It was a sad day last Wednesday as the Melton Network 21st Century Learning Team met for the last time under the tutelage of +Alf Galea. Although Alf suggested that the network meetings may continue next year, it can be guaranteed, that with all the cuts that have taken place, it will not be to the same level and with the same sense of support. It subsequently left me reflecting on the opportunities that were gained from being a part of the group and how the implementation of various 21st century initiatives has evolved in the past five years.



A New Way of Being

I started working with Alf about five years ago as a part of the roll-out of the Ultranet. I had been asked to be a Lead User with Alf being the Melton Ultranet Coach, while after that Alf worked as the 21st Century Thinking and Learning Coach for the Melton Network. Although the Ultranet failed to achieve what it promised and will move into private hands at the end of the year, there were still many gains that came out of it, including the repositioning of learning and teaching for the 21st century. Whether it be working collaboratively, incorporating thinking and reflection or utilising various forms of technology, there were many lessons learnt. I think that one of the biggest disappoints about the Ultranet – other than it was just too fiddly and erratic – was that too much emphasis was put on the tool at school level and not enough put on the way we work. I have spoken about this in a previous post, the problem with isolating the various skills associated with 21st century learning. Whether we realise it now, I believe that the Ultranet forced everyone to make a choice, whether to incorporate various 21st century learning skills into their classroom or to simply continue with the outdated industrial model. Clearly there have always been schools, classrooms and teachers already delving into many of these areas – you just need to go to something like the ICTEV conference or go online to hear about such innovations – but through the implementation of the Ultranet, all teachers across Victoria were introduced to the skills our students need for the future.

Different Opportunities

In addition to some great learning some great ideas, being a part of the network provided some great opportunities. Other than simply meeting together to discuss various thoughts and issues, I was also given the opportunity to be a part of a learning walk through a neighbouring school to reflect on the way that they were introducing the Ultranet and with that, various 21st century skills. One of the difficulties with introducing any initiative is that it can be hard at times to step back and see things from the perspective of other teachers and students. Therefore, opportunities like this are priceless.

I also got the chance to work with the team at University of Melbourne working on the Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills. This included trialling the online testing of collaborative problem solving with my students, as well as working with teachers from all over Victoria in the development of a range of resources designed to help teachers with the assessment and teaching of 21st century skills.

Becoming Connected

I think that in many respects the biggest gain out of being a part of the 21st Century Learning Team was the opportunity to work with so many different and innovative teachers. I can still remember a few ATC21S sessions when Matt Finn and I would drive home together discussing various programs and websites that we had never heard of. I think that it can be so easy and comfortable at times to stay in isolation, but we often limit ourselves and our students when working this way. Although it can be intimidating and confronting at times working with other teachers, with differing ideas, we are all a part of the same game trying to achieve the same results, the very best education for everyone. I think in many respects, getting connected, whether it be in person or online, is the best thing that any teacher can do. So often you are not only one trying to overcome a particular problem or implement a particular program. Being connected redefines how we work as teachers and learners.

One Door Closes, Another Door Opens

In her blog, ‘The End of the Ultranet Era’, +Mel Cashen suggested that one of the benefits of the Ultranet was that it was a safe and contained platform. I think that in many respects, the whole notion of meeting as a network allowed the same benefits, but I am not sure whether it is the best model moving forward. It was great to meet and get together in a structured manner, but in the last few years, the world has changed. In my view, this ‘forced’ relationship of sorts is no longer the best fit. People now have so many opportunities to connect whether it be in person or online that it seems illogical to exclude people because they are not ‘members’. I think that a regular set of meetings run around ‘Teachmeet’ model would be the best fit. As Matt Esterman suggests, all you needs to do is “pick a date, pick a pub/library/space that is free and go ahead”. One of the benefits of the ‘Teachmeet’ model is that, rather than being chosen, it is a choice to attend. In addition to this, it is not restricted to a specific network, which in today’s day and age of world-wide connectivity seems stupid.
 
Being a part of the Melton Network provided me with a range of things, particularly that teaching and learning does not necessarily have to be the way that it is, that there is always a choice. I still remember chatting with +Jenny Ashby about access to technology at her school during one of the ATC21S sessions. Long before discussion of BYOD and 1-to-1, she explained to me the possibilities of going Apple if the school chose to go down that path. 
 
At the end of the day, the Melton Network taught me that I can make a difference. As the oft-quoted Gandhi statement goes ‘be the change you want in the world’, I have learnt that it is possible to be that change. Whether it be the use of technology or the development of reflective thinking, I believe my own learning and teaching has definitely benefited. The big question though is how do we not only change, but actually evolve, as +Jason Markey put it in his post ‘Change vs. Evolution’. To me, you can change as  an individual, but it often takes a team to evolve, that to me is the truly 21st century challenge. 

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I have recently been posting a bit about the ideas of right and wrong, and how it really comes down to a question of choice and consequences. After a few discussions with some friends, it got me thinking that maybe it is choice, but also something else as well as. Focusing on choice allows us to come to some understanding of the situation, but it does not necessarily explain how we got to that particular situation and why some choices win out over others.

I was recently given some inadvertent feedback which made me come back to this topic. Some of my students wrote a scathing review of my subject from first semester for their school yearbook. Although I had sought their feedback and suggestions at the time, the review that they provided, for whatever reason, was different to the information that they had provided at the time. Clearly, there are many ways of interpreting this situation. Maybe they wrote this because they thought that it was funny? Maybe it is a reflection of poor teacher-student relationships, a product of a lack of rapport with the students or the class as a whole? Maybe the solitary voice of the review did not represent the whole class and it was just chance? Maybe my attempts to do things different, to get students involved, to get students driving the lessons, rather than merely chalk and talk, had its downside? Maybe the students did not feel comfortable in giving me what they felt would be honest feedback? Maybe the questions that I gave them did not allow them to give me the specific feedback in question. Whatever the reason, it definitely left me in a state of self-reflection.
 
