Monthly Archives: February 2006

Off to see Marc Prensky on Friday here in Adelaide. I've been keen to hear him speak since becoming aware of his work via David Warlick, who blogged about him as an A list speaker. I'm going to the event (at the Ramada Grand no less) with a fellow middle school teacher who asked for a few links to get "up to speed" on Prensky's work. I've found his "digital natives / digital immigrant" analogy really useful as it has been the methaphor that has really clicked with some of my colleagues wondering what all the edech fuss is about. So the links I assembled quickly are worth reproducing here as they cover a fair bit of his message.
Marc Prensky's Official Website (includes his blog!)
Alan Levine blogs Marc Prensky keynote
Edutopia article - Adopt and Adapt
Educational Leadership magazine - Listen to the Natives
David Warlick blogs Marc Prensky @ BlueRidge
Bernie Dodge's opinion
Wesley Fryer blogs Marc Prensky@TCEA 2006

Just when I get gloomy about things (like Eeyore in my son's Pooh Bear books) some thing will happen to restore my faith and remind me that other educators do get it and even if they don't are prepared to have a go at trying to get closer to it. (Whatever it might be in the world of blending technology with learning!) I moaned last night that my class was missing opportunity because of my limited time and opportunity to get them access to work with ICT tools. Then this afternoon after a fairly full day working with the middle primary classes on their Problem Based Learning and showing one class how to turn their Maths surveys on favourite sports and cartoon show into speccy pie graphs in Excel, Nat, my co-teacher brought our class into the computing room for the last lesson of the week. She had set them a task so we could meet and plan for next week's installation of curriculum shifting. But it was the task that caught my eye and restored my faith. The students had just watched that stalwart of Australian primary school children's current affairs, Behind the News (common acronym BTN) and had taken some handwritten notes on the news item of their choice. They had to then use Publisher to turn it into front page news, roleplaying a journalist, news editor putting "their paper to bed." It was great because it wasn't a lesson on Publisher; in fact, a few kids hadn't used the program ever before. But Nat trusted their "digital native" instincts enough to let them go, work out the templates and editing tools for themselves and the results of 40 minutes of self directed work was fantastic. I was stoked because I have a teaching ally who listens without feigning boredom when I rabbit on about blogs and social software and the like and in her hands, the class will get the opportunities they need when I'm off discharging my other school responsibilities. So, Nat, thanks - I will get our class blog off the starting line and key you up on how to be an equal partner in its future.

It's been a funny week insofar that I find a lot of my professional thinking has been in a negative, just-beneath-the-surface frustration type of mode. Mentally and occasionally vocally, I've been wondering if I'm on the right track both in my teaching and in the directions our school is taking in our search for "up-to-date technology." I've ever been wondering if my support for our IWB program has been misguided and if we have any solid evidence that they've improved learning for our students. Nothing is really defined - just bits and pieces swirling around in my mind. So, in no particular order, here are a few of my recent Moments of Doubt:

  1. I'm really worried about this concept of interactive whiteboards being touted as a teaching tool as opposed to a learning tool. Is that a good thing or does it just entrench the teacher as the traditional focal point in the classroom? Can an IWB facilitate the sort of learning needed for the 21st century? I suspect that it can but how long will it take to evolve in our classrooms? While we wait for these new methodologies to emerge, is it wise to use our finite finances to place all our ICT eggs in the one basket?
  2. And I'm a bit frustrated with the lack of opportunity for my class to access computers at the moment. So many great things they could be doing with these new web tools but it'll take more than an hour per week in the computing room to make inroads. I could show them heaps of cool stuff via the IWB but that's not enough - I want them using stuff, creating projects using wikis, reporting to parents via podcasts, designing digital stories, reading and commenting on other students' blogs. But I have limited time, both with them and online access that I have to prioritise and pick carefully what is possible and leave some many good things untried and unexplored. Some days, I would trade the ActivBoard in for 10 wireless laptops because I think that would get the kids closer to what they need to be engaging with.
  3. What teachers want to do with their collaborative ICT time with me has been a little underwhelming. The first group of teachers wanted me to explore interactive Maths websites which I have done making use of as a bookmarklet tool which was good. But I was hoping for a little more direction from them, or something a bit meatier for the students to work on. But these kids are young and maybe interacting with an assortment of engaging Maths websites will at least get them realising that ICT has the power to make learning fun. Some of the boys with concentration and behavioural issues have been coming in to the computing room at lunch and asking permission to go on the internet to "do those good Maths games." So maybe my doubt is misplaced on this one.
  4. And these e-portfolios! For something that is cutting edge and could be really as individual as we educators are, why does everything have to fit a Word or Excel format? Maybe it's using tools that are familiar but could we look around at all the other exciting possibilities with web based applications. I don't think Web 2.0 actually exists for the majority of our teachers. If you want kids to link into this concept, you have to know they will want to use tools they value - and it may not be what we "digital immigrants" think will do the job.

