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I was challenged today with the question: where will innovation be in five years time? With schools creating strategic plans, it was something being considered. What should be the goal, the aim and drive for the coming years. My thoughts jumped to ideas such as:
I could go on and in some respects I’d be repeating much of what I stated in my post on educational dreaming.
What was interesting though was that midst all this technological bliss, I was queried about the dependency on technology to drive innovation. +Sam Irwin asked:

@mrkrndvs does it have to involve technology to be innovative?
— Sam Irwin (@samjirwin) September 11, 2014

I must admit, I hadn’t thought of it like that. Of course it doesn’t, but how often do we start such conversations with the assumption that it does. To me, this was an interesting case of what +Clive Thompson describes as ‘thinking out loud’ in his book Smarter Than You Think. That is, the process where in sharing thoughts openly we gain access to a plethora of ideas inherent within the wider network of learners. As Thompson states, “Having an audience can clarify thinking. It’s easy to win an argument inside your head. But when you face a real audience, you have to be truly convincing.” This public audience not only encourages clarity and perspective, but it more often than not leads to a deeper understanding of the topic at hand.
This all got me wondering about innovation and how we often associate it, not only with technology, but with wholesale change. If we stop and consider the definition of what it means to innovate, you soon realise that it is not about size. As the Oxford Dictionary describes, to innovate is to “make changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas, or products.” It seems fair to say that there are many habits and practises which are established by both individuals and small groups. Does this emphasis then on the big risk overlooking the small? How often are we missing the innovation and change that occurs each and every day everywhere?
For example, let’s think about teaching. There are many ways to improve practise in the classroom. Some possibilities include a focus on learning data, whether it be results or feedback, to identify specific areas for improvement and development in regards to pedagogy. Another possibility is a review of the structure of spaces and what sort of learning is being made possible. What is significant about such changes is that the onus is not just on the school or the team, but on the individual.
In addition to teachers, students too can demonstrate innovation and improvement in what they do themselves. This could be the choices that they make in regards to their work or it maybe taking ownership over certain aspects of learning, whether it be their own or as a part of a group. Although we may not be able to directly implement many such changes, basically because they are not our decisions to be made, it is possible to make them more possible and plausible by creating a learning environment that allows for them.
The easy answer is too often to push all these changes on staff and students under the banner of whole school change. However, this not only denies differences, but more often than not takes away any sense of agency from the individuals in question. Just as students come to us with a breadth of ability, so to do teachers. The one answer fits all approach often denies the fact that each and everyone of us is at a different stage of the journey and it is there that we must start. +Dan Donahoo best summed up this dilemma in his keynote at #ICTEV13 where he stated that ‘it takes a village’. This means that when we implement the idea, if it is still the same at the end as it was at start then we haven’t really listened. At the heart of all change and innovation is a dialogue with a wider sense of community and at the heart of dialogue is compromise.
In a recent session on instructional learning, Muffy Hand made a comment that really struck me, “teachers are the most important resource in every school.” Maybe then instead of always simply focusing on the big changes, we need to celebrate the smaller changes made by those at the coal face. Instead of waiting for the next piece of software or engaging initiative to be the cure to all our supposed problems, we need to reflect upon our own established practises with the questions: what am I doing and is best for the situation at hand. An interesting tool for stimulating such a discussion either individually or as a group is +Richard Olsen‘s Modern Learning Canvas. For although we maybe great, taking the next step towards excellence will be different for all of us.

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I have spoken elsewhere about how I have become a connected educator. However, I have not necessarily spoken about those who have had an ongoing influence on me. +Cameron Paterson talks about finding someone who scares you to drive you, but I feel that it is more important to find some who inspires you and drives you forward. Sometimes such moments can be intimidating or awe inspiring. They provide us with a choice, we can either say that is too hard and baulk at the challenge or say that although it is a lot of work, with a bit more effort and endeavour I could achieve that too.
Although ‘influence and inspiration’ exists outside of gender, I am inspired by a tweet from +Julie Bytheway to be more equitable. So I have decided to split my list between two five men and five women. So in no particular order, here are ten people who have made an impact on my journey and my first year of blogging …

+danah boyd

I can’t remember the list I found, but Boyd was one of the first people I started following when I got on Twitter. I would read her posts and relish the different perspectives which she provided. Boyd’s work has helped me realise that there are different ways of seeing teens and internet, as was documented in her fantastic book It’s Complicated, which I reviewed here.

+Peter DeWitt

DeWitt completely changed the way I saw Twitter and being a connected educator. Although I had connected with many other teachers, DeWitt was the first leader who I connected with. I had grown up surrounded by some great leaders, however they did not always share so openly and honestly. I can’t even remember how I came upon DeWitt’s blog, but it soon became a staple of my digital diet. Even when talking about tales and topics with little direct influence on my own day to day happenings, it is his endeavour to always keep the conversation going is what I aspire to the most and keeps me coming back.

