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In a recent article for The Atlantic, Alexandra Samuel suggests that when it comes to parents, there are three clear types: limiters, enablers and mentors. Limiters keep their children away from the internet meaning that they are kept out of the digital world. Enablers trust their kids online, but leave them to their own accord. Mentors on the other hand, walk hand in hand guiding producing. After reading the article, I was left wondering whether the same categories could be applied to teachers?

I know that technology is required in every classroom and many schools are full of devices, but it seems that one of the greatest variables to success is the teacher willing to embrace it. Dr. Jane Hunter has published a book about ‘high possibility classrooms’. What seems to come out of this investigation is that success is often based on the strength of the teacher. If we were to consider Samuel’s three types, many of the teachers who created high possibility classrooms could be described as mentors, teachers who stood side-by-side with students. Although on the one hand they make possible certain opportunities, they also supported students with these being wary of the challenges and consequences. An example of this is Lee Hewes’ work with Mindcraft. For without his support, the opportunities for students to be in a virtual world simply would not exist.

In contrast, the limiter grudgingly allows technology into the classroom, only to be secretly plotting its downfall the whole time. For some this is a fear that technology will leave them obsolete, while for others it is a belief that learning face-to-face should always take precedences.

On the flipside of this, there are those teachers that enable their students. They allow them to use technology, but having little idea as to what they are doing and how they are doing it. This leaves the students experimenting with little support or feedback.

Maybe this is not useful, maybe it is not the same or maybe it is just wrong? How do we support teachers with different mindsets? At different points on the innovation curve? Like Knud Illeries’ perspectives of learning, can we really change people’s ingrained beliefs about anything? And what does it mean to ‘teach’ technology, especially in a BYOD environment? Maybe we need to start with how we use it ourselves and go from there? Should every teacher be a mentor? Are there times when we simply need to enable possibilities or limit others?

I feel that I have more questions than answers, but maybe that is a part of the conversation that we need to have around any aspect of change. Like Sherry Turkle’s discussion about the place of technology, the more discussions we have the better. If you have anything to add, I would love to hear it. Feel free to comment below.


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I started reading a new book the other day, What Would Gandhi Do by Michael Kirby. In it he reflects on a range of modern issues, such as women’s rights and homosexuality, and returning to Gandhi, wonders how he might respond today.

Viewing a problem through someone else’s point of view is such a powerful exercise when working through a problem. For example, see Alexis Wiggins’ account of life as a student. New to coaching, she spent several days just observing life from a different perspective by sitting through class after class in order to develop a better understanding of where to start.

Seeing something from someone else’s point of view does not, however, always have to be in person. it can also be useful, as Kirby does, to wonder how someone else may approach a problem in order to start a different line of thinking and generate new ideas. Not only are we forced, in this situation, to consider someone else’s shoes, but also what it might be like to wear them.

Warren Berger touches on this strategy in his book A More Beautiful Question. During his discussion of question brainstorming, he describes how Andrew Rossi of marketing firm M Booth stokes creativity by thinking things through from an unusual perspective. Sometimes this includes wondering how a completely different company might respond, other times it might be a person. For example, how would IKEA solve the problem or what would Jay-Z do in this situation? The purpose of this provocation is to go beyond the usual possibilities and open the mind up to unusual combinations. This can be useful in breaking new ground.

Coming at this from another angle, Alan Thwaites approaches point of view and personality with the question, are you Sir Ken Robinson, Professor Brian Cox or Rupert Murdoch to your students? This question stemmed from the growing tendency of schools to ask such questions during job interviews to learn more about the applicant. In his post, he discusses what each would do in the position of curriculum coordinator. He then closes with the question as to who your students see you as?

Extending this focus on how someone else might respond, I often use my idea of various leaders and educators when stuck to wonder what they would approach the problem at hand. For example, when thinking about curriculum and assessment, I have caught myself wondering how Kath Murdoch might approach the problem, while stuck grappling with the ethics of being online I have wondered what Doug Belshaw would think. I also remember at the #GTASYD14 that the question often posed was, what would Sergey Brin do? I am not sure any of these people would actually think or act the way I imagine and to be honest, I will never really know, but this misses the point. The idea I have of them, built over time, merely acts as stimulus for working through challenges in my context.

What about you? What different questioning strategies do you use to think things through? Is there someone who you use as a guide when stuck on something? I would love to know.


