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In a recent 2 Regular Teachers podcast, Rick Kaylor-Thomson and Adam Lavers looked back upon the Ultranet. With the current IBAC investigation into the whole affair, they touched on some of the good things to come out of the Ultranet, as well as some of the not so good aspects (including the exorbitant opening day.) It once again had me reflecting. Here then is a summary of what I see as the good, the bad and the disappointments relating to the Ultranet:

  • What If: One of the best things to come out of the Ultranet was a compelling vision for ‘what if’. Sometimes the hardest challenge when implementing any sort of change is helping people to actually imagine it. The possibilities to collaborate and connect in a safe digital space was clearly communicated by the Ultranet. Although blogs and wikis have been around for years, the Ultranet organised all of these possibilities in one central space.
  • Implementation: Although the vision was clear, too much time was spent on teaching the tool, rather than the pedagogical possibilities. To me this is teaching technology 101, it is about the learning, not the tool. Sadly, there was little dialogue or discussion about what such a space might look like in the classroom. By the end of it all, I had lost count of the amount of times I had seen the New Brunswick video. Interestingly, in a recent interview for Radio National’s Future Tense, Neil Selwyn argued that what is needed in regards to technology is some sort of support and guidance from above. The problem though is that the Ultranet offered that opportunity and with its demise a massive gap has been left.
  • Teacher-Centred vs. Student-Centred: Everyone seems to have come out of the Ultranet with the reality that we need some sort of virtual space. The problem is that for many the solution has been to invest in the world of the LMS. Often this answer is about aspects such as reporting and accountability. However, there is limited provision for peer to peer communication and supposed ease of use. What this does more than anything else is reiterate the model of teacher-centred learning. This is led many to develop dual spaces, whether it be blogs, Edmodo, Facebook or Google Apps. Maybe a mixed solution is the best solution. However, more needs to be done in regards to the LMS’ to integrate some of these other spaces.

So what about you? What were your experiences with the Ultranet? Or maybe you have used something else? As always, comments welcome.


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My daughter recently started at a new school. One of the things that stood out to me was the use of Facebook for classroom communication. Every class is setup with a private page, where information is shared. To me this fits perfectly with the argument that we need to go where the people are and it seems these days a lot of people spend their time in Facebook. Already being there means that little effort needs to be applied to getting things going, whether this be signing up or instructions as to how to use it. The problem though is that just because people are already there does that mean that it is the best space for the task?

I remember when I was told of the changes to online permissions by the Victorian State Government. A part of a push to be more mindful of student data. My first thought was that the legal department were crashing the party. My mind was taken back to the supposed halycon days when a blanket permission slip would cover all sorts of online frivolity, with endless amounts of Web 2.0 programs and applications. However, times have changed. Doug Belshaw describes this as the move to the Post-Snowden Era. It is a scepticisim epitomised by Cory Doctorow in Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free, when he says:

Without a thorough understanding of our computers’ workings, and without independent verification of their security, it’s impossible to trust our machines.

It is for this reason that we can no longer just use what may work best (as if we ever should have), but what is in fact the most appropriate on all levels.

Maybe the problem is where the data is housed, maybe it is about who is in control of content, maybe it is about the decisions of edtech company. There are so many things to consider. Some of these ethical questions include:

Does the service/app require an account to be created? If so, why?

Does the service let you delete content? This should apply not only to finished work, but also the elements of that work. For example, if you upload photographs to make a slideshow, does it let you delete those photographs later?

Does the service easily let you delete your account? Does it include an ‘Account Deletion button’ in a menu? (Check out JustDelete Me for a guide to deleting some services. The site also has a Fake Identity Generator to help you get started with a dummy account)

Does the service require you to login with a ‘real name’, or can you just use a private handle instead? If it does require a real name, why?

Does the service easily let you export the work you create in standard formats? (e.g. TXT, PDF, DOC, MP4, MP3, MOV, XLS, CSV, JSON,HTML etc) Can you save the work to your device and take it with you when you close an account?

Do you have full control over sharing/unsharing and publishing of work online?

Does the service only ask for necessary permissions? For example, many browser extensions ask for permission to access your data on all websites, or mobile apps ask for your location. Some of these permissions are necessary for the service to work, but if a service seems to be asking for a lot of unnecessary permissions, then it may be best to avoid it.

Does the service have a clear, easy to read and transparent privacy policy? Is there a link to the Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy on the homepage? If it’s hard to find, hard to read, or non-existent, then think long and hard about why that is.

Does the service treat user data and content in an ethical manner? Do users have control over they license they apply to their work? Is the work easily embeddable on other sites? Will the company sell the work (or even worse, details about a user’s identity) to other services and advertisers?

How does this service make money? What is the business model? Online tools are expensive to build and maintain, so if there isn’t a clear model for how that service will make money, then it may be that data is being sold to advertisers, or the service will eventually move to a paid model or be sold or closed.

With the demise of the Ultranet, such questions have become more pertinent as schools search for the next digital solution.

In her post, Beyond the LMS, Audrey Watters recounts her experiences with Blackboard Collaborate and the problems she faced. After initially developing content in an open space provided by the institution, she was ‘encouraged’ to publish everything through the learning management system. From quizzes to resources to syllabi to discussion forums.  The problem she faced was that her and her students continually lost access to the content and communications once the subject was finished as the only way to access the content was through the site.

