Monthly Archives: August 2006

Just when I thought I couldn't jam another thing into my already busy professional life, up pops the Training Day for the PLICT Research Grants. I'd actually been really looking forward to this since I'd received my e-mail telling me that my proposal for action research into the use of Web 2.0 tools to build teacher eportfolios. I thought I had a pretty well thought proposal but I approached the day with an open perspective. If I had to refine or change my driving question because of the research methodology involved, then I was ready for that. It was also really great that we were hearing from Dr. Trudy Sweeney, an experienced DECS educator who is now working with pre-service teachers at Flinders University and is a researcher herself. She spoke at my school on Wednesday and challenged our IWB teachers to keep working to using their new tools in innovative ways. She talked about the differences between traditional academic research where the researcher is completely impartial and detached and the model we will be following which is the action research model where we are actively encouraged to be part of the mix. Trudy talked about the process being cyclical in nature and to keep in mind the fact that due to the short timeline involved, there may only be two cycles completed with the final conclusions still depending somewhat on a further investment of time and money. Trudy stated that she believed that teachers are in the best place to make these changes using what is basically inquiry leaning. In the end the report basically just has to be, "How many cycles did you go through and what were the defining moments?"

Dean Clark also talked through the trials and tribulations of past projects. In the past, theory and rationale have not been very clear - without it, the project gains may not be transferable. Action research is about “describing” the significant events – documenting it as “journaling” is a good way to go. Bureaucrats are interested in the numbers. In the research project you don’t have to “prove” a theory and provide supporting evidence and the impacts cannot be measured in numerical data but in broad descriptions. With that in mind, I revisited my initial driving question several times throughout the day trying to distill it so that was researchable and manageable. I started with "Can teacher e-Portfolios be constructed and maintained using Web 2.0 technologies?" but as I went through the day I realised that was just a question that was just personal in terms of what I could produce. If I left it at that, it would be just a project while the purpose here is research project.

I then got a bit carried away and this was my next mutation:- "Can teacher e-Portfolios facilitate the documentation of and reflection on lifelong learning as education professionals?"

That was very big picture and totally impossible to do in the timeframe using my meager research skills so it had to be simpler, a lot simpler. So, after discussing it with Trudy at the end of the day, I've decided it has to be:- "Are teacher e-Portfolios sustainable?" Then all I have to do is use my focus group as test runs and document their initial progress and thoughts and feelings towards the future. If the e-Portfolios fall flat because they lack purpose or are difficult to maintain, well, that's one answer. And if they flourish and the teachers want to build on their start, that tells a different story. There is also the possibility that purpose will drive the success or failure of these things so there could be mixed results.

The whole research recipient group met in a roundtable and it was great to hear from the various planned projects - using an IWB in a preschool setting, one on podcasting, digital photography to document a school project, using wikis in a senior college, ICT's in Maths, ICT's for high order thinking and a couple of e-Portfolio projects (for students). We had a preview of Centra as a possible way for meeting virtually as it is free for the DECS system although for the purposes of this project, I think using Skype would be just as good and way easier to use as you don't really need training to use it. We had a look at the Moodle set up for this with everyone's project getting a Moodle based wiki in there (ironically, I'd probably only use that walled garden wiki to post a link to the web based wiki I intend to use!) My login wasn't working (forgotten it since I last used a DECS Moodle in November last year) and I don't like adding to forums under someone else's name. Not sure how useful these tools will be - but putting together work in that sheltered environment is a bit strange because the potential support group is so small. I really think that the open web edublogosphere helped shape my original research grant application so I'd want to leave it open to that potential audience. Anyway, the next step is to firmly map out my timelines and meet with my group of volunteers to see what they already assume about e-Portfolios. And start reading..... a lot of Dr. Helen Barrett coming up.

For anyone with a passing interest in the area of mobile learning (mLearning), then this post from Stephen Downes is well worth a read. Amongst many interesting and valid points that he makes is the indication that the literacies of audio and video as a mode of communication could really lessen the importance of text. Now, a lot of bloggers (not all) really enjoy and are quite good at the writing process - it is also been a great vehicle within classrooms to improve the quality of students' writing. I personally enjoy the opportunity to play the role of frustrated author and playing around with words to gain a certain effect or impart a clever message is part of the attraction. But as Stephen points out, there are limits to the quicker and more multimedia methods of communication gaining momentum. He points out:

We are seeing people create more (and better) multimedia. It is easier to create a short audio or video message than it is to type a message, and once storage and delivery cease to be problems (as we are seeing today) there is less of an incentive to create text. True, there will always be a need for text, especially among academics, but much (if not most) popular communication will be audio and video.

