Monthly Archives: July 2010

I'm a bit weak when it comes to putting forward an opinion or wading into a debate. I get easily intimidated by people who speak and write with high levels of self-assurance and it is easier to be the fence sitter. That's OK - there are plenty of lurkers all over the internet who benefit from other people's bravado and expertise in equal measures but in my case recently I dropped a hint and let others pitch into the issue. Confused? Let me explain.

The other week I posted about my views on the PLN acronym and received a comment and link from Lisa Neilsen over at the Innovative Educator. I had never crossed with her before and was pleasantly surprised to discover her work showing me that there are plenty of edubloggers out there with many times the subscribers I have that I'm not aware of. I could launch back into the PLN / Networked Learning semantics that I subjected Lisa to in her comments section but that's not my point here. After my awareness was raised I subscribed to her blog and a few days read her post Why I Hate Interactive Whiteboards Too.

Regular readers here will know that I've written a reasonable number of angsty posts on this designed-for-education technology over the past few years, and that posts like this are impossible for me to ignore. I'm like a swinging voter in an election on this issue. Reading Lisa's post sent my brain back to my personally disappointing experiences at the National IWB Conference last year, and conjured up a mental image of having someone like her with her passion and persuasive skills square off with her tech tools against a skilled and equally passionate IWB advocate. In my head, Chris Betcher came to mind. A duo duelling double keynote would be a gutsy alternative to someone just blindly pontificating the wonders of the IWB - but I wasn't the one with any guts to put this idea out here on my blog. So I slyly expunged the idea from my brain out on Twitter with this tweet, thinking that no one would care or even notice it.

But once you release even something as small as that onto the web, it takes on its own life, able to be picked up and re-shaped into whatever the next reader wants. So Peter Kent, probably one of the foremost experts on IWB pedagogy in Australia, picked up my tweet and decided it was worth his while wading into Lisa's territory and engaging in a professional conversation which he has now described as: Just posted a outline of what is the best #IWB debate I have been involved with

I have a lot of respect for Peter and his groundbreaking work at Richardson Primary. He has graciously travelled to Adelaide to speak to our staff when we started our IWB program and always been willing to engage in dialogue with me online as well. So, while I felt that Lisa's post were excellent and made a lot of sense, I am glad that Peter chose (in his own tweeted words) to put his head into the lion's mouth and add a series of well written comments in response to Lisa's posts. It makes for an interesting pathway through Lisa's posts - Why I Hate Interactive Whiteboards Too, IWBs are Not the Stars. They’re the Overpaid Extras with A Great Agent, Getting Smart about the Real No’s No’s of Teaching with IWBs - A Photo Compilation and Got Money for a Really Expensive Set of Training Wheels? I’ve Got An IWB to Sell Ya. Peter's comments are in various spots but he posts in his own space on the The Interactive Whiteboard Revolution Ning - The IWB debate - where do you stand?

What I really like about Peter's responses (and I suspect that Lisa likes it too) is how he draws things back to defining high quality teaching and how unless you have that in a classroom then it doesn't matter what the tech debate does. Whether you like it or not, the way we have schools set up at present, what happens in the classroom is dictated by the teacher. Even if the students are all involved in self directed learning with a great deal of choice, that has been enabled by the teacher in charge of that classroom. The same goes for the use of technology within that classroom as well - if the teacher cannot easily bend the technology to achieve learning outcomes that he or she has identified as being crucial for his or her students, then they are hardly likely use it, are they?

So, in some ways, I got my intellectual showdown but in some ways, this interaction between two high level educators is a better deal online than it would be in the confines of a conference. I laid out some virtual breadcrumbs and it snowballed. I've learnt a heap from both Peter and Lisa.

Thank you, both of you. I think I owe you both a few well thought comments back on your pieces of cyber-turf - when I finally decide what my actual position is. But hey, the beauty of networked learning is that I don't ever need to come to a final conclusion on an issue as my views can continually morph as new factors and counter viewpoints are aired across social media platforms.

Read/Write Web posted today about the decline of the Startpage, the widget driven portal that in theory seems like an ideal way to get newcomers started in using social media and RSS feeds. I still have a Pageflakes page as my homepage here on Firefox on my laptop but I must admit it has become more of a habit to start there whenever I go online more than anything. Pageflakes is quite a nice interface although I hate the big ugly advertising widget that occupies prime unshiftable real estate in the window. According to the post from R/WW, Facebook is the main target now for widget developers and other Startpage platforms like Netvibes and Webwag are still around but the whole concept has not taken off in the big way that was first envisaged.

I've often thought that Startpages would be a useful tool in the classroom and I've created a page that pulls in feeds on a particular topic (like maybe volcanoes in Science, or other topics in social science or inquiry topics) to keep a watch on topical issues that can be tied in with the learning. Often, there are so few widgets developed with an education purpose in mind with trashy entertainment and North American sports dominating the choices. Often it's just as easy to tag stuff in delicious with a specific tag and share that with the kids - the overflow of information from RSS can be overwhelming for the average twelve year old!


