Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.

I recently attended DigiCon18. I was left with a few thoughts on the nature of presentations. I discussed this before, as well as the re-imagination of such spaces. I find this topic important to continually come back to as much as a reminder about what I myself need to improve upon as anything else.

  • Slow Down: I was in some sessions where presenters would run through all their material. I feel this is something that I sometimes do. One strategy is to provide points where you can stop and reassess.
  • Incorporate Storytelling: One of the things that stood out from all the keynotes was the power of storytelling. I was left thinking that if you do not have a story to tell, you probably need to start making one up.
  • Involve Humour: On the flip side to storytelling, it is important to include humour, this opens presentations and workshops to the human side. One of the hard things about this is that humour is often situational and cannot always easily be contrived.
  • Don’t say what doesn’t need to be said: If you are not prepared or do not know everything, do not admit it. I recognise that everyone is human, but more is lost than gained in my opinion.
  • Structured Hands-On Time: There were too many sessions that involved arbitrary activities. If you are going to provide people time, provide them with purpose and structure. This is something that I have been guilty of not doing well in the paste.

With all this said, I think that it is people that make a conference. Maybe above all else we need to start there.

If you were one of those people at DigiCon18 and had a reflection, I would love to hear it.

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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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I was recently involved in conversation online in regards to re-imagining the conference experience. There were so many points made, such as:

  • Provide multiple opportunities to practice and experience new skills.
  • Focus on practical techniques and take-aways.
  • Create conditions for collaboration and relationship building.
  • Accelerate ongoing learning and professional dialogue
  • Allow teachers to engage in different elements of choice, action and design.
  • Centre around a transformative statement.

All in all, the focus was on the conference and the time afterwards, yet it left me wondering about the time before and what can be done to start the conversation beforehand?

When I think about sessions I have run, I usually start by doing a temperature check of those in the room. This provides attendees with an opportunity to think about their own context and provides me with an insight.

Sheets Screenshot
“Sheets Screenshot” by mrkrndvs is licensed under CC BY-SA

Even though I consider myself flexible, personalising my presentation dependent on the needs in the room, too often the overall structure is set.

I wonder then if there is a possibility to engage people before the day? Peter DeWitt talks about flipping staff meetings, is there a potential to flip the conference experience? Some conferences encourage presenters to create short videos to fit the constraints of various social media platforms. For example, I made this short video for Digicon last year:

Another alternative to providing people with a taste of what to expect is via a podcast. This is something that both Domains17 and Digicon have done lately. Recording interviews with various keynotes and guest presenters. However, these creations usually focus on promotion. (Although I must say, the interviews for Domains17 were quite informative.)

Based on the fact that conferences usually have a cut-off date to accepting people, what if attendees were sent some sort of correspondence containing some sort of provocation, such as a video or a short podcast, as well as a questionnaire to start the dialogue?

Fine we plan with a problem in mind, but to truly develop any understanding of the ‘archetypal customer’ there needs to be some sort of data and feedback. I recognise that this would be a change from the way things are done now, that not everyone will respond, but wouldn’t a few responses be better than we have now, which is no response at all?

Building on Ewan McIntosh’s idea of a pre-mortem,

A period of safe reflection to consider all the potential causes for the future death of our idea and give us a chance to take some preventative measures to alter our ideas, and make them more likely to thrive in the real world.

Asking questions before the conference allows a kind of pretotyping, where the focus can be on the right ‘it’.

In regards to those conferences where attendees vote with their feet, then this dialogue could simply be around a transformational statement that drives the conference. A summary of this information could then be provided to the presenters.

In Thomas Guskey’s evaluation of professional development, he provides five critical levels:

  1. Participants’ Reaction
  2. Participants’ Learning
  3. Organisation Support and Change
  4. Participants Use of New Knowledge and Skills
  5. Student Learning Outcomes

Starting the conversation earlier provides an opportunity for participants to identify their own desired outcomes beforehand. In many respects, this process can go beyond conferences and has the potential to develop professional development at all levels. See for example the way in which the #educoachOC chat team provide a post before each chat as a means of starting the conversation before the chat.

So what about you? What strategies have you used to engage learners early to help guide the process? Where do you see this process being a problem? As always, comments welcome.

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

I consider myself an ideas man. Sometimes though this can lead to ideals. This can be both good as it allows me to dream big. However, it can also be limiting in that it can overlook some of the realities. One of the interesting things about my new job is that many of my ideas and ideals have been challenged and pushed further than ever before. What in the past were just seeds are given air and water to grow. Open Badges is one such seed …

The first thing to consider with Open Badges, or the Open Badge standard to be clearer, is what it actually means. To do this, it is useful to unpack each of the terms:

