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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Signals, Noises and Relationships

creative commons licensed (BY-NC) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/aaron_davis/14421694749
 
I recently wrote a post wondering whether you have to be a radical in order to be a connected educator? In response, +Eric Jensen directed me to Tom Sherrington’s post ‘Signals and Noises in the EduSphere’. In it Sherrington discusses the counter-productive nature of disruptive noise when it comes to communicating online. I tried to post a comment on the blog, but it produced an error, so I decided to simply elaborate my thoughts here instead …
 
In his post, Sherrington postulates that the mode of communication that we choose affects the depth of understanding that we achieve. In a ‘high quality exchange’ we are able to build upon ideas by finding common ground which includes challenging and refining our own opinions. In contrast to this, a ‘low quality exchange’ involves ideas losing their meaning as they are not given time or lack any sense of context. One of the keys, according to Sherrington, to creating a signal and not just more noise are relationships and remembering the people behind the ideas. He ends his piece with the suggestion, “When I disagree with someone or review their work, I’ll imagine sitting in front of them, face to face, before I express (broadcast) my views.” This is some great advice and says a lot about connecting online.
 
Sherrington’s musings reminded me of a post I wrote a few months back in response to +Peter Skillen‘s wondering as to whether the modern phenomena of perpetuating ‘one-liners’ was actually detrimental to productive change? At the time, I thought that there were many benefits to Twitter, such as coherently summing up the main idea, curating a digital identity, engaging with aphorisms and perpetuating a hope for a better world. However, I am becoming more and more pessimistic about such prospects. I still see a place for Twitter as a means for communication and I still feel that many of my arguments still stand true to some degree. I am sceptical though about the benefits of getting every teacher on Twitter, as +Mark Barnes recently posed. I think that this misses the point to a degree.
 
Twitter is most effective when it is built around and in addition to communities and relationships that already exist. Fine you can form relationships within Twitter, but as both Sherrington and Skillen point out, the medium is restrictive. I believe teachers should grow their own PLN, a point I have made elsewhere. Too often though, people constitute following 1000 excellent educators as developing a meaningful community. It is what we do with those people, how we interact, the stories that connect us, which make a community.
 
I was recently going through old +Ed Tech Crew episodes. In a 2011 interview+Doug Belshaw explained that he limits the people he follows on Twitter to 150. He calls it a ‘convenient hypocrisy’. Interestingly, he has since reneged on this, instead now choosing to use lists to split between those people who he is open to engage with and those who he activily engages with, never missing a single thing. 
 
Belshaw’s suggestion was a godsend for me as I was really struggling to maintain any sort of personal connection on Twitter. In my early days it was ok, I only had a few followers and could keep my finger on the pulse, but as my feed steadily grew, so did my disconnect with my communitie(s). Instead, Twitter was becoming more akin to a river in which I would dip in and dip out out of. Since Belshaw’s suggestion, I have used lists and I actually feel like I am a part of the community again, because I am able to connect with those who are truly important to me. I still have my normal feed, which I dip into, but I also have my own list which I scan through every now and again. I have found using lists is particularly important when it comes to connecting across time zones.
 
After reading Sherrington’s post, I am realising more and more the power of professional relationships in turning our ideas into signals, rather than just adding to the clatter of noise. I am just wondering what tips and tricks you use when sustaining relationships online? Is it about time? Or does one medium help more than another? Have you managed to develop meaningful relationships simply within Twitter? Please share, would love to know.

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Do You Have to be a Radical to be a Connected Educator?

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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This Is My #EduDream What Is Yours?

 

Via @hhoede on Twitter 

 

I remember late last year discussing ICT with a guy I know who loves technology and he suggested to me that you need a complete vision for technology in school. Don’t say, ‘I wan’t iPad’s in Early Years or laptops in Secondary’, you need to have in mind a complete vision as to what a 21st century classroom looks like, for students, for teachers, for parents, for administration, for everyone.
I understood what he was saying, that when it comes to 21st century learning, it is important to have a narrative, a story to tell, a painting to show in order to provide the reason and purpose behind the call for change. The problem is that a part of me felt that every time I started imagining such a reality it simply collapsed in heap. All I could see were the road blocks, the hurdles to be jumped. For as I spoke about in my post on excuses, we so often worry about what is not possible and start there. Instead, I have decided that I am going to lay down my dreams, create a vision of my future and start there. So here is my dream for technology in education, actually for education in general …

An Appropriately Funded Education System

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

No More Technological Hurdles or Hindrances

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

1:1 Powerful Devices

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

Teachers Given Access to Multiple Devices

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

Access and Infrastructure

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

Curating not Consuming

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

Teachers a Part of a Community

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

Students Publishing for an Authentic Audience

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

Collaboration not Competition

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

Students Learning at the Centre

 

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

 

 

Learning Supported by Space

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

Integrated Assessment & Reporting

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

 

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

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Different Podcasts, Different Voices

creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/aaron_davis/14476927585
 
Someone recently asked me which educational podcasts I listen to. It got me thinking about the different podcasts and what makes them each unique. Although they all focus on education and so often incorporate some element of technology and pedagogy. What makes them each unique in my view is the voice in which they provide. By ‘voice’ I not only mean the perspective grasped, but also the means in which it is presented. I feel that the best way to represent these differences is through different forms of refreshments and the context created through each one.
 

