Category: Change

Sometimes a deeper look at changes (not) occurring as a result of growth of digital technologies.

The ultimate question

Pompous title? Read to the end and that may change 😉

Yesterday I watched an avalanche on Twitter, for lack of better analogy. Within minutes, a very casual pondering of a couple of good, open ended questions (OK, let’s call them philosophical) between Bianca Hewes and myself turned into a frenzy of criss-crossing replies by almost a dozen people. In a typical Twitter fashion it was messy, bit restricted (no essays is not an inherently bad thing either), we all kinda threw bits of philosophers we have read and like(d) into the mix, made some new connections, challenged, asked each other a bit, wondered together … in short, it felt like a shot of thinking espresso (at least to me).

And it was the second such little avalanche in two days … We were onto something!

I have never formally studied philosophy, apart from a few units at uni. I taught Philosophy & Ethics at a high school (and loved it!) for a year. I am no ‘philosopher’ but I have always liked and enjoyed to think, read, poke, question, wonder, stir and sleep with clear conscience.

Everyone is a philosopher, even the young kids. In fact, they ask the best questions! To illustrate, just a few recent questions from my 5 year old: Why can’t we have a day off today at school today? Why do adults drink things kids can’t? Why people don’t share money? Why do people have different languages?

And it is sad that it is only the young kids and the very top scientists and scholars that ‘get away’ with ‘dumb’ questions like that. Anyone else would be dismissed along the lines of ‘what’s wrong with you to ask that sort of thing?’ or, worse, be threatened by it because they immediately think YOU have the answer and they don’t. We are addicted to answers, particularly if they are quick and delivered with certainty, no matter how bluffy, unsound and downright crappy, wrong, even hurtful they may be. Want an example? Read this passionate post by Leesa Watego on her views of our Prime Minister’s rhetoric).

Philosophy is at the heart of everything we do, every choice we (don’t) make in our lives. Don’t believe it? OK, let’s ask, top of the head scenario: Were you at work on time this morning? Why (not)? Why is that important? What things should always run on time and which ones not so? Who decides? What gives you/them the right to decide for many? Can somebody then tell you what to do with your body? Why (not)?  When is it OK to ignore them? … I am sure you can see the infinity of possibilities. I am also sure you can see how conversations like that can be steered in a particular direction. And I hope you can see the value of pausing sometimes and thinking about these things. Are you a teacher? Parent? Reckon kids would like to have a crack at some of these questions in their own way? You bet !

And do we need a PhD in philosophy to ask such questions? Do we need to learn the entire history of Western philosophy or know in depth some French guy who wrote 5 books on the topic 300 years ago to wrestle with answers? Sure, it may help a bit (oh, and dropping a name or two on Twitter looks so cool 😉 ) … but answers, no matter how partial, incomplete, must ultimately come from within, no matter how ‘educated’ we are.

Now, I am NOT dismissing professional philosophers neither am I suggesting we navel gaze all day long and doubt with every single breath we take. But sometimes it is just nice and useful to (in the parlance of road campaigns for kids) Stop, Look, Listen, Think (thanks Leesa 😉 ) and, importantly, Act.

Deleuze, one of my favourite philosophers (showing off here? 😉 wrote this about art: “Art is not a notion but a motion, It us not about what art is but what it does that is important.” You can easily replace ‘art’ with ‘philosophy’ (or anything else for that matter …’education’, ‘love’, ‘snow’, ‘cooking’, ‘kiss’) and you can see the ultimate point of philosophy is a pragmatic one – it is to be done, not merely known and learned about.

And to break the shackles of perception of philosophy as something you ‘take’ at uni and something only those who have read great philosophers in depth can do and similar nonsense, we (Bianca Hewes, Malyn Mawby, Mitch Squires, Nathan Hutchings, Janie Kibble, and myself) started a special hashtag on Twitter: #42c

Sure, we can have some very sophisticated discussions and links in there BUT (at least in the humble, naive view of yours truly)… the tag is NOT about showing off how much you know about [insert name of a philosopher]. It is NOT about big words to impress (some may be needed though, just is…). It is NOT about feeling guilty for not having read more or thought more. It’s NOT about talking, it’s more about listening. It’s NOT about providing definite answers, it’s about asking good questions (a skill not practiced enough in classrooms and broader society). It’s NOT a win-lose debate, it’s a dialogue (distinction here ). It’s NOT a bogey to shame, it’s a chance to learn.