  • Open: When it comes to technology, open can mean many things to many people. In a survey of the various uses of the word ‘open’, Jeffrey Pomerantz and Robin Peek identified the following categories: open source, open standard, open access, open society, open knowledge, open government and open washing. In regards to badges, open can best be understood as relating to the agreed standards which provide the protocols to build the web upon.
  • Badges: For many when we think about badges the idea of sleeves full of achievements sewed on comes to mind. Digital badges are best understood as a continuation of this. In this sense, they usually offer a way of gamifying a learning activity. Someone somewhere has deemed you worthy of a particular achievement standard. However, there is often little evidence to justify the outcome. You can find such badge systems built into platforms, such as WordPress.com, Edmodo, Class Dojo or Khan Academy. The intent of these is usually to both reward the user, but also entice you to go further. One of the limitations with digital badges is their lack of transferability and seemingly credibility. Outside of the context in which they are given, they lack purpose and meaning. In contrast, with the metadata baked in, Open Badges allow anyone to check their credibility, while more control is given to the receiver to show them.
  • Standard: There are a number of standards associated with the web, including hardware, file formats and programming languages. In part, these allow users to access information from different browsers. Something that was not always possible in the early days of the web. Open protocols allow the creation of what are called ‘stateless’ RESTful APIs that help develop the web in a simple and efficient way. These interfaces make it easier to deliver content across the World Wide Web without the need to store sessions on servers somewhere. The Open Badges standard can be understood as a collection of specifications and applications that combines to make up the Open Badges Infrastructure. For badges, this means that different sites can talk to one another, therefore meaning that badges can be stored wherever you choose. The leading organisation in regards to the maintenance of such standards and specifications is the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

In addition to understanding what the Open Badge standard is, it is important to appreciate the background to this idea and development of the standard over time.

We Are Open by Bryan Mathers (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

History and Specifications

Initially developed by Mozilla with the support of the Macarthur Foundation, the beta version of the Open Badges standard was released in 2012.

In 2014 the not-for-profit Badge Alliance was formed to keep work moving forward. With support and guidance from a number of organisations, the intent was to provide a stable centre around which the coordination of various working groups and weekly community calls could be done.

In 2016, Digital Me combined with City and Guilds and Makewaves to take a more leading role in regards to the maintenance of the infrastructure. This has included upgrading the Mozilla Backpack, in particular replacing the Persona login system with Passport.js.

In 2017, with the Badge Alliance being dissolved, the IMS Global Learning Consortium will take on the responsibility for continual development of the specification. This includes work around the involvement with Open Credentials. With their association with interoperability and attainment of technology in education, many see the nonprofit as the right fit moving to a more collaborative, community-driven effort.

There has been some conjecture around the changes associated with Open Badges. However, Doug Belshaw argues that this is the usual dip associated with innovation. Using Gartner’s Hype Cycle, he suggests that it is actually important to go through a ‘Trough of Disillusionment’ in order to reach the ‘Plateau of Productivity’.

In addition to the roles of the various organisations, there have been a number of steps in regards to the the development of the standard. The initial capacity made available in Version 0.5 was to bake metadata in single JSON file, as well as host and verify badges.

JSON (or JavaScript Object Notation) is a programming language that derives from JavaScript. As the name describes, it is about transmitting data associated with what are described as ‘objects’ between browsers and servers. The language grew out of the need to develop a means of communicating not dependent on a third-party plugin.

In the specifications of Version 1.0 the single JSON file was split into three distinct objects: Assertions, BadgeClasses and Issuers.  The Badge Alliance define these as follows:

The BadgeClass describes a particular defined achievement and points to the Issuer who defined it with its issuer property.

An Assertion contains information about a single Recipient’s achievement of a BadgeClass and similarly points to the BadgeClass’s identifying ID with the “badge” property.

The Issuer Profile is uniquely identified by a Linked Data ID (which takes the form of an Internationalized Resource Identifier, specifically a URI).

This was done to provide more flexibility and use of information.

In Version 1.1, the divisions were made even more explicit, with the addition of JSON-LD (for “linked data”) and three new properties: @context, id, and type. These components make possible a range of extensions, such as an application link, an endorsement, location information, accessibility details and recognition of the original creator. You can view examples of the code here.

It should be noted, like all things new and open, just because functionality is added to a specification, it does not mean that everyone necessarily builds upon this. Rather it is often about what is possible and allowing for the diversity of the community.

For more info on the development of Open Badges standard, go to the openbadges.org site. While for more details about the various the specifications, check out openbadgespec.org. Doug Belshaw has also started a curated slidedeck if you are looking for a list of those associated with Open Badges.

Properties of Open Badges by Bryan Mathers (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

Why Badges?

There are many perceived benefits to Open Badges. The Badge Alliance identify four key aspects. Badges are free for anyone to use and build upon. They are transferable in that they are not dependent on any one platform. They are stackable as they offer the means of collecting together different accomplishments. While they incorporate evidence that is baked into the data.

Approaching the challenge of hiring and the traditional curriculum vitae, Doug Belshaw discusses how Open Badges are granular, provide proof of achievement(s) and allow the earner to tell their story. They help people fill in the gaps to paint a better picture, as well as take back control of the way we trust one another.

Coming from the perspective of assessment, Don Presant makes the case that Open Badges can provide the means for reinforcing self-directed learning. These links to learning are also elaborated in the results from the Design Principles Documentation Project (DPD Project) that arose out of the initial HASTAC funding associated with Open Badges. The project identified four categories of learning to help think about badges. They are recognise, assess, motivate and study. Associated with the research, a number of resources were developed, including a series of cards designed to help develop your own system. Another useful planning resource is the Open Badge Design Toolkit created by Grainne Hamilton.

For a different introduction to Open Badges, the Chicago Art Department has created a useful video highlighting a range of the benefits, while HASTAC has collected together a number of voices on the topic.

Badge Pathways by Bryan Mathers (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

Different Types of Badges

Whether it be high or low stakes learning, badges offer a flexible form of micro-credentialing that is really up to your own imagination. Doug Belshaw captures this with a continuum which spans the formal to the interesting, while Serge Ravet presents a plane of recognition encompassing the formal and informal, as well as the static and dynamic influences.

