This is my response to the task for Week One of the Rhizomatic Learning Course on P2PU focusing on the topic of ‘cheating on learning‘…


There is a call from a certain group at the moment in Australian education about better recognising Western traditions in Australia’s history and society. A certain bias that is being brought to bare by the new Liberal Government. See for example Tony Taylor’s article in The Age. One of the things that this got me thinking about is the forgotten history, the voices denied air, subordinated, all in the attempt to create a stable tradition. In Kevin Donnelly’s case, this Anglo tradition is based on place of Christianity in our culture. Yet when you dig deep it could be argued that it was not ‘Christianity’ that laid the foundations of much of this great nations, rather it was those who had to resort to doing whatever it was they needed to do to survive, whether it be stealing a loaf of bread or pinching a pocket watch. The consequence of which was to be sent to a place the other side of the world.

Having just finished reading Kate Grenville’s The Secret River, a novel which provides a frank portrayal of life in the new colony and out in the frontier country, I can’t help but be reminded about cheating as an essential weapon for survival. When all is at stake, stealing is a way of carving out a new beginning. Whether it be syphoning wood from rich merchants to sell to provide for others or claiming land to plant crops and clear land, stealing is often the basis for getting by. What is fascinating is that over time such acts as the appropriation of land become common place. What was once ‘stealing’ is eventually seen as ‘normal’, whether that be because the power structures evolve or simply because those who suffered the ill-deed can only be stolen from once.

What is interesting is that on top of these often forgotten histories are a set of traditions created seemingly in denial of the past. I am currently reading James Boyce’s book 1835: The Founding of Melbourne and the Conquest of Australia. The book explores all the different influences associated with the development of Melbourne, from the founding of the project to the treaty with the local native people. One of the things that struck me was that many of the founding fathers actually sent in ex-convicts to clear the land, to establish some sort of settlement, before actually going in themselves. In this situation, those who initially squatted and settled had little respect for the rules of the colony. Often it was the rules dictated by the empire that brought them to the place that they were, a long way from ‘home’. Such settlers cared more about doing what needed to be done to survive, rather than what was right and appropriate. Eventually the investors of the Port Phillip Association came in and took control, moving from a focus on settlement and survival to one of gain and investment.

The irony about all of this is that stealing comes first, while traditions follow afterwards. Like an artist who roughly sketches the inital drawing with pencil, only to go over it at a later date with something more defined and set. However, even if these first lines are erased, a trace often remains. An indent in the surface. A reminder of the first beginning.

To come back to education, this all leaves me thinking about those learners who are using stealing in the classroom today – collaborating, sharing, hacking – what foundation are they laying? What are the new traditions that will emerge from these seemingly humble beginnings? What legacy are they creating?


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I was led to +Mark Barnes‘ book The 5-Minute Teacher by +Peter DeWitt in post in which he talks about letting go of control and trusting students in the classroom. Barnes’ book outlines a way of teaching where instead of lessons being consumed by long, elongated lectures, they are led by brief, interactive instruction. Barnes states in the blurb that it is all about maximising learning in the classroom. This is a a bit of a misnomer though, in my view, because although shortening the length of instruction in very important to the book, the real premise behind it is a change in philosophy from a teacher-centred to a student-centred classroom, revolving around 100% engagement of each and every student. Some of the wider changes that Barnes grapples with include a focus on observation, rather than more structured assessment, the use of technology to engage, rather than more traditional methods of communication, providing students an avenue for self-discover, rather than simply handing information to them on a plate. This is all founded on the belief that teaching is an art, rather than a science.

Now rather than simply reproducing Barnes’ book, which I have already started to do, I instead wish to offer my own inquiry into his ideas and arguments in the form of a SWOT analysis. This is not necessarily a summary of my own personal thoughts, rather it is a reflection into the different ideas and arguments found in education, for we often miss something by denying a breadth of voices. For every choice has a series of consequences, both for and against. As Barnes’ suggests in his book, quoting Rachel Ong:

Reflection forms the important link between processing the new information and integrating it with the existing understanding of the world around.

In many respect I feel this reflection fits within the wider discussion about inquiry in schools. Having worked in a school that had inquiry at its heart and then replaced it with a more ‘rigid’ curriculum planning, I always find it an interesting topic to come back to and explore.

Strengths

100% Participation

The whole focus of the ‘5-minute’ classroom is to involve every students in learning. Barnes puts forward the argument that in a traditional classroom, discussions are either controlled by the teacher or the more dominant and confident students. Through the use of collaboration, reflection and teacher guided, rather than directed, discussions, all students are brought into the learning.

Choice and Collaboration

Rather than dictating what topic a task might be on or which group students are going to work in, the control is handed back to the students. For example, Barnes suggests that instead of giving students a project focussing on Greek civilisation, give them a project on civilisations and let them drive their learning. Associated with all this is proving students with the opportunity to reflect and learn from any failures that they may have along the way, such as choosing to work with the wrong group or not properly participating in collaborative tasks.

Student at the Centre

Coupled with engagement and choice, the whole aim of the 5-minute classroom is to both empower students. This is done by placing their interests, passions and concerns at the heart of the classroom and making them responsible for their learning. This though, as Barnes outlines throughout, should not solely be thought of as an individual process, but instead as something that all students have responsibility for. Students are not only responsible for their own learning in the classroom, but also each others.

Weaknesses

Focuses

Moving the heart of a lesson away from a clearly stipulated learning intention, to an open-ended question, means that sometimes what is learnt can be unclear to the teacher. The catch I think, that Barnes would suggest, is that just because you state your intention, doesn’t mean that students are necessarily going to follow.

Observations

In having a question that drives the learning, the lesson is opened up to a wide range of responses. The key then isn’t necessarily the idea of ticking off a success criteria, rather it is about making regular observations, clearly supported with feedback to and from the student. The benefit of which is that students are able to do more and therefore demonstrate more than is usually allowed in a traditional classroom. The challenge for some teachers is maintaining this culture in the classroom week in, week out.