So when you feel like asking a curly question and/or wrestle with one- just type and hash #42c on Twitter and away you go. To keep the hashtag brief and relevant, we had settled for the genially funny ’42’ and added the ‘c’ for cents so Twitter search picks it up. Why 42? Good question! Watch below, it’s a must 😉

Spread the word, we only have 7.5 million years left!

(In)conceivable?

Imagine this …

The medical scenario may be laughable but, transferred to the context of many schools and classrooms today, quite … (in)conceivable?

The anecdote in the presentation is an extract from a classic and wonderfully dangerous book titled ‘Teaching As A Subversive Activity‘ by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner, written in 1971 (!). If you haven’t read it (ever or recently) I warmly recommend it.

Of course, all analogies and metaphors have their limits (and the authors acknowledge that, see below) but in the spirit of the book, the presentation is meant to be a conversation starter and generator of important questions …

Here is how Postman & Weingartner expanded on the analogy:

Perhaps our playlet needs no further elaboration, but we want to underscore some of its points. First, had we continued the conversation between Dr Gillupsie and his young surgeons, we could easily have included a half dozen other ‘reasons’ for inflicting upon children the kinds of irrelevant curricula that comprise most of conventional schooling. For example, we could have had one doctor still practicing ‘bleeding’ his patients because he had not yet discovered that such practices do no good. Another doctor could have insisted that he has ‘cured’ his patients in spite of the fact that they have all died (‘Oh, I taught them that, but they didn’t learn it’). Still another doctor might have defended some practice by reasoning that, although his operation didn’t do much for the patient now, in later life the patient might have need for exactly this operation, and if he did, voila!, it will already have been done.

The second point we would like to make is that we have not made up these ‘reasons’. Our playlet is a parody only in the sense that it is inconceivable for doctors to have such conversations. Had we, instead, used a principal and his teachers, and if they discussed what was taught during the week, and why, our playlet would have been a documentary, and not a heavy-handed one, either. There are thousands of teachers who believe that there are certain subjects that are ‘inherently good’, that are ‘good in themselves’, that are ‘good for their own sake’. When you ask ‘Good for whom?’ or ‘Good for what purpose?’ you will be dismissed as being ‘merely practical’ and told that what they are talking about is literature qua literature, grammar qua grammar, and mathematics per se. Such people are commonly called ‘humanists’.

There are thousands of teachers who teach ‘subjects’ such as Shakespeare, or the Industrial Revolution, or Geometry because they, are inclined to enjoy talking about such matters. In fact, that is why they became teachers. It is also why their students fail to become competent learners. There are thousands of teachers who define a ‘bad’ student as any student who doesn’t respond to what has been prescribed for him. There are still thousands more who teach one thing or another under the supposition that the ‘subject’ will do something for their students which, in fact, it does not do, and never did, and, indeed, which most evidence indicates, does just the opposite. And so on.

The third point we would like to make about our analogy is that the ‘trouble’ with all these ‘reasons’ is that they leave out the (patient) learner, which is really another way of saying that they leave out reality. With full awareness of the limitations of our patient-learner metaphor, we would assert that it is insane (literally or metaphorically, take your pick) to perform a pilonidal-cyst excision unless your patient requires it to maintain his comfort and health; and it is also insane (again, take your pick as to how) for a teacher to ‘teach’ something unless his students require it for some identifiable and important purpose, which is to say, for some purpose that is related to the life of the learner. The survival of the learner’s skill and interest in learning is at stake. And we feel that, in saying this, we are not being melodramatic.

from ‘Teaching As A Subversive Activity’ by Neil Postman & Charles Weingartner.

Read it – it’s a dangerous book.

Nobody asks

Last week, I was invited to a high school as an ‘expert’ on using Moodle in the classroom. I had a series of 45-minute sessions to, as my brief read, ‘inspire’ each group of teachers (average size of about 15-20) over two days of PD to use their nice local Moodle & Mahara setup in their teaching.

