Saturday, April 26, 2014

What Digital Revolution?

creative commons licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by brizzle born and bred: http://flickr.com/photos/brizzlebornandbred/4934882110

In a recent ICT committee meeting, one of the participants made the remark that the digital revolution has failed to deliver all that it supposedly promised. Having been a part of the YVeLC pilot program almost ten years ago which focused on the potential of 2:1 laptops, it has been interesting seeing the changes that have occurred since that time. In a conversation with +Catherine Gatt, this is the list of reasons that we came up with as to why the digital revolution has failed to be the saviour that so many said it would be.

Failure to Invest

The government, both state and federal, has invested a lot over the last ten years. Whether it be providing Internet for students, WiFi access in schools, support in regards to servers and switches, as well as devices for students. In addition to this, the state government Victoria made a big investment with the now defunct Ultranet, a learning platform that was supposed to be the intermediary between staff, students and parents. The big question however is whether it has been enough?

For even though the government has provided Internet access, it cannot always be trusted due to insufficient bandwidth and tendency to drop-out. This has led to some schools investing in their own lines, creating a new culture of equity surrounding access. In addition to this, even though the government provides state schools with WAPs and other such infrastructure support, there are schools who find this hardware insufficient for their needs. Therefore, although the government has made significant investments, the question is whether it could have been done better?

I will never forget sitting in the meetings in regards to the Ultranet being told how many thousands of dollars that it would cost to make even the most minuscule of changes. Maybe instead of investing so much money developing a new product, the government could have invested more in regards to support and infrastructure, letting schools choose their own solutions, whether that be Google Apps for Education and Edmodo or some other combo and simply providing support in the form of coaches with the implementation.

Lack of Leadership and Guidance

Another point of confusion relates to the leadership and guidance surrounding the support of ICT in schools. I cannot think of another area in education with so many competing positions and job titles. One school has an ICT Co-ordinator, another has an eLearning Coach, while another a 21st Century Learning Coach. Then you have some schools who have nothing? You just need to look at the various posts on the matter to get a feel for the matter:
Each post encompasses the topic in its own way, but never completely, for how can it when the area itself is still largely undefined.

Whereas in the past the person in the 'role' might have worked with a technician to manage the moderate school network and maintain a few computer rooms, now it has expanded to include anything and everything. Spanning pedagogical practice to administering various systems to exploring areas of technological innovation.

Unlike other areas, such as literacy and numeracy, which are relatively settled or at least people feel that they can comfortably define them, 'technology' offers something that some just aren't sure about. For how do you really measure the success of technology in schools? Instead, the management and leadership in this area is at times left to those with a passion and interest, therefore sometimes limiting the scope to change possible in some educational settings.

Fear of the Unknown

Attached to the confusion over leadership is the culture of fear often associated with technology. One of the biggest changes to education, I would argue, in the 21st century has been the attempt to reposition the place of the teacher away from being the one at the front of the room, to becoming a facilitator whose prime focus is to amplify the thoughts and ideas of the other learners in the classroom. With this comes the move from teacher-as-authoritarian to teacher-as-lifelong learner. For some, this shift is easier than others.

In the heyday of technology in school, the message preached was that students knew more, therefore let them run the show. The problem with this is that instead of being a facilitator, the teacher became a ghost in the room, someone largely absent, unsure about exactly what was going on, living in good faith. 

To me, palming responsibility off to students is not stepping to the side, this is stepping out of the classroom. What eventuates in this environment is a culture of fear where because you never really know what the students are doing, you jump at every flash and bleep that may occur.

I understand that as a teacher you will never always 'know', but to me teachers have a duty of care unto themselves, to lifelong learning - to at least try and understand in order to support students as they come up against issues, rather than curse that technology will be the death of us all.

With this, teachers need to embrace the unknown and with the students in mind, model how the solve problems. Sometimes it is through such moments of honesty that everyone learns the most.

Technology as the Answer

One of the things associated with technological fear is the expectation that somehow technology will be the panacea to all of the modern ills. Too often teachers expect technology to somehow change what they do without them changing any point of their own practise.

