Archive for the 'Future Directions' Category

Are PISA Results An Accurate Measure Of The Quality Of Education Anywhere?

Late last year, my principal passed along a document transcript of a keynote delivered by Dr Alan Reid from UniSA titled “Translating what? How PISA distorts policy, research and practice in education“. I’ve looked for a copy online but can’t seem to find one to link to so I am uploading the copy from my email inbox to share his analysis to a broader audience. I know that we used this transcript as a basis for a powerful dialogue around the proper use of data for learning in our leadership team, but the messages he delivers could translate well to any nation where the results from PISA are being used to publicly rate and rank how their students are doing. This is not the first time he has questioned the media’s and government’s over reliance on the rankings and data sets that these international tests provide.

Click on the link – Alan Reid keynote CredNovember14 – to download.

It seems that PISA can provoke warning signs of decline in any part of the world, but many media outlets here down under are quick to give these tests a very high level of credibility. A quick sample via Google shows this:

Maths results a concern in PISA schools study
New PISA results show education decline – it’s time to stop the slide
OECD report finds Australian students falling behind

And interestingly, within that last article was this observation from Dr Ken Boston:

Gonski review panellist and former director-general of NSW education Ken Boston said Australia should compare itself to Canada in OECD comparisons – which performed significantly higher than Australia in maths and reading.

Meanwhile, in Canada, who Australia should be seeking to emulate, PISA results are producing a similar reaction:

Canada’s students slipping in math and science, OECD finds

And this article from the Vancouver Sun, has this gem of an observation which perhaps sums up a lot of the hysteria worldwide regarding PISA:

The only people who really revel in the PISA announcement of where Canada sits in the world rankings are politicians, business leaders and university academics well positioned to take credit for successes in public education and blame those lazy overpaid teachers for any drop in the PISA rankings.

You could substitute any number of countries in Canada’s (or Australia’s) place and the statement would feel true to many educators who find the reality of their classroom to be quite detached from the results and how they are interpreted for the public’s benefit.

Anyway, have a read of Dr Reid’s keynote and let me know what you think.

Sliding Into Apathy

April got away from me. It was the first month since starting this blog that I failed to post anything at all.

Maybe I am suffering some form of social media fatigue. I’m still reading and scouring the web as much as ever but I’m picking and pecking through my Google Reader feeds rather than reading feverishly, and my Twitter presence has dwindled down to virtually nothing. Ironically, I’m still picking up new followers but I’m not sure what I’m offering them. I reckon Dean Groom hit the nail on the head the other day when he wrote:

The dark-side is that social media (for educators) didn’t turn out to be the kind of ‘succeed’ culture expected, but a feed culture, where people either churn out the same old gruel or stare into their smart phone expecting for the unexpected to be fed to them.

I don’t need someone pointing me to someone else’s stuff and telling me that this is a must-read or an essential. If I have good enough search skills, I can mine the web for my own nuggets of inspiration and my peculiar flights of fancy.

But I do wish that I could recharge my enthusiasm for writing here. After all, this is my space – and thankfully, Edublogs has evolved into a comfortable low cost option for people like myself who don’t want to do their own domain / own hosting scenario. More budget ranging than free ranging, however.

Tumblr interests me but what captures my attention isn’t niche enough or focussed to make it worthwhile. Most Tumblrs I see are basic digital scrapbooking – which means the unique ones stand out even more. But it seems that the neglect of RSS, the great open concept of pushing information around, is really having an impact. Google Reader winds up soon and I still have to work out  a decent replacement, but one of the best features it used to have was the ability to create an RSS feed of my favourite posts, which I redirected into a widget on the sidebar of this blog. That disappeared, and so did the ability for anyone to see over my virtual shoulder, noting what I thought was worthy of extending out into the network. Corporate siloes are dominating the digital landscape and people seem to be perfectly willing to accept the limitations and standardisations of those places.

Nostalgia hardly seems appropriate for the great Web 2.0 premise of anyone and everyone being an author, a critic or social agitator. But somewhere I’m trying to work out where the joy of playing in this arena has gone for me.