Going a step further, Ilona Buchem has developed a taxonomy around the different intents, revolving around content, issuers and process. To provide a comprehensive picture, she unpacks each providing various examples to show the different possibilities. This is neatly captured in Bryan Mathers’ graphic.

Another way into Open Badge is to consider them as a substitute for a traditional certificate with built-in breadcrumbs baked into the code. Where they differ from certificates is that badges are often a part of an ecosystem. Although they can be created individually, their potential lies in the ability to be interconnect and provide different pathways for learning.

The most obvious pathway is the stepping stones approach. Sequential in nature, this involves completing one step at a time in a prescriptive manner. See for example, Doug Belshaw’s kanban badges using Trello.

Another option is where badges are a part of a collection. Like the game Trivial Pursuit, this is where several achievements are grouped together in a nonlinear manner. Prescriptive in nature, collections can be linked with the completion of standards or levelling up.

In contrast to perspective badge ecosystems, constellations offer an open-ended approach where users can choose from a range of possibilities, carving out any number of pathways. This is conducive to lifelong learning and offers the potential to collected together different achievements to write your own learning story. Open to borrowing from different providers, it is for this reason that it is descriptive rather than prescriptive.

Reflecting on the place of badges, Greg McVerry suggests that they only play one part of the story and that credentials and qualifications are often verified by presence. In part this is what sites like LinkedIn try to tap into allowing people to endorse various expertise. There does seem to be some attempt to bake this information into the code with the addition of Extensions in the move to JSON-LD.

In regards to examples, there are a number of case studies shared within the Think Out Loud Club’s Open Badges 101 Course, while Don Presant demonstrates how Open Badges could be used to credential self-directed learners.


How to Badge by Bryan Mathers (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

How to Badge

Although there are those, such as Todd Rose, who talk about rethinking learning around capabilities, credentialing and self-determined learning. Such discussions either ignore the underpinning infrastructure or simply fail to recognise such changes. In regards to Open Badges, there are a number of steps involved, including the platform used to issue badges, the evidence referenced in the process, the creation of the actual digital badge and where badges are stored.

Issuing Badges

When I first came upon Open Badges, it was via Peer 2 Peer University. What was good about P2PU was the ease in which you could create a badge. In addition to this, there were a few useful features, such as the ability to add different forms of evidence to the site, as well as the potential to distribute responsibility for credentialing others to everyone in the community. The problem though is that P2PU did not nessarily make it easy to take my badges elsewhere. This is one of many things to consider when working with open standards and open source software.

A number of questions are provided as a part of the Think Out Loud Club’s Open Badges 101 course. Some of the key concerns include:

  • Does the platform allow you to store badges?
  • Does the platform include the ability to create the visual design of the badge?
  • Does the platform allow for multiple badge-issuing?

In regards to hosted platforms, some further things to consider include:

  • Does the platform allow badge earners to export their badges to other providers?
  • Does the platform attempt to lock me in if I want to move between badge issuing platforms?
  • Does the platform use Open Source technology?

Some other questions to consider include:

  • Does the platform allow you to add evidence?
  • Does the platform provide a means for submission and notification?

Below is a discussion of some of platforms:

  • Badgr: Relatively easy to use once you get your head around the workflow, Badgr provides a structured way to allocate badges. Like many platforms, it allows you to not only issue badges, but also bring them together into various collections. The problem faced is when it comes to notifications, while the evidence is required to be housed elsewhere. Being open sourced, one of the big potentials is to run your own instance.
  • Credly: In some ways Credly is to Open Badges what Medium is to blogging. It provides the means to both issue and receive badges, while it has incorporated almost all of the options associated with Open Badges standard, such as tags, categories and the submission of evidence. There is also the ability to add content, such as images and text, directly within Credly. In regards to creating your badges, Credly makes use of the icons via The Noun Project. While when it comes to issuing, there is the option of issuing badges to more than one recipient at once using a CSV file. If you are using Google Forms and/or Sheets then you simply download them as CSV.  While once issued, badges can be grouped into lists and then referenced elsewhere. Although much of the functionality is available via the free account, there are various premium options which allow things like analytics, verification and the use of your own domain.
  • Open Badge Academy:Similar to Credly, Open Badge Academy provides the means to quickly and easily create and curate badges. One of the unique features is to develop a sequence of tasks, incorporating a range of media. Designed around the idea of organisations, provides a number of ways to brand your badges. It is one of the most visually appealing platforms and seems to make sense as a user. However, the limit of three badges for the free account means that to be meaningful, you have to pay.
  • BadgeOS: Combining WordPress.org with Open Badges through the use of BadgeOS plugin provides both the structure and freedom to develop a more personalised solution. Not only does BadgeOS integrate with Credly, providing the ability to create visuals, as well as store and send badges to various spaces, but it also allows users to build upon the open source infrastructure. The plugin itself provides a number of different options for setting up badges.  In addition to modifying your WordPress blog, you are able to build upon the plugin. In addition to the core download, there are a number of add-ons designed to enhance the functionality even further. While those adept can also build your own add-ons to customise things to your context even further (see for example Martin Hawksey’s work with the Association for Learning Technology.)

