Friday, December 5, 2014

Goodbye Blogger ... Hello Domain

creative commons licensed (BY-NC) flickr photo by Andrew Huff:

For the last few weeks I've been living in two spaces, this space and my new home at I've been doing a bit of renovating, touching up a few things, but the time has come to say goodbye. Blogger was a great space in which to start. I loved the simplicity. However, asking to borrow the keys each time kind of had its limits. Instead I've gone and reclaimed my own domain. So if you want to continue the conversation, you can catch me over there. If your interested in setting up your own space, speak with +Jim Groom and the team at or check out the original Blog Talk episode ...

Friday, October 31, 2014

Three Things Learnt from a Finnish Lesson

There are so many ideas and arguments that seem to get bandied around online and at conferences that sometimes feel as if they lack any evidence and elaboration to explain them. These are the things that are thrown around during keynotes and chats as support for whatever is being argued. The two most common for me seem to be John Hattie's effect size and the phenomenal success of the Finnish education system. Some of the things commonly attributed to Finland are that teachers are allocated a lot of timhe to prepare and that they do not do a lot of explicit testing. The problem with these ideas is that they lack perspective and speak of Finland as if it were some sort of ahistorical commodity, rather than an organic system continuing to grow and evolve. Continuing with my recent love of audio books, I therefore decided to listen to Pasi Salsberg's Finnish Lesson. For I knew that there had to be more to Finnish education than a few titbits. As I have worked my way through the book, three clear themes have stuck out:

1. There is Another Way

This may seem silly, for of course there is always another way. However, in the midst of conducting tests and writing  reports, stuck in the humdrum of the present, the wider world can easily be forgotten. The book paints a picture of one such alternative. From the structure of school, to the provision of support, Sahlberg provides hope that things can be done differently and in many ways should be. For there are many avenues to success, not just the mantra of fear and testing.

2. Change Takes Time

I remember reading a discussion about Gonski reforms. What stood out was that many of the suggestions made by David Gonski and his team were similar in spirit to what was put forward through the Karmel report in the 70's. This was no different in Finland. It is easy to celebrate where Finland is today, but as Sahlberg's account describes, such change take decades to bring about and a strong political conviction. Interestingly, in an interview with the +TER Podcast Sahlberg feared that with the current Global Education Reform Movement that such a wholesale change is made so much more challenging.

3. Every Context is Unique

The message that stands out the most in Sahlberg's book is that every context is different. Although Finland may be similar in size to Victoria and like many countries have had a move towards multiculturalism, this does not simply mean that they offer a recipe for success. There are two clear reasons why. Firstly, to apply the 'Finnish' model is to remove it from its time and place. For even now the system is evolving, particularly in regards to the reduction in government funding and other such issues. Secondly, there is the danger of implementing the Finnish model, applying some elements but not others, only to then blame the Fins rafter than a lack of true conviction. For example, there is a growing trend in Australia to make Masters the standard level of entry into teaching. However, unlike Finland, tertiary education comes at a cost, meaning that the two systems are not on par. 


So, have you read The Finnish Lessons? I would love to hear your thoughts?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

It's Been That Way and It Always Will Be

creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by mrkrndvs:

We got talking the other day at school about our NAPLAN reading results. Again, the reading results were below the state average. It was therefore raised that maybe this needed to be a focus and that maybe we should investigate bringing in a coach from outside of the school. So even though we have several great coaches already working within in the area of literacy and we had a focus on reading a couple of years ago, it was believed that the answer was to get a new perspective on the problem. As long as you are seen doing something then that's alright.

Having been a part of the push across the region a few years ago in regards to literacy I posed the question as to whether anyone had carried out any sort of audit of the current practises to identify any areas of improvement. For I was told that to bring about deep and meaningful change takes between three to five years. The comment that I got in response really startled me. I was told that it wasn't anything that we were doing or not doing, that what I needed to understand was that reading standards in the region have always been poor, a consequence of our clientele. Maybe I'm too much of a dreamer or just naive, but I think that before you go chasing the silver bulletin maybe you stop and reflect on your own practise and back your own staff.

This subsequently got me thinking of some simple things we could introduce tomorrow to improve reading and responding within the school. Here then are three changes that I would make:

Share the Conferences

A few years ago I investigated the idea of digital workbooks as an alternative to the usual exercise book. Going beyond the cliché of 'saving paper', I wanted something that I could check in at any time without having to go through the rigmarole of collecting books at the end of the lesson. After moving to Google Apps, I then realised that there were benefits far beyond the workbook. One change I brought in was making reading conferences collaborative.

Before that moment, the conference notes were kept by the teacher, with students writing their goals in their reading journal. Other than being owned by the teacher, rather than the student, the process of a literacy coach checking how students were progressing was rather tedious. In moving the notes to a collaborative document, sharing with all the various stakeholders was just a click of the button. This provides a means for teachers to possibly touch base with students on a more regular basis, even if they are not able to literally conference them. It also allowed the process, which was done by Session Five teachers, whoever that maybe, to be shared with English teachers in order to gain a better perspective as to where students are at.

