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

This weeks topic for #youredustory is how will you grow the conversation so that we bring more people and perspectives along the journey?


It is so easy to get caught up on the argument about echo chambers and engaging with a wider audience. In an interview with the Ed Tech Crew, Dan Donahoo suggested following those you disagree with in order to maintain perspective, while Steve Brophy argues that we should act act as +1’s as we amplify the voices of others who may not be within the community. My concern is that focusing on WHAT associated with connections overlooks the most important question, why. For as Weinberger asserts, “Even if the smartest person in the room is the room itself, the room does not magically make all who enter it smarter.” I think that it is not the echo chambers and silos of information which is at fault, rather it is the mindset of those connecting. The conversation therefore grows when we support others in coming to their own understanding of why however long that may take.


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

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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creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by Cea.: http://flickr.com/photos/centralasian/5433404872 
I was challenged today with the question: where will innovation be in five years time? With schools creating strategic plans, it was something being considered. What should be the goal, the aim and drive for the coming years. My thoughts jumped to ideas such as:
I could go on and in some respects I’d be repeating much of what I stated in my post on educational dreaming.
 
What was interesting though was that midst all this technological bliss, I was queried about the dependency on technology to drive innovation. +Sam Irwin asked:

@mrkrndvs does it have to involve technology to be innovative?
— Sam Irwin (@samjirwin) September 11, 2014

I must admit, I hadn’t thought of it like that. Of course it doesn’t, but how often do we start such conversations with the assumption that it does. To me, this was an interesting case of what +Clive Thompson describes as ‘thinking out loud’ in his book Smarter Than You Think. That is, the process where in sharing thoughts openly we gain access to a plethora of ideas inherent within the wider network of learners. As Thompson states, “Having an audience can clarify thinking. It’s easy to win an argument inside your head. But when you face a real audience, you have to be truly convincing.” This public audience not only encourages clarity and perspective, but it more often than not leads to a deeper understanding of the topic at hand.
 
This all got me wondering about innovation and how we often associate it, not only with technology, but with wholesale change. If we stop and consider the definition of what it means to innovate, you soon realise that it is not about size. As the Oxford Dictionary describes, to innovate is to “make changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas, or products.” It seems fair to say that there are many habits and practises which are established by both individuals and small groups. Does this emphasis then on the big risk overlooking the small? How often are we missing the innovation and change that occurs each and every day everywhere?
 
 
For example, let’s think about teaching. There are many ways to improve practise in the classroom. Some possibilities include a focus on learning data, whether it be results or feedback, to identify specific areas for improvement and development in regards to pedagogy. Another possibility is a review of the structure of spaces and what sort of learning is being made possible. What is significant about such changes is that the onus is not just on the school or the team, but on the individual.
 
In addition to teachers, students too can demonstrate innovation and improvement in what they do themselves. This could be the choices that they make in regards to their work or it maybe taking ownership over certain aspects of learning, whether it be their own or as a part of a group. Although we may not be able to directly implement many such changes, basically because they are not our decisions to be made, it is possible to make them more possible and plausible by creating a learning environment that allows for them.
 
The easy answer is too often to push all these changes on staff and students under the banner of whole school change. However, this not only denies differences, but more often than not takes away any sense of agency from the individuals in question. Just as students come to us with a breadth of ability, so to do teachers. The one answer fits all approach often denies the fact that each and everyone of us is at a different stage of the journey and it is there that we must start. +Dan Donahoo best summed up this dilemma in his keynote at #ICTEV13 where he stated that ‘it takes a village’. This means that when we implement the idea, if it is still the same at the end as it was at start then we haven’t really listened. At the heart of all change and innovation is a dialogue with a wider sense of community and at the heart of dialogue is compromise.
 
In a recent session on instructional learning, Muffy Hand made a comment that really struck me, “teachers are the most important resource in every school.” Maybe then instead of always simply focusing on the big changes, we need to celebrate the smaller changes made by those at the coal face. Instead of waiting for the next piece of software or engaging initiative to be the cure to all our supposed problems, we need to reflect upon our own established practises with the questions: what am I doing and is best for the situation at hand. An interesting tool for stimulating such a discussion either individually or as a group is +Richard Olsen‘s Modern Learning Canvas. For although we maybe great, taking the next step towards excellence will be different for all of us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

POSTSCRIPT

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

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


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I took to the recent #DLTV2014 Conference with a renewed sense of creative vigour. Instead of simply recalling information and posting titbits here and there (which I did as well), inspired by the likes of +Amy Burvall, I set myself the challenge of being more visual and more imaginative in my postings. Using creativity as a medium to express my voice. So here then are some of my ventures:

#DLTV2014

Leading up to the event, I created a couple of memes to stir up the conversation around DLTV2014.