Fire up the XBox – maybe I can still squeeze in a game tonight.

MinecraftEDU Observations – FWIW

I’ve been running some Friday afternoon sessions with a small group of middle primary students on our relatively new MinecraftEDU server. I’m running this as part of a small research project to explore what links to learning are possible and useful using Minecraft as the forum. I know that Minecraft can be a successful vehicle for learning – my son shows me this with Massively Minecraft, and there are a multitude of Dean Groom blog posts to cement the point home. I also read another informative blog MinecraftEdu Elfie that share first hand experiences of using this tool within the classroom. I’ve also been out to a nearby local primary school where a teacher, David Tucker is doing fabulous things with students from a wide range of cultures and social backgrounds. So, I know that the potential is there – but my school’s question is definitely along the lines of – “What could this mean for our kids?”

So, the group of students is my test bed for some action research on a weekly basis, which is a bit infrequent for my liking. But I thinking that a secondary goal is to create some awareness and teacher buy-in, so a slow build up is OK with me for the moment. My other issue is that I’m not a big Minecraft fan personally, lacking motivation and patience to get much past creating a very basic house and mastering flying around the world. So, I recruited real expertise to run the teacher function of the MinecraftEDU set up in the form of a very knowledgeable Year Six student who had the right blend of responsibility, ability to listen to layman style goals (from my mouth) and willingness to improvise for the benefit of a group of younger students. This student has been awesome, bringing a steady hand to the controls within the teacher interface, and he has been constantly offering ideas to make each session a worthwhile experience. He has suggested treasure hunts, separate zones for specific activities and even worked on griefer-management strategies. In his classroom, he’s just another quiet kid but in my sessions, he has grown in confidence to display real leadership and decision making skills – a real commander-in-chief, allowing me to take on a more observational role and see what kids will actually do in the Minecraft environment.

David Tucker’s classroom had highly developed concepts where he had students working in pairs researching and building castles, while EduElfie has his students building models of DNA in the Science classroom. But I decided to start with a much blanker slate. Basically, I wanted a blank “world” where the invited student researchers would be free to create their own choices of buildings etc. I wanted to see what learning naturally evolved without too much teacher intervention – could the kids be self directed learners within MinecraftEDU. I liked the idea of a “teacher” moderator role and found the ideal candidate in the before mentioned student who has explored the meta-controls to a much greater depth than I could. I certainly didn’t want anything being held up by my lack of knowledge. So, the kids came, logged on and I logged in as well as a casual observer to see what would unfold.

One interesting thing that I noted early on was that the students all started building structures in close proximity to each other. In a world where no one was restricted by borders, everyone clustered together within elbowing distance of each other building structures that were so close to each other that I could barely fly between them without colliding with a wall (that could also be my lousy mouse control within Minecraft). And some of the social and play problems that plague our students out in the yard started to replicate themselves in Minecraft – instead of arguments and interference in others’ games, we had “griefing” issues and lava pouring out of walls. So social skills and play skills are another potential application for the MinecraftEDU environment.

I’ve seen some great sharing and collaboration between the students over the term. Students have paired up in their building ventures, some have sought help and expertise from the older moderators to improve their tool sets and crafting abilities. Quiet students have come out of their shell to be quite animated in a liberating display of self-consciousness loss, and for a number of our ESL students, using the common language of English to describe quite complex processes to others has led to improvements in their oral abilities.

Another important thing to note has been the difference between the two modes of “Survival” and “Creative”. With my students, Survival brings out a tense, almost agitated atmosphere where decisions have to be made quickly and instinctively. Voices are high, the pace is frantic and it seems to be every player for him or herself. A switch to creative mode changes the mood significantly. Voices are calmer, more interactive and the deeper thinking and creative side of students has enough time and space to make an impact. Some kids enjoy the Survival mode as it is most game like, and aligns more with the experience they would have on a console game but there are some who find this mode to be too intense and something they don’t like. From a learning point of view, Creative seems to hold the most potential for our students.

