Are schools on the cusp of change? Will all jobs be transformed by 2030? And what is change anyway?

In the recent Google Education on Air conference, Jan Owens discovered that the biggest lesson learnt looking ahead to 2030 is that every job will be transformed. It would be easy to just add this as another Countrafabulist predictions. However, it raises wider questions associated with transformation and our role within it all.

During a discussion on the Modern Learners podcast, Bruce Dixon discussed the notion of ‘the end of school as we know it’. He shared an exercise where teachers are given three options to choose from in regards to the current state of education:

  • We are seeing the end of school as we know it
  • We are not seeing the end of school as we know it
  • We should be seeing the end of school as we know it

To me this touches on Audrey Watters’ discussion of the invented history associated with the Prussian origins of (American) education. In time we manage to bend the past into a linear narrative. One where all roads lead to innovation.

And so too we’ve invented a history of “the factory model of education” in order to justify an “upgrade” – to new software and hardware that will do much of the same thing schools have done for generations now, just (supposedly) more efficiently, with control moved out of the hands of labor (teachers) and into the hands of a new class of engineers, out of the realm of the government and into the realm of the market.
The Invented History of ‘The Factory Model of Education’

If I had to choose one response it would be that we are seeing the end of school as we know it. However, I also feel that this is that wrong question. Whether we like it or not, the world changes each and every day. For example, smartphones have had an impact on schools whether we allow them in the classroom or not.

Another way of looking at change is using Raymond Williams’ historical model where he differentiates between emergence, dominant, residual.

We can find terms which recognize not only ‘stages’ and ‘variations’ but the internal dynamic relations of any actual process. We have certainly still to speak of the ‘dominant’ and the ‘effective’, and in these senses of the hegemonic. But we find that we have also to speak, and indeed with further differentiation of each, of the ‘residual’ and the ’emergent’, which in any real process, and at any moment in the process, are significant both in themselves and in what they reveal of the characteristics of the ‘dominant’.

There is a constant flow of meanings, values, practices and relationships, where even if a certain aspect were to remain ‘dominant’, it cannot inoculate itself from new influences.

As I discussed previously, much is learnt as things are pushed to breaking point. The question is not whether we are seeing the end of school as we know it, but how do we want school (and society) to change for tomorrow? Gert Biesta uses a quote from Jacques Derrida which makes this point clear,

To live, by definition, is not something one learns.

Our focus therefore should be what education do we want and collectively work towards that.

So what about you? What is your choice? Is this the end of school as we know it? As always comments welcome, even better when they are from your own space.

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Generous Orthodoxy
“Generous Orthodoxy” by mrkrndvs is licensed under CC BY-SA

In Episode 9 of Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast Revisionist History, he looks into the concept of ‘generous orthodoxy’. The term comes from theologian Hans Fry, who said,

Orthodoxy without generosity leads to blindness, while generosity without orthodoxy is shallow and empty.

The challenge is finding balance between the orthodoxy of the past and a generosity to the world of the present. Putting this differently, you need to respect the body you are trying to heal. To illustrate this Gladwell uses the example of a Mennonite pastor, Chester Wenger, who had to give up his position in the church to wed his gay son, but also move the orthodoxy forward. The question that needs to be considered is what you might give up or recognise to bring about a change in orthodoxy?

You do not have to look very far online to find arguments why education is broken. Although change is always needed within any organisation, the danger of the ‘broken’ myth is that it portrays everything in every school as being wrong. This call for transformation maybe passionate, but it denies the reality of the past and in some ways the present. Subsequently, when the conversation moves to developing education there are many who are off-side. Although one solution seems to be starting a school from scratch, this does not seem realistic or sustainable. Another solution is to start by celebrating the strengths that already exist within education and working from there. Some recent examples of this are the various interviews on the Modern Learners podcast, with people like Pam Moran and Art Fessler, as well as Richard Wells’ book A Learner’s Paradise. 

