Monthly Archives: March 2010

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I've got Leigh Blackall's retrospective screencast paused at the half way mark and I'm mulling over a few of his points. I've also been at a meeting together of the partner schools in my own system's Learning Technologies Project where we've been tossing around ways to ensure that what we've discovered in our documented journey over the last two years is able to used by DECS to ensure that learning enabled by technology is valued and integrated into the work that we do. I'll connect back to some of my thoughts about that meeting as I go and I'll add the preface that I'm thinking about Leigh's ideas and today's discussion from a very personal, what's-my-role-in-this-all point of view.

Leigh speaks about consciously avoiding using the institution's tools in order to take his learning and his network connections wherever he goes. His institution happens to be the University of Canberra, mine happens to be DECS but you could substitute any over-arching body that funds and directs your daily work in education. His first example is email and how being locked into the institution's email system compromises portability. People who use that system invest in it and when they move on, it is hard to take all of that built up digital history with them. The institution owns your email. The institution owns resources and initiatives developed by you whilst on their time or their domain. So, in a sense, my institution owns the professional me. But exactly how much? Where are the boundaries?

In the words of my principal, I am a user (of technology for learning!). When I go online and read blogs, leave comments, publish posts, respond in forums, create and share resources, I do so for my own learning first, and as an extension of my profession second. I want to be a better educator so naturally the lines between when I am doing something for my own personal betterment and when it can be beneficial for those who work alongside of me within my institution become somewhat hazy. I use tools that I sometimes bring back into my classroom. But I always start with the selfish premise of how can this tool / community / node / resource benefit me? In my mind, I strongly feel that this is my own stuff. My blog is my own content. My presentations that I develop for the audience reading here is my own content that I believe that I can share as I see fit. But it isn't totally clear cut. Because on that Slideshare account mixed in with my Blogging As Professional Learning and my OpenEducatorPLE, content created for an audience beyond my institution, are slideshows like iwb+literacy and my Blogging@School which were developed as part of my paid employment. Who owns what there?

I use GMail as a personal email account. I have an account for school. Occasionally, I communicate with people about school related matters on my GMail. Does it matter? Is it a case of either an institution owning my email or a giant corporation?

And things get even blurrier when it comes to my students. When Leigh mentions students in his screencast, he is talking about adult learners for whom the barriers to use of free-ranging social media for learning are much lower. It makes perfect sense for them to want the portability of their own online spaces of their own choosing as they could (potentially) move between courses or even institutions. I work with primary school students. They have an email account for as long as they are students at my school. They leave - that account is retired and they no longer have access. We use Edublogs as a blogging platform and the process comes down to decisions that are grappled with at a local level as these blogs are hosted beyond the jurisdiction of the institution. The student leaves primary school and then what happens to the blog they have worked on for two years? I've tried to treat their blog to be their content as much as possible while still maintaining that duty of care via my role as administrator of all student blogs, through my moderation of comments and exerting of my teacherly authority in the maintenance of certain standards and purposes. So their ownership is not as pure as it would be in the higher education world. So my obligations handed down to me from my institution become a method for control of the use of an outside tool, even one hosted on the open web.

To wind this up (and you'll note that despite my promise in the first paragraph, I have not linked any of this back to today's meeting; that might the subject for another post) Leigh talks about operating as an autonomous independent from the institution. I concur, but it is not easy. We find that our ideals are constantly compromised by reality and that what I pursue as a private citizen is inevitably intertwined with my professional goals. It is hard to see where one ends and the other begins.


This year's class are an enthusiastic bunch of bloggers. A few have even made their own headers and avatars, drawing on the usual source for eleven and twelve year olds - popular culture. At this age where they are still trying on various identity cloaks as they work out who they are, the worlds of entertainment, professional sports and technology hold enormous appeal. So it is no surprise that their methods include scouring Google Images using search words of their favourite soccer star, music artist or product brand, stirring them around in Photoshop Elements and then hitting the upload button to display their new creation in their blog.

Except this year, the teachers are trying hard to teach them about the ethics part of online participation. Our new Student Use Agreement also points out that students will respect copyright in any online situation but it comes as a big shock to the kids to find that the common belief of "if it's on the internet, it's free to be used" is not true.

"What if it doesn't have a copyright symbol? It must be OK to use then?"

"Why put it on the internet if they don't want people to use it?"

And once we have explained the concept of intellectual property and that there are rights that should be respected, the kids are on board. What they want to know is how can they still draw on the things that interest them while not running foul of anyone's copyrights. One big problem is that nearly every image one could find of Fabregas (our school is big on soccer) is owned by some sports photography agency or news corporation - and the kids don't really want to use some pic from Flickr of a suburban kick around in its place. We, the teachers, are bumbling around a bit too. Often, we dispense advice that is misinterpreted from what we have gleaned ourselves. It's a reason that I've got my name on a waiting list for a course "Copyright For Educators" run by P2P University. I lean heavily on educators in my network who know more than me to keep me current.

