Professional Development, Awesome or Awful?

In an interview with Douglas Rushkoff, Pixar animator, Michael Frederickson, talked about the sensation of being awestruck, a moment where your mind has been cognitively blown, leaving you open to new sensations. As Frederickson explains,

When awe is positive, you are feeling something vast and novel, but not something that is morally threatening to you.

However, if this experience involves too much awe, it can provoke a negative response. As Frederickson summarises:

If there is a little awe, it is awesome, if there is too much awe, it is awful.

Focused on storytelling, Frederickson is interested in how such experiences open us up to new ways of experiencing the world. Taking this further, Rushkoff asked the question,

Is art meant to solve our riddles or pose new ones?

For Rushkoff, art and awe is about disruption and change. This conversation had me reflecting on learning and transformation. I was therefore left thinking about awe in relation to professional development.

I have had too many professional development experiences where presenters come in and take the mic. Although they approach sessions with the goal of creating awe, the focus on speaking rather than providing space soon turns things awful. There seems to be an unwritten rule that talking justifies the cost being paid. The problem is that this misses the point. What is important to me is the awe associated with self-determined learning.

I presented recently and took the approach to flipping the session. I created a series of posts and provocations to spur teachers onto addressing their own classrooms and context. For me, what matters is not necessarily the content, but the conditions created that provide the possibility for personal problem solving. To reword Rushkoff’s question, is professional development meant to solve our riddles or pose new ones?

So there are my thoughts, what about you? What has been your experience of professional development? Was it awesome or awful? As always, comments welcome.


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Collaboration, Autonomy and a Culture of Thinking (SITJAR)


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

Today, I received notification that a case study I wrote for a special edition of the Southern Institute of Technology Journal of Applied Research (SITJAR) has been published. I feel a little out of my league. However, heutagogy is one of those topics that seems to go beyond leagues. Thanks as always to Stewart Hase and Chris Kenyon.

You can read my paper below, enjoy.


Abstract

Personal growth is often sacrificed at the expense of organisation reform. The modern challenge in creating more effective workplaces is providing meaningful time, space and opportunity for self- directed learning. A part of this change is fostering a culture of thinking. This is explored through a case study, reflecting on the co-creation of a conference presentation. This is not used as a representation of the how it is to be done, but of the complexities associated with collaborative learning. For there are many different models and methods for achieving the desired outcome of autonomous learning. Whether it be TeachMeets, Twitter chats or staff driven meetings, what is important is that learning is disciplined.

Introduction

Like the students we teach, teachers too have areas of interests that they often never get a chance to unpack, passions that never get explored, ideas that never properly get thought out. Although many discuss the benefits of Genius Hour for students, there is often little time, space and support for anything like this for teachers. Instead, meetings and professional development is often defined by perceived objective needs, rather than focusing on personal growth. As Matthew Kraft and John Papay explain,

We tend to ascribe teachers’ career decisions to the students they teach rather than the conditions in which they work. We treat teachers as if their effectiveness is mostly fixed, always portable, and independent of school context. As a result, we rarely complement personnel reforms with organizational reforms that could benefit both teachers and students. (Kraft & Papay, 2015).

The question that remains then is how might we build a culture of thinking that fosters autonomy in order to create a more effective workplaces?

Learning to Learn by Learning

One of the essential ingredients to teacher growth and autonomy is collaboration. David Weinberger makes the point that, through networks and the inextricable abundance of knowledge, “the smartest person in the room is the room” (Weinberger, 2011, p.12). This does not mean that simply being in the room is enough. For being a part of the room we are challenged to engage with others to build both physical and digital networks that make us all smarter. This involves, what Mike Wesch describes as, going from being knowledgeable to being knowledge-able (Wesch, 2009).

A case study of such learning is the collaborative development with Steve Brophy of a presentation for Digital Learning and Teaching in Victoria 2014 Conference. As teachers we often talk about collaboration, yet either avoid doing it or never quite commit to the process. Some may work with a partner teacher or in a team, but how many go beyond this? When do we step out of the comfort zone and the walls of our schools, to truly collaborate in the creation of a project or a problem? Immersing ourselves in what David Price describes as ‘self-determined peer learning’ (Price, 2014, p. 115)>

Having spoken about the power of tools like Google Apps for Education (Davis, 2014a) to support and strengthen collaboration, communication and personalised learning, I realised that what was needed to take the next step was to actually do it. Mindful of taking the easy path of simply working  with a colleague from my own school, I sort out someone different who I could co-create with, but to also be knowledge-able through the use of various tools to actually collaboratively co-create a presentation from scratch.