Engaging Everyone

I have heard this said again and again over the years by different teachers from different surrounds, that student led learning is not for all students. Some students don’t get engaged in their own learning and really need more rigid lessons that are directed by the teacher. I think that this is a bit of a misnomer though, because, like with learning intentions, by controlling the classroom, you are really limiting the opportunity for failure and error, and subsequently, the opportunity for learning. The problem with engaging students is actually making them aware that they actually have a voice and that it means something.

Opportunities

Reflecting on Current Practises

At the very least, one of the benefits of books like Barnes’ is that even if you do not agree with everything that he says, through the process of reading, you are forced to reflect upon why you do not agree and what it is you believe in. I think that reflecting on how you teach and the various associated consequences is a priceless activity and is something that is too often overlooked.

One Change at a Time

In the short question and answer section that follows the main text, Barnes addresses some of the frequently asked questions, with one of them being from a teacher of 25 years who states that teaching using the lecture style is difficult to replace. Barnes’ suggestion to this is to identify all the different strategies and persevere with them. Importantly, he argues that in asking the question that you are already on your way. I think that books like Barnes’ can be intimidating to some, but sometimes the best thing that we can do is to evolve as teachers one change at a time. For me, what called me to the book is my personal goal this year to provide more time for student learning. I am not sure that I will incorporate every element right away into my classroom. However, it has given me plenty of ideas about where to start.

Threats

Remixing and Copyright

Barnes’ speaks a lot about using video and technology to engage students with a range of resources. My concern with this is that such practises do not always fit into copyright laws. Although many of us have the tools to digitally capture digital content and subsequently manipulate it, this does not mean that it is always legal. In today’s day and age of digital citizenship, it can be dangerous to model such practises, no matter how much they may aide instruction in the classroom.

Undermines Teams

Being a philosophical change, I think that it can undermine both cohesion and unity amongst teams. Whether this is a group of science teachers or an actual team associated with a home group. Unless the directive comes from the top, then it can create both outliers, those teachers who so often work against the status quo, as well as confusion about what is and isn’t acceptable in the classroom. The danger though with this approach is that the needed change may never arrive, so you are therefore in catch-22, where your damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

Fear of Failure

Associated with the question of team cohesion, there is a fear amongst some that the whole inquiry process does not work. As I have already stated early in regards to engagement, that although it may work really well for some students, there are others who fail to ever buy in and their results go lower and lower. With the ever growing culture of teacher accountability, having some students supposedly drop even further behind is not a risk that some teachers and administrators are willing to take. The problem is that such a mindset refuses to ever really develop in fear that they may fail.

Halfway to Nowhere

There is a danger that if the various changes are only partly adopted, it can create the wrong perception that the strategies don’t work. One of the biggest difficulties, in my view, in moving from a teacher driven classroom to a student led classroom is both stepping back and handing over control. So many set themselves up for failure by suggesting that they are student-centred, when it is really a facade, that deep down the teacher still has the power in the classroom. It is important to reflect upon such situations to try and identify why something didn’t work. This is often just as, if not more important, than the actual strategy itself and will often lead to its own solution.

Where to Now?

In closing, Barnes’ other book, Role Reversal, unpacks the notion of a student-centred classroom further and I may discuss that another day. In addition to that, two other really important resources that you might find useful are his Learn It in 5 website, which provides a dearth of videos to support the 5-minute classroom, as well as his blog, Brilliant or Insane, which is a constant source for ideas and reflection, in and out of the classroom.

So what are your thoughts? Have you read The 5-Minute Teacher? Is there anything that you would add, remove or change with my analysis? Are there other such books and resources that you would also recommend in making the change to a student led classroom. Would love your thoughts and feedback in the comments or on Twitter.

 


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In a recent post, +Peter DeWitt debunked many of the myths associated with the take up of technology. This included such accusations as technology is just a tool, it is stupid and the Internet cannot be trusted. What this highlighted to me is that we all have an influence over the success and failure of each element of change that may occur in education and it starts with the way we choose to respond.

 
As I have explored before, there are often so many choices that we are faced with on a day to day basis. For example, in my previous post on digital literacy, I touched on social bookmarking. There are so many options out there, whether it be Pinterest, Diigo, Delicious, Educlipper or Evernote. Clearly, each offering something that bit different, but all providing a space to share your bookmarks with others in some way or another.
 
In addition to selecting a different application, there are also different perspectives associated with how we approach various applications. Take Twitter for instance, although there is no debate that it is a micro-blogging platform, what that actually means for each person is another thing. Here are some examples of different perspectives, some positive, some negative, but all different …
 
  • Rhizomic: Unlike a tree which has a central root system, a rhizome has no centre. That means no hierarchy, no-authoritive voice. Tweets, favourites and retweets create the content, with complete control belonging with the user.

 

  • Hallway with an Endless Amount of Doors: Although there is little detail in 140 characters, each tweet often opens the door to a whole other world, a new beginning, another connection.

 

  • An Endless Party: Some people are there for themselves, while some are there for others, but in the end everyone is there for a conversation.
  • Second-Hand Goods Store: If I want to find the answer to something, why would I trawl through someone else’s opinion when I can use Google to go straight to the source.
  • Smorgasbord of Ideas: Whether it be a point of commentary, a link to some other content or an answer to a question, it is all there waiting to be picked into at your own pace.
  • Pearls of Wisdom: Although not everywhere, if you’re willing to put in the effort, go diving for them, willing to pry them loose, there are a great many pearls to be had.
  • Real Life Game: Who can get the most followers, who can get the most re-tweets, who can get something to trend. A game of intetaction for interactions sack – nothing more, nothing less.
  • Digital Billboard: Whether you’re spreading an idea or spruiking a product, everyone is flogging something. So often a follow equals follow me back just so that the user in question can spread their brand that bit further.
  • Nothing but Noise: More is less. With so many conversations going on, how can there be any clarity or cohesion?
  • Online Agora: A global place to meet, debate and exchange, minus the togas and the slaves of course?
  • Fast Flowing River: Although you will never keep a drift of everything that is going on, you can at least dip your feet in when you feel like it. So often, great ideas will pop up again and again, so if it is worth finding out, someone is always re-sharing it.
 
