Archive for the 'Internet' Category

Put The Spoon Away

True story.

Names not used and context changed to protect those who need protection.

Leader in a school sends out email to primary school staff informing them about the new Australian Professional Standards for Teachers, and includes a link to the website. Receives an email back from staff member complaining that the link doesn’t work and could the correct one be emailed back out.

When will some teachers give up the expectation to be spoon fed everything? It literally takes less than a minute to type in “aitsl teacher standards” into Google, click on the first link and navigate the website to find what was required. It would even have taken less time than the typing of the reply email to point out the mis-leading link.

Still a lot of work to do in order to re-define professional learning, and for teachers to activate the desire to leverage technology for self learning.

Feed me by ~ GromekTwist

The Present Allows Us To Live In The Past

Thanks to YouTube, there is a massive amount of archival content uploaded from the video vaults from account users all over the world. Amongst all of the new stuff, the viral videos, the VEVO new releases, the videobloggers and the gaming walkthroughs, people have been busy uploading the past – music, advertisements, lots of snippets of popular culture. This brings about an interesting situation where I can pick up on a memory from the past, and start to fully immerse myself in all sorts of video content that brings that time back into clear focus.

Here’s a video that I found the other night:

It’s fun looking back at a given year in popular music because it shows that being popular at the time doesn’t necessarily translate into being popular for all time. I remember 1981 – Year 10 at high school – and running through this list of songs brings back interesting mental reactions. There are songs that make me glad that they didn’t enjoy popular play beyond ’81, some that make you think, “Oh, I remember this song – it was pretty good. Whatever happened to …?”, ones that I recall having on a mixtape or even shelling out the dollars for the cassette for and some that bring back an actual memory.

About midway through this video clip, a song from iconic British band, The Police, popped up and immediately I realised that I had bought a copy of Zenyatta Mondatta during that year. This realisation sends me scouring YouTube for other Police videos, looking for interviews with the band members and then finally onto iTunes, where I buy and download some tracks that had fallen off my immediate conscious memory. Even now, there is the urge to go and check out some concert footage from when they were in their prime (about 1983 in my opinion) and continuing this self indulgent trip down memory lane. In the past, this sort of scramble to re-activate my memory would have involved scrabbling around in my old cassette collection and that’s about it. But the web makes it so easy to soak in digital memories – I know that the web is the world’s biggest archive of digitised cultural artifacts – and all of the extra material from that era or place in time that I have never seen before all combine to give a feeling of “being back in time”.

Nothing earth shattering – but a realisation that I felt worth archiving for my posterity.

#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.

 

 

Doing Something Worthwhile

At this moment in time, there are multiple options for anyone in the learning game. In my case:

I could be writing a blog post (obviously).

I could be tweeting other people’s links out to other people.

I could be having a go at being part of a large, loosely connected group in a MOOC.

I could be commenting on other people’s writing – either to pat them on the back, to say “hear, hear”, to divert their ideas onto a new pathway or to challenge their words with my own.

I could just be doing some good old fashioned web surfing, clicking my way from one interesting node to another. (YouTube is great for this and can soak up hours in an unproductive but highly satisfying way.)

I could be focussing in small, working out what I need to do in my current job at my current school for my current crop of colleagues and students. Or I could be wide open, solving all of the world’s learning needs, re-imagining an education system that wipes all of the ills that we currently have.

But …

I have to decide what is actually worth doing. I have to weigh up if anyone even reads what I write and whether it has ever changed anything for anyone else. I have to consider if yet another person tweeting out links, hashtags and retweets adds to learning or merely just adds more digital noise. Do I have time to commit to a MOOC? How can I expect anyone to leave a comment for me if I’m not prepared to put aside to do that for others? And does my online time have to be learning or education focussed all the time? Is it OK to goof off occasionally and watch anime, music videos or laugh at Rebecca Black memes?

At work, at home and in the spaces in between, I want to be doing something worthwhile. Not just follow-the-crowd and be-up-with-the-latest-from-my-PLN type but in a world with seemingly limitless options but seemingly decreasing limited time (I’m resisting like hell to avoid using the buzzphrase “time poor”), I’d like to think that purpose and meaning can be derived from online connections to others. At times to others , this comes across as negativity on my part but being critical of what others write, say, tweet, point to, reference, worship is an integral part of the whole deal.

Sparked by this.