One thing's for sure - we are certainly all learning together on this one.

Public Domain image - Jsmith11

Public Domain image - Jsmith11


I'm thinking out loud here following a stream of consciousness triggered from Dean Groom's post today. His theme was trust and how it evolves in an online network - my brain started throwing how that related to my own experiences and so I left a starting point in a comment:

I find that trust builds up time on the web – it develops over a sustained period of reading someone’s work, reading and conversing via comments, seeing where their masked agendas and sacred cows lurk and following their links back to their origins. My most trusted sources are ones willing to hear out my point of view or wonderings without putting me in my box in a reactive way. After all, if I just want dispensed wisdom I can just listen to a pontificated podcast or read a published article from a trusted traditional media source. I want a conversation – and to get anything of value out of that, mutual trust is pretty important.

My learning team had a PD Seminar on Wednesday focussing on Personalised Learning (more commonly referred to as Differentiated Instruction in other parts of the world) where the most valuable learning for the day was when I was engaged in conversation with my colleagues. Our presenter /facilitator, Pam Burton, did a brilliant job of opening up pathways to consider, drawing us in with activities that required conversation, self examination and questioning.

That's what the web offers me and other connected educator - the opportunity for conversational learning. That conversation is the real catalyst for learning - the content gives us all a context and framework as I'm finding out in my Intel Thinking With Technology course that I'm currently running with six middle primary teachers at my school. The course is secondary to the opportunity to connect, toss ideas around in a more personal setting that I would find less useful even with a group of closer to ten people. So, why would I bother with presenting to larger groups at a conference? That's not a conversation - and it's difficult to know what others are getting out of it, even if I think I'm offering something worthwhile.

A disgruntled parent about twelve years once accused me of running a shotgun curriculum - stand at the front, spray it out and hope it hits someone. (To be fair to myself, his major gripe was more with his perceived shortcomings of the system I served. I was merely a typical cog in the machine.) Teacher PD is still much like that - expert delivers, we all take notes and somehow we take enough away to improve our own learning and that of our students. If you're an engaging speaker then this approach can work - to an extent. John Hattie was a recent example of this where his research was presented in such a way that two hours flew and his message was sticky enough to last into the conversations that resulted over the following days and weeks. But this is still a mother bird feeding its open mouthed chicks approach.

I know I've harped on this before but there is a disturbing irony when someone uses this approach to inform others about the benefits of networked learning. What else can we do? I don't think that I want to front up to another state conference to talk up the benefits of online learning. The other twist is that there is an unending source of conversation/s sitting in my Google Reader, in my Twitter stream, in my Ning communities with like minded educators who also need no convincing but at the local level, there is still still admiration for the self promoting experts who will show us all the way to classroom learning nirvana. Too many educators that I cross paths with have no idea of the freedom, the power, the connection they can make with a little effort and time. I can do some influencing in a situation like my Intel course time where there is room for the conversation to grow.

How do you grow the conversation? I'd like to know.

Photo of Flat Students created by Alex and Colin Harbeck.

Photo of Flat Students that were created by Alex and Colin Harbeck.

Just thought I'd point to a few things that I've found and enjoyed of late.

Went onto the other night to find out that what I thought was a free service is actually a limited trial. Saw a new station on there for the band Angels And Airwaves and had a quick listen before realising that this band was former Blink 182 front man Tom De Longe's current main musical project. I can sort of relate to the way that DeLonge started off making his mark in, well, the making of some pretty immature music content and concept wise (I still enjoyed it) and now as he's heading into his mid thirties is more interested in "creating positive music that he hoped would inspire kids to make a difference." Sounds like a late maturer - and I can definitely relate to that.

Anyway, following the lead of Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails, the new Angels And Airwaves album "LOVE" is now available as a free download. If the music is to your taste, then it's nice to see another quality band trying to shake up the traditional music distribution model.

This album is free for you. If you like it and want to put some money towards it, we would be grateful for your support. In fact, as our way of saying thanks, we'll give you an exclusive song remixed by Mark Hoppus of blink-182!
If you don't want - or aren't able - to contribute, then please accept the album free of any charge.
You don't even have to give us your email address.

