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

I was recently asked by a colleague about my ‘vision’ for eLearning and 21st century learning. Inspired in part by Gary Stager educational philosophy in 100 words, as well as my work with with DET exploring the EDUSTAR planning tool, this is the list of attributes that I came up with:

eLearning …

Is Transformative: More than just redefined, learning is purposeful and involves wider implications.

Is More Doable: Makes things like critical thinking and collaboration more possible.

Enables Student Voice: Technology provides a voice for students to take ownership over their work and ideas.

Involves Modelling Digital Citizenship: More than a sole lesson, eLearning should be about foster competencies throughout the curriculum.

I supported this with a list of readings to clarify where my thoughts had come from. Although as I have stated time and time again, it takes a village and recognising everyone in the village can be a futile act.

My concern with this whole process though is two-fold. Firstly, a vision is not created by one person, however compelling that may be. A point that George Couros makes in his book Innovator’s Mindset. This is a problem I had with the DET EDUSTAR training where a few random representatives were expect to be the voice of a whole school. While secondly, an eLearning vision needs to marry with the school’s wider vision for ‘learning’. The question then remains as to how we make a vision for learning and technology which supports the whole school with a common goal?

So what about you, what is your eLearning vision? How is it integrated within the wider school vision? As always comments are welcome.

 


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Image by Amy Burvall http://tmblr.co/Zb8aBo19NdENy
 
I recently got involved in a conversation about the best use of social media, in particular Twitter, to engage and gain traction with a wider audience. Often people are simply told to collectively tweet at a certain time and that will be enough to get something to trend, but really is that enough? For it is one thing to sign up to Twitter and put out a few tweets, but it is another thing to gain interest in your cause online. Fine you could simply write the same tweet hundreds of times and you might get something literally trending, however traction in my view is much more complicated than simply getting something trending. For who is watching? How are they actually responding? And most importantly, how will they respond if you use the same strategy again and again?
 
The reality is that there is a fine line between engaging and disengaging someone online (and offline for that matter too). Many people seem to think that traction is simply a numbers game, but this is naive and far too simplistic. For example, if your strategy is to repetitively send out the same tweet and simply tag different people in each post, you need to be mindful that those people may not feel significant if they discover this. Instead of spreading your message, those who you include may consider you as spamming, as +Alec Couros did when he was tagged in a tweet by Biosgraphy. So instead of spreading your message by retweeting it or engaging in some sort of dialogue, such actions often risk developing a negative view. Even worse than this is actually asking people to retweet, as pointed out by +Dan Donahoo recently. To me this is saying that your message isn’t strong enough to gain interest and attention, are a few retweets going to solve this? 
 
Maybe I have misunderstood the medium, but to me Twitter is heavily based on branding and association. Whether it be personal or associated with a topic embodied within a hashtag. This notion of ‘branding’ is difficult to develop and is unique to each situation. What needs to be considered is how would you respond if you were on the other side? Would you follow? Would you connect? Or would you be put off? Disconnect or even worse, unfollow if you were following in the first place?
 
The first step in my view when it comes to branding revolves around what +Anne Mirtschin describes as our ‘digital badge’. This includes:
  1. consistent image
  2. clear username
  3. detailed profile. 
Mirtschin argues that unless we create some sort of identity then often people will be unwilling to connect with us and subsequently our ideas. Using the example of Ning’s, she explains that moderators of such sites will not allow people in if they don’t give anything of themselves. The same though can be said about all forms of connections. Unless you provide some sort of background, then people don’t really know who they are connecting with and are often unwilling to engage.
 
After addressing identity, the next area of concern is the content which you share with the communities you connect with. Some feel comfortable using social media to simply lurk, while others feel it is enough to simply retweet. I would argue though to get the most out of any social media platform you have to get involved and give back. However, this is easier said than done. 
 
The task associated with what to ‘give back’ and what to post is often twofold. Firstly, I would argue, giving back and adding to the conversation is about constantly evolving the story as to who you are, whilst at the same time inadvertently connecting with others with similar concerns and beliefs. For the real challenge online is getting others to join the cause. It is easy enough for a person to compose one hundred posts. However, it is a much harder to coordinate an effort where one post is shared by one hundred different people. (That is unless you are ISIS and take over the accounts of all your followers, listen to the Guardian Tech Weekly Podcast.) In this respect, sharing with who you are helps to identify your tribe of believers.
 
The next step is what we post when it comes to trying to gain traction and airspace. Some get straight the point. Stating the message in a simple fashion with little scope left for continuing the conversation. Sadly, this misses the point of the medium. In my view, there are many ways to carry a conversation, they include providing clear statements, pose questions, using #hashtags, connecting with other users, link to information, using images not just words and responding to others.
 
Take for example the ongoing campaign around the Gonski Education Reforms. One could compose the tweet:

Gonski is a change needed by all for all.
Aaron Davis (@mrkrndvs)

This is a fine sentiment and there is nothing actually wrong with the statement. The problem is that the actual message lacks clarity. Some of the issues include clarifying what the actual ‘change’ is and why is it needed for all. An alternate statement could be:
Equitable funding provided through #Gonski reforms is a change needed for all students 2 provide the opportunity for success in life and edu
Although most ideas and argument cannot be deduced to 140 very well, such a statement still needs to have some semblance of clarity. Where possible, it needs to capture not only the what, but more importantly the why.
 
Another way of getting a message out is by posing a question. So instead of making a statement, you turn the problem into a question:
How can we say we are giving every student an opportunity to succeed in life & education when the funding scheme is not equitable? #Gonski
Although using the same ingredients as the statement, by putting it as a rhetorical question encourages the reader to consider their own perspective on the matter.
 
Associated with producing a message or question is linking in other users and/or ideas. This is done by making reference to various handles (the name given to an identity on Twitter) and hashtags (a form of digital categorisation that aggregates across platforms). In the case of Gonski, an obvious handle to attach would be @igiveagonski, while in regards to hashtags, some possibilities include #gonski, #auspol and #springst. An example then might be:
Equitable funding provided thru @igiveagonski is a change needed 4 all sts 2 provide the opportunity for success in life & education #auspol
It needs to be noted that handles do not always read well, as they are about branding more than readability, while words are often abbreviated or substituted in order to fit more information.
 
In addition to content and connections, the other thing to consider is linking to other details and information. The most obvious example is quoting a source. For example:
“The highest-performing education systems across the OECD countries r those that combine quality with equity” http://t.co/mYKxG4njUk #gonski
The purpose of this is to use evidence and statistics to bring credability to the argument. 
 
