Monthly Archives: November 2010

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I was on yard duty on Tuesday and a Year 3 student came up to me.

"I saw you on the internet last night."

I smiled. "That's not hard. I have plenty of stuff on the internet. How did you find me?"

"I typed in the school's name and your name came up in Google."

Writing in this blog means I think about the potential readers scattered around the globe who might find my posts interesting or useful. But I forget about the people closer to home who might also be also reading - parents, students, even my teacher colleagues. My reputation as an educator goes beyond my words and actions within the school environment.

Reputation is a funny thing. At my previous school, I had developed a reputation as one of the better teachers in the school. I taught the older kids - the Year Sixes and Sevens who other teachers openly shied away from teaching. I had parents who requested that their child be placed in my class, that I keep their child for an additional year and the vibe I got back in general from the parent community was one of respect. Students were happy when they found that I was to be their teacher, and saw that the opportunities that Lindsay, my team teaching partner, and I offered meant they would be in a challenging and interesting classroom. I had eased into that position over the previous eight years after moving back to Adelaide from country South Australia.

But I didn't start at the upper primary level. I arrived as a young country teacher and was given a Year 4/5 class in a squashed up space in the middle of an open space unit. I had no reputation to speak of at my new school. But it didn't seem to matter that much back in 1995. After all, I wasn't teaching the big kids. So, after a few years, the reputation built up and I slotted into the Year 6/7 arena comfortably with content parents and engaged students. Reputation was what smoothed the path in 2001 towards Lindsay's and my most innovative and ambitious two years teaching together. We moved into the old library at the school which was a strange building and not built for two traditional classes at all.  We had the Year 6/7 classes and we had this weird space that had a large teaching area, a former librarian's office and a low ceilinged area for the bags. Upstairs was a L shaped area which could squeeze in a class for instruction - just. We had to design how our classes would interact, what the various nooks and spaces could be used for and challenge the students with the notion of how a primary school classroom could operate. But our reputation meant that no parents queried our approach or the suitability of the space for learning.

But when I won my current job and moved into a Year 6/7 class with a new offsider, I forgot that my reputation didn't automatically travel with me. The parents were suspicious of ideas and programs that a year earlier had been been given a supportive tick of approval by a different community. I had forgotten that over a long period of time in a school, students develop a strong notion of who you are, what you will and won't tolerate, what your expectations are like and that forges together into a reputation that goes some way to dictating how they respond to you when they come under your care. And I also forgot that adolescents are a tough audience to crack. They like reputation because they have some sense of how they will be treated, the sort of learning that will be valued. But you have no worthwhile reputation when you are new to the school and most importantly, new to them. Younger kids are less judgmental and more easily enthused.

But the silver lining in my first year as a coordinator was that I did have another aspect to my role in the school. I was "the computer guy", the teacher who would come into their classroom and help their teacher get logged on, or show them some new ways to use their computers or interactive whiteboards. Now, it is just as important that my reputation with my colleagues is solid, that they trust that my ideas for using technology in their classrooms, with their students. As I encourage them to make their way online, my reputation is built on the posts I write, how respectfully I describe my interactions with them to the wider connections of the online educator network, how tactfully I re-tell anecdotes from the classroom and as well, the connections I recommend that they make. The choices I make matter.

That means your reputation is important, too. Because as my little friend on the play equipment pointed out, it's easy to find me on the internet. Some of you guys are even easier to find - and your reputation spreads wider, too.

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Well, my talk at the CEASA Spotlight Seminar the other night seemed to go OK, although I'm not sure that I really addressed the question of how social media can be utilised by professional associations. A quick look at the CEASA website shows that even in this comparatively small state, there are over 50 associations under their umbrella. I belong to one - CEGSA - but I'm a relative newcomer to being a member, only joining a little over five years ago. So, I don't have this ingrained history of having a particular professional stake in the continued prosperity of an association. However, if my short stint on the CEGSA Committee is anything to go by, all associations have similar issues in terms of maintaining membership, maintaining a viable financial base and offering support to its members in their particular field of interest.