I am sure that there are more perspectives associated with Twitter, but you get the point. The bigger question though is what impact do you think your perspective has on the way you engage with various programs and applications? I am reminded again and again of +Seth Godin‘s assertion that attitudes can be learnt and are not a gift. So much about success comes down to how we choose to respond and associated with this, the perception we have on things.
 
So, how do you respond when you are told to use one application over another? Do you think that your mindset influences the outcome? Would love your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter.

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In a post titled, ‘The Importance of Modeling Positive Use of Social Media‘, +Chris Wejr suggested that schools need to do more to both model the appropriate use of social media, as well as promote more positive stories. Borrowing +George Couros‘ notion of ‘digital leadership‘, Wejr suggests:

Much like leadership offline, students and adults can LEAD others in how they interact and treat each other online. When we put our heads in the sand and ban social media, we miss a huge opportunity to showcase and tap into digital leadership and model a positive online presence.
This got me thinking about some of the other things that we may do personally online , but not necessarily model all the time in school. One such practise is that of reading and responding online. So often students are told to use tracks and be active readers, to write regular journal reflections, but this usually starts and stops at the physical book. When are students getting the same opportunity to read and respond online?

Moving Towards a Digital Literacies

One of the big challenges faced in the move towards 21st century learning is how to best embrace and engage with digital literacy. One of the first challenges though is actually defining what is meant by ‘digital literacy’ in the first place. Often digital literacy is simply assumed as the reading and writing of texts that involve in some shape or form digital technology. Although this may be true in part, it does not capture the whole picture. What this sort of definition misses is the different activities involved in dealing with digital media. For example, it fails to properly account for the ability to search for information, critically engage and evaluate it and subsequently curate it afterwards. As Patricia White suggests in her blog post, ‘Digital Literacy and the Australian Curriculum‘:
Digital literacy enables students to critically engage with technology, forming an awareness of how social and cultural understandings can shape how information and meaning is conveyed. It allows them to communicate and represent information in different contexts and to different audiences by re-contextualising their knowledge.
The reality though is that digital literacy is many different things to many different people and is constantly changing. +Doug Belshaw elaborates on this in his thesis on digital literac(ies). The best way, Belshaw suggests, of understanding digital literacy as an ever evolving set of subjective practises defined by contexts, rather than as some sort of stagnant concept. The most important thing is often the actual “process of coming up with a definition of what constitutes ‘digital literacies’”, rather than the actual definition itself. Associated with this, Belshaw identifies eight interrelated elements which each play their part when it comes to digital literacies.
These are not things in themselves, nor do they all come into play with each example, rather it is all dependant on context. For a more in-depth explanation of the each of the elements, see Belshaw’s slideshare.

Going Beyond the Book

Although, as Belshaw argues, there are many different contexts associated with digital literacies, I would like to focus in particular on the internet and how we consume web content. Continuing on from Patricia White’s extrapolation, I would argue that there are three general steps involved with working with the world wide web:
  1. The identification of content
  2. The critical engagement with this information
  3. The sharing and remixing of new ideas
Although we all may have different ideas as to what each of these steps mean, I will use them to provide a simple framework on which to discuss the whole affair and what it means to read online.

Content

The first place that most people go when searching for information is the search engine. In addition to simply typing in the request as is, there are many ways of emphasing words or using various filters to focus these searches and requests. For a great resource in regards to searching online, see +Richard Lambert‘s ‘Digital Search Progression of Skills‘.

On the flip side, a lot of content we find online, in some way of another, actually finds us. The most obvious place we go to are sites and spaces that we trust. This includes news sites of one kind or another, often news of a specific nature. In addition to this, there are those sites and applications which help find information for us based on our history and preferences. This can include ‘following’ or ‘liking’ other users or pages on such sites as Feedly, Pinterest, Edmodo, Educlipper Youtube, Diigo, Google+ and Twitter, or news aggregation applications, such as Flipboard and Zite, which adjust the content based on your choices and interests. Services such as IFTTT and brower add-ons also make it easier to capture this content.

One of the biggest problems with dealing with digital content is what you do with it once you have found it. One of the catches with mediums like Twitter and Feedly is that they are not always about reading everything in the moment. Applications like Pocket, Dropbox and Google Drive allow users to properly digest content at a later date across any device.

Critical Engagement

Associated with capturing online content is the act of organising it. Sites like Diigo, Educlipper, Youtube, Pinterest, Evernote and Delicious allow for the curation of content. This often involves categorising and tagging, as well as adding annotations and comments. Whether it be commenting on a blog, quoting with an image, liking a post, sharing a link, there are many ways to contribute ideas and information to keep the conversation going.

Creating and Remixing

One of the biggest differences between traditional and digital literacies is that we are all now a part of an open dialogue. Unlike in the past when we depended upon others to provide content for us, such as book publishers and media producers, these days we are all a part of the creation of content. There are many ways to creatively engage with content, to add back to the online community. This can include anything from posting a tweet, creating an image, writing a blog post or recording a podcast.

What is interesting about consuming online content is that unlike reading a traditional book, there are many ways of going about engaging with the Internet. For example, some may not use applications like Pocket to store content for later, while others may not necessarily create their own new content, instead continuing the conversation by commenting on blogs rather than writing their own. In the end, everyone has their own way of doing things, their own personal work flow, and that is what makes it all he more so special.

