Tagged: professional change

Overschooled and undereducated

Yesterday, I read and keenly tweeted a link of a(nother) excellent post by Ira Socol (@irasocol) called ‘Schools That Matter‘. It’s vintage, eloquent Ira. A few replies later, I noted a link shared by Geoff Alemand (@scratchie, thanks mate) that pointed to an absolute gem, shared below.

I borrow the post title from a book by John Abbot (@21learn) and Heather MacTaggart I am about to order. You can read more about the book and explore the excellent site of Born To Learn animation series and (of) its associated organisation 21st Century Learning Initiative.

I’ve seen many a 21st century call-to-arms but this one, for my 2 cents, stands above the pep-crowd with its simplicity, research support and an easy-to-grasp genealogy of current mainstream schooling. Bit of confirmation bias perhaps here but you know …

I am embedding the three clips here, in no particular order. They could be used in so many presentations, sessions, workshops and similar gathering to stimulate truly important conversations.

If I were showing these at a staff meeting, teacher education or similar, I would strategically pause the third clip (Class Reunion) at exactly 2.48 into the clip and ask the room for responses.

They may just frame the essence of the(ir) view, purpose and reasons to be(come) an educator.

Enjoy!

Born to Learn from Born to Learn on Vimeo.

The Faustian Bargain (Trailer) from Born to Learn on Vimeo.

Born to Learn: Class Reunion from Born to Learn on Vimeo.

Thank you Geoff for sharing, thank you John and Heather for your work.

Great Moot but …

#mootau11 collage
A memorable moot !

Quick slideshow…

This is what I tweeted at the end of 2011 Australian Moodle Moot 2011:

To sum up #mootau11: We flew First Class! Thank you @ns_allanc [Allan Christie] and @netspot crew.

It was truly wonderful.  Great ideas, great people, great venue, great organisation, great community vibe. It was a three day Moodle love-in.

Highlights – meeting soooo many people I have net-known for a while but we have never crossed paths in person (Mary Cooch, Helen Foster, Geoff Young, Nigel Mitchell, Shannon Johnston, Nathan Hutchings, Michael Woods, Claire Brooks, Jon Powles … to name just a few!!!), working collaboratively with the one and only Sarah Thorneycroft on the game-based learning stuff, sitting in some very cool sessions and speakers, watching Martin strut his stuff on the dance floor, toughing it out with four fellow moodlers at the inaugural MoodleMoot jog on a wet, cold and windy morning, doing the Baywatch slo-mo impersonations with the indomitable Louisa ‘Buzz’ Wright … and so much more!

Mark Drechsler has posted a few reflective posts day by day and I invite to you to head over for a great rundown with added personal reflection of a team member who has worked very hard to make this moot such a success.

But it made me a bit … sad, too.

Sad because ideas like:

  • Give students a course to create and demonstrate what they can do and care about.
  • Give students the power (and associated responsibility!) to edit and become co-creators in a course/parts of you run.
  • In staff PD, get reluctant teachers to come up with examples of use of a tool as a buy-in before they learn how to set it up.
  • Pique curiosity with quest(ions), interesting challenges for staff or students to complete and build-in some feedback as they go along (game-based learning).
  • Don’t spoonfeed – teach how to think not how to do the new tool.
  • “You never know more than the people you train.” – be humble and listen, value, adjust.
  • Get the audience to contribute their ideas via real-time editable doc and use, build on those.
  • Instead of building new ‘portals’ for content to hoard and lock down – open up and build networks instead with a few simple, existing tools and invest in people instead.
  • Make your assessment match the conditions of the ‘real world’, make it as authentic and relevant as possible.
  • and more …

were met with ‘wow’ and gushing tweets how ‘fantastic’ and ‘innovative’ that was to hear and see. Yeah sure, these are all great things. But why aren’t they as common as dirt? They are hardly new or revolutionary – arguably, they have been around for millennia in different contexts.

It is truly sad to see ‘tighter submission of assignments’, ‘improved procedures for protecting content’, ‘better tracking capabilities’, ‘faster delivery of content’ (whatever that means …), ‘building content portals’ etc. becoming so pressing yet normalised concerns and ideas.

It is equally, if not more, sad that things that we as species are so intuitively damn good at, such as ‘working out a problem’ and ‘challenging ourselves’ and ‘being curios’ and ‘wanting to be involved’ and ‘valuing listening’ seen as some incredibly smart, ‘progressive’, bleeding-edge notions?

Hey, some folks are making a mozza on speaking circuit peddling the obvious…if we took a second to think for ourselves. But I do wonder how and why have these rudimentary human strivings become so counterintuitive to ask, wonder about, and try to stimulate for learning?

