My One Word for 2017 is Communication

It is that time of year when people start reflecting on the year that was and begin planning for the one ahead. Some take it as an opportunity to reflect upon the lessons learned. See for example the posts from both Matt Esterman and Deborah Netolicky. Others use it as a time to simply stop and reflect. See for example Andrea Stringer’s post on strengths. As the new year approaches many turn their attention to various resolutions.

Although I like to look back, this is usually either sporadic. See my post on lessons learned as a parent. Or somewhat academic, that is a reflection on life as a connected educator. See both Jon Andrews’ post, Steve Brophy’s look back, as well as my look back on a year curating a monthly newsletter. While looking forward, I prefer to cast a line into the future with an openness to what life may have to bring. I do this by focusing on one word and using this as a reference point throughout.

A few years ago, Kath Murdoch shared a post about focusing on one word. This changed the way I approached the yearly ritual of setting concrete resolutions that were lost by February. My one word last year was capacity. I set this with an eye to how I work with others and the ways in which I support them. I must admit that with the changes that have occurred this year (addition to the family, new roles at school, new job) I felt that I lost sight of this focus. Yet when I looked back recently, I realised that it has been there throughout.

Whether it be:

  • Working with colleagues in setting up a coding club
  • Handing over responsibility for GSuite Admin
  • Developing material to support teachers with the integration of technology
  • Coordinating a trial community of practice

Although I have not done a lot of explicit coaching, where there is a set time with goals and intention, I feel that I have been involved in coaching as a ‘way of being’. To me this is what is meant by leadership with a little L. The area though that I feel is worth developing further is communication.

Whether it be working with schools, guiding teachers with new technology, providing supporting materials or facilitating online learning, I see communication as a central part of what I will be doing this year. This is not necessarily about a problem of practice, but rather about being deliberate and mindful. Some possible focuses include:

  • Clarity – sometimes messages and meaning can get lost in their delivery, the challenge is when to add more or keep it short.
  • Consistency – whether responding via email or working with someone in person, it is important to be consistent in regards to the way things are done.
  • Collaboration – it can be easy to focus on the job at hand and the person that you maybe working with, however it is important to remember that it often takes a team and think about ways to keep everyone abreast.
  • Context – so much of communication is about adjusting to the moment, it is important to change pitch or approach depending on the circumstance.
  • Transparency – sometimes the key to communication is the culture that it is built upon, this though is often built upon other actions and activities.

Some of the preliminary texts and resources that I have come upon so far include:

So that is me, what about you? Do you have any thoughts and suggestions? Are there any resources that you would recommend? Or maybe you have a word of your own? As always, comments welcome.

 


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Read Write Review – Voices from the Village (2016)


Just sort of do it flickr photo by mrkrndvs shared under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

This year I tried something different. In addition to my usual practice of blogging, I decided to curate a monthly newsletter. In part, this stemmed from a review that I wrote at the end of last year, collecting together all the posts that I had read that stood out to me in 2015. Going back through a year’s worth of posts collected in Diigo was an arduous task. It occurred to me that this might be more manageable if it were more regular. Although many others maintain weekly instalments, I decided that would be too regular. Instead I chose a monthly reflection. For me, this provides a little bit more flexibility.

To organise my thinking, I separated the curated posts into three categories: teaching resources, educational technology and reflections. In addition to this, I included a monthly focus either in response to a topical matter or derived from my own work.   Topics have included: mindsets, measuring the success of technology, GIFs, SAMR, getting connected, designing a technology rich environment, Seymour Papert, Nathan Jones, Creative Commons, responses to the US election and PISA.

So here then are some of the thoughts that have left me thinking this year …

Learning and Teaching

The Three Stages of Documentation Of/For/As Learning – Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano regularly explores the different stages of documentation. She splits it up into before where teachers decide focus, during where the work is documented and after where you act on the work captured. More recently, she has turned her attention to the connections between different literacies and documentation.

My work is concentrating on making pedagogical documentation visible and shareable to amplify teaching and learning. I believe that using technology, as a tool, to be able to share best practices, to make thinking and learning visible to ourselves and others, is the key to transform teaching and learning!

Ways to Use Lego in the Classroom – Mark Warner provides a range of examples about how to use Lego in the classroom. In some ways it reminds me of Lee Hewes’ post exploring the potential of Minecraft, its strength is its breadth of ideas.

When I’m not busy working on our teaching websites, I can usually be found playing Lego with our children! It’s an incredibly creative toy, but it can also be used to support work in a number of different curriculum areas. Here is our HUGE list of ways to use Lego in the classroom

Learner Agency – More than just a buzzword – Claire Amos lists 10 ways you might provide Learner Agency in your classroom or school.

If the world around us wasn’t changing so rapidly, we might have got away with sticking our heads in the sand and believing (like certain schools still do) that effective education means little, if any, learner agency and whole lot of control and teacher centred pedagogy.  Don’t get me wrong, there is still a place for direct instruction and even rote learning, but if you are limiting yourself to such practice, no matter how awesomely charismatic you might be, you are doing your students a massive disservice.

Reading Conferences with Students – Pernille Ripp discusses the challenges of reading conferences within a limited amount of time and provides some thoughts and suggestions.

While the 45 minutes of English class will never be ideal, it will never be enough, it will never feel like I can provide each child with the type of learning experience they deserve, it cannot hold us back.  It cannot hold me back.  And I cannot be the only one that is trying to do this.

7 ways to assess without testing – In light of the frenzy of testing that is going on at the moment all around the world, Steve Wheeler provides some alternative forms of assessment that do not involve testing. Along with Rachel Wilson’s piece on alternatives to NAPLAN, both posts add to the counter-narrative to the culture of standardised testing.

Children don’t learn any more or any better because of standardised testing, unless there is feedback on how they can improve. But SATs seem to be the weapon of choice for many governments across the globe. It seems that little else matters but the metrics by which our political masters judge our schools.

Starting a Patch from Scratch – The team behind the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden program reflect on a collection of stories associated with getting started in regards to creating your own garden. To support this process, they have provided a resource with a range of tips and tricks to getting going with kitchen gardening in and out of school. You can read my reflection on SAKG here.

We’ve also put together some free gardening resources to help you start your own patch from scratch. The pack includes tips on how to plan your garden, making a no-dig garden bed, how to plant seeds and seedlings, mulching,  planting charts and recipes for homemade pasta, pesto and a Salad of the Imagination.

ScratchMath – One of the challenges with any platform is finding the edge. Jeffrey Gordon provides a range of possibilities which help highlight what is possible.

Teaching computer programming is not like teaching reading or math. Programmers rely on libraries of code they can’t understand, coworkers to write functions they don’t read, and finally a structure that doesn’t always require comprehending the whole, but rather understanding of a set of individual parts and their relationships.

7 mental models you should know for smarter decision making – Sean Kim provides a series of mental models to help with the process of making important decisions.

Whether it’s trying to figure out which job you should take, deciding to quit your job to start a business,move to a new city — these decisions are never easy. Yet there are people who we can learn from who make highly impactful decisions on a regular basis, and they’ve developed mental models to help them make smarter decisions.

Four Fantastic Feedback Tools for Google Docs – Eric Curts outlines four different ways of giving feedback using Google Docs.

Now with tools such as Google Docs and Classroom, it is easy for students to create and submit their work digitally. So how does a teacher leave feedback on an electronic document? As we move from paper and pencil to Docs and digital, we need options for providing feedback that is valuable to the student, but not cumbersome and unnatural for the teacher to create.