Quick Review – Program Or Be Programmed

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

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

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

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

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

CEGSA2012 Presentation – Digital Content Meets Digital Literacy

Text and slides from today’s presentation. Unfortunately for my slide design which featured a growing mindmap, I presented on a LCD screen which made it difficult for delegates to see properly. So the embed from Slideshare here may not be much clearer – maybe download it and then read the text below in tandem to see the finer detail.

Digital literacy cegsa2012

View more presentations from grahamwegner

Abstract:
The world is awash in digital content – we connect to it via the internet, our desktops, our laptops, our tablets and our mobile phones. Traditional media (newspapers, television, radio, books and magazines) has had to quickly adapt to the new world using a combination of reaction and adaptation. This ubiquitous digital content has changed what it means to be literate forever. So what is worth noticing in this “digital sea”? What should the average educator know about digital literacy? What should they be aware of in a world where all information, true, false, theoretical and fictional, is only a search away?
This presentation will be an exploration of the current digital landscape – connecting the dots between how traditional media is adapting and how user generated content and social media bring their own set of new literacy requirements for educators and students alike to grapple with. By taking a close and critical view at this array of digital content, you will see that literacy needs to expand beyond print and traditional authorship and educators need to well informed in order to become digital literate themselves if they are to equip their students to cope in the world as it currently exists.

What I said:

The title of this presentation is Digital Content Meets Digital Literacy. It’s a bit of an inherited title as originally Rod Martin of Era Publications talked with me about doing a joint presentation with this title where he would offer insight and expertise from the perspective of someone producing digital content for the education market and I would contrast that with the reality of the school environment where filters, technical aspects and budgets put some real constraints on how that digital content is then acquired and utilised. Well, that was an ambitious topic and certainly one worth exploring and both Rod and I decided that if we were to do it, we would want to do it properly and neither one of us had the time to put our heads together to make that particular presentation happen.
So I took the opportunity to take the same presentation title and offer a different style of presentation which is more of a circular journey that raises as many questions as answers. I don’t claim to be defining digital literacy here today but I do want to offer this quote as a great starting point for examining the role of digital content in a connected world.

I think if we keep that quote in mind as I work my way through this particular journey, you will see why educators have to be not just aware of the digital world as it exists today but to be literate in that world ourselves if we are to be effective in giving our students skills to navigate and manipulate the digital content that we are awash in today. Actually, while we’re soaking in poignant quotes, try this one on for size.

So David Warlick’s premise is that mere reading and writing as we know it isn’t enough to qualify as being literate. For most of us, our own education equipped us well for a world where text in paper form was the dominant format. It’s still there, especially in education, which is why so many of us are still well equipped to hold the positions we do. But the birth of the internet, and its popular offshoot, the World Wide Web, has definitely changed the availability of information from being once being scarce and only produced by suitably qualified people – authors, journalists, scientists, politicians, policy writers, curriculum consultants and curated by equally qualified gatekeepers – librarians, news editors, media magnates and politicians.

Information, inspiration, creation and other forms that make up literature are now longer a scarce resource – the web has been the great democratiser, making it possible for anyone and everyone to publish whatever they want to share. And that’s both a good and a bad thing!
So to use a metaphor from the introductory song, we are floating in the digital sea. Now using that metaphor, we definitely don’t want to be drowning and it would be even better if we were able to sail across these waters and have some say about how to navigate, control and even contribute to the content.

So, throughout these presentation I’m going to be building this mindmap. It is styled to represent the non linear nature of digital content and how the skills we are going to need have to be flexible and able to change directions quickly and sometimes to go in several at once.

So, how did this digitization of content start? It’s by no means a process that’s even complete today and the web certainly didn’t start with traditional media but with scientists and computer enthusiasts who used this new connected technology to share and create. But for education’s sake, we’ll start with what the newspapers and print media started to do, because in schools we’ve always used their resources as way of keeping up to date. Even today, we still get a class that orders a week’s worth of Advertisers when they look at current events or newspapers in education. So what changed when the media companies decided to move online. Well, initially, they produced digital versions of what they printed on paper.

Well, actually, only part of what they produced because they still held the opinion that people bought newspapers and magazines for the whole product – the classifieds, the births and deaths, the editorials, the sports columns and yes, even the advertising – so we mostly get the headlines, the important stuff. Magazines featured cut down versions of their paper product because they were still protecting their golden goose.

