Archive for the 'Future Directions' Category

Tensions

During Ewan McIntosh’s keynote on Wednesday, I posted the following reaction to Twitter:

For me, the theme of #EduTECH is tensions – between pedagogies, between possibilities and constraints, between curriculum and creativity…

I’ve thought about tensions in education before in the past. But Ewan’s discussion about tensions and contradictions, followed by Tom Barrett’s presentation on creativity which also talked about tensions, started some contemplation within my own mind about how I go about my own learning and then transferring that to my professional life as an educator and leader. This post will be an attempt to sort some of that out and to address some of my past frustrations in a new, more informed light. I don’t want to rehash Ewan’s address here but this great visual presentation from Cathy Hunt aka @art_cathyhunt sums up the key ideas.

I’ve been looking back at the almost three years that I’ve been at WGS with a feeling of frustration in a number of areas. I know that the school is immensely complex and challenging, and I have been on a steep learning curve since arriving. However, there are a lot of times when I feel like I haven’t made that much of a difference to the place, or that the school hasn’t moved to places that it should have under my guidance. I remember applying for the job and talking to another ICT peer here in Adelaide about the opportunity. He suggested that the position would be ideal – a brand new school, no previous incumbent or set ICT directions, a blank canvas, so to speak professional opportunity wise. I had visions of heading up a drive of innovation where technology would be embedded in rich and meaningful ways, where connected staff planned and provided leading edge learning for their students and there would be outside recognition of these programs.

Well, WGS is innovative and doing a great job catering for the needs of its students and I am privileged to be part of a large progressive leadership team, but it is my own contribution that caused me frustration. Everyone else seemed to have their act together and knew what they were doing while I (in my mind) struggled to be clear about directions, about making the right decisions and most of all, about getting teacher buy in for the essential role of technology in re-imagining learning for our students. Maybe it is part of the reason I started to retreat from participation in educational social media – I felt like I didn’t have successes to highlight, that every connection seemed to be on track with their professional programs but me. The evidence was in front of me – educators who used to be just like me when I was a coordinator / classroom teacher were heading up important leadership roles, being headhunted to showcase their answers at conferences and being referenced as thought leaders in publications and books. Not that I wanted any of that – but I didn’t want to feel like the only one who feels like they don’t know what they are doing.

There are two Hugh MacLeod cartoons that speak to me above all others. One is aspirational:

And the other is to help me feel good:

So, to to hear Ewan and Tom talk about tensions made me reflect about the tensions I experience in my daily professional life. There are plenty of them. There is the tension between ensuring that there are enough devices available for use and the fact that any devices can be used to enable student learning at a deep level. There is tension between dealing with urgent behaviour management issues at the expense of more big picture planning – the former robs the latter of time, but leaving the former means that extra thought for the latter could well be wasted. Tensions exist across the school – teachers are encouraged to use structure to keep students on task and because looseness can descend into chaos within a minute, but over-structure promotes disengagement and constrains freedom of choice for learners. I personalise learning for teachers at PD sessions but it is difficult when the range stretches from Twitter enthusiasts to teachers who struggle to sign up for an online account – mirroring the broad range of our students.

I have probably achieved a lot more in my role at this school than I am prepared to give myself credit for. But I don’t like to use valid reasons as excuses, so I need to open up myself to more sharing, more consultation with my colleagues and making networked learning a key part of a leadership and role resurgence that is necessary for both the school, my colleagues and myself.

EduTECH 2014 – Virtual Version

Cross-posted from my staff blog where I set up a Virtual EduTECH page for interested staff who wanted to know a bit more about the conference that the select five of us who went got to see. Putting this together showed me that sometimes someone else does say it better, than curation is a great way to assemble a shared experience and favouriting Tweets as the conference goes along is a heck of a lot easier than trawling back through 4 days of a #hashtagged Twitter stream. I think that if you didn’t get to go to this conference then a thorough exploration of the stuff assembled below will go pretty close to making you feel like you knew what was happening and the big ideas that flowed through the conference and out through the digital ecosphere.

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Sugata Mitra - From a hole in the wall to the cloud
Article that summarises most of the ideas from his keynote.
He talked a lot about the concept of SOLE (Self Organising Learning Environments) – link to Tumblr showcasing examples and ideas.
Here is his talk summarised in cartoon form.


Anthony Salcito – Lead a Learning Revolution

Jenny LucaDigital Literacy  Enter in your school email address to access her slideshow

Judy o’ConnellWeb 3.0

Sir Ken Robinson – Learning To Be Creative
Keynote summary including links to videos shown.


Ewan McIntosh – Agile Leadership in Learning


Ewan’s talk summarised via Storify by corisel.

Gary Stager – Making School Reform

Tom Barrett – Creativity and the Australian Curriculum

Dan HaeslerHow to use technology to enhance student engagement, motivation and wellbeing

Joyce ValenzaHacking the Library

Greg Whitby - Developing a contemporary model of learning & teaching for a connected world

Ian JukesAligning technology initiatives in the age of disruptive innovation

Sue Waters, who works for Edublogs, took it upon herself to curate the photos, videos, tweets and blogposts into Flipboard creating a digital artifact that delves even deeper than this virtual line up here. Check it out – it is a real treat and shows the power of crowdsourcing showing that it is possible to see things from other people’s point of view. CHECK IT OUT!