Some of the things that were pointed out in the review were what I considered my strengths. When I arrived at the school a few years ago, there was a motto – “No Surprises”. Being quite a large school, spread across several campuses, one of the problems that occurred was that some things were seen as acceptable at one campus and not others, creating a sense of inconsistency. What the motto meant then was that there were no surprises for students and parents. So when students came into the classroom, they knew what was seen as acceptable, and when things such as the end of semester reports went home to parents, there were no shocks and inconsistencies. Since that time, the campuses have split apart and formed separate schools, but in many respects the motto still remains, at the very least it does for my own teaching. 

Whether it be in the yard or in the classroom, I try and create routines. I only need to holler ‘lining up time’ and the kids repeat it for me. If I walk into the classroom and by chance don’t have the title and learning intention clearly shown on the board, my students ask me what it is. If I need to speak with my classroom when they are on their laptops, I only need to tell them to close them to 45 degrees and they start shutting them and facing me. The dark side to all this is that sometimes students get bored of the mundane nature of routine. No matter that many of my habits and rituals were formed as solutions to past problems, there is always a danger that all students come to see in you in the end is a caricature. A parody where all that is remember are the absurdities.
Two things that stuck out in the review was that I always use Google Drive and that we supposedly did the same thing every week. I have had a long history with using Google Drive in the classroom, as I have posted about elsewhere. Basically, I came upon Google Drive as a solution to students losing their digital work on their laptops all the time, due to them being re-imaged or getting damaged. Another thing that I have introduced into my lessons is a focus on getting the students thinking and reflecting, rather than simply telling me what I already know. Associated with this refocus on the student are a range of activities that I use on a regular basis, such as collaborative brainstorming using Answergarden, getting students to pose their own questions to answer before exploring a topic or watching a video and completing a found out/made me think. I return to these habits again and again so that students can stop focusing on the how and the what and start focusing on the why. For learning at its heart should be about the learner, not the teacher teaching. The problem with this is that my students did not get past the what or the how and that is because sometimes the why needs to come first.

Although I may know why it was decided that we may be studying something, unless I properly sell this to the students, it is pointless. Even with all the blurbs, introductions, PMI’s and initial discussions, unless you provide plausible reason why something is worth learning about, there really should not be a surprise if students do not buy into it and find the learning boring. 

Maybe in the end, rather than who is right and wrong, it all comes down to who has the best sell. There are many factors that influence the ‘big sell’, such as charisma, power of persuasion, passion, good communication skills, support, friendship, uncomplicated narrative and what is the current status quo. The problem with the sell is that there is no recipe for how to successfully hook someone in. Sometimes it can be something innocuous, while other times it can take considerable time and effort. What is guaranteed is that if we don’t care to provide a reason why anyone should learn, we can’t really expect anyone to care in return.

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Over the past few years there seems to have been a push from some in education to make everyone a leader. There has been an effort to give power to a wider range of people, spreading leadership across the board. A part of this movement is a move from a top-down to a bottoms-up model. (See for example, such programs as Leading Teams and Restorative Justice, both of which focus on relationships as a way changing culture.) The two questions that come out of all these changes is ‘what is leadership?’ and ‘can everyone really be a leader?’
 
So, what is leadership? Dictorary.com defines leadership as:
the position or function of a leader, a person who guides or directs a group
Thinking about this, there are two things that need to be addressed. Firstly, what does it mean to ‘guide and direct’, and secondly, what does it mean to be in a ‘group’. In regards to first question, there are many ways to ‘guide and direct’. Sometimes it might be overseeing a project, monitoring everything, making sure that everyone is on task, other times it might be providing support through the development of curriculum or the implementation of an initiative. While in relation to ‘groups’ we are all a part of many groups at once, some that we maybe in charge of, others that we may simply be members of. Although this covers it, there is still something missing.
In addition to ‘guiding or directing a group’, leadership can also be thought about as both a naming word and a doing word. Often when we reflect upon the notion of leadership we are left pondering about those who have been appointed to various positions of responsibility, those in charge of making the big decisions, those whose choices have a visible impact on the set-up and structure of a school, those anointed with a title. The problem with this way of seeing things is that it does not capture the idea of leadership as a characteristic. On the other side of the coin are those who lead in the way they work. Although these people may not necessarily be named ‘leaders’, in charge of significant groups, be found in closed meetings, instead these people embody the principles of leadership in what they do in their day to day activities. +Dan Rockwell puts this best in his blog post ‘How to Become a Leader Before You are One’ when he says:

Reading and talking are useful, even essential, but experience matters most. Leadership is about practice more than theory. Every leadership behaviour can be practised as a volunteer.

Rockwell goes on to provide a long list of things that people can do to demonstrate leadership before they are actually leaders. Some of the examples that he provides include:
  • Take initiative.
  • Solve problems
  • Motivate others
  • Manage projects
  • Endure through adversity
  • Teach others your skills
  • Adapt to others
  • Deal with stagnation and resistance
  • Act with generosity and compassion

 

These are attributes that can easily be added. For as +sethgodin argued in a recent post, it is a poor excuse to simply suggest that some people are gifted with certain attributes, while others don’t. As he suggested:
Someone who is likable, honest, curious and thoughtful is easy to think of as gifted. This natural charisma and care is worth seeking out in the people we choose to work with.
The thing is, it’s a copout to call these things gifts. You might be born with a headstart in one area or another, you might be raised in a culture or with parents that reinforce some of these things, but these are attitudes, and attitudes can be taught, and they can be learned.