Coming at the problem of ‘generous orthodoxy’ in his own way, Ewan McIntosh talks about the ideas of ‘rocks and whirlpools’. Borrowing from Leicester, Bloomer, Stewart and Ewing’s book on Transformative Innovation in Education, McIntosh talks about the dangers of being pulled too far either way.

If you spend all your time protecting the Rocks of the status quo in Horizon One then you risk becoming a dinosaur, isolated as the world sails by. But spend all your time thrashing about in the Whirlpools of Third Horizon innovations then people might perceive you and your ideas a little bit like Scotland’s national animal, the Unicorn – magical, mysterious but leaving people never quite sure whether the ideas become reality, never quite sure whether they can take you seriously. A balance between the two is where innovation lies: creative ideas that borrow from the heritage of the organisation’s founding values. (How to Come Up with Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen)

The challenge is finding a balance between creativity and the status quo, something that is unique to each context.

When I think about my experiences of education, there are many factors which contribute to change, including technology, student action, relationships, passion, pedagogy, learning, trust and empathy. Each aspect involves finding balance. For example,

  • Integrating technology is even better if you reconsider how and what you teach, but that does not mean that students no longer use pen and paper for some tasks.
  • Agency and autonomy is even better when it is not reliant on control and punishment, but that does not mean there are no collective values and expectations.
  • Open planned classrooms work even better if such spaces are adjusted to fit the needs and purpose of the learning at hand, but that does not mean throwing away all sense of order and structure.
  • Relationships with students are stronger when teachers give something of themselves, but that does not mean they lay out their whole life story.

The challenge with many of these aspects is that they take time. Students do not become autonomous because there are no more detentions and open planned spaces do not become functional spaces because the rows of tables are scrapped. Joel Speranza captures this dilemma explaining that we can do things fast, but unless we outlay the appropriate capital to back this, it will not be right. If you are going to do something, you need to do it right and doing it right usually takes time and commitment.

So what about you? What does change look like to you? Does it involve balance? As always, comments welcome.

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

I have started reading Gert Biesta’s book, Good Education in an Age of Measurement. In the first chapter, he puts forward the case of three key arguments for a ‘good education‘: qualification, socialization and subjectification.

Qualification is defined as:

The qualification function is without doubt one of the major functions of organized education and constitutes an important rationale for having state-funded education in the first place.

Socialization as:

Through its socializing function education inserts individuals into existing ways of doing and being. In this way education plays an important role in the continuation of culture and tradition—both with regard to its desirable and its undesirable aspects.

And subjectification as:

The subjectification function might perhaps best be understood as the opposite of the socialization function. It is precisely not about the insertion of “newcomers” into existing orders, but about ways of being that hint at independence from such orders, ways of being in which the individual is not simply a “specimen” of a more encompassing order.

These, Biesta argues, are not to simply be considered in isolation, but in how they interact:

The three functions of education can therefore best be represented in the form of a Venn diagram, i.e., as three partly overlapping areas, and the more interesting and important questions are actually about the intersections between the areas rather than the individual areas per se.

This focus on purpose is in contrast to what Biesta describes as the ‘learnification’ of education. This is where the sole concern becomes the individualistic process of learning, rather than the intent that is actually associated with this.

This discussion of purpose made me wonder about things like learning walks and annual review processes. What if the success or failure of something like a learning walk was decided before anyone even enters the room? What happens if a coach considers qualification as being the primary purpose of education and inadvertently applies this lens to what they see. Yet the teacher in question’s primary concern is socialization?

I am wondering if it is for this reason that we need something more than a set of standards to improve education. We need a holistic approach, like the Modern Learning Canvas, that incorporates all the different facets.

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

What about you? What tools and techniques have you used to capture a rich picture of practice? As always, comments welcome.