From this research group, I am thinking that I now need a volunteer classroom for 2013. A place where this tool can help engage learners to meet some of the capabilities and achievement standards of our new Australian Curriculum. Time to scout out that teacher.

Making The Right Decisions

My role involves the management of a large budget – the school’s allocation of funds towards its technology purchases. It is my responsibility to make decisions about spending that money wisely. Only a few years back at my former school it involved the creation of 3 year plans with purchases mapped out over a time span and the purchasing spread over that time. There was (in some schools still is) a general rule of thumb that desktop computers had a useful life of about 5 years and laptops about 3. Of course, we tried to squeeze as much life out of our machines as possible, with some of the laptops I purchased in 2007 still being used around the school when I left in 2011. But with a wider array of devices available in a number of platforms, the mapping of a structured plan is becoming less important but flexibility and adaptability are key ingredients when planning.

My employer, DECD, obviously agrees as seen in the recent release of their ICT Strategy for 2012-2014 (I know, ironically a three year plan!):

Given the dynamic nature of information and communication technologies (ICTs), and the rapid development of always connected technologies and devices, having a fixed three-to-five-year strategic plan has become unsuitable. What is emerging however is the critical nature of continual improvement and utilisation to current resources while scanning and examining emerging technologies for their potential impact on, and use in, the areas of child development, care and wellbeing and teaching, learning and administration.

This really is common sense, and at WGS, we have decided to check out the developing technologies by using a Lighthouse Classroom project approach. Specifically, the eLearning Committee, and myself look for innovative applications of technology and classroom teachers offer to trial and feedback to the larger staff group. The Lighthouse classrooms get technical and pedagogical support from me in my role, but the nature of teachers who volunteer for things like this tend to trend towards risk takers, active learners and problem solvers. Projects range from trialling tablet devices to using blogs to using Minecraft for learning – and there are many more avenues of opportunity to go down. In the end, what we (the school community) are trying to foster is a culture of innovation. We want to move from a school with pockets of innovation (because every school has them, supported or subversive) towards being an innovative school. An innovative school which does not rest in its goal of improving learning for all students – and the more complex the school, the more innovative we will need to be to meet that aim.

So, the technology purchases and money must align with that aim. So, some budget goes towards these exploratory classroom projects, which then helps to inform more mainstream purchasing for the wider school classrooms. It is very important for me to do the “scanning and examining emerging technologies for their potential impact” to ensure that decisions are made wisely, balancing between what we need is needed right now and what needs to be explored for its potentially improved impact on learning.

#DLDA

This week is a bit of an overload on conference /professional learning events for me. On Monday, it was a whole day event with Dylan William, the Assessment for Learning guru along with the rest of my Woodville Gardens School colleagues. That was pretty good and I have some notes and quotes stored on my laptop.

“Technology is a great servant but a terrible master.” Dylan William during his session.

Today I went to an event titled Designing Learning in the Digital Age (twitter hashtag #DLDA) featuring Dr Gerry White as the opening keynote and sessions from Michael Coghlan, Alison Miller and Mike Seyfang. I went along because in my role as a Learning Technologies leader, I wanted to hear from and interact with other Australian elearning leaders and thinkers to help distill and define my own thinking about the directions I intend to push for at my school. It was an excellent day – and it brings home to me that we have local elearning expertise of the highest quality to interact and connect with. Why many educators feel that they are only really getting on board with networked learning if they can attend face to face sessions with an imported expert is a mystery for me. For me, Gerry’s keynote was a fascinating and informative meander through the online landscape, tying new trends with snippets from his research background. At times, he was blunt and passionate, but I think I have a much deeper appreciation for what he contributed to Australian elearning in his time as head of educationau, and the contributions he still continues to make. If you have a spare 90 minutes, it is well worth checking out the recording – http://t.co/YzPzP7w6.

“… technology is also about how people communicate and collaborate. It is also about the relationships between people.” Gerry White today.

As is usually the case with a day like this where a stack of ICT related topics are explored, there is heaps to consider, ponder and think through. I wrote some notes along the way, I’m re-listening to the opening keynote as I type – and I think I’ll pick out some of the ideas to interrogate in a few future blog posts.