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Lately, I have been writing a lot about being a connected educator. A part of this stemmed from a tweet from +Alan Thwaites, but it also comes from my involvement in the TL21C program. However, I was challenged by a colleague the other day with the question: ‘what do we talk about when we have finished talking about getting connected?’ At first I was confused by the question for being connected is so important, then it occurred to me that maybe I’ve been focussing too much on the wrong issue?
 
It is so easy when talking about teaching and learning in the 21st century to get caught up in discussions about tools and technology. However, as I have discussed elsewhere, 21st century learning is more than just one thing. If we use the work of the team at ATC21s, it is in fact a combination of four interrelated topics:
  • Ways of thinking. Creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, decision-making and learning
  • Ways of working. Communication and collaboration
  • Tools for working. Information and communications technology (ICT) and information literacy
  • Skills for living in the world. Citizenship, life and career, and personal and social responsibility
Some schools in an effort to counterbalance the perceived over-emphasis on technology create 21st century learning positions focussing on solely on ‘thinking’ or ‘working collaboratively’. The problem with this is that in attempt to move away from technology, they create an over emphasis on another area. In doing so misses the point that in the modern world it is through the use of tools and applications that we are actually able to dig deeper critically and collaborate with those not only in our own school or state, but around the world. The best answer is to create clear a balance between them all, with the one unifying concept between them all being learning. For as Sir Ken Robinson has suggested, ‘If there is no teaching and learning going on there is no education happening’. Whether it be using an iPad, working in a group or thinking about a topic, we should always be focused on making a learning-centred environment, otherwise what is the point?
 
Take for example my recent survey of 1:1 devices in schools. Clearly I could have done it differently, gained a wider array of perspectives in a more rigid manner and written an extensive research paper on the matter. However, I had a question and that was whether many other schools had delved into the world of 1:1 and what devices they were using. After called on my connections I got back 35 responses. Now this may not be many in the scheme of things. However it still gave me a wider perspective. It also provided me a means for thinking more critically about the matter for before I sent out the survey I thought that we were the only school yet to dive into 1:1 in regards to primary school. However, I was actually unpleasantly surprised that in fact many schools had yet to go down that path. I think then that being connected and having an array of connections was integral to getting back the feedback that I got and gaining a better perspective.
 
One of criticisms often levelled against connectivism is how do you measure what is important, with information in abundance, how do you decide what should stand out. Other than going down the road of collaborative curation using sites like Diigo where your search is aided by those in your community, I agree that there is a level of chance involved in who might be listening, watching and participating. In addition to this, who is to say that those offering up ideas are that are useful, correct or even honest in the first place. I think though that the biggest problem begins with the notion of the ‘connected educator’, I think that we would gain more from redefining this notion as ‘connected learner’ as that is really what this is all about.
 
In the end, the only thing and the most important thing is learning and with that a focus on ourselves as learners. However, I still feel that a lot is gained by being involved within more communities and having stronger connections on and offline.
 
So how do you learn best? What helps you out the most? Do your connections help or hinder your quest for solutions?

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In an ongoing conversation about the challenges with being a connected educator, +Alan Thwaites posted the following comment:
Not just what you Tweet Aaron, but watching how you use Twitter has been very clarifying for me. I appreciate it mate.
— Alan Thwaites (@athwaites) April 6, 2014
Although these were some very nice words, it sometimes misses the full story. Being a connected educator is not something that happens overnight, it is not a case of joining this site or posting that comment. Being connected is much more complicated than that, it is better understood as a journey with everyone a different point on a continuum.
 
Short of some sort of autobiographical recount reminiscing every event and connection that I have made, I thought that it might be more meaningful to list the five ‘markers’ that have led to me being a more connected educator. These are not necessarily distinct periods of time and some spread across weeks, if not months, but they are the significant events that have made me who I am today. The first of these step relates to connecting with people.
 

Connections Start with People

I have read so many examples where teachers before getting students writing blogs begin by getting them to write paper blogs. (See for example +Pernille Ripp‘s ‘Paper Blogs: A Lesson in Commenting on Student Blogs‘ and +Bianca Hewes‘ ‘Paper Based Blogging with Year 7‘). Students then publish them in the room in order to share and continue the conversation. I think that in the same way the mindset and actions associated with being connected starts long before people get ‘online’.
 
Through my involvement with +Alf Galea and the Melton Network 21st Century Learning Team, I had the opportunity to connect with some amazing people. Formed as a part of the Ultranet project, the network was a place to share and collaborate with other teachers in the area who were grappling with the same sort of problems.
 