The same thing can be said about the characteristics of leadership. Although there can be only one principal or one head of a KLA, we all have the opportunity to learn new traits and be leaders on a daily basis.

The question that remains then is what stops everyone from having a meaningful impact when it comes to leadership? Returning to Leading Teams Model, often the answer relates to the culture of a school, the ability to develop a ‘trademark’ that everyone is able to buy into. The problem with this is that it does not marry well with the traditional top-down model of management where the power and control is held by a small group of leadership, rather than dispersed throughout the organisation. People need to not only be empowered, but their roles also need to be recognised in a meaningful way. This does not necessarily mean that everyone has to have a ‘named’ position. However, it does mean that those with power to make significant differences support those below them, not simply palm off those jobs and responsibilities that seem tedious or banal, giving them a legitimate voice. In the end, the first challenge to empowering everyone as a leader is how we support each other to get the most out of each and every situation.

How does your school or organisation support the idea of everyone as a leader? Does it work? Is it meaningful? Leave a comment below?

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Often when we talk about education, the term ‘hidden curriculum‘ is used in reference to all those elements that are not necessarily accounted for or made explicit, those elements that are between the lines, inferred. I think that much the same can be said about professional development. Often there is a hidden professional development that happens, often when we least expect it.
 
In a recent blog +Ian Guest spoke about the differences between professional development from the ‘personal’ to the ‘organisational’. On the one hand, professional development can be self directed and based on the needs of a teacher. This is learning that can be classified as ‘googleable’. On the other end of the scale is the learning that is often dictated by somebody else. Maybe it is a whole-school approach or nation wide program. Below is a table that Ian created to represent this continuum of sorts.
 
 
This is a fantastic description of the different types of professional development, but what it does not account for is the learning that happens along the way, the accidental learning that was not intended. What is missed is that life long learning is about incidental learning.
 
I have been reading quite a few blogs lately associated with Connected Educator Month outlining some of the benefits of being connected (see for example +Tom Whitby‘s ‘The Connected Educator Culture‘ and +Tony Sinanis‘ ‘Being Connected Saved My Career‘.) Often the benefits spruiked are that through social media applications, like Twitter and Google+, you are able to connect with learners often with different perspectives and share ideas with a wider audience. The benefit though that I think stands out the most is the incidental learning that happens along the way. The ideas that come up in my feeds, whether it about alternative approaches to teaching or changes in technology, are always one thing, stimulating. Being connected is priceless for getting answers and ideas to questions, but is also priceless for the incidental learning that happens along the way. I think that +Alec Couros sums it up best when he stated in an interview with the +Ed Tech Crew that “Some of the best learning happens each day on Youtube whether it is meant to happen or not”. This incidental ‘learning’ goes well beyond Youtube.
 
There were many highlights at the recent Google in Education Summit, something that I have spoken about elsewhere, but what stuck out the most was opportunity to meet and great with other learners. Often there were large breaks between sessions in which you could chat with others and continue to develop ideas sometimes left incomplete. Not only did I get to connect with new people who I would not otherwise spend time with, I had some really interesting debates and discussions, and not all about Google, often about anything but Google. Some of the topics included connectivity in schools, implementing a 1:1 program and the differences between primary and secondary education. Interestingly, it was some of these discussions that lingered in my mind long after the summit was over.
 
What disappoints me the most is that this hidden professional development is often the first thing to go when it comes to professional development, the first thing to be cut, because it is often seen as too informal, lack purpose, not measureable and not always manageable. However, these opportunities are often the seeds for deeper life long learning. This is what makes things like Teachmeets so powerful. Situations where you don’t go wanting an answer to a question, rather it is the opposite, you go seeking questions for the answers that you already have.
 
Learning happens in many places and often when we least expect it. The question I have then is what hidden professional development are you a part of? Is it a conversation around the photocopier, a chance meeting at the shops, a random video watched online, a song that you heard, a personal novel that you are reading. I would love to hear. Please share in the comments.

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There has been a lot shared lately as a part of Connected Educator Month about the benefits of connecting online. In many respects, I agree with +George Couros that ‘isolation is now a choice educators make‘. However, something overlooked in many of the discussions and debates are some of the taboos associated with being a connected educator. Some of the reasons why teachers do make the choice to stay isolated.
 

Teacher-Student-Friend?

In a recent post, Peter Dewitt spoke about how he saw a photo come up in his feeds from an ex-student, whom he had taught in Year 1. She was photographed finishing her last teaching round. It got me thinking, when is it ok to connect with students (and ex-students) online? Another similar example that comes to mind is from +Adam Bellow‘s inspiring keynote from ISTE2013 where he invited people to ‘change the world’. A part of this is utilising the power of social media to connect with students through such mediums as Facebook. In addition to this, +Anne Mirtschin‘s many posts and presentations on connecting online seem to be littered with incidental connections with students in and out of school in a whole range of spaces. Now I am not saying that any of these situations are wrong, but it begs the question, when do we cross the line, when does our relationship with students go from being a professional one to being personal?
 
A few years ago, a friend of mine who works at a different school told me about how his principal directed teachers to remove all ex-students from their social media accounts. He spoke about the threat of images and ideas being spread, the spectre of being sued for negligence and a litany other things. Now I am not sure if the principal in question was mandated by their region to tell the staff this, but what confuses me about such situations is that little attention was given to what teachers actually publish online in the first place. I know some teachers who won’t even connect with other teachers online, let alone ex-students, in the fear of being caught out and incriminated, while there are others who won’t connect with anyone and simply leave social media altogether. I have written about the culture of fear elsewhere. To me, this makes me wonder what are they afraid of? For some, it is a fear of their lifestyle choices outside of teaching crossing over into their professional life. Others, it is a political decision, a refusal to share personal information and ideas with online corporations. Sadly, what is not brought up enough during such discussions amongst staff is what is published online, rather than who we are publishing too.
 