Jason Borton

Although I had engaged with various school leaders from abroad both directly, as in the case with +Peter DeWitt, but also through such spaces as Connected Principals, Borton was the first ‘local’ principal who really changed the way I saw things at home. (Bit ironic how in a global world Canberra and Melbourne become local.) Whether it be questioning homework, reporting and whole school enabling, he has engaged with all those big topics on both Twitter and through his blog that from my experience many leaders baulk at. It was actually through Borton that I came upon Edutweetoz and the +TER Podcast, two other priceless points of perspective and great ambassadors for more empowered voices in education.

+Jenny Ashby

As I have discussed elsewhere, Jenny was very much the start of my connected journey. I am always inspired by how much she manages to achieve. Whether this be her podcasts (RU Connected or AU2AZ) or here involvement in such projects as Skype Around the World in 24 Hours and Slide2Learn. What amazes me the most about Jenny is that it would be so easy for her not to be involved in many of these things, distance to travel or quality of internet connection. However, from my experiences with Ashby, she often seems to find some reason to be involved, rather than an excuse not to be. Great mindset.

+Doug Belshaw

I came upon Belshaw via his phenomenal work around digital literacies. However, what stands out the most to me is his sharing and giving back. People tell me that I write a lot, then I ask them if they follow Doug’s work. In addition to this, he is always pushing the envelope, question and critiquing, innovating for tomorrow, rather than living for today. Take for example his recent push to take back ownership of his data by self-hosting his own email. Although this may seem an impossible task, many great changes in history have been started by a lone nut who takes a stand.

+Richard Olsen

If ever I want a different perspective on something, I often go to Olsen. He always finds something that I have missed or puts a different spin on things. As I have stated elsewhere, a part of me lives for such critical engagement. Really though, what I respect most about Olsen is that instead of simply writing things off, ignoring them, carrying his own conversation, he puts in the time and effort to fuel the wildfire of learning and keep the conversation going.

+Pernille Ripp

Ripp has been a constant inspiration ever since i got online. Unlike many who perpetuate change from the top down, Ripp is a great example of what is possible from the bottom up. One of her greatest attributes is her openness and honesty. Although it can be easy to consider Ripp as taking ‘risks’ and going beyond the perceived status quo, what she has taught me is that in some respect we are all risk takers, whether we like it or not. That we are all making a choice. I think that what makes some people like Ripp empowering and important is that they own the choices and decisions. I must admit that I spent the first few years as a teacher thinking that it wasn’t my roll or right to make big decisions, I thought that was the role of those above to feed down ‘best practise’. However, when those answers never arrived I realised that change starts with me today in my classroom and that there is no time to wait.

+Amy Burvall 

Like Belshaw, Burvall’s ability to seemingly achieve so much is a constant reminder that there is always something more I could be doing. In addition to her awesome amount of sharing online, she has also influenced the way I consider the assessment of art and creativity. She has also introduced me to the potential of some amazing applications, such as Mozilla Popcorn and Paper53. To me, Burvall demonstrates that there is no limit to engagement with and through digital literacies, instead the only limit is ourselves.

Inquire Within

I am not sure exactly when I came upon +Edna Sackson‘s group blog, Inquire Within, however it has become an important part of my growth in regards to teaching and learning. Having had a mixed past when it comes to inquiry, something I have discussed elsewhere, Inquire Within has brushed away so many misconceptions. I think that my greatest fault was to think that inquiry could actually be defined, rather than be what it actually is, a myriad of combinations which form to make different pedagogical cocktails. During my time following the site, I have come upon so many great posts and awesome ideas there, such as +Bianca Hewes ‘Managing the Mushy Middle’ and Kath Murdoch’s ‘How do Inquiry Teachers Teach?’ Along with Ripp’s blog, Inquire Within is often one of the first sites that I recommend to other teachers in regards to teaching and learning.

+Ed Tech Crew

When I think of influences, I find it hard to go beyond the +Ed Tech Crew. Whether it be guests on the program, such as +Ian Guest and +Alec Couros, the community curation in the Diigo group or the dialogue and discussion between +Darrel Branson and +Tony Richards, there is so much sharing that occurs. I have lost count of the thoughts and ideas that have taken seed via the +Ed Tech Crew. In addition to this, I have also been lucky enough to share my thoughts of Melbourne Google in Education Summit 2013, as well as my thoughts on leading ICT and where we have come in regards to technology in education. It was sad to hear that the +Ed Tech Crew would actually be going into hiatus. However, it is also a recognition that it takes a village.

