Monthly Archives: July 2007


So, this fabulous place that hosts this humble blog has just celebrated its second birthday and James has upped the whole front page and reintroduced the concept of the featured blog. For reasons known only to him, TGZ is the lucky blog and Mike Seyfang alerted me via twitter to his screengrab.

Now, as a long time edublogs user, I remember being a featured blog once before so I ploughed through the wayback machine to see if I could find the evidence. I found that Doug Johnson initially hosted the Blue Skunk Blog on edublogs. And then from November, 2005, this:oldedublogs.jpg

I think I'm the only survivor from that bunch - Jeremy at Smelly Knowledge quit blogging and the Server Room shut up shop but I'm still here! And still encouraging others to stay put too, I might add.

So, James, well done mate! Edublogs is one of the best gifts to education Web 2.0 could ever muster.


I've been struggling to find a suitable slab of time for thoughtful blogging as the term has started off in a flurry of impending deadlines and planning for near future events. My aggregator is starting to fill with unread posts and even some that I have read were hastily skimmed. But anything that directly or indirectly references some of the ideas I've been working on will catch my attention and start brewing in a less mushy sector of my brain.

Bill Kerr wrote one of those attention grabbing posts recently that attracted responses from either side of the fence. "Don't Be Too Proud of Web 2.0" pointed to some examples that Bill had identified as evidence that Web 2.0 isn't going to be the revolutionary influence on education many edubloggers are predicting. While I could get where Bill is coming from, I disagreed with some of his examples - specifically when his second one that came straight from my CEGSA presentation that featured my interview with Chris Harbeck. Well, it's partly because no-one wants to be highlighted as part of what's wrong and because it felt like an indirect criticism of Chris' methodologies, that I felt defensive and compelled to air my thoughts in Bill's comments section. As usual, though, I carefully constructed a respectful response so that I wasn't just doing a knee-jerk reaction. Bill's point of view is that language based mathematics (where Chris' work with wikis and unprojects comes in) is being held up as "state of the art" while ideas like logo which blends computer science with mathematical concepts have been ignored or forgotten. Now I haven't touched logo since my Year 10 computing classes in 1981 (although I did see and briefly play with a version of Star  Logo on a Commodore 64 in my beginning years as a teacher) so I have no way to dispute his view of what constitutes state of the art. But I do see high level of engagement in Chris' blend of web tools and mathematics, I do see his kids considering audience and using language and multimedia to demonstrate their comprehension and mastery of the concepts their teacher is mandated to cover. I see mathematics converging with other elements of the curriculum (sure, language) in their work so that mathematics is not just an isolated discipline, learnt in a manner cut off from connections to the rest of the school timetable. I do view that as a massive step forward from the conventional, middle school approach of ability streamed groups, using a text book to cover proscribed content. So, I am a big fan of the Chris Harbeck approach and I see it as a progression that I personally can aspire to. And I don't see his use of Web 2.0 tools as gratuitous.

I did have a GMail chat with Bill that clarified some of the meaning behind his words and I certainly felt that Bill's idea that it would be better exploring his ideas in more depth in a longer, more in depth post was the way to go. He agreed and wrote that post on Friday. He highlights a number of key points that I need to spend time exploring and thinking about - I am an admitted shallow skimmer of information at the moment - here's a sample of where Bill sees the issue of expertise in relation to education:

However, the notion of using “web2.0″ tools to expand expertise (certainly possible) is different from the notion of bloggers already being experts. The internet has certainly blurred the lines between expert and amateur. But as well as some amateurs displaying expert knowledge there are also lots of amateurs pretending to be experts when they are not. For me the important question is not web 2.0 as such but how do we work out who an expert is? Expertise is special IMO and ought to be valued. I’m critical of theories that just emphasise the importance of connection without saying much else.

What is the value of connection to me? I tried to make that point in a comment:

For me, as a primary school educator, never before have I had the opportunity to look over the virtual shoulder of teachers who I consider to be exceptional and have them explain in words what they were doing and what their intent with their students was. That has helped me to reconsider what I do in my classroom - sometimes, it has been confirming of what I already did or their ideas have given me new paths to follow. If "expertise" is what I bring daily to my job working with kids and teachers in terms of skills, initiatives, directions etc., then yes, Web 2.0 has enhanced and improved that expertise.