Connecting in the Classroom

Attached to his website, +stephen heppell and his wife, have provided a different take on the social media phenomena. Instead of running from it, the Heppell’s propose that we run to it in a safe and constructive manner. Correspondingly, they have developed a list of some do’s and don’ts associated with using social media safely in the classroom. 
 
Some of their do’s include:
  • Developing a personal and professional presence online 
  • Let students ‘friend’ you, not vice versa 
  • Build groups for your classes and share information and resources 
  • Post positive information 
Some of the don’ts include: 
  • Don’t FB chat 
  • Social networks in school are not places for criticisms or whingeing. 
  • Don’t look at, let alone comment on, pupils’ pictures 
Now in some respect, I think that sites such as Facebook and Google+ have actually come a long way since 2010 when the Heppell’s space was last updated. For example, you are now able to ‘post’ and ‘share’ with different groups and circles, you are therefore supposedly able to maintain different connections within the one ‘presence’ (although I wouldn’t want to post the wrong information to the wrong group, may be a bit awkward.) However, many of the original tenets remain pertinent today. Whatever medium you are communicating in, it is always important to have boundaries. 
 
I think that this is sometimes why some staff have issues with students sending emails to their school email account. For them, this crosses their private and personal boundary. They just don’t expect to have students sending through questions, while they are checking their work email. Whether it is using a school’s student emailing system to engage with students or setting up spaces like Edmodo, the most important thing is to set up boundaries. The problem is though that such boundaries are often left unset or worse, they are set by the habits of other teachers whose classroom culture creates a different set of expectations.
 
A simple example of where a clear set of boundaries has been set up comes from +Richard Lambert. In his school two different email accounts have been created to differentiate between staff to staff communications and student related communications. The school’s Google Apps for Education account email that staff and students get is used to facilitate collaboration and connections between staff and students, while staff’s edumail accounts are left for professional correspondences.
 
Sometimes though there is something even more than boundaries, sometimes the question is what we choose to publish in the first place.
 

Duty of Care … To Ourselves

 
 
Just as there is some confusion at times where duty of care and professional responsibility starts and stops, so too is there a dangerous blurring between our private and professional relations when it comes to our online identify. Often, through social sites such as Google+ and Facebook, we connect with people in the community that we work in. Whether it be someone met at the gym or a team mate at a local sporting club, these online associations often compromise who we are and raise questions about our actions. The big challenge is that we are all many things to many people. For some, this is just too much to handle.
 
I have been privy to many a holiday briefing where staff are warned about how they ‘act’ in public over the break. This fear can lead to some staff almost refusing to go out in the community in which they work in, instead going to great lengths to create a divide between their professional and private worlds. Sometimes though, you can never escape past students or parents in the community. I remember a fellow staff member sharing a story about how she bumped into an ex-student at three in the morning a long way from home.
 
I think that this dilemma of trying to create a divide between our private and public worlds relates to our online identity as well. No matter how far you run, how many walls you hide behind, you still leave a trace whether we like it or not. Often we provide information to corporations whose goal is to make money, they often slip with keeping information and accounts private. Facebook, for example, has a long history of ‘accidentally’ changing users privacy settings, switching them from private to public.
 
Although I clearly don’t agree with what Facebook does, my bigger concern is what we put up online in the first place. The big question, in my view, is that we continue to think that we can really have a public and private divide completely separated from each other? We speak to students about the issues associated with digital citizenship, when in fact many of us fail to heed the warnings ourselves.

In an insightful article, ‘On Best Behaviour: Three Golden Rules for Ethical Cyber Citizenship‘, +David Tuffley suggests that:

Eventually, but not soon enough for some, society evolves rules of acceptable use that become established as standard behaviour.

As various sources of technology becomes a part of our everyday lives, we need to consider what these ‘rules’ should be. Addressing our universal actions online, Tuffley appropriates Kant’s notion of ‘categorical imperatives’. He outlines three suggested guiding principles for the ethical use of technology:
  1. Before I do something with this technology, I ask myself, would it be alright if everyone did it?
  2. Is this going to harm or dehumanise anyone, even people I don’t know and will never meet?
  3. Do I have the informed consent of those who will be affected?
Whether Tuffley is right or wrong, I think that it highlights one important factor, that we need to better self-monitor ourselves when it comes to technology. For in the end, our first duty of care should be to ourselves, for if we cannot maintain our own public identity, what hope do students have?
 

Conclusion

Now I am not saying that all the points and ideas that I have discussed here are right, such as connecting in the classroom, but they do deserve to be given due diligence. If teachers are to become more connected, then these are some of the things that need to be discussed. Instead of young potential leaders going offline in the fear that their digital footprint may hinder their climb or locking themselves within their gated communities, we need to discuss these issues in a more meaningful manner. The question that we always need to be mindful of through all of these discussions is what are the consequences of our choices and, in particular, what possibilities are being missed if we make the decision to stay isolated, rather than being connected.

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In a recent blog, +Vicki Davis shared about the idea of having an ‘App of the Week’, where she has a focus each week on a particular application. As she suggests:
I want my students to be productive geniuses. They are a human being not a human doing but they carry around a full blown secretary in their pockets, if they’ll learn how to hire it. If you are a BYOD school, you should do everything in your power to help students really “Bring it” using their mobile device and an app of the week is just one way to do it.
Using Dragon Dictation as her example, she shows how she introduces a new program and gets the students using it in five short minutes. This is a great example of how to manage 1-to-1 programs.
 
