For a while, denial worked for me. I treated it like some sort of solution. However, I’ve learnt the hard way that denial is a coping strategy, a way of masking a problem, a way of pretending everything is ok. The issue though is that at the end of the day everything isn’t ok and the problem still remains.
I was reminded of this recently with the death of my mum of kidney cancer at the ripe old age of 54. I remember when in the middle of last year that she first told me she had cancer and that it had already moved into her liver, I just thought that she would be ok. No matter that it would be incredibly difficult to operate, I just thought that she would somehow get through it. She overcame other challenges in life, why would this be any different? She didn’t and it wasn’t until the last few weeks that I truly realised the extent of it all. No matter that she hadn’t eaten properly for six months, that she had lost much of her weight. Like her, I was an eternal optimist. Not my mum, not my family, but as my wife so rightly put it, ‘cancer does not discriminate’. There are no rules about who gets it. Sometimes that is just life. The reality is, being in denial never helped me, especially at the end.
While reflecting on the matter, it occurred to me that denial pervades everywhere, especially in schools. Whether it be the denial that every student learns differently, that government tests and formal exams do not measure everything, that for some students there are greater concerns in their life than submitting a piece of homework or completing an assignment – there are so many examples of situations in school where it just becomes easier and more convenient to deny some things.
A really good example of this is the place of technology and digital literacies in school. In a recent post, ‘Choosing Not to Know‘, +George Couros spoke about the culture of fear that hangs over some school leaders in regards to implementing technology and social media. As he stated:
I had two administrators approach me yesterday and start a conversation.
One told me about how their IT department had closed all social media in their school and about how their fear that if they were to open it. The fear shared was that their would be so many more issues of cyberbullying, inappropriate content shared, amongst other things.
 
What stands out to me with Couros’ discussion is that it is not only a question of fear that leads to the locking down of social media, but also an act of denial. The world is changing, yet there are some in education who believe that social media is not significant enough to incorporate into the classroom. I understand that there are issues associated with opening up the classroom and providing more access access to social media, as Dick Faber pointed out to me on Twitter:
 
@mrkrndvs @EduTweetOz @gcouros we had it open,only to teachers @ students with tafe access, world of pain;from hacked tafe/tchr accounts
— dickfaber (@dickfaber) March 10, 2014
 
However, I would argue that this risk is not simply alleviated by locking schools down. This simply shuns some of the problems, but in doing so fails to resolve the bigger challenge, that of prevention.
I remember teaching at my first school ten years ago. We had a student who had a will to destruct, so he created a virus and progressively installed it on a dozen desktop computers via a floppy disk. Locking the systems down did nothing to stop this situation. Sadly, when there is a will, there is a way. Opening up the school to social media simply changes the possibility of those ways.
Instead of denying that social media exists, we should be asking the question, which application allows students to explore and understand more about social media, so that when students leave the classroom and the school they are more aware of the world around them and their place within it.
In the end what underlies so many instances of denial is the inability to recognise the change that exists everyday, around us. So often we lock our lives down to an idyllic representation of how things are. However, this notion of the world not only denies so many facets to make it possible, but also those aspects that change and evolve each and everyday. Associated with change is the inability to allow others to learn and fail. It can be so easy to hold onto an ideal, a perception of who someone is. As I have stated elsewhere, this failure to recognize change often denies who someone could be. Whether it be through errors in our ways or personal development, we are all constantly evolving.
I understand that sometimes it isn’t possible to fathom everything, that you can’t support the whole world, that a little bit of denial never hurt no one. However, on the flip side, it never really helped anyone either. Maybe the first and most important step is simply recognizing those complexities that we so easily deny. Although we may not be able to resolve all such problems, sometimes it is enough to recognize that complexities and chaos does exist in the world. In some respect, that is the biggest part of the battle won.
I would love to know your thoughts.

