This is based on a presentation at the Melbourne GAFESummit held at Xavier College on September 19th and 20th, 2016.

There have been many changes to learning brought about in the past decade, from MOOCs to social media, often though there are so many options that it can be hard to know where to start and more importantly, why. Technology enables us to easily develop digital communities and networks inside and outside of the classroom. The reality though is that connected learning is as much about creating spaces for learning and building on that, so let us start there.

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In a recent Twitter chat the magical panacea suggested for improving education was for everyone to get a blog. Like the regular call that every teacher should join Twitter, I think that the call for every teacher to have a blog maybe a little misguided.

In a recent post from George Couros associated with a MOOC around his book Innovator’s Mindset, he touches on the importance of having somewhere to share and reflect. However, he follows this up with a reminder that this will all be to no avail if people do not also read and comment on each others posts. For this is often where the deep learning occurs. As Couros states,

  • It makes everyone smarter.
  • It encourages people to keep going…many stop because they feel no one is reading their blog posts.
  • It builds community

This is important as it touches on purpose.

So by all means start a blog, but please do not think that in itself a blog somehow makes you special. As I have stated elsewhere, you need to develop your why and remember that as time passes this reason will ebb and flow. If there is anything that I would recommend that everyone did, it would be to get connected, build your network, for perspective is priceless. It is only then that you will realise that without a space of your own you are sometimes limited to what you can say and do.

So what about you? What are your thoughts? If you write a blog, why? If not, why not? As always, comments welcome.

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I have been doing a lot of thinking of late around building communities of practice. Although there has been a lot of discussion around purpose and intent of the community, the question that I have been wondering is how we build trust in a purely online environment so that people are willing to participate. My own experience of a community of practice with Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century started with a face-to-face session, however not every community of practice is afforded such luxury. This led me to reflect upon my involvement with various cMOOCs over the years and consider how each set out to create an environment which fosters sharing and collaboration. So here are my thoughts and reflections:

Rhizo Learning

I am not sure how to explain #Rhizo14, #Rhizo15 or Rhizo anything. I guess it could be considered as a radical attempt to facilitate a course where the community is the curriculum and being the expert is not necessarily the goal. Although each of the iterations has been facilitated by Dave Cormier, he always seems to make every attempt possible to get out of the way. Other than a weekly provocation and Hangout, there were very few explicit formalities. This worked (and failed?) in part because of the strength of the community. I cannot actually recall any explicit trust building activities and I must admit that it got a little unwieldy at times, which I imagine might have put some off.


Connected Courses was a collaborative community designed to develop networked learning in higher education. Each fortnight had a different focus, supported by a team of facilitate, as well as a range of makes, videos and resources. In the lead up, Howard Rheingold, Alan Levine and Jim Groom supported people in organising a space and connecting it to the syndicated blogs. This was done via social media, as well as through a Hangout. Beyond the act of getting going, the first unit involved responding to the provocation #WhyITeach.


Connected Learning MOOC is a yearly event designed to help people make sense of learning online through the act of making. In the first week of making, participants are invited to introduce themselves however they like, connect with other learners by commenting and reflect on the connections made. To support this creative process, a range of possibilities are listed in a ‘Make Bank’. Beyond the usual weekly challenges, there also daily connectors which allow people to maintain a sense of connection, even if they may have dropped out of the weekly tasks.


Digital Writing Month is an annual 30-day challenge that has been occurring since 2012. Similar to CLMOOC, it encourages people to be creative by providing a number tasks and challenges. This includes a mixture of daily activities and on-going projects. Each year is facilitated by a different team, adding a different twist. In regards to introductions, the 2015 iteration started with an invitation to create an alternative CV (#altcv).


Walk My World is an annual social media project in which people are encouraged to share and connect around a hashtag. The intent is to explore open research and open publishing. The weekly assignments are designed to help tell your story. In 2016, the first challenge involved sharing a selfie and reflecting on the story behind it.

