I am continually questioned about why I blog. Often this leads to discussion about who has the right to speak? How do I know if what I am saying is of value? Asking such questions can get us caught in thinking that sharing has some specific consequence or outcome. Thinking like this misses the growth and opportunity that such reflection provides.

First and foremost, this blog is about me. This is a point that Royan Lee touches on. Dean Shareski though sums the personal up best in his celebration of ten years of blogging. As he states:

What I will tell you is that I need to blog more. Not for you, but for me. I need to get back to sharing more frequently, my thinking. Not for you, but for me. Unfinished thoughts, marginal insights and conversations that have sparked my interest need to be shared and explored here. Not for you, but for me. This is the space for me to mull over ideas and thoughts (see what I did there) which is what I intended this to be 10 years ago.

The other side of all this is what happens when ideas are shared. Clive Thompson suggests that, “once thinking is public, connections take over.” What is important about these connections is that as much as we try and manage them, they often have a journey that is somewhat beyond me. Whether it be the different experiences and interpretations. What is important isn’t always what we gain, rather it is the potential to start new lines of thought and inquiry. Such seeds have the potential to blossom into untold possibilities.

An example of such serendipity is the story associated with Adrian Camm’s ‘Permission to Innovate‘ card:

I was given this card at Digicon15, but this is the really the end of the story. My part in it all came about when I reached out to my PLN for thoughts on the topic of feedback. I was in a team at school in charge of investigating different practises in order to identify areas for improvement. One of the great resources I was referred to was a presentation by Cameron Paterson investigating formative assessment and documentation. One of the slides was a coupon to be free of criticism:

Formative Assessment from Cameron Paterson

I shared this out on Twitter, where it was then picked up by Camm who took the idea and created a loyalty style card, which he gave out to his staff and me.

To come back to the title, what are the five ways to change the world yesterday? I could list five, but you don’t really need that many. Instead, I am going to give you just one, because at the end of the day that is all you need. Be the change you want in the world. Like Cory Doctorow’s dandelion, share freely, with the knowledge that you never know who may benefit and what change it may bring. For as Steve Wheeler suggests,

Giving away ideas and knowledge is a bit like love, as told in the story of Jesus and the feeding of the 5000. You can share it around as much as you like, but you still get to keep it, and there is always plenty left over.


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In his book, The Thinking Teacher, Oliver Quinlan questions the tendency of teachers to find inspiration in every new thing they come upon online. Whether it is be a TedTalk video or a resource picked up online, we need to be wary of taking on and trying everything we discover. As Quinlan states:

We all need a bit of good feeling in our work, but perhaps we should be aiming for achievement not inspiration.

The alternative to inspiration is being purposeful and working towards sustainable habits.

Quinlan’s concern regards inspiration verses achievement got me thinking about my own practise, both online and off. This is something that I am often challenged with as a connected educator. Why share? Why save links to Diigo? Why read endless books and blogs? Why write posts (like this one?) Are these examples of inspiration, achievement or something else altogether? This led me to reflect on my current ‘episode’ exploring documentation, visible thinking and all things Reggio Emilia.

The first question that we are confronted with is who is the judge as to whether something is purposeful or not? It would be easy on the outside to see my interest in Reggio as an example of short lived inspiration. Latest link picked up online, thrown into the classroom, but never properly ingrained. However, to see it as such misses its place within my own learning inquiry overtime into supporting students during the process of learning, not just at the end. Here then area few moments which have influenced how I got to now. Steps in the iterative process.

Starting out as a teacher all those years ago now, I remember manically trying to manage student workbooks. The big problem, as I saw it, was collecting and communicating with students in a timely manner. This was and is always difficult, especially if you only saw students once a week. This led me to explore the use of digital workbooks. Beginning with a simple Word document shared via the school share drive, I soon moved to a cloud solution using Google Apps. This meant I didn’t have to depend upon students placing a copy in the right folder and that I could respond at any time.

In 2013, I attended a keynote at ICTEV by Dan Donohoo who discussed the idea of the village. Amoungst other things, Donohoo made mention of Reggio Emilio. I had never really heard of Reggio Emilio, but his discussion of it piqued my interest and so it became something I became consicous of and looked out for in regards to listening to all voices in the classroom.

At the same time, I had the opportunity to work with an instructional coach. After some discussion, we identified taking notes and keeping evidence during the lesson as my goal. Although I did not necessarily achieve what I set out to accomplish (a simple solution for collecting notes), I did come to the realization that I was trying to own the learning and that maybe I needed to rethink the problem. Rather than how I could capture every moment, maybe I needed to think about how I could support students in sharing and celebrating their thinking and learning.

I have long followed the work of Cameron Paterson and Bianca Hewes are their use of project-based learning as an answer for student-centred learning, especially in the Secondary classroom. In particular, I have been influenced by Paterson and his work around all things Reggio Emilio. It has helped me begin to reimagine questioning, thinking and learning in the classroom.


