Monthly Archives: April 2008


Kudos to educationau for offering to host the May 2nd event titled "Learning In The 21st Century" as a positive spin off from the issues coming to a head with Al Upton's class blog closure. Now the event is not about Al's situation but is more a roundtable discussion as a starting point for moving forward. Acknowledgement must go to Alex Hayes who came up with the initial concept of an event and drove the TALO involvement but will be nursing his swollen knee as the discussion unfolds. Janet Hawtin has also been amazing, connecting all the dots and encouraging key people to have their say. Over a GMail chat the other night I negotiated an afternoon only visit to the event and a recorded contibution for the morning due to my classroom teaching commitments. As I type the just over 10 minutes of audio is uploading to my podomatic account and hopefully I'll link to it just before I head to bed.

Audio presentation for May 2 - click to download.

Sites mentioned or relevant to my presentation.

Connecting the Digital Dots: Literacy of the 21st Century

Spin The Global wiki project


Seeing that we've had our twenty wireless laptops running for the whole eleven week term in the four upper primary classrooms, it is a good time to review the program and make some observations. For me, I'm really interested to see how it has changed learning for my students, how it has impacted on my teaching methodologies and any management issues it has thrown up.

trolleys.jpgIt's worth remembering how I (and the other teachers) managed prior to the laptop program. My school has a computing room with a class worth of desktops housed in the same building as the Resource Centre (Library) and it runs on a negotiated timetable catering for our 17 classes. I would always grab more time in that timetable than I was really entitled to a fair and equitable world and unlike many of my colleagues, would happily take the early morning slots. The time from the first bell until recess time is viewed by many of my colleagues as prime learning time - too valuable to burn on computing room time. (Shakes head in amazement - sighs in frustration.) So, I would always sign up for those unwanted timeslots especially on a Tuesday morning where a cancelled assembly could turn a one hour slot into two.

My class would use that computing time for mind mapping, web research, presentation creation and design, word processing or desktop publishing depending on the set and ongoing learning tasks they were involved with at the time. I would almost never use that time to just use a software program or website in isolation to my ongoing learning program and my students never got to use the room for "free time on the computers" as I have seen on more occasions than I care to recall.

With the introduction of an interactive whiteboard into my classroom in mid 2005, I started to increase my use of digital resources and tools. My computing room time became totally on-task time as any demonstrations or explicit instructions could be shown on the IWB prior to heading over to the computing room. However with the increased use of digital material via the IWB combined with the sort of inquiry based tasks my class were tackling meant that no amount of timetabled computing access seemed to be enough. This was part of the starting point for the introduction of a laptop program.

Being a public school with fixed funding, we did not have the luxury of even contemplating a 1:1 program (unlike some of my private and international school colleagues) but with flexible timetabling and thoughtful implementation, my principal and I figured we could get relevant technology into the hands of our students more often and as they needed it. We decided to start late last year with the twenty laptops housed in two secure trolleys in my classroom but timetabled across the four upper primary classes.

This would mean in an equal world that my own class would be entitled to the whole twenty for one quarter of the school week. In reality, this has been much harder to achieve. The first decision we made as a learning team was to keep both trolleys for each class booking (Tom Barrett has written about a different approach where their laptop fleet was divided permanently amongst his learning team's classes, giving his class full time access to 8 laptops) and negotiate a timetable that all teachers could operate on.

My co-planning partner (aka the teacher next door) made an interesting comment the other day about laptop availability. To paraphrase, she pointed out that it's hard to pinpoint exactly when you might need this technology at your disposal. When the laptops are booked in does not mean that the students can switch to that mode of learning. Sometimes when the students get really engrossed in their work and on a roll, the time will be up and the next class will knocking on the door demanding their slice of the timetabled pie. It would be really good to just have the laptops on standby, ready for the opportune time and know that there were no constraints on their use in terms of time or battery life. But this technology is a scarce commodity and has to be shared equitably. Interestingly, all of the upper primary classes have not given up their regular computing slots which was one predicted outcome I made prior to the wireless program.