The Word ‘I’ Refers To …

It is good to recognise our influences in life. However, one of the problems with such a practise is that there will always be someone missed or overlooked. I was really taken by Jack Welch’s statement that “nearly everything I have done has been accomplished with other people” as quoted in Carol Dweck’s book Mindset. In some vague attempt to recongise some of these ‘other people’ I have listed all the people who I have mentioned through my many blogs over the last year: +John Moravec +Kevin Miklasz +Troy MONCUR +Tom Whitby +Andrew Williamson +Joe Mazza +Peter Kent +Rich Lambert +Corrie Barclay +John Pearce +Deb Hicks +Seth Godin +Ian Guest +Suan Yeo +Jim Sill +Chris Betcher +Anthony Speranza +Mike Reading +Jason Markey +George Couros +David Truss +Tom March +Vicki Davis +Ben Gallagher +Rebecca Davies +Anne Mirtschin +Adam Bellow +stephen heppell +David Tuffley +Tony Sinanis +Dan Rockwell +Alf Galea +Mel Cashen +Matt Esterman +Darrel Branson +Ashley Proud +Ryan Tate +Roland Gesthuizen +Aubrey Daniels International +Catherine Gatt +Celia Coffa +Kynan Robinson +Mark O’Meara +Lois Smethurst +Darren Murphy +Mark Barnes +Chris Wejr +Doug Belshaw +Miguel Guhlin +TER Podcast +Bianca Hewes +Luis López-Cano +John Spencer +Tom Panarese +Edna Sackson +David Zyngier +Cameron Malcher +Mariana Funes +dave cormier +Dick Faber +Ewan McIntosh +Darryn Swaby +David Price +Alan Thwaites +Stephen Harris +Corey Aylen +Simon Crook +Nick Jackson +Simon Ensor +maureen maher +Keith Hamon +John Thomas +Margo Edgar +Jan Molloy +Kim Yeomans +John Bennett +Will Richardson +Bec Spink +Sam Irwin +Corinne Campbell +Rick Kayler-Thomson +Adam Lavars +Heather Bailie +Dean Shareski +Stephen Collis +Michelle Hostrup +Starr Sackstein +Charles Arthur +Craig Kemp +David Weinberger +Eric Jensen and +Katelyn Fraser. Although extensive, these are simply people whose thoughts and ideas I have been conscious of, emerged from the noise. For as +Keith Hamon recently suggested in an interesting post on authorship, “while I can find sources for all of my ideas, I’m not sure that they are my sources, but I am sure that it doesn’t matter.”

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This is the first assignment as a part of the ATC21S Coursera MOOC. It involved selecting an example of collaborative problem solving (CPS) in which you have been involved. The response included illustrating an understanding of the nature of collaborative problem solving, why it is important and what sets it apart from activities like group work. Associated with this, two specific incidents were required to demonstrate that different collaborators have different levels of skill in CPS. This is my response …

It is easy to think of Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) as a highfalutin euphemism for what is commonly known as group work. However, they are not the same. The major difference is that CPS focuses on the skills and attributes people bring, rather than the jobs people do. In a traditional classroom, group work usually involves splitting a task between members in order to do something more efficiently or simply to share responsibilities. These contributions are then usually assessed at the end of the outcome. With CPS, the focus is not so much about product, but what that process can bring to bear.
In his book Too Big To Know, +David Weinberger argues that there are two key elements relating to diversity which make the room smarter: perspectives and heuristics. Perspectives are the maps of experience, while heuristics are the tools we bring to bear. Without either, there is little point to diversity. I feel that the same can be said about CPS.
What is significant is that success is not deemed by the room itself, but by who is in that room and what skills may be drawn upon. The reality is some individuals have more abilities than others. For as Weinberger posits, “Even if the smartest person in the room is the room itself, the room does not magically make all who enter it smarter.” CPS helps assess the contribution of the different people in the room by splitting work into different subsets as represented in the Conceptual Framework for Collaborative Problem Solving in order to identify areas for growth and improvement.
Difference between CPS and group work often relates to the authenticity of the task. Group work is often heavily scaffolded. In comparison, CPS is ambiguous and ill-defined. There is more than one way to solve problems and deciding on such solutions is usually more important than the end product.
An example of CPS I have facilitated was the creation of the school yearbook. My Year 9 Elective Class was put in charge of creating a yearbook. They had to decide who the yearbook would be for, what it would include and how they would complete it. Once students had made these decisions, they worked collaboratively to develop roles, timelines and expectations.
Two particular incidents of ambiguity associated with CPS was firstly, the beginning where the project was in its infancy, and secondly, in what +Bianca Hewes‘ describes as the ‘mushy middle’, where the project had taken shape, but hurdles start to arise.
The beginning is always an interesting point to reflect upon. Everyone starts from scratch, with a new opportunity to prosper. However, this lack of clarity and cohesion often divides collaborators.
On the one hand, some members commence by working as a part of the group to define the project and then set out to independently come up with all the answers. Although there is some recognition of the need for information, there is little consideration as to where this comes from or how it all fits together.
In contrast, there are some collaborators whose first thoughts are about everyone else. This does not necessarily mean that they are leaders in the traditional sense. On the contrary, they often seek to support others to take the limelight. These students persevere in the effort to identify the heart of the ambiguity and break things down into subtasks. They seek to include all the differences of opinion and create strategies associated to goals for how the project is going to push ahead.
The second significant incident when it comes to CBL is the middle stages. Unlike the defining stages of a project which asks collaborators to work together to define what it is that they are working towards, the middle stages raises the challenge of redefining ideas, managing goals and continually reviewing strategies.
For some, this part can be gruelling. Whereas in the beginning the connection that everyone shares is obvious, once people start moving into different subtasks, they lose track of where they are in relation to the wider problem. Therefore, when issues arise, there are random examples of trial and error. However, little effort is made to modify the initial hypothesis or reconstruct the problem at hand. It is simply seen in isolation with little connection to the other tasks or group members.
Contrary to this, some members thrive on continually reflecting on goals, connecting personal contributions with the work of others, exhaust all possible solutions when faced with a hurdle and evaluate their own performance. For example, when a program didn’t allow for the creation of collage, a student with high level ability took a step back and considered the alternatives. Once they exhausted this, they then spoke with other members of the group to see if anyone else had any ideas.