Recognising Digital Literacy Too

One of the things that has always confused me in regards to reading and comprehension is the dominance of the written text to the digital text. Although there are differences between the two, I feel that the ability to be critical is pertinent to both. As I have spoken about elsewhere, I wonder how we are modelling the way we read online within today's curriculum.

Personally, a majority of what I read is online now. One of the reasons is that I feel it supports my comprehension, allowing me to annotate texts, as well as is interact with others in a way that was not possible before. In the past such sharing was often stunted by whether they too had read or were interested in what I was reading. Now online I can find my niche community, those who are also interested in the same topics as me and connect with them whenever I like.

Fluency and Authenticity

Another interesting idea in regards to working on areas such as fluency and accuracy (see the CAFE menu) is the ability to record yourself and become your own critique. Usually when working with Secondary students I suggest reading to sibling or finding someone else. However, the challenge associated with this that not everyone has a sibling and for many it feels contrived. An alternative to this, that I came upon, via +Corrie Barclay, is to video yourself reading. Not only does this make learning visible, but it also allows students to watch themselves back and be their own critique.

A way of building upon simply recording yourself is to create an audio book. For example, I had some split kids in my class the other day and they had finished all their work, so I asked them to get a picture book and record themselves reading it for a Prep class using Adobe Voice. Not only does this then bring in visualization, as they need to choose the appropriate images to support the text, but I have found that the authenticity of the task brings something out in the students. Instead of recording a one take performance, they would read over each line, play it back and then often rerecord it until they felt they had perfected it.


In the end, the problem to me is that the search for a silver bullet is a facet of the fixed mindset. A belief that if we just get the right teachers or brought in the right coach that somehow everything will magically click and we will get the results. The only silver bullet for success is hard work. No outside coach can bring that in my view, this sadly needs to start at the top with the question why do you want to change and what is the desired outcome. So let's start there.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Should Big Brother Always Be Watching?

creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by ell brown:

Obviously I am just too nice, because Derrick rang back on Friday. I brushed him off last week, telling him I was too busy, but clearly he wasn't going to accept the same excuse twice. So today I decided to listen. Basically, he was trying to sell me an audio visual set-up where two cameras and a microphone would be installed in a classroom. The premise behind this was that it would take out the requirement for another teacher to sit in and interrupt the learning experience by physically recording the lesson. This would also transfer the ownership of the experience to the teacher, rather than the responsibility of a coach, to support the improvement of teaching and instruction. We all have ideals, but in my opinion they are always something different in reality.

My first concern is with the notion that installing cameras gives some sort of objectivity. Here I am reminded of Clifford Geertz' work in regards to anthropology and the notion of 'thick description'. His premise was that no matter how hard you try to remove yourself from the situation you are trying to observe, you are always a part of it. Therefore, all that we can ever hope for is a thick description, which tries to account for as many  variables and differences as possible, where there is never the promise of completeness. Coming back to Derrick's AV equipment, not only would you always be conscious of its presence, but it is only ever one part of the puzzle associated with reflection and improvement.

To me, there is little point recording and reviewing a lesson if a culture of reflection does not already exist. I was really taken by a recent post from +Dean Shareski where he states, "Being a connected educator is important but I think being a reflective educator trumps that." More so than purchasing 
permanant AV equipment, we need to foster reflection as a habit, both in and outside the classroom. Instead of wondering where people get the time to go back over a lesson or write a reflective blogpost, these habits need to become a part of our practise. For as Seth Godin suggests, "I didn't have time, actually means, it wasn't important enough." We therefore need to make reflection important. Just as it is unfair to expect the introduction of 1:1 devices into the classroom to magically make students collaborative, the same thing can be said about videoing lessons. It all needs to start with reflection.

A part of the problem with creating a reflective mindset though is how success is often measured in schools. With the Global Educational Reform Movement influencing many policies and decisions in education at the moment the focus of processes such as the annual Performance and Development review become about supporting a fixed mindset, where there is a supposed magic bullet for success and all else is failure. Although the intention of the AV equipment maybe to improve the standards of all teachers and create a repository of best practise, placed in the wrong hands I can imagine it becoming a vehicle for pushing an agenda of pay performance. In this environment, all that ever gets celebrated is the status quo, but is it the status quo that brings about change and improvement?

One reason I could see a benefit in such a setup is where, instead of being focused on reflection, the purpose is to share the learning on. That is, make instruction available for all to access at a later date. A great exponent of this is +Eddie Woo. Unlike the idea of the flipped classroom, where students gain access to information before the lesson, Woo records his instruction as he teaches and posts them on Youtube. He describes this practise as the 'not quite flipped classroom'. In addition to posting later, there are also many smaller rural schools who stream lessons to provide students with a wider variety of subjects to choose from, particularly in the senior years. Although most schools seem to use Polycom devices for this.

