The Machine’s still using us.

In 2007, this video hit the emerging “blogosphere” like a wrecking ball. It was the video which accompanied several books which claimed education faced such radical upheaval and unimaginable change that school would fail children and teachers needed to grab hold of the “read/write” web with urgency and not ‘wait’.

Although this may have been true, it certainly wasn’t based on fact or particularly mindful of decades of work in the potential for using the Internet and Computers in education. In fact, it was Ronald Reagan who first held the first ‘online discussion’ about the potential for the Internet in education in 1975. Ironically waiting for Jane Fonda to join the chat but she never did.

It marked an epoch, a moment in time where the topic of ‘educational technology’ moved out from journals and academic publishing and onto blogs and the then embryonic micro-blog platform. It appeared in thousands of ‘edtech’ posts and powerpoint presentations to a new audience. Technology was moving out the computer lab and into every classroom. It no longer required experts, it required everyone to show up and participate … the wisdom of the crowd.

Now, 7 years later, this moment has passed into history. Society has welcomed the new domesticated and mobilised technology offerings of mega-corporations who make billions of dollars. Now billions of people publish media on a daily basis in a new economy of micro-payments though data transmission and receipt.

Parents mediate technology, communicate with their children and seemingly trust them to access the Internet with little or no supervision — or specialist instruction, while schools appear to be increasingly divided on how to fund, manage and use technology.

One question that needs to be asked is just how relevant is this video today?

MI’d love to hear what you think.


Last post – My fave site of 2013

In what is the last post here for 2013, and to again mention I’m moving to Dean Groom dot com (please come over and subscribe). The reason for the move is really to start to focus on the research work I’m doing towards parents and video games — and also the reboot of Massively Minecraft with my good friend Dr. Bron Stuckey in 2014. I’ll still post here from time to time — and anything here — get’s cross posted there care of the magic that is the website IFTTT.

I thought I’d post two things. The first is a link to a website that I constantly dip into for ideas, rest and curiosity called Ironic Sans. It really is the site I’ve been too more often this year than any other.

This is a great idea – life in 60 seconds.

Next check out this great video about the father of game consoles. In my view, Berners Lee would still be writing on post it notes without this guy having the idea to turn the TV-set into a home computer monitor. Without him, there would have been no 80s micro computer revolution in my view.

I’d like to thank everyone for visiting my blog this year. It’s been a VERY hard year for me on so many levels. But hey, still here — still standing. Best wishes to you and your loved ones. Catch you in 2014!

The future started 40 years ago.

pencil0This is an image I drew in a short talk at the University of Canberra this week. I was making an argument that education has focused almost entirely on ‘the Internet’ in regard to technology based learning and ignores (somewhat on purpose) the significance of proprietary media networks such as Xbox Live and other models.

Many teachers are using technologies. They often do this with no empirical evidence at all and use it in ways that are not required in the syllabus at all. At times I listen to people and strongly suspect they are talking about things that they have little or no actual experience outside popular social culture. This is one of the essential problems with attempts to connect popular media to effective media channels for education.

While the Internet has disrupted whom we pay attention to (it’s easier to read a Tweet than a journal article) it is also self-serving. There’s a gap in research and investment towards the idea of developing proprietary media-channels that can be disruptive to the Internet itself. What I’m interested in are media networks which predominantly see the Internet as a transport layer and recognising that of itself, the Internet holds no information. It’s all held in proprietary servers almost exclusively.

My scenario was that where Universities begin to deliver (on demand) courses using Smart Television and Media Networks which perhaps use reputation systems such as XBox’s gamerscore. If you like what happens when you can study in the home – not in the study or bedroom, but in the lounge using human-interface devices (internet of things). It’s not too out-there, Open Edu continues in it’s 40th year of disrupting how, when and where people can study. With the arrival of a new Xbox perhaps (the current one is 10 years old) – these multi-core machines will extend their media-carrying ability. They already have SBS and ABC’s iView on demand.

But let’s not rush in, first we need to know a lot more about social-conceptions of this kind of media network – as clearly Xbox is seen as something set apart from the Internet. Will the drive of consumer culture (where most people spend most time with a few BIG brands such as iTunes, Google and Facebook) be shifted from the computer and tablet to the big-screen.

In short, if you’re thinking about the Internet and websites as being the future of educational technology. I don’t agree. Smart TVs and Games Based Media Networks (GBMN) can achieve a scale that simply won’t be achieved in web-based MOOCS in variations of the LMS.

I could be wrong, carry on.