Maybe, I'll feel better in the morning. My IWB funk has to lift before I present to leaders in the district on Monday to extol the virtues of our ActivBoards. Wow - and it's only Week Four. I have the feeling that Marc Prensky next week will either excite or depress me.

Getting out on a staff meeting night is a bonus. So while my colleagues were nutting out the finer details of Maths groupings and poring over Steering Committee minutes, I was at TSOF to hear and discuss the future directions of e-Portfolios in DECS. I wasn't sure what to expect and looking back from my perspective, it was a mixed bag. There was some talk about future directions and I was glad to see that thoughts of digital space being provided for educators was highlighted - that was on my wishlist from a few posts back. There was some group sharing of the progress individuals have made on their own portfolios and there was a fair bit of talk about what should go in an e-portfolio and what tools should be used to put it together. Some of the less interesting aspects were when time was spent bringing people who didn't attend up-to-date with some of the finer points of Dr.Helen Barrett's methods. But I didn't need personally to sit through how to create a hyperlink in Excel so I ended up chatting to Jackie Miers whose e-portfolio I linked to in a post about the original conference. She said she had overlooked the fact that it had a lot of personal details that she didn't really want public so she had to take parts down off the web and adjust the whole thing. Jackie is an extremely capable educator and I doubt if there are any educators in South Australia involved in Resource and Problem Based Learning who haven't used a Jackie Miers webpage of useful links. Here's one of her latest about the Commonwealth Games. And she asked how I found the time to blog! 🙂 I'm sure that she spends many hours putting her hotlist pages together. Anyway, the session ended with Yvonne Murtagh giving everyone a quick blast of Web 2.0 which was good because even these keen to be near the cutting edge educators had not heard of many of the tools she was highlighting frantically. She even got me to show my blog which was great. I only had five mins to give them a taste of what a blog could be so I showed them my entry on Self Directed Learning and showed how comments containing responses to and resources for my idea had come in from all over the world - Minnesota, New Zealand, Glenelg (!!), Mexico City and Alaska. That got a few heads nodding - that is the real power of blogs for educators - the power to virtually tap another educator on the shoulder halfway around the world and say, "What do you think?"
So what came out of tonight's get together? I'm not too sure - except maybe a commitment to form a community of educators keen to explore this concept for ourselves and our students. Maybe a few will be inspired to take up blogging as the reflective component of their portfolio. I just get a bit worrried when words like "standardised" and "required elements" get bandied around because as Dave Cormier reflected on one of the EdTech Talk Brainstorms that never made to the web archive:

....... 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.

So where are we going? Not sure but I'd better hang around and find out.

Via Josie Fraser, a wide ranging post on the UK government's efforts at supporting the e-portfolio movement.

The UK Government’s e-strategy, Harnessing Technology outlined a clear commitment to ensuring learners have access to Personal Learning Space (PLS) where they can “store coursework, course resources, results, and achievements…with the potential to support e-portfolios”, available in every school and college by 2007-08. It’s proved to be a popular idea – with many intuitions engaging in research and investigation, and even becoming early adopters of the currently available e-portfolio products. There isn’t currently an agreed definition of PLS or e-portfolio functionality and standards: however, guidelines, ideas and recommendations are fast emerging.