One example of an LMS that has been embraced by many schools of late is Compass. Like Watters’ experience with Blackboard, Compass too poses many similar questions. Although you maybe able to access past content, it is never made easy. One of the biggest curses is the amount of clicks to get anywhere. In addition to this, there is little avenue for students to communicate and collaborate. It is neither a campfire nor watering hole. Although as a platform it provides many of the same functionalities offered by the Ultranet, one absence is the possibility for meaningful student action. Whereas the Ultranet provided a space for play and creation, this is the one aspect that seems missing.  Maybe such spaces are walled to protect students. Maybe they are really about improving communication between home and school? Maybe they are about control and management? However, are we really supporting students if we are limiting their possibility for voice and choice through such spaces.

One solution to this is to publish your work, whether staff or student, at one canonical address and link elsewhere. This elsewhere could be Compass, Edmodo, Facebook or Google Classroom. Blogs offer the most obvious solution for such as a space. Whether it be as a portfolio, a social media stream, social bookmarking, class blog, project or subject space, they offer so many different possibilities. While a site like Edublogs may involve some effort in regards to another site to login to or to manage. It offers a lot more possibility and flexibility in the long run. Blogging still matters.

Although developing a canonical address in Edublogs may not go to the point of setting students up with a domain of their own, as Audrey Watters proposes, it does at least provide the possibility to take their data and do with it what they would like. Something Alan Levine describes as co-claiming. This is something that can be overlooked in the choice of spaces.

So what about you, how do you support students, while also considering some of the ethical questions? How do you push back against what is easiest, to consider what might be best? As always, comments welcome.


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Recently, I was challenged with the question about what data could be used to support the improvement of learning and teaching using technology. Beyond the discussion of classroom observations, surveys and planners, I spoke about monitoring usage. However, I added a point of caution to this. Many of the applications, especially those that are web-based, offer a form of analytics. The problem with this though is that although it covers what technology is being used, it does not allows account for the how or why. This was a particular problem with the Ultranet. Each meeting we would be delivered the latest statistics with encouragement for students to simply login in. I am a massive advocate for the use of technology, but used blindly for the sack of it, I wonder at times if this is counter-productive.

I was reminded of this a few days ago by Sherry Turkle’s article, ‘Stop Google. Let’s Talk“. Taken from her latest book, Reclaiming Conversation, Turkle continues the discussion she started in Together Alone.

In the article, she describes a world where through our incessant use of social media, we have actually lost the art of conversation. This has not only had an impact on our ability to listen, but to actually empathise with others. The first step, she suggests, is reclaiming our solitude. A part of this is moving from multi-tasking to uni-tasking, where we dedicate ourselves to one thing at a time, rather than spreading ourselves thin.

Coming at the question of data from a different angle, Audrey Watter’s makes the point that it is never neutral. It has its biases and blind spots:

Education data often highlights the ways in which we view students as objects not as subjects of their own learning. I’ll repeat my refrain: education data is not neutral. Opening education data does not necessarily benefit students or schools or communities; it does not benefit all students, all schools, all communities equally.

This is a message that is carried throughout Watters’ book, The Monsters of Educational Technology. A collection of essays which explore various facets of technology, but most importantly the many assumptions we make about the benefits and gains.

In the end, data does not always tell a story in itself. It is interpretative. It does not account for the nuance of personal experience. It does not always touch on how we use it. It does not always tell the full story about learning. To truly engage with the enabling power of technology, it is here that we need to start the conversation, with the question of why.

How about you, how do you use technology? What are the ways you critique this? As always, I would love to know. Feel free to comment below.


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It is that time of year again when we all the talk turns to the new year. With this comes talk of new resolutions. Like last year, I am using this opportunity to set new goals. Last year, I set myself three goals:

  1. Utilise data in a more structured manner within the classroom in order to better personalise learning

  2. Provide clearer instructions and more time for student lead learning

  3. Lead by providing clearer reasons for change and supporting others in becoming better leaders

Looking back at these, I think that I have come some way with creating more opportunity for student lead learning and improved on how I introduced change and innovation. However, I still feel that I can improve the way I use data to inform my choices in the classroom. So moving forward, here are my new goals for 2015:

1. Think more about the impact of space to support learning

Last year my focus was placing the learner at the centre. However, what I came to realise was that the key was not necessarily about who was at the ‘centre’, but what conditions are created for learning. Teaching electives, I too often left spaces as I inherited them. Subsequently, by adopting someone else’s environment, I therefore placed undue restrictions on the learning possibilities and potentials. Whether it be moving desks or finding space to create displays, I am going to place more emphasis on how the space is structured and why.

In addition to this, I used Edmodo as a digital space to support learning. However, the problem I found is that although it was fantastic, and much more user friendly than the Ultranet, it did not provide appropriate means for students to work collaboratively and provide each other with ongoing feedback. I was always in control. I think that the answer maybe to better use Google Drive and create a richer culture of sharing and collaboration. Although at present I am not exactly sure how to best organise this.

2. Use assessment to better foster more personalised growth and development

A part of the problem that I faced in my focus on data is that what actually constitutes ‘data’ and for what purpose I am collecting it. Too often we look for measurements that are easy to calculate and quantify. However, learning is not always so neat and tidy. In hindsight, I think that I was asking the wrong question, I was focusing too much on summative assessment, instead I should have been giving more attention to assessment for learning.

I really like a comment that Dave Cormier made in a recent post, “we need to replace the measurable ‘content’ for the non-counting noun ‘caring’”. I feel that a key element in all of this is fostering an environment where students own their own learning or as Cormier puts it, “they care”. This includes involving students in the development of their own learning. I was really inspired by an article in the Guardian from Tom Sherrington reflecting on his experience of students co-constructing their learning. Although Sherrington’s example maybe an extreme, how can we expect students to own their own learning if they do not have any control or ownership over it?

