Getting Critical about Collaboration

I recently came across the following statement from Martin McGuran:

Technology allows global classroom connections and collaboration BUT the majority of teachers are not taking the plunge. Why? They don’t know how to.

This comment left me wondering, what is it that teachers ‘don’t know’ how to do? Is there something different about collaborating with students as opposed to other educators? What does it mean to collaborate? Is it about tools? Is it about space and environment? Is it about perspectives? Or is it about pedagogy?

Using Doug Belshaw’s eight elements of digital literacies as a guide, it feels McGuran’s focus is on the cognitive, the tools and the processes involved. What feels overlooked is a critical discussion around the conditions required when collaborating. Here then are three other aspects to be considered in regards to communication and collaboration.

Can Everyone Collaborate

It can be easy to encourage everyone to get connect online and complete the circle. However, this overlooks the reality that not everyone is able to openly engage online. This is a point that Chris Wejr makes in regards to educators who for a range of reasons cannot share who they are online. Coming from the perspective of culture, Bali touches on the ignorance of culture and difference online, while danah boyd discusses the challenges associated with gender in regards to all things EdTech. For Graham Martin-Brown one of the problems is that different perspectives are often stymied. Although those like Michael Fullen preach the positives of collective efficacy and professional capital, this is often countered or corrupted by an inadvertent culture of competition produced by a grab for students and results, especially amongst secondary schools. On top of all this, Bill Fitzgerald touches on the inadvertent data and information captured as a part of being online.

Appropriate Attribution

The global collaboration McGuran touches upon is often built upon a culture of sharing. Whether it be sourcing images via Flickr or building upon a project posted on GitHub, there are many spaces dedicated to building on the ideas of others. The problem is that such generosity can come at a cost. Although Alan Levine encourages attribution by default, Maha Bali highlights that this is not always enough. Deb Netolicky in her own reflection wonders if using work without attribution is morally corrupt. Whatever the point of view, there is always a risk to hospitality.

Purpose or Process

David Weinberger argues that the smartest person in the room is the room. The problem is that simply being in the room is not enough. Sometimes the purpose and intent is not always clear. Other times, as Gary Stager highlights, there simply is no need. As Mike Caulfield points, the key is not the technology, but how it is used. An example of this is the DigiPo project. When I think about my collaboration with Steve Brophy, we started with a why. Although it could have been done individually, together we refined our thinking and created something unique.


I recognise that technology has a part to play in regards to communication and collaboration. Surely though this is only one part?

So what about you? Have you had any experiences of collaboration? As always, comments welcome.


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Breaking Out Collaborative Problem Solving in the Classroom


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One of my goals at the recent GAFE Summit in Melbourne was to delve into BreakoutEDU. I had long wondered about the concept, having read various reflections. However, it is one of those things that can be hard to make sense of without actually experiencing it. Basically, the session has a central narrative which drives the problem

The first thing that stood out in the session was the place of the teacher in the room. Although it can be easy in the traditional classroom to fall back into the default role of the ‘sage on the stage’, BreakoutEDU simply does not allow for this. With the focus on participants working collaboratively to solve a series of problems in order to unlock a collection of locks attached to a box located in the room, the learning is centred on the learner.

The role of the teacher in this environment is in creating a learning sequence that includes tasks and challenges that are neither too easy nor too hard. One of the suggestions given is to start out small, maybe just a couple of problems over a short amount of time, and as students develop stamina and resilience increase the length of time. There is also the opportunity for documentation, whether this is taking notes or recording video.

The problems themselves involve a range of resources and stimuli to support the learning, ranging from decks of cards, computer, infrared torch, USB disks with information, coloured paperclips, QR codes and Google Docs. The limit is dependent on your imagination. For example, one case study provided was of a teacher who incorporated Google Cardboard into the activity. While in regards to the locks, there are a number of options, including those controlled by directions, traditional key locks, number and letter codes, as well as a iOS app for something different. Each allows for the creation of different problems to work through.

The reality is that the whole classroom truly becomes a learning environment, both virtually and physically. Anything and everything can be incorporated as a part of the process. With this in mind, it often needs to be specified what maybe out of bounds, such as a permanent screen or teacher’s computer.

In regards to the learning sequences, there are already a range of ready made puzzles which you can use or repurpose based on your context. However, I see the real potential in making your own story to fit your needs. Maybe it is:

  • Reimagining the immersion process to a unit.
  • Exploring computational thinking without a computer.
  • Revising a semester of work.
  • Developing congeniality amongst staff.
  • Focusing on general capabilities, such as thinking skills and teamwork.

What needs to be remembered is that it is actually the process and reflection which is most important. Although there maybe some sort of reward within the box, this is not the focus. (Nick Brierley shared how his students have gotten to the point where they no longer need or expect to find anything with the box.)

Personally, I was left thinking about my experience of teaching biomes. Although students engaged with their ecological projects, the immersion process did not carry with it the same enthusiasm. I had attempted to develop a series of flipped videos exploring Brazil. However, students were still left consuming content, making sense of the different biomes. In teaching the unit again, I wonder if it could begin with an activity where together they need to ask and answer a series of puzzles and problems in order to unlock the box. To me this takes some of elements of hyperdocs and combines them with the detective elements of Carmen Santiago. At the very least, students could work together through a digital version, as demonstrated within this example. While Tom Mullaney has also written about how to use both old and new Google Sites.