Moving from digital portfolios to a domain of one’s own – Ian O’Byrne discusses the history associated with portfolios and outlines some benefits of students going a step further and having a domain of their own

In the development of digital portfolios, I see opportunities for students to engage with digital tools in online spaces across their academic careers. I believe there is a need for students to develop and maintain a domain of one’s own, one canonical address online that students build up from Pre-K through higher ed that archives and documents learning over time. This space can be used to read, write, and participate, as learners build, edit, revise, and iterate as if it were a digital portfolio. As we move from digital portfolios to providing students with a domain of their own we help them connect their literacy practices with the identity development skills they’ll need now and in the future.

Creating Virtual Reality Content in Minecraft with Year 4 – Lee Hewes shares some of his learning associated with a recent project involving the use of Minecraft to create 360 degree videos.

My latest class project, which we have just finished and I am about to describe, is perhaps the project that has challenged me the most, both as a player of Minecraft, and from a classroom perspective. It was also, however, way cool! The project, which was guided by the driving question, “How can we use Minecraft to help endangered animals?” was focussed on having kids learn about human impact on the environment, sustainable living practices and animal conservation.

The Power Of Spreadsheets – Chris Betcher shares an example of how he used Sheets to compare the offerings from various energy companies. This is a useful resource in regards to working with various formulas to compare and critique data.

What if you gave your students the basic skills of calculating numbers with a spreadsheet, and then a bunch of different rates from different competing companies and simply asked “Who is offering the best deal?”  This process usually raises lots and lots of questions, and will certainly make them better consumers, better at understanding data, and better users of spreadsheets.

Edtech

Coalescent Spaces – A post from David White investigating presence in regards to physical and digital learning spaces.

My response to this in teaching and learning terms is to design pedagogy which coalesces physical and digital spaces. Accept that students can, and will, be present in multiple spaces if they have a screen with them and find ways to create presence overlaps. This is different from simply attempting to manage their attention between room to screen

President Obama Discovers Coding – Gary Stager pushes back on the latest hype around coding and technology, identifying some of the historical roadblocks as he sees it.

Computer literacy must mean the ability to do something constructive with a computer, and not merely a gen eral awareness of acts one is told about computers. A computer literate person can read and write a computer program, can select and operate software written by others, and knows from personal experience the possibilities and limitations of the computer

‘I Love My Label’: Resisting the Pre-Packaged Sound in Ed-Tech – Continuing to unpack a more personal experience of edtech, Audrey Watters builds on the punk metaphor outlined by Jim Groom and Adam Croom to put forward a vision of the future less dictated by commercial algorithms and more curated by human communities. Jim Groom also provided a thorough summary of his experience at Indie Ed Tech Conference. This is fantastic post not only for Groom’s insights, but the breadth of links attached.

Indie means we don’t need millions of dollars, but it does mean we need community. We need a space to be unpredictable, for knowledge to be emergent not algorithmically fed to us. We need intellectual curiosity and serendipity – we need it from scholars and from students.

Beyond Coding – Going beyond coding and algorithms, Steve Collis discusses the future of neural networks and artificial intelligence. Along with Jason Tanz post on the end of code, these two pieces provide an interesting insight into where the future maybe headed.

Insight into the power of repeated and branching algorithms doesn’t begin to prepare us for what is essentially distributed extended cognition. Incredibly sophisticated artificial intelligence, including neural network computing, is embedded in our lives and progressing in rapid cascades.

I know how to program, but I don’t know what to program – Nano Dano critiques the common approach when addressing programming that we need to start from scratch, instead it is suggested that we start by tinkering with something that already exists. I think that this is the strength of sites such as Scratch and Github which allow you to easily fork ideas. Dave Winer talks about building on prior art.

In the software community the general attitude is “don’t reinvent the wheel.” It’s almost frowned upon if you rewrite a library when a mature and stable option exists. While it is a good rule in general, novices should not be afraid to reinvent the wheel. When it is done for learning or practice, it’s totally OK to make a wheel! It is an important part of learning

Be Careful What You Code For – danah boyd provides a different perspective on coding. Like Quinn Norton, she addresses the problem of poor code, suggesting that moving forward we need more checks and balances.

Technology can be amazingly empowering. But only when it is implemented in a responsible manner. Code doesn’t create magic. Without the right checks and balances, it can easily be misused.

What is an API? – Ben Werdmuller unpacks the world of APIs. He touches on their purpose and what they mean for the personal user. This conversation is continued in a post on Open Source.

APIs present a pragmatic solution that allows us to build on other software while saving on short-term costs. They’re not a magic wand, but used wisely, they allow us to build entirely new products and services. And maybe — just maybe — they will allow us to take control of our digital lives and build a new kind of internet.

A Domain of One’s Own in a Post-Ownership Society – Audrey Watters responds to Maha Bali’s wonderings about ownership in relationship to a Domain of One’s Own. Kate Bowles also wrote an interesting response too.

To own is to possess. To own is to have authority and control. To own is to acknowledge. It implies a responsibility. Ownership is a legal designation; but it’s something more than that too. It’s something more and then, without legal protection, the word also means something less.

Assembling ClassDojo: A sociotechnical survey of a public sphere platform – Ben Williamson provides a thorough introduction to ClassDojo. This is not necessarily a ‘HowTo’ guide, but rather what using ClassDojo actually means. From origins, to privacy, to investment, this is something of a working paper, which considers the assemblages which combine to make ClassDojo what it is. Along with Salvador Rodriguez’ post on Inc., they provide a glimpse of where the application is heading.

ClassDojo is prototypical of how education is being reshaped in a ‘platform society.’ This sociotechnical survey of the ClassDojo assemblage provides some sense of its messy complexity as an emerging public sphere platform that has attained substantial success and popularity in education. Approached as a sociotechnical assemblage, ClassDojo is simultaneously a technical platform that serves a variety of practical, pedagogical and social functions; an organizational mosaic of engineers, marketers, product managers and other third party providers and partners; the subject of a wider regulatory environment and also a bit-part actor in new policy networks; the serious object for financial investment in the ed-tech marketplace; and a mediator of diverse expert psychological, neuroscientific and behavioural scientific knowledges and discourses pertaining to contemporary schooling and learning.

Hal, is in the House – John Mikton wonders what happens in a world where a kindergarteners answer to inquiry questions is to simply ask Siri. It also makes me wonder about the voice of students and what say they are able to have in this future. Greg Thompson also touched upon the place of digital education in his discussion of the various structural issues.

Coming to terms with these exponential changes takes time to digest. As educators, we need to understand that engagement and critical thinking are vital components of education, especially as AI shifts the classroom narrative. The ethical issues which surround these exponential changes are here now. The complacency that schools engage with in the discourse of what it means to be in a world dominated by AI is a tension we cannot ignore.

Sharing/Ownership ≠ Empowerment – It can be easy to get caught up in the hype surrounding connected learning, however as Maha Bali highlights, things are often far more complicated than we like to recognise. To ignore this often suppresses a whole community of voices. This reminds me of Chris Wejr’s post on sharing in online spaces.

Our discourses often don’t reflect the complexity of this and we cheer and celebrate when we use terms like ownership, sharing, participation, agency. No. Adding one student to a committee with 5 faculty and 2 administrators isn’t empowering. Creating a committee of 6 students isn’t empowering. Emancipation is much harder work and it’s a long process that will always need to be reevaluated.