I have seen too many examples where teachers have introduced technology into the classroom as if it were a solution in itself. Then as soon as there is a hiccup, they baulk and revert to what John Goh describes as our default position. The problem with this is that technology is always doomed to fail if it is not linked to pedagogy and purpose.

In the end, technology is not the magic cure, rather it is how it is used that has the potential to have meaningful change. It is one cog in the complex construct that is 21st century learning. For it is through the sum of many parts that students learn. (See my post 'Sum of the Parts Different to the Whole' for a better explanation.) The reality is, you just need to look at the work of John Hattie and you soon realise that the biggest point of influence in the classroom is the teacher themselves. That does not mean that we should simply rid ourselves of technology and focus on the teacher, instead the focus should be on how technology can be used to further practises, such as collaboration, communication and critical thinking

Another Thing to Fit

One of the big changes in regards to curriculum over the last few years has been the advent of interdisciplinary strands, such as thinking and interpersonal learning. In addition to this, the curriculum has been made even more explicit, especially for primary school. For example, whereas in the past students in Early Years had to assess against 'the Humanities'. this has been split up within the National Curriculum and made more explicit. In this environment, ICT and technology becomes another thing to consider in an already cluttered curriculum.

ICT as a Subject

Seeing ICT as another thing 'to do' misunderstands its place and purpose. Instead of seeing it as an integral part of every lesson, ICT is too often seen as something done with the ICT teacher. Sadly, what should be done in 'ICT' is something more akin to computer science. However, it has sadly come to be seen as the time when students get their dose of technology for the week, therefore absolving any requirement to report against it elsewhere. For as we all know, students only engage with literacy in English classes, don't they?

As +George Couros has stated, something is missing when we treat technology as an event. To achieve meaningful change, technology needs to be at the point of instruction. It is then that the potential to redefine the way students learn can truly occur.

In his book, 'The Five Minute Teacher', +Mark Barnes suggests introducing different applications and tools on a regular basis to help student build up a toolkit of possibilities. In this scenario, students then build up an array of possibilities so that when they are given choice in regards to working in a collaborative manner or communicating an idea they can make an informed choice. ICT is then an aide to learning, not the actual focus.

Outdated

Whether it be the choice of tools, applications and programs or operating systems themselves, the world does not stand still. Things are always evolving. Ten years ago the school I had kept a small collection of cameras in the library,  now just about every teacher let alone student has one embedded in some sort of device, whether it be a tablet, smart phone or laptop. With this change means that devices like Flipcams have become obsolete. Although the hardware may still function and would probably have cost quite a bit to buy, their quality and ease of use has become superseded.

One of the traps that teachers often get caught teaching the tool as opposed to emphasizing on the purpose. In focusing on skills, it no longer matters what tool or application is used, instead the focus becomes on why it is being used.

Change as a Mindset

Education has evolved during the last few years, sometimes though we just don't recognize all the subtle changes. Maybe what we have is the revolution that we were promised and instead the problem is our inability to see it. I am reminded of +Chris Betcher's closing keynote at Melbourne Google in Education Summit 2013 where he explained that in many respects what happens in schools has not necessarily changed. Instead, the friction has been taken away, meaning that what may have taken hours in the past, can now be done in seconds.

As I stated in a previous post 'Looking Back to Look Forward', it is easy to identify our failings, to think that nothing has changed, but if we stop and reflect for a moment we often find that a lot has changed. The challenge then is to change the way we look at such things, rather than change the things themselves.


What About You?

These are my reflections, what about you? Have I missed something? Do you disagree? Is your system of education different to the one I have portrayed? Is this specific to Australia or are these issues global? What do you think needs to happen now? I would love to know. Please leave a comment below.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Repositioning the Use of Technology in Schools

creative commons licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/113562593@N07/13990305951

In a recent post in his Myths of Technology series, +George Couros wrote about the idea that 'technology dehumanises'. In this piece, Couros suggests that it is a misnomer that technology is anti-social and takes away from our relationships. Instead, technology actually provides the potential to amplify our relationships. Rather than technology, Couros posits that "people dehumanize one another, not technology". This got me thinking about a point +Doug Belshaw made in his book 'The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies' that digital literacies are at there heart social.