Although creating a scenario from scratch has its challenges in regards to developing a compelling narrative, teachers already have much of the content from the planning documents that they use. For example, when preparing using Understanding By Design teachers identify the intended understandings, questions, content and skills in a process of working backwards. I also wonder if there is potential of students actually developing their own scenario?

For some more ideas and inspirations around BreakOutEdu, checkout this video and website:


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A Village Takes Many Things


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How does one celebrate a milestone, such as 300 posts, if not to celebrate the voices that matter most. Those people who have spent the time to stop by and add to the conversation. In the past, I have written posts compiling comments across a year or curated responses to the problem of practice shared out on Twitter, but what interests me is what it means to others to be a part of the village?

After putting put the call out there, these are the responses I got:


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It Takes Confidence

Hearing an early career teacher talk about her aspirations of becoming a principal reassured my optimism for the future of education…only then I heard experienced teachers say something along the lines of ‘can you believe the level of confidence?’ and ‘get through your first five or ten years first’. I have previously encouraged early career teachers to present, only to hear the concern of what others would think. I‘ve blogged about the Tall Poppy syndrome which is familiar to many Australians. On the flipside, I’ve known of early career teachers who believe that after their first year, they’ve ‘got this’. There is a fine line between confidence and arrogance.

If we invest in our early career teachers through coaching, could we influence their confidence, while modelling humility? Arrogance in education has no place, but confidence on the other hand, is about trying to improve oneself, which is vital for all teachers and learners. It was inspiring to learn about the tall poppy campaign developed by the Australian Institute of Policy and Science. Young Tall Poppy Science Awards aim to recognise the achievements of Australia’s outstanding young scientific researchers and communicators. It is up to us to encourage, guide and inspire all our colleagues and I for one, would love to turn around the concept of the ‘Tall Poppy’ and make it a positive attribute of all teachers. Just imagine what more we could achieve, if we supported and promoted all our teachers, especially the early career teachers who enter this profession intrinsically motivated and enthusiastic.

Andrea Stringer

@stringer_andrea / Andrea Stringer



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It Takes a PLN

Being a connected educator is essential to all aspects of my teaching life. I cannot imagine being the teacher I am, without my PLN. The idea that ‘it takes a village’ is central in my beliefs of being a connected teacher. Growing and interacting with a PLN allows you to discover new ideas, be challenged and pushes you to grow. My PLN keeps on evolving, and I love the diversity of ideas, opinions and interactions. I strongly believe in the power of being a connected educator, sharing ideas and conversations.

I happened on your blog after connecting with you at GTA Sydney 2014, but it has been our interactions and communication that has allowed me to grow in admiration of what you do. I admire your efforts in writing, sharing and connecting.

Jacques du Toit

@jdtriver / The Teaching River



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It Takes Sharing

I found your blog through Twitter,
and it set my heart aflutter.
So many excellent shared ideas
developed over many years.
Your experiences openly shared with others:
teachers, fathers, kids and mothers,
contribute to our greater good
and spread beyond your neighbourhood.
Thank you so very much
for bothering to keep in touch.
Knowledge enriches all if we freely share
within the village and beyond,
and all the way across the “pond”.
When suffering from a sense of despair,
please remember, we, your followers, care.

I read a lot and usually find inspiration from tweets such as yours. Twitter is like my faculty!

Thank you  for taking the time and initiative to raise the concept of ‘it takes a village’ with me!

Margaret Simkin

@margaretsimkin / Digitalli



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It Takes Spontaneity

That might actually be my best advice to any blogger – don’t overthink it. If an idea crosses my mind I just write it. Sometimes straight to my blog, sometimes to another venue that will get more widely read…but I really value the number of people who blog spontaneously because it makes the blogosphere a more conversational space among whole (read: vulnerable) people.

Maha Bali

@bali_maha / Reflecting Allowed



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It Takes Connections

It takes a village to raise a teacher. Everyone has something to share and everyone has something to learn. We aren’t alone and in a digitally connected age we never should be.

Matt Esterman

@mesterman / My Mind’s Museum



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It Takes Dialogue

I think that this phrase speaks to the complexity of teaching. None of us have all of the answers to the myriad of professional dilemmas that we grapple with, on a number of levels, every day. By connecting online, I’d like to think that we are each sharing our thinking and ideas and drawing on those of others for the benefit of our students. The complexity of teaching stems from the fact that every one of our students are unique, as are the interactions in every one of our classrooms. What works for me might not work for you but what works for me might just nudge your thinking towards something else that works in your context. Reciprocally, by distilling my thoughts into 140 characters, or being discerning about links and resources I share, and sending them out to the world, I invite feedback and dialogue. This shapes and influences the next stage of my own thinking and understanding. We are not going to put the [education] world to rights but we are doing our own small bit for the greater good.