So where are we going to go in South Australia. I'll find out tomorrow - except I was really, really late with my rsvp. Hope I don't get a "Don't bother coming" e-mail tomorrow morning.

A week or so back, started the IWBNet List, which was an e-mail subscription list for all of its current newsletter subscribers. Well, to cut a long story short, the list started a bit of an e-mail frenzy and people started panicking about extra e-mail load because everytime someone responded to an e-mail, all subscribers got a copy and if got forwarded, everyone got another copy. Then people started unsubscribing in fear and that triggered multiple copies of that e-mail until, pulled the plug on the list. It opened again today with optional subscription.
Anyway, a few interesting threads opened up with the usual request for where to find good resources etc. and the often stated question was posted about the value of IWB's vs. data projectors on their own. I haven't got permission to quote the original author or reveal their identity but the general paraphrase was that one educator was still wondering what the real impact an IWB would have in a classroom considering that the large screen image can be obtained without the actual board. Now I've posted before about this issue and never felt that I could successfully encapsulate the answer to this comparison. But then Peter Kent replied on the List and with his permission, I'd like to post his response here. Peter is the deputy principal at Richardson Primary School in Canberra where Australia's interactive whiteboard movement gained its first bit of momentum and Peter himself has conducted the most probing research into the impact IWB technology has had on the learning of the kids at his school. He has also spent time as a Education Officer for ActivBoards and presented to many schools and guided them on their way. So, you could say he knows what he is talking about.
Here was his e-mail:

Hello All,
Back in 2004 I wrote a short answer to this question which I have attached;
it is a long standing question.
When considering this question however it is best to look from the
prospective of a teacher who has up until now had little to no use for or
interest in the use of technology in the classroom.  These teachers are the
ones that seem to be able to pick up and run with IWBs where they cannot
with a computer and a projector.  (the attachment is my best guess why)
Highly competent teachers with ICTs have and will make effective use of
computers and projectors,  they will also make effective use of  IWBs as
well.  The main advantage of IWBs is that it is technology for the masses.
IWBs seem to be able to be more effectively integrated into 'normal'
classrooms where 'traditional technology' integration rarely progresses
beyond the token or confined to 'hotspots' within the school.
The reasons why teachers will make great use of IWBs rather than computers
and projectors are not always rational; this however is just a reflection of
human nature.  If the world was rational we would all be using open source
software, probably on Macs, while watching our BETA video tapes.  Those who
search for completely rational answers to this question may never find one.
Peter Kent

And here is his article attachment:

How IWBs are different to using the projector with a computer?