I have personally become a better teacher through learning from classroom teachers like Chris - it's exactly why I couldn't let Bill's original dot point slide into unacknowledged oblivion - and I am still disappointed that hardly any unconnected teachers were at my presentation.  Bill was at my presentation - he too, is making me a better educator by redirecting me to important developments from the past, present and possible future. I don't think Web 2.0 is a wild goose chase for educators - but yes, the connection has to have purpose.


Well, our state conference is over for another year and even though I made a few attempts to live blog events, a number of factors (mainly self created) tended to interfere. I was involved as a presenter on four occasions and after you take the keynotes out of the equation, there wasn't much to attend for my own learning. At the risk of sounding like a blog snob, it's lucky I don't rely on conferences anymore for inspiration or ideas. I did live blog Gerry White's keynote which, for me, presented lots of familiar ideas and themes - although I wouldn't have called it provocative as some other delegates described it, unless you think criticising Australia's major telco, Telstra, fits that description. The most valuable part was the conversation with others afterwards. One, with Mike Seyfang who had a frustrating morning banging his head against the school online barriers trying to get connected, was about the artificial scarcity that is created by telcos in providing broadband penetration into education or Australian society for that matter. It strikes me that education and teachers are still stuck in the "artificial scarcity" game as well - possibly to unconsciously protect their own future. So many stakeholders are in for their slice of the pie, ranging from the copyright protected resources we use as part of our work to the vendors out in the corridor pushing their products that we cannot do without and are only available from them at their set price.

So here are a few random personal observations from the two days.

I was involved in a presentation and a workshop on the Thursday where I shared duties and ideas with others. The first was a forum hosted by our loose local network of Web 2.0 in education advocates, the Net2Blazers (coming to a Ning near you soon!) with a panel discussion with the initial question, "The world has changed so why haven't we?" I was worried that we'd be talking to ourselves as we were straight after the opening keynote and maybe people would be more interested in more specific offerings on at the same time. But a small group turned up to listen to our pontifications and the group ended up pointing a few interested teachers towards the Classroom 2.0 Ning as a worthwhile starting point for connection to other educators without the personal responsibility of a blog.

Yvonne Murtagh and I ran a workshop called More Cool Web 2 Tools where in explanation to the idea of using Creative Commons licensed images via FlickrStorm and FlickrCC, there was a wider discussion in relation to copyright awareness (or lack thereof) amongst South Australian teachers. It was good to work with a group where over half of the participants had accounts, so they could add our workshop coded list to their account.

I found Friday morning's keynote with Dr. Peter Evans to be quite frustrating. He stated in his presentation (full of text filled slides that would make Dan Meyer weep) that we had "to walk the talk" in terms of being online learners committed to openness. How come his example of online community was a wiki based "walled garden" only open to registered users? His message of "good fences make good neighbours" seems to be at odds with the way I've experienced effective and vibrant online communities. Evans' idea that you need to have your content and dialogue to be transferable from one institution brings to mind the idea of an LMS with glass walls. What ever happened to "small pieces loosely joined "?

I went through my slides, flipchart and lists the night before with the nagging feeling that maybe no-one would even turn up for my Online Teachers presentation. When I expressed my concerns to Peter Ruwoldt, he merely offered me a handkerchief for my tears!

Ironically, 4 out of the 5 attendees at my above mentioned presentation are already online and connected! I had the privelege of pitching my ideas to well established edubloggers - Bill Kerr, Al Upton, Jason Plunkett and Janet Hawtin ) so I kinda missed the audience I was initially after and was preaching to the converted! Compare that to my final session (during the graveyard shift prior to the end of the conference) called iwb 2.0 that was full, ran overtime and received a round of applause - it shows where most educators heads are at. It was a bit subversive though - get them in through the door lured by the iwb and have them asking about accounts by the end!

I stayed after my presentation to hear an excellent talk from Bill Kerr on Alan Kay's Educational Vision. As a bonus, I got my hands on a genuine OLPC laptop and received a Software Freedom Awareness CD from Janet Hawtin, produced by the innovative folk at Grant High School in Mount Gambier. Loads of great open source software and as Jason Plunkett said to me, "A CD costs 30 cents. You can afford to spend 30 cents per student to give them access to all of these applications!" One of the best things I got out of the conference!