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

In a recent episode of Future Tense, Matthew Smith presented a report on the dingo fence that stretches across south-eastern Australia. The fence was developed to keep out dingos out of the fertile part of the Australia. However, researcher Euan Ritchie explained how the desired purpose does not always achieve the intended outcome. For although the fence was designed to help protect sheep flocks, in eliminating one of the environments natural predators, it has led to an over-abundance of wild animals and a subsequent decrease in vegetation. As Ritchie explains,

With dingoes being absent from ecosystems we have more cats, we have more foxes, we have too many kangaroos, we often have feral goats, pigs et cetera, and they all have their own impacts.

In addition to this, the fence – stretching over 5000 kilometres – costs roughly 10 million dollars a year to maintain.

The answer being purposed to improve the state of things is rewilding. Already used in Europe and America, the practise involves reintroducing top-level predators into an ecosystem in order to restore function back to the landscape. One of major concerns comes from farmers who such things as the dingo fence were created for. There have been different strategies and solutions used to quell the impact of predators on livestock. They include: large guardian dogs, such as maremmas, smaller fencing to protect young calves and lamb, as well as reimbursement for lost  stock. What is interesting is that it been argued that due to the decrease in herbivores and increase in vegetation, properties with dingoes are actually better off in a net sense. Scientists are therefore proposing not to simply remove the whole fence, but to move parts of it in order to monitor and manage the change.

This discussion of rewilding got me thinking about education. In a recent post, David Culberhouse discussed overcoming the barriers and pushing past procedures. As he explained,

The problem is that at some point, like with all obstacles or walls that we create, the danger we are trying to keep out finds a way in.

Maybe then what is needed is a rewilding of education. So often structures are put in place to support instruction and schooling. A point Greg Miller touches on in a recent post. Practises that are then measured and maintained through standardised tests. The learning landscape is then left barron with little beauty and a lot less care.

What if we removed the fences, where instead of focusing on managing experiences for students from the top on down, we co-create experiences with students from the bottom up. Supporting students to be what Ewan McIntosh describes as problem finders. This does not mean simply leaving students to their own accord, instead like the guard dogs protecting the flock, support them in the maintenance of their learning portfolios to add discipline to the process. For those learners in need of smaller fences, provide scaffolding in regards to the development of core literacy and numeracy skills, especially in early years. While provide focused assistance to those who need additional guidance to aide their learning.

Some see all of this as a risk of sending the lamb to the slaughter. Condemning students to an education of ‘stuff‘. The problem is that we are doing that now. With the research done, it is often already decided what is important to know and do, rather than placing students in the driving seat of their learning.

Some see things like Genius Hour or 2-hours allocated to inquiry as the solution. However, as Audrey Waters questions,

Don’t we need to think about how to re-evaluate 100% of time in order to make school more student-centered, not simply fiddle with a fraction of it?

This is not to say that this is simple or without risk. Just as the proposal with the dingo fence is to move a small part of it and then reassess, one approach to rewilding education maybe to take small incremental steps. Set a goal, take action and then reassess. Starting with 10%, as Will Richardson has suggested. A useful strategy in support of such change is the IOI Process which provides a series of tools that helps discuss not only where you are at, but a map of where the next step may lie.

Maybe you don’t think that this metaphor works? The strategies are too simple or lack nuance? You don’t think that learning is the top predator? That could be so. However, what is important is to continually reimagine and ask the question, what if? Such ideas may not be right or necessarily work, but they promote more discussions and help build towards a brighter tomorrow.

I will leave last word to Gillian Light who, on reflecting upon the need to lead digitally, summed the situation up nicely:

School doesn’t have to involve students sitting in straight lines listening to an all-knowing teacher. Because learning certainly doesn’t involve that.

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

Some people argue that online connections are conducive to echo chambers. As I have discussed elsewhere, influenced in part by David Truss’ great post, I feel that such thinking is about mindset more than anything else. As Truss stated:

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

This was clearly demonstrated recently in the debate that arose from George Couros’ tweet:

Provoked, Will Richardson wrote a passionate post wondering if in worrying about feelings we have lost the ability to truly listen and debate. This was then followed by a post from Dean Shareski who suggested that a strength-based approach was a better answer, where instead of giving our attention to what is wrong, we stop and celebrate what is right, reflecting on what works. Although, like Shareski, I see a place for a critique of the system from those compass barers like Will Richardson, Ken Robinson and Seth Godin, I wonder if we highlight those good things enough.

