Monthly Archives: December 2005

I reckon that as more and more educators get on board with blogging and webcasting and start connecting with others, the more the Pyramid Of Influence could possibly start to flatten. Call me naïve but up until a few years ago, I felt that the further up the command chain in our education system the greater view of the big picture and the greater grasp of important future directions. So that meant most teachers trusted that new directions in literacy, curriculum, ICT etc. were being envisioned and implemented by greater minds than their own. I know when I started in my current role, I kept my mouth shut at local coordinator cluster meetings. What would I have to say when there were (seemingly) more experienced heads in the room? Express my thoughts and someone would definitely shoot me down. So quiet I was.

But the more I mix with educators based in district offices or from Flinders Street headquarters, the more I realise that they have no greater grasp on the future direction of education than me. I have, in fact, been surprised by what isn't known and how in the area of educational technology, what is touted as being important and crucial seems to be misguided or of dubious value to me.

Back in the not so distant past, if I had a problem with, say, this concept of Learning Objects,(see halfway through this post) I would have kept my doubts in my mind. I wouldn't want to look stupid by questioning my department's or even my national government's commitment to what they see as vital to keeping our students in the educational loop. I mean, if the Australian and New Zealand governments have funded a major initiative like the Learning Federation (Digital Learning Objects repository) to the tune of $100 million then I would be the one who is wrong. (Source: CEGSA RAMpage magazine Volume 1, Issue 3, September 2005, page 20).

But through the blogosphere I find support for my alternative point of view. I find information that explains to me what a federated repository is. I find posts via Alan Levine that query the whole definition of a Learning Object and then the next post leads onto another post from Artichoke, closer to home who is also uncomfortable with the funding obsession with these DLOs. I find myself nodding my head in agreement so much that in a fit of self opinionation, I leave a comment on Artichoke's blog. I see Leigh's already beaten me to it but that's hardly a surprise. But I write anyway...

My copy of CEGSA RAMpage magazine tells me that both the Aussie and Kiwi governments have committed more than $100 million to the Learning Federation project for 8000 Learning Objects. Using my LO calculator that works out to twelve and a half grand per object. That's for an object that might (emphasis added) get used once a year in a lesson to show a one off concept if at all, while our schools cry out for more funds to keep their ICT basics up to date. And who's designing and creating these objects - I've yet to meet an actual teacher who has contributed to this expensive experiment. A lot of eggs in that particular basket - keep the cynicism going, a lot of educators don't know what a Learning Object is supposed to be but unfortunately are super impressed and feel that the bleeding edge must be close by.

So already edubloggers are breaking open topics that were once the reserve of their line managers and their line managers' line managers. And maybe it's getting to the stage where we might be able to wield some influence, where a tech-savvy policy maker will actually "take the pulse" of the edublogosphere to gain some direction because issues are debated in full out here, educators are building collective knowledge and passing it onto their non-blogging colleagues and eventually, the Pyramid of Influence will start to flatten. So read, learn, debate, remix, propose, add to and let's take back control of our profession. Do those higher up the totem pole really know what's better for students and their future than you?

I can see why recently so many blogs are pointing to Borderland. Doug's thoughts make for compelling reading and gets my brain asking as many questions as there are answers to be found. It's an uncomfortable but necessary feeling to be seeking answers that eighteen years of teaching don't adequately provide for. I've been  reading his post  Naming The Literate which deals with the issue of standardised testing and flows over into a stack of other related areas. Doug points out at the start of the post that literacy is a point of view issue:

Any interpretive act could count as reading. We can read the weather, read a river, read a face, or read a room full of people. Since interpretations of the same phenomenon can vary, we know that a range of meanings for any text is possible depending on a person’s point of view.

He talks about the US government's official definition of literacy and how that paints a presumed picture of how the average American utilises their literacy - a picture that would be at odds with many of its own citizens' reality. What would the Australia Federal Government's definition of literacy tell me about their view of average Australians? Standardised testing support is on the current agenda and it seems to be driving a lot of education funding and focus. The media here give the statistics a lot of credibility, either to praise programs and decisions if they are favourable or to indulge in a bit of criticism of the teaching profession if the results are perceived to have fallen below standards.