The challenge will be to effect a transition between the textual world and the multimedia, to communicate complex ideas in a manner accessible to people using audio and video. Neither medium favours the abstract (and neither do their consumers today) and each medium imposes channel limitations (you can't skim an audio or video file).

The limited ability to express abstract concepts in video and audio when compared to text could mean a lessening of things like metaphors and analogies which text in the hands of a skilled writer can impart so much. Three bloggers that I read regularly (Brian Lamb, Alan Levine and D'Arcy Norman) are in a sphere of education of which I have little comprehension or first hand experience but it is their ability to turn a phrase neatly or blend humour with self deprecation that has me scouring their latest posts. They have that fantastic ability to turn an ordinary idea into something whimsical, amusing or just extremely funny. Try Brian's post Ego Run Amok Department: I am The Brian, Alan's great Yes, We’re Dressed When Working From Home and D'Arcy's Stopping the raging banality (you must read the comments as well to appreciate what D'Arcy inspires). I don't want to sound like a full blown "digital refugee" but I would hate to think that new net communication could mean the death of the metaphor in digital communication.

I've been playing around with box.net as a storage spot - 1 G free account - for some of the recent presentations I've been a part of. Box.net also sits within Pageflakes so I could have a whole bunch of public files for anyone to access if I made my Pageflakes public. So here's the audio to go with my presentation from the recent CEGSA conference, as requested by a few members of my Learning Network. As always, feedback is much appreciated.

Blogging - 21st Century Learning Is Now! Audio recording download. Click here to listen or download from within box.net. Powerpoint show download and PDF download of presentation.

I have yet to dabble in podcasting properly so I won't call this audio that until I'm true to the definition. I'll do some audio for the workshop slides eventually and post those links here.

Today was another busy day at the Conference, which started with another engaging keynote this morning from Robyn Moore. As it was pointed out, most people in Australia would know her voice before they recognised her face - voices like the Spray'n'Wipe ads, How Green Is My Cactus? and Blinky Bill. She was a real dynamo, really sparking up the crowd with her insights on communication and the role of teachers in enriching students' lives. Suffice to say, most people left very energised - such a gifted speaker.

bookmark.gifI skipped the next session in order to get down to the Riverbank Rooms where our MYLU presentation was going to be held. I checked at the main desk to make sure that the ACTIVboard had arrived and was told that it would be set up as soon as the previous session had ended. It was getting tight for time as we had an 11.15 am start and we actually didn't get into the room until after 11. The setup guys were great and we got it all hooked up with a few minutes to go. Our bookmarks with the wiki address on it were distributed around the room and we got underway after an introduction from Judy Anderson, Learning Band Coordinator from SouthWest District who's worked closely with us this year. We got going and I think the whole presentation went pretty well. All the planning and sweating over the timing paid off and we'll see how many people contact us afterwards asking more about our program or add comments on the wiki. For a full look at the presentation, go to the wiki but I still have to upload the presentation as a ppt and pdf file and edit the audio that I recorded as well.

I also went to a interesting presentation on Rubrics by Kerry Sidthaway and finished off by going to another session from Donna Pendergast where she outlined the main findings from the MCEETYA funded research project into Middle Schooling - plenty of food for thought for the future of our own Middle School program.

Today was the first of the two days of the highly touted International Middle Schooling Conference, held in the luxurious confines of the Adelaide Convention Centre on the banks of the River Torrens in the CBD here. It's a very big venue (no wireless internet though, unfortunately) and takes a bit of time to get from one presentation to another. It started with a big keynote start with the Young Australian of the year, Hugh Evans - an incredible speaker who started his own NGO at the age of 20, the Oaktree Foundation. His was an incredible story (read from the links for more) and he was a perfect example to showcase the potential of youth for this conference. I'm feeling a bit conferenced out after the last few weeks so my notes may be a bit sporadic, but here they are for reference's sake.