Tomorrow, my boss, Frank and I present at an ILE (Innovative Learning Environments) conference that features Dylan William again, about the research project that we’ve started looking at learning using digital gaming. A few things from today will be resonating in my brain as I explain our project to other interested educators.

A screengrab from Gerry’s talk that highlights a great quote.

 

 

Here’s My First Conscious Social Object Concept (Very Rough Format)

Following on from yesterday’s post:

This idea stems from a common problem in primary school yards – dropped litter. Buckets that encourage social responsibility with a touch of fun – and bin “monsters” that are inviting to use – a problem that seems to be challenging to address in terms of altering behaviour. Lecturing and emu parades are just temporary bandaids and really only prompt action from already responsible students. Could this work or has it already been done?

Cartoons As Social Objects

I’m not alone when I cite Hugh MacLeod of GapingVoid as one of my favourite cartoonists on the web. I also really like Alex Noriega, Jessica Hagy, Doug Savage but my all time favourite cartoonist (whose work pre-dates the internet easily) is Michael Leunig. A well drawn cartoon can capture an idea or an emotion in ways that words cannot. So, the other day, Hugh’s blog pointed to a slidedeck that he has created outlining how his work is enacting change in the business world. He refers to his cartoons as social objects, explaining the concept further in a page on GapingVoid.

The Social Object, in a nutshell, is the rea­son two peo­ple are tal­king to each other, as oppo­sed to tal­king to some­body else. Human beings are social ani­mals. We like to socia­lize. But if you think about it, there needs to be a rea­son for it to hap­pen in the first place. That rea­son, that “node” in the social net­work, is what we call the Social Object.

It has got me wondering if the idea can be remixed for learning. I mean, education has had learning objects peddled for quite a while now so why not social objects? I think that they already exist anyway in our schools and professional associations, and definitely in learning networks on the web but without the formal identification of such a label. But if I understand Hugh correctly, a well designed social object creates conversation and  draws people to a particular concept or idea. This could be very powerful in places like schools in order to open up fresh thinking, introduce preferred models of practice and to help co-create positive outcomes and learning / social dispositions.

I really like the ideas in Slides 10, 13, 14, 15 and 22. Hugh produces social objects for companies to improve their outcomes. My next step is to see if I can create a cartoon that is a social object for learning. Maybe you might know of one that already fits the bill.

More to come …

Quick Review – Program Or Be Programmed

I love reading, watching and listening to Douglas Rushkoff. I think he is one of the great minds of the last twenty years and he has amazing insight into popular culture and the way western society operates in general. I would describe him as a form of anthropologist as he studies human behaviour and in his latest book contrasts that against the impact that technology has had on the modern world. I bought his book “Program Or Br Programmed” a few months ago but it has only been the holiday break that has given me the time to get through its 150 pages. Check out the YouTube clip below for a synopsis of the book:

The main thrust of the book is around the fact that as digital technology becomes increasingly embedded into our way of life, it is crucial that we have an understanding of how that technology is programmed, and how its “bias” is designed to push human interaction in a certain pre-determined direction. He doesn’t necessarily state that actually having programming skills are essential, but having an advanced understanding of what goes on behind the scenes is essential (in other words, digital literacy is a must). Reading his book is very thought provoking and had me viewing a lot of things through a very critical lense – especially at the recent CEGSA2012 conference. An example of a technology with a certain bias would be an iPad where how it all operates is very deeply hidden from the user – this device is very hard to hack or manipulate in a subversive way because the designers have it in their best interests to have users that use their devices in a certain way. Interestingly, who has complained the loudest about the iOS system being closed, the App Store having restrictive guidelines and the device lacking external storage or accessible batteries? The most highly skilled geeks and computing buffs – the programmers. Schools can feel it in the way that Apple pitches the iPad as a “personal” device – so they have to work hard around the programming bias to utilise it as a “shared” learning device.