While here is the feedback which I received …

Suggest any elaboration of the example that could have made it more clearly an example of a collaborative problem solving.
self → I think that I could have been more explicit in regards to the assessment. Maybe even fill in some examples and attach them to the document.
peer 1 → This example would need significant elaboration if it is to be considered an example of collaborative problems solving, The author speaks about the difference between CPS and groupwork, yet fails to implement this in the learning activity.
peer 2 → It would be better to show the specific skills listed in CPS workframe.
peer 3 → Provide clear links of personal behavior to CPS framework.
Say what you liked best about this example as an instance of collaborative problem solving. 
self → I like the practicality associated with the task. It is essential that the task is authentic.
peer 1 → This example did not address Part 1 of the assignment as outlined, and completely failed to recognize Part 2. This example does not demonstrate the capacity to use the conceptual framework for CPS.
peer 2 → i am not sure about the difference between CPS and group work and i think this homework gave a good explanation.
peer 3 → Very vivid and essential examples of CPS are provided.

It was definitely an interesting process and demonstrates one of the biggest problems with innovation, implementing 21st century strategies and education in general. As much as we think that we are on the same page, this is rarely the case. That is why the focus needs to be on creating canvas to structure the conversation as +Richard Olsen has suggested with the Modern Learning Canvas, rather than dictating strategies. For how can we achieve anything if we cannot talk about it?

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My school is currently developing a long term plan in regards to our goals in 21st century learning, as well as investment in devices and infrastructure. Some of the questions of concern that were raised were:
  • what ‘packages’ do schools offer their students, especially when they are further along the line in regards to BYO.
  • What is the change over time in regards to devices, particularly in schools which dictate the device parents must purchase.
  • Where are devices stored, especially during breaks.
In an effort to gage a wider perspective, I created a Google Form and sent it out to my PLN. It was pleasing to open up the survey and find 35 different responses.
The survey was made up of five multiple choice questions including: 
  1. What year levels do you have 1 to 1 devices and what are they?
  2. How are your devices funded?
  3. What is the time frame on your devices? How long have you banked on them lasting?
  4. Where are the devices stored during break times etc …
  5. What has been the biggest hurdle with your 1 to 1 program?
My thinking was to make the survey as easy and efficient as possible. Therefore, although +Richard Olsen rightly pointed out that the most important question is why do you use 1:1 in your school, I didn’t feel that it quite fitted with the scope of my survey. I was worried that such a question would be evasive and put people off.
Some of the observations that I made about the 1:1 devices in school from the survey is that iPad are more predominant in the early years and largely absent in the senior years. However, I feel that if there was an option for multiple devices that some of the Macbook/netbook schools probably allow students to bring a tablet as well. Another interesting observation was that even though they are no-one’s first choice, netbooks are still the most common device in use. I would assume out of economic necessity and belief that the Windows OS is still the most reliable to run in schools. Overall though, what stood out the most was the amount of schools that still lack any sort of 1:1 roll out.
On the flip side though, I did notice a few issues with this section. For example, there is no way of knowing whether each school is primary or secondary. Also, there is no way of knowing what other devices are being used or whether there were multiple devices in use.