Yeah right.

I’ve never liked ‘gurus’ showing flashy wares and ideas, especially right at the start of school year with so many things to get ready before the kids arrive. I’ve never liked being considered one either.

So, I thought we’d use the 45 minutes for a guided chat about things we are kinda all good at – talking about our needs. Needs of teachers I spoke to and, importantly, the kids they teach. In the context, shoot a few Moodle ideas past them and see how use-full or use-less they may be. But it was about the hole, less about the drill.

Digigogy Images

I even flashed these sort of things as a visual reminder:

Great teachers

and …

needs

EVERY group sat a little stunned at first. Believe it or not, the ideas did not flow very freely. The replies ranged from encouraging (‘enthusiasm’, ‘motivation’, ‘meaning’ …) to downright pathetic (‘textbook’, ‘ways to easily memorise a range of acronyms we use’). We’d eventually get about 5 – 10 needs on the board to work with.

And behold the question “Why DO you teach?” asked as the conversations began to flow. Many felt a little threatened even!

Or as one teacher put it: “Nobody really gets asked these questions.” Rarely, if ever, do teachers ask these themselves. It’s all assumed, we all know what happens at school and what the school and teachers are there for, we all ‘innovate’ but it basically changes bugger all while giving the impression of progress and change.

I am NOT  bashing teachers here. Quite contrary, I understand so many of them, barraged by things to, often mindlessly, tick and do while lacking time, space, even increasingly a reason for these questions (other than stuff like ‘raise scores’ etc.).

A friend noted in reply to my email containing a few gems collected over two days: “I often reflect that all of these controlling, narrow and limiting views of education are expressed by people who once showed wonder, imagination, a sense of fun, and often got into teaching because they wanted to have a positive influence on the lives of young people. How is it that they are who they are today? Not easy to answer, but important to try nonetheless.”

While I did cover my brief and talked about Moodle and ‘technology’ over the two days, I was glad, while sad and often a little horrified, to talk about the ultimate technology and weapon for change – asking good questions and wrestling with them.

I wish all my Australian & New Zealand teaching colleagues and their students a great school year 2011 (first day today for most). Turn the crap detectors on and use them! Make it matter.

And if you think I can help you in some way in doing that, you know where to find me.

And it starts in kindy

Cosmic Kindergarten

Source: Cosmic Kindergarten http://www.flickr.com/photos/hexholden/3374990171/

Yesterday, I did a couple of hours of ‘parent duty’ at my 5 year old son’s kindy (abbreviation for ‘kindergarden’), helping out with learning tasks, minor cleaning and a few other bits. It was wonderful to see this group of 4 and 5 year olds loving being there, playing, sharing, inventing, doing their first letters, numbers, rhyming, painting games and generally having a ball.

Their teacher is ‘Donna’ (not her real name), an experienced, wonderfully caring and professional in the kindest and honest meaning of the word. Kids adore her and are coming along in leaps and bounds. Donna knows I’m a teacher too and we had a brief chat over our morning cup of tea while the kids were busily devouring platters of fresh fruit:

Donna: These are such a great bunch of kids but I am finding myself struggling.

Me: Oh, how so …

Donna: It’s these curriculum and reporting changes and pressure that comes with, I can imagine what’s going to be like with this National Curriculum coming out soon too. They just expect more and more of kids, constantly. So I am finding myself spending more and more time doing this evaluation, covering skills and content and following guidelines and ticking boxes.

Me: More of that recently?

Donna: Yes, particularly since we’d come under Department of Education umbrella attached to the local school. Before we were community based and it was a lot more relaxed and I dare say productive. You know, I had time to do and think about things like room arrangements depending on the kids I had in group that day, shift things around to suit them, listen to them. Now, I just don’t get around to it or maybe do less of it. I have all these checklists to go through.

Me: Checklists?

Donna: Yes, have a look at this pile. And it’s not as if the kids will forget about the thing I ticked today tomorrow. Or maybe they’ll ‘get it’ when I’m not around to tick that box, while they are playing at home or somewhere else. It’s not to say we should not evaluate how things are going with each child and look out for potential difficulties – that is a very important part of our job. But so much of what we do now is just plain silly and a waste of time we could spend a lot better.