This is only a selection of some of the spaces. The Badge Alliance has curated a comprehensive list of platforms (although it does not include Open Badge Academy.) It needs to be noted that being an open standard also provides the possibility and potential to build your own solution hooking into the various APIs. For ideas on this, see the work of Martin Hawksey for inspiration.

Digital Evidence

One of the biggest differences between badges (and digital badges) and Open Badges is the nature of the evidence. Too often formal learning is measured by a grade or a number, while professional learning is quantified in hours. None of this is attached to either meaningful or personalised evidence. Open Badges sets out to resolve this by adding verification into the process.

Anything that you can put on the web associated with a link can be used as evidence. The challenge with this is that not every link on the web is accessible. For example, you may wish to link something shared within a closed community. However, unless the person issuing the badge is also in that community this will not work. In addition, anyone who may wish to verify the evidence in the future will be unable to do so unless they too have access.

It is in part this reason that Doug Belshaw recommends creating a canonical URL. That is, a starting point for people to engage with and build upon your work and ideas. Something of an eportfolio developed over time or separate links for each project. What matters though really is that it is public and open.

Here are some ideas and possibilities for creating such a space:

  • Padlet: A digital pinboard that can be useful for capturing a range of media files.
  • G Suite: Maybe it is Docs or Slides, but the cloud based nature of Google means that it is easy to share out.
  • OneNote: Like a Google Apps, OneNote allows you to collect a range of content in the cloud and share out.
  • Adobe Spark Page: An easy way of quickly making a website in which to share links, images and text.
  • Canva Website: Like Spark Page, Canva now offers the ability to quickly and easily create a website.
  • Slideshare: A space to upload and share presentations, whether it be a PowerPoint, PDF or Google Slides.
  • Storify: An application which allows you to easily curate a wide range of content.
  • Blog: Whether it be in the form of a post or adding content to a static page, blogs offer an easy means to collate content in one space.
  • GitHub: Although this involves a bit more effort, GitHub provides the means of creating a static site or a repository, especially using something like Jekyl.
  • Docs.com: A space to share Microsoft Files and resources.

A compromise for those who do not wish to share openly is to use an application which allows you to share with those who have the link. Whatever space you use though you need to be mindful that sites can come and go, therefore the most powerful option is often one which gives you control over the lease.

Making Badges

Although most sites provide the potential of creating visual badges. It can also be useful to create and store these elsewhere. You only need to look badges up on Google to find a range of options, including Makebadg.es, Canva and OpenBadges.me. The catch is often what information these sites are asking for in return, such as the requirement to sign up in order to download.

A simple option is to use Google Drawings to create badges. Cropping shapes and then saving the image as a PNG to maintain transparency, Drawings offer a quick and easy solution. You can also easily edit them again at a later date. Alice Keeler has documented this process, as well as a simple process of awarding digital badges using G Suite that could be useful as a minimal viable product associated with badging.

Whatever platform you use, it is important to be mindful of Creative Commons licensing when choosing images and icons. Sites such as Flickr and The Noun Project provide a wealth of options to use. Otherwise Tony Vincent shows how to use Google Drawings to create your own.

Storing and Sharing Badges

Once you have been issued a badge, the next question is what you do with them. This includes considering where you store them, how you organise them and where you show them.

The first thing to decide is where to keep your badge. Many platforms allow you to and encourage people to store badges with them. With this in mind, you need to wary that not all platforms provide the same portability as others.

The most obvious space used is Mozilla Backpack. This was a key part of the infrastructure associated with the development of Open Badge standard. It was designed to help drive the initial specifications. There have been some changes of late with Digital Me taking over responsibility for maintaining it. (This has included the move from Persona sign-in to PassportJS.)

Another option is the Open Badge Passport. The sister product to Open Badge Factory, this site allows you to collect your badges, as well as easily share them on social media such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.

The reality is that both platforms allow you to organise your badges. This is useful in creating a link for presenting them elsewhere, whether it be within your LinkedIn profile or in the signature of your email.

Questions to Consider Moving Forward

It can be easy to get excited about technology such as Open Badges, but a badge in itself will not transform education. It is therefore important to be mindful that badges may not be for everyone and should therefore maintain a voluntary element, as Martin Hawksey warns. Also we still need to be wary when it comes to the criterias we set and the evidence we provide. For as Alan Levine has shown, quality is not always a given. Ale Armellini questions the benefits altogether. Whatever choices that we make, it is important that they are situated within a wider debate about digital literacies and education.

So what about you? What have been your experiences with Open Badges? Do you have any thoughts to add to the discussion? As always, comments welcome.

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

Here is a collection of reflections from some of the sessions I attended at the Leading a Digital Schools Conference held at Crown Casino on 25th, 26th and 27th of August.

It’s Time to Refocus: Creating a Broader Learning Context is the Key to Using Technology Effectively – Ted McCain

With the progression from punch cards through to thought controlled computers, technology is progressively becoming easier to use, with the ultimate goal being for it to disappear. Ted McCain posed the question, is the focus on technology the wrong thing? Our focus, according to McCain, instead should be in developing the cognitive skills required to use the available technology at any given time effectively. These skills were captured within the nine I’s:

  1. Interpersonal
  2. Intrapersonal
  3. Independent Problem Solving
  4. Interdependent Collaboration
  5. Information Investigation
  6. Information Communication
  7. Imagination Creativity
  8. Innovation Creativity
  9. Internet Citizenship

At the heart of these skills is a focus on student-centred facilitation, active learning, that focuses on discovering, rather than being told. McCain’s focus on the problem reminded me of Ewan McIntosh’s idea of problem finders, while I also wonder how McCain’s skills would compare with Doug Belshaw’s essential elements of digital literacies.