3. Better engage with the community to make relationships and connections the focus of learning

One of the really interesting things to arise out of my participation with a group investigating (Marzano’s) instructional model was that other than semester reports there is no formal process in place in regards to informing parents about the curriculum and learning. Instead, the majority of communication home is focused on discipline and behaviour. Although it is often argued that this starts with making more positive calls home, I feel that a bigger shift is needed than a few more calls home. My goal this year then is to use technology to pro-actively engage with the wider community in what is happening in the classroom. This is something that arose out of my work last year with the Google Teacher Academy. I hope that more time in the classroom and less time in administration will provide more opportunity for this. Maybe this will be through Compass and the act of confirmations, but I feel that something is lost in putting information and ideas behind walls. This was one of the issues with the Ultranet. I will therefore begin by using a Global2 blog to communicate the curriculum and celebrate student learning in a more open manner as I started doing at the end of last year.

One Word: Growth

Lisa Meade recently posed the question: “If you had to pick one word for yourself, what would your word be?” I think that my one word would be ‘growth’. It is easy to lock students into standards of above, at and below. However, such a mindset is both fixed and reductive about what constitutes ‘success’. The question that I would like to think that each action should come back to is how is this supporting learning growth?

So, what about you? What are your goals this year? What is your one word? Do you have any thoughts and suggestions that might help support my growth as a learner? I would love to know.


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This is my belated response to the Connected Courses question: Why do you teach? What gets you up in the morning? What’s your core reason for doing what you do? It may not necessarily be a direct answer, but it at least addresses one thing, I don’t teach to the technology.
 
Yesterday in the midst of my battle with Compass and reports, I received a call from the office that someone wanted to speak to me. I took the call only to discover that it was from a technology company making a cold call. The guy on the other end, lets call him Derrick, was ringing to spruik a product that his company was developing around feedback. Sadly, he got the wrong guy. After telling him that I didn’t have time, I then explained to him that +Steve Brophy and I had actually presented at the recent DLTV Conference on dearth of options available surrounding listening to voices in and out of the classroom. We therefore already have all the tools that we needed to make a difference. 
 
The problem though wasn’t the technology, instead it was constraints of system. For example, the Performance and Development Process fosters a fixed mindset, with the focus on passing and failing, rather than lifelong learning. I think that Cathy Davidson captured this problem best recently when, as a part of the Connected Courses course,  she suggested that, “Once you put a failure in education, you skew the whole system to avoiding failure” I think after I’d finished outlining what I thought was the real challenge with feedback, poor Derrick was a little flabbergasted. I don’t think he was expecting me on a Friday afternoon.
 
There is something else going on here though. Having spent quite a bit of time with tools over the last few weeks, attending a range of conferences and courses, what has become more and more apparent is that it isn’t a tool that will magically solve all of educations ills. No, it is people. I was really taken by a comment that +Dean Shareski recently made in regards to Connected Educator month that, “being a connected educator is important but I think being a reflective educator trumps that.” What is significant about this is that more than creating a Twitter handle or developing Diigo community, we need to first and fore-mostly focus on people. Adding technology to anything, no matter how fantastic it may be, will only amplify what is already there. If people don’t share ideas and resources in person they certainly aren’t going to share online. It was so interesting that at the recent Google Teachers Academy in Sydney that for their moonshots many people focused on learning, teaching and people, rather than the actual use of technology. Whether it be about fostering disruptive pedagogies, supporting lone nuts or encouraging curiosity and creativity.  
 
It is easy to look back and say that the Ultranet failed because it was a poor product. However, I still believe that where things went wrong was the focus being on the program, rather than the pedagogy. I think that this all comes back to the why. In the end, we can have all the tools in the world, but if at the heart of it all is not people, connections, communities and relationships, then something is wrong. Although technology may help strengthen and support such things, if we don’t have them prior to adding in technology to the mix, then don’t be surprised if technology flops.
 
Below is a great presentation from Mike Wesch addressing the question of why.
 
 
 

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

Who is in charge of getting everything up and running?

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

What happens when the connection to the cloud goes down?

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

 

How will parents be introduced into the system?

 

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

 

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

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In a recent ICT committee meeting, one of the participants made the remark that the digital revolution has failed to deliver all that it supposedly promised. Having been a part of the YVeLC pilot program almost ten years ago which focused on the potential of 2:1 laptops, it has been interesting seeing the changes that have occurred since that time. In a conversation with +Catherine Gatt, this is the list of reasons that we came up with as to why the digital revolution has failed to be the saviour that so many said it would be.
 

Failure to Invest

The government, both state and federal, has invested a lot over the last ten years. Whether it be providing Internet for students, WiFi access in schools, support in regards to servers and switches, as well as devices for students. In addition to this, the state government Victoria made a big investment with the now defunct Ultranet, a learning platform that was supposed to be the intermediary between staff, students and parents. The big question however is whether it has been enough?
 
For even though the government has provided Internet access, it cannot always be trusted due to insufficient bandwidth and tendency to drop-out. This has led to some schools investing in their own lines, creating a new culture of equity surrounding access. In addition to this, even though the government provides state schools with WAPs and other such infrastructure support, there are schools who find this hardware insufficient for their needs. Therefore, although the government has made significant investments, the question is whether it could have been done better?
 
I will never forget sitting in the meetings in regards to the Ultranet being told how many thousands of dollars that it would cost to make even the most minuscule of changes. Maybe instead of investing so much money developing a new product, the government could have invested more in regards to support and infrastructure, letting schools choose their own solutions, whether that be Google Apps for Education and Edmodo or some other combo and simply providing support in the form of coaches with the implementation.
 