I often ponder how the many years of relative isolation in my early career (I started teaching in 1992) might have been different. How my learning might have been accelerated by exposure to voices beyond the walls of my school and local area. What I do know is that, until my engagement with Twitter (and subsequent graduation to blogging), the breadth of my professional conversations was quite limited. I had my own department within my school supplemented by occasional face to face contact with a wider network of people (most often working in the same subject area as me). These external voices were part of local associations, national bodies and the very occasional conference. All too often though, these fora were about sharing resources and socialising (no problem with that) rather than discussing their application in context. It was not until I had the privilege of working in Initial Teacher Education that I came into more regular contact with a wider range of perspectives on education and some global voices. But even then, dialogue was still limited by hierarchies, opportunities and physical constraints on time and space.

I remember my anxiety at putting out my first tweets. I was cautioned by some peers against sharing too much. Someone might steal your ideas and materials! Thankfully I didn’t see it that way. I reached out to connect and learn.

Now I can’t imagine not being a connected educator. I’m very grateful to be part of the global education village.

And a final footnote: I’m now living and working on the opposite side of the world from where my career began but more connected than ever!

Chris Munro

@CmunroOz / Reflections on Teacher Professional Growth


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It Takes Appreciation

Kevin Hodgson

@dogtrax / Kevin’s Meandering Mind



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It Takes Courage

I jumped in feet first and put both feet in ‘it’ by committing several gaffes in the misty fog of Twitter protocol. It didn’t help that I had never used any form of social media before and was totally out of my depth! I was yelled at with capital letters, threatened to be blocked, probably muted and politely ignored. Someone even made a crack about grandmothers being allowed to use mobile phones – I know, right? So ageist! If only I had known how to search for things like the following tips from @carolinemlittle … Maybe I showed my human side, my fallibility, a little too much? (Originally published as I’d Like to Take This Opportunity)

Anne Del Conte

@annadelconte / Anne’s Angle



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It Takes Contributors

Connected learners have an intuitive sense of the value of their social networks. Easily described, but can the value of a learning network be quantified? Reed’s Law states the utility of a network can scale exponentially with the number of participants. The formulaic interpretation is 2n-n-1. Of course, for this principle to be maximized every participant needs to be a contributor to the network. In other words, all villagers must share.

Robert Schuetz

@robert_schuetz / Nocking the Arrow



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It Takes an Idiot

I’ve been thinking a great deal about the internet lately. I’ve been thinking about what was promised when I first started tinkering with html and Mosaic browser (I never actually learned much html. Just enough to be a little dangerous). What I’ve been thinking about is how the internet promised the democratisation of information. It promised to be a place where everyone had a voice. What it very quickly seemed to become to me was a marketplace. The voices were all touting their businesses and the information was all tainted by vested interest. Even when individual voices could be heard they were mediated by business and advertising and therefore they were only for those worth advertising to (teenagers, basically). MySpace passed me by, and I was late to Facebook, and it felt as though what was promised in 1995 was a long-forgotten “non-core promise” that circumstance had rendered untenable.

I don’t remember how I came across readingwritingresponding.blogspot.com.au. It was probably as a result of attending ICTEV13. Anyway, I came upon this post and I disagreed with it wildly. Aaron’s post challenged me in ways that made me uncomfortable and forced me to give reasons why not everyone should be using their voice online. Basically, it forced me to add my voice to the village. And in doing so, I found the internet that I thought was going to exist in 1995.

Aaron is my village square. He’s the place I go when I need to connect with educators outside my own school. I stay at home (metaphorically) a great deal. When I venture out, the village square is still there. Aaron is still speaking and inviting other voices to add to the conversation and the learning is ubiquitous. I suspect I’m the village idiot, but a village needs all sorts of voices, so I’m happy to take on whatever role I can.

So, happy 300 Aaron. Many happy returns of the day.

Eric Jensen

@jentzly / Edulurker



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It Takes Co-Learning

It takes a village.  This proverb has unified you and I  in so many ways as learners.  From connecting online through to co-presenting face to face, we have both seen the immense value that co-learning can bring.  My best professional learning experience is still our co-presentation at DLTV.  We had been enriched beyond our wildest expectations before we had even presented.  The experience has continually resonated with me because we were both willing to contribute, to question, to listen, to speak up and I know we are both forever changed as a result.  How many professional learning experiences can boast that?  Not many I would imagine.  The village process sparked so many ideas and I want to give that experience to other members of the village.  I created CoLearn as a direct result of our village learning experience.  CoLearn is about being willing to contribute to the learning of other learners and to be willing to have others contribute to yours.  It is about co-learning together, providing a critical friend and hopefully sparking change and innovation in your classroom.  CoLearn is “it takes a village” personified and I think is way for real change to happen in schools.  I want to thank you Aaron for being a part of my village.

Steve Brophy

@SteveBrophy3 / Transformative Learning



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It Takes a Text

I’m currently working on an assignment for the Discourse and Linguistics module I recently completed. With that at the forefront of my mind, it’s hardly surprising that it colours this post. Without his permission, I wouldn’t dream of undertaking an analysis of Aaron’s blog, however there’s a feature on which he draws heavily, and which also speaks to the theme he provided – intertextuality (Kristeva, 1986).

