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

After sharing a few thoughts about Global2 and student blogging, I was asked about my experiences within the classroom. Here then are some of my reflections so far:

POSITIVES

Collection of Learning: Blogging provides a means for students to publish to more than just the teacher, it allows them to share with a wider audience. This can include everything from text, images, videos and audio records. See Sue Waters description of what you can embed for more information. The audience for the blog depends upon what settings chosen during setup. Although I have mine set to the students within the blog, I am always reminded of Steve Wheeler’s argument that, “having a private blog is like going to a party with a paper bag over your head.”

Student Engagement: Not only does openly sharing work provide for a wider audience, it allows for a different sense of engagement. Whereas discussions are usually restricted, publishing to a blog provides a means of “broadening the perspective of the conversation with authentic audiences from around the world.” This is one of the points Alan November makes in his discussion of transformational learning.

Appreciation of Digital Media: Often when students compose writing they have little appreciation for context. Publishing texts digitally provides for an appreciation of the constructive and creative aspects of digital media. For example, what colours, images and theme is appropriate for the content of the blog?

MINUSES

Administration: One of the challenges with every digital medium is that they always require some sort of support. This can include resetting passwords, maintaining email accounts and setting up blogs. With limited class time, such administration can be a frustrating hurdle.

Expectations: The ability to check student’s posts before they are made live is both a strength and a weakness. It is fantastic, because it provides a level of security and safety for students, teachers and parents. However, in today’s day and age of social media and instant messaging, when you have not reviewed students work to check if it is appropriate to be published, they get annoyed quickly.

Silver Bullets: There is a danger of introducing technology as some sort of panacea and then being faced with the situation where you are left wondering why it did not work. Although technology enables new possibilities, it only ever “amplifies whatever pedagogical capacity is already there.”

IMPROVEMENTS

Be Patient: One of the dangers when introducing any tool or strategy is that we expect dividends from the start. This is often not the case. One of the reasons for this is that they required certain habits to become ingrained, before their full potential can be met. In regards to technology, Gary Stager talks about it becoming boring so that we can use it to focus on the real issue, learning.

Start with Why: Before you introduce blogging into the classroom, you need to think about why you might be blogging. If you want students to interact with each other to provide feedback, then everyone writing a review on the same book or account on the same concept is not really going to work. Blogging is an ideal platform for the creativity and self expression. See for example Anthony Speranza’s use of a class blog to showcase student projects.

Tinker: Although you can read the posts I have shared or even Celia Coffa’s excellent unpacking, I think that the best way to learn about blogging is by tinkering. Start a personal blog. Explore, wonder, experiment.


So what about you, what are your experiences? What questions still remain? As always, questions welcome.


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

One of the biggest challenges in regards to digital literacies is who is telling your story? It can be argued that if we don’t take ownership of your own narrative, then someone will tell it for us. This is what is meant when people ask whether you have Googled yourself. Doug Belshaw talks about being mindful of the way in which tools shape the way we think and interact, I feel that we also need to be mindful of the way in which they tell also tell our stories for us.

One way in which we tell our story is by curating it. 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. Often we talk about social bookmarking as a means for curating content and ideas. This could include sharing links to a digital magazine, like Flipboard, or adding to an online repository, such as Diigo. However, such collections have their limits. Although they may provide a means for communicating and commenting, they are often best considered as a resource you can mine at a later date. For a more extensive discussion of curation, see Sue Waters post.

A different means of telling your story is through blogging. As a medium, blogging offers so many different possibilities. Maybe you want to reflect upon things. Maybe you have media you want to share, more often than not you can simply embed it. Maybe you don’t like the structure and layout of the platform, then go find another one, there are enough. The reality is the possibilities with blogging are limitless and often only confined by your imagination. For example, a relatively new open sourced platform that I have started exploring is Known. I think that it offers something in-between twitter and long form blogging in my own space.

A medium which is a bit different to traditional blogging, but offering the same creative potential, is Storify. Designed to help make sense of what people post on social media. Not only does it provide the means to curate information from different platforms and places, but it also provides the means to fill in the story. Some of the different curations I have seen include:

Although you can search for content within Storify, the tendency is to use hashtags to collect ideas and information. You can then either share the Storify product or embed it within a blog.