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After trying to swing the axe to the performance and development process last year, the Victorian government has returned with a range of changes in a draft format for consultation. This time they have brought a ‘balanced scorecard’ to the table. A series of goals spread across four areas depending on whether you are a principal or a teacher. These goals are to be developed in the context of each school’s annual implementation plan (AIP) and are aligned with the AITSL teaching standards. In addition to the goals, teachers agree to the evidence that they will be assessed against and if they fail to get in the top two tiers of the assessment scale then they will not move up their increment.

 
Now I must start off and say, I believe in goals. Whether it be something that is fluid in the sense outlined by Kath Murdoch in her focus on one word or a more structured approach that I have spoken about elsewhere. However, I am not so sure about setting goals that are so explicitly attached to financial progression. To me goals help drive us by guiding our journey, giving us direction, but they are not necessarily things linked to monetary gain. When I set my own goals this year, I didn’t do so with a financial incentive in mind, instead I set my goals in an attempt to be the best I can be. Here then are some of my concerns with the governments new guidelines:
 

Whose AIP is followed? 

With a key focus on AIP’s, which school do those teachers who manage their time between two or even three different schools align themselves with? I understand that such teachers have a base school, a school where they teach the most. However, lets say that the teacher in question teaches five days a week and only two days at their ‘base school’, is it fair that their progression is measured on only a proportion of their time? In addition to this, who is responsible for providing support and ‘development’ for such teachers, especially when such activities occur during scheduled meetings and the teacher in question is at a different school on those days.
 

Beyond the Key Domains

I have found that, with the introduction of more and more data, schools have become really good at measuring the performance of key learning areas, such as English and Mathematics. This is often because the goals set in the AIP and information on the My School website directly relate to these areas. However, what happens if you teach outside of these domains? For example in Physical Education, Humanities or Technology, what datasets are you to base results on there? It can be hard to measure ‘students outcome’ when you may only teach a cohort for two hours a week and you are basing your improvement on Progression Points and the Student Opinion Survey. This is something that I have spoken about elsewhere. In addition to this, what about those administration roles such as Year Level Co-ordinator, Daily Organiser, Timetabler and Report Co-ordinator. Although they do not have a direct impact on student learning, such individuals often lay the foundation of learning. For example, I remember in my first year of teaching half out my four sessions of English had been timetabled for the last two sessions on a Friday. This had a dramatic impact on what learning I was able to facilitate. How then do you measure these roles?
 

No Room for the Personal

I understand the need to align goals with the school’s Annual Implementation Plan, however how are we really fostering individual passion and innovation that teachers bring into a school. As I have suggested elsewhere, schools need to provide more time and support for teachers to explore their passions and then look at how this can be tapped into or made use of within the school community. This is something that both +Chris Wejr and Jason Borton have written about respectively. See for example, Creating a Time for Teachers to Tinker with Ideas by Chris Wejr and ‘Leading by Enabling – My School Leadership Approach‘ by Jason Borton.
 

Measuring the Immeasurable

While reflecting on an article by Thomas Friedman in the New York Times, +George Couros posed the question: “how will a system that is so focused on grades and marks deal with developing skills that can’t be easily measured?” So often attributes such as humility, resilience, adaptability and the love of learning are integral to working as a team, yet when everything is brought back to grades, scores and evidence, where do they stand? Although they are important, they don’t necessarily fit with our endless desire for data and measurable results.
 

Lifelong Learning

To me, goals need to be more than just about being SMART, they need to be personal and they need to be meaningful. I understand that there needs to be accountability. However, enforcing goals from the outside in provides little aspiration towards life-long learning. Instead teachers will negotiate generic goals set and manage them as a team.
 

No Room for Failure

As I have written elsewhere, we are really good at celebrating what we deem to be ‘success’, however is that really that successful? However, it is how we embrace failure that often spurs us on to achieve greatness. With the negative consequences associated with failure, there is little room left for taking risks and breaking with the norm. I understand that change for changes sack is not a good thing, but simply doing the same things again and again because it is easy and comfortable denies the changes that occur regularly in the world around us.
 
The biggest challenge when it comes to thinking about the performance and development process is what would be a better solution. It can be a bit of a cop-out to simply say how everything is ‘wrong’ all the time, but I do not disagree that there are certain aspects of the current system that need to be adjusted. 
 