Brophy and I initially met online. A modern trend. The Ed Tech Crew podcast ran a Google Hangout at the end of 2013 focusing on the question: what advice would you give a new teacher just appointed as an ICT coordinator? (Richards & Branson, 2013) I put down my thoughts in a post (Davis, 2013), Brophy commented and wrote a response of his own (Brophy, 2014). It was these two perspectives, different in some ways, but the same in others, that brought us together.

From that point we built up a connection online – on Twitter, in the margins of a document, within blog posts, via email – growing and evolving the conversation each step of the way. For example, Brophy set me the 11 question blog challenge (Davis, 2014b), which he had already taken the time to complete himself (Brophy, 2014b). We met face-to-face for the first time when we both presented at a Teachmeet at the start of 2014.

What clicked in regards to working with Brophy was that although we teach in different sectors, coming from different education backgrounds, we shared an undeniable passion – student learning and how technology can support and enhance this, or as Bill Ferriter would have it, “make it more doable.” (Ferriter, 2014, p.14) We therefore put forward our proposal for the 2014 Digital Learning and Teaching Victoria Conference around the topic of ‘voices in education’. Interestingly, once the submissions were accepted, those wishing to present, were encouraged to connect and collaborate with other members in the stream, rather than work in isolation.

In regards to planning and collaborating, it was rather ad hoc. A few comments in an email, brainstorming using a Google Doc, catching up via a Google Hangout, building our presentation using OneNote. Most importantly though, there were compromises at each step along the way. This was not necessarily about either being right or wrong, but about fusing own ideas with those we had collected along the way. So often presentations are planned with only our own thoughts in mind. Although we may have ideas about our intended audience, nothing can really replace the human element associated with engaging with someone else in dialogue.

In regards to the substance of our actual presentation, I put forward the idea of dividing it into Primary and Secondary. However, as things unfolded, this seemed counter-intuitive, for voices are not or should not be constrained by age. So after much discussion we came upon the idea of focusing on the different forms of connections that occur when it comes to voices in and out of the classroom. We identified three different categories:

  • Students communicating and collaborating with each other,
  • Students and teachers in dialogue about learning,
  • Teachers connecting as a part of lifelong learners.

A part of the decision for this was Brophy’s work in regards to Digital Leaders. (Brophy, 2014a; Jackson, 2014). This focus on students having a voice of their own really needed to take some pride of place, especially as much of my thoughts had been focusing on the engagement between students and teachers.

The next point of discussion was around the actual presentation. In hindsight, I fretted so much about who would say what and when, as well as what should go in the visual presentation. This is taken for granted when you present by yourself for in a traditional lecture style presentation you say everything. However, when you work with someone else it isn’t so simple. The irony about the presentation was that so often plans were often dispersed in an effort to respond to the moment. Sometimes the worst thing you can do is to stick to the slides, because somehow that is the way it has to be, even though that way is often a concoction in itself. The other thing to be said is that the slides for the presentation also allows people to engage with the presentation in their own time, in their own way. I sometimes feel that this is a better way of thinking about them.

The best aspect about working collaboratively was that by the time we presented we knew each others thoughts and ideas so well that it meant there was something that one of us overlooked then the other could simply jump in and elaborate. This was best demonstrated in our shortened TeachMeet style presentation, where instead of delivering a summary of what we had already presented earlier in the day, we instead decided to go with the flow. The space was relaxed with beanbags and only a few people, therefore it seemed wrong to do an overly formal presentation. Focusing on the three different situations, we bounced ideas off each other and those in the audience.

What stands out about the case in focus is that much of it occurred both online and outside of regular school hours. This is all well and good, but the question that remains is how we make such practise sustainable? How might we support teachers in taking more ownership over their own learning?