Digital literacy can be an insurgency – Bryan Alexander discusses the active nature of digital literacies, highlighting the problems with the idea of digital citizenship. Alexander suggests that  digital often counters our usual notion of democracy and civility, instead providing the tools to speak out. It is this lack of control that often puts people off. Interestingly, this proactive citizen is at the heart of what Gert Biesta describes as the democratic citizen. It is also represented in the documentary on Aaron Swartz.

This is one reason digital literacy has a hard time growing.  It represents the potential to empower students to challenge each other and instructors, as well as become insurgent outside of class, as with my student’s homoerotic paper.  Not all faculty find this a desirable or even tolerable thing.  How many teachers and professors spend time trying to maintain or expand their authority?  Conversely, how many were trained on how to teach an actually interactive class?  How many of are thrilled when students grow into their agency and act upon it?

Storytelling and Reflection

On Ideology – Greg Thompson explores the topic of ideology and explains how we are all ideological.

As I read it, everything we believe is already ideological because we are necessarily social (for example, through language). Saying this, however, does not  imply that any position held is necessarily right or wrong, rather that within the ontological and epistemological assumptions of any belief system ideology invariable precedes consciousness. For this reason, I don’t mind being called ideological (of course I am) or suggesting that others are ideological (of course they are).

A Minimum Viable Product Is Not a Product, It’s a Process – Yevgeniy (Jim) Brikman provides a different take on the usual perspective of the minimum viable product as being on a single trajectory. I elaborated on what the Lean Methodology might offer education here.

This, in a nutshell, is the MVP process. Whether you’re developing a product design, marketing plan, or writing code, always ask: What is my riskiest assumption? What is the smallest experiment I can do to test this assumption.

Trouble Brewing at Snake Mountain High – Jon Andrews provides a satire reflecting on the current state of education, with the battle between autonomy and edu-businesses. This was also the seed for a whole collection of posts, including The index-cardification of education, A pedagogy of Astro Boy: education and social justice, The Missing Superheroes and Skeletor Loves it When Planning Comes Together.

I’m not paying you to think. I’m paying you to do. We don’t have time for all this PD guff, collaboration, staff voice and the like. Look, I’ve seen enough. You have your work cut out turning this place around. I want no excuses – from you or the students. I want a return on investment.

Neoliberalism – the ideology at the root of all our problems – George Monbiot gives an explanation to Donald Trump, the Panama Papers and the stock exchange. For a focus on neoliberalism and education, see David Price’s post on forced freedom. While Will Davies also provides a useful post exploring some of the complexities associated with neoliberalism.

Like communism, neoliberalism is the God that failed. But the zombie doctrine staggers on, and one of the reasons is its anonymity. Or rather, a cluster of anonymities.

50 Shades of Open – Jeffrey Pomerantz and Robin Peek investigate what exactly is meant by the notion of ‘open’. They unpack ideas around open source, open access, open society, open knowledge, open government and open washing. A journal entry published at First Monday, this is one of those pieces that you can come back again and again.

This essay is probably only the opening gambit in attempts to disambiguate this term. We have merely opened the door on the many uses of the word ”open;“ as the use of the word grows, others must opine.

The Revolution Won’t Necessarily Be Televised – Dan Haesler reviews ABC’s documentary Revolution School. Personally, I think that it may be better considered Renaissance School, a rebirthing of the past, rather than anything truly revolutionary.

I was left underwhelmed because there was very little in the show that could be seen as being revolutionary. Whilst it might have documented a wide-reaching change in conditions, attitudes or operations at Kambrya, the claim that Revolution School would “serve as a lesson for all schools in Australia,” might be seen as a tad patronising.

#WalkOn – Along with The Beauty of Dreams, Steve Brophy’s provocation is a challenge for everyone to take up. This is linked with CoLearn MeetUp, an exploration of educational alternatives.

‘Walk on’ was the real message for delegates.  In education, we need more educators to ‘walk on’ and take on new challenges, to rethink pedagogy, reimagine school and to grow our collective voice.  We all battle our inner self when it comes to new opportunities.  Talk ourselves out of going for something, self defeat with our own negative self-talk but why?  Why do we do that to ourselves?  Your value is needed, your voice counts and we need all educators to #WalkOn.

Dear Kathy … – Bec Spink finds cause for celebration in a educational dialogue that is often filled with cynicism and pessimism. This in part reminds me of the debate that brewed up around Will Richardson’s post about revolution verses reformation.

There are schools and educators out there that are pushing the boundaries of the traditional system, that are asking questions, that are making change. Let’s share and celebrate those stories. The more we can do of that, the more others will notice, perceptions will change. If you disagree with the last sentence, then I am so happy you have chosen a different career pathway. The minute I become cynical or pessimistic about the work I do is the minute I will know it is time to move on. I hope it never happens.

Leading for Inquiry Learning – Kath Murdoch collects together her thoughts on leading inquiry.

They are in no particular order, but are an attempt to capture the essence of what this kind of leadership is all about….

  • Relationships are at the heart of all we do.
  • Questions are the inquiry leader’s most powerful tool.
  • Inquiry leaders need to be inquirers- they need to be willing to learn, they are people with a growth mindset – they view learners ( children and adults) as potentially capable, curious and creative!
  • Wonder, joy and passion are contagious.Passionate leaders inspire passionate staff.Pedagogy – not programs – help learners develop as inquirers. Programs can support the pedagogy but attention to pedagogy comes first.
  • Nurturing all teachers as inquirers builds a strong, whole school inquiry culture.
  • Cultivating curiosity in our teachers – about the world, about their kids, about themselves and about learning is critical to the success of an inquiry school.
  • When we see teaching itself AS inquiry – we change the way we think about our work and the way we view ourselves in the classroom
  • Collaborative planning is all about inquiring into the needs and interests of our learners  – and responding accordingly
  • The principles that underpin inquiry in the classroom apply equally to teacher learning.
  • When schools see themselves as ‘communities of inquiry’ everyone is a teacher, everyone is a learner.
  • Nurturing the ‘whole teacher’  means we balance personal and professional care and build stronger, more trusting teams.
  • True collaboration requires time.  When we consciously build our skill set for effective collaboration – our planning and teaching is strengthened.
  • Effective planning for inquiry takes time – people need space and time for the kind of deeper conversations from which powerful teaching is born
  • Standards/outcomes should inform our planning rather than drive it. Our students’ needs are the driver
  • It is not the leader’s role to make the plans.  Plans are powerful when they are co-constructed rather than imposed.

The ‘Non-Negotiables’ of Next Generation Learning – Greg Miller reflects on his recent visits to various schools and wonders when we will reach a time when students will be able to identify their development in regards collaboration and creativity. Along with Robert Schuetz wondering whether we should teach students email, Dan Haesler’s question as to whether schools kill learning, Dave Cormier’s challenge as to what sort of learning are we educating for and Corrie Barclay’s discussion of deep learning, they offer an interesting provocation about what matters in schools today and tomorrow.

Don’t get me wrong, as I have already stated, I am impressed with how students articulate their learning. I am also encouraged by leaders in schools who ensure there are references to skills such as creativity, collaboration, communication and team work as a part of their formal assessment and reporting. However, it is not yet mainstream for schools to assess and report (I would rather the words “observe and feedback”) to parents about the ‘non-negotiables’.

