Monthly Archives: April 2006

Been having a great break with a mixture of online and offline acivities.

  • Today was a beautiful autumn day here in Adelaide and what better place to take the kids than to the Zoo.

  • Alex has continued to expand on his thoughts on e-Portfolios and their place in the e-learning landscape. Try here and here and finally (maybe not!), here for more of his perspective.
  • James Farmer turns 30 and has an article about himself and edublogs published in The Australian. Onya, James! Long may your hobby live or there goes Teaching Generation Z!

Leigh recently posted about his sense of isolation regarding some of his views on LMS, PLE and e-Portfolios. I got the feeling he was feeling a bit like the lone voice in the wilderness and everything he writes really makes me think so I thought it would be an ideal time to give him some feedback on the aspect I felt that I could comment on, the concept of e-Portfolios. Well, I think I got more than I anticipated and I think Leigh should feel heartened by the level of debate that followed throughout the comments (11 at last count and that doesn't include some of the TALO discussion group posts) and I put some of my own embryonic thoughts to the test.
A bit of background - I was able to go to the E- Portfolio Professional Learning Conference where the keynote presenter was the renown e-Portfolio expert, Dr. Helen Barrett. Prior to the conference I had blogged my initial thoughts using Leigh's original post ePortfolios. I don't get it!  and looking at the way he has structured his wiki had me thinking that with all this Web 2.0 stuff floating around, it would be the ideal way to use a "small pieces, loosely joined" approach to this concept of a portfolio that lives in cyberspace. However, Leigh, for his own reasons, seemed very negative about e-Portfolios so via my comment I thought I'd see if he would expand. Here's a snippet of what I wrote:

I think your objections mainly stem from the keep it all in one spot, locked away under password, present only your best bits, preformatted approach which is the favoured format from those high up in the education halls of power who would desire uniformity from their employees. But your practice, as showcased in your wiki shows that a vibrant, evolving personalised professional online presence is something worth developing and maintaining. Is calling it an e-Portfolio such a bad thing?

And expand he did:

Hey Graham, good point... and it is the name I hate - ePortfolio.. I agree with Bill, its pretentious and doesn't help the problem of when academics hear the word blog, they hear a word that sounds like poo, or a wet towel on a line, or a chocolate bar.. they don't hear a word that sounds academically minded... perhaps the word blogfolio achieves what you are aiming for G, a compromise that helps to bring resistance over. But in the end, I want the "free range" thinking to be respected and refered to for what it is.. and I think that's more than simply a way of doing things, its a subversive and political gesture that asks significant questions of powerful economic exchanges. "why are we buying that licence? who owns this content? what's our responsibility to the author of that content? is the classroom a good way to learn? etc.

Then Alex Hayes weighed in with his take.Here's a sample of what he wrote:

We are all battling red-tape-dispensers, arcadian pyschotropic coffee morning-meetings-which-get-nowhere, PLE's, PLC's , LMS's, OLE's , CMS's, ins/outs, blank looks and faithless moronic back-handers.
E-portfolios,blogfolios and the conversation resultant is no more than stammering for the correct nomenclature in a crowded parlour of blogger poo-dom and we all know it.
Ask any 15 - 36 year old bedoper what an e-portfolio is and you will get an interesting answer . no cant take it to the mosh pit in fact try and find it when you've finished your course !!
Ask any cardie' the same question and you'll realise that the 'e' in e-portfolio is like the 'm' in m-learning.
Put there to secure funding, to entertain acronyms, to joust with the 'free rangers'.

Now Alex is an extremely talented writer and at this point I thought maybe I've bitten off more than I can chew, but I thought it would be good for me in my own clarification if I doubled back and had a go at addressing what he had said. Too often in the past in my professional life I have backed away from my own opinions for fear of being exposed as someone who hadn't thought through things but this was a risk that promised to be a fruitful, if humbling, learning experience. An excerpt from my next comment:

If e-Portfolio is only a word, what's the big deal? I must be missing something (highly likely, I'm just a primary school teacher) but how is the term "e-Portfolio" any worse than any other buzz phrase or common usage word in education today? I can't see why the term can't be defined by Web 2.0 technology users / educators at the grassroots - in fact, it would be better than just leaving it to be defined by those high up on the education food chain. We could (edubloggers in general) define what an e-Portfolio is, provide the links to the world to concrete examples so that someone like Leigh could be saying, "This is what an e-Portfolio looks like in the connected world and here's mine as an outstanding example."