Peter Kent: Deputy Principal - Richardson Primary School

Seven responses to this question in no particular order:
1. IWBs allow access to ICTs for those students that up until now have alienated by ICTs, ie the early childhood children and the special education children. These children have not the fine motor skills, or they have found the 'complexity' of using ICTs overwhelming.
2. IWBs are a very effective and comfortable way for teachers to integrate ICTs into classroom practice. Teachers often use and can think of an IWB as a whiteboard with the power of a computer. They know how to incorporate whiteboards into classroom use and so they feel comfortable with IWBs, as time progresses they evolve their teaching to take into consideration the potential of the 'computer aspect'. A computer and projector can be thought of as a computer with a very large screen, but it is still fundamentally a computer, not fundamentally a whiteboard. While this might seem a difference in semantics it makes a big difference in practice.
3. IWBs are more interactive. Computers and projectors are more didactic. Computers and projectors are good with presentation (ie PowerPoint). Information can be presented in sequential formats. Admittedly, computers and projectors can take advantage of digital convergence (CD ROMs, DVDs, the Internet) to add a rich environment to the presentation. However once the presentation is prepared only the person at the computer can operate it, change it, or annotate it. Often doing any of these tasks is quite difficult if you are not technical. Pre-set PowerPoint presentations are not good at catering for divergent thinking from the class. In these cases either the divergent thoughts are glossed over, or the presentation is stopped so the new direction can be explored, usually in a traditional discussion, maybe enhanced by access to information on the Internet, or another piece of software. In this context however it is complicated and clumsy to annotate the new information, take notes of the discussion, etc..... It is not impossible to complete these tasks, yet the skills required would not be found in 100% (or even a majority) of teachers. With an IWB teachers can still prepare pre-set lessons, yet they can also comfortably allow digressive thoughts and idea to be catered for seamlessly in the lesson. This allows for a much richer 'interactive' teaching and learning environment.
4. Students and Teachers can manipulate and annotate information, objects, programs.... that are displayed on the board. A group can cluster around the board taking turns in a quick fire manner to interact with the content of the board. With a computer and a projector all the aspects of control are located at the computer (often away from the display of information) this creates serious barriers to collaborative interactions, assuming that the children have the skills to interact via a computer in the first place (see point 1).
5. Via the use of an interactive whiteboard a school should expect to see an increase in the educational value of pre-existing technologies that have been purchased. This in someway is related to point 2, in that the 'whiteboard' aspect provides the bridge and link between 'technology' and 'teachers' comfort zones'. As a computer and projector does not provide this link the school's pre-existing technology often remains under utilised.
6. IWBs can still be thought of as emergent technologies. Some manufacturers are creating new / original ICT peripherals to work in conjunction with IWBs (voting devices, interactive tablets, lectern devices, etc) all of which increase the functionality of the IWB. IWB Software advances are occurring at a rapid rate, with the majority of them aimed at the educational uses. A computer and projector approach not only takes away from classroom the advantages that IWBs have to offer currently, they also cut off access to many future advantages and potential that will inevitably become available.
7. There is hard evidence that IWBs can be used to create an environment that enables an entire school community to embrace the integrated use of technology within the teaching and learning process. There is hard evidence that the use of IWB can significantly improve learning outcomes for students. I am not aware of similar evidence or claims for a computer and projector approach.

Thanks Peter for allowing me to reproduce your article here - now there is a version in cyberspace for others to read and re-mix.

This Wednesday I'm going to a workshop after school titled "ePortfolio for Professional Learning" which will "build on momentum and outcomes of December 1st & 2nd conference using evaluation responses." This was the conference where Dr. Helen Barrett was the keynote speaker and where our system's shiny new Professional Standards for teachers were unveiled. So if I am to be a meaningful participant, I'd better clarify my thoughts before I go so if I get the opportunity, they can be aired.
So where do I stand on the topic of e-portfolios in my education system?

  • Well, I haven't touched any of my starting point files since the workshop so time is a big issue. Time to design, time to reflect, time to put the whole thing together.
  • If e-portfolios are to have a viable, long term future then our system has to fund and provide permanent digital space for all DECS employees and students. For as long as they are part of our system - with an opportunity for retirees and school leavers to transfer their life work off to their choice of server repository.
  • For me, a blog is not an e-portfolio. A blog is not even just reflection which is where I disagree with Dr.Helen Barrett. It is connection with others that is really the big deal in blogging, but a portfolio is a summary of one's work and directions. Portfolio = learnt. Blog = learning.
  • Digital access for all portfolio participants in their work environments is crucial. My class can't put together a portfolio of work in a 45 minute session in the computing room once a week. It can't be done if technology is inaccessible or unreliable.
  • Purpose has to be defined. Who is it for and why do they need to view a portfolio? We can't afford in this day and age of accountability to be too utopian. (Or should we?)

It will be really interesting to see what others have to say. I'll post back on anything of interest.

My class is currently on camp at Arbury Park Outdoor School just out of Bridgewater in the Adelaide Hills. I am sort of involved, commuting back and forth between my Problem Based Learning commitments back here at school. I'm heading up there again this evening to spend the night as the adult in charge of a dorm full of eleven year old boys. Fun... However, I just want to post a few pics of the bushland there as the group sat and calmed down to listen to the bushland sounds. We trekked off for a hike and then sat all of the kids in this clearing while Richard, one of the Arbury Park teachers got the kids to stay silent for several minutes and just listen. It really takes an effort for city kids to actually slow down mentally and do this - maybe their brain is hardwired to resist it because it craves instant stimulation. Anyway,while we were sitting there I fired off a few digital shots in a variety of directions and here are the results. For privacy reasons, I haven't included any shots of the kids.