Lack of Leadership and Guidance

Another point of confusion relates to the leadership and guidance surrounding the support of ICT in schools. I cannot think of another area in education with so many competing positions and job titles. One school has an ICT Co-ordinator, another has an eLearning Coach, while another a 21st Century Learning Coach. Then you have some schools who have nothing? You just need to look at the various posts on the matter to get a feel for the matter:
Each post encompasses the topic in its own way, but never completely, for how can it when the area itself is still largely undefined.
 
Whereas in the past the person in the ‘role’ might have worked with a technician to manage the moderate school network and maintain a few computer rooms, now it has expanded to include anything and everything. Spanning pedagogical practice to administering various systems to exploring areas of technological innovation.
 
Unlike other areas, such as literacy and numeracy, which are relatively settled or at least people feel that they can comfortably define them, ‘technology’ offers something that some just aren’t sure about. For how do you really measure the success of technology in schools? Instead, the management and leadership in this area is at times left to those with a passion and interest, therefore sometimes limiting the scope to change possible in some educational settings.
 

Fear of the Unknown

Attached to the confusion over leadership is the culture of fear often associated with technology. One of the biggest changes to education, I would argue, in the 21st century has been the attempt to reposition the place of the teacher away from being the one at the front of the room, to becoming a facilitator whose prime focus is to amplify the thoughts and ideas of the other learners in the classroom. With this comes the move from teacher-as-authoritarian to teacher-as-lifelong learner. For some, this shift is easier than others.
 
In the heyday of technology in school, the message preached was that students knew more, therefore let them run the show. The problem with this is that instead of being a facilitator, the teacher became a ghost in the room, someone largely absent, unsure about exactly what was going on, living in good faith. 
 
To me, palming responsibility off to students is not stepping to the side, this is stepping out of the classroom. What eventuates in this environment is a culture of fear where because you never really know what the students are doing, you jump at every flash and bleep that may occur.
 
I understand that as a teacher you will never always ‘know’, but to me teachers have a duty of care unto themselves, to lifelong learning – to at least try and understand in order to support students as they come up against issues, rather than curse that technology will be the death of us all.
 
With this, teachers need to embrace the unknown and with the students in mind, model how the solve problems. Sometimes it is through such moments of honesty that everyone learns the most.
 

Technology as the Answer

One of the things associated with technological fear is the expectation that somehow technology will be the panacea to all of the modern ills. Too often teachers expect technology to somehow change what they do without them changing any point of their own practise.
 
I have seen too many examples where teachers have introduced technology into the classroom as if it were a solution in itself. Then as soon as there is a hiccup, they baulk and revert to what John Goh describes as our default position. The problem with this is that technology is always doomed to fail if it is not linked to pedagogy and purpose.
 
In the end, technology is not the magic cure, rather it is how it is used that has the potential to have meaningful change. It is one cog in the complex construct that is 21st century learning. For it is through the sum of many parts that students learn. (See my post ‘Sum of the Parts Different to the Whole‘ for a better explanation.) The reality is, you just need to look at the work of John Hattie and you soon realise that the biggest point of influence in the classroom is the teacher themselves. That does not mean that we should simply rid ourselves of technology and focus on the teacher, instead the focus should be on how technology can be used to further practises, such as collaboration, communication and critical thinking
 

Another Thing to Fit

One of the big changes in regards to curriculum over the last few years has been the advent of interdisciplinary strands, such as thinking and interpersonal learning. In addition to this, the curriculum has been made even more explicit, especially for primary school. For example, whereas in the past students in Early Years had to assess against ‘the Humanities’. this has been split up within the National Curriculum and made more explicit. In this environment, ICT and technology becomes another thing to consider in an already cluttered curriculum.
 

ICT as a Subject

Seeing ICT as another thing ‘to do’ misunderstands its place and purpose. Instead of seeing it as an integral part of every lesson, ICT is too often seen as something done with the ICT teacher. Sadly, what should be done in ‘ICT’ is something more akin to computer science. However, it has sadly come to be seen as the time when students get their dose of technology for the week, therefore absolving any requirement to report against it elsewhere. For as we all know, students only engage with literacy in English classes, don’t they?
 
As +George Couros has stated, something is missing when we treat technology as an event. To achieve meaningful change, technology needs to be at the point of instruction. It is then that the potential to redefine the way students learn can truly occur.
 
In his book, ‘The Five Minute Teacher’, +Mark Barnes suggests introducing different applications and tools on a regular basis to help student build up a toolkit of possibilities. In this scenario, students then build up an array of possibilities so that when they are given choice in regards to working in a collaborative manner or communicating an idea they can make an informed choice. ICT is then an aide to learning, not the actual focus.
 

Outdated

Whether it be the choice of tools, applications and programs or operating systems themselves, the world does not stand still. Things are always evolving. Ten years ago the school I had kept a small collection of cameras in the library,  now just about every teacher let alone student has one embedded in some sort of device, whether it be a tablet, smart phone or laptop. With this change means that devices like Flipcams have become obsolete. Although the hardware may still function and would probably have cost quite a bit to buy, their quality and ease of use has become superseded.
 
One of the traps that teachers often get caught teaching the tool as opposed to emphasizing on the purpose. In focusing on skills, it no longer matters what tool or application is used, instead the focus becomes on why it is being used.
 

