be a team of people responsible for driving things. Interestingly, I recently heard Phillip Holmes-Smith speak about setting up his Student Performance Analyser. One of things that he suggested is that you need a group. Although there may be someone who oversees the whole process, they are there to finalise things and sort out problems, not simply do all the work, absolving other staff of responsibility altogether.
 

 

What leadership is there around providing support and guidance for others?

One of the really interesting things to come out of my post exploring the supposed digital revolution was the amount of people who referred to the failure to provide sufficient leadership as one if the key reasons for the perceived failure. This sense of leadership comes in many shapes and sizes, whether it be modelling best practise or coaching others about how to utilise various programs to aid pedagogy. Although many argue that change and reform needs to come from the bottom up, the failure to empower such roles from above often means that they are either considered as being insignificant or treated in a tokenistic manner.
 

 

What expectations and requirements will be put in place to measure and maintain teacher take-up?

Linked with leadership is a failure of staff to get on board. The lack of any care and urgency from those above can have the detrimental effect on those below. Too often this gives staff an escape clause. If they don’t see it as important why should I? It is important to set clear expectations early for everyone. Attached to these expectations, there needs to be a plan about how things will be unfolded. One of the issues with the Ultranet was that it was realised in two phases where initially it was unclear exactly where things were heading as there were still aspects being designed and developed. I understand that this is the way things are and that there is no program that does not grow and evolve. However, it needs to be made clear from the beginning where things are heading and how the present situation relates to the future.
 

What happens when the connection to the cloud goes down?

The Achilles heal of the Ultranet, Compass, GAFE and so many other ICT products is the fact that they are online. Being in the cloud has many advantages, such as the ability to access it anywhere, anytime. However, it has one very big drawback. If the internet is down then Compass won’t work. What is interesting with this is that most staff will question the program before they interrogate the infrastructure. For example, many jumped off Google Drive into Dropbox because the Internet was simply too unreliable. (+Corinne Campbell recently wrote an interesting post on a similar matter calling for more digital resilience.) What is sad is that the solution that many schools are going with in regards to the problem of the web is to pay for their own Internet, subsequently adding to the divide between those schools who can and cannot afford such resources.
 

 

How will parents be introduced into the system?

 

One of the big selling points for the Ultranet was that parents would be able to log in and gain access to different points of information, such as students assessment and attendance. The biggest challenge though was actually engaging parents in this process. Too often information evenings and pamphlets are done in isolation. To succeed there needs to be a multi-pronged approach to the pushing the benefits. This means running information sessions, providing hands on support, placing details in the newsletter and online, both on the school website and any social media platforms. This approach though needs to be tied together with a clear explanation of the benefits for students and their learning, for as Sir Ken Robinson suggested, “If there is no teaching and learning going on there is no education happening”.

 

 
In the end, it is easy to pretend that all the challenges faced by the Ultranet belonged to the Ultranet. However, so many issues still persist, lying dormant, waiting for an opportunity to raise their head once again. The question isn’t whether Compass provides a great potential to improve education, the question is whether schools are ready for these changes. That is the real question.

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No Evil Here – A Tale about Blocking Technology

creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by Billy Rowlinson: http://flickr.com/photos/billyrowlinson/3515157369
 
I was talking with a coordinator yesterday and I heard a word that I hadn’t heard in quite a long time – proxies. A few years ago, around the same time as the introduction of 1:1 devices in the school, there was a spait of incidents involving students using proxies to access websites that would normally be blocked. The answer then was two fold: 
  1. It was explained to students the dangers of using such means in regards to viruses.
  2. Students caught lost their laptops for an extended period of time.
As time passed, it stopped being an such an issue. Less and less people were being caught out. However, what this recent situation highlights is that maybe it stopped being an issue for teachers, while for students the practise simply went underground. 
 
Whatever the exact state of play maybe, it left me searching for a better solution. For the case in question involved a student naively sharing with a new teacher how to access YouTube at school via proxies. What is interesting is that in some schools YouTube is open to students. However, there is a fair fear amongst staff that allowing students to access YouTube opens up a whole new can of worms. Like email, such applications and websites like YouTube add a level of responsibility that not all teachers are willing to accept. The irony though is that we end up dealing with such incidents online whether we chose to ‘accept’ them or not. 
 
For example, if a student was caught by another student watching an inappropriate clip at school and reported to a teacher, surely the answer given I’d not ‘that clip is not supposed to be accessed at school.’ Instead I would imagine that there would be discussions about why it maybe inappropriate to watch the video at school, whether this be because it may make others feel unsafe and is too often unrelated to what tasks are meant to be completed.
 
This is no different to when students bring issues associated with inappropriate online activity into the classroom. For although such incidents do not directly occur in the classroom, the fact that they inadvertently impact learning in the classroom means that we do need to deal with them. 
 
The question then that comes to mind is whether blocking access is the best solution? In an interesting interview that I seem to come back to again and again, +Alec Couros spoke about the importance of bringing social media into the classroom. He suggested that we need to be modelling with students everyday appropriate actions online. Yet, as I have discussed before in regards to taboos, for too many schools it is easier to ignore such issues as if doing so both absolves them of responsibility and means that they don’t exist.
 