What seems to stand out is the sharing of something personal. In order to make this more possible for people to participate, these activities often emphasis choice and creativity in a lighthearted manner.

What about you though? What experiences have you been a part of? Do you have any thoughts, ideas and experiences? As always, comments welcome.

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Brad Gustafson’s Renegade Leadership paints the picture of how education can be transformed without the usual calls for revolution and revolt. Although focused on fostering an innovative learning environment, the book is at the same time grounded in a belief about best practices, with an emphasis on teacher clarity, formative assessment, feedback, student discussion and teacher-student relationships. To visualise this convergence, Gustafson uses a series of quadrants, with the ultimate aim being the amplification of learning.

The Convergence of Best Practice and Innovation Taken from Renegade Leadership (2016) by Corwin Press
‘The Convergence of Best Practice and Innovation’ taken from Renegade Leadership (2016) by Corwin Press

Gustafson grapples with a number of ideas, such as values, collaboration, ownership, digital connectivity, experimental learning and professional development. In addition to this, it is broken up with various case studies involving current educators and historical figures who fit the renegade mould.

With references to augmented reality, drones, 3D printers, podcasting, twitter chats, hashtags, makerspaces, microcredentialing and flipped instruction, it would be easy to think of this book as simply being about technology. However, it is more than that. It is better considered a book about beliefs. This is made clear in Gustafson’s list of leadership traits that he considers pertinent to his practice, including pedagogical precision, transparency, connectedness, innovation, risk-taking, capacity building, child-centred, empowered learner, impact and moral courage. Without these beliefs, many of the opportunities outlined would not be possible.

Although aimed at leaders, this is a book that has take-aways for all educators. With guiding questions and challenges for each chapter, a range of suggestions for subtle shifts, a self-diagnostic tool and a companion website with further resources, Gustafson provides the ammunition needed to confidently tackle innovative change. Through his tales of failure and success, Gustafson outlines a compelling vision of hope that simply cannot be ignored.

Watch below for a video introduction made with TouchCast:

 Or watch his TedTalk:

DISCLOSURE: Other than the gift of learning offered by this book, I did not receive any benefits or gains for writing this review.


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In a recent post, Dean Shareski reflected on the notion of  ‘watershed moments’:

I was chatting with someone the other day and the idea of watershed moments came up. Specifically, we reflected on watershed moments in our own learning and careers. Watershed moments are those occasions where there the lightbulb came on or something profound was shared or understood. They happen in various contexts no doubt. As I thought about my own I was instantly curious about other people’s experiences.

Inspired, I decided to share some of my own watershed moments …

Professional Development

It is so hard to choose one experience that stands out above others. Some of the activities that come to mind include the TL21C community of practice or developing a presentation with Steve Brophy. However, if I were to choose one professional development experience that stood out as being a watershed moment, it would have to be being a part of the Google Teachers Academy in Sydney in 2014. I must be honest, I have failed in my endeavour to further engage parents and the community. However, the event completely changed the depth and detail that I apply to problems. Working with Tom Barrett and Hamish Curry from NoTosh (although Tom has since gone solo), it gave a thorough insight into Design Thinking and the discipline required to bring about change.


It is hard to identify one presentation that has left a significant impression. I find I attach myself to people and their ideas, rather than a particular presentation. I think that like millions of others, I was captivated by Sir Ken Robinson’s original TED Talk. However, I think that it was Alan November’s keynote for ICTEV12 that really propelled me into the world of connected learning. It was not that he necessarily provided a map for how to reform education, rather he painted a picture as to how things could be different. Whether it be self-publishing or using various search methods to break out of your echo chamber, he demonstrated that change is possible.


Reflecting upon reading, I feel that my consumption of late has been predominantly non-fiction. However, it is the worlds introduced in books of fiction that leave had the most profound mark. If I were to choose one book, I think that it would have to be Catcher in the Rye. I must admit that I am drawn to anti-heroes, flawed characters who remind us that life is neither simple nor obvious. Although I could easily have included something by Jane Austen or James Joyce, Catcher is one of those books whose fractured simplicity means that they are forever open, yet at the same time leave you with a feeling of the uncanny.