Started us off by apologizing that it was impossible to run his slides due to the videoconferencing link up. So he utilized large slabs of paper to hand draw his points.Then pointed out that he had recently read that most teachers fall into the category of SJ (sensing and judging category) - preferring sequential and step by step instruction, structure and groups. Pointed out that common characteristics of a teacher are exactly what the web is not! Transmission model but - Learning is not remembering. Multiplication tables is touted as good example of the need for rote learning - but this doesn't translate into real life if you don't have mathematical common sense. Pointed out that darts players have these mathematical instincts because they can attach meaning to the calculations.

What is knowledge? Knowledge is like finding Waldo. Once you have found him you cannot unfind him. That's knowledge. He then moved onto the ideas of Personal Learning and Network Learning. Pull is much better than push, only accessing what you want. Learning is a habit - publishing his newsletter is the way he builds habits into his learning. Simple is good - see Google as an example of user design made simple. Relevance is to do with flow, function and need. Networks is about associationist learning is the forming of connections.

As for as live blogging goes, my laptop is not cooperating and so I'm going to rely on my iRiver recording sitting on the table at the front of the room to listen properly to the whole talk again. And that will have to wait until after my own presentation up next.

More later!

Update: Now listening to the audio and it's not too bad. I'll upload the audio somewhere so Stephen can access it for his reference. (He'll be able to finally be able to hear where the audience reaction kicked in.)

This year's conference is being held here at the Thebarton Senior College and the keynote is being held in the cosy environment of the Study Centre. After all the housekeeping from our president, Trudy Sweeney, we are about to hear from Gerry White, former head of educationau , but he is now an Education Strategist and Adviser. CEGSA is now 23 years of age.

The Internet Today. Australia's broadband penetration ranks 2nd to last in OECD countries just above Mexico. the identifies Telstra as a big problem -should be 2 Meg minimal for schools, not the 512k we get at the moment. Internet only provides information, publishing and communicating. Talked about the acronym SaaS - software as a service. Using Google as a service - we could use a browser without any local proprietary software. (Although, Google is a free form of proprietary software!) Talked about the impact of low cost laptops, then the low/ free cost of operating systems like Ubuntu, (he found out about Flock about three weeks ago ;)) and free software suites. Showed the crowd through a suite of interactive tools (maths) and then talked about portal services including edna . Highlighted the Philippines model that combined open source and SaaS that was essentially free to build.

But we need technical support and a robust network. We need 50% of our ICT cost to go towards teacher training.

Future of ICT in education - web based, wireless, mobile, open, personalised. Copyright legislation in Australia is very prohibitive and a big barrier to moving forward in education. Quoted Grey Whitby from Catholic Education in NSW as saying we need better infrastructure, not new buildings. Highlighted some news bit and pieces and quoted from this article.

Gave us the report card on SA education with very for marks in all areas - we have a long way to go.

1 Comment

Here in this part of the world, NECC seems a long way away and very few of my blogging network will be on hand for this local event but Adelaide's own CEGSA (Computers in Education Group of South Australia) conference starts tomorrow and it's been my first look from an insider's viewpoint having joined the committee earlier this year. For me, it's really a matter of be quiet, look and listen and help out where possible and a real eye opener about how much volunteer work goes from hard working educators to make it come together.

Tonight I have to hone my resources for my involvement in two presentations and two workshops - in fact, apart from the keynotes, I'll only be able to check out two other presentations for the two days. I'm particularly looking forward to Stephen Downes virtual keynote, beamed in from his Canadian evening.

Full marks to Jason Plunkett for building a wikispaces site for the event - I hope that it is a case of "build it and they will come". For me, I hope a few people come to my presentations.


chrisharbeck.jpgAs part of my presentation for this week's CEGSA conference where I've lucky (silly) enough to be involved in four sessions of varying descriptions, I am doing a presentation titled "Online Teachers - Stay Connected And Relevant" that explores many of the ideas surrounding teachers who adopt an online presence. I always think that other examples of teachers in action leveraging Web 2.0 tools is a powerful to demonstrate the possibilities, so I arranged to interview Chris Harbeck, an innovative middle school mathematics teacher from Winnipeg, Canada. I first met Chris in the lead up to When Night Falls, the culminating event from last year's K12 Online Conference and he has constantly amazed me with the incredible stuff he has happening in his classrooms. Luckily for the rest of us, he blogs about it all at Make It Interesting and he was the first teacher example that sprang to my mind when thinking about first class practitioners leveraging the power of the read/write web. I approached Chris a while back, initially imagining having him Skyped in during the presentation but two factors will prevent that. One, Skype being impossible within our local Educonnect system (which is a major handicap in my mind for our education system in the technology area) and the second that Chris wasn't available at that time, being committed already to his balanced vacation time with his family. So, he proactively got me organised to interview him late last month and here are the results. I may cut this back a bit for the presentation as 23 minutes in a 45 minutes time slot is a big chunk but the whole conversation is really a great listen so I thought I'd share it here.