For a short guide to curating a story with Storify, watch the following video:

So what about you, what are the ways that you are telling your story? I would love to know.

 


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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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Johanna O’Farrell started it. She wrote an article for The Age titled ‘Splashing Cash won’t Fix Australia’s Broken Education System‘. The piece was basically a tirade against 21st century learning from the point of view of a secondary teacher. There have already been a few responses written including +Mel Cashen‘s ‘Why our schools are NOT failing your children‘ and +Celia Coffa‘s ‘Why Our Schools Are Not Failing Your Children – Another Teacher Tells‘. Both of which shared their passion about why schools are not failing. Leaving the hyperbole and exclusive language aside, I would like to add my own response by unpacking a few of O’Farrell’s arguments a bit further.
 

Reading … Books?

O’Farrell states:
Instead, the strategy is that children will simply learn to read and write ”by osmosis”. This is all well and good for children from families where reading is habitual. However, those from households where television and video games constitute the main part of a child’s ”diet” fall by the wayside.
I have two questions for this, firstly why ‘books’ and secondly, is ‘reading’ the real issue? In regards to the first question, I was reminded of a post written by +Kynan RobinsonDigital Literacy, Gaming and Contemporary Narrative Writing‘ in which he spoke about the rise of digital media and what it offers. One of the key points is that it is a considerable shift from the way we considered literacy in yesteryear. In addition to this, some of the dominant forms of writing and consumption, such as novels and film, are now dead as a medium. They no longer have the same power to engage and persuade, basically because they are linear in nature. When I think about the novel, I am taken back to the Victorian era and the rise of the locomotive, where people would read Charles Dickens in serial form, similar to the way we watch shows like Breaking Bad, where people by subscriptions for instalments. Sadly what O’Farrell is unwilling to recognise is that everything has its time and that maybe there are more texts out there than just books.
 
Associated with what texts are chosen is the actual act of ‘reading’. As I have stated in the past, reading is only one part of the equation, the bigger concern from my point of view is students actually responding. The problem is that students are often forced to respond, whether it be creatively or in the form of an essay. They are denied the ‘rights of the reader’ as Daniel Pennac would put it. I think what stands out most about Pennac’s list is his one warning, “don’t make fun of people who don’t read or else they never will.” So often the students who succeed in exam environments and with writing essays are those that actually care, rather than those with ability. The bigger challenge for students is to get them to engage with texts and write what they feel needs to be written, not simply what someone else has told them to write. For that we can only guide and nurture them, encourage and support, not just force and coerce.
 

The Great Primary/Secondary Schism

O’Farrell states:
What I see is that the vast majority of students simply do not have the intellectual skills to meet the demands of the secondary school curriculum. So, understandably, they disengage. 
I was a little confused by the appeal to ‘intellectual skills’. I sometimes get concerned that the secondary sector itself is letting students down by not following on from the example set by primary school. In a previous post I spoke about education being like a river. Students all find their own way to the river and then meander through primary school. However, when they get to secondary school, the delta of all learning, they take many different and divergent paths. What this often leads to is a fear amongst some educators that students may miss out on a particular piece of knowledge or a certain skill, such as our origins in Medieval Europe or what BOLTSS stands for. That is how I used to think until an aide, with no bachelor or post-graduate diploma, just the instincts of a mother, who was working with me, pointed out that what students often remember is incidental and usually more about relationships than the content. The greatest fear is that we have the danger of killing creativity, as Sir Ken Robinson put it in his 2006 Ted Talk ‘How Schools Kill Creativity‘. He argued that often we only accept a certain type of student and subsequently deny many students the opportunity to blossom and shine. He gave the example of Gillian Lynne, a famous dancer, who was having problems in school, until someone uncovered her passion.
 