Me: And if you don’t follow these things ….?

Donna: That’s the strange and uncomfortable thing – I feel guilty. Guilty for not reaching what I am supposed to be able to cover and guilty for some kids not being able to do what I am told they should be able to do.

Me: So learning becomes a kind of performance and you and the kids … performers?

Donna: Yes, well put, exactly!

Me: And you start seeing yourself and the kids in terms of that performance?

Donna: I resist but often I can see that.

Me: And if we cast our mind in the future, the kids will see themselves in terms of that performance at school, of school?

Donna: And that’s really sad, isn’t it? And it starts so early here, in kindy.

Me: Sad, and a lot more wrong than it is right. Thanks for the cuppa Donna, looks like the kids are done with their fruit.

Donna: Thank you, we often don’t get to talk about these things.

OK Apples, well done for your wonderful eating and sharing of fruit, it’s time to put our plates away …

What Donna has expressed there has actually been noted, researched and has a name – performativity (for this particular kind of performativity I highly recommend the work of Stephen Ball – his “Teacher’s Soul and the Terrors of Performativity” paper is a great start).

I invite you to explore the concept, its impact and its implications, unburdened by any of my own commentary.

And every time you hear a politician or a pundit banging on about accountability, standards, performance, curriculum and the likes in education, every time you hear rants (for AND against) about this stuff – go beyond it. Think about what it is doing not just to what and how we learn but (through it) what we are, what we become and how do we see ourselves and others as individuals and community members.

Socrates apparently said: “I can’t teach you anything, I can only make you think.”

I wish so.

Lessons from Dazzling Daz

Daryl Howe is a runner. He has completed a number of marathons around the world – London,  New York, ‘Two Oceans’ in South Africa and many more. He usually makes the 42.2km long course in just over five hours (elite athletes do it in just over two, majority around four hours).

But he is a star, a legend, a great fundraiser and an inspiration to many of us. Why ? What do you think ? Just pause for a second …

Thinking along the lines of “is he a kid or something…” or “is there’s something wrong with him? Disability of some kind? Age?” Probably, I guess.

Yes, Daryl has a cerebral palsy. He is the first person in history with classification C6 Cerebral Palsy to ever run and complete a full marathon.  He has been tirelessly fundraising for Cambodian charity Rideaid, had a documentary made about him, has an appreciation society of Facebook, he is a legend in the local running circles here in Perth and well beyond. Daryl is an incredibly kind and a funny bloke (anecdote from a running messageboard …)

“I think Darryl ran in a relay team for this years Perth marathon.
He came slapping past me at about the 39k mark and told me I had a ‘great gait’
There was something delightfully precious about that moment”

We see him as an inspiration because he has himself altered the ‘transactional space’ (an eloquent, must-read primer on that concept by Ira Socol) of what a medically and socially constructed ‘(ab)normal’ person would do. He may not have the prettiest running style (it is indeed awfully awkward [see the video clip below] and Daz doesn’t need anyone to tell him that – he even cracks jokes about it) but he is not ‘impaired’ to run a marathon faster than many ‘able bodied’ (is that still the awful going nomenclature?) marathoners.

Often, he may not be able, to borrow Ira’s words “negotiate the world, or a specific corner of the world, the way others have set it up” and for it, he has probably seen more than his fair share of eyes of insidious pity. But he kicks butt of many over the 42.2 kilometres! Running is his special ‘space’. It’s not some kind of ticket to normality but a place where his capabilities meet the world we share, each of us differently.

Video clip of Daryl finishing the 2010 Rottnest Marathon

And why does this matter?

For my 2 cents, Daryl reminds me/us of the immanence of ‘normality’, the normality within us. And the more we are able to accept, as opposed to tolerate, normality as something infinitely malleable and made ‘shareable’ a lot easier by either devices, people or combination of these, the richer our individual and collective lives will be.

PS I did finish this year’s Rottnest Marathon, my very first 42.2 km over a hilly, windy but a beautiful course. Thanks to many for your congrats over Twitter & other ways. I got over the line just over an hour faster than Daryl, with whom I shared a beer and a chat at the pub later that day.

