creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by William M Ferriter: http://flickr.com/photos/plugusin/14823535028
 
It is so easy as educators to fall into the trap of: do as I say, not as I do. Education constantly gives lip service to lifelong learning, but how many actually practise it in a meaningful way? A part of the problem is that so often we neither know what it actually means to learn something as an adult or simply where to start. For some it is confronting to take the teachers hat off and approach this from the perspective of a learner. What is sometimes even more confronting though at times is teaching teachers, mentoring them through the learning process.
 
This year I have been lucky enough to be a part of the DEECD’s ‘Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century’ program. The premise behind it is to introduce educators to 21st century pedagogy and technologies through the use of the inquiry process. What could be understood as the ways of working, as well as the tools for working. This has involved a large amount of learning by doing for both myself as a coach and the participants I am responsible for.
 
As a part of the program, I have mentored a group of teachers through their own project(s). The group was initially brought together around the common theme of collaboration. From there we explored, chatted and posed a range of questions online, through a range of platforms. This finally led to the formation of our driving question: “How can we use technology to enhance collaboration in the classroom?” The thought was that instead of collaborating on a big project, that we would each work on something specific to our own context. Some chose to investigate the potential of Google Apps for Education as a means for students to collaborate in and out of the classroom. While others explored the power and potential of student blogs.

Throughout the process, there have been two aspects that have really challenged me. Firstly, what exactly is my place as a coach and mentor. For at times there has been little activity in the Google Community we created. Whose problem is this and what then is my role in elevating this situation? Secondly, I feel that there is a need at times to unlearn preconceived notions. One of the challenges is that it is not a traditional approach to professional development where educators are simply spoken to and told what to do or think, instead the programs involved a large amount of personal buy in.
 
In a recent post on the role of the instructor in student centred learning, Mary Stewert suggests that three key elements:
  1. authority and responsibility for the task
  2. providing guidance for the sidelines
  3. presence rather than defined role
The purpose of each is to continually find a balance between learning design and space for emergence in the push to facilitate collaborative learning communities. I really liked how Stewert outlined the place of the instructor as being important, but in a different way than usual. Erica McWilliam describes this as the ‘meddler in the middle’, still their, but with a different purpose. While coming from the perspective of coaching, +Cameron Paterson borrows from Needham in suggesting the leader needs to not only enable the conditions, but make sure learning in linking back to students.
 
The whole process has been challenging for although I have provided guidance and been present, in hindsight I fear that through my fervour and enthusiasm, I have been too present and provided far too much support, ironically undermining the space for the emergence of learning. Another coach actually allocated the role of leader to another team member, they therefore acted as a support for the support. I am feeling that this may have been a better model to push for. Associated with this need to lead without always being the actual leader, the other challenge I have faced is the need at times to unlearn.
 
In an interesting post discussing the constant to and fro between instructionism and constructionism, Paul Dunbar suggests that at times there is a third ‘ism’ needed to evolve the learning process, what he calls ‘destructivism’. As he states, “at certain points on the learning curve, some deconstruction needs to take place before the learner can move on to the next level.” The most obvious area for unlearning often relates to the roles and expectations in the learning space. Although this does not apply to everyone, many of us have a default setting associated with professional development which involves others doing the work for us. 
 
In addition to learners needing to ‘unlearn’, I have found that instructors sometimes need to unlearn certain habits too. For as +Cameron Paterson puts forward, “if we want teachers to take ownership for their learning, the coach cannot be the expert, as this creates learned helplessness on the part of the coached teachers.” Initially I would answer every question that was asked of me, overload the space with a wide array of resources. The problem with this is that I was taking the messiness out of the whole process. After this was pointed out to me, I turned to Diigo as a place to share various resources. My thoughts were that I was still sharing, but in a way that people had to go and look for the resources if they wanted it, rather than being served on a platter.
 
 
There have been some great posts relating to the challenges relating to professional development. From +Steve Brophy on the connected nature of learning, to +Corrie Barclay on the endless journey of being more effective. However, the one constant is that the best learning environments are driven by us not for us. Something often easier said than done. Just as Fisher and Fray suggest that we do not need another generation of teacher-dependent learners, so to do we not need another generation of leader-dependent teachers.
 