I am not sure of the perfect answer, but I would like to say that simply blocking every program is not it. I would love to know your thoughts. Are websites like YouTube, Twitter and Slideshare blocked in your school? If not, what are the consequences, both good and bad, of allowing students open access? Please share below.

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New Experiences and Different Perspectives

creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/aaron_davis/14422391611
 
Yesterday I took my daughter on her first train trip into the city. She had a ball and loved every minute, but what struck me was what grabbed her attention the most. One of the most interesting things was the digital billboards. It is not that she had not been to a shopping centre before and spotted the oversized posters, but these had the extra appeal of having the sheen that comes with a digital image cycled every few seconds. She stood and watched for minutes, mesmerised. Me, I couldn’t think of anything more boring, until it dawned on me, I was seeing this from the wrong perspective, this was her experience to have. So I let her be.
 
This all kind of reminded me of the efforts to introduce change in the classroom and the experiences that such actions bring with them. At the opening day of the TL21C program, +Will Richardson suggested identifying one thing that you could change in your classroom, 10% lets say and starting there. Inspired by this challenge, I went back into the classroom with a focus on providing students with more choice as to how they go about things. So whilst watching Jobs for Business Studies – something that the students had decided on in order to further unpack how people and organises become successful – I explained to the class that they needed to take notes. Sharing my own practises, I explained how when I learn, whether this be attending a professional development presentation or reading a text, I take notes in the margins in order to develop a deeper understand. I then put the question to them as to how they take notes. Some spoke about graphic organisers, while others chose dot-points. I let them be.
 
As much as I wanted them to fill their pages with endless scribbles and musings, many were taken by the prospect that the decision was up to them, rather than dictated to them. For some this was a little too much and they got a bit lost, while others started concocting ideas of creating a collaborative document. In the end, the experience was not necessarily as I had planned, but instead of stepping in and hindering the wondering and explorations, I simply provided students with some feedback in regards to their choices, particularly in regards to depth and detail.
 
I am not sure if this is the most profound change that has ever occurred in my classroom, however to me it was a change in the right direction, a move away from teacher authority to student autonomy. What are some of those minor changes that you have introduced into classroom and how were they perceived by students? I would love to know, share below.

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Networking Starts with Two

 
“Sorry, I don’t have the time for that.”
 
How often do we hear that when we try and start something, organise a catchup, a get together to share. Now I am not saying that this isn’t true, however I would argue that the only thing that keeps us apart in today’s day and age is ourselves. As I have discussed elsewhere, we all have many connections in life, the big question is how do we nurture them all?
At the opening day of the TL21C program a few weeks ago, I got chatting with +Sam Irwin. We started reminiscing about our time with the 21st Century Learning Melton Network. After sharing a few stories about the halcyon days, Sam suggested that we should get the band back together. This is something that I had mooted last year, that we should maintain the group, but had never got around to doing. So this week I decided to  finally take action.

 

 
Whilst on Google+ answering various queries and questions associated with TL21C, I decided to create a space on Google+ and send out invites to those I already in my contacts and scrounge through my emails for the other teachers who were in the network. 
 
Clearly I could have created a Facebook group or a Ning, however personally I prefer the functionality of Google+, while my concern with using something like a Ning is that it is another place for people to have to go. To me, people are often already within the Google infrastructure, whether this be via Docs or Gmail, I therefore see it as a natural progression. In my message I suggested that it would be a place to share ideas and develop solutions to various problems. 
 
Over the next few days people came. Now they didn’t come in droves, it was only one here, two there, but they did come. The big question is what next. To me, I think that probably needs to be something that the group decides, for now I am happy with the knowledge that I am not alone. It takes a village and a village takes more than one.
Here then are five questions to consider when creating your own network space:

 

  • Does the space suit those populating it? There is no point using Google+ if everyone else you are trying to connect with is on Facebook.
  • Is there someone else who can help develop moment? It only takes one follower to go from a lone nut to a movement.
  • What content have your provided for people? Although long term this maybe something that you want people to add themselves, but it is good to provide something to start with.
  • Are you giving people a reason share and engage? It may simply be something as simple as a question, but make sure that you are involved too.
  • How are you engaging with others? Maybe you know your followers or maybe your network is open to anyone interested, whoever it maybe you need to consider how you are getting them on-board.
So how do you connect? What networks have you formed? What spaces do you use? Feel free to share.
 
creative commons licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/aaron_davis/14392772386

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Are We Connecting with the Wrong Topic?

creative commons licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/aaron_davis/14223298149
Lately, I have been writing a lot about being a connected educator. A part of this stemmed from a tweet from +Alan Thwaites, but it also comes from my involvement in the TL21C program. However, I was challenged by a colleague the other day with the question: ‘what do we talk about when we have finished talking about getting connected?’ At first I was confused by the question for being connected is so important, then it occurred to me that maybe I’ve been focussing too much on the wrong issue?
 