The problem with quotes though is the problem with Twitter, sometimes 140 characters just isn’t enough. In this case, the alternative is to capture the quote in an image. @igiveagonski have been producing a series of graphics linking quotes from key academics with the call to sign up to the campaign:

@pasi_sahlberg on why #Gonski is critical to closing the achievement gaps in Australian schools pic.twitter.com/OKDnJP0XxG
— I give a Gonski (@igiveagonski) August 7, 2014

The only issue is that not everyone has the time and nous to create such slick graphics (although, as +Bill Ferriter points out, with programs like Canva, it can actually be quite easy). A simple alternative is using a program like Quozio to quickly turn a quote into an image:

New image: Australia has its own education solution: #Gonski added to Flickr pic.twitter.com/brope0cfdz
— Aaron Davis (@mrkrndvs) August 9, 2014

This allows you to fit more in and then provide other details in the actual tweet.

 
Moving away from quotes, the other alternative to adding your own ideas is adding various links, images and videos. Coupled with quotes, it can be good to add links to other sources in order to provide people with more information or a space to continue to engage with topics in question. The obvious link associated with the Gonski campaign is the www.igiveagonski.com.au site. However, the other option is the multitude of commentary out there attached to the topic. Take for example tweet referencing a piece from Pasi Sahlberg:
#Gonski education funding model draws praise from Finland http://t.co/80VWeVYlDv via @smh –> Good for @pasi_sahlberg why not us @cpyne ?
Not only does this add some substance to the discussion, but it also brings others into the fray. 

In regards to images, the other common alternative to quotes or photographs are creative responses. This can come in any shape and form, but the most common is through the use of various meme generator websites and applications:

We need an equitably funded education system #gonski @igiveagonski @PutEducation1st pic.twitter.com/DRCh3ZjWj3
— Aaron Davis (@mrkrndvs) August 2, 2014

It needs to be noted that a ‘meme’ is not in itself an image, but rather a an artefact shared within a culture. The term was actually coined by Richard Dawkins to refer to the spread of ideas and cultural phenomena, including melodies, fashion and technology. In this sense, this blog post is actually a meme itself.
 
The other option is to create an image by hand, either digitally or by taking a photograph of a sketchbook.

In democracy, equity should be at the heart @cpyne is it? #gonski @igiveagonski pic.twitter.com/mhp8dJYG7T
— Aaron Davis (@mrkrndvs) August 2, 2014

It is often stated that sketching ideas engages both sides if the brain, I would also argue that the originality inherent in a sketch often increases the engagement with the idea. A great proponent of sketching is +Amy Burvall. See for example her magnificent collection at her my-conography site.
 
The other option is to link to a video from a site such as YouTube. One that did the rounds a few months ago was this short video explaining the Gonski model:

What is Gonski? http://t.co/oxvKeBHHv3 via @7mrsjames
— Matt Esterman (@mesterman) May 21, 2014

Like quotes and images, videos can allow you to include a range of ideas in the one tweet.

 
These then are some of the possibilities for getting an idea across. Whether it be connecting to others or linking to additional material, the most important thing to consider is your purpose and which means is going to best communicate this. So if your purpose is to engage the media, then quotes and links to evidence and research would probably make sense, while if your purpose is to engage the wider community then humour that does not exclude anyone is probably your best bet.
 
Coming up with a clear message is often the easy bit when it comes to Twitter, it is how we make sense of such an over abundance of information that is the real challenge. For some Twitter can simply be a whole lot of noise and lack much meaning at all. There are however some tricks that can help.
 
Clearly, I don’t want to replicate what has already been discussed elsewhere in regards to understanding how to actually use Twitter (see for example +David Truss‘ excellent introduction). My interest is in the additional applications and add-ons that can make things easier.
 
The biggest challenge that many face is how to keep track of all the different followers. For some, the answer is to limit the people who they follow to 150 in the belief that 150 is the maximum number who we can meaningfully engage with. However, the other option is to use lists to organise people into different categories. Like the idea of circles in Google+, lists allows you to add different users so that instead of scrawling through the endless stream, you can then isolate the conversation more easily. Another good feature of lists is that if you make them public then others can simply subscribe to them, rather than go through all the rigmarole of creating their own.
 
One of the other challenges is consistently posting. You see some people who tweet sporadically because they don’t know what to post. Not only does this say something about how they see the medium, but coming back to Mirtchen’s point about digital badge, it does not really provide much of a feel as to who you are and what you believe in. If you are to gain any sort of traction on Twitter then you need followers, but to get followers you really need to be someone worth following. One answer to this is the the use of such services as IFTTT to post on your behalf. There are a range of ‘recipes’ which once setup automatically run in the background. In regards to Twitter, the most obvious use of IFTTT is the cross-posting from sites such as Google+, Facebook, Instagram and Flickr. However, you can also use it to automatically post any new RSS news feed items or send a tweet to new followers.
 
Another great program that allows you to manage the abundance of information is Tweetdeck+Sue Waters has created a fantastic resource which is a must for anyone trying to get there head around it. However, in summary some of the benefits include the ability to schedule tweets, important if you are trying to engage with people all around the world, as well as add different columns. Clearly this is useful for monitoring both your own feed, but also any notifications without changing screens. (Hootsuite also offers much of the same functionality.) What is awesome is that you can add custom columns. These can be hashtags, lists or even handles. This can be useful in monitoring a particular hashtag and engaging in a particular conversation.
 
There are also some other programs which can be useful for monitoring a hashtag. The best is Tagboard, a site that will collect all the different posts associated with a particular hashtag from sites such as Google+, Instagram, Twitter, Vine and Tumblr. Another useful site is Storify. This site allows you to curate information surrounding a hashtag and add a narrative to it in order to fill in all the gaps. While the last site is Trendsmap. This site aggregates what is trending. If the goal is leverage, this can be a useful barometer. Although it must be noted that just because something is trending, it does not allows guarantee traction. That is forever left to a certain degree to chance.
 
 
So there are my thoughts on Twitter and how to make the most of it. What are your thoughts? Do you agree? Have I missed something? I would love to know. Feel free to leave a comment below.

POSTSCRIPT

Here is a presentation that I created associated with the post:

Advocating with Social Media – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires


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This post and associated slides are for my TL21C Reboot Session addressing the topic of: Becoming a Connected Educator (22/7/2014)
 

Becoming a Connected Educator (TL21C) – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires
 
Becoming a connected educator is so unique. There is no rule or recipe to follow and no two stories are the same. The reality is that it is many things to many people. The biggest challenge is continually defining what it actually means to be connected and why it is important. I don’t wish to offer some cure, rather I hope to keep the conversation going.
 