Interview with Chris Harbeck - July 2007. (23 mins, 21 MB)

Chris's Links
Class hubs
Class wiki's

Scribepost Hall of Fame
Growing Post hall of fame

Darren's sites
Ole tango

Incredible student work
Student led conference E folio

Frations Julie and Charmaine wiki & project
Fractions Anjelic and Marielle wiki Project

Second unproject
Movie wiki
Movie wiki
Cartoon movie

Thanks heaps, Chris.


One of the advantages of teaching in the primary sector is the freedom to be flexible in the delivery of the curriculum. It also means that when teaching important skills it's good to be able to put specific content to the back of the queue. As part of our S.O.S.E (Studies Of Society & Environment) program, our school uses the the SACSA Companion Document (pages 10 - 11) that lists the inquiry model for information literacy. As part of our commitment in our Middle School program towards student initiated curriculum, we used a model called "Personal Reseach Projects" to help facilitate the skills behind such an approach. We also wanted an authentic vehicle for the acquisition and development of English skills in the Listening and Speaking areas.

The students choose a topic (for this term, they had a free choice) conduct their research using the steps of inquiry model - setting up questions, identifying potential resources, taking notes, sorting the information, revisiting questions and making sense of that information - then they had to construct that learning into a multimedia presentation for their peers. There was lots for the kids to learn ranging from using appropriate key words in search engines, compiling an effective bibliography as they went to then structuring their raw notes into a format for presentation.

One of the main points I made in the very early stages was that although the topic choice was their own, they had to consider the needs of their audience. It was their chance to teach their peers. So, at the initial question posing stage, I asked the students to give their PRP a catchy title like a television documentary (The Rise of The Roman Empire, Monkey Mania, The Anzacs At Gallipoli) and write it on one side of an A3 piece of cartridge paper. On that side, they had to do a personal brainstorm, spilling out all that they knew about their topic regardless of accuracy. Once they had done that, they had to look for emerging categories or sub-topics. Later this year when we have our laptops up and running I'll get the students to use a mindmapping application that will make it possible to drag and re-arrange the information.

I then added a twist. Instead of each individual creating their own list of questions, the other side of the paper was rotated around the classroom and the future audience members posed a question that they would like to be answered by the student when they viewed their presentation in six to seven weeks. In this way, from the very beginning, the students would be considering the needs of their peer audience. Once the students had received their questions back and organised them into identifiable categories, they began their research process where they could use print and digital resources to find out the answers to their questions. As the students are still young (10 and 11 year olds) and inexperienced at forging their own way through a topic of their own choice, I suggested that five main categories of information would be ideal. While that worked easily for a topic like Rainbow Lorikeets where the student focussed on the categories of Appearance, Habitat, Diet, Life Cycle and Pet Care, the student who chose Drought (very topical in South Australia) found the task more challenging and harder to separate into distinct sub-topics. The task allowed for high flying students to go as deep into the topic as they wished as we saw with a detailed and very informative presentation on the ANZAC Soldiers, but gave less confident students an achievable goal.

Most students gravitated towards the computers and the internet. I spent most of my lesson time in the Computing Room moving from student to student, offering suggestions about the most appropriate Google search terms to find the key chunks of information needed to answer their question. I also used the interactive whiteboard back in the classroom to model effective searching and to copy the web URL into a document if it was utilised. Sadly, not all students understood my intent as still appeared on several bibliographies at the final presentations. However, plenty of students pointed that out to their peers using my oft-repeated story that if you use a book as a reference, you don't record "librarian" as the source!