Culture of Thinking

In Ron Ritchhart’s book on creating a culture of thinking, he touches on three essential beliefs: (i) non-direction, (ii) pressing for thinking and (iii) supporting autonomy.(Ritchhart, 2015, p.218) The case study presented covers each in its own way. However, what is important is that there are many different models and means for achieving this mix.

As I search back through the links I have collected over time, I find teachers and administrators exploring models for learning, each touching on these elements. In a post about enlivening whole school professional development days, Edna Sackson talks about empowering teacher voice by giving them all a chance to present, rather than simply bringing in outside providers. (Sackson, 2014) Inspired by the work of Daniel Pink, Chris Wejr shares how he incorporated time for teachers to tinker into the day by providing them release. (Wejr, 2013) While reflecting on learning about Little Bits, Jackie Gerstein unpacks the importance of educators openly being lead learners. (Gerstein, 2015) Taking a different stance, Tom Whitby wonders with the rise of unconferences, whether the traditional conferences are relevant anymore? (Whitby, 2014) Discussing much the same point, David Price touches on potential of different models of self-determined learning, such as TeachMeet events and Twitter Chats, which are threatening traditional models of learning. (Price, 2014) While unpacking the conventional workshop, Chris Kenyon demonstrates how using a heutagogical approach learners can be supported in developing their own solutions. (Kenyon, 2014)

What each of these examples demonstrates is that there is not one model that fits every context and nor should there be. Every situation is unique and has its own needs and requirements. Beyond actually incorporating such opportunities within schools, the challenge moving forward seems to be how to best recognise such opportunities in more formal environments? How might we, as Will Richardson asks, transition from master knowers to master learners? (Richardson, 2015). The one guarantee is that no matter what model is implemented, learning must be disciplined.

References

Brophy, S. (2013). Reflections of an lLearning coordinator. transformative LEARNING. Retrieved 24 May 2015, from https://stevebrophy.wordpress.com/2013/12/29/reflections-of-an-elearning- coordinator/ 

Brophy, S. (2014a). Digital Leaders. transformative LEARNING. Retrieved 24 May 2015, from https://stevebrophy.wordpress.com/2014/06/09/digital-leaders/

Brophy, S. (2014b). 11 questions. transformative LEARNING. Retrieved 24 May 2015, from https://stevebrophy.wordpress.com/2014/01/31/11-questions/

Davis, A. (2013). I was just appointed ICT co-ordinator, Now What?. Read Write Respond. Retrieved 24 May 2015, from http://readwriterespond.com/?p=118

Davis, A. (2014a). In search of one tool to rule them all. Read write respond. Retrieved 24 May 2015, from http://readwriterespond.com/?p=109

Davis, A. (2014b). 22 Questions …. Read write respond. Retrieved 24 May 2015, from http://readwriterespond.com/?p=95

Ferriter, B. (2014). Do we REALLY need to do new things in new ways?. The tempered radical. Retrieved 24 May 2015, from http://blog.williamferriter.com/2014/04/27/do-we-really-need- to-do-new-things-in-new-ways/

Gerstein, J. (2015). Educator as lead learner: Learning littleBits. User generated education. Retrieved 31 May 2015, from https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2015/02/23/educator-as-lead-learner-learning- littlebits/

Jackson, N. (2014). OzDLs | digital leaders Australia – Empowering young people with technology.Ozdls.com. Retrieved 24 May 2015, from http://www.ozdls.com/

Kenyon, C. (2014). One way of introducing heutagogy. In L. Blaschke, C. Kenyon & S. Hase, Experiences in self-determined learning (1st ed.). CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Kraft, M., & Papay, J. (2015). Developing workplaces where teachers stay, improve, and succeed. Shanker Institute. Retrieved 30 May 2015, from http://www.shankerinstitute.org/blog/developing-workplaces-where-teachers-stay-improve- and-succeed

Price, D. (2014). Heutagogy and social communities of practice: Will self-determined learning re- write the script for educators?. In L. Blaschke, C. Kenyon & S. Hase, Experiences in self- determined learning (1st ed.). CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Richards, T., & Branson, D. (2013). Xmas Google Hangout. Edtechcrew. Retrieved 30 May 2015, from http://edtechcrew.net/podcast/ed-tech-crew-238-xmas-google-hangout

Richardson, W. (2015). From master teacher to master learner. Bloomington: Solution Tree Press.

