Letter from the Future


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After eight years, I am moving on. I recently received a job supporting the drive for transformation through the use of digital pedagogies. A unique position that offers a great opportunity to work with schools and teachers from across the state.

Leaving a place where I have spent a quarter of my life, I am left reflecting on what I have achieved and the impact that I have had. This process also makes me think about what I might have done differently if I had my time again.

In regards to this, I was reminded of a post Doug Belshaw wrote a few years ago that was a letter to his past self. During the last few weeks as I have been on leave, staying at home with our newborn, I have been wondering what I would say to my younger self beginning at the school all those years ago.

So here is my attempt to write a letter to the newly married teacher who arrived from the bush all the way back in 2009:


Dear past self

I am writing from the future, hoping to help you so that you don’t make the same errors that I did. I wanted to say mistakes, but I don’t think that is fair. Although I adapted and evolved during my time, I think that life would have been different if I’d have known these things from the beginning.

So here are five things that I would recommend:

Keep on Moving

It can be easy in any organisation to be typecast as having a particular strength or skillset. Some see this as a good thing, but in the wider scheme of things it is a fixed point of view and may limit your possibilities. Therefore, whenever you get the chance, break the mould. Engage with different teams, observe different classes. Whatever it is, don’t let other’s box you in!

Don’t Wait

Often in schools there is a feeling that someone else will step up and do a job, someone else will help out, someone else will take on that role. Don’t wait for someone else to give permission to try something out, to make a change. Show initiative. Be innovative. Don’t wait for support in the form of someone else’s answers. Seek feedback on what you are doing and why you have chosen to do it that way.

Implementing Ideas is Never Black and White

Sometimes people will provide you with supposed ready made solutions, presented in colourful booklets, with a clear set of answers and plans. Don’t be fooled. It isn’t that these things won’t work, rather they will need to be unpacked, interpreted, made sense of as a team. Rather than starting the conversation with a statement encapsulating some simplistic solution, begin with an open-ended question that supports further engagement and inquiry.

Build Capacity, rather than Provide Solutions

You may be good at what you do, especially regards integrating technology, but unless you can get others on board then it will all be to no avail. You need to focus on building up the capacity of others. Sometimes this is about asking questions that might support them, other times it is being a plus one, that voice who celebrates the awesome stuff that other people are doing. Whatever it is, you need to be the support not merely the solution.

Get connected

I can not encourage this enough. You work in a multi-campus environment, with over 500 staff. Any opportunity you get, connect with others. This is a priceless opportunity, look out for different perspectives and points of view. Ask questions. Seek advice. In addition to this, get connected online. You have access to people all over the world. Engage with them. Share your ideas. Build on the feedback. You will benefit so much if only you put yourself out there a little bit.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Your future self.


So what about you? What advice would you give your past self if you could? As always, comments welcome.


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REVIEW: Anywhere Anytime Learning by @bruceadixon and @susaneinhorn


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I remember when I first came upon the work of Bruce Dixon. An article in Education Today titled ‘Whatever Happened to the Revolution?‘ was raised as evidence as to why educational technology had failed. What stood out then and what runs throughout Anywhere Anytime Learning is that it all comes back to planning, preparation and vision.

Written by Bruce Dixon and Susan Einhorn, the book is a compilation of their work with Anywhere Anytime Learning Foundation supporting schools with the integration of technology to aide learning. It is split into three sections: planning, implementation and resources. Planning encapsulates setting a vision, knowing what is possible and developing a culture of change. While implementation involves addressing the various steps and stakeholders that need to be considered.

Rather than a ready made ‘step-by-step methodology’, Dixon and Einhorn provide a framework that is as much about asking the right questions as anything else. As they explain:

This is not a textbook or a checklist. Nor is it an Ikea®-like set of instructions to build an easy-to-assemble 21st century school. This guide delves deep with the expectation that you and your team understand a transformation of this size takes effort and an investment of not only money, but time and commitment to an outcome that will be reflected in the learning experiences of your students, not simply as a number that reflects device ratio or density.

To support this commitment, the book is littered with a wide range of references and resources.

Anywhere Anytime Learning could easily have been a tome full of solutions, instead it is priceless provocation providing the starting point to a collegiate conversation. Many of the ideas seem to be common sense, however they are all collected in one place. The strength in the end is that it is one of those resources you could come back to again and again to support further investigation and inquiry. To me, it is the one book which every technology integrator, let alone school leader, should read and reflect on.