The students then enjoyed designing their presentations which were to use the interactive whiteboard to create a multimedia effect combined with their own spoken script. All students chose Powerpoint - it wasn't pushed by me at all but I can understand their choice. In my experience Powerpoint is one of the easiest software applications for my students to pick up and use. Within my class there was also a lot of communal help and problem solving. Using some of the basic guidelines for presentations that I've gleaned from experts like Garr Reynolds and passionate quality presentation advocates like Dan Meyer, I pushed a reduced text model (that was expanded upon orally) and use of quality images to demonstrate important points. For the first time I had students using Creative Commons licensed images where possible to create visually interesting presentations - as Flickr is blocked, we used the alternative filter free FlickrCC pipeline as a source. Not all students followed these well publicised guidelines but they were featured in our class developed Feedback Rubric. Some of the criteria came out of our involvement as peer reviewers in the Horizon Project. Looking at other student produced videos gave them many aspects to consider. An example of a class agreed no-no for digital presentations was the use of red text on a black background and the overuse of animations and transitions is actually very annoying for the audience. In fact, it was some of the class's youngest students who developed minimal text, dominant images, sensible font, consistently designed presentations that earned high ratings and superior feedback from their peers when they did present.

The final piece of the puzzle came with their actual presentations to the class where the students used cue cards to keep on track, battled their nerves and became the teacher of their chosen topic. We all learnt a lot and the feedback process became very sharp as we saw more and more of the presentations. The kids became very critical but fair, and I would often get them to rephrase their observations as advice for the future. Next term, the students get to choose again but it must be a totally new topic for them that they haven't ever tackled before. Hopefully, the students will be building on this term's experience and looking to learn and then share that learning effectively to a critical audience.


Wet Vigil


Just a quick thank you to the wonderful hosts of the WOW 2.0 for the excellent opportunity to be part of the "Over The Top Educators From Down Under" webcast. It was a privilege to be part of a conversation that enables global educational collaboration and I'm glad that a casual Skype chat with Vicki Davis helped to germinate the concept. Next time, I'll take a leaf out of Jo McLeay's book and do some preparation beforehand as I found myself rambling during my speaking opportunities and thinking about all the points of conversation I had actually wanted to say!

When the audio is posted I'll post a link to it here. I have to take my hat off to Cheryl, Vicki, Jen and Sharon - what they offer all educators willing to tune in, chat and then download is top class and is grassroots change at its best.

Whenever I catch one of these online events as they unfold (which isn't as often as I should or would like to) I end with some new connections to cutting edge educators somewhere else on Earth. In this case, it was a previous written connection that has now been strengthened via Skype. The well known Darren Draper buzzed me early afternoon (my time) via Skype and we had a great conversation that built on some of our previous cross referencing via the blogosphere. It was great that he's been thinking long and hard about how to foster international connections and revealed joint plans for EduBloggerWorld, a Ning based site. For those of us jealous of the energy and learning spilling out of the Atlanta event, it could be just the starting point we're looking for.

Update: Here's the link to the show and I didn't sound as gooby as I feared.


Disclaimer: I am fully aware of the irony of following a post calling for greater global understanding with one that is full of colloquial cliches and references but as I've stated many times on this blog before, we are all hypocrites somewhere along the line. And I am trying (very trying at times) to be a bit tongue-in-cheek here.

Dear Jo, John, Joseph and Warrick,

I need some advice. You see, I've been invited to be a presenter for a VITTA conference on Blogging in Education in late August. (Jo reminded me via twitter last night.) And Melbourne being the cultural capital of Australia, I'm keen to do the right thing and present myself and my ideas in the best possible light. This could be somewhat difficult considering I'm a rural boy at heart and a bit of a cultural Philistine - going to such a big city could bring out my worst tendencies. So, here are some things that I considered might NOT be good ideas when I walk into my presentation to be confronted by 20+ Victorian educators wanting to learn more about the connections between blogging and their chosen profession.

(1) Talking about how cold/bad/bizarre the weather is in Melbourne. I'm told on good authority that is a sensitive issue.

(2) Wearing my Port Power scarf and my "Kick A Vic" footy T-shirt.

(3) Bragging about how Adelaide has recently purchased new trams. Apparently, this mode of transport isn't the big novelty it is back home.

(4) Whining about the cost of food/transport or the amount of time it takes to get anywhere - after all, Victorians live these realities every day!

(5) Making disparaging remarks about James Farmer - it doesn't really make sense to slag off the edublogs landlord and even though he is a local hero, apparently he knows a thing or two about online media.

Any other obvious faux pas I should be aware of, Victorian edubloggers?

Image: 'BeeeeeeeeR' by YnR