EduTech 2014

Photo by my colleague, Salma.

Photo by my colleague, Salma.

I am on the return leg home from Brisbane where four of my colleagues and I have spent the past two days at EduTECH. Personally I think that this event is misnamed because it is much more about learning with a focus on the rapidly approaching future than any particular focus on technology. Sure, there are tons of vendors in the exhibition area; some plugging products at odds with the pedagogies being espoused in the keynote sessions. But looking through the list of speakers shows big picture thinkers, education leaders with a story of change to tell and other learning focussed edu-celebrities all of who contrast with the invited speakers from the Gold class sponsors who have to subtly (or not so) remind us of their products or services in their addresses. But they help to pay the bills and keep the costs to us delegates within range of our school budgets so their presence on the program is a given. Without fail, it was their sessions that had the quickest “vote with your feet” factor in play.

For someone like me whose role is centred on change and enriching use of technology the list of “want to see” speakers was comprehensive. I loved Sugata Mitra, couldn’t wait to hear from Jenny Luca and Judy O’Connell, enjoyed but felt a bit ho-hum about the big draw card Sir Ken Robinson, even though it feels like sacrilege to say so. (No death threats please, Ken Robinson fans!) Tom Barrett was great, Ian Jukes was fervent but captivating and where else could you face the difficult choice of either Ewan McIntosh or Gary Stager?

EduTECH is a bit of a keynote-fest but the subtle interactivity running through the online back channels meant you could peek into the minds of others as salient points were made in the Great Hall or Plaza Ballroom. During Ian Jukes’ closing keynote the #EduTECH hashtag stream reached over 10.5 thousand tweets and retweets. That’s a lot especially when I can remember conferences a few years back where you would be lucky to have 20 people in the flow of conversation. It was really interesting to see my colleagues all at varying stages of engagement with using Twitter as a tool for learning really embrace the interaction and the widening of the learning experience. They were truly experiencing the well worn phrase “The smartest person in the room is the room” and certainly, not on a scale that they had experienced before.


Sugata Mitra was interesting to me because of his research based approach to his work and how that influenced his conclusions. The big message that came through for me was about collaboration and students learning together. There were images of large screen computers with flexible furniture to facilitate students using the screen together to collaborate and to de-privatise the learning – a push away from the concepts of 1:1 devices. He talked about optimum learning being on the edge of chaos.

I must admit that I made the choice to make a early exit from the Vice President of Microsoft Education’s keynote as his message seemed to be leading down a well trodden path that I’ve seen enough times before, and not even find out what the gentleman from Intel planned to cover. That was fine, plenty stayed to listen and I wanted to connect with educators that I knew were here. Quite a few schools from South Australia had teams in attendance and it was great to connect with other colleagues in the process of enacting positive change. It was also a chance to meet a few more people who I’ve interacted with online over quite a few years. I had Jenny Luca sit a row in front of me (she made an interesting comment to me about me being someone who seemed to have retreated offline, a very true statement that requires more thought on my behalf) and I ran into Judy O’Connell in the exhibition hall. I ran into Tom Barrett again but we’ve crossed paths quite a few times over the last few years but it was my search for Sue Waters that would prove to be most elusive. Sue is someone who I have known online since 2006 when she was doing podcasting and other interesting stuff as part of her TAFE lecturer role. When I saw her name in the Twitter stream, my mind flashed back to Skype chats with cutting edge thinkers like Alex Hayes, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Clay Burell. Sue is now extremely well known as an integral part of the Edublogs team, where she gets to do what she enjoys most in her own words, helping others. I think that Sue is one of the most awesome people going around and it was totally worth the missed crossing paths and “Where are you now?” direct messages on Twitter to talk to her face to face ten minutes or so before the closing keynote. A funny side note is that Scott, one of the WGS teachers with our group, unwittingly met Sue the day before when he was searching for a way to charge his fast draining phone and offered to lend him a cord!

Both Ewan and Tom were excellent in their presentations with Ewan’s thoughts on tensions and leadership being particularly relevant for me and my current headspace in my recently resumed role. Before we left, I set up a Virtual EduTECH page on our new staff blog that embedded the #EduTECH stream to encourage interested staff to follow along. Before we left on Monday, my principal Frank had the page up on the flatscreen in the staffroom to help pique interest in what we were participating in. My task is now to curate links and videos from the important speakers so that the team who went have some memory triggers to help propagate the key themes and ideas that match our school’s directions.

Soaking in this big picture thinking for two days does require some thought decompression and entangling of intertwined messages. I’ll probably do that here over the course of a few posts here. But for now, as we begin the descent into Adelaide, this will do as the first part of that process.

Brisbane, Southbank side, pic by me.

Brisbane, Southbank side, pic by me.

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 …