Future Directions


So, last night I decided to get with the times and check in on one of these #hashtagED Twitter chats that few of my online colleagues have been saying are the ultimate in online PD. The one that was being promoted a bit at EduTech was #AussieED and I took note of the 8.30 pm AEST start time, and dutifully watched for 8 pm my time with my trusty iPhone at the ready. I even saw the topic was around this idea of being a teacherpreneur which I thought could be interesting as it threw my mind back to a recent Stephen Downes post in which he wrote:

Why do I dislike the idea of teaching entrepreneurship so much? Because it changes the child's perspective from the idea of serving social needs through work and learning to one of serving the needs of people with money. And when you have this perspective, you can never get at the question of why these people have all the money in the first place, and you can never perform work which changes that.

This observation really resonates with me. Being an entrepreneur means the world of business, money making, exploiting of marketplace gaps and investing in hope of a future financial payoff. There is no problem with entrepreneurs in the education space - consultants, software developers, PD providers and so forth - even if some believe that they are more crucial than what they really are. But to apply that label to classroom teachers or school based leaders, well, that is a big stretch in my mind. So to me, a "teacherpreneur" would be someone from a teaching background constructing or plugging a service or product. But clearly, I am in the minority.

I was not really prepared for the scope of the #AussieED experience. I had loaded up TweetDeck and straightaway the tweets were running off the page so fast that I couldn't even read one before it was being bumped down the page. The moderators had posed some questions - the first being "What is your understanding of a teacher entrepreneur?" And it seemed like anything went ...

Q1- teachers who are forward thinking and break new ground by searching for new innovative ways to teach

A1. A educator who spends their time in the creative and innovative design of pedagogy.

A1 A teacher who creates, invents or re-invents an idea, system or product to more adequately meet the needs of learners

A1: Someone who invests in the needs of students and makes it their business to enhance youngsters' life chances.

A1 - one who tests, tries and believes in their ideas reaching out to as many as they can..inclusive to the core

It was starting to sound like anyone or anything could be classified as a teacherpreneur - but these responses seem at odds with the first hit on Google:


noun: entrepreneur; plural noun: entrepreneurs
  1. a person who sets up a business or businesses, taking on financial risks in the hope of profit.

Then a couple of tweets came through that was on my wavelength.

The term edupreneur is just another way to commercialise education. Look at the feed on this tag already

A1. Someone looking to exploit a niche. Regards the term intellectual property loosely. Doesn't need to be a teacher.

And it was true about the feed on the tag. As my head spun from all of the one way traffic on the #AussieED tag, I was amazed that there was very little pushback or challenging of the concept. It seemed universally accepted that being an entrepreneur is totally a positive thing, and not only that, almost anyone and anything related to teaching could be see as entrepreneurial! I figured to make any sense of this at all, I needed to start at the beginning with the initial question, and it got some traction with one of the moderators. The screengrab shows the conversation as it unfolded.

As you can see, an actual entrepreneur (who is in line with the dictionary definition) got involved in this conversation but I still felt like innovation is being mistaken for being entrepreneurial. I know they are not mutually exclusive but it is possible to be innovative with being entrepreneurial.

Anyway, at that point, I thought I would bail and go work on a blog post or something but I thought a brief acknowledgement to Brendan Jones was in order:

teacherpreneur chat2And there was the word of the night - antigroupthink - which summed up perfectly my experiences on that topic in #AussieED. I'll participate again sometime in the future but not before checking out the topic thoroughly first, and working out a strategy for dealing with the torrent of tweets.

I am looking forward to EduTech. I am lucky enough to be leading a group of seven of my staff off to Brisbane in under two weeks time. Several have been wanting an opportunity like this for a couple of years now, while others are nervous about participating in such a high profile event early in their teaching career.

However, across my network connections, there is a growing trend towards bagging EduTech both as a concept and as an event. I am not saying that some of the criticisms aren't valid or that educators aren't entitled to hold views that are anti-EduTech. It's just that incessant bleating of the same complaints over and over again that give out the vibe that it is an evil, money-sucking, leeching parasite of a conference for gullible teachers that I feel is unnecessary. I get the sense that some people would rub their hands together with glee if they heard that this event that has risen to prominence in just a short number of years was about to fold or to discontinue.

I've read the complaints. Overseas speakers get buckets of cash while our poor Aussie compatriots get no monetary recompense. It's too expensive. It is too big and too impersonal. It's a big echo-chamber. Too many vendors peddling wares to unwary schools. Too much celebration of the edu-celebrity. There's elements of truth in all of these generalisations. But it's not the total story.