Leigh's next comment was important because it revealed his thinking more clearly to me. I was starting to get where he was coming from. But did Alex and he fully get my viewpoint? Read on:

G, I think you're right, but I think ePortfolio is still more than a word. I think you're right if all we are talking about is a portfolio in the digitally networked world - but as you alluded to in your first comment, it is a word that panders to old schoolers, managers and academia who refuse to acknowledge the digitally networked world in the terms that are current. This provides charlatans with the opportunity to sell false things like ePortfolio software and servers, which in turn leads teachers into yet another false reality, which leads our kids into schizophrenic learning... out there is the way things are really done - in here is the way we do things in school.

Alex's next comment was also extremely insightful and put my comments to the blowtorch they deserved in his own clever way. His final paragraph was pure gold (my own emphasis in bold):

There are a billion good ideas flying around out there and in here. The only ones that have global resonance are those that hit the ground running. Realising that the key elements of professional portfolios are imbedded in the individuals ability to demonstrate and action social change, realise social dividends, connect others to knowledge and weather the organisational-flack-attack are in my opinion the portfolio we should be carrying around with us to speak. I rarely shoot things down cause'my eye sights failing anyway from too much Halo.

That was really cool. What I had written must have had some credibility to warrant such responses and I really learnt something from both Leigh and Alex in this exchange. A classic example of the power of blogs and the conversations that can occur to define things at the grassroots level. And I think I even got Leigh to moderate his viewpoint as well!

.......I really appreciate you taking me up on this issue, as it has helped me to see that for some, ePortfolio is simply a conceptual use of web2 technologies - which I think is totally OK. My previous experience with the term however has been at the hands of horrid academics who on the one hand dismiss blogs and wikis, while on the other embrace ePortfolios - because they paid for a special ePortfolio software... So, I think we have hammered out an understanding......

As I mentioned in my final comment there, I think we are still exploring and working on what e-Portfolios could look like here in South Australia. The group who have met earlier this year are pretty green (myself included) but that means without restrictive pre-conceptions, maybe some useful user-friendly and user-controlled models can emerge that can evolve with the Web 2.0 world. Thanks, Leigh and Alex, for the great conversation.

David Warlick blogged about the Edutopia Best Blog For Teachers article that gave he and Will Richardson guernseys for being Must Read blogs for Edutopia readers. I must admit that I very rarely look at Edutopia but the concept of the Must Read blog for educators is one that I concur with. In fact, I have a Must Read folder in my Bloglines account that is always the first port of call when I check my feeds regularly. Last year when I was still wetting my feet blogwise, I had the gall to name my Top Five Blogs (at the time) which was actually seven blogs that I was reading avidly. But the great thing about blogging is that you can constantly keep connecting to new sources and what speaks to you changes as you read more widely. So this is not a re-run or a new Top Five - if you link back, I still read all of my original list and highly recommend them. Will is now part of, Leigh has moved to NZ and is still in fine form, Jo is getting her story in the papers, and the others are consulted on a regular basis. But my new must reads are different, more acquired taste-wise and best of all, they make me think, really think in that sort of "can't get that idea out of my brain" way. Extra Must Reads you should consider - if you are already reading them, well done and what do you think?!

  1. Borderland. Doug is fantastic - a social conscience, a regular classroom teacher with an ability to chronicle his world in a way that draws you in. I have learnt a lot about injustice in American education from Doug, as well as many inspiring anecdotes from within his practice.
  2. Artichoke. I can't wait for the next installment to decipher. Arti also gives me pointers towards relevant resources in my practice and makes me question what I have had blind faith in.
  3. Blue Skunk Blog. I've sung Doug Johnson's praises before - in Australian slang, he can be a bit of a stirrer. All the more reason to be reading.
  4. Teacher In Development / Palimpsest Redux. A bit of a cheat here plunking two together here but two teaching brothers with a lot of high quality reflection in two different parts of the world. Aaron takes ideas from all over the place and runs with them, and James (a new father again) ponders the difficult questions being a teacher throws at you.
  5. Cool Cat Teacher. I keep checking my feeds to see what Vicki has written. No-one is more inspiring and upbeat (and I did appreciate her words of encouragement on this humble blog a short while ago) and covers the possibilities of a Web 2.0 classroom as well.