Doug does a much better job of explaining the pitfalls of this narrow focussed view of literacy than I can so, go on, read his post in full. And while you're at it, check his  Evaluating Truth Claims post. With my frustrations this year when working with my students in any form of research where the prevailing attitude is, "If it's on the internet, it must be true," this has helped crystallise some strategies for the start of the upcoming school year.

I've been reflecting on this Web 2.0 experience (mainly blogs, rss and webcasts) and how long it's been since a technological bug bit me so hard. The reason I think that it is so significant is definitely the ability to connect with others. Aaron got it so right a week or so ago:

The more I’ve thought about it, read about it around the blogsphere, and the more I’ve read the comments to my last post, the more I’ve begun to realize that no matter how digitized our world becomes, no matter how fast knowledge explodes, no matter how much we need to be in touch with, and involved in 2.0 - or however this all evolves next, in the end it’s all about people.

It's so true. To illustrate that point, I'd like to tell the story of my good friend, Tom.

The year was 1996. My school had just been ''hooked up" to the Internet for the first time via a 28.8 modem to a Windows 95 PC in the staffroom. I had just signed up for my first e-mail account at a new site called HoTMaiL. Armed with my new e-mail address, I was checking out a bunch of websites including a site called GolfWeb where you could leave a message in their Visitors Book. I left some cheery message and thought nothing more of it as I moved on to check other exciting things like newsgroups.

The next day I noticed that I had received my very first e-mail. It read as follows:


Date: Tue, 15 Oct 1996 19:07:00  -0700

From: "Tom. B. Wald "


Subject: Greetings from the USA!!

MIME-Version: 1.0

Content-Type: TEXT/PLAIN; charset=US-ASCII

Hi Graham!

I was looking through the golf web and I saw your short message on it. Thought it would be sort of neat to see if I could get in touch with you. I live in Fargo, North Dakota which is in the center of the United States on the Canadian border. Are you a golfer? I am and like the game a lot! Hope to hear from you and will patiently wait for your reply. Hope you are having a good year "Down There "!!  


I couldn't believe it. Someone from the opposite side of the world had made contact with me. Maybe this internet thing had potential. So out of the medium of e-mail, a friendship was born. Tom and I would e-mail each other regularly, at least once a week and each message would reveal more about each other's lives. Tom was a music teacher and through him, I learnt a reasonable amount about the US education system. I remember him telling me that North Dakotan teachers ranked 50th out of the 50 states in salary! Going into 1997, we had an interesting contrast in our access to internet technology. I would use  the staffroom computer to check my HoTMaiL and tap out replies during lunch breaks. Tom had internet dialup that was provided to all ND educators through the University of North Dakota but would get "bumped" after 45 minutes and have to dial in again. I got my first introduction to realtime online communication when Tom introduced me to the Locker Room, a chatroom which was its own little virtual community. We would negotiate a mutual time and catch up with others like Pin High, NB, C.Tee and other suitably nicknamed participants. This great little website lasted for about two years and when it started to choke from the traffic, a lot of participants switched to a new technology, ICQ. Who remembers that one? Tom and I would use this little piece of free software designed in Israel and cemented our friendship further. Over the years, we've been able to discuss many issues from our differing perspectives.  My own world view was broadened through Tom's experiences sandbagging in Fargo when the Red River flooded. All of a sudden news items on TV had real relevance when they affected someone I knew. 

Over the next few years, technology upgrades kept the conversation and friendship going. I purchased my first Win95 PC in mid '97 and meanwhile over in the US, Tom switched over to WebTV, a concept that never made it down under. I also recall tapping out an e-mail to Tom when our eldest son was born. I remember contacting Tom during the 2000 Olympics and telling him about events before they were shown on delayed-for-primetime US television. For the first time, more North American citizens turned to the web for real time results about their athletes rather than wait to see it on the previously dominant medium of TV. During the early part of 2001 Tom talked about travelling down under with his wife in the following year. But then 9/11 occurred and travelling for US citizens became an unacceptable risk.

