Monthly Archives: January 2007

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There's a real buzz around the recent release of Apple's iPhone in the US and plenty of speculation about when it will hit Australian shores and whether it has educational potential. Nix isn't so sure that it will be as good as its hype in this part of the world while Christian Long is already contemplating the design implications. He says:

As for the "serious competitive weapon," the design quotient for schools and education lies in our ability as educators to craft authentic engagement and opportunities for our student to authentically solve problems that lead to substantive creation that have value in real time in the real world. Look again at the iPhone. Think of the difference between the traditional phone experience and the re-imagination process taking place here. And start to think about the take-away's for what it means to approach the classic interface of a school. As a design problem, perhaps we are challenged to re-think the value proposition for our students and the value of the entry point, the choices they seek to make and explore, and ultimately whether we're designing for those who 'run' the ship or those who are being mentored to one day sail boldly on their own. Both are valuable, but both lead to very different outcomes - and very different user commitments.

I haven't read deeply about the iPhone - yet - but it seems that re-imagining the interface of what a mobile phone should look like and how to interact with the user is the big deal here. And if the iPod is any guide, the design element will appeal to all ages making the larger screen concept that is already in many PDA's already on the market popular instead of just how someone's Dad's Palm looks like. The important thing to remember is that this is the first in a wave of re-imagined possibilities - where education could benefit is getting the power and function of a computer into a handheld. There are more questions than answers following the release of the iPhone for me - like, how would text input work (great potential for web based office apps), could these devices communicate to a school network, and are they really large enough for decent viewing and creating of content? There have been plenty of Fantastic New Things™ - but like shoving business office suites onto school computing networks, we have to be sure that iPhones and the clones that this idea will spawn are tailor made for education and that we just don't twist ourselves into knots to make them part of the learning landscape. Would we just be better off trying to bring the OLPC concept into developed countries like Australia?

Attribution: Image: 'iphone' by Steve  Rhodes


I had a fairly substantial conversation over at Brett Moller's blog on the topic of "authority of source" in his comments section that began as his take from a post on David Warlick's blog. I've been meaning to blog about this for quite a while now (if you see Brett's original post, it's dated back to October) but as it is fairly significant subject matter, I wanted to treat the topic and my thoughts with a bit of care. But I could take forever to be prepared and there have been some similar themed posts coming through the aggregator lately so I thought I'd start typing and see where it goes.

Brett started with his ideas on "authority of source" by referencing his views around his personal faith, which he was upfront about straightaway. You have to read the entire post so that any snippets here are not out of context but this paragraph was what got me typing in the comments section.

My theory that I am going to throw out here is that without an understanding of absolute truth we can not expect anyone to honestly have the ability to accurately evaluate the truth or untruth of information. In fact we are heading into an age of complete access to all information and students today have an amazing amount of information available to them. Yes we need to teach the basic skills to work through the information, but what happens when we get to the heart questions of life and quickly get stuck on what we can and can’t believe?

Absolute truth as a concept came out and hit me, because it immediately gave me the impression that many people base their absolute truth on their religious worldview, which "gives" them that truth. Brett also posited that "it is impossible to separate church or worldview and state." And I have to admit, I got hot under the collar because as a person who is essentially non-religious ( a lot of what Chris Betcher posted recently rings true for me), I thought that there was an inference that religion has been solely responsible for the values and rules that become the lense through which to view truth. My parting sentences reflected that sentiment.

Your absolute truth may or may not be mine - so as soon as that happens, it can’t be absolute for everyone else. My parents sought to impose their values based on their church worldview onto me, and through their choices tried to ensure that no other alternatives were discussed or acknowledged. So I worry when I see words like “they have no set of values ” because my thought is that it comes off sounding like that those of us who have declined religion have no values or cannot recognise truth.

Brett and I then exchanged views over another two posts on his blog - the two part Authority of source cont…. and then Bringing it back….. I would encourage you if this topic interests you that you read all of the posts and the comments I left for Brett there. I wrote an awful lot over there that I don't want to repost here.

I decided that I'd see what the terms "absolute truth" brought up in Google as a matter of interest. The first hit I got was AbsoluteTruth.Net which revealed itself to be of a Christian worldview, the second was from the same site (probably the domain name at work here) then came a definition from The fourth link comes from the Washington Post article on a US politician whose aim is reshape US society so it conforms with his Absolute Truth and the fifth is a site also called which presents itself at first glance as a philisophical site but a peek in the About Us section reveals it is another US based Christian oriented site. An ironically interesting combination! So anyone using the world's most popular search tool could easily come to the conclusion that absolute truth is the domain of organised religion.

