Monthly Archives: August 2008


I've been toying with the concept of blog rename for a while since the time I started playing with the "open educator" tagline and digital badge. A bit of Google research shows that it's hardly an original pairing of words - but the title rings true for what I aspire to be and where I think that this profession needs to be if it is remain relevant.

"Teaching Generation Z" as a title was a bit of a ripoff and tribute to one of the first edublogs that I read back in July 2005 - Steve Dembo's Teach42. So, it may have taken me three years to finally get it right but Open Educator is a better fit for me. (And just so you know, the header is a Photoshopped version of a mobile phone image I took of my oldest son at an Adelaide playground on a crisp wintery July day about a month ago.)


I received a staff email today that linked to the "Pay Attention" video created back in early 2007 by Darren Draper, passed down from the higher offices of our department. It seems that his message has eventually seeped upwards to some of the decision makers and policy writers in our education system here in South Australia. I know my staff viewed Darren's work early in its viral rise but it may not have made the impact then as it seems to doing a year and a half later. I replied back to my staff with the following:

Thanks for the link - it is a very good video with a good message created by a very innovative educator. It is interesting that the internet allows anyone to reach out and make connections with that innovation - I'm not sending this link to "big note" but to point out that this is the power of Web 2.0 and that we can leverage this discussion with other educators around the world about the future of education for the benefit of not just our students, but ourselves.
Cheers, Graham.

I think that sometimes the hardest idea to sell to my colleagues is the fact that they themselves could be giving someone like Darren feedback and tossing out their own ideas for the connected education community to bounce around. Maybe, getting Darren Draper out for a CEGSA Conference Keynote might be the way to go!


Although, like Lauren O'Grady, I felt a bit underwhelmed at the sessions at the National IWB Conference, one leadership session that I found very valuable was held by Mal Lee, Digital Schooling Consultant and creator of Here are my notes from the session with my thoughts in italics.

Author of a book "leading a digital school" which was due out this week. Mal was also involved in the 2003 research into IWB's at Richardson Primary School, Canberra, ACT. His talk was about achieving total teacher usage of digital instructional technology - preferring the term DIT to ICT. (Not sure if I like the term instructional - has a lot of connotations about methodologies being used. Where's learning?)

It doesn't matter if the technology is there if it is not used. The paper based mode has been maximised (Treadwell says that it peaked in the mid-60's) and it is time to move to a new paradigm. This move should also enhance the prductivity of the nation. In developed nations, the majority of teachers use technology for preparation but only a small number use technology for instruction. Singapore, Korea, UK and NZ have significant investments in this area but Australia hasn't done so - now there is a big divide between the home and classroom, and between the proactive and the reactive teachers. The onus is on schools to address the human and technology variables simultaneously, not one then the other.

The Variables.

1. Teacher Acceptance. This is anyone who teaches in your school as the teacher is the most powerful person in the education equation when it comes to technology. In NSW, all secondary kids will have a laptop under the DER scheme (they don't get a choice, and it will be an el-cheapo) but whether they get used will be decided by the teacher in the classroom. So, they need to see the educational value and how it assists their teaching.

2. Working with the givens. We teach classes, not individuals, have to manage that class operating in classrooms with physical limits, a crowded curriculum that limits the time to go off elsewhere like a computing room - so the tools need to be in the classroom.

3. Teacher training & teacher development support. Teacher release within the school is the most valuable, give them time to do things. Amazing statistic - 64% of UK classrooms have an IWB, Australia has got 5%.

4. Nature and availability of the technology. Needs to assist teaching, not oblige change, integrate with teaching. IWB's were designed by companies started by ex-teachers while most ICT tools were designed for other purposes. Not a fan of laptops in schools because of the high tech support needed, one private laptop school now wants to get rid of them - the future will probably be some iteration of the iPhone.

5. Teacher acceptance of IWB's. (Can IWB's change pedagogy or just entrench it?) The important feature of the IWB is it is a digital facilitator (not the native software) and now there are early signs that key areas (IWB + broadband) can improve literacy - quoted Balanskat 2006 (can't find link via Google). IWB numbers have grown from 70,000 in 2002 up to 603,000 in 2008 with predicted numbers reaching 1.371 million by 2012.

6. Appropriate content and software. 85% of Australian schools are severely restricted by filters, and that means less access to Web 2.0 tools.

7. Infrastructure. The best bandwidth available is what's needed - Korean speeds in schools are around 100MB while Australia does well to get 1.5MB. Technology needs to be operative 100% of teaching time even though education has unusual demands - peaks between 9 - 3, 5 days a week.

8. Finance. Successful schools have leaders who go out and find the money. Must consider Total Cost of Ownership which includes teacher PD but schools are still funded on a paper based model. The average school budget commits 2.7% to ICT but 85% to staffing. If schools have a chance they must capitalise on the DER funding.

9. Leadership. This is crucial in order to unlock time, money, to put pressure on certain people and overcome hurdles. Australian preparation of principals is not geared towards this future - but they are the architects of the digital school.