At the end of the day, my biggest concern is the belief that the best form of reflection can occur in isolation. That is, one teacher sitting at a computer watching their own learning. The best form of reflection, in my view, occurs where there is a dialogue. Two examples of such a practise are Jason Borton's learning walk or +Amy Burvall's PD Walkabouts. Another great tool for reflection is the Modern Learning Canvas. What is interesting about the Canvas is that it provides a platform for teachers to collaboratively reflect upon their learning and together identify possible areas for innovation.

Maybe I am wrong. Maybe there is a benefit to installing AV equipment. Maybe it could act as a repository of best practise. However, maybe it could be used as a way of monitoring teachers, making sure that they are sticking to the script. I can imagine both possibilities, what about you?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Crowded Curriculum or a Wrong Mindset - The Challenge of Incorperating Interdisciplinary Strands

creative commons licensed (BY-NC-ND) flickr photo by Let Ideas Compete:

The big announcement that came out of the recent review into the Australian Curriculum was that it was crowded. There is nothing new about this perspective. People have been making noise for a long time, particularly in regards to the primary curriculum, since the introduction of subjects such as science and history in the Early Years. However, is this really the case or is there something else at play?

One of the areas that people often get caught up with is the interdisciplinary learning. These strands span the areas of: 
  • Communication
  • Design, Creativity and Technology
  • Information and Communication Technology 
  • Thinking Processes

I have been in many different settings and I have yet to see these strands implemented effectively. I remember sitting in a session nearly ten years ago where the presenter explained that the purpose of the strands is not about adding to the curriculum, but about intermingling them through all area of learning. Coming from an inquiry pedagogical point of view, she suggested that it is about making learning more explicit. Although it may be inherent within good teaching, by making it clearer in the curriculum, this removes some of the ambiguity.

There is a view that acknowledges the development of these capabilities as an important role of schooling but regards them either as forms of pedagogy or as attributes that students acquire through a process of osmosis. That is, if the right conditions of learning are put in place and the right learning experiences provided, students will naturally pick up, acquire and develop these attributes. And of course for many students this is the case.
But this same argument was used for many years in relation to the acquisition of literacy skills, that is, that if the right learning conditions were put in place, all children would learn to read. That view has been almost universally rejected in favour of one that recognizes the importance of explicit instruction within a context of rich, meaningful learning conditions.
Sadly, this desire to create a rich and meaningful context is often lost on many educators who begrudgingly worry about who is assessing what, missing the point that the students are more often than not already doing the skills within their learning whether they choose to realise this or not.

I was again faced with this connundrum this week as we were put in a team to write the 'ICT' comment bank. Returning to the VCAA guidelines, there is reference made to electives. However, from my reading there was no reference to making ICT an explicit subject. I know I should be glad that students have the opportunity to 'study' ICT, but really they should be doing many of these things within their own learning. As +George Couros points out, "Technology should be at the point of instruction and be as accessible in learning as a pencil; it shouldn’t be an event. How many pencil labs do you have in your school?" The problem is that ICT is often confused with computer science. I have subsequently spent the last two years trying to shake the moniker of the 'ICT' teacher, instead focusing on topics such as media, publishing and robotics as the drivers for deeper learning and investigation.

The question that I have then is whether it is the curriculum really is over-crowded or do we just need to think more creatively about how we cover the different domains? How are you combating the crowd and covering all facets of learning, I would love to know.

Friday, October 10, 2014

#whyiteach and the answer is not technology

creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by mrkrndvs:

This is my belated response to the Connected Courses question: Why do you teach? What gets you up in the morning? What’s your core reason for doing what you do? It may not necessarily be a direct answer, but it at least addresses one thing, I don't teach to the technology.


Yesterday in the midst of my battle with Compass and reports, I received a call from the office that someone wanted to speak to me. I took the call only to discover that it was from a technology company making a cold call. The guy on the other end, lets call him Derrick, was ringing to spruik a product that his company was developing around feedback. Sadly, he got the wrong guy. After telling him that I didn't have time, I then explained to him that +Steve Brophy and I had actually presented at the recent DLTV Conference on dearth of options available surrounding listening to voices in and out of the classroom. We therefore already have all the tools that we needed to make a difference. 

The problem though wasn't the technology, instead it was constraints of system. For example, the Performance and Development Process fosters a fixed mindset, with the focus on passing and failing, rather than lifelong learning. I think that Cathy Davidson captured this problem best recently when, as a part of the Connected Courses course,  she suggested that, "Once you put a failure in education, you skew the whole system to avoiding failure" I think after I'd finished outlining what I thought was the real challenge with feedback, poor Derrick was a little flabbergasted. I don't think he was expecting me on a Friday afternoon.