Leased 9 26%
BYO Program 8 23%
Part Payment 3 9%
Other 15 43%
In relation to payment, it would seem that there is a move away from part payments and moving towards either leasing the devices (which can work out to be expensive) or a BYO scenario. I make the assumption that some of the ‘others’ are probably those schools which do not actually have a program.
3 Years 13 37%
4 Years 12 34%
5 Years 2 6%
Other 8 23%
A big point of contention is how long devices are planned to last. It would seem that the most common timeline is three years. However, I think that it probably depends on the type of device. Cared for, netbooks and Macbooks could be argued to have a longer lifetime, particularly in regards to operating systems. One of the issues with iPads that +Corrie Barclay pointed out to me recently was that the operating system often outgrows the devices leaving schools with the dilemma of having to manually update, rather than utilise the range of tools out there which allow you to manage multiple devices. One responder summed up the situation by stating that roll over was in fact chosen by the parents. When they felt that it was time to update their child’s device, they did. I would imagine that this is probably where things maybe heading.
Trolley 7 18%
Tubs 3 8%
Lockers 14 36%
Other 15 38%
As with the payments question, I would presume that the fifteen ‘others’ are schools without devices, another fault with the survey. From the other results, it would seem that lockers are the most common place of storage. Here I am left to wonder though whether those 14 represent the secondary schools in the group. This question is a little hamstrung by the fact that there is nothing to discern between primary and secondary, nor was there an option for multiple answers.
I could not help myself but ask what people had found was their biggest hindrance. The ‘other’ in the pie chart is a bit of a misnomer for if you look at the responses, they often provide a mixture of issues. If you look through all the responses, the same as with the responses to my post ‘What Digital Revolution?‘, the two most common trends seem to be support in regards to planning and professional development, as well as staff actually utilising these devices. Strangely enough though, these two elements seem deeply inter-related.

In the end, I think that the reality is that 1:1 is a complicated topic and maybe such a survey cannot really grasp the full picture. However, it did highlight a few things that surprised me a little, such as the amount of schools without any sort of program. 

Two things that I am left wondering are, what is the place of school community in all of these decisions and where are people going next? +Darrel Branson made the point in Episode 243 of the +Ed Tech Crew about the importance of consulting with the community in regards to decisions and really selling it to them. This is something that is hard to measure on a wide scale and can probably only be done at a local level, for every community is going to be different. While, the second point I am left wondering is where is everyone going? Fine, there was a high percentage of schools that may not have 1:1 now, I am intrigued as to what those schools have in the pipe works and what this survey would produce in five years time. I guess the only answer is that we keep on searching for better solutions based on the learning needs of the local situation, because in today’s political climate, I don’t think it is going to get any easier.
I would love your thoughts about the issue. Maybe you have recently changed tact or have something to add that you feel I have missed. Feel free to comment below.

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So far I have discussed connecting with others both off and online. In addition to this, I explored taking owner of our identity online, as well as elaborating on and engaging with the ideas of others. The fifth step in being a connected educator is learning.
Ideas and inspiration can come from many places and like connections, are not always digital or online. Sometimes learning can be as simple as a chat around the photocopier or walking between classes. I have discussed this elsewhere as the incidental ‘hidden’ professional learning. The reality is, everything in life can offer a point of learning if we are willing to see it that way. For example, an activity that I have done with my students in the past is to reflect upon their classroom and what it says. I have done this in history when considering artefacts, as well as in music when thinking about performance and space.
I would argue though that the digital realm only extends the potential of this learning. One of the best things about learning online is that you can do it anywhere, any time. Whether it be reading a blog, watching a video, listening to a podcast or participating in an online chat, there are so many opportunities and options that the biggest challenge that we are faced with is what to engage with.
At the recent Teachmeet event at the Immigration Museum+Richard Olsen posed the question about whether there are any negatives about being connected. This has really prayed on my mind. I think there is so much written about the positives, that the flip side is often left silent. One of the initial negatives that I found is having so many different options and ideas out there, it can often leave you in a state of disarray. The challenge then is what we do about this disruption to the way things are. The biggest lesson I have learnt in being a connected educator is that nothing has to be the way that it is, rather we choose for it to be that way.
My solution to this feeling of perpetual confusion is to engage with others online in the effort to identify different perspectives. By engaging I don’t mean lambasting those whose views are different, but rather, as +Peter DeWitt puts it, “finding common ground with people I do not always agree with, and building consensus with those that I do.” 
In a recent interview with +Ed Tech Crew, +Dan Donahoo provides the suggestion of finding five people that you disagree with and following them. His argument was that we often learn more from those who we oppose, than those that we agree with. In another take on this, +David Truss, refuting the echo chamber argument, states that, “a good PLN will pull in learning from places I don’t normally go, and this means that even when good ideas bounce around, perspectives on those ideas don’t stay static… they don’t echo, and they morph into new insights.” 
As I stated in my post on blogging, learning online is about connecting with others in a reciprocal manner, both taking and giving. At its heart, it is about keeping the conversation going. Often though, it is the walls that are often built around us that kill this conversation. 
The easiest way to breakdown walls that so often hold us back, inhibit us and prevent us from reaching our potential is to realise that such ‘walls’ are merely a construct. Having been built, they can often just as easily be torn down. To me the Rhizomatic Learning MOOC epitomised (or epitomises, depending on how you think of things) everything that is meaningful about being a connected educator both in content and construct. 
Although I connected with some really great people, such as +Simon Ensor, +Keith Hamon, +Luis López-Cano, +maureen maher, +Ronald L and +dave cormier, it was a connection formed around ideas rather than personalities. I made no pretence to assume that I knew many or any of these people. To me though, this is what is so significant about connectivism. Although we may connect with people, a specific identity, to me it is the thoughts and ideas that they may offer that makes them truly meaningful. It may be important to nurture and maintain connections, but it is our capacity to know more that is more critical than what is currently known which stands out the most.
Although online learning, whether it be responding to a tweet or participating in a MOOC, may not necessarily provide the same depth and rigor of a more formalised learning, it does provide an opportunity to connect with others who we otherwise would not normally associate with and develop new knowledge in the process. As +George Siemens pointed out in his seminal piece, “our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today.” To me, being a connected educator is the first and most important step to a life of learning. For if as David Weinberger puts it that ‘the smartest person in the room is the room”, my learning is more meaningful when it is not restricted to those people who I work with or know through past experiences.