I use social media as an individual. Associations are about a community. I wasn't really sure where to look to find an association that was leveraging social media for its members until I remembered that Jo McLeay is now working for VITTA. Their approach is to offer an extremely resource rich website and add the social media in on the platforms where they are found out on the wild web. There's a blog and a Twitter account. The Twitter account is interesting in that it's not necessarily a collection of VITTA members on the following list but a carefully curated collection chosen for their potential value to the membership. A quick look at that collection shows a significant number of individuals, all obviously putting out tweets of significant interest for their own network, of which VITTA has now become a node. But as for how many VITTA members are availing themselves of this social media feed, well,  I couldn't tell.

Professional educator organisations cater for interest groups within the education community. They provide Professional Development sessions, run conferences, maintain websites and newletters with the aim of equipping their members with the latest resources and offering information and opportunities to improve their members' professional practice. This has worked well for quite a long time and many organisations have embraced the use of technology to improve outcomes for their membership base. But in the same way that the internet is a disruptive force starting to rumble through educational institutions, the web and in particular, social media services threaten the status quo. Online events like the K12 Online Conference show that membership to an organisation is no longer a requirement to hold or participate in Professional Learning of the highest quality. The ever popular TED Talks provides keynote quality out of the budget range of any South Australian organisation.

Professional associations are a way of pooling talent and resources for the common good of a larger group. But they have to provide value for their annual subscriptions or potential members are less enthused about joining. At the Seminar, two SLASA members showed an online referencing tool that their organisation had developed, pointing out that this had the potential to be a positive drawcard for their organisation and that licensed access to this tool could be an income generator for SLASA. But in my mind, there is a danger in this. My experiences and interactions with many educators online indicate that the days of hording an idea behind a locked web portal and charging for access are over. People will just search for another free tool online. That doesn't mean that talented members should not develop these useful tools. Just don't expect them to be a money spinner.

As I wrote before, professional associations are a way of pooling talent and resources for the common good of a larger group. Prior to the internet, this was a way of connecting locally as time and distance prevented the easy exchange of ideas between states and other countries. An annual conference of sister associations across the nation provided important cross-pollinating opportunities as key members travelled to an interstate venue and brought back new ideas and initiatives for the local group. Social media throws the need for most of that out the window. If I'm a Maths teacher, why would I restrict myself to only the ideas within my state association when increasingly, many of the best and most innovative ideas are being published and discussed across digital networks in various corners of the world? Now, it could be that many associations serve a niche demographic where educators of similar ilk world wide are not blogging, tweeting, YouTubing or pooling ideas and practices on a wiki. But there is a definite trend occurring. You could see the edtech community as being an innovator, with early adopters in other educational fields starting to multiply until all areas of the education spectrum have networked individuals sharing and benefitting via the web.

So, if professional associations are to stay vibrant, healthy and relevant, they must work out how to leverage the tools social media offer and look at the trends towards openness and sharing in order to redefine themselves for the years ahead. I'm not at all sure what that could look like but like the education system itself, professional associations must continue to evolve to attract membership and then meet that membership's needs in an era where professional learning is ubiquitous as information itself.

I've been asked to speak for about 20 minutes on Social Media For Educators for a Spotlight Seminar for CEASA, the ruling body for all of the education professional associations here in South Australia. The presentation promises to be more of a drive-by spray of information and ideas than an in-depth examination, but it has meant that I've ventured back out onto Twitter to mingle with my Twitter network. I mostly feel like I am a taker in this social media forum, as finding fresh links that no one else has found already is not my forte. But I have found a few neat little tools that hopefully will show the assembled bunch on Wednesday evening that Twitter isn't just about letting the world know what I had for breakfast. This one is interesting:

And if you want to feel the centre of your own self-created universe, hop over to IS Parade and drop your twitter handle in for a visualization that is very different.

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I was fortunate enough to attend a Learning Technologies sponsored day with Travis Smith from Expanding Learning Horizons today. Interestingly, I was the only person from a primary school and I was fortunate enough to run into an old colleague and Moodle innovator, Jason Plunkett from Mount Gambier High School. I took a bunch of notes but Travis handed around a USB with his presentations, spreadsheet tools and other goodies so I won't replicate his content here but try to capture the essence of his advice and ideas from my own perspective as an educator exploring the possibilities of a 1 to 1 program for his school.