RU Connected

I am not sure if it is my habit of listening to the podcast at school early in the morning or it is the style of conversation, but I always feel as if I am sitting at a cafe with +Jenny Ashby and +Lois Smethurst drinking a coffee and having a chat. Wandering from one subject to the next, each different episode seems to flow into one. What I like most is that it is a celebration of learning with an effervescent joy.
 

2 Regular Teachers

A little bit like RU Connected, +Rick Kayler-Thomson and +Adam Lavars podcast is a open discussion about education from the chalkface. It is an open and honest discussion of what is happening in and out of their classroom, as well as some musing about how things could be different. Whether this is due to the two duelling personalities or the common nature of the topics discussed, but listening feels like sitting at a bar and just having a few casual beers.
 

Teachers’ Education Review

Unlike the subjective approaches to education provided by RU Connected and 2 Regular Teachers, the +TER Podcast attempts to provide a more serious platform for the deeper discussion of anything and everything relating to education. Although +Cameron Malcher and +Corinne Campbell will share examples of their own experiences, it is often to dig deeper into a particular issue in the news. What is also a little different is that the podcast often provides a platform for experts to dig deeper into a wide range of topics impacting schools all over Australia. To me this is a more complex mix and I think that with its length, it is something that you dedicate a certain amount of time to. It is a serious drink.
 

Ed Tech Crew

I think that the +Ed Tech Crew Podcast is a bit of an enigma to explain. One week it will be casual chat between +Tony Richards and +Darrel Branson about tips and tricks collected via social media, another week there might be guest interviews, whilst other times they will open things up to a panel of people. In the end, I think that the podcast is best thought of as a night around at a mates sitting around drinking home brew where everyone is welcome. Although the process has been somewhat perfected overtime, you still never quite know what you are going to get each time you listen. There is no promise of anything in particular, just a few guys who love technology and education.
 
 
So these are some of the local educational podcasts I listen to, what about you? Are there any that I have missed that should be added to my playlist? If so, what is it about them that you like and keeps you listening. Feel free to share below.
 
NOTE: I must apologies for using the drinking analogies, however I couldn’t think of anything better to differentiate. 

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No Evil Here – A Tale about Blocking Technology

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

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The Tree – A Metaphor for Learning

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

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1:1 Devices in Schools – A Reflection

creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by DennisCallahan: http://flickr.com/photos/denniscallahan/9321465398
 
My school is currently developing a long term plan in regards to our goals in 21st century learning, as well as investment in devices and infrastructure. Some of the questions of concern that were raised were:
  • what ‘packages’ do schools offer their students, especially when they are further along the line in regards to BYO.
  • What is the change over time in regards to devices, particularly in schools which dictate the device parents must purchase.
  • Where are devices stored, especially during breaks.
In an effort to gage a wider perspective, I created a Google Form and sent it out to my PLN. It was pleasing to open up the survey and find 35 different responses.
 
The survey was made up of five multiple choice questions including: 
  1. What year levels do you have 1 to 1 devices and what are they?
  2. How are your devices funded?
  3. What is the time frame on your devices? How long have you banked on them lasting?
  4. Where are the devices stored during break times etc …
  5. What has been the biggest hurdle with your 1 to 1 program?
My thinking was to make the survey as easy and efficient as possible. Therefore, although +Richard Olsen rightly pointed out that the most important question is why do you use 1:1 in your school, I didn’t feel that it quite fitted with the scope of my survey. I was worried that such a question would be evasive and put people off.
 
Some of the observations that I made about the 1:1 devices in school from the survey is that iPad are more predominant in the early years and largely absent in the senior years. However, I feel that if there was an option for multiple devices that some of the Macbook/netbook schools probably allow students to bring a tablet as well. Another interesting observation was that even though they are no-one’s first choice, netbooks are still the most common device in use. I would assume out of economic necessity and belief that the Windows OS is still the most reliable to run in schools. Overall though, what stood out the most was the amount of schools that still lack any sort of 1:1 roll out.
 