Through this group, we were invited to be a part of ATC21S project running put of the University of Melbourne. Needless to say, this was a fantastic experience and involved working with a range of teachers from around Victoria. However, through this project there was one teacher that stuck out in particular, that was +Jenny Ashby.
 
I must be honest, I was slightly intimidated at first. I am reminded here of a comment from +Cameron Paterson on Episode 17 of the +TER Podcast to find a mentor that scares you. I think that what Paterson is saying here is that in order to drive you forward that you to find someone who challenges and pushes you. Jenny whether meaning to or not definitely did this.
 
My colleague and I would leave the sessions reflecting on all the different ideas that we had picked up and so often they came via Jenny. The educational environment in which she existed was so different. As a starting point, her school (although a little smaller than my own) had already had a significant investment in ICT. Far above anything that I could imagine, well at least far above anything that I had experienced. In addition to this, she was confident, a little brash and eager to get into things.
 
No matter what was discussed, Jenny would always have an idea and was willing to share it. I think that by the last of the planning sessions at University of Melbourne, I had actually adjusted to her frenetic style and was beginning to really thrive on the chats wherever they would go.
 
Although I could have described numerous examples of connections that I have formed as a teacher and a learner, I would argue that my connection with Jenny stands out because it was one of the first connections that I made that was outside of my usual surroundings and hasn’t it changed me.
 
What is an incidental connection that you have formed and how has it changed you?

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Alan Thwaites posted the following tweet and it got me thinking.
Not just what you Tweet Aaron, but watching how you use Twitter has been very clarifying for me. I appreciate it mate.
— Alan Thwaites (@athwaites) April 6, 2014
How is it that I use social media anyway and more importantly, what does it mean to be a connected educator anyway?
 
In a recent post about the benefits of blogging and being a connected educator, +Tom Whitby outlines some of the many benefits associated with sharing online. He states:

The difference between writing a blog post and writing a magazine or journal article is the immediate feedback in the form of comments or responses. Before a blogger puts words to the computer screen the audience and its reaction are a consideration. The blogger will strive for clarity in thought. The blogger will strive for clarity in the writing. The blogger will attempt to anticipate objections.

What stands out to me in Whitby’s post is that the whole process revolves around its reciprocal nature, that is, as a reader you not only take in various ideas, but also respond and add back. One of the big problems though with being ‘connected’ is that for some it simply means lurking in the background. Although they may draw on the dearth of ideas and information out there, there is no impetus to give back in anyway, shape or form. My question then is whether this is really connecting at all?
 
Whilst perusing the net a few weeks back, I got involved in a twitter chat with +Bianca Hewes about the matter of sharing. Hewes was ruminating about the one way flow of information that too often occurs online. Those situations where others ask for resources, but fail to offer anything in return. She tweeted:
It kinda irritates me when I’m a member of a fb group for teachers and people only ever post to ask for stuff… rarely offering stuff 🙁
— Bianca ‘Jim’ Hewes (@BiancaH80) March 12, 2014
If you read the ensuing chat involving Hewes, myself, Dick Faber, Audrey Nay, Teacher from Mars and Katelyn Fraser, there were a breadth of responses provided. Some of the concerns raised included the apprehension associated with looking like a dill and some people’s fear of sharing. A topic that +Chris Wejr has elaborated on elsewhere in his post ‘Not Everyone is Able to Tweet and Post Who They Are‘. On the flip side though, there were some really good suggestions provided, such as lurking for a time until comfortable, sharing something small or even simply re-tweeting something to add to the flow of information.
 
Thinking about all of the these great responses, I feel that there are three clear ways that we can respond and give back. They include the ability to share links and ideas, adding to a conversation by writing a response or remixing an idea creating something new in the process.
 

Sharing Ideas

There are many ways to share, whether it be using social bookmarking, such as Diigo, where you might share with a particular community, or using social media, such as Google+, where you might share out into the world. This is something that I have elaborated on elsewhere. One of the easiest ways I find to share ideas though is on Twitter. Most applications offer the potential to post to Twitter with a click of a button, making it quick and easy to read a piece on Zite, Pocket or Feedly and then share it with the others.
 
There are many different perspectives associated with Twitter. For some, it is too much. How could you possibly keep up with each and every tweet posted by those that you follow? However, +Darrel Branson put a different spin on it in Episode 238 of the +Ed Tech Crew Podcast, where he suggested that mediums like Twitter are great to just dip into whenever you have the chance, not necessarily something to be hawked over 24/7. Branson suggested that if an idea is significant enough it will be shared around, re-tweeted and reposted enough that you will pick up on it in the end. What is important then is actually sharing good ideas and keeping the river flowing.
 