In a recent post, Matt Esterman spoke about the NSW Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards’ (BOSTES) process for becoming a Professionally Accomplished teacher. In this, he reflected on the process involved in moving through the standards. This involves providing evidence and reflecting upon practises in order to be accredited for the next level up. Clearly this comes back to data and evidence. However, from what I can see, it still allows a teacher to fail and learn from their experiences, rather than be reprimanded at the first speed hump.
What struck me the most in Esterman’s post was the need to document progression. Whether accreditation processes, such as the VIT Graduate Program in Victoria, are a ruse or not, there is always something positive gained out of reflecting on learning. Here I am reminded of +George Couros‘ post about the importance of maintaining a digital portfolio. Maybe the solution is that instead of forcing teachers to set arbitrary goals they should be forced to maintain a professional blog reflecting on their learning. Maybe that way staff will better identify areas for improvement.
 
Clearly, no matter what solution is chosen there will be someone disgruntled with the choice. However, there has to be a better system than one that seeks to scrutinises rather than celebrate learning.

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‘Meaning of Success’ by Celestine Chua (Flickr)
 
The other day I got some feedback about a leading teacher position that I had applied for a couple of months ago. Although I had demonstrated the elements required in my application, it was suggested that I did not provide enough evidence in regards to my competency to lead change management. This got me thinking about what change that I had been a part of. The two things that came to mind were the introduction of the Ultranet and the roll out of interactive whiteboards across the school. However, in reflecting upon both of these situations I wondered if I was successful in bringing about change and how you actually measure such success anyway.
 

Change and Technology

The Ultranet was a learning management system developed by the Victorian State Government to support staff, students and parents by providing an online space to communicate and collaborate. It was also seen as the answer to ongoing student reporting and feedback. As a part of its roll-out, a train the trainer model was implemented where a group of lead users attended two separate days of intensive training and were then responsible for taking this back to their schools to provide support and professional development for the rest of the staff. This came in several shapes and sizes, including whole staff presentations, team focuses and one-on-one support.
 
One of the issues with the Ultranet was that it was not really taken up by all staff. Although we were told about the usage data as a region, many staff simply saw no personal purpose for it and were never really willing to grapple with the difficulties involved in evolving their practise. Subsequently, my role became more administrative than anything else where I was continually resetting passwords for students and dealing with minor problems. This all came to a head when the Australian Education Union put out a directive for members to stop using the Ultranet as a part of the industrial action in 2012, therefore ringing the death knell before the government eventually pulled the plug at the end of 2013.
 
Another initiative that I have had considerable involvement with is the roll out of interactive whiteboards at my school. Before Caroline Springs College separated into four different schools in 2012, an effort was made at the time to install an interactive whiteboard in 100+ classrooms. As a part of this package, the school was provided with a pool of professional development hours. Although I was not in charge of introducing the whiteboards across the whole college, I was given considerable responsibility at my campus. This included communicating with outside providers, as well as facilitating professional development for staff at my campus. Like the Ultranet, this involved a small group being trained up and then supporting their various teams.
 
Sadly, if I were to walk through many classes today there would be little difference from a few years ago. Although most teachers show information or use the associated software to create presentations, there are not many who embrace the interactive potential of the boards as outlined by likes of +Peter Kent and co. Where the boards are used to engage with student responses and give them an authentic voice in the classroom.
 
Interestingly, there has been a greater uptake in the early years classes at my school as it was made a non-negotiable that planning for numeracy had to include a flipchart. What is significant about this is that linking the board to an actual area of study means that it stops simply being a tool in itself and instead becomes a way of refining learning and instruction. It could also be argued that the boards are actually better suited to younger students, a point that +Rich Lambert has made elsewhere.
 
Another issue associated with the take up of the IWBs is that their introduction coincided with the introduction of the 1-to-1 laptop program. Personally, I make more use of student laptops as a way of getting each and every student involved in the lesson, rather than teaching from the board. Whether this be brainstorming with Answergarden or collaborating with Google Drive. What is most important is that, whether be via laptops or interactive whiteboards, the focus is about engaging with student responses to promote deeper dialogue and reflection.
 