Quiet Digital Reading Time

I love reading books, but I also love reading online. In my view, we don’t give enough opportunity for this in schools. As +George Couros suggests, “Whatever you are looking for online, you will find it.” I think that the big challenge is what we do with dearth of information, how we choose it, how we sort it, how we manage it, that matters in the 21st century. Instead of getting students to always close their laptops or put their iPads to sleep during reading time, maybe we need to give more opportunity for them to develop their digital literacy, to stumble upon new ideas and information, to critic it, to share it and to remix it.

So how do you help students develop their digital literacy skills? Do you allow them to stumble upon information or is their time online more structured? Would love your thoughts in the comments.


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Shared Vision by William Ferriter (Flickr) CC
 
The new year is a great time to set new goals. I have decided to do something different this year and actually share my goals. So often we keep such things to ourselves. Maybe because others do not actually care about our goals, but also because we sometimes fear in sharing our goals that we open ourselves up to ridicule and failure. The problem with this mentality is that sometimes we are unable to really succeed, because we are unwilling to ever fail. So in the spirit of life-long learning here are my goals for 2014 …
 

#1 – Utilise data in a more structured manner within the classroom in order to better personalise learning

There has been a real rise in education over the last few years in regards to the use of data. What has been interesting though is that often this ‘data’ has a tendency to be neither personal nor individual, whether it be things such as staff opinion surveys or NAPLAN results. Such data often speaks more about the overall culture of the school, rather than capturing what is actually happening within the classroom. In the past, I have always sort student’s feedback at the end of each term, while in addition to this I started using the ‘exit ticket’ option in Socrative last year to get a better feeling for where students may be at. The challenge though is to not only gather this information, but to also utilise this in a structured and meaningful way in order to better personalise learning in the classroom.
 

#2 – Provide clearer instructions and more time for student lead learning

Whether it be flipping the classroom or giving more a voice to students, I really want to work on limiting the time spent on instruction to allow more time spent working with groups and individuals. Although a lot of my classes have a plethora of technology to draw upon, whether it be 1-to-1 netbooks or interactive whiteboards, making it easier to provide instructions and information online or in a more engaging manner. The biggest challenge though is how to limit the ‘teacher talk time’ (TTT) when technology is either not available or playing up. I recently purchased +Mark Barnes‘s The 5-Minute Teacher after reading +Peter DeWitt‘s post earlier this year, but am still on the hunt for more ideas and strategies. 
 

#3 – Lead by providing clearer reasons for change and supporting others in becoming better leaders

I always thought that the biggest challenge in regards to being a leader was getting things done. I have learnt along the way that individually you can get a lot done – setting up passwords, organising timetables, creating various collaborative documents – however, nothing really evolves and spreads. Although this approach may model the practise that you wish from others, it is all to no avail if no one actually takes it on. My challenge therefore is to support and empower others. 
 
I was particularly taken by a recent post from +Ian Guest calling us to skip the how and what and instead start with the why. In the past, I naively thought that the why was someone else’s job, whether it be the government, network leaders or the principal team. However, over the years I have learnt that even though these people may support you, everyone has a job to sell learning, whether it be to parents, students or fellow students.
 
In addition to this, I was particularly taken by a post from Mary Jo Asmus in which she spoke about developing leaders as being everybody’s responsibility. This can take on many shapes, such as tapping all potential, as well as leaving a legacy. However, what stood out most in Asmus’ list was the importance of developing a culture of leadership. Having written elsewhere about the spreading leadership and the development of agreed responsibilities, I have learnt that often the best way to evolve things is to support everyone in taking on the responsibility of change themselves. My challenge then is how to best support this.
 

Can You Help Me?  

Having read through my goals for 2014, are there any suggestions that you would give? Resources? Ideas? Strategies? I would love your thoughts in the comments.

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I recently got into a conversation with +Ian Guest in regards to the possibilities of Google Drive and GAFE after reading my listening to my review of Melbourne Google in Education Summit for +Ed Tech Crew. Although I had posted my shortened presentation that was published in the ICTEV Newsletter, I realised that I had never actually published my notes from my actual presentation at ICTEV13 – In Search of One Tool to Rule Them All.
 

From Little Things, Big Things Grow

ICT has a way of finding people. My personal background is as an English and History teacher. However, I have always had some affiliation with technology, whether it be sitting in on the ICT committee or being a part of the pilot program involving student laptops. A few years ago, an opportunity arose to teach Multimedia and Robotics to students in Years 7 and 8. My school had made a decision to teach ICT and Home Economics, instead of other more traditional technology subjects, such as Woodwork and Metalwork. With no one in the school ‘qualified’ to teach ICT, initially it had been shunted around between the Maths and Science team, based on Robotics. During this time, I had developed a bit of a reputation as a bit of an ICT problem solver. If someone had a problem, I was seen as the one to solve it. Whether it be getting students on the now defunct Ultranet or how to use the interactive whiteboards that were set up in every classroom, I was the go to. Subsequently, I was asked to take on the teaching of ICT within the school.

 

Coming from an English background, the first thing that I felt needed to change was the use of conventional workbooks. Past teachers had the students continuing to work on paper, I decided to approach the subject from the point of view of trial and innovation. I wanted the students to leave my class with skills that I felt that they could take into their other classes. I decided therefore to use Microsoft Word. Initially this was a real success, students learnt how to utilise text styles and other such guides and shortcuts. However, the age old problem soon arose around the ‘collection’ of workbooks. For whatever reason, it would take students nearly ten minutes to complete the laborious task of copying their workbook into a shared folder on the school network. Something that I could do in ten seconds. In addition to this, there were some students who managed to ‘mysteriously’ lose their work. This became a particular problem with the arrival of student laptops as the standard approach to most system problems by the school technicians is to simply re-image the computer, therefore wiping all memory. I therefore made the decision that we needed to find a better solution. After exploring the potential of Evernote and Onenote, I decided to go with Google Drive (nee Docs) as my solution. My concern with Evernote was the limitations in regards to formatting, although it is great for note-taking tool, I felt that it was too limited in regards to fonts, headings and other such stylistic elements. I also felt that Google would be easier to use with the students. From here, the ball has rolled and the use of Google Drive has progressively spread from one classroom to infiltrating many elements of the school.