10. Implementation. It is a historic pattern that we are focussed on equipment, but department restrictions can be a problem. Eventually schools that have their act together won't want to play by their department's rules.

Mal says that he disagrees with Peter Kent's eTeaching pedagogy, just believes in good teaching. He believes that we have reached a decline in teacher preparation time thanks to technology (or has it just shifted that preparation?) He doesn't care what brand of IWB schools buy - that will depend on the user.

Overall, an interesting session that allowed me to compare his advice with my own school's journey. I don't think I agree with him about the potential of laptops in the classroom but much of what he said made sense to me.


What does traditional Professional Development look like? (workshops, conferences, staff meetings, seminars) The features of this approach (which many teachers still view as the only way to update their professional skills and knowledge) seem to be:

  • With an expert
  • A set time, place and duration
  • Handouts with step-by-step instructions
  • Responsibility for learning lies with the facilitator (as in if they are good,” I learnt a lot from that presenter today.”)
  • Everyone in the session experiences the same journey
  • Obtain a solution / formula / approach that can be used tomorrow, a pre-constructed toolbox
    “small picture” solutions or “big picture” gospel
  • Delivered by local “experts” or well known international “gurus”
  • Top down

So, what’s the alternative? What differentiates contemporary professional learning from the traditional? Which new (and not so new) approaches should educators be seeking out? So could this mindset look like this?

  • Anyone or anything is a source of learning
  • You build your own toolbox
  • Equal partnership with others in learning
  • Professional/ Personal Learning Network as a source of professional dialogue
  • Apply inquiry learning principles to oneself as a learner
  • Sharing from but beyond your own classroom
  • Learn by teaching others
  • Small bite-sized snippets “just in time” (video clips, screencasts, mini-tutorials)
  • Continual learning and re-learning (free ranging)
  • Zoom in and out between “small” and “big picture”
  • Learning through networked discovery (as in many ideas / concepts are discovered through connection, rather than strategically planned for)

How's that look for starters?

These are my raw notes from my two days working along with my colleagues with inquiry learning exponent, Kath Murdoch, whom I've blogged about last year. Any reflections are in italics - anything I write regarding the topic of inquiry tends to viewed through the lense of the challenging ideas and questions posed by Artichoke, from whom I have learnt to be critical about any approach rather than adopting the default gospel approach favoured by many educators. The other thing about these notes are that the Friday sessions were presented for the whole staff (and other schools) so logically would normally be taken in first followed by the Assessment day next - but because it was a smaller, more experienced group attending on the Thursday, the main focus was reversed.

Learner-centred assessment in the inquiring classroom

What can I do to maximise my learning today? Record my thinking so that I can use the main ideas effectively. I also want to seek out some resolutions to the tensions between what I am reading from others and our school’s identified direction.

Can’t do inquiry well without self assessment, can start by setting learning goals at the beginning of a lesson - possible short term goals are set out and the student reflects at the end whether or to what degree their goals have been achieved, kids need lots of practice to self assess.

Short discussion around our table.

Why do we assess students? To “measure” progress, to determine future needs and support, to gain prior knowledge, guide teaching & learning, find out level of understanding, judgement of growth, monitoring students “felt” practice. Ultimate goal of assessment to improve student learning (NZ Curriculum statement)

Looking at student-centred assessment. Summative assessment cannot be the ultimate evaluation, going to need to know what the students have achieved along the way and that summative assessment is just “the icing on the cake”.

Whole group activity ~ joining two halves of mixed up statements together. We then had to find a statement that posed a challenge for us.

Is inquiry learning something we do to students but fail to use for our own learning?

Negotiated curriculum is a two way street – I, as the teacher, hare a say in this as well. We can overdo the student voice angle and the students can see it as only their initiation.

Revisiting the features of an inquiry based classroom

Clear, explicit learning intentions (know, do and be), explicit and co-constructed success criteria, prior learning and subsequent planning,pedagogy that encourages continual ‘revelation’ of thinking and understanding (especially though strategic questioning), formative and summative assessment tasks embedded in units – assessment AS learning.

Self and peer assessment ~ as well as teacher led.

There is a tension between UbD and Inquiry learning. The final assessment task does not need to be “set in concrete” ~ although UbD defines this as an important destination point. Weave in relevant ICT goals into unit planning. What will reasonable evidence of understanding look like?

Many tools can be used along the way. Sorting out our thinking - using the Strongly Agree / Strongly Disagree continuum line. Other methods include diamond ranking (see Kath’s books for more summative tools)

Friday Notes

Teaching and Learning through Inquiry

Broaden and deepen our understanding of inquiry learning, how to teach and plan. Teachers’ responsibility is to create educational environments, “ Teach me how to do it myself.” Challenged us to think of ourselves as learners and set a goal for the day, then identify the strategies / steps to achieve those goals. We want our students to have the skills and strategies to solve a problem.

One tool is a set of cards that outline possible goals for learning for students ~ Students can pull one out of the pack to focus on during the lesson. All children bring experiences to the classroom, what do we do to remove the desire to ask questions? The big turnaround for an inquiry classroom is that the learners ask the questions, not the teacher.