Eventually ICQ had its day as cutting edge technology and Tom gave his WebTV the flick. He discovered instant messaging via MSN and that became the communication medium of choice. Digital photography became an important component of our friendship as we exchanged family photos, holiday pics, and in this way I saw Tom's new  jetski which later gave way to a Harley Davidson.  Important times in both of our lives were shared via technology - Tom certainly heard all about it at the births of my sons and when I took the step from full time classroom teacher to applying for and winning my current job as ICT Coordinator. I read with interest and pleasure when Tom changed his teaching job from a nearby rural community to an inner urban position in his hometown of Fargo, and with concern when one of his daughters was deployed to Iraq. I'm still looking forward to the day I get to actually shake his hand and play for a small wager over 18 holes but in the meantime, due to the internet and its evolving tools I can keep in touch with my mate, Tom as easily as any other one of my friends. Interestingly, e-mail has been the one reliable technology that hasn't changed a lot since 1996 - I now want Tom to give Skype a whirl!

So, there you have it, a story I've wanted to tell for a while because of its relevance to the evolution of the internet. Technology has the power to connect people in a meaningful way and that perhaps is its highest purpose.

I received an e-mail this week from Mike Baker from Polaris Career Center regarding my use of an RWLO account. At first I thought I was in trouble for unauthorised use of a set up aimed at US educators but he was merely curious as how I found out about the service and the origin of some of the public files I have sitting there. I had to admit I started the account as a free place to store education related stuff so I could access it from anyplace that had a web connection and I got the original link from a Steve Dembo post. I hadn't even really poked around the rest of the site much but thanks to Mike, I have started to sift through some of the resources and Learning Objects available. He also gave me some great links to key parts of the site and I thought I'd post them here before I delete the e-mail and lose it forever. Firstly, Mike pointed to PT3 Pathways Project where the whole site's purpose is explained. Then he gave me a link to A Guide To Unique And Compelling Educational Resources that was fantastic as an overview of how to effectively use internet resources in a classroom, clearly defining what cannot be done by using traditional resources alone. This was excellent and is something that I can use with teachers easily in our Problem Based Learning program. Heaps more resources and Learning Object exemplars were also available at the Polaris Public homepage and also here. In the spirit of just-in-time learning and my recent discourse on e-portfolios the last link provides exemplars of different e-portfolios from teachers and teaching students that should help me out in further clarification of this concept. Mike's directions were to open the RWLO e-Desk Workshop folder, then the Unique e-Desk Sites popping out the files in the main window. So thanks, Mike and also for encouraging me to keep my account, an obscure Aussie educator sponging off US taxpayers' dollars! (My description, not his.)


An excellent comment response from Aaron at Teacher In Development to my post An E-Portfolio - Who Is It For? My point about the potential audience for any portfolio has really got him thinking. But he backs up his original position well by stating that a portfolio can be put together for more than one audience as long as the portfolio starts with the individual.

I think an ePortfolio’s primary audience should be the one developing it. If it is being developed as a tool of reflection and a way for students to show what they know, or show how they are developing, then I think first of all, it’s all for them.

I can appreciate that point of view - it would work for me. I think it would work for Aaron's students too. But how will it work for the students I teach in my school aged between 5 and 13? I'm a bit apprehensive about kids of that age being able to construct a portfolio of their own choice without a lot of guidance. Not saying it can't work and work well at that but I think portfolios at that age range need a fair bit of structure and teacher guidance. And for teachers to do that well, they need to be familiar with the whole process. Educators need to develop and maintain their own professional e-portfolio. What that could look like is a whole new ballgame. Educators' portfolios should be as individual as they are while a standardised format might be really helpful for younger students in the primary years. I found this decription of what a professional portfolio should look like from D'Arcy Norman to be particularly succinct.

That’s not really what a portfolio should be - it’s best used as a showcase for an individual. I picture the portfolio as being closer to the job interview than the resume. It’s a creative proxy for an individual, not a standardized data transmission vector.

I really need to re-visit my notes from Dr.Helen Barrett and start putting something together. This would qualify as my reflective component - what about the rest of you out there reading this? (6 subscribers in Bloglines at last count) Do you have an e-portfolio and how's it travelling?