But there are other bloggers exploring what truth is in terms of education and how students work on verifying and establishing facts and truths. Bruce Schauble has been writing some excellent posts and I couldn't help thinking about my conversation with Brett when reading Dangerous Certainties. He followed on with Core Beliefs: 3, another reflective piece in which he concludes his review on the writings of David Foster Wallace by saying:

My goal as an educator is to help students learn to be well-adjusted in the sense that David Foster Wallace uses that term in this essay: aware of the choices they have, attentive to the implications of those choices, considerate of and compassionate towards those around them. It's a full time job, for my students, and for me.

I think the real danger we have in trying to teach our students about values and beliefs is that we end up imposing our own worldview, shaped in its own ways from our own life events and experiences, on them without necessarily skilling them to establish these thoughts on their own. Absolute truth might exist but there are plenty of grey areas up for debate that one group (religious or otherwise) would like to claim ownership of and proclaim as essential for our students to know. One of the most amazing things about being human is that we all experience life in a totally unique way and in a way that will never be experienced again by anyone else. We owe to our students to try and keep our own worldview agendas out of the way, no matter how right we think we are. Sometimes I wish I had dabbled in philosophy more when in tertiary education and then I'd be better skilled to participate in this sort of discussion. I'll complete this post with this quote from Bruce which really sums my thoughts up pretty well.

If you were to ask me what is the most dangerous idea out there, I'd be inclined to answer that it's the certainty that what we believe to be true is, in fact, true.

Attribution: Image: 'The truth lies behind the blurry curtain'


The title of this post comes from my K12 Online Conference presentation, in a section where I talk about different teachers utilising Web 2.0 tools to improve learning for their students. I coined this short phrase "innovation in isolation" as a short simple set of words for part of my image stack - at the time, I thought that I'd concocted a clever little word twist which amused me, if no-one else. Interestingly, it seems to be the phrase that seems to be still resonating with a number of educators months after the files went live during the Overcoming Obstacles segment.

This morning I "tuned in" to the Free Falling January Blog Club, a by-product of the before mentioned conference where I'd been invited to attend as one of the two topics being discussed were the issues raised during my K12 Presentation. Thankfully, I wasn't there as a "guest" but a regular participant. I signed into Tapped In, where I was greeted by a number of participants and then it was off to the Skypecast. I now know why I like to do audio based things in a planned, scripted manner. Trying to speak "off the cuff" to any educational topic is difficult for me because in the Skypecast environment, there are so many distracting factors. I acknowledge that Chris Harbeck did a masterful and thankless task of managing the numerous interruptions, and Jeanne Simpson was a great host, but it's hard for me to maintain a train of coherent speech when drop in Skype surfers screech, mutter and blast your eardrums as they wreak havoc with any conversation taking place. I think that there is a potential improvement in the Skypecast interface by creating a private Skypecast option, where entry is controlled by a password created by the host. It seems to me that the best value for participants would be in an environment that eliminated the interruptions. Should I be e-mailing Skype with this idea?

I'm struggling to even remember the conversations this morning but luckily there's the transcript,  the shownotes and the podcast.  I can relive my stuttering utterances and see if they more sense than at the time. Sometimes I think I am clearer in writing.

Anyway, more evidence that more "innovation in isolation" influence has spread is available over on Rachel Jeffares' blog where she credits me with "being an influential colleague in my own 'professional learning' social network ." Her own involvement in my presentation helped make it the apparently influential beast it seems to have become. I think maybe it's just more evidence that if you are prepared to go online and utilise Web 2.0 technology and methodologies, that the frustration of isolation can be greatly reduced.


I've been avoiding this post for a few days although I know I need to write it. I've been reading a lot of my Bloglines feeds, commenting a lot more than usual, taking time to listen and view some of the K12 conference presentations that I missed the first time around.

All delay tactics.

I posted on Dec 27 about my Action Research Grant where I "thought out loud" about changing the focus question. I received some excellent feedback in my comments, but to do justice to the questions and observations there, I need this post to sort through the issues and ideas that they raise. I started with my original question, “Are teacher e-portfolios sustainable?” and ended up with what I thought was a more relevant question, “How do we get teachers developing an online presence?” Maybe, in my subconscious, it's the question I'd prefer to be asking.

Stephen Downes challenges me straight out of the blocks with some telling questions of his own. I'll try answering them shortly. Nancy McKeand gave me a great personal anecdote that empathised with my point of view but I found her more indepth reflections on the question over on her blog. She also refined my question and asked another of her own. I'll have a go at those as well. Joost Robben suggests a focus on pedagogy, as opposed to technology and Doug Noon also links over to his take and offers some suggestions on how to obtain some varied answers. Franki offers a short personal answer and some encouragement while Sarah Puglisi's reflective answer (worthy of a blog post on its own) also offers her perspective in answering my question as it stands. This is my favourite part of her response:

I think teachers develop on-line work for a variety of reasons, and the why do it question is that self check, that arrival of the cold morning after the night of enjoying the rush of creating. It’s the duality of all things we do. I frankly will answer you as I would to kids. I think it’s better to be a maker than to be a critic or deconstructor. I truely think this is what at heart gives me the energy to go ahead and learn more, create a blog, read, explore, process and find meaning in this form.