... and this is a nice treatment of that song.

Lily Allen "The Fear." mk II from phil tidy on Vimeo.

2000 people from around the UK were filmed singing The Fear for this promo for Lily Allen which was part of an Xbox Sing it with Lips game campaign.

Video directed by Caswell Coggins and produced by Phil Tidy,

The Rumpus Room provided the post production magic to make this work.

1 Comment

So newspapers are dying. The decline is even more noticeable in the US.

mint death of the news

Budget help from

It is interesting to listen to many of my colleagues who still enjoy reading the daily paper over breakfast, or make a point of leisurely perusing the newspaper with a cup of coffee on their first day of their vacation. My parents-in-law have the newspaper delivered daily and I'll browse them on a Friday night but the daily newspaper is not an embedded part of my life like some of my peers. It's probably because I never grew up in a newspaper focussed household. We'd get the Sunday Mail but the only other periodicals around the Wegner farm house were the Stock Journal (dubbed the "Farmer's Bible" by my Dad, an almost blasphemous statement in his world) and The Lutheran. A very ironic combination. My mother used to brag that she had never read a book from start to finish in her life and my Dad's favourite book was titled "Farming Is Fun."

So, pre-internet, newspapers and their direct relative, the news broadcast (TV or radio, take your pick) were the way we got information about the important events happening in our country and world. The media corporations controlled what was newsworthy and ignored what was deemed unimportant. In a one paper town like Adelaide, that was publishing for a relatively captive audience.

Now we have the web. Initially, newspapers just reproduced themselves in an online form, still curating news that they felt their readers needed. But with RSS and social media, we can access news from any source and we now longer rely on one corporation to bring the news to us. But is that broadening our horizons or allowing us to insulate ourselves with our own self imposed limitations?


If traditional media is dying and being overtaken by real time social media sources ...

... then why are most of the links posted by my Twitter network come from mainstream news websites?

If it is generally agreed that we need educators who are self directed learners and that social media allows anyone to publish and contribute...

... then why do so many need How To guides and workshops to do what is supposedly so easy?

If we want our kids to be creative and critical thinkers ...

... then why do politicians get such a big say in how our education systems should run?

If we want all students to use technology seamlessly with and as part of their learning ...

... then why do we make a big showcase of certain technologies (take your pick - iPad, IWB, clickers)?

If we believe that the learning is more important than the software, hardware or device ...

... then why do we let corporations decide what is innovative or worthwhile?

If basic skills around being literate and numerate are as important as critical thinking and creativity ...

... then why is there so much debate around one approach trumping the other? Don't learners need both?

If reflecting on one's practice is such a big key to improving teaching in the classroom ...

... then why is Twitter so celebrated as a place for instant PD?

If my goal is to contribute to the greater pool of learning via the internet ...

... then why am I publishing such a cynical and hypocritical post?

1 Comment

Must be a sign that certain ideas buzz around networks at a similar time, prompting a wide array of thoughts and ideas. I posted my mind dump yesterday at a similar time that Terry Freedman was pondering his own questions.

Then this morning, I found that one of my very favourite online writers, Jennifer Jones, had posted her own querying and probing cogitations. I was trying to nail down what I personally thought a PLN was, but Jennifer was pulling the whole thing apart questioning the unwritten laws and conventions that seem to accompany such a concept. Some excerpts:

2.  I believe people learn all the time, and everywhere.  I don’t need to isolate or elevate a group of individuals to be my PLN.

9.  I know people who have no desire to blog. I know people who lack charisma. I know creative people, who don’t function well in this space.  They will be excluded, for not playing by the rules.  They don’t “get it.”

I'm looking forward to her next "thinking out loud" installment. I think it is really good when "givens" are questioned openly and potential meanings of a phrase like PLN fully interrogated.


Like any educator, I love a good acronym.

Like any user of social media tools, I love a good acronym.

Here's one that's really popular - PLN. Stands for Personal Learning Network. Gets bandied around a lot by educators using social media tools. Myself included.

We all think we know what we are talking about when we refer to our PLN.

Well, I do, at least. Not too sure about some of you others out there. Here's what I personally think my PLN is:

  • infrequent or frequent use of social media tools of my own personal choice like my blog, Twitter, Reader, Slideshare (I could keep naming 'em) to read, view, communicate, write, talk, learn with other social media users on topics of my personal interest.
  • nodes on my personally constructed compiled network are people who are serendipitious discoveries, linked to in a variety of ways via comments, blogrolls, twitter lists as I trawl my way through my social media connections.
  • my PLN is a bunch of frequently travelled highways, deserted dirt tracks and narrow one-way alleys to other people's thoughts, opinions and ideas.
  • I have nodes that respond to me as much as I respond to them, some who don't know or even care that I exist, and those who I'm blissfully unaware of that read my dubious collection of posts, tweets, comments and random digital utterances.