Every now and then it's good to bask in one own's reflected glory/progress/reflection and look back at the journey so far. I've only been blogging since mid year but you know what - a lot of the blogs I read (just check my blogroll) aren't much older and they produce stuff that gets my mind buzzing all the time. So this is post No.50 and it's just in time before Christmas so why do I continually refer to this blog and all it entails as the best professional development I've ever done in my teaching career?
I started this off in late July after stumbling onto Teach42 following a podcast link and was blown away by what I read and heard. I've always longed for a web presence, my own website but what would go on it and who would care? Steve's site provided that answer. It was cool, his reflections attracted comments galore and provided me with heaps of links to follow. It wasn't long before his blogroll led me to David Warlick and Will Richardson and I was hooked. Right at this time, my school were ordering and taking delivery of these interactive whiteboards, ActivBoards from Promethean and if anyone had asked me in July what the most exciting thing happening for me this year in my job, it would have been that. But blogging blew that right out of the water. In fact, I thought initially the two technologies were a match made in heaven. But although my day job involved a steep learning curve grappling with flipcharts and configuring USB ports and e-teaching and teachers' laptops, my time away in the evening drew me into the blogosphere where I refined my Bloglines accounts, I read more, I started to leave a comment on other people's blogs and gradually posted more content to my new Blogger account. Blogger was a great place to learn the ropes but it didn't have what I saw more and more on other people's blogs - categories. I somehow stumbled upon edublogs and opened my account there and have never been happier. I shifted all my posts over to their new home and only had to leave one comment behind. So over five months my humble little blog has grown a lot - here are my 50th anniversary highlights.

1. Blogging my first T&D session - "The Magic of RSS" I saw Steve Dembo do this really well and my first go was a bit of poor cloned imitation.

2. A quality reflective post on my team's achievements in our ActivBoard training day where I realised that if you forge forward with enthusiasm, others will follow.

3. My first comment from outside Australian borders from the legend himself, Will Richardson. It is a real confidence booster to get comments and when it comes from someone who you read and respect, the connectiveness really makes sense. Apologies to Jo McLeay and James Matthew - I've appreciated your regular feedback. I probably sound a bit starstruck with this highlight.

4. Being a featured blog here at edublogs - still on the front page next to the edublogger award nominated Smelly Knowledge after James said that we'd be featured for about a fortnight (two months ago!) Bit like those pictures you see of fans in photos next to their favourite celebs!

5. Brightening up the blog with images. Now if you see my son Joshua here, you can be sure he inherited his good looks from his mother, not me!

6. Participating in 2 x EdTech Talk Brainstorms. Still waiting to download the second one, 15b = come on, Jeff.

7. Anytime this blog has been mentioned on another! Blogrolls, Stephen Downes, Weblogg-ed, and Xplanazine.

So, the bit of self indulgence is over - I return you to normal blogging matters.

On Sunday, I got to participate in another EdTech Talk Brainstorm number 15b hosted by the ever patient Jeff Flynn. Not many people wanted to Skype in for a chat so I took the chance and had a very informative chat with Jeff and Art Gelwicks which sort of circled around a little bit until Jeff quizzed me on what I'd been up to lately. I mentioned the E-Portfolio conference and that then became the topic for the remainder of the show and it flowed over into the post show as well when Dave Cormier joined in for his well thought out views. Now a lot of stuff has been buzzing round my head since this conference and there is no doubt that Dr. Helen Barrett is a world authority in this area. However, I didn't find myself connecting to her vision and reasons behind this concept, in particular as a tool for the educator professional. I still haven't listened back to the Brainstorm so I can't be totally sure about what was said and by whom, but my overwhelming feeling that came from this session is that an E-Portfolio is a grand idea but unless you have the audience firmly established as in WHO will look at and judge your portfolio, then why would you go down that track. Helen emphasized that it had to be more that an online CV and it must have a reflective component. In her case, she said that was her blog and in a personal question that I asked of her, she considered that all educator E-Portflios should have a blog there as part of that reflection. Personally, that is true, this blog is reflective but it's more than that. It's a place to try out half baked ideas and have others remould that thinking. It's a place for remixing other people's thoughts and concepts - in fact, if it was solely navel gazing, why bother to put it in a public arena? I find myself agreeing with Leigh's point of view here, as I've said earlier. So, as a professional, unless you know who your portfolio is for and so far, the job application process here in the South Australian system does not require them, why would you have one? Art pointed out in the Brainstorm that if a future employer Googled you then an E-Portfolio coming up might be a lot more flattering than some other stuff.
In the post show chat the conversation swirled around portfolios for students and there were heaps of issues there that weren't solved but identified and they need clarification because Dave pointed out that the last E-Portfolios needed was a government policy mandate that determined what they were for and how they were to be interpreted and crunched down so that they fitted the same cookie cutter assessment of learning that standardised tests produce. I think that the US is particular seem to be very test and prescriptive curriculum oriented (correct me if I'm wrong) and I think here in Australia we managed to avoid that. Our standardised tests are regarded with a lot of cynicism and the new Federal "plain English" report cards where students fall into a quadrant of achievement have been decried by educators and academics throughout the country. So we don't want the powers that be to determine an E-Portfolio's role - that needs to be in the hands of educators. How we respond to use this tool, which has been around for quite a while, will determine if the appropriate who is viewing these portfolios (students and teachers).
More positive thinkers like Aaron would help. He is mulling over this issue just today.