I understand Quinlan’s warning about the tendency to dip in online for inspiration. However, failing to actively spend any time around the idea well, as David Culberhouse puts it, risks waiting for solutions to fall out of the sky. The challenge is to always be mindful of why we do it. Sometimes I feel that when we talk about achievement verses inspiratiion, the question that is not asked is whose achievement are we aspiring for and in denying inspiration, we are denying teachers a sense of agency? To be honest, I am really not sure, what about you? How do you find balance between inspiration and achievement? Balance between learning with intent, while at the same time allowing space for serendipity and perpetual beta? As always, comments welcome.


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Visible Thinking is an approach to learning developed by Project Zero, a part of Harvard Graduate School of Education. Project Zero was created in 1967 by Nelson Goodman to improve education in the arts. As the website explains:

Goodman believed that arts learning should be studied as a serious cognitive activity, but that “zero” had yet been firmly established about the field.

Some of the achievements have been Howard Gardner’s work around multiple intelligences and the promotion of educational philosophies developed in Reggio Emilia. A core theme throughout has been thinking and its place within learning.

Central to the act of Making Thinking Visible is a series of routines designed around authentic questions. Rather than focus on the retention of information through rote practice, the routines are intended to be tools which students can draw upon to support their learning at any time. Although it can be easy to see them as activities or worksheets to be handed-out, the focus is on repeated use, in a range of situations, in the effort to create a culture of thinking.

Divided up into understanding, fairness, truth and creativity, some of the routines include:

This however is not a set list, for there are some like Cameron Paterson who have stretched it, both bringing in new routines and borrowing from elsewhere. Some of these routines include the 3 Y’s and Parts, Purpose and Complexities.

The focus throughout is the development of understanding, rather than as some sort of by-product. Central to this is the notion of documentation. This can be split into four practices: observing, recording, interpreting and sharing. What is important about documentation is that it, “must serve to advance learning, not merely capture it. As such, documentation includes not only what is collected but also the discussions and reflections on those artifacts.” Gary Stager suggests that one of the easiest ways to document learning is through the use of photography. However as Silvia Tolisano touches on, there are many different ways. Whatever the form, documentation not only helps advance students’ understanding of their learning, but also provides a powerful assessment tool to help guide practice.

So what about you? How do you deepen understanding and help make learning more visible? Feel free to share in the comments.

RESOURCES

Making Thinking Visible – The first place to start is to read the book by Ron RItchart, Mark Church and Karin Morrison. This provides a thorough introduction and gives practical suggestions for each of the different routines.

Visible Thinking on Youtube playlist – A collection of videos, these short pieces provide a different entry point into understanding Project Zero, Visible Thinking and the various routines.

Visible Thinking website – From resources to thinking ideals, this space has everything needed to get going.

It’s All About Learning – Cameron Paterson is a great proponent of Visible Thinking and has written several posts reflecting on the different iterations in the classroom.

40 Years of Teaching Thinking – A discussion by David Perkins of the history associated with thinking and the challenges that have arisen over time and still need to be faced in the future.

Langwitches – From documentation to thinking routines, Silvia Tolisano has created a range of resources to support thinking in and out of the classroom.


Originally published at Humanities at Brookside


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I recently presented a session at DigiCon15 about Becoming a More Connected Educator. To provide a voice for those listening, I created a Google Form asking a few questions of those in attendance, such as how they are connected, what are the biggest challenges and any questions they may have. There were a few that I addressed at the end of the session, including moving beyond sound bites and giving back. However, one question that alluded me was a ‘get connected’ for dummies. So here goes, my 10 step process to becoming connected or as requested, a getting connected for dummies:

Work Out Why

Too often people are told, sign up to Twitter and get connected. Not only does being connected not simply equal signing up to a platform, but it misses why we might do it in the first place. In part, my initial reason was wondering what impact sharing and being open might have for learning. Although being open is still at the heart of my reason why, I would argue that now it is less about wonder and more about action, that is, how might we use the possibilities enabled through networked learning to build ‘smart rooms’ that consciously make possible new ideas and beginnings.

Grow a PLN

There are too many posts out there that discuss personalised or professional learning networks as something that can magically be done. Follow these people and hey presto you are connected. As I have discussed before, PLN’s are better thought of organically, a rhizome, with no central root system and no central belief system. Instead, there is one connection leading to another. This being said, the strength of a PLN is often deemed by how we nurture and grow it. Andrew Marcinek and Lyn Hilt reflect upon our role in regards to the health of our PLN and the need to continually reinvent it. One of the challenges is where you choose to spend your time and further your connections. For many it seems to be Twitter, others it is Google+, for some it is in spaces like Edmodo, while there are those whose connections are fostered between blogs. At the end of the day, the choice is yours. Some possible starting points are to participate in a Twitter chat, join a community on Google+, join in a blogging challenge like #youredustory or go to a teachmeet or an edcamp.