#EduVoice

I created a couple of images in the build up to +Steve Brophy and I’s session ‘Listening to the Voices in and out of the Classroom’.

Sketch made using Paper 53 app on the iPad 

 

Original image via creative commons licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by hackNY: http://flickr.com/photos/hackny/5685391557
Edited using Phoster on iPad

 

 

I think that maybe this one has mixed messages

 

Made using Trading Cards app on iPad via +Corrie Barclay post ‘1 iPad, 1 Task, 15 Ways’


#WhereisHa

Armed with +Dean Shareski‘s recent suggestion that Twitter can be a creative medium, +Corey Aylen, +Eleni Kyritsis, +Bec Spink, +Mel Cashen and I started a hashtag #whereisHa (link to Tagboard) in response to +Michael Ha‘s absence from the keynote on the second morning. As a part of this playful folly, I created the following memes to add to the Tweets:

Playing on the hysteria around the Beatles, I thought that I would extend the mania.

 

This was in reference to the fact the +Michael Ha was meant to present during the first session, yet he hadn’t even arrived yet. Interestingly, +Samantha Bates jumped on the comment, even though she wasn’t at the conference, and argued that he could via a Hangout etc …


#LegoPoetry

This was created in the ‘Games in Education’ space under the guidance of +Dan Donahoo. Really we just chatted while discuss the myriad of potentials associated with the idea of Lego poetry.

This Lego poetry is clearly in jest, because I clearly value my Twitter connections and the awesome work of +Alec Couros


+Riss Leung‘s Keynote

 

My take-away from +Riss Leung‘s keynote, ‘be the change’. Was a common them throughout the conference. 


ABC Splash

My summary of some of the great things on offer through the ABC Splash website

 

This is my sketch of a Splash live event coming up on the 10th September

Accelerating Innovation In Your School w/ +Richard Olsen

This was my initial sketch based on Olsen’s key questions as well as the Modern Learning Canvas
In Olsen’s overview as to way our current attempts to bring change, reform and innovation into the classroom, he made the statement that “Heroic teachers have little impact on schools”


Best Conference Ever

While a few days afterwards, I created this to sum up my experience at #DLTV2014. I agree with +Rick Kayler-Thomson on the Two Regular Teachers podcast that it was the best conference that I have been to. However, I think that in some part that this was because I was willing to let it be. Whether it be taking a risk in collaborating with +Steve Brophy for our presentation or going outside my comfort zone in embracing the games in education space. Instead of entering as a teacher, I feel I entered as a learner.
 
This is a play on Juan Antonio Samaranch’s statement after each Olympics that ‘I declare this the best olympics ever’ or something like that.

 

In many respects I think that professional learning as a whole needs a shake-up and DLTV took a step in that direction with this years conference. Although the spaces could have been more flexible and conducive to participant driven learning, for what do you do in a lecture theatre? Lecture? I still feel that the push to collaborate and communicate within streams, as explained by +Kynan Robinson in his fantastic post, was an excellent idea. For as I have stated elsewhere, the smartest person at the conference is the conference. 
 
I would love to know your thoughts and experiences of the DLTV2014 Conference or any other conference for that matter. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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Lego poetry at DLTV2014
 
As I sat through one of the most horrendous presentations on Office 365, it got me wondering about the question, what makes a good presentation? I sat there thinking what would make this better? What was missing?

At first I thought that it was the absence of any conversation about pedagogy. A point that +Edna Sackson made about last years GAFE Summit in her post, ‘‘I Want to Talk About Learning…’ There was reference to pricing schemes and packages, what this includes and what that does. However, I had signed up with the hope that I could take back to school a few more tips relating to how to get the most out of Windows 8 – whether it be new applications or different functionalities – I was wrong.
The one thing that held me together throughout was the conversations I was having on Twitter with +Rich Lambert. He too was lost in the presentation. Although our banter was critical of Microsoft and their lack of innovation, much of it was in jest. We were adding a layer of humour that was seemingly absent. However, what occurred to me later was that it wasn’t learning or even humour that makes a great conference, it is people.
+Steve Brophy and I presented on the notion of listening to voices in and out of the classroom. Even though we created a range of spaces to continue the conversation, whether it be in our Google+ Community, through our Diigo Group or even simply using the hashtag #eduvoice. The place where most people wanted to connect and share was not necessarily online, which may come later I guess, but rather in person. People wanted to talk, they wanted to tell their story, share their ongoing journey.