Eating lunch at the edge of town

As the year ends, I guess there will be a flurry of bloggers reviewing “the” year. The more enlightened will review “their” year and only the very haughty would claim to have a birds-eye view of education or what is working. Only the ignorant would seek to turn everything into a Legrand Star which is just another bottleneck used to control the flow of ideas and usage of the Internet.

This year I’ve been given intimate access to the nascent technology of our time. The internet. The problem I’ve found is that as a network it’s brilliant at moving chunks of data around from one point, breaking them into millions of pieces which travel in unseen pathways, to be reassembled on my screen. No bottlenecks, information on the Internet, when in transit is dust.

People however don’t do this. They tend to want to own things and keep them whole. They say “we” but the mean “I”. They can bottleneck not just ideas, but people. They can take what someone had and hold it hostage.

Confusing peer to peer networking with client-server is one of the most remarkable mistakes people make. For many people, a network is a link wheel and “people” are terminals to receive information.

Sadly, peer to peer is corrupted time and again by individual agendas seeking to centralize “progressive change” on their ideas and those who they choose to add to their link wheel.

The idea of the Internet was that no one machine had authority over the others. This doesn’t seem to feel true of people. I don’t think the most amazing people are at the core – those whom dominate the dialogue and conference stages – but at the edge.

That’s my take on my year, I think the most inspirational and intelligent ideas still exist at the edge of the network, and that forming a PLN in the way the core like to present it is to ignore the nascent nature of the phenomenon of the Internet.

To stay free is to know that sense making happens by re-assembling dust and to know the no one has a birds eye view of what is happening or what is best unless they are foolish or controlling. The Internet, by it’s nature is not a democracy. There is no ground-up movement for change, as this requires a top. The idea the top is the most popular is just perpetuating the same school-yard society that many people had to suffer as a kid.

Perhaps a PLN or controlled network is just that, revenge for a shitty school-social experience being revisited. Oh that’s a bit dark, however just as plausible as now eating lunch with the populars.

My point – if I have one – is to avoid proprietary networks and ideas at this time. Bring things into the world of kids from the edge. This doesn’t have to be an iPad or web-tool, it can be philosophic, irony, stories or just lowering your V-Mask and being more human.

Choosing technology also means choosing predicated network belief, culture and assumptions. This doesn’t necessarily mean making your skills better or you having more knowledge, as the behavior of those at the core is to constantly diffuse what the network thinks was true a day before. For example: the endless lists of 5 things, none of which are more than opinion sanctioned by controlling gates on the network – issued to nodes.

Kids have amazing peer networks. I love that peer networks in Warcraft still work like dust. You arrive, play with people for a time, then leave. The game upholds the rules not some central person. Of true 12.5 million players, its hard to see anyone one person producing powerpoints about how Blizzard should improve the game and then selling a book about it.

But beware: peer does not mean equal, nor positive deviants accepted. Quite the opposite. It continues to hack me off, as “leaders” ignore nodes. The minister for education – will ignore all teacher nodes – as will the hierarchy – a PLN and a Legrand Star seem the same to me. I can’t know, as I too don’t have a birds eye view of “educational technology” and no one knows the future.

But I do see some “gurus” peddling the same diet through the bio-system to their followers today as five years ago. Who wants to live on an IV-drip via Twitter. Not me or you I hope.

Clearly I’m keeping a blog here that reflects my view that what should be exploring new ideas with kids and popular agenderising is just creating another Legrand Star, diffusing achievements from the edge.

To sell you wares, one must court the kings favour.

There appears to me, to be no difference between these PLNs and the “system” they like to use as fuel to progress individual agendas. They spend no time trying to figure out what the outliers are doing, but have adopted a strategy of feeding their nodes small and frequent meals of the same diet today and five years ago. The big difference, now they are on Ipad3 not 1.

I would like to offer an new position or emotive call to action. But, just as people tend to not re-tune the radio in their car, little will change, apart from the fact it’s ever harder to see the edge and escape the bottlenecks.

Whether you are ignored, trolled or lifted – social media has some behaviour that seems more regressive than progressive. But at the edge or the positive deviants, tinkering with new ideas and stuff with peers. But their PLN is probably small and diverse – because in the history of technology, large mass groups have almost always been proven wrong.

2013 will be spent at the edge for me. But hey, eating lunch at the edge isn’t so unusual. Sure beats giving you lunch to the playground trolls.

A toast, to the divide!

Don’t get me wrong, I do like a good Christmas lunch. I can also appreciate why an Audi is indeed better than a Kia and that some people can’t afford either.