Find Your Tribe

One of the keys to connecting online is finding your communit(ies). So many of my early connections were based on a sort of convenient hypocrisy. My room was made up of people I had grown up with, went to school with or worked with. Often such connections become about sharing stories about this or that, but not necessarily common interests and passions. What can be hard is that there is not necessarily a directory of tribes, rather it is something relational and discovered by listening and engaging online. It needs to be noted though, that sometimes finding your tribe might actually mean standing up, leading and connecting people around a cause.

Surround Yourself with People who Scare You

On the TER Podcast, Cameron Paterson spoke about finding someone who scares you to be a mentor. I suggest taking this a step further, I suggest surrounding yourself with people who scare you. Often we start out meeting people at conferences or following people who seem to have similar interests. The next step is actively seeking out new connections. This does not mean that you need to automatically openly engage with these people, but instead tuning in and critically evaluating the various ideas and arguments. David White describes this as elegant lurking, where the purpose is to assess credibility of those involved within the discourse.

Support Others and Give Back to the Community

Although it is fine to observe from a distance, at some point communities thrive on participation. As David Weinberger points out, “Even if the smartest person in the room is the room itself, the room does not magically make all who enter it smarter.” Too often people get caught up in the ‘original’ trap, feeling that they themselves have nothing new to say or add. However, being in the room can mean different things to different people. I think that Steve Brophy puts it best when he made the call to “be the connection that gives others a voice.” To me, giving back is about participating, being someone’s +1, paying it forward, attributing ideas where possible. Putting his spin on this, Seth Godin says in Tribes that the challenge is, “to help your tribe sing, whatever form that song takes.”

Create a Place For People to Find You

Online, it is important to own your identify before someone else does. Anne Mirtschin talks about creating a digital badge, incorporating three key ingredients: a consistent image, clear username and detailed profile. In addition to this, it can be useful to guide people to a splash page, such as About.me, which brings together all our different spaces online. Some alternatives to this include pointing to a personal blog or a Linkedin account. Although trust within online spaces can be a difficult, by at least being open about who we are and what we might stand for at least helps build trust and deeper connections.

Have More Meaningful Conversations

In a recent post, Dean Shareski lamented on the lack of depth to many of the conversations he finds online. He reminisced on the ‘raw and natural tone’ that was prevalent when he was drawn to blogging ten years ago. Although idle chatter may be the glue which unites us, Shareski suggests that our challenge is to use this social capital to ‘provoke deeper, more interesting ideas’. For some this has meant moving conversations to more private mediums as Voxer and Slack. While others have taken to creating podcasts and web shows as a space for deeper conversations. Although Peter Skillen maybe right in saying that no wisdom can come be found in one-line, however it can be the stimulus for further thought.

Curate the Chaos

Heather Bailie suggests that in regards to digital literacies our focus has moved from the traditional idea of read, write and react, to a focus on being able to create, curate and contemplate. For me, creation is the means that we use to collect information. Many find all their resources via various social media platforms, however, there are other means of engaging with ideas, such as Nuzzel, Flipboard, Zite, Paper.Li, Feedly and Tagboard. Such platforms offer their own means of aggregating information. The next step is making sense of it all. In regards to social bookmarking, there are many different possibilities, whether it be Evernote, Delicious, Scoop.it, Pinterest or Diigo. For a more extensive list curation tools, see Christopher Pappas’ post.

Make Stuff Worth Stealing

I think that Doug Belshaw puts it best when he says, “Remixing, re-appropriation and riffing off other people’s work just seems to be part of what we do as human beings.” A step beyond engaging online, whether it be providing your perspective or adding a comment, is making stuff worth stealing. Instead of worrying about how much money could be made or how people might use ideas, Austin Kleon suggests we need to, “do good work and share it with people.” In his book Open, David Price touches on four key values which he sees as being integral to the 21st century: sharing, being open, giving things away for free and trusting others. A great example of such communities of sharing, riffing and giving away are cMOOCs like the CLMOOC, Connected Courses and Rhizomatic Learning.

Be a Lead Learner

How can we really say that students and learning at the heart of the classroom if we ourselves are not learners ourselves? Jackie Gerstein argues that we should not only be leaders when it comes to learning, but actively modelling the process by continually articulating our understandings and experiences. Gerstein provides a model to support this iterative process, focusing on prototyping, testing, failing and tweaking. Blogs or vlogs can be a useful means for not only documenting this process, but also gaining precious feedback and perspectives to support growth and improvement.


I am sure that there is more to it than what I have touched on here and like Tom Whitby, I wonder why we still need to continue to talk about such topics as PLN’s. However, we are all at different points in our learning. So what about you, where are you at? Is there something that you would add to or elaborate? As always, comments are welcome. For it takes a village and that village includes you.