Instead of providing a recipe, my approach has always been to share some of the choices that I have made and my thoughts behind them. Although signing up to various platforms is important, it is the journey associated with this that matters most to me. As +Tony Sinanis says, in reflecting on his own connected experiences, “the Twitter experience is a journey … it is not an experience that can simply be replicated for those who have yet to be connected.”
 
It is important to understand that being a connected educator does not automatically make you a better learner. Just because you have a Twitter handle doesn’t make you special in itself. Although it may give you access to a global audience, this does not magically make you connected. As +David Weinberger points out in his book Too Big To Know, “Even if the smartest person in the room is the room itself, the room does not magically make all who enter it smarter.” The question that we need to consider is not whether we are connected or not, but rather how we connect.
 
Too often people believe that being connected somehow leads to something more, a conduit to some higher form of being. They enter with the question, ‘What’s in it for me?’ I am not sure exactly what I thought being a connected educator would be, however the one thing that I have come to realise is that networks are not constant, they are more akin to a verb, rather than a noun.
 
Too often people describe PLN’s as something we build. However this misses the organic nature. I believe that they are better understood as a plant which we help grow and nurture. Our networks will only ever flourish as much as we let them.
 
Associated with the focus on networks is a focus on learning. To get the most out of being connected I allocate learning time. In a recent post+Peter Skillen made the suggestion that the goal of a project should be to formulate questions, rather than starting with one. I think that this definitely applies to being connected. Sometimes you just need to tinker and play, wonder and explore, in order to know what it is you are looking for.
 
I feel that connecting and conversing is better thought of as sitting at a bar drinking pedagogical cocktails where we can mix different ingredients to come up with our own flavours. This does not mean that everyone should do Problem Based Learning or didactic learning should be banished, instead it is about choosing the right method for the moment, rather than keep on drinking the same old cocktail again and again.
 
One of the most empowering aspects about learning online is that there is always some form of learning just waiting for us. As +Alec Couros suggested, “some of the best learning happens each day on Youtube whether it is meant to happen or not” I once described this as ‘hidden professional development‘, playing on the idea of the hidden curriculum, but I really like +John Pearce‘s notion of pop-up PD, that learning that can happen anywhere, any time, where there are people willing to learn.
 
One of the keys to learning online is actually giving back. If everyone just lurked from a distance, not only would this limit the depth of conversations that occur online, but it also limits how much you actually get out of such connections. There are many different ways of giving back, from simply sharing links to remixing ideas. The choice of how we do this is up to us.
 
Sharing should be thought of as a way of being. Many worry about whether there is worth in what they are sharing. However, only the community can decide such worth. As Clive Thompson states in reference to blogging, “Having an audience can clarify thinking. It’s easy to win an argument inside your head. But when you face a real audience, you have to be truly convincing.” Surely then sharing can only be a good thing?
 
One of the most important elements to building relationships is having a clear and definable identity. After spending some time hiding behind various quirky images and username, inspired by +Anne Mirtschin, I took the steps to create a consistent digital badge that I ‘wear’ online. Associated with this, I developed an About.Me to connect together  all the different spaces where I exist. I feel that making these changes has aided with my connections.
 
In the end, there are many choices to be made when it comes to being a connected educator. For example:
  • Who do I follow?
  • What details do I provide about myself?
  • Which platforms should I work on?
  • Should I blog, vlog, create a podcast?
  • How many times should I re-tweet/republish links to my own work?

As +Chris Wejr points out, although it is easy to suggest that everyone should sign up and start sharing every last detail, not everyone is able to tweet and post who they are.

 
I think that +Steve Brophy sums up the situation best when he makes the challenge, “Be the connection that gives other learners a voice.”
 
What has been your biggest hurdle in becoming a more connected educator? Can you provide an example as to how you are giving other learners a voice?

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creative commons licensed (BY-NC) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/aaron_davis/14557280205 
I have been reflecting quite a bit lately on what I see as the importance of making online connections with other educators and developing dialogues to continue the conversation about education. Some of the push back that I have gotten is about who those teachers are that I am actually connecting with and what agenda is really being pushed? The question that it has me wondering is whether being a connected educator automatically equals being radical? If not, then where is the middle ground or is there something else going on that is being missed?

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

There is something about social media as a medium which lends itself to extremes. Take Twitter for example, often it is a case of the loudest statements that seem to stand out the most. Too often though this noise equates to latching ourselves to the latest panacea to all of education woes. In the process many fall in the trap of dispelling of the bathwater. Like Orwell’s Two Minutes Hate, no matter what our intentions may be, what efforts we make to include all voices, what aspirations we have to openness, it seems that time and time again our attitudes are moved to the side and replaced with the radical, which has become almost cliched. A prime example of this are the various Twitter chats, a point +Starr Sackstein recently made. Her argument is that they seem to be churning out the the recycled conversations week in week out.
In an interview with Charles Arthur, Jack Davis spoke about his experiences as a hacktivist with Lulzsec. He told how the deeper he got into the web the louder and more extreme the voices became. The voices were not necessarily about adding any value back to a community, but simply about standing out and being heard. 

Although the world portrayed by Davis a contrast to many of the educational environments online, there is still something to be learnt from Davis’ experiences. For the one similarity is that so often it is the loudest, boldest and strongest voices that stand out and stand tall. In many respects, it seems to take more effort to actually be mundane and, ironically, being more mundane and seemingly ordinary doesn’t often get you heard. Maybe then the challenge is digging deeper, going beyond the hype, the radicalism and start there.

Finding Common Ground

In a post reflecting on the purpose behind his blog, +Peter DeWitt reminisced on attempts to find some sort of common ground. DeWitt spoke about the emotions often attached to discussions associated with any discussion of education. The problem with this is that such emotions often lead to a lot of noise, but not a lot of listening. As he states, “people fight with others without really listening to what they are trying to say. They base opinions on hearsay and someone else’s opinions.” The answer according the DeWitt is to build consensus with those who we agree with and find a point of agreement with those who we don’t.
What stood out to me in DeWitt’s post was that the foundation to listening and respond was having a clear understanding about non-negotiables in regards to education. For DeWitt, the two areas in need of changes are high-stakes testing and having evaluation attached to them. 