Measuring the Immeasurable

The big question then is how do you measure success of such initiatives. I can tell you as I already have what I felt worked and what didn’t, but is that success? Is success instead about data, if so, what data do you use? Linked with this, is change management simply about ‘success’ or is it about what you have done? Being a focus on change, are there some things that never really gain success due to their constant state of flux?
 
To me what stands out about both the Ultranet and the interactive whiteboards is that neither has a direct correlation to clear quantifiable ‘data’. Too often the numbers of hits was relayed to us in regards to the Ultranet. However, even this only tells a small part of the story. For it is not time spent with the tool that matters, rather it is how that tool is used that has the greatest impact. Some suggest referring to such measurements as student opinion surveys which provide snapshot of student engagement and school connectedness, but again this seems like a bit of a stretch. The reality is that there are some aspects of learning are not measurable using grades and marks, a point that +George Couros recently made referring to such soft skills as humility, adaptability and the love of learning. Often the only answers we get in such situations are to the questions we ask ourselves.
 
Although not necessarily empirical or quantifiable, one approach to measuring success is by setting a clear plan with goals and reflecting on them along the way. This is something that I have spoken about elsewhere. Looking back upon both the Ultranet and the IWB’s, I think that this was a missed opportunity. There was no explicit long term plan put into place at the school level and associated with this, no real accountability. Instead of linking them to wider change through the Annual Implementation Plans and the Performance and Development Process, both were introduced as tools-in-themselves, rather than a means for redefining the classroom. For as I have stated elsewhere, 21st century learning “is not about a solitary category or skill, rather it is about the projects, the problems and the many possibilities.” Without wider support, whatever is achieved will only be limited and often fails to sustain any sense momentum without the involvement of others.
 
Another way of reflecting on success is as a way of perceiving things. No matter what context it may be, nothing ever runs completely to plan and neither should it. There are things that work and things that don’t, success in this situation is about celebrating and building upon the positives and benefits. On this matter, I am reminded of +Mel Cashen‘s post on the Ultranet where she identified some of the things that it made possible and how she utilised these in her classroom. What is significant about Cashen’s commentary is that, although the Ultranet may not have held up against the test of time, it served its purpose and accordingly she highlights some of the good things that came out of it, such as it being a safe environment for students and parents to “test the waters of an online world without the harsh consequences the world wide web.” Like goals, reflection is something that we often don’t do enough. For as +George Couros points out about professional development: “If we start building reflection time into our professional development, don’t you think that we would start doing this in our classrooms. We have to move away from the “mass dump” process in our learning.” Sadly, if we don’t allocate the time for reflection then we take the risk of not really learning anything, instead simply making the same mistakes again and again.
 

Learning Lessons

Sometimes success is not about whether an initiative continues to have a meaningful impact or falls on the wayside, rather it is about whether we learn from our failures, whether we reflect on what worked and what we could improve in the future. Just as learning is a lifelong goal, so to should success be. Instead of considering it as something achievable and able to be quantified, I believe that it is best considered as a target, an ideal to which we aim and aspire. Actually hitting the target is only one part of the goal, what is just as important is what that target is and how we go about trying to hit it.

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I read a fantastic post from +George Couros a few months back about sharing a positive story a day. In a dark place personally after the death of his father, Couros decided to try and change how he was feeling by starting the day by tweeting something positive about someone else, and sharing it with the world. For this, he started a hashtag #365greattweeps. To me, this is really a part of a wider movement associated with celebrating the successes and recognising the failures. The question though that is often left unasked is whether celebrations and successes always have a positive consequence for everybody else?

Take for example the ‘student of the week’. A staple of many primary schools. In another post Couros argues that such awards are often handed to the detriment of the students, rather than to their advantage. The reason being is that different items are often found for awarding students. For if such awards were based on academic results then they would often go to the same student every week. The problem with this is that the focus should be on students being good students, rather than being recognised at an assembly. Couros’ solution is to reverse the situation and instead of teachers randomly choosing an item, give this responsibility to the students. That way the students still get 15-minutes of fame, but they also get to share something important to them, a little bit of their story, rather than the story that is chosen for them.