Most of what we say or write we’ve heard or written before. Our social encounters and experiences, personal and professional, have shaped our thoughts. In turn this contributes to the knowledge from which we draw and the meanings we construct. When we make an observation or express an opinion, we do so using the words we have heard (or read) and the images we have previously seen. Sometimes we do this explicitly, making the source of those words clear by using quotation marks, or using other indicators. Often we are less aware of a specific source, but know that what we are saying belongs to a particular discourse, for example classroom practice or technology integration. This link between the text we’re producing and those which preceded it is called intertextuality. It also pays forward into those texts which succeed it and together this chain, or network of texts constitutes horizontal intertextuality. Vertical intertextuality links our text with the others written, not referenced or drawn from, but which work within the same discourse. Those texts may be in the same medium (blogs), the same mode (‘written’ text), or indeed be different media or modes.

Aaron assiduously references other posts he has written, helpfully drawing together themes across his work, indicating ways in which we might make meaning for ourselves. This is termed an intertextual collection, and because the overarching theme is centred on education (or perhaps more evocatively, learning), it could also be said to constitute disciplinary intertextuality. It is important to remember that when producing our own text, we not only reproduce the texts of others, but transform them. If I was teaching the origins of the Universe for Y9 students for example, I would need to turn the texts I have accessed over the years into one accessible to a 14 year old. Perhaps Aaron does similar work to this in ensuring his writings are accessible to a broad readership, but also to challenge our reading and understanding; pushing us to think afresh to produce our own texts. A presentation seen and heard at a conference would be transformed both by being summarised, and turned into a different mode of representation.

It would be remiss to comment on READWRITERESPOND without remarking on the obvious additional affordance that being on the Web provides and which extends intertextuality. Hypertext. Few educational bloggers I read are as intertextually prolific through hyperlinks as Aaron. Some hyperlinks are explicit and reference other texts dually, both through a quotation or title, and through the hyperlink markers of different coloured text and mouse-over supplementary information. Other links are implicit, using the markers alone, but hinting at where the hyperlink might lead through the words themselves. Hypertextuality extends the meaning potential of the post immeasurably. Although as readers we have some agency in how we read and make meaning from a text, we are nevertheless guided by the order the author has provided. With hypertext however, we have far more choice in how we construct our knowledge, by following links to other texts, and if we feel so inclined, beyond those too. Our learning chains or ‘traversals’ (Lemke, 2002) are as different and individual as we are.

By now, any discourse analysts having got this far will be screaming “What about the blog post header image prompts?!” They are indeed significant in so many ways, but then I’d be into the realms of multimodality, hypermodality and the deep analysis I said at the outset it would be inappropriate to conduct. I will round off though by returning to the start, and back to Aaron’s prompt “It takes a village.” I’m still not sure I fully understand the implications, but my interpretation is that by working together cooperatively, we can achieve far more than individually. Intertextuality plays a central part in the social, cultural and historical processes which enable ‘villages’ to do what they do. (Orignially published It Takes a Village)

Ian Guest

@IaninSheffield / In the PICTure & Marginal Notes


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It Takes Scepticism

Often those with the largest followings generate the greatest impact & spread stuff virulently and unquestioningly. I’m not saying here that I ‘know’ what is or isn’t right. I equally see how it can transform usually inert educational behaviour in some into enmity as the scale and proliferation of uncritical consumption becomes apparent.

I wonder why this phenomena occurs. The need to belong, to affirm, to simply connect people and ideas? Online, does groupthink, as it takes on a personality and entity of its own, serve to exclude rather than include others and arrest participation from outside? Again online, does groupthink slowly immunise itself from what it perceives as irrelevance from others? Does groupthink calcify its own attitudes or philosophies rather than welcome and accept that there is something good about variety?

Jon Andrews

@obi_jon_ / Reflections of a Reluctant Writer


So what about you? What does being a part of a village mean to you? As always, I would love to know. Feel free to leave a comment or write your own post.


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Are Great Teachers Bad Teachers?


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Dan Carlin in his investigation of Genghis Khan quotes Lord Acton who once wrote that “Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you add the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority.”  This implies that great people often only become supposedly ‘great’ at the expense of others. That is, whether it be Napoleon or Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar, they all brought about great chaos and killing that was paramount to achieve their success over time.

This idea of the consequences associated with success got me thinking about teachers, teaching and learning. There are those out there who wish to reduce impact solely down to the work of the individual. This has many flow on effects, but the most problematic one is the birth of the ‘great teacher’.

I have lost count of the times I have been asked to reflect on my past and recall a great teacher. For me, these teachers were those that often pushed against the grain, who stood out in the crowd, maybe broke the rules, seemingly going above and beyond. Maybe these are worthy attributes to have, but at what cost? The question that often goes unasked is what context allows for the creation of such teachers and is it always positive? Who suffers and what is lost in the process? Are great teachers in fact bad teachers?

For so many, the word of the moment is collaboration. Whether it be Alma Harris’ Disciplined Collaboration, Cathy Davidson’s Collaboration by Difference or David Weinberger’s Smart Rooms, they all seem to celebrate the collective power of the group over the individual. The problem though is that it can be hard to break the traditional cycle of leadership and learning for a more distributed model. A focus on the individual has the tendency to produce an environment of competition, which sacrifices collaboration, in the hunt for greatness.