There is something else going on here though. Having spent quite a bit of time with tools over the last few weeks, attending a range of conferences and courses, what has become more and more apparent is that it isn't a tool that will magically solve all of educations ills. No, it is people. I was really taken by a comment that +Dean Shareski recently made in regards to Connected Educator month that, "being a connected educator is important but I think being a reflective educator trumps that." What is significant about this is that more than creating a Twitter handle or developing Diigo community, we need to first and fore-mostly focus on people. Adding technology to anything, no matter how fantastic it may be, will only amplify what is already there. If people don't share ideas and resources in person they certainly aren't going to share online. It was so interesting that at the recent Google Teachers Academy in Sydney that for their moonshots many people focused on learning, teaching and people, rather than the actual use of technology. Whether it be about fostering disruptive pedagogies, supporting lone nuts or encouraging curiosity and creativity.  

It is easy to look back and say that the Ultranet failed because it was a poor product. However, I still believe that where things went wrong was the focus being on the program, rather than the pedagogy. I think that this all comes back to the why. In the end, we can have all the tools in the world, but if at the heart of it all is not people, connections, communities and relationships, then something is wrong. Although technology may help strengthen and support such things, if we don't have them prior to adding in technology to the mix, then don't be surprised if technology flops.

Below is a great presentation from Mike Wesch addressing the question of why.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Things Are Not Always As They Seem

creative commons licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by Orin Zebest:

This year, I have taken to audiobooks. Unsatisfied by my consumption of podcasts and frustrated with all the books that I just don't have time to read, I have taken to listening while I'm walking, driving, working, gardening - basically, whenever allows. During this time I have gone through quite a few books:
At the heart of Gladwell's book is the myth of power and strength. What he sets out to uncover is that so often strengths are at same time weakness and with that supposed weaknesses can often be our greatest strengths. His archetypal example is David and Goliath. So often it is a story told of an underdog getting lucky, but really when you break the story down David was meant to win. For so often success comes through subverting the expectations of others, going against all expectations. In the case of David, his refusal to fight hand to hand, as well as his speed and agility, were really why he won. Gladwell provides example after example of successful people who have failed because they have not perceived their own inherent weakness, as well as those who have looked at situations and seen a different possibility than that often expected by others.

Too Big To Know by +David Weinberger

Weinberger sets out to unpack the crisis of knowledge that has been brought about with the move from scarcity to abundance. Whereas in the past we managed the hose by setting our standards high, associating truth and knowledge with experts and supposed universals. With the increase in technology and the rise of algorithmic and social networks, such fallacies are put to rest. For as has oft been quoted, "the smartest person in the room is the room." The challenge then today isn't necessarily about becoming an expert in a particular area or being the font of all knowledge, instead it is how to create smart rooms which value diversity and allow for the emergence of ideas. The inherent irony of Weinberger's book is that there was always too much to know, it is just now there is no hiding from the fact.

Mindsets by Carol Dweck

Mindsets is not necessarily a book about success and failure, but rather a book about how we perceive success and failure. For Dweck there are two mindsets which govern pretty much everything that we do. They are the fixed and growth mindsets. Those with a fixed mindset see things as black or white, either good or bad. They feel the need to always prove themselves and consider setbacks as failure. In opposition to this, from the perspective of the growth mindset, failure is embraced as an area for improvement, effort is rewarded and setbacks are seen as an opportunity for future learning. What was interesting was that we are not necessarily always one or the other. We can actually have different mindsets for different problems, as well as fluctuate between the two.

Continuing on from where Weinberger finished, Thompson sets out to dispel many myths associated with technology, about it being a panacea to all our ills, to it being the start of the apocalypse. The book is as much about how technology can extend us as it is about how it already is. Unpacking our lived digital lives, not everything that we have today is new. Some fears, some forms of innovation, have been around for hundreds of years. On the flip side of this, history shows that we often refine and improve the tools we have, Thompson therefore offers a glimpse into a possible future. One debunked myth that really stood out to me was the notion that because of technology we read and write less, subsequently leading to a decline in literacy standards. Instead, Thompson points out that with the aid of technology we actually read and write far more than we ever did before. Challenge is being critical.


It is interesting reflecting on all of the books. Although they are all somewhat different, the one thing that ties them all together is that things are not always as they seem and even more importantly, we have the power to make a difference.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Imaging and Imagining the Past

creative commons licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by szeke:

Everyone has a book that epitomizes their upbringing. For me it was My Place by Sally Morgan. Not only did it provide an insight into the way people lived over time, but also how places change. I was reminded of this recently as my wife and I strolled around Circular Quay in Sydney. Littered on the pavement are a series of markers indicating where the shore line was in the past and how people have progressively extended this overtime. Looking at the markers and boardwalk, it was hard to imagine the shore as it was when the first fleet landed and how different things must have been different. This attempt to empathise with the past got me wondering whether there will ever come a day when augmented reality could provide us with such an insight or if this was beyond the realm of possibility.