(An example of bad questioning!!)

Examples of Student Questions - Why do dogs have faces? Why do popcorns turn into different shapes? How come your eyes don’t fall out when you bend over?

True inquiry develops around questions. Questions are borne of curiosity. What can I teach my kids about questions? Question out loud in front of your students. At the beginning of an inquiry, use a strategy to establish prior knowledge. Structure task so there has to be some justification of choice.

Knowledge is elastic and flexible - not fixed.

What do we mean by an “integrated approach”?  A sustained learning sequence in which students investigate a rich question/ topic / issue about the physical/social/ personal world, making authentic connections across the curriculum, long or short term, ongoing planning, embedded assessment. You need multiple examples for the students to examine, multiple sources of data to sort, and looking for connections, need to help some kids to “connect the dots” so that they do move from shallow to deep.

I was very interested and pleased to hear a shift in Kath's thinking from last year and an acknowledgement that the internet has more to offer than a vast unmoderated information mine.


I've been reading some of Dean Groom's stuff and spending a lot of time nodding and mentally saying "Uh huh." His thoughts and much of what I encounter from others in similar roles in their online writing makes me feel less isolated and less inclined to label myself as the "weirdo" or "oddball" out of step with reality.

But I just know that more than a few of my colleagues are convinced that I am not normal and that this over-obsession with all things digital is a good starting point for proof.

Here's some more evidence fuelling their opinion:

  • He says he doesn't watch much TV or even read daily newspapers.
  • He walks around with strange gadgets - over gigabyted USB drives, recording devices, PDAs, heck even my school laptop is some strange tablet PC contraption.
  • He seems to work things out for himself by playing with technology (Won't he break something? Doesn't he need instructions? Shouldn't he be doing real work?)
  • He uses weird words like blog, wiki, twitter, network, skype, slideshare, unconference - does any normal person know what he's on about?
  • He volunteers to speak and present at conferences (as if he has worthwhile to say) but says he gets bored sitting in the audience at them.
  • He's even Googled his own name!
  • He interacts with weird strangers online and then he goes to meet them. Hasn't he heard of stranger danger?
  • And he gets frustrated that we aren't all as interested obsessed as he is about this whole internet thing - says that we'll all be irrelevant or something if we don't get involved.

Just like this Dean Groom fella, my colleagues probably figure that this would be my point of view as well.

But herein lies the problem. We want them to use it, so access is made easy. PD is offered, but suffers from the power distribution law syndrome where a few, do most, most of the time. Teachers know that they can set some task - say a video - but don’t need to ‘learn’ to use it personally - they don’t go through the student experience - so a guessing at the value of the activity at best. They assume that the ‘digital natives’ will just get on with it - else the IT people or computing staff will be the ‘go to’ people for the students. We accept this, and of course help the kids as we figure at least the kids are using technology.

And they'd probably be right. Maybe I am wrong. This internet obsession thing might all be a lot of hot air and I'm wasting my time right now.

But that means so are you.

Back in 2000 I attended a three day Discovery School program that was a key part of my journey into educational ICT. One of the tools referred to was the Software Pyramid, created by Victorian teacher Graeme Oswin which was a guide for schools to ensure that their software dollars were spent critically.

Well, a few months back this pyramid concept came up again in a conversation with Ann, my principal, as we talked through the relative merits of teacher software preferences. But the educational technology has moved a long way since this concept was first drawn up and we both wondered if there might not be a more modern equivalent out on the web that might inform in a similar manner.

It didn't take long for this diagram to surface via Google, and thanks to the Metiri Group, we now have a new blueprint with which to guide our staff. Certainly, those edubloggers with misgivings about the absolute plethora of Web 2.0 applications spawning in cyberspace, can see how the latest and greatest tools measure up as learning implements.


Just a few quick notes about a few things catching my attention over the last week or so.

With very little fanfare, has officially become and the new interface (which I'd checked out a while back with a beta invite) is the new default. I found out about the upgrade via our school web filter system as several teachers reported to me that "delicious is blocked again". I checked it out and found the new URL needed to be added to the whitelist - with that done, it was back to business as usual. I still maintain that delicious is one of the easiest social media entry points for teachers and its power is in its simplicity.

I got to see the new Acer Aspire One ultra portable laptop (or netbook as described in the Acer brochure) on Monday night. Yet another outcome from the ideas and concepts generated by the OLPC program and what I liked about it besides the fact that it was compact, light, durable, robust and very useable was that it makes the idea of more wireless laptops in the hands of students palatable and manageable to Windows Server loving technicians commonly found in South Australian schools. Most regular sized laptops contain so much bloatware barely used by students that it makes sense to trim the fat on classroom based machines. Politically, we are nowhere near students owning their network compatible computers in public education here. It's up to schools to prioritise and fund their own way - the more choice we have in these more lightweight ultraportable laptops, the better the affordability. After all, having an interactive whiteboard in your classroom is just the start.