There is no doubt that the students enjoy using the laptops. They focus quickly, are eager to show what they have achieved via the network and the IWB with their peers. Being able to use this technology at their own desk where they can access their exercise books, their personal stationery, their "brain food" and discuss ideas with their work partners free from wires and cables. Being able to pick their digital work and bring to a new position in front of their teacher or their fellow students is another big plus.

laptopping.jpgThe laptops also bring the dimension that I felt was missing in the use of IWB technology in the classroom. I could introduce a resource, an idea or a starting point on the IWB which allowed one student at a time to access and manipulate but once that was over, then the kids themselves would settle back to work in their non-digital exercise books. Now I can get the kids using the same stuff as I've just used on the board. For example, tomorrow morning we will be reviewing our progress for our Personal Research Projects, I will getting them to use the Lotus diagram tool on the Exploratree site. I could demonstrate it on the board because it is the easiest clearest way to show how a Lotus diagram can sort out information and then get them to do their work on a large sheet of A3 paper. But the benefit of working digitally will be that the diagram can be constantly refined and easily shared with the class via the class IWB. It's one thing for the teacher to have digital technology at his or her fingertips but the students deserve the same access.

We can't manage to make that digital technology ubiquitous - yet - but the wireless laptop program is a useful step in the right direction.


When I get the chance I go for a walk along the Torrens linear park - accessible down the end of our street. I took a couple of shots on my phone a few weeks back when the drought seemed to have hit the hardest on Adelaide's distinctive waterway from the bridge on Henley Beach Road and then re-took the same pics three weeks and a few millimetres of rain later. Just goes to show that it doesn't take much rain to fill the Torrens - but the drought isn't over yet...


I've been playing around with YouTube tracking down old music videos and seeing if I can track some of my obscure favourites. A few days back, I read a Stephen Downes post that linked from a Rob Wall post starting a meme called Top 5 Of The Eighties. Although not officially invited to be part of the fun, I couldn't resist. Being of the age where the music of the eighties provided the soundtrack to my teenage and early years of adulthood, I went scurrying to my cassette collection to see what jumped out at me as being memorable (or even listenable today.) Here's my list in no particular order.

  • The The - Infected
  • Husker Du - Zen Arcade
  • Midnight Oil - 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1
  • Talking Heads - Speaking In Tongues
  • Public Enemy - Fear Of A Black Planet

And to give non-Aussies a taste of the Oils in the middle there, here's a live version of "Only The Strong" via YouTube. Not quite as good as the album version ... but Midnight Oil were arguably the best live band down under in the eighties.

[kml_flashembed movie="" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

No tagging - feel free to jump in and even try a different decade.


I know I'm writing on this topic a good week or two after an interesting discussion on the TALO forum on the topic of Learning In The 21st Century, but I've been thinking about some of the ideas on student identity that were explored on that thread. This all ties back to the Al Upton issue and is certainly something that I can't seem to be able to move away from. (That could explain my blogging slowing to a crawl in the past fortnight.) Janet Hawtin has done a truckload of exploratory writing/thinking and was asking the following to occur:

Passing the baton back to the gang there are many folks on list who are more experienced in the specifics of these issues in a school context....

...fwiw I am not in any position as a non-educator participant in an open community to critique who is credible in a discussion about safety in schools...

So, I thought that I would have a go (edited to stick my chosen topic of student online identity):

I'm going to do what Janet suggests and that is speak from the perspective of working with kids and what the issues at hand might mean for them and me. I work with primary school kids - mainly 10 and 11 year olds. I really like this age group because they are still open to new ideas (they haven't closed their minds down into that's cool, that's not, learning sucks, teachers suck, we're really good type of thinking ... yet) but they are independent enough not to have their hands held all of the time. They are the right age to be guided to use the web responsibly, ethically and safely in my opinion. Many have not made their own "digital footprint" and many know a fair bit about a few limited things - MSN chat, and video games to name a few.
I've started off cautiously introducing them to social web tools using avatars and nicknames for two reasons - one, I know the media hype and scare stories and I didn't want to have alarmed parents denying their child's participation, so slowly does it and I also reckon it's everyone's right to have control over and determine their digital identity. What we created when we started a wiki project with Doug Noon's Grade Six kids in Alaska were sort of disposable identities. We worked on this wiki throughout the second half of this year - a great opportunity for their research to be for a purpose, they were accessing primary sources of information via the wiki and then creating something that could be shared with others. All of that happened.
This year, I started the kids with their own blogs. I was (am) hoping that this was a chance for regular writing, creation of a repository of their learning, building up of a class community of learners via reading and commenting.  Again, I was cautious so that the rug couldn't be quickly pulled from under our feet - avatars, no real faces, nicknames or first names only, close monitoring of content, moderation of comments, clear guidelines about what constituted private information...
...I'm scared - scared not what might happen to the students because I am confident that my caution will nip anything remotely inappropriate in the bud - but that one complaint from a paranoid source could shut down this opportunity for my students. We've learnt heaps along the way in only six weeks - mistakes have been great learning opportunities but we've kept them in-classroom and no-one has suffered embarrassment or felt slighted or unsafe. I'm concerned because I have to think of all of the contingencies and possibilities in advance, knowing that my department's policies have not kept up to date...