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Planning with OneNote


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Integrating technology in schools can be challenging. Often it is seen as an ‘or’ rather than an ‘and’. Subsequently, there are some areas where it has become more normalised than others. One such space is curriculum planning.

When was the last time you saw a handwritten curriculum document? Ok, many teachers still print them out and write in their notes, however it seems to have become something of a given that the initial document is typed. The question to be considered is which application best suits the need.

The biggest problem is that there are so many different options. Maybe it is using Evernote, Google Apps, a wiki or a learning management system. Some of the common issues seem to be formatting, collaboration, ease of use and ability to link between resources. One other option that has become particularly popular of late is Microsoft OneNote.

Like Google Apps, OneNote allows users to collaborate without the conflicts created when using applications like Dropbox, includes a wide range of templates and allows the ability to collect and connect different content. However, one of it’s biggest selling points is that for those comfortable with using Microsoft Office, there is little adjustment required. Rather, it adds a certain level of functionality that is not possible otherwise.

For more on OneNote, check out the following resources:

So what about you? Have you used OneNote? Is there anything that you would add? As always, comments welcome.


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The Many Faces of Blogging


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Just as there are many different blogging platforms, there are also many different ways to blog. Some break it down into different tasks or unpacking why we blog. However, we often overlook what actually constitutes a blog in education. To make sense of these possibilities, I have broken them down into seven different types that help to develop a deeper appreciation of the possibilities that blogging enables:


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Personal

The most obvious place to start with blogging is as a personal space. Whether it is about digging deeper into a particular question or simply reflecting on life, a blog enables a particular type of voice. This could be informal and not necessarily intended to scale. Just about getting ideas down, a digital scrapbook, giving ideas life or thinking out loud. While at the other end of the scale, it could be quite formal with a conscious effort made to present a particular perspective. Maybe this could be a principal sharing their thoughts on the school’s journey or a consultant sharing particular ideas and resources.

For a range of personal blogs, check the extensive list of nominees associated with the 2015 Edublogs Awards.

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Portfolio

In some ways the blog as a portfolio is an extension of the personal. It too focuses on thinking out loud and reflection. Where it differs is that it adds a certain structure and a conscious intent. The expectations, whether it be standards being used, frequency of responses, the setting of goals or the kind of material included (and excluded), help guide the process. Although we often associate portfolios with students, they also apply to the teachers and leaders.

Here are some examples of portfolios:


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Subject

A flip of the personal blog is the subject based blog. What differentiates the two is the focus on a particular topic or problem, as opposed to an individual point of view. This might be a school website regularly updating information about news and events, a class sharing their learning, an organisation providing information about a project, a community challenge updated with new tasks, an event disseminating ideas beforehand or a writer sharing extracts from an upcoming book. Usually a project blog is not somebody’s primary space. More often than not, those behind a project also keep a personal blog.

Here are some examples of subject based blogs:


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Collaborative

A different take on the subject based blog is the collaborative blog. Often wikis and docs are considered the ideal spaces to connect and collaborate with others. However, blogs also provide the means to combine different voices in the one space. In a post exploring collaborative blogs, George Couros provides some positives to collaborative blogging:

  1. Takes the pressure off.
  2. Adds a kind of competitive nature to the process.
  3. Working with others supports reflection.
  4. Rich learning data.

Although a collaborative blog may also focus on theme, they involve a range of authors and perspectives. This is done either by creating different users or by syndicating content.

Here are some examples of collaborative blogs:


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Presentation

A different take on the theme based blog is the idea of the blog as presentation. At a basic level, this is where you use a content management system to create a somewhat static website. Taking this a step further, Alan Levine has shared how he hacks the code in WordPress to create sites that act like a slideshow. Either way, make a new blog for a presentation allows you to create a unique URL.

Here are a couple of examples of blogs as presentation:


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Curation

Another twist on the usual is blog as a form of curation and social bookmarking. This can take many forms. Sites like Diigo allow you to publish collections of links to a blog. This though has its limits. Blogs themselves provide some useful features that help to organise links using categories and tags, while applications like IFTTT allow you to automate the process of posting. Going a step further than this, there are numerous WordPress themes that allow you to turn your blog into something resembling Delicious or Pintereat. For something differemt, Known provides the means to not only curate links, but post elsewhere, while Mike Caulfield’s Wikity project a means of curating across a network.