To re-imagine this situation, I want you to stop and think for a moment about a teacher who for whatever reason was not the greatest? Rather than dwelling on those individual attributes which made them stand out for all the wrong reasons, think about what teams they were a part of. Was there anyone else teaching that subject? Were they visibly linked with others or left alienated? How were they supported? Maybe these are more pertinent questions and help highlight the real problem.

In the end, I am left wondering, can greatness ever be good? What would schools look like if we had great teams which focus on building capacity, with no one teacher standing out above any other? Would this focus on community allow for more of a focus on learning? To be honest, I am really not sure. More than ever, I would love to know your thoughts on this matter, for in the end, it takes a village.


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Communication, Collaboration and Creativity – Exploring the Tools of Change #Digital15


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Here is the blurb for my session at Leading a Digital School Conference:

How many fantastic ideas or initiatives have failed not because of the strength of the idea, but because it failed to be heard. Change need not be restricted to the lone nut. This session is about using the power of technology to transform ideas into movements. From sharing a collaborative document to creating an online community, this presentation will be full of possibilities and how they can be used to drive change. Aaron will provide a different way of seeing change and demonstrate how technology is the leverage that every idea needs to go from good to great.

Here are my slides:

While here are my notes:

Change, ideas and innovation means many things to many people. For some it is systemic and revolutionary, while for others it is more gradual and occurring each and every day. I feel though that Ewan McIntosh sums up the dilemma best while discussing the concept of the ‘pilot project’, “The ‘beta version’, of our idea is, in fact, an ever-changing final idea. There is no such thing as a pilot.” The reality is change is inevitable. Some ideas take, others are added to the heap. The question then is how do we come up with great ideas and actually make them happen?

One of the enablers of change is technology. As Seth Godin explains in his book Tribes, “The tools are there,  just waiting. All that’s missing is you, and your vision and your passion.” This flourishing potential allows for an amplification of ideas and inspiration. For Simon Sinek states, “There are leaders and there are those who lead. Leaders hold a position of power or influence. Those who lead inspire us.” The question then is: how might we better utilise technology to support change in order to turn ideas into innovations?

It can be hard to make sense of the plethora of applications on offer. To do so, I have divided things up into three categories: communication, collaboration and creativity.

Communication

Social Media: The obvious place for communication online is through various social media platforms. Whether it be Google+, Facebook, Twitter, Nings, Edmodo, LinkedIn or Scootle Community, each offers its own benefits and possibilities. Whether it be using communities in Google+ to share ideas and resources or the power of the hashtag within Twitter to facilitate a world-wide chat, the challenge is to find what works best for you.

Streaming: In recent times, there has been a real rise in streaming applications. Originally, video streaming was limited to programs such as Skype, Google Hangouts and Blackboard Collaborate, but more recently, there has been a rise in different sorts of platforms for streaming content live, including Periscope, Meerkat and Ustream. In addition to that, Voxer, a digital walkie talkie application, has had a dramatic influence on communication. I think that Joe Mazza puts it best when he describes it as his “very own personal podcast”.

Surveys: There are a range of applications which make receiving ideas and feedback so much easier, whether it be Google Forms, Survey Monkey, Verso and Poll Everywhere. Each application has its own intricacies, such as Forms integration with the Google Apps and Poll Everywhere’s real-time engagement.

Splash Page: It is often stated that if you do not tell your story then someone else will tell it for you. One way of telling this story is through a splash page. The most common splash pages are About.Me and Flavors. However, you can just as easily make a splash page using a static blog or as using Mozilla Thimble.

Collaboration

Editors: The most obvious tool for collaboration is via a text editor of some sort. The usual suspects are Google Apps, Microsoft Onenote, Evernote and Hackpad. Each allows for multiple voices in the one space. Although it can be easy to get caught in a debate about which one is best, it can sometimes come down to what the community in question is comfortable with. Another alternative though Padlet. Although limited to texts, images and attachments, sometimes such constraint makes it easier to focus.

Bookmarking: There are many ways to share and collaborate on ideas and information. One answer is through the use of social bookmarking sites, such as Diigo, Delicious, Pearltrees, Pinterest and Educlipper. Each platform allows you to not only add and organise content, but scroll through that which is already there to find information.

Curation: For many social media is too noisy. The challenge then becomes how to manage and curate such streams of information. Curation applications, such as Flipboard, Zite, Feedly, Pocket and Nuzzel, provide a means of benefiting from the room without completely being in the room. These platforms usually require some sort of information from the user, whether it be interactions within the app or connections to other platforms, such as Twitter, in order to provide customised content.

Productivity: A different sort of collaboration is through the management of projects and ideas using productivity applications like Trello and Slack. Another useful tool for managing a hashtag is Tagboard as it allows you to search across different platforms.

Creativity

Video: There are many ways to create video beyond simply recording yourself. Maybe it is screencasting with Snagit, Screencastify or Camtasia. Another option is presentations and animations using Powtoon and Adobe Voice. An alternative to the usual medium is creating a GIF image or a Vine.