The blurb:
Travis Smith has over 10 years experience in the classroom teaching Psychology, Geography, History and English, and managed the very successful notebook program at Frankston High School in Victoria. He lectured at Monash University for many years in the Education Faculty and has presented at many conferences worldwide on the effective use of technology in the classroom. He was Deputy Principal at Frankston High School for two years before this year becoming the National Manager of Expanding Learning Horizons. The business works with schools Australia wide to assist them to implement 1-to-1 programs and develop and run effective professional learning programs for teachers within schools.

This workshop is aimed at teams of leaders from schools who are looking to implement 1-to-1
technology programs in their schools. Part of the day will revolve around case studies of what other schools
have done in their deployment of technology to students. This program will have a focus on the educational
value of technology programs for students and give leaders a chance to discuss and plan for the many aspects
of a successful and sustainable 1-to-1 program. It will involve a combination of presentations as well as time
to work in school teams on their implementation plan.

The morning started with an introduction from DECS's Peter Simmonds and a quick summary of where our system was in relation to the nation before Travis was introduced. His morning session was mainly focussed on the why for 1 to 1, and what it would mean for your school and your teachers. He described the use of laptops in the school environment as the biggest change in over a hundred years and the absolute need to be aware for progressive Professional Learning. Sessions after school for 90 minutes aren't going to cut it any more and the right sort of professional learning is costly but crucial. Travis's great quote was "It's all too easy to think that it's all too hard." He also pointed out that schools were the last place in the workforce still arguing about the role of ubiquitous computing.

He talked at length about the challenges a classroom of laptop laden students would have on the teacher. There are those who will fear the loss of control but this is too important to walk away from. It is important for teachers to be comfortable in software not necessarily experts and merely view the laptop as the tool to support your good teaching and learning. When teachers talk about not having time, it is important to remove the legwork for them. Effective classroom management is still the key to making it work, (my classroom, my rules) but there are big implications for the pace of delivery. He shared a sample of work designed in OneNote by a group of English teachers that utilised the power of digital resources and the higher order part of Bloom's taxonomy - creation.

Travis offered up a number of alternative ways that someone in a role like mine could re-think support for teachers. These could include term action research projects, curriculum planning with improved digital access and sharing success around the school in a more visible way. After a morning tea break, he talked us through "15 Mistakes You Don't Need To Make." This was timely advice from his experiences and covered aspects like pace of implementation, ownership of the laptops, who controls the software and laptop image, network readiness, technical and technician support, budgets, expectations for the community, student readiness and skill levels and re-thinking PD.

In the afternoon, we had time to work on our own school's planning. This was useful as Travis supplied us with a planning tool that asked a lot of key questions around readiness, and he freely offered a lot of conversation with me on my own school's possible directions and moves so far. All of the ground covered leaves me plenty to unpack and think through and take back to the rest of the school to work on. I certainly saw ways to improve on my effectiveness in my Coordinator role that I was unable to clearly see before today.

Tomorrow, I bring another classroom teacher with me and Travis is promising a lot of digital hands on as we look at what a successful 1 to 1 classroom looks like.

Travis's 1 to 1 implementation tool graphic.

Travis's 1 to 1 implementation tool graphic.

Or put more simply, two Excel graphs that show where people who are reading this blog are from and where bloggers I've got in my Google Reader are from, in rough terms.
Generated from my Clustr Map stats as of November 2010.

Generated from my Clustr Map stats as of November 2010.

Spread of locations of bloggers whom I'm currently subscribed to in my Google Reader.

Spread of locations of bloggers whom I'm currently subscribed to in my Google Reader.

Both should be taken with a substantial grain of salt. The first only measures visitors to my actual blog page - there isn't any way I know of knowing who my subscribers via RSS. The second is everyone in my Reader as it stands right now. It hasn't been cleaned out in ages and there are quite a few people that haven't posted in a long, long while.

What does this tell me? Well, I show my monolingual tendencies by sticking to English only blogs. It's not that I don't want to broaden my scope but am unsure of where to look to get away from over populating my Reader with a few dominant countries. Still, I wonder what other people's graphs might look like. Is this a reasonable way to gain a global picture of education and learning? Would my Twitter graph look different?