Another scenario where celebrations and encouragement isn’t always so positive is during staff meetings. I was in a planning meeting the other day where it was suggested that staff should always do background reading before preparing a unit of work, to provide the best possible platform to construct the topic on. I could not agree more, having a clear foundation can help to alleviate any confusion, as well as support deeper learning. The problem though was that one staff member was then identified as a great example of this in action. That they did not just rely on a textbook or a curriculum document, instead they grappled with a wide range of sources in coming to grips with topic at hand.

Now I have two problems with this situation. Firstly, if the focus is on the skill of preparation, does it actually achieve anything to highlight the prowess of a particular person? Does this actually add anything of value? While secondly, in celebrating someone’s successes, it can be easy to overlook the context of the situation. For example, the teacher at hand takes three different classes of the one subject. This is a large chunk of allotment, three quarters to be exact. This compared to another teacher who takes six different subjects, none of which are repeated. It seems unfair to compare.

In regards to teachers, if the focus is on celebrations and providing encouragement for individuals, then maybe the solution is to provide a time in every staff meeting for one member of staff to share something worthy of celebrating. Just as Couros suggests that students take on the responsibility of choosing what they share, why do we not do the same with teachers. Why not let them know ahead of time that they will be sharing and instead of making everyone awkward by only focusing on the few. For in today’s day and age where the focus of leadership is an agreed set of goals and values, surely it misses the point to then celebrate the deeds of a small few.

In the end, just as it misses the point to focus on technology as a tool, so to does it miss the point to celebrate the person, rather than focusing wholly and solely on the skill or goal in question. The reality is that in education parlance reference is usually made to ‘best practises’ not ‘best people’, maybe then that should be the focus.

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So, it is Week 3 of ‘Rhizomatic Learning’ and the focus is embracing uncertainty. The questions posed are How do we make embrace uncertainty in learning? How do we keep people encouraged about learning if there is no finite achievable goal? How do we teach when there are no answers, but only more questions?
 
One of the many things that struck out from my first day back at school was the statement that, “a student’s perception is their reality”. The argument being made was that how you present yourself in the beginning has an effect on the rest of the year. This sort of thinking often leads to people donning a tie, graduate teachers trying to be sterner than they would like and teachers creating overly structured lessons all in the attempt to start the year off on the right foot.
 
The big problem with all of this is that we take such measures in the attempt to control everything around us. We presume that if we wear a tie, if we keep a few students in at lunchtime, if we develop some lessons where students are kept busy the whole time, that it will create the right perception, that school is about rules and power, with the teachers being their enforcer. However, what is overlooked in all of this is that it denies that the uncertainty involved in someone’s perception. 

For example, a young female teacher who smiles a little too often happens to teach next to the rather strict and stern male teacher. This chance situation often leaves the young teacher being perceived as a pushover. Whereas, if that same teacher taught next to a similar such teacher to herself, then the perception of her would be totally different. Although we can do many things to influence how we are perceived, there are still many factors that are outside our grasp. The reality is that we cannot control someone else’s perception and that is ok.
 
Associated with this effort to control perception is the effort to control learning. Seemingly dictated by the curriculum, it is so easy to structure learning for students, rather than with students. As +Richard Olsen pointed out on Twitter, “it is not commonly understood that curriculum is a compromise.” A part of this ‘compromise’ is actually opening learning up to students, not simply ‘compromising’ as teachers. Sadly, a part of this compromise often leads to teachers sticking to areas where they feel comfortable – working to their strengths you may say – rather than opening learning up to the students. Even though so many claim to be life-long learners, this is too often merely lip service, rather than embraced. Classrooms are proclaimed to be student centred, however class agreements are often created as a token gesture, only to be never seen again.
 
This all reminds me of a post from +George Couros the other about everything happening for a reason. Couros talks about how he was feeling unhappy in his career, so he decided to change his mindset by wearing a tie to school. What was significant about George’s change was that it was not about changing others, rather it was about changing himself. So often we try to lock down and control the world around us in the classroom, when the only thing that we can truly change and control is ourselves.