Getting Connected for Dummies (1)
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I have been wondering for a while about all the hype around the Reggio Emila Approach, an early childhood program that focuses on relationships, documentation, project work, personal expression and active listening. Initially my attention was sparked by Dan Donahoo’s keynote for ICTEV13 Conference and the notion of the digital village. More recently, Cameron Paterson piqued my interest. Firstly, with a post about the links between Project Zero and Reggio Emilia through his discussion of the book Visable Learners. Then more recently in a post exploring the use of documentation in the Secondary classroom. I have been left thinking about what Reggio might offer my own teaching practises.

One of the things that stands out to me in regards to Reggio is the power of play and discovery. The idea of students driving their own projects and inquiry with the teacher providing a space and documenting the various experiences has a lot of potential. Although this could happen in any context, I saw a real opportunity through the teaching of robotics.

I felt particularly challenged by Steve Brophy in regards to letting go. In a post talking about developing a Makerspace, he explained that:

From a facilitator point of view, I purchased everything but opened nothing. I left the whole process to the kids and was constantly amazed by how much the kids would ask “are you sure we can do this?”

Although I had brought in inquiry in regards to wondering about robotics, I was still reluctant to let go of control of the building process. What I noticed in reflection was that for some students this was fine. They liked the structure that I provided. However, there were some that just wanted to explore and I was only inhibiting, rather than harnessing, this.

As I could find nothing in the AUSVels documents that specifically said students must be able to build and program a NXT Mindstorm robot, I decided instead to provide them with the requirement to ‘make’. What unravelled when I handed out the kits was amazing. Some started with instructions, others tested and tinkered. Some explored programming, others making. Some scrapped the instructions part way through, while others picked them up after some initial open explorations. Some walked around to check what other groups were doing, while others supported different groups with their questions and issues. Although I answered a few questions and found some missing parts, I just moved around and documented what the students were doing. All in all, most students demonstrated a depth of understanding and engagement at the end of the first session far beyond what I had ever seen before in a building session.

in a recent post about play, Tom Barrett suggested that:

It is not simply the timeless nature of immersive play but also the way that physical barriers, and even the rules of physics, become non-existent. They are changed, thwarted and ignored. Superpowers ON!

What was so exciting to observe in the lesson was seeing students enact the greatest superpower possible, the ability to not only learn together, but to in fact drive their own learning.


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There is so much written about change in education. What is wrong, how things should be fixed. I have added my voice to such dialogue penning a few pieces focusing on innovation and technology. The more that I reflect upon the matter though, the more I feel that an incessant focus on technology often misses the mark. It is the wrong ‘driver’, as Michael Fullan would put it. The real change to me is that of mindset.

In a recent post on George Couros postulated about which attribute was more important when hiring a teacher, “someone who is great with relationships and terrible with technology, over someone who is terrible with relationships but great with technology.” After arguing that relationships trumps technology any day of the week, Couros then went onto suggest that the ability to teach kids how to learn is what is most important at the end of the day. I was left wondering what Couros’ discussion says about education and where it has come in the last few years. It is easy to get caught up in debates about technology when I believe that the greatest change has been a move from a emphasis on power and control in classroom, to a dialogue about culture and environment.

At the start of this year, one of the goals that I set myself was to place students at the centre of the classroom. To step off the stage and let them shine. In reflection I feel that this focus missed something. Instead of ‘students’ at the centre, I now feel that the focus should have been on fostering the optimal conditions for learning. Although students are integral to this process, it is the creation of a positive learning environment, in and out of the classroom, that is central. This starts in my opinion with the teacher and the way they design learning.

Maybe my students have improved, are more behaved than when I started teaching, but I just don’t talk about ‘discipline’ any more. In class or out. My focus instead has moved to learning and creating a classroom where students are able to get the most out of themselves. If there are students who are disengaged, my first port of call is not to chastise them or make veiled threats. My first port of call is me. What are they meant to be doing? Why are they disengaged? Is there anything that I could be doing to support them, either now or maybe next time.

A part of this change of mindsets is being open and honest with students. No secret teachers business, no surprises. I always attempt to share why I chose what I did, whether it be in regards to assessment or curriculum, as well as why I feel that something is not necessarily working the way I intended it to.  I may not go to the extent that Cameron Paterson does in sharing research literature with students, but I at least involve them. I do this in the hope that they too can be honest about where they are at and that they feel safe in taking risks with being wrong. For as it is said, you need to be wrong if you are ever going to be right.

We so often give lip service to the saying that students have a right to learn, yet the habits we form in and out of the classroom can seem to counter this. For a right to learn is surely to be spoken to in an appropriate manner, to be given some ownership over learning and to be given a voice about what is and is not necessarily working. The biggest change for me in my time in education has been the introduction of such programs as Restorative Practises, Leading Teams and the Framework for Understanding Poverty. Maybe not necessarily for what they have brought in regards to actions and process, but more so in regards to the way we see things. That are a part of significant shift in paradigm.

