Digital Convergence


The way I plan for my teaching has changed a lot over the past few years. This really was obvious today as my wife, Joanne, planned for her two days of teaching this week in the manner that I did not so long ago - writing out lesson plans by hand, cross referencing her resource books and creating some resources by jumping on the family desktop and printing it off ready for the photocopier. To be fair, she is just returning to teaching this year after five or so years out of the classroom (and we all know that the world has changed just a tad in that time) and she is teaching five-year-olds while I'm at the other end of the primary school spectrum. So, I thought I'd take ten minutes now and detail how planning digitally grants me flexibility and opportunity that was not possible in the past.

Firstly, I have the luxury of a school laptop. This means I can operate wirelessly wherever I feel comfortable around the house. I construct my program on a private wiki shared with my tandem partner and co-planning buddy - this enables transparency, collaboration, pooled resources and consistency in what we deliver in the classroom. We share documents, URL's and flipcharts via this wiki. I have all of my key documents on my hard drive and backed up on my 8GB thumbdrive. So, if I want to check if I have the laptops booked for my Literacy session on Monday, I can pull that document up in seconds. Likewise, if I want to see if there is a spare slot to take my class to the Resource Centre, I can also have that for checking in an instant.

Our Inquiry Scope and Sequence document is readily available, as are my PDF versions of SACSA, our mandated curriculum. So today, I quickly checked what the next inquiry unit was, briefly read the relevant outcomes from the SACSA Lite PDF and did a quick search on YouTube to see if I could find anything that suited the theme of human effects on the planet which is the broad concept behind the title of "Whose Fault Is It?" The YouTube search found a clip from a CNN documentary titled "Planet In Peril" which gave me a new lead to follow.

I found the website, and the Google Video version, which I know won't cope with our school filter and internet speed at school, so in the spirit of educational purpose, I started Vuze on the main desktop and started to download a torrent of the documentary so I could show excerpts tomorrow on the interactive whiteboard. This doco would be an ideal resource for "frontloading" students with ideas, base knowledge and questions for their own independent research later in the term. I also mentally noted the RSS feeds on the original website and fired off an e-mail to my colleagues about this find and then saved it to my delicious account.

I've been reading Dan Meyer's blog - in particular his refit of a Darren Kuropatwa mathematics lesson - and with this in mind started planning one of my own on the concept of measurement in metres. Another concept that needs to be covered is scale drawing, so I used Google Maps to get a decent screengrab of the school for a introductory lesson based on the BER intiative. I dumped this into a flipchart for the IWB and into a worksheet that could be given out to the students. With this image safely stowed, I posed the problem that will logically require some conceptual measurement skills and then headed over to the DECS website to download plans for new libraries and classroom blocks which I'm hoping someone tomorrow is going to point out as a requirement to successfully meet the assigned challenge.

With all of these plans detailed on the wiki and saved, I decided to write this post. Time now for some tortilla wraps for the family evening meal, then back after tea to insert some links here and then to assess last term's final inquiry assessment tasks which are sitting waiting for me on my students' blogs. If I don't get distracted doing other things, that is.


USB drives
USB sticks
USB keys

These handy devices have become an indispensable tool for students at my school and until now the teachers have relied on the willingness of students to bring their own USB drives to and from the classroom to complete much of the digital work set in assignments. I know that it is almost impossible to get all of the tasks I set done within our limited computing room time and laptop access, and motivated students use their USB drives to continue work on slideshows, documents and other digital projects. But as these devices have jumped in capacity and power, and dived in price, other complicating issues have emerged.

With the ability to run executable programs directly from the USB drive, students are using their device to store portable applications, run flash games, store sizeable music collections and maintain personal libraries of images and videos. But what is stored is not always suitable for the school environment - songs with questionable lyrics and even more questionable LimeWire based origins, violent or politically incorrect games and video content and the increased likelihood of viruses and trojans being released onto the school network via some of the "fun" applications.

Anyway, my school has been working on a possible solution that still permits the use of USB drives in our school environment. It is not fair to expect that kids use their personal devices for school purposes so we will be supplying a smaller capacity drive (1GB) for purchase at a low price complete with school logo specifically for use between home and school. I'd personally like to give them away but tight budgets and Government tax requirements make that a difficult proposition. Now I am not naïve enough to believe that this will eliminate all potential for the problems described above but it gives the eLearning Committee here the power to prescribe the use of USB drives in our Technology Users Agreement for our students.

Now what I'm also interested in is how other schools have tackled the issue of student USB drives within the school environment. Has there been any risks or problems identified? How have you resolved these issues? Any advice or any holes in our strategy as outlined above?