Leading Effective Teams in Schools – Steve Francis

Steve Francis session focused on the importance of team. The benefits that he sighted were: efficiency, effectiveness and consistency. Francis identified four keys for this to occur:

  • Leadership
  • Purpose
  • Trust
  • Processes

Without any of these ingredients, the notion of team becomes hamstrung. For example, you may have clear leadership, with processes in place to develop a high level of trust. However, when people are forced together around a contrived purpose then teams often falter.

On the flipside of this, Francis highlighted five specific dysfunctions associated with teams:

  • Absence of trust
  • Fear of conflict
  • Lack of commitment (to team)
  • Avoidance of accountability
  • Inattention to results

What was interesting was what came out of the opportunities to work with others. In my team were a couple of teachers from Bray Park in Queensland.  Some of the observations made were that the biggest team in a school is the school and it is this team that we need to get right first. In regards to leadership, this is often set by those who set the standard, rather than those who carry the titles. In addition to this, we may be a leader above our pay grade, but we are never a leader above our professional grade.

Are Schools Like Dinosaurs – Steve Francis

The focus of THe keynote was change. He touched on a number of facets of change, including the different stages:

  • Information
  • Personal
  • Implementation
  • Impact
  • Collaboration
  • Refinement

And some of sins associated with implementing change:

  • Keep doing what you have always done
  • Ignore it … trends come and go
  • Throw out the baby with the bathwater
  • Jump on EVERY bandwagon
  • Waste your time and energy whinging
  • Procrastinate until it is MASSIVE
  • Fake it … do what you’ve always done but call it something else

He argued that one of the main reasons that schools have not really changed is because they err towards incremental change, rather than transformative change. The problem is that significant change takes GIANT leaps that can’t be achieved through incremental steps.

He gave the example of when bird flu broke out in Hong Kong and how students were forced to stay at home. This forced he and his colleagues to rethink what it means to teach. In the process many sacred cows were called out.

Francis argued that we are coming to a tipping point where transformative change is inevitable.

Encouraging Innovation: Creating an Enabling School Culture – Christine Haynes

Christine Haynes posed the key question, “if technology enables learning, who enables the technology?” Building on Dan Pink’s notion of autonomy, mastery and purpose, she focused on the notions of self-help, collaboration and coordination. With these ideas in mind, she focused on the following prompts:

  • I can help myself
  • We help each other
  • We proactively move towards a shared strategic vision

These prompts are central to the creation of a culture of change.

Associated with this, Haynes provided a range of questions to consider, such as how you celebrate failure, what subscriptions have you got, how will you incorporate digital citizenship, what ways are you modelling Creative Commons, who manages the budgets, are there appropriate policies in place and how are students involved as contributor?

Haynes covered many topics in her presentation and left a lot to consider.

Click for slides.

Shifting to Deeper Learning – Derek Wenmoth

There are many fads which come and go in education, but according to Derek Wenmoth, the one question that remains is, “who owns the knowledge?” The head of CORE Education, Wenmoth argued that if we are going to admit that we need to go deeper, then we need to recognise what is happening in our classrooms today starts from a very shallow base.

Wenmoth touched on a number of topics, including New Pedagogies for Deeper Learning, Michael Fullan’s 6C’s, the integration of learning and technology, as well as the need for more wicked problems. He closed the keynote with a series of calls to:

  • Stop prescribing and start personalising.
  • Stop thinking that teachers are the problem, empower them to be a part of the journey.
  • Rethink the structures in our school and think more globally and connected.
  • Stop forcing kids to l;earn what we want, instead provide more authenticity
  • Stop bench-marking everything against test scores

Wenmoth left with one last provocation, “we need to start inventing the excellence of the future.”

What Maker Kids, Tom Hanks and PAX Taught Me About Creativity – Adrian Camm

For his keynote, Adrian Camm focused on five features in developing a learning culture:

  1. Create a shared vision
  2. Shift from passive to active
  3. Provide permission to innovate
  4. Make your default response ‘yes’
  5. Tell people they are awesome

The highlight was working collaboratively as the room to come up with ideas ‘Instead Of‘ the usual.

Creating a Vision for Learning – Adrian Camm

One of the biggest problems with vision statements is that they are often created by the board and placed on a school’s website. The issue with this is that staff (and students) have little ownership over the various ideas. Adrian Camm unpacked what it means to create a true vision for learning.

To shift this thinking, we first need to understand the different types of personal and collaborative visions. For Camm, he differentiates between a mantra, a personal vision, a collective statement and a shared idea of what that statement actually means. The reality is if you do not have buy in then you can not have agreement. So although a school may have a motherhood statement, it is important for people to also have voice about what it might mean in reality.

Camm’s advice was to start small and expand from there. He outlined ten steps:

  1. Invite people to be involved.
  2. Brainstorm inquiry probes designed to dig deeper.
  3. Reduce the number of probes to eight.
  4. Set a group for each probe.
  5. Group works through the probe.
  6. Final vote on what is important.
  7. Writing an initial draft.
  8. Forming a final draft
  9. Communicating it out.
  10. Preparing for action.

A resource that Camm suggested to support this process is Gamestorming.