Change as a Mindset

Education has evolved during the last few years, sometimes though we just don’t recognize all the subtle changes. Maybe what we have is the revolution that we were promised and instead the problem is our inability to see it. I am reminded of +Chris Betcher‘s closing keynote at Melbourne Google in Education Summit 2013 where he explained that in many respects what happens in schools has not necessarily changed. Instead, the friction has been taken away, meaning that what may have taken hours in the past, can now be done in seconds.
As I stated in a previous post ‘Looking Back to Look Forward‘, it is easy to identify our failings, to think that nothing has changed, but if we stop and reflect for a moment we often find that a lot has changed. The challenge then is to change the way we look at such things, rather than change the things themselves.
 
What About You?
These are my reflections, what about you? Have I missed something? Do you disagree? Is your system of education different to the one I have portrayed? Is this specific to Australia or are these issues global? What do you think needs to happen now? I would love to know. Please leave a comment below.

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‘Meaning of Success’ by Celestine Chua (Flickr)
 
The other day I got some feedback about a leading teacher position that I had applied for a couple of months ago. Although I had demonstrated the elements required in my application, it was suggested that I did not provide enough evidence in regards to my competency to lead change management. This got me thinking about what change that I had been a part of. The two things that came to mind were the introduction of the Ultranet and the roll out of interactive whiteboards across the school. However, in reflecting upon both of these situations I wondered if I was successful in bringing about change and how you actually measure such success anyway.
 

Change and Technology

The Ultranet was a learning management system developed by the Victorian State Government to support staff, students and parents by providing an online space to communicate and collaborate. It was also seen as the answer to ongoing student reporting and feedback. As a part of its roll-out, a train the trainer model was implemented where a group of lead users attended two separate days of intensive training and were then responsible for taking this back to their schools to provide support and professional development for the rest of the staff. This came in several shapes and sizes, including whole staff presentations, team focuses and one-on-one support.
 
One of the issues with the Ultranet was that it was not really taken up by all staff. Although we were told about the usage data as a region, many staff simply saw no personal purpose for it and were never really willing to grapple with the difficulties involved in evolving their practise. Subsequently, my role became more administrative than anything else where I was continually resetting passwords for students and dealing with minor problems. This all came to a head when the Australian Education Union put out a directive for members to stop using the Ultranet as a part of the industrial action in 2012, therefore ringing the death knell before the government eventually pulled the plug at the end of 2013.
 
Another initiative that I have had considerable involvement with is the roll out of interactive whiteboards at my school. Before Caroline Springs College separated into four different schools in 2012, an effort was made at the time to install an interactive whiteboard in 100+ classrooms. As a part of this package, the school was provided with a pool of professional development hours. Although I was not in charge of introducing the whiteboards across the whole college, I was given considerable responsibility at my campus. This included communicating with outside providers, as well as facilitating professional development for staff at my campus. Like the Ultranet, this involved a small group being trained up and then supporting their various teams.
 
Sadly, if I were to walk through many classes today there would be little difference from a few years ago. Although most teachers show information or use the associated software to create presentations, there are not many who embrace the interactive potential of the boards as outlined by likes of +Peter Kent and co. Where the boards are used to engage with student responses and give them an authentic voice in the classroom.
 
Interestingly, there has been a greater uptake in the early years classes at my school as it was made a non-negotiable that planning for numeracy had to include a flipchart. What is significant about this is that linking the board to an actual area of study means that it stops simply being a tool in itself and instead becomes a way of refining learning and instruction. It could also be argued that the boards are actually better suited to younger students, a point that +Rich Lambert has made elsewhere.
 
Another issue associated with the take up of the IWBs is that their introduction coincided with the introduction of the 1-to-1 laptop program. Personally, I make more use of student laptops as a way of getting each and every student involved in the lesson, rather than teaching from the board. Whether this be brainstorming with Answergarden or collaborating with Google Drive. What is most important is that, whether be via laptops or interactive whiteboards, the focus is about engaging with student responses to promote deeper dialogue and reflection.
 

Measuring the Immeasurable

The big question then is how do you measure success of such initiatives. I can tell you as I already have what I felt worked and what didn’t, but is that success? Is success instead about data, if so, what data do you use? Linked with this, is change management simply about ‘success’ or is it about what you have done? Being a focus on change, are there some things that never really gain success due to their constant state of flux?
 
To me what stands out about both the Ultranet and the interactive whiteboards is that neither has a direct correlation to clear quantifiable ‘data’. Too often the numbers of hits was relayed to us in regards to the Ultranet. However, even this only tells a small part of the story. For it is not time spent with the tool that matters, rather it is how that tool is used that has the greatest impact. Some suggest referring to such measurements as student opinion surveys which provide snapshot of student engagement and school connectedness, but again this seems like a bit of a stretch. The reality is that there are some aspects of learning are not measurable using grades and marks, a point that +George Couros recently made referring to such soft skills as humility, adaptability and the love of learning. Often the only answers we get in such situations are to the questions we ask ourselves.
 
Although not necessarily empirical or quantifiable, one approach to measuring success is by setting a clear plan with goals and reflecting on them along the way. This is something that I have spoken about elsewhere. Looking back upon both the Ultranet and the IWB’s, I think that this was a missed opportunity. There was no explicit long term plan put into place at the school level and associated with this, no real accountability. Instead of linking them to wider change through the Annual Implementation Plans and the Performance and Development Process, both were introduced as tools-in-themselves, rather than a means for redefining the classroom. For as I have stated elsewhere, 21st century learning “is not about a solitary category or skill, rather it is about the projects, the problems and the many possibilities.” Without wider support, whatever is achieved will only be limited and often fails to sustain any sense momentum without the involvement of others.
 