I would argue therefore that before we find common ground we need to develop a better idea about what matters the most to each and everyone of us. A point that I touched upon in regards to my post on pedagogical cocktails and education dreams. +Peter Skillen, in a post looking at the roadblocks to change, suggests that school leaders can do is supporting teachers as they ‘construct their own knowledge and practice’. Being clear on our own values and practises helps us be clear about what it is we are actually arguing about.

Tribal Voices

At the start of the year a furore erupted around a piece published by Johanna O’Farrell. For O’Farrell, the education system was broken, but not in the usual manner. Instead of arguing for radical reform as people like +Will Richardson call for, O’Farrell was coming from the perspective of the radical conservatives. According to her we have lapsed when it comes to the basic of literacy and numeracy. Instead of focusing on spelling and timetables, we have placed too much focus on inquiry and technology. My issue with O’Farrell was not her arguments so much, but the manner in which she went about it. She killed the conversation.
The various responses to O’Farrell highlighted an interesting condition. For our initial response to such situations is to identify with a particular idea or perspective and form our tribes. The problem is that unlike Seth Godin’s call to find something worth changing, often such situations become lost in a war of noise, with the boldest and loudest standing out. The reality is that, as +Dan Donahoo suggested at ICTEV13 Conference, authentic change involves engaging with a range of voices and differing ideas, that it takes a village. This was no a village, but a mass of warring tribes ready to inflict damage on each other. There was no common ground provided by either side.
I believe that in some respect the problem is not necessarily with the idea, radical or not, or our tendency to form tribes with like minded people. I feel that the big problem is our mindset. Being willing to enter into a dialogue about education requires a belief that although you may have a set of core values, you are willing to compromise in order to evolve the conversations. 

The best thing that we can do then, in my view, is to constantly review what it is that we believe in and why we believe it. In an interview with the +Ed Tech Crew Podcast, +Dan Donahoo makes the suggestion of following the thoughts and ideas of not only those who we agree with, but more importantly, those who we don’t agree with. Doing this not only helps solidify what it is we truly stand for, but also gives us a wider perspective on things. For surely online communities should be about finding your own way as best you can, not about digging trenches and raising arms.
 

Engagement not Provocation

Another perspective on the problem of the radical was covered in a recent episode of Radio National’s Future Tense program focussing on the power of provocation. The message presented was that provocation does not work any more, well definitely not the way it used to. Whereas in the past there were less voices and not so much advertising, the change in society and media means that the focus moved from consumption to engagement. Instead of just making noise to be noticed, it is argued that we need to provide something that has the power to ignite a conversation. Such engagement though does not just come through identifying a good idea, but also presenting it in creative manner.
The big problem that we face is that such engagement in the modern world is easier said than done. Returning to social media, it is often stated that our attention associated with such mediums is only seconds. Therefore, some take to using big and bold statements with a hint of hyperbole to gain attention, while others resort to a cycle of posting and reposting, attaching their ideas to as many different causes through the use of various forums and hashhags. The problem with either of these approaches is that such actions actually risk disengaging the audiences that you are trying to engage.
+Alec Couros highlighted this problem in a response to Biosgraphy, a social network revolving around storytelling. They had set out on a campaign to spruik their new product by sending the same tweet to different users, therefore filling up the feed and gaining some sort of traction. On pulling them up on this approach, the company responded to Couros with a series of personal attacks.

 
What the situation highlights is what Malcolm Gladwell identifies in his book David and Goliath, as the the inverted U-shaped curse. Gladwell discusses the negatives associated with either ends of the extremes. At some point you either don’t publish your links enough, therefore no one even knows you are out there, or you go to the point of spamming and people don’t even want to know you are there. Often it is presumed that sharing out links and continuing the conversation is always a good thing. However, at some point it can become too much of a good thing. The effort and intention to connect and engage in this situation has the opposite effect.
The reality is that connecting is not about volume or frequency, it is about chance and relationship. I am sure that there are many great ideas that go unread, that are not shared very much or which just don’t garner traction with a wider audience. However, sometimes the sharing of ideas is about connecting with the community. As +John Spencer suggested in a recent post, “For me, blogging has been more like a community of friends. It’s been where I find rest and wrestle with ideas and interact with a community that challenges me.”

Sometimes if an idea doesn’t take it isn’t so much about the idea, it is about the community. If we don’t build relationships, then in reality, who is going to relate to us. It was interesting that +Bill Ferriter recently reflected on disconnecting from social media in order to properly connect at ISTE14. Maybe this says something, that at its heart connecting with a PLN is about opening a dialogue and to do that you need a relationship. 
Therefore in the end, if there is no community to belong to, no tribe to unite with, then maybe this is where people need to start, otherwise it will only ever be the noisy radicals that will stand out in the crowd. So the question needs to be asked, who are you connecting with that challenges your thinking? And what relationships are you building online?

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creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by Billy Rowlinson: http://flickr.com/photos/billyrowlinson/3515157369
 
I was talking with a coordinator yesterday and I heard a word that I hadn’t heard in quite a long time – proxies. A few years ago, around the same time as the introduction of 1:1 devices in the school, there was a spait of incidents involving students using proxies to access websites that would normally be blocked. The answer then was two fold: 
  1. It was explained to students the dangers of using such means in regards to viruses.
  2. Students caught lost their laptops for an extended period of time.
As time passed, it stopped being an such an issue. Less and less people were being caught out. However, what this recent situation highlights is that maybe it stopped being an issue for teachers, while for students the practise simply went underground. 
 
Whatever the exact state of play maybe, it left me searching for a better solution. For the case in question involved a student naively sharing with a new teacher how to access YouTube at school via proxies. What is interesting is that in some schools YouTube is open to students. However, there is a fair fear amongst staff that allowing students to access YouTube opens up a whole new can of worms. Like email, such applications and websites like YouTube add a level of responsibility that not all teachers are willing to accept. The irony though is that we end up dealing with such incidents online whether we chose to ‘accept’ them or not. 
 
For example, if a student was caught by another student watching an inappropriate clip at school and reported to a teacher, surely the answer given I’d not ‘that clip is not supposed to be accessed at school.’ Instead I would imagine that there would be discussions about why it maybe inappropriate to watch the video at school, whether this be because it may make others feel unsafe and is too often unrelated to what tasks are meant to be completed.
 
This is no different to when students bring issues associated with inappropriate online activity into the classroom. For although such incidents do not directly occur in the classroom, the fact that they inadvertently impact learning in the classroom means that we do need to deal with them. 
 