One of the biggest challenges I have had in being a part of the group implementing a 1-to-1 program is how to get the most out of the devices. I have found one of two things happen, either the devices are rarely used, only when they fit a particular need in the lesson, such as research, or students simply use the programs and applications that they feel comfortable with, rather than the programs that would best address the purpose and audience. Associated with both of these issues is how we see the devices in and out of the the classroom.
 
 
If you follow Ruben R. Puentedura’s SAMR model, ‘tools for working’ that many teachers have in the classroom should not only support learning, which they often do, but also add to learning, with the aim of redefining education and providing possibilities which were previously unavailable. The big question is how do we help this move from enhancement to transformation happen?
 
Having had the experience of being a Lead User for the now defunct Ultranet, one of the problems that occurred was actually developing the habit of use amongst both staff and students. A part of this was finding authentic purposes and having the confidence with the system, but I feel that the biggest challenge was associated with people actually overcoming the hurdle of how to use this. I could list a range of systems and programs where the lack of time and opportunity to experiment and understand them has hindered their take-up. Take for example ActivInspire, Photoshop Elements, student email, Edmodo etc … At some point 1-to-1 programs needs move the focus away from the device and to the learning.
 
In addition to Vicki Davis’ idea of an app a week, another example of a program that I found, which provides students with opportunity to be immersed within digital technologies, not just use them, is Ben Gallagher’s idea of a ‘Digital Sandpit’. Developed as a way to improve some poor Attitudes to School Survey results relating to motivation and connectedness, Ben incorporated a set time each day where students would engage with a range of different devices set up as rotations.
With the support of my Principal and Staff I decided to start the Digital Sandpit at 8:50, 10 minutes before the schools start time and run it to 9:10, a 20 minute activity that only takes 10 minutes out of the regular school day. The sessions originally consisted of 4 rotations, Nintendo DSi, iPod, Nintendo Wii and Laptops. All of the activities were carefully selected and had educational underpinnings, such as the Brain Training and Math Training games on the DSi, Racing on Mario Kart and ordering each other’s times from fastest to slowest and many more.
I think what is significant about the idea of the ‘Digital Sandpit’ is that it is both structured and done on a regular basis.
 
 
 
Finding time within an already busy curriculum to incorporate such opportunities is often the biggest challenge. The Western Metropolitan Region set out a few years ago to increase levels of reading across all levels. One of the initiatives that were introduced was a set reading time each day supported by regular conferencing. Although the initiative hasn’t been smooth sailing, with its speed humps along the way, one of the reasons for its success is its regularity. At my school, the students read from 2:15 til 2:30 each day. Like Ben’s ‘Digital Sandpit’, this could not be possible without the support of the whole staff. Coincidently, as soon as a few staff stop supporting an initiative like the reading program, then cracks begin the appear. 
 
On the flip side, if an initative like the 1-to-1 devices is left to too few, then nothing seems to be ever achieved. One of the challenges for 21st century learning is the integration of ICT within the classroom. Often, however, the responsibility for this change, for the upskilling of students, is left to the ‘ICT’ teacher. Interestingly, when you look at AusVELS, ICT is a form of interdisciplinary learning, yet it is so often spoken about as a ‘subject’ to be taught. One of the negatives to this, other than the fact that it expects too much from too few, is that students often enter such classes expecting to simply learn programs or how to code. Sadly, this is more akin to computer science. Engaging with the various tools for learning is bigger than exploring computer science. Personally, I recently changed the focus of my ‘elective’ subjects from ‘ICT’ to ‘Media Studies’ as too many of my students were caught up in what they did rather than why and how. In reality, whether it is English, Humanities, Media Studies, everyone of my classes is an ‘ICT’ class. Although it may not be the focus, it is often how learning is facilitated and coordinated.
 
One of the other claims that is often made about laptops and technology is that students are digitally native and that they already know how to use it. The problem with this is that they may be immersed in different technology within their day to day lives, this does not necessarily mean that they always know how to get the most out of it. Associated with this, many students lack the ability to find the most appropriate application or program to use, let alone how to get the most out of these them. +Rebecca Davies sums this dilemma up in a blog ‘The Digital Native Myth: Why we still need to teach kids HOW to use the iPad‘ suggesting that:
Students need to be taught how to use the iPad. They need to be taught how they can use it to create amazing things, to share their learning and connect it with the real word, to deepen their thinking.
What is important is that they need to be given the opportunity to explore and experiment. In my view, for such an approach to work it needs to be integrated across the board. Just as we encourage students to share, we also need to provide staff with more informal opportunities to share.
 
 
+Tom Whitby sums up the whole problem in his recent post ‘20th vs. 21st Century Teaching‘ where he suggests that, “What we learn should take a back seat to how we learn.” And how we learn is something that we all have a stake hold in. 
 
I would love to here of any other ways that people are introducing different tools, programs and applications into the classroom. Please feel free to leave a comment below.

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My wife and I sat and watched Argo the other day. We had both read the hype and were dully rewarded, on the edge of  the couch to the very end. The question that it left me with though was how many other such stories exist through history of extreme risk that have failed and why are they not the stories that we are told?
 
Having completed my rudimentary study of Joseph Campbell and The Hero with a Thousand Faces, I understand that there is a predetermined nature in all of us that wishes to succeed, a staple of the Hollywood film industry. However, how does this match up with the notion of failure? A part of me thinks that even a hero fails somewhere along the way, often this is making of their success.
 
You don’t have to look very hard on the Internet to find a discussion of some of the health benefits of failing every know and then. For example, Seth Godin states that, ‘All of us fail. Successful people fail often, and, worth noting, learn more from that failure than everyone else.’ While Sascha Heckmann posted an interesting image on Twitter suggesting:

With all that said, the big problem with failure is that there is still a large majority out there who treat it negatively and are unable to embrace its potential for a greater good. The first place that this needs to change is finding support and cultural role models who say its ok to fail.
 