Ritchhart, R. (2015). Creating cultures of thinking: The 8 forces we must master to truly transform our schools. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Sackson, E. (2014). Personalised learning for teachers…. What Ed said. Retrieved 23 May 2015, from https://whatedsaid.wordpress.com/2014/08/09/personalised-learning-for-teachers/

Weinberger, D. (2011). Too big to know: rethinking knowledge now that the facts aren’t the facts, experts ere everywhere, and the smartest person in the room is the room. New York: Basic Books.

Wejr, C. (2013). Creating time for teachers to tinker with ideas #RSCON4 | The Wejr Board. Chriswejr.com. Retrieved 31 May 2015, from http://chriswejr.com/2013/10/05/creating-time-for-teachers-to-tinker-with-ideas-rscon4

Wesch, M. (2009). From knowlegable to knowledge-able: learning in new media environments. The Academic Commons. Retrieved 31 May 2015, from http://www.academiccommons.org/2014/09/09/from-knowledgable-to-knowledge-able- learning-in-new-media-environments/

Whitby, T. (2014). Are education conferences relevant?. My Island View. Retrieved 31 May 2015, from https://tomwhitby.wordpress.com/2014/02/08/are-education-conferences-relevant/


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Flipping the Development – Rethinking Induction Programs and Mandatory Sessions


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

For as long as I have been teaching, schools have been full of mandatory meetings whose participation and engagement with goes unquestioned. This seems to have only gotten worse in recent years with the requirement to sign off on a range of requirements. I am not saying that the requirement for teachers to engage with Anaphylaxis or OHS is wrong. I just wonder why the automatic model of delivery is the age old lecture. Even worse, the reflections are often forced and lack any conviction.

Last year, as I sat through yet another Anaphalaxsis session wondering how I would do it differently. I wondered if there was a place for a platform like Kahoot or Verso for checking answers and answering ideas. Coming from the perspective of technology, I wondered why instead of watching someone else’s mock scenario whether there was a place for teachers to work together in the creation of their own example and then share it back. Not only would this provide for a deeper engagement, but it would allow for a meaningful engagement with technology.

This year, I have taken on the role as eSmart Co-ordinator. One of the requirements is to induct new staff into the process. In the past, this was another meeting for graduate teachers to attend. Having gone over all the material, I quickly realised that much of it was covered by others, including behaviour management, incident reporting and school values. So instead of going over things again, I decided to make a short video summarising everything and send it with a survey focussing on the questions:

  • What steps would you take if you saw something in class or were informed of something by a student?
  • How do you incorporate technology within your classroom?
  • Do you use technology in anyway to connect and communicate with parents?
  • What support do you feel that you require in regards to digital pedagogies?

My intention was to focus on what was important and provide teachers with an opportunity to reflect on their own practise.

It may not be heutagogy and maybe there is a place for more formal. However, there is surely a better way. As always, I would love your thoughts and opinions.


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What is Heutagogy?


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

During a conversation at DigiCon15, I was asked to clarify, ‘What is Heutagogy?’

I first heard the word Heutagogy via Steve Wheeler’s blog. However, it was not until I stumbled upon the collection of essays in Experiences in Self-Determined Learning via Jon Andrews that my attention was truly piqued. What stuck out the most was that there was not necessarily one unifying definition. Instead, I was left with a range of quotes, each adding a particular perspective:

“Learning is intrinsic to the learner, and the educator is but an agent, as are many of the resources so freely available these days.”

Stewart Hase

“Let learners choose what they will learn and how they will learn it”

Lisa Marie Blaschke

“If heutagogy is about self-determined learning by self-authoring learners, then assessment in a heutagogical context becomes a metacognitive aspect of the learning process.”

Melanie Booth

With Education 3.0, the educator’s role truly becomes that of guide-as-the-side, coach, resource-suggester, and cheerleader as learners create their own learning journey. The educator has more life experience, knows (hopefully) about the process of learning, and has more procedural knowledge about how to find, identify, and use informational resources and social networking for learning purposes.”

Jackie Gerstein

“From a self-determined learning perspective learners need to be able to take control of their learning.”

