Monthly Archives: November 2011

I find Facebook fascinating in the same way that many people admire deadly snakes. You have to wary and careful in order to avoid being bitten. I have an account although I could hardly be accused of being a prolific user - I like to think that if I am cautious, I can maintain a presence here that enables me to know the entity from within without hopefully selling my digital soul.

After all, Facebook seems to be great at connecting with people who I already know. Sending a Friend Request to my new colleagues at my current place of employment is a way of strengthening collegial relationships, and allows me to get to know them better as people rather than just work mates.

Facebook is hugely popular with primary school kids here as well. From what I see and hear, I can make the following generalisations:

Aussie kids don't know (or maybe even care) that when they sign up for an account, they are:

grant (ing) us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (IP License).

not (to) use Facebook if you are under 13.

not (to) create more than one personal profile.

:from Facebook Statement of Rights and Responsibilities

I followed this link from Brian Lamb's delicious links, and the image of the deadly snake starts to come back into my mind again. The opening paragraph from Anil Dash sounds out a warning for those of us who have enjoyed and benefitted from the distributed web.

Facebook has moved from merely being a walled garden into openly attacking its users' ability and willingness to navigate the rest of the web. The evidence that this is true even for sites which embrace Facebook technologies is overwhelming, and the net result is that Facebook is gaslighting users into believing that visiting the web is dangerous or threatening.

He outlines a compelling argument that is clear by non-geek standards, and down in the comments is a response link from a Facebook engineer. Read that with the average Facebook user in mind and consider if that explanation makes you feel more comfortable about the place Facebook occupies in the internet ecosystem and even in the spectre of popular culture.

Personally, I think it is only a matter of time before Facebook creates its own browser that presents its version of the web to its captive users.

Like many, my career in education has consisted solely of working in schools within the one state system. I did go to a private secondary school way back in the eighties so I do have some dated preconceptions about how that system works. But it was only when I started a blog and started reading and connecting more widely beyond the confines of that system, did I gain any other perspective about what was going on in other parts of the world in education. Even now with my Twitter followings, my crammed Google Reader, I am still limited or semi-blinded to much of what happens in schools or learning in much of the world today. Anyone who thinks that they have a global perspective just because they use social media is deluded - but social media does allow people to spread word about their local or national perspective very easily beyond the boundaries of that system.

Last week, I went to a DECD (formerly DECS) conference on Innovative Learning Environments with my principal and a team from my school. We were invited to share our story as one of the new Super Schools constructed by the South Australian government and how we had gone about rethinking how we did the business of schooling. And once again during the course of the day (because I've heard this line of thought before) a person from the upper echelons of our department stated that Australia (and by association, South Australia) was doing pretty well by world standards in the education stakes. Apparently, our students stack up pretty well considering that Australia takes in sizeable numbers of refugees and caters for a culturally diverse student population. Now I'm willing to believe this because on each occasion that I have heard this observation, I have heard justification for our results and structures that make sense without me actually going and doing the research for myself. But I wonder why it is that the media don't see this perspective, and are quick and ready to trumpet "slipping of standards", "dumbing down of expectations" and "falling behind the rest of the world."

I might think that NAPLAN and MySchool are very narrow and dangerously restrictive tools to view the success of our schools, but I also think that education is still focussed on working towards the necessary things students will require for personal success in our society. I don't fear a massive slashing of education budgets (yet) and even if the new Australian Curriculum has the lingering odour of political interference, it is not the vehicle for big business to turn education into a commodity. Perhaps I'm being very naive.

Perhaps the biggest strength of being a mainly State funded system means that we don't have the situation that Will Richardson is spotlighting in his much pointed to recent post. What he describes is very scary. And I'd hope that Australia would not be so foolish as to follow the American lead downwards here - but we are a culture that likes to ape the USA as much as possible. Maybe our saving grace is that the big corporations that are eying off the $$$$ available in the huge student population and numerous K-12 systems will see Australia as a market not worth worrying about, and we don't feel the pressure that Will describes in depressing detail.

If you scroll down to the comments on Will's post, someone challenges him to state what he thinks today's classrooms should look like and he responds:

What's the vision? Classrooms built on inquiry, where kids ask and answer their own questions, where teachers act as co-learners in the process because with all that we now have access to, we all better be learners. Schools where we truly value a student's ability to connect with other learners, to create beautiful works of art and inspiration, to develop a passion to keep learning, not just learn what the system pushes in their direction.

Now again, my naivety may be showing through but this statement does describe my last two schools pretty well in terms of a similar vision to be aspiring to. It also fits with the stories of the other schools gathered there at this conference. So, DECD is on the right track here by giving these schools a platform for change, by seeking to see how their innovation can scale out across the organisation. My fear is that given our state system's recent reputation as being a risk averse organisation (an observation made on numerous occasions by many people on the day) is that many schools will not look to create and follow their own vision, and continue to wait on the directions from Flinders Street and their district offices. That would be a real shame - and signal to corporate interests that K-12 education is waiting to be "saved".


Working with a Year 5 class today using and annotating Google Maps when one of the students asked if she could look for her "old home".

I said sure, and then she asked, "How do you spell Sierra Leone?"

I helped her and she quickly navigated her way to Freetown. She zoomed into her old neighbourhood, or what she thought was, checking out some of the linked photos on the map. "Oh, I remember that beach!"

"How long ago did you come to Australia?" I ask in my best diplomatic voice.

"About four years ago. But there are no photos here of my street."

Then I suggested that she grab the yellow Streetview man and drag him into one of the streets.

"It won't work."

Then it dawned on me. The roads were dirt and had never had the Googlemobile cruise them. The civil war that had been the catalyst for this particular student's family decision to depart has meant that this is one of the many places on Earth that Google won't venture into. You can zoom in from on high via a satellite but the real Freetown can be still be explored via the sharing mechanism on Flickr.

And today's little experience connects me back up to a quote from Jose Vilson plucked a little bit out of context from a recent post of his, but I'm sure that as long as it is making me think, I'm sure he won't mind. He says the following at the end of a pointed paragraph:

We say we want the best for all children, but have a hard time using the words “Black,” “Latino,” or “Asian.” Heck, you still think those types of kids don’t come to school to learn how to make it in a world that’s not theirs.

What we push forward in a typical Australian classroom is constructed from cultural and national understandings that are a world away from a child born in Sierra Leone, a second generation Vietnamese kid whose parents had to flee their home country or even an Aboriginal kid whose ancestors were always here but comes from a culture that is often poorly understood and massively underrepresented in Australian society. And after hearing a lot more about the incoming Australian Curriculum, I wonder whether it will empower or disengage our kids from indigenous, migrant and refugee backgrounds in our classrooms.

Or will they wish they were still back in their own "Freetown"?