In a Ted Talk ‘The Clues to a Great Story‘, Pixar’s Andrew Stanton spoke about the need for stronger role models for women in film. Stanton suggested that Brave is one such film where the writers set out to reposition the female character in the role of stronger and more confident hero. Where are such role models encouraging people to take calculated risks in life and fail every now and then?
 
Some of the films that I’d associate with the idea of failure include The Pursuit of Happyness, The Blind Side and Freedom Writers. Each of these films provides a range of situations where people have persevered through their failures in order to succeed in the end. The problem though with these examples is that they either seem too extreme or involve too much chance. Where are the examples and role models for the common people, those individuals whose life isn’t about changing the world of the down and out or playing elite sport. I am not saying that they are not important, but they are not everything. 
 
I’m subsequently left thinking of the characters like Walter White in Breaking Bad. Yet not only is Walter anything but a role model, but his life seems to be a is a story of unrecognised successes, rather than clear failures. The more I think about it, there just aren’t the models out there.
 
So in conclusion, I return to the place where I started, would Tony Mendez, the protagonist from Argo, be treated the same way at the end if he came back without the six Americans or would he have lost his job? Would his wife have taken him back? Would he have succeeded in life?

POSTSCRIPT

I apologise if you have not seen Argo and I have given away too much.

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Whenever I go to ICT conferences there are always companies offering the opportunity to gain complete control over student computers, complete control over their activities, seemingly complete control over their lives. Maybe that is a little bit of an exaggeration, but it does beg the question, when does the responsibility to create a safe and meaningful learning environment crossover to being a situation of control and domination?
 
I have taught in many schools and been privy to many systems of control, from using software to hijack a student’s screen at any one time, to having open access to the student’s network drives, to using knowledge of passwords to monitor emails, to doing random spot checks of student laptops. Each method comes back to one thing, the notion that we can be watched anywhere, anytime. It reminds me of Michel Foucault’s metaphor of the panoptican in Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison to describe modern society. As Paul Oliver describes, “The principle of the Panopticon was that prisoners could be observed night and day, without realizing that they were being observed.” This sort of approach creates a culture of fear and surveillance, but does it have to be that way?
 
Now I am not saying that schools shouldn’t have have points of control and surveillance, but in setting the scene this way, what are we really teaching the student? Often when you ask students why they can’t listen to music, why they aren’t allowed movies on their laptops, why they shouldn’t have various games or software installed, there is little discussion of why. Take music for example, other than being a distraction from learning (at times), often the argument is made that the music is illegal. It is then left up to the student to prove that it is not. 
 
The problem with this situation is that there is little discussion about the consequences associated with downloading illegal music, let alone what other avenues there maybe to listen to and download legal music, such as Soundcloud and radio web applications. The big question is that is forgotten in such situations is what are we teaching students about copy write? Are we taking advantage of the teaching moments? Associated with this, what happens when things change? For example John Birmingham’s article on Game of Thrones for a fantastic critique of the torrent culture, how often do we have such conversations? In the end, we ‘ban’ putting music on their laptops, so they keep it on a portable hard drive or the more savvy students keep it in the cloud. The same can be said about publishing images online. In refusing to discuss these matters, we resort to the ‘no’ just because, instead of using the flowchart from Common Sense Media to develop a dialogue where we can discuss why and develop a better appreciation of technology and the 21st century.

So how do you monitor your student’s activities? Are you creating a culture of fear or a culture of learning? Do you ban or embrace the power of social media? The question that we need to consider is whether we are setting ourselves and our students up for failure, where nothing is ever learnt, but everything is lost.

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The Day Technology Came to Town

Two things happened this week, the new iPad was released and the Immergo rolled into my classroom. A multi-touch surface that can act as both a vertical screen and a flat table, it came in as the latest and greatest tool for learning that every classroom needs, on loan for a week. It is similar to the screen used in the modern remake of the television show, Hawaii Five O. Described on the website as the ‘next generation solutions for the classroom’, it got me thinking what was the problem that was needed to be solved and is the Immergo really the solution.
 
Again the old chestnut came to mind, what comes first: the pedagogy or the technology. I have spoken about this before when I looked at the way we learn. What concerned me last time was you couldn’t deal with ways of thinking without also addressing how we work and the tools we use. I think much the same can be said about addressing the tools for working in the 21st Century.
 
In his fantastic keynote for the 2011 ICTEV Conference, +Tom March spoke about the importance of refocusing education around learning and moving away from all the inhibiting factors, such as time and space. He describes technology as the real game changer, the enabler in all of this. Associated with this, he spoke about the danger of eternally waiting to jump on board the latest developments in technology, warning that there will always be something to replace what you are using today. At some point you really need to grapple with what you have. Instead of forever waiting for the next technological change, March suggested that we need to embrace organisational change, open the classroom to the world. For at the heart of it, what technology can do has not really changed in the last fifteen years (a point also made more recently by +Chris Betcher at the 2013 Melbourne Google Summit), what has changed is the way we use it. However, unlike in the early days, where everything was open, now we block sites, banned devices and poor bandwidth. Continuing the argument popularised through the TED talks by Sir Ken Robinson, March suggested that we need to move away from the constraints imposed by schools and instead focus on the possibilities of authentic learning.
 
I am left to wonder, are devices such as the Immergo the real game changer – the ‘next generation solution’ –  that everyone has been waiting for, or is the real solution already here simply waiting for us to embrace and engage with it? 
 