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I am not sure if I was being naive or slightly arrogant, but this post began its life as an effort to provide an overview of the different modes and methods of inquiry. Whether it be challenged-based, project-based, problem-based or plain old inquiry, I was trying to bring everything together in my own head, to make more sense of it all. However, what I soon realised was that the more I explored the topic, the more variants that appeared, with so many different ideas and interpretations. It all came to a head when +Richard Olsen shared a blog with me from +Ewan McIntosh on the difference between project-based learning and design learning. As you read through both McIntosh’s post, as well as various comments that follow, you realise that there is little consistency throughout. Although many of the differences are only marginal, there is little agreement on what constitutes either problem-based learning and design learning.
At the end of the day, the reality is that every teacher is different – we just choose to deny it. Even though we may practise a certain pedagogy, it does not necessarily mean that it will be the same as the next person. Rather, everyone has their our own intricacies and twists on the way they do things. What then starts to matter more is the practitioner rather than the pedagogy. I think that this is the point that John Hattie and co are trying to make by moving the focus from the student to the teacher.
I believe that this re-visioning of education is best summed up by Kath Murdoch in her fantastic post on the attributes of an inquiry teacher. Murdoch argues that inquiry-based learning is more than planning a unit, it is about facilitating this learning in the classroom. As she states, “Inquiry is not just about knowing how to plan – it’s about how we teach.” This got me thinking that maybe a better approach to work towards isn’t about identifying the ‘best’ practise as revolving around curriculum where the end is decided before the beginning, maybe our focus should be on how we teach and adjusting this to the needs of each and every situation.

The Pedagogical Cocktail

The idea that caught me was the metaphor of a cocktail. While chatting with some new found members of my PLN (Dick Faber and Alan Thwaites) it occurred to me that our chats were something akin to being at a bar and what we were drinking were pedagogical cocktails. However, unlike a traditional bar where you go up and request your drink, all the ingredients are laid out for us to make up our own. This creates a scenario where choice is only limited to our own creativity. Then after enjoying a cocktail or two, we are able to share back and reflect with those in our networks, hearing about the ups and downs, and helping us with our next choice of cocktail.
I think that the problem is that sometimes we think that we feel that we can only partake of a particular cocktail, that someone else always knows better, therefore we should listen to them. However, this denial of choice often results in teachers who have little engagement and ownership over their curriculum and classrooms, while it also restricts many potentials and possibilities. Instead, teachers maintain a status-quo that often no longer accounts for the world that will come tomorrow, let alone we live in today.
In an interview for the +TER Podcast, John Goh captures this situation by suggesting that, “all of us have a ‘default’ value from teachers college.” This concoction of tastes reassures and comforts us. That old friend whose welcoming aromas makes us feel at ease. The challenge though, as Goh goes on to propose, is that “we need to make sure that we move on from that.” Although we may know it, like it and find comfort within the default value, we need to move on and adjust our choice of cocktail to the food on offer or to the environment being set. It just wouldn’t feel right drinking a stock beer with everyone wearing tuxedos. The reality is that it is not enough to going back to the tried and trusted again and again.

The Right Method for the Moment

I entered this year with the endeavour to provide more time for student lead learning. Other than exploring +Mark Barnes‘s The 5-Minute Teacher, I took to exploring the potentials of different modes of inquiry. Having had some history with inquiry-based learning, I returned like the prodigal son, but this time instead of sticking to one particular model, I was instead interested in identifying the right method for the moment. This is portrayed by two contrasting units of work, one for Robotics, while the other for Business Studies.

An Introduction to Robotics

Having taught the class for three years, it was due for an overhaul. Fine, I had refined things each year, but instead of rolling out the same assignment with a set of questions and tasks containing a restricted set of ideas and information, I had taken to providing more opportunities for students to follow up on their own interests. So I began with a series of lessons focused on immersing students into different aspects of robotics, such as what constitutes a robot, some of the history associated with robotics and how everything is represented through popular culture. Once students had completed these tasks, they posed questions associated with each of the three areas. They then chose one of their questions to investigate and present back. As a class, we then created a measurement for greatness to provide a point of reflection for students to work towards. I really wanted to share these collaboratively and get everyone commenting and questioning on each others presentations. However, due to some technical restrictions, we weren’t able to do this.