The next step once this is done is to map the curriculum in order to make the vision real. Camm showed how his school used Rubicon Atlas and UbD model to do this.

My three take-aways from the conference were:

  1. A strong PLN is integral for fostering collaborative projects
  2. A good keynote involves a mixture of personal content, a clear narrative and the opportunity to meet new people.
  3. Communicating with people from different regions is a powerful in uncovering those elements which we can sometimes take for granted.

For a Storify of the event, click here. While here are the links to my presentation on blogging and integrating technology in the classroom.

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My first TeachMeet was in Melbourne in 2014. Organised by Digital Learning and Teaching Victoria, it was held at a small pub in the back of Carlton. Although there were some interesting presentations on the use of Verso to provoke deeper thinking and another discussing the use of Genius Hour, these were not necessarily what I took out of the event. Rather, what I remember was the time spent putting a face to the name of those who I had connected with online and engaging in debate about topics such as cloud computing, traditional essays and maker education.

What I love most about TeachMeets is the potential to test out ideas with others. From exploring digital literacy, questioning giving back, changing education and challenging the digital native myth, I have found presenting in a new context forces you to rethink your ideas, as well as opens them up to criticism. Through the feedback gained though, it has helped me grow both personally and professionally.

Although we can have Twitter chats, organise a Hangouts or connect verbally via Voxer, none of these modes or mediums quite emulate the experience of connecting face-to-face. This is the strength of TeachMeets. Although the presentations are great to hear and it is always good in regards to perspective, the value gained is often found in the breaks where you have are able to connect with colleagues and collaborate.

In today’s day and age, it seems odd when teachers restrict their thinking to the four walls of their own classroom. TeachMeets provide a great opportunity to reach out and go beyond this.

If you too have had an experience associated with TeachMeets, Ewan McIntosh is currently collecting reflections for a book celebrating the ten year anniversary on the 16th of May.

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This year I have taken on the role of co-ordinating eSmart within my school. Although I had always been a part of the process, it was never my explicit responsibility. It needs to be recognised that much of the hard work was already done by Catherine Gatt, who had managed it from the beginning and got the school to the point of accreditation. This meant that it was more about maintenance.

Even though we are an eSmart school, during the handover, we went through some of the challenges that still had to be faced, such as:

  • Rectifying how the data is collected and where it is held
  • Reviewing and refining the Acceptable User Policy
  • Further incorporating the appropriate use of digital technologies within curriculum planning

However, the biggest challenge that is still faced was developing teacher practise around digital pedagogies. None of the rest really matters if teachers do not know what they are doing and why it is important.

Some of the strategies that have been used in the past to develop teacher capacity include: the provision of whole-staff professional development, modelling of best practise in an explicit coaching sessions and supporting staff with questions as they might arise.

In regards to whole-staff professional development, it has been been a case of hit and miss. Often associated with outside products or programs, sessions seem to lack a sense of agency and purpose. For example, a lot of time was spent introducing staff to the Ultranet or how to use some of the more intricate features of the interactive whiteboard. It was just expected that staff would get on this bandwagon without a clear pedagogical reason as to why. Sadly, when you stand back and look at both of these, the Ultranet has been shutdown, in part due to lack of take-up, while the interactive whiteboards seem to be slowly being replaced by television screens.

Something that worked in regards to whole-staff sessions was the introduction of professional learning communities. This allowed staff to collaborate in the development of shared capacity. A particular highlight was the opportunity to share different practises and ideas in an unconference style session where people could choose which session they wanted to attend. This not only allowed staff more choice, but provided staff with an opportunity to build their instructional capacity. However, the PLC’s as they were lacked clear vision, with much confusion as to what constituted success. They were therefore replaced with a more rigid instructional program with little focus on technology and digital pedagogies.

Another strategy that was trialled to help develop teachers was an explicit coaching program that revolved around modelling. This involved staff in Primary attending fortnightly ICT sessions with their classes and then completing a follow up lesson to help solidify what had been learnt. The problem that occurred was that although these sessions may have helped build capacity, there was still a heavy reliance on the coach to guide the learning. Teachers were not necessarily forced to find their own solutions. Therefore, although significant resources were allocated, just as with PLCs, little thought was given to why the program was actually running and what the explicit end product may be, other than improved capacity.

The last strategy used to develop digital pedagogies has been to provide help at the point of need. Whether it be setting up Google Apps to aid collaboration in class or using Adobe Voice to communicate ideas and information. To support this, the eBox blog was developed as a place to go for answers and ideas when face-to-face guidance is not possible. The hope was (and still is) that this would become a celebration of what is happening, similar to what Steve Brophy has implemented at Ivanhoe Grammar. However, not every teacher is as willing to openly share. Like the coaching hour, this feels like it has created a culture of dependence, rather than a collaborative culture of shared development. It was pointed out by a critical friends that a more structured coaching program was probably needed.

In Thomas Guskey’s evaluation of professional development, he provides five critical levels:

  1. Participants’ Reaction
  2. Participants’ Learning
  3. Organisation Support and Change
  4. Participants Use of New Knowledge and Skills
  5. Student Learning Outcomes

Too often we start at the top and work our way down the list. The result being that many experiences, for whatever reason, do not really go beyond personal learning. Guskey argues that if ‘student learning outcomes’ is to be our goal then we need to plan backwards. So moving on with technology, the next stage is to move technology from a timetabled event or some sort of novelty to something that aids and develops all pedagogical practice.