So, what else did digital content look like when we started bringing it into schools? The publishing companies who produce the books and encyclopedias and reference materials for our schools are still working it out as we speak.

I think one of the first shifts we saw was when Microsoft decided that they could digitise the encyclopedia and so Encarta was born.

Here was an encyclopedia that didn’t merely rely on words and a few pics and diagrams here and there but included video clips, grainy and very short at first, audio, and a search system that threw away the traditional index and held 25 – 50 volumes of information on one shiny CD-ROM.

Remember Living Books? Paper based books re-invented with read along voices, cute animated scenes all held on the same CD-ROM format. Still, the publishing companies still didn’t need to start sweating yet. This was the late nineties and most schools had a slow web connection, and these first digital books were more a novelty than a great leap forward in digital content.

That’s happening now with eBooks however. Now, your favourite book can be a quick download and read on small portable devices like the Kindle and even the iPad now. Still, I’m sure that many publishing companies are quite nervous about this change of events. Certainly Australian bookstores are now starting to feel the pinch, even though it is still mainly tree based books that are being sold via the internet.

What the publishers are nervously eyeing off is what has already unfolded in dramatic fashion over in the music and entertainment industries.

Over time, we have had the LP, the short lived cartridge, the cassette and the CD as formats for carrying our favoured songs. But a new web based format known as mp3 and a brash internet company named Napster turned comfortable retail sales of music on its head with its peer to peer filesharing that had the music companies fearing for their future.

Napster was eventually shutdown by the industry, but you can see its legacy in today’s model for legal music distribution in iTunes where the consumer can buy songs one at a time. Has anyone noticed how CD prices have tumbled as a result? Now, at this point, you may be thinking, what has this all got to do with digital literacy? Well, bear with me, at the moment I’m just laying out the digital landscape that we and our students are part of, and I hope to show some of the connections as we go along and how being literate in this scenario requires more than what traditional literacy entails.

One thing that the web has enabled is the what is commonly known as user-generated content, which could be broadly seen as anything that can be uploaded and viewed on the web without requiring a gatekeeper or expert vetting its value prior to its publication. This content is all digital and is accessible to anyone with a web connection, although what can be put on the web has become increasingly complex and sophisticated in form as time has gone on. The era of Web 2.0 that began around the early 2000’s is part of this process that took the opportunity of publishing to the web out of the sole hands of geeks and web designers and into the realm of literally anyone at all.

We now have big video hosting sites – YouTube is the king of it all and if you want to look at the best and the worst the web has to offer in one place, well, this is it. Here, you can find some of the most profound, most creative ideas posted by people who previously didn’t have an avenue for their ideas – like this video.

Yet, you can pick almost any video at random, scroll down to the comments and see the worst of human literacy at work, responders with little grasp of their native language in written form and so many that are devoid of human compassion and full of vitriol, contempt and hatred for fellow human beings. But maybe this is just a mirror showing a side of human nature that traditional literacy could pretend didn’t exist – that human expression like this could never make past an editor’s eagle eye, would never make it into an opinion piece or a story – because our rules for literacy would allow us, the ones with the traditional literacy skills, to disregard or even forget about the existence of those marginalised by society and their right to communicate. The web enables that – and it does bring another angle to why we need capable, competent, literate students so that discourse in all digital forums doesn’t automatically descend to its lowest forms in both content and form.

YouTube is a great example of how the form of video as a form of communication is evolving and forms part of what we call social media.

Social media sites give the individual huge powers to communicate, to collect, to trade, to exchange with other individuals.

This Hugh MacLeod cartoon sums up the fast pace of social media change pretty well.

Blogs are a commonplace form across the web, and can be found covering a wide spectrum of topics from food to science to cats to various forms of depravity.

Twitter is another form of social media that is another model that enables the individual to broadcast to an audience of many, and no qualifications or traditionally proven expertise is needed for others to join in and become a follower.

Add other social media options like reblogging

think sites like tumblr or posterous

or the one that rules the planet at the moment, Facebook.

Here’s an interesting phenomenon at play in social media. YouTube was initially kept very busy taking down fan uploads of their favourite artists songs and video clips because the music industry was very stringent about applying copyright protection. That has changed to now when you look at one of these clips, a handy little Download from iTunes link appears near the clip as the companies have realised that watching the clip could lead to a legal music purchase. So, the habits of internet users is influencing a reshaping of the music industry’s approach, even though they are a long way from embracing the new paradigm.