James Neill responded later with this reply:

interesting, graham, so you've basically gone the sock puppet route with

another experiment would be to only allow direct true, honest, and
transparent self-expressions - otherwise take it home / do it outside of
school - ideals about honesty, etc. often appear in school mission
statements - but perhaps school and education department mission
statements should be modified to reflect actual practice

Now James works in higher education, so I wasn't sure if he was having a go at me with the "sock puppet" reference. It was the first time that I had ever heard the phrase and a bit of Wikipedia research found that it wasn't a flattering term. Anyway, in true Wegner diplomatic style, I decided to explore his point of view in another post:

Hi James ... I'm not sure what to make of the "sock puppet" comment - something tells me that I should be offended or at least reacting to it as some form of jibe. Is it just another name for an avatar/nickname based identity? Is the concept of a "disposable identity" for students under the age of 18 such a bad thing? Maybe I wasn't clear about my choices here - and it could well be that my thinking is full of holes - I may be on a lower intellectual level anyway. To me, while the concept of real images and use of real names might be desirable, it isn't crucial to how I wanted to start my students in using read/write tools for learning for the first time. Part of my thinking is that once you are 18, as an adult in an educational setting, you can choose how to portray yourself in your online identity - disclose as little or as much about yourself as you feel comfortable with. But my students are still minors under the law, I am their "legal guardian" during school hours and for any school based projects that I set up. Any choices I make and set up for them could affect their future digital history if linked closely to their actual non-online identity. A "disposable identity" that has enough in it for the classroom community (and by default their families) to know who is who allows them to sever ties with that classroom project if they want. After all, this is new territory for me and them. There are unanswered questions in my mind about how any blogs of theirs should be used anyway after they finish in my classroom and move on... I'll concede that the "sock puppet" treatment is conservative but I think it is very early days to be using these tools in the primary school setting. And at least in primary school, there is one teacher mentoring this whole process - in high school when things get fragmented, who's doing the guiding and teaching then? I want other teachers to come on board and they need to feel sure that they are doing the right thing in their appointed role - adults themselves use "fictional identities" until they feel confident in the online world.
I'll emphasise again that for the vast majority of my kids (10/11 year olds) this is their first foray into online read/write interaction. My parents expect that I will be keeping them safe but they also know that this may be the only time their child might be doing individual online authoring in their school life - so their support is not something to be treated lightly. If their comfort level is at ease because we've equitably agreed that we'll go down the avatar/nickname path - having different options would only muddy the waters and make it very hard to manage. (Especially as I have the rest of the curriculum to deliver.) Again, make things too complex or hard to manage and other teachers following behind will baulk.
I think that while it's nice to think in terms of ideals, the practicality of delivering those ideals in a classroom of minors is too much to ask. And even with the compromises I make on those ideals, the kids are lot more savvy and in control of their online skills than without any read/write exposure at all. This is an important part of my job (and one that is sadly neglected by the vast majority of K-12 teachers in my opinion) but it is not my entire job, and it is a useful and much needed tool for my students' learning but it is not the sum of their learning either.
I apologise for being unable to make my points more succinctly - it means I won't be adding any of my thoughts on your other posts and points right at this point in time.

James then chimed in with his clarifying thoughts. Now I could see where he was coming from - and he now understood mine:

i suggested the term 'sock puppets' might be relevant earlier on as another word/phrase for describing one approach to handling the issues raised by the minis not being allowed to blog anyone - they could go the route you have chosen. i also suggested we might reclaim the negative connotation of the word, just as 'true' hackers have tried to
reclaim the good meaning of hacking.

i am curious whether you have actually been given any guidelines within which to operate - or have you intuitively picked your way through the minefield of 'what might happen if' in order to get the project to fly?

i've got no problem with people using multiple and fictitious identities - when there's an authentic purpose. but if the fundamental reason is to avoid political scandal, then it's time for online educators to start the revolution.

from what i can smell from here, i suspect that the current conservativism in online education is undermining the quality of education for our future workforce