I know schools and universities aren’t going to disappear or change in a hurry. And they shouldn’t, for my money. But if education is/were a business, what is its currency? What do you/we want it to be?

I know I’m using broad brush strokes here. I know the minutiae of our professional lives prevents the odd navel-gaze and wonder. But it is important to see the forrest from the trees sometimes.

Once again – thank you organisers of 2011 Australian Moodlemoot. I hope to see you next year on the Gold Coast, weather (aka $$$) permitting.

Ed-tech Ferrari in first gear – why change?

This is a reply to a healthy ‘ring’ of posts by Mark Drechsler (Learning technologies – should the tail wag the dog? – an excellent string of replies growing there!), David Jones (The dissonance between the constructivist paradigm and the implementation of institutional e-learning) and Mark Smithers (e-learning at Universities: A Quality Assurance Free Zone?). I invite you to read these excellent posts to get a better picture. In a nutshell, they collectively wonder that old nut in many guises and variations: “Why aren’t educators using progressive pedagogical approaches by using technologies that lends themselves so well to such approaches?”

First, let’s clear with some nomenclature. Here, let’s call constructivism (mentioned by these guys) and the likes as ‘progressive’, and ‘results of outdated policy changes that have calcified into conventions’ (Nehring) as ‘traditional’. One could drive a truck through this argument, I know! David explains this continuum nicely, so does Alfie Kohn (Progressive Education; Why It’s Hard to Beat, But Also Hard to Find).

Similarly, learning theories (the various -isms) are useful, but frankly oft overrated, mis-understood edu-psych discourses with shades of purism. In sporting parlance, every -ism is a ‘well-meaning’ club with its main players and legions of fans. It thrives on membership & wins against other -isms, sometimes to the detriment of the game itself. While perhaps fonder of a particular theory on a dynamic continuum, a wise educator has to be part-constructivist, connectivist, traditionalist, instructionist or other -ist, strategically. Let’s not get too stuck on purist theory but take things with a grain of pragmatic salt.

And this is getting to the heart of the matter, for me at least: Educators will mostly use pedagogical approaches which align with the answer(s) to the question(s): What is the primary purpose of education? What are the priorities? What are we here for?

Importantly, they will NOT always align with their own answers to these questions, but also answers of the school/uni they work at, parents, students, and the larger society the school, and themselves, are a part of. These can be poles apart but need to be upheld, negotiated in different spaces and different times. No glib universals and binaries please!

Educators bring their own passions and priorities to technologies they use in their work. Take Moodle for example. An educator with a ‘progressive’ mindset will relish wikis, forums and collaborative tools in Moodle, her colleague might puke a bunch of files and worksheets in Moodle (thanks for that turn of phrase KerryJ 😉 ) because they are a convenient electronic version of ‘have what kids need to know’, another one may love the intricate ‘drill and kill’ possibilities of Quiz … you get my drift, surely (and they are all ‘using Moodle’!).

Now, all this gets tempered with, for example:

  • what students’ preference may be (I’ve heard “no more Moodle forums Sir, can’t we just talk about it in class” after an enthusiastic Moodle overdose on my part),
  • what schools allow (‘Allowing YouTube? Are you nuts? How about some teaching instead?” – oh yes, heard that one!),
  • what parents want (“I just want my little Johnnie to get the best exam marks and your job is to help him do that” – yep, many times),
  • what the Prime Minister is touting on TV (“schools that don’t perform will have their funding cut…” – and I thought bullying was a thing to get rid of in schools, silly me)

A glorious mess of tensions and priorities to negotiate!

I’ve tried to put things in a hopelessly inadequate graph. I cannot stress enough (again) that people move through this graph at different times for different purposes. But here it is…

ed-tech quadrant
Not a static thing!

Now, I do work for the makers of one (and love it!), but for all the bells and whistles, it’s a bit pointless calling a piece of software ‘progressive’ (or ‘traditional’ for that matter). Makes about as much sense as calling say leeches in medicine ‘primitive’ . While certainly built with ‘progressive’ use in mind, Moodle (for example) is only as ‘progressive’ as its use. And I assure you it is painful for Moodle HQ to watch a Ferrari built to facilitate ‘progressive’ approaches, driven so many times in the first gear and without considering a change …

I answer Mark’s (paraphrased) question “Are we happy with just using technology or are we only happy using technology in a particular, progressive way?” with a question: Will/do these ‘progressive’ approaches fail to take hold because we didn’t/don’t use technology at hand in a particular way?

Beware getting stuck in the reflexive cause-effect conundrum (in plain English – chicken or egg?) but it is bloody important to ask.

Reference:

James H. Nehring, “Progressive vs. Traditional: Reframing an Old Debate,” Education Week, February 1, 2006, p. 32.