Here then are three schools that are doing innovative things ‘that work’, fixing the system one step at a time:

Wooranna Park Primary School

Located in Melbourne’s south-east, the school has have a vision to develop tomorrow’s entrepreneurs by having students do things such as teaching each other and learning in a range of different settings, from a space craft to a dragon boat. See the great article in The Age and Suzie Boss’ post in Edutopia for more discussion.

St. Paul’s School

Located just to the north of Brisbane, the school has engaging with a wide range of educational voices from around the world to design an education which leaves those students starting school now as ready as they can for when they finish in 2028. This has included implementing disciplined collaboration, a complete overhaul of learning spaces and the incorporation of heutagogical learning.


Templestowe College

Located to the east of Melbourne, the school has turned around from being on the brink of closure by placing students and their learning at the centre. This has involved being flexible in regards to timetables and classes, as well as providing authentic opportunities for learning, such as working in the school’s cafeteria.

This is just a few examples of schools whose innovation is a constant source of inspiration and motivation. For more examples check out AITSL’s Learning Frontiers, as well as Greg Miller’s post celebrating a range of innovative schools in NSW. While, for a more global perspective, check out the responses to Steve Wheeler’s call out on Twitter.

Although I agree that there are elements of education that are not right, I’m not sure a revolution is the fix. As both Couros and Shareski make note of, such discussions often tarnish the great work some are doing. As I have murmured in the past, such ideals are not always ideal. Such ideals only ever put undue pressure on everyone, creating a fixed scenario where we either pass or fail.

Providing his own take on this, Matt Esterman wrote a post last year wondering if we need a renaissance, rather than what he calls a neverlution. He started this discussion with a list posted on Twitter:

Esterman’s point is that rather than bloody warfare where endless people get hurt in the process of change, maybe we can find possible fixes and solution by pushing the current boundaries by more creatively reflecting on the past for inspiration for the future.

Providing another perspective, Jason Markey calls for evolution, that is change for the better. Too often, Markey points out, we see change as being for change’s sake. Instead, evolution is about changing to advance our present state.

I think that there is something to be taken from each of these ideas. For although Richardson’s argument is that we need to be ‘different not better‘, I feel that such schools like St. Paul’s and Wooranna Park are thinking differently, challenging the status quo. Change will not occur through a process of educational cleansing where those staff not up to the challenge are simply excluded. Whether it be Markey’s better or Richardson’s different, we need to work with the ones we have: the parents, the colleagues, the students, the community. To focus on ‘who’ not only misses the point of change, but undermines the why driving it.

Change takes a lot of time and conviction, but it is not always clear about what actually constitutes ‘better’, because of this it is easy to doubt the direction things are moving. This then is why being connected is so important, knowing that you are not alone. Programs, such as Learning Frontiers and the New Pedagogies for Deeper Learning, are so important, for they help foster such connections. It is then schools like Wooranna Park and St. Paul’s that act as beacons helping to guide others. For although there are plenty of compasses out there, mapping such futures is precarious. Sometimes the best we can do is to celebrate the innovations of others and reflect on how such actions might work in our own situation, context and with our why.