Another way of reflecting on success is as a way of perceiving things. No matter what context it may be, nothing ever runs completely to plan and neither should it. There are things that work and things that don’t, success in this situation is about celebrating and building upon the positives and benefits. On this matter, I am reminded of +Mel Cashen‘s post on the Ultranet where she identified some of the things that it made possible and how she utilised these in her classroom. What is significant about Cashen’s commentary is that, although the Ultranet may not have held up against the test of time, it served its purpose and accordingly she highlights some of the good things that came out of it, such as it being a safe environment for students and parents to “test the waters of an online world without the harsh consequences the world wide web.” Like goals, reflection is something that we often don’t do enough. For as +George Couros points out about professional development: “If we start building reflection time into our professional development, don’t you think that we would start doing this in our classrooms. We have to move away from the “mass dump” process in our learning.” Sadly, if we don’t allocate the time for reflection then we take the risk of not really learning anything, instead simply making the same mistakes again and again.
 

Learning Lessons

Sometimes success is not about whether an initiative continues to have a meaningful impact or falls on the wayside, rather it is about whether we learn from our failures, whether we reflect on what worked and what we could improve in the future. Just as learning is a lifelong goal, so to should success be. Instead of considering it as something achievable and able to be quantified, I believe that it is best considered as a target, an ideal to which we aim and aspire. Actually hitting the target is only one part of the goal, what is just as important is what that target is and how we go about trying to hit it.

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I recently got into a conversation with +Ian Guest in regards to the possibilities of Google Drive and GAFE after reading my listening to my review of Melbourne Google in Education Summit for +Ed Tech Crew. Although I had posted my shortened presentation that was published in the ICTEV Newsletter, I realised that I had never actually published my notes from my actual presentation at ICTEV13 – In Search of One Tool to Rule Them All.
 

From Little Things, Big Things Grow

ICT has a way of finding people. My personal background is as an English and History teacher. However, I have always had some affiliation with technology, whether it be sitting in on the ICT committee or being a part of the pilot program involving student laptops. A few years ago, an opportunity arose to teach Multimedia and Robotics to students in Years 7 and 8. My school had made a decision to teach ICT and Home Economics, instead of other more traditional technology subjects, such as Woodwork and Metalwork. With no one in the school ‘qualified’ to teach ICT, initially it had been shunted around between the Maths and Science team, based on Robotics. During this time, I had developed a bit of a reputation as a bit of an ICT problem solver. If someone had a problem, I was seen as the one to solve it. Whether it be getting students on the now defunct Ultranet or how to use the interactive whiteboards that were set up in every classroom, I was the go to. Subsequently, I was asked to take on the teaching of ICT within the school.

 

Coming from an English background, the first thing that I felt needed to change was the use of conventional workbooks. Past teachers had the students continuing to work on paper, I decided to approach the subject from the point of view of trial and innovation. I wanted the students to leave my class with skills that I felt that they could take into their other classes. I decided therefore to use Microsoft Word. Initially this was a real success, students learnt how to utilise text styles and other such guides and shortcuts. However, the age old problem soon arose around the ‘collection’ of workbooks. For whatever reason, it would take students nearly ten minutes to complete the laborious task of copying their workbook into a shared folder on the school network. Something that I could do in ten seconds. In addition to this, there were some students who managed to ‘mysteriously’ lose their work. This became a particular problem with the arrival of student laptops as the standard approach to most system problems by the school technicians is to simply re-image the computer, therefore wiping all memory. I therefore made the decision that we needed to find a better solution. After exploring the potential of Evernote and Onenote, I decided to go with Google Drive (nee Docs) as my solution. My concern with Evernote was the limitations in regards to formatting, although it is great for note-taking tool, I felt that it was too limited in regards to fonts, headings and other such stylistic elements. I also felt that Google would be easier to use with the students. From here, the ball has rolled and the use of Google Drive has progressively spread from one classroom to infiltrating many elements of the school.

 

To me, the best way to look at the progression from Google Drive from a program used to create a digital workbook to a program that has slowly infiltrated all aspects of school is through a SWOT analysis. Therefore, breaking it down into its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

 

 

 

‘S’ Stands for Strength

 

 

In a Cloud

 

In my view, one of Google’s biggest strengths is that it lives in the cloud. No longer do we have the myriad of reasons that endlessly abound the classroom, such as ‘I left it at home’ or ‘it did not save’. This is best summed by the viral image of ‘10 Sentences Google Teachers Never Hear’ which lists statements such as: “I finished my paper, but it’s on my computer at home” and “I tried to email this document to myself so I could print it out at school, but its not in my inbox”. This is made even more pertinent with the progressive move away from desktops to personal devices, such as laptops and tablets. Moving away from a school network to the web is surely inevitable.

 

 

Collaboration

 

One of the most powerful attributes associated with Google Drive is the ability to collaborate. Although the most obvious point of collaboration is between students, Google also provides a real and meaningful opportunity to collaborate between staff. The share options in Google allow for so many different methods for sharing, whether it be adding someone else to the document or simply sharing the link to the document. Some examples of documents and tasks that I have used collaboratively include:

 

  • a bookclub document added to by all group members
  • reading conference notes shared between student and teachers
  • study club list where names are added by any staff, anywhere, anytime
  • comment banks and subject blurbs shared with staff

 

 

Feedback

 

In addition to collaborating, another powerful attribute is the ability to provide feedback. One of the limitations with conventional teaching is that to provide students with feedback, you need to collect their books. Sometimes this is not practical as they may still be working on something and it can be a difficult task finding space for a million books on a teachers already crammed desk. Google has provided the means in the classroom to overcome this. Some examples of documents and tasks that I have used to provide feedback include:
  • class workbooks providing a dialogue between staff and students through the ‘comments’ function. These comments are often a mixture of either overall comments, as well as targeted comments done by highlighting work in question and just commenting on that.
  • a class presentation where students posed questions on each others presentations by highlighting particular points in question. This often led to students who were being questioned further elaborating their understandings, therefore showing a deeper knowledge and understanding.
  • curriculum documents, which not only allowed people to collaboratively add information, but allowed each member to provide comments on what did and did not work at they go along.
  • various forms allowing staff and students to ascertain information and present it in a second, such as a PE skills classification where students completed a quiz to create a set of data to discuss as a class.