It is so easy when talking about teaching and learning in the 21st century to get caught up in discussions about tools and technology. However, as I have discussed elsewhere, 21st century learning is more than just one thing. If we use the work of the team at ATC21s, it is in fact a combination of four interrelated topics:
  • Ways of thinking. Creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, decision-making and learning
  • Ways of working. Communication and collaboration
  • Tools for working. Information and communications technology (ICT) and information literacy
  • Skills for living in the world. Citizenship, life and career, and personal and social responsibility
Some schools in an effort to counterbalance the perceived over-emphasis on technology create 21st century learning positions focussing on solely on ‘thinking’ or ‘working collaboratively’. The problem with this is that in attempt to move away from technology, they create an over emphasis on another area. In doing so misses the point that in the modern world it is through the use of tools and applications that we are actually able to dig deeper critically and collaborate with those not only in our own school or state, but around the world. The best answer is to create clear a balance between them all, with the one unifying concept between them all being learning. For as Sir Ken Robinson has suggested, ‘If there is no teaching and learning going on there is no education happening’. Whether it be using an iPad, working in a group or thinking about a topic, we should always be focused on making a learning-centred environment, otherwise what is the point?
 
Take for example my recent survey of 1:1 devices in schools. Clearly I could have done it differently, gained a wider array of perspectives in a more rigid manner and written an extensive research paper on the matter. However, I had a question and that was whether many other schools had delved into the world of 1:1 and what devices they were using. After called on my connections I got back 35 responses. Now this may not be many in the scheme of things. However it still gave me a wider perspective. It also provided me a means for thinking more critically about the matter for before I sent out the survey I thought that we were the only school yet to dive into 1:1 in regards to primary school. However, I was actually unpleasantly surprised that in fact many schools had yet to go down that path. I think then that being connected and having an array of connections was integral to getting back the feedback that I got and gaining a better perspective.
 
One of criticisms often levelled against connectivism is how do you measure what is important, with information in abundance, how do you decide what should stand out. Other than going down the road of collaborative curation using sites like Diigo where your search is aided by those in your community, I agree that there is a level of chance involved in who might be listening, watching and participating. In addition to this, who is to say that those offering up ideas are that are useful, correct or even honest in the first place. I think though that the biggest problem begins with the notion of the ‘connected educator’, I think that we would gain more from redefining this notion as ‘connected learner’ as that is really what this is all about.
 
In the end, the only thing and the most important thing is learning and with that a focus on ourselves as learners. However, I still feel that a lot is gained by being involved within more communities and having stronger connections on and offline.
 
So how do you learn best? What helps you out the most? Do your connections help or hinder your quest for solutions?

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The Tree – A Metaphor for Learning

creative commons licensed (BY-NC-ND) flickr photo by sachman75: http://flickr.com/photos/sacharules/7431640808
 
I remember in Year Four Ms. Bates teaching us about how trees grew. She explained that they reach to the sun and it is for that reason that they are not always straight. I am sure there is more to it than this, but Ms. Bates story really stuck with me, maybe because of its simplicity, but I think because it completely changed the way that I looked at the world around me. Thinking about it today makes me think that learning might be the same.
 
I remember when my wife and I moved into our house we planted a series of lilly pillies down the side of property. The thought was that they would provide some screening and a bit more privacy. Clearly we weren’t going to let them grow to their potential height of 100 metres as the tag suggested that they could in their natural surroundings, rather we would mould and shape them. As a plant, they are not only hardy, but they grow relatively straight and never lose their foliage. 
Since planting them, it has been interesting watching them grow. The first thing that I learnt was that they were not all the same stock, with two distinct different types, while one seems to have an ailment which affects the leaves, meaning that although it continues to grow, the leaves often curl up and bubble. 
 
Initially we staked the trees to support them, but also to make sure that they all looked the same. It did not take long for the trees at the end of property to outgrow their supports. Whether it be due to the quality of soil, the fall of the land or direct access to both the morning and evening sun, they both prospered quickly.
 
In regards to the other trees, they have each travelled their own journey. Growing ever so slowly, with some even giving up the ghost. They would often depend on additional support. No matter how much fertilizer I have given them, how many times I have pruned them in the hope of spurring on new growth, provided them with additional water, they continue to develop at their pace, in their own way, although each looking similar, but also each looking different in their own ways. No matter how much I tried to shape them, they still manage to do their own thing.
 
I think that in some respect learning is comparable with the growth of a tree. Too often we wonder why students are not straight and elegant, that they don’t learn in the prescribed manner. Too often we only recognise the trunk, when in fact many trees have numerous branches in order to help them prosper, some even without any discernible trunk at all. 
 
In an interview with the +Ed Tech Crew+Alec Couros made the suggestion that to think about MOOC’s in regards to drop-outs and success rates, fails to recognise all of the other learning that we don’t always recognise. In the same way, trying to control, manage and structure learning can stifle the potential and possibility. Although a garden may look nice and suit our own purposes, a forest has little constraint and allows the world to blossom to its full potential.

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