creative commons licensed (BY-NC) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/aaron_davis/14441599366

 

Recently a representative from Compass, a relatively new LMS, came and presented at my school. The presenter began with the statement, “This is what the Ultranet should have been”. After he had finished and the presenter had left, I was asked for my thoughts. One of my biggest weaknesses is that I always see the positives and potentials in technology, whilst being blind to the negatives. Some of the pluses were the ability to share classroom content with students and parents, the idea that students could gain permission digitally and the possibility to publish reports through a portal with the click of a button. However, once the glimmer and gleam had waned, I started thinking about what failed with the Ultranet and why it would not simply happen again.
 
Looking beyond the poor product provided by the Ultranet, there were also many other hiccups and hindrances that existed. I have reflected on some of the more positive aspects of the Ultranet elsewhere. Here though I wish to pose some questions that were largely left unanswered in regards to the Ultranet and subsequently need to be addressed before embracing a product like Compass:

Who is in charge of getting everything up and running?

One of the problems associated with implementing anything within ICT is that someone is always responsible for getting stuff up and running. Even if a part of this is organised by an outside entity, there are still questions to be answered and information to be provided. Whether it be Google Apps for Education or the Ultranet, there is always some sort of administration issues. In some schools there is an ICT Coordinator or 21st Century Leading Teacher whose plate such rolls and responsibilities often fall upon. However, this is not the case in all schools. Therefore, it both needs to be made clear and equitable as to who is responsible and how they will be supported. Although the argument maybe that it makes teaching easier and allows for more focus on learning, at the start the most basic of tasks can take hours.
 

Once things are up and going, who is responsible for maintaining the system?

After everything is organised, the next question is who is in charge of maintaining things? This process involves many aspects, including ironing out bugs, sorting out passwords and other menial issues that always arise along the way with setting things up. Maybe Compass is different to the Ultranet and has rectified many of these challenges. However, one lesson learnt is that such issues can’t simply be left to one person, there needs to be a team of people responsible for driving things. Interestingly, I recently heard Phillip Holmes-Smith speak about setting up his Student Performance Analyser. One of things that he suggested is that you need a group. Although there may be someone who oversees the whole process, they are there to finalise things and sort out problems, not simply do all the work, absolving other staff of responsibility altogether.
 

 

What leadership is there around providing support and guidance for others?

One of the really interesting things to come out of my post exploring the supposed digital revolution was the amount of people who referred to the failure to provide sufficient leadership as one if the key reasons for the perceived failure. This sense of leadership comes in many shapes and sizes, whether it be modelling best practise or coaching others about how to utilise various programs to aid pedagogy. Although many argue that change and reform needs to come from the bottom up, the failure to empower such roles from above often means that they are either considered as being insignificant or treated in a tokenistic manner.
 

 

What expectations and requirements will be put in place to measure and maintain teacher take-up?

Linked with leadership is a failure of staff to get on board. The lack of any care and urgency from those above can have the detrimental effect on those below. Too often this gives staff an escape clause. If they don’t see it as important why should I? It is important to set clear expectations early for everyone. Attached to these expectations, there needs to be a plan about how things will be unfolded. One of the issues with the Ultranet was that it was realised in two phases where initially it was unclear exactly where things were heading as there were still aspects being designed and developed. I understand that this is the way things are and that there is no program that does not grow and evolve. However, it needs to be made clear from the beginning where things are heading and how the present situation relates to the future.
 

What happens when the connection to the cloud goes down?

The Achilles heal of the Ultranet, Compass, GAFE and so many other ICT products is the fact that they are online. Being in the cloud has many advantages, such as the ability to access it anywhere, anytime. However, it has one very big drawback. If the internet is down then Compass won’t work. What is interesting with this is that most staff will question the program before they interrogate the infrastructure. For example, many jumped off Google Drive into Dropbox because the Internet was simply too unreliable. (+Corinne Campbell recently wrote an interesting post on a similar matter calling for more digital resilience.) What is sad is that the solution that many schools are going with in regards to the problem of the web is to pay for their own Internet, subsequently adding to the divide between those schools who can and cannot afford such resources.
 