And what we see these sites enabling to a greater degree than ever before is that despite copyright laws and concepts like intellectual property, users all around the world are taking their culture’s literature and icons and works of art and remixing them in a form of self expression that is easily shared with one click of the upload button.

First, you may remember this Cadbury advert from a few years back.
Then some clever person thought that maybe a different soundtrack could be added to the gorilla to create something new.
Let’s try a more contemporary remix – again both what you see and what you hear are both original creations from two different sources, but it takes this third person with no other motivation than the joy of coming up with a new idea or angle on a theme or a meme as they are sometimes referred to on the web.
This last one is my favourite.
This one takes things a little further – while the others match the song to the existing footage of the drumming gorilla, this is more of a cut up and mash up, where the footage has been sped up and spliced up to fit the tempo of this particular track.
And we see this sort of thing all over the web, where pieces of popular culture are re-purposed and re-mixed into personalised versions.

We cannot ignore the impact of digitally placed games either.

We have console based gaming, portable gaming, web based gaming, and now mobile phone gaming. The breadth of this area that many of us older educators find to be quite foreign and perplexing is so vast that it is hard to capture all of the literacy here in one place. So, I’m going to just share one example that is all the rage at our house – the world of Pokemon and the many digital forms it inhabits. Now it’s not really important to understand what Pokemon is or how it all fits together in its many incarnations but when dealing with many of our students it is important to realise that Pokemon is typical of many game based franchises today.

With Pokemon, there are the games for various consoles or portable devices, there are official websites, there are DVDs of the TV series and animated movies, there are the trading cards (which have been the source of controversy in many a school playground), the soft toy collection and of course, the manuals and Pokedex that form the core of the purpose behind the Pokemon universe. I have an example of one of these manuals here, I’ve borrowed it from my son and I’ll pass it around. Check it out and just ponder what types of literacy are needed to comprehend and make sense of this hue mass of detail and information.
This is just the stuff from the official company, Nintendo. What has happened beyond the control of the company is the stuff that is really interesting, where the fans and consumers of Pokemon have started to create their own digital content.

There is the Bulbapedia, sort of like Wikipedia but solely devoted to Pokemon. Like Wikipedia, it can be edited by anyone.

There is a number of Pokemon fan fiction sites where budding authors put up their work for the community to critique and add to.

There are video walkthroughs. I’ll just let this one run through in the background and just expand a little here. When my son is playing one of his Pokemon games, (he’s only 7) he’ll quite often find a tricky section that he doesn’t have the patience to work through. Firstly, he’ll consult the Pokemon Strategy Guide if he has one, then he’ll ask me if he can go onto YouTube to look for a walkthrough. These are basically videos put up by other Pokemon users showing how to solve a particular section. They sometimes highlight the cheats, sometimes my son will listen to their audio commentary to understand why a particular strategy is being used or he just looks at the screen and watches their gameplay and applies that to his own situation.

So, whether it is Pokemon, or World of Warcraft, or Runescape or Mario or Crash Bandicoot or Guitar Hero, the gaming environment is one that students, indeed not just kids, will seek out as a place for immersive engagement.

We have now seen that many in the education sector are trying to capture, with varying degrees of success, that same engagement by producing material that could be loosely termed, edutainment. Mathletics is a recent example – often though, the gaming elements are quite superficial, and the buy in from the student is not the same as with the established game franchises.

So, I’ve laid a number of pieces for the digital content puzzle, and I’ve probably taken too long a time to get to this point, but it’s time to MAKE SENSE OF IT ALL, and look for the digital literacy considerations.

How do we make sure that we have digitally literate citizens?

We know that in the right hands, social media tools can make a difference to bringing about change for the better, as was seen earlier this year with the social uprising in Egypt.

So, Encarta is no longer with us and instead we have Wikipedia, the encyclopedia that anyone could edit and is more comprehensive that any non-digital edition could ever hope to be. What literacy skills does one need to be able to evaluate the worth of any article from this resource?
Does it redefine what an expert is?

What will you do with those encyclopedia sets sitting in your school library?

Games bring a whole new angle to “choose your own adventure”. How can we leverage their power, the passion that drives people to create fan fiction, to create video walkthroughs, and bring that into our classrooms? Games also allow for collaboration, with games that link multiple users together. Truly, chose your own becomes CHOOSE OUR OWN.

News sites now allow commenting on their articles in a feature taken directly from the blogging arena.