With Daryl at Rotto pub
Post-marathon 'recovery' with Daz at Rotto pub

Give a

Yesterday, I stopped at traffic lights and watched an angry old man telling off a kid of about 16 trying to eke a few cents by washing windows. I’m sure you’ve seen the sight alike. Shoulders dropped, expletives exchanged, and move on  – to my car.

I wound the window down to tell him that I had the car washed yesterday (a rare event, but very true!) and to thank him for the offer.

Then I recognised the kid. And he recognised me. School. Not the first time I’ve bumped into a former student washing windows at traffic lights …

‘Hey Sir. You know me? You used to teach me?’

Raking brains, what’s the name …. ‘Michael’ !!! (not his real name)

‘Michael, good to see you mate.’

Eyes lit up, a smile came on his face.

‘Yeah Sir, are you still teaching at that poxy school?’

‘No, I am giving teaching a bit of a break but I’m still interested in it, you know… Poxy school?”

“Yeah man, they were always saying I’m stupid and then I got into too many many fights and that.”

“Didn’t work out for you did it?”

“Nah, but you know, I can work hard, look at my hands!”

His hands were dirty, patchy, backing his spoken words with a scream.

“You think you’ll go and do some other … you know, TAFE courses or something?”

“Yeah, I wouldn’t mind. I know I’m not that smart hey but I don’t want to look stupid, you know.”

“Yes, that’s a killer sometimes isn’t it.”

“But you were good Sir, you gave a shit about us.”

Unsolicited words that mean deeper than any certificates possibly could. The light was about to turn green…

“Thanks Michael. Look, the light’s nearly green, I probably cost you a few bucks.”

I handed over a few coins rattling around in my dashboard.

“Hey cheers Sir. Good luck.”

“You too Michael, good luck and take care will you.”

I am not glorifying Michael or saying how ‘wonderful’ this experience has been. But sure as hell I’d like him to be listened by many students, teachers, parents, administrators. Not for ‘look what will happen to you if you don’t go to school (a distinct possibility though)’ but for ‘listen to the kids you work with’. Listen, understand, accept, challenge if needed, don’t think about ‘the norm’ and how you are going to represent it by lecturing from the safety of your own existence.

Michael, I wish you luck, people who’d understand you better and strength to improve our lot (we are in a community together after all).

And you, dear reader – give. Give a few pennies but sometimes even more importantly – give a shit!

Fear

Fear
Fear

If you’ve been around the ed-tech universe lately, you’ve probably heard’em all:

  • it is imperative we change education from the industrial revolution paradigm to a more creative, collaborative, connected endeavour
  • digital technologies afford us to do it so easily – just look at us and so many kids doing this ‘Web Two Oh’ stuff and flourishing
  • standardised testing is cancer of education, death of learning
  • we can learn anytime, anywhere like no other time in human history
  • it’s about personalising learning, connecting, constructing together
  • we need the political will and leadership to make these changes
  • we can’t ignore the fact that kids today send bazillion text messages a minute, friend thousands and Skype their grandma across the world at the drop of a hat … but they ‘power down’ when they come to school
  • social media is the new way of communicating, learning, working together
  • creativity is the new currency and schooling kills it
  • tech is the great leveller
  • pro-ams, long tail, cognitive surplus and flat world are becoming the norm, maaan
  • so many teachers just wouldn’t listen, refuse to engage and frankly, are poor learning role models for the kids in front of them
  • add so on …

Add a few more, find a couple of nice pictures to go with it (all kosher with Creative Commons, of course) and you can charge yourself out at a nice speaking fee. Many ‘gurus’ do.

Now, I am not cynically dissing something I have been a part of for many years now. I love it. I DO think it is the way of the future and the future may be a little brighter (especially if you are with the ‘in’ crowd…).

In this discourse teachers, the much maligned and much adored creatures, favourite topic of pundits (Presidents, Prime Ministers, obscenely rich and other ‘dignitaries’ included)  are the source of inspiration and frustration. But the bulk of teachers are pretty much still plugging away as they have for the last few decades.