Last year, I remember stumbling on a virtual tour made with Google Earth Tour by +Lee Burns looking at the different places in Raimond Gaita's autobiography, Romulas, My Father. Although this located the places in space, it did not necessarily locate them in time. Wouldn't it be amazing if we could not only explore place, but also time? If we could go back and walk the streets of Melbourne and Baringhup in the 1950's?

This got me thinking about the notion of augmented reality and the idea of a physical tour where you could choose which time you were walking through. Imagine that instead of having to go to somewhere like Sovereign Hill or the Pioneer Settlement to step back in time, we could instead look out across the city skyline of a place like Sydney and call up a vision of what it might have been like in the past or even better Machu Pichu when the Inca empire was at its height. I saw something similar imagined in Corning's A Day Made of Glass series where students are shown how dinosaurs existed in the past, without visiting Jurassic Park. However, what I felt was missing in this vision is a personalised experience. I wonder then if this is the potential of Occulas Rift to bring such experiences to us. Google offer a lot of alternatives to being there, as outlined by +Chris Betcher, providing a means for visiting virtual galleries or exploring the Great Barrier Reef. However, maybe the next best thing to being there is imagining it and reconstructing it.

I guess though once this is all said and done, we still arrive at the age old problem, what story is being told and who is telling it? This is something continually grappled with other forms of fiction, such as film and novels. For whether we like it or not, history is always a question of perspective and this must never be forgotten.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

#GTASYD 2014 - Feet on the Ground, Head in the Clouds

Image via Suan Yeo taken on 24 Sep 2014

Over last few days I attended Google Teachers Academy in Sydney. There has been a change to proceedings this year with +No Tosh taking control, bringing a Design Thinking approach to the table. The focus has moved away from creating a group Google ninjas to supporting change and reform in education. 

At the heart of it all is the notion of moonshots. Heralding from John F. Kennedy's declaration that 'we will land on the moon', a moonshot is an idea both with its feet on the ground, but its heads in the clouds. That is both practical and ideal. One of those dreams that people say are too hard, which we however choose to be bothered by.

Inspired by +Daniel Donahoo's keynote at ICTEV13, the challenge I arrived with was how do we engage the school community in meaningful dialogue in order to transform our practises to build a better tomorrow. However, I was also mindful of holding onto my idea lightly. Our first activity was to workshop our ideas in our group. My group was made up of +Riss Leung, +Michelle Wong, +Juliet Revell, +Jordan Grant and +Kim Martin, while our mentor was +Chris Betcher. What came out of those discussions was that when it comes to change there are three key stakeholders in the village: students, staff and parents. 
Having already been through a process of trying to evolve teacher pedagogy via the introduction of the Ultranet, it was decided that this is not going to be a fertile space to focus on. On the other hand, it was thought that focusing on students is too often limited to a few random classes taught and becomes more like an oasis in the desert, rather than a massive wave of change. It was therefore decided that the stakeholder most left out of discussions and with the strongest voice of change are parents. This wasn't what I had really expected. However, on reflection of all my immersions, it occurred to me that parents were often either absent or left out of the conversation. Merely told what the change will be, with little effort to explain why.
I was then faced with one of those Matrix moments where I had to make a decision. Would I position myself with cultural shift and pedagogical change, something that I am really passionate about and feel really comfortable with, or focus on engaging with change outside of the classroom, in particular parental and community engagement, something that I neither feel comfortable nor confident with. I made the decision to focus on community engagement for to me moonshots are not about being safe and comfortable, rather it is the opposite. As I suggest to my own students, find the learning that makes you feel most uncomfortable and go there.
Through this process, I ended up in small a group with +Kim Martin and +Ben Gallagher trying to unpack what exactly was the challenge associated with engaging with the wider community. We did this using hexagonal thinking. This involved writing down all of the concepts associated with the topic. We then took in turns at stringing all those ideas together, whilst at the same time opening ourselves up to critique and feedback. After a few goes we eventually came up with an agreed understanding which we recorded:

creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by mrkrndvs:

After this we returned to our original groups and worked through the 'How Might We' task. This involves completing a prompt: how might we ACTION WHAT for WHOM in order to CHANGE SOMETHING. The purpose of this was to come up with a clearer guide for our moonshot. After several revisions, I came up with:
How Might We ENGAGE PARENTS in a CULTURAL SHIFT to make RELATIONSHIPS and CONNECTIONS the focus of learning?

The focus on connections and relationships came out of my immersions with just about everyone stating that the purpose of education was relational, yet the reality in our classrooms is so often far from that.