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There are so many ideas and arguments that seem to get bandied around online and at conferences that sometimes feel as if they lack any evidence and elaboration to explain them. These are the things that are thrown around during keynotes and chats as support for whatever is being argued. The two most common for me seem to be John Hattie’s effect size and the phenomenal success of the Finnish education system. Some of the things commonly attributed to Finland are that teachers are allocated a lot of timhe to prepare and that they do not do a lot of explicit testing. The problem with these ideas is that they lack perspective and speak of Finland as if it were some sort of ahistorical commodity, rather than an organic system continuing to grow and evolve. Continuing with my recent love of audio books, I therefore decided to listen to Pasi Salsberg’s Finnish Lesson. For I knew that there had to be more to Finnish education than a few titbits. As I have worked my way through the book, three clear themes have stuck out:

1. There is Another Way

This may seem silly, for of course there is always another way. However, in the midst of conducting tests and writing  reports, stuck in the humdrum of the present, the wider world can easily be forgotten. The book paints a picture of one such alternative. From the structure of school, to the provision of support, Sahlberg provides hope that things can be done differently and in many ways should be. For there are many avenues to success, not just the mantra of fear and testing.

2. Change Takes Time

I remember reading a discussion about Gonski reforms. What stood out was that many of the suggestions made by David Gonski and his team were similar in spirit to what was put forward through the Karmel report in the 70’s. This was no different in Finland. It is easy to celebrate where Finland is today, but as Sahlberg’s account describes, such change take decades to bring about and a strong political conviction. Interestingly, in an interview with the +TER Podcast Sahlberg feared that with the current Global Education Reform Movement that such a wholesale change is made so much more challenging.

3. Every Context is Unique

The message that stands out the most in Sahlberg’s book is that every context is different. Although Finland may be similar in size to Victoria and like many countries have had a move towards multiculturalism, this does not simply mean that they offer a recipe for success. There are two clear reasons why. Firstly, to apply the ‘Finnish’ model is to remove it from its time and place. For even now the system is evolving, particularly in regards to the reduction in government funding and other such issues. Secondly, there is the danger of implementing the Finnish model, applying some elements but not others, only to then blame the Fins rafter than a lack of true conviction. For example, there is a growing trend in Australia to make Masters the standard level of entry into teaching. However, unlike Finland, tertiary education comes at a cost, meaning that the two systems are not on par. 
So, have you read The Finnish Lessons? I would love to hear your thoughts?

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


I recently got into a discussion about 1:1 devices. My argument was that we needed to be pushing for more devices in primary school as a part of the long term plan, not just in 7,8 and 9. The response I got in return was that 1:1 wasn’t viable for the taken on and BYOD simply wouldn’t work with our community.
I didn’t accept this. Fine there are some ideals which are not always ideal, but I still felt that there were better solutions than simply perpetuating the present. One of the concerns that was brought up by some other teachers in our ICT committee was that if you look at the continuum produced by the Victorian Government:



Planning for 1-to-1 Learning via FUSE 
We are currently situated somewhere between the past and the present having 1:1 in secondary, but predominantly depending upon netbooks in trolleys. What was disappointing was that the future being proposed from above was barely beyond the present and definitely far from the future. Although we have moved beyond technology being something done in a lab, the dependency on trolleys still makes it an event. +George Couros sums this dilemma up best, suggesting that “technology should be at the point of instruction and be as accessible in learning as a pencil.” Sadly, this dream seems to be a world away.
Having done a lot of reflection lately on the matter, I had a realisation that a part of the problem isn’t that I am not dreaming big, but rather that I am not dreaming big enough. For I recently caught myself making the same excuses that I was being so critical of. I had gotten involved in a debate about pedagogy and integrated curriculum. As much as I agree with inquiry-based learning in whatever guise it maybe, as demonstrated through my past posts, I still had my reservations and subsequently caught myself making excuses why such methods don’t, can’t and wouldn’t work at all schools. My thoughts were that it wouldn’t be appropriate for all clientele, that it required a certain type of student, from a certain type of background. However, what I was denying was that such views and opinions were not only based on innuendo, but also hindering the potential to bring about such change.
It can be so easy to make an endless list of excuses why things won’t work, why we can’t do something. However, how often are these statements based on sound reason? Too often our excuses are based on myths, someone else’s stories, a few numbers viewed out of context. In addition to this, such beliefs actually become a self-fulfilling prophesy where we predict failure, rather than believing in success. This was all brought to a head whilst listening to a fantastic presentation by Andrew Solomon reflecting on difference and disability. In it, he spoke about the choice we face, quoting Miguel de Unamuno,”It is not usually our ideas that make us optimistic or pessimistic, but it is our optimism or pessimism of physiological or pathological origin that makes our ideas.” Too often we think that it is our ideas that come first, but first and foremost it is our take on the world, our mindset, which dictates what we see and the ideas we produce.