This year I have entered the classroom with a new vigour. Instead of starting with my curriculum fully planned, I have opened it up to the students. Although I had an idea of what we could do, it was only as a starting point to be refined by the contributions of the students. So instead of beginning the first lesson outlining what students will learn, I began the question, ‘what do you want out of this subject?’ After that I provided an outline of the areas that students would be assessed against and a suggestion of what I thought that we could do. After reflecting on the responses from the students and opening it up to the class, we then created an overview of the units of study of the semester. I must admit that one of the benefits that I have this year is that I am the only teacher of my subjects, therefore my class and I do not have fit in with somebody else. However, why is it that the need to ‘fit in’ means that differentiation is so often subdued.

I am not particularly sure that I have really addressed the questions at the beginning, but I would like to think that I have at least touched upon the heart of the problem, that how we deal with uncertainty often starts with the foundation for learning which we put in place in the classroom. That is the only reality worth talking about.

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In a post titled, ‘The Importance of Modeling Positive Use of Social Media‘, +Chris Wejr suggested that schools need to do more to both model the appropriate use of social media, as well as promote more positive stories. Borrowing +George Couros‘ notion of ‘digital leadership‘, Wejr suggests:

Much like leadership offline, students and adults can LEAD others in how they interact and treat each other online. When we put our heads in the sand and ban social media, we miss a huge opportunity to showcase and tap into digital leadership and model a positive online presence.
This got me thinking about some of the other things that we may do personally online , but not necessarily model all the time in school. One such practise is that of reading and responding online. So often students are told to use tracks and be active readers, to write regular journal reflections, but this usually starts and stops at the physical book. When are students getting the same opportunity to read and respond online?

Moving Towards a Digital Literacies

One of the big challenges faced in the move towards 21st century learning is how to best embrace and engage with digital literacy. One of the first challenges though is actually defining what is meant by ‘digital literacy’ in the first place. Often digital literacy is simply assumed as the reading and writing of texts that involve in some shape or form digital technology. Although this may be true in part, it does not capture the whole picture. What this sort of definition misses is the different activities involved in dealing with digital media. For example, it fails to properly account for the ability to search for information, critically engage and evaluate it and subsequently curate it afterwards. As Patricia White suggests in her blog post, ‘Digital Literacy and the Australian Curriculum‘:
Digital literacy enables students to critically engage with technology, forming an awareness of how social and cultural understandings can shape how information and meaning is conveyed. It allows them to communicate and represent information in different contexts and to different audiences by re-contextualising their knowledge.
The reality though is that digital literacy is many different things to many different people and is constantly changing. +Doug Belshaw elaborates on this in his thesis on digital literac(ies). The best way, Belshaw suggests, of understanding digital literacy as an ever evolving set of subjective practises defined by contexts, rather than as some sort of stagnant concept. The most important thing is often the actual “process of coming up with a definition of what constitutes ‘digital literacies’”, rather than the actual definition itself. Associated with this, Belshaw identifies eight interrelated elements which each play their part when it comes to digital literacies.
These are not things in themselves, nor do they all come into play with each example, rather it is all dependant on context. For a more in-depth explanation of the each of the elements, see Belshaw’s slideshare.

Going Beyond the Book

Although, as Belshaw argues, there are many different contexts associated with digital literacies, I would like to focus in particular on the internet and how we consume web content. Continuing on from Patricia White’s extrapolation, I would argue that there are three general steps involved with working with the world wide web:
  1. The identification of content
  2. The critical engagement with this information
  3. The sharing and remixing of new ideas
Although we all may have different ideas as to what each of these steps mean, I will use them to provide a simple framework on which to discuss the whole affair and what it means to read online.

Content

The first place that most people go when searching for information is the search engine. In addition to simply typing in the request as is, there are many ways of emphasing words or using various filters to focus these searches and requests. For a great resource in regards to searching online, see +Richard Lambert‘s ‘Digital Search Progression of Skills‘.