Here are some examples of some blogs as social bookmarking:


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Social Space

Another form that pushes the constraint of the platform is blog as social media platform. This is where the lines blur between the traditional conception of a blog and a social media space. The P2 theme and its many children allow you to change the way comments are managed. Instead of clicking through to posts, it all occurs on the front page, acting similar to a message board. One of the useful features is that, compared with platforms like Edmodo, you have more control over the data. Even more powerful is the ability to break this down to particular users.

Here are some examples of some blogs that read more like a social media stream:


So there are my thoughts? What about you? Do you agree? Or have I missed something? Do you have an example to add to my lists or any resources that might relate? As always, comments welcome.


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Dr. Stager or; How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Scratch


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I am going to be honest, today I was found out. I understand the place and power of programming. However, I was one of those people who had overlooked Scratch as somehow being ‘easy’. One of those people how felt that it was a good place to start, to explore and remix, but not really worthy of real work. As I listened to Gary Stager speak about making I realised that I had been missing a trick all along. What matters is not how it looks or even how it works, but rather what it allows you to do – and it allows you to do a lot. This experience was no more obvious than when I was tinkering with Lego WeDo.


Having had some experience with Lego Mindstorms, I was interested in the difference to WeDo. The first thing that stood out was that there is just one motor and two sensors: motion and tilt. While to operate it you need to be connected to a computer (or in the modern version, an iPad using apps like Tynker). Although there were instructions provided, I was more interested in how it all actually worked. I therefore decided to try and make a simple propeller that would be controlled by tilting.

My first step was to connect the WeDo to my computer. Unlike Lego Mindstorm, WeDo allows both its own software or Scratch. After searching around, I made a simple line of code that demonstrated how the two sensors worked. This involved developing an appreciation for the values produced by the senses, as well as blocks required to get them to work.

Once I did this, I then wondered if I could use the tilt mechanism to not only turn it on and off, but also control the direction. After testing a range of options, Richard Olsen helped out by suggesting that I create a loop with two different parameters, where if the tilt was above 2 then it would go one direction, while if it were below 2 it would go the other way. This worked, but it was very messy. After struggling to determine whether it was actually turning, I added a yellow brick to the makeshift propeller in order to make it clearer. Although we could get the propeller turning, controlling it was a little haphazard.

After some reflection, it was identified that one of the issues was the time on the motor. We therefore adjusted this from 1 second to 0.1 second. This provided precision, but was at the expense of speed.

It was thought that maybe a part of the problem was that there was too much going on in one line of code. So after some discussion from others, we split the program into two parallel lines. This solved everything, providing both speed and precision.


As I moved around the different stations throughout the day, so many devices devised were based around the use of block code. Whether it be Dash and Dot or the Hummingbird kit. One of the points that Stager makes again and again is that programming itself has not dramatically changed over the last thirty years. What matters is what we can do with it and more importantly, how we go about it.

School, especially in science and math classes, typically only honours one type of learning and problem- solving approach, the traditional analytical step-by-step model. Other more non-linear, more collaborative, or more artistic problem-solving styles are often dismissed as “messy” or “intuitive” with the implication that they are not reliable.


For more information on making and the work of Gary Stager, check out the following:


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REVIEW: Claim Your Domain @audreywatters


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I purchased Audrey Watters’ Claim Your Domain a few months ago, but a part of me felt that I already knew what it was about. Having read Watters’ compiled lectures, I was aware of the argument for a domain of one’s own. Subsequently, I left it on the shelf. Thinking a bit more deeply about blogging lately, I decided to jump in. And I was glad.

As you would expect, Watters touches on the mechanics of a domain of one’s own, however this is only a small part of the book. The real focus is what it actually means to exist in a digital world and why we need to take more control of our presence. At the heart of this all is the question of data and the implication this has for agency and identity. That is, an understanding that goes beyond mere numbers to include a deeper appreciation of the world we are in.

The book itself is divided into three sections: the learner’s digital domain, why claim your domain and controlling our own technologies. Throughout it explores such questions as what constitutes data today, who controls it and in what ways do learning management systems apply a template that dictates the way we exist? Although it closes with a reflection on portfolios, Watters’ vision is much more radical. Advocating for something more than just student voice, but rather student action.