How Can we Measure Success?

On the flip side, for Business Studies I started the unit by posing the question ‘how can we measure success?’ From there the class investigated who they consider as being successful and what makes them so. After that, I gave the challenge of coming up with a way of measuring the success of a student, the principal and Lionel Messi. They then shared their different conceptions with each other, giving feedback about what they thought was good and what they would improve. Once they had fixed up their various forms of measurement, the class then used Socrative to vote on which one was the most effective and why. With this decision, they then decided to work in pairs to make a series of profiles of successful people and combine them into a book.

Although I am sure there are some who would argue that I have not really done inquiry, that I have probably cut corners and that I haven’t really taken authentic action. I would agree and I admit that this is something that I still need to work on. However, sometimes ideals aren’t always ideal. At the very least, a move from the teacher at the centre to the student was a positive change.

Know What Your Drinking When Ordering from the Bar

It can be so easy to jump on a band wagon, to wear a certain ‘ism’ on your sleeve as if it were some sort of given. The reality though is that there are no ‘givens’, instead their are choices and consequences, as I have stated elsewhere. The most difficult thing to do is actually making the best choice for the current context and situation. In a recent interview on +TER Podcast, +David Price suggested, “I’d rather you do didactic learning well, than project learning badly.” His point is that we sometimes choose a particular method because we feel we have to and baulk at others, because they are seen as flawed or contradictory. However saying a blanket ‘no’ to didactic learning is just as bad as saying a blanket ‘no’ to inquiry-based learning. No is not really a useful word when discussion choice.

+John Spencer makes a similar point in his insightful post ‘Seven Horrible Things That Really Aren’t All That Horrible‘. In this post, Spencer discusses such taboos as worksheets, multiple choice tests and textbooks, arguing that sometimes it is how these things are used which is the issue and that sometimes they do have a place.

In the end, the most important thing that we can do is be conscious of the decisions we make. I am aware that this is no simple matter, as was pointed out to me by +Darryn Swaby on Twitter:

@mrkrndvs #pedagogicalcocktail Here’s the thing…I’m not sure I know [what pedagogical cocktail I’ve been drinking]. I think that is why your analogy resonated with me.— Darryn Swaby (@DarrynSwaby) March 28, 2014

To me this all starts by asking yourself, what does my classroom look, feel and sound like and how is it different from other classrooms. I think that this may be what +Richard Olsen is aiming at with his new venture ‘The Modern Learning Canvas‘. Where teachers are not only encouraged to identify the how and what associated with learning and teaching, but most importantly, the why. At the very least, we owe it to ourselves to at least be informed, through data and feedback, so that we can make the best choice possible, rather than keep on drinking the same old cocktail again and again.

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So, it is Week 6 of ‘Rhizomatic Learning’, the last planned week of the course, and the focus is how do we teach ourselves into uselessness? How do we empower people so they have the PERMISSION to learn without us?

What an interesting topic to end Rhizomatic Learning with, the notion of doing your job so that you are no longer required any more. Maybe the word job is the wrong word, but simply so that you are no longer a required commodity. The question then is what remains? I would argue that when all else has gone, we are left with learning. The problem with this is that so much of ‘learning’ is social, it comes from our connections with other, those clashes of ideas that once settled, develop into new beginnings. The first step then in making ourselves useless is to define who ‘we’ are. Teachers? Learners? Facilitators? Critical friends? Fire starters?

What is often missed in discussions about teaching is the inadvertent, incidental, non-traditional environments that don’t necessarily stem from college and higher-education. Take for example a swimming teacher who may have completed a set of modules. However, their ‘qualification’ to teach is often based on their own prior learning and experiences.

I sat watching my two year old daughter’s swimming lesson the other day and wondered what made her teacher a ‘good’ teacher. I had already decided that she was good, especially that my daughter had come along in leaps and bounds since moving up to the next level (although still easily distracted, can’t change everything). Added to this, in the previous group, I had gotten in the pool with my daughter, but now she was going solo and it gave me a whole different view on things. A view from the outside.

Some of the attributes that I would say that made her a good teacher is that she is stern but fair, while her instructions are always pertinent and to the point. However, what stands out the most is that she compliments the kids whenever she gets the chance. Although she obviously works from a program, she never ceases to interrupt the lesson when needs be so as to support her students if they are struggling with a particular skill or adapting a lesson to extend them. The reality is that her focus on providing continual feedback and encouragement is the attribute that truly makes her stand out.