 

To me, the best way to look at the progression from Google Drive from a program used to create a digital workbook to a program that has slowly infiltrated all aspects of school is through a SWOT analysis. Therefore, breaking it down into its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

 

 

 

‘S’ Stands for Strength

 

 

In a Cloud

 

In my view, one of Google’s biggest strengths is that it lives in the cloud. No longer do we have the myriad of reasons that endlessly abound the classroom, such as ‘I left it at home’ or ‘it did not save’. This is best summed by the viral image of ‘10 Sentences Google Teachers Never Hear’ which lists statements such as: “I finished my paper, but it’s on my computer at home” and “I tried to email this document to myself so I could print it out at school, but its not in my inbox”. This is made even more pertinent with the progressive move away from desktops to personal devices, such as laptops and tablets. Moving away from a school network to the web is surely inevitable.

 

 

Collaboration

 

One of the most powerful attributes associated with Google Drive is the ability to collaborate. Although the most obvious point of collaboration is between students, Google also provides a real and meaningful opportunity to collaborate between staff. The share options in Google allow for so many different methods for sharing, whether it be adding someone else to the document or simply sharing the link to the document. Some examples of documents and tasks that I have used collaboratively include:

 

  • a bookclub document added to by all group members
  • reading conference notes shared between student and teachers
  • study club list where names are added by any staff, anywhere, anytime
  • comment banks and subject blurbs shared with staff

 

 

Feedback

 

In addition to collaborating, another powerful attribute is the ability to provide feedback. One of the limitations with conventional teaching is that to provide students with feedback, you need to collect their books. Sometimes this is not practical as they may still be working on something and it can be a difficult task finding space for a million books on a teachers already crammed desk. Google has provided the means in the classroom to overcome this. Some examples of documents and tasks that I have used to provide feedback include:
  • class workbooks providing a dialogue between staff and students through the ‘comments’ function. These comments are often a mixture of either overall comments, as well as targeted comments done by highlighting work in question and just commenting on that.
  • a class presentation where students posed questions on each others presentations by highlighting particular points in question. This often led to students who were being questioned further elaborating their understandings, therefore showing a deeper knowledge and understanding.
  • curriculum documents, which not only allowed people to collaboratively add information, but allowed each member to provide comments on what did and did not work at they go along.
  • various forms allowing staff and students to ascertain information and present it in a second, such as a PE skills classification where students completed a quiz to create a set of data to discuss as a class.

 

 

Taking ‘ICT’ out of ICT

 

One of the biggest lessons learnt from the Ultranet is that if something does not make some sort of sense at first glance then it takes a lot of convincing, as well as tedious and repetitious explanation, to get staff and students on board. From all the feedback that I have gathered in regards to Google Drive, the biggest positive that is shared is how easy it is to use. It is intuitive and as easy as you will get. I have had to explain the difference between the ‘shared with me’ and ‘my drive’, as well as remembering to share documents, such as workbooks, with teachers. However, that seems to have been the extent of my problems. In the end, Google Drive allows ICT to move away from the restrictive concept of a ‘subject’ to a tool for learning used across all subjects.

 

 

 

‘W’ STANDS FOR WEAKNESSES

 

 

Connecting Online

 

Behind every great ICT program there is someone else doing a whole lot of work in the background. For ICT to work properly, sadly, it usually involves someone else doing, what I term, the grunt work. This was the case with the Ultranet and is definitely the case with Google Drive/GAFE. Some staff and students have issues with remembering another username/password. Also, new years create new problems.

 

 

Staff Take-up

 

One of the biggest difficulties with anything relating to ICT is getting everyone on board. Although students are usually very quick to jump into the potential of new programs and technologies, staff are often not so keen. They often question the value of changing and simply see it as a hassle. Often it is seen as an tool rather than a potential for the modification and redefinition of learning and teaching.

 

 

Competing Programs

 

Associated with taking up new programs, is the perception that ‘other’ programs are better. Although I am not saying don’t use other programs, competing views about how things should be done only undermine the overall take-up and wider support. For example, in my school there is a group of teachers who love using Dropbox for everything and anything. The one benefit that they see is that they are able to create curriculum documents and embed additional files within it. Therefore, for them, Dropbox provides a single place to store all materials. The common view is that Google does not provide this functionality. However, one of the catches to this is that Google Drive/GAFE provide a considerable allocation of space (30GB for GAFE vs. 2GB for Dropbox)

 

 

Dropouts, Glitches, Failures & Other Such Problems

 

Another inhibiting factor in regards to the take-up of Drive is that unless it works 100% of the time, EXACTLY the way people expect it to, then there are some teachers and students who just run. I have some students in class who will tell me ‘the Internet is not working’ every five minutes, only to respond the next second that it is working again. Apprehensive staff on the other hand only get more tense when what they want does not work. Although it may well be working, they can often lack the patience to step back and identify a plausible solution to the issue at hand. Another problem that often raises its ugly head is the difference between the imagined and the reality. This is something that I saw show itself with the Ultranet, with some staff wondering why the Ultranet would not do what they thought it should do. The hardest thing in this situation is how some teachers ‘expect’ something to run is not in fact how it does run. Some such issues include problems with formatting when converting documents from Microsoft to Google Docs, as well as manipulating tables within documents, especially on an iPad. In the end, there are times when you need to find the right tool for the job and for some Google might not be that tool?

 

 

‘O’ STANDS FOR OPPORTUNITIES

 

 

Accessibility 24/7

 

No longer is there a need to haul home endless amounts of student workbooks. With the increasing access to the internet, Google provide access on any device, anytime. With the influx of devices, whether it be a laptop, desktop or mobile, Google also provides the ability to sync information.