In addition to sharing, Bill Ferriter wrote an interesting piece on the importance of not only sharing, but also recognising whose content it is that you are sharing. One of the problems with many applications is that they allow you to quickly share the title and web link. However, they fail to provide any form of attribution to the actual creator. Therefore, I always endeavour to make the effort to give credit whenever I can. This has led me to use applications like Quozio in order to turn quotable pieces of text into an image in order to fit more into a tweet. To me, this means that while perusing something like Twitter, you are able to continue the conversation with creator, not just the curator.
 

Commenting and Continuing the Conversation

In addition to sharing ideas, another great way to give back is add a comment. Whether it be a video, an image, a blog, a post on Google+ or a tweet, writing a response is a really good way to continue the conversation. Too often when we think about commenting, there is an impression that it needs to be well crafted thesis, however it can be as simple as a confirmation thanking someone for what they have shared. Some other possibilities for comments include posing a question about something that you were unsure about, sharing a link that you think made add to the dialogue or providing your own perspective on the topic. The reality is, we often learn best through interaction and dialogue with others, a point clearly made in Whitby’s post.
 

Remix and Creating New Beginnings

A step beyond sharing and commenting on the ideas of others, is the act of remixing. Using someone else’s idea as a starting point, remixing involves adding something and turning it into something new, an idea in its own right. This blog itself can be considered as a remix, bringing together a range of different ideas in the creation of a new beginning. A great exponent of the remix is +Amy Burvall, whether it be using Mozilla’s Popcorn Maker to mash-up text and videos or using the paper app by Fifty-Three to create images to capture her ideas. Remixing ideas not only allows you to continue the conversation, but also start a new one as well.
 
 
Now I know that everyone comes from a different perspective and have their own view of what it is meant by digital literacy. A topic that I have explored elsewhere in my post ‘What’s So Digital About Literacy Anyway?‘ However, I find it hard to believe that there can be any example of being connected that does not include getting involved and giving back. A point clearly reiterated in Mozilla’s Web Literacy Map. The question then is how are you giving back? Is there something that you do that I have missed? What are the problems that you have faced along the way? I would love to continue the conversation, so feel free to leave a comment below.

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I have learnt a lot over the last few months with the recent death of my mum, that denial never really helped anyone, that we can miss some of the most pertinent moments in life because we aren’t open to them. However, one of the biggest take-aways has been that no matter what is going on, life doesn’t stand still for anyone.
 
In getting the backyard organised for my daughter’s birthday this morning, it dawned on me that during the last month when the last thing on my list of things to do was cutting things back and nurturing the garden, that the garden didn’t care, it just kept on growing. Whether it be the passionfruit vine stretching out even further along the fence line or the lemon tree growing even taller, the garden had kept on going.
 
To me this is all a part of something bigger that I have come to realise. Whether it be illness, mourning or even extended holidays, the world around us does not stop. The house doesn’t clean itself, the washing does do itself, bills don’t pay themselves, my daughter doesn’t care for herself (although she tries), school work isn’t done automatically. The reality is, the world keeps turning and as Freddie Mercury put it so poignantly, “the show must go on”. Therefore, at some point in time we have to play the game of catch up in order to get back up to pace or simply accept that life isn’t the same as we left it, as if it were a book that we could fold the page and come back to when we felt like it.
 
I believe that the same thing can be said about high stakes testing. So often when it is that time in the year, the world around us stops. For a few days, classes are taken over, while for weeks before hand students are often prepped about what to look for in questions, strategies for managing time and how to structure responses. 
 
This dilemma is summed up nicely by +Alan Thwaites‘ visual play on PISA, in which he argues that students would gain more from making a pizza than they do out of completing high-stakes testing, such as the PISA and NAPLAN.
 
Image by Alan Thwaites (@athwaites)
https://twitter.com/athwaites/status/452329928260730880/photo/1/large
My concern is that such activities are not fostering authentic learning, they are not student-centred and they provide little room for personal interests.  I think that +Stephen Harris sums this dilemma up best in his post ‘What is our legacy to be: curious or furious?’, “Learning must be authentic, deep, motivating and powerful. And above all relational.” We then mustn’t be surprised that after completing such tasks that they are a little furious and no longer the same student from before.
 
I understand that there are certain realities life and maybe high-stakes testing is one such reality. I guess the big challenge though is about getting the balance right. At the moment, I don’t think it is.

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