“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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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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In a recent blog, +Vicki Davis shared about the idea of having an ‘App of the Week’, where she has a focus each week on a particular application. As she suggests:
I want my students to be productive geniuses. They are a human being not a human doing but they carry around a full blown secretary in their pockets, if they’ll learn how to hire it. If you are a BYOD school, you should do everything in your power to help students really “Bring it” using their mobile device and an app of the week is just one way to do it.
Using Dragon Dictation as her example, she shows how she introduces a new program and gets the students using it in five short minutes. This is a great example of how to manage 1-to-1 programs.
 
One of the biggest challenges I have had in being a part of the group implementing a 1-to-1 program is how to get the most out of the devices. I have found one of two things happen, either the devices are rarely used, only when they fit a particular need in the lesson, such as research, or students simply use the programs and applications that they feel comfortable with, rather than the programs that would best address the purpose and audience. Associated with both of these issues is how we see the devices in and out of the the classroom.
 
 
If you follow Ruben R. Puentedura’s SAMR model, ‘tools for working’ that many teachers have in the classroom should not only support learning, which they often do, but also add to learning, with the aim of redefining education and providing possibilities which were previously unavailable. The big question is how do we help this move from enhancement to transformation happen?
 
Having had the experience of being a Lead User for the now defunct Ultranet, one of the problems that occurred was actually developing the habit of use amongst both staff and students. A part of this was finding authentic purposes and having the confidence with the system, but I feel that the biggest challenge was associated with people actually overcoming the hurdle of how to use this. I could list a range of systems and programs where the lack of time and opportunity to experiment and understand them has hindered their take-up. Take for example ActivInspire, Photoshop Elements, student email, Edmodo etc … At some point 1-to-1 programs needs move the focus away from the device and to the learning.
 
In addition to Vicki Davis’ idea of an app a week, another example of a program that I found, which provides students with opportunity to be immersed within digital technologies, not just use them, is Ben Gallagher’s idea of a ‘Digital Sandpit’. Developed as a way to improve some poor Attitudes to School Survey results relating to motivation and connectedness, Ben incorporated a set time each day where students would engage with a range of different devices set up as rotations.
With the support of my Principal and Staff I decided to start the Digital Sandpit at 8:50, 10 minutes before the schools start time and run it to 9:10, a 20 minute activity that only takes 10 minutes out of the regular school day. The sessions originally consisted of 4 rotations, Nintendo DSi, iPod, Nintendo Wii and Laptops. All of the activities were carefully selected and had educational underpinnings, such as the Brain Training and Math Training games on the DSi, Racing on Mario Kart and ordering each other’s times from fastest to slowest and many more.
I think what is significant about the idea of the ‘Digital Sandpit’ is that it is both structured and done on a regular basis.
 
 
 
Finding time within an already busy curriculum to incorporate such opportunities is often the biggest challenge. The Western Metropolitan Region set out a few years ago to increase levels of reading across all levels. One of the initiatives that were introduced was a set reading time each day supported by regular conferencing. Although the initiative hasn’t been smooth sailing, with its speed humps along the way, one of the reasons for its success is its regularity. At my school, the students read from 2:15 til 2:30 each day. Like Ben’s ‘Digital Sandpit’, this could not be possible without the support of the whole staff. Coincidently, as soon as a few staff stop supporting an initiative like the reading program, then cracks begin the appear. 
 
On the flip side, if an initative like the 1-to-1 devices is left to too few, then nothing seems to be ever achieved. One of the challenges for 21st century learning is the integration of ICT within the classroom. Often, however, the responsibility for this change, for the upskilling of students, is left to the ‘ICT’ teacher. Interestingly, when you look at AusVELS, ICT is a form of interdisciplinary learning, yet it is so often spoken about as a ‘subject’ to be taught. One of the negatives to this, other than the fact that it expects too much from too few, is that students often enter such classes expecting to simply learn programs or how to code. Sadly, this is more akin to computer science. Engaging with the various tools for learning is bigger than exploring computer science. Personally, I recently changed the focus of my ‘elective’ subjects from ‘ICT’ to ‘Media Studies’ as too many of my students were caught up in what they did rather than why and how. In reality, whether it is English, Humanities, Media Studies, everyone of my classes is an ‘ICT’ class. Although it may not be the focus, it is often how learning is facilitated and coordinated.
 
One of the other claims that is often made about laptops and technology is that students are digitally native and that they already know how to use it. The problem with this is that they may be immersed in different technology within their day to day lives, this does not necessarily mean that they always know how to get the most out of it. Associated with this, many students lack the ability to find the most appropriate application or program to use, let alone how to get the most out of these them. +Rebecca Davies sums this dilemma up in a blog ‘The Digital Native Myth: Why we still need to teach kids HOW to use the iPad‘ suggesting that:
Students need to be taught how to use the iPad. They need to be taught how they can use it to create amazing things, to share their learning and connect it with the real word, to deepen their thinking.
What is important is that they need to be given the opportunity to explore and experiment. In my view, for such an approach to work it needs to be integrated across the board. Just as we encourage students to share, we also need to provide staff with more informal opportunities to share.
 
 
+Tom Whitby sums up the whole problem in his recent post ‘20th vs. 21st Century Teaching‘ where he suggests that, “What we learn should take a back seat to how we learn.” And how we learn is something that we all have a stake hold in. 
 
I would love to here of any other ways that people are introducing different tools, programs and applications into the classroom. Please feel free to leave a comment below.

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