No Excuses and the Pinball Kids – Tom Sherrington adds his voice to the debate around ‘no excuses’ in regards to behaviour management. It is a useful post in that Sherrington touches on the nuances of something too often painted black and white.

Within the 10% there is a small % – maybe up to 30 students out of 1000 – who simply hit the boundaries all week long.  They get knocked from sanction to sanction, from meeting to meeting, from intervention to intervention, without their behaviours changing. They’re trying, we’re all trying but there are only so many detentions you can sit. We’re way beyond excuses here…these are not bad people; they just find life difficult and need a lot of support to manage time, relationships, learning, concentration. The weekly Support Planning Meeting between our SEN team, Behaviour team and Heads of School is one part of a matrix of provision planning that looks to support these students. ‘No excuses’ is way off the map in terms of being relevant here. Nobody is making excuses; they’re too busy trying to find solutions.

Hypothetical learning styles (modalities) – There has been a lot written about the problems associated with learning styles lately. See for example Mark Johnson’s satirical post or Stephen Dinham’s critique. This post from Charlotte Pezaro reframes the discussion around learning opportunities and asks us to instead consider the possibilities.

My argument against learning styles is an argument against limiting the learning experiences of our students. It does not mean that I expect that all students learn the same information in the same way all the time, and I definitely do not see this as a reason to move toward didactic pedagogies in which we expect that learners can just be told what they need to learn. I very much believe that no teaching or learning strategy has a guaranteed outcome in all cases all of the time (or even most cases, most of the time). Teachers must be experts in pedagogy, and know, understand, and be practised at a wide range of strategies and approaches to teaching and learning. A teacher is in the best position to decide, in negotiation with students and their families where appropriate and possible, what approaches and strategies will be best for any given learning objective.

FOCUS ON … Reading

As a final focus for the year, here is summary of the books that I have read this year:

  • The Thinking Teacher by Oliver Quinlan – A book of questions and beginnings, it touches on a range of educational topics, such as the lenses we apply, the purpose to learning, planning for learning and what might constitute success.
  • Counting What Counts – This collection of essays offers many different means of measuring attributes, such as diversity, personality traits, motivation, creativity, entrepreneurship, global competences and social networks, with each critiqued in regards to their strengths and weaknesses as to what they offer.
  • Now You See It by Cathy Davidson – Going against the grain that technology is somehow hampering culture and society, Davidson asserts that the brain is constantly evolving and always has. The challenge is recognising the brain’s patterns and breaking with those that are no longer of use.
  • Learning with e’s by Steve Wheeler – A book about learning, told through the lens of technology and transformation.
  • The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller – Focusing on independence, this book provides an outline for how to empower students to lead their own reading.
  • Flourish by Martin Seligman – Breaking the myth that positive psychology is simply about happiness, this book unpacks the five key elements associated with well-being – positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and achievement.
  • Mindstorms by Seymour Papert – More than a book about coding, this book challenges you to completely reimagine the how we learn and why we do it.
  • The Changing Face of Modern Leadership by David Culberhouse – With no promises of off-the-shelf answers or solutions, this book is a guide into the unknown world of change and transformation, crammed full of questions to consider when taking that next step.
  • Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn – Going beyond carrots and punishment, this book argues that our focus should be about setting up the conditions for learning, which needs to address three questions – content, collaboration and choice.
  • The Lean Startup by Eric Ries – A guide for going lean and thinking like an entrepreneur, it provides a number of processes to support the change process and scale innovation.
  • Building Background Knowledge for Academic Achievement by Robert Marzano – Going beyond the ideal of providing regular field trips and mentors within the community, this book outlines two indirect approaches for supporting student learning: virtual experiences and direct instruction.
  • Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free by Cory Doctorow – Focusing on the choices that are so often dictated onto society by governments and large corporations, this book captures a dystopian side of technology too often overlooked in the mainstream media.
  • #SchoolOfThought by Dan Haesler – Touching on topics ranging from mindsets, youth suicide, educational technology, digital footprints, future employment, engagement and positive psychology, this book captures well-being in and out of the school.
  • Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus by Douglas Rushkoff – This book provides a vision for a future built around the exchange of value, rather than the extraction of capital.
  • Program or be Programmed by Douglas Rushkoff – More than the engineering that goes into our day to day existence, this book is about the operating system of the world we live in and the inherent biases that are built into the platforms and devices we use each and every day.
  • Claim Your Domain by Audrey Watters – More than the mechanics of a domain of one’s own, the focus of this book is on what it actually means to exist in a digital world and why we need to take more control of our presence.
  • Anywhere Anytime Learning by Bruce Dixon and Susan Einhorn – Split into three sections – planning, implementation and resources – this book is a compilation of material designed to support schools with the integration of technology to aid learning.
  • Participatory Culture in a Networked Era by Henry Jenkins, Mimi Ito and danah boyd – A unique book in that it was compiled from a series of conversations, this book is best considered as a collection of thoughts that you could easily pick up in pieces or come back to again and again.
  • The Lights in the Tunnel by Martin Ford – Using the metaphor of lights in a tunnel to represent economic interrelations, this book draws a picture of an automated future where demand for good is considerably curtailed.
  • The Rise of the Robots by Martin Ford – Detailing the rise of automation over time, this book outlines a number of possible futures and the choices that we have.
  • The Connected Educator by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Lani Ritter Hall – Through a mixture of anecdotes, elaborations and questions, this book provides a thorough introduction to becoming more connected.
  • The Differentiated Classroom by Carol Ann Tomlinson – Going beyond the usual what, how and why, this book explores the culture, environment and curriculum required to truly differentiate in the classroom.
  • Renegade Leadership by Brad Gustafson – More than just a guide to innovative edtech leadership, this book is first and foremostly about values and the importance of starting with why.
  • Teaching Crowds by Jon Dron and Terry Anderson – Focusing on three key modes of learning – sets, nets and groups – this book unpacks some of the different ways that people gather within online spaces.
  • A Learner’s Paradise: A Learner’s Paradise: How New Zealand Is Reimagining Education by Richard Wells – A celebration of New Zealand education system, this book recounts the trust invested in teachers, the power of connections, the celebration of culture and the level of support provided via various government and nonprofit agencies.
  • Makers by Cory Doctorow – Mashing together 3D printing and startup culture, this novel never stays the same for very long as it captures many of the absurdities of today’s society.
  • Good Education in an Age of Measurement by Gert Biesta – Moving beyond the individualistic process of learning, this book is about the three contrasting purposes of education – qualification, socialisation and subjectification.
  • The End of Average by Todd Rose – Describing the invention and progressive adoption of the average over time, this book makes the case Individuality by focusing on three elements: jaggedness, context and pathways.

So what about you? What have you read this year? Are there any posts that you would add to the list? Or maybe there is a book that really changed your thinking? As always, comments welcome.