 

 

‘Teachable’ moments

 

Google Apps for Education even more so than Google Drive by itself allows for a contained environment in which to promote the appropriate use of technology, a place for discussing the digital trail that we continually leave behind in the modern age. A part of this process is also notifying and educating parents and making sure that the appropriate policies and documentation are in place.

 

 

From enhancement to transformation

 

At present, much of Google’s use in the school is at an enhancement level, to borrow from the SAMR model, with much of the use simply replacing what is done elsewhere. Although there has been some improvement with efficiency, there has been little change in the way things are done. That is the next challenge, to actually modify tasks and the way things are done and to progressively move towards the previously inconceivable. Although such a move would not solely be done through ‘Google’, it does provide a foundation for much of what can be done.

 

 

 

 

‘T’ STANDS FOR THREATS

 

 

Misuse and Abuse

 

One of the biggest threats for many is the use and misuse of technology. Google is not absolved of this. I have had examples of students creating their own document and sharing it amongst each other, conducting chat through it. My concern with this is that if you block things or lock them down, then students will simply find something else. Can you really block everything? And is this even the solution anyway? In my view, students will always find a way. Do we let them wait until they get into a workplace where they write something inappropriate and learn that way? Students need to learn the consequences for their actions, not simply a list of abstract rules to live by. You can use this website, but you can not use that. I think that Sir Ken Robinson summed it up best recently saying, ‘If you sit kids down, hour after hour, doing low grade clerical work, don’t be surprised if they fidget.’

 

 

Other Nets

 

My school has an intranet which was originally used to store documents and information. Over the years there has been a progressive movement away from using this. However, there are some people with vested interests who are unwilling to let go of the past.

Perpetual Pilot

 

There is a danger of what Tom March said in his keynote a few years ago of waiting for the next best thing. I understand that you need to trial something for a small amount of time. However, in my view, at some point a stronger commitment needs to be made.

 

 

Can Google be Trusted?

 

There is a perception by some that Google can’t be trusted. “Will this not open our data up to the wider world, making it accessible to anyone and everyone.” Clearly, this is not the case with Google Apps for Education, where the school has control over both accessibility and content. However, as a corporation, I don’t know if Google can be trusted? Their history of dropping applications leaves many sceptical, while the amount of data that they seemingly collect leaves some questioning why.

 

 

 

Coming back to the village …

In the end, the question that needs to be asked, if it is not Google, then what? I’m ok with not using Google, but what are we going to use? One thing that Ultranet has made aware, doing nothing is not an option. I think that the challenge is to move beyond looking at everything as a problem and instead consider things as hurdles. Associated with this, I think that in a school environment, everyone has a responsibility to help everyone else, because it takes a whole community to create a digital village and that is where the future is.

 

 


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A few weeks ago, I had the great opportunity to be a part of Google Hangout for +Ed Tech Crew Episode 238. The big question being addressed was: If you were only able to give one piece of advice to a new ICT Co-ordinator in a school, what advice would you give them. Although I have had a go at outlining my thoughts elsewhere, here are the gems offered by the wider team …
 
+Ashley Proud – Be relentless with whatever you do.
+Mick Prest – Make sure that you are connected to a wider community.
+Mel Cashen – Have both short and long term goals, don’t just think about right here, right now.
+Lois Smethurst – Narrow your field of focus to something that you believe is going to make a difference with.
+Darren Murphy – Go and listen to people, get teachers and leadership on board
Aaron Davis – Create a team and develop a collaborative plan.
+Roland Gesthuizen – Coach the kind of learning that you want to be happening and be disruptive, facilitate the learning rather than mandate it.
+Tony Richards – Just have a go at doing something, this includes modelling the behaviours that you want people to have.
+Darrel Branson – Develop relationships in and out of the school.
What are your thoughts? Is there something that has been missed that you would add? Keep the conversation going either below or on Twitter.

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In response to the PLN Challenge that is going around at the moment, +Peter DeWitt broke with the traditional by simply posing one question, “What inspired you this year?” and an open invitation for anyone to answer. So here is my response:

Do Extraordinary Things

I think that the first thing to consider is what it actually means to be ‘inspired’. The Oxford Dictionary defines inspired as: “of extraordinary quality, as if arising from some external creative impulse.” I think trying to capture what is ‘extraordinary quality’ is a very personal thing. It makes more sense though by reasserting it in Peter’s original question: “What encouraged you to do extraordinary things this year?” In many respects, I think that ‘being inspired’ and doing ‘extraordinary things’ is a way of viewing the world. A lens to look through to reflect on everything around us. Here then are some of things that encouraged me to try and do extraordinary things this year …
 

Breaking the Mould

Whether rightly or wrongly, it is so easy to label students, to put them into a box, to presume what they can and cannot do. “I taught them in Year 7, so surely they are the same student in Year 9?” The worst thing is that many students feel comfortable in living within this façade. However, it is amazing what can happen when you give students some sort of ownership over their learning. I took the bold step this year of handing back control of learning through the creation of the school yearbook. Although there were some hiccups and hurdles, there was also a fervour in the classroom that I had never experienced before when the the product at hand was wholly and solely that of the students. I had given back the feeling of control before, but never enough that I actually didn’t have any control over the final outcome. I gave feedback, provided possible ideas and solutions, but also allowed space for the students to fail. I learnt that sometimes you need space to fail if you are to succeed.
 

Technology has the Ability to Help Facilitate Change

It is not necessarily technology, but more the way that technology is used to redefine the way we work. Whether it be following ideas on Twitter, posting a blog, connecting via a Google Hangout or using Google Drive to share and collaborate. I am always inspired by the way technology allows you to put out an idea and see it come back with a completely different perspective. Associated with this, I have also been inspired by the way that the students or teachers use technology each in their own way and without any urging or encouragement. Not only does this inspire me to reflect on the way I use technology, but also to keep on lobbing fuel into the wildfire of learning.
 