“Why haven’t things changed, why aren’t teachers more creative, passionate, wanting to learn about what they do?” often goes with the undertone of grinding teeth in disbelief at practice of some of our colleagues. Well, I have a hunch …

I tweeted this earlier today:

What’s holding education ‘stuck’ isn’t lack of creativity, passion or knowledge of teachers but fears. Can you name some? Thx #edfear

and got some great responses, most of them tagged (on Twitter) with #edfear hashtag :

  • Teaching stdnts wrong stuff not backed by authority. Stdnts not learning formal.critical thinking. They are my personal ones #edfear (@sirexkat)
  • 1. Fear of failure 2. Fear of job loss 3. Fear of Criticism 4. Fear of Success 5. Fear of being the only one (@weemooseus)
  • #edfear being sacked, learners with ego problems, frightened administrators, poor curricula (@philhart)
  • #edfear: fear of doing something that is too new/innovative to have any academic research to prove its worth (@malynmawby)
  • the usual fear of the unknown not all educators are adventurous and keen to dive into a new technoworld #edfear (@playnice_nz)
  • not sure the teachers with the biggest fears will be on twitter. #edfear (@kanemayhew) 🙂
  • Fear from parents that their child will be missing something essential. (@bonitadee)
  • What’s holding education ‘stuck’ …Fear of missing something…we must cover it all #edfear (@bonitadee)
  • fear of change, being ir/relevant, keeping up – infowhelm, time to maintain/update skills #edfear – see Cloudworks too (@k8tra)
  • Is the number one #edfear the loss of the self-perception as ‘giver of knowledge’? (@irasocol)
  • Is the number two #edfear the identity hit which comes from understanding that you’ve succeeded in a terrible system? (@irasocol)
  • fear of failure, change, conflict, ostracism – and all of these are from ‘the lizard brain’ (@mrwejr)
  • key fear is ‘what if it goes wrong’? Also not all leaders are creative…many just want a steady ship #edfear (@dmchugh675)
  • school leaders fear vocal parents who believe that the things that worked for them in their education should still work today.#edfear (@dmchugh675)
  • Creativity Fear – Fear that if I introduce creative activities I won’t be able to adequately compare or assess their work. #edfear (@funcreativity)
  • #edfear fear of failure? fear of wasting time? fear of inertia? (@tokyoedtech)

… and hopefully more to come. Thank you all who have replied (and if don’t follow these guys yet, a good list to connect with!)

I am not offering any definitive answers here, deliberately so. I do have a hunch (I’ve even sent a draft proposal for a PhD proposal looking at this sort of thing today, *gulp*) but I am ‘fishing for ideas’ … in a fine connected manner 😀 . So, that tweet  again:

What’s holding education ‘stuck’ isn’t lack of creativity, passion or knowledge of teachers but fears. Can you name some? Thx #edfear

I would love to hear from you, comments or @ replies (@lasic, tag #edfear) all fine. Many thanks!

Three shakes

scream
Scream

Image source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dariuszka/374750916/

Shake one – Friday afternoon

A beer with “Michael”, a friend, teacher at (one of) the most ‘exclusive’, expensive, ‘high-achieving’ girls school in Perth. I have just explained what I do at Moodle these days and touched on my deep conviction against spoonfeeding students and instead giving them real responsibilities, real problems, real chances to fail and succeed.

Me: “I hate it when they look up to me to give them the answers as some kind of oracle. At 15! “Go away and don’t bother me because you can’t be bothered to figure it out  on your own, with your classmates or a person on the other side of the world – but wake me up in the middle of the night if you want to learn more or tell me I am wrong somewhere.” This is why quite a few kids, majority (wannabe) ‘high achievers’, never liked my teaching style and philosophy. But that’s life sunshine! What am I setting you up for?”

Michael: “Oh mate, you would struggle at our school. That’s exactly what I’ve been telling them for years. But… the school is all about academic results, that’s all they are really interested in. And the kids? “You are here to help us get the top marks so just tell us” It drives me mad sometimes, what are they going to do when they get the top marks, what are we really teaching them?”

Shake two – Sunday morning

A visit to another friend, another teacher and former colleague (yes, I do have non-teaching friends too 🙂 ) Let’s call her Dina.