Image: 'flash-drive'


Whilst flicking from one task to another I've been checking out some of the "Videos We Like" on Vimeo. I didn't know much about Vimeo until Dan Meyer did his dy/av series and hosted his awesome summer series (during our wintertime) there in mid 2008. He's pointed to a few since then and I find it's more of an arty hangout for filmmakers of varying types and small ad agencies. So, I'm poaching an idea directly from Dan and asking a simple question:

What could you do with this in a classroom?

Suddenly from Magnus Engsfors on Vimeo.

Or this?

lost in a moment from dennis wheatley on Vimeo.

The quality is way better than YouTube and there seems to be less wading through the junk to get to the interesting stuff. But maybe that's just me. These will look great on the interactive whiteboard - but in what context?


Heard about lifestreaming?

Via the super savvy Chris Harvey over on the TALO list:

...blogging is not necessarily dying, but is becoming an inadequate paradigm to keep up with all the data that the average internet consumer now produces. Lifestreams are the way to keep up with it all.

Yongfook has his own open source solution ready to go. Called SweetCron, you really need to see it to understand how it all holds together. Thankfully, Chris has installed it on his site so others can check it out. Barbara Dieu has hers up and running as well. It seems that you need to have your own hosted site and a bit of web nous to make it all work which puts it out of reach of a cheapskate free ranger like me. 

And ironically, doesn't this make a form of lifestreaming?


I was going to add this as a comment to Dan Meyer's reaction to another edtech wake-up call video, but the stream of responses and the reasons for Dan's displeasure seemed to be going down another track to what I observed so I held it over for this space.  I'm not so bothered by the format of the video (although the style looks vaguely formulaic!!) as the underlying message that seems to be seeping through.

My reaction upon seeing grim faced child after grim faced child hoist a laptop into the air was, "Does the author really think that just access to technology solves the problem and makes the classroom an engaging place to be?" The statements being held up were unsubstantiated sentences and pleas and do very little to actually make a case for the thoughtful application of technology for learning. I kept thinking that the nature of the classroom and the lesson structures within were what needed to be changed rather than just adding the technology in just because it is "fun" and "easier to learn when it is noisy".

I've said it before and this video doesn't change my view that technology in the classroom magnifies a teacher's practice. It will make a good teacher even better and it will make the shortcomings of a poor teacher even more obvious. This video sends the message "Just Add Technology And The Engagement Will Happen."

It's not that simple.

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.


dear ken,

Do you like the way I started this post by using one of your trademark writing quirks?

Anyway, it has taken me this long to pull together some bits and pieces since your post that got me thinking. I went and did what I threatened in the comment. I took your techno-ripe idea, ping-ponging its way via the network from California to Pennsylvania to South Australia, twisted it around to suit my Year Six classroom and have a few samples to share.

Check this one first...

The goal was to advertise their upcoming Personal Research Projects (starting up this week!) in one minute with the assistance of four relevant adjectives combined with four skilfully chosen CC images. Some kids did well with their adjective choice, their excellent speaking skills but struggled to break away from the obvious connection with their chosen topic. Not to worry - these are 11 year olds after all. I was happy about the attribution and thought put into this one.

Others were not as fluent at the speaking part but their image choice was positively inspired...

And if you're wondering what four adjectives would sum up your own fine country from an Aussie child's perspective, try this ad for the topic of the USA.

So, ken, I did much of what you suggested. In between the demands of your young family, just know that your influence (and so many others that I read and connect with) resonates in my classroom half a world away.

And that still blows me away.


I've been hosting a few visitors again and it's the interactive whiteboards that seem to be the main attraction. I had a team from a local educational publishing company sit in on one of my lessons to see one in action and gain some ideas about how to design content (books, digital resources, support materials) that fits with a classroom that is moving more into the digital world. Amazingly, one of the graphic designers was an ex-student of mine from my teaching days in Port Augusta (in my Year 3/4 class back in 1992) - feeling old at 41!

Then tonight, I took a group (of which I am a member) from my son's school's Governing Council around my school to get some ideas around the theme of Assets Improvement. This group are parents from other non-education areas of the workforce and they really wanted to see an IWB in action for the first time. I know that the "wow" factor is always more pronounced with adults but I did point out that nearly everything I produce now in the course of my work is digital. I do my programming on a wiki (easier to embed the web links I like to use), I create flipcharts to introduce concepts and take students through units of work, my school communication runs on email and the electronic daybook and I produce document after document in the course of my daily work. Then in the evening, I network with my global colleagues, hunt down and tag potential online resources and read widely varying big and small picture perspectives on technology, education and the space between the two.