On the flip side, a lot of content we find online, in some way of another, actually finds us. The most obvious place we go to are sites and spaces that we trust. This includes news sites of one kind or another, often news of a specific nature. In addition to this, there are those sites and applications which help find information for us based on our history and preferences. This can include ‘following’ or ‘liking’ other users or pages on such sites as Feedly, Pinterest, Edmodo, Educlipper Youtube, Diigo, Google+ and Twitter, or news aggregation applications, such as Flipboard and Zite, which adjust the content based on your choices and interests. Services such as IFTTT and brower add-ons also make it easier to capture this content.

One of the biggest problems with dealing with digital content is what you do with it once you have found it. One of the catches with mediums like Twitter and Feedly is that they are not always about reading everything in the moment. Applications like Pocket, Dropbox and Google Drive allow users to properly digest content at a later date across any device.

Critical Engagement

Associated with capturing online content is the act of organising it. Sites like Diigo, Educlipper, Youtube, Pinterest, Evernote and Delicious allow for the curation of content. This often involves categorising and tagging, as well as adding annotations and comments. Whether it be commenting on a blog, quoting with an image, liking a post, sharing a link, there are many ways to contribute ideas and information to keep the conversation going.

Creating and Remixing

One of the biggest differences between traditional and digital literacies is that we are all now a part of an open dialogue. Unlike in the past when we depended upon others to provide content for us, such as book publishers and media producers, these days we are all a part of the creation of content. There are many ways to creatively engage with content, to add back to the online community. This can include anything from posting a tweet, creating an image, writing a blog post or recording a podcast.

What is interesting about consuming online content is that unlike reading a traditional book, there are many ways of going about engaging with the Internet. For example, some may not use applications like Pocket to store content for later, while others may not necessarily create their own new content, instead continuing the conversation by commenting on blogs rather than writing their own. In the end, everyone has their own way of doing things, their own personal work flow, and that is what makes it all he more so special.

Quiet Digital Reading Time

I love reading books, but I also love reading online. In my view, we don’t give enough opportunity for this in schools. As +George Couros suggests, “Whatever you are looking for online, you will find it.” I think that the big challenge is what we do with dearth of information, how we choose it, how we sort it, how we manage it, that matters in the 21st century. Instead of getting students to always close their laptops or put their iPads to sleep during reading time, maybe we need to give more opportunity for them to develop their digital literacy, to stumble upon new ideas and information, to critic it, to share it and to remix it.

So how do you help students develop their digital literacy skills? Do you allow them to stumble upon information or is their time online more structured? Would love your thoughts in the comments.


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Wrong All The Time

In a post, by +Seth Godin, he spoke about how he dismissed the Internet as, “slower, harder to use and without a business model.” The lesson that he learnt out of this was that there are, “two elements of successful leadership: a willingness to be wrong and an eagerness to admit it.”
 
Godin’s discussion of being wrong got me thinking. What does it mean to be ‘right’ and ‘wrong’? And how does this fit with education? Does it actually achieve anything to constantly come back to idea of their being a correct answer?
 
It is not that I disagree with Godin’s reflection, but I feel that notions of right or wrong are often left for historians reflecting on the past and even that is questionable. The terms almost feel empty and slightly trivial at times. A spoil often left to the victor. What is achieved in being right or wrong? Often being wrong does not change a thing as it is only after the moment has past that we realise this. At its heart, it is not very useful when discussing lifelong learning. At the very least, it carries with it a negative connotation. What is important, is the way you respond to being ‘wrong’. What aspects that you would change for the future. In some ways the challenge is to be wrong all the time for what do we really learn in being right?
 
I feel that a better solution to supporting lifelong learning is to focus on choice and consequence, considering how we respond to each situation. This includes unpacking how you came to your particular choice, were there any other options and why did your choice work for your situation? One of the difficulties with being right and wrong is that it is often past tense. Being conscious of some of the choices we make every day allows for reflection in the present tense.

Right? Wrong? Different?