Dina really wanted to do a bit of emerging curriculum with Year 8 kids new to school. They looked at a documentary, then a mockumentary to pick differences and the kids really ‘got’ the genre and the idea. Then it dawned on her that the kids could actually try and make one. They jumped at it! Kids were asking their teachers if they could they leave their class early so they could come to Dina’s class and work on their doco. The two AEO (Aboriginal Education Officers) assigned to her class as support remarked “you don’t need us, these kids are doing amazingly well!”

Me: “So, what happened?”

Dina: “Well, I came one day all excited to the office and told our Head of Department [a ladder-climbing tick-a-boxer, my note] about it, expecting a “great job, how can we help” sort of thing. Instead, I got questioned and told off : “…I am concerned about this, ”documentary” is not in the Education Department’s ‘Scope and Sequence’ document for Year 8, only for Year 9.”

Shake three – Sunday evening

I had a long phone call with my brother in Slovenia.

His 6 year old son (my nephew) started Grade 1 in September. He enjoys school and learning activities, plays basketball a little and is generally a happy, yet quite an observant and sensitive child. He also carries a bit of extra weight. Recently, he developed a severe tick. It works out he has been bullied at school (won’t go into details but quite heinous).

My brother: “… and to top it all off, he comes home the other day all in tears because he made, for the first time, two mistakes in the maths test (!!!!) He came apologising, as if he somehow let me down. My heart broke I tell you.”

Excuse the swearing but have we gone fucking mental? THIS is what happens when real people are reduced to educational numbers, syllabus documents and grades.

I could write rantily or eloquently (or bit of both) on us becoming the bastards of ‘reason’ and ‘progress’ (John Ralston Saul wrote an outstandingly scathing and well-argued trilogy on this last decade, highly recommend) – but I won’t, not tonight at least.

Kiss your kids and tell them you love them. Often.  (Those who follow me on Twitter will have seen that line before and times I said it…)

Making Moodle boring

TL at Moodle HQ
Moodle Education Researcher Know this guy?

Since starting to work at Moodle HQ as Education Researcher, a number of people, including my family, have been curious about what is it like at Moodle HQ, what do I do in my role and so on. Well, here are the pictures, the rest are words…

In short, I borrow Martin’s words from the iMoot introduction, I am an “interface between educators and Moodle developers”. Moodle team does not want to build a static, shiny thing that nobody uses but a living, changing thing that people can use to achieve primarily pedagogical, not technological goals. And I am here to help them (ummm, us!) do just that.

While recognising the importance of the position, my role is NOT to be ‘the guru’ on everything educational but rather a highly collaborative and proactive creator and ‘curator’ of sound educational practices within and beyond the Moodle community.

I already have a full plate and I love it. I am currently working closely with Helen Foster, Moodle Community Manager, on redesigning the sections on teaching and pedagogy on Moodle.org and Moodle Docs, making it easier and clearer to access, understand, use and ‘get’ Moodle by ‘an average teacher’ (I know you are laughing at this label…me too 🙂  ).  I also work on usability of tools and features, I chip in a teacher’s perspective in developers meeting, I am going through iMoot presentations mining ideas (yes, including our panel), then there is planning for a large worldwide survey of educational uses of Moodle, and more… But enough about me.

Even on the first day, I was struck by the enormity and complexity of Moodle project. There is a stunning volume of code, not to mention ideas, changes, fixes, meetings, bugs, checks, test etc behind what you see on Moodle screen every day. I won’t go in minute details but let me tell you that this is truly an amazing logistical and intellectual exercise.

The place looks like the United Nations. David and Petr drop in from Czech Republic in our working ‘chat’, Penny is live from New Zealand on big screen skyping with Martin and Andrew about something, Eloy is talking from Spain to Sam sitting next to me about some piece of code as if they were sitting next to each other, Anthony logs in from US during our regular meetings, Helen and I are looking forward to many of our meetings, me in Perth and her in Belgium… not to mention the active worldwide Moodle Partners network on top of that. All effortless, relaxed yet very focused on task at hand – listening to our community and making Moodle better.