Yoran Horpaz – Toward a Conceptual Map of Education.
3 big ideologies in education, referred to as meta-ideologies. We are living in a very confused time. He started by taking about “What is Ideology?” Ideology has four points – Utopia, (most emotional part, gives impetus or drive) Diagnosis, (describes the actual world in which we live) Strategy (how to make it happen), collective (who are the social group who will carry out the change.) He used feminism as an example of an ideology. He then talked about the differentiation between Political and Educational Ideology. So, in education Utopia is the image of ideal graduate (student), Diagnosis describes actual disadvantages of student, Strategy has didactics, and the method of teaching and for the Collective is the educational community. Yoram gave an example that the ideal student could be very contextual - his ideal would be Critical Thinker, while ours might be Australian Patriot!! Education serves three masters (or meta-ideologies ) Socialization (adapt the child to society, impart useful behaviours) , Acculturation (convey essence of culture to new generation, mold child in light of cultural values and truths) this is tied to values, maybe critical thinkers, better human beings and Individuation (foster the autonomy and authenticity of each child ; develop child’s unique personality). Freud described newborn children as “barbarians” – taming them is the role of education. Other view is that children are innately good, curious etc. and that education in the socialization model “ruins” them. Third view goes to allowing the child chance to grow as an individual. The formula of Teaching is T (teacher) + I (instruction) + C (content) + S (student) = P (purpose)
Teaching style: S: Sage or the stage; (A) Guide on the side (I) Facilitator and therapist (only teach what students are ready and willing to engage with)
The summary of Yoram’s: The current confusion:- We do Socialization, we talk Acculturation, and we think Individuation.

Footnote: I chose this presentation because Artichoke had quoted Harpaz before in terms of educational theory in either her blog or the comments section here, so I just had to hear this acclaimed academic's perspective. I learnt a lot - it was simple, well explained and didn't deviate beyond what was promised.

Donna Pendergast – Sustaining life long learning and school reform: The importance of efficacy.

She stated by pointing out that this session is actually a follow or session to one she is presenting late. Firstly, she clarified efficiacy ~ measuring the value or worth of something. After the MCEETYA funded UQ project, it was found that little is known of the efficacy of the Middle Years initiatives. A key point is the effective use of research in evidence based planning. So far, evidence around the world is light on in efficacy - lots of descriptive commentaries of “how”. Educational Research is bringing theory and practice together - then quantify the efficacy. Middle school initiatives could go from ”boom to bust.” Steps 1. Increase acceptance and support in the learning community & wider community. 2. Strengthen recommend teacher practices in local contexts. 3. Clarify policy issues as policy drives finding and training. 4. Enhance theoretical of middle schooling practices.
Focus on teacher as researcher - teachers need to have a broader picture because we tend to be self focussed. Research in the Middle Years – 1.Acceptance 2. Effectiveness 3. Sustainability. (Main & Boyer 2005)
Quite a few questions to consider in evaluation. What elements? You can’t measure middle years of schooling? What purpose or reason? School based research stories should be shared. What will we do with evaluation elements? Who are the stakeholders? What resources are available? What tools, techniques and expertise do we need? What indicator? What will the evaluation process be coordinated? How will the information be disseminated?
Donna finished with a school example – more of these stories are needed to maintain efficacy of middle schooling.

Interestingly, the third session of the day was a washout. There was obviously some confusion somewhere because the presenters failed to show!

The second keynote of the day was Michael Carr-Gregg, on Resilience in Middle School Students. I won't rewrite my jottings from this but just my raw notes here anyway. He's a clinical psychologist who also writes for Girlfriend magazine, is an author and appears on Sunrise , the Channel Seven morning television show. Today's teenagers are experiencing the following :- Earlier puberty (shortening of the latency period, high level of vulnerability), 49% divorce rate (parents feeling guilty), Rise of the 2nd family and Decline in social capital (less time at the dinner table, spending less time with each other).
This generation surveyed said the most important person / people in their lives are their friends - online life.
What the Middle School Movement has done well:

· Key reform elements in place

· Genuine partnerships between primary and secondary

Mental health issues affect one in seven adolescents in Australia. Issues of emotional, physical sexual abuse (sometimes by teachers). A fact - 30% of Year Fives have drunk alcohol. Can cause irreversible brain damage. Internet addiction - log onto NetAlert, looking at the dark side of the internet - websites dedicated to eating disorders. 1 in 5 children affected by bullying. Use resource called "Mind Matters". Adolescents need an average of 9.5 hours of sleep per night. Go to www.whygendermatters.com Michael believes that single gender classes in middle school classes will be the norm by ten years (if indeed those sort fo classrooms still exist!) Referred to evidence based research and quoted "Communities That Care" by Hawkins and Catalano.Kids need a charismatic adult in their life. That's where middle school teachers come in.