 

How will parents be introduced into the system?

 

One of the big selling points for the Ultranet was that parents would be able to log in and gain access to different points of information, such as students assessment and attendance. The biggest challenge though was actually engaging parents in this process. Too often information evenings and pamphlets are done in isolation. To succeed there needs to be a multi-pronged approach to the pushing the benefits. This means running information sessions, providing hands on support, placing details in the newsletter and online, both on the school website and any social media platforms. This approach though needs to be tied together with a clear explanation of the benefits for students and their learning, for as Sir Ken Robinson suggested, “If there is no teaching and learning going on there is no education happening”.

 

 
In the end, it is easy to pretend that all the challenges faced by the Ultranet belonged to the Ultranet. However, so many issues still persist, lying dormant, waiting for an opportunity to raise their head once again. The question isn’t whether Compass provides a great potential to improve education, the question is whether schools are ready for these changes. That is the real question.

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creative commons licensed (BY-NC-ND) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/aaron_davis/14382546023
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.

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This post is a follow up to my presentation at the Melbourne Teachmeet held at the Immigration Museum on the 10th of May. The focus was the question, “are you really connecting if you are not giving back?” This was a topic that I had previously written about in a post of the same name. The one difference was the implications for sharing in the classroom.
 

 
 
I don’t know how many times I have heard Edmodo referred to as being ‘Facebook for education’. Other than the fact that it simply isn’t, the biggest problem I have with this is that so often such spaces are set up as a place for one way communication. Where although the teacher has stepped off the physical space, they have merely stepped into a virtual stage.
 
Now I understand that as the teacher we have a responsibility to manage such spaces. However, should it be any wonder when there is little traction from students when such spaces only allow discussion to be driven from the perspective of the teacher. This assignment is due, complete this quiz, answer that question.  I wonder how much take-up there would be with spaces like Edmodo when the focus is on learning and the topic at hand? 
 
I have heard so many presentations spruiking the benefits of Facebook for education. Usually such discussions revolve around students creating their own pages where they then gather and discuss information and ideas, including homework. Not only are they collaborating in such situations, but they are driving their own learning. So often Facebook works because students have a stronger sense of agency. When it is taken over by teachers and education, it looses its potential, the sheen rubs off.
 
In addition to issues with control, my experience of ‘social media’ of any sort in education (I include the Ultranet in this) often fails to replicate what is happening in the real world. We live in a world of excess where we are given a choice whether to participate, to comment, to view, to consume. Yet how often are students given such choices?
 
One step towards relinquishing this sense of control is to share with students those resources that we often stumble upon while exploring new opportunities. Although on a different level, +Cameron Paterson recently shared a change at his school where student representatives are included in every subject meeting. That means when there is a professional reading for staff that students complete this as well. If this is the case, why not share those articles and videos with students? Not necessarily because they have to read or watch them, but so that they have a choice.
 
In his Ted Talk+Ewan McIntosh questions why teachers rather than students do all the problem finding? This really got me thinking about what else that teachers do that students are missing out on. Short of actually committing to McIntosh’s ‘Design Thinking’ edict – we can all dream? – one step towards a focus on sharing and collaboration is actually sharing some of the messy play that often only teachers engage in. That meandering through websites in search of quality resources.
 
For example, last year I ran an elective looking at 21st Century Learning. Each week I would post links to additional material, such as posts or videos, such as Sugata Mitra’s ‘Kids Can Teach Themselves’ and Ken Robinson’s ‘How to Escape Education’s Death Valley’. This wasn’t about flipping the classroom, but rather supplementing the learning. It was amazing how many students actually watched the videos and came back the next week with other videos of their own to share back.
 
In a post discussing Three Common Myths About Innovation in Education, +Dan Haesler posses the question, “What if innovation in education sought to (genuinely) empower rather than control students?” I would like to think that sharing with students is very much a part of this. How is it that you share with students? What are some of the steps that you have taken to making online spaces safe, but also giving students a sense of choice? Please share, I would love to hear about it.

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