There has to be a reason that huge numbers of Aussie educators flock to Brisbane - and it's not because we are all gullible sheep lining up to get fleeced. There has to be a reason why the big name speakers resonate with teachers - including teachers who don't join state professional edtech organisations. Everyone has different reasons - I can only share mine.

I enjoy the different speakers, especially the ones from beyond our shores because they can sometimes present ideas in new and different ways compared with the way institutions involved in learning operate in Australia. Everyone has their asking price, and if someone like Sugata Mitra is asking a six figure fee and EduTech are prepared to factor that into their expenses to put him in front of me (and several thousand compatriots), I don't have a problem with that. As with all speakers (and anything being spoken, written or conveyed about education and learning) the onus is on the attendee to be a critical consumer. I don't have to agree with everything that Sir Ken says as I feel that my learning is most informed by the tensions or points of difference that I notice. And being plugged into Twitter at the same time enables me to see into other people's brains at the same time and see how the story is resonating or reverberating there. I see more pushback or added value via Twitter than nodding and regurgitating but it could just be that I have chosen who to follow intelligently and strategically. The money angle is interesting because all speakers have a limited window of opportunity in which their reputation can reward them financially - does anyone remember Jamie McKenzie or Marc Prensky? These people were forward thinking at the time but their potential conference learning power has certainly diminished.

EduTech is not cheap but it is no more expensive than other similar sized events in Australia. The sheer size increases the chances of me meeting up with educators I currently connect to (I hate the phrase PLN) and meeting new teachers to add to those connections is awesome as well. Yes, there are lots of vendors there but I have never engaged in a conversation with a sales rep or consultant unless what they were showcasing piqued my interest and I wanted to ascertain if there was an opportunity of value for my school.

For me, it is a future of learning festival. It is not like the local EdTechSA conference - it is a totally different beast. It is big picture, forward looking and unashamedly so. I have seen first hand how exposure to new ideas as a live event (as opposed to watching a YouTube recording) has spawned innovation and forward movement at my own school from the colleagues who attended last year. It was a chance to press pause on their day to day classroom practice, deeply converse with their colleagues, see ideas from fresh and multiple viewpoints and resolve to rethink things when they get back to their classroom. For example, Scott, a colleague who heard Ewan McIntosh speak last year about Google-able and unGoogle-able questions went back and started a rethink about how he got his kids to research. This spread to his learning team and a planned approach to rethinking the middle school opportunities and learning programs for our students. Today that group attended a Design Thinking workshop with Tom Barrett as the next logical step in that process. The EduTech spark that got Scott pondering has lead to a steady flame of progress at our school. I am confident that my 2015 group of attendees will find sparks of their own.

So, I get that some people don't like the idea of for-profit event like EduTech. I get that they feel disrespected as Aussie educators of repute when they aren't offered dollars for their time and expertise. I don't have that problem because I'm not going to get asked or even imagine that I would be in that market space. I'm just happy to have a 7 minute slot at one of the TeachMeets and share that space with a bunch of educators who I wouldn't get to meet face to face under normal circumstances. I suppose that it all boils down to your own expectations. But for me, slagging off EduTech as a constant theme is tiresome. Plus it is kind of ironic to be moaning about a corporate influenced event on a platform like Facebook.

So if you are reading this, will be at EduTech and you see me, please say "G'day." I am a bit of an introvert so breaking the ice with new people is always welcome. And if you're not going, no worries. Everyone has different priorities - and a conference is just one way to get the brain connections buzzing.



Tomorrow morning at the Primary Years Assembly, I will be presenting six more Digital Leaders lanyards bringing the number of newly qualified Leaders up to twenty two. My photo shows the pile ready with the badge grid showing badges earned so far complete with the glamorous purple lanyard (called the forgotten colour of our school uniform by our Music teacher!) with teal custom printing.

The cost for each lanyard is around five dollars. The plastic sleeve is worth about fifty cents and the printing is a few cents extra. A modest investment considering what the students and the school get in return. We are not talking about privileged students here - far from it.

For that price, I get enthusiasm and dedication. For that price, students get opportunity and a shot at showcasing their skills. For that price, the school gets expertise, hosted lunchtime activities and teachers get access to student experts who can help get their learning programs running smoothly. For that price, students get a chance to feel special, to feel pride in helping others, in having fun and getting to learn something new. For that price, I get to build new relationships, I get to re-engage some challenging kids and I get to push this whole idea along to become something that is a positive, embedded part of the school.

Worth every cent, I say.


