Information Literacy


I was very lucky to attend today's seminar with Dr Joyce Valenza here in Adelaide, and my head is still swimming from the sheer breadth she covered in the day. The whole day in terms of her presentation, her links and pathways can all be found here on her wikispace created for this down under visit. So I won't try and recreate the day actually that would be impossible because what the site can't convey to you is the sheer passion that Joyce has. It certainly won't demonstrate the furious pace at which our collective brains were filled - I was asked to run the backchannel which was quiet and understated, but participants were too busy listening, watching and checking out links and tools on their laptops to be throwing back too many queries and challenges. By only using the wikispace, you would not also appreciate the urgency in her message - encouraging and enthused - but urgent nonetheless. With an audience of mainly teacher-librarians, I got the feeling that the urgency is as much for the future of this role in schools as it was for the future of our students but of course, the two are connected.

So, thank you, Joyce, for a brilliant day. What your brilliant online resource does is enable those of us at today's seminar to go back through your day in smaller bite size chunks at a pace that allows for deeper reflection, fuller exploration and lengthy consideration of how to change and improve the learning for our respective student communities. It'll be something I'll chew for quite a while and is a very timely focus as I start in on my new role.

How we make sense of the world beyond our own personal day to day experiences?

For me, it started with books mixed with the occasional dose of television back in a fairly isolated childhood back on the farm. My first impressions of what life might be like in the English countryside were shaped by Enid Blyton books and popular music culture via Molly Meldrum and the weekly Countdown Top Ten. I was so insulated in this rural, Lutheranised existence that when I started Year Five at the Appila Rural School (school population: 13 kids) I had no answer to the typical Australian playground question, "Who do you barrack for?" My then best friend went for the Port Adelaide Magpies and so I did. His favourite player was Russell Ebert and so he became mine. Saturday afternoon SANFL broadcasts on the radio and Saturday evening replays suddenly opened up a part of the world that I had no idea existed.

So information flowed to me through newspapers, radio, books, films and television, painting a collective picture of the world beyond my day to day experiences. My concepts of other countries, of other places, of other people were all shaped by this information drip feed. And I thought that I was pretty well informed although in reality, my grasp was pretty opaque in its clarity.

Contrast that now to the view of the outside world that I now get through digital technologies. Much has been written about the fire hose effect of the web but the freedom I now have to pursue any line of research or interest that I want is bringing my learning to an unparallelled level. A concept or topic might come up in conversation and via the internet, I can be tracking down digital pieces to bring together a richer and deeper understanding. Maybe a few examples paint the picture about how the web can fill in the gaps of comprehension.

A few years ago, my class were covering an inquiry unit on the plight of refugees and we were lucky enough to have a student teacher of Serbian background whose family had fled war torn Sarajevo speak to the students about her experiences. That talk prompted my own curiosity and via the web, I easily found articles, video clips and images that helped to grasp some (definitely not all) of the wider perspective of an extremely complex situation.  I could read first hand accounts from multiple perspectives, view the work of photojournalist Ron Haviv or view any number of first hand home video accounts on YouTube. All of this adds up to a much more complex and informative picture than any sanitised television special or reference book could provide.

Digital information and media delivers more detail, more avenues to explore and a greater opportunity for self-participation in the pursuit of learning than mere paper based text or traditional media can deliver alone. That does not mean that traditional outlets don't have a part to play in my expanding knowledge of the world that I cannot see, touch or feel on a daily basis but my greatest moments of clarity happen more and more online. Individuals who I have never met face to face offer insights into their personal life that enable me to peek into the ordinary and mundane (to them anyway) parts of their everyday life that I find personally interesting and insightful. Be it Doug Noon's descriptions of an Alaskan winter, the first snow fall in Chris Harbeck's Winnipeg, Sue Waters' tweets about American Coke or Leigh Blackall's family trip to the Philippines, I get a little taste of the world beyond my limited suburban Australian vista.