In a presentation for Promethean, Peter Kent put forward that interactive whiteboards offered an opportunity to modify the way we teach and the way students learn. Instead of merely using the projector to provide information, the interactive nature of the boards allow students to come up to the board and engage with information and ideas, providing the opportunities to build further conversations and opportunities. For a further explanation, see my post 'Sum of the Parts is Different to the Whole'. What I find most interesting about Kent's idea though is that this focus on the use of technology to instigate conversations goes far beyond the interactive whiteboard, it can be applied to just about any technology. 

For example, this year I have taken to using an iPad to help model and manipulate ideas during intervention sessions. Teaching in a space with only one interactive whiteboard between three classes, I have started using the Inkflow app by Grayon on the iPad to get students to visually demonstrate understanding. Instead of getting them up to the board, the device goes to where they are. Using the iPad in this manner has allowed students to both create and comment on ideas.

Another example of where I have used iPad in a social manner lately is through the a series of games from Toca Boca with my daughter. Whether it be Toca House, Toca Doctor or Toca Band, the Toca Boca games provide a stimulus for some great conversations, such as discussing recycling fruit, killing germs in the mouth while brushing our teeth or the different instruments involved in a band. Although it is possible to play these games in solitude, they are not the same. Even if the conversation is later on, they provide the stimulus for so much more.

In another post exploring BYOD, Couros questions why we still depend upon booking time in labs in order to get access to technology in the classroom. Instead, he argues that BYOD initiatives offer the opportunity to have technology available where the instruction is. The myth therefore that technology dehumanises often starts when we see technology as an event. The human side is taken away, because instead of being incorporated into the lesson, technology becomes the sole focus of the lesson.

What is interesting about Couros' message is that technology has the potential to either amplify and augment our interactions or to kill them off all together. In the end, it is us who have the final say. So how are you using technology today?

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Holding On or Holding Out - A Remembrance of Things Past

creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by Jack Snell - USA: http://flickr.com/photos/jacksnell707/3176997491

I recently helped clean up some of my Mum's stuff. She was a heavily religious person and had kept endless diaries and journals containing various thoughts and reflections. Although my siblings and I got rid of a lot of bible study materials, however I just couldn't bring myself to dispose of all her diaries. Beyond the images and memories, those diaries represented my last connection to my mum. The reality though is that there is a fine line between holding onto objects and items for prosperity and actually clearing things and moving on. 

Often the same can be said about education and the call for change. It is so easy to get caught up in nostalgia. Remembering things as they once were. The problem with such memories is that they often reference an idyllic reality that was not such idyllic. However, having said this, it is also important to recognise how we got to today.

The worst thing that we can do though is forgetting the past. So often the call is made to sweep everything aside and start from scratch with some sort of educational 'year zero'. To me, this is the danger of the call for an education revolution. As much as I love listening to Sir Ken Robinson speak and agree with many of the points that he makes, the problem with a 'revolution' is that it promotes starting anew, beginning again, rather than reforming and re-visioning what we already have. The problem I see with this is that it gives the impression that what occurred in the past was wrong and broken. When change involves people working constructively together, this does not allow much room for conversation. See my post on furore around Johanna O'Farrell.

I understand that things could and should change. However, I prefer +Jason Markey's call for evolution, that is change for the better. Too often, Markey points out, we see change as being for change's sake. Instead, evolution is about changing to advance our present state.

This is something that I elaborated on in my post 'So Which Pedagogical Cocktail Are You Drinking?', in that what is important is actually reflecting on the situation at hand and utilising the most appropriate practise for the particular context, rather than dictating that you must do this or you must not do that. This means being open to all facets of learning and teaching, but most importantly being aware of the consequences of our pedagogical choices.

Although it is fine to hold onto things, to saviour something, when these memories and ideas hold us back from moving on and moving forward, we are left holding out for a past that has already been, rather than a future awaiting our arrival. The challenge that we all face is finding a balance in order to produce a better tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Common Sense That Is Not Always So Common - A Review of Danah Boyd's It's Complicated

creative commons licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/113562593@N07/13904832413

Voltaire once suggested that, "common sense is not so common." So to can +danah boyd's It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens be seen as an attempt to reposition the debate about teenagers and the supposed scurvy of life in an online world. Boyd sets out to dispel many of the negative and dystopian views that so often fill the news. As she moves from one case study to another, I was left with many aha moments, particular while reading about fear and privacy. Having grown up with the practise of placing the desktop computer in a public space, it had never really occurred to me some of the deeper consequences of such actions. That is not to say that such approaches are wrong, but like every choice, everything comes with a cost. At its heart, the book puts forward many of the issues and arguments that are too often overlooked in mainstream education.