We've had our MinecraftEDU server running for over a year now, and I thought it would be a good idea to document some of the initiatives that are starting to bear fruit. I am lucky that one of our technicians is an experienced Minecraft user and enthusiast, and setting up our server and giving me remote desktop access was a breeze for him. It has taken me a while to cement the process of starting, saving and creating new maps but essentially we can have as many Minecraft "worlds" as needed, but only one of them can be running on our network at any one time. This is useful because I can designate worlds for specific purposes, give classes their own world and have some free time lunchtime worlds where the action is more free flowing and less purposeful.

I have a Digital Leader program where students volunteer their time to come along to help assist the lunchtime Minecraft sessions. I have a trolley of laptops with suitable graphic capabilities, and every lunchtime I am a travelling roadshow with 5 different buildings hosting Minecraft @ Lunchtime on their own allocated day of the week. The Leaders help with setting up, troubleshooting and technical advice. One Leaders also looks after the Teacher Controls and monitors activity, reminding players about respect and fairness. Originally we had sign up sheets because the whole concept was so popular - and it became a really good option for some of our students who struggle to make good choices out in the yard at break times. Now, we generally take the first dozen kids who are asking, balancing it up if we see someone new and asking some super regulars to take a break to fit them in. It seems to organically work without over-organisation.

Slowly but surely, a few curious teachers have asked for some support to see if MinecraftEDU could be used as part of their learning program. Our Vietnamese teacher was the first, using a new world with a Year 2 class to build Vietnamese temples and other buildings as part of cultural learning. He didn't need much support but has remarked about the engagement with the task and how the students have looked at architectural features from images from the web and sought to incorporate them in their designs. This has also made them open to the information sharing around the purpose of the temples in Vietnamese culture provided by the teacher. Another teacher wanted her students to showcase their learning on animals (I think she was doing information reports) by reproducing a habitat or enclosure suitable for their animal to live in, along with providing key facts for visitors to read on a Minecraft sign.

Another teacher wasn't sure what she wanted to do but was impressed by the engagement factor she saw during her building's lunchtime session. She saw the collaboration and design, and thought that maybe we could tie it into Mathematics. For this class, I created a perfectly flat world and got the students to build their own house and fence it off as a way for everyone to experience some initial success. This was a Year Five class and it ranged from highly skilled kids who use Minecraft daily at home to students who had only ever heard of it. I set the task and reminded them that they could learn from each other and that sharing skills was something to be encouraged. The engagement was amazing, hooking in all students even the ones who could be described as quite disengaged. The sharing of knowledge went well, and there have been some great examples of working together that I did not anticipate. There is one student who has limited English skills, having missed the opportunity to be part of an English-intensive New Arrival Program class because of where the family initially settled in Australia who finds it hard to succeed in a traditional setting because the way instruction and tasks are delivered. However, in this task, she worked with three other students (and friends) who are bilingual (and proficient in her first language) and together they scaffolded the task with her, working collaboratively to produce a co-located set of townhouses, that also included new features like a linking pathway to other students' buildings. Our plan is to link this to Mathematics by exploring the mathematical properties of each building - shape, measurement including perimeter, area and even volume.


Front view of a house under construction in the flat world.


Bird's eye view of houses under construction - perspective is another concept easily explored in a manipulative way in MinecraftEDU.

It is great to have as many worlds as needed but I discovered a pitfall last week. I was working in my office when two students from the Year Five class burst in with agitated looks on their face. "Mr. Wegner. Some other kids are in Minecraft and they're destroying all our stuff! All our work is getting ruined - we need help!"

I went to investigate and found a teacher had given her students some "free time" to use the MinecraftEDU server without really knowing what it all entailed. The Year Five class had been working in their world the previous afternoon while I had been at a meeting, and so I hadn't had the chance to save their map or change the world over to one where collateral damage wouldn't be such an issue. In one way, I was pleased that the Year Fives viewed their Minecraft work as learning that they valued and were upset to have destroyed. But I had to work out how to minimise the damage. In the end, I got the offending (unwittingly and an apologetic teacher who didn't know that there was more than one world) class to stop, and change over to a lunchtime world but chose NOT to save the Year five class map. That meant that it would revert back to the last time I had worked with the class on the Tuesday. It did mean that any changes made on the Wednesday when I was out were gone but it was preferable to saving a world that had the effects of rampaging Year Twos thinking they were in a fun zone, not realising that they were messing with other students' work and learning. So, monitoring which world is up and when is key to ensuring that students' learning is preserved.

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.

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.


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 Luca - Digital Literacy  Enter in your school email address to access her slideshow

Judy o'Connell - Web 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!


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.

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.


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.


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.