From there I brainstormed a range of ideas and possibilities to solve this problem. I finally decided that the focus needed to be on engaging parents by not only inviting them into classrooms, but actually engaging them in meaningful action and including them in the classroom. For too often parents are invited in to help with menial tasks, such as photocopying or laminating. However, we fail to entrust them with a meaningful voice. This lack of agency subsequently leaves them both disempowered and on the outer. In some respect the first person that we need to buy in when it comes to schooling are parents.

My moonshot then is about going beyond parent teacher interviews, beyond grandparent morning teas once a year, beyond attending information evenings once a year and beyond simply signing readers. It is not only about getting parents involved in the classroom, but about giving them the opportunity to add value to what is going on. I left feeling that a part of the solution was getting parents into the classroom, but after further thought I think that it needs to be something more. I think that the first step is actually finding out who our parents are and what skills that they may have to give back to the community. For teachers are far from the only voice able to give back to the community, a point that I made in reference to PLN's and listening to everyone.


I have read and heard a lot of criticism of late about the Google Certified Teacher program. For me not only was it an opportunity to work with people that I had never met before, but the possibility to challenge my ways of thinking. In the end, being a Google Certified Teacher is not a certificate, it is not something done, rather it is something that you do. It is a mindset, it is a way of approaching problems, a belief that we can change the world with that change starting at one.

Photo via +Anthony Speranza

I have created a short form to gather different perspectives, I would dearly love your thoughts to add to my perspective:

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

What the Twitter Are You On About?

I have been asked by many teachers about how to go about getting connected and how to make the most out of Twitter. However, this overlooks one of the most important steps, actually joining a medium like Twitter in the first place. So I created this basic document as a guide:

Whose Idea is it Anyway?

In today's day and age it seems strange to be talking about the ownership of ideas. That's not yours, that's mine. Really, can one person hold an idea and what is actually achieved by that?

For example, if someone comes up with a similar idea, aren't we benefited by having a conversation with that person or group about how we could make both ideas awesome, rather than deciding which idea is more valid?

Although some love the glitz and glory that comes with being the one behind the great idea, to give an idea life sometimes we need to relinquish some of that control, we need to hold it lightly, allow for different perspectives and provide others a meaningful voice in the discussion.

A lone nut who keeps an idea to themselves is oddly enough still a lone nut. For in the end, it takes a village and sometimes the most important thing we can do is let it go.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A low down model, used by a little old lady just once a week to blogabout ...

I'm not exactly sure how it happened or whether it matters, but somehow I've found myself in the middle of another online course. I must admit that I've had a few failures of late in regards to participation, so it will be interesting to see how I go.

Organised by Alan Levine, Howard Rheingold and Jim Groom, Connected Courses is a course revolving around facilitating online learning. I am really interested in this being a part of the TL21C program currently being offered by DEECD, which not only supports teachers in grappling with some of the challenges associated with 21st century learning and teaching, but also what it means to be a connected educator. 

One of the challenges that I am really interested in exploring is how to syndicate all of the different posts and activities relating to the program. Although applications like Tagboard or allow you to curate hashtags and feeds, they have their limitations, whether it be when they are published or what they show. What I am interested in is a feed which is constantly change, bringing in informatio from a range of spaces, including blogs, tweets, bookmarks and Google+ posts.

In addition to this, I am really interested in owning my own space. I have been considering purchasing my own domain for a while, but have come to the realisation that maybe I need to go all the way. Maybe, to borrow the analogy that has been bandied around quite a bit, I have borrowed my parent's car for long enough and it's time to buy my own and start maxing it out. 

I was always under the impression that creating a space would require a complicated knowledge of coding. However, what Jim Groom has helped with is the simplicity of using CPanel to install open source platforms like Wordpress or Known. Although this means that I am more open to some risks and I may need to apply a bit more effort, so what, life was never meant to be easy and if it is then maybe it's not really learning.

So it's time, this little granny who posts once a week or so about this and that is stepping out. I am not exactly sure what is ahead of me and that is what makes it all so exciting.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Ask and You Shall Receive - A Reflection on Personalised Professional Development

creative commons licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by mrkrndvs:

I was left challenged recently by a post from +Dean Shareski who questioned the focus of conferences on ideas and instead argued that we should be looking for connections. He made the statement that “if you leave with one or two people you can continue to learn with you’ve done well.” This has been my goal of late, to create a space where people can connect, rather than provide a list of links and ideas.

At Melbourne Google Summit, I felt I did this by creating an activity where participants collaboratively curated a guide of how to introduce Google Apps in order to make learning and teaching more doable. A point that +Bill Ferriter suggests when he states, "technology lowers barriers, making the kinds of higher order learning experiences that matter infinitely more doable." 