Visuals: As the adage goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Although I am not completely sure of that, there are many ways to at least marry both using technology. Maybe it is creating a more visual presentation with Prezi, capturing a moment with Instagram, creating an image with Canva or sketching with Paper53.

Blogging: In his book, Smarter Than You Think, Clive Thompson states that, “Just as we now live in public, so do we think in public. And that is accelerating the creation of new ideas and the advancement of global knowledge.” One medium which has made such public thinking possible is blogging. There are a range of platforms, including Blogger, WordPress, Tumblr and Medium. What is important to remember about blogging is that it does not just have to be ‘text’. There are so many different products that can be embedded, such as Padlets, Soundcloud, Storify and Youtube.

Spaces: In addition to blogs, there are many applications which allow you to create pages on the web. Some options include Glogstar, Google Sites, Weeby, Wix, Wikispaces, Adobe Slate and Smore. Each of these sites offers their own benefits, whether it be the visual nature of Glogstar or the simplicity of Adobe Slate.


Tim Kastelle suggests that, “If there is a gap between where you currently are and where you want to be, the only way to bridge it is by doing something new. Innovating.” Technology can help in bridging this gap, but as Kentora Toyama states, it only ever amplifies whatever capacity is already there. So, what change are you driving and what technology are you using to enable it?


For the backstory, the student code for the Verso provocation is: EE5YVK

The link to Padlet is: http://padlet.com/aarondavis/digital15


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Playing the Team Game


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

I recently wrote a creative post wondering about leadership. It occurred to me that there is always another side to things. So here is a second instalment …


As the siren blew for half time, Thom walked off the ground with his head down feeling a little despondent. Although he had held his man well for much of the game, in time on he’d gotten away, managing to kick two goals to give the opposition a three goal buffer. To Thom, it didn’t matter what had unfolded throughout. The reality was that the team was behind and it was his man who had done the damage.
Before he had gotten a few steps, three of his team mates had b-lined to him. Encouraging him to keep his head high. The game was not lost. They were both 50/50 decisions. As he took a few more steps, a few more players ran past. Reminding him to stay focused on the game ahead. What was done was done. The game was to be played out in the future.
With most of the players now together, Captain brought the team together to speak with them before going into the rooms. This is a team game, he explained, it is only by playing together that the game will be won. Don’t be sucked in by the glimmer of brilliance. The players all walked off as one.
Coach brought the team together. He explained the situation as he saw it. An even game with a half to play, the opposition had a small lead. He said that none of that really mattered though. That was done. The focus now needed to be on the second half.
In regards to meaningful statistics, coach applauded the contested ball and efficiency of use. This is what mattered. He also pointed out that the game could not be locked down for four quarters, so when it eventually opened up, whether it be because the opposition tires or things change, everyone needs to be ready to adapt.
He closed by touching on the lapse in time on. To blame this on the failure of one person was to miss the point. This was a lack of discipline from the team. The reality was and is, an opposition player should not be able to break the lines. When the opposition was able to play on and run straight through the centre, not once, but twice, it put undue pressure on the forward line. Everyone has their part to play and as a team we need to work together. Trust in yourself, but even more so, trust in each other.
The players all split off to their smaller groups to speak with their assistants. Whereas Thom had doubted his place in the team, the coach had reinstated his faith. Again the message was loud and clear. The Assistant spoke about sticking to the structures, but also having enough intuition that when the situation required to work collaboratively as a unit to resolve it. For it is fine to have coaches supporting from above, but it is the players on the ground who actually play the game.
Thom walked back out onto the ground ready to trust once again and do everything possible for others to trust him also.


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What’s So Creative About Commons Anyway – An Introduction to Creative Commons


creative commons licensed ( BY-NC ) flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs

Creative Commons is one of those topics which everyone knows about and when question say that they understand, but can’t really explain what it is and how it works with very much clarity. For some it is seen as a nuisance, while others see little point or purpose to it, but in regards to working within the world wide web, it matters a lot.

Basically, Creative Commons is a set of licenses that allows you to give permissions for others to use and modify your content. As is explained on the main website:

The idea of universal access to research, education, and culture is made possible by the Internet, but our legal and social systems don’t always allow that idea to be realized. Copyright was created long before the emergence of the Internet, and can make it hard to legally perform actions we take for granted on the network: copy, paste, edit source, and post to the Web.

In total, there are six different licenses made up of three different variables: attribution, modification and commercialisation. These are best summed up by the poster designed by Piotrek Chuchla, graphic designer and poster artist which can be found here. While for a more detailed explanation, watch the following video:

The question that so often remains unanswered is how does it work in practise and why is it important?


Often when we consider Creative Commons it is automatically linked with copyright and the legality of using someone else’s work. A prime example of this is outlined in Chris Betcher’s experience of using Creative Commons music on Youtube. In a series of posts he describes his battle with an artist about using a piece of music in a video he made. Even though he had seemingly sort the music out fairly through Jamendo with the best intentions, the algorithms in Youtube flagged his work and marked it as a breach of copyright. After much digging around, Betcher discovered that ‘no derivatives’ does not have to include cutting up an item, it can also mean combining it or mashing it up with something else.