So, maybe the "sock puppet" moniker can be reclaimed for good but I think I prefer the term "disposable identity". There is also some great discussion around this topic when Alex Couros and his EC&I class talked through some of the issues around the miniLegends closure with Sue Waters. There the participants talked around whether the use of pseudonyms reduced the authenticity of a blog or a blogger. However, when dealing with younger students, I still believe that a student blog using one of these (modified name, representative image) identities can still be authentic - for me, these choices place barriers to actual identification but leave enough for other readers to engage with. I was amused but dismayed that the suggestion that pseudonymity would be the creation of a fictional identity. I don't think that should be the case. There is no doubt that if you read one of my student's blogs that they are actually Year Six students, you could figure out their gender but you won't get their actual name, you won't get actual clear images of them, you won't get any more than vague references to their family, they refer to other students by their avatar names but they are authentically blogging about their learning, their classroom experiences and their own ideas.

Their blogs are a construct of my design. Although they have been extremely enthusiastic, they haven't just decided to blog of their own accord so I owe it to them to ensure that it is a safe environment. A "disposable identity" is something they can cut adrift at a later date, or claim for their own when they feel they are ready to manage their own online identity.

It's not just about safety - it's about personal control of that identity. And in the artificial world of the classroom, my role is to help add the responsibility component as my students make their connections beyond that classroom without compromising that control.

Image: "Sock Puppet"


I've been hosting a few visitors again and it's the interactive whiteboards that seem to be the main attraction. I had a team from a local educational publishing company sit in on one of my lessons to see one in action and gain some ideas about how to design content (books, digital resources, support materials) that fits with a classroom that is moving more into the digital world. Amazingly, one of the graphic designers was an ex-student of mine from my teaching days in Port Augusta (in my Year 3/4 class back in 1992) - feeling old at 41!

Then tonight, I took a group (of which I am a member) from my son's school's Governing Council around my school to get some ideas around the theme of Assets Improvement. This group are parents from other non-education areas of the workforce and they really wanted to see an IWB in action for the first time. I know that the "wow" factor is always more pronounced with adults but I did point out that nearly everything I produce now in the course of my work is digital. I do my programming on a wiki (easier to embed the web links I like to use), I create flipcharts to introduce concepts and take students through units of work, my school communication runs on email and the electronic daybook and I produce document after document in the course of my daily work. Then in the evening, I network with my global colleagues, hunt down and tag potential online resources and read widely varying big and small picture perspectives on technology, education and the space between the two.

One of the Assets group pointed out that all of this technology stuff seemed to be my passion and that is true. I have actively sought out all of this stuff and manouevred myself into leadership responsibilities in the eLearning area, and tried to be progressive in working out what new and emerging technologies can do in the classroom. The hardest part has always been how to lure the non-technology-passionate teacher over to the other side. And I still think that the Interactive Whiteboard is the one of the best ways to do that luring. It bridges that middle ground and gets otherwise skeptical non-digital teachers to at least start to become digital in their day to day work.

Lastly, I've been approached to offer a workshop for the mid year Australian Literacy Educators Association conference on how I use the IWB for literacy in my classroom. Looking through the program, there are shades of Web 2.0 in some of the sessions and the opening keynote will focus on the media fuelled "Literacy Wars". (Yep, we've got our own version, Doug.) But if some of these passionate literacy educators drop into my session and see that use of an IWB in their classroom can be a gateway to all of these new multi-literacies that modern education needs to address.... well, I'm hoping that I can do the invitation justice.


Reduce your digital footprint.

Make all of your online profiles private.

Restrict the photos you post of yourself online - they can be used for purposes you may not like.

Ensure your Bluetooth is turned off to avoid "data slurping".

Be aware that mobile phones with cameras and voice recorders may be in your school and classroom.

Try and ensure that you know the true identity of everyone that you chat to online.

These pieces of advice were part of the “Cyber Safety For Teachers” presentation from our CEGSA AGM. Without being a basher of the presenter, there are a number of problems with talking about the topic of cyber safety from a negative, glass-half-empty perspective. We were given a handout at the end for which I cannot find a web pdf link, no matter how hard I search. It sets the scene for teachers online in the following way:

There have been many reports of students bullying and harassing other students using digital technologies. As technology rapidly changes opportunities for such antisocial behaviour increase including the use of sms, websites, and even the use of mobile phones to record bullying incidents which are then posted on websites such as YouTube and MySpace.

Unfortunately there have also been incidents where teachers have been bullied and harassed by students, as well as ex-students and parents.