Catch-A-Teacher Day

If you see an ad on top of this post – it is not my idea(l) 🙁
Welcome!
Welcome!

It’s over! Our four day school Web 2.0 Expo extravaganza over the last few days of school year was largely (and I don’t use the word lightly) adjudged as ‘a success’, ‘eye opening’, ‘interesting’, ‘informative’, ‘fun’, ‘enjoyable’, ‘a bit crazy’, ‘unusual’ by a range of people around the school (eclectic and funky as our cover clip 🙂 )

For four days, three teachers (Simon Carabetta, Jaeik Jeong & myself) and about a dozen student-helpers (13 to 15 years old), put on a ’23 things’ of a kind for our school community to inform, teach and stir about ‘Web 2.0’ and its culture-changing potential that is starting to be realised in our societies yet (still) largely outside school walls.

To ‘walk the talk’, we not only set up stations, but also created the event’s wiki (largely student work!), even a Ning (well, sort of … 🙂 ), got a bunch of students to start up their blogs, Twitter, set up RSS readers, fooled around with Skype, Etherpad, Twiddla, Moodle etc.. We had a number of educators from around the world dropping in virtually via Etherpad (copy of excellent contributions here, thank you SO MUCH to all who have contributed), we had encouraging tweets from around the world … all in all, we were ‘doing’ Web 2.0.

But out of the four days of messing up, playing, teaching, learning, succeeding, working together, guessing and generally having a ball, the last day will remain seared in my mind forever.

Until the last day, we had very few staff that came to the expo. They would bring groups of students down but then (most of them) didn’t quite engage with the expo in any way. “That’s for the kids, not for us…” was the general sentiment, with few notable exceptions. With the whole thing PRIMARILY for staff, we weren’t making the dent. The matter was raised at our regular morning ‘war briefing’. We made the decision that the last day was going to be ‘catch-a-teacher’ day.

It was pretty simple really. Student-helpers were encouraged to approach a teacher, invite them to the expo, try to work out and ask what the teacher might be interested in to learn…then demonstrate, teach and help them learn (about) a particular Web 2.0 tool and how it could be useful to them (the teacher). We also asked our student-helpers to note down on the central ‘tally’ board what teachers they taught what.

Students took up the challenge very seriously and we had them literally chasing teachers down the halls to invite, talk to, teach the teachers. With most teachers agreeing to come (even if out of courtesy if not curiosity) it was an incredible sight.

Catch-a-teacher ... live
Catch-a-teacher ... live
Catch-a-teacher ... come in
Catch-a-teacher ... come in

And this is what the tally board looked like after only a few hours!

21 teachers, 10 different tools, 4 hours - ALL by students!
21 teachers, 10 different tools, 4 hours - ALL by students!

Yes, I repeat: teachers are far less likely to say no to a student than a ‘tech integrator’ with a resonable (tech) proposition for teacher’s problem/idea in class. It just works!

Another highlight of the day was the technically so damn easy yet so profoundly different (to ‘regular school’) Skype conference of our ‘helpers’ with a good friend Ira Socol. I saw Ira tweeting, hooked up over Skype and within seconds the whole class said ‘Hello” to Ira and his dog (“with a weird name Sir…”) in Michigan. We soon shared a screen with Google Earth on it where Ira literally showed us around his neighbourhood, place he works, we zoomed out to see and learn a bit about the Great Lakes (some of the kids watching have not been further than a few blocks from their place in their life!), cracked a joke or two and after a few minutes thanked Ira for his time. After the event Ira tweeted:

Damn right!

I read the tweet aloud to claps, cheers and hollers of approval at our post-expo ice cream ‘debrief’ (yes, we did treat the awesome crew 🙂

Yum! Well deserved.
Yum! Well deserved.

The sense of community, appreciation, working together, problem solving, the JOY of learning, particularly on the last day of our Expo was palpable. Many of our student-helpers ‘got off’ on it, dare say far, far more than many a lesson in the year just finished. There it was, a working rhizome of education I dream of, where roles/status/label/credit did not matter, only what we can learn, share, help, improve. Sure, it was quite an intense day, but one where the students saw the potential of what many of us have been banging on about for … years now.

Before we took our parting group photo, I asked the student-helpers is they would like to attend a school organised and run a bit like our expo – passionate, hard-working, following people’s interests, funny, a bit messy and unexpected, unclear at times but always valuing learning of all kinds: “Yes, sure, we’d love to…” I replied with just a line: “Demand it for your own kids.”

Just imagine! Or as a colleague quoted in his farewell speech yesterday: Logic will get you from A to B, imagination will get you anywhere.