For me, without such a change, what are we really aspiring for? For in the end, I believe we are most productive when we have a purpose for learning driven by intrinsic desire, but to have a that learners need to be able to have a say. So let’s start there.


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It is so easy as educators to fall into the trap of: do as I say, not as I do. Education constantly gives lip service to lifelong learning, but how many actually practise it in a meaningful way? A part of the problem is that so often we neither know what it actually means to learn something as an adult or simply where to start. For some it is confronting to take the teachers hat off and approach this from the perspective of a learner. What is sometimes even more confronting though at times is teaching teachers, mentoring them through the learning process.
 
This year I have been lucky enough to be a part of the DEECD’s ‘Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century’ program. The premise behind it is to introduce educators to 21st century pedagogy and technologies through the use of the inquiry process. What could be understood as the ways of working, as well as the tools for working. This has involved a large amount of learning by doing for both myself as a coach and the participants I am responsible for.
 
As a part of the program, I have mentored a group of teachers through their own project(s). The group was initially brought together around the common theme of collaboration. From there we explored, chatted and posed a range of questions online, through a range of platforms. This finally led to the formation of our driving question: “How can we use technology to enhance collaboration in the classroom?” The thought was that instead of collaborating on a big project, that we would each work on something specific to our own context. Some chose to investigate the potential of Google Apps for Education as a means for students to collaborate in and out of the classroom. While others explored the power and potential of student blogs.

Throughout the process, there have been two aspects that have really challenged me. Firstly, what exactly is my place as a coach and mentor. For at times there has been little activity in the Google Community we created. Whose problem is this and what then is my role in elevating this situation? Secondly, I feel that there is a need at times to unlearn preconceived notions. One of the challenges is that it is not a traditional approach to professional development where educators are simply spoken to and told what to do or think, instead the programs involved a large amount of personal buy in.
 
In a recent post on the role of the instructor in student centred learning, Mary Stewert suggests that three key elements:
  1. authority and responsibility for the task
  2. providing guidance for the sidelines
  3. presence rather than defined role
The purpose of each is to continually find a balance between learning design and space for emergence in the push to facilitate collaborative learning communities. I really liked how Stewert outlined the place of the instructor as being important, but in a different way than usual. Erica McWilliam describes this as the ‘meddler in the middle’, still their, but with a different purpose. While coming from the perspective of coaching, +Cameron Paterson borrows from Needham in suggesting the leader needs to not only enable the conditions, but make sure learning in linking back to students.
 
The whole process has been challenging for although I have provided guidance and been present, in hindsight I fear that through my fervour and enthusiasm, I have been too present and provided far too much support, ironically undermining the space for the emergence of learning. Another coach actually allocated the role of leader to another team member, they therefore acted as a support for the support. I am feeling that this may have been a better model to push for. Associated with this need to lead without always being the actual leader, the other challenge I have faced is the need at times to unlearn.
 
In an interesting post discussing the constant to and fro between instructionism and constructionism, Paul Dunbar suggests that at times there is a third ‘ism’ needed to evolve the learning process, what he calls ‘destructivism’. As he states, “at certain points on the learning curve, some deconstruction needs to take place before the learner can move on to the next level.” The most obvious area for unlearning often relates to the roles and expectations in the learning space. Although this does not apply to everyone, many of us have a default setting associated with professional development which involves others doing the work for us. 
 
In addition to learners needing to ‘unlearn’, I have found that instructors sometimes need to unlearn certain habits too. For as +Cameron Paterson puts forward, “if we want teachers to take ownership for their learning, the coach cannot be the expert, as this creates learned helplessness on the part of the coached teachers.” Initially I would answer every question that was asked of me, overload the space with a wide array of resources. The problem with this is that I was taking the messiness out of the whole process. After this was pointed out to me, I turned to Diigo as a place to share various resources. My thoughts were that I was still sharing, but in a way that people had to go and look for the resources if they wanted it, rather than being served on a platter.
 
 
There have been some great posts relating to the challenges relating to professional development. From +Steve Brophy on the connected nature of learning, to +Corrie Barclay on the endless journey of being more effective. However, the one constant is that the best learning environments are driven by us not for us. Something often easier said than done. Just as Fisher and Fray suggest that we do not need another generation of teacher-dependent learners, so to do we not need another generation of leader-dependent teachers.
 
What has been your experiences of professional learning? What worked? What didn’t? What were the biggest challenges? How were you empowered? Or empowering?