The question then that comes to mind is whether blocking access is the best solution? In an interesting interview that I seem to come back to again and again, +Alec Couros spoke about the importance of bringing social media into the classroom. He suggested that we need to be modelling with students everyday appropriate actions online. Yet, as I have discussed before in regards to taboos, for too many schools it is easier to ignore such issues as if doing so both absolves them of responsibility and means that they don’t exist.
 
I am not sure of the perfect answer, but I would like to say that simply blocking every program is not it. I would love to know your thoughts. Are websites like YouTube, Twitter and Slideshare blocked in your school? If not, what are the consequences, both good and bad, of allowing students open access? Please share below.

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creative commons licensed (BY-NC-ND) flickr photo by sachman75: http://flickr.com/photos/sacharules/7431640808
 
I remember in Year Four Ms. Bates teaching us about how trees grew. She explained that they reach to the sun and it is for that reason that they are not always straight. I am sure there is more to it than this, but Ms. Bates story really stuck with me, maybe because of its simplicity, but I think because it completely changed the way that I looked at the world around me. Thinking about it today makes me think that learning might be the same.
 
I remember when my wife and I moved into our house we planted a series of lilly pillies down the side of property. The thought was that they would provide some screening and a bit more privacy. Clearly we weren’t going to let them grow to their potential height of 100 metres as the tag suggested that they could in their natural surroundings, rather we would mould and shape them. As a plant, they are not only hardy, but they grow relatively straight and never lose their foliage. 
Since planting them, it has been interesting watching them grow. The first thing that I learnt was that they were not all the same stock, with two distinct different types, while one seems to have an ailment which affects the leaves, meaning that although it continues to grow, the leaves often curl up and bubble. 
 
Initially we staked the trees to support them, but also to make sure that they all looked the same. It did not take long for the trees at the end of property to outgrow their supports. Whether it be due to the quality of soil, the fall of the land or direct access to both the morning and evening sun, they both prospered quickly.
 
In regards to the other trees, they have each travelled their own journey. Growing ever so slowly, with some even giving up the ghost. They would often depend on additional support. No matter how much fertilizer I have given them, how many times I have pruned them in the hope of spurring on new growth, provided them with additional water, they continue to develop at their pace, in their own way, although each looking similar, but also each looking different in their own ways. No matter how much I tried to shape them, they still manage to do their own thing.
 
I think that in some respect learning is comparable with the growth of a tree. Too often we wonder why students are not straight and elegant, that they don’t learn in the prescribed manner. Too often we only recognise the trunk, when in fact many trees have numerous branches in order to help them prosper, some even without any discernible trunk at all. 
 
In an interview with the +Ed Tech Crew+Alec Couros made the suggestion that to think about MOOC’s in regards to drop-outs and success rates, fails to recognise all of the other learning that we don’t always recognise. In the same way, trying to control, manage and structure learning can stifle the potential and possibility. Although a garden may look nice and suit our own purposes, a forest has little constraint and allows the world to blossom to its full potential.

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creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by fredcavazza: http://flickr.com/photos/fredcavazza/278973402

In my previous posts, I spoke about connecting with people both in person and online. The problem that I found with both of these situations is that connections are often only ever as deep or strong we let them be. If we are unwilling to give back, should it be any surprise that people don’t always want to share with us? However, what it took me a little bit of time to realise was that ‘giving back’ was more than just about ideas and information, it was actually giving a part of you. Taking more ownership over my online identify was therefore my fourth marker to becoming a more connected learner.

 
 
 

A Digital Badge

I had known that the only person I was fooling in trying to hide behind some sort of anonymity was myself. The reality was and is that if someone really wanted to piece together ‘who’ I was, there were enough crumbs left lying around to guide them. There were two aha moments that led to me taking more control over my online identity. The first moment was in watching +Anne Mirtschin‘s ICTEV12 presentation ‘The Networked Teacher’.
 
Although I had attended the ICTEV12 conference, I had not gone to Anne’s presentation. However, after signing up for her presentation for ICTEV13 ‘The Changing Space Of Learning!’ I went back and watched her presentation form 2012. In this presentation, Mirtschin discussed the notion of creating a ‘digital badge’ online. Not to be confused with the ‘open badges’ movement, she meant something that we ‘wear’ online that tells people who we are. For Mirtschin,  this badge includes three key ingredients: a consistent image, clear username and detailed profile. Each of these elements is an integral part of branding who we are online.
 
Mirtschin explained why having a badge is so important while discussing nings, custom social networks which require permission to join. She stated that moderators will not allow people in if they don’t give anything of themselves. However, it occurred to me that the same can be said about all forms of connections. Unless you provide some sort of background, then people don’t really know who they are connecting with and are often unwilling to share.
 

Dispelling the Myth of Digital Dualism

The second aha moment that really made me reconsider my notion of digital identity was the interview with +Alec Couros on the +Ed Tech Crew. Going one step further than Mirtschin’s idea of the digital badge, Couros spoke about the power of being connected learner and the importance of fostering a positive digital footprint online. This is particularly pertinent for in today’s world if we do not control what is said about us online, then someone else will do it for us.
 
What was significant about Couros’ message was that he disputed the myth of the ‘second self’. He argues that instead of seeing our online presence as somehow being separate, we need to address it as being one aspect of who we are. For example, instead of isolating our ‘digital identity’ in schools, the focus should be on teaching students to be better citizens with their online presence as part of the jigsaw. For the reality is that our online identity is simply a continuation of who we are into the digital realm.
 
To properly understand what Couros is talking about, he has created a great guide of things to consider when consciously creating a digital identity. In it he goes through a range of tools and questions to ponder upon. Overall, he provides a great starting point for taking back your online identify.
 

Own Your Identity Before Someone Else Does

The lessons I learnt from both Mirtschin and Couros led me to make a few changes. Firstly a reconsidered my badge as Mirthen would put it, in particular my image and profile. I replaced my QR code with a portrait painted for me by an ex-student. Although it has actually created more confusion in itself, I chose this image because to me it represented how someone else saw me, which in an online environment I thought was significant. For my profile, I replaced the ambiguity with some reference to my areas of teaching, interests and location.
 
I think that, like Mithen, if I had my time again I would have changed my handle, but sometimes it is more complicated to change. To be honest though, I had been using mrkrndvs for a long time. As I couldn’t get an email with my own name, I simply dropped the vowels. That is how I got to ‘mrkrndvs’. At the very least, I moved away from hiding behind my initials to at least using my full name. To me that was more important.
 