This view of Creative Commons relates to appropriate use of content. This is contrast to discussion around copyright. Everything has copyright – at least in Australia – from the time that it is written down or recorded. Often conversations though end up in debates about fair use, educational purposes and substantial parts. In contrast, Creative Commons adds to this predefined right by applying to your work a license which allows you to clearly permit how you wish your work to be used. For example, if you are wanting to remix an image, then you would search for something that does not have ‘ND’ attached to it. Betcher makes the pertinent point that Creative Commons “removes the barrier created by traditional copyright.” However, to see Creative Commons only for its legal benefits misses out on its real benefit to support a community of sharing.

In an interesting post, Alan Levine laments how so much of our conversation around copyright stems from the argument “don’t break the rules.” He suggests that it is not much different to all those piracy fear campaigns. Instead of getting caught up in the ‘what’ of it all, Levine wonders where the conversations about the positive reasons as to why we do it, that is, feeding content back into the community, paying it forward and attributing where things comes from. Paul Klimpel sums it up best when he states that the main purpose behind Creative Commons is about making content more shareable. It is at its heart about creating culutre.

The next step then is how do we actually create an open culture of sharing and collaboration which allows for a greater flow of ideas and expression. For as Doug Belshaw states, “remixing, re-appropriation and riffing off other people’s work just seems to be part of what we do as human beings.” Maybe it all starts with modelling the change through our own practise. This could include not retweeting images without attribution as Chris Wejr suggests or developing a school wide policy as Richard Wells has done. One thing is guaranteed, ignorance and naivety will no longer good enough, especially as algorithms become more and more complicated.

So what are you doing? What have I missed? I would love to know. Feel free to share.


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Learning to Learn by Learning – a Reflection on a Collaborative Project

In a post a few months ago I mused on the idea of providing time for teachers to tinker and explore. My feelings were that like the students we teach, we too all have areas of interests that we never quite get a chance to unpack. I was reminded of this again recently by +Edna Sackson who spoke about enlivening a professional development day by empowering the voices of the staff at her school and giving them a chance to present, rather than simply bringing in outside providers. Although I have experienced this to some degree in regards to ICT at my school, where we ran a session where various staff provided different sessions, I have never really heard of it been offered as a whole school initiative. I was therefore left wondering, why don’t more staff share and collaborate, whether online or off?
 
 
A point of collaboration that I have been involved in this year was the development of a conference presentation with +Steve Brophy. As teachers we often talk about collaboration, yet either avoid doing it or never quite commit ourselves to process. Some may work with a partner teacher or as a part of a team, but how many go beyond this, stepping out of the comfort zone, and the walls of their school, to truly collaborate in the creation of a whole project?
 
Having spoken about the power of tools like Google Apps for Education to support and strengthen collaboration and communication, I decided that what I really needed to do to take the next step was to stop preaching and actually get out there and actually model it. I really wanted to work with someone in not only presenting a range of tools that make collaboration more possible, but I wanted to use those tools to actually collaborate and create a presentation from scratch.
 
The first time I met Brophy was online. The +Ed Tech Crew ran a Google Hangout at the end of 2013 focusing on the question: what advice would you give a new teacher just appointed as an ICT coordinator? I put down my thoughts in a post, Steve commented and wrote a response of his own. It was these two perspectives, different in some ways, but the same in others, that brought us together.
 
Since then we have built up a connection online – on Twitter, in the margins of a document, within blog posts themselves, via a few emails – growing and evolving the conversation each step of the way. For example, Steve set me the 11 question blog challenge, which he had already taken the time to complete himself. We were lucky enough to meet face-to-face when we both presented at Teachmeet at the Pub in February.
 
What I think clicked in regards to working with Brophy was that although we teach in different sectors, coming from different backgrounds, we shared an undeniable passion – student learning and how technology can support and enhance this or as +Bill Ferriter would have it, ‘make it more doable‘. We therefore decided to put forward a proposal for the +Digital Learning and Teaching Victoria conference around the topic of ‘voices in education’. Interestingly, once the submissions were accepted those wishing to present were encouraged to connect and collaborate with other members in the stream, rather than work in isolation. However, we already were.
 
In regards to planning and collaborating, it was all pretty ad hoc. A few comments in an email, brainstorming using a Google Doc, catching up via a Google Hangout, building our presentation using OneNote (click for PDF). Most importantly though, there were compromises at each step along the way. This was not necessarily about either being right or wrong, but about fusing our ideas together. So often I feel that we plan presentations with only our own thoughts in mind. Although we may have an idea of our intended audience, nothing can really replace the human element associated with engaging with someone else in dialogue.
 
In regards to the substance of our actual presentation, I put forward the idea of dividing it into Primary and Secondary. However, as things unfolded, this seemed counter-intuitive, for voices are not or should not be constrained by age. So after much dialogue we came upon the idea of focusing on the different forms of connections that occur when it comes to voices in and out of the classroom. We identified three different categories:

 

  • Students communicating and collaborating with each other 
  • Students and teachers in dialogue about learning 
  • Teachers connecting as a part of lifelong learners 
A part of the decision for this was Brophy‘s work in regards to Digital Leaders. This focus on students having a voice of there own really needed to take some pride of place, especially as much of my thoughts had been focusing on the engagement between students and teachers.
 