One of the Assets group pointed out that all of this technology stuff seemed to be my passion and that is true. I have actively sought out all of this stuff and manouevred myself into leadership responsibilities in the eLearning area, and tried to be progressive in working out what new and emerging technologies can do in the classroom. The hardest part has always been how to lure the non-technology-passionate teacher over to the other side. And I still think that the Interactive Whiteboard is the one of the best ways to do that luring. It bridges that middle ground and gets otherwise skeptical non-digital teachers to at least start to become digital in their day to day work.

Lastly, I've been approached to offer a workshop for the mid year Australian Literacy Educators Association conference on how I use the IWB for literacy in my classroom. Looking through the program, there are shades of Web 2.0 in some of the sessions and the opening keynote will focus on the media fuelled "Literacy Wars". (Yep, we've got our own version, Doug.) But if some of these passionate literacy educators drop into my session and see that use of an IWB in their classroom can be a gateway to all of these new multi-literacies that modern education needs to address.... well, I'm hoping that I can do the invitation justice.


Over the summer holidays I'd been pondering how to improve my Mathematics program using inspiration, ideas and resources from Dan Meyer's blog. I wanted to harness the potential of my classroom interactive whiteboard to the engagement and purpose of digital materials presented using some of the effective information design principles that Dan so passionately espouses. My original idea was to break the back of the Year Six Maths curriculum by designing the flipcharts by topic or concept before school started back but having a real holiday break and spending quality family time after a really intense 2007 put paid to that ambition. Instead, I've made a conscious effort so far this year to stick to my concept and while what I've produced so far could always improve in quality, I reckon I'm on the right track.

I'm not naturally well organised so establishing some base concepts early on has been helpful. I created some template flipcharts using a colour code system to identify the strand. (e.g. Green gradient background = Measurement, Yellow gradient background = Number although the cruddy Toshiba projector I have in my classroom turns that into a dirty lime.) From there I have been seeking out maths related Flickr cc images to hook the kids' interest, get the class thinking and then I try to clearly introduce the concept, process or skill using clear good sized fonts (Tahoma is my favourite) and minimal word based instruction. I'm scouring del.ici.ous links for useful web based simulations, games and embedding them in the flipcharts so that they can become an integral part of the lesson.

So, I've gone from a wild variety of fonts, backgrounds and amount of mathematical information:



To something that is starting to be more about the maths concept and how the kids will learn that than how it's all going to look.



I've also taken Dan's ideas about effective worksheet design on board as well, designing my own worksheets instead of pulling stuff out of textbooks (where time allows) and even when I do use something that someone else has used, it has at least been with a critical eye and conscience.

Just having a plan of attack is doing wonders for an area of the curriculum I have less than progressive in over the last couple of years. My co-teacher and I reckon our classes are up for the Feltron Project next - modified for 10/11 year olds, of course.

And using this approach is turning up some digital gems. Last night, I started hunting down supporting material for the topic of timelines, starting with units of time measurement, moving to sequence of events in varying time frames and then adding some scale to those timelines. For starters, this time keeping page was an ideal starting point (until the data projector froze this morning and I had to do some fast paddling to get the laptops out, logged on and kids directed to the right spot in cyberspace - a non-digital plan can be a helpful back-up) followed by this great timeline of events based around the fatal tiger attack at the San Francisco Zoo. Tomorrow, I will get them analysing a day of their own life using the ReadWriteThink timeline tool before we look at how to introduce scale into the concept.

Still not sure how to use this timeline on the history of McDonald's in my class but the tool that creates it , xtimeline oozes potential for older users.


Following the Learnscope event on Tuesday but seemingly independent of it, discussion around the concept of PLE's and related concepts (like e-portfolios) seem to have reached fever pitch in the edna forums. Unfortunately unless you are prepared to create an account and then join the groups, the conversation is hidden to the outside world. And as is the case in many of these forums, there are powerful voices ready to "tell it like it is" and impose their perspective on others.

But onto the discussion - there are two forums in debate over what a PLE actually is and I waded into one behind a Stephen Downes post, possibly shielding me from others poking holes in my meek opinions. Not surprisingly there were various points of view. These included:

  • a PLE is the property of a school or educational institution
  • a PLE can only exist in places you personally can control, like your own computer, your own server
  • a PLE is a great big nothing
  • a PLE is a whole heap of sources and content aggregated in a personal StartPage like iGoogle or PageFlakes
  • a PLE can only be defined by official refereed academics
  • a PLE is social networking tools leveraged for learning

If that sounds like a whole bunch of viewpoints at odds with each other, then I think you're right. Makes me wonder if I even know what I was talking about in my slidecast. With so many "experts" weighing in and sounding authorative, what hope would my ideas have of surviving in that forum environment?

One time that helps me is the knowledge is that even if "my PLE" isn't a real one according to some of the proclamations in edna Groups, it seems to be working for me.