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This is an introduction to +Steve Brophy and I’s presentation ‘Listening to Voices In and Out of the Classroom’ for #DLTV2014 and explains what we mean by ‘voice’ and its relationship with technology …
 
It is so easy to consider technology as the answer, that missing solution, that panacea that will somehow manage to solve all education’s ills. However, there is no tool or technique that will magically solve all our problems for us. Instead, technology is a support, an addition, a supplement, something that helps us do what we do, but better. In regards to Ruben Puentedura’s SAMR model, this change revolves around ‘redefining’ what we do. Providing a possibility for something that was often deemed impossible. +Bill Ferriter suggests, “technology lowers barriers, making the kinds of higher order learning experiences that matter infinitely more doable.”
Importantly, the changes brought about by technology are not about simply dispelling the past. For as Ferriter argues, many of those attributes that get lumped with the call for reform are things that highly effective teachers have been doing for years. Various higher order thinking skills, such as the engagement in collaborative dialogue, solving complex problems and manipulating multiple streams of information, are not new.
Take the act of publishing for example. After consulting with a teacher from another state +Cameron Paterson got his Year 9 History class to create picture books around the topic of World War 1 for a kindergarten. While +Bianca Hewes used Blurb, a site that allows you to create both eBooks and physical books, to publish her student’s stories for a wider audience. There is nothing new about composing texts for an audience. Technology though allows us to publish to a more authentic audience more easily.
Another particular area where technology allows for a change is in regards to capturing the different voices associated with learning. Whether it be communicating or collaborating, there are many different scenarios involving listening and responding to voices in and out of the classroom. Voices have always had a central role in the classroom for at its heart, learning is a social activity. However, instead of conversations being dictated by the few, technology democratises the whole process, it takes away some of the social pressures and tedious silences when no one is willing to respond. Technology makes it more doable.
We feel that there are three different categories when it comes to listening to voices in education:
  • Students communicating and collaborating with each other
  • Students and teachers in dialogue about learning
  • Teachers connecting as a part of lifelong learners

As with any sort of arbitrary division there will always be examples which go across categories. However, splitting things in this way helps to highlight some different spaces and situations where voices can be heard and provides a foundation on which we can continue the conversation.
So to the big question, how are you listening to different voices in and out of the classroom? And in what ways does technology make this more doable?

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Via @hhoede on Twitter 

I remember late last year discussing ICT with a guy I know who loves technology and he suggested to me that you need a complete vision for technology in school. Don’t say, ‘I wan’t iPad’s in Early Years or laptops in Secondary’, you need to have in mind a complete vision as to what a 21st century classroom looks like, for students, for teachers, for parents, for administration, for everyone.

I understood what he was saying, that when it comes to 21st century learning, it is important to have a narrative, a story to tell, a painting to show in order to provide the reason and purpose behind the call for change. The problem is that a part of me felt that every time I started imagining such a reality it simply collapsed in heap. All I could see were the road blocks, the hurdles to be jumped. For as I spoke about in my post on excuses, we so often worry about what is not possible and start there. Instead, I have decided that I am going to lay down my dreams, create a vision of my future and start there. So here is my dream for technology in education, actually for education in general …

An Appropriately Funded Education System

Graham Brown-Martin recently posted a graphic comparing military and educational spending around the world. Although there are some countries which spend more on education, such as Norway, Mexico and Canada, more often than not there is often an unequal divide. However, even this only tells part of the story. For what inadequate funding is provided is then often inequitably shared out. There simply needs to be more public money spent on education for it is an investment that all of society benefits from. The Gonski-cum-Better Schools plan was a step towards a more equal divide in Australia, but even that was undermined as it was in stark contrast to the recommendations that the panel headed by David Gonski put forward. The reality is, it does not matter how much technology you have in the classroom, if you don’t have the appropriate structures in place to support it, then it is often meaningless. Funding is a big part of education.

No More Technological Hurdles or Hindrances

I want a learning environment where connection to projectors, to the Internet or school networks is seamless. No more disconnect, connect or finding a cable for the screen. Although many schools have moved to devices such as Apple TV, I feel that the better answer needs to be more open. In addition to this, I want devices which don’t take forever to load up or need to be managed in regards to battery time. Technology should not hold us up, instead it should allow for the more effective use of learning time.

1:1 Powerful Devices

Fine many schools are moving towards BYOD, however I think that as a part of a properly funded education system, all students should be provided with a powerful device to aid their learning (powerful is in reference to a point made in a discussion as a part of Episode 185 of the +Ed Tech Crew Podcast.) I just don’t think that it is either equitable or necessarily fair to have a situation where there are some students in the classroom that due to a range of circumstances are unable to bring a device or have one provided by the school. I am fine if students bring in a second device, such as a tablet. However, making sure that all students have access at the point of instruction is a necessity.

Teachers Given Access to Multiple Devices

I love my laptop, but feel that in a classroom it has its limits. I love my iPad, but feel that when it comes to more series work that it has its limits. I believe that every teacher should have access and be supported with two working devices. +Rich Lambert wrote a fantastic post exploring the issue of whether teachers should have to pay for the technology they use. He suggested that devices should be subsidised and a wider choice provided. Having been provided with a iPad due to my role in the school, I find it frustrating that this access is often limited to those who choose to bring their own. I would go a step further than what Richard is suggesting and argue that all teachers such be provided with two devices to support their teaching, a point I have also made elsewhere.