Of course everyone has a choice, yet some people clearly have more choices than others at this festive time. I’m making this judgmental assessment based on the steady stream of end of year Instabrags food-shots as teachers in private schools knock off for 2012. Yes I’m totally jealous and jaded.

I actually don’t care about their lunch, I’ve become generally immune to analysing photos of people’s lunches to be honest, but I do find it deeply symbolic of the reality-gap facing “national curriculum”. ACARA (who I assume had an amazing lunch and probably a party) tout this bringing greater equity and social inclusion. I’m measuring the digital divide in Intabrags from now on as all other measures seem equally ridiculous.

Clearly private education is traveling first class still – and yes I’m sure parents are paying blah blah, but it seems pictorially evident that private schools are not exactly suffering the kind of hammering in DEC and TAFE of late. This isn’t the fault of those teachers I know in private schools, it’s a bit of a general social fail that everyone is somehow impacted by in some way.

I’ve spent some time this week trying to source 20 devices for indigenous sight-impaired students in remote NT. No money, no funding and not much free-love from the multi-billion dollar educational technology engine either. As much as I love the collegial nature of social media, clearly it’s now visually showing me a huge gap between public and private, city and rural. I could support a hundred students just off the bin-scraps.

There is no ‘gap’ of course. I’m wrong and delusional. This has been endlessly argued as false in the media and radio as familiar spokesmen from [insert rich school we all know] who, argue points which prove this is all a myth on 702ABC.

However, it’s a bit harder to swallow when a seafood-buffet shot appears on 4 media layers. Burp.

I wonder just how many public school provided end of year lunches I’ll see in a few weeks?

Post your end of year school lunch here, we can vote for the most popular.

An eWolf in sheeps clothing?

In every case I’ve seen, organisations and brands adopt Social Media for marketing purposes. They are not there to save the world, they are there to promote their brand and leverage their brand value. The nexus of people, process and technology has a purpose. Brands are learning to be social, but  surveillance and deception can be achieved with no responsibility or code of ethics. Your IP (Internet Protocol) address is easily traceable to your ISP (Internet Service Provider), so there’s a good chance you are by not a profiled as Daniel Craig. More and more studies are showing that internet users do not engage with conventional online ads – and of course social media is largely seen as ‘free’ advertising space – where the big, best, most, 20 things … type working is now the look@me norm.

A popular story ran on May 9, 2008 on about a 13 year old boy who stole his Dad’s credit card and ordered two hookers with it, only to be convicted of fraud and given a three year community order. This story was so popular, it reached the front page of Digg. It was also covered in other leading social media sites, as well as several online publications, resulting in 6,000 links to the article.

Well, it turns out the story was a fake. The writer, Lyndon Antcliff, says that he tried to make it as ludicrous as possible so its fakeness would be obvious.

The irony is that while it would seem that technology enhances transparency, in many ways it does the opposite – allowing for masked realities, alternate identities, fabricated histories. Given that children are clearly targeted online (the subject and the bait to draw traffic) – by close association teachers are also both targets and bait. (Because those selling something believe they have access and influence over children and purchasing).

How does anyone unfamiliar with social-media based educational discourse tell the eWolf from the lamb?

Should suppliers of goods and services be considering a deception policy? – something which explains how they ensure their commercial interests are well declared – and should an employee engage in deceptive activities (promotion disguised as advocacy) – what happens for example?


Tandem Learning

I’ve been involved with an ambitious accessibility project in Indonesia. In short, if you have accessibility needs in Indonesia, even being colour blind, you will find it almost impossible to attend any form of consistent education, not least University. As many as 59% of Indonesian children with any sight impairment get no education at all.

MQAS is working hard to improve this. It’s not easy, but it’s massively rewarding to learn that our partner – Brawijaya University – has enrolled 10 students in under-graduate courses with disabilities – the first time ever. This is of course achieved by lobbying for funding, something that groups who work with disabilities know all about.

If you have ever met MQAS’ Sharon Kerr, you’ll know that there is no dream too big, and no high office that can’t have it’s doors opened. Getting students into University was step one. In the next few months, we’ll be working with 33 provinces, teaching teachers how to work with and teach people with disabilities. As if that wasn’t enough – we’re also starting generating ideas on how to get children with disabilities to school – even if that school is actually a University using technology.

One idea is “the tandem project”. If we can get 20 tandem bikes (lots of bikes in Indonesia, not many tandems), we can use them to get people with vision impairment to school in a peer-mentor program. This is perhaps the opposite of what might be expected from a technological solution. Perhaps we could just give them iPads – but they don’t have electricity reliably or the Internet in many cases.