On the flip side though, I did notice a few issues with this section. For example, there is no way of knowing whether each school is primary or secondary. Also, there is no way of knowing what other devices are being used or whether there were multiple devices in use.
 

 
Leased 9 26%
BYO Program 8 23%
Part Payment 3 9%
Other 15 43%
 
 
In relation to payment, it would seem that there is a move away from part payments and moving towards either leasing the devices (which can work out to be expensive) or a BYO scenario. I make the assumption that some of the ‘others’ are probably those schools which do not actually have a program.
3 Years 13 37%
4 Years 12 34%
5 Years 2 6%
Other 8 23%
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
A big point of contention is how long devices are planned to last. It would seem that the most common timeline is three years. However, I think that it probably depends on the type of device. Cared for, netbooks and Macbooks could be argued to have a longer lifetime, particularly in regards to operating systems. One of the issues with iPads that +Corrie Barclay pointed out to me recently was that the operating system often outgrows the devices leaving schools with the dilemma of having to manually update, rather than utilise the range of tools out there which allow you to manage multiple devices. One responder summed up the situation by stating that roll over was in fact chosen by the parents. When they felt that it was time to update their child’s device, they did. I would imagine that this is probably where things maybe heading.
Trolley 7 18%
Tubs 3 8%
Lockers 14 36%
Other 15 38%
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
As with the payments question, I would presume that the fifteen ‘others’ are schools without devices, another fault with the survey. From the other results, it would seem that lockers are the most common place of storage. Here I am left to wonder though whether those 14 represent the secondary schools in the group. This question is a little hamstrung by the fact that there is nothing to discern between primary and secondary, nor was there an option for multiple answers.
 
 
 
I could not help myself but ask what people had found was their biggest hindrance. The ‘other’ in the pie chart is a bit of a misnomer for if you look at the responses, they often provide a mixture of issues. If you look through all the responses, the same as with the responses to my post ‘What Digital Revolution?‘, the two most common trends seem to be support in regards to planning and professional development, as well as staff actually utilising these devices. Strangely enough though, these two elements seem deeply inter-related.


In the end, I think that the reality is that 1:1 is a complicated topic and maybe such a survey cannot really grasp the full picture. However, it did highlight a few things that surprised me a little, such as the amount of schools without any sort of program. 


Two things that I am left wondering are, what is the place of school community in all of these decisions and where are people going next? +Darrel Branson made the point in Episode 243 of the +Ed Tech Crew about the importance of consulting with the community in regards to decisions and really selling it to them. This is something that is hard to measure on a wide scale and can probably only be done at a local level, for every community is going to be different. While, the second point I am left wondering is where is everyone going? Fine, there was a high percentage of schools that may not have 1:1 now, I am intrigued as to what those schools have in the pipe works and what this survey would produce in five years time. I guess the only answer is that we keep on searching for better solutions based on the learning needs of the local situation, because in today’s political climate, I don’t think it is going to get any easier.
I would love your thoughts about the issue. Maybe you have recently changed tact or have something to add that you feel I have missed. Feel free to comment below.

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Are You Really Connecting If You Are Not Giving Back?

cc licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by mrkrndvs:
http://flickr.com/photos/113562593@N07/13713874174
 
Alan Thwaites posted the following tweet and it got me thinking.
Not just what you Tweet Aaron, but watching how you use Twitter has been very clarifying for me. I appreciate it mate.
— Alan Thwaites (@athwaites) April 6, 2014
How is it that I use social media anyway and more importantly, what does it mean to be a connected educator anyway?
 
In a recent post about the benefits of blogging and being a connected educator, +Tom Whitby outlines some of the many benefits associated with sharing online. He states:

The difference between writing a blog post and writing a magazine or journal article is the immediate feedback in the form of comments or responses. Before a blogger puts words to the computer screen the audience and its reaction are a consideration. The blogger will strive for clarity in thought. The blogger will strive for clarity in the writing. The blogger will attempt to anticipate objections.

What stands out to me in Whitby’s post is that the whole process revolves around its reciprocal nature, that is, as a reader you not only take in various ideas, but also respond and add back. One of the big problems though with being ‘connected’ is that for some it simply means lurking in the background. Although they may draw on the dearth of ideas and information out there, there is no impetus to give back in anyway, shape or form. My question then is whether this is really connecting at all?
 