Learning with Learners

I always thought that being ‘connected’ was something that somebody else did. I always wondered where people got the time. I just didn’t think that it was me. Inspired particularly by my many years attending the ICTEV Conference, I took the plunge and cannot remember my life as a learner before. I think that +Tom Whitby sums up being connected best when he says, “PLNs accept people for their ideas, not their titles.” I am always taken by the thoughts and ideas that supposed complete strangers from around the world have provided me. Whether it be reading posts or listening to podcasts from those at home and abroad, as well as engaging with other learners in regards to various thoughts and ideas from the use of technology to the structure of leadership. In the end, there is certain irony with being a connected learner, for the world seems both larger and smaller at the same time.

Home is Where the Heart Inspiration Is

There is nothing more amazing than watching your own child grow and change on a daily basis. I am particularly taken by the way she persists. Whether it be trying to climb into the car or using the paint brush, it is exciting to watch her think about a problem and come back to it again and again until she succeeds. It has also been great to see my wife take on new and somewhat difficult challenges with her work. Not only taking on an unfamiliar role, but also making the most of it. Lastly, my mother has inspired me this year the way in which she has done all things possible to overcome adversity, all with such a positive mindset.
 

The World is My Inquiry

I am always fascinated at the questions that life throws up on a regular basis. Whether it be driving through the country, working in my garden or solving problems at schools, the world is full of wonderment if only you are open it. For example, I was walking along the beach the other day and stepping between the seaweed and it got me wondering, just as many of the ‘weeds’ we have now were either introduced or inadvertently brought here many years ago, is there any ‘seaweeds’ that were brought here from abroad or is the word ‘weed’ just misleading? I find it most interesting to return to my childhood home with a new eyes, finding things that I had taken for granted, to make uncanny what once was closed and contained in my mind.
 

Things Do Not Always Have to be the Way They Are

Although I have touched on this already in regards to being connected and learning with others, what inspires me the most is that there is always a choice. Through mediums such as Twitter and Diigo, my world has been open to a breadth of ideas and practises such as blended learning, genius hour, gamification, project-based learning, maker culture and flipping the classroom. I am not saying that I incorporate all of these things into my teaching, I think of myself more like a bower bird having a nest made up of this and that. Although I may not have a direct influence over every decision that effects me, I do have a choice about the way I respond to them. Being connected at least helps inform that choice on an ongoing basis.
 

What About You?

So that is me, that is what inspired me this year. What about you? What has inspired you? Was it a particular event? Is it something that somebody did? Was it a piece of art? Was it a place? I would love to know, please share below.

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Even though originally I thought that my blog would include a lot of ‘reviews’ and ‘reflections’ of various stories and novels, it hasn’t really happened that way, but here is a first… 

 

The Secret River by Kate Grenville tells the story of William Thornhill, a boatman who was caught stealing a load of wood and was subsequently deported, along with his wife Sal, to the New South Wales. Set at the turn of the 18th century, the novel provides a frank portrayal of life in the new colony and out in the frontier country.
Unlike other writers, such as Patrick White’s Voss, Peter Carey’s The True History of the Kelly Gang and the various poems and stories of Barbara Baynton, Joseph Furphy and Henry Lawson, that have tried to capture a particular 18th century life in the Australian bush, Grenville brings a certain dirtiness to the story. We are taken in on every part of the the lives of Thornhills. Although there is clearly a high point in the novel, the story is more about life. As readers, we feel for them, for the lives that they have been sentenced to, for the decisions that they make. I do not think that I have felt so emotional as a reader since reading George Elliot’s Middlemarch. Although clearly a different book altogether, set in a different world, with vastly different characters, both novels take us on a inner journey.
I think that they irony of Thornhill’s journey is that in investing so much thought and emotion into the characters and the lives we are lead back to our own lives – both personally and culturally. We are faced with the question, what would you have done? Could life have been any different?
In the end, I think that the purpose of the novel is to remind us that there is always a ‘secret river’ hidden beneath the surface, the uncanny past waiting to unsettle us. As Grenville writes in the novel about Thornhill and his new abode, “His children’s children would would walk around on the floorboards and never know what was beneath their feet.” Although the past is the past, the worst thing that we can do is to forget about it.

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As I have written about elsewhere, a small amount of furore erupted on Twitter last Saturday in response to Johanna O’Farrell’s tirade against 21st century learning habits in The Age titled ‘Splashing Cash won’t Fix Australia’s Broken Education System‘. One of the things that I really notice whilst following the conversations through a medium like Twitter is that moments like this really draw a line in the sand and bring the tribe together. Three questions that arose out of the ashes was:

  1. Do moments like this further the wider conversation in anyway?
  2. What is the role of the connected tribe in regards to continuing this wider conversation?
  3. What does it take to move an idea from a point of change to evolution?

Connected Learning

At the heart of all our connections, whether online or not, is our PLN. There are many different definitions for PLN’s including: personal learning network, professional learning network or personalised learning network. Kate Klingensmith summarises the term ‘PLN’ by suggesting that it is basically “the entire collection of people with whom you engage and exchange information, usually online.” This collection includes both friends, family, colleagues, professionals, both in and out of work, really anyone who has something to add. +Tom Whitby points out importantly that “PLN’s accept people for their ideas, not the titles”. The idea is closely associated with the connectivist learning theory, where the focus of learning is not necessarily what you know, instead it is about what networks you are a part of and what possible solutions you are able to gain from these different perspectives.
Whether we realise or recognise it, we are all already a part of a personal learning network just waiting to be activated. What I find confusing is that often when people talk about PLN’s they use phrases like ‘develop a’, ‘build your’ or ‘create your own’. Whitby himself talks about an ‘acceptance’ as if their is some sort of membership or control. However, I personally think that this confuses things. I would argue that PLN’s often form themselves organically. PLN’s are rhizomic. There is no central root system. There is only one connection leading to another. Whitby best sums it up by calling it a ‘mindset’, a way of being. The question then is how this is different to a tribe and how can each be used to evolve the discussion in regards to educational reform?

