Future Directions

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.

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.

 

 

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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?

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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 ...

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.

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

 

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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.

Australian schools are not without their problems.

And there are tendencies from our political masters to adopt the worst practice of other countries in the name of education reform.

But I'm still trying to wrap my head around this post.

I occupy education every time my interns ask, “Why is education like it is today with all of the restrictions including pacing  guides?”

I occupy education by telling these interns that some people do not believe that teachers can make their own decisions about how to pace curriculum.

I occupy education every time interns ask, “Why do teachers go on when they know children can not learn fractions in 2 days or one week?”

I occupy education when I tell my interns to always do what is best for the children and that includes learning well, not fast.

I occupy education every time an intern asks me why children can not talk at lunch or have to walk down the hall with military precision.

I occupy education when I tell my interns that I can not excuse a teacher who warns a child once about talking at lunch and then the second time that child talks, his or her lunch is thrown out and their nose is pressed against the wall for the rest of lunch.

I occupy education when I tell my interns that I do not understand why children have to walk down the halls with their cheeks popped out so they can not talk and their hands are rigidly by their sides like soldiers when they are 5 or 10 years old.

I mean, does this really happen?

I've never ever seen a pacing guide. I know I would have irate parents on my door step if I implemented the last two strategies, and have no system support for my actions.

But is this us in two, five, ten years time? Could the Aussie "she'll be right" attitude let this all in? How do we keep what is great about Australian schools without aping the extremism warned about in the Lonni Gill post?

 

I've never been one to jump in at the deep end. I ease myself into things in the same manner that I slide carefully into the chilly water of a pool or a cautious wade out into the ocean. I have been described as opinionated in a low key way but I am typically unsure of myself at the best of times. So, even after six months in this new role of Assistant Principal, I am still feeling my way, thinking and re-thinking my possible approaches for effective leadership within this role. So, in an effort to lay out some starting thoughts and switch from holiday mode where I have happily absorbed a whole lot of junk pop culture, spent simple family time doing not much at all and indulging in a lot of directionless web reading and viewing to shaping up my contribution for 2012 to the Woodville Gardens School learning community.

First, a bit of background. I had a stint as acting Deputy Principal at my previous school during Term 2 and found that I really enjoyed the time out of the classroom working on staff issues, communicating with the parent community and getting a closer look at how the administrative side of a South Australian government school works. I had the opportunity to apply for a six month stint as Assistant Principal at Woodville Gardens which I was lucky enough to win for a longer three year tenure late in 2011. So, I headed off to this new "super school" with a heady mixture of excitement and trepidation because I was stepping up into a non-classroom role for the first time in a testing environment. Everything at the school was brand new and even arriving after everyone else had been settled in for the first semester didn't mean that all of the bugs had been ironed out! I've learnt quickly about the quirks of a cross platform network, large stocks of netbooks that are underpowered and disliked by staff and students alike and finding that much of my pedagogical knowledge is not necessarily common practice. More about that later - and do not mistake my observation as a criticism. In my application that culminated in my successful appointment I listed out all that I had managed in my time up to that point:

Assistant Principal – ICT and Administration
Semester 2, 2011

  • quickly established key working relationships with technician, teacher-librarian and leadership in supporting the school’s ICT direction
  • blended into the school culture, offering key support during the school’s official opening, producing and providing a student perspective video to showcase the school’s diversity
  • worked in partnership with the teacher-librarian to collaborate with middle and upper primary classes involved in inquiry research units of work
  • started a program of Professional Learning after school sessions for teachers based on the “teacher as learner” model
  • consulted with senior leadership to make decisions around student laptop distribution
  • supported behaviour management of students as required
  • taken on and maintained administration tasks including the maintenance of equitable rosters (NIT, Yard Duty, Traffic monitors), management of the School photos and NAPLAN results distribution
  • established working relations with DECS ICT support staff, learning as much as possible about the school’s technology infrastructure, its cross platform capabilities and started on the implementation of the school’s online student learner management system (StudyWiz)
  • applied for the school’s inclusion in the 2012 Microsoft Innovative Schools program
  • planned for a future staff focus on 21st Century Learning as connected to the school’s priorities, use of the TfEL and focus on personalisation of student learning

I've deliberately avoided rushing into the place and posing myself as some sort of expert. That approach can only put people off and backfire but I have made it my business to really take a close look at how teachers are using the technology at their disposal and how they work around the many roadblocks that invariably crop up. So, now as I'm about a week away from going back to work, I need to air out some thoughts about this year and how I will fulfil my role. I can only do it my way in careful consideration of the unique needs of this school and this community - what outside people think and do are only useful in so far in helping us clarify what is needed for Woodville Gardens.