What we are seeing here is a reluctance of savvy literate readers to take mainstream news reporting as the absolute truth, and news corporations are having to make that adjustments.
I talked earlier about the particular literacy demands of using a microblogging service like Twitter, where you must deliver your cohesive message in 140 characters or less. In the hands of educators, entrepreneurs and hobbyists, Twitter is an immensely powerful tool, building community and enabling viral news to spread as needed. On the flipside, we have the celebrity mis-use of Twitter,

the Charlie Sheen effect, where a powerful medium becomes the outsized blowhorn for the egotistical inanities of people who enjoy an excessive share of the limelight anyway. How do we teach our students to recognise this bluster for what it is?

How do we help students to navigate a digital sea where anyone who wants to can have a say?

Are we looking at what author Andrew Keen calls, The Cult Of The Amateur, where he postulates that the internet is actually making us dumber?

How do we cope with the fact that digital content resides in our pockets now, available whenever we have a whim to connect? I never read the magazines at the doctor’s any more, because I have the whole WWW at my fingertips. I have my music collection, a batch of digital books and games as well. This is the tool we want the kids to turn off and put away. And certain content translates better onto the small screen than other types – does our choice of device mean that certain types of content will prevail?

And most of this digital content is free to access. Well, there are many ways that companies can extract some payment from us – be it through buying an app for our phone, or agreeing to subject ourselves to insidious advertising just so we can use their service. But digital means easy to replicate and copy and that means costs for production are driven down. An eBook costs less to distribute than a paper based one,

amateur photography sites like Flickr are drying up the chances for remuneration for professional photographers.

The web and its infinite well of digital content means that talent has a new way of gaining attention and being noticed. YouTube has launched more than one music star, blogging has helped more than one person into paid authorship and I have numerous examples of educators who’ve moved into more personalised career opportunities (sadly, I’m not one of them!) because of their digital literacy skills that has meant they stand up and above the crowd. How can these skills be utilised by our students to help shape and determine their own future?

So, in summary, a few key points to wind this whirlwind roundabout journey across the digital sea. Will Richardson, who was probably paraphrasing someone else stated the obvious when he quoted, “The web changes everything.”

It’s also pretty obvious that the majority of information in the world today is digital, and the majority of that lives in the cloud, sitting on someone’s server somewhere in the world, connected 24/7/365. I found a great graphic that illustrates this while preparing this presentation on Scott McLeod’s blog where he highlighted a talk by Rob McCrae, ICT Director for the Diocesan School for Girls in Auckland, New Zealand to his school parent community as he rolled out a 1:1 laptop program.

As well as talking about the change from “just in case” learning to “just in time” learning, he showed this infographic that shows how 95% of the world’s information is now digital, compared to 1986 where 99% of information was written down. And keeping this in perspective is the fact that information is growing exponentially as well so the 95% is not the same amount as it would have been back in 1986. And 1986 was the year before I started teaching, so I remember it well.

So, that brings us right back to my original starting quote from Bud Hunt, “You cannot be manipulated by a form of media which you can yourself manipulate.”

I’ll leave that with you and for you to work out what that means for you as an individual, what that might mean for your colleagues and your school community, and what it means for an education system as a whole. Now some of you might think that this means spending all of your free time getting plugged in – well, I am saying that we do need a greater overall awareness and experience with this array of digital content – but I’ll leave you with a cartoon from the wonderful Hugh MacLeod that perhaps sums up a balanced way forward.

Thank you.

Innovation + Leadership = Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another Example Why Critical Literacy Isn’t Just For The Kids

So I finally sat down and watched the KONY 2012 video tonight. A colleague had pointed me towards it earlier in the week just as it was starting to go viral but my urgency to check it out was tempered by a post on ShortFormBlog that hinted that it might be wise not to take the video as pure fact.

I’m not the only one intrigued by the clever use of social media to tell this story. KerryJ reacted in a similar fashion to a number of my work colleagues while Daniel Stucke mirrored many of my personal reactions to the whole KONY2012 issue. How we bite on a well crafted, emotional message either shows our own feelings of compassion, levels of cynicism or the very human need to feel like we can make a difference in or to the world. It is also a measure of our digital literacy skills – the skills that we are (supposedly) teaching to our students.