Coming back to Rhizomatic Learning, I am therefore left mulling over how +dave cormier has successfully ‘managed the MOOC’. I must be honest that the word ‘manage’ may be slightly misleading, inferring incorrectly a sense of power and control, I think that instead what the course has done is instigate learning throughout. In some respect this has now been coordinated by everyone, although Dave has ‘set’ the tasks and facilitated the communications and conversations. However, as was demonstrated by +Mariana Funes‘ post, much was left to the community to continue the learning.

Whoever it may be, whatever the situation is, I believe that the reality is that someone always needs to be stoking the fire, throwing more wood on it, as well as setting some boundaries to make sure that it doesn’t burn out of control. Now I don’t necessarily mean ‘boundaries’ to dictate what you can and cannot say, rather it is about highlighting fractures or providing critical responses. The reality is, we all need constructive criticism and feedback at some stage.

I am reminded of a comment +Steve Wheeler made about blogging that restricting it is like going to a party with a paper bag on your head. To add to that, I think that a blog that doesn’t open itself to readers is like going to a party with only one person. Although a blog is usually written by one person, it is the community which legitimises it. Whether it be adding a different perspective or providing push back. For example, I always love when +Richard Olsen writes back to my posts, questioning all those aspects and ideas that I take for granted.

To me, there will always be a need for an instigator, someone to stock the fire occasionally, keep it burning, but whether this needs to be a teacher or leader I am not so sure. I am really intrigued by the idea of guest hosted accounts such as @edutweetoz and @vicpln which are voices rotated throughout the online community. In the end, what needs to change is putting learning at the heart of education. In this environment everyone has their part to play. If we all see ourselves as learners then surely that is most of the job done.

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Universal Design for Learning by Giulia Forsythe (Flickr)
In a recent post, I wrote about the idea that a PLN, whether professional or personal learn network, as actually being something that you do, a verb, rather than something done, a noun, I think that the same argument can be applied to the notion of curriculum. Too often when we discuss ‘curriculum’ it is as something stagnant, something finished, something complete, a document held in the hand. However, treating it in this way misses something, denies the reality that it is something that is constantly developing, growing, adapting, changing and evolving.
One of the reasons that we see curriculum as being something stagnant is that often the changes can occur over long periods of time so we do not consider it as something constant. For example, in my time teaching, I have seen three significant curriculum shifts. Firstly the transition from CSFII to VELS. This was significant because it moved subject based assessment to also recognising various interdisciplinary strands of learning. Associated with this, there was also a move from grading students in an individual manner to assessing them in relation to a continuum. The second transition is from VELS, a state based curriculum document, to the Australian Curriculum, a nation wide initiative. What is interesting is that although each evolution brought about significant change, after a period of transition, a mystical sense of inertia kicks in.
One of the reasons that curriculum changes is because the world changes. In a recent post about whether everyone should learn to code, +Richard Olsen made the suggestion that curriculum is a form of future prediction, that is, it is “designed to predict need.” This being the case, curriculum does need to keep on evolving, because once the current set of needs are met then a new set of needs emerges.
I remember hearing David Howes from ACARA present about the National Curriculum a few years ago. One of the things that stood out was what he said about how the cross-curriculum priorities. Howes explained that indigenous histories and culture, Australia’s engagement with Asia and sustainability were chosen as priorities because they were contemporary issues faced by students today. What was significant though was that Howes’ stated that there will come a time in a few years when when these priorities will need to be revised. For if they are implemented properly, then they will no longer be an issue in society. Therefore, there will come a time when a new set of priorities will need to be devised.
This is what much of the debate the 21st Century learning is about. Too often we get caught up with the present and fail to grasp the coming future. Although many of the skills, such as collaboration and problem solving, are needed today, it is a technologically and socially rich tomorrow which they are truly derived for. The problem is that it is so much easier to respond to today, rather than worry about tomorrow.
So far I have discussed the epic seismic eruptions associated with curriculum, however there is also the flip side to all of this, those tectonic shifts in the plates which more than often go unseen. I think that the worst thing that we can do when reflecting on curriculum is to consider such documents as the Australian Curriculum as being the same thing for each and every person. This completely denies any sense of subjectivity associated with the creation of knowledge and understanding.
For example, I remember a few years ago there was an effort to align what was being done in Middle Years English with some of the changes to VCE. One such change was the introduction of contexts, such as imagined landscapes or encountering conflict, as a focus, rather than a particular text, as had previously been done. What was interesting is how everyone saw this change differently. For some it was simply a way of looking at a particular text, while for others there was no central text, rather it was about approaching the context from a wide range of perspectives. Added to this, even once an agreed approach is achieved, it is then further moulded and adapted as new teaches take to it. As I stated elsewhere, the process is often far more instrumental than the actual outcome.
+Richard Olsen sums this whole process up, suggesting that “it is not commonly understood that curriculum is a compromise.” Whether it be compromising on what is included or compromising on how it is implemented, curriculum is always in a constant state of choice and reflection – and that is ok.

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

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

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

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

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