Stewart Hase

To get a different perspective, I put the question out there on Twitter to see what I would get

 

As I scrolled through the different responses it struck me, to define heutogogy in some ways misses something. The reality is that heutagogy is many things to many people and maybe what matters most is how you define it yourself.

So don’t let me decide for you. Maybe you like one of the definitions presented or maybe a combination. Whatever it is, for it to be meaningful, make sure it is yours.


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Rewilding Education


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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Electives, What is Your Choice?

creative commons licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/aaron_davis/16593420862

In every school that I have taught, there has been some form of electives in place. From photography to robotics to zoology to outdoor education, the idea is to provide an element of choice and agency. However, this choice is continually contradicted by an essentialist ‘core’ curriculum, where what is taught is decided long before the students arrive. This creates the circumstance where students enter electives feeling that they don’t really matter, for if it did then everyone would be doing it.

Another problem with electives is that they are often decided by looking at the core curriculum and trying to fill in the gaps. The issue with this is that the supposed offer of choice is undermined by the fact that students choose from a predefined list, but often have little say in what actually makes up that list. Although this can be answered by asking the students what they want to learn or are passion about once they are in the subject, there are often expectations already set about what such subjects mean through subject descriptions and historical hand me downs.

I was interested in reading Greg Miller’s post on how his school conducted an enquiry into their elective initiative. Through this process they sort to reinvigorate the various courses to make sure that they were delivering the best learning opportunity possible. As Miller described, the purpose was threefold:

  1. CLARIFY that is, to….. “Make clear or plain” the intent of the Year 9 Interest  Elective Initiative.

  2. DISTINGUISH that is, to…..“Recognise or note/indicate as being distinct or different from; to note differences between” current BOS approved/mandated courses and the  new courses.

  3. INVESTIGATE that is, to….. “Plan, inquire into and draw conclusions about” the best way to deliver Year 9 Interest Electives in 2015.

What stood out was that instead of back filling the subject areas, the focus was placed on the areas of: inquiry, self-directed learning, collaboration and connectivity.  Such innovative practises got me wondering about whether there were any other points of improvement that could be made to the age old elective programs?

One question that came to mind was what if all the electives worked together in a collaborative manner, each addressing a different area, but working towards a common goal? A few years ago, as a part of my Digital Publishing elective, we worked with the Photography, to take pictures of all the students for the school yearbook. However, that was only two classes. Imagine if you had six classes working towards a common goal, at what could be achieved? In conversation, Jon Andrews told me about the Big History Project run out of Macquarie University. Aimed at Year 9 and 10, it is about gaining a deeper understanding of “the cosmos, earth, life and humanity.” As is stated in the introduction, it “offers us the possibility to understand our universe, our world, and our humanity in a new way.”

Going beyond the Big History Project, broadly speaking, Project-Based Learning offers a model to work in a fluid and agile manner. In her work with Learning Futures, Valerie Hannon talks about the power of Project-Based Learning. One of the things that stands out are the many entry points available, whether it be a whole week or a few hours. For example, many schools are using Genius Hour as a means for introducing Project-Based Learning. I wonder if Genius Hour could work in the place of electives? Where instead of teachers taking set subjects, their role is to support students with whatever it is that they are doing.

A similar example to the Genius Hour, Passion Projects, 20% Time or whatever you want to call it is the account given by Jon Andrews in the book Experiences in Self-Determined Learning of ‘Immersion Studies’. (You can also hear a presentation of this on the TER Podcast.)  Like an electives program, Immersion Studies Time was a designated time in Early Years designed for students to engage with the Arts. What is significant about this initiative is that it fits with school’s heutagogical philosophy. It is not an event, a one off, rather it is another cog all running together.

I have taught in an environment that ran inquiry-based programs in two hour blocks. Beyond the issue that if there was something on that week, such as sport or a public holiday, students simply miss out on their dose of inquiry. The bigger problem was that, as Kath Murdoch points out, “we can’t expect kids to be curious ‘on demand’.” If such pushes to innovate, to wonder, to be curious are not celebrated and perpetuated elsewhere, then there is a danger that they often go nowhere. This starts, Murdoch explains, long before planning. It is a way of teaching.

What about you then? What are your experiences of electives? Of Genius Hour? Of heutagogical learning? I would love to know. Comments welcome, as always.


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