ICT as a Facilitator

O’Farrell states:

ICT in recent years has been treated as education’s ”silver bullet”. But I believe ICT is in fact little more than a gimmick – and I know that the novelty of it as a tool for engagement is fast wearing off.
I was particularly saddened to see ICT been spoken about as a merely being a tool for engagement. When you think about the SAMR model, using technology in this way is nothing other than a substitution for what is already been done. It denies the opportunity to utilise technology to redefine the way students are taught. More significantly, it denies the fact that ICT has “shaped behaviours, cultures, classrooms, schools and contexts” as +Peter Skillen has suggested. Although personally we may not agree with all of these changes, it is not good enough to put your head in the ground and deny it.

What’s Good for the Goose is Good for the Gander?

O’Farrell states:
We need only to think of many of Australia’s best and brightest, or indeed the great poets, artists, scientists and orators of the 20th century, to realise that a blackboard and chalk, a pen and paper, a few good books and some learned teachers sufficed. Indeed, in the case of my own parents – both baby boomers and both competent users of English and proficient mathematicians – the absence of open-plan learning, iPads and interactive whiteboards in their classrooms does not seem to have been too detrimental.
I always thought that the purpose of history was to add perspective to the present and recognise how and why things changed. I am not sure how much perspective O’Farrell is demonstrating. Just as the world changes, so do we. Many of the jobs that the baby boomers did no longer suffice. +Celia Coffa sums it up best when she says, “education reflected the society that I lived in. Do we really want our students to be educated in a system that reflects a society of 10 – 20 – 30 – 40 years ago?” In addition to this, I believe that many of Australia’s best and brightest often succeed in spit of their education. Whenever I think about Australia’s artists and authors I am reminded of a culture of exploration and experimentation. Fine they had to learn their trade somewhere, but it is often within communes like the Heidelberg School, rather than at an actual formal schools. It just seems far to simplistic to equate artistic expression and scientific innovation with rote learning.
 

What Feedback and For Who?

O’Farrell states:
Student teachers in primary schools have been told they can’t correct a child’s spelling, but instead must identify and congratulate the student on all the letters they got right.
I understand that intuitively it seems wrong to not be able to correct a spelling test, isn’t the sole purpose of it, to tell a student whether they are right or wrong. However, when you take a step back and consider such rote situations as spelling tests and times table races, two questions come to mind: what is the purpose of the actual task and how does the feedback support students with their learning. So often students hammer through test after test, based on words, knowledge and ideas that are chosen for them, not by them. Simply telling them what they got right or wrong gives us an indication as to where they may be at, but it does not really help them improve in regards to their spelling. If you look at John Hattie’s infamous effect size list, it is interesting that above feedback is self-report grades. Students self-managing their own learning, setting goals, reviewing them, supporting each other, surely this is the ideal, rather than teacher dictated learning, where students are told they are either right or wrong, where the feedback is restricted to the task at hand, where results are given months later, with little to take away for future learning. From a constructivist point of view, our focus should be on how we solve problems and develop solutions by connecting and collaborating with others, instead of being a font of all knowledge.
 

Behaviour vs. Relationships

O’Farrell states:
I have not even mentioned the enormous challenges relating to discipline and poor student behaviour.
What is frustrating is that she has not spoken at all about the importance of relationships. I am of the belief that if you provide an engaging and purposeful curriculum and show some interest in the lives and interests of the students, then poor behaviour and discipline issues will sort themselves out. However, if you enter the classroom with discipline on your mind, rather than relationships, should there be any surprise if students show poor behaviour? 

 

 

To Include or Exclude, That is the Question

At the end of the day, everyone is entitled to their opinion and maybe the furore carried out on Twitter has gone a bit far. As Mark O’Meara put it:

There have to be better responses than piling onto people who say things we find disagreeable. Self-righteous rage not all that constructive
— Mark O’Meara (@MarkOMeara) December 22, 2013

However, what concerned me most about Johanna O’Farrell’s piece is that it kills the conversation. Although it was highly emotive piece, it was almost too emotive. While there is little evidence or statistics used to support I am really confused about what Johanna wished to achieve by writing her piece. Are teachers like Johanna O’Farrell in fact failing themselves and their colleagues? If things are to evolve, it will only be through dialogue and I just don’t know how open Johanna is to continuing the conversation. For now, the bear has been baited and the tribe has united.


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