The school has recently started implementing disciplined collaboration, with a focus on a cycle of inquiry to improve student learning. The purpose behind the model is to adjust the learning and teaching to the needs of the students, rather than being dictated by the perceived needs of the curriculum standards. This freedom within form is designed to allow for a more nuanced approach, that is continually referenced by data and evidence. This provides both purpose and direction, it is this that sometimes feels missing when implementing technology and eLearning.

Some of the things that I have been considering in regards to coaching that have been missing in the past:

  • Setting Goals: More than just SMART, Viviane Robinson suggests that the purpose of goals are to provide focus. A useful guide is the How Might We question, as it incorporate the what, the when and who in a succulent manner. In addition to this, I have found the Modern Learning Canvas useful in regards identifying particular points of innovation.
  • Outcomes: Too often the introduction of technology can lend itself to novelty and lack a clear purpose. Whether it be the visible or invisible, social or academic, it is important that there is some point of reference to guide development. For some this maybe a number, some a recording, while others a case study, what matters is that teachers tell their story of development.
  • Follow-Up. There is tendency with technology, whether intended or not, to provide isolated support. Maybe it is answering a question or giving suggestions. Although demonstration and observation is not always possible based on timetable constraints, providing some sort of ongoing conversation is essential to continue the conversation and ingraining practice.
  • Feedback. One of the biggest challenges is not simply giving support to others, but also providing a means to measure the success of the support given. Whether it be short answer questions or checklist, Google Forms offers a quick and efficient method to do this.

Although technology may be seen by some as something that just has to work, I feel that we need to move from discussions of the what, to that of how and why. Incorporating goals in Performance and Development Plans maybe seen as one step in the right direction, what we really need to do is move from push professional development to pull. That is, where instead of teachers being served with endless sets of predefined answers and solutions, they instead act as problem finders where they work collaboratively to identify a problem of practice in order to build and develop more innovative practices. I feel that it is only then that technology can make any sort of difference.

So what about you? Is there anything that you have done? Any thoughts and suggestions you could provide? Whether it be integrating technology or the use of coaching to develop staff capacity and competency. As always, comments welcome.

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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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Blurb for my session at Leading a Digital School Conference:

Often we talk about changing our classrooms, putting students at the centre, connecting with authentic audiences and flipping instruction. However, the first thing that often needs to change is the role of the educator. Instead of focusing on being a teacher, the focus needs to be on becoming a learner. From using social bookmarking to connect with a community to using a blog in order to share with the world, Aaron will explore the different possibilities and potentials for lifelong learning and why teachers need genius hour too.


Ignite the learning in your classroom by leading the way from Aaron Davis


When we talk about flipping the classroom, the focus is often in regards to instruction. However, something that also needs to be flipped is the role of the teacher. We need to move from being the sage on the stage to what Erica McWilliams calls “a meddler in the middle”. That is, “a re-positioning of teacher and student as co-directors and co-editors of their social world.” This re-positioning starts by re-focusing on learning. As David Culberhouse suggests, “The best fuel to feed the fires of our creative and innovative core is learning. New learning, learning that stretches us.” The question then is how might we create conditions which support teachers as leaders in the learning, not just of the learning.

In his recent book, From Master Teacher to Master Learner, Will Richardson provides nine different learning qualities: model, unlearner, co-learner, curator, open sharer, connector, maker, digitally literate and champion of diversity. Whatever qualities are shown, what matters most is that teachers are first and foremost learners. As he states, “The world has changed. Knowledge is everywhere. Teachers must become master learners instead of master knowers” The question though is what such learning might mean.

The role of learner can take on many guises. Sometimes it is co-creating the learning experience with students, other times it is simply learning something new and going through that process themselves. As George Couros wonders, “Can you imagine when a teacher gets really excited about their learning, the difference that makes on their students?” It always comes back to the learning.

In relation to co-creating, there are a range of models that can be used to support this process. The most obvious seems to be the many different iterations of the ‘Inquiry’ model, where students help guide their own learning. The reality is that inquiry means many different things to many different people. You just need to place some of the different models next to each other to see this. Another model of learning is Disciplined Collaboration. Developed by Alma Harris and Michelle Jones, it focuses on teachers working through a cycle of collaboration, innovation and reflection. Although not traditional co-creation, the focus on student, through data and evidence, rather than being dictated by the curriculum. Another model that empowers teachers as learners is the Modern Learning Canvas. Developed by Richard Olsen, it provides a collective space to talk learning and identify areas for change and innovation.

One of the problems with many inquiry based models is that they begin with a question and work towards a solution. However, as Peter Skillen argues, sometimes what is important is tinkering and engaging in playful learning. Chris Wejr shares how he provided time for his teachers to tinker and innovate, while John Spencer talks about having a personal genius hour to follow up passions outside of teaching.

A common model used to aid explorations beyond curriculum is Design Thinking. A process that focuses on immersion, definition, ideation, prototyping and testing. One of the things that makes it different to other inquiry models is the cyclic nature of the process. Although it focuses on an authentic end goal, as other forms of inquiry do, it incorporates an element of ongoing refinement that is sometimes lost within other processes. Tom Barrett sums this prototyping disposition as a case of perpetual beta, where, “Learning is all about continuous improvement with an emphasis on engineering as many opportunities for feedback as we can.”