Access and Infrastructure

Associated with the need for funding for teachers devices is the need for acceptable access and infrastructure. There are too many tales of public schools going out and purchasing their own lines, because the Internet and access supplied by the government is either unreliable and inadequate. In addition to the pipe coming in, there needs to be appropriate support and investment in regards to the infrastructure within the school. The worst scenario in regards to technology is having a classroom full of devices which are limited to themselves or a digital camera with no computer cable or battery charger. No point owning a fast car if there are no roads to drive it on.

Curating not Consuming

Too often the focus of ideas and information seems to be around consumption. Take for example English, there is still the focus in too many classrooms on how many books have been read, rather than what is actually done with that reading. +Heather Bailie makes the suggestion, in her post ‘Curation as a Tool for Teaching and Learning’, that we should no longer read, write and react, but rather create, curate and contemplate. In this situation, students (and teachers) would not just collect information, but “comprehend, critique, think critically and use digital media strategically.” To me, the biggest change in the 21st century is that whereas in the past information was often considered in isolation, as we move towards a focus on curation, everything becomes interconnected and ideas move between subjects, across years, between classrooms and across borders.

Teachers a Part of a Community

A big part of curating is sharing information. A sad irony in today’s world of growing connectedness is that you still hear stories of teachers keeping their thoughts and ideas to themselves, instead of actually giving back to the wider community. Now when I say ‘sharing’, I’m not talking about sharing to make teaching easier, rather I believe that sharing makes learning richer. +Dean Shareski even goes to the point of saying that without sharing, there is no learning.” For me, being a connected educator has not only had a positive influence on me as a learner, but also my work teacher. A part of this is change has been openly reflecting on my practise online. The big challenge is to make this deep and meaningful for everyone, not simply dry and tokenistic, something ticked off on a sheet, but something intrinsic to who we are, something that we want to do, rather something that we are forced to do. In this environment, teachers are then instilled with more ownership over their learning. Rather than buying goods from a small corner store, where what is available is often curtailed by what the owner has bought, teachers can have the choice and variety available at a shopping centre, where they can mix and match, coming up with their own cocktail.

Students Publishing for an Authentic Audience

I am always left wondering when teachers run around after student work, ringing home to complain, chastising students for falling behind, who is this all for? Here I am reminded of Alan November’s story about the student who spent hours writing stories for Fan Fiction, yet failed to get her homework done. The explanation that the student provided was that she makes the choice to publish for the world over publishing for her teacher. Instead of completing tasks for themselves or worse, for teachers, students need the opportunities to publish for authentic audiences. For example, after consulting with a teacher from another state +Cameron Paterson got his Year 9 History class to create picture books around the topic of World War 1 for a kindergarten. If not publishing for a purpose, at least publishing for a wider audience as +Bec Spink has done with the eBooks created by her Prep classes or through a classroom blog as +Celia Coffa has discussed. For what is the point of having a fast car if there is nowhere to actually drive it?

Collaboration not Competition

A part of the problem that I find with a lot of assessment is that too often it is done in isolation, where everyone maybe responding to the same question, they do so individually. There is so much discussion in education about feedback, in particular peer-to-peer feedback, I have concern though that when this is done in an environment where the focus is being the best and therefore being better than everyone else, we miss out on an important aspect of learning, that is collaboration, connections and global communication. Technology provides so many means for this to occur, whether it be working on a project using a Google Doc or connecting all over the world using Twitter. +Anne Mirtschin provides endless examples in her blog as to how technology can be used to open up learning to the world. Whether it be learning how to use Scratch or having a guest author Skype in, Mirtschin always has a story as to how technology opens doors in her classroom to deeper learning. Just as it is said that if a question can be Googled then it isn’t a very good question, I would like to pose that if a task is corrupted by being done in collaboration with others then maybe it isn’t a very good task?

Students Learning at the Centre

 

Although students are often the focus of learning, I wonder if they are necessarily at the centre of it? There are too many choices about the what and why of learning that are made for students. +Ewan McIntosh makes the point that the challenge of finding a problem, one of the most important aspects of learning, is often the first decision taken away from students. Ideally, learning should be at the centre. In his excellent series on learning theories, +Steve Wheeler spoke about heutagogy, the study of self-determined learning. Ultimately, as we aspire to develop lifelong learning, actually learning how to learn in different contexts for different purposes is most important. For as Wheeler suggests elsewhere, “pedagogy is leading people to a place where they can learn for themselves.” Sometimes though it feels like students are learning for us?