Creating new connections is what ALL conferences should be about. Building relationships and expanding your PLN. This sense of people connecting with people, both digitally and online, is what makes them such a fantastic place to learn. To riff on +David Weinberger‘s point, “The smartest person in the conference is the conference.”
One of the things that I loved the most about #DLTV2014 was actually neither a session nor something that can necessarily be deduced to ‘one single thing’. Instead it was an initiative to generate conversations about change and reform called Institute of the Modern Learner. The idea was that anyone could add to the conversation. What made this so interesting wasn’t necessarily the idea itself, which was important, but the way in which it was carried and communicated. Some were handed random cards as they moved throughout the conference, an online space was created which was linked to a Twitter handle, while short injections were made during many different presentations. At its heart though, this movement to me was connected with the attempt to create a space for learning as embodied by ‘Gaming in Education’ stream. There were no presentations as such, instead there was a space with different hands-on posts set up, such as old console games, programmable devices and Lego poetry. Here you were at the centre of your own learning with people like +Dan Donahoo, +Kynan Robinson and +Jess McCulloch there to support and continue the conversation.
+DLT Victoria 2014 then to me has been a success. For it is easy to say that the spaces were sometimes confusing or there were too many sessions and streams, however if you walked away from the conference without creating one new connection or strengthening some ties that already existed, I would argue that you weren’t really there. Coming back then to Weinberger, “Even if the smartest person in the room is the room itself, the room does not magically make all who enter it smarter.”
Were you at DLTV2014? If not, did you follow online? What is your story? Tell me, because that is what learning is all about.

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

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

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

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

Finding Common Ground

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

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

Tribal Voices

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

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

Engagement not Provocation

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

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

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

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‘Who Needs Pythagoras’ Theorem?’ by dullhunk (Flickr)
This year my school made the move from Google Apps to Dropbox in regards to sharing planning documents. This was not my personal choice, especially as I had spent so much time and energy working with the technician to set Google Apps in Education in place last year. However, as +Dan Donahoo pointed out at ICTEV, it takes a village to make a decision. This means that the outcome reached in the end may not be the solution proposed at the start. The process is actually what matters the most. So a bit of background to the process.
It is always fascinating to follow the thread back to when various tools and techniques were introduced in a school. Like a seed on the foot of an explorer traipsing across the countryside, Dropbox was brought into the school by the regional coaches who used it to share various documents and resources with staff in the school. Unlike Google Drive, Dropbox allowed a wide range of files types, as well as offline access. It first started with Mathematics, then progressively moved through the other areas, until it was decided by leadership that it would be adopted across the whole school.
Many were put off GAFE is that it was online and our Internet was not always trustworthy. In addition to that, it was just so foreign for teachers who had grown accustomed to the stylistic delights of Microsoft Word. What has been interesting is that, although not the same as Google Apps, there has still been a litany of problems with Dropbox. Take for example:
  • School Proxy. When staff come to school they need to manually change their preferences.
  • Multiple Documents. There is an agreed practise that if someone else already has a document open and you happen to create a copy then you are responsible to add the new information to the original.
  • Space. For staff who work across multiple areas, there is little space left in the standard 2GB after the various folders have been shared. This has led to putting some larger files, such as video, on the share drive.
  • Glitches. Some staff have issues with either uploading files, while others have done work at home only for the files to magically disappear at school.
And the list goes on. What this transition has taught me though is that we can spend forever looking for the perfect fix. However, the fix is only part of the solution. In addition to going through the process involved in coming to a decision, what we actually do once we have made that decision to change is just as important. What everyone really needs to learn is how to overcome various hurdles and hiccups. So often people think that the answer to problem solving is to holla for the nearest technician. Although there are some issues which we can’t solve, there are many which we can with a little nous. No matter how simple the solution, there will always be a problem that needs to be overcome. We need then a change of mindset, not to simply change the program every time we have a problem.