And since I mentioned farewell speeches – I delivered mine yesterday too (copy here). I will miss the people of Belmont City College (and my first Moodle, my baby 🙂 ). They matter.

Thank you!
Thank you!

Fair go and Spider 2.0

SpiderOver the last few days I have been following a great conversation on the Brittanica Blog about Web 2.0 (pron. “web two-oh”) and its potential to change project-based learning thanks to its collaborative nature. I have thoroughly enjoyed the critical examination of myths and hype by a number of fine minds, notably by Daniel Willingham responding to Steve Hargadon’s vision of (usefulness of) Web 2.0 tools in education. Further, some of the comments have been even more impressive than the post itself! For a useful summary of the post and a handy digest of comments I would point you to Robert Pondiscio’s post.

It was all kind of loose blog lurking until a comment by Sylvia Martinez caught my eye.

“Web 2.0 connection that project-based learning has with Web 2.0 is limited. It happens to make a few things that project-based classrooms do a little easier. So it’s highly unlikely that Web 2.0 will overcome the obstacles to project-based learning. We know what those obstacles are, we know what needs to be done (there are thousands of terrific books on these subjects) — and we still don’t do them. We keep looking for a magic wand, and Web 2.0 is the latest one.

The topic was “will Web 2.0 be an integral part of K-12 education” – but everyone seems to have changed it to “will Web 2.0 CHANGE K-12 education”. Totally different. Web 2.0 may become something teachers have in their toolkit, but still used in a way that supports the dominant paradigm. You can certainly have Web 2.0 drill and test, just as easily as open ended blogs.

Without a serious to change K-12 education, Web 2.0 will simply become integrated into the existing way that schools do business.

“Will Web 2.0 CHANGE K-12 education?” My antennas went up! I have often likened Web 2.0 to a Trojan horse for/of change to something that is better than the centuries old warehousing of kids, sorting them like sacks of potatoes, then calling one student or even a school ‘good’ and another ‘bad’. My school, euphemistically called ‘difficult to staff school’ is more often labelled as the latter. So rather than reheating the ‘learning potential’ debate, I look at Web 2.0 from a slightly different angle.

Continue reading

Listen before you talk

ListenHere is a transcript of a recent argument with my lovely wife. It’s not verbatim but pretty close:

M: ‘Computers are such time wasters!’

T: ‘Don’t say that, it’s a silly thing to say’

M: ‘BUT THEY ARE! Look, this thing froze up just trying to upload a photo so instead of spending half an hour walking in the sun I spent it in front of the stupid computer screen. It robbed me of my precious half an hour.’

T: ‘But you can’t just bag computers, they have their uses too – I for one enjoy them a lot and have learnt enormously from them over the last few years – you don’t seem to? You see them as stupid, useless and time wasting but there are so many things they can do’

M: ‘All I am saying is that you can so easily waste time with computers. You know, a screen freeze here, a link there and on it goes so before you know it you spend hours in front of the screen.’

T: ‘Well, growing and mowing grass is a waste of time too, TV is a waste of time…everything can be waste of time if you think about it. Computers are no different – you can waste time with them.’
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An analogue meal with kindred digital educators

connectA couple of days ago I attended a dinner with a world-renowned educator and presenter Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, her family, and a few fellow Perth bloggers and ed-tech enthusiasts. The company included a famous chocoholic and THE Edublogger Sue Waters, whom I met personally for the first time, Jean Anning, Jane Lowe and Paul Reid. The evening was very enjoyable and sprinkled with a wonderful dose of fun-spirited Aussie/American bashing and ‘war stories’ – all in all, we hit it off well (I am just not sure how much Sheryl’s family members enjoyed our passionate and often noisy rants, complaints and (mutual) inspirations).

I was particularly pleased and in many ways reassured to hear Sheryl’s passion to push for greater use of ICT and particularly the Web 2.0 (for lack of better word) tools with ‘tough’ schools and kids like ours (see my previous, cathartic post for details – thank you good people for your comments). And as we started getting into the thick of discussion, we recognised that not only the group of people present, but a wider community of bloggers, ed-tech educators etc. (you know the labels…) is vulnerable to the ‘echo chamber’ effect. We all pretty much agree on many things, we fuel each other’s passion, we share and exchange ideas, in short – we ‘get it’. That’s all good but we act mostly in our own individual spaces, despite creation of large (inter)national networks, so easily afforded by the tools whose usefulness and transformative power we try to unveil to others. We are doing great things but without generating the amount of synergy that would make powers-that-be stand up and go beyond, in the words of Seymour Papert (thank you for correction Bryn) ‘strapping a jet engine [of technology] on a horse and cart [of 18th century model of education]’.

Why is that? Continue reading