What has been your experiences of professional learning? What worked? What didn’t? What were the biggest challenges? How were you empowered? Or empowering?

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This post and associated slides are for my TL21C Reboot Session addressing the topic of: Becoming a Connected Educator (22/7/2014)

Becoming a connected educator is so unique. There is no rule or recipe to follow and no two stories are the same. The reality is that it is many things to many people. The biggest challenge is continually defining what it actually means to be connected and why it is important. I don’t wish to offer some cure, rather I hope to keep the conversation going.

Instead of providing a recipe, my approach has always been to share some of the choices that I have made and my thoughts behind them. Although signing up to various platforms is important, it is the journey associated with this that matters most to me. As +Tony Sinanis says, in reflecting on his own connected experiences, “the Twitter experience is a journey … it is not an experience that can simply be replicated for those who have yet to be connected.”

It is important to understand that being a connected educator does not automatically make you a better learner. Just because you have a Twitter handle doesn’t make you special in itself. Although it may give you access to a global audience, this does not magically make you connected. As +David Weinberger points out in his book Too Big To Know, “Even if the smartest person in the room is the room itself, the room does not magically make all who enter it smarter.” The question that we need to consider is not whether we are connected or not, but rather how we connect.

Too often people believe that being connected somehow leads to something more, a conduit to some higher form of being. They enter with the question, ‘What’s in it for me?’ I am not sure exactly what I thought being a connected educator would be, however the one thing that I have come to realise is that networks are not constant, they are more akin to a verb, rather than a noun.

Too often people describe PLN’s as something we build. However this misses the organic nature. I believe that they are better understood as a plant which we help grow and nurture. Our networks will only ever flourish as much as we let them.
Associated with the focus on networks is a focus on learning. To get the most out of being connected I allocate learning time. In a recent post+Peter Skillen made the suggestion that the goal of a project should be to formulate questions, rather than starting with one. I think that this definitely applies to being connected. Sometimes you just need to tinker and play, wonder and explore, in order to know what it is you are looking for.

I feel that connecting and conversing is better thought of as sitting at a bar drinking pedagogical cocktails where we can mix different ingredients to come up with our own flavours. This does not mean that everyone should do Problem Based Learning or didactic learning should be banished, instead it is about choosing the right method for the moment, rather than keep on drinking the same old cocktail again and again.

One of the most empowering aspects about learning online is that there is always some form of learning just waiting for us. As +Alec Couros suggested, “some of the best learning happens each day on Youtube whether it is meant to happen or not” I once described this as ‘hidden professional development‘, playing on the idea of the hidden curriculum, but I really like +John Pearce‘s notion of pop-up PD, that learning that can happen anywhere, any time, where there are people willing to learn.

One of the keys to learning online is actually giving back. If everyone just lurked from a distance, not only would this limit the depth of conversations that occur online, but it also limits how much you actually get out of such connections. There are many different ways of giving back, from simply sharing links to remixing ideas. The choice of how we do this is up to us.

Sharing should be thought of as a way of being. Many worry about whether there is worth in what they are sharing. However, only the community can decide such worth. As Clive Thompson states in reference to blogging, “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.” Surely then sharing can only be a good thing?

One of the most important elements to building relationships is having a clear and definable identity. After spending some time hiding behind various quirky images and username, inspired by +Anne Mirtschin, I took the steps to create a consistent digital badge that I ‘wear’ online. Associated with this, I developed an About.Me to connect together  all the different spaces where I exist. I feel that making these changes has aided with my connections.
In the end, there are many choices to be made when it comes to being a connected educator. For example:

  • Who do I follow?
  • What details do I provide about myself?
  • Which platforms should I work on?
  • Should I blog, vlog, create a podcast?
  • How many times should I re-tweet/republish links to my own work?

As +Chris Wejr points out, although it is easy to suggest that everyone should sign up and start sharing every last detail, not everyone is able to tweet and post who they are.

I think that +Steve Brophy sums up the situation best when he makes the challenge, “Be the connection that gives other learners a voice.”