A PLN is a notoriously hard beast to accurately describe and I know that my take is not a universal notion. I like a lot of the thinking that went into defining the differences between groups, communities and networks a while back - especially from people with deeper thought processes than mine. So, with that bit of digital history on my cerebral back burner, here's a few things that I think a PLN is not:

  • a one stop shop where all great educators come to drink from the common digital watering hole. Because not everyone on my PLN is an educator, not everyone reads and links to the same group of thinkers. Beware of Nings advertising themselves as such - they may be a Learning Network, but they are not, in my mind, Personal.
  • possible to assemble in one spot at one event in time, not even virtually. Diversity, controversy and civilised disagreement are the seeds for pushing boundaries of thinking. Some echoing in the chamber isn't a bad thing but you don't everyone singing together like a well honed choir.
  • not fixed. Sources can be dumped and replaced as I see fit. You can do the same with my posts, tweets etc. Flick 'em if they are just adding to the digital noise.

So, I'd love to read some challenging of people the next time they trot out the PLN acronym. Semantics is an important element of any popular turn of phrase used in varying forms of communication and my own personal will vary from many other points of view. By all means, challenge me and my admittedly flawed thinking. What exactly do others mean? And do they believe that their particular interpretation is the only one going?

And if any readers can come up with a more entertaining alternative explanation to the PLN acronym than the one I've used in my title, please let everyone know in the comments. After all, PLN could mean Pretty Limited Nonsense.



When I first started reading blogs, I used Bloglines as my aggregator. I still have my account with the feeds I had set up at the point of abandonment still piling up until I occasionally purge the lot. Over time, I switched to Google Reader which was a lot neater and easier to manage. There was one feature from Bloglines that was really cool that I wish was possible in Reader (unless I am mistaken) involving the ability to view other subscribers' feed lists. I found so many good blogs via this FOAF style method.bloglinessub1


bwilkofffeedsI could see how other educators (like Ben Wilkoff above) were setting up their own feeds, how they named their folders and even when they had first subscribed to my own blog. Of course, now I have no idea whether these subscribers even check their Bloglines any more. And I can't peek into their Google Reader set up in the same way.

Google Reader allows me to share posts that I like and think that my smaller group of Followers might find useful. But this is different from the way I set up and access my feeds. Here's a quick look:

feedfoldersThese are my folders for my 151 (currently) feeds. The Must Reads is meant to be my first stop but when I'm pressed for time, I'll often go straight to the Edtech Gurus (terrible title, I know) folder and read Stephen Downes and Tom Hoffman because both are succinct and to the point. The Must Reads folder needs dedicated time to peruse fully. I'll open it now:


These are my most trusted sources. Back in the Bloglines days, I always liked how Will Richardson would rename his feeds solely to the blogger's name and I still copy follow that idea. There are a couple in there who haven't posted in a long time and it is always a challenge to find which neck of the net Alex Hayes is posting from but this is a pretty stable group. That's not to say that I don't find must read material in other blogs (the other 132 feeds) but I feel guilty if I don't read these guys in detail. It goes to show that I tend to read people more than ideas. There are very few non-educational feeds in my Reader, which is a weakness but I do think I draw from a very wide range of educators in very diverse sectors and situations. I read very few group or corporation blogs.

I will probably play around with this arrangement in the near future and I'm constantly adding new feeds that take my fancy. I need to redefine the folders a bit better. Putting someone like Ken Burgin into the Peers folder isn't quite the right fit but putting him on his own in a Hospitality/eLearning folder doesn't quite work either. Does anyone have an approach to their Google Reader that they would like to share?


The big ISTE conference (formerly known as NECC) annoys me and fascinates me in equal measures. It is touted as the biggest and best edtech conference in the world, although BETT delegates might disagree and it is now pushing its "internationalist" angle. Interestingly, it is not scheduled to be held anywhere except the US for at least another 11 years. Now I'm just a critic from afar in my own little insular country, unlikely ever to set foot in the Blogger's Cafe, but I have a serious question for anyone who is willing to answer it.

I'm not looking to be a smart aleck and poke holes in any responses but I would like to know this.

What is it that one gets out of a visit to ISTE?

What changes to practice and consequently, learning results from attendance at this conference?

Can this be clearly seen within a defined period of time, say a year or six months?

I understand the personal gains, "meet your PLN" and all that but after that buzz subsides, what remains?

How does going to a mega-conference like ISTE actually make a difference at the level that counts, in the classroom or with the learner?

I write as someone who is not even going across town to go to the local CEGSA conference this year. I feel like I have nothing worth contributing at present and my family priorities are doing exactly that at present - taking priority. But I am genuinely interested in any responses, either here in the comments or on your own blog.