Wouldn’t a portfolio give teachers, students, schools, the public in general, a more accurate picture of the person it represents? If developed in alignment with school wide benchmarks and proficiencies, ePortfolios become a giant life mural - spanning time and development and capturing a person, telling their story.

A grade is data. A number. Why are we so in love with the idea of attaching a number to a person? Why do we think that this number really gives us an accurate picture of growth?

Personalized learning, I think, pairs very nicely with ePortfolio evaluation. A well done portfolio shows a person. It demonstrates growth and the meeting of competencies.

But even he has yet to narrow down the who. "teachers, students, schools, the public in general" may just be too many people to try and please.

It doesn't take much to fall behind in the conversations going on in the blogosphere. It just takes one all consuming project with a looming deadline and the unread posts pile up in Bloglines. I do glance at my account as part of my morning e-mail, electronic calendar check ritual - it's more of a peek to see who's posting and it doesn't really tell me the topics of the moment. And now as I see the end results of my labour (only another 90 CD-R's to burn and package up) I really feel an obsessive need to post something. Anything. And I really need to get reading again and blog on stuff that touches a chord. What I find myself doing is a lot of mental blogging, going through topics and ideas in my mind as I slog through the mundanality of checking links, resizing photos and editing of adolescent grammar. Just proves I'm definitely a "digital immigrant" - because the fear of making errors forces me into old linear methods. But........ ahhhh......the light is at the end of the tunnel. More personal learning and connecting awaits.

It's that time of the school year where all of the long term projects and ongoing bits and pieces come to a head. Now, a lot of this pressure is self imposed. I suffer from that syndrome that my good friend, Lindsay, used to sum up in the sentence, "If you want something done, ask a busy person. There's a reason why certain people seem to be standing around with time on their hands!" I'm one of those busy people.

My most pressing deadline involves the construction of a Yearbook in CD-ROM format for our four upper primary classes. It's produced in webpage format so anyone with a CD drive and a web browser can view the content. I'm the only person on staff with self reliant skills in Dreamweaver and FrontPage to (a) build the structure and navigation to link 120 kids worth of content and (b) able to check and correct that content so that all links work, photos and images are compressed so it doesn't take ages for a pic of three Year Six students pulling silly faces to come into view. Each kid is entitled to 5 MB of content but that doesn't stop some from deciding that 35 wrestling pics and a page dedicated to their favourite mp3's and movie trailers is a great idea. So as editor, I get the job of fixing it all up and deleting the stuff that doesn't fit the original concept and then burning a test CD. If all goes smoothly (and what are the chances of that when you're trying to beat time) I then need to burn 120 copies for all of the students. Now, remember, I volunteered for this so I'm not after sympathy. But it has curtailed my blogging and more importantly my reading. Bloglines is filling up with unread posts, just waiting for responses, opportunities for joining in the conversation drifting past. So, under two weeks of this school year left and maybe I won't feel too left behind. Will the blogosphere stop for Christmas?