The reality is, living in a networked world is complicated for as Boyd states, it is both the same as, but also different from yesterday. For example, many teens cling to online networks as a social space to belong and just be. Like the drive-in of yesteryear, it is the structured unstructured environment where they can just hangout. However, online spaces are also considerably different to drive-ins though, for unlike the physical world, many of the actions and consequences in a digital world leave a trace and are forever ongoing for others to see.

I entered this book not quite sure what to expect. A part of me thought that Boyd would magically provide a breadth of tools and techniques for addressing the supposed dyer state teens on social media. Yet what I was left with was a series of thoughts and reflections about my own world. Boyd shone a spotlight on such issues as the supposed equality online, as well as the media fear mongering associated with addiction and sexual predators. However, the question that I was left wondering about the most was what are the consequences of the ongoing divide now occurring in all facets of life between those whose lives are increasingly embroiled with the online world and those whose aren't - what Connaway, White, Lanclos, Browning, Le Cornu and Hood have termed as digital 'visitors' and 'residents'.



It's Complicated does not provide the panacea, that magical cure for all the social ills suffered by teens today (and yesterday and tomorrow) who live in a digital world. The reason that it doesn't provide this is because it can't, such a thing does not and cannot exist. Instead the book provides what America anthropologist Clifford Geertz described as a 'thick description'. A thorough account that not only provides a description of behaviour from a wide range of different points of view, but also an interpretation as to the context that produced such actions. As Boyd herself has stated,
I wrote this book so that more people will step back, listen, and appreciate the lives of today’s teenagers. I want to start a conversation so that we can think about the society that we’re creating.
The purpose therefore is not to provide an answer to societies ills, but instead to provoke dialogue and debate at both the micro and macro level, whether this be teachers in a staffroom or politicians producing policy.

Although Boyd's book is written for adults about teens usually in America, in many respects it is a book that uses teens to confront adults from anywhere about many of the issues that we so often leave silent. I think that challenge that we have is to discuss these matters and from there create a more reasoned approach to the matter. For as I have spoken about elsewhere, it takes a village to find a solution and hopefully together we can create a better world for everyone.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Are You Really Connecting If You Are Not Giving Back?

cc licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by mrkrndvs:
http://flickr.com/photos/113562593@N07/13713874174

Alan Thwaites posted the following tweet and it got me thinking.
How is it that I use social media anyway and more importantly, what does it mean to be a connected educator anyway?

In a recent post about the benefits of blogging and being a connected educator, +Tom Whitby outlines some of the many benefits associated with sharing online. He states:
The difference between writing a blog post and writing a magazine or journal article is the immediate feedback in the form of comments or responses. Before a blogger puts words to the computer screen the audience and its reaction are a consideration. The blogger will strive for clarity in thought. The blogger will strive for clarity in the writing. The blogger will attempt to anticipate objections.
What stands out to me in Whitby's post is that the whole process revolves around its reciprocal nature, that is, as a reader you not only take in various ideas, but also respond and add back. One of the big problems though with being 'connected' is that for some it simply means lurking in the background. Although they may draw on the dearth of ideas and information out there, there is no impetus to give back in anyway, shape or form. My question then is whether this is really connecting at all?

Whilst perusing the net a few weeks back, I got involved in a twitter chat with +Bianca Hewes about the matter of sharing. Hewes was ruminating about the one way flow of information that too often occurs online. Those situations where others ask for resources, but fail to offer anything in return. She tweeted:
If you read the ensuing chat involving Hewes, myself, Dick Faber, Audrey Nay, Teacher from Mars and Katelyn Fraser, there were a breadth of responses provided. Some of the concerns raised included the apprehension associated with looking like a dill and some people's fear of sharing. A topic that +Chris Wejr has elaborated on elsewhere in his post 'Not Everyone is Able to Tweet and Post Who They Are'. On the flip side though, there were some really good suggestions provided, such as lurking for a time until comfortable, sharing something small or even simply re-tweeting something to add to the flow of information.