To me change isn't just about bringing in Google Apps and enforcing it on everyone from above, it is just as much about the small ideas that help others buy-in to the benefits in going Google. I therefore thought that if we bring together the collective knowledge of the room that those there would not only have a great resource to take back to their schools, but a range of connections to continue learning with. For as +David Weinberger puts it, "The smartest person in the room is the room."

What eventuated though as I roamed the room was that I ended up helping people with a myriad of other problems, from having two accounts linked to the one email account, how to use Google Groups to make sharing easier and downloading the new Google Slides app on iPad. This was awesome, for just as we need to be open as learners to new opportunities and connections, so to as teachers do we need to be open to adjusting the focus based on the situation at hand. However, would this have been the case if those in the room were not willing to raise their hand and admit that there is something that they don't know? Admit that something isn't necessarily working the way that it is meant to?

It occurred to me afterwards in reflection that just as it is important to leave a conference with one or two new connections, I feel that it also important to come away with a small win, a solution to a conundrum that has really been bugging you. Something personal, something important to you and your situation. This is especially the case at a technology conference where what is on offer is only the tip of the iceberg to the potential of what is possible. The big challenge then is asking, for it is only if you ask shall you receive.

For those interested, here are the slides to my presentation:

Introducing Google Apps One Win at a Time - Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

While here is a link to the awesome presentation that those in attendance made: Introducing Google Apps - A Crowd Sourced Guide

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Celebrating Innovation, Both Big and Small

creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by Cea.: 

I was challenged today with the question: where will innovation be in five years time? With schools creating strategic plans, it was something being considered. What should be the goal, the aim and drive for the coming years. My thoughts jumped to ideas such as:
I could go on and in some respects I'd be repeating much of what I stated in my post on educational dreaming.

What was interesting though was that midst all this technological bliss, I was queried about the dependency on technology to drive innovation. +Sam Irwin asked:

I must admit, I hadn't thought of it like that. Of course it doesn't, but how often do we start such conversations with the assumption that it does. To me, this was an interesting case of what +Clive Thompson describes as 'thinking out loud' in his book Smarter Than You Think. That is, the process where in sharing thoughts openly we gain access to a plethora of ideas inherent within the wider network of learners. As Thompson states, "Having an audience can clarify thinking. It’s easy to win an argument inside your head. But when you face a real audience, you have to be truly convincing." This public audience not only encourages clarity and perspective, but it more often than not leads to a deeper understanding of the topic at hand.

This all got me wondering about innovation and how we often associate it, not only with technology, but with wholesale change. If we stop and consider the definition of what it means to innovate, you soon realise that it is not about size. As the Oxford Dictionary describes, to innovate is to "make changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas, or products." It seems fair to say that there are many habits and practises which are established by both individuals and small groups. Does this emphasis then on the big risk overlooking the small? How often are we missing the innovation and change that occurs each and every day everywhere?


For example, let's think about teaching. There are many ways to improve practise in the classroom. Some possibilities include a focus on learning data, whether it be results or feedback, to identify specific areas for improvement and development in regards to pedagogy. Another possibility is a review of the structure of spaces and what sort of learning is being made possible. What is significant about such changes is that the onus is not just on the school or the team, but on the individual.

In addition to teachers, students too can demonstrate innovation and improvement in what they do themselves. This could be the choices that they make in regards to their work or it maybe taking ownership over certain aspects of learning, whether it be their own or as a part of a group. Although we may not be able to directly implement many such changes, basically because they are not our decisions to be made, it is possible to make them more possible and plausible by creating a learning environment that allows for them.

The easy answer is too often to push all these changes on staff and students under the banner of whole school change. However, this not only denies differences, but more often than not takes away any sense of agency from the individuals in question. Just as students come to us with a breadth of ability, so to do teachers. The one answer fits all approach often denies the fact that each and everyone of us is at a different stage of the journey and it is there that we must start. +Dan Donahoo best summed up this dilemma in his keynote at #ICTEV13 where he stated that 'it takes a village'. This means that when we implement the idea, if it is still the same at the end as it was at start then we haven't really listened. At the heart of all change and innovation is a dialogue with a wider sense of community and at the heart of dialogue is compromise.

In a recent session on instructional learning, Muffy Hand made a comment that really struck me, "teachers are the most important resource in every school." Maybe then instead of always simply focusing on the big changes, we need to celebrate the smaller changes made by those at the coal face. Instead of waiting for the next piece of software or engaging initiative to be the cure to all our supposed problems, we need to reflect upon our own established practises with the questions: what am I doing and is best for the situation at hand. An interesting tool for stimulating such a discussion either individually or as a group is +Richard Olsen's Modern Learning Canvas. For although we maybe great, taking the next step towards excellence will be different for all of us.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Learning to Learn by Learning - a Reflection on a Collaborative Project

In a post a few months ago I mused on the idea of providing time for teachers to tinker and explore. My feelings were that like the students we teach, we too all have areas of interests that we never quite get a chance to unpack. I was reminded of this again recently by +Edna Sackson who spoke about enlivening a professional development day by empowering the voices of the staff at her school and giving them a chance to present, rather than simply bringing in outside providers. Although I have experienced this to some degree in regards to ICT at my school, where we ran a session where various staff provided different sessions, I have never really heard of it been offered as a whole school initiative. I was therefore left wondering, why don't more staff share and collaborate, whether online or off?