What has been your biggest hurdle in becoming a more connected educator? Can you provide an example as to how you are giving other learners a voice?


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creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/aaron_davis/14422391611
 
Yesterday I took my daughter on her first train trip into the city. She had a ball and loved every minute, but what struck me was what grabbed her attention the most. One of the most interesting things was the digital billboards. It is not that she had not been to a shopping centre before and spotted the oversized posters, but these had the extra appeal of having the sheen that comes with a digital image cycled every few seconds. She stood and watched for minutes, mesmerised. Me, I couldn’t think of anything more boring, until it dawned on me, I was seeing this from the wrong perspective, this was her experience to have. So I let her be.
 
This all kind of reminded me of the efforts to introduce change in the classroom and the experiences that such actions bring with them. At the opening day of the TL21C program, +Will Richardson suggested identifying one thing that you could change in your classroom, 10% lets say and starting there. Inspired by this challenge, I went back into the classroom with a focus on providing students with more choice as to how they go about things. So whilst watching Jobs for Business Studies – something that the students had decided on in order to further unpack how people and organises become successful – I explained to the class that they needed to take notes. Sharing my own practises, I explained how when I learn, whether this be attending a professional development presentation or reading a text, I take notes in the margins in order to develop a deeper understand. I then put the question to them as to how they take notes. Some spoke about graphic organisers, while others chose dot-points. I let them be.
 
As much as I wanted them to fill their pages with endless scribbles and musings, many were taken by the prospect that the decision was up to them, rather than dictated to them. For some this was a little too much and they got a bit lost, while others started concocting ideas of creating a collaborative document. In the end, the experience was not necessarily as I had planned, but instead of stepping in and hindering the wondering and explorations, I simply provided students with some feedback in regards to their choices, particularly in regards to depth and detail.
 
I am not sure if this is the most profound change that has ever occurred in my classroom, however to me it was a change in the right direction, a move away from teacher authority to student autonomy. What are some of those minor changes that you have introduced into classroom and how were they perceived by students? I would love to know, share below.

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“Sorry, I don’t have the time for that.”
 
How often do we hear that when we try and start something, organise a catchup, a get together to share. Now I am not saying that this isn’t true, however I would argue that the only thing that keeps us apart in today’s day and age is ourselves. As I have discussed elsewhere, we all have many connections in life, the big question is how do we nurture them all?
At the opening day of the TL21C program a few weeks ago, I got chatting with +Sam Irwin. We started reminiscing about our time with the 21st Century Learning Melton Network. After sharing a few stories about the halcyon days, Sam suggested that we should get the band back together. This is something that I had mooted last year, that we should maintain the group, but had never got around to doing. So this week I decided to  finally take action.

 

 
Whilst on Google+ answering various queries and questions associated with TL21C, I decided to create a space on Google+ and send out invites to those I already in my contacts and scrounge through my emails for the other teachers who were in the network. 
 
Clearly I could have created a Facebook group or a Ning, however personally I prefer the functionality of Google+, while my concern with using something like a Ning is that it is another place for people to have to go. To me, people are often already within the Google infrastructure, whether this be via Docs or Gmail, I therefore see it as a natural progression. In my message I suggested that it would be a place to share ideas and develop solutions to various problems. 
 
Over the next few days people came. Now they didn’t come in droves, it was only one here, two there, but they did come. The big question is what next. To me, I think that probably needs to be something that the group decides, for now I am happy with the knowledge that I am not alone. It takes a village and a village takes more than one.
Here then are five questions to consider when creating your own network space:

 

  • Does the space suit those populating it? There is no point using Google+ if everyone else you are trying to connect with is on Facebook.
  • Is there someone else who can help develop moment? It only takes one follower to go from a lone nut to a movement.
  • What content have your provided for people? Although long term this maybe something that you want people to add themselves, but it is good to provide something to start with.
  • Are you giving people a reason share and engage? It may simply be something as simple as a question, but make sure that you are involved too.
  • How are you engaging with others? Maybe you know your followers or maybe your network is open to anyone interested, whoever it maybe you need to consider how you are getting them on-board.
So how do you connect? What networks have you formed? What spaces do you use? Feel free to share.
 
creative commons licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/aaron_davis/14392772386

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creative commons licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/aaron_davis/14223298149
Lately, I have been writing a lot about being a connected educator. A part of this stemmed from a tweet from +Alan Thwaites, but it also comes from my involvement in the TL21C program. However, I was challenged by a colleague the other day with the question: ‘what do we talk about when we have finished talking about getting connected?’ At first I was confused by the question for being connected is so important, then it occurred to me that maybe I’ve been focussing too much on the wrong issue?
 