New Uses, Same Abuses

When I first saw the surface, I was reminded of the video series ‘A Day Made of Glass’:
 
Developed by glass manufacturer, Corning, the videos provide a snapshot of a future where everything is made out of smart glass, making every surface interactive and to be engaged with. In one scene a whole class of students stood around a glass table that had been turned in a touch screen and were experimenting with different colour combinations. It begs the question, is the image created by Corning really the future or just an elongated advertising campaign?

Let me then outline some of the uses and abuses that I observed associated the Immergo. Firstly, unlike the surface in either the Corning advertisement or Hawaii Five O, the Immegio doesn’t allow a whole class to comfortably stand around it. When I tried to get my class all around it, I couldn’t fit much more than six or so students, until it got rather squashy (and they were middle years students, I would hate to see how many senior students, let alone adults, would fit?) In addition to this, many of the apps had a decisive top and bottom of the screen, meaning that some students were disadvantaged. Don’t ask about the cable.

Associated with this, the great utopian desire to decentralize the classroom and place more focus on the learner is only partially achieved. For although the surface can be moved around the room to where it is needed, due to its slightly cumbersome size, it simply creates a new focal point in the room. Although this may no longer be at the front of the room, it still creates a new centre, therefore, in my view, only temporarily alleviating the original problem.

The biggest concern I have is with the applications. Maybe I am just not imaginative enough or just restricted by the limitations of a demonstration model, but I don’t believe that any of the applications offered within the interactive surface really provided for the creation of new original tasks, let alone the significant redefinition of current ones. For example, one of the applications allowed you to take apart a 3D model. It is pretty cool and offers a perspective that was previously unavailable. However, unless, as Tom March pointed out, there was a significant change in the way learning happens in the classroom, to me nothing much has really changed. For a new tool or program does not automatically constitute a new pedagogy.

The website for the Immergo suggests that the “integrated software … allows for a seamless content collaboration.” I do not necessarily disagree with this, but once you get a few people touching the device, it really starts to glitch and slow down. (I must admit, my students were really pushing it to the nth degree.)

I find it interesting to compare the Immergo with the ActivBoard Touch. Like the Immergo, the Touch also offers the potential to have multiple students interact with the board at once, not just write on it like traditional ActivBoards, which are dependant on the pen. I remember hearing Peter Kent talk on behalf of Promethean, at a presentation for the Touch about the potential for engaging students by creating content that they can manipulate, whether this be images, shapes or text. Getting them up to the screen and adding their own voice and opinion to the content. The Immergo offers much the same experience. What is most interesting though is that I have not really seen many teachers actually do this with ActivBoards, so why would they all the sudden change with the arrival of a new device offering much of the same capabilities. I think that if these applications were going to find any use, it would be in the early years. However, in the middle years, and especially in secondary school, I question whether these ‘collaborative’ applications would really be that effective.

Returning to Tom March, he suggested that we need to skate to where the puck is going to be, which is personalised learning, not simply play school at the front of the classroom. I question whether the Immergo really changes any of that.

There is Always A Choice

Often when ICT companies come in and spruik or some advertisement for some schmick professional development is placed on our desks, there is a perception that the new shiny device on display is the only future possible. However, as I have written elsewhere, what is often ignored is that there is always a choice. So here are some of the options that are an alternative to jumping on the next best thing.

  • Stick to What You Know: It may seem stupid, but the first option is surely to better utilise the technology already around before getting rid of the supposed dead horse that has been flogged to death. I remember hearing of a school that removed all whiteboards to force teachers to utilise the IWB’s in their classroom. Now I am not necessarily agreeing with such measures, but maybe we need deal with the flog, before simply getting another new horse.
  • LCD Screens: One of the issues that I have found with IWB’s is the projectors and the globes. No matter how often you clean them or what process you put in place in regards to extended their lifespan, they only ever last so long. If then the issue is in fact the projectors, why not, as +Richard Lambert has suggested, replace the boards with LCD screens. (Bill Ferriter wrote in a recent blog about the people that have changed him. If I was to write such a list, one of the people that would be included on much list would be Lambert. Although he does not write posts as regularly as I would like, when he does write, it is worth reading.) 
  • Lead Learners: Associated with the LCD screens, why not install an Apple TV and provide each teacher with an iPad to manage it. Not being in a 1 to 1 iPad school, this solution would not be the best fit. However, having a device that could be passed around means that although there is central spot in the classroom, defined by the screen, it does not mean that it needs to be necessarily operated by a teacher (or student) on the stage. For example, I recently came across an app from THIX called Chemist. What it allows you to do is conduct virtual experiments. I could imagine passing this around a science class and allowing different student to test out their own hypothesises. In addition to controlling the screen, the iPad then offers an opportunity to work with students in small groups. Although the screen is not as big as the Immergo, it has the potential to go where the learning is, whether it be in a small meeting room or out on the oval. Also, if the issue is bang for your buck then buying every teacher an iPad is priceless. Can you remember the last time you saw a teacher take an IWB home on the weekend to continue their learning?
  • Scrap the Digital: This may seem strange, but maybe something is lost in moving everything to the digital. If so many staff are rebelling against the sometimes fiddly nature of using an IWB, maybe we need to return to the board. I was inspired by Jak at the Google Summit to reconsider how I take notes. There are times when you just need to get messy, write things down and scribble things out, and an IWB just doesn’t suffice.
Created by @Chitombo
  • I have actually had a bit of a ‘return to the board’ recently with some of my students developing a yearbook. They feel more comfortable using the whiteboard and in order to capture this information, simply using the camera on my iPad to keep a record of everything as they go.
 


Next Generation of Learning

I am sure that if I spent more time with it that I would find some purpose – to be honest, if you spend enough time with any piece of technology, you will always find a use for it. However, at present I do not think that it is a solution truly required at this time. If we are to worry at all about the ‘next generation’, let’s start with the next generation of learning, for that is where the real change needs to happen.