 

 

Taking ‘ICT’ out of ICT

 

One of the biggest lessons learnt from the Ultranet is that if something does not make some sort of sense at first glance then it takes a lot of convincing, as well as tedious and repetitious explanation, to get staff and students on board. From all the feedback that I have gathered in regards to Google Drive, the biggest positive that is shared is how easy it is to use. It is intuitive and as easy as you will get. I have had to explain the difference between the ‘shared with me’ and ‘my drive’, as well as remembering to share documents, such as workbooks, with teachers. However, that seems to have been the extent of my problems. In the end, Google Drive allows ICT to move away from the restrictive concept of a ‘subject’ to a tool for learning used across all subjects.

 

 

 

‘W’ STANDS FOR WEAKNESSES

 

 

Connecting Online

 

Behind every great ICT program there is someone else doing a whole lot of work in the background. For ICT to work properly, sadly, it usually involves someone else doing, what I term, the grunt work. This was the case with the Ultranet and is definitely the case with Google Drive/GAFE. Some staff and students have issues with remembering another username/password. Also, new years create new problems.

 

 

Staff Take-up

 

One of the biggest difficulties with anything relating to ICT is getting everyone on board. Although students are usually very quick to jump into the potential of new programs and technologies, staff are often not so keen. They often question the value of changing and simply see it as a hassle. Often it is seen as an tool rather than a potential for the modification and redefinition of learning and teaching.

 

 

Competing Programs

 

Associated with taking up new programs, is the perception that ‘other’ programs are better. Although I am not saying don’t use other programs, competing views about how things should be done only undermine the overall take-up and wider support. For example, in my school there is a group of teachers who love using Dropbox for everything and anything. The one benefit that they see is that they are able to create curriculum documents and embed additional files within it. Therefore, for them, Dropbox provides a single place to store all materials. The common view is that Google does not provide this functionality. However, one of the catches to this is that Google Drive/GAFE provide a considerable allocation of space (30GB for GAFE vs. 2GB for Dropbox)

 

 

Dropouts, Glitches, Failures & Other Such Problems

 

Another inhibiting factor in regards to the take-up of Drive is that unless it works 100% of the time, EXACTLY the way people expect it to, then there are some teachers and students who just run. I have some students in class who will tell me ‘the Internet is not working’ every five minutes, only to respond the next second that it is working again. Apprehensive staff on the other hand only get more tense when what they want does not work. Although it may well be working, they can often lack the patience to step back and identify a plausible solution to the issue at hand. Another problem that often raises its ugly head is the difference between the imagined and the reality. This is something that I saw show itself with the Ultranet, with some staff wondering why the Ultranet would not do what they thought it should do. The hardest thing in this situation is how some teachers ‘expect’ something to run is not in fact how it does run. Some such issues include problems with formatting when converting documents from Microsoft to Google Docs, as well as manipulating tables within documents, especially on an iPad. In the end, there are times when you need to find the right tool for the job and for some Google might not be that tool?

 

 

‘O’ STANDS FOR OPPORTUNITIES

 

 

Accessibility 24/7

 

No longer is there a need to haul home endless amounts of student workbooks. With the increasing access to the internet, Google provide access on any device, anytime. With the influx of devices, whether it be a laptop, desktop or mobile, Google also provides the ability to sync information.

 

 

‘Teachable’ moments

 

Google Apps for Education even more so than Google Drive by itself allows for a contained environment in which to promote the appropriate use of technology, a place for discussing the digital trail that we continually leave behind in the modern age. A part of this process is also notifying and educating parents and making sure that the appropriate policies and documentation are in place.

 

 

From enhancement to transformation

 

At present, much of Google’s use in the school is at an enhancement level, to borrow from the SAMR model, with much of the use simply replacing what is done elsewhere. Although there has been some improvement with efficiency, there has been little change in the way things are done. That is the next challenge, to actually modify tasks and the way things are done and to progressively move towards the previously inconceivable. Although such a move would not solely be done through ‘Google’, it does provide a foundation for much of what can be done.

 

 

 

 

‘T’ STANDS FOR THREATS

 

 

Misuse and Abuse

 

One of the biggest threats for many is the use and misuse of technology. Google is not absolved of this. I have had examples of students creating their own document and sharing it amongst each other, conducting chat through it. My concern with this is that if you block things or lock them down, then students will simply find something else. Can you really block everything? And is this even the solution anyway? In my view, students will always find a way. Do we let them wait until they get into a workplace where they write something inappropriate and learn that way? Students need to learn the consequences for their actions, not simply a list of abstract rules to live by. You can use this website, but you can not use that. I think that Sir Ken Robinson summed it up best recently saying, ‘If you sit kids down, hour after hour, doing low grade clerical work, don’t be surprised if they fidget.’

 

 

Other Nets

 

My school has an intranet which was originally used to store documents and information. Over the years there has been a progressive movement away from using this. However, there are some people with vested interests who are unwilling to let go of the past.

Perpetual Pilot

 

There is a danger of what Tom March said in his keynote a few years ago of waiting for the next best thing. I understand that you need to trial something for a small amount of time. However, in my view, at some point a stronger commitment needs to be made.