In addition to improving my badge, I set out to control the information that was out there about me by signing up to such spaces as LinkedIn and About.Me. If someone was going to know something about me, then it may as well come from me. I also created various profiles, with sites including Gravatar and Disqus, to manage my comments across different formats, as well as to develop a consistent presence.
 
Taking some sense of ownership over my online presence has not been easy, but has definitely been worth it. I am sure that there is more that I can do and it is an ongoing process, but it has to start somewhere. So who are the people that have influenced your thinking about identify and what are some of the things that you have done to develop a positive presence online?

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I have been sent two separate challenges in regards to the 11 question meme, one from +Ian Guest and the other from +Steve Brophy. Although I have already engaged with this meme elsewhere, I just could not help but respond. So instead of choosing one set of questions over the other, I have decided to simply answer all 22 questions. Therefore, some of my answers may be shorter than you or I would like. However, I am always here to continue the conversation some other time …
 

1. What teacher had the most influence on you and why?

I would have to say Karl Trsek, my Year 12 English/History teacher. Not only did he have a breadth of knowledge, about history and the world – demonstrated by the fact that he wrote his own texts – but he also challenged the way I thought.

2. During your career, which student (without naming them!) most sticks in your mind and for what reason?

I think that it is the student that doesn’t necessarily fit in with the status quo, not necessarily academically, rather socially, those students who need a little extra help and support. Students at the margins. I think that I was much like that at school. I remember reading a quote a few years ago from Mark Haddon, the author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. He basically said that some children are like gazelles running across the savannah, growing up is easy, no hassle, while on the flip side there are those students who find every day a struggle. In the end, it comes down to my belief that we are there to help make a difference and that is not just academically.

3. What was your most abiding memory of school dinners?

What is a ‘school dinner’? Enough said.

4. Two Harry Potter inspired questions now. If you had Harry’s cloak of invisibility, what educational event would you like to unobtrusively observe and why?

I think that it would be a ministerial meeting involving the heads of the different regions and the minister for education. I would just love to know what they do and do not talk about. I always wonder whether such people are administrative or if they are truly driven and innovative.

5. What aspect of education or the classroom would you most like to wave your wand over and why? Educatio revisiorum!

I think that it would be the teacher at the heart of the classroom. With so many different means of providing instruction and giving feedback in today’s day and age, I dream of the day when students become empowered and engaged in their own learning.

6. For any historical figure of your choice, what might they have tweeted at a significant moment for them?

Maybe Jesus tweeting “It is finished #crucified”. Short and sharp. Geting his message out there. Other than that, maybe Moses looking out across the River Jordan before he died. Reckon that he would have had some interesting things to say. Maybe a few well wishes for Joshua and the rest of the tribes:

Sad I can’t be there today w/ my ppl as they cross into the promised land HT @Joshua #finally #regret — מֹשֶׁה (@moses)
Also reckon @laotzu would have had some interesting stuff to say back in his day.

7. What’s your favourite online video (for any reason) and why? (A link would be good)

Any time I am asked about ‘favourite’ this or that, I feel that it is so subjective, often dictated by time. If I answer this question next year I will probably give a different answer. I am therefore going to go with my favourite video right now, which is an episode from Beat This where Four Tet creates a track from Michael Jackson’s album Thriller in just 10 minutes. Both inspiring and intimidating at the same time.
 
 

8. In Horizon report style, which technology-enabled educational activity is likely to be becoming more mainstream in 3-ish years?

After reading +George Couros‘ post ‘5 Reasons Your Portfolio Should Be Online‘, I think maybe student digital portfolios that are sector blind and self-managed will be something that becomes more mainstream.

 

9. Which fictional character would you most like as a work colleague and why?

I think maybe Jay Gatsby, an eternal positivist who once he believes in an idea will let nothing get in his way. Need more of that passion in teaching sometimes.

10. What educational movement or initiative, currently in its infancy, will endure and why?

I think that one initiative that will endure is blended learning, especially as technology becomes more and more prevalent. Online mediums will be used to not only supplement ‘in class’ learning, but also add to it by providing additional resources to support students to go further.

11. Which educator (dead or alive, real or fictional, famous or not) would you most like to interview or enjoy the drink of your choice with and what would you be chatting about?

I think that I would have a chat with +Tony Richards. With a dearth of experiences, he always has that knack to some up a situation and provide a dearth of ideas and solutions to support the discussion. If Tony wasn’t free then Sir Ken Robinson, +Alec Couros or +Peter DeWitt would do.

12. If you had the power to make one rule in your school that every teacher would follow, what would you your rule be and why?

I think that it would be to share everything. So often I have seen people answer this question by saying ‘develop a PLN’. I think that we all already have a PLN, we just don’t all recognise it. One of the important ingredients though of a PLN is sharing. I believe that if people learn to actively share ‘good ideas’ when they come upon them then PLNs will follow.

13. What is your learning process?

Although I have posted elsewhere about how I consume digital information, I think that it kind of misses the point to restrict learning to a simple ‘process’. If anything I would say that my process is to follow up on thoughts and threads of inquiry that arise in day to day life.

14. Where do you see education in ten years?

Asking where education will be in ten years always makes me wonder how much it has changed in the last ten years. I think that we won’t even question the use of technology, that it will be a given. Associated with this, learning will be more individualised. However, I still think that we will be dreaming of different and more flexible learning spaces. I just can’t see governments around the world investing in new buildings and I am not yet convinced of private/public partnerships.

15. Why are you a teacher?

First and foremost I am a learner and that is why I am a teacher. In addition to this, I am passionate about making a difference to the lives of others, whether staff or students, and supporting them with their passions. I have spoken about this elsewhere in regards to leadership.

16. How should a technical team support teachers?

I think that the most important thing that a technical team can do is be active and transparent about what they are doing. Like so many rolls in a school, such as the timetabler and daily organiser, you often don’t think about them until something goes wrong. Therefore, it is important to engage with staff when things are right.

17. If you weren’t a teacher, what would you be?

I am not exactly sure what I’d be, but it would probably be something that involves supporting others in an active roll. This would also most likely involve problem solving and technology.

18. What is the hardest learning experience you have ever had?

I think that hardest learning experience has been that no matter how passionate you are or how much energy you put in, real change involves a team. I actually think that this lesson is a bit of an ongoing experience. 

19. What three books changed your life?

This is such a nostalgic questions. Three books which have had a significant influence on my perspective on things are Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, Stanley Fish’s Is There a Text in This Class? and Paul Carter’s The Road to Botany Bay.