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One Size Doesn’t Fit All

I was faced with a new challenge the other day. With the choice of the new professional learning communities the group that I was allocated to was given an additional challenge, that we would in fact be leaderless, that we would work collaboratively to develop a focus and go from there. Initially, I was apprehensive, as I had concerns about where technology had been heading – the group was meant to focus on using technology to engage. However, what was interesting was the group did manage to develop a voice of its own, a collective voice, with everyone adding their own question and concern. This got me thinking again about +Dan Donahoo‘s keynote at ICTEV13 Conference that a community is not about everyone doing the same thing, rather it is about recognising the place of everyone in the village. 

This led me to reflect upon a bigger problem that has developed in the past few years, the mix and match of different technological devices and platforms. The school I work at has an array of devices, including Windows netbooks, desktop computers, Windows 8 tablets and iPads for leadership. With this assortment comes the issue that some things open on one device, but not another. Although my answer was Google Drive, as I have discussed elsewhere, however the majority of teachers have taken to using Dropbox as their solution of choice. I think what is significant about this choice is not whether the use of Dropbox is more useful than Google Drive, rather that there has been a lack of discussion and consultation. The reality is that I can live with any answer. However, when the community is not consulted, does the answer even matter? Is there a bigger issue at play? Does one size fit all?

In the end, to come back to Donahoo’s message, often the process is far more important than the actual outcome. Maybe that is what community as curriculum is, about a constantly evolving dialogue where everyone’s thoughts and opinions are given due diligence. Something easier said than done at times, but maybe that is the challenge.


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As I have written about elsewhere, a small amount of furore erupted on Twitter last Saturday in response to Johanna O’Farrell’s tirade against 21st century learning habits in The Age titled ‘Splashing Cash won’t Fix Australia’s Broken Education System‘. One of the things that I really notice whilst following the conversations through a medium like Twitter is that moments like this really draw a line in the sand and bring the tribe together. Three questions that arose out of the ashes was: 
  1. Do moments like this further the wider conversation in anyway? 
  2. What is the role of the connected tribe in regards to continuing this wider conversation? 
  3. What does it take to move an idea from a point of change to evolution?

Connected Learning

At the heart of all our connections, whether online or not, is our PLN. There are many different definitions for PLN’s including: personal learning network, professional learning network or personalised learning network. Kate Klingensmith summarises the term ‘PLN’ by suggesting that it is basically “the entire collection of people with whom you engage and exchange information, usually online.” This collection includes both friends, family, colleagues, professionals, both in and out of work, really anyone who has something to add. +Tom Whitby points out importantly that “PLN’s accept people for their ideas, not the titles”. The idea is closely associated with the connectivist learning theory, where the focus of learning is not necessarily what you know, instead it is about what networks you are a part of and what possible solutions you are able to gain from these different perspectives.
Whether we realise or recognise it, we are all already a part of a personal learning network just waiting to be activated. What I find confusing is that often when people talk about PLN’s they use phrases like ‘develop a’, ‘build your’ or ‘create your own’. Whitby himself talks about an ‘acceptance’ as if their is some sort of membership or control. However, I personally think that this confuses things. I would argue that PLN’s often form themselves organically. PLN’s are rhizomic. There is no central root system. There is only one connection leading to another. Whitby best sums it up by calling it a ‘mindset’, a way of being. The question then is how this is different to a tribe and how can each be used to evolve the discussion in regards to educational reform?
 

The Tribes We Lead

In a Ted Talk from 2009, +Seth Godin spoke about the ‘Tribes We Lead‘. What tribes are about is ‘heretics’ changing the status quo by connecting people with ideas. The real challenge is to find something worth changing and then lead a disconnected group that also has a yearning to change the status quo. As Godin states:
Heretics look at the status quo and say, “This will not stand. I can’t abide this status quo. I am willing to stand up and be counted and move things forward. I see what the status quo is; I don’t like it.” That instead of looking at all the little rules and following each one of them, that instead of being what I call a sheepwalker — somebody who’s half asleep, following instructions,keeping their head down, fitting in — every once in a while someone stands up and says, “Not me.” Someone stands up and says, “This one is important. We need to organize around it.” And not everyone will. But you don’t need everyone. You just need a few who will look at the rules, realize they make no sense, and realize how much they want to be connected.
Although coming from a marketing background, Godin’s notion of tribes reaches out to a range of callings, across all society. My question though is whether it is enough to start a tribe to bring about the change that is required moving into the 21st century?
Although tribes are a powerful mechanism for change, the big question is whether they actually evolve the discussion in the wider community? Fine the tribe plants the seed, spreads the word, the big question though is how we get the conversation to evolve outside of the bubble of the echo-chamber. Beyond the notion, that is ‘them’, not ‘us’. The problem, I feel, with Godin’s call to the tribe is that although it works to ignore certain groups when it comes to art, music and marketing, the same cannot be said about education. Is it enough to lead a particular group towards change in education and simply leave a certain sector behind?