Whilst perusing the net a few weeks back, I got involved in a twitter chat with +Bianca Hewes about the matter of sharing. Hewes was ruminating about the one way flow of information that too often occurs online. Those situations where others ask for resources, but fail to offer anything in return. She tweeted:
It kinda irritates me when I’m a member of a fb group for teachers and people only ever post to ask for stuff… rarely offering stuff 🙁
— Bianca ‘Jim’ Hewes (@BiancaH80) March 12, 2014
If you read the ensuing chat involving Hewes, myself, Dick Faber, Audrey Nay, Teacher from Mars and Katelyn Fraser, there were a breadth of responses provided. Some of the concerns raised included the apprehension associated with looking like a dill and some people’s fear of sharing. A topic that +Chris Wejr has elaborated on elsewhere in his post ‘Not Everyone is Able to Tweet and Post Who They Are‘. On the flip side though, there were some really good suggestions provided, such as lurking for a time until comfortable, sharing something small or even simply re-tweeting something to add to the flow of information.
 
Thinking about all of the these great responses, I feel that there are three clear ways that we can respond and give back. They include the ability to share links and ideas, adding to a conversation by writing a response or remixing an idea creating something new in the process.
 

Sharing Ideas

There are many ways to share, whether it be using social bookmarking, such as Diigo, where you might share with a particular community, or using social media, such as Google+, where you might share out into the world. This is something that I have elaborated on elsewhere. One of the easiest ways I find to share ideas though is on Twitter. Most applications offer the potential to post to Twitter with a click of a button, making it quick and easy to read a piece on Zite, Pocket or Feedly and then share it with the others.
 
There are many different perspectives associated with Twitter. For some, it is too much. How could you possibly keep up with each and every tweet posted by those that you follow? However, +Darrel Branson put a different spin on it in Episode 238 of the +Ed Tech Crew Podcast, where he suggested that mediums like Twitter are great to just dip into whenever you have the chance, not necessarily something to be hawked over 24/7. Branson suggested that if an idea is significant enough it will be shared around, re-tweeted and reposted enough that you will pick up on it in the end. What is important then is actually sharing good ideas and keeping the river flowing.
 
In addition to sharing, Bill Ferriter wrote an interesting piece on the importance of not only sharing, but also recognising whose content it is that you are sharing. One of the problems with many applications is that they allow you to quickly share the title and web link. However, they fail to provide any form of attribution to the actual creator. Therefore, I always endeavour to make the effort to give credit whenever I can. This has led me to use applications like Quozio in order to turn quotable pieces of text into an image in order to fit more into a tweet. To me, this means that while perusing something like Twitter, you are able to continue the conversation with creator, not just the curator.
 

Commenting and Continuing the Conversation

In addition to sharing ideas, another great way to give back is add a comment. Whether it be a video, an image, a blog, a post on Google+ or a tweet, writing a response is a really good way to continue the conversation. Too often when we think about commenting, there is an impression that it needs to be well crafted thesis, however it can be as simple as a confirmation thanking someone for what they have shared. Some other possibilities for comments include posing a question about something that you were unsure about, sharing a link that you think made add to the dialogue or providing your own perspective on the topic. The reality is, we often learn best through interaction and dialogue with others, a point clearly made in Whitby’s post.
 

Remix and Creating New Beginnings

A step beyond sharing and commenting on the ideas of others, is the act of remixing. Using someone else’s idea as a starting point, remixing involves adding something and turning it into something new, an idea in its own right. This blog itself can be considered as a remix, bringing together a range of different ideas in the creation of a new beginning. A great exponent of the remix is +Amy Burvall, whether it be using Mozilla’s Popcorn Maker to mash-up text and videos or using the paper app by Fifty-Three to create images to capture her ideas. Remixing ideas not only allows you to continue the conversation, but also start a new one as well.
 
 
Now I know that everyone comes from a different perspective and have their own view of what it is meant by digital literacy. A topic that I have explored elsewhere in my post ‘What’s So Digital About Literacy Anyway?‘ However, I find it hard to believe that there can be any example of being connected that does not include getting involved and giving back. A point clearly reiterated in Mozilla’s Web Literacy Map. The question then is how are you giving back? Is there something that you do that I have missed? What are the problems that you have faced along the way? I would love to continue the conversation, so feel free to leave a comment below.

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PLN, a Verb or a Noun?



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

 
So often we limit ourselves by seeing PLN’s as something made – contained and organised – rather than something continually evolving, changing growing and adapting. As I have suggested previously
PLN’s often form themselves organically. PLN’s are rhizomic. There is no central root system. There is only one connection leading to another. Whitby best sums it up by calling it a ‘mindset’, a way of being.
This ‘way of being’ also goes far beyond the usual digital connections. Just as Couros suggests that everything can be a resource, we can say the same about all the different links in our lives. I believe that everyone in our lives has a point of knowledge to share, if recognised.
 

Listening to ALL Voices

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

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

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

Nurturing the PLN

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

Connecting is a Mindset, not just a Thing Done

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

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

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