20. Who inspires you?

I think that inspiration is a mindset. I will therefore say that my PLN inspires me. Everyday I read something that challenges me, makes me thing differently, forces me to reflect upon my own practises.

21. What strategies do you use to bounce back from the tough days in teaching?

Whether it be spending time with family or connecting online, I make sure that I get out of that bad space.

22. What is right with education in 2014?

I think the push to place the student at the heart of the classroom is right. Whether this be about involving them in the planning or developing better strategies in regards to differentiating for each and every student, I think that this can only be a good thing.
 

Opening Up the Challenge

So there are my 22 questions answered. Some with more detail than others, but answered non the less. To build upon +Peter DeWitt‘s break with tradition, I have two questions for anyone who is willing answer: “What inspired you the most last year” and “What are you excited about this year?”
I look forward to your response.

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When we think back through our learning, there are always those aha moments, those situations, that have a lasting impact. Such moments come in many shapes and sizes, maybe an odd passage in a book or a random video seen online. So often though they have an impact that is far beyond their intended purpose. A recent moment that has had such an effect on me was +Alec Couros‘ simple suggestion made during an interview with the +Ed Tech Crew that everything can be a resource online. By approaching resources in this way, our understanding moves away from being an actual object, lets say a textbook, to a resource as being a way of seeing something. In this sense, a resource stops being a noun, something named, ordered and categorised, and instead becomes a verb, a way of approaching something, interpreting it, questioning it. In much the same way, PLNs can be thought of in much the same way. 

 
So often we limit ourselves by seeing PLN’s as something made – contained and organised – rather than something continually evolving, changing growing and adapting. As I have suggested previously
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.
This ‘way of being’ also goes far beyond the usual digital connections. Just as Couros suggests that everything can be a resource, we can say the same about all the different links in our lives. I believe that everyone in our lives has a point of knowledge to share, if recognised.
 

Listening to ALL Voices

The other day my wife and I went and visited her grandparents. As is the usual, I ended up chatting with her grandfather about anything and everything. I love these conversations as no matter how many chats we have, there is not a time when I learn something new from him about such topics as farming, fire fighting and the family history. Whether it be about communicating during a fire or the way that the various properties were divided. Although many of these situations do not impact me directly, the problem solving and reasoning behind them does. Solutions for today can so often be found in adapting and extending ideas from the past.
 
A part of this is limiting ourselves by failing to recognise the connections in our lives and what they may have to offer. One way in which we restrict these connections is by deciding what it is we want to know, before we have even asked the question. With this comes a decision who will best provide this answer. Fine that if we have a question about how to create a character for a story, the best person to ask may be an author. This does not really give voice to those divergent thinkers, those may not be professional writers, but people with a passion for writing and creativity. Sometimes the best answers I get from my PLN are from those who I didn’t expect. Is their opinion any less valuable?
 
Another good example where perspective and divergent thinking is so important is in education. Christopher Pyne, the Australian Minister for Education, recently made the statement that “everyone has been to school, everyone is an expert on education in one way or another.” Now I’m not sure that I agree that everyone is an ‘expert’, however, I do think that Pyne is on to something. Although not everyone is an expert, everyone does have an opinion and something to add to the discussion. In my view, education is much better from incorporating wider range of voices and perspectives.
+Miguel Guhlin sums up this problem in a great post about mandated technology in schools. Guhlin calls for a infinite plurality. That is, rather than collective uniformity, where everyone does this or uses that, it is about developing common practises from a range of diverse perspectives. In closing, he moves his discussion from technology to PLN’s.

I’d hate for my PLN to all be the same person with one message. Better than strict adherence to one technology over another, a plurality of diversity that builds relationships among diverse partners to achieve common goals.

When Guhlin talks about plurality in regards to PLN, it is about capturing a range of perspectives with the focus being the goals that we may share. I think that it sometimes misses the point to base your PLN upon people that we like or those who we get along with. To build upon +Tom Whitbys point that “PLN’s accept people for their ideas, not the titles.” I think that PLN’s accept ideas, not people or personalities. The bigger challenge is how we actually recognise such differences in a meaningful way.
 

Nurturing the PLN

I think that something that is often overlooked in regards to a PLN is that it is not something that we build, rather a PLN is something that we grow and nurture. Being something organic, its success often depends upon the way we treat it. For example, if you simply plant something and leave it to the elements, then you cannot be surprised if it does not take. However, if you choose where to setup your garden bed, lay some straw, water regularly and add some nutrients, then you are providing more opportunity for things to grow and prosper, to flower and  reproduce. I think that a PLN is much the same.
 
One of the difficult problems with any discussion about PLN’s is that people are often encouraged to connect with others. What is often overlooked though is that connections are not a one way transaction. They are reciprocal in nature. Too often connecting is seen as a way of getting an answer, an resource, a piece of information.  However, if no one is willing to offer an answer, then the whole system falls apart. 
 
There are a number of ways in which a PLN can be nurtured. This includes engaging in dialogue, posting comments, as well as sharing ideas and resources. But the most important thing that we can do, whether it be in person or online, is to listen and simply be there.
 

Connecting is a Mindset, not just a Thing Done

I have read quite a few people who have suggested blogging as their ‘goal’ for 2014. This sums up the greatest conundrum associated with being connected. Often people associate being connected with doing this or that. Creating a twitter account, joining a Google+ group or blogging more. I am not saying that these things are not important, but they in part miss the point. In the end, you don’t measure the success of a blog by the amount of hits it gets, nor do you measure a PLN by the number of followers someone has on Twitter. Being connected is a mindset, a way of being and a way of doing, not something static, that is a thing done and complete.

What are the areas that you are passionate about, have an expertise in, have an opinion on, know something about? How are you sharing this with others? In what ways are you nurturing your PLN?

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In a post I wrote a few months ago I spoke about what I called the ‘hidden professional development‘. That informal learning that occurs unplanned and on the fly, whether it be at lunchtime, while photocopying or even when swapping over on yard duty. Basically anywhere, anytime, simply where two or more passionate learners meet. The big question then and the question now is how do we encourage this? What structured opportunities do we provide for this?



Tinkering Teachers

In a fantastic discussion as a part of +Ed Tech Crew Episode 240 focusing on what it takes to be an IT co-ordinator, +Ashley Proud spoke about the demise in tinkering amongst students. Although +Mel Cashen and +Roland Gesthuizen mentioned about taking things a part, giving the conversation a more mechanical theme, I feel that tinkering is best understood as a wider curiosity into the way things work. 