This is where PLN’s come in. Unlike the exclusive nature of the tribe, united by an idea, a PLN is more inclusive, open to different thoughts and ideas. As +David Truss explained in a fantastic response to the oft made criticism that mediums like Twitter are an online echo chamber:

  • People in my PLN challenge my thinking and push me to see perspectives that I would not see on my own.
  • A good PLN will pull in learning from places I don’t normally go, and this means that even when good ideas bounce around, perspectives on those ideas don’t stay static… they don’t echo, and they morph into new insights.

 

The biggest difference I can see between a PLN and a tribe is that a PLN by its nature is open, it connects with a wide breadth of ideas, both agreeable and disagreeable, ideas that continue to challenge and break our moulds, ideas that keep the conversations going. The bigger question that we need to consider is whether we are willing to recognise some of these other voices. Sometimes in the desperate clamour for change it is easier to squash these voices, deny them, smother them, but is this really productive? 

It Takes a Village

In a recent post, +Tom Whitby suggests that, “In the garden of ideas we must weed out the bad and fertilize the good, but we can never ignore the ideas that are popping up at a rate never before imagined.” I was really taken by this statement as it sums up what we do naturally, the sorting between the ‘good’ and ‘bad’, useful and useless. Clicking on one link, ignoring another. The problem with this though is with the amount of ideas out there, sometimes the important thing is the actual interactions, the dialogue, the constant point reflection, why rather than what we deem as ‘good’ and ‘bad’.
 
From this point of view, it is therefore so important to engage with everyone. In his keynote for ICTEV13 Conference, +Dan Donahoo spoke about the importance of recognising the place of everyone in the village when integrating new technology and ideas. Whether it be the blocker who provides an insight to the hurdles or the outlier who is always looking for new and innovative ideas or the learner (student and teacher) at the heart of the change. The reality is everyone has something to contribute. The difficulty is authentically incorporating all the different voices. The problem is that we often enter discussions with an outcome in mind. However, something would be wrong if there were no modifications to this desired outcome, because we all take things up in our own way and this needs to be recognised. The process, +Dan Donahoo suggests, is far more important that actual outcome.
 
The lesson learnt from +Dan Donahoo‘s presentation is that it takes more than one teacher with a good idea to bring about change. It takes a whole community to bring about change. It may be the job of the tribe to identify the need for change and start the fire, but it is the job of the wider learning network to evolve the conversation, bring about this change in their own way. Addressing this problem in his own way, +Peter Skillen suggests that rather than overload teachers with initiatives, those in administration need to help teachers to understand the ‘essence’ residing in all the different practises that we often associate with 21st century learning and out of the distilled essence, teachers can then ‘construct their own knowledge and practice’. In the end, our challenge is how to help each other make the most appropriate decisions for each of our own situations.

People Will Fix Education

What then is needed to bring about an evolution in education? To me, to go beyond mere change, to actually bring about about evolution, will only happen when everyone is activated and connected to the conversation. This includes parents, students, politicians, businesses, anyone really, because we all have a vested interest in education. The big problem seems to be how to engage everyone in the conversation. With the rise of social media and use of technology as a way of communicating and disseminating information, it offers a great medium. However, not everyone is online and maybe they don’t have to be, but if not, how then do we carry the conversation to them and make sure that they also have an empowered voice within the whole conversation? This is an ongoing challenge how to best keep the conversation going. It is so often easier to squash those ideas that are other to our own, but does that carry the wider conversation or simply fuel the tribe?

Coming back to the original saga, Johanna O’Farrell is right when she says that money and technology will not fix education. They may help, but they certainly are not the ‘silver bullet’ as she states. The real change agent in regards to education are people. People trying to find solutions to today’s problems to build a brighter tomorrow. Personally, I think that it is too simplistic to say that something worked in the past, therefore it will continue to work today. This denies that the world changes in so many ways, whether it be culturally or technologically. However, what O’Farrell’s article does do is get people talking about education and in some way that is a good thing. The challenge is to talk about such issues and ideas in a way that involves everyone in the conversation, incorporating a wide range of perspectives, maybe that is the truly 21st century problem?


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