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A Comprehensive Guide to Open Badges

flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

I consider myself an ideas man. Sometimes though this can lead to ideals. This can be both good as it allows me to dream big. However, it can also be limiting in that it can overlook some of the realities. One of the interesting things about my new job is that many of my ideas and ideals have been challenged and pushed further than ever before. What in the past were just seeds are given air and water to grow. Open Badges is one such seed …


The first thing to consider with Open Badges, or the Open Badge standard to be clearer, is what it actually means. To do this, it is useful to unpack each of the terms:

  • Open: When it comes to technology, open can mean many things to many people. In a survey of the various uses of the word ‘open’, Jeffrey Pomerantz and Robin Peek identified the following categories: open source, open standard, open access, open society, open knowledge, open government and open washing. In regards to badges, open can best be understood as relating to the agreed standards which provide the protocols to build the web upon.
  • Badges: For many when we think about badges the idea of sleeves full of achievements sewed on comes to mind. Digital badges are best understood as a continuation of this. In this sense, they usually offer a way of gamifying a learning activity. Someone somewhere has deemed you worthy of a particular achievement standard. However, there is often little evidence to justify the outcome. You can find such badge systems built into platforms, such as WordPress.com, Edmodo, Class Dojo or Khan Academy. The intent of these is usually to both reward the user, but also entice you to go further. One of the limitations with digital badges is their lack of transferability and seemingly credibility. Outside of the context in which they are given, they lack purpose and meaning. In contrast, with the metadata baked in, Open Badges allow anyone to check their credibility, while more control is given to the receiver to show them.
  • Standard: There are a number of standards associated with the web, including hardware, file formats and programming languages. In part, these allow users to access information from different browsers. Something that was not always possible in the early days of the web. Open protocols allow the creation of what are called ‘stateless’ RESTful APIs that help develop the web in a simple and efficient way. These interfaces make it easier to deliver content across the World Wide Web without the need to store sessions on servers somewhere. The Open Badges standard can be understood as a collection of specifications and applications that combines to make up the Open Badges Infrastructure. For badges, this means that different sites can talk to one another, therefore meaning that badges can be stored wherever you choose. The leading organisation in regards to the maintenance of such standards and specifications is the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

In addition to understanding what the Open Badge standard is, it is important to appreciate the background to this idea and development of the standard over time.

We Are Open by Bryan Mathers (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

History and Specifications

Initially developed by Mozilla with the support of the Macarthur Foundation, the beta version of the Open Badges standard was released in 2012.

In 2014 the not-for-profit Badge Alliance was formed to keep work moving forward. With support and guidance from a number of organisations, the intent was to provide a stable centre around which the coordination of various working groups and weekly community calls could be done.

In 2016, Digital Me combined with City and Guilds and Makewaves to take a more leading role in regards to the maintenance of the infrastructure. This has included upgrading the Mozilla Backpack, in particular replacing the Persona login system with Passport.js.

In 2017, with the Badge Alliance being dissolved, the IMS Global Learning Consortium will take on the responsibility for continual development of the specification. This includes work around the involvement with Open Credentials. With their association with interoperability and attainment of technology in education, many see the nonprofit as the right fit moving to a more collaborative, community-driven effort.

There has been some conjecture around the changes associated with Open Badges. However, Doug Belshaw argues that this is the usual dip associated with innovation. Using Gartner’s Hype Cycle, he suggests that it is actually important to go through a ‘Trough of Disillusionment’ in order to reach the ‘Plateau of Productivity’.

In addition to the roles of the various organisations, there have been a number of steps in regards to the the development of the standard. The initial capacity made available in Version 0.5 was to bake metadata in single JSON file, as well as host and verify badges.

JSON (or JavaScript Object Notation) is a programming language that derives from JavaScript. As the name describes, it is about transmitting data associated with what are described as ‘objects’ between browsers and servers. The language grew out of the need to develop a means of communicating not dependent on a third-party plugin.

In the specifications of Version 1.0 the single JSON file was split into three distinct objects: Assertions, BadgeClasses and Issuers.  The Badge Alliance define these as follows:

The BadgeClass describes a particular defined achievement and points to the Issuer who defined it with its issuer property.

An Assertion contains information about a single Recipient’s achievement of a BadgeClass and similarly points to the BadgeClass’s identifying ID with the “badge” property.

The Issuer Profile is uniquely identified by a Linked Data ID (which takes the form of an Internationalized Resource Identifier, specifically a URI).

This was done to provide more flexibility and use of information.

In Version 1.1, the divisions were made even more explicit, with the addition of JSON-LD (for “linked data”) and three new properties: @context, id, and type. These components make possible a range of extensions, such as an application link, an endorsement, location information, accessibility details and recognition of the original creator. You can view examples of the code here.

It should be noted, like all things new and open, just because functionality is added to a specification, it does not mean that everyone necessarily builds upon this. Rather it is often about what is possible and allowing for the diversity of the community.

For more info on the development of Open Badges standard, go to the openbadges.org site. While for more details about the various the specifications, check out openbadgespec.org. Doug Belshaw has also started a curated slidedeck if you are looking for a list of those associated with Open Badges.

Properties of Open Badges by Bryan Mathers (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

Why Badges?

There are many perceived benefits to Open Badges. The Badge Alliance identify four key aspects. Badges are free for anyone to use and build upon. They are transferable in that they are not dependent on any one platform. They are stackable as they offer the means of collecting together different accomplishments. While they incorporate evidence that is baked into the data.

Approaching the challenge of hiring and the traditional curriculum vitae, Doug Belshaw discusses how Open Badges are granular, provide proof of achievement(s) and allow the earner to tell their story. They help people fill in the gaps to paint a better picture, as well as take back control of the way we trust one another.

Coming from the perspective of assessment, Don Presant makes the case that Open Badges can provide the means for reinforcing self-directed learning. These links to learning are also elaborated in the results from the Design Principles Documentation Project (DPD Project) that arose out of the initial HASTAC funding associated with Open Badges. The project identified four categories of learning to help think about badges. They are recognise, assess, motivate and study. Associated with the research, a number of resources were developed, including a series of cards designed to help develop your own system. Another useful planning resource is the Open Badge Design Toolkit created by Grainne Hamilton.

For a different introduction to Open Badges, the Chicago Art Department has created a useful video highlighting a range of the benefits, while HASTAC has collected together a number of voices on the topic.

Badge Pathways by Bryan Mathers (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

Different Types of Badges

Whether it be high or low stakes learning, badges offer a flexible form of micro-credentialing that is really up to your own imagination. Doug Belshaw captures this with a continuum which spans the formal to the interesting, while Serge Ravet presents a plane of recognition encompassing the formal and informal, as well as the static and dynamic influences.

Going a step further, Ilona Buchem has developed a taxonomy around the different intents, revolving around content, issuers and process. To provide a comprehensive picture, she unpacks each providing various examples to show the different possibilities. This is neatly captured in Bryan Mathers’ graphic.

Another way into Open Badge is to consider them as a substitute for a traditional certificate with built-in breadcrumbs baked into the code. Where they differ from certificates is that badges are often a part of an ecosystem. Although they can be created individually, their potential lies in the ability to be interconnect and provide different pathways for learning.

The most obvious pathway is the stepping stones approach. Sequential in nature, this involves completing one step at a time in a prescriptive manner. See for example, Doug Belshaw’s kanban badges using Trello.

Another option is where badges are a part of a collection. Like the game Trivial Pursuit, this is where several achievements are grouped together in a nonlinear manner. Prescriptive in nature, collections can be linked with the completion of standards or levelling up.

In contrast to perspective badge ecosystems, constellations offer an open-ended approach where users can choose from a range of possibilities, carving out any number of pathways. This is conducive to lifelong learning and offers the potential to collected together different achievements to write your own learning story. Open to borrowing from different providers, it is for this reason that it is descriptive rather than prescriptive.

Reflecting on the place of badges, Greg McVerry suggests that they only play one part of the story and that credentials and qualifications are often verified by presence. In part this is what sites like LinkedIn try to tap into allowing people to endorse various expertise. There does seem to be some attempt to bake this information into the code with the addition of Extensions in the move to JSON-LD.