We make choices on a daily basis, whether it be what to eat for tea or an opinion on a matter. Sometimes the difficulty lies not so much in making a choice, but in recognising that there was a choice at all. Take the following as some examples of such situations:
 
  • Search Engines: In a recent Guardian Tech Weekly podcast, Bing’s director of search, Dave Coplin, put forward the argument that we only use Google, because it is habit and that Bing offers a better experience.
  • Technology: With the rise of BYOD, the question that often gets asked by students is which device should they buy? I recently had a discussion with some of my senior students who are moving into a BYOD environment next year. Their quandary was which device would be the most ideal for learning. In the end, the discussion came down to a question of taste, personal preferences and what particular students wanted to achieve.
  • Voting: A cornerstone to democracy is the ability to vote for the person and party who we think would best represent us. Often people get lost in arguments about who is right or wrong, when all we ever get is a difference on opinions and even that is questionable at times.
  • Control over Curriculum: In a recent blog, +Jason Markey spoke about moving away from teacher directed learning to providing students with passion the opportunities to design of learning and curriculum 
  • Being Connected: There has been a lot of conjecture as a part of Connected Educator Month about whether we need to be connected or not. +George Couros suggested that being isolated or sharing with the world is a choice that only we can make.
  • Cloud Storage: You just need to put ‘Google Drive’ and ‘Dropbox’ into any search engine for a long list of discussions about which application is better. However, in the end, each application is different and like the discussions about ‘Bing’ and ‘Google’, often comes down to who you wish to use it.
  • Appropriation of Knowledge and Content: Associated with sharing and being connected, is the challenge to properly acknowledge content. +Tony Richards explored this notion in his blog where he focused on the issues with republishing without recognising where things originate.
I could keep on going on and on. However, I think that these examples demonstrate how we can easily get caught up in arguments about what is right and wrong, supposed ‘best practices’, when in fact they are simply choices made by groups and individuals based on what works best for their particular situation. Although we often may have opinions about these matters, such as Google Drive is better than Dropbox as it allows for collaboration. In the end though, that is all they are, neither right nor wrong, just opinions, opinions with associated consequences.

New Ideas, New Beginnings

Choice comes down to one key ingredient, what works best in a particular situation. Often within this process we are faced with options. I often remind my students that they are in fact free to choose whether to work or not, they even have a choice about whether to be in class. However, what they need to realise is that there are consequences if they do not do their work or if they leave the class, consequences that they need to be willing to accept, because they are their consequences and theirs alone. The biggest challenge is being aware that there is a choice in the first place and accepting the associated consequences attached with such decisions.
 
In approaching things from a perspective of choice I feel that we are more open and able to learn and be inspired by others. In recognising why we chose what we chose, it often means that we have considered what we did not choose and why. Sometimes this consideration means that in a future situation we may make a different choice. There are times when being right and wrong gets us locked into a particular position, a position that many around us refuse to release us from.
 
For example, I once used Dropbox as my primary point of sharing. However, I moved over to Google Drive, as I felt that it offered an easier method of sharing and collaborating. It would be stupid to look back on this situation and say I was ‘wrong’, because at the time I may have been ‘right’. Not only does this point out the historical nature of choices, but it also fails to recognise how and why we change.
 
Being open to choice often means that we are more willing to moulding and adapting our ideas, rather than going through a constant state of revolution, where we throw out the old in order to replace with the new. If we approach everything from being right and wrong, we risk living in an echo chamber. Being open to choice is being open to different voices, to different ideas, to new dialogues and new beginnings. +David Truss spoke about the power of PLN’s in a recent blog. He suggested that instead of simply echoing our own thoughts and ideas, being connected offers us a way of breaking out of the echo chamber, finding out new ideas and points of change.

Postscript

One of the things that needs to be noted with any discussion of choice is that there is a hidden element in all of this. For there are some people in the world who do not have the opportunity to make choices, such as which search engine to use or who to vote for. This maybe the only thing that can be considered as being ‘wrong’ in all of this discussion. Often economics is described as the study of choice. Maybe pertinent approach to economics would be better considered as study of those who don’t have a choice at all.

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