A point of collaboration that I have been involved in this year was the development of a conference presentation with +Steve Brophy. As teachers we often talk about collaboration, yet either avoid doing it or never quite commit ourselves to process. Some may work with a partner teacher or as a part of a team, but how many go beyond this, stepping out of the comfort zone, and the walls of their school, to truly collaborate in the creation of a whole project?

Having spoken about the power of tools like Google Apps for Education to support and strengthen collaboration and communication, I decided that what I really needed to do to take the next step was to stop preaching and actually get out there and actually model it. I really wanted to work with someone in not only presenting a range of tools that make collaboration more possible, but I wanted to use those tools to actually collaborate and create a presentation from scratch.

The first time I met Brophy was online. The +Ed Tech Crew ran a Google Hangout at the end of 2013 focusing on the question: what advice would you give a new teacher just appointed as an ICT coordinator? I put down my thoughts in a post, Steve commented and wrote a response of his own. It was these two perspectives, different in some ways, but the same in others, that brought us together.

Since then we have built up a connection online - on Twitter, in the margins of a document, within blog posts themselves, via a few emails - growing and evolving the conversation each step of the way. For example, Steve set me the 11 question blog challenge, which he had already taken the time to complete himself. We were lucky enough to meet face-to-face when we both presented at Teachmeet at the Pub in February.

What I think clicked in regards to working with Brophy was that although we teach in different sectors, coming from different backgrounds, we shared an undeniable passion - student learning and how technology can support and enhance this or as +Bill Ferriter would have it, 'make it more doable'. We therefore decided to put forward a proposal for the +Digital Learning and Teaching Victoria conference around the topic of 'voices in education'. Interestingly, once the submissions were accepted those wishing to present were encouraged to connect and collaborate with other members in the stream, rather than work in isolation. However, we already were.

In regards to planning and collaborating, it was all pretty ad hoc. A few comments in an email, brainstorming using a Google Doc, catching up via a Google Hangout, building our presentation using OneNote (click for PDF). Most importantly though, there were compromises at each step along the way. This was not necessarily about either being right or wrong, but about fusing our ideas together. So often I feel that we plan presentations with only our own thoughts in mind. Although we may have an idea of our intended audience, nothing can really replace the human element associated with engaging with someone else in dialogue.

In regards to the substance of our actual presentation, I put forward the idea of dividing it into Primary and Secondary. However, as things unfolded, this seemed counter-intuitive, for voices are not or should not be constrained by age. So after much dialogue we came upon the idea of focusing on the different forms of connections that occur when it comes to voices in and out of the classroom. We identified three different categories:
  • Students communicating and collaborating with each other 
  • Students and teachers in dialogue about learning 
  • Teachers connecting as a part of lifelong learners 
A part of the decision for this was Brophy's work in regards to Digital Leaders. This focus on students having a voice of there own really needed to take some pride of place, especially as much of my thoughts had been focusing on the engagement between students and teachers.

Listening to Voices - FULL PRESENTATION - Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

The next point of discussion was around the actual presentation. In hindsight, I fretted so much about who would say what and when, as well as what should go in the visual presentation. This is taken for granted when you present by yourself as you say everything. However, when you work with someone else it isn't so simple. The irony about the presentation was that so often plans are often dispersed in an effort to capture the moment. This is exactly what happened and I feel that it worked well. Sometimes the worst thing you can do is to stick to the slides, because somehow that is the way it has to be, even though that way is often a concoction in itself. The other thing to be said is that the slides also allow people to engage with the presentation in their own time, in their own way. I sometimes feel that this is a better way of thinking about them.

The best aspect about working collaboratively with someone was that by the time we presented we knew each others thoughts and ideas so well that it meant that if there was something that one of us overlooked then the other could simply jump in and ellaborate. This was best demonstrated in our shortened presentation for the Scootle Lounge, where instead of delivering a summary of what we had already done we instead decided to go with the flow. The space was relaxed with beanbags and only a few people, therefore it seemed wrong to do an overly formal presentation. Focusing on the three different situations, we instead bounced ideas off each other and those in the audience, for surely that is what voice and expression should actually be about?

After growing our presentation together, the challenge we set for others was to reach out and connect, whether it is online or face to face. Contribute, collaborate and be open to new perspectives and be prepared to be inspired and grow as a learner.

So, how have you collaborated? What did you learn? What is it that holds you back? Feel free to share below.