In regards to examples, there are a number of case studies shared within the Think Out Loud Club’s Open Badges 101 Course, while Don Presant demonstrates how Open Badges could be used to credential self-directed learners.

 

How to Badge by Bryan Mathers (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

How to Badge

Although there are those, such as Todd Rose, who talk about rethinking learning around capabilities, credentialing and self-determined learning. Such discussions either ignore the underpinning infrastructure or simply fail to recognise such changes. In regards to Open Badges, there are a number of steps involved, including the platform used to issue badges, the evidence referenced in the process, the creation of the actual digital badge and where badges are stored.

Issuing Badges

When I first came upon Open Badges, it was via Peer 2 Peer University. What was good about P2PU was the ease in which you could create a badge. In addition to this, there were a few useful features, such as the ability to add different forms of evidence to the site, as well as the potential to distribute responsibility for credentialing others to everyone in the community. The problem though is that P2PU did not nessarily make it easy to take my badges elsewhere. This is one of many things to consider when working with open standards and open source software.

A number of questions are provided as a part of the Think Out Loud Club’s Open Badges 101 course. Some of the key concerns include:

  • Does the platform allow you to store badges?
  • Does the platform include the ability to create the visual design of the badge?
  • Does the platform allow for multiple badge-issuing?

In regards to hosted platforms, some further things to consider include:

  • Does the platform allow badge earners to export their badges to other providers?
  • Does the platform attempt to lock me in if I want to move between badge issuing platforms?
  • Does the platform use Open Source technology?

Some other questions to consider include:

  • Does the platform allow you to add evidence?
  • Does the platform provide a means for submission and notification?

Below is a discussion of some of platforms:

  • Badgr: Relatively easy to use once you get your head around the workflow, Badgr provides a structured way to allocate badges. Like many platforms, it allows you to not only issue badges, but also bring them together into various collections. The problem faced is when it comes to notifications, while the evidence is required to be housed elsewhere. Being open sourced, one of the big potentials is to run your own instance.
  • Credly: In some ways Credly is to Open Badges what Medium is to blogging. It provides the means to both issue and receive badges, while it has incorporated almost all of the options associated with Open Badges standard, such as tags, categories and the submission of evidence. There is also the ability to add content, such as images and text, directly within Credly. In regards to creating your badges, Credly makes use of the icons via The Noun Project. While when it comes to issuing, there is the option of issuing badges to more than one recipient at once using a CSV file. If you are using Google Forms and/or Sheets then you simply download them as CSV.  While once issued, badges can be grouped into lists and then referenced elsewhere. Although much of the functionality is available via the free account, there are various premium options which allow things like analytics, verification and the use of your own domain.
  • Open Badge Academy:Similar to Credly, Open Badge Academy provides the means to quickly and easily create and curate badges. One of the unique features is to develop a sequence of tasks, incorporating a range of media. Designed around the idea of organisations, provides a number of ways to brand your badges. It is one of the most visually appealing platforms and seems to make sense as a user. However, the limit of three badges for the free account means that to be meaningful, you have to pay.
  • BadgeOS: Combining WordPress.org with Open Badges through the use of BadgeOS plugin provides both the structure and freedom to develop a more personalised solution. Not only does BadgeOS integrate with Credly, providing the ability to create visuals, as well as store and send badges to various spaces, but it also allows users to build upon the open source infrastructure. The plugin itself provides a number of different options for setting up badges.  In addition to modifying your WordPress blog, you are able to build upon the plugin. In addition to the core download, there are a number of add-ons designed to enhance the functionality even further. While those adept can also build your own add-ons to customise things to your context even further (see for example Martin Hawksey’s work with the Association for Learning Technology.)

This is only a selection of some of the spaces. The Badge Alliance has curated a comprehensive list of platforms (although it does not include Open Badge Academy.) It needs to be noted that being an open standard also provides the possibility and potential to build your own solution hooking into the various APIs. For ideas on this, see the work of Martin Hawksey for inspiration.

Digital Evidence

One of the biggest differences between badges (and digital badges) and Open Badges is the nature of the evidence. Too often formal learning is measured by a grade or a number, while professional learning is quantified in hours. None of this is attached to either meaningful or personalised evidence. Open Badges sets out to resolve this by adding verification into the process.

Anything that you can put on the web associated with a link can be used as evidence. The challenge with this is that not every link on the web is accessible. For example, you may wish to link something shared within a closed community. However, unless the person issuing the badge is also in that community this will not work. In addition, anyone who may wish to verify the evidence in the future will be unable to do so unless they too have access.

It is in part this reason that Doug Belshaw recommends creating a canonical URL. That is, a starting point for people to engage with and build upon your work and ideas. Something of an eportfolio developed over time or separate links for each project. What matters though really is that it is public and open.

Here are some ideas and possibilities for creating such a space:

  • Padlet: A digital pinboard that can be useful for capturing a range of media files.
  • G Suite: Maybe it is Docs or Slides, but the cloud based nature of Google means that it is easy to share out.
  • OneNote: Like a Google Apps, OneNote allows you to collect a range of content in the cloud and share out.
  • Adobe Spark Page: An easy way of quickly making a website in which to share links, images and text.
  • Canva Website: Like Spark Page, Canva now offers the ability to quickly and easily create a website.
  • Slideshare: A space to upload and share presentations, whether it be a PowerPoint, PDF or Google Slides.
  • Storify: An application which allows you to easily curate a wide range of content.
  • Blog: Whether it be in the form of a post or adding content to a static page, blogs offer an easy means to collate content in one space.
  • GitHub: Although this involves a bit more effort, GitHub provides the means of creating a static site or a repository, especially using something like Jekyl.
  • Docs.com: A space to share Microsoft Files and resources.

A compromise for those who do not wish to share openly is to use an application which allows you to share with those who have the link. Whatever space you use though you need to be mindful that sites can come and go, therefore the most powerful option is often one which gives you control over the lease.

Making Badges

Although most sites provide the potential of creating visual badges. It can also be useful to create and store these elsewhere. You only need to look badges up on Google to find a range of options, including Makebadg.es, Canva and OpenBadges.me. The catch is often what information these sites are asking for in return, such as the requirement to sign up in order to download.

A simple option is to use Google Drawings to create badges. Cropping shapes and then saving the image as a PNG to maintain transparency, Drawings offer a quick and easy solution. You can also easily edit them again at a later date. Alice Keeler has documented this process, as well as a simple process of awarding digital badges using G Suite that could be useful as a minimal viable product associated with badging.

Whatever platform you use, it is important to be mindful of Creative Commons licensing when choosing images and icons. Sites such as Flickr and The Noun Project provide a wealth of options to use. Otherwise Tony Vincent shows how to use Google Drawings to create your own.

Storing and Sharing Badges

Once you have been issued a badge, the next question is what you do with them. This includes considering where you store them, how you organise them and where you show them.

The first thing to decide is where to keep your badge. Many platforms allow you to and encourage people to store badges with them. With this in mind, you need to wary that not all platforms provide the same portability as others.

The most obvious space used is Mozilla Backpack. This was a key part of the infrastructure associated with the development of Open Badge standard. It was designed to help drive the initial specifications. There have been some changes of late with Digital Me taking over responsibility for maintaining it. (This has included the move from Persona sign-in to PassportJS.)