Thinking about all of the these great responses, I feel that there are three clear ways that we can respond and give back. They include the ability to share links and ideas, adding to a conversation by writing a response or remixing an idea creating something new in the process.

Sharing Ideas

There are many ways to share, whether it be using social bookmarking, such as Diigo, where you might share with a particular community, or using social media, such as Google+, where you might share out into the world. This is something that I have elaborated on elsewhere. One of the easiest ways I find to share ideas though is on Twitter. Most applications offer the potential to post to Twitter with a click of a button, making it quick and easy to read a piece on Zite, Pocket or Feedly and then share it with the others.

There are many different perspectives associated with Twitter. For some, it is too much. How could you possibly keep up with each and every tweet posted by those that you follow? However, +Darrel Branson put a different spin on it in Episode 238 of the +Ed Tech Crew Podcast, where he suggested that mediums like Twitter are great to just dip into whenever you have the chance, not necessarily something to be hawked over 24/7. Branson suggested that if an idea is significant enough it will be shared around, re-tweeted and reposted enough that you will pick up on it in the end. What is important then is actually sharing good ideas and keeping the river flowing.

In addition to sharing, Bill Ferriter wrote an interesting piece on the importance of not only sharing, but also recognising whose content it is that you are sharing. One of the problems with many applications is that they allow you to quickly share the title and web link. However, they fail to provide any form of attribution to the actual creator. Therefore, I always endeavour to make the effort to give credit whenever I can. This has led me to use applications like Quozio in order to turn quotable pieces of text into an image in order to fit more into a tweet. To me, this means that while perusing something like Twitter, you are able to continue the conversation with creator, not just the curator.

Commenting and Continuing the Conversation

In addition to sharing ideas, another great way to give back is add a comment. Whether it be a video, an image, a blog, a post on Google+ or a tweet, writing a response is a really good way to continue the conversation. Too often when we think about commenting, there is an impression that it needs to be well crafted thesis, however it can be as simple as a confirmation thanking someone for what they have shared. Some other possibilities for comments include posing a question about something that you were unsure about, sharing a link that you think made add to the dialogue or providing your own perspective on the topic. The reality is, we often learn best through interaction and dialogue with others, a point clearly made in Whitby's post.

Remix and Creating New Beginnings

A step beyond sharing and commenting on the ideas of others, is the act of remixing. Using someone else's idea as a starting point, remixing involves adding something and turning it into something new, an idea in its own right. This blog itself can be considered as a remix, bringing together a range of different ideas in the creation of a new beginning. A great exponent of the remix is +Amy Burvall, whether it be using Mozilla's Popcorn Maker to mash-up text and videos or using the paper app by Fifty-Three to create images to capture her ideas. Remixing ideas not only allows you to continue the conversation, but also start a new one as well.

...


Now I know that everyone comes from a different perspective and have their own view of what it is meant by digital literacy. A topic that I have explored elsewhere in my post 'What's So Digital About Literacy Anyway?' However, I find it hard to believe that there can be any example of being connected that does not include getting involved and giving back. A point clearly reiterated in Mozilla's Web Literacy Map. The question then is how are you giving back? Is there something that you do that I have missed? What are the problems that you have faced along the way? I would love to continue the conversation, so feel free to leave a comment below.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Show Must Go On



I have learnt a lot over the last few months with the recent death of my mum, that denial never really helped anyone, that we can miss some of the most pertinent moments in life because we aren't open to them. However, one of the biggest take-aways has been that no matter what is going on, life doesn't stand still for anyone.

In getting the backyard organised for my daughter's birthday this morning, it dawned on me that during the last month when the last thing on my list of things to do was cutting things back and nurturing the garden, that the garden didn't care, it just kept on growing. Whether it be the passionfruit vine stretching out even further along the fence line or the lemon tree growing even taller, the garden had kept on going.