It is so easy when talking about teaching and learning in the 21st century to get caught up in discussions about tools and technology. However, as I have discussed elsewhere, 21st century learning is more than just one thing. If we use the work of the team at ATC21s, it is in fact a combination of four interrelated topics:
  • Ways of thinking. Creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, decision-making and learning
  • Ways of working. Communication and collaboration
  • Tools for working. Information and communications technology (ICT) and information literacy
  • Skills for living in the world. Citizenship, life and career, and personal and social responsibility
Some schools in an effort to counterbalance the perceived over-emphasis on technology create 21st century learning positions focussing on solely on ‘thinking’ or ‘working collaboratively’. The problem with this is that in attempt to move away from technology, they create an over emphasis on another area. In doing so misses the point that in the modern world it is through the use of tools and applications that we are actually able to dig deeper critically and collaborate with those not only in our own school or state, but around the world. The best answer is to create clear a balance between them all, with the one unifying concept between them all being learning. For as Sir Ken Robinson has suggested, ‘If there is no teaching and learning going on there is no education happening’. Whether it be using an iPad, working in a group or thinking about a topic, we should always be focused on making a learning-centred environment, otherwise what is the point?
 
Take for example my recent survey of 1:1 devices in schools. Clearly I could have done it differently, gained a wider array of perspectives in a more rigid manner and written an extensive research paper on the matter. However, I had a question and that was whether many other schools had delved into the world of 1:1 and what devices they were using. After called on my connections I got back 35 responses. Now this may not be many in the scheme of things. However it still gave me a wider perspective. It also provided me a means for thinking more critically about the matter for before I sent out the survey I thought that we were the only school yet to dive into 1:1 in regards to primary school. However, I was actually unpleasantly surprised that in fact many schools had yet to go down that path. I think then that being connected and having an array of connections was integral to getting back the feedback that I got and gaining a better perspective.
 
One of criticisms often levelled against connectivism is how do you measure what is important, with information in abundance, how do you decide what should stand out. Other than going down the road of collaborative curation using sites like Diigo where your search is aided by those in your community, I agree that there is a level of chance involved in who might be listening, watching and participating. In addition to this, who is to say that those offering up ideas are that are useful, correct or even honest in the first place. I think though that the biggest problem begins with the notion of the ‘connected educator’, I think that we would gain more from redefining this notion as ‘connected learner’ as that is really what this is all about.
 
In the end, the only thing and the most important thing is learning and with that a focus on ourselves as learners. However, I still feel that a lot is gained by being involved within more communities and having stronger connections on and offline.
 
So how do you learn best? What helps you out the most? Do your connections help or hinder your quest for solutions?

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I had the privilege the other day to hear +Will Richardson speak as the keynote for the first day of the TL21C Program. His mantra for his presentation was to leave teacherse feeling confused and uncomfortable, yet inspired. He basically spoke about the divide that is growing between learning at home and in schools. Often if we want to teach something in school today, we structure it in a way that fits our needs and structures. That is our timetables, our assessment structures, there is little room to simply fly ahead. Whereas outside of this environment, if someone wants to learn something they just immerse themselves in it, find out what they need and go ahead and learn it. Modern learning is not about being aware of everything, but about being aware of the options. The message that Richardson came back to again and again was that we need to make what we currently do different, not better. Things need to change.

I had heard this message before, whether it be via Sir Ken Robinson’s many TED Talk videos or the work of Seth Godin, especially his video on education reform from 2013 WISE Summit. While I agree that the system is flawed, I am always concerned about the appeal to revolution. For ideals are not always ideal and they are often far from practical.