In class, we are looking to sharpen up our apostrophe usage and I'm loathe to critique the students' own errors in a public way to learn the differences between omission and possession. Thankfully, there are a few very useful web based resources that any teacher can use with their students - starting with the Grocer's Apostrophe Flickr Pool. Back this up with some savvy blogs (apostrophism, Apostrophe Catastrophes and my personal favourite Apostrophe Abuse) jam packed with real life boo-boos and laced with snappy, sarcastic one liners and apostrophes can be a lot of fun to tangle with.

So, in the absence of any insightful blog posts, I humbly share these offerings. And I hope that I haven't allowed any errant apostrophes into the place.

So today I heard John Hattie today going through his list of factors that make a difference (or don't) for students in our schools. A few sacred cows get a little trampled on in this process but here's what popped into my head as he (eloquently) spoke this morning.

His research is based on thousands of research studies conducted over the past fifteen years, so reflects what has been happening in schools. So essentially his research can only be used to change schools as we currently know them.  I know that all research is based on past events but how do his findings ensure that we can cater for what education or at a more basic level, learning, will look like in a increasingly networked future?


Here are my raw and at times possibly inaccurate notes from this morning's presentation by Professor John Hattie. His meta-analysis of educational research in his book "Visible Learning" has provoked a lot of interest and some indignation from the education community. I will say that he is a very engaging speaker able to show off his findings while weaving a narrative and context for his audience to come to terms with his findings. He spoke for about two hours today - we were lucky enough to have six of our staff attend - and my attention waned a bit at times so the notes are patchy. I'll post some reflection at a later date.

Tried hard to make the data tell a story, condensed thousands of studies into a continuum of “Influences on Achievement?” Curriculum is important but it is not what makes the difference for learning in the classroom. Reducing class size has a positive effect of 0.20 which equates to advancing achievement of 9 months – reminded any reporters in the room that he was not saying that it was not worth reducing class sizes. All you need to enhance achievement is to “have a pulse.” We should be looking for the 0.40 improvement factor. Australia has a pretty good education system. We talk about the people who hardly exist – the bad teachers. We need to be concerned with the OK teachers who should be doing a better job.  We should know what effect we are having on our students.

The 0.40 is the average of what happens now. We should not allow autonomy in our teaching profession – “some teachers are making the difference.”  Kids without schooling achieve progress of 0.15 anyway (Liberia, Guatemala etc) through street smarts etc.

Retention is one of the most negative things that can happen to a student’s learning, was an expert witness in a trial for NAACP showing that retention with US education is aimed predominantly at African-American or Hispanic students.

Teacher subject matter knowledge does not have a positive effect.  [Spirited discussion within the audience at this point.]  Would matter if we had deep learning rather than surface content learning and effective assessments, more time spent listening than talking.

Hattie’s data is not about What Could but What Has Happened. Class reduction makes a difference only if there is a change in teaching practice. Too many parents judge the school by the amount of homework – recommends no more than 5 minutes, make sure it’s something that the kids already know (deliberative practice) and make sure that it is assessed. A better option would be for parents to engage with their kids to talk about their learning.

Used abseiling as a example of learning that is at the 0.50 level – Outdoor/Adventure Programs at 0.52. The important ingredient is challenge – keeping all students to be challenged or they will challenge you!  Show what success looks like – as examples, the steps to success. If a seven year old is struggling with mathematics, give them the answer so that they can work on the process. Direct instruction is powerful because it gets teachers talking to other teachers about teaching. How do you create dialogues around teaching? We need to be able to change our teaching on the fly to suit the different ways that students will learn.

Labelling kids – one of the most damaging things the education system does is use labels to define what students should only be capable of.

The No 1 is self reported grades – exceed expectations, more powerful – setting a safe target is not enough. Streaming is a way of telling kids “Know your place.” Students find it easier to set performance based targets – faster, neater etc. When kids set targets, they invariably reach them. We need to share targets with the kids – the most important thing for home is to have high expectations for their kids.

What the student brings to the classroom is pretty powerful – 50%.  Largest variant we have control over is teachers – the differences between schools is less 8% variance in Australia and NZ, students have similar opportunity for achievement regardless of schools.

His mantra:

When teachers SEE learning through the eyes of the student
when students SEE themselves as their own teachers

We can’t change the kids in front of us – but it’s the teacher mindframe that makes the difference.

Transparency with Learning Intentions and Success Criteria is very important. Create a dialogue within your school on a common conception of progression. 80% of feedback kids get is from other kids and 80% of that is wrong. A lot of general feedback is given in the class but less than 3 seconds of that is received by the individual. Feedback about the task is infinitely more valuable than feedback about self [Well done, good girl] etc.

Assessment should be totally used for feedback in the classroom and the student, not foremost for the teacher.

Classrooms that welcome error are the best places for our students. Relationships in the classroom are important to foster so that students feel comfortable to make mistakes and learn from them.