In her adaptation of the Design Thinking model, Jackie Gerstein talks about the importance of not only understanding the learning process, but clearly articulating and demonstrating this. A part of this is celebrating the iterative process of learning. As she suggests, “the educator as a lead learner normalizes, embraces, models, and reinforces the iterative process of learning.” This involves a cycle of prototyping, testing, failing, tweaking.

Technology plays an important part within all of this. Whether it be developing a PLN, sharing ideas, finding inspiration, openly sharing the learning or making stuff worth stealing, much of this is enabled through the use of various tools and applications. Our task, as David Weinberger suggests, is to, “build networks that make us smarter”.

Some examples of my learning experiences include:

What is significant about each example of learning is the shared experience. Learning is never in isolation and it is so important to remember this. Also, if it is then we are at a time of interconnectedness when it is easy to gain feedback. 

So what about you? What learning have you been a part of that has stretched you? What qualities did you show? How did you go about it? What challenges did you face? How did you share it?

Link to collaborative resource

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In a recent post, Jon Andrews reflected on the influence of Edutech and its ongoing relevance. It got me reflecting on my own experiences in regards to conferences and professional development. One event that stands out in particular was the 2014 Google Teachers Academy.

There was so much conjecture prior to the event about what it meant and how the representatives were selected. While in a conversation afterwards, one of the questions brought up was that of impact. I argued that time would tell the success of the evolution associated with Google Teacher’s Academy move from a focus on tools to a focus on innovation and change. However, a part of me thinks that this also misses something. Focusing on ‘success’ sometimes misses the chance influences and impact. As I have discussed before in regards to data and connections, reducing success to a particular outcome does not recognise the serendipitous learning and experience through failure.

So as I look back, here are some aspects that have impacted me:

  • Design Thinking: The biggest take-away was to not only learning about, but learning through Design Thinking. From the different immersion activities, such as drawing a classroom to interviewing different stakeholders; to using hexagons to maps ideas in order to develop a how might we question; then generating ideas and then filtering them; as well as prototyping and critiquing different iterations. I have long wondered about the different facets of inquiry-based learning. However, I had not really had the opportunity to properly explore Design Thinking. One of the things which really stood out to me was the cyclic nature of the process. Although it focuses on an authentic end goal, as other forms of inquiry do, it incorporates an element of ongoing refinement that is sometimes lost within other processes. This experience also made a lot more sense when I read Ewan McIntosh’s book How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make The Happen. This is not to say that Hamish, Tom and the coaches did not do a good job with the constraints of time. However, it was not really until the end, when you can stand back and reflect, that you can make sense of the process, rather than just the ideation being actioned.
  • Connections: I remember reading that being a part of the Google Teachers Academy would provide access to a range of connections. Although I am now in a few new Google Groups, which is dip in and out of, the real bonds and connections were those that I formed simply being a part of the process. Ironically, it was the time spent chatting around meal times and during the taxi rides when the friendships were formed. It simply reiterated the fact that learning is more often than not relational. We can follow all the people in the world, but there is always something humane and so much more meaningful associated with face to face contact. Although I knew quite a few people before (and they knew me I found out), I feel that bit more connected now. I am not sure if this justifies the program, but must not be overlooked.
  • Start with Why: One of the interesting things that occurred at GTA was that every coach received a copy of Simon Sinek’s book, Start With Why. Before the event, I had not heard of Sinek and his golden circle. After watching his Ted Talk, I read the book over the Christmas holidays. It was one of those books that, like Carol Dweck’s Mindsets, really clarified the way I saw things, particularly in regards to innovation. Just being ‘right’ or bringing a good idea to the table does will not necessarily bring the change desired. The challenge is to really be clear why such change and innovation is important. This can mean supporting others to drive change, helping them as leaders.
  • GEG: Considering it was an event organised by an edtech giant, I am not sure how much Googly knowledge I left GTA with and I am not sure that it really matters. Instead, the event demonstrated the potential for using Google Apps to support change. I actually think that I left with more thoughts about how to facilitate professional development. For example, Corrie Barclay and I ran a Google Educator Group event at the end of last year. We designed it around the idea that teachers could share and create. It was not necessarily the ‘success’ that I envisaged, but it did leave me with more to critique and think about. A part of a longer process exploring how to support others with change.
  • Driving Change: It has been interesting seeing some others celebrate their successes. Whether it be Riss Leung and her new makerspace or Steve Mouldey’s website 1st Follower, designed to support others with the change process. I left GTA with the question: How Might We ENGAGE PARENTS in a CULTURAL SHIFT to make RELATIONSHIPS and CONNECTIONS the focus of learning? Part of me thought that this might have been a little too ambitious. However, to me, that was the point of the event. I would liked to have jumped into disruptive pedagogies or some other area of change, but I felt that was the safe option. I chose a topic that was messy and wicked, with no clear solution. Every school is unique and has its own context. Engaging with parents and the wider community in a meaningful way is one area that this shows through. Since then, I have continued to ask questions, read widely, listen to different perspectives and test out different iterations. I will be honest, I definitely have not succeeded in bringing parents and the community into the classroom as Chris Betcher and I had envisaged. However I have started implementing different means of sharing and connecting beyond the classroom, which is definitely a step further in what feels like the direction.

So what about you? What big events have you been a part of? Programs that you’ve been privy to? What are the lasting impacts on your professional practice? As always, comments are welcome.

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