To me this is all a part of something bigger that I have come to realise. Whether it be illness, mourning or even extended holidays, the world around us does not stop. The house doesn't clean itself, the washing does do itself, bills don't pay themselves, my daughter doesn't care for herself (although she tries), school work isn't done automatically. The reality is, the world keeps turning and as Freddie Mercury put it so poignantly, "the show must go on". Therefore, at some point in time we have to play the game of catch up in order to get back up to pace or simply accept that life isn't the same as we left it, as if it were a book that we could fold the page and come back to when we felt like it.

I believe that the same thing can be said about high stakes testing. So often when it is that time in the year, the world around us stops. For a few days, classes are taken over, while for weeks before hand students are often prepped about what to look for in questions, strategies for managing time and how to structure responses. 

This dilemma is summed up nicely by +Alan Thwaites' visual play on PISA, in which he argues that students would gain more from making a pizza than they do out of completing high-stakes testing, such as the PISA and NAPLAN.

Image by Alan Thwaites (@athwaites)
https://twitter.com/athwaites/status/452329928260730880/photo/1/large

My concern is that such activities are not fostering authentic learning, they are not student-centred and they provide little room for personal interests.  I think that +Stephen Harris sums this dilemma up best in his post 'What is our legacy to be: curious or furious?', "Learning must be authentic, deep, motivating and powerful. And above all relational." We then mustn't be surprised that after completing such tasks that they are a little furious and no longer the same student from before.

I understand that there are certain realities life and maybe high-stakes testing is one such reality. I guess the big challenge though is about getting the balance right. At the moment, I don't think it is.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Sharing the Load of Blogging In and Out of School

cc licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/113562593@N07/13558173444

In Episode 70 of RU Connected, +Lois Smethurst and +Jenny Ashby discussed the place of blogging in school. Both outlined how they had been setting up blogs in the classroom as a great way to collaborate, but also as a way to connect with the wider community, whether this be parents or other schools and students. What I found most interesting though was when the conversation turned from the student to the teacher. Jenny explained about how she had introduced Quadblogging to her staff. I had always heard of Quadblogging been used as a structured way to make links with other classes and other schools, however I had never heard of quadblogging been used as a means for teachers to connect and collaborate.

This all reminded me about an idea that I posed in a post last year, titled 'Sharing the Load of Blogging.' My thought was that in creating a collective school blog, it would ease the stress of time put on staff to maintain their own personal blogs. I envisaged this as a space where those involved within the community could celebrate all that was happening in school. Instead of leaving it up to staff member in the office to chase up people for items for the school newsletter each fortnight, maybe it would be more empowering if teachers actually published something when they had something to publish.

In response to my post, +Jason Markey shared with me a great post from +George Couros titled 'The #Learn365 Project'. In this post, Couros discussed how he had created a site to share all the great work that was happening in Parkland School Division. Modified from the #edu180atl initiative, Couros suggested that the basic premise was that, "every day during the school year, one person within our organization posts a blog on something they learned that day." For many, Couros explained, the collaborative site was a great catalyst for exploring the potential of blogging and led to some teachers creating their personal blogs.

What I didn't realise when I wrote my original post was that, in addition to Couros' own, there were actually quite a few schools already running their own blogs, such as Leyton Learn 365 and tslg1440. However, what this got me wondering was whether there was place to share not only within the school community, but also beyond, a site set up for a wider district or even a state. Maybe such a thing does already exist and so again I am simply being na├»ve, but a part of me thinks that sharing within the school is only half the battle, we also need a means for sharing beyond the school, with those who may also be going through the same experiences, who may benefit from a different perspective.

In some respect, I am assuming that this is what +George Couros was on about with the #learn365 hashtag, where school communities are able to share in a global manner, however I wondered whether there was a place for a #VicPLN site. A place where teachers could cross post ideas and information that mattered to those in Victoria, Australia. If not a site, then maybe there was a place for something like a Flipboard which contained a great collection of celebrations all in one place. At the very least, wouldn't it be great to have a collection of blogs created teachers all over Victoria celebrating successes, reflecting on failures and just sharing awesome ideas?

If you know of any such blogs, whether it be school based or even region wide, I would love to know. Also, if you are a Victorian teacher interested in adding to list of blogs, please add your blog to the form below:



Here is a link to the results.