 

 

Learning Supported by Space

I must admit, the structure of space is something that I haven’t necessarily thought a lot about and probably should. I think that one of the reasons for this is that so often it feels like such decisions are made for us, not by us and certainly not by students. I remember reading a post by +Matt Esterman on what your schools would say if they could talk. Along with +Stephen Collis‘ response, I was quite challenged. At the very least I think that we need to create flexible learning spaces. This maybe team teaching and open learning spaces, but it also maybe having different uses of the spaces we already have, as was outlined by +Michelle Hostrup on Episode #20 of +TER Podcast. The reality is that although we can make some changes to what we have now, many schools need to be refurbished to account for this change. At the very least, as +George Couros pointed out, technology should not be an event, done in a lab, rather it should be a part of all learning, whatever space that maybe.

Integrated Assessment & Reporting

At present, teachers often give feedback along the way and some sort of detailed assessment at the end. Using technology this can not only become more streamlined, but also more effective. What’s more, it means that the conversation is not always one way. For if a student wants clarification then they can follow up whenever they like. This will hopefully blend with a more fluent reporting system which continually grows and develops to show a students progress over time, rather than the current culture where students get a report at the end of each semester, which other than the previous progression points, exists as an isolated historical snapshot. As +Catherine Gatt so succinctly put it, “assessment is just charting the next part of a student’s journey, invariably owned by them and not by me.” Technology only aides and increases this dialogue that is too often missing in education.

 

I feel in many respects that this vision could be more cavalier, could be more bold. However, I am sure that the more I grow and evolve, so to will my dreams and ideals about education. This then is my starting point. It may not be a vision for tomorrow, but it is a vision for a better future. The challenge is to stop making excuses. Although ideals aren’t always ideal, working towards them is the least I can do.
If you have any thoughts, ideas or suggestions, I would love to hear them. Even better, what are your dreams for technology in education or education in general? For if there is one thing that I have learnt, we are all better off together.

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This post is a follow up to my presentation at the Melbourne Teachmeet held at the Immigration Museum on the 10th of May. The focus was the question, “are you really connecting if you are not giving back?” This was a topic that I had previously written about in a post of the same name. The one difference was the implications for sharing in the classroom.
 

 
 
I don’t know how many times I have heard Edmodo referred to as being ‘Facebook for education’. Other than the fact that it simply isn’t, the biggest problem I have with this is that so often such spaces are set up as a place for one way communication. Where although the teacher has stepped off the physical space, they have merely stepped into a virtual stage.
 
Now I understand that as the teacher we have a responsibility to manage such spaces. However, should it be any wonder when there is little traction from students when such spaces only allow discussion to be driven from the perspective of the teacher. This assignment is due, complete this quiz, answer that question.  I wonder how much take-up there would be with spaces like Edmodo when the focus is on learning and the topic at hand? 
 
I have heard so many presentations spruiking the benefits of Facebook for education. Usually such discussions revolve around students creating their own pages where they then gather and discuss information and ideas, including homework. Not only are they collaborating in such situations, but they are driving their own learning. So often Facebook works because students have a stronger sense of agency. When it is taken over by teachers and education, it looses its potential, the sheen rubs off.
 
In addition to issues with control, my experience of ‘social media’ of any sort in education (I include the Ultranet in this) often fails to replicate what is happening in the real world. We live in a world of excess where we are given a choice whether to participate, to comment, to view, to consume. Yet how often are students given such choices?
 
One step towards relinquishing this sense of control is to share with students those resources that we often stumble upon while exploring new opportunities. Although on a different level, +Cameron Paterson recently shared a change at his school where student representatives are included in every subject meeting. That means when there is a professional reading for staff that students complete this as well. If this is the case, why not share those articles and videos with students? Not necessarily because they have to read or watch them, but so that they have a choice.
 
In his Ted Talk+Ewan McIntosh questions why teachers rather than students do all the problem finding? This really got me thinking about what else that teachers do that students are missing out on. Short of actually committing to McIntosh’s ‘Design Thinking’ edict – we can all dream? – one step towards a focus on sharing and collaboration is actually sharing some of the messy play that often only teachers engage in. That meandering through websites in search of quality resources.
 
For example, last year I ran an elective looking at 21st Century Learning. Each week I would post links to additional material, such as posts or videos, such as Sugata Mitra’s ‘Kids Can Teach Themselves’ and Ken Robinson’s ‘How to Escape Education’s Death Valley’. This wasn’t about flipping the classroom, but rather supplementing the learning. It was amazing how many students actually watched the videos and came back the next week with other videos of their own to share back.
 
In a post discussing Three Common Myths About Innovation in Education, +Dan Haesler posses the question, “What if innovation in education sought to (genuinely) empower rather than control students?” I would like to think that sharing with students is very much a part of this. How is it that you share with students? What are some of the steps that you have taken to making online spaces safe, but also giving students a sense of choice? Please share, I would love to hear about it.

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