The Tribes We Lead

In a Ted Talk from 2009, +Seth Godin spoke about the ‘Tribes We Lead‘. What tribes are about is ‘heretics’ changing the status quo by connecting people with ideas. The real challenge is to find something worth changing and then lead a disconnected group that also has a yearning to change the status quo. As Godin states:
Heretics look at the status quo and say, “This will not stand. I can’t abide this status quo. I am willing to stand up and be counted and move things forward. I see what the status quo is; I don’t like it.” That instead of looking at all the little rules and following each one of them, that instead of being what I call a sheepwalker — somebody who’s half asleep, following instructions,keeping their head down, fitting in — every once in a while someone stands up and says, “Not me.” Someone stands up and says, “This one is important. We need to organize around it.” And not everyone will. But you don’t need everyone. You just need a few who will look at the rules, realize they make no sense, and realize how much they want to be connected.
Although coming from a marketing background, Godin’s notion of tribes reaches out to a range of callings, across all society. My question though is whether it is enough to start a tribe to bring about the change that is required moving into the 21st century?
Although tribes are a powerful mechanism for change, the big question is whether they actually evolve the discussion in the wider community? Fine the tribe plants the seed, spreads the word, the big question though is how we get the conversation to evolve outside of the bubble of the echo-chamber. Beyond the notion, that is ‘them’, not ‘us’. The problem, I feel, with Godin’s call to the tribe is that although it works to ignore certain groups when it comes to art, music and marketing, the same cannot be said about education. Is it enough to lead a particular group towards change in education and simply leave a certain sector behind?

This is where PLN’s come in. Unlike the exclusive nature of the tribe, united by an idea, a PLN is more inclusive, open to different thoughts and ideas. As +David Truss explained in a fantastic response to the oft made criticism that mediums like Twitter are an online echo chamber:

  • People in my PLN challenge my thinking and push me to see perspectives that I would not see on my own.
  • A good PLN will pull in learning from places I don’t normally go, and this means that even when good ideas bounce around, perspectives on those ideas don’t stay static… they don’t echo, and they morph into new insights.
The biggest difference I can see between a PLN and a tribe is that a PLN by its nature is open, it connects with a wide breadth of ideas, both agreeable and disagreeable, ideas that continue to challenge and break our moulds, ideas that keep the conversations going. The bigger question that we need to consider is whether we are willing to recognise some of these other voices. Sometimes in the desperate clamour for change it is easier to squash these voices, deny them, smother them, but is this really productive?

It Takes a Village

In a recent post, +Tom Whitby suggests that, “In the garden of ideas we must weed out the bad and fertilize the good, but we can never ignore the ideas that are popping up at a rate never before imagined.” I was really taken by this statement as it sums up what we do naturally, the sorting between the ‘good’ and ‘bad’, useful and useless. Clicking on one link, ignoring another. The problem with this though is with the amount of ideas out there, sometimes the important thing is the actual interactions, the dialogue, the constant point reflection, why rather than what we deem as ‘good’ and ‘bad’.
From this point of view, it is therefore so important to engage with everyone. In his keynote for ICTEV13 Conference, +Dan Donahoo spoke about the importance of recognising the place of everyone in the village when integrating new technology and ideas. Whether it be the blocker who provides an insight to the hurdles or the outlier who is always looking for new and innovative ideas or the learner (student and teacher) at the heart of the change. The reality is everyone has something to contribute. The difficulty is authentically incorporating all the different voices. The problem is that we often enter discussions with an outcome in mind. However, something would be wrong if there were no modifications to this desired outcome, because we all take things up in our own way and this needs to be recognised. The process, +Dan Donahoo suggests, is far more important that actual outcome.
The lesson learnt from +Dan Donahoo‘s presentation is that it takes more than one teacher with a good idea to bring about change. It takes a whole community to bring about change. It may be the job of the tribe to identify the need for change and start the fire, but it is the job of the wider learning network to evolve the conversation, bring about this change in their own way. Addressing this problem in his own way, +Peter Skillen suggests that rather than overload teachers with initiatives, those in administration need to help teachers to understand the ‘essence’ residing in all the different practises that we often associate with 21st century learning and out of the distilled essence, teachers can then ‘construct their own knowledge and practice’. In the end, our challenge is how to help each other make the most appropriate decisions for each of our own situations.

People Will Fix Education

What then is needed to bring about an evolution in education? To me, to go beyond mere change, to actually bring about about evolution, will only happen when everyone is activated and connected to the conversation. This includes parents, students, politicians, businesses, anyone really, because we all have a vested interest in education. The big problem seems to be how to engage everyone in the conversation. With the rise of social media and use of technology as a way of communicating and disseminating information, it offers a great medium. However, not everyone is online and maybe they don’t have to be, but if not, how then do we carry the conversation to them and make sure that they also have an empowered voice within the whole conversation? This is an ongoing challenge how to best keep the conversation going. It is so often easier to squash those ideas that are other to our own, but does that carry the wider conversation or simply fuel the tribe?Coming back to the original saga, Johanna O’Farrell is right when she says that money and technology will not fix education. They may help, but they certainly are not the ‘silver bullet’ as she states. The real change agent in regards to education are people. People trying to find solutions to today’s problems to build a brighter tomorrow. Personally, I think that it is too simplistic to say that something worked in the past, therefore it will continue to work today. This denies that the world changes in so many ways, whether it be culturally or technologically. However, what O’Farrell’s article does do is get people talking about education and in some way that is a good thing. The challenge is to talk about such issues and ideas in a way that involves everyone in the conversation, incorporating a wide range of perspectives, maybe that is the truly 21st century problem?

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