I went to a couple of other sessions but haven't anything extra to add here. Tomorrow is when our MYLU do their presentation. I think we're ready....

The first speaker of the day is Pip Field – Professional Standards for Teachers in South Australia. I’ve heard Pip speak on this topic before last year at the E-Portfolio Conference. She outlined the fact that most teachers will say ‘”I’m just a teacher.” She pointed out that it’s unlikely that anyone would say,” I’m just a lawyer,” or “I’m just a doctor.” She hopes that the standards can help promote a pride in our chosen profession. She reminded us that teaching is very contextual and that is more than just cultural. Some accomplished teachers in ore type of school might feel like they are “starting over again in a new site.”

She led us through a lot of the developed materials, showing how the standards can map out a teacher career with a focus on leadership. The actual document can be downloaded from the DECS website.

After our morning tea break, we heard from Andrew Plaistow, principal of Alberton Primary School. His address was to tell his story of curriculum reform at a disadvantaged school here in Adelaide. He stated by saying his first priority was to build a team for the reform, with a specific choice to block out all other distractions. He spent significant time with his staff getting them to "walk in each other's shoes."
They developed a vision for their school and have made the elements of that the priority over things like Occupational Health & Safety paperwork and meeting minutes. He also emphasised that if you get good people on site, then you need to look after them. Believe in people. By looking after them, he believes that "small things are big" ~ looking after the small things reduces stress levels and therefore gets better performance from his staff. Another great quote - The faster the momentum, the harder something is to stop. And the logical follow on line - Slow change can be stopped easily.

Vonnie at SouthOz E-Learning is one of those passionate Web 2.0 educators who just keeps on discovering gems that reveal lots of interesting details about the ways information can be tracked. Via e-mail (how Web 1.0!!) she has shown me two new tools of interest, Ekstreme.com and Wizag. Wizag creates a Topic Cloud ( as opposed to a Tag Cloud) and promises to track downmore relevant content based on the Cloud generated from your feeds. I'd have to flesh it out with a few more feeds from my Bloglines before I can really see what it does but the first site gives you interesting results straightaway. Ekstreme.org tracks down where domains are hosted and shows links to a specific URL. I tried out my blog and found some new sites that link to me that don't show up on Technorati or in my referrers. For instance, this blog is one of 9 edublogs on a RSS feed at the Macao Polytechnic Institute. (Hey, they also link to Stephen Downes and Will Richardson too!) I'll have to see what other exotic locations my words of "wisdom" pop up in.

I’m at a conference run by the SACLE (South Australian Centre for Leaders in Education) and the program Leading Learning and Teaching Conference is based on the philosophy that learning is a journey, not a destination. The opening speaker, Ruth Blenkiron is making a point that the edublogosphere has been aware of for a long time now - teachers are no longer the gate keepers of knowledge. What impact does that have on our curriculum and the way we lead other in education? How do we lead teachers in this new frontier?

Paul Cahalan, principal from Nairne Primary School, then spoke about the Leaders Learning Framework. The focus here is on developing leadership in the school setting. He then referred to the five Dimensions of Leadership Learning - (1) Leading learning And Teaching (2) Leading Strategic Resource Management (3) Leading a Quality Organisation (4) Leading And Working with others, all linked into (5) Learning Centred Leadership. Paul poses a great question,” How do you harvest the wisdom of others?” A really relevant point he also makes is how you manage the different stances and viewpoints that teachers have. Teachers are very passionate creatures. How do you get teachers to reflect on their own practice? He poses many questions that anyone in leadership need to consider. Paul also points out that we need to embrace theoretical ideas, and work out what they mean for our practice?