Another option is the Open Badge Passport. The sister product to Open Badge Factory, this site allows you to collect your badges, as well as easily share them on social media such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.

The reality is that both platforms allow you to organise your badges. This is useful in creating a link for presenting them elsewhere, whether it be within your LinkedIn profile or in the signature of your email.


Questions to Consider Moving Forward

It can be easy to get excited about technology such as Open Badges, but a badge in itself will not transform education. It is therefore important to be mindful that badges may not be for everyone and should therefore maintain a voluntary element, as Martin Hawksey warns. Also we still need to be wary when it comes to the criterias we set and the evidence we provide. For as Alan Levine has shown, quality is not always a given. Ale Armellini questions the benefits altogether. Whatever choices that we make, it is important that they are situated within a wider debate about digital literacies and education.

So what about you? What have been your experiences with Open Badges? Do you have any thoughts to add to the discussion? As always, comments welcome.


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Implementing Hapara


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

Disclosure: This post is a part of my work with the Hapara Certified Educator course. The final task was to develop an implementation plan, which incorporated goals for supporting others and transforming education. Inspired by Ben Williamson’s work on Class Dojo, I have tried to provide a thorough introduction to what Hapara offers, as well as some ideas moving forward.


Hapara is an instructional management system designed to support educators who wish to organize, manage and monitor learning with the help of G Suite. Differing from Learning Management Systems, Hapara’s goal is to improve learning by improving instruction. The intent is to provide the tools to scale teacher-student relationships, not replace that role. Based on the work of John Hattie, Hapara was initially designed to support things such as:

  • Student agency
  • Constructivist dialogue
  • Differentiation
  • Formative assessment

The reality is that Hapara was developed to free up teachers to spend time on the more important elements associated with learning.

Hapara works through the use of application programming interfaces (APIs) provided by Google as a means of transforming the way in which G Suite works. Much of the web is built around APIs. They offer developers a way of incorporating different features, without recreating the wheel. For example, rather than create your own mapping program, Google provides the means of embedding Google Maps. It is also for this reason that there are similarities with other products like GoGuardian, because they are both built using the same building blocks provided by Google. For a richer discussion of APIs, I recommend reading Ben Werdmuller’s post or checking out Kin Lane’s work.


DASHBOARD

Classes and Subjects

The core product that makes up the Hapara suite is the Dashboard. This application provides something of a bird’s eye view over the G Suite ecosystem. Organised around classes and subject folders, it makes files visible and accessible by bringing them together on one screen.

Classes and subjects are managed at an administrative level. They are usually derived from the school timetable. However, it is easy enough for a school to make their own changes, such as creating an elective subject or adding multiple teachers to a subject. Within Manage Classes section there is the option of personalising the name and colour associated with classes you can personalise the names and colours attached to your classes. You just hover the cursor to see the original title. In regards to ownership, you can quickly add teachers in the Class Info section.

Student Panels

In regards to how the Student Panels are presented, there are a number of ways that information can be adjusted. Whether it be choosing how many items are shown in each panel or holding your cursor over a file to bring up metadata, such as author, updates, views and access rights. The panels can also be sorted both alphabetically and by group. Generic groups are generated by default, but just as with classes you can easily change the predefined names. You assign students to groups in options setting attached to each Student Panel. It is important to note that these groups are not visible to either students or parents. When you click on the file within Student Panel you are taken to the document as an editor. This allows you to quickly provide feedback by adding a comment. You can also email students via the options in the panel.

Sharing Content

For distributing content, Smart Share allows you to quickly send out files. Although sharing is relatively simple, there are some things to consider, such as:

  • What file you are sharing (it may simply be a blank document)
  • The title of the document
  • What access students will have
  • Which students and/or classes you are sharing with

Although you can reshare files and delete the previous version, you are unable to make changes to sharing options of files once they are sent. Once files have been allocated, students can organise their Google Drive into sub-folders. By opening up the options menu for each student, you are able to click a link to view their folder within Google Drive.

Searching for Information

In addition to the Student Panels, there are a number of ways to find information that may not be visible. You can search within the subject that you are currently in by simply clicking on the magnifying glass at the top of the screen. This allows you to filter by information within the title or content in the actual text of the document.

If the file you are looking for exists outside of the subject folder, you can use the Sharing Tab. These searches can be organised around various access levels. There are five categories which you can click on:

  • Unshared: Anything in the student drive that has not been shared with anyone else.
  • Public:  Files created in a student account that people outside of the domain can access.
  • External: Files created by a non-domain account and then shared with an account within the domain.
  • All Docs: list of every doc the student has in their Drive.
  • Docs Trash: see all documents in a student’s trash.

These various options provide the ability to search your whole domain and appreciate who might be shared with what, rather than having to use something like Who Has Access. It also provides the means for locating work that a student may have misplaced within their Drive.

Beyond the Dashboard and Sharing tabs, Hapara also provides the means of monitoring student Gmail accounts. This functionality allows you to search within the inbox, sent and trash folders. What is interesting is that when you open up a message, students are not notified and it will remain unread. There are a number of ways of adjusting the settings associated with the Gmail Tab within the Admin Console. This includes the ability to filter who is able to access the option, as well as sort the types of emails shown.

In addition to Gmail, you are also able to explore Blogger blogs and Sites. These show up for each class next to the various subject tabs.


 

Highlights

Highlights is described as a ‘screen visibility and engagement tool’. Separate from the core dashboard functionalities, it provides insight not only into folders and files, but what students are doing on the web and how they are collaborating with others. It is similar in some ways to applications, such as Lanschool and GoGuardian. This added functionality is dependent on students signing into Google Chrome with their school’s G Suite account. It also requires the installation of an extension. There are four elements to Highlights:

  • Activity Viewer: provides an overview of what is currently happening in the class and how people are connecting. It provides analytics about different forms of browser usage. This includes, a list of sites currently open, collaboration that is occurring and any unique actions. Results are divided between current and previous usage.
  • Browser Tabs: Similar to the ability to share out files with SmartShare, Browser Tabs allows you to send out specific websites for focused browsing. There are quite a few options associated with this, including the ability to restrict students browsing to within a specific site, as well as set a time limit for working on a specific task. Some possibilities associated with this include: brainstorming around a particular provocation, guide groups or individual students to a specific video or task, provide a set amount of time for students to complete a test using their computer and avoid confusing URLs by directing students to a specific website. Another functionality associated with Browser Tabs is the ability to send messages to students. Although you could do this via email within Dashboard, sending a message within Highlights means that it comes up directly on the screen.
  • Current Screens: This provides a view into every browser screen in the classroom. Unlike applications such as Lanschool, the insight provided is not live, rather it is a screenshot refreshed every 5-10 seconds. It also only does this when you have the Current Screens function open. This process can create quite a demand on the bandwidth used. However, you can adjust the bandwidth settings within the Admin Console.
  • Snap: Whereas the screenshots shown via Current Screens are continually refreshed, Snap allows you to take a snapshot of student work when you see something interesting. Maybe it is something that you want to document or something to come back to at a later point. These are different from usual screenshots as they provide a range of additional information. This data includes student, subject, timeline of tab activity, who took the snap and when. These captured images can be saved by emailing to yourself or used as a means of sending feedback to students. They are automatically deleted from the system after seven days.

Each of the parts is designed to support further personalisation of the learning process and capture richer evidence associated with formative assessment to support future instruction. However, this is dependent on students logging into Chrome. To get around the various constraints, students can easily use incognito mode or a different browser. While there are also measures to prevent the invasion into personal space and time, such as time constraints and IP restrictions. For a full guide to Highlights, click here.