I believe that one of the reasons for such a drop-off belongs with teachers. Although this criticism does not belong with all teachers, I think that there is a status quo out there who ask one thing from their students and model a different thing in their own day to day practise. Although teachers themselves have a large part to play in this, I also feel that one of the deeper issues lies with what opportunities teachers are provided with to actually be curious and creative, and I don’t simply mean curriculum planning. 

For example, the other day, I was asked to cover a yard duty for a colleague as her and her team wanted to get together at lunchtime to create a collaborative birthday video. I asked what they were going to use to film it and whether they wanted to borrow my iPad. The eventual product was not great, but it was a development on past productions. Most importantly though, it was a skill to take back into the classroom and share with students. What this whole scenario got me thinking was that, more than just opportunity, we do not provide enough encouragement for such activities.

Genius Hour … For Teachers

One initiative that has taken off in schools during the last year or so has been the idea of ‘Genius Hour’. Known by many names, such as 20 Percent Time or Passion Projects, Genius Hour is basically where students are given a license to develop a personal project of their choice. For a further explanation, I recommend +Anthony Speranza‘s post, ‘My Experience in Getting Started with Genius Hour‘. 

The background is that it comes from Google, where workers are (or were) provided one day a week to work on Google-related projects of their own choice. I think what needs to be understood is that, as +Ryan Tate suggested in his post for Wired, 20 Percent Time is not “a fully fleshed corporate program with its own written policy, detailed guidelines, and manager.” This is significant as what Tate is saying is that Genius Hour is not about a set of actual practises, as different companies have different notions of it, rather it is about the ethos behind it. This is why it has transferred so well into schools, with teachers creating their own twists on the whole affair, but still continuing to capture on essence of passion and innovation. However, one area that has been left untapped, as far as I can tell, has been the idea of teachers conducting their own ‘Genius Hour’, that is, teachers finding a passion of their own and running with it.
One of the failures with a lot of professional development is that it is dictated to staff with little choice, a stark contrast to what we ask of most teachers in the classroom. Fine there is a time where some information needs to be given or staff need to conduct certain work, but wouldn’t it be good if teachers were able to dabble in other things in a supported manner. As Tom Whitby put in a recent post ‘PD: Same Old, Same Old‘:
Professional Development needs to be more than an occasional workshop that can then be checked off of an Administrator’s list of things that need to be done for the year. PD must be prioritized and supported on an ongoing basis. It must be part of the workweek. In addition to providing access to new ideas, technology, and methodology, time must be afforded for educators to collaborate on what they have learned. Educators need time and support to put into practice what they need to learn.
What stands out to me in Whitby’s description is the focus of what teachers ‘need to learn’. I think that many teachers do not really know what they ‘need’. However, a starting point for this is to support teachers with what they want to learn and then go from there.

Life-long Learning Can Happen at School Too

Too often the more ‘personal’ professional development is left for teacher’s own time. I have two problems in particular with this. Firstly, in leaving learning to chance means that some teachers never actually do it. Like the hidden professional development, personal learning is one of the first things to get crossed off the list when times get tough. Secondly, staff are not being properly supported in their forays into the great unknown. As Tom Whitby suggests: “Learning about technology and how to incorporate it into learning specific to one’s class may be a bridge too far for many educators.” We all talk about ‘getting connected’ as a way of overcoming this problem. However, that too involves technology. Instead, one possible way to bridge this gap is to provide teachers with a specific time and space during school in which they are able to explore their own interests, knowing that they have support all around them.
One of the greatest fears in opening up professional development to the whims of the staff is that to some this time either gets wasted or is underutilised. My school tried to introduce personal learning a few years ago where there were some random sessions offered, as well as the option for staff to choose their own professional development. Most people ended up passing on the offer of finding their own learning and stuck to one of the sessions on offer. This is not to say that the sessions on offer weren’t powerful or important, but I feel that one of the key reasons why staff did not take up the opportunity of finding their own professional learning was that there was a lot of confusion about what was required. Was it completely open or were there some things that were prohibited? Did you have to write a reflection? What the situation needed was a little bit of structure, a little bit of guidance about what was and was not acceptable. The problem is that there is often a lot of conjecture about what does and does not constitute professional development. I would argue that ALL learning can be deemed as professional. For just as +Alec Couros suggested 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”. The big question is whether we actually recognise it. One way of doing so is to encourage it by making the often informal ad hoc learning more formal by adding a certain sense of structure and uniformity.

 

Providing teachers with the opportunity to identify an a passion, something that they may be interested in but ignored due to time and effort. Although this may not be an ‘hour’ each week, maybe every fortnight, it is a regular time to work either individually or collaboratively. A time to identify and touch base with other experts. A time when teachers know that they are both free and supported to take ownership over their own learning. 

Clearly with such ‘freedom’ also comes a certain sense of constraint. This learning needs to be explicit and needs a purpose, a question to drive the project. With this needs to come some goals, both short and long term, about what is trying to be achieved. Attached to these goals is an element of on-going reflection and accountability for what Bianca Hewes calls the ‘mushy middle‘. At the end, there needs to be an opportunity for sharing and celebration about what was achieved and what has been learnt. This could be sharing to your team, participating in a smorgasbord, as a part of a performance and development meeting, writing a blog post. It does not really matter what means it is, what is most important is that it happens.

creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by C G-K: http://flickr.com/photos/cgk/3795790211

Helping the Wildfire Grow

Often the greatest joys come when space is provided for learning to happen naturally. A colleague, who is not always big on introducing technology into the classroom, told me about a situation where he gave his students a group task and they automatically created a Google Doc and shared it between themselves. I love this story as it highlights that not all learning is direct. We may introduce a skill with a limited response. However, staff and students may see some other benefit and use it in another situation. I have seen this happen with programs like Padlet and Edmodo, where given some amount of freedom, people have found their own purposes and contexts. To me, learning in this situation is like wildfire.  Given the right conditions, a fire that takes hold, is disruptive and very much uncontrollable in itself. As +George Siemens suggests while talking about connectivism as an answer for the digital age, “learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements – not entirely under the control of the individual.” The role leaders and co-ordinators in this situation is to manage things, conducting back burning and creating fire breaks to contain learning rather than control it.

The question to consider then is whether you are creating an environment where learning can take flight – dry kindling, tall trees – or are you creating an environment where, with a lot of damp branches, there is a lot of smoke, but little fire?


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