I think that like Dean Shareski, the watershed technology would have to be blogging. When I think about my voice and identity as a blogger, it has roots to a time long before I wrote my first post. I have come to realise, as I recently went through some old university documents, that my tendency to follow threads of thought were alive back then in the margins of pages or on the back of envelopes. What blogging has allowed is a personal space to actually follow through with some of these thoughts and articulate them. When I speak to people about blogging, I wonder sometimes if discussion of platforms misses the point. I think that what matters most is the possibility to communicate and collaborate. If this is not important before you start a blog, then I am not sure that you will find much worth.


I am a believer in the power of the collective village, so to choose one person seems problematic. If I had to choose one, it would have to be Richard Olsen. What stands out about Olsen is his willingness to push an idea to its limits. Whereas others may nod as a sign of approval or simply agree to disagree, it feels as if Olsen sees such opportunities as the beginning of something deeper. I must admit that this is not for everyone and some prefer to live what would seem as an unexamined life. Instead when I am pushed by those like Olsen, Greg Thompson, Jon Andrews, Deborah Netolicky, David Culberhouse, Alan Levine, Andrea Stringer, Steve Brophy, Mariana Funes, Jon Corripo, Corinne Campbell, Anthony Speranza, Jenny Ashby etc … I feel privileged that they are willing to make the effort and spend the time to take an idea that bit further.

So there you go, those are some of my watershed moments. I am sure that I have missed many moments, as well as people. However, it is at least an attempt.

So what about you? What are your watershed moments? I would love to know.

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I have been spending a bit of time lately with the idea of communities of practice. One of the things that becomes clear quickly is that there are many different definitions and descriptions.

Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner suggest that:

Communities of practice are formed by people who engage in a process of collective learning in a shared domain of human endeavour: a tribe learning to survive, a band of artists seeking new forms of expression, a group of engineers working on similar problems, a clique of pupils defining their identity in the school, a network of surgeons exploring novel techniques, a gathering of first-time managers helping each other cope.

While Lani Ritter Hall and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach describe it as follows:

Communities of practice (or inquiry) are systems of collective critical inquiry and reflection focused on building a shared identity and a collective intelligence garnered over time. Members have a “none of us is as good as all of us” mentality.

Touching on the role of communities, Tony Bates explains that:

The basic premise behind communities of practice is simple: we all learn in everyday life from the communities in which we find ourselves. Communities of practice are everywhere. Nearly everyone belongs to some community of practice, whether it is through our working colleagues or associates, our profession or trade, or our leisure interests, such as a book club.

A report by the US government highlight some of the benefits:

Past research has already suggested that, if designed, implemented, and supported well, online communities of practice can help educators strengthen their performance. Through these online social learning spaces, evidence shows that educators can effectively access, share, and create knowledge, as well as strengthen their commitment to the profession

In there discussion of teaching crowds, Jon Dron and Terry Anderson explain that:

The concept, drawn from anthropological studies, relates to how newcomers to a collection of people, such as a department in a firm, a university, or a group of charity workers, learn the group’s practices and become participants in the community.

One of the problems with each of these definitions and descriptions is that they do not necessarily capture the nuance of each context. Another way of making sense of communities of practice is using the Modern Learning Canvas:

Modern Learning Canvas - CoP

One of the benefits of the canvas is that it provides a structure to talk about learning. Starting with a description of an ideal community, you can then make changes to the canvas based on the needs and purpose of particular situation. For when I think about the communities that I have participated in, whether they be MOOCs (Rhizo14, ccourses, digiwrimo, CLMOOC etc …) or professional learning programs (TL21C), they were all different. They all appraoched things differently, providing for different needs.

So what about you, have you had any experiences with communities of practice? As always, I would love to know.

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