Facebook is another technology with inbuilt bias. It allows sharing – but only within the confines of its digital walls and same-same profile decor. It wants its captive audience to be in the one place so that the people who really pay the bills, the advertisers, can have full rein. But as Rushkoff points out, the internet itself as a structure has a bias towards sharing and openness, so he believes that in time, technologies that try to constrain or control this will have to adapt or become irrelevant. In fact, he makes a real effort to avoid naming specific technologies because he believes that the advice offered in the book will have an infinitely greater lifespan than many of the at-the-moment dominant technologies ruling the web.

Rushkoff spends quite a bit of time pointing out the limits of the digital world, which at time seems unlimited to people like me. Choices are always presented in neat packages predetermined by an algorithm or program. An example that springs to mind is blog themes – you might have a choice of a hundred themes but unless you know how to hack or program some aspects of those themes, you are limited to those themes. It explains why unique and really beautiful websites are nearly always created by people with a programming and design background. Mere users like myself are limited to what we are shown by others with the programming skills.

So, a really thought provoking book. Grab yourself a copy – at 150 smallish pages, it is not a big read – but it will force you to grapple with some things about the web and digital technology that you may have considered too much before in the past. And those of us who think we are savvy in the digital realm need to have our preconceptions challenged every now and then.

There Are More People Around Like Me Than Print Media Would Like

The signs are everywhere around the web – the printed newspaper is on the downward slide.  A couple of pointers from my Twitter feed showcases the evidence:

The hard truth: Newspaper monopolies are gone forever

Fairfax slashes 1,900 jobs, closes presses

There is evidence closer to home. I notice every time I am offered a free Advertiser after a quick stop for groceries at Foodland and I certainly noticed when the same newspaper lobbed on my lawn for a week with a letter compelling me to continue “enjoying” the convenience of this service.

Unlike my parents-in-law who have religiously paid for home delivery of the daily paper for decades, I probably won’t notice or care when the paper version ceases to exist. Oh, and one more link for posterity’s sake.

Don’t just blame the web for Fairfax’s failure

They're no twits

 

Innovation + Leadership = Change

Here’s what I plan to present in my 7 minute presentation at the Adelaide TeachMeet on Thursday afternoon.

TeachMeet Adelaide Presentation Script – “Innovation + Leadership = Change “

Hi, I’m Graham Wegner. I’m currently an Assistant Principal at Woodville Gardens School B-7 with a focus on Learning Technologies and Admin but prior to this appointment, I was the ICT Coordinator at Lockleys North Primary starting in 2003. My current school is fortunate enough to be part of a DECD Innovative Learning Environment project group which is an interesting experience in itself. The schools that are part of this project are all doing things that fall outside the bounds of what other schools think is possible or permissible within our state education system, or in the case of the three PPP (Private Public Partnership) schools or “super schools” as we’ve been dubbed by the media purpose built with a view to doing things differently and encouraging innovation. There are lots of aspects of our school’s physical designs that move teacher thinking away from the isolated classroom approach to education, and we have been set up well with an excellent wireless network but innovation that leads to meaningful change doesn’t just happen because the physical environment suggests it. Another interesting aside is that all three PPP schools in the project (Blair Athol North, Mark Oliphant College and us) all serve complex, lower socio-economic communities so it could be interpreted that there is a realisation that the way school has always been done hasn’t served these communities well and that the magnifying  effects that disadvantage can have on student learning outcomes needs innovative thinking to effect change.

And it is this idea of innovation linked to change that I’d like to discuss in the time I have here this afternoon. In general, throughout the world, innovation drives change, with the goal being that this change is for the better, be it better ways to communicate, better ways to solve crime, to entertain ourselves, to cure or relieve ailments and so on. Education has been labelled, fairly or otherwise, as an institution that is slow to change and is in fact, a very difficult way for innovation to take place and flourish. However, we are at a point in time where the advancement of technology, the product of innovation, is forcing change throughout the world – some of it political as we can see in examples like MySchool and teacher accountability measures, some of it social in examples like Facebook and YouTube – and there is a real societal backlash landing back on schools as a result. And large systems like DECD aren’t well equipped to be nimble and adaptive to external change pressure – and we as educators cop flak about the bad teachers, the worthless SACE subjects, the social media entanglements that our students get involved in, the lack of male teachers and are painted as this conservative bunch who shut the classroom door each day and forget that the outside world exists.