After our morning for break, we then heard from Jen Emery with her presentation, “Continuous Improvement in schools for improving student achievement.” She also used an excellent quote from Ken Blanchard - People without information cannot act. People with information cannot help but act.
She spent some time talking about the use of data and highlighted some of the available data in our system. Data must be combined with rubrics, observations, informal tests to provide a “rich knowing” of where students are in their learning. Feedback is synonymous with results, and tells teachers what was effective in their teaching and the students’ learning. There’s another excellent quote pointed out to me by one of my colleagues that is particularly relevant at the moment. The nature of the complex work of teaching cannot be accomplished by even the most knowledgeable individuals working alone. (Little 1990)

She talked about the importance of professional dialogue and how teaches need to reflect, talk out loud and have their ideas questioned. (Sounds like a powerful argument for all teachers to be blogging.)

Jen has also emphasized the importance of goals - help in the analysis, monitoring and adjustment for improvement. If something is valuable enough, then there must be some way of measuring improvement and it does not always have to be number oriented. For example, how do you measure engagement? You have to link measurement to a timeframe so that is some means to determine achievement. So, what about this Performance Data? Jen points out that data is only a snapshot in time, in the same way signposts are used by a traveler in a pathway to the destination. She points out data has to be used carefully but that assessments based on criteria and rubrics have really changed the nature of assessment. Data = action. Data shouldn't be used to identify poor teachers - there will be other indicators.

Last year our school installed six Promethean ACTIVboards across the school (including my own shared classroom) and I started this blog thinking that I could connect to other educators about that very topic. Well, I got plenty of connection to educators but not really on the topic of IWB's. In fact, much of the interaction has challenged my perspective not just on the use of this much heralded tool but its future in the rapidly evolving education landscape. I've actually concluded that I'm one of the very few people that's actually blogging about IWB technology. Most of that goes over on the Activboarding blog (which is a collection of links, resources and documentation) but when I want to reflect on my own ideas and how our IWB program has influenced me personally, then I'll post it here at TGZ.

Since August last year I've developed into a very competent technical user of the school's ACTIVboards. I've had to because although I had the same amount of experience as the others starting out (zero), it's in "my job description" to be good at troubleshooting and working how to use new technology. Being only part time in the classroom has meant I haven't developed my pedagogical skills with the IWB as much as my full time classroom based colleagues. So while I can demo the ACTIVboard to anyone and showcase the technical capabilities, I am still in the developing stage of using it really effectively with my own class. It's actually started to develop some worrying signs in the way the classroom is now set up is quite board oriented. Instead of groups of tables for collaborative tasks, the kids actually wanted a form of rows so that everyone has a decent view. Still, the classroom isn't about my preferred learning style but my students'. I still suspect that the true value of an IWB will be when the students have greater access to mobile technologies, maybe in the form of 1:1 handhelds or a class set of wireless laptops. Model stuff, then do.

So. with the first group of IWB teachers, there was an unwritten understanding that they were working things out for themselves and that the available support wasn't very much in front (if at all) of them. The teachers who've just started this past week have a slightly different outlook. In general, they probably aren't as confident or gung-ho as the original pioneers displaying a more cautious approach. They like to be sure of what they are intending to do with the IWB and aren't playing and experimenting as much compared to what I observed 11 months ago. They also have a reserve of experience to fall back on - buddies to go and see if they get stuck and need help. We're using better quality laptops this time around so there have been less technical hitches. I suppose one of the biggest shifts now is that our school has shifted from experimenting with this new (for Australia) technology to now being a school with a big commitment to the successful implementation of Interactive Whiteboards. We can now cater for all of the students in one way or another using IWB - if the kids aren't already in one of the 11 classrooms equipped with an ACTIVboard, then they will have access in the Science Room or the Resource Centre. So we have to make this idea work - there's a lot of dollars invested in this direction. Our partnership with Flinders Uni will be important to make sure that the pedagogy employed in our classrooms uses this portal to digital resources to best effect.

I've also been spending way too much a lot of time working on the presentation for the Middle Schooling conference in the evenings so I'm starting to feel like I spend more time thinking about IWB's than actually using them to work with kids. As with all technology, I reckon sometimes the teachers need to get out of the way and watch the kids using it, then direct them in ways that are beneficial. We'll see how the initiative unfolds in the next few months.