Another teacher in our committee at school, also taken by the desire to have 1:1, put forward his proposal. He suggested that our three year plan should be:
  • P-2 school purchased iPads
  • 3-6 windows tablets
  • 7-9 optional new upgraded tablet


Although I felt that this was ill-thought out, it was certainly optimistic. Couldn’t argue with that.
I think that the captain from Wall-e sums the situation up best when he says, “I don’t want to survive, I want to live.” Sadly, too often in education we limit ourselves to what we feel is possible, rather than start with what is impossible and work back from there.

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I had the privilege the other day to hear +Will Richardson speak as the keynote for the first day of the TL21C Program. His mantra for his presentation was to leave teacherse feeling confused and uncomfortable, yet inspired. He basically spoke about the divide that is growing between learning at home and in schools. Often if we want to teach something in school today, we structure it in a way that fits our needs and structures. That is our timetables, our assessment structures, there is little room to simply fly ahead. Whereas outside of this environment, if someone wants to learn something they just immerse themselves in it, find out what they need and go ahead and learn it. Modern learning is not about being aware of everything, but about being aware of the options. The message that Richardson came back to again and again was that we need to make what we currently do different, not better. Things need to change.

I had heard this message before, whether it be via Sir Ken Robinson’s many TED Talk videos or the work of Seth Godin, especially his video on education reform from 2013 WISE Summit. While I agree that the system is flawed, I am always concerned about the appeal to revolution. For ideals are not always ideal and they are often far from practical.

I recently wrote a post titled ‘What Digital Revolution?‘ in which I explored some of the criticisms and promises often associated with the introduction of technology into schools. In response to this, +Bill Ferriter wrote a great comment and subsequent post in which he asked the question: do you really need to do new things in new ways? Basically, Ferriter’s argument is that technology should not automatically more to transform teaching. This, he suggests, implies that everything that we do and have done is flawed. However, according to Ferriter, this argument is somewhat flawed. Instead, technology makes interacting with the higher order thinking skills that so often define successful people easier for everyone and it is these skills that are in a higher demand in the 21st century.

+Corrie Barclay also recently continued with this theme in his post ‘Time Changes Everything … Or Does It?‘ In it Barclay explores the changes in education over the last fifteen years and comes out with the feeling that there has been very little change. Although education itself has become busier, leaving little time for those inadvertent and incidental activities such as kicking the football or chewing the fat, little has really changed in regards to the art of teaching and instruction.

Although I agree in some respect that little has changed in regards to quality teaching and instruction, I would argue that where change has occurred over the last few years is in the act of learning. Whereas in the past you were often restricted to those resources available to you, with access to the internet you are now able to find out anything (to a degree) in seconds. As Richardson stated in his presentation, learning is no longer about the scarcity of knowledge, but instead about dealing with the abundance of information. This is a point that +Bec Spink‘s made in her essay ‘Teachers – Modern Knowledge Workers for the 21st Century‘. Borrowing from the work of Michael Wesch, she stated that in the 21st century we need to “develop strategies for engaging with, working with and constructing new knowledge”.

The reality then is that we do need to do things different as Richardson suggests. However, the difference is redefining the teacher as a facilitator and learner in the classroom. It is what constitutes learning that is the greatest challenge and it is here that we need to start.

How have your practises as a learner changed with technology? How does learning with and through others influence you? Please share, would love to know.

I also presented a reflection on the first day of TL21C at a Teachmeet held at Overnewton on 21st June 2014:

[slideshare id=36082584&doc=change-starts-at-10-140619161014-phpapp01]

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