The ethics of Open Source projects like Moodle is something to aspire towards in any school. We don’t make something ‘perfect’ then ‘lock it down’ and claim superiority. We put our best effort out there, constantly and publicly, then invite people to pull it apart and change and improve it to fit a range of contexts and uses. Constructive critique, not platitudes, is seen not as a threat but music to our ears (yes, of course we get a warm and fuzzy from kind words too 🙂 , we are human after all and very much so). Transfer to school, when was the last time you met a teacher who invited you to genuinely ‘pull apart’ their professional practice (unless they were forced to), have a conversation about the underlying, possibly contentious philosophical (not just safe, technical) assumptions,  then change it together perhaps? You have? Great!!! I’d love to hear from you…

On a lighter note … I suck at foosball, love the coffee machine (you were right Tim 🙂 ), know where to find good Vietnamese rolls for lunch around us,  and how to trigger a very noisy security alarm in the morning. I am learning 🙂

What about that ‘making Moodle boring’ title? Everything I wrote so far is shiny and good…

It actually refers to a comment I posted today on Ira Socol’s excellent post titled ‘What is Technology?’. Ira looks at how advances in technology, both as an enabler and disabler, become normalised and become seen as unremarkable, even essential over time (ever though that a pencil, desk or book was once a bleeding-edge technology?). Here is my comment:

“Ah, the fallacy of exceptionalism just never fades does it? We, as in (still) larger body of teachers, admins, parents, politicians & pundits, react with either fear or awe (hence the exceptionalism label) when it comes to the digital technology afforded to us today. And that’s not doing us much good, on so many levels…

Only yesterday I was sitting with colleagues (all software developers, passionate & veeery good at what they do) at my new work at Moodle HQ and joked: “You guys are trying to make this thing [Moodle] exciting, shiny, new and powerful, my job is to make it boring and ‘normal’. ” I got a few confused looks…

I explained:”The sooner educators move beyond the point of fear & awe of Moodle [or any other tech] and see it as a tool just like a pen, desk, whiteboard, book etc. the sooner they will be used better and more frequently to reach the pedagogical goals (add social, economic, environmental etc). Let’s stop fetishising tech, work out what it’s good for and then use it do get where we want with the people we teach, work with.”

So there you have it – my goal! What’s yours?

PS Big thanks to all the people who have congratulated and wished me well on my new role through Twitter, email or comments. Much appreciated.

My f*#!%ing goosebump story (a reminder)

Now on the new site, I am re-posting something I wrote as a catharsis in 30 minutes, a year and a half ago. This is the post I am most fond and proud of, and has always reminded me of two things: why do we teachers (with an ed-tech bend) do the things we do and why is it a good idea for any teacher to keep a reflective blog to share. The wonderful original comments (link here) spurred me on to keep writing, nearly two years on.

Here is ‘My f*#!%ing goosebump story”. Enjoy …

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Before reading this post a word of warning. If you are easily offended by expletives or graphic descriptions please avert your eyes. If not – welcome to my world.

Our school carries a wonderfully bureaucratic euphemism – it is a “difficult to staff” school. We operate in one of the poorest areas of town. Many parents who send kids to our school have not been rewarded by the system of education and they hardly instil the values of importance of education in their offspring.

Last week, one of our students got assaulted by a former student of ours at a bus stop waiting to go to an excursion at a neighbouring university. I stopped the assault only to be assaulted myself. This afternoon, on the way to the bus stop I was called, loudly and in my face, a “fucking cunt” by a Year 10 student after calmly disposing of a piece of plastic hurled at me few moments earlier. He had sat in my class just a few hours before. This school term alone, I have lost track of the times I was told either directly or indirectly (but clearly) to either ‘fuck off’ or ‘piss off’, or was simply and completely ignored as a person, let alone some sort of person invested with authority and responsibility to care for and (forbid!) teach, role-model or ‘inspire’ as the quote garden would have it. About half of my Year 11 Economics class openly say that they are ‘dumb and don’t care about the grades anyway’. My colleagues could recount dozens of stories just like this or worse as part of their ‘regular day’. Yes, we have a reputation of a ‘bad’ school and, depending what measure you look at, we have numbers to prove it (hello bean counters and ‘performance managers’ out there!)

YET…

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