I got really excited at the beginning of this month when I was looking at my referers section of my WordPress edublog (being obsessional) and saw a wiki link that I didn't recognise. I followed that link and ended up on a page set up by Wesley Fryer who seemed to be organising an International Skypecast on the topic of global citizenship. That sounds interesting, I thought, until I scrolled down and saw my name as one of the listed participants! That sent me scrambling to check my gmail account (it's the official e-mail contact for this site) to find the e-mail invitation from Wesley there. He recommended that potential participants listen to a podcast of a keynote presented by Dr. Michael Byers outlining and defining the concept of global citizenship, which I dutifully did and it was a lot harder going than I would have anticipated. I mean, I'm no university genius and my tertiary qualifications are my basic teaching diploma (although I have plenty of informal learning and expertise up my sleeve) but I enjoyed the mental stimulation of grappling with an unfamiliar concept. Now the skypecast hasn't happened yet even though Wesley's plans seemed to include getting off to a fast start. Hopefully, it can be rescheduled soon - I'm still keen to be involved even if I bring the least expertise to the table (IMHO). So, to emphasize my preparedness, I've had a go at answering the five prepared focus questions Wesley left on the wiki. Anyone who wants to redirect me or give me guidance, your comments are very welcome.

1. What does or should "global citizenship" mean in the educational setting where you teach or work?
Currently, I don't think it means a lot. Personally, I had to do a bit of thinking to get a deeper understanding of the concept as defined by Dr. Michael Byers. To me, he is talking about a worldwide sense of social justice where to be a global citizen, one needs to be an advocate for the needy, for those who are not even aware of the connected world. Being a primary school based teacher, I am unsure how this definition of global citizenship blends into what we do in terms of awareness raising or participation. Some beginning points that we have on my own site are a bilingual program that demonstrates the values of being multilingual and aware of other cultures / nationalities, activities like the 40 hour famine fundraiser for our middle school kids and cultural celebrations like Multicultural Week, Mediterranean Day and German Day. For me personally, the global component has become important in the development of ideas and professional conversations with educators across the world via my blog. I have become aware of issues and initiatives that stretch well beyond my own personal teaching experiences and built on my own experiences and ideas as an active "global citizen". As far as being a "global citizen" in the sense that Dr. Michael Byers was describing, I probably fall short because my participation is primarily based on self-interest, self improvement, widening opportunities for my students and not really for nobler purposes.

2. What types of classroom activities should students and teachers engage in to promote conceptions of global citizenship?
One classroom activity that shows promise is the Wikiville project where students from all around the world can post information about their part of the world, read about others and their information and participate in a growing awareness of the wider global community. At the Marc Prensky seminar, he described the possible use of Google Earth as a tool in a problem solving exercise that documents how a relief effort could be organised for a remote area in need (tsunami relief, earth quake in South America etc.)

3. What role should activism and advocacy play in the classroom of the 21st century, as they relate to global citizenship?
At the primary school level, awareness raising is probably the main focus because of the maturity level of the students involved. I would need to converse more with other educators to really get my head around the possibilities - there are probably heaps of opportunities for primary aged students but I don't feel confident that my ideas are ready for airing in this public forum.

4. What barriers or challenges exist and need to be addressed to advance an agenda of global citizenship in classrooms?
There are a few barriers including an already crowded curriculum that has very broad outcomes relating to global collaboration and participation in global communities, teachers (and education systems) who think only in local terms, traditional media outlets that are used frequently by students that don't cover issues of inequity and social justice well (or at all) and very different interpretations of the term, "global citizen".

5. How can the agenda of global citizenship be best advanced across the world?
International skypecasts (just kidding), but using two way web media like blogging and podcasting to highlight the issues raised by "global citizenship", provide links to further reading and providing a voice to those members of Planet Earth on the wrong side of the digital divide. Then if every edublogger takes up and strives to do one related activity or unit of work with their class or students and share it with their colleagues, then momentum will build. Whether the initial skypecast Wesley proposed goes ahead or not, my awareness has been raised on the topic - if you read this post, your awareness has been raised and so on and so on.

I wouldn't have known about this if my deputy, Jo, hadn't sent me the link. A group of South Oz education leaders are on tour abroad checking out leading schools innovative in ICT in NZ, the States and Britain. The site is put together by Peter Simmonds, the manager of TSOF here in Adelaide. He says:

This is my go at sharing the knowledge, experience and professional networking links with other South Australian educators of the Learning Edge School Tour for 2006. Join the blog and share questions, links and thoughts with others as the group visits schools and education authorities in New Zealand, America, Paris and London. Peter Simmonds.

He has a blog, podcasts and plenty of pics. My only wish is this venture was better publicised so more people knew about it. Should be really interesting if what they see can be translated into improvements for our own education system.