Workspace

Workspace is a relatively new addition to Hapara. Separate to Dashboard, Workspace provides an efficient way of presenting a unit of work in one space. It involves the development of learning sequences using a series of cards. Similar to Google Classroom, each workspace creates a folder inside your drive. This though is separate to the Dashboard file structure, but viewable through the Sharing Tab. One of the biggest challenges is having a clear idea about the learning involved.

Planning For Learning

There are many different models that can be used to plan for learning:

Whatever the framework, they each provide a series of questions to consider. A popular model in many schools is Understanding by Design. One of the key features of UbD is that it is backwards planned. This involves identifying desired results, including various transfer goals. Understandings and essential questions are then listed. Once this is done, assessment evidence is determined. Associated with this, it is important to call out the various standards being addressed within the unit of work. This includes considering learning areas, interdisciplinary and social capabilities.

Organising your Workspace

Once you have your learning sequence planned out, you need to consider the structure of your workspace. There are a number of things to consider, including:

  • Number of Columns – There are four by default, but you only have to have Columns Two and Three.
  • Titles for Columns – You can easily change the default titles to make them what you like.
  • Layout – Information is presented in the form of cards
  • Styles – You can add HTML code to change the colour, size and format of the text.
  • Groups – This allows you to adjust who sees what, although it needs to be noted these groups are different from those in Dashboard.

Although you are able to adjust the order of cards within a column, it can be useful to use something like a Google Doc to develop a rough draft of your Workspace.

Supporting Learning

One of the best things about Workspace is the potential to incorporate a range of different activities and applications. Looking at the activities and information that you have provided and consider if there are anything that you could add to take learning further? Below are some options of things to consider:

 

 

It can be useful to review your initial plan and add in ideas for different activities and applications to further develop the learning opportunities.

Differentiation

One of the things that Hapara prides itself on is the ability to quickly and easily differentiate learning. This focus incorporates what is taught, including content, process, product and environment, changes to how something is taught, as well as why something is taught in the first place. See Carol Ann Tomlinson’s book The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners for further explanations and elaborations associated with differentiation.

One of the powerful features of Workspace is the ability to differentiate learning in a number of ways. This includes:

  • Creation of groups
  • Gradual release of cards
  • Provision for individual tasks, as well as group work
  • Assigning different content to different students
  • Means for students to determine their own learning
  • Choice over what type of learning product is created

This is only a start and every context provides its own possibilities and potentials.

Sharing Workspaces

One benefits Workspace which makes it different to something like Google Classroom is the potential to easily share them others. Once made public, they are added to the global library. Searching the library can actually be differentiated between titles, groups and cards. You are also provided with a link to the actual Workspace, which can then be shared out on social media. (See for example my workspace on how to make a great workspace.) If the Workspace has been published to a class prior to sharing then it is taken back to its initial format, removing student content and groupings. This offers the possibility to easily remixing a unit from a prior year or sharing the one workspace with a number of teachers in a year level to make their own modifications.


Implementing Hapara

Moving forward, my goal in my current position is to support schools with the implementation of G Suite and the transformation of education. To me, Hapara with all of its different facets makes much of this possible. Working with so many different contexts, it is far too simplistic to use something like SAMR model in order to identify points of change. Although this may be useful in starting a conversation, I think that something like the Modern Learning Canvas provides a more nuanced approach:

This helps to frame the conversation about education technology within a richer discussion of learning and teaching. Technology has the potential to dramatically change what occurs in the classroom, but it also has the potential to maintain the status quo. It is only by developing a plan and purpose for each context that we will truly move forward.


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What or How – which would you choose?


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

Today I was asked the question about which I thought was more important, what work I do or how I go about it? This made me reflect on some of the challenges that I have been faced with in education. Whether it be teaching music, business studies, organising reports or developing timetables, I am not sure they were all things that if I had my way I would have necessarily chosen. However, I did each of them to the best of my ability. What mattered more to me though was how I went about it. Whether it be creating a environment of inquiry when investigating business or given the autonomy to develop solutions that are inevitable when forming timetables.

Interestingly, Simon Sinek captures this conundrum, suggesting that what matters least in. He instead argues that how we go about what we do is far more important. However, what matters most is why we do what we do. In regards to education, this why is discussed by Gert Biesta in his investigation of a good education.

I will finish with a quote from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, which I have just started reading on the recommendation of a colleague:

“Inside-out” means to start first with self; even more fundamentally, to start with the most inside part of self—with your paradigms, your character, and your motives. It says if you want to have a happy marriage, be the kind of person who generates positive energy and sidesteps negative energy rather than empowering it. If you want to have a more pleasant, cooperative teenager, be a more understanding, empathic, consistent, loving parent. If you want to have more freedom, more latitude in your job, be a more responsible, a more helpful, a more contributing employee. If you want to be trusted, be trustworthy. If you want the secondary greatness of recognized talent, focus first on primary greatness of character.

To me what Covey is touching on is that to deal with the what, whether it be marriage, parenting or being an employee, then you need to firstly deal with the how and why.

It is interesting when different people responding to disparate ideas come to the same conclusion.


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Lessons Learned as a Parent Teacher


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

In a recent post, Matt Esterman looked back on what he has learned this year. He touched on the lessons learned professionally, as an entrepreneur and personally. He ended with an invitation to share the lessons that you have learned this year.

For me, a lot has happened this year. I have watched in amazement as our youngest daughter has developed from a baby to a toddler. I remember being caught up by every stage with our eldest, but with two life seems to fly.

In addition to this, I changed jobs. After spending a quarter of my life at my previous school, I decided to completely change tact. Not only did I move sectors, but I also went from the role of a classroom teacher to being a technology implementation coach located in a central office.

The area in which I have learned the most though is as a parent of a school age child. It is not that our daughter had not been to kindergarten, but the step up into primary school has been steep. Going from a center with fifty students to a school with near on a thousand has brought about its own set of challenges. I think that there has been three distinct lessons:

  • Dual Roll: I am so glad that my daughter did not start at the school I taught at. I have found the balance between teacher and parent really interesting, in particular online. It is not that I haven’t had a dual roll before, being both a member of the community, as well as a local educator. This was especially the case in the country. What I have learned is that connections are always complicated.
  • Empathy: I have worked in Prep classes before and supported various teachers in a number of ways. However, there is something uncanny when it is your child and you live with them every day. I feel a deeper sense of appreciation for Prep teachers and the various challenges faced.
  • Communication: A few years ago I was lucky enough to attend Google Teachers Academy (now the Google Certified Innovator Program). I left with the question, how might we engage parents in a cultural shift to make relationships and connections the focus of learning? I had toyed with creating a website to communicate ideas with the community, but had always felt constrained in going further. My daughter’s school have seemingly taken up this challenge by maintaining a Facebook Page for every class. However, where have I been? Although my wife loves it, I barely get on it, refusing to go on Facebook on my phone, actually refusing to go on Facebook much at all. In addition to this, I am unsure of the expectations within this space. Am I meant to comment? Converse with others? Like? What this has taught me is that communication and connections involve more than just a website and at some point need to be made explicit.

So that is me and some of the lessons learned this year. I am not trying to suggest that those without children could not experience these things. They are my experiences and I would argue that they are unique to my situation.

So what about you? What have you learned this year? As always, feel free to share.


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