By mid-week, the backlash against the video started to show in mainstream sites. The Atlantic was particularly harsh:

Kony 2012 is so seductive for precisely the same reasons that make it so dangerous. The half-hour video, now viewed 40 million times, sets viewers up for a message so gratifying and fulfilling that it is almost impossible to resist: there is a terrible problem in the world, you are the solution, and all you have to do is pass along this video.

I find it interesting that it seems to be mainstream news media outlets that are leading the pushback. Effective digital literacy would include questioning their motives as well as the Invisible Children organisation who produced and posted the video. Could it be that they has been caught napping on a very important issue? Could it be that this video treads into what traditional news media might see as their turf?

The only other thing that I would add as an average citizen of a privileged country is this. Before Monday, I had never heard of Joseph Kony or the LRA. The sheer momentum that this video has produced has raised my and the millions of viewers worldwide’s collective consciousness. Whether we support or dismiss the goals and actions of the KONY2012 movement, or the target of their campaign, one thing is certain.

Now we all know.

NB: Seth Godin analyses the video from a social media perspective here. And I highly recommend the ShortFormBlog’s even handed coverage of the unfolding events. And as a final bonus, check out the graph below from Wikipedia edits on the Joseph Kony page as people jump on board to rewrite the definitive article on the central figure in the whole saga.

If You Have Limited Access To A Laptop, Then Is Mathletics Your Top Priority?

I pose the above question because I am seeing a rise in popularity for teachers using sites like Mathletics, StudyLadder, MangaHigh and others as part of their learning program for their students. Now I have no axe to grind with these sites as many students do find them engaging and a way to improve their mathematical facts recall but I am concerned that in some cases, these sites are being used as “the maths programme” for the class and/or being used to address the use of technology in the classroom.

I’d love the opinion of a progressive maths educator as to the relative value of a site like Mathletics. My own personal experience with my eldest son is that the activities are easily gamed. My son is lousy at maths but has an excellent memory. He can do a multiple choice activity by trial and error, remembering the correct answer after multiple tries and just keeps restarting the activity until he gets a clear run and a memorised sequence of answers in his head. Now that might be a feat in itself but it does nothing for his understanding – and just cements all the problems that students get when trying to operate in digital abstraction when their needs are still in the physical concrete. But from his teacher’s point of view, he is getting 20/20 in the set activities and looks like he has achieved mastery. I have a feeling that many of these sites have the same problem. They present mathematical learning as a correct answer scenario and can only use that data to measure progress. So, a teacher blindly substituting Mathletics (and I keep picking on this site because it is the one I am most familiar with and the one most South Australian schools are prepared to fork over precious dollars to but every education sector in the world would have its equivalents) cannot possibly know if the student is truly demonstrating mathematical learning.

The first part of my question is also part of my issue. Unless you are part of a 1 to 1 laptop school (and that is a privileged minority in the primary school sector) then you have to share fleets of laptops or computing suites with other classes within the school. Technology access is an issue that all schools have to wrestle with – using timetables, rotations and pods to make sure that the available technology is frequently and flexibly used. As we are living in a era where technology gives our students the opportunity to create, construct and reflect, then it makes sense that the majority of the technology access for our students should be devoted to that goal. These sites, in my opinion, don’t fit the bill.

Am I the only one who has a problem with these sites? Is part of my problem my inability to communicate to others what the alternative – a research based comparison of city temperatures utilising web data and Excel created by my tandem partner last year with my class springs to mind – might look like?

Tuning Into A Decent Radio Station

http://www.flickr.com/photos/johanl/138132641/

I’ve been thinking about posting about this issue since I read this article in the local paper. In summary, commercial radio stations want to ditch the 25% Australian music quota requirement that has been in place for a long time now. This naturally has the local music industry calling foul but the issue is complicated by the fact that the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has exempted digital radio stations from the same requirement.

I’m not a big listener to radio but I do enjoy Australian music and I’m sure that radio does have a fair bit to do with how Aussie bands fair in the marketplace. 25 per cent is a reasonable ask but does the radio industry have a point in an age where anyone with an internet connection can tap into music from any of the web based radio stations out there. I’ve often used YouTube as a way of exploring new music and reacquainting myself with some classics from the past – and I’m not required to adhere to any quota.

So, this is the internet and I’ll do my bit for Australian music. I can usually ignore whatever is on the charts anyway so I’ll leave you with four reasons why you should ensure that your own music lists have a bit of Aussie in it. (And I won’t insult you by including anything from TV talent shows.)





Enjoy.