So, time to try these questions on for size. Let's start with Stephen's - after all, they cut quickly to the heart of the whole idea of teachers online.

Why is it important to get teachers to develop an online presence? What do we gain from that? What do teachers gain from that?
I think it is important that today's students have credible role models in their teachers for the use of web based technology. Students are developing their own online presences - who is better placed to guide them in their development of online ethics, savviness and learning opportunities, the teacher with an online presence or the one who avoids familiarisation with the web? As more schools go "digital" with their communication to students, parents, staff, the skills gained from maintaining one's own online presence means that this change is an opportunity, not a threat. The teacher with their own online presence is a position to connect to others worldwide, and to share resources to improve their practice and opportunities for their students. The gains we (I'm assuming that we is the education community in general) then have are teachers talking to each other more widely than ever before, we have the chance to peek into many different minds and experience multiple points of view, sharing of resources is more widely distributed and at a grassroots level (why would we ever need another federal Learning Object repository if teachers could search for and utilise peer created material and resources?) and teachers able to take charge of the direction of their own personal development instead of being reliant on "the system" offering opportunities. And if we = the teachers, not the education system, have developed our own base in cyberspace (and it doesn't have to be a blog, or an e-portfolio or a website, I'm talking as simple as a well maintained social bookmarking account or online file storage system) then others can learn from us.
In the end, these questions are just as well answered over at Nancy's blog where she points out:

But Graham's question is what really intrigues me. How do we get teachers to develop an online presence? Obviously, there has to be a perceived need. In my institution, there are not many people who embrace technology and even fewer who embrace the Read-Write Web. Why would they want an online presence? What would they gain from it?

I really don't know that we can get teachers to develop an online presence. I have seen websites of teachers who were required to have them, and it was obvious that the teachers didn't embrace the idea at all. It was just another hoop they jumped through. What we can do, I think, is make our own online presences so much a part of our lives that people become curious. Then, when they have some level of interest, we can show them why we have an online presence, what we get out of it. Then, I guess, they either get it or they don't. If they do, we can offer to help them. If they don't, we just move on.

And I guess another question is whether or not all teachers should have an online presence. My answer to that question would be, "YES!!!" But why? I am not sure. What I get from my online presence is intangible. I can't really explain it. Would everyone get the same things I do from it? Probably not. But what would they get out of it? What do you get out of your online presence?

Detached and restructured from her final paragraph is probably the better question: Should all teachers have an online presence?

My thoughts come from a primary school perspective where teachers are generalists, not specialists so I suppose in the cold hard light of day there could be an argument that some high school subject specialists could do their job currently without any online expertise. And maybe that's a more desirable objective - online expertise. Although, an online presence has never been easier to achieve, it is probably not the measuring stick that determines the skillset of the 21st Century Teacher. I personally have gained so much from my scattered web presence - but let's not forget that I was as much in the dark as my current non-online colleagues less than two years ago. I thought I knew the web and its capabilities from a primary teacher's perspective, I knew about Boolean search techniques in Google, I'd done a course in Dreamweaver and authored our school (basic) website. Compared to the average Adelaidean primary school classroom teacher, my technology skills were above the average, good enough to land my current role without any prior leadership experience. But that skill set isn't good enough to equip the kids I will teach this year. My experiences gained from developing my blog, the wikis I've created, the bookmarking collection I've gathered etc. (i.e my web presence) give me an awareness beyond technical competence and web search expertise of what my students should be learning to successfully learn and develop skills relevant to their present and consequently, their future. And I shouldn't be one of only a few teachers looking to keep pace with change.

Maybe all teachers should have online expertise. If so, then maybe the development of an online presence is one way to gain that expertise.

This is harder than I thought. And I'm not sure that my answers are as comprenhensive or as convincing as they should be. But thanks once again to the commenters who've really made me think. Actually, I reckon they've done a fair bit of thinking of their own.

Scott McLeod over at Dangerously Irrelevant suggests that edubloggers post their 10 best posts of 2006. He says:

I found some really great posts last year that I had missed because some bloggers did this.

I'll trackback so that Scott can check these out. I did do a Top 10 list back in July so I won't repeat those. That can be my number one.

I’m A Hypocrite - How About You?
My Workshop Reflections
A Request For My Learning Network (You need to read the comments to gain full value)
Scam Savvy Students
New Comic Strip (+ Bonus Irony)
StartPages - A Quick Comparison
Networks Of Expertise
Social Networking Down Under

I was quietly pleased at how these posts have covered a decent amount of territory and represent my learning curve pretty well over the year. Some of them even read quite well. For any newer subscribers, this could be a good list to have a look through. Enjoy.