Teachers need to aware of the risks inherent in their daily contact with digitally aware and capable students, and take steps to protect themselves.

It seems to be the recommended method to deal with these issues is to ensure that as little of ourselves makes it onto the web because it can all be used against us. Close it all down - don't give the sneaky so-and-so's any opportunity to misuse your personal data against you. After all, who wants to Google their name and see the first hit defaming their professional or personal reputation?

But I would suggest that perhaps the opposite advice is actually a safer option. Being open about who you are, what you stand for, publishing your ideas, your work, your interactions with others means that the web stores a pretty comprehensive and weighty body of evidence that would easily counter any scurrilous content authored by others with malicious intent. So, expanding your digital footprint can therefore work in your favour and it is from that digital footprint that we can verify the identity and intent of those with whom we choose to interact with on the web.

I know that there are those who feel safer behind an alias or an avatar. I would venture to say that particular choice is made more out of fear of non-online retribution in many cases (but I'm happy to be corrected).

It's from that open identity that we find our global collaborative partners, build digital collegiality and share our best practices and resources. And hand in hand with that open identity comes open dialogue, open exchanging of views.

Teachers shouldn't be running scared of the online world.  If they decide to make it part of their professional existence, they can take control of their online identity and the worst efforts of others will be much easier to deal with.

Original image: 'identity card' 
identity card
by: Simone Petralia


risk.jpgDoes risk to students trump learning? Perceived risk, slight risk, possible risk - is risk something to be avoided in the classroom at all when it comes to using internet based technologies? This summary paragraph from Al Upton's Update No.3 is really making me think:

A number of analogies were presented … many stating any risk to students negates learning entering the debate. I raised the “To avoid students drowning, we teach them to swim” analogy - authentic learning.
One response ‘If something bad can happen to even one child it shouldn’t be done’ – paraphrased

I know that this idea of any risk being unacceptable can be turned onto other examples of school today and found to be blatantly untrue. How about playground equipment? I've been at schools where an ambulance has been called twice in a week for suspected broken arms and other injuries caused by slips or falls from the equipment. Why hasn't all play equipment been banned and closed down? If one child could slip and possibly fall with injurious consequences, then there is risk. But the benefits of the playground far outweigh the negatives - the learning, the gaining of skills, the creation of games and the friendship of playing with your mates. And we are careful with the playground environment - no sharp edges, designs that cater for a variety of skill levels, soft fall on the ground, rules for safe play, teacher supervision - so that the risks are managed and lead to beneficial learning of physical skills.

Why would we treat the risks regarding, say, the use of blogs in the classroom any differently? Why do risks associated with technology seem to be so threatening that shutting down and banning is seen as the appropriate way to deal with it? And are those responsible for recommending or enforcing these methods really in touch with real or perceived risks?

I have this sneaking feeling that a risk free classroom might also be a learning-lite classroom.

I saw and spoke with Al Upton last night at the Annual General Meeting for our state association CEGSA - ironically in the same room where two years earlier he was standing clutching his CEGSA Educator Of The Year award in recognition of the groundbreaking work he had been doing in his classroom. He had met with DECS and AEU representatives earlier in the day and was busily typing away at Update No. 3 for his closed miniLegends blog as the meeting unfolded. He was trying to get the wording right because as many online educators will attest, it is easy for readers to misinterpret words and make incorrect assumptions.

In an further ironic twist, we had an invited speaker on the topic of "Cyber Safety For Teachers" who unfortunately delivered one of the most negatively slanted talks on students and their use of the internet that I have ever heard. I won't elaborate any more on the speaker's identity or  perspective but to agree with the concept of banning mobile phones in schools and wondering out loud why any 12 year old would ever need one wasn't really the right approach to take with a group of the most dedicated and forward looking educators in our state.

So, back to Update No. 3. Please go and read it carefully if you have been following Al and his class's situation and if you want to help his case (and mine and any other teachers in South Australia or elsewhere in the world who believe that students having real access to tools like blogs is key to effective learning of online ethics, safety and responsibility), add your comment to the list so that continues to grow. The most powerful ammunition at this point in time is real educators talking about the power of students using these technologies in an open and carefully monitored in their classrooms, talking about the immense benefits that their students have gained, talking about how obstacles can be turned into powerful and lasting learning experiences and how allowing students participation in the networked capacity of these tools can help to prevent the disaster stories that were almost gleefully portrayed during the AGM feature talk.

Add your story .... please.