Listening to Tony Bryant from Silverton Primary School in Melbourne earlier in 2011 made me realise that leadership for change can be achieved by focussing on one school becoming the best that it can be. The school can then be a focus point for other like minded schools looking for ideas on how contemporary learning can be implemented in a way that empowers the students. I'm lucky - we have an excellent leadership team all pointed in a common direction and we all bring various strengths and perspectives to the table. I'm there for my educational technology knowledge and experience in inquiry learning - and I can only claim the upper hand in those domains because I have been fortunate enough to be connected to the wider network of educators, drawing on their expertise, ideas and inspiration.

So, I have an important role to play. Technology is one of those areas where to be too prescriptive and fixed in planning means missing evolving opportunities for taking learning in new and unanticipated directions. But I have to work out how to be influential in the right way, how to make wise decisions that use resources effectively and how to make sure that we have learning solutions tailored for our kids and their unique needs. It is an exciting task. I have three years to make a difference and culture within any site takes time to nurture and shape. I am part of a team but I am very aware of the responsibilities in front of me. Like all learners I will make mistakes along the way and get sidelined, but that is all part of the process.

Like many, my career in education has consisted solely of working in schools within the one state system. I did go to a private secondary school way back in the eighties so I do have some dated preconceptions about how that system works. But it was only when I started a blog and started reading and connecting more widely beyond the confines of that system, did I gain any other perspective about what was going on in other parts of the world in education. Even now with my Twitter followings, my crammed Google Reader, I am still limited or semi-blinded to much of what happens in schools or learning in much of the world today. Anyone who thinks that they have a global perspective just because they use social media is deluded - but social media does allow people to spread word about their local or national perspective very easily beyond the boundaries of that system.

Last week, I went to a DECD (formerly DECS) conference on Innovative Learning Environments with my principal and a team from my school. We were invited to share our story as one of the new Super Schools constructed by the South Australian government and how we had gone about rethinking how we did the business of schooling. And once again during the course of the day (because I've heard this line of thought before) a person from the upper echelons of our department stated that Australia (and by association, South Australia) was doing pretty well by world standards in the education stakes. Apparently, our students stack up pretty well considering that Australia takes in sizeable numbers of refugees and caters for a culturally diverse student population. Now I'm willing to believe this because on each occasion that I have heard this observation, I have heard justification for our results and structures that make sense without me actually going and doing the research for myself. But I wonder why it is that the media don't see this perspective, and are quick and ready to trumpet "slipping of standards", "dumbing down of expectations" and "falling behind the rest of the world."

I might think that NAPLAN and MySchool are very narrow and dangerously restrictive tools to view the success of our schools, but I also think that education is still focussed on working towards the necessary things students will require for personal success in our society. I don't fear a massive slashing of education budgets (yet) and even if the new Australian Curriculum has the lingering odour of political interference, it is not the vehicle for big business to turn education into a commodity. Perhaps I'm being very naive.

Perhaps the biggest strength of being a mainly State funded system means that we don't have the situation that Will Richardson is spotlighting in his much pointed to recent post. What he describes is very scary. And I'd hope that Australia would not be so foolish as to follow the American lead downwards here - but we are a culture that likes to ape the USA as much as possible. Maybe our saving grace is that the big corporations that are eying off the $$$$ available in the huge student population and numerous K-12 systems will see Australia as a market not worth worrying about, and we don't feel the pressure that Will describes in depressing detail.

If you scroll down to the comments on Will's post, someone challenges him to state what he thinks today's classrooms should look like and he responds:

What's the vision? Classrooms built on inquiry, where kids ask and answer their own questions, where teachers act as co-learners in the process because with all that we now have access to, we all better be learners. Schools where we truly value a student's ability to connect with other learners, to create beautiful works of art and inspiration, to develop a passion to keep learning, not just learn what the system pushes in their direction.

Now again, my naivety may be showing through but this statement does describe my last two schools pretty well in terms of a similar vision to be aspiring to. It also fits with the stories of the other schools gathered there at this conference. So, DECD is on the right track here by giving these schools a platform for change, by seeking to see how their innovation can scale out across the organisation. My fear is that given our state system's recent reputation as being a risk averse organisation (an observation made on numerous occasions by many people on the day) is that many schools will not look to create and follow their own vision, and continue to wait on the directions from Flinders Street and their district offices. That would be a real shame - and signal to corporate interests that K-12 education is waiting to be "saved".