I recently wrote a post titled ‘What Digital Revolution?‘ in which I explored some of the criticisms and promises often associated with the introduction of technology into schools. In response to this, +Bill Ferriter wrote a great comment and subsequent post in which he asked the question: do you really need to do new things in new ways? Basically, Ferriter’s argument is that technology should not automatically more to transform teaching. This, he suggests, implies that everything that we do and have done is flawed. However, according to Ferriter, this argument is somewhat flawed. Instead, technology makes interacting with the higher order thinking skills that so often define successful people easier for everyone and it is these skills that are in a higher demand in the 21st century.

+Corrie Barclay also recently continued with this theme in his post ‘Time Changes Everything … Or Does It?‘ In it Barclay explores the changes in education over the last fifteen years and comes out with the feeling that there has been very little change. Although education itself has become busier, leaving little time for those inadvertent and incidental activities such as kicking the football or chewing the fat, little has really changed in regards to the art of teaching and instruction.

Although I agree in some respect that little has changed in regards to quality teaching and instruction, I would argue that where change has occurred over the last few years is in the act of learning. Whereas in the past you were often restricted to those resources available to you, with access to the internet you are now able to find out anything (to a degree) in seconds. As Richardson stated in his presentation, learning is no longer about the scarcity of knowledge, but instead about dealing with the abundance of information. This is a point that +Bec Spink‘s made in her essay ‘Teachers – Modern Knowledge Workers for the 21st Century‘. Borrowing from the work of Michael Wesch, she stated that in the 21st century we need to “develop strategies for engaging with, working with and constructing new knowledge”.

The reality then is that we do need to do things different as Richardson suggests. However, the difference is redefining the teacher as a facilitator and learner in the classroom. It is what constitutes learning that is the greatest challenge and it is here that we need to start.

How have your practises as a learner changed with technology? How does learning with and through others influence you? Please share, would love to know.


I also presented a reflection on the first day of TL21C at a Teachmeet held at Overnewton on 21st June 2014:

[slideshare id=36082584&doc=change-starts-at-10-140619161014-phpapp01]


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creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by Trekking Rinjani: http://flickr.com/photos/trekkingrinjani/4930552641

Last Wednesday night I participated in a Hangout with the team involved in coordinating the Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century professional development program offered by the education department in Victoria. For whatever reason, I didn’t sign up last year. Subsequently, I looked on in awe and a little bit of jealously (if I must be honest) at all the awesome learning (and fun) that seemed to be going on. When it was offered this year, I was therefore keen to be involved, especially after sitting the backchannel of the ACCELN broadcast reviewing last years program. As things unfolded, +John Thomas got in contact, asked if I’d like to be a coach and the rest is history.

 
It is interesting thinking about how I got to this point. Actually when you stop and think about it, it is interesting considering how anyone got to where they got to. For me it has been a bit of long journey.
 
As I have pointed out recently, one is not born connected. I see it more as a choice, a decision, a mindset. Often it is easier to sit back and lurk online, but for me that simply wasn’t connecting. However, there is another side I feel to lurking that often goes ignored. For some it isn’t just about what is ‘easy’ or whether they have the ‘time’. Rather for some being connected is an ongoing challenge, something that +Chris Wejr touched upon in his great post ‘Not Everyone Is Able To Tweet and Post Who They Are‘. Sometimes this challenge is the stepping out into the great unknown. It was for that reason that I published a series of posts outlining by journey in becoming more connected educator, which culminated with my post ‘Becoming Connected: So What’s Your Story?‘ on +Peter DeWitt‘s blog Finding Common Ground.
 
My hope was that those who sometimes sit back out of fear or trepidation can take the next step on their connected journey. In seeing the varied examples of how different people have taken the next step and prospered, they too can step out and maybe share a little bit of their learning and in the process, themselves.
 
So far I have already received some great responses:
Although some responses just a tweet, it still maybe the impetus someone needs to step out of the shadows and get involved.
 
So let me know, what did you do to take the next step? Who was it that helped you along the way? What event was it that made a difference? For surely once people see that they are not alone in their experiences then they can raise the next step with a little bit more confidence.

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