It does reinforce the old adage that the more you know, the more you start to realise that you don't know very much of what there is to know. The internet is the greatest repository of human knowledge ever assembled and traversing its vastness one network link at a time is all one person can do.



This is a cool idea. David Schwen on Flickr has a series of type based images depicting sandwiches, obviously common to his part of the world. We see some of these here in Australia but not all. I can't embed his images but I can show my own Australian variations here, quickly created on a Keynote slide and then grabbed to create a image. This could be a good exercise as part of English where the vocabulary replaces the ingredient or component within an overall object. It wouldn't be limited to food either. I can imagine a typographical house with the word "window" outlining the space where windows would go, the word "door" in the slot where the door would go and so on.

Here are my efforts, linked to a pic of the actual food. I'm not making any claim that these are uniquely Australian culinary delights, just that they are typical.




So here's the challenge to anyone who hasn't participated in a blogging meme for a while. Create your own localised type delicacy using this design format and share it around. And while we're at it, let's create a twitter tag for it and see if this idea gains momentum. #typecuisine

Mmmmm ... I feel hungry just looking at these.


I was in a Year 1/2 classroom this morning working with a teacher new to our school. The kids had netbooks out and the teacher wrote up some website addresses on the whiteboard with interactive content about the Water Cycle that she wanted the students to visit and use. Being seven and eight year olds, there was a strong possibility that entering these sites successfully into the browser would be a tricky task. My quickfire solution was to open a Word document, paste in the two sites, press enter to make them links and then save that file in an easy to access folder on the network. I then informed the class where to go to find the file - hopefully creating an easier pathway.

However, I don't think that this is a very good solution and so now I'm appealing to the collective wisdom of this blog's readers. How would you create a way for young students to get easily onto teacher curated collections of websites? I'm thinking that even a delicious tag might be too confusing for this age group - but maybe a class blog that they become familiar with that puts these websites into a blogroll or page. But, you guys are smarter than me. What do you think?

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!


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.



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


Today I attended Cybersafety Outreach - a workshop program put together by ACMA under their cyber (smart:) banner addressing the issues around cybersafety and cyberbullying. It was very comprehensive and rather than rehash the program, I thought I'd share a few takeaways and thoughts from the day.

Firstly, I've been critical of similar previous presentations and programs being focussed on the negative aspects of modern personal technology. They often seemed to preach risk avoidance as the solution for educators in regards to using social networking, free email accounts and online publishing rather than risk minimisation. Our presenter shaped this mindset well with her quote:

How do we (as educators) embrace technology and the online environment and use it as part of their learning?

So, today's session for me was confirming of all that I've learned while embracing technology and the online environment myself, gleaning most of what I saw today from educators around the globe. There were other school leaders (read decision makers for their particular school environment) there today for whom all of this stuff was new and confronting information. What about of their staff members who then get this information on relay? What about schools who don't have a tech savvy leader or even awareness to send someone to a workshop like this as a starting point?

It came out very strongly that teachers need to be teaching critical literacy skills to our students NOW, not in a year or two or when the government funds PD like the present Science and Maths initiative. A massive challenge to someone like me - how do I ensure that all staff gain awareness, then confidence and finally competence in ensuring critical literacy is an embedded part of their literacy program?

Anyway, here's a list of all of today's links.

The cool thing is the Cybersafety Outreach program is free and can include presentations to staff, students and parents at schools in Australia. It is a useful first step for many, and as I digest today's very full menu of information and work how to disseminate it back to my colleagues and more importantly, my students.

1 Comment

The My School website is big news down under right now.

I would love to be writing something insightful about this big issue right now  but am finding it hard to really pull together my impressions and thoughts in order to convey to readers beyond the boundaries of Terra Australis. Its launch was right at the start of the school year and even though every principal made it their first order of business to get access as soon as the site went live, most rank and file teachers were too busy, well, teaching to get much of a look, let alone a solid impression. My own boss was very interested in the system used to create Statistically Similar Schools which gives each school a ranking number which is a very different comparison tool. In order to compare local schools, one would need to be prepared to do some laborious data scraping.