Listening to Voices – FULL PRESENTATION – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires
 
The next point of discussion was around the actual presentation. In hindsight, I fretted so much about who would say what and when, as well as what should go in the visual presentation. This is taken for granted when you present by yourself as you say everything. However, when you work with someone else it isn’t so simple. The irony about the presentation was that so often plans are often dispersed in an effort to capture the moment. This is exactly what happened and I feel that it worked well. Sometimes the worst thing you can do is to stick to the slides, because somehow that is the way it has to be, even though that way is often a concoction in itself. The other thing to be said is that the slides also allow people to engage with the presentation in their own time, in their own way. I sometimes feel that this is a better way of thinking about them.
 
The best aspect about working collaboratively with someone was that by the time we presented we knew each others thoughts and ideas so well that it meant that if there was something that one of us overlooked then the other could simply jump in and ellaborate. This was best demonstrated in our shortened presentation for the Scootle Lounge, where instead of delivering a summary of what we had already done we instead decided to go with the flow. The space was relaxed with beanbags and only a few people, therefore it seemed wrong to do an overly formal presentation. Focusing on the three different situations, we instead bounced ideas off each other and those in the audience, for surely that is what voice and expression should actually be about?
 
After growing our presentation together, the challenge we set for others was to reach out and connect, whether it is online or face to face. Contribute, collaborate and be open to new perspectives and be prepared to be inspired and grow as a learner.
 
So, how have you collaborated? What did you learn? What is it that holds you back? Feel free to share below.

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Listening to the Voices In and Out of the Classroom #DLTV2014

 

creative commons licensed (BY-NC) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/aaron_davis/14425906657

It is only a few weeks until the inaugural DLTV conference. +Steve Brophy and I will be presenting a session on listening to other voices in the classroom. Here is the blurb for those interested:

One of the biggest challenges in education today is how to empower everyone and give a voice to every learner, this means moving beyond listening to those who seek to be heard and finding ways to capture every voice in and out of the classroom. From collaborating on a document to using a learning response system to reflect on a unit of work, this session will look at not only how we can use various web 2.0 tools to capture the different voices in and out of the classroom, but also how these tools can be used to provoke and prompt further ongoing dialogue. Presenting our thoughts and reflections from a wide range of settings and scenarios, both Primary and Secondary, we hope that you leave this session armed with an array of tools and ideas that will help you go and listen to some of those lost and hidden voices today.
 
As it is all about you, we have a quick question to help get the ball rolling:




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Sharing the Load of Blogging In and Out of School

cc licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/113562593@N07/13558173444
In Episode 70 of RU Connected, +Lois Smethurst and +Jenny Ashby discussed the place of blogging in school. Both outlined how they had been setting up blogs in the classroom as a great way to collaborate, but also as a way to connect with the wider community, whether this be parents or other schools and students. What I found most interesting though was when the conversation turned from the student to the teacher. Jenny explained about how she had introduced Quadblogging to her staff. I had always heard of Quadblogging been used as a structured way to make links with other classes and other schools, however I had never heard of quadblogging been used as a means for teachers to connect and collaborate.
This all reminded me about an idea that I posed in a post last year, titled ‘Sharing the Load of Blogging.’ My thought was that in creating a collective school blog, it would ease the stress of time put on staff to maintain their own personal blogs. I envisaged this as a space where those involved within the community could celebrate all that was happening in school. Instead of leaving it up to staff member in the office to chase up people for items for the school newsletter each fortnight, maybe it would be more empowering if teachers actually published something when they had something to publish.
In response to my post, +Jason Markey shared with me a great post from +George Couros titled ‘The #Learn365 Project‘. In this post, Couros discussed how he had created a site to share all the great work that was happening in Parkland School Division. Modified from the #edu180atl initiative, Couros suggested that the basic premise was that, “every day during the school year, one person within our organization posts a blog on something they learned that day.” For many, Couros explained, the collaborative site was a great catalyst for exploring the potential of blogging and led to some teachers creating their personal blogs.
What I didn’t realise when I wrote my original post was that, in addition to Couros’ own, there were actually quite a few schools already running their own blogs, such as Leyton Learn 365 and tslg1440. However, what this got me wondering was whether there was place to share not only within the school community, but also beyond, a site set up for a wider district or even a state. Maybe such a thing does already exist and so again I am simply being naïve, but a part of me thinks that sharing within the school is only half the battle, we also need a means for sharing beyond the school, with those who may also be going through the same experiences, who may benefit from a different perspective.
In some respect, I am assuming that this is what +George Couros was on about with the #learn365 hashtag, where school communities are able to share in a global manner, however I wondered whether there was a place for a #VicPLN site. A place where teachers could cross post ideas and information that mattered to those in Victoria, Australia. If not a site, then maybe there was a place for something like a Flipboard which contained a great collection of celebrations all in one place. At the very least, wouldn’t it be great to have a collection of blogs created teachers all over Victoria celebrating successes, reflecting on failures and just sharing awesome ideas?
If you know of any such blogs, whether it be school based or even region wide, I would love to know. Also, if you are a Victorian teacher interested in adding to list of blogs, please add your blog to the form below:

Here is a link to the results.


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