It has been really interesting reading over the last week or so as David Warlick has developed his thoughts and ideas about "the New Story" that needs to be told to get education up to speed in the 21st century. This has evolved into his writings about the "flat classroom", which I'm finding are very timely as I wade further into Friedman's book. David says the characteristics of "flat classroom" learners are as follows:

  • Curious
  • Self Directed Learners
  • Intrinsic need to communicate
  • Intrinsic need to influence
  • Future Oriented
  • Heritage Grounded

Now, how much technology is needed to gain these characteristics would be interesting because it's my opinion that while the Australian curriculum is better set up to foster these points than its NCLB American counterpart, our investment in supporting technologies in general, lags behind the US. Of course, that varies from state to state and district to district. Here down under, we do have common high quality internet bandwidth, restricted only by overzealous filter software but there are no whole state 1:1 student laptop programs, big ticket items like the Learning Gateway and the Learning Federation get funding preference and teachers pay for their own professional development and training. Interactive whiteboards are a luxury and seen as a new technology, and Web 2.0 is definitely not on the radar of the regular classroom practitioner here. As for Will Richardson's Tablet PC Pilot, where would that money come from? After all, a laptop initiative for teachers from a few years back is still grounded and unlikely to attract government support. It is hard to see flat classrooms unless the teachers are in on it and prepared to let go of the old command and control methods of operation. If the person at the chalkface (20th century metaphor) isn't given the time to get familiar with the new rate of flow of information, then our kids won't notice much change. As David points out, it's not about the technology BUT if the access to that information is via technology and that access is restricted either through limited opportunity or lack of vision, then the classroom is as hilly as ever with the information and teaching limited to the teacher's own world view. So, what's the New Story for Australian schools? With so many good things in place - a constructivist curriculum, pockets of innovative teachers creating new ideas and opportunities despite the odds, emphasis on thinking skills and collaboration - maybe, Australia can get it right but only if the profession takes charge of education's destiny away from the hands of politicians, no matter how well intentioned, and gets the resources and awareness back to the teachers who need it to cater for the students in their care. It is crucial, in my opinion, that skills become more important than the content. At a EdTech Talk Brainstorm late last year, I lurked in the chatroom while the skyped in particpants argued about the importance or lack of importance of learning dates. In the flat classroom, it is much more important to know how to find out about the events of history than to commit dates to memory, just in case.

I've spent a little bit of time on my first day of our April holiday break getting a bit further into the most referenced book in the edublogosphere over the past year, Thomas Friedman's "The World Is Flat." At times, I've felt like I'm the only educator participating in these online conversations who hadn't read the book. I actually purchased the book a couple of months back but a combination of work commitments and being constantly lured back to my Bloglines account has eaten into my sparse free time. Currently still reading through the section on the world's 10 most important flatteners and it occurred to me that actually reading this book was made possible by these flatteners. I found out about the book via reading blogs, ordered the book (plus a few others recommended by my network) from Amazon's website because of better prices than I could get at any Aussie suppliers and paid in US dollars via my credit card. It was tracked and shipped using the technologies described by Friedman as "insourcing" and since then I've received an e-mail from Amazon suggesting further book purchases in line with my choices.

While I've been reading and the kids watched a Disney DVD, my wife has been listening to a few of her favourite CD's on our portable CD player which was "state of the art" back in 2003 because it could play CD-R and CD-RW in the mp3 format. We know how quickly personal music players have evolved since then but I can remember being really excited about putting on 100-200 songs on a CD and not having to carry extra discs with me. I think that as "digital immigrants" (as coined by Marc Prensky) we tend to get excited about new technologies and the amazing things they can do and forget that the "wow" factor we feel might not translate to the generation of kids we have in our classrooms. They have always experienced constant fast paced change and what we see as almost miraculous is pretty ho-hum for them. Having 2000 songs in their pocket in a device the size of a cigarette lighter is no big deal. And if I try to think back to my childhood, I cannot remember ever being in awe of colour television, stereo ghetto blasters and the first wave of VHS and Beta. This is pretty important to remember in our classrooms as the technology itself isn't enough - it's what's done with it that will make the difference. It might be big news to educators that the world is flat (and not all educators realise it yet!) but it is just the way things are for the students of today.

Throughout this term, I have been working with four classes in the middle primary years. Our problem was based around the recent Commonwealth Games held in Melbourne and with the help of our teacher-librarian, we designed the unit of work over an eight week period. With students aged from seven to nine years in this group, we tried to keep the problem simple.

You've been selected to represent Australia at the 2006 Commonwealth Games. You have been asked to produce a digital story telling about your preparation and participation in Melbourne.