The idea is to create geographic “bike-hubs” which act as classroom, perhaps makeshift, perhaps not. The essential ingredient is to have a socially inclusive classroom where fully able child can help another get to a place of learning. They not only learn together – they learn about each other shoulder to shoulder.

In many cases this might be for the first time ever for both of them. This makes it all the more remarkable that 10 students have been able to get into a University at all on their own merits – they have been taught by their communities alone and the photo here shows the volunteer mentors. That’s the key ‘volunteers’.

If we could get 20 tandem bikes in communities , it would  allow 40 students to study for less than the price of 10 iPads. So that’s one of the next missions – how to make this a reality for kids.

If you want to help, then get in touch – saving the world is a multi-player game.


Festival of Learning 2012

I was kindly asked to give a talk with @bronst at the cross-sector gathering (it was more than a conference) organised by PLANE. I didn’t get to the Friday, but there was clearly a lingering buzz as I arrived my Mr11 on Saturday morning. As a designer, I immediately liked the sense of purposeful fun that the Plane team had weaved throughout. I do like details, and found from the conference swing tag to the signage, there was flare and fun front and center of the event. If you’ve been to something like Educause, you know how somber ‘serious’ discussions can be presented – and I for one found the while vibe up-lifing. I’ve always admired Kevin Honeycutt’s “Podstock” event, and this weekend felt a lot like that. I really wondered if essentially an institutional ‘thing’ could feel grass-roots enough to at the same time feel like a viable network for peer interactions.

My verdict was yes – and that’s the foot I went out on. I have this thing about in-service learning – where anyone who has the humanity to go about helping and teaching someone else, in their service for any length of time is now – more than ever – essential in the rapid progression of technology in education. To me, its those people – the ones who are willing to address each persons ideas honestly and do something are the most important people in the world. I talked about a concern I have about the commercialisation of school vs technology – something that can be predicted from numerous economic and social research perspectives. In particular the need for everyone to recognise that the Tweetability of a message or a persona can easily appear more important than accountability.

You might have noticed the Back to the future hoax going around social media and reported by numerous popular online spaces such as Mashable. I read that via Facebook and though how useful the metaphor could be that the future I’m standing in – the one I’ve been working on since Mr11 was Mr6 and started school – isn’t what I’d hoped. The ironic joke being (I don’t yet have a hoverboard). Somewhere in the middle of the talk I put up a slide about using irony as way of knowing – a way of powering up imagination such that we can compare what we are being told (or familiar with) verses what we imagine can be possible. Of course, my ‘error’ was corrected, but not to the post about the hoax, more than I had doctored the image. I was over the moon with that and numerous other hoverboard related swipes by people who are clearly wise and of course distant.

I also commented that school is no more designed for the Internet that the high street was for online-shopping. This isn’t to say the high-street isn’t a useful social space, but more that there is a tendency to by those who spent a lot of time seeing the world though a glass screen – to miss serendipity of just wandering around among other people. Google and SEO of course adds a filter itself, so online, serendipity is less common than a decade ago. This is something I’m working on – the whole outside thing, and to be honest, I have not logged off anywhere near as much as I should have in the past. Of late I’ve become interested in looking at how other sub-cultures (yes I see ed-tech as a sub culture) use space and the Internet to achieve their goals. It turns out, saving the planet might also be achieved though many things, not just classrooms and technology – riding bikes, playing games, clean air groups … even coffee snobs all have a take on what ‘we’ can do to make the world better. I went with bikes as I remember as a kid I loved my bike – its the other thing I spend time doing when my VIC-20 was overheated.

I described ‘content’ as sediment, I mean that minute by minute the Internet fills up with more and more content which I imagine to be like pixel-particles falling to the bottom. They don’t decay like organic matter – as no one knows much about how long information actually lasts. Intead we see infographics about how big, how much and how fast. More importantly I think to many people it no more use that sediment – taking a pot shot of the complete lack of will by Kahn Academy to bother making their ‘content’ accessible.

When we imagine what might be, we are also playing a game of prediction – and all humans love experiences where they predict what happens next. This video I really like, as people watch the first shot, and then by the third, they are predicting the next and being rewarded when they guess right. It’s a great video – that shows not only what a long-standing technology can do – but how we can imagine what new things can be done with it when given a context.

This brings me to my last point. Minecraft was very very present at the conference – and every session was filled with people buzzing with predictions of what they could do with it – and talking to dozens of teachers who already use it in diverse and amazing ways. To me it was the first time – in a real world space – that I’ve seen such a thing. Of course there are the sub sub sub cultures who talk about it, but in this case these people brought a sense of freshness and imagining to something I think has a valid place in classrooms – despite the rather apathetic reaction from ‘leaders’.