 

 

Can Google be Trusted?

 

There is a perception by some that Google can’t be trusted. “Will this not open our data up to the wider world, making it accessible to anyone and everyone.” Clearly, this is not the case with Google Apps for Education, where the school has control over both accessibility and content. However, as a corporation, I don’t know if Google can be trusted? Their history of dropping applications leaves many sceptical, while the amount of data that they seemingly collect leaves some questioning why.

 

 

 

Coming back to the village …

In the end, the question that needs to be asked, if it is not Google, then what? I’m ok with not using Google, but what are we going to use? One thing that Ultranet has made aware, doing nothing is not an option. I think that the challenge is to move beyond looking at everything as a problem and instead consider things as hurdles. Associated with this, I think that in a school environment, everyone has a responsibility to help everyone else, because it takes a whole community to create a digital village and that is where the future is.

 

 


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It was a sad day last Wednesday as the Melton Network 21st Century Learning Team met for the last time under the tutelage of +Alf Galea. Although Alf suggested that the network meetings may continue next year, it can be guaranteed, that with all the cuts that have taken place, it will not be to the same level and with the same sense of support. It subsequently left me reflecting on the opportunities that were gained from being a part of the group and how the implementation of various 21st century initiatives has evolved in the past five years.



A New Way of Being

I started working with Alf about five years ago as a part of the roll-out of the Ultranet. I had been asked to be a Lead User with Alf being the Melton Ultranet Coach, while after that Alf worked as the 21st Century Thinking and Learning Coach for the Melton Network. Although the Ultranet failed to achieve what it promised and will move into private hands at the end of the year, there were still many gains that came out of it, including the repositioning of learning and teaching for the 21st century. Whether it be working collaboratively, incorporating thinking and reflection or utilising various forms of technology, there were many lessons learnt. I think that one of the biggest disappoints about the Ultranet – other than it was just too fiddly and erratic – was that too much emphasis was put on the tool at school level and not enough put on the way we work. I have spoken about this in a previous post, the problem with isolating the various skills associated with 21st century learning. Whether we realise it now, I believe that the Ultranet forced everyone to make a choice, whether to incorporate various 21st century learning skills into their classroom or to simply continue with the outdated industrial model. Clearly there have always been schools, classrooms and teachers already delving into many of these areas – you just need to go to something like the ICTEV conference or go online to hear about such innovations – but through the implementation of the Ultranet, all teachers across Victoria were introduced to the skills our students need for the future.

Different Opportunities

In addition to some great learning some great ideas, being a part of the network provided some great opportunities. Other than simply meeting together to discuss various thoughts and issues, I was also given the opportunity to be a part of a learning walk through a neighbouring school to reflect on the way that they were introducing the Ultranet and with that, various 21st century skills. One of the difficulties with introducing any initiative is that it can be hard at times to step back and see things from the perspective of other teachers and students. Therefore, opportunities like this are priceless.

I also got the chance to work with the team at University of Melbourne working on the Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills. This included trialling the online testing of collaborative problem solving with my students, as well as working with teachers from all over Victoria in the development of a range of resources designed to help teachers with the assessment and teaching of 21st century skills.

Becoming Connected

I think that in many respects the biggest gain out of being a part of the 21st Century Learning Team was the opportunity to work with so many different and innovative teachers. I can still remember a few ATC21S sessions when Matt Finn and I would drive home together discussing various programs and websites that we had never heard of. I think that it can be so easy and comfortable at times to stay in isolation, but we often limit ourselves and our students when working this way. Although it can be intimidating and confronting at times working with other teachers, with differing ideas, we are all a part of the same game trying to achieve the same results, the very best education for everyone. I think in many respects, getting connected, whether it be in person or online, is the best thing that any teacher can do. So often you are not only one trying to overcome a particular problem or implement a particular program. Being connected redefines how we work as teachers and learners.

One Door Closes, Another Door Opens

In her blog, ‘The End of the Ultranet Era’, +Mel Cashen suggested that one of the benefits of the Ultranet was that it was a safe and contained platform. I think that in many respects, the whole notion of meeting as a network allowed the same benefits, but I am not sure whether it is the best model moving forward. It was great to meet and get together in a structured manner, but in the last few years, the world has changed. In my view, this ‘forced’ relationship of sorts is no longer the best fit. People now have so many opportunities to connect whether it be in person or online that it seems illogical to exclude people because they are not ‘members’. I think that a regular set of meetings run around ‘Teachmeet’ model would be the best fit. As Matt Esterman suggests, all you needs to do is “pick a date, pick a pub/library/space that is free and go ahead”. One of the benefits of the ‘Teachmeet’ model is that, rather than being chosen, it is a choice to attend. In addition to this, it is not restricted to a specific network, which in today’s day and age of world-wide connectivity seems stupid.
 
Being a part of the Melton Network provided me with a range of things, particularly that teaching and learning does not necessarily have to be the way that it is, that there is always a choice. I still remember chatting with +Jenny Ashby about access to technology at her school during one of the ATC21S sessions. Long before discussion of BYOD and 1-to-1, she explained to me the possibilities of going Apple if the school chose to go down that path. 
 
At the end of the day, the Melton Network taught me that I can make a difference. As the oft-quoted Gandhi statement goes ‘be the change you want in the world’, I have learnt that it is possible to be that change. Whether it be the use of technology or the development of reflective thinking, I believe my own learning and teaching has definitely benefited. The big question though is how do we not only change, but actually evolve, as +Jason Markey put it in his post ‘Change vs. Evolution’. To me, you can change as  an individual, but it often takes a team to evolve, that to me is the truly 21st century challenge. 

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