We used the process outlined in TSOF's Problem Based Learning steps and the kids grappled with extracting key words (with varying degrees of success), using print and online resources (set up a account to make tracking useful websites a lot easier) and downloading images as they strove to solve their problem. We used the free (but not open source) Photo Story program from Microsoft for their final presentations and overall, the students did a pretty good job. They loved using the software and found that easy to manipulate. A harder task was ensuring that their research sentences made it onto their digital stories and that relevant images were able to be found and included. I tried hard to find Creative Commons licensed images but that proved to be really difficult with some of the less popular sports so I had to use the "fair use" component of using copyrighted material for educational purposes so that the kids had access to enough photos to make the idea work. However, if I want to post a link to an example here on this blog, I will have to find one that used exclusively Creative Commons images - the one sport that did have Flickr based images with the appropriate permissions was the triathlon which was the only sport open to the Melbourne public for free. That would explain the plentiful images. Other events like the road races in cycling and the marathon in athletics had free access for spectators. On a final note, it was frustrating that our education system's internet filter blocked out any reference to boxing including the little icon used to illustrate the different events. I had to unblock sites so that kids could access needed and appropriate material. I suppose it is dangerous for our students to know about this sport.

Photo by PDR - MCG panorama (Commonwealth Games 2006)

With our first PBL unit succesfully completed, we met with the next group of teachers to plan the next installment for next term. This time we are working with the MYLU students and the expectations change when you are planning for middle school students. Our general theme this time is "What does it mean to be Australian?" We had a half day release to plan for this on Tuesday and have based the problem around a famous Australian song released just before the 1988 Bicentennial celebrations called "We Are Australian." (Link via Wikipedia entry.) The students will have the job of creating and justifying new verses to this famous (for Aussies) song but I'm still undecided on how the learning could be documented and presented. I am tempted to use wikis where the students work in pairs to first dissect an existing verse by hyperlinking key phrase and words to sources and images on the web that explain them and adding their own reflections in as well. One of the teachers is keen for them to use Photo Story as well and maybe that might be OK as the way to show off the completed verse but PBL is about more than the completed product. I might have to play around a bit with a wiki over the holiday break we have coming up to see if my ideas will fly - however, I am working with teachers (and this is not a criticism) who are not at all familiar with how a wiki works. I think they would rather have the kids record their digital notes in Word but maybe it's my responsibility to expand the horizons a bit here. Dean certainly did in a counter reply to a comment I placed on his blog recently. In fact, I would be pushing the old story and continuing to do "old things in new ways."

After looking at Bill's and Leigh's mindmap touch graph of their own Learning Network, I've come to the conclusion that I really must be a visual learner. I've read about and tried to get my head around Leigh's concept of Networked Learning for a while now but it wasn't until I saw his latest post and its image that the idea clicked and the light bulb in the cellar of my brain went on. (I did check out Bill's first but the lack of zoom on his Flickr image meant the text was difficult to make out.) What can I say - Mr. Blackall's image was clearer than any explanation could be! And the cool part was seeing where my blog fitted and contributes to Leigh's learning. So, in the near future, my own Learning Network visualisation will be a valuable addition to this webspace. Thanks for the pointer, Bill and Leigh.

A great quote from Doug Johnson the other day in a comment to Leigh Blackall: we say in Minnesota, an expert has to be someone from at least 75 miles away......

In Australia, we suffer a bit from that cultural cringe thing a bit when we feel compelled to invite well publicised "gurus" from beyond our shores to come and tell us how to do things better. I was in a conversation with another educator who expressed the view that the recent Marc Prensky visit didn't add much new to the conversation about engaging our "digital natives". I'm in two minds about this. On one hand, we have plenty of talent here in the Australasian region who could inform us on the future directions of education but what Prensky did for us here in Adelaide at least was get people talking and raising questions about where student engagement is at. Bill Kerr has blogged a few times about this in a very thoughtful, reflective manner and it is this process that having an outside "expert" come in is good for. I have found that some of Prensky's analogies and articles to be really useful in my school setting in terms of using non-academic language to explain certain ideas about the changing nature of kids' learning and their world. My favourite part of his seminar that still resonates with me is his article "If We Share, We're Halfway There -- We need to post on the Web everything we do or create that works" because that is the headset that is needed for the 21st century teacher if we are ever to make headway with the ever increasing workload, accountability and relevance to our clients, the students. So my challenge is to practice what I advocate and get more website content jammed in here and in my other hidey holes around the web. I've talked in the past about Doug Johnson's website but I've poked around another that is a great example and makes feel quite inadequate. If you have a few spare hours (you will need it) check out Wesley Fryer's impressive website. It is really, really worth your while.