I asked myself at the start “why would I bother with PLANE’, after all there’s Twitter. My take away is that I’d bother will it because numerous people have taken huge risks and personal hits to get it where it is – and it’s not subject to the kind of bias that social media has these days with in-groups and trolls. It’s a process network – something I’ve been into for a long time. So yes, I’d say join it – don’t support it – go collaborate and help someones ideas get a step closer to reality. There’s a new line-up of talent – people with new ideas and abilities … I for one don’t want to be the Old Major here. The days where a few control the many are at an end. The future looks very bright – especially for imagination, creativity and gaming.

PLANE might not be perfect, but I don’t think it’s trying to be – it succeeded in bringing a lot of fun and socialness to a weekend – to get parents and kids talking and playing … I just hope it sticks around – and to do that I guess like anyone else, it means lending a hand. I’m hoping a nice social bike-ride and picnic.

How to select great topics for PBL in Australia

The driving question is always a sticking point for teachers new to PBL. Writing a few powerful words in a sentence or two, powerful enough to charge curiosity and enthusiasm is a skill. This is why great copyrighters get paid vast sums for writing relatively little.

The driving question, I always found to be an awkward and misleading term. What PBL is trying to do is drive a topic, not a reply to a philosophic question. Kids are not tested on their philosophic ponderings by the machine. This to me is the biggest reason teachers struggle with PBL early on – it seems too arty or foggy to hit those content standards hard enough. This is not a reflection on BIE, more a reality of the vast cultural differences between how Australia goes about teaching and how America does. America, great at lots of things, drives on the other side of the road and can’t make a car that goes around a corner anything like the Europeans. My point is – Australian teachers need to adapt all US-Import PBL models – and that is hard work.

I prefer to think about topics. I’m not sure crafting one kick-ass question is a brilliant strategy, as learning for kids is all about the extremes of experience and the limits of reality. A kid won’t discover these using the BIE framework though it’s better than the relentless lecture/exercise regime.

PBL in Australia is significantly different to the US (warning to those gazing at US consultancy networks for the answer) – our and their frameworks are significantly different as is the culture and side of the road we drive on. While I respect the hard work and success of groups such saw New Tech Foundation, they are selling a product that was built for America, it still needs heavy adaptation for Australian culture, methods, environments and approaches. It’s not a “one click head-shot” to get better performance or outcomes. Worse still it assumes one method supplants another, and at the really really rubbish end are those who are proposing that PBL combined with business development models are somehow going to improve critical thinking – with no evidence at all to back it up.

PBL is better (in Australian contexts) to be thought of as topic based. Being able to identify quality topics requires using a criteria that can be sustained and justified. It’s easy to be too vague and philosophic when scratching down ‘the driving question’. Don’t do that, it’s a really bad idea.

Not every aspect of the Australian curriculum (or a topic in it) is suitable or needs it! This relates to the idea that PBL is not a full-time requirement either (but if you sell cars, you don’t talk about bikes much), so I wince when people say “we’re a PBL school” – if they are, they are doing the students an injustice in my view.

I prefer the idea that teachers use the best strategy for the job – and the job is to create wonder and curiosity such that students explore the limits and extremes of the world, not the prescriptive view. Even though they undoubtedly benefit from puking up the ‘model answer’ in the big test, and high-stakes HSC teacher (PBL or otherwise) will coach the last term to get those grades (for the students and the school), as least with PBL you can be honest and say, this the answer they want, what would be the opposite, what would be the biggest mistake, the smallest use and so on. It’s better than pretending, and everyone knows how the game is being played – they do anyway, we just elephant in the room it I guess.

So what is the criteria for topics? In my experience, this is something the PBL-lead group establish and help the rest of the staff identify – ahead of trying to actually do it. PBL requires BOTH teacher and exec training of course … it’s dan hard for a teacher to drive on the right when the rest of the school drives on the left.

  • sufficient width
  • sufficient depth
  • sufficient connections with the self—cultural, imaginative, and emotional ties
  • not too constrainedly technical
  • not too general or too unconstrained (e.g. animal is too general, tiger is maybe OK, but cats is optimal)
  • not focused on the more degrading features of human existence or common phobias
  • each topic must provide an equivalently rich experience for all students.

So once you have identified your topics (not based on the fact you HAVE to teach them) – then you can start to think about the kinds of questions that will get kids emotionally involved – and that to my mind is also going to be quite different to much of what I’ve seen in the BIE handbook too.