To end with an authentic voice in all of this, here are the results of the SWOT analysis that I got some of my Year 8 students did in response to using the Immergo:


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Wrong All The Time

In a post, by +Seth Godin, he spoke about how he dismissed the Internet as, “slower, harder to use and without a business model.” The lesson that he learnt out of this was that there are, “two elements of successful leadership: a willingness to be wrong and an eagerness to admit it.”
 
Godin’s discussion of being wrong got me thinking. What does it mean to be ‘right’ and ‘wrong’? And how does this fit with education? Does it actually achieve anything to constantly come back to idea of their being a correct answer?
 
It is not that I disagree with Godin’s reflection, but I feel that notions of right or wrong are often left for historians reflecting on the past and even that is questionable. The terms almost feel empty and slightly trivial at times. A spoil often left to the victor. What is achieved in being right or wrong? Often being wrong does not change a thing as it is only after the moment has past that we realise this. At its heart, it is not very useful when discussing lifelong learning. At the very least, it carries with it a negative connotation. What is important, is the way you respond to being ‘wrong’. What aspects that you would change for the future. In some ways the challenge is to be wrong all the time for what do we really learn in being right?
 
I feel that a better solution to supporting lifelong learning is to focus on choice and consequence, considering how we respond to each situation. This includes unpacking how you came to your particular choice, were there any other options and why did your choice work for your situation? One of the difficulties with being right and wrong is that it is often past tense. Being conscious of some of the choices we make every day allows for reflection in the present tense.

Right? Wrong? Different?

We make choices on a daily basis, whether it be what to eat for tea or an opinion on a matter. Sometimes the difficulty lies not so much in making a choice, but in recognising that there was a choice at all. Take the following as some examples of such situations:
 
  • Search Engines: In a recent Guardian Tech Weekly podcast, Bing’s director of search, Dave Coplin, put forward the argument that we only use Google, because it is habit and that Bing offers a better experience.
  • Technology: With the rise of BYOD, the question that often gets asked by students is which device should they buy? I recently had a discussion with some of my senior students who are moving into a BYOD environment next year. Their quandary was which device would be the most ideal for learning. In the end, the discussion came down to a question of taste, personal preferences and what particular students wanted to achieve.
  • Voting: A cornerstone to democracy is the ability to vote for the person and party who we think would best represent us. Often people get lost in arguments about who is right or wrong, when all we ever get is a difference on opinions and even that is questionable at times.
  • Control over Curriculum: In a recent blog, +Jason Markey spoke about moving away from teacher directed learning to providing students with passion the opportunities to design of learning and curriculum 
  • Being Connected: There has been a lot of conjecture as a part of Connected Educator Month about whether we need to be connected or not. +George Couros suggested that being isolated or sharing with the world is a choice that only we can make.
  • Cloud Storage: You just need to put ‘Google Drive’ and ‘Dropbox’ into any search engine for a long list of discussions about which application is better. However, in the end, each application is different and like the discussions about ‘Bing’ and ‘Google’, often comes down to who you wish to use it.
  • Appropriation of Knowledge and Content: Associated with sharing and being connected, is the challenge to properly acknowledge content. +Tony Richards explored this notion in his blog where he focused on the issues with republishing without recognising where things originate.
I could keep on going on and on. However, I think that these examples demonstrate how we can easily get caught up in arguments about what is right and wrong, supposed ‘best practices’, when in fact they are simply choices made by groups and individuals based on what works best for their particular situation. Although we often may have opinions about these matters, such as Google Drive is better than Dropbox as it allows for collaboration. In the end though, that is all they are, neither right nor wrong, just opinions, opinions with associated consequences.

New Ideas, New Beginnings

Choice comes down to one key ingredient, what works best in a particular situation. Often within this process we are faced with options. I often remind my students that they are in fact free to choose whether to work or not, they even have a choice about whether to be in class. However, what they need to realise is that there are consequences if they do not do their work or if they leave the class, consequences that they need to be willing to accept, because they are their consequences and theirs alone. The biggest challenge is being aware that there is a choice in the first place and accepting the associated consequences attached with such decisions.
 
In approaching things from a perspective of choice I feel that we are more open and able to learn and be inspired by others. In recognising why we chose what we chose, it often means that we have considered what we did not choose and why. Sometimes this consideration means that in a future situation we may make a different choice. There are times when being right and wrong gets us locked into a particular position, a position that many around us refuse to release us from.
 
For example, I once used Dropbox as my primary point of sharing. However, I moved over to Google Drive, as I felt that it offered an easier method of sharing and collaborating. It would be stupid to look back on this situation and say I was ‘wrong’, because at the time I may have been ‘right’. Not only does this point out the historical nature of choices, but it also fails to recognise how and why we change.
 
Being open to choice often means that we are more willing to moulding and adapting our ideas, rather than going through a constant state of revolution, where we throw out the old in order to replace with the new. If we approach everything from being right and wrong, we risk living in an echo chamber. Being open to choice is being open to different voices, to different ideas, to new dialogues and new beginnings. +David Truss spoke about the power of PLN’s in a recent blog. He suggested that instead of simply echoing our own thoughts and ideas, being connected offers us a way of breaking out of the echo chamber, finding out new ideas and points of change.

Postscript

One of the things that needs to be noted with any discussion of choice is that there is a hidden element in all of this. For there are some people in the world who do not have the opportunity to make choices, such as which search engine to use or who to vote for. This maybe the only thing that can be considered as being ‘wrong’ in all of this discussion. Often economics is described as the study of choice. Maybe pertinent approach to economics would be better considered as study of those who don’t have a choice at all.

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