Except that doesn’t really happen. There are plenty of innovative educators out there and it wouldn’t be a stretch for me to generalise that all of us here tonight at this TeachMeet are innovators of sorts, or at least, see ourselves as agents of change. We are the first to try things out at our respective sites. We are the ones who change things for our students – and we find it enormously frustrating that others, sometimes the considerable majority that the media must be referring to when the profession is slammed in the papers, don’t see the urgency or the opportunities that we see as being obvious.

A quick disclaimer then a quick example. When I portray myself as innovative, I know that it is all contextual and relative. Since becoming a networked learner who relies on the internet for self learning opportunities, I know that most of the ideas I’ve trialled in my classrooms have all been done before by other trailblazers scattered around the world. So, I’m referring to innovative in terms of the status quo for South Australian schools not as compared against other innovative ideas from around the world. Anyway, onto the example which has two parts. In 2006, I posted a presentation for the K12Online Conference titled “No Teacher Left Behind: The Urgency of Web 2.0″ – a pretentious title for a pretentious topic. It was a rallying call for progressive educators to get on board with internet based tools and start networking with other educators to become better learners. Well, I could pull up the same presentation five and a half years later, and not a lot seems to have changed in classrooms in this neck of the woods. In 2008, I started student blogging at Lockleys North with my class and last year left a program being run by my immediate colleagues who saw the value in the innovation and made the change in their practice to offer this learning opportunity for their students. But upon my arrival at Woodville Gardens, I found that student blogging was a concept that hadn’t hit classrooms yet and I realised (although I always susupected) that my participation in something innovative in South Australia hasn’t translated to a change across more schools than the one where I first took up the innovation.

So, innovation can push towards change, but there is a missing ingredient that I believe that the collective “we” are responsible for – leadership.

Leadership can look like many things. It can be a formal role like the one I have now. But we all know that formal roles don’t automatically translate to change either. I’m sure you all know of principals who believe that their job is to keep things running exactly as is – unless the department tells them otherwise. And it is no fun trying to be the innovative teacher in one of those schools either. But in a formal role, I have a better shot at influencing more educators compared to when I was the classroom teacher and could only influence the teachers next door to me. As a coordinator I could make inroads into a team or targetted group but those of us who are or have been coordinators know the difficult task that role can be. But as an Assistant Principal, I have the authority to determine school directions that can turn innovative ideas and programs into progressive more commonplace practice.

But not everyone wants an official leadership role. So leadership opportunities can be found elsewhere – and the most innovative space to do so is online. There are countless examples o f people who started an online presence from their classroom who wield enormous amounts of influence because they put their practices, their innovation in a place where anyone or everyone could find them. Try throwing these names into Google and see what you find – Brian Crosby, who works out of a classroom in Nevada who ended up presenting to international school educators in a major conference in China, international school leader Kim Cofino who posted about that 2006 presentation of mine pondering my advice and now is someone who I aspire to be like in terms of vision and getting real learning change happening. Try Dan Meyer, who was a young high school Maths teacher who started a blog for fun, is now doing a PhD and has worked for Google and Pearson, but still sees his blog as the best personal professional growth he could ever have – and for one closer to home, New South Wales high school teacher, Bianca Hewes, whose innovation in using Project Based Learning combined with student social networking tool Edmodo got her a trip of a lifetime to ISTE last year as Edmodo’s featured blogger!

So, in closing, the problem with being innovative is that while you are always looking to improve things, it is hard to move on knowing that your initial innovations have not become commonplace. As I tweeted last year at one of the ILE conferences:

You can’t have everyone being innovative ‘cos it can’t be innovation if everyone is doing it! #DECD_SA

So, my challenge to you all is to find your leadership niche so that your innovation can become positive, meaningful change. Thanks for listening.