Some may complain that Audrey Watters is sometimes more critical than constructive, this book though does provide some solace. Not because it provides a mystical elixir that once applied will fix all of ills in education (although she does include some useful resources in the appendix), but rather for providing a clear set of questions to support leaders and learners alike in growing and developing their own solutions from the ground on up.


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A Blog For All Seasons


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Different blogging platforms enable different possibilities. Here is an account of some examples that I have created over time and the intent behind them.

A blog is not a blog. This was the point that I tried to make my last post. Although it can be good to keep everything in one space, this often misses something. Each platform enables different features and possibilities. Therefore, it can be useful to create spaces for different purposes.

One way of looking at this is from the point-of-view of the canonical URL. This is a concept that Doug Belshaw lives by.

Unless it contains sensitive information, publish your work to a public URL that can be referenced by others. This allows ideas to build upon one another in a ‘slow hunch’ fashion. Likewise, with documents and other digital artefacts, publish and then share rather than deal with version control issues by sending the document itself.

A part of working openly, the idea is that everything you do has a unique URL and dependent on the task dictates the platform. For Belshaw, this means having a site for his general thoughts, business, thesis, digital literacies, philosophical musings and sharing resources. This includes the use of wikis, WordPress, SvbtleGithub website and Known.
To make more sense of the different possibilities associated with blogs, here is a breakdown of my own spaces:

  • Read Write Respond – This is my main site. Here I publish my lengthier thoughts (like this one). It has also replaced my About.Me page. I initially made the move to WordPress.Org as a part of my migration to Reclaim Domain. However, now I would not have it any other way.
  • Read Write Wikity – Built on Mike Caulfield’s Wikity platform, this space is about developing knowledge over time. It is an extension on social bookmarking.
  • Read Write Collect – A space to document my varied experiences and publications.
  • #WhatIf – Interested in the possibilities and potential of Known, I started a short blog to record ‘What Ifs’. This is partly influenced by Amy Burvall’s #rawthoughts and Ian O’Byrne’s own short blog IMHO.
  • Read Write Tumbl – By it’s nature, Tumblr is about sharing media. Beyond syndicating my blog posts, which I do out of habit more than anything else, I share my Flickr images via IFTTT, as well as my Giphy creations.
  • Reading Writing Responding -This is where my blogging journey began. I chose Blogger out of interest as to how many things I could do with my Google account. It did the job. I still have this blog as I could not bring all my comments across as they were stuck in Google+. I sometimes tinker with it too. For example, I recently turned Adsense on recently just to see what would happen.
  • 365 Beginnings – Initially created to experiment with WP.Com. I toyed with the idea of a 365 project, where I would take an image and headline from that day and try and imagine the story behind it. I loved it and still love the idea, but it was just too much to maintain.
  • eBox – This Global2/Edublogs blog was developed as a space to share tips and tricks associated with eSmart and digital pedagogies. My predecessor had created a section in the school newsletter with the same name to disseminate information, but I wanted something that was more asynchronous and that provided the opportunity for different voices. Many of these posts have also found their way into my main blog.
  • Class Blogs – Over the years I have created a range of class blogs using Edublogs. Some acted as hubs for student blogs, others as a space to share and promote the work completed in class. They are always a good space to model learning too.
  • Humanities Blog – A colleague and I set up a space to share resources. Apart from a few random posts and a review of Making Thinking Visible – it has not really taken.
  • BIM Blog – During the last few years, my school has set out on a journey to explore and implement a new instructional model. One of the issues that arose early was the challenge to get everyone on the same page. A part of the problem was finding a shared space to collect resources and reflections. I setup a blog and there were a few teachers who took it up. However, with changes in staff and some left feeling a little confused, the network share drive won the day.
  • Humanities Times – As a part of an investigation for Humanities into the refugee crisis, we used a Global2 blog for students to share different stories from the media. The intent was for students to develop both a deeper awareness of the problem, as well as an appreciation of the enormity of it all.
  • Inquire Within – I have also posted at Edna Sackson’s wonderful collaborative WordPress blog Inquire Within. I must admit, I haven’t shared their recently as I am never quite sure which of my posts fit.
  • Other Spaces – I have postings at a few other sites, including BAM Network where I often share practical activities and applications, as well as a few guest posts at Peter DeWitt’s blog Finding Common Ground.

So that is me, my collection of blogs, each with their own context. What about you? What are the different spaces that you use? What was involved in making the choices? As always, comments welcome.


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