I had my first real look last night where after checking out my kids' school, I thought that I'd take a tour through my teaching career and see what this site would tell me about the schools where I have taught. That was interesting. Apparently, the school I taught it in my five year stint in Port Augusta is more disadvantaged than many of the schools in the socially disadvantaged Northern suburbs of Adelaide, and the rural Area School where I taught through a variety of year levels in a variety of roles over nearly two years had a higher rating than my current suburban Adelaide setting. One school would not even come up in the search field so I assume that is one of the glitches still to be ironed out. Apart from that, glancing at NAPLAN shades of green or red seemed to confirm this particular world view.

For a decent comprehensive analysis of the My School website launch, I suggest you read Darcy Moore's blog post. If you're inclined to be more cynical about government accountability initiatives (as I am) then Dean Groom's take is worth a look as well.

I also did what every other tech-loving educator does when pressed for time - check the #myschool hashtag on Twitter. Over the time I checked there were tweets from journalists bemused at any negativity from the education quarter, punters squaring off against each other to find the "worst" school in Australia, parents who couldn't find their kids' school, would be league table creators bemoaning the data access, website designers pointing out the design flaws on the site and others prepared to take on the knockers.

My favourite tweet comes from Burnt Sugar:

#myschool it really doesn't tell the whole story - but we knew that

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One of the biggest challenge of my position as leader in the use of ICT in the classroom is reaching back and offering a helping hand to those who are not as confident and sure in the use of tools like laptops and IWBs in their classroom. It is easier to share with those in the near vicinity, the ones who are prepared to join the staff Ning or plan on a wiki, leaving others to languish. Even though Mark Treadwell's message of not leaving kids to wander through the internet wilderness and teachers actively searching and bundling the relevant resources for their students to use is accepted as school practice, we have students who are left to Google for themselves because their teacher trusts in their digital native skills. So, this week on the advice of my principal, I crafted this tactful email out to staff in an effort to get everyone back on the same page.

Hi folks,
I don't know about you but I am amazed at the power of Google as a tool for searching the internet. It takes very little effort to get a result BUT does take some skills in search terms and background knowledge to get meaningful results. So, when we set our students a web based task, we have to take on board the research that Mark Treadwell cited for us earlier in the year. We need to be guiding our students to appropriate content and resources. I've attached a small poster that might help guide your thinking.

If you think of a metaphor that your class is a tour bus heading into the unexplored world of cyberspace, who should be at the wheel? Who should be determining the destination and the relevant sights (sites!!) along the way? Should the kids really be at the wheel?

So, consider the use of Expert hotlists - here's one from a Teacher-Librarian <> and another <>. See Rosie (our teacher-librarian) as well, or search the edna teacher resource database <> .

Don't forget both for finding resources, and bundling your sites for student use together with tags.

Use your own Google skills to locate sites and resources for the class - use Advanced Search, become familiar with a site like <> so that you become more efficient in your own Google use.

If you absolutely must have students doing their own searching, consider one designed for students. I have four that I have personally used tagged here - <> - KidsClick, Ask Kids, Quintura and for upper primary kids, Boolify.

We must also consider copyright issues so grabbing images from a Google image search is a no-no, because students invariably save the low grade thumbnail image (looks terrible when enlarged) or grab the first thing they see. With our new filtering system, teachers can access the Flickr Creative Commons section and save images that are of a superior quality, with less restrictive licensing than copyright images on the web.<>

Kids don't develop effective information literacy skills on their own - it is up to us to ensure that we follow good practice in this area.

Sorry, this was such a long email - it has taken on a life of its own.


Picture 5

Sometimes, the best way to reach folks is by using old fashioned tools like email.